Archive for July, 2012

July 31, 2012

Parents cut down on college spending while students take on more of the costs

by Grace

College students are borrowing a higher share of costs as their parents cut back on college spending.

A study released Monday by the country’s largest student lender shows parents spending less on college costs and students shouldering more of the burden, a trend that demonstrates how families are strategizing to cut college expenses….

Parents spent an average $5,955 on college from their income and savings, results showed. That was down from $6,664 a year earlier and $8,752 the year before. They also borrowed slightly more — $1,832 compared with $1,573 in the 2010-11 survey — although that was still less than they did two years ago.

Students took on more of the burden by digging deeper into their own funds. They spent an average $2,555 on college from their savings and income in the last academic year, up from $1,944 the previous year. But their spending wasn’t enough to make up for cutbacks by their parents.

All told, parents funded 37 percent of college costs through spending or borrowing, down from 47 percent two years ago. Students accounted for 30 percent; grants and scholarships footed 29 percent; and relatives and friends paid for 4 percent, according to the survey.

It looks as if reality has bumped up against the aspirations expressed by parents in this 2011 Pew Survey, Is College Worth It:

Given the rising cost of college, saving for a child’s education has become a daunting task for many parents. Being able to pay for a child’s education is an important long-term financial goal for most parents of school-aged children. Among all parents with at least one child under age 18, eight-in-ten say this is an extremely important (35%) or very important (45%) goal.

More students from upper-income families are commuting from home, foregoing the luxury of  going away to college.

Just over half of the students in the survey lived at home while they attended college this year, up almost 9 percent from a year ago. Most of that increase was accounted for by families with income of more than $100,000.

Community colleges are becoming a more popular option.

A shift toward two-year colleges also was evident for a second straight year, Sallie Mae said. Respondents included 29 percent who attended two-year public schools, up from 21 percent the previous year.

Related:  Families in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley adjust to rising college costs (Cost of College)

July 30, 2012

Will checking ‘no financial aid needed’ help your admissions chances?

by Grace

If you are on the borderline for qualifying for financial aid, should you check the “no aid needed” box on the application to enhance your chances of admission? Part of the answer depends on whether that school is need-aware and if you’d be willing to give up a nominal amount of aid to get in.  The reason is that “full pay” can be a hook for need-aware colleges, where a student’s financial need is typically considered in the acceptance decision.

A comprehensive, but qualified, answer was given when this difficult question was posed in the Ask the Dean section of CollegeConfidential.

When it comes to questions with no easy answers, this is right up there with the one about the chicken and the egg. But here’s how I suggest you proceed:

A: NEED-BLIND COLLEGES (which includes all the schools you’ve named)

1) Do the Net Price Calculators for Amherst, Williams, and Wesleyan. (Or at least do the first two, and if they come out very similar, don’t bother with the third.) Here’s the link for Amherst’s:

The aim here is to find out if you really won’t qualify for any aid or if you’ll probably qualify for some aid.

2) If you DO qualify for aid, I suggest that you apply for aid at the need-blind colleges, such as those you’ve named.

3) If you clearly DON’T qualify for aid (i.e., your estimated EFC is significantly above the cost of attendance at even the priciest colleges) then you should not bother applying for aid and should tick the “No aid” box on applications.

Exceptions: IF you have a second child who will be in college when your daughter is still in college or IF either you or your spouse holds a job with fluctuating income or IF you think that either one of you may lose or change jobs in the next five years for ANY reason, then you should still apply for aid at the need-blind colleges. (Most colleges impose a waiting-period on aid applications from students who initially applied as “no need.” Typically that period is two years but some schools prohibit ALL aid applications from a student who initially applied as no-need.)

Your daughter can create two different versions of the Common Application: one where she answers the aid question with a “YES” and the other with a “NO.”


1) If you qualify for aid and feel that this aid (even if it isn’t much) will make a major difference in your household stress level, you should always apply for aid.

2) If you qualify for aid but feel that receiving this aid will NOT make a big difference in your stress level, then DON’T apply for aid at any need-aware college that you feel might be a “Reach” for your daughter or at the upper end of the “Realistic” range. (Carleton, Tufts, Washington U. and Colby might be examples of such places.) Note, however, that occasionally colleges require the FAFSA for non-need-based merit scholarships. (NYU is one such school that jumps to mind which might end up on your daughter’s list.) So read the fine print on Web sites, once your daughter’s college list is finalized.

3) If you qualify for aid, DO apply for it at the need-aware schools that are very likely to admit your daughter anyway.

An important consideration – most public schools are need-blind, so indicating that you will apply for financial aid is unlikely to have any effect on their admission decision.


July 27, 2012

‘Full pay’ as a hook for college admission may be growing in importance

by Grace

College admissions counselors admit the right “fit” is increasingly about how much a student can pay

Admissions counselors like to talk about finding the right “fit” for applicants — a great match between a student’s educational and other goals and an institution’s programs. But a new survey of the senior admissions officials at colleges nationwide finds that this “fit” is, from many colleges’ point of view, increasingly about money. As evidence of that pressure, the survey found that:

  • For many colleges, a top goal of admissions directors is recruiting more students who can pay more. Among all four-year institutions, the admissions strategy judged most important over the next two or three years — driven by high figures in the public sector — was the recruitment of more out-of-state students (who at public institutions pay significantly more)….
  • Among all sectors of higher education, there is a push to recruit more out-of-state students and international students.
  • Recruiting more “full-pay” students — those who don’t need financial aid — is seen as a key goal in public higher education, a sector traditionally known for its commitment to access. At public doctoral and master’s institutions, more admissions directors cited the recruitment of full-pay students as a key strategy than cited providing aid for low-income students….
  • The interest in full-pay students is so strong that 10 percent of four-year colleges report that the full-pay students they are admitting have lower grades and test scores than do other admitted applicants.
  • At community colleges, a focus on serving students who don’t have money remains central, with 66 percent of admissions directors citing that as a key strategy — more than cited any other strategy. But even in that sector, a notable minority (34 percent) said that an important strategy for the institution was attracting more full-pay students.

This survey is a reminder that a college’s financial aid department’s job is “to supply the college with as many paying freshmen as possible”.

At least this trend can be a consolation of sorts for all those “rich” families who have no chance of receiving need-based financial aid.


July 26, 2012

Trouble for some marriages where wives earn more than husbands

by Grace

As women continue to outpace men in earning college degrees, some marriages in which wives make more money than their husbands are experiencing problems as they adjust to the dynamics of this growing trend.

Children complicate the situation
In marriages with children, 36% of women with higher earnings than their husbands reported this money imbalance had a negative effect.  Meanwhile, only 22% of wives in marriages without children reported this problem.

Two recent articles from the Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine  provided insight into some of the tensions in the marriages between “alpha women” and “beta men”.  It appears the income imbalance is not so problematic as long as the husband could still support the family if needed, has the right career, wasn’t forced to stay home or take the less powerful role, and retains a high level of confidence.

Pressure eases up—and perceptions seem to change—when husbands’ salaries are enough to support the family should the wives’ pay evaporate.

This seems right.  In cases where two professionals earn high incomes, a disparity between spouses would probably not create the tension that would exist where a husband earns only a small percentage of his wife’s salary.

Does it work better is the wife if “more testostoronic”?

“Kurt has never been someone who defines himself by his job,” says Jami Floyd, a correspondent with ABC’s 20/20, of her stay-at-home husband, Kurt Flehinger. “Nor does he care much what people think about him. He’s not a Master of the Universe type. I am much more testosteronic. I’m much more driven, much more traditionally male.”…

Some careers for lower-earning men are more acceptable than others.

“I think women earning more than men can be devastating to relationships unless the guy is doing something the wife regards as having cachet, such as academia,” says Betsy, even though she still speaks fondly of her ex-husband and sends him the occasional check….

“An academic person might get a ‘waiver,’ ” he adds. “Or a serious, published writer. A primary-school teacher wouldn’t get a waiver. We may think, What a great thing we have men teaching! However, we’re not giving waivers yet for men teaching primary school.”

It works better if it is a conscious choice, not the result of a failure.  Male or female, a successful person does not want to be married to a “loser”.

But the relationship works well, they report, because Laura’s admiration for Jeff, whom she met when they both worked in finance for a giant West Coast media conglomerate, seems complete. “Jeff was never laid off,” his wife explains. “There’s not that feeling that my husband is a loser. We made a conscious decision—he’s got the creative talent—to play to each other’s strengths.

Young women considering marriage may fail to anticipate how they will feel later on.

It’s not as if these women ever expected their husbands to support them completely—at least a lot of them didn’t. It’s just that it never occurred to them that they might be the ones doing all the heavy lifting. And as hip and open-minded as they like to think they are, they were, after all, raised on the same fairy tale as the rest of us—the one where Prince Charming comes to the rescue of Sleeping Beauty….

Among the reasons these women were originally attracted to their husbands—sex appeal, sense of humor, charisma—earning power may not have been high on the list. But that could be because it was a given. Unfortunately, the other qualities start to fade over time if the husband isn’t adding something tangible to the equation.


July 25, 2012

Quick takes – CEOs with liberal arts degrees, too many college students not ‘college ready’, & more

by Grace

—  Famous CEOs Who Were Liberal Arts Majors

—   Colleges admit many students who are not “college ready”.  Yeah, we knew that.

2.2 million freshmen started college in the United States last fall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But if common trends are anything go by, more than a third of them will not have a diploma at the end of it, if indeed, they finish college at all, writes Jenna Ashley Robinson at the Pope Center.

The ACT and the College Board (which administers the SAT) have created benchmarks that offer very clear guidelines for determining whether students are likely to succeed in college and have found that fewer than half of college-bound seniors are prepared for the work ahead of them….

“Sending unprepared students to college only sets them up for failure.”

—  Girls Report Higher Math Anxiety Than Boys, Study Finds (Education Week)

New research from England finds that girls show higher levels of mathematics anxiety than boys, and that this distress is related to diminished performance on math tests. Even so, the study found no gender differences in math achievement, with the researchers suggesting that girls may well have outperformed boys were it not for their anxiety.

 Robbing retirees – The dirty little secret of O’s student-loan fix (New York Post)

President Obama’s much-touted plan to put a one-year freeze on student interest rates was signed into law with great fanfare this month. But the bill’s supporters hadn’t said where the money to subsidize the lower rates would come from.

Columnist Daniel Indiviglio of Reuters dug up the details this week, calling the bill financial “hocus-pocus.” The student-loan scheme was buried in a transportation bill. In it, the government raided its pension-guarantee fund to the tune of $6 billion — although the fund is already running a deficit of $26 billion.

The student-loan bill puts the pension system in jeopardy. To cover future payouts, pension contributions will need to rise by as much as $50 billion a year. The fund’s already broke; now, thanks to this reckless bill, it’s one step closer to total collapse.

—  Over two million K-12 students use online education

Did you know that 30 states allow K-12 students to learn entirely online? Across the country, more than two million K-12 students participate in some form of online education, and nearly 300,000 do so full time, according to John Watson, founder of the Evergreen Education Group, a consulting firm in Durango, Colo.

—  ‘
The U.S. now has 115,000 janitors with college degrees, along with 83,000 bartenders, 80,000 heavy-duty truck drivers, and 323,000 waiters and waitresses.’  (The Daily Beast)

July 24, 2012

Coursera expands with a dozen major research universities – credit for classes

by Grace

Coursera, an online learning company offering free massive open online courses ( MOOCs), is adding a dozen major reasearch universities to its existing group of Michigan, Princeton, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania.

Now, the partners will include the California Institute of Technology; Duke University; the Georgia Institute of Technology; Johns Hopkins University; Rice University; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; the University of Washington; and the University of Virginia, where the debate over online education was cited in last’s month’s ousting — quickly overturned — of its president, Teresa A. Sullivan. Foreign partners include the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the University of Toronto and EPF Lausanne, a technical university in Switzerland.

And some of them will offer credit.

Schools feel pressured to participate.

“This is the tsunami,” said Richard A. DeMillo, the director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech. “It’s all so new that everyone’s feeling their way around, but the potential upside for this experiment is so big that it’s hard for me to imagine any large research university that wouldn’t want to be involved.”

It is still experimental and unproven.

But even Mr. Thrun, a master of MOOCs, cautioned that for all their promise, the courses are still experimental. “I think we are rushing this a little bit,” he said. “I haven’t seen a single study showing that online learning is as good as other learning.”

The University of Washington, ranked 42 on US News list of national universities, will offer credit.

So far, MOOCs have offered no credit, just a “statement of accomplishment” and a grade. But the University of Washington said it planned to offer credit for its Coursera offerings this fall, and other online ventures are also moving in that direction. David P. Szatmary, the university’s vice provost, said that to earn credit, students would probably have to pay a fee, do extra assignments and work with an instructor.

Most MOOC students are from overseas, but if more top universities began to offer course credits toward a degree more U.S. students may become interested.  Online cheating and grading are among the thorny issues.

An alternative to a traditional college degree for some?

“There’s talk about how online education’s going to wipe out universities, but a lot of what we do on campus is help people transition from 18 to 22, and that is a complicated thing,” said Mr. Page, the Michigan professor, adding that MOOCs would be most helpful to “people 22 to 102, international students and smart retired people.”

Eventually, Ms. Koller said, students may be able to enroll in a set of MOOCs and emerge with something that would serve almost the same function as a traditional diploma.

“We’re not planning to become a higher-education institution that offers degrees,” she said, “but we are interested in what can be done with these informal types of certification.


July 23, 2012

Easing the rules on paying back student loans

by Grace

An indication of an upcoming taxpayer bailout of student loans?

Education Dept. Proposes New Rules on Student Loans
July 17, 2012 – 4:35am

The U.S. Education Department today proposed new rules governing federal student loans, which would, among other things, ease the process by which disabled borrowers could have their loans discharged, establish a new income-contingent repayment plan for direct student loans, and expand the government’s income-based repayment program. The changes regarding borrowers with disabilities were prompted by concerns (many contained in a 2011 series by ProPublica) that they were being required to jump through far too many hoops to have their loans forgiven. The rules emerged from a round of negotiations that the agency held last winter, and public comments on the proposed changes are due by Aug. 16.

Last year Mark Gimein wrote about a possible student loan bailout. 

Eventually both private lenders and the government will be on the hook. The government has already moved to ease some loan terms. It will need to find more, especially for those snookered into paying for degrees worthless in the job market. The private loans, meanwhile, will simply blow up. We may as well start figuring now how graduates, taxpayers, lenders, and schools will split the bill.

July 20, 2012

College merit aid is on the rise, and here’s a list of the most generous schools

by Grace

Merit aid is on the rise, with colleges looking for a boost to their prestige from students with strong grades and test scores.

While there are no national statistics post-recession, an Education Department study released last fall showed that the percentage of students receiving merit aid grew so rapidly from 1995 to 2008 that it rivaled the number of students receiving need-based aid.

Recent College Board data from more than 600 nonprofit colleges and universities show that some are giving fewer students more money or stretching their dollars by handing smaller amounts to more students. But others are expanding the number of recipients as well as the amount of their awards.

“Merit aid is one of the few bright lights in college financing now,” says Bonnie Kerrigan Snyder, a college counselor in Lancaster, Pa. … She advises putting financials in the forefront, sprinkling schools that offer generous merit aid on your college wish list. “Consider the schools that will want you,” she says. “That’s how you will uncover the best deals.”

In a chart accompanying its article, the New York Times offers a treasure trove of data on schools offering the most generous merit packages.  Here are ten colleges that award at least 24% of their incoming students scholarships averaging $17,000 or more.

Amounts represent the estimated merit aid given to first-time freshmen in 2011-12 (asterisks indicate final figures for 2010-11). Figures have been adjusted for inflation. 

Colleges use sophisticated enrollment management techniques to attract desirable students and maximize revenue.

“A lot of it is done by computer programs to calculate how much aid they need to offer to each student so they can get the maximum number of desirable students without going over their financial aid budget,” says Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of and

Many regional and religious colleges, he says, also try to “optimize their revenue” by offering partial scholarships to the students who can pay the rest of the tuition — even “B” students with an SAT verbal and math score of 1200 or less. Caution: You’ll have to maintain a grade-point average of about 2.7 to 3.0 to renew most scholarships after your first year.

When I searched for colleges for my son a few years ago, I screened for schools that offered merit aid and came up with a list that included many from the NYTimes chart.  This was one area where our high school guidance counselor did not help, although she might have if I had asked.  But as in many aspects of the college search, it’s the families that must do most of the legwork to find the best opportunities.

An important reminder:  Some of these merit scholarships have early application deadlines, usually in the fall of senior year.

  The ongoing confusion about whether a particular school offers merit aid, or only need-based aid, is highlighted by an apparent contradiction in this NYTimes article.  This paragraph from the story claims Stanford University does NOT offer merit aid:

The most exclusive colleges and universities — the Ivy League, Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and liberal arts colleges like Amherst — don’t offer merit aid at all. Grants go only to those deemed to have “need.”

But the chart accompanying the story lists Stanford as awarding 5% of its incoming freshman merit aid averaging $5,085 per student.  My research shows that athletic scholarships are the only type of “merit” aid awarded by Stanford.

2nd UPDATE:  After I submitted a comment to the story pointing out the contradiction regarding Stanford, I received a nice email back from the NYT thanking me and letting me know that they took Stanford out of the article.  And they did not publish my comment nor did they add any mention of this correction. 

Related:  Your chances for merit aid are better at less selective schools (Cost of College)

July 19, 2012

The best nouns ‘are concrete rather than abstract’

by Grace

Writing advice from Constance Hale in the New York Times

When we write, though, we want to say as much as we can in as few words as possible, so we find specific nouns (mother, cardiologist, kayaker). Mother is better than female, because it reveals gender as well as personal information. But nouns like soccer mom, mother hen or matron say even more because they also give clues about age and attitude.

The best nouns, then, are concrete rather than abstract, specific rather than general. They are also evocative. To illustrate this, let’s return to boats. Some of the synonyms for boat, like vessel, are so vague they could apply to any means of transportation — or any container, for that matter. Commonplace nouns like boat, ship or sea craft are less abstract. But let’s get precise: how about scow,skiff, yacht and yawl? Brand names like Sunfish, Hobie Cat, Boston Whaler give even more concrete images, while other proper nouns, like the Titanic, the U.S.S. Kentucky and the Hokule‘a allow us to precisely picture an exact boat. Nouns help us paint a scene, understand a character or put a finger on a theme. It’s worth taking the time to get them right.

Hale’s advice is echoed in Step 4 in the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point.

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

Here is one example from Kerrigan’s book:

  1. GENERAL:  In her room I noticed two books.
  2. SPECIFIC:  On the small table near Jessica’s plaid easy chair I noticed Heller’s Catch-22 and Galsworthy’s Man of Property. 

This reminds me that I must get back to my Writing to the Point project, which got derailed due to other priorities.

July 18, 2012

Quick takes – single-sex classrooms, ‘gainful employment’ rule, War on Men in science, & more

by Grace

—  Single-sex classrooms are a trend:

—  The coming War on Men in science – applying Title IX to science  

Quotas limiting the number of male students in science may be imposed by the Education Department in 2013. The White House has promised that “new guidelines will also be issued to grant-receiving universities and colleges” spelling out “Title IX rules in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.” These guidelines will likely echo existing Title IX guidelines that restrict men’s percentage of intercollegiate athletes to their percentage in overall student bodies, thus reducing the overall number of intercollegiate athletes. (Under the three-part Title IX test created by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, where I used to work, colleges are allowed to temporarily comply by increasing the number of female athletes rather than cutting the number of male athletes, but the only viable permanent way to comply with its rule is to restrict men’s participation relative to women’s participation, reducing overall participation.) Thus, as Charlotte Allen notes, the Obama administration’s guidelines are likely to lead to “science quotas” based on gender.

—  The “gainful employment” rule for career-training schools has been struck down in court, but it could be a “Pyrrhic victory for the for-profit colleges”.

A federal judge in Washington has overturned a main component of the federal Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rules, which were applied to career-training programs and were hotly contested by for-profit colleges, saying that regulation was arbitrary.

—   Grinnell College dean pulls back the curtain on college admissions

A window into what goes on during the reading of applications; among the insights:

I can remember very clearly last year talking about a student who I wasn’t particularly impressed with. I felt that the application was flat; the writing wasn’t compelling to me; the recommendations, while good, they weren’t powerful, they didn’t support the student’s admission.

… And then one of the other committee members made the argument and said, look, this child is from a single-parent home, they spend a lot of time helping to support a younger sibling, they don’t have as much time for the extracurricular activities. You could tell that the school didn’t really know the student, because the student couldn’t stay after and participate in a lot of activities. And I think seeing through a different lens to some degree, slowing down and really looking at the student on her own individual merits, that made all the difference.

—  The 13 Careers Where You’re Most Likely To Commit Suicide

Two of the careers listed:

Mathematicians and scientists are 1.85 times more likely to commit suicide than average…

Dentists are 5.45 times more likely to commit suicide than average

Related:  Public schools are not diverse enough for boys (Cost of College)

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