Episode 147: It’s a New College World, Or Is It?

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It’s the middle of December, and those of you with teenagers who are facing application deadlines in the first week of January either see that the end is in sight or are pulling out your hair.  Whichever it is, I am not sure how much more we can do for you.  I will make our standard offer, nonetheless:  If you are wrestling with a question about a college application or trying to figure out another college or two to add to your list–yes, it’s not too late–then, give us a call.  Quick, free advice is available for the next two weeks.  I am guessing that those of you who are our regular listeners might have had enough advice from us already about making your teenager’s long and short lists of colleges and researching those college options.  But, we are here if you need us.

But, before we take an end-of-year break, I thought you might like to look into the future of U.S. higher education.  Admittedly, this future might come too late for your current senior, but you might have another kid or two at home.  If so, this episode could be for you.

1. Who Is Clayton Christensen?

The prolific author and thinker who is giving us this picture of the future of higher education is none other than Clayton M. Christensen, a well-known Harvard Business School professor.  He is famous in the business community for his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, in which he espoused his theory of disruptive innovation.  The back cover of the book explains it this way:

In this revolutionary bestseller, innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen says outstanding companies can do everything right and still lose their market leadership?or worse, disappear altogether. And not only does he prove what he says, but he tells others how to avoid a similar fate.

Focusing on “disruptive technology,” Christensen shows why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. Whether in electronics or retailing, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know when to abandon traditional business practices. Using the lessons of successes and failures from leading companies, The Innovator’s Dilemma presents a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation. (quoted from the book cover)

Then, a decade later in 2008, Christensen became the guy that educators loved to quote when he wrote Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, with co-authors Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson.  Well-respected psychologist, Harvard professor, and author Howard Gardner wrote this in praise of Disrupting Class on its back cover:  “After a barrage of business books that purport to ‘fix’ American education, at last a book that speaks thoughtfully and imaginatively about what genuinely individualized education can be like and how to bring it about.”  How to bring it about was, of course, through innovative uses of technology, including really good online instruction.

2. Christensen’s Latest Vision

That brings us to November 15 of this year and an article on CNBC’s website entitled “Harvard Business School professor: Half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years.”  But, here’s some background.  In her article, Abigail Hess writes this about Christensen’s 2011 book, The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out:

. . . Christensen and co-author Henry Eyring analyze the future of traditional universities, and conclude that online education will become a more cost-effective way for students to receive an education, effectively undermining the business models of traditional institutions and running them out of business. (quoted from the article)

In the Q and A with the authors on the Amazon website, they say this about their book:

We wanted to show how new strategies, many of them driven by online technology, make it possible to serve more students at lower cost while also increasing quality and improving the learning experience–something we saw in practice within our own university homes. Since then, the world has moved into a major economic downturn. Slow economic growth, high government and household debt, rising college tuition, declining graduation rates, and growing competition from the rapidly growing for-profit higher education sector combined to create a renewed sense of urgency for our message. We could see how the same online learning technologies that can benefit traditional institutions can also disrupt them. So, our message became cautiously optimistic. Online learning, we believe, will either disrupt traditional universities and colleges or create opportunities for them to serve more students and lead the country to greater prosperity. It depends on whether they cling to a model that has changed little in the past 150 years or embrace learning innovations made possible by new technology. (quoted from the website)

The authors continue:

We assert that colleges and universities must break with tradition and find innovative, less costly ways of performing their uniquely valuable functions, allowing them to once again become responsive to the needs of learners. . . .

Online technology makes a college or university vastly more attractive to a wide subset of students. It gives many people a second chance at learning–i.e. those who cannot afford a traditional college education, those who do not have the flexibility to take part in a full plate of coursework, and late bloomers or dropouts who have fallen behind and now have the chance to catch up.

But online learning doesn’t just offer cheaper education for the masses. It improves the student learning experience across the spectrum by allowing remedial to elite students to learn at their own pace and on their own timetable. Students can receive a fully customized education adapted to their own individual learning style, something that even the world’s best one-on-one tutor would have trouble systematically emulating. Students also benefit from a full array of choices about where, when, what and how they learn. And they can access the best teachers and information faster, connect with more global networks, and all in all consume a much more attractive [product]. In addition, online learning is a cost-saver to the university, which saves on the expense of building and managing a brick-and-mortar facility.

Combine the lower cost of delivery with the lower cost of attendance, and it’s clear that online learning is a major cost advantage. Therefore, we urge traditional colleges and universities to adopt these technologies. (quoted from the website)

I think it is critical to note here that Christensen believes that online higher education is not just a way to make college cheaper or more accessible for more students, but also a way to “[improve] the student learning experience across the spectrum.”  That might be the key here–because I think most of us would agree that online education can make college cheaper and more accessible to students who would otherwise be unable to attend.  But how many of us agree that online education can actually “improve the learning experience”?  I have to say that I don’t agree with that yet, but perhaps the time will come.

Ms. Hess continues in her article:

Christensen is not alone in thinking that online educational resources will cause traditional colleges and universities to close. The U.S. Department of Education and Moody’s Investors Service project that in the coming years, closure rates of small colleges and universities will triple, and mergers will double. (quoted from the article)

So, will online higher education cause small struggling colleges that can’t make ends meet to close; or, rather, will it allow some to stay open by helping them offer cheaper courses and fewer expensive facilities and, therefore, attract more students; or, more generally, will it simply improve the landscape of higher education options available to college students?  Maybe it will do some of all of these.

In recent years, as Marie and I have advised graduating high school seniors going off to college (or staying home for college nearby), we have shied away from advising them to take online courses.  We have worried that it might be hard for kids new to the college scene to stay disciplined enough to keep up with online coursework when there is no required attendance at classes or, at least, expectation of attendance at classes.  And yet, maybe this is the way of the future–a disrupted future–even for first-time, more traditional college students.

No one might know this better than Marie, who has developed online college courses and taught online college courses and taken online graduate-level college courses.  So, is it time to change our advice?  I actually have a longtime colleague who is establishing an online college, complete with full degree programs, as we speak.  Maybe Ben is exactly right.  Stay tuned.

3. Happy Holidays!

We hope that you enjoy your December holidays and that you have a fantastic New Year’s–free from too much college application hysteria.  We are going to take two weeks off, as I fly out to Alaska on business and then Phoenix for a family holiday gathering, two places about as different as you can get.  We will return on January 4 with a new episode.  It is going to be our best one yet.  Happy holidays and welcome to 2018!

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Episode 10: What Are Some More of the Decisive Factors in Putting Colleges on Your List?

This week, we’re launching our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by examining some of the decisive factors, or deal breakers, in adding colleges to your list

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Why urban kids might want to go to college in urban settings
Whether extracurricular activities could really be a deal breaker
Why high school/college partnerships are so advantageous

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This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by examining more of the decisive factors, or deal breakers, in adding colleges to your list.

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

Episode 10

As we said in our last episode, it is critical to understand what factors—if any—are the decisive ones for you and your teenager in choosing colleges to apply to. We characterized these factors as deal breakers—that is, a factor so important that it would cause you to rule out whole categories of colleges because of it. In our last episode, we talked about four such factors: (1) colleges away from home or at home; (2) two-year or four-year colleges; (3) public or private colleges; and (4) large or small colleges. In this episode, we are offering five more deal breakers to consider.

1. Selective or Not Selective Colleges?

This is the factor that most guidance counselors bring up first: selectivity. You have probably heard people say that a student should apply to a “safety” school that he or she is sure to be admitted to; a couple of “reach” schools that would be great, but might be beyond or just beyond what the student’s high school record warrants; and then some others in the middle that the student has a reasonable chance of being admitted to, but not guaranteed. That is common sense.

As for a safety school, keep in mind that some public community colleges and some public four-year colleges can serve as safety schools for some students. We will talk more about that for students in New York City and New York State in the final episode of this series, which will focus on the public City University of New York (CUNY) and the public State University of New York (SUNY).

As for “reach” schools, keep in mind, that applying to colleges is time consuming and expensive (unless you have application-fee waivers from the colleges, which are sometimes based on family income and sometimes based on the student’s academic achievements). Applying to “reach” schools that are significantly more selective than a student’s high school grades and SAT or ACT scores would warrant might just be a waste of time. Should you rule out applying to the most selective schools, given the chances that being admitted are slim, even for the best students? Is selectivity a deal breaker for you and your teenager?

2. Urban, Suburban, or Rural Colleges?

Is the community setting a decisive factor for you or your teenager? Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to urban, suburban, and rural settings, most of which are common sense.

For example, some students like the idea of going to a college in a city because of the general excitement that cities offer, the many cultural opportunities that are available, the diversity of the people and the likely diversity of the college students, and the ease of getting around by public transportation (in some cities more than others). Some parents hate the idea of sending their teenager to college in a city because of safety issues, too many distractions from studying, and the likelihood that city living will be expensive.

On the other hand, for example, some students and parents like the idea of a rural campus, perhaps in or near a small town somewhere, where students are safe on and off campus, the environment is unspoiled, the campus itself is idyllic, there are fewer distractions from studying, and living costs are relatively low.

Some students are dying to get away from the type of community they grew up in, and others cannot imagine fitting in or being comfortable in a new physical and social environment. So, is the type of community setting a deal breaker for you or your teenager?

3. Colleges with Certain Majors or Certain Activities?

In our first series, Understanding the World of College, we discussed colleges that are known for their academic specialties, like music or art or engineering or business. Some specialized colleges teach only that subject—like Berklee College of Music. Others have strong specialized schools or colleges within a larger university—like the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. Others have strong departments in certain fields—like the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University or the modern languages departments at Middlebury College.

If your teenager has a particular field of study in mind, then you will need to find a college that offers or specializes in that major. Some majors are easy to find and are offered by most (though not all) colleges—like English and mathematics and history. Others are harder to find, especially technical majors—like architecture and engineering and computer science. Although many students will change their minds about a major after a month or a year or even two years in college, those going into college with a clear idea of what they want to study will probably need to make the availability of that major a deal breaker in putting colleges on their list.

Sometimes an extracurricular activity is just as important to a teenager—and even to a parent—as the academic part of college. Sports teams are probably the prime example. Your family might be looking for—rather, insisting on—a college with a competitive football, swimming, track, basketball, lacrosse, or crew program and so on. Sports teams could be a deal breaker for both boys and girls, of course. We would like to imagine that other activities would have the same appeal—for example, a great school newspaper, like The Cornell Daily Sun, for a long time Ithaca’s only morning newspaper; or a great glee club, like Yale University’s; or a great drama group, like the University of Pennsylvania’s Mask and Wig Club. But sports teams are probably it.

One more thing to say about sports: If your teenager has not been playing on high-powered high school teams or competitive community teams and has not been in serious talks with college recruiters before you start making your college list, he or she is not going to get a big sports scholarship. Some students harbor the dream that a sports scholarship is the way they will get to college and that professional sports is the way they will make a living after that. If you have a teenager with this mindset, make sure you get a real appraisal of his or her athletic ability from a reliable high school coach or administrator as soon as possible.

4. Colleges with a Special Focus?

Another topic we discussed in our first series was the many colleges that have a special focus—that is, single-sex colleges, faith-based colleges, colleges for students with special needs (like learning disabilities or hearing impairment), colleges with online courses or whole online degrees, the military service academies, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and so on. Any of these options could become a decisive factor in choosing colleges.

For example, your daughter might have her heart set on going to a women’s college. She might be drawn to the long-standing traditions or the leadership opportunities for young women or the social environment or even the famous alumni who attended women’s colleges. If you agree, then only women’s colleges would be on your daughter’s list. Or, your child might have his or her heart set on going to an HBCU, interestingly for all the same reasons we just cited for going to a women’s college—namely, the long-standing traditions or the leadership opportunities for young people or the social environment or even the famous alumni who attended. If you agree, then only HBCUs would be on your teenager’s list.

Clearly, choosing to apply only to colleges with a special focus will limit the number of options your family has to consider. To be sure, some of these choices are more limiting than others. For example, there are more than a thousand faith-based colleges to choose from, but only five military service academies.

5. Colleges with a Special Relationship to the Student’s Family or High School?

This can be a remarkably influential factor for students and for their families in making a college decision. Let’s start with the obvious: You work at a college and, even better, get free or reduced tuition for any of your children who enroll. This factor is tough to discount, especially if money is an issue. Putting money aside, parents likely feel comfortable with and/or proud of the college they work for, and students themselves might feel comfortable going there because they are already familiar with it. Even so, that might not be a strong enough reason to limit your teenager’s college list to just that one institution.

Another remarkably influential personal factor is where family members went to college. Many children attend—or want to attend—the alma mater of their parents or grandparents. We see even first-generation college students strongly considering the college attended by an older sibling. Family college connections can mean a lot—just like any other family traditions. Even so, again, that might not be a strong enough reason to limit your teenager’s college list to just those institutions attended by a family member.

Another personal factor that comes up more than you might think is having family members or close friends living where a college is located. Certainly, a parent who is reluctant to send a child to a college far away from home might be less anxious if a family member or close friend lived there—just in case of an emergency. For a student, too, having some family members or family friends nearby might ease the homesickness that comes with most students’ first days on campus.

The final factor in this category is not personal to the family, but rather is about the student’s high school. Some high schools have a relationship already built with a college, usually a nearby college. A noteworthy example of this is the growing number of Early College high schools, which have a carefully worked out agreement with a partner college typically to provide college credit courses to students while they are still in high school and frequently to admit those students into the college almost automatically, thus allowing a seamless transition from high school to college.

Other high schools have less elaborate arrangements with one or more colleges whereby students can take college courses for credit while in high school, banking those credits to transfer later to whatever college they attend; of course, it is even easier for those students to continue at the college where they have already earned those credits. Any of these arrangements between high schools and colleges can give students a streamlined pathway into that college, thus saving the time and effort and money expended in the typical application process. If your high school has such an arrangement with a college and if your teenager has taken advantage of it, it would be very hard to walk away from choosing that college as your only option—even if it just for the first year or two.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why urban kids might want to go to college in urban settings
  • Whether extracurricular activities could really be a deal breaker
  • Why high school/college partnerships are so advantageous

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

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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…