St. John’s College: ‘Old School’ is New Again

Quartz: “Consider St. John’s College, America’s third-oldest institution of higher education, founded in 1696. With fewer than 700 students between two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, St. John’s is a bit under the radar. But it’s emerged as one of the most distinctive colleges in the country by maintaining a strict focus on the classics of the Western canon … a big part of that distinction is due to a strict adherence to its own curated curriculum and teaching methods, know simply as “the Program” implemented back in 1937.”

“Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors … Another unique feature of St. John’s is a resistance to placing texts in a political, social or historic context for discussion. Context is viewed as ideology, something that St. John’s believes distorts true education and the ability to form one’s own opinion. This is crucial to the school’s philosophy; by freeing texts from context, St. John’s claims it frees students’ minds to ponder the multiple possibilities and meanings that are actually in the text.”

“Clearly St. John’s is not for everyone. First, you need to be a voracious reader to cover the Program texts at a brisk pace. You also need the capacity for and love of writing because St. John’s requires a lot of it. It helps to feel comfortable speaking in public, since so much of St. John’s learning occurs out loud around a table with your classmates and tutors … In recent years, Forbes ranked the Santa Fe campus as the “Most Rigorous” in the US (with Annapolis ranked eighth, odd given the same Program), way ahead of the big Ivies like Harvard (17th), Princeton (20th), Yale (23rd), and Stanford (25th). The school’s tutors are often cited as among the best teachers in the country.”

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‘Menus of Change’ Transform Campus Cafeterias

Business Insider: “An unlikely group of scientists, chefs, and academics is banding together to transform the eating habits of college students. Known as the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, cofounded last year by Stanford University and the Culinary Institute of America, the alliance aims to ditch the unhealthy, unsustainable foods commonly served in dining halls in favor of tasty, more plant-based offerings.”

“So far, more than 40 colleges and universities across the country, including Harvard, Kansas State, University of Southern California, and University of Montana, have signed up for the mission. By the end of this summer, they have pledged to reduce their purchases of red meat by 10%, increase fruits and vegetables by 10%, and serve 10% more plant-based protein dishes. In addition, these schools are actively utilizing their kitchens and dining halls as living laboratories, experimenting with recipes and other strategies to get students to make better, more sustainable choices.”

“Northeastern, which feeds 20,000 people a day … is already consuming 25% more produce, twice the whole grains, 30% less sodium, and 10% less soda. The Boston-based university is also tackling food waste. Starting this fall, dining halls will no longer feature trays … At Rutgers University, chefs are tackling vegetarian options and processed foods. The school recently stopped outsourcing its chicken fingers, turkey, and roast beef, preferring instead to make these items fresh in its own kitchens. Processed vegan nuggets, for instance, have been replaced with tastier cauliflower nuggets in sauce. Bread is also baked on site instead of purchased in bags from outside vendors.”

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Hillsdale: A College for Conservatives

The New York Times: “Hillsdale, a private college of 1,400 students in southern Michigan that describes itself as ‘nonsectarian Christian’ and dedicated to ‘civil and religious liberty,’ is scarcely known in many circles. But among erudite conservatives — think progeny of William F. Buckley Jr. — it is considered a hidden gem.”

“What they admire is the college’s concentration on the Western philosophical and literary canon (sometimes disparaged as the Great Books of dead white men) and its reverent treatment of the American founding documents as the political culmination of that tradition — a tradition that scholars at Hillsdale say has been desecrated by a century of governmental overreach.”

“Hillsdale attracts students from across the country … and they don’t wind up there by accident. Many said their parents received Hillsdale’s newsletter, Imprimis, featuring speeches by conservative thinkers … They were also attracted by the moderate cost. Hillsdale is well financed with private donations, and college officials said that 95 percent of students this year received grants averaging $17,206, to offset the $35,722 for tuition, room and board.”

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Keys to a Good College Experience

Quartz: “Analyzing data from a study of more than two dozen institutions, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa conclude that many students ‘enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment.’ And many universities reinforce these beliefs by building lavish amenities and marketing themselves as something akin to a resort with a curriculum.”

“Real learning—that is, learning that makes a significant and lasting change in what a person knows or can do—emerges from what the student, not the professor, does … Instead, meaningful learning emerges from a proactive conception of knowledge, where the student’s goal is to experiment with new and unexpected ways of using what he or she is learning in different settings. This requires students to see themselves as the central actors in the drama of learning.”

“The relationships students form in college also have a profound influence on their experiences, shaping not only who they spend time with but how they will spend their time … scholars have found that students who interact frequently with peers who are different in significant ways (racially, ethnically, religiously, socioeconomically, and so on) show more intellectual and social growth in college than those who don’t … Decades of research have demonstrated that students who study together learn more, and more deeply.”

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Campus Tours As ‘Working Vacations’

The New York Times: “Fall is largely celebrated as college football season, but for high school upperclassmen and their families, it’s also college touring season … Here are a few ways to make your college research a vacation, too … given the expense, it is useful to look at the trips, at least in part, as vacations.”

“Some start with spring break trips. High season for college visits follows, during summer vacation. But campuses then are relatively empty … an argument for visits between September and May … Most visits begin with a 60- to 90-minute information session led by an admissions officer. It is invariably chock-full of facts, figures and tips, requiring full concentration. Following that is the relatively breezy campus tour, usually led by a current student adept at walking backward while pointing out the library, cafeterias, dorms and some version of the campus icon that gets painted as a student prank.”

“Campuses are often the cultural focus of college towns, with worthwhile attractions including the music conservatory at Oberlin College in Ohio and the art and natural history museums at Yale. St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Davidson College in North Carolina are among the many that have hiking trails … As with any family trip, it’s not where you go, but whom you’re with. College trips offer concentrated time with your child, when available time is increasingly rare.”

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College Students: Drinkers But Not Smokers?

The Washington Post: “The United States’ full-time college students are more likely to be heavy drinkers than young adults who aren’t enrolled in college, according to a new federal report. But they’re no more likely to experiment with other drugs, including marijuana, than other people their age. And college students are far less likely to smoke cigarettes than other young adults.”

“But looming behind all this is one inescapable fact: Today’s teens and young adults are living much, much healthier lives than most of us did when we were their age. Among other things, they are more likely to wear seat belts, less likely to have sex (unprotected or otherwise), less likely to get in fights, and less likely to try just about every type of illegal drug, according to CDC data.”

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‘Must-Have’ Dorm Room Accessory

Tyler Lauletta: “It is very easy to sleep through college, and in order to power through all-nighters and rally for your 8 a.m. lectures, coffee will be a necessity for many. This thought brings me to what I believe to be the most important kitchen item any college student can bring with them: a quality French press.”

“In addition to making yourself better coffee, if you decide to invest in a press that can make 3-4 servings in a single brew, your designation as dorm-room barista can be a great way to make friends and foster relationships in your new environment. There are a lot of rough Sunday mornings throughout the first year of college, and on these brutal mornings, coffee served by a friendly face is a godsend.”

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The Journey: How To Go To College

The Washington Post: “The truth is that most new undergraduates are woefully unprepared for the realities of college. The college search that has consumed many of them for the past year — and in some cases, for more than a year — focused largely on where to go to college, not how they should go to college … Even the best freshmen orientation programs often fail to provide students with an adequate road map for navigating the sometimes-treacherous path to graduation.”

“For undergraduates to get off to a good start, there are four critical things they need to do to be sure they eventually make it across the stage at commencement: 1. Engage with faculty … One easy way for students to build a one-on-one relationship with a professor who teaches sometimes hundreds of students in a semester is during office hours. 2. Start early with hands-on experiences … Students can no longer wait for the summer before their senior year to line up their first internship. That now needs to happen during the summer after their freshman year.”

“3. Explore the course catalog … Students should take courses that challenge them to work hard … present them with opportunities to learn from the best professors, and give them a broad foundation across multiple subjects, not just the one within their major. 4. Network with peers. Some of the most important learning that happens in college comes from peers, so students want to be surrounded by people who give them different perspectives on life and careers.”

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Is College Food a Function of Financial Aid?

Inside Higher Ed: Tipping Point author “Malcolm Gladwell says a trade-off exists between high-quality campus dining and admitting low-income students … Letting students make do with mediocre food would enable colleges to admit more low-income students and provide them with the aid and support they need to succeed, he maintains.”

“In his new podcast series, Revisionist History, he makes this point by contrasting Bowdoin College, which is regularly cited by campus guides for outstanding food, with Vassar College, where students tell him the food is mediocre. Both are elite liberal arts colleges, with highly competitive admissions, respected faculty members and beautiful campuses. But Vassar enrolls a much larger share of low-income students than Bowdoin, and Gladwell blames the gourmet food Bowdoin students enjoy.”

“While many agree that colleges can and should do much more than they are doing now to increase the admission of low-income students, many question whether Gladwell’s focus on dining makes sense.” Bowdoin responds that it “is among the very small number of colleges that are need blind on admissions, meet full need and never use loans in any part of an aid package.” In addition: “No funds from the endowment or other revenue sources pay for dining, the college says.”

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Five Unusual (Very Small) Colleges

Go Local Prov: “Located in the high desert of California, Deep Springs College is home to just 26 students … The college runs a cattle herd and an alfalfa hay farming operation … Tuition, room, and board are not charged, but students work at least 20 hours a week on the ranch or in positions related to the college and community.”

“St. John’s College boasts two campuses in equally stunning settings: Santa Fe and Annapolis. Each location enrolls about 450 students. Textbooks, lectures, and examinations are shunned, in favor of a series of manuals and classroom discussions.”

“Set amidst the beauty of Maine, College of the Atlantic has just 350 students. The school’s curriculum is based on human ecology … COA students are often knee deep in experiential learning and the frigid Maine waters during their classes. The intention is for students to explore ideas from different disciplines and to construct their own understanding of human ecology.”

“Located in Vermont, Marlboro College is home to a group of 300 eclectic students … The mission of the school is to produce clear thinkers and writers. Students create their own curricula with the oversight of a professor and are given the freedom to study just about any topic.”

“Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts … was founded in 2002 and has just 350 students … it now rivals MIT and CalTech in the engineering rankings … Olin students race robotic sailing teams, travel to West Africa to help empower women entrepreneurs and design gadgets that allow seniors to get out of their cars more easily … All accepted students are granted a scholarship that covers half of their tuition for four years, which makes it among the most affordable, top-rated technical institutions in the U.S.”

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