Archive for ‘before college’

September 15, 2014

Which top colleges are most welcoming to low-income students?

by Grace

Which top colleges are most welcoming to low-income students?  The Upshot used the percentage of students receiving Pell grants along with net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families to find the most economically diverse top colleges.

Most Economically Diverse
Vassar
Grinnell
U.N.C.-Chapel Hill
Smith
Amherst
Harvard
Pomona
St. Mary’s (Ind.)
Susquehanna
Columbia

The biggest theme to emerge from our analysis is that otherwise similar colleges often have very different levels of commitment to economic diversity….

Similarly, by looking at schools on the list like Barnard and U.N.C.-Chapel Hill, it’s clear that otherwise dissimilar colleges show similar economic diversity.

How many low-income students actually graduate?

An additional data point that would be informative is the graduation rates for Pell grant recipients at these schools.  That’s a significant measure of how well a college serves its low-income students.

Low-income families can look at these lists and search out other information to help them understand how welcoming a particular college would be for their child.  Schools that partner with the Posse Foundation, a support program for that enjoys a 90% graduation rate for its participants, should be considered.

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David Leonhardt, “Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class and Poor, New York Times, Sept. 8, 2014.

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September 9, 2014

Look at this chart before enrolling in college

by Grace

The bottom quarter of earners with a college degree don’t make more money than the average high school graduate. And this hasn’t really changed much in 40 years.

20140908.COCBottomQuarterCollegeGrads1


This chart may explain why “college isn’t for everyone”, but additional considerations are important.

… First, we don’t know for sure how much money this bottom quarter of degree-holding earners would have made without their college education. Furthermore, much of this could boil down to career choice: there are many jobs that require a degree but don’t pay very well. If someone earns a degree for reasons beyond making more money, it could be that the upfront investment is worthwhile regardless.

“On ‘average’, it’s still worth going to college”, but be careful about making personal decisions on the “average” case.

Here’s some good advice:

In the meantime, students who are unsure of what they want to study or do are probably best advised to be very cost-conscious when choosing a college, and to be unafraid to wait until they are sure how they will use their degree before they start to pursue one.

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Chris Matthews, “Why college isn’t for everyone, explained in a single chart”, Fortune, September 5, 2014.

August 28, 2014

Make your college application essay memorable

by Grace

Franklin & Marshall College president Daniel R. Porterfield offers some advice for high school seniors dealing with “college mania”.  His thoughts on how to approach the college application essay seem particularly insightful.

write an application essay that’s so true to you that you’ll want to read it again in ten years as a snapshot of where you were at age 18. What experiences have shaped you? What questions obsess you? What people inspire you? How do you want to give and grow in college?

Approaching the essay this way may be a helpful tactic for applicants, but the piece matters most for its value to you at one of life’s turning points. And, as I’ve learned from my own applications for schools and jobs, when we honestly and authentically present ourselves and then don’t get selected, it doesn’t feel so bad. In fact, we’re often left with a strong sense of personal integrity.

I believe it’s true that most essay readers can tell if an application essay is authentic and genuinely reveals a student’s perspective.  So the advice to “put it in your own words” makes sense.  Thus the challenge sometimes becomes how a teacher or parent can help in editing an essay without changing the author’s voice.  The first time I tried helping with my kid’s essay, I found myself quickly falling into the trap of obliterating his message and inserting what I thought he should be saying.  I learned my lesson, and later I mainly left any editing to his guidance counselor, who seemed to know the right balance between minor corrections and sweeping modifications.

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Daniel R. Porterfield, “Six — Well, Seven — Pieces of Advice for College-Searching High School Seniors”, Forbes, 8/11/2014.

August 22, 2014

Many kids are not emotionally ready for college

by Grace

We already know that many college freshman are academically unprepared for college, but Professor Claire Potter finds that they are also emotionally and functionally unprepared.

By September, one of the biggest topics for discussion — and one of the biggest gripes — among many college faculty will be how emotionally, and practically, underprepared many of your kids are for their freshman year. Although I now teach the non-traditional, adult students who are becoming the majority of undergraduates, for years I welcomed fresh-faced 18 year olds whose academic preparation often far exceeded their ability to navigate school independently of their parents.

The two major changes I observed over those two decades was an increasing lack of emotional separation between parents and children (with an accompanying rise in students having difficulty making their own decisions); and an increasing tendency, on the part of first year students, to presume that college was more or less similar to high school in its expectations and practices.

Academic and emotional development are certainly related in some respects.

Some possible reasons for students failing to develop independence:

Technology has certainly enabled parents and children to remain emotionally close.  Constant texting can mean that young people are relying too much on their parents to make decisions for them.

I think trends in K-12 education have also contributed to this “over-parenting”.  From the early grades, the schools encourage the wrong kind of parental involvement.  Parents feel forced to help their kids with homework that is developmentally inappropriate, like third-grade projects that require sophisticated Internet research skills.  Then, success in middle school often requires advanced organizational skills that drive parents to intercede lest their kid falls behind to a point where he cannot catch up in high school.  Instead of helping develop independent students who will be ready to succeed in college, schools are inadvertently promoting excessive reliance on their parents and other adults.

Potter offers some advice to help parents in making their kid a “strong and independent college student”.  The first suggestion is to “reduce contact” with a college kid.

… If your kid is going away to college, let him go away. This means not texting and talking every day, or even every other day, or every other other day….

I agree with this advice, and have found it surprising when I hear about some parents who are in constant contact with their adult children.  On the other hand, from personal experience I know that some kids are more verbal than others, and are driven to share many details of their lives.  As a parent, I can see the advantages and disadvantages of this.  Obviously there are some nuances to consider in following Potter’s advice.

Complete details on Potter’s recommendations can be found at the link below.

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Claire Potter, “Bye-Bye Birdies: Sending The Kids Away to College”, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 28, 2014.

August 8, 2014

Common Core proficiency rates were selected to match SAT college readiness rates

by Grace

Passing rates for Common Core New York state tests were selected so that they would match SAT college readiness rates.  Principal Carol Burris of New York City’s South Side High School described the process in a Washington Post article titled “The scary way Common Core test ‘cut scores’ are selected”.

One of the first steps in the process was the creation of a report requested by State Education Commissioner John King.

… The College Board was asked to correlate SAT scores with college grades to create probabilities of college success….

These SAT college readiness scores were then used to “inform” the selection of state test cut scores for grades three through eight.

After coming up with three scores — 540 in math, 560 in reading and 530 in writing– the College Board determined the percentage of New York students who achieved those SAT scores. Those percentages were used to “inform” the cut score setting committee. As the committee went through questions, according to member Dr. Baldassarre-Hopkins, the SED helpers said, “If you put your bookmark on page X for level 3 [passing], it would be aligned with these data [referring to the college readiness data],” thus nudging the cut score where they wanted it to be.

The state test cut scores that were ultimately selected align suspiciously close to the SAT college readiness scores.

When the cut scores were set, the overall proficiency rate was 31 percent–close to the commissioner’s prediction. The proportion of test takers who score 1630 on the SAT is 32 percent. Coincidence? Bet your sleeveless pineapple it’s not. Heck, the way I see it, the kids did not even need to show up for the test.

In a way, it makes sense.  Common Core Standards were created to prepare students for college, so it could be argued that students now in grade school would be as poorly prepared for college as students who have recently taken the SAT.  But the process seems to have been carried out backwards, without looking objectively at the test questions.

Burris puts it this way.

Here is the bottom line. There is no objective science by which we can predict future college readiness using grades 3-8 test scores. You can, at best make assumptions, based on correlations, with score thresholds that are capricious. To make college readiness predictions for 8-year-olds is absurd and unkind.

I think you can assess whether an 8-year-old is on track for college readiness, but obviously with limited precision.  However, I appreciate the point Burris makes.  Moreover, considering the botched implementation of other aspects of CCS, I am inclined to be suspicious about the validity of the cut scores used in the New York state tests.

A local newspaper reported that some committee members involved in selecting cut scores believed “the process was so tightly controlled that the results were inevitable”.

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Valerie Strauss, “The scary way Common Core test ‘cut scores’ are selected”, Washington Post, April 29, 2014.

Gary Stern, “Common Core: Who’s on track for college and who is not?”, Lohud.com, July 27, 2014.

June 27, 2014

Even in affluent areas, many high school graduates are not ready for college

by Grace

Even in one of the most prosperous and highly educated counties in the United States, less than half of high school graduates are ready for college.

Only 48% of Westchester County high school graduates are prepared to do college-level work.  This measure is based on students scoring “at least 75 on their English Regents exam and at least 80 on a math Regents exam”.

For my local high school, located in Westchester County, 64% of graduates are considered college ready.  This is a school district that spends about $25,000 per student each year and enjoys a student/teacher ratio of 14:1.

Using AP participation figures, US News determined that my local high school has a College Readiness Index of 44.5

On a national basis “SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college'”, so it appears this problem is not limited to high schools near me.

Are these college readiness numbers surprising?  Should they be higher, given the resources being devoted to education?  Or is it unrealistic to expect higher percentages of college-ready high school graduates, even in some of the most affluent areas of the country?

Some possible reasons for the low number of high school graduates who are prepared to do college-level work:

  1. The measures are flawed and do not give an accurate representation.
  2. Teaching and/or curriculum is mediocre, or worse.
  3. Schools do no place sufficient focus on academic goals, specifically on preparing students for college.
  4. We’re not spending enough on education.
  5. The money we spend on education is used inefficiently.
  6. No matter the demographics and despite how much a school tries, a certain percentage of high school graduates will never be ready for college work.
  7. “Kids these days.”
  8. Parents are not doing enough to support their children’s education.

I dismiss the first reason listed, having some familiarity with the New York State tests used to measure college readiness.  A high school student on the college-prep track should definitely be able to meet the scores required.  These tests are notoriously easy and/or graded on a very forgiving curve.

Achievement levels do not correlate closely with money spent on education, so I cannot see #4 being an important reason.

The rest of the listed reasons probably play some role in creating the disappointingly low college-readiness figures.  In theory, schools have the most control over remedying reasons 2, 3, and 5.  In practice, most experiments innovations that schools implement only seem to make things worse.

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Gary Stern and Dwight Worley, “Local high school grads not up to more ambitious state goals”, The Journal News, June 23, 2014.

Graduation Rate Data – June 23, 2014, New York State Education Department

June 26, 2014

More students are receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT tests

by Grace

Some recent numbers show the increase in students receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT testing.

During the 2010-11 school year, 5 percent of all test takers were provided with some feature that was intended to adapt the test to their needs, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said, compared with 3.5 percent of test takers in the 2007-08 school year.

The numbers of requests have been rising among SAT takers, too, along with an increase in test takers overall. Once students are approved for an accommodation, they don’t have to reapply. Of new requests—almost 80,000 during the 2010-11 school year, compared with 10,000 fewer five years earlier—about 85 percent are approved, said Kathleen Steinberg, the spokeswoman for the College Board. The ACT said roughly 90 percent of requests made are granted.

Rich kids are more likely to receive accommodations.

Controversy has swirled for years about which students deserve special help. A 2000 California audit concluded that those getting college entrance testing accommodations “were disproportionately white, or were more likely to come from an affluent family or to attend a private school.”

More than a decade later, the Tribune’s review of data obtained under open records laws indicates that’s true in Illinois, where the percentage of test takers with accommodations doubled the national average.

Schools in wealthy enclaves with predominantly white students were at the top of the list when it comes to students getting ACT testing accommodations in Illinois, the 2011 data show.

A recent report from the General Accountability Office found that testing for qualifying disabilities “can cost from $500 to $9,000″.  Wealthy families can afford to pay these costs when the schools will not.  They also tend to have the expertise and money to force schools to pay for legally required testing.

One local affluent school district recently had a long list of applications for accommodations that was waiting to be submitted, probably typical for high-income locales.

The most commonly requested accommodation is extended time, but some others include “a quiet testing room, a reader or a scribe, enlarged print test booklets and/or answer keys, the use of a computer, additional or extended breaks, and multiple-day testing on the ACT”

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Nirvi Shah, “More Students Receiving Accommodations During ACT, SAT”, Education Week, May 14, 2012.

 Diane Rado, “Many Illinois high school students get special testing accommodations for ACT”, Chicago Tribune,  April 29, 2012.

Jed Applerouth, “SAT and ACT Accommodations”, Independent Educational Consultants Association, April 9, 2014.

June 25, 2014

Some college majors offer ‘more shelter from economic storms than others’

by Grace

Picking the “right” college major shields graduates from some of the bad luck of graduating during a recession.

… Those who major in subjects that command higher salaries, like engineering and finance, increase their earnings advantage when they graduate into a recession. And those who major in subjects that lead to lower-paying jobs, like philosophy and music, are even more disadvantaged than in normal economic times.

A philosophy major takes a harder hit than a finance major during a recession.

Take finance majors. In normal economic times, they earn 24 percent more than the average college major when they are one year out of college. But in a recession, they earn 32 percent more than the average. At the other end of the earnings spectrum, religion and philosophy majors earn 42 percent less than the average major their first year out of college, and 55 percent less during a recession.

But the latest recession hit all graduates more than previous ones did.

In the Great Recession, though, the benefits to high-earning majors were muted, according to the most recent data collected by the Yale economists Lisa Kahn, Joseph Altonji and Jamin Speer. They were less sheltered because the recession affected the economy so broadly, Ms. Kahn said.

Should this news affect the selection of a college major?  Yes.

… yet another variable for students to keep in mind as they weigh which career to pursue.

Related:  “Recent college graduates suffering worst unemployment rates in 50 years” (Cost of College)

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Claire Cain Miller, “A College Major Matters Even More in a Recession”, New York Times, June 20, 2014.

June 2, 2014

Let’s be clear, going to college is not always ‘worth it’

by Grace

There has been pushback on David Leonhardt’s message that going to college is “clearly” a smart economic choice.

 

Matthew Yglesias is critical of Leonhardt’s conclusion.

… I don’t see how this kind of data can possibly support the wide-ranging conclusions Leonhardt draws about whether or not college is “worth it.” After all, this isn’t the outcome of a randomized trial.

Maybe everyone should buy a BMW.20140531.COCBMW2

Suppose I got someone to make a chart showing the incomes of prime-age BMW drivers versus average Americans. It would reveal a large BMW earnings premium. I could even produce a chart showing that the children of BMW drivers grow up to earn more than the average American. But that wouldn’t be evidence that BMWs cause high wages, and that the BMW Earnings Premiums extends across multiple generations. It would be evidence that high-income people buy expensive cars and that there’s intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic status.

To understand whether college is “worth it” — or, more precisely, which colleges are worth it to which students — we would need some much more fine-grained data. How do college graduates fare in the labor market compared to people who were otherwise similar at age 18 in terms of SAT scores, non-cognitive skills, parental socioeconomic status, etc?

Yglesias sees a need for better apples-to-apples comparisons.

Ben Casselman points out that you have to graduate to reap the benefits of going to college.

But just because people who graduate from college are better off doesn’t necessarily mean that going to college is a good decision. Most of the benefits of college come from graduating, not enrolling. Indeed, as Leonhardt pointed out, the wage premium for people with some college but no degree has been stagnant, even as debt levels have been rising. That means that people who start college but drop out may be worse off than people who never enrolled in the first place. Any attempt to answer the “Is college worth it?” question, therefore, has to grapple with not only the value of a degree, but the likelihood of obtaining one.

For many students, the odds aren’t good. Less than 60 percent of full-time students who are enrolled in college for the first time graduate within six years. Part-time students have an even lower completion rate, as do racial minorities and older and low-income students. For some groups, the six-year graduation rate is well under 20 percent. The vast majority of Americans from advantaged backgrounds enroll in college, so the students struggling with the “Should I or shouldn’t I?” question are disproportionately members of groups with low graduation rates.

Marginal students in particular may not find that going to college is clearly a superior choice, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Leonhardt’s analysis ignores the dispersion in pay among college grads, especially among men. Research by my colleague John Schmitt and Heather Boushey shows that near one in five recent male college grads earned less than the average high school grad. This implies that going to college implies substantial risks, especially since attending college is likely to lead to substantial debt. There is also a risk that a student will not complete college, which is especially likely for the marginal college student (a person at the edge of deciding whether to try college or not). It is also likely that the marginal college student faces a much higher risk of being in this bottom fifth than the typical college student. In short, a little deeper analysis indicates that the decision of many people, especially young men, not to attend college could seem very rational.

Bryan Caplan reminds us that the college premium must be deconstructed to determine its value for a particular individual who plans to pursue a particular field of study.

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Matthew Yglesias, “College graduates earn more, but that doesn’t prove college is worth it”, Vox, May 27, 2014.

Ben Casselman, “Is College Worth It? It Depends on Whether You Graduate”, FiveThirtyEight, May 27, 2014.

May 7, 2014

College financial aid advice for mothers going through a divorce

by Grace

Forbes contributor Jeff Landers answers a few of the most common questions that women going through a divorce have about college financial aid. First, he explains which parent should file the FAFSA.  (The answer is the custodial parent.)  Then he explains why this matters.

Why does it matter who completes the form?

The FAFSA contains many detailed questions about a student’s family’s income and assets. The responses are entered into a formula that determines the Expected Family Contribution – in short, how much money you will be expected to come up with toward your child’s college expenses.

If you are the custodial parent, it’s your income and assets that go on the form. So if, for example, your ex-husband makes $500,000 a year in his business, and you make a tenth that much working part time from home, your child would likely be eligible for more financial aid if the eligibility is determined based on your income alone.

If the custodial parent remarries, the new spouse’s income and assets have to be listed on the FAFSA. Unfortunately, while it may not seem fair, that can lower your child’s eligibility for financial aid.

In his next answer, Landers goes on to shed light on the sometimes confusing details of non-federal financial aid.  Click on the link at the top of this post to see all the questions and answers.

Related:  Divorced or absent fathers are let off the hook in paying for their kids’ college (Cost of College) 

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