admissions

Malcolm Gladwell sets off debate over whether good campus food prevents more aid for low-income students

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Malcolm Gladwell says trade-off exists between high-quality campus dining and admitting low-income students. Bowdoin questions his logic and ethics.

Admissions Group Warns of Test Cheating

The board of the National Association for College Admission Counseling on Monday announced its endorsement of a statement on promoting integrity in standardized testing, proposed by NACAC's advisory committee of people concerned with international issues.

"Recent alarming reports, combined with the cumulative experience of practitioners in the field, have highlighted a growing, significant and immediate challenge: how to curb cheating on exams in the U.S. and abroad when the technological means to cheat have never been more available," says the statement. "Students seamlessly, and oftentimes innocently, share test content within minutes of finishing their exams. Organized cheating rings use social and mobile tools to share that same content in real time. Standardized testing organizations monitor popular websites and attempt to ensure that what is illicitly shared is quickly removed. The effectiveness of these efforts is further undermined by the proliferation of private messaging channels, whether SnapChat, WeChat or platforms yet to come. As an organization that is sympathetic to this problem, NACAC appreciates that this is an overwhelming task."

The statement urges a number of steps to promote testing integrity. The first recommendation: "Recognize that while the reuse of entire standardized test forms or test questions is a longstanding practice, the proliferation of modern communications technology today has rendered it vulnerable to easy exploitation."

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Sweet Briar Draws 175 New Students

Sweet Briar College expects 175 new students when it opens its doors for the fall semester, increasing total enrollment but missing targets for the first recruiting season after the women's liberal arts college nearly closed last summer.

The college in rural Virginia on Monday reported 139 incoming first-year students, 18 transfer and nontraditional students, 11 new graduate students, and seven students returning after transferring to other schools. That's expected to bring total enrollment on campus to more than 325 for the 2016-17 academic year, up from 245 in 2015-16. It also means more students have decided to come to Sweet Briar since early May, when 125 applicants had sent deposits. But officials in Sweet Briar's new administration had higher targets, initially shooting for 250 students before revising their goal to 200. The college said it received a record number of applications, 1,390.

Sweet Briar's board moved to close the college in March 2015, pointing to rising tuition discounting, dropping enrollment and trouble attracting students. Alumnae resisted the move, winning a deal last summer to keep the college open. The college, which had wound down many operations, reopened under new trustees with a new president, Phillip Stone, and new fund-raising goals.

The college has now raised $10.25 million over 10 months, outpacing a $10 million goal, it said. Last year it raised $12 million in three months in order to remain open.

Sweet Briar finished its 2016 fiscal year under budget by $2 million, it said. It did not draw from its endowment.

Describing 2016 as “a rebuilding year,” Stone said in a statement, “We took over a mostly shuttered institution and could not start recruiting a new class until September of 2015, six months later than other institutions. The fact that we will have a student body of this size in such a short time is one more Sweet Briar miracle.”

Sweet Briar had 561 students in 2014-15 before the near closure.

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How college is helping to create a class divide in America (essay)

We usually think of college as providing a boost up the class ladder. That is what it did for a generation or more of Americans, particularly from the 1950s through the 1970s. But since around 1980, college has actually calcified class in America.

That’s one upshot of Tamara Draut’s new book, Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America (Doubleday, 2016). She explains how the central divide between the working class and the middle class now is college. Not that things are entirely rosy for those with bachelor’s degrees, but those without degrees have experienced a more severe pinch, with proportionately shrinking wages, degraded conditions, few job protections and general insecurity.

Moreover, contrary to college standing as an open thoroughfare for Americans wanting to rise, it has become a gated toll road primarily available to those from middle-class and upper-class families. Those who have gone to college beget those who go to college: if your parents didn’t go to college, you are much more likely to work at or near minimum wage. Only about 9 percent of those from the lowest quartile of wealth complete college degrees, whereas about three-quarters from the top quartile do.

A key impediment has been the exponential rise of tuition prices since the 1970s, at several times the rate of inflation, correlated with the reduction of public support, which in turn has brought the steep increase in student debt and student work hours.

This has produced what Draut called in an earlier essay “The Growing College Gap,” in Inequality Matters: The Growing Economic Divide in America and Its Poisonous Consequences. We usually think that we have seen great progress if not solved the problem of racial inequality, but the enrollment gap between white students and black students was about 5 percent in 1970, whereas it had more than doubled, to 11 percent, in 2000. Similarly, Hispanic students have seen the gap widen from 5 to 13 percent. Affirmative action gets headlines, but we have actually gone backward in attaining racial equality in higher education.

One of Draut’s key insights is that the class divide is not just a matter of money but also one of culture. As she remarks, “When once a steelworker and an accountant could live on the same block, drive the same car, vacation at the same place and eat at the same restaurants, over the course of the 1980s, 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s” those from higher classes have little substantive contact with those from the working class except when they ring up their groceries or take care of their elderly relatives.

That has precipitated a public and political blindness to the new working class, even though it constitutes 60 percent of Americans. Rather than a silent majority, it is an invisible majority.

The cultural divide has two daunting consequences. Because those who work in journalism and other news media come from the upper, college-degreed cohort -- as Draut adduces, in 1971 only about half of journalists had B.A.s, whereas 92 percent do now -- they have little direct sense of the working class. Nor is there a strong interest to represent it in the main news organs, like The New York Times or The Washington Post, whose audiences are largely college educated.

In Draut’s analysis, after the 2008 crash, about half of the news focused on the banks, a third on the federal response, a fifth on businesses and only a smattering on working-class people who might have lost jobs or their houses. Rather, the Post ran a feature on a banker getting by on a reduction of her salary -- to $300,000 a year. Hard times indeed.

Similarly, those who work as congressional staffers come almost entirely from college backgrounds. Of high-level staffers, about half “attended private colleges for their undergraduate degree, including 10 percent who went to an Ivy League school.” They are typically the ones who get the internships inside the D.C. beltway, as well as can afford to carry the expenses of internships.

That has effectively shut the working class out of public representation or political power, even though it constitutes a majority. For Draut, the key is to change the narrative, popping what she calls the “class bubble.” One corrective is simply that we are not all middle class: most Americans are working class.

In addition, Sleeping Giant shows that the present working class no longer fits the iconic image of the construction worker in hard hat who had a union to speak for him. Instead, it is largely female, about half Latino and African-American, usually nonunionized, and struggling to make ends meet at or near minimum wage while laboring in home health care, fast food and retail, which have gained the bulk of new jobs.

Since college is a key class marker, it’s easy to blame higher education itself as the problem. But for Draut the problem lies in the policies that have drained equal opportunity from it and segregated it, and in turn she advocates policies to enhance public higher education, notably reducing tuition fees and eliminating student debt. In this, she differs from the diagnosis of John Marsh, who argues in Class Dismissed: Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality (Monthly Review, 2011), that college has been overemphasized and offers a false solution, so we should pare back college attendance.

Draut herself was a working-class beneficiary of higher education: the daughter of a steelworker, she went to a public university near home in Ohio, which sent her on her way to a job in advertising, then with Planned Parenthood, and since 2001 with Demos, a progressive think tank, where she started as a researcher and is currently a vice president.

Demos was founded in the 1990s as a counterweight to the many conservative think tanks, and it has produced reports such as “The Great Cost Shift,” about the draining of public support for higher education, and “The College Compact,” about enhancing public support. Draut first worked on studies of credit-card and student loan debt, which spurred her earlier exposé, Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead (Doubleday, 2006).

She learned a lesson from the battle over credit cards. In seeking reform, as she recalled in an interview with me, “there’s a beltway mentality, ‘Well, that’s never going to happen; we’re never going to regulate the credit-card companies.’” But she proudly attended the 2009 signing of the Credit Card Act, which regulates rates and fees and has helped those in debt. As she quipped, “I got the last laugh on that one,” and she sees the same possibility for higher education: “Debt-free college is now a real idea and part of the political debate.”

That’s one salutary reminder we can take from Draut: it might be a long road, but good ideas that seem unrealistic at one moment can win their day. In academic scholarship, we typically focus on conceptual problems, commenting on one and moving onto the next, and in fact we are continually looking for what’s new or next. But in politics, change sometimes seems glacial, and one has to be dogged. It’s useful to keep in mind that massive student debt is only a recent development, arising since the 1980s, and 10 years ago, the idea of abolishing it or enacting free public higher education were considered pie-in-the-sky proposals. But they’re on the agenda now, and we have to keep working to accrue the data, build the narratives and devise policies that aim toward more equality.

Jeffrey J. Williams is a professor of English and of literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon University. His most recent book is How to Be an Intellectual: Essays on Criticism, Culture, and the University (Fordham University Press, 2014).

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Study: Campus scandals can depress application numbers

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A new working paper finds that incidents of murder, sexual assault, hazing and cheating can deter students from applying.

Provost change provokes debate at Temple U

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Temple makes a sudden change after $22 million in overspending on financial aid. But faculty members object to what they see as a lack of information and disrespect for an academic leader many respect.

Fallout at Northern Iowa From Saudi Scholarship Shift

Recent events at the University of Northern Iowa may illustrate the impact of changes in the Saudi government's rules on eligibility for a generous scholarship program that has boosted enrollment of students from Saudi Arabia at many American colleges and universities. The rules generally make it more difficult to win scholarships to programs or colleges that are not near the top of the rankings. Many have wondered what the impact would be on colleges that have welcomed Saudi scholarship students but who may not be eligible for the scholarships going forward.

The Des Moines Register reported that as of May, the University of Northern Iowa had received four applications from Saudi Arabia. At the same point last year, the university had received 94 applications. Saudi students are the top group among the university's foreign students, and account for $3.5 million in tuition revenue.

U Chicago Will Let Applicants Self-Report Test Scores

The University of Chicago has announced that it will allow applicants to self-report their SAT or ACT scores. Only accepted applicants who opt to enroll will be required to have an official score report sent to the university. James G. Nondorf, vice president for enrollment and student advancement and dean of college admissions and financial aid, said the policy has been suggested to the university by high school counselors and others as a way to help low-income students. The registration fees for both the SAT and the ACT cover four score reports to colleges, but students must pay more for additional deliveries. (The College Board allows those eligible for fee waivers to send out eight score reports free.)

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ACT Changes Scoring Scale on Writing Test

ACT announced Tuesday that it is changing the scoring for its writing test. ACT has been using a 1-36 scale, consistent with other parts of the test. But citing "confusion among users," ACT is changing to a 2-12 scale. The test itself is not changing.

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Questions Raised About 2 Items on SAT

Some SAT tutors who took the exam in May are raising questions about whether two items promoted stereotypes about women that may have hurt female students taking the test, The New York Times reported. Critics cited the theory of "stereotype threat," which holds that exposing people to a stereotype can hurt their performance. College Board officials deny that the items are problematic and say they found that female test takers in May did not score differently than they typically do.

One math question featured a chart showing that there are more boys than girls in math classes. Part of the writing test featured two historic essays, one of which argued that men have more stature than women and that the role for women is in the home.

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