Tuesday, March 31, 2015

NACAC and Student Scams

To the NACAC EList:

Yesterday, I was driving and saw the car in front of me with a bumper sticker that said that the driver's child was a member of the National Society of HIgh School Scholars (many of you all probably have brought home one of their teddy bears to your kids after a national conference).  This is another Vanity Press/Award organization that charges fees to join and do things like get your picture in a book, buy a book, etc.  My naive first response was "what's the harm".  So the family has to pay $60+ for really nothing, but they are happily deluded that their child, who has not received much recognition in life, is being mysteriously honored?  Well, upon further thought, I began thinking, yeah, there is real harm in this.  It is presenting something as an honor that isn't, is taking people's hard earned money in a disingenuous manner and we are not only accepting this, but promoting it?  We, promoting it?  Well, look at this response that was written to College Confidential from the NSHSS:  "NSHSS is affiliated with counselor associations, scholarship programs, higher education institutions and international school associations. Our partners include Abercrombie & Fitch, AFLAC, Alzheimer’s Association, the National Society for the Gifted and Talented, and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. Some of our collaborating universities include Spelman College, UC - San Diego, and Purdue University."  

They are vendors at the National Conference, I know, but are they really "affiliated" with NACAC?  If so, this is really a problem.  If not, shouldn't NACAC be putting out a cease and desist order in using the organization this way.  Similarly, NRCCUA/My College Options is also an organization that is not straightforward in their methods (see http://scottwhitesworld.blogspot.com/2007/05/nrccua-nrccua-was-subject-to-major.html for a discussion of this) yet their executive director, Don Munce, moderated a panel at the last NACAC Conference and they also promote their connection to NACAC.  

Maybe this is something that NACAC should really be taking a look at.  I am not saying that we as an organization are actively promoting groups which take advantage of students and I am not suggesting that we ban these groups from participating as exhibitors at our national conference.  But perhaps a committee should be put together to look at the relationship between these groups and the national association and we should do more to educate our members and communicate with students about groups that are not straightforward on how they operate and what they offer to students.  

We should take a hard look at the whole business of organizations profiting through the use of deceptive practices using unsolicited mail and email to profit off our students, frequently those students who can least afford it.  This would include all the "scholarship search" services that charge huge fees, etc.  I know there have been numerous reports from NACAC on this issue, but I don't think that there is a unified response to this.  And it is not black and white.  While some groups are clearly deceptive and dishonest, some are more disingenuous.  

My suggestion is not that we ban every group from a connection to NACAC who profits off of kids by feeding off the college admissions frenzy (the exhibit hall would be empty if we did this), but that we are more self-conscious and self-reflective of what we do.  Perhaps a sub-committee of the Admissions Practices Committee can develop clearer guidelines and provide more useful communication on groups that are not honest or straightforward in their practices.  Perhaps we should look at promoting legislation that prevents organizations from using language that is deceptive.  Absent that, maybe the organization should have minimal standards for groups that promote services to our counselors, either through the exhibit hall, in conference sessions, advertising in our publications or sponsoring NACAC events.  

This is something we can and should do.  This flood of deceptive mail and e-mails is not abating, it is growing by the day.  Can we put a stop to it?  Absolutely not.  But we can take a much more active roll in examining our part in this and make sure we are not explicitly or implicitly endorsing and promoting groups who do not serve our students' best interests.

Joyce and members of the e-list:

Joyce, thanks for your posting.  I think it does clarify NACAC's relationship with these organizations.  Like the SPGP, there are mandatory actions and best practices.  I would agree that NACAC is fully abiding by the former but could be doing significantly more in the latter.  I'll try to be more specific about my concerns:

*I have had numerous low income kids come in this year who have paid money to organizations that purport to be honors when they are not, NHSSS among them.  Perhaps a committee could look into exactly what students are receiving and decide whether it is transparent, deceptive or dishonest.  If it is either of the latter two, the organization can be asked to work with NACAC to be more transparent on how the students was selected and what the advantages of membership are.

*The "invitations" to summer programs are similarly problematic.  Just yesterday a staff member came to me with a letter asking them to nominate students for the National Student Leadership Program.  There was no mention anywhere that there was a substantial cost for this program.  The teacher thought that they were choosing a student for an award rather than providing a name for solicitation to an expensive summer program.  The student then receives an embossed certificate stating they have been "selected" for this honor, when in fact, they used a deceptive technique to get the names for this program.

*NRCCUA is not alone in sending out surveys with buried small print that says what the surveys are for.  They almost always send them to the superintendent with no mention in the cover letter that they collect and sell student names.  These are passed onto guidance directors who think they must comply because it came from the superintendent.  

These are not evil organizations that are out to harm students and their net effects may be positive.  But their marketing techniques are highly questionable and it would behoove the organization to take an active role in improving this.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Benefits of Not Shooting for the Stars

So I have been thinking about this match issue as well as the implied action of most applicants that they are compelled to go to the most selective college that admits them.  This has also come up with much of the writing of students from urban schools being "mismatched" because some students do not apply to colleges that are more competitive that they could get into.  I can think of a few examples where following this approach has downsides.

I went to Swarthmore (as did my daughter) and it was the right choice for me, except in one major area.  I had a really weak high school chemistry course and was considering pre-med.  The chemistry course, as it is in many similar schools, was largely a vehicle to self-select out pre-med students.  It started on page 150 of the text book, with the professor saying all of you had this first 150 pages in high school (mine got to page 25).  We couldn't have lab partners and our labs were graded by upper class international students, who were brutal.  I ended up with a W on my transcript when I realized I could never catch up.  If I was truly committed to becoming a doctor, going to a less selective college would have served me better.

My son had much stronger credentials than I did, but knew that he was eligible for a Presidential Scholarship (spelled F-R-E-E) at Rutgers and would, on each college visit, to say Brown or Georgetown, say that they were lovely places but not lovely enough to balance off going to college for free (I love that kid!)  He is a senior now and is constantly being sought out for awards, honors, programs and fellowships, something that would be unlikely if he had gone to a most competitive college.

Lastly is my wife, a high school dropout who is brilliant.  She went back to school at age 48 to train to be a teacher at Montclair State University.  She was able to get, for instance, 6 CLEP credits in Humanities, by walking into the test and taking it, even getting a certificate for being among one of the highest scorers in the nation on the exam.  She got a great education there.  Sometimes, even in a larger lecture class, she would sit up front with a few other highly motivated students, and it would be like a smaller seminar with them.  She also got a level of attention, smaller classes, and outstanding faculty that really impressed her.  

So here is my top ten list of why NOT to go to the most selective college that will admit you:

1.  Merit Money:  Lynn O'Shaughnessy in The College Solution discusses how colleges will provide merit money for kids who are strong students for the school, which is generally not a student's reach school.  Even without merit money, as one moves up the selectivity ladder there are higher costs and higher debt.
2.  Meeting Professional Goals:  In some highly competitive fields, like pre-med, it is often best to go to a school whose need is to make sure that every student who wants to go to med school gets in as opposed to selecting out students before they apply.  The experience of being supported rather than being weeded out can change the course of your life.
3.  Personal Attention:  There is often a greater opportunity to work with professors and develop close mentoring relationships with teachers when you a are big fish in a small pond.  It is often easier to get more highly supportive teacher recommendations as well.
4.  Scholarships and Fellowships:  students who are more distinguished in their school will be regularly sought out for awards, honors, fellowships and scholarships.
5.  Quality Faculty:  It is really hard to get a college teaching job and you can get outstanding teachers at virtually any college.  You are more likely to get teachers who are as focused in teaching undergraduates as they are in their own research at strictly undergraduate schools.  You are also are not taught by graduate assistants at strictly undergraduate colleges.
6.  Graduate School:  It is much easier to shine coming from a less selective pool of students.  Of two identical applicants applying from an extremely selective college and from one considerably less selective, the latter will have the advantage in admissions.  This person is likely to have greater faculty support, more leadership opportunities and better grades.
7.  Licensing:  Many of the extremely selective schools do not have opportunities to get professional licenses as an undergraduate.
8. Employment:  After your first job, rarely do employers care where you went to undergraduate school.  And if you go to graduate school, it is this imprimatur that matters more than undergraduate school.  It is also well documented that higher pay is more related to college major than the selectivity of the undergraduate school (see John Boeckenstedt's highereddatastories.blogspot.com for a thorough analysis of this).
9.  The Community College Option:  This is a very inexpensive way to getting through the first two years of college.  Your diploma from a 4-year college does not say "community college transfer" and two years of successful community college will often open more doors than many students would have have leaving high school.  This is a much better option than enrolling in a 4-year college with the plan of transferring.
10.  Graduation:  The number of students who end up not graduating yet accumulating huge debt is staggering.  Students need to be honest with themselves as to what they are prepared for emotionally, psychologically and financially.  For many students, not straying far from the nest, particularly right out of high school, is more likely to guarantee future success.