Eureka College: Ronald Reagan’s Alma Mater

Eureka is a small residential liberal arts college in north central Illinois. The 112-acre campus is located about 20 minutes east of the Peoria metropolitan area and 2 hours southwest of Chicago. The college setting is lovely with its rolling green lawn, lush trees, and Georgian-style red brick buildings with white framed windows and ivy-covered walls. Two of the college buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Eureka is one of the towns along the Ronald Reagan Trail, a series of roads that connect places in northern Illinois that were of importance to Reagan’s early life.

Before Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood film star, Governor of California, and President of the United States, he was a student at Eureka College. Reagan enrolled on a Needy Student Scholarship in 1928 and graduated in 1932 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Among more than 4,200 American institutions of higher learning today, only 22 can claim to have given a future U.S. President an undergraduate diploma. Throughout his career, Reagan maintained a lifelong relationship with the college. Other notable Eureka alumni include Neil Reagan (the brother of Eureka’s most prominent alumnus), forty-two college and university presidents, seven governors, and members of Congress.

The college, originally named the Walnut Grove Academy, was founded in 1848 by a group of abolitionists who had left Kentucky because of their opposition to slavery. It was the first school in Illinois (and only the third in the United States) to educate women on an equal basis with men. Eureka College was chartered in 1855, and is affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Eureka offers four-year, full-tuition scholarships to students interested in pursuing ministry in the Disciples of Christ. Eureka also welcomes students of all backgrounds and faiths. Its stated core values are learning, service, and leadership.

A strong sense of community – along with some of the finest, dedicated, caring individuals – has helped make Eureka one of the best and safest campuses in the nation. The Eureka faculty excels at scholarship, teaching, and mentoring students. Three of every four faculty members have the highest degrees in their fields. The student-to-faculty ratio is 13:1, with many classes smaller. The structure of the curriculum places a strong focus on the mutual development of intellect and character. With small classes, excellent academics, a close-knit community, and a rich heritage and tradition, Eureka offers an environment that you won’t find on many other college campuses.

Currently, just under 800 students are enrolled in Eureka College. Most of the student body comes from the state of Illinois, while some students are from other states and countries. In the U.S. News and World Report 2010, Eureka was ranked as a Tier 1 Midwest Regional College. (“Regional college” refers to smaller institutions that draw most of their students from the surrounding area.) U.S. News has also consistently ranked Eureka as the #1 Value in the Midwest Great Schools/Great Prices category. Eureka is one of just 58 colleges profiled in the highly selective National Review College Guide: America’s Top Liberal Arts Schools.

Eureka offers a classical liberal arts education with 30 degree programs and pre-professional programs. Majors and minors include: Accounting, Art, Biology, Business Administration, Chemistry, Communication, Computer Studies, Criminal Justice, Economics, Elementary Education, English, Environmental Studies, History, Political Science, Kinesiology, Mathematics, Music, Music Education, Organizational Leadership, Philosophy and Religion, Physical Education, Psychology, Secondary Education, Sociology, Spanish, Special Education, Technology Applications, Theatre Arts, and Drama. Pre-professional programs include: Art Therapy, Pre-Actuarial, Pre-Dentistry, Pre-Law, Pre-Medicine, Pre-Ministry, Pre-Music Therapy, Pre-Nursing, and Pre-Veterinary.

The academic program at Eureka College seeks to maintain a balance between requirements which all students must meet, and freedom for each student to select those courses which will best match and further one’s own interests, skills, and life plan. All Eureka students are required to acquire and demonstrate skills in composition and mathematics. The college also requires each student to study natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, fine and performing arts. These requirements ensure that every student will have the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and become a well-rounded person while exploring common cultural heritage. Eureka students also have an opportunity to study off-campus through programs in countries around the globe.

Eureka College boasts that its historic commitment to small enrollment gives every student a unique opportunity to participate in campus activities, building confidence and leadership skills. The college encourages personal development socially, interpersonally, and morally through student engagement. The Student Activities Office at Eureka strives to promote co-curricular involvement in organizations and activities both on and off campus, in order to cultivate holistic student growth and in turn support the mission of Eureka College. With more than 40 clubs and activities to choose from, extra-curricular life at Eureka is active and diverse.

Ronald Reagan’s four years at Eureka are a testimony to the principles of initiative and involvement in college life. He was a Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity member, yearbook feature editor, and Boosters Club president. He played football, was the leading swimmer, ran on the track team, and was a basketball cheerleader. He appeared in 14 plays, served two years in the Student Senate, and in his senior year was elected Student Body President. Reagan admitted later in life that he might have been accused of majoring in extracurricular activities! All this time he was also working in the dining hall on campus. And yet long after Reagan had graduated from Eureka with an economics degree, his presidential advisors were impressed by his grasp of economic theories.

A member of the NCAA Division III, Eureka College sponsors the following teams for intercollegiate competition: men’s and women’s soccer, basketball, tennis, swimming/ diving, golf, cross-country, track and field, men’s football and baseball, and women’s volleyball and softball. The new Bonati Fitness Center, part of the Reagan Physical Education Center, features state-of-the-art equipment for fun and effective exercise options. In addition to the Fitness Center, the Reagan Center houses the Gymnasium and Aquatic Center. The Reagan Aquatic Center is home to the Red Devil Swim Teams, and it also provides recreational opportunities for the campus and the greater community.

Ronald Reagan visited the Eureka College campus many times as an alumnus, trustee, Honorary Doctor, governor, and President of the United States. This relationship is documented in many linear feet of college records, published materials, photos, and videos held by the Eureka College archives. These collections are organized into three main groups: Textual Materials, Photographs and Media, and Museum Artifacts. In 2011, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Reagan’s birth, Eureka College dedicated the Reagan Research Center and Archives within the Melick Library on campus. Funded by Mark R. Shenkman, a member of the Ronald Reagan Society at Eureka College, the goal of the center is to acquire and house every book and doctoral dissertation ever written about Ronald Reagan as a resource for students, scholars, and the public.

Eureka College is also home to the Ronald W. Reagan Museum, located within the Donald B. Cerf Center. The museum contains a collection of over 2,000 items largely donated by Reagan himself. The objects and documents are arranged to highlight Ronald Reagan’s accomplishments throughout his lifetime: his student days at Eureka, his movie and television career, his eight years as Governor of California, his campaign for presidency, and his two terms in office. Quotes on the walls in maroon and gold (Eureka College colors) are taken directly from President Reagan. This museum is the largest collection of Reagan memorabilia in the world outside of the Reagan Presidential Library in California. Admission is free and it’s open to the general public.

The Ronald Reagan Peace Garden at Eureka College is another tourist attraction on campus. The garden was created in honor of a speech that President Reagan made at Eureka College on May 9, 1982. Some people consider his address one of the first steps toward the end of the Cold War. To commemorate President Reagan’s commitment to world peace, the college dedicated the Ronald Reagan Peace Garden on the 18th anniversary of what is known as “The Eureka Speech.” The Peace Garden includes a bust of Ronald Reagan, and a large section of the Berlin Wall that was gifted to the school in 2000 by the Federal Republic of Germany.

The Reagan Leadership Program at Eureka College is a highly competitive undergraduate scholars program, offering distinctive co-curricular opportunities and full-tuition scholarships. The Ronald Reagan Leadership Fellows Award is given to incoming freshmen based on leadership, service, and academic excellence. Joanna Guevara of Rockford, Illinois, won the award in 2012. Guevara graduated from Hillside Christian Home School, where she was a member of the Homeschoolers Impacting Society organization and the National High School Model United Nations team. She has also been involved in other activities such as helping to lead youth events at church, performing in dance activities and musical theater productions through Christian Youth Theater, and participating in the Reading Buddy program at the local public library. Guevara plans to major in theater arts and drama with certification in secondary education.

Eureka provides a private college education at an affordable price. While ninety percent of Eureka students qualify for financial aid, the college is trying to get away from the vicious cycle of need-based aid by lowering the tuition. Unfortunately, the college simply cannot accommodate everyone and entrance is limited, but Donna Neff (Admissions Specialist) says, “Eureka College does welcome homeschool graduates. They need to follow the same admission standards and procedures as High School graduates. The secondary school report may be filled out by a parent as they do not have a high school guidance counselor.” Applicants must submit ACT and/or SAT results, and if you have earned fewer than 30 transferable semester hours, you must submit your high school transcripts. Homeschoolers will need to list their 7th/8th semester high school curriculum on the Secondary School Report if it is not included on the transcript.

For more information about Eureka College, visit

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