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MSU: Texas’ only public liberal arts school

Jacklyn York

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Wichitan reporter Sam Sutton interviews University President Suzanne Shipley during the Caribfest parade.

Wichitan reporter Sam Sutton interviews University President Suzanne Shipley during the Caribfest parade.

Passionate ballet dancers aspire to enroll at Julliard. And want-to-be lawyers are attracted to the Harvard appeal.

For Midwestern State University, its identity is centered around being the only public liberal arts school in Texas and the only Texas school to be a member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, a group MSU joined in 1987.

Now, COPLAC includes 29 colleges and universities in 27 states and one Canadian province.

Samuel Watson, dean of the college of humanities and social sciences, said “It’s a point of pride for those of us who wanted to pursue that path.”

Watson introduced the COPLAC membership to the previous university president, Jesse Rogers.

“I can say that I probably initiated the idea but it took a team of people led by Dr. Rodgers to get us into COPLAC and then to have our mission changed by the Texas Legislature by code.” Watson said.

COPLAC, according to its own mission advances the aims of its member institutions and drives awareness of the value of high- quality, public liberal arts education in a student- centered, and residential environment.

Watson said “Ideally, they can read write critical think at high level and that gives them flexibility in an economy that’s as fluid as the one were in right now. If you can read, write, and think at high level you’re going to be marketable no matter what career path you choose.”

COPLAC universities are characterized by small to mid-size colleges or universities. Emphasizing the somewhat small ratio of students to teachers on campus and an emphasis on programs such as undergraduate research.

Watson and Shipley both agree that the biggest struggle to become a COPLAC member was convincing legislation.

MSU and COPLAC President Suzanne Shipley said, “We have a more refined mission and the reason I think you want one per state it’s a mission that is not often supported by politicians and legislature because when they hear liberal arts they think it means liberal. Liberal education is not liberal in a political sense. It’s freeing, but not making everyone a democrat or socialist. Broad-based education, so people think in a freer way without prejudice and limitation.

Watson said, “The legislature is always worried about cost and there weren’t any overriding cost we just needed their endorsement. The fact that the mission change passed into law is a sign of the legislature’s support and the governor’s support because with COPLAC they take one per state and were sort of it. To really be recognized as a public liberal arts university nationally you need to be a member of COPLAC and so it’s the niche we’ve established within Texas higher education.”

Shipley said it costs $10,000 to be a member and members receive specific materials, like surveys and directories, as well as newsletters and fair finders.

Rianne Busby, history junior, performs with the colorguard and marching band at the half-time show at Memorial Stadium, Sept. 26. "I loved that the show was a little different, it was alot more family-oriented and engaging with the crowd than our normal show would have been," Busby said. Photo by Rachel Johnson

Rianne Busby, history junior, performs with the colorguard and marching band at the half-time show at Memorial Stadium, Sept. 26. “I loved that the show was a little different, it was alot more family-oriented and engaging with the crowd than our normal show would have been,” Busby said. Photo by Rachel Johnson

Dirk Welch, director of the Career Management Center, said, “Well, I can start by a liberal arts institution like MSU…Students have exposure to and an opportunity to develop marketable skills that employers are looking for. Employers are desiring students that can think critically, independently, they can adapt and flexible to the changing environment,”

Welch said National Association of Colleges and Employers is a great resource for surveys and projections to consider pay scale according to major. He added that jobs in the liberal arts realm show more promising stability and with more opportunities to advance in long-term durations.

Stephanie Sullivan, assistant director of Career Management Center, said, “One of the key things that you learn at a liberal arts college is those soft skills that Dirk was mentioning. You know critical thinking, leadership and communication and those skills are transferable…really to across any discipline.”

Few students said they knew about the COPLAC accreditation of the school and none said selected Midwestern because of its liberal arts opportunities.

Shay Aodosari, respiratory care freshman, said, “I don’t have any feelings about being a student at a liberal arts college. I just applied and they accepted me.”

Kwaun Shaw, criminal justice sophomore, said, “I don’t know what COPLAC is but no I didn’t select MSU because of that. I actually wanted to come here first but wasn’t accepted.”

Kenny Hall, graphic design freshman, said, “Yeah, I think I remember something about that but it didn’t have anything to do with why I selected the school.”

Additional reporting by Robert Hillard

Additional reporting by Robert Hillard

THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS

First Bank of Wichita Falls

Foreign Languages of Midwestern State University

Student Affairs and Enrollment Management

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MSU: Texas’ only public liberal arts school