The Decker College Center is the student union at McDaniel College. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett)
A hilltop campus in historic Westminster, complete with a nine-hole golf course. A branch campus in Budapest. A flexible liberal arts curriculum that encourages creativity. Really, what's not to like?
Formerly known as Western Maryland College, the school was renamed McDaniel College in 2002. With its promise of an experience that emphasizes well roundedness and critical thinking, it attracted some 1,600 students from 23 states and 19 countries in 2001-2002. Classes are small, with a student/faculty ratio of 12 to 1. The student body is roughly 45 percent men, 55 percent women.
The history of the school dates to the days immediately following the Civil War, when a Westminster teacher set out to make good on his dream of founding a small private college. He bought a piece of land and then lined up financial support from the Rev. J. T. Ward (who would become the first president of the college) and John Smith, president of the Western Maryland Railroad (from which the school took its original name).
In more recent years, the college has been engaged in a bit of institutional soul-searching. Specifically, efforts had been brewing since the 1970s to find a new name for the college, one that more fully reflects a selective liberal arts institution. Thus, in the summer of 2002 the school re-branded itself as McDaniel College, in honor of William R. McDaniel, who -- from the 1870s to 1942 -- served the school as a student, professor, vice president, acting president, treasurer and trustee.
The college's first building went up in 1867, a year that saw 37 men and women enter the school to pursue eight areas of study. From day one, the institution took a progressive course, declaring in its charter that the school would exist "for the benefit of students without regard to race, religion, color, sex, national or ethnic origin ... without requiring or enforcing any sectarian, racial or civil test, and without discrimination on the basis of sex, national or ethnic origin, nor shall any prejudice be made in the choice of any officer, teacher, or other employee in the said college on account of these factors."
Not bad for 1867.
In the same vein, Western Maryland was the first coeducational institution south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and among the first in the nation.
In true liberal arts tradition, the school requires all students to take at least 30 percent of their course work in areas such as Western thought and civilizations, cross-cultural studies, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics, and social sciences. Beyond this, students may choose from among 23 majors. Some also choose to dual-major, or to design their own major when their interests go beyond the existing program. Most departments also offer minor concentrations for interested students.
Despite the name change, life goes on as usual in the 40 buildings that comprise this 160-acre campus. Highlights of the campus include Hoover Library, which offers everything from rare books to CD-ROMs, as well as a microcomputing center. Peterson Hall boasts a modern photographic laboratory, a graphic arts computer classroom and an art gallery. In 1999 the school completed a $13 million science center, which features cutting-edge computer-based laboratories.
For students looking to explore a bit, the college's Budapest campus offers a convenient option for those wishing to study abroad. The school also offers off-campus opportunities through American University's Washington Semester and Drew University's Semester on the United Nations and Semester on the European Community.
At more than $20,000 a year for tuition alone, McDaniel College carries the price tag one would expect of a selective liberal arts institution. On the plus side, the school reports that nearly 80 percent of those who attend receive some financial assistance.