Last month I wrote about liberal arts colleges that should probably be considered among the Colleges That Change Lives, but are not. In December I reported on the University of Scranton, a relatively small (3,600 full-time undergraduates) university that would be a good fit onto a list of Small Universities That Change Lives.

What should Small Universities That Change Lives “do?”

Much like the Colleges That Change Lives, Small Universities That Change Lives should offer academic programs and services that enable their students to graduate and successfully move on to life after college. But these  must also be a credible alternative to the larger public universities in terms of academic offerings.

What should Small Universities That Change Lives “be?”

  • Schools that enroll no more than 6,200 undergraduates, smaller than any flagship state school as well as The College of William and Mary, the smallest public institution that is considered to be a selective research university.
  • Undergraduate focused but also offer a selection of majors that is comparable to a larger school.
  • Practicioners of test-optional admissions for all but the most competitive academic programs, usually in the health professions. Low ACT or SAT scores should not discourage anyone with a solid academic transcript from applying to any of these schools, nor should they nix the possibility for merit awards. 
  • Admit at half of their applicants.  Higher education might be the only service industry that is measured, in part, by the percentages of interested in customers who do not get to use the service. Its silly to “rank” colleges that way.
  • Award merit and talent-based scholarships are well as need-based aid. These schools are mostly private, and will have a higher sticker price. Many students and families have affordability in mind as they consider a college. 
  • Operate as a university with majors organized in schools, even if the institution is called a college. Some of these schools might also help students to earn an advanced degree. 
  • Graduate at least 65 percent of their freshmen within four years, better than most state universities. Families will likely hope that they would offer a more personal experience and a greater chance for success. The four-year graduation rate is a fair measure of the services that a college makes available to help as well as the admissions office’s ability to select a freshman class.

And here’s the list

Among the schools that I have visited in my working life, a list of Small Universities That Change Lives would include:

  • Fairfield University (CT)
  • Duquesne University (PA)
  • Lebanon Valley College (PA)
  • Loyola University-Maryland
  • Ithaca College (NY)
  • Marist College (NY)
  • Providence College (RI)
  • Saint Joseph’s University (PA)
  • Salve Regina University (RI)
  • The Catholic University of America (DC)
  • University of Scranton (PA)
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute (MA)

Three other schools: Merrimack College (MA with 63% graduation rate), Christopher Newport University (VA and 63%) and the University of Mary Washington (VA and 60%) could make this list within two or three years.  

Five other schools would also qualify by the time such a book came out, including:

  • Assumption College (MA)
  • Bryant University (MA)
  • Drake University (IA)
  • Furman University (SC)
  • Mills College (CA)
  • Rollins College (FL)
  • Sacred Heart University (CT)
  • Whitworth University (WA)

This list could grow as more colleges improve their student support services, especially academic advising and residence life. I was also looking for test-optional schools. That ruled out many that I researched online.

I could have included test-mandatory schools and ended up with a list that was much longer. However, merit-based aid is more likely be awarded to the highest scoring applicants. If I was wrong about a school that is not listed here on this point, tell me, and I will research the school. If you would like to have a copy of a past write-up on one of the schools that I have visited, let me know.

If I have done nothing else with this exercise, I hope that I have pointed out that a very good school works successfully with the students that it attracts to come. It takes commitments on the part of many offices within a college to attain that success. Those commitments are shown on this page through a list of Small Universities That Change Lives. 

Need help in considering the colleges that should be on your list? Contact me at, or call me at 609-406-0062. 

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