Morris campus ranked third in nation for liberal arts

Tess Langfus

The University of Minnesota-Morris, a small town campus in the middle of the prairie, won national recognition in a ranking conducted by U.S. News and World Report.
In the magazine’s Sept. 11 best colleges issue, Morris is listed as third highest of 162 national liberal arts colleges.
The campus of about 1,900 students makes up more than one-third of the town’s population of 5,000.
“It’s a very small town of which we are a very big part,” said Morris Chancellor Sam Schuman. “I think there’s a lot of that prairie, rural flavor to the campus and to the student body.”
Besides academic reputation, some of the criteria used for ranking colleges is the student selectivity, student retention and class size.
While the Morris campus does not plan to increase its student population, greater visibility might induce more applicants and allow Morris to be more selective in admitting undergraduates.
Schuman said the campus has plans to continue increasing its visibility through a partnership with Minnesota Public Radio and billboard advertisements.
A high student-retention rate serves as an indicator of the college quality. Class size is a significant identifier of the amount of attention a student can expect from the faculty.
According to the findings of the report, Morris has both the lowest and highest number of students per classroom. Schuman said he intends to concentrate on decreasing class size. In general, an ideal class size, Schuman said, is 15 to 20 students in each classroom.
Morris also boasts a five-year graduation rate of 53 percent among the 1994 incoming freshman class.
Yet, it is the Midwestern work ethic and small town atmosphere that attracts people to Morris and contributes to the college’s environment.
“Some people find Morris very constricting, but I think for most of us, it’s a very attractive place to be,” Schuman said. “You can certainly focus on teaching and learning in a town like Morris without an awful lot of distractions like searching for parking spaces.”
Regent Jessica Phillips, a 1997 graduate of Morris, said the college also won recognition from Mother Jones magazine in the mid-1990s as one of the most active campuses in the country as far as involvement in student organizations. She attributed the campus’ success to its small-town nature.
In addition, Morris was ranked 24th out of 100 colleges for America’s Most Wired Colleges in 2000 by Yahoo. Every student resident on campus has access to fiber optic cable in their rooms, as well as the multiple computers in the campus labs.
Even with the high ranking from Yahoo, the campus’ distinction is not with its technology, Schuman said, but with its liberal arts program.
“The dominant factor is our focus on doing the one thing we do and doing it as well as we possibly can — being a small public liberal arts college and not diluting or diffusing our mission.”
Although not a criteria from U.S. News and World Report, Morris was also has the highest proportion of minority students among the University of Minnesota campuses. Fifteen percent of its population, Schuman said, are students of color.
“This is a very interesting statistic and one we’ve worked very hard to create and maintain,” he said.

Tess Langfus welcomes comments at [email protected]