Supply & Demand Reduces Tuition Costs

The Wall Street Journal: “U.S. college tuition is growing at the slowest pace in decades, following a nearly 400% rise over the past three decades that fueled middle class anxieties and a surge in student debt … Abundant supply is running up against demand constraints … Longer-running economic and demographic shifts also are at play. Lower birthrates and the aging of baby boomer children have reduced the pool of traditional college-age Americans.”

“Another factor: Congress last increased the maximum amount undergraduates could borrow from the government in 2008. Some economists have concluded schools raise prices along with increases in federal financial aid. A clampdown on aid, in turn, could limit the ability of schools to charge more … Moreover, the number of schools is declining in response to oversupply, particularly among for-profit schools, a trend that could reduce competition and increase pricing leverage for schools that remain open.”

“Public four-year colleges, which teach the majority of bachelor’s candidates in the nation and tend to be cheaper than private schools, are benefiting from increases in direct state funding as tax revenues improve. That has eased schools’ need to raise prices on students … State officials have also pressured schools, through legislation and public speeches, to rein in prices, and they are admitting more international students to boost revenues.”

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What is ‘The Essay’?

Lit Hub: “As accommodating as they are to subject matter and formal experimentation, essays permit no substitutes; every piece of short nonfiction prose is not an essay … the term ‘essay’ is ambiguous and thus allows those who use it to project onto it whatever it is that we either find most desirable or objectionable about certain kinds of nonfiction writing.”

“It is also easier to define the essay by insisting on what it is not. A habitual skepticism and self-awareness are qualities of mind we often associate with the genre’s most famous practitioners … essayists undo certainties almost as soon as they dare to appear in their own minds, or at least on their pages … genuine essays must not be confused with stories, and formulaic school writing … and worst of all, scholarly articles.”

“Michel de Montaigne … was the first to name his compositions “essais” when he first published them in 1580 … His titles reveal curiosity and reach: several of his most famous essays on topics with broad appeal, ‘Of friendship,’ ‘Of books,’ and ‘Of experience,’ find for company more unexpected foci, ‘Of the custom of wearing clothes,’ ‘Of smells,’ and ‘Of thumbs’ … With his own example, Montaigne offers his reader the possibility that the essay itself can protect us from our worst impulses—to ‘parrot’—and gives us something to do with what we know.”

“Montaigne seeks an education that would require students to examine ‘the relationship between individuals and the conventions by which their experience is defined and contained’ … ‘The true mirror of our discourse is the course of our lives’ … he is most concerned not that our language reflects our actions, ‘the course of our lives,’ but that we will shape our lives to fit the language we have learned to value; his essays model a use of language that encourages us to examine lies we are tempted to tell about those lives.”

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Grade Inflation: Getting ‘A’s is Easier

USA Today: “There’s a pretty clear trend: At four-year schools, awarding of A’s has been going up five to six percentage points per decade, and grade point averages at four-year colleges are also rising at the rate of 0.1 points per decade … And grade inflation is more prevalent at private institutions than at public ones … the mean GPA for both private and public schools in the 1930s was 2.3, or a C+. That number for both types of institutions increased at the same rate until recently – today, the average GPA at private colleges is 3.3 (a B+), while at public universities it’s 3.0 (a B).”

“Although the meaning behind an A still varies at different schools … receiving high marks could mean anything from ‘you showed up for class and didn’t insult the professor’ to ‘you’re a good to excellent student.’ According to a 2013 study conducted by the University of North Texas’s Department of Economics, class size may be one factor in the grade inflation increase, and departments with smaller student-faculty ratios have a greater tendency to exaggerate grades. The type of degree program could also influence the extent to which professors overstate students’ grades: inflation was more prevalent among Ph.D. departments than it was among lower-level programs, according to the study.”

“Student evaluations could also incentivize instructors to issue higher grades than they deserve in an effort to ‘buy’ higher evaluation scores.”

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St. John’s College: ‘Old School’ is New Again

Quartz: “Consider St. John’s College, America’s third-oldest institution of higher education, founded in 1696. With fewer than 700 students between two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, St. John’s is a bit under the radar. But it’s emerged as one of the most distinctive colleges in the country by maintaining a strict focus on the classics of the Western canon … a big part of that distinction is due to a strict adherence to its own curated curriculum and teaching methods, know simply as “the Program” implemented back in 1937.”

“Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors … Another unique feature of St. John’s is a resistance to placing texts in a political, social or historic context for discussion. Context is viewed as ideology, something that St. John’s believes distorts true education and the ability to form one’s own opinion. This is crucial to the school’s philosophy; by freeing texts from context, St. John’s claims it frees students’ minds to ponder the multiple possibilities and meanings that are actually in the text.”

“Clearly St. John’s is not for everyone. First, you need to be a voracious reader to cover the Program texts at a brisk pace. You also need the capacity for and love of writing because St. John’s requires a lot of it. It helps to feel comfortable speaking in public, since so much of St. John’s learning occurs out loud around a table with your classmates and tutors … In recent years, Forbes ranked the Santa Fe campus as the “Most Rigorous” in the US (with Annapolis ranked eighth, odd given the same Program), way ahead of the big Ivies like Harvard (17th), Princeton (20th), Yale (23rd), and Stanford (25th). The school’s tutors are often cited as among the best teachers in the country.”

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When Harvard Rescinds Admissions

The Harvard Crimson: “Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups in a private Facebook group chat … In the group, students sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, according to screenshots of the chat obtained by The Crimson.”

“After discovering the existence and contents of the chat, Harvard administrators revoked admissions offers to at least ten participants in mid-April, according to several members of the group. University officials have previously said that Harvard’s decision to rescind a student’s offer is final.”

“This incident marks the second time in two years that Harvard has dealt with a situation where incoming freshmen exchanged offensive messages online. Last spring, some admitted members of the Class of 2020 traded jokes about race and mocked feminists in an unofficial class GroupMe chat … But administrators chose not to discipline members of the Class of 2020 who authored the messages.”

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Essay Advice: Fortune Favors the Bold

Business Insider: Ross Galloway “decided to answer Harvard Business School’s (HBS) sole essay question in the voice of an ESPN anchor on SportsCenter.” He explains: “The prompt was: ‘Introduce yourself to your section mates,'” so I wrote my essay as if it was the script. I tried to create this picture for readers.”

His lead-in:

*Turns on SportsCenter theme music from his phone.*

“Hello and welcome to SportsCenter! On today’s special edition of our program we will be providing you the top 3 highlights of Ross Galloway’s life.”

“He had some doubts about this approach, especially as he received some advice to stick to a more traditional response to the question. But he wanted to remain authentic to himself … That bet paid off. Galloway finished his first year at HBS in May.” Says Ross: “Fortune favors the bold.”

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‘Menus of Change’ Transform Campus Cafeterias

Business Insider: “An unlikely group of scientists, chefs, and academics is banding together to transform the eating habits of college students. Known as the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, cofounded last year by Stanford University and the Culinary Institute of America, the alliance aims to ditch the unhealthy, unsustainable foods commonly served in dining halls in favor of tasty, more plant-based offerings.”

“So far, more than 40 colleges and universities across the country, including Harvard, Kansas State, University of Southern California, and University of Montana, have signed up for the mission. By the end of this summer, they have pledged to reduce their purchases of red meat by 10%, increase fruits and vegetables by 10%, and serve 10% more plant-based protein dishes. In addition, these schools are actively utilizing their kitchens and dining halls as living laboratories, experimenting with recipes and other strategies to get students to make better, more sustainable choices.”

“Northeastern, which feeds 20,000 people a day … is already consuming 25% more produce, twice the whole grains, 30% less sodium, and 10% less soda. The Boston-based university is also tackling food waste. Starting this fall, dining halls will no longer feature trays … At Rutgers University, chefs are tackling vegetarian options and processed foods. The school recently stopped outsourcing its chicken fingers, turkey, and roast beef, preferring instead to make these items fresh in its own kitchens. Processed vegan nuggets, for instance, have been replaced with tastier cauliflower nuggets in sauce. Bread is also baked on site instead of purchased in bags from outside vendors.”

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Some Schools Are Still Dangling Dollars

The New York Times: “In the minds of parents and teenagers going through the college application process, May 1 is a magic date. At that point, you’ve sent in a deposit, bought a sticker for your car window and posted your choice on social media. This year, however, scores of teenagers had something unexpected happen next: During the first week in May, they received text messages or emails from schools that had accepted them but had not heard back. The messages all hinted at a particular question: Might a larger discount prompt you to come here after all?”

“The upheaval that comes with reopening the college decision is rough on teenagers as well as their parents, who would have to revisit difficult financial choices and conversations all over again. Suddenly, a first-choice school may be almost within reach but still not quite affordable. The injection of money into a discussion thought to be over makes an emotional situation even more fraught … Now that applicants, even in wealthier families, know how much of a stretch college might be, it can weigh them down with guilt.”

“For a portion of the applicant pool, May 1 has not been the date for some time. Many colleges maintain wait lists … And for all the attention families devote to the most competitive institutions, plenty more have space available through summer and invite qualified students to apply. The National Association for College Admission Counseling, or Nacac, publishes a list each year, and this year’s lineup includes household names like Arizona State and Penn State.”

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How Algorithms Are Changing Admissions

The Atlantic: “While few colleges follow the same admissions playbook, they are all taking their cues from the invisible array of algorithms that recommend music on Spotify, movies on Netflix, and books on Amazon. While colleges say the data help to target their marketing efforts, the new methods also explain why students with similar similar academic backgrounds now get varying degrees of outreach from colleges.”

Jeff Goff of Saint Louis University comments: “We needed to focus on finding students who would be a good fit. So when we looked at the demographics of the previous class, we wanted to not only look at the students who chose to enroll at the institution, but those who ended up succeeding and were satisfied. We wanted to know if we could replicate those students.”

“Since the university began to rely heavily on Big Data to drive its recruitment strategy, it has … enrolled five of the six largest freshmen classes in the university’s history. What’s more, the campus has increased its four-year graduation rate to 71 percent—up from 62 percent in 2010.”

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The Ivies Become Even More Selective

The Wall Street Journal: “Some of America’s most exclusive colleges have become even more exclusive. The eight members of the Ivy League on Thursday evening released details of which lucky young adults were selected to join their first-year classes come fall, and with just one exception they received more applications than the prior year. As most didn’t increase their class sizes, acceptance rates declined.”

“Harvard University topped the exclusivity chart with a 5.2% acceptance rate, as the school offered spots to 2,056 of a record 39,506 applicants. Columbia, Princeton, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell also boasted their largest freshman applicant pools in history, and acceptance rates dropped to 5.8%, 6.1%, 8.3%, 9.2% and 12.5%, respectively. Dartmouth College was the only Ivy to see a decline in applications … it accepted slightly fewer students, so the admit rate declined to 10.4% from 10.5%.”

“Despite the ballooning application numbers and dwindling chances of being accepted, many admissions officials say they’re getting less elitist in at least some regards. For example, Harvard noted that about 15.1% of the students it admitted would be first-generation college students after a concerted effort to appeal to more such students whose parents didn’t attend college. At Princeton, that share was 18.9%, also amid a push to expand its student body’s socioeconomic diversity.”

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