Hidden Gems, III: New England
The New England region is, along with California, the most populous in the United States and some of the first colonized by Europeans. As a result, New England is DENSE with institutions of higher education. Even weeding out the marginal cases and only looking at those colleges and universities that all agree are good schools still leaves a huge number. The “usual suspects” list is large and, thus, the decisions about what to include in “hidden gems” is difficult. In each state, many more institutions could be named.
This section will cover: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont.
1. Connecticut: The usual suspects begin with the public land-grant universities of the University of Connecticut system anchored by its flagship campus at Storrs. At the federal level, there’s the United States Coast Guard Academy (New London). Private research universities include the Ivy League superstar of CT: Yale University (New Haven), but also includes Quinnipiac University (New Hamden); University of New Haven; University of Bridgeport (which, after financial trouble in the ’90s, has been heavily financed and influenced by the Unification Church), and the University of Hartford. Hidden Gems:
Connecticut College (New London). Founded as Connecticut Women’s College in 1911 and changed its name when it began admitting men in 1969. Considered a “Little Ivy,” it is one of the most expensive liberal arts colleges in the nation, but most students receive considerable grants in financial aid which usually lowers the cost by 2/3 or more. 48% of students receive needs based financial aid. Connecticut College is “test optional” in admissions, meaning that if applicants are good students but do poorly on standardized tests like the SAT or ACT, they can omit those scores and substitute other metrics in the application process. Connecticut College is a top producer of Fulbright Fellows and of Peace Corps volunteers and has won awards for campus internationalization and environmental sustainability.
Fairfield University (Fairfield). Founded in 1942, FU is a Catholic and Jesuit University with a focus on undergraduate teaching. Women admitted to all programs beginning in 1970. Achieved a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1995. All freshers are housed together and participate in a core First Year program which greatly aids in student retention. More than 200 sophomores participate in the Ignatian Residential College. Has a Peace & Justice Studies minor. Over 50 study abroad possibilities. The Jesuit emphasis on education of the whole person pervades the campus.
Trinity College (Hartford). 2nd oldest college in CT after Yale, Trinity was founded in 1823. Although founded by Episcopalians (Trinity’s first president was and Episcopal bishop), the charter created a non-sectarian school which has never been permitted to impose particular religious views on either students or faculty. A “little Ivy,” Trinity is an innovative liberal arts college and one of the top “feeder schools” of students into graduate programs in the sciences.
2. Maine: The usual suspects include the University of Maine system with its flagship campus at Orono. While ME does not have a premier, private, comprehensive research university, it does have The University of New England which is a high quality, private, masters’ level university. ME also has a number of famous “little Ivy” liberal arts colleges including Bates College (Lewiston), founded by abolitionist Christians in the Free Will Baptist tradition, though non-sectarian today. One would also include Colby College, another secular “Little Ivy” originally founded by Northern (American) Baptists. Despite Maine’s smaller population, there are some “hidden gems”
Bowdoin College (Brunswick) Founded in 1794, when Maine was still part of Massachussetts, and given its first charter by Gov. Sam Adams of MA. It was named for another MA governor who was an early beneficiary. Famous alumni include one U.S. president (Franklin Pearce) and the acclaimed authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges of the nation, Bowdoin tends to be overshadowed in ME by Bates and Colby. Bowdoin has become part of the “no loan” financial aid movement which is designed to curb massive student debt. All financial aid is awarded on a needs-basis, admission is needs-blind, and the financial aid is loan-free, meeting 100% of demonstrated student need through grants and work study.
St. Joseph’s College of Maine (Standish). The only Catholic college or university in Maine, St. Joseph’s was founded as a women’s college by the Sisters of Mercy but has long been co-ed. It flies “under the radar,” even under the CATHOLIC RADAR, but has excellent academics on a beautiful campus and is more affordable than many of its peers.
Thomas College (Waterville). Founded in 1894 as a co-ed, private, non-sectarian liberal arts college, Thomas College specializes in business, education, and technology. It offers both undergraduate and masters’ degrees and guarantees alumni job placement upon graduation.
Unity College (Unity). A young institution founded in 1965, Unity College is a private, non-sectarian, co-ed, liberal arts college. It is renowned for its environmentalism, winning awards as “greenest” college in the nation. It emphasizes ecological responsibility and stewardship of natural resources throughout its entire curriculum.
3. Massachussetts: The Commonwealth of MA has an embarrassment of educational riches with over 100 institutions of higher learning. The “usual suspects” include the University of Massachusetts system, with its flagship campus at Amherst and additional campuses in Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell, and the UMASS Medical College at Worcester. It includes numerous private research universities, anchored by Harvard University (Cambridge), the oldest institution of higher education in the United States (founded in 1636) and leader of the Ivy League. Others in MA’s private research universities include: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (Cambridge), Boston College (Jesuit), Boston University (founded by Methodists), Brandeis University (founded as a “Jewish-supported non-quota university”), Clark University (Worcester), Tufts University (Medford) , and Worcester Polytechnic University. There are a number of “Little Ivy” elite liberal arts colleges that would also be among the “usual suspects,” including Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke, Smith College, Simmons College, Wellesley College, and Williams College. Hidden gems in MA have to be institutions which are not quite as elite, but which provide an excellent education. I include:
Bard College at Simon’s Rock (Great Barrington), an “early college,” which enrolls bright students still in high school. Some transfer after receiving an Associate’s degree, but many stay on to achieve a baccalaureate.
College of the Holy Cross (Worcester), oldest Catholic college in New England and one of the oldest in the U. S. Holy Cross has a cross-disciplinary core leading to the B.A. It has the largest Classics Department in the nation with 10 faculty members. As of 2010, Holy Cross is in the top 3% of U.S. liberal arts colleges whose graduates go on to earn Ph.D.s.
Eastern Nazarene College (Quincy). Chartered in 1919 but with a pre-history into the late 19th C., ENC is the oldest Nazarene liberal arts college in the nation, established to offer a Christian liberal arts education with a “Wesleyan holiness” perspective. Although the Nazarene college in longest continual operation, from the beginning ENC was to be open to all students (no religious tests) and, while faculty are required to be Christian, they are not required to be Nazarene. Academics at ENC is more challenging than at many evangelical liberal arts colleges. ENC’s first academic dean, Burtha Munro, was an alumna of Boston University, Radcliffe College, and Harvard University, and she articulated the ENC philosophy that there need be no tension between being a committed Christian and a first-rate scholar. ENC has won a Templeton Award for its “science and religion” classes and encourages students to explore the tensions between Christianity and Western culture. ENC’s alumni acceptance rate into medical school is an impressive 94% (national average is 45%) and acceptance into law school is 100%.
Gordon College (Wenham). Baptist evangelist A. J. Gordon founded this Christian liberal arts college in 1889 as a Bible School for the training of missionaries to what was then the Belgian Congo. It has evolved into an interdenominational, evangelical, Christian liberal arts college. In 1970, Gordon Divinity School separated from Gordon College and merged with Philadelphia’s Conwell School of Theology (once a part of Temple University) to become Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. With graduate degrees in music and education, Gordon College offers the B.A., the B.S., the B.M., M.A.T., MEd., and MMEd. degrees. GC is not for everyone since it requires both faculty and students to be evangelical Christians prior to attendance. Chapel attendance is mandatory. But GC is not a Bible College or a fundamentalist diploma mill–discussion and debate over the life of the mind and the life of discipleship are carried out with a high degree of freedom, fostering an attitude that it calls “critical loyalty.” GC is consistently ranked high for its academics.
4. New Hampshire: The land grant public universities are anchored by the University of New Hampshire with its flagship campus at Durham and an additional campus at Manchester. Other public institutions among the “usual suspects” include Plymouth State University , Granite State College and Keene State College. Private research universities include Antioch University–New England (Keene), and, of course, NH’s Ivy League member, Dartmouth College–which, despite its name, is a comprehensive research university. Other “usual suspects” include Franklin Pierce University (Rindge), Southern New Hampshire University (Manchester), & New England College (Hennicker). Hidden Gems:
Colby-Sawyer College (New London). Founded as a private academy in 1837, Colby-Sawyer evolved into a private, independent, liberal arts college by 1928. The core curriculum (Pathways Program) brings together small groups of students and faculty to explore theme based questions with critical thinking and interdisciplinary tools. Almost all students participate in internships related to their field during their college education. All seniors participate in a capstone course including a written thesis.
St. Anselm College (Goffstown). Founded by the Order of St. Benedict in 1887, St. Anselm is a Catholic college of the liberal arts and sciences,
The College of St. Mary Magdelene (Warner). Founded in 1973 by Catholic laity, this college was a response to the call of the Second Vatican Council for the greater education of Catholic laity–in both the liberal arts and sciences and Catholic theology. The College is a “Great Books” college with two tracks, both leading to the B.A. and both grounded in a structured reading of the “Great Books of the Western World.” Track I, “The Great Books Program,” relies on Socratic questioning, discussion, and writing papers. There are no majors or minors in this track. In Track II, “The Cowan Program,” the Great Books are still the foundation, but there is greater reliance on lectures and students may major or concentrate in their junior and senior years in Literature, Political Science, or Philosophy. In both tracks, students spend a semester in Rome.
5. New York: New York has an incredible number of institutions of higher education–even more than MA. There is the large State University of New York (SUNY) system (64 campuses) and the City University of New York (CUNY) system (23 institutions). Two federal military service academies are in NY: The United States Military Academy (West Point) and The United States Merchant Marine Academy (King’s Point). New York’s vast collection of private universities and colleges is anchored by the state’s TWO members of the Ivy League: Columbia University in the City of New York and Cornell University. Other “usual suspects include The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Fordham University (Jesuit); Hofstra University; New York University; Pace University; Rensselaer Polytechnic University; Rochester Institute of Technology; The University of Rochester; The Sage Colleges; St. John’s University; St. Bonaventure University; Syracuse University among others. NY’s “Little Ivies” include Bard College, Vassar College, Hamilton College, Colgate University, and Barnard College. Hidden –or negelected–gems:
Hobart and William Smith Colleges. (Geneva). These twin colleges (Hobart for men and William Smith for women) function as one liberal arts college with a unified administration–and all students can cross-register at the other school. Though still written in the plural, what was once a partnership of two institutions is now effectively one “coordinate system.” There is one president for both colleges, but separate deans and faculty and men still graduate from Hobart and women from William Smith. Yest the classes are completely intertwined. Also called the “Colleges of the Seneca.” Three degrees are offered: the B.A., the B.S. and the M. A. T. Known for rigorous academics and environmentalism and for the large percentage who study abroad.
Houghton College (Houghton). Located in upstate Western New York, Houghton College was founded in 1883 by the Wesleyan Church, originally as a high school. It is a Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences, providing an academically challenging education in a Christian spirit to students of diverse economic and cultural backgrounds. Offers the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.), Master of Arts in Music (MA), and Master of Music (M.Mus.) degrees. Popular majors include computer science and a dual engineering degree. Houghton College also has an adult education program for non-traditional students. It has 3 Honors programs: East Meets West explores interaction of the Catholic/Protestant West, Islamic culture, and Eastern Orthodoxy. Science honors leads students to design their own experiments, hear from leading scientists, publish experiments in science journals. Contemporary Contexts is an honors course that explores the rise of Modernity since the Enlightenment, the Romantic and Postmodern reactions, and explores questions of ethics, knowledge, and faith in contemporary contexts.
Marist College (Poughkeepsie). A Catholic college of liberal arts and sciences founded by the Marist Brothers order in 1929 in the Hudson Valley midway between New York City and the capital city of Albany. Marist is dedicated to the development of the whole person in a way that will prepare graduates for an enlightened, sensitive, and productive life in the global community of the 21st century. Marist is renowned for its pioneering use of technology to enhance the educational experience. 43 B.A. programs, 12 Masters programs, and with off-campus study centers in Florence and cooperative study abroad centers in 31 programs. The College runs a Center for Ecosystem Studies.
Roberts Wesleyan College (Rochester). Founded by B. T. Roberts, first bishop of the Free Methodist Church in 1866, Roberts Wesleyan College is a Christian liberal arts college dedicated to education according to the ideals of its founder (who was an abolitionist, a champion of labor and small farmers, and an advocate of the rights of women) with three dimensions: scholarship/investigation; spiritual formation; service to God and others. International programs include a sister college, Osaka Christian College, in Osaka, Japan.
The New School (New York, NY). Founded in 1919 by progressive intellectuals, located mostly in Greenwich Village. It is renowned for its teaching, for housing the World Policy Institute, and hosting the prestigious National Book Awards. The New School has a reputation for faculty and students being “left of center” politically (The New School was repeatedly investigated during the McCarthy-era Communist witch hunts.). The Graduate School began in 1933 as an emergency rescue program for Jewish intellectuals in Nazi Germany. Today, the New School university system is divided into eight (8) separate schools: Eugene Lang College: The New School for Liberal Arts (the basic undergraduate college for traditional undergraduate students); Mannes College: The New School of Music (founded in 1916 and integrated with the New School in 1986); The New School for Drama (founded in the 1940s with a graduate program for actors, writers, and directors begun in 1994); The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music (Established in 1986); The New School for Public Engagement (Embodying the progressive social ideals of The New School’s founders in 1919, this newest school was formed in 2011 through the merger of The New School for General Studies, which contains the adult & continuing education programs, and Milano: The New School for Management and Public Policy created in 1975 to offer graduate study in management, public policy, and engagement in civic life.); The New School for Social Research (Grew out of the 1933 emergency rescue program for exiled Jewish scholars escaping persecution in Nazi Germany and Austria; NSSR is a graduate school of the social and political sciences with many interdisciplinary programs and approaches.); Parsons: The New School for Art and Design (Founded in 1886 and integrated with The New School in 1970, this is one of the world’s preeminent schools for architecture, industrial design, interior design, and lighting design as well as the more traditional visual arts. It is one of the most highly competitive art schools around.) The founders of The New School wanted a university education where students and faculty could challenge the present world order. During WWI and its aftermath, U.S. culture had entered a period of censorship, loyalty oaths, nationalism, and suspicion of foreigners. The New School was founded to challenge all that and it has remained true to its founding mission so that, in various similar periods, its students and faculty have come under suspicion by conservative forces in our culture.
6. Rhode Island: Tiny Rhode Island is still mighty in higher education for its size and population base. It’s excellent public research university is the University of Rhode Island (Kingston). It’spremier private research university is it’s Ivy Leaguer, Brown University (Providence). Among the “usual suspects” is also the New England Institute of Technology (Warwick), and the U. S. Naval War College (Newport). Hidden gems:
Providence College (Providence). Founded in 1917 as a Catholic liberal arts college with joint responsibility to the diocese and the Order of Dominican Friars of St. Joseph. Highly regarded academically.
Rhode Island College (Providence). Founded in 1854, Rhode Island College is a public liberal arts college that began as a land-grant teachers’ college. It has often served as the “college of opportunity” for first generation college students in Rhode Island. It has a well regarded Early Enrollment Program that allows bright, motivated high school students to take college level courses in their familiar high school setting. It also participates in a nationwide college student exchange program that allows RIC students to spend a semester at another college or university in a different part of the country. RIC’s Honors Program is very highly regarded, as well. RIC is known for having one of the most “disability friendly” campuses in the country.
Roger Williams University (Bristol). Named after the founder of Rhode Island (and of the first Baptist congregation in North America), RWU is a private, independent, co-ed university founded in 1919 and focused on undergraduate teaching, although offering some strong masters programs, as well. RWU is also home to Rhode Island’s only law school. It promotes education based on the values of its namesake: freedom of thought and conscience, democracy, cross-cultural dialogue (Williams got on well with the Narragansett Indians and wrote the first English-language textbook to their language), and rigorous scholarship.
Salve Regina University (Newport). Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1947, Salve Regina University, is a private, independent, co-educational university offering an innovative and comprehensive liberal arts education in the Catholic tradition. It has 3 components: The Core Curriculum, courses related to the major, and elective courses. Offers one Ph.D. (Humanities), 9 masters’ degree programs, and
7. Vermont: Vermont is a small, rural state. It has one public research university, the University of Vermont. VT’s other public institutions are organized as the Vermont State Colleges system. It has no private research university, but Middlebury College, a “little Ivy” is globally famous for its language program, for its environmental studies, and for its international character. One would also have to include in the ”usual suspects,” Norwich University, the oldest of the 6 Senior Military Colleges in the United States and recognized by the Defense Department as the ”birthplace of Reserve Officer Training Corps [ROTC] programs.” Hidden gems:
Burlington College (Burlington). Founded in 1972 as an experiment in community involvement, BC is a private, independent, liberal arts college in which students are given enormous freedom to design their own majors and programs of study. All students and faculty are expected to participate in community involvement. BC’s “study abroad” program involves a very wide range of options throughout the European Union and, BC is one of the very few colleges in the United States that has a study abroad option in Havana, Cuba, despite the travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. State Department.
Saint Michael’s College (Colchester). Founded in 1904 by priests of the Order of St. Edmund, Saint Michael’s is a Catholic college of the liberal arts and sciences. Academics are challenging, classes are small, and hands-on learning is emphasized. St. Michael’s has several honors societies including Phi Beta Kappa. For the last 6 years, a member of St. Michael’s faculty has been chosen the CASE/Carnegie Foundation Vermont Professor of the Year. International students are given extra English as a Second Language in the Department of Applied Linguistics. A vigorous liberal arts program is emphasized for undergrads, including emphasis on independent study, independent research, internships, and study abroad (in a very wide range of choices). Study abroad costs the same as study on campus and all financial aid is transferrable. There are 5 masters degree programs. Among the notable alumni is the current senior U.S. Senator from VT, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Class of ’61.
Marlboro College (Marlboro). One of 40 “Colleges That Change Lives.” A private, co-ed, residential college founded for returning veterans of World War II and initially funded with money from the G. I. Bill. Marlboro College requires all students to participate in the planning of their own programs of study and to act responsibly in a context of self-government. Marlboro is one of the colleges which makes SAT or ACT scores optional when applying, but which does require them in assessing merit scholarships. Students undergo two years of intensive core liberal arts and sciences curriculum, including completing a requirement in an intensive “Clear Writing” course. Then junior and senior students work closely with faculty advisors to complete a Plan of Concentration (that students helped create) in a field/department offered at Marlboro. Nearly 70% of Marlboro alumni go on to do advanced graduate work. Marlboro offers both the B.A. and B.S. in International Studies through its World Studies Program which has placed students in working internships in over 50 countries. Its academics have received the highest score (99%) by The Princeton Review.