Episode 128: College Enrollment in Decline?

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Today’s episode is going to be the final one of our Colleges in the Spotlight series because next week we are really getting down to the serious work of getting our rising high school seniors ready to apply to colleges. So, as we leave Colleges in the Spotlight, we want to take a look at a news story that might just be bringing good news to some of you. The story, which ran in The Hechinger Report and in The Washington Post at the end of June, was entitled “Universities and colleges struggle to stem big drops in enrollment.” Really, I said to myself. That could be great news for kids applying to colleges this fall.

Today’s episode will look at the national facts and figures of this new trend. Plus we will look at Ohio Wesleyan University–in today’s spotlight–a good small liberal arts college in Delaware, Ohio. Ohio Wesleyan enrolls about 1,700 undergraduate students and boasts an attractive 10-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. In the interest of full disclosure, my sister-in-law graduated from Ohio Wesleyan “some years ago” (that means more than 40 years ago) and, by all accounts, thoroughly enjoyed her time there.

And one final reminder: Don’t forget to get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students–available at amazon.com. Quick and cheap! Your teenager is going to need it this summer when he or she might have some time to kill. We will tell you more when we get serious next week, so stay tuned.

1. The Facts and Figures on Enrollment Decline

Here are some of the facts and figures presented by Jon Marcus in The Hechinger Report article:

  • According to the National Student Clearinghouse, college enrollment has declined for five years in a row.
  • This year, there are 81,000 fewer U.S. high school graduates going off to college, which is a direct result of a decline in birth rate (particularly in the Northeast and Midwest).
  • Just over 18 million students were enrolled in colleges nationwide last spring–2.4 million fewer students than were enrolled in the fall of 2011, which was the most recent high point for college enrollment. I am going to say that over 2 million students is a lot of students to lose.
  • According to a survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, 58 percent of chief business officers said their institutions had seen a drop in undergraduate enrollment since 2013. (Although 58 percent is certainly the majority of colleges, it doesn’t mean that the statement is true for the most selective colleges–where it is likely not true, just to keep things in perspective.)
  • According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, over 400 colleges still had fall semester spots for freshmen and transfer students as of May 1. (Again, that doesn’t mean those 400 included the most selective colleges, but 400 is still a lot of colleges and every U.S. high school graduate does not, of course, attend a most selective college.)

What does the future hold? When will it all change? Not until 2023, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). Here is what The Hechinger Report article says about what will then be a “slow recovery”:

When it comes, [the recovery] will be [composed] largely of low-income, first-generation-in-college racial and ethnic minorities. These are the kinds of students institutions have generally proven poor at enrolling, and who will arrive with a far greater need for financial aid and expensive support. (quoted from the website)

So, colleges might not have an easy time of it as they work to stem the decline and turn enrollment around–not that many high school seniors and their families are going to be overly sympathetic about that.

Can this information work in favor of kids applying to colleges in the next few years? Before we consider what it all means, let’s look at the Ohio Wesleyan case study, presented in The Hechinger Report article.

2. The Story of Ohio Wesleyan

Hit with a decline in Ohio high school graduates, a prime recruiting ground for Ohio Wesleyan, the University took and is taking a number of steps to boost its enrollment, based on data that it looked at both from admitted students who decided to enroll and admitted students who decided not to enroll. Here are some of those steps:

  • Because the drop in male students was greater than the drop in female students, Ohio Wesleyan is adding two sports (and a marching band) to try to attract more male students.
  • Because students said they wanted more internship and more study abroad opportunities, both internships and short-term study abroad programs are being expanded.
  • Because new sources of students needed to be found, Ohio Wesleyan admissions staff members have been recruiting locally (in Cleveland), regionally (in Chicago), and much farther afield (in China, India, and Pakistan). In addition, the transfer process has been simplified so that students wanting to transfer into Ohio Wesleyan can do so more easily.
  • Because some undergraduates are concerned about where they will be going next for graduate study (Ohio Wesleyan enrolls undergrads only), articulation agreements with Carnegie-Mellon University and with a medical school have just been drawn up to make the transition from undergraduate to graduate study more straightforward–in at least those cases.
  • Because money is always an issue for students and their families, Ohio Wesleyan has budgeted more money for financial aid. In addition, “the University is considering freezing, lowering or slowing the rate of increase of its tuition and fees, which are now $44,690” (quoted from the article).
  • Because students are concerned about their futures, Ohio Wesleyan has been studying labor data and creating new majors in fields of high demand, including majors in data analytics and computational neuroscience. Ohio Wesleyan president Rock Jones was quoted in The Hechinger Report article as saying this: “We live in a really consumer-driven society, and to be honest a college is an investment. Families are much more discerning, and they approach it as consumers. That’s a cultural shift to which the campus has to respond.”

One of my favorite anecdotes from The Hechinger Report article is this one (and I think this will be particularly enjoyable for anyone who has friends who teach in colleges and who hear about the politics of higher education from those friends):

One of the greatest challenges, as at other places, has been to get buy-in from the faculty, who have to approve new academic offerings. Ohio Wesleyan invited faculty on the curriculum committee to meet with the financial-aid committee, giving them a sense of how serious the problems were and asking them for help in coming up with majors that might attract more students.

This doesn’t always work. One faculty member suggested a new major in sacred music, for example. “Some faculty have a very clear understanding of the issues,” [President] Jones said wryly. “Others, less so.” (quoted from the article)

3. More About Money

For those of you particularly concerned about financing a college education for your teenager (and who isn’t), consider this new statistic:

Small private, nonprofit colleges and universities this year gave back, in the form of financial aid, an average of 51 cents of every dollar they collected from tuition. That’s up from an average of 38 cents a decade ago. . . . (quoted from the article)

I guess that is good news for students and their families, but perhaps bad news for colleges that continue to try to make ends meet. Of course, there also has to be a point here when most colleges cannot give back almost everything they take in and still remain viable.

And while we could tell you stories of small private colleges cutting their tuition and, as a result, gaining additional students, here is one public flagship university story that could also prove valuable to some of you:

The University of Maine, in a state whose number of high school grads has fallen 9 percent since 2011, offered admission to students from elsewhere at the same in-state price they would have paid to attend their home flagships; that has attracted more than 1,000 new students for the semester that begins this fall, from all of the other New England states plus California, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (quoted from the article)

We have talked about these kinds of arrangements with public universities in previous USACollegeChat episodes and in our most recent book, where we mention that some public universities provide generous discounts to students from contiguous states or to students in the region. The University of Maine seems to have found a way to expand that idea nationwide and win more students as a result.

4. What’s It All Mean for You?

So, what does all this mean for you and your own teenager? Well, let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that your kid’s chances of getting into an Ivy League school or any other top-tier college are any better now than they were before you listened to this episode. Whatever happens to the number of high school students in the U.S. and no matter what the decline is in the number of high school graduates statewide in your state or nationwide, our nation’s most selective colleges are not going to feel the pinch. That is just our opinion, but it is probably right.

It is also likely true that the top public flagship universities are not going to feel the pinch, either–like the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of California, Berkeley, and another five or 10 more. Why? Because those top flagships attract students from across the nation, and there will always be enough students with good enough grades to fill the best public universities.

But here is the good news. Your teenager might have a better chance now of getting into a good small private college–and there are plenty of those. If you have a super-smart kid, such a college could serve as a great safety school. If you have a kid with good, but not outstanding, grades and test scores, such a college could become a likely match rather than a reach school.

We have said for some time at USACollegeChat that our public flagship universities are the hidden jewels of our higher education system. And we are not taking that back. But now maybe we should add that good small private colleges might be the hidden jewels of our higher education system precisely because they will give you a better bang for your buck than you originally thought. Let’s keep that in mind next week as we move to the serious search for colleges for your teenager.

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Episode 127: Private Colleges for Low-Income Students?

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Welcome back from the Fourth of July break! This episode is going to be the next-to-last one in our Colleges in the Spotlight series because very soon we have to get down to the serious work of where our new crop of high school seniors should be applying to college. So, today we want to take a look at a population that we don’t focus on as much as we might–that is, low-income students who live in rural areas. Although we are based in New York City, we do try hard to look at colleges and students across the U.S. But I am guessing that students in rural areas do not get as much attention from us as they perhaps should. And, in today’s case study of a great program, we are going to talk about low-income rural students in the state of Oregon.

While you are waiting for the real work to begin in a couple of weeks, don’t forget to head on over to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Your teenager should be poring over it summer. You should go back and listen to Episodes 119 and 120 to find out why. By the way, I got an email this week from a smart and talented colleague to ask whether I might have time to help his rising senior with her personal statement for her college applications. So, friends, a new application season is indeed beginning.

1. What Is GEAR UP?

Before we get to today’s Oregon case study, let us say a word about a federally funded Department of Education initiative known as GEAR UP (that is, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs). Here is what the U.S. Department of Education website says about GEAR UP:

This discretionary grant program is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools. GEAR UP grantees serve an entire cohort of students beginning no later than the seventh grade and follow the cohort through high school. GEAR UP funds are also used to provide college scholarships to low-income students.

. . . State grants are competitive six-year matching grants that must include both an early intervention component designed to increase college attendance and success and raise the expectations of low-income students and a scholarship component. (quoted from the website)

So, here is some federal money being earmarked to improve higher education opportunities for low-income students by working with these students early in their secondary school years (that is, starting no later than seventh grade) and sticking with them through high school. That long-term assistance sounds excellent to me, and I hope that the services being provided with GEAR UP funds are indeed substantial enough to make a difference.

By the way, if you are worried about your federal tax dollars, perhaps you will be relieved to learn that the agencies receiving the federal grants are required to match them dollar-for-dollar. So, in the case of state grants, that’s half federal monies and half state monies. You can check on whether your state has any GEAR UP funds, and you can check on how those funds are being used, if you think they might be helpful to your own kids.

2. What Is GEAR UP in Oregon?

Education Week turned the spotlight on Oregon in its May article by Liana Loewus entitled “Pitching Rural, Low-Income Students on Private Colleges.” The article focuses on the way that Oregon uses its GEAR UP grant funds–which is, interestingly, to expose low-income, first-generation-to-college students from the rural areas of Oregon to Oregon’s private liberal arts colleges so that these students can consider private colleges as real and affordable options.

This strategy is particularly intriguing in a state that has two well-known and admired public universities–the University of Oregon in Eugene and Oregon State University in Corvallis, which together serve about 50,000 students. According to the Education Week article, Adrienne Enriquez, a program manager for Oregon GEAR UP, noted that both students and staff in Oregon’s rural schools “didn’t necessarily have as much knowledge and information about the private colleges in the state as they might have [had] about the four-year public universities” (quoted from the article). I think that is not surprising in a state where there are high-visibility public universities, including a much-loved flagship university, along with the fact that many of the teachers and school counselors in those rural Oregon secondary schools are very likely graduates of the two public state universities.

Oregon GEAR UP has joined forces with The Alliance, a group of 18 small private colleges in Oregon–colleges that are anxious to attract some of these low-income rural students, who probably never heard of them. The Education Week article quoted Brent Wilder, the vice president of The Alliance, as saying this:

“There are a lot of myths out there about private education that just aren’t true. . . That it’s only for affluent individuals, that our campuses aren’t diverse. . .  We have the highest graduation rate in Oregon [for] students of color.” (quoted from the article)

Wow. That statistic was so impressive that I looked up The Alliance and found out these additional facts about it and its members:

  • There are 12 college members and six college affiliates, currently enrolling about 35,000 students. Many of the colleges, I am embarrassed to say, I knew nothing about. But the members list did include Lewis & Clark College, Willamette University, the University of Portland, and Reed College, which we have talked about at USACollegeChat on our virtual nationwide tour and which is one of the best private liberal arts colleges anywhere.
  • Collectively, these colleges award one in five bachelor’s degrees in Oregon and one in two master’s degrees and doctoral degrees in Oregon.
  • 61 percent of their students graduate in four years (compared to about 50 percent at the flagship University of Oregon and about 32 percent at Oregon State University).
  • 93 percent of students starting as full-time students receive grants, averaging over $20,000 per year.
  • 28 percent of students graduate with no college debt.
  • One in three of their U.S. degree-seeking students is a student of color.

So, with these favorable statistics, it’s understandable that colleges in The Alliance feel that they have something to offer low-income, first-generation-to-college rural students in Oregon.

3. What Activities Does GEAR UP Offer Oregon?

According to the Education Week article, GEAR UP offers activities both for Oregon educators and for Oregon high school students. Here are some of them:

Through the GEAR UP program, small groups of teachers, administrators, and counselors come together from different parts of the state to visit private college campuses over a few days. GEAR UP–which was slated for a slight funding increase under a budget agreement expected to be approved by Congress last week, but is among the education programs President Donald Trump would like to cut in a 2018 budget–pays for their travel and lodging and reimburses districts for substitute teachers. (quoted from the article)

And the information goes both ways, according to the article. Oregon GEAR UP also tries to inform the professors and college admissions officers at these private colleges about the small, rural high schools that GEAR UP students attend. Having more information about these high schools and about the challenges that some of these students face can, in fact, help admissions officers make better, fairer, more aware decisions about admitting GEAR UP students.

Turning to students, here is a valuable service provided for high school kids:

For the third straight summer, Oregon GEAR UP is also running [an all-expenses-paid] Private College Week camp, during which high school students visit several colleges, staying on campus at one of them, and learn about admissions processes and financial aid. (quoted from the article)

That sounds great, but why are these visits particularly important for these rural students? Let’s look at what Ms. Enriquez said in the article:

In describing the need for this kind of program, which is unique to the Oregon version of GEAR UP, Enriquez said that visits to the larger universities were scaring off some students from rural communities.

“They’re visiting classrooms that hold more people than live in their town. They go through the lunch line and they have to go through turnstiles, and they’ve never seen those,” she said.

A few years ago, a group of students from the tiny logging community of Powers came off a tour of the 20,000-student University of Oregon not wanting to go to college at all. In a post-visit survey, they indicated, “College is not for me. It’s too big and too scary,” Enriquez said.

The colleges that students see during the weeklong summer camp generally have between 1,000 and 4,000 students. (quoted from the article)

We talked about the size of the college as a deal breaker for some kids and for some parents in our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. (It’s still available, by the way, at Amazon.com.) But I don’t believe that I have ever heard a more persuasive anecdote about how much size can matter to a kid and about how overwhelming a large university might actually be to a kid from a tiny rural town.

4. Show Me the Money

It would be hard to have a discussion of sending a bunch of low-income kids to private colleges without tackling the very real issue of how much that is going to cost those families. The private colleges in The Alliance do actually cost about twice as much for tuition and housing as Oregon’s public universities.

But here are some useful facts and figures that take into consideration the generous financial aid offered by many of the private college Alliance members: “The average net price for low-income students at the Oregon state universities is about $13,000. At private schools . . . , it’s closer to $20,000. However, at Reed College, among the nation’s most academically prestigious private colleges, low-income students [tend to pay only] about $9,000” (quoted from the article).

So, the bottom line is that private colleges should not be ruled out in favor of only public universities because of cost. Some might be somewhat more expensive than public universities, though perhaps not out-of-sight more expensive; others might actually be less expensive than public universities. You don’t know what kind of financial aid package you can get until you try.

5. What About College “Fit”?

We hear so much these days about “fit”–that is, how good a fit is a college for your kid. Here is what the Education Week article had to say about the importance of the academic and social and cultural fit of a college for a student:

In the 2016 book Matching Students to Opportunity: Expanding College Choice, Access, and Quality, Jessica Howell and her co-authors explain that college fit, and in particular going to a school that matches a student’s academic credentials, is positively associated with earning a degree.

“By and large, we know that when students enroll in a college that isn’t a good fit for them, that’s usually because they didn’t consider colleges that would have been a better fit,” Howell said in an interview. “We need to open up students’ eyes early in the process so they know their options.” (quoted from the article)

Well, that is a perfect segue to our upcoming series, which will focus exactly on that: opening up students’ eyes so that they know their options. That could have been the title of our new book (instead we called it How To Explore Your College Options). In the coming summer weeks, we would like to help you help your teenager open his or her eyes–early enough so that there is still plenty of time to act on what he or she finds out.

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Episode 126: Colleges That Are Successful at Delivering Needed Career Skills

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Today’s episode of our Colleges in the Spotlight series takes what our regular listeners will recognize as a surprising turn. You all may recall the many times we have championed the liberal arts as a great way for undergraduates to spend at least two–if not four–years. We have quoted many dignitaries from college presidents to elected Congressional leaders about the merits of liberal arts study. Let me be the first to say that I am not backing down on that. On the other hand, let me also offer a somewhat alternative view and to let you know what some colleges are doing about it.

And, of course, remember to go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. It’s a book for your teenager to use this summer. You can go back and listen to Episodes 119 and 120 to find out what the book is all about.

1. The Problem

We would like to thank John Hanc for his June 7 New York Times article, which profiled a number of colleges doing interesting work on the problem of college graduates who do not have the job skills that employers need, perhaps because their colleges did not have programs that focused sufficiently on those skills. The article quotes Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution, as saying, on the other hand, that some higher education institutions “have their ear to the ground, they’re listening to local employers and paying attention to what they need.” Mr. Hanc’s article puts the spotlight on seven institutions and their innovative programs for closing the “skill gap,” and you should take a look at all seven. By the way, some programs are part of four-year undergraduate programs, some are part of two-year community college programs, and some are certificate programs that are not part of a two-year or four-year degree–something for everyone. But, for now, let’s put our spotlight on a handful of those institutions and programs.

2. The Innovative Programs

Case Western Reserve University. Let’s start with Case Western Reserve University, a well-respected private research university in Cleveland, Ohio. Case Western enrolls almost 12,000 students, with slightly more graduate and professional students than undergraduate students. According to the article, Case Western offers 15-credit and 18-credit minors that are “responsive to changing industries and emerging technologies” and that could be “one of the more effective strategies for preparing students to enter high-demand fields” (quoted from the article).

One of these minors is in applied data science. For those of you who don’t know what that is, applied data science includes skills in data management, distributed computing, informatics, and statistical analytics. (I hope that helped!) But here is some more information about the applied data science minor: 

[This] Case minor has attracted students from majors like arts and sciences, engineering, business and health care. Graduates enter the market with an important and salable credential. A 2016 poll conducted by Gallup for the Business-Higher Education Forum found that 69 percent of employers expected that, by 2021, candidates with data science skills would get preference for jobs in their organizations.

While that 69 percent figure might be frightening to some of us, it wasn’t frightening to Case Western, which appears to have responded effectively in order to close that skill gap for at least some of its graduates. My guess is that other minors Case Western offers close other skill gaps with equal success. You might want to go find out if your teenager is interested in a good private university in the Midwest.

California Institute of Technology. Let’s turn to a program operated by the highly respected California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in cooperation with Base 11, a nonprofit that describes itself this way on its own website: “We connect employers, academic institutions, and entrepreneurial opportunities with high-potential, low-resource students who have shown interest and talent but lack the access and resources needed to realize their greatest potential.” (quoted from the website)

In this joint program, community college students from across California “are mentored by Caltech graduate students through on-campus summer internships and semester-long programs.” (quoted from the article) As you might guess from the fact that the program is at Caltech, the focus of the program is on STEM fields and especially on aerospace engineering, which is a major field of employment in California. The results have been good.

Interestingly, Base 11 runs similar programs in cooperation with the University of Southern California’s School of Engineering and with the University of California, Irvine (loyal listeners will remember that we spoke at length about UC Irvine and its Hispanic Serving Institution designation back in Episode 124). So kudos to you, Base 11, and to you again, UC Irvine.

Lake Area Technical Institute. Awarded the Aspen Institute’s 2017 Prize for Community College Excellence, Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD) has gotten some pretty impressive results: a graduation rate that is twice the community college national average and a 99 percent job placement rate. How did that happen?

Michael Cartney, president of Lake Area Technical Institute, is quoted as saying this in testimony to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee: “Tightly knit student cohorts in clearly defined graduation paths with close connections to their industry-trained instructors has been a formula for success.” (quoted in the article)

The article goes on to say that the Lake Area Technical Institute “holds its 2,400 students accountable, as if they were in a job setting” (quoted from the article). I would actually like to know more specifics about how that is done. It strikes me as a great idea, but I would be interested in the details.

And finally, there are “close ties with local and regional industry (every major, for example, has an advisory board of industry professionals).” (quoted from the article) Having industry-based advisory boards is a proud tradition typical of many high school career and technical programs as well as community college technical programs. When it works well, it makes a lot of sense. It evidently is working well at Lake Area Technical Institute.

If you believe that the purpose of college is to get a job–as many people do believe these days–then this college profile has to be judged as impressive.

Miami Dade College. Now let me say a word about Miami Dade College (MDC), which is an enormous public community college with seven campuses in and near Miami, Florida. MDC enrolls more than 92,000 credit students, who study for certificates, for associate’s degrees in more than 150 majors, and even for bachelor’s degrees in more than 20 majors. About 70 percent of its students are Hispanic.

According to the article, MDC has an innovative new degree in data analytics, which is described this way:

The program begins with a certificate in business intelligence, progresses to an associate in science in business intelligence, and culminates in a bachelor of science in data analytics.

The Labor Department defines this “stackable” approach as a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated to build up students’ qualifications and help them move along a career path.

“This provides flexibility for those students who might need to be in the work force while in school,” said Karen Elzey, vice president of the Business-Higher Education Forum, which was a partner in starting the program. (quoted from the article)

In my own experience working with community colleges, this is the kind of program that community colleges do really well. It is also the kind of program that understands that the average age of MDC credit students is 25, with about one-third of MDC credit students 26 or older. Adult students might understandably “need to be in the work force while in school,” just as Ms. Elzey said.

Nevertheless, about one-third of MDC credit students are traditional-aged college students from 18 to 20. So, students do go directly from high school. And so could your teenager, especially if you live in southern Florida.

Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. Though I am a big fan of Ben Franklin, here is an institution that I had never heard of. Its beginnings are actually in Franklin’s 1790 will, in which he left Boston an endowment for the training of apprentices (that is, in those times, young men under 25). “I believe good apprentices are likely to make good citizens,” Franklin is quoted as writing in his will.

Located in Boston’s South End, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology “offers two- and four-year degrees in high-demand fields like health information technology, computer technology and automotive technology (in the planning stages: a program in driverless-car technology).” (quoted from the article) Its graduates seem to be getting jobs. I guess Franklin would say today that college graduates who can get good jobs quickly are likely to make good citizens. Maybe this is one more good idea that Ben Franklin had more than 225 years ago.

3. What Does This Mean for You?

What does all this mean for you? It means that the degree to which a college can claim to bridge the career-related skills gap that employers are finding in college graduates is one more thing to consider when looking at colleges for your teenager. This is especially true if you are looking at community colleges and associate’s degrees as the best choice for your teenager immediately after high school.

If you are a regular listener, you know that we have long been concerned about the low graduation rates and low transfer rates that many community colleges post. That worry doesn’t end here. But, a community college that can show you programs that lead to good careers–along with a high percentage of students who graduate and get jobs in those fields–could be worth a serious look.

4. Happy Fourth of July!

So, in honor of the Fourth of July holiday, we are going to take a break next Thursday. We hope you have a wonderful celebration over the next five or so days. And we hope that you and your high schooler at home come back ready to work because senior year is fast approaching.

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Episode 125: Colleges Serving First-Generation-to-College Students

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

Welcome back to our Colleges in the Spotlight series. Last week, we focused on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)–where the campus student population must be at least 25 percent Latino, with more than half financially needy–and the good work that they have been doing to smooth the way for Latino/Latina students, many of whom are the first generation in their families to attend college. Kudos again to UC Irvine for its excellent programs and services for Latino/Latina students!

Today’s episode picks up from where last week’s left off. This episode will look at a couple of colleges that do a good job of providing services for first-generation-to-college students. And let us remind you to take a glance back at Episode 103, where we describe the truly outstanding work that Georgia State University has been doing to serve its black students, many of whom are first-generation-to-college students. We couldn’t have been more impressed.

Before we turn to the colleges in the spotlight today, please remember to go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. It’s a user-friendly way to help your teenager investigate colleges of interest to him or her–perfect for current or recent high school juniors who are getting ready to apply to college next year. What a way to spend the summer: reading our book and doing the homework we assign! As we said last week, we are offering a money-back guarantee if the book doesn’t help your teenager.

1. The Context for First-Generation-to College Students

Let’s look at the context in which first-generation-to-college students go to college, thanks to a comprehensive article written by Eilene Zimmerman on June 7 in The New York Times: 

First-generation students mostly come from low- to middle-income families, are disproportionally Hispanic and African-American and have little, if any, information about their higher education options. As a result, they often have misconceptions and anxiety about attending college. 

College counselors can help these students deal with the complexity of the college preparation and application process. Yet few public high schools serving significant numbers of low-income and first-generation students have anywhere near enough counselors. 

According to the 2015 State of College Admissions report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, counselors at public high schools are, on average, each responsible for 436 students, and those counselors spend only 22 percent of their time on pre-college counseling. (quoted from the article)

Well, this is a refrain that our listeners have heard many times here at USACollegeChat and that our readers have read in our books. Public high school counselors–even those public high schools with dedicated college counselors–cannot begin to do what they need to do for each student, especially for first-generation-to-college students who are likely to need additional help and advice. Public high school counselors absolutely do not have the time necessary to do this work, and too many of them do not have the background knowledge and up-to-date information necessary to do this work. It is no wonder that these kids come to college with the “misconceptions and anxiety” that Ms. Zimmerman refers to in her article.

And here are some more facts, according to Ms. Zimmerman’s article:

About one-third of undergraduates in colleges in the United States are first-generation students, according [to] the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and the United States Department of Education. (quoted from the article)

Let us stop right there for a minute. One-third of college undergraduates are first-generation-to-college students! We think that number is actually quite extraordinary. It means that colleges are indeed bringing in new students from many backgrounds (although we know that any number of experts believe that colleges should do even more to reach out to such students). Frankly, I would have guessed that the number would have been lower. But here is the more troubling news:

Only 27 percent [of first-generation students] earn a college degree in four years, compared with 42 percent of students with parents who went to college, according to a report from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Without a college degree, children of low-income parents are likely to be low-income adults, and their earning potential will only get worse over time. An analysis by the Georgetown center predicted that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the United States would require postsecondary education and training. (quoted from the article)

Let’s look right past the sad fact that only 42 percent of students with parents who went to college manage to earn a college degree in four years. That’s bad enough, and we have talked about unsatisfactory graduation rates several times here at USACollegeChat. We have even talked about the idea that actually graduating in four years is one of the best ways to cut college costs for every student at every type of college.

The fact that only 27 percent of first-generation-to-college students manage to earn a college degree in four years is indeed concerning. And, for these kids, it likely means that some additional counseling or support of other kinds might help raise that figure to at least the lackluster 42 percent scored by other kids.

2. Spotlight on Services for First-Generation Students

You should read Ms. Zimmerman’s article to get the full anecdotes about the colleges we will mention now as well as their success statistics. The stories are worth reading in their entirety. But let’s look at a few briefly:

. . . Aspire [is] a program [Dennis] Di Lorenzo created two years ago [at New York University]. It was influenced by a study of 20 public schools in New York City’s lower-income neighborhoods that found graduation rates suffering and a huge variance in college-readiness programs. Aspire aims to give students information about higher education, the application process and financial aid, and prepare them academically for the transition to college.

The free, two-year program serves 40 high school juniors, who attend a weeklong program each summer at N.Y.U. There are also classes and workshops throughout the school year that offer leadership training, advanced math instruction, assistance with college essay preparation, and discussions about careers, scholarships and college majors. In addition, students are connected to a group of college student mentors. (quoted from the article)

Ms. Zimmerman tells the story of one senior who stayed in a room on the 22nd floor of an NYU campus dorm for the weeklong program. It was the young man’s first time in a college dorm and, more significantly, the first time sleeping away from home and the first time having a roommate from outside his family. Imagine how eye-opening that experience must have been for that young man and how much it must have helped him to see what attending a great private university–or really any university–might be like.

Let’s move the spotlight slightly west and take a look at Rutgers University, New Jersey’s public flagship university. The Rutgers Future Scholars program identifies “promising” first-generation, low-income students in the seventh grade in four urban school districts–Newark, New Brunswick, Piscataway, and Camden. Students are selected for their academic performance as well as for their participation in their communities and schools. “We look for the ‘if only’ students, those who are on the cusp of doing remarkable things but need that additional support system in their life,” said program director Aramis Gutierrez.

Once identified, these students “receive academic support and enrichment, and mentoring from Future Scholars participants who are now in college. They attend classes after school, on weekends and during the summer. No student is ever expelled from the program for poor grades or lagging attendance.” (quoted from the article) Rather, they are given a second chance, after appropriate intervention by faculty members. And, by the way, those Future Scholars who go on the attend Rutgers, get free tuition on top of everything else. The undocumented students in the program have their tuition paid by private donors. Special kudos to those donors!

NYU has another interesting program that picks students up a bit later in their school careers. Let’s look finally at that program, called Access:

First-generation students who graduate from high school but haven’t prepared for (or enrolled in) college can attend an N.Y.U. bridge program known as Access, which prepares them for college by providing academic remediation, tutoring and help with career development and job search skills. Students also earn 24 college credits that will transfer to a four-year institution.

The Access program began in the fall of 2016 with eight students; half will be attending college this fall. Unlike Aspire, Access is not free, Mr. Di Lorenzo said, but costs $15,000 for the year. (Aid and scholarships are available.) (quoted from the article)

While $15,000 is indeed not free, it is, nonetheless, a bargain if a student can earn 24 college credits plus get whatever remedial help he or she needs to bridge the gap into college.

3. What Next?

While NYU and Rutgers deserve credit for these programs aimed at improving the odds of success for first-generation-to-college students, it is clear that many more such programs are needed. If you have a teenager at home who will be the first to attend college in your family, looking for a college with services for kids like yours is important.

I am guessing that information about those services might not always be as easy to find on a college website as you might wish. So, look hard. Talk to a staff member in the admissions office of each college your teenager is considering and ask specifically about academic and personal support and other counseling services for first-generation-to-college students. Why? Because we would like your teenager to be one of the 27 percent of first-generation-to-college students to get a college degree in four years. And, by the way, we also would like that 27 percent figure to get much higher very fast.

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Episode 124: An Exemplary Hispanic Serving Institution for New College Students

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For the past two weeks in our Colleges in the Spotlight series, we have looked at colleges outside the U.S. and at the pluses (and almost no minuses) of attending college full time outside the U.S. In Episode 122, we spotlighted Richmond, the American International University in London, a unique and appealing university dually accredited in the U.S. and the U.K. In Episode 123, we stayed just a little closer to home and looked at an array of outstanding universities in Canada?specifically, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, McGill University, the French-speaking University of Montreal, the University of Alberta, and McMaster University.

Well, for those of you who can’t get even that far outside your geographic comfort zone, let us bring you back to the U.S. In this episode, we are going to focus on the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine), located in coastal southern California in Orange County, south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego. You would be hard pressed to find a nicer spot. However, let us be the first to say that, for many of you, UC Irvine might be a lot farther away from home than many a university in Canada is. So, maybe it’s time to re-think your own definition of geographic comfort zone!

This episode also goes beyond UC Irvine to talk about Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) generally–a subject that we have addressed here at USACollegeChat several times in the past two years. We are thinking that, for some of you, HSIs might turn out to be a more significant subject than you originally might have thought.

And, let us remind you once again, as summer vacation arrives, that you should go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. We promise that it will help your teenager ask and answer important questions about colleges of interest to him or her. We are offering, of course, a money-back guarantee if the book doesn’t help your teenager!

1. The Facts About UC Irvine

Let us start by telling you a bit about UC Irvine (UCI), one of the University of California public campuses in the most prestigious of the three California state systems of higher education. Here are some of the awards and rankings of note, taken from UCI’s website: 

  • UCI is ranked ninth among the nation’s best public universities and 39th among all national public and private universities, according to the annual S. News & World Report ranking of undergraduate programs.
  • The New York Times ranked UCI first among U.S. universities in doing the most for low-income students in 2017 and 2015 (according to its College Access Index). The ranking is based on a variety of factors, including the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants (which typically go to families earning less than $70,000 a year); the graduation rate of those students; and the net cost, after financial aid, that a college charges low- and middle-income students.
  • UCI is one of just 62 U.S. and Canadian universities elected to the respected Association of American Universities.
  • Sierra, the magazine of the well-known environmentally active Sierra Club, recognized UCI for its innovative sustainable practices by ranking it third on its “Coolest Schools” list–that is, the list of “colleges working hardest to protect the planet.”
  • And perhaps most important: Money magazine named UCI as the 1 university for beach lovers. Here is what Money magazine wrote:

Irvine sometimes gets a bad rap for lacking a “college town” feel. But if you’d rather spend your time on the sand than on Main Street, it’s a tough spot to beat. There’s surfing at Huntington Beach, the boardwalk and pier at Newport Beach, peace and quiet at Corona del Mar, and the glamor of Laguna Beach. All of those locales, with iconic California beach vistas, are within 20 minutes of campus, and upperclassmen often live off campus, just a couple-minute walk to the sand. (quoted from the website)

Here are some fast facts about UCI, which was founded in 1965:

  • It enrolls about 33,500 students, about 27,500 of which are undergraduates.
  • It received almost 78,000 applicants for its 2016 freshman class; about 6,500 enrolled.
  • Its retention rate from freshman to sophomore year is 93 percent.
  • Its four-year graduation rate is 70 percent; its six-year graduation rate is 88 percent.
  • California residents pay just about $15,000 a year in tuition and fees, while out-of-staters pay about $42,000 a year. So, it’s not cheap for nonresidents, but it’s not as expensive as many good private universities.
  • It offers 87 undergraduate degree programs, 59 master’s degree programs, and 47 doctoral programs, plus a medical degree and a law degree.
  • It boasts 28 national titles in nine sports.

And let me say this: If your teenager takes the virtual tour online at UCI’s website, he or she will want to go there. You might want to go there as well.

2. UC Irvine Designated an HSI

But none of the facts and figures we have just presented is the reason we are looking at UCI in today’s episode. Rather, it is because of an excellent article written last week by Teresa Watanabe in the Los Angeles Times, entitled “UC Irvine’s rare distinction: It’s an elite university that’s a haven for Latinos.”

Ms. Watanabe sets the scene this way, amid a variety of personal student anecdotes that are well worth reading:

UC Irvine may seem an unlikely haven for Latino students. The campus is located in what used to be a largely white Republican community . . . . But the Irvine campus is now the most popular UC choice for Latino [freshman] applicants, topping longtime leader UCLA for the first time last fall. And last month the campus won federal recognition for serving Latinos–a still-rare distinction among elite research universities.

In all, 492 campuses in 19 states and Puerto Rico have been designated Hispanic Serving Institutions, which allows them to apply for about $100 million annually in federal research grants. To qualify, the campus student population must be 25% Latino, with more than half financially needy.

In California, nearly all Cal State campuses, at least half of California Community Colleges, and half of UC campuses have received the recognition. But UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara are the only HSI campuses among the 62 members of the Assn. of American Universities–an elite network of public and private research universities that includes the Ivy League [and others] . . . . (quoted from the article)

In our new book for high school students, How To Explore Your College Options, we talk about HSIs (as we did in our first book and in several USACollegeChat episodes). We wrote this in the chapter on researching a college’s history and mission:

HSIs have been designated as such in just the past 50 years. By definition, HSIs have a student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. For example, The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, a federally designated HSI, was one of the first minority-majority universities, with a student body that was approximately 45 percent Hispanic and 35 percent Anglo.

[HSIs] are located in states across the U.S. from California to Massachusetts and from Washington to Florida. Some HSIs are large public universities, some are large public community colleges, and some are small private liberal arts colleges. Many HSIs receive federal funds to support programs and scholarships that are designed to help low-income Hispanic students succeed in college.

Although HSIs do not have the same kind of historical traditions that HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) have–perhaps because they were not originally founded with a mission to serve Hispanic students–they do offer a supportive environment, especially for first-generation-to-college Hispanic students. (quoted from the book)

It is this last point about the supportive environment that makes UCI so appealing, according to what we can learn from Ms. Watanabe’s article.

3. UC Irvine’s Supportive Environment

Here is what UCI’s leadership had to say, as quoted from the article:

UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman said the campus has pushed to diversify its campus as part of its public mission and urged other top institutions to do the same.

“We think it’s important to show that great higher education can be there for all of the people,” he said. “The demographics of the state are changing, and great institutions that were there for generations past should also be there for generations of the future.”

For the first time ever, more than half of UC Irvine’s graduating class this year are first-generation college students.

UC Irvine, Gillman said, is not only admitting more Latino students but also helping them succeed. Eight of 10 freshmen who entered in 2010-11 graduated within six years, about equal to whites and blacks and just below Asians. Graduation rates for transfer students are even higher. (quoted from the article)

Well, all that is impressive. But here is how UCI got there, according to the article:

The campus began laying the groundwork in 1983, when it created the Santa Ana Partnership with local schools, Santa Ana College and Cal State Fullerton to improve college-going rates in the area. . . .

[The Center for Educational Partnerships, with its executive director Stephanie Reyes-Tuccio] serves 12,000 largely low-income students a year, three-fourths of them Latino, with programs to prepare them for college and help them succeed. It supports those interested in science, technology, engineering and math and helped develop a college-going plan for every high school student in the Santa Ana Unified School District. Affiliated faculty also conduct research and offer teacher training.

About 85% of high school students who work with the center complete the college prep coursework required for UC and Cal State, compared with the statewide average of 43% . . . . (quoted from the article)

Well, all that is impressive, too. And here’s something we haven’t heard about elsewhere: “UC Irvine’s performance reviews reward faculty who contribute to ‘inclusive excellence.’ The campus has created a database to connect faculty to opportunities to advance diversity and equity and has set a goal for at least half of them to be involved by 2020?21.” (quoted from the article) That clearly shows a university administration that is walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

Latino/Latina students quoted by Ms. Watanabe in the article describe the support that they have found at UCI, including supportive staff (like counselors who serve as mentors), engaged faculty (who offer many research opportunities to students), 25-plus Latino student organizations, and a Cross-Cultural Center (which supports the personal, academic, social, and cultural needs of students and is the first multicultural center in the University of California system). One particular student told Ms. Watanabe about discovering her “family” at “the Student Outreach and Retention Center, where she was able to find friends, leadership opportunities and food–peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that eased hunger pains since she could not afford a campus meal plan. She was hired by the center to develop mentorship programs and trained peer advisers to help students through such hardships as homesickness, breakups and academic struggles.” (quoted from the article)

So, our hats are off to UCI?and, of course, to other HSIs, which are working to serve previously underserved Hispanic students, who might need a bit of extra attention in order to make the leap into higher education as a first-generation-to-college student. If you have such a student in your home, there is no downside to taking a serious look at colleges that are HSIs. You might not find one to your liking, of course; but, if you do, it could be a game changer.

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