Small is smart: Wisconsin’s 24 private, nonprofit colleges provide students with an extraordinary education


It is not a comparison between large and small schools. One is not, necessarily, better than the other. As students search for their future college, it is about finding the right fit. The students who find their fit at one of Wisconsin’s 24 private nonprofit colleges attest to the benefits of a small academic environment, from the personalized guidance, to the opportunities for deep community and intellectual engagement, and ultimately, the extraordinary education they receive.

Each of Wisconsin’s 24 private, nonprofit colleges enrolls less than 10,000 undergraduate students and—in comparison with a state university or Big 10 option—this is small. Our professors know their students personally, not just as a distant face in a lecture hall or an ID number on a final exam. Our students develop relationships with a faculty impassioned about guiding them to their best future path. The intimate academic communities provide a diverse, yet accessible, variety of experiences for every student to truly engage, practice their skills, and bond, not only to a successful future, but also to their peers and mentors.

The opportunity to bond and grow within an intimate community is particularly unique in the context of today’s reality. We are infinitely connected via digital technology, the economy is global, and traveling to the ends of the Earth is possible and easy. Part of a good education is preparing to become a good, conscientious citizen of this global society within an inclusive and supportive environment.

Students attending our colleges continually espouse the importance of their years on campus as they are wisely guided towards their best personal course of study and successively choose opportunities to build their knowledge, hone their skills, and become part of a closely knit community. Our students confidently venture out to pursue study abroad programs, internships, and other experiential learning opportunities in a larger context. This scaffold process uniquely, and very practically, prepares students for the realities of their new real world at the end of four years.

Similar to the mission of a sage parent, Wisconsin’s 24 private, nonprofit colleges help our students plant roots and then, give them wings.

This is extraordinary. This is why small is smart.

The question then becomes: what type of small is the right fit? By visiting and experiencing the various campuses, our students quickly realize which size community feels like home.

Columbia College of Nursing, Bellin College, and Nashotah House Theological Seminary are the smallest of our small colleges with enrollments of 145, 351, and 122 students, respectively.

  • At Columbia College of Nursing, students become nurses through rigorous coursework and unique and cutting edge clinical experiences.
  • Bellin College is at the cutting edge of nursing and radiologic sciences, training its graduates with a focused curriculum, extensive clinical practice, and a 10:1 student/faculty ratio.
  • Nashotah House Theological Seminary provides a truly singular approach to training and challenging its community of faith and graduate learners. Both institutions are razor sharp in foci while fostering a warm and engaged community of students and faculty.

Northland College, Ripon College, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee’s Institute of Art and Design all have enrollments between 500 and 1,000 students. At colleges of this size, students experience the benefit of focused curriculum and campus identities, while also having the opportunity to participate in UMAIC/NCAA III athletics and various extracurricular activities. For example:

  • Northland College is a private liberal arts college with a progressive focus on the environment and sustainability.
  • Ripon College has a reputation as a fiercely intellectual community, with small classes, professors who love teaching and learning, and a bold family-oriented campus atmosphere. Ripon also offers men’s and women’s athletics as well as several extracurriculars, not to mention a renowned debate team.
  • The Medical College of Wisconsin is the state’s only private medical and health sciences graduate school, committed to training some of our country’s finest physicians and medical professionals with a student/faculty ratio of 2:1.
  • The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) immerses students in art, design, and professional development, encouraging students to simultaneously pursue an advertising or business minor.

Eight colleges educate a student body between 1,000 and 2,500—still a truly intimate academic community.

  • Beloit College is committed to a blended teaching style of traditional classroom instruction followed by experiential learning in internships, labs in every major (not just the sciences), and meaningful study abroad.
  • Lawrence University is a world-class liberal arts college and Conservatory of Music. Each student’s curriculum is personalized through honors projects, tutorials, and studio lessons—many times working one on one with a guiding professor. Lawrence also offers NCAA Division III athletics.
  • Marian University strives to challenge students academically in the classroom, while simultaneously offering hands-on research, clinical, and internship opportunities. Marian primarily focuses on developing our next generation of leaders in health care, education, criminal justice, and business.
  • Mount Mary University is a women’s university offering 30 undergraduate programs to earn a B.A. or B.S. and nine specialized graduate programs including Master of Science in dietetics, art therapy, counseling, and occupational therapy.
  • Silver Lake College offers 22 undergraduate majors and 4 graduate programs while heralding the importance of extracurriculars to build community engagement. Men’s and women’s sports within the USCAA division are offered as well as honor societies, student publications, and departmental clubs.
  • At St. Norbert College, undergraduates typically conduct graduate-level research and spend a semester in a world class international university.
  • Viterbo University is not only a beautiful academic community, it’s also located in a scenic surrounding area ideal for students who love to experience the outdoors. The university also has terrific facilities, including a state-of-the-art School of Nursing building and the new Weber Center for the Performing Arts. Students’ classwork is supplemented with guaranteed paid internships, study abroad, and research opportunities.
  • Wisconsin Lutheran College guarantees its students graduate in four years. Its students receive the highest level of personalized attention and have opportunities to conduct hands-on research directly with biology professors, star in a play, or lead service projects overseas.

Seven colleges enroll between 2,500 and 5,000 students. This is a size where virtually every opportunity is available for broadening or intensifying one’s studies and activities.

  • Alverno College is one of the nation’s largest women’s colleges, founded over 125 years ago. The curriculum is progressively experiential and its ideal location combines a small community campus with proximal access to urban Milwaukee.
  • Cardinal Stritch University is focused on preparing students of all faiths and backgrounds to become leaders in business, education, nursing, health sciences, and the liberal arts. However, the faculty places much import on post-graduate job placement by way of intensive career counseling and advising, job and internship fairs, and career development services.
  • Carroll University offers more than 60 areas of study, required cross-cultural opportunities, and an assortment of co-curricular activities. Carroll is also uniquely emphatic about fostering community involvement and global experiences.
  • Carthage College is known for its intensely academic curriculum as well as consistently ranking top 10 nationwide for short-term study abroad experiences.
  • Edgewood College in Madison offers every advantage of the small college experience along with the cultural diversity and opportunity of its urban location (and NCAA Division III Athletics).
  • Lakeland College is all about passion. Its students are continuously encouraged to pursue their passions in the classroom, on the NCAA Division III playing field, the dramatic stage, and wherever their study abroad takes them.
  • The Milwaukee School of Engineering is home to ambitious students, serious about their futures in engineering, business, mathematics, or nursing. The curriculum is so focused and the graduates so prepared, MSOE boasts a 96 percent post-graduation job-placement rate, although students still enjoy their lives and Division III athletics.

The largest of our small colleges are Concordia and Marquette, enrolling 8,161 and 8,300 undergraduate students, respectively.

  • Concordia University is committed to offering its students the necessary experiences to “develop in mind, body, and spirit for service to the world.” In this pursuit they have six schools and more than 70 undergraduate majors to select from at its 200- acre campus on the shore of Lake Michigan. Twenty-six NCAA Division III sports, a variety of music ensembles, and 50 student clubs enrich the daily lives of Concordia students.
  • Marquette University is the most comprehensive Jesuit university in the U.S., with 84 majors and 79 minors, nearly 300 clubs and organizations, and an active alumni/ae network, 110,000 strong worldwide. Marquette was lauded “Best Value School” (Kiplinger’s, 2014) and one of The Princeton Review’s “Best 376 Colleges” (2014).

We believe Wisconsin’s 24 private, non-profit colleges offer the personal attention, the full engagement, the extraordinary experiences, and the global preparation that constitutes the highest quality education.

But these are just snippets, descriptions, words.

For a student to make his or her best decision, they must visit and experience the feel. Only then will they know which Wisconsin small private college is their best fit.

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