Episode 47: Colleges in the Mid-Atlantic Region—Part III

NYCollegeChat Episode 47: Colleges in the Mid-Atlantic Region—Part III: A virtual tour of private collegesListen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

In our episodes for the past two weeks, we have focused our virtual tour of colleges on the public higher education institutions in the Mid-Atlantic region: Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. As we explained then, we are going to put off a discussion of New York (also part of the Mid-Atlantic region) for another week because it is the home state of many of our listeners and we know that they will be especially interested in it (though, as we have said repeatedly, we wish you all would look outside your home state).

This week and next week, we will take a look at some of the many private colleges and universities in the rest of the Mid-Atlantic region. We are going to talk about a group of nationally known higher education institutions, which draw students internationally; a selection of institutions with one or another kind of special focus; and a host of smaller liberal arts colleges.

There are enough well-known colleges and universities in the Mid-Atlantic region to fill two episodes and then some—or perhaps I just think there are so many because I grew up in one of these states and have lived in another one of them for the past 40 years. So, I have been around these colleges and universities literally my whole life. Nonetheless, I learned some new things about them when I wrote this episode. As we often say, information about colleges changes all the time. We know that it is hard to keep up, even when it is your job to do so.

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

1. Nationally Known Higher Education Institutions

Let’s start by saying that two of the eight Ivy League schools are located in the part of the Mid-Atlantic region we are looking at this week: the University of Pennsylvania (commonly referred to as Penn) in Philadelphia and Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey.

According to my father, Penn’s most loyal alumnus ever, Penn is the greatest university in the world. Certainly, its history is remarkable:

[I]n 1749, Benjamin Franklin—printer, inventor and future founding father of the United States—published his famous essay, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth, circulated it among Philadelphia’s leading citizens, and organized 24 trustees to form an institution of higher education based on his proposals. The group purchased [a building, and] in 1751, opened its doors to children of the gentry and working class alike as the Academy and Charitable School in the Province of Pennsylvania. Franklin served as president of the institution until 1755 and continued to serve as a trustee until his death in 1790.

Franklin’s educational aims, to train young people for leadership in business, government and public service, were innovative for the time. In the 1750s, the other Colonial American colleges educated young men for the Christian ministry, but Franklin’s proposed program of study was much more like the modern liberal arts curriculum. His fellow trustees were unwilling to implement most of his then-radical ideas though, and Penn’s first provost, William Smith, turned the curriculum back to traditional channels soon after taking the helm from Franklin.

In the years that followed, Penn went on to obtain a collegiate charter (1755), graduate its first class (1757), establish the first medical school in the American colonies (1765) and become the first American institution of higher education to be named a university (1779). (quoted and excerpted from the website)

Today, more than two centuries later, Penn enrolls almost 11,000 undergraduates and just as many graduate and professional students, for a total of almost 22,000 students on its Center City campus in Philadelphia.

Princeton, which was chartered as the College of New Jersey in 1746, is just a bit older than Penn, though its Graduate School is quite a bit younger (it was established in 1900). It is also quite a bit smaller than Penn, serving a total of about 8,000 students, with just over 5,000 being undergraduates. It has a lovely campus in small-town Princeton—also quite different from downtown Philadelphia.

Both universities have famous schools: Penn has its undergraduate and graduate Wharton School, highly respected among business schools, its Annenberg School for Communication, and well-known professional schools, including medicine, law, dental medicine, veterinary medicine, and nursing; Princeton has its graduate Woodrow Wilson School for students pursuing public and international affairs.

As we said a few weeks ago, Ivy League schools are well known for their high academic standards, excellent undergraduate and graduate majors, longtime traditions, famous professors, ivy-covered campuses, and the extreme selectivity of their admissions process (the average SAT subtest scores of Penn freshmen are in the mid-700s). They have sky-high tuition, though they also have quite a bit of financial aid available for students whose family resources are very limited. However, your child would first have to have extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to be accepted. If your child is that bright, then my father would say to consider Penn.

As I said a few weeks ago, one thing that the Ivies do not do as well as many large public universities is varsity sports. You might recall that my father was the Sports Information Director at Penn when he helped to establish the Ivy League athletic conference in the 1950s. I have been attending Ivy League sports contests since I was in elementary school (did you know that Penn had the first college double-decker football stadium?). I later covered sports for my own Ivy League school’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. So, I know what I am talking about. I am not saying that we don’t have, on occasion, some good teams and truly talented individual athletes—in soccer and ice hockey and even, occasionally, football. Nonetheless, as we have said previously, most students don’t come to an Ivy League school for sports.

An equally prestigious and equally selective institution is Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded more than a century later than Penn and Princeton in 1876, JHU got its start as a research university from the first day:

The university takes its name from . . . philanthropist Johns Hopkins, an entrepreneur and abolitionist with Quaker roots who believed in improving public health and education in Baltimore and beyond. . . .

In his will, he set aside $7 million to establish a hospital and affiliated training colleges, an orphanage, and a university. At the time, it was the largest philanthropic bequest in U.S. history.

Johns Hopkins University opened in 1876 with the inauguration of . . . president Daniel Coit Gilman. He guided the opening of the university and other institutions, including the university press, the hospital, and the schools of nursing and medicine. . . .

In [his inaugural address], he defined the model of the American research university, now emulated around the globe. The mission he described then remains the university’s mission today:

To educate its students and cultivate their capacity for lifelong learning, to foster independent and original research, and to bring the benefits of discovery to the world. (quoted and excerpted from the website)

JHU now serves a total of about 21,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, making it about the size of Penn. It has nine schools (including the Peabody Institute for music) and, according to the website, “more than 240 programs in the arts and music, the humanities, the social and natural sciences, engineering, international studies, education, business, and the health professions”—though it might be best known nationally for its outstanding School of Medicine. And its men’s lacrosse team has won 44 national championships (I told you two weeks ago that these Mid-Atlantic colleges are proud of their lacrosse programs).

But, like the Ivies, JHU will be quite expensive, and your child will need the same extraordinary high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Here is one tiny bit of help: You can read Essays That Worked and get tips on writing good college essays in the undergraduate admissions section of the JHU website.

Now let’s look briefly at two nationally known universities, indeed “national” universities, chartered by an Act of Congress, in the nation’s capital—both well respected, but slightly less selective. (Incidentally, that does not mean that they are easy to get into; they are not. Your child will still need very good high school grades. But, except for about 25 colleges, almost every other college in the U.S. is less selective than Penn, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins.) The two “national” universities we are going to discuss now are George Washington University (commonly referred to as GW) and American University (AU).

GW was established in 1821, “fulfilling George Washington’s vision of an institution in the nation’s capital dedicated to educating and preparing future leaders” (quoted from the website). Today, GW serves about 9,500 undergraduates in 70 degree programs in the arts and humanities, sciences and mathematics, social sciences, business, engineering, nursing, public health, international affairs, and communications on its two D.C. campuses. About 25 percent of GW undergraduates are “multicultural,” and about 25 percent speak more than one language fluently. GW also serves another approximately 14,000 graduate and professional students at locations in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland.

About 90 percent of GW undergraduates participate in an internship or career-related opportunity, and many have more than one. In addition to its own study abroad programs at GW Latin America, GW England, GW Madrid, and GW Paris, GW students can also attend another 240 affiliated programs worldwide. Rounding out college life, GW also offers more than 450 student organizations and 23 varsity sports teams.

With some exceptions (such as students applying to accelerated degree programs and homeschooled students), GW is a “test-optional” college as of August, 2015. Students may submit college admission test scores if they wish to do so, but students who choose not to submit them “will not be viewed negatively” (quoted from the website). Like other first-rate universities, undergraduate tuition and fees are super-high at about $51,000 per year. However, GW’s Fixed-Tuition Program guarantees that tuition is fixed for a total of 10 semesters as long as a student remains enrolled full time.

Turning to American University, its campus in northwest D.C. serves just about half as many students as GW—that is, about 7,000 undergraduates and about 5,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally from about 140 countries, like GW. AU offers 69 bachelor’s degree programs in five colleges and schools: arts and sciences, business, public affairs, international service, and communications. Interestingly, about 75 percent of incoming freshmen said that “keeping up to date with political affairs” was important—which befits a university with a school of public affairs located in the nation’s capital.

Similar to GW, about 90 percent of AU’s undergraduates complete an internship. AU students also participate in over 200 student organizations and play on 14 varsity sports teams.

Like GW, AU was also chartered by Congress, but some years later—in 1893. It was founded by Methodist Bishop John Fletcher Hurst as an institution for training public servants. When the Methodist-affiliated university opened in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson spoke at the ceremony.

Students admitted to last fall’s (2014) freshman class posted an average SAT critical reading score of 645 and an average math score of 624. Their average high school GPA was about a 3.8. Tuition and fees at AU are a bit lower than GW’s—but certainly not low—at about $43,000 per year.

And just a word about Washington itself. It is a really appealing place for students to live and to study. It has museums and the arts and historical sites and sports and good public transportation and some of the most beautiful buildings and monuments in the U.S.

Another well-respected university in the Mid-Atlantic region is found in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (you will remember that we have already talked about the University of Pittsburgh as a great public university), and that is Carnegie Mellon University. Founded as Carnegie Technical Schools by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1900, Carnegie Mellon has gone through a number of stages and mergers to get to the research university it is today, boasting colleges/schools of engineering, fine arts, humanities and social sciences, business, science, and computer science—and, for graduate students, information systems and management and public policy and management.

Carnegie Mellon serves just over 6,000 undergraduates and about 7,000 graduate and professional students. It has a good student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1—especially good for a university as large as it is—and virtually all undergraduate classes are taught by faculty members (not by teaching assistants).

It is intriguing that a university with its innovative technical history and the world’s first university robotics department (in 1979) would also be the first U.S. university to award a degree in drama (way back in 1914) and would count 114 Emmy Award winners, 41 Tony Award winners, and 7 Academy Award winners among its alumni/alumnae and professors. Its alumni/alumnae are famous in a wide variety of fields—from genius mathematician John Nash, Jr., (whose life was chronicled in A Beautiful Mind) to pop artist Andy Warhol to television icons like Steven Bochco and Ted Danson to actress Holly Hunter.

Carnegie Mellon also offers more than 275 student organizations, fraternities and sororities, and 16 varsity sports teams, known as the Tartans (thanks to Andrew Carnegie’s Scottish roots).

Carnegie Mellon requires college admission tests, including the writing component and including SAT Subject Tests for many majors; these are more testing requirements than a lot of colleges have these days. Freshmen last fall posted SAT critical reading and writing average scores in the high 600s to low 700s and an average mathematics score in the mid-700s, perhaps as befits a university known for its technical programs (about 80 percent of students scored 700 or better in math). About 80 percent were in the top one-tenth of their high school graduating class, and the average high school GPA for these new freshmen was a 3.7. So, I would say that is pretty selective.

By the way, tuition and fees are going to run you almost $51,000 per year—putting Carnegie Mellon in a league with GW. Interestingly, Carnegie Mellon offers financial aid only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Heading east from Pittsburgh across Pennsylvania, we come to three universities that are perhaps a bit better known on the East Coast than the West Coast: Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Lehigh University in Bethlehem, and Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Let’s start with Bucknell, founded in 1846 and renamed 40 years later for benefactor William Bucknell. Today, the University is proud of its 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and the fact that all of its classes for its 3,600 undergraduate students are taught by faculty, not graduate assistants. About 85 percent of its undergraduates graduate in four years, with a major in one of 50 degree programs (about 25 percent of students have a double major) in one of these schools/colleges: arts and sciences, management, and/or engineering (with eight types of engineering offered). Bucknell also has a small graduate program of about 60 students.

Bucknell offers 27 varsity sports teams and about 200 student-run organizations plus fraternities and sororities. About 85 percent of seniors do volunteer or community service work.

Incoming freshmen last year posted average SAT subtest scores in the mid-600s, with math just a shade higher than critical reading and writing. About 70 percent of students were in the top one-tenth of their high school graduating class, and their average high school GPA was a 3.6. Tuition and fees at Bucknell will set you back about $50,000 per year—another high price tag among private universities in the Mid-Atlantic region. Interestingly, Bucknell offers arts merit scholarships from $2,500 to $20,000 per year for students who are extremely talented in art, art history, creative writing, dance, film and media, literature, music, and theater. Personally, I think of Bucknell as a quintessential small-town college.

Moving farther east, we come to Lehigh University, founded in 1865 by Asa Packer, president of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and now home to about 5,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate and professional students, who study in four colleges: arts and sciences, engineering and applied science, business and economics, and education. According to the website, Lehigh got its start at a railroad junction, which was in walking distance for managers of the railroad:

Packer and his associates designed the school to chiefly focus on mathematics and science education, but provide pupils with a sufficient knowledge of classics. He knew, as did many others, that a strong national economy depended on more than technical skills. It needed people broadly educated in the liberal arts and sciences — people who could combine practical skills with informed judgments and strong moral self-discipline. (quoted from the website)

Undergraduates (who are about 55 percent male and 45 percent female) can study in 90 majors or choose from 20 multidisciplinary programs. They enjoy a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. About 97 percent “of recent graduates found career-related opportunities in six months” (quoted from the website).

Lehigh fields 25 varsity sports teams. The Lehigh–Lafayette football rivalry is legend, with the first game played in 1884 and then annually since 1897. Lafayette College is located not 20 miles away in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Incoming freshmen this year posted average SAT subtest scores in the mid-600s, in critical reading and in the low 700s in mathematics. Tuition and fees at Lehigh are about $46,000 per year.

Finally, let’s look at Drexel University, located in downtown Philadelphia—quite a different setting from Bucknell and Lehigh. Founded in 1891 by financier and philanthropist Anthony J. Drexel, the University began as the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry and granted its first bachelor’s degrees in 1914. It became Drexel Institute of Technology in 1936 and Drexel University in 1970. Today it serves about 26,000 total students in 15 colleges and schools—with about 17,000 undergraduates in the colleges/schools/centers of arts and sciences; biomedical engineering, science and health systems; business; computing and informatics; education; engineering; entrepreneurship; hospitality and sport management; media arts and design; nursing and health professions; and public health.

A hallmark of Drexel’s education is its cooperative education program:

Founded in 1919, Drexel’s cooperative education program was one of the first of its kind, and it continues to be among the largest and most renowned.

Drexel Co-op is based on paid employment in practical, major-related positions consistent with the interests and abilities of participating students. The benefits are obvious—during their time at Drexel, students experience up to three different co-ops. Because of this, Drexel students graduate having already built a professional network, and they typically receive higher starting salaries than their counterparts from other schools.

Through the co-op program:

Students choose from more than 1,600 employers in 33 states and 48 international locations, or conduct an independent search.

The average paid six-month co-op salary is more than $16,000.

Co-op students are entrusted with projects vital to the day-to-day functioning of the workplace. (quoted from the website)

Drexel operates on 10-week quarters (rather than two longer semesters), which helps when it comes time to schedule co-op programs. Drexel also offers its students traditional college activities, including more than 300 student organizations, fraternities and sororities, and 18 varsity sports teams.

Last fall, Drexel had over 47,000 applications for its freshman class of just under 3,000 students. Incoming freshmen posted an average high school GPA of about a 3.5. Average SAT subtest scores in critical reading and writing were in the high 500s and in the low 600s for mathematics. Tuition and fees run about $49,000 per year, though these differ by college/school and by the number of co-op placements. The bottom line is that Drexel is about as expensive as the other pricy private universities in the Mid-Atlantic region (except, of course, that students are earning a decent salary during the co-op placements).

2. Institutions with a Special Academic Focus

In an early episode of NYCollegeChat, we first introduced the idea that some institutions are devoted, more or less, to the study of certain disciplines. The Mid-Atlantic region has several institutions worth talking about in two categories: the arts and technology.

The Arts. Philadelphia has three higher education institutions that fall into this category:

  • The Curtis Institute of Music—Curtis offers diplomas, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and professional certificates to extraordinarily talented musicians, all of whom attend on full-tuition scholarships. Both music and liberal arts courses are part of the curriculum. Everything about Curtis sounds amazing. Founded in 1924, Curtis now enrolls 166 students. Only musical geniuses need apply.
  • Moore College of Art and Design—Founded in 1848 as the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, Moore enrolls just over 400 undergraduate women, who choose a Bachelor of Fine Arts major from one of 10 fields—from art education to art history to fine arts to fashion design to graphic design and more. It is the only visual arts women’s college in the U.S. (its website has an impressive list of reasons from the Women’s College Coalition about why to attend a women’s college). It also has a very small graduate program, which is coeducational. About 55 percent of students are from Pennsylvania, and another 25 percent are from neighboring states. Its tuition and fees run about $37,000 per year, and it also offers a paid internship program. College admission test scores are optional, though a portfolio of artwork is required.
  • The University of the Arts (UArts)—Founded in 1876 as the Philadelphia College of Art (originally part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and in 1870 as the Philadelphia Musical Academy, several mergers and renamings during the course of a century produced UArts in 1987. Now enrolling about 1,700 undergraduate and just over 100 graduate students, UArts offers 25 bachelor’s degree programs in design, fine arts, media arts, crafts, creative writing, music, dance, and theater (including a new B.F.A. in Game Art) through its College of Art, Media & Design, its College of Performing Arts, and its Division of Liberal Arts (liberal arts are part of each degree program). UArts has a 37 percent minority student enrollment. With an impressive 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, UArts boasts professors who not only are academically credentialed in their fields, but also are practicing artists. Freshman applicants must present a portfolio of artwork or written work, or pass an audition, or have an interview. College admission test scores are also required, unless the student has passed a college-level English Composition course with a grade of C or better. Its tuition and fees run about $38,000 per year.

Technology. Just one state away in New Jersey, we find Stevens Institute of Technology, located in Hoboken on the Hudson River, on a lovely campus with what can be described only as one of the best views of New York City ever. Marie and I took a group of high school students to Stevens for a tour several years ago, and we both came away super impressed.

Known as The Innovation University®, Stevens was founded in 1870 and now comprises a College of Arts and Letters and schools of Engineering and Science, Business, and Systems and Enterprises. It serves almost 3,000 undergraduates in 32 undergraduate majors and another approximately 3,500 graduate students, with a very good 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Perhaps not surprisingly, about 70 percent of its undergraduate and graduate students are men. About 75 percent of undergraduates do research or complete an internship or cooperative education placement. This is how Stevens describes its “entrepreneurial spirit”:

Stevens is driven by core values that include a solid commitment to immersing students in the comprehensive process of innovation. This means students are continuously exposed to advancing their ideas through Research and Development (R&D) to the commercialization stage, the point at which their vision and knowledge have the greatest impact. One way Stevens achieves this is by integrating the startup experience into the curriculum. Two major programs, specifically, provide students with experiential instruction in real-world startup companies: an 18-month curriculum that brings both business and engineering students together to develop university technology into an engineered solution under the guidance of an experienced CEO, and the capstone experiences provided for students in all majors, many of which are sponsored by government and industry and go on to be actualized and patented.  (quoted from the website)

But Stevens students also 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).

There are plenty of other intriguing things to say about Stevens, including its engineering “Design Spine”—a set of eight courses “that are the major vehicle for developing a set of competencies to meet educational goals in areas such as creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork, economics of engineering, project management, communication skills, ethics, and environmental awareness” (quoted from the website). But, if your child is interested in technology or engineering, you should really visit the website—or, better yet, the Stevens campus—yourselves.

Though a technological university, Stevens has enough of the traditional student organizations (almost 100) and varsity sports (12 men’s and 12 women’s) that any college student would want. New freshmen at Stevens posted an average high school GPA of 3.8 and an average SAT critical reading and mathematics score of about 1300 (so mid-600s per subtest). About 60 percent were in the top one-tenth of their high school graduating class. Steven’s tuition and fees are about $47,000 per year, which seems to be in line with the other private universities we have been spotlighting.

Next week, we will be back to look at more private higher education institutions with a special focus as well as quite a group of small liberal arts colleges.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Appealing Washington, D.C.
  • Appealing cooperative education and internship programs
  • Appealing high school programs at Stevens Institute of Technology

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Episode 45: Colleges in the Mid-Atlantic Region–Part I

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Mid-Atlantic on NYCollegeChat Podcast, brought to you by Policy Studies in Education

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

This is the eighteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. We are starting the final group of episodes designed to help you find colleges that might be perfect for your child, but are outside your geographic comfort zone. So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, the Plains region, the Southwest region, the Far West region, and the New England region. This episode takes us just down the road to our final stop: the Mid-Atlantic region, which you might think would be inside the geographic comfort zone of many of our listeners who live right here in the Mid-Atlantic states. However, we know that about 70 percent of high school students stay in their home state—not just in their home region—for college. So, we are going to have to see if we can convince even our nearby listeners to check out colleges in some neighboring states.

As we have said before, we are discussing only four-year colleges in our tour, reasoning that students who plan to attend two-year colleges are highly likely to go to the closest one, which makes sense for a two-year college. We think it makes less sense if your teenager is headed for a four-year college, and we will try to persuade you about that in our episodes.

Finally, as we often have said, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our own choices.

1. The Mid-Atlantic Region

One more time: 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 what the Bureau calls the Mideast region, but which I simply have to call the Mid-Atlantic region, probably because I grew up in Pennsylvania and that’s what I have always called it. So, with apologies to the Bureau: In the Mid-Atlantic region, we will be looking at Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York—that is, four states, one commonwealth, and one district. However, we are going to put off a discussion of New York because it is the home state of many of our listeners and we know that they will be especially interested in it (though we kind of wish they were not). New York will get its own episodes in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

This week and next week, we will be examining public colleges in most of the Mid-Atlantic region and, after that, we will be taking a look at a variety of private colleges here. As always, I hope we will have a few surprises for you. Let me say that I do not like giving more air time to the Mid-Atlantic region than to many other parts of the country; but, I do believe that many of our listeners live here and might be persuaded to go just barely outside their comfort zone to a nearby state if we can motivate them to do so in these episodes.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

As we usually do, let’s begin with the flagship public state universities in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Some of them are better known nationally than others (likely because of some serious football playing—can you say, Nittany Lions?). While state public college systems and flagship universities typically have smaller campuses and branches in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and certainly outside the state.

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

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

With all that said, I also want to say that I do not believe that flagship campuses in the Mid-Atlantic states are quite as appealing to their residents as flagship campuses in much of the rest of the country (except New England) are to their residents. In the Mid-Atlantic region, Pennsylvania State University (commonly referred to as Penn State) is probably the one exception to that statement. As we discussed a few weeks ago, it is likely a cultural thing, not an academic thing. Perhaps there is just a longer or more entrenched tradition of private higher education in the Northeast, including in the Mid-Atlantic region, than there is in other parts of the country.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Mid-Atlantic region? They are the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD); University of Delaware in Newark (UD); Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick; and Pennsylvania State University, University Park, in State College. We will discuss the University of the District of Columbia separately later in this episode because it is so different in size and history from these other four.

First, let’s look at the locations of these flagship universities in a wide variety of communities. Newark, Delaware, and State College, Pennsylvania, are both small towns; College Park, Maryland, is virtually a suburb of Washington, D.C., right over the northeast border of our nation’s capital; and New Brunswick, New Jersey, is truly urban, sitting in the heavily trafficked corridor between New York City and Philadelphia. These communities couldn’t be more different—or, as we might say, something for everyone.

Turning to the four flagship universities themselves, we can put them into three groups by enrollment size, starting with the largest university, which is Penn State. At the University Park main campus, Penn State enrolls about 40,000 undergraduates and another 6,500 graduate and professional students, for a total of about 46,500 students. These enrollment figures put Penn State in the same category as the big Midwestern flagship universities discussed in our Great Lakes episodes.

Only about 60 percent of students at Penn State are state residents—not surprising, given that I believe it is the flagship university in this region most likely to attract out-of-state students, though it also seems likely that the university is seeking some geographic diversity in its student body. Penn State now draws students from all 50 states and over 100 foreign countries. (We should also mention that there is a huge Commonwealth system of 23 more campuses to serve other Pennsylvania residents as well as 14 state colleges in their own statewide system.) The average SAT scores of incoming freshmen at the main campus in State College last year were a pair of reading and writing scores in the high 500s and a mathematics score in the low 600s. The average high school GPA of incoming freshmen is a commendable 3.6—a bit higher than we might expect, given the average SAT subtest scores.

Rutgers and UMD are next on the list, according to enrollment size. Rutgers serves about 32,000 undergraduates and about 8,500 graduate and professional students, for a total of about 40,500 students. About 45 percent of its undergraduates identify as Caucasian/white; about 25 percent identify as Asian. Rutgers draws from about 45 states and 65 foreign countries. Just a bit smaller than Rutgers, UMD serves about 27,000 undergraduates and about 10,000 graduate and professional students, for a total of about 37,000 students. UMD draws students from all 50 states and from about 115 foreign countries. Each university draws a whopping 80 percent or so of its students from its own state. The next-most-popular states of residence for UMD students are nearby and populous New Jersey and New York. Incoming freshmen at Rutgers have an average high school GPA of a 3.7 (about like Penn State), with average SAT subtest scores hovering in the mid-600s (except for the engineers, whose average GPA is a remarkable 4.2). Incoming freshmen this year at UMD have an average high school GPA of that same remarkable 4.2, with average SAT subtest scores hovering in the high 600s.

Finally, we come to UD, with about 18,000 undergraduates and about 4,500 graduate and professional students, for a total of about 22,500 students—about half the size of Penn State, but still not small by anyone’s standards. A university with 18,000 undergraduates is going to feel gigantic to most 18-year-olds. Incoming freshmen at UD have average SAT subtest scores hovering around 600—about like Penn State’s scores. Only about 40 percent of UD undergraduates are from Delaware, perhaps because Delaware is such a small state and the University is a reasonably large school.

Let us remind you, listeners, again that most colleges are looking for geographic diversity in their student body and that students might be able to get into a better college far from home if that college is lacking, but wanting, that diversity. My guess is that any of these flagship universities would be interested in a student from the other side of the country if that student posted a decent high school GPA and some decent college admission test scores. Now if that student comes from New York or another reasonably close state—as we know many of them do—then the GPA and test scores might need to be a bit better since there will be competition from other appealing candidates from New York.

UD is the oldest of these institutions, and it has an impressive history. It was founded in 1743 in Pennsylvania as a private academy to educate clergy and was moved to Delaware in 1765. Its first class of students boasted three students who went on to sign the Declaration of Independence, one of whom also signed the U.S. Constitution later. UD’s colors of blue and gold were taken from the Delaware State flag, which got them from the colors of George Washington’s uniform. They also represent the colors of the flag of Delaware’s first Swedish colonists.

Rutgers came along in 1766 as Queen’s College, a private institution with Dutch religious roots. It was renamed in 1825 for Henry Rutgers, a Revolutionary War colonel and college benefactor. Around 1918, New Jersey College for Women was born; it became Douglass College and is now Douglass Residential College, which offers courses and services to 2,400 women who have been admitted to Rutgers and choose to affiliate with the College.

Penn State and UMD both opened almost a century later, in the mid-1800s, as agricultural colleges. UMD gradually became public over the years, until the State took full control in 1916 and then linked the College Park and Baltimore campuses to create the University in 1920. Interestingly, it was during the Great Depression in the 1930s that Penn State began to open its undergraduate branch campuses throughout the commonwealth for students who could not afford to travel away from home to attend college.

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 7 to 12 undergraduate schools and colleges (and additional graduate and professional schools and colleges)—from liberal arts and sciences to many career-related fields, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, fine arts and architecture, nursing, earth and mineral sciences, communications, agriculture and natural resources, environmental sciences, information and computer sciences, health sciences, public health, social work, and planning and public policy. In 2013, Rutgers opened its Biomedical and Health Sciences division, housing eight undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools, in its own facilities in New Brunswick and elsewhere in the state. In other words, the possibilities for studying whatever a student wants are almost endless.

These flagship universities offer from about 90 to 160 undergraduate degree programs across their undergraduate colleges and schools. Rutgers claims to have one of the top three philosophy programs in the English-speaking world—along with New York University and the University of Oxford in the U.K. UD claims to have started the first study abroad program in the U.S. in 1923 with a junior year abroad in France; UD now specializes in short-term, faculty-led programs abroad. UMD offers what it calls an Education Abroad program the summer before freshman year and a Destination London program, in which freshmen spend their first full semester in London with other UMD freshmen.

At Penn State, typical undergraduates take almost one-third of their courses in the College of Liberal Arts. All students are required to take 45 credits of General Education courses, including three credits of writing-intensive coursework, a course in U.S. cultures, a course in international cultures, and coursework that covers social and behavioral sciences, humanities, natural sciences, quantitative skills, the arts, and health and physical activity—with health and physical activity being one of the more unusual distribution requirements we have seen (can you say, Nittany Lions?).

Like all other flagship universities, each of these four has several hundred student organizations, including fraternities and sororities—with UMD boasting over 800.

There are also varsity sports teams—from 19 to 29 women’s and men’s teams. The most famous of these is likely Penn State’s Nittany Lions football machine—unless you come from the Mid-Atlantic tradition of lacrosse (which is actually a Native American tradition) and find UMD’s Terrapins’ 12 national men’s titles and 459 All-Americans more impressive (by the way, terrapins are turtles). Rutgers and Princeton played the first intercollegiate football game on November 6, 1869, which Rutgers won 6–4 (the game was played with 25 players on each side and rugby-like rules).

Just as we have seen elsewhere, out-of-state tuition and fees at these flagship universities are on the high side, running right around $31,000 per year (about double in-state costs). While that is still lower than many private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in—I have to admit this tuition price tag is not much of a deal. But, as we have said in previous episodes, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges where you would pay as much or more, and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

In the category of famous alumni, which I often like to mention, I want to note that actor Avery Brooks—maybe best known for his role as Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but certainly most beloved (that would be by me) for his role as Hawk on Spenser for Hire—is an alumnus of Rutgers and has been a theater professor there, where his wife is an assistant dean. So, that’s a shout-out to Avery and Vicki Brooks, whom I have never met, but would love to, if you happen to be listening!

3. An Historically Black Flagship University

In an earlier episode in Series 1 of NYCollegeChat and in quite a few episodes during our virtual tour, we have talked about historically black colleges and universities (commonly referred to as HBCUs), which were established with the mission of educating African-American students solely or primarily—that is, a mission of serving students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. You might recall that there are just over 100 HBCUs—public and private, rural and urban, large and small, two-year and four-year and graduate schools.

As we explained in our earlier episode, HBCUs today enroll students who are not black. Some people say that it has become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students, who are now welcome at both selective and nonselective colleges across the U.S. Nonetheless, there is still a strong sense of community among the alumni/alumnae of HBCUs and a strong sense of tradition and shared culture on HBCU campuses.

Eight of the public HBCUs are located in this Mid-Atlantic region—the University of the District of Columbia; The Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania; Delaware State University; Morgan State University in Baltimore; and three campuses of the University System of Maryland, namely Coppin State University, Bowie State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. We are going to look at a few of them next week, but today we want to talk about the University of the District of Columbia—a flagship university that is also an HBCU.

The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) dates its history back to 1851 and 1873 and the creation of two normal schools for girls—one black, established by abolitionist Myrtilla Miner, and one white. Their merger many years later in 1955 formed the District of Columbia Teachers College—the only public higher education institution in Washington. But what if lower-income Washington residents, who needed a public higher education option, did not want to become teachers? Congress established two additional higher education institutions in 1966: Federal City College, a liberal arts college, and Washington Technical Institute, for vocational and technical training. In 1975, a law was passed to merge these three institutions into the University of the District of Columbia—still the only public higher education institution in our nation’s capital.

UDC is made up of a Community College; School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; School of Business and Public Administration; College of Arts and Sciences; College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences; and the David A. Clarke School of Law. UDC serves just about 2,000 undergraduate students in over 75 bachelor’s degree programs in what it calls its flagship schools, another approximately 2,500 in its own community college, and another approximately 600 in the graduate and professional programs.

UDC bachelor’s degree students all take an elaborately planned and sequenced set of General Education courses worth 37 credits (that is, almost one-third of the courses that are required for the degree). These courses are interdisciplinary and collaboratively taught.

Admission standards for UDC’s flagship programs are set out quite clearly on its website:

  • 2.5 high school grade point average and 1200 SAT or 16 ACT score; OR
  • 2.0 high school grade point average and 1400 SAT or 19 ACT score

About 85 percent of UDC flagship undergraduates are D.C. or Metro area residents. D.C. residents pay just about $7,500 per year in tuition and fees (an appealing bargain), Metro area residents pay approximately $1,000 more, and out-of-area students pay about $15,000 per year (also an appealing bargain, compared to other public institutions we have been discussing).

So, stay tuned next week when we continue our discussion of public options in the Mid-Atlantic region because we have some intriguing ones for you.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Flagship schools that made history
  • Flagship schools that take the liberal arts seriously
  • Flagship schools at an appealing price

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