College of St. Joseph (visited 4/16/14)
This is the first tour I’ve ever taken during which the Director of Food Services talked to the group (she came out as we were eating breakfast). She has been here for 8 years, and not only works in the dining hall, but also teaches Kick Boxing to the kids. She really gets to know them; “I know when something isn’t right. I know their names, and within a couple months, I know their footsteps as they pass by my office.”
This small school of 350 students sits on 117 acres in the small city of Rutland, Vermont. They’re starting to transfer some of that land so they can grow their own food which will be served in the dining hall. The food is all homemade; “if something doesn’t taste like mom’s food, bring me mom’s recipe. We’ll make it.”
The campus is so small that the tour only took about 20 minutes. They currently have two single-sex dorms, but are looking to increase the residential population by 30% so the dorms may become coed by next year. The dorm we went into looks like a motel with doors leading right outside, but the suites are lovely. The common room even comes with a TV! Students who opt for a single room pay a $500 per semester surcharge.
One tour guide said that the Catholic tradition was “historical rather than practical, but we’re looking to reactive that tradition.” Another one basically said “It’s a Catholic institution. We’re not actively looking for other students.” Despite the level of affiliation with the Catholic Church, they do institute the core values of Sisters of St. Joseph which include a commitment to hospitality and concern for people around them; part of their mission is to reach out to others. They run a wonderful program called STEPs (Students Taking an Effective Path to Success) to support students from the Vermont Foster Care system. They accept 5-7 students under this program each year and support them through the college years, including full room and board year-round, including breaks. Students in this program graduate at almost ten times the national average. They also enroll a high percentage of first-gen students, and almost 90% are Pell Eligible. They really live up to what they said about admitting their freshmen class: “It’s not about your SAT score. It’s about who you want to be when you exit.”
Starting next fall, they’re moving to a four-day schedule with no classes on Wednesday which will be Community Day. There will be time set aside for the Freshman Experience, for spiritual reflection, for work in the community, and for tutoring or extra help/meeting time with faculty.
They’re just wrapping up their first year of the Provider Scholarship Program which provides a scholarship in exchange for service to the school and community. Students have to be intellectually curious, participate in a campus activity of their choosing (could be a club, sport, etc), complete 15 hours of community service hours per semester (usually with a local company), and attend a career workshop. There’s a declining cost structure; students get an increase in scholarship money each year as long as they continue to meet the requirements. The Director of Admissions partially credits their rising retention rate to this (75% return for sophomore year compared to 49% a few years ago).
They have a limited number of majors due to their small size, but they do offer a couple unusual options including Radiography, Organizational Leadership, and Sports Management. Students in the Business program can complete a concentration in Social Media. Classes are small, and even the introductory levels usually only have 13-20 students. Upper levels often have 5 or 6. Because there are so few students, they can be placed in meaningful internships.