Thursday, January 20, 2011

UC wants all student applications read by a person

The Sacramento Bee

Published Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011

In this era of online dating and computerized banking, the University of California is rolling back the clock – encouraging its campuses to have people, not computers, read applications from the tens of thousands of students who try each year to get in.

UC's governing board of regents took the first step Wednesday toward refining a 10-year-old admissions policy known as "comprehensive review." They're expected to finalize approval today of a resolution that calls on all campuses to review applications the same way UC Berkeley and UCLA do: using a person.

Other UC campuses, all less selective than Berkeley and UCLA, now use computers to screen applications, admitting some students automatically based on the computer review and others after a person has read their application. But those schools are getting more competitive because more students are applying to UC at the same time the university is reducing enrollment to absorb budget cuts.

As it grows harder to get in, UC officials argue, people will make better decisions than computers. The regents' resolution calls for all UC campuses to use a process called "holistic review," in which a human reader evaluates applications in the larger context of students' lives.

The approach takes into account, for example, not just how many Advanced Placement classes a student takes, but how many are offered at his high school. And it factors in things like whether a student is working while going to school.

"We don't have any expectation that it will markedly change our student body," said UC Provost Lawrence H. Pitts. "What we're trying to do is be as sure as we can that we're not missing some students that some of our campuses inadvertently overlook."

The policy change comes days after UC announced that a record number of students – 142,235 – applied for admission this fall, and the same day regents discussed the possibility of tightening enrollment even further in response to Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal.

The shift is part of a larger discussion taking place in admissions offices around the country about how to balance the education mission of college campuses with what's become a tensely competitive admissions process.

Jerome Lucido, director of the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice at the University of Southern California, is organizing a conference on the subject later this month. He supported UC's policy change but said it can be tricky to explain.

"In moving to holistic review the decisions become somewhat murkier for a while. It's less easy to predict who will get in," Lucido said. "But, frankly, I think it's a better way to do college admissions."

The new method of reviewing applications will be phased in over a number of years and is not supposed to impact students who applied this year. But for younger high school students eyeing UC, the more human approach to reviewing applications means that getting into UC will be even harder to predict.

"It's more of a mystery," said Christine Brownfield, a counselor at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento. "If it's more personalized or more individualized, it's harder to decipher what they're doing."

During Wednesday's meeting, Regents Norman Pattiz and George Marcus criticized the more subjective approach to admissions.

"How do you explain to a student and a parent, early on in the process, what it's going to take to get in to the University of California?" Pattiz said.

Marcus said he worried about "the family that has been playing by what they consider the rules, and they don't find that subjectivity in their favor."

But students, professors and UC President Mark Yudof spoke in favor of the switch, saying it's the same process used by some of the nation's most elite colleges, including private Ivy League schools.

"It's fair," said Jesse Chang, a UC Irvine student who is the regents' student representative. "Every applicant wants to know their application was read by a human being at least once."

UC Davis uses a computer algorithm to admit the top 30 percent of applicants and has admissions staffers read the rest of the applications, said associate vice chancellor Lora Bossio.

She welcomed the policy change, saying that as Davis has grown more selective in recent years, its admissions procedure must evolve.

"Selective campuses need to do different things than a nonselective campus might," Bossio said.

Hiring more people to read applications will cost money, although UC didn't provide an estimate of how much. It was a marked omission in the discussion, coming the same day regents talked about the $500 million cut proposed in Brown's 2011-12 budget.

Yudof said the long-term decline in state funding is causing UC to cut enrollment and predicted the trend would continue.

"Our chancellors project that with adequate funding the university could enroll an additional 20,000 to 30,000 qualified students – in this decade alone. This is what we should be doing," Yudof said.

"But the level of state support has dropped to the point where we do not have the classrooms, professors and student services personnel to match that noble vision."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

The Wall Street Journal

January 8. 2011

Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?


A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.
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What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

I've thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model.

Here's a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it's also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.

"You can't make me."

"Oh yes, I can."

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the technique—perhaps she didn't have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

"You just don't believe in her," I accused.

"That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."

"Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."

"But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out.

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

"Mommy, look—it's easy!" After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn't leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed "The Little White Donkey" at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, "What a perfect piece for Lulu—it's so spunky and so her."

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

—Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School and author of "Day of Empire" and "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." This essay is excerpted from "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, to be published Tuesday by the Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Chua.

At Public Universities: Less for More

The New York Times

November 1, 2009


SUSAN LI’S senior year at the University of California, Los Angeles, was fast approaching, and she was running out of time. She needed at least three classes to qualify for financial aid. But a week before classes began, she had registered for only one course.

“They’re not offering the classes I need,” said Ms. Li, a history major. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

In her first two attempts to register, she hadn’t been able to get her outstanding general-ed requirements or any advanced classes in her major. Classes were full, or not being offered this term. If she can’t complete what she needs to graduate, Ms. Li doubts she can afford a fifth year. She has taken out $8,000 in loans each year.

“Hopefully something will open up,” she said, and after scanning the registration Web site each day something did: two Asian-American studies electives, neither of which would move her closer to completing her major.

The university is facing a $131 million budget shortfall this year, and Ms. Li is among the many students who are feeling the pinch. U.C.L.A. has eliminated 165 courses, a full 10 percent reduction. Even in recent years, Ms. Li says, she has had to sit on the steps in crowded lecture halls. She was one of several hundred students who gathered at Bruin Plaza as the school year began to protest cutbacks and a tuition and fee increase of $1,170, with a planned $1,344 bump next year.

While U.C.L.A.’s money woes are extreme, they are familiar to many flagship universities. The University of Arizona, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Florida are among many that are scrambling because states are kicking in shrinking portions of their budgets.

In this particularly hard year, in which university endowments have been hammered along with state coffers, federal stimulus money has helped most avoid worst-case scenarios. The 10-campus University of California system, for example, has received $716 million in stimulus funds to offset its $1 billion gap. But that money is a temporary fix. A quip circulating among college presidents: The stimulus isn’t a bridge; it’s a short pier.

This fall, flagships still had to cut costs and raise tuition, most by 6.5 percent or more. And virtually all of the nation’s top public universities are likely to push through large increases in coming years.

“The students are at a point of rebellion, because they’re paying more and getting less,” says Jane V. Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability.

Universities have reached deep in their pockets to protect vulnerable students from tuition increases. Mark G. Yudof, president of the University of California, defends his university’s record in preserving financial aid, noting that families with incomes under $60,000 pay not one penny of their fees. “The real crunch,” he says, is helping families that make roughly $100,000. “The most at risk at this time really are going to be the middle class.”

Public universities have historically been underpriced: average in-state tuition is $7,020 this year. A re-evaluation had to happen, says David E. Shulenburger, vice president for academic affairs at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, because the benefit has been to higher income families. “You can’t justify that subsidy for wealthier students,” he says. The trend, accelerated by the economic shakeup, is from cheap to what he calls “moderate” tuition rates, at least by private-school standards.

Mr. Shulenburger sees the tuition increases as part of a larger movement toward privatization of the most desirable flagships. With state contributions largely flat or down over the last 15 years, and enrollments and costs up, many top flagships are turning to nonpublic sources for money and, in some cases, accepting larger numbers of out-of-state students, who often pay twice the tuition of residents.

At the same time, applications are pouring in from students shut out by the stratospheric cost of private colleges. That’s generally a good thing. Flagships are attracting more wealthy and better-prepared students. Yet as the counterargument goes, a flagship’s traditional mission is to educate its own, especially a state’s low- and middle-income students. The evolution under way is putting some flagships out of reach for the students who were typically enrolled even a decade ago. Each year, the quality of students as well as the budget model skews closer to that of elite private universities.

Mr. Yudof calls the state an “unreliable partner.” It accounts for half as much financing per student as 20 years ago. Yet in a recent commentary for The Chronicle of Higher Education, he drew the line: “We will not privatize the university. We will continue to enroll students from all economic strata. We will not go the way of other states and rely on a vast expansion of nonresident enrollment.” Still, the university is expected to admit more out-of-state students next fall.

Faculty layoffs and hiring freezes notwithstanding, Mr. Yudof believes that the university, long regarded as one of the country’s leading publics, still offers a top-notch education. “We have a lot of room to descend,” he says. But he is well aware that the university faces a potential slide into mediocrity. At U.C.L.A., class size has increased by 20 percent over three years. He says it cannot sustain more years of forced downsizing.“We’re not over the edge, but we’re at the edge,” he says. “Something has to change.”


The University of Michigan belongs to an enviable class of nationally prestigious public universities; many of its undergraduates picked it over the Ivy League.

Thirty years ago, the university began going through the convulsions other public universities are now experiencing. Today, it is largely protected from Michigan’s plummeting economy. Only 7 percent of its budget is provided by the state.

The transformation of the University of Michigan’s finances began with Harold T. Shapiro. In the mid-1970s, Mr. Shapiro, then a professor of economics and public policy at the university, studied Michigan’s economy and predicted that the state would lose tax income compared with the rest of the country in coming decades. He was right.

While the state trimmed a third of its support for the university in the 1980s, Mr. Shapiro, as the university’s president, worked to build a more secure budget base. Michigan increased private fund-raising and developed a tuition structure that took advantage of a growing number of out-of-state students, who now pay $36,163 a year in tuition and fees — about the same as Princeton.

James J. Duderstadt was Michigan’s provost during its transformation, and later served as its president. With an out-of-state mix of 35 percent, he acknowledges that Michigan looks less like a state university. “Folks from out of state are attending a private institution,” he says.

It’s likely, actually, that most Princetonians pay less than an out-of-state Michigan student. While Michigan’s aid packages are generous, no public can match the deep coffers of an Ivy League university. Forty-five percent of out-of-state undergraduates at Michigan are affluent enough not to qualify for financial aid, compared with 20 percent of residents.

Still, Mr. Duderstadt says, the university fulfills its public mandate by helping to drive the state’s economy and continuing to educate Michigan’s top students. While lawmakers still grumble about the large number of students from other states, the university, he says, didn’t have alternatives. Earlier this year, state lawmakers studied the idea of taking privatization to the next level, by eliminating annual state funding. The university remains public, for now.

Some flagships have gone far in severing ties with states. Five years ago, Virginia’s four top public universities began negotiating a charter status that granted them broad autonomy, including the freedom to set tuition rates. Tuition and fees at the University of Virginia are now almost $10,000 for an entering resident, and $32,000 for a nonresident.

At Virginia, most students can handle the steep price tags. In the 2006 census, the national median household income was $48,200, while the median graduating student at U.Va. reported a family income of $94,000. For those struggling to pay, the university bumped up aid.

Experts say more universities will follow the lead of Michigan and Virginia, receiving less public money and increasing tuition, private fund-raising and financial aid. Last month, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, announced plans to double out-of-state enrollment, to nearly 30 percent, and mobilize more private donors.

Another recent convert is the University of Wisconsin, Madison, a lakeside campus with Big Ten sports that draws 35 percent of its students from beyond the state’s borders. Wisconsin’s high percentage of nonresidents makes sense because the number of new high school graduates is projected to fall over the next decade in Wisconsin and several other Northern states.

Years of state cuts means a larger portion of the university’s budget comes from tuition and fees, which it increased by 10 percent this year.

Mr. Shulenburger at the Association of Public Land Grant Universities cautions universities on the allure of out-of-state enrollment, because, he says, few can match the appeal of a Michigan or Wisconsin. There is a limited pool of out-of-state students, he says, and universities “will begin raiding ourselves pretty quickly.”

With a state economy in shambles, the University of Arizona was granted a waiver on its out-of-state enrollment cap, to go as high as 40 percent from an already high 30 percent. Robert N. Shelton, the university’s president, says he has yet to take advantage of that wiggle room, mostly because of a huge increase in applicants from Arizona.

Currently, only 10 percent of students at Rutgers’s New Brunswick campus come from outside New Jersey. The university could easily increase that number by tapping nearby New York and Pennsylvania.

“The temptation for us to recruit more out-of-state students is very, very strong,” says Douglas S. Greenberg, executive dean of the university’s School of Arts and Sciences. State residents pay about $12,000 in tuition and fees, which is high for a public university. Out-of-state students pay almost twice that.

Each nonresident means one less slot for a New Jersey resident. Mr. Greenberg says that leaves Rutgers with two options: get bigger or increase tuition even more. Neither would be easy. Enrollment has topped 37,000 at the main campus in New Brunswick, a record. For the second consecutive year, the university has placed undergraduates in a Crowne Plaza hotel because of a lack of on-campus housing. This year there are 500. They ride shuttle buses for the five-mile trip to campus and were asked to pack light and leave posters at home. The upside: Housekeeping cleans rooms once a week, there’s a television in every room and students can use the fitness center and swimming pools.

Mr. Greenberg says Rutgers, like most flagships, is wrestling with the gradual trend toward privatization. “Every time tuition goes up, we increase the possibility that we become more like a private university,” he says. This year, the State Legislature allowed Rutgers to increase tuition by only 3 percent, and the state is spending less on academic scholarships — though financial aid applications are up 27 percent. University officials say they have filled gaps by raising money from private sources.


More than half of the seniors from Stuyvesant, New York City’s most competitive public high school, apply to Binghamton, often called the jewel of the State University of New York, which has no flagship. For this fall, Binghamton University received 28,970 applications — 15 percent more than 2007 — to fill about 2,100 freshman spots.

Binghamton is not alone. Many flagships report big increases in the number of applicants, including good students transferring from private colleges, often for financial reasons. As a result, average SAT scores and grade-point averages have jumped.

The Westminster Schools, an elite high school in Atlanta, has sent a growing number of graduates to the University of Georgia. Of 200 last year, 41 headed to its Athens campus, double the number of a few years ago.

Nancy T. Beane, a college counselor at Westminster for 17 years, says some of its most-qualified students are choosing Georgia over Vanderbilt, Stanford and Ivy League universities. Part of the appeal is low tuition and the state’s generous Hope Scholarship — merit money awarded to about 97 percent of U.Ga.’s undergraduates. Until about five years ago, she says, some parents were surprised by the caliber of students at the University of Georgia. Not anymore.

While all this is generally a good thing, it means stiffer competition. Flagships are grappling with questions about who they are supposed to serve. Until recently, high school students with decent grades and SAT scores could reasonably expect to attend a top public university. The trickle-down tendency in admissions is affecting colleges further down in the pecking order.

One challenge is that a relatively small pool of minorities score 1300 on the SAT’s verbal and math sections. So universities have had to work harder to preserve the pipeline of low-income and minority students.

Take Florida. The University of Central Florida, now the state’s largest university, serves roughly the same demographic the University of Florida did 15 years ago. That’s partly because the University of Florida accepts far fewer good students, sticking mostly to great ones. It is attracting students who also apply to Duke and Emory and other expensive private institutions.

Virtually all in-state students admitted at the university qualify for a generous state merit grant called Bright Futures, financed by the state lottery. And though tuition and fees rose by 15 percent this fall, it’s still just $4,373, which is among the nation’s cheapest.

But promising low-income students need convincing, and admissions officials travel to up to 15 Florida high schools in urban neighborhoods each year. Each school’s counselors select the 50 top students they hope can compete, and the university spends a half day with them, answering questions and helping them fill out applications.

“Our admissions officers are out there holding hands or whatever it takes,” says Zina L. Evans, the associate provost for enrollment management and executive director of admissions.


Public universities have assets that privates do not. They offer powerhouse sports programs, bustling campuses and more diverse student bodies.

Lauren Ciolek went to a large public high school in Freehold, N.J. She applied to Rutgers in 2007 but picked Lehigh University, a private institution in Pennsylvania.

Ms. Ciolek wasn’t happy at Lehigh, which she says was far less diverse than her high school. So she transferred to Rutgers this fall, where, she says, she’s no longer “in a bubble.”

Rutgers has seen an uptick in New Jersey residents like Ms. Ciolek, who transferred back home after first attending private universities in Pennsylvania and Maryland. This fall, 3,100 students transferred in, an 8 percent increase from last year.

Officials say that part of the appeal is that Rutgers serves a broad range of students.

But public universities are straining to find qualified minority applicants, and to provide enough financial aid for that disproportionately low-income group as the budget crisis takes its toll. For now, they’re ponying up the money to keep them part of the mix.

Courtney O. McAnuff, Rutgers’s vice president for enrollment management, worries about the future. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to do it,” he says. ■

Paul Fain is a senior reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Brown and Cornell are Second Tier

January 7, 2011, 2:46 pm

By Tom Bartlett

If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy, here’s what you do:

1. Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you’re a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don’t show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places.

2. Don’t work your rear off for a 4.0. Better to graduate with 3.7 and a bunch of really awesome extracurriculars. And by “really awesome” I mean literally climbing Everest or winning an Olympic medal. Playing intramurals doesn’t cut it.

That’s the upshot of an enlightening/depressing study about the ridiculously narrow-minded people who make hiring decisions at the aforementioned elite companies. The author of this study—Lauren Rivera, an assistant professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University—gained inside access to the hiring process at one such (unnamed) business, and picked the brains of recruiters at other firms.

The portrait that emerges is of a culture that’s insanely obsessed with pedigree. These firms pour resources into recruiting students from “target schools” (i.e., Harvard, Yale, Princeton) and then more or less ignore everybody else. Here’s a manager from a top investment bank describing what happens to the resume of someone who went to, say, Rutgers: “I’m just being really honest, it pretty much goes into a black hole.”

What’s surprising isn’t that students from elite universities have a leg up; it’s that students from other colleges don’t have a chance, even if those colleges are what the rest of us might consider elite. Here’s what a top consultant had to say about M.I.T.:

You will find it when you go to like career fairs or something and you know someone will show up and say, you know, “Hey, I didn’t go to HBS [Harvard Business School] but, you know, I am an engineer at M.I.T. and I heard about this fair and I wanted to come meet you in New York.” God bless him for the effort but, you know, it’s just not going to work.

There are exceptions, but only if the candidate has some personal connection with the firm. And the list of super-elite schools varies somewhat depending on the field. For instance, Columbia might be considered elite by some investment banks, but others describe it as ”second-tier” or “just okay.”

So going to Harvard is a prerequisite. But you also need to prove, in the words of the recruiters, that you’re not “boring,” a “tool,” or a ”bookworm.” This is where your leisure pursuits come in. Among the acceptable extra-curricular activities listed in the paper: traveling with a world-renowned orchestra and building houses in Costa Rica. It’s good to play sports, but they have to be the right ones. Being on the crew team is acceptable; being on the ping-pong team is not. Ideally, you should be a national or Olympic champion. And if you like hiking, you should summit some impressive peak.

When you read the accounts of recruiters at these firms, you get a sense of why they might choose these metrics. They have multiple stacks of resumes. They meet hundreds of applicants at career fairs. Rather than scrutinizing anyone’s resume it’s easier just to limit the pool to the top three or four universities. Do you really want to pore over the transcript of that kid from the University of Michigan? Wouldn’t it be easier just to call the Harvard grad? In essence, what they’re assuming is that the admissions offices at the super-elite schools have already picked the best of the best. Why second guess them?

You also can’t read this study without getting the feeling that the game is rigged. That obtaining a name-brand diploma matters more than actually learning something. That the gatekeepers at our nation’s most prestigious firms are pathetically shallow, outrageously parochial, and insufferably snobbish. The message is this:

It’s not what you did in college. It’s where you got in.

(Here’s the abstract for the paper. It was published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.)