Case Western Reserve University

I was impressed on a recent visit to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. In fact, my first sense was that the school has a decided Ivy League feel to it with its size, architecture, and urban location. Case is a private university with 4016 undergraduates and 5620 graduates. It is ranked as more selective by U.S. News, and attracts students with SATs averaging 1336 and an ACT cumulative average of 30. One of the few universities in the U.S. with more males enrolled (56%) than females (44%), this is no doubt due to the popularity of its engineering programs – although biology, nursing and psychology are also found on the list of top majors.

Case has some impressive institutional stats, including a 92% freshman retention rate. The school meets 91% of undergraduate student financial need, although I was less impressed by the average debt of recent graduates: $39,886. In athletics the school plays at the Division III level.

I loved the campus and its mix of traditional and modern buildings. A standout is definitely the Peter B. Lewis building, which houses the internal School of Management. Architect Frank Gehry may be known for the undulating forms and curves of his major buildings, but to my untrained eye it also looked as if a very unfortunate explosion may have occurred inside. My photo of the building is at the top of the blog. I am very sorry that our tour didn’t include a peek inside. I also popped in a picture from the lovely main library at the bottom, which was featuring therapy dogs as a relaxation antidote to final exams during my visit—which I loved.

Finally, an observation or two about Case’s location in Cleveland: the city is far from the joke it once was, shades of urban blight and the Cuyahoga River in flames. Cleveland is now known as a hip metropolitan center with much happening in the arts and sports, and I am aware that it is also a major foodie destination. Any student looking for a standout education in an interesting urban setting should consider Case Western. 

Recently Visited: The University of Wyoming

Last Thursday I drove one of my clients up to Laramie for a tour of the University of Wyoming, and we were both impressed. The campus is lovely in the late spring with its historic red sandstone buildings and attractive grounds. Rated as the fifth best college buy in the U.S., U-WY is an incredible deal for Wyoming residents, who pay a $4125 tuition bill, and also a deal for out-of-state students, whose tab is $12,855. Room and board is $8732.  This brings the total cost of attendance for an out-of-state student into a range comparable to Colorado public institutions on an in-state basis – pretty remarkable.

The university is rated by U.S. News as selective, and admission statistics are as follows: 95% of applicants are admitted; the average high school gpa is 3.4; the average SAT-critical reading score is 538 and math 541; the average ACT cumulative score is 24. Freshman retention is 73%, and the 6-year graduation rate is 53%; both of these numbers are regarded as average.

With 12,911 students the college is a nice size for a public university: large enough to avoid seeming claustrophobic and in-bred, but small enough to feel like a true academic community. Particular strengths include highly regarded education and engineering programs, a wide range of outdoor activities, amazing local scenery, and multiple building renovations that are either in-progress or planned for the near future.

Both Alex and I thought this would be a pleasant place to spend four years, and the kind of institution that students would be proud to identify with after graduating. Laramie is 2.5-hours from Denver, so a good distance for Colorado students who want to be away from home but still within reasonable driving distance.  Check it out!

Pinnacle Summer College Planning Clinic

With school counselor caseloads climbing ever higher, families rightfully fear that students will lack personalized help with planning for college at the same time that admission selectivity reaches a peak nationwide. This summer local independent educational consultant Dr. Lisa Ransdell is offering a six-week reasonably priced college planning clinic to a small group of rising high school juniors and seniors.

The clinic provides 12 hours of instruction and personal guidance with key aspects of college planning, including college searching/matching, essay development and editing, career/major planning and assessment, financial aid guidance, model campus tours and interview preparation, and more. After completing the clinic, each participant will be far ahead of many of his or her classmates with much of the work of applying to college complete or solidly begun. Parents are invited to attend the financial aid and scholarship class meeting.

At the conclusion of the sessions each participant will receive a detailed, personalized report with college matches, the student’s edited essay draft, the college major assessment report, a point-by-point college planning timeline, financial aid and scholarship recommendations, and more.

Dr. Ransdell launched her education consulting practice, Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC, in 2007 in the Denver area.  Lisa works with all kinds of students, sharing with each insight from her 20-year career as a higher education administrator and 28-years as a college faculty member (ongoing). She is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, and the Denver-Boulder BBB.

Lisa’s past clients are attending or headed to schools like the University of Denver, the University of Colorado, the University of Chicago, Gonzaga University, the University of Southern California, Villanova University, Louisiana State University, the University of Oregon, and many more excellent colleges. The summer clinic is very affordable and offers phenomenal value and terrific benefits to participants and families.

For info/to register: LRansdell@comcast.net                   303-635-6620

Campus tour at UC Berkeley

Benefits of Private Liberal Arts Colleges

Students can definitely receive a solid college education at any type of higher education institution: large, small, public, private, in-state and out, etc. However, in my education consulting practice I am frequently surprised at the number of students who dismiss private liberal arts colleges out of hand as being too small. Here are my arguments in favor of giving such schools a serious look:

Quality of teaching

Private liberal arts colleges (PLACs) tend to have faculty who love to teach, and who were hired primarily to teach.  It is almost never the case at a smaller liberal arts college that classes are taught by graduate student teaching assistants. Class sizes at these schools tend to be smaller also. It is so much easier at this type of school to be known by your faculty members and to have strong connections with them from the outset of your enrollment.

Reasonable cost

Costs can be quite reasonable at PLACs, even more so than you might expect. If you are looking at state institutions outside of your home state, compare the cost of these with their out-of-state tuition charges with the cost of private schools (that don’t assess such fees). Very often the costs are comparable. Private schools also often have great financial aid packages available. Do your homework on cost and you may be pleasantly surprised!

If you are looking forward to expanding your horizons socially, and feeling bored with the students at your school, remember that you will be starting fresh wherever you go. A PLAC of 2200 students will expose you to a new group of students whom you likely have never met before, and from all over the U.S. It may be less overwhelming to fit in more quickly at such a school than at a public institution of 22,000, and believe me, by graduation time you still won’t know all members of your class!

Multi-talented graduates

PLAC graduates are regarded favorably by prospective employers and graduate schools due to their broad skills and critical thinking abilities. The lists of students accepted by graduate and professional schools always features large numbers of graduates of PLACs.

Here are a few of my personal favorite liberal arts colleges in the U.S.: Kenyon (OH), Grinnell (IA), Haverford (MA), Pomona (CA), and Lawrence (WI). I encourage all of my clients to give private liberal arts colleges a good, long look.

Choosing A College: Some Suggestions

If you applied to more than one school, and if you did your homework and chose places that fit you and where you have a reasonable chance of being admitted, you may soon be in a position to select from multiple offers of admission. Should you be this lucky, how do you go about choosing a college, a momentous decision? Here are some variables that I recommend students consider in order to make a sound choice.

Academic Fit

First, which of the schools that accepted you comes closest to offering the academic experience you hope to have?  Consider which schools offer majors that interest you, or THE major that interests you if you’ve made a choice. Consider also the strength of those programs, something you can root out by consulting databases, or doing simple online searches (e.g. top U.S. college business programs). What is the average class size at the school, do faculty invite students to participate in research efforts, and what is the predominant teaching style of the faculty? Does the school conduct research on student experiences (for example do they participate in the National Survey on Student Engagement), and if so, do they publish outcomes for prospective students to read?

Know that you don’t necessarily need to attend the most prestigious, selective or expensive college in order to have a great experience and a great future. Ask about what recent graduates are doing, including their employment and acceptance rates in graduate and professional programs. See if there are local alums of the college near where you live that you might get in touch with to hear about their experience.

Social Fit

Second, did the cultural and social atmosphere of the school fit you?  Do you feel you could be happy on the campus given its location, its range of activities, and the sort of students who attend there? What about the size of the school, and its distance from where you live?  All of this and more can be weighed as an additional aspect of fit.

Monetary Fit

Third, which of the schools offers the best monetary value in terms of the balance between total cost of attendance and offers of aid? In an era when college costs have spiraled beyond any other significant life investment, this is likely to loom large unless your family is quite wealthy. Remember that the cost of college may well haunt you long after graduation in the form of loan payments.  Who is giving you the best deal? Inquire also about the status of financial aid over time. Does the college consistently support continuing students?

One Last Visit

Finally, if you haven’t visited, or if your earlier visit was somewhat brief, make another if possible. This time spend a full day or more and schedule appointments with a professor or two, sit in on a class, hang out in the campus center, and see if it is possible to spend the night with a current student. Plan as broad an experience as possible to help you make your decision.

Weigh the Pros and Cons

Finally, consider making a pro and con list about each school in consideration, featuring the above variables as well as others that are important to you.  Talk with your parents, teachers and counselors. Then go with your best judgment. You are less likely to make a bad decision with this degree of consideration, but if you do, you can recover and move on after a semester or a year as a transfer student.

Idyllic Mirror Lake at Ohio State U

Comparing Colleges: Asking The Hard Questions

There is plenty of information out there about comparing colleges based on data points, much of it useful. Obvious factoids include total cost of attendance, average amount of student need covered, retention and graduation rates, and so on. Colleges and universities prospecting for good students are masters at showcasing themselves in the best light possible, and families are at times overly impressed at what they hear during admissions visits.

As a former higher education administrator who both conducted studies and utilized data to build and enhance student support programs, I appreciate ways in which statistics can both illuminate and obscure reality. A recent case in point is the ongoing scandal implicating Claremont McKenna College of CA in the falsification of SAT scores of newly admitted students.

More so than misrepresentation by colleges, my bigger concern as an independent educational consultant is that families don’t always know what to ask of an institution, and secondarily, how to interpret the answers. For example, I suggest to my clients that they ask not just about the employment rate of recent graduates, but the percentage of recent graduates who are employed in their field of study.

I recommend especially that the parents of girls ask about the number of reported sexual assaults on campus over time, and suggest that they not be mollified by the number of blue-light emergency phones located near dorms and on the quad, but by prevention programs targeting student attitudes and risk factors – since the majority of sexual assaults on college campuses involve acquaintances and alcohol consumption, and don’t occur out of doors.

Similarly, while schools are delighted to report on their most popular majors and award-winning faculty members, few parents have heard of NSSE, the National Survey on Student Engagement, a research project that digs deeply into the quality and type of learning that occurs at many schools.  In their latest report on 2.1 million students at 750 U.S. institutions, NSSE reports on wide-ranging practices and experiences associated with high levels of learning and development, from the number of hours spent studying each week, classes requiring research papers, conversations with faculty members outside of class, and percent of first-year students doing service learning in conjunction with freshman classes. Not every school participates in NSSE, and among those that do, outcomes may not be fully reported unless they are positive. (See http://nsse.iub.edu/html/annual_results.cfm)

Educational consultants and college planners are among those in the know about some of the nuances of comparing colleges, and this likely accounts for the increase in the utilization of such professionals. Whether you work with a seasoned professional or not, do your homework and ask some hard questions when considering college choices!

Top Entrepreneurship Programs for Undergrads

Many students interested in collegiate business programs and careers in business these days have an interest in entrepreneurship, which is the creative pursuit of innovation and opportunity in the business world, and a bit different from the traditional business subjects of marketing, management, accounting, etc.

In response, a number of schools have developed and become known for excellent entrepreneurship programs. According to entrepreneur.com, here are 12 of the best in the nation. I have added location and total undergraduate enrollment info:

Top Entrepreneurship Programs

#1 -U of Houston, Houston, TX: 30,688

#2 -Babson College, Babson Park, MA: 2007

#3 – Baylor U, Waco, TX: 12,575

#4 – Syracuse U, Syracuse, NY: 14,201

#5 -U of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA: 17,380

#6 – Washington U, St Louis, MO: 7239

#7 – Brigham Young U, Provo, UT: 30,684

#8 – U of Arizona, Tucson, AR: 30,665

#9 – Northeastern U, Boston, MA: 15,905

#10 – U of Oklahoma, Norman, OK: 20,892

#11 – Temple U, Philadelphia, PA: 27,702

# 12 – U of Dayton, Dayton, OH: 7843

In Colorado, entrepreneurship certificates can be earned in undergraduate business programs at CU-Boulder, Colorado State U, the University of Denver, and Colorado Christian University.

Advantages of Single-Sex Colleges

At one time in the history of U.S. higher education, college was exclusively a male domain.  Women sometimes attended “female academies” for the purpose of elevating their knowledge and skill as the future wives of enterprising men and mothers of successful offspring to-be. Then came the era of single-sex colleges, and the first co-educational colleges, such as Antioch College in Ohio, where women were initially welcomed as a cadre of helpmates who could assist male students with their laundry. Finally came more genuinely co-educational colleges, ultimately coexisting with an increasingly dwindling number of single sex institutions.

What Are Some Single-Sex Colleges?

Today there are approximately fifty-one single sex colleges in the U.S., with far more of the female-only variety persisting (albeit sometimes struggling), than the male variety. The website http://www.Women’sColleges.org lists some forty-seven women colleges that are still operational (many have closed), including Bryn Mawr, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith of PA; Spelman of GA (a Historically Black College); Stephens of MO; The Women’s College of the University of Denver; and Mills of CA. The four extant men’s colleges are Hampden-Sydney, of VA; Wabash in IN; Morehouse of GA (another HBC); and Deep Springs in CA.

Advantages of single-sex colleges

Arguments in favor of single sex education include a belief, supported with outcomes research, that a single-sex environment eliminates much distraction from an academic course of study, allowing both males and females to perform at a higher level. The evidence in support of women’s colleges is even broader, including findings that women’s college grads have more successful careers, earn more money, and are overall happier; and outcomes suggesting that women’s colleges produce graduates with higher self-esteem than female grads from coed institutions.

It is not the case that students at single-sex institutions are lacking in opposite sex companionship should they desire it — in fact, just the opposite is often true. Stephens College is just blocks from the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia, and Bryn Mawr students can take courses and participate in clubs and activities on the campuses of Swarthmore, Haverford, and Penn.

Consider including single-sex institutions in your college search.  You may be surprised at what you discover, and very glad you did!

The photo at the top of this article is of a pet-friendly room in a dorm at Stephens College — one of the few colleges in the nation allowing larger pets!

On Diversity and College Planning

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr Day, January 16, 2012! Many colleges in the U.S. mark this day with some kind of commemorative event. Metropolitan State College of Denver, where I teach, hosts a huge breakfast in honor of the holiday featuring a speaker, or sometimes performers. While I didn’t attend this year, I have memories of moving past programs honoring the Civil Rights leader.

Observance of Diversity on College Campuses

Something that I thought of today has to do with how diversity and inequality is observed in college curricula. I am very proud that two of the campuses where I have taught feature a requirement that asks students to consider these social realities.  While some may regard a diversity or multicultural requirement to be a mark of political correctness, I disagree. One of my regular classes, Sociology of Prejudice and Discrimination, gives students a platform to consider what conditions give rise to systems of oppression, and what experiences, actions and policies diminish them. I don’t expect my students to agree with me or with each other on these issues, but rather to consider the questions with open hearts and minds, and come to their own conclusions.

In my opinion the presence of such a requirement in the curriculum of a college is an indication of broad, inclusive thinking, and also a commitment to underrepresented student populations, for the examination of multiple realities often helps students from a range of backgrounds feel valued, and validated.

I encourage my clients to examine the curricular requirements of colleges they’re considering, and I hope that examination of the vast range of human experience is a part of what they are seeking.

Retention and Graduation Rates: What Do They Reveal?

Increasingly savvy parents and the occasional savvy student may have caught on to the wisdom of digging beneath the sea of happy faces, success stories and attractive photos featured in admissions brochures and college websites in search of valid measures that can meaningfully be used to compare one school to the next. Two sets of interesting statistics are freshman retention rates and four-or six-year graduation rates, which every school is mandated to report. Along with other outcome measures, these numbers are included in the methodology used by U.S. News and World Report to determine their evaluation of a school.

First of all, why do these numbers loom so large in a school’s ranking, and why are they reported as they are? It is easy to understand the importance of graduation rates. With less than half of all college-bound students in the U.S. ever graduating, this outcome should tell us something about the degree of support provided by a given college to its students to help them make progress and complete a course of study. However, given the wide gulf between types of colleges and the degree of selectivity they employ, it also tells us something about the challenges and risks faced by less-advantaged students at some schools. Therefore these numbers should be considered in light of the selectivity of the school in question. Personally, I have been disappointed with the shift away from reporting four-year rates to six-year rates, and can only assume that this represents acquiescence to a new, more dismal national norm.

What does it mean that the greatest focus in retention (re-enrolling from one year to the next) stresses freshman retention? This is because at most colleges the greatest loss of students occurs within the first year of enrollment. Many of the students who are lost in their first year of study never re-enroll, or repeat the pattern of enrolling and dropping out at more than one college. Therefore, freshman retention is critical, both for institutions, and for students themselves.

So, how do we meaningfully compare a college like the University of Denver, with an 87% freshman student retention, with Colorado State University, with its 83% rate, or the University of Colorado with its 84% freshman retention? And does it suggest that Metropolitan State College of Denver, often called Colorado’s College of Opportunity, is a colossal failure with its 67% retention rate and 21% graduation rate? (BTW, just for the sake of comparison, at most Ivy League colleges like Harvard, freshman retention sits right around 99%.) The numbers matter, but they must be interpreted in the context of the school’s mission and selectivity.  Metro State enrolls large numbers of first generation, low income, minority and adult students, and this exerts an effect.  It is also true that some Metro students are pursuing certificates or plan on transferring elsewhere, so this unfairly skews both sets of numbers. In my view the best use of retention and grad numbers is to help families ask hard questions of a school about how they are supporting their students.

Dr. Lisa Ransdell is an independent educational consultant and college counselor who helps students and their families stay on top of college planning. Lisa’s practice is grounded in 27 years of college teaching and 20 years in higher education administration. She constantly tours, reads, and does professional development in order to give clients the most up-to-date info.