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On not buying into the mythology of “prestige universities”

ome years ago, a Catholic prep school invited me to address its parents’ association on the future of Catholic education. After describing how a truly Catholic education, stressing human and sacramental formation as well as intellectual competence, equipped young people to meet the challenges of a world that had lost its way, I got into a protracted dust-up during the Q&A period. 

In my prepared remarks, I had extolled the virtues of small Catholic liberal arts colleges with rigorous core curricula that introduced students to the best that Western civilization has to offer. I also took a few shots at the high-priced schools that fill the top tiers of those foolish college-ratings systems, but which are too often sandboxes of political correctness in which intellectual silliness (and worse) is on tap for something like $90,000 per annum. The pushback was fierce. Unless Johnny or Jane went to Stanford or Duke or the Ivies, parents insisted, he or she would be ruined for life. I countered with the example of my daughters, graduates of the University of Dallas who had gone on to fulfilling family and professional lives after attending top-tier graduate schools (in medicine and arts education) for which UD had prepared them magnificently. 

The pushback continued. What about “networking”? I suggested that serious professional “networking” took place in grad school and that the undergraduate years were better spent furnishing one’s mind and soul than in schmoozing with an eye to the main chance—especially in a campus environment hostile to Catholic understandings of what makes for genuine human happiness. This went on for forty-five minutes or so, but I don’t think minds were changed. Too many parents had drunk the Kool-Aid of “prestige schools” for me to make much of a dent.

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