May 31, 2014

Job outlook for 2014 grads improves especially for liberal arts majors

According to a report released on Thursday by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), things are looking up on the job front for Class of 2014 grads—especially for liberal arts majors.

NACE’s 2014 Student Survey of nearly 44,000 students representing 696 institutions found that the percentage of seniors who applied for a job and received at least one offer increased from 45.9 percent in 2013 to 47.9 percent in 2014.

And surprising, the improvement appears to be entirely among students majoring in some of the “weakest academic areas emerging from the recession”—the liberal arts and sciences and education.

The majors showing the greatest level of improvement in “offer rates” are visual and performing arts (15.4 percentage points better than the Class of 2013), education (11.5), communications (9.5) environmental science (7.5), and math (6.8).  

NACE speculates that the improvement is likely due to improvement in the national education market, where graduates from most of these disciplines are traditionally employed.

But none of this good news comes as a surprise to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), which recently released a report titled, How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment.

Based on an analysis of U.S. Census and other economic data, these organizations found that graduates with degrees in humanities, arts, or social sciences are both employed and employable.

"As the findings in this report demonstrate, majoring in a liberal arts field can and does lead to successful and remunerative careers in a wide array of professions,” explained Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Specifically the study showed:

  • At peak earnings ages (56-60), liberal arts majors earn more than those who majored as undergrads in professional or pre-professional fields
  • 4 out of 5 employers want all students to study the liberal arts and sciences
  • Unemployment rates among liberal arts majors are low and decline over time
  • 93% of employers agree that ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than undergraduate major
  • Many liberal arts and sciences majors also gain graduate and professional degrees and experience significant earnings boosts when they do 
While this data may not slow the current rush among high school students to engineering schools, it does provide encouraging news for prospective liberal arts majors!

May 30, 2014

The Common App probes pricing models for the future

At the member conference held in Washington, D.C., a couple of weeks ago, Paul Mott, interim CEO of the Common Application, put forth a timeline for gathering input and possibly making changes to key areas of Common App management and technology.

As part of his plan to address various operational and what appear to be political issues within the membership, Mott emailed a follow-up survey this week designed to build on data gathered from an initial questionnaire circulated last December by Censeo, a management consulting firm hired by the CA Board of Directors.

In this latest online survey, the Common Application zeroes in on  organization—vision, governance and membership structure; specific features of the online application that are either offered currently or may be offered in the future; and pricing as it affects service levels and product features.

And the questions are very interesting insofar as they reflect member concerns and the need to reevaluate technology—specifically the desirability of customization and glitzy “smart” technology—that was introduced as new to the CA4 and unique in the industry.

The survey also suggests that the Common App may be looking to expand its sphere of influence.

For example, while seeking reaffirmation of the Common App mission statement to “promote equity, access, and integrity in the application process,” the survey probes whether the Common App should have a “broader role in helping students evaluate college choices” or in “guiding students through the application process earlier on during high school.”  

And bowing to institutional interest in data collection, the Common App also wants to know if members would like to see a “broader role in providing data to universities to help them reach their target audience more effectively” and presumably put the Common App more squarely in the lucrative business of enrollment management.

But getting back to concerns specifically expressed by applicants, recommenders, and independent counselors, the survey asks members to evaluate various service upgrades including the ability to have applicants upload content of other file types (e.g. videos, etc.) within the Common Application and the provision of chat support for applicants and recommenders as well as for members.  There is also the suggestion of an application system for transfer applicants with “comparable functionality and quality” to what is being made available for first-year applicants.

It all comes at a price, and the Common App wants to know if institutions would be willing to pay for these upgrades some of which can get expensive.

To get an idea of how valuable uploads, dynamic questions, chat support, and other technical services might be, the Common App asked members to consider various pricing models: 

  • The price per app should be dependent on whether a member is exclusive or not (current model)
  • The price per app should be proportional to the level of service required by each member
  • The price per app should be dependent on application volume
  • The price per app should be proportional to the complexity of each member screen
  • The Common Application should develop different technology options to meet the different needs of its diverse member base, and members should pay different prices depending on the option selected
  • The price per app should be proportional to the price each member charges its applicants
  • The price per app should be a flat fee for a basic application, and then each member can pay for additional features
  • Every member should be charged the same price per app
  • Members should pay an annual fixed fee instead of paying per app

In a final, optional section of the survey, members were asked to make “forced” choices between application products having different attributes—service levels, features, and price points.  The Rolls Royce option came with a fixed annual fee of $5,550 plus a $7.00 per application additional charge, while the least expensive—no bells or whistles—set an annual fee of $500 plus a $3.50 per application additional charge.

And of all the areas in which the Common App could be improved for applicants, only the possibility of live chat support and content uploads are under immediate consideration.  

But like any bottom line-oriented industry, it’s less about customer satisfaction among “end users” and more about what the market will bear.  

So far at least, the student applicant is lost in this conversation.

May 28, 2014

Staying ahead in the 2014 financial aid game

Yes, the clock is ticking down.  But wherever you are in the process, there are still ways to successfully play the financial aid game.

In fact, with a few properly-executed “moves,” you can definitely have an impact on what financial aid is offered and how close it comes to meeting your needs.

Here are ten key moves to put your team in play:

  1. Complete the FAFSA. Even if you missed state and/or institutional priority deadlines, you should still complete a FAFSA as soon as possible.  It’s no secret that most schools have already allocated funds. But if there is anything left, they may try to accommodate late filers. And even if a school has distributed all its own aid, you may still be eligible for federal loans and Pell grants. Do it NOW.

  2. Submit Corrections. If you completed your FAFSA based on estimates, you should update immediately using tax information from 2013. Although colleges will distribute financial aid packages based on estimates, they expect corrections to be made as soon as final information is available. Be aware that your financial aid package could be amended if revised numbers vary significantly from the estimates you provided—but this can work to your advantage if your income estimates were high.

  3. Answer mail. Watch for correspondence related to your FAFSA or other school-based financial aid applications. Keep in mind that colleges are required by the federal government to randomly select “targeted” applications for "verification” using a “risk model” to identify sections of the FAFSA that are prone to error or which seem inconsistent.  If you are asked to provide additional information or to clarify any of your answers on application forms, respond immediately.  Those who have not submitted federal verification requirements by October 1, 2014 may have all federal, state, and need-based institutional financial aid cancelled.

  4. Review the fine print.  In the rush of decision-making, you may have missed some important terms in your financial aid package.  Be aware of any academic requirements to maintain your scholarship award and be sure that your aid is guaranteed for a minimum of four years. If you expect to study abroad, ask if your financial aid will carry with you.  Plan ahead. Don’t wait until the money disappears before addressing these issues with your financial aid office.

  5. Keep colleges informed. Be sure to make colleges aware of any significant change in family circumstances, such as an unexpected layoff, a salary cut, a divorce, or the death of a parent or guardian. Most are very understanding and will make every effort to respond promptly and with great compassion. It’s better to be upfront about situations over which you have no control than to let a problem fester until neither you nor the college can solve it.

  6. Educate yourself about loans. All new federal education loans are being made through the Direct Loan program and your college’s financial aid office with funds provided by the US Department of Education. Although federal loans may offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans (including some loan forgiveness opportunities), it’s up to you to be a smart consumer. Check out the information provided on the FinAid website and contact your financial aid office with any additional questions you may have.

  7. Go back to the well.   It can’t hurt to ask.  As other students make adjustments in their plans for the fall, previously allocated money may get freed up.  If you’re having a hard time making ends meet or if the mix of grant aid and loans is proving burdensome—even without an extraordinary change in circumstances—contact your financial aid office and explain the situation.

  8. Continue the hunt. Admittedly scholarship competitions are getting a little scarce, especially those that might help with fall expenses. Nevertheless, continue checking with websites like Cappex or FastWeb, and register to receive up-to-date information on competitions or other opportunities. Also, don’t hesitate to ask about the availability of future scholarship money at your college or university.  If you hit the ball out of the park freshman year in the way of academics or community service, there may be scholarships targeted to sophomores. 

  9. Be creative.  As you consider various summer employment opportunities or ways to earn a little college cash before starting school, be sure to ask about scholarships, tuition reimbursement, or any other programs that might provide college assistance beyond your paycheck.

  10. Keep your grades up. Colleges reserve the right to rescind merit scholarships if grades drop below the point of eligibility. On the other hand, strong senior year grades may push your overall GPA to a level high enough to qualify for additional money. Even a tenth of a percentage point could make a difference in dollars received. Again, it never hurts to ask.

If you have questions concerning FAFSA on the Web, do not hesitate to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-319-337-5665. You can also contact the Center by email or request "live help" by clicking a button located on the FAFSA website.

Most importantly, remember that even at this late date, it’s worth playing the game to win!