It seems like an oxymoron to say that a university is big enough to offer a host of opportunities to its students but small enough to give them the one-on-one attention to really capitalize on those chances, but at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, that’s just the way they do business. Thanks to a well-organized joint visit program for counselors that was put together by staff at Miami and their nearby counterpart, the University of Dayton, I had the opportunity to take an in-depth look at this unique school last week and learn just how they keep the small feel in the big school.
Student life is the first key to the sense of community on campus – of the 15,478 students who make up Miami’s undergraduate student body, 98 percent of those students live on campus or within a two mile radius. But whether they live in residence halls (the university has 36 of them) or in one of the nearby neighborhoods where upperclassmen flock each year, they form a series of themed living and learning environments that allow them to live with students who share their interests and goals. Indeed, the residence halls are arranged around these themes (there are some for honors students, some for students who want to promote school spirit, etc.), and the idea carries over into the off-campus neighborhoods, where many of the houses display prominent signs that bear their names – many of which date well back in the school’s history. These aren’t your stereotypically falling down student houses either, parents – these are tidy, well-maintained homes that give students a sense of independence within a short walk to main campus. (Forbes magazine just named Oxford, Ohio the number one college town in America and the off-campus communities seem to be a big part of this distinction.)
The academics at Miami are the second key to keeping the standards high within their large student population. While it’s easy to picture large lecture hall classes led by teaching assistants when you hear that the university has 100 majors and is large enough to play NCAA Division I sports, the average class size at Miami is instead just 31 students (led by their professor) and the student to faculty ratio is an impressive 18 to one.
(To give some perspective, my alma mater had a mere 1,100 students when I was there and our student to faculty ratio was 14 to one.)
What’s more, the majority of the university’s academic budget is dedicated to its undergraduate students for not only their everyday class experiences, but for things like FYRE (First Year Research Experience), the program that introduces approximately 2,000 of the school’s first year students to university-level research projects under the supervision of a full-time faculty member and for the undergraduate research projects that often follow once a student develops interests they wish to pursue.
(If you follow the rankings, it’s worth mentioning that U.S. News has named Miami the number one public university for undergraduate teaching and that the university ranks number two overall. And while rankings are rather subjective – in particular regarding admission statistics – when it comes to being able to teach at a high level at a large school, they can provide a bit of context and perspective.)
What’s more, because Miami is a liberal arts university, there is a heavy emphasis on honing students’ writing skills, whether they’re in the business program, the engineering school, or any other program on campus. The liberal arts focus also means that students can study broadly across a variety of disciplines if they wish (and they are strongly encouraged to do so!) Thus, rather than remaining restricted within their own college (there are five in total – the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Creative Arts, the College of Education, Health, and Society, the College of Engineering and Computing, and the Farmer School of Business), students are encouraged to pick up co-majors, minors, or even pre-professional degree focuses that are well outside of their primary area of study in order to both broaden their knowledge and add unique facets to their education that students from colleges without such a curriculum might lack when it comes time to enter the job market. What’s more, with small class sizes and big university resources, students have access to the latest technology and information while they’re learning – like the kinesiology, pre-med, and pre-vet students who get to utilize anatomage tables for dissection exercises – essentially a six foot long iPad that allows for three dimensional study of the systems of the body (human or animal). Miami is the only school in the state of Ohio with this resource – a tremendous boon to their science education!
(It’s also worth noting that you shouldn’t worry about your students taking too long to graduate, parents – the average time students take at Miami is actually 3.7 years, so the majority of them are in and out in four.)
And equestrians, take heart – Miami is home to its very own on-campus equestrian center that houses 60 horses and IHSA western and hunt seat teams, as well as a dressage team. If you don’t want to compete during college because you’re too busy doing research or playing with the anatomage table, you can also take riding lessons as part of the kinesiology program’s activities courses. The Oxford area is also rural enough to provide off-campus horse boarding and riding opportunities and it’s also within driving distance of events in Cincinnati and nearby Lexington, Kentucky. (The MU equestrians maintain a blog that you can check out here to learn more about them.)