Aug 31, 2012

20 of America's Top College Hotels

Families seeking the high road—the very high road—in accommodations for college tours, freshman drop-offs, or fall parent weekends might want to take a look at a list prepared by Travel + Leisure Magazine of America’s Top College Hotels.
“Whether independent B&Bs or historic resorts, the top college hotels deliver much more than proximity,” suggests Jason Cochran an award-winning travel writer for the magazine.  “These hotels often embrace the personality of their local institutions and provide an exceptionally adult, dignified experience.”
And not surprisingly, a few local favorites—UVa’s Boar’s Head Inn and William & Mary’s Cedars of Williamsburg—make the list.
Featuring an “abundance of four-posters [and] flower boxes in the windows,” the Cedars of Williamsburg offers guests cookies at night and baked oatmeal pudding with brandied raisins in the morning—just what stressed parents need to face another day of tours.
And not to be outdone, the Boar’s Head Inn will arrange for a hot-air balloon ride for families seeking a broader view of the UVa “grounds.”
For those traveling further afield, here is the complete list of America’s top college-owned hotels as rated by Travel + Leisure Magazine:
  • The Charles Hotel, Harvard University
  • The Nittany Lion Inn, Penn State
  • The Boar’s Head Inn, UVa
  • The Ketter Center, College of the Ozarks
  • The Mansion, SCAD
  • The Arizona Inn, University of Arizona
  • The 5 Twelve, University of Mississippi
  • Hotel Lumen, SMU
  • Lafayette Inn, Lafayette College
  • Wild Goose Inn, Michigan State University
  • The Study, Yale University
  • The Claremont Hotel, UC Berkeley
  • Cabot Lodge, University of Florida
  • Briar Rose Bed & Breakfast, University of Colorado
  • Cedars of Williamsburg, College of William & Mary
  • Foundry Park Inn & Spa, University of Georgia
  • The Blackwell, Ohio State University
  • Ambassador Hotel, Marquette University
  • Reynolds Mansion Bed & Breakfast, University of North Carolina
  • EB Morgan House, Wells College

Aug 29, 2012

The Side Benefits of a College Education

In the middle of the ongoing debate about the value of a college degree, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new data on the very real health effects of higher education. 

It’s clearly not all about the money.  Education pays off in lots of different ways, not the least of which is longer life.

Here are some of the findings from the CDC:

·         In 2010, 31 percent of adults 25-64 years of age with a high school diploma or less were smokers, compared with 24 percent of adults with some college and 9 percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
·         In households where the head had less than a high school education, 24 percent of boys and 22 percent of girls were obese.  Where the head of household had a bachelor’s degree or higher, 11 percent of the boys and 7 percent of the girls were obese.
·         Women 25 years of age and over with less than a bachelor’s degree were more likely to be obese (39-43 percent) than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (25 percent).
·         Between 1996 and 2006, the gap in life expectance at age 25 between those with less than a high school education and those with a degree increased by 1.9 years for men and 2.8 years for women.
·         On average in 2006, 25-year old men without a high school diploma had a life expectancy 9.3 years less than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Aug 26, 2012

10 Low Stress Ways to Improve Spanish Language Skills over the Summer

Spanish is by far the most popular foreign language taken by college-bound students. Once upon a time, French was the preferred language, and many parents still believe it’s best for more “selective” institutions.

Not so. Colleges are perfectly happy with virtually any foreign language. They differ only in the number of years required or recommended for admission.

Regardless of your specific language commitment, it’s important to practice over the summer months. And anyone reaching the Advanced Placement (AP) level would be wise to jumpstart a few lessons before heading back to school.

“…when you are dealing with a foreign language, it is best to keep it ‘fresh’ over the summer months,” explained Lola Quintela, a local Spanish language tutor. “The idea is to make it fun while reinforcing grammar and vocabulary.”

So how hard can this be? Not too, if you think creatively.

"Even some daily activities like going to the grocery store or to the ATM provide opportunities to learn and review,” advises Mrs. Quintela. “Next time you insert your bank card to process a transaction or are ready to check out using the Self-Check line at the grocery store, press the ‘Español’ button. See and hear what happens!”

As it turns out, this simple trick is a great way to review verbs in the command form.

Whether you’re signed up for AP Spanish Language or Spanish 1, there are a number of other no-stress steps you can take to build vocabulary, practice reading comprehension, and improve speaking skills. Here are a few:
  • Work with a tutor. Don’t wait until after you’ve tanked on the first listening quiz of the quarter. Start now and make it your goal to spend at least two hours per week brushing up basic language skills with a native speaker.
  • Go high tech. Check out iTunes University for Spanish courses and apps. Levels range from beginners to a more technical medical Spanish class offered at Yale. The Do It Yourself Scholar recommends Notes in Spanish (free podcasts) or Open Culture’s Free Foreign Language Lessons. And helps you make and share digital flashcards online, while gives you the opportunity to build vocabulary and feed the world!
  • Watch Univisión, Telefutura, or Telemundo. You can replay clips or entire videos to practice listening comprehension. It may be a good idea to start with the news because it’s already familiar or Sesame Street because it’s geared to kids. Be aware—some of the telenovelas are very entertaining.
  • Listen to Spanish language radio stations. While driving back and forth to sports or band practice, you can listen to the news or salsa radio stations. The announcers tend to speak quickly, but with many hours in the car your understanding will increase.
  • Read. Visit your local library and get books in Spanish. Children’s books are fun, easy to read and already familiar to students in their English version. Hint: The Magic Treehouse series is available in Spanish (La casa del árbol) and is perfect for students moving into Spanish 3.
  • Review for the National Spanish Exam. The National Spanish Exam website contains a treasure trove of old exams and practice exercises. You can improve reading comprehension, grammar and vocabulary by logging on and taking a few exams. Keep in mind that AP Spanish students should be working at levels 3 or 4 or higher.
  • Take lessons with the BBC. The BBC offers audio and video language courses in 36 languages—free of charge. You can start with any one of several 12-week beginners’ courses in Spanish, French, German, or Italian. Sign-up and you’ll receive a weekly email offering encouragement and tips to help your language learning. Or if your level of expertise is beyond beginner, test your skills and you will be directed to those parts of the site that will be most useful for you.
  • Visit a museum. The trick is to visit museums offering tours in Spanish. Locally, many of the major tourist sites have self-guided audio and group tours available in numerous foreign languages. This can be a very different way to see a familiar place.
  • Travel.  Not everyone can afford a summer trip to Mexico or Spain, although total immersion in a language is the best way to learn it.  Short of getting on an airplane, attend a church service in Spanish or go shopping in a local mercado.  Who knows?  You might develop a taste for foods only found in ethnic markets.
  • Volunteer.  As a volunteer for local community action programs, you’ll find the opportunities to exercise your Spanish language skills are endless.  Try sitting on the other side of the table and tutor non-English speaking adults or work in a food bank serving Hispanic families.

Aug 25, 2012

What Freshmen Don't Know

Born in the year of the professional baseball strike, members of the class of 2016 have always lived in cyberspace plugged into MP3’s and iPods—so much so that a quarter of students entering college already have suffered some hearing loss. Members of this year’s freshman class are probably the most “tribal” generation of all time, and they can’t stand being out of constant communication with friends.
Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the College Mindset List, the brainchild of Tom McBride, Keefer Professor of the Humanities and Ron Nief, former public affairs director. Designed to clue professors into what their new frosh experienced growing up, the list traditionally signals the start of the academic year.
Items on the list reflect the cultural and political world views of today’s 18-year-olds. For the class of 2016, most of them born in 1994, the U.S. has “measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 1-cent rise in the price of a fist class postage stamp.” They have never needed an actual airline “ticket” or purchased a set of bound encyclopedias.
Here are some additional highlights: 
  • They should watch for Justin Bieber of Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation.
  • Robert De Niro is known as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone.
  • Two-thirds of independent bookstores in the U.S. have closed for good during their lifetime.
  • For most of their lives, the head of the State Department has been a woman.
  • They can’t picture people carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.
  • There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.
  • Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction.
  • Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.
  • Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy
  • There have always been blue M&M’s but no tan ones.
  • Stephen Breyer has always been an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.
  • The Metropolitan Opera House in New York has always translated operas on seatback screens.
  • Gene therapy has always been an available treatment.
  • Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive baseball games played has never stood in their lifetimes.
  • They grew up without the benefit of Romper Room.”
  • There has always been a World Trade Organization
  • They have always enjoyed school memories with a digital yearbook.
  • History has always had its own channel.
  • Thousands have always been gathering for “million-man” demonstrations in Washington, DC.
  • The Twilight Zone involves vampires, not Rod Serling.
  • Little Caesar has always been proclaiming, “Pizza Pizza.”
  • Unlike their parents, they understand you don’t take pictures on “film,” and CD’s and DVD’s are not “tapes. 
  • They don’t remember when Arianna Huffington was a conservative. 
Kinda makes you feel old.
For the complete list as well as lists going back to 2002, visit the Beloit College website.

Aug 21, 2012

The Best of the Princeton Review

Sweet Briar College
This week, the granddaddy of college surveys hits newsstands across the country.  For 21 consecutive years, the Princeton Review has asked undergraduates to evaluate their college experiences and provide opinions on everything from campus grounds to career services.

And while Princeton Review gently tries to steer interest toward the Green Honor Roll and earnestly lauds the winners in “Fire Safety” or “Best Financial Aid,” most press inevitably flows toward schools with “Lots of Hard Liquor” or “Reefer Madness” because that’s what sells books.

And pity the school described as “purgatory” or the college where professors are considered inaccessible. While high school students might gravitate toward the party school list, parents understandably take a dim view of winners in many high profile categories.

Yet despite a bias toward the sensational, the Princeton Review guide offers interesting insights into campus culture and programming.  And while rankings within individual categories may be of little relative value, few would disagree with the entries on lists broadly describing undergrads as conservative or religious or supportive of intercollegiate sports.

“Each of our 377 best colleges offers outstanding academics,” said Robert Franek, the book’s author and Princeton Review senior VP/Publisher. “Our goal is not to crown one college ‘best’ overall, but to help applicants find and get in to the college best for them.”

But unfortunately, the urban legend spin-offs from these competitions tend to have a long half-life, and reputations aren’t easily rehabilitated.

Mention West Virginia University in this area and you’re guaranteed to get a response more in line with its party reputation than its standing among the few colleges offering the petroleum engineering major. And once again, WVU has taken up its position as Princeton Review's champion party school for 2013.

The moral of the story is that for some colleges, publicity—any publicity—is welcome. For others, these rankings produce an ongoing headache as administrators try to explain the unscientific nature of the study or to laugh away a survey presumably conducted in the spirit of good fun.

Among the more positive local outcomes, American University took first place in the “Most Politically Active” category, followed by Georgetown (2), George Washington (3), and the University of Maryland (10).  The University of Maryland (4), Loyola University Maryland (7), and the University ofRichmond were lauded for having the “Best Athletic Facilities,” while St. John’s College, Sweet Briar, and Richmond received high marks for classroom experience, good teaching, and accessible professors.

Once again, best campus food may be found at James Madison University and Virginia Tech, which was also acknowledged in the “Best Career Services” category along with Richmond (4) and American (10).

DC stood tall among “Great College Towns” with Georgetown (1), George Washington (3), American (7) earning spots among the top 20.  UVa was singled out for having a nice library and came in second only to Princeton for providing great financial aid.

Dorms are like palaces at Loyola of Maryland (3), Christopher Newport (11), George Washington (13), and Sweet Briar (19). And “Students Pack the Stadium” at Virginia Tech (18) and the University of Maryland (13).

Howard University still has a great radio station, and the University of Maryland gets high marks for its newspaper.

And in a category new this year, Virginia Tech scored high in overall student satisfaction—only Claremont McKenna and Rice received more love.

To view the complete list of rankings, you might have to open an account and risk an email box flooded with college spam. Or you can buy The Best 377 Colleges—2013 Edition from Princeton Review.

Aug 20, 2012

The ACT Solution to the Subject Test Dilemma

Swarthmore College
Luckily, SAT Subject Tests are not part of the application rat race for most colleges and universities. It’s usually only highly "selective" schools that either require or very strongly suggest the submission of two or more Subject Test scores as part of the application.
But just so you know, there are a number of reasons why colleges might like to see Subject Tests. Sometimes they want particular Subject Tests from students interested in specific majors or programs of study.  Or they might be required of students hoping to enroll in accelerated or specific honors programs.  And homeschooled students are often requested to send Subject Tests to confirm what they’ve learned.
It’s definitely something to watch out for as you develop standardized test-taking strategies in high school, and you might want to schedule specific tests as they coincide with Advanced Placement or other advanced coursework.
Yet regardless of good intentions, it’s sometimes hard to squeeze in all the testing in time to meet deadlines, especially if you’re planning to apply Early Decision or Early Action.
If you’re feeling a little panicked about Subject Tests either because you never got around to taking them or because your scores weren’t quite as high as you had hoped they would be, I have some good news.  A number of colleges will allow you to substitute the ACT with Writing for SAT Subject Tests.
Not only does this represent an economical solution to the problem—you only need to pay for one test instead of several—but because the ACT is given in September, you have a chance to prepare over the summer and take a test that is guaranteed to yield results in time for early applications.  In other words, you avoid rushing scores from October (note that some colleges do not accept “rush” scores) or worrying about whether or not the College Board will transmit scores in time to meet deadlines.
So for those of you thinking about the ACT solution to the Subject Test dilemma, here is a list of schools accepting the ACT with Writing in lieu of both SAT and Subject Tests (special thanks to Cigus Vanni who provided the list):
  • Amherst College, MA
  • Barnard College, NY
  • Boston College, MA
  • Brown University, RI
  • Bryn Mawr College, PA (note other testing options)
  • Columbia University, NY
  • Duke University, NC
  • Haverford College, PA
  • McGill University, Canada
  • Pomona College, CA
  • Rice University, TX
  • Swarthmore College, PA (note other testing options)
  • Tufts University, MA
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Vassar College, NY
  • Wellesley College, MA
  • Wesleyan College, CT
  • Yale University, CT

Aug 18, 2012

Emory Delivers another Black Eye to USNWR Rankings

Emory University
In a stunning announcement timed to avoid major educational news coverage, Emory University admitted intentionally misrepresenting data to US News & World Report and others for at least 12 years.
Since discovering data discrepancies last May, Emory has been investigating reports provided to outside groups—including  the federal government—evidently designed to make Emory appear more selective than it actually was.
The investigation focused on three areas:   whether incorrect data were submitted; who was responsible; and how and why the practice began. 
Findings showed that there had been intentional misreporting over more than a decade and that leadership in the Office of Admission and Institutional Research was aware of and participated in the misreporting.
USNWR and other parties involved in data collection for the Common Data Set initiative were alerted to the discrepancies in early June and chose to sit on the information until Emory made public the embarrassing report.
Conducted under the supervision of an independent third party, the investigation found that Emory used SAT/ACT data for “admitted” students instead of “enrolled” students since at least 2000. 
Stephen Spencer, Emory’s senior vice president and general counsel, confirmed it was an “intentional decision” to report incorrect data overstating test scores presumably in an attempt to improve rankings by making the school appear more selective. 
In addition, the report found that Emory “may have” excluded the scores of the bottom 10 percent of students when reporting SAT/ACT scores, GPA’s and other similar information.  Staff members responsible for these discrepancies are no longer employed by Emory.
Here is how it worked.  In 2009, Emory claimed that SAT scores for the 25th to 75th percentile of enrolled students was 1300-1480 (Math and Critical Reading), when in fact it was 1260-1440.  The next year, Emory reported that the middle percentile of enrolled students was 1310-1500, when it was actually 1270-1460.
GPA information was similarly cooked.  For 2009, Emory reported that 85 percent of enrolled students were in the top 10 percent of their class, when really only 76 percent achieved that level of accomplishment.  In 2010, Emory covered-up a drop to 75 percent in the same reporting category by incorrectly listing the top decile as 87 percent.
In an article on the USNWR website, USNWR Editor and Chief Content Officer Brian Kelly said the situation is under review and that the faulty data “would not have changed the school’s ranking in the past two years (No. 20) and would likely have had a small to negligible effect in the several years prior.”
This year’s annual Best Colleges edition of USNWR is scheduled to be released in mid-September. 
Emory’s scandal renews questions about how the CDS collects data, what training is provided to staff submitting data, and who is overseeing the accuracy of data provided to the public.
After both Claremont McKenna College in California and Iona College in New York similarly admitted falsifying CDS information for the purpose of gaming the rankings, officials responsible for overseeing the CDS at USNWR, Peterson’s, and the College Board were contacted for fuller explanations of the process behind data collection and reporting. 
So far, none of the three organizations has responded to questions concerning training and oversight of college-based staff responsible for providing CDS its data.
Outside of a “listserve” where anyone may post questions and ask for “peer” assistance, there appears to be little coordination or supervision of reporting procedures—despite what has evolved into a multimillion dollar business for the parties involved. 
Monitoring of the listserve over a six month period suggests it’s a little-used resource, but when questions arise, the variations in policy and procedure among different colleges is nothing short of astonishing.
How much the scandal will hurt Emory University remains to be seen.  But the larger issue should focus on how various organizations providing data to the general public—at a significant cost—intend  to clean the mess up.

Just the Facts: Colleges with the Highest Graduation Rates

University of Richmond
One of the scariest numbers in postsecondary education is the national “six-year” college graduation rate. Every college and university in the country tracks it, and every school must submit their number for analysis bythe federal government.

According to the most recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the percent of students starting as freshmen in four-year bachelor’s programs who graduate within six years now rests at about at 58 percent (up from 57 percent in the last NCES report).

You might be wondering what the four-year graduation rate must be if only 58 percent of students graduate in six years. Trust me, it’s far worse. And the divide between public and private institutions is really disturbing—52.4 percent of all private school students graduate in four years while only slightly more than 30 percent of students attending public institutions graduate on average in the same period.

Not surprisingly, the more selective the school, the higher the likelihood of “on-time” graduation.  Colleges accepting 25 percent or fewer of their applicants had an 87 percent average six-year graduation rate while those accepting between 75 and 90 percent of all applicants posted a 56 percent average six-year graduation rate.

Locally, a handful of colleges can boast of 4-year graduation rates above 80 percent or well above national averages. These include the US Naval Academy (88%), Washington & Lee (92%), Georgetown (87%), UVa (85%), William & Mary (82%), Johns Hopkins University (84%), and the University of Richmond (81%).

Again, thanks to USNWR, here is a sneak peek of the top 4-year graduation rates for 2012:
  • Webb Institute (96%)
  • Washington & Lee University (92%)
  • Pomona College (91%)
  • Williams College (91%)
  • Bowdoin College (90%)
  • College of the Holy Cross (90%)
  • Princeton University (90%)
  • University of Notre Dame (90%)
  • Vassar College (90%)
  • Amherst College (89%)
  • Bucknell University (89%)
  • Carleton College (89%)
  • Davidson College (89%)
  • Swarthmore College (89%)
  • Wesleyan University (89%)
  • Yale University (89%)
  • Columbia University (88%)
  • Dartmouth College (88%)
  • U.S. Naval Academy (88%)
  • University of Pennsylvania (88%)
  • Babson College (87%)
  • Boston College (87%)
  • Duke University (87%)
  • Georgetown University (87%)
  • Harvard University (87%)
  • Haverford College (87%)
  • Lafayette College (87%)
  • University of Chicago (87%)

Aug 17, 2012

Just the Facts: Colleges Identifying with the Catholic Faith

Georgetown University
According to College Navigator, 209 4-year nonprofit colleges and universities in the US identify with the Roman Catholic faith. They represent a wide variety of educational opportunities ranging from large research universities to small liberal arts colleges.

And it’s not always easy to figure out or understand the fundamental differences among them—especially if you’re not Catholic!

Most Catholic colleges have a specific founding order or group with which they further identify. For example Villanova University and Merrimack College are Augustinian; Seton Hall (NJ) and the University of Dallas are Diocesan; Duquesne is Spiritan; and the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College, and Holy Cross College are affiliated with the Congregation of Holy Cross—not to be confused with the College of the Holy Cross, which is Jesuit.

Locally, Catholic University is "independent," and Trinity Washington University has officially ended affiliation with the Church.

But by far, the largest group of Catholic institutions identifies as Jesuit. There are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities located in every corner of the country, including Georgetown and Loyola University of Maryland, in the DC area.

Using data from the National Center of Educational Statistics (NCES), the following is a ranking of all US Jesuit colleges by size of undergraduate population:
  1. Saint Louis University (12,531)
  2. Loyola University Chicago (9,856)
  3. Boston College (9,826)
  4. Fordham University (8,427)
  5. Marquette University (8,387)
  6. Georgetown University (7,590)
  7. University of San Francisco (6,071)
  8. Loyola Marymount University (6,069)
  9. Regis University (5,643)
  10. Saint Joseph’s University (5,500)
  11. Santa Clara University (5,229)
  12. Gonzaga University (4,865)
  13. Seattle University (4,631)
  14. Xavier University (4,540)
  15. Creighton University (4,153)
  16. University of Scranton (4,069)
  17. Loyola University Maryland (3,863)
  18. Fairfield University (3,835)
  19. Canisius College (3,385)
  20. Loyola University New Orleans (3,165)
  21. John Carroll University (3,001)
  22. University of Detroit Mercy (2,971)
  23. College of the Holy Cross (2,905)
  24. Le Moyne College (2,871)
  25. Saint Peter’s College (2,344)
  26. Rockhurst University (2,130)
  27. Spring Hill College (1,257)
  28. Wheeling Jesuit University (1,071)

Aug 16, 2012

Just the Facts: The Nation’s Priciest Colleges

St. Mary's College of Maryland
Last year, the statistical wizards at the Department of Education introduced a nifty website listing the highest (top 5%) and lowest (bottom 10%) tuitions collected at the nation’s colleges and universities.

As an added benefit, they’ve made it possible to generate separate reports ranking total tuition and required fees as one metric and total net price as another (note that net price is defined as the cost of attendance minus grant and scholarship aid).

While the intent of the website was to help Congress get a fix on schools that charge chronically high tuition, it can also be helpful to students and families concerned about costs. And even with a few computational glitches and some loud complaints from the colleges named, it’s useful information to have.

Locally, the news is mixed. Although St. Mary’s College of Maryland appears on both the highest tuition and highest net price lists for public institutions, local schools don’t have much of a presence in either ranking. Christopher Newport and Virginia Commonwealth University were the only other local state schools cited on the net price list.

Among local private, not-for-profit institutions, George Washington University (5), St. John’s College (8), the University of Richmond (19), Johns Hopkins University (44), Georgetown (61), and Washington & Lee (53) are ranked in the top 5 percent for tuition and required fees. Note that none of these schools appears on the list of schools with the highest net prices.

Private not-for-profit baccalaureate institutions with highest tuition (national average-$21,949):
  1. Connecticut College ($43,990)
  2. Sarah Lawrence College ($43,564)
  3. Columbia University ($43,304)
  4. Vassar College ($43,190)
  5. George Washington University ($42,905)
  6. Trinity College ($42,420)
  7. Bucknell University ($42,342)
  8. St. John’s College, MD ($42,192)
  9. St. John’s College, NM ($42,084)
  10. Carnegie Mellon University ($42,136)
  11. Wesleyan University ($42,084)
  12. Union College ($42,042)
  13. University of Chicago ($42,041)
  14. Bard College at Simon’s Rock ($41,982)
  15. Tulane University ($41,884)

Public baccalaureate institutions with highest net prices based on in-state tuition (national average-$10,471):
  1. University of Guam ($25,956)
  2. Miami University—Oxford ($22,303)
  3. St. Mary’s College of Maryland ($19,944)
  4. Pennsylvania State University—Main Campus ($19,816)
  5. University of Pittsburgh ($18,935)
  6. Pennsylvania State University—Erie-Behrend ($18,903)
  7. Massachusetts Maritime Academy  ($18,935)
  8. University of Missouri—Kansas City ($18,457)
  9. The College of New Jersey ($18,311)
  10. Ohio State University ($18,253)
  11. University of Colorado Bolder ($18,054)
  12. Clemson University ($17,840)
  13. Ohio University ($17,102)
  14. University of Cincinnati ($17,644)
  15. Pennsylvania State University—Altoona ($17,477)

Aug 15, 2012

Just the Facts: Colleges with the Largest Endowments

Harvard University
A college “endowment” is basically the total value of an institution’s investments—property, stocks, and cash. It mostly comes from donations from rich alums and others, but grows with wise management.

Usually colleges use the interest from their endowment to cover worthy expenses like scholarships for students. A college with a huge endowment may be less concerned about getting 100% of tuition from every student and can afford to repair buildings or buy new technology.

And the size of an endowment can be an indicator of the financial health of an institution. Nearly all endowments took serious hits after 2008 and have been working hard to recover since.

But things are looking up.  Better market conditions helped boost endowment gains for the 2011 fiscal year according to the 2011 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments. Overall, college endowments returned an average of 19.2% (after fees), the study found.

The DC area is home to a number of colleges with endowments among the top 120 in the nation, including the University of Virginia (19), Johns Hopkins University (25), University of Richmond (33), George Washington (55), Washington and Lee (59), Georgetown (63), University of Maryland System (93), William & Mary (121), and Virginia Tech (130).

Top 25 endowment funds by rank order:
  1. Harvard University $31,7B
  2. Yale University $19,4B
  3. University of Texas System $17,1B
  4. Princeton University $17,1B
  5. Stanford University $16,5B
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology $9,7B
  7. University of Michigan $7,8B
  8. Columbia University $7,8B
  9. Northwestern University $7,2B
  10.  Texas A&M University System & Foundations $7B
  11.  University of Pennsylvania $6,6B
  12.  University of Chicago $6,6B
  13. University of California $6,3B
  14. University of Notre Dame $6,3B
  15. Duke University $5,7B
  16. Emory University $5,4B
  17. Washington University in St. Louis $5,3B
  18. Cornell University $5B
  19.  University of Virginia $4,8B
  20. Rice University $4,5B
  21. University of Southern California $3,5B
  22.  Vanderbilt University $3,4B
  23. Dartmouth College $3,4B
  24.  New York University $2,8B
  25. Johns Hopkins University $2,6B

Aug 14, 2012

Just the Facts: Colleges with the Highest Freshman Retention

Yale University
According to US News & World Report, as many as one in three freshmen don’t make it back for sophomore year. Although money problems tend to dominate, the reasons a student may choose not to return to school range from basic loneliness to academic struggles.

While colleges are quick to explain away low freshman retention by blaming federal methodology, it’s still a good metric to include in your college search. If it looks too low, don’t hesitate to ask what the college is doing to improve.

Locally, Johns Hopkins (97%), the University of Virginia (97%), Georgetown (96%), William & Mary (95%), University of Maryland (94%), George Washington University (92%), and Virginia Tech (92%) are consistently among the schools with high freshman retention.  And note that Maryland, GW, and Tech showed improvement in their retention rates over last year.

Thanks to a sneak preview from USNWR of this year’s CDS results, here are the colleges with the highest freshman retention rates:
  • Columbia University (99%)
  • Yale University (99%)
  • Brown University (98%)
  • California Institute of Technology (98%)
  • Dartmouth College (98%)
  • MIT (98%)
  • Princeton University (98%)
  • Stanford University (98%)
  • University of Chicago (98%)
  • University of Notre Dame (98%)
  • University of Pennsylvania (98%)
  • Duke University (97%)
  • Harvard University (97%)
  • Johns Hopkins University (97%)
  • Northwestern University (97%)
  • Rice University (97%)
  • Tufts University (97%)
  • UC Berkeley (97%)
  • UCLA (97%)
  • UNC-Chapel Hill (97%)
  • University of Southern California (97%)
  • University of Virginia (97%)
  • Vanderbilt University (97%)
  • Washington University in St. Louis (97%)

Aug 13, 2012

Just the Facts: The Nation's Largest Universities

Liberty University
As you’ve probably noticed, we’re in the middle of ranking wars.

Princeton Review, USNWR, Newsweek, and even Forbes target this time of year to present college-bound students with their picks for top colleges in categories relevant to factors they consider important in college search and selection.

And so we learn about campus beauty, drinking habits, and dedication to sustainability. We get insight into the opinions of current students, college administrators, and alums.

But it’s mostly just that—opinion—not much more accurate than what you or I may think on any given day.

So to counter some the more “subjective” lists generated by publications looking to increase sales, I’m using this week to present a few more objective “rankings” based on more measurable or concrete facts.

Size Matters
When deciding on a college, students have a range of sizes to consider—from tiny Deep Springs College (26 students) to massive Arizona State University (72,254).

Locally, college-bound students may be attracted to Randolph College, in Lynchburg, Virginia with a total enrollment of 576 (including 5 master’s degree students) or Liberty University, also in Lynchburg, which now enrolls over 64,000 students and is the largest private university in the country.

It’s no secret that the size of a class completely changes the culture of a school. Going to a college with 200 freshmen is entirely different from going to a university with 10,000 per class. And this covers everything from personal interaction with professors to the availability of specialized majors or undergrad research opportunities.

According to the most recent information from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), the largest postsecondary institution in the US is the University of Phoenix (online campus) with 307,871 students.  Arizona State comes in a distant second.

But if casts of thousands are not a problem, here is the list of the nation’s largest degree-granting 4-year nonprofit institutions (total enrollment or fall 2011):
  1. Arizona State University:  72,254 (58,404 undergrad)
  2. Liberty University:  64,096 (40,355)
  3. University of Central Florida:  58,465 (49,972)
  4. Ohio State University, Main Campus:  56,867 (42,916)
  5. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities:  52,557 (34,812)
  6. University of Texas at Austin:  51,112 (38,437)
  7. Texas A & M University:  50,230 (39,867)
  8. University of Florida:  49,589 (32,598)
  9. Michigan State University:  47,825 (36,557)
  10. Pennsylvania State University, Main Campus:  45,628 (38,954)
  11. Florida International University:  44,616 (35,888)
  12. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:  44,407 (32,256)
  13. New York University:  43,911 (22,280)
  14. Indiana University, Bloomington:  42,731 (32,543)
  15. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor:  42,716 (27,407)
  16. University of Maryland University College:  42,713 (28,119)
  17. University of Washington, Seattle campus:  42,444 (29,022)
  18. University of Wisconsin, Madison:  41,946 (29,880)
  19. Florida State University:  41,087 (32,201)
  20. Purdue University, Main campus:   40,849 (31,988)

Aug 11, 2012

College Rankings gone Wild

Stanford University
It’s ranking season gone wild.  Building up to the climactic debut of the US News & World Report (USNWR) annual review of colleges, other players in the media industry are attempting to cut into the action by coming up with their own variations on the theme.

Last week, Forbes rolled out a huge national ranking of 650 colleges and universities largely based on nonsense data from, Who’s Who, and   

This week, Newsweek and the Daily Beast scooped the Princeton Review by digging into dirty laundry a little and coming up with lists of “Least Rigorous,” “Top Party,” and “Most Stressful” colleges using survey data gathered by College Prowler.

And the results were equally questionable with an interesting bias toward schools with relatively high profiles on the College Prowler site where protected by anonymity, respondents are free to say what they want about whatever college or university. 

College marketing offices that didn’t know to vote must be thrilled.

In fact, you can almost hear the groans across state lines from West Virginia University as their bad reputation puts them at the top of the party list. 

Then again, Colgate also appears on the “Top Party” list (8) as well as on the “Most Rigorous” (25), “Happiest” (16), and “Most Beautiful” (24) lists.  Go figure.

But Colgate isn’t alone.  Other schools show-up on mixed-message lists.  Columbia University is among the “Most Rigorous” (1), “Happiest” (14), and “Most Stressful” (3).  And the University of Southern California shows up on “Happiest” (15), “Most Stressful” (24), and “Most Beautiful” (12). 

Is there something about being happy and stressed at the same time?  If so, that should be good news for mental health professionals.

For the record, local colleges didn’t show up too much in the Newsweek/Daily Beast results.  Catholic (25), Liberty (21), and Washington and Lee (10) were “Most Conservative”; Goucher (15) and Liberty (21) were “Least Affordable”; University of Maryland—College Park was “Top Party” (22); and George Mason (25) and UMBC (20) were “Least Rigorous.”  

Washington and Lee was “Most Rigorous” (11); Georgetown (6) and the University of Richmond (7) were among the “Happiest”; and Richmond (23) and UVa (15) were most beautiful.

And according to Newsweek and the Daily Beast, the 15 “Happiest” colleges are:
  1.  Stanford
  2. Carleton
  3. Yale
  4. Brown
  5. University of Chicago
  6. Georgetown
  7. University of Richmond
  8. Swarthmore
  9. Skidmore
  10. Bowdoin
  11. Harvard
  12. Colorado College
  13. Carnegie Mellon University
  14. Columbia
  15. University of Southern California

Aug 10, 2012

‘Great Colleges to Work For’ 2012

It doesn’t take an MBA to understand that organizations experiencing high levels of employee job satisfaction often produce superior results. If staff is disgruntled or the work climate impaired, you can bet on a diminished work product.

In the world of postsecondary education, the end user is the student. If teaching and administrative staff experience ongoing workplace issues, students are likely to sense problems. The worst case scenario is one in which these issues actually affect the quality of the education offered.

For this reason, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s fifth annual Great Colleges to Work For survey offers interesting insight into the overall happiness quotient of staff and administrators at some of the nation’s most recognizable postsecondary institutions.

To get a fuller understanding of workplace satisfaction, about 47,000 employees—up from 44,000 in 2011—on 294 campuses were surveyed. In general, findings suggest that great academic workplaces are where “campus leaders were involved and openly appreciative of the work of their employees.”

Even with tight budgets and an uncooperative economy, colleges that stood out were characterized by “[o]pen channels of communication, along with concrete ways of appreciating employees and helping them balance work and home.”  

And although employees were given the opportunity to rate tangible financial benefits like retirement plans, it turns out that career development programs, satisfaction with physical workspace, and flexible work arrangements turned out to be key factors in satisfaction.

Approximately 20,000 of the college employees responding to the survey were faculty members, 8,500  administrators, and nearly 18,000  “exempt” professional staff.  After the responses were tallied, the survey identified 103 "outstanding" institutions.

In addition, survey responses helped form 12 Great College recognition categories. High ratings in those categories were considered core attributes of a great academic workplace, with 30 four-year and 12 two-year colleges named to the Great Colleges "Honor Roll."

Locally, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), George Mason University, and Old Dominion University earned recognition on the Great Colleges Honor Roll. All three institutions particularly stood out in the areas of Professional Career Development Programs, Respect and Appreciation, and Work/Life Balance.

For the complete report and information summarizing the 103 Great Colleges, visit The Chronicle website (subscription may be required for some articles).

Aug 8, 2012

10 Very Awesome Test Prep Tips You Can Take to the Beach

Test prep is definitely one of the most frequently voiced concerns among parents of college-bound high school students. When to begin? What company to use? What tests should be prepped? Are tutors worth the investment?

Although research suggests that most students experience only minimal gains as a result of test prep classes, even small improvements in scores can be worth the effort.

Fortunately, this effort doesn’t necessarily mean purchasing the most expensive package from the most prestigious company in town. There are other options, many of which can be explored during the summer months.

Consider these ideas and see where they might fit into your time at the shore:
  1. Sign-up for the ACT/SAT Question of the Day: Since we know you’re on the computer, why not take advantage of these free services and register. You “passively” prep by simply answering the question that sweetly pops up on your screen every day. Check your answer and compare how you did versus the thousands of other high school students taking the quiz like vitamins every morning. Hint: Get mom and dad to do it too.

  2. Work the Free Online Prep: Even though the SAT and ACT are paper-and-pencil tests, you can still benefit from working with online test prep programs.,, and offer sample tests and loads of test-taking tips (as do the College Board and the ACT and they write the tests). 

  3. Get SAT and ACT Booklets:  Have you ever noticed the stacks of little newsprint booklets tucked away on a shelf in your guidance office? Here’s a secret: each one contains a full-length sample test complete with answer grids. Stop by your local high school and get a booklet or two (if they still have them). And then, get up early one Saturday morning, assign a designated timer from among household members, and take a complete test. The truly dedicated will actually score the thing and go over results.

  4. Use Official Study Guides:  Go straight to the source and invest in the Official SAT Study Guide and/or The Real ACT Prep Guide. They contain official practice tests and lots of advice. Again, because college entrance exams involve sitting at a desk and working with a No. 2 pencil, you don’t need to buy the computer software. Instead, take several published practice tests over the summer (see above).

  5. Go High-tech: The good news is that you can work on test prep without looking too nerdy by downloading a few interactive “apps” for your mobile PDA. The flashcard vocabulary builders, especially those that allow you to enter new words like gFlash-Pro, are really effective.  Or join StudyBlue nation, which recently added an iPad app to its arsenal of weapons. The device may set you back, but the software tends to be very inexpensive.

  6. Read: If you don’t do anything else to prepare for the SAT or the ACT, make time to read over the summer. NOT Teen Cosmo or Sports Illustrated. Try getting lists from reading-intensive history or literature classes. But if great works of literature don’t work for the beach, try magazines. Look for scientific journals or read popular culture articles in The New Yorker. Remember that magazines as well as books are available at your local library.

  7. Write: I don’t care what you write, but write. And write in complete sentences. Paragraphs are good too.  Don’t limit your written communications to texting or IM-speak. These habits are actually harmful if you lose your “ear” for correct grammar and syntax. Start a blog, write grandma, bother your Congressperson, or begin drafting college essays—it really doesn’t matter. If you’re reading good books, enroll in an online literary group like the Big Read or Shelfari. Not only can you share ideas but your writing will improve, especially if you succumb to peer pressure and clean-up sentences or check spelling.

  8. Listen: Check out iTunes University or National Public Radio for downloads and apps—basic or educational programming. You’d be surprised how much vocabulary and language usage you can absorb on the way to the beach or lying by the pool, especially if you take the time to note and look up words you hear and don’t understand. And do something totally radical like watch the History Channel and other learning or public broadcasting programs. It’s all grist for the mill!

  9. Study Forward:  Use the summer months to get ready for next year.  Borrow or purchase textbooks and get reading assignments—from friends who’ve completed the class if necessary.  In addition to reading, do problem sets.  Working on math skills over the summer will keep you in shape for the big tests.  And if you know you’re struggling in some areas, schedule some quality time with a tutor.  You don’t need a pricey SAT specialist to work on SAT- or ACT-related math skills. With a little dedication to the task, you can kill two birds with one stone.

  10. Find a Buddy: Lots of your friends are experiencing test prep anxiety. Gather a few together and form a support group to take practice tests or otherwise kvetch about college admissions. The wise high school student learns the value of study groups early. They work as long as you don’t spend the entire time socializing.
So the good news is that there are ways to prepare for standardized tests and still have fun. You can even get a little ahead for the next school year.

It may take some self-discipline, but whatever.