The ground on which Bethune-Cookman University sits was a garbage-ridden dump when Mary McLeod Bethune bought it in 1904 for $1.50 and embarked on a mission to provide black students with high-quality education. What began as a tiny school with just six pupils quickly grew into the historically black university that exists today: a small, private, Methodist-affiliated institution where students say they work hard both for personal gain and to honor Bethune's legacy as an advocate for civil rights.
The Daytona Beach campus abounds with portraits, photos, and even a massive bronze statue of its founder and first president. Senior Adam West says Bethune's image reminds him how much educational opportunities for black students have changed in the past hundred years. "Our success squashes the stereotypes," West says. "We continue to kick those stereotypes out the window, just as Ms. Bethune did."
Though the school of business enrolls the largest portion of Bethune-Cookman's undergraduates, one of the university's most successful programs is its school of nursing, housed in a state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2008. Inside, the school runs a community wellness center that aims to educate Daytona Beach's large homeless population, among other locals, about preventive healthcare—a venture that reflects Bethune's belief that students should "enter to learn, depart to serve."
Bethune also penned a body of strict rules that are followed today. None of the dorms are coed, freshman curfews are enforced, and visits to the opposite sex's dorms are prohibited. Outdoors, on the university's makeshift quad—an open, grassy area—students often gather near shady trees whose vibrantly painted trunks correspond to the colors and letters of their fraternity or sorority. The school's 13 Greek-letter organizations host campuswide events such as fashion shows and dance crew competitions.
Those not interested in Greek life often find their niche in Bethune-Cookman's choral and instrumental music programs, especially the school's 300-student-strong marching band, which performed at the pregame show for this year's Super Bowl. "Being part of the band here is like being the star athlete elsewhere," says West, who plays trombone and belongs to Alpha Phi Alpha.
Bethune-Cookman's campus has a family feel, a quality difficult to cultivate at universities with tens of thousands of students. "The other students here are like my brothers and sisters," says alumnus Darnel Butler. "And my professors? Well, they're like my aunts and uncles."
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Plus factor: Diversity. Just 67% of students come from Florida. At both Florida and UCF, in-state students make up more than 90% of the student body.
Undergrad enrollment, fall '08: 3,598
Est. annual cost, 2009-10: $20,608
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