While other colleges brag about their high U.S. News rankings or rising SAT scores, Villa Julie College seems proudest of the 99 percent employment rate of its graduating seniors.
Let others talk of how many states and countries their students come from - Villa Julie is happy that almost all its 2,000 students are from Maryland, and stay here when they graduate.
And don't expect great pride in prestigious prep schools attended by incoming freshmen; Villa Julie boasts that most of its students come from public schools.
"There's not a lot of posturing at Villa Julie," says Robert Funk, who was the school's interim president for a year until last summer.
Indeed, there's a no-nonsense attitude on this campus nestled amid the mansions of Greenspring Valley north of the Beltway. Despite the bucolic setting, you don't find students coming here to contemplate their navels, or see how many beer cans they can stack in a pyramid. You find friendly young people trying to improve their position in life.
"Anybody can take someone with a 4.0 average and 1,600 SATs and make them a success," says Orsia F. Young, the college's head of development. "The question is what do you offer students who score 1,000 and maybe had a bit of trouble in high school? We graduate them into jobs paying $41,000 or $42,000 a year."
At Villa Julie courses such as nursing, education, computer science and paralegal studies are well-entrenched. It's a major in English that's new and considered a bit experimental.
"If you look at the earliest schools in this country, like Harvard," says Villa Julie's new president, Kevin J. Manning, "they were either preparing people for the ministry or educating them to take over the affairs of their prosperous families. They were providing a solid program that would prepare people for the world of work. What we do has always been true of higher education."
Manning, 55, will be inaugurated next week as Villa Julie's fourth president in its 53 years, but he really is only the second permanent leader of this school as presently constituted. He follows Carolyn S. Manuszak who spent three decades taking Villa Julie from a two-year all-female secretarial school to a four-year co-ed college.
"A great many of the students there are first-generation college students, so there is perhaps more of an interest in vocational outcomes than you would find in some other institutions," says Funk, now interim president at Hood College.
Nicole Edmonds is an example. She graduated from the Baltimore School for the Arts but was not sure her singing voice would lead to steady employment.
Edmonds, a senior, says she knew she wanted to study computer systems. When she learned that 97 percent of Villa Julie's computer information system majors had lined up jobs by graduation, with annual salaries around $35,000, "I was really impressed," she said.
Last year, Edmonds started a computer job in a co-op program - work, get paid and get college credit. It turned into a full-time job this year, but she still takes a full course load.
Like many students, Edmonds said once she saw Villa Julie, she applied nowhere else. The school clearly strikes a chord with a certain kind of student. These are people who don't mind living at home - Villa Julie is almost completely a commuter campus - who don't go to college for a coming-of-age experience.
"I know that if I had lived in dormitories, I might have gotten into trouble," Edmonds says. "I'm here to work and to learn, to find a profession and make a better life for me."
Development director Young considers herself a typical Villa Julie story. Reluctant to attend any college after graduating from Perry Hall High School in the 1970s, she agreed to go to Villa Julie, then a two-year school, in its paralegal program. She became interested in the law, transferred to what is now Towson University and got a law degree from the University of Baltimore. She practiced law before returning to Villa Julie 12 years ago.
As the school's fund-raiser, she says she finds most support among the local business community, which employs Villa Julie graduates.
"More than one person in the business community says, `Villa Julie gets it,'" she says. "We don't get those big donations from our alumni because they don't tend to be hugely wealthy. They are the worker bees, not the CEOs."
When it was founded in 1947 by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur - it gets its name from Julie Billiart, the woman who founded the order in the 18th century - the school's original mission was to educate medical secretaries.
Manuszak is credited with saving Villa Julie after she took over in 1966 when it was still a two-year college for women. The school severed its ties to the order the next year.
"Many, many institutions like Villa Julie - two-year, single-sex - closed in the 1960s and 1970s," Manning says.