Last week I wrote about liberal arts colleges that should probably be considered among the Colleges That Change Lives, but are not. This week 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. After some thought I decided to try to make a list.

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

In developing a list of Small Universities That Change Lives, I searched for schools that:

  • Have 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. The Small Universities That Change Lives should be undergraduate focused, though offer a selection of majors that is comparable to a larger school.
  • Were quite likely to be considered as alternatives to a flagship state university or an extremely selective research university. Whenever I visited a school that I would consider to be qualified for this list, I was usually told that applicants considered such options, especially if they were interested in preprofessional programs in business, engineering or health care.
  • Practice test-optional admissions for all but the most competitive academic programs, usually in the health professions. Low ACT or SAT scores would not discourage anyone with a solid academic transcript from applying to any of these schools, nor they rule out the possibility for most merit awards. 
  • Admit at half of their applicants. A very good school does not necessarily need to be selective. 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. I personally find it 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. But most will not qualify for significant need-based aid to cover the differences between attending a public and private college. Within Pennsylvania it is quite common for private colleges to offer such awards to discount their costs close to resident charges for Penn State, Pitt or Temple. It’s no surprise to me that three of the schools you will see on my list are located there.
  • Operate as a university with majors organized in schools, even if the institution is called a college, but not classified as a National Liberal Arts College. The previous article on Colleges That Should Be Colleges That Change Lives covered liberal arts colleges. This list is about larger institutions, some that might also help students to earn an advanced degree after five or six years on campus. 
  • Graduate at least 65 percent of their freshmen within four years, better than most state universities.  Most of the schools on this list are private and smaller than a state school, so families would likely hope that they would offer a more personal experience, and a greater chance for success. A graduation rate is a fair measure of the services that a college makes available to help, and of the admissions office’s ability to select a freshman class.

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

  • Fairfield University (CT)
  • Duquesne University (PA)
  • Loyola University-Maryland
  • Ithaca College (NY)
  • Marist College (NY)
  • Providence College (RI)
  • Saint Joseph’s University (PA)
  • 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.  

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

  • Drake University (IA)
  • Furman University (SC)
  • Rollins College (FL)
  • Sacred Heart University (CT)

With only 14 Small Universities That  Change Lives, plus three with promise, this is  not a long list. But the 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 is one that 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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