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St. Mary's attacker offers a lame defense

Colleges and UniversitiesUniversity of Maryland, College Park

Your readers may be interested to know that Anne Neal has offered a weak defense of her recent attack upon St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Ms. Neal is a Harvard graduate twice over. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from that fine institution. She is, no doubt, very bright. But I think she must have missed class on the day that this age-old lesson was taught: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

Why do I say this? Because after initially attacking St. Mary's for having the "highest tuition of any public university in Maryland," and then being rightly criticized for making a simplistic comparison of St. Mary's and the University of Maryland, College Park, she has doubled down on her insistence that St. Mary's is a poor value. What does she cite in support of her position? First, a statistic that St. Mary's has "the third-highest net price in the country among public colleges and universities," and second, that "the cost of a St. Mary's education has skyrocketed in the last decade. In-state tuition plus the mandatory fee has increased from $8,425 to $14,865 in just ten years."

What do these statistics prove? Not much. As for net price, Ms. Neal chooses to compare St. Mary's to public colleges and universities only, even though she knows or should know that St. Mary's competes in large part with private colleges (the price of St. Mary's, even after the past tuition increases that she mentions, is very attractive relative to the prices charged by the actual competition — see below). As for the past tuition increases (tuition is now frozen), she does not address the reasons for them, choosing instead to infer both that they were wholly avoidable and that they resulted in no short- or long-term benefits to then-current or future students.

Ms. Neal's style of selective argument reflects her training as a lawyer: in an effort to convince and "win," she advances facially supporting points but ignores countering considerations, context and balance, objectivity be damned. If she were trying to be fair, she would have shared these facts: (1) St. Mary's is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the "Top 100 National Liberal Arts Colleges" in the country. (2) Of these Top 100 colleges, 58 cost more than $40,000 in annual tuition and fees, 87 cost more than $30,000, and only six have lower tuition and fees than does St. Mary's. (3) Of these six, four are military schools and one has an openly stated religious mission. This is the big picture — St. Mary's is an outstanding academic value.

I suggest to Ms. Neal that she pause and consider a new approach to helping the cause of higher education. If she insists on being in attack mode rather than assist mode, perhaps she could pay some attention to the recent cheating scandal at her alma mater and stop taking misguided shots at St. Mary's. If she is willing to switch to assist mode, she might start from the ground up — by getting in a classroom and learning about education as a teacher, something that she appears to have never done.

Seth Cooley, Rydal, Pa.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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