September 23, 2009

California's In Crisis. Is The Education System In Crisis Also?

First of all, let me be very specific about one factor: many of the very quality private schools in California have weathered the economic storm quite well. Their endowments shrunk, of course, but they remain in a fairly healthy financial condition. It’s the public schools that I’m referring to here. At the moment there are nine University of California (UC) campuses- the research-intensive branch of the California public higher education system and twenty-three of the California State University campuses (CSU). The major differences are few, but the minor differences are many. The level of academics tends to be more competitive at the UC campuses because more full-time students who are on a more academic track with the idea of graduate school, professional school and/or research on their minds. Keeping in mind that public higher education in California is paid for by the citizens of California and thus, there to serve the residents of California. This is why in-state tuition is less than out-of-state tuition, as an example.

There have been many items tossed around the proverbial table with regard to the state of the system. Everything from shutting down the newest campuses in both the CSU and UC branches, to a fee increase to offset some of the costs, has been proposed. The thing that most people have to understand, first and foremost, is that the cost of educating a student at even the most expensive university in America is higher than the cost of full-tuition. In other words, if tuition at George Washington University is $45,000 per year, the actual cost of the education is closer to $65,000 once you take into consideration all of the academic advising, career support services, tutoring, mentoring, student life opportunities, etc . . . The cost of a university education is fair in many ways. But public universities are in a very different league.

Most public universities are slaves to the annual budget of their respective state. For the majority of the top publics in the country, this has not been terribly harmful as the state continues to fund a significant portion of the university. For California though, that is not the case. California has continued to decrease its support, funding, research monies and expansion investment dollars. The pace of growth in qualified kids who should be guaranteed spots within the system is much faster than that which the system can grow.

California Students:

So how does this play into the opportunity for one to gain admission into UC Berkeley or UCLA or UC Davis or UC Santa Barbara, to name a few? If you’re in California, your chances are slightly worse than years past. In a nutshell, a student must graduate in the top 10% of their high school class, still earn solid SAT/ACT scores and be a stellar candidate. The likelihood that a student with great credentials, graduating from a California high school, will be admitted to a UC is high. The likelihood that it is the student’s top-choice campus is not so high.

International Students:

The admission process for this group of students is going to remain as competitive as it has always been. The California system will not be cutting a significant number of their international student “slots” because this is where they gain some of their greatest diversity: those coming in from Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America will only see their probability go down if the number of International applicants rises. Otherwise, the percentage of students on each campus who are admitted from out of the country will be steady.

Non-California Domestic Students:

This will be the biggest single group affected by the admission numbers as the only significant percentage drop in UC and CSU admissions will be coming from those students who are graduating from high schools out-of-state. However, due to cut back enrollment numbers on all campuses and increasing percentages of in-state students for admission, the domestic, out-of-state students will suffer greatly. Couple this with the fact that application numbers continue to rise every year for the various UC and CSU campuses (and the obvious cutback in admitted numbers) and it’s going to be a tough road for those students who are outside of California, but domestic nonetheless.

Overall, my recommendation is, like everything else, be very careful and thoughtful about how you will present yourself as an applicant. Unless your scores are phenomenal and your math and science curriculum is really the absolute most competitive, DON’T apply engineering or math and science. You’re competing against the best of the best in not only the UC and CSU systems, but the world! You’re competing against those students from around the country who have perfect scores, IB and AP classes, near-perfect and perfect SAT II’s, etc . . .

I hope this is helpful for those who have been struggling with how and where to apply in California. Good luck and, as always, thanks for reading.

September 9, 2009

The Importance of Reading and Writing

With the beginning of a new year it seems as though there has been an inundation of discussion and discourse on the topic of young people and reading. I am always intrigued by the topic as it is one area where, I am sure, our schools are failing-- and thus, creating a vicious cycle which will only weaken our social system, from the work-force and economy to the leaders we create for political and industry leadership.
Bottom line: for some reason there is a large percentage of students who think that it is okay to NOT read. With great sadness I believe that this is a group of young people who will, many of them at least, look back in retrospect on their teenage years and wish they would have had a book in their hands. Or, perhaps, their ignorance won't permit that. Regardless, it seems that the subject has been appearing quite often in the headlines. Some of the better articles that I have seen are linked below:

Each of the short essays is on a different aspect of importance in the educational journey of young people, written wonderfully by a long-term professor at one of a number of distinguished institutions. I implore you to read them all (which would take, perhaps, 15 minutes). But if you have to choose just one, I recommend the brief essay, Off-Campus Life. However, they're EACH wonderful.

This is a wonderful post by Stanley Fish (who also had the first short essay in the above link). The problem that occurs- and that which Fish points out- is that the lack of reading does not just affect the student. The obvious lack of reading carries over into his/her writing, verbal communication, vocabulary, effect on others, all-around competency, etc . . .  I believe it's something that needs to be taken very seriously. Fish follows up on this post with 2 more posts on the same topic, eloquently titled "What Should Colleges Teach part 2 and part 3).

This was just a very interesting post which highlighted the different sides of the debate on whether or not summer reading is healthy. Bottom line: OF COURSE summer reading is healthy. What would be unhealthy about reading? Ever? There's something inherently sad about the fact that this is even up for debate. See for yourself. But I think that giving the students a summer off of reading as if we are treating it like a chore and not a pleasure, is the worst example of reinforcement I could imagine.

I recently asked a good friend, who is a Professor of English, whether she has experienced these issues since she began teaching over 10 years ago. Her response was simple: She told me that she 'cannot take the time to revise papers as she used to because, although the university continues to boast higher admission standards and "more intelligent" incoming classes each year (higher SAT/ACT scores and GPA's), her students demonstrate a lower level of understanding of how to form a sentence, let alone a decent argument.' In other words, we are sending our students off to college-- they are graduating from our high schools-- without the ability to write a thesis statement and supporting ideas.

Reflect on this and think about the last time you read a student's writing and were impressed. Let us not lower our standards.

Thanks for reading. I always love hearing from my readers so please do keep your emails coming.