Episode 55: The Liberal Arts Debate

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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

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Episode 43: Colleges in the New England Region—Part III

Last week, we continued our virtual tour of colleges with the private colleges in the six states of the New England region: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. As we said then, there are a lot of well-known and not-so-well-known institutions in these New England states, even though the states themselves are quite small, and a lot of those institutions are in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Virtual tour of small liberal arts colleges in the New England region on NYCollegeChat podcast. Show notes with links to all the colleges mentioned are available at nycollegechat.org/43 #college #NewEngland #collegeaccesLast week, we discussed nationally known higher education institutions, which draw students internationally, as well as a selection of institutions with one or another kind of special focus (that is, faith-based institutions, single-sex colleges, institutions with a particular academic focus, and one college for students with special learning needs). This week, we are going to talk about a host of small liberal arts colleges and a few institutions that are probably better known in the New England region than in other regions of the country.

A special heads up to our New York State listeners and other listeners in the Mid-Atlantic states who are worried about sending their kids away to college: New England is not really very far away. Maybe this is as outside your comfort zone as I am going to get you. But there are so many options in New England that it might be enough.

And, as we always say, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our very own selections.

1. Liberal Arts Colleges

Let’s start by saying that some of our most prestigious and some of our oldest small liberal arts colleges are located in New England, including several consistently ranked in the top 10 by anyone’s standards and a bunch more that would be in anyone’s top 20.

Turning first to a trio of colleges in Maine, we have Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Colby College in Waterville, and Bates College in Lewiston—all small liberal arts colleges, with a couple thousand students, attractive student-to-faculty ratios of 9:1 or 10:1, and just over 30 varsity sports teams. Though SAT scores are optional at both Bowdoin and Bates, about two-thirds of their applicants submit them. Average SAT subtest scores are about 670 at Colby, 680 at Bates, and 730 at Bowdoin.

Bowdoin, one of the highest ranked liberal arts colleges nationally, was chartered in 1794 by the General Court of Massachusetts, when Maine was still part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Governor James Bowdoin II and his son were both substantial benefactors for the college that today carries the family name (Anglicized from French grandfather and great-grandfather Pierre Baudouin, a Huguenot immigrant who arrived here in 1686). With an undergraduate-only enrollment of about 1,800 students (about 30 percent students of color and coeducational since 1971), Bowdoin offers 40-plus majors, grounded by traditional distribution requirements in five liberal arts and sciences areas.

Bowdoin makes an effective and official endorsement of the liberal arts in two ways—first, the Statement on a Liberal Education, adopted by the faculty in 2004; and second, what is known as “The Offer of the College,” written a hundred years earlier in 1906 by Bowdoin’s president, William DeWitt Hyde:

To be at home in all lands and all ages;
to count Nature a familiar acquaintance,
and Art an intimate friend;
to carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket,
and feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake;
to make hosts of friends…who are to be leaders in all walks of life;
to lose yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends –
this is the offer of the college for the best four years of your life. (quoted from the website)

Bowdoin’s tuition and fees are what you might expect by now in our travels through New England—about $48,000 per year. Interestingly, Colby and Bates post a comprehensive fee (including room and board) at about $62,000 per year—so comparably priced for tuition, if it had been broken out separately.

Let’s look briefly at Colby, founded in 1813, the twelfth-oldest private liberal arts college in the U.S. Colby offers its approximately 1,850 undergraduates a choice of 57 majors. About two-thirds study abroad at some point in their college lives, perhaps in the College’s annual January Plan session, when students focus on one thing only—a course, an internship, a study-abroad opportunity, or a research project. Colby has a No-Loan Policy, which “will meet 100 percent of [a student’s] calculated financial need, and . . . will meet that need with grants and campus employment—not student loans” that have to be paid back (quoted from the website). As part of its serious commitment to the environment, Colby worked hard to achieve carbon neutrality—one of only a handful of colleges to do so.

Bates is located in Lewiston, home of substantial French Canadian and Somali immigrant communities. Founded in 1855 by abolitionists, Bates was the first coeducational college in New England. When it opened its doors, it admitted students without regard to race, nationality, or religion; some of its early students were former slaves. In keeping with its founding values, Bates is also known for its inclusiveness, where student organizations are open to all students and there are no fraternities or sororities. The approximately 2,000 undergraduates study in 33 majors in two semesters and a short-term session in the spring, when students focus on one thing, often off campus (similar to Colby’s plan).

Let’s move on to Vermont and take a look at Middlebury College in Middlebury, located between the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. A prestigious liberal arts college, which also offers some graduate programs at other sites here and abroad, Middlebury has been known for its excellent language programs for a hundred years. Middlebury was founded by a few men in town in 1800 to educate men for the ministry and other professions. The first African-American citizen to earn a bachelor’s degree got it at Middlebury in 1823, after Vermont became the first state to abolish slavery.

Middlebury now serves about 2,450 undergraduates, studying in 44 majors, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1—again common for these liberal arts colleges. As we have also seen at other colleges, Middlebury has a January term, when students focus on one course or an internship. In the best classic liberal arts tradition, Middlebury students must fulfill two sets of distribution requirements— (1) one course in seven of eight academic fields (including foreign language, with offerings in 10 languages); and (2) one course in each of four cultures and civilizations areas:

  1. Courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean

  2. Courses that focus on the process of comparison between and among cultures and civilizations, or courses that focus on the identity and experience of separable groups within cultures and civilizations

  3. Courses that focus on some aspect of European cultures and civilizations

  4. Courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of northern America (United States and Canada) (quoted from the website)

With 31 varsity sports and 31 NCAA championships since 1995, Middlebury has an active sports scene—and a lot of skiing for fun. Admission is very selective, with the Class of 2019 posting average SAT subtest scores very close to 700. Most incoming freshmen are in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Like its collegiate peers, tuition and fees run about $48,000 per year.

Coming quite a bit later to the game was Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, founded in 1932 as a progressive liberal arts institution. Originally a women’s college, it became coeducational in 1969. It claims to be “the first to include the visual and performing arts in a liberal arts education, and it is the only college to require that students spend a term—every year—at work in the world” (quoted from the website). Today, it serves just about 650 undergraduates in 10 areas of study and about 100 graduate students, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1.

The seven-week off-campus winter Field Work Term, which is required of students every year, sees students working or interning in 35 states and 40 countries on five continents. Students complete two 14-week semesters in addition to the Field Work Term. Bennington’s liberal arts education is somewhat self-determined, as described on the website:

The Plan Process is the structure Bennington students use to design and evaluate their education. In a series of essays and meetings with the faculty throughout their years at Bennington, students learn to articulate what they want to study and how they intend to study it. They identify the classes they wish to take, as well as how those classes relate to each other and the rest of their Bennington experience: Field Work Term, tutorials, projects beyond the classroom, and anything else they undertake. (quoted from the website)

Some courses run three weeks, some seven weeks, and some the full 14 weeks each term, with credits assigned accordingly. Students receive narrative evaluations at the end of each course, but may request letter grades; students interested in graduate school are encouraged to request letter grades for at least two years so that a GPA can be calculated. Bennington has both a traditional application route, using the Common Application as a base, and a more unusual Bennington-specific application. In either case, college admission test scores are not required. Bennington’s undergraduate tuition and fees add up to about $48,000—unfortunately, the norm among these New England colleges.

Connecticut also has a trio of relatively well-known liberal arts institutions—Wesleyan University in Middletown, Trinity College in Hartford, and Connecticut College in New London. All are well-rounded traditional colleges with attractive campuses and excellent student-to-faculty ratios, as befits small colleges, from 8:1 at Wesleyan to 10:1 at Trinity.

Trinity is the oldest of these, founded in 1823, and is the second-oldest college in Connecticut (after Yale). It has been coeducational since 1969 and now serves about 2,100 undergraduates and about 100 graduate students. It has the oldest example of Collegiate Gothic architecture in the country. Trinity offers 39 majors, including engineering, with “two engineering degree paths: a Bachelor of Science degree, accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET [Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology] and a Bachelor of Arts in Engineering Science degree” (quoted from the website)—truly unusual for a small liberal arts college.

Trinity is very proud of its Center for Urban and Global Studies (noting that over half of all people in the world live in cities today), its Human Rights Program and interdisciplinary major, its credit-bearing internships, and its study-away programs in New York City and seven sites outside the U.S. Incoming freshmen posted a B+ high school GPA, and tuition and fees will set you back about $51,000, on the high side of what we have been seeing.

Wesleyan, founded by Methodist leaders in 1831, shares a bit of history with Connecticut College, founded in 1911. Originally all male, Wesleyan became coeducational (to a limited degree) in 1872, about 40 years after its founding. Then, when it chose to exclude women again around 1911, some of its alumnae helped establish Connecticut College for Women, for obvious reasons. Today, Wesleyan enrolls about 2,900 undergraduates and about 200 full-time graduate students (about 30 percent are students of color). Its undergraduates study in 45 majors. Though Wesleyan does not require college admissions test scores, about 80 percent of the Class of 2019 submitted them for consideration. The average SAT subtest scores were about 730 to 740 across the board. About 65 percent of students were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Not surprisingly, tuition and fees are about $49,000 per year.

By the way, Wesleyan is a member of the Twelve-College Exchange Program, which includes quite a few of the colleges we talked about last week and are talking about this week, including Bowdoin, Mount Holyoke, Dartmouth, Smith, Wellesley, Amherst, and Connecticut College. Students can apply to spend a semester or a full year at any one of the other colleges.

Here is a quick look at Connecticut College, with about 1,900 undergraduate students studying in just over 50 majors and minors. Interestingly, each student is awarded $3,000 by the College to cover the costs of creating the perfect internship—in the U.S. or abroad—for each student in his or her area of interest. About 80 percent of students complete such an internship. Though the College does not require college admission test scores, about 70 percent of applicants provide them for review. Incoming freshmen post a set of SAT subtest scores hovering around 685. About 60 percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. The College has a comprehensive fee, which includes room and board, of about $63,000—which would be in keeping with residential students’ expenses at the other colleges we have been profiling. One of the most unusual things about the College’s website is the section called “Essays that Worked,” which is just that: sample essays from past applicants who were accepted. Of course, any college applicant could get value out of reading them.

So, let’s head north to Massachusetts to two of the traditionally highest-ranked liberal arts colleges in the U.S., both formerly men’s colleges: Williams College in Williamstown and Amherst College in Amherst. Williams opened in 1793, and Amherst followed some years later in 1821. Amherst’s first president had been president of Williams (there is still a rivalry today), and the president of the Board of Trustees at the time was Noah Webster. Amherst was established by Congregational clergy to educate primarily poor, but talented, students for a life in the ministry or other worthy careers. Williams went co-ed in 1970, followed by Amherst in 1975. Both have small enrollments of about 1,800 at Amherst and 2,000 at Williams (plus about 50 graduate students). About 35 percent of students at Williams and 45 percent of students at Amherst are students of color.

The colleges offer just over 35 undergraduate liberal arts majors. Student-to-faculty ratios are attractively low at 7:1 or 8:1. Williams offers its January Winter Study—the kind of focused program we have seen at a number of other schools (maybe New England is just too cold for students to be there in January), where students do a course, some research, an internship, or purposeful travel. Among its study-away options, Williams offers a semester at its Marine Studies Program at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and a year-long program at University of Oxford. Amherst is a member of the well-known Five College Consortium, which we have talked about and will mention again. On an athletic note, Amherst and Williams played the first intercollegiate baseball game in the U.S. in 1859.

Students at these two colleges are super-smart. College admission test scores are required, and about 65 percent of freshmen in the classes of 2018 scored 700 or higher on the SAT subtests. About 85 percent of Amherst students and 95 percent of Williams students were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. As you might expect, tuition and fees are high: about $50,000 at Williams and a comprehensive fee (tuition, room, and board) of $63,000 at Amherst.

2. Colleges That Change Lives

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

Three of the 44 institutions profiled are located in New England. You should read about them in the book or on the website to learn more about them. They are Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts; Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont; and Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Hampshire is the fifth member of the Five College Consortium, centered in Amherst. It is by far the newest of the five colleges, having been founded in 1970 after a long planning process, and it is the least traditional of them as well. Its students are bright, creative, and motivated. While very selective in admitting freshmen to a student body of just 1,400 students, Hampshire does not consider college admission test scores “in any way” for admission or for financial aid awards. Its students study in five interdisciplinary schools and create their own individualized majors—called “the concentration” at Hampshire. The concentration includes courses and required volunteer work at Hampshire or in the community and required work from various cultural viewpoints as well as fieldwork and internships, if they make sense for the self-designed program. As seniors, Hampshire students complete a self-designed rigorous final independent project, which includes original work, similar to a graduate thesis. The campus is lovely and idyllic. The price tag is predictable at about $47,000 in tuition per year. My visit to Hampshire with my son about five years ago made me want to go back to school and go there myself.

You should read about both Clark and Marlboro in the Colleges That Change Lives book or on the website. Clark enrolls about 2,200 undergraduates and another approximately 1,000 graduate students and has incredibly appealing “5th-Year-Free Accelerated B.A./Master’s Degree” programs in 14 fields, in which students can earn a master’s degree in just one year at no cost. Marlboro’s approximately 230 undergraduate students (there are another approximately 80 graduate students) follow a self-designed interdisciplinary program while working closely with faculty in small classes, individual tutorials, and advising sessions and living in a self-governing college community. The average high school GPA of incoming freshmen last fall was a 3.6 at Clark and a 3.2 at Marlboro; college admission test scores are considered at both if submitted, but are not required by either institution (about 60 percent of admitted students submitted them at Clark, but only about 25 percent at Marlboro).

3. Institutions Better Known in New England

New England also has a large number of institutions that are better known in the region than in other parts of the U.S. Let’s look at a few.

Founded in 1914 by Gertrude I. Johnson and Mary T. Wales as a business school, Johnson & Wales University (JWU) has been adding new career fields, new degrees (now including advanced degrees), and new campuses (now including Charlotte, Denver, and North Miami) ever since. With its main campus in Providence, Rhode Island, JWU describes the program for its 10,000 students (largely undergraduates) this way:

Our educational approach is designed to help you identify your career field. You can develop a structured plan, starting your first term, to build industry knowledge, professional skills and practical work experience to excel.

Build a toolkit that serves you for life. Our unique education model integrates academics and professional skills, including real-world projects in our hands-on labs, taught by our industry-expert faculty.

Round out your education with related work experiences and structured internships around the globe, along with career services, community service and leadership opportunities. (quoted from the website)

Undergraduates pursue serious career preparation in the College of Culinary Arts, School of Business, School of Hospitality, School of Engineering and Design, School of Professional Studies (with three equine-related majors), and six majors (two of which are directly career related) in the School of Science and Liberal Arts. And, yes, there are student organizations and varsity sports teams, too.

College admission test scores are mostly optional, except for the Honors program and some majors. Undergraduate tuition and fees run close to $30,000 per year—which seems like a bargain, given the prices we have been seeing in this episode and in last week’s episode.

Founded in 1929 (a lot later than many New England colleges), Quinnipiac University, with about 6,500 undergraduates and 2,500 graduate and professional students, is located on two campuses near Sleeping Giant Mountain in the small New England town of Hamden, Connecticut (a third campus for the professional and graduate schools, including law and medicine, is not far away). Undergraduates can study in 58 degree programs in six schools and colleges: the College of Arts and Sciences and the Schools of Business and Engineering, Communications, Education, Health Sciences, and Nursing. Quinnipiac offers a traditional college experience, with Division I varsity sports teams, school organizations (including fraternities and sororities), and red brick buildings surrounded by trees and green lawns. And perhaps, with an election year approaching again, you have heard Quinnipiac University Poll results in the news.

Incoming freshmen this year at Quinnipiac posted average SAT scores in the mid-500s across the subtests, and about 20 percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Admissions staff note that they are looking for a B+ overall high school average. About 50 percent of students come from New England states, and another approximately 45 percent come from nearby Mid-Atlantic states. Tuition and fees are about $42,000 per year—just about the going rate for the region.

Founded a few years later in 1932 as the New Hampshire School of Accounting and Secretarial Science, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offered its first bachelor’s degrees in 1966 and has been expanding into other fields and innovative programs ever since. Currently, SNHU enrolls about 3,000 students at its main campus in Manchester, where undergraduates can study in about 50 degree programs in three schools: the Schools of Business, Education, and Arts and Sciences. SNHU also offers accelerated bachelor’s degrees completed in three years in 10 business fields.

College admission test scores are optional. A couple of years ago, average SAT subtest scores for the approximately 50 percent of admitted students who submitted them were in the high 400s, and admitted students posted, on average, a high school GPA of about 3.1. Undergraduate on-campus tuition and fees are a relative bargain at about $32,000 per year.

SNHU is, however, a leader in online education, with about 60,000 online students studying in more than 200 career-focused and liberal arts degree and certificate programs. The courses are “asynchronous”—meaning that students can do their coursework at any time of the day or night rather than in online sessions at specific times with faculty and other students. I heard a presentation by an SNHU administrator at a College Board conference a couple of years ago, and I was quite impressed then with what I heard. Online tuition runs about $10,000 per year if a student is taking a full-time college course load. That’s a great bargain if you have a child who needs to or badly wants to study online. As we have said a number of times in our NYCollegeChat episodes, we are wary of having first-time freshmen commit to full-time online study—or even a course or two online—because it takes a lot of maturity and self-motivation and self-discipline to study online successfully. Many college freshmen just don’t have that. However, your child might be an exception.

Let’s wind up with a smaller faith-based college in Colchester, Vermont: Saint Michael’s College (affectionately known as St. Mike’s), enrolling about 2,000 undergraduate and 500 graduate students. Undergraduates study in about 35 liberal arts and sciences majors, plus business, computer science, education, journalism, pre-pharmacy, and engineering (through two 3+2 programs, one with the University of Vermont and one with Clarkson University). Here is what St. Mike’s says about its Catholic foundation and its influence on life at St. Mike’s today:

Saint Michael’s College is . . . the only Edmundite college in the world. We were founded in 1904 by the Society of Saint Edmund, an order of priests that came to Vermont from France more than 100 years ago, and whose ministry is based on service, hospitality and education.

Our passion for social justice means we don’t just talk about improving the world. We have a history of it. Part of the Edmundite legacy is the vital role they played in the Civil Rights movement in the South. We embody that spirit with nearly 70 percent of our students volunteering through our MOVE (Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts) Office. Our Peace and Justice program of study brings issues into the classroom, and the Edmundite Center for Peace and Justice connects the campus community to peace and justice concerns and resources.

The Society of Saint Edmund has a meaningful presence on campus. Their inclusive nature, caring ministry, tradition of hospitality and passion for social justice are at the heart of on-campus culture. Several Edmundite priests are active members of the faculty, while others are focused on the Society’s ministries in Selma, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Understanding the history and importance of Christianity and other religions, as well as examining questions of philosophy, ethics and the common good, are an integral part of the Saint Michael’s curriculum. In everyday life on campus, the opportunity to serve others, and the chance to look inside yourself and explore your own path to the greater good, are always at hand.

Our students come from all walks of life. No matter what your spiritual and religious affiliation (and even if you have none at all), you’ll be welcome and comfortable at Saint Michael’s. . . .

As part of our Liberal Studies Curriculum, students are required to take two courses in Christian Traditions and Thought. Both of these courses are College-level academic courses which do not require or expect any particular religious affiliation. The first course is a Religious Studies course in the general study of Christianity and the second, more specialized, course is chosen by the student from a list of qualifying Religious Studies or Philosophy courses. (quoted from the website)

Just over 50 percent of students at St. Mike’s are Catholic. St. Mike’s is a close-knit community, with all full-time undergraduates living on campus for all four years (unless they are living at home with their family)—a remarkable feature, which makes it easy for students to feel comfortable with each other, join clubs and sports teams, and make good friends. Classes are small, and professors care about their students.

College admission test scores are optional, but accepted students in the Class of 2018 who submitted SATs posted a trio of scores in the high 500s. About 20 percent of students were in the top 10 percent of their high school class, and about 70 percent came from New England. Tuition and fees are about $41,000 per year—evidently, in the ballpark of the going rate for private colleges in New England.

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Episode 3: Liberal Arts Study and Technical Study

This episode is part of our series on understanding the world of college. In this episode, we talk about the difference between liberal arts study and technical study.

For detailed show notes including links to all the colleges mentioned in this episode, visit http://usacollegechat.org/3.

NYCollege Chat is a weekly podcast for parents and high school students about the world of college brought to you by Policy Studies in Education.

Connect with us! Follow us on Facebook or Twitter as NYCollegeChat. Contact us with questions at 516-900-NYCC.

This episode is part of our series on understanding the world of college and is focused on the difference between liberal arts study and technical study.

NYCollegeChat Episode 3 Liberal Arts Study and Technical Study

1. Liberal Arts Study Defined

A study of the liberal arts means that students study a variety of academic subjects, typically including literature, history, mathematics, fine arts, philosophy, biological or physical sciences, foreign languages, and the social sciences, like psychology or sociology. Sometimes these subjects as a group are called the “arts and sciences” or “humanities and sciences.”

A “liberal arts college” usually refers to a relatively small, private four-year college, where a student studies a variety of courses in the liberal arts and chooses to major in one of them.

2. Technical Study Defined

Technical study usually focuses on one or more specific career fields, such as engineering, computer studies, construction trades, fashion design, and more. Technical study can be done at proprietary colleges, two-year colleges, four-year colleges, or universities. Two of our nation’s best universities specialize in technical study—Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Caltech (California Institute of Technology).

A “technical college” usually refers to a two-year college that offers associate’s degrees in specific career fields. Some technical colleges require students to take some liberal arts courses in their first year or two of study; others do not. Some technical colleges even offer a two-year degree in liberal arts—undoubtedly because some students just have not made a career decision yet.

3. Choosing Liberal Arts or Technical Study

Some people believe that all students should start out in the liberal arts so that they have a well-rounded education and so that they can sample many fields of study—including those that are not available to most high school students—before settling in on one.

Some people believe that students who are set on a specific career field when they leave high school should be able to pursue it immediately in college and thus move onto that career path faster.

Keep in mind that either liberal arts study or technical study can be pursued at two-year and four-year, public and private institutions, depending on a student’s circumstances. So a student has to make two important decisions: both the right institution and the right course of study.

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