Episode 32: Colleges in the Southeast Region—Part IV

In our last episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the six states in the Northern Southeast region: Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states—in last week’s episode. In this episode, we will continue our tour of the Northern Southeast states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities. Virtual Tour of Colleges in the Southeast Region Part IV on NYCollegeChat podcastAgain, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

Some of the colleges we will spotlight in this episode will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier to get into, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity.

One note: Because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or really huge.

1. Private Universities

The Northern Southeast states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small Bible colleges to small liberal arts colleges to larger universities. Let’s start with two private universities that most people have long considered two of the best in the South and that also enjoy a great national reputation: Duke University and Vanderbilt University. Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either one.

Duke is located in Durham, North Carolina—not far from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University at Raleigh, both of which we talked about in our last episode on public universities. This part of North Carolina is known as the Research Triangle, taking its name from Research Triangle Park, home to high-tech companies for more than 50 years, and now embracing the one private and two public research universities that anchor it. Duke has a total enrollment of approximately 15,000 students, about 6,500 of whom are undergraduates. After the states of North Carolina and California, New York sends more students to Duke than any other state. Duke has an impressive 95 percent four-year graduation rate, which is especially impressive, given Duke’s high academic standards. The University boasts 10 undergraduate and graduate schools and colleges, with 80 percent of undergraduates enrolling in the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, with its 49 majors, and with the remaining undergraduates enrolling in the Pratt School of Engineering. And, by the way, Duke has a national championship men’s basketball team.

Turning to Nashville, a great Southern city known, of course, for its country music scene, let’s look at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt enrolls approximately 13,000 students, about 7,000 of whom are undergraduates. Undergraduates study in four of Vanderbilt’s 10 schools and colleges—namely, the College of Arts and Science (with the largest enrollment, by far), the Blair School of Music, the School of Engineering, and the well-known Peabody College of Education and Human Development. In addition to graduate and professional schools of medicine, nursing, management, and law, Vanderbilt also has a graduate Divinity School. After Tennessee, Illinois and then New York and Texas send the most students to Vanderbilt. An enviable 88 percent of its students graduate in four years—another good showing, like Duke’s. Railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt gave $1 million to create the University in 1873, a university that would “contribute to strengthening the ties that should exist between all sections of our common country.” He got his wish for a national university.

Let’s talk about one more private university—Wake Forest University, located on a beautiful campus in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It has one undergraduate college of liberal arts and sciences, plus graduate and professional schools in liberal arts, divinity, business, law, and medicine. “Wake Forest College stands as the cornerstone of Wake Forest University. It is a distinctive academic institution that values and maintains the liberal arts tradition within the context of an internationally recognized research university,” as explained on its website. This is an interesting model, designed to give students the best of both worlds: a smaller, more personalized liberal arts undergraduate education, set in the broader context of graduate and professional studies. Founded in 1834, Wake Forest now enrolls about 4,800 undergraduate students, drawn internationally and studying in about 40 majors. Its graduate and professional schools enroll another approximately 2,800 students. Of special importance to prospective applicants is the fact that Wake Forest has been a “test-optional” college since 2008. As the website states: “If you think your scores are an accurate representation of your ability, feel free to submit them. If you feel they are not, don’t. You won’t be penalized.” Wake Forest would say that its student body diversity has increased and that its academic standards have not declined at all as a result of its position on college admission testing.

2. Single-Sex Colleges and Universities

Let’s highlight one of only a handful of men’s colleges remaining in the U.S.: Hampden-Sydney College, a liberal arts college located in Hampden-Sydney, Virginia, which is in southern Virginia. It enrolls about 1,100 men from 30 states and 13 foreign countries, with about 70 percent of those students hailing from Virginia. It offers its students over 25 liberal arts majors and a required Rhetoric Program, which focuses on making students into highly competent writers. Its history is quite impressive:

In continuous operation since November 10, 1775 (Patrick Henry and James Madison were among its first Trustees), Hampden-Sydney is the tenth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, holds the oldest (1783) private charter in the South, and is the oldest of the country’s few remaining colleges for men. (quoted from the website)

Virginia is also home to two well-known women’s colleges: Hollins University (in Roanoke) and Mary Baldwin College (in Staunton). Hollins enrolls just about 550 undergraduate women in 27 liberal arts majors and a couple hundred men and women graduate students. Mary Baldwin serves about 750 residential undergraduate women and almost 600 undergraduate men and women adult students in over 50 majors and minors; it also enrolls about 400 men and women graduate students. Founded in 1842, Mary Baldwin is named for one member of its first class of 57 students, who later became the head of the institution. (A third well-known women’s college in Virginia, Sweet Briar College, is closing in 2015.)

3. Colleges That Change Lives: Six Choices

As we said in Episode 28, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions. Most are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Six of the 44 institutions profiled are located in the Northern Southeast states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will learn much more about them than I can tell you in this episode. Here are the six:

Let’s look at Centre College for a minute. It is a liberal arts college, located in the geographic center of Kentucky in Danville—just about 35 miles south of Lexington, home to the University of Kentucky, which we discussed in our last episode. Centre College was founded in 1819 by Presbyterian leaders, when British spelling (centre rather than center) was still common in the U.S. It maintains its Presbyterian affiliation today. Here is the Centre Commitment:

All students are guaranteed 1) study abroad, 2) an internship or research opportunity, and 3) graduation in four years, or Centre will provide up to a year of additional study tuition-free (as long as academic and social expectations have been met). (quoted from the website)

Centre enrolls almost 1,500 undergraduate students, drawn mostly nationally and about half from Kentucky itself. Its students study in 27 liberal arts majors in courses taught entirely by professors—that is, no teaching assistants. Engineering, education, and nursing degrees can be obtained through partnerships with cooperating universities. About 85 percent of students study abroad at least once, and about 25 percent study abroad at least twice.

Because these Colleges That Change Lives institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a decent high school record might have a good chance of being accepted.

4. Historically Black Colleges and Universities

In an earlier episode in Series 1 of NYCollegeChat, we talked about historically black colleges and universities (commonly referred to as HBCUs), which were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or primarily—that is, a mission of serving students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. You might recall that there are just over 100 HBCUs—public and private, rural and urban, large and small (even very small), two-year and four-year and graduate schools. Many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War, and these HBCUs share a proud history of becoming the first collegiate homes for family members of freed slaves.

As we explained in our earlier episode, HBCUs today enroll students who are not black. Some people say that it has become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students, who are now welcome at both selective and nonselective colleges across the U.S. Nonetheless, there is still a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae of HBCUs and a strong sense of tradition and shared culture on HBCU campuses.

Just as we saw with our previous episodes on the Southern Southeast states, a large number of HBCUs are located in the six Northern Southeast states—31 public and private four-year HBCUs, to be exact. We have already talked about a number of the public HBCUs in our previous episode on public colleges in the Northern Southeast states, but let’s look at two very famous private HBCUs in this region, each of which has a long and impressive history.

Let’s start with Hampton University and its lovely campus in Hampton, Virginia. The history of Hampton University is so intriguing that I cannot do it justice here. Let me start simply with a long, slightly edited excerpt from its website:

The year was 1861. The American Civil War had shortly begun and the Union Army held control of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In May of that year, Union Major General Benjamin Butler decreed that any escaping slaves reaching Union lines would be considered “contraband of war” and would not be returned to bondage. This resulted in waves of enslaved people rushing to the fort in search of freedom. A camp to house the newly freed slaves was built several miles outside the protective walls of Fort Monroe. It was named ‘The Grand Contraband Camp’ and functioned as the United States’ first self-contained African American community… (Quoted from the Hampton University website. Read Hampton’s full history here.)

Regular listeners will recall that we talked about Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, in an earlier episode.

Today, Hampton enrolls about 3,500 undergraduates and almost 1,000 graduate students. About 90 percent are black, and about 65 percent are women (that might be good news for young men looking for a college to attend). They come from across the U.S. and across the world, and only about 25 percent are Virginia residents. Hampton offers 48 bachelor’s degree programs in the School of Liberal Arts, School of Science, School of Business, School of Education and Human Development, School of Engineering and Technology, School of Nursing, and the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications. Tuition is about $20,000 per year—making it about half as expensive as many other private colleges.

Moving back west to Tennessee, let’s look at Fisk University in Nashville. Another HBCU with an incredible history, this is the story of Fisk:

In 1865…three men — John Ogden, the Reverend Erastus Milo Cravath, and the Reverend Edward P. Smith — established the Fisk School in Nashville. The school was named in honor of General Clinton B. Fisk of the Tennessee Freedmen’s Bureau, who provided the new institution with facilities in former Union Army barracks near the present site of Nashville’s Union Station. In these facilities, Fisk convened its first classes on January 9, 1866. The first students ranged in age from seven to seventy, but shared common experiences of slavery and poverty — and an extraordinary thirst for learning. (Quoted from the Fisk University website. Read Fisk’s full history here.)

As interesting as this early history is, my favorite time in Fisk’s story is right after the Harlem Renaissance in roughly the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the brilliant sociologist who was the intellectual architect of the Harlem Renaissance, left New York City to take a teaching position at Fisk. He later became its first black president in 1946. He eventually brought with him some of the artists and writers he had nurtured in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance—including inimitable visual artist Aaron Douglas and masterful writers James Weldon Johnson and Arna Bontemps.

Today, Fisk serves about 800 students in its School of Humanities and Social Sciences, its School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Business, and its School of Graduate Studies. About 25 percent of Fisk students are home grown in Tennessee; the rest come from 22 other states and a handful of foreign countries. Like Hampton, tuition at Fisk is about $20,000 per year—making it a relative bargain among private colleges.

If you are interested in an HBCU for your child, the Northern Southeast region—like the Southern Southeast region—is a particularly fertile spot to find one. There are many more in this region that you can read about on your own. The White House Initiative on HBCUs has a complete list.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Hampton University’s great summer programs for high school students
  • Why single-sex colleges still make sense
  • Appealing smaller undergraduate colleges within larger research universities

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