Mountain State University, stripped of accreditation by its regional agency, has decided not to enroll any new students in the fall, institution officials said in a document explaining the situation to students. The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools said this month that it would end the West Virginia private college's accreditation, citing serious financial and management troubles. Most colleges have great difficulty operating without accreditation, which opens the door to students' receiving federal financial aid, and Mountain State officials have until Monday to appeal, which they have said they would do.
University officials have been working with students to help them explore options should they choose to leave Mountain State. In addition to not enrolling any new students, the university said, "new students who have already signed up for classes in the fall will be dropped from their classes."
In 10 years of coaching college students -- those who are already enrolled as well as prospective students who are deciding where and whether to attend college -- I've observed a lot about the traditional student's behavior and mindset. The key to turning prospective students into an enrolled students is to form early and meaningful connections with students that let them know you have their best outcomes in mind, and are working to help them get off to a strong start in college that will lead to long-term success and satisfaction. Here are some of the best practices and bits of conventional wisdom that are easily overlooked or forgotten:
Leverage the student’s own momentum
Everyone knows that an object in motion stays in motion; the same is true for 17- and 18-year-old students in high school. When students engage with you, make sure that next steps (e.g., applying for scholarships, submitting health forms, or registering for summer orientation) are available so they can “strike while the iron is hot.” This will not only deepen their commitment and motivation to attend but it will positively reinforce proactive student behavior.
Engage early applicants before the winter holidays
Early applicants (defined here loosely as anything before December) are often high-achieving students, even those with mediocre academic credentials – the very fact that they applied early suggests they are proactive, organized and motivated. Early application may mean a school is high on a prospective student’s list. Too often such students hear crickets until February; meanwhile, their once-warm feelings may cool and motivation may wane. Colleges that instead initiate meaningful interactions with early applicants are more likely to attract highly engaged and effective students and encourage their positive, proactive behavior to continue post-enrollment. Early applicants are special; make them feel it.
Understand that students really are busy
If you treat them like busy adults, they’ll act like it. Even the most responsible, top-performing student will occasionally ignore a phone call, neglect to respond to e-mail, or procrastinate filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). They’re genuinely busy and distracted, not to mention the fact that they are still only 17 or 18 years old. They also have enough people nagging and judging them, so the best kind of outreach is proactive, positive, and nonjudgmental. I often call this approach “decidedly non-parental.”
Be “decidedly non-parental” but respect the parental units
This is a unique time in the parent-child relationship. Students may be experimenting with independence and may or may not be communicating regularly with a parent or guardian during the decision-making process. Understand the objectives and perspective of each party, help bridge the communication gap where it exists while respecting boundaries, and create a safe environment for students to express a dissenting opinion without undermining anyone involved.
Realize they’re probably only going to get busier as the year progresses
The most organized students often focus on their next steps toward college when they know they have a little extra room in their schedule. They’ll often try to get as many college-related tasks done as possible before they get busy again with finals, holidays, travel, work or other activities. Provide resources that allow students to be as productive as possible when they can devote time and attention to preparing for college.
Strong customer service, starting immediately, is critical
When students reach out for information and are unable to get clear answers, feel passed around, or get lost in an automated phone system, not only do their needs in that moment often go unmet, but they are dissuaded from reaching out for support again in the future. An outstanding early customer service experience can establish an enduring positive first impression of the school, making it less likely that the normal bumps and bruises of adjusting to college life will lead them to doubt the entire value of the institution or the pursuit of a degree.
Treat them like adults
This doesn’t mean give the “if you want to be treated like an adult, act like one” speech, nor does it mean incessantly reminding students “you’re an adult now, you should have done X, Y, and Z.” This means respecting them the same way you would a busy, working professional, refraining from judgment, and responding to their requests and needs the way you would those of a colleague. When a university takes the lead in modeling an attitude of respect, responsive communication, and trust, students of any age are more likely to reciprocate.
Something I learned early in my career is that even the children of the most educated parents may not understand the basics of higher education, and they may be unaware or too intimidated to ask, so don’t wait. This approach is anything but condescending; simply listen for clues that reveal potential “gaps” in the student’s understanding, don’t let anything surprise you, and without any judgment, provide a clear and relevant explanation. A common example is the various types of degrees available; “associate,” “bachelor’s,” “master’s,” “professional,” “technical,” “graduate,” and “doctoral,” can be confusing, most students have never had anyone break it down for them, but once they do it’s very empowering.
Uncover major obstacles early and get a plan in place to overcome them
Providing ample opportunities for meaningful engagement through the summer and new student orientation is essential if students are to arrive on campus ready to succeed. However, the goal is not to prevent summer melt (attrition prior to matriculation); rather, it should be designed in part to drive melt, to ensure that every student who starts classes is as prepared as possible to finish.
Conditionally admitted students must fully understand the expectations and potential consequences associated with their admittance and have opportunities to test their skills prior to enrollment. A summer college experience, for example, provides a low-risk opportunity to uncover major obstacles as early as possible.
Low SES (socioeconomic status) students need to have an intensive, in-person conversation with a financial aid expert so they can identify a timeline for critical next steps and discuss how items like applying for loans or resubmitting FAFSA will coincide with their new academic responsibilities.
If an unforeseeable event changes a student’s enrollment plans , avoid pushing too hard and refrain from judgment over delaying his or her start. If students have a positive experience in their darkest hour they will probably return, but if the process feels like salt on a wound they may sever ties and go elsewhere when the dust settles.
Understand the student’s unique objectives
Understand the student’s true intentions, align resources to support their unique goals, and define success accordingly. An increasing number of students enroll with the intention of transferring after the first year or two, but these students seldom reveal their original intentions for fear of being judged, criticized, or encouraged to change their mind by faculty and staff. At the institutional level, when a university supports a student in successfully transitioning to college, bringing their grades up, and gaining admission to their dream school, it should be counted in the “success” column. Plus, having an accurate read on students’ initial intentions can help with institutional planning and reveal potential gaps in recruitment and marketing strategies.
Recognize the potential for “a là carte” education
According to one director of admissions I recently interviewed, about half of a large group of high school seniors indicated to him that they intend to graduate from a different university than where they plan to begin next fall. One student even plans to use transferring as a means to live in different parts of the country. Students will continue to be influenced by the many options to “hack” their education – online degrees become more acceptable every day, students are increasingly mobile, and Ivy League schools are making content available for free. In an economy where adults are faced with an average of seven career changes in a lifetime, we can expect to see students adopt the same approach to their education. Recognize that your institution does not operate in a vacuum for the student; facilitate a candid conversation, free of any judgment, in order to unearth the student’s true intentions, design a personalized plan to help them achieve their goals and develop a strategy to communicate the unique value of your institution in the context of this changing landscape.
Understand the student’s underlying motivation
Connect with students about their decision to attend a particular college on a deeper level and demonstrate that their motives are respected and even valued by the institution. The positive feelings and deeper commitment this cultivates between student and institution may counteract inevitable moments of doubt and ebbs in motivation. However, if the only reason a student can cite for attending is because it “just makes sense” financially, geographically, or academically, they’re less likely to see the value and persist through difficult times.
Articulate value in a way that makes sense to students
The residential campus experience is still relevant because it connects textbook and community and it remains one of the most effective, widely accepted means of transforming oneself into an educated adult ready to take on the world, but this is a rather lofty goal with little immediate relevance to a student’s daily concerns. Connect them to tangible, immediately relevant value whenever possible and they will not only be more likely to remain connected to this value, but better able to articulate it to others.
Catherine Sloan is a coach at InsideTrack, which provides coaching services to students.
Swiss universities are reporting declines in applications from students in other European countries, The Local reported. The Swiss franc is performing well against the Euro, and tuition is up at many Swiss universities, while some European countries do not charge tuition.
This fall, the United States Supreme Court will consider the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, which asks whether that university’s use of affirmative action in admissions passes constitutional muster. I served on the legal team that defended the University of Michigan Law School admissions policy in Grutter v. Bollinger, where the Supreme Court held that fostering a racially diverse student body is a compelling state interest that colleges and universities can pursue in a narrowly tailored way. I believed that the Court correctly decided Grutter when I was helping to litigate the case, but I believe it even more firmly in my newer role as a law school faculty member.
For a number of technical reasons, it seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will treat Fisher as an occasion to revisit Grutter. If the Court does do so, however, then it should let Grutter stand. The reason is simple: The primary reason to leave Grutter alone is that the Court there got it exactly right.
Grutter recognized that having a diverse student body serves a variety of important educational objectives. One of those objectives can be described syllogistically: personal characteristics help determine our experiences; our experiences inform our thoughts and perspectives; therefore, having students with a wide array of personal qualities helps enrich the educational environment by infusing it with a rich variety of ideas and points of view. Of course, a diverse student body serves other educational goals as well, for example, by challenging stereotypes and building cross-cultural understanding. But the heart of the Grutter decision rests on an understanding of the unique value of learning in an environment where we encounter people whose characteristics, experiences, and perspectives differ from our own.
For many years, I have seen the benefits of having a diverse student body in one of the courses I teach — Legal Ethics. This seems unremarkable in light of the fact that the discussion of ethical matters tends to draw out the philosophical, religious, cultural, and experiential differences among the participants. It is therefore unsurprising that I have witnessed many lively exchanges in that class between students who brought dramatically contrasting orientations to the questions at hand.
Perhaps more surprising are the benefits of having a diverse student body in another course I teach — Evidence. In this class, students learn the principles that determine whether a document, object, or witness’s testimony will be admitted at trial for consideration by the jury. Evidence is what law students sometimes call a "rulesy" course and it does not put variations in individual identity, experience, perspective, or conscience on display in the same obvious way as a course on ethics. And, yet, in my evidence class those variations push their way to the surface repeatedly and unexpectedly.
Sometimes this results from an aspect of a student’s background that does not seem particularly significant or self-defining. Consider, for example, an incident that occurred when my evidence class was studying a doctrine that allows non-expert layperson witnesses to testify to their opinions on certain matters. The rules limit such testimony to the sorts of educated guesses we make in everyday life: How far is it from here to there? How fast was the car going? Is that person drunk?
To explore with my students our capacity to make such inferences based on our experiences, I conduct a simple experiment. I produce two unlabeled cups containing soft drinks and ask for a volunteer to take a sip from each and tell us which contains Coke and which Pepsi. Every year, almost all of the students in the class says they can do this; every year, the student who volunteers to try succeeds.
One year, however, my student volunteer did something unexpected. She came to the front of the class, glanced at the cups, and said confidently: "I can tell by the smell." She picked up one cup; sniffed it; and correctly declared that it contained the Pepsi. Her fellow students burst into applause. She explained that she had worked in a restaurant that served both products and that she had acquired this skill so she could help out on those occasions where the waitperson who had poured the beverages lost track of which was which.
This immediately led to an interesting debate: Was this student a layperson offering an educated guess based on her personal experience or an expert offering an informed opinion based on her specialized knowledge? For a variety of reasons, this distinction matters under the rules of evidence. This student had shown — much more clearly and memorably than I could have done by lecturing about it — that under some circumstances the distinction is very fine indeed, and perhaps even vanishes.
In many other instances, a more self-definitive characteristic that a student possesses has ended up shaping their contribution to the classroom discussion in a poignant and powerful way. I recall, for instance, one day when we were working through a problem that involves the hearsay doctrine. In very general terms, that doctrine prohibits witnesses from repeating things in court that were said outside of court. Students often find the doctrine maddeningly complicated.
Part of the doctrine’s complexity arises from the fact that it is subject to dozens of exceptions. This includes exceptions for statements that were made under stress or excitement and for statements that describe an event and were made while or right after the event was occurring. These exceptions rest in part on the assumption that statements made under these circumstances are typically less calculated and therefore more reliable.
We were discussing a scenario — based on an actual case — that presented the question of whether the tape of a phone call to a 911 operator should be admissible. In the tape, a woman who lived in an apartment building reported that several large dogs, owned by one of her neighbors, were attacking another neighbor in the hallway. The caller described the dogs, the people who owned them and were trying unsuccessfully to restrain them, and the location and severity of the attack. During the entire call, the woman remained in her apartment with the door closed.
I had taught this scenario for many years and the discussion consistently played out along the same lines. The students would recognize that the tape presented a hearsay problem. They would identify the exceptions discussed above as potentially applicable. And then they would spot a difficulty in applying those exceptions: because the woman listened to the commotion through her door and never left her apartment, she arguably did not have personal knowledge about the matters she was describing. This is how the discussion always had gone; this is how it always had ended.
On this occasion, however, a student raised his hand just as we were about to move on. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I disagree with the conclusion. You’ve all wrongly assumed that you need to see something to have personal knowledge about it. This woman knew what her neighbor’s dogs sounded like. She could hear that they were attacking someone. She could recognize her neighbors’ voices. She could tell where the sounds were coming from. Granted, she didn’t see anything. But she certainly had personal knowledge of what was happening.”
The class sat in stunned silence. Of course, this student was right. He also happened — not incidentally — to be blind.
When the Supreme Court decided Grutter in 2003, race mattered. It shaped experience in myriad and unique ways. It informed perspectives, ideas, and opinions. It still does.
As a practicing lawyer, I have argued that institutions of higher education have a compelling interest to admit a diverse student body based upon legal principles and social science. As a faculty member, I now make the same argument based upon my experience. Indeed, I have come to believe that Grutter is wise and right in ways that I did not even understand when I was busy working on it.
I have seen the evidence.
Len Niehoff is professor from practice at the University of Michigan Law School and is chair of the higher education practice at Honigman, Miller, Schwartz & Cohn. The ideas expressed here are his own.
A year after the British government essentially tripled tuitions, applications for university spots fell by nearly 9 percent in Britain and by 10 percent in England, Times Higher Education reported. Applications from students of traditional college age fell less sharply than did those from older students, and government officials played down the impact of the dip; “the proportion of English school-leavers applying to university is the second highest on record and people are still applying,” David Willetts, the universities and science minister, told the newspaper. But others said the decrease was the predictable result of the dramatic change in government policy.
International applications at top universities in Hong Kong are seeing sharp increases, The New York Times reported. Foreign applications are up 55 percent at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, 50 percent at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and 42 percent at the University of Hong Kong. (Most universities in Hong Kong keep separate statistics for those from Hong Kong, from the rest of China, and the rest of the world, so these are figures for that latter category.)
The British newspaper The Telegraph sent undercover reporters to talk to admissions agents in China about the chances of gaining admission to competitive British universities, and the answers have created a stir. According to the newspaper, agents that represent the universities are telling people in China that they can earn admission with significantly lower test scores than would be needed by a British student. The Telegraph has also reported that headmasters of some British schools are reporting that their non-British students are earning admission to universities while British students with better test scores are being rejected. The suspicion of many is that British universities, which may charge much more to foreign students than those from Britain, are favoring those from overseas.
Times Higher Education reported that Cardiff University, one of the institutions named in the Telegraph article, has started an investigation into whether pledges are being made to potential students from China that are inconsistent with university policies.