Monday, July 20, 2009

UC regents panel recommends major budget cuts

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The University of California's Board of Regents should adopt a plan today to cut $813 million from UC's budget, a regents committee recommended Wednesday, even as professors, researchers, nurses and other UC employees argued strongly and loudly at the regents meeting in San Francisco that doing so would destroy the world-class university.

"Disinvesting in the University of California is like eating our seed corn," astronomy Professor Sandra Faber of UC Santa Cruz told the regents. "The university is the most powerful economic engine in the state," but its future is in jeopardy because UC is already having trouble attracting and retaining the top-flight academics the university depends on, she said.

One after another, UC's 10 campus chancellors told the regents about brilliant professors being lured away by more lucrative salaries from other prestigious universities, while they've been forced to lay off or eliminate the positions of hundreds of employees.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said it will take students an extra half year to graduate, the result of courses being eliminated. Others echoed that problem and said they've already reduced library hours, barred access to qualified students, shrunk research budgets and quit recruiting faculty.

"How many vaccines or ways to protect our planet from climate change won't be had because of these cuts?" asked Chancellor George Blumenthal of UC Santa Cruz.

The spending reductions have been made necessary by a loss of $813 million in funding from the state, which is grappling with a $26.3 billion budget deficit.

Cost-cutting plan

The regents' committee recommended a cost-cutting plan by UC President Mark Yudof that closes the university system's budget gap in four ways: faculty furloughs, increased tuition (approved by the regents in May), debt restructuring and campus-by-campus cuts intended to address about 40 percent of the shortfall.

Yudof vigorously defended his plan as the only way to address a steady decline in state support for the university, but he borrowed a line from a speaker and said it was, in fact, "an anti-stimulus plan."

"We have a plan that is fair, but no one is happy with it," he said.

Earlier in the day, UC employees marched loudly outside the Mission Bay campus where the regents met, shouting "Layoff! Yudof!" and "Chop from the top!" The protesters were joined by UC critic Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who evoked the Berlin Wall and People's Park and even Vietnam as he vowed shifting more control of UC finances to the state. (His bill to do so is stalled in the Legislature.)

Challenge to regents

But Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a regent, upstaged some of the drama by challenging the regents and each chancellor to "stand up and fight" instead of passively accepting the cuts. He urged them to endorse AB656 by Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, a bill making its way through the Legislature that would tax oil companies and direct the money to California's colleges and universities.

"We can fight fiercely in retreat, or we can stop and fight fiercely for the university," Garamendi told his colleagues, winning applause from the professors and other employees in the audience.

Regent Monica Lozano, chair of the Finance Committee, said it was inappropriate to put the chancellors on the spot, and they didn't respond to Garamendi. But the lieutenant governor succeeded in firing up enough of the regents that they agreed to consider the bill - or at least do a better job of presenting UC's woes to state lawmakers and the public.

In the end, the regents committee voted 11-1 to recommend that the full Board of Regents adopt Yudof's plan when their meeting resumes today. Only Garamendi voted no.

Read more:

Before College, Costly Advice Just on Getting In

The New York Times

July 19, 2009

The free fashion show at a Greenwich, Conn., boutique in June was billed as a crash course in dressing for a college admissions interview.

Yet the proposed “looks” — a young man in seersucker shorts, a young woman in a blue blazer over a low-cut blouse and short madras skirt — appeared better suited for a nearby yacht club. After Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions at Kenyon College, was shown photos of those outfits, she rendered her review.

“I burst out laughing,” she said.

Shannon Duff, the independent college counselor who organized the event, says she ordinarily charges families “in the range of” $15,000 for guidance about the application process, including matters far more weighty than just what to wear.

Ms. Duff is a practitioner in a rapidly growing, largely unregulated field seeking to serve families bewildered by the admissions gantlet at selective colleges.

No test or licensing is required to offer such services, and there is no way to evaluate the counselors’ often extravagant claims of success or experience. And Ms. Duff’s asking price, though higher than many, is eclipsed by those of competitors who may charge upwards of $40,000 — more than a year’s tuition at many colleges.

In the last three years, the number of independent admissions advisers (as opposed to school-based counselors) is estimated to have grown to nearly 5,000, from about 2,000, according to the Independent Educational Consultants Association, a membership group trying to promote basic standards of competency and ethics. While initially clustered on the East and West Coasts, counselors are making inroads across the country.

The consultants association has made a particular target of counselors who boast of helping nearly all their clients gain admission to their top-choice colleges.

“When you say things like, ‘We know the secrets of getting in,’ it kind of implies that it’s not the student’s ability,” said Mark H. Sklarow, executive director of the association, in Fairfax, Va. “It suggests that there’s some kind of underground code.”

A reputable, experienced counselor might, for a few hundred dollars, help a student compile a list of prospective colleges, or brainstorm topics for an essay. But others demand tens of thousands of dollars to oversee the entire application process — tutoring jittery applicants on what classes to take in high school or musical instruments to play, the better, their families are told, to impress the admissions dean.

Never mind that admissions officers say that no outsider can truly predict how a particular applicant might fare. “I guess there are snake oil salesman in every field,” said Amy Gutmann, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, “and they are preying on vulnerable and anxious people.”

While the going national rate for such work is about $185 an hour, a counselor in Vermont and another in New York City are among those who charge some families more than $40,000. Their packages might begin when a child is in eighth grade.

“It’s annoying when people complain about the money,” the Vermont-based counselor, Michele Hernandez, said. “I’m at the top of my field. Do people economize when they have a brain tumor and are looking for a neurosurgeon? If you want to go with someone cheaper, or chance it, don’t hire me.”

Dr. Hernandez, a former Dartmouth admissions officer, says she counsels as many as 25 students in each high school grade each year. She also offers four-day “boot camps” every August in a Boston hotel, charging 40 incoming high school seniors as much as $14,000 each.

Lee Stetson, who retired in 2007 after three decades as dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, now has a counseling practice near Philadelphia, where he charges as much as $15,000 for his junior-senior package. Unlike many competitors, Mr. Stetson says he cautions his small group of clients, maybe seven students a year, that he will not handicap their chances of admission to a particular college, nor button-hole former colleagues on their behalf. “I’m hoping they see me more as someone who understands the process,” he said, “than someone who can influence the chances of acceptance.”

While Mr. Stetson was one of the most influential admissions officers in the country, the extent of other counselors’ experience may be more difficult for parents to divine.

On her business Web site, Collegiate Compass, Ms. Duff says she brings “firsthand perspective to today’s admissions landscape,” borne of her earlier work “as a reader” in the Yale undergraduate admissions office. While outside readers help evaluate some candidates’ files, they typically have no decision-making authority.

It is not uncommon for other counselors to exaggerate their backgrounds. Ivy Success, in Garden City, N.Y., which charges some clients nearly $30,000, says on its Web site that its counselors have “years of experience as admissions officers to help you gain an edge in this competitive and uncertain process.”

Victoria Hsiao, a partner in Ivy Success, said in an interview that she had worked as an admissions officer at Cornell for several years in “the late 1990s.” But Jason Locke, the director of undergraduate admissions at the university, said there was no record, or memory, of Ms. Hsiao doing such work. (Mr. Locke did confirm that she graduated from Cornell in 1996.)

Asked about the discrepancy, Ms. Hsiao said she had mainly assisted the admissions office as an alumna who conducted interviews. She also said a partner, Robert Shaw, had been an admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania. Asked about this in an e-mail message, Mr. Shaw said he had been only “an assistant,” from 1987 to 1988.

“Don’t remember all the details,” he said, adding, “We really don’t want to be a part of your article as we’re not a service for the masses.”

Admissions officers say that for many students, the advice of their high school counselors should suffice. Those applicants who might benefit from supplemental counseling — like those at urban high schools with overworked counselors — are often among the least able to afford such services.

Regardless, colleges say parents should be wary of any counselor’s claim of being able to lobby for a candidate’s admission. While noting that there are “genuinely rational and knowledgeable folks out there doing this work,” Bruce Poch, the dean of admissions at Pomona College, adds, “Some of the independents leave me looking for the nearest emergency shower.”

Though none of the counselors said business was off in the struggling economy, some are making adjustments. Having initially presented the fashion show outfits as serious, Ms. Duff later said she had intended to “create a lighthearted environment,” the better to promote two new advisory DVDs she is offering, “at a price that is accessible.” (One for $45; two for $80.)

Katherine Cohen, the founder of IvyWise in New York City, has a team that charges from a few hundred dollars to more than $40,000. But she also has been emphasizing a spinoff called ApplyWise that for $299 helps students assemble their application in ways reminiscent of Turbo Tax.

Dr. Cohen, a former reader at Yale, is a member of the independent consultants association — despite a claim on the IvyWise Web site that runs afoul of an association admonition. “Congratulations,” it blares, “100 percent of IvyWise students were admitted to one of their top three choices in 2009!”

Fewer than one of every five admissions consultants can claim to be an association member. Bill Dingledine, a longtime educational consultant in Greenville, S.C., is among those advocating even more stringent certification offered by the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners. It requires counselors to pass a three-hour written examination.

The concept has yet to catch on, at least in part because many counselors’ practices are already booming. Asked how many counselors had sought, and won, that certification last year, Mr. Dingledine had a ready answer: about 20.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Weighing Price and Value When Picking a College

Weighing Price and Value When Picking a College

The Wall Street Journal
June 14, 2009


Facing shrunken savings and borrowing options, parents and students are making some tough trade-offs in choosing and paying for college, suggesting some shifting attitudes toward higher education may endure beyond the recession.

Old dreams of adult children earning degrees from elite, door-opening colleges or “legacy” schools attended by relatives are falling away in some families, in favor of a new pragmatism. Other parents and students are doing a tougher cost-benefit analysis of the true value of a pricey undergraduate degree. As parents wrestle privately with such emotional issues, many say they wish they’d begun years earlier to assess their values and priorities, long before their children’s college-decision deadline was upon them.

Tough College Tradeoffs

Throughout her childhood, Sarah Goldstein imagined attending New York University, says her mother, Rose Perrizo of Sharon, Mass. Sarah’s grandmother is an NYU alum; Sarah lived near campus with her parents when she was small. “In her mind, Sarah was always headed there,” Ms. Perrizo says.

But as Sarah’s college choice loomed last year, Ms. Perrizo, a real-estate appraiser, and her husband, Richard Goldstein, an attorney, “were agonizing over whether to pay $52,000 for one year at NYU, or $18,000” at their state university, Ms. Perrizo says. Both regard a bachelor’s degree as “only the beginning” of higher education for students like their daughter, who is interested in international studies; they hope to help with her graduate-school costs.

Finally, they sat down with Sarah and gave her a choice: They’d pay her way at the University of Massachusetts, or half her costs at NYU and she could borrow the rest. Sarah chose the debt-free route, but she was upset. The choice “was really hard,” she says; her peers, disdainful and heedless of costs, asked, “why would you want to go to a state school?” But after a successful year in the honors program at the University of Massachusetts, she is happy with her choice. Looking back, Sarah says, “it wouldn’t have made sense to pay $50,000.”

Ms. Perrizo says Sarah has learned an important lesson. “It’s like shopping at Loehmann’s vs. Bloomingdale’s. I’m teaching my daughter to be a good shopper and to pick value.” Ms. Perrizo’s only wish is that she had started talking about college costs earlier.

Such thinking challenges what Joseph Losco, an expert on the history of education, calls “one of the strange things” about the economics of higher education: “Universities and colleges don’t compete on price.” In fact, some college administrators fear lowering their sticker price will hurt their image, says Dr. Losco, chairman of the political science department at Ball State University, Muncie, Ind. Consumers have been complicit, largely because of what Ms. Perrizo calls “the baby-boomer notion that parents should give it all up for the kids.” In a May 2008 survey of 720 parents of college students by Gallup and Sallie Mae, a student-loan company, 46% said they had never, at any point, ruled out any colleges for their kids based on costs.

But now, “families are much more price-conscious and value-conscious,” Dr. Losco says. A soon-to-be-released Sallie Mae-Gallup study of 1,600 college students and their parents, conducted in March and April, says parents are increasingly anxious about tuition—and students are more skeptical about the value of a degree, compared with the survey from a year earlier.

Chelsea Thomas’s family was proud when she enrolled at Amherst College, in Amherst, Mass., and had an academically rich freshman year. Having a child at Amherst confers “bragging rights,” says Suzanne Thomas, Chelsea’s aunt who shares the college costs with the student’s mother.

When Chelsea’s scholarship expired after her first year, the family faced coming up with $26,000 to keep her at Amherst. That would have meant digging deep into savings that had been set aside for retirement, says her mother, Shelley Thomas.

Whatever It Takes

Relatives and friends pressured them, saying Chelsea “should do whatever it takes to continue” at Amherst, says Suzanne. Instead, the family decided that Chelsea would be happier as a financially independent young adult living close to family. Chelsea returned to the family’s home in Boulder, Colo., last year and became a partner in the real-estate-investment business that her mother and aunt own jointly.

Now 20 years old, Chelsea co-owns two rental houses and is working on a bachelor’s degree at a nearby public university. Chelsea says she misses her Amherst friends and the stimulating campus environment. Still, she adds, a degree from a top school “is worth a lot, but it’s not worth that much.”

Such thinking bucks the cultural view that an elite college degree is “the gold standard for both parents and students ... validating their worth in society,” Dr. Losco says. Now, more “parents are saying, ‘I don’t have the money to get you where you want to go,’ ” he says.

Even when the economy picks up, some of this new price-consciousness is likely to endure. The engines that have enabled college costs to soar—easy credit, home-equity loans and growth in savings—have stalled. Total college costs are already up 67% in the past decade at private colleges and 84% at public four-year universities, based on College Board data, and graduates’ wages haven’t kept pace.

Parents and students are borrowing less for college, the forthcoming Sallie Mae study shows. The percentage of students from middle-income households who are attending state schools is rising, and more lower-income students are enrolling at community colleges, the study shows. “We would expect to see an even greater shift” next year, a Sallie Mae spokeswoman says.

Even for savvy parents who anticipated the costs, the trade-offs for a top-tier education can be steep. Pam Mousseau recalls hearing when her oldest daughter was a baby that a college education would cost $50,000 a year by the time she finished high school. Her daughter is now 19 and a sophomore at a private university, and the cost at many schools has indeed risen to match that earlier projection.

Promises Made

Nevertheless, Pam and her husband, John, have promised their three daughters that they could attend “the best school they get into,” according to John, a portfolio manager. The girls work and will probably take out modest loans, but their parents will pay the lion’s share.

“We always figured we would find a way to do it,” Pam says. The Mousseaus have refrained from taking equity loans against their 91-year-old Maplewood, N.J., home, conserving their borrowing power for college. The kitchen has a 1940s-era Magic Chef stove and ancient cabinets with multiple paint layers. “Some parts of the ceiling have fallen down,” Pam says. But redecorating is on hold. They drive two old cars and haven’t bought a third, even with four drivers in the house. And they’re bypassing vacations they used to take, skiing or relaxing in beach-side rental homes.

“Sometimes I think, ‘I’m 53 years old. Can’t I have a decent kitchen?’ ” Pam says. “But it’s momentary.” She and John both graduated from private universities with their parents’ help, and they want to do the same for their kids. “I’m glad to make the sacrifices,” John says. But with seven years of helping with college tuition ahead, he adds, jokingly, “check back with me in a few years, and see if I feel the same.”

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Admissions 101: Are Low Grades in AP/IB Classes Better than High Grades in Regular Classes?

A few weeks ago, Jay Mathews asked readers a tough question in his Admissions 101 forum - which is better: an A or B in a regular course or a C in a more challenging course like an AP or IB class? Jay sided with AP, saying that all students interested in tier 1 or tier 2 schools should take at least 2 AP or IB courses. Even if that means a C on a high school transcript, Jay argued, colleges will appreciate a student who is willing to take on a challenge. Reader reactions have been pouring in ever since:

eloquensa: “My strategy suggestion is a little different from yours - I don't know about the college front in the C-in-AP/IB-or-A-in-regular argument, but if the student is a little more strategic in course and teacher selection it's a lot easier to avoid that dreaded C.
From my experience with IB, and my friends' experiences with both IB and AP, all IB/AP courses are not equal; some have far more work than others. This may be the inherent nature of the subject, due to the teacher or maybe just the students' preparation level. But they all have the AP/IB label. If one genuinely cannot cope with the heavy AP/IB courses but still wants the resume boost, then pick the easier courses with lighter workloads which are still branded AP/IB. Alternatively, when there is more than one teacher teaching the course, cross a lot of fingers to get the easier teacher(s). I know last year my English teacher offered far more extra credit and a much more relaxed policy on late work than the other two English teachers, and many of my friends at other schools say they have observed the same trends. It takes a bit of talking-to-seniors and may seem unorthodox but is a pretty good last resort if need be. I only discovered I had the easy teachers after conferring with my friends about our comparative workloads, but after that they were banging down their [guidance counselor's] doors to switch.”
researcher2: “From what I have seen students' truly can't have a C or two in their AP/IB classes and hope to get into the quality schools even with the extra ‘stuff’ Jay alludes to. Why, because there are plenty of kids who get at least a B in those courses and also have the extra ‘stuff’ applying to the tier of colleges below Harvard etc.
Since so many kids are applying to college these days, and so many are taking AP/IB courses it is much more difficult for the average student to compete. Maybe a decade ago an average student who attempted the ‘college level’ course could get into a 2nd tier school with a C in such a course, but now it seems that student will need to focus on the tier 3 schools.
I do want to point out though that there is nothing wrong with those tier 3 schools, and to me that is the crux of today's issues with college.
Not only are all students pushed to take AP/IB courses, but they are all expected to attend college and then in some areas (like mine) people get obsessed about ‘name brand’ colleges and the stress is incredible for our kids. Individual interests and individual skills get pummeled, in my opinion.
We no longer recognize that teens are diverse. We no longer recognize the value of certain skills and interests.
If we stop insisting that all kids should take AP/IB courses, or that all kids have to be on the college track, we won't have to worry about the dilemma of ‘is it okay to have a C in an AP/IB course?’”
grcxx3: “I have friend whose daughter is the same age as my younger son (rising junior). They are good friends.
The mom's belief is that GPA (not course rigor) is what counts, so she has had her daughter take all regular/academic classes, no pre-AP/AP classes (which carry a 1.0 extra point). As a result, her daughter has a 4.0 average and is currently in the top 20% of her class.
Now, my younter son has 1 year in an IB/MYP school, so his main subjects came in counting as pre-AP classes. He also came in with a mix of A's and B's (and C's in Spanish...oh well...). This past year he took a mix of pre-AP and regular/academic subjects. His ending year GPA is a 3.6 and his class rank is in the 35% area.
Now, the National Honor Society GPA cutoff is 3.75. My friend's daughter was inducted into NHS in May (with my older son). If my younger son is lucky, he will make the cutoff GPA next year...otherwise, he will certainly make it by senior year.
There is VERY little likelihood of our children competing for a spot at the same school because our values/expectations are very different.....but IF they were....who would the adcom folks want? The one who made the easy As in the regular/academic classes, or the one who chose to challenge himself with more demanding classes (risking getting a B rather than an A)? Both are involved in sports....her's in soccer, mine in golf.
I would certainly hope that the willingness/desire to take more challenging courses would work in his favor."

What do you think? Let us know in the comments, or read other readers' responses in Admissions 101.

By Washington Post Editors | July 7, 2009; 11:12 AM ET