Austin College

Austin College

Austin College is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA and located in Sherman, Texas, an hour north of Dallas.

The undergraduate student body of Austin College (typically referred to as "AC" by students and faculty) is limited to about 1,350. Most students are required to live on campus for the first three years in an attempt to create a close-knit community. Austin College actively promotes various study abroad programs; 70% of students study abroad during their four years at the college. The college states that it attempts to foster close interaction between students and professors via a 12:1 student to faculty ratio and an average class size of less than 25 students. The college has no teaching assistants, so regular faculty teach all levels of coursework.

Chartered in November 1849, it is the oldest college in Texas under original charter and name as recognized by the State Historical Survey Committee.


The college was founded on October 13, 1849 in Huntsville, Texas by Princeton-educated missionary Dr. Daniel Baker. The college moved to Sherman in 1876 and became co-educational in 1918, merging in 1930 with the all female Texas Presbyterian College.

Baker named the school after Texas hero Stephen F. Austin and his sister Emily, who deeded 1,500 acres (6 km²) of land to the college. Another important figure in Texas history, Sam Houston, served on the original board of trustees for the school.

The college was the first in Texas to grant a graduate degree, and is also one of the oldest colleges in the state.

College Information


The current president of Austin College is Dr. Oscar C. Page, who has held the position since 1994. He is known for often appearing at student events and athletic games to show his support, and visited the service group who traveled to New Orleans over spring break in 2006 to provide relief from Hurricane Katrina, where he helped in the repairs. He will retire in summer 2009.


U.S. News & World Report ranked Austin College among the top 100 colleges in the category of "Best Liberal Arts Colleges" for 2006. Austin College also ranked among the "Best 361 Colleges" in the 2006 Princeton Review, was profiled in Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives, and was profiled in the 2005 edition of Kaplan's Unbiased Guide to the 331 Most Interesting Colleges. Austin College is also ninth on the U.S. News' 2006 list for "most students studying abroad." It is a member of the International 50, a group of the top colleges in the nation for international focus.


Austin College offers about 35 majors and pre-professional programs for study, and students can also create a specialized major to match their academic interests. The college is known for its nationally recognized five-year Master of Arts in Teaching program, its pre-medical, international studies, and pre-law programs, which draw many students to the campus. The school also has a music program, and is home to the Austin College A Cappella Choir and the Sherman Symphony Orchestra made up of students and local musicians, and assorted smaller musical ensembles. It also sponsors the Posey Center of Excellence in Leadership, the Center for Environmental Studies , and the Center for Southwestern and Mexican Studies , three specialized programs that give students numerous research and internship opportunities. The school also has active programs in over 40 academic disciplines. The school's student newspaper, the Austin College Observer, is a bi-monthly publication.


The Communication/Inquiry class is one of a number of classes and program that the school believes sets it apart from other private universities. Communication/Inquiry, or "C/I" as it is abbreviated, is a seminar course taken by freshmen during the fall of their entry year. The professor becomes a mentor for the students in the class over the next four years. Students choose the topic of their C/I soon after matriculating. It serves as the initial course in the undergraduate core curriculum. Each section of C/I is meant to emphasize the enhancement of many core academic skills, among them general writing, oral communication, computer technology, and library usage, as well as intellectual inquiry and critical thinking. As with most Austin College classes, the classes are never more than 25 people, and usually less. Freshmen are encouraged to use the class as an opportunity to make friends. On the opening weekend, students participate in activities and games with their C/I group. Course topics, which are generally aligned with specialty of the instructors, have in the past included an analysis of children's literature, a studio art class where the participants create sculptures on campus, and a study of how food and culture have intertwined throughout history. C/I professors and topics rotate every year.

Heritage of Western Culture

Heritage of Western Culture, known on campus as "Heritage" or "HWC", was the Austin College core curriculum. Starting in the Fall of 2007, "Heritage" ceased to exist. The purpose of the Heritage classes was to tie together various liberal arts disciplines into an overview of the development of western culture.

All students were required to take three Heritage classes during their time at AC. In the most recent incarnation, these classes were:

  • 101, "The Early Western World," usually taken as a freshman or sophomore, is a study of selected aspects of early western culture (antiquity to the Enlightenment) with particular attention to critical issues in the study of cultural heritage before the modern era and the legacy of the early west.
  • 201, "Integrated Science," usually taken during sophomore or junior year, is a study of notable scientific achievements to develop an understanding of the nature of science, the structure of scientific thought, and the influence of some of the achievements of science on western ideas from the 17th through the 21st centuries.
  • 301, "Individual and Society in the Modern World," usually taken during junior or senior year, is a study of the evolution of western culture and civilization from the Enlightenment until the present. Special attention is given to those ideas and events that shape the contemporary world, and may include aspects of non-western culture.

Each class focused on a particular topic or subject and traced it through time in order to ascertain its effect on contemporary western culture. The topics were taught on a rotating basis (the same topic was generally taught for four years consecutively, then the topic was changed), as the professors that taught them rotated as well. The majority of the classes were taught jointly, with 2-5 professors sharing the class and taking turns giving lectures, in order to provide a cross-section of disciplines and professors who specialize in various aspects of the class. The average class size is considerably larger, around 100 students, as opposed to the usual 25. For many AC students, the class was their only exposure to a lecture-hall type of class commonly found at larger universities. To supplement the lectures, each professor usually had what is termed a "small group" of about 25 students that meets several times throughout the semester in addition to the "large group" meetings that took place regularly.

Opinions differed on the value of Heritage, as many students viewed it as worthless (though some alumni remember the courses as some of the most valuable they took). This attitude led to increasing numbers of students taking the course on a pass/fail basis (and devoting minimal effort), leading Austin College to disallow such a grading system for the course. Currently, the class cannot be taken at a pass/fail for those under the program graduating in 2008 and beyond. Many professors agreed with the negative student assessment of Heritage, although the program did have its supporters among the faculty too.

During the fall semester of 2006, the decades-old program was made the subject of a full scale re-evaluation by the faculty. A committee of faculty members who teach in the course met to determine the future of the course sequence. That committee made its report and the faculty voted on the future of Heritage. There was strong sentiment to do away with the courses completely in some quarters, while others argued that Heritage (or something like it) should be retained. In early March, 2007, the Austin College faculty voted to end the HWC program, and after the spring semester of 2007 HWC courses will no longer be offered.

January Term

January Term is Austin College's mini-semester, a three-week course taught every January. Students are required to take three Jan-terms during their time at AC, and many use the semester to either take a class in a different area than their regular studies, intensify their study in their designated field, or travel abroad on one of the many travel Jan-terms. Off-campus Jan-terms are an opportunity for those who cannot study abroad during the normal school year to do so. Destinations rotate from year to year, and past and current locations include Scotland, England, France, Spain, Greece, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Brazil, Japan, India, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Egypt, West Africa, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. There are also a number of domestic travel locations, such as Ghost Ranch in New Mexico (where students can take landscape photography, creative writing, pottery, and silversmithing), Washington D.C., and New York City.

Courses are taught on-campus as well. A longstanding policy requires freshmen to spend their first Jan-term on-campus, although some instructors allow exceptions. Many students can only afford only one off-campus Jan-term over the course of their Austin College career, and take the rest on campus. Topics have included bird-watching, a writing class on utopian literature, an analysis of contemporary comic books, the philosophy of mythological archetypes, medical QiGong, as well as wine making and beer brewing, instructed by chemistry faculty.

Jordan Family Language House

Completed in 1998, the Jordan Family Language House is both a residence hall and a place of study for German, Spanish, French, and Japanese language and culture. The hall is divided into four sections, one for each language. Each section functions independently, with the number of students varying from Spanish (the largest) to Japanese (the smallest, with a capacity for eight). Students are encouraged to speak in their language of study when in the house.

A native speaker, always coming from abroad, resides in each section to assist students in their study of the language. The native speaker also holds intermediate and advanced conversation classes for the students. The Jordan House contains a multimedia language laboratory.

Students who live in the house are enrolled in a half-credit course, in addition to another course in the language or literature. Course requirements include meeting several times a week for language table, weekly house meetings with skits, games, and other presentations in the target language, and a variety of other culturally appropriate activities.

Model United Nations

Austin College has participated in Model United Nations around the country since 1983. Model UN conferences simulate the workings of the United Nations, with delegates assuming the current positions of the countries they represent.

The purpose of the program is to gain skills in leadership, verbal and written communication, teamwork, decision-making, and research. At the National Model U.N. Conference in New York City, the AC program has earned more than 20 top rankings for Outstanding Delegation. AC has also attended conferences in Chicago, Washington, DC, Hawaii and Russia.

Posey Leadership Institute

The Austin College Posey Leadership Institute is intended to instruct student leaders in leadership and service. Each fall, 15 entering freshmen and up to five sophomores are selected to participate, based on demonstrated leadership ability and potential. Participants receive a scholarship of around $11,000 a year.

Participating students complete special courses beyond their normal academic workload. These include a freshman introductory leadership course, an internship on leadership in action, a Jan-term course, a second-year course on national and international leadership, and a senior conference on advanced leadership studies.

Study Abroad

AC has a strong emphasis on international learning opportunity. 73% of students in a recent graduating class had studied abroad.


Austin College participates in NCAA Division III athletics. Kangaroo varsity teams include football, men and women's soccer, volleyball, men and women's basketball, swimming and diving, tennis, baseball and softball, which was added for the 2006-2007 season. More than 225 student-athletics participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics each year. In 2004-2005, 28 students were recognized with all-conference athletic honors and 61 students received all-conference academic honors.

Austin College joined the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference on July 1, 2006, replacing Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Austin College was previously a member of the American Southwest Conference.

Austin College also has a student-run dance team named the Aussies.

Notable Faculty

Notable Alumni

Recent developments

In the fall of 2005, Austin College began implementing the initial phase of its multi-year, approximately $1 million campus landscape master plan. The landscape project will ultimately add an entry esplanade, pedestrian mall, and other landscape enhancements. The school upgraded the baseball field in the summer of 2006. Construction on the Betsy Dennis Forster Art Studio Complex began in the fall of 2006 and was completed March, 2008.

In 2006, Austin College's first external graduate/professional school alumni organization was formed to provide support and encouragement to Austin College alumni and friends attending or interested in attending Texas Tech School of Law.

In 2008, admission was down by quite a large number. Student groups are taking budget cuts due to the number of enrolled students. An entire portion of Baker Hall was left without inhabitants in the Fall.


External links

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