Episode 37: Colleges in the Southwest Region—Part I

This is our eleventh episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. For those of you who have been with us since the beginning, you will recall that we launched the tour to help you find colleges that are appropriate for your child, but that are outside your geographic comfort zone. Because the majority of high school students stay in their home states to attend college, we feel that a lot of appealing—even life-changing—colleges are never even considered by most families. That is a shame.

Virtual audio tour of public colleges and universities in the Southwest Region on the NYCollegeChat podcast

So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, and the Plains region. This episode takes us to the Southwest.

And, as we are fond of saying, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our picks.

1. The Southwest Region

As we have said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering from four to 12 states. In this episode, we will start our examination of the four states in the Southwest region: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

I bet a lot of our listeners here in the Northeast have never thought about sending a child to a college in the Southwest. Perhaps you will think again after today’s episode about public colleges in these states or next week’s episode about private colleges in these states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

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

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

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Southwest region? They are The University of Arizona in Tucson (UA), The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (UNM), The University of Oklahoma in Norman (OU), and The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin)—that is, two cities that epitomize the Southwest desert lifestyle, one great college town located in Tornado Alley, and one state capital that everyone seems to be talking about these days. Let us tell you from personal experience, if you don’t already know, that Austin is a great town with lots going on, including, of course, the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive festivals (that’s interactive, as in digital creativity, meaning websites, video games, and new things I don’t understand). Austin has a spread-out feel, with lots of old and new neighborhoods, a beautiful state capitol building, the impressive University, strong businesses, and lots of large hotels and tiny places to eat great barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine. Albuquerque, in the Land of Enchantment (New Mexico), is in the middle of breathtaking mesas and mountains and the Rio Grande. It has an old Southwest feeling that is distinctive and memorable. The Spanish Colonial and Pueblo Revival architecture of the University fits into picturesque Albuquerque quite well. Old Town, the historic spot where Albuquerque was founded by Spanish settlers in 1706, is filled with museums and shops and places that you would really enjoy visiting.

Turning to the four flagship universities, we can put them into two groups by enrollment size, starting with the smaller universities: UNM with about 18,000 undergraduates and a total of about 26,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and OU with about 20,000 undergraduates and a total of about 30,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. By the way, UNM, a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution (HSI), was one of the first minority-majority universities, with about a 45 percent Hispanic student body and an Anglo student population of just about 35 percent. While UNM and OU are smaller than the other two flagship universities in the Southwest region, they are certainly not small by anyone’s standards. Any new freshman is going to feel that an undergraduate student body of 18,000 or more is huge.

So what about UA with about 33,000 undergraduates and a total of about 42,000 students and UT Austin with about 39,000 undergraduates and a total of about 51,000 students? Though we have already mentioned in our virtual tour some universities with even more undergraduate students than that—namely, the University of Central Florida and The Ohio State University, and there are still more gigantic universities in the episodes coming up—UA and UT Austin would, without a doubt, seem enormous to almost any freshman walking onto those campuses. Of course, with many students, come many opportunities.

Each of these four flagship universities attracts students nationally and internationally. Nonetheless, at UT Austin, about 90 percent of students are Texas residents, and there is a good chance that freshmen will make the trip to Austin with at least a handful of their smartest high school friends—because, for many bright Texas high school students, UT Austin is at the top of their list. Similarly, UNM also has a student body that is about 90 percent home grown. Students will find a bit more geographic diversity at OU and UA, where just about 60 to 65 percent of students are state residents.

In our episodes so far, we have often said that colleges love geographic diversity and that students might be able to get into a better college by looking a bit farther afield at a college that is lacking, but is seeking, that diversity. That is usually true. However, I think it is more difficult than usual for out-of-state students to get into UT Austin—a highly respected public institution, like the University of Virginia or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or the University of Michigan, all of which we have talked about in previous episodes. In fact, Texas law almost guarantees that many of its best students stay in the state for college by mandating that public colleges automatically admit a certain percentage of each high school’s top graduates (last year, for UT Austin, that was any student who ranked in the top 7 percent of his or her class at the end of the junior year). I have to believe that the 10 percent of the UT Austin student body that comes from out of state is made up of pretty bright kids, too. Of course, if your teenager is bright, then UT Austin is a fabulous choice.

Each of these flagship universities was founded in the mid- to late 1800s, with UT Austin first in 1839 and the others around 1890. All were founded before statehood—three by their territorial legislature and UT Austin by order of the Congress of the Republic of Texas. This trend, which we also saw in the Rocky Mountain and Plains regions, continues—that is, pioneers and early settlers giving a college education a high priority.

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 13 to 21 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, journalism and mass communication, fine arts, architecture, and agriculture and life sciences. All of them have a law school and elaborate medical schools/health sciences centers. They are truly one-stop shopping at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels.

Perhaps related to its location in Tornado Alley, OU has a College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, with a well-respected School of Meteorology. UA has an impressive College of Optical Sciences, with research in optical engineering, optical physics, photonics, and image science.

UT Austin does something different with its freshmen by putting all of them into the School of Undergraduate Studies, where they explore their interests through a liberal-arts-and-sciences core curriculum of 42 credits. In their freshman year, students take UT’s Signature Course, which is actually an array of 150 course offerings for students to choose from, all of which provide college-level experiences in thinking and writing and speaking and research. Students are encouraged to go outside their comfort zone when choosing from the Signature Courses, which are often interdisciplinary, like Astronomy and the Humanities. UT students leave the School of Undergraduate Studies by the end of their second year to pursue their major course of study. This structure is a comforting idea, given the uncertainty that most entering college freshmen have about their futures.

These four flagship universities offer from about 120 to more than 200 undergraduate degree programs across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. The opportunities are almost limitless.

Like all other flagship universities, each of these four has hundreds of student clubs and organizations, including fraternities and sororities—actually more than 1,300 at UT Austin. It would be impossible for your child not to find some organizations he or she would like to join—which is especially important for students on large campuses like these.

Of course, there are also plenty of varsity sports teams—from 19 to 21 women’s and men’s teams. OU and UT Austin play in the Big 12 Conference and UA plays in the Pac-12 Conference—where sports are taken seriously. The winner in national championships and conference titles is UT Austin, with 51 national championships since 1949 and 507 conference titles. Can you say “Hook ’em Horns” or sing “The Eyes of Texas”? As we have said before, participating in intercollegiate sports and, just as much, attending wildly popular sports events are a big part of campus life at schools like these.

Need something more cultural? Each of these flagship universities (like many others) has museums right on the campus. UNM has the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, which has a “special emphasis on 11,000 years of cultural heritage in the Southwest” (quoted from the website). UA has the Arizona State Museum (an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution), founded in 1893, which houses the world’s largest collection of Southwest American Indian pottery and basketry. UT Austin has the LBJ Presidential Library, an amazing collection of papers and memorabilia from LBJ’s political career and from the civil rights work he championed.

David L. Boren became president of OU in 1994, after a political career as governor of Oklahoma and U.S. Senator from Oklahoma—the only person to serve in all three jobs. Impressively, he teaches a freshman-level political science course each semester. Here is a paragraph from his website Welcome to OU:

OU’s Fred Jones Museum of Art ranks in the top 5 university art museums in the United States. It received the Weitzenhoffer Collection, the largest gift of French Impressionist art ever given to a public university in the US. The Sam Noble Museum of Natural History is the largest university based museum of its kind in the world. OU’s Bizzell Memorial Library features one of the three largest history of science collections in the world, and is the only place in the United States where you can hold a book with Galileo’s handwriting in your own hands.  (quoted from the website)

In addition to the cultural sites on campus, these universities offer study abroad programs, sometimes with hundreds of choices and certainly all kinds of cultural benefits. OU has its own campus in Arezzo, Italy—The Italian Center of the University of Oklahoma. It offers semester-long and year-long programs, and, if you have ever been to Arezzo, you know how fantastic it would be to study there.

Admittedly, out-of-state tuition in these flagship universities is not cheap, running from about $17,000 to $22,000 per year—two or three times what a state resident would pay. But that is still lower (and sometimes way lower) than most private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we have said before, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

As is getting more and more typical, there are a couple of attractive tuition programs at these universities. UNM has a Finish-in-Four initiative, in which the university will pay any tuition that the student is responsible for in the final semester if the student graduates in eight or fewer semesters. UA guarantees its tuition rate for entering freshmen for eight consecutive semesters. OU offers a flat tuition at 15 credits, with additional credits taken for free (thus encouraging students to take more credits each semester and finish sooner, saving even more money). UT Austin offers a fixed tuition rate, providing rebates if a student enrolled in the program graduates in four years. So, graduating in four years or even sooner—which is good for the university and good for the family—is the theme we see here.

Additionally, UA and UNM are members of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), a program of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WUE allows students who are residents of WICHE states to request a reduced tuition rate of just 150 percent of resident tuition at participating colleges outside of their home state (as we discussed in Episode 33). WUE effectively broadens a student’s opportunities to look at first-rate public institutions in nearby states, without any substantial financial consequences.

As these colleges carefully advertise on their websites, these tuition deals and reciprocal arrangements with other states are not automatic. You have to apply for them, and you sometimes have to apply to your home state first. And, again, space is limited. So look hard at any public universities your child is interested in to see whether there might be similar programs in place for you and, if so, apply early.

By the way, if you want your child to be among the 94 percent who say they believe their degree prepared them for their career or further education, send your child to UNM.

In leaving the flagship universities, let us just say a word or two more about Texas (perhaps because everything is bigger in Texas). While all of the universities we have discussed so far have branch campuses, we should point out that the University of Texas System is actually made up of nine universities and six health institutions, all of which are more like institutions in their own right. UT has huge campuses at Arlington, El Paso, San Antonio, and Dallas, and it is currently merging two of its campuses (Brownsville and Pan American) into a new institution opening this fall as UT Rio Grande Valley. These campuses all have student bodies larger than many flagship campuses in smaller states.

3. Other Public State Universities

In each of these Southwest states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus or campuses within the flagship system, but universities in their own right. We would like to focus on two that we think are most likely to attract out-of-state students—one with a long history and one that has seen a lot of changes and increased national visibility in the past decade.

Let’s start with the one with the long history—that is, Texas A&M University, which those of us outside of Texas might think of as one university (Go, Aggies!), but which those of you in Texas know to be a gigantic 11-university system (plus health science center) in cities throughout the state, serving a total of more than 125,000 students. The well-known flagship campus of the Texas A&M University System is in the twin cities of Bryan and College Station, and it was established in 1876.

Established at the same time—that is, during Reconstruction—was Prairie View A&M University, a separate state-supported college for African-American students, which started out as Alta Vista Agricultural & Mechanical College for Colored Youth and later merged with the Prairie View Normal School for training African-American teachers. Today, Prairie View A&M is part of the Texas A&M University System and is one of nine HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) in Texas, three of which are public. Prairie View has about 7,000 undergraduates and another 1,500 graduate and professional students; about 85 percent are African American, and about 95 percent are Texans. Prairie View offers students both liberal arts degrees and degrees in architecture, education, engineering, agriculture, business, juvenile justice, and nursing. Incidentally, the other four-year public HBCU in Texas is Texas Southern University in Houston, with almost 10,000 total students in 11 colleges and schools. It is one of the largest HBCUs in the country and is the alma mater of much-admired U.S. Congressional Representative Barbara Jordan.

Texas A&M’s flagship campus in College Station serves a total of about 42,000 undergraduate students and another approximately 10,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. About 95 percent of A&M undergraduates are from Texas. It has 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, including the only college of veterinary medicine in Texas (and one of the largest nationally). A&M offers more than 120 undergraduate degree programs.

About 25 percent of students in A&M’s freshman class are first-generation college students. Students can participate in more than 800 student organizations and 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams. About 25 percent of students participate in intramural sports. Interestingly, A&M was originally a military institution, and today its voluntary Corps of Cadets is second only to the U.S. military service academies in the number of officers commissioned each year.

By the way, Texas has four more public systems of higher education, with the next most widely known likely being the Texas Tech University System. Its main campus in Lubbock serves a total of about 35,000 students. Again, everything is bigger in Texas.

Now let’s turn to the public university that has seen a lot of changes in the past decade, and that is Arizona State University (ASU), with its main campus in Tempe. ASU serves about 50,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in Tempe, about 80 percent of whom are undergraduates—again, a massive campus. Only about 60 percent of ASU students are Arizona residents, and a truly impressive approximately 40 percent are first-generation college students.

ASU’s president, Michael Crow, who came to the University in 2002, has made a successful effort to increase enrollment, especially of Hispanic and black students, and has made it possible for more low-income students to attend ASU by increasing ASU-supplied financial aid to them. Furthermore, he works hard at providing whatever extra help low-income minority students need in order to graduate. President Crow has also increased the number of out-of-state students (especially from California), who pay about double what state residents pay in tuition (about $22,000 compared to $10,000). He encourages innovation among his administrators and is moving forward in using technology to get students through courses faster and more conveniently. (And I have to believe that he is even more dynamic than this paragraph makes him sound.)

Founded as a territorial school in 1885, ASU is now a university known for its Innovation Challenge competitions, a Startup School and a Startup Accelerator for new ventures, an Entrepreneurship Outreach Network, and the Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator. It offers nine undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools on the Tempe campus, including the nation’s first School of Sustainability, established in 2006, with 99 percent of that School’s bachelor’s degree graduates currently employed or pursuing graduate degrees. And, in the midst of all that, it offers nine men’s and 12 women’s Sun Devils sports teams and more than 1,000 student organizations.

Perhaps to sum up President Crow’s vision, “ASU is a comprehensive public research university measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed…” (quoted from the website).

In closing our look at public universities, we would like to mention one more public HBCU, and that is Langston University in Oklahoma, with its main campus in Langston, just north of Oklahoma City, serving about 1,800 students. Its mostly undergraduate students study in 47 undergraduate degree programs and nine graduate degree programs in six schools, including liberal arts and education, business, health professions, and agriculture. About 80 percent of its students are black, and just about 60 percent are Oklahoma residents. Its tuition is very reasonable, in case you are looking for an HBCU in the Southwest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Great Lakes Region

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

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

2. Flagship Public State Universities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Other Public State Universities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Great Lakes Region

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

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

2. Flagship Public State Universities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Other Public State Universities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

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

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Episode 1: Public, Private, and Proprietary Colleges

This episode is part of our series on understanding the world of college. In this episode, we talk about the differences between public, private, and proprietary colleges.

For detailed show notes including links to all the colleges mentioned in this episode, visit http://usacollegechat.org/1.

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.

Welcome to the first episode of NYCollegeChat, a weekly podcast for New York State parents and high school students about the world of college. NYCollegeChat is a program of Policy Studies in Education and is hosted by Regina Paul and Marie Segares.

This episode is part of our series on understanding the world of college and is focused on the differences among public, private, and proprietary colleges.

NYCollegeChat Public, Private, and Proprietary CollegesPublic College Funding

Public colleges are paid for, at least in part, by state and local governments—that means, by your taxes—primarily for the benefit of their own residents.

States fund public colleges. New York has the State University of New York, with its 64 two-year and four-year campuses. Some states have more than one system of colleges, like California’s University of California campuses, California State University campuses, and California Community Colleges campuses.

Some local governments, like big cities and counties, can afford to help fund their own public higher education—like the City University of New York or Dallas County Community College District. Even in those cases, however, the state governments provide part of the funding, at least in some cases.

But even with public colleges that are supported by tax dollars, student tuition is a major source of revenue.

2. Public College Enrollment and Tuition

Public colleges usually have a large student enrollment—larger than most, but not all, private colleges.

Public colleges have lower tuition than private colleges, so the cost of attending a public college is lower than attending a private college, unless a student has been awarded a generous scholarship by a private college. Of course, students can be awarded scholarships by public colleges, too, making the cost of attending a public college even more attractive.

3. Attitudes About Private Colleges

Private colleges, which are funded by the tuition of its students and by donations from its alumni and others, are often seen as being more prestigious or as being “better” colleges than public colleges. The fact is the some private colleges are indeed better than some public colleges; another fact is that some public colleges are better than some private colleges.

What is “better”? Students are smarter. Professors are better educated. Classes are smaller. Extracurricular activities are more available. Campus facilities are more impressive. Alumni are more successful. The fact is that some public colleges beat some private colleges in all these areas, so it pays to know as much as you can about what a variety of colleges have to offer your child.

4. Proprietary Colleges

Public and private colleges are nonprofit organizations whose first responsibility is to their students. Proprietary colleges are profit-making organizations whose first responsibility is to its owners and stockholders.

That does not mean that proprietary colleges provide a bad education; in fact, some provide a very good education.

You should have a close look at any proprietary colleges your child is interested in. Check out their majors, their courses, their faculty, their costs, and their record of success.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Great public colleges you might consider
  • Public and private college names that are misleading
  • The special public–private partnership that is Cornell University (Ithaca, New York), made up of 3 public colleges and 4 private colleges

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