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New Book about Small Colleges includes Centenary among 12 Featured

SHREVEPORT, LA -- Centenary College is one of 12 institutions featured in a new book about small colleges in America. Old Main: Small Colleges in 21st Century America by Samuel Schuman is just out this week from the Johns Hopkins University Press.

Schuman, who is the chancellor of the University of Minnesota’s Morris campus, visited and studied each of the dozen colleges to write about the current conditions and future possibilities of small colleges. “This perceptive account of small colleges in America draws on key data and firsthand observations to explain how and why, when it comes to colleges, size matters – to students, to faculty, to administrators, to education,” says the book jacket text.

Schuman’s thesis is that small colleges were, for most of U.S. history, the “main” thread of the nation’s higher education system, but their centrality has been largely lost to large universities.
“Bluntly, it is not my thesis that small colleges are ‘better’ than large universities,” Schuman writes. “It is my contention that they are different in kind as well as volume, and that for some undergraduates (and I was one such) they are the best educational option.”

In addition to Centenary, the book features detailed information about Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire, the College of New Rochelle in New York, George Fox University in Oregon, Grinnell College in Iowa, Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minnesota, Morehouse College in Georgia, Southwestern University in Texas, Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Westmont College in California and the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Schuman points out that the group includes a wide range of missions, history, geography, population, prestige, size and wealth. However, he said, the statistical data shows a remarkable correlation in such areas as size of endowment, tuition rate, first-year retention and faculty salaries.

In his appendix area, describing each institution, Schuman cites Centenary, the oldest college among his sample, for its atmosphere, campus facilities, history, aspirations and challenges as “the most characteristic of typical small colleges today.” He states that the college “prides itself on a tradition of service and ethical cultivation,” and points to the “lush greenery of the campus” and its “equally lush cordiality and friendliness of the collegiate atmosphere.” He writes that “Centenary seems to the visitor a school with a strong and positive regional repute, a school that would very much like to move to a more national stage.”

“Somewhat quirky” was Schuman’s characterization for Centenary’s maintaining an NCAA Division I intercollegiate athletic program. “It is the smallest institution in the nation in that category.”

The book also contains a passage from A Burning Torch and a Flaming Fire, a 1931 history of Centenary by William Hamilton Nelson. The passage describes the graduation exercises at Centenary in 1900. “Reflecting on the historical development of small colleges, it seems appropriate to consider a personal narrative, which catches wonderfully the flavor of small, church-related colleges at the turn of the 20th century,” Schuman wrote.

Discussing the “size variable” among institutions, Schuman asserts that smallness is significant, as is curricular emphasis and the public or private oversight of a college or university. He offers evidence that small colleges really are different and that the difference is good for students.

Old Main includes a survey of the history of American higher education “from the somewhat unusual vantage point of the evolution of small colleges” and it looks at ways small institutions are distinctive, even among themselves. Schuman also gives an overview of small colleges' students, faculty and staff and discusses their shared characteristics and the values they bring to the fabric of the nation’s postsecondary scene, “particularly in the two areas I am calling ‘community’ and ‘integrity.’”

He also gives examples of how small colleges and large universities are trying to learn from one another and gives thoughts about how the values of small colleges are connected to other aspects of contemporary American life.

The book is printed by the Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London. For additional information, see http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/title_pages/3322.html.

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