Sunday, November 23, 2008

NY Times (11-21-08) -Decision Applications Are Up at Colleges, in Spite of the Economy

Here was my line this fall: If you do not need financial aid, this may be one of the best years to go ED. Colleges, like other institutions that have financial needs, do not like uncertainty. In this atmosphere, there is more uncertainty than ever before. Let's see, what could go wrong:

1) You admit your class, stretch your thinned financial aid as much as you can, and the ones you shorted in the least head to public colleges.
2) You don't admit enough full pay kids ED and your president says that you need to have more revenue. You are in the soup kitchen line.

And on and on.

I've said it before and I'll say it again...the biggest unstated pressure on admissions directors at private colleges is getting more "full pay kids." You have limited means to do this: need aware admissions, international admissions and ED.

So I told kids who are full pay that their odds are better than ever this year if they go ED. I don't see anything fishy at all. It's actually smart money....colleges and kids making economic decisions instead of educational ones; just like the system is designed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Economy and College Admissions

There was a timely article on the front page of the NY Times today on:

"Tough Times Strain Colleges Rich and Poor"

I was pretty shocked that there was not more discussion about this at the NACAC Conference. Not that the report on testing or panels, like the one I was on, about disclosure, are not important issues, but they are far overshadowed by how ecomomic conditions are going to affect students, parents and colleges.

There are going to be some sea changes affecting students and colleges, especially if these economic conditions persist for more than one admissions cycle:

1) Public colleges, especially inexpensive ones, will be flocked with huge numbers of applications. Many will rise in ratings, due to astronomically higher selectivity. Ironically, this will coincide with substantial budget cuts which will reduce the actual quality of instruction with larger classes, program cuts and deferred maintenance. Many flagship universities will be forced to abandon their traditional mission of admitting and educating a wide range of students as many previously qualified students will be turned away. There will be more and more pressure to admit higher paying out of state students for the tuition they bring in. At many, there will be (quietly) lower admissions standards for out-of-state students, something which spark outrage when some state senator's child is denied admission when lower qualified out-of-state students are admitted.

2) What we all feared when "need aware" admissions began will start to become a reality. More and more colleges will apply different admissions standards for those applying for aid than those who do not. Need aware admissions will apply, for many, not just for those in the margins of the academic pool or those with very high need. Some extremely strong students in the pool with high need will be denied as well as some students with average need who are in the middle of the pool.
3) Many tuition driven schools will begin to falter. There will be more college closings than ever before, more mergers, more changes in missions, more questionable marketing techniques and admissions actions.

4) At private colleges, the perfect storm of fewer applications, more students needing aid and those seeking aid having higher need, dramatic devaluation of endowments, huge pressures to keep costs low, and dramatically higher costs for many goods and services will put economic pressures that will be greater than many have ever seen before. Many projects will be cancelled or deferred, priorities re-examined and cost cutting will be the mantra of college presidents.

5) Many private colleges will open their doors in the fall with empty dorm rooms, insufficient revenue to cover costs, much larger classes, and major faculty upheaval as personnel costs are brought down.

6) Public colleges will, while seeing dramatically higher demand, be slashing services. More adjuncts will be teaching classes, athletic teams will be cut, classes will be much larger, programs will be cut and everything from college radio stations to cleaning services will see smaller budgets.

Not everything will be bad for all colleges. Those with large endowments will weather the storm and even thrive as they will be able to attract and fund an ever more talented student body. Many colleges will begin to do what they should have done many years ago: order their priorities. Not all colleges can be all things to all students. Not all college can have state-of-the-art athletic, arts and science facilities. Many college will need to focus on strengthening what they do best. Many colleges will need to step out of the merit scholarship rat race in order to provide need based aid to their students. Students, like many of their parents, may have to forgo some of the amenities that they have come to expect at colleges.

From the student and parent point of view, many will have to drastically change their plans, assumptions, priorities and dreams. As a middle income parent of a high school senior (with two younger children), the prospect of saying to my child that she should apply only to colleges which are the best fit and that we will find a way to pay for it, is changing each day. More and more uncomfortable discussions of what might have to be, in response to financial realities, are taking place. At every income level, these discussion are becoming more and more common.

From the consumer end, the perfect storm of rising admissions standards and increasing costs at public colleges, less financial aid from private colleges and a drying up of credit for student loans will force many unpleasant choices in the months ahead.

I think organizations like NACAC need to be more nimble to discuss dramatic societal events like this at our conferences, in our discussion groups and in our policies. Like a sports team that has suddenly lost its top player due to injury, I think we need to more quickly and ably adjust to new realities and what they mean to our members as well as the students and parents they affect.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

DiscA few comments about the reporting of disciplinary infractions to colleges:

1) Just because it is permissible by FERPA, does not make it legal in every instance. For instance, some state laws are more restrictive about the release of data.

2) Something that is permissible in FERPA only means the school does not risk the loss of federal funds if one takes that action. It is NOT a protection against liability.

3) Even if it is perfectly legal, there is still a risk that a school and/or individuals at a school may be sued and may lose, particularly if there is no policy to guide what is released or the action is seen as capricious or arbitrary or inconsistent. So there are some recommendations I believe everyone should follow to keep you out of court and the poor house:

1) Have a policy that is clear, consistent and operational. There should be no question if a certain action falls under this policy. If should cover every case ("whenever a student seeks to transfer"), type of offense ("resulting in suspension or expulsion") and circumstance ("whether the offense occurred in the pre-admission or post-admission process")

2) Be consistent in the application of this policy. All exceptions should be laid out in advance ("students who entered and completed in-patient rehabilitation programs following a drug or alcohol offense.."). You put yourself in great jeopardy if you selectively enforce the disclosure of offenses.

3) Make sure the administration (headmaster, principal, superintendent) and school lawyers make the final call on any decisions both about policy and action. They likely have training in school law that you do not have. They also, through the position, have ultimate authority and responsibility.

4) Realize that hand-written notes as a response to a phone call are as admissible in court as an "official" letter. Calling a college or school and communicating information may carry substantial risk.

5) Look over the expectations on disclosure from the college end. If there is a statement that the student is expected to inform the college of infractions in the pre- or post-admissions process, you should warn the student and parent that failing to do so could put his//her admission at risk (as was the case with Gina Grant and Harvard) and that the student should be encouraged to make appropriate disclosures.

6) If you genuinely feel the student is a risk to him/herself or others, you may be at greater risk by not communicating this information to a college than doing so. It is important that you put your concerns in writing that you feel the student is a risk to himself or others and that you implore the administration to allow you to communicate this danger. FERPA makes specific mention of protecting disclosure that protects others from harm.

7) As a last resort, you may want to get administrative approval or parent approval to contact the Dean's office or office of psychological services with concerns about mental health issues without necessarily being specific about the actions that led to your concerns..losure

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Let's see, what would possibly be the motive of allowing score choice but not modular SAT testing (allowing students to take each of the sections separately)? If we have score choice for the SAT I, students can take the SAT as many times as they want without colleges knowing how many times they took it. I can just hear those gears rolling at the College Board, especially the bean counters. "We can really get great profit margins by giving into the base instincts of students who are already totally obsessed with the SAT. No longer will they have to worry whether college will think they are going overboard with testing. Maybe we can get kids to take the test a dozen times starting in 9th grade. Think of the revenue stream!! And we can get kids to test, retest and retest more with the full test, even
if they just want to try to raise their math score. Brilliant! Who thought of this idea. We gotta get this guy a bonus!"

Bill Shain when he was Dean of Admissions of Vanderbilt was doing a Q and A with counselors when I was visiting. He was asked a fairly common question: Do you average scores of students? Bill answered with a pretty common response, i.e. that, no, they take the highest individual sub-scores of the tests the students submit. But, he continued, he said that they did see how many times a kid did test and, at a certain point, that information did have an affect on how they viewed the student. So I ask, is it a good thing that colleges will no longer have this information? Does it not say something about a student who has taken 8, 9, 10 SAT or ACT tests?

Let's also do a little math here, particularly statistics. In an individual retest, a score is only likely to go up (or down, for that matter) a certain amount and the more a student tests, the less likely that score is to go up significantly. If a student took a test three times, for instance, it is not likely that the score will go up significantly with a fourth testing. But if you have a very large sample, say eight or ten tests, there IS a good likelihood that one of those tests will be an outlier, that a particular test will fall on the high end of the test range. After all, no one argues that an SAT test is an exact measure of ability but an approximation, affected by many factors: whether the student happens to get more questions on topics they handle better, whether they guess better, whether they are more seasoned test takers, whether they got enough sleep, enough food, whether the testing situation is better (fewer distractions, less humidity). I could go on and on, but logic tells us that the bigger and bigger the sample, the more likely that there is one instance where the mode, the highest possible result, will occur.

So let's go to human nature. There are lots and lots of kids, I would venture in the hundreds of thousands or even millions, who go through the college admissions process each year, who spend a huge amount of psychic energy worrying about whether their scores are high enough to get into the college they want. I see it in my own household and in a huge proportion of the kids in my school. It may be much more prevalent in suburban schools like ours or urban schools, but even there you are talking about a very large number of kids. And what are these kids going to do to relieve this tension (and their parents pushing to relieve their own anxiety) with score choice: test again and again. For everyone wants the illusion of control, particularly when someone else is making a big decision about their life. So now on top of the money spent on SAT prep, independent counseling, essay coaching, etc., the folks at the College Board can join in on this largess.

Is this a bad idea?: absolutley. We should be going in the opposite direction and reducing the obsession with testing. I run the testing at my school (not so next year...yeah!), and we are eating up more and more of the school year with testing at the expense of teaching and learning. We have, including make-ups, 12 days of HSPA (our graduation test for 11th graders) testing, 12 days of Terra Nova Testing (for grades 9 and 10), 4 days of biology testing (end-of course and performance assessment), 18 days of AP testing (including the exception testing), one day of PSAT testing, seven weekend days of SAT testing. And the state is now coming up with a new Algebra II test they are rolling out next year. When is it too much?

How about
some ways to reduce testing:

*aligning state graduation testing with college admissions testing so that one test counted for both purposes and the total would be a couple of sittings.
*Allowing modular testing so students would not have to re-take testing they did not need, including writing a new essay again and again and again.
*College announcing they they WILL average the scores of test takers who take many tests.
*More colleges at the most selective range going test optional (Harvard, you were the maverick in getting rid of early plans and embracing the Common Application...ready to take the plunge?)
*Allowing, as many colleges do, other testing (AP, SAT II) to substitute for SAT or ACT testing.

The College Board gave lip service to the idea of modular testing with ad hoc arguments against it. They said it would hurt the integrity of the test, despite the fact the the subject tests are given modularly with apparently
no affect on their validity. They stated that it would cost more money for the test for they would still have the same test administration costs no matter how many sections were tested. But again, the third hour of Subject Test testing often has one or two kids in the room, but that hasn't changed the administration of this test. And do you really believe that students would end up paying more if they only took the tests they needed and wanted? They rejected modularity (and, lets get serious here, never really considered it) for two reasons: It would get them less total revenue and might doom the already shaky writing test (note how they touted the study on the usefulness of the writing test with the conclusion that it should not be optional because it gave a .01, yes .01 increase in the predictability of a college freshman GPA).

I just sent my College Board membership bill back with no check (for the second year in
a row) with an explanation that I saw no advantage to membership. Until the College Board really gets serious about bringing to the members issues like modularity of the SAT (or this new score choice option), why bother to be a member? I encourage others to do likewise. Like the College Board, we can make financial decisions too, which is exactly what this score choice decision is. Any gobbley gook about serving kids in nonsense. This is just an awful idea. If it is instituted, the average number of SAT sittings per student will soar. Who out there thinks that is a good thing...except for the College Board bean counters?

I got to read some some news reports on this new policy (nothing yet on the College Board web site that I could find) and need to comment on issues that have been brought up in the discussion:

1) A quote from the College Board: "Students were telling us the ability to have more control over their
scores would make the test experience more comfortable and less
stressful," said Laurence Bunin, senior vice president of the SAT. ". .
. We can do that without in any way diminishing the value and integrity
of the SAT." Students taking the test many more times without those receiving that information knowing it not affecting the value and integrity of the test? Really? Maybe I took a different stats course than you guys. Aren't you the ones telling us that the score is not indicative of an exact point but a range? Isn't more testing more likely to get one to the maximum of that range? And telling us that students want this is a bit disingenuous, isn't it? Students want lots of things. 1st graders would want to play video games all day and eat candy, but we don't give it to them. Our job as educators is to give students what they NEED, not what they want. We are the professionals and our job is to do want is best for students. Maybe the College Board doesn't see things this way.

2) This will clearly just exacerbate the achievement gap between the rich and the poor. Now the rich will have one more tool to cement their societal advantage and the expense of those who cannot.

3) The College Board spokeman stated that they will not allow students to submit separate highest subscores but only the highest single test result so students cannot "game the system." Really? You really believe that this new policy will not do more to encourage students to game the system? This fails all credibility tests.

4) A major point that was brought up is that this places the SAT in line with the policy of the ACT. I find it interesting that the College Board took one of the worst policies of the ACT as their own (and coincidentally one which will have the greatest potential to raise their revenues) rather than some other more sensible and useful parts of the test. Why not consider making the SAT more straightforward and achievement based, eliminate the penalty for guessing (talk about a stress reduction) and making the writing section optional? Oh, none of these will increase revenues for the College Board. Silly me.

Lastly, one has to realize that almost every college in the country takes the highest individual math and critical reading (and sometimes writing) from the different administrations of the test a student submits. So what advantage is this really to students? And what about the increased anxiety of deciding which tests to report? “Should I send the score with the highest math score even if it has my lowest reading score?” This policy has no value added to students and significant costs. It will result in much more unnecessary testing with colleges having less information to assess students.