HOLY NAMES UNIVERSITY, Oakland, CA (visited 7/15/12)
This small school of about 1300 students (about 600 undergrads) is tucked onto a hillside in Oakland with views of San Francisco Bay to die for. Deer roam the campus, and it feels like it’s in a residential area. However, as one of the admissions reps put it, if you walk down the hill, people say “Where am I??” because you enter the city of Oakland. In fact, the best taco trucks have reportedly taken up residence right down the hill and are popular with the students. However, despite its location in the city, and despite Oakland’s reputation for crime, the tour guide told us that she “goes gallivanting all the time and has never had a problem.”
Holy Names was our home base for the week-long counselor tour through the Bay area. We stayed in one of the freshman dorms, and it definitely could have used some sprucing up. However, it was also not the worst I’ve seen in terms of dorms. There was a sink in every room, and the dorm was patterned in a figure-8; a small lounge and balcony area separated the 2 circles, and there was a bathroom on each side which meant no wait for showers in the morning. About 80% of undergrads live on campus making it a residential community, and although the school is small, UC Berkeley is about 15 minutes away, and San Francisco is 20 minutes away. Student Programing committees offer lots of trips such as rafting, skiing, or to Napa valley as well as local and international community service and service-learning trips such as the Breast Cancer Walk or to build homes in Mexico or El Salvador. The high numbers of students participating mirrors one of the missions of the school of “social justice through learning.”
Although this is a Catholic institution, students don’t need to be Catholic to attend. Mass is offered on campus but is not required. One religion class is required as part of the distribution requirements, but there is choice offered; World Religions is a popular choice. Some of the Sisters live on campus, and Sister Chris got high praise, being called the Whoopi Goldberg of campus. One of the admissions reps (who graduated from HNU a couple years ago) is from Hawaii and said that she got very homesick the first year. Sister Chris showed up at her room with home-cooked Hawaiian food to help her feel better. Five to ten percent of the student population is international; another five to ten percent are out-of-state, many of whom are from Hawaii. Holy Names has been recognized for the ethnic and racial diversity on campus, and the students throw a number of cultural festivals throughout the year; the Swedish glug got high praise.
Several of the academic buildings have been renovated, particularly in the sciences. Biology, biological sciences, and nursing are big on campus. Students can participate in a 2+2 program where they complete 2 years of pre-nursing requirements and take qualifying exams at Holy Names, then can transfer over to Samuel Merritt for 2 years to finish their nursing degree. Psychology, education, and business are also popular on campus. Freshman to Sophomore retention hovers between 75 and 80%; they site a lot of homesickness for people leaving, although there are certainly other reasons as well. Financial Aid is usually pretty good and helps to keep students on campus.