Update: Juniata College (PA)
I was invited to revisit Juniata College last week. One of the nation’s 44 Colleges That Change Lives, Juniata is a small liberal arts college (around 1,500 undergraduates) that packs a big punch. I gathered information to write an update as well as prepare a Pinterest page.
I have not seen a small college that makes more use of its resources than Juniata, for instance:
- The college operates a 385-acre field station for the sciences and environmental studies less than a half hour from campus.
- Juniata has an Institute for Peace & Conflict Studies, rare for any college campus. It features a Peace Chapel designed by Maya Lin, architect of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC as well as its own research, internship and academic programs.
- Juniata’s Mock Trial team, coached by a local attorney and alumnus, recently finished second to Stanford, by only one point, at a competition at UC-Berkeley.
- The college plays 21 D-3 varsity sports, including football, plus e-sports. The women’s volleyball team is one of the best in the country, with 38 consecutive conference titles and two NCAA National Championships since 1981.
Juniata is not “super-selective” compared to schools such as Dickinson, Franklin and Marshall or Gettysburg. Admissions are test optional, but the College takes expression of interest quite seriously. Typically, 70 percent of the students who apply to be part of a freshman class are admitted. Acceptance rates for Early Action and Early Decision exceed 80 percent.
Sixty percent of the class that arrived last year applied Early Action or Early Decision. Average GPA of admitted students is a 3.7. The average SAT, for those submit scores, is 1220. On average, the college meets 93 percent of need; merit scholarships are also available as well as Eagles Abroad Scholarships to study in other countries.
With the help of two advisors, Juniata students choose a Program of Emphasis (POE), different from declaring a major at other colleges. They may choose a Designated POE of 45-63 credits, much like a major with specified requirements. Or they may write a well-developed rationale to develop an Individualized POE with faculty approval. About 40 percent of Juniata students take this route. Students may also choose a Secondary Emphasis. Like a minor at other collegs, this requires 18 credits, at least six at upper (300 or above) level. It helps that students take five courses per semester to get the most of these opportunities.
Because of the POE approach, Juniata students have more academic options than they might expect from a small college. There are 12 options within Accounting, Business and Economics alone, including a unique one in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. The college also encourages interdisciplinary studies, even designs interdisciplinary programs in areas such as Integrated Media Arts and Museum Studies. Juniata students receive a BA or BS in the Liberal Arts, depending on the courses chosen for their POE.
Environmental Science is one of the college’s most popular subjects; over 170 students have a POE around it, others choose it as a Secondary Emphasis. The college is also quite supportive of students who are interested in the health professions. In addition to the POE coursework, they may take a unique one-credit Health Careers course managed by the college’s Health Careers Advisory Committee to help them through the application process for graduate and professional programs. The college takes advantage of its location to provide internship opportunities for students to intern in community health agencies, hospitals and medical practices.
The college has launched a new curriculum to help students ease into the choice of a POE and guide them through their course selection after they have made that decision. The three “big picture” questions around the curriculum reminded me of the “whole person” approach used at Jesuit colleges that I have visited (Saint Joseph’s and Scranton) less the philosophy and religion requirements. While not every course you take at Juniata will relate directly to your POE, you are less likely to take courses to “check a box” than you might at other liberal arts colleges.
Juniata’s special academic sauce appears to be working. No less than 72 percent of the classes that entered from 2010 through 2014 graduated in four years. The number actually hit 80 percent for the class that arrived in 2011. That class also retained 90 percent of the freshmen; the rate was between 85 and 88 percent for the others. But retention for the classes that arrived in 2018 dropped to 84 percent. This might be one reason for the new curriculum.
Juniata students also have extremely high regard for their faculty. They gave them a 3.94 (out of a possible 5) rating on RateMyProfessors.com. Juanita students held their faculty in higher regard than students at Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall and Gettysburg held theirs. You have to get into far more selective schools such as Bryn Mawr, Haverford or Swarthmore to find faculty who earn higher ratings from their students.
Juniata is very community-oriented, a more trusting college of its students than most colleges you will visit. With no fraternities or sororities as well as a very rural location, the College facilitates more campus-wide social events more than most other liberal arts schools. Some college-bound students may like this; it bonds each class and a college together. Others may consider this overkill and prefer another school where students can find their own entertainment off campus. Juanita allows all students to have cars. Huntington has some gems, including a five-screen movie theatre downtown showing current films at bargain prices. However, you have to drive for more shopping options at the larger stores.
One program of note, the Plexus Fellowship, provides peer-to-peer mentoring for under-represented students. Diversity was more obvious here than at most private liberal arts colleges that I have visited. But because of Juniata’s small student body, and campus-based programs, students of all ancestries and orientations mingle more easily. Those who love outdoor recreation, especially hiking and fishing will like the setting more than most. But I also had the impression that anyone who wanted to learn how to fish, kayak or ski, for example, could find someone to teach them.
The Juniata alumni community registered in LinkedIn is largely based in Pennsylvania. But the number based in and around the Baltimore-Washington Corridor (nearly 1,100) is large considering the school’s small student body. However, according to data the college supplies to US News, nearly a quarter of the alumni based makes a contribution to their alma mater, among the top 75 in support for US liberal arts colleges.
My friend, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, wrote an excellent account of student life at Juniata College through the experience of her daughter, Caitlin. A 2011 graduate, she took advantage of the opportunity to become a student entrepreneur through the College’s small business incubator, play varsity soccer, study abroad for a year in Barcelona as well as a summer in Mexico. She was also an integral part of Juniata’s marketing and communications through social media. Caitlin’s experience also shows that with empowerment comes great responsibility for yourself as well as others.
Conclusion: I like Juniata’s academic approach. I also like the students the college produces, based on those that I have met during my two visits to campus. They are not only ambitious and bright; they’re also quite resourceful. If it was not for Juniata, some might have wound up at a larger, though less expensive school. But I doubt that they would have learned as much over their first two or three years in college as they did at Juniata. The college is deserving of its recognition as one of the Colleges That Change Lives.
The Report Card for Juniata College:
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A
- Freshman Retention: B+
- Costs: A
- Comforts: B+
- Community: B+
- Curriculum: A
- Connections: A (Pennsylvania, Baltimore/Washington)/C (elsewhere)
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