Episode 61: New Admissions Report Focuses on Student Service—Part One

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This is our seventh episode focusing on news stories about higher education—some that might immediately change your thoughts about colleges for your teenager and others that might take a bit longer to consider.  Today’s story and next week’s story look at a new report that grew out of a meeting a year ago hosted by a Harvard Graduate School of Education project called Making Caring Common.  The meeting brought together college admissions deans, high school folks, and others to discuss the state of college admissions.  The report is entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.

NYCollegeChat Episode 61 New Admissions Report Focuses on Student Service—Part One

In a recent Education Week commentary (“College Admission 2.0: Service Over Self,” January 19, 2016), project co-director Richard Weissbourd said this:

For perhaps the first time in history, a broad range of colleges have come together to send a powerful collective message that what’s important in admissions is not high numbers of impressive accomplishments or long ‘brag sheets.’  Yes, academic engagement matters, but so does meaningful ethical engagement, especially as shown in concern for others and the common good.  The report also redefines ethical and intellectual contributions to more fairly capture the strengths of students across race, culture, and class.  (quoted from the article)

I hope this is true, but I am not totally convinced just yet.  Who signed on to this report?  Well, the list of “endorsers” included every Ivy League school plus an impressive list of about 50 more higher education institutions, including some of our nation’s best small liberal arts colleges, best public flagship universities, and best private universities, including Amherst College, Boston College, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, College of the Holy Cross, Emory University, Kenyon College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Oberlin College, Purdue University, Reed College, Rice University, Smith College, Swarthmore College, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, the University of Washington, Wabash College, and Wake Forest University.  Incidentally, we talked about every one of these institutions during our virtual tour of colleges nationwide.  They are great schools.

The question now is simply this:  How much do they mean it?

The Report’s Recommendations

The report makes 11 recommendations (the report actually has the recommendations divided into three sections), which I am going to quote for you in these episodes, and we will talk about them one by one.  We will do the first half of the recommendations in this episode, so here we go:

1) “Meaningful, Sustained Community Service:  We recommend that students engage in forms of service that are authentically chosen—that emerge from a student’s particular passions and interests—that are consistent and well-structured, and that provide opportunity for reflection both individually and with peers and adults.  We also recommend that students undertake at least a year of sustained service or community engagement . . . .  This service can take the form of substantial and sustained contributions to one’s family, such as working outside the home to provide needed income.  Just as important, it’s vital that the admissions process squarely challenges misconceptions about what types of service are valued in admissions.  Some students seek to ‘game’ service by taking up high-profile or exotic forms of community service, sometimes in faraway places, that have little meaning to them but appear to demonstrate their entrepreneurial spirit and leadership.  The admissions process should clearly convey that what counts is not whether service occurred locally or in some distant place or whether students were leaders, but whether students immersed themselves in an experience and the emotional and ethical awareness and skills generated by that experience.”  (quoted from the report)

So, that’s a mouthful.  What does it all mean?  That the service be something that your teenager is actually interested in and invested in; that the service be something your teenager thinks about, talks about with other kids and with adults, and learns from; that the service last at least a year; and that the service may be something that your teenager does in order to support or help your own family, such as working at a paid job if financial help is needed or taking care of a younger sibling or an elderly relative if that kind of family support is needed.  To be sure, Marie and I saw kids at the high school we co-founded in New York City who had substantial family responsibilities, which made it very difficult for them to engage in the other kinds of service that students without such responsibilities had the free time to undertake.  I think that the report’s notion that the service last at least a year is also significant.  In other words, the college might not look so favorably on a one-week community service project—unless perhaps a student did those projects summer after summer and during other school vacations.

2) “Collective Action that Takes on Community Challenges:  While individual service can be valuable, we also encourage young people to consider various forms of community engagement, including working in groups on community problems, whether the problem is a local park that needs attention, bullying in their schools or communities or some form of environmental degradation.  These types of activities can help young people develop key emotional and ethical capacities, including problem-solving skills and group awareness, as well as greater understanding of and investment in the common good.”  (quoted from the report)

It strikes me that these community engagement projects could be run by local government agencies, community nonprofit organizations, or religious organizations.  However, these projects are the kinds that could also be run by high schools, which would help not only their communities, but also their students on their college applications.  These projects might be run as after-school clubs or as after-school semester-long or year-long projects of a science or social studies class or as long-term PTA-sponsored efforts.  If I were a high school principal, I would be talking to my teachers and counselors and PTA officers right now about this idea—because projects like these are truly valuable learning opportunities for kids, regardless of their usefulness on college applications.

3) “Authentic, Meaningful Experiences with Diversity:  We encourage students to undertake community service and engagement that deepens their appreciation of diversity.  Too often, current forms of service are patronizing to recipients and don’t spark in those providing service a deeper understanding of social structures and inequalities.  Rather than students “doing for” students from different backgrounds, for example, we encourage students to “do with”—to work in diverse groups for sustained periods of time on school and community challenges, groups in which students learn from one another.  Importantly, these experiences of diversity should be carefully constructed and facilitated.”  (quoted from the report)

Now, this might be a tall order, especially in some not-too-diverse communities.  I also strongly believe that students can “do for” others without being patronizing.  For many years, I served on the board of an after-school homework-help and enrichment program for low-income kids, including some newly arrived in the U.S., who would otherwise have gone home to empty apartments.  Teenagers from local high schools volunteered in the afternoons to work with our elementary-school-aged kids.  Were some of the teenagers patronizing?  Probably so, even when they didn’t mean to be.  But did they go away with “a deeper understanding of social structures and inequalities”?  Yes, many of them did.  With that said, I also see the value of the “doing with” philosophy.  Could high schools play a role in putting together these projects, where kids from diverse backgrounds work together toward a worthwhile goal?  I believe so; but, as the recommendation says, “these experiences of diversity should be carefully constructed and facilitated.”  That takes a dedicated high school staff member or two or three to pull off.

4) “Service that Develops Gratitude and a Sense of Responsibility for the Future:  We encourage students to take up forms of community engagement, service and reflection that help them appreciate the contributions of the generations before them—how their lives are built on the service of others—and their responsibility to their descendants.  Working within a tradition, whether religious or secular, such as 4H clubs, can help generate this kind of gratitude and responsibility.”  (quoted from the report)

My guess is that this type of service is probably best left to community groups and religious organizations.  Any community project that is devoted to recording or celebrating the history of the area or of its people could qualify.  For example, I can imagine a great project where Brooklyn students volunteer their time to give tours of the historic buildings or do educational events with younger students at Weeksville, which was a community founded by African-American freedmen in the mid-1800s.  That would be a way to honor previous generations and give to future generations.  I can also imagine that, in communities where many high school graduates continue to live and work, intergenerational community service activities between older alums and current high school students could prove rewarding.

5) “Contributions to One’s Family:  The admissions process should clearly send the message to students, parents and other caregivers that not only community engagement and service, but also students’ family contributions, such as caring for younger siblings, taking on major household duties or working outside the home to provide needed income, are highly valued in the admissions process.  Far too often there is a perception that high-profile, brief forms of service tend to count in admissions, while these far more consistent, demanding, and deeper family contributions are overlooked.  Students should have clear opportunities to report these family contributions on their applications.”  (quoted from the report)

Marie and I certainly agree that this is an issue with lots of kids, especially perhaps lower-income urban kids.  I do not think that college applications always make it obvious to kids where they should write about these kinds of family responsibilities.  They can list paid jobs held or other family care activities done during the summer, for example, but those lists do not always give kids a chance to describe their family situation or explain all that they really do.  Sometimes family responsibilities can be the focus of an essay on an application, especially a supplemental essay or the second essay in the Common App where kids are asked to add anything else they want to say.  But I don’t think that these options are really the “clear opportunities” that the report is calling for.  A specific question about family care and support would be better—but I worry that all kids will now feel that this is one more thing they have to be able to respond to in order to get into college, which rather weakens the point of adding the question in the first place.

6) “Assessing Students’ Daily Awareness of and Contributions to Others:  The admissions process should seek to assess more effectively whether students are ethically responsible and concerned for others and their communities in their daily lives.  The nature of students’ day-to-day conduct should be weighed more heavily in admissions than the nature of students’ stints of service.”  (quoted from the report)

Wow.  That is more than I imagine almost any college application can actually do.  The only way I can see to make this happen is to suggest on recommendation forms that teachers and guidance counselors and other adults (like clergy, internship supervisors, and employers) consider this character trait and individual behavior when writing their college recommendations for students.  Some of these adults have a window into the daily or at least weekly activities of students and might be able to comment on how they see a student interacting with others, reaching out to help others, or serving as a role model or leader for others at school, at work, in places of worship, or in the greater community.

So there you have the first six of the 11 report recommendations.  They are an interesting bunch.  More next week!

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How easy it might be for colleges to take these recommendations
  • How high schools could make a difference
  • How history might have predicted some of these recommendations

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Episode 41: Colleges in the New England Region—Part I

This is the fifteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. We are coming into the home stretch of helping you find colleges that might be perfect for your child, but that are outside your geographic comfort zone. So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, the Plains region, the Southwest region, and the Far West region. This episode takes us all the way back across the country to the New England region, which is likely inside the geographic comfort zone of many, but certainly not all, families here in the Northeast—because, as we know, about 70 percent of high school students will stay in their home state—not even in their home region—for college. So, listen carefully, those of you in the Northeast, because there are some interesting colleges relatively nearby in some very small New England states.

Virtual #college tour of New England Region on NYCollegeChat #podcast. Available at http://usacollegechat.org/41

Keep in mind that we are discussing only four-year colleges in our tour, reasoning that students who plan to attend two-year colleges are highly likely to go to the closest one, which makes a certain amount of sense for a two-year college. We think it makes less sense if your teenager is headed for a four-year college, as we have said many times.

And, once more, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our own choices.

1. The New England Region

As we have said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering from four to 12 states. In this episode, we will start our examination of the six states in the New England region: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

I am sure that our listeners out in the Rocky Mountain or Plains regions think that these states seem both far away and quite small—compared to Montana, for example. But remember that some of them are densely populated, and that leads to lots of colleges being established over many, many decades. So this week, we will be examining public colleges in these six states; and, next week, we will be taking a look at a variety of very well-known and not-so-well-known private colleges in these six states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

As we usually do, let’s begin with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the six states has one, as those of you who tune in regularly know by now. And, as usual, some of them are better known nationally than others (probably as a result of some great basketball playing). While state public college systems and flagship universities typically have smaller campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and certainly outside the state.

Let us remind you one more time of what we have said in other episodes about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, usually super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates.

As I have said before, I think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search for lots of students who never consider them.

With all that said, I also want to say that I do not believe that flagship campuses in New England are nearly the draw that they are in almost all of the other parts of the country (except in the Mid-Atlantic states, which we haven’t talked about yet). In other words, I think that it is much more likely that a high school senior in Texas is dying to go to the flagship campus of the University of Texas in Austin than that a high school senior in Massachusetts is dying to go to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. For high school seniors in Mississippi, the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss, is the very best place they can imagine going. For high school seniors in Connecticut, the University of Connecticut is likely not the very best place they can imagine going—no matter how good it actually is. It is a cultural thing, not an academic thing. Perhaps there is just a longer or more entrenched tradition of private higher education in the Northeast than there is in other parts of the country.

Now, with all that said, let me also point out that applications to some of these flagship universities in New England are really on the rise—by a lot. So maybe things are beginning to change.

What are these flagship campuses in the New England states? They are The University of Maine (UMaine) in Orono, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in Durham, The University of Vermont (UVM, from the Latin phrase for “University in the Green Mountains”) in Burlington, The University of Rhode Island (URI) in Kingston, the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst).

Let’s look at their locations first. I think of these locations as slightly off the beaten track. In other words, these locations are not the famous cities of these states. These flagship universities are not in Boston, Providence, Portland, or New Haven, for example. These locations are more like small towns—maybe great small towns and maybe even great college towns.

Burlington, Vermont, for example, is the nation’s number 1 college town, according to Travel + Leisure magazine. The University of Vermont is located on beautiful Lake Champlain (personally, I always think that Lake Champlain should be one of the Great Lakes), just 90 miles from Montreal, its closest big city. Burlington is recognized for its outdoor life, the arts, safety, and its overall quality of life.

Or take Orono, which is 140 miles from Portland, Maine’s biggest city. Orono is between the Stillwater and Penobscot rivers and not too far from Acadia National Park, Mt. Katahdin, and Bar Harbor—all well known spots to native Mainers and regular vacationers to the state, of which there are swarms (just try to drive up there on a summer weekend). Or look at Amherst. A lovely small New England town—admittedly in the middle of nowhere—it is in spitting distance of a handful of first-rate private colleges (listen in to hear about them next week) as well as the home of the Commonwealth’s flagship campus. For many people, these New England spots—sometimes close to the water and sometimes close to the mountains—are simply idyllic places to go to college.

Turning to the six flagship universities, we can put them into three groups by enrollment size, starting with the largest universities, which are UConn with about 23,000 undergraduates and a total of about 31,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and UMass Amherst with about 23,000 undergraduates and a total of about 29,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These enrollment figures are substantial—especially given the size of the states—about on par with the University of Iowa, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to name a few.

About 80 percent of students at UConn and UMass Amherst are state residents, which I think is a surprisingly high percentage since I would guess that these are the two New England flagship universities that are the best known outside the region. At each university, the average SAT score of incoming freshmen is a pair of scores in the low 600s. At UMass Amherst, the high school GPA of incoming freshmen is an impressive 3.78—higher than you might expect with average SAT subtest scores in the low 600s.

But let me tell you the most arresting statistic: Applications at UMass Amherst have doubled in the past 10 years (that is, there were 37,000 applications for just 4,650 seats in the Class of 2018). In the past 20 years, applications at UConn have tripled at the same time as SAT average scores have gone up a combined total of 200 points on two subtests and minority student applications have increased. Currently, UConn undergraduates are about 29 percent minority students, compared to UMass Amherst’s 21 percent. We can say, with certainty, that admission to these two flagship universities is more competitive than it has ever been.

Next in size are URI and UNH, each with about 13,000 to 14,000 undergraduates and a total of about 15,000 to 17,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students—just about half the size of UConn and UMass Amherst. Each university draws just about 50 to 55 percent of its students from its own state, and UNH draws another 25 percent from Massachusetts. Incoming freshmen at both URI and UNH have an average high school GPA of a 3.4, with average SAT subtest scores hovering around 550. So these two might be just a bit easier to get into from out of state than UConn and UMass Amherst.

Not too far behind, enrollment-wise, are UMaine and UVM, each with about 9,000 to 10,000 undergraduates and a total of about 11,000 to 12,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Incoming freshmen at UMaine are academically about like those at URI and UNH, while incoming freshmen at UVM score a bit higher, more like those at UConn and UMass Amherst.

Each of these flagship universities does, in fact, attract students nationally and internationally. And let us say one more time that colleges love geographic diversity and that students might be able to get into a better college far from home if that college is lacking, but wanting, that diversity in its student body. Any of these universities would likely be interested in a student from the other side of the country if that student posted a decent high school GPA and some decent college admission test scores—though those grades and scores will have to be better than decent if the student is interested in the top flagship campuses in New England.

UVM is, by far, the oldest of these institutions. Founded in 1791, it is the fifth oldest college in New England (after four Ivy League schools), and it, too, began as a private university. The Marquis de Lafayette, the French officer who fought with us during the American Revolution, laid the cornerstone of a building that still stands on the campus. UVM also claims to be the first college with a charter that said it was nondenominational. Then, almost 75 years later, along came the Morrill Act:

The Morrill Act of 1862 provided for the sale of public lands. Income from these sales was to be used to create at least one college in each state with the principal purpose of teaching agriculture and mechanic arts. From this grant of land comes the term “land grant,” which applied to the national system of state colleges. In a later adaptation of the concept, federal funds given to colleges for marine research and extension are called “sea grants.” (quoted from the URI website)

By the way, “space grants” and “sun grants” for additional types of research followed. Both UNH and UConn have land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant designations.

So, the Morrill Act added a State Agricultural College to UVM, thus making it a public-private blended institution, and it gave rise to UMass Amherst in 1863, UMaine in 1865, UNH in 1866, UConn in 1881, and URI in 1888. They all grew into the full-fledged universities that they are today from their beginnings as “A and M’s.”

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 6 to 14 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to many career-related fields, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, fine arts, nursing, agriculture, forestry, environment and natural resources, information and computer sciences, and public health and health sciences.

Here are some of the schools and colleges that seem perfectly appropriate to the settings of these institutions. UNH’s School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, an interdisciplinary school focusing on today’s complicated ocean and coastal issues, offers undergraduates a couple of interdisciplinary degrees and minors in marine and freshwater biology, wetland ecology, oceanography, and coastal-zone-related engineering.

Similarly, URI has a Graduate School of Oceanography, which also offers undergraduate courses and an undergraduate minor. Professors mentor undergraduates in lab- and ship-based independent study courses and internships. There are also 10-week summer programs, but all of this is actually at the Narragansett Bay Campus of URI and not on the grounds of the flagship campus in Kingston.

UMaine’s College of Natural Resources, Forestry, and Agriculture has a School of Marine Sciences (with facilities in Walpole, on the coast rather than in Orono) as well as a School of Forest Resources, which offers five different bachelor’s degrees, including one in Forest Operations, Bioproducts, and Bioenergy and one in Forest Ecology. And at UVM, undergraduates can study the environment in about 20 majors across five schools and colleges—majors like Green Building and Community Design, Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, Sustainable Landscape Horticulture, Environmental Engineering, Ecological Agriculture, and Sustainable Business.

These flagship universities offer from about 80 to 120 undergraduate degree programs across their undergraduate colleges and schools. When students cannot find exactly what they want to study at the public university in their own state, the New England Board of Higher Education Regional Student Program kicks into action. This program allows students to study at a public college in another New England state if the program they want is not offered at a public college in their own state—at least for many majors. For example, Massachusetts residents can study in 110 different bachelor’s degree programs in other New England public colleges—like Ocean Engineering or Pharmaceutical Sciences or Textile Marketing at URI. Sometimes students even have a choice of more than one public college in more than one state for a particular program. And, of course, a nice tuition discount goes along with the deal so that out-of-state students in this program do not pay the full out-of-state tuition costs.

Like all other flagship universities, each of these six has more than 100 student clubs and organizations—and sometimes more than a couple hundred and, at UConn, more than 600. And there are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities in or near many of these locales, along with club sports and intramurals.

There are also varsity sports teams—from 15 to 22 women’s and men’s teams. While UMaine has done some damage in the men’s ice hockey NCAA national championships (winning two), it is fairly clear that the NCAA national titles most associated with these flagship universities are those won by the UConn Huskies in men’s and women’s basketball—three for the men and nine for the women since 2000.

As we have seen in some other regions, out-of-state tuition and fees at these flagship universities are not cheap, running from about $28,000 to $33,000 per year, but with a remarkably high $39,000 at UVM —about two to two-and-a half times what a state resident would pay. On the low end, that is still lower than many private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. On the high end, I have to admit the tuition is not much of a bargain. Nonetheless, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges where you would pay as much or more, and, as we are fond of saying, there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

Here are just a few additional fun facts:

  • In the category of famous alumni, brilliant educator and philosopher John Dewey graduated from UVM and popular best-selling author Stephen King graduated from UMaine.
  • UMass Amherst boasts the W.E.B. Du Bois Center—with the tallest library at the time it was completed in 1973—named for the famous civil rights activist, educator, and writer, whose boyhood home is in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
  • Freshmen at URI are assigned to the residential Living and Learning Community for their college or major or program, where they can live with students who have the same interests, form study groups, work with Residential Academic Mentors, and attend faculty-sponsored programs.
  • UMass Amherst is part of the Five College Interchange, which allows students at five colleges near Amherst to take courses at no extra charge at the other four colleges.       More about that next week since the other four are private!
  • UVM has banned the sale of bottled water on campus in favor of making Burlington’s good local tap water very accessible to students.
  • UMaine’s campus was designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park in New York City (it seems that Olmsted and his firm were responsible for a surprising number of beautiful college campuses, as we have learned in our virtual tour).
  • UVM was the first college to admit women and African Americans into its chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
  • UMass Amherst has the Commonwealth Honors College, a residential honors college with its own dormitory and classroom buildings, founded in 1999 (where the average high school GPA of entering freshmen is 4.21).
  • UMaine’s Museum of Art has original pieces by Pablo Picasso, Winslow Homer, and Andy Warhol—quite a range of well-known artists.
  • URI has a great website—one of the easiest to use that I have run across.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we spoke with the delightful Mandy Moor, Admissions Counselor at UMaine (her primary territories are New York and California). She offered the following enthusiastic audio pitch for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

3. Other Public State Universities

In each of these New England states, there are also other public universities—both campuses within the flagship system and colleges and universities in their own right. In looking at these other public options, let me say that I always think first about whether any public option is sufficiently attractive to draw a student away from the public options in his or her home state, which would likely be far cheaper.

I believe that flagship universities are very often sufficiently attractive to draw students away from public options in their own states, especially public options that are not their own flagship universities. I also believe that some states have other public options that are quite comparable to their own flagship university—like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University or the University of Texas Austin and Texas A & M University.

I am not sure that there are any such options in the New England states, but let’s look at a few that we think are most likely to attract out-of-state students.

Let’s start with the University of Massachusetts campus in Boston, known as UMass Boston. The second campus in the UMass system, it was established by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1964, about 100 years after UMass Amherst. UMass Boston couldn’t be in a more different setting from the flagship campus in Amherst, obviously—with Amherst’s small-town-in-the-middle-of-nowhere vibe and Boston’s big-city-filled-with-colleges-and-businesses-and-culture-and-sports vibe. I am sure that there are students who would rather be in idyllic Amherst, but I am equally sure that there are students who would rather be in happening Boston, where UMass Boston is the only four-year public choice among something like 100 colleges in the metropolitan area.

UMass Boston’s seven colleges and schools that serve about 12,500 undergraduate students offer about 80 undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, management, education, health sciences, the environment, and public and community service. Two more schools serve only graduate students—about 4,000 in number. UMass Boston’s students are drawn from 140 countries, though about 85 percent of undergraduate students are Massachusetts residents.

UMass Boston offers more than 100 student organizations and 16 varsity sports teams (eight men’s and eight women’s). Interestingly, UMass Boston does not have dormitories for its students. Its Office of Student Housing does assist students with finding roommates and looking for apartment housing nearby (which seems available) and dealing with landlords. However, a concerned parent or student might have some qualms about a first-year student living off campus in a big city without any college-provided supervision or safeguards.

UMass Boston’s tuition and fees are about $12,500 for Massachusetts residents and about $30,000 for out-of-state students—a good price for residents and a not-great price for out-of-staters, I would say.

Let’s turn to the University of Maine System’s three-campus University of Southern Maine (USM), with campuses in Portland, Gorham, and Lewiston. Gorham, located about 11 miles inland from Portland, is the campus with the residence halls and the sports facilities for one co-ed, 10 men’s, and 11 women’s varsity sports teams. Portland has only classroom and administrative buildings. Portland is an attractive and manageable city, located on the water, which is lovely, when it is warm enough to stand outside and look at it. However, I am not convinced that a student who wanted a traditional college experience in an urban setting would be happy commuting to the Portland campus—especially in the snow. On the other hand, a student who wanted a college experience with some campus life in a quiet setting and easy access to college activities in a city might think USM is perfect.

USM offers about 100 bachelor’s degrees in a wide variety of subject fields spread across three colleges and eight schools within the colleges—including the liberal arts and sciences, fine arts, business, education, nursing and health sciences, technology management, communication, computer science, social work, and recreation and leisure studies. At USM, Maine residents pay about $9,000 in tuition and fees, while out-of-state students pay about $21,000. That’s a better deal for out-of-staters than UMass Boston.

A third institution we would like to mention is more unusual in its focus, and that is the Maine Maritime Academy (MMA), “a college of engineering, management, science, and transportation” (quoted from the website), located about 140 miles northeast of Portland on the coast, for obvious reasons. It is one of six state maritime colleges in the U.S. Established by an act of the Maine Legislature in 1941, MMA is a public, coeducational school with an enrollment of about 950 students pursuing associate’s and bachelor’s degrees (there are also two master’s degree programs). About 70 percent of students are from Maine, with another approximately 15 percent from the rest of New England.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are required liberal arts and sciences courses for all students as well as electives and minors available in the Department of Arts and Sciences. A variety of bachelor’s degrees are available in engineering (including preparation for specific licenses, like the U.S. Coast Guard License), international business and logistics, marine transportation (including Vessel Operations & Technology), and ocean studies (like Marine Biology). While these degrees would not appeal to most students, they would certainly be appealing to some—very appealing. For some of these degrees, students spend time practicing their skills aboard the Training Ship State of Maine and the Schooner Bowdoin. Undoubtedly in part because of this hands-on training, more than 90 percent of graduates are employed within 90 days of earning that degree.

In spite of a highly specialized curriculum, MMA is also a traditional campus—with 14 sports teams, student organizations, and residential halls for students. Tuition for Maine residents is about $10,000 and for out-of-staters about $22,000 (with New England Regional Student Program students in between the two). Fees vary greatly by major—from about $3,000 to $10,000.

Not to be outdone, Massachusetts also has its own Maritime Academy, established in 1891. It offers seven bachelor’s degrees in engineering and maritime fields (plus two master’s degree programs). Students spend six months on international waters, gaining important hands-on training, during their four years. Here is an idea of the culture at Massachusetts Maritime Academy:

The Regiment of Cadets and regimental-style uniforms play an important role in campus life at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.  It reinforces that the status at the Academy is not an entitlement based on gender, race, or socio-economic class; it is earned through hard work, honor, and integrity. Though the Academy is structured as a regimented academy designed to grow effective leaders, only cadets who volunteer for commissioning programs have military obligations during and after their time at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

While Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island residents pay about $7,000 in tuition and fees and New England residents pay just about $1,000 more, students in states all along the East Coast (“Maritime Regional States”) also get a tuition-and-fees deal of about $17,000 a year—which seems quite attractive.

As we have said before, virtually all of these public universities (and there are more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. That is still true, albeit some of these out-of-state tuition figures seem a bit high to me. So, consider looking at public universities, beyond just the flagship university, for the unusual programs or the special career focus or the appealing locations or even acclaimed sports teams they offer.

Finally, let us talk about one unique public institution in New England, and that is the U.S. Coast Guard Academy—one of the nation’s five military service academies—founded in 1876 and located in New London, Connecticut. As we said in an early episode of NYCollegeChat, the federally funded military service academies are all outstanding, academically rigorous institutions, whose mission is to build highly trained and highly ethical leaders. One of the smaller academies, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy enrolls about 900 students—about 35 percent women and 30 percent minorities. There is one faculty member (either civilian or military) for every seven students—a remarkable student-to-faculty ratio.

Though highly selective in admissions, the Academy does not require a Congressional nomination as some academies do. Its median SAT subtest scores for entering freshmen are in the low to mid-600s.

Interestingly, seven of the Academy’s 24 core curriculum courses are from its Humanities Department, so cadets are well versed in the liberal arts. Cadets may major in government (about 25 percent typically do) in addition to marine and environmental sciences and majors more directly related to maritime studies. Cadets also take strategic intelligence courses designed to help them keep their vessels and America safe.

Tuition is free, as with all federal military service academies. About 85 percent of graduates serve beyond the five-year service commitment they complete after graduating from the Academy, and about 80 percent go on to graduate school, mostly paid for by the Coast Guard. I can honestly say that you cannot read the Academy’s website without being impressed.

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  • What might have caused the increase in applications to these universities
  • Which students should really think hard about these universities and academies
  • What the maritime academies have to offer and how they differ

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Episode 39: Colleges in the Far West Region—Part I

This is the thirteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. as we continue to help you find colleges that might be appropriate for your child, but that are outside your geographic comfort zone. So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, the Plains region, and the Southwest region. This episode takes us out to the Far West, which I know is likely to be outside the geographic comfort zone of lots of families here in the Northeast. But don’t be too hasty, listeners.

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Far West region of the US on NYCollegeChat podcast. Show notes available at http://usacollegechat.org/39

Remember that we are discussing only four-year colleges in our tour, reasoning that students who plan to attend two-year colleges are highly likely to go to the closest one, which makes a certain amount of sense for a two-year college. We think it makes less sense if you are planning to send your teenager to a four-year college for lots of reasons we have discussed.

And, just to repeat, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our own choices.

1. The Far West Region

As we have said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering from four to 12 states. In this episode, we will start our examination of the six states in the Far West region: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawai‘i.

I am sure that our listeners east of the Mississippi are thinking that some of those states sound very far away. But that alone doesn’t make them a bad choice as a place for your child to go to college. So let’s have a look this week at public colleges in these six states and next week at private colleges in these six states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities in Five States

As is our custom, let’s start with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the six states has one, as those of you who are regular listeners know by now. And, as usual, some of them are better known nationally than others. While flagship universities typically have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and certainly outside the state. Right now, let’s look at five of the states. We are going to save California for its own segment in a few minutes, because its public higher education system is enormous and complex and needs its own separate explanation.

Let us remind you one more time of what we have said in other episodes about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, usually super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates.

For many students, I think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search.

So, what are these flagship campuses in our five Far West states (not counting California)? They are the University of Washington in Seattle (UW), the University of Oregon in Eugene (UO), the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UH Mānoa), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

So, let’s talk cities. Have you been to Seattle? It’s a lovely city—a real city—with relatively nearby mountains and lots of water. There are picturesque neighborhoods and boats and the famous fish market, and there is also a major city center. The UW campus, by the way, is perfectly beautiful—one of the prettiest I have ever seen.

Eugene and Reno are both set in hiking-rafting-kayaking-mountain biking outdoor country. Eugene is an hour from Oregon’s breathtaking Pacific coast and two hours from Portland, seemingly everyone’s new favorite city on the West Coast. Eugene makes everybody’s list of great college towns to live in. At the base of the Sierra Nevada, Reno is 30 minutes from the majesty of Lake Tahoe, a true vacationland. Though Reno is often associated with Las Vegas because of its casinos, it is actually closer geographically to Sacramento than to Las Vegas—a two-hour drive vs. a seven-hour drive.

And what is there to say about Mānoa and Fairbanks—two spots as physically different and dramatic as we can imagine in the U.S., but both intriguing to most of us in the rest of the country.

Turning to the five flagship universities, we can put them into three groups by enrollment size, starting with the largest university, which is UW with about 31,000 undergraduates and a total of about 45,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These enrollment figures put UW right up there with our larger flagship universities nationwide, though below the very largest. About 75 percent of students at all three UW System campuses are Washington residents (my guess is that the percent of residents is a bit lower at the flagship campus in Seattle because that is the one most likely to attract out-of-state students). The average high school GPA of incoming freshmen is an impressive 3.75, and the average SAT score for all three subtests is a combined 1833—in other words, perhaps a set of scores in the low 600s across the three subtests.

UO comes in next with about 21,000 undergraduates and a total of about 24,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students—a bit more than half the size of UW. Just over 50 percent of UO’s students come from Oregon, so students from out of state would feel quite at home in Eugene. Freshmen at UO come with an average high school GPA of 3.58 and SAT subtest scores in the high 500s. Perhaps the relatively low percentage of home-grown Oregonians at UO is accounted for by the fact that high school students in Oregon have a second attractive state university—that is, Oregon State University in Corvallis—with just as many students, if not more, and an entering GPA that is just as high. More about Oregon State University later.

Following close behind UO are UH Mānoa and UNR, each with about 19,000 total students, with 14,000 to 16,000 being undergraduates. Each university draws about 65 to 70 percent of its students from its own state. Interestingly, UNR serves about one-third “underrepresented” students, and the University has set a goal to grow its enrollment to 22,000 total students. So, it is on the move. Not surprisingly, at UH Mānoa, white students make up just about one-quarter of the enrollment, with Asian students being the largest segment at about one-third of the student body.

Compared to these first four flagship universities, UAF is rather small, with just about 6,500 total students; about 90 percent are undergraduates, and 90 percent are Alaska residents. While it is understandable that not too many high school graduates from around the U.S. are drawn to a university in faraway Alaska, UAF does boast students from 49 states. Though UAF is just about one-third the size of UNR or UH Mānoa, it is safe to say that a university of 6,000 undergraduates would still feel quite large to a new freshman; after all, that is a lot bigger than the student body at many, many small liberal arts colleges. One advantage of UAF’s size is its enviably low 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio—extraordinarily low for a public university.

Each of these flagship universities does, in fact, attract students nationally and internationally, even if not in great numbers. As we have often said, colleges love geographic diversity, and students might be able to get into a better college by looking a bit farther afield at a college that is lacking, but is seeking, that diversity. Any of these universities would likely be interested in a student from the other side of the country if that student posted a decent high school GPA and some decent college admission test scores—though those grades and scores will have to be better than decent if the student is interested in UW.

The flagship universities in Washington, Oregon, and Nevada were all founded in the 1860s and 1870s. UW was founded in 1861 before statehood by its Territorial Legislature, which stipulated that the Territorial University would have four departments: literature, science, and the arts; law; medicine; and the military—an interesting set of choices.

UH Mānoa and UAF came along later in the early 1900s, though well before statehood. In fact, in 1959, the Alaska Constitution was written in one of the buildings on the UAF campus and then signed in another. Also prior to statehood, UAF opened its Geophysical Institute, which has an international reputation in the study of the earth and the physical environment at high latitudes and which is now home to the Poker Flat Research Range, the only university-based rocket range in the world (it provides launching facilities for NASA and the Department of Defense).

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 8 to 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, journalism, fine arts, architecture, nursing, and agriculture and natural resources.

But here are some of the more innovative schools and colleges where undergraduates can study. UW has a College of Built Environments, which houses its architecture, construction management, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, and real estate departments. UO has a School of Architecture and Allied Arts, offering studies in architecture, art, arts administration, digital arts, historic preservation, the history of art and architecture, interior architecture, landscape architecture, planning, public policy and management, and product design. Perhaps as should be perfectly obvious, UAF offers a College of Engineering and Mines and a School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

However, my vote for most intriguing colleges and schools has to go to UH Mānoa. Among its 14 colleges and schools, it offers a School of Travel Industry Management, which integrates the studies of hospitality, tourism, and transportation management, designed to support the state’s leading industry with a decidedly international flavor, including studies in international economic and political systems. UH Mānoa also offers a School of Pacific and Asian Studies, with eight individual Centers for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Okinawan, Pacific Islands, Philippine, South Asian, and Southeast Asian Studies.

Its newest school, established in 2007, is the School of Hawaiian Knowledge, created “to pursue, perpetuate, research, and revitalize all areas and forms of Hawaiian knowledge, including its language, origins, history, arts, sciences, literature, religion, education, law, and society, its political, medicinal, and cultural practices, as well as all other forms of knowledge” (quoted from the website). This school offers a B.A. in Hawaiian Studies, which includes third-level proficiency in the Hawaiian language. I am struck by how unique some of these area studies and cultural offerings are and how much studying at UH Mānoa could be like studying abroad for virtually all students from the other 49 states.

Let us also say that UNR does something interesting with its freshmen by requiring students to take their choice of two of UNR’s three interdisciplinary Core Humanities courses, taught by English, history, foreign languages and literatures, philosophy, and political science professors: Ancient and Medieval Cultures, The Modern World, and/or American Experiences and Constitutional Change.

These flagship universities offer from about 100 to more than 200 undergraduate degree programs across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. So students should be able to find exactly what they want. Interestingly, at UW, the largest of the universities with the most options to choose from, about 70 percent of undergraduate degrees are from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Like all other flagship universities, each of these has more than 100 student clubs and organizations—and sometimes several hundred. And there are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities in all of these locales, along with club sports and intramurals. By the way, UAF is the only U.S. university with its own snowboarding terrain park.

There are also varsity sports teams—from 16 to 21 women’s and men’s and co-ed teams (with just 10 teams at the smaller UAF campus). Though UW Huskies fans might dispute this, I am going to say that the sport I think of first at these universities is track and field at UO, where the men just won back-to-back NCAA national championships and where Hayward Field, a dedicated track venue, is the frequent host of national championships and Olympic trials.

As we have seen in other regions, out-of-state tuition at these flagship universities is not cheap, running from about $20,000 to $34,000 per year—about three times what a state resident would pay. But that is still lower than many private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we have said before, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

As we have mentioned in previous episodes, some of these universities are members of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), a program of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WUE allows students who are residents of WICHE states to request a reduced tuition rate of just 150 percent of resident tuition at participating colleges outside of their home state (as we discussed in Episode 33). WUE effectively broadens a student’s opportunities to look at first-rate public institutions in nearby states, without any substantial financial consequences. Look hard at any public universities your child is interested in to see whether there might be a similar exchange program in place in your state.

3. Other Public State Universities

In each of these Far West states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus or campuses within the flagship system, but universities in their own right. Let’s look at three that we think are most likely to attract out-of-state students.

We have already mentioned one, and that is Oregon State University in Corvallis, which actually has a larger total student enrollment than UO (about 30,000 across two campuses) and which attracts equally talented freshmen. Corvallis, located 90 miles south of Portland, is a small, safe, environmentally responsible, outdoorsy college town. Offering over 200 undergraduate degree programs in nine of its 11 colleges, OSU has a College of Forestry and a College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences—both of which make sense, given its location between the Cascade Range and the Pacific Ocean. Founded in 1868, its campus is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for its classic and well-planned architectural and landscape design. It is one of two U.S. universities to have Land Grant, Sea Grant, Space Grant, and Sun Grant designations. In a future episode, we should talk about the history of land grant universities, but, suffice it to say, that having all four designations is impressive.

Let’s turn to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), founded relatively recently in 1957 as an outpost of UNR and then earning independent and equal status in 1968. It serves about 24,000 undergraduates and a total of about 29,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, making it considerably larger than the flagship UNR. About 85 percent of its students are from Nevada, and about 55 percent are minority students. It has a total of 10 schools and colleges, including the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, and a College of Fine Arts. Its urban location in Las Vegas makes it a very different choice for students from UNR’s location in the northern part of the state.

Given the size and the diversity of academic offerings of OSU and UNLV, it seems that these two universities are competitively attractive when compared to the flagship universities in their states (perhaps a bit like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, as we discussed in our Great Lakes public university episode). So both could be worth a look for out-of-state students.

The third institution we would like to spotlight is The Evergreen State College, located about an hour south of the Seattle-Tacoma airport in Washington’s capital city of Olympia. When you view Evergreen by air, what you see are—wait for it—a million evergreen trees, calm waters, and a few college buildings. Founded quite recently in 1971, Evergreen is a public liberal arts college, serving about 4,500 students, mostly undergraduates, and offering them more than 60 fields of study to choose from. It is deeply environmentally responsible and has been repeatedly recognized for its innovative, cool, free spirit style and substance. Evergreen prides itself on having its students learn through interdisciplinary study, collaborative learning activities with their classmates from diverse backgrounds, and opportunities to link theory with practical applications.

Students at Evergreen take one interdisciplinary course, called a program, at a time, which might last one, two, or even three quarters. Built around a theme, a program integrates several subjects and is taught by a team of two to four professors from different subject fields. Students participate in a mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials, field trips, labs, and the like during each program. There are no required programs or distribution requirements or major requirements (because there are no majors) for earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. A Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts and Science does have some math, science, or computer science requirements.

Out-of-state students pay about $22,000 per year in tuition (compared to the $8,000 that Washington residents pay). But, even so, that is about half as much as most private liberal arts colleges, especially those that have this innovative a take on higher education.

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are more in these states than those we mentioned here, especially in Washington) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities, beyond just the flagship university, for the innovative programs or the appealing locations or the breadth of opportunties that they offer.

4. Public State Universities in California

We now come to public universities in California. Remembering that California is a physically huge and populous state, we can expect a lot of public options. California boasts its University of California campuses (California’s premier public system), its California State University campuses (its second tier of public colleges), and its California Community Colleges System campuses (its third tier of public colleges, which offer opportunities to an enormous number of California students who do not have the high school grades and/or the financial resources and/or the inclination to attend one of California’s public four-year campuses). In the wake of tight state budgeting, whether California universities should accept more out-of-state students, who bring their higher tuition payments, or keep more spaces open for its own students has been a political football tossed back and forth in the media a lot lately.

With that said, both the UC campuses and the CSU campuses have elaborate eligibility standards, which include the student’s high school GPA calculated for 15 required core courses, class rank, and SAT or ACT scores, and which vary by the student’s place of residence in and outside of California. While it is not necessary to go into these details right now, suffice it to say that out-of-state students will have to meet higher admission standards than California residents for both UC and CSU campuses. And that is on top of the fact that space in some programs on some of these campuses is extremely limited.

With all that as a backdrop, let’s start by taking a quick look at the University of California, Berkeley, considered by most to be the flagship public university (though it seems to me, as an outsider, that California is really more like New York—that is, it has many individual universities, loosely coupled into a system and governed by that system, but each having the stature and character of an independent well-known university). There is a lot to recommend it as a place to study, including its charming campus in Berkeley, north of San Francisco and Oakland. Founded in 1868 by the merger of two tiny colleges, UC Berkeley (fondly referred to as Cal by Californians) is the oldest of the UC campuses. Today it has an undergraduate enrollment of about 27,000 students and a total enrollment of about 38,000 students, who are studying in 14 undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools. Those of us of a certain age remember the UC Berkeley of the 1960s as a campus where politically conscious students protested for their right to free speech in the wake of civil rights struggles and then the war in Vietnam. While UC Berkeley has long been known for its brainy students, today it is super-hard to get into, posting a low acceptance rate of about 17 percent of applicants. The average high school GPA of new freshmen is a 4.19 and their entering SAT scores are at about 700 on each of three subtests. To be sure, UC Berkeley ranks as one of the very best public institutions in the U.S. and, indeed, as one of the best public or private institutions in the U.S. While California residents pay about $13,000 in tuition per year, nonresidents pay about $34,000 in tuition per year—still less than you would pay at comparable first-class private universities.

Perhaps the best known of the UC campuses is UCLA—the University of California, Los Angeles. Started in 1919 as the University of California’s Southern Branch, UCLA’s star has been rising ever since and, by many accounts, it now ranks academically with UC Berkeley. Its incoming freshman class average GPA is 4.25, with comparably high SAT scores. UCLA currently serves about 28,000 undergraduates and a total of about 42,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. About one-third of its undergraduates are Asian, and about one-quarter are white. About 80 percent are California residents. UCLA’s undergraduates study in 125 majors across five schools and colleges: College of Letters and Science and the Schools of the Arts and Architecture; Engineering and Applied Science; Theater, Film and Television; and Nursing. And they play some great basketball (can you say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?), have won more NCAA titles than any other university, and have produced 250 Olympic medalists. Again, your child would need to be exceptional to get into UCLA these days.

The UC System has seven more campuses that serve undergraduate students, but all require out-of-state students to have a 3.4 GPA for a set of 15 required core courses taken in high school, with no grade lower than a C. So the admission standards are indeed high.

The California State University System, on the other hand, has 23 campuses, spread from the top to the bottom of the state. Tuition is a bargain at about $5,500 per year for California residents and about $17,000, by my calculation, for out-of-state students. It has always been my impression that these state universities are easier to get into than those in the University of California System, but deciphering the admissions requirements can be daunting for non-Californians unfamiliar with the lingo. Our best advice is that you should talk directly with an admissions officer at the campus, if your child is interested in attending a public state university in California—many of which could be attractive options.

Let me just say a word about paying close attention to which university you are actually investigating because names can be mighty similar. For example, there is the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), but also the California State University, Los Angeles. Or, to make matters worse, there is the University of California, San Diego, but also San Diego State University (in the California State University System), as well as the University of San Diego (a private Catholic university).

So, is it more trouble than it is worth to try to go to a public university in California as an out-of-state student? Well, it is certainly trouble. But I don’t think any student currently studying on a public campus in beautiful Santa Barbara or San Diego or Monterey Bay or Sonoma County or San Francisco would think it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

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  • How remarkably diverse college options are in the Far West
  • How remarkably unique The Evergreen State College is for a public college
  • How remarkably complex public higher education is in California

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Episode 35: Colleges in the Plains Region—Part I

This is our ninth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. We started the tour to try to broaden your horizons about colleges that might be appealing to your child, but are outside your geographic comfort zone. You might recall that we have discussed the fact that the vast majority of high school students—say, about 70 percent—go to college in their home states. While there is nothing really wrong with that, we would like you to know that there are a lot of great colleges out there—ones that you have never heard of and even ones that we had never heard of—and we would like you to consider whether one of them could make all the difference for your child.

So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, and the Rocky Mountain region. Today, we head just east from the Rocky Mountains to look at the Plains region.

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Plains region on NYCollegeChat, a weekly podcast about the world of college

As we say in every one of these episodes, no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

And to repeat: First, when we talk about the universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution. Second, 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. The Plains Region

As we have said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering from four to 12 states. In this episode, we will start our examination of the seven states of the Plains region: Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota.

If you have never considered any college in this north central part of our country, maybe this is your wake-up call. Perhaps you will reconsider after today’s episode about public colleges in these states or next week’s episode about private colleges in these states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

As we always do on our tour, let’s start with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the seven states has one, as those of you who are regular listeners know by now. And, as always, some of them are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and some are great schools. While some of these universities have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and outside the state.

Let us remind you of what we have said in other episodes about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Plains region? They are the University of Kansas in Lawrence (KU), University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), University of South Dakota in Vermillion (USD), University of North Dakota in Grand Forks (UND), University of Missouri in Columbia (commonly referred to as Mizzou), University of Iowa in Iowa City (UI), and University of Minnesota Twin Cities—that is, in the “twin cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul (U of M). These universities are located in different kinds of settings—from ideal small college towns (or as U.S. News and World Report once called Columbia, Missouri, “the quintessential college town”) to substantial cities (including two state capitals). The cost-of-living is attractively low in most of these locations. Despite being in the center of the country, there is water quite close by some of these campuses—the Missouri River and the Mississippi River, for example—and there are winter sports opportunities not far off.

We can put these universities in three groups by enrollment size, starting with the smallest: USD with about 7,500 undergraduates and a total of 10,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and UND with about 11,500 undergraduates and a total of 15,000 students. While relatively small for the flagship public state universities in the Plains regions—and, indeed, in most regions—they are not actually small. Any incoming freshman is going to feel that an undergraduate student body of 7,500 or more is really pretty large.

Next in size come KU with about 18,000 undergraduates and a total of 23,000 students, UNL with about 20,000 undergraduates and a total of 25,000 students, and UI with about 22,500 undergraduates and a total of 30,000 students. Any incoming freshman is going to feel like these undergraduate student bodies are truly large.

And finally we come to Mizzou with about 28,000 undergraduates and a total of 36,000 students and U of M with about 32,000 undergraduates and a total of 49,000 students. Though we have already mentioned in our virtual tour some universities with even more undergraduate students than that—namely, the University of Central Florida, The Ohio State University, and Michigan State University, and there are still more huge universities in the episodes coming up—it is safe to say that Mizzou and the U of M would seem gigantic to almost any freshman we can imagine. With that said, both universities offer so much to students that a moment of being overwhelmed upon arrival on campus is likely worth it.

Interestingly, about 25 percent of students at U of M and at UI are first-generation college students; for students whose parents had little or no college education themselves, these very large campuses could seem imposing to the whole family.

Each of these flagship universities was founded in the mid- to late 1800s, with Mizzou first in 1839 and UND last in 1883. Three were founded before their territory even became a state: UND, USD, and U of M (and UI was founded just two months after statehood). This trend, which we also saw in the Rocky Mountain region, continues to impress me—that pioneers, just establishing themselves, would give a college education such a high priority.

Mizzou was established in 1839 by 900 citizens who pledged both money and land to win the competition for where to locate the new state university; it became the first public university west of the Mississippi River and the first state university in the land that made up the Louisiana Purchase, which Thomas Jefferson had made back in 1803. KU was founded in 1866 by abolitionists, who had come to Kansas in 1854 to make sure that Kansas entered the U.S. as a free state and not as a slave state. UND was founded as a College of Arts and Sciences, plus a Normal School for the education of teachers—not as an agricultural school or only a normal school, as other colleges were typically being established.

UNL was founded in 1869 as an institution open both to women and to students of all races from the first day—at a time when many colleges were not open to either. When UI started holding classes in 1855, 41 of the 124 students were women—fully one-third of the student body, which had to be very unusual for that time in our nation’s history. Some years later, UI was the first public university to award a law degree to an African American (in 1870) and to a woman (in 1873). And it was the first public university to allow an African-American athlete to play on a varsity team (in 1895). That is a lot of history and pioneering spirit to be proud of.

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 8 to 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, journalism, fine and performing arts, architecture, and agricultural sciences and natural resources.

UNL has a fascinating and highly selective program that is part of the University Honors Program: the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management (the average entering freshman SAT critical reading and mathematics score is 1480 and average ACT score is 33.5). The School draws on the resources of several UNL colleges and offers an interdisciplinary, project-oriented curriculum, including a year-long capstone project for seniors in cooperation with an actual business.

Mizzou opened the world’s first journalism school in 1908. The school is still operating and is one of the finest in the nation. It offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and is known for its Missouri Method of placing students in real media outlets—television, radio, and newspapers)—to learn their craft.

UI was the first university to create a college-level department of education, which became the birthplace of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (you might have taken these standardized tests as a child yourself), the GED as an alternative to a standard high school diploma, and the ACT for college admission.

These flagship universities offer from about 85 to 190 undergraduate majors across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. So, clearly, more than one of these universities have whatever major your child wants to study in whatever college or school is of interest within the university.

And don’t forget UI’s famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop (based in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), which offered the first creative writing degree in the U.S. in 1936. At the graduate level, the program leads to a Master of Fine Arts in English and admits 25 students in fiction and 25 in poetry each year. The good news for undergraduates is that the program offers undergraduate courses during the year and summer courses as well. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop has produced 17 Pulitzer Prize winners, five U.S. Poets Laureate, and a bunch of other winners of impressive awards.

Like other flagship universities we have talked about in previous episodes, each of these seven has many student clubs and organizations, typically including fraternities and sororities—in fact, from about 120 student organizations (which already sounds like a lot) to more than 800 at U of M. It would be impossible for your child not to find some organizations he or she would like to join—which is especially important for students on one of the larger campuses.

Of course, there are also plenty of varsity sports teams—from about from 15 to 23, with women’s teams sometimes being more numerous than men’s teams. UNL and U of M play in the Big Ten Conference, where sports are taken pretty seriously. KU’s first basketball coach in 1898 just happened to be the guy who invented basketball: James Naismith, who invented the game in Massachusetts in 1891. By the way, KU is proud of its five national basketball championships—and its five national debate championships.

Plus, there are club sports and intramurals to choose from. At UI, 60 percent of the students participate in these non-varsity sports.

Each of these flagship universities is well enough known to attract students from virtually all 50 states and from as many as 60 to more than 140 foreign countries; nonetheless, most of the undergraduate students are home grown—ranging from about 55 percent to 70 percent of the students, with only UND falling to just about 40 percent of students being from North Dakota. In fact, at UI, about 75 percent of students come from either Iowa or Illinois; at U of M, about 80 percent come from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Wisconsin (you will see why in a minute). UI and U of M are two excellent universities that are not pulling in many students from most states in the U.S.

A solid application from outside of the state would be viewed with interest at likely all of these flagship universities. As we have said before, colleges like to have geographic diversity in the student body.

Furthermore, your child could get a great education at a cost lower than most private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we have said before, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university. And you have several great public universities to choose from in the Plains states.

In wrapping up, let’s look at a couple of interesting tuition programs. KU fixes students’ annual four-year tuition when they enter their freshman year; for parents, it is certainly nice to know that the tuition will not get any higher year by year. (KU is not the only college that does this, so look for others that do.) One thing that might save on tuition is that UNL guarantees the availability of all courses required for a degree or reasonable substitutions so that a student can finish in four years and graduate. Because not graduating in four years costs money!

USD permits children of its alumni/alumnae to pay the in-state tuition rate—no matter where the children live; and, USD gives Minnesota students a tuition rate that is just barely higher than the in-state rate. UND also has quite a few deals in place: It is a member of the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Midwest Student Exchange Program (both of which provide substantial tuition breaks to students from member states, as we discussed in Episode 33), and it has a very attractive Contiguous Residency rate for students from South Dakota, Montana, and especially Minnesota. Finally, the U of M offers in-state tuition to students from North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin as well as free tuition for credits in excess of 13 per term.

These deals seem outstanding to us, and they effectively broaden a student’s opportunities to look at first-rate public institutions in nearby states, without any substantial financial consequences. As these colleges carefully advertise on their websites, these tuition deals and reciprocal arrangements with other states are not automatic. You have to apply for them, and you sometimes have to apply to your home state first. And, again, space is limited. So look hard at any public universities your child is interested in to see whether there might be similar programs in place for you and, if so, apply early.

By the way, if you want your child to be among the 97 percent who get a job or an acceptance to graduate school when he or she graduates from college, send your child to USD. Or, if you want your child to be one of the 9 out of 10 graduates who say they would attend their college all over again, send your child to UND.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City in April, we spoke with Suzanne Sholes, Assistant Director in the UND Office of Admissions. Suzanne offered the following audio pitch for her alma mater for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

At the same college fair, we spoke with Laura Goddard, a University of Iowa Senior Admission Counselor, whose recruiting territory is New York and New Jersey.   Laura did the following audio pitch for UI for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

3. Other Public State Universities

In these seven Plains states, there are also other public universities—some are branches of the flagship campus, but others are universities in their own right. I think the two that are most likely to attract out-of-state students because they are probably better known nationally than many of the others are Iowa State University (ISU) and Kansas State University (commonly known as K-State).

Founded in 1858 as Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm, Iowa State is located in Ames, which is a great college town, according to many rankings of these things: great public schools, safe community, clean air, and lots to do. Actually a bit larger than the University of Iowa, Iowa State has an undergraduate student enrollment of about 29,000, with another 5,000 or so graduate and professional students. Undergraduates choose among about 100 majors spread over six undergraduate colleges. The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has an almost 97 percent career placement rate and is the alma mater of famed scientist George Washington Carver—ISU’s first African-American student and later faculty member. The College of Engineering is one of the largest in the country and offers more than 60 student engineering organizations. ISU’s graduate College of Veterinary Medicine was the first public veterinary school (1879). With over 800 student organizations and 18 varsity sports teams, Iowa State is a well-rounded place to be for the students it draws from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. About 60 percent of its students are Iowa residents. When you read the website, you will see a list of accomplishments in science and technology that I can barely understand, but are certainly impressive.

Kansas State University officially opened in 1863 as Kansas Agricultural College. It was the second public college to admit men and women equally. Located in Manhattan, a classic college town, K-State enrolls about 20,000 undergraduates and another 4,000 or so graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally; it is just as large as the University of Kansas. It offers its undergraduates a choice of 250 majors and options. K-State has nine colleges, including a College of Veterinary Medicine and a College of Technology and Aviation at its Salina campus. With more than 475 student organizations, 16 varsity sports teams, more than 20 competitive club sports, and 40 intramural sports, there is plenty to do at K-State. An important part of its undergraduate curriculum is the “K-State 8,” which are eight areas of study that are required of all students and are designed to broaden students’ perspectives beyond their major. The eight are aesthetic interpretation, human diversity within the U.S., ethical reasoning and responsibility, global issues and perspectives, and the more standard math, science, social sciences, and history. It’s a real liberal arts education, which students get prior to any specialization in a major. K-State has rolling admissions, so that could be a plus in your child’s college application process.

Though they don’t have the national visibility of Iowa State and K-State, both North Dakota State University (NDSU) and South Dakota State University (SDSU)—as large or larger than the flagship universities in those states—have plenty of students, majors, student organizations, and varsity sports teams to be appealing choices. Though they draw students nationally and internationally, about 60 percent of SDSU students are South Dakota residents and about 40 percent of NDSU students are North Dakota residents (though just as many students come to NDSU from Minnesota as from North Dakota).

In closing our look at public universities, we would like to mention two HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) in Missouri: Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis and Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri’s capital. Harris-Stowe State University evolved from its beginnings as two normal schools for educating teachers—Harris Teachers College for educating white teachers (founded in 1857) and Stowe Teachers College for educating black teachers (founded in 1890), named for abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Originally operated by the Board of Education of the St. Louis Public Schools, the two teacher education schools were merged in 1954 as public schools were beginning to integrate. In 1979, the merged college became part of Missouri’s state system of public higher education. Though broadening its offerings beyond education, Harris-Stowe does have a unique undergraduate degree in Urban Education, designed to prepare non-teaching staff to work on education issues in urban settings. In addition to its College of Education, Harris-Stowe has a College of Arts and Sciences and the Anheuser-Busch School of Business, and it offers 14 undergraduate programs, mostly in education and business. With just over 1,500 undergraduates, Harris-Stowe offers a much smaller alternative to a large public university.

Lincoln University was founded as Lincoln Institute “by the men of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantries and their white officers, for the special benefit of freed African Americans” (quoted from the website). It became a Missouri public institution in 1879, offering primarily education, industrial, and agricultural courses. Lincoln now offers 50 undergraduate degree programs spread across the College of Arts and Letters, College of Behavioral and Technological Sciences, College of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, and College of Professional Studies (for business, education, and nursing). It also offers master’s degrees in business, education, and the social sciences. Lincoln has an undergraduate student enrollment of about 2,800, with a couple hundred more graduate students. The undergraduate students on the main campus are about 45 percent black and about 45 percent white, and about 80 percent of them are from Missouri (with most of the rest from surrounding states).

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are many more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities beyond just the flagship university, for the special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.

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Episode 27: Colleges in the Great Lakes Region—Part I

We are continuing our series on looking at colleges outside your comfort zone by taking a virtual tour of public colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region. Complete show notes for today’s episode, including links to all of the colleges mentioned, can be found at http://usacollegechat.org/27.

In our last episode, we said that we were going to take you on a virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to try to stretch your thinking about colleges that might be attractive to your child. As we start our tour this week, we are going to spotlight public colleges. We are going to talk about four-year colleges only, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region right away. If your child is headed to a public two-year college, just save this information until it might be time for your child to transfer to a four-year college later on.

Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. While we do not promise to name a lot of great colleges in every state, we do promise to name a lot of great colleges.

And as we said last week, if you have a college you would like us to talk about on the air, please email us or call us and tell us what it is and why it is great, and we will certainly consider it. Let us also say again that no college has asked us to name it and that no college has paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

To be sure, some of the colleges we will name will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admissions test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be appropriate.

One general note about the location of college campuses: It used to be that most colleges had a single campus. Then, large public universities looked to serve more and more students as the college-going rate increased in the last century. We started to see branch campuses of these large public universities—a couple and then five or seven or more—as supply rose to meet demand. Now, private universities and colleges have started to open more locations, too—probably in an effort to attract students who do not want to commute to or live on the main campus. All this opening of branches and locations has made talking about colleges a bit complicated. When we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution.

And one general note about enrollment figures: While we tried hard to pull enrollment figures from college websites in order to give you an idea of how large or how small our spotlighted colleges are, we believe that the figures are not necessarily comparable from college to college. For example, sometimes colleges include part-time students, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes you can’t tell whether they do or don’t. So, use the enrollment figures we are giving as just an approximation of the actual campus enrollment. These figures are certainly good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child. In other words, it doesn’t really matter if a university has 19,000 undergraduate students or 25,000 undergraduate students; it is still a huge school.

1. The Great Lakes Region

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. So let’s get started with the five states that make up the Bureau’s Great Lakes region: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

For those of you who are listening in our home state of New York, I am guessing that the Great Lakes region sounds far away, except perhaps for Ohio, which we can think of as right across New Jersey and/or Pennsylvania from us. For those of you who are listening in the South or Southwest or on the West Coast, I am guessing that all these states seem far removed from where you thought you might send your child. But there are a lot of great colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region, so let’s begin.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

One notable category of higher education institutions in these five states is the flagship public state university. Each of the Great Lakes states has one, though some are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and I would argue that at least a couple of them are, in fact, great schools. While these universities have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is best known and likely most respected both in the state and outside the state.

If you want to apply to one of these campuses from out of state, your child will need good to excellent high school grades and good to excellent college admission test scores, with some being a bit harder to get into than others. Just remember, the best and the brightest high school students who live in these states really want to go to their flagship state university. Why? Because these schools are relatively inexpensive (because they are public), academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for lots of their high school classmates. They are the place to be, if you live in that state. That attitude might be hard for those of us who live in New York State to understand, because we do not have the same kind of famous flagship campus that draws a large percentage of our state’s best high school graduates. The State University of New York (SUNY) operates more like individual colleges located around the state rather than one main campus with branches of it around the state, as in the Great Lakes region. SUNY does not have one big flagship campus that the majority of New York high school students are dying to go to.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Great Lakes region? They are the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Indiana University Bloomington, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and The Ohio State University in Columbus. While these universities are located in different kinds of settings—from medium-sized college towns to state capitals (and let me tell you that Madison has one of the prettiest state capitol buildings you are ever going to find)—and while some have colder weather than others (like Michigan and Wisconsin—believe me, I know), they also have a lot in common.

For example, they are huge. The average number of undergraduates enrolled at the flagship campuses in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois is almost 30,000, with a total undergraduate, graduate, and professional student enrollment averaging almost 45,000, Ohio State is bigger still, with about 45,000 undergraduates and a total enrollment of about 58,000 students. While some of these campuses brag about the relatively small class size of many of their classes and the kind of personalized attention they give their students, you can be sure that a shy student could easily get lost in the shuffle of a very large campus and in what will surely be some large lecture halls, with lots of students trying to get the professors’ attention.

Within each flagship university, there are from 11 to 19 different undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—arts and sciences, education, engineering, business, agriculture and life sciences, nursing, law, medicine, veterinary medicine, architecture, and more—including, at Indiana, the famous Jacobs School of Music. These universities offer from about 135 to almost 250 undergraduate majors—truly something for every student, almost no matter what the student is interested in.

As befits any huge university, each one has hundreds and hundreds of student clubs and organizations and more than 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams (plus club sports and intramurals). They are all part of the Big Ten athletic conference, so you can be sure that students go to football and basketball games and root for the home team. This is all part of the college life and proud traditions at these universities.

Each of these five flagship universities is well enough known and highly enough regarded to attract students from virtually every state in the U.S. and from typically more than 100 foreign countries. Interestingly enough, New York and California are among the top states outside the Great Lakes region that send students to these schools every year, so they aren’t secrets—at least not to parents and guidance counselors who are well versed in college options outside their home states.

All of these public universities would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but would still cost less than most private colleges—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, they are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S. There is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university. So this might be the time to consider one.

3. Other Public State Universities

In these five Great Lakes states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus, but other universities in their own right, some of which are also quite well known.

One of the best-known of these—and perhaps the best in many respects—is Michigan State University, located in East Lansing, just outside Michigan’s capital. It is actually larger than most of the flagship campuses we just discussed—with about 39,000 undergraduates and 11,000 graduate and professional students. Like the flagship campuses, it draws students from all states and more than 100 foreign countries, has more than 15 colleges, offers about 160 undergraduate majors, and is a member of the Big Ten. The state of Michigan is one clear example of a state where the two largest public universities—the University of Michigan and Michigan State University—are virtually equal in their fame and appeal.

Another example of a state where the two largest public universities are virtually equal in their fame and appeal is the state of Indiana, which has both Indiana University Bloomington and the Purdue University public system, with its main campus in West Lafayette. Note that Purdue is a public university, even though the name does not sound like it (it was named after a very large donor, John Purdue, in 1869). Another member of the Big Ten, Purdue enrolls about 30,000 undergraduates at the main campus (plus about 9,000 graduate and professional students)—maybe just a bit smaller than IU Bloomington. Given Purdue’s good national reputation, it draws students globally; barely over half of Purdue undergraduates are actually Indiana residents. Purdue offers 10 undergraduate and graduate schools, with over 100 majors for undergraduates; it has a very highly ranked College of Engineering and some highly ranked business majors.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last weekend, we had a nice chat with Amanda Wulle, the Assistant Director of Admissions (NYC Regional Representative) at Purdue, who did a quick audio pitch for her alma mater for NYCollegeChat. Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.

Several smaller (but still quite large, by anybody’s standard) public choices are Wayne State University in the city of Detroit, Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and Kent State University in Ohio (with its main campus in Kent). Each of these public universities has about 20,000 undergraduate students and from 5,000 to 10,000 graduate and professional students at its main campus. They offer from 10 to 13 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, including a well-known medical school at Wayne State and a College of Aviation at Western Michigan (which you just don’t see every day). Interestingly, the vast majority of students at each university come from within its home state. That could mean that an application from a student in a far away state would be especially attractive. And I couldn’t mention Western Michigan without a fond word for one of its longtime, now retired, education professors and an amazing colleague, Daniel Stufflebeam. Dan was one of the great innovators in the field of educational evaluation for decades (actually since his groundbreaking work at Ohio State).

As we said earlier, all of these public universities (and there are even more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities beyond just the flagship university.

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We are continuing our series on looking at colleges outside your comfort zone by taking a virtual tour of public colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region.

Colleges in the Great Lakes Region—Part I on NYCollegeChat podcast

In our last episode, we said that we were going to take you on a virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to try to stretch your thinking about colleges that might be attractive to your child. As we start our tour this week, we are going to spotlight public colleges. We are going to talk about four-year colleges only, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region right away. If your child is headed to a public two-year college, just save this information until it might be time for your child to transfer to a four-year college later on.

Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. While we do not promise to name a lot of great colleges in every state, we do promise to name a lot of great colleges.

And as we said last week, if you have a college you would like us to talk about on the air, please email us or call us and tell us what it is and why it is great, and we will certainly consider it. Let us also say again that no college has asked us to name it and that no college has paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

To be sure, some of the colleges we will name will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admissions test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be appropriate.

One general note about the location of college campuses: It used to be that most colleges had a single campus. Then, large public universities looked to serve more and more students as the college-going rate increased in the last century. We started to see branch campuses of these large public universities—a couple and then five or seven or more—as supply rose to meet demand. Now, private universities and colleges have started to open more locations, too—probably in an effort to attract students who do not want to commute to or live on the main campus. All this opening of branches and locations has made talking about colleges a bit complicated. When we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution.

And one general note about enrollment figures: While we tried hard to pull enrollment figures from college websites in order to give you an idea of how large or how small our spotlighted colleges are, we believe that the figures are not necessarily comparable from college to college. For example, sometimes colleges include part-time students, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes you can’t tell whether they do or don’t. So, use the enrollment figures we are giving as just an approximation of the actual campus enrollment. These figures are certainly good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child. In other words, it doesn’t really matter if a university has 19,000 undergraduate students or 25,000 undergraduate students; it is still a huge school.

1. The Great Lakes Region

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. So let’s get started with the five states that make up the Bureau’s Great Lakes region: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

For those of you who are listening in our home state of New York, I am guessing that the Great Lakes region sounds far away, except perhaps for Ohio, which we can think of as right across New Jersey and/or Pennsylvania from us. For those of you who are listening in the South or Southwest or on the West Coast, I am guessing that all these states seem far removed from where you thought you might send your child. But there are a lot of great colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region, so let’s begin.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

One notable category of higher education institutions in these five states is the flagship public state university. Each of the Great Lakes states has one, though some are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and I would argue that at least a couple of them are, in fact, great schools. While these universities have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is best known and likely most respected both in the state and outside the state.

If you want to apply to one of these campuses from out of state, your child will need good to excellent high school grades and good to excellent college admission test scores, with some being a bit harder to get into than others. Just remember, the best and the brightest high school students who live in these states really want to go to their flagship state university. Why? Because these schools are relatively inexpensive (because they are public), academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for lots of their high school classmates. They are the place to be, if you live in that state. That attitude might be hard for those of us who live in New York State to understand, because we do not have the same kind of famous flagship campus that draws a large percentage of our state’s best high school graduates. The State University of New York (SUNY) operates more like individual colleges located around the state rather than one main campus with branches of it around the state, as in the Great Lakes region. SUNY does not have one big flagship campus that the majority of New York high school students are dying to go to.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Great Lakes region? They are the University of Michigan at Ann ArborUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison, Indiana University Bloomington, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and The Ohio State University in Columbus. While these universities are located in different kinds of settings—from medium-sized college towns to state capitals (and let me tell you that Madison has one of the prettiest state capitol buildings you are ever going to find)—and while some have colder weather than others (like Michigan and Wisconsin—believe me, I know), they also have a lot in common.

For example, they are huge. The average number of undergraduates enrolled at the flagship campuses in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois is almost 30,000, with a total undergraduate, graduate, and professional student enrollment averaging almost 45,000, Ohio State is bigger still, with about 45,000 undergraduates and a total enrollment of about 58,000 students. While some of these campuses brag about the relatively small class size of many of their classes and the kind of personalized attention they give their students, you can be sure that a shy student could easily get lost in the shuffle of a very large campus and in what will surely be some large lecture halls, with lots of students trying to get the professors’ attention.

Within each flagship university, there are from 11 to 19 different undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—arts and sciences, education, engineering, business, agriculture and life sciences, nursing, law, medicine, veterinary medicine, architecture, and more—including, at Indiana, the famous Jacobs School of Music. These universities offer from about 135 to almost 250 undergraduate majors—truly something for every student, almost no matter what the student is interested in.

As befits any huge university, each one has hundreds and hundreds of student clubs and organizations and more than 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams (plus club sports and intramurals). They are all part of the Big Ten athletic conference, so you can be sure that students go to football and basketball games and root for the home team. This is all part of the college life and proud traditions at these universities.

Each of these five flagship universities is well enough known and highly enough regarded to attract students from virtually every state in the U.S. and from typically more than 100 foreign countries. Interestingly enough, New York and California are among the top states outside the Great Lakes region that send students to these schools every year, so they aren’t secrets—at least not to parents and guidance counselors who are well versed in college options outside their home states.

All of these public universities would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but would still cost less than most private colleges—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, they are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S. There is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university. So this might be the time to consider one.

3. Other Public State Universities

In these five Great Lakes states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus, but other universities in their own right, some of which are also quite well known.

One of the best-known of these—and perhaps the best in many respects—is Michigan State University, located in East Lansing, just outside Michigan’s capital. It is actually larger than most of the flagship campuses we just discussed—with about 39,000 undergraduates and 11,000 graduate and professional students. Like the flagship campuses, it draws students from all states and more than 100 foreign countries, has more than 15 colleges, offers about 160 undergraduate majors, and is a member of the Big Ten. The state of Michigan is one clear example of a state where the two largest public universities—the University of Michigan and Michigan State University—are virtually equal in their fame and appeal.

Another example of a state where the two largest public universities are virtually equal in their fame and appeal is the state of Indiana, which has both Indiana University Bloomington and the Purdue University public system, with its main campus in West Lafayette. Note that Purdue is a public university, even though the name does not sound like it (it was named after a very large donor, John Purdue, in 1869). Another member of the Big Ten, Purdue enrolls about 30,000 undergraduates at the main campus (plus about 9,000 graduate and professional students)—maybe just a bit smaller than IU Bloomington. Given Purdue’s good national reputation, it draws students globally; barely over half of Purdue undergraduates are actually Indiana residents. Purdue offers 10 undergraduate and graduate schools, with over 100 majors for undergraduates; it has a very highly ranked College of Engineering and some highly ranked business majors.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last weekend, we had a nice chat with Amanda Wulle, the Assistant Director of Admissions (NYC Regional Representative) at Purdue, who did a quick audio pitch for her alma mater for NYCollegeChat. Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.

Several smaller (but still quite large, by anybody’s standard) public choices are Wayne State University in the city of Detroit, Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and Kent State University in Ohio (with its main campus in Kent). Each of these public universities has about 20,000 undergraduate students and from 5,000 to 10,000 graduate and professional students at its main campus. They offer from 10 to 13 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, including a well-known medical school at Wayne State and a College of Aviation at Western Michigan (which you just don’t see every day). Interestingly, the vast majority of students at each university come from within its home state. That could mean that an application from a student in a far away state would be especially attractive. And I couldn’t mention Western Michigan without a fond word for one of its longtime, now retired, education professors and an amazing colleague, Daniel Stufflebeam. Dan was one of the great innovators in the field of educational evaluation for decades (actually since his groundbreaking work at Ohio State).

As we said earlier, all of these public universities (and there are even more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities beyond just the flagship university.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How students get around the campus and the town/city
  • How “livable” the college town/city is and how much of a plus that is for students
  • How ethnically and racially diverse these campuses are and how that might affect your child’s admission chances

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