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Flagship Universities Look to Boost Out-of-State Enrollments

October 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

I went to a flagship university. Almost everyone I knew came from a city or town I had heard of, because most were there for the same reasons I was - that home state tuition. Those few I met who came from neighboring states or even from as far away as one of the coasts were few and far between. Tuition was significantly higher for those students, making it difficult for many to justify private school costs at a public institution. Still, the school drew some semblance of an out-of-state population because of its research centers and reputation in certain fields of study.

An Inside Higher Education article today explores a tactic being used by flagship universities across the country to boost budgets and work toward replenishing nest eggs that had dwindled during a difficult economy. More and more state schools plan on working harder to increase out-of-state enrollment.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is hoping for a 15 percent boost in undergraduates outside of Massachusetts over the next decade. Rutgers University, where about 10 percent of the student population comes from outside New Jersey, wants to see its out-of-state numbers around 25 percent instead. In New York, the state's comptroller actually issued a report on the millions of dollars in lost revenue because of the State University of New York's low out-of-state enrollment numbers. The article points out that at state schools like the University of Vermont where out-of-state students outnumber in-state students, the demand for an in-state education is much lower.

So how will these schools lure more students from out-of-state, and get them to pay higher tuition costs? The first step is opening up more slots to out-of-state students. The president at the University of Colorado hopes the state lifts the cap on non-resident enrollment. And states like the University of California at Berkeley, a prestigious school that even Californian students must prove their academic worth to attend, will surely have less trouble finding out-of-state recruits based on reputation alone than lesser-known state institutions. Some state schools are looking into new merit-based scholarship programs targeting out-of-state students, but wouldn't that defeat the purpose of bringing more money into the school? The article suggests building relationships with out-of-state high schools, working alumni networks and even reaching out to top, non-resident students, to boost their out-of-state numbers.

Going to school in-state is still a good option to consider if you're worried about the cost of college. You can still be far enough away from your parents while enjoying home state tuition. Many state schools also reward students in other ways, including scholarships and grants for local freshmen, especially if you're pursuing a high-need field of study and plan on remaining in that state post-graduation. Conduct a college search on our site based on your own criteria to find the place that best fits your needs and has the qualities you find most important.

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Research Suggests Admissions Competition May Be Overblown

October 27, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

It may not be more difficult to get into the college of your choice these days. In fact, at least half of the nation's colleges are actually less competitive than they were over the last 50 years, according to an expansive research project published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The effort, conducted by Caroline M. Hoxby, an economist at Stanford University, shows that only a small number of private colleges have become more competitive over the last several decades, and that a more substantial number are actually less competitive. The study looked at data from 1955 through today and focused on information on SAT scores rather than the anecdotal evidence we've come to accept on whether it's tougher to get into college. Hoxby claims that students' choices about where they go to college today are based more on the specific characteristics of that college, such as the study body or the resources available to them at a particular school, rather than its location and distance from home. That means some schools saw more applications - often smaller, private schools - while others - often larger, public institutions - have seen a decrease in applicants.

It also means students are spending more to go to college, or requiring more financial aid to do so, since they're going out of state for their educations. An article in Inside Higher Education today suggests that the typical student shouldn't be concerned about rising admissions selectivity, but rather another finding of the study - falling standards of achievement. Students are less prepared than ever to go to college, despite much attention on getting high school students thinking about higher education earlier and earlier.

So how do you explain recent data from reputable organizations like the National Association for College Admission Counseling that show declining acceptance rates at four-year colleges? Hoxby says her data looks at the big picture, which shows that traditionally selective private schools have and will remain selective as more students leave their hometowns for more elite institutions. But most students shouldn't focus on the idea that college is impossible to get into. Simply put, it isn't - according to this round of data, of course.

Check out our college search tool to find schools that fit your specific interests, whether you're hoping to attend school in a particular state or look for colleges with the programming you're interested in.

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Tips for Exploring College Majors and Potential Careers

October 29, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

High school students face a lot of pressure when it comes to planning their future. There's a persistent idea that if you don't have your entire life mapped out by the end of 11th grade, you're somehow doomed to a life of vagrancy or doing whatever job your parents pick out for you. If you're a high school senior still uncertain about choosing a college major and setting career goals, a career Q&A that appeared in the New York Times earlier this week might help. It primarily offers advice to parents, but can also serve as a road map for high school students who are thinking about potential college majors and post-college careers.

Focus on Strengths and Interests: Rather than starting out by exploring careers and seeing which one you can fit into, begin by thinking about what you're good at and what you like doing. Maybe you're amazing at math and like to build things in your spare time, or maybe you get joy out of helping your classmates edit their English papers. Think about what you like doing and what environments you prefer to work in. Then begin looking for careers that play to those strengths. By focusing on both what you enjoy and what you excel at, you stand a much better chance of finding a major or a job you can enjoy doing.

Research Potential Careers Now: Don't wait until your final year of college to decide whether or not you like the professions you found fascinating in high school. Look for opportunities to learn more about potential careers and the people who pursue them. Internships, volunteer experiences, and job shadowing can be great ways to do this. If you know any adults whose job sounds interesting, see if you can arrange to talk to them about it, observe them at work, or even help out after school. Consider reading books about careers you find interesting, as well, but be sure to balance glamorized or fictionalized accounts with real-world observations and experiences to avoid disappointment. Career exploration and research don't have to stop in high school, either. You don't need to go to college with a career plan set in stone, nor do you need to wait for your department or advisor to take the lead on preparing you for a career or showing you what options exist. Feel free to choose classes that interest you and find time outside of school to continue to learn about what people with your degree can do and take advantage of opportunities to gain exposure to and experience in fields you find interesting.

Don't Feel Forced: Finally, and most importantly, don't worry if nothing comes to mind right away, or you're still hearing nothing from your parents and teachers but "you're good at math! Be an accountant!" It's normal to be undecided for awhile or to change your mind later, and you likely have a lot more talents and interests than what you can recall immediately as a high school student. College students switch majors and adults switch careers and both groups do so successfully. So don't feel like you have to make a lifelong commitment to the first idea that appeals to you or those around you. If you keep your mind open and have some strategies in place, you'll eventually come across something that will stick.

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More Public Colleges Taking Holistic Approach in Admissions

November 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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.

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$50K Becoming New Norm at Private Colleges

November 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

More private colleges than ever before are charging $50,000 a year or more in tuition and other fees, according to an analysis of College Board data done by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Last year, only five colleges charged $50,000 a year or more for tuition, fees, room, and board. This year, 58 did.

Most students receive some merit- or need-based scholarship or grant money to help cover some of those costs, but according to the Chronicle, the average scholarship and grant amounts at the highest priced schools was around $13,000 a year, leaving students and their families to fend for themselves when it comes to looking for outside scholarships, grants and student loans. Despite those staggering numbers, many of the most expensive schools haven't suffered in terms of declining enrollment, and have expansion and economic recovery plans in the works where the additional funding will come in handy.

Bucknell University, where tuition, fees, room, and board totaled about $50,300 this year, a 22-percent jump over the last six years, plans to hire more faculty and increase aid. And that school wasn't even in the top five most expensive colleges. Those honors go to Sarah Lawrence College ($55,788), Landmark College ($53,900), Georgetown University ($52,161), New York University ($51,993), and George Washington University ($51,775), in that order.

At the same time, many private colleges and universities are predicting a decrease in revenue and net tuition despite increasing enrollment rates and increasing tuition costs. The Moody's report "New Tuition Challenges at Many U.S. Private Universities" surveyed 100 private schools and found that nearly 30 percent experienced drops in net revenue and fees for the 2010 fiscal year. This suggests those schools are offering more in terms of financial aid. An article in Inside Higher Education today says some schools may have tried to compensate for a weak economy and projections of low enrollment levels (which for many private colleges turned out not to be the case) with more financial aid offered to incoming students. Most of the public institutions surveyed, however, expect increases in revenue, according to Moody's.

So what does this mean for private schools? The Chronicle suggests not much. Enrollments so far have supported high tuition rates (and rising median salaries among presidents at private colleges), and a ceiling hasn't yet been set. Does this suggest that students could be seeing $60,000 in annual costs to attend many of the top private institutions? Possibly. But that would mean financial aid would need to keep up alongside those rising costs. What do you think? How much is too much? If you're facing sticker shock, be sure to evaluate all of your options. If you're set on a school, look outside that college for financial aid assistance. Conduct a free scholarship search to see awards you may qualify for that could make a dent in your cost of attendance, and do your research with a college search so that you know exactly what you could be paying at that dream school.

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Using Survey of Student Engagement in Your College Search

November 10, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The National Survey of Student Engagement is an annual survey given to undergraduate students at colleges and universities nationwide for the last ten years. Participation has grown from 140 schools in its 1999 pilot program to 643 colleges this year. Nearly 1,400 schools have participated at least once, with many opting to participate every other year, rather than every year. The survey attempts to measure what students get out of their college experiences and to track whether students are becoming more involved in college life over time.  The categories NSSE measures schools in are level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment. The NSSE also features questions on special issues each year, and this year the focus was on transfer students. The survey tracks trends from year-to-year, and also categorizes results as "promising" or "disappointing."  While the results of NSSE are largely seen as beneficial to campus administrators and to national policy-makers, students can get a lot out of it, too. It gives students a rough idea of what most schools are doing, providing them some context in which to compare their colleges of choice as they're conducting their college search. As the New York Times education blog The Choice points out, the questions asked by NSSE may be questions you want to ask on campus visits. Also, the factors linked with college success and more enjoyable college experiences may be things you want to make a point to seek out while attending college. Noteworthy results:

  • About 1 in 3 seniors participated in a capstone course, senior project, comprehensive exam, or some other "culminating experience." Of those, more than three-quarters felt that it contributed substantially to their education.
  • Over half of students surveyed "frequently had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity" and only 1 in 7 reported never having such conversations.
  • Transfer students were less likely than students who completed their education at one institution to participate in "high-impact" activities like learning communities, internships, and study abroad. Men were also less likely than women to participate in these.
  • One in three seniors rated the quality of academic advising at their school as fair or poor.
  • One in five students said they frequently came to class without completing reading or assignments.
  • Forty percent of freshmen reported never discussing ideas from reading or classes with faculty members outside of class.

NSSE results are available online for free from Indiana University.  There's a lot of information to sort through, but there are tools to help, both on the NSSE website and others. In 2007, schools began sharing their NSSE results with USA Today, which publishes and tracks the data in a more user-friendly format. Over 400 schools chose to list their results this way in 2009, making comparisons easier for students and parents.

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New Website Aims to Assist Student Veterans in College Transition

November 11, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

It seems that student veterans will finally be getting the assistance they need this Veterans Day. A new website from the American Council on Education will improve access to education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill for military veterans who have faced a number of delays in the processing of their financial aid.

The site, which was unveiled earlier this week, will also help the student veterans choose colleges and future careers, with tips and advice on why college is an important investment and preparing for the transition from the military to a college campus.  The site intends to make it easier for student veterans to navigate not only the college and financial aid application process, but to give those students frustrated with backlogs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs a place to go for guidance.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill has faced a number of obstacles since its creation in August. A backlog of applications caused delays as long as eight weeks for some eligible military recipients, with emergency $3,000 checks eventually issued to student veterans whose financial aid packages were pending. The new law—similar to the WWII GI Bill— was created to bring more financial aid to troops who had served since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (Scholarships are also available to the children and families of the victims of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.) The bill will provide up to 36 months of financial assistance, payable for 15 years following the student veterans' releases from active duty. The bill covers maximum in-state tuition and fees at public institutions, including many military-friendly schools, and covers a monthly housing allowance, and an annual $1,000 books and supplies stipend. (Student veterans enrolled in online degree universities will not receive housing allowances.)

Many of the colleges participating in the program have been accepting late payments from the students to make up for the lag in financial aid application processing. Assuming all goes well with the disbursement of funds from the VA, and the department gets a handle on the backlog—the department hired additional staff when the number of applications continued to grow and overwhelmed regional offices—most student veterans should be getting to the point where they will be receiving regular checks to cover the costs of their new lives on college campuses across the country.

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Admission Competition Heating Up at State Colleges

November 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While so far it appears that the recession has not had a negative impact on students' desire to go to college, it may be affecting their ability to get there, or at least to get into their school of choice.

State colleges have endured some significant budget cuts in the last year, while also coping with an increased demand for student financial aid and drops in endowments and donations. These circumstances have left schools scrambling to find additional sources of funding to meet everyday expenses and deal with increased demand. To mitigate tuition increases, many state colleges, especially public flagship universities, have begun to admit more out-of-state and international students. These students pay higher tuition, often without significant help from university scholarships, meaning more revenue for the university and lower costs for the in-state students attending.

This is a win-win situation for colleges and out-of-state students, who are more likely than ever to get into their dream school thanks to these new policies. One example is the College of William and Mary, where the out-of-state admission rate has risen from 22 percent of applicants in 2007 to 30 percent in 2009. While out-of-state admission is still significantly more competitive than in-state, students who are able to pay non-resident tuition at public flagship universities may see more success in 2010 than previous years.

However, with more seats being filled by out-of-state students, in-state students are at a disadvantage. At the same time as admissions ratios are being adjusted, more students are applying to in-state schools to take advantage of relatively reasonable tuition costs, especially where a low price corresponds with a top-rate education.

Where competition is fierce and seats and scholarships are limited, students who had been planning on attending their state's public flagship may want to cast a wider net in their college search. Consider a private college-some in California are offering substantial scholarships to students who would otherwise have attended a state college-or think about putting in a year or two at community college first. You may also find a less expensive, but still highly respected, option in a branch campus of a flagship, or in another state college nearby.  It may even be possible to transfer to your dream college later, as more and more university systems and community colleges develop agreements for how credits will transfer between schools.

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Student Engagement in Community Colleges

November 18, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Last week, we blogged about the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), an annual report on students at four-year colleges and universities. The survey provided information about everything from academic advising to study habits at participating schools. This week, its community college counterpart was released, and for students deciding whether to save money by starting at a two-year school, that data might be useful, as well.

The Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSE) is conducted annually by the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin. This year, more than 400,000 student from 663 institutions participated. Engagement is regarded as serious concern at community colleges, as they tend to have a less clearly-developed sense of campus community as four-year schools and also have a far greater portion of part-time students and faculty.

Part-Timers and Engagement

The survey found that 60% of students were attending community college part-time, and that significant portions of students were taking night classes and online courses. Coming to campus less often, coming to campus at night, and having primary learning experiences take place off-campus can all result in less engagement among community college students. As a result, part-time students and students who work more than 30 hours a week are some of the least-engaged students on campus. Male students and traditional-age students were also among the least engaged students.

Study skill courses, orientation, learning communities, and developmental courses can all boost engagement. Interaction with students and faculty outside of class are also signs of a more engaged student body. Just under half of students currently engage in group activities in class, and just under two-thirds ask questions or contribute to class discussions, yet a small minority engage with instructors or peers outside of class. More faculty engagement and more programs to encourage student interaction may help.

Student Services and College Goals

Community college students and faculty recognize the role of student services, such as tutoring and advising, in promoting college success, but the numbers of each who participate in such activities are much lower than the numbers who view them as important. Few faculty members, especially part-timers, meet with students outside the classroom at least once a week, and few students regularly take advantage of advising or other services. This could partially explain the continued disparity between students' college goals and actual degree attainment.

A full 73 percent of students listed transferring to a four-year college or university as a goal they had when choosing to attend a community college, and 80 percent of students listed obtaining an associate degree as a primary or secondary reason for attending. Yet actual rates for both are much below the goals.

If you're considering attending a community college, the key seems to be to get involved and actively seek out help. Form study groups and talk to your instructors outside of class. Set and attend academic advising appointments to keep yourself on track for graduation and keep you informed of the next steps you'll need to take in your education. Also, consider applying for financial aid to reduce your need to work and allow you to more fully appreciate what your college has to offer.

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Zombies Used to Promote Alternatives to Four-Year Colleges

November 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Two Chicago-area community colleges are using zombies to urge students to consider their options before applying solely to four-year schools. Harper College and Elgin Community College, with some help from email provider Abeedle.com, are using a cartoon short featuring fictional high school seniors Lynette and Theo in a common predicament among the college-bound: to save money, or not to save?

In the short, Lynette goes to community college, is free of student loan debt, and uses the money she saved to become a filmmaker and purchase a sporty convertible. Theo, on the other hand, chooses the four-year university, and is depicted wandering around with the other "college zombies," saddled with a large amount of debt.

This isn't the first time the zombie hype has hit college campuses. The University of Florida recently posted a zombie preparedness plan on its e-Learning website, alongside more likely disaster scenarios. But this is a unique way to address the high costs of higher education and invite students to examine all of their options when considering where to go to school.

Enrollments at community colleges have increased by about 25 percent over the last year, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. The big decisions aren't only about filling out those college applications, but figuring out how you're going to pay for tuition at your intended school. If you're concerned about how you're going to cover the costs, consider a community college where you'd be able to complete your general education requirements and then transfer to a four-year college if you want that traditional college experience. Many community colleges and trade schools specialize in certain fields, so narrow down your college choices by your intended field of study, as well.

If you know community college isn't for you, there are other ways to save. Compare the costs of in-state versus out-of-state tuition. Depending on your home state, you could still go to a state university that is far enough away that you get that "away at college" experience, while still enjoying the perks of in-state tuition. (In-state tuition is often half that of out-of-state tuition. Do the numbers!) Whatever you do, don't assume that college is out of your reach because of the costs. While paying for college can take some creativity and persistence, it can be done, especially if you have some scholarship money padding that financial aid package.

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