UC-Boulder (Visited 10/2/12)
I can’t remember being on any other campus and thinking, “This place really smells good!” I had been excited about seeing Boulder because I had heard nothing about good things about the university and about Boulder itself, named the Smartest City in the US by Forbes magazine because so many companies are based here including the universities, Lockheed Martin, Celestial Seasonings, etc. Boulder is a great city by itself, but they’re also only 30 miles from Denver (a city of 2.5 million) for students have access to a major metropolitan area; go 30 miles in the other direction and you hit the Continental Divide (population – 0). You really get the best of both worlds.
Football is huge here. Students do have to pay for tickets which is a bit unusual, but maybe not so weird at bigger universities. A season pass costs $175 which the students I talked to thought was reasonable. Their mascot is Ralphie the Buffalo – a REAL Buffalo who weighs in a meager 3500 pounds. Ralphie, who is actually a female, runs the field before all home games. She lives somewhere near campus, but her actual location is top secret, known only to her handlers, the “Ralphie Runners” (who, in order to become a handler, must prove that they can run extremely fast because of Ralphie’s speed); apparently students from two rival schools had once kidnapped her and spray-painted her with their schools’ names. Now, to keep her safe (and clean!), they don’t release her location other than to those people who take care of her. A statue of Ralphie is in the plaza outside the stadium; the stipulation of the donation was that she faced east towards Nebraska, the big rival. However, now that they’ve changed divisions and don’t play Nebraska anymore, it doesn’t mean so much (although the tour guide said that now her butt is facing most of their opponents, so maybe that’s ok!).
Sports in general are popular (both for spectators and to participate in) and strong (with 24 NCAA championships). Boulder has been named the 2nd healthiest city in the US and there’s more protected open space around the city than in other areas. There are 11 ski areas within 3 hours of campus. 70 Olympic Athletes live or train in the area. If you want outdoorsy options, this is the place for you! The campus is bike and pedestrian friendly. All students can have cars, but it’s discouraged because parking is limited. Lots of students have bikes, and buses run frequently. Like other big schools I’ve been to, there are a lot of bikes and bike-racks around – and I even saw 2 “bike-fixing stations” that have all sorts of tools if something goes wrong. The sidewalks are separated into a pedestrian side and a bike side because there’s so much of each type of traffic and they try to minimize back-ups and accidents.
Even though they are the University of Colorado, most people call the school CU. When I asked why, the tour guide thought maybe so they weren’t confused with UC Berkeley since both places are UCB. This is the flagship campus of the UC system; the creation of the university was written into the state charter when Colorado became a state in 1876. The campus is one of the most uniform in terms of looks that I’ve ever seen. The buildings are all done in the Tuscan style with stone from Colorado; we were told that it’s actually mandated that all new buildings conform to the new style. When I spoke to a student about CU, she said “it’s so . . . cement!” which surprised me because I thought it was beautiful – but she was commenting on the lack of open green space and quads. However, there are grassy areas to be found; it’s definitely a beautiful place.
The kids walking around campus were mostly casually dressed but not in the “crunchy,” outdoorsy style that Boulder seems to have gotten a reputation for; a few were dressed up in dresses and fancy shoes. Very few students were plugged into iPods as they walked around campus which was good to see – they were interacting with each other. There’s a great deal of diversity in the student body. Racially, this was easy to see walking around, but they also have religious, socio-economic, and geographic diversity. Students come from all 50 states. This year, there are 2400 out-of-state freshman compared to the 3100 in-state. Surprisingly, only 4% of the population is international; I expected a bit more. Also surprisingly, the population is 54% male, unlike the trend found at many other universities. OOS tuition is locked in at the first year rate (to attract OOS students). In-state students see tuition increases every year, but it’s still cheaper than OOS tuition. There is a way for OOS students to gain independent status and therefor CO residency for tuition purposes, but the tour guide wasn’t sure how that happened.
Academics seem to be uniformly strong. Journalism and Mass communication merited specific mentions: students can get involved in advertising, broadcast news, production, and more. The business program (which attracts 12% of the students on campus) is ranked #36 in USNWR. 12% of the student body has declared a business major; they can concentrate in accounting, finance, management and entrepreneurship, marketing, and an open option. The Engineering and Applied Science department ranks is the 19th in the country. The aerospace program is #1 and is partially funded by the government. Two NASA astronauts teach in the department. The biology department has a cadaver lab in which undergraduates can take classes. The music program only has 250 students. Environmental Design allows students to do architecture, design, landscape, and more.
This is the first time that I saw students with “clickers” – small white plastic rectangles about an inch wide and about four inches long with five buttons labeled A- E. Many professors have students “log in” for attendance purposes in some of the bigger classes. We saw two lecture halls that actually had balconies that looked a bit like box seats at a theater. Professors can also have the students answer questions during lectures in order to check for understanding. It was supposedly developed by one of the physics professors on campus.
There is more going on extra-curricularly than people know what to do with. Thirteen percent of the population is Greek, and Greek Life provides a lot of social activities on campus for members and non-members alike. The campus has the only ice rink and the only bowling alley in Boulder. There are hundreds of clubs, and if a student wants to start one that isn’t offered already, he or she can do so with $25 and three friends. Volunteering and community service is HUGE here. CU is one of three colleges that won “College with a Conscience” last year because of the number of community service hours completed by the students.
The dining hall is great. In the dining hall we ate lunch in, there were food stations from 8 different countries as well as a kosher station. One of the admissions people said that “ We’ve moved up from the Freshman 15 to Freshman 35.”
CU has an impressive 89% retention rate from first to second year. They attribute this in part to the 19 Residential Academic Programs and Living-Learning Communities. Many residential halls have classes attached to them. Two classes each semester are taught in these classes in small group settings. Study abroad is also big: 26% students study abroad for a year, a semester, or a 3-week summer program. They have 330 programs in 70 countries.