Episode 100: Historically Black College and University Freshman Enrollment on the Rise

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Well, it is the 100th episode of our podcast, which started out as NYCollegeChat and then rapidly became USACollegeChat when we realized that everything we had to say was useful to families all over the USA and not just in our home state of New York. In the television business, having 100 episodes is a big deal because it means that the show lasted long enough and with sufficient quality to be syndicated (actually, it’s really only 88 episodes, or what used to be four full 22-episode seasons–not that anyone can figure out how many episodes are in television seasons anymore or even when the seasons begin and end). In our case, 100 episodes is about two years at our weekly pace. It’s as though we are now Law & Order–rest in peace, song-and-dance man extraordinare Jerry Orbach. And while we won’t be reaping the financial benefits of all those residuals that Law & Order stars get, we are still happy about the work we have done on these first 100 episodes.

historically-black-college-and-university-freshman-enrollment-on-the-rise-on-usacollegechatToday also brings to mind one of my own favorite podcasts: Sodajerker On Songwriting, brought to you by the U.K. songwriting team of Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor, who do fascinating interviews with great songwriters. They are fond of saying that they have the #1 songwriting podcast in the world. Even though they have no credible evidence to back up that claim, they thought that, if they said it enough, it would be true. In the spirit of Simon and Brian, let me say that Marie and I are proud to have the #1 podcast on college issues and college access in the world. Evidence to come.

In light of our recent presidential election and the understandable response to it by many, many Americans, including many Americans of color, we thought we would use today’s episode to pay tribute to our nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). This is something we do relatively often, I think, and for good reason. It’s no secret to our regular listeners that I think Fisk University (an HBCU in Nashville, TN) is one of our national treasures, and I won’t bore you here with all of the reasons I think that. Just trust me that it is (or go back and listen to Episode 32, among others).

As recently as Episode 90, we spotlighted HBCUs. We said then that there are just over 100 HBCUs, and that they are public and private, large and small (even very small), faith-based and not, two-year and four-year colleges and universities; some also have graduate schools.

As our regular listeners know by now, HBCUs were founded to serve students who had been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. The three earliest HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio before the Civil War, but many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War. Those Southern HBCUs share a proud tradition of becoming the first colleges to provide higher education to the family members of freed slaves. Over the years, HBCUs have produced extraordinary leaders in every field of endeavor and thousands and thousands of well-educated American citizens.

1. Enrollment Is Up

Today, HBCUs enroll students who are not black–just as predominantly white institutions (PWIs) now enroll students who are not white. Some observers have said that it had become harder for HBCUs to recruit African-American students now that they are welcome at all kinds of colleges all across the U.S. Well, perhaps we are seeing a change in that trend.

According to a late September article by Timothy Pratt in The Hechinger Report (“Why more black students are enrolling in historically black colleges“), Spelman College, an excellent women’s HBCU in Atlanta, had a record number of applications for spots in this fall’s freshman class. Pratt explains in his article that many other HBCUs have also enjoyed enrollment increases:

Although many schools are still crunching the numbers, about a third of all HBCUs have seen spikes in freshmen enrollment this year, said Marybeth Gasman, higher education professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Some are reversing declines that date to the economic downturn of 2008. (quoted from the article)

Some of the freshman enrollment statistics that Pratt provides in his article are rather amazing:

2. Why Is Enrollment Up?

So, why the increase? Pratt offers some explanations in his article:

Several observers, including Gasman, primarily attribute the surge in interest to racial tensions on and off college campuses. . . . But others say the schools themselves deserve at least some of the credit, for making changes in everything from recruiting practices to out-of-state tuition prices. . . .

Gasman said she is hearing more than ever before from parents who ‘don’t want [their children] to deal with what they’re seeing in other places.’ Black students, she said, ‘are feeling they need a place to go that has them in mind.’ Such calls and emails from parents usually increase after police shootings, she said. (quoted from the article)

And we have to wonder whether calls and emails from parents will increase in light of the results of our presidential election–an event that has clearly worried many black families. Perhaps the subtitle of Pratt’s article says it all:

In the era of Black Lives Matter, some students feel safer on majority-black campuses

But the results of our presidential election also understandably worried many Latino families. Interestingly, there was an article a year ago in The Atlantic that focused on an increase of Latino students at HBCUs. Here is one quotation from that article:

Deborah Santiago, chief operating officer and vice president for policy at Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that promotes the interests of Latinos in higher education, says that HBCUs generally tend to be more student focused and have faculty who are culturally competent, making them attractive to emerging populations such as Latinos. (quoted from the article)

Gasman was also quoted in The Atlantic article, saying that Latino students often felt more comfortable in the family-like environment of many HBCUs and that low tuition rates at HBCUs were an added plus. Will the election results drive even more Latino students to HBCUs, where they, too, will perhaps feel safer and more valued? Or will the election results drive up enrollment numbers at Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), which we have also talked about at USACollegeChat in several episodes? That’s just a thought.

But let’s look further at both the favorable tuition rates and the caring environment at many HBCUs. Pratt wrote about both in his article:

Cost has long been seen as a plus for HBCUs. Penn’s Gasman estimates that HBCU tuition rates are 50 percent lower than those of their historically white counterparts; about a third of HBCUs have tuition and fees under $15,000. As more attention is drawn to rising tuition and student debt, these schools may become more appealing, said Melissa Wooten, sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of ‘In the Face of Inequality: How Black Colleges Adapt.’

A Gallup poll released last year of black graduates of HBCUs and other colleges also sparked conversation, noted Robert Palmer, a professor in the department of educational leadership and policy studies at Howard University. The poll results showed that HBCU graduates were about twice as likely as graduates of other colleges to strongly agree with such statements as, ‘my professors ? cared about me as a person.’ (quoted from the article)

Now that we have given you all of these arguments, what might you do with them before college applications are due in just about six weeks? Well, we believe that you should think hard about putting an HBCU on your teenager’s list of colleges, especially if your family is black or Latino. It is not too late. HBCUs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are well known (like Fisk, Spelman, Morehouse, Howard, Tuskegee, Hampton, and Lincoln), and others are not–just like PWIs. Some are very selective, and others are not–just like PWIs. Is there an HBCU for you? There probably is. We hope you find it.

3. It’s Thanksgiving!

So, in case you hadn’t heard, next Thursday is Thanksgiving. We are going to take the day off. Instead of listening to our podcast, why don’t you just listen to what your kids are saying about school these days? We have been seriously troubled–even enraged–by some of the stories we have heard about how kids have reacted to the results of our presidential election. One of the saddest of those stories comes from Queens, right here in New York City, where a group of white seventh grade students in a class built a wall out of textbooks to separate their Latino classmates from them.

Now, Queens is the most diverse county in the U.S. Our kids here have classmates of every conceivable cultural, racial, and ethnic background from the time they are kindergartners–and now pre-kindergartners, given Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent push for pre-K public education. So, how did the seventh graders in my story end up like that? It is something I am going to ponder this Thanksgiving, and I hope you will, too.

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

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Episode 94: Narrowing Down Your Teenager’s College List–Step 2

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

In our last episode, we started narrowing down your teenager’s long summer list of college options.  It made me sad to do it, but I had to admit that fall was here and it was time.  But we hope that you have plenty of colleges left on that list–at least 15 for now.  And we know that many of them would be a great choice for your teenager, because, as we said last week, there is not just one perfect choice for him or her.

First, let us remind you that you can now complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known to all as the FAFSA.  Fill it out and file it now.  Fill it out by yourself, get help from your teenager’s high school or a local library, or buy help from a service.  But, however you want to do it, get the form filed, even if you are not sure you will need it and even if you are not expecting to qualify for a lot of financial aid.  There is no reason not to fill it out and file it.

Second, let us remind you, as we have been doing for the past couple of weeks, that those Early Decision and Early Action deadlines are approaching–mostly around November 1.  While Early Decision is a serious and binding agreement, Early Action is not.  I cannot see any good reason not to apply for Early Action if colleges your teenager is interested in have it?unless perhaps you are waiting and hoping for improved SAT or ACT scores from November or December test administrations.  However, as we have said before, even students applying to colleges under Early Decision or Early Action plans will need some colleges on their lists in case those early acceptances don’t come in.

In Episode 93, we took Step 1 in narrowing down your teenager’s list.  We looked at college selectivity, as many counselors do, and offered the following advice:  Be brutal in considering colleges that are too academically demanding for your teenager (based on the GPAs, admission test scores, and sometimes class ranks of admitted or enrolled freshmen and based on required and recommended high school courses) and be equally brutal in considering colleges that are not academically demanding enough for your teenager.  You need only two or three super-demanding ones on your teenager’s list, and you need only two not-very-demanding ones, at least one of which should be a public four-year college in your home state that you feel okay about sending your teenager to.  That leaves a lot of spots open for colleges that seem to you are just about right–perhaps 10 or so.

1.  Step 2:  College Academics Filter

Step 2 in narrowing down the list–if it is indeed needs to be narrowed down any more–is to look at college academics from several perspectives.

First, does each college left on the list offer the field of study that your teenager is most interested in at the moment?  You can look back at summer Assignment #1 (in Episode 81) and double check the academic departments and the majors that each college has and the majors your teenager recorded as being most appealing to him or her.

Now, we have to say that this step worries us a bit.  We have seen many, many students change their major, their academic department, and even their school within a university after a semester or a year or even two years of college.  It is not unusual, as anyone with any experience in higher education will tell you.  We worry most when an option on your teenager’s list is a specialized college or a specialized school within a larger university and does not offer a liberal arts alternative in addition to the specialty.  Fortunately, I think that more and more specialized institutions–including well-known fine arts colleges and well-respected technical colleges, such as engineering schools–are requiring that students take some core liberal arts courses, which can be used as the basis for transferring to another academic field when the first one doesn’t work out quite as the student expected.

But to take the other side for a moment, if your teenager is dead set on majoring in civil engineering or genetics or French or art history or sports management or anything else, make sure that the colleges on the list have that major–and, preferably, have a well-respected program in that field.  You will know if it does because the college will happily claim that on its website.

Second, does the college have a core curriculum/general education curriculum/distribution requirements plan and is that a positive or a negative for your teenager?  Look back at Assignment #7 (in Episode 87) to see what your teenager recorded for each college on the list.  You will recall that we talked about many kinds of core curricula.  Some seemed easy to manage, some seemed far more demanding; some required many courses across many fields, some required far fewer fields to be covered.  You and your teenager might not agree on whether a core curriculum is a plus or a minus.  Just remember that your teenager is the one taking the courses.  If a college has core curriculum requirements that are super-objectionable to your teenager, now would be a good time to take that college off the list.

Next, let’s look at the college schedule, recorded back on Assignment #9 (in Episode 89).  Sometimes the academic term schedule can make the existence of various curriculum requirements more or less attractive or manageable.  For example, if you can take just one course at a time, maybe a math requirement would not be as scary to some students.  Or, if you can take courses on 7-week or 10-week schedules rather than 15-week schedules, maybe a student would be more willing to take courses outside his or her comfort zone.  And maybe now that your teenager sees the variety of innovative schedules out there, the idea of traditional 15-week terms is just plain boring.  So, take a careful look at the schedules of the colleges left on the list.

Finally, let’s look at a part of college academics that we did not zero in on when we did the summer assignments, and we should have.  (Don’t worry; it will be in the new book when it comes out.)  This particular piece of information might have shown up way back in Assignment #1 (in Episode 81) when we asked you to note on the worksheet “other appealing and/or unusual things about this college.”  That piece of information is the college’s grading practices.

Now, I am going to say that, in most cases, the college’s grading practices are pretty traditional.  And that might be fine with you and your teenager.  However, there are some colleges that are anything but traditional when it comes to evaluating student progress.  I was reminded of that when I read recently an exceptional statement by Jonathan Lash, the president of Hampshire College in Massachusetts.  You might recall that we spotlighted Hampshire in our virtual nationwide tour of colleges, back in Episode 43, where we said this:

Hampshire is the fifth member of the Five College Consortium, centered in Amherst.  It is by far the newest of the five colleges, having been founded in 1970 after a long planning process, and it is the least traditional of them as well.  Its students are bright, creative, and motivated.  While very selective in admitting freshmen to a student body of just 1,400 students, Hampshire does not consider college admission test scores “in any way” for admission or for financial aid awards.  Its students study in five interdisciplinary schools and create their own individualized majors?called “the concentration” at Hampshire.  The concentration includes courses and required volunteer work at Hampshire or in the community and required work from various cultural viewpoints as well as fieldwork and internships, if they make sense for the self-designed program.  As seniors, Hampshire students complete a self-designed rigorous final independent project, which includes original work, similar to a graduate thesis.  The campus is lovely and idyllic.  The price tag is predictable at about $47,000 in tuition per year.  My visit to Hampshire with my son about five years ago made me want to go back to school and go there myself.

And so, I read with interest what President Lash had to say in an opinion piece in The Hechinger Report, (September 15, 2016) entitled “Why do schools use grades that teach nothing?”  While I would happily read you the entire piece, you can go do that yourselves.  By the way, his piece also includes an eloquent defense of Hampshire’s decision to ignore college admissions test scores.  But here are quite a few paragraphs that cast an insightful light on the issue of grading and whether grading should perhaps make a difference in the college your teenager chooses:

A few years ago I was speaking to a group of parents whose children had just started Hampshire College. A father asked a question that was on many minds: “How can your college be rigorous without grading student work?” Before I could respond, another parent stood up and asked, “May I answer that?” I nodded with interest.

“I run a company,” he said, “and I have a few thousand employees in multiple locations. They’d be mystified if our managers started to give them grades. We manage by setting goals, evaluating progress, and mentoring employees on how to improve their performance. What would a letter grade tell them?”

At the college where I serve as president, we do evaluate student work; we just use a higher-quality method. Our students receive written evaluations not only on every assignment, but also for every course and learning activity. These evaluations are designed to be formative teaching tools?.

When we reduce students to numbers and grades, they and we focus on test-taking skills and grade requirements rather than on learning.

At Hampshire, instead of grades, our professors weigh performance against course goals using criteria such as a student’s demonstration of analytic thinking and writing skills, research abilities, use of primary and secondary literature/substantiation of claims, ability to use data, integration of theory and practice?.

After almost five decades of our professors’ assessing students using written evaluations, we’ve seen and documented their benefits as an alternative to grades. Grades tell students the absolute minimum about their abilities; they tell them only whether they have earned enough points under a teacher’s rubric to get a good mark.

Too many students use grades to figure out how to do only what’s required, asking their teachers questions like “What do I have to do to get an A?” At the same time, they’re trying to determine the minimum they can “know” to pass. “How can I game the system?” “What are the fluff courses that will get me an easy A?”

Grading systems also risk pitting students and teachers against each other through arguments about a grade and create counterproductive competition as students vie to outperform one another.

At many elite institutions, grades are absurdly inflated by professors with the result that students across the board receive more A’s than C’s. This has reduced the A-F grading system to little more than one of pass/fail.

In narrative-evaluation systems, students never have to worry about accumulating a GPA. Instead, they focus on the quality of their work, with guidance from teachers who are often learning with them. Evaluations create closer relationships between teacher and student and enhance the teacher’s role as mentor.

Evaluations enable teachers to diagnose weaknesses, reflect on growth, and present constructive ideas for improvement and intellectual development — and discuss it all with their students.

Using evaluations, students can concentrate on learning. Progress toward graduation is measured by the development of intellectual skills rather than the accumulation of credit hours?.

Narrative evaluations suggest ways to keep building on student effort and success. Any student can improve. Intelligence isn’t fixed; it’s malleable. And education is about growth and improvement?.

How do our students compare with the alumni of traditional, GPA-reliant programs? According to federal data compiled and reported by the National Science Foundation, Hampshire College ranks in the top 1.4 percent of U.S. colleges by alumni who advance to earn a doctorate. By this measure, we rank #30 in a nation of 4,000 colleges, side by side with the most distinguished institutions of higher learning.

And that’s without ever giving any student even one grade.  (quoted from the article)

Enough said, President Lash.  So, maybe grading practices should be something your teenager and you look at closely.

2.  Do You Have Enough Left on the List?

What I would do if I were you is check first to see whether my teenager’s likely major is available at every college still on the list. I would probably take any college that doesn’t have that major off the list–unless it has something else fabulous to recommend it.  I would also make sure that many of the remaining colleges offered a liberal arts program, just in case my teenager changed her mind even before next April.

With that done, I would make sure that my teenager felt comfortable with any core curriculum requirements or felt equally comfortable not having any.  Personally, I like some distribution requirements, but not a ridiculous number.  But that’s my view.  What’s my teenager’s view?  After figuring that out, I might narrow down the list, if necessary.

Finally, I would talk with my teenager about college schedules and grading practices.  Some sound so intriguing–much more intriguing than any options I remember from 1970.  I wouldn’t see myself taking any schedule options or grading options off the table, but my teenager might.  Act accordingly.

So, Step 2 is done.  I hope you didn’t lose too many options from your teenager’s list.  Maybe you didn’t lose any.  I’m okay if you still have 15 or more colleges on the list as we move forward to Step 3 next week.

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

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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Episode 78: Are You Looking at Colleges or Party Venues?

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Last week, we began our new summer series, entitled The Search Begins. This series is dedicated to those of you?primarily the parents of juniors?who are starting the serious college hunt now. In Episode 77, we talked about the number of college applications your teenager would ideally be making in the fall. While a bit dependent on what your teenager is interested in studying and on how broad a range of college options you all want to consider, we recommended between 8 and 12 applications–after carefully thinking through and winnowing down the options.

Are You Looking at Colleges or Party Venues? on USACollegeChat

Recently, I read an interesting perspective on college applications and admissions in The Hechinger Report, which is usually a good source of informative pieces on education. This opinion piece was written by Claire Schultz, a senior at Princeton High School in New Jersey. This fall, Claire will be off to University College London, a public research university in the U.K., founded in 1826 to serve students previously excluded from higher education and boasting alumni from Alexander Graham Bell to Francis Crick (a co-discoverer of the DNA double helix) to all four members of Coldplay, a little band your kids know, who met there as freshmen. In her piece, Claire talks about two issues, offering one solution that is obvious in the title: “American colleges need to end admissions “Hunger Games” and take a page from the U.K. playbook instead.” It worries me that our high school students feel as though they need to solve our U.S. college application and admission problem, but it’s impressive at the same time.

1. Too Many Applications

Claire talks about a topic we have addressed more than once recently at USACollegeChat: the growing number of college applications being submitted, which leads to the increasing selectivity of colleges and lower admission rates, which in turn leads to more applications being made, and so on and so on and so on. This process is, for many students–especially for bright students applying to first-rate colleges–becoming the “vicious cycle” that Claire describes.

Claire says, “I took a step to remove myself from the system, and applied to schools in the U.K.” Noting that the U.K. system is different from ours, she believes that we can learn something from it. Here is her description of the system in the U.K.:

[Y]ou can apply to Oxford or Cambridge (not both), and a total of five schools. As you apply to a specific subject, you write one single personal statement explaining why you are qualified for the course; you may have to complete a subsequent interview, again on academic merit. There is a set of grade-based entry requirements you will have to make at the end of your senior year, but that’s it. (quoted from the article)

Why not have the Common Application, accepted by over 600 colleges today, limit the number of applications a student can submit from its website, Claire asks? She believes that some students are applying just to apply and aren’t even really interested in some of the colleges they are applying to. She offers her view of college acceptance time at Princeton High School:

For so many top schools, I saw the same students admitted over and over again. I saw other students who were tremendously qualified not get into any of them. I saw some people not get into schools that would have been a terrific match, which they would have attended in a heartbeat, while others who were accepted saw them as safety nets and never really planned on attending. So why do we let this happen? You could argue something about The American Way and ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty,’ but all it really is is a college admission ‘Hunger Games’?dangerously competitive and only the most prepared survive. (quoted from the article)

Unfortunately, probably true–especially at top-ranked high schools. Claire proposes that applications be capped at 10–a number I like pretty well inasmuch as our recommendation last week was 8 to 12. Frankly, I am glad that our recommendation will seem sensible to a kid who has thought as much about this as Claire has. Of course, capping the number of Common App college applications won’t entirely solve the problem because students can apply to other colleges that do not accept the Common App. But her point is still clear: Control the number of applications to optimize positive admissions decisions for everyone.

2. Is It a College or an “Experience”?

So, let’s look at the second issue that Claire brings up, and I think it is even more intriguing. In describing her applications to U.K. colleges, Claire writes this:

There are no essays asking about ‘a journey’ or what celebrity you’d like to have to lunch, no extracurricular jumping through hoops. Plain and simple, are you good at what you do? . . . I’d want to see the focus of the college admissions process brought back to school, if only a little bit. (quoted from the article)

It’s refreshing, I guess, to see a high school student who wishes that college admissions were more about how well you did in your academic studies and exams and how well you can write about what study you plan to pursue in college and why you are well equipped to do that. On the other hand, some U.S. colleges also ask students to write an essay about that topic–though it is typically one of the supplemental essays in an application that has several essays to complete. The difference is, in the U.K., that is the essay.

Claire continues with these observations:

When I applied to U.S. schools, I wrote essays about my biggest fears and hopes and dreams, I was sold student centers and dorm rooms and meal plans. Underneath all of the football games and paraphernalia, I was not being shown a school, I was being sold an experience. These colleges seemed to care less about me as a student than me as a well-rounded, ‘holistic’ individual. When I toured schools in England, I was shown classrooms and students studying in libraries rather than well-polished amenities (most students lived in private housing and cooked for themselves, anyway). (quoted from the article)

Well, that couldn’t be more interesting. It recalls for me a comment that my husband made more than once as we were looking at colleges for our children. He used to say, “Are we choosing a college or a country club?” He was responding to what Claire calls “well-polished amenities.”

Now, I am going to be the first to say that I personally like a well-polished amenity or two. I am okay with great-looking dorms (my daughter certainly had that at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus?suite-style dorms so nice that my husband and I would have been happy to live there, within spitting distance of New York City’s magnificent Lincoln Center). And I am fond of attractive sorority and fraternity houses, too (I lived in one), though I fear that they might be part of what Claire calls “paraphernalia.” And who doesn’t love a good football game, Claire–and baseball game and basketball game and soccer game, etc.? Yes, I love college sports, too (and wrote about them for my college newspaper).

Nonetheless, I do like the idea that Claire saw students at work (and, by “work,” I mean studying) when she visited schools in the U.K.–and that she was impressed by that. Of course, many of our U.S. colleges try to get prospective applicants into a classroom to observe a class firsthand, too–and they should, according to Claire.

So, where does all this leave Claire and me? I guess it leaves us here, as Claire concluded about her U.K. visits:

It was nice to see what I’d be paying huge amounts of money for?not a four-year party, but a school with actual classes and exams. (quoted from the article)

Parents, I am sure that you, too, would like to think that you are paying for a school–for the professors, for the instructional facilities, and even for the intellectual camaraderie of the students. Do you want kids to be happy at college? Of course you do. But do you also–and more significantly–want them to revel in what they are learning and believe that they are learning from the best and brightest professors anywhere? I bet you do.

Claire’s view suggests that, during the recruitment of new freshmen, U.S. colleges–at least some of them, anyway–have tipped the scale a bit too far toward “well-polished amenities.” She would like them to tip the scale back a bit toward “actual classes.” So, U.S. colleges, are you listening–just in case you want to pick up a few students like Claire (and, frankly, what college wouldn’t)? Think about what you are showing off to your prospective candidates. Are you a party venue or a school?

If I were Claire’s mother, I would be proud of her thoughtful opinions. If you have a teenager at home–one who might be tipped himself or herself a bit too far toward looking for the “well-polished amenities”–tell them about Claire. You can probably find her next fall in the library in London. (But, Claire, don’t forget to have tea at the V&A–London’s unparalleled Victoria & Albert Museum–because that is unforgettable and you can bring a book to read.)

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Episode 25: Why Guidance Counselors Are Not Enough

This episode is the first in Series 4: Looking at Colleges Outside Your Comfort Zone.

Our fourth series is going to deal with getting you outside your comfort zone of college choices. For many families, that comfort zone is actually a physical, geographic zone. We have talked with many families who would strongly prefer their children to stay near home to go to college—often that means in the same city, sometimes it means within weekend-commuting distance, and it almost always means in the same state. I saw a statistic recently that more than 70 percent of high school graduates go to college in their home state. Wow.

We know that many families are perfectly happy to be part of that group for a variety of reasons, including money concerns, cultural background, safety concerns, and general worries about sending their less-than-perfectly-mature teenagers too far from home. However, we are going to talk about another reason that we think so many students stay in their home states for college, and that is the role of guidance counselors in high schools.

Over the past 40 years, I have spent a lot of time in high schools all over the U.S. and have had a lot of chances to observe students and staff members at work. As an outside consultant, I have worked closely with many of those staff members—teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, and others—and I have talked for hours and hours with students and their parents, individually and in groups. I have watched guidance counselors deal with students in serious trouble—especially personal and interpersonal trouble. I have been amazed at what students have to cope with at home and at school and how guidance counselors are called upon to help them cope. That is a full-time job for anyone.

Perhaps that is exactly why a high school guidance counselor cannot help your child enough when it comes to exploring college options—especially options not located close to home. That is not to say there are not some guidance counselors whose high schools have allowed them to specialize in college placement and who have become experts in the world of college and its overwhelming number of opportunities. If your child’s high school has such a guidance counselor, you are lucky indeed. But that is not what is typical, in my experience.

1. Questions To Ask Guidance Counselors

If I were a parent of a high school student now (as I have been in the last decade, three times over) and if I were relying on a guidance counselor—or any other college advisor at the high school—to help my child navigate the world of college options, I would ask that person these three questions:

1) How many colleges have you visited? This sounds like a low hurdle, but I am convinced that many guidance counselors and other college advisors do not have a broad background of visiting and investigating in person a wide variety of colleges—in your home town, in your state, in your region of the U.S., in other regions of the U.S., and abroad. Even though your child might end up going to college in your home state for a variety of reasons, it is not good enough for someone to advise your child on what colleges to consider if that person has not “seen it all”—or, at least a lot of it. Your child’s college advisor should be able to talk about a variety of urban, suburban, and rural college campuses from firsthand impressions of those campuses and then to discuss whether a beautiful campus or a certain geographic location close to or far away from home or a particular type of setting makes any difference to your child.

Based on my own college visits, I might ask someone trying to advise my child these questions: “Have you seen the handsome University of Washington campus or the color of the buildings at Stanford University or Thomas Jefferson’s realized vision for the University of Virginia? Have you been in the freezing cold of the University of Chicago or the sweltering heat of Rice University? Have you been on the University of Pennsylvania’s City-of-Brotherly-Love urban campus or Savannah College of Art and Design’s campus in the prettiest city in the South or the picture-perfect setting on the Thames River of the lower-division campus of Richmond, the American International University in London? Have you seen the grand LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas or the world-class Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University? Have you seen idyllic Kenyon College’s Middle Path in the middle of nowhere or majestic Columbia University in the middle of everything?”

Why do you think that parents who can afford it take their children on the traditional college tour so that they can see the options? Because sometimes place means a lot. If someone has not seen, say, 150 such places—college campuses of all sizes, locations, and settings—I would not want that person advising my child.

2) How many colleges have you studied at or had family and close friends and former students study at? Yes, I know that most people (guidance counselors and other college advisors included) probably studied at only one or two or possibly three colleges, but were they all pretty much the same? Ideally, someone advising my child would have some experience—either firsthand or close secondhand—with the variety of higher education institutions available.

Remember, as we said in earlier episodes, there are the public and private and combination public/private institutions, two-year and four-year institutions, liberal arts and technical schools, big universities and small colleges, single-sex and coeducational schools, faith-based institutions, HBCUs, military service academies, fine arts and engineering and business schools, and more. That is a lot. While no individual can know about each of these types of institutions firsthand as a student, I would want someone advising my college-bound child to know about most of these at least secondhand—that is, by the testimony of thoughtful family members and informed friends and trusted former students who had attended them. If a guidance counselor or other college advisor cannot be an expert in every individual college, he or she should at least be an expert in the types of institutions that are available to my child.

3) How many colleges have you worked at or closely with? Most guidance counselors and other college advisors based in high schools have not also worked at colleges, and that’s a shame. Yes, they were all once students in college, but that view is very different from the view you get as an employee at a college or even as a consultant to a college. You can learn a lot about the operations of a college when you are working backstage, and you can better figure out how those operations impact students.

For example, if a guidance counselor had worked with college support services offices, it would be easier to judge what services might realistically be available for a student with special needs. Or, if a guidance counselor had worked with a number of college department chairs, it would be clearer how difficult it might be for a student to change his or her major if that student started down the wrong path. Or, if a guidance counselor had worked with college registrars, it would be easier to figure out how to get a student credit for college courses taken while a student was still in high school.

Of course, all colleges are not the same. But a firsthand dose of working at a college can sometimes go a long way toward helping students choose a college that is a good fit.

If your guidance counselor or college advisor does not have good answers to these questions, then get whatever additional help you might need so that your child makes the best college choice possible.

2. Inequity in College Counseling

Recently, I read a powerful article in The Hechinger Report, entitled “Rich School, Poor School,” by Erin Einhorn, and the subtitle of her article tells it all: “How the class divide is widened by gaps in counseling kids for college.” Ms. Einhorn’s story tells the sad truth that many professional educators know, but would like to forget, and that many parents know instinctively. The sad truth is that there is no equity in college counseling services for U.S. high school students; in other words, a student’s chances of getting into a selective college are clearly improved by attending a great high school—public or private—where dedicated college counselors know how to make the college applications system work for those students. Quite often, those public schools are in relatively wealthy suburban locations.

I worked recently with a couple of students who attended two first-rate high schools in the metropolitan New York City area. One was a famous competitive public high school in New York City, where only the best students are admitted, based on their high school admissions test scores, and where I am guessing virtually all graduates go on to college; the other was a well-respected, academically rigorous public high school in one of the richest towns on Long Island, where I am guessing virtually all graduates go on to college. To be honest, I was not impressed with the work of the college counselors in either one. They recommended to my two students mostly colleges in New York State, plus any colleges outside New York State that the students had already discovered for themselves.

Now, the two schools had full-time college counselors, who had access to fancy software that kept track of where students had applied and who, at least, tried to keep students on a schedule that would get college applications done on time. Of course, these students were also supported by the strong college-going culture that is present in such schools—schools where students spend a lot of time talking to each other about the great colleges they are applying to and then the great colleges they got into.

It’s just not fair, I thought, reflecting on Ms. Einhorn’s story about the vastly different college counseling services available in a private school and a public school not 20 miles apart in Bloomfield Hills and Detroit, Michigan. But what is fair? Our wise principal at the Early College public high school we co-founded in Brooklyn had an unusual definition of “fair.” Chris Aguirre used to say, “Fair is not when every student gets the same thing. Fair is when every student gets what he or she needs.” Man, with that definition, low-income students in poor urban neighborhoods should be getting three or four times as much college counseling support as upper-middle-class students in rich suburban high schools and private schools. Everyone knows that it is just the opposite now. The kids who need college counseling least actually get the most. Upper-middle-class kids whose parents and school culture could handily make up for a lack of counseling time and expertise benefit from the most counseling time and expertise.

Marie and I like to think that NYCollegeChat can help make up for that lack of counseling time and expertise—whether your child is in a large urban high school where guidance counselors typically have their hands full or a medium-sized suburban high school where there is a lot of competition for college counseling services or a small rural high school where a guidance counselor might have to wear many hats.

So what we are going to do during this fourth series is take you around the country to different regions and spotlight some colleges you might not have thought about for your child or indeed might not even have known about. We are going to look at some selective colleges for students with great grades and admissions test scores and some not-so-selective colleges for students with just average grades and admissions test scores. We are going to try to take you out of your geographic comfort zone to show you some places that might be more appealing to your child than what is right next door. We are also going to talk about why going away could be a financial plus for you and why going away might actually get your child into a better college than staying at home. So tune in next week.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
The kind of personalized list of colleges your guidance counselor should be providing for your child
What we lost when college field trips were cut out of high school activities
The pluses and minuses of online searches for colleges you might be interested in

Links to all the higher education institutions we mention can be found on the show notes for today’s episode at http://usacollegechat.org/25

Connect with us through…
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
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Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Commenting on the notes for today’s episode at http://usacollegechat.org/25.
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

This episode is the first in Series 4: Looking at Colleges Outside Your Comfort Zone.

Episode 25:  Why Guidance Counselors Are Not Enough on NYCollegeChat

Our fourth series is going to deal with getting you outside your comfort zone of college choices. For many families, that comfort zone is actually a physical, geographic zone. We have talked with many families who would strongly prefer their children to stay near home to go to college—often that means in the same city, sometimes it means within weekend-commuting distance, and it almost always means in the same state. I saw a statistic recently that more than 70 percent of high school graduates go to college in their home state. Wow.

We know that many families are perfectly happy to be part of that group for a variety of reasons, including money concerns, cultural background, safety concerns, and general worries about sending their less-than-perfectly-mature teenagers too far from home. However, we are going to talk about another reason that we think so many students stay in their home states for college, and that is the role of guidance counselors in high schools.

Over the past 40 years, I have spent a lot of time in high schools all over the U.S. and have had a lot of chances to observe students and staff members at work. As an outside consultant, I have worked closely with many of those staff members—teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, and others—and I have talked for hours and hours with students and their parents, individually and in groups. I have watched guidance counselors deal with students in serious trouble—especially personal and interpersonal trouble. I have been amazed at what students have to cope with at home and at school and how guidance counselors are called upon to help them cope. That is a full-time job for anyone.

Perhaps that is exactly why a high school guidance counselor cannot help your child enough when it comes to exploring college options—especially options not located close to home. That is not to say there are not some guidance counselors whose high schools have allowed them to specialize in college placement and who have become experts in the world of college and its overwhelming number of opportunities. If your child’s high school has such a guidance counselor, you are lucky indeed. But that is not what is typical, in my experience.

1. Questions To Ask Guidance Counselors

If I were a parent of a high school student now (as I have been in the last decade, three times over) and if I were relying on a guidance counselor—or any other college advisor at the high school—to help my child navigate the world of college options, I would ask that person these three questions:

1) How many colleges have you visited? This sounds like a low hurdle, but I am convinced that many guidance counselors and other college advisors do not have a broad background of visiting and investigating in person a wide variety of colleges—in your home town, in your state, in your region of the U.S., in other regions of the U.S., and abroad. Even though your child might end up going to college in your home state for a variety of reasons, it is not good enough for someone to advise your child on what colleges to consider if that person has not “seen it all”—or, at least a lot of it. Your child’s college advisor should be able to talk about a variety of urban, suburban, and rural college campuses from firsthand impressions of those campuses and then to discuss whether a beautiful campus or a certain geographic location close to or far away from home or a particular type of setting makes any difference to your child.

Based on my own college visits, I might ask someone trying to advise my child these questions: “Have you seen the handsome University of Washington campus or the color of the buildings at Stanford University or Thomas Jefferson’s realized vision for the University of Virginia? Have you been in the freezing cold of the University of Chicago or the sweltering heat of Rice University? Have you been on the University of Pennsylvania’s City-of-Brotherly-Love urban campus or Savannah College of Art and Design’s campus in the prettiest city in the South or the picture-perfect setting on the Thames River of the lower-division campus of Richmond, the American International University in London? Have you seen the grand LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas or the world-class Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University? Have you seen idyllic Kenyon College’s Middle Path in the middle of nowhere or majestic Columbia University in the middle of everything?”

Why do you think that parents who can afford it take their children on the traditional college tour so that they can see the options? Because sometimes place means a lot. If someone has not seen, say, 150 such places—college campuses of all sizes, locations, and settings—I would not want that person advising my child.

2) How many colleges have you studied at or had family and close friends and former students study at? Yes, I know that most people (guidance counselors and other college advisors included) probably studied at only one or two or possibly three colleges, but were they all pretty much the same? Ideally, someone advising my child would have some experience—either firsthand or close secondhand—with the variety of higher education institutions available.

Remember, as we said in earlier episodes, there are the public and private and combination public/private institutions, two-year and four-year institutions, liberal arts and technical schools, big universities and small colleges, single-sex and coeducational schools, faith-based institutions, HBCUs, military service academies, fine arts and engineering and business schools, and more. That is a lot. While no individual can know about each of these types of institutions firsthand as a student, I would want someone advising my college-bound child to know about most of these at least secondhand—that is, by the testimony of thoughtful family members and informed friends and trusted former students who had attended them. If a guidance counselor or other college advisor cannot be an expert in every individual college, he or she should at least be an expert in the types of institutions that are available to my child.

3) How many colleges have you worked at or closely with? Most guidance counselors and other college advisors based in high schools have not also worked at colleges, and that’s a shame. Yes, they were all once students in college, but that view is very different from the view you get as an employee at a college or even as a consultant to a college. You can learn a lot about the operations of a college when you are working backstage, and you can better figure out how those operations impact students.

For example, if a guidance counselor had worked with college support services offices, it would be easier to judge what services might realistically be available for a student with special needs. Or, if a guidance counselor had worked with a number of college department chairs, it would be clearer how difficult it might be for a student to change his or her major if that student started down the wrong path. Or, if a guidance counselor had worked with college registrars, it would be easier to figure out how to get a student credit for college courses taken while a student was still in high school.

Of course, all colleges are not the same. But a firsthand dose of working at a college can sometimes go a long way toward helping students choose a college that is a good fit.

If your guidance counselor or college advisor does not have good answers to these questions, then get whatever additional help you might need so that your child makes the best college choice possible.

2. Inequity in College Counseling

Recently, I read a powerful article in The Hechinger Report, entitled “Rich School, Poor School,” by Erin Einhorn, and the subtitle of her article tells it all: “How the class divide is widened by gaps in counseling kids for college.” Ms. Einhorn’s story tells the sad truth that many professional educators know, but would like to forget, and that many parents know instinctively. The sad truth is that there is no equity in college counseling services for U.S. high school students; in other words, a student’s chances of getting into a selective college are clearly improved by attending a great high school—public or private—where dedicated college counselors know how to make the college applications system work for those students. Quite often, those public schools are in relatively wealthy suburban locations.

I worked recently with a couple of students who attended two first-rate high schools in the metropolitan New York City area. One was a famous competitive public high school in New York City, where only the best students are admitted, based on their high school admissions test scores, and where I am guessing virtually all graduates go on to college; the other was a well-respected, academically rigorous public high school in one of the richest towns on Long Island, where I am guessing virtually all graduates go on to college. To be honest, I was not impressed with the work of the college counselors in either one. They recommended to my two students mostly colleges in New York State, plus any colleges outside New York State that the students had already discovered for themselves.

Now, the two schools had full-time college counselors, who had access to fancy software that kept track of where students had applied and who, at least, tried to keep students on a schedule that would get college applications done on time. Of course, these students were also supported by the strong college-going culture that is present in such schools—schools where students spend a lot of time talking to each other about the great colleges they are applying to and then the great colleges they got into.

It’s just not fair, I thought, reflecting on Ms. Einhorn’s story about the vastly different college counseling services available in a private school and a public school not 20 miles apart in Bloomfield Hills and Detroit, Michigan. But what is fair? Our wise principal at the Early College public high school we co-founded in Brooklyn had an unusual definition of “fair.” Chris Aguirre used to say, “Fair is not when every student gets the same thing. Fair is when every student gets what he or she needs.” Man, with that definition, low-income students in poor urban neighborhoods should be getting three or four times as much college counseling support as upper-middle-class students in rich suburban high schools and private schools. Everyone knows that it is just the opposite now. The kids who need college counseling least actually get the most. Upper-middle-class kids whose parents and school culture could handily make up for a lack of counseling time and expertise benefit from the most counseling time and expertise.

Marie and I like to think that NYCollegeChat can help make up for that lack of counseling time and expertise—whether your child is in a large urban high school where guidance counselors typically have their hands full or a medium-sized suburban high school where there is a lot of competition for college counseling services or a small rural high school where a guidance counselor might have to wear many hats.

So what we are going to do during this fourth series is take you around the country to different regions and spotlight some colleges you might not have thought about for your child or indeed might not even have known about. We are going to look at some selective colleges for students with great grades and admissions test scores and some not-so-selective colleges for students with just average grades and admissions test scores. We are going to try to take you out of your geographic comfort zone to show you some places that might be more appealing to your child than what is right next door. We are also going to talk about why going away could be a financial plus for you and why going away might actually get your child into a better college than staying at home. So tune in next week.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • The kind of personalized list of colleges your guidance counselor should be providing for your child
  • What we lost when college field trips were cut out of high school activities
  • The pluses and minuses of online searches for colleges you might be interested in

Check out these higher education institutions we mention…

In New York State

Outside of New York State

 

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…