admissions

Dispute Over Report on Asian Americans

Advocates for Asian-American students are criticizing a new report from the Pew Research Center, which is well known for its demographic studies. The Pew report, "The Rise of Asian Americans," is generally quite positive about their status in American life. Citing survey and other data, the report begins: "Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success."

But a joint statement from the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund and the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education said that the data presented by Pew obscured continuing challenges facing recent Asian immigrants (as opposed to those here for several generations). The report "only reinforces the mischaracterizations of Asian American and Pacific Islander students that contribute to their exclusion from federally-supported policies, programs, and initiatives. Presenting such findings offer nothing in the way of positive changes for this historically underserved student population. This data only further burdens down Asian American students who have to fight against the 'model minority myth,' a misleading falsehood that deems them to be well-educated and financially successful."

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New Program to Verify Accuracy of Law School Data

Several law schools have in the last year been found to be doctoring the statistics about their entering classes, trying to make the incoming students look more impressive so that their institutions would rise in the rankings. Now the American Bar Association and the Law School Admission Council have announced a new program in which they will verify the accuracy of such data. The groups will compare data from various sources to provide an assurance that law schools are being truthful. "Many schools have expressed an interest in such a program," said John O’Brien, chair of the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. "In an environment where the actions of a few schools have raised questions in the minds of some about the integrity of data reporting by law schools more generally, this program gives schools a straightforward and efficient method to have their admissions data verified."

 

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Arts Graduates Are Generally Satisfied, Employed

A survey being released today suggests that arts graduates -- counter to the stereotype -- are not all facing unemployment. The survey, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, includes graduates of arts colleges and of arts programs within broader universities. Among the findings:

  • 87 percent of arts graduates who are currently employed are satisfied with the job in which they spend the majority of their work time.
  • Of those employed alumni, 82 percent are satisfied with their ability to be creative in their current work, whether working in the arts or in other fields.
  • Only 4 percent of respondents report being unemployed and looking for work – less than half the national rate of 8.9 percent.
  • 84 percent of employed alumni agree that their current primary job reflects their personalities, interests and values, whether their work is in the arts or other fields.
  • Those with degrees in the performing arts and design are the most likely ever to be employed as professional artists, with 82 percent of dance, theater and music performance majors, and 81 percent of design majors working as professional artists at some point.

 

Essay on flaws of Education Department's list of most expensive colleges

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 required the Department of Education to publish "College Affordability and Transparency Lists" of colleges and universities with the highest and lowest published prices and the highest and lowest net prices of attendance. To get on the list a college needs to be in the top 5 percent or bottom 10 percent of the cost scale. The new lists are now out. On the Education Department website, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says, "These lists are a helpful tool for students and families as they determine what college or university is the best fit for them." We wish they really were.

A casual glance at the shame list of the most expensive private colleges pulls up names like the Culinary Institute of America, the Art Institute of Chicago, Cornish College of the Arts, and Berklee College of Music. At the other end of the scale, the list of the lowest-cost programs includes quite a number of tiny Talmudic institutions and Bible colleges. These are all fine programs, but to paraphrase former President Clinton, this isn't a list that looks like where America goes to college.

The Department of Education's definition of the net price of attendance paints a false picture of what most students have to pay, and the list of colleges and universities held up for public rebuke clearly reflects the weakness of this measure. In addition, the way net cost is calculated by the Department of Education may induce some institutions to change their behavior in truly unhelpful ways as they attempt to get off the list or to make sure they don’t get on it.

Here is the federal definition of the net price of attendance: "Average net price is for full-time beginning undergraduate students who received grant or scholarship aid from federal, state or local governments, or the institution." For starters, this price of attendance includes room and board charges, which arguably should not be a cost, since the student must eat and sleep whether or not they are in college.

But the key problem with the definition is that the net cost measure for the whole institution is based only on those students who actually get aid. Here is an example of the type of problem that this measure can create.

College X has 5 students and a list price of $40,000. Suppose that one of the five students at this college gets a full $40,000 scholarship and the remaining four are full pay students whose families fork out $40,000. For this institution the Education Department would report an average net price of $0 since the only student getting aid received a completely free ride. Now consider College Y, which also has 5 students and the same list price of $40,000. College Y has a scholarship budget of $40,000, just like College X. But instead of concentrating its grants upon one student, college Y gives each student an $8,000 scholarship.  The Department of Education would tell us that average net price for College Y is $32,000.

College X would show up as the world’s greatest bargain, while College Y might find itself on the shame list. This disparity of rankings happens even though both colleges have the same number of students, the same list price, and spend the same amount on scholarships. College X has found a way to game the system.  By concentrating its aid, it decreases the net price for students receiving aid.  But it has very few of those students.

Individuals and groups tend to respond to incentives. Colleges and universities are no different. When policy makers set up the rules of the game, colleges will respond to the incentives if they can. Since the shame list is a fixed percentage of the total number of colleges in the group, any college near the margin has a strong reason to try to game its way off the list. As our example makes clear, with the current rules one way to avoid being on the shame list is to concentrate grants and scholarships among as few students as possible.

We are sure that this is not what the Department of Education intends. But let's look at the socially perverse ways that colleges could game the system to get off the shame list. One way to concentrate aid is to avoid recruiting students who are likely to qualify for federal student aid. This is diametrically opposed to the thrust of federal financial aid policy ever since the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Federal financial aid has been aimed at students with demonstrated financial need in order to improve access to higher education.

Additionally, if an institution does have a student who qualifies for federal need-based financial aid, the incentives are to pile on institutional grants. As a result, this poor student would get a better deal, but slightly less-poor students will be left out, and the middle-class students, unless they are targets for merit-based grants, will get a worse deal. In fact, middle-class students become somewhat poisonous in this system because they are a numerous group and because they require smaller dollops of aid than poorer students. Having a lot of middle-class students who receive small grants is a guaranteed way to see your net price go up in the federal calculation.

We’re sure the federal government does not want colleges to concentrate their grants and scholarships on a smaller number of students, but that is the new incentive for institutions that might be able to reallocate their grant monies.

The reasonable alternative way to measure the net cost of attendance is to compute what the average student actually pays, not what the average student who gets aid winds up paying. This method adds the full-pay students to the calculation. Many colleges, however, will favor the current federal definition of net price because the federal formula produces a lower number for net price than a formula that includes all students. But the colleges' preference for a lower number should not stand in the way of producing a measure that is more game-proof.

This way of calculating net price has the advantage that the number it gives you for net price is independent of how grant aid is distributed among the students who receive aid. If our hypothetical five-student college has $40,000 in aid to distribute, this measure will be unchanged whether that college gives all the money to one student or an equal amount to each. Using this measure of net price, if the institution wants to reduce its average net price then it will either have to find a way to reduce its list price or it will have to increase its scholarship budget. We think this is what policymakers want.

Our example is not a crazy hypothetical. For the colleges on the current shame list the percentage of their students getting aid is a very high 82.5 percent. But spreading this aid so widely as a tool to craft the freshman class now comes with consequences. It gets you smacked with a higher calculated net cost of attendance than if you had recruited differently.

We have recalculated net price to include all students and produced a very different "expensive 5 percent." On the alternative list, institutions such as Northwestern, Brown, Georgetown, and Villanova Universities and Boston College now appear. This list looks more like America’s major private colleges and universities. And on this list, aid is more concentrated. In the alternative top 5 percent, the percentage of students receiving aid is only 55 percent. The rest are full-pay students.

For individual colleges the effect is substantial. To take one example, Oberlin College is on the Education Department's shame list, holding down the 31st spot. Oberlin gives aid to 85 percent of its students. If we calculate net price for all students, Oberlin falls out of the shameful 5 percent.

Yet no matter the methodology, we do not think ranking colleges by net price is particularly useful. A single number for each institution tells a family almost nothing. The whole shame list ranking is a political exercise of dubious social value. The Education Department website does send students to each institution's net price calculator, but these calculators tend not to be standardized and they are often quite complex.

There is mileage, however, in reporting the size of the average grant aid package students receive at each college, broken down by rough categories of family income. A family should be able to find their income level and see that on average a student at university X that comes from a family like theirs received $5,682 dollars of federal, state, and institutional grant aid (not loans). Then the family could decide for itself whether or not a particular college offered value for money. There is no shame in having an expensive program and no particular virtue in being cheap.

We wish we could share Secretary Duncan’s optimism about the current lists, but we cannot. These lists will not help students and families find the college that best fits them.  The process of matching students to colleges is complex, and the information contained in the net price rankings actually is misleading. Lastly, as institutions respond to the incentives inherent in the current methodology for calculating net price, institutional aid may be distributed in increasingly unfair and socially inefficient ways.

Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman are professors of economics at the College of William and Mary and are the co-authors of Why Does College Cost So Much? (Oxford University Press).

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Obama won't deport undocumented students

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Obama administration gives undocumented students a way to avoid deportation. While some advocates for the students see major advance, others note what new policy doesn't cover.

More programs seek to train those in enrollment management

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USC program is latest entrant into a growing field of post-graduate degree or certificate programs in enrollment management.

Essay on the flaws of the LSAT

Law school accreditation standards require every law school to use the LSAT or a comparable test in assessing every applicant for admission. This standard is unusual. There is, for example, no comparable requirement of an admissions test in the medical school accreditation standards.

A committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education is reviewing the accreditation standards and proposing revisions. The committee has been unable to decide whether the requirement of an admission test should be retained. This inability to decide reflects a deep division among participants in legal education.

Some argue that the standard (which as a practical matter calls for the LSAT) ensures use of a test with demonstrable predictive value and ensures uniformity of assessment. But the standard has been criticized on many grounds. Some are technical and relate to drafting. Others concern its impact, especially as impeding student body diversity and encouraging costly competition on prestige. These criticisms are sound and important, and have convinced many that the requirement should be eliminated. Yet, there is an even more fundamental problem which has not been addressed: the standard is oblivious to the current critique of law schools — that they ill serve students as consumers of educational services.

The critique — sounded in newspapers, blogs, lawsuits, and elsewhere — is complicated and wide-ranging, but in essence comes down to this. There are two broad functions of higher education. One is to provide students with a path to intellectual and personal growth, preparing them to participate in society as informed and inquiring citizens and leaders. This is the liberal arts function. The second is to provide students with a path to a job or career. This is the vocational function. For a very long time law schools, although professional schools, have oriented their work toward the liberal arts function. The current critique begins with the charge that law schools have neglected the vocational function. In doing so, the critique continues, schools fail to deliver value to students as consumers — specifically, as consumers of educational services that should lead directly to a job or career.

In this light, consider the current accreditation standard. It requires a test of an applicant’s "capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s educational program." The standard focuses on student success in law school, rather than success after graduation. It is thus concerned only with the law school as an academic enterprise and implicitly holds schools accountable only for student achievement up to graduation. In this respect it treats a law school much like an undergraduate college. It is not surprising that the ACT and SAT may work as well as the LSAT in assessing capability for academic success in law school.

But a law school is not simply a post-graduate version of an undergraduate college, and cannot be concerned only with student intellectual growth. A law school exists to serve as a path to a job or career, and no law school can remain in business if it is not reasonably successful in helping move its graduates into satisfying jobs and careers. There is certainly no objection to law schools using the LSAT (or the ACT or SAT) as part of an admissions methodology, to the extent it helps evaluate capability for academic success. But to require such a test as an accreditation standard, and indeed to require only a test relating to academic success, promotes an outlook that ignores accountability for outcomes beyond completion of the three-year program. It promotes the very outlook and practices that have exposed law schools to withering criticism in the past few years.

Eliminating the requirement of the LSAT or similar test would be a strong signal to law schools. It would give law schools express freedom and implicit encouragement to consider in the admissions process the full meaning of student success, not only in the classroom but in careers beyond. Contrary to the fears of some, eliminating the standard would not signal an end to concern with academic ability or academic performance. Rather, it would signal that law schools and the law school accreditation system understand the full range of purposes and values underlying modern legal education.

Change is difficult. But law schools well understand that new outlooks and new modes of operation are essential if schools are to have continued influence and success. Eliminating a requirement that reinforces a too-narrow view of legal education would be a small, but powerful, step, in this necessary process of institutional adaptation and change.

Jay Conison is dean of the Valparaiso University Law School.

Student video raises questions about college marketing strategies

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An Oberlin student's take on stress levels during exams raises questions about college marketing strategies.

Barbara Walters, Syria and Columbia's J-School

Barbara Walters apologized Tuesday when e-mail records revealed her efforts to help Sheherazad Jaafari, an aide to Syria's president, get a job or get into Columbia University's journalism school, The Telegraph reported. Walters got to know Jaafari when the journalist was pushing to interview Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president whose government has been holding on to power in the country with brutal crackdowns on protesters. The e-mail records indicate that Walters approached a Columbia professor, praising Jaafari, and that he then offered to help.

Richard Wald, the professor, said he would try to get the admissions office "to give her special attention." Wald told the Telegraph that Jaafari had not applied so he didn't do anything on her behalf, but he said that "I would ask the admissions office to give special attention to anyone with a recommendation from Ms. Walters or anyone else in journalism." Walters issued a statement in which she said: "In the aftermath [of the Assad interview], Ms. Jaafari returned to the U.S. and contacted me looking for a job. I told her that was a serious conflict of interest and that we would not hire her. I did offer to mention her to contacts at another media organization and in academia, though she didn't get a job or into school. In retrospect, I realize that this created a conflict and I regret that."

 

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College Board Ends Plan for 'Rich Kids SAT'

The College Board, facing widespread criticism, on Tuesday announced that it was abandoning plans to test out an August administration of the SAT this year. Many high school students want a summer option for taking the SAT, but many college and high school officials were upset by the College Board's plan to try out the idea with a summer program of the National Society for the Gifted and Talented -- a program whose $4,500 price tag led many educators to call the pilot a "rich kids SAT."

Initially the College Board defended the idea of using that group to test an August SAT. But on Tuesday, the board issued a statement that said in part that "certain aspects" of the summer program whose participants would gain the August SAT opportunity "run counter to our mission of promoting equity and access, as well as to our beliefs about SAT performance." The statement added, however, that the organization was "still very much committed to exploring the concept of a summer administration," and would look for ways in the future to do so "in a manner that better aligns with our mission and the students we serve. Steps also are being taken internally to ensure that future initiatives receive the appropriate level of senior management review."

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