FURMAN UNIVERSITY (visited 3/11/13)
The 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??”
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.
Although 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 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.
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.
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.