Episode 128: College Enrollment in Decline?

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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 123: A New Look at Colleges North of the Border

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Last week in our Colleges in the Spotlight series, we took you to the U.K. to consider what it might be like to attend college full time outside the U.S. We looked specifically at Richmond, the American International University in London, a unique university dually accredited in the U.S. and the U.K. We hoped that taking a close look at Richmond–and, more generally, at the value of full-time study at universities abroad–might persuade some of you to leave your geographic comfort zone.

But, in case a trip across the Atlantic (or the Pacific) seems too big a geographic leap for you, today’s episode lets you stay a little closer to home. We are going to look at colleges in Canada, our close ally and important trading partner to the north. Let me say that I have known about colleges in Canada for decades, first because of a childhood Canadian friend and later because McGill University in Montreal has been an increasingly popular college choice for students in the Northeast for many years now. Then, six years ago, my nephew, who was raised in Seattle, decided to attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and had a great four years there. So, it has been with some interest that I have read a variety of articles in the news in the past six months about the new appeal of Canadian colleges for U.S. students.

And, let us remind you, that you should go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. The workbook will help your teenager know what questions to ask about colleges of interest to him or her and will help your teenager research the answers. Let me say, by the way, that one of our favorite sources of college information, the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator, does not provide data about colleges outside the U.S. So, if your teenager likes our notion of studying full time outside the U.S., he or she will have to dig a little harder to answer all of the questions we pose in our book.

1. The New Statistics

So, what’s all this about Canada? Well, in an article about two months ago in The Washington Post, Susan Svrluga wrote about the increased interest of U.S. students in Canadian universities and the possible reasons for it. Here are some of the statistics she provides in the article: 

  • Applications to Canadian universities from students outside of Canada are on the upswing, and the number of international students studying at Canadian universities has doubled in the past 10 years.
  • Twice as many students as usual have been looking for information on the Universities Canada website since last November. The website “offers profiles of Canadian universities, a large study programs database and helps you plan your university education. The information on [the] site is provided by Universities Canada and its 97 member universities.” (quoted from the website)
  • Some of the best Canadian universities have seen dramatic increases in U.S. applications: a 25 percent increase at McGill; a 35 percent increase at McMaster University, a public research university in Hamilton, Ontario; and an 80 percent increase at the University of Toronto.
  • And the price is attractive, too. According to The Washington Post article, “At the current exchange rate, tuition and fees are about $13,000 less for an international student’s first year at the University of Toronto than they would be at Harvard, and $11,000 less than out-of-state rates at the University of Virginia.” So, as we said about Richmond last week, the cost of attending some excellent universities outside the U.S. is surprisingly reasonable, though not necessarily cheap.

The Universities Canada website offers eight reasons for attending college in Canada. All of them are good, but I can see how the following four might resonate with some U.S. students and with other foreign students who are looking for a safe college environment and secure future:

Affordability: While Canada’s quality of education and standard of living are among the highest in the world, the cost of living and tuition fees are generally lower than in other countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Support services: International students benefit from services to help them transition to living and studying in Canada: orientation activities, student advisors, language support, academic associations, social clubs and other programs at their educational institutions.

Cultural diversity: Canada ranks among the most multicultural nations in the world. Regardless of ethnic origin, international students feel at home in our diverse and welcoming communities and campuses.

Opportunity to stay in Canada after graduation: International students have the opportunity to work during their studies and after they graduate. University graduates may also be eligible to transition to permanent residence in Canada. Visit the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website for more information. (quoted from the Universities Canada website)

The Washington Post article quoted Ted Sargent, a vice president at the University of Toronto, which recruits outside Canada, including in the U.S. Sargent said, “Canada is having a moment. It is a time of opportunity. . . . A lot of people know that half of the people in Toronto were not born in Canada. Canada is a place that is focused on attracting talent from around the world. . . . That messaging about diversity and inclusivity is very resonant today.” One can see how Canada’s open arms are appealing to the students and their families who are concerned about the ramifications of the Brexit vote in the U.K. and who are concerned about some of the new proposed immigration policies in the U.S. The Washington Post article offers several insightful anecdotes about individual students, including a long story about one Syrian graduate student’s difficulties in getting back into the U.S. after a trip to check on the humanitarian medical work he had been doing in Turkey.

Interestingly, Universities Canada published a statement after our president’s first executive order about immigration. Here it is:

“Universities Canada does not typically comment on executive action being taken by another country, but we do so today because of the real impediment this new executive order poses to the free flow of people and ideas and to the values of diversity, inclusion and openness that are hallmarks of a strong and healthy society.” (quoted from the article)

2. Check Out Universities Canada!

I think it is worth it for you and your teenager to check out the Universities Canada website and read some of the profiles of the universities that you will find there. As Americans unfortunately are with many things about Canada (including its history and government), I think we are quite ignorant of its higher education system. That seems ridiculous when many top Canadian universities are a lot closer to where some of us live than universities in a distant part of our own country. We likely know more about Canada’s ice hockey and baseball teams, its actors and singers who have big careers in our country, and our television industry’s use of Vancouver to film some of our favorite shows than we know about its universities. I think once you see some of its universities’ reasonable tuition rates, you will be sorry you didn’t think of Canada sooner (this is also true for graduate programs, by the way).

So, what are the best universities in Canada? I thought a decent source might be the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2016?2017, which lists the top 980 universities in the world. If you don’t know it, Times Higher Education is a weekly publication based in London. Its website explains its rankings this way:

[Ours] is the only global university performance table to judge world class universities across all of their core missions–teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. The top universities rankings use 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available, which are trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments.

For the [World University Rankings], [our] in-house data team now ranks 2,150 institutions worldwide, with 1 million data points analysed across 2,600 institutions in 93 countries. In 2016, the global media reach of the rankings was almost 700 million. (quoted from the website)

That’s a lot of institutions and a lot of data. Just so you know, the five top-ranked institutions worldwide, according to this list, are the University of Oxford, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Stanford University, the University of Cambridge, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Here are the top six Canadian universities, along with their world ranking, according to this list. So, if you have a smart teenager, you might want to start with the profiles of these, available on the Times Higher Education website:

  • University of Toronto–22
  • University of British Columbia (with a student body that is 25 percent international)–36
  • McGill University–42
  • University of Montreal (the only French-speaking one in the top five)–103
  • University of Alberta (in Edmonton)–107
  • McMaster University–113

Of course, just as there are in the U.S., there are many other great universities in Canada. Your teenager doesn’t have to go to one of the top six anymore than he or she has to go to one of the top six in the U.S. or one of the top six in the world. The Universities Canada website can give you all the information you need about many universities to start your search.

3. A Personal Reflection

Maybe if we had written our new book this week instead of a couple of months ago, we would have added another requirement for building your teenager’s long list of college options (or LLCO, as we called it). If you don’t already have the book, we ask that your teenager put together an LLCO that includes two four-year colleges in each of the nine geographic regions of the U.S., at least two public flagship universities, and one college outside of the U.S. All of this is, of course, designed to get you all outside your geographic comfort zone–where, undoubtedly, some of the best higher education is happening.

So, if we had written the book today, we might have said that your teenager’s LLCO should also include one Canadian university. Given everything we have just read, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

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Episode 114: It’s College Decision Time!

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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“):

  1. 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. . . .

  2. 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.

By the way, the most selective college your teenager was accepted to might well be a public university?especially if it is your state’s or another state’s flagship university. As we have said many times, there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public college. For a list of great public colleges, go back and listen or re-listen to the nationwide virtual college tour we took you all on in Episodes 27-53. You will see the same names come up over and over again, including these: the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Michigan; the University of Virginia; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the College of William and Mary; the University of Iowa; the University of Washington; and the University of Texas at Austin. And there are quite a few more. If your teenager got into one of them, that is worth thinking really hard about.

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…

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Episode 58: Black and Hispanic Students at Public Flagship Universities

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

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

Welcome back to our current series about higher education in the news. We have been talking about news stories of all sorts about colleges—some that might immediately influence your teenager’s decision about where to apply or later about where to attend and others that might take longer to impact your family.

In this episode, we are going to look at an eye-opening article that focuses on the enrollment of black students at public flagship universities in various states. As our regular listeners know, we have spent many episodes praising public flagship universities—especially during our virtual tour of colleges nationwide, where we highlighted every single flagship university in every single state.

We explained that, in many states, the public flagship university is often the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because it is relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, usually competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates.

We also explained that flagship campuses are more popular in some parts of the country than in others. The notion that they are least popular, we would say, in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions probably reflects the culture of the Northeast and not the academic quality of the institutions. Perhaps there is just an older and more entrenched tradition of private higher education in the Northeast than there is in other parts of the country.

As we have said before, we think that great flagship campuses in other states are the hidden jewels of the college search for lots of students who never consider them. In other words, we think that students too often overlook great flagship universities outside their home state and choose to attend more expensive private colleges with less academic prestige in their home state.

To be fair, some flagship universities are pricey for out-of-state students, but they are not typically more expensive than private colleges. And, in earlier episodes, we have talked about some reciprocal agreements among states that charge students from their same region a lower price than other out-of-state students (remember the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Midwest Student Exchange Program, which charge regional students no more than 150 percent of in-state tuition instead of two or three times as much).

So, that’s the background to today’s episode. To sum it up, we love flagship universities.

1. The Hechinger Report’s Investigation

Recently, I read Meredith Kolodner’s well-researched article in The Hechinger Report (December 18, 2015): “Black students are drastically underrepresented at top public colleges, data show.” (The article also appeared in The Huffington Post.) As someone who has been praising flagship universities for some months now and as a concerned taxpayer, I dove into the article. Let me read you several paragraphs in which Ms. Kolodner gives us some key statistics:

On average, just 5 percent of students at the nation’s flagship public universities are black. . . . Even . . . at the University of Virginia, which prides itself on the diversity of its campus, just 8 percent of students are black. Just 5 percent are black Virginians, in a state where 22 percent of public high school graduates are African-American.

Virginia is hardly unusual. At most flagships, the African-American percentage of the student population is well below that of the state’s public high school graduates. Typical are the University of Delaware, with a student body that is 5 percent African-American in a state where 30 percent of public high school graduates are black, and the University of Georgia, where it’s 7 percent compared with 34 percent. (quoted from the article)

Those statistics made me think twice. I almost hoped that the University of Virginia (commonly referred to as UVA) numbers were unusual since we know from our virtual tour that it is one of the most academically prestigious of all flagship universities.

Ms. Kolodner went on to say this:

Flagships matter because they almost always have the highest graduation rates among public colleges in their state — especially for black students — as well as extensive career resources, well-placed alumni networks, a broad range of course selections and high-profile faculty. For state residents, these colleges also offer the most affordable top-quality college education, and usually a path toward better opportunities after college.

We agree: Flagships matter. The article goes on to offer a thought-provoking discussion of how black students are being pushed out of public higher education opportunities, including by rising costs, and of how black students themselves feel on campuses where they are such a small fraction of the student population. The article, which also takes a deeper look at UVA, is well worth reading.

2. The Common Data Set

Wanting to see what the enrollment figures looked like at other flagship universities we have been recommending to students, we decided to take a look. I got the data that we are going to present from a very useful document, which can be found on the websites of most colleges. It is called the Common Data Set, and it is a long set of data covering many aspects of college life, including enrollment and characteristics of admitted students. The Common Data Set is a product of the government-funded Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (known as IPEDS). I usually found it for a particular college by searching on that college’s website for “Common Data Set.”

In checking information about IPEDS for this episode, I now discover that IPEDS has a great college search function of its own (housed at the National Center for Education Statistics), called College Navigator, which provides the Common Data Set statistics for each college quickly and efficiently in one place. If only I had known! Run—don’t walk—to this website: http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/. This is great information for you and your teenager as you are doing your college search.

3. Statistics from Other Flagships

Let’s look first at the percentage of “black, or African American, non-Hispanic/Latino” students who are “degree-seeking undergraduates,” according to the figures submitted to IPEDS in these exact IPEDS categories. Here are the percentages for some well-known flagship universities that we have discussed in earlier episodes (the data are for the 2014-2015 academic year):

These are large and small flagships, highly selective and less selective flagships, and geographically diverse flagships. I have to say that I was astonished at the tiny fraction of black undergraduates at some of them. While we often looked at the racial/ethnic breakdown of students during our virtual tour of colleges, these small numbers seem to have a bigger impact when they are all lined up together. And, interestingly, I remember some selective private colleges where the percentage of black students was far, far higher than these numbers.

I went on to get the same information for what IPEDS calls “Hispanic/Latino” “degree-seeking undergraduates.” Here are those percentages:

  • The Ohio State University—3%
  • The University of Mississippi—3%
  • University of Michigan—4%
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst—5%
  • Louisiana State University—6%
  • The University of Iowa—6%
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—7%
  • University of Washington in Seattle—7%
  • University of Colorado Boulder—10%

These percentages aren’t any higher. In fact, when combining the two figures, you get a range of just 8 to 17 percent black and Hispanic/Latino undergraduates at these particular flagship universities.

4. Graduation Rates

Ms. Kolodner’s article also takes up the important concern about whether students who enroll in college actually go on to graduate. Listen to these two paragraphs from her article:

Black and Latino students who have above-average SAT scores go to college at the same rate — 90 percent — as whites. But once enrolled, white students are more likely to finish, in part because they attend more selective colleges, where the resources are better and overall graduation rates are higher.

When black and Latino students with above-average SAT scores go to those selective colleges, their graduation rate is 73 percent, compared to only 40 percent for these above-average-scoring nonwhite students at other colleges. (quoted from the article)

This is just one more reason that low numbers of black and Hispanic/Latino undergraduates at flagship universities is a concern: If more black and Hispanic/Latino students attended flagships, it is likely that more would, in fact, graduate from college. And that is at least as important as getting into college in the first place.

5. What Does This Mean for You

I am not presenting these numbers to condemn these universities for somehow not producing undergraduate student bodies that are more diverse and more representative of black and Hispanic/Latino high school graduates. I do not know what measures they have taken to improve these numbers or even if they believe that these numbers need improving. What I would like to do is give you and your teenager a way to think about these numbers if you are black, Hispanic, or Latino.

First, know that your teenager would be part of a relatively small group of students of the same racial or ethnic background on many of these campuses. That might be fine for your teenager and for your family—especially if your teenager’s high school had a similar look. Or, even if it didn’t. Of course, because most of these flagship universities have tens of thousands of students, that means that there are still hundreds or even thousands of black and Hispanic/Latino students on campus. So those numbers might make your teenager feel comfortable enough.

Second, know that your teenager could be a highly desirable freshman applicant, depending on his or her grades and test scores. My guess is that many of these flagship universities are actively seeking good black and Hispanic/Latino applicants—especially from their own states, but likely also from other states. And, because we have already said that flagship universities are typically excellent academic institutions, they make really attractive choices for your teenager.

Third, know that your teenager might well stand a better chance of graduating from college if he or she attended a great flagship university rather than a smaller, less academically prestigious institution. It might be a bit more expensive for out-of-staters, but the result could be, as they say, priceless.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

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

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

Outside of New York State

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

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

Connect with us through…

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

Episode 54: Should “Elite” Be Getting a New Definition?

Should "Elite" Be Getting a New Defition? on NYCollegeChat podcast Series 5: Higher Education in the News #collegeaccess

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

For the past several months, it seems that we have been reading and hearing more and more about higher education in the news—both in publications for the general public and in publications geared for professional educators. We thought that, for our fifth series at NYCollegeChat, we would devote some weeks to looking at news stories that are intriguing and/or distressing about specific colleges and higher education generally—about students, professors, curricula, admissions, and more.

Why is this important to parents of high school students? Because you should be aware of both great and not-so-great things going on in colleges and about how they might impact your own child’s education. That is true whether you have children in college now or children going in the next several years. Some of the stories might have an immediate application to your life, and others might take longer to become important to you. Either way, we think these are things parents should know and perhaps act on.

1. Michael Crow’s Arresting Statement

Some weeks ago, I read the following arresting statement from Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, a public university with its main campus in Tempe:

We’re enrolling more students and admitting anyone who’s qualified. Those elite schools just don’t get it.

Whoa! Although Marie and I are the products of what most people would call elite private colleges and universities, we have spent a fair amount of our professional careers trying to improve college access for students who might otherwise not have had an opportunity to attend college, and sometimes we have worked with what most people would call less elite institutions to figure out how they can attract and serve those students. President Crow’s statement about college access for more students—indeed any qualified student—sounded good to me.

2. Some Facts About ASU

Our regular listeners might recall that we discussed Arizona State University (commonly referred to ASU) during our nationwide virtual tour of colleges, which ended two weeks ago. Let me recap what we said in Episode 37, when we looked at public universities in the Southwest region of our country.

ASU serves about 50,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in Tempe, about 40,000 of whom are undergraduates. That’s a massive campus. Only about 60 percent of ASU students are Arizona residents (which is low compared to a lot of public universities), and a truly impressive approximately 40 percent are first-generation college students.

President Crow, who came to ASU in 2002, has made a successful effort to increase enrollment, especially of Hispanic and black students, and has made it possible for more low-income students to attend ASU by increasing ASU-supplied financial aid to them. Furthermore, he works hard at providing whatever extra help low-income minority students need in order to graduate. President Crow has also increased the number of out-of-state students (especially from California), who pay about double what state residents pay in tuition (about $22,000 compared to state residents’ $10,000). He encourages innovation among his administrators and is moving forward in using technology to get students through courses faster and more conveniently. (And, as I said back in Episode 37, I have to believe that he is even more dynamic than this paragraph makes him sound.)

Founded as a territorial school in 1885, ASU is now a university known for its Innovation Challenge competitions, a Startup School and a Startup Accelerator for new ventures, an Entrepreneurship Outreach Network, and the Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator. ASU offers nine undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools on the Tempe campus, including the nation’s first School of Sustainability, established in 2006, with 99 percent of that School’s bachelor’s degree graduates currently employed or pursuing graduate degrees. And, in the midst of all that, it offers nine men’s and 12 women’s Sun Devils sports teams and more than 1,000 student organizations.

Now, let me say that ASU is also known for its online programs. As we have said in other episodes, Marie and I are reluctant to recommend placing freshmen in online programs because it takes a very self-disciplined and highly motivated student to succeed in online study, and we fear that many freshmen are not quite up to the task. However, there is certainly innovative cutting edge work being done in providing online education, and ASU’s offerings are impressive.

3. Michael Crow’s Article

So, on October 28 on LinkedIn Pulse, President Crow posted an article entitled “It’s Time to Rethink What ‘Elite’ Should Mean.” As I considered both his values and his success at ASU, I hurried to read it. I would like to read a good deal of it to you—because he said it better than I could and so that you can consider whether he is right. President Crow begins:


“All across the country, newly minted college students have settled into their campuses. . . .
“Some of these undergraduates may take particular delight in having landed a spot at one of America’s prestigious, highly selective schools—and rightfully so. The combination of a widely admired pedigree and academic excellence positions them for success.
“But what if our valuation of these exclusive clubs has been wrongly applied? What if we turn this thinking on its head and judge our schools not by the number of students that they turn away but by their ability to grant access and ensure student success?” (excerpted and quoted from the article)

“Wow,” I thought to myself. President Crow’s proposition really does turn our traditional thinking about excellence in higher education on its head. What if the word “elite” should be reserved for colleges that can take more students as well as more traditionally underrepresented students (like first-generation college-goers and low-income students and students of color) and get them through college successfully? How great must those professors be?

It reminds me of something I used to say to the teachers at the high school that Marie and I helped to co-found in New York City. Though it was an Early College high school, our students were no better academically than average urban kids—and often worse. Sometimes our teachers would get offers to go teach at one of New York City’s elite public high schools—the kind that kids had to take an admissions test to get into and the kind that was, therefore, filled with really bright kids. I would say to our teachers, “Sure, you can go teach there. You will be great. So would any teacher. Those kids are already great. They hardly need you. Why don’t you stay here and be great for kids that need you more?” I have to wonder whether President Crow ever said something just like that to his professors.

President Crow continued in his article:

“Every year ‘elite’ colleges and universities select a tiny fraction of the thousands and thousands of smart, talented and capable students who apply. These institutions then show up on highly touted rankings of the most selective schools in the country, as if a razor-thin acceptance rate was in and of itself a sign of achievement and a model of success.
“Today less than one percent of the nation’s undergraduates attend the top 50 liberal arts colleges and leading Ivy League schools. At the same time, many of our top-tier public universities are becoming increasingly selective. That means more and more qualified applicants are being denied access to world-class education.” (quoted from the article)

Elite colleges are just like elite high schools in New York City. They take in great students and then take credit for being great. And they are great in many other ways, but don’t forget that the students are still great when they arrive. Let’s think about that “less than one percent” President Crow referenced. Hardly any kids can go to the traditionally most elite private colleges and universities we have. And, what’s worse, our nation’s great public flagship universities are getting more and more selective. We know because we looked at the average high school GPAs of incoming freshmen when we did our virtual college tour. I have to tell you that we were shocked. Our regular listeners will recall how high those average GPAs were—and not only at the public flagship universities that we know are the most highly respected academically, like the University of Virginia (4.23 average GPA), the University of California, Berkeley (4.19 average GPA), or the University of Michigan (3.82 average GPA). Granted, those GPAs are averages, so some kids did not score that high; but, some kids scored even higher! These figures would support President Crow’s premise that “more and more qualified applicants are being denied access to world-class education”—that is, kids who have solid GPAs, but not stellar GPAs. Qualified isn’t good enough. President Crow sums up the situation for these otherwise qualified students:

“This represents a missed opportunity for them and a problem for us all.” (quoted from the article)

How is it “a problem for us all”? President Crow lays out a persuasive argument about that. He explains it this way:


“Higher education is critical to driving innovation and increasing our nation’s economic competitiveness. By educating larger and increasingly diverse segments of our population at the highest levels, we expand our ability to succeed in an increasingly global knowledge economy.

“This could not be more important: In the next three years, the U.S. is expected to face a shortage of 3 million highly educated college graduates, a gap projected to grow to 16 million by 2025, according to a Lumina Foundation report. Not only are poverty rates for Americans 25 years or older with no college education triple those with at least a bachelor’s degree, only 5 percent of graduates of public research universities come from families in the bottom fifth of income levels.
“In short, the current system is stacked against those who come from the wrong zip code, a reality that is increasingly troubling as our minority populations grow.” (quoted from the article)

So, what is the solution to the problem? Well, as you might have figured out, President Crow believes that it is what he has been doing at ASU. Here is what he says:


“I firmly believe that expanding access to higher education is a national imperative. At Arizona State University, we are admitting every qualified Arizona student (in addition to a growing population of qualified out-of-state and international students). This is something that schools like Berkeley and Michigan used to do back in the 1950s, but don’t anymore.

“Expanding enrollment need not undermine quality…. We saw our four-year graduation rates increase nearly 20 percentage points between 2002 and 2010….” (excerpted and quoted from the article)

 

How did President Crow and his faculty do that? Well, they probably did a hundred things, but they included, according to President Crow, “expanding the number of multidisciplinary degrees and programs to more closely link our students’ experiences with the needs of the real world that awaits them after graduation” (quoted from the article). As we did our virtual college tour, Marie and I have been seeing a fair number of college websites hyping their interdisciplinary/crossdisciplinary/multidisciplinary programs. There is quite a variety in those programs—like ones built around sustainability or environmentalism or “area studies” focusing on different parts of the world or different ethnicities. These programs bring together courses from a variety of disciplines—like various sciences, social sciences, and engineering or like social sciences, history, languages and literature, and the arts. Why? Because much of the real world of work does not function in tight compartments of specific disciplines or subject fields, but rather will require students to know something about and be able to think across subject fields, just as President Crow says.

At the end of his article, President Crow calls for “expanding our notion of what ‘elite’ really means” (quoted from the article). I’ve been thinking hard about that. Maybe he is right—that “elite” colleges should be those that do a great job of educating students and graduating students rather than just colleges that take in the best students to begin with. Clearly, our traditional elite colleges, in fact, do a great job of educating students and graduating students, and I’m okay with letting those colleges still be “elite.” But let’s seriously think about applying that adjective to the other ones, too—the colleges that do a great job educating all the rest of the students, especially the colleges that work diligently with students who started out at a disadvantage because of their race or ethnicity or their parents’ incomes or their poor elementary and secondary schools.

So, what does that mean for you, parents, as you look over the colleges that your child has just applied to or is about to apply to? It might mean that you should see past the traditional idea of a great college—an “elite” college—and broaden your idea of an elite college to include other colleges that are trying new approaches and working with new types of college students and doing a great job of educating them. Maybe that will actually make the application process more interesting and put less pressure on both you and your child.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why taking online courses at ASU might be better than taking them somewhere else
  • Why colleges with holistic admissions processes might help your teenager
  • Why you and your teenager must consider colleges outside your region of the country

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

Outside of New York State

Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode54
  • Calling us at (516) 900-NYCC to record a question on our NYCollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast
  • Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

Connect with us through…

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