Episode 64: Volunteers To Help in College Applications Process

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This is our tenth episode focusing on news stories about higher education. When we started this series about what’s going on in the news, I really didn’t know if there would be enough to talk about. It turns out there has been quite a lot!

Today’s story is equally for families with kids going into their final year or two of high school and for families with kids going into their final year of community college—that is, families with kids who might be facing the process of applying to a four-year college in the near future.

1. The Problem with Completing College Applications

In a February 8 online article in The Hechinger Report, entitled “Volunteer ‘Pushy Moms’ help community college students transfer to four-year schools,” Hechinger senior editor Barbara Kantrowitz writes about an idea that comes to you from Karen Dubinsky, the chief engagement officer at LaGuardia Community College (located in Long Island City, Queens), one of the seven community colleges of the City University of New York. Dubinsky’s idea is something that should be replicated in every high school and every community college immediately.

We are not kidding. I can’t believe more high schools and community colleges do not do this one simple, but likely highly effective, thing to help kids navigate the college application process and get into college: Enlist volunteers from among the parents of kids who have recently helped their own kids through the college application process and who might want to lend a hand to a younger student.

The article quotes Dubinsky’s description of LaGuardia CC’s Pushy Moms as “women in New York who have spent a lot of time and energy getting their kids into college.” In point of fact, the women are Dubinsky’s friends, whom she recruited to start Pushy Moms (originally and more boringly called the College Advisory Board).

These women don’t work miracles, and they don’t have friends in high places in prestigious four-year universities. What they do have is experience, a certain amount of kindheartedness, and undoubtedly empathy for kids and parents struggling through the process.

Just to get some perspective, LaGuardia CC has tens of thousands of students (actually 48,000 students from 150 countries), and many are trying to make the transition from two-year LaGuardia to a four-year college when they graduate. Many of LaGuardia’s students—especially those who have come by themselves from all over the world—don’t have nearby parents or other family members to help them figure out the next step in their education, and many of them can’t afford to pay someone to provide that help. My guess is that the college counselors employed by LaGuardia CC are about as overwhelmed as high school counselors in big cities are. Providing one-to-one college counseling for every LaGuardia student who needs it just isn’t going to happen.

2. The Statistics About Completing College

Couple that situation with this fact, as noted in The Hechinger Report article:   “According to a recent report from Teachers College, Columbia University, 80 percent of entering community college students say they intend to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only about a quarter actually make the transfer and 17 percent eventually get the degree” (quoted from the article). These statistics are astounding. Let’s just say it again: 80 percent of two-year college students say that they want to get a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college, only about 25 percent actually transfer to a four-year college so that they can do that, and only 17 percent finally get the degree that they transferred for.

Parents, we know that we have said that starting out in a community college might be just the right thing for a variety of students—students who have no idea what they want to study in college, students who need to improve their basic academic and study skills, students who need to get better grades on their record before they apply to a four-year college, students who need to mature a bit before committing to a four-year program of study, and students whose families want or need the financial break of far cheaper tuition than four-year colleges.   We have said this and more in many episodes of NYCollegeChat and in our new book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available electronically and in print from Amazon). We have praised community colleges for lots of things, including the fact that adults over 25, some of whom are returning to finish a college degree they started years before, can often find a truly good fit at a community college.

But looking at these numbers—from 80 to 25 to17 percent—I have to say that I am beginning to think twice. It is true that there are legitimate reasons for this decline between the declared intentions of newly admitted students and the realities of where they end up. Because many community college students are older than typical college freshmen, it is likely that adult responsibilities get in the way—part-time and even full-time jobs, spouses, and children. It is also true that some students who try a community college right out of high school do so as a last resort—that is, their grades or test scores wouldn’t get them into a four-year college, even a less-selective public one. Such students might have trouble all the way through their community college careers.

I am not faulting community colleges here. I believe they serve an important purpose for a significant percentage of graduating high school students, especially for students who need a little extra time to become fully college ready or who need to keep costs for the first two years of college low enough that they can actually finish. But numbers are numbers, unfortunately, and these should make any educator or parent think again.

Just to be balanced, you might recall that we offered some different, but equally disturbing, statistics in our last episode (Episode 63: College Graduation Rates Are a New Federal Priority). We noted that graduation rates from four-year colleges were so bad that the Obama administration has pledged to spend the next year trying to figure out what has been going wrong. In a recent U.S. News & World Report article (“Education Department to Prioritize College Completion,” January 21, 2016), reporter Lauren Camera quoted statistics from 2013 from the National Center for Education Statistics. She reported that only 59 percent of first-time, full-time undergraduates in a four-year degree program completed a bachelor’s degree in six years. Not four years, but six years. That’s first-time, full-time undergraduates in a four-year degree program—in other words, these are the kids just coming out of high school and starting college full time in a bachelor’s degree program. These are kids like your teenager. After the community college numbers we just talked about, this 59 percent figure is really no consolation.

3. One Solution to the College Applications Problem

But let’s get back to LaGuardia CC’s Pushy Moms. One of Dubinsky’s solutions to the precipitous drop between the 80 percent of two-year college students who say that they want to get a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college and the approximately 25 percent who actually transfer to a four-year college is Pushy Moms.   Pushy Moms solves the problem of students who want to transfer to a four-year college, but cannot figure out how to negotiate the application process—which, by the way, is likely to be far more demanding than the application it took for them to get into LaGuardia as a public community college.

What exactly do the Pushy Moms do? Well, they do what moms do. They talk with LaGuardia students individually and over time about which four-year public and private colleges to apply to, about which colleges have the student’s desired major, about how to visit those colleges, about how to write any essays that might be required (and about how to revise and improve those essays, I’m sure), about any admissions tests that have to be taken, and about how to stay on schedule in getting transfer applications completed and submitted on time.

The Pushy Moms aren’t meant to replace the college counselors at LaGuardia, but I bet they often do. That’s how great the need for this kind of support is. The statistics are proof of that.

4. Next Steps

So, if you have a kid at a community college right now and want to see him or her make that transfer to a four-year college and you both need some help in order to make that happen, see whether the community college has a support service like Pushy Moms. Maybe you will be lucky.

But, what does Pushy Moms have to do with high schools? Simply this: There are a lot of pushy moms and dads (they can be pushy, too) who have helped navigate the college application process for their own kids in the past few years. Some of them have younger kids at home, who still need their help. But others don’t. The ones who don’t might have a little free time and might actually miss interacting with high school kids (yes, some are glad they are gone, but others of us wish they were still around).

These moms and dads could make up an effective volunteer corps to help students applying to colleges from your teenager’s high school—where they already know the principal and the teachers and the counselors and even perhaps some of the younger kids. I can already see this idea playing out in suburban high schools all over the country, especially in those suburbs where high school graduates go off to college and come back to live and raise their own families.

Of course, these moms and dads could also offer their services to schools that really need them, especially some urban high schools full of potential first-generation college students, who lack the family resources and family background necessary to put together winning college applications. As we all know, these urban high schools rarely have the number of counselors that would be needed to support all of the students who need help.

That is really the reason that Marie and I started this podcast. We were trying to make up for a lack of school counselors, and I was a mom who had recently gotten three kids of my own through undergraduate and graduate school admissions processes. Marie and I had also gotten a couple hundred high schoolers through the application process as they graduated from the Early College high school we co-founded in New York City. We knew how daunting it could be for families without any experience of their own in navigating college waters.

I recently wrote about this same topic on my blog for parents, called ParentChat with Regina. At the end of my ParentChat articles, I usually give parents some “marching orders,” which usually involve going to talk to the school board and/or their child’s school principal about current practices in the school district and the schools and possibly improved future practices. Here is what I said about the Pushy Moms topic.

High school parents: It is time to take a look at how parent volunteers are used in the college application process in your high school:

Ask your school board to talk about whether it has a policy on using parent volunteers in this particular way in your high school. Most boards will have a policy on volunteers, but this is a specific case, which could be endorsed in such a policy.

This discussion should be part of an open board meeting, but board members should have the opportunity first to meet with the superintendent, high school principals, and counseling staff about current practice and about the desirability of adding this practice.

In addition, talk to your high school principal about starting a parent volunteer group like Pushy Moms. You don’t need to have a board policy to do it. It could be a project of your PTA, if you have a strong PTA, or it could be set up and run by your high school administrators or counselors.

Offer to help by recruiting parents of current students you know. Or offer to call parents of recent graduates to recruit them (teachers and counselors can probably point you to parents who did a good job for their own kids in the college applications process). Offer to help with the logistics of scheduling meetings between parent volunteers and seniors (meetings can be held in school facilities or, as with Pushy Moms, at local coffee shops and other public venues).

Stay focused in pulling this off in your high school. This is an idea with no downside.

As Marie and I often say, it is rare to find an idea in education that has no downside. We think that Pushy Moms—or Pushy Moms and Dads—is one. Don’t miss it.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Making a community college experience more like a four-year college experience
  • Considering the case of Guttmann Community College
  • Enlisting the help of PTA members who no longer have kids in K–12 schools

Check out these higher education institutions we mention…

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

Episode 4: Colleges with Special Emphases (Part 1)

This episode is part of our series on understanding the world of college. We focus on four types of institutions with special emphases: historically black colleges and universities, single-sex colleges and universities, military service academies, and colleges offering online study.

For more details and show notes, visit http://usacollegechat.org/4.

Connect with us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat, Facebook at www.facebook.com/NYCollegeChat, or by calling our hotline at 516-900-NYCC.

This episode is part of our series on understanding the world of college. We focus on five types of institutions with special emphases: historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, single-sex colleges and universities, military service academies, and colleges offering online study.

NYCollegeChat episode 4 show notes1. Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Commonly referred to as HBCUs, these colleges and universities share a mission of educating African-American students solely or primarily. The just over 100 HBCUs can be found in many states and in both rural and urban areas. They are large and small, two-year and four-year colleges, some with graduate schools. Some offer liberal arts degrees, and some offer technical degrees.

Some were founded in the late 1800s, shortly after the Civil War. They share a proud tradition of becoming the first collegiate homes of family members of freed slaves.

Some have produced great African-American leaders, like Thurgood Marshall who attended Lincoln University and Howard University School of Law. Some have put great African-American leaders from all walks of life on their payrolls as professors and administrators, like Fisk University where Harlem Renaissance figures Charles Spurgeon Johnson (its first black president), Arna Bontemps, Aaron Douglas, James Weldon Johnson, and others all worked.

2. Hispanic-Serving Institutions

Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) are colleges and universities where total Hispanic enrollment is a minimum of 25 percent of the student body.  There are almost 250 HSIs in the U.S. today, representing 15 states plus Puerto Rico.

While these institutions do not have the long history that HBCUs do, Hispanic/Latino students might be interested in attending a college or university where they can find a large community with a common cultural background.  There are 11 HSIs right here in New York State, including seven campuses of the City University of New York, with far more institutions in California and Texas, which have larger Hispanic populations.

3. Single-Sex Colleges and Universities

Colleges and universities that were started in America’s earliest days were all institutions for men. They were all single-sex institutions then.

Seven of the eight well-known Ivy League institutions served only male students when they were founded in the 1600s and 1700s: the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale. Among the Ivies, only Cornell, the youngest of the Ivies, was founded as a co-educational university, which took as its mission to enroll both men and women from its first day.

As time went on, most of the Ivies had a “sister” school for women: the University of Pennsylvania had a College for Women, Columbia had Barnard, Brown had Pembroke, and Harvard had Radcliffe. Of these, only Barnard remains.

While most single-sex institutions have opened their doors to the opposite sex over the years, some do remain and carry on a tradition that their graduates wholeheartedly support.

4. Military Service Academies

The five well-respected military service academies train officers for the military and provide an excellent collegiate education in selected academic fields as well: the United States Naval Academy (often referred to as Annapolis), the United States Military Academy (commonly referred to as West Point), the Air Force Academy, the United States Coast Guard Academy, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

Admission to the service academies is highly selective. While there is no tuition, there is a service obligation of a number of years upon graduation. In turbulent times worldwide, that service obligation is something for families to consider carefully.

5. Colleges Offering Online Study

Online study is becoming increasingly popular, with complete degrees now being offered through online study, especially at the graduate level. Even if a fully online degree is not attractive, many courses are now offered partly (“hybrid courses”) or completely online so that students do not have to attend as many or any classes on the campus.

For some students, an online course or even an online degree can be very useful and can enable students to earn credits when they cannot travel to a college campus. But online courses require a lot of self-discipline, which makes it difficult for some students to do well.

Online courses are not easier than regular courses. They require just as much work from students, probably with less guidance from the professor. Students enrolling in online courses need to know what will be expected of them and need to think hard about whether they have the motivation needed to succeed.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • The value of the support students get at HBCUs and single-sex colleges
  • Find out about the 11 Hispanic-serving institutions in New York State
  • Why Barnard College? Why Wabash College? Why Paul Quinn College?
  • What tradition has to do with it
  • The pitfalls of online study, from the perspective of the professor

Check out these higher education institutions we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

  • Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
  • Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
  • Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
  • Following us on Facebook

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

Episode 2: Two-Year Colleges, Four-Year Colleges, and Universities

This episode is part of our series on understanding the world of college. In this episode, we talk about the differences among two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and universities.

For detailed show notes including links to all the colleges mentioned in this episode, visit http://usacollegechat.org/2.

NYCollege Chat is a weekly podcast for parents and high school students about the world of college brought to you by Policy Studies in Education.

Connect with us! Follow us on Facebook or Twitter as NYCollegeChat. Contact us with questions at 516-900-NYCC.

This episode is part of our series on understanding the world of college and is focused on the differences among two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and universities.

NYCollegeChat Episode 2 - Two-Year Colleges, Four-Year Colleges, and Universities1. Types of Two-Year Colleges

There are over 1,100 two-year colleges in the U.S., with almost 1,000 of them being public colleges, usually referred to as “community colleges.” Some two-year colleges might still carry the name of “junior college,” which was more popular 100 years ago. Today, some two-year colleges have dropped the word “junior” or “community” from their names altogether, such as Montgomery College in Montgomery County, Maryland.

2. Costs at Two-Year Colleges

As tuition increases across the U.S., more and more students are considering attending a public two-year college first—before transferring to a four-year college to finish a degree. Because two-year colleges have lower tuition rates than four-year colleges, this strategy saves family money for use later at a more expensive public or private four-year college.

Just like public four-year colleges, public two-year colleges can be funded by local (city or county) governments and state governments.

3. Students at Two-Year Colleges

Although more and more students are choosing two-year colleges as their first college step, the average age of two-year college students is in the mid-twenties. That is because many adults returning to college also choose two-year colleges.

So the atmosphere in classes can be a bit more serious than an 18-year-old’s recent high school classes. Plus, most two-year colleges are commuter colleges; students do not live on campus in dorms, but rather commute to classes from their homes. That can make the atmosphere on campus different from a traditional four-year college.

4. Degrees Awarded by Two-Year Colleges and by Four-Year Colleges/Universities

Two-year colleges award associate’s degrees for two years’ worth of completed courses, usually totaling about 60 credits. Students can study part time at a two-year college and take three, four, or even more years to complete those credits and earn an associate’s degree.

Only four-year colleges and universities can award bachelor’s degrees. A bachelor’s degree indicates a higher level of college study, which is preferred by many employers and which is required by universities if a student wants to pursue a graduate or professional degree, like a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in any field of study.

5. Transferring to Four-Year Colleges/Universities

Credits earned at a two-year college can be transferred to a four-year college or university. But some four-year colleges and universities will not accept all of the credits that were earned at a two-year college. (Some will not accept all of the credits that were earned at another four-year college or university, either.)

The best way to make sure that all two-year college credits transfer is to earn an associate’s degree. A four-year college or university will accept an associate’s degree (and all the credits that went into it) from a transfer student.

6. Universities Defined

A university is usually a larger institution with more students and more professors than a two-year college or a four-year college. A university offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Undergraduate degrees are associate’s and bachelor’s degrees; graduate degrees are master’s and doctoral degrees.

A large university typically is made up of more than one “school” or “college,” which are focused on different fields of study.   One of these components usually focuses on the liberal arts (more about that in Episode 3); others might focus on education, engineering, fine arts, business, health sciences, or other subject fields.

Universities usually award different types of four-year bachelor’s degrees, depending on a student’s major field of study, such as a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Architecture, Bachelor of Business Administration, and more. Some universities offer two-year associate’s degrees as well.

Sometimes the schools or colleges within a university are only for graduate students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree. Graduate students might attend a university’s medical school, law school, school of theology, journalism school, or others. A university awards master’s degrees and sometimes doctoral degrees to graduate students.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • The pitfalls of trying to transfer college credits
  • Universities as research institutions
  • The pros and cons of large universities and small colleges

Check out these higher education institutions we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

  • Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
  • Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
  • Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
  • Following us on Facebook

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…