Monthly Archives: May 2011

An American Dream, or a Mirage? Top Colleges Overlook Low-Income Students

Anthony Marx, former President of Amherst College (soon to be head of the New York Public Library), raises the question of how meritocratic American elite colleges are (not very) and at what cost (high). See the complete NYT article here.

Marx worked for seven years at Amherst to try to recruit more low- and middle-class income students with some progress, yet worries, “the progress has the potential to distract people from how troubling the situation remains.”

How meritocratic?

“We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent,” Mr. Marx says. “Yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”

And the cost?

The truth is that many of the most capable low- and middle-income students attend community colleges or less selective four-year colleges close to their home. Doing so makes them less likely to graduate from college at all, research has shown. Incredibly, only 44 percent of low-income high school seniors with high standardized test scores enroll in a four-year college, according to a Century Foundation report — compared with about 50 percent of high-income seniors who have average test scores.

“The extent of wasted human capital,” wrote the report’s authors, Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl, “is phenomenal.”

The NYT article lists the efforts Amherst made, some modeled after University of California campuses at Berkeley, LA, and San Diego, and why:

Attracting the best of the best — not just the best of the affluent — and letting them learn from one another is the whole point of a place like Amherst.

“We did this for educational reasons,” Mr. Marx says. “We aim to be the most diverse college in the country — and the most selective.”


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6 Career Secrets from Johnny Bunko (and Daniel Pink)

Over lunch with another parent a couple of years ago, I happened to mention that our three children (aka the Mod Squad) were all interested in high-unemployment careers:  jazz musician, musical theatre actress, and sports broadcaster.

SJohnny Bunkohe said, “You need to read Johnny Bunko.” She was right.

Presented in manga form, written by Daniel H. Pink, the full title is The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: the last career guide you’ll ever need.

Briefly, Johnny Bunko is a nice enough guy who did what everyone (parents, teachers, counselors) told him to do. Now he’s stuck in a dead-end job, making mistakes, hating his life, nowhere near what he would love to be doing.

Fortunately, through magic chopsticks (you have to read it), he meets Diana, who helps walk him through career moves toward work that he loves. He has to work toward his end goal, and each of Diana’s lessons helps him surmount another career obstacle.

Here are Diana’s Daniel Pink’s Career Secrets:

1.  There is no plan.
2.  Think strengths, not weaknesses.
3.  It’s not about you.
4.  Persistence trumps talent.
5.  Make excellent mistakes.
6.  Leave an imprint.

Everybody in the house read it. (1. Anyone here, while eating, will look at any reading material left on the kitchen table, and 2. It helps that it looks like a comic book.) The art by Rob Ten Pas is excellent. While the storyline involves business assignments in accounting and marketing, the graphics make it easy to understand for young readers.

Title:  The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: the last career guide you’ll ever need.

Recommend? Absolutely. We’ve given this to all ages.

Stars (out of 5):  5


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Many called, few chosen by top universities

Many called, few chosen by top universities –

From Bloomberg News, via

A quick look at the math: millions of high school students — sophomores and juniors in our local high schools — take the PSAT. The College Board and ACT, Inc. sell their contact information (at $0.33 per), along with details on scores and interests, to colleges.

The colleges develop attractive direct mail and email campaigns to entice those students to apply (at  $45 – $90/application), receiving millions in application fees, and accepting less than 10% of the applicants (for the highly selective schools).

Here’s the student perspective:

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, someone is interested in me,’ ’’ Ederer said. “They attract you with an e-mail and a few pamphlets and big envelopes filled with a ton of information and make you want to go to that school, and they don’t accept you.’’

Here’s the perspective from Christoph Guttentag, dean of admissions at Duke University:

“We don’t want to lead a student on,’’ Guttentag said. “Nobody does it perfectly. It’s not unlike being contacted by a search firm and being asked to apply for a job that you don’t get.’’

Finally, credit to Yale (7.4% admitted this year) for scaling back mailings by a third since 2005. According to Jeffrey Brenzel, their dean of undergraduate admissions:

“If a student has only the most remote chance in admission, I feel it’s inappropriate to try to persuade a student to send an application,’’ Brenzel said.

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4 Secrets from How to Make Colleges Want You

Some years back we watched “21”, the movie made from the book about the MIT students who learned a card counting system to beat Vegas at blackjack. The main character is one of many superstar students applying for a joint MIT/Harvard School of Public Health program. As I remember (weasel phrase if you ever heard one), he learns the blackjack system so he can stand out from all the other Woebegone Kids applying.

Mod Squad Pete, then in 8th grade, asked a few days later, “What can I do to stand out?”

I mentioned his question to my sister (HS guidance counselor in Midwest). A few days later, when she ran across this book, she sent me a link. I ordered it: our first college book purchase.

How to Make Colleges Want YouThis is one of the few college books that he read. At least, I thought he read it until I looked it up to write about and found a bookmark a third of the way through.

Nonetheless, this is one that he was, at least, sort of, interested in.

Quick synopsis:  author Mike Moyer was not a SuperKid in high school, but he figured out how to make himself stand out to colleges and he will share his tips with you. Among them are these four:

  1. Present the diversity a college needs. (Takes research to find out who needs you.)
  2. Get noticed with Non-Teenager Activities. (He raised homing pigeons, demonstrated their skills to admissions officers.)
  3. Break out of the expected ‘Zone’. (The Zone could be geographic, demographic, etc.)
  4. Strike the college’s ‘Nerve.’ (As much as they want diversity, they still need to know you will fit in.)

Title:  How to Make Colleges Want You:  Insider Secrets for Tipping the Admissions Odds in Your Favor

Recommend? It’s a bit of a hoot for the student to read. A fun place to begin.

Stars (out of five):  3

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Counting down to college.

So it begins. A year from now, in May 2012, our oldest child will commit to a college.

Of course, that presupposes he will be accepted into at least one college of his choice. Which presupposes he will meet the deadlines, complete all the applications, request the recommendation letters, write the essays, and actually pick which schools.

This journey truly began some time ago. Were we thinking about this during the Saskatoon Montessori preschool visit in 1997? Probably not, but in 2004-5 when we anticipated moving from Canada back to the States, a ‘college town’ topped our list of relocation requirements.

We found a new home in central Virginia, ten minutes from one of the top public universities. And we started stopping by campuses on most every road trip.

Five years later, the tall son (aka Mod Squad Pete) turned to me and said, “I feel like we’ve been looking at colleges for a long time, but now it’s serious.”

Here we go.


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