A record year: Why is Denison thriving when so many other good colleges are struggling?
Application numbers at most private colleges across the country fluctuate up and down, while applications to Denison continue to soar. This year we received more than 7,500 applications, the largest number in college history, representing a 58 percent increase over the past three years. Put differently, many great colleges missed their enrollment targets last fall, while Denison had one of the largest incoming classes in our history.
Why is Denison doing so well at a time when so many other good colleges are struggling to make their classes?
More than anything else, students tell us they selected Denison because they “walked on campus and knew this is where they wanted to go to college.” Students want to belong. They crave a college where they will make friends and where the faculty will care about them. These are hallmarks of a Denison education.
Students often come because they are athletes or artists and want to pursue this passion at a high level. Denison is remarkably strong in these areas. We have 23 varsity athletics teams and five club sports (men’s and women’s squash, women’s rugby, and men’s and women’s fencing) that are competing at the highest levels of Division III athletics. And the arts are thriving at Denison. As I write this letter, I will go to a play tonight, a dance recital tomorrow night, and a bluegrass concert on Saturday night.
All of this became more true with the opening of the expanded Mitchell Athletics Center four years ago, and will grow even more when we open the Eisner Center for the Performing Arts in January 2019.
These factors have driven enrollments at Denison for decades. They are foundational. More recently, a few other factors are driving the growth.
Anxiety about college completion and the job market is leading prospective students to “kick the tires” more as they consider the quality of the education. As this happens, Denison shines. We have world-class faculty who are deeply committed to students. When prospective students ask current students about the academic experience, our students gush about the faculty, the small classes, and the quality of the teaching and mentorship.
This last point is important. Mentorship defines a great college experience. Nationally about a quarter of all college students will find a mentor. At Denison the figure is 92 percent.
Another major trend has been a shift away from small, homogeneous, and isolated colleges. This generation of students is choosing dynamic and relevant over sleepy and remote. This is a challenge for many private residential colleges that tend to be about 1,500 students (or smaller) and located in remote areas and in struggling communities.
With 2,200 students, Denison is larger. We have a beautiful campus in the idyllic Village of Granville. And we are only 25 minutes from Columbus, which has become one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic cities in the country.
On top of this, Denison has become remarkably diverse in all kinds of interesting ways. Our students come from urban, suburban, and rural communities. They hail from every corner of the country and abroad. This means our students bring a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and views to campus, making Denison much more a microcosm of the world than a bubble or echo chamber. When students visit Denison, they sense a strong community, defined by close
relationships, that also is interesting, dynamic, relevant, and fun. That is very rare in higher education.
Finally, we have added seven new academic programs, including majors in global commerce; data analytics; and health, exercise, and sport studies. We also have added concentrations in financial economics and journalism.
In partnership with sister colleges in 17 countries around the world, we are rapidly expanding our global programs. And we have launched The Austin E. Knowlton Center for Career Exploration, which is setting the gold standard in how colleges prepare students for the professions.
We know the rate at which students get involved (almost 100 percent), how many engage formally as leaders (75 percent), and how many young alumni are well established professionally by their fifth reunion (93 percent).
A college counselor recently wrote on Facebook after visiting Denison, “atop a hill just above the Capra-esque village of Granville, is a wealthy liberal arts college that seems to have taken the position that building over-the-top facilities and engaging in the ‘signature building’ arms race is a waste of resources. Good for them. It seems they’re spending their wealth on well-resourced programs, access, and a first-rate faculty. Two other things of note: about half the students I saw were wearing Denison sweatshirts or jackets, always a good indicator of passionate school spirit. And the excellent music program has a bluegrass ensemble—that won me over immediately.”
All of this makes me proud to be a Denisonian.
Read more of Adam Weinberg's speeches and writings.