BY OLIVIA MARBLE ’21
At my high school in Massachusetts, most people perceived the University of Massachusetts, Amherst as the ultimate safety school. Almost everyone applied, and almost everyone assumed they would get in, due to its reputation as a somewhat “second-tier” institution — somewhere almost anyone could go.
In reality, a lot of these people were probably rejected. According to the UMass website, the university’s acceptance rate has dropped substantially in a short amount of time — from 71 percent in the fall of 2006 to 58 percent in 2015 — while its ranking in the U.S. News Top Public Universities and Colleges list has quickly risen from No. 52 in 2010 to No. 26 in 2019.
It is understandable that people in my hometown still have an outdated perception of UMass, considering how recently its ranking has improved. But I feel that it is strange that even people in the Five College community still maintain this perception.
Rob Sailer, a senior at UMass, feels that students from the other four colleges do not respect UMass as much as the other private institutions in the consortium. “When I’ve said that I go to UMass, students from the other four have replied with ‘oh nice, you know it’s actually a pretty good school,’” he said. “It’s pretty revealing how many people feel the need to let me know they think so. I’ve never heard that as response to a student saying that they go to one of the other four colleges, because it sort of goes without saying.” He also noted that the only people he has heard refer to UMass as “the zoo” are Five College students on the PVTA.
State universities are incredibly important; they provide a quality education for in-state students for a relatively low price of $30,000 per year on average for in-state tuition and fees, about half of what most private institutions charge. Part of supporting these schools is recognizing that they are just as valuable as private institutions, and it is important not to look down on people who choose them, especially considering that this negative perception in many cases has more to do with classism than judgments of the schools’ actual quality.
I personally know that UMass is a wonderful school. I have now taken four classes at UMass in four different departments, and I have felt academically challenged by each. They have all felt different from classes at Mount Holyoke in that the class sizes are usually larger and the professors are not quite as accessible, but I believe they have benefitted me as much as the classes I have taken at Mount Holyoke.
Mackenzie Stratton ’19, a music major at Mount Holyoke, agrees. “UMass has saved my a** and you can quote me on that,” she said. “I would not have been able to do my thesis without one of the classes I took there, I’m having performing opportunities beyond what I could have [at Mount Holyoke] and this class I’m taking this semester is one of my favorite classes I’ve taken in college.”
Stratton and I are not the only ones who believe that UMass is a great institution. An article in the Boston Globe titled “‘ZooMass’ no more. Is turning UMass Amherst into an elite university what the state needs?” noted that UMass has a strong reputation in the U.S. and abroad — overall, it has a better reputation outside of Massachusetts than in it. It ranks 39th in the 2018 US News list of the best nursing programs in the U.S., 11th in the 2016 Businessweek list of the best public undergraduate business schools in the U.S., and 2nd in the 2018 QS World University Rankings list of the best linguistics programs in the world. The Boston Globe article also noted that people who live in Massachusetts most likely maintain a worse perception of UMass than people outside of Massachusetts because the many elite private colleges in the state overshadow it.
We as Five College students should stop looking down on UMass and start supporting our fellow consortium members. We are incredibly lucky to be in partnership with UMass; it’s time to act like it.