Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More on education

It's that time of year where people really start to think about their education. Specifically, high school students get ready to graduate and head off to college and those like me get ready to (FINALLY) graduate from college and head to grad school. One thing that I've often thought about and commented here and there on is the choice of college. Growing up LDS in Ohio, the typical course for my fellow Latter-day Saints involved graduation from high school and then attending a church-owned school, usually BYU, and then somehow ending up out West either because of a job or a spouse. Of course not everyone ends up out there and not every LDS high school graduate chooses to attend BYU, BYU-Idaho, or any of the other church schools (BYU-Hawaii and LDS Business College). What concerns me is how most students seem to choose church schools based on very little information. Many never set foot on the campus before their first day of classes. Most seem to assume that because it is a church school, everything will be fine and there's nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, my own experience has found those notions are not correct, nor is the notion that the church schools are automatically the best places for a particular student to attend.

Prior to Ricks College becoming a 4-year institution under the name BYU-Idaho, the "hierarchy" of Mormon education choices were 1. BYU, 2. Ricks College, 3. Snow College (not owned by the church) or a local school like Kent State. It is still largely like that, particularly for students in the east where Latter-day Saints are few and far in-between and living and learning amongst fellow Latter-day Saints seems like a dream. The difference now is the BYU-Idaho is much more of a "first choice" than it used to be (it was for me), though many in the church still seem to regard BYU-Idaho as a "minor league affiliate" or "little sister" to BYU or use BYU-Idaho as a way to get into BYU. More and more, however, choose to attend BYU-Idaho without giving BYU any thought. BYU-Hawaii, it seems, has always been much more apart from the whole process...meaning people choose BYU-Hawaii because of the opportunity to go to an LDS school in Hawaii, plus it offers many programs unique to the islands. In other words, I've never gotten the impression that members of the church go to BYU-Hawaii because they couldn't get into BYU (unless they happen to already live in Hawaii).

Sure, everyone has their specific reasons for going to a particular college or university. Most choose a school they are familiar with or were impressed by in some way. Probably the biggest reason I originally went to Kent State is because it's VERY close, even closer than my high school, though I don't think I would've come back if I didn't think this school had something quality to offer. But even then, I was familiar with the programs Kent offered and with the campus itself; I didn't come here having never set foot on the campus. Quite the opposite; I knew as much as or more about the campus and the community than most students do. I don't see a lot of LDS students from out here heading to BYU with very much knowledge of what BYU (or any other church school) is like or how good the programs are for their specific area. Most know that BYU is a "good school." As my last post talked about, simply being an overall "good school" doesn't always translate into "best school for you." Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not saying a church school is for sure wrong for everyone; I'm saying it's not right for everyone, even Latter-day Saints. My own experience confirms that. I was never a fan of church schools before I attended BYU-Idaho as a student and visited BYU several times for various things. My experiences with them confirmed what I already thought about the extreme cultures that exist at both schools and the high levels of pride (i.e. not good "school pride" either). There ARE a lot of good things at the church schools too. I know many people that have gone and have gotten a quality education and had very enjoyable experiences. I had many wonderful experiences and great teachers at BYU-Idaho in the three years I was there, but I also had many not-so-wonderful experiences at many different levels: from fellow students all the way to the top of the administration that will forever shape my view of the school. Further, they were experiences bad enough to seriously challenge my testimony in ways no anti-Mormon garbage has even gotten CLOSE to.

I guess my point here is not to talk down the church schools, but more to talk up the simple act of truly investigating a school before going there and not just going there based on what some people have said. Find some third party, objective reviews of the school and if possible, your particular program. It may very well be that the program you want to study in is really great at one of the church schools; it may also be true that you would be better served in your field somewhere else. Like I said, many people have had wonderful experiences attending church schools, but many have also had terrible experiences. And of course this doesn't apply to just church schools; it applies to any school. Church schools are my main focus here because they are the ones I see students go to the most often with very little actual info about the school other than that it's a church school. I don't regret going to BYU-Idaho despite how my time there ended (it's well documented if you don't know!). My reasons for going there were FAR deeper than simply "it's a church school." (In all actuality, I am the kind of person that would use "it's a church school" as a reason not to attend a particular school!). In closing, make a truly educated decision about your education!!

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