Attributes That Matter: Beyond the Usual in College Admission and Success
January 16-18, 2013
Westin Bonaventure, 404 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA
For the Conference blog and photos, click on the dates below.
Morning Session 1- Putting it together independently: Rewarding Character and Achievement with Scholarships
Panel: Carrie Besnette Hauser, Senior Fellow for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
Larry Griffith, Vice President at UNCF (United Negro College Fund)
Charles Lovelace, Executive Director of the Morehead-Cain Foundation
Besnette Hauser began the panel with a review of the literature. She notes that the data bout scholarship providers is slim. According to the 2005 IHEP study, there are 5000 private scholarship providers with between 3.1 and 3.3 billion dollars in private scholarships. Roughly 7% of undergraduates receive private scholarships (an average amount of $1982) and 5% of graduate students. 30-50% of recipients are traditionally underrepresented students.
Private scholarships tend to target those who may lip through the cracks and facilitate choice and affordability. Many private scholarships go beyond – it is not just a check, there are other services and supports that go with it. Additionally, many scholarship programs have incorporated interview and essay questions to capture non-cognitive abilities.
Besntte Hauser highlighted several programs, both need and merit-based, that meet the “gold standard” in terms of their design and support. (Please see the presentation for information on these programs.) The common factors in these programs include their interest in supporting students based on their character, resiliency, emotional intelligence and other non-cognitive factors. Additionally, these programs also provide “wrap-around” support- not just funding- including support while in college and connecting students to career opportunities after college. (Please see Dell in the presentation to gain an understanding of a particularly strong support program.)
Next, Lovelace discussed the Morehead-Cain foundation, an organization with 2900 alumni. They offer 50 scholarships a year to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The program was one of the first full, non-athletic, private scholarship programs in the country. The program is specifically interested in finding student leaders and the question then, is how do you define and find leadership? After a research study 10 years ago, they re-vamped their program with an emphasis on non-cognitive variables.
Lovelace described the “soggy bottom of the barrel”- or students who were underperforming, not necessarily academically, but they were not fulfilling the mission of the organization, which was to maintain the excellence of the university. Students are expected to engage in the university community and make a difference there. The criteria for selection included leadership, scholarship, physical vigor, and moral force of character.
The difficult and challenging task is how to select a leader. Early on the program included participation in clubs and activities, and holding positions of leadership within those clubs, as a major focus of the selection process. He notes, however, this traditional approach to identifying students limits your pool. They decided that they needed to take a new approach. They began to ”grade” their students at graduation in terms of whether they met the program expectations based on their engagement in the university.
Morehead-Cain engaged in a study of 7 classes (352 students) and found that their students, on average, were below the expectations. They then went back and correlated high school activities to outcomes. They found no correlation between performance in the program and SAT scores, nor any relationship between high school activities or positions and program outcomes.
They decided that their 4 criteria were too broad and they needed to drill down to determine what makes a successful scholar. They tried to identify the qualities that they noted in students who did meet or exceed program expectations. They identified achievement drive, independence, commitment, self-knowledge, empathy, and spark as the key characteristics. These became criteria in their selection process.
Other changes included the use of professional readers in the selection process, thresholds for “scholarship” and “physical vigor”, dropped the SATs and transcripts after initial screening. They also completely modified the application. They limited the activities that students could report to 5- honoring the applicant in the sense that they are asking the applicant right upfront what is most important to them. They asked for more stories and examples during the interview process.
The result of these changes is that they have been able to get students that are a better match to their goals. They continue to refine their process, looking at research and opportunities to select the students that match their goals. Lovelace describes his greatest interest now is how to separate merit and privilege.
Lovelace's presentation was followed by Larry Griffith who spoke about the GMS program and the application of noncognitive variables. He described watching applications come in earlier this week and that his role is similar to that as an admissions director in terms of the decisions and opportunities that those decisions shape.
The purpose of the Gates Millennium Scholars program is a focus on leaders. They select 1000 candidates a year and provide funding through the doctoral degree level. They consider themselves not an access, but a success program, in that they support students all the way through the college process and experience.
The non-cognitive variables in the selection process aim to identify potential in the context of the program. These variables include self-concept, realistic self-appraisal, and handling system/racism, leadership (in a wide variety of areas), long-range goals, strong support person, community, and nontraditional learning.
The concept of resiliency was emphasized- how does a student respond when they encounter someone who does not support or believe in them. Are they able to, through their determination and strength of character, push beyond such obstacles? A key question that provides insight is how did you handle a situation that was unfair?
The application includes short-answer questions based on noncognitive variables, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and demographic, background, and activity questions. Approximately 80% of the weight is placed on the non-cognitive variables.
The results of the program are promising. They have found that persistence was very high with GMS scholars and that they are more likely to go to graduate school. The scholar’s leadership score has a significant relationship with engaging in academic activities in college. The average GPS is 3.4 for undergraduates and the retention rates and 6-year graduation rates are over 90%.
Morning Session 2 - Preparing Community College Students for Transfer: Highlighting the Individual, Institutional, and Policy Attributes that Matter
Moderated by Stephen J. Handel, Executive Director of the National Office of Community College Initiatives at the College Board.
Nancy Shulock, Executive Director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy (IHELP) at Sacramento State University
Lawrence A. Nespoli, President of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges
Frank B. Ashley, Vice Chancellor for Recruitment and Diversity, Texas A&M
Handel introduced his colleagues and provided an overview of the basics, the need, the desire, and the criticisms related to community colleges. Community college growth has been extraordinary in the last decade. It is the largest system of college education on the planet. The need is clear- we must seek diversity. The desire for incoming students is to transfer to get a baccalaureate degree. We easily dismiss the intentionality of community college students- they want to transfer, but they are not- and this is the big criticism.
At this point, Handel introduced Shulock, who emphasized the point that too few students reach milestones on the road to degree completion. Latino and black students are less likely to reach those milestones than their Asian and White counterparts. Transfer rates are low overall, and Latino students transfer at half the average rate. Shulock examined the literature to verify success indicators or enrollment patterns that correlate with success. Passing college-level English and Math within the first two years was positively correlated, as was the accumulation of 20 or more credits in the first year. She notes that we know what works, but hardly anyone shows those patterns. The concept of a program of study, then, is a critical success pattern. Those who follow a program of study in the first year are more than twice as likely to complete such a program than those who do not do so.
Among the successful transfers, only 43% ever complete transfer work and only 7% complete a associate degree. The challenge of students transferring without an associate degree is that if they do not complete their 4-year degree they have spent so much time in school with nothing to show for it in terms of degrees.
Nespoli spoke next, noting that community colleges simply have a lot of work to do, but that there really is a stronger commitment now to success. Students who make it to and through the point of transfer do very well. Nespoli emphasized the importance of completion. He noted that over ¼ of those who earn bachelor’s degrees started their path at a community college. Thus, there is no way to aim for baccalaureate completion without taking the community colleges into consideration. He notes that many community college students are the first in their families to go to college and most need remediation- they are not college ready when they get to college. Those who do move through and transfer are at-risk for “shock”. When 2-year students land at a 4-year institution, as capable as they are academically, the transfer shock can disrupt their path. He also noted that when all of their credits (as opposed to “some”), of a transfer student are accepted, students are much more likely to persist and complete their degree.
Next, Ashley spoke to the challenges of faculty who complain that the community college students are not prepared. Thus, they are a “tough sell”. He suggested that partnerships and conversations amongst stakeholders are critical in supporting students and supporting the transfer and success of community college students.
The panel continued their discussion, responding to questions from Handel and the conference participants. Please see the presentations and handouts for additional information and details related to their positions and perspectives.
Closing Session - Leaders Respond
Moderated by Scott Jaschik, Editor and Founder of Inside Higher Ed and Eric Hoover, Writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Andrea Brownstein, Director of College Counseling at the Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS).
Pam Horne, Associate Vice Provost for Enrollment Management and Dean of Admissions at Purdue University.
Gil Villanueva, Dean of Admission, University of Richmond.
Eric Hoover opened up the session by praising the conference content but pointing out the lingering “frustrating sense of unease” regarding noncognitive variables (NCV) among conference participants. He quoted some conference participants in admissions as being excited about the research, but unsure of how to implement it, as well as the difficulties of approaching their board to convince them of the value of using noncognitive variables.
Scott Jaschik followed Eric, and reminded us that as a journalist, he always looks for contradictions, and proceeded to enumerate a few: 1) even as the conference highlights the importance of transfer students from community colleges to four-year institutions, there is for example, a “civil war” waging in the CUNY system with disagreement on the articulation of policies regarding community college transfer; 2) while the research on NCV has been fascinating to see as it takes off, is the commitment to use NCV by postsecondary institutions real? Scott added, why is it option if it’s meaningful, what are the cognitive assessments people value (like the SAT II), and hearkening back to Art Coleman, why is there not more openness among admission officers?
Both Eric and Scott praised the conference for the high quality and “refreshingly frank” level of discussion, as well as for daring to broach a discussion of the possible ramifications in admissions and higher education in the wake of the Fisher vs. University of Texas Supreme Court case.
Andrea Brownstein as a college counselor and as a K-12 representative was asked the first question: Do students need NCV and do they want it?
Andrea answered that what matters in admission should matter in institutional culture. “Especially as college counselors, we spend all of the time that we have to help kids become productive citizens, which involves NCV. NCV will help more students to be more successful.” She also recognized that it takes a long time to change culture, and mentioned that her own organization, MICDS took 25 years of mission assessment to get where it belongs today, with 1/3 of their students representing minority groups.
Gil Villanueva and Pam Horne were asked the same question. Gil responded that in the spirit of openness, University of Richmond was 13% students of color and is three years later, 20% students of color, with NCV important to the admissions process, particularly for admitting students who were “at the margins.” However, academic quality was not something the university wanted to give up. But what he found was that “top students were attracted to diversity.”
Pam answered that she did not know when we would be able to use NCV nation-wide. Her concern was that the use of resources to use NCV would have to be carefully evaluated. On the other hand, she certainly values the ways in which NCV are already currently being used—in essays, recommendation letters, asking questions about leadership, and training interviewers and readers.
The follow-up question by Scott posed to Gil and Pam was that if you guaranteed a more diverse class by using the Insight Resume or other tool assessing noncognitives, but your institution dropped in ranking, would you still use it?
Pam answered if the return on investment was high and graduation rates were high, yes! Gil responded that his institution evaluated itself on diversity and the academic quality of the incoming pool. Since they’re using NCV already, it’s not as if an assessment of NCV would be the sole tool.
Eric: how could NCV determine the merit of admitting or not admitting a student?
Pam answered that they could identify skills and behaviors that can be changed, and thus interventions that could help improve these NCV. Gil answered that as an immigrant himself and in his immigrant students, he saw that certain NCV, including respect for authority, cultural heritage, self-love, etc. were crucial to student success. He recounted the story of a Vietnamese student who lost his mother, but was able to tap into his social connections to get into and stay in college. This student also became a Gates Millennium Scholar.
Eric: What is the next step and what will you carry back to the campus?
Gil: We use NCV on a limited basis. We need a system for socring.
Pam: We need more research and discussion on implementing NCV? How do we definite merit? The press and public have defined it for us. For me, the purpose of merit aid is not to reward high school behavior or achievement, but to help shape our class; thus the student’s promise or potential on campus and society.
Scott: What are the attributes that have mattered more? Wealth! Public schools have been recruiting more out of state and international students, and giving out more merit aid to students who don’t need it but who they want.
Andrea: We want our students to consider places beyond the usual—we don’t want them to be courted by institutions for their relative wealth.
Gil: Our institution meets 100% need and is need-blind. Only 1% of schools can do it, so it’s very expensive. There is a lot of talk in Washington, and hopefully the shift will be from merit to need-based aid.
Pam: This is a matter of balance—70% of high school students and parents expect merit aid, even if the students are not high-achieving. At Purdue, 15% of financial aid is in merit aid to the incoming class, with target populations like small-town pharmacists, for example. We are need-blind in admissions, expect for out of state students.
Eric: How often do admission officers talk about students and their attributes? What do you lack and what do you want more of?
Gil: At mission-centric Brandeis, they were looking for a sense of social justice. At Harvey Mudd, they were looking for female engineers, physicists, and other scientists. They were looking for the kind of student who would look after his/her roommate and was mature.
Pam: Entrepreneurial students. Students good at teamwork.
Andrea: I supposed the question for me is what kind of students do we give you? Money works in terms of resources. So schools with resources can provide students who have NCV we desire. Also, my colleagues spend the fall writing recommendation letters that make the student stand out. Every letter is individualized. NCV are important to help distinguish students from the pack.
Scott: Are NCV vulnerable to coachability and faking it?
Gil: Thank goodness for recommendations. We’re not afraid to call/email colleagues.
Pam: The proportion of students to got this extreme are pretty small. The majority are not “faking it.” However, when assessing NCV, you do have to be careful how you word essay prompts. For example we took the question, “What has been a life-changing event?” off of our application after receiving innumerable essays about life-changing sports injuries. Many students have not experienced something truly life-altering by the time they’re applying for college.
Andrea: Most kids don’t fake it—they don’t have the nerve. In terms of coachability, this is part of the work that we do. Coaching is something needed to bring out the best in a student.
The rest of the panel was devoted to a lively Q&A session with the audience.
Jerry Lucido, director of the USC Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice brought the conference to a close, exhorting us to think about the qualities that we care about and how do we bring these objectives to align? Also, how can we use examples to guide us in our work?
Finally, he asked the audience for feedback on the conference and possible topics for next year’s event.