Houghton College (visited 3/19/19)
This school is a well-kept secret which is unfortunate. I drove to campus from Erie, and I had quite the scenic drive heading north off Interstate 86. There were plenty of small towns and farms; I checked my GPS at one point to make sure I had programmed it right because I didn’t see any signs for the town of Houghton (pronounced “Hoe-ton” not “How-ton”) or a college of any sort … and then suddenly, I was there.
They do NOT make a secret that this is a “Christ-centered education.” While definitely religiously focused, nothing on campus is “in-your-face” or screams “Religious School!” However, students must attend 2/3 of the chapel services held on M, W, and F; the tour guide described a lot of music happening at chapels. Masses are not required, although they are offered on campus (many of which are student-led). Many students choose to go to church in the community. The student worker in the office talked about having a group of friends that she went to church with. Students also have to take 3 religious classes as part of their Gen Eds, including Biblical Lit (“basically an intro to the Old Testament”), Intro to Christ, and an upper level elective.
The directions sent by the admissions office were spot-on – the brick building with the bell tower was one of the first buildings I got to. Parking was plentiful and well marked, something I appreciate more and more as I go on these visits. The welcome center, located right inside, is lovely and warm. Coffee and cookies were set out, and a student was staffing the desk to greet people.
This is a mostly residential campus. There are 4 dorms (2 each for males and females) and some townhouses for upperclassmen. There are very few commuters mostly because of the rural nature of the community. One of the students I talked to said that she’d like to improve the dorms a bit. “A couple of them are older. They aren’t terrible, but they could use upgrades.” I asked her about the food – “It’s the best I had when looking at colleges. It’s maybe an 8, but I’m not picky.”
The central part of campus is easy to navigate and has a great feeling about it. The athletic facilities and a couple dorms are a bit more of a walk, but even the furthest fields and the new athletic center weren’t any more than a 10 minute walk at a fairly leisurely pace. There are lots of wooded areas and trails for students to use for hiking or running. “Outdoorsy students will definitely like it here,” said the rep (and Letchworth State Park, the “Grand Canyon of the East” is only about 15 minutes away – lots of opportunities for hiking, rafting, camping, etc). The only part of campus that isn’t walkable is the Equestrian Center, a fairly major area a couple miles away; I drove over to see it after the tour and was impressed at the size of the facility. They offer an Equestrian Studies major and minor and an Equine-Assisted Therapy minor.
I talked to the student at the admissions desk for awhile. She said was surprised her the most was how much of a community this really was. “I chose it for the community but didn’t know just how open people would be.” The 1000 undergrads do become a truly tight-knit community and people tend to get involved; the ruralness of the campus pretty much guarantees that. There are lots of traditions and community-building events, and the Rep who showed me around, herself a recent grad, couldn’t say enough about it.
“Students who want a community are going to do great here. You can’t help but get involved.” Several of the major traditions revolve around the dorms. One of the male dorms always dresses up in wacky costumes and bang on drums during home games. Even the website lists that dorm as “Home of Shen Bloc, a high-energy, raucous cheering section for Highlander athletics.” One of the female dorms always throws a Thanksgiving feast and another throws a party. Other traditions that people brought up were the Bagpipes that are played at graduation and “Scarfing” for freshmen. “We get a scarf; we’re supposed to give it away at graduation to someone meaningful to our experience here, but that doesn’t always happen.”
An area for growth that the rep sees is that “we’re predominantly white. We’re trying to increase that. Some of that happens in chapel. We’ll talk about things even if it makes people mad or uncomfortable. We hold forums and have the hard conversations. We’ve had a record high number of students of color coming in.”
Not surprisingly, they have several religiously-themed majors and minors such as Pastoral Ministries, Bible, and Theology. Their music and arts divisions are strong (offering BFAs and BAs in typical areas as well as Music Industry and Applied Design and Visual Communications); the large arts building has an EMA recording studio, practice rooms, and galleries. Students wanting to combine this with Business can earn a bachelor’s in Integrated Marketing Communications.