Otterbein University (visited 4/17/12)
One of my former students had gone to Otterbein and had a great experience, so I was particularly excited about getting to see her alma mater. As a particularly big fan of small liberal arts schools, I was hoping for great things. I knew very little about the school other than they were on the quarter system, the student had good things to say about it, and a few things that I had read on the website (and let’s face it – one website starts looking a lot like every other website after a while).
The bus pulled up to the Equestrian Center for the first part of our tour; this was a good move on their part since it highlighted a unique program at the very beginning. The Center was extensive and new; after being able to meet the representatives for our regions and a brief welcome from the President of the college (and being able to help ourselves to some very tasty cookies!), we got a tour of the riding rink and the barns where we also got to play with some of the horses, many of which looked expectantly for peppermints, the new treat of choice. Students in the Equine Studies program have priority for space in the barn for their horses, but other students can board horses as space allows. The university also owns many of the horses, most of which were donated from a variety of sources – rescues, ex-race horses, etc. Equine Science is a selective program; this year, they had about 70 applications for 22 new spots.
Theater is the most selective program on campus, accepting 16 students out of the approximately 400 who apply for the BFA in acting. We talked to several students who had auditioned for a spot in the acting program but didn’t make it; however, they liked OU so much that they came anyway and are majoring in another area of theater such as Design & Technology, Musical Theater, and Theater Management, or they’ve gone into communications, another very strong program with concentrations in areas such as broadcasting and journalism. Business is the largest major; popular concentrations include accounting, economics, finance, human resource management, and international business. Education and Nursing are both strong, popular programs, and students have high levels of success on the respective Board exams. The university is instituting several new programs this year; Sustainability Studies, Zoo/Conservation Science, and Public Administration are new and unusual, and the Arts department allows students to concentrate in areas usually only found in much larger universities (Computer Art, Sculpture, and Printmaking).
Several of the schools I visited in Ohio had some sort of claim to fame about being among the first to accept or educate women and/or blacks . . . Otterbein is no different. Their claim is that they opened their doors in 1847 and were the first to have equal graduation requirements for men and women. (Oberlin, on the other hand, was the first coeducational college in theory – meaning it took them several years to actually accept female students — as well as being the first to accept and graduate black students, but apparently they didn’t have the same requirements for the degree as the men did). Depending on their wording, I guess a lot of colleges can be the “first” to have done very similar things.
Otterbein continues to lead the way in several regards. The Association of American Colleges and Universities awarded a large grant to Otterbein and four other colleges (including Tufts and Georgetown) to develop an integrative curriculum which will serve as models for other institutions. Students tend to be very happy at Otterbein; the university continues to earn high marks on the National Survey of Student Engagement. As is becoming more and more popular on campuses, they have a First Year Experience; I feel like it’s more uncommon to find a school without some sort of FYE. Otterbein has revamped their curriculum to address multidisciplinary perspectives and points of intersections. They have opened a new Living-Learning Community revolving around leadership. They are big on immersive learning (ie, travel tours) and experiential learning through internships, community service, global perspectives, and original research. They have switched over this year from quarters to semesters with an added 3-week January term to allow for more time and flexibility for immersion learning.
In terms of applications, they work on a Rolling Admissions basis, providing answers in two to three weeks. They accept the Common App, and the transcript is one of the most highly weighted parts of the application. The average GPA of accepted students hovers around a 3.4-3.5 with ACT scores in the mid-20s.
I enjoyed seeing Otterbein and learning more about the programs; it’s an attractive campus and they’re clearly putting effort into making the education worthwhile for the students. I was disappointed that their tour guides were not better trained; I heard from all the counselors (we were split into about 8 tour groups) that the tours were among the worst they had encountered. Most of the guides were freshmen, and while I think most of us had had good experiences with tours led by freshmen on other campuses, most of these students didn’t really seem to know what they were doing or how to answer questions. It can be very difficult to separate the experience on the tour from the quality of the school, so I hope this is fixed before it becomes a detriment for potential students and families visiting.