At the start of the pandemic I wrote about creative colleges that use a block plan. Cornell College, a liberal arts college located in Mount Vernon, Iowa, has operated on a block plan for over four decades. The college has a nice collection of YouTube productions on the campus, the block plan and the community.
Under the block schedule called ‘One Course At A Time’ Cornell students take a single class over 18 days. They get a week and a half off before the start of their next class.Each Cornell College student takes four classes per semester, as students do at most other liberal arts schools. Blocks do not necessarily need to be taught on campus. They can be designed for online and off-campus instruction. It’s possible to study abroad or study away in more places using a block plan than it is on a semester or quarter schedule. Not to mention that you have only one class at a time to worry about while you are home, away or abroad.
Virtually everyone lives on campus, and I saw some really nice accommodations. Greek life is fairly popular here, but the fraternities and sororities are local, and do not have their own houses. A movie producer who is interested in filming a romantic story or comedy in a quaint Midwestern college town should put Cornell on their list of possible locations. If she wants to make the hero an emerging baseball or softball star, the famous Field of Dreams, where the Yankees will face the White Sox next season, is only an hour away.
With fewer than 1,100 undergraduates, Cornell College is a very small school. Colorado College, which has more experience with a block plan, has about the twice that number. Colorado College is one of the more selective liberal arts schools in America. But Cornell College accepted 62 percent of all applicants to last year’s freshman class. This school is test optional. Those who did submit scores had an average SAT score of 1220 and an average ACT score of 26. Those scores were about the same as those for the freshman class at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, only 40 minutes from Cornell by car. The average GPA was a 3.5.
I don’t know if Cornell students cross-shopped their school against their home state university, including its honors college. Cornell’s student body is about 1/3 the size of the honors college at Iowa, which has expected much higher test scores in past admissions cycles.This school has a cost of attendance in excess of $63,000, if you come from outside Iowa. But the scholarships make it price competitive with public colleges.
It is not the best fit for everyone. While 69 percent of the freshmen who entered in 2013 stayed on to graduate on time, this school loses between a fifth and a quarter of a freshman class. Liberal arts schools have lower retention rates for various academic, financial and social reasons. But I can see Cornell College students having other issues. A small school means that the faculty is small. Those who get off to a bad start with a professor in a block course in their intended major are more likely to see that professor again. I can also imagine students struggling in a class in their weakest subject without the help of a good teacher. But Cornell College students gave their faculty a high rating of 3.94 (out of a 5) on RateMyProfessors.com. They held their faculty in very high regard.
Cornell College has a large number of majors, minors and partnerships for such a small school, as well as collaborative opportunities through the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. The alumni base is large enough to be supportive, if life keeps you within Iowa, or takes you to Chicago, Denver or Minneapolis. I was a little surprised, because two-thirds of Cornell students did not come from Iowa. On the other hand, the school’s uniqueness might also be the bond that hold a small alumni community tighter than it might otherwise be. It helped make them who they are.
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
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