Perhaps the strangest quote from College Board President David Coleman regarding the recently announced SAT redesign is this: “What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities, the real news today is not just the redesigned SAT, but the College Board’s renewed commitment to delivering opportunity.” Apparently the opportunity Mr. Coleman refers to is free test prep materials for any student who wants to take the new SAT (beginning in the spring of 2016). The College Board is partnering with Khan Academy so that students will be able to prepare for the SAT with sophisticated, interactive software at no cost. So, I guess what David Coleman really means is that this country needs his test and, by providing free test prep, he hopes the SAT can keep pace with the other college entrance exam (ACT) which is now this country’s most widely used college entrance exam. In my more cynical moments I can’t help thinking that market share is really the driving force behind the revamped SAT. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
To be fair, the College Board has made some definite improvements with the redesign. No penalty for wrong answers. No required timed essay. Best of all, the SAT will be shortened to three hours instead of nearly four. According to Coleman, “We will honor the qualities which have made the SAT excellent. We will build on the remarkable care and expertise which statisticians have used to make the test valid and predictive.” The real question is this: is the SAT a valid predictive measure of college success? What we do know is that the SAT is predictive of family income. The average combined SAT score of a student from a family whose income exceeds $200,000 is a whopping 260 points higher than the SAT score of a student from a family whose income is in the $40,000-$60,000 range. Without question, kids from wealthier families typically end up better prepared for standardized tests. They attend more resource rich schools, have better educated parents, and can afford private tutors.
But I digress… a recent report “Defining Promise: Optional Standardized-Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions” outlines results from a study of standardized test-optional policies at 33 private and public colleges and universities over eight years. The report addresses the issue of how reliable college admission decisions are for students admitted without SAT or ACT scores. According to the study, there are no significant differences in either cumulative college GPA or college graduation rates between those who submitted standardized tests scores as part of their admission application to college and those who did not. “With almost 123,000 students at 33 widely differing institutions, the differences between submitters and non-submitters are five one-hundredths of a GPA point, and six-tenths of one percent in graduation rates. By any standard, these are trivial differences.”
Clearly, the College Board is responding to a shifting landscape in which more and more colleges adopt test-optional admission policies and in which more admission deans question how well a three hour standardized test predicts college success. And while David Coleman talks at length about access and opportunity I am struck by a response from Nancy Leopold who is executive director of CollegeTracks, a Maryland group that works with low-income and first generation students. In speaking about the College Board Ms. Leopold said “They do not address the underlying access problem… the College Board’s member colleges rely on a test that has been demonstrated to systematically understate the abilities of low-income and underserved minority students”
Whittier College currently requires applicants for admission to submit either the SAT or ACT. I continue to believe, however, that the high school GPA is the most valid predictor of college success. Bates College (a top 25 National Liberal Arts College) has been test-optional since 1984. They have gone to great lengths to study their data over 30 years and have found year in and year out that the academic ratings assigned by the Bates admissions office were highly accurate for both applicants who submitted SAT scores and for those who did not. Based on the findings of this new report, we will be discussing our policy of requiring standardized test scores for admission to Whittier. More than 60 National Liberal Arts colleges have adopted “test-optional” admission policies. Will Whittier be next? Stay tuned…
All who attended the White House Summit (more here) will attest that the President and First Lady were awe-inspiring in their messages about access and opportunity. But as usually happens with me, I was most inspired by a student. Troy Simon, who introduced Michelle Obama, is a young man who propelled himself away from trouble for the sake of his younger siblings, and his talk certainly fueled my desire to do my all to help achieve the President’s objectives. As the First Lady said so convincingly, Troy was helped along the way, but nothing would have made a difference had he not wanted to change his life course and expected that he could.
There were determined helpers for Troy, and to meet the goals of college access and success for a much broader section of our population it will take people from so many sectors working together. The Summit’s organizers recognized this and cogently began the process of bringing us all under one tent. Critical are the philanthropists who will direct their dollars to scholarships and to the programs that are known to make a difference, as are governors and mayors who see what is needed in their states and cities and prioritize interventions. Nonprofits and educational organizations must apply all their might and creativity to find new ways to expand their reach. And colleges and universities, public and private, must re-examine their commitment to recruiting, enrolling, and graduating a socio-economically diverse student body and work with partners, step up their goals, and direct resources to achieving them.
I must admit that when I first learned the objectives of the President’s Summit, I wondered what more Whittier could contribute. Being a majority-minority private college with one-third of its students eligible for Pell awards and 80% on financial aid, Whittier is already a model for the nation for diversity. But while we draw students from around the country and around the world, we can do more right in our backyard. So, in responding to the President’s Northstar challenge, we are reaching out to do just that. We already work closely with high schools and elementary schools in Whittier, and now we are connecting in multiple ways with El Rancho High School in nearby Pico Rivera, a city where 12% of adults attended college and where 58% of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch. Through mentoring programs led by Whittier students and funded by dedicated philanthropists, partnerships with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Generation 1st Degree initiative and the Be a Leader Foundation, college counseling by Whittier’s admission and financial aid staff members, and offering co-enrollment to El Rancho’s students, we will help first generation and low-income students prepare for college and career success.
And that’s not all. We will establish 2 + 2 programs with a nearby community college and are seeking a partnership to create a co-enrolled honors degree program. These partnerships not only enable students to get an elite education, but do so at less cost than a typical four-year private college degree.
New efforts by Whittier and all of the colleges and universities in this country joined by businesses, nonprofit organizations, philanthropists, and governments will – as the President said – enhance the competitiveness of this nation. And there is no question that competitiveness and economic wellbeing truly are at stake. But I keep thinking back to Troy and the trajectory his life might have taken had he lacked the will and the vision to change and had no one noticed his potential. What a personal loss this would have been for him, as well as the nation.
Thursday’s Summit makes me hopeful that we will make even more progress in the days to come.
(The following are comments made during a Department of Education Open Forum to take public comment on the President’s College Affordability proposal on November 6 at CSU Dominguez Hills.)
I am Jeanne Ortiz, Vice President and Dean of Students at Whittier College, a private liberal arts college with about 1,700 students located about 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. We were founded by Quakers more than 125 years ago, and while we are no longer religiously affiliated, our mission and ethos are still guided by principles of tolerance, respect for diversity, and service. Our students, faculty, and staff are richly diverse – ideologically, culturally, and socio-economically.
Today our student body is “majority-minority” and we are a Hispanic Serving Institution; 33% of our student body is Latino and another almost 20% identify as coming from other under-represented groups. Additionally more than 17 percent of our student body is first generation, one-third is Pell grant eligible, and more than three-quarters of our students receive need based financial aid. This is a sign of our commitment to providing access to populations not historically well served by higher education.
Not only does the composition of our student body reflect the state of California and the future of the nation, at Whittier we deliver on our promise to our students by providing a rigorous, but supportive educational environment that is committed to their graduation. For example, nationwide Latino students have a college graduation rate of 50%, at Whittier it’s 72 percent.
How do we accomplish this success? It’s through high impact practices such as faculty-student research, faculty-led study abroad courses, small classes, writing intensive courses, and extensive co-curricular programming. The inherent advantages of a small school are that students get individualized attention at every level from matriculation to commencement that yields significant results, particularly increased competitiveness upon graduation.
Given our results, we believe that these high impact practices are good investments. However, they are not cheap. The bottom line is that an institution like Whittier that offers a private liberal arts education with significant faculty-student interaction has higher overhead costs than one that delivers its programs to larger or more homogenous groups of students.
It is imperative that the presidential scorecard takes into account that value and affordability are not synonymous terms. The value of a private liberal arts education is exponential because it prepares graduates not only with the knowledge and skills employers want, but with a commitment to civic engagement for the common good.
If the scorecard seeks to address this nation’s interests, why don’t we look at what skills employers seek in their new hires? Multiple studies show that employers from across industries want students who think critically, communicate clearly, and are able to solve complex problems. These are the habits of mind fostered by liberal arts colleges like Whittier.
One such recent study, conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities shows that 74 percent of business and nonprofit leaders report “they would recommend a twenty-first century liberal arts education to a young person they know in order to prepare for long-term professional success in today’s global economy.”
Yet another survey shows that 60% of liberal arts graduates feel well prepared for the workforce, compared to 34% who graduated from flagship public universities.
Let’s ensure the scorecard values these skills as much as employers, students and their families and can communicate the characteristics of schools that provide them
And while Whittier graduates are definitely prepared for employment in a wide variety of fields, we do not believe their starting salaries are the only appropriate measure of their success, as proposed by the scorecard.
The top profession Whittier graduates contribute to is education, with public service of other types another very common occupational path. These are noble professions that fill a national interest. However, they undoubtedly skew downward our graduates’ earning potential, particularly at the beginning of their careers. The scorecard should not devalue the very professions that deliver the highest impact for the benefit of our society.
I want to be clear that at Whittier, we applaud any efforts to improve quality of education and support the nation’s students. We fear, though, that any scorecard is incomplete if it focuses on earnings upon graduation and does not address the complexity of assessing the transformative nature of the education provided at Whittier and colleges like us.
Moreover, we fear the scorecard has the potential of disproportionately penalizing schools with smaller endowments and comparatively limited resources, like Whittier, the very schools that are working so hard to grant access to the underserved.
Liberal arts colleges have long argued that ranking systems based solely on numerical values do not tell the complete story. Embedded in the fabric of who we are, weeducate our students to look at a variety of factors to understand the fullest picture. We urge the scorecard to do that same.
Thirteen years ago, I chose to move from a research university to a deanship at a liberal arts college because I really wanted to be at institutions that stressed the importance of teaching and mentoring undergraduates. I was lured to Whittier College five years ago to be Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs in large part by the dedication of Whittier’s faculty to this mission—and at graduation time every spring , I am always so impressed by what Whittier’s faculty help our students to accomplish.
Thus, the idea of “teaching with technology” might seem worlds apart from the idea of “close mentoring” and “discussions of ideas and ideals.” But in fact, our faculty’s understanding of pedagogy and the need for innovation has led many of them to think about how the appropriate use of technology can enhance student understanding and learning. Whittier has followed a pattern of development typical in higher education: we have had a group of innovators and early adopters who are at the forefront of the changes taking place in using digital technologies to enhance their pedagogy, and we now have an imminent “second wave” of adopters who are not only curious and ready, but also eager to learn and integrate the use of such technologies in their teaching and scholarship.
Associate Professor of English Andrea Rehn exemplifies one of our advanced technology users, and her work is notable because it is in the Humanities. In partnership with the library’s Instructional Media Designer, Sonia Chaidez, Professor Rehn’s first foray into digital pedagogy was a digital storytelling assignment in an upper division literature course. In this class, students were asked to create an introduction to Dickens’s Great Expectations, first through mapping the spatial and social mobility of the characters, and then by creating two-minute videos linked to the characters and the places on the map. By engaging in this exercise, students gained a deeper understanding of the relationship between place, character, and social mobility—all essential elements of Dickens’ work. (Click here to see it in action.)
Whittier College was also fortunate to be part of a liberal arts consortium—the “Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) supported by the Gates Foundation and EDUCAUSE and run through Bryn Mawr College. Six faculty members from very different departments—art, biology, English, mathematics, business, and social work—attended this conference, bringing home ideas about blended learning and integrating digital approaches in their courses.
One example is Professor Dan Duran’s business class “Sustainable Development and The Triple Bottom Line.” This class focuses on the identification, development, and implementation of new technologies and applications specific to sustainable development. Professor Duran makes extensive use of Moodle and conducted virtual team activities, such as posting audio/video segments, quick/real time surveys and research projects. In addition, he has created academic wikis on specific subjects and uses several smart phone/PDA apps (e.g. Instagram) to assist academic activities. Throughout the class, alumni and professionals who are active in sustainable development will lecture as guest speakers via Skype. This approach has been proved very helpful for students to interact with people outside the classroom regarding the class topics.
Perhaps most exciting is that we just learned recently of the successful funding of our proposal to the Mellon Foundation for $750,000 to support “Using Digital Technologies to Advance the Liberal Arts Curriculum.” (Click here to read the full press release.) This represents the culmination of over a year-long process that involved almost half our faculty in one way or another throughout the course of the 2012-2013 academic year—a truly collaborative effort. This funding will strengthen the College’s liberal arts curriculum by empowering faculty to make full and better use of the digital technologies that are reshaping pedagogical approaches and transforming faculty and student research throughout the liberal arts.
This grant embodies our thinking about the future. We plan to have 30 new or significantly revised/updated usages of digital technologies as a result of the three-year work plan outlined for this program. We anticipate that many of these will cluster around common themes that transcend departmental lines—the type of interdisciplinary approach that is a hallmark of a Whittier College education. One of the most important resources this grant will provide is the bridge funding for a permanent “Digital Scholar” position who will promote the innovative and evolving use of technology to advance the liberal arts curriculum at Whittier College.
Summer is here, and David and I are taking advantage of a little bit of down-time to travel to Spain. Right now we are in Barcelona and spent some time wandering down La Rambla near the port and admiring the mimes (see photos). We have been coming to Spain since the 70s and watched with fascination as Spain changed from a dictatorship to a democracy and as social mores changed in revolutionary ways. But the mimes always show up on La Rambla! Tomorrow we leave for the Pyrenees to start our bike trip. May you have good adventures this summer as well.
In what has become a yearly tradition, the pledges of the William Penn Society stopped by yesterday for a lively serenade on the steps of Mendenhall lobby.
In the “small world” department: Here are Whittier students getting a lesson from an executive of one of the biggest hand bag trading companies in the world, who happened to be on the crowded subway that our students were riding the other morning. Trustee Edwin Keh ’79 recognized his former colleague from Taiwan, and his colleague was happy to talk to the students about doing business in Asia. And students were happy to ask about doing internships with him!
I urge you to watch the Youtube video of Jimmy Kimmel showing clips of Los Angeles weathermen and women “freaking out” about the unusually cool temperatures that we’ve been experiencing in LA.
Well, early one morning last week I took my own video of our hardy women’s lacrosse team practicing in “relatively” cold, windy rain. Take that, LA weatherpeople!
Just the other day I called attention to Whittier’s Janterm travel courses on this blog — and then almost immediately heard from another professor, Andrea Rehn, traveling with her class and Professor Doreen O’Connor-Gomez’s class to Spain and Morocco. Professor Rehn said they “ran into the King of Morocco.” I will assume that the English professor did not intend that message to be taken literally. You can read many quick posts of class members’ experiences — including descriptions of the sights they are seeing and meals they are enjoying — at blogs.whittier.edu/eng390. And see the article on Janterm trips in this week’s QC as well.
I wrote a little while ago about Whittier’s Nixon Fellowship that each year awards grants to talented students interested in exploring public policy issues, as well as careers in public service. On Monday, through their Fellowship, Daniel Kulick ’13 and Carlee Shults ’14, have the opportunity to attend President Obama’s inauguration. I hope they wear their Poet gear and we can pick them out of the crowd. See the story about more of their fellowship experiences here: http://www.whittier.edu/News/Articles/InaugurationNixonFellows2013.aspx