Neediest Students Most Likely to Miss Deadlines for Aid

The neediest college students are the least likely to meet the deadlines for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, according to a new study by Mary Feeney, associate professor of public administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The study was published in The Journal of Student Financial Aid. The odds of completing the application go up if the student has a parent or another adult who understands the process who can help.

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Study: Most First-Generation Students Not Prepared for College

While surveys show that most of those who would be first-generation college students want to attend college, a majority are not prepared to succeed in key courses, according to a report released Monday by ACT and the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE). The study found that 52 percent of first-generation 2013 high school graduates who took the ACT met none of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. That compares to 31 percent of all ACT-tested graduates who met none of the benchmarks. Only 9 percent of the first generation students met all four benchmarks, while 26 percent of graduates overall did so. The benchmarks specify the minimum scores students must earn on each of ACT’s four subject tests (English, math, reading, and science) to have a 75 percent chance of earning a grade of C or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in the corresponding subject area.

Essay on flaws in the Common Application

There is a certain uneasy pleasure to be taken, if one has had some argument with the Common Application, in the awareness that the current misfirings of the new version of the application has caused so much grief to so many people. Of course, some of the people who are inconvenienced, or, driven near mad, by the slow and painful release and correction of the new Common Application website are the very people who have taken great trouble and invested considerable time in the attempt to make the new version of this application available. Unlike the fiction of a "membership organization" that is the College Board, the Common Application really is overseen by thoughtful and experienced admissions deans and directors, and they have, no doubt, been embarrassed and inconvenienced by the problems with the new release.

Besides, and more significantly, virtually all admissions offices across the country have suffered from the delays. Worse, students and their counselors and their parents have been frustrated and vexed in their attempts simply to submit an application. So, any ungenerous pleasure really should be resisted, lest one imagine oneself in league with the opponents of Obamacare, who share a delight in the bedeviling technical troubles found in the health care exchanges, troubles that are interpreted as condemning the entire project. The problems caused by both faulty technical systems hurt, and we can only hope, despite any lingering arguments with the substance of the enterprises, that the glitches are untangled soon so people can go on about their important business.

We know some of the reasons why people resent the Affordable Care Act, but why would anyone resent the Common Application, to which no politics are attached and which seems designed only to make applying to college easier? If some people feel obligatory health care somehow denies citizens their rights — is it a right to be uninsured and find your family at risk? — how does the Common Application, when it works, hurt anyone?

The fact that the websites temporarily do not work is not really the issue, because both technical systems will be fixed sooner or later. Is the problem actually that something very important to so many people is controlled by a single entity, even if the entity is benign? We may be past the point where scruples about the centralization of power made possible, or necessary, by technical prowess and control can trouble us. Someone, the Common Application or the government or NSA or Google or Facebook, holds the trump cards, and if it isn’t them, then it looks like it will be someone else.

So, glitches aside, and the seeming inevitability of the move to a centralized, electronic nexus aside, why argue with the Common Application? Is it only my sentimental attachment to the Uncommon Application (an institutional, and lovably eccentric -- at least in my memory -- application, which seemed to work so well for the University of Chicago for so long), and my resentment at its passing, that leads to problems with the idea of the Common Application?

A more substantial reason than the merely personal is the likelihood that something important, and irreplaceable, is inevitably traded away in exchange for the ease of use (when it is working) of a universal application. Students express the wish to be relieved of the odious necessity of typing in their name and address five or six times (or, thanks, in part, to the Common Application, 15 or 20 times), and they are satisfied by having only one form to fill out, once.

The very ease of filling out the form, however, leads to systemwide problems. The ability to simply press the button and send off more applications seems likely to encourage more, and less well-considered, applications submitted per student, despite the Common Application administrators’ claims that this does not in fact happen. The counselors who work with students, and certainly the colleges, believe it does. (Could it be that, as is the case in almost everything else having to do with college admissions, we hear most, and most loudly, about the best counseled, most advantaged, most anxious students who are most likely to go overboard when submitting applications? And, that the most popular colleges are disproportionately the recipients of these extra applications? Perhaps average number of applications submitted per student is still kept low because the majority of student apply to one or a few colleges.)

In any case, I can assure you that colleges believe that adopting the Common Application will increase the number of applications received by something like 10 to 20 percent in its first year of use. Who and what is hurt by the fact that applying to college is made easier and the number of applications to any given college go up for mechanical, not thoughtful, reasons?

More applications make colleges “more selective,” whatever criteria for selection are put into play as more applications, sometimes vastly more applications, must be read and judged. Do the very criteria change by virtue of the huge number of applications many colleges must handle? For one thing, increases in the number of applications to be read mean either less time spent reading each application, and/or much bigger staffs of readers, many new, young, and exhausted, including outside readers distant from the full-time admissions office.

The suspicion that numbers — SAT or ACT scores, or grade point averages, or a count of the number of Advanced Placement classes taken, or anything to make decision making easier and faster — take on a new importance is hard to resist. When we speak of “holistic” evaluation, we imagine that at some point words, not simply numbers, matter, but who has time for a real consideration of, for example, essay writing, teacher letters, interview reports, entire transcripts, when so many applications need to be “read”? The Common Application, while inviting the easy submission of more applications, also invites easier and more expedient reading of applications, given the imposition of word limits on generic essays (though the topics are more interesting this year), drop down menus to provide digested bits of information, and the insistence on the inclusion of information, e.g., intended major or profession, that may be of interest to one college but may quickly sabotage an application at another.

Bard College is now making it possible for applicants to skip the Common Application if they are willing to write four essays in response to set, and (remarkably) sophisticated topics in the liberal arts and sciences. The Bard Entrance Examination, the BEE, eliminates the need to take and submit test scores, and to be subjected to other people’s generic questions and essay topics. This gesture is bold, and in asking for more work, more thought, more personal investment in the application, one small college challenges the idea that applying to college should be made easy. (Deep Springs, one very small college, has its own challenging application of another sort.) Bard will find out who is actually capable of thinking the way a Bard student is expected to think, the faculty will be asked to judge, and students will be honored by having their hard work carefully considered by the community they hope to join. Anyone who completes the BEE will know more about Bard and its expectations and ways than a student who simply applies to COLLEGE, rather than to a specific college.

The Common Application masks differences, which is surely a comfort to those institutions that would rather reveal as little as possible about themselves, so as not to discourage a single applicant. If the singular entrance examination is not likely to be a systematic solution to whatever problems the Common Application presents, it is at least a reminder that there was a time, not so long ago, when each admission staff did its best to write essay questions of particular value to that college, to decide exactly what information was necessary and would be useful in the consideration of a candidate, to convey in the very wording of the instructions the kind of relationship they wished to have with each applicant. That worked, and worked for students as well as colleges.

But, fewer applications were submitted then, and we know, whether we blame the ranking schemes or our commercial culture or greedy colleges, that ratings and prestige depend on application numbers, and ratings and prestige make presidents, boards, and alumni happy. The drive both to attract always more applicants in order to deny them admission now seems almost natural and legitimate. The pain involved in this bloated business is more easily ignored the farther someone is from the students who are necessarily confused by the deceptions and uncertainties engendered by the current system. And, the current system now runs on the Common Application, when it works.


Theodore A. O'Neill was formerly dean of admissions at the University of Chicago, where he currently is a lecturer.

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Essay says the 'pay it forward' plans for free tuition aren't free and will hurt students

The sales pitch is enticing: Let students go to college for "free" and ask them to pay later by taxing a percentage of their incomes once they have jobs. The money coming in from graduates, then pays "forward," covering college costs for current students and alleviating the fear of debt that keeps many college-qualified students from even applying and that discourages college graduates from pursuing careers that may not have high salaries.

That’s the seductive premise behind Pay It Forward, billed as a "debt-free" approach to higher education, currently under consideration in Oregon. But like many sales pitches meant to lure consumers, Pay It Forward provides a superficial "fix" that has more downsides than up, thereby masking the real problems in higher education financing.

There is no disputing that higher education is facing a crisis of affordability. State funding per student has dropped to its lowest level in 25 years, shifting much of the financial responsibility for college costs to students and their families. The result? Too many students have to choose between avoiding college altogether or taking on overwhelming amounts of debt to pay for a degree.

We applaud state policymakers who are working to identify ways to rein in college costs. The United States needs more college-educated workers, and we won’t have them unless we make college more affordable. But we have to make sure that the solutions we put into place don’t work against students and taxpayers by inflating college costs even more, especially for the families who can least afford them.

Because Pay It Forward proposes to tax graduates’ income at a certain rate every year (say 4 percent) for up to 25 years, graduates will end up paying very different amounts for their education — often more than what that education actually cost. An analysis from the Oregon Center for Public Policy estimates that an average student could overpay more than $7,000 under Pay It Forward. Worse, the neediest students — those currently receiving federal or state financial aid — could be hit the hardest, potentially paying thousands more over their lifetimes than they would have under the current system.

Let’s not forget, either, that Pay It Forward only addresses tuition, which makes up just part of total college costs; room and board, books and supplies, and miscellaneous fees aren’t covered. At the University of Oregon, for example, those additional fees amount to almost 60 percent of a student’s total costs. Of the $23,370 total estimated cost of a year at Oregon for a resident of the state, about $9,300 is consumed by tuition. Under Pay It Forward, the average student would have to cover the remaining $14,000 out of pocket or through loans, creating a double whammy for students: They’d have to pay off student loan debt in addition to having their income taxed to "pay it forward."

Some of these concerns could be addressed in any final package. Our biggest concern with Pay It Forward, though, is that it doesn’t address the root issue: rapidly escalating college costs. By positioning higher education less as a public good than as an individual transaction, Pay It Forward absolves both state policymakers and institutional leaders of any responsibility for doing what it takes to slow the rapid increases in the cost of a college education.

Instead of demanding cost-consciousness among college presidents and an ongoing commitment from states to maintain or increase higher education funding, Pay It Forward simply puts a big Band-Aid over the current trend of state disinvestment and the transfer of financial burden from the state to students and their families. Ironically, although trying to ensure progressively that each graduating class opens the door for ones to follow, Pay It Forward could actually just open the door to more privatization of public education.

States should develop innovative solutions to the rising cost of college, but they should be transparent about them. If they’re going to sell students on debt-free college, they should offer debt-free college. Loan debt simply repackaged as delayed tuition payments may be a catchy sales pitch, but it’s a bad bargain for students.

Kati Haycock is president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.

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Obama administration says colleges deserve 'due regard' on key affirmative action issues

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Obama administration says colleges should receive "due regard" in deciding if they have a necessary "critical mass" of minority students.

Layoffs Follow Enrollment Drop at Johnson C. Smith U.

Johnson C. Smith University announced 21 non-faculty layoffs Thursday (as well as the freezing of 30 unfilled positions) in response to a significant enrollment decline this fall, The Charlotte Observer reported. A year ago, fall enrollment at the university set a record at 1,801, but this fall it ended up at 1,387. A key factor in the decline, officials said, was tighter rules on loan eligibility that resulted in some students or families being denied loans that they received in the past -- an issue that has been a source of frustration at many historically black colleges this year.


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Berklee College of Music launches first accredited bachelor's degree programs in music

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The Berklee College of Music will next year launch its first two bachelor's degrees online, where 120 credits cost less than one year on campus.

Study tracks impact of counseling on low-income students

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Low-income students who received guidance were much likelier than others to enroll at a four-year college, study finds.

Are Common Application Problems Fixed?

The Common Application, which has been posting increasingly optimistic updates about its attempts to fix the many bugs that surfaced in its new application system this fall, went even further on Friday. On the daily update on its Facebook page, the Common Application said that while some users experience slow response while updates were being made, "as we post this, everything is working normally." Judging from comments posted on that update, not everyone agrees. Some posts indicated that applicants and their high schools were no longer having problems. Others noted continued problems and poor response or no response from the help desk. Several said that they were going to alternatives -- such as snail mail -- for teacher recommendations. Many colleges have delayed early decision deadlines (November 1 at many institutions) but online comments suggests continued stress for applicants aiming for early decision.

The Universal College Application, a competitor to the Common Application (and with a fraction of participating colleges) announced on Friday that Washington University in St. Louis was a new participant. Washington University is the fifth college to join in the last month, amid growing frustrations with the Common Application. The others are: Hampshire and Trinity (Conn.) Colleges, and Princeton and Tufts Universities.



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Layoffs Follow Enrollment Drop at Martin U.

Martin University on Friday announced 16 faculty and staff layoffs, The Indianapolis Star reported. The layoffs follow an enrollment drop. The university expected to have 700 students enroll this fall, but ended up with only 522.


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