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County Hall Corner: Local Colleges that Count with Clout

The current protests happening on campuses around the country are deja vu, but hopefully, they will not repeat an event that took place 54 years ago.

On May 4, 1970, four students were shot to death and nine others injured at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. During the 1960s, campus protests had been all the rage; this one was in response to the expansion of the Cambodian campaign, which President Richard Nixon had announced five days before the Kent State tragedy.

In an article on the 50th anniversary of this event, the New York Times claimed that because of the tragedy, the United States was never the same afterward. This was generally true, but not in the way they presented it. As much as the Ohio National Guard was to blame, the massacre resulted in a more sobering approach to demonstrations. Colleges began to take more of an active control rather than a benign attitude toward these unauthorized protest events. As the USA got out of Vietnam in 1973, protests became more and more rare as students did not have major issues such as segregation or Asian wars to get angry about.

There were still riots, to be sure, such as the Los Angeles riots of 1992 as a result of the beating of Rodney King by LA police officers. But it wasn’t until the 2020s that it seemed all Hades had broken loose. There were the Black Lives Matter and George Floyd riots in 2020-21, the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol, and now the campus riots taking place all across the country.

It is hard to keep track, but dozens of colleges across the United States are experiencing these protests to some degree or another. The greatest surprise is the Ivy League colleges. Ranked among our country’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, these students tend to have very high GPAs from high school, often achieving or close to a perfect 4.0, and SAT scores that are 1500 or above out of a possible 1600. But that is just to get to the door — to get accepted, a student would have to be someone special. This could be through extracurricular involvement, leadership potential, intellectual curiosity, as well as letters of recommendation, or family heritage in the institution. In short, these young people are supposedly the best and brightest of their generation. They are expected to become the future leaders in the fields of science, government, business, media, education, literally anything they would choose to put their minds to.

But their actions of late are going to cause the brightness of their potential to dim somewhat, perhaps even greatly. This brings us to our two local institutions of higher learning: Pennsylvania College of Technology and Lycoming College. Both of these schools deserve more recognition than they generally receive.

According to US News and World Report’s annual analysis of the nation’s colleges, “Pennsylvania College of Technology is ranked #6 out of 52 Regional Colleges North. Schools are ranked according to their performance across a set of widely accepted indicators of excellence.” With majors such as health professions, engineering, mechanic and repair technologies, as well as business, management, marketing, etc., the school opens many doors for a good vocation.

But they are also an innovative school as well.

In two weeks, Penn College will host the Baja Collegiate Design Series competition run by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International. Teams of students from universities all over the world design and build small off-road cars. Dubbed Baja SAE Williamsport, the international event is expected to attract 80-plus teams and about 800 competitors from around the world.

Lycoming College is likewise a nationally ranked college, although it is more on the liberal arts side of the spectrum. It has an amazing 11:1 ratio of students to faculty ratio. They also have a surprising number of foreign students and emphasize internships, studies abroad, and undergraduate research.

In January of this year, the prestigious Inside Higher Education site featured an article entitled “A Small Pennsylvania College’s Big Investment in the Humanities.” The article highlighted a bold initiative beginning at Lycoming College. They quoted, “Lycoming spent about $75,000 to launch the Humanities Research Center in 2022, which connects students with related experiential learning opportunities and supports undergraduate research. The college also received a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to advance a digital project about the history of the college, which is meant to be a pilot for possible future projects. Through internships and course assignments, students can collaborate with faculty members on research, digitizing archival material, conducting oral history interviews, creating exhibits, and producing a podcast.”

Other schools of higher learning might have more prestige and heritage, but sometimes total upheaval. In the real world in which these students will be competing, the product coming out of our two local institutions stands up very high.