In popular culture, the college experience is often characterized by one of two extremes: elite, ivy-covered private institutions, or sprawling flagship state universities with massive football stadiums and student bodies to match. But in reality, neither of those types of schools educate most college students in America.
Regional universities account for 43 percent of U.S. undergraduate enrollment according to recent data published by the Washington Post. These public institutions are usually smaller than flagship schools and found in smaller cities. They provide more individualized attention along with a host of academic opportunities at a more affordable cost.
“Each freshman class we bring in has over 30 percent of students who are the first in their family to attend college,” says Stephanie Whaley, Director of Admissions at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky. “Regional universities often serve a very distinct audience and a very important audience, and a wide audience. We like to make sure we have everything in place that students need.”
Regional universities produce notable alumni, which, in EKU’s case, include a Grammy-nominated songwriter, a former Jay-Z fashion designer, and a former NFL head coach. They can also include competitive athletics and serve as the social and cultural heart of their communities.
Here are five other reasons to consider choosing a regional university when making your college choice.
1. Academic Opportunities Abound
Some may think choosing a smaller, regional university might limit academic opportunities when, in reality, the opposite is true. Eastern Kentucky offers 180 undergraduate options, including some specialized fields of study you’ll be hard-pressed to find outside EKU.
“We have unique majors offered at only a small percentage of colleges across the United States,” Whaley says. Those fields of study include Aviation; Fire, Arson and Explosion Investigation; Forensic Science; Wildlife Management; American Sign Language Interpretation; and a popular Computer Science track focusing on video game design. EKU also offers a wide variety of graduate programs and online programs for graduates and undergraduates alike.
2. There’s Plenty of Individual Attention
The smaller enrollments of regional colleges help students avoid feeling lost. EKU’s student-teacher ratio is 16:1, and the average class size is 25. Thirty-five percent of classes have fewer than 20 students. That means plenty of individual attention and guidance from professors, crucial in helping students navigate their college careers.
“With smaller class sizes, students have more faculty engagement from their freshman year than they do at a lot of larger universities,” Whaley says. “They’re engaged with faculty from that first freshman-level English or math class all the way through graduation. So they get that personal attention right away, and I think is a big advantage for any academic program.”
EKU also offers academic support including in-depth tutoring programs, another benefit of a school with a smaller enrollment. And EKU has none of the stadium-style classrooms that hold hundreds of students, which freshman encounter at huge flagship universities.
3. They’re Often More Affordable
Cost is often the primary concern for families during the decision-making process. Regional universities like EKU have an advantage in they’re often more affordable, thanks in part to a variety of scholarship and financial aid programs.
“With a regional university, there are some affordability options that sometimes aren’t found at other universities,” Whaley says. EKU, for instance, has a scholarship program for first-year students from Kentucky that offers eight different options. And the university’s SMART Program offers out-of-state students from 15 states (including Indiana) and Washington, D.C., a flat-rate tuition of $10,000 — often less schools within their home states.
To qualify for the SMART Program, first-year students must have a 2.5 high school GPA and an ACT composite of 18. Transfer students need a 2.5 college GPA and 24 earned credit hours. Financial aid counselors are also available over the phone, in person, or via email, more of the personal attention found at regional schools.
“We know that affordability is the No. 1 concern that families have when they start the college search process,” Whaley says. “So we want to help out-of-state and in-state students attend college, get a job upon graduation, and take the next step in their lives.”
4. You Might Find a Building Boom
That’s the case at EKU, which is amid a campus revitalization to enhance what’s long been known as “The Campus Beautiful.” Besides a new manicured garden on the university’s western periphery, there are two new residence halls, a new dining hall, a new science building, and a new parking garage. A new student recreation center and a renovated student union are in the works.
The new suite-style residence halls house 1,137 beds. “These facilities can compete against any in the nation,” says April Barnes, EKU’s Executive Director of Housing and Residential Life. “If student housing is on a potential student’s concern list, they will now have brand new housing to compare to other universities.”
5. They Offer the Best of Both Worlds
At just over 16,000 students, EKU is large enough to offer a full, vibrant college experience that includes an array of athletic, cultural and social events. It’s also small enough to provide individual attention key to college success and prevent students from feeling lost or overwhelmed.
“When I talk with families, I usually start by saying ‘We keep our opportunities large and our classes small.’ That is who we are,” Whaley says. “We at EKU and most regional universities can deliver the best of both worlds in a college experience. We offer smaller classes sizes, like a private or community college, with a wide variety of opportunities outside the classroom.”
Interested in learning more about a regional university like EKU? Prospective college students can contact the EKU admissions office online or at (859) 622-2106, or view their website at Admissions.EKU.edu.