True Values in Public Education

Consumers Digest in 2011 published its list of Top 100 college values; it included real values.

Number one on the list is Truman State University (TSU) (Kirksville, MO), followed by the University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM) (Morris, MN).  Both have out-of-state costs comparable to Cal State’s in-state costs, yet they offer substantially higher graduation rates, smaller class sizes, and a load of major selections that are not impacted. To this duo of public values add FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) which is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system. FIT in Manhattan is one of the top five fashion design schools in the world (it includes Calvin Klein among its alumni), and has a COA under $30,000. This is a serious value.

Both TSU and UMM are public liberal arts schools with a dazzling array of majors to select among, but with core curricula that ensure students gain the foundations of liberal arts prior to graduation. The label of “Public Liberal Arts College” might be off putting to some. Yet, the best known public liberal arts colleges offer superb educations with graduates who are driven, innovative life-long learners and actors. A prime example of a public liberal arts college, which many public liberal arts model themselves on, is Thomas Jefferson’s alma mater William and Mary College (Williamsburg, VA).  

TSU is Missouri’s only public liberal arts college. Ironically, the oldest part of the campus, which dates back to 1873, was modeled on the University of Virginia, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson. Academically, TSU boasts a strong set of general education courses coupled with an interdisciplinary writing course junior year. The most popular major is business/accounting, yet it offers degrees in Russian, nursing, and even Athletic Training. TSU’s strategic plan is to “provide a liberal arts education that is financially accessible,” for all its 5,800 undergraduates while still maintaining a respectable 17:1 student to faculty ratio. Its out-of-state COA is under $25,000. Moreover, with an 89% retention rate, and a 74% four-year graduation rate, TSU is a screaming value.

UMM is about a third the size of TSU, only 1,690 undergraduates. Each student gets an academic advisor, enjoys a low student to faculty ratio of 13:1, and has 2/3rds of classes with fewer than 19 students. UMM’s six-year graduation rate is 60%; its retention rate is 81%. The curriculum includes five courses in “Skills for the Liberal Arts” covering writing, foreign languages, math, and art, and eight courses in “Expanding Perspectives,” covering history, social sciences, natural sciences and humanities. Its strongest programs include biology, education, psychology, English and management. Most impressive, over the last decade UMM has produced, per capita, the seventh most PhD graduates in chemistry in the country. All for a COA of just over $23,000.

Far from the remote Great Plains is Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) located in the Chelsea neighborhood on West 27th Street in Manhattan. The nine building campus includes TV and radio studios, design workshops, exhibition galleries, multiple computer labs and incredible special facilities that encompass numerous student displays along with the Annette Greene/Fragrance Foundation Lab, and the design research Lighting Lab, containing over 400 lighting fixtures. The school enrolls over 10,000 students FIT offers a range of associate’s (2-year) and bachelor’s degrees in Advertising, Fashion Apparel/Design, Fashion Merchandising, and Commercial Photography. Best of all, FIT is an affordable learning environment within the bustle of New York.

If you seek to gain a solid foundation in the liberal arts while gaining a degree in accounting, chemistry, nursing or even creative writing there is TSU. UMM provides an affordable intimate campus for the academically driven across dozens of disciplines. For the aesthetically inclined there is the design bastion of FIT in Manhattan. All have COAs less than the UC campuses, and comparable to the CSU campuses, while offering campuses quite different from those in California. Explore them.