St. Mary's offers an education you can't find anywhere else

June 06, 2013

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.

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