Episode 66: Geography Determines College-Going Behavior–Again

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This is our eleventh episode focusing on news stories about higher education, and yet it returns to a theme of many USACollegeChat episodes. That theme is the geography of college-going behavior by graduating high school students. I think we are starting to sound like a broken record on this topic, and yet it is so important for parents to recognize and deal with.

Today’s story revisits this theme that we addressed seriously and at length in our nationwide virtual tour of public and private colleges and universities in every state in the U.S.

Geography Determines College-Going Behavior—Again 1. The Geography Statistics You Should Know

You all might recall that the reason we took you on that tour was one simple statistic: About 70 percent of high school students go to college in their home states. We speculated about reasons for that remarkably high number: familiarity on the part of kids and families, concern within families about sending kids too far from home, financial concerns, and familiarity on the part of high school counselors, just to name some. We were sorry (and still are) that kids were missing out on all kinds of opportunities—public and private, expensive and not, traditional and wildly innovative, liberal arts and technical—because they were not leaving home. We thought that giving kids and families more information could help.

A new report just out might call that strategy into question.

Published by the American Council on Education and written by Nicholas Hillman (Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison) and Taylor Weichman (a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison), the report is entitled Education Deserts: The Continued Significance of “Place” in the Twenty-First Century. The report makes lots of interesting points, but the bottom line, from our point of view, is this: Geography matters. (We would add, “And that’s too bad.”)

One statistic that the authors quote from other research is something that we will now add to our own arsenal of statistics about college choice. That new statistic is this: About 57 percent of incoming freshmen at public four-year colleges attend a college within 50 miles of home. Now, let’s be clear. The statistic is not that 57 percent of high school graduates go to four-year public colleges within 50 miles of home. But rather, 57 percent of freshmen at four-year public colleges have come from no more than 50 miles away. Think about it from a freshman’s point of view. If you are a freshman standing on a four-year public college campus, more than half of your classmates live within 50 miles of where you are standing.

We often say that colleges seem to want geographic diversity in their student bodies and that they seek freshmen from other states (and, indeed, from other countries), proudly advertising on their own websites their enrollment figures about how many states and how many foreign countries their students come from. Well, now you see why.

For those freshmen standing on those four-year public college campuses, it’s almost like being in high school or in a local community college—especially when a fair number of your high school classmates enrolled at your four-year public college, too.

2. Is Knowledge the Solution?

In their new report, the authors make an interesting point about some federal initiatives designed to improve students’ access to colleges, like the new College Scorecard (which we have not talked about yet) and College Navigator, which we have talked a great deal about. You might recall that College Navigator is an online service of the National Center for Education Statistics and that it provides all kinds of useful data about any college you enter into its search function—data like enrollments, graduation rates, profiles of newly admitted students, typically broken down by gender and by race/ethnicity. In fact, we have done whole episodes about those kinds of data and about how helpful we think they are. We have said that College Navigator is one more source of information to help high school seniors figure out where to apply and perhaps one more source of information for high school seniors to look at in making a decision about where to enroll. But maybe giving students and their families more information—even highly relevant and valuable information—is not nearly enough.

So here is the question that the authors investigate: Is college choice a result of having information and knowledge about colleges or a result of the location of a college—with location meaning one close or even closest to home—and what happens when there aren’t any colleges close to home? Here are a few findings from other research, presented by the authors (you can follow up on the details by looking at the full report):

  • The farther a kid lives from a college, the less likely the kid is to enroll.
  • The college decisions of kids from wealthier homes are less affected by home-to-college distance.
  • The college decisions of kids from working-class homes and the college decisions of kids of color are most affected by home-to-college distance.
  • Family duties and cultural traditions keep some kids closer to home for college—especially black, Latino, and Native American kids.
  • Kids in rural communities, who often have strong community ties, tend to stay closer to home for college.
  • Having a college close to home is associated with a high level of college enrollment (I would say, because it’s right there, and what could be easier).

None of these statistics is surprising, given both what we have talked about in earlier episodes and, indeed, given your own common sense. Not surprising, but maybe still concerning.

3. What Are “Education Deserts”?

The authors go on to talk about “education deserts,” which they define as communities with no colleges or universities located nearby or communities with only one nearby community college to provide a place for students who need a public institution with reasonable admission standards (with “reasonable admission standards” defined as admitting more than 75 percent of applicants). Just as there are “food deserts,” they say, where access to healthy, fresh food is unavailable in some low-income neighborhoods and perhaps especially in low-income neighborhoods of color, so there are education deserts, where families do not have easy enough access to public higher education.

I get the point, parents, and I believe you do, too. No one wants unnecessarily limited choice for students who need to keep costs down or need to stay close to home for other reasons—at least at the beginning of their college careers. But I wish that the solution could be to help students make the physical and perhaps social-emotional-psychological trip to a college farther away—and maybe even out of state.

4. What Should You Do?

Like the National Center for Education Statistics and its College Navigator or like the Obama administration’s College Scorecard, I would like to think that providing important information about colleges would be enough to help students make that trip. I would like to think that the information provided in our nationwide virtual tour of colleges would be enough to help students make that trip. But, evidently, it isn’t. Furthermore, the report offers the insight that even financial support, which so many kids need desperately, sometimes does not outweigh the power of geography.

So, what is the solution? Is it to build more colleges—ideally public colleges with reasonable admission standards—in areas where none exist? Is it to build more campuses of state public higher education systems (though maybe not the flagship system, with its higher admission standards) to pick up the abundance of students looking for a nearby college to call home? Is it to encourage colleges that already exist—at least public colleges—to consider the geographic region they are in and work harder to serve more of the students in it or close to it?

A lot of that sounds expensive to me, and a lot of that sounds as though it could take a long time to happen. Colleges can’t be built overnight, and college policies and practices can’t be changed overnight, either.

So, for now, Marie and I are here at USACollegeChat, and we are going to keep giving you information about colleges far and wide. We are going to keep encouraging you and your high schooler to think about the information. We are going to keep asking you and your high schooler to keep an open mind about leaving your state for the right opportunity. We are going to keep advising that geography does not need to be the first deal breaker on your list of things that would keep you from sending your high schooler to a college that is a perfect fit.

A college in another state might be the best chance your high schooler gets to go somewhere reasonably safe and reasonably well protected to live and learn with peers that are all not exactly like he or she is. Personally, I would like to take the child out of the desert rather than improve the desert. I don’t think it is a popular opinion, but it is mine. Call me if you want to chat about it.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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Episode 60: Who’s Teaching College Courses to High Schoolers?

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In recent weeks, we have been talking about news stories about higher education—some that might immediately influence your teenager’s decisions and others that might take longer to impact your family. Today’s story is the perfect intersection of college and high school, and it is a story that could affect your current high schoolers right now as they try to put together a high school program for themselves that will make them attractive applicants to colleges.

NYCollegeChat Podcast Episode 60: Who's Teaching #College Courses to High Schoolers? #collegeaccess #highschool #parents

In today’s episode, we are taking a look at a growing movement nationwide—one that Marie and I invested a lot of time and effort in when we co-founded an Early College high school in New York City in 2009. That movement is the offering of courses for college credit to high school students. Sometimes students earn only college credits for such courses, and sometimes students earn both high school and college credits for those courses (in that case, they are often referred to as dual-enrollment or dual-credit or concurrent-enrollment courses). Sometimes students attend Early College high schools that partner with colleges to offer college credit courses as part of a formal and structured program, which often supplies support services to students as well. Sometimes college credit courses are offered on the college campus and sometimes at the high school. Sometimes college credit courses are taught by college professors and sometimes by high school teachers—which is the subject of today’s episode.

Let us say right now that Marie and I are huge fans of Early College high schools and of offering college credit courses to high school students who can rise to the occasion and do good academic work. By the way, in our experience, that is far more students than you might think—and it includes many low-income urban students, who are written off by way too many colleges and indeed by an unfortunate number of high schools. We have seen kids, who were not fortunate enough to have had great middle school experiences and who had virtually been given up on by high school teachers, bloom in college classes. It is fair to say that we are about as biased in favor of accelerating high school students into college courses as you can be. So what’s the question?

The question is about who is teaching the college courses that high school students are taking for college credit (and sometimes for both college and high school credit simultaneously). At our Early College high school, students went to our college partner’s campus in their third year with us and started taking actual college courses, taught by college professors, but in classes with only their high school classmates. In their fourth year of high school with us, our students went to college full time—taking a full load of regular college classes taught by college professors in classes of regular college students. These courses were not dual-credit courses; our students had already earned all of the high school credits they needed to graduate, and so these courses were simply college courses for college credit.

It was clear to us that college professors should be teaching the college credit courses that our high school students took. In other types of programs, it is evidently less clear.

1. New Requirements for High School Teachers

Many dual-credit courses are, in fact, taught by high school teachers in high school classrooms. I understand the efficiency of this practice and even the necessity of this practice in places where students cannot get to a college campus easily and where college professors cannot get to students at their high school easily, either. But I don’t prefer it, and I don’t think it gives students the same experience. It might be a college course, but it is not a college professor or a college location or a roomful of other college students.

Last fall in Education Week (October 13, 2015), Catherine Gewertz wrote an article about a new ruling by the Higher Learning Commission that angered a lot of educators, but frankly pleased me: “New Teacher Requirements Jeopardize Dual-Credit Classes.” (The Higher Learning Commission is the organization that accredits colleges in much of the West and Midwest.) The Commission stated that a high school teacher who is teaching a dual-credit course must have a master’s degree. Furthermore, if the teacher does not have a master’s degree in the subject field of the course he or she is teaching (for example, mathematics, English, or history), then the teacher must have at least 18 graduate credits in that subject field. So, for example, if a high school mathematics teacher has a master’s degree in education, that teacher must also have at least 18 master’s-level or more advanced credits in mathematics in order to teach a dual-credit mathematics course for college credit. These are the same requirements that regular college faculty must meet, and I personally am fine with that.

Initially, when the ruling was made last year, colleges were given until September, 2017, to get their dual-credit courses into compliance. The Commission is now saying that it will review applications for an extension of that deadline until September, 2022. So, clearly, colleges are concerned about getting high school teachers enough appropriate graduate-level credits to continue teaching in their dual-credit programs.

High schools are just as concerned—and maybe more so. The Education Week article notes that some principals in Indiana (where more than 65,000 high school students took dual-enrollment courses in 2014) have said that as many as 90 percent of their teachers could not meet the Commission’s standard. The Education Week article also pointed out that Indiana’s chief academic officer for higher education had commented that high school teachers who teach Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses—both of which can yield college credit with high-enough exam scores—are not required to have a master’s degree. I understand that point, though I continue to believe that AP and IB courses are not actually college courses—academically challenging though they might be.

Here is another complaint, according to the Education Week article:

One of the criticisms of the ruling is its use of a master’s degree as a proxy for good teaching. . . .   ‘I strongly disagree with the [Higher Learning Commission] that quality teaching equals having an advanced degree in your field,’ Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change in St. Paul, Minn., wrote in an email. Nathan helped write the 1985 law that made Minnesota the first in the country with a statewide policy allowing dual-credit courses. (quoted from the article)

Personally, I don’t think the Commission is saying that having a master’s degree means you are a good teacher, or indeed a good college professor. All of us have had college professors who were not good teachers, and all of us have had high school teachers who were not good teachers, too. In this case, the master’s degree means that you have broad and detailed knowledge of the subject field you are teaching. It is about the content that you need to know, not the teaching skill that you need to have. It is the standard that colleges use for their own faculty and, as such, I am willing to use it for teachers of dual-credit courses, which should be as close to the same as college courses as possible.

2. An Interesting Solution

Ohio has an idea for solving the problem (and it’s possible other states have done something like this as well). In order to help high school teachers get the graduate-level college courses they need to teach in the State’s dual-credit program (called College Credit Plus), the State has given grants to some colleges to make it possible for teachers to take the courses they need tuition free, according to the Dayton Daily News (“College credit program could get surge of teachers,” by Jeremy P. Kelley, January 10, 2016). Colleges are putting some of their own funds into the programs as well.

Of course, it is still a lot of work for high school teachers who do not have many graduate-level credits in the subject area of the college course they are teaching. It could take them some time to complete the 18 credits required.

Yet, the Dayton Daily News article noted that “[s]ome education research suggests that students who earn multiple college credits while in high school are more likely to achieve some level of college degree.” And with more than 30,000 Ohio high school students taking college credit courses last fall, that turns out to be a lot more students on a solid path to a college degree.

3. What Does This Mean for You?

So here is something that Marie and I have said before in earlier episodes of NYCollegeChat and in our book How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available at Amazon.com in print and electronically). If your teenager goes to a high school that offers college credit courses through an Early College program or another type of dual-credit or dual-enrollment program, please make sure your teenager takes advantage of it. Why?

  • Because you will likely save some money in college tuition when your teenager finally goes to college
  • Because your teenager will likely have a valuable college experience while still in high school (especially if that experience is on a college campus with a college professor)
  • Because your teenager will more likely graduate from college—and in a shorter time—if he or she has earned some college credits while still in high school

I think in an early episode of NYCollegeChat I said something like this: I have spent much of my 40-year professional career studying and evaluating education innovations for the federal government, for various state governments, for various school districts, and for various foundations. I have seen a lot of programs that claimed to make a difference. Almost all of them had some downside or other. But Early College programs and other dual-credit programs just do not seem to have any downside at all. So, take advantage of them whenever possible. And if you are moving and looking at new school district homes, let the presence of such programs be one thing you absolutely look for.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • What to ask your school board
  • How to increase the chances that other colleges take these credits
  • Why this topic is so important

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
  • 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
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Episode 59: What’s Happening to Low-Income Smart Kids?

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What's Happening to Low-Income Smart Kids? on NYCollegeChat podcast

For a few weeks now, we have been talking about news stories about higher education—some that might immediately influence your teenager’s decision about where to apply or later about where to attend and others that might take longer to impact your family.

In this episode, we are going to take a look at a new report just out this month that could impact thousands and thousands of families every year. It has a message that needs to be heard.

I want to thank Sarah D. Sparks, who wrote about this new report at Inside School Research, one of the blogs sponsored by Education Week. Her article—entitled “Three Myths Keeping Bright Kids in Poverty from Going to Top Colleges” (January 11, 2016)—was so good that I immediately went to look for the full report. You would, too, after reading her lead:

If you are at the top of your class in a high-poverty school, you have a significantly better chance of dying in a car crash than attending an Ivy League school. (quoted from the article)

Hard to believe. She later quotes Harold Levy, former chancellor of the New York City Public Schools and currently executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which co-authored the report with The Century Foundation. Levy said:

‘College admissions for kids in poverty is profoundly unfair. . . . I thought if you were really poor and really smart you wrote your own ticket, and that turns out to be just wrong.’ (quoted from the article)

1. The Report

The 50-page report is entitled True Merit: Ensuring Our Brightest Students Have Access to Our Best Colleges and Universities. Although I can’t read the whole thing to you in this episode, I would like to present some hard-to-swallow statistics and some conclusions offered—all of which should make you interested enough to take a look at the whole report:

  • At the most competitive colleges, only 3 percent of students come from families with incomes in the bottom 25 percent of the income distribution, but 72 percent of students come from families with incomes in the top 25 percent. At highly competitive and very competitive colleges (the next two categories), only 7 percent of students in each group of colleges come from families in the bottom 25 percent. The report comments that there are “thousands of students from economically disadvantaged households who, despite attending less-resourced schools and growing up with less intellectual stimulation and advantages, do extremely well in school, love learning, are extraordinarily bright and capable, and would do very well at selective institutions if offered admissions. They are just being ignored.”
  • The report goes on to explain that the “underrepresentation of high-achieving, low-income students at the nation’s selective institutions stems from two factors: low-income students are less likely to apply to selective schools, and low-income students who do apply receive inadequate consideration in the admissions and financial aid process.” That is quite an indictment of the system.
  • Looking further into that explanation, the report notes that its authors’ “research shows that only 23 percent of high-achieving, low-income students apply to a selective school, compared with 48 percent of high-achieving, high-income students. . . . Termed ‘under-matching’ by researchers, many high-achieving, low-income students choose not to apply to schools whose student bodies have high levels of academic ability on par with their own, and instead apply to schools where the average student’s academic capacity is lower than their own.”
  • The report’s authors found that “high-achieving students from the wealthiest families were three times as likely to enroll in a highly selective college as those from the poorest families (24 versus 8 percent). Other researchers have demonstrated that this trend holds true even among the most talented low-income students who score in the top ten percent nationwide on the SAT or ACT.”
  • So, how important is it, in the long run, to attend a highly selective college? The report speaks quite clearly to this question:       “. . .       our analysis is unequivocal: high-achieving students who attend more selective schools graduate at higher rates, earn higher incomes, and are more likely to pursue a graduate degree. . . . This remains true even after controlling for [students’] academic ability. In other words, where you go to school matters.”
  • And here is one big example of why that statement is so true. In the report’s own words, “Top employers typically recruit from selective colleges and universities. And, selective institutions cultivate our nation’s leadership: 49 percent of corporate industry leaders and 50 percent of government leaders graduated from only 12 selective colleges and universities. If we want a nation where at least some of our leaders know first-hand what it is like to grow up poor, then the doors of selective institutions must be open to students from all communities. Low-income students depend on higher education as a route to social mobility, but college will never be the great equalizer if the brightest of the poor cannot even get in the door.”
  • Turning to the topic of financial aid, the report says this: “Our analysis of applications submitted through the Common Application organization (“Common App”) finds that 84 percent of high-achieving students with family incomes below $20,000 fail to obtain the Common App fee waiver for their college applications, despite clearly being eligible for one. This finding suggests that it is often a lack of knowledge about how college financial aid works that stands in the way of students applying, not students’ actual desires or financial circumstances.”
  • But here is the good news that the report offers its readers: “Research is clear that changing high-achieving, low-income students’ understanding of how college financial aid works can dramatically increase the number of applications they submit to selective schools. By sending students an inexpensive mailing costing $6, researchers were able to increase the percent of high-achieving, low-income students who applied and were admitted to a match institution by 31 percent. Other studies have found that simply sending semi-customized text messages to students’ cell phones can increase their completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a necessary precursor to obtaining a federal Pell grant. This is a critical first step as our research suggests that only 71 percent of high-achieving, low-income students complete the FAFSA.”
  • And here is something that the report said and that we have said many times at NYCollegeChat: “While the cost of higher education has been rising for decades, the stated tuition and fees at elite colleges (especially private institutions) have skyrocketed, even after adjusting for inflation. Low-income families, seeing these ‘sticker prices,’ often fail to understand that with financial aid, attending a selective school might actually cost them less than their local public university.”

One of the scariest parts of the report for me was the section on the college admissions process—not the applications process, which is scary enough, but rather the admissions process, which is how colleges choose which students to admit from those who have applied. This section of the report does a good job of shining a spotlight on what happens behind the scenes as college admissions officers are pulled in this direction and that direction by various interest groups at the college and are faced with tens of thousands of applications to review and rank. The authors seem brutally frank in this section of the report. I have no reason to believe that it is not a true picture of what goes on, though I have no independent confirmation of it. Here is one of the conclusions that the authors draw:

The underrepresentation of high-achieving, low-income students is in large part the result of admissions practices utilized by selective colleges and universities that—presumably inadvertently—advantage privileged, wealthy students. Specifically, college and university admissions preferences provide advantages to athletes, children of alumni, and mediocre but full-paying students. Institutions compound the problem by giving advantages to students who visit the campus (which few low-income applicants can afford), apply early (which low-income students who must weigh aid packages in making college selection decisions cannot do), take the SAT or ACT multiple times and submit only their best scores (which is unavailable to low-income students who will be afforded a single fee waiver), and who do so after having been thoroughly coached (which few low-income students can afford). Additionally, low-income students tend not to have been exposed to college-level work or take AP/IB courses, which because of “weighting” by the high schools artificially inflates their GPA. Finally, the increasing reliance [on] standardized test scores in compiling an Academic Index to screen applications—so as not to overwhelm admissions officers with otherwise having to read thousands of applications—may unfairly eliminate disproportionate numbers of low-income students on the basis of small score differences, which we know are not predictive of college performance or indicative of any differences in ability. (quoted from the article)

2. What Can Be Done

Well, let’s start by saying that we probably cannot change the way that college admissions officers at highly selective colleges review applications against criteria set by those colleges. But here are some things that low-income parents of high-achieving kids can and should do:

  • Seriously consider whether your teenager should apply to a college under an Early Decision plan. If not, have your teenager apply under one or more Early Action plans, whenever possible. Either of these routes might well increase your teenager’s chance of acceptance.
  • Arrange for your teenager to take the SAT and/or ACT more than once, even if you have to pay for it. This act gives your teenager a chance to improve his or her scores, and we know that these scores are still important in most selective colleges.
  • Even better, figure out a way to get your teenager into a prep course for these college admission exams. Perhaps your school district or a nearby community center is offering one. The commercially available courses are expensive, to be sure—though even that might be worth it if your teenager’s scores need some major improvement.
  • If Advanced Placement (AP) courses are available at your high school, encourage your teenager to take one or more, if your teenager is academically ready to do so. Great alternatives to AP courses are dual-enrollment courses or Early College courses (if your high school is part of an Early College program); in both of these, students take actual college courses and earn actual college credits during high school, with the college credits typically free to the student. All of these options improve your teenager’s high school record, from the colleges’ point of view, by showing colleges that your teenager can handle college-level academic work.
  • Make sure your teenager applies for college application fee waivers, if your family is eligible. This means that your teenager can apply to a greater number and wider range of colleges since there is no cost to you.
  • Investigate highly selective colleges if your teenager has the grades and test scores to apply. Then, have your teenager apply! If you can’t get any help from the high school counselor in seeking out highly selective colleges, get help from somewhere else—a community leader, a teacher, or previous episodes of NYCollegeChat. We already know that high school counselors are overworked and underprepared to deal with many college issues.
  • Fill out the FAFSA as soon as it is available. Don’t miss the chance to apply for financial aid.
  • Once your teenager receives acceptances, encourage your teenager to go to the most selective college that accepted him or her. Hopefully, the financial aid offer from that college will make that possible.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • More resources and forms of financial assistance available at colleges
  • More ways to improve the rigor of the senior year
  • More information on Early Decision and Early Action plans

Check out these websites we mention…

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
  • 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

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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

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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…

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Episode 12: To Visit Or Not To Visit?

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by talking about campus visits.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
When your teenager should visit a college without you
How to take advantage of financial help from colleges to cover travel costs
How to arrange a weekend visit to a college for your teenager

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Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Calling our hotline at 516-900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by talking about how many colleges should be added to your list.

NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

NYCollegeChat Episode 12: To Visit or Not to Visit? - How important is the campus visit?For many decades, one rite of passage for American high schoolers and their parents alike has been the “college tour,” where a parent takes an anxious or blasé teenager (depending on your child) on a tour of colleges that might or might not turn out to be appealing schools to attend. During these college visits, there are campus tours led by college students, question-and-answer sessions with administrators, sometimes a chance to sit in on a class or two, and perhaps the nerve-wracking one-on-one admissions interview.

So, as you and your teenager enter the college applications process, let’s ask this question: How important are college visits? You will actually hear, in our three options, that the answer is always “very important.” Just the when or how those visits occur is what we are going to talk about.

1. Very Important, So Visit Now . . .

. . . because there is no substitute for standing in the main quadrangle or in a classroom building or in a dorm or on the soccer field or on the library steps. It is impossible to convey the feeling of a college’s physical and social and intellectual environment without being there. Why would anyone want to sign up to spend two years or four years at a place that he or she had never seen? By the way, this is true for students who are living on campus and who are living off campus. Your teenager will spend a lot of time at the college—regardless of living in the dorms—and should want to get a feeling for its buildings and its grounds and its setting within its surroundings and, of course, its students, staff, and faculty.

Visiting colleges before applying to them makes a lot of sense because even all colleges of a certain type are not the same. In other words, you cannot visit one or two private four-year colleges and, based on them, know what private four-year colleges are like. You cannot visit one or two public community colleges and, based on them, know what public community colleges are like. You cannot visit one or two urban campuses (or urban colleges with barely any “campus”) and, based on them, know what urban colleges are like.

Visiting a college before applying might convince your teenager not to apply, thus saving you that time and effort and money. But, visiting colleges is not free—especially when they are not in your hometown. Many families cannot afford to take the time off or spend the travel money that it takes to make a college swing through several states—or even through your own state, if it is as large as New York, where you cannot make an inexpensive day trip from one end to the other.

On the other hand, if you have decided to limit your applications to colleges in your hometown or very close by, then you absolutely should visit before applying. Make sure you take a tour of the campus, that you talk with current students, and that you sit in on a class or two, if possible. There is no reason to miss out on this chance to find out what everyday life is like on that campus and how different it might feel from another college campus that could be just minutes away. For example, if you live in New York City and want to stay in New York City for college, you would find out how different the campuses of just these four-year colleges were if you were to visit them: New York University and The New School in Greenwich Village, Columbia University and Barnard College in Morningside Heights, Fordham University at Lincoln Center, Hunter College in midtown, Pace University in downtown—and we have not left Manhattan yet. All of these schools are just a subway ride away for New Yorkers.

2. Very Important, But Visit Later . . .

. . . after acceptances have been received and your teenager is trying to decide which college to attend. After all, it is cheaper to pay the application fee for a college than to spend the money to visit it ahead of time (unless it is in your hometown).

If your teenager is accepted at more than one college, perhaps that is soon enough to spend the time and money to visit those colleges if you are trying to decide among them. It might be that visiting your teenager’s first choice is all that is needed—if the visit is successful and confirms that that college is indeed the right one. Nothing is more cost-effective than that.

3. Very Important, But Visiting Is Not an Option

Sometimes it is just not possible for a family to arrange for a campus visit to several colleges or even to one college, even after acceptances have come in.

In that case, you all can—and should—talk to anyone you can find who has visited any college on your list as a kind of substitute for making the trip yourself. That might be a family friend, a high school friend, a teacher, a school administrator, a guidance counselor, or someone else. Some colleges use alumni interviewers, who could serve this function nicely, too.

Firsthand impressions from someone who has walked on the campus in different seasons of the year, has seen inside the dorms, has talked with faculty or visited a class, has talked with current students or recent graduates, has eaten in the cafeteria, has attended a sports event or a cultural event—all of these impressions can help your teenager make a better decision about where to enroll. Ideally, at least some of those substitutes would be individuals who had been on the campus recently—and preferably someone with a more in-depth feel for the college than one can get from simply walking across the campus. A current professor or current student or recent graduate would be a great choice.

Remember that it is not only about the physical surroundings, but also about the intellectual and social surroundings, which the casual visitor might not be able to pick up on so readily. Photographs in a brochure or on a website or even a virtual campus tour on a website might resolve your questions about the physical surroundings, but cannot answer your questions about the intellectual and social surroundings, which are more likely to affect your satisfaction with your college choice.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • When your teenager should visit a college without you
  • How to take advantage of financial help from colleges to cover travel costs
  • How to arrange a weekend visit to a college for your teenager

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…