There’s something (not everything) in a name. A famous university’s degree adds luster to a resume.

Consider the Ivy League: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, perhaps in that order (the first two produced seven of the last fifteen presidents), then other Ivies and near-Ivies and outliers like Chicago and Stanford. There’s an almost equivalent public institution hierarchy: Berkeley, then the flagship state campuses of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois… Famous liberal arts colleges come in even more debatable order. Specialised institutions have special status: Annapolis makes admirals, Juilliard trains musical virtuosi. Particular professional schools can stand out: Johns Hopkins medicine, for example. Some places have standing in a particular milieu: Bennington for the artsy, Rensselaer for engineers.

Then there are regional hierarchies. State flagship campuses have status in-state, and perhaps nearby. Outlying campuses compete for lesser and variable standing. Local associations, and sometimes antiquity, convey local status to a town’s or city’s old reliable, public or private. Of course, there are places where a pulse is the only reputed admission requirement.

Maine has its own hierarchies. Bowdoin’s, Bates’ and Colby’s national standing enhance their local repute. Colleges like Unity and the College of the Atlantic gain repute from unique programs and unusual teaching methods. The University of New England makes its name by supplying Maine with well-trained health professionals. The flagship at Orono is the state system’s university: graduate and professional schools generate regional standing. Farmington’s resemblance to a liberal arts college conveys repute. UM Augusta and other outliers of the UM system reach isolated and unconventional students: sadly, good teaching and learning aren’t always recognised. U of Southern Maine: the “safe school”: your grandparents got their teacher training at what’s now the Gorham campus. (Why is the flagship in Orono, not Portland?)

Community colleges come last: except when they don’t. Status in a profession or trade comes from expertise and excellence. Builders, bakers, welders, millwrights know where the best students come from.

Status isn’t everything. The careless student can flunk out anywhere. The intelligent can get a very good education in most places. And a graduate’s status depends mostly on her last degree. Any first degree is no disadvantage anywhere when the student has moved on, and up.

David R. Jones holds, among others, a degree from USM.

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