Hidden College Gems, I: The Southeast
This begins an education series that highlights a few (no more than 5 per state) overlooked, “hidden gems” of excellent colleges and universities in the U.S.–beyond the flagship state universities and the major private research universities. I will work state-by-state with a single post per geographic region. My purpose is simply to get students and parents to think beyond the U.S. News and World Report college rankings and their clones. College/university is expensive and getting more so (costs rising at double the rate of inflation, faster than even pre-reform healthcare costs), and even if there is a major (and successful) campaign to make college/university education more affordable for most people, this is likely to remain the case for some time. Success beyond college is far more related to getting the right “fit” between student and institution than it is with rankings or reputation. Put another way, not everyone who can get into Harvard (or even Oxford) should go there. Different people do well in different contexts. Yes, challenging academics is important, but some people do better with small classes in a supportive atmosphere while others like stiff competition with other students in large lecture halls. Geography plays several roles in school selection: How close to home or distant does the student want to be? Are their states, or portions of states, where the student would not want to live? Does the student prefer four seasons, and possibly bitter winters, or mild weather year-round? An urban or rural setting? Oceans, mountains or prairies nearby? Does the student want a college sports program that gets national attention with thousands of cheering fans or one in which nearly everyone interested gets some opportunity to participate–even if only in a club or intramural capacity? Nor should all students from religious families go to faith-based institutions. Some would do better at “non-sectarian” institutions while being very involved in campus ministry programs (e.g., Inter-Varsity, Newman Club, Hillel, Baptist Student Union, Wesley Fellowship, Muslim Student Association, Interfaith dialogue groups, etc.). But faith-informed institutions should not be automatically ruled out, either, even by students who do not consider themselves religious or not of the same religion. Many a Protestant or Jewish student has found a welcoming, supportive, and challenging environment at a Catholic college or university, for example. Some worry that going to a school related to a religion which is not there’s may lead to conversion– but conversion from one worldview to another (including from unbelief to faith or from faith to unbelief) is ALWAYS a possibility in any context, especially any educational context that exposes one to other views than what one already holds. My only purpose in this series of posts is to give greater visibility to some worthwhile institutions which are not on all the usual lists that parents and prospective students see constantly.
In a future post, I will explore the strengths and weakness of community colleges for those who are not prepared (either academically or financially) to go directly from high school to university–or who are older, non-traditional students. Full disclosure: I believe in the potential of community colleges. I, myself, had an uneven educational experience in high school and earned an A.A. in a community college. It did me no harm–I eventually earned a Ph.D. I have also taught in such settings on numerous occasions. Community colleges are a vital component of preparing this nation for the economies of today and tomorrow. But they have weaknesses that need correction as well as strengths that should be exploited and reinforced. I hope to comment on those in this blog at a later date–but I will not list any in this series of “hidden gems.”
In this post covering the Southeast, we will look briefly at schools in: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, & Virginia.
1. Alabama: Everyone knows about the flagship state university, The University of Alabama, and the major private research university, Auburn University. Both are excellent schools. Here are some hidden gems:
Alabama is home to several HCBUs (“Historic Black Colleges and Universities”) founded after the Civil War for the education of freed slaves and during the era of segregation when African-Americans were legally barred from most “white” institutions (and not just in the South, either). Because racist assumptions still exist in educational institutions, there is still great value in these HCBUs and all should be considered, both the state-supported and the private ones. I highlight one that is of exceptional academic quality:
Tuskeegee University in Tuskeegee, AL was founded by Booker T. Washington 1885 as a private institution that originally focused on bringing freed slaves from out of the near-slavery of the sharecropping system into a solid working class and lower-middle class by educating for skilled blue-collar industrial jobs. Today, Tuskeegee U. is a private, small research university with a focus on undergraduate teaching in all fields. Washington Monthly Review which grades colleges and universities not on their prestige, but on service to the wider community, ranks Tuskeegee U. the #1 undergraduate institution in the nation. Not only were the famed Tuskeegee Airmen of World War II educated and trained here, but the students of this university played huge roles in the Civil Rights movement. TU produces more black Ph.D.s in engineering and materials sciences than any other institution, is the only HCBU with a Vetinary School offering a doctorate, the only HCBU with a National Center for Bioethics, and has a NASA-related program for growing food in space.
Two other “hidden gems” in Alabama are Church-related colleges:
Judson College in Marion, AL is an all-women’s liberal arts college founded by Baptists (named after the Baptist missionary Ann Hasseltine Judson, America’s first female foreign missionary) and is still closely-related to the Alabama Baptist Convention. It is the nation’s 5th oldest women’s college and is home of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. Admission to Judson is not as difficult as some other all women’s colleges, but the academic curriculum remains challenging. 18 majors and 24 minors and 11 pre-professional programs. The college lives up to its motto of “knowledge and faith for a life of purpose.”
Samford University in Birmingham, AL was also founded by Baptists (in 1841) and is related to the Alabama Baptist Convention. Although often the center of the struggle between conservative and “moderate” Baptists, this has seldom spilled over to the student population. In addition to the undergraduate college of arts and sciences, Samford has several professional schools, including a divinity school, a business school, a law school, a school of education, a school of nursing, and one of pharmacy. 138 undergraduate majors and a tradition of faith-based community service. The core curriculum emphasizes communication arts, exposure to biblical perspectives, broad knowledge of the Western cultural tradition(s), but also dialogue with Muslim and Buddhist dialogues. The core curriculum also includes physical health and fitness. The campus ministry is both Baptist and ecumenical (including both Catholic and Episcopal support groups) but is somewhat lacking in formal structures for interfaith dialogue. Costs of attendance is higher here than in any of the other Alabama institutions we’ve noted, but there is also a very generous financial aid program.
2. Florida: Traditionally, Florida has traditionally been known for some very high profile academic institions, including the flagship state university system, led by the University of Florida (Gainesville) and Florida State University(Tallahassee) (Full disclosure: I earned an M.A. in political science at FSU and loved my time there, unlike my experience at the small Christian college where I was an undergraduate–and which I almost never mention by name), but also including the major private research university, the University of Miami (Coral Gables). But these high-profile schools have eclipsed some excellent hidden gems–in fact, far more than I can profile here. I mention only 4 but could include others. Studying anywhere in FL is, almost by definition, multi-cultural, far more so than in the rest of this Southeast region (though global diversity affects nearly every place in our country to some extent these days) and each of these hidden gems works hard to support and further a context of education in a global community.
Florida A & M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee is one of 4 HCBUs in FL. It is an 1890 land grant college originally focused on agricultural and mechanical education. A doctoral research institution which, because it is state-supported, is considerably less expensive than others of similar quality. FAMU’s satellite campus in Orlando houses its law school and there is also a College of Pharmacy in Tallahassee. It embraces every culture, racial, and ethnic group, but still focuses on its historic mission of educating African-Americans. Top undergraduate programs are architecture, journalism, computer information sciences, and psychology.
Stetson University in Deland is a church-related university founded by Baptists in 1883 and is loosely related to the Florida Baptist Convention. Stetson had the first law school of any private university in the state and was the first to admit women and African-Americans. It has a focus on education in an international context, small classes with no teaching assistants, and hands-0n learning. It had the first chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in FL, the oldest honor society in the United States. Voluntary non-denominational chapel services are held every Thursday. Although founded by Baptists, Stetson has spiritual support programs for Catholics (Newman Club), Episcopalians (Canterbury House), Muslims, Jews (Hillel), Methodists (Wesley Fellowship), evangelicals (InterVarsity) and an Interfaith Dialogue Council. The costs are consistent with most private colleges/universities, but considerable financial aid is available, as well as student employment.
Eckerd College in St. Petersburg on FL’s Gulf Coast is an elite, small, liberal arts college related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church, USA. It is one of the 40 “Colleges That Change Lives” and its motto is “Think Outside”–a reference to the many ways in which Eckerd uses its numerous natural resources related in a beautiful setting. A fairly young school founded in 1958, Eckerd has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and ranks very high in number of students who study abroad. A very environmental campus (including school-owned yellow bikes that students can borrow to get around campus without using cars), Eckerd is also one of the most pet-friendly of college campuses. Both the National Aeronotics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanographica and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cooperate in programs at Eckerd and heavily recruit Eckerd students for internships. The student culture is very service oriented. Campus chapel is voluntary and the context welcomes students of all faiths and no particular faith to explore spirituality–their own and others.
New College of Florida in Sarasota was founded as an experimental, private, liberal arts college in 1960, but it was later adopted into the state university system and now it is the public Honors College of Florida. For several years The Princeton Review has listed New College as one of the top “Best Value” colleges and in 2012 they list it as the #3 “Best Value” college in the nation. Especially if you live in Florida and can receive “in-state” tuition, room and board rates, New College is very affordable. There is also generous financial aid, both academic based and needs-based. Admission standards are very selective, and prospective students should be very self-motivated since there are no “out of the box” majors or programs. ALL students design their own majors in consultation with faculty advisors–including tutorials, off campus programs and study-abroad, and independent research and collaborative research with faculty. Students govern themselves in “town hall” direct democracy fashion. Enrollment is deliberately kept below 1,000 students. Yet students and faculty produce numerous prestigious awards and honors (including more Fulbright Fellowships per capita than most Ivy League schools). Because of its individual, and collaborative approach to education, New College students do not receive standard grades, but long narrative evaluations, and all must write and defend a senior research thesis to graduate.
3. Georgia: The state university system is well known, anchored by the prestigious University of Georgia, but also including the Georgia Institute of Technology. The most prestigious private research university is Emory University (Atlanta). But there are also some great “hidden gems” which get overshadowed by these impressive “usual suspects.”
Georgia is home several HCBUs, most in the Atlanta area. I list two that should be world famous–and should NEVER be taken for granted.:
Morehouse College in Atlanta is one of only 3 remaining all-male institutions of higher education in the U.S.–and the only one whose mission is the education of African-American men. Founded by Baptists in 1867, just two years after the end of the U.S. Civil War, Morhouse maintains a loose relationship with several Baptist denominations. It is the alma mater of such famous African-American leaders as theologian Howard Thurman (’27); Lerone Bennett (’49), the founder of Ebony magazine; Samuel Nabrit (’25), the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. (physics) from Brown University, former head of the Atomic Energy Commission; numerous elected officials, judges, and ambassadors, filmmaker Spike Lee (’79), numerous academics and presidents of universities; Actor Samuel L. Jackson (’72), conservative businessman and Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain (’67), and, most, famously, minister and human rights activist, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (’48). Chapel is voluntary and Morehouse presents a welcoming and supportive context for persons of all faiths and no particular faith. It recruits students globally. The focus is on creating “Renaissance Men” who are educated to lead and serve larger communities, especially the African-American community. Both the curriculum and extracurricular activities are designed to build oral and written communication skills; critical and analytical reasoning; interpersonal relationships; foster an understanding and appreciation of world cultures, the nature of the physical universe, and artistic and creative expression; promote understanding and appreciation of the specific knowledge tools and skills needed for the pursuit of professional careers and/or graduate study; cultivate the personal attributes of self-confidence, tolerance, morality, ethical behavior, spirituality, humility, a global perspective, and a commitment to social justice.
Spelman College (Atlanta) is the only liberal arts college in the world focused solely on the education of African-American women. An all-women’s college that is open to students of any race and culture, Spelman is an HBCU founded by Baptists in 1881. It retains a loose affiliation with several Baptist groups. During the Civil Rights era, Spelman students played at least as many leadership roles as did Morehouse students. Famous alumnae include: Janet Bragg (’31), first African-American woman to obtain a commercial pilot’s license; Ruth A. Davis (’66), 24th Director of the U.S. Foreign Service and twice recipient of the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civil Service; Christine King Farris (’48), eldest and only living sibling of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an educator and public speaker; Marion Wright Edelman (’60), civil rights activist, attorney, and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund; Evelyn Hammond (’76), current Dean of Harvard College; Tanya Walton Pratt (’81), U. S. District Judge; Keisha Knight Pulliam (’01), actress; Bernice Johnson Reagan (’70), civil rights activist; former curator of the Smithsonian Institutes; founder of the a capella singing group, Sweet Honey in the Rock; Alice Walker (’65), award winning author. Bill Cosby has made major donations to Spelman College, including endowed professorships.
Agnes Scott College (Decatur is an all-women’s college founded in 1889 and located in metro-Atlanta area. It is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and is the only women’s college to be part of the “Colleges That Change Lives.” Agnes’ Scott’s mission is to educate women to “think deeply, live honorably, and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times.” Committed to diversity, 40% of ASC’s students are women of color. A Presbyterian college, ASC encourages spiritual exploration and cultivates an atmosphere of respect for persons of all faiths. The campus ministry includes most Christian groups as well as Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, and Buddhist support networks. In the most recent graduating class, 91% of those who applied were accepted into graduate programs. ASC is the only baccalaureate liberal arts college to have its own internship program at the Centers for Disease Control. It is among the top 10% of institutions whose graduates go on to earn Ph.D.s. Notable alumnae include Ruth Janet Pirkle Berkeley (’22), one of the first female psychiatrists in the U.S.; Illa Burdette (’81), Georgia’s first female Rhodes Scholar; Mamie Lee Ratliff Finger (’39), head of the organization which funds Ewha Women’s University in Seoule, Korea (largest university for women in the world); Rachelle Henderlite (’28), first woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church; Jean Toal (’64), current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Mercer University(Macon, GA) is a medium-sized, regional university founded by Baptists in 1833, but is no longer formally affiliated with any denomination. Mercer’s primary focus is on undergraduate education (with 31 majors and an Honors Program organized around the Great Books of the Western World), but it also has several professional schools including a school of business and economics; a school of engineering; a school of education, a law school, a school of theology (at the Atlanta campus), a school of music, a school of nursing, a medical school, and a pharmacy school. A faith-based university with a Baptist heritage, Mercer University maintains a very active chaplaincy program that is ecumenical, but not interfaith. All students participate in Mercer’s First Year Experiance, and a common course on scientifica inquiry. Mercer has two Honors Programs, one for the College of Liberal Arts and one for the School of Engineering. Seniors complete a capstone course or a senior design project. Students may choose to pursue the Great Books Program in place of the core curriculum. Mercer is seeking to become a major private research university and, so, will soon be part of the “usual suspects” in a post like this rather than a “hidden gem.”
Wesleyan College (Macon, GA). Founded by Methodists in 1836, Wesleyan is the world’s oldest liberal arts college for women and it’s motto is “First for women” since it is the first institution of higher education to grant degrees to women. A liberal arts and sciences college, Wesleyan offers 30 majors leading to the A.B. degree. It also offers an engineering degree jointly with the Georgia Institute of Technology, Auburn University, and Mercer University. “Firsts” among Wesleyan alumnae include: the first woman in Georgia to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree (Mary McKay, 1878); first woman elected to the Tennessee state legislature (Sara Ruth Frazier, 1894); first woman to argue a case before the Georgia Supreme Court (Viola Ross Napier, 1901); first woman ordained Bishop of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church (Charlene Payne Kammerer, 1970).
4. Kentucky: The “usual suspects” include the flagship state university, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, and regional universities in the state system. Kentucky does not have a major, private, research university like Georgia’s Emory, Florida’s University of Miami, or even Tennessee’s Vanderbilt. Bellarmine University, which I list below as a “hidden gem” is seeking to grow to fill that void. However, Kentucky does have several educational “hidden gems.”
Berea College (Berea, KY). Founded in 1859 by radical Christian abolitionists, Berea College is a non-denominational Christian liberal arts college whose mission is to educate the poor, especially poor students from Appalachia. Berea is the first institution of higher education in the South to educate whites and African-Americans together and women and men together as equals. All students are on full tuition scholarships and all also engage in work-study in manual labor. Students whose families make enough money to afford college elsewhere are not admitted. The Washington Monthly Review ranks Berea College #1 in the nation for “social mobility” (educating the poor), # of students who go to do graduate work, and community service by students and faculty.
Centre College (Danville, KY) Founded in 1819 and related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA), Centre is Kentucky’s premiere liberal arts college. It is one of 40 “Colleges That Change Lives.” Two-thirds of KY’s Rhodes Scholars in the last 40 years have come from Centre. 82% of students study abroad during their 4 years at Centre. In fact, if students meet academic and social expectations, the Centre Guarantee is that all students will have the opportunity for an internship, to study abroad, community service, and graduate in 4 years–or the 5th year’s free. Campus participation is very high: 80% participate in some form of community service; 40% participate in varsity athletics; 25% participate in some form of the performing arts. Chapel is voluntary and ecumenical. There are support networks for many faith groups. In 2012, for the 2nd time (first in ’04), Centre will host the Vice Presidential debate in the U.S. presidential campaign.
Bellarmine University (Louisville, KY) Founded in 1950, Bellarmine University is an independent, medium-sized, Catholic university with an emphasis on undergraduate teaching and a limited number of graduate programs. Although independent, rather than related to any particular Catholic order, Bellarmine is named after the Jesuit scholar-saint Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) and its educational philosophy is mostly in the Jesuit tradition. Bellarmine is striving to become Louisville’s answer to Notre Dame–a premier Catholic research university–so, in a few years, it won’t be listed in “hidden gems.” Open and welcoming to persons of all faiths and no particular faith, yet enfused with Catholic Christian values and faith perspective, Bellarmine’s mission to educate for the service of God and humanity.
Transylvania University (Lexington, KY) Founded in 1780 as the first U.S. institution of higher education west of the Allegheny mountains (when Kentucky was still a very large county of Virginia!), the university is named after the Latin for “through the woods.” It has nothing to do with Dracula novels or the Transylvania area of Romania, although students do dress as vampires for Halloween! Related by covenant to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Transy (as it is called) is an undergraduate liberal arts college, despite it’s name. (In its early years, Transy had a medical school, law school, and theological seminary. These no longer exist, but the term “university” is preserved for historical reasons.) 70% of Transy students study abroad. 18% of students come from outside Kentucky–a number that surely increase if the school were better known. Double majors and self-designed majors are common: all built on a liberal arts core.
5. Louisiana: The “usual suspects” in higher education in Louisiana include the flagship public university, University of Louisiana (Lafayette) and Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge) as well as two major private research universities: Loyola University of New Orleans and Tulane University (also in New Orleans). Here are a few “hidden gems” in the land of Jazz, Cajun and Creole cooking, and bayous:
Centenary College (Shreveport, LA). Founded by Methodists in 1829 as the College of Louisiana and the name changed in 1845 (the “centenary” of John Wesley’s launch of the Methodist movement), Centenary College is a Christian liberal arts college related to the United Methodist Church. Centenary is the oldest liberal arts college west of the Missippi river. There is a strict honors code at Centenary and a 3-pronged experiential education program (career, community, and culture) known as “The Trek.” The weekly chapel is ecumenical and student-led and there are numerous ecumenical religious support networks, but not interfaith.
Dillard University (New Orleans, LA) Founded in 1869, Dillard University is a Historic Black University with a higher than average % of white, Asian, and other students, though remaining majority African-American. It is one of the top 10 HBCUs academically. Historically and currently, Dillard is related to both the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ. It has rebuilt 32 buildings in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, all of which have become environmentally sustainable. Since 2010, Dillard partners with LA’s public schools in a revolutionary new teacher education program. Concentrating on undergraduate education, Dillard is a major “feeder school” to top graduate programs at places like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Oxford.
6. Mississippi: The poorest state in the United States, with the highest public school drop-out rate, the highest teen-aged pregnancy rate, Mississippi has no premier, private, research university worthy of the name. The jewel of the “usual suspects” in MS is “Ol’ Miss,” The University of Mississippi and Mississippi State is another state-supported public research university. But even MS has a couple of hidden gems:
Millsaps College (Jackson, MS). One of the 40 Colleges That Change Lives, Millsaps College was founded in 1890 by Ruben William Millsaps, a MS native who had needed to work his way through college in Indiana and Harvard Law School since, at that time, MS had no institution of higher education. Millsaps is closely related to the United Methodist Church and is dedicated to liberal arts education in a progressive Christian context. It was the first institution of higher education in MS to earn a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the national honor society. Millsaps is known for community service, national caliber faculty, and academic strength. Among its notable alumni is the theological ethicist Paul Ramsey, one of the founders of biomedical ethics. It has a Faith and Work Initiative that is fairly unique.
Mississippi College (Clinton, MS). Founded by Baptists in 1826, Mississippi College is the oldest institution of higher education in MS and the 2nd oldest Baptist college or university in the nation. Today, MC is actually a Christian university with several graduate programs, but because the name “Mississippi University” would invite confusion with the (public) University of Mississippi (“Ol’ Miss”), MC retains its older name. Closely related to the Mississippi Baptist Convention, MC offers 80 undergraduate degrees, 14 graduate programs a Juris Doctor degree through its law school and a Doctor of Education in Leadership. It is nationally ranked by several major publications as a regional university “best buy.”
Tougaloo College (Tougaloo, MS). Founded in 1869 by the American Missionary Association (an organization of the Congregational Church which focused on missionary and educational work with freed slaves), Tougaloo is an HBCU associated with the United Church of Christ. It works to prepare students to forge the “next new idea” and to be servant leaders of society. Tougaloo College played a major role in MS during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s and a disproportionate amount of MS’s elected black leaders were educated at this small liberal arts college.
7. North Carolina: In sharp contrast to Mississippi, NC has long been a higher education powerhouse and the “Research Triangle” (the cities of Raleigh, Durham, & Chapel Hill ) creates a virtuous cycle of rising education and economic growth. Because of this, the list of “usual suspects” is larger in NC than in much of the Southeast. NC’s excellent state university system is anchored by its “Public Ivy,” The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. But UNC–Asheville and UNC–Charlotte are also excellent state universities, as is North Carolina State University (in Raleigh). NC has two top-flight private, research universities in its “usual suspects” list: Duke University (Durham) and Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem). The shine from all this gold–and gold it is–can blind folk to NC’s growing list of hidden gems:
Davidson College (Davidson, NC) Davidson is growing quickly and may not be very “hidden” much longer. If I update this column in a year or two, I may need to list Davidson with the “usual suspects” and highlight another “hidden gem.” Founded by Presbyterians in 1837 and related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA), Davidson College is a highly selective, national liberal arts college. It is located just north of Charlotte in the town of Davidson. Governed by a strict Honor Code (which, in turn, fosters self-scheduled and unproctored exams), Davidson is alma mater to 23 Rhodes Scholars. A leader in affordability efforts, Davidson was the first liberal arts college to eliminate student loans from its financial aid package, adopting a “needs blind” admission policy and meeting 100% of demonstrated student need in all financial aid packages. Student retention is very high, with 96% of first year students returning for sophomore year. With a core curriculum based on the Great Books, a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and an emphasis on faculty-student collaborative research, Davidson is a challenging academic environment.
Meredith College (Raleigh, NC). Founded by Baptists in 1891, but no longer related to any denomination, Meredith College is one of the largest private liberal arts colleges for women. It remains single-sex in undergraduate programs, but also has a few graduate programs and they are all co-ed. Meredith students also have an honor code and are mentored by professors with an average class size of 17. With 32 undergraduate majors, Meredith has a student population of about 2,000 representing 32 U.S. states and 47 foreign countries. Offers an engineering degree in cooperation with North Carolina State University. Meredith’s alumnae are among the most satisfied with 95% saying they would choose Meredith again. 90% of students receive some form of financial aid.
Shaw University (Raleigh, NC). Founded in 1865, this is the first HBCU of the South. Shaw was founded by missionaries from the American Baptist Home Mission Society for the education of freed slaves, especially African-American ministers. It is still closely connected to several Baptist bodies and, consistent with its motto, Pro Christo et Humanitate, seeks to create a context in which religion and learning go hand in hand and character increases with knowledge. Open to persons of all faiths and no particular faith, Shaw’s mission is still informed by its Christian and Baptist heritage. In addition to its undergraduate College of Arts and Sciences, Shaw has an Honors College and a graduate divinity school. A leader in the Civil Rights movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or “Snick”) officially began at a conference on Shaw’s campus in 1960.
Salem College (Winston-Salem, NC). Founded by Moravian Christians in 1772 as an academy for the education of young girls, Salem College is a private, Christian liberal arts college for women, still closely related to the Moravian Church and deeply informed by the Moravian heritage that says that with education comes responsibilty for others. Salem College was an early leader in the education of Native American women and African-American women and still works hard to have a diverse student body. The 13th oldest college by date in the U.S., and the oldest college for women, men are admitted into the graduate program in education and the adult learning program, but the undergraduate liberal arts college remains single-sex. The value of Salem’s education can be seen in a law school acceptance rate by alumnae of 100% (national avge. is 55%) and a medical school acceptance rate of 85% (national avge. is 50%). The Templeton Foundation lists Salem College as one of the top 100 Character Building Colleges in the nation. The Salem Signature Leadership Program is a 4-year comprehensive program celebrating the leadership of women and preparing students to assume leadership roles–even prior to graduation. Open to persons of all faiths, Salem is a church-related college which seeks to support the spiritual growth of students and involve them in local communities of faith as well as the campus chapel. The academic study of religion is a part of the core curriculum, but only a minority of faculty or students are Moravian these days and no particular faith commitment is necessary for graduation or community acceptance. An Interfaith Council implements these ideals, along with the campus chaplaincy and student religious organizations.
8. South Carolina: SC does not enjoy the academic reputation of some other states in this region, but is actually home to an impressive array of strong institutions of higher education. The “usual suspects” include the extensive University of South Carolina system anchored by the flagship campus at Columbia, South Carolina State University, Clemson University, The College of Charleston, and Winthrop University. (If one does not share my pacifist opposition to military institutes, one would also include The Citadel in this list.) SC hidden gems:
Benedict College (Columbia, SC). Founded by Baptists in 1870, Benedict College is an HCBU and is ranked as one of the top 100 institutions in graduating African-American scholars by Diversity magazine. Benedict is a private, co-educational, liberal arts college and the vast majority of its students come from the African-American community, but it is open to all people. Since the 1990s, Benedict has experienced tremendous growth in enrollment and is the home of the national Honors Team Debate Champions and a nationally ranked Gospel Choir. Benedict works to recruit international students, especially from Haiti, offering a chance at education that would otherwise be denied.
Furman University (Greenville, SC). One of the oldest institutions of higher education in the South, Furman is a private, co-educational liberal arts university founded by Baptists in 1826. It’s campus was the original site of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (in Louisville, KY since the end of the Civil War), the mother seminary of The Southern Baptist Convention. Today, Furman is independent of all denominations, but still values its original Baptist heritage of freedom. It has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Environmental sustainability is integrated throughout the curriculum. The academics are challenging, the opportunities to study abroad, and get internships are considerable, and there are over 40 majors in 25 departments.
Wofford College (Spartenburg, SC). Founded by Methodists in 1854 and still related to the United Methodist Church, Wofford College is a private, co-ed, liberal arts college offering well-rounded academic excellence in a “values-based” context of inquiry. The campus is co-terminous with a nationally famous arboretum. Spartenburg is quite the college town, being home to no less than 6 diverse institutions of higher education. (The other five are Converse College, Spartenburg Methodist College, Spartenburg Community College, Spartenburg Technical College, and the University of South Carolina–Upstate.) Wofford has a considerable retention rate, fostered by programs like its Success Initiative, and Community of Scholars program.
9. Tennessee: The “usual suspects” in the Volunteer State are anchored by the University of Tennessee system with its flagship campus at Knoxville. (Full disclosure: UT–Knoxville is my wife’s alma mater.) Other prominent public institutions include the University of Memphis, Middle Tennessee State University and Austin Peay State University. TN’s major private research university superstar is Vanderbilt University in Nashville. There are a number of private institutions that play prominent roles in the state and the region. Out of many possibilities, I highlight the following hidden gems:
Fisk University (Nashville, TN) Founded in 1865, barely 6 months after the end of the Civil War, by 3 former slaves and the director of TN’s Freedmen’s Bureau (General Clinton B. Fisk), Fisk University is an HBCU with a storied history and which today is one of the top “feeder schools” for African-Americans that go on to earn Ph.D.s, especially in the STEM fields (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in which they have been historically underrepresented. The early history of Fisk U. was supported by the efforts of the American Missionary Association and Fisk remains connected to its successor institution, the United Church of Christ. In the 1960s, Fisk students played outsized roles in the Civil Rights movement, forming the backbone of the Nashville Student Movement which, in 1960, successfully desegregated the city in a classic campaign of Gandhian nonviolent direct action. Fisk students became leaders in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (SNCC) and in Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Fisk alumni include W.E.B. DuBois (class of 1888), the sociologist and social critic who was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University. DuBois’ great philosophical adversary, Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskeegee University (see above under Alabama) was a Fisk trustee, married a Fisk alumna and sent his own children to Fisk. Current retention rate is 91% and Fisk is one of only 3 HCBUs ranked as “Tier One” by U.S. News and World Report. Based on social mobility, research, and service to the wider community, Washington Monthly ranked Fisk among the top ten colleges and universities in the nation for contributions to the wider society. In 1952, Fisk became the first HCBU to earn a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the national honor society. 8 graduating students were inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in the Class of 2011. Fisk is also very affordable, being ranked as a “Best Buy” in education by both Forbes
Carson-Newman University(Jefferson City, TN) Founded as a Baptist seminary in 1851, Carson-Newman is a Christian liberal arts institution with limited master’s level programs. It strives to be Christ-centered and open and welcoming to all, academically challenging and committed to the integration of faith and knowledge in a spirit of open and free inquiry. Ranked by The Daily Beast as the number 1 institution of higher education in community service and the 2nd overall in Most-Service Minded Schools. 62 undergraduat majors and 4 undergraduate degrees. Strong commitment to international study.
Rhodes College (Memphis, TN) Founded by Presbyterians in 1848 (and still related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rhodes College is an elite liberal arts college set in the city of the blues. What Centre College is to KY (see above) and Davidson to North Carolina (see above), Rhodes is to TN. For more than a century, Rhodes Honor System has been at the center of campus life. Stressing the classic liberal arts and sciences, Rhodes also places great emphasis on collaborative research and hands-on experimentation. It also stresses global education, both through student recruiting from around the world and through numerous study abroad opportunities. Students of color make up nearly 20% of the campus and women outnumber men 58% to 42%. 74% of students come from outside of TN. 75% live on campus (100% of first year students) and 80% of students are involved in community service. Over 80% of students receive some form of financial aid. Much of the campus religious and community service life is channeled through the Bonner Center for Faith and Service.
Christian Brothers University (Memphis, TN) Founded in 1871 by the Institute of the Brothers of Christian Schools, CBU is a Catholic university in the LaSallian tradition, the largest Catholic order dedicated to teaching. Originally a single-sex institution (male), CBU became co-ed in 1970. Though Catholic faith and the LaSallian perspective are integrated throughout the campus, CBU is open to persons of all faiths and no particular faith. Only about 50% of students and faculty are Catholic. The majority of students are undergraduates, but CBU became a university in 1990 with the introduction of a limited number of master’s degrees. It has a focus on social transformation and CBU was the original home of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence (now moved to the University of Rochester), founded and directed by Arun Gandhi, one of the grandsons of the Mahatma. The LaSallian tradition of education is built around core values of faith, service, and community and leads to the following educational principles: Respect for each individual as a unique person; A Christian perspective on all knowledge; a striving for academic excellence; a spirit of community and collaboration; a life of service to others; a quest for peace and social justice.
The University of the South (Sewanee, TN) Popularly known as “Sewanee,” The University of the South is a Christian university in the Anglican tradition and related by covenant to the Episcopal Church in the U.S. It is largely focused on undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences, but also has a graduate level “School of Letters” (offering masters’ degrees in English and Creative Writing) and a graduate School of Theology which is both ecumenical and an official Episcopal seminary. Located in the Cumberland plateau between Nashville and Chattanooga, The University of the South was founded in 1857 by priests and laity from the Southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church. Its size is kept deliberately small in order to facilitate close-knit community and a supportive educational network. Sewanee has produced 26 Rhodes Scholars and dozens of Fulbright Fellows. In an era of specialization, it continues the ideal of the well-rounded liberal arts education as the key to lives that are “successful” in more than monetary terms. 55% of students go on to pursue graduate education. Sewanee’s alumni gain law school acceptance at a rate of 90% and acceptance into medical, vetinary, and dental schools at 85%, both well above national averages.
10. Virginia: VA rivals NC in educational superstars. The usual suspects lead off with “Mr. Jefferson’s university,” The University of Virginia (a “Public Ivy”) and include the College of William and Mary (also a “Public Ivy” and, despite the name, a public research university) and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (“Virginia Tech”). Other public research universities include: George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University and James Madison University. Private research universities include: George Washington University, Washington & Lee University, and the University of Richmond. The hidden gems include:
Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, VA) Located in the Shenandoah Valley of VA (with a satellite campus in Lancaster, PA), and founded by Mennonite Christians in 1917, EMU is a unique Christian liberal arts college, with an attached theological seminary and graduate programs in business, education, and peacebuilding. Closely connected to the Mennonite Church (USA), EMU offers a Christian liberal arts education in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, with an emphasis on nonviolence, peacebuilding, compassion, and service, and justice-seeking as integral to faithful Christian witness. EMU’s alumni include 2011 Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Leymah Gboyee of Liberia. About 50% of students come from other faith traditions and EMU has one of the most culturally diverse faculties and student bodies of any institution of comparable size. EMU’s M.A. in Peacebuilding is world-renowned. Long before service education was fashionable, Mennonite educational institutions emphasized both global education and service-learning. Faculty regulary spend their sabbaticals in service to the poor, globally or in the United States, rather than in furthering their own academic careers. Students and faculty at EMU and its sister Mennonite schools pioneered in “alternative Spring Breaks” spent in service rather than in drunken parties and such hands on global service remains a hallmark. Cross-cultural education is also at the heart of an EMU education–students here learn to see the world from other than “American” perspectives.
Hampton University (Hampton, VA) Nestled along the banks of the Virginia Peninsula, by the Chesapeake Bay, Hampton University is an HBCU founded in 1868, out of begininings in 1861 by Mary Peake, a “Free Negro.” Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskeegee University (see above under AL) is among Hampton’s notable alumni (class of 1876). In 1878, Native Americans began also being educated at Hampton. Hampton faculty and students played significant roles in the Civil Rights movement and the school was threatened with bombings in the 1960s. Today, Hampton offers 68 undergraduate degrees, 27 masters degree programs, 6 doctoral degree programs, and 2 specialist programs in education. Undergraduate women outnumber men 63.7% to 36.3%. 91% of students are African American. The school has a dress code and a code of conduct.
Hollins University (Roanoke, VA) Founded in 1852 as Virginia’s first chartered liberal arts college for women, Hollins remains single-sex at the undergraduate level, but when it added a limited number of graduate programs in the 1980s, men were also admitted to them. In 1998, in recognition of these masters level programs, Hollins officially became a university. Hollins remains deliberately small: 759 undergraduate women and 259 co-ed graduate students this year; from 46 states and 13 countries; 52% of students from VA; 20% underrepresented minorities; Avge. high school gpa: 3.5. In the most recent graduating class, 50% of students had studied abroad and 75% of students had held internships. Hollins has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Among the distinguished alumnae is the award winning author, Annie Dillard (’67, M.A. in English, ’68); Influential photographer Sallie Mann, (’74, M.A., ’75); Pamela Slutz, ’70, U.S. Ambassador to Burundi appointed by Pres. Obama; Mary Ostill Lott, ’00, Coastal Director of the Nature Conservancy of Alabama; Ann Compton, ’69, White House correspondent for ABC News; Rev. Cynthia Hale (’69), is Pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church, Decatur, GA; Linda Koch Lorimer (’74), Vice President of Yale University.
Mary Baldwin College (Staunton, VA) Founded in 1842 by Presbyterians, and still related by covenant with the Presbyterian Church (USA), Mary Baldwin College is a private, residential, liberal arts college for women. It’s mission is to lead women to become “confident, compassionate, changemakers,” to be “Boldly Baldwin.” Mary Baldwin’s undergraduate residential college remains single sex, but it offers graduate programs in health sciences, Shakespeare and Performance, and Graduate Teacher Education and all of these programs are co-ed. MB also offers an Adult Degree Program for Women and an “early college” summer academy for gifted high schoolers of either sex. Mary Baldwin also has a singular program promoting leadership for women, including military leadership in its ROTC program. (Oddly, MBC has both an ROTC program and a minor in peace studies!) A common curriculum core is personalized for each student, undergraduate original research is expected, and study abroad is common. Changemaker Internships are paid. MBC has institutional connections with the American Shakespeare Company; The Clinton Global Initiative; Women for Women International; The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum; The International Institute for Beliefs and Values. Another singular feature of MBC is its Global Honors Scholars Progam. MBC has numerous Honors Societies, including Phi Beta Kappa. Campus ministry includes The Quest Program inviting students in any major to explore questions of spirituality and ethics.
Lynchburg College (Lynchburg, VA) For too many people, Lynchburg, VA conjurs up only pictures of the late Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church and the fundamentalist degree mill he founded, Liberty “University.” But Lynchburg is also the site of an excellent church-related liberal arts college, Lynchburg College. Founded in 1903, LC is a residential college affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a denomination with a tradition of welcoming persons of all faiths and denominations. 39 undergraduate majors, 49 minors, 14 pre-professional programs, four (4) masters’ degress, and 2 doctoral programs: an Ed.D. in leadership and a Doctor of Physical Therapy. One of 40 “Colleges That Change Lives,” in 1998 LC launched the Claytor Nature Study Center on a 470 acre farm in nearby Bedford County. LC’s president is a signatory of The American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and this commitment to sustainability shows itself in numerous Green Initiatives. (Environmental Studies (B.A.) and Environmental Sciences (B.S.) are two of LC’s most popular majors.) Lynchburg’s Westover Honors Program was launched in 1987. A dozen spiritual groups exist on LC including Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim students. One of only 50 colleges to participate in the Bonner Scholars’ Program for community service. It is also profiled in The Templeton Guide: Colleges That Encourage Character Development.