Big money schools may not be worth it

(Steve Radford | The Oswegonian)
(Steve Radford | The Oswegonian)

I’ve returned from the other side.

Like many state college students, I’ve wondered of the lives lived by our counterparts in those charmingly quaint private liberal arts colleges. But I did more than just wonder. I enrolled, I attended and now, I’ve returned. As someone who has lived in Oswego most of her life, I went off to Le Moyne College, expecting Hogwarts.

No longer would I be taking Oswego State classes like “Ethics I.” Its equivalent at Le Moyne, called “Great Traditions in Ethics,” promised that, “Integral to this course is a study of these questions in the light of the great traditions of ethical thinking as they have come to light in the various wisdom literatures.”

I pictured myself reading these “wisdom literatures” in the (almost naughty-sounding) Honors Penthouse, which occupies the top floor of Le Moyne’s most impressive building and serves as a 24/7 lounge to the elites of this private college who have the key. And I had the key. If all that wasn’t enough to convince me that I had upgraded, then this would: a 700 percent upgrade in price.

So why would I, so clearly smitten with the idea of an elite education, return from this intellectual paradise on a hill? With experience at Oswego State, it had become clear by the end of the year that I was paying for the content of a state college education dressed up in the robes of prestige.

Places like Le Moyne are good at taking the ordinary and packaging it so that it appears special. Admittedly, it is the task of every university to vividly render to its students who they might ideally be. But if the amount of self-congratulations given does not reflect how much is actually deserved, only pomposity and inflated egos will result. The honors theses I read, for example, were only noteworthy for showcasing the type of writing that results from four years of being pumped full of jargon and self-importance.

If I hadn’t experienced a different college atmosphere, I too could have been convinced that enrollment in private college was an induction into an elite club. Right now, instead of writing this, I could have been starting my own honors thesis with enough subtitles, jargon and off-the-rails verbosity to fill a lecture hall. Thankfully, my vastly different experience at Oswego State let me take a hard look at what Le Moyne was actually trying to teach me: how to bluff insightful intelligence. I’m in no position to claim this is true of all private colleges, but I would not be surprised if it were.

I’ve come back to Oswego State with a number of things I’d rather not have: a lot of debt, reams of paperwork to properly re-matriculate and a slight bitterness toward my whole Le Moyne experience. But I’ve also come back with a valuable insight that can’t be faked and the conclusion that, for me, the grass is greener on the Oswego State side.

As far as colleges go, we’ve got a decent one. The professors in my departments speak clearly, as they always have, with the goal to teach us rather than impress us. The new Shineman Center isn’t just for show. I have been given the keycard to operate multi-million dollar lab equipment to do research that simply doesn’t happen at Le Moyne. All together, it finally feels like I’ve upgraded everything—but the price.