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Furman University (take 2)

Furman University (visited 2/24/20) (Click here to see the post from 3/2013)

Furman fountains 4“If you’re looking for strong academics on a safe campus in a growing city, this is it.” With a 92% retention rate, they’re doing something very right.

It had been almost exactly 7 years since I’d last been to Furman, and I’m glad I got a refresher course! I remembered the beautiful campus, particularly the fountains, the bell tower, and the environmental center, but it’s always good to see what’s new and be reminded of all the other things going on around campus.

Furman 5One of the things we heard the most about – mostly because it’s pervasive in the culture there – is the Furman Advantage. They promise several things:

  • Excellent academic instruction and a high level of academic rigor. “We’re considered kind of hard,” said one of the reps. A Gallup poll revealed that 78% of alums (vs. 42% of national sample) and 68% of current students strongly agree that they were/are challenged academically at Furman. “We use the challenge and support model. We want them to be agents and make decisions so we’re figuring out the sweet spot of challenging them while supporting them without enabling them.”
  • Furman tree 1

    They’re very proud of their trees on campus!

    A variety of engaged-learning experiences appropriate for students’ interests and development. “It seems obvious that freshman are different from seniors,” said a Dean, “and yet, they’re often treated the same. They aren’t here. We train the professors in this.”

  • A team of mentors to support students as they navigate their integrated and individualized 4-year pathway. They’ve been deliberate in how this breaks down year-to-year: In the 1st year, “they should be exploring/discovering;” In the 2nd: examine and decide, 3rd: connect and refine; 4th: synthesize and initiate.
  • Intentional reflection to help students deepen learning and better understand their own skills, values, and next steps. “They should have the experience, think about the experience, and then have the next experience. Students are so concerned about checking boxes that they don’t stop to think about what they’ve done, where they’re going, and how those interconnect.”
  • Meaningful connection to career opportunities and professional development. “This is where we need to step up our game.”
Furman students 2

Fountains are everywhere.

They’re spearheading a Pathways program, currently in its infancy. The “trial run” is going well so far. In Pathways, students complete 4 courses over 2 years for a total of 4 credits. The first year focuses on Exploration and Discovery: class basics, critically evaluating sources, academic integrity, how to read a syllabus, how to email a professor, choices and bystander intervention, and more. Students currently in the program report feeling more connected and having a sense of belonging, a higher satisfaction with advising, and higher levels of accepting themselves even when things fail or go badly. The plan for the fall of 2020 is to have 15 cohorts of 15 each: “A class of 15 is critical of success. They aren’t thinking, ‘I’m not the only one.’” They’re hoping that the faculty will vote to make this a graduation requirement starting in Fall 2021.

Furman fountain 3

The chapel as seen from the library. Although they had historical affiliations, they’re no longer religiously based.

“We’re trying to create an eco-system here. We should all be thinking about what’s next, about career exploration and preparation.” They’re working with departments “because that’s where students live in the last couple years” to help them reflect on values and strengths, expose students to potential career paths, have students reflect on experiences and how they connect with future plans, encourage students to articulate plans and narrative to others. They’re working hard to increase the number of students in Engaged Learning, including:

  • MayX Study Away programs. They’ve increased need-based scholarships to help students go on these.
  • Summer undergrad research: Last year they funded 203 students on campus; they saw a 22% increase in Summer Fellows applications. “Everyone who sent in a good application with a faculty who also sent in a good application were funded,” said the woman in charge of the program.
  • They’re building out an Entrepreneurship Office that “gives students great opportunities while staying committed to the liberal arts.”

Furman ScienceThey have strong pre-health, health sciences, and similar programs. The science building is impressive with some great labs! There’s an Institute for Advancement of Community Health and Office of Pre-Professional Advising to help with shadowing/internships, applications, and more. They set up the students to do what they want to do. “We recommend shadowing before internships because you may end up hating it.”

  • They have the only Medical-Legal Partnership in the state; this connects health care providers with legal aid attorneys. They can refer patients with health-harming legal issues to the MLP team where attorneys will represent them for no charge.
  • They offer both a BA and BS in Public Health (a capstone experience in public health practice or research is required) and a BA/BS in Health Sciences. Students need to apply to get into Public Health (that and Business are the only majors requiring an application).
  • There’s a Biomedical Sciences track within the Bio major.
  • Medicine, Health, and Culture
  • MS in Community Engaged Medicine uses intensive classroom, community, and clinical study to prepare its students for today’s complex world of health care.
  • They offer an Early Admissions program with USC-Greenville; they’ll take up to 5 Furman Juniors so they don’t have to stress about med school applications during senior year. They also offer Direct Entry to up to 5 incoming freshmen. To remain eligible, they must meet curricular criteria and grades as well as participate in clinicals and a sophomore assessment.

Furman analytic labMost of their majors are fairly typical with a couple exceptions: Greek, Music Theory, Integrative Biology, and a full range of Bachelors of Music options (including Organ performance and Music Education). What’s more impressive is the interdisciplinary minor selection, including Poverty Studies, Science Education, and African American and Diaspora Cultures.

We asked the students on the panel what their favorite classes were and why:

  • Abnormal Psych: “It touches on how all profs are at Furman. She had intro meetings with all students and really wanted to know why we were in the class and how to personalize it.”
  • One had two favorites: Afro-Am Drama and Slave Narrative to Slave Novels: “This was the capstone in the minor. It was really tough but great to develop a voice and writing style, to combine critical thinking with critical theory. It was a great inter-disciplinary class.”
  • The Business Block: “It was a full semester of 4 classes with the same people. I don’t know any other college that does the same thing. We worked really hard with the people around us and it was a real world example of what I want to get into. I got to observe a company and look at financials and operations.”
  • Furman apts

    Some of the senior apartments

    History of Economic Thought: “It’s different from most. It was more theoretical and philosophical. We talked through the prevailing ideas in Eastern and Western traditions. The professor went so fast, I’d walk out of there saying, “I can’t believe I just took 5 pages of notes.” I got into the Scottish Tradition which is a totally random niche and it inspired me to study abroad in Scotland.”

  • Research Methods in Bio: “We learned how to look at stats and what’s reliable. We did a semester-long research project. I looked at leaching of estrogen from soil into plants to see if fertilizers and other things made a difference and were disrupting our systems.”
  • American Foreign Policy in Brussels with a Furman program. “We were taught by the lead envoy for the US to NATO. How many people can say they took a class like that?”
Furman eni housing

One of the Greenbelt cabins

This is a highly residential campus. They’ve built even more upperclassman apartments (these are amazing with nice-sized kitchens and bedrooms with double beds); it’s like living in a real apartment community. They have a nice freshman quad as well as other pockets of dorms. There’s a special Engaged Living LLC which “isn’t well advertised,” said the tour guide who had lived there. “You have to apply to live there, but most people don’t know what it is. I wanted to be in Lakeside so I applied.” There are also some AMAZING sustainable living LLCs in the Greenbelt Community next to the Environmental Education center. This is comprised of 4 cabins housing a total of 22 students and are not open to first-year students. Students are selected after an application process (it’s competitive) and can be in any major as long as they have an interest in a sustainable lifestyle. They take 2 classes while they’re living there as part of this, and there’s a community garden that they work in which helps to supply the dining hall with locally sourced, organic produce. Many of them also participate in the Community Conservation Corps which helps to weatherize homes for local families at or below the poverty level.

Furman dorms 2

Some of the underclassmen dorms

“You can wear a lot of hats here.” There’s a big divide in participation in Greek Life – a little less than 30% of males are in fraternities, but more than 55% of females join a sorority. Students insist, though, that Greek life isn’t the end-all. Greek Village is actually a dorm. “Living there was the best and worst decision I’ve ever made!” said the tour guide. “Living on the hall with random music at 3am ….” There are some frat houses for juniors and seniors off campus; there are no sorority houses. “Because of the inclusive nature, it just expands friend groups,” said one student. Another, who is not affiliated, said that there are plenty of structures for those who chose not to join. “I found the same sort of social outlet from club soccer and Outdoor Club.”

Furman footballIt’s highly unusual to find DI sports at a school this size. Sports are incredibly strong, but they’re students first. “Most students aren’t going pro; they need to be prepared for their lives. This is four years of transformative experiences that will prepare them for the next 40 years of their professional lives,” said the athletic director. They do have a full scholarship football program.

Furman DH

The dining hall

Furman is trying to become a more national/international (currently about 60% of students come from NC, SC, and GA) and more selective. They currently have almost 2550 students but are looking to decrease enrollment to 2400-2500 with a target freshmen class of 625-650. “We probably won’t go to 2400 for 3 or 4 years.” They’re doing the best they can to eliminate the financial aid gap; currently they meet about 85% of need (which includes self-help like work-study and loans). They have a $680m endowment which helps them provide a great deal of grant and scholarship aid, but they still some work ahead of them.

© 2020

Furman University

FURMAN UNIVERSITY (visited 3/11/13) (click here to see notes from the 2/2020 visit)

~Furman fountain quad~Furman porch chairsThe city of Greenville has a beautiful downtown and is much bigger than I expected it to be. The university is five miles straight down Poinsett Boulevard; the university has its own entrance off what is essentially a highway at that point. As you pull in, you’re met with a beautiful fountain and the visitor’s center. That sets the stage for the feel of the whole campus. Behind this is the Furman Mall; this grassy area extends back for several blocks and is lined with large trees. The university has done wonders with landscaping and maximizing green spaces. During the student panel, a counselor read an introductory paragraph from one of the college guide books that called Furman a “Country Club” and asked students if they felt that was accurate, too harsh, whatever. The students laughed, but then said, “Look outside! Who’s complaining??”

~Furman interior

Dining Hall

Dining Hall

The students do say that Furman can be a bit of a bubble because there’s so much to do on campus and because downtown isn’t in walking distance, but none of them saw that as a hindrance or drawback to campus. The college works hard to bring in programs, and the student groups themselves (clubs, music ensembles, theater, etc) do a lot of programing. All students have a Cultural Learning Experience (CLE) requirement in which they must go to 8 events a year. These can be lectures, plays, concerts, etc. Our tour guide said that she actually likes it – whenever something is offered for CLE credit, it will clearly state it on the promotional materials, so she said that it makes her consider things that she might not have paid attention to without this requirement. There are also a lot of campus-wide events; some of the students’ favorite traditions involve carnivals such as O Week, Homecoming, Spring Week. Also, it’s easy to get off campus. The college runs shuttles all around town, and all students are allowed to have cars on campus.

~Furman chapel~Furman patioAlthough every admission office will say they want to attract and admit the best students for their institution, this admissions office is very clear on articulating their mission: “We want to recruit graduates, not students,” and they clearly have thought through how they want to accomplish this. They look at three types of fit: academic, social, and financial. If any of these three are way out of whack, it causes stress and a negative experience, usually leading to the student transferring out. The admissions deans were also very clear on how they evaluate students for admission: They use a 1-60 scale when looking through files. 22 points comes from what the schools tell them in the form of letters of recommendation. GPA and course selection counts for 24 points. They are a test-optional school – but if applicants submit scores, they will be used as part of the consideration. The nice thing about Furman is that they are also test-optional for merit scholarships, which is a little more unusual. Scholarship consideration is automatic in most situations, but there is a separate application for the four most competitive scholarships.

~Furman 1

Student Center

Furman is also actively trying to increase their diversity. They have attracted students from across the US for a while (22% of students are from SC, 60% from the Southeast including SC), but are now increasing the international population which has grown from 5 or 6 students to almost 7% of the student body. Racial diversity has increased quite a bit in recent years, bringing the population up to 22%. The students on the panel said that the campus is impressively diverse politically. The panelists themselves represented the spectrum including the President of the Student Republicans group and one campaigned heavily for Obama. The college is now working on increasing religious and other types of diversity on campus. They recently built a Hillel space and have hired a campus Rabbi.

~Furman dorm


More dorms

More dorms

Surprisingly (since it goes against the norm for smaller liberal arts schools), Furman has more males than females on campus. Greek life is VERY popular on campus with more than 50% of students belonging to a Greek organization. The students we talked to who were not involved, though, said that they didn’t feel left out, nor did they feel any pressure to join. A lot of events are open to the entire student population, and there’s no Greek housing, so people aren’t separated out. Rush also takes place second semester after everyone has settled in, so there people already have their social circles before joining. It’s not unusual for groups of friends to have members in different frats or sororities, and the dorms are mixed, too. Freshmen and sophomore dorms are typical hallway dorms, but the Junior/Senior apartments have full beds and kitchens. It is a residential campus; although the numbers have been holding steady at about 2600-2700 students, Furman can go up to almost 3000 students and remain residential.

~Furman acad bldgs 2

The resident cat who lives at the Environmental Center on campus

The resident cat who lives at the Environmental Center on campus

Some of the favorite classes of the students on the panel were Medicine, Morality, and Culture (taught by a Philosophy prof), a hiking class, Comparing Vietnam and Iraq, PoliSci 100 (because it included “Real world stuff” and they got to read the NYT and novels), and Perspectives on American Education (it was discussion based, the read three Young Adult novels, utilized journals, etc). All the students gushed at the quality of teaching and accessibility of the professors. The biggest lecture hall on campus has only 60 seats, so no class can exceed that. There are supports in place for struggling students, and the faculty gets involved since classes are small enough to pay attention to students, but it’s ultimately the students’ responsibility to take advantage of safety nets. Clearly, students are looked after though. Graduation rates across the board are high, and they rank third nationally (after Notre Dame and Colgate) for athletes who graduate in four years.

(c) 2013

Centre College

Centre College (Visited 9/24/19)

Centre quad 3There’s a reason that Centre is on the Colleges that Change Lives list. Students are “Happy, successful, and grateful” which shows in their freshman-to sophomore retention (in the low 90s). Combined with a 4-year graduation in the low-to-mid 80s, you have a recipe for a lot of success. When visiting a CTCL school, I ask students how the school has changed their lives. Here’s what 2 said:

  • “I come from a community where education hasn’t been important. Being able to see the world as it is, I’ve grown closer to my culture and community, but it’s inspired me to give back to a world that has accepted my identities. I came here as a refugee, and I understand myself better. I will treasure the mentorships.”
  • “The people change the lives of Centre students whether it’s a faculty member who says ‘try something new, don’t assume you know your path yet’ – or a student who gets us involved in something. We’re challenged to be better and go outside our comfort zone.”
Centre 3

The college’s “200 years” banners

This is Centre’s bicentennial year “which we celebrated by raising $200 million” – not bad for a small school of 1410 students sitting on 150 acres in a small Kentucky town! For the last 30+ years, they’ve landed in the Top 10 for percentage of alumni who give back to the college. This has helped grow their endowment to over $330M.

One counselor asked, “What’s here that offers opportunities to people from non-college going cultures?” We got what I think is one of the best, most thoughtful, well-reasoned answers I’ve heard: “We think it’s important and it’s intentional. They find people who are like themselves here. We’re not a place of privilege like many places like this. We aren’t overweighed with rich kids – that just hasn’t been the culture here. That matters. There’s an incredible culture of personal concern for students here. Faculty are invested in success of students that is different from a lot of places.”

Centre dining hallAlmost ¼ of the students are Pell-eligible, and about ¼ of domestic students self-identify as students of color. Just over 20% are First-Gen. “This is a great place to be a first-gen: they graduate at higher rates than continuing gen students,” said one of the professors.

Centre is almost entirely (98%) residential (with about 50% of students coming from outside Kentucky) which builds community, and it shows from walking around campus. New dorms are gender-inclusive. Students are happy and engaged with each other. We saw few people alone or plugged into their music. Campus is gorgeous and traditionally styled with meticulously maintained brick buildings.

Centre 4Although Presbyterian by heritage and maintaining “a loose connection,” you’d never know it by being on campus. Centre is open spiritually with multiple groups representing different identities. There’s a spirituality center and plenty of opportunities to reflect various beliefs. They create a safe space to foster faith (or non-faith). “You can be who you are while still learning about the other. They’ll often open convocations with prayers in native languages, in different faith traditions, etc. It breaks down the fear and mistrust of what they maybe don’t understand yet.” The tour guide said that she’d like to have a central intercultural center, a one-stop shop. Two years ago, they hired 3 diversity people and today they see lots of programming, training on how to be an ally (such as pronoun use), etc.

Centre lincoln 3We asked the students and faculty, “Why here?”

  • Students learn to perform: “They put themselves out there and learn to fail and succeed.”
  • “It’s the Centre Commitment: Students will graduate in 4 years, they’ll study abroad at least once (85% do it once, 30% do it twice; record was 7 times with graduation in 4 years), and/or do an internship or research. Study abroad is built into the fabric of the college. We’re not doing superficial tourism. Students dive into the culture and place. We balk at the word “trip” – students complete a rigorous academic course. They hit the ground with questions to ask. This is important especially because of the college’s location in Kentucky. We want to expose people to a wider context. Over half of the students come from KY and sometimes have never left the state. This is the way to open them up.”
  • Centre quad 2

    A view of one of the quads

    “We kind of own the high impact practices – our experiences in the classroom, the labs, etc – is off the charts. We’re really, really good at this.”

  • “We’re taking young people and shaping them as citizen leaders in whatever they choose to do going forward. They’ll have 3 or 4 more careers, live in several places. It’s the norm. The placements they get are to be envied which is a credit to a lot of people, including career services and the faculty.”
  • “It’s way more than providing an education. It’s creating an adventure. It’s a first-rate undergrad education, prepared for work in service, but be given a chance to go places socially, emotionally, academically to move beyond. We give them practice to be a person of adventure.”
Centre Norton 1

Norton Center for the Arts

Everything we heard from students, admission reps, Deans, professors – spoke to an educational experience that’s off the charts, in and out of the classroom.

  • “People can pursue diverse interests whether it’s cutting-edge research, the arts, or athletics.”
  • They operate on a 4-1-4 calendar that allows for 10-12 classes to be taught overseas in January. Pre-med students, athletes, etc go abroad which isn’t always the case.
  • The average class has 18 students with 60% having fewer than 20. The largest class maxes at 30. Teaching is prized: “It’s rewarded in merit pay and in tenure and promotion decisions,” said one of the Deans. Faculty members here have received many Kentucky Teacher of the Year awards.
  • The Norton Center for the Arts is an exceptional space, rivaling several I’ve seen at larger schools. It provide space for Visual/Fine Arts and Dramatic Arts majors and minors, and the venue brings the wider world to the students, part of the mission they do so well: they’ve hosted the 2000 and 2012 VP debates, Shanghai Ballet, Architecture festivals, and a myriad of nationally and internationally known performers. “The Norton Center is one of the most phenomenal things I’ve seen on a college campus: students can get behind the scenes, have international acts in their classrooms, etc,” said a Professor.

The students’ favorite classes include:

  • Centre skeleton 3

    Some of the skeletons in one of the Science buildings

    A study-away trip to Morocco and Spain: “We studied the three major Abrahamic religions. We talked to Jewish communities, the Conquistadors, the history attached to the other places and how they created community. Interactions with locals were amazing.”

  • Islamic America: “We traveled 10 days from here to Denver to see different states and how the Muslim community works there. I’m not from the US. To learn those facts and stories and to experience the emotions was fascinating.”
  • “Urban Economics in London, specifically learning how a local economy develops, why certain business develop close together, the banking system, etc. was great!”
  • “Churchill’s World about his life and world. I read more than I have for any other class and I loved it. I was eager to write the next paper.”
  • Acting Storytelling Class: “For my final project, I told an immigration story through my Dad’s eyes. It was powerful to learn his story and then share it.”

Centre quadAcademics to note include:

  • Over 200 students major in Economics & Finance, which is almost unheard of at a school this size. Students can prepare for finance and business careers without a business degree. They also offer a minor in Global Commerce.
  • “We have good participation in the sciences” including Chemical Physics and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. They provide strong prep for professional schools: over the last 5 years, med school acceptance has ranged between 80-100% with 11-25 applying each year.
  • They have several new programs including a Data Science Major/Minor and Arabic
  • They’ve developed a graduate nursing partnership with Vanderbilt and an MAT partnership with University of Louisville and Vanderbilt.
  • This is one of very few liberal arts colleges with a Hot Glass program!
Centre arch

The arch between academics and athletics

Not surprisingly, they’re strong with service and leadership, including Bonner and Posse Scholars. “We’re engaged communicators, collaborators, leaders, and are community-driven. We get involved in a lot. We’ve earned our spot here and want to be challenged,” said the tour guide. There are over 100 organizations on campus and 23 DIII teams competing in the SAC. There’s a bridge arch “that symbolized the connection between academics and athletics,” said the tour guide. Centre beat Harvard in football in 1921 by one touchdown but haven’t played since: “I think they’re scared!” About half the students join Greek Life with deferred rush until spring. Frat houses sit on 1 side of Greek Row, sororities on the other “except the ones that switched awhile ago. I’m not sure why that happened,” said the tour guide. “They have a good track record of being safe, mentoring, taking care of each other.” A couple favorite traditions include:

  • Centre flame statue

    The infamous Flame Statue

    The Open and Close processions. Students are given a token with the seal to give to someone who made an impact.

  • Students run from dorms to the Flame Statue, around it 3 times, and back to the dorms – naked.
  • They put pennies on Lincoln’s feet for good luck.
Centre lincoln penny

Penny for good luck placed on Lincoln’s shoe

“Most students are curious. They want good grades but also want to understand what we’re talking about. We bring up controversial issues; students engage. They dig into literature and high-level arguments that don’t have yes or no answers. The students are ready, and we push them higher. We’re sensitive to the way we use test scores in admissions. We can say yes to people who are qualified to be here.” Only about 15% of the class get admitted through Early Decision. Common overlaps include Vandy, Rhodes, Miami of Ohio, Sewanee, Davidson, Kenyon, and Furman.

There are three significant programs worth mentioning:

  • Grissom Scholars: 10 full tuition awards per year plus a $5000 enrichment stipend are awarded to high-achieving, high-need, first-gen students. They’re looking for academic excellence (although test scores rarely play into that: they see a gamut of scores). “The recipients are good citizens, have significant school or community involvement, and are mature, kind, determined, joyful, supportive, and show exceptional potential for leadership.”
  • Lincoln Scholars: 10 recipients per year receive full tuition, room & board, and 3 funded summer experiences. “This is for students who believe they have the desire and capacity to change the world.” They look for students who are bold, selfless, unafraid, and passionate; who have integrity, courage, curiosity, drive, vision, and talent to change the world; and who are high-achieving students who are “bright enough” academically to fulfill their vision.
  • Brown Fellows: this is a more traditional merit-driven “big ticket” scholarship: there are 10 awarded per class, covering full tuition, R&B, fully funded summer travel and projects (~$6,000), and faculty mentorship. Students are intellectually curious, ambitious, focused, disciplined, and trustworthy. The University of Louisville is the only other school in KY with this program; sometimes they do joint cohort things. This is the only scholarship that has a score minimum (31 ACT/equivalent SAT) required by the funding partners. Recipients almost always have maxed out their high school curriculum and often gone beyond. “They’re typically more apt to be generalists. We’re drawn to the well-rounded kid rather than the ‘angular’ highly-focused kid.”

Centre “can be a bit of a bubble but town-gown relations aren’t bad.” Greek organizations and athletics do a lot of community service. The Bypass has lots of restaurants. Downtown Danville is walkable. “Dan Tran [public transportation] isn’t great but it works.”

© 2019

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