Kent State University (visited 4/16/12)
I admit it: I was really looking forward to seeing this university because of the historical significance of it. I was a little disappointed to see the “raggedy” edges of campus driving in, but the edges of campus are never what the schools want to show off. Campus was well kept up even though some of the buildings were clearly older. However, there is a ton of building going on, including several new dorms. I liked the main part of campus, but it felt very much like a generic campus. While nothing was wrong with the physical campus, little stood out; one thing that did was the “promenade,” a long, wide, brick-lined walkway cutting through a main part of campus. Our tour guide told us of several events held there, including Welcome Week events and showcases of clubs. It was one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares on campus, and it was well used. Students were out and about, but it was not a hang-out; rather, it was simply an easy way to get from one place to another. People did hang out in the new beautiful Union; there were several food options, a large spiral staircase in the middle of the lobby, meeting rooms, the bookstore, and lots of student-services offices all in the building which was great. Students definitely hung out there, but there was also a lot of foot-traffic of students grabbing food or taking care of things between classes.
During the tour, we did get to see the Kent State Shootings Memorials. There is a large memorial sculpture in addition to smaller memorials to each student in the location where he or she was shot; they have also preserved the bullet-hole left in a third sculpture. Someone had drawn a peace symbol around the hole. During a core class, all the students at KSU learn about the history leading up to (and what happened after) the campus shootings.
About 16% of the 21,000 undergrads are from out-of-state. They have the University Award scholarship specifically for out-of-state students; this covers ½ of the out-of-state tuition surcharge. To be eligible, applicants need a 2.5 GPA and at least a 21 on the ACT. The Presidential Scholarship is given to out-of-state and underrepresented students with at least a 3.25 GPA. Eligibility for the Honors Program is determined automatically during the application process; students in the honors program can register for special classes, have access to special study abroad programs, and live in the Honors Living Learning Community, among other benefits.
KSU Res Halls house between 56 and 550 students each. Currently they have 12 Living-Learning Communities ranging in interests from Entrepreneurship or Business to Public Health or Nursing to the International Village Experience; the students who live there tend to have higher GPAs. Students from outside commuting distance must live on campus for their first two years; about 80% of freshman and sophomores are on campus. There are 5 dorms that are specifically designated for the “First Year Experience; other housing options are often mixed levels and are assigned by lottery. The six newest dorms, Centennial Courts A-F (very original names!) are beautiful and spacious; upperclassmen snatch them up quickly which isn’t a surprise. I really liked Kent’s “dorm room showcase” in which they have 4 different model dorm rooms open to visitors and students who might not have seen the set-ups in different locations. Although some other people rolled their eyes a bit – “how many dorm rooms do we need to see?” – this is the only university I’ve ever visited that showed us more than one type of room. Although it’s nice to see a typical freshman dorm room (usually those are the worst, smallest, and/or oldest and students can only move up from there), I liked seeing how the different dorms were set up, particularly without having to tromp through several buildings!
Students can choose from 280 majors in 8 different colleges. New programs include Digital Science (including computer design, animation, and game design) and Public Health; fashion design and architecture are strong, hands-on programs. The two most unusual majors are Crafts (ceramics, glass, jewelry and metals, and textiles) and Air Traffic Control which falls under their Aeronautics Technology department. Students graduating with this major go to Oklahoma after graduation for their final 3 months of training and exams before becoming fully licensed. Within that department, they can also focus on Aeronautical systems, aviation management, and flight technology.
Retention rate is in the 75-78% range. The university is working on improving that, through such programs as the First Year Experience and by instituting an “Early Alert” program for students who are floundering in academics. Resident Directors are also told at mid-terms about students in their dorms who are having trouble so there is some tag-teaming between the academic and residential side. Students we spoke to spoke highly of the activities on campus – there are activities calendars posted listing things to on and off campus. Buses into downtown Kent are free and frequent. Buses into Cleveland cost only $5, so a lot of students take advantage of that for sporting events, concerts, and other things. The students we spoke to, although maybe not as gushing as students from other schools, were very positive about their experiences. Almost no complaints came up, even when asked directly what they would like to improve about the school. This confirmed the feeling I had already developed about Kent: it’s a solid school with good resources, good programs, and a good social life. The community feel perhaps is not as strong as I had seen on a few other campuses, but students genuinely seemed to like the school and each other. The students who thrived there were good students who took advantage of the variety of opportunities in and out of the classroom. On the whole slightly more outdoorsy than maybe some other student bodies although I can’t put my finger on why this seems to be the case. Kent is clearly an excellent place for the right student, especially for those looking at some of the unusual majors, but it’s not one I would gush over to a lot of students – but I also wouldn’t discourage anyone; I think it’s strong in a lot of ways but without anything to particularly distinguish it from other places.