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Rowan University

ROWAN UNIVERSITY (visited 7/30/13)

Rowan meetingOne of Rowan’s claims to fame is that it hosted a meeting in 1967 between President Johnson and Soviet Premier Kosygin at the Hollybush Mansion, the university president’s home. They met here because of its location halfway between the UN and DC. Apparently, Lady Bird Johnson took the chairs which are now in the Smithsonian with a tag that says “Donated by Rowan” – the tour guide says that if we go there, we should tell people that they were taken from Rowan, not donated!

I had no idea what to expect from Rowan, one of New Jersey’s public universities, but I walked away with a good impression. Students are happy and enthusiastic about the programs and the opportunities they’ve had. This school of 10,750 undergraduates has recently been designated as a state Research Institution, and they’re proud that they do not do research at the expense of the undergraduate. Instead, they’ve been doing a great deal to expand their offerings and opportunities for their students. More money has been going into resources for students, and more scholarship money is available than ever before. They’ve increased their academic offerings for students, including eight new PhD programs and several new Masters programs are in the pipeline. Their Med School is highly competitive, receiving 3,000 apps for 50 seats, and it’s only the second university (after Michigan State) to offer both an MD and a DO (osteopathic medicine) degree. This has had a “trickle-down effect” into their undergraduate programs, and every undergraduate college on campus has a pre-med program, even the performing arts, including using dance as part of therapy. They’re getting away from the traditional model of pre-med prep.

Rowan academicsThey are proud of their Four Pillars program which includes: Economic Engine (helping students getting job and becoming involved in the community); Affordability (they froze tuition by keeping efficiencies in the system); Accessibility (making education available even though they’re getting more selective); and Growth (they’ve built the Stratford Campus for the medical and graduate programs, and they’ve built a partnership with Rutgers for a biomedical school). They’re looking to DOUBLE their student population over the next 10 years. They’ve already shown tremendous growth in their numbers; they used to only serve students from 4 or 5 counties; now they’re a well-known regional university, and they want to become better known across the country. Their out-of-state applications have been rapidly increasing, almost doubling last year from 400 to 700. In the most current freshman class, students had an average of a 3.6 GPA and 1200 SAT or 26 ACT.

Rowan Sci outside

Outside of the new science building

Inside the Science Building

Inside the Science Building

Some of the students’ favorite classes have been the History of WWII, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and Developmental Psychopathology. Their classes range from 10-35, and they appreciate the small classes and the chance that they know the professors; people notice if they aren’t in class, and they’re able to get a lot out of classes. Rowan has a strong business program, including Supply Chain and Logistical Systems, Management Info Systems, Entrepreneurship, and other more usual concentrations. Engineering students can choose to specialize in Chemical (ranked 3rd in nation, top among public universities), Civil and Environmental, Electrical and Computer, or Mechanical (ranked 8th in nation). Within the Humanities and Social Sciences College, their Africana Studies, Law and Justice Studies, and Planning are the most unusual majors. In the Science and math division, students can choose from all the usual majors, plus Bioinformatics and Child Behavioral Services. Education is strong at Rowan, and they have a program that allows students to graduate before student teaching, as long as they’ve fulfilled all the other requirements. Two of the tour guides had just graduated but were staying for one more semester to do their student teaching requirement.

Rowan quadAlthough there’s a lot to do on campus, students love that they’re only 20 minutes from Philly, 45 minutes to the shore, and halfway between NYC and DC. The school is doing a lot to do more outreach into the local community, and the activities on campus give students a real sense of community within campus and into the wider town. Unless students commute from a parent’s house, they have to live on campus for the first 2 years. There are freshman-only dorms which are mostly traditional style, but some have suites where they have to clean their own bathrooms. The university is building a 5-block-long apartment complex with Honors housing, B&N bookstore, Starbucks, retail shops and restaurants, arts and entertainment district. Ten percent of the student population joins Greek life.

© 2013

George Mason University

George Mason University, Fairfax, VA (visited 1/28/12)

I did not expect to like George Mason so much. For such a large public university (about 20,000 undergrads – the largest in Virginia), I think that it still has a very regional feel to it; I really only started hearing about it when I moved to Maryland. The comments were not the most favorable; people perceived it as the easy-to-get-into safety/back-up school. This may have been the case many years ago, but I don’t believe this still holds true. They accept just over half of their applicants, and now that I’ve visited, I can see why people (including a salutatorian I recently taught) chose George Mason over other, seemingly more prestigious options.

One of the benefits of the school is that it is young. It was founded in 1959 as a branch of the University of Virginia until they broke off and “went at it alone.” The admissions counselor said that being so young, the school can be flexible – instead of being stuck with what is already in place or being beholden to tradition, they can look at the job market, talk to alums about what worked and what didn’t, etc and plan accordingly. They are hugely innovative, and it’s clearly working for them in terms of what they can offer the students and how it’s affecting the upbeat culture on campus. Students are engaged and happy. I was on campus on a sunny, relatively warm Saturday in January. Students were out and about on campus, engaging with each other, and taking advantage of campus facilities.

Another benefit is its location. The self-enclosed campus is located not far outside of DC in a nice suburban area. For being so close to DC, I found it surprisingly easy to drive to and find parking. The students have easy access to the city. Shuttles take students to and from the metro stop near campus. The campus reflects a lot of the diversity in the city, as well: students from about 135 countries and almost every state study on campus. Additionally, students can cross-register for classes at Georgetown and most of the other DC area universities as long as the classes are in their majors.

Academics are strong, practical, and hands-on. Their Writing Across the Curriculum program ranks as one of the the Top 15 in the country, and the management and nursing programs are both in the top 15% in the nation. 96% of the classes are taught by professors rather than graduate students, and many of them are still active in their fields, bringing real-life practical knowledge and information into the classrooms. Classes have enrollments of about 25-35 students, giving students access to the professors as well as more discussion and hands-on based learning. Many majors require internships, and many students in those majors that do not require them still participate in an internship before graduation.

GMU is a test-optional for students who have a minimum of 3.5 GPA and in the top 50% of their graduating class, but students who do not submit SAT or ACT scores will NOT be considered for scholarships or the Honors College. They are also innovative and flexible in how students apply: they will accept a video essay with their application.

Freshmen are guaranteed housing, and 80% will live on campus. About 7% of the student population goes Greek.

One definite draw-back is the physical size of campus: it is huge, and walking across campus takes a very long time. There are a lot of shuttles and buses, but clearly this is something to keep in mind.

(c) 2012

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