Albion College (visited 3/25/19)
(Click HERE to see notes on my first campus visit on 1/30/15)
Albion College is doing some amazing things to keep up with the times in terms of job skills, majors to prep students in relevant fields, etc. However, the town – at least right now – leaves a bit to be desired. When the steel industry basically shut down during the recession and they weren’t making materials for plants in Detroit, the town took a big hit. However, Albion is different than many other small towns with Liberal Arts colleges. Many colleges have alumni that give back to the college itself. The alumni at Albion give back to the town. They’ve invested millions to open a hotel (we stayed there for the counselor fly-in; it’s wonderful), a theater, and a brewery (where we ate/drank the 2nd night: also wonderful!). The alumni want the town to thrive because they know that’s how the college and its students thrive. Additionally, Amtrak stops in town (and runs through campus) allowing students easy access to Detroit (less than an hour) or Chicago (less than 2 hours).
What stood out for me are their Programs of Distinction: 5 specialized institutes, an honors program, and research to allow students to build on interests and skills.
- Students in the Honors Program take 4 dedicated classes in different disciplines which count towards graduation requirements. They need a 3.5 GPA and write a thesis to graduate with Honors. All majors and all athletic teams “except men’s basketball” are represented in the program. They intentionally build a community through events like paintball tournaments, going into Chicago, ice cream socials, etc.
- Institutes were created to help students look at how topics fit together. “Majors go vertically; we need something to help them think horizontally.” Institutes have their own criteria for entrance, and students must maintain a higher GPA to stay in.
- Business and Management gives students opportunities to expand and build business knowledge through speakers, networking, and more. They offer a summer program (two 2-hour classes, 4 days a week) to prepare them for internships.
- Medicine works with all pre-health students for clinical shadowing and internships to make sure they’re pursuing the right path. They partner with several schools: 4 students got interviews with Central Michigan Medical for an assured entrance program; they also offer 4+1 Nursing with Oakland; DPT at UM-Flint; and DO, Dental, and Pharmacy with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. Over 90% of the kids who “work the process” get into med school.
- Sustainability and the Environment fits with multiple majors because it’s interdisciplinary, but also has 3 of its own majors and 2 concentrations. They have a farm and nature center on campus. They take students on trips around the continental US right after graduation.
- Leadership In Public Policy and Service takes 140 students from a range of majors to learn what policy is like and help make a difference in their fields. Students complete 4 elements: 6 courses (2 are exclusive to this institute), community service (required each semester), a lecture series (they must attend a certain number), and an internship.
- Teacher Development offers Professional Development money for students who usually use it in senior year for student teaching.
Research: They provide a $600 stipend to students who get accepted to present a paper or poster at a national conference. Over the summer, 36 students are selected to do 6- to 10-week research projects campus. They get free housing, $380 a week, and a $500 fund for what they need (chemicals, mileage, etc).
Another great opportunity for students is the Philadelphia Center where they complete 32 hours of internship (they have to interview for the experience) and 8 hour of classes per week. “They do the adulting thing with a safety net!” They’d like to send 40-50 students each semester, but only 11 went last semester. They have students talk to landlords to deal with budget, location, etc. “It’s an opportunity to look for housing in a big city with someone there to help.”
A couple students had this to say about studying at Albion:
- “I love that it isn’t perfect. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s on the upswing. I can be part of the growth and improvement. It’ll be a great experience if I can look back and say, ‘I was a part of that.’”
- “This wasn’t my first choice, but it came down to finances. Now I dread the thought of graduating because it’s been that great.”
We asked the panel about their favorite classes:
- International Entrepreneurial Exchange: students in this is a 2-semester class were split into small groups and partnered with a graduate program outside of Paris to build a company. They built a travel app and went to Paris for a week; the French students then came here to help present at the symposium.
- Social Movements: “It’s good to see someone else’s perceptions and being able to understand our own culture.”
- Human Rights: “we went to the Jackson penitentiary, talked about the injustices of the CJ system in the US, how it does/doesn’t align with how the world perceives human rights and how we perceive people in prison. It was very powerful.”
- HipHop and Social Change: “This was a big class with almost 30 people. Everyone had an opinion in that class.”
- International Organizations: “We met in a conference room because there were only 10 of us. They knew if we didn’t show up. We did an online simulation game. Some of us were partnered up and assigned a country. We made treaties and traded, decided on type of government. We were arguing an hour before deadline to make a trade about nuclear proliferation. We were in all different majors, and we all knew what we were talking about.”
- Public Relations: “It’s what I’m gearing towards and it gave me hands-on experiences. We worked with Albion businesses.”
- Oceans, Atmosphere, and Climate: “Honestly, I had no interest in it, but the prof had all of us sign up for a 30 minute meeting, so he tried to make it meaningful. He said that he knew we were just here for the requirement, and it turned into one of my favorites.”
- Arts Advocacy (honors level): “We ended up creating a student film festival! We were able to start something for the community and raise some money for the elementary school arts program. I know I’ve left my mark on the college with this.”
With over 50% of their student participating in athletics, “we rely on this to drive admissions, like many DIII schools.” Football is highly popular, but they also have an impressive Equestrian Center and equestrian team (both Hunt Team and Western). “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is less competitive than other sports,” said the Center Director. “Students have to do laps around the indoor rink for every minute they’re late to practice – and this is the largest indoor arena owned by a University in the US.” They own 46 horses, and even have 2 indoor “treadmills” for them when the weather is too cold or bad for them to get exercise outside.
Right now they have a 70% retention rate which is going up. They’ve implemented Peer Mentors (juniors or seniors) to the First Year Seminars to help freshmen meet benchmarks during the first semester on campus. “It’s building threads in their social and academic safety net.” They’ve also started the Briton Path, a learning community for students who need some additional guidance or organization. The class meets once a week, and there is peer tutoring, individual, weekly guided practice sessions (more hands-on), and exam review.