Getting to Know-Kalamazoo College (MI)
Kalamazoo College (MI) recently reached out to advisors and invited them to take a student-guided virtual tour. So, I accepted the opportunity and dis some more research. Kalamazoo is another one of the Colleges That Change Lives, and it has many strong selling points. It’s a liberal arts college with 1,300 undergraduates and no graduate students in a good college town. I gathered a few photos for you on Pinterest and will share some photos in this post.
Suzanne Lepley, Dean of Admissions at Kalamazoo College and I had a very nice conversation after my guided virtual tour. Please listen now!
Kalamazoo College, like most other Colleges That Change Lives, is not an ultra-selective school.
Eighty percent of applicants for the Class of 2025 were accepted. Admissions went test-optional starting in 2015-16, well before the pandemic. Most recently, the vast majority did not submit scores. The average GPA was 3.7 with rigor on the transcript.
This is one school where your academic record will matter far more than the scores. Kalamazoo also aims for diversity. Forty-six percent of the student body in 2020-21 were men and women of color. Two-thirds of the students come from Michigan, aka ‘The Mitten’.though this school attracts students from all over the United States as well as other countries.
It might not appear tough to get into Kalamazoo College, but rigor is expected on the high school transcript–and after you get there.
Liberal arts colleges typically lose more of a freshman class than the relatively selective public or private university, mainly because of costs and unique campus cultures. Kalamazoo College’s freshman retention slipped a little due to the pandemic, but it has topped 90 percent eight times since 2009 according to the Common Data Sets that I could find. No less than 70 percent of any freshman class that entered Kalamazoo from 2004 to 2015 graduated within four years, excellent for any college of any size.
The secret sauce of Kalamazoo College is the ‘K-Plan’.
The K-Plan has four parts: academics, study abroad (which is optional), experiential learning and a Senior Integrated Project. A longer school year allows you to get all four done within four years. But you have to learn to work around the school calendar.
Like Knox and Union, which I have previously reviewed, Kalamazoo operates on trimesters rather than a semester or quarter calendar. This has some pluses: you can take more classes towards your major, second major or multiple minors. However, the work is going to go faster and you get one long holiday break. The fall quarter starts after Labor Day and ends just before Thanksgiving. Then you get time off until the week after New Year’s Day. The winter trimester is really short, only ten weeks and your spring will run from after Easter into June.
Kalamazoo College has an open curriculum where students can consider possible majors early in their education.
The K-Plan has more academic flexibility than students will find at most other colleges, even liberal arts schools. There are no “distribution requirements” where students need to search for a course to fill requirement in the subjects that they are least likely to tackle further study. For example, you don’t need to worry about taking a hard math or natural or physical science course with a lab if your motivations lean towards the humanities or a social science that does not require calculus.
But there are also some requirements at Kalamazoo.
Each student must demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language. You can learn Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew Latin, Japanese and Spanish. If you fears about going too far into a language that you learned in high school, it’s best to start over with a new language. Each student must also take three Shared Passages Seminars, complete a Senior Integrated Project, and take five health and wellness classes that are each worth one-fifth of a unit, Kalamazoo-speak for a single course. There’s no reason to panic about the health and wellness classes. They go beyond sports, including cooking and nutrition classes and learning how to ring the Tower Bell.
Beyond these requirements you are required to either choose a major or design a major on your own. There are 30 majors, 22 minors, five special programs and 13 concentrations. I have reviewed colleges that offer more. But Kalamazoo College puts more opportunities behind their requirements, especially languages and cultural studies, study abroad and away, and health and wellness than most other liberal arts colleges I have covered. The Public Policy and Urban Affairs concentration, which can be combined with any major, reminded me of the urban planning portion of my college education at Rutgers.
Kalamazoo College tries to make the experience affordable.
The average merit scholarship awarded to incoming freshmen in the Class of 2025 was $36,000. The average need-based award was $42,000. These awards covered 64 and 74 percent of the tuition. A larger award might have made Kalamazoo less expensive than Home State U for many students. The average student loan debt for borrowers in the Class of 2021 was just over $28,000. That’s less than the debt that most of those students might have incurred at Home State U or Neighboring State U.
Kalamazoo had an endowment in excess of $310 million at the end of FY 2021, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Within the Midwest the market value of the endowment was larger than the endowments of Butler University (IN) and Drake University (IA), which are much larger schools
This is a nice campus, though the residence halls appear to be showing their age,
Kalamazoo College has multiple signature buildings. While the college was founded in 1833 and has several 19th century buildings, it did not use the original architecture as the theme for their newest facilities, so in-person and virtual visitors might find the place eclectic. The Arcus Center for Social Justice will resemble the needle of a compass from the air. Click that link. You will want to see as much of this building as you can.
The Light Center for the Arts (picture up top of the post), the Fitness Center and the Upjohn Library (both below) blend lines and curves nicely.
If you love to swim, Kalamazoo’s natatorium is impressive.
This fall the city approved the college’s master plan. Much of the focus will be on the residence halls, including a replacement for Trowbridge Hall, one of the two freshman-only residences.. While these halls look nice from the outside, and I saw neat features such as built-in furniture in rooms, the college houses only 60 percent of the students, unusual for a liberal arts school, and has neither fraternities nor sororities.
Kalamazoo shares the community with Western Michigan University, a state school with over 15,000 undergrads.
The city, which has a larger resident population than East Lansing, home to Michigan State, is also a center for major corporate operations for Pfizer and Rubbermaid. If you’re a serious New York Yankee fan, you might know that Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter hails from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and that his father earned a PhD in psychology at Western Michigan. Jeter’s high school alma mater, Kalamazoo Central, won President Barack Obama’s nationwide commencement challenge in 2010. Seventeen years ago, the school system initiated the Kalamazoo Promise, a declaration that students who graduate from the Kalamazoo Public Schools and meet the basic requirements will receive up to 100% of tuition and mandatory fees to attend an in-state public community college or university. It can feel good to go to college in a community that really cares about education, especially if you want to become a teacher..
Kalamazoo College is within easy walking distance into thriving downtown Kalamazoo. It is also within two and a half hours of either Chicago or Detroit. Among the Colleges That Change Lives, only Birmingham Southern College (AL), Rhodes College (TN) and Hampshire College (MA) also share their hometowns with a large state university. Kalamazoo students can also play in the marching band at the big state school.
I’m going to watch Kalamazoo College while I work on my next edition of The Good College. From a virtual distance this is a school where students can be themselves and possibly graduate with more friends than they might have made at a larger schools.
Kalamazoo College has a lot of things many students want: flexibility with direction, a respected reputation, and opportunities to do practically anything and everything over four years. The setting is a nice balance of urban and suburban amenities. There is fairly generous financial aid. It’s really tough to fault this school, if it can help more students to live on campus.
Listen to my interview with Suzanne Lepley now!
Report Card: Kalamazoo College
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A/A
- Freshman Retention (at present): B+ though A pre-pandemic
- Costs: A
- Curriculum: A
- Community: A
- Comforts: B
- Connections: A (Chicago and Detroit)
Want to know more about me?
Buy my new book, The Good College!
Listen to my latest interview on ‘Tests and the Rest’ with Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin!
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!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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