September 10, 2009
A new book is shedding light on graduation rates at state colleges, and also causing a stir with its findings and recommendations. The book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, was written by William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, Michael S. McPherson, a former president of Macalester College, and Matthew M. Chingos, a graduate student at Harvard University. It shows many of the nation's top public schools are coming up short when it comes to graduating students in four years, especially low-income and minority students.
The book analyzes the four-year and six-year graduation rates of students at 21 flagship universities and 47 four-year public universities in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. Among the findings, the authors reveal that flagship universities, typically the most competitive and prestigious in their state university systems, graduate only 49 percent of their students in four years, with other state colleges having even less success. The six-year graduation rates for both sets of schools are better, but vary widely based on several factors discussed in the book.
Disparities by common demographic factors, namely race and socioeconomic status, were found in the research for the book, and were most pronounced among male students. However, the most striking differences come in terms of schools' selectivity. Some of these disparities include:
These results have many questioning the effectiveness of academic scholarships and other merit-based aid, especially in light of the University of Texas at Austin's recent decision to stop sponsoring the National Merit Scholarship Program. More so, though, they have experts, including the book's authors, wondering what is causing this disparity in graduation rates.
Price plays a huge role for students of low socioeconomic status, pushing them to attend the least expensive (and often least selective) schools or to opt out of four-year colleges entirely. Rising costs also could play a role in dropout rates among poorer students, so the availability of financial aid for all four years is crucial to graduation.
One of the biggest problems identified in the book is a phenomenon dubbed "under-matching." Highly qualified students are aiming low in the college application process, attending less selective schools with lower graduation rates when they could easily be accepted to and graduate from more selective schools with higher graduation rates. Students most likely to under-match are low socioeconomic status students whose parents did not attend or did not graduate from college. The higher a student's income and parents' level of education, the less likely the student is to under-match.
Based on this information, the authors suggest that schools focus their efforts on encouraging students to graduate in four years and to remain in school until they graduate. Keeping tuition low is a part of this, as are readjusting requirements to make graduating in four years more doable and, above all else, making it clear that students are expected to graduate in four years.
Graduation rates are gaining attention from other corners, as well. Washington Monthly included graduation rates in their recently released college rankings, and another study published this summer by the American Enterprise Institute compared graduation rates at colleges.The Education Department is also doing its part to make information on graduation rates available to students who complete the FAFSA on the Web.
September 23, 2009
For students beginning to pen those college application essays, some good news appeared in today's Inside Higher Education: several competitive colleges are shortening length requirements for the essays they ask their applicants to submit. Along with the request for briefer essay responses, colleges are increasingly looking for informal and honest responses from students, welcome news to anyone who doesn't view formal writing as their greatest academic strength.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has replaced a long-form essay (500 words) with several shorter and less formal essay responses of 200 words or less. The University of Pennsylvania has taken an opposite tack, combining two separate essay questions into one, but reducing the overall amount of writing students need to do for their application. Other schools that use the Common Application are also increasingly favoring shorter essay responses in their supplemental materials.
Whether universities ask for long essays or short ones, their admission officials seem to want similar things from applicants. Rather than a carefully crafted application meant to highlight an applicant's scholastic and extracurricular abilities, along with his or her impeccable grammar and excellent writing style, colleges are asking to actually get to know the student behind the application. A number of application questions adopt an informal tone to solicit a less stilted and more informative response, even using humor (or the closest thing to humor one can expect to find in college admissions). Some application questions go so far as to plead with the student to answer honestly and reveal some of their personality. This represents a change from what most students have been told to expect when it comes to college admissions, and it also represents a conscious move by admissions into a system that can less easily be gamed by students willing to invest in coaching.
After a months long college search filled with research, campus visits, and correspondence, students already have a lot invested in each application they complete. The intensity of the college application process often prompts students to stifle creativity and rely too heavily on outside help, in some cases employing college admissions consultants or intensive writing coaches (perhaps even ghostwriters) to help craft an application that reflects less what the student brings to the table than what those around the student understand colleges to want. By requiring more informal responses and fewer formal essays, colleges hope to circumvent this problem, while getting a better sense of whether each applicant is a fit for their institution, which is what the application process is supposed to determine in the first place.
September 25, 2009
The Common Application, which allows students to fill out one form and send it to participating schools, has been around for a while. A competitor, the Universal College Application, came out with a similar form in 2007 that attempted to draw more public schools into the mix. (The Common Application is used by nearly 400 private and public colleges, and includes additional requirements specific to schools that include elements such as essays and recommendation letters with their applications.) This week, another competitor has come into the fold, with claims that this new application will be even more accessible to public institutions and students intimidated by the college application process.
The SuperAPP, which will be offered by the online high school transcript delivery system ConnectEDU thanks to their recent acquisition of college applications company CollegeZapps, aims to take the common application a step further. The new form will not only allow applicants to fill out several forms at once, but will include software to point students to sections of college applications specific to each school. Colleges that use the SuperAPP would also not be required to ask for supplemental materials, as in the case of the Common Application, increasing the pool of potential schools who use the new form. At first, the SuperAPP will be most accessible to high school students already using the company's online high school transcript network. The announcement from ConnectEDU was made at the National Association for College Admission Counseling Conference (NACAC) in Baltimore Thursday.
The point of all common forms is to simplify the application process. The SuperAPP's developers claim the original Common Application is not as easy for students to fill out as it suggests, since students are still asked to send in additional paperwork once they're done with the basic form. In an Inside Higher Ed article today, the Common Application's defenders say its requirements prevent an open admissions policy, and that the company's mission isn't profit but a system that emphasizes judging applicants based on the whole package, which often includes outside recommendations and personal statements. In response to an increase in applications per student, some schools using the Common Application have made their essay requirements more lax, allowing for shorter responses in their supplemental materials.
No matter where you apply, whether you'll be asked to fill out a common online form or come up with an entirely unique application package for each college you're applying to, make sure you keep yourself organized so that you don't miss any deadlines or make an easy mistake. Make a list of everything you'll need to send to each school, as missing any elements could send you directly to the rejection pile. For more information on college requirements, start off with a college search to start narrowing down your choices and determining what you'll need to do for each application.
October 6, 2009
For high school seniors entering the last leg of the college search this fall, questions and frustrations are bound to arise, and the early source of confusion this year appears to stem from standardized testing. The final SAT and ACT test dates before college applications are due take place this month, meaning more students will soon have their first encounter the College Board's SAT Score Choice program, which allows students to choose which SAT Scores they want to report to colleges.
On the surface, Score Choice seems like a great innovation and a source of stress relief for students, and it might prove to be such if it were accepted by all colleges. However, a number of colleges and universities require applicants to report all scores from all standardized tests taken, and this is where students are running into problems.
Specifically, not all schools that require the Common Application, an application shared by many private colleges and intended to simplify the application process, share policies on reporting SAT scores, yet the Common App currently doesn't allow students to self-report different SAT scores to different schools. This has left students unsure of how to address what should be one of the easiest sections of their college application (after all, it's just transcribing numbers).New York Times writer Jacques Steinberg took up this question for the paper's blog The Choice, and his answer should help students get over this bump and onto the more difficult parts of the Common Application, like the application essays. The advice he received when posing this question to the executive director of the Common Application was to simply leave the section blank. The College Board echoed this in a written statement.
Basically, since colleges will receive the official SAT scores (or ACT scores) you report to them when you take the test, they don't need you to also self-report on the Common Application. The question is asked only because some colleges take self-reported scores into account to get the ball rolling on the admissions process while waiting for your official scores. So if you're completing the Common Application and have multiple test scores that you don't plan to report to every college on your list, you can safely abstain from self-reporting your SAT scores.
However, the jury's still out on whether Score Choice will ultimately be worth the hassle it's begun to present to schools and students this year. Opting to withhold your lowest test scores may not make that big a difference in your admissions prospects, anyway, since taking the SAT multiple times was popular before withholding scores was even an option. In fact, some schools use your highest scores from all test dates, even dates with lower composites, when considering your application for admission or university scholarships, so withholding the test score where you finally nailed the verbal but completely tanked on the math section could conceivably hurt your prospects slightly in some cases.
October 7, 2009
While prospective college freshmen are already beginning to fill out their college applications in preparation for fall application deadlines, transfer students traditionally enjoy a bit more leeway. However, the sharp state budget cuts and larger enrollments in community and state colleges this year may mean that students planning to transfer from a two-year to a four-year school will want to get their applications together as early as possible this year.
California, a state whose severe budget crisis has made it something of a canary in the mineshaft for most funding issues this year, has recently begun turning transfer students away in droves from its four-year public colleges. The reason: the state university systems have had to cut back enrollments across the board, and after many decisions had already been made for the academic year now underway, in order to deal with a sharp decrease in available state funding for the current fiscal year.This means that many conditionally admitted transfer students have been told they need to wait a year or look elsewhere, simply because they didn't correctly complete all the necessary steps far enough ahead of time to secure seats in state universities for the fall and spring semesters this year. This leaves students applying last-minute to pricey private colleges, vying for seats in courses that likely won't even count just to kill time until the next admissions cycle, or even dropping out for a semester or more. The state's budget picture shows no signs of improving, meaning transfer students will likely need to contend with the same situation next year, as well.
While other state university systems haven't had to cap or reduce enrollments or close budget holes to the same extent as California, a decrease in funding coupled with an increase in interest in state and community colleges may still result in wrenches being thrown in many students' transfer plans. More students at community colleges will make it harder for some students to get into classes they need to complete to successfully transfer to a four-year college. More students applying to state colleges means available seats may fill up faster and transfer applications may be delayed. It can also mean stiffer competition for financial aid, such as transfer student scholarships. Like in California, it could also mean that students whose transfer applications are not perfect the first time may see their plans derailed, or at least delayed, much more easily than in previous semesters.
Because of these concerns, students who are planning to transfer from a community college to a state college (and also students considering a move between four-year schools) will want to stay in touch with their academic advisors this year and complete all required steps as quickly as possible. Make sure you are applying for admission and aid well ahead of deadlines, and make sure you're meeting all requirements to ensure a smooth transfer process. Staying on top of things this fall can save you headaches, and possibly money, when it's time to switch schools.
October 20, 2009
Most high school seniors are now entering the last leg of their college search and selecting the colleges to which they plan to apply. Many are already beginning the college application process, especially if they plan to meet rapidly approaching early decision or early action deadlines at their top choice colleges. For students looking for a last bit of data with which to game the college admissions system, the National Association for College Admission Counseling has just released their annual State of College Admission report. Included below are some highlights.
Competition: The report shows that, on the whole, while most colleges and universities aren't terribly selective, they appear to be becoming slightly more selective on average as they deal with larger numbers of students applying for admission. Between 2001 and 2007, the average acceptance rate at colleges and universities surveyed declined from 71.3 percent to 66.8 percent. Colleges largely seem to be expanding enrollment to meet increasing applications, though, with the growth in applications (24 percent) only slightly outpacing the growth in enrollment (20 percent) between 2002 and 2006.
The number of applications colleges received continued to grow in 2008, with approximately three out of four colleges reporting an increase in applications over the previous year. Students also appear to be applying to more colleges on the whole, with the number of students submitting 7 or more applications growing from 19 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2008. This growth in applications, especially multiple applications, has resulted in a decrease in yield (the percentage of admitted students who ultimately enroll) by about 4 percentage points. However, a student's odds of getting admitted off the wait list remain largely unchanged, hovering around 1 in 3 for 2008.
Selection Process: Also included in the survey were questions about the criteria college admission counselors considered most important when reviewing college applications. The following criteria were given "considerable importance" (the highest level of importance in the survey) by college counselors:
The Take Away: While there's a lot of attention given to schools that are more selective, the majority of colleges admit most students who apply. While more students are kicking the college application process into overdrive and applying to seven or more schools, these students still make up a minority of the college-going crowd. Additionally, while applications are increasing everywhere, the pace at which early applications are increasing at early-action and early-decision schools seems to be slowing.
Overall, the admission process is only as frantic as you make it. However, if you are applying to a lot of highly selective schools and the 1-in-3 chance of getting off the wait list if you wind up on it scares you, make sure you're putting your all into your applications. Get going on those application essays early and make sure to leave time for feedback and revision. Also, you'll want to approach your counselor for any letters of recommendation early--another item noted in the NACAC report was an increased workload for college counselors nationwide.
October 30, 2009
Is it feeling crowded on campus? It should be, according to new research. A Pew Research Center report released this week shows that in 2008, colleges experienced record enrollments, and early estimates indicate that 2009 enrollments may break the newly minted records for 2008.
Nearly 40 percent of young adults ages 18-24 were enrolled in college in October 2008, up from the previous record of 38.9 percent set in 2005. About 8 million young adults, or 27.8 percent, were enrolled in four-year colleges, representing a slight increase from 2007. However, community colleges have seen an enrollment boom, with their numbers swelling from 3.1 million students, or 10.9 percent of the young adult population, in 2007 to 3.4 million students, or 11.8 percent of young adults, in 2008.
A large part of the enrollment increase is attributed to the growing size of high school graduating classes, with the nation graduating the most students in 2009. This likely accounts for the growth in numbers overall, but something else may be contributing to the increase in community college enrollment. For that, most people are pointing to the recession, which encouraged students who may not have otherwise attended college to enroll, while pushing other college-bound students to explore less expensive options.
Giving further evidence to this theory is the decline in employment among young adults. In 2008, only 50.4 percent of young people aged 16 to 24 were working, compared to 52.7 percent in 2007. However, while more trouble finding work may have encouraged some students to consider attending college, it also has likely created a problem paying for school for many students. A large number of community college students tend to rely on income from work to pay their tuition, as opposed to applying for financial aid or student loans.
Based on enrollment increases for 2008 and anecdotal evidence of continued enrollment booms in 2009, it appears students are still finding ways to fund their educations. Still, students applying to college for 2010 may want to take note of these numbers and begin the college application process and scholarship search early just in case.
November 2, 2009
Think getting admitted to the local public university is just a numbers game? Think again. State colleges are increasingly adopting a holistic approach to college admissions, especially at more selective flagship institutions. While applicants with high GPA's and standardized test scores are still likely to easily gain admittance, students more towards the middle of the pack may want to be aware of this growing trend in enrollment.
The holistic approach means that colleges are aiming to consider the whole applicant, not just his or her grades and test scores, in the admissions process. This information often includes such things as the student's background, the type of school he or she attended, and the student's employment and extracurricular activities. Participation in athletics, volunteering and community service, or school clubs could all work to a student's advantage under a holistic approach.
How schools collect this additional information about applicants varies, but it's likely to mean a longer and more complicated college application process. For many schools, this has meant adding sections to the application or asking for more, longer, or less formal application essays. For others, it could involve looking more closely at letters of recommendation or beginning to ask for them when they hadn't previously. College admission officials are also contacting high school counselors to ask questions about applicants that may not have been answered by their college application.
There are some significant benefits to this process. Students who have taken a less traditional path through high school may find their applications considered more favorably. Another upside of colleges looking more closely at the whole student comes with the question of "fit." Applicants admitted to institutions with a more holistic approach may find themselves happier at the college they ultimately attend, as their interests and their institution's focus may match more closely than if they'd been admitted based solely on the results of a formula.
If you are applying to a state college or a private college this year, you may want to take a holistic approach to your application, treating each section as if it's going to be read with a critical eye. Students who have little to show for their high school experience other than decent grades and test scores could potentially find themselves turned down by their top choice schools, but students who can demonstrate the full depth of their value could see big returns.
November 3, 2009
College admission practices are often points of contention, especially when tricky issues like race, gender, and socioeconomic class are concerned. Colleges worry about trying to promote diversity and give students a fair chance in their admission practices and other parties worry about practices potentially shortchanging students. Based on some of these concerns, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has decided to investigate allegations of gender bias in admission practices at selective colleges. The concern: in order to preserve male-to-female ratios on campus, colleges are being less selective in admitting male students than in admitting female students.
In recent decades, women have begun to thrive in higher education, making up a significantly larger share of undergraduate students, bachelor's degree recipients, and master's degree students than men. Postsecondary Education Opportunity data shows that currently there are 77 men in college for every 100 women, and 73 male bachelor's degree recipients for every 100 female graduates. While gender gaps still persist within specific fields, including traditionally male-dominated disciplines like engineering and computer science, overall women are coming to college in droves and doing well once they arrive.
This trend shows no sign of reversing and has some worried that men will become increasingly underrepresented in higher education, while simultaneously work opportunities contract in traditionally male-dominated fields that don't require degrees. Schools and other organizations are beginning to address these concerns. For example, a conference panel last month addressed some of the moves being undertaken to encourage more young men to attend college and persist to a degree.
The Commission on Civil Rights inquiry is intended to see if practices are going beyond encouraging young men to enroll and have actually moved into the territory of discriminating against women in admission by admitting a smaller percentage of female applicants and being more selective in admitting women than men. This practice, while possibly unethical at private colleges, would be illegal at state colleges. So far, there hasn't been sufficient evidence to support this theory, with the majority of admission officers recently saying they don't consider gender as an important criterion in college admission, leaving some wondering if the inquiry is entirely necessary. Information subpoenaed from colleges in the Washington, D.C. area should help the commission determine whether reality reflects reporting.
Adding in another level of controversy and drawing a great deal of criticism to the investigation is the strong focus on athletics in the text of the proposal for the investigation. The theory behind it seems to be that Title IX, the federal regulation designed to prevent sex discrimination--most visibly by mandating that men's and women's sports are equally represented in public schools--is preventing men from enrolling in college by limiting their opportunities for athletic involvement. Of all the directions the investigation could take, this certainly seems to be an unusual one, and on the surface it seems to present some problematic and likely inaccurate assumptions about gender. The investigation gets underway this month, so a clearer sense of direction may emerge as time goes on.
November 6, 2009
We're almost a full week into November, which for many students means the end of the semester is nigh. It's likely time to start working on those final papers, or at least generating some paper topic ideas. It's better to start sooner than later to avoid pulling all-nighters or finding out too late that the jerk in your English class who's writing a similar paper has checked out all the relevant books in the library before you get your chance.
But finding something new to say can be challenging, even for graduate students and undergraduate students in upper-division college courses. If the usual strategies aren't working, we've come across a couple of links that can help humanities students generate ideas for academic prose, or at least provide some much-needed levity while you're agonizing over your coursework. Note: you may not want to actually use these to write your papers, since your professor or TA is likely to see some of his or her own writing reflected in them.
The University of Chicago writing program has a tool to help both students and career academics craft a sophisticated argument without backbreaking labor: Make Your Own Academic Sentence. By simply selecting from drop-down menus of current buzzwords in literary theory, you can stumble upon a unique academic argument, and possibly lay the groundwork for a final paper! If you're not sure of just what concepts to piece together, some samples are provided by the website's Virtual Academic and his counterpart the Virtual Critic.
If you've got a great academic sentence, but no research area to apply it to, a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education can help with that. James Lambert's article "Heteronormity is Hot Right Now" provides some helpful (and hopefully humorous) guidelines for humanities grad students on declaring their research interests (and possibly finding topics for their first seminar papers). Both of the above are also great for answering that question about your academic interests in your grad school application essays.
As a bonus for grad school applicants, the above links are likely to teach you some new (and obscure) vocabulary, so that's even more of a time-saver for studying for the GRE. However, if nerd humor is not your taste, but you are concerned about getting papers started early and beating the finals week frenzy, you may want to check out our college resources on study skills.
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