May 29, 2015

Activities designed to support student success

UVA has the highest 4-year graduation rate of any public university.
Student success is a hot topic in higher education.  And it’s no wonder, considering that just 39 percent of first-time, full-time, degree-seeking students earned their bachelor’s degree within four years and 59 percent did so in six years, according to the most recently-available figures from NCES (National Center for Education Statistics).

But students don’t seem to be getting the message about how important it is to consider how successfully a college is able to move students through to graduation in six or fewer years.  In fact, if you ask most parents, four or fewer years is preferable. 

In its annual survey of freshmen, CIRP (Cooperative Institutional Research Program) found that less than a third of the respondents even considered graduation rate an important factor in their choice of college.  At the same time, 85 percent were quite certain they would graduate from the college they had just entered in four years. 

Yet, it’s really not happening.  And that fact is not lost on college administrators who are watching declining graduation rates and wondering how they can get a handle on the problem.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently surveyed 300 provosts, officials in student affairs, and enrollment managers to take a close look at the practices used to promote student success.  In short, the Chronicle found that colleges and universities are experimenting with a number of new approaches to helping students succeed.
"They have hired academic coaches; put in place more intrusive advising for select groups of at-risk students; and coordinated efforts that bring together academic affairs, student affairs, and faculty members,” according to the report.
Note that many of these efforts are quietly going on behind the scenes, and seldom will a rising freshman be aware that the nice camping trip they’ve been invited to attend is a tried-and-true method of improving the likelihood that the student will actually bond with classmates and the school, thereby increasing his or her chances of graduating four years later from that same institution.

But for families that consider on-time graduation an important, if not financially necessary, element in their college search, some effort should go into reviewing and taking note of published data found using the Common Data Set, College Navigator, or

And if the numbers look a little low, ask what the college is doing to improve four-year graduation rates.  Look for solid investment in the way of staff and programs targeted to helping ensure your student will graduate on time.

Here are some of the activities “most used to promote student success,” according findings from the Chronicle’s survey of colleges:
  • Orientation
  • Academic tutoring or coaching
  • Intervention alert system
  • Writing or study skills programs
  • Degree planning
  • Professional advising
  • First-year program
  • Freshman seminars
  • Living and learning communities
  • Faculty instructional development
  • Career explorations programs
  • Summer bridge programs
  • Mentoring programs
  • Placement and assessment programs
  • Monitoring of gateway courses
  • Intrusive advising
  • Improving student awareness of key services
  • Midterm academic progress alerts
Other student success approaches colleges indicated they wanted to add include:
  • Financial distress monitoring
  • Reporting of academic progress prior to midterm
  • Debt and financial management programs
  • Unified advising records
  • Mandatory reporting of attendance
  • Tracking course management software usage
  • Mandatory notifications of grades
Many of these activities and programs are taken for granted as part of today’s college experience, but trust that they are very intentional in the goal of supporting student success.  You might want to consider carefully and possibly avoid colleges with a poor track record in this area, especially those that appear to offer little or nothing in the way of specialized programming around student success.

May 27, 2015

Colleges offering financial aid to international students

WPI is relatively generous to international students.
When two amazing educational consultants collaborate on an important project, great things are bound to happen.

Jennie Kent, founder of Educate Abroad located in Bogota, Colombia, is a recognized expert on international students, and Jeff Levy, an independent educational consultant based in Los Angeles, has particular expertise in the area of financial aid.

Together they decided that there was way too much mystery surrounding the availability of financial aid for international students.

“Institutions clearly value international students and are willing to invest in them,” explained Kent.  “But we were troubled that there wasn’t a reliable resource available for these families that aggregated the policies and aid amounts offered to better help them make application decisions.”

So Kent and Levy invested literally hundreds of hours in devising a “must-have” resource for international families or anyone who works with international families, which specifies the financial aid policies with regard to international students, of nearly 400 nationally-ranked colleges and universities.  Specifically, the document (available here or here) includes:

  • a list of institutions along with their aid policy,
  • the number of nonresident alien undergraduates that attend as well as how many receive aid,
  • the average award size, and
  • the data source used.

Along the way, Kent and Levy made a few interesting observations.  First, they found broad discrepancies in how institutions define an “international student.”  Second, they discovered almost no observable consistency among their study of nearly 400 institutions regarding their financial aid policies toward these students.  Some were need-based aid only, some merit aid only, some both, and some offer none at all.

For example, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a medium-sized innovative STEM-focused institution, offers both need-based aid and merit aid to its international students. The average need/merit award is $21,833 and about 80% of its international population are receiving aid. On the other hand, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a very similar institution with an almost identical number of international students, offers no need-based or merit aid whatsoever to this cohort.

Locally, the University of Virginia, like many large public institutions, offers no need-based or merit aid to its international students. Yet the University of Mary Washington does offer merit aid to these students, with about 80% of them receiving an average award of about $11,300.

“When it comes to financial aid for international students, it is important for students to look at each institution’s policy because no two are exactly alike in the amount or percentage of students that they award. If there is any consistency at all, it’s that many highly selective small- and medium-sized liberal arts institutions are quite generous with aid to this cohort,” suggested Levy.

Again locally, Washington and Lee University offers both need-based and merit aid. Its average award is about $52,000 and approximately 96% of its international students are receiving aid.  The University of Richmond offers both need-based and merit aid. Its average award is about $44,000 and approximately 50% of its international students are receiving aid.

The document developed by Levy and Kent is being offered free of charge.  Their goal is simply to get the information out to the widest possible audience.

To obtain a copy of the PDF, go to Jennie Kent’s website via this link: (click on Financial Aid for Nonresident Alien Undergraduates under Free PDFs) or go to Jeff Levy’s website via this link:

May 26, 2015

Tulane, WVU and 66 other colleges join the Common Application

West Virginia University

Making good on the promise to cross the 600-member mark starting August 1, the Common Application announced this week the addition of 68 new member institutions for the 2015-16 admission year.

“Our new Members represent 25 states, 5 countries outside the United States, and include 18 public institutions, 10 international institutions, and 3 HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities],” explained a press statement from the Common Application.

Among the new members are:

  • Becker College, MA
  • Clark Atlanta University, GA
  • Framingham State University, MA
  • Johnson and Wales University (4 locations)
  • Marymount California University, CA
  • Mitchell College, CT
  • Nova Southeastern University, FL
  • Ohio Northern University, OH
  • Queens University, NC
  • St. John’s University, NY
  • Truman Stat University, MO
  • Tulane University, LA
  • Wayne State University, MI
  • West Virginia University, WV

 Locally, Coppin State University and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore and Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, Virginia, will also be joining the Common App on August 1.

During an information session at West Virginia University (WVU) last week, staff announced that the university would be using the most basic version of the Common App, to “replicate” what is already available through the in-house application which goes online July 15, 2015.  Neither a personal statement nor a recommendation will be required, as per new membership conditions for next year.

The hope, however, is that the Common App will reach a wider audience and bring in more applications for West Virginia’s flagship institution.

In other news, the Common App won an important legal victory last week over CollegeNET, which brought an antitrust action against the membership organization last year.

CollegeNET, which won the right to design a new application platform for a group of loosely-affiliated highly selective institutions some time in the future (it appears the 2015-16 launch date may be impossible to meet), has two weeks to show why the Common App’s motion to dismiss the suit should not be granted.

And who says the ‘business’ of college admissions can’t be exciting?

The complete list of new Common Application member colleges and universities may be found here.

May 25, 2015

Veterans to get in-state tuition break at ALL public colleges and universities

Georgetown tops the US News list as best for veterans.

Effective July 1, a large group of veterans will no longer have to worry about paying out-of-state tuition at any public college or university.  Under the terms of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, all public institutions will be required to offer in-state tuition to vets making use of their GI Bill benefit.

“The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 expands a veteran’s ability to maximize his or her Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit and use that benefit at any public school in the nation regardless of residency restrictions,” Jason Hansman of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said in an interview with USA TODAY. “This provision will benefit both states, by allowing them to retain new veteran residents who end their period of active service and decide to remain local, and veterans, who will no longer face financial constraints in attending the public school of their choice.”

Mainly targeted to improving veteran access to health care, the law allows any veteran who has served at least 90 days to pay resident tuition rates in any state within three years of leaving the military.  The law also covers dependent children and spouses of veterans, who meet certain criteria.

According to the College Board, the average in-state published tuition and fees at public colleges last year was $8,893, as compared with $22,203 for out-of-state.  The current maximum GI Bill tuition benefit is just over $20,000, leaving veterans with the difference to cover for any private or public university that charges more than that.

Although many states already offer in-state tuition to vets, there are 18 states that will be directly affected by the new law including Arkansas, California, Connecticut, D.C., Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Over 5 million post-9/11 service members are expected to transition out of the military by 2020.  Since the enactment of the Post 9/11 GI Bill in 2008, the United States has invested over $42 billion on educating many of these transitioning service members.

According to the American Council on Education, four percent of all undergraduates are veterans.  On average, at the start of their postsecondary education, vets are 25 years old.  Of these 77 percent attend a college located less than 100 miles from home and 44 percent are in bachelor’s degree programs.  One in five veterans major in STEM fields, with 42 percent working full time while in college (excluding work study).

In other words, vets make up a large, diverse, and growing market for colleges and universities across the country.

To help veterans make decisions about were to spend their education dollars, two very different organizations using two very different sets of criteria have recently developed lists of the best colleges and universities for vets.

Using only numerically ranked schools from the 2015 edition of the U.S. News Best Colleges, U.S. News lists Georgetown University, Penn State, University of Washington, University of Texas-Austin, Ohio State, Tulane, Syracuse, Purdue, Texas A&M and University of Iowa among the top ten “national universities” participating in federal initiatives helping veterans and active-duty service members “apply for, pay for and complete their degrees.”

In addition to Georgetown, local universities making the U.S. News best national universities for veterans list include Catholic University (27), George Mason University (38), Howard University (43), and Virginia Commonwealth University (47).  St. Mary’s College of Maryland earned a third place spot on the list of best liberal arts colleges for veterans.

Coming from a somewhat different direction, the Military Times develops its list by probing everything from the availability of a veterans office to academic support and graduation rates.  Their top ten ranking is as follows:

  1. University of Nebraska-Omaha
  2. Eastern Kentucky Universiyt
  3. CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  4. D’Youville College
  5. University of South Florida
  6. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  7. Texas A&M University
  8. Florida State University
  9. California State University, San Bernardino
  10. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Local schools earning a spot on the Best for Vets list include Old Dominion University (14), George Washington University (52), and Radford University (100).

The important take-away for veterans is that there are many different affordable opportunities available for them to earn degrees and succeed at rates comparable to the traditional college-going population.