Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune in 1871 told RL Sanderson, a correspondent, to go West, ‘where men are wanted, and where employment is not bestowed as alms.’ Had Mr. Greeley been around today, and the question was finding solid educational opportunities, he might well have altered his direction to the Midwest.
The Midwest is suffering from a dwindling population of high school graduates which is expected to continue falling through 2016. For an interlude of nine years the number will hold steady with slight growth until 2025, at which time it is projected to drop sharply. While certain areas of the Midwest such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and the fracking state of North Dakota will continue to see upticks in population growth, the balance of the Midwest, devastated by the disintegration and transplantation of its industrial base to China and other international markets, the ravages of the 2008 financial meltdown and a declining birthrate is in a swoon. The Midwest had a 7% decline in applicants in 2014: a total of 55,000 fewer than in 2008.
According to Ken Anselment, dean of admissions and financial aid at Lawrence University of Appleton, WI, “Demographics are not working real well in the Midwest.”
Even the Ivy League felt the dearth of high school applicants from the Midwest. Harvard had a decline of 2% in total applications with an almost 6% drop from the Midwest. Dartmouth admissions were even more profoundly affected. Dartmouth suffered a 14% overall slide in its applications attributed partly to a 20% drop from the Midwest. This was the biggest declines in applications for Dartmouth in the last two decades.
Among the leading Midwestern colleges, the declines were equally felt. Carleton College in Northfield, MN suffered an 8% drop from the Midwest and 11% drop in applications overall. Oberlin, one of the leading liberal arts colleges in the country, renowned for its extensive musical conservancy, had 2% fewer candidates and had a 20% decline in its home state of Ohio. Historically, Oberlin garners a quarter of its applicant pool in state. According to Debra Chernante, dean of admissions and financial aid, it is aware of the trend and is making adjustments to its recruiting.
A group of six Ohio liberal arts school have even banded together to hit the road to California and the Southwest US and recruit. The schools include Denison University, College of Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan.
What does this mean to a potential applicant from California? Midwestern colleges have to aggressively recruit to fill the void their regional population gap is creating. Additionally, many Midwestern schools want to have national student bodies: having students applying and attending from California builds such a reputation. Consequently, the opportunities for Californian applicants among Midwestern campuses are encouraging.
While University of Chicago, Northwestern, University of Michigan, or Notre Dame might not be beckoning you on one knee, a lot of prestigious colleges might be ready to flirt, and there are a lot of places warranting your consideration. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, with its free application for California applicants is well worth consideration. For public liberal arts candidates the University of Minnesota campus in Morris is an exceptional value. Also within Minnesota, an applicant should review Carleton, Macalester, and St. Olaf College.
Don’t stop there. In Iowa, Grinnell College has one of the highest per student endowment rates in the country ($1.5 billion for 1,700 students), with a solid liberal arts curriculum. Beloit and Lawrence in Wisconsin are also superb campuses with a strong interest in Californian applicants. Lastly, Case Western in Cleveland, has excellent departments in subjects from engineering and geology to economics and American Studies, and has a track record of being generous to California applicants.
Undoubtedly things are not easy in the Midwest, but that is when the best opportunities arise, when people become more enterprising and creative, and when community bonds and solid friendships are forged. There is a certain ineffable alluring quality to the Midwest that even LeBron James cannot deny; why not join him?