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.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail Introducing Microscholarships

A startup website called 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.”

“ 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 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, 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.”


Why is the College Dropout Rate So High?

The New York Times: “Sixty percent of people go to college these days … But more than a quarter of those who start college drop out with no credential.” The drop-out rate is especially high among first-generation students who “miss out on the advice, support and voice of experience provided by parents with firsthand experience of higher education. There is only so much information that overburdened guidance counselors can cram into students during a few short meetings.”

“Researchers are uncovering promising interventions that help get these students to graduation … Benjamin L. Castleman of the University of Virginia and Lindsay C. Page of the University of Pittsburgh devised a program that nudges students to complete the administrative paperwork required to stay in college. They sent texts reminding students to complete their re-enrollment forms and financial aid applications. Among freshmen who received the texts, 68 percent completed their sophomore year, compared with 54 percent of those who did not receive reminders.”

“A new program at the City University of New York offers many of the supports that college-educated parents typically provide: intensive advising, a subway pass, textbooks and money to cover any shortfall between costs and financial aid. The CUNY program doubled the three-year graduation rate and also increased the proportion of students who went on from a two-year community college to a four-year institution. The program is now being replicated at colleges in Ohio.”


Turning The Tide: Reforming The Admissions Process

In this morning’s New York Times, Frank Bruni writes about Turning The Tide, a report by administrators from Yale, MIT and the University of Michigan. The report details recommended changes to the college admissions process intended to relieve some of the stress it places on students.

Mr. Bruni writes: “Focused on certain markers and metrics, the admissions process warps the values of students drawn into a competitive frenzy. It jeopardizes their mental health. And it fails to include — and identify the potential in — enough kids from less privileged backgrounds.”

“The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income … It asks colleges to send a clear message that admissions officers won’t be impressed by more than a few Advanced Placement courses. Poorer high schools aren’t as likely to offer A.P. courses, and a heavy load of them is often cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students at richer schools.”

“The report also suggests that colleges discourage manic résumé padding by accepting information on a sharply limited number of extracurricular activities; that they better use essays and references to figure out which students’ community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some underprivileged kids take on.”

“Colleges are … realizing that many kids admitted into top schools are emotional wrecks or slavish adherents to soulless scripts that forbid the exploration of genuine passions. And they’re acknowledging the extent to which the admissions process has contributed to this.”


Will Harvard Become Tuition-Free?

The New York Times: A “slate of candidates running for the Board of Overseers at Harvard” thinks the university “should stop charging tuition to undergraduates.” They see a tuition-free Harvard as an alternative to affirmative action, arguing “that if Harvard were free, more highly qualified students from all backgrounds would apply, and the university would no longer have trouble balancing its class for racial or ethnic diversity.”

Asian-Americans, in particular, are thought to be “short-changed” in the admissions process. In fact, a pending federal lawsuit accuses “the university of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions. Harvard has denied the allegations.” Both the lawsuit and the slate of candidates are seeking “disclosure of data showing how the university’s freshman class is selected each year.”

Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal says a tuition-free Harvard is not going to happen, however. “There is a common misconception that endowments, including Harvard’s, can be accessed like bank accounts, used for anything at any time as long as funds are available … In reality, Harvard’s flexibility in spending from the endowment is limited by the fact that it must be maintained in perpetuity and that it is largely restricted by the explicit wishes of those who contributed the endowed funds.”