To quote the college’s mission, “Northland College integrates liberal arts study with an environmental emphasis”. Emphasis is putting it lightly. With the goal of being the nation’s leading environmental liberal arts college, Northland has been green since 1971 and has been cited numerous times for its campus commitments to the cause, all the while providing fine undergraduate education for over a century.
Established in 1906 in Ashland, Wisconsin, it grew from the previously begun North Wisconsin Academy, still sitting on the same piece of rural land within throwing distance from Lake Superior. It today takes up 130 acres of gorgeous northern Wisconsin, educating its 600 or so environmentally focused students with a recognized academic program (ranked as one of the Best Liberal Arts Colleges of 2011 and in the first tier). Offering Bachelor programs with a decided slant towards the natural sciences and environmental areas, majors at Northland range from the greener choices of Sustainable Community Development and Environmental Biochemistry, to the more typical Art and Education (education majors are the most popular overall). There is a dual major program as well in Engineering, allowing students to complete much of their core education at Northland, then do another two years at either Michigan Tech or Washington University, resulting in a dual B.S. with a number of options for specialization.
Semesters at Northland follow the 4-1-4 system, with a short/intense January semester that may have much to do with the severe Wisconsin winters and their affect on the small, 19 building campus. Though they offer no distance education at Northland, that is likely because much of their educating is done in the outdoors, with very experiential cores to most of their curriculum (this hands on approach also guarantees each student the opportunity to do some sort of work study program). In fact, there is even an Outdoor Orientation for freshman, trips and hikes meant to expose your second classroom outside the walls of the buildings and familiarize you with the experience of college at Northland.
Faculty are almost 85% terminally degreed in their fields, with amazingly small class sizes (a 1/3 smaller than 10 students) that allow for personal attention to education and a feeling of community. In fact, much of the college is reminiscent of a commune atmosphere, with a student managed garden, a reuse room (900 lbs of goods were cycled through last year alone), and a renewable energy system (solar hot water systems, geothermal heating, a Prius driving principal). It’s also a carbon footprint friendly #4 on the list of friendliest bicycle campuses, with numerous paths and parking options for those looking for fossil fuel alternatives.
Since the first Earth Day in 1971 brought environmentalist Sigurd Olson (who was the muse behind the founding of Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, dedicated to educating about the Great Lakes ecological issues), there has been a mission of intertwining academics and the natural world at Northland College. Whether it does it through graduating the next inventor of an alternative fuel, or an educator with an eye toward creating a smaller carbon footprint in the next generation, Northland works to better the environment through information and experience with the beauty of nature.