- How do you evaluate schools? What are your criteria?
We have several standards on which we judge a school-and they differ notably from those that drive the rankings, for instance, at U.S. News. We don't give any weight to a school's popularity among professors at other schools or its perceived "prestige" in the media. Instead, we look first at how rigorous a school's core curriculum is. Are all graduates of the college required to master a basic set of foundational texts and great ideas, learn the history of the West and the books that shaped its civilization, and understand the history, civics, and economics of the U.S.? Do they read Shakespeare and the Bible? Where they aren't required to, we provide a "do-it-yourself" core curriculum for students who choose the school, drawn from classes offered in its most recent catalog.
Next, we consider the school's attention to teaching—as opposed to generating tomes of abstruse research consumed only by narrow specialists. Are professors promoted based on the quality of their teaching, rather than the number of articles they churn out? Are all major classes taught by full-time faculty, or are they fobbed off on inexperienced graduate students, who often work outside their areas of expertise?
We judge a school's atmosphere of free expression and open debate, and estimate how welcoming an environment it would be for students outside the academic "mainstream"—typically, conservative, libertarian, or religious students.
Finally, we judge the quality, safety, and sanity of life on campus and in dormitories—helping parents and students sift out the "party" schools and those overrun with radical activism or social experimentation (like co-ed dorm rooms or bathrooms, or campus sex festivals sponsored by the school).
In other words, we take a holistic view of a school, and try to see how it would affect the student as a whole person, a citizen, a soul.
- "You call your book Choosing the Right College. You're part of a conservative organization, aren't you? Doesn't that make you just as biased as the other guides?"
Intercollegiate Studies Institute is indeed devoted to preserving the founding principles of the United States. That means ordered liberty, representative government, a reverence for tradition, a piety toward the past, and a love for the civilization of the West.
As to the question of bias: An introductory class in history will inform you that no chronicler of the past achieves perfect objectivity, and that the honest ones don't pretend to. Rather, forthright commentators lay out their guiding principles openly and honestly, allowing readers to judge for themselves whether the author is tweaking the facts to fit his fancy. Other guides mostly don't do that, but pretend to a bland objectivity, when in fact what they reproduce is merely a dumbed-down version of the prejudices popular among the powerful-university presidents, tenured faculty, and billion dollar foundations. We admit right up front what we favor and what we oppose, then let you know in carefully reported reviews of every school how well they live up to the vision we treasure of higher education.
- What's with the “Red”, “Green”, and “Yellow” lights?
The traffic light system is a quick way of alerting readers about a school’s political and social environment. We have heard too many horror stories of students with conservative, libertarian, or religious principles who have attended allegedly "liberal" (e.g. free) institutions, only to find themselves isolated, ostracized, or even officially sanctioned for dissenting from campus orthodoxies. It's an old story, but it bears retelling, and by recounting such incidents we try to keep institutions honest. Colleges have come to us asking why they got a Red or Yellow light, and we like to think we're exerting some positive pressure on them to maintain an atmosphere of open inquiry. At the very least, we're giving students and parents critical information that never makes its way into college viewbooks or onto their web sites. Then they can make an informed decision about which school deserves their tuition and their time.
- Why isn't my college (or the college I'm interested in) covered in your guide?
Unlike some guides, which commit to covering each of the thousands of colleges and universities in the country, we aren't satisfied with merely skimming the surface. Most of the information you get about schools from some of those guides could be gleaned free by looking at college websites. Instead, we commit to in-depth examination of every school we study by consulting, visiting, and interviewing students, faculty, and alumni. Through this intense process we get a genuine feel for the educational and social experience at each. Because we set high standards, we have to limit our scope. We try to cover all the most prominent colleges in the country, important regional schools, and first-rate alternative academies where demanding core curricula, educational excellence, and intellectual freedom can be found.
If you think a particular school might meet those criteria and wish to recommend it to us, please click here and tell us why.
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