9:00 AM EDT, June 5, 2013
I am writing on behalf of more than 30 high school guidance counselors who are members of the Association of Independent Maryland & DC Schools (AIMS). We all have graduates who have attended St. Mary's College of Maryland and had valuable experiences there. It was with great concern, therefore, that many of my colleagues and I read Anne Neal's recent opinion piece on St Mary's ("Cautionary campus tale," May 30).
St. Mary's is one of the few small public liberal arts colleges in the country. Maryland is lucky to have such a school, alongside a broad range of other fine public and private colleges and universities. High school students should have choices when selecting the college where they are most likely to thrive. St. Mary's offers many students a wonderful and appropriate choice.
Yes, St. Mary's is more expensive than other Maryland public schools. It has to be. "What do you get for all that tuition?" Ms. Neal asks. Her answer, based solely on St. Mary's choice not to have a core curriculum, is: "Not much."
But here's the real answer: You get small classes in which you can have meaningful exchanges with your professors and peers. You get professors who give individual attention and challenge you to think. You get rich and diverse courses, as Joseph Rieu and Ruth Feingold discussed in their excellent pieces in "Maryland Voices." You get a community of learners.
Learning happens in many ways, not all of which are immediately visible or quantifiable. It is not all about "earning power," as Ms. Neal suggests. And many fine public institutions, including the University of Maryland College Park, the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia, have joined St. Mary's in declining to participate in the Voluntary System of Accountability.
But if Ms. Neal wants numbers, she might look to St. Mary's first-year retention rate of 87 percent, or their four-year graduation rate of 70 percent, both of which are well above national norms. St. Mary's comes out ahead of most other Maryland public schools on a host of other metrics, from average student loans to transfer rates to loan default rates.
St. Mary's may not have met their admissions goals this spring, but that is no reason to excoriate the school so broadly. Rather, we should be proud of the fact that we live in a state that boasts so many different choices in public colleges — including St. Mary's — that serve so many of our students so well.
Tina Forbush, Baltimore
The writer is co-director of college counseling at the Park School of Baltimore.
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