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Finding Life in College

Next: The Future of Higher Education
In today’s newsletter:
  • When it comes to college, what really matters.
  • The latest data on college enrollment and early admissions.
  • And how colleges miss the mark with academic programs that fail to appeal to students.

Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash
Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash
A New Way to Measure Value?
One question I’ve received most often in recent months as I’ve spoken to thousands of teenagers, their parents, and college counselors through virtual events at high schools across the country goes something like this: You’re encouraging us to look for colleges outside the top-ranked schools, but what should we be looking for?
Big picture: Rising tuition and stagnant wages since the Great Recession in 2008 means families are increasingly calculating the return on investment of a degree from a specific college.
Yes, but: Thinking about the ROI of a degree only through the lens of the outcome—read: job and salary—misses what happens in the intervening years. In other words, what is the value of the residential learning experience between arriving on a campus and graduation? That’s the essence of the question I’m hearing from parents these days—how do we figure out which colleges deliver the best student experience, both inside and outside the classroom?
What’s next: The value equation that was established partly by the Great Recession is evolving because of another disruptive event—the pandemic.
  • Parents with their college kids at home learning remotely are seeing for the first time what happens in the classroom—at least through Zoom—and for the most part they don’t like what they’re paying for.
  • It’s not just the classroom experience. From a distance, parents are also seeing their children navigate the “silos” of higher ed, going to multiple offices on campus (or in this case calling or emailing them) to ask for help, repeating their story over and over again.
The bottom line: When I ask college graduates what remains with them long after they leave campus, I always hear about people. We all tend to forget what we learned in a politics or philosophy class, but we remember a professor, a coach, an adviser.
  • The Gallup-Purdue Index, which has surveyed some tens of thousands of bachelor’s degree and associate’s degree holders nationwide, found that their well-being in life after college has less to do with where they went to school and more with what they did while they were there.
  • The survey found that “six key experiences” double a graduates’ odds of being engaged in their work and thriving in their overall wellbeing throughout their lifetime.
  • The six experiences included things such as professors who cared about them as a person, projects that took a semester or more to complete, and an internship or job that applied learning in the real world.
  • Having a mentor in college who encouraged students to pursue their “goals and dreams” was found to be the strongest predictor of well-being out of anything that Gallup asked about.
  • But here’s the problem: only 14% of graduates recalled having a professor who made them excited about learning and encouraged them.
When you’re looking for college, how do you know a campus has that secret sauce? Last month, a professor at Lehigh University posted this Twitter thread after his final seminar with a group of seniors. Here’s a key piece of it:
Dr. Jeremy Littau
A good college provides space for asking questions about who you are and your place in the world. They challenge you to interrogate your values for the first time probably ever, to keep what fits and consider other ways of seeing.

The vocation part flows from that inquiry.
Read the whole thread.
📢 Tell me: What do you think was the magic of your college experience?How would you recommend others find that when searching for a school? Answer anonymously here on this form.
…and name some schools that you think provide those magic ingredients. I hope to use your feedback in updates I’m making to the paperback edition of Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, which will be released in August 2021. 
Early Word on Early Admissions
Jeff Selingo
Starting to hear stats from early admissions rounds in age of Covid. BostonU: 12% increase in apps for ED1. 75% test optional. 71% admitted w/o scores. Tufts up 17% ED1, including 34% increase in first gen. 57% did not submit test scores, 56% admitted w/o scores.
Early-admission applications to Ivy League colleges skyrocketed this year, as anxious high-school seniors tried to boost their chances of getting into some of the most selective schools in the country,” Melissa Korn reports in today’s Wall Street Journal.
The numbers: “Binding early decision applications rose by 22% at Brown University, 23% at the University of Pennsylvania, 29% at Dartmouth College and 49% at Columbia University. At Yale University and Harvard University, applications under the restrictive early-action option jumped by about 38% and 57%, respectively.”
Read more (subscription required)
  • Duke saw its early apps rise 18% and admitted 16% of early applicants.
  • Notre Dame admitted 32% of early applicants, including 31% admitted without test scores.
  • UVA admitted 39% of students who appliced early decision from in-state and 26% out-of-state.
The Final Word on Fall Enrollment
New estimates out this week from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show undergraduate enrollment across the U.S. is down 3.6%. Freshman enrollment alone is down 13.1%, a decline the Clearinghouse said is “unprecedented.”
Build It and They Will Come?
Early To Go All Remote
Online or In Person: Which Choice Aced the Pandemic Semester?
One Final Note...
NEXT is part of Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on higher education. Open Campus is working to improve the coverage Americans get about their colleges by creating a local network of reporters dedicated to the beat. Those reporters are supported by a national team of expert journalists who bring depth to the coverage from day one.
Please consider supporting their work. Now through the end of the year, your gift will be doubled, thanks to NewsMatch. Here’s where to give.
Thank you for helping to renew local news and elevate journalism about higher ed.
See you in 2021. I know we can’t all wait for this one to be over. Happy New Year — Jeff
To get in touch, find me on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn.
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