WUE

The University of Utah’s Bargain Honors Program

High-quality education in the form of Honors Colleges in Public Universities is becoming ever more common. Within the University of California system most have, including UCLA, UCI, and five of the six colleges of UCSD, special honors programs. The reason behind the growth of these honors programs is public universities want to keep their best students at home, in state, and challenged by a curriculum many believe can only be obtained from the most selective universities.

One of the eminent Honors programs was described in a previous column, the Barrett Honors program at Arizona State University. The column mentioned that the Public University Honors (PUH) organization has evaluated the top public honors programs in its book A Review of 50 Public University Honors Programs.

Like most rankings there is a bit of subjectivity, although the PUH rates programs by

  1. The number of honors classes necessary to fulfill graduation requirements (the more the better)
  2. The number of prestigious scholarships garnered by enrolled students (Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater, Fulbright, Truman, etc.)
  3. Special honors housing and facilities
  4. Select honors study abroad programs
  5. Priority registration

Yet the best means of understanding what an honors program is all about is to look closely at one. A university with a top 50 Honor’s Program that might prove accessible and affordable to interested Californians who are willing to look beyond the state’s borders for opportunities is the Honor’s College Program at the University of Utah.

To take advantage of tuition savings, Californians should apply through the Western University Exchange (WUE). Their tuition will then be 150% of the residential tuition rate, which is approximately $11,000, well below UC’s $14,000. 

The University of Utah typically admits around 80% of its applicants. Most of the students admitted have unweighted GPAs of 3.6 to 3.9 with mean SAT scores of 1345/1600 or an ACT of 30. The Honor’s Program, in other words, is one of the most selective colleges in the country contained in large land-grant university.

Several of Utah’s departments are among the top 50 in the country including math (34), chemistry (35), computer science (40), earth sciences (42), and business (47). So if an Honor’s student were to major in any of these departments, she would be arguably getting a superior liberal arts education coupled with one of the best department curriculum in the country.   

Looking at the PUH honor’s criteria, to receive an Honors Bachelor’s Degree, a fifth of a student’s classes need to be honors classes.  This could breakdown to 4 honors core courses, 3 honors elective and one thesis preparation class. The Honors Program features an ‘Intellectual Tradition’ series of seminars showing how key ideas have shaped humanity. The program also offers Praxis Labs, project based solutions to key social problems. Finally there is the thesis as a capstone to the Honors Program.

Utah Honors graduates have won 31 Goldwater (STEM fields), 22 Rhodes, and 23 Truman Scholarships over the years; the program ranks 5th among all public universities in wining Truman Scholarships.

The Marriott Honors Residential Community (MHRC) houses 309 students with over 4/5s in suite-style rooms. Students can choose living in 8 learning themes, such as business or engineering. Each apartment suite has its own kitchen, and the community has an honors library, high speed internet, and a ski wax room. There is also the Hinkley Institute for gaining honors credit through HInkley internships; the UROP to obtain funding for research; the Marriott Library to get thesis and research advice from Honors librarians; and, 105 study abroad programs with intensive language programs in Kiel, Germany or Saratov, Russia.

The Honors Program at the University of Utah is not perfect, however: it doesn’t offer its students priority registration.

If you are an exceptional student in search of a place to help you excel on a budget, the Honor’s Program at the University of Utah is worth considering, and, to add icing on the honors, within 45 minutes of the campus is some of the best skiing in the country: all for a tuition price 20% lower than the UCs.  

The Liberal Arts Alternatives- Public Liberal Arts Colleges

The most discriminating purchasers of college services, college professors, are keen on sending their kids to liberal arts colleges. Why? Liberal arts schools are usually small, smaller than many high schools. Most are composed solely of undergraduates, meaning accessibility to professors is unmatched: professors know this.  

Consequently, liberal arts colleges encourage and deliver many undergraduate research opportunities, even compared to major ‘research universities.’ Moreover, at the liberal arts colleges, professors teach introductory courses, with many interacting frequently with their students—and have countless informal meetings, which according the late Steve Jobs, are the most fruitful and memorable.

Regardless of all this professor access, many believe that attending a liberal arts college- to learn, read, write, analyze, communicate and think clearly will land students squarely in the unemployment line. Not according to Paul D’Arnieri , dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at University of Florida, “…liberal arts major can go into education, public policy, law, intelligence, as well as business--let’s not forget that many, many business leaders have liberal arts degrees.” (Fox Business 27 January 2012) Okay, but won’t the costs of these colleges saddle students with tens of thousands of dollars of debt? Certainly the sticker price of Swarthmore, Amherst, Pomona College, or Williams is over $50,000 a year, but there are alternatives.

Beyond the brand name private liberal arts schools there are a number of public liberal arts colleges. Many are a part of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) which consists of 27 public colleges spread among 24 states and a Canadian province. A full list can be found at http://www.coplac.org/members/. Four of these public liberal arts colleges are included in Fiske’s Best Buys of 2013, which is based on “the quality of their academic offerings in relation to the cost of attendance.” (Fiske Guide, 2013)  These include the College of Charleston (SC), Evergreen State (WA), Truman State, (MO), and University of Mary Washington (VA). Two other public liberal arts colleges for those wanting to be closer to home include Sonoma State University, with a cost of attendance (COA) of just over $23,000 and Southern Oregon University (which is part of the Western University Exchange program, WUE), with a COA of $25,000.

Yet another public liberal arts college, University of Minnesota, Morris, which for some odd reason did not make the Fiske list, is truly an exceptional value. The college is located in the middle-western portion of Minnesota, fairly close to the North Dakota border. The 125-year-old campus has a 42-acre historic district set in the middle of its 130-acre campus. Equally interesting is the campus is well on its way to becoming carbon neutral, as it obtains over half its power from a municipal level wind turbine (another liberal arts school in Minnesota, Carleton, just installed its second wind turbine generator—a popular energy alternative in the land of 10,000 lakes).

Academically all students begin with a first-year seminar featuring a five-course core under the name of ‘Skills for the Liberal Arts.” Eight courses are then required spread among history, fine arts, social science, natural sciences, and ‘international perspectives.’ Over two-thirds of the classes have 19 or fewer students, and all are taught by professors. Students find the academics competitive but highly collaborative.

The best news is that Morris does not charge non-residential fees. The annual tuition, room and board for a non-resident is under $20,000. For the right type of student, Morris represents a superb undergraduate value, as do many of the public liberal arts schools.

Only 3% of students coming out of high school go on to liberal arts colleges. In all likelihood of the students who even learn that liberal arts schools exist, most dismiss this alternative as too pricey, unprofessional, and small. That’s a shame because there are a lot of choices and opportunities for those bold enough to stray off the well-worn UC or CSU admissions path. Liberate your search and survey the great public liberal arts school opportunities.  

The Allure of Out of State College Opportunities

Less than 14% of high school students attend college out of state. Cost considerations, proximity to friends and family, and climate deter many from going too far afield, but having an adventurous spirit might pay dividends in the world of colleges. Outside the golden state an assortment of public schools, private research universities, and liberal arts colleges seek to enroll Californians. These schools behoove your investigation.  

The RACC (Regional Admissions Counselors of California) is a cross section of regional admissions officers from such schools as the University of Glasgow (Scotland), University of Minnesota (Twin Cities), Lafayette (PA) and Northeastern (MA). Many have gorgeous campuses, competitive tuition, hundreds of majors, honors programs, non-impacted nursing programs, and even four-year graduation guarantees (such as the University of Minnesota). Best of all, they want Californians on their campuses.

True, some of the public out-of-state schools want to get you on to their campuses simply because you will be paying out-of-state tuition, and this can get expensive. Though, as mentioned in a previous column, through WUE, Western University Exchange, schools charge only 150% in-state tuition for Californians. Getting accepted under the WUE program at Montana State in Bozeman costs less than $8,000 annually in tuition, versus over $18,000 for full out-of-state tuition.

Several flagship public universities are already composed of substantial portions of out-of-state students. The University of Vermont, for instance, is 75% out-of-state students; University of North Dakota (a WUE member) 67%; and University of Colorado, Boulder, over 40%.  A number of schools in the Northeast and Midwest are joining Vermont’s lead in the search for out-of-state students because the number of high school graduates in their region of the country is declining. University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Rutgers (NJ), and SUNY campuses (State University of New York) are all increasing their portion of out-of-state students.

The flow of Californians venturing out is becoming pronounced. Last year Washington State, which has a superb pre-veterinarian program, doubled the number of Californians it enrolled to 132, while the University of Arizona and Arizona State each had more than 1,000 California freshmen. University of Oregon, a third of whose football team is composed of Californians, enrolled over a 1,000 Californians in its 2011 freshman class; that’s double the number from five years ago.   Some marquee schools have doubled their number of Californian enrollments over the last decade as well, including NYU, whose recent freshman class had 600 California students, along with Wesleyan (CT), and Williams (MA).

Private research universities and liberal arts colleges seek California students to secure a national body of students. Prestige factors into the equation. Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, one of the top research universities in the country, offered six figure scholarships and grants to California applicants over the last three years. Geographic diversity helps their recruiting and, possibly, their US News ratings. Coming from outside a school’s traditional recruiting range, renders you special. Lynn O’Shaughnessy in her second edition of The College Solution mentions that her Californian daughter enrolled at Beloit College in Wisconsin and was featured in a guide for prospective students; after all, if a girl from San Diego attends Beloit that shows the allure of Beloit.

The reasons to join this migration are as many as there are graduates from California high schools. Beyond the golden state there are schools that graduate high percentages of students in four years, have available seats in what are high-impacted majors in the Cal State or UC systems, and have programs or grants/scholarship/work study aid to offset some of the costs—thereby bringing many of their costs into parity with the ever escalating costs of California state schools. Don’t dismiss the entreaties beyond the golden fence: create more options and unfold to the undiscovered.