ALEC May Push $10,000 Degrees

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a group known by its acronym ALEC that drafts model state legislation that is frequently used by conservative legislators, has its eye on higher education. Draft legislation that will be considered at ALEC's annual meeting would require all public four-year institutions to offer a $10,000 degree and would require that 10 percent of all degrees be awarded through this model. The legislation specifies that states could achieve these savings through online and competency education.


Hofstra Goes Test-Optional on Admissions

Hofstra University has announced that, starting with the class admitted to enroll in the fall of 2015, applicants will no longer be required to submit SAT or ACT scores. "[W]e have concluded that standardized tests are not the most important predictors of academic success at Hofstra," said a statement from the university. "Rather, our studies show that the best predictor of success in college is a student’s high school academic record and the performance of day-to-day work in the classroom. For these reasons the high school transcript will continue to be the primary focus of our application review, with or without standardized test scores."


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New Way Top MBA Programs Evaluate Applicants

For many years, some colleges have used "demonstrated interest" -- measures of how committed an applicant is to a college -- to make some admissions and financial aid decisions. Now some top M.B.A. programs are doing the same thing, using software to track how many admissions information sessions applicants attend or how many times they have emailed the admissions office, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. With this trend, the article noted, "antsy MBA candidates who flood admissions offices with e-mails may have unwittingly given themselves a better shot at acceptance."


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Education Department apologizes for 'Bridesmaid' tweet that offends many

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Education Department apologizes after image it posted on Twitter -- designed to encourage FAFSA completion -- angered many.

Essay argues that colleges are better with old-style dormitories than apartment-like facilities

Apartment-style dorm rooms are the Hot New Thing at some colleges nowadays. Single rooms instead of doubles or even quads, exterior doors instead of crowded hallways, private bathrooms instead of gang showers and those icky shared toilets, even mini-kitchens instead of the noisy dining hall – all have an undeniable appeal for incoming freshmen looking to maximize the more adult features of undergraduate life.

Many contemporary students grew up with their own bedrooms, and perhaps even their own bathrooms, and may recoil from sharing their personal spaces with that mysterious stranger, the roommate or hallmate. So colleges and universities, particularly sensitive to the preferences of full-pay students, are starting to move away from traditional long-hallway dorms to more individualized rooms, some with generous amenities. Prospective students seem to love the idea.

They shouldn’t. Apartment-style dorms can be deadly for a student’s long-term success in college, isolating newcomers at exactly the moment when they most need to be reaching out and making friends. Early connections, made when students are most available for meeting new people, are a crucial first step to the community integration that scholars have long known is crucial to student retention and success. When my former student and current doctoral student Chris Takacs and I followed nearly 100 students throughout college and afterward in researching our book How College Works, we found that “high contact” settings such as traditional dorms – featuring long hallways, shared rooms and common bathrooms, where students have no choice but to meet lots of peers – are the single best device for helping new students to solve their biggest problem: finding friends. And dorms are especially valuable for students who are shy, unusually nervous about coming to college, or otherwise feel excluded. Finding one buddy to pal around with is all that’s needed to ensure a positive first-year experience.

Of course dorms aren’t the only place that students make friends. Extracurricular groups that convene frequently and include a couple dozen members are a great source of potential companions (smaller groups don’t work as well). Greek letter societies, sports teams, campus newspapers, and larger musical ensembles serve the purpose. At the college we studied, the choir -- with over 70 members, a dynamic director, rigorous auditions, and frequent rehearsals and performances -- offered a marvelous opportunity for its members to form close bonds, which in turn helped them become, in our network analysis, some of the most socially connected students at the college. 

Still, dormitories are different: they are open to everyone. You don’t need any special talent or athletic ability or an outgoing personality to live in a dorm and thus benefit from meeting a variety of peers. Dorms aren’t exclusive. After that first year, a student will likely have made friends and found his or her niche, but until then, broad exposure seems to be the best pathway to success. 

So how can admissions and student affairs staff convince incoming students to live in those overcrowded rooms and share their showers with people they may not even like?  And how can college presidents be convinced not to engage in the housing arms race of catering to the students who seem to favor luxury and privacy over the group experience? Apartments are appealing, after all, and colleges need the money that full-pay students will pony up for their own little pad.

Try anything. Tell students the odds are they will have a more successful and happy first year at college in this kind of dorm. If you have any money, recarpet the long hallways, improve the shared bathrooms, and upgrade the dorm rooms in that big old building. Try to keep the showers clean. If the rooms can’t be quads, at least make them doubles; if they are singles, at least keep the common bathrooms. Point out that you charge less for the old-fashioned dorm rooms.

Tell prospective students that they’ll meet more people in a dorm; give dorm residents priority in getting sophomore housing. Focus your programming efforts on the early part of the first year, when students are socially available – and often looking for friends. Remember, when more students have repeated, obligatory exposure to a sizable group of other students, more of them will find the one or two buddies who see them through their first year.

Ten years ago this August my wife and I drove our youngest daughter Rebecca down to New York City, to help her move into a freshman dorm at Fordham University. We arrived amid a sea of parents, siblings, RAs, and energetic young women hauling those loaded duffel bags and laundry baskets up big institutional stairwells to the fourth floor. The scene at the top was unforgettable: scores of people, crowded into a long hallway, with 20 rooms – all quads, bunk beds stacked up – lined down a long hallway, girls laughing and talking, helping each other out, and making introductions all around. A young faculty couple with a baby lived in an apartment at the end of the hall, and a priest had a room on the floor below. It was a scene of gentle pandemonium.

Becca stood there, her mouth hanging open in amazement, not yet realizing that four of her best friends in life would come from that hallway. My wife and I, both professors, smiled at each other. “This,” we thought, “will be great.”

It was.

Daniel F. Chambliss is Eugene M. Tobin Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Hamilton College. He is the author, with Christopher G. Takacs, of How College Works (Harvard University Press).

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Test-optional policies fail to increase low-income enrollment, study finds

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Think that not requiring SAT scores will boost enrollment of underrepresented minority and low-income students? Think again, a new study says.

Northwestern Law Expels Felon, Who Then Sues

Northwestern University's law school this spring expelled a student -- months from graduation -- who is a felon who has been convicted for falsely impersonating a lawyer, The Chicago Tribune reported. The student who was kicked out then sued the university, although a settlement appears to have been reached. Northwestern faulted the student for failing to disclose his past, and said that he was an "undesirable" candidate to become a lawyer. The would-be lawyer disputes the charges from his past, but he also argues that Northwestern never asked him about his criminal history.



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Hampshire becomes only competitive college in the country that won't look at SAT, ACT scores

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Hampshire becomes only competitive college in the country that will not look at SAT or ACT scores.

Debate Over Meme About Students at Tsinghua U.

Educators and others in China are debating a popular meme in which female students at a Tsinghua University, a leading Chinese institution, post photographs of themselves before and after they enrolled, The South China Morning Post reported. The "after" photographs generally show the women appearing more attractive and with lighter skin. And this has led to people saying that the theme of the meme is, “Off to Tsinghua to become white, rich and beautiful.” The meme has appeared on the university's admissions blog, prompting criticism that it is all a promotional campaign from the university. The university replied to the criticism on its blog, saying: “After an unforgettable experience at Tsinghua, changes in one’s appearance and attitude are not all that shocking. Character building is the most important.”

Essay notes limitations of Starbucks new scholarship program

The ubiquitous coffee chain Starbucks has received a great deal of positive media attention for its announcement that it will provide full reimbursement for tuition and fees of employees at company-owned stores who enroll in one of Arizona State University’s online bachelor’s degree programs. Education Secretary Arne Duncan even made an appearance at the program’s unveiling, alongside Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Arizona State President Michael Crow. But, while I applaud Starbucks for providing financial assistance to students who want to continue their education, the conditions in the model will result in fewer employees successfully completing bachelor’s degrees. Below are the reasons not all employees will benefit.

Only juniors and seniors will get a full reimbursement. The frequently asked questions document on the Starbucks website notes that there will only be a “partial scholarship” for employees who have not at least achieved junior status (likely 60 credits earned). ASU Online’s tuition rates are between $480 and $543 per credit hour, meaning that credits taken at the local community college will probably be a fraction of the cost of the ASU Online credits after partial reimbursement. This means that students are less likely to use the Starbucks program for the first 60 credits, although the promise of future reimbursement may be enough to induce Starbucks employees to go back to college.

Discussion of ASU/Starbucks

On Friday, Arizona State President Michael Crow will discuss the university's new partnership on This Week @ Inside Higher Ed, our weekly audio newscast. Click here to find out more about This Week or here to sign up for an email link to each program.

Students are not reimbursed until they complete 21 credits. This policy was designed in order to encourage completion, as the goal is to motivate students to continue their studies until they are reimbursed. However, given the per-credit cost, a student not receiving any grants from the federal government would have to pay about $10,000 out of pocket (or borrow that amount) before being reimbursed. ASU Online recommends that students take two or three 3-credit classes during each 7.5-week class window, meaning that a continuously enrolled full-time student who started in August would probably complete seven classes by March or May of the following year. Students can also qualify for reimbursement by enrolling part-time, but they may take two years to complete the 21 credits necessary for reimbursement. This also provides a strong incentive for students to stay at Starbucks to claim the benefit, which can limit their mobility as employees but may be worthwhile given the potential value of the benefit.

The delay between paying tuition and fees and being reimbursed introduces substantial  risk for students. A student who is willing to pay up to $10,000 and get reimbursed later only if successful likely has a higher tolerance for risk, is more willing to borrow, and is more likely to complete courses than a student who is hesitant to participate in the program. This means that the Starbucks employees who participate in the program as currently constructed are probably from higher-income families with more social and cultural capital — potentially minimizing the social mobility the program offers. Reimbursing students after each successfully completed course would help mitigate this risk and reduce the amount of money students have to pay upfront.

Reimbursements by Starbucks take place after other grant aid is applied, making the company’s contribution smaller. Students are required to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to participate in the program and any grant aid received will be applied before Starbucks makes its contribution. Consider the case of a student with a zero expected family contribution, representing the greatest level of financial need, who enrolls for 12 credits in a semester. Her tuition at $500 per credit would be $12,000 for the academic year. She is eligible for the maximum Pell Grant of $5,730 in the 2014-15 academic year, which is applied before any aid from Starbucks. This leaves $6,270 uncovered by the Pell Grant, but Arizona State is offering scholarships of $4,840 per year to all Starbucks employees. The resulting $1,430 would be paid by Starbucks if the student didn't receive any other grants or scholarships. This is an admirable contribution, but most of the burden of financing the student is not on Starbucks.

Students have to work at least 20 hours per week to maintain program eligibility. While Starbucks is extremely generous in providing many benefits to part-time employees, working 20 hours per week is a significant hurdle for full-time students. Some amount of work is often considered beneficial to students, but working more than 20 hours per week is commonly seen as a negative. Students’ hours in service industries are often volatile, meaning they may drop under 20 hours per week for a while. Rachel Fishman of the New America Foundation notes the potential problems with staying above that threshold.

Online education may not be right for everyone, yet it is the only option funded. It is far easier for Starbucks to work with one college than hundreds for administrative purposes. However, the lack of choice in the program may not be best for all students. ASU Online does offer about 40 majors, but they are all online — and research suggests that online courses may not work as well as face-to-face courses for students from lower-income families. While I don’t know enough about ASU’s programs to pass judgment on their quality, some students may not be interested in enrolling online even if the quality is high and the cost to the student is low.

All of these factors suggest that the percentage of Starbucks employees who successfully complete a bachelor’s degree as a result of the tuition reimbursement program will be fairly low. Starbucks should be commended for offering this benefit to its employees, but policymakers shouldn’t expect this program to substantially move the college completion rate dial in its current form.


Robert Kelchen (@rkelchen) is an assistant professor in the department of education leadership, management and policy at Seton Hall University. He blogs at Kelchen on Education. All opinions are his own.

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