Feb 29, 2016

Top schools are seeing more ACT scores

Princeton University
For more than a half century, the ACT ran a distant second to the SAT in the college admissions
test-taking race.  It was the “We Try Harder,” entrance exam—popular in the Midwest and the South but hardly worthy of notice on either coast.

But all that has changed, as several years ago, the ACT pulled ahead of the SAT in terms of popularity among high school graduates.  And since then, the ACT has continued to widen the gap by aggressively marketing for use as statewide assessments.

It’s not that the College Board is hurting for customers.  A record 1.7 million students from the class of 2015 took the SAT, compared to 1.67 million students from the graduating class of 2014 and 1.65 million in the class of 2011.

But the number of high school graduates taking the ACT soared to a record 1.9 million students—nearly 60 percent of the 2015 U.S. graduating class.  In fact, over the past 10 years, the number of ACT test-takers has increased by nearly 60 percent, leaving the College Board with something serious to think about.

In all fairness, a significant percent of the growth experienced by the ACT is a direct result of the adoption of the ACT for statewide assessment.  For the graduating class of 2015, the ACT was required in 13 states. This year, that number will grow to 18 states, plus three additional states that fund the ACT on an optional basis. These students were pretty much required to take the ACT—like it or not.

But the good news for the ACT doesn’t end there.  Not surprisingly, the number of tests submitted for admissions purposes shows a similar trend.  Colleges are definitely seeing way more ACT scores than they did ten years ago. And it appears that many more students are taking both tests and submitting both sets of scores for consideration by colleges, particularly uber-selective institutions.
According to the New York Times, there appears to be a real “shift in the behavior of top high school students,” as many more are choosing to work toward top scores on both tests.  And that’s okay with the top colleges.

“I don’t know all the pieces of why this is happening, but I think more students are trying to make sure they’ve done everything they can,” said Janet Rapelye, dean of admissions at Princeton University, in an interview with the Times. “And for us, more information is always better. If students choose one or the other, that’s fine, because both tests have value. But if they submit both, that generally gives us a little more information.”

And applicants are getting the message.  Those with top scores on both tests want colleges to have the benefit of knowing they did well on both.  On the flipside, those who did significantly better on one test or the other tend to only submit the better set of scores—depending on the specific rules of the particular college or university.

Regardless, based on test-submission patterns easily tracked for colleges posting Common Data Set information, the College Board has a very real challenge making up for ground lost to the ACT.  And the redesigned SAT launching in the coming days may or may not be the tool needed to reverse the trend.

Here is a sample of test-submission statistics for the freshman class entering in 2005 as compared to the classes that entered in fall 2015 or 2014 (note that yearly totals exceeding 100% indicate colleges considered both the SAT and the ACT for some students):

Amherst College
2005 SAT:           87%       vs.          2005 ACT:          13%
2015 SAT:           53%       vs.          2015 ACT:          49%

Auburn University
2005 SAT:           31%       vs.          2005 ACT:          69%
2015 SAT:           14%       vs.          2015 ACT:          85%

Carnegie Mellon University
2005 SAT:           98%       vs.         2005 ACT:           17%
2015 SAT:           84%       vs.         2015 ACT:           37%

Case Western Reserve
2005 SAT:           89%       vs.         2005 ACT:           58%
2015 SAT:           57%       vs.         2015 ACT:           62%

College of William and Mary
2005 SAT:           97%       vs.         2005 ACT:           3%
2015 SAT:           80%       vs.         2015 ACT:           44%

Cornell University
2005 SAT:           98%       vs.         2005 ACT:           18%
2015 SAT:           75%       vs.         2015 ACT:           45%

Dartmouth University
2005 SAT:           89%       vs.         2005 ACT:           11%
2015 SAT:           59%       vs.         2015 ACT:           41%

Georgetown University*
2005 SAT:          95%        vs.           2005 ACT:            7%
2014 SAT:          84%        vs.           2014 ACT:          40%   
Lehigh University
2005 SAT:           98%        vs.          2005 ACT:            2%
2015 SAT:           63%        vs.          2015 ACT:          37%  
2005 SAT:           92%       vs.         2005 ACT:           20%
2014 SAT:           84%       vs.         2014 ACT:           42%

Princeton University
2005 SAT:           100%     vs.         2005 ACT:           N/A      
2015 SAT:           80%       vs.         2015 ACT:           36%

Purdue University
2005 SAT:           83%        vs.         2005 ACT:          43%
2015 SAT:           73%        vs.          2015 ACT:         58%

Stanford University
2005 SAT:           97%       vs.         2005 ACT:           23%
2015 SAT:           80%       vs.         2015 ACT:           51%

Swarthmore College
2005 SAT:           99%       vs.         2005 ACT:           14.9%
2015 SAT:           73%       vs.         2015 ACT:           46%

UC Berkeley*
2005 SAT:           99%       vs.         2005 ACT:           N/A
2014 SAT:           85%       vs.         2014 ACT:           43% 
University of Michigan
2005 SAT:           55%       vs.         2005 ACT:           66%
2015 SAT:           27%       vs.         2015 ACT            83%

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
2005 SAT:           99%      vs.         2005 ACT:           22%
2015 SAT:           76%      vs.         2015 ACT:           74%

University of Pittsburgh
2005 SAT:            99%       vs.         2005 ACT:           20%
2015 SAT:            85%       vs.         2015 ACT:           47%

University of Texas-Austin
2005 SAT:           94%       vs.         2005 ACT:           29.4%
2015 SAT:           82.8%    vs.         2015 ACT:           55.1%

University of Virginia
2005 SAT:           99%       vs.         2005 ACT:           14%
2015 SAT:           82%       vs.         2015 ACT:           44%

Vanderbilt University
2005 SAT:           89%       vs.         2005 ACT:           53%
2015 SAT:           41%       vs.         2015 ACT:           63%

Vassar College*
2005 SAT:           93%       vs.         2005 ACT:           22%
2014 SAT:           70%       vs.         2014 ACT:           43%

Virginia Commonwealth University
2005 SAT:           95%      vs.         2005 ACT:            15%
2015 SAT:           87.4%    vs.        2015 ACT:            26.9%  

Washington and Lee University
2005 SAT:           80%       vs.         2005 ACT:           18%
2015 SAT:           46%       vs.         2015 ACT:           53%

Wesleyan University
2005 SAT:            94%       vs.         2005 ACT:           18%
2015 SAT:            61%       vs.         2015 ACT:           38%

Yale University*
2005 SAT:            96%      vs.          2005 ACT:           22%
2014 SAT:            79%      vs.          2014 ACT:           41%

*The most recent Common Data Set posted online is 2014-15

Feb 26, 2016

CTCL celebrates important milestones by offering scholarships

Ohio Wesleyan University

To honor the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Loren Pope’s classic Colleges That Change Lives book and the 10th anniversary of the nonprofit corporation, Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL) has established a wonderful scholarship for students enrolling at CTCL-member colleges or universities.

This year’s anniversaries represent important milestones for the publication of Pope’s pioneering guide to 40 lesser-known residential liberal arts schools and the organization of colleges that formed as a result. Four versions of the book have been published since 1996, with the most recent authored by Hilary Masell Oswald, who added four institutions to the organizational membership bringing the total to 44. 

In addition to supporting student-centered college search, the CTCL members represent a diverse and interesting collection of institutions.  But as a group, the CTCL schools share common characteristics, including

•  Low student-to-faculty ratios that foster collaboration, engaged learning, and personal attention
•  A commitment to undergraduate education focusing on the liberal arts and sciences
•  A living and learning environment that is primarily residential and emphasizes the benefits of community, personal growth, participation, and involvement
•  Smaller student enrollments
•  Out-of-classroom learning opportunities including participation in internships, study abroad, service to others, and special interest activities
•  Holistic admission policies including several with “test-optional” routes to admission
•  Alumni networks that stand ready to help graduates with professional and career development opportunities

Locally, CTCL colleges include Emory and Henry, Goucher, St. John’s College, Lynchburg and McDaniel. But the membership spans the country from Hampshire College and Clark University in Massachusetts to Whitman College and the University of Puget Sound in Washington State.

To help introduce students to the CTCL membership, the organization travels together as a group hosting college fairs and events designed to educate students and families about college search.

Celebrating the overwhelming successes of both the book and the organization, the Colleges That Change Lives Scholarship will be awarded for $1,000 per year, renewable for up to four years with a maximum award of $4,000 per student. New students and transfer students (including international students) are eligible to apply for the scholarship, but note that awards will only go to students who choose to attend one of the 44 CTCL-member colleges or universities.

The CTCL Board will review the applications and choose the final recipients. The number of scholarships awarded will be determined by the number of qualified applicants and the funds available at the time.  CTSL anticipates giving at least four awards in 2016.

Interested students must complete an application, including two short essay questions, by March 1, 2016.  Students must also submit copies of admission letter(s) from CTCL-member schools by emailing them to scholarships@ctcl.org by March 25, 2016.

Questions should be directed to Executive Director Maria Furtado, who may be reached at maria.furtado@ctcl.org or by calling 727.465.8005.

Feb 24, 2016

New FAFSA timeline could result in major changes in admissions

While applicant attention has been largely focused on such headline-grabbing college admissions issues as new tests, new score reports, new applications and the proliferation of portfolio development tools, the Department of Education has been quietly working on changes in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) due to be implemented just after school starts next fall.

In a nutshell, FAFAS is backing up the timeline for filing federal aid applications by three months to support a new policy enabling students to use “prior-prior” year (PPY) tax data to qualify for aid. In other words, a high school senior planning to enroll in college in fall 2017 will file FAFSA using tax information from 2015—the prior prior year.

PPY is scheduled to debut in October 2016, for applications for the 2017-18 award year.  This means that the high school class of 2017 will be the first group to use the PPY FAFSA. It also means that colleges, along with the Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service, are scrambling to figure out what impact this change will have on basic application mechanics as well as on the overall admission cycle.

Make no mistake. The use of PPY is a welcome new policy supported by all the major financial aid players including AACRAO, NACAC, NASFAA, NASSGAP, and the College Board, which is realigning CSS PROFILE requirements to use PPY. In addition, a number of colleges have already announced commitments to make similar changes in institutional financial aid applications for the 2017-18 year, including the University of California system and others.

According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the move to PPY will mean students and families will be able to file FAFSA earlier, make consistent use of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) for populating the application with accurate tax return data, and receive earlier notification of financial aid packages.  

The theory is that if students apply for aid earlier and are more accurate in the information they submit, colleges can provide earlier financial aid notifications thereby ensuring that students and families have more time to prepare for college costs and make better application decisions.

But that’s where theory and practice have yet to come together.

In an insightful article prepared for NACAC’s Journal of College Admission, Eileen O’Leary, assistant vice president of student financial assistance at Stonehill College suggests a series of technical challenges potentially associated with the implementation of PPY:

  • Institutional financial aid deadlines may be moved up from sometime after January 1 to any time after October 1 for both Regular Decision and Early Action applicants. 
  • Admission application deadlines may need to be set earlier to more closely align with earlier FAFSA filing dates, requiring high school counseling offices and applicants to submit documents even closer to the start of the school year.
  • The admissions recruitment cycle may need to be moved entirely into junior year of high school.
  • Colleges may want to require enrollment commitments before the current May 1 commitment deadline.
  • With more potential for income and family changes over the course of two years instead of just one, the use of PPY or older tax data may increase the number of families asking for professional judgments or reconsideration of their awards.
  • Students may apply to fewer schools as a result of being more aware of affordability issues, which will affect a number of admissions metrics important to college administrators including yield and selectivity.
  • The availability of earlier information relative to the financial status of applicants could tempt more colleges to become need-sensitive when deciding which students to recruit and admit.

In other words, it’s quite possible that the shift in FAFSA timelines could result in parallel shifts in the entire college admissions process, as financial aid offices begin coping with requests for aid before admissions applications are required to be submitted. 

And with less than eight months to go before the October 1 launch, it’s reasonable to ask if colleges and high schools are planning for what could be a series of unintended consequences resulting from the PPY plan.

For example, will high schools be able respond by scheduling financial aid nights earlier in the school year? Will they be able to continue supporting students in need of assistance to access and complete these documents while coping with issues typical of the start of the school year?  Will students and high school counseling offices be prepared to submit admissions documents earlier to accommodate earlier deadlines? Are admissions offices prepared to begin recruiting students and reading applications earlier?  Will the use of PPY increase the pressure and stress already associated with the college admissions process?

Colleges asked about how PPY will affect admissions mostly dodge the question so far. For now, they are dealing with basic software and enrollment management complications as well as issues related to how staff will deal with the earlier arrival of financial aid documents. 

“I anticipate we will see a mix of reactions in the initial year or two, ranging from colleges that aggressively change their admission and financial aid timelines to take competitive advantage of PPY, to those who make no changes to current practices, waiting for others to test the new waters,” said Ms. O’Leary. “It is time for all of us—guidance, admission, and financial aid professionals—to begin the conversations and make preparations for the arrival and requirements of this next big sensation.”

Feb 22, 2016

Happy birthday George—Washington that is

February 22 is George Washington’s birthday.  And for those of us who grew up a few short steps from Mount Vernon and our nation’s capital, the date holds a special place on the calendar and in our hearts. 
Along with Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, Washington’s “real” birthday used to be a holiday and a local day off from school. Until the creation of a more generic “Presidents Day” in 1971, the shortest month of the year was distinguished by having two full vacation days honoring presidents. Ironically, the national holiday will never fall on February 22 and the date is increasingly lost to history.
But for those who remember, Washington’s Birthday was celebrated with the best sales of the year. Long lines formed early in the morning at Hecht’s and Woodward & Lothrop, where you could pick-up a rug, an appliance, or last season’s “ must have” fashions for a song.  Sadly, the Presidents Day "cyber" sales don’t seem the same.
And since 1862, Washington’s Farewell Address, in which he urged Americans to view themselves as a cohesive unite and avoid excessive political partisanship, is read on his birthday in the U.S. Senate. Will anyone be listening this year?
Before February 22 became just another day, school children prepared for the holiday by cutting out presidential silhouettes and reading stories extolling Washington’s honesty and heroism. Area bakeries featured cherry pies in honor of Washington’s alleged encounter with a cherry tree.
Unfortunately, little remains of the original celebrations except in places where Washington is celebrated as both namesake and mascot. 
 In 1904, the Columbian University became what is now known as The George Washington University. School colors were changed from orange and blue to blue and buff to honor the uniform George Washington wore when he resigned as Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army on December 23, 1783.
Today, the students at George Washington University will mark Washington’s 284th Birthday by visiting Mount Vernon and participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at Washington’s tomb. This tradition along with the lighting of a bonfire in the middle of University Yard, which took place over the weekend, helps keep the link to our first president alive.
In Chestertown, Maryland, where Washington College celebrates both a namesake and founding patron, the revolutionary spirit carries on with an annual Birthday Ball and the awarding of the George Washington Book Prize at Mount Vernon as well as the occasional flash mob.
But in another ironic twist, American University probably owes the most to George Washington. According to Kenneth Davis, author of Don’t Know Much about George Washington, Washington deeply regretted that he never attended college. As a result, one of his pet projects was to establish a university in the capital that would be open to all American citizens. Although Washington never lived to see his dream become a reality, American University was founded as a direct result of his efforts.

So as you reach for a slice of cherry pie, think about the man, the day, and all that he inspired.