Last week I was able to visit Menlo College in Atherton, California. I was part of a tour organized by the Independent Educational Consultants Association. Our tour began with a fine lunch in the dining hall—where the food is organic and the head of dining services has a commitment to serving local products, when possible. It’s hard to know whether the food is always as good as it was that day, but I was happy to stoke up on a couple of nice Asian dishes over rice. Lunch was followed by a tour, and then a brief presentation and question-and-answer session with the College’s Provost (the fancy term for chief academic officer).
Here’s a bit of what I learned.
- As the Provost said, Menlo is not a small college, it’s a tiny college. With each entering class made up of about 125 students, the total campus population is just under 600. The campus is pleasantly verdant and compact, and classes take place in only two buildings, one of which is dedicated solely to business courses.
- The focus at Menlo is on business. Most students are majoring in some flavor of business administration, though some pursue degrees in psychology or other liberal arts disciplines.
- Most Menlo students hail from California, with a smattering of students from other Western states. Fifteen percent of students come from abroad, with most of those coming from Hong Kong and China.
- Menlo is a teaching college, where each faculty member is expected to teach four courses per semester. While some faculty complain about the work load, the Provost gently reminds them that with the tiny size of the College and the small size of classes, most instructors teacher fewer than 50 students per semester. Thus faculty members are able to build close connections with faculty—because such relationships would be unavoidable.
- Menlo has only 30 full time faculty, and is trying to expand that number to 50. The Board of Trustees has given the Provost the directive to pay competitive salaries to attract and retain top faculty. In addition, because of Menlo’s location in Silicon Valley, the College has access to an excellent pool of experienced and qualified adjunct instructors to teach in its business programs. Twenty-one faculty members actually live on campus (and all faculty and staff may eat in the campus dining hall free of charge all year long!).
- Menlo’s location also gives students the opportunity to pursue part-time jobs, internships, and summer employment in the high-tech industry of Silicon Valley.
- Despite its tiny size, Menlo competes in NCAA Division III sports, and 40% of the students participate in varsity athletics.
- Historically, Menlo has had a strong set of services for students with learning differences. While the College is happy to serve students with a wide variety of learning styles, it is refocusing itself and has made the decision not to be a school that specializes in serving the needs of students with learning differences.
- Menlo’s President and current leadership team seems to have a strong, unified vision of how to transform this small college into a focused, ambitious little place—like the choo-choo train in the story, The Little Engine That Could.
I was pleased to finally visit Menlo. I had met Bob Wilms, Menlo’s amiable and able director of admission, on several occasions. While Bob is a great representative in extolling the virtues of Menlo, there is no substitute for walking the campus and meeting the people that form the core of the College.
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