Category Archives: Opinion

Perks of not studying abroad

Discovering a new culture, meeting new friends and having the experience of a lifetime. With these selling points, you might wonder why some students say “no” to the chance to study abroad. Although studying abroad is quite popular at the 5C’s, every year there are many sophomores who choose to stay in Claremont during their junior year. To get a better idea of why one might choose not to study abroad, I interviewed several students who chose to spend their time in Claremont instead of Europe, Asia or another exotic destination.

Why would you choose not to study abroad?

In a word: education. Most of the students I talked to mentioned that they preferred taking classes that were meaningful and would advance their education over going abroad (where classes might not be at the same calibre as they are in the 5C’s).

Some of the students found that they wanted to take some specific classes before graduating and, unfortunately, would not have time to take them if they went abroad. There are also those who cannot study abroad if they want to complete their major. For example, Marc Blumberg (CMC ’15), an Economics-Engineering (3-2) major, is staying on campus to complete all his required courses before he applies after three years at CMC to Harvey Mudd College for his last two years of school. With regards to choosing the 5C education over studying abroad, I think Katya Abazajian (CM ‘14) put it best when she told me that, “To those who want to take substantive classes and are loving their education here at CMC, I’d recommend not going abroad—because if you’re taking substantive classes abroad, you’re just not doing it right.”

What are the benefits of staying in Claremont?

One of the benefits of staying is being able to take classes that you would not be able to abroad. Hannah Burak (CMC ‘13) explained that, by staying in Claremont, she “got the opportunity to continue taking econ classes and eventually added it as a major—something [she] could not have done otherwise.”

In addition to taking classes at the 5C’s, choosing not to study abroad allows juniors to work on projects that they would not have time to work on otherwise. For example, Burak took advantage of this extra time on campus by taking “on leadership of the Claremont Independent for a full year—one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of [her] life.” Abazajian also said that she had “been able to start projects that will allow [her] to travel for academic reasons, so that has been a huge perk.”

Would you recommend staying in Claremont to freshmen and sophomores considering studying abroad?

The responses that I got point to the fact that the decision really depends on each individual student’s preference. For some students, a 5C education trumps partying abroad. Other students believe that traveling once one has graduated is more valuable when taking into account opportunity costs from not spending four years at the 5C’s, such as Abazajian, who told me, “Traveling is not unique to college—having accomplished professors willing to freely share their knowledge with you and help you develop into an educated person is.”

Crescit cum commercio civitas: Seize the day

In 2007, the Robert Day School (RDS) of Economics and Finance was established in recognition of a $200 million gift from Robert Day ’65, former Chair of Claremont McKenna College’s Board of Trustees. It has been described as the single largest donation to an American liberal arts college. It has also been described as a threat to the goal of a liberal arts education.

Background

The RDS offers undergraduate majors in Economics and Economics-Accounting as well as a Master’s Program in Finance. It also offers the Robert Day Scholars Program, which is divided into two categories: the BA Program and the BA/ MA Program. At this time, only CMC students have the option to select between BA and BA/MA options, while students from other campuses may apply for the BA/MA Program. The BA Program provides students of all disciplines with an introduction to and a curriculum tailored around courses in finance, accounting and organizational behavior/leadership. The BA/MA Program focuses more on finance and allows students to take graduate courses to achieve a Master’s degree by the time of graduation. The application deadline was Friday, February 15.

One more thing: all BA and BA/MA Scholars receive a $15,000 scholarship during senior year.

Controversy

That last point is what has generated some concern amongst professors on the Kravis side of campus (geographically speaking; not to be confused with “Kravis-like” professors).

Some worry that the RDS and the Robert Day Scholars Program in particular may change CMC from being a genuine liberal arts college to being more of a specialized, pre-professional school. If I am a student majoring in philosophy, literature, or religious studies, for example, I have an incentive to pursue the Robert Day BA Scholar Program so that I can receive $15,000 to help me pay for my education. That means, however, that I now have to take courses in finance and accounting – subjects I would not have otherwise pursued – instead of taking upper level courses in my respective major. The concern of professors is obvious: CMC may no longer be focused on developing minds, but on developing careers instead.

Such concern is indicative of a pressing controversy in higher education. On January 29, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory chided liberal arts courses offered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, saying “If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine… But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”

But this is not only a recent problem. Author and recent Athenaeum speaker William Deresiewicz noted in 2008 that this trend of focusing on careers is not limited solely to public officials, but to the atmosphere of educational institutions as well. “The liberal arts university is becoming the corporate university, its center of gravity shifting to technical fields where scholarly expertise can be parlayed into lucrative business opportunities.” Universities and colleges seem to be forgetting, according to Deresiewicz, that the “true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.”

It thus comes as no surprise that some CMC professors may be concerned that the Robert Day Scholars Program – which emphasizes pre-professional skills and career development – may detract from the goal of a liberal arts college. They worry that the Program may change CMC permanently and not necessarily for the better.

Seize the Day

I believe these concerns are justified. After all, the RDS Program may detract from the well-roundedness of CMC’s education by shifting focus and students towards the path of technical education.

But I believe these concerns can easily be ameliorated as long as we do not act rashly.

Firstly, the Robert Day Scholars Program curriculum in- cludes philosophy classes such as “Moral and Political Issues” and “Ethical Theory.” At the very least, there is some effort to ensure that there is not solely a focus on technical education. Furthermore, the Program is still being developed, and can potentially be reformed to address grievances.

Secondly, we have a President-Elect who understands the value and power of a liberal arts education, and who has already taken time to meet with department heads to understand potential concerns. Even if the current landscape is worrisome for the liberal arts at CMC, it definitely helps to have a president who has spearheaded the development of interdisciplin- ary courses, has won a Distinguished Teacher Award, and has extensive experience in academia. I would say the future looks rather bright.

Thirdly, we focus on learning, and we focus on doing – but more importantly than either is that we focus on “learning for the sake of doing.” I used to think of this motto as just an empty slogan to distinguish CMC from other liberal arts colleges for attracting applications. I now understand that CMC combines the best of both worlds. We develop minds and creative ways of thinking by ensuring that students take courses in philosophy, literature, government, history, etc. But we do so with an eye toward the future, so that we can apply the skill of critical thinking to any and all of our future endeavors, whether it be in the realm of academia, politics, gender studies, economics, or finance.

The RDS and the RDS Program offers another avenue for students to achieve that end. RDS Dean Brock Blomberg notes this on the school’s website, saying that the RDS provides the opportunity for technical learning “in a liberal arts setting.” Does this mean that a student may not take as many upper-division courses in their respective major as they otherwise would? Yes. But this also means that students can still learn about literature, gender studies, and philosophy – the liberal arts – while simultaneously gaining pre-professional skills that allow them to strike a balance between developing their mind and career that will serve them in the future.

CMC has reached a middle-ground, a sweet spot, between the overzealous public official concerned with jobs and the academic concerned with minds. We have become the practical liberal arts college. We have ambition counteracting ambition. We have an opportunity to seize the Day.