Archive for the 'Admissions' Category

Are you following your university on Twitter?

Posted on Nov. 14th 2010 by Alexis

Following your university on Twitter

As more and more universities discover the benefits of using Twitter as a communicational platform for their students, following your university on Twitter could help you stay up to date on official announcements, news, and events.

Every institution on the U.S. News & World Report’s “Top 100” list has at least one Twitter account, and in a recent study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, it was revealed that 41 percent of universities in America are using social media as a “recruitment tool.”

Because primary university accounts are going to have a high concentration of student followers, universities have started creating separate accounts so they can direct important messages to a specific target audience:

Admissions offices are creating their own Twitter accounts to attract new students to their campuses, such as Louisiana State University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions & Student Aid, (@LSUAdmissions).

Some institutions may even use Twitter to promote their alumni networks, such as New York University’s @NYUAlumni account.

Even departments within colleges and universities, such as business schools or law schools, have been operating their own Twitter accounts, as well as campus newspapers or research/student service organizations like athletic facilities and libraries.

The University of Florida has the most Twitter accounts out of any other university in the country. There are accounts for official campus news (@InsideUF), the UF Office of Technology Licensing (@UFOTL), the Career Resource Center (@UF_CRC), the UF College of Journalism and Communications (@UFJSchool), and even UF student housing (@UFhousing).

The following universities have the highest number of accounts on Twitter:

1. University of Florida – 24

2.  University of Georgia – 22

3. Carnegie Mellon University – 17

4. George Washington University – 17

5. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor – 16

Find and follow your university on Twitter: has put together a “master list” of all the universities on Twitter, which is constantly being updated thanks to input from readers. (If you notice that your school is missing from one of the lists, be sure to post a comment and let the authors know).

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What is a “reach school”?

Posted on Nov. 9th 2010 by Alexis

As defined by the Princeton Review, a “reach school” is considered a long-shot for students because their academic credentials “fall below the school’s range for the average freshman.”

Realistically speaking, every top college and university in the country should be considered a “reach school” for applicants because their admission standards are extremely high. Some of these institutions have an acceptance rate of below 20 percent, so even a student with perfect SAT scores and/or straight ‘A’ transcripts might not get accepted.

Reach schoolWhen applying to a college or a university, it is extremely important to understand the difference between a “reach school” and “safety school.” Due to the fact that admissions offices are receiving applications at record-high numbers, the acceptance rate for many universities and colleges has dropped considerably over the past few years. Because of this, many “safety schools” for high school students have suddenly become “reach schools” because their chances of not getting accepted are much higher than before.

A “safety school” is the type of school where the applicant is “somewhat overqualified” and can feel “reasonably confident” that he or she will get accepted. In order to determine whether a school is a “safety school,” be sure to check out their admission rates – if the rate is below 30 percent then it may not be the “safest” option.

A “match school,” on the other hand, is one where an applicant’s test scores and/or GPA fall “well within (or even exceed)” the school’s expectations. Although there are no guarantees, your chances of acceptance are much higher than a “reach school,” or perhaps even a “safety school.” If an applicant’s test scores, class rank, and high school grades fall in the middle range of the school’s profile, then their chances of being accepted into the school are very likely.

Experts recommend that students apply to approximately three “reach schools,” three “match schools,” and two “safety schools.” This way it provides students with a few back-up options, yet it still allows them to set ambitious goals and expectations.

Here are 4 ways to increase your chances of getting accepted into a “reach school:”

1. Study! – This should be a given for any student who wants to get into a top college or university. If you already know that the school’s academic standards are extremely high, then buckle down and bump that B up to an A. Even the slightest percentage increase could help your chances of getting accepted.

2. Do your research –  Be sure to know beforehand whether your GPA and class rank are a match for the school you are applying to. (And make sure you find the most recent data available). Remember, your grades don’t necessarily have to “match” their standards, but they should be trailing very close behind.

3. Participate in extra-curricular activities – Now more than ever, institutions are looking for well-rounded, “highly engaged” students. Participating in extra-curricular activities demonstrates that you are a student with enthusiasm.

4. Apply to a college or university in your home state –  State-funded institutions are required to accept a certain number of in-state applicants, thus they expect higher academic standards when it comes to out-of-state students.

It is also important to point out that getting accepted into a “reach school” may not be the most financially smart option for those who are from low-income families:

Getting accepted into a “reach school” could mean taking a financial risk for many students, as colleges and universities usually save their financial aid packages for the students they really want. So if you happen to get accepted into your “reach school,” then your chances of getting financial aid are much lower than if you were accepted into your “safety” or “match school.”

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15 unusual college application essay questions

Posted on Nov. 8th 2010 by Alexis

When it comes to college application essays, institutions tend to ask applicants generic questions like “why are you interested in our school?” or “who is your hero?”

But in recent years more and more colleges and universities have been looking for new ways to judge the creativity of an applicant by asking obscure, hilarious, or just plain odd questions.

Here are some of the most unusual questions students are being asked to write about for their college application essay:

1. “Share your favorite joke.” (University of Dallas)

2. “Salt, governments, beliefs, and celebrity couples are a few examples of things that can be dissolved. You’ve just been granted the power to dissolve anything: physical, metaphorical, abstract, concrete… you name it. What do you dissolve, and what solvent do you use?” (University of Chicago)

15 unusual college essay application questions 3. “You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217.” (University of Pennsylvania)

4. “Are we alone?” (Tufts University)

5. “Analyze Seneca.” (Bard College)

6. “Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?” (University of Chicago)

7. “What would you do with a free afternoon tomorrow?” (Yale University)

8. “In the year 2050, a movie is being made of your life. Please tell us the name of your movie and briefly summarize the story line.” (New York University)

9. “Caltech students have long been known for their quirky sense of humor and creative pranks and for finding unusual ways to have fun. What is something that you find fun or humorous?” (Caltech)

10. “Does society require constant honesty?” (University of Chicago)

11. “Can a toad hear? Prove it.” (Bennington College)

12. “If you were reduced to living on a flat plane, what would be your greatest problems? Opportunities?” (Hamilton College)

13. “Imagine looking through a window at any environment that is particularly significant to you. Reflect on the scene, paying close attention to the relation between what you are seeing and why it is meaningful to you.” (Williams College)

14. “Sartre said, ‘Hell is other people;’ but Streisand sang, ‘People who need people / Are the luckiest people in the world.’ With whom do you agree and why? Don’t be icky.” (Amherst College)

15. “Find x.” (University of Chicago)

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Five Lessons from PayScale’s College “Return on Investment” Data

Posted on Jul. 30th 2010 by Amelia

For the past month the Internet has been abuzz over the PayScale study that attempts to quantify the value of a college degree. Francesca Di Meglio, writing for Bloomberg backed a position that is now seeing growing national support: College: Big Investment, Paltry Return.

Di Meglio notes the general theory that has seemingly been expounded at every turn in recent months:

“Over the past decade, research estimates have pegged that figure at $900,000, $1.2 million, and $1.6 million” but “the value of a college degree may be a lot closer to $400,000 over 30 years.”

She notes that the amount “varies wildly from school to school” but that there are “only 17 schools in the study whose graduates can expect to recoup the cost of their education and out-earn a high school graduate by $1.2 million. At more than 500 other schools, the return on investment, or ROI, is less—sometimes far less.”

Not too surprisingly, many of the most expensive, private colleges do in fact produce outstanding return on investment or ROI (see accompanying chart of the top 10). Whether it is MIT, Notre Dame, Harvard, Harvey Mudd, Dartmouth, Princeton or Stanford, students completing a bachelor’s degree program at these elite schools can expect rates of return topping 12 percent.

But the Payscale data has led many other publications to take less productive schools to task. One,, tackled the mismatch between a school’s quality ranking and its position in regards to return on investment.

The list of the 20 Prestigious Colleges That Offer An Ugly Return On Your Investment, included some of America’s most highly-esteemed schools: Oberlin, Rutgers, UNC Chapel Hill, Middlebury, Wellesley, University of Wisconsin (Madison), Wesleyan, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Johns Hopkins and the University of Chicago. also produced the 20 Colleges With High Tuition, Low ROI, i.e. those schools charging a pretty penny but whose graduates do not earn seven figures. That list featured the likes of Franklin Pierce University, Lesley University, Philadelphia University, Rollins College, Sacred Heart University, Roger Williams University and Skidmore College.

The Rankings

Needless to say, those high on the list were pleased with their standing and could offer many reasons why their institution obtained such lofty numbers. On the other hand, spokespeople for those on the lower end of the rankings questioned the validity of the process and the data.

To come up with their rankings, PayScale examined pay reports from 1.4 million graduates of U.S. colleges and universities that did not have an advanced degree. In addition, when calculating college costs, PayScale did not assume a graduate earned his or her diploma in four years.

Instead, they took the actual number of reported years it took a student to graduate from each institution to compile the costs of college. In addition, PayScale also attempted to take into account those who attended school yet never graduated.

The entire analysis is explained on the PayScale site. That analysis includes the usual statistical jargon and depending on the institution PayScale reports a margin of error on the 90% confidence interval of just 5 or 10 percent.

The attempt to quantify the results however is extremely interesting as the rate of return on investment is a concept everyone can relate to. Going back to Di Meglio, she notes that the S&P 500 Index averaged about 11 percent a year in returns.

“Only 88 schools out of the 554 in the study had a better return than the S&P,” writes Di Meglio. “Everywhere else, students would have been better off—financially, at least—if they invested the money they spent on their college educations and never set foot in a classroom.”

The idea is simple, in far too many cases, students would have been better off investing the cost of college in the stock market.Thirty years later, they would have had a better return on their investment and would be able to add to that return all the money they earned from putting their high school diploma to work.

The Real Lessons from PayScale

Of course, the very nature of the PayScale survey data, the idea of trying to quantify the value of a college degree in dollars does not address any of the other benefits of a college education. Whether it be the critical reasoning skills, the amazing experience or the values of an educated populace, there are many other ways a college degree has value.

But it is imperative that students understand fully what the overall return on a college degree will be. Only then can one assess the costs associated with that degree.

When taking out the rhetoric and the defensiveness, there are five key lessons from the PayScale survey.

Lesson One: Major/Career Choice Matters Greatly

One reason for a potential low return on investment is most definitely one’s career choice. A focus on liberal arts, teaching, social services and other similar academic majors lead to careers in lower paying occupations.

In contrast, graduates who go into careers in engineering and science have an enormous advantage when it comes to potential career earnings. It is for this simple reason that a school like Harvey Mudd would produce a great monetary return whereas a small liberal arts college like Skidmore would produce a lower ROI.

Ones career choice is critical in terms of both job satisfaction and earnings, most particularly in that order. When looking at ROI, be sure to carefully examine schools based on both elements.

Lesson Two: Finish and Finish in Four Years

The best way to make your return on investment high is to minimize the costs of your education. And one of the most critical factors is to stay on task and complete your program in four years.

Taking five or six years to complete a program means 25 to 50 percent more in costs as well as one to two years less time earning a paycheck. Keep your nose to the grindstone and remember why you are attending school – to earn a diploma.

But as much as it means to finish in four years it must be said that finishing is critical as well. Nothing is worse than shelling out tens of thousands or a hundred thousand dollars plus only to be applying for jobs with just a high school credential.

Lesson Three: Limit Your Borrowing

Given that the highest rates of return were in the 13 to 14 percent range we can truly see that borrowing for school is a net negative. Remember, only 88 schools out performed the market and returned 11 percent plus.

Imagine now when you factor in borrowing money to pay those college costs. Such a step raises your cost of attendance significantly when the interest rate on loans is factored in.

And nothing is more important to understand than borrowing for one of the lesser paying occupational fields is truly bad practice. It might make some sense to borrow for a career in engineering but it makes almost no sense to borrow funds if you plan to enter the teaching profession.

Lesson Four: Do Your Homework

While those elite private schools sat at the top of the ROI list, many public schools proved to be equally good values even while being far cheaper to attend. But the key is to look in state as most often the ROI fell a couple of percentage points when factoring in the additional costs for out-off-state students.

Twenty six different schools could offer a rate exceeding 12% for in state-students:

Cal Berkeley, Cal San Diego, UCLA, and Cal Poly; the Universities of Florida, Washington, Delaware, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, and Virginia; other well-known public schools like NC State, James Madison, Purdue, Texas A & M, Virginia Tech, and William and Mary; and the surprises like the Colorado School of Mines, the Georgia Institute of Technology, St. Mary’s of Maryland, Binghampton and the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Once again though we can see that career major choices matter greatly by examining the schools in the above list. And a further examination of the PayScale list will provide a number of schools you should think twice about attending.

Lesson Five: Advanced Degrees Matter More

The PayScale survey examines only data for those with a bachelor’s degree as their terminal degree. Many experts indicate that a bachelor’s degree is essentially the 21st century equivalent of the 20th century high school diploma.

The recent Georgetown University Center on Education & the Workforce indicates that advanced and professional degrees are more likely the factor today for a serious ROI. According to the Georgetown study, the gross lifetime earnings for someone with a professional degree is nearly $4.7 million.

So if the goal is truly to increase earning potential, we can add the concept of pursuing an advanced degree to that of ones choice of major. In fact, we might say that if you are thinking about going to college, you should be thinking about more than a bachelor’s degree from the very start.

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Obama Administration Revamps the FAFSA

Posted on Jul. 1st 2009 by Amelia

How about this for a change to that painful FAFSA application form?

According to reports, Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan has indicated plans to add a new button to the online FAFSA application. That one single button would authorize the IRS to fill in all the FAFSA required financial data directly from all relevant, filed tax returns.

That’s right, a button that would authorize the IRS to collect, summarize and drop the pertinent data already submitted during prior tax seasons into the form in the appropriate places. And with that step, the form we all have to do to be eligible for federal financial aid, the form that everyone, sooner or later comes to despise might actually be on the way towards being reasonable and dare we say it, user-friendly.

Now that would represent change we can believe in!

Promises of Fewer Questions and Quicker Response Times

It seems that at long last the U.S. Department of Education is about to streamline the indeterminate FAFSA form. Under President Barack Obama’s continued pledge to increase access to college, the DOE is about to eliminate 22 questions and some 20 different Web screens that used to appear when students filled out the FAFSA application online.

Perhaps even better news for students and their families, instead of waiting weeks and months to get the results, the new application will be able to provide an estimate on the amount of aid students would be eligible for in the matter of seconds.

All of the changes are seen by the Obama administration as increasing college enrollment. The steps come in direct response to data that indicates that one out of every five students that borrows for college does not fill out the FAFSA form.

Many contend that the reason so many students skip the application has been the sheer volume of information asked for on the form. For everyone the form has been a massive headache, but for some, it has been seen as a barrier.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the FAFSA included 153 questions, some of which were not asked for when parents or the student filed their income taxes. The sum total for the DOE is that the form has ultimately been more difficult than filing income taxes.

The result, an estimated 1.5 million students who currently are enrolled in college likely qualify for Pell grants yet they never applied for them.

The Button by January

While work is under way to streamline and simplify the form, the magic button noted by Duncan still is not ready. The goal for the direct upload of information to the FAFSA from the IRS is scheduled to be in place by January.

So those of you about to enter your senior year in high school, and all those further out from applying, the new financial upload button should be in place by the time your turn comes.

Perhaps just as importantly, Obama wants more streamlining for students. Reports indicate he is asking Congress to eliminate another 26 financial questions, all deemed to have minimal effect on how much aid a student is eligible for.

Of course, while these steps will make it much tougher for us to dump on the FAFSA form down the road, we still wonder why it might not be possible to eliminate the application process altogether. Imagine if the government would, as a matter of course, determine a student’s eligibility based on a family’s tax return alone.

Perhaps the government could even take the step of notifying students directly of their potential eligibility and do so as soon as the child enters public school. Now that would be real progress.

Still, we will take the efforts of the Obama administration. Every single one related to the FAFSA is a step in the right direction.

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College Rankings – Be Suspicious, Very Suspicious

Posted on Jun. 18th 2009 by Amelia

Our hat goes off to Sam Lee, a graduate student, and to Inside Higher Ed, for shedding some more light on the shaky college rankings game. Lee had noticed that the University of Southern California ranked lower than seventh on all of the graduate level engineering category subfields yet somehow managed to earn the number seven slot on the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings.

Lee’s questioning led Inside Higher Ed to contact both U.S. News and USC to see if it could get to the bottom of the matter. Turns out the large number of the engineering school’s professors that were reportedly also members of the National Academy of Engineering helped push the USC rankings to seventh.

But while USC reported to U.S. News 30 professors belonging to the academy and the school’s web site listed 34 such professors, Inside Higher Ed, through a very simple fact check, was able to determine that these figures were entirely inaccurate.

For reporting purposes, the school was supposed to be sending along the number of full-time faculty members that met the prestigious status. Turns out, of the 34 listed on the web site, 17 did not meet the criteria set forth by U.S. News.

U.S. News immediately acknowledged that if the school did have fewer faculty members in the academy than had been reported, the engineering college’s ranking would indeed fall. The exact drop would of course depend on the final numbers reported and how they related to competitor schools.

And in one of the most important acknowledgments for students to hear, officials for the magazine also indicated they were not in the business of verifying the accuracy of the reports from schools. Instead, they trust the schools to be institutions of integrity and simply take what is reported at face value. Of course, they also base their rankings on the information provided.

This episode comes on the heels of the surprising candor of a Clemson official who publicly expressed how the rankings could be gamed (including the very issue expressed here, the accuracy of the reported data). That story was all over the internet in prompt fashion as was a followup admonishment from school officials.

Ultimately, the lesson for students is not to put too much emphasis on these rankings. Especially now that it is clear that those doing the ratings acknowledge they do not verify the information provided.

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Keeping Low Income Students Out of College

Posted on Oct. 18th 2007 by Amelia

Talk to the Hand.

Barriers to Higher Education are Alive and Well

The Higher Education Act of 1965 launched some of the first financial programs aimed at the support of low-income and disadvantaged students. Since then, dozens of federal and state scholarship and grant programs have been developed to assist the same. A popular theory remains: more and more free money will put more disadvantaged and minority students into college and solve the problem of low college attendance rates among high poverty students. Regardless of the money higher education continues to throw at low-income students, the numbers actually attending college and staying in college remain low. If money is not the solution, then what’s the problem?

The Problem

There are significant numbers of public funds already available for low-income students. Add to this the increasing trend among elite and reputable colleges and universities to spring for full tuition scholarships for academically eligible disadvantaged students and a more relevant question becomes: “With the money available already for low-income and minority students, why do so many fail to earn a college degree?” What circumstances beyond the financial, continue to impede the educational roadway of the disadvantaged student, and why does higher education, at large, repeat the same ineffective gestures in its quest for the solution?

Dream of College Access for All Americans

Capitol Hill.President Lyndon B. Johnson dreamed of building our country into one in which “a high school senior [could] apply to any college or any university in any of the 50 States and not be turned away because his family is poor…” He further declared, “Education in this day and age is a necessity.”1 He made these statements on the same day he signed the Higher Education Act of 1965 into legislation. If higher education was deemed a necessity in 1965, then it has become critical by today’s standards.

For the most part President Johnson’s dream has become a reality, but outside of the financial, some of the same barriers to higher education remain:

  • Schools that fail to adequately prepare students for college.
  • Outside influences and expectations, especially those of parents/family and educators.
  • Psychological factors.

Secondary Schools Fail to Prepare Students for College

Does the Student Qualify?

Regardless of the money available to low-income students, in many cases students fail to even qualify for college admission. Perhaps, as some critics of the current system argue, where career and guidance counselors proactive in “talking up” college as soon as middle school, kids particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds would incorporate college goals into their futures much more naturally than when career and education goals are thought inconsequential.

Educators, including teachers, counselors, and principals, simply have low expectations of disadvantaged students, say some proponents of education reform. An overall neglect of college preparation routinely takes place at most minority and high poverty high schools. The perception that disadvantaged students will either not make it into college, have little interest in higher education, or be unworthy of the time spent to get them prepared, are all subversive and deeply damaging perceptions. At best this disregard is a primitive throwback to the same circumstances President Johnson sought to bury.

The Non-Existent College Prep Curricula

Average, college bound high school seniors are alarmingly unprepared for the rigors of college academics, but an even more disturbing population of low-income and minority students seem to avoid college altogether or possess test scores and academic records that have put many in higher education on alert. In fact, the circumstances renew debate over the quality of public school systems: “Nine in ten high school graduates from families earning more than $80,000 attend college by the time they are 24, compared to only six in ten from families earning less than $33,000.”2

Research proves that many of the so-called high school assessment tests “bear little resemblance to the work [students] are expected to do in college.” Despite the best hopes of those students that do possess college degree expectations, preparation for such is sorely lacking—students again and again clearly “lack crucial information on applying to college and on succeeding academically once they get there.”3 College administrators report that most students only think they are academically prepared; the sobering reality is that the so-called college prep curriculum they slogged through in high school was not college level work, after all.

Ironically, this lack of preparedness is the ailment of many average high school grads, and not exclusive to low-income students. But evidence shows that “a greater percentage of low-income students are marginally qualified or unqualified for admission at four-year institutions.”4

And college prep includes providing students the appropriate information with which to pursue college, including college search, financial aid and scholarships, and admissions processes. But in many disadvantaged schools the information is not disseminated, not included as a natural progression in education.

Financial AidFor students interested in pursuing college the process becomes a bit like fumbling in the dark: “many low-income college students need aid and do not know how to apply for federal or state assistance.”5 Low-income students often opt for a community college—open access and remedial coursework, and schedule flexibility that allows students to work part time and carry on normal family responsibilities.

High Scores vs. Student Success and the “Push-Out” Phenomenon

High schools across the country have new standards by which to adhere. Accountability in secondary education may play a significant part in the collegiate success or failure of certain students. Since the inception of No Child Left Behind the reliance on test-based schools has split students down the middle—in some areas. Students are either an asset or a deficit to a school.6

In New York City, test scores served to define a dispensable archipelago of students most likely to fail. Students at disadvantaged schools throughout the region were so overlooked that rogue administrators and educators systematically amputated from the system whole populations of underachievers for the “betterment” of the whole. The plan was simple: “push out” students with poor grades and low test scores and test score averages would look a lot better.7

The Teacher Factor

Teacher.Does a high quality teacher make a difference to a low-income and/or disadvantaged student, and if so, why? A growing body of evidence shows that teachers do matter. But studies have begun to prove an alarming trend: “The very children who most need strong teachers are assigned, on average, to teachers with less experience, less education, and less skill than those who teach other children.”8

A study that surveyed three Midwest revealed consistent data proving that in most low income schools teachers were much more likely to be “inexperienced, out-of-field, and uncertified.” Furthermore, as school enrollment of low-income students increased, the population of teachers hired grew increasingly inexperienced.9 Most studies declare five years of teaching experience as the dividing line between experienced and inexperienced.

The less experienced the teacher the less likely he or she is to be qualified or motivated to guide disadvantaged students in wise career and education choices. Surprisingly, teacher surveys have also proven that on the whole they, too, tend to have an unsure grasp on the college preparatory process.10

The qualities most valued and effective in high-quality teachers include:

  • Over five years experience teaching within their specialty.
  • Teachers able to modify methods on-the-fly and in direct response to student abilities.
  • Teachers with degrees from reputable institutions.

Contemporary findings such as these provide more leverage for school systems, and lawmakers when it comes time to plan teacher distribution models designed to serve future generations of students.

Can Experienced Teachers Get Disadvantaged Students to College?

Data has been culled from a crew of challenged high schools, turned-high-performing, in various regions of the U.S. that proves high quality teachers can make a significant difference with at-risk youth. In every high performing school surveyed almost half the student bodies were from high minority-high poverty backgrounds. And in every case the population of college bound students had increased above the national average.

What factors set high performing high schools with diverse student bodies well above others in nurturing college ready graduates?

  • High quality and experienced teachers able to adjust methods to suit students.
  • A very relevant and challenging college preparatory curriculum that surpasses state requirements.
  • Unlimited access to academic tutors and career advisors.11

Part of the goal of the Higher Education Act of 1965 was to promote improvement in high minority/high poverty schools, including attracting more experienced teachers. Contrary to some, both these factors—schools and teachers—continue to figure prominently in the educational futures of students.

College Admission Requirements Detrimental to Disadvantaged Students

Whether high school or college, the fact is that reputation, high marks, selectivity ratings, and even cost of tuition, all constitute factors that conspire to create an institution’s reputation. Ratings and credentials have become a beacon for student business, a means to market and advertise a college to expanding populations of prospective students.

US News and World Report.

The annual U.S. News and World Report: America’s Best Colleges has become a much-anticipated publication.


New criticism, though, from college administrators aims to downplay the relevancy of some of the ratings, which many say have nothing to do with a good college education. Why so much fuss over ratings? The report has been widely dubbed the college “beauty contest,” and the higher colleges and universities have driven ratings the better their business. But in the process, some pieces of the academic puzzle have been forsaken, like some populations of students.

Ratings Drive Business, Which In Turn Drives Up Admission Reqs

Colleges and universities that rank well in the U.S. News report seek to be considered “selective.” This kind of marketing seems to make business more brisk, but it also makes it challenging to attract a large minority or low-income student population. In order to make a college accessible for the majority of low-income and disadvantaged students, admission requirements must be relaxed.

The traditional metrics of admission include SAT scores and GPA, precisely the type of measurements most low-income students suffer by. As we explored above, it’s not their responsibility—educators have been loath to provide the proper guidance and nurture—and, besides, SAT and GPA are rarely accurate indications of academic worthiness. This then is why a growing stable of college administrators is taking aim at the notoriously exclusive annual ratings race.12

SAT.Compared to the relatively small number of college administrators backing away from the ratings game, there are plenty that believe in its promise. For instance, a strong cadre of schools believes the marketing theory that overpriced products and services attract buyers and consumers because high price implies high quality. This then is why tuitions are hiked and SAT and GPA requirements inflated. Yet again, disadvantaged students are unable to reach certain institutions where, ironically, money is likely to exist for their education.

When Admission Hikes Purposely Dismiss Disadvantaged Students

Another strategy behind ramped up admission requirements seeks to purposely define the splinter group of underachievers and those students with low test scores and make it impossible for them to essentially clog the way of those students without academic challenges. Low income and minority students with low SAT scores and low GPAs “will be steered” to the state’s community colleges.

Simultaneously more college prep programs are being built into the state’s public school system. Students will now have a system in place able to alert them should their academics fall below realistic first year college goals.13

Outside Influences Offer Most Resistance to College Life

Besides money and academic challenge, many low-income and disadvantaged students face challenges much more murky to middle and upper income, white Americans. In some cases the influence of parents and family are more profound than more mainstream issues.14

Parental Influence

ParentalConsider the idea that many minority and low-income students come from first generation families, meaning no one else has yet gone to college. For many average American students, the dream of a college degree is fueled over the years by parents. When that drive is not there, other priorities may take precedence, such as job, finance and family.

It’s not that parents of first gen college students have no desire to see their children succeed, even go to college, but most are unable to provide the type of support necessary to bolster a fresh and, perhaps, disenfranchised college newbie.

Cultural Perceptions of Debt

Financial aid experts may also have discovered another roadblock—“cultural aversion to debt.” Over the years the financial aid needs of middle and upper income students have risen, but statistics have shown little or no increase in the student loan debt among low-income and ethnic minority student groups, which “calls into question the effectiveness of student loans in aiding low-income populations.” Studies strongly suggest that minorities are “more sensitive to price and less willing to use educational loans to pay for college when making their college decisions.”15

Tuition sticker shock may be a similar deterrent. Even though academically talented low-income students may qualify to enroll in elite universities where the ability to prove a certain level of disadvantage buys them a free ride, only a fraction of those actually eligible partake of the opportunity. The scholarships from institutions like Harvard and Princeton are not just in place for altruistic purposes. These “white-bread” institutions want to diversify and offering money for disadvantaged students seems a good idea. Surprisingly, a much larger wellspring of academically qualified low-income students is out there. SAT scores prove the numbers,16 but where are they?

Educator Expectation Matters, Too

ExpectationsThe nation’s low-income students, including those with academic fortitude and those dubbed low-achievers, may share common bonds: many face familial and cultural obstacles, but do they also face low educator expectations? Studies have already measured the effect of educator expectation on the college outcomes of low-income, minority students and found alarming numbers of low-quality teachers and counselors with little hope for students in lower income brackets.

Teachers and advisors acting out of their personal beliefs and stereotypes may be unable to provide the unbiased guidance underserved students require to get them to the doorstep of a college campus, whether it be a community college or one of the elite universities.17

What Then if Not Money?

WonderingConsidering the obstacles discussed above, are there further psychological impacts? If I am a student from a low-income household in which neither of my parents attended college, isn’t it likely that a college degree will not be a main priority in my life? And if I am academically talented, would I not feel out of place and disenfranchised on a Harvard campus even if my education were fully funded?

If I overheard teachers in my high school complaining about their jobs and saying that many of the students will be lucky to make it to graduation, much less college, would I not doubt my teachability, my worth as a student?

Harvard can roll out its red carpet and dangle full scholarships ‘til the cows come home, but what really eats away at the collegiate futures of low-income, minority students—talented or not—has little to do with money.


  1. LBJ for Kids, accessed September 3, 2007,
  2. “Harvard Announces New Initiative to Aimed at Economic Barriers to College,” Harvard University Gazette, February 28, 2004, accessed September 5, 2007,
  3. Rooney, Megan, “High Schools Fail to Prepare Many Students for College, Stanford Study Says,” March 3, 2003, accessed September 4, 2007,
  4. Andrea Venezia, Michael Kirst, Anthony Antonio, Betraying the College Dream: How Disconnected K-12 Schools and Postsecondary Education Systems Undermine Student Aspirations, 2003, accessed September 4, 2007,
  5. Kirst, Michael, “Betraying the College Dream in America,” The College Puzzle, August 21, 2007, accessed September 4, 2007,
  6. Beveridge, Andrew, “Counting Drop Outs,” Gotham Gazette, August 2003, accessed September 4, 2007,
  7. Beveridge, Andrew, Gotham Gazette.
  8. Heather Peske, Kati Haycock, Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality, The Education Trust, June 2006, accessed September 2, 2007,
  9. Peski, Haycock, The Education Trust.
  10. Venezia, Kirst, Antonio, Betraying the College Dream
  11. “Preparing All High School Students for College and Work: What High-Performing Schools are Teaching,” ACT, February 23, 2005, accessed August 30, 2007,
  12. “U.S. News College Rankings Debated,” The Online News Hour (transcript), PBS, August 20, 2007, accessed September 5, 2007,
  13. Tresaugue, Matthew, “UT Campuses Will Raise Admission Standards,” University of Houston, May 10, 2007, accessed September 5, 2007,
  14. Szelenyi, Katalin, “Minority Student Retention and Academic Achievement in Community Colleges,” 2004, accessed August 29, 2007,
  15. Cultural Barriers to Incurring Debt, ECMC Group Foundation, 2003, accessed September 3, 2007,
  16. “Large Numbers of Highly Qualified, Low-Income Students Are Not Applying to Harvard and Other Highly Selective Schools,” Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2006, accessed August 26, 2007,
  17. Patricia George and Rosa Aronson, How Do Educators’ Cultural Belief Systems Affect Underserved Students’ Pursuit of Postsecondary Education?” Pathways to College Network, 2003, accessed September 3, 2007,
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Why College Freshman Dropout

Posted on Sep. 5th 2007 by Amelia

The Undercurrent in Undergraduate Education

As exciting as college prep can be, there is an alarming undercurrent that threatens almost half the population of incoming freshman—attrition. How do colleges and universities keep disillusioned students from dropping out?

The number of college freshman dropouts is typically cited between 1 in 4 or 1 in 5, with some sources positing arguments that nearly half of all college students fail to graduate. Surveys of high school students show no lack of interest for a college degree, in fact 95% of high school students when asked about college indicated a “very strong desire” to complete a degree program.1 If only a fraction of those respondents actually earns a degree, then what happened to change their attitude and/or desire?

A complex array of contributory factors may be to blame, and a growing stable of remedies offered for their cure. But what are the fundamental causal factors of college freshmen attrition and how can they be more directly halted?

High School Grads Poorly Prepared for Campus Challenges

High schools are generally motivated to make sure students go to college. The drive to go to college has little to do with the success rates of students, however. In fact, a mountain of research clearly illustrates that the motivation to excel in college has little to do with the reality of contemporary campus living. The real meat of the drop out problem is the academic preparation, or lack thereof, that students receive prior to arrival on campus.

High School Seniors that “Blow Off” School Likely to Suffer on Campus

A common practice among high school seniors is to take that last year as easy as possible, blow it off, waste it in easy courses. Perhaps this worked, once upon a time, but today’s high school senior slumming it his or her last year is doing more harm than good, report most studies.2 College advisers these days urge high school seniors to avoid “resting on their laurels,” and instead spend their senior year immersed in courses that pose academic challenge. This is the best method for college prep, say administrators. A Department of Education study proved the importance of academic challenge in regards to college performance:

“…the academic intensity of a student’s high school course work was the top factor influencing whether students earned a college degree — more than family income, high school grades, ethnicity or test scores.”3

Even for students that work very hard and then take it easy their final year of high school the odds are not so good. This is a wasted year, time in which every bit of a student’s good work can be undone. Given the fact that studies show students lose learned knowledge over the course of a summer break, it’s understandable how they could become quite academically bankrupt, after a full year of cushy coursework and time off from serious studies. Their GPAs are still high, but academic agility is low.

High School Students Fail New College Admissions Standards

College admissions standards have also become a major hurdle to clear for students. Add on a “lost” year of academics and students that for all intents and purposes should be college-ready, are unable to make the academic cut. Colorado State University system’s administrators decided, out of sheer necessity, to ease new admissions requirements for incoming freshman in the Fall of 2007, or risk losing about 20% of their incoming freshman class.4

Why the Strong Desire to Go to College?

Problem: 95% of high school students expect to earn a college degree and indicate a strong desire for the same, but, regardless, more and more incoming college freshman are disastrously unprepared and unmotivated to achieve that goal. What, then, drives them in herds onto America’s campuses every fall?

Those same student respondents that expressed the “of course” attitudes about college, also responded that their primary motivators for pursuing college were: good job, good salary.5 Somewhere between the illusion of the American Dream and a Bachelors degree lies the truth. Do students simply expect to earn a degree with little work? It makes sense that students whose educational experiences up through secondary school have been somewhat boring, unchallenging and downright lackluster, may expect that their college experience will be similar. Given this illusion, then of course, most students see a college degree in their future, and are justifiably caught very off guard when their first semester of college rolls around and kicks them squarely between the eyes.

What High-Performing High Schools Know That Others Don’t

Samples of select high school teaching methods and policies, chosen for their success rates with college-ready students, reveal fundamental strategies that consistently nurture college campus-ready high school students:

  • High quality, experienced, and flexible teachers.
  • Teachers capable of evaluating the teaching-learning paradigm and prepared to adjust techniques given the results.
  • Auxiliary mentors, tutors, and after school study assistance, available and engaged.
  • Advanced college preparatory coursework “beyond state and district standards.”6

Any suggestion from naysayers that these methods would fail in certain high schools is moot– these methods belong to and were observed in practice in a handful of “high-performing” schools in high minority, high poverty areas. Which means, essentially, that if these methods work to develop the skills of high school students in disadvantaged schools, they should work in almost any high school in America. Furthermore, the study that distilled these findings was ultimately presented as a primer for education lawmakers.7

Some Students Face Deeper Challenges on Campus

Academic shortcomings notwithstanding, there are student populations that statistically struggle even harder.

Why First Generation Students Face Further Adversity

First-generation college students, especially minorities, face challenges stemming first and foremost from lack of familial support. In fact, the majority of ethnic minority students rate “parental influence” as a number one factor in their “educational choices.”8 This is not to say that parents do not want a college education for their children, but parents without experience of academic life beyond high school are less prepared to provide the emotional and psychological support and motivation necessary to keep their first-in-family student on campus. These types of students may also feel disenfranchised from higher education, and out of place with students whose families take college as a matter of course.

Male Freshman May Struggle with College Structure

Males are, on the average, less agile than their female counterparts when it comes to standardizing their on-campus lives, including organizational skills, prioritization and time management, and defining successful study habits and methods. Course assignments tend to fall behind and concrete goals are elusive. When these factors fall apart or are non-existent, males may be unable to remain academically buoyant, further supporting the alarming statistics: for every 100 women that graduate college, only 73 men will do the same.9

If so many college freshmen are surprised by the rigors of college academics—in combination with the traditional transition to campus life—that they are at risk for dropping out, then what’s being done to change the freshman experience?

Since America’s high schools are failing to adequately renovate curriculum or recruit (and pay for) the type of teachers necessary to maintain a high-performing program, then it must become the responsibility of colleges and universities to provide the necessary student support.

Freshman Survival: Retention Programs Stem Anxiety

Some college and university administrators are quite concerned that the drop out rate among college freshman is their responsibility. In response, retention programs have begun to spring up. Whether grassroots, campus-created, or pre-packaged Freshmen Survival courses administered by professional educational coaches, retention programs essentially guide students with bumpy campus transitions and connect them to the resources—academic, social, religious, medical, financial—they will need to succeed on campus.

Preparedness for college life goes well beyond the pale of sheer academics. Fueling the need for transition programs. High school students are equally unprepared for the responsibilities of a more “adult” world. Common challenges that await freshman on traditional college campuses:

  • Financial matters
  • Study and time management
  • Personal organization and prioritization

“Give Them Time, They’ll Find Their Way Around”

Students most likely to drop out do so before they reach their sophomore year. Some leave for holiday breaks, Spring Breaks, and summer vacation, and never return, some with little indication they are leaving. The general excitement about college quickly wanes, but many administrators still believe much of the work is done once kids are on campus. As bright an idea as retention programs seem, they are only being used on a fraction of America’s campuses—29%.10

Factors in College Retention: What Programs Can Be Put in Place to Help Students?

Over the last few years college administrators, as well as students, have tackled the issues inherent to student retention. A large number of colleges and universities of all kinds, collectively assigned the following practices as primary in retention programs:11

  • Freshman seminars and courses.
  • Academic assistance, from mentors and tutors to remedial courses.
  • Available advisors willing to engage with students and offer sooner-than-later guidance on academic goals.

Alternative indicators suggest that there are other factors that make a difference in student engagement and transition:

  • Evidence suggests that students with campus-based jobs are less likely to drop out. Perhaps they are more disciplined with study skills and time management.12
  • Remediation programs, or high school level courses that help bring students up to speed with essential freshman courses. Remedial coursework remains popular in community college systems, a controversial issue in higher education, but possibly a strong reason why an increasing number of students are opting for 2+2 programs, or community college to four-year transfer programs. Some supporters of remedial programs insist the concept must be accepted among four-year colleges, as well, to stem the dropout rate or discourage transfers to community colleges.13
  • Available advisers are seen by students as “concerned person[s] in the campus community” able to interact and connect with freshman. Student responses have suggested this type of “quality interaction” may be one of the simplest solutions for new students away from home for the first time and feeling lost in the shuffle.14

Retention Tools

Colleges and universities unable to design and develop their own retention programs may utilize pre-packaged programs or resources from a number of providers:

  • Of the 29% of schools that have retention programs, 1315 so far participate in the “Foundations of Excellence in the First College Year.” Policy Center on the First Year of College administers this program with a mission to inspire college and university campuses to become “engaging” environments for first year students. With tools provided through the Foundations of Excellence program, institutions may conduct careful self-assessment of all aspects of campus life, including “policies and practices.” Eventually changes are developed—the outcome, a totally synthesized campus that embraces first year students and their experiences, instead of excluding and isolating.
  • The National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students in Transition provides written materials, seminars, conferences, and networking opportunities for institutions interested in creating a “first year experience” worth hanging around to savor. The Center is best known for its University 101 course, an innovative and very successful program that guides new students in their shift to campus life.
  • The Center for the Study of College Student Retention provides a stable of resources for institutions. Administrators have access to research specific to the issues, as well as a general guide designed to lead any institution through development of a retention program.

High Dollar Freshman “Coaches” Hit a Mother Lode

Plenty of lip service is paid to for-profit “coaching” services prior to college—professional assistance with admissions forms, guidance during college and financial aid processes, as well as scholarship and grant assistance. But some colleges and universities are paying top dollar for another kind of coaching service—retention coaches.

First year coaches function as a freshman’s guardian angel; they provide motivation when students feel down, guidance in mapping academic goals, and offer tips and advice for improving study habits, managing time, coexisting with roommates, and building successful relationships with campus faculty and advisers.16

A mere handful of student coaching businesses exist, but plenty more are sure to follow—the money making potential is great and this segment of the education market, so far untapped. But with service fees of “$800 to $1,400 per student”17, what colleges and universities are paying? Apparently, plenty.

Freshman Attrition: No Easy Answer

Given the disparity of issues facing contemporary college freshmen, it’s clear there is no one easy answer to halt freshman dropouts. Students begin their college careers with little understanding of the impending rigors. Apparently high schools, save for a few high-performers, dish up less than desirable college preparatory curriculum. Admission to a college would also seem to validate a students’ academic record, but this is misleading, as well.

Retention programs are likely to continue spreading among college campuses; they must. Sources suggest that the federal government may soon challenge higher education on the dropout issue, perhaps with fines for high numbers of students that fail to make it to graduation.

First year on campus, given all the factors at work, is a tricky balancing act. Groundwork for first year transitions must be built. On the other end of the spectrum, is it just a dream that U.S. high school education will make the sweeping changes necessary to lead kids to college level academics; to inspire them as opposed to bore them?

1 National Freshman Attitudes Report, Noel-Levitz, 2007, accessed August 30, 2007,

2 Perez, Gayle, “Educators Support Temporary Lower Admissions Standards,” August 17, 2007, accessed August 27, 2007,

3 “Study: One in Five Drop Out of College Before Sophomore Year,” Albany Democrat-Herald, February 21, 2006, accessed August 27, 2007,

4 “Study: One in Five Drop Out of College Before Sophomore Year,” Albany Democrat-Herald, February 21, 2006, accessed August 27, 2007,

5 National Freshman Attitudes Report, Noel-Levitz.

6 “Preparing All High School Students for College and Work: What High-Performing Schools are Teaching,” ACT, February 23, 2005, accessed August 30, 2007, .

7 Implications for Policymakers, ACT, 2005, accessed August 30, 2007,

8 Szelenyi, Katalin, “Minority Student Retention and Academic Achievement in Community Colleges,” 2004, accessed August 29, 2007, .

9 National Freshman Attitudes Report, Noel-Levitz.

10 Draeger, Justin, “An Examination of First-Year College Students,” NASFAA, 2007, accessed August 26, 2007, .

11 Wesley Habley, Randy McClanahan, What Works in Student Retention? All Survey Colleges, ACT, 2004, accessed August 30, 2007, .

12 Cermak, Katherine, “On-Campus Employment as a Factor of Student Retention and Graduation,” DePaul University, February 19, 2004, accessed August 26, 2007, .

13 Gehrman, Elizabeth, “What Makes Kids Drop Out of College?” Harvard University Gazette, May 4, 2006, accessed August 26, 2007,

14 “Many U.S. Colleges Overlooking a Potential Cure for College Dropouts,” ACT News, June 23, 2004, accessed August 26, 2007, .

15 “MSU Fights to Retain Freshman Students,” KFYR-TV, August 21, 2007, accessed August 26, 2007, .

16 DeBare, Ilana, “Executive Style Coaches Put College Students on Track to Success,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 2007, accessed August 26, 2007, .

17 DeBare, “Executive Style Coaches Put College Students on Track to Success.”

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How Will the New Affirmative Action Controversies Affect Your Scholarship/Financial Aid Search?

Posted on Jan. 26th 2007 by Amelia

If you haven’t been paying attention, Affirmative Action is under fire in the college/university realm. At the epicenter is Michigan, which has recently passed a proposition—a.k.a. the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,—a la California’s Proposition 209 passed in 1996. California’s landmark law made it illegal for state colleges and universities, as well as any other public institution, to consider college admissions and financial aid on the basis of gender, color, race, creed or nationality.

But for the last few decades that is exactly how colleges and universities have diversified. The last decade itself saw scads of science, engineering and technology (SET) scholarships targeted specifically and unabashedly to minorities and women. If you listen to such watch-dog organizations as the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) then you will likely be influenced to believe that higher education is now turned on its ear racially. Others argue for the gender side—white males are a minority on college campuses, thanks to years of preferential scholarships for minorities and women.

Yes, it’s one big messy Pandora’s Box and everyone has a gripe.

How We Do “Race-Blind”?

“Race-blind” is the new buzzword in college admissions. But the issue encompasses gender as well. For college students all this political rhetoric and positioning portends a muddle of scholarship and financial aid shifts, including careful rewording of applications and criteria and selection rationale. But will it change anything, really?

The New York Times (Colleges Regroup After Voters Ban Race Preferences, Lewin) today suggests that colleges and universities en masse will scramble to find their way around the issues, alter application criteria to include more ambiguous terms all the while staying ON race:

“At Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, a new admissions policy, without mentioning race, allows officials to consider factors like living on an Indian reservation or in mostly black Detroit, or overcoming discrimination or prejudice.”

Popular Vote—Who’s Popular?

Michigan’s Proposition 2, it’s noted, was passed by a “popular vote” of 52 to 48, “despite strong opposition from government, business, labor, education and religious leaders.” Since the issue now polarizes voters, and it’s unclear how many of those are college students registered to vote, the question becomes WHO exactly is getting out the vote?

If you’re looking at colleges, especially public, this will likely affect you, regardless of your color, race, creed or sex. And the issue is becoming pervasive:

“Both defenders and opponents of affirmative action say the lesson of last fall’s campaign in Michigan…is that such initiatives can succeed almost anywhere.”

It would be interesting if the demographics of the vote in Michigan were available; for instance, how many African American, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, and women voted for the measure? Better yet, how telling it might be to actually see the numbers of registered college voters that participated. Because once all is said and done this may be THE minority group we’re talking about.

Even though the CEO and others may argue that race is sucking the life out of college admissions and financial aid, there are just as many others that argue killing Affirmative Action will assuredly set off a juggernaut of racial inequality on campuses across the U.S. How do they suppose that?

Race-Blind Undoes Diversity Measures

Follow-up to the California Proposition 209 and similar measures in Texas have proven the theory. UCLA’s numbers on Blacks, Hispanics and Asians entering next gen classes have been incrementally dropping since 209 was passed. In fact, according to the NYT Black freshmen at UCLA are at a “30-year low.” Texas universities revealed similar scores, which subsequently impelled officials to once again include race in the admissions criteria for public universities.

Since it seems that nationwide campus diversity will continue to be a bugaboo for institutions regardless of the “popular vote,” which I’d argue is largely post-college, what can be done to maintain fairness and diversity?

Wayne State University in Detroit set one of its law professors on the problem. His job was to develop a workable plan that jumps through Michigan’s new legal measures, while at the same time it discreetly circumnavigates the brouhaha. Carefully worded language and rephrased criteria that summarily avoid the word “race,” instead troll for students based on:

“…first in the family to go to college or graduate school; having overcome substantial obstacles, including prejudice and discrimination; being multilingual; and residence abroad, in Detroit or on an Indian reservation.”

New Age of Scholarships and Financial Aid

Yes, there are changes afoot, but how drastically they will change is hard to say. Colleges and universities know they must find a way to stay the course with diversity measures at the same time they must respect the law. In the future you will find that your “disadvantage,” whatever it may be, must be approached from a more subtle aspect. Students who mention race, gender and any other Affirmative Action-related labels and terms may be pushed aside in the name of the law.

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