As small liberal-arts colleges struggle financially to stay afloat in the competitive field of higher education, some have carved out unique ways to attract students.
Small Wofford College in South Carolina might not seem like a springboard to world travel, but the liberal-arts school has one of the highest rates of study abroad in the U.S.
“In a rapidly changing local community, we are a pathway to the global for our students,” said Wofford College President Nayef Samhat.
The Institute of International Education reports that the 1,600-student school in Spartanburg, South Carolina, is ranked No. 4 among the top 40 baccalaureate schools who send their students to study at foreign universities.
Samhat says the school’s international study programs are not just about having fun in a foreign country. He says international education teaches Wofford students about cultural differences and how to look at the world’s problems in different ways.
Students must seek special permission to study abroad, explaining how the experience connects to their main field of study. An environmental science student might learn about how water shortages affect farming in Africa.
And students are also expected to share their experiences when they return to Wofford in ways that are helpful to other students.
Mark Roosevelt says finding the one thing your school does better than anyone else is key.
Roosevelt, president of St. John’s College, a small private liberal arts college in Santa Fe, New Mexico, says many students follow very specific fields of study, or majors, toward a specific career. And schools like his feel pressured into offering education that accommodates that path.
But St. John’s curriculum – called the Great Books program – offers a different journey at their Santa Fe and their Annapolis, Maryland, campuses, Roosevelt says.
“Life doesn’t have majors, and knowledge doesn’t have majors. And the problems you face in the workforce … and … in life aren’t reflected by majors. So we don’t have majors,” he said.
The school offers just one degree: bachelor of liberal arts. All students take the same classes and read from a list of 100 classics. This way, they learn math, literature and philosophy, among other subjects.
Roosevelt says this curriculum teaches students about the connections among issues and areas of life. He says it improves their critical thinking, the kind of skills that businesses are looking for in employees.
At Miami University in Ohio, Nicholas Money directs the college’s Western Program, which helps students who have not chosen a major to identify their interests and select appropriate classes.
Money says students are required to produce a major project connecting what they learned. Past projects include the effects of opening a small business in a poor community and sex discrimination in competitive gaming.
“We’re actually asking them to take responsibility,” he said, “for determining their own educational path.”