Tradition • Character • Service

Tradition • Character • Service

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

National Review: Hillsdale's Comeback

Hillsdale’s Comeback
The college is stronger than ever.

By John J. Miller

When Larry Arnn arrived on the campus of Hillsdale College seven years ago as its new president, the school was reeling from scandal and its future was uncertain. Today, however, the college has bounced back. “We’re much stronger,” says Arnn.

This year’s incoming freshman class, in fact, is Hillsdale’s best ever.

The numbers tell the story. The freshmen who arrived on campus last month had an average SAT score of 1940 and an average ACT score of 28. The year before Arnn took over, these figures were 1820 and 26. (I’ve converted the older SAT scores using this table.)

The 2007 freshmen also had better high-school grade-point averages and were more likely to have graduated in the top ten percent of their classes.

This success story was by no means inevitable.

In 1999, Hillsdale was a proud bastion of conservatism. Under the leadership of the late George Roche, its president for nearly three decades, Hillsdale had transformed itself from an ordinary liberal-arts college in rural Michigan into a nationally celebrated institution that was best known for refusing to accept a penny of financial aid from the federal government. At a time when Washington was making massive encroachments on the independence of colleges and universities, Hillsdale showed that it was possible to put up a fight and still flourish.

Then came a controversy that was often described as tragic but which in fact was Gothic: the suicide of Lissa Roche, an employee of the college; accusations of a long-term affair with her father-in-law, the college president; and George Roche’s hasty disappearance from anything resembling public life. (At the time, I covered the story for National Review.)

Liberals reveled in the news, not merely because it was salacious but also because it was an embarrassment to conservatives. Wasn’t Hillsdale supposed to be a fortress of traditional values?

Yes, it was—and that’s why it survived its awful crisis.

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