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Otterbein University

Otterbein University (visited 4/17/12)

Otterbein 1One 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).

Otterbein 2Several 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.

(c) 2012

Baldwin Wallace University

Baldwin-Wallace College (visited 4/19/12) (now BW University)

“Ok, before we go into the lab, we have a couple rules. First, leave all food and drink outside. Second, do not lick anything in the lab. Everyone good?” Really, you can’t beat a biology professor with a good sense of humor!

BWC 1

The main Conservatory building on campus.

First impressions mean a lot even though we’re told not to judge a book by its cover. BWC made an excellent first impression with its beautiful old stone buildings, immaculate grounds, and tulips and daffodils blooming everywhere. The good news is that the substance of the college did not disappoint! The people at BWC were the only ones on the seven-college counselor-tour who showed off what made them distinct from other schools instead of giving the typical spiel/song-and-dance. A couple other schools gave lip-service to the idea of “we’re not going to tell you that we have great faculty, study abroad options, and research opportunities, because every place you go is going to tell you that” . . . and then they proceeded to tell us about those things. BWC didn’t. Instead, we got to spend time in a lab to interact with students doing independent research, check out innovations in their athletic center and the majors associated with it (such as athletic training, exercise science, sports management and health promotion and management), and then tour their Music Conservatory and learn about programs there. I didn’t even know that they HAD a conservatory; neither did my sister who is a musician, so it’s clearly one of their best-kept secrets! The students go on to do impressive things including performing on Broadway. Seniors graduating with a Musical Theater major participate in a showcase every spring in New York City in front of several directors and producers. This happened about a week before our visit, and within a span of five days, all 13 graduating seniors had signed with agents. (As a comparison, I heard that Michigan had two at that same point in time). An audition is required for entrance into the Conservatory (accredited by the National Association of Music Schools) which offers emphases in performance, pedagogy, jazz, conducting, theory, composing, and sacred music in addition to the unusual major of Music Therapy. (Students also have to be proficient enough on at least one instrument to gain acceptance into the Conservatory if they want to major in Music Therapy).

BWC3Baldwin Wallace actively looks ahead to jobs that experts predict will be available for students in 5-10 years, and then creates majors and learning opportunities for students in order to prepare them. They created 14 new degree programs in the last four years or so. The Physician Assistant program is 1 of 6 in Ohio; they’re a year away from accreditation for a 3-2 program. They excel in Health Sciences and Allied Health majors. They utilize the nearby Cleveland hospitals, some of which are ranked in the top 10 nationally, and they work with industry professionals to develop the new degrees. Their Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing utilizes Concept-based learning; only a couple other programs in NM and NC do this. The Health Sciences are producing impressive results; this year, two students (a junior and a senior) interned with the top pediatric neurosurgeon in the country.

Other majors of note include Digital Media and Design (combining artistry/creativity and technology), their Software engineering degree starting this fall (the only one in the state), Health Care Management, Public Health (which started this fall; 29 students are already enrolled), and Recreation Sport Sciences.

BWC4One of their major goals across all majors is to create a practice-based education. Most of the faculty members come to BW from the fields in which they teach allowing them to provide practical, real examples of how the theory and knowledge they teach translates into the real world. Almost every student completes some sort of “experiential education” experience through internships, study abroad, and other types of programs. The school has 52 articulated agreements for study abroad with options for others if students find a different program they’re interested in. Students must complete a minor here in order to broaden their educational field.

Although this is a Methodist-affiliated college, it does not feel at all religious. Although we didn’t get a full tour of the school, I’m not sure they even have a chapel; if they do, it’s not obvious in the main part of campus. However, the current president is only one of two in the history of the institution who is a non-Methodist, non-pastor president; he was also only one of two college Presidents on the tour to take the time to talk to us (Otterbein’s president was the other).

BWC is a Test Optional school; applicants have the option to turn in graded paper instead of test scores. They are also committed to affordability; there have been very small tuition increases in the last several years, the lowest in their peer-group. The entire bill comes to $35,000 a year including all the fees (tech, health, etc.), although the tuition at the conservatory is higher than the rest of campus because of the private lessons. The best thing – and the first time I’ve heard of a school doing this – has to do with the Meal Plan: students only get charged for what they use. If they don’t use it, BWC will give it back!

This incoming freshmen class (fall of 2012) can sign up for a 4-year graduation guarantee. BWC has been intentional about getting students out in four years, and they’re putting their money where their mouth is. They have a mapped-out four-year plan so students can stay on track. It is a completely voluntary program and basically requires that the students do common sense things such as meet with their advisor regularly and declare a major within two years as well as attend seminars and sign a waiver that will release information to the parents (if they drop a course, if they aren’t doing well in class, etc). If they do everything they need to do but can’t graduate within 4 years, the 5th year’s tuition is free.

BWC 2

One of the dorms with a sand volleyball court in front.

Students must live on campus for freshmen and sophomores years unless they are within a certain radius of campus and living with family. About 80% of freshman and sophomores live on campus and about 2/3 of the total undergraduates are on campus – that’s almost 2,000 residents on campus. Freshman can have cars on campus.

I was left with the good impressions of BW that I started with and I would definitely recommend it to my students. It has the typical smallish-college feel but with a lot of options and innovative programs that allows students to take advantage of a lot. The campus is comfortable and students are friendly. A former student of one of the counselors had joined us at lunch so we got yet another student’s perspective; he loves the college and all that he can do there.

(c) 2012

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