Ohio is rich in liberal arts colleges: Kenyon College, Denison College, and Ohio Wesleyan to name but a handful of the twenty six; then there is Oberlin College, a boundless bastion of liberal arts, with extensive historical roots, and resources that few schools of 2,900 might even dream of matching.
Thirty one years after Ohio joined the union, Oberlin opened its doors, soon to become one of the most progressive colleges in the country. It served as a stop for the Underground Railroad, became the first college in the United States to admit African Americans and adopt coeducation. To this day Oberlin, just 30 miles southwest of Cleveland, with extensive resources across its 440-acre campus, is still very much at the forefront of academics and independent action.
Oberlin is ranked 10th in producing PhD candidates, per capita, across all disciplines, in the country. Since its inception, Oberlin has produced more alumni who have earned PhDs than any other liberal arts college: three of whom have earned Nobel Prizes.
Oberlin begins by offering a First-Year Seminar Program. Each seminar is capped at 14 students and taught by professors (as are all classes), who encourage critical and creative thinking through discussions and essays. The seminar program seeks to produce a community of independent learners with insatiable intellectual curiosity. Then it sets them loose among the 47 majors offered.
Within environmental studies, for example, Oberlin takes its role as teacher and practitioner seriously. The Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies derives half its energy from renewable resources while treating and recycling most of its water for landscaping and sanitation use. This effort in sustainability extends to its dorms, each of which has a monitor and display to constantly compare real time versus historic energy use.
For a school of 2,900, Oberlin has an endowment of $700 million, which calculates out to $235,000 per student, ranking 49th in the country. This, in turn, supports a student-faculty ratio of 11:1 (Arts and Sciences) and 8:1 (Conservatory of Music). Three-quarters of the classes have fewer than 20 students. Even more striking, Oberlin’s administrative staff numbers 1,058, which means the ratio of administrators to students is 1:3. That probably matches, or betters, the ratio of staff to customer at some of the finest hotels in the world.
Yet, there is a surfeit of facilities to administer:
The cost of attendance (COA) for the 2013-2014 year is just under $60,000. As you would expect, 82% of the students receive financial aid, with the average grant and scholarship package of $22,500, which would bring the price down to around $38,000 annually. In Kiplinger’s Best Value for Liberal Arts Colleges, Oberlin ranked 44, with students graduating $16,000 in debt. Possibly not a bad deal for what could undeniably be the best four years of your life.