Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Northeastern continues to annihilate its history

I generally try to keep this blog sports-related for a number of reasons. Most of them boil down to my reactions towards political blogs, mainly, as I find myself constantly enraged by the idiocy of the masses. Even sports blogs, like the ones on Yahoo! Sports, tend to bother me because they're filled with legions of "morans," most of whom can't name their own team's 25-man roster, much less the Angels'.

But every once in a while, something happens that I need to write about, and since I have a readership of at least 4 on this blog, it's more people than I can reach while sitting around in my dorm and whining a lot. So here we go.

First, read this: NU Coops Offered 4-Year Degrees

Northeastern is not a big name school. When I first applied to NU, it wasn't because I loved hockey. It wasn't because I wanted to live in the eighth floor of a building with a spectacular view of Fenway Park. It wasn't because of its academics. Hell, I didn't even know about the girls, or the ever-important male/female ratio, something I knew for almost every other college to which I applied.

Northeastern was not my first choice. Or my second. Or my third. It wasn't even in the top three of the schools I actually got into. Yet a startling scholarship offer kept Northeastern alive as I narrowed down my list of schools to UC San Diego, Northeastern, and another NU, Northwestern. And with the final three assembled, I visited San Diego, Evanston, and Boston.

I will admit that while visiting Northwestern, I purchased a purple shirt. I had a future just west of Chicago. I loved the campus, I loved that all my engineering classes would be in Tech, and I loved that everyone I met was unusually nice, or so it seemed, after growing up in Los Angeles. If you had asked me, on the flight from O'Hare to Logan, where I'd be walking across a stage in 4 years, the answer would have been Ryan Field.

When I arrived at Northeastern, the feeling hadn't left. Although I purchased a Northeastern shirt almost immediately, it was only to give me something to wear that wasn't a purple Northwestern shirt, a shirt I believed to be mocking the school I'd applied to on a whim, and whose student body undoubtedly desired the option to attend Northwestern. And that feeling continued past my first meetings with George, a student, and Rich Harris, an administrator, and George's roommates, and their girlfriends. I was a Northwestern man, and it was going to take something spectacular and wonderful to keep me from Chicago.

That thing was the prospect of 5 years of college with 1.5 years of work experience by the time I graduated. I had heard the term "co-op" thrown around when reading through my scholarship offer, but it wasn't really clear what the deal was, and besides, I'd gotten into Northwestern, something nobody else at North Hollywood High had achieved, despite the five or six kids who got into Stanford. But I didn't come to appreciate the value of coop until my second day at NU during my campus tour.

Coop is the only thing that Northeastern has that ranks ahead of every other Boston-area school. Harvard, Boston College, BU, Tufts, Brandeis...all of these schools have better academics. If you're interested in arts, there's Berklee, the New England Conservatory, MassArt. Even the engineering program at Northeastern can't compete with MIT, Harvard, or either of the Comm Ave schools. What NU has, and all those schools don't, and what Northwestern doesn't have, is a five year undergraduate program where I graduate 1.5 years ahead of every other kid with a BS in mechanical engineering. Those kids can get a job the second they graduate, and I'm still 6 months ahead of them when I graduate.

You want to talk about value? That's value. That's a strength at a school which has no others.

So when I hear our president start talking about how students want a 4-year coop program, I start to think about the Athletic Training program. I think about the College of Criminal Justice. Hell, I think about the football program. Northeastern, for the last 10 years, has not stood for its core values. Even the changing of the brand standard from the jovial, block font with the torch symbol to the typical academic font and seal, is another example of the changes Northeastern is undergoing at the expense of its greatest strengths.

Northeastern, until very recently, has never been the first choice for any students coming to Boston. To clarify, I mean that nobody comes to Northeastern over BU for the sake of academics. Nobody decides on Northeastern over BC for athletics. People who come to Northeastern come for coop and for Boston. Despite the jokes and realities about acceptance rates and all that nonsense, BU has never been Boston's least favorite safety school. It's been NU. Always has been.

And yet, when you ask current students how they feel about their Northeastern education, you get a wide range of opinions about class, but only one opinion about coop: it is the most important part of their education. Personally, I have learned more about engineering and business from the 1.5 years I spent working mediocre jobs than I have in 3.5 years being taught by Nobel laureates. The concept of having graduated last year from Northwestern with zero work experience scares me to death in a job market that sucks for anyone with anything less than a doctorate.

When I hear Northeastern wants to move from a standard 5-year to a 4-year coop program, this is what I hear:

We are beginning to realize that we don't have the academics of Harvard. But we think that we can attract more typical rich suburban white kids if we try to act a little more normal. We changed our logo to look more like BU's, and we think that'll help too. We haven't been able to beat these guys for the last 100 years, so we're gonna emulate them, and then we'll catch up and pass them once we get some better students. We're going to slowly, quietly phase out the five-year program and start to extinguish coop altogether because it makes it hard to compete with other schools whose students get summers off.

Northeastern, particularly under the Aoun administration, has an enormous inferiority complex. But they all fail to realize that NU's quirks are its greatest asset. You can get a crappy summer internship at any university, but with precious few exceptions, there is no other place where you can get a six month job that happens during the winter. There is no other place where you can potentially work at a single company for 1.5 years before you even graduate. So many third-term coop students get offered jobs that it seems like the entire Boston workforce is composed of NU graduates.

This is not a "can't beat 'em, so let's join 'em" scenario, as Mark so eloquently said. Northeastern has been handily destroying its competition ever since the first coop student paid off his student loans with the money he made from his job.

Getting rid of the 5-year program is the ultimate goal of this move. Students who currently want to get 4-year degrees can still complete two coops without any changes from the administration. But with the deemphasis of the 5-year program, I can guarantee that it will soon be impossible to complete a 5-year education at NU.

This is not a transition. This is an elimination. If you don't think so, ask the football team.


BoSox said...

I'm so glad to see that so many people are as outraged about this as I am. My number one reason for going to NU was Co-op...and Boston. You're completely right about those two being the biggest deciding factors for people. I always hype Co-op first when talking about NU and I think it is the best distinguishing factor this school has over the competition. I hate the way NU seems to be slowly circling the drain by trying to be something it isn't and shouldn't try to emulate. The people in power need to step back and realize that Northeastern IS NEVER GOING TO BE HARVARD OR YALE. And that's fine!! I didn't want to go to those stuck up schools for a reason! They're filled with rich jerks. I like NU the way it is and changing it would be a tragedy.

Ryan said...

I 100% agree. I'm a 3rd generation legacy student and co-op is what brought me back to the family's alma mater. When my "co-op" advisor says that unpaid internships are ok, it makes me sick.

RonnoBonno said...

They are slowly "breaking the brand". They decided in the early 1990's to be "smaller and better" since then tuition has been rising faster than inflation.
If you talk to NU students from the 50's & 60's they will say that they worked on Co-op and then paid their tuition. The Northeastern model of "cooperative education" was the best model for students to get practical experience and get a heads up on students from academic only institutions.

I think they will regret de-emphasizing Co-op, which is what put them on the map. It is a very sad day for Northeastern.

JohnnybGood said...

Dude -- you picked NU over Northwestern? Fool....

You're right - NU is rarely a top choice school but as our population has exploded there are more students seeking the same amount of positions. In other words, a rising tide raises all boats, including NU. They've moved up in rankings despite a so-so academic reputation and can afford to drop the program to 4-yrs.

The 4-yr program is also a response to PRESSING economic realities -- for the school and for parents.