That was the question a college counselor asked me last week after reading a piece I wrote in The Atlantic about the broken college admissions process. The question arrived at the end of a long week that started with a talk to students and parents at a public high school in Fairfax County, Virginia and ended with multiple messages from parents whose teenagers got rejected from many of their top-choice colleges.
As I wrote in Who Gets In and Why, I didn’t grow up in a place where people talked about colleges incessantly. Only about half of my high-school graduating class even went to college. So I continue to be frustrated over the preoccupation over getting into a brand-name college. What do I say to the mother of a freshman(!) who approached me last week in Fairfax County asking “why no one from this high school gets into MIT?”
Given that the high school I was speaking at is one of the top in the state, I wanted to say that her son would be just fine. The real college access problem we have in the U.S. is not that kids aren’t getting into MIT. It’s that too many teenagers aren’t continuing their education after high school at any college, or they start college but never finish.
As for the families I spoke to in Virginia or the parents I heard from later in the week, I worry about their kids for another reason. As I wrote in The Atlantic, high school has turned into a series of hoops that students jump through in order to try to get into what they—and their families—perceive as “good colleges.” For too many kids, high school is now about counting up AP courses, extracurricular activities, better grades, and test-prep courses—and less about doing what they want and enjoying this unique time in their lives.
If college athletics is the front porch of college—because it’s the most visible—then college admissions is its front door. That’s when most people have their first interaction with higher education. And for too many families, the admissions process is not a great first impression.
At a time when college presidents list student mental health as their No. 1 concern—and institutions claim that student wellbeing is a top priority—higher ed leaders can start by reducing the stress they themselves put on the admissions process. Here’s what I suggested in The Atlantic piece:
Eliminate early decision admissions;
Expand the idea of “direct admissions,” where students are admitted to less selective schools automatically without ever applying; and
Put in place an iterative application process, where schools ask for materials in stages and give applicants a more realistic view of their chances of getting in.
Will any of them work to reduce the stress on teenagers? Will colleges ever consider these changes, which I admit aren’t in their best financial interest? Or as the counselor asked me last week, what can we do to make change happen?
I’m interested in your thoughts. Hit reply and I’ll add some of your ideas to a future newsletter.
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🚨Thursday, April 14 at Noon ET, the Common App’s CEO Jenny Rickard joins me for a LinkedIn Live to talk about this year’s record-setting application season and some of the organization’s approaches to rethinking the college application process.
To watch, go to my LinkedIn page or click +FOLLOW on my profile to be notified when we’re live (the conversation will also be archived there).
Cashing In on Name, Image, Likeness
As we head into the final weekend of the college basketball season, the focus around the NCAA’s interim name, image and likeness (NIL) policy, is primarily on Division I athletics, the most competitive sports division in college.
But Division III is the largest NCAA division, with 438 institutions and more than 197,000 student athletes. That’s about 40% of all NCAA athletes. These students compete without athletic scholarships.
The big question: Will the ability to run a side hustle provide Division III students with an opportunity to defray their cost of attendance in college?
From agents to technology platforms to marketing agencies, and programs run by individual brands, there’s a growing industry springing up around athletes who want to maximize NIL earnings.
Opendorse provides student athletes with a technology platform to run NIL activities. They report the average NIL compensation for their Division III athletes is $35, compared to $57 for Division II, and $561 for Division I.
The Brandr Group, another marketing firm for NIL, is starting to explore partnerships with Division III schools. When it comes to bigger NIL deals, Brandt’s Rick Perko says the question is, “Can you rely on parents, family, friends, and alums, to buy enough t-shirts and jerseys that you could make a Division III NIL program viable?”
—Opendorse’s Sam Weber sees opportunity for Division III athletes. “Those athletes that might be at the smaller levels of college athletics—but approach NIL with a kind of an entrepreneurial spirit—they’re not out there making seven figures but they’re able to make tangible income that directly impacts their financial freedom.”
Still, agents will go where where the money is, says Brad Wolverton, who covered college athletics for The Chronicle of Higher Education. As a result, it’s not a surprise to see the NIL focus on Division I programs.
Why it matters: Instead of corporate sponsorships, most NIL deals are with local businesses and donor bases.
These deals might not add up to big money, but free food or a complimentary salon visit can be a big deal for college students.
In the past, Wolverton says, college athletes couldn’t work at a summer camp, for instance, and use the name of their college, but now they can. That allows them to trade on their name because its value.
How it works: Some NIL activities don’t have a dollar amount attached. Athletes and businesses also negotiate in-kind arrangements.
Opendorse says social media posts are the most common of NIL activities.
It’s not just for athletes—colleges and universities have skin in the NIL game, too. Institutions in all NCAA divisions are working with marketing firms and businesses to not only help their students, but also create co-branding partnerships.
While NIL is meant to benefit athletes, the policy can also give schools a leg up when it comes to recruiting high school athletes or college players transferring through the NCAA portal, where athletes from all three divisions post notices of their intent to transfer and where coaches can search for players to recruit.
Bottom line: There is no central clearinghouse or agency that athletes and schools report NIL data to, so it’s nearly impossible to accurately gauge the overall impact of the policy.
“The governance isn’t clear,” says Joe Rosen, a sports agent and adjunct law professor at Boston College. “States put NIL laws into effect, Congress hasn’t acted, and the NCAA has so far provided only basic guidance. States give authority to colleges, some colleges hand that authority to individual teams, and sometimes it even comes down to the coach.”
College leaders might think the cloud merely optimizes IT or is simply about replacing on- premises applications with cloud-based ones.
But when you talk to institutions that have migrated to the cloud you discover that the value comes from modernizing the campus infrastructure and boosting innovation. Read the latest paper in a new series about digital transformation in higher ed.
The Postpandemic College
Flexibility was critical for colleges and universities to get through the past two years, but now as higher education comes out of the pandemic there is tension on campuses about how much of the old normal should return.
Why it matters: While students favor the convenience of online and hybrid learning, not all colleges are willing to admit they’re delivering “suboptimal experiences,” Kristen Eshleman said during the latest edition of the Next Office Hour earlier this month. Eshleman is vice president for library and information technology services at Trinity College in Connecticut.
Online and hybrid options should remain after the pandemic, Eshleman said, but institutions need to be more intentional about which courses are offered in such formats and which faculty members teach them.
“Just because students prefer to do certain things in a certain mode, we don’t necessarily know that leads to the best learning outcomes,” warned another panelist during the webinar, Viji Sathy, an associate dean and professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Let’s actually approach this as a science and see what is best rather than continue to fly by the seat of our pants.”
In a flexible environment, boundaries are important, Sathy said. For example, maybe a professor might eliminate deadlines for assignments during the semester in favor of a single deadline at the end. But then, Sathy said, “we need to have waypoints during the semester so that we don’t open it up so wide that students are essentially doing things that are harmful to their learning.”
The big picture: The pandemic coincided with social unrest across the country and much more attention being paid to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging on campuses.
One area of learning that hadn’t been very equitable in the past: access to hands-on learning. Students with social and financial capital are much more likely to complete undergraduate research and internships in their fields compared to their under-resourced peers.
—Now, more and more colleges are looking for ways to bake hands-on learning into the student experience, in part to close equity gaps and appeal to families who see experiential learning as key to their return on investment.
Trinity’s Eshleman said her college is building formal IT apprenticeship opportunities on campus so that students learn deeper skills and get professional experience as undergraduates.
Other institutions are adopting a similar playbook by making campus jobs more meaningful. There’s another upside to this approach: students fill jobs at a time when colleges are facing labor shortages in staff positions.
Meanwhile, Chapel Hill is launching a new general education curriculum, Sathy said, in which every student will participate in undergraduate research. “We don’t want only those students who know how to knock on doors to be only ones who get research experience,” she said.
The university is also rolling out a “college thriving course,” to not only help students navigate a research university but also better understand how they learn. ‘It’s surprising how many students come to college not knowing how learning works,” Sathy said.
Bottom line: Innovation has been a buzzword in higher education for much of the last decade, but you’re likely to hear another I-word a lot more in the coming years: intentional. The institutions that will survive and thrive are those that fundamentally step back to examine their mission, capacity, and outcomes and then are intentional about everything that they’re doing in the classroom, the student experience, the campus workplace, and their research agenda.
🖥 Watch an on-demand recording of the Next Office Hour (sponsored by Cengage; free registration required).
A new study from Georgia State University showed that students from Perimeter College who received targeted text messages from chat bots were more likely to complete tasks critical to staying enrolled. Those who conducted the survey hope that engagement through chat bots could help keep low-income and first-generation students on-track.
A perfect storm of economic factors are driving the narrative for mergers, acqusitions, and partnerships in higher education. John MacIntosh and Kasia Lundy, both advisors to colleges and universities, join Future U. to explain the landscape, when partnerships and mergers work, and what’s next for the sector.