Episode 39: Colleges in the Far West Region—Part I

This is the thirteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. as we continue to help you find colleges that might be appropriate for your child, but that 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, and the Southwest region. This episode takes us out to the Far West, which I know is likely to be outside the geographic comfort zone of lots of families here in the Northeast. But don’t be too hasty, listeners.

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Far West region of the US on NYCollegeChat podcast. Show notes available at http://usacollegechat.org/39

Remember that 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 a certain amount of sense for a two-year college. We think it makes less sense if you are planning to send your teenager to a four-year college for lots of reasons we have discussed.

And, just to repeat, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our own choices.

1. The Far West 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 six states in the Far West region: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawai‘i.

I am sure that our listeners east of the Mississippi are thinking that some of those states sound very far away. But that alone doesn’t make them a bad choice as a place for your child to go to college. So let’s have a look this week at public colleges in these six states and next week at private colleges in these six states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities in Five States

As is our custom, let’s start with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the six states has one, as those of you who are regular listeners know by now. And, as usual, 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. Right now, let’s look at five of the states. We are going to save California for its own segment in a few minutes, because its public higher education system is enormous and complex and needs its own separate explanation.

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.

For many students, I think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search.

So, what are these flagship campuses in our five Far West states (not counting California)? They are the University of Washington in Seattle (UW), the University of Oregon in Eugene (UO), the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UH Mānoa), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

So, let’s talk cities. Have you been to Seattle? It’s a lovely city—a real city—with relatively nearby mountains and lots of water. There are picturesque neighborhoods and boats and the famous fish market, and there is also a major city center. The UW campus, by the way, is perfectly beautiful—one of the prettiest I have ever seen.

Eugene and Reno are both set in hiking-rafting-kayaking-mountain biking outdoor country. Eugene is an hour from Oregon’s breathtaking Pacific coast and two hours from Portland, seemingly everyone’s new favorite city on the West Coast. Eugene makes everybody’s list of great college towns to live in. At the base of the Sierra Nevada, Reno is 30 minutes from the majesty of Lake Tahoe, a true vacationland. Though Reno is often associated with Las Vegas because of its casinos, it is actually closer geographically to Sacramento than to Las Vegas—a two-hour drive vs. a seven-hour drive.

And what is there to say about Mānoa and Fairbanks—two spots as physically different and dramatic as we can imagine in the U.S., but both intriguing to most of us in the rest of the country.

Turning to the five flagship universities, we can put them into three groups by enrollment size, starting with the largest university, which is UW with about 31,000 undergraduates and a total of about 45,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These enrollment figures put UW right up there with our larger flagship universities nationwide, though below the very largest. About 75 percent of students at all three UW System campuses are Washington residents (my guess is that the percent of residents is a bit lower at the flagship campus in Seattle because that is the one most likely to attract out-of-state students). The average high school GPA of incoming freshmen is an impressive 3.75, and the average SAT score for all three subtests is a combined 1833—in other words, perhaps a set of scores in the low 600s across the three subtests.

UO comes in next with about 21,000 undergraduates and a total of about 24,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students—a bit more than half the size of UW. Just over 50 percent of UO’s students come from Oregon, so students from out of state would feel quite at home in Eugene. Freshmen at UO come with an average high school GPA of 3.58 and SAT subtest scores in the high 500s. Perhaps the relatively low percentage of home-grown Oregonians at UO is accounted for by the fact that high school students in Oregon have a second attractive state university—that is, Oregon State University in Corvallis—with just as many students, if not more, and an entering GPA that is just as high. More about Oregon State University later.

Following close behind UO are UH Mānoa and UNR, each with about 19,000 total students, with 14,000 to 16,000 being undergraduates. Each university draws about 65 to 70 percent of its students from its own state. Interestingly, UNR serves about one-third “underrepresented” students, and the University has set a goal to grow its enrollment to 22,000 total students. So, it is on the move. Not surprisingly, at UH Mānoa, white students make up just about one-quarter of the enrollment, with Asian students being the largest segment at about one-third of the student body.

Compared to these first four flagship universities, UAF is rather small, with just about 6,500 total students; about 90 percent are undergraduates, and 90 percent are Alaska residents. While it is understandable that not too many high school graduates from around the U.S. are drawn to a university in faraway Alaska, UAF does boast students from 49 states. Though UAF is just about one-third the size of UNR or UH Mānoa, it is safe to say that a university of 6,000 undergraduates would still feel quite large to a new freshman; after all, that is a lot bigger than the student body at many, many small liberal arts colleges. One advantage of UAF’s size is its enviably low 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio—extraordinarily low for a public university.

Each of these flagship universities does, in fact, attract students nationally and internationally, even if not in great numbers. As we have often said, colleges love geographic diversity, and 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. Any of these universities would likely 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—though those grades and scores will have to be better than decent if the student is interested in UW.

The flagship universities in Washington, Oregon, and Nevada were all founded in the 1860s and 1870s. UW was founded in 1861 before statehood by its Territorial Legislature, which stipulated that the Territorial University would have four departments: literature, science, and the arts; law; medicine; and the military—an interesting set of choices.

UH Mānoa and UAF came along later in the early 1900s, though well before statehood. In fact, in 1959, the Alaska Constitution was written in one of the buildings on the UAF campus and then signed in another. Also prior to statehood, UAF opened its Geophysical Institute, which has an international reputation in the study of the earth and the physical environment at high latitudes and which is now home to the Poker Flat Research Range, the only university-based rocket range in the world (it provides launching facilities for NASA and the Department of Defense).

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 8 to 16 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, fine arts, architecture, nursing, and agriculture and natural resources.

But here are some of the more innovative schools and colleges where undergraduates can study. UW has a College of Built Environments, which houses its architecture, construction management, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, and real estate departments. UO has a School of Architecture and Allied Arts, offering studies in architecture, art, arts administration, digital arts, historic preservation, the history of art and architecture, interior architecture, landscape architecture, planning, public policy and management, and product design. Perhaps as should be perfectly obvious, UAF offers a College of Engineering and Mines and a School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

However, my vote for most intriguing colleges and schools has to go to UH Mānoa. Among its 14 colleges and schools, it offers a School of Travel Industry Management, which integrates the studies of hospitality, tourism, and transportation management, designed to support the state’s leading industry with a decidedly international flavor, including studies in international economic and political systems. UH Mānoa also offers a School of Pacific and Asian Studies, with eight individual Centers for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Okinawan, Pacific Islands, Philippine, South Asian, and Southeast Asian Studies.

Its newest school, established in 2007, is the School of Hawaiian Knowledge, created “to pursue, perpetuate, research, and revitalize all areas and forms of Hawaiian knowledge, including its language, origins, history, arts, sciences, literature, religion, education, law, and society, its political, medicinal, and cultural practices, as well as all other forms of knowledge” (quoted from the website). This school offers a B.A. in Hawaiian Studies, which includes third-level proficiency in the Hawaiian language. I am struck by how unique some of these area studies and cultural offerings are and how much studying at UH Mānoa could be like studying abroad for virtually all students from the other 49 states.

Let us also say that UNR does something interesting with its freshmen by requiring students to take their choice of two of UNR’s three interdisciplinary Core Humanities courses, taught by English, history, foreign languages and literatures, philosophy, and political science professors: Ancient and Medieval Cultures, The Modern World, and/or American Experiences and Constitutional Change.

These flagship universities offer from about 100 to more than 200 undergraduate degree programs across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. So students should be able to find exactly what they want. Interestingly, at UW, the largest of the universities with the most options to choose from, about 70 percent of undergraduate degrees are from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Like all other flagship universities, each of these has more than 100 student clubs and organizations—and sometimes several hundred. And there are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities in all of these locales, along with club sports and intramurals. By the way, UAF is the only U.S. university with its own snowboarding terrain park.

There are also varsity sports teams—from 16 to 21 women’s and men’s and co-ed teams (with just 10 teams at the smaller UAF campus). Though UW Huskies fans might dispute this, I am going to say that the sport I think of first at these universities is track and field at UO, where the men just won back-to-back NCAA national championships and where Hayward Field, a dedicated track venue, is the frequent host of national championships and Olympic trials.

As we have seen in other regions, out-of-state tuition at these flagship universities is not cheap, running from about $20,000 to $34,000 per year—about three times what a state resident would pay. But that is still lower than many 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 we have mentioned in previous episodes, some of these universities 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. Look hard at any public universities your child is interested in to see whether there might be a similar exchange program in place in your state.

3. Other Public State Universities

In each of these Far West 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. Let’s look at three that we think are most likely to attract out-of-state students.

We have already mentioned one, and that is Oregon State University in Corvallis, which actually has a larger total student enrollment than UO (about 30,000 across two campuses) and which attracts equally talented freshmen. Corvallis, located 90 miles south of Portland, is a small, safe, environmentally responsible, outdoorsy college town. Offering over 200 undergraduate degree programs in nine of its 11 colleges, OSU has a College of Forestry and a College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences—both of which make sense, given its location between the Cascade Range and the Pacific Ocean. Founded in 1868, its campus is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for its classic and well-planned architectural and landscape design. It is one of two U.S. universities to have Land Grant, Sea Grant, Space Grant, and Sun Grant designations. In a future episode, we should talk about the history of land grant universities, but, suffice it to say, that having all four designations is impressive.

Let’s turn to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), founded relatively recently in 1957 as an outpost of UNR and then earning independent and equal status in 1968. It serves about 24,000 undergraduates and a total of about 29,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, making it considerably larger than the flagship UNR. About 85 percent of its students are from Nevada, and about 55 percent are minority students. It has a total of 10 schools and colleges, including the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, and a College of Fine Arts. Its urban location in Las Vegas makes it a very different choice for students from UNR’s location in the northern part of the state.

Given the size and the diversity of academic offerings of OSU and UNLV, it seems that these two universities are competitively attractive when compared to the flagship universities in their states (perhaps a bit like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, as we discussed in our Great Lakes public university episode). So both could be worth a look for out-of-state students.

The third institution we would like to spotlight is The Evergreen State College, located about an hour south of the Seattle-Tacoma airport in Washington’s capital city of Olympia. When you view Evergreen by air, what you see are—wait for it—a million evergreen trees, calm waters, and a few college buildings. Founded quite recently in 1971, Evergreen is a public liberal arts college, serving about 4,500 students, mostly undergraduates, and offering them more than 60 fields of study to choose from. It is deeply environmentally responsible and has been repeatedly recognized for its innovative, cool, free spirit style and substance. Evergreen prides itself on having its students learn through interdisciplinary study, collaborative learning activities with their classmates from diverse backgrounds, and opportunities to link theory with practical applications.

Students at Evergreen take one interdisciplinary course, called a program, at a time, which might last one, two, or even three quarters. Built around a theme, a program integrates several subjects and is taught by a team of two to four professors from different subject fields. Students participate in a mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials, field trips, labs, and the like during each program. There are no required programs or distribution requirements or major requirements (because there are no majors) for earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. A Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts and Science does have some math, science, or computer science requirements.

Out-of-state students pay about $22,000 per year in tuition (compared to the $8,000 that Washington residents pay). But, even so, that is about half as much as most private liberal arts colleges, especially those that have this innovative a take on higher education.

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are more in these states than those we mentioned here, especially in Washington) 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 innovative programs or the appealing locations or the breadth of opportunties that they offer.

4. Public State Universities in California

We now come to public universities in California. Remembering that California is a physically huge and populous state, we can expect a lot of public options. California boasts its University of California campuses (California’s premier public system), its California State University campuses (its second tier of public colleges), and its California Community Colleges System campuses (its third tier of public colleges, which offer opportunities to an enormous number of California students who do not have the high school grades and/or the financial resources and/or the inclination to attend one of California’s public four-year campuses). In the wake of tight state budgeting, whether California universities should accept more out-of-state students, who bring their higher tuition payments, or keep more spaces open for its own students has been a political football tossed back and forth in the media a lot lately.

With that said, both the UC campuses and the CSU campuses have elaborate eligibility standards, which include the student’s high school GPA calculated for 15 required core courses, class rank, and SAT or ACT scores, and which vary by the student’s place of residence in and outside of California. While it is not necessary to go into these details right now, suffice it to say that out-of-state students will have to meet higher admission standards than California residents for both UC and CSU campuses. And that is on top of the fact that space in some programs on some of these campuses is extremely limited.

With all that as a backdrop, let’s start by taking a quick look at the University of California, Berkeley, considered by most to be the flagship public university (though it seems to me, as an outsider, that California is really more like New York—that is, it has many individual universities, loosely coupled into a system and governed by that system, but each having the stature and character of an independent well-known university). There is a lot to recommend it as a place to study, including its charming campus in Berkeley, north of San Francisco and Oakland. Founded in 1868 by the merger of two tiny colleges, UC Berkeley (fondly referred to as Cal by Californians) is the oldest of the UC campuses. Today it has an undergraduate enrollment of about 27,000 students and a total enrollment of about 38,000 students, who are studying in 14 undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools. Those of us of a certain age remember the UC Berkeley of the 1960s as a campus where politically conscious students protested for their right to free speech in the wake of civil rights struggles and then the war in Vietnam. While UC Berkeley has long been known for its brainy students, today it is super-hard to get into, posting a low acceptance rate of about 17 percent of applicants. The average high school GPA of new freshmen is a 4.19 and their entering SAT scores are at about 700 on each of three subtests. To be sure, UC Berkeley ranks as one of the very best public institutions in the U.S. and, indeed, as one of the best public or private institutions in the U.S. While California residents pay about $13,000 in tuition per year, nonresidents pay about $34,000 in tuition per year—still less than you would pay at comparable first-class private universities.

Perhaps the best known of the UC campuses is UCLA—the University of California, Los Angeles. Started in 1919 as the University of California’s Southern Branch, UCLA’s star has been rising ever since and, by many accounts, it now ranks academically with UC Berkeley. Its incoming freshman class average GPA is 4.25, with comparably high SAT scores. UCLA currently serves about 28,000 undergraduates and a total of about 42,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. About one-third of its undergraduates are Asian, and about one-quarter are white. About 80 percent are California residents. UCLA’s undergraduates study in 125 majors across five schools and colleges: College of Letters and Science and the Schools of the Arts and Architecture; Engineering and Applied Science; Theater, Film and Television; and Nursing. And they play some great basketball (can you say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?), have won more NCAA titles than any other university, and have produced 250 Olympic medalists. Again, your child would need to be exceptional to get into UCLA these days.

The UC System has seven more campuses that serve undergraduate students, but all require out-of-state students to have a 3.4 GPA for a set of 15 required core courses taken in high school, with no grade lower than a C. So the admission standards are indeed high.

The California State University System, on the other hand, has 23 campuses, spread from the top to the bottom of the state. Tuition is a bargain at about $5,500 per year for California residents and about $17,000, by my calculation, for out-of-state students. It has always been my impression that these state universities are easier to get into than those in the University of California System, but deciphering the admissions requirements can be daunting for non-Californians unfamiliar with the lingo. Our best advice is that you should talk directly with an admissions officer at the campus, if your child is interested in attending a public state university in California—many of which could be attractive options.

Let me just say a word about paying close attention to which university you are actually investigating because names can be mighty similar. For example, there is the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), but also the California State University, Los Angeles. Or, to make matters worse, there is the University of California, San Diego, but also San Diego State University (in the California State University System), as well as the University of San Diego (a private Catholic university).

So, is it more trouble than it is worth to try to go to a public university in California as an out-of-state student? Well, it is certainly trouble. But I don’t think any student currently studying on a public campus in beautiful Santa Barbara or San Diego or Monterey Bay or Sonoma County or San Francisco would think it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How remarkably diverse college options are in the Far West
  • How remarkably unique The Evergreen State College is for a public college
  • How remarkably complex public higher education is in California

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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 35: Colleges in the Plains Region—Part I

This is our ninth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. We started the tour to try to broaden your horizons about colleges that might be appealing to your child, but are outside your geographic comfort zone. You might recall that we have discussed the fact that the vast majority of high school students—say, about 70 percent—go to college in their home states. While there is nothing really wrong with that, we would like you to know that there are a lot of great colleges out there—ones that you have never heard of and even ones that we had never heard of—and we would like you to consider whether one of them could make all the difference for your child.

So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, and the Rocky Mountain region. Today, we head just east from the Rocky Mountains to look at the Plains region.

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Plains region on NYCollegeChat, a weekly podcast about the world of college

As we say in every one of these episodes, no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

And to repeat: First, when we talk about the 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. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or large.

1. The Plains 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 seven states of the Plains region: Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota.

If you have never considered any college in this north central part of our country, maybe this is your wake-up call. Perhaps you will reconsider 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 we always do on our tour, let’s start with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the seven states has one, as those of you who are regular listeners know by now. And, as always, some of them are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and some are great schools. While some of 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 most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and 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, 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.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Plains region? They are the University of Kansas in Lawrence (KU), University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), University of South Dakota in Vermillion (USD), University of North Dakota in Grand Forks (UND), University of Missouri in Columbia (commonly referred to as Mizzou), University of Iowa in Iowa City (UI), and University of Minnesota Twin Cities—that is, in the “twin cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul (U of M). These universities are located in different kinds of settings—from ideal small college towns (or as U.S. News and World Report once called Columbia, Missouri, “the quintessential college town”) to substantial cities (including two state capitals). The cost-of-living is attractively low in most of these locations. Despite being in the center of the country, there is water quite close by some of these campuses—the Missouri River and the Mississippi River, for example—and there are winter sports opportunities not far off.

We can put these universities in three groups by enrollment size, starting with the smallest: USD with about 7,500 undergraduates and a total of 10,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and UND with about 11,500 undergraduates and a total of 15,000 students. While relatively small for the flagship public state universities in the Plains regions—and, indeed, in most regions—they are not actually small. Any incoming freshman is going to feel that an undergraduate student body of 7,500 or more is really pretty large.

Next in size come KU with about 18,000 undergraduates and a total of 23,000 students, UNL with about 20,000 undergraduates and a total of 25,000 students, and UI with about 22,500 undergraduates and a total of 30,000 students. Any incoming freshman is going to feel like these undergraduate student bodies are truly large.

And finally we come to Mizzou with about 28,000 undergraduates and a total of 36,000 students and U of M with about 32,000 undergraduates and a total of 49,000 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, The Ohio State University, and Michigan State University, and there are still more huge universities in the episodes coming up—it is safe to say that Mizzou and the U of M would seem gigantic to almost any freshman we can imagine. With that said, both universities offer so much to students that a moment of being overwhelmed upon arrival on campus is likely worth it.

Interestingly, about 25 percent of students at U of M and at UI are first-generation college students; for students whose parents had little or no college education themselves, these very large campuses could seem imposing to the whole family.

Each of these flagship universities was founded in the mid- to late 1800s, with Mizzou first in 1839 and UND last in 1883. Three were founded before their territory even became a state: UND, USD, and U of M (and UI was founded just two months after statehood). This trend, which we also saw in the Rocky Mountain region, continues to impress me—that pioneers, just establishing themselves, would give a college education such a high priority.

Mizzou was established in 1839 by 900 citizens who pledged both money and land to win the competition for where to locate the new state university; it became the first public university west of the Mississippi River and the first state university in the land that made up the Louisiana Purchase, which Thomas Jefferson had made back in 1803. KU was founded in 1866 by abolitionists, who had come to Kansas in 1854 to make sure that Kansas entered the U.S. as a free state and not as a slave state. UND was founded as a College of Arts and Sciences, plus a Normal School for the education of teachers—not as an agricultural school or only a normal school, as other colleges were typically being established.

UNL was founded in 1869 as an institution open both to women and to students of all races from the first day—at a time when many colleges were not open to either. When UI started holding classes in 1855, 41 of the 124 students were women—fully one-third of the student body, which had to be very unusual for that time in our nation’s history. Some years later, UI was the first public university to award a law degree to an African American (in 1870) and to a woman (in 1873). And it was the first public university to allow an African-American athlete to play on a varsity team (in 1895). That is a lot of history and pioneering spirit to be proud of.

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 8 to 16 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, fine and performing arts, architecture, and agricultural sciences and natural resources.

UNL has a fascinating and highly selective program that is part of the University Honors Program: the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management (the average entering freshman SAT critical reading and mathematics score is 1480 and average ACT score is 33.5). The School draws on the resources of several UNL colleges and offers an interdisciplinary, project-oriented curriculum, including a year-long capstone project for seniors in cooperation with an actual business.

Mizzou opened the world’s first journalism school in 1908. The school is still operating and is one of the finest in the nation. It offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and is known for its Missouri Method of placing students in real media outlets—television, radio, and newspapers)—to learn their craft.

UI was the first university to create a college-level department of education, which became the birthplace of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (you might have taken these standardized tests as a child yourself), the GED as an alternative to a standard high school diploma, and the ACT for college admission.

These flagship universities offer from about 85 to 190 undergraduate majors across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. So, clearly, more than one of these universities have whatever major your child wants to study in whatever college or school is of interest within the university.

And don’t forget UI’s famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop (based in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), which offered the first creative writing degree in the U.S. in 1936. At the graduate level, the program leads to a Master of Fine Arts in English and admits 25 students in fiction and 25 in poetry each year. The good news for undergraduates is that the program offers undergraduate courses during the year and summer courses as well. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop has produced 17 Pulitzer Prize winners, five U.S. Poets Laureate, and a bunch of other winners of impressive awards.

Like other flagship universities we have talked about in previous episodes, each of these seven has many student clubs and organizations, typically including fraternities and sororities—in fact, from about 120 student organizations (which already sounds like a lot) to more than 800 at U of M. 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 one of the larger campuses.

Of course, there are also plenty of varsity sports teams—from about from 15 to 23, with women’s teams sometimes being more numerous than men’s teams. UNL and U of M play in the Big Ten Conference, where sports are taken pretty seriously. KU’s first basketball coach in 1898 just happened to be the guy who invented basketball: James Naismith, who invented the game in Massachusetts in 1891. By the way, KU is proud of its five national basketball championships—and its five national debate championships.

Plus, there are club sports and intramurals to choose from. At UI, 60 percent of the students participate in these non-varsity sports.

Each of these flagship universities is well enough known to attract students from virtually all 50 states and from as many as 60 to more than 140 foreign countries; nonetheless, most of the undergraduate students are home grown—ranging from about 55 percent to 70 percent of the students, with only UND falling to just about 40 percent of students being from North Dakota. In fact, at UI, about 75 percent of students come from either Iowa or Illinois; at U of M, about 80 percent come from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Wisconsin (you will see why in a minute). UI and U of M are two excellent universities that are not pulling in many students from most states in the U.S.

A solid application from outside of the state would be viewed with interest at likely all of these flagship universities. As we have said before, colleges like to have geographic diversity in the student body.

Furthermore, your child could get a great education at a cost 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. And you have several great public universities to choose from in the Plains states.

In wrapping up, let’s look at a couple of interesting tuition programs. KU fixes students’ annual four-year tuition when they enter their freshman year; for parents, it is certainly nice to know that the tuition will not get any higher year by year. (KU is not the only college that does this, so look for others that do.) One thing that might save on tuition is that UNL guarantees the availability of all courses required for a degree or reasonable substitutions so that a student can finish in four years and graduate. Because not graduating in four years costs money!

USD permits children of its alumni/alumnae to pay the in-state tuition rate—no matter where the children live; and, USD gives Minnesota students a tuition rate that is just barely higher than the in-state rate. UND also has quite a few deals in place: It is a member of the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Midwest Student Exchange Program (both of which provide substantial tuition breaks to students from member states, as we discussed in Episode 33), and it has a very attractive Contiguous Residency rate for students from South Dakota, Montana, and especially Minnesota. Finally, the U of M offers in-state tuition to students from North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin as well as free tuition for credits in excess of 13 per term.

These deals seem outstanding to us, and they effectively broaden 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 97 percent who get a job or an acceptance to graduate school when he or she graduates from college, send your child to USD. Or, if you want your child to be one of the 9 out of 10 graduates who say they would attend their college all over again, send your child to UND.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City in April, we spoke with Suzanne Sholes, Assistant Director in the UND Office of Admissions. Suzanne offered the following audio pitch for her alma mater for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

At the same college fair, we spoke with Laura Goddard, a University of Iowa Senior Admission Counselor, whose recruiting territory is New York and New Jersey.   Laura did the following audio pitch for UI for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

3. Other Public State Universities

In these seven Plains states, there are also other public universities—some are branches of the flagship campus, but others are universities in their own right. I think the two that are most likely to attract out-of-state students because they are probably better known nationally than many of the others are Iowa State University (ISU) and Kansas State University (commonly known as K-State).

Founded in 1858 as Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm, Iowa State is located in Ames, which is a great college town, according to many rankings of these things: great public schools, safe community, clean air, and lots to do. Actually a bit larger than the University of Iowa, Iowa State has an undergraduate student enrollment of about 29,000, with another 5,000 or so graduate and professional students. Undergraduates choose among about 100 majors spread over six undergraduate colleges. The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has an almost 97 percent career placement rate and is the alma mater of famed scientist George Washington Carver—ISU’s first African-American student and later faculty member. The College of Engineering is one of the largest in the country and offers more than 60 student engineering organizations. ISU’s graduate College of Veterinary Medicine was the first public veterinary school (1879). With over 800 student organizations and 18 varsity sports teams, Iowa State is a well-rounded place to be for the students it draws from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. About 60 percent of its students are Iowa residents. When you read the website, you will see a list of accomplishments in science and technology that I can barely understand, but are certainly impressive.

Kansas State University officially opened in 1863 as Kansas Agricultural College. It was the second public college to admit men and women equally. Located in Manhattan, a classic college town, K-State enrolls about 20,000 undergraduates and another 4,000 or so graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally; it is just as large as the University of Kansas. It offers its undergraduates a choice of 250 majors and options. K-State has nine colleges, including a College of Veterinary Medicine and a College of Technology and Aviation at its Salina campus. With more than 475 student organizations, 16 varsity sports teams, more than 20 competitive club sports, and 40 intramural sports, there is plenty to do at K-State. An important part of its undergraduate curriculum is the “K-State 8,” which are eight areas of study that are required of all students and are designed to broaden students’ perspectives beyond their major. The eight are aesthetic interpretation, human diversity within the U.S., ethical reasoning and responsibility, global issues and perspectives, and the more standard math, science, social sciences, and history. It’s a real liberal arts education, which students get prior to any specialization in a major. K-State has rolling admissions, so that could be a plus in your child’s college application process.

Though they don’t have the national visibility of Iowa State and K-State, both North Dakota State University (NDSU) and South Dakota State University (SDSU)—as large or larger than the flagship universities in those states—have plenty of students, majors, student organizations, and varsity sports teams to be appealing choices. Though they draw students nationally and internationally, about 60 percent of SDSU students are South Dakota residents and about 40 percent of NDSU students are North Dakota residents (though just as many students come to NDSU from Minnesota as from North Dakota).

In closing our look at public universities, we would like to mention two HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) in Missouri: Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis and Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri’s capital. Harris-Stowe State University evolved from its beginnings as two normal schools for educating teachers—Harris Teachers College for educating white teachers (founded in 1857) and Stowe Teachers College for educating black teachers (founded in 1890), named for abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Originally operated by the Board of Education of the St. Louis Public Schools, the two teacher education schools were merged in 1954 as public schools were beginning to integrate. In 1979, the merged college became part of Missouri’s state system of public higher education. Though broadening its offerings beyond education, Harris-Stowe does have a unique undergraduate degree in Urban Education, designed to prepare non-teaching staff to work on education issues in urban settings. In addition to its College of Education, Harris-Stowe has a College of Arts and Sciences and the Anheuser-Busch School of Business, and it offers 14 undergraduate programs, mostly in education and business. With just over 1,500 undergraduates, Harris-Stowe offers a much smaller alternative to a large public university.

Lincoln University was founded as Lincoln Institute “by the men of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantries and their white officers, for the special benefit of freed African Americans” (quoted from the website). It became a Missouri public institution in 1879, offering primarily education, industrial, and agricultural courses. Lincoln now offers 50 undergraduate degree programs spread across the College of Arts and Letters, College of Behavioral and Technological Sciences, College of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, and College of Professional Studies (for business, education, and nursing). It also offers master’s degrees in business, education, and the social sciences. Lincoln has an undergraduate student enrollment of about 2,800, with a couple hundred more graduate students. The undergraduate students on the main campus are about 45 percent black and about 45 percent white, and about 80 percent of them are from Missouri (with most of the rest from surrounding states).

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are many 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, for the special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.

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Episode 33: Colleges in the Rocky Mountain Region—Part I

In today’s episode, we will move our virtual tour of U.S. colleges westward to continue to highlight colleges that you and your teenager might not know much about. So far, we have travelled to the five states in the Great Lakes region and to the 12 states in the Southeast region. Now, we are headed out to the Rocky Mountains.

Colleges in the Rocky Mountain Region Part I on NYCollegeChat podcast. Show notes with links available at http://usacollegechat.org/33

As we have said previously, we are looking at 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—at least not right away. We also want to repeat that no college has asked us or paid us anything to choose it.

Let us remind you that some of the colleges we have chosen will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. On the other hand, 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 activities 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 most appropriate.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus, which is most of them. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or large.

1. The Rocky Mountain Region

As we have said previously, 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. In this episode, we are considering the five states of the Rocky Mountain region: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

If you are one of our listeners from the Northeast or the Southeast, for example, I am going to guess that you have not given a second thought to almost any college in the Rocky Mountain region for your child. I think there is at least one jewel that you should not miss. Let’s see what you think.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

As we have been doing on our virtual tour, let’s start with the flagship public state universities in these five states. Each state has one, though some are better known nationally than others. They are all good 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 most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and outside the state.

These flagship campuses do, in fact, attract students from across the U.S. and from as many as 110 foreign countries. Nonetheless, they all enroll a majority—from about 65 to 85 percent—of students from their home states. Many additional students come from nearby states. Therefore, a New York student with decent, though not spectacular, high school grades and college admission test scores might have a good chance of being accepted. As we have said before, colleges like to have geographic diversity in the student body.

Let us repeat what we have said in other episodes about flagship campuses for any new listeners: 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, 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. Consequently, these flagship campuses draw a large portion of the best high school students in the state, which understandably drives up the average high school GPA of entering freshmen.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Rocky Mountain region? They are the University of Colorado Boulder, University of Utah in Salt Lake City, University of Wyoming in Laramie, University of Idaho in Moscow, and University of Montana in Missoula. These universities are located in different kinds of settings—from picturesque small college towns to substantial cities—but they have some things in common.

The first of those things is the beauty of the scenery that surrounds the campus and/or city. It is called the Rocky Mountain region for a reason; for those of you who have not ventured into these states, I want to say that it is hard to describe in words the massive physical presence of those Rocky Mountains—or, the open terrain, the rivers and lakes, and the broad expanse of sky that characterize this part of our country. I have heard impartial observers say repeatedly that the University of Colorado Boulder is the prettiest campus in the U.S. You can get an idea of its beauty from the website (check out the Scenic Videos section and take in those lovely red-roofed tan buildings), though you will probably miss a certain feeling of grandeur as you look at just a website version of the Rocky Mountains right next to the campus. For students who love the outdoors, these universities are going to be hard to beat.

Another thing they have in common is that they have a lot of students, though they are smaller than the big flagship campuses of the Great Lakes states. The University of Colorado Boulder and University of Utah have about 31,000 to 32,000 total students each, with right around 24,000 to 26,000 undergraduates. The University of Montana and the University of Wyoming have about 14,000 to 15,000 total students each, with about 10,000 undergraduates—just about half the size of CU-Boulder and Utah. And the University of Idaho is the smallest, with just about 10,500 total students (interestingly, about one-third of the University of Idaho’s entering freshmen are first-generation college goers). Generally, these undergraduate student bodies are going to feel large to incoming freshmen—which is either good or bad for your own child, depending on your child.

These flagship universities have from 7 to 10 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, though Utah has about twice that many at 16—from liberal arts and sciences to all kinds of career-related fields. In addition to engineering and business and education, there is CU-Boulder’s College of Music, Idaho’s College of Art and Architecture, Montana’s School of Journalism, Wyoming’s College of Health Sciences, and Utah’s College of Social Work, for example.

Here is one theme we noticed in this region: Idaho has a College of Natural Resources, Montana has a College of Forestry and Conservation, Utah has a College of Mines and Earth Sciences, and Wyoming has both a School of Environment and Natural Resources and a School of Energy Resources (with an interesting B.S. degree in Energy Resource Management and Development). These particular schools and colleges seem to fit well with the physical settings of their universities.

Our five flagship universities offer from about 75 to 130 undergraduate majors across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. The chances are excellent that a student can find what he or she is looking for. Interestingly, CU-Boulder advertises 32 concurrent bachelor’s/master’s degree programs, which would allow a student who wanted to go on for a master’s degree to earn both degrees in five years (without having to apply to college again for that graduate work, which is a real plus).

Like other large universities we have discussed, each one has many student clubs and organizations (sometimes as many as 200) and typically 15 or 16 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams (plus club sports and intramurals). And here is a fact that does not seem too surprising for a university located at the base of the Rocky Mountains: In 2015, CU-Boulder’s Buffaloes won the University’s 20th NCAA national skiing championship (the eighth championship since the sport went coed).

Each campus has its own history, which typically starts with its founding by pioneering leaders—after all, we are talking about the westward expansion of the 19th century here. UC-Boulder was founded in 1876, the same year Colorado became a state. Interestingly enough, the University of Wyoming was founded by its territorial legislature in 1886—four years before Wyoming became a state; furthermore, the University had both female students and female faculty members from the very beginning. And the University of Utah was founded in 1850—way before Utah became a state in 1896. What does that say about the value that these individuals put on higher education?

It goes without saying that westward expansion wreaked havoc on the lives of Native Americans, who had occupied their lands for centuries. The University of Utah has a close relationship with the Ute Tribe, whose historic homeland the campus sits on. Here is the University’s description of “Ute Proud” on a special section of its website:

The University of Utah uses the name “Utes” for its sports teams, as it has done with full support of the Ute Indian Tribe since 1972. The University, as the flagship of higher education in Utah, takes pride in carrying the name with understanding and respect toward our state’s namesake people. This website was created to encourage the entire U community—students, faculty, staff, fans, alumni, supporters—to learn more about the Ute culture, heritage and the history of our region. Ute history is Utah history so that we can all be “Ute Proud.” (quoted from the website)

As we have said in earlier episodes, the state public flagship universities are typically better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige—in case you think there is—in attending a more expensive private college that is not as good as a lower-cost great public university. And my personal thought is that CU-Boulder is a jewel that many families in our part of the country—the Northeast—never even consider. Trust me, you should.

3. Other Public State Universities

In four of these five Rocky Mountain states, there are also other public universities—some are branches of the flagship campus, but others are universities in their own right. Wyoming does not have any four-year public higher education institution other than the University of Wyoming, which we just talked about.

A second system of public higher education is available in each of the four states. Let’s look at Montana State University in Bozeman, Utah State University in Logan, and Idaho State University in Pocatello, all of which have their own smaller branch campuses in their own states. These three are about the same size—with total enrollments of roughly 13,500 to 15,000, made up of mostly undergraduate students. Montana State at about 15,500 is actually a bit larger than the flagship University of Montana; in fact, Montana State is also referred to as a “flagship” campus of the Montana State University system on its website and was founded the same year as the U of M, 1893. Montana State, Utah State, and Idaho State have from seven to nine undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, with a wide array of bachelor’s degrees majors available. Idaho State offers 75 percent of its state’s health profession degree programs. They all have plenty of varsity sports (13 to 16 teams) and student organizations. All boast about their beautiful settings and nearby recreation areas (like most of the colleges in this region of the country)—their mountains and lakes and rivers and national parks and so on. And I believe all of the boasting is entirely justified.

In addition to the University of Idaho and Idaho State University, Idaho has a third public university that is still larger. That is Boise State University, located in the state capital, with a total enrollment of about 22,000 students, about 80 percent of whom are Idaho residents. Boise State has nine undergraduate and graduate colleges, including an intriguing College of Innovation and Design: “Leveraging the speed, collaboration, and risk-taking of a start-up, the college inspires and supports faculty, students and community members from diverse disciplines to create new pathways of learning that anticipate the demands and opportunities of our ever-changing world and workplace.” (quoted from the website) And its out-of-state tuition is comparatively low at just under $20,000.

Colorado has a relatively large second system of higher education: Colorado State University in Fort Collins, with a substantial enrollment of about 22,500 undergraduates and another 4,500 graduate and professional students. Its students are drawn nationally, but about 75 percent are from Colorado. Colorado State was founded in 1870 as the Colorado Agricultural College—six years before CU-Boulder and before Colorado became a state, though it taught its first classes in 1879. It has eight undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges, and its average freshman boasts a 3.61 high school GPA. With 620 student organizations, 21 fraternities, 16 sororities, and 16 varsity sports, student life at Colorado State has to be pretty good.

An intriguing public choice also in Colorado is the Colorado School of Mines, an engineering college. Located in Golden, Mines, as it is known, enrolls about 5,500 total students, about 4,500 of whom are undergraduates. It has the largest collegiate chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. It is a highly selective college, whose applicants post a 3.8 unweighted high school GPA. It, too, was opened prior to Colorado statehood. In addition to its applied science and mathematics majors, its geoscience and resource engineering majors, and a variety of other engineering majors, Mines requires a core curriculum, which includes humanities and social sciences courses. Plus, it offers 180 student organizations and 18 varsity athletic teams. Mines is a college with a specialized academic focus—the kind we introduced our listeners to back in Episode 5—and, if that engineering focus is what your child wants, then Mines would be a fascinating choice worth considering.

Another interesting and equally demanding choice in Colorado is the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. We talked about the pros and cons of the five U.S. military service academies in a much earlier episode. To recap, they are great academic institutions (especially in engineering programs), great for cultivating students’ leadership and teamwork skills, great for nurturing self-discipline and ethical behavior in students, and great for giving students a head start in a military career as an officer. On the other hand, students have to make a serious commitment to their college work and, much harder, to a multi-year military service appointment after graduation. And, depending whether our country is at war when students graduate, that is another concern. In addition to free tuition, each of the Academy’s 4,000 cadets receives a stipend of about $900 a month to cover the cost of uniforms, books, and supplies, with a bit left over for personal spending. While that is an attractive deal, remember that every applicant must not only meet rigorous academic standards, but also must secure a nomination from a member of Congress or the Vice President or another couple of authorities. About half of Academy graduates enter flight training after graduation, and the Academy has produced 39 astronauts.

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are a few 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 many private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities beyond just the flagship universities, for the special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.

4. Student Exchanges for Tuition Reductions

Through the Western Undergraduate Exchange, college students who are residents of the 15 states that are members of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), which includes our five Rocky Mountain states, may apply for an out-of-state tuition rate of 150 percent of resident tuition at participating colleges in the other member states (though many colleges do limit the number of these tuition deals each year). Virtually all the universities we have talked about in this episode are participating in the Western Undergraduate Exchange. So, if you reside in one of the 15 Western states, the Western Undergraduate Exchange is clearly something to look into. You have to apply for these slots, so get with it.

Though we alluded to a couple of similar deals in our Great Lakes episodes, let us detail now the Midwest Student Exchange Program, a program in which nine of the 12 states in the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) participate. Through this program, public institutions charge nearby out-of-state students 150 percent of in-state tuition (just as in the Western Undergraduate Exchange). Furthermore, private institutions give participating state students a 10 percent reduction in their tuition. Again, there are limits to how many deals each institution will give, but students in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin should keep the Midwest Student Exchange in mind.

If you reside in another state, check to see whether your state has some deal in place with higher education institutions in nearby states. You might just get lucky.

 

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How great scenery and natural splendor could become a “deal breaker” for you
  • What the Rocky Mountain states offer that you never considered
  • Why you shouldn’t wait to get your application in when there is a financial deal available

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