this is an a response to a question i received from the website - i have posted here before as "anarchist rabblerouser"
the question i recently recieved was:
Why does hampshire have such a low graduation rate? Are the students off doing great things or is there some problem with the system? What do you think of the negative reviews in studentreviews? Pat B.
i have tried to email several times, but each time it has bounced back to me, so i thought i would post it here...
well, my take on it is that some students do go off and do great things AND there are problems with the system. there are several other factors as well though.
first of all i think that a lot of the people that go to hampshire either come into the place, or quickly come to the realization while there, that college is primarily a time for growing and learning about oneself (while it certainly can have other purposes - such as a cultural validation of acquiring knowledge). additionally, in a more concrete sense, many people realize that college is a means to the end of getting a job or finding some sort of occupation.
and many people realize that the normal timetable for college of 4 years does not necessarily correspond to the fulfillment of these ends. many people leave hampshire after two years or some other period of time without graduating because they have simply gotten what they have wanted out of the place - which often means time to reflect upon who they are, what they think is important and what they want to do for some future amount of time.
and i can't help but think that some students just run into interesting opportunities to go and do other more interesting things while doing study abroad programs or doing internships or whatever - which i think hampshire student might do more than average students do. (you can probably find stats on that.)
also, another smaller factor to take note of is that i have talked to a couple hampshire kids that have told me that they were not interested in going to college but their parents wanted them to go. hampshire was a compromise (because of the freedom one has in determining what and how you study). so some people have come in with the predisposition that college was not the right road to take for them, but felt pressure from parents to go to school.
but it would be wrong to say that these are the only reasons that people leave hampshire without graduating.
among the complaints i have heard (and experienced to a more limited extent) are:
1) hampshire can be pretty academically intense. students are given a lot of freedom to study what they want and to create a program of study that reflects their interests and priorities. this can be a difficult process and one that not everybody is ready to jump into right out of high school (particularly for students that have not had many opportunities for autonomy in terms of their academic, extra-curricular or other activities previous to hampshire).
2) with an academic system like hampshire's, advising and peer mentoring are really important aspects of a student's experience. while i think hampshire's advising system and informal peer support and mentoring (i just mean students helping other students learn the system and figure out strategies to get through it in a way that really allows you to get the most out of it) are probably much better than most colleges, the demands for these services are much higher than most colleges as well, given the responsibility placed on the students to design their own course of study. i think that sometimes hampshire does not do enough to support students through this process. while i was at hampshire i worked hard to help implement student peer mentoring programs and other programs that would help students get advice from other students on how to go about constructing a div II portfolio for instance. these resources do exist at the school, but sometimes they are not "right in front of you". and this can be the difference between getting them or not in an environment that was as stimulating as i found hampshire to be.
3) financial aid has been noted as a problem (although i never had any problems with financial aid - the packages always seemed pretty fair). but i knew several people that were "guaranteed" a certain level of aid for all four years, but hampshire cut the aid. i don't really know the details of these circumstances and sometimes these types things can be blown out of proportion a little (especially in an institution filled with people that generally exhibit an inclination to "give the little guy" the benefit of the doubt and tend to view bureaucracies and official institutions with a more critical eye than is perhaps more common). (i am also one of these people too, so i don't say this dismissively.) i do think there are some problems with financial aid, but hampshire does prioritize giving students aid more than other schools do - rather than spend money on infrastructure or facilities (which i'll mention later). and while it is an expensive school, it is also a poor school. it has a very small endowment and much of the operating cost of the school is covered by tuition directly rather than through the endowment (like many other, richer schools that have been around for more than 33 years). so hampshire is certainly dealing financial stresses of its own. but this is not to rationalize not keeping promises. if hampshire guarantees a certain level of aid for a certain amount of time, they should uphold that promise.
4) other complaints are not necessarily specific to hampshire - things like it being a small school that sometimes feels lacking resources of larger institutions (although this problem is greatly alleviated by the existence of the other 4 colleges in the area). others include things like it being in rural new england (cold and isolated) or it just being too small of a social atmosphere.
i guess that is pretty much what i can come up with regarding the gradation rate stuff.
about the negative reviews...
i am still not completely sure i understand why some people feel so vehemently that hampshire did them wrong. i think that a common trait that people who complain most loudly about hampshire seem to exhibit is that they have a strong sense of entitlement. many of them think that hampshire should provide more resources for them. hampshire is an expensive school and people feel like they should be seeing more "return" on their investment. some of this complaining, to me, has a real smell of privileged arrogance, and another simultaneous smell of pragmatic fiscal responsibility. so i guess i am not really sure on this issue.
but some people really rail on hampshire for attracting an overwhelmingly liberal / progressive / radical group of people when it comes to political issues. this is from the students to the staff to the faculty. some students, i think, feel a bit isolated if they are not a bit left leaning. such is the contradiction of having a progressive political environment but also being such an expensive school. but, amherst college is right up the street and there are plenty of future corporate leaders of america inside those buildings...
i do think that one's political ideas are challenged at hampshire no matter how you identify yourself. but i think that probably more actively conservative minded people get the most "exercise."
so, i guess thats all i'm going to say for now.
feel free to ask more questions.
and specific questions are always better than general ones.erik. ehopp | at | hampshire.edu