Friday, April 18, 2008

Lots to talk about!

I'm not really sure where to start as there has been a lot going on here and certain things on my mind. I'll probably end up making multiple posts today. First I'll just mention a few things that have been on my mind recently.

Yesterday I was reading in the newspaper and online about a guy from Akron who donated $2 million to Kent State for scholarships for gay and lesbian students. OK aside from that part of the story, the surprising thing to me was that this guy, Harry Jackson, is an alumnus of the University of Akron, yet he donated his money to Akron's main rival. The Record-Courier made no mention of the fact that Mr. Jackson was an Akron alum, but the Beacon-Journal through its website sure did. I thought it was interesting how both papers presented the same story in completely different tones and main points. The R-C (Kent's local paper), the headline was "$2 million to aid KSU gay group" with the article focusing on the fact that this is the first such donation ever made to KSU and one of the largest ever made in the country towards a gay and lesbian group. The only background on Harry Jackson was that he was a former tax attorney for B.F. Goodrich and owns the Odd Corner, "a tobacco and gift shop in downtown Akron." The R-C article states that Jackson selected KSU "because of the campus environment" and also said "Kent State is more gay-friendly and progressive than other area universities..." Meanwhile, the Beacon-Journal (Akron's paper) focused more on the fact that Jackson was an Akron alum disgruntled at the University of Akron for using eminent domain to get the property his store is located on for construction of the Zips' new football stadium ("Merchant's bequest will transfer to KSU"). It also mentioned that Jackson's store also sells "erotica," something the R-C left out. OK so what ON EARTH am I getting at here? While I have issues with the whole gay thing, that really wasn't what I was mainly thinking about. If someone wants to donate their money to that, fine. On, I read the article and the comments that followed it. One of the things I really like about online news is how people can leave comments. Even though I've found that people will say some really nasty things since they can leave anonymous comments (so they don't have to actually face the person they are talking to), overall I like to read them because it gives me the sense of what the most vocal people are thinking in regards to this. Inevitably, conversations start via the comments as people respond to each other. Sometimes it's mean-spirited, other times educational, and at best comical. On this particular story, the debate came up as it always seems to when Kent State and Akron are talked about in the same story: which school is better? Of course the die-hards on either side had all the information in the world to "prove" that Akron was better or Kent State was better. While I certainly have a bias towards Kent State since I am a student there and I live in Kent, it is always my goal to look at arguments objectively and then to present my views as fairly as possible without riling anyone up.

I've found it's hard to say how one school is better than another because there are many factors in what makes a school great. True, not all schools are created equal, but a school that may be rated as a "great" school by some may not necessarily be the best fit for a particular student. It's not necessarily because they aren't a great student, but it may be that student doesn't like the environment or feels out of place or even something like doesn't mesh with that particular method (or methods) of teaching. In the whole Kent State vs. Akron debate, part of me says we're fighting over who is less mediocre than the other as neither school is well-known outside of the region other than Kent State for basketball and the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings. Usually when people argue about which school is better, they immediately turn to the holy rankings of U.S. News & World Report, which rank colleges and universities in several categories, from overall to specific programs within each school on a yearly basis. In searching that lightly last night, I also discovered other groups which rank schools, including The Washington Monthly, The Princeton Review, and the Carnegie Foundation.

The U.S. News & World Report rankings probably get the most publicity and the average Joe really holds them high in comparing universities. Schools know this, so that's why they use them when they can. Comparing KSU and Akron with this ranking, however, doesn't do so much. Kent State is a "third tier" (third tier is the 25% of schools after the top 50%) institution according the the U.S. News rankings, while Akron is a fourth-tier. Hardly anything to brag about for either school, but at least one group thinks overall Kent State is slightly better than Akron. The Princeton Review lists both schools as a "Best Midwestern College," but it didn't seem to be much to that ranking or list at all. The one that surprised me was The Washington Monthly National Universities rankings which had Kent State ranked 56th in the nation and Akron 179th out of 245 schools. It was surprising to see KSU ranked that high nationally and way ahead of even Brigham Young University (121st) and other notable schools. The only in-state schools ahead of Kent were Case-Western Reserve (25th), Ohio State (27th), and Ohio U. (40th). Of course each group uses different critera to measure how good a school is. The Washington Monthly seemed to measure not only what a school was doing, but what their graduates are doing after they leave. They said it was measured by: "how well it performs as an engine of social mobility (ideally helping the poor to get rich rather than the very rich to get very, very rich), how well it does in fostering scientific and humanistic research, and how well it promotes an ethic of service to country." So, at least in those aspects, they think Kent State is doing well. That was nice to read. U.S. News bases their rankings on: "Indicators used to measure academic quality fall into seven broad areas: peer assessment; retention and graduation of students; faculty resources; student selectivity; financial resources; alumni giving; and (for national universities and liberal arts colleges) "graduation rate performance," the difference between the proportion of students expected to graduate and the proportion that do. The indicators include both "input measures," which reflect the quality of students, faculty, and other resources used in education, and "outcome measures," which signal how well the institution educates its student body."

I guess in the end, people need to really study out where they want to go to school and not just assume that one is better because of a ranking. Even U.S. News states that readers should "use the rankings as one tool for selecting a college," rather than the only tool. Just because a school or program is highly ranked doesn't mean it will serve your specific needs the best or help you later on in life. Not all jobs are obtained solely because of the reputation of your school; many are made just by contacts or by evaluation of relevant experience. I see a lot of good things at Kent, from the world-class Liquid Crystal Institute to other things like an excellent nursing school, a business school that is frequently rated as one of the best in the country, a nationally known fashion school, a pretty good journalism school, library science program, physical education progarm, architecture school, as well as many other unique programs and opportunities and some really nice facilities. It's far from a perfect world, but I feel good about being here and being forever associated with the school and I feel like the experiences I've gained here (along with my time at BYU-Idaho) are going to help me out beyond my time in college.

So, do I think Kent State is a better school overall than Akron? OF COURSE I DO! That's not to say, though, Akron is a bad school or that Kent State is better in everything than Akron (Akron has some really good programs like their polymer science program and some great new facilities), but it didn't fit what I was looking for in an education. It's nice to see that some objective third parties agree with my biased assessment! :)

Check each school's website out for yourself!
  • Kent State University

  • University of Akron
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