The ‘Moneyballing’ of College Admissions

The New York Times: “Nearly all colleges … make use of two metrics to gauge student quality: cumulative high school grade point average and composite score on the ACT … But research has shown that these metrics are imperfect: They are less predictive of student success than alternative measures that are equally simple to calculate and whose use would lead to a better incoming class.”

“Consider grade point average. Students whose overall G.P.A. is a result of doing better later in high school … are much more likely to succeed in college than students with the same overall G.P.A. who did better early in high school … A paper in The Journal of Public Economics … shows that an additional G.P.A. point in 11th grade makes a student 16 percentage points more likely to graduate from college, whereas an additional G.P.A. point in ninth grade makes a student only five percentage points more likely to graduate from college.”

“Something similar is true of ACT composite scores … college admissions offices are giving equal weight to each of the four subtests. But in a 2013 paper … (provides) evidence that the math and English subject tests are far more predictive of college success than the reading and science tests … Colleges may also be reluctant to adopt these more predictive metrics because popular college rankings … use the old metrics in their calculations. Admissions officers may also lack the proper incentives or feedback … Whether or not a student does well in college is not something you can typically determine until a few years after the admissions decision, and thus admissions officers may not feel that they are blamed or rewarded for student success”

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Application Anxiety: Please Don’t Ask About College

The Wall Street Journal: “Anxiety over college admissions is reaching a fever pitch as high-school seniors await decisions from colleges for next fall. Making it worse, students and parents say, is a barrage of unwelcome and inappropriate questions from prying adults. Sales of T-shirts reading, ‘Don’t ask me about college. Thanks,’ are rising on Redbubble … Some parents make their homes a college-free zone and ban all talk on the topic.”

“Spencer Neville, 17, has started dreading social encounters with adults.” She comments: “Every adult you meet, all they want to talk to you about is, ‘Where are you going to college? What do you want to study?’ They ask, ‘What’s your top school?’ and I say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a top school’.” High school counselor Brennan Barnard observes: “People aren’t going to walk up to someone at a cocktail party and ask, ‘How much do you weigh?’ But they’ll ask a student, ‘How did you do on the SATs?’.”

“The speculation peaks just as students most need a break … One mother kept quiet on Facebook when her son was admitted early to his No. 1 school, in an effort to be considerate … She later learned that because she hadn’t trumpeted the news, other parents assumed her son had been rejected. Many students try not to reveal their No. 1 choice. Asking teens their dream school is like making them announce that they have a secret, unrequited crush … After all the applications are in, counselor Jane Shropshire advises students to tune out the noise from peers and adults and immerse themselves in arts, sports, academic or community activities they enjoy.”

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Colleges Offer Career Help For Liberal-Arts Majors

US News: “Unlike an undergraduate degree in a technical field such as nursing, engineering or business, liberal arts students tend to be exposed less to direct career messaging within their disciplines, experts say … In recent years, schools have developed courses or programs tailored toward helping these students enter the workforce, college career advisers say, and many of these programs rely heavily on alumni networks.”

“UConn piloted its alumni mentor program for its liberal arts college students, now used by 200 students, almost two years ago. Under the program, upperclassmen self-select an online alumni mentor for career support, asking questions related to internships, resumes or jobs … Muhlenberg College, a small liberal arts college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with nearly 2,400 students, offers day trips to major cities for students to network with alumni at their workplaces … For the visit to the Big Apple, students networked with alumni, who worked at several different large companies, such as Deloitte, NBCUniversal and MTV.”

“Programs to enhance the value of a liberal arts discipline aren’t limited to smaller schools. The University of Iowa has been offering these types of courses, which are available to its 23,357 undergraduates, for more than two years … In some of the courses, the UI spokesman says, students learn how to write a resume and develop job interview skills.”

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Elite Colleges Stop Giving AP Credits

The Wall Street Journal: “Admissions officers from some elite colleges say they still expect to see high-school transcripts loaded with AP courses, but don’t give much more than a pat on the back—and possibly an offer of admission—for the hard work. Starting in 2014, Dartmouth College stopped giving AP credit toward graduation but allowed students with high AP scores to pass into more advanced courses … Next month, faculty at Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences will vote on a revamp of the undergraduate curriculum, including reconsidering whether to award academic credit for high AP scores.”

“At the University of Pennsylvania, French, physics and a few other departments award credit or advanced standing based on a student’s AP scores. But other departments, including chemistry and biology, found that students who used AP scores to skip introductory courses fared worse in upper-division classes than those who took the full sequence at Penn because they weren’t as well-prepared. The departments unveiled new credit guidelines for the current academic year.”

Some colleges also “say that too many exemptions from classes can take away from a shared undergraduate experience with other students.”

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The Happiness Effect & Social Media for Students

From a review of The Happiness Effect, by Donna Freitas, in The Wall Street Journal: “The real downside of Facebook, Instagram and their ilk … is constant cheeriness. Young people learn that any hint of unhappiness or failure may not be posted; it can haunt their futures and damage their ‘brands.’ This imperative then creates a vicious circle.” Freitas writes: “Because young people feel so pressured to post happy things on social media, most of what everyone sees on social media from their peers are happy things; as a result, they often feel inferior because they aren’t actually happy all the time.”

“Young people feel that they have to be online almost all the time, but they cannot share their real selves there, a situation that produces even greater unhappiness. ‘For better or worse, students are becoming masters of appearing happy, at significant cost,’ she says. The ‘happiness effect’ isn’t as lurid a woe as teens sending racy pictures, but it is an important phenomenon to understand and one that parents, teachers and college administrators need to address.”

“College admissions officers and future employers can look back in time and see posts complaining about a difficult boss or admitting loneliness … Yet avoiding social media is almost impossible; professors, for instance, create discussion groups on Facebook. So the beast must be mollified and a ‘personal brand’ maintained: that of a studious yet social person who does the right activities and holds the right opinions. ‘Many students have begun to see what they post (on Facebook, especially) as a chore—a homework assignment to build a happy facade,’ Ms. Freitas reports.”

“Her most intriguing suggestion—that schools and employers declare it unethical to consult applicants’ social-media accounts—would be a game-changer. It would also probably be unworkable.”

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Boston College Revamps Remedial Courses

The Washington Post: “When students are unprepared for the rigors of college, schools often require them to take courses to catch up to their classmates. Those remediation courses, though, do not count toward a degree and may delay students from graduating on time, costing them money in the long run.”

“Boston College is taking a different approach to help students with weak academic records by using a set of learning strategies that require no more than one three-credit class. And new research shows the model is paying off as the vast majority of students are graduating in four years, results that administrators say have national implications for improving college completion.”

“The course teaches techniques for critical thinking, reading, note-taking and test preparation. The idea is to move away from rote memorization toward inquiry-based learning, encouraging students to develop an ongoing dialogue with new information … What’s striking about the results is the population of students in the Learning Theory class had SAT scores as low as 500 (out of a possible 1600), not the typical profile of students admitted to Boston College.”

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Endowment Duel: Houghton vs. Harvard

The New York Times: The hotly competitive returns of college endowment performance are out, and the results have again shaken the higher education elite down to their Ivy League roots: The smallest endowments — those with total assets under $25 million — outperformed their billion-dollar-plus rivals for the second year … Falling behind by nearly a full percentage point has a huge impact on giant endowments like Harvard’s, which stood at $35.7 billion at the end of the fiscal year … Yale’s total endowment dropped by $200 million, to $25.4 billion.”

“Compare the results with those of Houghton College, a liberal arts institution affiliated with the Wesleyan Church in the Genesee Valley in western New York. Houghton has just over a thousand students and an endowment of $46.4 million. Houghton emerged in the top quartile of all endowments, according to Nacubo, with a return of 11.85 percent for the year ended Sept. 30.”

“How did tiny Houghton do it? The answer is pretty simple: Houghton got out of hedge funds and all alternative investments a year and a half ago, and moved the entire portfolio to a mix of low-cost index funds and mutual funds at the fund giant Vanguard.”

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Hillsdale: A College for Conservatives

The New York Times: “Hillsdale, a private college of 1,400 students in southern Michigan that describes itself as ‘nonsectarian Christian’ and dedicated to ‘civil and religious liberty,’ is scarcely known in many circles. But among erudite conservatives — think progeny of William F. Buckley Jr. — it is considered a hidden gem.”

“What they admire is the college’s concentration on the Western philosophical and literary canon (sometimes disparaged as the Great Books of dead white men) and its reverent treatment of the American founding documents as the political culmination of that tradition — a tradition that scholars at Hillsdale say has been desecrated by a century of governmental overreach.”

“Hillsdale attracts students from across the country … and they don’t wind up there by accident. Many said their parents received Hillsdale’s newsletter, Imprimis, featuring speeches by conservative thinkers … They were also attracted by the moderate cost. Hillsdale is well financed with private donations, and college officials said that 95 percent of students this year received grants averaging $17,206, to offset the $35,722 for tuition, room and board.”

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Common App Update: Big Changes This Year

Washington Post: “The Common Application, used by nearly 700 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad for admissions, just announced its essay prompts for the 2017-2018 college admissions season — and there are some big changes from last year.”

“So here they are …

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. [No change]

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]

6. Describe a topic, idea or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]”

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‘Big Data’ Can Predict College Success

The New York Times: “Georgia State is one of a growing number of colleges and universities using what is known as predictive analytics to spot students in danger of dropping out. Crunching hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of student academic and personal records, past and present, they are coming up with courses that signal a need for intervention.”

“At the University of Arizona, a high grade in English comp proved to be crucial to graduation. Only 41 percent of students who got a C in freshman writing ended up with a degree, compared with 61 percent of the B students and 72 percent of A students … At Middle Tennessee State University, History 2020, an American history course required for most students, has been a powerful predictor. The most consistent feature for those who did not graduate was that they received a D in it.”

“Such insight may revolutionize the way student advising works … The analytics programs know the paths that successful students have followed. When a student veers off that path, like getting a low grade in a predictor course or taking a course out of sequence, advisers get an alert, a signal to reach out to the student and offer suggestions.”

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