Cory Van Gilst–Staff Writer
When the Wall Street Journal released its 2017 rankings for the nation’s colleges and universities a few weeks ago, Dordt College found itself listed first for most engaging college. This is the second consecutive year Dordt has been ranked number one nationally in engagement, having been listed first in the inaugural rankings last fall. Upon hearing the news, many students and members of Dordt’s community issued their thoughts on what the ranking means to them and how it impacts their role at the college.
“It means that for three and a half years I attended a college that cares about me as a student,” said Nathan Spaans, a recent graduate and current admissions counselor. “Now I get the opportunity to bring kids into that environment to experience it [for] themselves.”
Some students see the engagement both inside and outside of the classroom as well.
“It goes beyond the classroom – professors are welcoming outside [of] the classroom, and even the community makes Dordt feel like home,” said Rachel Ver Meer, a junior nursing major.
Since 2016, the Wall Street Journal has paired with Times Higher Education to rank U.S. colleges in various categories including diversity, inspiration and emphasis placed on internships. Students’ engagement is measured by the amount of academic offerings provided to students and how challenged they feel in the classroom. In addition, the Wall Street Journal looks at how students’ professors and peers inspire them academically with opportunities to expound on the ideas brought up in the classroom with critical thinking. Out of over one thousand schools, Dordt leads the way in meeting these criteria.
“It’s always nice when someone else says something nice about you,” said Howard Wilson, Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at Dordt. “Especially when it comes from a highly credible newspaper such as the Wall Street Journal.”
Overall, Wilson appreciates the recognition and uses it to influence prospective students and their parents when talking about attending Dordt.
Greg Van Dyke, Director of Admissions, takes the ranking as an affirmation that the college is achieving its goal as an institution.
“We are not here just because it’s a job, but because we believe in the mission of this place,” Van Dyke said. “We want to see Christian young people grow and be transformed when they are students here at Dordt.”
For the admissions team, the ranking does not define how they portray Dordt to a student, but rather reemphasizes what they are already trying to show.
When compared with other area colleges, Dordt students can see a difference when it comes to students feeling connected with their institution. One student immediately noticed the difference when she transferred in last year from South Dakota State University (SDSU). Rachel Donlin, a sophomore animal science major, recalled the large disparity in class sizes at her old school – often consisting of 200 or more students – and compared those to the smaller classes at Dordt.
“The professors here want you to take notes, they know your name, and they are willing to work with you when you are struggling,” she said.
Donlin is a commuter and was worried that she was going to feel left out from the community on campus. Fortunately for Donlin, she says the community of students itself is very engaging with one another compared to SDSU.
“Even on my way back to my house I feel a part of the community with everyone saying hello and having conversations with me,” Donlin said. “That didn’t happen at the larger university.”
Regardless of where they are at, then, students feel that Dordt’s culture reaches out to them.
This goal of wanting Dordt College to be more than an academic experience has been continuing since its founding in 1955. However, Dean of Students Robert Taylor said Dordt took a big step to where they are today roughly a decade ago when a few members of the administration addressed the need to have both the curricular and cocurricular aspects of Dordt be in unison with one another. At the time, Dordt was seeking a “seamless campus” in which both the curricular and cocurricular parts of the college would work hand-in-hand to produce kingdom citizens. Dr. Bethany Schuttinga, who was the Vice President of Student Services, and President Erik Hoekstra, who at the time was the acting provost, worked to bring this into reality. Taylor believes it was the relationship between these two that led to the engaging campus we have today.
“A lot of it was communication,” Taylor said. “Once the cocurricular was aligning with the four coordinates of Dordt, the trust between the two began to flourish.”
Taylor believes that everything becoming focused on what Dordt truly is allows it to be so engaging for students. He also knows that many other colleges do not have those close relationships within the administration to allow for such growth.
Today, the man that was a part of that big step toward getting a centralized theme to Dordt College now sits in the office of President of the college. From there, President Hoekstra reiterated the importance of having a mission at Dordt that is at the heart of everything that happens on campus.
“The social events that happen here are not just social events, they are part of a larger Christian education,” Hoekstra said.
Hoekstra now sees how the campus has come together, how students are excited to learn in this environment. They are all “singing from the same page in the hymn book,” as he puts it. This is being reflected in the Wall Street Journal with the rankings. He, along with many members of the Dordt College administration, do not do what they do for the rankings and awards; they do what they do because they believe in creating something special at Dordt College. This is a central theme that has come up in every Diamond-administration discussion over Dordt and engagement. They appreciate the acknowledgement they receive for their efforts, but they do not hang their hats on it.
Taylor perhaps put it best when he said, “We are just trying to be faithful. Good things like this will come and they will go, but if we remain faithful to what God is asking us to do, that is how we will hear the ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ when the time comes.”
In the end, the Wall Street Journal’s rankings are a nice thing to be recognized for, but students and faculty know that there is much more to Dordt College than being on top of a list.