Hidden Gems, VII: Non-Coastal Southwest
The five states of the non-coastal Southwest, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas, all carved out of territory that was once Northwest Mexico, are mostly rural and sparsely populated, but not as much so as some other regions. All have seen a huge increase in their Latino/a populations, both through immigration and very high Hispanic birthrates. Prior to the economic meltdown of ’08, all the states in this region also saw significant population increases from relocations from the Northeast and from California, due to cheaper prices, lower taxes, and what was a booming tech industry. The Great Recession/Lesser Depression slowed, but did not stop, this process. And most of these states have long invested in both public and private higher education–many from before the days when they were legally states. So the educational options in this region are considerably broader than in the non-coastal Northwest and even some portions of the South Central Plains region or the poorer, more rural, states of the Southeast.
1. Arizona: Arizona is a rural state, but one that is growing quickly. It has just under 6.5 million people in over 113K square miles for an avge. of 56.3 persons per square mile–hardly a dense urban environment when compared with NY or CA, but downright crowded compared to most of the non-coastal Northwest states. And AZ’s population is increasingly diverse, with nearly 30% Latino/a and other non-whites comprising an additional 13%. (Because many Latino/a persons also identify as “white,” totals come to more than 100%.) More than 14% speak another language than English at home, over 85% have at least a high school education and nearly 30% have a bachelor’s education or more. The median income is slightly lower than the national median ($50, 448 per yr. to the national $51, 914 per yr.), but this is well above the median for many other rural states. So, with all these resources, the relative scarcity of insitutions of higher education in AZ is surprising, to say the least. To be sure, the state govt. has invested in a very large community college (two-year) system, but it only has 3 public institutions granting baccalaureates and higher degrees. Each of these three public universities (Arizona State University–Tempe; Northern Arizona University–Flagstaff; University of Arizona–Tucson), is a comprehensive, doctoral, research university with excellent national reputations (although these have been harmed somewhat by the recent AZ laws forbidding the teaching of “ethnic studies”). There is no private research university and very few private universities or liberal arts colleges of any kind. Hidden gem:
Prescott College (Prescott).–In 1966, the Ford Foundation gathered top educators from around the U.S. and challenged them to create a college “for the future” using the best available learning theories to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Prescott College was the result of that gathering. Despite a dedicated faculty, administration, and enthusiastic student body, Prescott College went bankrupt in 1974. (It’s original campus is now the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.) Prescott students and core faculty refused to let the college fold and after a series of emergency meetings forme the Prescott Center for Alternative Education and holding classes in the basement of a downtown hotel. This made headlines as “the college that wouldn’t die.” Since that time, PC has again grown developed a new campus (and a satellite campus in Tucson) and has concentrated on combining three emphases: the original Prescott College emphasis on cutting edge teaching and learning theories to educate students to be adaptable for an ever-changing world, strong commitment to a broad liberal arts core, and an ethical concern for the environment in every aspect of college life. Thus, the Prescott College motto, “For the liberal arts, for the environment, and for the future.” Prescott College offers an on-campus B.S. in Environmental Studies, 4 limited residency B.A. degrees, a limited residency M.A. in 6 areas and an on-campus M.A. in Social Justice and Human Rights, and a limited residency Ph.D. in Sustainability Education. It also offers teacher education programs.
2. Colorado: CO is another rapidly growing and changing Southwestern state that is moving from being mostly rural to more evenly split between rural and urban populations. It has just over 5 million people in 103.6 K square miles for a pop. density of 48.5 persons per square mile, slightly smaller and less-dense than AZ. The Hispanic or Latino/a population is just over 20% and slightly more than 16% of the population speaking some other language than English at home. 89% of the population has at least a high school education and over 35% have a baccalaureate or higher. The median household income is a little higher than the national median and the percentage below the poverty level slightly less than the national average. CO has invested in higher education, both publicly and privately. The “usual suspects” must include the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, the youngest and most technology-oriented of the nation’s federal military academies. For a rural state, CO hosts an impressive 14 public colleges and universities, including the Colorado State University system (3 campuses) and the University of Colorado (4 campuses)–and both the CSU flagship campus at Fort Collins and the CU flagship campus at Boulder are comprehensive, national-level, research universities that lead CO’s “usual suspects.” One should also highlight the University of Denver as a private, independent, national, comprehensive, research university. Hidden gems;
Fort Lewis College (Durango). Highly selective, public liberal arts college that began as a military fort and then became a boarding school for Native Americans before becoming a liberal arts college in 1911. Fort Lewis College offers free tuition, room, and board to Native Americans and has done so since 1911. FLC combines challenging academics with extraordinary personal attention from faculty, freedom of academic exploration, and once-in-a-lifetime experiential learning opportunities. Believing that a well-rounded education includes physical education, FLC takes full advantage of its mountain setting to create a physically active and highly athletic campus. FLC has just under 4,000 students including students from 47 states, 139 Native American tribes & Native Alaskan villages, and 19 countries. FLC combines a liberal arts education with professional training and career placement.
Colorado College (Colorado Springs). Founded in 1874 by Thomas Haskell, it was modelled after Ohio’s Oberlin College: ecumenically Christian, thoroughly grounded in the liberal arts, and socially progressive and reformist. Like Oberlin, Colorado College has lost its Christian identity, but retained the rest of its 19th C. heritage. Along with an across-the-curriculum writing emphasis, CC is known for its “block plan.” The school year is divided into 8 mini-semesters called “Blocks,” and in each Block students take only one course at a time. Class sizes are capped at 25 students, or 32 if the class has 2 professors. It has recently initiated several sweeping environmental sustainability programs. CC’s First Year Program teaches students how to learn so that they don’t waste 4 years just memorizing facts. All college requirements include competency in a second language, critical thinking, at least 2 sciences courses and at least one science lab, a physical education requirement, writing, historical knowledge of the Western tradition along with critiques from other diverse cultures.
Naropa University (Boulder). A private liberal arts university founded in 1974 by Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford University scholar. It is a unique university that is Buddhist-inspired, ecumenical, interfaith, and non-sectarian. Naropa University promotes “contemplative education,” combining the rigorous liberal arts and sciences education of the Western heritage that began in ancient Greece with the meditative approach to knowledge of the East that came from classical India. Promoting self and other awareness, compassion, and ethical responsibility, all of Naropa’s studies include both traditional Western academics and practices of sitting meditation and related disciplines–seeking a wholistic approach to knowledge.
3. Nevada: No hidden gems (only 2nd state like that). Only research universities are University of Nevada at Reno (UNR) and University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV). No private colleges except branches of universities from other states and no public liberal arts colleges. 27% of state is under 18. 35% population increase between 2000 and 2010. So, it appears that changing demographics will lead soon to a demand for more educational opportunities.
4. New Mexico: New Mexico is a rural state of just over 2 million people in a geographical area of around 122K square miles, or 17 persons per square mile. It is not a wealthy state; the median income is $43, 820 per annum, well below the national median of $51, 940. 18.4% of NM is below the poverty level, which is much higher than the national level of 13.8%. Again, this translates into a relatively sparse number of institutions of higher education, but New Mexico has invested in more public universities than other states in that same condition. Usual suspects: New Mexico has 17 state universities led by 2 major public research universities: University of New Mexico ( 5 campuses, with the flagship campus at Albuquerque). The New Mexico State University system is the only public, land grant, university classified as “Hispanic Serving” by the U.S. government. The flagship campus (out of 4) is at Las Cruces. No private research universities. Hidden gem:
St. John’s College (Santa Fe). This is the Western campus of the St. John’s College in Annapolis,MD. One of the “Colleges That Change Lives,” St. John’s College is a private, non-sectarian, liberal arts college built around The Great Books of the Modern World. On the undergraduate level there are no majors and no electives. All students take the same curriculum: No textbooks, students all read original sources from the Great Books, beginning with the Ancient Greeks and the Bible and moving chronologically to the modern era. With no tests (except vocabularly quizzes for the 2 languages), students write papers for seminars and tutorials. No letter or number grades, student transcripts contain narrative evaluations that prospective employers find much more informative. 4 years of mathematics (geometry, astronomy, calculus, relativity); 2 years of ancient Greek; 2 years of modern French; 4 years of English composition, poetry, and fiction; 3 years of science (biology, chemistry, atomic theory, physics); 2 years of music (choral singing, composition, & music theory); 4 years of seminars (philosophy, history, theology, political science, literature, economics, and psychology)–all using original sources of the Great Books. The Santa Fe campus also has 2 graduate degrees: The Master of Arts in Liberal Arts (MALA) that focuses on the Western “canon” of Great Books and the Master of Arts in Eastern Classics.
5. Texas: Texas has a huge number of both public and private universities, many of them dating from before statehood. There are 6 major public university systems in TX, anchored by the University of Texas system (13 campuses with flagship at Austin), and including Texas A & M University (12 campuses with the flagship at College Station, and the University of Houston. Texas is also hom to several private, national, comprehensive research universities among the “usual suspects,” including Baylor University (Waco); Rice University (Houston); Southern Methodist University (Dallas); Texas Christian University (Dallas); and Texas Wesleyan University (Fort Worth) among others. Hidden Gems:
Austin College (Sherman). Located just north of present-day Austin and founded in 1848, Austin College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas still operating under its original name and charter. It is an independent, co-ed, college of the liberal arts and sciences related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church, USA. One of 40 “Colleges That Change Lives,” Austin College is particularly strong in study-abroad programs. In the last decade, 70% of all students have participated in at least one international experience, studying in 99 countries from Argentina to Zimbabwe. 3 times in the last 5 years, Austin College has been ranked #1 in the U.S. for international study by the Institute for International Education. Austin College is one of the top institutions in TX for producing Fulbright Fellows and 6 students won Fulbrights in 2011. Austin College students have also won Mellon, Truman, Rotary Ambassador, and Madison awards. Austin College is also well-known for community service by both students and faculty.
University of Dallas (Irving) Founded in 1956 (with a pre-history dating to 1910), the University of Dallas is a private, co-ed, Catholic university related to the Diocese of Dallas. The only Catholic institution in Texas to have a Phi Beta Kappa chapter (and one of only 16 Catholic colleges/universities with Phi Beta Kappa chapters nationwide), UD also has an enormous amount of National Merit scholars. It’s Pre-law and Pre-Med students are accepted into law schools and medical schools at much higher rates than the national average. UD’s Core Curriculum is based around the Great Books of the Western World with a special emphasis on the Catholic intellectual tradition. This is supplemented by strong requirements in the natural sciences, complete with laboratory research, requireed of all majors. An Office of Academic Success enables each student to strive for excellence and leads to most students graduating within 4 years. UD is home to several centers and projects, including, The Center for Christianity and the Common Good; The Center for Thomas More Studies; Center for Cybersecurity Education; Center for Professional Development; Dallas Area Network for Teaching & Education (DANTE) Project; Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations. Although open to faculty and students of all faiths, and promoting a continual dialogue between faith and reason, UD also serves the Catholic Church. Among UD’s alumni are 6 Catholic bishops, 225 priests, 70 brothers and sisters, and even more alumni employed as chaplains, youth ministers, and other faith-based professions.
McMurray University (Abilene) Founded by Methodists in 1923 and still closely related to the United Methodist Church. Although welcoming students of all faiths, and though only 27% of students are Methodists, McMurray values its Christian identity and Methodist tradition. It’s core values include: Christian faith as the foundation for life, personal relationships as the catalyst for life, learning as the journey of life, excellence as the goal of life, and service as the measure of life. The Washington Monthly has honored McMurray as one of the nation’s top universities that serve the common good through: Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (faculty & student research & producing future science Ph.D.s), and Community Service.
Southwestern University (Georgetown) Founded by Methodists in 1840, Southwestern University is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas. It remains closely connected to the United Methodist Church, but is open and welcoming to students of all faiths and no particular faith. Located in Georgetown, just north of Austin, the state capital, and within 3 hours drive of 3 of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. Southwestern is a university because it houses both the Brown College of Arts and Sciences and the Sarofim School of Fine Arts, but the core curriculum, known as the Paidea Program, is required in both and there are no graduate programs. Southwestern’s core purpose is to foster a liberal arts community whose values and actions contribute to the wellbeing of humanity. It is one of 40 “Colleges That Change Lives.” The core Paidea Program fosters civic engagement, diversity and intercultural experiences, collaborative or guided research and creative works.
Trinity University (San Antonio) Founded by Cumberland Presbyterians in 1869, and today related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church, USA, Trinity University adds limited graduate programs to a undergraduate program in the liberal arts and sciences. The core curriculum includes First Year seminars, writing workshops, proficiency in at least one foreign language, computer literacy, mathematical skills, fitness education, and a senior capstone experience. The university is student-driven, faculty-inspired, and community-connected.