MARSCHALL: How conservative students and families can find the right college
Here are the steps conservative students and parents can take to find the best college or university for them.
Campus Reform Managing Editor Zachary Marschall holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from George Mason University and is an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky.
My “Academically Speaking” series reveals for Campus Reform readers how radical ideas originating in academia impact Americans’ daily lives.
As Campus Reform’s coverage demonstrates, liberal and leftist scholars and administrators hold a monopoly of power within American universities, which minimizes conservative students’ ability to enjoy viewpoint diversity, freedom of religious expression, and equal treatment in their college experience.
As a result, the college search process poses challenges and difficulties for conservative students and parents who want to invest in a rigorous college experience free of liberal indoctrination and discrimination.
Before outlining some key college selection strategies, it is important to remember that while no college will be perfect, it is possible for conservative students to find a right fit.
For example, Hillsdale College and Liberty University are two of the most well-known conservative higher education institutions in the country (see below), but both are situated in relatively rural areas.
Though these institutions provide great educations, many prospective conservative college students may want a research university or an urban environment.
Conservatives should not feel trapped if that is the case, particularly if financial circumstances make attending a public university the most feasible option. Here are several steps students and parents can take to find the right college.
As Campus Reform’s Campus Profile series demonstrates, a multitude of factors impact conservative students’ college experience.
Campus Profiles break down liberal bias across America’s higher education institutions by examining these variables.
To date, Campus Reform has published over 100 profiles that report on: the number of conservative and liberal student organizations at each college or university, the percentage of school employees donating to both Democratic and Republican federal candidates, speech code ratings, whether COVID-19 vaccine mandates are in place, and the top news articles covering the institution.
And now, here are the steps conservative students and parents can take to find the right fit:
Research the Faculty
Conservative high school students applying to a specific college program should research the faculty within those departments at the schools they are considering.
Most professors have a link to their CV on their faculty bio page. Download the CV to view the scholars’ published research, public speeches, dissertations chaired, committee assignments, and associational memberships.
Professors’ publications expose their priorities and political leanings, but also shape how teachers develop their curricula. Their projects inform the readings, discussions, and papers assigned to students.
Beyond teaching, professors also perform “service” as part of their contracts. Many scholars sit on diversity, equity, and inclusion committees, for example. In those cases, prospective students can then search for those committees’ announcements to gauge the extent of liberal bias.
Similarly, scholarly associations also host their own websites that can highlight scholarly working groups, collective research priorities, and political declarations.
The American Studies Association, for example, is notoriously leftist.
The associations’ websites will provide an indication of scholars’ professional networks and how peers may influence their work.
Keep in mind that is possible for conservative students to have a positive experience within their individual programs even if the larger campus environment seethes with liberal bias. A department comprising professors with a wider range of views and interests may give conservative students opportunities to pursue their scholarly interests freely and form meaningful mentorships with advisors.
Find Student Organizations on Social Media
Not all student organizations are created equal.
Some new groups barely last an academic year with only a few inactive members while others have multiple engaged participants that sustain their organizations’ activities and funding.
Social media is a great way to assess this difference.
Go on to universities’ student clubs webpage and make a list of conservative organizations – this is what the Campus Profiles do for Campus Reform readers – and then search for their social media accounts.
Conservative clubs with active accounts and high levels of engagement or followers indicate that there is a robust and thriving conservative presence on campus, even if liberals still constitute the majority.
If a relatively large university has only a handful of conservative student organizations with no or minimal digital presence, that points to minimal or no opportunities for conservative students to find like-minded, or even open-minded, peers.
As Campus Reform has reported, there are fewer conservative organizations at American colleges than liberal organizations because faculty are hesitant to serve as advisors, which is normally a requirement for formal recognition.
Consequently, the number of conservative student organizations with robust digital presences may correlate to the proportion of open-minded professors within a university’s faculty.
Scan Student or University News Outlets
Nearly every university has an official student-run publication. Find those outlets’ websites and survey the coverage, particularly the opinion section.
Whether or not a conservative applicant is interested in pursuing journalism, finding the number of conservative or even moderate (non-leftist or non-woke) voices represented in the publication indicates that there are opportunities for political minorities to voice their opinion freely.
Alternatively, see if there are student-run conservative publications. Being able to locate student newspapers with explicit conservative principles – read their mission statements – suggests that there is an active and vocal conservative minority thriving outside the confines of the university administration’s control over officially sanctioned groups.
The Morning Watch at Michigan State University is an example of one such publication, as evidenced by its motto “Objectivity Not Subjectivity.”
See How Universities are Hiring
HigherEdJobs.com is the predominant hiring website for the academic job market. Search for listing within specific universities.
Do the job postings require that applicants commit to one set of politicized ideas about
"Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion," have explicit leftist research agendas, or subscribe to some other radical political principle?
If the answer is yes, that will tell prospective students that the university administration may be applying politicized litmus tests the people who set policies, develop curricula, and teach students.
On the contrary, if such requirements are few and far between, the university may have a culture that is more open to – or at least tolerant of – diverse voices.
Keep in mind, however, that liberals still constitute the majority at nearly every American university. As the Campus Profiles reveal, the vast majority of university employees donate to Democratic candidates.
However, some universities have larger conservative minorities among their employees, as political donation records suggest.
This data alongside hiring requirements can be a good predictor of viewpoint diversity among faculty and staff.
Research Common Readings and First-Year Curriculum
This step can be very useful for conservative high school students applying to college as undeclared majors.
Summer reading assignments speak to the expectations universities place on students with regard to academic rigor and political viewpoints. A well-respected novel bodes much better for a first-year students' acclimation to college life.
Additionally, prospective students and parents can also go online to access universities’ course catalogs. Look up the course sequence and descriptions for the first-year (sometimes called “core”) curriculum.
Do these courses favor a traditional liberal education or read like the pet projects of professors and graduate students (see the first tip)?
First-year seminars and other lower-level courses are often taught by graduate students, who also serve as teaching assistants for upper-level undergraduate classes. For large lectures, these teaching assistants do the grading.
These required freshman classes are a good way to assess the priorities among a university’s graduate population, which does impact undergraduate life.
Check out Campus Reform’s Campus Profiles
Below is a list of colleges and universities from the Campus Profile series that every conservative student should review.
Among those covered by Campus Reform, these schools have a significantly higher proportion of conservative student organizations, a good free speech rating, and a greater degree of political diversity among employees, as measured by campaign donations data.
These institutions (listed in alphabetical order) represent a cross section of private colleges and public universities in multiple geographic regions across the United States: