Private colleges lead in 4-year chemistry and physics degrees
Minnesota’s Private Colleges contribute significantly to bachelor’s degrees earned in Minnesota (28% of 33,510 degrees last year), but the proportion is much greater in some fields. When it comes to the physical sciences, for example, our 17 institutions grant 48% of the degrees.
Of the five disciplines that make up the physical sciences, Minnesota private colleges do especially well in chemistry and physics compared to the public institutions in Minnesota (see the table below).
Private colleges award about half of the 400-plus undergraduate chemistry degrees in the state. St. Olaf College, which awards almost one-third of the private colleges' chemistry degrees, points to a few reasons for its success with science degrees. “Our professors are very accessible to students,” says Bob Hanson, chemistry professor and department chair. “We want students to lose the intimidation factor quickly and so we push our open door policy. I tell my class that my posted hours are for them and I will stop whatever I’m doing to talk to them. If it’s after my hours and I can’t talk, I let them know when to come back.”
Hanson also credits a new building in 2008 with a jump in St. Olaf’s science majors, but notes that the college has a long history of strong science programs.
Private colleges also awarded 58% of the 175 undergraduate physics degrees in Minnesota in 2011-12. Carleton College attributes a strong sense of community to its physics graduates’ success. “Everyone is very supportive of these students — and faculty really like teaching and working with undergraduates,” says Melissa Eblen-Zayas, associate professor and department chair at Carleton.
About two-thirds of Carleton physics students go on to graduate school (the national average is 60%). Eblen-Zayas notes that with no graduate or post-doc students, it’s undergrads who are doing research. “They’re the ones who are presenting at national meetings,” she said. “It’s excellent training that prepares them for a job or graduate school.”