To get to Red Cross Nordic United World College from, well, anywhere, you fly to Bergen, on the west coast of Norway, and then take a three-hour boat trip 150 kilometers north. You then board a bus that wends through the countryside for another hour until it comes to the appropriately named town of Flekke (Norwegian for speck). Visitors can walk the last mile or call the school and ask for a ride.
“It’s as isolated as it gets,” said Colby Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Parker Beverage.
A dozen years back, Beverage visited Red Cross Nordic and its 200 students with Steve Thomas, then an admissions officer with College of the Atlantic, in Maine, and now Colby’s director of admissions. They were the second and third American college representatives to visit.
Times have changed. “Three years ago, when you went to this school, you’d be going there at the same time as Amherst and Smith and Middlebury,” Beverage said. “Just as you were leaving, Wesleyan was coming in, and Macalester. It was as if you were visiting schools in Manhattan.”
The international school on the remote Norwegian coast wasn’t the only place to which selective American liberal arts colleges wore a path. Ten years ago a grant from philanthropists Gale and Shelby M.C. Davis provided need-based aid for graduates of the then-10 United World College secondary schools, established to promote cross-cultural understanding. Davis UWC scholars were eligible to apply to what would become known as “the Davis Five” (Colby, Princeton, College of the Atlantic, Middlebury, and Wellesley, all schools with close connections to the Davis family). The Davis UWC Scholars program has two objectives: to educate potential future leaders from around the world and to make American students “more globally competent” by increasing international diversity. The prize for the Davis Five: motivated students, many from developing countries, who had already proven themselves top academic prospects. And, most importantly for the U.S. schools, the Davis grant provided substantial financial aid—up to $40,000 per student per year.
Soon admissions officers were wearing out their passports, and students from around the world were getting world-class educations.
(Reduced funding from the Davis program will require colleges to contribute more for Davis UWC scholars in the future, prompting colleges to consider their options. Related story)
Outstanding international students—from the UWC system and beyond, often with compelling and even fascinating backgrounds—flocked to Mayflower Hill and soon emerged as cultural ambassadors and campus leaders, valedictorians and commencement speakers, and trustees.
Since most of Colby’s competitors lacked the Davis funding and couldn’t match the generous financial aid offers it made possible, Colby’s profile quickly ascended, not only in Africa, India, and Asia, but in the United States. “I think it’s been the most important thing that’s happened demographically to Colby in the last probably thirty years, alongside the changes that have come by diversifying the domestic populations,” said President William D. Adams.