Nov 30, 2012

Assessing Campus Crime

UCLA Westwood Campus
Last week, Business Insider touched off a firestorm of controversy by publishing a list of the 25 “most dangerous colleges in America,” based on crime information reported by the FBI.  Full-color slide shows immediately appeared on Huffington Post and the campuses named—particularly those in Los Angeles—took offense and defended their locations.

Basically, the colleges that complained pointed out that FBI crime data was an unfair measure of campus safety because some colleges report crimes on neighboring non-campus areas, and most colleges simply don’t participate in the FBI survey.

UCLA, which came out on top of the Business Insider list, pointed out that its police officers include crime in reports about clinics and other facilities located in dangerous neighborhoods throughout the city.  The Westwood campus, where most UCLA students live and attend class, has relatively low crime rates.

“The schools that complained, including UCLA, demanded that we rank college crime instead by data compiled through the Clery Act, which can be sorted to count only crimes that occur on campus,” said Gus Lubin, deputy editor at Business Insider.  “Although looking only at crimes that occur on campus seems like a strangely limited perspective—students do, occasionally, venture off campus—we agreed to crunch the numbers based on this report.”

Based on the alternative methodology, the new list contains many of the same schools as the original, although the time frame studied dropped back from 2008-11 to 2007-09.  UCLA appears on both lists.

Interestingly, no colleges or universities in Maryland, DC, or Virginia appear in the FBI list.  The Clery list, however, contains Howard (1), University of Maryland—College Park (17), and the University of Virginia (24). 

But more importantly, the controversy surfaces interesting questions about how prospective students and families can assess campus crime. 

For some scary late-night reading, the FBI produced a report entitled Campus Attacks in April of 2010.  Or you can go directly to the source and search the uniform crime reports (UCR) data base for “offenses known to law enforcement,” by university and college.  The spreadsheet is sorted by state and contains data from 2011.

The information collected by the Department of Education as required by the Clery Act may be found by using the Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool.  This website is linked to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid site and the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator Site. 

The FBI statistics and those reported to the Department of Education don’t exactly match because the terms and data submission rules differ significantly.  If you use either source, be sure to look carefully at definitions. 

And be aware that there is no guaranteeing the accuracy of either source as they are both subject to the all-too-familiar data reporting issues found in the Common Data Set and other college data collection projects.

In the meantime, Business Insider stands behind its original list of most dangerous colleges based on FBI crime data.  Here are the top 15 from both lists:

The Most Dangerous Colleges based on FBI Data (2008-11)

  1. UCLA
  2. UC Berkeley
  3. Duke University
  4. Florida A&M University
  5. Vanderbilt University
  6. San Diego State University
  7. University of New Mexico
  8. University of Southern Alabama
  9. Louisiana State University—Baton Rouge
  10. Georgia Tech
  11. Ball State University
  12. Indiana State University
  13. University of Cincinnati
  14. Southern Illinois University—Carbondale
  15. MIT

The Most Dangerous Colleges based on Clery Act Campus Crimes (2007-09)

  1. Howard University
  2. University of Rochester
  3. Vanderbilt University
  4. Stanford University
  5. Bluegrass Community and Technical College
  6. Yale University
  7. Morehead State University
  8. Syracuse University
  9. Tufts University
  10. UC Berkeley
  11. Boston College
  12. Ohio State University—Main Campus
  13. SUNY at Buffalo
  14. Duke University
  15. Harvard

For both complete lists and a more detailed explanation of methodology, visit the Business Insider website.

Nov 28, 2012

According to Fiske UMW Continues To Be the Only Local ‘Best Buy’ College

University of Mary Washington

For the third consecutive year, the University of Mary Washington is the only college in Virginia, Maryland, or the District of Columbia to be named a “best buy” in the 2013 Fiske Guide to Colleges.

It is the third such honor this year, as the University of Mary Washington also earned spots on Princeton Review’s “Best Value Colleges for 2012” and Kiplinger’s of “2012 Best Values in Public Colleges.”

“[The] University of Mary Washington offers a tremendous return on investment," said UMW President Richard V. Hurley. “You can't find a better buy in higher education today—rigorous academics combined with a rich array of out-of-classroom activities, all of which comes with a relatively moderate price tag.”

The newly revised and updated 2013 Fiske Guide to Colleges groups colleges and universities into four general cost categories, from inexpensive to very expensive.  On top of that, the guide suggests a number of schools that are both reasonably priced and offer outstanding academics—the “best buys.”

  “Mary Washington has gained a reputation as one of the premium public liberal arts colleges in the country and continues to attract bright students from around the globe,” according to the Fiske Guide, was compiled under the direction of Edward B. Fiske, former education editor of the New York Times.

Out of well over 300 colleges and universities reviewed, only 41—20 public and 21 private—were designated as “best buys.”  And this is down from 45 schools last year.

 In addition to UMW, the College of Charleston, Butler University, Georgia Tech, Indiana University, Clemson, Elon, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were also named to the list.

Edward Fiske launched his guide in 1980 after sensing that college-bound students and their families needed better information on which to base educational choices.  He was a pioneer in what has become a massive college resource industry. 

But unlike many other print and web sources, the Fiske Guide accepts no consulting, advertising or other fees from colleges and has no outside relationship with colleges working on its behalf.  Data is independently compiled and analyzed.
It has since become the fi

The 2013 Fiske Guide to Colleges is available at your neighborhood bookseller or from the usual array of online vendors.

Nov 26, 2012

It's All About the 'Print Preview' or Why Your Application Looks Funny

In the old days, applying to college required a dependable typewriter and gallons of correction fluid. Although it was a tedious process that kept application production to a minimum, final documents told a story and reflected something about the care with which the entire application package was put together.

These days, every document submitted through an electronic system like the Common Application looks exactly the same—tediously the same. Instead of style and neatness, what differentiates applications is attention to small details and the ability to navigate limitations imposed by the software controlling the submission.

And keep in mind, what colleges see is exactly what you see when you preview the document
So it's up to you to check for accuracy, completeness, and how well the document “presents” to readers looking at hundreds of virtually identical forms.

This holds true for the Common Application, the Universal College Application (UCA) or most other applications you submit electronically. 
And this is why all systems strongly suggest you “Print Preview” your document before pushing the submit button—regardless of how tired you are or how close you are coming to deadline. Otherwise, you risk sending a document that may contain errors or is weirdly cutoff.
In case you’re curious, this is because when you complete an application online, your response is posted in an efficient “variable-width” typeface. Systems can only enforce a character count and cannot measure the physical length of a response. And not all characters are created equal.

For example, the Common Application sets a 1000 character limit on the question asking you to “briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.” The suggested “word” limit is 150 words or fewer. But because characters are not equal in the amount of space they take up, your essay can easily exceed the word limit imposed by the document.

If you doubt this is the case, try typing 1000 “W’s” or “M’s” and paste your “document” into the answer box. You’ll find that all are happily accepted by the program. Now, press preview. What you will see is only about half of your “document.” If you substitute with 1000 “i’s”, you will see all of the document plus lots of additional white space allowing for even more characters. “W’s” and “M’s” take up way more space than “i’s.”

In the Common Application, the problem occurs not only in the short answer section but also in the fill-in-the blank responses in the “Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience” section. Even if the application allows you to describe in detail all the awards and honors you received as a member of your high school dance team, it’s possible they will not all show up on the documents colleges actually read.

A second, more obscure formatting problem involves spacing. If you persist in hitting the “enter” key for multiple paragraphs or if you like to write in haikus, you easily run the risk of scrolling beyond the space allotted for an essay response, regardless of the word or character limit. The Common Application appears to allow no more than eight single lines in the 150 word short answer, even if those lines are single words and fall well within all limitations.

Finally, please be aware that neither the Common App nor the UCA “spellchecks” your documents. 

For those of you who print previewed your documents after pushing the “submit” button and noted some truncating, don’t despair. If you stayed within the character limit—in other words, if the application allowed you to type your entire answer, the data is still there. It is available to readers if they care to take the time to go back into the system and read the complete answer.

I won’t lie to you, however. It’s not easy to retrieve the data, and it’s extremely unlikely that the average admissions reader will bother.

And sad to say, spelling errors are yours to own.

Keep in mind that you may correct both of these problems in "alternate" versions of your electronic application. You cannot resend, but you can make corrections for applications you send in the future.

So what should you do? Preview—not just for typos but also for what shows up on the document. 

If truncating occurs in such a way that the response makes no sense, go back and edit. Look for extra words and tighten up your prose or paragraphing. For other responses, use standard or easy-to-understand abbreviations (capt. for captain). Do not use text-speak or nonstandard abbreviations.

Unfortunately, there is a little more bad news for users of the Common Application. The Common App’s system requirements list a limited number of “supported browsers,” which include modern versions of Internet Explorer and Safari, among others. Students using Safari, however, have reported problems previewing applications. And anyone using an older version of Internet Explorer or Chrome could be out of luck.

Hopefully, these issues will be corrected in next year’s version of the Common App. For now, you’ll just have to put up with the inconvenience and move your operation to a computer using a supported browser. You can go through some gyrations to make it work, but frankly, it’s usually easier to simply move computers.

By the way, the Universal College Application does not have similar browser limitations or issues.

In the event you are experiencing problems with your online application, do not hesitate to contact the various “support centers." But whatever you do, don’t wait until the last minute. Responses can be significantly delayed depending on traffic to the site.

Nov 24, 2012

Shopping for 'Best Values' in Colleges

Yale University

Black Friday and Cyber Monday bring out the “shopper” in all of us. As the recession tightens its hold on the economy, bargain-hunters are looking for deals on everything from sweaters to flat screen TV’s.

While shopping for a college education isn’t exactly the same as picking up the Sunday newspaper and circling a few bargains, it’s possible that colleges can be evaluated in terms of “bang for the buck,” according to Kiplinger’s Magazine.

And despite the struggling economy, Kiplinger reports that private schools remain competitive and are attracting increasing numbers of low-income students or students who are the first in their family to attend college. 

How does this happen? Call it what you will—blue light specials or Cyber Monday bargains—private colleges are discounting tuition rates for freshmen by an average of 42.8 percent, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Although sticker price continues to rise by an annual average of 3.9 percent (the lowest in at least 40 years), private colleges are aggressively seeking ways to keep tuition increases less painful by increasing institutional aid by an average of 6.2 percent, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).

Obviously, discounts are more prevalent and “value” is greater at wealthier, and usually more selective, private institutions as evidenced by the Kiplinger ranking.

The 2012 College Board “Trends in College Pricing” and “Trends in Student Aid” report that the average net price for tuition and fees at public institutions for 2012-13 was $2,910 when all forms of grant aid and federal tax credits and deductions are factored in. Net price for tuition, fees, and room and board was $12,110. 

At private nonprofit four-year institutions, however, average net price, was $13,380; when cost of room and board is added, the net price was $23,840—almost double that found at public institutions.

To help students and families evaluate colleges in terms of value, Kiplinger’s ranking takes into account four-year graduation rates, freshmen retention, student-faculty ratios, admission and yield rates, as well as sticker price, financial aid and student indebtedness. Two lists are generated—private universities and private liberal arts colleges.

Locally, only Washington & Lee University (3) and Christendom College (45) made the top 50 values in liberal arts colleges. The University of Richmond (11), Georgetown University (17), Johns Hopkins University (23), and George Washington University (49) were among the top 50 values in private universities.

While heavily biased toward colleges with large endowments and the ability to offer strong financial aid, the following are Kiplinger’stop 15 values in private universities:

  1. Yale University
  2. Rice University
  3. Princeton University
  4. Duke University
  5. California Institute of Technology
  6. Harvard University
  7. Columbia University
  8. Stanford University
  9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  10. University of Pennsylvania
  11. University of Richmond
  12. Brown University
  13. Vanderbilt University
  14. University of Chicago
  15. Emory University

And the top 15 values in liberal arts colleges:

  1. Swarthmore College
  2. Pomona College
  3. Washington and Lee University
  4. Amherst College
  5. Colgate University
  6. Williams College
  7. Bowdoin College
  8. Davidson College
  9. Vassar College
  10. Haverford College
  11. The Colorado College
  12. Colby College
  13. Middlebury College
  14. Claremont McKenna College
  15. Wellesley College

The complete list of 100 top values in liberal arts colleges or private universities may be found on the Kiplinger website.