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.”


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.”


Special Programs Help Prepare Freshmen

The Washington Post: The Educational Opportunity Program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, “designed to prepare students for their first year in college, subjects them to 15-hour days full of classes and study sessions … Its requirements were a shock to most of the 18-year-olds in the program. Many received their high school diploma less than a week before the session started. Before students really knew what they agreed to, they surrendered their cellphones and were followed when they went to the bathroom during class.”

“But most agree it’s worth it. Educational Opportunity Programs, a feature of university systems in several states, have shown that a carefully structured combination of demanding academics and intensive support can launch vulnerable students to success during their first year in college. Students then often go on to graduate at higher rates than their peers.”

“New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Program is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It’s a positive vestige of the riots that roiled Newark in 1967. In the aftermath, state legislators allocated money to help urban students who weren’t getting a good enough K-12 education attend and succeed at the state’s colleges. Similar programs popped up nationwide around the same time, but not all remain. The largest programs are in California, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington state.”


Bard Unlocks the ‘Microcollege’

The Wall Street Journal: “The maximum-security inmates who beat a Harvard College team in a debate two years ago put a national spotlight on the prisoners’ ambitious college program, the Bard Prison Initiative. Now Bard College is launching a new satellite in another site that bucks tradition: the Brooklyn Public Library in Prospect Heights.”

“The ‘microcollege’ will be free for students, and aims to attract talented low-income applicants who haven’t sought degrees due to the pricetag or personal hardships. The experiment aims to find ways to make college possible for people who are often discouraged, excluded or underestimated … The new microcollege is modeled on the prison program: Bard faculty will teach small seminars leading to a two-year associates degree in liberal arts, with the hope that students will go on to get bachelors degrees elsewhere.”

“Applicants won’t submit transcripts or test scores. Instead, they will have interviews and write essays at the library. The state Board of Regents has accredited the program, which will be funded by a $450,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Pell grants.”


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.”


Legacy: The Booster Shot of College Admissions

Business Insider: To increase your chances of admission, apply “to the same school as one of your parents. While legacy status — the term used to indicate a family member attended the same school — has been recognized anecdotally as providing a benefit to college applicants, education startup AdmitSee has used data it collects to definitively prove this correlation … The company analyzed the profiles of students who indicated their legacy status, and found that legacy students scored lower on the SAT than nonlegacy students.”

“Preferential treatment for legacy students has been studied before. Michael Hurwitz, a Harvard doctoral student, conducted a study at 30 highly selective colleges and found that legacy students had seven times the odds of admissions as nonlegacy students. But the issue of awarding an advantage to legacy students remains a contentious issue, especially in the face of push back over affirmative action policies in college admissions.”


Georgetown: Slavery Descendants Given ‘Legacy’

NPR: “Georgetown University will be offering an admissions edge to descendants of enslaved people sold to fund the school … Jesuit priests connected to the private Catholic university sold 272 enslaved people in 1838, to pay off the university’s massive debts. The men, women and children were sold to plantations in Louisiana; the university received the equivalent of $3.3 million, securing its survival.”

Georgetown will treat “the descendants of those enslaved people the same way it treats legacy students, applicants whose family members attended Georgetown … The working group had also recommended that Georgetown explore the feasibility of offering financial assistance for those students as well.”

“Additionally, the school will be renaming two buildings — formerly named after the two university presidents who made the arrangements to sell slaves to fund the school … One will become Isaac Hall, after one of the enslaved men who was sold in 1838, and another Anne Marie Becraft Hall, after a black educator and nun … Georgetown will also establish a memorial to the people whose enslavement funded and built the school, offer a mass of reconciliation and work to promote scholarship in the field of racial justice, it says.”


Female Scientists Thrive @ Harvey Mudd

Quartz: “Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont, California, has been an outlier in producing female programmers for a decade. This year, for the first time, more women than men graduated with a degree in computer science. Nationally, about 16% of undergraduate computer-science majors are women. At Harvey Mudd, that figure is 55%.”

“It has done it by removing obstacles that have typically barred women—including at the faculty level. The school emphasizes teaching over research, hiring and rewarding professors on the basis of their classroom performance … And it places women in leadership positions throughout the school.”

“The school … redesigned its introductory course, required for all first-year students, to emphasize practical uses for programming and team based-projects, and switched from the Java programming language to Python, which more closely mimics the way humans communicate … To make everyone feel at ease, professors urge know-it-all students who always have their hand in the air to talk during office hours, instead of in class.”

“As a result of the changes, women who take the introductory course are more likely to leave with a positive impression of programming, and often sign up for the second class in the sequence. Many go on to internships or research projects in the field after their first year, and by then, they’re hooked.”


Raise.me: Introducing Microscholarships

A startup website called Raise.me allows students to earn scholarship credits in exchange for taking certain courses and realizing other achievements, The New York Times reports. “The start-up’s approach is a mash-up of two popular economic concepts. One is ‘nudging,’ that is designing systems to influence the choices people make, ideally for their own good. The other is microfinance — incremental loans for entrepreneurs who would not otherwise have access to funding.”

“Raise.me charges participating institutions annual fees of $4,000 to $20,000 based on a college’s size and scholarship program. Each college sets its own criteria. Penn State has made its Raise.me program available to students at five high schools in Philadelphia, as well as six rural Pennsylvania high schools. Those students may earn scholarships of up to $4,000 a year for four years. Among other awards, the university offers them $120 for each A grade in a core course, $400 for each advanced placement course, $100 for each year of perfect attendance, $100 for a leadership role in a sport or extracurricular activity and $5 for each hour of community service, up to $500.

“The potential risk is that introducing monetary rewards could curb students’ intrinsic motivation to succeed in school, or their innate enjoyment of activities like reading, in favor of striving for scholarship dollars.” However, Raise.me co-founder Preston Silverman “said that the scholarship program did not displace students’ inner enthusiasm, but rather enhanced their motivation by showing them additional ways they could prepare for college.”