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How to send poor kids to top colleges? 2 Suggestions

Last week, in the New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote about an analysis of SAT takers, which indicated that more low-income, high-achieving students,

  • do not apply to selective colleges for which they have the aptitude, and
  • often do not graduate from the less selective colleges they do attend.

I wrote about his report and two others here. I really hadn’t planned to write about this again, but I must admit to a weakness for studies followed-on promptly by possible solutions. This week, these articles presented ideas on how to help change this.

1.  Tell them:  Make better efforts to inform. 

Leonhardt returned to the topic with How to Send Poor Kids to Top Colleges. He presents the results from an effort to identify whether high-scoring, low-income students didn’t want to apply to selective colleges or they didn’t know about the opportunities available to them.

THE packages arrived by mail in October of the students’ senior year of high school. They consisted of brightly colored accordion folders containing about 75 sheets of paper. The sheets were filed with information about colleges: their admissions standards, graduation rates and financial aid policies.

. . .
Among a control group of low-income students with SAT scores good enough to attend top colleges — but who did not receive the information packets — only 30 percent gained admission to a college matching their academic qualifications. Among a similar group of students who did receive a packet, 54 percent gained admission, according to the researchers, Caroline M. Hoxby of Stanford and Sarah E. Turner of the University of Virginia.

. . .

Perhaps most important, the packets presented a series of tables making clear that college is often not as expensive as many students and parents fear. Selective colleges frequently cost less for low-income students than local colleges, because the selective ones have the resources to offer bigger scholarships.

At the less-selective campuses in the University of Wisconsin system, for example, the average net annual cost for a year of tuition, room, board and fees in 2010-11 was almost $10,000 for families making less than $30,000, Ms. Turner said. At the flagship campus in Madison, by contrast, the equivalent net cost was $6,000. And at Harvard, such students paid only $1,300 a year.

That last bit — about understanding the different net costs for colleges — shouldn’t be surprising. Even those parents and students who study the process closely can have a difficult time predicting what the net costs at a variety of schools might be, since much depends upon the interest/value a particular student in a particular cohort holds for that college. College pricing is closer to the multiple prices-per-seat-on-a-plane model than one might imagine.

Illustration by Ted McGrath, for the New York Times.

Illustration by Ted McGrath, for the New York Times.

2.  Sell them:  Follow recruiting methods used by the military.

Responding to this same topic in an op-ed piece, Elite Colleges are as Foreign as Mars, published in the New York Times, Claire Vaye Watkins, a writer and English professor at Bucknell, wrote

For deans of admissions brainstorming what they can do to remedy this, might I suggest: anything.

By the time they’re ready to apply to colleges, most kids from families like mine — poor, rural, no college grads in sight — know of and apply to only those few universities to which they’ve incidentally been exposed. Your J.V. basketball team goes to a clinic at University of Nevada, Las Vegas; you apply to U.N.L.V. Your Amtrak train rolls through San Luis Obispo, Calif.; you go to Cal Poly. I took a Greyhound bus to visit high school friends at the University of Nevada, Reno, and ended up at U.N.R. a year later, in 2003.

Ms. Watkins provides a role model:  the military recruited very well by sending uniformed alumni back to the high school and by providing guidance on how to enlist, while the school provided classroom time to take the Armed Services aptitude test.

Granted, there’s a good reason top colleges aren’t sending recruiters around the country to woo kids like me and Ryan… The Army needs every qualified candidate it can get, while competitive colleges have far more applicants than they can handle. But if these colleges are truly committed to diversity, they have to start paying attention to the rural poor.

Until then, is it any wonder that students in Pahrump and throughout rural America are more likely to end up in Afghanistan than at N.Y.U.?

No wonder, indeed.

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On Recruiting Underprivileged Students

I recently quoted Kevin Carey, writing in 2010 for The Chronicle of Higher Education. He concluded Real College-Acceptance Rates are Higher Than You Think with this:

And of course it’s always worth noting that the vast majority of college students don’t go to a selective college at all and they’re the ones we should be worrying about.

Click for larger view. Via the New York Times.

David Leonhardt’s Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Pure, from the front page of the March 17th New York Times, provided current data supporting Carey’s assertion that most low-income students with high test scores don’t even apply to the selective schools.

The colleges that most low-income students attend have fewer resources and lower graduation rates than selective colleges, and many students who attend a local college do not graduate. Those who do graduate can miss out on the career opportunities that top colleges offer.

The new study is beginning to receive attention among scholars and college officials because it is more comprehensive than other research on college choices. The study suggests that the problems, and the opportunities, for low-income students are larger than previously thought.

. . .

If they make it to top colleges, high-achieving, low-income students tend to thrive there, the paper found. Based on the most recent data, 89 percent of such students at selective colleges had graduated or were on pace to do so, compared with only 50 percent of top low-income students at nonselective colleges.

It’s difficult for the colleges to recruit the high-achieving, under-privileged student, many of whom would be first-generation college students.

Matthew Yglesias has written a couple of Slate Moneybox columns about this recently. First, from Smart, Poor Kids Are Applying to the Wrong Colleges:

High-income, high-achieving students generally do what you’d expect. Most of their applications are to schools where the median admissions test score is similar to what they got. But they apply to some reach schools and most to a safety school. Generally they apply to the local flagship state university campus, which is sometimes a match and sometimes a reach depending on the state.

Low-income students are very different. Fully 53 percent of them apply to zero schools whose median SAT or ACT scores are similar to their own. Many of these smart, poor kids apply only to a single unselective school. Only a very small percentage of these kids—8 percent of them, the authors estimate—act the same as high-achievement kids from prosperous families by applying to selective schools, including some reaches and safeties.

Then, from How Smart Poor Kids Get Screwed by the College Admissions Process:

The problem really does seem to quite literally be that most low-income kids and their families are not well-informed about the situation. They don’t know personally what kind of SAT or ACT scores are good enough to go to a selective college, they don’t know which selective colleges are appropriate for someone with their test scores to apply to, they don’t know the strategic logic of “safety schools” and “reaches”, they don’t know about need-blind admissions policies, and they don’t have any social acquaintances who can inform this. Isn’t this what school guidance counselors are supposed to be for? Indeed it is! But they’re seemingly not doing a very good job, nor are the recruiting arms of selective schools.

When selective colleges are fielding many more applications than they can ever accept, and when many colleges need to ensure they have a number of full-freight applicants, and when a number of colleges have had to abandon need-blind admissions, how much time or effort can or will they truly put into recruiting the high-achieving, low-income students?

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Power restored at Mr. Jefferson’s University… and elsewhere.

June 27th Charlottesville Daily Progress.

I’m ready to get back to our college journey, but first I’d like to tie up a few local loose ends…

1.  On Tuesday, June 26th, to high praise from the University of Virginia community, the Board of Visitors reversed their ill-thought acceptance of President Sullivan’s resignation and reinstated her. This came after more than two weeks of rallies, hundreds of FOIA’ed emails, and thousands of tweets, column inches, chatter, and online comments.

2.  On Friday, June 29th, the Governor of Virginia reappointed Helen Dragas to the UVa Board of Visitors. It was Ms. Dragas, in her role as Rector of the BoV,  who — through borderline-legal manipulations and extremely poor management — launched the UVa community into this upheaval.

3.  Mere hours later, Mother Nature unleashed a derecho (straight-line storm with very high winds) and Virginia experienced its worst non-hurricane damage, leaving more than a million households without power, most for multiple days, and some are still without nine days later.

Coincidence? Surely.

In case you’ve not read enough about the UVa story, here’s one more article worth paying attention to…

Jeff Selingo, an Editorial Director for the Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote Fixing College for the New York Times op-ed page. He outlines the source of the anxiety UVa and most colleges face today:

Students were not the only ones to go deeper into debt. So did schools, building lavish residence halls, recreational facilities and other amenities that contributed little to actual learning. The debt taken on by colleges has risen 88 percent since 2001, to $307 billion.

This heady period of growth occurred precisely when colleges had the financial flexibility to prepare for what was to come: fewer government dollars, a wave of financially needy students, a drop-off in the number of well-prepared high-school graduates who could afford to pay, and, of course, technological advances in teaching and learning. Instead, colleges continued to focus on their unsustainable model, assuming little would change.

Other information industries, from journalism to music to book publishing, enjoyed similar periods of success right before epic change enveloped them, seemingly overnight. We now know how those industries have been transformed by technology, resulting in the decline of the middleman — newspapers, record stores, bookstores and publishers.

Some of Mr. Selingo’s solutions will sound very familiar:  better use of technology and more online courses were at the heart of the Dragas-led complaints about President Sullivan. Other solutions take higher-ed to task for their own mismanagement:  shift the focus to academics from administration and reduce the number of wasted credits. If you’re at all interested in the challenges colleges face today, it’s a good start.

Finally, I’ll end this with a quote from President Sullivan, when she spoke to a crowd of supporters after the vote to restore her to office. This, from the Charlottesville Daily Progress: Historic day at UVa: Sullivan reinstated after two weeks of turmoil.

She also expressed relief.

“As we know, Mr. Jefferson provides a perspective for every occasion,” Sullivan said, drawing a laugh from the crowd. “And I’m reminded of his letter to James Warren after the election of 1800, in which he says, ‘It is pleasant for those who have just escaped threatened shipwreck to hail one another when landed in unexpected safety.'”

The crowd cheered.

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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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Got a numbers geek student? The future for Big Data is… big.

In case you missed it, the New York Times offered two perspectives of Big Data over the past couple of Sundays. Relevance to thinking about colleges? Here’s one friend’s response to the Target article:

I’m also eager to share it with my son because I liked all the references to how valuable math skills are and the cool and sexy ways math is used out there in the real world.

Moneyball (film)

Image via Wikipedia

First, The Age of Big Data, by Steve Lohr. Most non-statisticians understand new uses of data by having read (or viewed) Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Another fine example is statistician Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog (now owned by the NYT) which he launched during the 2008 Presidential campaign (after he developed new baseball stats for Baseball Prospectus).

Lohr’s points about the ever-growing use of Big Data make this an article I’ll ask all three of our kids to read, even though only one is a real math geek. This will have an impact on their work, no matter the career choice.

The story is similar in fields as varied as science and sports, advertising and public health — a drift toward data-driven discovery and decision-making. “It’s a revolution,” says Gary King, director of Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. “We’re really just getting under way. But the march of quantification, made possible by enormous new sources of data, will sweep through academia, business and government. There is no area that is going to be untouched.”

To grasp the potential impact of Big Data, look to the microscope, says Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. The microscope, invented four centuries ago, allowed people to see and measure things as never before — at the cellular level. It was a revolution in measurement.

Data measurement, Professor Brynjolfsson explains, is the modern equivalent of the microscope. Google searches, Facebook posts and Twitter messages, for example, make it possible to measure behavior and sentiment in fine detail and as it happens.

In business, economics and other fields, Professor Brynjolfsson says, decisions will increasingly be based on data and analysis rather than on experience and intuition. “We can start being a lot more scientific,” he observes.

I heard about the following Sunday’s Times magazine cover story, How Companies Learn Your Secrets, from Mod Squad Julie on Friday night. Seems the hook — a parent learning from Target that his teen daughter was pregnant — made the Facebook rounds very quickly.

The article, written by Charles Duhigg, presents any number of topics for discussion — privacy, habit forming and changing, marketing cleaning products to American women, etc. — but front and center is the pivotal role of the statistician.

Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002, when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that?”

Pole has a master’s degree in statistics and another in economics, and has been obsessed with the intersection of data and human behavior most of his life. His parents were teachers in North Dakota, and while other kids were going to 4-H, Pole was doing algebra and writing computer programs. “The stereotype of a math nerd is true,” he told me when I spoke with him last year. “I kind of like going out and evangelizing analytics.”

What do you think? Is this the best current answer to the math student’s question, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”


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Early Reports on Early Admission: Tougher Than Ever

The first early admissions news we heard came around the beginning of December. Mod Squad Pete received news from two colleges on December 15 (email from one) and 16 (snail mail from the other). Pete has mentioned he might write about receiving college news for this blog, so I’ll leave it up to him for now.

A couple of reports came out this week on how the early admissions numbers look:  tough.

The NYT‘s The Choice provides a spreadsheet, periodicially updated, here. Screenshot below; the spreadsheet is downloadable from the link.

Click to enlarge.

The Daily Beast offers a report, including a slideshow with numbers, here.

“This is one of the toughest years we’ve seen in a long time,” said Mike Muska, the dean of college relations at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep, and a former senior admissions officer at several top colleges including Brown and Oberlin. “I’ve heard from colleagues all across New York about kids with 750 SAT scores across the board who were getting deferred or denied if they were unhooked.” (“Unhooked” is admission-speak for kids without a special skill or niche.)

The report included this speculation on why there were so many more early applications:

Not surprisingly, several deans said they’ve heard consistent concern over paying for college throughout this admission season. “People wonder how they are going to manage to pay for four years,” said Jim Miller, admissions dean at Brown. “Just a few years ago they could be confident about home equity loans or an intergenerational transfer; in short, help from grandparents. That is no longer the case.”

Money, or the lack of it in some state university systems, has triggered an increase in early-decision applications from students on the west coast, particularly from California. Several private colleges noted an increase in applicants from California high school students. “These are kids who would otherwise attend the first-rate colleges in the University of California system,” noted one dean. “But with higher tuitions and reductions in services, private colleges are looking much more attractive.”

Pete’s waiting to hear from one more early admissions application; regular admissions apps still in the works. [Drumming my fingers on the desk.]

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3 Things High School Seniors Need To Do Right Now.

December 2011. Calendar by Mod Squad Emma.

Believe it or not, the important December countdown for most high school seniors is not:  “how many days til Christmas.” Most U.S. colleges set the regular admissions deadline for January 1. Eleven days away.

For any senior, like Mod Squad Pete, who just happens to not be done yet with college applications, here are the three things he or she should be doing right now…

1.  Finish the darn thing(s). Pete might have been 98% done on his regular admissions since before Thanksgiving. Each one has just one or two little things that still need doing. Get it over with already. (And yes, Pete, I’m talking to you.)

If there are questions stopping you, tune into the live chat the NYT‘s The Choice is hosting tonight, Wednesday, and Thursday. Here are the details:

The first night’s chat will take place tonight, on The New York Times’s main Facebook page: facebook.com/nytimes. The two chats thereafter will be staged at The Choice blog’s Facebook page: facebook.com/nytimesthechoice. All of the exchanges will be from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time, and the counselors will answer questions in real time.

By the way, if you or your senior has all applications done, great! Skip ahead to task number 2. If you or your senior received acceptance via an Early Decision program, congratulations!! No more college applications! Skip ahead to task number 2.

2.  Sign up for the student and parent PINs for FAFSA. The first step in applying for financial aid is to apply for a PIN. Do that here. The steps are clear:

The PIN Application Process consists of 3 steps:
Step 1: Enter Personal Information
Step 2: Submit Your PIN Application
Step 3: Receive Your PIN

The online application goes live January 1, 2012, but the FAFSA on the web worksheet is available now.

3.  Take a deep breath and relax. 2011 may have been a big year with junior-year courses, SATs, college visits, becoming a senior, and writing applications, but just wait. The new year will bring the final semester of high school (requiring stick-to-it attention through the AP exams and finals), additional deadlines for financial aid and any scholarships (requiring more collaboration between student and parent), the emotional experience of receiving regular admissions results (some of us have had a glimpse of that with early admissions results), and making a commitment to one college.

Oh, right:  that’s just the first five months.

As always, good luck to all with those applications!

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