Lehigh University (visited 4/25/18)
Fun fact: the inventor of the escalator was from Lehigh, not surprising since “we’re on a mountain. We’re constantly winded,” said our tour guide. Campus has about 27,000 stairs. One counselor asked about accessibility, and the tour guide was forthcoming: “It’s not the most accessible campus. It can be done, but it takes some planning.” The main campus is on the side of a hill; the Mountaintop Campus which is about 2 miles further up. “You might do it for the exercise, but most people ride the bus.”
I got the feeling that Lehigh wasn’t entirely interested in trying when the group of counselors visited. They certainly have a strong academic reputation, the campus is beautiful, and they have resources. They don’t really need to try, but I’m always a bit concerned when schools appear to rest on their laurels. However, things are clearly going well with a retention rate over 90%, but that speaks to the level of student they are attracting as much as the university itself.
Students are smart and driven, but “there’s no shame in failure here. Clearly we don’t want it, but professors will say things like, ‘Who’s going to remember? Just go for it.’ Everyone goes to office hours, group study, tutoring,” said one student. Another said, “People want the best versions of themselves. We’re collaborative and I know that’s not the same everywhere. I feel lucky that I can go to professors or friends for help.”
I asked the student panelists to try to differentiate themselves from Lafayette (a big cross-over school). One said, “We’re a bit more outgoing. Here we like to do a lot of different things. At Lafayette, it seems like they like to focus more on one thing. I’m a little loud and don’t always know what to do, but felt I’d be supported here because I’m all over the place and can try lots of things.”
An admissions rep described Lehigh as “large enough to be powerful, small enough to be personal.” The tour guide agreed: “It’s large enough to meet new people but still see people you know.”
“We’re academically focused, but not academic-exclusive,” said a student. Campus social live is active: “It’s never a matter of IF something is happening – it’s which of the number of things I’m going to choose,” said one of the student panelists. University Production brings in SNL comedians, concerts, bbqs, movies, and Broadway Shows (Kinky Boots, Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder). During the Olympics, they had giant viewing party and put up an ice rink on campus for curling and skating. 95% stay on campus on the weekend. When they want to get off campus, they often go to the North Shore (the “Steel Stacks”) located about a mile away; a book store, bowling, skating, thrift shops, movies, and more are all there.
Lehigh admits students to college, not to majors; students can only apply to 1 college. Arts & Science and Engineering jockey year to year for the largest college. However, this isn’t like a large research school – students can move between the colleges: “There’s nothing stopping you from exploring in other schools and there are options.”
They have 3 distinctive, integrative programs that they spent a great deal of time talking about. Students must apply specifically to the first two:
- Integrated Business and Engineering: students complete the core curriculum of both and select a concentration in either area. It’s accredited in business but not engineering in 4 years. Some stay the extra year to get the accreditation.
- IDEAS (engineering and A&S): Students choose 2 concentrations and find the intersection between the two. ”Build bridges of specialization rather than islands,” said the rep. “Lets them understand and cross the divide.”
- Comp Si and Business is dual accredited. Students do NOT need to apply specifically for this program.
Other programs worth noting:
- “We have phenomenal psych and international relations majors,” said a rep. Students wanting more specialized programs can choose majors like Cognitive Science or Behavioral Neuroscience.
- They’re going to start a College of Health “but it’s not clearly defined yet. We’ve held a number of town halls to find out where we can make an impact.”
- “The sciences are already something we do really well here, and we’re great at finding intersections between disciplines,” including their Health, Medicine, and Society major where they look at community health, data analytics, the state of health care, sociological and environmental determinates of health, etc. Students in this major are usually NOT looking to do allied health/med schools.
- The Engineering school offers many of the more unusual specialties including Energy, Aerospace, Materials Sciences, Polymers, and Nanotechnology.
- UN Partnership: Lehigh has NGO status with the UN so students get special clearance and access there. They send a bus every WEEK (more Business majors go than any other student) and just had their 10,000th visitor to the UN. Ambassadors speak on campus (Syrian just came).
There’s very little merit aid given out but quite a bit of need-based aid. They require the tax returns and a 3-page form on their website which is school-specific, including non-custodial parental information. If they don’t apply for aid on time, they won’t get a package. “We meet need, but we meet 100% of institutional need – so we tell you what the need is,” said a financial aid officer.
Several people brought up diversity as an area of growth. In terms of racial diversity, the largest percentage is Hispanic. Surprisingly, only 3.5% of the students are African-American, said a rep. “We’re working on that.” Other areas seem to be better: they have trans students on campus, gender-neutral bathrooms are sprouting up across campus, and there are active LGBTQ groups that do outreach and education, including speaking with groups like Greek Life about inclusion.