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USACollegeChat Podcast

Apr 23, 2015

We are continuing our series on looking at colleges outside your comfort zone by taking a virtual tour of public colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region. Complete show notes for today's episode, including links to all of the colleges mentioned, can be found at In our last episode, we said that we were going to take you on a virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to try to stretch your thinking about colleges that might be attractive to your child. As we start our tour this week, we are going to spotlight public colleges. We are going to talk about four-year colleges only, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region right away. If your child is headed to a public two-year college, just save this information until it might be time for your child to transfer to a four-year college later on. Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. While we do not promise to name a lot of great colleges in every state, we do promise to name a lot of great colleges. And as we said last week, if you have a college you would like us to talk about on the air, please email us or call us and tell us what it is and why it is great, and we will certainly consider it. Let us also say again that no college has asked us to name it and that no college has paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices. To be sure, some of the colleges we will name will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admissions test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be appropriate. One general note about the location of college campuses: It used to be that most colleges had a single campus. Then, large public universities looked to serve more and more students as the college-going rate increased in the last century. We started to see branch campuses of these large public universities—a couple and then five or seven or more—as supply rose to meet demand. Now, private universities and colleges have started to open more locations, too—probably in an effort to attract students who do not want to commute to or live on the main campus. All this opening of branches and locations has made talking about colleges a bit complicated. When we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution. And one general note about enrollment figures: While we tried hard to pull enrollment figures from college websites in order to give you an idea of how large or how small our spotlighted colleges are, we believe that the figures are not necessarily comparable from college to college. For example, sometimes colleges include part-time students, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes you can’t tell whether they do or don’t. So, use the enrollment figures we are giving as just an approximation of the actual campus enrollment. These figures are certainly good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child. In other words, it doesn’t really matter if a university has 19,000 undergraduate students or 25,000 undergraduate students; it is still a huge school. 1. The Great Lakes Region The Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. So let’s get started with the five states that make up the Bureau’s Great Lakes region: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. For those of you who are listening in our home state of New York, I am guessing that the Great Lakes region sounds far away, except perhaps for Ohio, which we can think of as right across New Jersey and/or Pennsylvania from us. For those of you who are listening in the South or Southwest or on the West Coast, I am guessing that all these states seem far removed from where you thought you might send your child. But there are a lot of great colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region, so let’s begin. 2. Flagship Public State Universities One notable category of higher education institutions in these five states is the flagship public state university. Each of the Great Lakes states has one, though some are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and I would argue that at least a couple of them are, in fact, great schools. While these universities have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is best known and likely most respected both in the state and outside the state. If you want to apply to one of these campuses from out of state, your child will need good to excellent high school grades and good to excellent college admission test scores, with some being a bit harder to get into than others. Just remember, the best and the brightest high school students who live in these states really want to go to their flagship state university. Why? Because these schools are relatively inexpensive (because they are public), academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for lots of their high school classmates. They are the place to be, if you live in that state. That attitude might be hard for those of us who live in New York State to understand, because we do not have the same kind of famous flagship campus that draws a large percentage of our state’s best high school graduates. The State University of New York (SUNY) operates more like individual colleges located around the state rather than one main campus with branches of it around the state, as in the Great Lakes region. SUNY does not have one big flagship campus that the majority of New York high school students are dying to go to. So, what are these flagship campuses in the Great Lakes region? They are the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Indiana University Bloomington, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and The Ohio State University in Columbus. While these universities are located in different kinds of settings—from medium-sized college towns to state capitals (and let me tell you that Madison has one of the prettiest state capitol buildings you are ever going to find)—and while some have colder weather than others (like Michigan and Wisconsin—believe me, I know), they also have a lot in common. For example, they are huge. The average number of undergraduates enrolled at the flagship campuses in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois is almost 30,000, with a total undergraduate, graduate, and professional student enrollment averaging almost 45,000, Ohio State is bigger still, with about 45,000 undergraduates and a total enrollment of about 58,000 students. While some of these campuses brag about the relatively small class size of many of their classes and the kind of personalized attention they give their students, you can be sure that a shy student could easily get lost in the shuffle of a very large campus and in what will surely be some large lecture halls, with lots of students trying to get the professors’ attention. Within each flagship university, there are from 11 to 19 different undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—arts and sciences, education, engineering, business, agriculture and life sciences, nursing, law, medicine, veterinary medicine, architecture, and more—including, at Indiana, the famous Jacobs School of Music. These universities offer from about 135 to almost 250 undergraduate majors—truly something for every student, almost no matter what the student is interested in. As befits any huge university, each one has hundreds and hundreds of student clubs and organizations and more than 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams (plus club sports and intramurals). They are all part of the Big Ten athletic conference, so you can be sure that students go to football and basketball games and root for the home team. This is all part of the college life and proud traditions at these universities. Each of these five flagship universities is well enough known and highly enough regarded to attract students from virtually every state in the U.S. and from typically more than 100 foreign countries. Interestingly enough, New York and California are among the top states outside the Great Lakes region that send students to these schools every year, so they aren’t secrets—at least not to parents and guidance counselors who are well versed in college options outside their home states. All of these public universities would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but would still cost less than most private colleges—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, they are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S. There is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university. So this might be the time to consider one. 3. Other Public State Universities In these five Great Lakes states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus, but other universities in their own right, some of which are also quite well known. One of the best-known of these—and perhaps the best in many respects—is Michigan State University, located in East Lansing, just outside Michigan’s capital. It is actually larger than most of the flagship campuses we just discussed—with about 39,000 undergraduates and 11,000 graduate and professional students. Like the flagship campuses, it draws students from all states and more than 100 foreign countries, has more than 15 colleges, offers about 160 undergraduate majors, and is a member of the Big Ten. The state of Michigan is one clear example of a state where the two largest public universities—the University of Michigan and Michigan State University—are virtually equal in their fame and appeal. Another example of a state where the two largest public universities are virtually equal in their fame and appeal is the state of Indiana, which has both Indiana University Bloomington and the Purdue University public system, with its main campus in West Lafayette. Note that Purdue is a public university, even though the name does not sound like it (it was named after a very large donor, John Purdue, in 1869). Another member of the Big Ten, Purdue enrolls about 30,000 undergraduates at the main campus (plus about 9,000 graduate and professional students)—maybe just a bit smaller than IU Bloomington. Given Purdue’s good national reputation, it draws students globally; barely over half of Purdue undergraduates are actually Indiana residents. Purdue offers 10 undergraduate and graduate schools, with over 100 majors for undergraduates; it has a very highly ranked College of Engineering and some highly ranked business majors. When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last weekend, we had a nice chat with Amanda Wulle, the Assistant Director of Admissions (NYC Regional Representative) at Purdue, who did a quick audio pitch for her alma mater for NYCollegeChat. Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode. Several smaller (but still quite large, by anybody’s standard) public choices are Wayne State University in the city of Detroit, Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and Kent State University in Ohio (with its main campus in Kent). Each of these public universities has about 20,000 undergraduate students and from 5,000 to 10,000 graduate and professional students at its main campus. They offer from 10 to 13 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, including a well-known medical school at Wayne State and a College of Aviation at Western Michigan (which you just don’t see every day). Interestingly, the vast majority of students at each university come from within its home state. That could mean that an application from a student in a far away state would be especially attractive. And I couldn’t mention Western Michigan without a fond word for one of its longtime, now retired, education professors and an amazing colleague, Daniel Stufflebeam. Dan was one of the great innovators in the field of educational evaluation for decades (actually since his groundbreaking work at Ohio State). As we said earlier, all of these public universities (and there are even more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities beyond just the flagship university. Listen to the podcast to find out about… How students get around the campus and the town/city How “livable” the college town/city is and how much of a plus that is for students How ethnically and racially diverse these campuses are and how that might affect your child’s admission chances Check out the higher education institutions and programs we mention by visiting our show notes for today's episode at Connect with us through… Commenting on the show notes for today's episode at Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn! 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