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Make a Splash

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We are walking contradictions. Open minded, yet steadfast in our beliefs. Infinitely curious, yet focused. Living life on purpose with purpose. Spreading our wings and stretching the boundaries.

Make a splash. Follow our own path. Find your future.

Hillsdale College Proud to Go Its Own Way

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Quick: Name a college with statues of not only Abraham Lincoln but also Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Or one with free online courses that teach the U.S. Constitution? That refuses to accept federal funding.

It can only be one: Hillsdale College, the so-called “shining city on the hill” for political conservatives, who unabashedly revere the founding fathers and don’t apologize for a core curriculum that revolves around books by so-called Dead White Men.

Tucked away in central Michigan, the school is attracting attention yet again in the first few weeks of President Donald J. Trump’s administration. The New York Times and others are shining a light on the Michigan jewel in part because it underscores the debate within conservative intellectual circles about what to make of Trump.

Proudly different, Hillsdale attracts students from throughout the country because it provides world-class education at a bargain. Even though it eschews federal money — making students ineligible for Pell grants — 95 percent of its students received grants of more than $17,000 this year, dramatically lowering its advertised $35,000 cost of tuition, room and board.

The education is without parallel. Unlike other schools that seem ashamed of teaching liberal arts, Hillsdale embraces it. For two years, students study the classics, taking more than a dozen mandatory classes on topics from western heritage, American heritage, biology and chemistry.

The classes help students forge tight bonds with faculty and administrators. Heck, the New York Times noted the school president, Larry P. Arnn, “has been known to swoop down on hapless victims in the cafeteria and pose the core question of the Classics: “What is The Good?”

Is it for everyone? Perhaps not. But what makes Hillsdale awesome is that, in this day of trying to please everyone, it’s proudly unique and charts its own path.

That’s something of a specialty at Hillsdale College and Michigan’s 15 independent colleges and universities.

Proudly small, their students don’t get lost in the crowd like those at big state schools. And unlike public universities, students actually graduate in four years, not only saving a year of tuition but also giving them an extra year of earnings in their careers.

They have a deep and committed network of alumni who help after graduation. It’s an experience that simply isn’t available at traditional universities.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Study Proves Affordability of Michigan Private Colleges

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You’ve probably heard it a million times. Private education is elite because only the elites can afford it.

The myth doesn’t come from nowhere. On average, advertised tuition at private colleges often exceeds public ones. But that doesn’t into account massive amounts of aid that lowers actual costs and decades of recruitment efforts that make world-class education affordable to everyone.

Now, there’s a new study that proves the point yet again. Far more students from lower-income families attend Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities than wealthy ones, according to a nationwide study that tracked income and attendance records of more than 30 million students.

At schools such as Olivet College, Siena Heights University, Spring Arbor University, more than 40 percent of the student body comes from families making $65,000 or less per year.

It’s a third or more of the student body at Adrian College, Aquinas College and Andrews University; one quarter at Alma College, Madonna University, University of Detroit-Mercy and Albion College and more than 15 percent at Calvin College, Hope College and Kalamazoo College, the study found.

And the notion that it’s just Richie Riches at private schools? False again. Students from families in the top 1 percent of income ($630,000 or more) comprise a vast minority at Michigan’s private colleges – usually 1-3 percent or less.

We know that’s a lot of numbers. But the point is a world-class private education is within reach.

Students at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities receive far more financial aid, on average, than counterparts at public institutions. At most of our schools, more than 93 percent receive aid, vastly reducing advertised tuition and making it as affordable — or more so — than big state schools.

And unlike public universities, students at Michigan independents actually graduate in four years, giving them a head start on their career — and extra salary — over their public peers.

Purposefully smaller, Michigan’s private colleges offer a vastly different experience. Classes are small. Award-winning professors actually teach class — rather than TAs — get to know students and help them chart their own path to rewarding careers.

And students immediately are part of a network of alumni who are leaders in their fields. That’s because community, not crowds, are cherished.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Calvin College’s Big Idea: Build a Better Window, Save the World

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Consider the humble window.

Pretty boring, huh? Only good for looking through and daydreaming, right?

Now consider life without them.

Not so boring anymore. Existence would be a lot more grueling — and expensive. Add in a looming global energy crisis, and suddenly research into better windows is more vital. That’s why what’s happening at Calvin College is so exciting.

The school is partnering with a Grand Rapids firm, Mackinac Technologies Inc., to bring to market a product that vastly improves energy efficiency. The polymer pane that bends is custom fit to existing windows, reducing building energy loss by as much as 60 percent.

“We are providing the testing and analysis to show that the coatings are effective at reducing the heat loss through windows,” Renard Tubergen, an associate professor of engineering at Calvin, told the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

He’s recruited students to participate in the research, along with Richard DeJong, an emeritus professor at Calvin.

The partnership isn’t unique at Calvin or Michigan’s 15 top independent colleges and universities. All are award-winning academic institutions. And all know there’s life outside the lecture hall.

Think big enough. Dream outlandishly. Who knows? You could change the world.

Aided by federal grants, the Calvin-Mackinac partnership could one day help do just that. Highly durable and transparent, the product they’re working on could save one quad of energy if fully implemented throughout the United States.

One quad is the equivalent of 8 billion gallons of gasoline. The United States used 95 quads all of last year. So theoretically, the product could help cut the nation’s energy usage by more than 1 percent — an enormous amount.

Suddenly, the humble window isn’t so humble anymore.

That’s the sort of bold, brash thinking that typifies Calvin and the rest of Michigan’s independent colleges and universities. Daring doers, their faculty encourage students to think differently and chart their own path.

With low class sizes and an encouraging network of alumni, the colleges have a sense of community that simply doesn’t exist at big state schools.

And despite what you may have heard, independents are often less expensive and boast higher four-year graduation rates that big universities.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Make fresh tracks

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We are walking contradictions. Open minded, yet steadfast in our beliefs. Infinitely curious, yet focused. Living life on purpose with purpose. Spreading our wings and stretching the boundaries.

Make fresh tracks. Follow our own path. Find your future.

Alma College Reaches Peak Fun with Bagpipes & Nintendo

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Somewhere, in that rare, elusive air between nerd and cool is peak awesome. Call it alchemy or old-fashioned magic, but sometimes, mixing radically different mediums captures pop perfection.

It happened with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pop Tarts. And it happened again at the end of football season at Alma College, when — prepare yourselves — bagpipes met old-school Nintendo.

The Alma College Pipe Band and Winter Guard joined the school’s legendary Kiltie Marching Band for their annual indoor concert. This year’s concert featured themes from Super Mario Brothers, the Legend of Zelda and other 64-bit hits. It was retro wonderful. Princess Peach even made an appearance. And bagpipes. Lots of bagpipes.

A little background: Bagpipes are a big deal at Alma. They’re played when first-year students step on campus and walk through a gauntlet of faculty members at Welcoming Convocation. They’re played at sports games and college traditions like Burns Dinners and Tartan Day.

And Nintendo? Well, duh.

“I chose this music because it was always with me growing up” says band director David Zurbe. “The more video games I played, the more that I realized what impressive music it was. This music needs to be heard by everyone, and I am excited about how fantastic the musicians are doing with it.”

Making it even better: Students performed in full costume.

Offbeat selections aren’t usual for the band. In 2014, it performed a selection of Van Halen hits.

Is it wacky? Maybe a little. More importantly: Why not? It’s pretty darn amazing and a full heart container of fun.

That’s the way they roll at Alma College and Michigan’s 15 independent colleges and universities, where taking chances, mixing stuff up and letting ideas take wing is a way of life.

Purposefully smaller, the colleges offer a vastly different experience than big public schools. Class sizes are small. Award-winning professors actually teach classes, get to know students and help them chart their own path to rewarding careers.

Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Aquinas College Tackles Apocalypse (and Antibiotics)

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Close your eyes and picture it. An apocalypse brought on by commonplace infections. There is no antidote. Three-hundred million die.

It’s not “The Walking Dead.” It’s Planet Earth, year 2050, if nothing is done to prevent the spread of microbes immune from medication that once treated them. It’s a scenario known as “antimicrobial resistance” and it’s one of the planet’s biggest threats.

Fortunately, the students at Aquinas College are on the case. The school recently was selected to join the Small World Initiative, a venture launched by Yale University in 2012 that enlists worldwide students to ward off the threat.

The students join those at 109 colleges who will take part in hands-on training and search for leads to new antibiotics.

“Our biology faculty are excited to be a part of this innovative program which will give our students more opportunities to engage in authentic research,” said Jennifer Hess, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at Aquinas College.

Starting in 2017, students in introductory biology will collect soil samples, isolate bacteria and test it against microorganisms. They’ll compare findings with students worldwide.

And who knows? They may just help stave off a catastrophe. If not, they’ll learn about the scientific method and likely become more interested in careers in science.

“Students are going to really get to see the scientific process in action,” Hess told MLive.

“We think by students taking ownership of this research it will help them stay more engaged in the scientific field.”

Marrying the best of academic traditions with hands-on learning — while tackling big problems and trying to make the world better. That’s the cornerstone of the experience at Aquinas and Michigan’s 15 independent colleges and universities.

Unlike big state schools, classes are taught by award-winning faculty, not teaching assistants. Class sizes are small, allowing students to form lifelong bonds with award-winning expert as well as a nurturing network of alumni who help after graduation.

All the schools emphasize community over crowds and help students forge their own paths.

And despite what you may have heard, independents are often less expensive and boast higher four-year graduation rates that big universities.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Top 10 Things High Schoolers Should Do to Get Ready for College

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Happy New Year! Time for new beginnings, new hope and, sure, even some new worries. But getting ready for college doesn’t have to be one.

There’s tons of resources out there to help map out the journey. As with any monumental journey, the best bet is to bite it off in short increments and start early.

Here are ten tips to make your transition to college easier.

1. Make a calendar

Goals are easier if they are visualized. Get a giant desk calendar and some fancy pens and highlighters. Stick it on your wall and mark it up with dates for specific tasks like taking the SAT.

2. Practice, practice, practice

Register for the preliminary SAT and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The tests are usually given in October, help you prepare and can be used to enter into scholarship competitions. Best of all: They can be taken in a classroom.

3. Make a list. Check it twice

Write down a list of 10-20 schools to investigate – we think these 15 outstanding independent colleges and universities in Michigan should be on the list. Separate them into categories: Top choices, tier twos and fallbacks. Dream big. Do your research. Talk to counselors and teachers.

4. Research Scholarships

Tons of money is available. Millions of dollars go unclaimed each year. Get your money’s worth from the guidance counselor, do your research and start prioritizing. We really like this one.

5. Letters of recommendation

Most wait until the last minute. Don’t be that guy. Ask early.

6. Campus visits

Colleges offer open houses and campus tours all year long. Don’t wait to schedule one (or three). Absorb the tours but wander off the beaten path. Talk to students in the bookstore. Go to a coffee shop.

Is this a place you can picture yourself? So much of campus tours are about feel but it can be an overwhelming process. There’s a lot to absorb. Take lots of notes and snapshots to refresh your memory in a few months.

7. The nitty gritty

Fall of senior year is typically when the search hits high gear: Taking or retaking SATs or ACTs, writing and perfecting admissions essays, scheduling interviews, exploring costs and financial aid and completing the free application for federal student aid.

Phew. Take a breath. It’s going to be OK.

8. Enter to win the easiest scholarship contest on the planet

Top off your college fund by entering the We Are The Independents monthly scholarship drawing from the Michigan Colleges Alliance. You could win $2K in 2 minutes.

9. Make a call

Decisions, decisions. At some point, fate is out of your hands. It can be an anxious time. But if you’ve done everything on the list, take a bow. Even if you haven’t but have met all the deadlines, take a bow. There’s nothing you can do about it now but wait.

10. Don’t forget to enjoy your senior year
This will be one of the best years of your life. Don’t squander a single second.
And take it from us: Things are going to be OK and work themselves out. They usually do. There’s so much pressure in college admissions, it’s easy to lose perspective. This is about what is best for you and what college can help you get where you want to be.

We understand that at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities. The colleges are smaller and emphasize community over crowds.

Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

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Mystery Meat? No Way. It’s Gourmet all the Way at Aquinas Cafes

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Talk to your parents about dorm food. Chances are, they don’t have happy memories.

After all, back in the day, tater tots were a big deal.

They’re still great, but cafeterias have come a long way since then. Don’t believe it? Take a peek at the Aquinas College Dining Services menu any day of the week.

Pork BBQ sliders. Popcorn chicken. Beef and vegetable curry. Specially made deli sandwiches. Pizza from scratch. Pumpkin dessert bar for your all-spice, autumnal goodies.

And, of course, Taco Tuesday.

The food is prepared under the expert eye of Chef Andy Schultz. Known as Chef Andy, he’s determined to end college dining stereotypes of mystery meat.

“I just like to bring in fresh, local ingredients,” he said. “Ninety percent of the ingredients for dishes we provide in the kitchen are from scratch. I can tell a difference, and the students and clients we’re serving can tell the difference.”

You probably don’t want to know, but Chef Andy knows where the turkey lived that’s now in your sandwich (the West Michigan Turkey co-op); who mixed the ranch dressing on your salad (Litehouse in Lowell); and where the oregano grew for Sunday’s spaghetti sauce (Michigan Fine Herbs in Shelbyville).

Nothing against your parents, but we bet they didn’t know where their tater tot grew.

The differences don’t stop at food at Aquinas College and Michigan’s 15 independent colleges and universities. Proudly different, the schools march to their own beat, emphasizing community over crowds and experience over the latest passing whim.

Despite what you may have heard, the private colleges are among the most affordable in the Midwest. That’s because more than 93 percent of students receive financial aid, lowering advertised tuition and bringing actual costs on par with many public universities.

That means education is not only priceless. It’s affordable too — one of many differences with traditional universities.

Unlike big state schools, class sizes are small and taught by incredible faculty who help students forge their own path. They have a deep and committed network of alumni who help after graduation. It’s an experience that simply isn’t available at traditional universities.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Love “A Christmas Story”? Thank Hillsdale College

Merry Christmas! You’ll shoot your eye out.

You don’t need to own a Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle to know the line is from “A Christmas Story,” the 1983 movie that’s become a staple of the holidays. Played on constant rotation starting Christmas Eve, the movie is so quotable that most know its dialogue by heart.

Fra-GEE-leh! It must be Italian!

I double DOG dare you.

It’s a pink nightmare.

Less well known is the genius behind the classic is one of Hillsdale College’s own, director and co-writer Bob Clark. He attended the Michigan college in the 1960s on a football scholarship and starred in several productions of the Tower Players.

Clark also directed another, less family friendly classic, “Porky’s,” during a career that spanned four decades and began shortly after he left Hillsdale in 1963. He got his start directing zombie flicks and eventually helmed productions including Jack Lemmon, Sylvester Stalone and some of the biggest Hollywood stars.

But he’ll forever be known for “A Christmas Story,” a project he loved so much he forsook his salary.

The inspiration struck when he was on a bad date and listened to a broadcast of writer Jean Shepherd’s recollections about growing up in Indiana in the 1930s and 1940s. He ended up driving around the block until the program was over.

“My date was not happy,” Clark said in an interview.

Clark is one of many creative luminaries who got their start at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities. The schools pride themselves on attracting students who do things differently and pairing them with dedicated faculty who help chart their own path.

So it’s probably no surprise the schools’ alums include diverse talent from singer Sufjan Stevens (Hope College) and funnyman Keegan Michael Key (University of Detroit-Mercy) to Martin Scorsese collaborator Paul Schrader (Calvin College) and “Walking Dead” star Steven Yeun (Kalamazoo College.)

All the schools emphasize community over crowds and help students forge their own paths.

It’s an experience that simply doesn’t exist at big state schools.

And despite what you may have heard, independents are often less expensive and boast higher four-year graduation rates that big universities.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.