Choosing between California State Uni vs. University of California
April 28, 2014 10:26 AM   Subscribe

For someone who aims to continue their education through a Masters degree, then become a teacher, is there a significant advantage in attending UC rather than CSU for the undergraduate degree? Would it be different if the aim was a career in, say geo-sciences rather than teaching?

My daughter has been offered places both at CSU Monterey Bay and at UC Berkeley, to complete a four-year degree after success in the first two years in her local community college. She could attend CSUMB and continue living with her partner in the house they built together, whereas attending UCB would require moving away to rented accommodation, without her partner because his job is not portable, with the extra stress and costs that would entail.

Personally I regard UCB as "better" than CSUMB, but have no real reason for my views, and doubt that it matters in this case anyway. Will a Bachelor's degree from UCB count for much more than one from CSUMB when applying to enter a Masters course?

I haven't been asked for advice, and my inclination would be to go to CSUMB though I won't push either way, but which would you recommend, and why?
posted by anadem to Education (28 answers total)
UC Berkeley will be looked on more favorably than any Cal State. It's one of the top universities in the world. There's no real comparison.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:49 AM on April 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'm from California and lived there the first ~22 years of my life, and I'm not sure I've ever heard of CSUMB. Berkeley has a well-deserved worldwide reputation for being an amazing school, and that will absolutely have an impact on the education itself, as well as the value of the degree.
posted by andoatnp at 10:52 AM on April 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

You may be right that it won't make a big difference in teaching (and masters programs in education), but if she ever decides to do anything else - bearing in mind that a HUGE percentage of teachers leave the field after just a few years - the UC Berkeley degree will open a lot of doors that CSUMB just can't.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:54 AM on April 28, 2014 [13 favorites]

There's a reason that you regard Berkeley as better. UC's have better reps than CSU's. Berkeley is top-ranked nationally.

Now that said, there are other reasons to choose a school other than ranking. I got in to Berkeley and UCLA for undergrad but chose to go to a private school out of state on scholarship because I thought it was a better fit for me personally and I didn't want to be on such a massive campus.
posted by radioamy at 10:57 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

These are really different schools on a lot of levels - CSUMB vs UCB.

Berkley is the #20 university in the entire US. CSU MB is a solid mid-tier regional school.

There's a 2x (or more) difference in tuition. And yes, a degree from Berkley counts for more than a degree from any CSU school when applying for grad school.

But if her goal is to just teach then it's probably not a huge difference. As you point out there may be other factors that affect her choice.
posted by GuyZero at 10:58 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would it be different if the aim was a career in, say geo-sciences rather than teaching?

Yes. The CSU system is designed for people like your daughter-- people who need a solid education and credentials in a place close to home to fulfill the professional needs of the commutity-- teachers, accountants, civil servants, small business people, etc. UC Berkeley is an internationally recognized flagship state university whose professors are leaders in their fields. Applying to grad school in, say, geosciences would come with the expectation of having undergraduate research experience and in depth education in the field through taking upper level classes that only a place like UC Berkeley could offer. By contrast, the credentials and curriculum for state teaching certification are the same all over California, and all the schools offer it.

I normally advocate attending the best, most challenging school you get accepted to, but this is a case where attending UC Berkeley might be more disruptive than the benefits of attending.

Teaching is sort of like a medical career in this sense: the coursework is the same, and there is more of a benefit to selecting based on cost than on reputation, with the exception of a few narrow career paths where those sort of elite opportunities matter.
posted by deanc at 11:02 AM on April 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have teaching degrees and have taught. An undergraduate degree from CSUMB is just fine, especially if she's an outstanding student. What does she want to teach? Does UCB even have an undergraduate program that will lead to teacher certification in her chosen field? Many major universities do not. A degree from CSUMB should not prevent her from eventually getting graduate degrees at more challenging universities. I know this because I got a community college degree, then an undergraduate degree from a state college, and then graduate degrees from an Ivy.
posted by mareli at 11:05 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

My recommendation would be Berkeley, without hesitation. Berkeley is an extremely well-regarded institution (US News ranks it the #1 public school and #20 university nationally; certainly any other ranking will be similar), while CSUMB is a regional school that, while decent, many outside California will not heard of. There will be a significant difference in her educational experience, and an enormous difference in how a graduate admissions committee will regard her undergrad diploma when she's ready for the masters. She'll also have many more opportunities to gain some research experience as an undergraduate at Berkeley (which is a research-intensive institution) than she will at CSUMB, which could be important for informing/supporting her choice between education & geosciences.

They're also only a couple hours apart. She'd have to move, certainly, but she and her partner could easily spend weekends together, &c. Obviously she needs to do what's right for her, but to my mind that's a small upheaval compared to the benefits of attending Berkeley.

[my bona fides: I am hard sciences faculty at a top-15 uni.]
posted by Westringia F. at 11:05 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are at least two big ways that UC Berkeley is better, I think.

One of them is reputation: it definitely matters to the quality of Master's program that will admit her. It's humans that are doing the admission and, all other things being equal, they are going to be more impressed by a UC degree than a CSU degree*. That will, in turn, give her a lot more options. If she gets into more programs, she has more options as to where to get her Master's. This opens up lots of doors, including where she gets to (or has to) live, the type of things she can get her Master's in, etc. And, as goodbyewaffles points out, if she does something other than teaching, it's even more important.

Another thing is just the quality of the education. There are big advantages to the Cal State schools (size, faculty's dedication to teaching, etc.), but in general, much more is expected of students at the UC schools and one will get a deeper, richer education by going to a school like Berkeley. I have to imagine that this will serve her much better as a teacher. Speaking from my own preference, I really would want my child to be taught by someone who has a really strong education and is really interested in (and well informed in) the areas in which she is teaching.

*Note that these reputations are not universally true. I don't know anything about CSUMB's reputation in the education world. Maybe CSUMB is one of those places that, while in general not as good as UCB, has an amazing world-recognized education program.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:05 AM on April 28, 2014

It's clear Berkeley is the better quality education but you need something more concrete to justify the expense and that might be research. She would have the chance to talk to grad students in the department and maybe even be involved in classroom interventions or get a publication or honors thesis done. She will get better courses in stats and science and this will no doubt make her a better teacher
posted by slow graffiti at 11:15 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

To clarify, your daughter is going to attend school, transfering her Community College credits to one of two Bachelor's programs. Cal State or UC.

I have a bachelor's degree from a Cal State University and there is NO QUESTION that Berkeley is a MUCH better school. FWIW, my Dad's masters is from Berkeley.

My degree is perfectly cromulent for 90% of any job I'd want. If I had a degree, I might have been able to get a job at Google, but then again, perhaps not.

Now, given your daughter's situation...I'm hesitant. She has a life where she is right now, and one that would be significantly upended to go to Berkeley. If she's planning on being a teacher, the bachelor's degree for either is probably good enough. Getting a masters in education, or her subject matter, is a more expensive proposition, and in the world of teaching the Return on Investment can be years.

Berkeley is a better school and more prestigeous. That may not matter for your daughter.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:21 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

The only thing I would add to the excellent advice above, is I think the grade level and specialty she wants to teach is a deciding factor. I don't think it matters as much for elementary level, but for high school (and even junior high, to a certain extent), the Berkeley degree will make a difference. The high school teachers of mine that went to well-regarded and competitive undergrads were better-respected by the students, and their classroom presence was very different. We could ask them about going to Ivy Leagues, or Berkeley or Stanford, and get good advice that we trusted. They were able to give us "big picture" teaching experience that we didn't get from our other teachers. Also, we were told by our parents that the teachers who went to better-regarded schools were better treated by the principals, as well. So, yes, I think the name does matter. But, for elementary school, it didn't really seem to matter at all.
posted by umwhat at 11:28 AM on April 28, 2014

If she's planning to become a teacher, she may face years of low pay and underemployment. I would choose whichever school involves NOT taking loans. (Don't get loans to become a teacher.)

Also, the "reputation" matters little compared to the quality of teaching in her specific major. Many Berkeley programs have awful teaching quality*; many are excellent. She needs to talk to students who are there.

*Being good at research and having vast knowledge and so on has zilch to do with teaching abilities.
posted by wintersweet at 11:31 AM on April 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

Reputations aside - and I agree with everyone else here that Berkeley is much higher on that ladder than a CSU - from everything I have heard from friends and read in the paper over the last few years, Berkeley is subject to a lot less of the budgetary fuckery than CSU campuses, which means she is *much* less likely to have to delay finishing her degree because some required class is only offered once every two years (for example). I know California is flush, moneywise, at the moment. But we have boom-and-bust swings and nothing says that two years from now CSU Monterey isn't going to have to axe crucial-to-your-kid classes.

So, take that into consideration. It may not outweigh everything else, but do think about it.
posted by rtha at 11:35 AM on April 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

One critical thing to consider is how much financial aid your daughter will get. If CSUMB would be free and UCB will result in $100,000 in debt, I would go for CSUMB.
posted by unreasonable at 11:50 AM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a Cal grad, and I agree with everyone else that UC Berkeley is the more well-regarded university, and that it provides a more rigorous education. A degree from UC Berkeley opens way more doors than one from a Cal State. But yeah, if your daughter is planning on becoming an elementary school teacher, it's not really worth it for the reasons umwhat mentions.

If research is at all important to her though, Cal is the best choice, and an undergrad degree from Cal is absolutely going to be more well-regarded than one from a CSU when it comes to grad school. Cal sends a lot of students on to grad school, and almost all of its majors and colleges are in the top ten of their fields. It makes a difference.

Cal is going to be more expensive though. Cost of living is high in the East Bay, and UC tuition is always higher than Cal State. But like rtha says, the UCs are generally more insulated from budget nonsense so you're less likely to run into any "the class I need to graduate won't be offered again for another two years" situations (a thing that has happened to people I know at CSUs), and financial aid is a little more available. I'd say the higher cost is well worth it, and even a value given that she's going to be getting a Cal degree for only two years' worth of Cal tuition, but that's only if that Cal degree will make a material difference for your daughter's future career path, or if she wants to keep as many of her options open as possible.
posted by yasaman at 12:03 PM on April 28, 2014

In addition to the coursework being more rigorous/challenging and the educational offerings being more diverse at Berkeley, she's also likely to get more attention to her education at UCB than at CSUMB, despite UCB being a bigger school. Per GuyZero's links above, Berkley has a better student:faculty ratio (17:1 vs 26:1 at CSUMB) and FAR more of its classes have <20 students (63.4% at UCB vs only 16.9% at CSUMB).

[Berkeley also has a much better 4-year graduation rate (71% vs only 9% at CSUMB). That could be due to many things -- people transferring out, differences in the demographics of the student body, course availability hiccups stretching 4-yr degrees to 5 (as rtha mentioned) -- but the environment that creates is also worth some consideration.]
posted by Westringia F. at 12:05 PM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are very limited opportunities for leaving a Berkeley undergraduate degree with a teaching certificate in hand. (I thought there were none, but google turned up this program.) If that's her objective, Berkeley won't really help.

However, it sounds like she's thinking of a master's degree (in education?) before teaching, in which case, I think Berkeley is a no brainer (admittedly I went there). Most people I knew as an undergrad either hadn't applied to any CSUs or just one as insurance. That's how big the difference between the systems was perceived to be. (Amusingly, my flatmate was rejected from the one CSU she applied to, presumably because they assumed she'd turn them down for a UC.)
posted by hoyland at 12:12 PM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Strictly my opinion and I don't necessarily know what I'm talking about, but if she's teaching K-12, the Berkeley undergrad degree probably isn't necessary. It's also going to be hideously more expensive because of rents in and around Berkeley. If she's teaching at the college level, it might matter.
posted by cnc at 12:20 PM on April 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have taught at both UC-Berkeley and a CSU campus. The attention that individual undergraduates get at CSUs is far higher than most undergraduates at UC-Berkeley, especially in a classroom setting. The numbers that Westringia F. posted about class sizes and faculty:student ratios are certainly "true", but do not reflect the bigger picture. CSUs are teaching-focussed universities, which means the professors there spend most of their development time on learning to be better teachers rather than better researchers. A 30 person class taught by a professor dedicated to teaching is, honestly, better than a 15 person lab taught by a first-year grad student. It is absolutely true that if she wants to go to grad school in a hard science, she would be better off at Berkeley. She'll have greater opportunities for world-class, well-funded research.

However, if she's a slightly non-traditional student (I'm guessing, since she's already built a house), I will suggest that the actual education she'll get at CSU will be comparable to, if not better than, one from Berkeley. She will get far more time face-to-face with professors that she wants to interact with. All of her classes will be taught exclusively by folks with PhDs (not grad students). The CSU system is better set up to get her a teaching credential, and if she decides to do a program, she can do her student-teaching nearby.

What everybody has said regarding reputation, and the effects on her resume, are true. And it's also true that Berkeley will offer stronger research opportunities. But for a self-motivated student who is in charge of her own education, she could have a very positive experience at CSU-MB for less money, without having to move, and in a program that's more in line with preparing her for a teaching credential.
posted by one_bean at 12:39 PM on April 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

Disclaimer: my father taught at a CSU his entire career.

If your daughter wants a research career and/or wants to continue on to a doctorate, then she ought to go to Berkeley. However, as one_bean points out, if what she wants is a teaching career, then the CSU will be by far the better bet (not least because training teachers is what the CSU system does).
posted by thomas j wise at 12:43 PM on April 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I went to CSUMB, dropped out, then went on and finished my undergrad at UC Berkeley. For various reasons, I did not do well as I could have at UCB, but regardless it did allow me to get into a Masters program, which eventually led to me doing a PhD overseas. I would have not been able to do this had I stuck with CSUMB. Plus, I hated it.

I could go on and on about why UCB is a better choice, reiterating many of the rationales others have already given. What nobody has mentioned so far (I think) and is *very* important to consider, is that she very likely will not have the same exact goals and aspirations that she does now. Even if she remains with her chosen program and field, she will go through so much change in the next four years that her perspectives on teaching and her future will be very different, or at the very least come full circle after a whole lot of wisdom and experience in between. I certainly had NO intentions of continuing onto grad school, and I *really* thought I was sure about that (I was, then). I was convinced about my chosen field of study, and through studying it, have learned what really interests me (not what I originally chose, which is still interesting, but not quite where it was at for me).

Your daughter could decide not to go to grad school. She could switch majors. She will meet people that inspire her to try new hobbies and persue new interests. Regardless of what happens, you want her to have the best foundation for that. UCB can provide it, whereas CSUMB won't have the people and places to support her in those endeavors, whatever they may be. Plus, Berkeley is a great city and if she's never lived in the SF Bay Area, her mind will be blown by the possibilities. Not to mention all of the teaching opportunities.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:43 PM on April 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

One-Bean and Thomas J Wise make an excellent point. I LOVED going to San Francisco State because I never took a class in an auditorium. I connected with each of my instructors and with few exceptions, I found that my individual classes were excellent.

To keep me honest, I attended Arizona State for 3 years and finished up my BA at SFSU with an additional 1.5 semesters. I started out as an Education major at ASU, but switched to English at SFSU because they didn't have Education as a major, you got your BA in your subject matter, and then took a post-baccalaureate year specifically for student teaching and pedagogy.

So it really depends.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:03 PM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just finished "David and Goliath" by Gladwell. One of his examples is exactly this. If your daughter will be middle of the pack student, it probably is easier to get better grades at a mid tier university, making her a "bigger fish in a smaller pond." Once she is teaching, it probably won't matter much which school she's gone to, but it is much more difficult to be a great student at a top tier university. Are marks important in teaching?
posted by Yavsy at 1:29 PM on April 28, 2014

I'm with Iamkimiam - she may not have the same goals down the road, even if she's a non-traditional student. The first ten years after you graduate from college, where you go matters a lot, and opens a lot of doors. After ten years, it doesn't really matter as much. But those first ten years can change your entire trajectory.

I could have gone to a much bigger "name" school and often wished I had in the early years of my career. No one in California or Texas, where I live now, has ever heard of the liberal arts school where I got my bachelor's degree. Since then I've made my own way - so no regrets. But I would absolutely want my kid to go to the best school he or she could comfortably reach, and to factor reputation and flexibility into the equation.

The best advice I got in college is that it is what you make of it - that you have to demand the kind of challenges and education you want (notice, I am not saying you would demand the kind of grades you want, with no work!!). But once you leave college, you are dealing with other people's perceptions of your education. At this point, let me say that my father's best friend spent his career teaching at a CSU, I briefly attended a CSU, and that I worked as staff, then as a consultant, at one of the top-ranked UCs. There are some top-flight CSU programs: Cal Poly's engineering program, for instance, is one of the best in the nation, and I don't think a single UC comes close. But within and especially outside of California, UC tends to open more doors.

Someone suggested it'll cost $100k to go to UCB. It looks like it would be $25k for two years - not including whatever financial aid they're offering. UCB will cost about $11k. I think the first ten years, that extra $14k investment may pay off in better jobs after graduation.

She's already spent two years at the community college level. CSU Monterey Bay is going to offer her a very similar experience: most of her classmates will be locals, and many of them will be commuter students. At UCB she'll have the opportunity to meet people from around California, the US, and the world, who are attracted to its education. Vastly more things are available at Berkeley than at CSU.

If she's under 30, I'd say UCB. If she's over 30 and already a career changer, and very certain about teaching, then CSU Monterey Bay.

If she wants to go into the geosciences potentially, she should go to UCB.

If there's any chance she might want to leave California, she should go to UCB.

The good news is she'll get a fine education either way.
posted by mitschlag at 2:58 PM on April 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another thing to consider is that as a community college transfer she has priority at both CSUMB and UC. It becomes more difficult to transfer out of a CSU to a UC, if she decides that she wants the larger experience.

When I attended CSU, I do not recall CSUMB having a stellar reputation but it has been years, and it may have changed. Put together the spreadsheet and determine if choice is being underpinned by scholarly concerns, lifestyle, professional, etc.; things may become more clear.
posted by jadepearl at 6:17 PM on April 28, 2014

I have a number of thoughts against going to Berkeley for undergrad, especially if the goal is to become a teacher.

UCs are not focused on teaching undergrads, but grinding them through lecture halls, at least for the lower level courses. A family friend is a math professor at UCSB, where he commented that he might as well be a YouTube clip for his efforts in the lecture halls with hundreds of students who are often taking notes (or doing something else) on their laptops. While a motivated student could interact with their professors in a UC, they're still one of hundreds, if not thousands, of students that a teacher will have at any one time.

In comparison, I went to Cal Pol SLO, where there were two or three major lectures with a few hundred students, but those were the rarities, not the norm. Usually, class sizes are 20-40 students with a professor.

What level of education does your daughter wish to teach? I'm honestly not sure what a Berkeley masters in education would convey that would propel her as a teacher, as there seems to be shortages of qualified teachers (and by qualified, I mean have the basic qualifications to teach currently - some districts keep unqualified teachers on waivers because they have no other option).

If your daughter changes her mind regarding her degree while at CSUMB, it will be a lot less expensive than if she changed her mind at UCB. And Monterrey Bay isn't some backwaters. It's about two hours away from Berkeley, should the culture not be diverse or provide enough opportunities. Even if Monterrey was too small, as long as she keeps her grades up, can still transfer somewhere else, and probably still save money on units even if she has to re-take some classes.

While Berkeley could offer her broader connections for future jobs, from what I've seen of my wife's job-hunting (mind you, this is as a "highly qualified" high school math teacher - undergrad in math, teaching credential, and a number of years of experience now), there are always interesting places to get jobs for teachers, as teaching tends to be a fall-back "safe" profession for a variety of people - folks who were burnt out from professional life, people who just want to put in enough effort to get their benefits. I don't say this to be negative about teachers, but to paint a realistic picture of who your daughter will be competing with, unless she's looking at the (junior) college level.

And unfortunately, the financial aspect is not to be shrugged off. Teachers and college professors don't make a lot of money, so unless there was some specific, financial benefit from attending Berkeley, I am highly skeptical of its long-term benefit outweighing the cost. There is the possibility of loan forgiveness for elementary and secondary teachers that work at schools that serve low-income families, so the burden doesn't have as daunting, and if loan forgiveness is something viable, it might even shift the whole equation for your daughter. Still, the cost of living in Berkeley versus Monterrey Bay will likely add into whatever calculations your daughter performs.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:48 PM on April 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Many thanks to everyone for the thoughtful and helpful discussion.

Both my daughter and my granddaughter, who's a similar age (and I didn't know had been offered a place when I posted the question,) have accepted places at UCB. The icing is that they have both been given free rides! I'm so impressed with them and their hard work.
posted by anadem at 12:15 PM on June 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

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