Episode 137: College Support Services: More Important Than You Think

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This is an unusual episode in our series Researching College Options and for USACollegeChat as well. It looks at a critical issue today–one that can have terribly serious consequences for students and their families. The issue was raised in an insightful late August article by Alina Tugend in The Hechinger Report (the article also appeared in U.S. News & World Report). The issue is mental health support services on college campuses and the students–especially nonwhite students–who evidently all too often do not use them when they need to. This is going to be a relatively short episode for us, but I think you will see that it packs a big punch.

1. The Problem

Here are some facts you might not know, as reported in the article:

Nonwhite [college] students are often more stressed than their white classmates, but less likely to seek psychological help.

This further complicates efforts to increase the proportion of black and Hispanic students who succeed in earning college and university degrees, and who graduate at rates lower than whites.

As much as nonwhite students resist taking advantage of mental health services, there’s evidence they’re more in need of them. More than half of black students report feeling overwhelmed most or all of the time, compared with 40 percent of whites, a survey conducted by the Harris Poll, [The Jed] Foundation and other groups found. About half of black and Hispanic students, compared with 41 percent of whites, say it seems everyone has college figured out but them. (quoted from the article)

That’s a lot of college students who could use some support when feeling overwhelmed–not only the half or more of black and Hispanic students, according to these studies, but also the 40 percent of white students. I have to say that I had no idea about the size of this problem.

Let’s look a bit further into the particular stresses faced by black and Hispanic students, according to experts quoted in the article:

. . . “[I]n addition to the stressors most students face at college–being away from home, time management–there are race-related stressors or minority-status stressors,” said Kevin Cokley, a professor of educational psychology and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas, Austin.

These stressors include assumptions by some white students and faculty that a minority student wouldn’t be in the classroom but for affirmative action, said David Rivera, an associate professor of counselor education at Queens College of the City University of New York. That perception can make itself felt in seemingly innocuous comments such as, ” ‘I’m surprised you did well on that paper,’ ” Rivera said. “If you confront it, you’re dismissed but if you ignore it, you’re left holding on to that experience,” he added. (quoted from the article)

And this is not an issue only for black and Hispanic students. Asian college students face their own stresses, according to the article:

Asian students often feel burdened by a stereotype that casts them as the “model minority,” always quietly diligent and academically successful, said Doris Chang, director of clinical training and associate professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research. But she said Asian students often fear that speaking to outsiders about the burden of this stereotype will bring shame on them and their families. “By the time they come in [for counseling], they are so impaired, they are already asking for a medical leave of absence.” (quoted from the article)

Wow. Stress on college students clearly knows no racial or ethnic boundaries, and students of all backgrounds should know what to do when that stress becomes just too much for them to handle. But here is what happens too often, according to the article:

Seeking psychological help is “culturally unacceptable in the African-American and Latino communities,” said Terri Wright, executive director of [The] Steve Fund, a nonprofit established by the family of a black graduate student named [Steve] Rose who committed suicide. The organization advocates for mental and emotional well-being for black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian college students.

Within these groups, “the words ‘therapist’ or ‘counselor’ are loaded,” Wright said. “If you have problems, you don’t go outside your family, or maybe you talk to your faith leader.” (quoted from the article)

I think there is no better way to demonstrate the enormous price that students and their families pay when support isn’t found in time than to read to you most of a remarkable letter from Steve’s family (that is, his parents and two brothers), which appears on the website of The Steve Fund:

In 2014, we began a journey, one which no family should ever have to take. It began with the loss of Steve, our beloved son, family member and friend. After graduating from Harvard College and completing a Masters degree at City University, mental illness took Steve from us. We have established the Steve Fund with the aim of preventing other families having to take a journey like ours.

Our nation is not meeting the mental health needs of young people of color. While research shows that the differences in ethnic backgrounds of students necessitate culturally sensitive approaches to supporting their mental health, their needs are still significantly understudied, and insufficiently understood. With minorities forming the majority of Americans by 2044, and the majority of children by 2020, the future success of our nation will depend on the mental health and emotional well-being of these young people.

It is our firm belief that colleges and universities should play a vital role in meeting these needs by providing the best support possible for an increasingly diverse student population. Since we established the Fund, we have focused on developing knowledge and thought leadership, launched effective programs, such as the buildout of a text-based crisis hotline with our partner Crisis Text Line, and have built partnerships with renowned organizations in the field to leverage resources and to direct more effort towards our cause.

The Steve Fund is mobilized to learn about, implement with excellence, and measure the kind of best practices that will protect the mental health and emotional well-being of our nation’s college age students of color. (quoted from the website)

Kudos, of course, to Steve’s family and the work that the Fund is doing.

The article goes on to do a good job of explaining the difficulties that students of color have when faced with college support personnel who are white. According to a survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, only 10 percent of college psychologists and therapists are black, only 8 percent are Asian, and only 7 percent are Hispanic. While some colleges are working to change staff make-up, most probably have a long way to go in order to serve the mental health needs of students of color on their campuses. And perhaps that is something to keep in mind, parents of students of color, when you are looking at colleges for your kids.

2. Get the Information

As we said in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, information about support services on a college campus is one thing prospective applicants and their parents might want to consider. And now that we understand the scope of the mental health problem, I am glad that we included a question about support services on the College Profile Worksheet. We give the Worksheet to students to complete for colleges they are interested in applying to (it is found at the end of our book). Here is some of what we wrote in the new book:

While support services–like academic advising, personal counseling, and employment assistance–can be useful to any undergraduate student, these support services are often particularly important to groups of students who might find it more difficult to adjust to college life, either socially or academically, especially when they find themselves in the minority of students on a college campus.

If you identify with students of color, first-generation-to-college students, LGBTQ students, students with learning disabilities, or another group, you should take a look at whether each college on your long list of college options has support services targeted for you. For example, Georgia State University has an impressive Office of Black Student Achievement, which provides a wide variety of academic, support, leadership, and outreach activities, programs, and services. That says something about its commitment to serving its black student population.

When you are looking for support services like that on a college’s website, see whether you can find any evidence that the services provided are actually successful. Why? Because successful support services can make all the difference between dropping out and graduating.

And now that I have read The Hechinger Report article, I would add, “Because successful support services can make all the difference between life and death–literally.” And remember, you might want to look at the racial and ethnic make-up of the counseling staff that will be available to your kid, if it turns out he or she needs that help. Because, really, what could be more important than that.

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Episode 136: Too Few Male Students at College?

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Today’s episode in our series Researching College Options focuses on a trend in college enrollment that you might have missed entirely. But if you have a son at home, it might be of particular interest to you–especially if your son is in the early days of high school (or even younger!).

1. A Quick Historical Look at Men in College

Let’s look back for a moment at the history of male students in U.S. colleges. We wrote about this back in our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, when we discussed the very real college option for your teenager of attending a single-sex institution vs. a coeducational institution. Here is what we said then:

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 from its first day to enroll both men and women.

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

The tradition of single-sex colleges is particularly strong in the Northeast, perhaps because that is where so many of our country’s oldest higher education institutions are located. In addition to Barnard, women’s colleges in the Northeast include Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Simmons College, Smith College, and Wellesley College. But there are well-known women’s colleges located in other regions of the U.S. as well–like Mills College and Scripps College in California, Stephens College in Missouri, Hollins University and Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, Saint Mary’s College (the sister school of the University of Notre Dame) in Indiana, and Agnes Scott College and Spelman College in Georgia. Spelman has the distinction of also being an excellent HBCU. Interestingly and for whatever reason (probably rooted in financial issues), some of these women’s colleges now allow men to enroll in their graduate programs only, thus maintaining the traditional women’s college atmosphere for their undergraduate residential students. Today, there are just over 40 women’s colleges in the U.S.

Oddly, only a handful of men’s colleges remain, perhaps partly because now there are actually more women than men going to college. The men’s college you have most likely heard of is Morehouse College, which is an academically rigorous HBCU located in Georgia and which is the men’s counterpart to Spelman. Morehouse has a roster of famous alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. Here are two more appealing men’s colleges: Hampden-Sydney College, which was founded in 1775 in Virginia and has a long and fascinating history (Patrick Henry and James Madison were among its first Trustees); and Wabash College, which is located in Indiana and was cited in the book Colleges That Change Lives as an institution that is successful in creating engaged students, who become leaders in their chosen fields.

While most single-sex institutions have opened their doors to the opposite sex over the years and especially in the past 50 years, those that remain carry on a tradition that their graduates wholeheartedly support. Some of their graduates–and indeed their families–believe that students can focus better on their studies when they are not being distracted by social interactions with the opposite sex in the classroom. Some of their graduates believe that students will develop a stronger sense of community and camaraderie with their classmates in single-sex institutions. Some of their graduates appreciate the histories and philosophies of these institutions–especially perhaps graduates of women’s colleges who feel that they are better supported as young women and are encouraged to set and pursue whatever education and career goals they can imagine for themselves.

Clearly, there are great reasons for your teenager to choose to apply to and attend a single-sex institution, as we have said before, but there are also great reasons for your teenager to choose a coeducational institution. What is happening now, however, is that some coeducational institutions–institutions that some students chose to attend precisely because they were coeducational–are losing their balance between male and female students in a way that no one would have predicted 40 years ago. Let’s look at why.

2. Male College Enrollment Today

In a very interesting August article, which you should read in its entirety in The Hechinger Report (which also appeared in The Atlantic), reporter Jon Marcus gave us these facts and figures:

Where men once went to college in proportions far higher than women–58 percent to 42 percent as recently as the 1970s–the ratio has now almost exactly reversed.

This fall, women will comprise more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some 2.2 million fewer men than women will be enrolled in college this year. And the trend shows no sign of abating. By 2026, the department estimates, 57 percent of college students will be women. . . .

Reeling from a years-long decline in overall enrollment, colleges and universities nationwide are vying for all the students they can get, and suddenly paying new attention to bolstering the number of men who apply. (quoted from the article)

At this point, I think we might say either “You’ve come a long way, baby” to any young women in the audience or “Where will it end?” Of course, for many years, we lived in a world where more males than females went to college, so is it a problem if those figures are now reversed? Maybe not, unless you have a son at home, and you are wondering if this trend will affect him–either positively or negatively–as he looks toward college and his future.

3. Is College Too Late To Fix This?

The Hechinger Report article goes on to explain some likely causes for the state of male college enrollment. Marcus reports:

Though advocates complain that few in higher education are doing enough to keep those men who do get there from leaving, there’s consensus that men’s reluctance to enroll in the first place isn’t necessarily the colleges’ fault. The problem has its origins as early as primary school, only to be fueled later on by economic forces that discourage men from believing a degree is worth the time and money.

“It’s funny that it’s the colleges that are finally seeing this issue and trying to resolve it,” said Patrick Maloney, president of the Nativity School, a Jesuit Catholic middle school in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester that tries to aim low-income boys toward college. That’s because, by the time students reach college age, Maloney said, “It’s way too late. You’ve already lost them. Maybe [admissions officers] should be going into middle schools and [should] start talking to fifth-graders about the benefits of college education.”

Or even earlier than that. The “anti-school, anti-education sentiment” in boys has roots in kindergarten, when they’re slower to learn to read than girls, said Jim Shelley, manager of the Men’s Resource Center at Lakeland Community College in Ohio. Girls at the primary and secondary level worldwide far outperform boys in reading, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

That disparity continues until, “by eighth or ninth grade, boys have lost interest,” Shelley said. (quoted from the article)

All this is likely true, but none of it accounts for the decline in male college enrollment. Why? Because I believe all of this was true 40 years ago when there were more male than female students in colleges. With that said, we will, nonetheless, underline the importance of not waiting till high school to engage actively about college-going with any younger children you have at home. For many students in high schools my nonprofit organization has evaluated, it is clear that they gave up on the goal of pursuing a college education much earlier, just as the article says. I believe that this is especially–and unfortunately–true for low-income students in urban school districts.

And here are some additional issues that are concerning if you have a son at home, according to this article:

Men who do enroll in college, at whatever age, are more likely than women to drop out, and they graduate at lower rates, the Education Department reports. That’s one thing universities and colleges can address directly, but generally don’t, Shelley, [manager of the Men’s Resource Center at Lakeland Community College], said.

Through 21 years running one of the few campus support centers exclusively for men, he said, “I’ve thought it can only get better. But it just has gone nowhere. Not only are there not programs like ours that are supportive of male students, but at most college campuses the attitude is that men are the problem versus men have problems, too. . . .”

Meanwhile, boys in many American communities don’t see male role models who have been to college and succeeded, said Keith Bullock at Kentucky’s Berea College (56 percent female). Bullock is coordinator of programs to support male students, many of them from Appalachia. “They don’t have those examples of doctors and lawyers and professionals.”

. . . The male students under his care are black, white and Hispanic, Bullock said, and they all face similar pressures. He escorts them to the counseling and advising offices and texts them every day to make sure they get to class on time and know when tests are scheduled. “My guys,” he calls them. He also works with them on study habits and time management. “It’s very challenging. It’s very emotional. Sometimes I’m hugging them up and there’s times when I feel I have to curse them out.” (quoted from the article)

4. What Does This Mean for You?

So, if you have a son at home, perhaps The Hechinger Report article has given you some new perspectives and some new facts to think with. But there is also some information here for those of you with a daughter at home. As we said in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, the gender breakdown on a college campus is one thing prospective applicants might want to consider. And now that we know that male students are sometimes in shorter supply than you might have expected, I am glad that we included a question about gender breakdown on the College Profile Worksheet. We give the Worksheet to students to complete for colleges they are interested in applying to (it is found at the end of our book). Here is some of what we wrote in the new book:

If you look at the enrollment statistics for many colleges, you will notice that some are split pretty evenly between male and female students (say, 46 percent vs. 54 percent), while others are way out of balance (say, 30 percent vs. 70 percent). Sometimes colleges that are out of balance can be explained by their history (for example, they were once women’s colleges) or by the types of majors they are best known for (given that some majors, unfortunately, continue to attract more students of one gender). If you want a college to reflect the general undergraduate college student population, it is interesting to note that enrollment figures overall in the fall of 2014 showed that 56 percent of undergraduate students were female. So, if a college is better balanced than that (in other words, closer to 50/50), it might well be working hard to achieve that balance.

Let’s look at a few examples. Carleton College (a great private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota) is 53 percent female and 47 percent male. Carleton is working at it, we would say. Oddly enough, the gigantic University of Minnesota (the excellent public flagship university in the Twin Cities) gets even closer–at 51 percent female and 49 percent male. Not too far away, the Milwaukee School of Engineering (a Wisconsin college that specializes in engineering and technical subjects, though not exclusively) posts a 24 percent female and 76 percent male enrollment–for perhaps obvious reasons.

So, if gender balance at a college is important to your teenager, you all should check it out for each college on your teenager’s list. If you have never thought about it, you should think about it now. By the way, as we said in our new book, “we have not yet seen data reported and presented across colleges on enrollment of students with gender identities other than male and female. However, if you are looking for a college that is particularly accepting of more diverse gender identities, that is a topic that can and should be pursued by looking further on the college’s website and by calling the Admission Office and asking about relevant data and policies.”

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Episode 135: Another Look at Community Colleges

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Today’s episode in our series Researching College Options looks at a big option–an option that we have talked about in quite a few USACollegeChat episodes and in our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. Most recently, we took a careful look at this option about five months ago in Episode 113. However, I have to admit that I am considering it again, based on a new opinion piece by LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow in late August in The New York Times. The option is community college. As we said in Episode 113, the community college is a marvelous institution in theory, but a somewhat more disappointing institution in reality–or, at least, that has usually been our position.

If you are the parent of a high school senior, we know that some of you–perhaps many of you–are thinking about sending your kid to a community college next fall. Maybe that’s for financial reasons, maybe for academic reasons, maybe for maturity reasons, maybe for location reasons, maybe for some other reasons. Whatever your reasons, President Mellow has made us think again; so, let’s take another look.

1. The Pros of Community Colleges: A Review

Let’s quickly review some of the pros and cons about community colleges, also referred to as two-year colleges. Here’s an abbreviated list of pros we offered back in Episode 113 (these reasons are conveniently taken from our first book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students):

  • Two-year colleges offer associate’s degrees, which can be enough for some careers, including high-paying technical careers. Later, if the student wants to do so, the credits earned for an associate’s degree can be transferred to four-year colleges and applied toward credits needed for a four-year bachelor’s degree.   (In fact, some two-year colleges in some states are now authorized to offer bachelor’s degrees over four years, especially in technical fields where workers in the labor force are in short supply.)
  • Two-year colleges offer students who have struggled in high school a chance to improve their academic record and gain the fundamental skills and study habits they will need to succeed in more advanced college study. After doing well at a two-year college, these students can likely get into a better four-year college than they could have gotten into right out of high school.
  • Two-year colleges offer their students core liberal arts courses (which can often be transferred to four-year colleges later) and/or technical training in many different fields at a very low price. That’s critically important if paying for college is a major concern for your family.

That last point about very low cost is perhaps the main reason that kids head to a community college right out of high school. The fact that community college is so much cheaper than any four-year option–and the fact that kids can live at home and save even more money–is sometimes irresistible. We know that students can get financial aid of all kinds from four-year colleges, which could make their time there essentially free, but none of those deals is a sure thing. Paying the very low tuition at a community college, especially with whatever financial aid is available, is a sure thing.

2. The Cons of Community Colleges: A Review

So, what’s the downside of going to a community college? As we have said before at USACollegeChat, the choice of a community college for students coming right out of high school is quite different from that same choice when it is being made by adults returning to college or starting college for the first time. My own nonprofit organization has done market studies for quite a few community colleges interested in increasing their adult enrollment (that is, students over the age of 25) and in serving those adult students better. And, to be fair, community colleges are a great institution for getting adults into college study or back into college study. But, we are focused today on your kid, who is going to college right out of high school, and some of the statistics about community college completion rates and transfer-to-four-year-college rates are just plain scary.

You have to deal with this statistic: Not even half of community college students complete any college degree in six years–not even a two-year associate’s degree. Admittedly, that statistic includes all kinds of students who attend community colleges–from bright kids right out of high school who just needed to save money to returning adults who have been out of school for a decade to kids who struggled in high school and couldn’t get into a more selective college. Nonetheless, we have quoted evidence in previous USACollegeChat episodes that shows that students are more likely to graduate if they go to a more selective college, for many reasons. That is clearly a reason against having your kid choose a community college for next year.

In addition to a seriously low completion rate, the transfer rate of students from community colleges to four-year colleges to earn bachelor’s degrees is also shockingly low, as we reported way back in Episode 64, based on an article in The Hechinger Report. Here is a statistic, which was taken from a 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)

Parents, we said in Episode 113 that we thought you should think hard about whether your kid is different from the typical community college student–smarter, harder working, more motivated, more goal oriented. Just being younger might not help enough. The statistics are telling you that he or she is likely not to graduate with even an associate’s degree and is likely not to transfer to that great four-year college you say you are saving up your money for.

3. President Mellow’s Point of View

And now we come to President Mellow’s point of view. I have to admit that some of my attitude toward community colleges comes from my belief that kids who can get into a satisfactory four-year college and who can figure out how to pay for it (including through loans and other unpleasant devices) should go directly to that four-year college. I worry that kids who could go to a four-year college, but don’t, will get sidetracked into community college and never get out. But perhaps I have not given sufficient thought to kids who cannot go to a four-year college, especially for financial reasons.

Let’s look at some excerpts from President Mellow’s recent opinion piece:

You might think the typical college student lives in a state of bliss, spending each day moving among classes, parties and extracurricular activities. But the reality is that an increasingly small population of undergraduates enjoys that kind of life.

Of the country’s nearly 18 million undergraduates, more than 40 percent go to community college, and of those, only 62 percent can afford to go to college full time. By contrast, a mere 0.4 percent of students in the United States attend one of the Ivies.

The typical student is not the one burnishing a fancy résumé with numerous unpaid internships. It’s just the opposite: Over half of all undergraduates live at home to make their degrees more affordable, and a shocking 40 percent of students work at least 30 hours a week. About 25 percent work full time and go to school full time. (quoted from the article)

Of course, some of these students who work full time and go to school full time are adult students over the age of 25–but, not all of them. For example, a lot of students who graduate from urban high schools, like the one we co-founded in Brooklyn, head off to college with both the intention and the necessity of working while they are enrolled. Marie and I worried that our students wouldn’t be able to do both successfully. We worried that they were going to have a hard enough time in college without spending 10 or 15 or 20 hours a week–or more–at a job. But, given their family circumstances, many of them had no choice, just as President Mellow writes.

She continues:

As open-access institutions, community colleges educate the majority of our country’s low-income, first-generation students. But public funding for community colleges is significantly less than for four-year colleges, sometimes because of explicit state policies. This means the amount that community colleges can spend on each student–to pay for faculty, support services, tutoring and facilities–is far less as well.

Tuition for low-income students can be covered by federal financial aid programs, but these students often have significant other costs–including housing, transportation, food and child care–that regularly pose obstacles to their education.

A recent Urban Institute study found that from 2011 to 2015, one in five students attending a two-year college lived in a food-insecure household. A study from the Wisconsin Hope Lab found that in 2016, 14 percent of community college students had been homeless at some point. At LaGuardia Community College in New York, where I am president, 77 percent of students live in households making less than $25,000 per year.

With financial pressures like these, studying full time is not an option. It is not uncommon for a student to take between three and six years to graduate from a two-year associate degree program. (quoted from the article)

And we can see why. Those statistics are sobering, and they do put community colleges’ lousy completion rates into perspective. Of course, you would still want your kid to come out of a community college on time so that he or she could move forward and transfer to a four-year college or enter the workforce and get a decent job. This is especially true if you, as a parent, can manage to pay the cost of attending a community college and keep distractions for your kid–like working a significant number of hours a week–down to a minimum.

Not surprisingly, President Mellow argues for a better financial deal for community colleges and their students, both in government funding and, interestingly, in philanthropy. She writes:

Community colleges need increased funding, and students need access to more flexible federal and state financial aid, enhanced paid internships and college work-study programs. Improved access to public supports, like food stamps and reduced public transportation fares, would also make a world of difference.

It’s not just that policy must change. Last year, more than $41 billion was given in charity to higher education, but about a quarter of that went to just 20 institutions. Community colleges, with almost half of all undergraduate students, received just a small fraction of this philanthropy. It is imperative that individuals, corporations and foundations spread their wealth and diversify where they donate their dollars. (quoted from the article)

I have to tell you that I was so embarrassed that my two alma maters might be on that list of 20 institutions that I didn’t even look at it–because obviously that is just the very definition of unfair advantage and privilege.

4. What’s Herb Alpert Got To Do with It?

Some months ago, I wrote a piece for my own blog, ParentChat with Regina, about the importance of music in a child’s education. But the really arresting part of the piece was about Herb Alpert, trumpeter extraordinaire and co-founder of A&M Records. (If you are too young to remember Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, go listen to Alpert’s signature style on YouTube. Start with “Tijuana Taxi” and “This Guy’s In Love With You”–and stay for all the rest.)

As it turns out, Alpert has done what President Mellow wishes more people would do. His foundation–co-founded with his wife, singer Lani Hall–has made a $10.1 million gift to Los Angeles City College (LACC), a two-year public community college. The money will create an endowment, which will be used to raise the number of music majors enrolled from 175 to 250 and to provide ALL of them with FREE tuition.

As reported by Carolina A. Miranda in the Los Angeles Times, Alpert said this about his gift:

LACC is a gem of an institution. . . . [My] biggest motivation was helping kids who don’t have the financial energy to go to a major college. At LACC, they’ve nurtured thousands of dedicated students every year. My brother went there. My ex-partner [record producer] Lou Adler went there. I’ve visited the school. It’s alive. It’s kickin’. (quoted from the article)

Alpert noted that he was especially interested in supporting a public institution where students of all socioeconomic backgrounds could get a college education. It’s as if he were simply channeling President Mellow.

5. So, What About Community Colleges?

So, where does all that leave us–or rather, you? Well, we are probably going to continue to worry when seniors choose a community college as their first step into higher education. We are going to continue to worry that some of them are going to have difficulty graduating from a community college in anything close to two years and/or transferring to a four-year college ever.

But we are also going to admit that financial constraints can cause families to choose a path that might not be as perfect as we would like for their own kids. If that is your situation, talk with your kid and think hard about the community college option. Think about how to keep working hours to a minimum so that study hours can be at a maximum. Talk about how important it is to stay on track and make progress toward graduation every semester. Help make the statistics better.

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Episode 134: The College/Career Value of Internships

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Welcome back from the Labor Day holiday and welcome back to school for those of you living in the Northeast, where the very last kids to start back reside. And welcome back to our series, Researching College Options, where we have spent the last three episodes talking about the academic hurdles that kids will meet in trying to get into a college. Those hurdles are, first, SAT and ACT scores of competing applicants; second, average high school grade point average (GPA) of competing applicants; and third, courses that all applicants are expected to have taken in high school, usually listed in terms of credits (or Carnegie units) in each subject area, but also sometimes including specific courses, especially in math and science. To repeat from our previous episodes, all three of these academic standards matter at most of the nation’s most selective four-year colleges, and high school GPAs and high school courses taken actually matter at virtually all of our nation’s four-year colleges.

When we talked about high school courses taken (in Episode 133), we said that this is something you could probably still fix if your kid is just starting back to school now for his or her senior year. Yes, your kid’s fall semester courses were likely chosen some time ago, but changes can be made in most high schools as classes start if there is an important enough reason–and, clearly, meeting college entrance requirements is an important enough reason. Parents of younger students, we told you that you still have time to have a major effect on the high school courses your kid will take in the next couple of years, and you should absolutely start looking at entrance requirements now–before it is too late. Go back and listen to Episode 133 to find out why and how.

In today’s episode, we want to talk to all of you parents about something else that you can still influence–something else that will improve your kid’s college application, to be sure, but that will also just simply improve your kid. It’s not a new topic for us, and we hope it will sound familiar to you, too.

As we turn to today’s topic, let us remind you, one more time, to give your kid our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students, designed to help students get the information that they need to make good choices about where to apply. We will talk more about the book in a few weeks–when you all are getting really nervous about those unfinished college applications.

1. What About Internships?

But now, we want to take you all the way back to Episodes 16 and 17, when we first talked to our audience about the topic of internships. I imagine that many of you listeners were not with us then since we had only just begun our podcast. Or, perhaps you had kids who were younger then and not yet in the throes of college applications. So, I think this bears repeating. Let us start with some internship basics and then talk about a new research study that offers some very interesting new evidence about the value of internships–especially for certain students. So, stay tuned.

Let us say first and foremost that students who have had internships in high school almost universally say that their internship was one of the most valuable learning experiences they ever had. And, from another perspective, their adult supervisors at the workplace almost universally say that having the student intern was a great experience for the organization as well. Undoubtedly, some students might be unprepared academically or socially for an internship, and some organizations might be unprepared to use an intern effectively. But, when a student is prepared and the organization is welcoming, an internship is a well-documented way of helping a student acquire some of the skills that he or she will need in real life, both in college and in a career.

Unlike many innovative programs brought into schools in the past century, there is simply no downside to student internships. About 40 years ago, my nonprofit organization started evaluating internship programs that were funded by government grants and operated by individual school districts, colleges, and nonprofit organizations. Every single program we studied offered great results for students and received high marks from the adults involved–both in the workplace and in the schools. We never evaluated any kind of innovative program that was more effective or more universally liked.

One of the best ones I ever saw was then called the Executive High School Internship Program, and it was used in many school districts. It placed students in executive internships–that is, students worked with executives in various professional fields. Back in the late 1970s, we did an evaluation of the Executive High School Internship Program in the Montgomery County Public Schools in suburban Maryland. At that time, the program placed students in, specifically, public administration internships–for example, working with County government officials. It was a really interesting idea, I always thought.

I searched for Executive High School Internships while I was preparing this episode and found a version of the program still offered in Montgomery County at the Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. Since almost nothing innovative lasts in education for 40 years, I am thinking that those administrators and parents and students in Montgomery County agreed with our highly favorable evaluation all those years ago. Here is an excerpt from the Walter Johnson High School website today:

The Executive Internship Program is a rigorous, high-quality profession-focused academic program. This program allows students to explore and clarify career options in a chosen area of academic interest. Students are required to use verbal, analytical, questioning, and writing skills while participating in their internship. The general expectations of the workplace will be followed throughout the experience. All students enrolled in this program should gain personal and professional experience that will assist them in meeting their lifetime goals. An internship enables students to identify a field of interest, observe and participate in related professional activities, and understand a chosen profession’s requirements and culture. This will help a student determine if a profession is compatible with his interests, values, skills, and aptitudes. Students will integrate academic knowledge [into] a professional setting and apply that acquired knowledge to a variety of experiences. Students will develop interpersonal communication skills, advance their social skills, and mature in their personal habits as a function of working in a professional environment.

The internship is a semester-long elective course completed during the school day or after school. The student receives honors elective credit . . . . (quoted from the website)

So, kudos to the Executive High School Internship Program and its legacy.

Marie and I can tell you countless stories of high school students’ internship experiences and how effective they are–from working in a prestigious architecture firm in Manhattan to working in a small, full-service advertising agency to working in technology support at a City University of New York college campus to working in a neighborhood children’s clothing store to working in a large engineering company, where one of our students actually solved a problem that the engineers were having trouble with. These are all stories from the internships our students had at the high school we co-founded in Brooklyn. Our Early College engineering- and architecture-focused high school was started in conjunction with NAF (formerly known as the National Academy Foundation and now going just by its acronym), a nonprofit organization that supports the programming of 675 career academies in high schools in 36 states, serving over 96,000 students. A formal internship is a key part of the NAF academy model.

So, if your high school has a formal internship program, get your kid into it. It looks great on those college applications because it is evidence that your kid has shown commitment over time, dependability, responsibility, initiative, and appropriate social skills in a real workplace environment. While these skills are all great for some future career, they are also equally important for success in college. Just think about it. And don’t forget, an internship might be an excellent source of college application essay material and an excellent source of additional college recommendation letters, if needed.

If your high school does not have a formal internship program, you can help your kid seek out an internship on his or her own–after school or on weekends (by the way, parents of younger kids, you still have summer options available to you). Ideally, you would have your kid look for an internship in a career field of interest and/or in a prospective college major field of interest in an organization where a responsible adult would agree to supervise and mentor your kid. (By the way, college applications often have an essay about why the student is interested in the major he or she has declared. An internship in the field is a great thing to write about in those essays.)

We are not saying that getting an internship on your own is particularly easy to do or that your kid won’t have to compete with college students, who are also looking for internships and who might be more qualified and/or at least more mature. However, we are saying that an internship experience with personal adult mentoring is priceless and worth the headache of trying to find one. Using whatever personal connections you might have at work, through friends, at your place of worship, or elsewhere might be your best chance of helping your kid find an internship.

Just a note: Some internships are paid, and some are unpaid. For example, NAF strongly believes that internships should be paid. To be sure, paid internships are a better simulation of the actual world of work and increase the likelihood that the student will be taken seriously by the adults on the job. Nonetheless, internships are such a good experience for students that we would argue that an unpaid internship experience is still worth it, and being able to accept an unpaid internship will definitely make it easier to find one.

2. The New Case for Internships

Now, I didn’t need any more evidence to tell me how valuable internships are. But, I was happy to find some while reading an August 29 article by Sarah Sparks at the Inside School Research blog at Education Week. She refers to a research report by the Urban Institute, which evaluated a high school program that provided mentorships, six-week professional career skills training, and a senior-year internship. The report looked, about two years after high school, at just over 1,000 students who had applied to the program in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Some of the applicants were put into the program (through random assignment), and some made up the control group. They were about average students (with an average high school junior year cumulative GPA of 2.7), and about 89 percent were African American and typically lived in “economically distressed” neighborhoods.

The report is entitled Pathways After High School: Evaluation of the Urban Alliance High School Internship Program, and it is authored by Brett Theodos, Mike Pergamit, Devlin Hanson, Sara Edelstein, Rebecca Daniels, and Tanaya Srini. Here are some findings:

  • Students in the program self-reported that they were more comfortable filling out the FAFSA and applying for other scholarships than students in the control group.
  • Male students in the program were more likely to graduate from high school than male students in the control group.
  • Male students in the program were more likely to apply to college than male students in the control group.
  • Male students who completed the program were 23 percentage points more likely to attend college than male students in the control group.
  • Male students who completed the program were 21 percentage points more likely to earn a two-year degree or be in college in their third year after high school graduation than male students in the control group.
  • Male students in the program were significantly more comfortable with their own “soft skills” (e.g., “speaking with adult coworkers, writing professional e-mails, making presentations, dressing professionally, completing work assignments on time and getting to work on time”) after one year out of high school and even more comfortable after two years out of high school.
  • The program shifted students with middling high school GPAs from attending two-year colleges to attending four-year colleges.

So, if you are the parent of an African-American male high school student, the data say that you should get him into an internship program, especially if he is just an average student. Of course, we believe that the rest of you should also get your kids into internship programs, because, as we said earlier, there is just no downside. You will be glad you did when it comes time for your kid to fill out those college applications, but you will also be glad you did when it comes time for your kid to function at college during the academic year and in the workplace during the summers.

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Episode 133: What High School Courses Will Get You into College?

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We are in the fifth week of our new series, Researching College Options, and we have spent the last two episodes talking about the two most likely academic hurdles that kids will meet in trying to get into a college: that is, first, the SAT and ACT scores of newly admitted and/or enrolled freshmen at the college and, second, the average high school grade point average (GPA) of those students. I think we made it clear that both of these matter at most of the nation’s most selective four-year colleges and that high school GPAs matter, in fact, at virtually all of our nation’s four-year colleges.

So, let’s look one more time this week at what we call Step 13 in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students–that is, Step 13 of getting the information that your kid needs to make good choices about where to apply. Step 13 is about researching the college’s admission practices; we’ve talked about some of this information, and more is in the book. Finding out all of the information we call for in Step 13 will give you an idea about how likely it is that your kid will be accepted by a college if he or she decides to apply. As we said in the last episode, no one can say for sure whether your kid’s grades or admission test scores or extracurricular and community service activities or letters of recommendation will be appealing enough to get him or her admitted to a particular college. But today’s episode is about one more academic hurdle that might stand between your kid and one or more colleges on his or her Long List of College Options (LLCO): that is, high school courses that your kid did or did not take.

1. What High School Courses Should Your Kid Have Taken?

We want to talk to you about this topic because it is something you still might be able to fix as your kid starts into his or her senior year in the next few weeks. Yes, your kid’s fall semester courses were probably chosen some time ago, but changes can be made in most high schools as classes start if it is important enough. So, let’s find out if it is important enough. Parents of younger students, you still have time to have a major effect on high school courses taken in the next couple of years, and you should absolutely weigh in. Here is what we wrote in our new book for kids like yours:

Let’s look at [another] admission standard–one that is less often considered and more often taken for granted–and that is the courses that applicants are expected to have taken in high school, usually listed in terms of credits (or Carnegie units) in each subject area, but also sometimes including specific courses, especially in math and science.

Part C5 of the common data set [by the way, you can search for the “common data set” on each college’s website, and you will often find it] displays both REQUIRED and RECOMMENDED high school units, by subject area, but you should check out each college’s website for more detailed information. College Navigator [the online resource provided by the National Center for Education Statistics] does not have any specific information on this topic.

On a college’s website, this information [on required and recommended high school courses] can virtually always be found by starting with the Admission home page. You will find that the high school course or credit expectations of colleges do, in fact, differ, usually according to how selective the college is. But there are always a few surprises (like colleges that require students to have earned career and technical education credits in high school, for example).

After you write down the required and the recommended courses or credits, you can compare them from college to college, and you can see how well they match up with what you have taken so far and with what you will be taking as you finish up high school. Particularly if you are just a freshman or sophomore, this information can be invaluable as you plan your remaining semesters in high school. For example, what if a college on your LLCO requires–or, more likely, recommends–four credits of foreign language? Foreign language is something that lots of high school students drop out of before taking a fourth year. Perhaps that’s because they don’t know how many selective colleges recommend it.

The courses that you take in high school matter, including the courses that you take in your senior year. Colleges will tell you that slacking off in the senior year is never a good move. So, for example, a fourth year of math and a fourth year of science would be the best scenario for most applicants–and might be a mandatory scenario for entrance to top colleges and to some college programs, like engineering. If you don’t have a rigorous senior year planned, think again.

In the long, but crucial, College Profile Worksheet that we ask your kid to fill out for every college on his or her LLCO, we ask for the number of credits or courses required for admission to the college or to the college/school that he or she is interested in within the university as well as any specific courses required (like Biology or Algebra II). We ask for the information by subject field–meaning in English, math, science, social studies, foreign languages, arts, and other fields (which could include career and technical education or physical education or health or something else). And then we ask for the same information for recommended courses, including recommended courses like Calculus, for example.

Interestingly, many public state flagship universities have quite detailed lists of required and recommended courses that applicants should have taken, and my guess is that these lists are well known to high schools in those states so that high school counselors can make sure that students take them. At least, I hope they are. For those students applying to flagship universities in states other than their own state–as we have recommended that many students do–those students should be particularly careful about finding out what those requirements are and then meeting them. Why? Because the kids in those states are more than likely meeting all of them because their high schools know about those requirements and are well positioned to provide the courses that are needed.

Let’s look at one example. I took the University of Georgia, a very good flagship university–not the most selective in the nation, but a very competitive one. Here is what the website says about the College Preparatory Curriculum the university expects its applicants to have taken (remember that one unit is equal to one year of study):

At a minimum, by policy of the University System of Georgia, all first-year applicants must complete the College Preparatory Curriculum (CPC), which consists of 17 academic units in English (4), Mathematics (4), Science (4), Social Studies (3), and Foreign Language (2). The Georgia Board of Regents has a detailed high school curriculum guide to assist students in understanding what courses need to be completed for college. (quoted from the website)

Here are a few more details for University of Georgia applicants:

  • 4 units of math must include Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, and one math course beyond Algebra II
  • 4 units of science must include 1 unit of biological sciences; 1 unit of physical sciences or Physics; 1 unit of Chemistry, Environmental Science, or Earth Science; and a 4th unit of science, which could include AP Computer Science (with two of the four units being lab sciences)
  • 2 units of foreign languages, with the two units being sequential units in one language

Those are serious requirements. I bet there are a lot of Georgia high school students and a lot of high school students in most states that cannot meet those standards even if the necessary courses were offered in their high schools. Parents, is your kid one of them?

The Georgia example is the reason we are telling you about this now. There is still time to add a fourth year of math or science to your kid’s senior year schedule–even if it is not the hardest math or science that you can imagine. I would a lot rather have four units of math and four units of science on my kid’s transcript and let the college figure out how hard those fourth-year courses actually were than not have the fourth-year courses there at all. In other words, the fourth-year courses do not have to be Calculus and Physics in order to count.

But every college is different. Really. That is exactly why we put these questions on the College Profile Worksheet. You have to know what each college expects or your kid cannot possibly jump that hurdle.

2. A Quick Look at Foreign Languages

Let’s look at my favorite part of this topic, and that is the importance of studying a foreign language in high school (and in college, by the way). It is one of those things that anyone who knows me might guess I am going to bring up–along with the importance of studying outside the U.S., the importance of the liberal arts, and the importance of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), to name a few of my favorite soapboxes.

Here are a few startling statistics from an Education Week article in June by Corey Mitchell:

  • The American Councils for International Education estimates that 10.6 million K-12 U.S. students study a world language or American Sign Language. That sounds like a lot of students, but it is actually just 20 percent of American students.
  • Fewer than 10 percent of students in at least two states study a language other than English.
  • Arabic is the fastest-growing second language among U.S. residents, but only 0.25 percent of American students who study a foreign language study Arabic in school. Eight times as many study Latin. I am all for more Arabic, but all my friends know that I would hate to give up Latin.
  • Less than 1 percent of American students who study a foreign language are studying either Russian or Japanese, though both of these languages were popular some decades ago for obvious political or economic reasons.
  • The study of Mandarin, the most commonly spoken language in the world, is increasing among American students. That’s probably an important trend.
  • Eleven states require credits in foreign languages in order to graduate from high school. Does 11 sound like a lot or a little to you? Because it sounds like way too little to me.
  • The District of Columbia and 44 states are in the market for certified foreign language teachers. We are certainly going to need more teachers if we are going to convince more kids to study more foreign languages or foreign languages for more years.

And here is a quotation from Marty Abbott, the executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, also from the Education Week article:

“We’re such a long way in this country from having it be normal to grow up learning other languages. . . . Our future depends on our ability to engage with the rest of the world, and right now Americans have a very tough time doing that.”

We do indeed. So, parents, help your kid stand out when it comes to the college admissions game. Convince your kid to take four years of a foreign language in high school (assuming that your high school makes four years available and, if not, encourage your kid to take two years of one language and two years of another language). Do this not just to get your kid into college; do it for a lot of other great reasons, too. And now I?with my four years of high school Latin and my three years of high school French–will get off my soapbox.

3. It’s Labor Day!

So, we hear that it’s almost Labor Day. We will be taking next week off to catch our breaths and celebrate. You should do the same, because September will require you to hit the ground running. Parents of seniors, the time is here. We will be back with a new episode on September 7. We can’t wait!

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