Episode 55: The Liberal Arts Debate

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

As we said last week when we kicked off Series 5, it seems to me that we have been reading and hearing a lot about higher education in the news. So we are going to dedicate some weeks to looking at news stories that are inspiring, upsetting, or just plain surprising—either about specific colleges or about higher education more generally.

Episode 55: The Liberal Arts Debate on NYCollegeChat podcast http://usacollegechat.org/episode55 Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn

Some of the stories might immediately influence your teenager’s decisions about where to apply or later about where to attend, and other stories might take longer to impact your family. Either way, we think these are things parents should know and even act on.

Today’s topic is the liberal arts. While some parents believe that their teenagers should major in a field that leads directly to a job after college graduation rather than in the liberal arts, some colleges—including some unexpected ones— are stepping forward to praise the value of studying the liberal arts.

Let’s start by saying that studying the “liberal arts” means that students take courses in a variety of academic subjects, typically including literature, history, mathematics, fine arts, philosophy, foreign languages, biological and/or physical sciences (also called the natural sciences), and one or more of the social sciences, like psychology, sociology, or anthropology. Sometimes these subjects as a group are also called the “liberal arts and sciences” or just “arts and sciences” or “humanities and sciences.”

Our new book (that’s How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, available electronically and in print at Amazon.com) talks about choosing liberal arts study vs. technical study for a whole chapter. We explain the debate and give the pros and cons for having a student study or major in one or the other. So we won’t repeat all of that reasoning here.

However, before we talk about an article on this topic that I read in The Hechinger Report last October, I want to say in the interest of full disclosure that both Marie and I took the liberal arts route for our undergraduate degrees—mine in English literature and Marie’s in sociology. So, it is possible that we are a bit biased in favor of having a liberal arts foundation. In Marie’s case, she never would have known that the field of sociology existed had it not been for the distribution requirements mandated by her traditional liberal arts college, Barnard. All three of my own children were gently guided in the past 10 years—both by their father and me and by their own colleges’ distribution requirements—into getting a liberal arts grounding first, before they went on to study for quite specialized bachelor’s degrees (in music performance, in visual arts and media, and in dance). All of us would take the liberal arts route again if we had it to do over. But that’s enough about us.

1. Two Unexpected Cases

In his article “The surprising institutions that refuse to drop the liberal arts,” Jon Marcus talks about two institutions that, by their very names, would appear to come down strongly on the side of technical study at the expense of liberal arts study. They are the United States Military Academy (commonly referred to as West Point) and the Culinary Institute of America—both located on the Hudson River a bit north of New York City. One produces soldiers, and one produces chefs—albeit some of the best soldiers and some of the best chefs anywhere.

Interestingly enough, however, West Point cadets choose from 40 academic majors that cover a broad array of disciplines—including American politics; art, philosophy and literature; foreign languages; history; sociology; and psychology; as well as management and the engineering and sciences you might expect. There are a lot of traditional liberal arts choices in that list. The Hechinger Report article quotes Brigadier General Timothy Trainor, the academic dean at West Point, on this subject:

It’s important to develop in young people the ability to think broadly, to operate in the context of other societies and become agile and adaptive thinkers. What you’re trying to do is teach them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. They’re having to deal with people from other cultures. They have to think very intuitively to solve problems on the ground. (quoted from the article)

It is this critical thinking, problem solving, analysis, judgment, dealing with consequences, cultural sensitivity, and the sociology of their interactions with others that the proponents of the liberal arts claim can be taught most effectively through courses in liberal arts fields of study. And West Point seems to agree.

So does Michael Sperling, vice president for academic affairs at the private, nonprofit Culinary Institute of America, who is quoted in the article as saying this:

There’s a certain level of anti-intellectualism in the popular culture that inappropriately sees the pursuit of core disciplines as frivolous. And that’s unfortunate, because the kind of things you learn in philosophy courses and history courses deepens your ability to act in the world. (quoted from the article)

I think that “frivolous” is exactly the word that some parents would use to describe liberal arts study, and I hope that those parents are rethinking that position now.

Ted Russin, associate dean for culinary science, earned his degree in philosophy. He is quoted in the article as saying that Culinary Institute of America students “would definitely have technical skills. They could make a croissant and it would be exquisite. But there’s a difference between knowing how to do something and understanding what’s happening.” The bigger and broader understanding of what’s happening is what, some experts claim, the liberal arts provide.

2. Other Cases

Those of you who are faithful listeners to NYCollegeChat are likely to recall other higher education institutions we have talked about during our virtual college tour over the last few months—institutions that required more or offered more liberal arts courses and majors than you might have expected.

Let’s look at a few of our other military academies. We talked about the United States Naval Academy (commonly referred to as Annapolis). Young men and women at Annapolis graduate with Bachelor of Science degrees in a choice of about 25 majors—mostly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics related to their future careers. But they can major instead in Arabic, Chinese, economics, English, history, or political science (and minor in other foreign languages).

We talked about the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, located in Connecticut, where seven of 24 core curriculum courses are from its Humanities Department, so cadets are well versed in the liberal arts when they graduate. 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.

We talked about the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel. The Citadel offers 20 undergraduate majors—with mandatory leadership and ethics studies—in the schools of business, education, engineering, science and mathematics, and humanities and social sciences.

Let’s look at some arts institutions. We talked about the Curtis Institute of Music and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the Rhode Island School of Design, where both the arts and the liberal arts are required parts of the curricula.

We talked about Berklee College of Music in Boston, which offers 12 different undergraduate music-related majors. But all Berklee students take both a core music curriculum (e.g., ear training, arranging, harmony) and a core liberal arts curriculum in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics.

We talked about one of our nation’s finest art colleges: the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), located adjacent to the world-famous art museum in downtown Chicago. SAIC offers a wide variety of art and design majors—along with a full array of liberal arts courses.

We talked about Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), located in one of our nation’s prettiest towns. SCAD offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate majors related to the arts and design, including writing. But, as part of the general education course requirements for undergraduates, students take liberal arts courses in the humanities and fine arts, natural sciences and mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, written and oral communication, and computer literacy.

Let’s look at a couple of Massachusetts colleges, which are known primarily as business colleges. We talked about Babson College, where at least half of students’ courses are in the liberal arts, including the study of a language that is useful in business dealings today—perhaps a bit surprising for a business-focused institution.

We talked about Bentley College, which offers its undergraduates 23 majors in 11 business fields and five arts and sciences disciplines. In fact, about 20 percent of undergraduates double major in business and Bentley’s Liberal Studies Major (which has eight interdisciplinary concentrations).

Let’s look at some high-tech institutions. We talked about Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, which comprises schools of Engineering and Science, Business, and Systems and Enterprises—as well as a College of Arts and Letters, where students can major in art, music, literature and communications, philosophy, history, and the social sciences and “benefit from pursuing these disciplines charged by the latest advances in technology, science, and innovation and the fundamental idea that science and technology can be used as intellectual tools of inquiry” (quoted from the website).

We talked about the Georgia Institute of Technology (commonly known as Georgia Tech), located in Atlanta. Georgia Tech provides a “focused, technologically based education” (taken from the website) and offers degrees in six colleges—Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Sciences, Business, and Liberal Arts—with “more than 100 centers focused on interdisciplinary research that consistently contribute vital research and innovation to American government, industry, and business” (taken from the website).

We talked about Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, which offers 12 types of engineering and 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. A Humanities and Arts requirement ensures that WPI students are well rounded; it consists of six courses of the student’s choosing, including courses from at least two different liberal arts disciplines, or a six-course sequence in Spanish, German, or Chinese—along with a final project.

We talked about the Colorado School of Mines, a highly selective and highly specialized engineering college. In addition to its applied science and mathematics majors, its geoscience and resource engineering majors, and a variety of other engineering majors, Mines requires a core curriculum, which includes humanities and social sciences courses.

We talked about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with its schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Management, Science, and—last, but not least—the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. While we think of MIT as turning out first-rate engineers and scientists, students can also major in subjects in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. By the way, all undergraduates at MIT take eight courses in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (about 25 percent of their undergraduate program), so they truly become balanced students and informed citizens.

We talked about Columbia University’s well-known undergraduate Core Curriculum for Columbia College, its undergraduate liberal arts college. The Core Curriculum includes courses in literature, writing, art, music, civilization, science, and more. We said that the common texts that students read and discuss is like a greatest-hits list. But here is the remarkable statement from the website of Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science:

Engineering has been called the newest liberal art. At Columbia Engineering, students not only study science and mathematics and gain technical skills but also study literature, philosophy, art history, music theory, and major civilizations through the Core Curriculum in the humanities. (quoted from the website)

So, it is plain to see that specialized institutions—including institutions specializing in technical study—which seem unlikely champions of the liberal arts, are often, in fact, champions of the liberal arts.

3. What Some States Are Doing

Some states, however, have a different perspective. When dealing with financial cutbacks while trying to fund large public universities with taxpayers’ dollars, some states have questioned the value of the liberal arts—at least, some liberal arts fields anyway. Here are two ideas that have been proposed at the state level:

  • Charge students more tuition for liberal arts majors because the state does not believe that its economy needs them as much as it needs STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors and, thus, does not want to subsidize them to the same degree.
  • Encourage students who want to major in liberal arts fields to go to a private college to major in them and pay for that themselves—again, so the state does not have to subsidize those majors with public funds.

Some states have had their public universities cut back on some arts majors and some foreign language majors—not entire departments necessarily, but perhaps one language or one of the arts. Interestingly enough, these are the same two cuts that often get made at the high school level when public funds are tight. (Read Regina’s related blog post for more information.)

Maybe these states should have listened to what some colleges are saying—oh, and what employers are saying.

4. What Employers Are Saying

According to a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, about 75 percent of the 318 corporate leaders surveyed “want more emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge . . . exactly the kinds of skills advocates for the liberal arts say they teach. Ninety-three percent agree that ‘a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems’ is more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate major” (quoted from the article).

I am taking that to mean that a good job applicant who has an undergraduate liberal arts degree, who can speak and write and think and solve problems well, could be just as attractive to a corporation as a good job applicant who has an undergraduate business degree. So, parents, that is a viewpoint worth considering when it comes time for your teenager to choose a major for real as a college sophomore or junior or even to declare a tentative one on a college application.

5. A Few Practical Considerations

Let’s conclude with a few practical considerations. Marie and I have a preference for liberal arts study unless a student is absolutely dead certain that a technical field is his or her preference. That preference would have to be based on a long-time interest in that field, good grades in high school subjects that prepare a student for that field, discussions with people who work in that field, and some kind of internship or summer work experience in that field. All too often kids have an idea of a career they want to pursue without having any practical information about what that career is like in the real world.

And here’s one important thing to remember: Credits in liberal arts college courses (especially those taken in the first year of college) can be transferred far more easily among degree programs and even among colleges than credits in technical courses can. That means that a kid can change his or her mind after starting college (and many, many do) without losing too much time and, parents, too much of your money.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How all students get their vocational or technical education at some point in their lives
  • What other reasons some states have for not wanting to fund liberal arts studies
  • Whether foreign languages, a traditional liberal arts discipline, are actually a technical career skill

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode below
  • Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
  • Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

Connect with us through…

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

Episode 28: Colleges in the Great Lakes Region—Part II

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.

Show notes for today’s episode are available at http://usacollegechat.org/28.

In our last episode, we started our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the five states in Great Lakes region: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our look into the Great Lakes states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities.

Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. No college has asked us to name it, and 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 admission 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.

Two general notes: First, 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—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable when 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 let you know whether your child would feel comfortable there.

1. Private Colleges and Universities

The Great Lakes states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small liberal arts colleges to larger universities, including some of our country’s finest. Let’s start with a renowned private university, with a reputation for serious students: the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates in the College, which is dedicated to providing a comprehensive liberal arts education for its students through discussion and debate in the classroom. Along with the required Core Curriculum of humanities, arts, natural sciences and math, social sciences, and foreign language, undergraduates can major in one of over 50 majors. The University seems committed to making itself affordable to students who need financial aid, but your child would need truly excellent high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted.

Not far north from Chicago in suburban Evanston, Illinois, is the main campus of Northwestern University, well known for decades for its theater program, its Medill School of Journalism, and, more recently, for its competitive graduate business school. A member of the Big Ten athletic conference (like the flagship public universities in the Great Lakes states), Northwestern offers a traditional college atmosphere in a beautiful setting on Lake Michigan. With its 8,000 full-time undergraduate students (and just as many graduate students), Northwestern is certainly not small, but it is not nearly as large as its public colleagues. Like other good private universities, its tuition is high, and your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Moving over into northern Indiana next to South Bend and just 90 miles from the city of Chicago is probably the best-known Catholic university in the U.S.: the University of Notre Dame. Because of its excellent national reputation, it draws its approximately 9,000 undergraduates and its graduate students as well from across the globe. Notre Dame’s undergraduate students study in 65 majors in four colleges (arts and letters, science, engineering, and business). As befits a university that is “at once rigorously intellectual, unapologetically moral in orientation, and firmly embracing of a service ethos,” according to Notre Dame’s website, about 80 percent of students do some voluntary service-learning experiences. Notre Dame has an impressive 96 percent graduation rate—which means that students who start are highly likely to graduate, which is not true for many colleges, unfortunately. And we all know Notre Dame has a history of great football teams (can you say Fighting Irish?). By the way, we should note that about 80 percent of Notre Dame’s students are Catholic, in case that makes a difference either way to your child. As we have been saying, your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Let’s look at two small private colleges in Ohio, both of which have long histories and great reputations: Kenyon College and Oberlin College. Kenyon, located in the tiny town of Gambier, near Columbus, enrolls about 1,600 undergraduate students, drawn nationally and internationally. It offers 35 traditional liberal arts and sciences majors and prides itself on its small class size, typically about 15 students. One of Kenyon’s claims to fame is its support for the founding in 1939 of the literary magazine The Kenyon Review, by poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, who was recruited by Kenyon’s president for that purpose. Another is being named as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, according to a group of architects interviewed by Forbes. Another is the 34 NCAA (Division III) swimming and diving championships its men have won in the past 36 years. Another is its good theater program, with alumni/alumnae like Paul Newman and Allison Janney.

Oberlin College, located in Oberlin, near Cleveland, enrolls about 2,300 undergraduates in its College of Arts and Sciences and about 600 undergraduates (and a tiny number of graduate students) in its highly respected Conservatory of Music, the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the U.S. (since 1865). Offering 47 liberal arts and sciences majors and eight music majors in the Conservatory, Oberlin also prides itself on its small class size, with about 75 percent of its classes having fewer than 20 students. Oberlin has a proud history as the first higher education institution in the U.S. to adopt a policy to admit African-American students (1835) and the first coeducational college to award bachelor’s degrees to women (1841). Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either Kenyon or Oberlin.

A Look at 13 Interesting Choices. is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of a book entitled Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. Updated several times since it was first published, there are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions, but they all care deeply about individual students and strive to make the college into a community to support students. Many of the institutions have engaging and experiential aspects to their programs—such as internships, international and intercultural programs, and service-learning projects. Most of the institutions are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Interestingly, 14 of the 44 institutions on the list are located in the Great Lakes states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will want your child to attend one of them if you do. Here are the ones in the Great Lakes states:

In Ohio: Ohio Wesleyan University, Denison University, the College of Wooster, Antioch College, and Hiram College
In Illinois: Knox College and Wheaton College
In Wisconsin: Lawrence University and Beloit College
In Michigan: Kalamazoo College, Hillsdale College, and Hope College
In Indiana: Earlham College and Wabash College (one of the handful of U.S. colleges that still admits only men)
Because these institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a good high school record might have a decent chance of being accepted.

2. Colleges with a Special Academic Focus

In an earlier episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about colleges that have a special academic focus, like the arts or business or engineering. In our two-episode tour of the Great Lakes region, we have already mentioned two institutions that have well-known schools of music as part of the institution: the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington and the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College. But the Great Lakes region also is home to one of our nation’s finest art colleges: the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), located adjacent to the world-famous art museum in downtown Chicago. SAIC draws 3,200 students globally into undergraduate and graduate studies in a wide variety of art and design majors, including all of the visual arts plus fashion design, art history, arts administration, architecture, film and animation, art education and art therapy, and more—along with a full array of liberal arts courses. As with all colleges specializing in the arts—whether visual arts, music, or dance—applications require a portfolio of student work. So, only talented students need apply.

The Great Lakes region also is home to one of the relatively few institutions more or less dedicated to the study of engineering: the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in Wisconsin. MSOE offers 12 undergraduate engineering majors and four graduate engineering majors. In addition, MSOE offers majors in business, mathematics, and nursing. With an undergraduate enrollment of about 2,500 students, the typical class size is 21 students and typical lab size is 11 students. Its admissions guidelines concerning high school grades and college admission test scores seem quite reasonable, especially for an engineering school, which is typically very hard to be admitted to.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
College life in the middle of a city vs. college life in the middle of nowhere
Questions colleges should answer for you, like what their safety statistics are
Questions you might want to raise about sensitivity to and accommodations for religious or cultural differences among students

Find links to all the higher education institutions and programs we mention at http://usacollegechat.org/28

Connect with us through…
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
Following us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nycollegechat

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Leaving a comment on the show notes at http://usacollegechat.org/28
Calling our hotline at (516) 900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

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

NYCollegeChat's virtual tour of colleges in the Great Lakes Region part 2

In our last episode, we started our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the five states in Great Lakes region: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our look into the Great Lakes states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities.

Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. No college has asked us to name it, and 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 admission 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.

Two general notes: First, 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—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable when 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 let you know whether your child would feel comfortable there.

1. Private Colleges and Universities

The Great Lakes states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small liberal arts colleges to larger universities, including some of our country’s finest. Let’s start with a renowned private university, with a reputation for serious students: the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates in the College, which is dedicated to providing a comprehensive liberal arts education for its students through discussion and debate in the classroom. Along with the required Core Curriculum of humanities, arts, natural sciences and math, social sciences, and foreign language, undergraduates can major in one of over 50 majors. The University seems committed to making itself affordable to students who need financial aid, but your child would need truly excellent high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted.

Not far north from Chicago in suburban Evanston, Illinois, is the main campus of Northwestern University, well known for decades for its theater program, its Medill School of Journalism, and, more recently, for its competitive graduate business school. A member of the Big Ten athletic conference (like the flagship public universities in the Great Lakes states), Northwestern offers a traditional college atmosphere in a beautiful setting on Lake Michigan. With its 8,000 full-time undergraduate students (and just as many graduate students), Northwestern is certainly not small, but it is not nearly as large as its public colleagues. Like other good private universities, its tuition is high, and your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Moving over into northern Indiana next to South Bend and just 90 miles from the city of Chicago is probably the best-known Catholic university in the U.S.: the University of Notre Dame. Because of its excellent national reputation, it draws its approximately 9,000 undergraduates and its graduate students as well from across the globe. Notre Dame’s undergraduate students study in 65 majors in four colleges (arts and letters, science, engineering, and business). As befits a university that is “at once rigorously intellectual, unapologetically moral in orientation, and firmly embracing of a service ethos,” according to Notre Dame’s website, about 80 percent of students do some voluntary service-learning experiences. Notre Dame has an impressive 96 percent graduation rate—which means that students who start are highly likely to graduate, which is not true for many colleges, unfortunately. And we all know Notre Dame has a history of great football teams (can you say Fighting Irish?). By the way, we should note that about 80 percent of Notre Dame’s students are Catholic, in case that makes a difference either way to your child. As we have been saying, your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Let’s look at two small private colleges in Ohio, both of which have long histories and great reputations: Kenyon College and Oberlin College. Kenyon, located in the tiny town of Gambier, near Columbus, enrolls about 1,600 undergraduate students, drawn nationally and internationally. It offers 35 traditional liberal arts and sciences majors and prides itself on its small class size, typically about 15 students. One of Kenyon’s claims to fame is its support for the founding in 1939 of the literary magazine The Kenyon Review, by poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, who was recruited by Kenyon’s president for that purpose. Another is being named as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, according to a group of architects interviewed by Forbes. Another is the 34 NCAA (Division III) swimming and diving championships its men have won in the past 36 years. Another is its good theater program, with alumni/alumnae like Paul Newman and Allison Janney.

Oberlin College, located in Oberlin, near Cleveland, enrolls about 2,300 undergraduates in its College of Arts and Sciences and about 600 undergraduates (and a tiny number of graduate students) in its highly respected Conservatory of Music, the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the U.S. (since 1865). Offering 47 liberal arts and sciences majors and eight music majors in the Conservatory, Oberlin also prides itself on its small class size, with about 75 percent of its classes having fewer than 20 students. Oberlin has a proud history as the first higher education institution in the U.S. to adopt a policy to admit African-American students (1835) and the first coeducational college to award bachelor’s degrees to women (1841). Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either Kenyon or Oberlin.

A Look at 13 Interesting Choices.  is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of a book entitled Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. Updated several times since it was first published, there are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions, but they all care deeply about individual students and strive to make the college into a community to support students. Many of the institutions have engaging and experiential aspects to their programs—such as internships, international and intercultural programs, and service-learning projects.   Most of the institutions are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Interestingly, 14 of the 44 institutions on the list are located in the Great Lakes states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will want your child to attend one of them if you do. Here are the ones in the Great Lakes states:

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

2. Colleges with a Special Academic Focus

In an earlier episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about colleges that have a special academic focus, like the arts or business or engineering. In our two-episode tour of the Great Lakes region, we have already mentioned two institutions that have well-known schools of music as part of the institution: the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington and the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College. But the Great Lakes region also is home to one of our nation’s finest art colleges: the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), located adjacent to the world-famous art museum in downtown Chicago. SAIC draws 3,200 students globally into undergraduate and graduate studies in a wide variety of art and design majors, including all of the visual arts plus fashion design, art history, arts administration, architecture, film and animation, art education and art therapy, and more—along with a full array of liberal arts courses. As with all colleges specializing in the arts—whether visual arts, music, or dance—applications require a portfolio of student work. So, only talented students need apply.

The Great Lakes region also is home to one of the relatively few institutions more or less dedicated to the study of engineering: the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in Wisconsin. MSOE offers 12 undergraduate engineering majors and four graduate engineering majors. In addition, MSOE offers majors in business, mathematics, and nursing. With an undergraduate enrollment of about 2,500 students, the typical class size is 21 students and typical lab size is 11 students. Its admissions guidelines concerning high school grades and college admission test scores seem quite reasonable, especially for an engineering school, which is typically very hard to be admitted to.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • College life in the middle of a city vs. college life in the middle of nowhere
  • Questions colleges should answer for you, like what their safety statistics are
  • Questions you might want to raise about sensitivity to and accommodations for religious or cultural differences among students

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

 

Episode 5: Colleges with Special Emphases (Part 2)

We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring colleges and universities with selected academic specialties.

Regardless of the wide range of subjects most students study in high school, for some students one particular subject is the only reason to come to school. That is one reason that it is so important for high schools to offer a full array of subjects and a broad schedule of after-school activities.

Some students are ready to specialize when it comes to college. What those students have to decide is whether to attend a university—which offers the field of study they are interested in, along with many, many others—or a college that is entirely dedicated to the field of study they are interested in.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
What parents, teachers, and high school students want from arts education
The truth about taking courses across schools or colleges within a university
The surprising breadth of courses in colleges devoted to the arts

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We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by exploring colleges and universities with selected academic specialties.

NYCollegeChat Episode 5 Colleges with Special Emphases Part 2NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

Colleges and Universities with Selected Academic Specialties

Regardless of the wide range of subjects most students study in high school, for some students one particular subject is the only reason to come to school. That is one reason that it is so important for high schools to offer a full array of subjects and a broad schedule of after-school activities.

Some students are ready to specialize when it comes to college. What those students have to decide is whether to attend a university—which offers the field of study they are interested in, along with many, many others—or a college that is entirely dedicated to the field of study they are interested in. As we said in an earlier episode, a university typically has separate colleges or schools within it, each of which focuses on a broad field of study—for example, within the State University of New York at New Paltz, undergraduates can attend the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Education, the School of Fine and Performing Arts, or the School of Science and Engineering. (Learn more about two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and universities in this episode of the podcast.)

What are the pros and cons of choosing a university or an independent dedicated college? On one hand, a student who ends up wanting to change to a different field of study might have an easier time doing so in a university setting, where that student could end up in an entirely different part of the university. On the other hand, a student who does really well in one field and does not want to spend time studying others might progress quicker, learn more in depth, and be better focused in a college dedicated to that field.

So let’s look at the arts first. Students who are passionate about the arts have quite a number of well-regarded choices. Some schools devoted to the arts are within larger institutions, including the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College, the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, and the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.

Turning to institutions wholly dedicated to the arts, there is the highly selective Juilliard School here in New York City, well known for its degrees in drama, music, and dance. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, associated with the famous art museum of the same name, offers degrees in studio art, but also in art history and art education as well as other arts-related specialties. Founded in 1887, Pratt Institute in New York City offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees, with 22 associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in the arts and arts-related fields, including degrees in architecture, graphic design, painting and drawing, illustration, film, photography, digital arts, fashion, interior design, and art history. Rhode Island School of Design offers 15 Bachelors of Fine Arts majors in visual arts and design specialties and a Bachelor of Architecture degree.

Berklee College of Music in Boston, which is dedicated to the study of music, is a bit different from most other music schools because it draws students from around the world to study contemporary, rather than classical, music and offers degrees in a wide range of music specialties, including performance, composition, film scoring, music therapy, music education, production and engineering, and music business. Berklee’s new graduate campus in Valencia, Spain—again, dedicated to the study of music—offers its master’s degrees programs in extraordinary facilities, designed by modern architect Santiago Calatrava, in a setting that showcases global music.

Students who are intrigued by the rigorous technical field of engineering might consider a school of engineering within a large university (many big public universities have them and quite a few private universities also have them), like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, the University of Texas, Texas A & M University, the University of Illinois, the University of Southern California, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Columbia University, and many more. But, some smaller colleges have engineering programs as well. Take the example of Manhattan College (in New York City), which has 3,500 students, but offers a School of Engineering with both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Or these students might consider an institution that is dedicated to the study of engineering, like the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

Students who have decided that business is their future can attend business schools that can be found at many public and private universities—some well-known for their undergraduate business schools and some for their graduate business schools—including the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, Stanford University, New York University, Northwestern University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and many more. Stand-alone institutions dedicated to the study of business are the other way to go. Students could consider places like Babson College and Bentley University, both private colleges located in Massachusetts.

The two options—a school or college within a larger university vs. a stand-alone college dedicated to one academic field—and these examples will give you some background for thinking about college options when a student is truly interested in one field of study.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • What parents, teachers, and high school students want from arts education
  • The truth about taking courses across schools or colleges within a university
  • The surprising breadth of courses in colleges devoted to the arts

Check out these higher education institutions we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

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Ask your questions or share your feedback by…