Episode 136: Too Few Male Students at College?

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Today’s episode in our series Researching College Options focuses on a trend in college enrollment that you might have missed entirely. But if you have a son at home, it might be of particular interest to you–especially if your son is in the early days of high school (or even younger!).

1. A Quick Historical Look at Men in College

Let’s look back for a moment at the history of male students in U.S. colleges. We wrote about this back in our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, when we discussed the very real college option for your teenager of attending a single-sex institution vs. a coeducational institution. Here is what we said then:

Colleges and universities that were started in America’s earliest days were all institutions for men. They were all single-sex institutions then.

Seven of the eight well-known Ivy League institutions served only male students when they were founded in the 1600s and 1700s: the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale. Among the Ivies, only Cornell, the youngest of the Ivies, was founded as a co-educational university, which took as its mission from its first day to enroll both men and women.

As time went on, many Ivies created a “sister” school for women: the University of Pennsylvania had its College for Women, Columbia had Barnard, Brown had Pembroke, and Harvard had Radcliffe. Of these, only Barnard remains.

The tradition of single-sex colleges is particularly strong in the Northeast, perhaps because that is where so many of our country’s oldest higher education institutions are located. In addition to Barnard, women’s colleges in the Northeast include Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Simmons College, Smith College, and Wellesley College. But there are well-known women’s colleges located in other regions of the U.S. as well–like Mills College and Scripps College in California, Stephens College in Missouri, Hollins University and Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, Saint Mary’s College (the sister school of the University of Notre Dame) in Indiana, and Agnes Scott College and Spelman College in Georgia. Spelman has the distinction of also being an excellent HBCU. Interestingly and for whatever reason (probably rooted in financial issues), some of these women’s colleges now allow men to enroll in their graduate programs only, thus maintaining the traditional women’s college atmosphere for their undergraduate residential students. Today, there are just over 40 women’s colleges in the U.S.

Oddly, only a handful of men’s colleges remain, perhaps partly because now there are actually more women than men going to college. The men’s college you have most likely heard of is Morehouse College, which is an academically rigorous HBCU located in Georgia and which is the men’s counterpart to Spelman. Morehouse has a roster of famous alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. Here are two more appealing men’s colleges: Hampden-Sydney College, which was founded in 1775 in Virginia and has a long and fascinating history (Patrick Henry and James Madison were among its first Trustees); and Wabash College, which is located in Indiana and was cited in the book Colleges That Change Lives as an institution that is successful in creating engaged students, who become leaders in their chosen fields.

While most single-sex institutions have opened their doors to the opposite sex over the years and especially in the past 50 years, those that remain carry on a tradition that their graduates wholeheartedly support. Some of their graduates–and indeed their families–believe that students can focus better on their studies when they are not being distracted by social interactions with the opposite sex in the classroom. Some of their graduates believe that students will develop a stronger sense of community and camaraderie with their classmates in single-sex institutions. Some of their graduates appreciate the histories and philosophies of these institutions–especially perhaps graduates of women’s colleges who feel that they are better supported as young women and are encouraged to set and pursue whatever education and career goals they can imagine for themselves.

Clearly, there are great reasons for your teenager to choose to apply to and attend a single-sex institution, as we have said before, but there are also great reasons for your teenager to choose a coeducational institution. What is happening now, however, is that some coeducational institutions–institutions that some students chose to attend precisely because they were coeducational–are losing their balance between male and female students in a way that no one would have predicted 40 years ago. Let’s look at why.

2. Male College Enrollment Today

In a very interesting August article, which you should read in its entirety in The Hechinger Report (which also appeared in The Atlantic), reporter Jon Marcus gave us these facts and figures:

Where men once went to college in proportions far higher than women–58 percent to 42 percent as recently as the 1970s–the ratio has now almost exactly reversed.

This fall, women will comprise more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some 2.2 million fewer men than women will be enrolled in college this year. And the trend shows no sign of abating. By 2026, the department estimates, 57 percent of college students will be women. . . .

Reeling from a years-long decline in overall enrollment, colleges and universities nationwide are vying for all the students they can get, and suddenly paying new attention to bolstering the number of men who apply. (quoted from the article)

At this point, I think we might say either “You’ve come a long way, baby” to any young women in the audience or “Where will it end?” Of course, for many years, we lived in a world where more males than females went to college, so is it a problem if those figures are now reversed? Maybe not, unless you have a son at home, and you are wondering if this trend will affect him–either positively or negatively–as he looks toward college and his future.

3. Is College Too Late To Fix This?

The Hechinger Report article goes on to explain some likely causes for the state of male college enrollment. Marcus reports:

Though advocates complain that few in higher education are doing enough to keep those men who do get there from leaving, there’s consensus that men’s reluctance to enroll in the first place isn’t necessarily the colleges’ fault. The problem has its origins as early as primary school, only to be fueled later on by economic forces that discourage men from believing a degree is worth the time and money.

“It’s funny that it’s the colleges that are finally seeing this issue and trying to resolve it,” said Patrick Maloney, president of the Nativity School, a Jesuit Catholic middle school in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester that tries to aim low-income boys toward college. That’s because, by the time students reach college age, Maloney said, “It’s way too late. You’ve already lost them. Maybe [admissions officers] should be going into middle schools and [should] start talking to fifth-graders about the benefits of college education.”

Or even earlier than that. The “anti-school, anti-education sentiment” in boys has roots in kindergarten, when they’re slower to learn to read than girls, said Jim Shelley, manager of the Men’s Resource Center at Lakeland Community College in Ohio. Girls at the primary and secondary level worldwide far outperform boys in reading, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

That disparity continues until, “by eighth or ninth grade, boys have lost interest,” Shelley said. (quoted from the article)

All this is likely true, but none of it accounts for the decline in male college enrollment. Why? Because I believe all of this was true 40 years ago when there were more male than female students in colleges. With that said, we will, nonetheless, underline the importance of not waiting till high school to engage actively about college-going with any younger children you have at home. For many students in high schools my nonprofit organization has evaluated, it is clear that they gave up on the goal of pursuing a college education much earlier, just as the article says. I believe that this is especially–and unfortunately–true for low-income students in urban school districts.

And here are some additional issues that are concerning if you have a son at home, according to this article:

Men who do enroll in college, at whatever age, are more likely than women to drop out, and they graduate at lower rates, the Education Department reports. That’s one thing universities and colleges can address directly, but generally don’t, Shelley, [manager of the Men’s Resource Center at Lakeland Community College], said.

Through 21 years running one of the few campus support centers exclusively for men, he said, “I’ve thought it can only get better. But it just has gone nowhere. Not only are there not programs like ours that are supportive of male students, but at most college campuses the attitude is that men are the problem versus men have problems, too. . . .”

Meanwhile, boys in many American communities don’t see male role models who have been to college and succeeded, said Keith Bullock at Kentucky’s Berea College (56 percent female). Bullock is coordinator of programs to support male students, many of them from Appalachia. “They don’t have those examples of doctors and lawyers and professionals.”

. . . The male students under his care are black, white and Hispanic, Bullock said, and they all face similar pressures. He escorts them to the counseling and advising offices and texts them every day to make sure they get to class on time and know when tests are scheduled. “My guys,” he calls them. He also works with them on study habits and time management. “It’s very challenging. It’s very emotional. Sometimes I’m hugging them up and there’s times when I feel I have to curse them out.” (quoted from the article)

4. What Does This Mean for You?

So, if you have a son at home, perhaps The Hechinger Report article has given you some new perspectives and some new facts to think with. But there is also some information here for those of you with a daughter at home. As we said in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, the gender breakdown on a college campus is one thing prospective applicants might want to consider. And now that we know that male students are sometimes in shorter supply than you might have expected, I am glad that we included a question about gender breakdown on the College Profile Worksheet. We give the Worksheet to students to complete for colleges they are interested in applying to (it is found at the end of our book). Here is some of what we wrote in the new book:

If you look at the enrollment statistics for many colleges, you will notice that some are split pretty evenly between male and female students (say, 46 percent vs. 54 percent), while others are way out of balance (say, 30 percent vs. 70 percent). Sometimes colleges that are out of balance can be explained by their history (for example, they were once women’s colleges) or by the types of majors they are best known for (given that some majors, unfortunately, continue to attract more students of one gender). If you want a college to reflect the general undergraduate college student population, it is interesting to note that enrollment figures overall in the fall of 2014 showed that 56 percent of undergraduate students were female. So, if a college is better balanced than that (in other words, closer to 50/50), it might well be working hard to achieve that balance.

Let’s look at a few examples. Carleton College (a great private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota) is 53 percent female and 47 percent male. Carleton is working at it, we would say. Oddly enough, the gigantic University of Minnesota (the excellent public flagship university in the Twin Cities) gets even closer–at 51 percent female and 49 percent male. Not too far away, the Milwaukee School of Engineering (a Wisconsin college that specializes in engineering and technical subjects, though not exclusively) posts a 24 percent female and 76 percent male enrollment–for perhaps obvious reasons.

So, if gender balance at a college is important to your teenager, you all should check it out for each college on your teenager’s list. If you have never thought about it, you should think about it now. By the way, as we said in our new book, “we have not yet seen data reported and presented across colleges on enrollment of students with gender identities other than male and female. However, if you are looking for a college that is particularly accepting of more diverse gender identities, that is a topic that can and should be pursued by looking further on the college’s website and by calling the Admission Office and asking about relevant data and policies.”

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Episode 42: Colleges in the New England Region—Part II

In last week’s episode, we picked up our virtual tour of colleges with the public universities and academies in the six states of the New England region: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This week, we will spotlight the private higher education institutions in New England.

Virtual #college tour of New England Region on NYCollegeChat #podcast. Available at http://usacollegechat.org/42

We are going to talk about a group of nationally known higher education institutions, which draw students internationally; a selection of institutions with one or another kind of special focus; a host of smaller liberal arts colleges; and a few institutions that are probably best known in the New England region. Let us say now that there are a surprising number of well-known institutions in these New England states, even though the states themselves are quite small. A lot of those institutions are in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We cannot possibly do them all justice—or even mention them all. To that end, we are going to split this content into two episodes—this week and next week.

I have to say that I feel a bit uncomfortable making extra episodes for one of the regions of the country that is nearest to our home base in New York—just when I am trying to get our listeners outside of their comfort zone. But I can rationalize this action in one of two ways. First, these states have been states since the very beginning of our country and, thus, have lots and lots of colleges and universities—the oldest of which were founded more than 100 years earlier than any of those in our Western states. Second, I have to believe that many of our New York State listeners, who make up a big percentage of our audience and who are worried about sending their kids away to college, might be persuaded to send them away—but not too far away. New England might be about right. So, we will do the best we can to cover as many institutions as we can this week and next week.

Finally, as we say in every episode, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.

1. Nationally Known Higher Education Institutions

Let’s start by saying that four of the eight Ivy League schools are located in New England: Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire; Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Founded between 1636 and 1769, all four were operating before the American Revolution and all four were founded by religious groups—Congregationalists for three of them and Baptists for Brown. Today, they serve from 4,000 to about 7,000 undergraduates, with about 6,000 to more than 20,000 total undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Dartmouth is the smallest Ivy League school, and Harvard is one of the largest.

Ivy League schools are well known for their high academic standards, wide range of undergraduate and graduate majors, longtime traditions, famous professors, beautiful campuses, and the extreme selectivity of their admissions process. That is one reason I am not going to talk too much about them.

Their tuition is sky-high, though they have a surprising amount of financial aid available for students whose family resources are very limited. However, your child would first have to have extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to be accepted.

I think it is fair to say that one thing that the Ivies do not do as well as many large public universities is varsity sports. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that my father was the Sports Information Director at the University of Pennsylvania (another of the Ivies and his alma mater), and he helped to establish the Ivy League athletic conference in the 1950s. I have been attending Ivy League sports contests since I was in elementary school. I later covered sports for my own Ivy League school’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. So, I know what I am talking about. I am not saying that we don’t have some talented athletes and, on occasion, some incredible individual athletes and even teams. Nonetheless, most students don’t come to an Ivy League school for sports.

An equally prestigious and equally selective institution is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Founded much later in 1861, MIT now serves about 4,500 undergraduates (about 25 percent are underrepresented minority students) and a total of about 11,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. MIT has 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 this school (about 25 percent of their undergraduate program) so they truly become well-rounded students and citizens. But, like the Ivies, your child would need extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Now let’s look briefly at three great nationally known universities—all well respected, but slightly less selective. They all happen to be in or near Boston. Starting with the smallest, we have Tufts University, with its main campus located on Walnut Hill in Medford, just outside of Boston. Founded in 1852, Tufts currently enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates and a total of about 11,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in nine schools—five of which are related to medical and health sciences. Undergraduates study in two of those schools: the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. Over 20 percent of Arts and Sciences students major in International Relations, and many students participate in Tufts’ 10 study abroad programs or in coursework at Tufts’ own European Center in France. Tufts also has a graduate school of international affairs, with intriguing interdisciplinary majors.

Tufts offers 14 men’s and 14 women’s varsity sports as well as club and intramural sports. The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service is a unique University-wide venture that provides curricular and extracurricular programming that all students are able to participate in; Tufts students and faculty members practice their active citizenship skills both locally and internationally. Average SAT scores for the Class of 2018 are a trio of scores in the low 700s, so the students are plenty smart. Like other first-rate universities, undergraduate tuition and fees are high at about $48,500.

Moving to a larger university in Boston proper, we find Northeastern University, founded in 1898. The University offers about 17,500 undergraduates (out of a total of about 24,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students) more than 90 majors and concentrations across seven colleges and schools: Arts, Media and Design; Business; Computer and Information Science; Engineering; Health Sciences; Science; and Social Sciences and Humanities. Northeastern has added more than 55 interdisciplinary undergraduate majors in the past eight years. But the hallmark of Northeastern’s programming is cooperative education, which began at Northeastern more than 100 years ago:

Experiential learning, anchored by our signature cooperative education program, lies at the heart of academic life at Northeastern. The integration of study and professional experience enables students to put ideas into action through work, research, international study, and service in 93 countries around the world. . . .

Co-op is different from internships – our students alternate classroom studies with full-time work in career related jobs for six months.  This allows employers to get real work done while evaluating talent before making any long-term commitments. Our employer relations team is dedicated to collaborating with employers to develop innovative and meaningful programs to engage our talented students. We deliver an individualized approach to building and maintaining partnerships that contribute to the employers’ success and ours. Our various recruitment options provide employers with cost effective approaches to hiring, training, evaluating and on-boarding talent. (quoted from the website)

About 90 percent of students do at least one co-op program (with one of the 3,000 co-op employers worldwide); many students do two. Many students also stay for a fifth year and complete three co-op programs. About 50 percent of students get a job offer from their co-op employer, and about 99 percent would recommend co-op education to a friend.

Northeastern offers over 300 student organizations, 18 varsity sports, and 22 Living Learning Communities built around themes for freshmen (e.g., creative expression, globalization, sustainability). Average SAT scores for students who entered in 2014 were a pair of scores in the low 700s, and about 65 percent of incoming freshmen ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class. So, these students, too, are plenty smart. And, in the past 10 years, Northeastern has seen huge increases in the percentages of students of color, of international students, and of students coming from outside of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. In keeping with its competitors, Northeastern’s tuition and fees are about $45,000 per year.

Moving to a still larger university in Boston proper, we come to Boston University (BU), which had a great beginning:

LaRoy Sunderland, an ardent abolitionist and leading figure in Boston’s Bromfield Street Church, in 1839 persuaded his fellow church members to found the United Methodist Church’s first seminary. Their collective goal, we should note, was to provide a higher quality of training to their ministers than was then available. The school was founded in Vermont and relocated several times, in 1867 reopening on 30 acres in nearby Brookline as the “Boston School of Theology.” The president of that school, William Fairfield Warren, persuaded three of the school’s trustees—all wealthy Boston merchants—to petition the Massachusetts legislature in 1869 to charter “Boston University.” The petition was granted, and today’s BU was born. . . . Thanks to the Methodists’ strong belief in social equality, the new University would be accessible to all members of society, without regard to race, class, sex, or creed. (quoted from the website)

Today, BU serves about 16,500 undergraduates and a total of about 30,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students (including about 7,000 students from 130 foreign countries) in 17 colleges and schools. Undergraduates can pursue majors in about half of those: Arts and Sciences, Communication, Engineering, Fine Arts, Business, Education, Global Studies, and Hospitality Administration. As if that’s not enough, BU annually sends about 2,200 undergraduates to study abroad in 83 programs in 21 countries.

Like most universities of its size—and it is a very large size for a private university—BU offers over 450 student organizations and 24 varsity sports teams (10 men’s and 14 women’s).

There were almost 55,000 applications for the 3,600 spots in the incoming freshman class. The average overall high school grade was an A– (with an average class rank in the top 8 percent), and the average SAT scores were a trio of scores in the very high 600s. Just like Tufts, undergraduate tuition and fees are high at about $48,500.

As we said in our last episode, Boston itself is a very attractive place for students to study, including for foreign students coming to the U.S. It has culture and sports and business and a beautiful waterfront and more than 100 colleges nearby. It is easy to see why there are so many good private options available.

2. Institutions with a Special Focus

New England also has a large number of well-known institutions that have a special focus, including faith-based and single-sex institutions and institutions with an academic focus or a focus on students with special needs. So here we go.

Faith-Based Institutions

New England has a wide selection of faith-based universities that are well regarded, including both outstanding Catholic institutions and a first-class Jewish institution. Among the many Catholic institutions in these states are three of the 28 Catholic Jesuit universities in the U.S.: The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, a liberal arts college with about 2,900 undergraduate students; Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, with about 4,000 undergraduates and a total of about 5,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts—by far the largest of the three—with about 9,000 undergraduates and a total of about 14,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

In 1843, Holy Cross became the first Catholic college to be established in New England; its first valedictorian was the son of a slave. Holy Cross was soon followed by BC in 1863 and, much later, by Fairfield in 1942. They all offer strong liberal arts programs, with BC and Fairfield also offering undergraduate majors in career fields—nursing, business, education, and engineering, between them. They are all traditional colleges with lovely campuses and plenty of student organizations and varsity sports teams.

Admitted freshmen post SAT subtest scores in the low 600s at Fairfield, the mid-600s at Holy Cross, and the very high 600s at BC. Pricewise, their annual tuition and fees are in the $45,000 to $47,000 range.

As we have said in previous episodes, the Society of Jesus, which was founded in Paris in the 1500s, traces its commitment to education to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the first Jesuit college in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. Jesuit institutions today place a strong emphasis on intellectual rigor and a liberal arts foundation, social justice issues worldwide, and a life of service. While about 70 percent of students at BC are Catholic, students of all faiths are welcome and comfortable at Jesuit institutions.

And let’s take a quick look at Providence College in Rhode Island, located close to downtown Providence. Founded in 1917 by the Diocese of Providence and Dominican Friars, it is the only Dominican college in the U.S. and the only one with Dominican Friars in their habits teaching on campus. Its charter, however, states that no one should be refused admission because of the “religious opinion he may entertain.” Students are required to take two courses in philosophy and two courses in theology, and masses that are conducted on campus are well attended. While most students and faculty members are Catholic, the College also has a long-standing relationship with Rhode Island’s Jewish community.

Providence College offers its nearly 4,000 undergraduate students 49 majors, predominantly in the liberal arts and sciences, but including business, education, computer science, and health sciences. It also offers a double handful of master’s degree programs. All undergraduates complete 16 credits in the Development of Western Civilization over four semesters—seminars on significant texts from Western and other world civilizations for three semesters and a team-taught colloquium in the fourth semester that focuses on a contemporary issue.

Incoming freshmen in the Class of 2017 posted an average 3.37 high school GPA and SAT subtest scores in the high 500s. Annual tuition and fees are about $45,000, right in the ballpark with its competitors. And, speaking of competitors, I think that the Providence Friars play some pretty competitive basketball.

Turning to a different faith-based tradition, we have Brandeis University, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. Brandeis describes itself this way:

Characterized by academic excellence since its founding in 1948, Brandeis is one of the youngest private research universities, as well as the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country.

Named for the late Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court, Brandeis University combines the faculty and resources of a world-class research institution with the intimacy and personal attention of a small liberal arts college. (quoted from the website)

And here is my favorite piece of Brandeis history trivia:

Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had a long and successful relationship with Brandeis. In addition to serving on the board of trustees, she hosted a public television series on campus, taught International Relations and delivered the university’s first commencement address. (quoted from the website)

Brandeis offers its approximately 3,700 undergraduates an enviable student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. Its undergraduates study in the College of Arts and Sciences—an undergraduate liberal arts college in a research university, as Brandeis says—in 43 majors and 46 minors (some in career fields). Brandeis serves about 2,200 graduate students in four graduate schools as well.

There are more than 260 student organizations and 19 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams to keep students engaged. Entering freshmen in 2014 posted an SAT average critical reading score around 650 and an SAT average mathematics score around 740. The tuition of about $46,000 is right in the range we have been seeing for private institutions in New England.

Single-Sex Institutions

Three of the “Seven Sisters” colleges are found in Massachusetts: Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, Smith College in Northampton, and Wellesley College in Wellesley. The Mount Holyoke website gives us a little background:

The Seven Sisters, a consortium of prestigious East Coast liberal arts colleges for women, originally included Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe colleges. Today, five of the Seven Sisters remain women’s colleges; Vassar is coeducational and Radcliffe has merged with Harvard, becoming the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

The female equivalent of the once predominantly male Ivy League, the Seven Sisters originated in 1915, when Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley colleges held a conference to discuss fund-raising strategies. This historic meeting led to additional conferences over the next decade, at Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe. By 1927 these seven elite women’s colleges were known as the Seven Sisters and over the years have continued to meet to discuss issues of common concern, such as institutional goals, admissions, financial aid, and curriculum matters.

The name “Seven Sisters” has its origins in Greek mythology. It refers to the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas who, according to one myth, were changed into stars by Zeus. (quoted from the website)

Interestingly, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley now all admit men to some of their graduate programs and/or nondegree coursework, but not to their undergraduate programs, which remain for women only.

These three liberal arts colleges are traditionally as difficult to get into as the Ivy League schools, so your daughter would need outstanding academic credentials to consider applying. Mt. Holyoke and Smith do not require college admission test scores. At Wellesley, which does require them, about 80 percent of admitted students have a trio of SAT subtest scores over 700. About 55 to 60 percent of admitted students to Mount Holyoke and Smith are in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Founded between 1837 and 1871, these colleges now serve about 2,200 to 2,500 undergraduates, who study in about 50 to 55 liberal arts majors. All three have excellent student-to faculty ratios—from Mount Holyoke’s 10:1 down to Wellesley’s remarkable 7:1. Mount Holyoke and Smith are members of the Five College Consortium, which we talked about last week with UMass Amherst; so their women can take courses at any of the five campuses (the two remaining campuses will be discussed in next week’s episode). Wellesley, on the other hand, has exchange programs with about 15 other colleges of various types and in various locations—from MIT and Brandeis nearby to Spelman College and Mills College far away.

Priced from about $44,000 to $46,000 in tuition and fees, these Seven Sisters colleges are no bargain—though I am quite sure that most of their graduates believe they were worth it. Like most women’s colleges, each has a strong and loyal group of alumnae, including quite a few well-known women in all career fields.

Another women’s college, located in Boston proper, is Simmons College, which was founded in 1899 by businessman John Simmons who believed that “women should be able to earn independent livelihoods and lead meaningful lives” (quoted from the website)—which doesn’t sound that unusual now, but which was likely unusual for 1899. Today, Simmons offers 1,700 undergraduate women (about 250 are adult women) a predominantly liberal arts program of about 50 majors (but including some business majors, health sciences and nursing, social work, and computer studies), combined with professional work experience. Simmons has the only M.B.A. program designed especially for women as well as graduate programs in a variety of liberal arts and career fields for about 4,000 women and men.

Interestingly, about 70 percent of its faculty members are women, and Simmons, too, has an attractive 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Its Class of 2019 posted, on average, a pair of SAT subtest scores in the very high 500s and an average high school GPA of 3.37. And with tuition and fees of about $37,000, Simmons is, hopefully, in reach for more young women.

Institutions with a Special Academic Focus

We mentioned some of these institutions in an early episode of NYCollegeChat, when we first introduced the idea that some institutions are devoted, more or less, to the study of certain disciplines.

The Arts. For example, we talked about two institutions that have the arts as their academic focus—Berklee College of Music and Rhode Island School of Design (commonly referred to as RISD—pronounced RIZ-dee). Berklee is the premier higher education institution in the world for the study of contemporary music of all styles and cultures—unlike traditional conservatories that focus on classical music. (In the interest of full disclosure, my oldest child got an undergraduate degree from Berklee in Boston and then a graduate degree from its relatively new and architecturally impressive campus, designed by Santiago Calatrava, in gorgeous Valencia, Spain). Founded by Lawrence Berk in 1945, it was the first U.S. school to teach jazz. It became Berklee School of Music in 1954 and then Berklee College of Music in 1970, several years after it began offering bachelor’s degrees. Roger H. Brown currently serves as only the third president in Berklee’s 70-year history, and my personal observations of him in a variety of settings is that he is an impressive guy.

Currently, Berklee offers 12 undergraduate majors to its just over 4,000 students—from music performance to music therapy to film scoring to composition to songwriting to music education to music business to electronic production and design and more. In addition to singing, 29 different principal instruments can be studied (including hand percussion, banjo, and mandolin as the ones the most recently added). All 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.

About 30 percent of Berklee’s students come from other countries to study at this unique school. Berklee’s professors are, typically, both great teachers and great practicing musicians. As befits a music school where individual instruction is a key component, the student-to-faculty ratio is an understandable and appealing 8:1. There are hundreds of Grammy winners among its faculty and its graduates. Its annual concert given by graduating seniors on the night before graduation is simply mind-blowing. Berklee does not require college admission test scores, but does require an intensive live audition and interview. Perhaps not surprisingly, its annual tuition and fees are about $41,000—and, I can tell you, Berklee is totally worth it.

Let’s look at RISD, a top-tier art and design school founded in 1877 and located in lovely Providence, Rhode Island. RISD offers 16 undergraduate degree programs to just over 2,000 students (as well as 16 graduate degree programs to about 500 more students). About 30 percent of students are international, and about 30 percent are students of color. RISD’s most popular majors are illustration, industrial design, graphic design, film/animation/video, and painting, but students can also earn degrees in glass, jewelry and metalsmithing, furniture design, textiles, photography, architecture, landscape architecture, and more. Most undergraduates at RISD earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree, but RISD also offers a Bachelor of Architecture degree for students in that field.

Interestingly, RISD and Brown, one of the Ivies, have campuses next to each other, and students can register for some courses at the other school at no extra cost. RISD students typically look to Brown for foreign language and advanced math and science courses, all of which can be used to satisfy some of RISD’s liberal arts requirements. Not surprisingly, the RISD Museum, which serves southeastern New England, has an excellent and large collection, ranging from ancient art to contemporary art and including well-known artists from many countries and cultures.

Average SAT scores for incoming freshmen last fall were a trio of scores in the mid-600s. Applicants must also submit online a portfolio of 12 to 20 examples of their best recent artwork in any medium as well as two specific drawings, as described in the application. RISD’s tuition and fees at about $46,000 are in line with the other private schools we have been discussing.

Business. In an early episode, we also talked about two institutions in New England that focused on business: Babson College and Bentley University. Let’s start with Babson—founded relatively recently in 1919 and located in Wellesley, Massachusetts—which has a very definite focus, even within business, according to its website:

We develop entrepreneurs of all kinds.

At Babson, we believe that entrepreneurship can be a powerful force within organizations of all types and sizes, in established businesses as well as new ventures. In any industry, in any position, it takes Entrepreneurial Thought and Action® to solve problems and make an impact.

We were the first to understand that thinking and acting entrepreneurially is more than just an inclination. It can be taught. And we do it better than anyone.

Today in our collaborative community, students gain the fundamental business skills and liberal arts knowledge necessary to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. They then use that mindset to navigate real business situations, putting what they learn into practice and becoming leaders equipped to make a difference on campus and around the world.

Serving about 2,100 undergraduates and another approximately 900 graduate students, Babson students study with faculty members who have both academic credentials in their field and practical business experience as executives and entrepreneurs themselves. They write case studies about specific businesses and industries in specific regions to teach from. And “cocurricular programs provide students with hands-on experience through internships, volunteer opportunities, and consulting projects” (quoted from the website).

At Babson, 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. In addition to a slate of foundation business courses, students may choose up to two concentrations from 27 options.

Students admitted in the Class of 2018 posted a trio of average SAT scores in the mid- to high 600s. Babson’s tuition is admittedly high at $47,000 a year, though it does charge this flat rate for up to and including 20 credits—meaning that students do not have to pay additional tuition fees charged by many colleges beyond the more typical 16 credits or so (that could save some money and encourage students to move through courses faster).

Turning to Bentley University, located just outside Boston in Waltham, this business school allows its just over 4,000 undergraduate students to “choose from a wide range of programs that address all functional areas including accountancy, finance, marketing, management and liberal arts — all anchored in technology” (quoted from the website). Bentley is also home to another approximately 1,500 graduate students.

Bentley 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 (with eight interdisciplinary concentrations). Students majoring in the arts and sciences must complete either a Business Studies Major (which is a core of eight business courses) or a business minor. About 90 percent of students complete one professional internship during their four years; about 60 percent complete more than one.

Bentley was founded as Bentley School of Accounting and Finance in 1917 by Harry C. Bentley, who taught accounting at BU and other institutions and wanted to open a school where he could teach using his own methods. He remained as president until 1953. Bentley offered its first bachelor’s degrees in 1961. Today, tuition and fees at Bentley are about $44,000 annually—in keeping with the figures we have seen so far in this episode.

Science and Technology. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, the second-largest city in New England and home to a double handful of colleges. Founded in 1865, it is the third-oldest private technological university in the U.S. Home to about 4,000 undergraduates and another almost 2,000 graduate and professional students, WPI describes its mission this way:

WPI was founded in 1865 to create and convey the latest science and engineering knowledge in ways that are most beneficial to society.

WPI’s founding motto of Theory and Practice continues to underlie our academic programs. WPI graduates emerge ready to take on critical challenges in science and technology, knowing how their work can impact society and improve the quality of life. (quoted from the website)

WPI offers 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Going to its strength, WPI offers 12 types of engineering—all the regular ones plus aerospace, biomedical, environmental, robotics, and management engineering. It was the first university to offer a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in robotics engineering. 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 disciplines, or a six-course sequence in Spanish, German, or Chinese—along with a final project. Project-based learning helps students learn how to think about and propose solutions for real-world problems studied in WPI’s programs. Let’s look at one unique program feature:

WPI believes that in order to become the best engineers and scientists they can be, students should have a broad understanding of the cultural and social contexts of those fields, and thus be more effective and socially responsible practitioners and citizens.

That’s the intent of the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), a nine-credit-hour interdisciplinary requirement involving applied research that connects science or technology with social issues and human needs.

The IQP is not organized as a course, nor is it related to the major. Instead, small teams of students work under the guidance of faculty members from all disciplines to conduct research, using social science methods, directed at a specific problem or need. Students deliver findings and recommendations through formal reports and oral presentations to project sponsors (often nonprofit, municipal, or government agencies) and faculty advisors.

Sustainability serves as a common theme for IQPs, many of which address problems related to energy, environment, sustainable development, education, cultural preservation, and technology policy. About half of all IQPs are completed off-campus through the Global Project Program [at 38 sites in 25 countries]. (quoted from the website)

WPI teaches classes in four seven-week terms, with students taking three courses at a time. Faculty members issue grades of A, B, C, and NR (No Record)—to encourage students to explore their interests without fear of negatively affecting their GPA, WPI says.

Though a technological university, WPI has all of the student organizations (more than 200) and varsity sports (10 men’s and 10 women’s) that any traditional college student could want. Incoming freshmen post an average high school GPA of 3.85 and a trio of average SAT subtest scores in the mid-600s. WPI’s tuition and fees are about $44,500, which seems to be the norm.

Environmental Stewardship. Every once in a while, I find a college that I never heard of and that seems unusually intriguing. The one for this episode is Sterling College, located in rural Craftsbury Common, Vermont. While I cannot personally vouch for Sterling the way I can for many other colleges that I have visited, I do believe that it could be exactly the right thing for some students and their families. So, here we go.

Founded in 1958, this is the way Sterling describes itself:

Sterling was among the very first colleges in the United States to link the liberal arts to ecology, outdoor education, and sustainable agriculture. We believe that the wellbeing of humanity depends on small, interconnected communities, committed to conscientious and sustainable practices in agriculture and energy use, and in stewardship of our air, soil, and water. . . .

We were eating local food and advocating for sustainability in the 1970s, and we continue to do so today. Many colleges have a farm—Sterling College is a farm. Our campus is a living system that supports our community and our educational mission.

To be an environmental steward means having the skills to educate others, and introduce them to the natural world. Hiking, climbing, canoeing, camping, and skiing are only a few of the ways in which we interact with the wilderness around us. Most importantly, at Sterling you can learn important skills like starting a fire, how to use an axe, and how to find your way home from almost anywhere, including the top of a mountain.

Sterling is a federally recognized Work College—one of seven in the U.S.—which means that all residential students earn at least $1,650 per semester toward their tuition by working at least 80 hours each semester in a job that supports the operation of the College or nearby community. Everyone is a winner: The College wins by keeping its operational costs lower, and the student wins by getting work experience and lowering his or her own costs of attending.

Sterling’s approximately 120 undergraduate students choose from five majors or design their own; the five are ecology, outdoor education, sustainable agriculture, sustainable food systems, and environmental humanities. I could describe these majors, but I believe you would be better off reading about them firsthand on Sterling’s website. Not surprisingly, given the small student body that Sterling intends to keep just as it is, the student-to-faculty ratio is an attractive 7:1. Sterling prides itself on being a place where one weekly community meeting can include all students, faculty members, and staff and where everyone (including the president) is on a first-name basis.

Sterling operates three semesters per year—fall, spring, and summer—and students may attend all three (and finish sooner) or the traditional two per year. Student applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, and students may enter at any one of the three semesters. No college admission test scores are required. Tuition and fees run about $17,000 per semester, or about $34,000 for a two-semester year, which makes Sterling less expensive by $10,000 or more than a lot of the schools we have been talking about.

Students with Special Needs

In an early episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about Landmark College in Putney, Vermont, founded in 1983 to help students with dyslexia succeed in college. Today, Landmark serves a variety of students who learn differently—that is, students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—and also provides an impressive array of academic and personal support services to help its students cope with college courses and college life. Faculty members and staff help students understand their own learning styles and what that means for in-class and out-of-class work. They also provide students with up-to-date assistive technology (e.g., text-to-speech technology, digital pens), designed to make it easier for students to succeed in their coursework.

Landmark offers its approximately 500 students from 38 states and 10 foreign countries a choice of four associate’s degrees and three bachelor’s degrees—a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, a brand-new Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art, and a brand-new Bachelor of Science in Computer Science.  Almost one-third of Landmark students actually transfer to Landmark after struggling at another college.

Given the intensive support services, personalized approach, and remarkable 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Landmark’s high annual tuition and fees of about $52,000 are to be expected. Landmark claims that its students graduate from bachelor’s degree programs (either at Landmark or at colleges they transfer to subsequently) at a higher rate than the national average and at a significantly higher rate than the national average for students with similar learning disabilities. That could make even these very high tuition costs seem like a great deal.

By the way, summer programs are also available to rising high school juniors and seniors who learn differently and could benefit from Landmark’s approach; that could be a great head start for special needs high school students, regardless of where they go on to college.

Some students with special needs feel isolated or left out in an educational setting that is filled with all kinds of students and would prefer a school that focused on them, where they feel they could fit into a community of students they could easily relate to. For such students, Landmark could be an empowering, even life-changing, experience.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Postponing the Ivy League until graduate school
  • Being a socially conscious engineering student
  • Finding a good fit outside of traditional programs

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