Episode 130: Opening Your Eyes About College Options

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We are in the second week of our new series, Researching College Options. Now that it’s August and high school students in some parts of the country will actually be returning to school this month for their senior year, it’s time to get to work. So, for this new series, we are going to be talking directly to you, parents of high school seniors. Hang on because it can be a bumpy ride.

In this episode, we are going to read you some excerpts from what we call Step 1 in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Step 1 of what you might ask? Well, it’s Step 1 of making a good decision about where to apply to college. Like all first steps, it is important–maybe the most important–and a little scary. But like all first steps, if your senior skips it, things are not likely to go as smoothly as you and he or she might have hoped. If you need more help, more examples, or more fun stories, go get the book at amazon.com.

1. Just Expand the College List

So, the second chapter of our book opens in a very unpleasant way. Here is what we wrote to your senior:

This chapter focuses on something that you are just about to do totally wrong. Really, totally wrong. In fact, our advice in this chapter is probably the opposite of what many school counselors and college consultants are telling you as you start a serious consideration of where to apply . . . . We bet they are telling you to start by narrowing your list of colleges, but we would like you to start by expanding your list of colleges.

There is plenty of time later to narrow down your options–once you get to . . . October or November . . . . While expanding your list might seem unnecessary, time consuming, or even wasteful, we believe that expanding your options now could mean the difference between an okay college choice and a great college choice for you later.

In other words, taking off from what we talked about last week, having your senior expand his or her options now could mean the difference eventually between just an okay college “fit” and a great college “fit.” And that could be the difference between graduating on time and not graduating on time–or even graduating at all. (Regular listeners: You know what we think about graduating from college on time–that is, in the traditional four years. It’s one of the best ways around to save money, and it might just let your kid go to his or her first choice, even if the annual sticker price on that choice is a bit higher than you all had hoped.)

2. That Dreaded Geographic Comfort Zone

So, what stands between your senior and that great college fit? It might well be the dreaded geographic comfort zone. As we said to your senior in our book, there is nothing we dislike more than your “geographic comfort zone.” Here is what we wrote:

The great majority of high school graduates who go to college choose a college in their home state?perhaps as many as 70 percent of them. Undoubtedly, you have one or more colleges in your home state on your list of college options right now. That’s okay with us. However, what’s NOT okay is to have nothing BUT colleges in your home state on your list.

Here’s why: It’s a big world out there. There are so many intriguing colleges in it that we hate for you to limit yourself to those nearby. We hate for you to limit yourself to those that are likely to have a majority of students a lot like you from the same part of the country as you. Your first step in making a list of college options should NOT be to narrow down the choices and to close off opportunities. You should NOT be settling either for colleges that are nearby or for colleges that you and your parents and your school counselor already know a lot about.

We know that there are some good reasons for kids to stay close to home for college. We understand that some families want to keep their kids close to home for cultural reasons, perhaps in order to participate in family events or religious activities. We understand that some families need to have their kids stay at home in order to help with family responsibilities. Those reasons are hard to argue against.

We know that staying close to home might make going to college more affordable for some families, especially if living at home saves on housing expenses. But we also know that it is hard to know in advance how generous a financial aid package might be from an out-of-state college. [Just look back at Episode 127 if you don’t believe us on that one!] Did you know that some states offer an attractive discount at their public colleges to students who come from nearby states? We bet you didn’t. Check out, for example, the Midwest Student Exchange Program or the Western Undergraduate Exchange or the New England Regional Student Program, if you live in those regions of the country, [or the University of Maine’s new tuition program for nonresidents].

We also know that you can sometimes get into a better college when it is far from home. Why? Because almost every college likes the idea of geographic diversity in its student body. Colleges like to claim that they draw students “from all 50 states and from 100 foreign countries.” You will see this kind of statement on many college websites. Pay attention, because you might be far more attractive to a college halfway across the country than to one in your own back yard. That’s because you will give that faraway college bragging rights. This is especially true for private colleges that do not have the same mission to serve students in their own state as public colleges do.

We also know that some parents just can’t imagine sending their kids away from home for the first time. In fact, you might not be able to imagine leaving home for the first time. But, we encourage you and your parents to think hard about that. Isn’t college the perfect time to make that break–a time when you can live somewhere else under the supervision of college staff in relatively secure surroundings, a time when you can learn to function as an adult in a safe environment (that is, learn to manage your money, do your work, plan your time, and make new friends)?

We urge you (and your parents) to get outside your family’s geographic comfort zone. You have nothing to lose at this stage in the process. Researching colleges outside your hometown, outside your state, and outside your region doesn’t mean you have to attend one of them–or even apply to one of them. But it does mean that you will have the information that you need to make a better decision when the time comes.

I really can’t make any better case for getting outside your geographic comfort zone than that. Here is what we wrote to your senior about how to do it:

Conveniently, the Bureau of Economic Analysis has divided the U.S. into eight regions:

  • Far West–California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Hawai?i, Alaska
  • Rocky Mountains–Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Utah
  • Southwest–Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
  • Plains–Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota
  • Southeast–Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia
  • Great Lakes–Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio
  • Mideast–Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia
  • New England–Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine

However, we thought that the Bureau stuffed too many states into the Southeast; so, we divided the Southeast into two regions (southern and northern), and you should, too. That will give you nine regions to investigate.

We used these nine regions when we did our virtual college tour [at USACollegeChat]. You should listen to the tour in Episodes 27 through 53 of our podcast or simply read the show notes at usacollegechat.org. . . .

We thought hard about how you should create what we will call your Long List of College Options?your LLCO, for short. We decided to start with this advice:

Make sure that you have at least two four-year colleges in each of the nine geographic regions of the U.S. on your LLCO.

So, that would give you at least 18 four-year colleges. But, our guess is that your list already had some regions covered with more than two colleges–especially the region you live in. That’s fine. Have as many colleges on your LLCO as you like from each region. But don’t ignore any region! That’s what it means to get outside your geographic comfort zone.

3. How To Find College Options

We hope that we have convinced you. If we have, we don’t ever have to bring it up again. Here is what we wrote to your senior about what to do next:

How should you choose the colleges for your LLCO? Well, you probably know about some colleges already–from family, friends, school counselors, and teachers. You should discover some more from our virtual college tour, in which we talk about several hundred four-year colleges. You might find some more through a variety of online searches and quick looks at those college websites. Remember, you don’t need too much information about each one just to put it on your LLCO.

You will soon see that you can learn a lot from reading a college website. Furthermore, you can learn not only about that one college, but also about colleges in general and about what to look for on the next website you go to. It’s an education in itself. You really need an education ABOUT higher education.

By the way, don’t start looking at two-year colleges, or community colleges, yet. Two-year colleges can easily be added to your LLCO closer to application time, partly because their applications are typically less demanding to complete. We are also assuming that you are most likely to attend a two-year college in or near your hometown and, therefore, you will not need to do much investigating before applying.

We do have some reservations about two-year colleges, especially for students who have just graduated from high school and are moving directly into college full time. We know that two-year colleges are a great choice for saving money and for helping kids who need a bit more maturity or a bit more academic preparation before heading into college. . . . However, we worry because student graduation rates and student transfer rates from two-year colleges to four-year colleges are scandalously low, and we worry about what opportunities end up being closed off for too many kids.

But back to your LLCO. Those of you who have listened to our podcast or read the show notes know that this suggestion is coming:

Make sure that you have at least one college that is not in the U.S. on your LLCO.

This is a favorite topic of ours, and we can’t say enough about it. There are truly great options outside the U.S. We hope that every one of you will take advantage of studying abroad for at least a semester, no matter where you end up in college. Studying abroad is for everyone these days–not just for rich kids, not just for kids studying foreign languages, not just for kids at private liberal arts colleges. But you can actually study outside the U.S. for more than a semester or even for more than one year; you can simply go to a college outside the U.S. full time for four years.

So, you must be up to at least 19 colleges on your LLCO–likely more. But we can’t resist one last piece of advice:

Make sure that you have at least two public flagship universities on your LLCO–probably one from your home state plus one more.

We say this to ensure that you have some great public options to consider. Maybe you already had them when your chose two colleges from every region, but add them if you didn’t. To be clear, we mean public “flagships,” not just any public universities–though you are also free to put other public universities on your LLCO. If you are an excellent student, the public flagship in your home state is likely to be your very best choice for a “safety school” (with some exceptions, like California, which can’t accommodate all of the excellent students in their own state). If you can’t identify the public flagship in your own state or in most other states, you aren’t ready to be choosing colleges yet. Go learn about all 50 of them on our virtual college tour.

As we have said numerous times in our podcast episodes, public flagship universities might be the hidden jewels in the college landscape. They are often the very best place high school kids in those states can imagine going. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive for state residents (because they are public), academically respectable (even outstanding), well regarded across the state and across the country, competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for lots of their high school classmates. They are often truly the place to be, if you live in that state.

As with everything, some states have better public flagship universities than others, and some public flagship universities are better funded by their states than others. Nonetheless, we are convinced that you can find at least two that you think might be great for you.

Well, that is a lot of colleges: colleges from nine geographic regions, one or more colleges from outside the U.S., and a couple of public flagships from your state and/or someone else’s. Of course, don’t forget to ask your parents and other important family members and teachers and school counselors for input about colleges to put on your LLCO. For right now, the more, the better–at least within reason. But our “within reason” is probably a lot bigger than your “within reason.” Remember that your senior is not necessarily applying to all of the colleges on his or her LLCO. Your senior is just going to start gathering the information he or she and you would need in order to decide whether it is worth applying. We will start talking about that information gathering next week–that is, what information to gather and how to gather it. So, stay tuned.

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Episode 104: Public Universities–One More Time

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This is our final episode before the holiday break and before those of you with seniors are facing what is likely D-Day–Deadline-for-college-applications Day–at least, for many, many colleges anyway. We struggled to think of something hopeful to say, and we settled on one last look at a group of colleges your teenager and you might not have considered sufficiently, and that is public universities. They have long been a favorite topic of ours, as evidenced by our detailed coverage of them during our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) and our oft-repeated description of public flagship universities as the hidden jewels of our higher education system in the U.S.

But recently, I read some new information that might make them even more attractive to you, and that information is about money. Our regular listeners know that I care relatively little about the cost of a college compared to the education and college life it provides and the quality of its match to a particular student. But even I was pleased to find out this information. Perhaps it is just in time for adding one or two more colleges to your teenager’s list (especially if the applications are relatively easy or the deadlines are a bit later than January 1, both of which can be true for large public universities).

1. Out-of-State Tuition Prices Dropping

A few weeks ago, I read an Associated Press article, by Jeff Amy, which had a catchy headline: “Seeking students, public colleges reduce out-of-state prices.” It starts with an interesting story from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in Hattiesburg, but doesn’t stop there. Here is the USM story:

The 14,500-student school has cut annual out-of-state tuition and fees from $16,529 this year to $9,964 next fall, even as it increases the cost for Mississippi residents by 4 percent, to $7,963.

The idea is to reverse a 2,000-student enrollment dip by pricing a USM education below some public universities in nearby states, and attract enough high-schoolers from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio to raise overall revenue. (quoted from the article)

Of course, as our regular listeners might say, those high school seniors could also come from New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Why? Because kids need to get outside their geographic comfort zone! And now, USM and other public universities are making it even more attractive and cheaper to do just that.

According to Mr. Amy’s article, “The Associated Press counted at least 50 public colleges and universities nationwide that have lowered nonresident tuition by more than 10 percent in recent years without making similar reductions for in-state students.” Is there any particular reason for that trend? Mr. Amy’s article offers this statistic:

Many [colleges] are squeezed by falling numbers of traditional college-age students. High school graduates have fallen nationwide since 2011 and won’t peak again until 2023, according to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education. (quoted from the article)

Well, that was something I didn’t know. So now, let’s head way north from Hattiesburg and take a look at the University of Maine‘s flagship campus. Mr. Amy tells this story:

One widely noticed move was made by the University of Maine in Orono, which charges high-achievers from nine other states the same tuition they’d pay at their home state’s flagship. This saves them $12,000 to $17,000 from Maine’s out-of-state tuition of $29,498; applicants with lower grades and test scores get $9,000 off.

“The state of Maine needs young people, and we’re not producing enough of them,” said University of Maine Provost Jeffrey Hecker?.

It’s working: Applications jumped, freshman enrollment rose 9 percent to 2,260 students this fall?. (quoted from the article)

This arrangement at the University of Maine echoes some arrangements we talked about during our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) where groups of neighboring states in various parts of the country offered good financial deals to students to cross state lines and attend public universities. And, parents, don’t forget to check out about any regional exchanges your state belongs to (e.g., Western Undergraduate Exchange, Midwest Student Exchange Program), which offer tuition discounts to residents of member states.

Of course, as we have said before, some public universities take some heat from state taxpayers for recruiting students from outside the state, especially when they believe that out-of-state students who can pay more are admitted instead of in-state students who deserve those places. But, as some states cut back on their funding of their own public universities, it is no surprise that those universities have to seek revenue elsewhere. Thus, at least in some states, out-of-state students are going to get a good deal.

2. Public Universities Recruiting Out-of-State Students

Last month, The New York Times published an article by Laura Pappano entitled “How the University of Alabama Became a National Player.” The whole article is well worth reading and tells about many more universities than we are going to talk about in this episode. But here is the Alabama story in a nutshell:

With state funding now just 12.5 percent of the university’s budget, campus leaders have mapped an offensive strategy to grow in size, prestige and, most important, revenue. The endgame is to become a national player known for more than championship football?.

The university is spending $100.6 million in merit aid, up from $8.3 million a decade ago and more than twice what it allocates to students with financial need. It also has hired an army of recruiters to put Bama on college lists of full-paying students who, a few years ago, might not have looked its way.

The University of Alabama is the fastest-growing flagship in the country. Enrollment hit 37,665 this fall, nearly a 58 percent increase over 2006. As critical as the student body jump: the kind of student the university is attracting. The average G.P.A. of entering freshmen is 3.66, up from 3.4 a decade ago, and the top quarter scored at least a 31 on the ACT, up from 27. (quoted from the article)

While it is clear that there are Alabama taxpayers who are annoyed that its well-known and much-loved flagship university is spending its money on out-of-state recruiters and merit aid to bright kids, it is also clear that these strategies seem to be working for the University. And that is why the University of Alabama now has 45 recruiters, with 36 of them in out-of-state locations.

According to Ms. Pappano’s article, Alabama is just one example of this trend. To take another example, the University of South Carolina (USC) has 20 recruiters, and now USC receives twice as many applications from out-of-state students as from state residents. Ms. Pappano sums it up this way:

It is no accident that states with among the largest drops in state allocations since 2008–Arizona (down 56 percent), South Carolina (down 37 percent) and Alabama (down 36 percent), according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities–have entrepreneurial public campuses trained on growth. Those same states also had the greatest net gain in students: More entered the state to attend their four-year public institutions than left to study elsewhere, according to fall 2014 data, the most recent available. (quoted from the article)

3. What Does It All Mean?

So, what does it all mean? First, giving great tuition breaks to out-of-state students likely means that some in-state kids will lose out on places at those public universities. Second, recruiting out-of-state kids who can afford to pay more likely means that some in-state kids will lose out on places at those public universities.   Third, giving merit scholarships to out-of-state bright kids likely means that some in-state kids will lose out on places at those public universities. All of these scenarios are understandably of concern to state taxpayers. These scenarios are also a concern to those of us who believe that public universities have a mission to make a college education accessible to a wide range of students, not just the best and the brightest and the most able to pay.

On the other hand, if you are the parent of a teenager who is looking for another college to add to the list as we get down to the wire, we can say that this could be the time to look both to public flagship universities and to other public universities that are actively recruiting out-of-state students. Check out the articles we have been discussing for more information. Depending on your teenager’s grades and test scores, there might even be a substantial financial break for you.

4. Good Luck!

We will be taking a short holiday break next week, and we will be back with you on January 5. At that point, those of you who have a senior with applications due in the first few days of January should be breathing a huge sigh of relief. Of course, some of you will still have deadlines to face in February and March and even later. And if you have a junior at home, your life is about to change.

But, parents of seniors, let us say again what we have said before: There is not just one perfect college for each kid. There are many colleges that would make each kid happy and many colleges that would give each kid a great education. Your kid will find one or more than one. Until then, we are keeping our fingers crossed for you. Happy 2017!

The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $0.99 through 2016! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.

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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…

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Episode 58: Black and Hispanic Students at Public Flagship Universities

Black and Hispanic Students at Public Flagship Universities on Episode 58 on NYCollegeChat

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

Welcome back to our current series about higher education in the news. We have been talking about news stories of all sorts about colleges—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 look at an eye-opening article that focuses on the enrollment of black students at public flagship universities in various states. As our regular listeners know, we have spent many episodes praising public flagship universities—especially during our virtual tour of colleges nationwide, where we highlighted every single flagship university in every single state.

We explained that, in many states, the public flagship university is often the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because it is relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, usually competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates.

We also explained that flagship campuses are more popular in some parts of the country than in others. The notion that they are least popular, we would say, in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions probably reflects the culture of the Northeast and not the academic quality of the institutions. Perhaps there is just an older and more entrenched tradition of private higher education in the Northeast than there is in other parts of the country.

As we have said before, we think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search for lots of students who never consider them. In other words, we think that students too often overlook great flagship universities outside their home state and choose to attend more expensive private colleges with less academic prestige in their home state.

To be fair, some flagship universities are pricey for out-of-state students, but they are not typically more expensive than private colleges. And, in earlier episodes, we have talked about some reciprocal agreements among states that charge students from their same region a lower price than other out-of-state students (remember the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Midwest Student Exchange Program, which charge regional students no more than 150 percent of in-state tuition instead of two or three times as much).

So, that’s the background to today’s episode. To sum it up, we love flagship universities.

1. The Hechinger Report’s Investigation

Recently, I read Meredith Kolodner’s well-researched article in The Hechinger Report (December 18, 2015): “Black students are drastically underrepresented at top public colleges, data show.” (The article also appeared in The Huffington Post.) As someone who has been praising flagship universities for some months now and as a concerned taxpayer, I dove into the article. Let me read you several paragraphs in which Ms. Kolodner gives us some key statistics:

On average, just 5 percent of students at the nation’s flagship public universities are black. . . . Even . . . at the University of Virginia, which prides itself on the diversity of its campus, just 8 percent of students are black. Just 5 percent are black Virginians, in a state where 22 percent of public high school graduates are African-American.

Virginia is hardly unusual. At most flagships, the African-American percentage of the student population is well below that of the state’s public high school graduates. Typical are the University of Delaware, with a student body that is 5 percent African-American in a state where 30 percent of public high school graduates are black, and the University of Georgia, where it’s 7 percent compared with 34 percent. (quoted from the article)

Those statistics made me think twice. I almost hoped that the University of Virginia (commonly referred to as UVA) numbers were unusual since we know from our virtual tour that it is one of the most academically prestigious of all flagship universities.

Ms. Kolodner went on to say this:

Flagships matter because they almost always have the highest graduation rates among public colleges in their state — especially for black students — as well as extensive career resources, well-placed alumni networks, a broad range of course selections and high-profile faculty. For state residents, these colleges also offer the most affordable top-quality college education, and usually a path toward better opportunities after college.

We agree: Flagships matter. The article goes on to offer a thought-provoking discussion of how black students are being pushed out of public higher education opportunities, including by rising costs, and of how black students themselves feel on campuses where they are such a small fraction of the student population. The article, which also takes a deeper look at UVA, is well worth reading.

2. The Common Data Set

Wanting to see what the enrollment figures looked like at other flagship universities we have been recommending to students, we decided to take a look. I got the data that we are going to present from a very useful document, which can be found on the websites of most colleges. It is called the Common Data Set, and it is a long set of data covering many aspects of college life, including enrollment and characteristics of admitted students. The Common Data Set is a product of the government-funded Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (known as IPEDS). I usually found it for a particular college by searching on that college’s website for “Common Data Set.”

In checking information about IPEDS for this episode, I now discover that IPEDS has a great college search function of its own (housed at the National Center for Education Statistics), called College Navigator, which provides the Common Data Set statistics for each college quickly and efficiently in one place. If only I had known! Run—don’t walk—to this website: http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/. This is great information for you and your teenager as you are doing your college search.

3. Statistics from Other Flagships

Let’s look first at the percentage of “black, or African American, non-Hispanic/Latino” students who are “degree-seeking undergraduates,” according to the figures submitted to IPEDS in these exact IPEDS categories. Here are the percentages for some well-known flagship universities that we have discussed in earlier episodes (the data are for the 2014-2015 academic year):

These are large and small flagships, highly selective and less selective flagships, and geographically diverse flagships. I have to say that I was astonished at the tiny fraction of black undergraduates at some of them. While we often looked at the racial/ethnic breakdown of students during our virtual tour of colleges, these small numbers seem to have a bigger impact when they are all lined up together. And, interestingly, I remember some selective private colleges where the percentage of black students was far, far higher than these numbers.

I went on to get the same information for what IPEDS calls “Hispanic/Latino” “degree-seeking undergraduates.” Here are those percentages:

  • The Ohio State University—3%
  • The University of Mississippi—3%
  • University of Michigan—4%
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst—5%
  • Louisiana State University—6%
  • The University of Iowa—6%
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—7%
  • University of Washington in Seattle—7%
  • University of Colorado Boulder—10%

These percentages aren’t any higher. In fact, when combining the two figures, you get a range of just 8 to 17 percent black and Hispanic/Latino undergraduates at these particular flagship universities.

4. Graduation Rates

Ms. Kolodner’s article also takes up the important concern about whether students who enroll in college actually go on to graduate. Listen to these two paragraphs from her article:

Black and Latino students who have above-average SAT scores go to college at the same rate — 90 percent — as whites. But once enrolled, white students are more likely to finish, in part because they attend more selective colleges, where the resources are better and overall graduation rates are higher.

When black and Latino students with above-average SAT scores go to those selective colleges, their graduation rate is 73 percent, compared to only 40 percent for these above-average-scoring nonwhite students at other colleges. (quoted from the article)

This is just one more reason that low numbers of black and Hispanic/Latino undergraduates at flagship universities is a concern: If more black and Hispanic/Latino students attended flagships, it is likely that more would, in fact, graduate from college. And that is at least as important as getting into college in the first place.

5. What Does This Mean for You

I am not presenting these numbers to condemn these universities for somehow not producing undergraduate student bodies that are more diverse and more representative of black and Hispanic/Latino high school graduates. I do not know what measures they have taken to improve these numbers or even if they believe that these numbers need improving. What I would like to do is give you and your teenager a way to think about these numbers if you are black, Hispanic, or Latino.

First, know that your teenager would be part of a relatively small group of students of the same racial or ethnic background on many of these campuses. That might be fine for your teenager and for your family—especially if your teenager’s high school had a similar look. Or, even if it didn’t. Of course, because most of these flagship universities have tens of thousands of students, that means that there are still hundreds or even thousands of black and Hispanic/Latino students on campus. So those numbers might make your teenager feel comfortable enough.

Second, know that your teenager could be a highly desirable freshman applicant, depending on his or her grades and test scores. My guess is that many of these flagship universities are actively seeking good black and Hispanic/Latino applicants—especially from their own states, but likely also from other states. And, because we have already said that flagship universities are typically excellent academic institutions, they make really attractive choices for your teenager.

Third, know that your teenager might well stand a better chance of graduating from college if he or she attended a great flagship university rather than a smaller, less academically prestigious institution. It might be a bit more expensive for out-of-staters, but the result could be, as they say, priceless.

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Episode 35: Colleges in the Plains Region—Part I

This is our ninth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. We started the tour to try to broaden your horizons about colleges that might be appealing to your child, but are outside your geographic comfort zone. You might recall that we have discussed the fact that the vast majority of high school students—say, about 70 percent—go to college in their home states. While there is nothing really wrong with that, we would like you to know that there are a lot of great colleges out there—ones that you have never heard of and even ones that we had never heard of—and we would like you to consider whether one of them could make all the difference for your child.

So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, and the Rocky Mountain region. Today, we head just east from the Rocky Mountains to look at the Plains region.

Virtual tour of public colleges in the Plains region on NYCollegeChat, a weekly podcast about the world of college

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

And to repeat: First, when we talk about the universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution. Second, 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. The Plains Region

As we have said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering from four to 12 states. In this episode, we will start our examination of the seven states of the Plains region: Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota.

If you have never considered any college in this north central part of our country, maybe this is your wake-up call. Perhaps you will reconsider after today’s episode about public colleges in these states or next week’s episode about private colleges in these states.

2. Flagship Public State Universities

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

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

So, what are these flagship campuses in the Plains region? They are the University of Kansas in Lawrence (KU), University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), University of South Dakota in Vermillion (USD), University of North Dakota in Grand Forks (UND), University of Missouri in Columbia (commonly referred to as Mizzou), University of Iowa in Iowa City (UI), and University of Minnesota Twin Cities—that is, in the “twin cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul (U of M). These universities are located in different kinds of settings—from ideal small college towns (or as U.S. News and World Report once called Columbia, Missouri, “the quintessential college town”) to substantial cities (including two state capitals). The cost-of-living is attractively low in most of these locations. Despite being in the center of the country, there is water quite close by some of these campuses—the Missouri River and the Mississippi River, for example—and there are winter sports opportunities not far off.

We can put these universities in three groups by enrollment size, starting with the smallest: USD with about 7,500 undergraduates and a total of 10,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and UND with about 11,500 undergraduates and a total of 15,000 students. While relatively small for the flagship public state universities in the Plains regions—and, indeed, in most regions—they are not actually small. Any incoming freshman is going to feel that an undergraduate student body of 7,500 or more is really pretty large.

Next in size come KU with about 18,000 undergraduates and a total of 23,000 students, UNL with about 20,000 undergraduates and a total of 25,000 students, and UI with about 22,500 undergraduates and a total of 30,000 students. Any incoming freshman is going to feel like these undergraduate student bodies are truly large.

And finally we come to Mizzou with about 28,000 undergraduates and a total of 36,000 students and U of M with about 32,000 undergraduates and a total of 49,000 students. Though we have already mentioned in our virtual tour some universities with even more undergraduate students than that—namely, the University of Central Florida, The Ohio State University, and Michigan State University, and there are still more huge universities in the episodes coming up—it is safe to say that Mizzou and the U of M would seem gigantic to almost any freshman we can imagine. With that said, both universities offer so much to students that a moment of being overwhelmed upon arrival on campus is likely worth it.

Interestingly, about 25 percent of students at U of M and at UI are first-generation college students; for students whose parents had little or no college education themselves, these very large campuses could seem imposing to the whole family.

Each of these flagship universities was founded in the mid- to late 1800s, with Mizzou first in 1839 and UND last in 1883. Three were founded before their territory even became a state: UND, USD, and U of M (and UI was founded just two months after statehood). This trend, which we also saw in the Rocky Mountain region, continues to impress me—that pioneers, just establishing themselves, would give a college education such a high priority.

Mizzou was established in 1839 by 900 citizens who pledged both money and land to win the competition for where to locate the new state university; it became the first public university west of the Mississippi River and the first state university in the land that made up the Louisiana Purchase, which Thomas Jefferson had made back in 1803. KU was founded in 1866 by abolitionists, who had come to Kansas in 1854 to make sure that Kansas entered the U.S. as a free state and not as a slave state. UND was founded as a College of Arts and Sciences, plus a Normal School for the education of teachers—not as an agricultural school or only a normal school, as other colleges were typically being established.

UNL was founded in 1869 as an institution open both to women and to students of all races from the first day—at a time when many colleges were not open to either. When UI started holding classes in 1855, 41 of the 124 students were women—fully one-third of the student body, which had to be very unusual for that time in our nation’s history. Some years later, UI was the first public university to award a law degree to an African American (in 1870) and to a woman (in 1873). And it was the first public university to allow an African-American athlete to play on a varsity team (in 1895). That is a lot of history and pioneering spirit to be proud of.

Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 8 to 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, journalism, fine and performing arts, architecture, and agricultural sciences and natural resources.

UNL has a fascinating and highly selective program that is part of the University Honors Program: the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management (the average entering freshman SAT critical reading and mathematics score is 1480 and average ACT score is 33.5). The School draws on the resources of several UNL colleges and offers an interdisciplinary, project-oriented curriculum, including a year-long capstone project for seniors in cooperation with an actual business.

Mizzou opened the world’s first journalism school in 1908. The school is still operating and is one of the finest in the nation. It offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and is known for its Missouri Method of placing students in real media outlets—television, radio, and newspapers)—to learn their craft.

UI was the first university to create a college-level department of education, which became the birthplace of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (you might have taken these standardized tests as a child yourself), the GED as an alternative to a standard high school diploma, and the ACT for college admission.

These flagship universities offer from about 85 to 190 undergraduate majors across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools. So, clearly, more than one of these universities have whatever major your child wants to study in whatever college or school is of interest within the university.

And don’t forget UI’s famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop (based in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), which offered the first creative writing degree in the U.S. in 1936. At the graduate level, the program leads to a Master of Fine Arts in English and admits 25 students in fiction and 25 in poetry each year. The good news for undergraduates is that the program offers undergraduate courses during the year and summer courses as well. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop has produced 17 Pulitzer Prize winners, five U.S. Poets Laureate, and a bunch of other winners of impressive awards.

Like other flagship universities we have talked about in previous episodes, each of these seven has many student clubs and organizations, typically including fraternities and sororities—in fact, from about 120 student organizations (which already sounds like a lot) to more than 800 at U of M. It would be impossible for your child not to find some organizations he or she would like to join—which is especially important for students on one of the larger campuses.

Of course, there are also plenty of varsity sports teams—from about from 15 to 23, with women’s teams sometimes being more numerous than men’s teams. UNL and U of M play in the Big Ten Conference, where sports are taken pretty seriously. KU’s first basketball coach in 1898 just happened to be the guy who invented basketball: James Naismith, who invented the game in Massachusetts in 1891. By the way, KU is proud of its five national basketball championships—and its five national debate championships.

Plus, there are club sports and intramurals to choose from. At UI, 60 percent of the students participate in these non-varsity sports.

Each of these flagship universities is well enough known to attract students from virtually all 50 states and from as many as 60 to more than 140 foreign countries; nonetheless, most of the undergraduate students are home grown—ranging from about 55 percent to 70 percent of the students, with only UND falling to just about 40 percent of students being from North Dakota. In fact, at UI, about 75 percent of students come from either Iowa or Illinois; at U of M, about 80 percent come from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Wisconsin (you will see why in a minute). UI and U of M are two excellent universities that are not pulling in many students from most states in the U.S.

A solid application from outside of the state would be viewed with interest at likely all of these flagship universities. As we have said before, colleges like to have geographic diversity in the student body.

Furthermore, your child could get a great education at a cost lower than most private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we have said before, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university. And you have several great public universities to choose from in the Plains states.

In wrapping up, let’s look at a couple of interesting tuition programs. KU fixes students’ annual four-year tuition when they enter their freshman year; for parents, it is certainly nice to know that the tuition will not get any higher year by year. (KU is not the only college that does this, so look for others that do.) One thing that might save on tuition is that UNL guarantees the availability of all courses required for a degree or reasonable substitutions so that a student can finish in four years and graduate. Because not graduating in four years costs money!

USD permits children of its alumni/alumnae to pay the in-state tuition rate—no matter where the children live; and, USD gives Minnesota students a tuition rate that is just barely higher than the in-state rate. UND also has quite a few deals in place: It is a member of the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Midwest Student Exchange Program (both of which provide substantial tuition breaks to students from member states, as we discussed in Episode 33), and it has a very attractive Contiguous Residency rate for students from South Dakota, Montana, and especially Minnesota. Finally, the U of M offers in-state tuition to students from North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin as well as free tuition for credits in excess of 13 per term.

These deals seem outstanding to us, and they effectively broaden a student’s opportunities to look at first-rate public institutions in nearby states, without any substantial financial consequences. As these colleges carefully advertise on their websites, these tuition deals and reciprocal arrangements with other states are not automatic. You have to apply for them, and you sometimes have to apply to your home state first. And, again, space is limited. So look hard at any public universities your child is interested in to see whether there might be similar programs in place for you and, if so, apply early.

By the way, if you want your child to be among the 97 percent who get a job or an acceptance to graduate school when he or she graduates from college, send your child to USD. Or, if you want your child to be one of the 9 out of 10 graduates who say they would attend their college all over again, send your child to UND.

When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City in April, we spoke with Suzanne Sholes, Assistant Director in the UND Office of Admissions. Suzanne offered the following audio pitch for her alma mater for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

At the same college fair, we spoke with Laura Goddard, a University of Iowa Senior Admission Counselor, whose recruiting territory is New York and New Jersey.   Laura did the following audio pitch for UI for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

3. Other Public State Universities

In these seven Plains states, there are also other public universities—some are branches of the flagship campus, but others are universities in their own right. I think the two that are most likely to attract out-of-state students because they are probably better known nationally than many of the others are Iowa State University (ISU) and Kansas State University (commonly known as K-State).

Founded in 1858 as Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm, Iowa State is located in Ames, which is a great college town, according to many rankings of these things: great public schools, safe community, clean air, and lots to do. Actually a bit larger than the University of Iowa, Iowa State has an undergraduate student enrollment of about 29,000, with another 5,000 or so graduate and professional students. Undergraduates choose among about 100 majors spread over six undergraduate colleges. The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has an almost 97 percent career placement rate and is the alma mater of famed scientist George Washington Carver—ISU’s first African-American student and later faculty member. The College of Engineering is one of the largest in the country and offers more than 60 student engineering organizations. ISU’s graduate College of Veterinary Medicine was the first public veterinary school (1879). With over 800 student organizations and 18 varsity sports teams, Iowa State is a well-rounded place to be for the students it draws from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. About 60 percent of its students are Iowa residents. When you read the website, you will see a list of accomplishments in science and technology that I can barely understand, but are certainly impressive.

Kansas State University officially opened in 1863 as Kansas Agricultural College. It was the second public college to admit men and women equally. Located in Manhattan, a classic college town, K-State enrolls about 20,000 undergraduates and another 4,000 or so graduate and professional students, drawn nationally and internationally; it is just as large as the University of Kansas. It offers its undergraduates a choice of 250 majors and options. K-State has nine colleges, including a College of Veterinary Medicine and a College of Technology and Aviation at its Salina campus. With more than 475 student organizations, 16 varsity sports teams, more than 20 competitive club sports, and 40 intramural sports, there is plenty to do at K-State. An important part of its undergraduate curriculum is the “K-State 8,” which are eight areas of study that are required of all students and are designed to broaden students’ perspectives beyond their major. The eight are aesthetic interpretation, human diversity within the U.S., ethical reasoning and responsibility, global issues and perspectives, and the more standard math, science, social sciences, and history. It’s a real liberal arts education, which students get prior to any specialization in a major. K-State has rolling admissions, so that could be a plus in your child’s college application process.

Though they don’t have the national visibility of Iowa State and K-State, both North Dakota State University (NDSU) and South Dakota State University (SDSU)—as large or larger than the flagship universities in those states—have plenty of students, majors, student organizations, and varsity sports teams to be appealing choices. Though they draw students nationally and internationally, about 60 percent of SDSU students are South Dakota residents and about 40 percent of NDSU students are North Dakota residents (though just as many students come to NDSU from Minnesota as from North Dakota).

In closing our look at public universities, we would like to mention two HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) in Missouri: Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis and Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri’s capital. Harris-Stowe State University evolved from its beginnings as two normal schools for educating teachers—Harris Teachers College for educating white teachers (founded in 1857) and Stowe Teachers College for educating black teachers (founded in 1890), named for abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Originally operated by the Board of Education of the St. Louis Public Schools, the two teacher education schools were merged in 1954 as public schools were beginning to integrate. In 1979, the merged college became part of Missouri’s state system of public higher education. Though broadening its offerings beyond education, Harris-Stowe does have a unique undergraduate degree in Urban Education, designed to prepare non-teaching staff to work on education issues in urban settings. In addition to its College of Education, Harris-Stowe has a College of Arts and Sciences and the Anheuser-Busch School of Business, and it offers 14 undergraduate programs, mostly in education and business. With just over 1,500 undergraduates, Harris-Stowe offers a much smaller alternative to a large public university.

Lincoln University was founded as Lincoln Institute “by the men of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantries and their white officers, for the special benefit of freed African Americans” (quoted from the website). It became a Missouri public institution in 1879, offering primarily education, industrial, and agricultural courses. Lincoln now offers 50 undergraduate degree programs spread across the College of Arts and Letters, College of Behavioral and Technological Sciences, College of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, and College of Professional Studies (for business, education, and nursing). It also offers master’s degrees in business, education, and the social sciences. Lincoln has an undergraduate student enrollment of about 2,800, with a couple hundred more graduate students. The undergraduate students on the main campus are about 45 percent black and about 45 percent white, and about 80 percent of them are from Missouri (with most of the rest from surrounding states).

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

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