American Culture

Want to know why so many really bright kids forego a state U education?

by JS O’Brien

The top students at my local high schools attend college at places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, CalTech, Stanford, Amherst, Swarthmore, Williams, and the like. They often pay exorbitant prices and take on substantial debt to go far away from home to frigid climes in dreary Eastern cities, leaving 300+ days of sunshine, mild winters, extraordinary outdoor recreational opportunities, and even a Division 1 football team behind. The local state U – the University of Colorado – woos them with honors programs and merit scholarships. There is even a full-ride scholarship in the state that many of these kids could earn, but most don’t apply. In other words, most of these kids could attend college for minimal money, but they choose not to.


Given the dearth of data supporting the idea that education at a brutally selective college leads to higher lifetime earnings (given the same level of talent) than education at your run-of-the-mill big box state U, why are so many talented 18-year-olds scrambling to get in to places that will help them begin their lives with substantially negative net worths?

I think a recent letter to Boulder’s Daily Camera pretty much explains the phenomenon. Here’s the full text.

A disappointing education

As my first year of college draws to a close, I realize that I have learned nothing academic from these hallowed halls at the University of Colorado.

I am spending $8,000 per semester to have instructors teach me things that I already know. I am given assignments that take hours of my life to complete and leave me wondering what I was supposed to have gained.

My esteemed professors gab about their personal lives, their vendettas, drop names of people in their field all while leading tedious discussions and teaching us to be overly critical and judgmental of ideas presented by others.

In one of my classes, we read articles and classmate-written papers and are instructed to “tear them apart.” I feel a student is only rewarded when they offer up a witty biting criticism, rather than a clearly presented idea or even a compliment.

We learn to say what is wrong with something but rarely are we asked how to make it right. In college, the classroom is full of those sharing problem after problem, those who are too shy to speak their opinions at all, worried about getting criticized, and those like me who are just waiting for the learning to start and are left wanting more.

But my education hasn’t been a total bust; I’ve learned how to stretch two pages of information into a 10-page paper, where the best parties are on a Thursday night, how to use Facebook in lecture and just how small one person can write on the one note card allowed in the exam room. Perhaps I am just an idealistic youth who thought I would learn something more from my liberal arts education at CU. I can’t help being disappointed at what exactly college has turned out to be.



I gave some thought to commenting on this letter, point-by-point, but I don’t want to insult your intelligence. Just in case you’d like a hint, though, I’ll provide one:

The best and brightest at Boulder’s high schools are leaving town to attend schools elsewhere for very good reason, but it ain’t the quality of the faculty.

5 replies »

  1. Actually, I’d LOVE a point-by-point response. As a former prof, I could probably spend the rest of the day on it, but I’d love to see what somebody who hasn’t been poisoned by the experience would do on certain points.

  2. Hey, right back at ya! I’d like to see what someone who HAS been poisoned by the experience has to say.

  3. Jesh. As if my anxiety disorder wasn’t enough to make me hate standing in front of a classroom…

  4. I learned very early that there are three little words many, if not most “professors” will not utter: “I don’t know.”

    The arrogance of some of my colleagues in the prof biz continues to amaze me.