Today, we have figured out a way to talk both about our new book–How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students–and to make good on the title of our current series, Colleges in the Spotlight. As we were writing the book, we realized that we could use a lot of college examples, drawn from our earlier podcast episodes, to illuminate the points we were trying to make. I thought it would be interesting to see just how many colleges were mentioned in the book–and by “mentioned,” I mean that they were used to illustrate the answers to some of the 52 questions that teenagers are asked to find the answers to for each college on their Long List of College Options (LLCO). In a way, these colleges are in our spotlight for things that they are doing right or for characteristics they have that are noteworthy. To find out why we mentioned each college, you are going to have to get the book!
1. Colleges in the Spotlight
So, here we go. Here are the colleges that we thought were worth mentioning–for some reason or other (they are listed roughly in the order in which they are mentioned in the book, and I might have missed a few):
But the new book doesn’t stop with those 60-plus. We also name some great college towns–“great,” according to one of the lists of great college towns that publications love to compile. Do you know what colleges are located in these towns?
College Station, TX
Saratoga Springs, NY
Santa Cruz, CA
St. Augustine, FL
Ann Arbor, MI
Iowa City, IA
2. Now, It’s Up to You
Now, it’s up to you. At least, that is what we say at the end of the book. We wrote this to each student, assuming that he or she had done the assignments as they were presented:
You have done a lot of work to gather information about the colleges on your LLCO. You have completed a College Profile Worksheet on quite a few colleges by now. You have learned more than many high school students know about a variety of specific colleges and about higher education generally.
So, it’s time to start comparing and contrasting the colleges you have researched. That will be a long process, which will require analysis and evaluation by you and your parents and perhaps other important family members. And it’s okay that it is a long process because this is a big decision for all of you.
Remember that choosing which colleges to apply to can be every bit as important as choosing which college to attend. In an ideal world, you should be happy with every college you apply to because that will take the pressure off as you wait for acceptances to come in.
Of course, you might be more excited about some choices than others, but don’t apply to any college that you would not want to attend. That is a waste of your time and money. We are confident that there is a college that you can be admitted to that will make you happy. Even safety schools don’t have to be disappointing choices. If they are for you now, you just haven’t looked hard enough yet! Get busy.
We mean that last point really sincerely: If your teenager’s safety schools are disappointing choices for him or her, you all just haven’t looked hard enough yet. There are great colleges–especially some public flagship universities and some large private universities–that are very likely to admit good students, especially those who come from other states. Having a safety school that your teenager does not want to go to is really not having any safety school at all.
We mean it when we say, “Look harder.” We hope that our new book will help your teenager look harder, think harder, and work harder to expand his or her LLCO, to get exciting colleges onto that LLCO, to learn as much as possible about each one of them (by completing a College Profile Worksheet for each one), and to feel satisfied when all of the applications are submitted–that is, satisfied that all of the colleges he or she applied to are good choices, just for different reasons. And a satisfied teenager is likely to produce a satisfied parent. Or at least it should.
Well, it is almost April 1, the date by which a lot of colleges will make high school seniors happy or sad. In fact, many colleges have already done that in the past two weeks, with some doing so today and tomorrow. We are sure it is a tense time for lots of families–whether it leads to great joy or considerable disappointment. There is hardly a bigger issue in higher education, of course, than the admissions game, its fairness and unfairness, and its results for thousands and thousands of kids. Whatever the case may be, many of you are now in the position of making a final decision about where your teenager is going to go to college next fall.
Last year in April, we did a series of three episodes on making that college decision–one for above-average students, one for average students, one for below-average students–because we felt that their options and their reasons for choosing one college over another might be very different. You should go back and re-read the show notes or re-listen to Episodes 69, 70, and 71–or, at least, the one that best describes the academic standing of your own teenager. We just can’t do any better now than we did then in pointing out the serious questions you should consider in making that all-important choice with your teenager.
Of course, we know that many of you are too busy, especially right now, to review all three episodes, so we thought we would highlight some of the key points we tried to make in them. We chose points that apply to all seniors, regardless of their academic standing. We will assume for these discussions that seniors have a choice of colleges to attend, though that might mean as few as two colleges or as many as eight or 10 colleges. A small number of options, however, doesn’t necessarily make the choosing process any easier.
1. Rejection by the First-Choice College
Let’s start with what some families will consider the worst-case scenario, even though it likely is not really that: What if your teenager has just been rejected by his or her first choice? In Episode 69, we quoted from some remarkably insightful comments from a young woman named Julia Schemmer, who was rejected by her “dream” school–UCLA. She accepted a spot in the Class of 2019 at the University of California, Riverside. Here are some of the reflections that she offered other teenagers (originally published in High School Insider and re-published by the Los Angeles Times on March 31, 2016, as “Rejected from your dream school? Remember these three things“):
It isn’t your fault. When a college rejection letter comes in the mail, it is easy to immediately invalidate everything you have ever done and view your experiences as a high school student as incomplete or inadequate. It’s not true. Many universities have rigorous application requirements with expectations that are often left unknown to anyone but the admissions board. You could have the perfect SAT, the most extracurricular activities, or the best GPA, but it could be true that the college wasn’t looking for things like that. . . .
It’s not the end of the world. There are so many colleges and universities that would absolutely love to have you walk through their door. Whether it’s expanding your knowledge of other universities that may be better suited to your goals or working hard to transfer to your dream school, there are still opportunities to attend a great learning institution. When I decided to commit to attending a school different from my dream school, of course I was disappointed. However, I currently love the university that I attend and the major I am pursuing. If anything, UCLA will always be an option for my graduate school education. (quoted from the article)
Thank you, again, Julia! These are both excellent and important points. Neither is easy for kids to accept, however. No matter how many times any adult or older teenager says these two things, it is likely that kids will simply need to come to terms with this rejection over time. Parents, it’s not going to happen in a day or two–no matter how good you think the college options still on the table are. So, bear with your teenager while he or she goes through the stages of profound disappointment, whatever they are
2. Selectivity of the College
Let’s look at the selectivity of the college options that your teenager now has. We are going to assume that those colleges are not necessarily equivalent in terms of their selectivity. In other words, your child might have been accepted at a couple of selective private colleges (though not necessarily at a highly selective college), at a couple of less-selective private colleges, at your public flagship university or another public university in your state, and/or at a public flagship university or another public university in another state. You might also have a local community college on that list. But even if your child has just two options of colleges with differing degrees of selectivity, the decision-making process is still quite serious.
Let’s put the financial aspects of this decision aside for a minute and look first at the selectivity of the colleges. Let me start with our conclusion, which remains the same as last year’s conclusion, since no new research has indicated anything that would make us change our minds: Your teenager should go to the most selective school that accepted him or her. Are there any arguments on the other side of that decision? Yes, but they are not persuasive.
Apart from the undeniable prestige of attending a college that is more selective, we have said previously–based on a lot of data from various colleges–that graduation rates are higher at more-selective colleges. In other words, your teenager is more likely to graduate with a degree if he or she attends a more-selective college. Furthermore–and this is almost as important–your teenager is more likely to finish that degree in a reasonable amount of time, ideally four years (rather than the longer timelines many college students now operate on, where six years is not surprising). By the way, in the long run, getting out on time saves you money?sometimes tens of thousands of dollars.
Practically speaking, what does our advice mean? It means that you should talk with your teenager about going to the toughest, most academically prestigious college possible. Not just because of the prestige factor, but because it will affect his or her future–both four years from now as graduation approaches and likely a whole lot longer in terms of the classmates your teenager will have and where they will all end up working many years from now.
Now, we know that many advisors would start talking to you about “fit” right now. We have even talked about “fit”?that is, how well your teenager will “fit” into the college community, based on brains or athletic ability or race or religion or socioeconomic status or any number of other things. We, too, want your teenager to fit into the college community that he or she chooses; we are just hoping that it will be an academically strong and well-resourced college community, with great professors and with students who progress through it and graduate on time.
Here are a few questions we asked last year: What if that most selective college is far away from home and you and your teenager wanted a close-to-home option? What if that most selective college is private and you and your teenager wanted a public option? What if that most selective college is located in an urban setting and you and your teenager wanted a rural or suburban option? What if that most selective college is not faith based and you and your teenager wanted a faith-based option?
Well, you are going to have to weigh all of these factors. But we are suggesting here that the selectivity of the college be moved to the top of your list of factors to consider when making this important decision.
And let us add one note about community colleges for those of you who did not listen in last week when we devoted Episode 113 to community colleges. If your child is at least an average student in high school, we don’t think that a community college is likely to be his or her best choice, although we understand that there might be financial reasons or family reasons to keep a child close to home and within commuting distance and that a community college might fit those circumstances very nicely.
Nonetheless, the difficulty that many students seem to have in graduating from a community college or in transferring from a community college to a four-year college really worries us. Listen to last week’s episode to find out about the scandalously low graduation and transfer statistics. Last week, we concluded that, unless you think your teenager is smarter, harder working, more motivated, and more goal oriented than the typical community college student, your teenager is likely to have some difficulty graduating from a community college and/or transferring to a four-year college. So, talk with your teenager and think hard about that choice.
3. Your Choice for Your Teenager
What if your teenager has just been accepted by the college that you really want him or her to attend, but that college is not your teenager’s first or second or even third choice? Who wins? That is one of the worst problems we can imagine.
As a parent and as an adult, I would like to say that you should win because you have been around longer and seen more and perhaps you even know more and are likely paying the bill. But I don’t think you can win in this situation without convincing your teenager that you are right. In previous episodes (like Episode 69), we have told many anecdotes that prove this point.
Here is the bottom line for us: College is hard, and it is almost impossible when the student is not reasonably happy there. So, parents, we believe that you will eventually have to give in to what your teenager wants because, in fact, he or she is the one who is going to have to do the work.
By the way, for all of you parents who have younger children coming up through high school and just starting the college process, here is your lesson today: Don’t let your teenager apply to colleges that you don’t want them to attend. It’s as simple as that. If you are satisfied, even if you are not necessarily thrilled, with every college on your teenager’s application list, that ensures that you will be satisfied with whichever one is your teenager’s final choice.
4. What About the Cost?
So, now let’s talk about money. What if your teenager got a great financial aid package–even a full ride–at a college that is not nearly as good as a more selective college that he or she was accepted by? Clearly, that is a hard choice. And I am not going to say to go out and find a bunch of obscure scholarships that go begging every year (though I know that happens). I am going to say that the best possible college education is something worth investing in–even if that means loans that your teenager gets and/or loans that you as parents get. I know that is not a popular position, and I know that many advisors and parents alike believe that having a student graduate with little or no debt is the most important thing. I simply don’t agree. By the way, as we have already said, attending a better college will likely ensure an on-time graduation–which, in the long run, can save you a lot of money on extra years of schooling.
Paying for college is hard–especially paying for private selective colleges. That’s just one more reason we love those great public flagship universities.
5. Next Steps
If your teenager has not already visited all of the colleges that have accepted him or her and that are still under serious consideration, you probably should do that now, if it is logistically and financially feasible. As we have said before at USACollegeChat, this is the best time to visit: when the list of colleges is short enough that the college tour can be reasonably cost-effective and efficient. The visits can be helpful both for your teenager in making his or her decision and for you as a parent in accepting that decision. Speaking as a parent, I think it would be difficult to send a child off to college without ever having seen it; and, yet, my husband and I did that when we sent our middle child off to Richmond, The American International University in London. Well, at least we had been to London, I told myself at the time. And it all worked out. We hope it will all work out for you and your teenager, too.
Here is an offer that we made last year at this time. Call me and tell me what your teenager’s choices are and what your circumstances are. I will be happy to give you some free advice, for what it’s worth. I do this all the time, and I would love to do it for you. Nothing is more important than making the right decision now. The next four years are critical.
Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
This series is entitled The Search Begins and, as we have said, it is aimed directly at those of you who are parents of juniors, and it is designed to help you all navigate summer tasks related to college applications in the fall. (Of course, it never hurts parents of freshmen and sophomores to get a head start on the college admissions game. So, stick with us during these summer episodes.)
Today’s topic focuses on something that you are just about to do totally wrong. Furthermore, our advice on this topic probably runs counter to what many “experts” are telling you to do right now, which is to start narrowing your list of colleges so that your teenager can get ready to apply in the fall.
In this episode, we are going to take the position that you should do the exact opposite, which is to start expanding your teenager’s list of colleges immediately so that you all are truly ready to narrow it in the fall. While that might seem unnecessary–even wasteful, given the thousand things you are trying to do this summer–we would contend that expanding the options now could make the difference between an okay college choice for your teenager and a great college choice for your teenager when it is time to accept a college’s offer next spring. Here’s why.
1. One More Research Study
Nicholas W. Hillman, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (a great public flagship university, which we discussed in Episode 27) has written a recent paper, published in the American Educational Research Journal and entitled “Geography of College Opportunity: The Case of Education Deserts.” Catherine Gewertz reported on Hillman’s paper recently in the High School & Beyond blog in Education Week (“Why College Access Depends on Your ZIP Code,” June 24, 2016).
You loyal listeners might remember that we first met Professor Hillman back in Episode 66 when we talked about his earlier report entitled Education Deserts: The Continued Significance of “Place” in the Twenty-First Century (co-authored with Taylor Weichman). One statistic that the authors quoted in that report is this: About 57 percent of incoming freshmen at public four-year colleges attend a college within 50 miles of home. Now, think about that from a freshman’s point of view. If you are a freshman standing on your four-year public college campus, more than half of your classmates live within 50 miles of where you are standing. Clearly, those students did not get outside of their “geographic comfort zone,” which is one of our most talked about and least favorite concepts here at USACollegeChat. (Remember that about 70 percent of high school graduates attend college in their home state. That’s just too many kids staying within their geographic comfort zone, in our opinion.)
This time around, Hillman maps both public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities in 709 “commuting zones” across the U.S.–that is, in 709 bunches of mostly contiguous counties where people live and work. And, when I say “maps,” I mean that he locates the colleges and universities on a map of the U.S. and colors in the commuting zones where they are located so that anyone can see at a glance which commuting zones have a lot of colleges (five or more is the top of his scale) and which don’t have even one.
We are going to skip over private two-year colleges, inasmuch as they are the rarest of college types, and look first at public two-year colleges. Looking at Hillman’s map, we notice that there are relatively fewer public two-year colleges west of the Mississippi River until you get to the Far West and Southwest border states. Turning to public four-year colleges, we notice that there are even fewer public four-year colleges than public two-year colleges in the Plains and Rocky Mountain states. And finally, coming to private four-year colleges, we notice that the coverage is especially good east of the Mississippi–particularly in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states–and again in parts of the Far West.
So, where is the “education desert”? The maps would say, generally speaking, that it is in the Rocky Mountain and Plains states. What that means is that college students who live there are likely to have fewer nearby options than students in other commuting zones–say, those in the Northeast. Of course, even in the Northeast, you might live in a particular commuting zone that just doesn’t have many colleges. And that matters because so many kids stay close to home for college–perhaps too close.
But that’s not the worst of it. Gewertz explains:
Hillman found that zones of opportunity put specific groups at a disadvantage. Latino and African-American communities tend to have the fewest colleges, and less-selective colleges, nearby, while white and Asian communities tend to have more colleges, and more selective institutions, nearby to choose from. . . . Hillman argues that most policy that seeks to improve college access focuses on the process of opportunity–with initiatives that aim to get more information into students’ hands, so they can make good college choices–instead of the geography of opportunity. (quoted from the article)
Well, now we have a societal problem as well as an individual student problem. As Hillman noted in his first report, the college decisions of students from working-class homes and the college decisions of students of color are most negatively affected by home-to-college distance. So, when it turns out that there are relatively fewer college options and relatively fewer selective college options in Latino and African-American communities and when we know that lots of those kids do not travel very far to attend college, for whatever reason, those students end up not having the range of college choices that they deserve.
Why are we telling you this? Because all of you should expand the college options for your teenager before you narrow them, and this is especially true if you live in an area that has few nearby colleges or few good nearby colleges. Whether you are Latino, African American, Asian, or white, those of you living in an education desert must look outside your geographic area in order to find a choice of good options for your teenager. Why should you be content with the only option in town no matter how good it is? For many of you, the chances are that it is not good enough.
But, to repeat, this advice is not just for those of you living in education deserts. This advice is for all of you who are busy making up a short list of colleges for your child to visit this summer and apply to in the fall. It simply is not time yet to be making up that short list, to be narrowing down the choices, to be closing off opportunities, and to be settling either for colleges that are nearby or for colleges that you already know about. It is unnecessarily soon–even for those of you who want to look at an Early Decision or Early Action option.
So, since it is July 1 and your teenager might have a bit of free time, we are ready to give him or her–and you–an assignment every week until September. The more you can get your teenager to do the work, the easier it will be for you; however, you will need to provide some life experience and adult judgment throughout the assignments. We do guarantee that you both will be better equipped by September 1 to start the actual college application process.
We thought hard about what your first summer assignment should be and settled on this: With your teenager, listen to our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) again?or for the first time?or skim the show notes if you prefer. By the way, these episodes do a good job of differentiating between the public and private colleges, which could well be one of the first decisions you will make when it is time to shorten your teenager’s list in September.
Together, choose at least one college in every state to put on your teenager’s list. Put those 50 on what we will call “your teenager’s long summer list of college options.” Just add them to any colleges you already have on the list.
Okay, if that’s too outlandish, try this: Choose at least one college in each of 25 states of your choice to put on your teenager’s list. Heck, that’s only half the states. You are getting off easy. Put those on your teenager’s long summer list of college options.
Still too tough? How about this: Choose at least two colleges in every geographic region of the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Remember that the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. So, that would give you 16 colleges–plus, let’s say, add two extra colleges in your home state for good measure.
But wait: Put five public flagship universities on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. Any five. You choose. This will ensure that your teenager has some great public options to consider, too. As we have said before, public flagship universities might be the hidden jewels in the college landscape.
And those of you who are longtime listeners know that this piece of advice is coming: Choose at least one college not in the U.S. to put on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. The global future is here. Join it.
Now that you have the long summer list of 20 or 30 or 40 or, better yet, 50 colleges, have your teenager read about each one on the college’s website before talking with you and recommending whether it should be kept on the list. Believe me, you can learn a lot from reading a college website. Furthermore, you can learn not only about that one college, but also about colleges in general and what to look for on the next website. It’s an education in itself.
Our virtual tour gave you a lot of the information you should consider already, but let your teenager confirm it and look further into particular things that interest him or her about the college. Make sure your teenager checks out at least these topics:
Enrollment, broken down by undergraduate and graduate (if any) students
Retention and graduation rates (search the site for “common data set” or go to College Navigator, sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics)
The history of the college (always my favorite topic)
Academic divisions in the institution (that is, colleges or schools within a university)
Academic departments and majors offered
Study abroad options
Extracurricular activities (including fraternities and sororities)
Intercollegiate and intramural sports
Tuition and housing costs (of course)
Finally, make sure that your teenager writes down (or makes a spreadsheet of) the information they find on each college. Believe me, after about four colleges, it’s impossible to remember which college has which attractive and unattractive features.
Personally, I wouldn’t have your teenager start poring over admission standards just yet. I would rather he or she look at the range of great opportunities out there and perhaps get a bit motivated by what those websites offer. Your teenager needs an education about higher education first. Some of those websites are so good, in fact, that they make me want to go back to college.
And, by the way, I wouldn’t have your teenager start looking at two-year colleges yet, either. Those of you who listen to us know that we have some reservations about two-year colleges, especially for students who have just graduated from high school and are moving directly into college full time. We know that they are a great choice for saving money and for helping kids who need a bit more maturity or a bit more academic preparation, but we worry because the transfer rates to four-year colleges are scandalously low, and we worry about what opportunities that fact closes off for too many kids. Two-year colleges can easily be added to the list in September, because we are assuming that the choice of a two-year college is largely affected by geography and that students are most likely to attend the one closest to them.
So, what is the point of today’s episode? It is simply that expanding your options now–before narrowing them in the fall–is a way to let both you and your teenager consider colleges you have never thought about. That’s because there are some really interesting ones out there, including perhaps the one that is best for your teenager.
Depending where you live, here are a few public and private choices you probably aren’t thinking about (some that are very selective, and others that are not):
By the way, I really do not want to hear one more of my friends here in New York say, “Oh, she can just go to Binghamton. It’s a good school.” With apologies to Binghamton, which is a fine state university in upstate New York, I would like my friends to look around first. I would like many more colleges on their teenager’s long list. I would like many colleges on that list to be outside New York State. I would like some of them to be outside the Northeast. I would like some of them to be public and some of them to be private. Binghamton isn’t going anywhere. It will still be there in the fall.
The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $1.99 all summer long! 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.
Welcome back to our current series about higher education in the news. We have been talking about news stories of all sorts about colleges—some that might immediately influence your teenager’s decision about where to apply or later about where to attend and others that might take longer to impact your family.
In this episode, we are going to look at an eye-opening article that focuses on the enrollment of black students at public flagship universities in various states. As our regular listeners know, we have spent many episodes praising public flagship universities—especially during our virtual tour of colleges nationwide, where we highlighted every single flagship university in every single state.
We explained that, in many states, the public flagship university is often the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because it is relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, usually competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates.
We also explained that flagship campuses are more popular in some parts of the country than in others. The notion that they are least popular, we would say, in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions probably reflects the culture of the Northeast and not the academic quality of the institutions. Perhaps there is just an older and more entrenched tradition of private higher education in the Northeast than there is in other parts of the country.
As we have said before, we think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search for lots of students who never consider them. In other words, we think that students too often overlook great flagship universities outside their home state and choose to attend more expensive private colleges with less academic prestige in their home state.
To be fair, some flagship universities are pricey for out-of-state students, but they are not typically more expensive than private colleges. And, in earlier episodes, we have talked about some reciprocal agreements among states that charge students from their same region a lower price than other out-of-state students (remember the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Midwest Student Exchange Program, which charge regional students no more than 150 percent of in-state tuition instead of two or three times as much).
So, that’s the background to today’s episode. To sum it up, we love flagship universities.
1. The Hechinger Report’s Investigation
Recently, I read Meredith Kolodner’s well-researched article in The Hechinger Report (December 18, 2015): “Black students are drastically underrepresented at top public colleges, data show.” (The article also appeared in The Huffington Post.) As someone who has been praising flagship universities for some months now and as a concerned taxpayer, I dove into the article. Let me read you several paragraphs in which Ms. Kolodner gives us some key statistics:
On average, just 5 percent of students at the nation’s flagship public universities are black. . . . Even . . . at the University of Virginia, which prides itself on the diversity of its campus, just 8 percent of students are black. Just 5 percent are black Virginians, in a state where 22 percent of public high school graduates are African-American.
Virginia is hardly unusual. At most flagships, the African-American percentage of the student population is well below that of the state’s public high school graduates. Typical are the University of Delaware, with a student body that is 5 percent African-American in a state where 30 percent of public high school graduates are black, and the University of Georgia, where it’s 7 percent compared with 34 percent. (quoted from the article)
Those statistics made me think twice. I almost hoped that the University of Virginia (commonly referred to as UVA) numbers were unusual since we know from our virtual tour that it is one of the most academically prestigious of all flagship universities.
Ms. Kolodner went on to say this:
Flagships matter because they almost always have the highest graduation rates among public colleges in their state — especially for black students — as well as extensive career resources, well-placed alumni networks, a broad range of course selections and high-profile faculty. For state residents, these colleges also offer the most affordable top-quality college education, and usually a path toward better opportunities after college.
We agree: Flagships matter. The article goes on to offer a thought-provoking discussion of how black students are being pushed out of public higher education opportunities, including by rising costs, and of how black students themselves feel on campuses where they are such a small fraction of the student population. The article, which also takes a deeper look at UVA, is well worth reading.
2. The Common Data Set
Wanting to see what the enrollment figures looked like at other flagship universities we have been recommending to students, we decided to take a look. I got the data that we are going to present from a very useful document, which can be found on the websites of most colleges. It is called the Common Data Set, and it is a long set of data covering many aspects of college life, including enrollment and characteristics of admitted students. The Common Data Set is a product of the government-funded Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (known as IPEDS). I usually found it for a particular college by searching on that college’s website for “Common Data Set.”
In checking information about IPEDS for this episode, I now discover that IPEDS has a great college search function of its own (housed at the National Center for Education Statistics), called College Navigator, which provides the Common Data Set statistics for each college quickly and efficiently in one place. If only I had known! Run—don’t walk—to this website: http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/. This is great information for you and your teenager as you are doing your college search.
3. Statistics from Other Flagships
Let’s look first at the percentage of “black, or African American, non-Hispanic/Latino” students who are “degree-seeking undergraduates,” according to the figures submitted to IPEDS in these exact IPEDS categories. Here are the percentages for some well-known flagship universities that we have discussed in earlier episodes (the data are for the 2014-2015 academic year):
These are large and small flagships, highly selective and less selective flagships, and geographically diverse flagships. I have to say that I was astonished at the tiny fraction of black undergraduates at some of them. While we often looked at the racial/ethnic breakdown of students during our virtual tour of colleges, these small numbers seem to have a bigger impact when they are all lined up together. And, interestingly, I remember some selective private colleges where the percentage of black students was far, far higher than these numbers.
I went on to get the same information for what IPEDS calls “Hispanic/Latino” “degree-seeking undergraduates.” Here are those percentages:
The Ohio State University—3%
The University of Mississippi—3%
University of Michigan—4%
University of Massachusetts Amherst—5%
Louisiana State University—6%
The University of Iowa—6%
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—7%
University of Washington in Seattle—7%
University of Colorado Boulder—10%
These percentages aren’t any higher. In fact, when combining the two figures, you get a range of just 8 to 17 percent black and Hispanic/Latino undergraduates at these particular flagship universities.
4. Graduation Rates
Ms. Kolodner’s article also takes up the important concern about whether students who enroll in college actually go on to graduate. Listen to these two paragraphs from her article:
Black and Latino students who have above-average SAT scores go to college at the same rate — 90 percent — as whites. But once enrolled, white students are more likely to finish, in part because they attend more selective colleges, where the resources are better and overall graduation rates are higher.
When black and Latino students with above-average SAT scores go to those selective colleges, their graduation rate is 73 percent, compared to only 40 percent for these above-average-scoring nonwhite students at other colleges. (quoted from the article)
This is just one more reason that low numbers of black and Hispanic/Latino undergraduates at flagship universities is a concern: If more black and Hispanic/Latino students attended flagships, it is likely that more would, in fact, graduate from college. And that is at least as important as getting into college in the first place.
5. What Does This Mean for You
I am not presenting these numbers to condemn these universities for somehow not producing undergraduate student bodies that are more diverse and more representative of black and Hispanic/Latino high school graduates. I do not know what measures they have taken to improve these numbers or even if they believe that these numbers need improving. What I would like to do is give you and your teenager a way to think about these numbers if you are black, Hispanic, or Latino.
First, know that your teenager would be part of a relatively small group of students of the same racial or ethnic background on many of these campuses. That might be fine for your teenager and for your family—especially if your teenager’s high school had a similar look. Or, even if it didn’t. Of course, because most of these flagship universities have tens of thousands of students, that means that there are still hundreds or even thousands of black and Hispanic/Latino students on campus. So those numbers might make your teenager feel comfortable enough.
Second, know that your teenager could be a highly desirable freshman applicant, depending on his or her grades and test scores. My guess is that many of these flagship universities are actively seeking good black and Hispanic/Latino applicants—especially from their own states, but likely also from other states. And, because we have already said that flagship universities are typically excellent academic institutions, they make really attractive choices for your teenager.
Third, know that your teenager might well stand a better chance of graduating from college if he or she attended a great flagship university rather than a smaller, less academically prestigious institution. It might be a bit more expensive for out-of-staters, but the result could be, as they say, priceless.
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When and where to ask a college about enrollment breakdowns
When and where to ask a college about graduation rate breakdowns
Whether to consider public college systems in a state other than its flagship university
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This is the fifteenth episode in our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. We are coming into the home stretch of helping you find colleges that might be perfect for your child, but that are outside your geographic comfort zone. So far, we have toured the Great Lakes region, the Southeast region, the Rocky Mountain region, the Plains region, the Southwest region, and the Far West region. This episode takes us all the way back across the country to the New England region, which is likely inside the geographic comfort zone of many, but certainly not all, families here in the Northeast—because, as we know, about 70 percent of high school students will stay in their home state—not even in their home region—for college. So, listen carefully, those of you in the Northeast, because there are some interesting colleges relatively nearby in some very small New England states.
Keep in mind that we are discussing only four-year colleges in our tour, reasoning that students who plan to attend two-year colleges are highly likely to go to the closest one, which makes a certain amount of sense for a two-year college. We think it makes less sense if your teenager is headed for a four-year college, as we have said many times.
And, once more, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it in our virtual tour. These are our own choices.
1. The New England Region
As we have said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering from four to 12 states. In this episode, we will start our examination of the six states in the New England region: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
I am sure that our listeners out in the Rocky Mountain or Plains regions think that these states seem both far away and quite small—compared to Montana, for example. But remember that some of them are densely populated, and that leads to lots of colleges being established over many, many decades. So this week, we will be examining public colleges in these six states; and, next week, we will be taking a look at a variety of very well-known and not-so-well-known private colleges in these six states.
2. Flagship Public State Universities
As we usually do, let’s begin with this region’s flagship public state universities. Each of the six states has one, as those of you who tune in regularly know by now. And, as usual, some of them are better known nationally than others (probably as a result of some great basketball playing). While state public college systems and flagship universities typically have smaller campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and certainly outside the state.
Let us remind you one more time of what we have said in other episodes about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, usually super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates.
As I have said before, I think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search for lots of students who never consider them.
With all that said, I also want to say that I do not believe that flagship campuses in New England are nearly the draw that they are in almost all of the other parts of the country (except in the Mid-Atlantic states, which we haven’t talked about yet). In other words, I think that it is much more likely that a high school senior in Texas is dying to go to the flagship campus of the University of Texas in Austin than that a high school senior in Massachusetts is dying to go to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. For high school seniors in Mississippi, the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss, is the very best place they can imagine going. For high school seniors in Connecticut, the University of Connecticut is likely not the very best place they can imagine going—no matter how good it actually is. It is a cultural thing, not an academic thing. Perhaps there is just a longer or more entrenched tradition of private higher education in the Northeast than there is in other parts of the country.
Now, with all that said, let me also point out that applications to some of these flagship universities in New England are really on the rise—by a lot. So maybe things are beginning to change.
Let’s look at their locations first. I think of these locations as slightly off the beaten track. In other words, these locations are not the famous cities of these states. These flagship universities are not in Boston, Providence, Portland, or New Haven, for example. These locations are more like small towns—maybe great small towns and maybe even great college towns.
Burlington, Vermont, for example, is the nation’s number 1 college town, according to Travel + Leisure magazine. The University of Vermont is located on beautiful Lake Champlain (personally, I always think that Lake Champlain should be one of the Great Lakes), just 90 miles from Montreal, its closest big city. Burlington is recognized for its outdoor life, the arts, safety, and its overall quality of life.
Or take Orono, which is 140 miles from Portland, Maine’s biggest city. Orono is between the Stillwater and Penobscot rivers and not too far from Acadia National Park, Mt. Katahdin, and Bar Harbor—all well known spots to native Mainers and regular vacationers to the state, of which there are swarms (just try to drive up there on a summer weekend). Or look at Amherst. A lovely small New England town—admittedly in the middle of nowhere—it is in spitting distance of a handful of first-rate private colleges (listen in to hear about them next week) as well as the home of the Commonwealth’s flagship campus. For many people, these New England spots—sometimes close to the water and sometimes close to the mountains—are simply idyllic places to go to college.
Turning to the six flagship universities, we can put them into three groups by enrollment size, starting with the largest universities, which are UConn with about 23,000 undergraduates and a total of about 31,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and UMass Amherst with about 23,000 undergraduates and a total of about 29,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These enrollment figures are substantial—especially given the size of the states—about on par with the University of Iowa, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to name a few.
About 80 percent of students at UConn and UMass Amherst are state residents, which I think is a surprisingly high percentage since I would guess that these are the two New England flagship universities that are the best known outside the region. At each university, the average SAT score of incoming freshmen is a pair of scores in the low 600s. At UMass Amherst, the high school GPA of incoming freshmen is an impressive 3.78—higher than you might expect with average SAT subtest scores in the low 600s.
But let me tell you the most arresting statistic: Applications at UMass Amherst have doubled in the past 10 years (that is, there were 37,000 applications for just 4,650 seats in the Class of 2018). In the past 20 years, applications at UConn have tripled at the same time as SAT average scores have gone up a combined total of 200 points on two subtests and minority student applications have increased. Currently, UConn undergraduates are about 29 percent minority students, compared to UMass Amherst’s 21 percent. We can say, with certainty, that admission to these two flagship universities is more competitive than it has ever been.
Next in size are URI and UNH, each with about 13,000 to 14,000 undergraduates and a total of about 15,000 to 17,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students—just about half the size of UConn and UMass Amherst. Each university draws just about 50 to 55 percent of its students from its own state, and UNH draws another 25 percent from Massachusetts. Incoming freshmen at both URI and UNH have an average high school GPA of a 3.4, with average SAT subtest scores hovering around 550. So these two might be just a bit easier to get into from out of state than UConn and UMass Amherst.
Not too far behind, enrollment-wise, are UMaine and UVM, each with about 9,000 to 10,000 undergraduates and a total of about 11,000 to 12,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Incoming freshmen at UMaine are academically about like those at URI and UNH, while incoming freshmen at UVM score a bit higher, more like those at UConn and UMass Amherst.
Each of these flagship universities does, in fact, attract students nationally and internationally. And let us say one more time that colleges love geographic diversity and that students might be able to get into a better college far from home if that college is lacking, but wanting, that diversity in its student body. Any of these universities would likely be interested in a student from the other side of the country if that student posted a decent high school GPA and some decent college admission test scores—though those grades and scores will have to be better than decent if the student is interested in the top flagship campuses in New England.
UVM is, by far, the oldest of these institutions. Founded in 1791, it is the fifth oldest college in New England (after four Ivy League schools), and it, too, began as a private university. The Marquis de Lafayette, the French officer who fought with us during the American Revolution, laid the cornerstone of a building that still stands on the campus. UVM also claims to be the first college with a charter that said it was nondenominational. Then, almost 75 years later, along came the Morrill Act:
The Morrill Act of 1862 provided for the sale of public lands. Income from these sales was to be used to create at least one college in each state with the principal purpose of teaching agriculture and mechanic arts. From this grant of land comes the term “land grant,” which applied to the national system of state colleges. In a later adaptation of the concept, federal funds given to colleges for marine research and extension are called “sea grants.” (quoted from the URI website)
By the way, “space grants” and “sun grants” for additional types of research followed. Both UNH and UConn have land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant designations.
So, the Morrill Act added a State Agricultural College to UVM, thus making it a public-private blended institution, and it gave rise to UMass Amherst in 1863, UMaine in 1865, UNH in 1866, UConn in 1881, and URI in 1888. They all grew into the full-fledged universities that they are today from their beginnings as “A and M’s.”
Turning to academics, these flagship universities have from 6 to 14 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to many career-related fields, including, at the undergraduate level, engineering, education, business, fine arts, nursing, agriculture, forestry, environment and natural resources, information and computer sciences, and public health and health sciences.
Here are some of the schools and colleges that seem perfectly appropriate to the settings of these institutions. UNH’s School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, an interdisciplinary school focusing on today’s complicated ocean and coastal issues, offers undergraduates a couple of interdisciplinary degrees and minors in marine and freshwater biology, wetland ecology, oceanography, and coastal-zone-related engineering.
Similarly, URI has a Graduate School of Oceanography, which also offers undergraduate courses and an undergraduate minor. Professors mentor undergraduates in lab- and ship-based independent study courses and internships. There are also 10-week summer programs, but all of this is actually at the Narragansett Bay Campus of URI and not on the grounds of the flagship campus in Kingston.
UMaine’s College of Natural Resources, Forestry, and Agriculture has a School of Marine Sciences (with facilities in Walpole, on the coast rather than in Orono) as well as a School of Forest Resources, which offers five different bachelor’s degrees, including one in Forest Operations, Bioproducts, and Bioenergy and one in Forest Ecology. And at UVM, undergraduates can study the environment in about 20 majors across five schools and colleges—majors like Green Building and Community Design, Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, Sustainable Landscape Horticulture, Environmental Engineering, Ecological Agriculture, and Sustainable Business.
These flagship universities offer from about 80 to 120 undergraduate degree programs across their undergraduate colleges and schools. When students cannot find exactly what they want to study at the public university in their own state, the New England Board of Higher Education Regional Student Program kicks into action. This program allows students to study at a public college in another New England state if the program they want is not offered at a public college in their own state—at least for many majors. For example, Massachusetts residents can study in 110 different bachelor’s degree programs in other New England public colleges—like Ocean Engineering or Pharmaceutical Sciences or Textile Marketing at URI. Sometimes students even have a choice of more than one public college in more than one state for a particular program. And, of course, a nice tuition discount goes along with the deal so that out-of-state students in this program do not pay the full out-of-state tuition costs.
Like all other flagship universities, each of these six has more than 100 student clubs and organizations—and sometimes more than a couple hundred and, at UConn, more than 600. And there are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities in or near many of these locales, along with club sports and intramurals.
There are also varsity sports teams—from 15 to 22 women’s and men’s teams. While UMaine has done some damage in the men’s ice hockey NCAA national championships (winning two), it is fairly clear that the NCAA national titles most associated with these flagship universities are those won by the UConn Huskies in men’s and women’s basketball—three for the men and nine for the women since 2000.
As we have seen in some other regions, out-of-state tuition and fees at these flagship universities are not cheap, running from about $28,000 to $33,000 per year, but with a remarkably high $39,000 at UVM —about two to two-and-a half times what a state resident would pay. On the low end, that is still lower than many private colleges in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. On the high end, I have to admit the tuition is not much of a bargain. Nonetheless, these flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges where you would pay as much or more, and, as we are fond of saying, there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.
Here are just a few additional fun facts:
In the category of famous alumni, brilliant educator and philosopher John Dewey graduated from UVM and popular best-selling author Stephen King graduated from UMaine.
UMass Amherst boasts the W.E.B. Du Bois Center—with the tallest library at the time it was completed in 1973—named for the famous civil rights activist, educator, and writer, whose boyhood home is in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Freshmen at URI are assigned to the residential Living and Learning Community for their college or major or program, where they can live with students who have the same interests, form study groups, work with Residential Academic Mentors, and attend faculty-sponsored programs.
UMass Amherst is part of the Five College Interchange, which allows students at five colleges near Amherst to take courses at no extra charge at the other four colleges. More about that next week since the other four are private!
UVM has banned the sale of bottled water on campus in favor of making Burlington’s good local tap water very accessible to students.
UMaine’s campus was designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park in New York City (it seems that Olmsted and his firm were responsible for a surprising number of beautiful college campuses, as we have learned in our virtual tour).
UVM was the first college to admit women and African Americans into its chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
UMass Amherst has the Commonwealth Honors College, a residential honors college with its own dormitory and classroom buildings, founded in 1999 (where the average high school GPA of entering freshmen is 4.21).
UMaine’s Museum of Art has original pieces by Pablo Picasso, Winslow Homer, and Andy Warhol—quite a range of well-known artists.
URI has a great website—one of the easiest to use that I have run across.
When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we spoke with the delightful Mandy Moor, Admissions Counselor at UMaine (her primary territories are New York and California). She offered the following enthusiastic audio pitch for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)
3. Other Public State Universities
In each of these New England states, there are also other public universities—both campuses within the flagship system and colleges and universities in their own right. In looking at these other public options, let me say that I always think first about whether any public option is sufficiently attractive to draw a student away from the public options in his or her home state, which would likely be far cheaper.
I am not sure that there are any such options in the New England states, but let’s look at a few that we think are most likely to attract out-of-state students.
Let’s start with the University of Massachusetts campus in Boston, known as UMass Boston. The second campus in the UMass system, it was established by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1964, about 100 years after UMass Amherst. UMass Boston couldn’t be in a more different setting from the flagship campus in Amherst, obviously—with Amherst’s small-town-in-the-middle-of-nowhere vibe and Boston’s big-city-filled-with-colleges-and-businesses-and-culture-and-sports vibe. I am sure that there are students who would rather be in idyllic Amherst, but I am equally sure that there are students who would rather be in happening Boston, where UMass Boston is the only four-year public choice among something like 100 colleges in the metropolitan area.
UMass Boston’s seven colleges and schools that serve about 12,500 undergraduate students offer about 80 undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, management, education, health sciences, the environment, and public and community service. Two more schools serve only graduate students—about 4,000 in number. UMass Boston’s students are drawn from 140 countries, though about 85 percent of undergraduate students are Massachusetts residents.
UMass Boston offers more than 100 student organizations and 16 varsity sports teams (eight men’s and eight women’s). Interestingly, UMass Boston does not have dormitories for its students. Its Office of Student Housing does assist students with finding roommates and looking for apartment housing nearby (which seems available) and dealing with landlords. However, a concerned parent or student might have some qualms about a first-year student living off campus in a big city without any college-provided supervision or safeguards.
UMass Boston’s tuition and fees are about $12,500 for Massachusetts residents and about $30,000 for out-of-state students—a good price for residents and a not-great price for out-of-staters, I would say.
Let’s turn to the University of Maine System’s three-campus University of Southern Maine (USM), with campuses in Portland, Gorham, and Lewiston. Gorham, located about 11 miles inland from Portland, is the campus with the residence halls and the sports facilities for one co-ed, 10 men’s, and 11 women’s varsity sports teams. Portland has only classroom and administrative buildings. Portland is an attractive and manageable city, located on the water, which is lovely, when it is warm enough to stand outside and look at it. However, I am not convinced that a student who wanted a traditional college experience in an urban setting would be happy commuting to the Portland campus—especially in the snow. On the other hand, a student who wanted a college experience with some campus life in a quiet setting and easy access to college activities in a city might think USM is perfect.
USM offers about 100 bachelor’s degrees in a wide variety of subject fields spread across three colleges and eight schools within the colleges—including the liberal arts and sciences, fine arts, business, education, nursing and health sciences, technology management, communication, computer science, social work, and recreation and leisure studies. At USM, Maine residents pay about $9,000 in tuition and fees, while out-of-state students pay about $21,000. That’s a better deal for out-of-staters than UMass Boston.
A third institution we would like to mention is more unusual in its focus, and that is the Maine Maritime Academy (MMA), “a college of engineering, management, science, and transportation” (quoted from the website), located about 140 miles northeast of Portland on the coast, for obvious reasons. It is one of six state maritime colleges in the U.S. Established by an act of the Maine Legislature in 1941, MMA is a public, coeducational school with an enrollment of about 950 students pursuing associate’s and bachelor’s degrees (there are also two master’s degree programs). About 70 percent of students are from Maine, with another approximately 15 percent from the rest of New England.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are required liberal arts and sciences courses for all students as well as electives and minors available in the Department of Arts and Sciences. A variety of bachelor’s degrees are available in engineering (including preparation for specific licenses, like the U.S. Coast Guard License), international business and logistics, marine transportation (including Vessel Operations & Technology), and ocean studies (like Marine Biology). While these degrees would not appeal to most students, they would certainly be appealing to some—very appealing. For some of these degrees, students spend time practicing their skills aboard the Training Ship State of Maine and the Schooner Bowdoin. Undoubtedly in part because of this hands-on training, more than 90 percent of graduates are employed within 90 days of earning that degree.
In spite of a highly specialized curriculum, MMA is also a traditional campus—with 14 sports teams, student organizations, and residential halls for students. Tuition for Maine residents is about $10,000 and for out-of-staters about $22,000 (with New England Regional Student Program students in between the two). Fees vary greatly by major—from about $3,000 to $10,000.
Not to be outdone, Massachusetts also has its own Maritime Academy, established in 1891. It offers seven bachelor’s degrees in engineering and maritime fields (plus two master’s degree programs). Students spend six months on international waters, gaining important hands-on training, during their four years. Here is an idea of the culture at Massachusetts Maritime Academy:
The Regiment of Cadets and regimental-style uniforms play an important role in campus life at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. It reinforces that the status at the Academy is not an entitlement based on gender, race, or socio-economic class; it is earned through hard work, honor, and integrity. Though the Academy is structured as a regimented academy designed to grow effective leaders, only cadets who volunteer for commissioning programs have military obligations during and after their time at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
While Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island residents pay about $7,000 in tuition and fees and New England residents pay just about $1,000 more, students in states all along the East Coast (“Maritime Regional States”) also get a tuition-and-fees deal of about $17,000 a year—which seems quite attractive.
As we have said before, virtually all of these public universities (and there are more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. That is still true, albeit some of these out-of-state tuition figures seem a bit high to me. So, consider looking at public universities, beyond just the flagship university, for the unusual programs or the special career focus or the appealing locations or even acclaimed sports teams they offer.
Finally, let us talk about one unique public institution in New England, and that is the U.S. Coast Guard Academy—one of the nation’s five military service academies—founded in 1876 and located in New London, Connecticut. As we said in an early episode of NYCollegeChat, the federally funded military service academies are all outstanding, academically rigorous institutions, whose mission is to build highly trained and highly ethical leaders. One of the smaller academies, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy enrolls about 900 students—about 35 percent women and 30 percent minorities. There is one faculty member (either civilian or military) for every seven students—a remarkable student-to-faculty ratio.
Though highly selective in admissions, the Academy does not require a Congressional nomination as some academies do. Its median SAT subtest scores for entering freshmen are in the low to mid-600s.
Interestingly, seven of the Academy’s 24 core curriculum courses are from its Humanities Department, so cadets are well versed in the liberal arts. Cadets may major in government (about 25 percent typically do) in addition to marine and environmental sciences and majors more directly related to maritime studies. Cadets also take strategic intelligence courses designed to help them keep their vessels and America safe.
Tuition is free, as with all federal military service academies. About 85 percent of graduates serve beyond the five-year service commitment they complete after graduating from the Academy, and about 80 percent go on to graduate school, mostly paid for by the Coast Guard. I can honestly say that you cannot read the Academy’s website without being impressed.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
What might have caused the increase in applications to these universities
Which students should really think hard about these universities and academies
What the maritime academies have to offer and how they differ
Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…