Episode 34: Colleges in the Rocky Mountain Region—Part II

In our last episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the five states in the Rocky Mountain region: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our tour of the Rocky Mountain states by switching our focus to private higher education institutions.

Virtual tour of private colleges in the Rocky Mountain Region on NYCollegeChat. Episode notes available at http://usacollegechat.org/34
Virtual tour of private colleges in the Rocky Mountain Region on NYCollegeChat. Episode notes available at http://usacollegechat.org/34

Let us start by saying that there are far fewer private higher education institutions in these Rocky Mountain states than in the Great Lakes and Southeastern regions we have looked at so far in our virtual tour. For those of you who have been listening to our virtual tour episodes so far, you know that we have frequently talked about Colleges That Change Lives (you can read about them in the book or the website of the same name) and about HBCUs (that is, historically black colleges and universities). Well, there are no colleges of either category in these five Rocky Mountain states. As it turns out, most of the private colleges that we will talk about in this episode are actually faith-based institutions.

As we say in every one of these episodes, 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.

And to repeat: 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 large.

1. Faith-Based Institutions

Let’s start with a tiny Catholic college with a student enrollment of fewer than 200 undergraduates: Wyoming Catholic College, located in Lander. It is the only four-year private college in the state of Wyoming. It describes itself as “faithfully, joyfully” and “unmistakably” Catholic—something students who are not Catholic should consider carefully before applying. According to its website, the College

immers[es] our students in the beauty of the outdoors, introduce[es] them to the wisdom of Western tradition and thought as found in the Great Books and Good Books of the past millennia, and mak[es] the best of the Catholic spiritual heritage part of the rhythm of daily life in our close College community.

The College has a strong outdoors program, which includes participation in its Equine Studies program, through which students learn to ride and care for horses. It also offers a classical liberal arts curriculum, which includes a study of the Great Books of Western culture and a serious set of distribution requirements, which includes 24 credits of theology, 13 credits of leadership, 10 credits of philosophy, and 16 credits of Latin. Students graduate with a B.A. in Liberal Arts—not in a specific subject field. Wyoming Catholic College opened in 2007, and 17 students graduated this year in the fifth graduating class. By the way, its tuition of $20,000 is quite reasonable for a private college.

Moving on to a larger Catholic university in Colorado, let’s look at Regis University, Colorado’s Jesuit university founded in 1877 and one of 28 Jesuit universities in the U.S. We spoke about Jesuit institutions in an early episode of NYCollegeChat; they have excellent academic reputations and include colleges like Georgetown University, Boston College, Fordham University, and the College of the Holy Cross. The Jesuit vision of education is a student who excels academically, serves others, and seeks social justice relentlessly. So, students would be pursuing all of those goals at Regis. With a main campus located in northwest Denver, Regis University is an interesting institution composed of four colleges: Regis College, the liberal arts undergraduate college of about 1,900 traditional college students, studying in 60 bachelor’s programs; the Rueckert-Hartman College for Health Professions, which offers bachelor’s degrees in several fields, including nursing, and master’s degrees in more fields to about 2,500 total students; a newish College of Computer and Information Sciences; and a College for Professional Studies, which enrolls about 5,000 nontraditional adult learners. And Regis is planning to add a College of Business. Traditional undergraduates at Regis would probably feel as though they were in a small- to medium-sized college within a larger university structure, and Jesuit institutions enroll many students who are not Catholic.

Let’s now look at two faith-based universities that we have not addressed in our earlier episodes—Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, founded in 1875; and Brigham Young University–Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho, founded in 1888. Both of these universities (there is also a Brigham Young University–Hawaii) are part of the official Church Educational System of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. Both are sizable universities, with about 24,000 full-time undergraduates in Utah and about 16,000 each semester in Idaho (where students are assigned to a two-semester track out of the three semesters BYUI operates each year—Fall/Winter, Winter/Spring, or Spring/Fall). Tuition is extremely low at both universities—that is, at the level of public universities—but especially low for Mormon students, who make up about 99 percent of the enrollment at BYU in Utah. In Utah, undergraduates can study in 10 schools and colleges, including humanities, education, business, international studies, nursing, fine arts, engineering, and more. In Idaho, undergraduates can study in 100 different majors in six colleges, including career-focused colleges in addition to the humanities. The Church Board of Education has instituted four required religion courses at each BYU campus, including one on the Church’s Book of Mormon. Also, part of the admissions process is obtaining an endorsement from a Church leader; if you are not a Mormon, you would be interviewed by a Church bishop. So, it seems to me that attending either Brigham Young University campus might, at times, be a bit uncomfortable if you are not a Mormon, but I have no doubt that the education you would get would be very good.

2. Other Private Colleges and Universities

We want to spotlight two traditional colleges in the Rocky Mountain states, both in Colorado: one medium-sized and one relatively small. Let’s start with the University of Denver (commonly known as DU), founded in 1864, now enrolling about 12,000 students, about 5,500 of whom are undergraduates. DU’s students are drawn internationally, but with about 35 percent of undergraduates hailing from the state of Colorado. Undergraduates study in over 100 programs in six undergraduate colleges, schools, and divisions, with a very high percentage of about 70 percent studying abroad. In addition to the liberal arts and sciences, DU undergraduates study in colleges and schools of business, engineering and computer science, education, and international studies. Incoming freshmen have average SAT subtest scores hovering around 600 each, but with a high school GPA averaging almost 3.7. DU is an expensive institution, with undergraduate tuition hitting just above the $40,000 mark.

Moving south from Denver to Colorado Springs, home of Pike’s Peak, we find Colorado College, a coeducational liberal arts college, founded in 1874, with a broad range of liberal arts majors and about 2,000 students, drawn internationally. About 25 percent of last year’s incoming freshmen were from the Northeast, and that freshman class posted a median SAT critical reading plus math score coming in at a high 1390. All classes are relatively small, discussion-based classes, taught by professors (that is, no graduate student instructors). Students are required to live on campus for the first three years. Tuition is high—at about $48,500—like other well-known selective private liberal arts colleges. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Colorado College is its unique Block Plan, where students take all of their courses on a one-at-a-time schedule, studying in each course for three and a half weeks, typically from 9:00 a.m. to noon each weekday—followed by a four-day break to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Colorado’s mountains and forests and canyons. Each block is the equivalent of one college course; students take four blocks per semester, or eight blocks per year—just as regular college students typically take eight to 10 courses a year on a regular schedule. It is hard to argue against paying close attention to one thing at a time! Colorado College also offers 17 varsity sports teams and over 100 student organizations, and 80 percent of students do volunteer community service. And did I say you will have a great view of Pike’s Peak from town.

3. An Online University

As we have said in earlier episodes, we are not big proponents of online education for new freshmen—especially not courses taught entirely online, with no classroom meetings at all. We say this based on our experience with the students in the high school we co-founded in Brooklyn, and we say this even though Marie has taught and currently teaches online courses in several colleges, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Nonetheless, I think we would be remiss if we did not mention Western Governors University (WGU), a private nonprofit university based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and designed by 19 governors of Western states. Admittedly targeting primarily working adults who cannot attend traditional college classes, WGU charges tuition at a flat rate every six months. So, a student can progress as fast as he or she is able, demonstrating competencies through a variety of assessments rather than earning traditional college credits. As WGU says, progress is based on how quickly you can prove what you know—which likely works better for adults who bring some experience to their studies than for recent high school graduates who don’t have much useful experience. Tuition for each six-month-long term averages about $3,000, depending on the degree—a figure that seems incredibly reasonable.

Students can get bachelor’s degrees in education, business, information technology, and the health professions. Even though each student gets a mentor to serve as an advisor and coach, I personally don’t see WGU as a great solution for teenagers. However, parents, if you are looking for either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in these fields and you want to undertake flexible online study, then you might want to consider WGU.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • What’s so great about the Rocky Mountain states
  • What’s so great about Jesuit college educations
  • What’s so great (or not) about online college courses

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