Episode 177: Why the College’s Cost Matters

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Well, we are just about done. We are on Step 14, the final step in researching colleges on your son or daughter’s LLCO (that is, one last time, the Long List of College Options). And, one last reminder: Feel free to rush online and get our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available at Amazon). It’s a steal at $9.95!

Step 14 is, to many people, the most important step and even the only step. I find it ironic that we would end our podcast–for now–on this note and that we would give our last piece of advice about college cost. Why? Because cost is the thing I care about least in helping your kid find a great college. Perhaps it is because I do believe that where there is a will, there is a way. Perhaps it is because borrowing money for college is not something that I find offensive–since I can’t think of a better reason to borrow some. Perhaps it is because I know that college can be a once-in-a-lifetime chance–one chance to do it exactly right. Of course, you can come back to college as an adult and be very successful; but why wait, if you could have made it work right at 18? Perhaps it is because I want every kid to get the best possible start in life and because I believe that a great college choice is that best possible start. Well, enough about me.

We hope that college cost is not the most important step for YOU when deciding where your son or daughter should apply, especially because it is very hard to predict what financial aid you might be able to get from a college, from your state government, from the federal government, and from outside organizations. It is also true that financial aid at a good private college on your kid’s LLCO could make that college as affordable as any good public university on the LLCO. But that is something you won’t know before you apply. We understand that paying attention to cost might be a sensible thing to do; it’s just not the only thing.

1. Tuition and Fees

Finding and understanding tuition and fees on a college website isn’t always as easy as you might expect. College Navigator offers a straightforward table of college costs, but it will be for the preceding year–and not for next year, which is what will matter to you.

And by the way, some college websites display tuition and fees separately, while some provide one combined figure. Try to use a combined tuition-plus-fees figure for each college so that the figures will be comparable from college to college.

Furthermore, some websites display information by term (e.g., by semester, by quarter), while others display information for the full academic year. Make sure you know which you are reading! For example, remember to multiply by 2, if the information you see is for just one semester. (I have actually made that mistake and wondered why the numbers seemed too good to be true!)

Question 50 asks students to jot down the tuition and fees for the current academic year or, if possible, for the next academic year, and to record the year, too (so you know exactly what you are dealing with).

2. Tuition Incentives

Remember that some colleges have attractive and even compelling tuition incentives, which they will proudly announce on their websites. For example, some colleges freeze tuition for four years at the price a student starts with as a freshman. Some colleges allow students to take an extra semester for free if the college is at fault for not offering, on an accessible enough schedule, all of the courses needed to graduate on time in four years. Some colleges provide generous discounts to students from contiguous states or to students in the region (like the West or the Midwest or New England). It makes sense to see whether each college on your kid’s LLCO has any tuition discount that could help you at any point in your kid’s undergraduate years. Question 51 quite simply asks students to jot down any tuition incentives.

3. Residential Housing Costs

And finally, there is residential housing cost, which College Navigator provides, but again only for the preceding academic year. So again, it is best to go directly to a college’s website to get this information. Obviously, housing cost is important if your kid is planning to live on campus and especially important if a college requires freshmen to live on campus. Even if you think your kid might commute to a college on the LLCO, it won’t hurt to jot down this information, just in case you all change your minds.

Question 52, the final question on the College Profile Worksheet, asks students to jot down the residential housing costs for room and board for freshman year. Keep in mind that there might be a range of housing costs, depending on which facility the student wants to live in, on whether a student wants a single room, on what kind of meal plan is taken, etc. Have your son or daughter write down the cost for the same type of living situation at each college so that you all can compare college costs later.

4. The End

Well, that’s it. 52 questions! A completed College Profile Worksheet for every college on your kid’s LLCO! Now, you are ready to think about where to apply. It’s a great place to leave you.

Marie and I are always ready to answer your individual questions while the podcast is on hiatus for the next couple of semesters. Please email us. Really. I chat with parents in your situation all the time. To make things quicker, let me give you my personal email at Policy Studies in Education, our longtime sponsor. It is paul@policystudies.org. Now, you have no excuses.

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Episode 74: 17 Ways to Make College More Affordable

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17 Ways to Make College More Affordable on USACollegeChat podcastWe have talked about money and how to pay for college any number of times, but we thought we would try to pull it all together in this episode.  Here are your notes for the episode (but you should tune in to get the full explanation for each of these 17 tips:

  1. Have the “€œmoney talk”€ with your child–€”what you can afford, what you are willing to pay, and what your child might need to do to contribute.
  2. Use a 529 college savings plan to put money aside (the sooner, the better).
  3. Start the college search early so you can save time and money by eliminating colleges that aren’€™t a good fit for your child.
  4. Don’€™t rely on guidance counselors to help you save (e.g., getting application fee waivers); do your own homework.
  5. Limit your search to public colleges in your own state.
  6. Consider public colleges outside your own state.
  7. Ask about eligibility for cost-savings and scholarship programs at colleges you are considering.
  8. Apply for scholarships (don’€™t forget FastWeb, a site for customized searches).
  9. Find out about any regional exchanges your state belongs to (e.g., Western Undergraduate Exchange), which offer tuition discounts to residents of member states.
  10. Find colleges where credit overloads are free (for example, you pay for 15 credits per semester, but get to take additional courses at no cost).
  11. Find colleges that will lock in tuition on the first day of your child’€™s freshman year or will guarantee course availability so that your child can meet all requirements within four years of study or will pay all tuition costs for the final semester if your child has gone straight through and finished on time.
  12. Convince your child to attend the most selective college that accepts him or her (because your child is more likely to graduate on time and save unnecessary tuition costs).
  13. Consider one of seven “€œfederal work colleges,”€ which find jobs for students for students to work at on campus or in the nearby community in return for a tuition credit.
  14. Consider cooperative education programs, which mix semesters of paid work and college study in effective ways.
  15. Consider studying abroad, where prices aren’€™t as high as you think.
  16. Make sure your child stays on schedule and graduates on time in four years (not six).
  17. Fill out all paperwork completely and on time, including that pesky FAFSA (get outside help if you need to, because that will be money well spent).

Check out these resources mentioned in this episode…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
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Episode 73: The Best College Savings Plan You Aren’t Using

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Episode 73: The Best College Savings Plan You Aren't Using: An interview with ScholarShare on USACollegeChat podcastOur episode today takes a look at the 529 plans that states offer to their residents (and actually to residents of other states, too) as a way to save for college and protect the earnings on those savings from taxes.  We are pleased to have Vivian Tsai, Senior Director of ScholarShare, and Yvette Haring, Team Manager of 529 Specialists for California, from TIAA.  Vivian and Yvette work with TIAA to administer California’s 529 plan, and they have lots of information for you about California and nine more states they work with and, indeed, about other states as well.

I am sorry that I didn’t know Vivian and Yvette before I sent my own three children to undergraduate and graduate school.  They really could have helped.

Check out these resources mentioned in this episode…

Ask your questions or share your feedback…

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

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  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
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Episode 36: Colleges in the Plains Region—Part II

In last week’s episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by looking at the seven states of the Plains region: Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. We talked about public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. Today, we will continue our tour of the Plains states by focusing on private higher education institutions.

We are going to check out a couple of national—well, really, international universities—as well as a handful of small liberal arts colleges.

A virtual audio tour of private #colleges in the Plains Regions on @NYCollegeChat #podcast

As we say in every one of these episodes, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

And to repeat: Because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or large.

1. Private Universities

Let’s start with a university that ranks in the very top tier of almost everyone’s list: Washington University in St. Louis (known fondly as WashU). Yes, it is in St. Louis, Missouri—no connection to the state of Washington or to Washington, D.C. With about 6,500 undergraduates, 6,500 graduate and professional students, and another 1,000 nontraditional evening and weekend students, WashU describes itself as a medium-sized university. I mention the nontraditional evening and weekend enrollment because, interestingly enough, WashU was founded in 1853 as an evening program especially designed for the many newcomers who had been flooding the relatively new state and who needed industrial training and basic education courses. Its students are drawn from 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries, with only about 10 percent coming from Missouri; it is indeed an international university. While I believe that an undergraduate student body of 6,500 will still feel rather large to an incoming freshman, WashU claims to have a student-to-faculty ratio of an astoundingly low 8:1. I believe that is the lowest I have seen, including from small liberal arts colleges, and I imagine that is one thing that helps freshmen feel engaged quickly.

Situated on a hilltop, the campus was laid out in 1895 by Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect extraordinaire, who also happened to design two little parks we have in New York City—Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Despite this beautiful setting, 40 percent of WashU students still study abroad.

WashU offers undergraduates a choice of about 90 fields of study, spread out over colleges/schools of arts and sciences, business, engineering, art, and architecture. It also has graduate schools of law, medicine, arts and sciences, and social work and public heath. Like all medium-sized and large universities we have seen, WashU fields a lot of varsity sports teams—nine men’s and 10 women’s teams, to be exact— and offers 37 club sports. A surprisingly high 75 percent of students participate in single-sex and coeducational intramural sports. And, with about 370 student organizations, WashU students can be kept quite busy.

Let us just note that the tuition at WashU is a staggeringly high $47,000 per year, but that is unfortunately in keeping with the best private universities in the U.S. While the WashU website indicates that the University will work with families to make satisfactory financial arrangements and while children of lower-income families are awarded grants that do not have to be repaid, let’s admit that the tuition sounds like a lot of money.

Without leaving Missouri, let’s look at a Catholic university of about the same size as WashU, and that is Saint Louis University, in St. Louis. It is a Jesuit university founded in 1818—the first university west of the Mississippi River. It is one of 28 Jesuit universities in the U.S. We spoke about Jesuit institutions in an early episode of NYCollegeChat; as we said then, they have excellent academic reputations and include colleges like Georgetown University, Boston College, Fordham University, and the College of the Holy Cross. The Jesuit vision of education is a student who excels academically, serves others, and seeks social justice relentlessly. Saint Louis University prides itself on educating the whole person—“mind, body, heart and spirit” (quoted from the website). As evidence of the Jesuit commitment to serving others, Saint Louis students, faculty, and staff contribute one million volunteer service hours each year, and service learning is integrated into quite a few academic courses.

Saint Louis offers about 100 undergraduate majors across undergraduate schools/colleges of arts and sciences, public health and social justice, business, education and public service, health sciences, nursing, social work, and engineering, aviation, and technology. It also offers undergraduate training leading to the priesthood and graduate schools of law and medicine, among other fields. Like other universities, it offers varsity sports teams— seven men’s and nine women’s teams—and more than 150 student organizations, plus fraternities and sororities. Its price tag is hefty at about $39,000 in tuition per year, but the website claims that 97 percent of first-time freshmen get financial aid.

One super-attractive feature of Saint Louis University is its own campus in Madrid, which serves about 675 undergraduate and graduate students. Just half are from the U.S. Opened in 1967 and recently renovated, undergraduates can study in 11 business and liberal arts degree fields. Courses are taught in English, with some selected courses taught in Spanish. Saint Louis undergraduates can study in Madrid for a semester or for their entire four years, depending on their majors.

2. Private Liberal Arts Colleges

Let’s start with two small liberal arts colleges in Minnesota: Carleton College and Macalester College. Carleton is located in Northfield, about 40 miles south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, home to the University of Minnesota and other colleges. Founded in 1866 by the General Conference of Congregational Churches, it has no religious affiliation today.

Carleton is a classic liberal arts college (that is, undergraduate education only), offering 37 majors in the arts and sciences and 15 mostly interdisciplinary concentrations. It enrolls about 2,000 students, drawn nationally and internationally. While more students come from Minnesota than any other state, with California not far behind, both New York and Illinois send about half the number of those leading states to Carleton. Entering freshmen have very high SAT and ACT scores, and about 75 percent of them graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. About 25 percent identify as “people of color.”

Freshmen are required to live on campus, and about 90 percent stay on campus, contributing to the close-knit community feel and an unusually close engagement with professors, both in and out of classes. The student-to-faculty ratio is an unusually low 9:1, meaning that professors spend a lot of time getting to know students. About 98 percent of Carleton seniors say that they were happy with the quality of instruction in their classes. The four-year graduation rate is an enviably high 90 percent (the national average is about 38 percent). Furthermore, over 80 percent of Carleton graduates go on to graduate or professional school within 10 years.

Carleton operates on a trimester schedule of three 10-week terms, with students taking three courses at a time, rather than the typical four or five. This schedule allows for the in-depth thinking Carleton prides itself on having students do in their courses. More than 70 percent of students study abroad during their four years.

Though much smaller than the private and public universities we have been looking at, Carleton still fields nine men’s and nine women’s varsity sports teams and offers more than 50 student-organized club sports and intramurals. About 90 percent of all Carleton students participate in some sport at some level. Carleton’s Cowling Arboretum, which provides trails for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and cross-country skiers, was named one of the top 10 places to run by Runner’s World magazine. Carleton also has 250 student organizations.

You can imagine that all this comes at a price, and that price is $48,000 in tuition each year. Carleton does say that it is “committed to meeting 100 percent of financial aid for all admitted students, all four years” (quoted from the website). Interestingly, about 80 percent of students have jobs on campus.

Macalester College is similar to Carleton in many ways. Both colleges are on many lists of the top 25 liberal arts colleges in the U.S., with Carleton usually ranking in the top 10. Macalester is located in a residential area of St. Paul, so its students can take advantage of everything the Twin Cities have to offer. Founded in 1874 by Rev. Edward Neill, it is Presbyterian affiliated, but nonsectarian. Neill was a missionary to the Minnesota territory, who later served as the first president of the University of Minnesota. But he was concerned about educating future leaders and believed that the best way to do that was in a small private college. And so Macalester was born, with a donation from a Philadelphia philanthropist.

Like Carleton, Macalester is a classic liberal arts college, offering 38 majors in the arts and sciences. It also enrolls just over 2,000 students, drawn nationally and internationally. Similar to Carleton, about 70 percent of incoming freshmen graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. Like Carleton, about 25 percent of students identify as students of color.

The student-to-faculty ratio is also low at 10:1, meaning that students have a chance to get to know their professors well. Similar to Carleton, the four-year graduation rate is an enviably high 85 percent, and about 65 percent of Macalester graduates go on to graduate or professional school within five years.

About 60 percent of Macalester students study abroad during their four years, and about 75 percent have internships. A whopping 95 percent do volunteer work in the Twin Cities at some point, with about half of Macalester students volunteering in any given semester.

Similar to Carleton, Macalester fields nine men’s and 10 women’s varsity sports teams. About half of Macalester students participate in intramural sports. It also has more than 90 student organizations.

Unfortunately, the price is also comparable at about $49,000 in tuition each year. But like Carleton, Macalester says that it will meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need of admitted students, making Macalester and Carleton two of 70 U.S. colleges that will do that.

A third college that also typically ranks in the top 25 national private liberal arts colleges on all kinds of lists is Grinnell College in Grinnell in the “rolling farmland” of central Iowa. Founded in 1846, Grinnell is another college with Congregational Church roots.

A bit smaller than Carleton and Macalester, Grinnell has an enrollment of about 1,600 students, drawn nationally and internationally, again with about 25 percent students of color.

Grinnell offers 26 arts and sciences majors and 11 interdisciplinary concentrations and also has a very favorable student-to-teacher ratio of 9:1. Here is an explanation of Grinnell’s unique Individually Advised Curriculum:

Every first-year student at Grinnell enrolls in the First-Year Tutorial, a small group of students [limited to 12] working with a faculty member to study a subject of interest to both students and tutor. The tutor also is the academic adviser for each student in the group, so that teaching and learning are closely linked with the planning of programs of study. In teaching, the tutor discovers the aptitudes and interests of the students, who in turn receive academic advice, not from an infrequently consulted stranger, but from a teacher who sees them several times each week. In planning a program of study, the student and the tutor balance the cultivation of existing interests with the discovery of new ones. An entering student should regard the first year as a time for gaining breadth in the arts and sciences, confidence in exploring a variety of disciplines, and a more mature understanding of the place of each of these in liberal education as a whole. (quoted from the website)

Grinnell does expect students to become proficient in written English by taking at least one appropriate course, to develop knowledge of mathematics and/or a foreign language, and to take courses in these three areas: humanities, science, and social studies. So, there are some distribution requirements, but extreme freedom in what exactly to take. When a student finally chooses a major, his or her academic advisor will be assigned from that subject field.

In addition, Grinnell is a strong proponent of independent study for its students—that is, “guided readings, independent projects, mentored summer research, and course-linked projects that add credits to an existing course” (quoted from the website).

Abut 60 percent of Grinnell students spend time studying abroad and, according to the website, “Grinnell is among the leaders in sending graduates to the Peace Corps and supports its own Grinnell Corps — a yearlong postgraduate service opportunity in Asia, Africa, and North America — underscoring the College’s strong commitment to social responsibility and action.”

Grinnell offers more than 200 student organizations and nine men’s and nine women’s varsity sports teams. To help students develop skills of getting along with each other as a community, Grinnell’s residence halls are self-governed by the students.

As with the other small liberal arts college we have looked at, tuition at Grinnell is a high $45,000 per year.

3. Colleges That Change Lives

As we have said in several earlier episodes, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions. Most are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Two of the 44 institutions profiled are located in the Plains states. You should read about them in the book or on the website to learn more about both of them. They are St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota (also the home of Carleton College), with about 3,000 students; and Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, with just about 1,100 students. Interestingly, Cornell College (not to be confused with Cornell University in Ithaca, New York) uses the same fascinating one-at-a-time course schedule that Colorado College uses, as we discussed in Episode 34.

Because these Colleges That Change Lives institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a decent high school record might have a good chance of being accepted.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How to make study abroad easy
  • Why student-to-teacher ratio might matter
  • What “100 percent of demonstrated financial need” really means

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