In Praise of the Residential Liberal Arts College

As many of you know, I teach at a residential liberal arts college. 

Actually, Messiah College is not an official liberal arts college according to the Carnegie Classifications.  It is a regional comprehensive college with liberal arts and professional programs.  But it is highly residential.

Over at the Huffington Post “College” page, L. Jay Lemons, the president of Susquehanna University, another Pennsylvania school with a strong residential liberal arts emphasis, describes the beneifts of this type of college experience.  His piece centers around the college experience of his daughter.

Here is a taste:

During her first week on campus, by design Maggie and her classmates were all in the company of their academic advisors three times. These advisors are full-time faculty members. They discussed what classes to take during their first semester, adjusting to college life including being homesick, and how to become involved in campus life. The intention was clear that relationships between faculty members and students are central, essential and expected.

During a visit to Maggie in mid-October, we shared a meal with some friends and one of them asked her if she had a favorite class. She responded immediately that her interdisciplinary seminar was her favorite. She was finding the course material on early Christianity and Islam fascinating, and Maggie went on to say she found her professor inspiring. That is what every parent wants to hear.

Later that Saturday as we walked across the campus, we encountered the professor who was walking his dog and talking on his cell phone. He ended the call so as to have an opportunity to be introduced to us and I shared with him what Maggie said. He replied that Maggie and her classmates were inspiring him. The fact that he knew her name, was invested fully in her learning and was passionate about teaching was truly meaningful to me both as a dad and as a committed educator.

While I could provide other examples, let me share one final experience of what is different about residential liberal arts colleges. Maggie wanted to come home to Pennsylvania for her birthday weekend, which coincided with fall break. This necessitated taking a shuttle to LAX for a red-eye flight and meant she would miss the last half hour of her last class of the week. When she went to discuss this with the professor, she received an unexpected response, “Maggie, I want you to fully participate in the whole class.” How surprised was she when the full professor who holds an endowed chair said, “I will take you to the airport myself.” Wow! For parents, it does not get any better than that.