Calling All Innovative, Unique, and Up-and-Coming CollegesWhen we talk about the most underrated colleges in America, what do we mean? After all, some of the colleges we’re featuring are highly ranked and recognized; they may even be the top-ranked college in their state. Many are ranked among the best national liberal arts colleges and the best small colleges in America. So where do we get off calling them “underrated”? When we say “underrated,” we simply mean that, for whatever reason, these are institutions that don’t always get their due. They’re not state flagships or household names; they don’t get a lot of news coverage or notoriety. Frankly, most of them are making a big impact on students and communities, but doing it quietly. What distinguishes all of the colleges and universities featured on the “Great Things” ranking is that they are doing something unique, something innovative, something meaningful, that deserves to be more widely recognized. Some are younger up-and-coming colleges, founded just decades ago, that have made their name on experimentation, innovation, and just plain boldness. Others are nearly as old as the United States itself, but have still never rested on their laurels, keeping current and even pushing higher education forward with centuries behind them.
Ranking the Underrated Colleges Doing Great ThingsIt’s unavoidable that a ranking like this would have to be somewhat subjective; one person’s “Great Things” may be another person’s “Old News.” To determine the schools in our ranking, College Consensus editors looked to a few specific sources – namely U.S. News “Most Innovative” rankings, and the Colleges That Change Lives – and our own independent research, seeking out media stories of exceptional or unique happenings in higher education. Our research brought us around to some particular patterns. Our list largely focused on:
- Unique Curricular Designs – self-directed learning, unusual scheduling or term structures, exceptional experiential and hands-on learning opportunities
- Model or Influential Programs – diversity initiatives, work programs, internships, study abroad
- Community Engagement and Service – outreach to low-income populations, LGBTQI programs, environmental and sustainability efforts
California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, CA
One of College Consensus’ Best Small Colleges, the California Institute of Technology sets a global standard for research in STEM, earning a reputation as one of the most innovative colleges in the world, and has done so since the very dawn of the 20th century. Founded in 1891, Caltech actually began as a vocational and preparatory school, but that all began to change a decade later, when the neighboring Mount Wilson Observatory, and its founder, George Ellery Hale, began attracting some of the the most innovative scientists in the world to Pasadena. Hale’s influence helped Caltech grow into the most forward-thinking, scientifically advanced school in Southern California, and its partnerships with the federal government and private industry helped the school build one of the largest endowments in the world – just short of $2 billion today.
There are particular initiatives that make Caltech special, the most prominent being the Jet Propulsion Lab, which began in the 1930s and is still managed for NASA by Caltech. Caltech was at the heart of the Space Race and continues to drive today’s space program. However, aside from its particular influence in aerospace and defense, Caltech is known for its culture. With just over 2000 students – the majority graduate students – and a 3:1 student:faculty ratio, Caltech is renowned as the best possible destination for students who are serious about STEM, who want to get into world-class research from their first day in college, and who relish the opportunity to work alongside some of the most decorated faculty in the world. It all makes Caltech one of the world’s best colleges for experiential learning.
Colorado CollegeColorado Springs, CO
Regularly ranked as one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, and one of the nation’s most innovative colleges, Colorado College was founded in 1874, two years before the Colorado Territory was admitted as a state. Few institutions in the Centennial State have been more deeply Coloradoan (in fact, Colorado College is ranked among the Best Mountain Colleges by College Consensus). In a century and a half of its existence, Colorado College has earned a reputation as one of the most innovative and influential colleges in its class, from sources like U.S. News, Forbes, and the Princeton Review; it’s also been named a Hidden Ivy thanks to the high quality of opportunity Colorado College provides graduates.
Colorado College earned its reputation the old-fashioned way – by working for it. With nearly 100% of its faculty holding terminal degrees, and no classes taught by adjuncts or graduate students, Colorado College has become known nationwide as one of the best institutions for undergraduate education. The college’s unique Block Plan underscores the college’s reputation for innovation and excellence. Students take one course at a time – only one – in a single 3 ½ week block, allowing them time to focus completely on the subject at hand, and to take part in research opportunities and internships. With exceptional faculty support and a curriculum designed for depth, Colorado College is one of the best hands-on learning colleges in the nation.
Colby CollegeWaterville, ME
One of the oldest liberal arts colleges in the nation, Colby College was founded in 1813 in central Maine, when the future state was still part of Massachusetts. For more than 200 years, Colby has been one of New England’s top colleges, defined by academic excellence and service to the people of Maine. Colby is known nationwide for its unique, flexible programs, with an emphasis on project-based, collaborative learning and undergraduate research. Internships, collaboration with faculty, and study abroad are central to Colby’s curriculum.
One of Colby’s most notable programs is the Jan Plan, a short semester falling between the fall and spring semesters. During the Jan Plan, students have the option to take a single intensive course, either on or off-campus (like fly-fishing in California!), take an internship, study abroad, or do research on an independent project. While only three January semesters are required for graduation, more than 90% of students take part for all four years of their college career. The Jan Plan helps Colby continue its reputation as one of the best hands-on learning colleges in the nation.
Grinnell CollegeGrinnell, IA
Founded in 1841 by the Congregationalist Church, Grinnell College originated in a bold plan to bring New England-style liberal arts education to the frontier of Iowa, setting the course for Grinnell to become one of the most innovative colleges, and one of the most underrated colleges, in the West. Grinnell was different from the start, becoming a national center for the progressive movement that became known as the Social Gospel, and originating the idea of the fifth-year service program that became the forerunner of programs like the Peace Corps and Americorps (Grinnell still leads the nation in Peace Corps volunteers). Known as one of the most unique colleges in America, Grinnell still changes lives.
Today, Grinnell is best known as one of the most diverse, progressive, and exceptional colleges in the world, primarily due to one idea: self-governance. With minimal leadership from the official administration, Grinnell’s students are expected to be self-governing, combining the college’s dedication to independence with its reputation for responsibility and fairness. Students advise on major policy decisions, professor hiring, and even curriculum and budget. With that spirit, Grinnell is known for the student body’s exceptional motivation, from publications to a student-run textbook library to the Student Endowment Investing Group, which is responsible for investing a portion of the college’s endowment, and the Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell, which makes 0%-interest loans to local businesses. Grinnell’s student body is more than half international and minority, thanks to generous scholarships and ample student-led student support.
Whitman CollegeWalla Walla, WA
Whitman College was founded in 1859, chartered by the Washington Territory, and named for a pair of missionaries who died in the violence between the Cayuse Indians and the settlers who encroached on their land. With that history, Whitman College is clearly deeply enmeshed in the life of the Pacific Northwest, in addition to being one of the most unique colleges in America. Whitman has always been dedicated to excellence; it was the first Phi Beta Kappa college in the West, and originated the concept of comprehensive exams for graduation. But one thing makes Whitman College stand out among the most underrated colleges in America: its commitment to service.
A focus on ethical leadership is at the heart of Whitman’s curriculum and mission, in both academics and service. Whitman’s students, in this predominantly undergraduate college, make professional leadership a priority, and more than 70% of graduates go on to graduate school. Meanwhile, Whitman is a model of the community spirit that the Pacific Northwest is known for; more than 70% of students participate in community service, and Whitman has long been one of the nation’s highest participation rates in the Peace Corps and Teach for America. From music to outdoor recreation, Whitman is a cultural and service center for Washington and the Pacific Northwest region.
University of RichmondUniversity of Richmond, VA
One of the South’s most prominent liberal arts colleges, the University of Richmond was founded in 1830 under a model that seems quite unusual today, but was much more common in the 19th century. As a seminary, the school was open to men who were studying to become Baptist ministers, and who paid for their schooling by working as manual laborers, maintaining the school, its grounds, and the farm that fed them. While manual labor colleges are relatively rare today, nearly 200 years later the University of Richmond remains dedicated to making sure the very best and brightest students are able to attend.
One of the most unique colleges in the region, the University of Richmond takes financial aid very seriously. While admissions are selective and highly competitive, Richmond is determined that money never be an impediment to student success; students are admitted on a need-blind basis, and the university not only offers full scholarships to more than 50 new freshmen every year – it also caps loans. All students whose families make less than $60,000 a year are eligible to cover their need loan-free, whether through grants, work-study, or other means. Above all, the Richmond Guarantee offers all students a $4000 fellowship to pay for internship, study abroad, and other opportunities, making the University of Richmond one of the best college for experiential learning.
Oberlin CollegeOberlin, OH
One of the most respected small liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, Oberlin College dates back to 1833, when it was founded as the first coed college in the nation. Oberlin is well known for its diversity and progressivism, being the first integrated college as well, and over nearly two centuries has built a reputation for excellence, as well as student activism and community service. Oberlin gives students a great deal of self-determination and room to grow, including programs like the Experimental College, in which students teach special courses for each other, and for the Creativity and Leadership Department, which supports student entrepreneurship. It’s one of the best hands-on learning colleges in the world.
By far, though, Oberlin is known globally for the Conservatory of Music, the oldest music conservatory still in operation. As with the college in general, the Oberlin Conservatory was the first racially-integrated, coeducational conservatory, and today its alumni includes some of the world’s foremost musicians. Students in the Conservatory have access to one of the world’s finest instrument collections, including more than 200 Steinway pianos (the largest collection in the world), 12 organs, and dozens of orchestral and baroque instruments. Oberlin was also the first conservatory to include studies in electronic music, and remains a leader in music technology.
Pitzer CollegeClaremont, CA
One of the Claremont Colleges – the elite consortium of small liberal arts colleges concentrated around Claremont, CA – Pitzer College is relatively young (founded in 1963 as a women’s college). In just half a century, though, Pitzer has become one of the most selective and prestigious institutions of its kind, attracting a highly diverse student body from across the US and internationally. Pitzer’s curriculum is largely concentrated around the social and behavioral sciences, and is known for a high level of interdisciplinary research and study. Its excellence is unquestionable: for a small college, Pitzer has the most Fulbright Scholars by population in the US.
While Pitzer is known for its academic rigor, the college may be even better known for its commitment to community engagement, service, and sustainability. All Pitzer students take at least one service-learning course, and community engagement is written into nearly every corner of the curriculum; students and faculty contribute more than 100,000 hours of community service annually, with just over 1000 students and faculty members. Pitzer has been widely named one of the greenest colleges in the US, from its LEED-certified residence halls to the Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability. Even with its excellence, Pitzer is one of the most underrated colleges in America, and one of the most unique colleges in the world.
Reed CollegePortland, OR
At its founding in 1908, Reed College had one overarching purpose – to re-envision higher education for the new age of the Pacific Northwest. For Reed’s founders, that meant shedding the hallmarks of traditional Ivy League and New England liberal arts education – things like varsity athletics, Greek organizations, and the other distractions of college – and focus entirely on academic rigor. Today, Reed is still very much committed to that mission, and has earned a reputation as one of the most intellectually engaging and most innovative colleges in the nation, known for its intensive undergraduate research and excellence. In fact, Reed famously brags, only 10 students have graduated with a 4.0 GPA in the last 40 years.
Reed signals its emphasis on academics in all sorts of ways, not the least being its influential refusal to participate in academic rankings (they get ranked anyway). Reed is one of the greatest hands-on learning colleges in America, with students entirely focused on learning through experience; in fact, Reed lives up to its reputation as one of the best colleges for experiential learning by operating the only undergraduate-run nuclear reactor in the world. More than 70% of Reed graduates go on to a master’s degree, and 25% go on to a doctorate – an incredibly high rate even for the most elite colleges. While Reed provides traditional transcripts for graduate admissions, students get no letter grades; narrative evaluations are used instead, making Reed one of the most unique colleges for grading.
St. John’s College (NM)Santa Fe, NM
St. John’s College is truly one of the most unique colleges in the world, and St. John’s students and faculty would have it no other way. One of the oldest schools in the US, St. John’s was founded as a prep school in 1695; it is not considered one of the elite Colonial Colleges simply because it did not become a college until 1784, after the Revolution. Despite its name, St. John’s has no religious affiliation, and was a model of religious tolerance and inclusion from its earliest days. St. John’s operates two campuses: the original Annapolis, MD, campus, and a Santa Fe, NM campus founded in 1961. Students are free to transfer between the two, and as many as a quarter of students take the opportunity.
What St. John’s is most known for, though, is its unique Great Books curriculum, known as the “New Program.” The New Program dates back to 1936, when the Great Depression nearly drove the school under. A bold, experimental program was the answer, adopted in the faith that a liberal arts education would be an effective resistance to the rise of fascism. Today, St. John’s offers only one degree – a bachelor of arts – and students pursue an interdisciplinary curriculum based entirely on the greatest writing of human history. Discussion (rooted in the Socratic method) is central, and students frequently meet with faculty in classes as small as 3 to 9 students for the utmost support. It’s a fascinating program that makes St. John’s both one of the most innovative colleges, and one of the most old-fashioned, in the world.
Connecticut CollegeNew London, CT
Connecticut College had an unusual origin, and it lives on today as one of the most unique colleges in New England. Founded in 1911, Connecticut College began when Wesleyan University stopped admitting women; the college stayed all-women for more than 50 years before becoming coed. That heritage says a lot about the determination and dedication that is the hallmark of Connecticut College. Today, more than a century later, the college remains ranked as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation (not to mention one of College Consensus’ top River and Lake Colleges).
Connecticut College is known for its commitment to community, including service learning courses across the curriculum and a reputation for social mobility, making a space for minority and underrepresented students to enter professional fields. But the college is particularly noteworthy for its Honor Code and Shared Governance. Written by students in 1922, the Honor Code is enforced by a student council. Likewise, the Shared Governance Covenant was adopted in 2001 and gives students a place in college decision-making. Together, they ensure that Connecticut College’s students are self-determining and continually growing in leadership.
Wofford CollegeSpartanburg, SC
Wofford College was founded in 1854 with a mission to bring liberal arts education to Spartanburg, SC, and the surrounding region. Regularly ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the US, Wofford is known for its academic excellence and for the beauty of its campus; Wofford is one of the few colleges of its age still situated on its original campus, which is a nationally designated historical place and recognized as an arboretum. In keeping with its original mission, Wofford has earned a reputation for community service, and been recognized by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.
However, Wofford is particularly proud of its study-abroad program, one of the largest and most successful in the US. Wofford perpetually ranks at the top of the Institute of International Open Doors survey, thanks to a study-abroad program that has seen well over 2000 students spend semesters in 70 different countries. In fact, more than 90% of Wofford’s graduates earn credits abroad at some point during their four years at the college, taking full advantage of more than 200 ongoing programs offered by one of the most underrated colleges in America.
Furman UniversityGreenville, SC
Founded in 1826, Furman University is the oldest private college in South Carolina, and has spent nearly two centuries educating generations of South Carolina’s most promising young people. While Furman was founded by the Southern Baptist church, the university cut ties in 1992, retaining its heritage of academic excellence and Christian values, but starting an effort to become more inclusive and welcoming of all faiths. Today, Furman is regularly ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the US, as well as one of the most innovative colleges, with the 21st century seeing Furman develop by leaps and bounds.
Furman has exhibited a powerful commitment to helping heal generations of racial and economic discrimination in South Carolina, making inclusion, diversity, and social uplift one of its primary objectives. That includes initiatives like the Center for Inclusive Communities, a living and learning environment for minority students dedicated to fostering engaged citizenship. Furman has also made major strides with the Furman Advantage, an initiative begun in 2016 to make Furman one of the best colleges for experiential learning, using connections throughout South Carolina to improve students’ hands-on learning college experience.
Babson CollegeBabson Park, MA
Since its founding in 1919 by entrepreneur and educator Roger Babson, Babson College has been dedicated to one thing: entrepreneurship. Babson looked at the conventional business education of the day and found much lacking, especially real-world application, and sought to remedy that problem with a school that would emphasize the real work of running a business. In that interest, Babson developed one of the most innovative colleges of the time, schooling students in every aspect of business – financing, production, distribution, even ethics and communication. Today, Babson is recognized as the premier private entrepreneurship school in the nation, and one of the finest hands-on learning colleges in the world.
Babson originally intended his program to be a single intense year, rather than 4 drawn-out years, and the program that made Babson one of the most unique colleges of the 20th century continues in the innovative first-year program. All Babson students begin with the Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship, an unusual full-year course in which student teams start, run, and close a real business. This innovative course alone would make Babson one of the nation’s best colleges for experiential learning, but Babson also has exceptional opportunities for internships and study abroad as well.
Rhodes CollegeMemphis, TN
Rhodes College was founded in 1848, and with its Gothic architecture, academic rigor, and strong return on investment, Rhodes has often been compared alongside the elite liberal arts college and Ivy League universities of New England. Rhodes was originally founded by the Masons, but turned over to the Presbyterian Church just a few years later. Weakened by the Civil War, Rhodes was near collapse at the beginning of the 20th century when the college leadership undertook a sweeping redesign of its curriculum and student life. Modeled on the Oxford-Cambridge style of education, Rhodes began a second life as a world-class liberal arts college.
Part of Rhodes College’s unique college culture is its influential Honor Code, which has been in place for a century. One of the most simple and clear honor codes in higher education bars students from lying, stealing, or cheating in any form, and that code is deeply integrated into campus life; according to tradition, students do not even lock up their bikes, and students police themselves through the student-run Honor Council. Rhodes’ students are known for their responsibility, and the college has been named one of the best colleges in the nation for community service, with more than 80% participation. The oldest collegiate Habitat for Humanity chapter and oldest college soup kitchen are part of Rhodes’ commitment to service.
St Olaf CollegeNorthfield, MN
Named for St. Olaf II, the patron saint of Norway, St. Olaf College is a prestigious small liberal arts college in Northfield, MN, and one of the most purely Minnesotan, and most unique colleges, imaginable. St. Olaf was founded in 1874 by Norwegian immigrants who wanted to provide for their children’s educational future with a Lutheran college teaching in both English and Norwegian. From that grassroots founding, St. Olaf has remained dedicated to the people of Minnesota, providing a high level of undergraduate education and preparation for professional education and careers. With its commitment to opportunity, St. Olaf has also been named a College That Changes Lives.
Part of St. Olaf’s commitment to the people of Minnesota is a commitment to the land of Minnesota, and a long reputation for sustainability. For many year St. Olaf has worked to restore the prairie landscape of the 300-acre campus, affectionately named “The Hill,” and 300 acres around the campus as well. Named one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation, St. Olaf is also known for its sustainability efforts such as carbon reduction and recycling, while their student-run organic farm is a major part of why St. Olaf has been noted for one of the country’s best dining halls.
Centre CollegeDanville, KY
A small, private liberal arts college in Danville, KY, Centre College is aptly named – it sits at the very center of Kentucky. Founded in 1819 by the Presbyterian Church, Centre was one of the first colleges west of the Alleghenies and was intended to bring culture and learning to the frontier. Over its two centuries, Centre has been crucial to higher education in Kentucky, from serving as the first home for the state’s School for the Deaf to supplying the vast majority of Kentucky’s Rhodes Scholars – despite a student body of fewer than 1500. Regularly ranked as one of the top small colleges in the US, Centre has earned a national reputation for academic excellence.
Centre College has also been named a College That Changes Lives, known not only for its academic excellence, but for its dedication to giving the best students the best opportunities. That dedication has led to the Centre Commitment, which guarantees students an internship or study abroad experience and a 4-year graduation. For students who cannot complete their credits in four years, or cannot line up an experience, Centre will provide an additional, tuition-free year. As a result, as many as 85% of Centre students study abroad, making them one of the best colleges for experiential learning in the nation.
Thomas Aquinas CollegeSanta Paula, CA
Regularly ranked among the best Catholic colleges and top national liberal arts colleges, Thomas Aquinas Colleges is one of the most unique colleges in the US. Founded in 1971, Thomas Aquinas was the vision of a group of Catholic scholars who opened the school in a former seminary with a dedication to academic and intellectual rigor. Today, Thomas Aquinas is situated on a beautiful campus in Santa Paula, CA, right next to the Los Padres National Forest. The college has earned a national reputation for excellence and independence, accepting funding from neither the government nor the Catholic church, and relying on donations to provide scholarships for students.
While other schools seek recognition as the most innovative colleges in America, Thomas Aquinas innovates by looking to tradition. The Liberating Education curriculum is based in the oldest academic traditions: study of the Great Books, and discussion in the Socratic Method. With a fully interdisciplinary course of study, Thomas Aquinas offers only one degree – the bachelor of arts – with no majors or minors. A fully integrated approach makes Thomas Aquinas one of the best hands-on learning colleges in the US; there are no lectures, only discussion, laboratory study, and engaged, experiential learning in everything from mathematics to translation.
Kalamazoo CollegeKalamazoo, MI
The first college chartered in the Michigan Territory, Kalamazoo College was founded in 1833 by the Baptist church (though it is no longer a religious institution). Throughout its history, Kalamazoo has been one of the most innovative colleges in the Midwest, from serving as a center of abolitionism and pioneering coed and integrated education, to modeling interdisciplinary, experiential learning. Today, Kalamazoo is known as one of the top national liberal arts colleges and best small colleges in the US, thanks to a dedication to academic opportunity and service learning.
Kalamazoo College has operated on the K-Plan for nearly half a century, and the much-imitated curriculum remains at the heart of Kalamazoo education. The K-Plan is a fully integrated 4-year plan in which students develop their own interdisciplinary major with guidance from a mentor. All students in the K-Plan take part in an internship, a study-abroad trip, and service learning. Kalamazoo’s commitment to service has made it one of the nation’s top suppliers of Peace Corps volunteers, while its academic excellence puts it in the top tier of liberal arts colleges sending students on to doctorates, making Kalamazoo College one of the most underrated colleges in America.
Hendrix CollegeConway, AR
Arkansas’ highest-ranked college, Hendrix College dates back to a primary school founded in 1876, but its life as a prestigious liberal arts institution began when the school was purchased by the Methodist church. Renamed in honor of a respected Methodist bishop, Hendrix College grew in stature throughout the South due to its emphasis on academic rigor and exploration. While the school has remained small, with fewer than 1500 students, that small size has allowed Hendrix to focus completely on the growth and development of its students, earning Hendrix accolades as one of the best schools for undergraduate education and one of the nation’s top up-and-coming colleges.
A dedication to undergraduate research makes Hendrix one of the best hands-on learning colleges in the US. Hendrix’s innovative Odyssey Program is the driving force for the college’s steadily growing reputation. All Hendrix students are guaranteed an experiential learning opportunity designed around at least three of six themes: Artistic Creativity, Global Awareness, Professional and Leadership Development, Service to the World, Undergraduate Research, and Special Projects. Hendrix doesn’t leave it to students to manage their Odyssey; more than $700,000 in grants are given out each year to fund the projects. That’s why Hendrix College is known as one of the best colleges for experiential learning in America.
Beloit CollegeBeloit, WI
Wisconsin’s oldest college, Beloit College is one of the most unique colleges in the nation and one of the most-loved small liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. Founded in 1846, Beloit was the vision of a group of pioneers who brought their faith in higher education to their new home in the Wisconsin Territory, starting Beloit in the Congregationalist tradition that formed the roots of so many New England liberal arts colleges. Over its century and a half of service, Beloit has been at the center of culture and learning, leading educational innovation and development that has been modeled across the Midwest and the nation.
Beloit’s status as one of the most innovative colleges in its class began early, from the pioneering Beloit Plan in the 1960s until today. The Beloit Plan was one of the initiators of experiential education, with an academic year made up of three classroom terms and one off-campus term. Today, Beloit is known for the Liberal Arts in Practice program, which retains the emphasis on hands-on learning, but brings all aspects of the curriculum into a relationship with service learning. The Liberal Arts in Practice Center, the Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Office of International Education collaborate to make Beloit one of the best colleges for experiential learning in America.
Millsaps CollegeJackson, MS
Mississippi’s top-ranked college, Millsaps Colleges was founded in 1890 by the Methodist church and named for a Confederate veteran who donated land and money for the campus. Throughout the 20th century, the university earned a reputation for academic rigor and opportunity, drawing a diverse student body primarily from Mississippi and Louisiana. Today, Millsaps is known for its excellence, including a required writing portfolio and oral and written comprehensive exams for graduation. Millsaps’ Vocation, Ethics, and Society Minor is also a part of the college’s well-known commitment to community engagement.
The feature that makes Millsaps one of the most unique colleges in the Deep South is the Millsaps College Biocultural Reserve, Kaxil Kiuic, a 4500-acre biocultural reserve in the tropical forests of the Yucatan. One of the most innovative college study abroad programs in the US, Millsaps’ Living In Yucatán Program brings students for an extended semester of interdisciplinary study in areas ranging from archeology and ecology to business and literature. An off-the-grid research lab, a Center for Business and Culture, and other initiatives help make Millsaps one of the best hands-on learning colleges in the world.
Hope CollegeHolland, MI
Hope College began in 1851 as a pioneer school to serve the children of the many Dutch immigrants who had settled in the village of Holland, MI. While the Reformed Church-affiliated college has grown, it has remained true to its roots, serving the people of western Michigan and holding fast to its Reformed Christian values. Hope is well known for its academic rigor, which has consistently made Hope one of the highest-rated liberal arts colleges for undergraduate research. An amazing 94% of Hope graduates are in graduate school or employed within 6 months of completing their degree.
Students of all faiths (or none) are welcome, but the Christian dedication to service is central to life at Hope. That includes a dedication to diversity. Hope was founded for Dutch immigrants, and the region Hope serves remains overwhelmingly white, making the Phelps Scholars Program an essential part of raising students’ awareness and understanding of diversity. The Phelps program combines a residential community experience with academic activities and service learning, guiding students to a better understanding of how to live in community and welcome difference. It’s been named one of the best diversity programs in the nation by the Association of American Colleges & Universities.
College of the OzarksPoint Lookout, MO
Founded in 1909, College of the Ozarks came about from the vision of Jame Forsyth, a Presbyterian minister who was concerned about the difficulty of attending school for Missouri’s rural residents. Originally a high school, the College of the Ozarks was designed as a work school, allowing students to live on campus and take courses free of tuition in exchange for working for the school. As the public school system grew and secondary school became more accessible, C of O grew into a junior college, then a four-year college. Today, C of O is known as one of the best small colleges in the nation, and one of the top tuition-free colleges.
C of O is known as “Hard Work U,” having maintained its structure as a work college, one of the most unique colleges in the US. Unlike federal work study, College of the Ozarks uses on-campus work as an enriching, hands-on learning college experience, allowing students to contribute to the life, culture, and needs of the college in a palpable way. As one of the best colleges for experiential learning, College of the Ozarks prepares students for the real world while giving them the fundamentals of a liberal arts education.
Bard CollegeAnnandale-On-Hudson, NY
Bard College – one of the nation’s most prestigious liberal arts colleges (and alma mater of Steely Dan) – was dated in 1860 by the Episcopal church as a seminary and preparatory school for future Episcopal priests. Over time, Bard grew in reputation and size, as wealthy families donated their estates and students were attracted to the college’s growing prestige. Today, Bard has just over 2000 students and is well-respected not only as an undergraduate educator, but for its commitment to service throughout New York and across the nation.
In recent years, one of Bard College’s most innovative programs has been the Bard Prison Initiative; in 2015, students of the BPI defeated Harvard’s debate team in a national competition. Building on the success of the BPI, which has more than 300 students in six New York prisons, Bard has initiated the Bard Microcollege program, an innovative, tuition-free experiment in community-based education. Targeted toward underrepresented groups, the Microcollege program has sites in Holyoke, MA and the Brooklyn Public Library, with a vision to extend well beyond, helping solidify Bard’s reputation as one of the most innovative colleges in the US.
Allegheny CollegeMeadville, PA
Founded in 1815, Allegheny College is the oldest continuously operating college west of the Alleghenies, and is regularly ranked among the best small liberal arts colleges in the nation. Allegheny was founded by a Harvard Divinity graduate and is historically associated with the United Methodist Church, but the college is entirely secular today. With just over 2000 students, Allegheny has remained small but steadfast, with a commitment to both academic rigor, and to the people of the Allegheny Mountains and western Pennsylvania.
Allegheny is famously protective of its brand, but besides the “Allegheny” name, the college is known for its “Unusual Combinations” vision. As one of the few colleges to require students to take both a major and a minor, Allegheny has written the Unusual Combinations idea directly into the curriculum, encouraging students to find unique and provocative interdisciplinary combinations of major and minor. With the courses offered, Allegheny students can make more than 900 different combinations. Beyond curriculum, Allegheny encourages students to find innovative ways to bring their interests together, making it one of the most innovative colleges in the US.
Earlham CollegeRichmond, IN
Founded by the Society of Friends in 1847, Earlham College was the third Quaker college in the US and stands today as one of the most esteemed small liberal arts colleges in the US. In the Quaker tradition, Earlham was committed to social justice and transformation from its very beginning, including opening as the second coed college in America (though it remained Friends-only for the first two decades). Since that time, Earlham has distinguished itself in justice (protecting Japanese-Americans during WWII) and academics (one of the nation’s highest rates of graduates who go on to doctoral degrees).
Earlham is still defined by its Quaker values, from the first Friends seminary in the world, to a campus-wide ban on formal titles – students, faculty, and administrators are all on a first-name basis. But where Earlham’s Friends roots show most is in a dedication to service in ways big and small. The Bonner Scholars program, for instance, provides full scholarships for financially needy students who have shown a dedication to community service. Students are engaged in all levels of decision-making, while still finding the time to contribute more than 23,000 hours of community service per year – with a student body of only 1000.
Southwestern UniversityGeorgetown, TX
Founded in 1840 under charter by the Republic of Texas, Southwestern University has claim to be the oldest college in Texas (by the merger of the four oldest colleges in 1873). As a United Methodist Church-affiliated school (historically; today Southwestern is non-sectarian), Southwestern was built around Methodist values of service, community, and responsibility, and that spirit permeates every aspect of SU’s campus culture. The university has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for every year since the award began, and SU has attracted some of the world’s most influential justice leaders to its Brown Symposium.
Southwestern’s proudest feature is Paideia – an overarching idea/vision of interdisciplinary research, learning, and production that has become central to academic and creative life at the university. While Southwestern is primarily an undergraduate educator, Paideia places interdisciplinary inquiry at the heart of all SU students do, from presenting their senior projects ta the Brown Symposium to logging thousands of hours of community service. One of the nation’s most innovative colleges, SU’s students drive creative innovation with their self-directed projects and intercultural service learning.
Agnes Scott CollegeDecatur, GA
Ranked one of the most innovative colleges in America, Agnes Scott College is a private women’s college historically associated with the Presbyterian Church. Agnes Scott is commonly considered one of the South’s answers to the Seven Sisters, offering an education to rival the most prestigious New England women’s schools. With its location in Decatur – a suburb of Atlanta – Agnes Scott offers students the resources of one of the world’s most vibrant, growing cities, with the quiet and community of a historic campus.
Agnes Scott has earned national attention for its groundbreaking SUMMIT program, an approach to liberal arts education that has made Agnes Scott one of the most unique up-and-coming colleges in the US. With the SUMMIT program, students build an interdisciplinary foundation in the liberal arts while focusing on either Leadership Development or Global Learning. All students take part in an immersive retreat and a travel course in their first year, helping to determine their focus, and they build their integrated curriculum through their full four years.
New College of FloridaSarasota, FL
New College of Florida is one of the most unique colleges in the South, rooted in educational experimentation and academic exploration. Originally founded in 1960 as a private college with support from the United Church of Christ, New College of Florida became a public institution in 1975, when the state of Florida bought the school, which was deeply in debt. Today, New College is part of the State University System of Florida and designated as the state’s public liberal arts college. That unusual status has helped make New College one of the most innovative colleges of recent origin.
New College uses a highly self-directed approach to learning that attracts some of the most motivated and accomplished students in Florida. While New College does have traditional majors, nothing else about the curriculum is conventional. Students start their term by making a contract with their advisors (a 10:1 student:faculty ratio means close mentorship) outlining what they will study and their goals for the course. Rather than grades, students receive a narrative evaluation comparing their performance to the contract to determine whether they have passed the course. Students are encouraged to work with faculty on original research, adding to New College’s reputation as one of the best colleges for experiential learning.
Ohio Wesleyan UniversityDelaware, OH
Founded in 1842 by the Methodist church, Ohio Wesleyan University was built in a spirit of democracy, openness, and progressiveness. In the mid-19th century, that meant an abolitionist stance and a coed student body; today, that means innovative programs, international emphasis, and a commitment to diversity, including award-winning LGBT initiatives. OWU is also known for its strong community service and engagement, not only with the town of Delaware, OH, but worldwide. More than 80% of students participate in community service or service learning, and a high proportion of students are engaged in study abroad.
To build students’ job market value and professional experience, Ohio Wesleyan has developed the OWU Connection, a highly managed and carefully designed program that engages students with experiential learning throughout their college career. From the first year, students put together a slate of international study, internships, interdisciplinary creative projects, and more. With the OWU Connection, students don’t have to cobble together their professional development; it’s built into the curriculum, resulting in students who are more prepared for the careers and graduate schooling.
Miami University-OxfordOxford, OH
Miami University, in Oxford, OH, is one of the Midwest’s most innovative public research universities, with a primary focus on undergraduate research. One of the oldest public universities in the US, Miami was founded in 1809, but was held up by the War of 1812 and political wrangling with the city of Cincinnati. From the time it finally opened in 1824, Miami established itself as one of Ohio’s premier universities, and today Miami of Ohio is recognized among the original Public Ivies and ranked as a top-tier national university.
Miami University is known for its exceptional commitment to undergraduate research and education, which has given the university a reputation as one of the great hands-on learning colleges, but that focus is ramped up for the Western Program, the university’s Individualized Studies major. The Western Program began before Western College for Women merged with Miami University in 1974 as an interdisciplinary program, and the program is still headquartered in Western’s historic Peabody Hall. Students in the Western Program work directly with faculty mentors to develop an independent, interdisciplinary course of study intended to strengthen their skills beyond a conventional liberal arts education.
Clark UniversityWorcester, MA
One of the most innovative colleges in America, Clark University was a pioneer from the beginning. Founded in 1887, Clark was one of the first research universities, with faculty and graduate students working on hands-on learning; in fact, Clark didn’t even admit undergraduates for another 15 years. Today, Clark is known as one of the leading small research universities in the nation, building on its proximity to Boston, large endowment, and generous alumni support.
Clark is dedicated to combining the support and mentorship of a liberal arts college with the opportunity of a private research university. There are a variety of means for Clark to do it, but Clark’s reputation revolves around Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP), an initiative that funds undergraduate research, internships, and other programs. Clark has also pioneered the Accelerated 5th-Year BA/Master’s, offering students the opportunity to earn their master’s degree in only one extra, tuition-free year. 5th-Year programs include Business, Environmental Science, and Public Administration.
Cornell CollegeMount Vernon, IA
Founded in 1853, Cornell College is a prestigious liberal arts college in Mount Vernon, IA. Cornell College shouldn’t be confused with Cornell University; it is named for William Wesley Cornell – a cousin of Cornell University’s founder Ezra Cornell – and actually came first. Cornell College was the first college in the west to accept women alongside men, and today Cornell is recognized nationwide for its excellence. Cornell College is named alongside the Colleges that Change Lives, and its pioneering block plan has been influential across liberal arts colleges.
Cornell’s One Course at a Time block curriculum has students take just one course during a 3.5 week term. That intensive focus means that students get deeper knowledge and experience than a conventional college schedule, where attention is divided and exposure is more superficial. With classes built around critical thinking, discussion, collaboration, and problem-solving, the One Course at a Time schedule prepares students for success in graduate school, professions, and life in general.
Hampshire CollegeAmherst, MA
Hampshire College is one of the most innovative colleges in New England, founded in 1970 for the express purpose of providing a unique higher education opportunity steeped in experiment and exploration. Hampshire College, unusually, was the vision of leaders at four area institutions: Amherst College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and UMass Amherst. Designed around the New College Plan written by those colleges, Hampshire has existed for nearly 50 years on donations, tuition, and a small endowment, leaving it completely independent and free to explore.
Hampshire College is known for its unusual interdisciplinary schools and its experiential curriculum. Rather than conventional divisions, Hampshire is broken up into schools of Cognitive Science; Critical Social Inquiry; Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies; Interdisciplinary Arts; and Natural Science. The curriculum is built around The Divisional System, a 3-part course of study that ends in a full year of work on an original research project similar to a master’s thesis. Students are highly self-motivated, and directed by faculty advisors through written evaluations rather than grades. It’s a bold model of the liberal arts that has won accolades for one of the best colleges for experiential learning.
Ursinus CollegeCollegeville, PA
One of the most unique – and uniquely named – colleges in the US, Ursinus College (named for the 16th century scholar Zacharias Ursinus) was founded in 1869 under very unusual circumstances. After a split in the German Reformed Church, one of the factions (the more egalitarian “low church” branch) started Ursinus as an answer to the elitist seminary of their opposition. Since that origin, Ursinus has always placed equality, accessibility, and openness at the center of its curriculum and culture, and been rewarded with recognition as a College that Changes Lives and a long-standing up-and-coming college.
Ursinus is notable for their model First-Year Experience program, which emphasizes intellectual development, analysis, and critical thought in an interdisciplinary mode. Built around the Common Intellectual Experience paradigm, the FYE uses freshman-only dorms, intensive seminar classes, and other methods to steep new students in inquiry. Ursinus is also one of the founding institutions in Project Pericles, a nationwide program started by philanthropist Eugene M. Lang to foster civic engagement, responsible citizenship, and participatory democracy.
Ripon CollegeRipon, WI
Ripon College is one of the most innovative colleges in Wisconsin, dedicated to the motto “Life Well Lived” and focused on preparing students for success in every facet of their lives. Founded in 1851, Ripon was initially supported by the local churches, and began as a college preparatory school for young women. Today, Ripon has no religious ties and continues as a full, 4-year college. Ripon has become particularly known for its exceptional support of students’ professional development. Unlike other colleges, where professional preparation is secondary to traditional academics, at Ripon it is built into the curriculum.
There are two main ways Ripon makes professional development a priority, and these help give Ripon its reputation as one of the best up-and-coming colleges in the Midwest. One is the Four-Year Plan for Career and Professional Development, which builds professional development programs and activities into each year of their academic career. The second is the Catalyst Curriculum, a unique 5-course curriculum focusing on career-ready skills. Two courses in the first and second year, and an Applied Innovation seminar in the third year, gives students a minor in Applied Innovation and ties to internships, undergraduate research, and study abroad.
Marlboro CollegeMarlboro, VT
Since its very beginning, Marlboro College has rewarded hard work and dedication. When Marlboro was founded in 1946, the first class of students – WWII veterans attending college on the GI Bill, re-entering civilian life after the sacrifices of the war – continued to sacrifice by working together to literally build the school on three neighboring farms donated by local farmers. Today, Marlboro doesn’t call on its students to do actual construction, but students continue to build on the college’s national reputation as one of the most unique colleges in the US.
Marlboro’s legacy of motivated, hard-working students is alive in the college’s self-directed learning and participatory culture. Marlboro’s student:faculty ratio is an incredible 6:1, so students are able to develop close relationships with their advisors. That’s important, since Marlboro’s curriculum is designed around self-directed learning. There are two hallmarks of Marlboro’s learning: the Clear Writing Requirement – in which students must write 20 pages of original writing, which undergoes rigorous scrutiny – and the Plan of Concentration, which requires research and a defense on the order of a master’s thesis.
Alverno CollegeMilwaukee, WI
Alverno College is an independent, Catholic college in the Franciscan tradition. Founded in 1887, Alverno began as a normal school, training schoolteachers in a two-year, hands-on program that was, at the time, the cutting edge of teacher education. Today, having grown from a teacher’s college to a highly respected 4-year liberal arts college, Alverno still pushes toward innovation, developing a curriculum that makes it one of the most unique Catholic colleges in Wisconsin, or anywhere in the US.
Alverno’s ability-based curriculum is a model of the form, so much so that educators and administrators regularly attend workshops covering the Alverno curriculum. The Alverno way revolves around eight defined Abilities, including communication, analysis, and global awareness; in its Franciscan heritage, service is also crucial. Students are graded in a narrative format based on their ability to demonstrate how their work in a course meets the abilities, and how they have applied their learning to real life.
Sweet Briar CollegeSweet Briar, VA
Founded in 1901, Sweet Briar College has long been one of the most respected and beloved women’s colleges in the nation. However, in 2015 Sweet Briar came perilously close to financial collapse, even issuing an announcement of its closure. Alumni, parents, students, and faculty came together to take the board of directors to court, saving the college with an injunction. It turned out to be a historic turning point for the college, as an entirely new board, a new president, and a bold new plan brought Sweet Briar back from the brink.
Today, Sweet Briar has been named one of the most innovative colleges in America, snatching victory from defeat through vast changes in its structure and curriculum. Today, Sweet Briar is designed around three interdisciplinary centers, rather than traditional schools or departments, fostering collaboration and exploration for faculty as well as students. The core curriculum has been redesigned around a leadership emphasis. Most surprisingly, Sweet Briar made headlines by actually slashing their tuition by more than half, putting it in line with top-tier public universities rather than elitist liberal arts colleges. It’s all a part of transformation for the good of the next generation.
Goucher CollegeBaltimore, MD
Recognized as one of the most innovative colleges in the US, Goucher College began in 1885 as a women’s school in Baltimore, before moving to the suburb of Towson, MD. Goucher has also been named a College that Changes Lives, thanks to its overall commitment to excellence and opportunity. That commitment extends beyond the curriculum, which is built around the Goucher Commons Curriculum; it includes initiatives like The Village, new residence halls designed around common areas, interaction, and study.
Goucher is especially known for their unique 100% Study Abroad program. Beginning in 2006, Goucher has required all students to take part in a study abroad experience as a requirement for graduation. As the first college to make such a policy, Goucher has built an extensive network of international connections, giving students more than 60 programs in more than 30 nations. This exceptional policy has also helped Goucher become one of the leading colleges in the nation for Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright Scholars, demonstrating the opportunity one of the most underrated colleges in America can provide.
Eckerd CollegeSaint Petersburg, FL
Eckerd College is one of the most exciting, innovative up-and-coming colleges in the US, having achieved all sorts of distinctions in just 60 years. Eckerd was founded in 1958 by the Presbyterian Church in response to the growth of college enrollment as the Baby Boomers came of age. Its location on the Florida Gulf Coast quickly became central to Eckerd’s identity; while the majority of Eckerd students come from outside Florida, the college has made outreach to the community, and responsibility to the people and environment, the heart of their campus culture.
Eckerd College’s motto is “Think Outside,” and they apply that spirit in all sorts of ways. On a purely literal level, Eckerd’s extensive outdoors programs have helped it win acclaim as one of the best beach colleges in America, but beyond sunbathing and paddleboarding, Eckerd students live and learn outside of the classroom. Eckerd’s marine science and environmental studies programs are some of the best in the world. Students are highly active in community service and St. Petersburg and throughout the Gulf. Study abroad is big, and Eckerd has one of the highest proportions of Peace Corps volunteers in the country. All told, Eckerd College is turning college education inside-out.
Birmingham Southern CollegeBirmingham, AL
Named one of the Colleges that Change Lives, Birmingham-Southern College is one of the most prominent and innovative liberal arts colleges in the South. BSC formed in 1918 with the merger of two Alabama colleges – Birmingham College and Southern University, naturally; as Southern University was founded in 1856, BSC is one of Alabama’s oldest colleges. The college is one of the most academically exceptional in the region, regularly ranking as a best value, and its status as a value has improved tremendously with one big step in 2018: the college reset tuition and fees to 2002 costs, slashing costs by half while expanding financial aid opportunities.
While the tuition rollback has made headlines in higher education news, Birmingham-Southern has long been best known for its unique Exploration Term. BSC offers a special, 4-week winter term between fall and spring dedicated to experiential learning; students can use the term for internships, study abroad, on and off-campus research projects, and service opportunities. The E-Term has helped make Birmingham-Southern one of the best colleges for experiential learning in the South.
McDaniel CollegeWestminster, MD
McDaniel College began in 1867 originally as the Western Maryland College (named not for the region, but for the Western Maryland Railroad, the president of which was chairman of the college board). From its beginning, McDaniel was intended to be different; it was the first coed college in the South, and at least nominally integrated (though African-Americans did not attend in numbers until the 1960s). Today, McDaniel is proudly ranked as one of the most innovative colleges in the US, with academic rigor, community service, and experiential learning at the heart of its curriculum.
McDaniel’s learning is built around the McDaniel Plan, a unique curriculum designed to be flexible and hands-on. While McDaniel offers more than 60 defined majors, students are free – in fact, encouraged – to mix courses, design their own majors, or combine majors and minors into a form that fits their professional goals. McDaniel puts career preparation at the heart of the McDaniel Plan, with the Center for Experience & Opportunity working as a central planning hub for internships, study abroad, service learning, and other experiential learning opportunities. The Center is crucial, since all students are required to take at least two hands-on learning experiences before graduation.
The Evergreen State CollegeOlympia, WA
The Evergreen State College is one of the most unique public colleges in the nation, and regularly cited as one of the most innovative colleges as well. Founded in 1967, Evergreen was intended to provide higher education opportunity in western Washington state, where there was no public university. This being the Pacific Northwest, though, a conventional regional university was not the answer – Evergreen was designed to be a premier, experimental liberal arts college, dedicated to transformation in student life, the western Washington community, and the environment.
Evergreen has done all of that and more. Few colleges can provide the combination of curricular adventurousness with public college prices that Evergreen offers. Students work from their interests to develop a personalized, unique combination of courses; without traditional majors and minors, students choose from more than 60 fields to define their own area of interest. Rather than individual courses, students work through a layered, full-time programs based around their emphasis, with faculty support. Narrative evaluations, rather than grades, let students know they are succeeding at one of the most unique colleges in America.
University of Maryland-Baltimore CountyBaltimore, MD
University of Maryland Baltimore County is recognized as one of the best universities for undergraduate research, and one of the most innovative colleges in the US, for good reason. Founded in 1966, originally as a branch campus, UMBC was the first public college in Maryland to open as an integrated college; today, it is one of the most diverse universities in the nation, with a majority-minority student body made up of African-American, Asian-American, and Latinx students. Providing affordable programs for a diverse student body, UMBC has become critical to professional education in Baltimore and throughout Maryland.
One of UMBC’s most notable programs is the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, a nomination-based scholarship for minority students who plan to work toward doctoral degrees in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. With a significant shortage of minority STEM majors and professionals, the Meyerhoff Scholars Program has already made a major impact; more than 1000 alumni, and more than 300 current students, have been a part of this groundbreaking program. While the Meyerhoff Scholars is just one example of how UMBC is transforming education for minority students, it’s a sign of why UMBC is one of the most innovative colleges in the nation.
Hiram CollegeHiram, OH
Hiram College may be more than 150 years old (founded in 1850 by the Disciples of Christ Church), but the college has planted its feet firmly in the 21st century, with a commitment to moving forward boldly. Hiram is a small school, with fewer than 1000 students and a primarily undergraduate curriculum, and the college has already been known for its innovative, self-directed degree programs, called The Hiram Plan. Based around the unique 12-3 semester format, The Hiram Plan uses a 12-week traditional semester, followed by a 3-week, single-course intensive.
However, Hiram has been nationally recognized recently for their innovative new initiative, named Tech and Trek: The New Liberal Arts. The Tech and Trek plan provides all students, faculty, and staff with an iPad, iPencil, and keyboard in an effort to promote “mindful technology” usage. Courses make use of the technology to deepen and broaden traditional courses, as well as add new dimensions to experiential learning and research. Hiram has also hosted the Tech and Trek Conference, bringing scholars in learning technology from around the world.
Emory & Henry CollegeEmory, VA
Founded in 1836, Emory & Henry College has been providing higher education opportunity to the Highlands of Virginia for nearly two centuries now. Affiliated with the United Methodist Church, Emory & Henry made outreach a priority from the very beginning, steeped in the Methodist values of service and justice. Today, E&H remains deeply committed to the people of Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, combining affordable tuition, exceptional mentorship, and academic rigor and exploration with a wide range of service learning. In fact, Emory & Henry has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with distinction.
Civic Engagement is central to E&H’s mission; 90% of students take part in some service-learning, community engagement, or other service-related activity or project in their college career. The Appalachian Center for Civic Life is crucial to E&H’s service commitment, providing a place to bring together policy, engagement, and social action to improve life in the Appalachians. In addition to service-learning scholarships, E&H connects students with programs in need, and connects to the majors and minors in Appalachian Studies, Civic Innovation, and Community and Organizational Leadership.
Warren Wilson CollegeSwannanoa, NC
One of the most unique colleges in the South, Warren Wilson College is a respected liberal arts college in Swannanoa, NC, a beautiful valley of the Appalachian Mountains (giving Warren Wilson distinction as one of College Consensus’ Best Mountain Colleges). Warren Wilson has its beginning in 1893, when it began as a farm school offering opportunity for a region without a strong public school system. Students worked the farm in exchange for their education. By the mid-20th century, Warren Wilson had developed into a college, and today it is one of the most innovative colleges in the region, dedicated to learning, service, and hard work.
Warren Wilson is one of a handful of colleges in the Work Colleges Consortium, retaining the values it was founded under. While Warren Wilson is known for its academic rigor, it is more importantly recognized for its unique Triad curriculum; academics, on-campus work, and community engagement are all key. All students must contribute 10 hours to one of the 85 work crews on campus, from publications to farming. The Community Engagement Commitment requires all students to take part in community service to graduate, keeping Warren Wilson deeply connected to the people of the Appalachians.
Guilford CollegeGreensboro, NC
The only Quaker-founded college in the Southeast, Guilford College dates back to 1837, when the Society of Friends established the school as a boarding school. Today, Guilford is regularly ranked as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation, but Guilford’s primary interest is not in rankings and recognition – it’s service. Following the Quaker tradition, Guilford is best known for its deep commitment to ethical leadership, social justice, and community service, and always has been; in fact, Guilford is recognized as a National Historic District, as the college was a safe refuge on the Underground Railroad throughout the mid-19th century.
Guilford’s curriculum and culture revolve around ethical leadership and service, from service-learning courses to extensive community engagement. Guilford is included in the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, but that only captures a little of what Guilford does for the people of the North Carolina Triad region, the state, and worldwide. There are numerous centers dedicated to service, such as the Bonner Center for Community Service and Learning. the Center for Principled Problem Solving, and the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program.