Road Trip: Baldwin-Wallace College

Close-knit culture

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This article was originally publish in the America's Best Colleges 2008 edition.

In 1845, Methodist John Baldwin founded a college that admitted students without regard to gender, race, or religion. A few years later, he took his vision of inclusive education to India and founded a school there as well. Talk about a man ahead of his time.

Baldwin's ideas about inclusive and personalized education find their modern incarnation at Baldwin-Wallace College (the hyphen stems from a 1913 merger). Classes are small—about 15 students per professor. "It can be a touchy-feely type of place, which many students find very valuable," says economics Prof. Robert Ebert. "Others don't want that all the time." Many professors stay in touch even after graduation, students say, and one effect of that close-knit culture is to counter the ever-increasing influence of overinvolved parents and encourage academic risk-taking. An unusually high number of students are parents themselves: In addition to more than 1,000 adult learners who take classes there, many students bring their families to campus. The school provides child care and housing, in some cases, for students with children.

Like many colleges in Ohio, Baldwin-Wallace draws its students increasingly from in state—about 90 percent of them. But there's diversity, too; the school draws from both urban Cleveland and the farmlands in the Buckeye State. When the state hits hard times, the school feels the effects—from the perilously low graduation rate in the Cleveland school system to the statewide economic downturn that has crippled some small Ohio towns and their tuition-paying families.

What's the answer? Entrepreneurship, for one. The school has received grants to teach those skills to students and has them working with local businesses. Meghan Pethtel, who graduated in May, developed a business plan for franchised paint suppliers and contractors and landed a job with Sherwin-Williams after graduation.

Baldwin-Wallace has a renowned conservatory and theater program and an annual Bach festival. The 500-plus-seat theater dominates the small town of Berea (students and local residents are equally likely to attend). Jazz great Dave Brubeck doesn't play many concerts and isn't on the college band circuit, but he came to Baldwin-Wallace.

As for the curriculum, it's standard liberal arts fare—an approach that still resonates, despite those who have called the education outdated. "This is a place where students explore their intellect and values," says the school's president, Richard Durst, "and we try to preserve an atmosphere that best enables that."