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Friday, January 21, 2011

College Rankings are Misleading and Unhelpful

September 6, 2010, The Provost of Denison University, Bradley Bateman published an editorial at on college rankings.

Many use the US News & World Report's ranking as their Bible for college selection.  However, as Mr. Bateman points out, the bases of these rankings is faulty.  Asking college presidents to take a survey about their school and others when they commonly spend little, if any time, on campus, and rarely, if at all, time with students, is ludicrous.  It is asking the school nurse to do cardiac bypass surgery.  It's akin to asking the manager of a baseball team to play.  He is a businessman, not a ball player.  I belabor the point.

From Mr. Bateman's account: "In order to get a good education, one that prepares graduates to thrive in a a world that seems to change in the blink of an eye, college students must learn this imperative skill of critical thinking...and they need a good advisor who pushes them to try new things and to take risks in what they study...none of the rankings will tell you were you can attend college to find that kind of advice.  Nor ranking will provide a clear picture of the education that any school provides.  And no ranking will tell you which college is the best fit for you."

I could not have said it better.  Look carefully, and closely, at prospective schools before you put them on your final list of schools.

College Admissions

With schools using aggressive direct marketing, fast track applications, and other lures, the number of applicants received has skyrocketed.  Schools are reporting 25% - and more - increases in the number of applications received.

Naturally, the more applications received, the more rejection letters which will be sent.  Schools can afford to be picky, and use wait lists and other strategies to ensure that they meet their enrollment goals.  Most schools are not "need blind" in the admissions office, so they can also exercise a preference for those students whose families can pay full price.

In today's Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr. Jerome Lucido of USC rightly raises the issue of whether all the marketing, and ancillary results, is having an adverse effect on the quality of higher education.  The shift to a focus on exclusivity and selectivity distracts from a focus on the students' intellectual curiosity, vitality, and perspectives.  Is there a focus or measure of the impact of the university experience on the students - what knowledge have they gained, habits of mind have they developed, skills have they mastered?

I applaud Dr. Lucido for asking the questions and pointing out that the business objectives of the university must be balanced with the mission of the institution.

It is my hope that this month's national forum "The Case for Change in College Admissions" will not only be the venue for many rich conversations but also a call to re-focus on the essentials of higher learning at every level of our higher education system.

California community colleges facing significant challenges

Governor Brown's proposed budget includes massive cuts in higher education funding - a staggering $400million for the community colleges - yet calls for an expansion in the number of students served.

Community college students already face closed campuses and increased difficulties in transfering out.  Overcrowding on many campuses has caused students to take 4, 6, or even more years to complete their two year requirements so they can transfer out.  Students unable to complete their requirements take up seats in other classes, causing a cascading effect.

Mr. Scott, the state's community college chancellor estimates that the failure of the proposed $9billion tax extension measure will result in double the cuts to their budget, $800 million, rather than $400 million.  He understandably opposes the governor's idea of increasing the number of students served.  There is an issue of quality, he rightly comments.

For some, the community college first, then transfer route may still be an effective way to get a college education.  However, California is not the only state in the country with budget woes.  Caveat emptor - buyer beware.  Students need to do their homework and are well advised to work with professional private college planners. 

Examples of the benefits of working with a planner can be seen at, my website.  I work with families all across the US.

CSUs can't keep up with demand

CSU Long Beach received more than 10 applications for each seat lat year.  LA, San Diego, Long Beach, San Jose, and other crowded cities have campuses which simply cannot keep up with local population growth.

Combine this problem with the deep, deep budget cuts and you have a recipe for disaster, maybe even the closure of campuses.  Although Cal State officials say reducing costs is their focus, tuition increases are also on the table.   Increases are almost a certainty if Californians do not approve a $9billion extension of tax increases.

Add to that the fact that many CSU campuses have 6 year graduation rates around 50%, and these schools are not good options for most students.

It is time for Californians to be realistic and look to private and out of state schools.  The CalGrant program, long a lure for staying in state for many students, has barely been funded the past two years and may not survive the chopping block.  And it is time that the rest of the nation recognise the loss in caliber and quality the budget cuts are causing in the public universities of California.

University of California campuses may be crushed under budget cuts

This week's meeting of the UC's Board of Regents was a grim event.  Governor Brown's budget calls for a $500million funding reduction for the UC system.  That is more than 16% of their direct state funding.  UC President Mark Yudof told UC Regents that the time is fast approaching when the university will no longer be able to offer admission to all qualified Californians, the underlying principal of the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education. Overall, the UC system faces a $1 billion budget gap, half of it from the $500 million Gov. Jerry Brown wants to cut.

Mr. Yudof has asked the 10 campuses and the Office of the President to identify specific solutions to address the budget gap. In March, Mr. Yudof will present the plans to the Board of Regents.  Those solutions are to be based on the principles of preserving UC's core mission; balancing access, affordability and quality; and maintaining UC's status as a public institution.

So, what does that mean?  We won't know until March.  However, they are openly speaking of shifting 10,000 seats reserved for Californians to out of state students.  Depending on where you live, that is good news, or bad.

Already, we have seen excellent schools shift from being 4 year colleges to 5-year institutions.  Class sections have been eliminated.  Numerous majors are "impacted" or over full.  That means a student may not be able to have the major of his or her choice because there are too many students in the department.  The inaccessibility of various courses has a snowball effect.  In order to stay full time, and not trigger loan repayments and other consequences, students take courses they don't need for their major - but other students do.  So those other students can't get their classes, and on and on it goes.

So, when considering college selection, think carefully before putting a UC school on your list.  Even Berkeley is going to be adversely impacted by so many, and repeated, and deep budget cuts.

The Regents will return to their campuses this weekend and have meetings through February.  They will reconvene in March to discuss their plans and the impacts on access, affordability, and quality.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why is my EFC so high?

The federal methodology calculates your Expected Family Contribution based on 47% of your income (AGI), 5.6% of your assessable assets, 50 % of your student's income (over $4750), and 20% of your student's assessable assets.  There are a few allowances given which lowers your income figure from the AGI on your taxes however, you can see that this formula will result in a challenging figure no matter your income.  That's why planning ahead is incredibly important.  Many, many families can make changes which will lower their EFC legally.  Business owners have many, many options to do so!  Please contact me to schedule a consultation  - 858-705-0043 or

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

FAFSA filing 101

It's FAFSA filing time right now!  About 150 questions, lots of pitfalls and ways to answer incorrectly.  This form is the gateway to all federal aid.  The states use it as the gateway for their aid programs, as do most colleges and universities.  Several changes were implemented this year.  They asset protection allowance (the amount of your assets excluded from the calculations) was lowered.  This will increase most family's EFC a bit.  If you are new to this, the EFC is the Expected Family Contribution.  It is the minimum amount your family will be expected to pay for this student's college education for the school year you are filing for.  If you have questions regarding the FAFSA, or would like a professional to file it for you, please contact me at