Monthly Archives: September 2011

College at a Discount, part two.


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A couple of weeks back, National Louis University of Chicago offered the first coupon for college, via Groupon. See the story here. While many — or most — colleges provide a discounted tuition offering grants and loans through financial aid letters sent with an acceptance, it’s rare that a prospective student catches a glimpse of the actual discount prior to application.

Seton Hall University, a private Catholic university in New Jersey, stepped into more transparent territory in college discounting this week, offering a specific cut off the top for their best applicants. See the New York Times article, College Offers Top Applicants Two-Thirds Off..

“The primary motivation has been that as we go through what looks like a double-dip recession, we wanted to help our students,” Seton Hall’s president, Gabriel Esteban, said of the new approach. But in addition, he said, “it probably will help us in attracting a certain quality of students.”

To qualify for the discount, which would equal about two-thirds of this year’s $31,440 tuition (room, board and other fees add about $13,000 to the total annual bill), students must graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes and have a combined score of at least 1,200 on their math and reading SATs — but no less than 550 on either — or an ACT score of 27 or above.

See the NYT College Admissions blog, The Choice, for discussion of Seton Hall’s move. Comments on this post mention a number of other schools offering merit-based aid, but few that cut tuition to this extent.

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Homework: ‘Beyond Getting In’ at The Atlantic

Pardon us while the DrStrangeCollege household focuses on all the bits and pieces of applying to college via Early Action. Yes, I just wrote about the FIVE steps to applying to college, and sometime soon I may write the more detailed version, spelling out 127 steps.

Meanwhile, I would urge you to run, not walk, over to The Atlantic, to read their Special Report on College Admissions,  ‘Beyond Getting In.’

For example, see ten charts about the value of college here.

Read The Atlantic‘s take on the millions of bits written about the rankings:

The bottom line is that college rankings aren’t the monster here.They’re gnats on the back of a monster. After all, if you pay attention to college rankings, you’re already doing something rare. You’re caring enough about college to consult a ranking!
That makes you pretty elite, from the start. Thirty percent of 18-year olds don’t graduate from high school on time. Of those who graduate, half will drop of out of college. Of those who enroll, only nine percent will start at an institution that admits less than half its applicants. Only three percent will attend a school with an admission rate below one-third. The admissions rate at Harvard is six percent.

There is the US News ranking problem. And there is a college crisis. There’s a big difference. Here is the breakdown of 21-year olds in 2009. Sixty percent aren’t in college. Twenty percent didn’t graduate from high school. One percent is going to the kind of schools that make headlines in rankings.

Why is college so expensive? The former President of George Washington University, who nearly tripled tuition during his twenty years there, discusses the costs here and  here.

From The Atlantic.

And what about a nutrition-style fact box for each college? Click on the chart for that post.

More articles have been posted each day; there are nine so far and all of them, at the very least, informative. Most of them thought-provoking. Let me know what you think in comments.

Addendum: Thanks to @ksaedconsult, the Twitter feed for Kimberly Shepherd at KSA Educational Consulting, for calling my attention to the series.

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: The College Rankings, Redux.

Recent news from the college search / admissions / finance front.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the soon-to-be-published 2012 Best College Rankings from US News & World Report. It was long and a bit ranty, but it can be found here.
Here are a few follow up (post-publication) articles and one excellent article from last February that I’d completely forgotten about…
1.  Inside Higher Ed reported on a meeting held with US News & World Report in ‘Thanks, but No Thanks.’ A committee of the NACAC [National Association of College Admission Counseling] looked at the way USN&WR composes its annual rankings, didn’t like it, discussed it with the publisher, and nothing about it is going to change, “regardless of how admissions counselors and higher education admissions officers feel about them.”

“The committee believes that the research and discussion about the imprecision of ordinal rankings in the ‘Best Colleges’ list has reached a point where not proactively acknowledging the limitations of the ranking formula through vigorous consumer education and flexible ‘ranking’ options risks misleading consumers and has compromised the journalistic integrity of the publication,” the report states.

Here’s the position from Robert Morse, who oversees the rankings:

As long as colleges and universities continue to weight test scores and class ranking as a crucial component of admissions criteria, Morse said, it is hypocritical for institutions to ask U.S. News not to do the same.

2. The New York Times blog on college admissions, The Choice: writes about the rankings and provides advice on how to use them.

The fact is that however much the rankings are wrapped in a gauze of science, there are any number of subjective judgements at play here, including the assembly of an “undergraduate academic reputation (100=highest)” and the various weights apportioned to students’ SAT and ACT scores, as well as rankings for institutions’ “financial resources,” “alumni giving” and even “average alumni giving rate.”

3.  Lynn O’Shaughnessy, who blogs at The College Solution, likens the rankings to a ‘Weird Beauty Contest.’

Every year, the magazine sends out three surveys to each institution in a particular category, such as national universities or liberal arts colleges. Three administrators in the office of the president, admissions and provost are supposed to fill out the surveys. The folks stuck with this chore are expected to grade each of their peers on a 1-to-5 scale. The best score is a 5 and the worst is a 1.

Any guess which schools get a heap of 5 scores?’ Beyond the automatic high scores of some schools and the crappy scores of others, what has always irked me is that universities and colleges are supposed to know what’s going on at their “peer” institutions and that’s impossible. You can’t tell me, for instance, that administrators at the University of Wisconsin can assess the academic quality of hundreds of its peers including Georgia State, University of Missouri, University of Chicago, Rutgers, MIT, San Diego State and the College of William & Mary.

4.  Given 1) that colleges doing well in the rankings have bragging rights; 2) want to publicize their ranking; 3) US News & World Report makes a lot of money from the published rankings; and  4) has a commodity to protect, we shouldn’t be surprised at the income USN&WR gains from the ‘Best Colleges’ badges shown on college websites. See Best Colleges Badge: We Sustain Its Existence, from Inside Higher Ed.

However, a recent discussion on a higher education web developers listserv reinforced the fact that some still find the “badge” to be valuable. In fact, due to the exorbitant fees that U.S. News charges to display the “best badge,” some schools have gotten creative with their web marketing. Instead of paying the $1,000 cost (web use only, 12 months) to display the award badge, some higher education web developers display a graphic of the cover of the U.S. News magazine as a way to indicate their ranking status. By the way, the cost for unlimited electronic use of the best badge for only a year is $5,500. Imagine if a majority of the 1,600 schools in the U.S. News rankings list paid for either the limited web use or even the unlimited option. It is potentially a multi-million dollar operation.

Malcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2008 confe...

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5.  Finally, last February the New Yorker published Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis of the Best Colleges rankings. Gladwell offers the analogy of ranking automobiles and shows how different choices, by necessity, build different ‘best’ lists. Yes, a Dodge could be better than a Ferrari, depending upon the criteria used. Unfortunately, the online article is behind the New Yorker‘s paywall. Here’s a link to the abstract. If you’re not a subscriber, this entertaining read is well worth looking up at your library.

What have you been reading? What do you think of the rankings? As always, please comment below…

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How to Apply to College in 5 Steps.

1. Pick your college(s). Use one of the many college search sites available [see CollegeBoard, CollegeData, College Navigator, Unigo, for a start] and develop your own criteria (size, public/private, geographic location, type of setting, selectivity, etc.). Research further on each of your long-list colleges’ admissions pages. Whittle down to a short list that includes a couple of safety schools, a few good fits, and a reach college or two.
2. Visit the colleges on your list, if at all possible. For those you cannot visit, check their websites for virtual tours.
3. Revise your list. Steps #1 and #2 might need to be repeated a number of times.
4. Pick the type of application you will submit to each college and when: Rolling Admissions, Early Decision, Early Action, Early Action/Restricted, or Regular Admission.
5. Write the application(s) and submit with all accompanying materials by the appropriate deadline.

Some students may be able to follow these steps with minimal stress. If so, I would love to hear how they did it.

I would probably (lovingly) share their stories with Mod Squad Pete (who re-revised his Early Action list five days ago).

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: Show Me The Money!

Recent news from the college search / admissions / finance front, all of it touching on money matters and some of it, all about money matters…

1.  Two academicians write in the Wall Street Journal about how parents should Get Smart About College, including recognizing their own biases. This is definitely worth reading and they make a number of good points. Unfortunately, their arguments about the ability of graduates to pay off debt need to be stacked up against another report from the WSJ this week (see #2 below).

The way people think about debt, for instance, may leave them borrowing too little, rather than the right amount. Or it could lead them to pick colleges where they have a worse chance of graduating. …

… If parents understand more about the decision biases they share with the rest of the human race, they may be able to plan and save more effectively and to help their children make more constructive choices. They should actively question all of their assumptions and be open to planning, choosing and supporting their children even in ways that don’t immediately feel “right”—like taking on more debt for a higher-tier school.

2.  Thanks to a tweet from Robert Bruner, Dean of the UVa Darden School of Business, here is a chart from the WSJ‘s Real Time Economics, showing new data from the Census Bureau and the average wages growth over the past 10 years. :

Click to enlarge.

Seal of the United States Census Bureau. The b...

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3.  What does that Census Bureau data mean for college grads? Jeffrey Selingo writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education about ‘the lost decade of wages.’ Yes, it confirms that a college degree can provide ‘lifetime economic benefits,’ but the article also discusses the anger of college graduates who cannot find jobs. See this about college costs relative to household income:

Perhaps the number that should be most disturbing to colleges in the Census report is that the income of the typical American family has dropped for the third year in a row and is now roughly where it was in 1996, when adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, the inflation-adjusted price of a public four-year colleges is about 1.8 times what it was in 1996.

Rising family wealth during the 2000s, helped greatly by inflated home prices, allowed colleges to continue to pump up their prices. The census numbers and the nonstop bad news on housing show those days are over. Add to that the fact that there are likely to be substantial cuts in federal student aid in the name of deficit reduction in the coming years.

And, for a glimpse of how aware college board members might be of the problem:

A higher-education admissions and marketing consultant who specializes in the private-college sector told me recently that his firm does many retreats for trustees and senior college leaders that in part highlight the average household income for the state where the college is located.

“The wealthy board members are very surprised and cabinets [of college leaders] are silently reflective and nod in agreement,” he told me. He always asks the college officials if they could afford their prices if they didn’t get the tuition remission. “Almost always they say no.”

4.  Meanwhile, has anyone been following the discussion of forgiving student debt as a way of boosting the economy? I haven’t, simply because of lack of time to pay attention to every darn thing. This from the WSJ‘s Idea Market crossed my desk today: Forgiving Student Loans: Worst Stimulus Idea Ever? That’s a very short piece, responding to a Freakonomics contributor’s assertion that it’s a terrible idea. It will only take a moment to read the post; further enlightenment on the impact of student debt on the lives of college grads, however, can be found by scanning the comments in response (50 at last count).

5.  Finally, to quote a friend: “File this one under, Duh!” Inside Higher Education just released their study of admissions practices and found that universities are more focused on finding students who can pay the full, non-discounted tuition and fees. Here’s the article, and here are a couple of paragraphs:

The pressure to add to tuition revenue also shows up in very high proportions of admissions directors who see recruiting more out-of-state students as an important admissions strategy (53 percent at public doctoral institutions and master’s institutions). Likewise, more than 30 percent of admissions directors across all four-year institutions said that recruiting more international students was an important admissions strategy. While some state universities have had success over the years at attracting out-of-state students, many experts warn that this isn’t a strategy that can be carried out instantly — and that not every state university is seen by 18-year-olds nationwide as a desirable location.

Lucido says it is important for colleges to be honest about their motivations for going for more out-of-state or international students. In many cases, he says, “this isn’t about globalization or increased educational diversity. They need the money.” He praises the University of California System (a system that could have tremendous diversity within its own state) for being forthright about this motive, but says that many others are not. (Very few colleges, even among the minority of institutions that meet the full need of admitted applicants, extend that policy to international students, so recruiting outside the United States frequently focuses on those with the means to pay.)

We looked at this same issue with Virginia public universities here, when one legislator argued our state schools should admit more in-state students at the same time the legislation continues to cut public funding.

6.  Finally, finally, in breaking news:  UVa announced today the University will offer a four year program providing students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years and a master’s degree in the fourth. Here’s the news blurb. Here’s the UVa website on 3+1. The money connection:  a traditional five year program for the cost of four. Of course, it also helps keep students on campus for four years instead of three or three and a half, after entering with a number of college credits from high school. Win/win?

Any thoughts? What have you been reading? As always, your comments are welcome…

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Monday is Fun Day…

Today’s view from my window is a drab, grey day. Add to that:  All I could think about much of the past weekend was whether it was a bigger drag to be a high school senior (like Mod Squad Pete) or the parent of a high school senior (like, umm, me).

Pete had a long list of tasks:

  1. homework for a full college-prep course load (interim grades will be reported in the next week or two),
  2. his standard extracurricular load of [mostly] sports and music, including practices, lessons, concerts, and games,
  3. a list of household chores (which includes doing his own laundry and driving siblings to some of their activities),
  4. selling ads for journalism class (with friends, so this might have been a fun thing),
  5. meeting up with a study group (also counts as socializing, right?),
  6. and, the ever-present list of tasks related to getting into college (way too long to list here, but this will give you an idea).

Last week offered up a true highlight:  his jazz vocal group CD was launched — great music, great launch party, everyone is happy with the product (including Pete’s product and brochure design).

But for the most part, there’s no getting away from the list, nor the attention of his parents. And that, upon occasion, wears me out, too.

Image representing Sporcle as depicted in Crun...

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So, forget the latest college news for now. I’ll get to that another day.

For your entertainment:

  • A highly appropriate Sporcle quiz (and if you have not yet met Sporcle and its “mentally stimulating diversions,” feel free to thank me for the time-sink).
  • Followed by a YouTube tribute to Pete’s favorite saying when I succumb to the stress: “Mom. You are freaking out.”

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: 5 Stories.

News from the college search / admissions / finance front.

1.  Each day this week, Jacques Steinberg‘s NYT education blog, The Choice, is featuring questions from HS students and their parents answered by the authors of College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step. Great Q&A so far, with more to come.

The Choice has lined up the authors of a new book — which bills itself as “the ultimate user’s manual” for college applicants, and loosely follows, as its model, the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series — to field questions about what high school seniors and juniors (and their parents) should be doing now on the college admissions front.

2.  How financially-literate are college freshman? How do they react when they are target-marketed by their own college and their own peers? See this article from the NYT about the marketing partnerships colleges are embracing (UNC busing new students to shopping parties at Target) and the ones that surprise them (American Eagle Outfitters-paid students helping new students on move-in day).

The lines aren’t always clear. U.N.C. officials, for example, say they don’t currently have a clear handle on how many students work as brand ambassadors — but it could be several hundred or more. “I don’t think we have a good grip on it,” Mr. Crisp says. “We are going to need to get a good grip on it.”

He is blunt about the fact that student-to-student marketing has only recently come to the school’s attention. Asked how U.N.C. is handling it, he acknowledges, “Honestly, not very well.”

The challenge, he says, is to balance potential student employment opportunities against practices that could manipulate undergraduates or dilute the U.N.C. experience.

3.  USA Today’s College blog offers five steps for figuring out your college application list.

In addition to winnowing down the list, wise high schoolers must divide their application choices into three categories: reach (a category that includes schools whose admission standards are a bit higher than the student’s record, but a place where they would be thrilled to attend), match (schools where the standards are nearly perfectly aligned with the student’s academic record and where they would be happy as a student) and safety (less-competitive institutions where, if applications to the other two categories fail to produce an admission, a student is pretty much guaranteed to be accepted and will feel at home).

4.  Here’s a piece from GOOD on why textbooks are so expensive, noting students protested in 1939 when textbook prices rose to $3, and providing a look at the textbook publishing business model.

Ultimately what frustrates Weil about the debate over the cost of textbooks is that government  officials complain in public about the issue, but then they’ll turn around and vote for or authorize cuts to higher education.“At the end of the day,” he says, “how disingenuous are these folks when they say they’re concerned about students and debt?”

5.  Finally, here’s a reward for sticking around. Just when I found myself fed up with whatever college or college-business related stories I was reading last weekend, I chanced upon this long, provocative, thoughtful piece by Mark Edmundson:  Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here? Edmundson, an English Professor at UVa, takes on the purpose of a college education:

So, if you want an education, the odds aren’t with you: The professors are off doing what they call their own work; the other students, who’ve doped out the way the place runs, are busy leaving the professors alone and getting themselves in position for bright and shining futures; the student-services people are trying to keep everyone content, offering plenty of entertainment and building another state-of-the-art workout facility every few months. The development office is already scanning you for future donations. The primary function of Yale University, it’s recently been said, is to create prosperous alumni so as to enrich Yale University.

But then again,

Education is about finding out what form of work for you is close to being play—work you do so easily that it restores you as you go. Randall Jarrell once said that if he were a rich man, he would pay money to teach poetry to students. (I would, too, for what it’s worth.) In saying that, he (like my father) hinted in the direction of a profound and true theory of learning.

Thanks, prof, for reminding me of what we hope our students may find for themselves — not the doping out the way the place runs, but finding a life’s work that is such a passion it’s close to being play.

What have you been reading? Any comments, please add them below.

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