Wearing a George Mason t-shirt and blue jeans, Phillip Hutchinson blends in with the students. He carries a book bag and dresses casually. Nothing would set him apart from the crowd, except for years of education.
Hutchinson is in the process of writing his dissertation for his doctorate degree at George Mason University. He went to UCLA for his masters, and spent six years at CSUN getting his bachelors degree. Now, he’s a part-time teacher in the Asian-American studies department educating others here at CSUN.
CSUN and UCLA have enriched, enlightened and expanded Hutchinson’s experiences in the realm of academics. Comparing the two institutions was an inevitable temptation that many, including Hutchinson, have been inclined to do.
The two institutions are less than 15 miles apart and share some of the same academic pool applying for admission.
It’s a fact that UCLA and the UC system generally require a higher GPA for admission than CSUN and the Cal state system. With UCLA and CSUN serving as the primary examples, UCLA’s average incoming freshman has a GPA of 4.13 while CSUN’s is 3.09. But do these statistics suggest that the students at UCLA or the other UC schools are brighter? And what do the students at each campus feel about each other?
Hutchinson said that his decision to attend CSUN out of high school had nothing to do with the elitism that exists between the UC’s and Cal States.
“It just seemed like the place to go, it didn’t cross my mind-you know, the elite gap?I just showed up.”
Hutchinson said there is a difference between the schools that people don’t look at.
“Are they a bunch of snobs, (at UCLA)? In general, no, but I think there are some differences that don’t necessarily deal with people’s attitudes, but really where they come from, the backgrounds between here and UCLA are different, and that to me is the bigger issue as to what produces who shows up at each institution in the first place,” he said.
Hutchinson said labeling one group of people smarter than the other is problematic.
“I don’t buy any of that. Are they more academically better prepared, on paper, as far as GPA and SAT scores? By and large, yes,” he said.
Hutchinson said the standards in the UC system tend to be higher.
“But does that mean they’re smarter? No, again that’s what society has to look at,” he said.
“We kind of push into the background (the fact) that the profiles are different here at CSUN than at UCLA.”
Hutchinson said it is critical to look at demographics.
“The demographics are different and that’s what is going to have an effect on what produces those differences in GPA and SAT in the first place. We are in a culture where it’s so easy to say who’s better,” Hutchinson said.
“We put our focus on the IQ test despite all the errors in that?
Hutchinson said that there is a cultural phenomenon that forces people to categorize individuals.
“We want to rank people to say what group is better,” he said.
Katie Bolstad, a Santa Monica College student, went to San Diego State for two years before going to SMC in order to transfer somewhere in Los Angeles, is now looking to transfer to either UCLA or CSUN next fall. She opened up about what she felt when applying to both of the schools.
“I’ve always been told that the UC system was better and (carried) a better status,” she said.
Bolstad mentioned how she works with a majority of UCLA students, and that was influential in her decision for UCLA being her first choice.
“I did some research and it seemed like a place I wanted to be a part of,” Bolstad said. “(Seemed like) it would be more challenging than San Diego State.”
Bolstad said that she believes there is a stigma that exists between the UCs and Cal States and she senses it among her UCLA co-workers.
“It’s partly why I applied,” Bolstad said.
“I didn’t want to be seen as, ‘Oh she went to a state school,'”.
“I was hesitant to say I attended San Diego State,” she admitted. “But I don’t think it’s something you can judge. It’s how you apply yourself-whether it’s ‘Clown College’ or Harvard.”
UCLA is currently ranked 3rd in the nation amongst public schools, according to U.S News ‘ World Reports, and CSUN isn’t even ranked in the 60 schools given.
Some UCLA students admit to buying into the stigma that one school has better students than the other.
Bianca De Anda, a 24-year-old who just graduated from UCLA this past fall, said she was into the whole “prestige thing.” She used to proudly tell people she went to UCLA.
“It felt better telling people I graduated (from) or was a UCLA student,” she said.
De Anda added that sometimes she wishes that she went to a Cal State.
“I would have went to a Cal State because it’s more practical,” she said.
De Anda also said, that she could probably get any job she wants because she has a UCLA degree to put on her resume. But still De Anda said she des not think it’s all about the name and prestige but more about the academic competence.
“College is college,” she said shrugging her shoulders.
William Taylor, the director of a two-year architectural program that prepares students for graduate school at other universities, said that generally schools are better or worse than others.
“Cal State is inferior to UCs everybody knows that,” Taylor said.
But Taylor said he encourages his students to look beyond the name of an istitution.
“What I tell my kids is that you have to look at the department,” he said.
“I’ve taught at Harvard, University of Houston and Cal Poly-Pomona and I say, look at the departments and never mind the reputation of the school.”
Taylor said as an employer he’d rather hire a hard working Cal State student than a lackadaisical UC student.
Sitting outside the Matador bookstore Daniel Chung a third-year accounting major, said he never had any desire to attend a UC school.
“CSUN’s more practical and hands on, I think it has a better accounting program here-I had no interest in UCLA (when I applied to schools).”
Fausta Vjerdha, a current fourth-year UCLA student, said that at times she regrets her UC education experience.
“The reason I say that is because after spending four years at UCLA I realized that it’s too huge,” Vjerdha said.
“There are 40,000 students, the professors don’t really give a damn about you and you can’t really interact with them because of the class sizes,” she said.
“Grades are (only) based on a mid-term and a final, so I wish I went to a Cal State because their smaller.”
Dr. Philip Rusche, dean of the Michael D. Eisner College of education, said that comparing the CSU and UC systems is like comparing apples to oranges.
“The mission of UCs is totally different than ours,” Rusche said. “I’d never want to say, or point fingers-it’s not fair. All I can say is we work hard in our department and the people are great,” he said.
“Seems like a sign of insecurity when you have to compare yourself to anyone else.”
Sitting outside Sierra Hall, Hutchinson compares himself now to when he first stepped onto CSUN’s campus, admitting to being a procrastinator and not having goals in the early stages of earning his bachelors here at CSUN.
But something changed him.
“I made a decision,” Hutchinson said.
“Decisions you make help excel you academically, I felt motivated, I started having a direction and by the last two years I knew what I wanted to do, at first I didn’t have that. Having goals made the difference.”
Ontay Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org