Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2016: The Year in Review

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Anyone can wait until December to write their reflections on the highlights of the year in college advising, but it takes a special talent—or lack of wisdom—to write them just as the year is getting underway.  The challenge is just too hard to say no to, so here’s what everyone else will be writing about in eleven short months:

College access improved.  The colleges of the Ivy League and other highly selective colleges are calling their latest outreach efforts to low-income students a huge success.  Rather than holding area breakfasts for school counselors this year, these trend-setting colleges took the money from those events and sent admissions officers to high schools in underserved neighborhoods, where they spent the morning working with talented youth who would be the first in their family to go to college.

“The real key was partnering with local public universities and community colleges” said one Ivy dean of admission.  “By working together and co-presenting on college readiness and the basics of paying for college, the message was clear: There’s a college for everyone, and while an Ivy might be your college, it doesn’t have to be.”

Early admission decisions support the success of this new effort, as public schools in Detroit, Los Angeles and St. Louis report record acceptances and scholarship offers to students. Plans are already underway to expand the program next year.

Test optional colleges soar.  A different kind of success was claimed by the 145 colleges who started the 2016 recruiting season no longer requiring ACT or SAT scores as part of the admissions process.  “I had students in tears calling me in May, telling me they still hadn’t received the results of their March SAT scores” said one Big Ten admissions director who took his office test optional.  “I kept telling them it’s OK, we don’t need them until October, but they were too stressed out to listen.  That’s when I realized this testing thing was completely out of hand.”  Since October, 110 additional colleges have announced the switch to test optional for the 2017 recruiting year, including 4 Big Ten schools and one Ivy League college.

Student renames FAFSA process, gets citation.  Seymour Hansen received the Student of the Month Award today, to honor the 17 year-old’s contribution to the simplification of the financial aid process at his high school.  “A kid at lunch came back from a meeting with our counselor all shook up, because the counselor kept saying ‘You need your income information from the prior-prior year.’  The kid thought the counselor was stammering, until I said ‘You have to give them last year’s tax information.’  She cheered right up, went back and talked to the counselor, and ‘Last Year’s Taxes’ became our school’s financial aid mantra.”  Seymour’s counselor credits this simple change with increasing the school’s FAFSA completion by 32 percent.

Art schools fail to file for Best Schools rankings.  Tired of being held up as Colleges That Aren’t Worth the Money, every college participating in National Portfolio Day decided to withhold their admission information from all rankings publications.  “At first, we thought the notoriety was worth it” said one admissions director, “but then our new president took me to lunch and asked me, ‘who goes into art for the money?’”  The NPD consortium has created a series of videos on financing an art degree and making a living as an artist, featuring some of the leading artists in the world.  Both videos landed in YouTube’s Top 100 videos viewed for 2016.

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