Monthly Archives: June 2012

Watching your college implode.

Daily Progress, June 26th.

Last fall when the stories from Penn State kept getting worse instead of better, I wondered about the thousands of families involved, from the center of firestorm (victims, witnesses, coaches, and administrators who seemed to allow Sandusky free rein), to those rapidly engulfed (athletes, other coaches, faculty, students — well, the entire University including its vast numbers of alumni), to those a few steps further away.

Given our household situation, with a high school senior working on college applications, I also thought about those seniors whose hopes were to move to Happy Valley in August 2012. What were they thinking about their dream school?

While Pennsylvania has been dealing with the ugly details of the Sandusky trial, our state — and college of choice — plowed into its own disaster on June 10th. Two weeks later, we’re still in the midst of that train wreck.

If you’ve not seen the story, here’s a very brief description.

On Friday, June 8th, the Rector and Vice-Rector (aka chair and vice-chair) of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors stopped by the President’s office on a day’s notice to inform President Teresa Sullivan they had the majority vote of the sixteen-member board to fire her. They demanded her resignation to avoid a public dispute.

This brief meeting took place…

  • after months of private discussions and emails between very few Board members at a time to avoid the legalities regarding public meetings,
  • after corresponding, as well, with a short list of very well-heeled alumni,
  • in the absence of any public- or closed-meeting job review process,
  • without a full meeting of the Board of Visitors,
  • less than two years into President Sullivan’s five year contract, and
  • not insignificantly, after students and much of the faculty had vacated the Grounds for summer.

On Sunday, June 10th the Rector sent an email to the University community announcing an emergency meeting of the Board of Visitors that very day to accept President Sullivan’s letter of resignation, after a “unanimous vote”.

Later that same day an email leaked from the President of the Darden School Foundation — note that this Darden alum was not on the UVa Board of Visitors, but was a potential appointee by the Governor as of July 1st. His private email, accidentally sent far and wide (including, it has been said, to President Sullivan) by that tricky “reply all” option, provided a first glimpse of the scene behind the curtain.

Since then, I’ve updated a draft of this post a number of times but, frankly, while I could keep up with the story, the incredible clusterfutz kept moving too quickly for me to write about it. I was grateful to read a couple of local journalists, covering it full time, write that they couldn’t keep up with the story themselves.

The saga has been covered by national news (NYT, WSJ, USA Today, etc.) as well as the higher ed publications (Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle of Higher Education); you can find plenty of stories at each of those publications.

From the local Charlottesville perspective, there are a number of helpful sites. Here are just two:  One of our local weeklies, The Hook, published Sullivan Oustermath: A timeline of UVA in tumult yesterday, with links to a number of articles. Local blogger (also White House Fellow and transparency-in-government activist) Waldo Jacquith has written much (and very well) about it; this link shows the Sullivan related articles.

From the University perspective, the UVa Faculty Senate website provides a great number of documents and links.

The UVa student newspaper, the Daily Cavalier, deserves its own shout-out. While the local, state, and national (Washington Post) reporters were following the story, the student journalists at the Daily Cavalier were the first to file Freedom of Information Act paperwork to gain access to email files from the Rector and Vice-Rector. The students took those emails, delivered on paper rather than in digital form, and tweeted excerpts to allow another look behind the curtain at the Rector’s planned coup. Be patient if you follow the link to the paper; their servers are frequently overwhelmed.

There have been many ugly parts to this story. One of the ugliest is the misinformation published by the Rector’s side — well-heeled alumni, the major PR firm hired by the Rector and paid for by UVa — attacking President Sullivan and the University. Here are a couple of examples of that tactic:

Paul Tudor Jones is “an investor and philanthropist. UVa’s John Paul Jones Arena is named in honor of his father.” Jones published an OpEd in the Charlottesville Daily Progress on June 17th, see Aspiring to Achieve Greatness:

The recent resignation of President Terry Sullivan from the University of Virginia has created a great deal of uncertainty in the Virginia community. Change is never easy and often quite messy. But here is one thing on which you can rely. The spirit of Thomas Jefferson, the first rector of the University of Virginia, is cheering this bold action by the Board of Visitors. Jefferson was a change agent, a man of action and a perfectionist. To paraphrase him, it is time for a revolution.

Responding to the inaccuracies the following week, see UVa Admissions Critique Fails to Consider Important Context, by Greg Roberts, UVa’s Dean of Undergraduate Admission.

Given the confusion and misinformation about the role of yield in college admission, I felt it was important to provide this clarification. The Office of Undergraduate Admission is committed to excellence, integrity and the enrollment of a class the university community can be proud of.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published The Virginia Fracas, an overview of the story that was full of inaccuracies, blamed the deans and faculty, and made no mention of the Rector’s lack of due process:

What inspired this campus—not to say Greek-style—spectacle? Why, U.Va.’s trustees dared to fire a president who was working against the priorities that it is ostensibly their job to set. In a word, the convulsions of Athens and Madison have arrived in Charlottesville, writ academic: An attempt to modernize a public institution and protect taxpayers is met by a revolt on behalf of a status quo that can’t last.

That prompted the UVa Darden School of Business Dean, Robert Bruner, to respond with corrections in To Fight for the Truth:

Some of the most egregious damage to the Truth could have been avoided by simple fact-checking. The latest outrage appears on today’s editorial page of the Wall Street Journal wherein it is asserted that, “The deans of 10 of the university’s 11 schools have signed a letter for Ms. Sullivan’s reinstatement. Tellingly, the one dean who didn’t sign the letter runs Virginia’s graduate business school.” That’s dead wrong. I’m the Dean of that school and I did sign the letter. In fact, I helped to prepare it—my previous blog posting says so to the world. I agree with the Deans: President Teresa Sullivan should be reinstated. I stand together with the UVA community in protest of the deeply flawed process surrounding her dismissal. This is not what we teach at Darden. We have called continually for open dialogue among parties and transparency about decisions–and will continue to press for them. The University community deserves nothing less.

Where does that leave the University? See the photograph of this morning’s paper. Today the Board of Visitors meet to reconsider their ouster of President Sullivan. Will Sullivan be reappointed? Will the Rector be out? And, if you don’t live in Virginia, what does this matter?

Many involved in higher ed — or following higher ed — believe this is part of a much larger story related to the speed of change, the cost of a college education, and the limited funding available to our great public universities. I happen to agree with them.

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College laundry habits

In case you missed it a few days back, xkcd reports on college laundry habits for the first semester.

See the full strip here. And don’t miss using your mouse to rollover the full strip to read what happens second semester.

[Hat/tip to Robyn S for sending it my way.]

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2600 or so 4-year colleges in the US; 10 agreed to greater clarity in financial aid letters.

Last week a few colleges met with the White House to discuss financial aid award letters.

English: Al Franken, Senator from Minnesota

Minnesota Senator Al Franken. Image via Wikipedia

Representatives from ten colleges, out of the 2618 traditional four-year colleges in the US, agreed to work on their letters to provide clearer information to prospective students.

That’s a depressingly small number of colleges taking this step, but it’s a start.

Many individuals and agencies have been asking for greater clarity and transparency in financial aid award letters for some time. To name a few…

Kim Clark and Paul Jaegersen developed a website focusing on this issue three years ago, providing real examples and an excellent financial aid glossary. I wrote about it here: Grading Financial Aid Award Letters.

Last fall the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau distributed their proposal for a better format for financial aid information dubbed, Know Before You Owe. See: Homework from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

President Obama announced and supported the Know Before You Owe financial aid shopping sheet. Until his biography became a bestseller both Mr. and Mrs. Obama had significant student loan debt. From the EdWeek article by Caralee Adams, Obama Hopes Initiative Will Better Inform Student Borrowers:

“I promise you, I wish Michelle and I had had that when we were in your shoes,” said Obama, who spoke about their $120,000 in student debt that they paid off over 10 years.

The President further supported this effort in January. From Obama Outlines Details of College Affordability Proposals, written by Caralee Adams:

The administration also would like make the financial aid shopping sheet, announced in October, a requirement for all schools to make it easier for families to compare college financial aid packages.

A couple of weeks ago Minnesota Senator Al Franken and eight co-sponsors introduced legislation, “Understanding The True Cost of College Act,”  to require more clarity in financial aid award letters, requiring colleges to use a standard format to provide easier comparison of offers as well as differentiating between grants and scholarships (“free” money) and loans (repayable). See Senator Introduces Bill for Standard College-Aid Letters.

I think this is all a good thing. I’m, um — you can fill in optimistic, foolish, or naive —  enough to think this is something many people could agree upon. Clarity, transparency, consumer awareness, right? Sure there may be valid concerns about increased regulations. But balance that against ensuring prospective college students understand the details of the financial agreement they are accepting?

Of course, there are other opponents. Namely, the college financial aid officers themselves.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, NASFAA, responded to possible legislation with the following, Financial Aid Administrators Advocate Lawmakers to Resist Standardization of Award Letters:

FAAs told lawmakers that improvements to award notifications are of course desirable and a certain level of defined terminology would be welcome, but the regulation of award letters could interfere with an institution’s ability to meet the specific needs of its unique student body.

Instead, NASFAA released their suggestions for improving financial aid award letters, listing ten elements that should appear in a financial aid package. See Consistent and Clear Financial-Aid Award Letters Urged, by Caralee Adams in EdWeek.

While NASFAA recommends standardization of certain award-letter terminology and elements, it acknowledges that there needs to be some flexibility for institutions to customize communication for their own student populations.

The full report, a 15 page pdf, can be found on this page: Improving Award Letters and Consumer Information, on NASFAA’s website. A short video also presents their case; a couple of clips:

Some lawmakers contend that award letters can be difficult to understand and compare.

Our members have the best working knowledge of the student financial aid programs. Their recommendations will help maximize the effectiveness of award letters and also avoid unintended negative consequences of standardization.

I have no arguments with the recommendations made in the report. NASFAA calls for standardization of content, terminology, and definitions. I still want to see a standardized letter required. Our experience with the required net calculator indicates colleges will implement generalized requirements to very different degrees.

What’s your preference? Less regulation, let each college decide… or a standard format from all colleges so students can truly compare?

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Harumph. I looked for clarity in financial aid award letters.

This Spring our family went through our first round with college acceptances and financial aid award letters. I anticipated more structure to the entire process than we experienced.

FAFSA.ed.gov: where it all begins.

I had this preconceived notion that at the beginning of April 2012 Mod Squad Pete would actually receive a number of financial aid award letters on or about the same time he received word of any college acceptances. I saw us lining them up on the kitchen table to look at them all at once. I imagined opening up a new spreadsheet to plug in the numbers for apples to apples comparisons. I guessed that one or two colleges would share more information than the others, to help identify holes of data that needed to be researched.

Our experience wasn’t anywhere near that clean.

We received our best letter first; it was dated March 28th.

At the top of the letter, College 1 spelled out:

  • Student Cost of Attendance [COA]
  • Expected Family Contribution [EFC] from FAFSA
  • Outside Aid (includes scholarships and grants from other organizations or states)
  • Financial Need (COA less EFC less Outside Aid)

In a separate chart, under the heading “Awards”, the college listed scholastic awards, grants and loans. The college made sure the total, including loans, added up to the COA.

Why is this important? Let’s say your student applied to a college and received these numbers in the top of the letter:

  1. COA = $48,750
  2. EFC = $35,000
  3. Outside Aid = $500
  4. Financial Need = $13,250

Then let’s say separately, under Awards, the college lists the following:

  1. Founders’ Merit Scholarship = $2,000
  2. Direct Unsubsidized Loan = $2,000
  3. Parent PLUS Loan = $2,000
  4. Total Awards = $6,000

Maybe it looks good at first glance. However, while the college has identified $13,250 in need (after the family has come up with $35,000), they’ve provided $2,000 in scholarship money, proposed $4,000 in unsubsidized loans, and ignored the further need for $7,250.

The letters from College 2 and College 3 were similar to each other. Both listed the COA in tiny type, made no mention of the EFC, spelled out the offer (including grants, scholarships, and loans) and provided a total for the offer, making no reference to the EFC or comparing it to the COA.

College 4 still needed further information from us in late April when MS Pete took it off his list.

We received his last financial aid award letter (from College 3) on April 26, four days prior to National College Decision Day.

Fortunately, we had discussed the options enough by late April that we knew Pete could make his choice of college based upon his own preferences, rather than the net cost. But what about the student and family who are making the choice based upon the bottom line? What about the family that truly wishes and/or needs to make direct comparison between offers?

Here’s another description of the problem, from Inside Higher Ed, How Standardized Should Financial Award Letters Be:

“The aid is fairly standard, but it is not always displayed in the same way from letter to letter, which I think can be very confusing for all kinds of intelligent people,” said Catherine Ganung, a college counselor at the Taft School, a private high school in Connecticut, who previously worked as a financial aid director at Bates College and Hawaii Pacific University. Her students’ families are often financially savvy — many parents even work in banking — yet are flummoxed by financial aid award letters, she said.

In one case, she said, a student had letters from two private nonprofit colleges offering substantially different financial aid packages — and ended up thinking the one requiring more loans was a better choice than the alternative with lower out-of-pocket costs. “He was so swayed by the persuasiveness,” Ganung said. “It really seemed like, ‘Good news! We were able to meet your needs.’ ”

In other cases, colleges will include PLUS loans, which parents must qualify for, as guaranteed aid, or assume that students will earn their maximum allowed benefit from a work-study job, she said.

A number of people and organizations are paying attention to requiring standardized letters, and a few are opposing it — more on that to come. Our next go-round with financial award letters will be April 2014. Here’s hoping they offer more clarity by then.

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How Much Do You Owe? Doonesbury weighs in.

In case you missed it in Sunday’s paper, Garry Trudeau reports on the student loan debt and what colleges may be doing about it, including emergency job fairs offering part-time internships.

See the full strip here.

Regarding that reference to full-freight parents? Reminds me of the mentions of full-freight ability helping students vault off the wait list; this from Buying Your Way into College by Jane Kim, via Smart Money in 2009:

Middlebury College and Wake Forest University began looking at wait-listed students’ financial status as a factor in admissions last year.

Meanwhile, more colleges are officially moving away from need-blind admission policies. This from Need Too Much by Kevin Kiley, writing in Inside Higher Ed about Wesleyan’s recent decision:

Sometimes good intentions can blind one to the realities that something might not be sustainable.

In the face of financial pressures, Wesleyan University is moving away from its blanket need-blind admissions policy. Instead, the college is planning to peg increases in the size of its financial aid budget to the size of its overall budget. As long as that money meets need, it will consider students irrespective of their ability to pay. Once the aid runs out, however, the college will start factoring in family income and ability to pay. This effectively means that, unless the college can raise enough money, the last students admitted to the class each year (possibly 10 percent of the class) will not include those who need aid.

More of this to come, I am certain.
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On Teen Health: getting ready for college.

Somewhere on Mod Squad Pete’s list of tasks required by his college is the completion of a substantial physical health form. Needing a physical this summer is nothing new; our school division — actually the Virginia High School Sports League — requires annual physicals of any participating athletes.

Via UVA Teen Health Center. Click to enlarge.

This one is just a similar form on steroids.

An article in our local paper yesterday, written by Dyan A. Aretakis, a family nurse practitioner and project director for the University of Virginia Teen Health Center, explains more about what is needed: Vital Signs:  Preparing teens for college

Before you send your graduate off to college, it is important to submit a complete medical history so the institution has a record of all the important dates and details. A review of your family history (siblings, parents, grandparents, etc.) will impact specific screening tests that may be indicated as your child gets older. All colleges require documentation of immunizations or a waiver if you decline them.

Ms. Aretakis raises a number of good points in the article, including:

  • commonly missing adolescent immunizations
  • how to deal with prescriptions
  • how to seek out medical services your college may not offer, and more.

The UVa Teen Health Center is hosting a conversation for local parents to teens heading off to college. Other colleges may do this as well; if not, see the article for questions to raise with medical professionals.

I realize I am not concerned (or less concerned) about some of these off-to-college questions in part because Pete is going about five or six miles down the road. We may not see him very often (that will be his call), but we’re certainly available in case of any illness or emergency.

Still, I’ll be stopping by Open Grounds tomorrow night to see what I should know.

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On Teen Health: using ‘good grade pills’ to get into college

English: Adderall

Adderall. Image via Wikipedia.

In case you missed the front page story of today’s New York Times, Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill, here’s your link, along with a few quotes from the story to follow.

“Everyone in school either has a prescription or has a friend who does,” the boy said.

“Once you break the seal on using pills, or any of that stuff, it’s not scary anymore — especially when you’re getting A’s,” said the boy who snorted Adderall in the parking lot.

Paul L. Hokemeyer, a family therapist at Caron Treatment Centers in Manhattan, said: “Children have prefrontal cortexes that are not fully developed, and we’re changing the chemistry of the brain. That’s what these drugs do. It’s one thing if you have a real deficiency — the medicine is really important to those people — but not if your deficiency is not getting into Brown.”

“Isn’t it just like a vitamin?” asked one high school junior from Eastchester, a suburb of New York.

“Right before everybody took the PSATs, a bunch of kids went to the bathroom to snort their Addies,” she said.

While a few official responses in the article play down the teen student estimates of usage, I wondered about our own high school.

Usually in our household, the teens go for the comics from the local paper, then the local and national sports pages, leaving the rest of the sections to the parents.

Today, Mod Squad Pete saw this article — top of the fold, page one — and snatched up the section. We talked about it later. Sure enough, the stimulants are readily available, the usage is recognizable (especially with first-time users), and SAT and AP Exams provide a real trigger. More from the article:

One consensus was clear: users were becoming more common, they said, and some students who would rather not take the drugs would be compelled to join them because of the competition over class rank and colleges’ interest.

A current law student in Manhattan, who said he dealt Adderall regularly while at his high school in Sarasota, Fla., said that insecurity was a main part of his sales pitch: that those students “would feel at a huge disadvantage,” he said.

Matthew Herper, who writes about science and medicine for Forbes, wrote The Questions about ADHD Drugs the New York Times Didn’t Ask. He states the article provides no evidence that the use of stimulants is new nor on the rise, yet:

I worry that we’re over-using these stimulants, both as a medical treatment and as a performance enhancer. There are other ways to learn to focus. A dose of Ritalin is not the same as a cup of coffee.

There are many ugly sides to the college application process, including the perceived necessity to do whatever it takes to get into a ‘most selective’ college, whether that’s cheating on an SAT, padding the community service / extra-curricular section of the resume with stuff the student doesn’t give a whit about, parents writing the essay, and more.

This side, with its long-term health consequences, mental health complications, and legal issues, looks like one of the ugliest to me.

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