In keeping with the title of this thread, let me throw my $.02 from a Michigan State Spartan POV:
First, (as noted) UM is too expensive; some say way too expensive for what it is. UM charges OSS in the neighborhood of the top privates (and is on the cusp of the lower Ivies) but disagree that UM offers a comparable undergrad program to those schools although in many, if not most grad programs, UM matches and exceeds the best. UM is among the best public universities, but it is limited by being a State school since no state school, except for those handful that deliberately remain small and focused on undergrad teaching (ie, New College and W&M), can similarly match the top privates, undergrad-wise. Though UM competes with some of the best privates for students, and gets many of the best, that doesn’t lead (at least in my mind, as well as many others), to the chicken-‘n-egg genuflection to UM as a comparable academic collegiate experience. Even a number of Wolverines are coming around to this realization. Examples: the MDaily chastised many in Ann Arbor for their ‘woe is me’ hand-wringing when President Bolligner bolted UM for Columbia. The conservative Michigan Review (and btw, I personally am ANYTHING but conservative, although they were right on this one imho) opined recently that UM people need to “Get a life” (their words) and stop believing UM is an Ivy, and stick to relating as the best public school out there – which it is. But then again, if you make people believe you are an Ivy, you certainly can charge tuition like one…
Second, UM is often more grad oriented at the expense of undergrads. Sure, that’s a popular knock at any large research university, esp a high profile one like UM, but I read it and hear it from friends and associates who’ve attended/worked at UM just to blow it off. UM has some programs geared for intense quality undergrad teaching/learning experiences, but not as much as it could or should; too many grad assistants teaching course sections even if they are under the supervision of a PhD. But as I noted, this is the scourge of many top research schools it’s just that, as a great, though very large public university, it is false advertising (as some do) to say UM delivers, on the undergrad level, what a Duke, or a Columbia or a Princeton, or a Stanford, (or even a Vandy or a Case or an Emory) does. Some also feel this mentality carries over to facilities – where the grad students are afforded the best while undergrads must fend for themselves the way those at a typical State U must do. I’ve always found it odd that the most beautiful and complete facility on campus is the Law Quad which is devoted to graduate/professional study – the LQ far exceeds anything comparable the undergrads have. I haven’t seen this exact situation duplicated at any other school I’m familiar with.
Third, (also as noted) the sciences are not as strong as some of UM’s peers, like Berkeley. Sure, some will say I have my biases (and I surely do), but despite USN&WR rankings (where a number of UM programs – esp at the undergrad level -- are privy to the ‘halo effect’), there are a lot of people that will say that even Michigan State bests UM in a number of sciences, particularly (historically) biological and physical sciences (esp in nuclear physics). This is not really a problem, as I see it, because no school – not even Michigan – can literally do it all. That said, UM is certainly way better than most public universities.
Fourth, while it has some good points, UM’s campus situation is not necessarily ideal. Central Campus and the Diag area are certainly compact, and pretty easy to negotiate on foot, but oftentimes during/between classes it can feel crowded and overwhelming. I remember noting a large block of students crossing S. (?) University and feeling like I was in Manhattan. Sometimes Central Campus’s mostly large buildings feel cold and institutional rather than welcoming, and often appear outsized for the campus they occupy. I guess it’s the byproduct of having such a large school occupy such a small space. Obviously the Law Quad is a respite, but it is more the exception than the rule imho. Clearly Central Campus is running out of room, as it appears that new buildings are beginning cannibalizing old ones (like Frieze). With the continued explosive growth of UM’s adjacent, famed med school, something’s got to give. Moreover, the bifurcated campus (btw North, Central and to a lesser degree, Athletic) creates, I’m sure, headaches for a lot of undergrads.
Fifth, housing. This is pretty well known. There are some really luxurious dorms, like Martha Cook and Mojo, but my understanding is that a lot of the rest is, well, lacking, esp those quads (and esp South Quad). And again, the North Campus bus-trip thing becomes problematic if students’ programs aren’t located there. There has got to be a feeling of isolation. Plus, I always read/hear that there still is not enough on-campus housing for undergrads. The UM housing lottery is near legendary.
Sixth, lack of academic advising (already addressed).
Finally, attitude. I’m talking about those of administrators more so than students/alums. I get the distinct feeling sometimes that, because UM is so good, some in the administration believe there is no need not try harder to make it better. ‘We’re Michigan, after all.’ While that’s great for esprit de corps, it leaves some undergrads alienated and grumbling – some, as I know, to the point of transferring. Many students feel that given the money they’re paying, they’re obligated to remain silent about Michigan’s shortcomings, but others aren’t. Indeed, with the big bucks – and concomitant extremely high expectations they have in Michigan, some feel cheated—though they are in the minority, clearly. But to those few, the UM administration appears as a fortress. And then, why should MSU, the 2nd fiddle school in Michigan, have gone out and created excellent undergrad-oriented programs like James Madison and Lyman Briggs, and UM has not lifted a finger to do so. I mean, RC and Alice Lloyd are nice, but don’t compare with Madison or Briggs. What’s more, there have been times when UM appears to be coming up short, esp to MSU in a particular program, it merely punts rather than competes – I guess UM should never have to get down on the level with ‘those guys’. We’ve seen this with geography and communications and, to a degree, I think you’re seeing it with nuclear physics (where UM recently decommissioned and shut down its pioneering Phoenix nuclear reactor). That simply shouldn’t be.
… Oh yeah, and you guys stink in Basketball right now (haha, had to throw that one in before you hit me with John L. Smith, … ugh!). But believe it or not, I think you should stick with Tommy Amaker, a good person and, ultimately, I think, a good coach.
Quincy, I studied at both an Ivy League and Michigan and I can tell you that with the exception of Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton, Michigan is comparable to the Ivies in terms of undergraduate education. So no, it is not overpriced. Furthermore, most top research universities, from MIT to Harvard to Stanford to Cal to Cornell to Michigan, advising will be lacking.
Alexandre, didn't you state the Ivy you studied at was Cornell? If so, Cornell's more the exception to the Ivies than the norm -- it's part private, part public Land Grant, and has a lot more undergrads than the other Ivies. Cornell is New York State's Land Grant college and, as such, is as much like a major public as it is an Ivy -- technically, only its College of Arts & Sciences is Ivy, if I'm not mistaken. There are legitimate parallels btw Michigan and Cornell, but not Michigan and the others (maybe, Penn, to a slight degree). So if Cornell’s your context for comparison, it’s not a good one. As to the quality of UM’s undergrad program matching most of the other Ivies -- and private Ivy comparables-- you're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I respectfully disagree.
One thing I don't exactly get is how we can have such huge classes of undergraduate students, charge them that much for tuition, and still be in need of money. Anybody know how much accountability there is the "the system" for making sure money is being spent right?
I don't think having graduate students teach some classes is that much of a problem. They only do it for the really large introductory classes, and even then most of them are taught by professors, and graduate students only run the discussion sections (and even then not always, my discussion section leader for physics 240 E&M was a full professor and is teaching physics 405 E&M this upcoming semester). The only classes I've heard of that are actually taught by graduate students are calc I and calc II, and in that case whether it's a graduate student or professor, it's really hit or miss as to whether or not they'll be able to talk down to students and make them understand. In any case, with that many people taking those classes, there are tons of other opportunities available to get help. For econ 101, outside of lecture and discussion the professor had office hours, GSIs had open office hours so you could go to any one you wanted, and I think some business fraternity hosted tutoring sessions.
I think the two specific things you mentioned about MSU are kind of exceptional cases. For nuclear physics, it's not like MSU is just better than Michigan, but last I checked in the USNWR or something like that they were best in the country. So I don't think we can really conclude that Michigan is failing for not being #1 in some category. Also, MSU was originally an agricultural college, and was designed to have lots of space and facilities for things related to biology, so it makes sense that they'd have a very strong biology department.
The split-campus set up isn't that bad, though it's becoming more of an issue because housing issues are forcing the university to put more and more people up on north campus. But the busride between campuses (campi?) is pretty short and runs about every 5 minutes during school days. Lots of people I know who live on central campus have never even been to north campus.
Why exactly is south quad considered bad? The only times I've heard people say anything bad about it is from people on this forum, and my parents ( because they both lived in West Quad). We have probably the largest cafeteria (and thus the one with longer hours/more likely to be open and whatnot), mini-convenience store, ping pong, air hockey, foosball, big screen tv w/couches, classic 50's diner study area (used to be where the convenience store was), computer lab/study area on the 9th floor that's always quiet and open 24/7, ideal proximity to both central campus and athletic campus, large rooms, Honors college, certain hallways have gotten custom paintjobs from former residents (my hall's theme was heavy metal groups of the 70s/80s).
If you want an idea about how much we care about basketball, women's softball is about to pass it in popularity (which one local radio personality said should win us some kind of Title IX trophy). I guess at least we're not consistently mediocre in football and our hockey program is better (at least insofar as our home ice atmosphere is a lot better, we don't play boringly godawful Ron Mason-style hockey, and hopefully next year our underclassmen will finally breakout and we can make a more formidable run down the playoff stretch)
dilksy said: "[a]lso, MSU was originally an agricultural college, and was designed to have lots of space and facilities for things related to biology, so it makes sense that they'd have a very strong biology department."
Partly true. As an ag school, MSU had more than 'lots of space' for things related to biology, it literally had among the leading biology teachers and alumni during this early period. The modern study of botany was all but created at the school; many consider it 2nd, historically, only to Harvard's, where the great Asa Gray held court. That legacy holds true to day in the quality of MSU in most of the natural sciences. They were created as adjuncts to agriculture, but their scholarly nature led them to be much more.
Quincy, Harvard, Columbia and Penn are identical to Cornell and Michigan when it comes to undergraduate focus. Those universities expect students to be driven, self-starting go-getters, and given the size of their graduate programs (Columbia and Harvard have larger gradsuate schools than Michigan or Cornell), they provide their undergrads with very little attention.
Like I said, Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton are similar to LACs, but the likes of Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, Northwestern, Penn and Stanford are similar to Michigan. Large classes, TAs leading discussion groups, poor advising etc...
Penn, as I said, can be comparable to Michigan on a level. But Columbia and Harvard? -- I don't see the comparison. Their small colligate sizes -- Columbia College is little bigger than an LAC -- affords undergrads more attention PhD faculty. And Harvard, for all the potshots it takes re its undergrad program, affords the residential “House” program with scores of tutorial opportunities undergraduates with top faculty. Each dorm/house is like a free standing LAC within the larger university -- with live in faculty, extensive libraries, seminar rooms, etc -- like Yale's, it's very similar to the Oxford/Cambridge programs they mimic. There's simply no way Michigan, or any other large state university, can match that in its overall undergraduate program. Also, quality, driven students by nature are going to be 'go getters', it's just that some schools force them to be so more than others.
The only dept I'd say is 'weak' is the secondary/elementary education department.
Michigan doesn't have the chops that, say, MSU has in these areas, but I'm not sure I'd call it weak.
They just put something like $1.5 million into revamping the teacher training component, and it's pretty exciting to hear about the plans there. U-M Michigan students in education already take three terms of student teaching (this is not common) and have the second-highest passing rate in the state on the certification exam.
One thing I don't exactly get is how we can have such huge classes of undergraduate students, charge them that much for tuition, and still be in need of money.
Education is an expensive business. It's true on just about every campus: tuition doesn't begin to cover the cost of instruction. There are a number of reasons, but one of the foremost reasons is that it's very labor-intensive. It also doesn't realize big cost benefits from humankind's great advancements in technology (that is, it benefits in many ways, but unlike widget-making, higher education doesn't see big increases in efficiency and cost savings) Also, universities are charged with not just teaching knowledge, but creating new knowledge AND cataloguing and preserving all the human knowledge up to this point.
Quincy, Harvard and Columbia having small undergraduate populations isn't the issue. Whether you like it or not, they both have huge graduate programs that drain most of those universities' resources. Columbia has 15,000 graduate students and Harvard has 14,000 graduate students. I don't care how small your undergraduate population is, when you have that many graduate students, the faculty is not goiung to have time for undergrads.
My mom is a Columbia alum and frequently takes part in alumni functions, so I have a great deal of insight into that school. Freshman classes often have over 200 students and TAs are a regular fixture in most small discussion groups at the Freshman and sophomore levels. Sounds a lot like Michigan to me. Harvard is no different.
Besides, Harvard's and Columbia's undergraduate populations are not LAC-like at all. 6,000-7,000 undergrads is not small. LACs have between 1,000-2,500 students. LACs with over 3,000 students are unheard of. Columbia and Harvard indeed have smaller undergraduate populations than Michigan, but they do not have small undergraduate populations. But when you factor in their huge, research-centric, graduate programs, it is pretty clear where those two universties' priorities lie.
Michigan is the most well rounded university in the country. Only Stanford comes close. It has one of the most gifted student bodies you will find anywhere. There are, at any point in time, more talented students at Michigan than at any other university in the country. Michigan's bottom 30% may not be the smartest people on earth, but the top 50% of Michigan's student body is as good as they come...and 50% of Michigan is 12,000 strong.