Hidden Gems, VIII: West Coast Region
Our final region in our state-by-state examination of U.S. higher education for “hidden gems” beyond the “usual suspects” which should be given serious consideration in any college search is the West Coast region. It consists of 5 states: Alaska, California, Hawai’i, Oregon, & Washington. California is the most densely-populated state in the nation, while Alaska is one of the most rural and least populous. The entire region is very diverse racially & ethnically as well as religiously. AK is mostly conservative in political culture, whereas the other 4 states range from just left of center to very liberal–although each has conservative regions or “pockets.” Until the economic meltdown of ’08, most of the region had very strong economies, though a shrinking middle class and wide gaps between rich and poor characterize all 5 of these states. All these features influence the number, range, and quality of institutions of higher education in these states.
1. Alaska: The 49th state of the USA, AK is the largest in land area, stretching a total of 570, 640.95 square miles with only 722,718 persons living in that state–only 1.8 persons per sq. mile! Yet, AK population is growing at roughly double the national avge. It is comparably wealthy, with a median income of $66K per year vs. the national avge. of $51k per year. The poverty rate is also lower than the national avge, but the contrast between rural poor and prosperous city dwellers is stark. High school graduation rate is higher than the national average, but the college education rate is slightly below the national average. The “usual suspects” in AK higher education include the University of Alaska system with 3 campuses, the flagship campus at Fairbanks, the largest enrollment in Anchorage, and the Southeast branch at the capital of Juneau. There are also 5 community colleges spread throughout the state.
It seems to me that AK would be greatly served if the state govt. invested in an honors liberal arts college that would attract the many who graduate in the top 10% of their high school class. Why? Because no matter how good the University of Alaska system is, there are many very bright students who thrive better in the atmosphere of a liberal arts college: small campus, significant student-teacher interaction & mentoring, no teaching assistants, small classrooms, significant opportunities for extracurricular participation and/or leadership, etc. If students go outside a state for this kind of education, a significant percentage will not return–and that percentage is larger if the home state is rural. This creates a brain-drain and talent-drain that damages a rural state like AK. A public liberal arts honors college would be affordable to a greater percentage of those talented high schoolers who might look out of state. An investment in such an institution has benefitted other states (e.g., Truman State University in Missouri; Keene State College in New Hampshire; Fort Lewis College in Colorado; New College of Florida; University of Science and Arts in Oklahoma) and I think it would for Alaska, too.
Alaska Pacific University (Anchorage). Because Alaska Pacific University is the only private college or university in AK, it cannot be considered a “hidden gem” in the normal sense of this series–worthy educational institutions eclipsed by the shadows of more famous institutions in the same state. But I do think that APU is often overlooked both nationwide and in AK generally. If AK residents consider enrolling in some other institution than the University of Alaska, they tend to look immediately out of state–either in “the lower 48” or in Canada. APU was founded in 1957 by the United Methodist Church, the youngest of the more than 1200 colleges and universities founded by Methodists in 200 years. It has exceptionally strong programs in Environmental Studies and related programs. It also offers high school students an “Early Honors” program of college-level courses during their senior year that can lead them to finishing B.A. or B.S. degrees in 3 years.
2. California: CA, the most populous state in the USA, one of the wealthiest, and most diverse, has also, historically, been a state that has heavily invested in both public and private institutions of higher education. The University of California system has 10 campuses, 3 of which rank in the top 15 public institutions of the world (UC-Berkeley, UCLA, & UC-San Diego). The California State University system is even larger with 23 campuses–educating 60% of the state’s teachers and 40% of the state’s engineers. Others among the California’s many “usual suspects” include The California Institute of Technology , Stanford University, The University of Southern California, The Claremont Colleges, among others. California is host to a number of nationally-recognized Catholic colleges and universities including: Loyola Marymount University, The University of San Francisco, The University of San Diego, Notre Dame de Namur University, and Santa Clara University among others. Mainline Protestant and Evangelical Protestant colleges and universities are also plentiful. Amidst all this wealth, these “hidden gems” should not be missed:
California Lutheran University (Thousand Oaks). CLU or Cal-Lutheran is a Christian university founded in 1959 by immigrant Norwegian Lutherans and still closely related to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). The school also continues to celebrate the Scandinavian heritage of its founders. With limited masters and doctoral degrees, CLA’s undergraduate programs encourage diverse programs of study, well-rounded student learning outcomes, and a commitment to learning about social, economic, and political justice. Encourages inquiries of faith and reason.
Mills College (Oakland). The first all-women’s liberal arts college west of the Rocky Mountains, Mills College was founded in 1852 under the leadership of Mary Atkins, a graduate of Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH). In 1865 it was bought and “re-founded” by Susan Tolman Mills (an alumna of Mt. Holyoke College, a prestigious women’s college in MA) and her husband, Cyrus Mills. The school is still single-sex on the undergraduate level but co-ed in its graduate programs. Mills is notable for its high academics, but also for its community service and tradition of “social mobility” (i.e., educating students from the poor and working classes) with over 16% of students classified as “resumers,” older students returning to college after an interrupted education. Notable alumnae include: choreographer Trisha Brown (’58), journalist Elizabeth Crow (’68), U.S. diplomat April Glaspie (’63), U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA, ’73), Dixie Lee Ray, first woman governor of Washington state (’46, ’47).
Mount St. Mary’s College (Los Angeles). Founded in 1925 by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Mount St. Mary’s College is a Catholic women’s college of the liberal arts and sciences, the only one on the West Coast. It is noted for its service for persons of color, its award-winning nursing program, and for a unique degree in “Film and Social Justice.”
Occidental College (Los Angeles). Founded by Presbyterians in 1887, “Oxy” is one of the oldest liberal arts colleges on the West Coast and one of the first to achieve a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. It’s beautiful campus is a frequent movie location and it was one of the founders of intercollegiate athletics in the West–fielding 21 Olympic athletes since 1904 and having a fierce football rivalry with Pomona College (one of The Claremont Colleges) 30 years before the famed USC-UCLA game. Oxy’s “Upward Bound” program assists bright & talented low-income and minority students to become ready for college or university work. 31 majors including 6 that are interdisciplinary. About 75% of Oxy’s students receive some combination of needs-based and merit financial aid helping it to have one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation. Faculty is equally diverse and so is the multi-cultural “Eagle Rock” neighborhood in which the campus is located. Oxy gives students the resources of a major metropolitan city with the small campus and close-knit community of a liberal arts college.
Sonoma State University (Rohnert Park). Founded in 1960 as part of the California State University system, Sonoma State University (SSU) is the public liberal arts university of California. In addition to its strong standing in the liberal arts, SSU is also known for its programs in nursing, business, and economics. Located in the heart of the CA wine country (one can earn a B.A. in wine business), SSU is part of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC). It recruits bright and talented students from all backgrounds and offers a mentoring approach to education that fosters ethical exploration, community service, civic engagement, social responsibility, and global awareness.
University of the Redlands (Redlands) Founded by Baptists in 1907, this private, masters-level university still has a loose connection to the American Baptist Churches, USA. Redlands has several Centers of Distinction, including the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies, the Banta Center for Business, Ethics, and Society, the Truesdail Center for Communicative Disorders, and Center for Educational Justice. It has strong community service and study abroad programs. It has an endowed lecture series known as the Cummings Annual Lecture on World Peace. Redlands is known for collaborative research between students and faculty. Although student diversity is high, Redlands is a tight-knit community with over 75% of all students, including graduate students, live on campus. Redlands has a number of innovative degree programs, but business remains the most popular major, followed by psychology.
Westmont College (Santa Barbara) Founded in 1937 as a Bible Institute by Ruth Kerr, president of Kerr Mason Jars, Westmont College is an ecumenical and evangelical Christian liberal arts college originally located at the intersection of WEST Moreland and VerMONT in Los Angeles. It is an undergraduate, residential, Christian liberal arts college serving God’s kingdom by cultivating thoughtful scholars, grateful servants, and faithful leaders for global engagement with academy, church, and world. Of the 9 CA liberal arts colleges listed in the top-tier rankings, Westmont is the only evangelical institution among them. The avge. entering high school student has an unweighted GPA of 3.7, a median ACT score of 26 and a combined SAT score of 1200 (math and writing). 47% graduated in the top 10% of their class and 72% in the upper 5th. First year students come from all over the world, but the greatest numbers come from CA, OR, CO, & AZ. Students not only have study-abroad options, but exchange options with 12 other Christian liberal arts institutions in the Consortium of Christian Colleges. The college has its own observatory and teaches astronomy to high school students during “science summers.” The Templeton Foundation honors Westmont as one of the Colleges That Shape Character, especially through community service. More than 80% of students receive some form financial aid. Among the new constructions are the Adams Center for the Visual Arts and the Winter Hall for Science and Mathematics. Westmont tries to be a safe place for GLBT students while still holding to traditional evangelical teaching that accepts heterosexual marriage as the only moral option for sexual expression. Needless to say, it is difficult to walk this tightrope, but Westmont continues to make the effort.
Whittier College (Whittier)–Founded by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in 1887, and named after the famed Quaker poet and peace activist, John Greenleaf Whittier, Whittier College is today a private, nonsectarian liberal arts college in Southern California located between West Los Angeles and Orange County. It’s athletic teams are called “The Poets” in honor of the school’s namesake. It has one of the most diverse student bodies of any liberal arts college with 49% of students identifying as either international students or from racial/ethnic minorities. Students also come from very diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Whittier College is part of the Annapolis Group of colleges refusing to give information or cooperate with the various college/university rankings, especially U.S. News & World Report. It values its Quaker roots and still bases its educational philosophy on Quaker ideals, and is considered a “Hispanic Serving” educational institution. Whittier is often unfairly looked at with suspicion by those on the political left because its most famous alumnus is still Richard M. Nixon (’34), 37th President of the U.S. (R), but this is ridiculous. No one writes off Yale or Harvard for producing George W. Bush, yet he graduated from both institutions. Stanford produced both Herbert Hoover and Condaleeza Rice, yet it was also the alma mater of Chelsea Clinton. It is only smaller, often church-related, colleges that somehow get blamed for notorious alumni.
3. Hawai’i: Our 50th state, which is a very large chain of islands, has a population of 1, 374, 810 over 6, 422. 63 sq. miles, or 211.8 persons per sq. mi. So, it’s population is not all that large, but it is very dense. It has had a population increase of 12.3% since the previous census, well above the national avge. The median income is over $66k per annum which is above the national avge. and a poverty rate of 9.6% which is below the national avge., but the poverty rate among Native Hawai’ians and other Pacific Islanders is far higher. In addition to several community colleges, Hawai’i has the University of Hawai’i system with 4 campuses, 2 doctoral-level, research universities ( the flagiship UHawai’i at Manoa and U Hawai’i at Hilo) and 2 baccalaureate universities (U Hawai’i-West Oahu & U Hawai’i Maui College). As with Alaska, I think the people of Hawai’i would be well-served by the creation of a public liberal arts college, a top-flight, state-run honors college that would nurture talent among all socio-economic classes and prevent a brain-drain and talent-drain. I also think the foundation of a women’s (single sex) liberal arts college would pay dividends. For now, those seeking such educational opportunities must go to the mainland. Hidden gems:
Chaminade University (Honolulu). Founded in 1955 by members of the Society of Mary (Marianists) and named after the founder of the order, Chaminade University is the only Catholic institution of higher education in Hawai’i. It is also one of the most diverse campuses in the nation: There is a Marianist brotherhood living on the campus and 40% of students are Catholic. 60% of the student body comes from Hawai’i, 27% from the mainland U.S., 11% from other Pacific Islands, and 2% from other countries. Chaminade is listed as a Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander serving institution as 67% of students identify as either Asian or Pacific Islander, 17% white (non-Hispanic), 6% Hispanic, 4% African-American, 0.7% Native American or Alaskan Native.
Hawai’i Pacific University (Honolulu). A non-sectarian, private, college of liberal arts and sciences (with some masters’ level programs), Hawai’i Pacific University (HPU) was founed in 1965. Bloomberg News identifies HPU as providing a better “return on investment” than any other institution of higher education in Hawai’i. Tuition is about 50% of the national avge. for private liberal arts colleges. This, coupled with a generous financial aid program, has led to a very diverse student body at HPU. HPU uses a skills-assessment and learning-outcomes approach to general education requirements.
4. Oregon: Oregon is a rural state, but more densely populated than several other Western states. In an area of 95, 988.01 sq. miles, there lives a population of 3, 871, 859 or 39.9 persons per sq. mi.–just about half of the national average. OR has enjoyed more population growth than the national avge. The median public income is slightly less than the national avg. and the poverty rate is slightly more., but this is a recent trend. For much of OR’s 20th C. history, it has been wealthier than the national avge. and has wisely invested some of this wealth into higher education. In addition to 17 community colleges, OR’s public universities are anchored by the 7 members of the Oregon University system. OR also has numerous private institutions. Among the “usual suspects” is the national, private research university, Pacific University (Forest Grove), Willamette University (Salem). and the famous, elite, liberal arts college, Reed College (Portland). Hidden gems:
George Fox University (Newburg) Founded by Quakers and still related to the Northwest Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. GFU hosts an evangelical interdenominational seminary. Only 5% of the student body is Quaker, today, but GFU houses a strong collection of peace and nonviolence literature and a Center for Peace and Justice. Faculty are expected to be Christian and sign a doctrinal statement, but students do not, although they do have to conform to behavioral norms. One notable alumnus is the Quaker biblical scholar and theologian, Daniel L. Smith-Christopher who teaches Old Testament and directs the Peace & Justice Minor at Loyola Marymount University. GFU’s students do community service in alternative Fall and Spring Breaks.
Gutenberg College (Eugene). A new college established in 1994, which grew out of a ministry to students at the University of Oregon, Gutenberg College is a non-denominational Christian College which uses a curriculum centered on the Great Books of the Western World (as, more famously, does St. John’s College and some others do so to lesser degrees). It offers one degree, the B.A. in Liberal Arts, and all students take the same courses and must complete identical requirements to graduate. In some courses, students will do close readings or “micro-exegesis” of the texts in question. All students study 2 years of Classical Greek and modern German. Students take courses in Western Civilization, Great Conversation, Writing, Art, Microexegesis, Biblical Philosophy, Ancient Mathematics, Modern Mathematics, Science, and Senior thesis. Unlike St. John’s College which avoids tests and uses narrative evaluations of course work, Gutenberg has comprehensive tests and letter grades. While I am skeptical of the concept of “biblical philosophy,” I would think this is a hidden gem of education worth exploring.
Lewis & Clark College (Portland). Originally located in Albany and chartered as the Albany Collegiate Institute in 1867, the school moved to Portland in 1938 and in 1942 changed its name to Lewis & Clark College to honor the Lewis & Clark expedition to the West Coast. In addition to the College of Arts & Sciences, L & C has a Law School and a Graduate School of Education and Counseling. L & C is a member of the Annapolis Group of colleges that opts out of the college/university rankings and refuses to give information to U. S. World & Report. Founded by Presbyterians, Lewis & Clark is not formally connected with any church body these days, but still values its Presbyterian heritage. 23% of L & C’s students are persons of color. 72% of students receive financial aid. 53% of entering students come from outside OR and 75% are women. Sincwe 1997, L & C students have won 45 Fulbright Fellowships, 22 Goldwater Scholarships, 1 Hertz Foundation Fellowship, 1 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship, 2 Madison Fellowships, 1 Mellon Fellowship, 13 Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation, 1 NCAA Post-Graduate Fellowship, 1 Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, 2 Rhodes Scholarships, 9 Truman Scholarships, 3 Udall Scholarships, & 2 Wilson Fellowships. It has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honor society. As a Division III NCAA school, L & C believes in scholar-athletes–no athletic scholarships and all sports programs are designed to develop the whole human being. L &C ranks 5th among small colleges in number of students who volunteer for the Peace Corps.
Linfield College (McMinnville). Founded by Baptists in 1848, Linfield College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences in one of the most beautiful parts of Oregon. (Full disclosure: I have been to a conference of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America held on Linfield’s campus, so I can testify firsthand to the campus’ beauty. I was not there during the school year, however, so all I know of its academics is secondhand.) The college retains a loose connection to the American Baptist Churches, USA but neither faculty nor students are bound by any religious requirements. In 1956, the Linfield Research Institute was established to help in science education and in using endowment money for student research and collaborative research between students and faculty. In 1975, the Division of Continuing Education was established to help working adults and older adults continue their education. In 1976, Linfield College began a student exchange program with Kanto Gakuin University in Japan. Today, it is one of several study abroad programs offered by the college. By the time they graduate, over 50% of Linfield College students will study overseas or be involved in an overseas internship. On Linfield’s satellite campus in Portland, students can earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in cooperation with Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center. Linfield has produced 22 Fulbright scholars in the past 12 years. Linfield College is home to the Oregon Nobel Symposium (one of only 5 in the entire world) which brings Nobel laureates to campus for discussions. Linfield has excellent outreach to Hispanic students, is one of the most eco-friendly campuses in the nation, and does exceptionally well in financial aid support for lower income students. Linfield’s most notable alumnus is Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968), class of 1904, the great historian of missions and of the Orient who taught World Christianity, Missiology, and Chinese History at Yale University.
5. Washington: The last state in our survey is the state of Washington. It has a population just under 7 million, a 14% increase in the last decade (during which the nation as a whole grew only by 6.4 %). That population is contained in a land mass of 66,455.52 sq. mi. or 101.2 persons per sq. mi. So, although the general perception of Washington is that it is a rural state, the population density is actually slightly higher than the national average. The median income is slightly higher than the national average and the poverty rate slightly lower, too. We would expect all this to be reflected in Washington’s offerings in higher education–and we would be right. In the usual suspects, in addition to a huge number of community colleges, Washington hosts a number of public universities anchored by University of Washington (Seattle), and Washington State University (Pullman). The usual suspects also include a number of nationally famous private universities, including: Gonzaga University (Spokane), a top-ranked Jesuit Catholic university; Pacific Lutheran University (Parkland); Seattle University (Seattle); University of Puget Sound (Tacoma). Hidden gems:
The Evergreen State College (Olympia). Founded in 1967, Evergreen is a public honors college, founded to be an experimental and nontraditional college. It uses narrative evaluations rather than grades and places great emphasis on interdisciplinary study. Evergreen offers a B.A. in Liberal Arts, a B.Sc., an M.A. in Teaching, a Master of Environmental Studies, and a Master of Public Administration. It is noted for its Native American programs, too. Listed as one of 40 Colleges That Change Lives. Foundation of current curriculum is based on team teaching and collaborative learning. All majors and academic pathways are student designed. 18% of students are from underrepresented groups. 50% of full-time faculty are female and 23% are persons of color. 74% of students receive some form of financial aid and tuition is lower than average for either in-state or out-of-state public schools of this caliber.
Saint Martin’s University (Lacey). Founded by Benedictine monks in 1895, Saint Martin’s University is a private, Catholic, co-ed liberal arts university named after St. Martin of Tours. (Note: St. Martin is often called the patron saint of soldiers, but he should rather be known as the patron saint of conscientious objectors since his Christian faith led him to refuse to kill even when the Roman commanders threatened his life.) Originally single-sex (male), it became co-ed in 1965. There is a Benedictine monastery on the grounds and some of the monks are also professors at the university. It has “sister university” agreements with several Asian institutions, including 4 in South Korea, 5 in Japan, 3 in China, and 1 in Taiwan. In the Benedictine tradition, Saint Martin’s believes in preparing students for a life of purpose, service, and compassion. Professors believe that listening is the key to learning and understanding. 50% of the student body is Catholic, 33% are racial or ethnic minorities and 55% are female. Students come from 18 different countries and all 50 states.
Seattle Pacific University (Seattle). Founded in 1891 by Free Methodist pioneers, SPU is a Christian university of liberal arts and sciences whose focus is for students to engage the cultures of the world with the gospel. SPU welcomes students from all faiths, but the atmosphere is distinctively Christian: orthodox, evangelical, Wesleyan, and ecumenical. Students are expected to abide by behavioral norms that include refraining from tobacco and alcohol, as well as sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage. SPU’s academics are rigorous and its most popular undergraduate majors are psychology, business administration, nursing, communication, English, integrated studies, political science, physiology, biology, and sociology. Among its notable graduates are the evangelical New Testament scholar, Gordon Fee, and Eugene H. Peterson, translator/editor of The Message paraphrase of the Bible. SPU’s Honors Program offers a 4 year alternative to the core curriculum based on the Great Books of the Western World.
Whitman College (Walla Walla). Founded in 1882, Whitman College is an independent, co-ed, non-sectarian college of liberal arts and sciences. In 1919, it became the 2nd college in the state to win a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the national honor society. The bywords at Whitman are “balance,” and “community.” Visiting prospective students are told by resident students not to come if they don’t want to be involved. Whitman’s emphasis is an education in the liberal arts that produces ethical leaders in all fields. The entire campus reads the same book(s) during the Summer Reading Program and discusses them at the beginning of each year. Whitman wants to cultivate both the life of the mind and a spirit of adventure. Their 88% graduation rate per year is one of the highest west of the Mississippi. Located in the Southeast corner of the state (one of the sunnier parts of Washington) in Walla Walla, voted “friendliest town in America.” 42 majors and 48 minors, but also a number of combined programs, including: a 3-2 program in engineering (with Caltech, Duke, Columbia, Washinton University in St. Louis, and the University of Washington), a 3-2 program in computer science (with University of Washington), oceanography (U. of Washington), forestry (with Duke), environmental management (with Duke), and education (with University of Puget Sound). In 2011, 39 “Whitties” won prestigious academic scholarships including 5 Fulbrights, 1 Watson Fellowship, and 5 Princeton-in-Africa-and-Asia Fellowships. Both needs-based and merit-based financial aid is available and nearly 74% of students receive some form of financial aid. In addition to standard dorms and Greek (fraternity or sorority) houses, Whitman has “Interest Houses,” i.e., residences focused on a common interest, including Asian Studies, Community Service, Das Deutsche Haus, Environmental Studies, Fine Arts, Global Awareness, La Casa Hispana, La Maison Francaise, Multi-Ethnic Center for Cultural Awareness [MECCA], Tekisuijuku (Japanese House), and Writing. Although Whitman is a non-sectarian (secular) college, it has an Office of Spiritual Life and there are numerous student-run interest groups centered on faith and spirituality, including Catholics on Campus, Hillel-Shalom, Whitman Christian Fellowship (a chapter of InterVarsity Fellowship), Namaste (A meditation club using disciplines familiar to Eastern spiritual traditions), Muslim Student Association, Unitarian-Universalist Community, and even Whitman College Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (!). Whitman College is one of the 40 Colleges That Change Lives and it is part of the Annapolis Group of liberal arts colleges that resists the “rankings game,” especially pushed by U.S. News and World Report.
Well, that’s my survey of often-overlooked “hidden gems” of higher education which should be considered by prospective students in addition to the “usual suspects” in respective states or regions. Readers are encouraged to present their own lists–anywhere in the world.