Education Myth #2: “All the Best U.S. Colleges/Universities Are in the Northeast”
This second myth also deserves a short reply: Nonsense.
Longer answer: Yes, there is a good concentration of excellent schools and universities in the Northeast–many founded prior to the Revolution and the formation of the republic. This is due to a few simple facts: Of the 13 original colonies, those in New England and the Middle Colonies (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware) became prosperous most quickly and needed higher education for the development of a professional class. The Puritan influence on New England, with its emphasis on an educated ministry, also played a major part in the early development of colleges: Harvard (Puritan-Congregationalist; later Unitarian), Yale (Congregationalists & Presbyterians), Columbia (Episcopalians), Princeton (Presbyterians), and Brown (Baptists) were all founded largely for the education of ministers. The economy of the Southern colonies was based on farming (and slave labor) and the landed gentry needed fewer colleges for their offspring (William and Mary; Charleston; Salem; Washington & Lee; & Hampden-Sydney are the only pre-revolutionary colleges in the South). The religion that flourished in the South and the frontier was more revivalist and less-dependent on education.
But everywhere that Euro-Americans settled formerly Native American territories, they built schools. Today, in every region of this large nation, there are excellent colleges and universities, both public and private. In the Southeast, top-ranked public universities include: The College of William & Mary (VA); University of Virginia (Charlottesville); Virginia Polytechtic Institute; University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill); University of Geogia; Georgia Tech; University of Florida (it pained me to write that one)–all consistently ranked as “public Ivies.” Among top ranked private universities in the Southeast one thinks quickly of: Emory (Atlanta, GA), Duke (Durham, NC), University of Miami (FL), Vanderbilt (Nashville, TN), Tulane (New Orleans, LA) & Xavier of Louisiana (New Orleans).
In the Midwest, top ranked public universities include: Miami of Ohio (Oxford, OH), Indiana University (Bloomington), University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Michigan State University (East Lansing), Ohio State University (Columbus), University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), University of Iowa (Iowa City), University of Minnesota (Minneapolis-St. Paul), University of Wisconsin (Madison). Midwest top-ranked private universities include Creighton University (Omaha, NE), University of Notre Dame du Lac (South Bend, IN), College of Wooster (Wooster, OH), Drake University (Des Moine, IA), Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI), Xavier University of OH (Cincinnati, OH) to name a few.
The Southwest’s top public universities include at least 4 of the 10 schools in the University of California system (UC-Berkeley, UCLA, UC-Irvine, and UC-San Diego), the University of Texas (Austin), University of Colorado (Boulder, CO) and University of Arizona (Tucson). The Southwest’s major private universities include: Stanford University (Stanford, CA), Rice University (Houston, TX), Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX–despite building the Bush library), Baylor University (Waco, TX), Texas Christian University (Fort Worth, TX), University of Southern California (Los Angeles), Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles).
There are fewer top-ranked universities in the Northwest (where the population is still relatively low in comparison), but among public universities there is still the University of Washington (Seattle) and the University of Portland (Portland, OR) and the University of Hawai’i and with private universities, there is at least, Gonzaga University (Spokane, WA), Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, WA), and Seattle Pacific University.
In each of these regions, I have not been exhaustive and if I included liberal arts colleges, the list would run on for pages. Additionally, some colleges and universities may not be top ranked, but have particular programs are top ranked.
In fact, although the college rankings are not completely useless, the various rankings (e.g., U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, Washington Monthly, The Times of London, Forbes.com, etc.) use such different and complex methodologies that they should only be viewed as a very rough rule of thumb. It is far more important (I can’t emphasize this too much) to make sure that the student and the school are the right “fit.” Some very bright students that could get into Harvard or Princeton, etc. would not do well there for various reasons. Focusing on the rankings exclusively, makes students overlook schools where they would do well –and be better prepared for success after college.
And finding “the right fit” in the U.S. situation can be done in all regions of the country. (Nor should students rule out applying to international universities–or, at the very least, studying abroad for a semester.) Most students will go to college or university within their own region–that is, the region in which they grew up in their parents’ home. Maybe they’ll choose a school far enough away from home that parents can’t “hover,” (the so-called “helicopter parents”), but close enough that they visit home several times a year. A Southern California student who enrolls at Yale or a Florida student enrolling at the University of Seattle are not going to make it home more than twice a year–and even with today’s electronic communications, such distances are often uncomfortable. Homesick students underperform academically and are more likely to get into trouble in a campus drinking or drug scene or in other ways. On the other hand, very independent students who are mature and used to fending for themselves, may thrive in schools that are further away from home.
Every student is different and if we shatter these education myths and look to fit the right school to the right student, both the academic institution and the student will be better off.