Episode 62: New Admissions Report Focuses on Student Service—Part Two

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This is our eighth episode focusing on news stories about higher education—some that might immediately change your thoughts about colleges for your teenager and others that might take a bit longer to consider.  Today’s story continues our look at a new report that grew out of a meeting a year ago hosted by a Harvard Graduate School of Education project called Making Caring Common.  As we said in our last episode, the meeting brought together college admissions deans, high school folks, and others to discuss the state of college admissions.  The report is entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.

In our last episode, we also quoted project co-director Richard Weissbourd from a recent Education Week commentary he wrote (“College Admission 2.0: Service Over Self,” January 19, 2016),:

For perhaps the first time in history, a broad range of colleges have come together to send a powerful collective message that what’s important in admissions is not high numbers of impressive accomplishments or long ‘brag sheets.’  Yes, academic engagement matters, but so does meaningful ethical engagement, especially as shown in concern for others and the common good.  The report also redefines ethical and intellectual contributions to more fairly capture the strengths of students across race, culture, and class.  (quoted from the article)

Again, I hope this is true, but the jury is still out, as they say.  To repeat, the report was endorsed by an impressive list of higher education administrators from impressive institutions—that is, every Ivy League school plus about 50 more higher education institutions, including some of our nation’s best small liberal arts colleges, best public flagship universities, and best private universities, including Amherst College, Boston College, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, College of the Holy Cross, Emory University, Kenyon College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Oberlin College, Purdue University, Reed College, Rice University, Smith College, Swarthmore College, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, the University of Washington, Wabash College, and Wake Forest University.  Incidentally, we talked about every one of these institutions during our virtual tour of colleges nationwide.  We said it then:  They are great schools.

The question again is simply this:  How much do they mean it?

The Report’s Recommendations

The report makes 11 recommendations.  We talked about the first six in our last episode, so we will pick up where we left off with the final five:

1) “Prioritizing Quality—Not Quantity—of Activities:  Admissions offices should send a clear message that numerous extracurricular activities or long “brag sheets” do not increase students’ chances of admission.  Applications should state plainly that students should feel no pressure to report more than two or three substantive extracurricular activities and should discourage students from reporting activities that have not been meaningful to them.  Applications should provide room to list perhaps no more than four activities or should simply ask students to describe two or three meaningful activities narratively.  Applications should underscore the importance of the quality and not the quantity of students’ extracurricular activities.  Admissions offices should define students’ potential for achievement in terms of the depth of students’ intellectual and ethical engagement and potential.”  (quoted from the report)

All this sounds like an interesting proposition, but one that has not really come to fruition just yet.  So, I don’t think parents can put this advice into practice on their teenager’s college application forms this year.  What parents can do is make sure that their teenagers have two or three activities that are important to them, that they do for a sustained period of time, and ideally that they excel in.  These activities should be highlighted in whatever ways are possible—like in an essay, for example, and listed first in any list of activities that is made on an application.  Of course, it is hard to be the first applicant to list just two or three or four activities; most of us are going to wait until all applicants agree to do that.  My feeling is that colleges could easily limit the number of activities to be listed to four (including sports teams)—the top four, according to the student’s own judgment of what was important to him or her—and that additional activities past four don’t really add much to an admissions officer’s view of that student.  I am not sure how many students can do more than four things after school hours that are truly valuable to them.

2)Awareness of Overloading on AP/IB Courses:  Admissions offices should convey to students that simply taking large numbers of AP or IB courses per year is often not as valuable as sustained achievement in a limited number of areas. While some students can benefit from and handle large numbers of AP/IB courses, many students benefit from taking smaller numbers of advanced courses. Too often there is the perception that these students are penalized in the admissions process.  At the same time, it’s vital to increase access to advanced courses for large numbers of students in schools without access to adequately challenging courses.”  (quoted from the report)

Well, personally I agree with this recommendation wholeheartedly, but I am not sure I could convince any high school guidance counselor or principal or bright student or ambitious parent.  And, I am not sure that even all of the admissions officers in the 60 or so colleges that endorsed this report would agree with this recommendation.  Everybody who knows bright high school kids these days has a horror story of a kid taking two or three AP courses at a time—sometimes as a junior.  I have to admit that, when a student is filling out his or her senior-year courses on a college application, it feels bad never to check off that the course is an AP or honors or college-credit course.  Do we hope that all kids have access to advanced courses, including dual-credit, dual-enrollment, or Early College courses?  We do.  Do we hope that kids get sound advice when choosing which advanced courses to take and how many to take simultaneously?  We absolutely do.

3)Discouraging ‘Overcoaching’:  Admissions offices should warn students and parents that applications that are ‘overcoached’ can jeopardize desired admission outcomes.  Admissions officers, guidance counselors and other stakeholders should remind parents and students that authenticity, confidence, and honesty are best reflected in the student’s original voice. Admission officers should consider inviting students (and families) to reflect on the ethical challenges they faced during the application process.”  (quoted from the report)

I think this is probably old news.  No one wants kids to get so much help with their college applications that everything written in them sounds like a paid adult consultant wrote it.  That would be “overcoaching.”  However, let’s also understand that most kids, including and perhaps especially the very brightest kids, do get some help with their applications—discussions about essay topics, proofreading of essays, discussions about what activities to include, and more.  That’s not really going to change—not while admissions to selective institutions are as competitive as they are.  The most I feel comfortable saying to parents is this:  “Don’t be too aggressive in dealing with your kids.  Don’t substitute your ideas for theirs.  And get help for your teenager from an impartial adult, if your teenager seems overwhelmed by your advice.”

4)Options for Reducing Test Pressure:  Admissions offices should work to relieve undue pressure associated with admission tests (SAT and ACT). Options for reducing this pressure include:  making these tests optional, clearly describing to applicants how much these tests actually “count” and how they are considered in the admissions process, and discouraging students from taking an admissions test more than twice.  Colleges should tell students that taking the test more than twice is very unlikely to meaningfully improve students’ scores.  Colleges should also be asked to justify the use of admissions tests by providing data that indicates how scores are related to academic performance at their particular institution.”  (quoted from the report)

Well, this is a mixture of interesting statements.  We have talked about test-optional and test-flexible colleges in earlier episodes of NYCollegeChat and in our book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available in print and electronically at Amazon.com).  We have said that some of our finest colleges have become test-optional or test-flexible colleges and that the list of those colleges seems to keep growing.  I do want to point out that, when applying to most of these test-optional colleges, students may still submit SAT or ACT scores if they choose to (meaning, if the scores are good and they think it will help their chances of being accepted).  When we look at the average admission test scores of students who submitted them to some test-optional colleges, we see that many, many students still submitted them and that the scores are usually quite good.  There are very, very few colleges that actually say anything like this:  “Do not send any test scores.  We will not use test scores in any way whatsoever in admission decisions or in course placement decisions once accepted.”  We know of one, for sure.  Listen to what Hampshire College says on its website:

Unlike ‘test-optional’ institutions, we will not consider SAT/ACT scores regardless of the score. Even if it’s a perfect score, it will not weigh into our assessment of an applicant.

Many colleges have adopted test-optional policies to compensate for the gender, class, racial and ethnic biases that have been found with standardized testing.  In this case students can decide whether or not to have them considered as part of their application. We are test-blind because we found through our own internal research that in addition to being biased, these standardized tests are poor predictors of success at Hampshire.  (quoted from the website)

That is an unusually extreme—and very intriguing—position.  It also answers the last part of the report’s recommendation:  “Colleges should also be asked to justify the use of admissions tests by providing data that indicates how scores are related to academic performance at their particular institution.”  When other colleges adopted a test-optional policy, some did provide their own internal research—like Bryn Mawr College, for example.  Nonetheless, I am not convinced that this report has the power to get many more colleges to take this particular step.  And finally, there was this statement:  “Colleges should tell students that taking the test more than twice is very unlikely to meaningfully improve students’ scores.”  As a matter of fact, that depends entirely on what students did between test takings.  For example, a student who took a prep course (especially a commercial one) after a second test taking could likely raise his or her scores before a third test taking.  Furthermore, if a student took the test first as a junior, then for a second time right at the beginning of the senior year, and then for a third time toward the end of the first semester of the senior year, I believe that third set of scores could be better—especially if a student had not been too motivated in the first two attempts.

5)Expanding Students’ Thinking about ‘Good’ Colleges:  Admissions officers and guidance counselors should challenge the misconception that there are only a handful of excellent colleges and that only a handful of colleges create networks that are vital to job success.  It is incumbent upon parents to challenge this misconception as well.  There is a broad range of excellent colleges across the country, and students who attend these colleges are commonly successful later in life in the full array of professions.  There are many paths to professional success, and students and parents should be far more concerned with whether a college is a good fit for a student than how high status it is.  Finally, we are keenly aware that reforming college admissions is only one piece of a far larger challenge.  Ultimately, we cannot bring about a sea change in the messages our culture sends to young people unless educational institutions at every level elevate and embody a healthier set of values.  While this change needs to start or accelerate from multiple points, we view our recommendations as one powerful place to begin.  In the face of deeply troubling trends that only seem to be worsening, it is time to say ‘Enough.’ ”  (quoted from the report)

It is easy to applaud that sentiment.  And it is true—as we have said repeatedly on NYCollegeChat episodes, including during our virtual tour of colleges nationwide—that there are many good colleges and some truly unique colleges that most high school students never even consider.  Nonetheless, if you listened to Episode 59, you will remember that another research report said quite clearly that high-achieving students who go to selective colleges fare better—both in college and after college.  So, what does it all mean?  We think it means what we said in Episode 59:  You should send your teenager to the most selective college that admits him or her, if you can afford it with whatever financial aid you can get.  That doesn’t mean that only selective colleges are “good” colleges.  There are many colleges that are super interesting—some might say “very good”—that are not extremely selective.  And there are many definitions of “selective”—“most selective,” “highly selective,” “very selective,” and so on.  But, with all that said, we still would like to see your teenager in the most selective college that will admit him or her.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Whether colleges could be serious about these recommendations
  • Whether parents can take these recommendations seriously
  • Whether high school students can benefit from these recommendations

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
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Episode 61: New Admissions Report Focuses on Student Service—Part One

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

This is our seventh episode focusing on news stories about higher education—some that might immediately change your thoughts about colleges for your teenager and others that might take a bit longer to consider.  Today’s story and next week’s story look at a new report that grew out of a meeting a year ago hosted by a Harvard Graduate School of Education project called Making Caring Common.  The meeting brought together college admissions deans, high school folks, and others to discuss the state of college admissions.  The report is entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.

NYCollegeChat Episode 61 New Admissions Report Focuses on Student Service—Part One

In a recent Education Week commentary (“College Admission 2.0: Service Over Self,” January 19, 2016), project co-director Richard Weissbourd said this:

For perhaps the first time in history, a broad range of colleges have come together to send a powerful collective message that what’s important in admissions is not high numbers of impressive accomplishments or long ‘brag sheets.’  Yes, academic engagement matters, but so does meaningful ethical engagement, especially as shown in concern for others and the common good.  The report also redefines ethical and intellectual contributions to more fairly capture the strengths of students across race, culture, and class.  (quoted from the article)

I hope this is true, but I am not totally convinced just yet.  Who signed on to this report?  Well, the list of “endorsers” included every Ivy League school plus an impressive list of about 50 more higher education institutions, including some of our nation’s best small liberal arts colleges, best public flagship universities, and best private universities, including Amherst College, Boston College, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, College of the Holy Cross, Emory University, Kenyon College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Oberlin College, Purdue University, Reed College, Rice University, Smith College, Swarthmore College, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, the University of Washington, Wabash College, and Wake Forest University.  Incidentally, we talked about every one of these institutions during our virtual tour of colleges nationwide.  They are great schools.

The question now is simply this:  How much do they mean it?

The Report’s Recommendations

The report makes 11 recommendations (the report actually has the recommendations divided into three sections), which I am going to quote for you in these episodes, and we will talk about them one by one.  We will do the first half of the recommendations in this episode, so here we go:

1) “Meaningful, Sustained Community Service:  We recommend that students engage in forms of service that are authentically chosen—that emerge from a student’s particular passions and interests—that are consistent and well-structured, and that provide opportunity for reflection both individually and with peers and adults.  We also recommend that students undertake at least a year of sustained service or community engagement . . . .  This service can take the form of substantial and sustained contributions to one’s family, such as working outside the home to provide needed income.  Just as important, it’s vital that the admissions process squarely challenges misconceptions about what types of service are valued in admissions.  Some students seek to ‘game’ service by taking up high-profile or exotic forms of community service, sometimes in faraway places, that have little meaning to them but appear to demonstrate their entrepreneurial spirit and leadership.  The admissions process should clearly convey that what counts is not whether service occurred locally or in some distant place or whether students were leaders, but whether students immersed themselves in an experience and the emotional and ethical awareness and skills generated by that experience.”  (quoted from the report)

So, that’s a mouthful.  What does it all mean?  That the service be something that your teenager is actually interested in and invested in; that the service be something your teenager thinks about, talks about with other kids and with adults, and learns from; that the service last at least a year; and that the service may be something that your teenager does in order to support or help your own family, such as working at a paid job if financial help is needed or taking care of a younger sibling or an elderly relative if that kind of family support is needed.  To be sure, Marie and I saw kids at the high school we co-founded in New York City who had substantial family responsibilities, which made it very difficult for them to engage in the other kinds of service that students without such responsibilities had the free time to undertake.  I think that the report’s notion that the service last at least a year is also significant.  In other words, the college might not look so favorably on a one-week community service project—unless perhaps a student did those projects summer after summer and during other school vacations.

2) “Collective Action that Takes on Community Challenges:  While individual service can be valuable, we also encourage young people to consider various forms of community engagement, including working in groups on community problems, whether the problem is a local park that needs attention, bullying in their schools or communities or some form of environmental degradation.  These types of activities can help young people develop key emotional and ethical capacities, including problem-solving skills and group awareness, as well as greater understanding of and investment in the common good.”  (quoted from the report)

It strikes me that these community engagement projects could be run by local government agencies, community nonprofit organizations, or religious organizations.  However, these projects are the kinds that could also be run by high schools, which would help not only their communities, but also their students on their college applications.  These projects might be run as after-school clubs or as after-school semester-long or year-long projects of a science or social studies class or as long-term PTA-sponsored efforts.  If I were a high school principal, I would be talking to my teachers and counselors and PTA officers right now about this idea—because projects like these are truly valuable learning opportunities for kids, regardless of their usefulness on college applications.

3) “Authentic, Meaningful Experiences with Diversity:  We encourage students to undertake community service and engagement that deepens their appreciation of diversity.  Too often, current forms of service are patronizing to recipients and don’t spark in those providing service a deeper understanding of social structures and inequalities.  Rather than students “doing for” students from different backgrounds, for example, we encourage students to “do with”—to work in diverse groups for sustained periods of time on school and community challenges, groups in which students learn from one another.  Importantly, these experiences of diversity should be carefully constructed and facilitated.”  (quoted from the report)

Now, this might be a tall order, especially in some not-too-diverse communities.  I also strongly believe that students can “do for” others without being patronizing.  For many years, I served on the board of an after-school homework-help and enrichment program for low-income kids, including some newly arrived in the U.S., who would otherwise have gone home to empty apartments.  Teenagers from local high schools volunteered in the afternoons to work with our elementary-school-aged kids.  Were some of the teenagers patronizing?  Probably so, even when they didn’t mean to be.  But did they go away with “a deeper understanding of social structures and inequalities”?  Yes, many of them did.  With that said, I also see the value of the “doing with” philosophy.  Could high schools play a role in putting together these projects, where kids from diverse backgrounds work together toward a worthwhile goal?  I believe so; but, as the recommendation says, “these experiences of diversity should be carefully constructed and facilitated.”  That takes a dedicated high school staff member or two or three to pull off.

4) “Service that Develops Gratitude and a Sense of Responsibility for the Future:  We encourage students to take up forms of community engagement, service and reflection that help them appreciate the contributions of the generations before them—how their lives are built on the service of others—and their responsibility to their descendants.  Working within a tradition, whether religious or secular, such as 4H clubs, can help generate this kind of gratitude and responsibility.”  (quoted from the report)

My guess is that this type of service is probably best left to community groups and religious organizations.  Any community project that is devoted to recording or celebrating the history of the area or of its people could qualify.  For example, I can imagine a great project where Brooklyn students volunteer their time to give tours of the historic buildings or do educational events with younger students at Weeksville, which was a community founded by African-American freedmen in the mid-1800s.  That would be a way to honor previous generations and give to future generations.  I can also imagine that, in communities where many high school graduates continue to live and work, intergenerational community service activities between older alums and current high school students could prove rewarding.

5) “Contributions to One’s Family:  The admissions process should clearly send the message to students, parents and other caregivers that not only community engagement and service, but also students’ family contributions, such as caring for younger siblings, taking on major household duties or working outside the home to provide needed income, are highly valued in the admissions process.  Far too often there is a perception that high-profile, brief forms of service tend to count in admissions, while these far more consistent, demanding, and deeper family contributions are overlooked.  Students should have clear opportunities to report these family contributions on their applications.”  (quoted from the report)

Marie and I certainly agree that this is an issue with lots of kids, especially perhaps lower-income urban kids.  I do not think that college applications always make it obvious to kids where they should write about these kinds of family responsibilities.  They can list paid jobs held or other family care activities done during the summer, for example, but those lists do not always give kids a chance to describe their family situation or explain all that they really do.  Sometimes family responsibilities can be the focus of an essay on an application, especially a supplemental essay or the second essay in the Common App where kids are asked to add anything else they want to say.  But I don’t think that these options are really the “clear opportunities” that the report is calling for.  A specific question about family care and support would be better—but I worry that all kids will now feel that this is one more thing they have to be able to respond to in order to get into college, which rather weakens the point of adding the question in the first place.

6) “Assessing Students’ Daily Awareness of and Contributions to Others:  The admissions process should seek to assess more effectively whether students are ethically responsible and concerned for others and their communities in their daily lives.  The nature of students’ day-to-day conduct should be weighed more heavily in admissions than the nature of students’ stints of service.”  (quoted from the report)

Wow.  That is more than I imagine almost any college application can actually do.  The only way I can see to make this happen is to suggest on recommendation forms that teachers and guidance counselors and other adults (like clergy, internship supervisors, and employers) consider this character trait and individual behavior when writing their college recommendations for students.  Some of these adults have a window into the daily or at least weekly activities of students and might be able to comment on how they see a student interacting with others, reaching out to help others, or serving as a role model or leader for others at school, at work, in places of worship, or in the greater community.

So there you have the first six of the 11 report recommendations.  They are an interesting bunch.  More next week!

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • How easy it might be for colleges to take these recommendations
  • How high schools could make a difference
  • How history might have predicted some of these recommendations

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
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Episode 60: Who’s Teaching College Courses to High Schoolers?

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In recent weeks, we have been talking about news stories about higher education—some that might immediately influence your teenager’s decisions and others that might take longer to impact your family. Today’s story is the perfect intersection of college and high school, and it is a story that could affect your current high schoolers right now as they try to put together a high school program for themselves that will make them attractive applicants to colleges.

NYCollegeChat Podcast Episode 60: Who's Teaching #College Courses to High Schoolers? #collegeaccess #highschool #parents

In today’s episode, we are taking a look at a growing movement nationwide—one that Marie and I invested a lot of time and effort in when we co-founded an Early College high school in New York City in 2009. That movement is the offering of courses for college credit to high school students. Sometimes students earn only college credits for such courses, and sometimes students earn both high school and college credits for those courses (in that case, they are often referred to as dual-enrollment or dual-credit or concurrent-enrollment courses). Sometimes students attend Early College high schools that partner with colleges to offer college credit courses as part of a formal and structured program, which often supplies support services to students as well. Sometimes college credit courses are offered on the college campus and sometimes at the high school. Sometimes college credit courses are taught by college professors and sometimes by high school teachers—which is the subject of today’s episode.

Let us say right now that Marie and I are huge fans of Early College high schools and of offering college credit courses to high school students who can rise to the occasion and do good academic work. By the way, in our experience, that is far more students than you might think—and it includes many low-income urban students, who are written off by way too many colleges and indeed by an unfortunate number of high schools. We have seen kids, who were not fortunate enough to have had great middle school experiences and who had virtually been given up on by high school teachers, bloom in college classes. It is fair to say that we are about as biased in favor of accelerating high school students into college courses as you can be. So what’s the question?

The question is about who is teaching the college courses that high school students are taking for college credit (and sometimes for both college and high school credit simultaneously). At our Early College high school, students went to our college partner’s campus in their third year with us and started taking actual college courses, taught by college professors, but in classes with only their high school classmates. In their fourth year of high school with us, our students went to college full time—taking a full load of regular college classes taught by college professors in classes of regular college students. These courses were not dual-credit courses; our students had already earned all of the high school credits they needed to graduate, and so these courses were simply college courses for college credit.

It was clear to us that college professors should be teaching the college credit courses that our high school students took. In other types of programs, it is evidently less clear.

1. New Requirements for High School Teachers

Many dual-credit courses are, in fact, taught by high school teachers in high school classrooms. I understand the efficiency of this practice and even the necessity of this practice in places where students cannot get to a college campus easily and where college professors cannot get to students at their high school easily, either. But I don’t prefer it, and I don’t think it gives students the same experience. It might be a college course, but it is not a college professor or a college location or a roomful of other college students.

Last fall in Education Week (October 13, 2015), Catherine Gewertz wrote an article about a new ruling by the Higher Learning Commission that angered a lot of educators, but frankly pleased me: “New Teacher Requirements Jeopardize Dual-Credit Classes.” (The Higher Learning Commission is the organization that accredits colleges in much of the West and Midwest.) The Commission stated that a high school teacher who is teaching a dual-credit course must have a master’s degree. Furthermore, if the teacher does not have a master’s degree in the subject field of the course he or she is teaching (for example, mathematics, English, or history), then the teacher must have at least 18 graduate credits in that subject field. So, for example, if a high school mathematics teacher has a master’s degree in education, that teacher must also have at least 18 master’s-level or more advanced credits in mathematics in order to teach a dual-credit mathematics course for college credit. These are the same requirements that regular college faculty must meet, and I personally am fine with that.

Initially, when the ruling was made last year, colleges were given until September, 2017, to get their dual-credit courses into compliance. The Commission is now saying that it will review applications for an extension of that deadline until September, 2022. So, clearly, colleges are concerned about getting high school teachers enough appropriate graduate-level credits to continue teaching in their dual-credit programs.

High schools are just as concerned—and maybe more so. The Education Week article notes that some principals in Indiana (where more than 65,000 high school students took dual-enrollment courses in 2014) have said that as many as 90 percent of their teachers could not meet the Commission’s standard. The Education Week article also pointed out that Indiana’s chief academic officer for higher education had commented that high school teachers who teach Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses—both of which can yield college credit with high-enough exam scores—are not required to have a master’s degree. I understand that point, though I continue to believe that AP and IB courses are not actually college courses—academically challenging though they might be.

Here is another complaint, according to the Education Week article:

One of the criticisms of the ruling is its use of a master’s degree as a proxy for good teaching. . . .   ‘I strongly disagree with the [Higher Learning Commission] that quality teaching equals having an advanced degree in your field,’ Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change in St. Paul, Minn., wrote in an email. Nathan helped write the 1985 law that made Minnesota the first in the country with a statewide policy allowing dual-credit courses. (quoted from the article)

Personally, I don’t think the Commission is saying that having a master’s degree means you are a good teacher, or indeed a good college professor. All of us have had college professors who were not good teachers, and all of us have had high school teachers who were not good teachers, too. In this case, the master’s degree means that you have broad and detailed knowledge of the subject field you are teaching. It is about the content that you need to know, not the teaching skill that you need to have. It is the standard that colleges use for their own faculty and, as such, I am willing to use it for teachers of dual-credit courses, which should be as close to the same as college courses as possible.

2. An Interesting Solution

Ohio has an idea for solving the problem (and it’s possible other states have done something like this as well). In order to help high school teachers get the graduate-level college courses they need to teach in the State’s dual-credit program (called College Credit Plus), the State has given grants to some colleges to make it possible for teachers to take the courses they need tuition free, according to the Dayton Daily News (“College credit program could get surge of teachers,” by Jeremy P. Kelley, January 10, 2016). Colleges are putting some of their own funds into the programs as well.

Of course, it is still a lot of work for high school teachers who do not have many graduate-level credits in the subject area of the college course they are teaching. It could take them some time to complete the 18 credits required.

Yet, the Dayton Daily News article noted that “[s]ome education research suggests that students who earn multiple college credits while in high school are more likely to achieve some level of college degree.” And with more than 30,000 Ohio high school students taking college credit courses last fall, that turns out to be a lot more students on a solid path to a college degree.

3. What Does This Mean for You?

So here is something that Marie and I have said before in earlier episodes of NYCollegeChat and in our book How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available at Amazon.com in print and electronically). If your teenager goes to a high school that offers college credit courses through an Early College program or another type of dual-credit or dual-enrollment program, please make sure your teenager takes advantage of it. Why?

  • Because you will likely save some money in college tuition when your teenager finally goes to college
  • Because your teenager will likely have a valuable college experience while still in high school (especially if that experience is on a college campus with a college professor)
  • Because your teenager will more likely graduate from college—and in a shorter time—if he or she has earned some college credits while still in high school

I think in an early episode of NYCollegeChat I said something like this: I have spent much of my 40-year professional career studying and evaluating education innovations for the federal government, for various state governments, for various school districts, and for various foundations. I have seen a lot of programs that claimed to make a difference. Almost all of them had some downside or other. But Early College programs and other dual-credit programs just do not seem to have any downside at all. So, take advantage of them whenever possible. And if you are moving and looking at new school district homes, let the presence of such programs be one thing you absolutely look for.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • What to ask your school board
  • How to increase the chances that other colleges take these credits
  • Why this topic is so important

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Episode 59: What’s Happening to Low-Income Smart Kids?

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What's Happening to Low-Income Smart Kids? on NYCollegeChat podcast

For a few weeks now, we have been talking about news stories about higher education—some that might immediately influence your teenager’s decision about where to apply or later about where to attend and others that might take longer to impact your family.

In this episode, we are going to take a look at a new report just out this month that could impact thousands and thousands of families every year. It has a message that needs to be heard.

I want to thank Sarah D. Sparks, who wrote about this new report at Inside School Research, one of the blogs sponsored by Education Week. Her article—entitled “Three Myths Keeping Bright Kids in Poverty from Going to Top Colleges” (January 11, 2016)—was so good that I immediately went to look for the full report. You would, too, after reading her lead:

If you are at the top of your class in a high-poverty school, you have a significantly better chance of dying in a car crash than attending an Ivy League school. (quoted from the article)

Hard to believe. She later quotes Harold Levy, former chancellor of the New York City Public Schools and currently executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which co-authored the report with The Century Foundation. Levy said:

‘College admissions for kids in poverty is profoundly unfair. . . . I thought if you were really poor and really smart you wrote your own ticket, and that turns out to be just wrong.’ (quoted from the article)

1. The Report

The 50-page report is entitled True Merit: Ensuring Our Brightest Students Have Access to Our Best Colleges and Universities. Although I can’t read the whole thing to you in this episode, I would like to present some hard-to-swallow statistics and some conclusions offered—all of which should make you interested enough to take a look at the whole report:

  • At the most competitive colleges, only 3 percent of students come from families with incomes in the bottom 25 percent of the income distribution, but 72 percent of students come from families with incomes in the top 25 percent. At highly competitive and very competitive colleges (the next two categories), only 7 percent of students in each group of colleges come from families in the bottom 25 percent. The report comments that there are “thousands of students from economically disadvantaged households who, despite attending less-resourced schools and growing up with less intellectual stimulation and advantages, do extremely well in school, love learning, are extraordinarily bright and capable, and would do very well at selective institutions if offered admissions. They are just being ignored.”
  • The report goes on to explain that the “underrepresentation of high-achieving, low-income students at the nation’s selective institutions stems from two factors: low-income students are less likely to apply to selective schools, and low-income students who do apply receive inadequate consideration in the admissions and financial aid process.” That is quite an indictment of the system.
  • Looking further into that explanation, the report notes that its authors’ “research shows that only 23 percent of high-achieving, low-income students apply to a selective school, compared with 48 percent of high-achieving, high-income students. . . . Termed ‘under-matching’ by researchers, many high-achieving, low-income students choose not to apply to schools whose student bodies have high levels of academic ability on par with their own, and instead apply to schools where the average student’s academic capacity is lower than their own.”
  • The report’s authors found that “high-achieving students from the wealthiest families were three times as likely to enroll in a highly selective college as those from the poorest families (24 versus 8 percent). Other researchers have demonstrated that this trend holds true even among the most talented low-income students who score in the top ten percent nationwide on the SAT or ACT.”
  • So, how important is it, in the long run, to attend a highly selective college? The report speaks quite clearly to this question:       “. . .       our analysis is unequivocal: high-achieving students who attend more selective schools graduate at higher rates, earn higher incomes, and are more likely to pursue a graduate degree. . . . This remains true even after controlling for [students’] academic ability. In other words, where you go to school matters.”
  • And here is one big example of why that statement is so true. In the report’s own words, “Top employers typically recruit from selective colleges and universities. And, selective institutions cultivate our nation’s leadership: 49 percent of corporate industry leaders and 50 percent of government leaders graduated from only 12 selective colleges and universities. If we want a nation where at least some of our leaders know first-hand what it is like to grow up poor, then the doors of selective institutions must be open to students from all communities. Low-income students depend on higher education as a route to social mobility, but college will never be the great equalizer if the brightest of the poor cannot even get in the door.”
  • Turning to the topic of financial aid, the report says this: “Our analysis of applications submitted through the Common Application organization (“Common App”) finds that 84 percent of high-achieving students with family incomes below $20,000 fail to obtain the Common App fee waiver for their college applications, despite clearly being eligible for one. This finding suggests that it is often a lack of knowledge about how college financial aid works that stands in the way of students applying, not students’ actual desires or financial circumstances.”
  • But here is the good news that the report offers its readers: “Research is clear that changing high-achieving, low-income students’ understanding of how college financial aid works can dramatically increase the number of applications they submit to selective schools. By sending students an inexpensive mailing costing $6, researchers were able to increase the percent of high-achieving, low-income students who applied and were admitted to a match institution by 31 percent. Other studies have found that simply sending semi-customized text messages to students’ cell phones can increase their completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a necessary precursor to obtaining a federal Pell grant. This is a critical first step as our research suggests that only 71 percent of high-achieving, low-income students complete the FAFSA.”
  • And here is something that the report said and that we have said many times at NYCollegeChat: “While the cost of higher education has been rising for decades, the stated tuition and fees at elite colleges (especially private institutions) have skyrocketed, even after adjusting for inflation. Low-income families, seeing these ‘sticker prices,’ often fail to understand that with financial aid, attending a selective school might actually cost them less than their local public university.”

One of the scariest parts of the report for me was the section on the college admissions process—not the applications process, which is scary enough, but rather the admissions process, which is how colleges choose which students to admit from those who have applied. This section of the report does a good job of shining a spotlight on what happens behind the scenes as college admissions officers are pulled in this direction and that direction by various interest groups at the college and are faced with tens of thousands of applications to review and rank. The authors seem brutally frank in this section of the report. I have no reason to believe that it is not a true picture of what goes on, though I have no independent confirmation of it. Here is one of the conclusions that the authors draw:

The underrepresentation of high-achieving, low-income students is in large part the result of admissions practices utilized by selective colleges and universities that—presumably inadvertently—advantage privileged, wealthy students. Specifically, college and university admissions preferences provide advantages to athletes, children of alumni, and mediocre but full-paying students. Institutions compound the problem by giving advantages to students who visit the campus (which few low-income applicants can afford), apply early (which low-income students who must weigh aid packages in making college selection decisions cannot do), take the SAT or ACT multiple times and submit only their best scores (which is unavailable to low-income students who will be afforded a single fee waiver), and who do so after having been thoroughly coached (which few low-income students can afford). Additionally, low-income students tend not to have been exposed to college-level work or take AP/IB courses, which because of “weighting” by the high schools artificially inflates their GPA. Finally, the increasing reliance [on] standardized test scores in compiling an Academic Index to screen applications—so as not to overwhelm admissions officers with otherwise having to read thousands of applications—may unfairly eliminate disproportionate numbers of low-income students on the basis of small score differences, which we know are not predictive of college performance or indicative of any differences in ability. (quoted from the article)

2. What Can Be Done

Well, let’s start by saying that we probably cannot change the way that college admissions officers at highly selective colleges review applications against criteria set by those colleges. But here are some things that low-income parents of high-achieving kids can and should do:

  • Seriously consider whether your teenager should apply to a college under an Early Decision plan. If not, have your teenager apply under one or more Early Action plans, whenever possible. Either of these routes might well increase your teenager’s chance of acceptance.
  • Arrange for your teenager to take the SAT and/or ACT more than once, even if you have to pay for it. This act gives your teenager a chance to improve his or her scores, and we know that these scores are still important in most selective colleges.
  • Even better, figure out a way to get your teenager into a prep course for these college admission exams. Perhaps your school district or a nearby community center is offering one. The commercially available courses are expensive, to be sure—though even that might be worth it if your teenager’s scores need some major improvement.
  • If Advanced Placement (AP) courses are available at your high school, encourage your teenager to take one or more, if your teenager is academically ready to do so. Great alternatives to AP courses are dual-enrollment courses or Early College courses (if your high school is part of an Early College program); in both of these, students take actual college courses and earn actual college credits during high school, with the college credits typically free to the student. All of these options improve your teenager’s high school record, from the colleges’ point of view, by showing colleges that your teenager can handle college-level academic work.
  • Make sure your teenager applies for college application fee waivers, if your family is eligible. This means that your teenager can apply to a greater number and wider range of colleges since there is no cost to you.
  • Investigate highly selective colleges if your teenager has the grades and test scores to apply. Then, have your teenager apply! If you can’t get any help from the high school counselor in seeking out highly selective colleges, get help from somewhere else—a community leader, a teacher, or previous episodes of NYCollegeChat. We already know that high school counselors are overworked and underprepared to deal with many college issues.
  • Fill out the FAFSA as soon as it is available. Don’t miss the chance to apply for financial aid.
  • Once your teenager receives acceptances, encourage your teenager to go to the most selective college that accepted him or her. Hopefully, the financial aid offer from that college will make that possible.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • More resources and forms of financial assistance available at colleges
  • More ways to improve the rigor of the senior year
  • More information on Early Decision and Early Action plans

Check out these websites we mention…

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
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Episode 58: Black and Hispanic Students at Public Flagship Universities

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

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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.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • When and where to ask a college about enrollment breakdowns
  • When and where to ask a college about graduation rate breakdowns
  • Whether to consider public college systems in a state other than its flagship university

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

Outside of New York State

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment here on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
  • Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

Connect with us through…

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