Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Financial Aid is Due When?

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Counselors often describe their work as exciting, and that can go both ways. The changes in financial aid are supposed to fall under the good kind of exciting, but as we come back to offices , we’re slowly discovering the FAFSA changes might not seem so great after all, since the FAFSA can be filed onOctober 1.
You know—right after schedule changes, right before Homecoming, right in the middle of applying to college?

The approach still makes sense in theory—b what better time to get kids to apply for money to pay for college than right after they’ve applied to college?  Still, the changes have raised anxieties among both students and counselors. Since our job is to ease anxiety, let’s meet this head on.

Issues for Students

·         I’m not even sure where I’m going to college, and you want me to fill out the FAFSA.  This one is pretty easy.  No matter where you’re going to go to college, it’s going to cost money to do that.  FAFSA is the first step to allow the government and the colleges to help you do that.  You want that help, no matter where you go—so filling out the FAFSA makes sense.

·         I’m too busy getting good grades and filling out college apps to fill out the FAFSA.  This is actually a pretty good point.  The good news here is that filling out the FAFSA is more of a Mom and Dad job than a student job.  Chances are, the student can share their FAFSA information over a pizza dinner, while a parent works on a laptop.  Plus, with Mom and Dad focused on the FAFSA, they’ll be spending less time, um, “helping” you complete your college application.

·         I have no idea what “Prior Prior Year” means.  Yeah, the government really blew it when they gave the new FAFSA this title—if you’re filing the FAFSA in Fall of 2016, that means they want your 2014 taxes, right?  You’ll be working with your 2015 taxes.  Think of it that way.

Issues for Counselors

·         I don’t have time to sleep in the fall, let alone run financial aid workshops, Part I.  Believe it or not, you probably do.  If you’re running a College Application Month (it’s like a Spirit Week for college—here’s some information), you already have the support of your teachers and administrators to get college things done, and you probably have a ton of volunteers coming in to help out.  Adding a FAFSA program, and bringing in a few more financial aid experts, is easiest to do right there—and it keeps the college ball rolling.

·         I don’t have time to sleep in the fall, let alone run financial aid workshops, Part II. Another option (not my idea, but wow, what a brilliant one) is to run your financial aid programs in spring of thejunior year.  They may not be going to college in the fall, but by filling out the Spring FAFSA, they can actually walk in to high school as seniors, open the fall FAFSA, check the box that says “I already applied, and my information hasn’t changed”, and you’re done.  Boom.

·         I don’t have time to sleep in the fall…Part III.  OK—don’t.  Most colleges and state funding agencies don’t have their financial aid budgets ready anyway, so in most cases—that’s in most cases—FAFSAs filed in October won’t get processed by colleges until February anyway.  It’s wise to call colleges to double-check, but if you really think this can’t work, it might be able to put it on a brief hold.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

College Readiness Checklist Fails to Make the Grade

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

While we’ve been away this summer, the School Superintendent’s Association (AASA) has released a series of National College and Career Readiness Indicators. These three checklists can be used to determine if students will succeed in their chosen post secondary path of college or career, along with one checklist to determine if they are, according to the Website, ready for life.
AASA calls these research-based metrics, but doesn’t cite the research on their Website or indicate the involvement of counselors or college admission officers in the creation of the lists. They go on to state “the campaign is a response to dismal college and career readiness scores reported by standardized test makers that fail to portray a comprehensive picture of student potential.”
The comprehensive picture AASA has drawn for college readiness reads as follows:
GPA 2.8 out of 4.0 and one or more of the following benchmarks:
Advanced Placement Exam (3+)
Advanced Placement Course (A, B or C)
Dual Credit College English and/or Math (A, B or C)
College Developmental/Remedial English and/or Math (A, B or C)
Algebra II (A, B or C)
International Baccalaureate Exam (4+)
College Readiness Placement Assessment*
The College-Ready list then goes on to site minimum scores on the ACT, as well as “other factors” that contribute to college success, including completion of the FAFSA.
The stated goal of the indicators is to prove “Our students are more than a score”, a slogan that seems to refer to deciding a student’s college readiness based exclusively on the ACT or SAT. Given the list they’ve created, AASA seems to be suggesting students are indeed more than just one score; they are three scores. If the list is an accurate indicator of college readiness, students are ready to take on the rigors of college as long as they have a minimum score on the ACT; a minimum GPA, and a C in any class from Algebra II to an AP course.
This position is completely counter to the one taken on by school counselors and college admission officers, who have long felt that college readiness is a much more intricate construct, and never determined by just one score, or by just three. Directly involved in the college selection process, these educators have long held, for example, that a student is more likely to be college ready if they’ve taken rigorous classes across the curriculum, not just one AP class.
In addition, a number of colleges are convinced that a C in an advanced class suggests the student is unlikely to succeed in college, since average college grades are typically one full grade level below what a student earns in high school. Given that data point, is AASA really willing to say a student with a C in Algebra II is a success if they earn a D in their first year of College Algebra, or if their high school GPA of 2.8 turns into a 1.8 at university? This would rebuff years of institutional data that has been created and verified by thousands of colleges, data that includes the role of personal maturity and socialization as measures of college readiness.
In addition, this college readiness list will undoubtedly lead parents to reconsider what they thought they knew about choosing a college in ways that can be harmful to students. Since the list doesn’t answer the question “Ready for which colleges?” parents will now safely assume that the college readiness list will prepare their child to succeed in any curriculum at any college, from community college to research universities to the Ivy League.
I for one am not looking forward to the first phone call from an ebullient parent who advises me that I was wrong about Johnny’s college prospects, since the Superintendent’s Association has decided that Johnny’s 2.9 GPA and C in Algebra II really does make him ready for Yale, no matter what I think. I don’t mind having the conversation; I do have concerns what that conversation will do to Johnny.
Helping students with the very personal experience of discovering colleges that are best suited to advance their goals, talents, and dreams has never been an easy thing to do, if it’s done well. A vast majority of school counselors and college admission counselors will readily admit that the many Best Colleges lists haven’t helped that cause, since those rankings are based on factors that either have little to do with a student’s college experience, or don’t take the unique needs of each student into account when creating the list. Counselors and college admissions officers do that; lists don’t.
Well-meaning as it may be, this checklist of college ready attributes does little to help the cause of college readiness. It may be news to some superintendents and principals that there’s more to being ready for college than a good score on the ACT, but that’s only because those school leaders have never had a serious conversation with their counselors about the purpose of college, and the process of creating a successful college fit between student and school.
The creation of this college readiness list may create that opportunity, as administrators may use its rollout as an occasion to advise counselors how to “do” college counseling. School counselors are going to want to be ready for that conversation with armloads of data and the insights of college admission officers. If they are, that conversation could lead to new levels of support for college counseling programs —one of the few outcomes of the creation of these checklists that could be considered a plus.