EDITORIALS

UMaine: Raise a glass, face sobering debt

Posted Aug. 26, 2012, at 3:59 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 27, 2012, at 2:07 p.m.

Just in time to horrify parents delivering the class of 2016 to campus in Orono, the Princeton Review ranked the University of Maine 19th on its list of the biggest party schools in the country.

The Princeton Review issues an annual report that rates what it deems to be the nation’s best 377 colleges and universities in 62 categories. Reviewers formulate top 20 lists for such diverse topics as “most liberal,” “best library” and “happiest students,” based on data collected from surveying 122,000 students at all 377 colleges and universities.

Other Maine schools that earned mention on this year’s top 20 lists include Bowdoin College, which ranked first for best campus food and sixth for best dorms; the College of the Atlantic, which placed seventh for best campus food and 14th for encouraging class discussions; Colby College, which earned the 13th spot for best study abroad programs and 14th for “lots of beer;” and Bates College, where the food ranks 11th and the radio station ranks 12th. All four of these private schools also won “best value” designations.

The University of Maine joins DePauw University in Indiana, which stumbled into 12th place for the 2012 rankings, as the only schools on the party list with enrollments of less than 15,000. Perhaps finding motivation from a fight song that begins “Fill the steins to dear old Maine” positions the university’s students to rival much larger universities when it comes to revelry.

The University of Maine also placed in the top 20 for “least happy students” (9) and “least accessible professors” (6).

The ratings all are subjective and do more to raise questions than answer them. But the image of unhappy students partying instead of meeting with their instructors does warrant scrutiny from university officials.The survey results indicate a heightened level of student dissatisfaction and lack of focus at a time when institutions of higher education must ensure that they deliver the best return on increasingly steep investments in tuition and related costs.

With University of Maine graduates walking away from Orono with an average of $29,143 in student loan debt, the stakes are elevated. Even if the students don’t consider themselves happy, they must be prepared.

An Aug. 22 Gallup poll indicates growing doubt about whether college graduates are ready to enter the workforce, which also points to the need to consider greater emphasis on career development as part of the university experience.

Five-figure student loan debt and an unwelcoming economy threatens to undermine the “go to college and get a good job” maxim that motivated generations of Americans since the end of World War II to pursue post-secondary education.

In addition to helping students “develop their creative abilities, communication and critical thinking skills, and understanding of traditions in ethics and rationality within the arts, sciences and professions,” the university’s mission must expand to include ensuring that the value of a University of Maine education translates directly into career opportunities that give graduates a reasonable return on tuition and borrowing costs.

And, if the party ranking is accurate, students also might reconsider the “party now, pay later” mentality. The notion that college life should allow young adults to experiment socially and make a playful transition from childhood to the pressures of grownup life doesn’t hold up under an unpaid $30,000 tab.

The changing cost-benefit dynamic for a college education in Maine offers sobering evidence that it might be better to postpone the party until the first paycheck arrives.

CORRECTION:

An early version of this editorial requires correction. “Stein Song” begins “Fill the steins to dear old Maine,” not “Raise a glass to dear old Maine.”

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