J. Michael O'Neal's email address, "soul-fingers," hints at his talent; he lets his fingers guide him through the art of piano performance. O'Neal is a ULV senior CAPA student majoring in Music. While studying jazz piano performance at ULV, O'Neal also serves as assistant director of an Afro-Studies performance group at Cal State Fullerton. / photo by Jennifer Contreras

J. Michael O’Neal’s email address, “soul-fingers,” hints at his talent; he lets his fingers guide him through the art of piano performance. O’Neal is a ULV senior CAPA student majoring in Music. While studying jazz piano performance at ULV, O’Neal also serves as assistant director of an Afro-Studies performance group at Cal State Fullerton. / photo by Jennifer Contreras

by Angelique B. D’Silva
photography by Jennifer Contreras

The University of La Verne has moved up to the third tier in the U.S. News and World Report ratings for the “Best National Universities-Doctoral” list, based on statistics from the year 2000. “That puts us in some very good company with a number of well-known and respected institutions. It was a recognition I thought was long overdue,” says University of La Verne President Stephen Morgan. “Having an opportunity to appear in the third tier gives people added confidence in the quality of the University of La Verne. Such distinction will help us as we recruit students, faculty and seek funding from those who want to invest in a higher quality institution.”

Out of 249 schools, ULV is currently ranked at 131. The University is now in the same tier as Arizona State University, University of Illinois, Florida Institute of Technology and the University of Hawaii, Manoa.

U.S. News and World Report states that it “assigns schools to a group of their peers, based on categories developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. There are 249 universities in the country that offer a wide range of undergraduate majors as well as master’s and doctoral degrees; many of the schools on this list strongly emphasize research.”

Criteria U.S. News and World Report bases its findings on include reputation, retention rates and Standardized Achievement Test scores (SAT). Provost Richard McDowell asserts that moving up in tiers “reflects the work and status of ULV more adequately. It is the result of much effort by faculty, staff, students and alumni over a period of years. Improving retention, recruiting stronger students, maintaining low class sizes, increasing alumni participation and improving our reputation are among the elements that go into the ranking process. The quality of student faculty interaction, the range of programs available, the special focus of our various programs and majors, and the experience of our alumni all reflect the quality of education at ULV.” He adds, “Moving into third tier is an advantage because prospective employees and students will take ULV into consideration because of our school rank.”

“We have been working on a number of fronts to strengthen the University,” says Dr. Morgan. “Some of those that have been most important have included the addition of a number of full-time faculty across the disciplines, continued growth of our financial bases including our endowment, and an improvement in the ability of our incoming traditional age students as reflected by SAT scores and high school GPAs. In becoming more selective, we have also rejected a higher percentage of our applicants. All of those are part of the inventory considered in the ranking process.”

ULV has placed many of its efforts in building a strong regional reputation. Dr. McDowell says, “More people are aware of what’s going on here, and this really reflects the progress made in the undergraduate student body. We have concentrated in this region, and a very large proportion of our undergraduates come from a 30 mile radius.” Also, admission statistics reflect that, more and more, prospective students are applying to ULV from throughout the country.

“It’s really a delight to be in a higher rank than we were before,” says Dr. Al Clark, associate vice president of academic affairs. “We, at this institution, have never placed too much credence into that particular ranking system because our particular situation does not fit the traditional ranking system category. We have many non-traditional students; we have a lot of students off campus, and that waters down the numbers that have always put us in a difficult light. So what’s nice about this is despite our outreach, we’re still able to move up in the ranking.” He adds, “What makes a school’s reputation improve is the quality of all their graduates-not just the undergraduates-but graduates at all levels. The quality of faculty and research has definitely improved and become more recognized and respected in the last decade.”

“The quality of education can be measured in many ways; one of them is, ‘What students say they learn’ as seniors or as alumni. The other way we can measure the quality of education is, ‘How are students serving their communities both as professionals and individuals.’ Are they making a difference in the lives of people they work with?” says Dr. Aghop Der-Karabetian, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. This, he says, is the ultimate purpose of education, and ULV is scoring high in this regard.

“One of the key indicators of a quality education is the success of our graduates in their chosen professions,” says Dr. Morgan. “We consistently see our graduates in high demand in a number of professions including education, business, communications and the social services. Our current students give high marks to their educational experiences and particularly to the quality of teaching our faculty are providing. We pay close attention to the comments of both current students and alumni in evaluating the quality of educational experiences at ULV. We are also privileged to have so many well-educated faculty with degrees and experience from prestigious institutions across the country. Those qualifications add considerable dimension to our quality of education.”

The University of La Verne offers many opportunities and experiences that a larger institution cannot provide to its students because of its enormity. Although ULV is easily recognized in the region for its School of Education, School of Business, Law School and Communications Department, many other departments have made names for themselves, including natural sciences, music, psychology and public administration.

ULV has produced marquee students in the field of communications who have demonstrated their competitive skills in a difficult market place. The law school has produced a number of public defenders and judges and is currently working toward earning American Bar Association (ABA) accreditation. There are educational administrators and teachers up and down the state who were trained at the University of La Verne. And the ULV School of Business produces a prodigious number of leaders for the world of commerce.

But there are many other “hidden gem” programs at the University that have quietly made a niche for themselves in the educational arena. The graduate programs in public administration and psychology are becoming renown. “The public administration program is growing to become the largest program in the nation,” says Dr. Der-Karabetian. “And the psychology program is well known. We train clinicians, marriage family therapists and doctoral level clinicians.” Valerie B. Jordan, director of the psychology doctorate program, says, ” What differentiates our program from others is the integration of a community psychology perspective throughout the curriculum, an emphasis on applied research, our small class size and ‘high touch’ level of interaction with faculty. In addition, many other local psychology doctoral programs have religious orientation, and as you know, ULV is a secular institution, and so that appeals to students who are wanting a secular institution and secular program.”

Dr. Clark says, “Our Natural Science Division, particularly biology, chemistry and mathematics, have continually produced undergraduates who have gotten into the best graduate schools in the United States. And the fact that they become professionals in these areas has been a major plus for the University and its training.”

“I definitely feel we are turning out a very high quality of students and are offering a very high quality of education in the sciences,” says Dr. Robert Neher, division chair. “I think we’re doing this because of the exceptional ability and quality of the faculty, both as teachers in their field of research. And partially I think this is because of the individualized attention that motivates students to their highest potential.”

The Music Department at ULV contains 14 majors and nine minors. Graduates in this field go to graduate school, teach music and perform professionally. Many of the alumni have returned to teach a class. “Within our faculty, we have a lot of diversity,” says Dr. Kathleen Lamkin, professor of music. Dr. Reed Gratz, professor of music, has received two Fulbright awards; Scott Farthing, assistant professor of music, has had many of his published chorales performed throughout the United States; and Dr. Lamkin annually works and performs with an Austrian classical festival in the summers.

“We must never be satisfied and must continue to pursue our quest for higher levels of excellence in all we do,” says Dr. Morgan. “We will continue to strengthen our faculty, improve our facilities and build our financial bases. In the process, we will become an even more strongly desired destination and thus increase our ability to become even more selective. I am also pleased that our faculty is putting even more emphasis on research and publication. Those efforts will add to our distinction.”