Road Trip: Butler University

We toured some of Indiana's top schools and found out what it's like to attend them.

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Tensions between athletic departments and the academic faculty are common on campuses. All too often, professors grouse, sports suck up too much money and student time at the expense of the classroom. But the strength of Butler University students­­—whether in uniform, in the gymnasium stands, or in lecture halls—has rendered that argument mostly moot. 

The Cinderella run of the men's basketball team to the 2010 NCAA tournament final—in its home city of Indianapolis—ended in a disappointing loss for the Bulldogs. But while the Duke University Blue Devils may have put a couple more points on the board to claim the championship, it was Butler's team that racked up higher GPAs. Not surprisingly, says Butler President Bobby Fong, "the players went to class on the day of the final game." 

Indeed, athletics and basketball in particular are part of Butler's identity. The gargantuan Hinkle Fieldhouse was the largest basketball arena in the country when it was built in 1928. (Butler coach Tony Hinkle designed the modern orange basketball, much easier for players to see than its dark-brown predecessor.) Perhaps more famously, it featured prominently in the climactic scenes of the basketball movie Hoosiers. Little wonder, then, that the campus tour for incoming students begins with a few Butler-centric minutes of that Indiana classic. 

Of course, it's not all hoops. The school is one of the Midwest's strongest academic institutions. And it is the giant Holcomb Observatory, with its tremendous telescope, that overlooks the campus quad, not a new sports facility. The school's best-known majors are pharmacology and education, but letters degrees are popular too. Fong himself is a recognized expert on Oscar Wilde. Author Kurt Vonnegut studied at Butler until a professor told him that his short stories were no good. 

OK, so the Butler faculty may have missed the mark in that instance. Overall, however, the school focuses on making strong connections between teachers and students. There are no teaching assistants on the campus and, despite its size, Butler can sometimes have the feel of a small liberal arts college, students say. "Professors know your name, which you would expect if there are only 10 students in a class, but it's still surprising for a place this big," says Michael Allen, a junior from a small town in the northern part of the state who says he picked Butler in part because of its intimate feel. 

These days, with the economy on the rocks, the school is focused on jobs. Part of that focus is leveraging the university's proximity to downtown Indianapolis (the 290-acre campus is just 5 miles from the city center) to get students internships and part-time jobs with local businesses or large companies with a presence downtown. Several programs require at least two internships for graduation. But it's work that pays. Students with majors such as education and pharmacology have had a 100 percent job-placement rate during the past few years. Schoolwide, the job-placement rate is 94 percent. 

More About Butler University:

Plus Factor: Butler was the first to introduce exam blue books. The printer gave them a blue cover because Butler's colors are blue and white.

Undergrad enrollment, 2009: 3,897

Est. annual cost 2010-2011: $40,438

Indiana Road Trip:

• Purdue University
• Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
• Wabash College

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