Hidden Gems, IV: Upper Mid-West
The upper Mid-West is largely rural. IL, IN, MI, & MN , & Wisconsin, have some large urban centers, but remain mostly rural. Iowa doesn’t really have anything that could be considered an “urban center” by either East Coast or West Coast standards. So, with lower populations, the number of higher education institutions drops. Do the “hidden gems” stick out from the “usual suspects” in higher education when the overall number of colleges and universities is smaller? I think so, but you decide. Again, the purpose of this series is simply to say that in each state and region of the United States there are colleges and universities that deserve the attention of prospective students beyond those on every guidance counselor’s list. My list is suggestive, not exhaustive. Covers: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin.
1. Illinois: Illinois has a number of “usual suspects,” anchored by the flagship University of Illinois system, but also including a number of other state-supported, land grant public universities including the stand-out Chicago State University, Governors’ State University, and Illinois State University, the oldest public university in the state. The state also has some fantastic private research universities in its “usual suspects,” including The University of Chicago (universally referred to by everyone in Chicago as “THE University” as I learned one weekend there several years ago–despite the presence of a number of other universities in the Chicagoland area), DePaul University, Loyola University-Chicago, Northwestern University, University of St. Francis (Joliet), The Illinois Institute of Technology, and Illinois Wesleyan University. More could, perhaps, be added. With few exceptions, the vast majority of IL’s famous institutions of higher education are found in the Greater Chicagoland area. The “hidden gems” of the state are more geographically diverse:
Augustana College (Rock Island): Founded in 1860 by Swedish Lutherans and today still closely related to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Augustana College is a church-related college of liberal arts and sciences. It sits next to the Mississippi River. Augustana is academically challenging, ranking among the top 40 U.S. colleges whose alumni go on to earn Ph.D.s in the natural sciences. 60 academic programs including 8 interdisciplinary programs and 9 pre-professional programs. Augustana has had a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa (the national honor society) since 1950.
Elmhurst College (Elmhurst): Founded in 1871 by the Evangelical and Reformed Church and today affiliated with its successor, the United Church of Christ. Elmhurst College is a liberal arts and sciences college located 30 minutes by train from Chicago. The campus is a 40 acre arboretum. Elmhurst offers over 50 majors, 15 pre-professional programs, 9 graduate programs, and a well-regarded honors program. This was the college that produced the famous theologian brothers, Reinhold & H. Richard Niebuhr–and which, in turn, H. Richard enhanced during his term as president of Elmhurst. Today, one of the features of Elmhurst is its Niebuhr Center for Religion and the Common Good.
Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL): Founded in 1860, Wheaton College is the Harvard of evangelical Christian liberal arts colleges. Its first president, Jonathan Blanchard, combined a commitment to orthodox theology with a radical social passion: working for the abolition of slavery, for women’s suffrage, workers’ rights and an end to child labor, and for peace. With Wheaton’s 3rd president, during the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the early 20th C., Wheaton adopted the more conservative social atmosphere it has known for most of its history–the alma mater of evangelist Billy Graham and conservative theologian Carl F. H. Henry. But Wheaton is slowly remembering its radical social roots–and its academic reputation is greatly improved from the 1960s and 1970s–consistently ranked as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation. One of 40 Colleges That Change Lives. Not for everyone: Mandatory chapel three (3) times per week. Alcohol-free campus. Not friendly to LGBT students.
Knox College(Galesburg): Another of the Colleges That Change Lives , Knox College was founded by radical abolitionists in 1838. It was made famous as the site of the 5th of the Lincoln-Douglass Debates in 1858. In 2010, The Huffington Post listed Knox as one of the “10 Best Kept Secrets: Colleges You Should Know.” It is one of the few small, liberal arts colleges to produce two or more Fulbright Fellows and it consistently ranks in the top 3% of alumni who go on to earn Ph.Ds. In the early 2000s, Knox began a major curriculum overhaul aimed at preparing students for a 21st C. world. In 2003, Knox partnered with Howard Hughes Medical Institute to create an undergraduate major in neuroscience. In 2005, Knox entered into partnership with George Washington University to allow advanced pre-Med Knox students to gain early admission to GWU’s Medical School. The same year, Knox partnered with The University of Rochester to allow qualified students direct admission into the MBA program of Rochester’s Simon School of Business. Always a leader in alumni who volunteer for the Peace Corps, in 2007 Knox College partnered with the Peace Corps to create the first Peace Corps preparatory course in the nation. Knox has a stringent Honors Program and is known for student research. It is needs-blind in admission and works diligently through both needs-based and merit-based financial aid to make certain that cost is no barrier to attendance.
Roosevelt University (Chicago and Schaumburg): Founded in 1945 as a protest against the quota systems to limit the number of Jews, African-Americans, immigrants, and women in American academic life that was typical of the day, because Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt died within a few weeks of the new college’s founding, permission was given by his widow, Eleanor, to name the new school in his honor. It was dedicated to both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in 1959. Roosevelt University is a private, non-sectarian, institution specifically dedicated to principles of human rights and social justice. It houses an Institute of New Deal Studies, the St. Clair Drake Center for African and African American Studies, and the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, among others. The New York Times has said that RU has one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation and U. S. News and World Report claims that it has the 2nd most diverse student body in the Midwest. In addition to its College of Arts and Sciences, RU includes the Chicago College of Performing Arts; College of Education; Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional Studies; the College of Pharmacy; and the Walter E. Heller College of Business.
2. Indiana: The usual suspects in Indiana include the large University of Indiana system (9 campuses) with its flagship campus in Bloomington, Purdue University (4 campuses), and 4 other state-supported universities. The premier private research university in IN is The University of Notre Dame du Lac. Other private “usual suspects” would include Butler University, Indiana Wesleyan University,University of Evansville, University of Indianapolis, DePauw University, and Valparaiso University. Hidden gems:
Earlham College (Richmond): Founded in 1847 by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and still closely related to Friends United Meeting. One of the 40 Colleges That Change Lives. With a General Education curriculum designed to lead students to prepare for a life of critical knowledge and informed action, Earlham has 40 disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields including an acclaimed Peace and Global Studies Major. Rooted in the Quaker values of tolerance, equality, justice, respect, and collaboration. 29th (99th percentile) in alumni who go on to earn Ph.D.s, 10th in Ph.D.s in the biological sciences, and 14th in the life sciences. Study abroad in more than 40 countries. Students and faculty renowned for community service. Themed housing, including language houses.
Goshen College (Goshen): Founded in 1894, Goshen College is a 4 year liberal arts college of the Mennonite Church (USA), but with many non-Mennonite students. Built around the core Mennonite Christian beliefs of simple living, struggling for justice and equality, seeking peace and reconciliation, and caring for God’s creation. Goshen has top ranked programs in international study. It is one of the best small to mid-sized liberal arts colleges for Hispanics/Latinos. The extended campus includes a nature conservatory and a marine biology lab in Florida. The school motto is “culture for service” and mutual service is built into the campus culture. Goshen’s Christian identity is central, but it welcomes persons of all faiths and no particular faith. Has a Department of Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies.
Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame). St. Mary’s College is an all-women’s Catholic liberal arts college next door to the University of Notre Dame. During the days when Notre Dame was all-male, Saint Mary’s was the women’s partner school. Today, it remains a single-sex institution, but all students have complete access to all classes and facilities at Notre Dame. If you want all the resources of a major Catholic research university (all the drama of the Fighting Irish sports teams, etc.), but want the intimacy of a small liberal arts college, and the empowerment to women of an all-female campus, Saint Mary’s might well be the place for you. (Full disclosure: One of my friends taught for a time at Saint Mary’s so I’m not completely unbiased.)
Wabash College (Crawfordsville). One of only 3 remaining all-male liberal arts colleges in the United States, Wabash College was founded in 1832 by Presbyterian ministers from New England, but always independent and non-sectarian from the beginning. With a student body of under 900, Wabash is an intensive learning community with about 75% of each graduating class going on to law school, medical school, or graduate studies. A large endowment that would be the envy of many much larger universities has allowed Wabash to build state of the art labs in biology and chemistry and a $ 2 million Malcom X Institute for Black Studies–one of the few such institutes in schools whose history and heritage have been overwhelmingly white. Wabash has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Has a nationally-ranked Center for Career Development. One of 40 Colleges That Change Lives.
3. Iowa: Iowa’s rural nature is nowhere so evident as in the presence of only three (3) public universities: The University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and The University of Northern Iowa. Major private universities include The University of Dubuque, and Drake University. Hidden Gems:
Coe College (Cedar Rapids): Founded by Presbyterians in 1851 and given several name changes until in 1875 it was called Coe College in honor of early financial benefactor Daniel Coe. Coe is an independent, co-ed, private liberal arts college related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA). One of only 5 colleges in IA to be granted a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honor society and a mark of an institution’s serious commitment to the liberal arts and sciences. Every Coe student participates in an internship, does student research and publishing, completes a practicum, and/or studies abroad during their 4 years at Coe. 98% of Coe graduates are either employed or in graduate school within 6 months of graduation. Coe is known nationally for its strong academics, but especially for its Writing Center and for its Department of Music.
Cornell College (Mt. Vernon): Not to be confused with the Ivy League’s Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, but the similarity in names is not coincidental. Cornell COLLEGE in Mt. Vernon, IA was founded in 1853 by Methodists and named in 1857 for William Wesley Cornell, a devout Methodist layman and prosperous merchant who was an early benefactor of the school. He was also a cousin to industrialist Ezra Cornell who, a decade later, founded Cornell UNIVERSITY in Ithaca, NY. Cornell College today is famous for its “one course at a time” curriculum. Students follow a unique school year divided into 8 semesters of 3 1/2 weeks apiece. During each such semester, students take only one course and concentrate their full attention on that course. Cornell College is one of the Colleges That Change Lives. Classes are capped at 25 students each and the average class size is 16. Students take as many as 60 courses per year and 95% finish within 4 years–2/3 do so with double majors.
Grinnell College (Grinnell): Founded by Congregationalists in 1846, Grinnell is a private, 4 year, co-ed, residential, liberal arts college. It is highly competitive and offers the B.A. It uses individual curricular planning, having no “core” requirements beyond the First Year Tutorial. Grinnell is known for its history of strong social justice activism by students and faculty. Both the college and town were named for Josiah Bushnell Grinnell, a Congregationalist minister and abolitionist. It is 8th in the nation for number of graduates who go on to earn Ph.Ds. Highly competitive, Grinnell offers no remedial courses, but has extensive free help for non-credit in science, math, writing–usually with students helping students. Most graduate in 4 years. Grinnell practices needs-blind admissions and pledges to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need of all admitted U.S. students. International student admissions is not needs-blind, but considerable scholarship aid is available for international students, too. No sororities or fraternities, but considerable means of involvement. “Alternative Spring Break” service projects began at Grinnell and Grinnell has the highest percentage of Peace Corps. volunteers per capita of any college campus in the nation.
Luther College (Decorah): Founded in 1861, Luther College is a private, co-ed, residential college of liberal arts and sciences related by covenant to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and a very high volunteer rate for the Peace Corps. Luther College is part of the Annapolis Group of colleges and universities that refuses to release data to U.S. News and World Report because of concerns about its misleading rankings methodology. Nevertheless, LC has a national academic reputation of high standing. It is internationally famous in its music department and is highly regarded all around. LC spawned a museum of Norwegian-Americans (now separate from the college), but has a very strong African and African-American Studies Department–in one of the whitest states in the nation.
4. Michigan: Michigan rivals Ohio and Illinois as portions of the original “Northwest Territory” to have been pioneered, in part, by New England missionaries with strong ideals in education. Public universities include the University of Michigan system (3 campuses with flagship @ Ann Arbor), Michigan State University (East Lansing), and 11 other state universities. Private research universities: Andrews University (Berrien Springs), Finlandia University (Hancock), Kettering University (Flint), Spring Arbor University, and University of Detroit Mercy. “Usual suspects” among liberal arts colleges include Adrian College, Albion College, Aquinas College, Hillsdale College, and Siena Heights University. Hidden Gems:
Calvin College (Grand Rapids): As an Anabaptist who was raised a Wesleyan Arminian, the prospect of 4 years on a campus named for John Calvin would have frightened me silly. In no way do I suggest that this 4-year, co-ed, college of the Christian Reformed Church (Dutch Calvinist immigrants founded it in 1876) is for everyone. Students who are LGBT should be especially wary–but no more so than at most evangelical colleges. But neither should it be lightly dismissed. The resurgence in Christian philosophy that began in the 1980s and continues today was launched mainly by graduates of Calvin College–some of whom were also, at least for awhile, also on faculty here. Yes, chapel is mandatory and 5 days per week. If you want to be part of a wild college party life, look elsewhere. But you should also look elsewhere if you are a parent who just wants to send your kid to a fundamentalist indoctrination factory. Calvin takes VERY seriously the integration of faith with the life of the mind. Classes are as challenging here as anywhere–probably more challenging than in many Ivy League schools. It’s liberal arts philosophy is inspired by that of the Dutch Calvinist statesman, Abraham Kuyper. (Nor should one assume that Calvinist orthodoxy leads to rightwing politics. When George W. Bush gave the commencement address in ’05, he was greeted with protesting students and faculty, deeply disturbed by policies of “preventive war,” “unlimited detention,” and torture.) Calvin’s core curriculum is larger than most–comprosing about 45 classes. The science opportunities are especially rich at Calvin, too.
Hope College (Holland): Founded in 1866, Hope College is another Christian liberal arts college founded by Dutch Calvinist immigrants, but Hope belongs to the Reformed Church in America, which is somewhat more “liberal” than the Christian Reformed Church and its Calvin College. Hope is one of the Colleges That Change Lives. Undergraduate research is the norm here and at a very high quality. Further, faculty rank 4th nationally for academic publications at liberal arts colleges –and 14th overall for highest impact of those publications as measured b the Science Index. Hope is among the top 5% of students who go on to earn Ph.Ds. The atmosphere is still distinctively evangelical Christian, even Reformed, as at Calvin, but with a more relaxed atmosphere. All students must take at least 4 years of a foreign language. Hope is one of the highest rated colleges for Hispanic/Latino inclusion. Hope is one of the few schools to achieve excellence and national recognition in all four areas of the fine arts: visual arts, dance, music, and theatre. Hope has produced such notable alumni as A.J. Muste, pacifist and nonviolent activist who led first the Fellowship of Reconciliation and then the War Resisters League for years; Nobel Prize winning chemist, Richard Smalley; Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler.
Kalamazoo College (Kalamazoo): Founded by Baptists in 1833 and still loosely related to the American Baptist Churches, USA, Kalamazoo College is a private, independent, co-ed, college of liberal arts and sciences. It is located in the thriving metropolis of Kalamazoo, half-way between Detroit and Chicago. It is world-renowned for its curriculum called the K-Plan which guarantees the opportunity to study abroad, have an internship, do hands-on research, and complete a major in 4 years. All students, even locals, required to live on campus all 4 years (except when studying off campus). No sororities or fraternities, but very active student life. Campus ministry is vibrant, but voluntary and K’s commitment to multiculturalism includes interfaith dialogue. Has an Office for Social Justice Involvement. Honor Code; Career prep; Senior project for graduation. Strong focus on experiential learning and service learning. One of the 40 Colleges That Change Lives.
Marygrove College (Detroit): In the 19th C. in Monroe, MI, a group of Catholic nuns founded a new religious order, Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mercy (IHM) dedicated to service and to education, especially the education of women. In 1927 that resulted in the founding of Marygrove College in Detroit. Originally a women’s college, it is now a private, co-ed, Catholic liberal arts college with a progressive mission. Marygrove is dedicated to the urban environment of Detroit and is committed to producing progressive leaders in all walks of life who are competent, compassionate, and committed to forging a more just and humane world. Grounded in the liberal arts with pre-professional training and limited graduate programs. Marygrove has a curricular focus on leadership development. It stresses excellent teaching in a personalized learning environment. In has a beautiful campus, but is part of the city. Close student/faculty collaborations and interdepartmental cooperation and interdisciplinary approaches to learning. The College is deliberate about building a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural faculty, staff, and student body. Religious values broadly, and Catholic ideals in particular, animate the campus learning environment. There is a campus-wide focus on social justice and a commitment to the people of Detroit and to urban renewal.
5. Minnesota: There are nearly 200 institutions of higher education in MN, which has one of the highest rates of education of any rural state in the U.S. Among the usual suspects are the public University of Minnesota system with its flagship campus in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul; The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system comprises 31 public colleges and universities on 54 campuses. The largest private research university is the University of St. Thomas and the oldest is Hameline University. Other private “usual suspects” include Augsburg College, Carleton College, College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University [the two function in a unique partnership]. Hidden Gems:
College of St. Scholastica (Duluth): Founded in 1912, this is a Catholic university in the Benedictine tradition. The only private, independent college in Northeast MN, the College of St. Scholastica is also the home of The St. Scholastica Benedictine monastery, the home of the Benedictine Sisters. It awards mostly baccalaureate and masters’ degrees, but also a doctorate of nursing practice and a doctorate of physical therapy. Known for its “Dignitas” program that requires students to explore broad questions from several divergent perspectives.
Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter): Founded in 1862 by Swedish-American Lutherans, Gustavus Adolphus College is a private, independent, liberal arts college closely related to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and named in honor of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1594-1632). The college values its Swedish and Lutheran history and is guided by 5 core values: community, excellence, faith, justice, and service. It has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. It has an annual Nobel Conference in which Nobel laureates gather on campus and give lectures. Has a Peace education program and a Mayday Peace Conference. Stresses writing “across the curriculum.” An impressive 93% retention rate from first to second year and 87% graduation rate within 4 years.
Macalester College (St. Paul): Founded by a Presbyterian minister in 1874, and loosely connected to the Presbyterian Church (USA), but non-sectarian in curriculum and openess to all students, Macalester College has been called a “hidden Ivy,” i.e., an extremely competitive, top-flight college of the liberal arts and sciences which could easily compete with the undergraduate programs of any Ivy League school. It has produced alumni such as Walter Mondale (U.S. Sen. [D-MN], VP to Jimmy Carter, & U.S. Ambassador to Japan under Clinton) and Kofi Anan (UN Secretary General & Nobel Peace Laureate). A participant in Project Pericles, Macalester promotes civic responsibility and pursuit of social justice by faculty and students. Through recruiting and study abroad, Macalester promotes an internationalist view of the world. It is one of the best co-ed colleges for women and one of the top-rated campuses for LGBT students. Ranked with the Colleges With a Conscience, Macalester combines rigorous academics (students spend a large percentage of their time studying), and amazing opportunities with a campus spirit that reinforces service for others.
St. Olaf College (Northfield): Founded in 1874, St. Olaf is a liberal arts college of the church in the Lutheran tradition. Related closely to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). This is a demanding college known for its high caliber academics in a deep faith tradition. St. Olaf’s mathematics and music programs are rightly famous, but it also has a an Honors Program that is based on the Great Books of the Western World. It has innovative programs in science education and its commitment to sustainability is shown in its wind-driven electricity. St. Olaf has a Peace Studies program, is a leader in study abroad programs, and its students win an impressive number of Fulbright, Watson, and Rhodes Scholarships, and produces a very large number of Peace Corps volunteers. It is one of the most diverse campuses of any church-related college.
6. Wisconsin: Like MN, Wisconsin has a much higher education rate than most largely rural states. In popular culture, WI is known for cheese, brewing beer, and the Greenbay Packers football team. Those with a better knowledge of history, know WI as the first state where organized labor won the right to organize and bargain collectively. But WI has also invested in higher education and it shows: The University of Wisconsin sytem has 13 campuses, including two comprehensive doctoral research universities, the flagship UW-Madison (considered a “public Ivy”) and also UW-Milwaukee. The premier private comprehensive research university is Marquette University, a Catholic and Jesuit university of the highest caliber. Hidden gems:
Alverno College (Milwaukee). Founded in 1887 by the School Sisters of St. Francis, Alverno College is a private, Catholic women’s liberal arts college. (Men are admitted to the limited masters’ degree programs.) Alverno has adopted an “abilities-based” curriculum in which the liberal arts core is structured develop in students 8 key skills or abilities: communication (in writing, speech, and electronic media), critical analysis, problem solving, valuing, social interaction, developing a global perspective, effective citizenship, and aesthetic engagement. Alverno uses narrative evaluations on its transcripts rather than traditional letter or number grades. Alverno’s nursing, teacher education, and business programs have received special recognition, but its overall academic strength consistently leads it to rank very high among regional liberal arts colleges. It is also considered a “best buy,” since it is committed to having one of the lowest tuition rates of any private college in WI and to providing generous financial aid to all incoming and transfer students.
Beloit College (Beloit). Chartered in 1846, Beloit is WI’s oldest college. It was founded by Yale College graduates who had a dream of bringing top-flight higher education to the old frontier for the rapid changes of life in mid-19th C. America. One of the 40 Colleges That Change Lives, Beloit has a flexible curriculum designed to provide a “living and learning environment” that cultivates students who are at home in the world of ideas, value learning for its own sake, and are ready for intelligent and effective participation in the world. Beloit has won awards for its environmentally-sustainable campus, with several LEEDS-certified green buildings including a top-flight hands-on Center for the Sciences. It also hosts a Center for the Liberal Arts in Practice which enables students to practice outside the classroom skills and concepts learned inside it. The Hendricks Center for the Arts houses Beloit’s dance, music, and film programs. Nearly 50% of Beloit’s students study abroad. Beloit strives to be affordable with a robust financial aid package that includes both merit-based and needs-based financial aid. Two national science programs in curricular reform BioQUEST and ChemLINKS are both based at Beloit and run by Beloit faculty.
Lawrence University (Appleton) Founded in 1847 by 2 Methodist ministers and an Episcopalian lay philanthropist (Amos Adams Lawrence), Lawrence University is a private, non-sectarian, institution that is a “university” by virtue of being a top-flight 4-year liberal arts college and a nationally-ranked music conservatory on one campus. It was the 2nd college in the United States to be co-educational from its very founding. Believing that the best indicator for college success is the high school transcript, Lawrence is “test optional” for both admissions procedures and scholarship applications. That is, students may choose to submit scores from the SAT, ACT, or neither without such omission negatively impacting either chances for admission or consideration for academic merit scholarships. Governed by a strict honor code, timed, closed-book tests are often taken unproctored in students’ dorms, with faculty trusting students not to cheat. Lawrence is one of 40 Colleges That Change Lives and is a Great Books College. All entering first year students are required to take Freshman Studies, a two-semester sequence based largely on the Great Books of the Western World. Lawrence is also part of the Oberlin group of Midwestern liberal arts colleges which arranges to share library resources. It is known for being especially strong in the sciences and also has one of the finest undergraduate mathematics programs in the nation. Lawrence also has a deserved reputation for encouraging interdisciplinary work and self-designed majors, student-faculty collaboration and independent research, honors projects, and study abroad. For domestic students, Lawrence is needs-blind in admission policy, and committed to making certain that all qualified students can attend, but it is not loan-free in its financial aid package. About 25% of students are enrolled in the music conservatory pursuing a Bachelor of Music and it is possible to pursue a double degree (B.A./B.Mus.) with the liberal arts college.