A Southeast Degree Stands Tall Among the Ivy


Photo of Joe Gholson

Joe Gholson of Harrisburg, Ill., was offered a variety of scholarships and had to make the choice between attending several notable schools. His ultimate choice was Southeast Missouri State University.(View larger image of Gholson)


Aug. 28, 2006 – Joe Gholson of Harrisburg, Ill., has never looked back after choosing Southeast Missouri State University over other college offers, including West Point Military Academy and Tulane University.

Gholson is beginning his sophomore year at Southeast as a pre-med major. The valedictorian of his high school class and a proven leader in sports and extracurricular activities, Gholson had nowhere to go but up. 

During his senior year of high school, Gholson was offered full-ride scholarships to colleges and had to make the choice between attending several schools, with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Tulane University presenting him with outstanding offers.  His ultimate choice was Southeast Missouri State University.

Apparently, Gholson is not alone in his choice.  A recent article in the Washington Post questions whether Ivy League and other elite schools are worth the sizable investment.  It suggests parents should conduct a cost-benefit analysis of their child’s education plans.

The article in the Washington Post, entitled “Heaven’s Gate:  Will gaining admission to one of the nation’s elite colleges guarantee a prosperous future – or just a mountain of debt?” written by Dante Chinni, cites a study conducted in the late 1990s by a Princeton economist and a researcher with the Andrew Mellon Foundation. The study compared 1976 freshmen at 34 colleges. They separated out a subgroup of those freshmen who had applied to the same set of elite colleges. They then took members of that subgroup, who are now graduates of elite and public schools, and compared their wages in 1995. The results showed the income levels of these graduates to be “essentially the same.” 

The article also references another study which shows that fewer executives at Fortune 100 companies received their undergraduate degrees from an Ivy League institution in 2001 than in 1980.  According to the article, “at the same time, the percentage of executives with undergraduate degrees from public colleges and universities climbed from 32 percent in 1980 to 48 percent in 2001.” In 2001, 48 percent of those executives had received degrees from public colleges and universities. 

C. John Wilder, chief executive officer of the Fortune 500 company TXU Corporation and a Southeast graduate, is among this group.  Other notable Southeast graduates include astronaut Linda Godwin and Lt. Gen. James Conway, currently the director of operations for the Joint Staff and nominated to be general and commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The average cost of an Ivy League degree is about $40,000 per year.  In 2006, U.S.  News and World Report recognized Southeast in the top tier of its “America’s Best Colleges,” also mentioning “Least-Indebted” students and a national “Best Buy” among its top characteristics.

With more than 150 areas of study, Southeast holds options for students with a wide variety of career interests.  Southeast holds an extensive list of elite national and international program accreditations, including accreditations in mass communications, business, engineering, physics, music, social work, nursing and chemistry.  The Princeton Review listed the Donald L. Harrison College of Business among the top business programs in the nation for the past two years.  Kaplan’s Guide (2003 Edition) named Southeast a “Hidden Treasure,” one of only 30 institutions nationwide.

The annual cost of a Southeast degree may be only one quarter of the price of an Ivy League degree, with the figure based on the average cost for a Missouri resident. Southeast officials say the quality and results of that education allow a favorable comparison with the blue-blooded institutions of old.  Thus, it is common today to find top students in the state’s public universities.   “When I was a junior or a senior in high school, I looked at the Princeton Review, and West Point was ranked hardest to get into,” Gholson said.  “I was invited, and attended, a camp for a week called an ‘Invitational Academic Workshop.’  West Point would be considered on par with Ivy League schools, the difference is the military component.” Gholson says he was offered not only a full-ride scholarship to West Point for his undergraduate degree, but also the option of attending the subsequent medical school of his choice at no cost.  Gholson was given admissible status to West Point, however he withdrew his application before he was officially appointed to the position by his local representative. In addition, he would have received a Second Lieutenant Commission’s pay after his four years at West Point, which he says is approximately $40,000 a year.

Gholson said the discipline aspect of West Point was attractive.  As the captain of cross country, wrestling and track teams at his high school and his senior class president, he said he knew he would like the leadership aspect of the school, not to mention getting paid while going to medical school.  After careful consideration, however, Gholson said he found the military school opportunity to require too lengthy a service obligation.  He also said he would rather be serving his country as a doctor than a soldier.

At Gholson’s alma mater, one full-tuition scholarship is given each year to a student wishing to attend an Ivy League school, with stipulations that the individual attend an institution far from Illinois borders.  Gholson, however, saw no advantage to attending these universities.

“I believe a person gets what they want to out of their education,” Gholson said.  “They use the same textbooks at Ivy League schools as they do at Southeast and even at community colleges.  While Ivy League schools’ professors may be more well-known for cutting-edge research, the undergraduate education is more basic.  I feel a comfortable environment is more important than a prestigious establishment of Ivy League.  The best predictor of success is a comfortable environment because every student has the opportunity to get as much out of textbooks and lectures at Southeast as they do anywhere.”

Gholson’s comments echo an Aug. 21 article in TIME magazine titled “Who Needs Harvard?,” suggesting that many of today’s college students are looking beyond Ivy League schools to universities where they best “fit.” It also suggests that many smaller, lesser known institutions are providing students with top-quality educational experiences, comparable or better than that which they would receive at an Ivy League school and with a more reasonable price tag.

Gholson confirms this assertion, as evidenced by his score last year on the American Chemical Society (ACS) examination, which he says is a nationally normed test comparing Southeast students to students in other universities across the nation.  Gholson says the test was given by his chemistry professor as part of the class, and he scored in the top five percent in the nation for chemistry majors taking the test.

“I learned all the information on the test from my classes, and since it’s done by ACS, it certifies people anywhere, from Harvard all across the country,” Gholson said,  “I feel that scoring in the top four to five percent shows Southeast did a great job of preparing me.  I got my score with a fairly minimal amount of effort, just looking over the information the night before. Apparently, I learned a lot throughout the course.

“I came to Southeast on a Governor’s Scholarship,” Gholson said, “and it gave me the opportunity to not worry about being in debt. I could have money in my pocket while going to undergraduate school here at Southeast.”

Southeast was not the only institution offering Gholson a full-ride scholarship. Another regional university offered Gholson a similar scholarship, which covered tuition, room, board and all fees, and was also conveniently located in his home state.  But Gholson said he liked the personal attention he received at Southeast during the admissions process.

“I could call Southeast and ask about scholarships and immediately talk to someone about them,” he said.  “If I wanted to talk to a biology professor, I could immediately talk to them.  No one ever made me feel unimportant or a burden.  I noticed right away that it was really easy to talk to someone with any problem, question or concern.”

Gholson said Southeast also offered many opportunities outside of the classroom.

“Here, you are given the opportunity to do what you want extracurricularly, and if they don’t have it, you can make it,” Gholson said.  “I decided I wanted to create a pre-med honor society.  Washington University, St. Louis University, and Central Methodist are the only ones with pre-med honor societies in Missouri.  I went to Dean (Chris) McGowan and told him about it.  He wrote out a check for $500, and it was that easy.  There’s an opportunity to do whatever a person wants to do here.”

And Gholson does plenty.  He was a freshman senator for Student Government, a member of the Boxing Club, a member of Big Brother/Big Sisters and a member of the Southeast Student Medical Society. In fact, as a freshman, he won the Freshman Chemistry Student of the Year Award. This year, he is a Student Government committee-head on the executive board, a Presidential Ambassador, president of the Southeast Student Medical Society and president of the Boxing Club.  He is the only student representative on the University Studies Council and is on the Dining Services Advisory Committee. He also plans on being co-president of the pre-med honor society, Alpha Epsilon Delta, he has been creating with fellow classmate Andrew Valleroy.  Outside of these activities, Gholson says he tutors for the University through the Learning Enrichment Center and washes semi-trucks on weekends for extra spending money.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Gholson plans to attend medical school, with Mayo Medical School, Washington University Medical School and University of Illinois – Chicago all options for him at this point.  Gholson says, in the future, he hopes to be an ophthalmologist.