Mar 30, 2010

The Common Data Set: Where Admissions Pros Get Their Numbers

Have you ever wished you could tap into the same data source used by the publishers of all those weighty college guides? It’s not that difficult if you know the secret. And the secret is the Common Data Set.

A number of years ago, the Common Data Set (CDS) was created as a method of satisfying the endless appetite for college statistics among organizations such as the College Board, US News and World Report, Peterson’s, and Wintergreen Orchard House. The idea was to reduce duplication of effort and meet publishers’ needs by asking colleges to complete a single survey the results of which would be compiled into a shared data base.

So rather than answer a zillion questions from many different publishers, schools now fill out a lengthy standardized form each year and data is collected which may then be used for everything from college rankings to online college search tools. The secret is that many colleges are kind enough to publish their surveys on their websites so anyone can have access to the information. And it’s a goldmine covering everything from admissions statistics to graduation rates.

Typically, you can find CDS responses by going to a college’s Institutional Research Office webpage or by using the website search function and entering “Common Data Set.” You can also Google “Common Data Set” and institution name. If the information is posted, it will immediately appear as a link.

But not all schools post the CDS, so don’t be alarmed if after several attempts nothing comes up. A number of colleges simply don’t want the public to have easy access to what may be unflattering statistics. For example, several colleges abruptly removed or broke links to their data after investigations began into potentially discriminatory admissions practices.

Begin your explorations into the Common Data Set, by checking out a few local college webpages:

• American University: Office of Institutional Research & Assessment
• Catholic University: Institutional Research and Assessment
• College of William and Mary: Institutional Research and Reporting
• Frostburg University: Office of Information Services
• George Mason University: Institutional Research and Reporting
• George Washington University: Office of Institutional Research & Planning
• Loyola University Maryland: Institutional Research
• Salisbury University: Common Data Set
• Towson University: About TU
• UMBC: Office of Institutional Research
• University of Richmond: Office of Institutional Effectiveness
• University of Virginia: Institutional Assessment and Studies
• Virginia Commonwealth University: Center for Institutional Effectiveness

Note that the most recent data should be from 2009-10, but some schools are slow to post.

Mar 29, 2010

UVa Admits 6907 for the Class of 2014

After months of deliberations, UVa admissions decisions were released online late Friday afternoon. Minutes later, reactions began pouring in to student discussion boards including “Wow I’m sooo happy,” cheered one admitted student.

But the news wasn’t universally good. “I had a 2390 SAT and am waitlisted,” lamented an out-of state applicant. Another student summed up the sentiments of the disappointed, “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

In her wonderfully frank and helpful admissions blog, Dean J provided students and parents insight into how difficult these decisions have been. “With the number of applications we had, we were not able to admit all of the qualified students,” she explained. “Many of those who wind up on the waitlist and deny list are perfectly capable of doing the work at UVa. Our first-year class just isn’t large enough to accommodate everyone.”

Compounding the shock for some students was UVa’s decision to trim the waitlist this year. In the past, between 3000 and 5000 applicants were offered places on the waitlist. In fact, waitlist offers have outnumbered the entire incoming class by as much as 40%. “We have cut the waitlist down a lot this year for a few reasons,” explained Dean J. “This means there aren’t as many of you feeling like you are in limbo.” It also means that some students who might have ordinarily found a place on the waitlist were denied instead.

So here are some preliminary numbers from the UVa Office of admissions:

Total applications received: 22,516 (up from 21,839 last year)
Total number of Virginia resident applications: 7,964
Total number of out-of-state applications: 14,652

Overall offers: 6,907 total
Total instate offers: 3,380 (42.4% of resident applicants)
Total out-of-state offers: 3,527 (24% of nonresident applications)

Enrollment goal: 3,240 first-year students

The offers for residents and nonresidents are similar because historic yield—or percent of students accepting offers—for nonresidents is generally lower.

Dean J reports that the middle 50% SAT scores among admitted students ranged from 1300-1480. Over 93 percent of the students receiving offers of admission were in the top 10 percent of their class.

The UVa Office of Institutional Assessment is the source of all official statistics. Their website will be updated in time with additional data relative to this year’s admissions.

Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture & Design Ranks Highly with DesignIntelligence

The Virginia Tech School of Architecture & Design was among a select group of programs recognized in the 11th annual America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools study conducted by DesignIntelligence on behalf of the Design Futures Council.

In the only national college rankings focused exclusively on design, Tech’s Landscape Architecture undergraduate program ranked first among programs accredited by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB). Tech’s graduate program in Landscape Architecture—offered both in Blacksburg and the National Capital Region—ranked second directly behind Harvard in the same study.

The DesignIntelligence survey tapped professional practice leaders who have direct experience hiring and evaluating the performance of recent architecture and design graduates. A total of 381 practices were included in the study which analyzes which college and university programs have best prepared students for professional practice.

In addition to the best schools study, deans and chairs from 166 academic programs participated in a separate survey supplementing the information provided by design firms. Almost 2000 architecture students also completed surveys concerning their satisfaction with design education.

Tech’s architecture program ranked forth among undergraduate programs accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and tied for second in the survey of deans and program chairs for preparation of students, integrated design approach, and comprehensive balance of design and technology.

Both the interior design and industrial design programs also received recognition and high rankings in the DesignIntelligence study. Tech’s interior design program ranked second in computer applications and third in communication and sustainable design concepts and principles.

In addition to the program review, each year DesignIntelligence selects a team of educators and education administrators who exemplify excellence in design education leadership. Four Virginia Tech professors from the School of Architecture & Design were among 25 faculty members named Most Admired Educators of 2010.

There are approximately 148 accredited interior architecture/interior design programs, 151 accredited architecture programs, and 63 accredited landscape architecture programs in the U.S. More information on the DesignIntelligence study may be found on its website.

Mar 27, 2010

The Waitlist Scam

Hope springs eternal among college applicants. That’s why there are waitlists. And colleges are unapologetic about using the hopes of waitlisted students to further their objectives, which largely center on filling freshman classes with the best and brightest high school students.

In the hands of the average admissions office, the waitlist is little more than a tool used to shape a freshman class profile that is balanced between males and females, is geographically and racially diverse, meets legislated instate requirements, fills the needs of obscure departments or sports teams, and still covers some part of the college operating budget.

Schools that advertise “needs blind” admissions sometimes quietly convert to “needs aware” when it comes to plucking a few lucky students from the list. Consequently, most bets are off for financial aid if you come through the waitlist.

There’s usually no ranking, no money, and really little hope. And sometimes, the list is hardly more than a PR scam to keep upset parents, alums, and other interested parties at arm’s length.

Waitlisted is an uncomfortable place to be. If you’ve been accepted or rejected, at least your status is clear. But waitlisted is fuzzy. And if you really care about the specific college or university, the offer of a position on a college waitlist amounts to a very insecure lifeline.

Here are the facts. Most students never get off the list—very few waitlisted students are eventually invited to the dance. In some cases, especially at more selective colleges, no students get off the list. Check out these local statistics from last year:


Waitlist Offers

Accepted Waitlist

Admission Offers

Percent Admitted

American University





George Mason University





George Washington





Goucher College





James Madison University





Towson University





U of Richmond




















Washington & Lee





William & Mary





And the numbers vary significantly by year depending on how accurately the admissions office pegged its “yield” or how desperate the need to control the composition of the freshman class. For example, last year UVa took 498 students or 9 percent of all those offered waitlist opportunities (11 percent of the actual waitlist). The year before, UVa took 60 students or 2 percent of everyone offered the waitlist. Talk about hedging your bets—UVa offered 4522 students positions on the waitlist or almost 40 percent more than the entire incoming freshman class which totaled 3239.

Being waitlisted can be more frustrating than simply being rejected. A candidate who is denied admission to his or her first choice school is free to accept other offers. S/he can move on with his or her life. But a waitlisted candidate who really wants to attend a particular school is stuck in limbo.

Sure there are steps you can take to try to get off the list, but there is an emotional cost which must be weighed against the slim possibility of winning the waitlist lottery. Is it worth it? Maybe, but not usually.

Mar 26, 2010

Nordstrom Invites High School Juniors to Compete for College Scholarships

Since 1993, Nordstrom has upheld a commitment to support communities by awarding fantastic college scholarships to high school students across the country. This year, Nordstrom is offering forty $10,000 scholarships to students in specific geographic areas, which include eight states and the District of Columbia.

To qualify, students must meet the following criteria:

• Be a high school junior
• Have and maintain a cumulative unweighted GPA of at least 2.7 (on a 4.0 scale)
• Have participated in community/volunteer activities
• Be planning to apply for financial assistance to attend college
• Attend an accredited 4-year college or university
• Live and attend school in one of the participating geographic areas, including Maryland, Virginia, and DC

Additional eligibility requirements and complete application instructions are available on the scholarship web page.

The Nordstrom Scholarship will be awarded to five students in the DC region. Key to winning will be the submission of an original essay, a list of community or volunteer activities, and a personal statement. It’s really not that hard for all that cash!

Note that applications will only be accepted by mail. Incomplete, emailed or faxed applications will NOT be accepted. And, all applications must be postmarked by no later than May 15, 2010.

This is a great opportunity for a high school student with a track record of service to his or her community. For more information or to download a copy of the application, go directly to the Nordstrom website.

Mar 24, 2010

The Common Application Adds 25 New Colleges and Universities

The Common Application is announcing the addition of 25 new member colleges effective July 1st, bringing the total number of institutions accepting the association’s standardized application forms to 414. Included among the new members are 8 public institutions and Columbia University—the last of the Ivies to come on board.

Membership in the association is open to undergraduate colleges and universities that are accredited by a regional accrediting association and are nonprofit members in good standing of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). All members must agree to promote college access by evaluating students using a “holistic” selection process.

Local Common Application members include American, George Washington, Catholic, Johns Hopkins, Goucher, Hood, Loyola University of Maryland, Stevenson, the College of William and Mary, Mary Washington, UVa, the University of Richmond, Randolph-Macon, and Virginia Wesleyan. New members include St. John’s of Maryland (and New Mexico) and the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC).

The Universal College Application, an alternative to the Common Application, now has 87 members including several participating in both programs. Local colleges on the UCA roster include Hood, Johns Hopkins, Stevenson University, and Towson University.

The newest members of the Common Application association:

Alaska Pacific University (AK)
Albany College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (NY)
Columbia University (NY)
Concordia University (OR)
DePaul University (IL)
Fontbonne University (MO)
Husson University (ME)
Jacobs University Bremen (Germany)
Johnson State College* (VT)
Maritime College (SUNY)* (NY)
Mount Saint Mary College (NY)
Morrisville State College (SUNY)* (NY)
Otterbein College (OH)
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (IL)
St. John's College (MD/NM)
Stephens College (MO)
SUNY Potsdam* (NY)
University of Maryland Baltimore County* (MD)
University of Connecticut* (CT)
University of Michigan* (MI)
University of North Carolina Asheville* (NC)
Western New England College (MA)
Westmont College (CA)
Xavier University of Louisiana (LA)
Yeshiva University* (NY)

* Public Institutions

Mar 23, 2010

More Private Colleges and Universities Cross the $50K Mark for 2010-11 Tuition and Fees

Private colleges and universities are quietly announcing increases in tuition and fees crossing the $50,000 mark for the 2010-2011 academic year. Coupled with promises of increased financial aid, the boost in tuition is needed to cover continuing shortfalls in campus operating budgets.

This week, Harvard University announced that undergraduate tuition and fees for next year will total $50,724, an increase of 3.8 percent. According to a Harvard press release, financial aid for undergraduates will be increased by 9 percent, to a record $158 million for the upcoming academic year. “Harvard remains committed to a fully need-blind admissions policy that will enable us to continue attracting the most talented students, regardless of their economic circumstances,” said Michael D. Smith dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Harvard’s tuition increases remain roughly in line with other Ivies, including Yale, which announced tuition and fees totaling $49,800 or an increase of 4.8 percent; Princeton, which went up by 3.3 percent to of $48,580; Brown at $51,360 or 4.5 percent over last year; Penn at $51,944—3.9 percent more; Dartmouth to $52,275, up by 4.6 percent; and Cornell, which will increase by 4.4 percent for the university’s endowed colleges to $52,316.

Other private colleges and universities crossing the $50,000 threshold for the next academic year include Boston University at $51,120 (+3.7%), Carnegie Mellon University at $52,250 (+2.98%), Notre Dame at $50,785 (+3.8%), Washington University in St. Louis (+4.2%), and Stanford University at $50,576 (+3.5%).

Locally, both George Washington University and Georgetown have been over $50,000 for the past two years. This year, Georgetown tuition will go up by 3 percent and room and board will increase 2 percent for a grand total of $52,443. GW will remain true to tuition commitments leveling a 3 percent tuition increase only on incoming students leaving tuition and fees the same for all others.

While tuition increases at private colleges are not good news, they don’t approach the projections for public institutions. Florida college students could face 15 percent tuition increases for several years, and University of Illinois students will pay at least 9 percent more next year. Georgia’s 35 colleges and universities are planning a 35 percent tuition increase on top of a raise in student fees according to the Huffington Post online. The University of Washington will charge 14 percent more at its flagship campus, and in California, tuition increases of over 30 percent have sparked protests.

A four-year freeze on college tuition in Maryland is expected to end this year, but the increase is likely to be only in the range of 3 percent. Virginia schools so far remain mum on the subject, but increases are all but inevitable.

Mar 22, 2010

California Applications Skyrocket at Local Colleges

Reversing centuries of westward migration, California high school students have begun to look “east” for postsecondary educational opportunities. According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, what started as a small group of pioneers has snowballed into a gold rush of talent as California’s college-bound seniors seek alternatives to the cash-poor University of California and California State University systems.

And where do they go? If application numbers are any indication, California students are definitely considering east coast schools including many in the DC area.

This year, the University of Virginia experienced a 24 percent uptick in California applications. By comparison, UVa’s total applicant pool climbed by only 4 percent. And California now ranks right behind Virginia in volume of applications received by Washington and Lee University. Four years ago, W&L received 159 applications from California. In 2010, the number shot up to 472.

Catholic University dean of admissions, Christine Mica, reports that California applications to CU have gone up 60% in five years. “We do send an admissions counselor to California each year for about two weeks,” said Dean Mica. “We have heard that families are worried that the budget impact on state schools in California will have a negative affect on the number of students those schools admit.”

The Public Policy Institute of California warns that the state’s knowledge-based economy cannot afford to lose its top students. “It’s a bad idea to have some of your most talented high school graduates leaving the state to go to college elsewhere—because it is less likely that they’ll come back to California once they leave,” said Hans Johnson of the Public Policy Institute in a statement to the Mercury News. “We need more college graduates to help build our economy.”

Californians applied in droves this year to:

Arizona State University: +24%
Catholic University: +25%
Colgate University: +15%
College of Wooster: +38
Swarthmore College: +16%
University of Delaware: +36
University of Pennsylvania: +22%
University of Virginia: +24%
University of Washington: +22%
Villanova University: +34%

Mar 20, 2010

College Fair Season Gets into Full Swing

Once admissions decisions are mailed, college reps hardly have a moment to breathe before they’re expected to hit the road again for various college fair road shows. In addition to the NACAC Spring College Fairs, colleges will be exhibiting at several local events:

2010 SEC College Fairs
The twelve Southeastern Conference (SEC) member universities will gather for two northern Virginia college fairs. The first is scheduled for Wednesday, April 7, at Oakton High School, in Vienna VA, and the second will follow on April 8, at the Waterford across from Fair Oaks Mall. Both fairs will run from 4:00 to 8:30 p.m. Students are invited to meet with representatives from each of the SEC schools and learn more about their “winning traditions” both on and off the field. Registration is available on the fair website.

Northern Virginia Regional College Fair
Scheduled for April 21st, the Northern Virginia Regional College Fair plans to have 200 colleges and universities exhibit from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm in the Patriot Center Arena on the campus of George Mason University. No registration is required.

Colleges That Change Lives
Since 1998, the Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL)—forty colleges and universities dedicated to the support of student-centered college search processes—have been traveling together to meet directly with students and families. In 2010, the CTCL will visit the Washington DC area on May 23, at the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel. The program begins with a 30-minute information session immediately followed by a college fair.

Remember that some fairs offer pre-registration options, but most are walk-in events. You can prepare for the fair by reviewing a list of participating colleges and noting those you wish to visit, including a few less familiar schools. It’s a good idea to print out some “mailing” labels with your name, mailing address, phone number, month and year of high school graduation, and email address. These can be quickly applied to information request cards. And bring a backpack or something similar for carrying all the materials you will be receiving.

Here’s a tip: In addition to admissions information, exhibitors often come equipped with materials introducing summer enrichment opportunities available on campus. Be sure to ask about the availability of summer classes, camps, or other similar programs when meeting with the admissions rep staffing the exhibit.

Mar 19, 2010

Colleges Still Accepting Applications for Fall of 2010

This article has been revised for 2011 (click here).

For students a little slow to get off the ground or those not happy with admissions results so far, you might be interested to know that a significant number of colleges and universities are still accepting applications for the fall of 2010.

Locally, Marymount University, the Corcoran College of Art & Design, St. John’s College, Randolph College, and Hood College are still accepting applications. Hundreds of others across the country are also ready and very willing to consider applications—sometimes as late as the last day of August.

If you’re still looking or thinking about submitting additional applications, here are a few insider tips to kick start your research:

• Common App member institutions still open to new applicants may be found by going to the Common App website, scrolling down Member Colleges and Universities, and clicking Search for Colleges. Indicate that you’re looking for First Year and Fall 2010, and complete the deadline box according to your interest. Bingo. If you’re looking for colleges with a deadline on or after May 1, 2010, you’ll be rewarded with a list of 113 institutions located in every corner of the country.

• For slightly different information, check out Peterson’s Colleges with Late & Rolling Application Deadlines. Late is defined as having an application deadline of July1st, so any schools with deadlines between now and then are not included. Nevertheless, you may be surprised at the number of colleges and universities still accepting applications well into the summer months.

• Using the College Board’s Matchmaker search engine, select your preferences for size, location, majors, and so forth, but under Admissions and Selectivity?, choose More than 75% accepted and click on See Results. Many—not all—of the schools on the list will have extended deadlines.

Once you have a starter list of schools that may still be accepting applications, verify deadlines by going to individual websites. Note that schools with “rolling admissions” accept applications until their classes are filled. If websites are unclear as to the current status of the process, contact admissions offices directly and simply ask the question. You might be surprised to find many are still happy to hear from you.

Mar 17, 2010

Engineers Dominate the List for Top Starting Salaries among 2010 Grads

Once again, engineering majors dominate the list for top starting salaries, says a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). NACE’s winter 2010 Salary Survey shows that engineering specialties account for eight of ten best starting offers among 2010 grads.

According to the survey, petroleum engineering continues to earn the highest starting salary at $86,220—nearly one and a half times the average reported for bachelor’s degree graduates overall. Chemical engineering comes in a distant second at more than $21,000 per year less.

Evidently, employers remain conservative despite signs of economic recovery, and average starting salaries are down two percent compared to those offered a year ago. Liberal arts majors continue to take a big hit as starting salary offers fell significantly compared to averages reported in the winter 2009 Salary Survey—down almost 11 percent to $32,555.

“This first look at salaries for the Class of 2010 shows many disciplines posting lower salaries, but it’s important to put this in perspective,” suggests Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director. “…graduation is several months away.”

Among the business disciplines, accounting majors and finance graduates saw their averages fall by less than one percent. Business administration/management graduates experienced a drop of 1.5 percent.

As a group, graduates with computer-related degrees (computer programming, computer science, computer systems analysis, and information sciences/systems) posted a 6.1 percent increase—the highest reported in the winter 2010 Salary Survey. Engineering graduates experienced a 1.2 percent increase in starting salaries, but still remained at the top of the heap.

Top-Paid Bachelor’s Degrees

1. Petroleum Engineering: $86,220
2. Chemical Engineering: $65,142
3. Mining & Mineral Engineering (incl. geological): $64,552
4. Computer Science: $61,205
5. Computer Engineering: $60,879
6. Electrical/Electronics & Communications Engineering: $59,074
7. Mechanical Engineering: $58,392
8. Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering: $57,734
9. Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering: $57,231
10. Information Sciences & Systems: $54,038

NACE will provide a second look at the salaries for the Class of 2010, later in the spring

Mar 16, 2010

Colleges Committed to Meeting Full Financial Aid of Admitted Students

It sounds too good to be true. Are there really colleges committed to awarding enough financial aid to meet the full financial needs of all the students they admit?

The short answer is yes. There aren’t very many institutions wealthy enough to make such a promise, but about 3 percent of all the colleges in the country have, including Georgetown, UVa, and the University of Richmond.

Naturally, there are a few strings attached to the offer. Most of these colleges will only guarantee to meet the needs of those students who are US citizens and who apply for financial aid before the school’s posted deadline. All bets are off if you are foreign, late or waitlisted.

And the “Golden Rule” applies. In other words, “He who has the gold, makes the rules,” so there are varying definitions of need, most of which will not match yours.

For example, some schools provide enough grant money to make up the difference between a family’s federal Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the college’s total Cost of Attendance (COA). Others calculate their own EFC, using a personalized formula that may or may not count home equity or other elements of net worth. Under these rules, a student’s level of “need” can vary wildly from college to college.

And how do these schools meet full need? That too varies significantly by institution. Several schools provide enough in grants and work-study income to meet a student’s entire need without throwing loans into the mix. Others will expect you to take out modest loans or will offer aid packages that include federal student loans of up to $7500. In this case, the balance between grants and loans becomes a key consideration.

While a list of colleges committed to meeting full financial need might seem very appealing, keep in mind that you could end up with lower tuition bills at other schools. Nevertheless, according to US News and World Report the following schools are committed to meeting the full financial aid needs of admitted students in 2010:

Adrian College, MI

Amherst, MA

Barnard, NY

Bates, ME

Boston College, MA

Bowdoin, ME

Brown University, RI

Bryn Mawr, PA

Caltech, CA

Carlton, MN

Chapman, CA

Claremont McKenna, CA

Colby, ME

Colgate, NY

Holy Cross, MA

Columbia, NY

Cornell, NY

Dartmouth, NH

Davidson, NC

Duke, NC

Emory, GA

Georgetown, DC

Gettysburg, PA

Grinnell, IA

Hamilton, NY

Harvard, MA

Harvey Mudd, CA

Haverford, PA

Lafayette College, PA

Macalester, MN


Middlebury, VT

Mount Holyoke, MA

Northwestern, IL

Oberlin, OH

Occidental, CA

Pitzer College, CA

Pomona, CA

Princeton, NJ

Reed, OR

Rice, TX

Salem College, NC

Scripps, CA

Smith, MA

St. Olaf, MN

Stanford, CA

SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, NY

Swarthmore, PA

Thomas Aquinas, CA

Trinity College, CT

Tufts University, MA

University of Chicago, IL

UNC—Chapel Hill, NC

Notre Dame, IN

U Penn, PA

University of Richmond, VA

University of Virginia, VA

Vanderbilt, TN

Vassar College, NY

Wabash College, IN

Wash U, MO

Wellesley, MA

Wesleyan College, CT, CT

Williams, MA

Yale University, CT

Mar 13, 2010

College Road Trip Planner Update

For those of you who don't own a GPS or who prefer to have a second opinion when taking to the road, a wonderful college road trip planning service is available free of charge from the American Automobile Association (AAA). And you don't even have to join the club!

Simply visit the AAA website and enter your zip code. You'll be routed to a local club, which for me is AAA Mid-Atlantic. At this point, find For Your Travels at the center of the page and click on TripTiks & TourBooks (reminds me of the old days with the spiral-bound booklets and routes designated in green magic marker). Under TripTik®, click on Launch TripTik® Travel Planner.

Now here’s where it gets fun. Under the Directions tab, click on Starting Point and fill in your starting address. Move on to Destination, where you'll find a nifty dropdown menu under Location type which includes a College/University option. Select a state and you are presented with a complete list of every college and/or university located in that state. You don’t have to know an address, the school mascot, or anything else about the school. Just click “Get Maps & Directions” and you have the first stop on your college tour neatly mapped and annotated with advisories on traffic or construction.

For your next stop, click on Add Destination and repeat the process. You can do this for an entire road trip. Each stop will be tagged with a colorful pushpin and the TripTik® will keep a running tally of miles and hours on the road. If your goal is to visit two of Virginia’s private colleges each day of spring break or during Virginia Private College Week, this is a terrific planning tool. AAA members can even go old school and order a traditional Trip Tik® online, which will be sent by mail.

While you're on the AAA site, you can do some more comprehensive trip planning and find information on hotels, entertainment, or car rentals located near the colleges you are visiting. Discounts (including the one my daughter used on AMTRAK over four years of undergraduate and three years of graduate school) are available to members only. For thrifty travelers, AAA provides fuel conservation tips as well as a very handy Fuel Price Finder by zip code. As far as I can see, it's updated daily and accurate to three decimal places. Beat that!

Mar 12, 2010

UVa, William and Mary, and Christopher Newport Explore Increases in Freshman Class Size

In conversations concerning proposals to increase the size of William and Mary’s incoming freshman class by 50 students, University Provost Mike Hallernan revealed that the College is among several Virginia public universities considering larger class size to help compensate for severe losses in state revenues.

According to Hallernan, the University of Virginia may be increasing its student body by as much as 1500 students over the next several years. He also indicated that Christopher Newport University officials discussed a plan at a recent board of visitors meeting to grow its current 4,900-member student body to more than 5,100 students and increase out-of-state students by up to 10 percent of total enrollment by 2016.

In recent years, higher education has taken a huge hit in Virginia. Although he declared education to be an important part of the state’s economic recovery and recommended few new funding reductions, Governor Bob McDonnell signaled he supports deep cuts proposed last fall by former Governor Tim Kaine, including a controversial plan to take about 5 percent of mandatory student fees paid to universities to help offset state budget problems.

To stem the flood of red ink, several Virginia universities implemented highly unusual mid-year tuition increases. William and Mary, the University of Mary Washington, Christopher Newport, as well as Virginia’s community college system were all forced to hike tuition for the second semester of this academic year.

In his announcement of mid-year tuition increases, William and Mary President Taylor Reveley said, “The financial outlook for 2010/11 looks even less promising than the situation this year.” While already producing grumbling about stress on academic programs and college facilities, the additional 50 freshmen would only make up for about $500,000 of a potential $6.7 million shortfall in William and Mary’s base budget.

Individual universities are waiting for the Virginia General Assembly to act on budget recommendations before setting tuition rates for next year. CNU has already warned students that a tuition increase is on the horizon. Given the state of the Commonwealth, it’s likely the rest will follow with a series of revenue-enhancing measures including tuition and class size increases as well as enrollment of additional out-of-state students who pay considerably more than their in-state classmates.

Mar 10, 2010

Why College Students Drop Out

In the first of three studies commissioned by the Gates Foundation, Public Agenda looked at why so many students who start college never finish their degrees. The findings, published in “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them,” challenge traditional assumptions about college-bound students, the college selection process, and how students transition to college.

According to the US Department of Education, fewer than 60 percent of students who begin higher education at four-year institutions receive a degree within six years. And these statistics reflect an average—at some institutions, the numbers are truly disturbing.

Traditional explanations for the failure of so many students to complete degrees focus on rising tuition costs, poor academic preparation and study skills, insufficient student support and advisory services at postsecondary institutions, and the pressure to go on to college even when interest isn’t there.

Probing these theories, the Gates study surveyed 600 young adults, aged 22 to 30. Answers were compared between those who started college but did not complete and those who had successfully completed two- or four-year college programs. The findings might surprise you:

1. Most students leave college because they are working to support themselves and going to school at the same time--the stress of work and study simply becomes too much. The US Department of Education reports that among students in four-year colleges, about 6 in 10 work more than 20 hours per week and more than a quarter work in excess of 35 hours each week. At some point—usually in the first year—it all gets too difficult according to survey respondents.

2. Students who fail to finish college are often on their own financially—they’re essentially putting themselves through school. Studies, including this one, show that young people who leave college without a degree are more likely to come from less privileged backgrounds and are substantially less likely to have received scholarships, financial aid, or loans.

3. Among students who don’t graduate, the college selection process is far more limited and often seems “happenstance and uninformed.” According to this survey, many students, especially those who fail to get their diploma, barely go through any college selection process at all. For those who dropped out, the process seemed more matter of “chance or location, not the pursuit of a specific goal or future career.”

4. Students who leave college are aware that a diploma is an asset, but they may not fully recognize the impact of dropping out on their future. Most young people acknowledge that having a college degree pays off. Those who did not complete degrees, however, are less likely to feel “passionately” about the value of college and are less likely to have had strong parental or counselor support relative to their college prospects.

To learn more about the Gates study or read the entire report, go to the Public Agenda website.