I recently read an article on the baltimoresun.com about St. Mary's College of Maryland ("St. Mary's: A cautionary tale for America's bloated higher education system," May 29). I am part of St. Mary's class of 2016, and the article offended me.
While I agree that tuition could be lower, the price of our college only ensures that everyone on campus continues to receive the genuine "St. Mary's experience." While that does not mean much to you, as someone who just completed their first year living on campus, that is an experience that I would not trade for the world. On our campus we have very few students, and the campus itself is very small. You can walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes. What has developed from this is a very strong sense of community. As a student you are immersed in the school, surrounded by fellow students and your school work. It makes it possible to focus on every aspect of the "college triangle" (work, social life, sleep), which is next to impossible to accomplish on most other campuses.
And although she blatantly put down the education received at our school, that is incredibly wrong. She claimed that it is bad that students graduate without exposure to literature, American history or government, foreign language, or composition. However that is incorrect. Part of St. Mary's extensive core curriculum are the following requirements: arts, cultural perspectives, humanistic foundations, international language, mathematics, natural sciences with laboratory, core seminar, and social sciences. This covers every class she claimed we were not exposed too, and more. The fact that we can test out of those courses before coming to SMCM with high-school AP classes, or that we only have to take one of each to satisfy the requirement does not lessen our quality of education.
The point of high-school is to prepare students in those subjects, so that they are versed enough after graduation to understand them without furthering their education. If those who do not go to college are not asked to learn more on the subjects, why should college students? If high-school graduates do not know enough about general topics after graduating, then it is the fault of the high-school. In fact I believe it would be wrong to push students here to study those specific courses more in depth if they do not pertain to their major.
I am a Chemistry major with minors in Music and Physics. Should I have to take multiple classes in American government until I am well versed in the subject? Even if I did feel I did not know enough about government, it has nothing to do with the path I am following. With my current schedule I will not take a single semester with less than 19 credits in my time here. And earning those credits is more difficult than she is assuming. Every class here is honors, and worth four credits each (with the exception of electives). They are difficult and ask a lot of the students. If we were asked to fit in not only the core requirements for graduation into our schedule, but also add additional studies of the topics she pointed out, many students would begin to fail out of their respective majors. And I reiterate, it is unfair to ask a Chemistry major to study the government in depth, while also keeping up with required classes for graduating.
I should also point out that 11 upper level courses, or 44 credits of 300 level or higher classes, are a requirement for graduation. The chemistry major only requires seven upper level courses, or 28 credits. What this means is that students have to fulfill upper level courses that do not pertain to their major in order to graduate. St. Mary's does not specify which classes students have to take to satisfy those extra credits, but they give us the free-will to choose the classes that we will enjoy. At St. Mary's they push us to pursue our interests, regardless of whether or not they relate to our after-college plans.
She also seemed to poke at our freshmen seminars. I should point out that since the core requirements satisfy the classes she seemed to hold so dear, the freshmen seminars instead focus on giving students the required skills to flourish in college. They teach us to write lengthy papers that we might not have been exposed to in high-school, give us proper college-level presentation procedure, and help us to improve the organization of our time. These "trendy seminars" focus on topics that pique the interest of the students. They give you options, and by letting you take a class that will not bore you it becomes easier for the teacher to give you those necessary skills without worrying that you will fall asleep and miss the essential elements they expose you too.
Another unique requirement of St. Mary's is CORE350. For this course you receive zero credits, however you get your ELAW requirement. This means students are given the opportunity to study abroad, or work in an internship in their desired field. Requiring students to satisfy this gives them opportunities to experience the real world before graduation. It gives them insight on how things work off of the St. Mary's campus and prepares them for the day after they "walk across the stage." The real world opportunities they offer includes foreign studies ranging from two weeks to an entire year abroad, in places all over the world. Internships are also diverse, and students can travel to almost anywhere to work them. For example, one student a couple years ago flew to Houston and worked for NASA for a summer.
Perhaps the best part of St. Mary's though, is the faculty. Even through all of the budget cuts we have been suffering from the lack of incoming students, President Joseph Urgo has been sure to keep the faculty strong. At St. Mary's we appreciate every single person that works hard to keep our school as outstanding as it is. The professors are all incredibly qualified, and since the student body is so small, they all have time to focus on each individual student and give them the attention they need to graduate. The office staff is incredibly efficient in handling the matters of not only the college as a whole, but every student who comes to them for help. I can guarantee you if you message the financial aid office for example, they will be sure to respond in less than a day with every ounce of help they can give you. Even common help such as the cleaning staff is greatly appreciated. It was not unusual for me to see a student helping carry garbage bag down to the dumpster for the lady currently cleaning their bathroom. This ties back to the sense of community I mentioned before. The community here isn't just the students, everyone who steps foot on our campus makes a difference to us. Every person here is a part of our family, and no other college could replicate the bond we hold with each other.
Even with the budget cuts from our recent financial problems, we will not be fazed. They can cut luxuries such as the pub or school sponsored dances, but it wont change anything. What makes St. Mary's as wonderful as it is, is the hardworking faculty and the dedication of our students. What Ms. Neal doesn't seem to understand just what St. Mary's accomplishes for its students. They require us to dip our toes in every course she seems to think we aren't exposed too, they give us entertaining course options to keep us involved while learning necessary college skills, they force us to go out and experience upper level courses to give us insight into a broad variety of subjects before we graduate, they make sure to provide us with faculty that gives us every ounce of their help, they give us a chance to experience the real world before we are forced to go out and live in it, and most importantly St. Mary's gives its students a sense of community that you simply can't experience at larger schools. We might be having financial problems but contrary to what her article suggests, it does not take away from the quality of the "St. Mary's experience."
Jaclyn Marie Royer, St. Mary's CityCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun