The value of an education at a small liberal arts college is often under appreciated. There's no hiding in the back of the room in a class with 400 students. You can't be anonymous, you have to participate or die.
I'm sure there's a flip side where everyone knows what you are doing almost all of the time. Yet I suspect that you make some pretty special friends in a small school where your experience is so intertwined with others.
I first visited Sweet Briar College in 1988. Technologically it was ahead of many schools. Computers were even then used by most of the students and faculty members. The computers were also networked at a time when few schools had thought about doing that.
We're proud to have a graduate of Sweet Briar among our children. You can get a great education in lots of places, I just think the odds of you getting that education increases as the size of the school decreases. I'm not an expert on "single sex" education, but anecdotal information suggests to me that "single sex" college is not a bad thing and may even be a great thing.
While all schools are businesses, I think scale matters. Just as many large corporations lose their focus and end up disappointing both customers and employees because of their unmanageable size, I think there is a similar risk of large schools disappointing their faculty and students. Many will agree that in Division I schools the focus on athletic programs has changed the nature of the collegiate experience.
There are no simple answers in business and education. Perhaps my experiences with Sweet Briar have colored my views because I know I've also worked with some great employees who have gotten their education from large state schools like Va. Tech.
In the end it may be that an education is what you make of it. Yet all institutions large and small, business and education, have personalities driven by their culture and their leaders. Certainly in the world of education some of that personality comes from the success at meeting the needs of students.
I also know from first hand experience that some students from larger schools end up being happier and more successful in an environment like Sweet Briar.
The good news is that colleges like Sweet Briar have made the decision to keep their size at a certain level and the current financial model of higher education allows them to do that as long as the experience they provide is of sufficient quality to attract their target number of students. The business world isn't often that wise. Growth is almost always assumed to be good. The truth could perhaps be somewhat different. Beyond a certain size a business loses its personal touch with customers unless they have exceptional management. Mergers and acquisitions often create some not so great stateless ships of the corporate world which really have few rules other than their own survival.
I hope our current higher education model survives. The variety of higher education institutions from which students can choose from in this country is undeniably one of our remaining strategic assets.