Jun 28, 2016

More colleges vote ‘No Confidence’ in standardized tests

Columbia University

Earlier this month, Columbia University joined a large and growing group of colleges and universities expressing little or no confidence in standardized tests used for college admissions.  Along with the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia will no longer require applicants to submit SAT Subject Tests or writing sections of the SAT or ACT.

According to an announcement published on its website, “Columbia uses a holistic review process when evaluating applicants for admission, in which grades and test scores are assessed within the broader context of an applicant’s interests, background, personal qualities and accomplishments.”

By removing the Subject Test requirement (in Penn’s case reducing it to a recommendation) and basically “dissing” the writing tests, Columbia and Penn are making pretty clear statements about how important a role these tests will play in admissions decisions going forward.

In fact, the number of U.S. schools that still “require” the SAT Subject Tests can be counted on a single person’s hands and toes and most of those allow the ACT to substitute for all Subject Tests. A quick check on the Compass Prep website shows that only 10 colleges still require them regardless of whether the ACT or SAT is submitted for admissions consideration.

And there are lots of reasons schools might want to step back from their reliance on standardized tests. But unfortunately, many colleges are failing to do due diligence when it comes to assessing how much value is added to the admissions process by requiring the ACT, SAT or SAT Subject Tests. 

A report released this month by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) reveals that only half of the four-year institutions surveyed do not have current data on the predictive value of the ACT and SAT scores they use. When it comes to testing requirements, many of these schools are on automatic pilot and have no particular (or measured) reason for continuing to ask applicants for scores.

“Some admissions offices continue to require the ACT and SAT out of habit. Others believe the tests convey ‘prestige’,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest. “As NACAC shows, many of these institutions lack current evidence that the scores accurately forecast academic outcomes.”

David Hawkins, NACAC’s executive director of educational content and policy, tells The Chronicle of Higher Education, “If admissions offices are going to require standardized tests, they would benefit both themselves and the students who are applying by knowing more about what those test predict.”

Well yes, especially considering that most colleges agree that high school grades are “by far the most significant predictor” of achievement in college. And as the NACAC report goes on to say, “Recent changes in the content of the SAT, increased use of the SAT and ACT as high school assessment instruments, and the changing demographics of students who take the tests could all affect the predictive validity of test scores.”

So it’s no surprise that a record 33 schools dropped admissions score requirements for all or many applicants over the past year, bringing the total to more than 860 colleges and universities FairTest lists as having test-optional or test-flexible policies.  In fact the list includes 210 institutions ranked in the top tiers of U.S. News Best Colleges edition. And according to FairTest, nearly half of all nationally-ranked liberal arts colleges are test-optional or test-flexible.

In the past year, Catholic, Drake, George Washington, and Willamette universities, as well as Hiram, Kalamazoo, Quinnipiac, Ripon, Skidmore, and Trinity colleges have dropped standardized tests from their admissions requirements.  Several public campuses such as the University of Delaware, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania also recently adopted test-optional admissions policies.

“A rapidly growing number of higher education leaders recognize that applicants’ high school records are the fairest, most accurate predictors of college academic performance,” explains Schaeffer. “Neither the SAT, old or new, nor the ACT is needed to make high quality, equitable admissions decisions.”

And it appears that some of the Ivies are slowly beginning to come to that same conclusion.

Note: Barnard College has followed Columbia’s lead and will no longer require Subject Tests or the writing sections of either the SAT or ACT.

Jun 26, 2016

UVa announces essay prompts for 2016-17

The University of Virginia announced on Thursday that essay prompts for fall 2017 applicants will be looking very very similar to those in previous years, with only a few minor tweaks to keep things interesting.

In addition to the personal statement required of all UVa applicants using either the Coalition Application or the Common Application, students will be asked to write two short responses to prompts provided in the member-specific section of the application.

“Towards the end of every reading season, we gather to talk about which essay questions elicited great responses, which ones could be tweaked to be better, and which essays we’d like to retire,” explained Jeannine Lalonde, “Dean J” of the UVa Admissions Blog.  “We often pull students into our discussions to get their perspectives.”

Last year, Dean J invited readers of her blog to provide feedback on the essay prompts.

“My favorite one was the quirks essay! It allowed me to show another side of me that's not just my gpa, grades, and extracurriculars. That one was the one I had the most fun writing,” said one applicant.

Another agreed, “Definitely keep the quirks prompt…Out of all the college application essays I had to write, I honestly think I had the most fun writing the quirks essay.”

Others debated the “To tweet or not to tweet” prompt.  One thought the question was “very cool because it allowed us to write about social media which has become a generational treasure for us younger folks.” But another complained, “I didn’t really understand what ‘to tweet or not to tweet’ was supposed to mean and therefore avoided it.”

As in past years, UVa is “looking for passionate students” to join a “diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists.” Prospective “’Hoos” are asked to answer in approximately 250 words one of a series of questions corresponding to the school/program to which they are applying:
For the second essay, applicants are asked to pick one of four questions to answer in a half page or roughly 250 words:
  • What’s your favorite word and why?
  • We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions.   Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
  • Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the UVA culture. In her fourth year at UVA, Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
  • UVA students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message?
Once again, UVa will be accepting the Coalition Application and the Common Application, both of which have already posted their personal statement prompts. Although the questions are very similar, it’s worth noting that while Common App software restricts word counts to between 250 and 650 words, the Coalition “strongly recommends” that personal statements stay within 500 to 550 words.

And in the college admissions world, it's wise to take these kinds of recommendations very seriously!

Jun 24, 2016

Colleges that care about trees

Salisbury University
This time of year, college campuses are truly at their best.  Grounds crews have spruced up the grass and mulched gardens for recently-conducted graduation ceremonies and in anticipation of summertime alumni events often scheduled for just after the school year ends. With a little cooperation from Mother Nature, flowers are blooming and trees are in their full leafy glory.

But beyond wanting to look attractive, a handful of colleges and universities have deepened their commitment to campus tree management and forestry.  These schools have earned special distinction in the Tree Campus USA program sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Tree Campus USA is a national program created in 2008 to honor colleges and universities for effective forest management and for engaging staff and students in conservation goals.

Out of well over 4,000 degree-granting colleges and universities in the U.S., only 296 have earned Tree Campus recognition for their efforts to sustain healthy community forests both for students and residents of surrounding communities.

To earn the title, college campuses must meet five standards, which include:

  • Appointment of a Campus Tree Advisory Committee
  • Submission of a campus tree care plan
  • Existence of a campus tree program with dedicated annual expenditures
  • An Arbor Day observance
  • Student service-learning projects related to trees

Details are provided on the Tree Campus website. And for those who are interested, an example of a good “tree care plan” is the one submitted by Virginia Tech, which is also posted on the website.  It covers everything from pruning practices to preservation plans. By the way, Virginia Tech counts 4800 trees on campus, representing 145 species and cultivated varieties.

In general, it is the sincere hope that colleges will develop connections with the local communities to foster healthy, urban forests and involve students in projects to support this effort.

Locally, only 12 colleges and universities have earned this distinction.  These include

"The Arbor Day Foundation has been a great partner for us as we continue to develop our tree planting and care efforts on campus,” said Matthew Gart, recently-retired landscape architect for Virginia Tech’s Office of University Planning.  “We were one of the first schools recognized as a Tree Campus USA and view our re-certification as a critical part of our commitment to trees on the Virginia Tech Campus."

Other institutions on the Tree Campus list boasting of nationally-recognized arboretums include Cornell University, Louisiana State University, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, University of Kentucky, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Utah, UC Davis, Haverford College, University of Michigan, Clemson University and Wake Forest University. When touring colleges, you might go out of your way to spend a little time visiting these amazing campus resources.

So for those students who take pleasure in leafy environments, invest a few minutes investigating the complete list of colleges earning the title of Tree Campus USA.  These are some of the most beautiful college campuses in America.

Jun 22, 2016

On the road with the Independent Colleges of Indiana

DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana

Undeterred by sudden downpours and blazing hot temperatures, the Independent Colleges of Indiana (ICI) hit the road last week for its annual counselor tour of colleges.

Starting at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana, the tour took 81 school-based and independent counselors on a whirlwind tour of six additional Hoosier State colleges, all of which opened their doors for a closer look at facilities and programs.

While the campuses seemed relatively quiet, admissions offices were working feverishly behind the scenes to put finishing touches on new financial aid policies and deadlines, as well as student recruitment programs scheduled for the fall. Several campuses were taken over by summer campers, while others were organizing transition programs for newly-minted freshmen.

Here is a little more of what the 81 counselors learned about each school:

  • Indiana Wesleyan University takes great pride in its mission as a “Christ-centered” institution committed to liberal arts and professional education.  In the business of “creating world changers,” IWU is the largest member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the largest private college in Indiana (based on enrollment) and offers more than 80 undergraduate degrees. In addition to 3,000 undergrads on campus, over 10,000 adult learners attend classes at education centers in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio as well as online.  The Ott Hall of Sciences and Nursing opened in the spring of 2014, which includes a nursing school with no cap on the number of students accepted to the program. As long as prospective nurses meet academic requirements, they’re in! Next year, IWU will be adding football and women’s swim and dive. And IWU is a StrengthsQuest school. The admissions office will pay the cost for any applicant—whether he or she actually matriculates or not—to take the assessment and discover their top five themes of talent.  The test is free and with no strings attached.
  • Founded in 1832, Wabash College is an independent, liberal arts college for men, enrolling 900 students in a traditional liberal arts curriculum.  One of several “Liberal Arts Plus” co-curricular initiatives designed to support cross-disciplinary education, the Center for Innovation Business & Entrepreneurship (CIBE) prepares over 200 students each year from all majors to develop business and entrepreneurial knowledge and skills.  Outside of the classroom, the CIBE offers a variety of learning experiences including internships, immersive experiences, entrepreneurship and management opportunities.
  • The academic program at DePauw University encourages students to gain broad exposure to multiple disciplines before narrowing their focus. Toward this end, DePauw offers a wide range of majors and minors, a number of honors and fellows programs, as well as a variety of experiential learning opportunities designed to challenge students both within and beyond the classroom. The Hubbard Center for Student Engagement works closely with students pursuing experiences such as off-campus study programs and internships.  Every DePauw student must complete at least two Extended Studies opportunities, which may include credit-bearing Winter Term or May Term courses;  approved non-credit-bearing courses, externship, travel experience or service learning program; semester-long off-campus study opportunity or internship; or independent study, research or creative project.  New initiatives include a Global Health Major and a Neuroscience Major.
  • The Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology is home to about 2100 undergraduate and 100 graduate students majoring in engineering, science or mathematics.  All male until 1995, Rose-Hulman is pleased to report that the incoming class is about 30 percent female—25 percent over all four years. Students are not admitted to majors and there are no enrollment “caps” on any programs.  The 16,200 square-foot Branam Innovation Center (BIC) provides open workspace designed to promote multidisciplinary collaboration with easy access to tools, spare parts, a machine shop, welding room, paint booth and conference room. This is where you find students working on projects for the Concrete Canoe, FIRST Robotics, Human-powered Vehicle, Steel Bridge, and Team Rose Motorsports competitions.  Rose-Hulman Ventures, located on south campus, is a successful product design, rapid prototyping and development firm serving a diverse mix of clients. The facility includes professional-level laboratories, equipment, tools, and work suites open to participation from 25 to 27 percent of each graduating class who will get hands-on experience developing innovative technology-solutions for a wide range of business partners.
  • Founded in 1834, Franklin College is a residential, liberal arts institution located on a 207-acre campus including athletic fields and a 31-acre biology woodland.  The college offers its more than 1000 students Bachelor of Arts degrees in 51 majors from 25 academic disciplines. In 1842, Franklin began admitting women, becoming the first coeducational institution in Indiana and the seventh in the nation.  All out-of-state students receive a $4000 grant, which may be stacked on top of whatever merit scholarships are given and these scholarships tend to be very generous.  The Franklin First Scholars program is a FREE overnight opportunity specifically for first-generation college students and their families to learn more about the college experience and expectations.
  • Situated on 650 acres of wooded campus featuring 15 waterfalls and located on the banks of the Ohio River just west of historic Madison, Indiana, Hanover College is a private, liberal arts institution offering a rigorous interdisciplinary academic program featuring 32 majors. Hanover’s Business Scholars Program provides a unique opportunity for students to learn business skills while pursuing their academic passions. The goal is to take any major and make a business of it.  Business Scholars combine a major in their area of interest with practical preparation in business and management. In addition to coursework, they complete an internship, analyze business cases, do a consulting project for a real business, meet with community leaders and take workshops in areas such as resume writing, interviewing and creative problem-solving. Beginning in fall of 2017, Hanover will offer majors in engineering and engineering science for incoming students. The curriculum will require a liberal arts foundation as well as offer tracks in general, mechanical, electrical, electromechanical, computer and geological engineering.
  • Five miles from downtown Indianapolis, Butler University is subdivided into six schools: Liberal Arts and Sciences, Lacy School of Business, College of Communication, College of Education, Jordan College of the Arts, and the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.  Within the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Butler offers a direct pathway to a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Following two pre-pharmacy years, undergrads complete four years of in-depth pharmacy studies and field experiences.  Also offered are both a PharmD/MBA Dual Degree and a PharmD/Master of Pharmaceutical Sciences Dual Degree.  No longer direct entry for physician assistants, Butler has created a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences specifically designed to prepare student for entry into healthcare related graduate programs such as physician assistant, physical or occupational therapy, optometry, dentistry, medicine, etc. And you have to love Butler’s bulldog mascot, Blue AKA Tripp, who has his very own book, Good Boy, Blue!