Georgia State Uses ‘AI’ to Reduce ‘Summer Melt’

Tech Advocate: “A matter that is related to admissions is the so-called “summer melt.” That happens when applicants that have been admitted to a university or college, don’t turn up to start their studies. Georgia State University in Atlanta has begun using an AI chatbot system called Pounce, to reduce these incidents.”

“During the summer of 2016, Georgia State created a list of more than 2000 questions and answers for freshmen. The questions pertain to issues like financial aid, courses, majors, housing, etc. In fact, many applicants don’t understand how admissions processes operate. The university then collaborated with the conversational AI-company AdmitHub to deliver those answers to students on text-based platforms they could access anytime via their smartphones.”

“By the time fall classes started, more than 200,000 questions by freshmen had been answered. The university credits the Pounce system for helping it to reduce the summer melt that year by 22%.”


Tufts Celebrates its First-Gen Grads

Boston Globe: “Of all the commencement ceremonies that will take place around Boston this month, it’s possible that none will be as joyful or exuberant as the one held in a small hall at Tufts University on Friday evening. Tufts has made a serious effort in recent years to welcome first-generation college students to its campus, and on Friday the university celebrated the 58 who are graduating this year as the first in their family to earn a college degree. The ceremony was full of singing, cheering, stomping, and whoops of joy that reverberated off the ceiling of the intercultural center where it took place. It felt less like a ceremony and more like a big family party.”

“The community of first-generation students at Tufts is growing. The incoming class this year had 210 first-generation students, up from 163 last year. Among the graduating seniors Friday were seven undocumented students, the first such students to graduate Tufts. Tufts president Anthony Monaco, himself a first-generation student, spoke briefly during the ceremony, but students cheered the loudest for Robert Mack, an associate provost and chief diversity officer at the school who has quietly worked to assemble what is now a vast array of programs and services for first-generation students.”

“One of Mack’s projects has been the creation of a center that opened this year for first-generation Tufts students. It has quickly become a place to find camaraderie and learn about available services, such as where to find free books or a winter coat or how to secure funding to afford an unpaid summer internship or trip to an academic conference … For several years, Tufts has run a six-week summer program for incoming freshmen who are first-generation students to acclimate them to university life and academics. The school also started a second, shorter summer orientation, to be able to accommodate more first-generation students because interest was so high. The university also has a mentoring program that pairs the students with staff or faculty at Tufts who were also first-generation students.”


The List: How Naviance Changes College Choices

EdSurge: “For decades, the college-admissions process has been shrouded in mystery. But these days, big data, and a popular college planning tool, are taking much of the guesswork out of applying to college. That was a major takeaway from Christine Mulhern’s new research on Naviance, a widely-used online college-readiness platform. Mulhern, a doctoral candidate in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, provides evidence that Naviance’s college research and admissions tools are changing where students apply to college, with the ‘potential to affect higher education on a national scale,’ she wrote on Twitter after unveiling the research.”

“Naviance scattergrams show prospective college students how their peers at their high school fared with individual colleges and universities—and helps provide a sense of how they can expect to perform in the admissions process. For each institution, previous applicants’ GPAs are plotted on the y-axis and their ACT or SAT scores appear on the x-axis. Each applicant’s college decision (accepted, rejected, waitlisted) is denoted with a unique color and symbol, collectively depicting the caliber of student who is typically accepted to a given school.”

“Whittled down, the research shows that more information leads to more applications, and that students rely on their peers’ judgment in helping them determine the right fit for college. But there are some caveats … fewer students applied to so-called reach colleges, where students are less certain of their admissions prospects. Similarly, more apply to and enroll in ‘safety’ institutions, where students feel more confident they will receive an acceptance. Additionally, when high schools create minimums of five or 10 applicants, only the popular institutions appear on the scattergram. Based on what Mulhern found about students applying to colleges with visible scattergrams, it’s reasonable to deduce that the diversity of colleges students apply to could decrease with Naviance.”


Women’s Colleges Report Applications Spike

Daily Hampshire Gazette: “Over the past several years, there has been a spike in the number of students applying to women’s colleges across the country … over the past five years, the total number of applications to Mount Holyoke College has jumped 23.6 percent, while Smith College has seen similar growth at around 25 percent, according to the colleges. However … highly selective colleges and universities have seen a general rise in applications in recent years … Contributing to Mount Holyoke’s success in this difficult moment are the sizable financial commitments the school has made — to financial aid packages, educational programming, and facilities. In addition to these attractions … there is something particular about the current moment that is contributing to the success of women’s colleges.”

“Many Mount Holyoke students are interested in social movements … and some of the most visible leaders of those movements — from #MeToo to climate activism — are women.” Other factors include “the emphasis colleges like Smith and Mount Holyoke have made in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM; the large networks of influential alumnae that they boast; and supportive environments on campus.”

“Hareem Khan, 19, said she had been impressed and inspired by the alumnae network of women in her home country of Pakistan. But the biggest reason for attending Mount Holyoke, she said, has to do with her identity as a woman of color. Almost a third of Mount Holyoke’s incoming student body are students of color from the United States, and 19 percent are international students. At Smith this past academic year, 32 percent of the student body were students of color and 14 percent were international students.”


Students ‘YouTube’ Admissions Decisions

The Washington Post: “It’s usually a moment of private drama for students, their families and friends, but Justin Chae planned to share his with the world by filming his reaction to the decisions from the five colleges he’d applied to attend. Then he would post the recordings to YouTube … Social media is filled with content that celebrates (and sells) the college experience, from dorm room tours to ‘day in the life’ videos to productivity tips … Reaction videos from non-celebrities, like Chae, offer a different kind of relatability. Some of the viewers are high school juniors and sophomores who are beginning the long process of applying to college themselves. For that audience, the videos aren’t just good content, they’re glimpses into the future — not the heightened version of their dreams and nightmares but vérité depictions of acceptance and rejection as it happens.”

“Every year, dozens of students post videos like Chae’s to YouTube. In one, a high school senior sits at her computer screen openly weeping as she is rejected on Ivy Day from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Brown. The only college left is her top choice, the University of Pennsylvania. ‘I’m freaking out,’ she says, as her family around her comforts her. She clicks. She screams. She got in. That video, from 2018, has more than 1 million views.”

“Not all popular college reaction videos end with a dream coming true. A disturbingly world-weary high school senior filmed himself opening up all his college decisions at once. The first is Amherst. He looks at the screen, smiles and claps once. ‘Fantastic,’ he says. ‘So I got rejected from Amherst. Next college. Next college!’ The rest of the video is much the same as the student casually leafs from one rejection to the next. (He does get into Carleton College and the University of California at Los Angeles.) Another video shows a student wearing a Northwestern sweatshirt as he checks his application there. As he finds out he’s rejected, he removes the sweatshirt.”


Most Colleges Admit Most Applicants

Pew Research: “The great majority of schools, where most Americans get their postsecondary education, admit most of the people who apply to them, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Education Department data. Of the 1,364 four-year colleges and universities we looked at, 17 admitted fewer than 10% of applicants in 2017, the most recent year for which comprehensive data are available. That group includes such prestigious names as Stanford (4.7%), Harvard (5.2%), Yale (6.9%) and Northwestern (9.2%). Another 29 schools admitted between 10% and 20% of applicants, including Georgetown (15.7%), the University of Southern California (16%), UCLA (16.1%) and the University of California, Berkeley (17.1%). The extremely competitive schools amounted to 3.4% of all the colleges and universities in this analysis, and they accounted for just 4.1% of total student enrollment.”

“By contrast, more than half of the schools in our sample (53.3%) admitted two-thirds or more of their applicants in 2017, including such well-known names as St. John’s University in New York (67.7%), Virginia Tech (70.1%), Quinnipiac University (73.9%), the University of Missouri at Columbia (78.1%) and George Mason University (81.3%) … It’s true that admission rates have fallen broadly in recent years. At about 45% of the schools we examined, admission rates were at least 10% lower in 2017 than they were in 2002; there were more modest declines (between 5% and 10%) at another 8% of institutions. But rates at 16% of schools were more or less unchanged (that is, the rate in 2017 was within 5% either way of the 2002 rate), and at nearly 31% of schools, admission rates were actually higher in 2017 than 15 years earlier.”

“Falling admission rates aren’t necessarily a sign that colleges are simply being pickier about whom they admit. In large measure, rates have fallen because prospective students are applying to more schools than they used to, while the number of available spots for them has grown more slowly. In absolute numbers, schools are making more admission offers than before, but not enough to keep pace with the soaring number of applications … The expansion of the Common Application, which makes it easier for students to apply to multiple schools, doesn’t appear to be behind the increase in application volume … Although one might suspect that the ease of applying to multiple schools via the Common App would result in stronger growth in application volume among those schools, there was almost no difference in 2002-2017 growth rates between the schools that used the Common App and those that didn’t.”


Dartmouth Predicts Admissions Shifts

The Dartmouth: “With the recent release of admissions results for the Class of 2023, Dartmouth vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid Lee Coffin said that ongoing trends may necessitate different admissions strategies at the College. Specifically, the changing importance of different geographic regions has already resulted in alterations to Dartmouth’s admissions practices … Coffin also stated that, despite recent trends, the admissions rates of top colleges may not continue to decline … ‘At some point the pool has to start to contract,’ he said. ‘It’s some combination of the economy, demographics, just internationalism.’ For example, Coffin noted that a possible change in international relations could affect admissions numbers by drastically changing the size of the international admissions pool.”

“However, Coffin said that he did not believe such shifts would occur soon. Instead, he is focused on Dartmouth’s changing admissions strategy, which focuses on factors like socioeconomic diversity. ‘We were deliberately focusing this cycle on socioeconomic diversity as a way of syncing up with the capital campaign and its commitment to broader access,” he said. “We were really focusing on communities where we knew there was going to be low-income families, as well as middle-income families, and to be deliberate about expanding that.’ Furthermore, the admissions office is now focused on increasing yield when choosing applicants, which the office often achieves by using complex models that examine different variables.”

“‘I have to try and anticipate how many of you are going to say yes, and the higher that number, the fewer I can let in,’ Coffin said. ‘It’s a really precise calculation.’ He added that two of the variables considered were geography and academic credentials. For example, Coffin noted that these models demonstrate that a student from Florida is less likely to enroll than a student from New Hampshire. ‘You’re using the data that the admissions office generates to predict behavior,’ Coffin further explained. ‘The thing that always gets me nervous is [that] I’m predicting behavior of 18 year olds’.”


The Flipside of Elite College Admissions

Quartz: “The revelations that affluent families bribed their kids into elite universities … is also evidence that elite universities have actually become much more meritocratic, such that some mediocre but wealthy students who were once ushered into Ivy League colleges now feel they have to resort to bribery and fraud (or, at least, their parents do). It once was far easier to get into an elite university if you were white, male, and rich. In 1933, for example, 82% of Harvard applicants were admitted. By 2003, the number fell to 9.8%. Last year the number was 4.6%. Elite universities are now drawing from a much wider base of applicants, a trend that starting with the admission of women.”

“In recent years, the growing wealth of Americans, the rise of a global middle class eager for a US education (particularly in China), and—to the credit of the colleges—much more generous financial aid (Harvard is basically free for families that earn less than $65,000) has meant there are fewer slots available for lackluster children of privilege … University admissions are still far from egalitarian, but they have made strides in leveling the playing field.”


No Shortcuts: Getting in Means Getting it Done

On the one hand, the unfolding college admissions scandal involves a tiny percentage of super-wealthy applicants at a tiny percentage of hyper-elite schools. It’s easy to dismiss this disgusting news as an esoteric anomaly that has nothing to do with the vast majority of honest, decent, law-abiding citizens of every stripe who would never even think about doing something so egregiously wrong. On the other hand is the cold truth that, on some level, nearly everyone tries to turn the process to their advantage in one way or another, both those with and without means. Getting admitted to college can be like life itself: not always fair. Yet, somewhere in the middle is something more fundamentally true, which is that success in college admissions, and life, comes to those who do the work.

It’s up to the students to challenge themselves, get good grades and scores, win awards, as well as actualize themselves outside the classroom by volunteering, creating, leading, or whatever it is that defines who they are as people. Beyond the numbers, colleges value a zeal for learning and a zest for life. In all but the smallest fraction of cases, they know a phony when they see one. Corrupt actors aside, the last thing they want is to admit a student who doesn’t understand the very meaning of success and is destined to fail.

Some students are extremely motivated to get into a bunch of highly competitive schools. They usually require guidance but are self-starters by nature and only too eager to research and visit campuses, dive into their essays and every little nook and cranny of their applications. Not surprisingly, they approach their schoolwork and all aspects of their lives with the same level of enthusiasm and drive. They have a fair, though not exact, idea of what it takes to get into the schools of their choice. They understand that while there are never any guarantees, they can increase their chances if they focus their efforts. They harbor no illusions.

Other students are somewhat less motivated, or not motivated at all. It’s not always easy to discern what’s underneath the attitude, although often a certain “fear of the unknown” lurks within. So, part of the challenge is to demystify this strange, new world they are entering by illuminating why it’s something to be excited about. Exactly what that entails may vary from one student to the next, but the goal is the same: to inspire them to do the work and help guide them to a better version of themselves. Some luck may be a factor, but more often than not getting ahead is down to getting things done.

No shortcuts. If there’s a secret to success, there you have it.