Any great university consists of many elements: motivated students, learned profs, top-notch facilities. But anyone searching for an underlying explanation of how tiny Mount Allison University has managed to top Maclean's ranking of Primarily Undergraduate universities for eight consecutive years might want to consider something a little more basic: money. Since it wiped out its debt in 1994, Mount Allison has built up an accumulated endowment of $66 million. “No question,” declares president Ian Newbould, “funding is a big reason why we’ve been able to maintain our standard of education.”
Having deep pockets makes so much possible. In the
I past eight years, Mount Allison has spent $35 million ^upgrading its Sackville, N.B., campus. It has had the H money to hire 19 new tenure-track faculty members in the past two years—and the luxury of being able to pick from the best available teaching prospects. As well, more cash means no need to grow to increase the revenue base. The upshot: Mount Allison has limited its student body to 2,500—smaller than many urban Canadian high schools— and maintained an impressive 83.6-per-cent average entering grade for new students, the highest in its category.
Mount Allison is not paradise: the wounds are still fresh from a nasty faculty strike last winter, which shut down classes for three weeks and left students feeling like pawns in a faculty-administration dispute. But the quaint, close-knit liberal arts school still offers an experience far different from the anonymity of many sprawling urban universities. “It is the type of place where you go to your prof’s house for dinner,” says Alicia Johnston, 20, a third-year Canadian
studies student from Calgary. “You either know the name of everyone you pass on campus, or at least recognize their face.”
With students from 51 different countries, the faces are changing. And Mount Allison is changing with the times—enough to have wired every classroom, dormitory and office to the Internet before any other university in Canada. But it remains the kind of place where the overall development of the student seems to matter as much as the classroom education. “Sackville doesn’t have a Cineplex,” explains Anamitra Deb, 21, a third-year international relations and economics student from Bombay, who also serves as student council president and a member of the university’s board of regents and plays intramural soccer. “Most people direct all their energies into university life. Everybody gets involved.”
That attitude seems to pay off. Mount Allison ranked second in its category in terms of student awards. It has also produced 41 Rhodes Scholars—more, on a per-capita basis, than any university in the British Commonwealth. Its alumni list is studded with business leaders like Wallace McCain, chairman of Maple Leaf Foods Inc., and Purdy Crawford, chairman of Imasco Ltd., and artists like Alex Colville, and Christopher and Mary Pratt.
Big names help with fund-raising. Along with its swelling endowment fund, the school’s capital campaign—headed up by Crawford, who is also chancellor—is steaming along towards its $20-million goal. The school has grand plans for the future: building improvements, more financial aid for needy students, increased numbers of student research and teaching fellowships, expanding its centre for learning disabled students. Which just goes to show that, with money in the bank, even the best schools can get better.
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