Episode 52: So, How Many Colleges Did You Say?

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Episode 52: So, How Many Colleges Did You Say? on NYCollegeChat podcast: How many colleges should your high school student apply to on NYCollegeChat podcastToday’s episode is an official stop on our blog tour to get the word out about our new book—How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. We appreciate the hosts of the other blogs we have visited on our tour—both through written guest posts we have done and recorded interviews where we have had the chance to chat with great hosts. We have enjoyed all of it. Here are the links to our virtual tour so far:

November 2: ParentChat with Regina

November 4: The College Money Maze

November 5: Parents’ Guide to the College Puzzle

November 6: Mission: Authors Talk About It

November 11: Together with Family

November 12: NYCollegeChat

November 13: The Staten Island Family

November 16: Road2College

November 18: Viva Fifty

November 19: Paying For College 101 Facebook group

November 20: Underground Crafter

November 24: High School Survival Guide

How To Find the Right College is now available for sale as a Kindle ebook or as a paperback workbook on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

The great thing about the tour was that the hosts of the blogs we visited told us what they wanted us to talk about, so all we had to do was talk. On this stop, we had to decide what to talk about. As we thought through what is likely to be going through the minds of our listeners who have high school seniors right now, we decided to talk about a question that will keep coming up over the next two months: How many colleges should my child be applying to?

You would think that this question would have gotten asked and answered at the beginning of the college search, but we believe that it gets asked and answered over and over again as the time to finish up college applications gets closer and closer.

In the interest of full disclosure, it happened to me. When my daughter was applying to colleges five years ago, we developed our list carefully—partly because she was looking for a dance major and that limited our choices significantly. We got almost to the end of the application season before we realized that she didn’t really have a safety school on the list—that is, a school that we were confident she would be admitted to. At the last minute, I remember saying something like, “Oh, no. We had better get a safety school on this list. Let’s choose a great campus of The City University of New York.” And we did, and that put our minds at ease—even though she didn’t end up needing that acceptance after all.

So, let’s talk about safety schools and about how many schools should be on your list. For more information on both of these topics, check out our book as well as our recent episodes of NYCollegeChat, which have taken our listeners on a virtual tour of public and private colleges in every region of the U.S.

As we said a few weeks ago when we did an episode about putting the final touches on that all-important college application essay, we had an opportunity recently to talk with about 100 high school seniors from one of New York City’s best public high schools—the kind of high school where students have to take an admissions test to get in. In addition to looking at their college essay topics (go back and listen to Episode 49 for that discussion), we asked them to make a list of colleges that they intended to apply to and a list of colleges that they would like to apply to, but weren’t for whatever reason (e.g., it was too expensive, it was too far from home, it was too hard to get into). After looking over their lists, here is what we noticed:

  1. Too many students do not spell the names of colleges correctly. Okay, I know this seems like a low hurdle, but you would be surprised at the mistakes we saw. For example, one of the premier campuses of the public State University of New York is Stony Brook University, which we talked about in Episode 50.  That’s S-T-O-N-Y, not S-T-O-N-E-Y. Another of the premier campuses of the public State University of New York is Binghamton University. That’s B-I-N-G-H-A-M-T-O-N, not B-I-N-G-H-A-M-P-T-O-N. And here’s one that adults sometimes get wrong, and it’s not really a spelling mistake: It’s Johns Hopkins University, not John Hopkins University—named for its benefactor, 19th-century philanthropist Johns Hopkins, an entrepreneur and abolitionist.
  2. For most students, there appeared to be little difference between the two lists of colleges—they were equally hard to get into, equally near and far away, equally expensive, and so on. In other words, I couldn’t figure out why the students weren’t applying to colleges on both lists. This observation led me to believe that they had not done a very good job of sorting through college options and applying their own criteria (that is, their own deal breakers, as we call them in our book) to the full set of college options in order to create their own list.
  3. As good students in a highly respected New York City high school, these kids had two great options for safety schools—the campuses of the public State University of New York (SUNY) and the campuses of the public City University of New York (CUNY). And yet, there were a lot of second-tier and third-tier private colleges on their lists—colleges that I imagine were meant to be safety schools for these kids students from a well-known high school. These second-tier and third-tier private colleges were not as good or as respected as many of the public SUNY and CUNY campuses. So, why were they on the lists? As we have said repeatedly in our NYCollegeChat episodes, there is no prestige in going to a private college—just because it is private—when it is worse than a good public university.
  4. Very few students had any public flagship universities outside of New York State on their lists. As we have said repeatedly in our NYCollegeChat episodes, we believe that public flagship universities are the hidden jewels of the higher education system. Here’s what we said in our book:

For many students, the public flagship state university is the place to be. Just remember, the best and the brightest high school students who live in the state really want to go to their flagship state university. Why? Because these universities are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, often very competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for lots of their high school classmates. What could be better?

Some of my favorite colleges to talk to kids about are these great flagship universities, which many families, especially here in New York, never even consider. Many of the best flagship universities are as hard to get into as any top-tier private college—for example, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, UC Berkeley, and more. But some are less selective than those, making them super-appealing choices from many perspectives, including cost, caliber of the students, caliber of the faculty, and campus life. High on my list of great universities you didn’t consider: the University of Colorado Boulder. High on my list of intriguing universities you never dreamt of: the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. High on my list of interesting choices that a good, if not quite great, student from the Northeast can likely be admitted to: the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford and Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. For a good out-of-state student from a different part of the country, Ole Miss and LSU could serve as interesting safety schools.

So, looking at your child’s college list one more time, how many colleges is enough? Here is what we said in our book:

Of course, there is no right answer to that question. Through some common sense thinking and discussion, we could probably agree that applying to just two or three colleges sounds like too few and that applying to, say, 15 colleges sounds like too many. The right answer for your teenager probably lies somewhere in between, depending on how much variety there is in the kinds of colleges you are considering and depending on how many deal breakers you and your teenager have [when it comes to the types of colleges to put on the list].

For example, you can see right away that deciding to keep a student close to home for college—maybe even within commuting distance—would limit the number of options available to that student (unless, of course, home is a major metropolitan area, like New York City). Such a student might feel that five or six applications would be a reasonable sample of the variety of opportunities available close to home. On the other hand, deciding to send a student away to college would open up an almost limitless number of options. Such a student might feel that even a dozen applications would not be an adequate sample of all the opportunities out there.

As you and your teenager add more deal breakers—that is, more restrictions on the colleges you want to consider—you probably will feel better that fewer applications can cover the remaining college options. For example, let’s say you and your teenager have decided to limit your applications to small, private, four-year colleges in upstate New York that have French majors. With all of those restrictions, four or five applications might feel like plenty (though you might need a safety school, in that case, and perhaps a public one).

One more point: Your teenager should apply only to colleges that he or she actually knows something about and wants to attend. That might sound obvious to you, but it is not nearly so obvious to high school students as you might think. We find that students sometimes cannot explain why they are considering a certain college and sometimes cannot even find it on a map—even on a map of their home state. We have often used this minimum standard: If a student cannot find a college on a map, then he or she probably shouldn’t apply to it. Such students need more help in applying their deal breakers to a list of possible colleges, in finding out about a good many of them, and then in narrowing down the possibilities to a reasonable number—probably about eight to 12.

So, we notice that a couple of sources, like The College Board, are suggesting that the right number is probably from five or six to eight colleges. I think five or six is low, and here’s why. I want every kid to have some options—after any acceptances come in—for two reasons. First, a kid who has some choices likely feels better about his or her decision about which college to attend; a student who has only one acceptance—unless it was based on an Early Decision application and it is the kid’s dream choice—might feel a bit less excited about attending that college. Second, a kid who has some choice likely feels better about himself or herself when chatting with classmates in school and outside of school as all the kids compare their college acceptances. Now, I admit that maybe this is the mother in me speaking and that this is what I wanted for my own children. But I would like kids to feel satisfied with—even proud of—their college choice so that they will do the very best they can when they get there.

So, College Board or not, I am sticking with eight to 12 applications. By the way, as you are looking over the application requirements for each college on your list, we think you are going to find that some applications require little to no more effort than the work you have already done to complete others, especially if those colleges accept the Common Application and have no required additional essays. Other than perhaps paying an additional application fee, you really lose nothing by going ahead and applying.

Even though it is the second week of November, if you have a senior at home, we believe that you still would find our book to be helpful in these next two crucial months. And if you have a younger teenager at home, you will definitely find our book to be helpful as you and your child discuss your deal breakers and make that perhaps life-changing college list.

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why you should check out the percentage of applicants a college accepts when choosing a safety school
  • Why your child should apply to more than one SUNY or CUNY campus at a time
  • Why eight is not enough

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
  • 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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Episode 50: Colleges in New York State—Part I

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In recent episodes, we have focused our virtual tour of colleges on the public and private higher education institutions in the Mid-Atlantic region: Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. As we explained then, we put off a look at colleges in New York (which is, of course, part of the Mid-Atlantic region) because we knew that it was the home state of many of our listeners, and we knew that they would be especially interested in it. It is possible that other listeners are also interested in New York State, perhaps because it has more four-year colleges than any other state—about 130.

Virtual tour of public colleges in New York State in NYCollegeChat podcast

Today, we will look at public four-year colleges in New York. They can be found in two massive systems of public higher education, two of the very biggest in the nation: The State University of New York and The City University of New York (located, of course, in the five boroughs of New York City). Plus, there are a couple of special additional public choices we will take a glance at.

And, as we say every time, no college—not even one in our home state—has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.

1. The State University of New York

Founded in 1948 with the consolidation of 29 existing higher education institutions, The State University of New York (commonly referred to as SUNY) is, in fact, the largest comprehensive university system in the U.S. Currently, SUNY comprises 64 institutions, almost half of which (30) are community colleges. Here is an interesting fact: “93 percent of New Yorkers live within 15 miles of a SUNY campus, and nearly 100 percent live within 30 miles” (quoted from the website). And here is another: “One out of three New York State high school graduates choose SUNY, and the total enrollment of nearly 463,000 full-time and part-time students represents 37 percent of New York State’s higher education student population” (quoted from the website).

Now, during our virtual tour, we have talked a fair amount about how New York State really doesn’t have a flagship university that high school students in the state are dying to attend—not in the same way as Texas or Ohio or Mississippi or North Carolina or lots of other states in the South and Midwest especially. But we have also talked a fair amount about how 70 percent or so of high school students stay in their home state for college. So, one of three New York high school students chooses a SUNY campus—and that doesn’t count those who choose a public City University of New York campus or a private college in the state.

Students can apply to most SUNY campuses by completing one online application and submitting all of their documents just once. SUNY advises students to apply by December 1 to ensure optimal financial aid, degree program choice, and campus housing.

Four University Centers. SUNY has four “university centers.” They are perhaps SUNY’s idea of four flagship-like campuses. The four are Stony Brook University on Long Island, Binghamton University in upstate New York, the University at Buffalo, and the University at Albany. I think that most New Yorkers would argue that Stony Brook and Binghamton are the two top universities in the SUNY system. So, let’s start with Stony Brook, which is located on a large rural-like campus in the far-out suburbs about 60 miles east of New York City, easily accessible by the reliable Long Island Rail Road.

Founded in 1957 to educate secondary school teachers of science and math, Stony Brook was directed by the State Board of Regents in 1960 to become an institution that would “stand with the finest in the country”—perhaps the Board of Regents’ idea of a flagship university. Today, it offers about 17,000 undergraduates and about 8,500 graduate and professional students 68 undergraduate degree programs and more than 140 graduate degree programs in its colleges and schools of arts and sciences, business, engineering and applied sciences, journalism (the only undergraduate school of journalism in a public New York university), marine and atmospheric sciences, social welfare, nursing, health technology and management, dental medicine, and medicine. It is well known and respected for its science, engineering, and medical programs, and it co-manages Brookhaven National Laboratory, a federal research laboratory. Stony Brook is one of the universities of choice for bright New York City students who are looking to attend a public college for financial reasons. About 25 percent of its undergraduates are Asian.

Stony Brook’s first-year students are assigned to one of six “Undergraduate Colleges,” which are organized around themes of interest to students: Arts, Culture, and Humanities; Global Studies; Human Development; Information and Technology Studies; Leadership and Service; and Science and Society. Students in each Undergraduate College receive “customized advising and support, special educational and social programs, and opportunities for close interaction with faculty and fellow students around themes of common interest. Both commuter and residential students are welcomed into College life. First-year resident members of each College are housed together in the same residential quadrangle.” (quoted from the website) With two freshman seminars and a host of educational and social activities, these Undergraduate Colleges help freshmen adjust to life at a university with 17,000 undergraduate students. Like other SUNY campuses, undergraduates are required to take a broad array of liberal arts and sciences courses to satisfy general education distribution requirements.

Like most major universities, Stony Brook offers a variety of study abroad opportunities and 20 varsity sports teams. And, of course, there are plenty of activities on campus, though my understanding is that some students who live on Long Island or in New York City go home on weekends.

Stony Brook’s incoming freshmen this fall posted average SAT scores in the mid-600s for mathematics and about 600 for critical reading and writing. Their average high school GPA was about a 3.8. Almost 90 percent of Stony Brook’s recent graduates are either employed or enrolled in graduate or professional school—a good record for a public university.

Binghamton University is in the relatively small upstate New York suburb of Vestal. Established in 1946 to serve the educational needs of World War II veterans, Binghamton was originally a branch of private Syracuse University and became a part of SUNY four years later. Today it offers about 13,500 undergraduates and about 3,500 graduate and professional students studies in seven schools and colleges: arts and sciences, community and public affairs, nursing, management, engineering and applied science, and education (graduate students only). A new graduate School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will open in 2018.

About 20 percent of its undergraduates stay at Binghamton to earn a graduate degree. Almost 70 percent of undergraduates earn their degrees in the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, the oldest college at Binghamton. Like Stony Brook, Binghamton has broad liberal arts and sciences general education requirements for its undergraduate students.

Binghamton fields 21 varsity sports teams and offers a lot of outdoor recreational activities in nearby state parks. It is one of 16 colleges to earn “the highest score on The Princeton Review’s annual ‘green rating’ for campus environmentally-related policies, practices and academic offerings” (quoted from the website).

Binghamton’s incoming freshmen last fall posted average SAT scores in the mid-600s for mathematics and just a bit lower for critical reading and writing. Their average high school GPA was about a 3.6.

If students prefer a more urban location, then either the University at Buffalo or the University at Albany might be preferable to Binghamton and Stony Brook. Undergraduate enrollment at Buffalo is the highest of the four university centers at about 20,000 students, while undergraduate enrollment at Albany is the lowest at about 13,000 students. So these are all substantial universities, which would seem really big to any freshman—albeit nothing close to the largest of the flagship universities we have talked about earlier in our virtual tour. Incoming freshman SAT scores are just a bit lower at Buffalo and Albany, which might put them in reach of more students.

In-state tuition and fees at the university centers run a remarkably reasonable $9,000 per year, with out-of-state tuition and fees at about $22,000 to $24,000.

Specialized Institutions. There are three specialized SUNY institutions worth a quick mention, even though they will likely be of interest only to a limited audience:

  • “The College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is . . . focused on the science, design, engineering and management of natural resources and the environment. [It] offers 23 undergraduate and 30 graduate degree programs . . . . Students study at the Syracuse campus and on 25,000 acres of property throughout New York State. ESF also offers numerous opportunities to study abroad. Career-related internships provide invaluable work experience and can often pave the way to permanent positions after graduation. ESF’s special relationship with neighboring Syracuse University provides ESF students with access to selected SU courses, student services and activities.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) ESF serves just about 1,700 undergraduate students.
  • “Founded in 1874, Maritime College [is the] oldest and largest maritime school in the country. . . .   [It] is located in historic Fort Schuyler, [the]Bronx. . . . Maritime offers undergraduate programs in engineering, naval architecture, marine transportation, maritime studies, marine environmental science and international transportation and trade. . . .       Maritime students may pursue a U.S. Coast Guard License. These students participate in Maritime’s structured Regiment of Cadets, as well as summer sea terms aboard the Empire State VI training ship. There is no military obligation for Maritime graduates unless they choose to participate in one of four ROTC programs. Graduates enjoy a nearly 100% career placement rate and earn some of the nation’s highest average starting salaries.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) Maritime serves just about 1,600 undergraduate students.
  • “The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is . . . a renowned college of art and design, business and technology, with more than 40 degree programs. Majors span a wide range of fields, from photography and toy design to international trade and cosmetics and fragrance marketing.       Each major includes a full liberal arts education. A faculty of academics and working professionals integrates hands-on teaching with real-world expertise, and industry connections provide unrivaled internship and career opportunities.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website)       FIT is located in the heart of Manhattan in New York City and serves about 9,500 undergraduate students.

Any of these three colleges could be the right choice for a student who is interested in these specialized fields of study. And, while we said that Maritime and Environmental Science and Forestry serve only about 1,600 to 1,700 undergraduates—making them quite small by SUNY standards—remember that we have talked about quite a few colleges, especially small private colleges, that are a lot smaller than that.

Two Comprehensive Colleges. When talking about the state public higher education systems in other states on our virtual tour, we have typically talked only about individual colleges that we thought were attractive enough to draw out-of-state students away from the public colleges in their own state in order to attend them. That is a high standard, I think. I am not sure that any of the many other SUNY campuses are sufficiently attractive to do that, but let us mention two that might be. Both are well known here in the southern part of the state and are certainly better known regionally than nationally: SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Purchase.

Founded in 1828 as the New Paltz Classical School (teaching Latin, Greek, reading, writing, and arithmetic to local children), SUNY New Paltz became a normal school for training teachers and was one of the founding institutions of the SUNY system. It is located in a small town about 90 minutes north of New York City in the picturesque Hudson River Valley, with lots of nearby outdoor activities that draw vacationers from all over. A popular campus that typically receives more than 14,000 applications for 1,100 slots, New Paltz admits freshmen that are good students, academically on par with the University at Albany. This fall, about 93 percent of New Paltz freshmen were New York residents.

New Paltz offers its approximately 6,500 undergraduates a choice of 105 majors across five schools/colleges: liberal arts and sciences (the largest of the schools/colleges), education, business, fine and performing arts, and science and engineering. As we have already said about SUNY campuses, undergraduates are required to complete a general education core, covering a broad array of arts and sciences fields. New Paltz undergraduates take about 12 to 14 courses, more in the arts than in the sciences. New Paltz also serves about 1,000 graduate students.

New Paltz fields 15 varsity sports teams and sponsors over 200 student organizations. It offers students a full-fledged campus life in what many people consider an idyllic setting.

SUNY Purchase (also known as Purchase College) is located just outside New York City in suburban Westchester County. It was founded in 1967 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to “combine on one campus conservatory training in the visual and performing arts with programs in the liberal arts and sciences” (quoted from the website). Today, within its School of Liberal Arts and Sciences (where about 65 percent of Purchase students study), it has schools of film and media studies, humanities, and natural and social sciences. Within its School of the Arts (where about 35 percent of Purchase students study), it has a School of Art + Design and conservatories of dance, music, and theatre art (including its own dance company and its own theatre repertory company); it also offers a bachelor’s degree in arts management and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship in the arts. In total, Purchase offers about 47 bachelor’s degree majors—six of which are in music (one in production, two in composition, and three in performance)! These arts degree programs make Purchase a truly unique public opportunity for about 4,500 undergraduate students and just over 100 graduate students.

In addition to its dancers, Purchase fields 17 varsity sports teams. It offers a variety of special housing options, including freshman-year housing, conservatory floors, and residential learning communities built around themes (e.g., psychology and social justice, spirituality and society, leadership). Freshmen admitted to Purchase this fall had SAT subtest scores averaging in the mid-500s and a high school GPA of about a 3.1. So that puts it in range of just-above-average students. Of course, those students applying to the arts programs must meet audition or portfolio standards, too.

In-state tuition and fees at the comprehensive colleges run about $7,500 per year, with out-of-state costs at about $17,500—so, a bit lower than the university centers and, again, a great price.

Four Undergraduate Statutory Colleges. SUNY also has four colleges housed at two universities that are, otherwise, private. They are the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and College of Human Ecology (that is, three of Cornell’s seven undergraduate colleges/schools). Let’s take a quick look:

  • Since 1900, the NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University has blended visual fine arts, design and the science of ceramics, glass and materials. It is . . . home to the School of Art & Design and the Inamori School of Engineering. These high quality, internationally known programs offer opportunities for small classes and individual attention at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. . . . The School of Art & Design, with BFA, BS (Art History) and MFA programs, works with internationally acclaimed artists in one of the nation’s finest art facilities. The Inamori School of Engineering, with BS, MS, and PhD programs, educates over one-third of all ceramic engineering graduates in the U.S. and is one of 10 centers for advanced research in New York.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) The College serves just about 600 undergraduates with these very special interests and talents.
  • Cornell’s “School of Industrial and Labor Relations is the only undergraduate school of its kind in the U.S. The ILR School has a unique program that uses the social sciences to examine the full range of ‘people’ issues faced in the workplace. ILR provides preparation for leadership positions in business, law, politics, social justice and public policy. The ILR curriculum provides a strong liberal arts foundation through classes in economics, sociology, psychology, history, law and statistics. From there, students can develop their special interests in a number of areas including management, law, human resources, dispute resolution, employee relations, labor economics, organizational behavior and international labor rights.” (quoted from the SUNY website) The ILR School serves just about 1,000 undergraduates.
  • Cornell’s “College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) . . . is the only college of agriculture and life sciences in the Ivy League and the second largest college at Cornell. The college is committed to research, education and outreach [and] . . . offers over 20 majors, all focusing on the four college priorities: Life Sciences, Applied Social Sciences, Environmental Sciences and Agriculture and Food. Undergraduates have the chance to use their skills and knowledge to answer some of the world’s most pressing social, economic and scientific challenges.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) The College serves about 3,500 undergraduates, who enjoy an enviable 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
  • Cornell’s “College of Human Ecology . . .       examines human life from a scientific, social and aesthetic perspective. By blending academic disciplines with a global point of view, students and faculty use their knowledge to explore and develop solutions to contemporary human issues. Students explore liberal arts disciplines including biology, chemistry, economics, psychology and sociology, and apply their knowledge in fields such as health, design, nutrition, public policy and marketing.       Students are prepared for medical, law or other graduate programs, and for careers in business, education, communications or other fields of health and human services.”       (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) The College serves about 1,250 undergraduates.

We will hear a bit more about Cornell next week when we turn to private colleges in New York State.

2. The City University of New York

Today’s extraordinary City University of New York (CUNY), with a total of 24 two-year, four-year, and graduate campuses serving over a quarter of a million degree students, began as the Free Academy, with about 200 students in 1849. It became The College of the City of New York in 1866. The all-female, free Normal College of the City of New York, which became Hunter College, was established in 1870. CUNY has a long and fascinating history, full of political battles and fights over free tuition and outreach to New York City’s many immigrant populations as they arrived decade after decade. The website notes that in “the post-World War I era when discrimination against Jews was common at Ivy League universities and other private educational institutions, many Jewish students and academics found their intellectual home at New York’s public colleges, where ethnicity, religion and national background barred no one” (quoted from the website). City College became known as the “Harvard of the Proletariat.” In 1961, CUNY was formed from the public college campuses that had sprung up to serve New York City’s growing population in all five boroughs.

The 11 four-year colleges, which cover all five boroughs, have their own histories and their own identities. Though most are best known in New York City, a few have enjoyed a somewhat wider reputation. High school students in New York City can generally get decent advice from high school counselors about their CUNY options (indeed, I believe that these are the higher education options that New York City high school counselors know best). But for those of you outside the City who are intrigued by life in the big city and who might be interested in taking a look at a CUNY college, here are four that you might consider:

  • The City College of New York (CCNY), located in upper Manhattan on a lovely campus with buildings designated as landmarks, is the flagship college of the CUNY system. Its founder, Townsend Harris, said this: “Open the doors to all. Let the children of the rich and the poor take their seats together and know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct, and intellect” (1847). Today, it boasts schools of architecture, education, and engineering; humanities, arts, and science divisions; the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership; and the highly respected Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. CCNY enrolls about 13,000 undergraduate students and another approximately 3,000 graduate students.
  • Hunter College is located on the Upper East Side in Manhattan; it’s in a great part of town, but has no campus to speak of. It is CUNY’s largest college, with a total enrollment of about 23,000 students. In its six schools, Hunter offers liberal arts and sciences majors to its undergraduate and graduate students as well as professional programs in nursing, health professions, urban public health, education, and social work. Today, its students come from more than 150 countries and speak about 150 languages. Many are first-generation college-goers.
  • Baruch College, located on the site of the Free Academy in downtown Manhattan, is noted for its business programs. It is named for alumnus Bernard M. Baruch, financier and statesman. It offers its approximately 12,500 undergraduates a choice of 23 majors in its three schools: business, arts and sciences, and public affairs. Baruch also serves about 3,000 graduate students. Its students come from more than 120 countries and speak more than 110 languages.
  • Queens College, located on an attractive campus in a residential neighborhood of Flushing in the borough of Queens, is one of the larger CUNY colleges, serving more than 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 150 countries. Founded in 1937, it offers a broad and deep liberal arts and sciences curriculum with over 140 undergraduate and graduate majors in four divisions: education, mathematics and natural sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities (including the Aaron Copland School of Music, which offers three music degrees). Queens graduates more teachers than any other college in the tri-state area, and more than half of Queens undergraduates go on to pursue graduate degrees.

This year’s freshman class at the four colleges we just profiled had average high school GPAs from 88 to 90 (on a 100-point scale) and average SAT composite scores in critical reading and mathematics from about 1160 to 1260.

CUNY’s prestigious Macaulay Honors College is a highly selective college that enrolls undergraduates on eight of the four-year CUNY campuses. Macaulay students take classes at their home campus, but also meet together at the Macaulay building in Manhattan for lectures and other activities. Macaulay students receive a full scholarship and a laptop. But there is an early December 1 deadline, so move quickly if you are interested. This year’s freshman class posted an average high school GPA of 94 (on a 100-point scale) and an average SAT composite score in critical reading and mathematics of about 1400.

Of course, students can join student organizations and play on varsity sports teams at CUNY colleges, though I think it is unlikely that students who are seriously committed to varsity athletics would make CUNY their first choice.

Students can apply to as many as six CUNY colleges with one application and one application fee (though some colleges and some special programs have supplemental requirements, such as additional essays). We believe that, for very good students, one or more of these four-year CUNY colleges can serve as a reasonable safety school during the college application process. We do not believe that it makes sense for very good students to apply to a less prestigious private college as a safety school when they would likely be better off academically and financially at one of the good CUNY four-year colleges.

The CUNY colleges are quite inexpensive for New York City residents and qualified New York State residents—from about $4,500 in tuition per year for a two-year CUNY campus to about $6,000 in tuition per year for a four-year CUNY campus.

3. Paying for College in New York State

When Marie and I attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we spoke with Michael Turner from the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation, who recorded this information for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

4. Military Service Academies

New York State is home to two of the five military service academies: the U.S. Military Academy (commonly referred to as West Point) and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), located in King’s Point on Long Island. These are public institutions, of course, funded by the federal government. Students pay no tuition or room and board, though they do incur an obligation to serve after graduation, as we have discussed in other episodes.

Let’s look briefly at the USMMA, which I think we probably know less about:

[USMMA] educates and graduates licensed Merchant Marine officers of exemplary character who serve America’s marine transportation and defense needs in peace and war. With 95 percent of the world’s products transported over water, these leaders are vital to the effective operation of our merchant fleet for both commercial and military transport during war and peace….

Known for its rigorous academic program, USMMA requires more credit hours for a baccalaureate degree than any other Federal service academy.  This challenging coursework is augmented by the Academy’s Sea year experience, which affords midshipmen the opportunity to acquire hands-on, real-world experiences aboard working commercial vessels sailing to ports around the world.  Midshipmen who master this demanding curriculum earn a unique combination of credentials:

A highly regarded Bachelor of Science degree

A U.S. Coast Guard license

An officer’s commission in the U.S. Armed Forces

For this reason, Academy graduates are highly sought after as officers in the military and the merchant marine.  This merchant fleet of efficient and productive commercial ships owned by U.S. companies and registered and operated under the American flag, forms an essential part of our domestic and international transportation system….

All graduates have a service obligation upon graduation…

Five years in the United States maritime industry, with eight years of service as an officer in any reserve unit of the armed forces

Or five years active duty in any of the nation’s armed forces.

In time of war or national emergency, the U.S. Merchant Marine becomes vital to national security as a ‘fourth arm of defense.’ Our merchant ships bear the brunt of delivering military troops, supplies and equipment overseas to our forces and allies, operating as an auxiliary unit to the Navy. (quoted from the website)

Students at the USMMA take a core curriculum of liberal arts and sciences courses before choosing one of five majors in marine transportation and marine engineering.

To be eligible to join the approximately 950 young men and women at the USMMA, students must have a minimum SAT score of 560 on both the critical reading and mathematics subtests and must have taken an academically rigorous high school program. Students must also secure a nomination from a member of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives from his or her home state. Such nominations should be sought ideally in May of the junior year of high school.

West Point was founded in 1802 and is located just north of New York City on the Hudson River. Its cadets choose from 40 academic majors that cover a broad array of disciplines—including American politics; art, philosophy and literature; foreign languages; history; sociology; management; and psychology; as well as the engineering and sciences you might expect. Throughout their four years, cadets take physical education courses (with their grades averaged into their GPAs) and are required to participate in competitive sports. And then there are the military skills:

“The heart of the military training takes place during the summer. The basic Soldier skills of rifle marksmanship, land navigation, and close combat are but the underpinnings of each cadet’s initial training the first summer; by graduation every cadet has participated in small-unit leadership training; attended military schools such as Airborne and Air Assault; served as senior leadership to junior cadets’ summer training; and interned . . . in active duty units across the globe.” (quoted from the website)

Average SAT scores of the incoming class of cadets were 608 in writing, 627 in critical reading, and 645 in mathematics. About 70 percent ranked in the top fifth of their high school graduating class. Of the approximately 4,000 high school students who were nominated by their Congressional representative, their U.S. Senator, or the Vice President of the U.S., only about 1,250 were accepted.

Here is what a West Point graduate can expect:

“Upon graduation, you will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army and serve for five years on active duty (if you choose to depart the Army after five years, you will be required to serve three years in the Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR)). During your senior year, you’ll find out which specialized field, or “branch,” you will enter. Both the needs of the Army and your preferences will be considered.

In your first year after graduation, you’ll attend a Basic Officer Leader Course for general information and training. Upon its successful completion, you then take branch-specific courses to become competent in the technical aspects of your specialty.

Next, you’ll be sent to an Army unit where you will build experience in troop command for the next three years. You might lead a Military Police unit, a small artillery fire support team, or a Military Intelligence unit, for example.” (quoted from the website)

That is quite a bit of service—but also quite a bit of education and training. All free.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

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Episode 14: Focus on The City University of New York and The State University of New York

This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by focusing on the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY).

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

Guaranteed admissions to CUNY and SUNY campuses

Impressive SUNY campuses most people never heard of

Impressive CUNY programs most people do not know about

Episode show notes are available at http://usacollegechat.org/14

Our next episode of NYCollegeChat will air on Thursday, January 8, 2015. We will still be working if you have last minute questions about college applications!

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This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by focusing on the public college and university options in New York State.

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

NYCollegeChat podcast: Focus on the City University of New York and the State University of New York. Brought to you by Policy Studies in Education.

Because we are NYCollegeChat—emphasis on New York—we want talk in this episode about choosing between The City University of New York (CUNY) and The State University of New York (SUNY) as well as choosing among the branches of each of these college systems. Though most of our episodes have information useful for parents anywhere, this episode is especially for New York City and New York State parents—or indeed for parents anywhere who might like to send their children to our public higher education institutions.

1. Students Interested in CUNY Campuses

As we said in an earlier episode in our first series, Understanding the World of College, CUNY serves about 270,000 students taking credit courses on 24 campuses—11 four-year colleges (which CUNY refers to as “senior colleges”), 7 two-year community colleges, The Macaulay Honors College for undergraduate students, and 5 graduate and professional schools, located throughout New York City’s five boroughs. CUNY is the nation’s largest urban public higher education system.

If you currently have a high school junior who is an outstanding student, with a high GPA (in the 90s) and excellent SAT/ACT scores, you should have a look at The Macaulay Honors College right now. Tuition is free, and there are other financial incentives, too. There is also the prestige factor to consider. The Macaulay deadline is a bit earlier than the regular deadline for most colleges (it was December 1 this year, so it is too late for current seniors), so you have to be ready when school opens next fall to get the application put together. This year’s application was not too difficult (for example, it had just two relatively short essays), but you will need to get teacher and/or counselor recommendations lined up. During the admissions process, a Macaulay prospect is accepted first to whatever CUNY four-year campuses the student listed in the application. So, if the student is not accepted to Macaulay, he or she will still be able to enroll in one of CUNY’s four-year colleges and might even be accepted to an honors program at one of those colleges.

Now let’s look at the 7 two-year community colleges and 11 four-year colleges. The first question, of course, is whether you are interested in a two-year or four-year college. We talked extensively about this in our last series, Understanding the World of College. Generally speaking, stronger students with better high school records should choose four-year colleges, while students in need of boosting their academic skills and improving on their high school academic record should choose two-year colleges. But which two-year or four-year college?

The obvious next thing to consider is location. Because most New York City residents are likely to live at home while attending a CUNY college, the commute to the campus is an important factor in college choice. While subway transportation is relatively reliable, fast, and inexpensive, no student really wants to be commuting from the far end of Brooklyn to the Bronx to attend classes every day. Furthermore, some campuses are not as public transportation friendly as others. For example, Queensborough Community College is in a lovely, rather suburban location in Bayside, Queens, but there is no subway service close by; or, to take another example, unless you live on Staten Island, the College of Staten Island is not a quick ride away.

Another thing to consider—and likely the most important thing—is what majors the college offers. Because the colleges are part of a public system, all majors are not offered at all colleges. This is one way the government saves taxpayers’ money—that is, by not duplicating majors on all campuses and, thus, not running smaller-than-cost-efficient programs on campus after campus. For example, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in German at just two CUNY campuses or a bachelor’s degree in archeology at just one CUNY campus. Then, you also need to think about the colleges that specialize in certain fields—like New York City College of Technology, which specializes, obviously, in technical fields (like engineering and architecture and computer studies) or John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which specializes, obviously, in criminal justice, but also in pre-law, fire science, forensics, and studies focusing on social action.

Another thing to consider is reputation. All colleges are not created equal. You can learn about the two-year and four-year colleges by reading about them on their own websites (for example, the history of City College is fascinating and quite moving), and you can learn about their reputations by talking with professionals in any field who have lived in New York City for a while, by talking with graduates of the colleges, and by talking with some high school teachers and counselors, if they have experience with more than two or three of the CUNY campuses. For what it’s worth, five of the CUNY four-year colleges are ranked by U.S. News and World Report in the top 20 regional public colleges in the North: In no particular order, they are Baruch, Hunter, Queens, Brooklyn, and City College.

2. Students Interested in SUNY Campuses

As we said in an earlier episode in our first series, Understanding the World of College, SUNY serves about 460,000 degree and certificate students in 64 higher education institutions, including research universities, state colleges, colleges of technology, community colleges, medical schools, and an online learning network. The institutions are located throughout New York State—from Plattsburgh in the far north to Buffalo in the far west to Stony Brook in the far southeast. Looking at a map of New York State with the campuses located on it is actually quite impressive.

Just as with considering CUNY campuses, the first question when looking at SUNY campuses is whether you want a two-year community college or a four-year college—and, as we said earlier, we have already talked a lot about that decision. So let’s talk about the three other questions we raised about the CUNY campuses because they also apply to SUNY campuses: location, majors, and reputation.

If you thought that the CUNY campuses were spread out over the five boroughs of New York City, the SUNY campuses are really spread out—over virtually the entire state. For a student living in New York City, going to a SUNY campus in upstate in New York is hours farther away than going to a college in New Jersey or Connecticut or even parts of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. As we have said before, we had students at the high school we co-founded in Brooklyn who had no idea where many of SUNY campuses were, yet they thought about going to them. To repeat our minimum standard for choosing a college is this: You should not go to a college you cannot find on a map.

And part of location, when it comes to SUNY campuses, is whether you want to be in a more urban, suburban, or rural location. They are all available—from the University at Buffalo or the University at Albany and the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan (which people often forget is a SUNY campus) in the more urban category to Nassau Community College and the State University College at Old Westbury and Westchester Community College in the suburban category to the College of Technology at Canton and the State University College at New Paltz and Finger Lakes Community College in the rural category.

Just as with CUNY campuses, the most important thing to consider is what majors the college offers. Again, because the colleges are part of a public system, all majors are not offered at all colleges in order to save the taxpayers’ money, so you have to check carefully if your child has an interest in a particular subject field. What is definite is that almost whatever your child can think up to study, it is being taught on one SUNY campus or another.

Just as CUNY has New York City College of Technology, specializing in technical fields, SUNY has colleges that specialize in technology in Canton, Cobleskill, Delhi, and more. But SUNY also has colleges specializing in other technical fields—like the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Maritime College, the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the New York State College of Ceramics (which actually includes both engineering and art and design majors and is located at Alfred University, a private university).

For some students, the three public colleges that are part of private Cornell University are a great financial bargain. Cornell houses four private and three public colleges: the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Human Ecology, and the ILR (Industrial and Labor Relations) School—an Ivy League education at State tuition prices.

So what about the reputation of the SUNY colleges? There are probably many opinions about which colleges are the best and probably no way to prove which colleges are the best. In a list of top national public universities, U.S. News and World Report lists the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at number 30 and Stony Brook University and Binghamton University tied at number 38. In terms of campuses being known for specific academic programs, one of the clearest examples is Stony Brook, which is well known for its undergraduate and graduate science programs, including its School of Medicine, and for its co-managing of the prestigious Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.

Generally speaking, among the four-year choices, the SUNY universities have more prestige and higher admissions standards than the SUNY state colleges and the colleges of technology—though that does not necessarily make one of the SUNY universities a better choice for your child.

3. Choosing Between CUNY and SUNY Campuses

The choice between applying to and indeed enrolling at a CUNY campus vs. a SUNY campus is probably most present in the minds of high school students who live in or near New York City. For those students, there are several factors to consider—including, at least, living arrangements and prestige (assuming, of course, that the campuses offer the right major). For New York City residents, CUNY colleges and SUNY colleges cost just about the same (and some New York State residents who live outside of the City might be eligible for the same CUNY tuition rates as City residents are). But the living arrangements can be substantially different. Is it cheaper to live at home in Queens and attend Queens College than to live in the dormitory at SUNY Albany? Of course it is. But would the student rather have the chance to live away at school as part of the whole college experience? If so, then attending a SUNY college outside of the City is the better choice.

Is a SUNY college automatically better than a CUNY college because it is part of the bigger State system? Definitely not, even when comparing the four-year SUNY universities and the four-year CUNY colleges. Again, which individual colleges are “better” than which other individual colleges is a matter for debate among educators and graduates and faculty members and interested observers. But it is clear that there are some excellent choices in both systems—choices that are right for New York’s best students as well as for New York’s average students.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Guaranteed admissions to CUNY and SUNY campuses
  • Impressive SUNY campuses most people never heard of
  • Impressive CUNY programs most people do not know about

 

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Episode 7: Focus on New York

We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by focusing on the many wonderful opportunities right here in New York! Episode show notes are available at http://usacollegechat.org/7

Connect with us through…
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
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Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
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Following us on Facebook www.facebook.com/NYCollegeChat

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Calling our hotline at 516-900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

We’re continuing our series on understanding the world of college this week by focusing on the many wonderful opportunities right here in New York!

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

NYCollegeChat episode 7 focuses on colleges and universities in New York State

1. Starting with New York City

For many students from around the world, New York City is the place to be. It is huge and exciting and trendy and diverse. It offers something for everyone: well-known private universities (like New York University), great medical schools and law schools and fine arts schools and business schools, a famous Ivy League university (Columbia) and two graduate campuses of a second Ivy League university (Cornell), Catholic and Jewish colleges and universities (like Fordham University, St. John’s UniversityManhattan CollegeYeshiva University, and Touro College and University System), proprietary schools, and an extraordinary public City University of New York (CUNY) with a total of 24 two-year and four-year and graduate campuses serving over a quarter of a million degree students.

Almost any student already living in New York City or moving to New York City can find an appropriate type of institution for postsecondary study, which will offer whatever major course of study a student can imagine. Because so many students nationwide go to college close to home, New York City high school students are particularly fortunate to live in a city where so many options are at their fingertips.

The CUNY colleges are public and, therefore, relatively inexpensive for New York City residents and qualified New York State residents who are commuting to a campus—from about $4,500 in tuition for a two-year CUNY campus to about $6,000 in tuition for a four-year CUNY campus. Some of the private universities in New York City will cost a student $60,000 a year for tuition and dormitory living, though many families believe those universities are worth it.

2. Looking at New York State

Looking outside New York City, New York State offers an even bigger array of collegiate institutions: two of the five U.S. military service academies (West Point and the Merchant Marine Academy), another Ivy League university (Cornell), highly regarded private colleges and universities (like Hamilton College, Skidmore College, the University of Rochester, and Syracuse University), well-respected specialized technology institutes (like Rochester Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), proprietary schools, Catholic institutions, and an impressive public State University of New York (SUNY) with a total of 64 two-year and four-year and graduate campuses serving almost half a million degree students.

Almost any student already living in New York State or moving to New York State can find an appropriate type of institution for college study, which will offer whatever major course of study a student can imagine. Few states can compare when it comes to what New York State has to offer.

When it comes to a good financial deal, SUNY campuses (like CUNY campuses in New York City) are a bargain. Stony Brook University, the SUNY campus on Long Island, was directed by the State Board of Regents in 1960 to become an institution that would “stand with the finest in the country.” Today, this full-fledged university, with a School of Medicine, has done just that, especially in the sciences. With tuition of just over $6,000 for New York State residents, it is an incredible bargain (out-of-state students pay almost $20,000 in tuition).

3. Weighing the Public Options

For families who need or want to take advantage of public higher education to keep costs down, the CUNY and SUNY systems offer almost anything a student could want—from a two-year technical or liberal arts degree to a four-year technical or liberal arts degree to a graduate degree in one of many fields, including medicine and law. Students can start out at a two-year CUNY or SUNY campus and transfer to a four-year CUNY or SUNY campus after that and then go on to a CUNY or SUNY graduate program, taking full advantage of one or both public education systems.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • CUNY vs. SUNY
  • Dormitory living vs. commuting to campus, even in New York City
  • The pitfalls of working while a college student

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Episode 1: Public, Private, and Proprietary Colleges

This episode is part of our series on understanding the world of college. In this episode, we talk about the differences between public, private, and proprietary colleges.

For detailed show notes including links to all the colleges mentioned in this episode, visit http://usacollegechat.org/1.

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

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

Welcome to the first episode of NYCollegeChat, a weekly podcast for New York State parents and high school students about the world of college. NYCollegeChat is a program of Policy Studies in Education and is hosted by Regina Paul and Marie Segares.

This episode is part of our series on understanding the world of college and is focused on the differences among public, private, and proprietary colleges.

NYCollegeChat Public, Private, and Proprietary CollegesPublic College Funding

Public colleges are paid for, at least in part, by state and local governments—that means, by your taxes—primarily for the benefit of their own residents.

States fund public colleges. New York has the State University of New York, with its 64 two-year and four-year campuses. Some states have more than one system of colleges, like California’s University of California campuses, California State University campuses, and California Community Colleges campuses.

Some local governments, like big cities and counties, can afford to help fund their own public higher education—like the City University of New York or Dallas County Community College District. Even in those cases, however, the state governments provide part of the funding, at least in some cases.

But even with public colleges that are supported by tax dollars, student tuition is a major source of revenue.

2. Public College Enrollment and Tuition

Public colleges usually have a large student enrollment—larger than most, but not all, private colleges.

Public colleges have lower tuition than private colleges, so the cost of attending a public college is lower than attending a private college, unless a student has been awarded a generous scholarship by a private college. Of course, students can be awarded scholarships by public colleges, too, making the cost of attending a public college even more attractive.

3. Attitudes About Private Colleges

Private colleges, which are funded by the tuition of its students and by donations from its alumni and others, are often seen as being more prestigious or as being “better” colleges than public colleges. The fact is the some private colleges are indeed better than some public colleges; another fact is that some public colleges are better than some private colleges.

What is “better”? Students are smarter. Professors are better educated. Classes are smaller. Extracurricular activities are more available. Campus facilities are more impressive. Alumni are more successful. The fact is that some public colleges beat some private colleges in all these areas, so it pays to know as much as you can about what a variety of colleges have to offer your child.

4. Proprietary Colleges

Public and private colleges are nonprofit organizations whose first responsibility is to their students. Proprietary colleges are profit-making organizations whose first responsibility is to its owners and stockholders.

That does not mean that proprietary colleges provide a bad education; in fact, some provide a very good education.

You should have a close look at any proprietary colleges your child is interested in. Check out their majors, their courses, their faculty, their costs, and their record of success.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Great public colleges you might consider
  • Public and private college names that are misleading
  • The special public–private partnership that is Cornell University (Ithaca, New York), made up of 3 public colleges and 4 private colleges

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