May 30, 2016

Discovering the best colleges for our veterans

Old Dominion University
With a little help from the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched an “improved” version of the GI Bill Comparison Tool, designed to make it easier for veterans, service members and dependents to estimate education benefits and to learn more about approved college, university and other education training programs across the country.

While the Comparison Tool is still a work in progress, it does create an opportunity to conduct research that is more targeted to veterans. The information provided on a college-by-college basis includes the number of GI Bill students on campus, the availability of veterans support groups and a compilation of various outcomes such as retention, graduation, salaries and loan repayment rates.\

And the information comes from that which is collected annually by the federal government.

Anyone working regularly with College Navigator, a wonderful free college search tool supported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), will have noticed a new subcategory covering programs for service members and vets.  This data establishes the basis for the Comparison Tool plus a little more. It includes very valuable links to college-specific tuition policies for veterans as well as bar charts illustrating the number of students receiving benefits/assistance within a specific institution, the average amount of benefits awarded through the institution and retention rates for first time, degree/certificate education benefit users pursuing bachelor’s degrees. 

According to the VA, the updated version of the Comparison Tool not only reformats the federal data, but also has new functionality including a “more robust” GI Bill benefits calculator and additional information of interest to veterans. Specifically, the calculator provides a personalized estimate of Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition and fee, housing allowance, and book stipend benefits that would potentially be paid to the student.

Something like 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, about four percent of all undergraduates are veterans.  The VA estimates that 73 percent to 80 percent of student veterans are male, and 21 percent to 27 percent are female. 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, and 42 percent work full time (excluding work study).

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

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

Using results compiled from surveying hundreds of colleges, MONEY rated institutions on issues “uniquely” important to veterans including Yellow Ribbon participation and staff support as well as educational quality, affordability and student outcomes.  The list features 25 schools that not only deliver great value for students but also provide resources designed to help vets succeed. Here are the top five:
  • University of South Florida
  • Rutgers-New Brunswick, NJ
  • Stockton University, NJ
  • Cal State San Bernardino, CA
  • University of Kansas
The Military Times developed its list by probing everything from the availability of a veterans office to academic support and graduation rates.  Their top 20 ranking is as follows:
  • University of Nebraska-Omaha
  • University of South Florida
  • Eastern Kentucky University
  • D’Youville College, NY
  • Rutgers University—New Brunswick, NJ
  • Stockton University, NJ
  • Armstrong State University, Ga
  • Cal State San Bernardino, CA
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  • University of Kansas
  • San Diego State University, CA
  • South Dakota State University
  • Colorado State University
  • Lewis University, IL
  • Western Illinois University
  • University of Texas at Arlington
  • Western Kentucky University
  • CUNY John Jay College, NY
  • St. Petersburg College, FL
  • University of Texas at El Paso
Local schools earning spots on the Best for Vets list include Old Dominion University, George Washington University, and Marymount University.

The important take-away for veterans is that there are many different affordable opportunities available for them to earn degrees and succeed at rates similar to the traditional college-going population. You just have to do a little research using readily available tools.

May 27, 2016

Goldwater Foundation awards 252 scholarships to STEM undergrads

University of Maryland College Park

The Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation recently announced the awarding of 252 Goldwater Scholarships for the 2016-17 academic year to US undergraduate sophomores and juniors.

And in case you’re not familiar with this program, these scholarships represent the “gold standard” for undergraduate achievement in fields of science, mathematics and engineering. Not only are they the source of significant bragging rights for the various institutions represented among the winners, but they are quite frequently an important stepping stone toward significant financial support for postgraduate education.  PhD programs in STEM areas and important fellowship providers such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Hertz Foundation, consider Goldwater awards among the most prestigious of national undergraduate awards for young scientists.

The one- and two-year scholarships are set up to cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500.  They were originally designed to “alleviate a critical current and future shortage of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.”  In today’s terms, a more realistic statement of purpose would be to provide “a continuing source” of highly qualified individuals to those fields of study and research. While the money isn’t huge, the prestige is enormous and undergrads in STEM fields compete hard for nominations based on their research, internships, and work in relevant industries.

This year’s Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,150 students who were nominated by the institutional representatives of 415 colleges nationwide.  Among these, 144 of the Scholars were men and 108 were women, and virtually all intend to obtain a PhD as their degree objective. Thirty Scholars were math majors, 157 were science and related majors, 59 were majoring in engineering and six were computer science majors.  And for the record, many have dual majors in a variety of mathematics, science, engineering and computer disciplines.

Since its first award in 1989, the Goldwater Foundation has distributed 7,680 scholarships totaling approximately 48 million dollars. And these award-winners go on to do great things. Recent Scholars have been awarded 86 Rhodes Scholarships, 125 Marshall Awards, and 134 Churchill Scholarships, in addition to winning other distinguished national fellowships.

For many prospective Goldwater Scholars, the competition is most intense at the institutional level.  Colleges establish their own nomination criteria and procedures to determine the extent to which individual students have the commitment and potential to make significant contributions to their fields. Students who plan to study medicine are only eligible if they plan a research career rather than a career as a practicing physician.  Four-year institutions may nominate up to four current sophomores or juniors.

For the second consecutive year, the University of Maryland-College Park was a big winner among competing local colleges and universities with four Goldwater Scholars. The College of William and Mary, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County had three each, while Washington and Lee University, Christopher Newport University, James Madison University, Hampden-Sydney College, and Virginia Tech each had one Goldwater Scholar. 

In addition to Maryland, the only other universities receiving the maximum of four Goldwater awards are Cornell University, Stanford University, the University of North Texas, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

From any perspective, an institution’s track record for Goldwater Scholars is a reasonable barometer by which prospective students might measure dedication to undergraduate research in STEM-related fields. For more information and complete lists of scholars going back to 2006, visit the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education website.

May 25, 2016

Colleges NOT using the Coalition application for 2016-17

JMU will not be using the Coalition application in 2016-17
They joined the group. They signed the contract and signaled their support for the mission of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success (CAAS). Maybe they even liked the idea of a portfolio development tool or snappy new application software.

But for whatever reason, a significant percentage of the Coalition members are choosing to stand back and not use the Coalition Application for 2016-2017. Out of 93 current members of the Coalition, as many as one-third may not be accepting the application for next year.

When asked why join and then not participate in the most important element of the Coalition—its application tool, colleges provide remarkably similar responses.

“We’re not ready on our end for the new technology,” or “We’re overhauling our internal systems and couldn’t possibly add another complication.” It’s almost as if these representatives of Coalition member institutions are reading from a script or a series of “talking points” prepared to handle questions related to their participation in the new application for the coming year.

And in these explanations, there’s never any criticism of the Coalition, nor any indication that their first loyalty could stand with the Coalition’s most obvious competition for application numbers—the Common Application. And while the Coalition has consistently declined to suggest a desire for exclusivity or competition, it goes without saying that CollegeNET hasn’t invested large sums of money developing tools no one will use.

But then again, Coalition administrators appear to support the various reasons for deferring participation for a year.

"The decision of whether or not to go live this year with a coalition application is largely driven by the technology resources at individual member schools and being able to support a new application this coming cycle," explained James Nondorf, chairman of the Coalition and the University of Chicago’s vice president and dean of admissions, to Inside Higher Ed. "Some members must also engage their public legislatures, and that requires more time."

So why join and confuse everyone about your intentions? Evidently, the pressure of the moment was intense. For some schools, it was an opportunity to join a club they thought was either prestigious or likely to bring in more applications. For others, there was a great deal of arm twisting through other membership organizations that was difficult to resist.

But for all, it was a business decision. And some are beginning to regret hastily agreeing to join a group they knew little about and which attracted enormous push back from important stakeholders in the college admissions process as well as from colleagues at other institutions who were snubbed by not being invited to the party.

In fact, there are stories of meetings convened by colleges to discuss participation in the Coalition and quiet agreements to stand down, if for no other reason than to see which way the wind is blowing after the first year. Will the Coalition be successful in its stated goal of improving “the college application process for all students as they search for and apply to their perfect college”? Will the software function as promised? And most importantly, will the Coalition attract large numbers of applications further supporting institutional goals to appear more popular and/or more selective?

It all remains to be seen. And the Coalition members who have elected not to fully participate in the experiment are not apologetic about ducking the controversy.  

But for applicants getting organized for the coming year, it would be nice to know who is in and who plans to sit on the Coalition bench for 2016-17. 

As of this publication, the following Coalition members have announced or otherwise signaled they will not be accepting the new application for the coming year (note that this list may not be complete and is subject to change—there are no guarantees as to its accuracy):

  • Bates College
  • Brown University*
  • Colorado College
  • Connecticut College*
  • Cornell University*
  • Dartmouth University*
  • Denison University*
  • Florida State University*
  • Franklin and Marshal*
  • Franklin Olin College of Engineering
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Grinnell College*
  • Haverford College*
  • James Madison University*
  • Miami University OH*
  • Michigan State University
  • Middlebury College*
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Oberlin College
  • Princeton University
  • Ramapo College of New Jersey*
  • Skidmore College*
  • Smith College*
  • University of Georgia*
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign*
  • University of Mary Washington*
  • University of Michigan*
  • University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill*
  • University of Vermont
  • Vassar College*
  • Wesleyan University*
According to sources in the admissions office, the University of New Hampshire is still unsure as to whether or not it will be ready to accept the new application. And the colleges that have indicated they will be "Coalition-exclusive" are the University of Florida, University of Maryland-College Park, and the University of Washington-Seattle.

Because many colleges haven’t revised their websites to reflect participation in the CAAS, it’s wise to call or email admissions offices for the most current and up-to-date information on whether or not they will be accepting the Coalition application during 2016-17. Don’t take for granted that membership in the Coalition means the school will be accepting the new application. 

*Confirmed by phone call to the admissions office