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.

ACT Review Series for Colorado statewide test

Dr. Lisa Ransdell of Pinnacle Education Consulting is offering a low-cost, intensive review series in preparation for the statewide administration of the ACT on April 24, 2012 to Colorado high school juniors.

When: Saturdays beginning March 10 at 2 p.m. on the downtown Denver Auraria campus (building and room to be announced). With the exception of April 13, most meetings will last 90 minutes.

Cost: $25 for textbook (ordering information will be supplied).  Each session costs $20; the full six-session series may be paid for in advance for $100.

ACT Review Session Dates/Topics:

March 10:

  • overview of the ACT, ACT test sections, and test-taking strategy; self-study plan for maximum readiness

March 17:

  • full English section administration and review

March 24:

  • No meeting; Auraria campus is closed for Spring Break

March 31:

  • full Math section administration and review

April 6:

  • full Reading and Science section administration and review

April 13:

  • full ACT test administration (3 hours)

April 20:

  • review of full test outcomes; overview of ACT essay writing section

Dr. Ransdell is a former academic services Dean and Assistant Provost at schools like The University of Denver and Denison University (OH), and a continuing faculty member at Metropolitan State College of Denver. She established her education consulting practice in 2007, and has since then helped many Colorado families with all aspects of college planning.

Like Lisa Ransdell on FaceBook or Twitter to receive Pinnacle Education News You Can Use, regular updates on trends in college admissions in Colorado and nationwide:  http://pinnaclecollegeplanning.com

Crazy U

In my work as an independent educational consultant I frequently make use of multiple resource guides, databases, education blogs and publications. This past weekend I added an entry to my list of favorite non-traditional books about college planning: Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College, by Andrew Ferguson.

Ferguson applies humor and plenty of ironic commentary to his tale of helping his son with the college planning process. One of my favorite chapters recounts the author’s attendance at a presentation led by the most expensive east coast college consultant, whose fees are in the neighborhood of $40K for comprehensive services, typically targeting the Ivy League and other elite east coast colleges.  Ferguson skewers her readily, along with the parents who are gullible enough to fork over the funds for her tactics of intimidation and snobbery.

Ferguson also takes colleges to task for their arcane and obscure norms in vetting applications, as well as the obscene extent of inflation in costs of attendance.

His points are well taken; in fact, I am considering emailing him to share something I’m sure he already knows: that there are highly qualified, ethical college consultants who work hard (at reasonable rates) on behalf of students and families to demystify the process and expand options.

This is a fun and illuminating read, and will be savored by professionals and digested by parents.  I recommend it highly.

Lisa Ransdell is an independent educational consultant in Denver, Colorado with an extensive background in college teaching and administration. She helps students and families nationwide with all aspects of college planning.

 

Battling the High Cost of College

I’ve seen several pieces in educational media recently that suggest that a backlash may be brewing among middle class families in reaction to the exorbitant cost of many selective colleges. This nascent movement isn’t necessarily forming in reaction to the Ivy League tier of schools, which will always attract applicants no matter their cost, but more in response to the next tier of private institutions across the U.S.

A small subset of the schools now costing upwards of $50K for the total yearly cost of attendance include Bates, Carleton, Colorado College, Hamilton, Johns Hopkins, Pomona, Stanford, Swarthmore, Vassar, Washington University (SL), Williams, and many, many more….

There are many wonderful colleges across the U.S. that offer an excellent education at reasonable prices, as well as those that are consistently generous with aid and discounting offers.  Independent educational consultants can help families identify schools and enrollment arrangements that can significantly reduce the cost of attendance, and equally important, student debt after graduation. As a consultant from a working class background who was a first generation college student I am especially sensitive to such concerns, and I strive to keep my own fees at a reasonable levels, with special group discounts, pro bono clients, and offers to assist local high schools with college planning for free. My own summer college planning clinic is just such an effort, with dramatically reduced rates for students participating in an eight week, 16-hour college coaching class: http://pinnaclecollegeplanning.com/ (click on the “summer clinic” page).

Click here to see a pretty cool viral video out of Canada (apparently similar problems abound there) that gets to the heart of the student debt lament: the Student Poverty Song.  It’s pretty catchy and has great visuals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cr2LiQGrC7A

 

Some Nuances of Comparing Colleges

Last spring I was hired by a family with a singular purpose in mind: comparing the relative merits of the four colleges where their son had been accepted and offered varying amounts of scholarship money.  I was delighted with the assignment, for my specialization as a university administrator was student retention/success; hence the only thing I love more than working closely with students and families on the college planning process is digging deeply for institutional information and parsing the meaning of all manner of numbers and rankings – including some that aren’t widely known or reported. College-bound students and their parents are smart to examine and ask questions about standard institutional “outcome” statistics, such as retention and graduation rates. However, it is important to know that the numbers don’t always tell a simple and straightforward story.

As an exemplar of the most that possibly could be hoped for in this realm, Harvard University boasts a 97% retention rate for freshmen students, and a 98% six-year graduation rate. (When did reporting norms shift from four to six year grad rates, anyway?) The Ivy League and other colleges in the highly selective tier are SO selective in the admissions process that they can be ultra-choosy among the strong pool of students who apply, guaranteeing not just across-the-board academic strengths, but additional personal characteristics that bode well for success in their particular environment.

The only college in the state of Colorado that is regarded as most selective (although not exactly comparable to the NE Ivys) is Colorado College.  CC features a 94% freshman retention rate and an 85% six-year grad rate, and doesn’t cost all that much less than Harvard with a total estimated COA of about $46K.  Two of Colorado’s more selective institutions are the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of Denver, once again mixing apples and oranges in terms of institutional types and sizes.  CU claims 84% freshman retention and 67% six-year graduation rates, while at DU the numbers are 87% and 74% respectively, just a shade better.  However, the comparative total costs of these two institutions are radically different: nearly $47K for DU and around $19K for CU Boulder at the in-state rate.  For those for whom cost is an issue, this is serious food for thought.

Now at Metropolitan State College of Denver  (soon to be renamed Denver State University, btw) the numbers look pretty darn miserable: 66% freshman retention and 21% six-year graduation. With numbers like these, college shoppers can’t be blamed for “dissing” the extreme bargain to be found in the yearly COA of just over $4000 at the still predominantly commuter school (most students arrange for and pay their own housing costs, so this is not included in the quoted amount).  To be sure, MSCD is ranked as a less selective college, and yet the numbers can be explained in part by the school’s special mission, which is as a college of opportunity serving large numbers of adults, low income students, and students of color.  The fact that 70% of Metro students have a job, and 30% of these a full-time job, explains more about both statistics, as does that fact that many students treat the college as a stepping stone en route to another college down the road. There is a lot of excellent instruction that goes on at Metro State (I know, as I’ve taught there since 1998), and if the school could eliminate those who don’t intend to stick around from the analysis, both retention and grad rates would look a whole lot better.

There is more to be shared about the college comparison game, but I’ve written the War and Peace of college planning blogs already, sorry! BTW, the student for whom I did the analysis ended up picking a fine school, but the least of the bargains in his mix of four schools (for reasons that I completely understood), and is now a proud University of Oregon Duck: quack!

Dr. Lisa Ransdell is a comprehensive educational consultant and college planning professional with 27 years of college teaching and 20 years in higher education administration forming the foundation of her practice: www.pinnacle-educ.com


Identifying Your “Right Fit” College, Part I

Recently one of my student clients shared with me that his ideal college is Humboldt State University, located in Eureka, CA.  Curious as to how a Denver native came to fix on a school in northern California, I asked him how he developed such a far-flung goal.  He didn’t have a firm response, beyond the vague notion that they have a strong biology program, one of his interests.

 Having visited Eureka a couple of times, I shared with him that it reminds me of Boulder in a way – a smaller, even more granola version of Boulder, and with a weirdly fractured population dominated by students, faculty and staff associated with the college, and loggers, who are attached to the awe-inspiring nearby redwood forest.  All of this was news to Will, and at the moment I’m not sure if these impressions increased or diminished his interest in the school.

 This conversation reminded me of myself, more than 30 years ago, as I considered my college options.  For a time I was obsessed with Syracuse University, for reasons that escape me now.  I imagine I read something that made it seem cool. I then became focused on Antioch College, much closer to home for me as a native of southern Ohio.  I was intrigued by its progressive reputation, and I knew a bit about their co-op programs, which had students off campus doing seemingly fascinating things for long stretches of their enrollment.  This lasted until my mother proclaimed “You will attend a communist college over my dead body!” – so … so much for Antioch.  Ohio State offered me a small scholarship, and thus ended my brief period of college hunting.

 Students today have more college choices and more help in identifying their “right fit” college, I’m happy to say.  These include guidebooks readily available in libraries, bookstores and school guidance offices; school guidance counselors themselves, who know a lot, but who often are overburdened with large numbers of assigned students, especially at public high schools; electronic search programs such as Naviance, which invite a student to input key information in exchange for a list of probable matches derived from published data; and independent consultants, such as myself.  An advantage of independent consultants is the personalized attention received by student clients, paired with in-depth, first-hand knowledge of many colleges and universities.

 A good independent consultant considers her or himself a student of colleges, and has direct information about scores of schools across the U.S., as well as contacts at many of those schools, and of course access to information regarding features of those schools and their admissions’ policies.  My clients will benefit from my 20 years in higher education administration and direct knowledge of colleges as disparate as Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, Bates College in Maine, Denison University in Ohio, Millsaps College in Mississippi, and Occidental College, in Los Angeles.  I continue to visit and study colleges with an eye to what about them may be of interest to my clients.

 Will hasn’t taken his SAT exams yet, so our investigation of schools is at a beginning stage, but soon he will have a more definite notion of whether he is truly interested in Humboldt State as a result of our explorations together.

 More on “right fit” colleges in Part II, forthcoming.

 Lisa Ransdell is a college faculty member, former higher ed administrator, and head of a college-search consulting firm, Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC,  www.pinnacle-educ.com.

  

College Search Process Heats Up

U.S. colleges will be bursting at the seams this fall (2008) as members of the largest high school graduating class in U.S. history arrive on campus. The large size of the incoming class of 2012 is blamed on a “baby boomlet,” as kids of the later baby boom cohort come of age.

Local institutions view the shift as a mixed blessing. Tom Willoughby, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment at the University of Denver, shares that DU saw a 32% increase in its applicant pool this spring, with 8333 prospective students applying for a total of 1140 available spaces. At the same time, the recent economic downturn is causing families to scrutinize scholarships and other aid offers extra closely in search of the best educational value – so yields are thought to be somewhat unpredictable.

While the increasing trend toward selectivity nationwide is better news for colleges than for students, it is by no means cause for undue angst for those in the college admissions process. What can college-bound students and their families do to increase the odds of desirable outcomes from their college search in an extra-competitive market? Careful preparation is key, along with a flexible attitude. This fall and next, when the record for the largest class will be broken yet again, fewer students will be in a position to set their sights exclusively on one idealized, highly competitive school and see their dreams become reality. This is a good time for families to consider alternative pathways, such as a year or two at a community college or second choice school, possibly followed by a transfer application to the institution of choice. It’s also not a bad time for ambivalent students to defer enrollment and gain work and life experience for a year or two before heading off to the ivory tower. A gap year, where students pursue travel and alternative study, or intensive volunteer and intern-type experiences can also be a great choice.

Finally, this is a good time to look carefully at the factors that constitute a true quality education and consider some of the lower profile/hidden gemstone schools, like Metropolitan State College of Denver and others, where students receive instruction from committed, engaged faculty and enjoy a degree of success in the world comparable to that of graduates of their more prestigious and selective competitors.

Lisa Ransdell is a faculty member and former college administrator who heads her own education consulting firm, Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC.  She can be reached at www.pinnacle-educ.com.