Archive for ‘before college’

April 14, 2015

A college financial planning timeline

by Grace

Don’t wait until your child’s senior year of high school to begin planning how to pay for college.  The first 18 years go quickly, and it’s never too soon to begin preparing.

Here’s one simplified approach showing some important steps along the timeline to college, with a focus on the financial planning aspect of the process.

20150412.COCPlanningTimelineB

 

Before High School

Start saving for college ASAP:  This is the relatively uncomplicated part.  Although we can’t predict the costs of college over a child’s lifetime, it almost always makes sense to begin saving early on.  Even if MOOCs or other innovations make higher education more affordable in the future, there’s usually not much of a risk in saving too much since there are options for dealing with “left-over money in your 529 plan”.

Before Junior Year of High School

  • NMS potential:  If your child tends to score in the 95%ile of standardized tests, he may have a shot at earning a National Merit Scholarship.  A little test prep can make the difference in qualifying for significant merit financial aid.
  • Base Income Year (BIY): If there is a chance your family may qualify for need-based financial aid, you should explore ways to minimize income during the BIY, the 12-month period that begins January 1 during your child’s junior year.  Since the BIY is used as a snapshot for determining financial need, you may want to consider strategies such as not selling stocks or property that will create large capital gains, refrain from converting to a Roth IRA, or defer bonus or other income.

Junior Year of High School

  • Create list of schools:  Get serious and make a realistic list that includes academic and financial safeties.
  • Can we afford it? 1-2-3:  Determine affordability by using the 1-2-3 Method or something similar.

Senior Year of High School

Senior year is the busiest time for families as they handle the many details of the college application process, including final determination of how they will be paying.  Some important acronyms:

The two main forms used in determining financial aid eligibility are the FAFSA and PROFILE.
FAFSA is the acronym for Free Application for Federal Financial Aid. It is a form submitted to the government that collects the financial information needed to decide your eligibility for federal FA. It’s also used by many colleges to determine institutional aid.
PROFILE is a financial aid application service offered by the College Board, used by about 400 colleges to learn if students qualify for non-federal student aid. There is a fee to submit a PROFILE, whereby the FAFSA is free.

The SAR (Student Aid Report) is a summary of your FAFSA responses and provides “some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid”.


It’s important to get started.

While this outline only hits the highlights along the road to paying for college, it can be used as a springboard for further research and action.  It makes sense to start with an outline, and then fill in the details as you go along.

March 26, 2015

‘Background information’ is a key reading skill

by Grace

In an interview with Deseret News, cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham elaborates on the importance of background information in the development of reading comprehension skills.

DN: You talk a lot about “background information” as a key reading skill. This seems to be an enormously important concept that is not often discussed?

Willingham: I strongly agree. Once you spell it out it is sort of obvious to people that in all communication — speaking as well as writing — that we don’t make explicit every detail needed to comprehend. If you did, communication would take forever. You assume that your reader has certain knowledge.

We have to connect ideas, sometimes within a sentence or across sentences, and very frequently information is omitted. If you don’t have the right information in a voice conversation, it’s not that big a problem. You can ask them to clarify, or dumb it down. But when you’re reading you don’t have that option. And what will happen is you will just stop reading because you don’t comprehend.

Nonfiction reading is important in building background information.

DN: You write that we are shortchanging our reading by focusing so heavily on language arts. What do you mean by that?

Willingham: That’s absolutely true in the early grades. There is very little time devoted to science or civics or history or drama or art. English language arts focuses very narrowly on narrative fiction, and a lot of the time they’re not even reading. They are doing writing and spelling. It’s not that these things are not important, but we have to recognize that later on, in middle school and high school, the lack of background knowledge is going to come back and bite our kids.

Schools have an even greater obligation to teach background information to low-income and minority students.

DN: This seems to have important implications for closing the achievement gap suffered by low-income and minority kids?

Willingham: Absolutely. The kids coming from wealthier homes have much richer resources to acquire that broad background knowledge. They’re much more likely to be immersed in it at home, and their parents have more money, which they can use to provide experiences that are rich in information.

Willingham’s latest book is “Raising Kids Who Read”.  Among other recommendations, he advises that parents avoid using baby talk with their children.

———

Eric Schulzke, “What parents can do at home to prepare their children to read”, Deseret News, March 22, 2015.

March 12, 2015

Middle school advice

by Grace

Getting Ready for High School Begins in Sixth Grade

High school prepares a student for college, and middle school in turn prepares him for high school.  Grown & Flown has created a concise list of middle school tips that allow “kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest”.

Here’s the first bit of advice.

1. Do one thing well
I would make sure, if possible, that my child was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity. Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the orchestra or given a role in the school play. I know educators advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

While I agree with this idea, in reality it can sometimes be really hard for a middle-schooler to find his “one thing”.  Many kids are still trying out activities, and as much as parents try they may not be able to make them stick with just one or two.  Sometimes the reasons are legitimate, but sometimes a lack of persistence is the cause for a young person’s fickleness.  Parents should keep guiding and emphasizing the importance of practice and hard work, but some kids still never find their one thing until later in life.

Don’t despair, because the counter argument is “that if you want to raise a really successful child, you should let them quit things”.  No doubt, there are many paths on the road to success.

Here is the rest of  the list, and for more details you can go to the Grown & Flown site.

2. Sleep is an elixir
3. Look away from the screen
4. Good food will always be good
5. Everyone needs a trip to the deep end
6. Self-control is modeled, not taught
7. Body beautiful, take care
8. Get it together
9. Character is everything

December 29, 2014

A New York high school diploma is too easy to attain

by Grace

What’s the point of helping students graduate from high school if that doesn’t prepare them for college and career success?  This question arises from a study seeking ways to improve the public schools in Yonkers, New York.

The holy grail for urban school systems has long been to increase their graduation rates. In other words, hand out those diplomas so students have a chance to make it.

But the people at Yonkers Partners In Education, a private group obsessed with helping Yonkers students thrive, began to see that mere graduation is not enough. They wanted to find the keys to preparing students for college success….

But too many Yonkers students were not making it in college. YPIE began to doubt the point of helping students graduate from high school if they weren’t ready for college work.

“If they are not prepared to be successful in college, are we doing them a service or disservice?” YPIE Executive Director Wendy Nadel said. “We don’t want to throw time and money at things that won’t make a real difference for students.”

The study, College and Career Readiness in the New York State Public Schools, found the utterly predictable “strong link between poverty and students’ readiness for college”.

Class size doesn’t matter.

While some study results were not surprising, other findings contradict conventional wisdom by showing that “class size and per-pupil spending” have little correlation to student readiness for college.

New York high school graduation standards are too low.

A major problem, Kroll found, is that a high school diploma has been too easy to attain in New York. Students need to pass only one Regents exam in math, for instance, to earn a Regents diploma. Because of the way the state curves its algebra exam, a student could get a 65 “passing” score on the June 2013 exam by earning only 34 percent of all points on the test.

“The graduation bar is too low,” Kroll said. “A 65 on a Regents exam gets you nowhere.”

The next challenge will be finding the elusive best practices in high-performing schools and then implementing them in the low-performing schools.

The ultimate goal is to identify districts that outperform their poverty levels, analyze how they do it and share the results.

“We don’t want to provide an excuse, like, ‘Don’t judge us because we have poverty,’ ” he said. “But we need to filter out the effects of poverty so we can judge how districts and teachers are doing. Let’s find out why some (districts and schools) get better results in poor communities.”

———

Gary Stern, “Statistics show poverty’s impact on student success”, Journal News, December 20, 2014.

Bud Kroll, College and Career Readiness in the New York State Public Schools, Yonkers Partners in Education, YPIE Research Report 14-01, May 2014.

November 26, 2014

Choice of major is likely to be biggest determinant of student loan burden

by Grace

The Undergraduate Student Loan Calculator offered by the Hamilton Project allows you to illustrate what percentage of your future earnings are likely to go toward paying off your student loan.  Among other variables, you can select your major course of study.

Here’s an illustration comparing a petroleum engineering major with an ethnic studies major, showing a dramatic difference in outcomes, particularly in the first year after graduation.

20141122.COCHowLongPayLoan2

 

The ethnic studies major starts out paying almost 26% of his earnings toward his student loans.

Year One:
Petroleum Engineer      Monthly Income: $3,816   Monthly Loan Payment: $277
Ethnic Studies              Monthly Income: $1,073   Monthly Loan Payment: $277

Income is based on the median earnings for that major.  The loan assumptions are based on average student debt of $26,500 as of 2012 and current federal student loan interest rate of 4.66%.

Run your own illustrations at the Hamilton Project site.

November 17, 2014

The value of A.P. classes

by Grace

The New York Times Motherlode blog asks the question, “To A.P. or Not to A.P”?

Students, parents, and school administrators have mixed feelings about A.P. classes.  Students sometimes feel pressured to take these advanced courses even when it’s not appropriate, but in many cases taking at least a few A.P. courses is the right decision.

When taught well, A.P. and I.B. courses can offer high school students the opportunity to study college-level material while in high school. Administrators and teachers may be divided on the merits of offering A.P. courses, but they agree that secondary schools feel pressure to offer them to appear academically rigorous.

A.P. courses usually look good on college applications.  Selective colleges want to know if students have taken the “the most rigorous academic program available”, so the natural inclination is to take as many A.P. classes as possible.  While some experts advise students that more is not necessarily better, it’s hard to believe that in a competitive situation more high A.P. scores will not add points on a college application.

… “Selective colleges make it clear these days that they will not consider candidates that have not done AP or IB.”…

Students and parents often blame the Ivy League and other selective colleges for perpetuating the current cutthroat environment, insofar as such schools advise taking “the most rigorous academic program available” (as stated on the University of Virginia’s admissions website).

“What parents are saying is that ‘until colleges change their message, I’m not going to let my kid be the sacrificial lamb,’ ” Pope observes.

But colleges say it’s the literal interpretation of this advice that gets students into trouble.

“What admission officers almost always say…is focus on what lights your fire and take advantage of the most challenging offerings in those areas,” urges NACAC’s Hawkins. “That’s a very different message from, ‘Take all of the AP classes.’ ”…

Why take A.P. courses?

A.P. courses can be the appropriately challenging level of study for advanced students, and a way to avoid being bored in classes that are too easy.

Students can earn college credit for A.P. courses when test scores are above a certain level.  This can save money and time, even enable graduation in less than four years.

In some cases colleges do not give credit, but use A.P. test scores to allow a student to skip over introductory classes.  This can be a benefit, but in some cases students should still take the lower-level college class.  For example, a STEM major may wish to take the college calculus course as a way to establish a stronger foundation for advanced course work.

Why avoid A.P. courses?

For some students, A.P. classes add excessive stress, either because of the extra work involved or because the student is not prepared to perform at the higher level.  In these cases, the lower-level course is the more appropriate placement.

There are borderline cases, where the question is whether it’s better to get an A in a regular college prep course or a lower grade in an A.P. course.

The answer that most colleges will give you is that, it’s better to get an A in the Honors/AP class.  Well, of course.  And most highly selective colleges will expect that you do.  But in reality, most colleges would rather see a B in an Honors or AP course.  They want to see that you are truly challenging yourself, but that you are still mastering the material….

The decision to take or skip A.P. courses is not always easy.  Consider it carefully.

ADDED:  Gas station without pumps blog gives commentary and advice on How many AP courses are too many?

Probably the most reasonable course is for students to take AP courses (and exams!) in those subjects that most interest them and pursue interests outside the AP classroom. Community college courses that go beyond the AP courses are also a cost-effective choice, if you can get in.

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Jessica Lahey, “To A.P. or Not to A.P., That Is the Question”, New York Times, November 13, 2014.

Amy Brecount White, “Under Pressure”, Arlington Magazine, September-October 2014.

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October 23, 2014

Educators still believe in the myth of learning styles

by Grace

The vast majority of teachers refuse to give up the myth of learning styles and other fallacies about how the brain operates, even though these beliefs hurt students.

The idea that we only use 10 percent of our brains has been roundly debunked — but, according to Paul Howard-Jones, an associate professor of neuroscience and education, teachers don’t necessarily know that. In an article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, he reveals the disturbing prevalence of this and other “neuromyths” in classrooms around the world, and explains why they can be so damaging.

In one study Dr. Howard-Jones cites, 48 percent of British teachers agreed with the statement “We mostly only use 10 percent of our brain.” Ninety-three percent believed that “individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (for example, visual, auditory or kinaesthetic)” (research actually doesn’t support this), and 29 percent believed “drinking less than 6 to 8 glasses of water a day can cause the brain to shrink” (it can’t). Sixteen percent thought that “learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education.”

 A few years ago one of my children filled out a learning styles questionnaire at school, presumably so that the teacher could tailor instruction in the classroom.

… Myths about how children should be taught can be counterproductive in the classroom, said Dr. Howard-Jones. Surveys designed to determine kids’ learning styles (visual, auditory or kinesthetic) can reveal how students would prefer to receive information, he explained in a phone interview, but “the problem is that there’s no evidence to suggest there’s any benefit in teaching them in that way, and in fact psychological research has shown even that some students appear to benefit more from receiving information in the style that they do not have preference for.”

I suspect these myths are still being taught in college education courses.

Daniel Willingham explains that “Learning Styles Don’t Exist”.

———

Anna North, “How Brain Myths Could Hurt Kids”, New YOrk Times, October 20, 2014.

October 2, 2014

Excessive homework is not a common problem

by Grace

Excessive homework has been a controversial news item for over 100 years in the United States, and recently it again grabbed headlines.  Tom Loveless uses facts and analysis from the 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education to put this issue in perspective.

Now homework is in the news again. Several popular anti-homework books fill store shelves (whether virtual or brick and mortar).[ii] The documentary Race to Nowhere depicts homework as one aspect of an overwrought, pressure-cooker school system that constantly pushes students to perform and destroys their love of learning. The film’s website claims over 6,000 screenings in more than 30 countries. In 2011, the New York Times ran a front page article about the homework restrictions adopted by schools in Galloway, NJ, describing “a wave of districts across the nation trying to remake homework amid concerns that high stakes testing and competition for college have fueled a nightly grind that is stressing out children and depriving them of play and rest, yet doing little to raise achievement, especially in elementary grades.” In the article, Vicki Abeles, the director of Race to Nowhere, invokes the indictment of homework lodged a century ago, declaring, “The presence of homework is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time.”[iii]

A petition for the National PTA to adopt “healthy homework guidelines” on change.org currently has 19,000 signatures. In September 2013, Atlantic featured an article, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me,” by a Manhattan writer who joined his middle school daughter in doing her homework for a week. Most nights the homework took more than three hours to complete.

The Brown Center Report looked at data collected by the NAEP,  the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, and Met Life in an effort to answer the question “whether strong empirical evidence confirms the anecdotes about overworked kids and outraged parents”.  In fact, the reality is different from hyped-up news stories.

… Homework typically takes an hour per night. The homework burden of students rarely exceeds two hours a night. The upper limit of students with two or more hours per night is about 15% nationally—and that is for juniors or seniors in high school. For younger children, the upper boundary is about 10% who have such a heavy load. Polls show that parents who want less homework range from 10%-20%, and that they are outnumbered—in every national poll on the homework question—by parents who want more homework, not less. The majority of parents describe their children’s homework burden as about right.

Parents who complain about excessive homework usually have children enrolled in the most rigorous levels of course work. and are more likely to have other complaints about their schools.  Often they have the myopic view that everyone shares their situation.

The homework horror stories need to be read in a proper perspective. They seem to originate from the very personal discontents of a small group of parents. They do not reflect the experience of the average family with a school-age child. That does not diminish these stories’ power to command the attention of school officials or even the public at large. But it also suggests a limited role for policy making in settling such disputes. Policy is a blunt instrument. Educators, parents, and kids are in the best position to resolve complaints about homework on a case by case basis. Complaints about homework have existed for more than a century, and they show no signs of going away.

———

Tom Loveless, “Homework in America”, Brookings Institution, March 18, 2014.

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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.

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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.

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