Friday, April 14, 2006

A Gifted Group Reunites

Mary Baldwin College's Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) is the only all-women's residential college program for teenage girls in the US. Basically, students skip all of high school and enroll in PEG after (usually) their 8th grade year.

The program has now been around for about 20 years. The school staged a reunion recently, which was covered in the Staunton, VA News Leader in an article by Christina Murphy.

The first young women to attend PEG are now in their 30's. They have entered a variety of professions in addition to raising families. A book about them called "Lives of Purpose" is forthcoming (note to the researchers whose findings will be presented in the book: Are you still looking for a writer?)

Anyway, I find the subject fascinating. These young women, like the young people discussed in the Dropout Nation post, decided not to attend high school for whatever reason. Maybe they were ready for a new challenge. Maybe they were bored, or maybe they didn't fit in well at regular high schools. Skipping high school is almost sacrilege in this country that worships Friday night football games, proms and the like. In a fractured culture, high school is the closest thing to unity we've got. These girls sailed over it.

Like the USA Today All-Star academic teams, there's a word of caution. I'm sure we'll discover as we read "Lives of Purpose" that we haven't heard of any of the first cohorts of PEG women. That's the problem with justifying such programs by claiming they'll produce the leaders of the future who will cure cancer and write the Great American novel, or what have you. Very few people do these things. The chances that the "very few" segment overlaps with the PEG segment of individuals is low.

But, these women have had fairly happy, successful lives. That fact, in and of itself, indicates that high school is not always necessary. Something to think about.


Stella said...

I was recruited for PEG when I was a freshman in high school, and being the awkward kid I was, I seriously considered doing it, as high school certainly wasn't the friendliest place.

I'm glad I didn't, though. Not that high school was completely necessary, but when you come out of PEG, you're a nineteen-year-old with a degree from a women's college few people have heard of. I think most young women bright enough to be accepted to PEG would probably be destined for more prestigious universities should they have waited the few years, and when you're looking for your first job out of college (or even the second or third), it probably does matter what name is on your degree. Perhaps in the long run these talented girls become just as successful as if they had waited and attended more well-known schools, but I for one (having broken into my industry through a Princeton connection) would probably not be doing as well as I am now if I had gone the PEG route.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Hi Stella: Maybe -- but I worked with one PEG woman at Fortune magazine one summer (she was, roughly, my boss). She told me that she did what a lot of the girls do -- go to grad school immediately afterwards. She spent the years between 18 and 22 at Stanford in a PhD program. So she still had an A-list school on her resume, in addition to starting her career, after graduate education, much earlier than the average person who goes that route.
But I know what you mean about there being a certain normalcy in attending an A-list school at the right age. That's why high schools for the gifted are nice -- you can have the advanced education, and you can have a normal college experience, too.

Anonymous said...

It is a tough trade off for some: skip high school and go to a lesser-known college early or wait it out and try to get into a more prestigious school later.

In my daughter's case, early college wasn't a choice; it was a necessity. She had grown so depressed in school despite being in a "gifted" program, and homeschool was fine for a while, but she needed to be where she could discuss ideas with other people. We simply considered it the appropriate education for her at the time.

Now that she is approaching a more traditional college freshman age, she is reconsidering four-year schools; her route just is a bit different than most folks.

Anonymous said...

This is an issue we are already grappling with in our family.How do we have enough foresight to allow the possibility of my son (now 8)to attend an away-from-home traditional college at a close-to-normal age?That feels important to us because both my husband and I feel that the "out of the classroom" experience of maturing and experiencing "life" with other motivated bright students was a highlight of our lives.I did not find any peers UNTIL college, so I don't care if he misses high school. But will he have the same kind of experience in college at age 14?

Anonymous said...

I know I'm a bit of a one note Harry about selection bias, but with regard to attending "elite schools" I suspect there is no gain. As you may be aware, Alan Kruger, an economist at Princeton, did a study that concluded that there is largely no benefit to attending a "1st tier" school, at least when salaries are considered. A short piece he wrote about it is here:
and the paper is here:

The study did note a benefit for students with below average socioeconomic status however.

I have read an anecdote about MIT, that at freshman orientation sessions, the students were told there was essentially a 50% graduation rate. I was a little surprised to see later, that MIT's graduation rate is actually above 90% and this was about the same for many other 1st tier schools, which would suggest that in fact those schools are not proportionately difficult for the caliber of students they admit. (3rd tier schools have a graduation rate of about 50%).