There are college towns, and then there is the “Big Easy” – New Orleans. I report back from the Fall Conference of the Independent Educational Consultants Association meeting in New Orleans to briefly profile three local colleges: Tulane University, Loyola University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana (not part of Xavier University in Cincinnati).
First, a word about the terrain. New Orleans is a fascinating city (more like a town in its feel, really, but with 400,000 people), but is a mixed bag for college students. Although these schools are located away from urban “hot spots”, crime is a minor, but significant, concern. Students heading here need some “street smarts”.
Second, New Orleans is essentially located in a swamp; the heat and the humidity can be a bit oppressive.
Third, and making up for the first two, New Orleans is one of the cultural capitals of the United States. The food is superb – trust me, your correspondent sampled liberally from some of the best restaurants in the area as well as from a humble beignet shack. (Go ahead, look up “beignet” and see what has been missing from your life.) From French to Creole and everything in between, the city can lay claim to serving the best day in and day out cuisine in this nation.
The music, ranging from New Orleans Jazz to blues, swing, and the rest, is ever present, from street musicians playing in the French Quarter and over on Frenchmen Street to many of those same musicians playing in sophisticated jazz clubs. New Orleans moves to a lazy, syncopated beat, propelled by some of the finest practitioners of the art of jazz you will find anywhere. (And, yes, the various masters playing at the Preservation Jazz Hall are very much worth your time.)
Finally, mass transit is excellent, with a street car meandering from the Quarter to uptown, where two of our colleges, Tulane and Loyola, are stops on the line.
Most interesting, New Orleans is a polyglot city reflecting its roots as an outpost for the Spanish and French colonial empires, and a place to which many Caribbean natives fled after disasters in their homelands. There are several excellent cultural museums in the city, and plenty of work for budding anthropologists, archeologists, public health analysts, urban planners (how do you enlarge a city where every building is a historical treasure?), and tropical medicine specialists (yellow fever was the main killer in past decades; Zika may be the next visitor).
Periodic hurricanes, floods, and fires means that New Orleans is perpetually rebuilding and inventing itself; indeed, it is still very much rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina. A budding social scientist can find plenty of hands-on experience simply not available elsewhere.
And this brings us to Tulane, a jewel of a liberal arts school in the South. Tulane is a medium-sized school of about 8,000 students with a campus larger than its population suggests. This group is committed to social service – Tulane was the first major research university in the country to include a mandatory community service component in its curriculum. It goes the extra step of making sure that service is relevant, both to the community and to student learning.
Many of the students work on the ongoing rebuilding of New Orleans as a way of learning their subjects. Architecture students design models, and then go out into the city and build the design which their class has chosen. Tulane is particularly proud of its undergraduate public health and tropical medicine programs, which have plenty of communities to study (and help) on their doorstep before heading out into the world.
The campus itself is pretty, and the streetcar line down the middle allows Tulane students to reach the French Quarter within about 20 minutes. This being New Orleans, a major focus of campus life is the cuisine, including some food trucks that our tour group wanted to halt to sample (no such luck).
Tulane is a major research institution, with relatively small class sizes, located in the South’s most remarkable city. Admission is not impossible, either. Tulane’s selectivity is 30%, the average high school GPA is 3.5, and the mean SAT and ACT scores are 1328/30.
As its name would suggest, Loyola is a Jesuit university. It just happens to be located across the street from Tulane. Some faculty teach at both institutions, and Loyola students can even take courses at their larger neighbor.
However, Loyola serves a different population and has a different mission. This is a smaller, quieter, alternative to Tulane. Its main attraction is certain renowned majors, such as Mass Communications (including journalism) and Music and Fine Arts.
The caliber of student here is also different; with mean SAT and ACT scores of 1130/25 and a whopping 95% selectivity, this school is for students who are seeking a more relaxed opportunity to develop their talents while still sampling the delights of New Orleans. As a Jesuit school, a greater focus on the individual student is also a given. My sense is that the most interested students will be those who gravitate toward the majors for which the school is best known.
Xavier is the only Catholic Historically Black College or University in the nation, with about 8,000 undergraduates enrolled. The student body is 72% African-American, 10% Asian, and 4% Caucasian; it has achieved several historic firsts:
- Xavier continues to rank first nationally in the number of African American students earning undergraduate degrees in both the biological/life sciences and the physical sciences.
- The College of Pharmacy, one of only two pharmacy schools in Louisiana, is among the nation’s top four producers of African American Doctor of Pharmacy degree recipients
- In pre-medical education, Xavier ranks first in the nation in the number of African American graduates who go on to complete medical school.
This is even more remarkable because their admissions policy is extremely welcoming. Their selectivity is 84%, and mean test scores are only 1000/23. Note that the gender balance is skewed: 27% male, 73% female.
The sciences are the most popular subjects, including psychology, pre-med, and pre-pharmacy. This school is not a laid-back find yourself kind of place; the students are driven, and the climate is “studious”. Rather, it is a center of excellence particularly popular with African-Americans, but available to all.