Episode 81: Assignment #1–Expanding, Not Narrowing, the College Search

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This series is entitled The Search Begins and, as we have said, it is aimed directly at those of you who are parents of juniors, and it is designed to help you all navigate summer tasks related to college applications in the fall. (Of course, it never hurts parents of freshmen and sophomores to get a head start on the college admissions game. So, stick with us during these summer episodes.)

Today’s topic focuses on something that you are just about to do totally wrong. Furthermore, our advice on this topic probably runs counter to what many “experts” are telling you to do right now, which is to start narrowing your list of colleges so that your teenager can get ready to apply in the fall.

In this episode, we are going to take the position that you should do the exact opposite, which is to start expanding your teenager’s list of colleges immediately so that you all are truly ready to narrow it in the fall. While that might seem unnecessary–even wasteful, given the thousand things you are trying to do this summer–we would contend that expanding the options now could make the difference between an okay college choice for your teenager and a great college choice for your teenager when it is time to accept a college’s offer next spring. Here’s why.

Episode 81: Assignment 1--Expanding, Not Narrowing, The College Search on USA CollegeChat podcast, with free printable

1. One More Research Study

Nicholas W. Hillman, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (a great public flagship university, which we discussed in Episode 27) has written a recent paper, published in the American Educational Research Journal and entitled “Geography of College Opportunity: The Case of Education Deserts.” Catherine Gewertz reported on Hillman’s paper recently in the High School & Beyond blog in Education Week (“Why College Access Depends on Your ZIP Code,” June 24, 2016).

You loyal listeners might remember that we first met Professor Hillman back in Episode 66 when we talked about his earlier report entitled Education Deserts: The Continued Significance of “Place” in the Twenty-First Century (co-authored with Taylor Weichman). One statistic that the authors quoted in that report is this: About 57 percent of incoming freshmen at public four-year colleges attend a college within 50 miles of home. Now, think about that from a freshman’s point of view. If you are a freshman standing on your four-year public college campus, more than half of your classmates live within 50 miles of where you are standing. Clearly, those students did not get outside of their “geographic comfort zone,” which is one of our most talked about and least favorite concepts here at USACollegeChat. (Remember that about 70 percent of high school graduates attend college in their home state. That’s just too many kids staying within their geographic comfort zone, in our opinion.)

This time around, Hillman maps both public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities in 709 “commuting zones” across the U.S.–that is, in 709 bunches of mostly contiguous counties where people live and work. And, when I say “maps,” I mean that he locates the colleges and universities on a map of the U.S. and colors in the commuting zones where they are located so that anyone can see at a glance which commuting zones have a lot of colleges (five or more is the top of his scale) and which don’t have even one.

We are going to skip over private two-year colleges, inasmuch as they are the rarest of college types, and look first at public two-year colleges. Looking at Hillman’s map, we notice that there are relatively fewer public two-year colleges west of the Mississippi River until you get to the Far West and Southwest border states. Turning to public four-year colleges, we notice that there are even fewer public four-year colleges than public two-year colleges in the Plains and Rocky Mountain states. And finally, coming to private four-year colleges, we notice that the coverage is especially good east of the Mississippi–particularly in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states–and again in parts of the Far West.

So, where is the “education desert”? The maps would say, generally speaking, that it is in the Rocky Mountain and Plains states. What that means is that college students who live there are likely to have fewer nearby options than students in other commuting zones–say, those in the Northeast. Of course, even in the Northeast, you might live in a particular commuting zone that just doesn’t have many colleges. And that matters because so many kids stay close to home for college–perhaps too close.

But that’s not the worst of it. Gewertz explains:

Hillman found that zones of opportunity put specific groups at a disadvantage. Latino and African-American communities tend to have the fewest colleges, and less-selective colleges, nearby, while white and Asian communities tend to have more colleges, and more selective institutions, nearby to choose from. . . .   Hillman argues that most policy that seeks to improve college access focuses on the process of opportunity–with initiatives that aim to get more information into students’ hands, so they can make good college choices–instead of the geography of opportunity. (quoted from the article)

Well, now we have a societal problem as well as an individual student problem. As Hillman noted in his first report, the college decisions of students from working-class homes and the college decisions of students of color are most negatively affected by home-to-college distance. So, when it turns out that there are relatively fewer college options and relatively fewer selective college options in Latino and African-American communities and when we know that lots of those kids do not travel very far to attend college, for whatever reason, those students end up not having the range of college choices that they deserve.

2. Your Assignment #1

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

Why are we telling you this? Because all of you should expand the college options for your teenager before you narrow them, and this is especially true if you live in an area that has few nearby colleges or few good nearby colleges. Whether you are Latino, African American, Asian, or white, those of you living in an education desert must look outside your geographic area in order to find a choice of good options for your teenager. Why should you be content with the only option in town no matter how good it is? For many of you, the chances are that it is not good enough.

But, to repeat, this advice is not just for those of you living in education deserts. This advice is for all of you who are busy making up a short list of colleges for your child to visit this summer and apply to in the fall. It simply is not time yet to be making up that short list, to be narrowing down the choices, to be closing off opportunities, and to be settling either for colleges that are nearby or for colleges that you already know about. It is unnecessarily soon–even for those of you who want to look at an Early Decision or Early Action option.

So, since it is July 1 and your teenager might have a bit of free time, we are ready to give him or her–and you–an assignment every week until September. The more you can get your teenager to do the work, the easier it will be for you; however, you will need to provide some life experience and adult judgment throughout the assignments. We do guarantee that you both will be better equipped by September 1 to start the actual college application process.

We thought hard about what your first summer assignment should be and settled on this: With your teenager, listen to our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) again?or for the first time?or skim the show notes if you prefer. By the way, these episodes do a good job of differentiating between the public and private colleges, which could well be one of the first decisions you will make when it is time to shorten your teenager’s list in September.

Together, choose at least one college in every state to put on your teenager’s list. Put those 50 on what we will call “your teenager’s long summer list of college options.” Just add them to any colleges you already have on the list.

Okay, if that’s too outlandish, try this: Choose at least one college in each of 25 states of your choice to put on your teenager’s list. Heck, that’s only half the states. You are getting off easy. Put those on your teenager’s long summer list of college options.

Still too tough? How about this: Choose at least two colleges in every geographic region of the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Remember that the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. So, that would give you 16 colleges–plus, let’s say, add two extra colleges in your home state for good measure.

But wait: Put five public flagship universities on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Any five. You choose. This will ensure that your teenager has some great public options to consider, too. As we have said before, public flagship universities might be the hidden jewels in the college landscape.

And those of you who are longtime listeners know that this piece of advice is coming: Choose at least one college not in the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. The global future is here. Join it.

Now that you have the long summer list of 20 or 30 or 40 or, better yet, 50 colleges, have your teenager read about each one on the college’s website before talking with you and recommending whether it should be kept on the list. Believe me, you can learn a lot from reading a college website. Furthermore, you can learn not only about that one college, but also about colleges in general and what to look for on the next website. It’s an education in itself.

Our virtual tour gave you a lot of the information you should consider already, but let your teenager confirm it and look further into particular things that interest him or her about the college. Make sure your teenager checks out at least these topics:

  • Enrollment, broken down by undergraduate and graduate (if any) students
  • Retention and graduation rates (search the site for “common data set” or go to College Navigator, sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics)
  • The history of the college (always my favorite topic)
  • Academic divisions in the institution (that is, colleges or schools within a university)
  • Academic departments and majors offered
  • Study abroad options
  • Extracurricular activities (including fraternities and sororities)
  • Intercollegiate and intramural sports
  • Tuition and housing costs (of course)

Finally, make sure that your teenager writes down (or makes a spreadsheet of) the information they find on each college. Believe me, after about four colleges, it’s impossible to remember which college has which attractive and unattractive features.

Personally, I wouldn’t have your teenager start poring over admission standards just yet. I would rather he or she look at the range of great opportunities out there and perhaps get a bit motivated by what those websites offer. Your teenager needs an education about higher education first. Some of those websites are so good, in fact, that they make me want to go back to college.

And, by the way, I wouldn’t have your teenager start looking at two-year colleges yet, either. Those of you who listen to us know that we have some reservations about two-year colleges, especially for students who have just graduated from high school and are moving directly into college full time. We know that they are a great choice for saving money and for helping kids who need a bit more maturity or a bit more academic preparation, but we worry because the transfer rates to four-year colleges are scandalously low, and we worry about what opportunities that fact closes off for too many kids. Two-year colleges can easily be added to the list in September, because we are assuming that the choice of a two-year college is largely affected by geography and that students are most likely to attend the one closest to them.

So, what is the point of today’s episode? It is simply that expanding your options now–before narrowing them in the fall–is a way to let both you and your teenager consider colleges you have never thought about. That’s because there are some really interesting ones out there, including perhaps the one that is best for your teenager.

Depending where you live, here are a few public and private choices you probably aren’t thinking about (some that are very selective, and others that are not):

By the way, I really do not want to hear one more of my friends here in New York say, “Oh, she can just go to Binghamton. It’s a good school.” With apologies to Binghamton, which is a fine state university in upstate New York, I would like my friends to look around first. I would like many more colleges on their teenager’s long list. I would like many colleges on that list to be outside New York State. I would like some of them to be outside the Northeast. I would like some of them to be public and some of them to be private. Binghamton isn’t going anywhere. It will still be there in the fall.

Download the Assignment #1 printable worksheet

The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $1.99 all summer long! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode81
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

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Episode 54: Should “Elite” Be Getting a New Definition?

Should "Elite" Be Getting a New Defition? on NYCollegeChat podcast Series 5: Higher Education in the News #collegeaccess

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

For the past several months, it seems that we have been reading and hearing more and more about higher education in the news—both in publications for the general public and in publications geared for professional educators. We thought that, for our fifth series at NYCollegeChat, we would devote some weeks to looking at news stories that are intriguing and/or distressing about specific colleges and higher education generally—about students, professors, curricula, admissions, and more.

Why is this important to parents of high school students? Because you should be aware of both great and not-so-great things going on in colleges and about how they might impact your own child’s education. That is true whether you have children in college now or children going in the next several years. Some of the stories might have an immediate application to your life, and others might take longer to become important to you. Either way, we think these are things parents should know and perhaps act on.

1. Michael Crow’s Arresting Statement

Some weeks ago, I read the following arresting statement from Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, a public university with its main campus in Tempe:

We’re enrolling more students and admitting anyone who’s qualified. Those elite schools just don’t get it.

Whoa! Although Marie and I are the products of what most people would call elite private colleges and universities, we have spent a fair amount of our professional careers trying to improve college access for students who might otherwise not have had an opportunity to attend college, and sometimes we have worked with what most people would call less elite institutions to figure out how they can attract and serve those students. President Crow’s statement about college access for more students—indeed any qualified student—sounded good to me.

2. Some Facts About ASU

Our regular listeners might recall that we discussed Arizona State University (commonly referred to ASU) during our nationwide virtual tour of colleges, which ended two weeks ago. Let me recap what we said in Episode 37, when we looked at public universities in the Southwest region of our country.

ASU serves about 50,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in Tempe, about 40,000 of whom are undergraduates. That’s a massive campus. Only about 60 percent of ASU students are Arizona residents (which is low compared to a lot of public universities), and a truly impressive approximately 40 percent are first-generation college students.

President Crow, who came to ASU in 2002, has made a successful effort to increase enrollment, especially of Hispanic and black students, and has made it possible for more low-income students to attend ASU by increasing ASU-supplied financial aid to them. Furthermore, he works hard at providing whatever extra help low-income minority students need in order to graduate. President Crow has also increased the number of out-of-state students (especially from California), who pay about double what state residents pay in tuition (about $22,000 compared to state residents’ $10,000). He encourages innovation among his administrators and is moving forward in using technology to get students through courses faster and more conveniently. (And, as I said back in Episode 37, I have to believe that he is even more dynamic than this paragraph makes him sound.)

Founded as a territorial school in 1885, ASU is now a university known for its Innovation Challenge competitions, a Startup School and a Startup Accelerator for new ventures, an Entrepreneurship Outreach Network, and the Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator. ASU offers nine undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools on the Tempe campus, including the nation’s first School of Sustainability, established in 2006, with 99 percent of that School’s bachelor’s degree graduates currently employed or pursuing graduate degrees. And, in the midst of all that, it offers nine men’s and 12 women’s Sun Devils sports teams and more than 1,000 student organizations.

Now, let me say that ASU is also known for its online programs. As we have said in other episodes, Marie and I are reluctant to recommend placing freshmen in online programs because it takes a very self-disciplined and highly motivated student to succeed in online study, and we fear that many freshmen are not quite up to the task. However, there is certainly innovative cutting edge work being done in providing online education, and ASU’s offerings are impressive.

3. Michael Crow’s Article

So, on October 28 on LinkedIn Pulse, President Crow posted an article entitled “It’s Time to Rethink What ‘Elite’ Should Mean.” As I considered both his values and his success at ASU, I hurried to read it. I would like to read a good deal of it to you—because he said it better than I could and so that you can consider whether he is right. President Crow begins:


“All across the country, newly minted college students have settled into their campuses. . . .
“Some of these undergraduates may take particular delight in having landed a spot at one of America’s prestigious, highly selective schools—and rightfully so. The combination of a widely admired pedigree and academic excellence positions them for success.
“But what if our valuation of these exclusive clubs has been wrongly applied? What if we turn this thinking on its head and judge our schools not by the number of students that they turn away but by their ability to grant access and ensure student success?” (excerpted and quoted from the article)

“Wow,” I thought to myself. President Crow’s proposition really does turn our traditional thinking about excellence in higher education on its head. What if the word “elite” should be reserved for colleges that can take more students as well as more traditionally underrepresented students (like first-generation college-goers and low-income students and students of color) and get them through college successfully? How great must those professors be?

It reminds me of something I used to say to the teachers at the high school that Marie and I helped to co-found in New York City. Though it was an Early College high school, our students were no better academically than average urban kids—and often worse. Sometimes our teachers would get offers to go teach at one of New York City’s elite public high schools—the kind that kids had to take an admissions test to get into and the kind that was, therefore, filled with really bright kids. I would say to our teachers, “Sure, you can go teach there. You will be great. So would any teacher. Those kids are already great. They hardly need you. Why don’t you stay here and be great for kids that need you more?” I have to wonder whether President Crow ever said something just like that to his professors.

President Crow continued in his article:

“Every year ‘elite’ colleges and universities select a tiny fraction of the thousands and thousands of smart, talented and capable students who apply. These institutions then show up on highly touted rankings of the most selective schools in the country, as if a razor-thin acceptance rate was in and of itself a sign of achievement and a model of success.
“Today less than one percent of the nation’s undergraduates attend the top 50 liberal arts colleges and leading Ivy League schools. At the same time, many of our top-tier public universities are becoming increasingly selective. That means more and more qualified applicants are being denied access to world-class education.” (quoted from the article)

Elite colleges are just like elite high schools in New York City. They take in great students and then take credit for being great. And they are great in many other ways, but don’t forget that the students are still great when they arrive. Let’s think about that “less than one percent” President Crow referenced. Hardly any kids can go to the traditionally most elite private colleges and universities we have. And, what’s worse, our nation’s great public flagship universities are getting more and more selective. We know because we looked at the average high school GPAs of incoming freshmen when we did our virtual college tour. I have to tell you that we were shocked. Our regular listeners will recall how high those average GPAs were—and not only at the public flagship universities that we know are the most highly respected academically, like the University of Virginia (4.23 average GPA), the University of California, Berkeley (4.19 average GPA), or the University of Michigan (3.82 average GPA). Granted, those GPAs are averages, so some kids did not score that high; but, some kids scored even higher! These figures would support President Crow’s premise that “more and more qualified applicants are being denied access to world-class education”—that is, kids who have solid GPAs, but not stellar GPAs. Qualified isn’t good enough. President Crow sums up the situation for these otherwise qualified students:

“This represents a missed opportunity for them and a problem for us all.” (quoted from the article)

How is it “a problem for us all”? President Crow lays out a persuasive argument about that. He explains it this way:


“Higher education is critical to driving innovation and increasing our nation’s economic competitiveness. By educating larger and increasingly diverse segments of our population at the highest levels, we expand our ability to succeed in an increasingly global knowledge economy.

“This could not be more important: In the next three years, the U.S. is expected to face a shortage of 3 million highly educated college graduates, a gap projected to grow to 16 million by 2025, according to a Lumina Foundation report. Not only are poverty rates for Americans 25 years or older with no college education triple those with at least a bachelor’s degree, only 5 percent of graduates of public research universities come from families in the bottom fifth of income levels.
“In short, the current system is stacked against those who come from the wrong zip code, a reality that is increasingly troubling as our minority populations grow.” (quoted from the article)

So, what is the solution to the problem? Well, as you might have figured out, President Crow believes that it is what he has been doing at ASU. Here is what he says:


“I firmly believe that expanding access to higher education is a national imperative. At Arizona State University, we are admitting every qualified Arizona student (in addition to a growing population of qualified out-of-state and international students). This is something that schools like Berkeley and Michigan used to do back in the 1950s, but don’t anymore.

“Expanding enrollment need not undermine quality…. We saw our four-year graduation rates increase nearly 20 percentage points between 2002 and 2010….” (excerpted and quoted from the article)

 

How did President Crow and his faculty do that? Well, they probably did a hundred things, but they included, according to President Crow, “expanding the number of multidisciplinary degrees and programs to more closely link our students’ experiences with the needs of the real world that awaits them after graduation” (quoted from the article). As we did our virtual college tour, Marie and I have been seeing a fair number of college websites hyping their interdisciplinary/crossdisciplinary/multidisciplinary programs. There is quite a variety in those programs—like ones built around sustainability or environmentalism or “area studies” focusing on different parts of the world or different ethnicities. These programs bring together courses from a variety of disciplines—like various sciences, social sciences, and engineering or like social sciences, history, languages and literature, and the arts. Why? Because much of the real world of work does not function in tight compartments of specific disciplines or subject fields, but rather will require students to know something about and be able to think across subject fields, just as President Crow says.

At the end of his article, President Crow calls for “expanding our notion of what ‘elite’ really means” (quoted from the article). I’ve been thinking hard about that. Maybe he is right—that “elite” colleges should be those that do a great job of educating students and graduating students rather than just colleges that take in the best students to begin with. Clearly, our traditional elite colleges, in fact, do a great job of educating students and graduating students, and I’m okay with letting those colleges still be “elite.” But let’s seriously think about applying that adjective to the other ones, too—the colleges that do a great job educating all the rest of the students, especially the colleges that work diligently with students who started out at a disadvantage because of their race or ethnicity or their parents’ incomes or their poor elementary and secondary schools.

So, what does that mean for you, parents, as you look over the colleges that your child has just applied to or is about to apply to? It might mean that you should see past the traditional idea of a great college—an “elite” college—and broaden your idea of an elite college to include other colleges that are trying new approaches and working with new types of college students and doing a great job of educating them. Maybe that will actually make the application process more interesting and put less pressure on both you and your child.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why taking online courses at ASU might be better than taking them somewhere else
  • Why colleges with holistic admissions processes might help your teenager
  • Why you and your teenager must consider colleges outside your region of the country

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

Outside of New York State

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode54
  • Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
  • Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

Connect with us through…

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

Episode 37: Colleges in the Southwest Region—Part I

This is our eleventh episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. For those of you who have been with us since the beginning, you will recall that we launched the tour to help you find colleges that are appropriate for your child, but that are outside your geographic comfort zone. Because the majority of high school students stay in their home states to attend college, we feel that a lot of appealing—even life-changing—colleges are never even considered by most families. That is a shame.

Virtual audio tour of public colleges and universities in the Southwest Region on the NYCollegeChat podcast

So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, and the Plains region. This episode takes us to the Southwest.

And, as we are fond of saying, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our picks.

1. The Southwest Region

As we have said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering from four to 12 states. In this episode, we will start our examination of the four states in the Southwest region: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

I bet a lot of our listeners here in the Northeast have never thought about sending a child to a college in the Southwest. Perhaps you will think again after today’s episode about public colleges in these states or next week’s episode about private colleges in these states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

As is our custom, let’s start with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the four states has one, as those of you who are regular listeners know by now. And, as is typical, some of them are better known nationally than others. While flagship universities typically have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and certainly outside the state.

Let us remind you of what we have said in other episodes about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, usually super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates. And nowhere is that truer than in the state of Texas.

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Southwest region? They are The University of Arizona in Tucson (UA), The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (UNM), The University of Oklahoma in Norman (OU), and The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin)—that is, two cities that epitomize the Southwest desert lifestyle, one great college town located in Tornado Alley, and one state capital that everyone seems to be talking about these days. Let us tell you from personal experience, if you don’t already know, that Austin is a great town with lots going on, including, of course, the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive festivals (that’s interactive, as in digital creativity, meaning websites, video games, and new things I don’t understand). Austin has a spread-out feel, with lots of old and new neighborhoods, a beautiful state capitol building, the impressive University, strong businesses, and lots of large hotels and tiny places to eat great barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine. Albuquerque, in the Land of Enchantment (New Mexico), is in the middle of breathtaking mesas and mountains and the Rio Grande. It has an old Southwest feeling that is distinctive and memorable. The Spanish Colonial and Pueblo Revival architecture of the University fits into picturesque Albuquerque quite well. Old Town, the historic spot where Albuquerque was founded by Spanish settlers in 1706, is filled with museums and shops and places that you would really enjoy visiting.

Turning to the four flagship universities, we can put them into two groups by enrollment size, starting with the smaller universities: UNM with about 18,000 undergraduates and a total of about 26,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and OU with about 20,000 undergraduates and a total of about 30,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. By the way, UNM, a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution (HSI), was one of the first minority-majority universities, with about a 45 percent Hispanic student body and an Anglo student population of just about 35 percent. While UNM and OU are smaller than the other two flagship universities in the Southwest region, they are certainly not small by anyone’s standards. Any new freshman is going to feel that an undergraduate student body of 18,000 or more is huge.

So what about UA with about 33,000 undergraduates and a total of about 42,000 students and UT Austin with about 39,000 undergraduates and a total of about 51,000 students? Though we have already mentioned in our virtual tour some universities with even more undergraduate students than that—namely, the University of Central Florida and The Ohio State University, and there are still more gigantic universities in the episodes coming up—UA and UT Austin would, without a doubt, seem enormous to almost any freshman walking onto those campuses. Of course, with many students, come many opportunities.

Each of these four flagship universities attracts students nationally and internationally. Nonetheless, at UT Austin, about 90 percent of students are Texas residents, and there is a good chance that freshmen will make the trip to Austin with at least a handful of their smartest high school friends—because, for many bright Texas high school students, UT Austin is at the top of their list. Similarly, UNM also has a student body that is about 90 percent home grown. Students will find a bit more geographic diversity at OU and UA, where just about 60 to 65 percent of students are state residents.

In our episodes so far, we have often said that colleges love geographic diversity and that students might be able to get into a better college by looking a bit farther afield at a college that is lacking, but is seeking, that diversity. That is usually true. However, I think it is more difficult than usual for out-of-state students to get into UT Austin—a highly respected public institution, like the University of Virginia or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or the University of Michigan, all of which we have talked about in previous episodes. In fact, Texas law almost guarantees that many of its best students stay in the state for college by mandating that public colleges automatically admit a certain percentage of each high school’s top graduates (last year, for UT Austin, that was any student who ranked in the top 7 percent of his or her class at the end of the junior year). I have to believe that the 10 percent of the UT Austin student body that comes from out of state is made up of pretty bright kids, too. Of course, if your teenager is bright, then UT Austin is a fabulous choice.

Each of these flagship universities was founded in the mid- to late 1800s, with UT Austin first in 1839 and the others around 1890. All were founded before statehood—three by their territorial legislature and UT Austin by order of the Congress of the Republic of Texas. This trend, which we also saw in the Rocky Mountain and Plains regions, continues—that is, pioneers and early settlers giving a college education a high priority.

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 13 to 21 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, journalism and mass communication, fine arts, architecture, and agriculture and life sciences. All of them have a law school and elaborate medical schools/health sciences centers. They are truly one-stop shopping at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels.

Perhaps related to its location in Tornado Alley, OU has a College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, with a well-respected School of Meteorology. UA has an impressive College of Optical Sciences, with research in optical engineering, optical physics, photonics, and image science.

UT Austin does something different with its freshmen by putting all of them into the School of Undergraduate Studies, where they explore their interests through a liberal-arts-and-sciences core curriculum of 42 credits. In their freshman year, students take UT’s Signature Course, which is actually an array of 150 course offerings for students to choose from, all of which provide college-level experiences in thinking and writing and speaking and research. Students are encouraged to go outside their comfort zone when choosing from the Signature Courses, which are often interdisciplinary, like Astronomy and the Humanities. UT students leave the School of Undergraduate Studies by the end of their second year to pursue their major course of study. This structure is a comforting idea, given the uncertainty that most entering college freshmen have about their futures.

These four flagship universities offer from about 120 to more than 200 undergraduate degree programs across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. The opportunities are almost limitless.

Like all other flagship universities, each of these four has hundreds of student clubs and organizations, including fraternities and sororities—actually more than 1,300 at UT Austin. It would be impossible for your child not to find some organizations he or she would like to join—which is especially important for students on large campuses like these.

Of course, there are also plenty of varsity sports teams—from 19 to 21 women’s and men’s teams. OU and UT Austin play in the Big 12 Conference and UA plays in the Pac-12 Conference—where sports are taken seriously. The winner in national championships and conference titles is UT Austin, with 51 national championships since 1949 and 507 conference titles. Can you say “Hook ’em Horns” or sing “The Eyes of Texas”? As we have said before, participating in intercollegiate sports and, just as much, attending wildly popular sports events are a big part of campus life at schools like these.

Need something more cultural? Each of these flagship universities (like many others) has museums right on the campus. UNM has the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, which has a “special emphasis on 11,000 years of cultural heritage in the Southwest” (quoted from the website). UA has the Arizona State Museum (an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution), founded in 1893, which houses the world’s largest collection of Southwest American Indian pottery and basketry. UT Austin has the LBJ Presidential Library, an amazing collection of papers and memorabilia from LBJ’s political career and from the civil rights work he championed.

David L. Boren became president of OU in 1994, after a political career as governor of Oklahoma and U.S. Senator from Oklahoma—the only person to serve in all three jobs. Impressively, he teaches a freshman-level political science course each semester. Here is a paragraph from his website Welcome to OU:

OU’s Fred Jones Museum of Art ranks in the top 5 university art museums in the United States. It received the Weitzenhoffer Collection, the largest gift of French Impressionist art ever given to a public university in the US. The Sam Noble Museum of Natural History is the largest university based museum of its kind in the world. OU’s Bizzell Memorial Library features one of the three largest history of science collections in the world, and is the only place in the United States where you can hold a book with Galileo’s handwriting in your own hands.  (quoted from the website)

In addition to the cultural sites on campus, these universities offer study abroad programs, sometimes with hundreds of choices and certainly all kinds of cultural benefits. OU has its own campus in Arezzo, Italy—The Italian Center of the University of Oklahoma. It offers semester-long and year-long programs, and, if you have ever been to Arezzo, you know how fantastic it would be to study there.

Admittedly, out-of-state tuition in these flagship universities is not cheap, running from about $17,000 to $22,000 per year—two or three times what a state resident would pay. But that is still lower (and sometimes way lower) than most private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we have said before, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.

As is getting more and more typical, there are a couple of attractive tuition programs at these universities. UNM has a Finish-in-Four initiative, in which the university will pay any tuition that the student is responsible for in the final semester if the student graduates in eight or fewer semesters. UA guarantees its tuition rate for entering freshmen for eight consecutive semesters. OU offers a flat tuition at 15 credits, with additional credits taken for free (thus encouraging students to take more credits each semester and finish sooner, saving even more money). UT Austin offers a fixed tuition rate, providing rebates if a student enrolled in the program graduates in four years. So, graduating in four years or even sooner—which is good for the university and good for the family—is the theme we see here.

Additionally, UA and UNM are members of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), a program of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WUE allows students who are residents of WICHE states to request a reduced tuition rate of just 150 percent of resident tuition at participating colleges outside of their home state (as we discussed in Episode 33). WUE effectively broadens a student’s opportunities to look at first-rate public institutions in nearby states, without any substantial financial consequences.

As these colleges carefully advertise on their websites, these tuition deals and reciprocal arrangements with other states are not automatic. You have to apply for them, and you sometimes have to apply to your home state first. And, again, space is limited. So look hard at any public universities your child is interested in to see whether there might be similar programs in place for you and, if so, apply early.

By the way, if you want your child to be among the 94 percent who say they believe their degree prepared them for their career or further education, send your child to UNM.

In leaving the flagship universities, let us just say a word or two more about Texas (perhaps because everything is bigger in Texas). While all of the universities we have discussed so far have branch campuses, we should point out that the University of Texas System is actually made up of nine universities and six health institutions, all of which are more like institutions in their own right. UT has huge campuses at Arlington, El Paso, San Antonio, and Dallas, and it is currently merging two of its campuses (Brownsville and Pan American) into a new institution opening this fall as UT Rio Grande Valley. These campuses all have student bodies larger than many flagship campuses in smaller states.

3. Other Public State Universities

In each of these Southwest states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus or campuses within the flagship system, but universities in their own right. We would like to focus on two that we think are most likely to attract out-of-state students—one with a long history and one that has seen a lot of changes and increased national visibility in the past decade.

Let’s start with the one with the long history—that is, Texas A&M University, which those of us outside of Texas might think of as one university (Go, Aggies!), but which those of you in Texas know to be a gigantic 11-university system (plus health science center) in cities throughout the state, serving a total of more than 125,000 students. The well-known flagship campus of the Texas A&M University System is in the twin cities of Bryan and College Station, and it was established in 1876.

Established at the same time—that is, during Reconstruction—was Prairie View A&M University, a separate state-supported college for African-American students, which started out as Alta Vista Agricultural & Mechanical College for Colored Youth and later merged with the Prairie View Normal School for training African-American teachers. Today, Prairie View A&M is part of the Texas A&M University System and is one of nine HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) in Texas, three of which are public. Prairie View has about 7,000 undergraduates and another 1,500 graduate and professional students; about 85 percent are African American, and about 95 percent are Texans. Prairie View offers students both liberal arts degrees and degrees in architecture, education, engineering, agriculture, business, juvenile justice, and nursing. Incidentally, the other four-year public HBCU in Texas is Texas Southern University in Houston, with almost 10,000 total students in 11 colleges and schools. It is one of the largest HBCUs in the country and is the alma mater of much-admired U.S. Congressional Representative Barbara Jordan.

Texas A&M’s flagship campus in College Station serves a total of about 42,000 undergraduate students and another approximately 10,000 graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally. About 95 percent of A&M undergraduates are from Texas. It has 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges, including the only college of veterinary medicine in Texas (and one of the largest nationally). A&M offers more than 120 undergraduate degree programs.

About 25 percent of students in A&M’s freshman class are first-generation college students. Students can participate in more than 800 student organizations and 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams. About 25 percent of students participate in intramural sports. Interestingly, A&M was originally a military institution, and today its voluntary Corps of Cadets is second only to the U.S. military service academies in the number of officers commissioned each year.

By the way, Texas has four more public systems of higher education, with the next most widely known likely being the Texas Tech University System. Its main campus in Lubbock serves a total of about 35,000 students. Again, everything is bigger in Texas.

Now let’s turn to the public university that has seen a lot of changes in the past decade, and that is Arizona State University (ASU), with its main campus in Tempe. ASU serves about 50,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in Tempe, about 80 percent of whom are undergraduates—again, a massive campus. Only about 60 percent of ASU students are Arizona residents, and a truly impressive approximately 40 percent are first-generation college students.

ASU’s president, Michael Crow, who came to the University in 2002, has made a successful effort to increase enrollment, especially of Hispanic and black students, and has made it possible for more low-income students to attend ASU by increasing ASU-supplied financial aid to them. Furthermore, he works hard at providing whatever extra help low-income minority students need in order to graduate. President Crow has also increased the number of out-of-state students (especially from California), who pay about double what state residents pay in tuition (about $22,000 compared to $10,000). He encourages innovation among his administrators and is moving forward in using technology to get students through courses faster and more conveniently. (And I have to believe that he is even more dynamic than this paragraph makes him sound.)

Founded as a territorial school in 1885, ASU is now a university known for its Innovation Challenge competitions, a Startup School and a Startup Accelerator for new ventures, an Entrepreneurship Outreach Network, and the Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator. It offers nine undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools on the Tempe campus, including the nation’s first School of Sustainability, established in 2006, with 99 percent of that School’s bachelor’s degree graduates currently employed or pursuing graduate degrees. And, in the midst of all that, it offers nine men’s and 12 women’s Sun Devils sports teams and more than 1,000 student organizations.

Perhaps to sum up President Crow’s vision, “ASU is a comprehensive public research university measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed…” (quoted from the website).

In closing our look at public universities, we would like to mention one more public HBCU, and that is Langston University in Oklahoma, with its main campus in Langston, just north of Oklahoma City, serving about 1,800 students. Its mostly undergraduate students study in 47 undergraduate degree programs and nine graduate degree programs in six schools, including liberal arts and education, business, health professions, and agriculture. About 80 percent of its students are black, and just about 60 percent are Oklahoma residents. Its tuition is very reasonable, in case you are looking for an HBCU in the Southwest.

As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are many more in these states than those we mentioned here, especially in Texas) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities, beyond just the flagship university, for the special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.

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