Episode 130: Opening Your Eyes About College Options

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

We are in the second week of our new series, Researching College Options. Now that it’s August and high school students in some parts of the country will actually be returning to school this month for their senior year, it’s time to get to work. So, for this new series, we are going to be talking directly to you, parents of high school seniors. Hang on because it can be a bumpy ride.

In this episode, we are going to read you some excerpts from what we call Step 1 in our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Step 1 of what you might ask? Well, it’s Step 1 of making a good decision about where to apply to college. Like all first steps, it is important–maybe the most important–and a little scary. But like all first steps, if your senior skips it, things are not likely to go as smoothly as you and he or she might have hoped. If you need more help, more examples, or more fun stories, go get the book at amazon.com.

1. Just Expand the College List

So, the second chapter of our book opens in a very unpleasant way. Here is what we wrote to your senior:

This chapter focuses on something that you are just about to do totally wrong. Really, totally wrong. In fact, our advice in this chapter is probably the opposite of what many school counselors and college consultants are telling you as you start a serious consideration of where to apply . . . . We bet they are telling you to start by narrowing your list of colleges, but we would like you to start by expanding your list of colleges.

There is plenty of time later to narrow down your options–once you get to . . . October or November . . . . While expanding your list might seem unnecessary, time consuming, or even wasteful, we believe that expanding your options now could mean the difference between an okay college choice and a great college choice for you later.

In other words, taking off from what we talked about last week, having your senior expand his or her options now could mean the difference eventually between just an okay college “fit” and a great college “fit.” And that could be the difference between graduating on time and not graduating on time–or even graduating at all. (Regular listeners: You know what we think about graduating from college on time–that is, in the traditional four years. It’s one of the best ways around to save money, and it might just let your kid go to his or her first choice, even if the annual sticker price on that choice is a bit higher than you all had hoped.)

2. That Dreaded Geographic Comfort Zone

So, what stands between your senior and that great college fit? It might well be the dreaded geographic comfort zone. As we said to your senior in our book, there is nothing we dislike more than your “geographic comfort zone.” Here is what we wrote:

The great majority of high school graduates who go to college choose a college in their home state?perhaps as many as 70 percent of them. Undoubtedly, you have one or more colleges in your home state on your list of college options right now. That’s okay with us. However, what’s NOT okay is to have nothing BUT colleges in your home state on your list.

Here’s why: It’s a big world out there. There are so many intriguing colleges in it that we hate for you to limit yourself to those nearby. We hate for you to limit yourself to those that are likely to have a majority of students a lot like you from the same part of the country as you. Your first step in making a list of college options should NOT be to narrow down the choices and to close off opportunities. You should NOT be settling either for colleges that are nearby or for colleges that you and your parents and your school counselor already know a lot about.

We know that there are some good reasons for kids to stay close to home for college. We understand that some families want to keep their kids close to home for cultural reasons, perhaps in order to participate in family events or religious activities. We understand that some families need to have their kids stay at home in order to help with family responsibilities. Those reasons are hard to argue against.

We know that staying close to home might make going to college more affordable for some families, especially if living at home saves on housing expenses. But we also know that it is hard to know in advance how generous a financial aid package might be from an out-of-state college. [Just look back at Episode 127 if you don’t believe us on that one!] Did you know that some states offer an attractive discount at their public colleges to students who come from nearby states? We bet you didn’t. Check out, for example, the Midwest Student Exchange Program or the Western Undergraduate Exchange or the New England Regional Student Program, if you live in those regions of the country, [or the University of Maine’s new tuition program for nonresidents].

We also know that you can sometimes get into a better college when it is far from home. Why? Because almost every college likes the idea of geographic diversity in its student body. Colleges like to claim that they draw students “from all 50 states and from 100 foreign countries.” You will see this kind of statement on many college websites. Pay attention, because you might be far more attractive to a college halfway across the country than to one in your own back yard. That’s because you will give that faraway college bragging rights. This is especially true for private colleges that do not have the same mission to serve students in their own state as public colleges do.

We also know that some parents just can’t imagine sending their kids away from home for the first time. In fact, you might not be able to imagine leaving home for the first time. But, we encourage you and your parents to think hard about that. Isn’t college the perfect time to make that break–a time when you can live somewhere else under the supervision of college staff in relatively secure surroundings, a time when you can learn to function as an adult in a safe environment (that is, learn to manage your money, do your work, plan your time, and make new friends)?

We urge you (and your parents) to get outside your family’s geographic comfort zone. You have nothing to lose at this stage in the process. Researching colleges outside your hometown, outside your state, and outside your region doesn’t mean you have to attend one of them–or even apply to one of them. But it does mean that you will have the information that you need to make a better decision when the time comes.

I really can’t make any better case for getting outside your geographic comfort zone than that. Here is what we wrote to your senior about how to do it:

Conveniently, the Bureau of Economic Analysis has divided the U.S. into eight regions:

  • Far West–California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Hawai?i, Alaska
  • Rocky Mountains–Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Utah
  • Southwest–Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
  • Plains–Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota
  • Southeast–Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia
  • Great Lakes–Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio
  • Mideast–Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia
  • New England–Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine

However, we thought that the Bureau stuffed too many states into the Southeast; so, we divided the Southeast into two regions (southern and northern), and you should, too. That will give you nine regions to investigate.

We used these nine regions when we did our virtual college tour [at USACollegeChat]. You should listen to the tour in Episodes 27 through 53 of our podcast or simply read the show notes at usacollegechat.org. . . .

We thought hard about how you should create what we will call your Long List of College Options?your LLCO, for short. We decided to start with this advice:

Make sure that you have at least two four-year colleges in each of the nine geographic regions of the U.S. on your LLCO.

So, that would give you at least 18 four-year colleges. But, our guess is that your list already had some regions covered with more than two colleges–especially the region you live in. That’s fine. Have as many colleges on your LLCO as you like from each region. But don’t ignore any region! That’s what it means to get outside your geographic comfort zone.

3. How To Find College Options

We hope that we have convinced you. If we have, we don’t ever have to bring it up again. Here is what we wrote to your senior about what to do next:

How should you choose the colleges for your LLCO? Well, you probably know about some colleges already–from family, friends, school counselors, and teachers. You should discover some more from our virtual college tour, in which we talk about several hundred four-year colleges. You might find some more through a variety of online searches and quick looks at those college websites. Remember, you don’t need too much information about each one just to put it on your LLCO.

You will soon see that 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 about what to look for on the next website you go to. It’s an education in itself. You really need an education ABOUT higher education.

By the way, don’t start looking at two-year colleges, or community colleges, yet. Two-year colleges can easily be added to your LLCO closer to application time, partly because their applications are typically less demanding to complete. We are also assuming that you are most likely to attend a two-year college in or near your hometown and, therefore, you will not need to do much investigating before applying.

We do 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 two-year colleges are a great choice for saving money and for helping kids who need a bit more maturity or a bit more academic preparation before heading into college. . . . However, we worry because student graduation rates and student transfer rates from two-year colleges to four-year colleges are scandalously low, and we worry about what opportunities end up being closed off for too many kids.

But back to your LLCO. Those of you who have listened to our podcast or read the show notes know that this suggestion is coming:

Make sure that you have at least one college that is not in the U.S. on your LLCO.

This is a favorite topic of ours, and we can’t say enough about it. There are truly great options outside the U.S. We hope that every one of you will take advantage of studying abroad for at least a semester, no matter where you end up in college. Studying abroad is for everyone these days–not just for rich kids, not just for kids studying foreign languages, not just for kids at private liberal arts colleges. But you can actually study outside the U.S. for more than a semester or even for more than one year; you can simply go to a college outside the U.S. full time for four years.

So, you must be up to at least 19 colleges on your LLCO–likely more. But we can’t resist one last piece of advice:

Make sure that you have at least two public flagship universities on your LLCO–probably one from your home state plus one more.

We say this to ensure that you have some great public options to consider. Maybe you already had them when your chose two colleges from every region, but add them if you didn’t. To be clear, we mean public “flagships,” not just any public universities–though you are also free to put other public universities on your LLCO. If you are an excellent student, the public flagship in your home state is likely to be your very best choice for a “safety school” (with some exceptions, like California, which can’t accommodate all of the excellent students in their own state). If you can’t identify the public flagship in your own state or in most other states, you aren’t ready to be choosing colleges yet. Go learn about all 50 of them on our virtual college tour.

As we have said numerous times in our podcast episodes, public flagship universities might be the hidden jewels in the college landscape. They are often the very best place high school kids in those states can imagine going. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive for state residents (because they are public), academically respectable (even outstanding), well regarded across the state and across the country, competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for lots of their high school classmates. They are often truly the place to be, if you live in that state.

As with everything, some states have better public flagship universities than others, and some public flagship universities are better funded by their states than others. Nonetheless, we are convinced that you can find at least two that you think might be great for you.

Well, that is a lot of colleges: colleges from nine geographic regions, one or more colleges from outside the U.S., and a couple of public flagships from your state and/or someone else’s. Of course, don’t forget to ask your parents and other important family members and teachers and school counselors for input about colleges to put on your LLCO. For right now, the more, the better–at least within reason. But our “within reason” is probably a lot bigger than your “within reason.” Remember that your senior is not necessarily applying to all of the colleges on his or her LLCO. Your senior is just going to start gathering the information he or she and you would need in order to decide whether it is worth applying. We will start talking about that information gathering next week–that is, what information to gather and how to gather it. So, stay tuned.

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Episode 128: College Enrollment in Decline?

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

Today’s episode is going to be the final one of our Colleges in the Spotlight series because next week we are really getting down to the serious work of getting our rising high school seniors ready to apply to colleges. So, as we leave Colleges in the Spotlight, we want to take a look at a news story that might just be bringing good news to some of you. The story, which ran in The Hechinger Report and in The Washington Post at the end of June, was entitled “Universities and colleges struggle to stem big drops in enrollment.” Really, I said to myself. That could be great news for kids applying to colleges this fall.

Today’s episode will look at the national facts and figures of this new trend. Plus we will look at Ohio Wesleyan University–in today’s spotlight–a good small liberal arts college in Delaware, Ohio. Ohio Wesleyan enrolls about 1,700 undergraduate students and boasts an attractive 10-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. In the interest of full disclosure, my sister-in-law graduated from Ohio Wesleyan “some years ago” (that means more than 40 years ago) and, by all accounts, thoroughly enjoyed her time there.

And one final reminder: Don’t forget to get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students–available at amazon.com. Quick and cheap! Your teenager is going to need it this summer when he or she might have some time to kill. We will tell you more when we get serious next week, so stay tuned.

1. The Facts and Figures on Enrollment Decline

Here are some of the facts and figures presented by Jon Marcus in The Hechinger Report article:

  • According to the National Student Clearinghouse, college enrollment has declined for five years in a row.
  • This year, there are 81,000 fewer U.S. high school graduates going off to college, which is a direct result of a decline in birth rate (particularly in the Northeast and Midwest).
  • Just over 18 million students were enrolled in colleges nationwide last spring–2.4 million fewer students than were enrolled in the fall of 2011, which was the most recent high point for college enrollment. I am going to say that over 2 million students is a lot of students to lose.
  • According to a survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, 58 percent of chief business officers said their institutions had seen a drop in undergraduate enrollment since 2013. (Although 58 percent is certainly the majority of colleges, it doesn’t mean that the statement is true for the most selective colleges–where it is likely not true, just to keep things in perspective.)
  • According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, over 400 colleges still had fall semester spots for freshmen and transfer students as of May 1. (Again, that doesn’t mean those 400 included the most selective colleges, but 400 is still a lot of colleges and every U.S. high school graduate does not, of course, attend a most selective college.)

What does the future hold? When will it all change? Not until 2023, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). Here is what The Hechinger Report article says about what will then be a “slow recovery”:

When it comes, [the recovery] will be [composed] largely of low-income, first-generation-in-college racial and ethnic minorities. These are the kinds of students institutions have generally proven poor at enrolling, and who will arrive with a far greater need for financial aid and expensive support. (quoted from the website)

So, colleges might not have an easy time of it as they work to stem the decline and turn enrollment around–not that many high school seniors and their families are going to be overly sympathetic about that.

Can this information work in favor of kids applying to colleges in the next few years? Before we consider what it all means, let’s look at the Ohio Wesleyan case study, presented in The Hechinger Report article.

2. The Story of Ohio Wesleyan

Hit with a decline in Ohio high school graduates, a prime recruiting ground for Ohio Wesleyan, the University took and is taking a number of steps to boost its enrollment, based on data that it looked at both from admitted students who decided to enroll and admitted students who decided not to enroll. Here are some of those steps:

  • Because the drop in male students was greater than the drop in female students, Ohio Wesleyan is adding two sports (and a marching band) to try to attract more male students.
  • Because students said they wanted more internship and more study abroad opportunities, both internships and short-term study abroad programs are being expanded.
  • Because new sources of students needed to be found, Ohio Wesleyan admissions staff members have been recruiting locally (in Cleveland), regionally (in Chicago), and much farther afield (in China, India, and Pakistan). In addition, the transfer process has been simplified so that students wanting to transfer into Ohio Wesleyan can do so more easily.
  • Because some undergraduates are concerned about where they will be going next for graduate study (Ohio Wesleyan enrolls undergrads only), articulation agreements with Carnegie-Mellon University and with a medical school have just been drawn up to make the transition from undergraduate to graduate study more straightforward–in at least those cases.
  • Because money is always an issue for students and their families, Ohio Wesleyan has budgeted more money for financial aid. In addition, “the University is considering freezing, lowering or slowing the rate of increase of its tuition and fees, which are now $44,690” (quoted from the article).
  • Because students are concerned about their futures, Ohio Wesleyan has been studying labor data and creating new majors in fields of high demand, including majors in data analytics and computational neuroscience. Ohio Wesleyan president Rock Jones was quoted in The Hechinger Report article as saying this: “We live in a really consumer-driven society, and to be honest a college is an investment. Families are much more discerning, and they approach it as consumers. That’s a cultural shift to which the campus has to respond.”

One of my favorite anecdotes from The Hechinger Report article is this one (and I think this will be particularly enjoyable for anyone who has friends who teach in colleges and who hear about the politics of higher education from those friends):

One of the greatest challenges, as at other places, has been to get buy-in from the faculty, who have to approve new academic offerings. Ohio Wesleyan invited faculty on the curriculum committee to meet with the financial-aid committee, giving them a sense of how serious the problems were and asking them for help in coming up with majors that might attract more students.

This doesn’t always work. One faculty member suggested a new major in sacred music, for example. “Some faculty have a very clear understanding of the issues,” [President] Jones said wryly. “Others, less so.” (quoted from the article)

3. More About Money

For those of you particularly concerned about financing a college education for your teenager (and who isn’t), consider this new statistic:

Small private, nonprofit colleges and universities this year gave back, in the form of financial aid, an average of 51 cents of every dollar they collected from tuition. That’s up from an average of 38 cents a decade ago. . . . (quoted from the article)

I guess that is good news for students and their families, but perhaps bad news for colleges that continue to try to make ends meet. Of course, there also has to be a point here when most colleges cannot give back almost everything they take in and still remain viable.

And while we could tell you stories of small private colleges cutting their tuition and, as a result, gaining additional students, here is one public flagship university story that could also prove valuable to some of you:

The University of Maine, in a state whose number of high school grads has fallen 9 percent since 2011, offered admission to students from elsewhere at the same in-state price they would have paid to attend their home flagships; that has attracted more than 1,000 new students for the semester that begins this fall, from all of the other New England states plus California, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (quoted from the article)

We have talked about these kinds of arrangements with public universities in previous USACollegeChat episodes and in our most recent book, where we mention that some public universities provide generous discounts to students from contiguous states or to students in the region. The University of Maine seems to have found a way to expand that idea nationwide and win more students as a result.

4. What’s It All Mean for You?

So, what does all this mean for you and your own teenager? Well, let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that your kid’s chances of getting into an Ivy League school or any other top-tier college are any better now than they were before you listened to this episode. Whatever happens to the number of high school students in the U.S. and no matter what the decline is in the number of high school graduates statewide in your state or nationwide, our nation’s most selective colleges are not going to feel the pinch. That is just our opinion, but it is probably right.

It is also likely true that the top public flagship universities are not going to feel the pinch, either–like the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of California, Berkeley, and another five or 10 more. Why? Because those top flagships attract students from across the nation, and there will always be enough students with good enough grades to fill the best public universities.

But here is the good news. Your teenager might have a better chance now of getting into a good small private college–and there are plenty of those. If you have a super-smart kid, such a college could serve as a great safety school. If you have a kid with good, but not outstanding, grades and test scores, such a college could become a likely match rather than a reach school.

We have said for some time at USACollegeChat that our public flagship universities are the hidden jewels of our higher education system. And we are not taking that back. But now maybe we should add that good small private colleges might be the hidden jewels of our higher education system precisely because they will give you a better bang for your buck than you originally thought. Let’s keep that in mind next week as we move to the serious search for colleges for your teenager.

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Episode 104: Public Universities–One More Time

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

This is our final episode before the holiday break and before those of you with seniors are facing what is likely D-Day–Deadline-for-college-applications Day–at least, for many, many colleges anyway. We struggled to think of something hopeful to say, and we settled on one last look at a group of colleges your teenager and you might not have considered sufficiently, and that is public universities. They have long been a favorite topic of ours, as evidenced by our detailed coverage of them during our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) and our oft-repeated description of public flagship universities as the hidden jewels of our higher education system in the U.S.

But recently, I read some new information that might make them even more attractive to you, and that information is about money. Our regular listeners know that I care relatively little about the cost of a college compared to the education and college life it provides and the quality of its match to a particular student. But even I was pleased to find out this information. Perhaps it is just in time for adding one or two more colleges to your teenager’s list (especially if the applications are relatively easy or the deadlines are a bit later than January 1, both of which can be true for large public universities).

1. Out-of-State Tuition Prices Dropping

A few weeks ago, I read an Associated Press article, by Jeff Amy, which had a catchy headline: “Seeking students, public colleges reduce out-of-state prices.” It starts with an interesting story from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in Hattiesburg, but doesn’t stop there. Here is the USM story:

The 14,500-student school has cut annual out-of-state tuition and fees from $16,529 this year to $9,964 next fall, even as it increases the cost for Mississippi residents by 4 percent, to $7,963.

The idea is to reverse a 2,000-student enrollment dip by pricing a USM education below some public universities in nearby states, and attract enough high-schoolers from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio to raise overall revenue. (quoted from the article)

Of course, as our regular listeners might say, those high school seniors could also come from New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Why? Because kids need to get outside their geographic comfort zone! And now, USM and other public universities are making it even more attractive and cheaper to do just that.

According to Mr. Amy’s article, “The Associated Press counted at least 50 public colleges and universities nationwide that have lowered nonresident tuition by more than 10 percent in recent years without making similar reductions for in-state students.” Is there any particular reason for that trend? Mr. Amy’s article offers this statistic:

Many [colleges] are squeezed by falling numbers of traditional college-age students. High school graduates have fallen nationwide since 2011 and won’t peak again until 2023, according to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education. (quoted from the article)

Well, that was something I didn’t know. So now, let’s head way north from Hattiesburg and take a look at the University of Maine‘s flagship campus. Mr. Amy tells this story:

One widely noticed move was made by the University of Maine in Orono, which charges high-achievers from nine other states the same tuition they’d pay at their home state’s flagship. This saves them $12,000 to $17,000 from Maine’s out-of-state tuition of $29,498; applicants with lower grades and test scores get $9,000 off.

“The state of Maine needs young people, and we’re not producing enough of them,” said University of Maine Provost Jeffrey Hecker?.

It’s working: Applications jumped, freshman enrollment rose 9 percent to 2,260 students this fall?. (quoted from the article)

This arrangement at the University of Maine echoes some arrangements we talked about during our virtual nationwide college tour (Episodes 27 through 53) where groups of neighboring states in various parts of the country offered good financial deals to students to cross state lines and attend public universities. And, parents, don’t forget to check out about any regional exchanges your state belongs to (e.g., Western Undergraduate Exchange, Midwest Student Exchange Program), which offer tuition discounts to residents of member states.

Of course, as we have said before, some public universities take some heat from state taxpayers for recruiting students from outside the state, especially when they believe that out-of-state students who can pay more are admitted instead of in-state students who deserve those places. But, as some states cut back on their funding of their own public universities, it is no surprise that those universities have to seek revenue elsewhere. Thus, at least in some states, out-of-state students are going to get a good deal.

2. Public Universities Recruiting Out-of-State Students

Last month, The New York Times published an article by Laura Pappano entitled “How the University of Alabama Became a National Player.” The whole article is well worth reading and tells about many more universities than we are going to talk about in this episode. But here is the Alabama story in a nutshell:

With state funding now just 12.5 percent of the university’s budget, campus leaders have mapped an offensive strategy to grow in size, prestige and, most important, revenue. The endgame is to become a national player known for more than championship football?.

The university is spending $100.6 million in merit aid, up from $8.3 million a decade ago and more than twice what it allocates to students with financial need. It also has hired an army of recruiters to put Bama on college lists of full-paying students who, a few years ago, might not have looked its way.

The University of Alabama is the fastest-growing flagship in the country. Enrollment hit 37,665 this fall, nearly a 58 percent increase over 2006. As critical as the student body jump: the kind of student the university is attracting. The average G.P.A. of entering freshmen is 3.66, up from 3.4 a decade ago, and the top quarter scored at least a 31 on the ACT, up from 27. (quoted from the article)

While it is clear that there are Alabama taxpayers who are annoyed that its well-known and much-loved flagship university is spending its money on out-of-state recruiters and merit aid to bright kids, it is also clear that these strategies seem to be working for the University. And that is why the University of Alabama now has 45 recruiters, with 36 of them in out-of-state locations.

According to Ms. Pappano’s article, Alabama is just one example of this trend. To take another example, the University of South Carolina (USC) has 20 recruiters, and now USC receives twice as many applications from out-of-state students as from state residents. Ms. Pappano sums it up this way:

It is no accident that states with among the largest drops in state allocations since 2008–Arizona (down 56 percent), South Carolina (down 37 percent) and Alabama (down 36 percent), according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities–have entrepreneurial public campuses trained on growth. Those same states also had the greatest net gain in students: More entered the state to attend their four-year public institutions than left to study elsewhere, according to fall 2014 data, the most recent available. (quoted from the article)

3. What Does It All Mean?

So, what does it all mean? First, giving great tuition breaks to out-of-state students likely means that some in-state kids will lose out on places at those public universities. Second, recruiting out-of-state kids who can afford to pay more likely means that some in-state kids will lose out on places at those public universities.   Third, giving merit scholarships to out-of-state bright kids likely means that some in-state kids will lose out on places at those public universities. All of these scenarios are understandably of concern to state taxpayers. These scenarios are also a concern to those of us who believe that public universities have a mission to make a college education accessible to a wide range of students, not just the best and the brightest and the most able to pay.

On the other hand, if you are the parent of a teenager who is looking for another college to add to the list as we get down to the wire, we can say that this could be the time to look both to public flagship universities and to other public universities that are actively recruiting out-of-state students. Check out the articles we have been discussing for more information. Depending on your teenager’s grades and test scores, there might even be a substantial financial break for you.

4. Good Luck!

We will be taking a short holiday break next week, and we will be back with you on January 5. At that point, those of you who have a senior with applications due in the first few days of January should be breathing a huge sigh of relief. Of course, some of you will still have deadlines to face in February and March and even later. And if you have a junior at home, your life is about to change.

But, parents of seniors, let us say again what we have said before: There is not just one perfect college for each kid. There are many colleges that would make each kid happy and many colleges that would give each kid a great education. Your kid will find one or more than one. Until then, we are keeping our fingers crossed for you. Happy 2017!

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 41: Colleges in the New England Region—Part I

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.

Virtual #college tour of New England Region on NYCollegeChat #podcast. Available at http://usacollegechat.org/41

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.

What are these flagship campuses in the New England states? They are The University of Maine (UMaine) in Orono, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in Durham, The University of Vermont (UVM, from the Latin phrase for “University in the Green Mountains”) in Burlington, The University of Rhode Island (URI) in Kingston, the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst).

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 believe that flagship universities are very often sufficiently attractive to draw students away from public options in their own states, especially public options that are not their own flagship universities. I also believe that some states have other public options that are quite comparable to their own flagship university—like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University or the University of Texas Austin and Texas A & M University.

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

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