Posts Tagged “transition to college”

Paint by Numbers: A Data-Rich Look at the State of Higher Education

Reporting in last week’s Inside Higher Education, Kasia Kovacs reviewed the findings of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, an initiative of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

click to download A Primer on the College Student JourneyDr. Michael McPherson, co-chair of the commission and a well-respected economist, former college president, and president of the Spencer Foundation, spoke to Ms. Kovacs about the Commission’s report, A Primer on the College Student Journey, which used data to form conclusions about the state of undergraduate education at two- and four-year colleges.

Dr. McPherson reported: “Our ambition is to help the American population, the American people, to appreciate what a college education means now in the United States, which is something much broader and more complex than what a number of us might have thought a few years ago.” Dr. McPherson and his colleagues interpreted data from a wide range of sources, including the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Commission’s findings are critical to our understanding of what’s happening in American higher education, providing a snapshot of who goes to college, how they pay for it, what happens when they get there, how they fare, and what directional changes they make.

The findings present a complex and compelling story about opportunities and challenges facing higher education, with the balance tilted toward an optimistic and hopeful view overall. Some of the more interesting findings are:

  • Gender and ethnicity and race matter. In 2015, 50 percent of 25-29 year old women had a college degree compared with 41 percent of men. Almost three-fourths of Asian students 25-29 years held at least an associates degree. This number drops to 54 percent for white students, 31 percent for black students, and 27 percent for Hispanic students in the same category.
  • Half of America’s high school graduates need remedial assistance in college, and that help often falls short. Only 28 percent of students in remedial classes at two-year colleges actually earned a degree in 8.5 years.
  • Students are borrowing more. In 2000, 50 percent of students took out loans, with the number increasing ten percentage points by 2012. Only nine percent defaulted on their loans, but this number rose to 24 percent if they did not graduate. Ms. Kovacs reported that the Commission found that “borrowers at greatest risk of defaulting are typically those who take out the smallest loan amounts.”
  • Transfer students follow what the Commission calls a “multi-directional transfer swirl.” Almost one-third of students transferred or were simultaneously enrolled in two institutions over six years. A surprising number were lateral transfers; 15 percent of two-year students transferred to another two-year college and 17.2 percent of students at four-year colleges switched to two-year institutions.

The Commission’s findings suggest implications for American higher education. These implications will powerfully affect the level of workforce preparation, any potential improvement to the disparity in income and social inequality, and in time, America’s commitment to higher education as a kind of safety value “great equalizer.”

The first implication is that a complex mix of familial, social, cultural, economic, and psychological factors affect whether a high school graduate seeks a college degree. It may be that matching application pools to demographic changes backed by renewed commitments to increased financial aid is not enough to provide the twin goals of a well-educated citizenry and an educated workforce.

Is it also possible that the levels of debt already in place now, fostering a consumer revolt over college costs and presidential positions on free tuition and ameliorating middle class debt, may actually discourage college attendance? In pledging relief, is there a corresponding compelling argument on why a debt-laden college degree is so critical to many Americans?

For some high school graduates and their families, there is not a good answer on why they should spend the money. The optics can shape the perception dramatically.

A second implication is that the stark data on college preparedness suggests that there is a growing dissonance between what basic education teaches and what higher education expects of its students. College faculty regularly complain about the lack of student preparation as they engage newly admitted students. Has the conversation between basic and higher education leadership – one that goes beyond the politicizing of issues like test scores at the state and federal level – occurred on how to develop a common set of expectations that make the handoff between these groups more seamless and successful?

And finally, the Commission’s findings speak volumes about what choices students make within the higher education system. The process of transferring within a “multidirectional transfer swirl” is hardly seamless. The failure to increase qualified counseling, provide safety nets, and better general directional advice can be as big a deterrent as college costs in dampening higher graduation rates, at both the two- and four-year levels.

Higher education is the cornerstone upon which America’s successful participation in the competitive global economy rests. It’s likely an uneven evolution ahead. The Carnegie Corporation study helps because it allows us to get our facts straight first.



College Move-in Day? Keep Your Head High & Enjoy the Other Side

It’s August. For many families, it’s time to participate in a celebrated American ritual: moving a son or daughter to college. While thousands of parents and children bid each other farewell after moving belongings into a dorm room, the experience is acutely personal.

Students, parents unload car at college move in dayEvery child has a different and unique relationship with a parent. For some students, their impending advance toward an adult, independent life is not an especially introspective moment. For many of these first-year students, it’s something akin to a long sleepover, summer camp, or travel abroad. A few students arrive on campus from boarding schools where residence life rituals are long since learned and well understood. But for most students, inching through the summer toward “move in” day is a cause for excitement, trepidation, and uncertainty.

When students arrive on campus as “first years,” it’s always best for them to think through a plan of how to organize their college years. The best piece of advice for them perhaps is to “know yourself.” College students come with different levels of maturity and a variety of perspectives. In this new environment, no one really cares about your grade point average, athletic prowess, or that legendary moment in summer band camp. What most first-year students look for is someone like themselves, who shares their interests, and who can make them laugh or at least feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar setting.

Even the most experienced students feel some level of homesickness. The great thing about college is that you are on your own and treated – more or less – as an adult. That’s also the worst thing about college life. Now, only you can explain your successes and failures. And like it or not — you own them.

Most colleges have time-tested student life programs that address some of the worst first moments that students face. Many student life programs do an exceptional job at “move in” day, where helpful upper-class students work together with often remarkable precision to welcome the students to residence life. Parents are often astounded that the move-in process takes so little time, operating something like a well-greased machine. Let the acculturation begin.

What families should also see in the best of these programs is the subtext. Permeating the heavy lifting and helpful answers is a deep reservoir of optimism from faculty, staff, and students that goes well beyond the smiles and welcomes. It’s a special moment full of opportunity and promise.

Move-in is like walking across a suspension bridge high above the river. Don’t look down, keep walking, and enjoy the feeling of fresh new land under your feet on the other side.

At this point, the only option left for the parents is to enjoy the college-provided lunch. Lunch is meant by the college to be a last supper of sorts for parents – eat it and then walk away. You will leave a mostly adult child in capable campus hands. Don’t muck it up by overstaying your welcome. And don’t make the assumption that you know best. Your expertise ended effectively when you drove through the campus gates.

Parents have a choice to make once they reach home. They can re-emerge from the college selection process as “helicopter parents,” continuing to hover over their children, interpreting the uncertainties and insecurities that they hear, and determined to fight for their child’s rights and needs. It’s admirable and entirely misguided.

It’s better not to miss the seminal moment that “move in” day offers to fine-tune the adult in your child.

This is also where technology can inhibit your first-year college student. God did not invent the cell phone – nor Facebook, Snap Chat, Twitter, and texting – to provide you with a web-based umbilical cord by which you can keep connected with your child minute-by-minute. If you are going to develop a lasting adult relationship, you need the space and time to settle into the new arrangement. Set pre-arranged times and days for conversation, unless an emergency arises.

Finally, be aware that money doesn’t solve everything. Hopefully, you were wise enough to place expectations on how your child can help support a four-year college experience as part of a family commitment. Watch the unexpected expenditures and monitor open-line credit and debit accounts, especially if these lessons have yet to be learned by your first-year. And, be aware that some expenses will be legitimate.

In four years, hopefully your child will be sharing a barely affordable undersized apartment in Hoboken with college friends. It’s always best to teach reality before it happens.

For parents, it’s normal to feel sad at some point when you recognize that the move-in experience is also a move-away moment. That awaited acceptance letter that arrived last spring changed your life forever, too.