Posted : 2014-06-18 14:44
Updated : 2014-06-18 15:23

'Education is about big learning, not big name'

Stephen Allen, vice president for student services and dean of enrollment management at Southern Utah University, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at the company's headquarters in Seoul on June 12.
/ Korea Times photo by
Shim Hyun-chul
By Jung Min-ho

One of the most common misconceptions Korean students have about studying at an American college is that it will dramatically improve their English. But for many of them this is proven untrue by the time they graduate.

Stephen Allen, associate vice president for enrollment management at Southern Utah University (SUU), said that choosing a college should be about "getting big value" rather than just the advantages of a big name.

"My perception about Korea is that families are enamored with big names, large public schools … What I think many families are missing are actually the opportunities to learn," Allen said in a recent interview with The Korea Times. "Small schools like SUU are niche and their strength lies in the undergraduate experience."

After getting a degree in communications at SUU in 1998, he earned his M.A. and Ph. D. in educational leadership at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which has an enrollment of about 25,000. Meanwhile, he learned how the system works differently in schools of different sizes.

Allen visited Korea last week to help promote an education abroad program with the Korea Education Institute. He attended a seminar for the program on June 14 at the Renaissance Seoul Hotel, and also visited a couple of high schools.

"Studying in a big school is more like herding cattle," he said. "Classes are large with teaching assistants. It's about efficiency not quality."

Allen noted that large public institutions are "superb" in their graduate level programs, "So, smart and savvy students will find that high-touch undergraduate experience in smaller schools, and then go to the big names for their graduate programs."

Situated in Cedar City, where about 30,000 people live with a small population of foreigners, SUU offers a great environment for international students to learn English.

"You can go to L.A. and never have to speak English," he said.

Since the majority at SUU are American students, who came from outside the city, it creates an environment where international students can learn the language and acculturate quickly in a very natural way with American students, he noted.

"Everyone is kind of starting fresh," he said. "Because of the type of campus it is, it is very friendly and it is very much about engagement," he added.

While there are few distractions around the campus, students can enjoy leisure activities all they want on weekends in Las Vegas, which is only 180 miles (290 kilometers) away from the city. Salt Lake City is also only 250 miles away.

Another popular misconception students have about a degree earned at a prestige college is that it guarantees a good job. Not true.

As companies increasingly prefer applicants that can work immediately, Allen said, what is more important nowadays is what they study and whether they have work experience.

SUU offers the EDGE Program, in which students construct a hands-on learning project of their own such as an internship, research or opening a business, in order to graduate.

"It is something that differentiates our students. So when they leave, they have something to show," Allen said. "They work with faculty members to develop this experience."

The school also teaches students how to present their experience.

"One of the things we noticed was that students have this amazing experience and they bury it on their resume and they don't talk about it like they should," he said. "And part of that curriculum, they have one credit class where they learn how to articulate their experience … They know how to put it on their resumes. So when they go to an interview, they know how to shine."

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