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Who, What, When
Skidmore's $200,00 question Putting a price on value
“In a word: Yes,” says Peter McCarthy ’86 when asked if his Skidmore education was worth the cost. “It was one of my best investments, and it prepared me for the next steps in my life.”
Those steps have brought McCarthy back to Skidmore as a faculty member in the social-work program, where he teaches senior seminars and oversees students’ placements in 400-hour internships in clinics, hospitals, and schools. McCarthy describes this experience as the cornerstone and capstone of the social-work major. “This community service and hands-on training is what makes the Skidmore social-work program so valuable to students today,” he maintains. “It’s one of the many ways they’re receiving value for their tuition dollar.”
He takes pride in the level of preparedness that Skidmore provides, pointing to many acceptances into some of the best graduate social-work programs in the country, including New York University, Columbia, University of Michigan, Boston College, and Smith. A Skidmore social-work degree allows for advanced standing when students go on for their MSW, essentially “fast-tracking” them by sparing them an entire year in graduate school—no small savings. McCarthy says 90 percent of social-work majors go on to graduate school within four years, and those who don’t go immediately tend to land challenging and interesting jobs with Teach for America, school programs abroad, or children’s hospitals. “They’re able to succeed in the wider world due to the critical thinking skills acquired and refined at Skidmore,” he says.
McCarthy is no stranger to the challenges his students face in meeting tuition payments. During his student days he received financial aid and worked in town to help pay his way, and he says many students today are using the same financial strategies: aid, work-study, and part-time jobs. It’s worth the trouble, he argues, because “it’s all about the value received in a Skidmore education: the smaller class sizes, the personal interaction with the professors, the creative thinking, and the academic flexibility. It’s about investing in better personal outcomes and being actively involved in the fluid process of one’s life.”
Bryn Varley Hollenbeck ’00 spent last year at Skidmore as a visiting assistant professor in American studies. Fresh from teaching at a large university, she saw the value in Skidmore’s distinctive opportunities for students to create a community with other students and professors. “That level of personal involvement isn’t practical when you’re teaching 40 or 50 students per class. Also, most universities rely heavily on adjuncts, so the students never really get to know the experienced professors.”
She says, “Teaching at Skidmore, I was able to pay more attention to individual students, and give more intensive writing assignments. There’s a much deeper connection here, facilitated by a strong emphasis on discussion, not simply lectures.”
As a student Hollenbeck was aided by a Palamountain Scholarship and held work-study jobs. Because she’s been working on her advanced degrees over the past eight years, her federal student loan repayment has been deferred, interest-free. She began paying it back this fall, and she views the 10-year payback period and the quarterly installments as “completely manageable.” She says, “When I consider the incredible value of my Skidmore education—wide-ranging classes in the arts and sciences, a semester in London, collaborating with professors on a published research project… priceless experiences, all of them—I couldn’t put a price tag on it.”
Behind the scenes—literally—is where David Yergan ’80 has spent his career, as a lighting designer, theater manager, and technical director for Skidmore’s theater department. In his student years he held work-study jobs in theater production; today he directs of crew of several dozen students in the same (if more high-tech) backstage duties, and many of his students are fulfilling work-study commitments as he did. This labor-intensive department uses a mix of theater majors and work-study students to help build sets, create costumes, set up sound and lighting, do marketing, run the box office, and stage-manage the productions.
“It’s very much a professional apprenticeship,” Yergan says. “Many of these students take internships and positions with professional companies such as the Lake George Opera, Saratoga Shakespeare, and the Adirondack, Williamstown, and Berkshire theater festivals. For majors who focus in design and production, we consider that part of their professional field-experience training over the course of their four years.”
Yergan sees this professional training within a liberal arts context as not just valuable but critically important. “The arts require not just technical training within that discipline, but a well-rounded education to inform and complement that training,” he says. “That’s the true value of a Skidmore education.”
“It was very apparent when I went to graduate school,” says sculptor Leslie Ferst ’76, “that my Skidmore education had been much more comprehensive than my new peers’.” Now on the other side of the desk (or potter’s wheel), Ferst teaches ceramics courses at Skidmore. “It’s clear that my Skidmore degree carried a lot of weight. The studio-art program within this small liberal arts college is both distinguished and extraordinary.”
Ferst has attended and taught at both public and private institutions and says that Skidmore students stand out in an original way. First, she asserts, there’s a lot of variety in the life experiences of the student body, and a profound respect for those differences. She posits that the quality of this unique, diverse community provides a forum for introspection and imagination. “These students possess a deep empathy, an ability to envision themselves as others. They are predisposed to well-informed self-examination,” she says.
As for tuition, she argues, “Considering that the undergrad years can be life-shaping and life-changing, and that you will carry this experience with you forever, it seems like a small price to pay.” And she contends that the depth and breadth of the artistic experience at Skidmore is without parallel. “In ceramics we are process-oriented, so students make their own clay, make their own glazes, and fire the kilns. Along the way, we interface with geology, chemistry, history…”
Ferst observes, “In a world that is moving faster and faster, education is about buying time for self-reflection and growth. At Skidmore I educate my students to become enlightened citizens of the world by taking the time to instill values and insights so they can create a narrative imagination. It’s a dialogue that is unlike any I have found in my 30-plus years since graduation.” In this academic culture, she says, “I get to know my students individually in the classroom and studio. I help them to integrate their interests with the curriculum, and I help place the most ambitious ones into major graduate programs or other opportunities.” She adds, “Connections I make with my students are lifelong dialogues. Just as ceramics professor Regis Brodie was there for me when I was a student, I’m there for my students. We are a community whose doors are always open.”
It doesn’t hurt, she concludes, that the unique campus and the special relationship with Saratoga Springs make Skidmore particularly appealing. “Where else can you find this?” she asks.
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