Kate’s Planning Pays Off

Not able to share her news with Jason and Terrell, Kate went back to her dorm and saw Olivia in the Common Room.

“Hey Olivia! I’ve got some news!” Kate looked as happy and she sounded.

“Okay, girl, tell me, but I think I know what you’re going to say.”

“I got the job!”

“I knew it. I knew it.” Olivia was thrilled. “I’m so happy for you! Now tell me all about it.”

Kate had met Olivia two years ago, when Olivia was a sophomore, and they soon became good friends despite the difference in their ages. Over time they talked a lot about what they would do after college, and Olivia looked to learn from what Kate was doing.

Kate said, “I received a text this morning from BioMed Research asking me to call them. Of course, I called immediately and they offered me a job as a research assistant. I did my best to stay calm and said yes. I can’t believe it! My first choice company!”

“Congratulations! I’m so excited for you. But you know what, you earned it.”

And then came the stream of questions from Olivia before Kate could even begin to tell her the details.

Kate had worked for four years in the university’s biology laboratory, helping set up labs for classes as a freshman and then moving on to assist biology professors and then, in her senior year, assisting three doctoral students in their biological research.

This work was related to her biology technology major in the university’s Honors College. (Kate would graduate with honors – cum laude.) Kate had studied hard, but she also kept time to play volleyball on her dorm’s intramural team and made a lot of friends through working on her class’s Activities Committee.

Kate told Olivia, “They said they loved my work as a lab assistant and thought it would help me as I started work at BMR.” (She was already speaking as an employee.) “References from the professors and grad students I worked for really helped, and I emphasized my lab work during the interview.”

“So, when are you going to start working? And where? You told me they have labs all around the country. What is the job really going to be like?” Olivia’s excitement couldn’t contain her questions long enough to get answers. And then she asked with the kind of hesitation you have when you know you shouldn’t really ask, “How much are they going to pay you? I mean, just generally.”

“It’s a good salary, a little above average for starting. But I’ll also get medical insurance and three weeks’ vacation. But here’s the best part, after six months, they’ll pay tuition for a master’s degree!”

“That’s fantastic! And what about where you’ll work?”

For the first time, Kate seemed a little unsure and a little less happy. “I’m not sure, Olivia. They don’t know for certain, but they said it would be in or near a medium size city and all their locations are near universities where I could take master’s degree courses.”

“Well, that’s good. Wherever you go it’s a great opportunity.” Olivia wanted to sustain the happiness of the moment but couldn’t hide her concern. If Kate had to go very far away, she knew she would not see her very often.

Kate sensed what Olivia was thinking and said, “Listen, wherever I go we’ll stay in touch. Even though I won’t be here, I don’t want to miss your senior year.”

They hugged each other without saying a word, and then Kate said, “I have to go and call my parents. I haven’t told them about the job yet.”

“Oh my goodness, go and call them!” Olivia was all smiles again. “They are going to be so happy. I’ll see you later.”

Kate’s Road to Graduation and Beyond

A great outcome for nearly all college students is landing a good job within six months of graduation.

Kate achieved this, so how did she do it? The answer will surprise most readers because her journey didn’t start in high school, and it certainly didn’t start in college. No, Kate’s journey to success started in middle school or earlier.

Kate’s application to college was good enough to earn her a $10,000 scholarship for each of four years. Very good grades in challenging courses, very good test scores and very good extracurricular activities made her the kind of student the college wanted to attract. A scholarship is one thing colleges use to attract the students they want.

At college, Kate continued her attention to her studies, earned good grades and stayed on schedule in her biological technology major. The result – she will graduate in four years with honors.

Kate supplemented her classroom studies with practical work as a lab assistant. This helped her to focus on her course work and help her to get similar work in good paying summer jobs. And, as Kate explained to Olivia, this practical experience, in addition to her excellent grades, was very helpful in getting her dream job.

Paying for College

Kate’s parents and Kate worked together to make college affordable without any loans.

Kate’s parents started a 529 Plan for Kate when she entered seventh-grade. While this was a late start, it certainly helped them pay the $10,000 expected family contribution (EFC) based on the information provided in her FAFSA form.

At about the time they started the 529 Plan, they started talking to Kate about how the family might pay for college or some other postsecondary education. Kate’s parents were also prudent in their aspirations for Kate’s plans after high school. While Kate was a good student in middle school, her parents understood that Kate might want to pursue an alternative to college.

However, if college were Kate’s choice, her parents also believed that an in-state public college with well-respected majors in fields Kate might choose was a better financial choice for them and Kate.

As for Kate, she did her part by doing her best as a student and by growing in her understanding of personal finance. A key point she understood was that the best choice would be to attend college, private or public, that would provide a good education and also be affordable.

Did Kate’s parents make any mistakes along the journey? Probably yes. But there are many things they and Kate did right.

As you look to the road beyond high school, you’ll find it has many turns and many forks. Which way do I go? What should I do? Kate’s parents helped her, but they had their own doubts and worries and often simply didn’t know the right answer.

Together they sought information, figured out answers and found their way as they travelled the long, uneven road that offered choices instead of promises. The straight and narrow road of yesterday was easy and safe, but it went to only one place.

The road Kate and her parents traveled – the road you and your parent(s) and family will travel – goes to many places, and it’s for you to decide where you want it to take you and how best to get there.


For Terrell, the Party Comes to an End

Terrell always wore the latest fashion, had lots of girlfriends – and he drove a red sports car. Not a new one, but it was a sports car. Terrell had paid to have it painted red.

The smart kids didn’t like him because he had what they wanted and he didn’t want what they had.

“What’s up, T?” Terrell knew Jason would be at the snack bar around this time, so he came by to ask him some questions. As cool as Terrell always appeared, the discussion the other night about their student loans had bothered him.

“Well,” Terrell said sheepishly, “I went to the financial aid office this morning and it wasn’t good. They told me I had $31,000 in federal loans and that I should call my parents to ask about any other loans. I called and talked to my mother. She said they had taken out PLUS loans for $40,000 and that my aunt had cosigned a $10,000 loan for me.”

“Wow. That’s a lot. I always thought your family had lots of money.”

Jason had never seen Terrell look so depressed. Even when he failed a course, it didn’t seem to bother him much.

“I guess the party is over. I’m going to have to have a long talk with my parents and figure out how to make this right.”

Jason was still incredulous, and said, “If I can be of any help, you know where I am,” as Terrell turned to leave.

Just then, Kate came over. “Hey, I’ve got great news!”

Barely audible, Terrell looked away and said, “I gotta go.” Puzzled, Kate look at Jason. “That’s great, Kate. Could you tell me later? I have to run.”

“That’s weird,” Kate thought. “I hope nothing’s wrong.”

Unfortunately for Terrell, there was a lot wrong. And it wasn’t all his own fault.

When Terrell said, “I guess the party is over,” he was right in characterizing the last six years as a kind of party. Except for having to change majors twice and failing some courses, he had enjoyed his friends, his sports car, his dates and spending money without any worries.

Of course, at times, Terrell knew things weren’t right, but simply ignored those moments of doubt.

Terrell’s mistakes are fairly obvious, but the mistakes behind them are less so. They were made by his parents.

Parents want what is best for their children and sometimes that leads them to say yes when no is what is needed. However, there are two other even bigger causes for mistakes parents frequently make in guiding their children’s postsecondary education choices. The first is being overwhelmed by the complexity of postsecondary choices and the second is having too little understanding of personal finance.

Postsecondary education is a complicated matter. For the most part, the guideposts from kindergarten through 12th grade are clear while the road beyond 12th grade is filled with guideposts that are confusing and often contradictory. Judging by the continuous articles in newspapers and online as well as the talk in most high schools, all roads lead to college. Not a two-year community college but a four-year college. Teachers, school counselors, parents and students all speak glowingly of attending college.

Of course, they all acknowledge that there are other choices. For example, a trade school or an apprenticeship is good for some. Entering the military or going to work is good for others. But “That’s not for me,” Terrell probably said, and his parents probably said, “Not for our son.”

“What shall I do after I graduate from high school” is possibly the most important question to ask, and it is likely a question without any certain answer. This is because the road from kindergarten to the present is so clearly marked, even if not always easy. But now, you must build your own road. A daunting task but one that can be made at least manageable with a store of knowledge about personal finance and about the primary postsecondary opportunities that are available (college, community college, a job, the military, apprenticeships and technical school).

We have said before that personal finance is perhaps the most important course you were never taught. If that is so for you, there are many self-help resources to improve your financial literacy. A good way to do this is to make it a family affair.

Terrell and his parents had too little understanding of personal finance. While at college, his parents provided him with a credit card and no restrictions on its use. He regularly spent more money than he or his parents had, and yet they continued to pay his credit card bills, pay for his sports car and continued to pay for college through six years.

To do this, Terrell’s parents repeatedly took out parent PLUS loans and even asked his aunt to cosign a loan for him. Neither Terrell’s parents nor his aunt understood the consequences of cosigning a loan.

Terrell isn’t a bad young man and his parents aren’t bad parents. Instead, they are simply examples of students and families who make serious mistakes because they lack the knowledge to avoid them. For this reason, it is important to begin acquiring this knowledge as early as possible so that parents and their children can grow together in an understanding of the terribly complicated landscape beyond high school, a landscape that is full of opportunity waiting for those prepared to seize it.

Breaking News — Pennsylvania to Consolidate Six State Regional Colleges

Pennsylvania’s students and their parents have some big changes coming if they are considering attendance at any of the 14 regional state universities.

Just short of two years ago the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) announced it would integrate six of the state’s fourteen regional state universities. It was unclear whether this would entail closing one or more of the colleges. On Monday, the PASSHE Board of Governors published its proposed plan for integration of the six colleges and also scheduled hearings to be held this week.

Integration of the six colleges will be done under a Northeast integration plan and a Western integration plan. Based on their location in the state, Bloomsburg University, Lock Haven University and Mansfield University would comprise the Northeast integration and the Western integration would consist of California University of Pennsylvania, Clarion University and Edinboro University.

As reported by Inside Higher Education, “Dozens of alumni of state public universities, as well as state residents, have expressed concern that PASSHE chancellor Daniel Greenstein is rushing into consolidation without first pushing the state Legislature to better fund the system.”

What does appear to be rushed is the scheduling of the Board of Governors’ public meeting to consider the proposal. The Board of Governors public meeting was held this morning at 8:30 and was streamed live via Zoom at http://www.passhe.edu/meeting. The agenda included time for public comment, and board members also considered whether to initiate a 60-day public comment period. The State Senate appropriations and education committees are planning to hold a public hearing on the plans Thursday.

Inside Higher Education also reported that “Save Our State Schools, a public advocacy group that has challenged the consolidation effort, will host an online event Wednesday to discuss a response to the new plans. The faculty union will also hold a press conference and virtual rally that afternoon.”

According to the plans, each consolidated university will have one president who will report to the Board of Governors through the chancellor. At the same time, each group of three colleges will be joined under a university to be named sometime this summer. The result will be a PASSHE system comprised of 10 accredited universities.

The consolidated universities would also have a shared enrollment management strategy and student support services, such as academic advising, financial aid, health and wellness counseling, library services, and career counseling. However, the plans recommend that each college retain its own name and branding and maintain current NCAA Division I and Division II sports at each individual institution.

The objective is to achieve economy and efficiency of services while providing greater educational opportunity to students. A primary goal is to reduce the total cost of degree attainment by 25 percent per student. This goal would be achieved by reducing the time to earn a degree through expanded program availability, high school dual enrollment, reduced operating expenses and additional fundraising success.

At this time, the best advice is to keep alert to news reports of legislative hearings and the opinions of groups with interest in the outcome of these plans. More information is also available at the PASSHE website.

Lessons From Jason’s Experience

Last week we asked you to review Jason’s path to his difficult student loan burden and questionable job prospects as college graduation is just a month away. I’ll touch on some of the key points where Jason could have made his current position a much happier one. See how many of these points you picked up and whether you agree with what I have to say about each.

Because space in this post is limited, I’ll focus on Jason’s choices after he arrived at college and I won’t comment on his student loan debt because we’ve addressed that in previous posts. First, however, a brief word about what you should be thinking of while you’re still in high school, the sooner the better.

You and your parents should recognize that school counselors are often overworked counseling those with serious personal difficulties. Therefore, they often don’t have time for counseling about postsecondary education choices and career counseling. That said, it’s important that you make good course choices in your freshman year because some courses later on will require you to have taken specific prerequisite courses. This requires planning before you even enter high school.

Once in high school, a good alternative to relying solely on your school counselor is to develop relationships with your HS teachers so that you can ask them for guidance about career possibilities and what courses you need to study. These relationships with you will also enable them to write detailed, believable letters of recommendation for your postsecondary choice, be that college, trade school, an apprenticeship or the military.

Now, to some key points in Jason’s postsec journey.

Don’t go to college just because your friends are. All of Jason’s friends were planning on attending college and even though Jason had little interest in school, had below average grades and didn’t have any specific goals for college, he went along with “what everyone else was doing.”

Simply going along with what everyone else is doing almost always is a bad idea. And bad ideas usually don’t work out very well.

Have good reasons for going to college. Because Jason didn’t have any clear idea of why he was going to college, he would have been better off to seek some guidance about why attending college would be a good idea and why an alternative might be a better idea for him. He could have asked for an appointment with his counselor, spoken with one or more teachers who could help and he could have spoken to the uncle he eventually asked to cosign two student loans.

For students who are as unclear about their postsecondary course as Jason was, it is often better to take time out to get counseling and to clarify what to do next. Unlike college, this doesn’t require you to pay a substantial deposit, often unrefundable, while you make up your mind about what to do next.

Choosing a major is important. Check before you choose. Having decided to go to college without really knowing why, Jason should not have declared a major. Instead, he should have taken required freshman year courses while he looked more specifically into the majors offered by the college. Eventually, Jason changed his major twice before settling on a major in physical therapy.

The major you choose may also determine how much you earn. Payscale is a company that tracks salaries and has published a College Salary Report listing starting salaries and mid-career salaries for 834 different college majors. While the stated salaries are national rather than specific to different locations where they might be higher or lower, they do give some indication of salary expectations for specific college majors. Note, however, that a low starting salary for a history major, for example, is questionable. Unless the college history major becomes a history teacher/professor or an historian, there’s no reason to believe that student will be “doing history” as a career. Instead, history majors and English majors enter careers where their income is typically much more than what is listed in the Payscale report.

Alert! Students and parents! The important point here is that each time Jason changed his major, the courses he took did not count toward graduation. This means that the tuition money, fees and book costs were all lost. Still worse, more tuition money, fees and book costs would have to be paid for the second major and, finally, his physical therapy major. This required Jason to take a fifth year to graduate, costing not only more student loan debt but also lost income from what would have been his first year of employment.

Graduate in four years or less. Sadly, only 41 percent of bachelor’s degree students graduate in four years (EduactionData.org). The national six-year college completion rate is 60 percent (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center) while millions of students who entered college never earned a degree. Inside Higher Education reported that the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that as of December 2018, 36 million people from the Center’s database had attended college since 1993 but then failed to earn a credential at any U.S. institution and were no longer enrolled in college.

Study the best you can. Earn the highest GPA you can. Because Jason didn’t have any clear purpose in attending college, he wasn’t motivated to discipline himself, study harder and complete college with a better GPA. Depending on the field of employment, a student’s GPA will affect his ability to get hired even though his GPA will have less and less importance as he progresses in his career. In addition to his student loan debt, this is another hurdle Jason faces as graduation approaches.

Clearly, making decisions about your education and career are complicated and require information, good advice and time to consider the information and advice. More often than not, high school students and their parents put off thinking about these matters in part because these are not easy things to think about, in part because students and parents are continually busy.

But these matters will not relent. And so, it is much better to consider them early on rather than waiting for senior year, which is a wonderful time on the one hand but also a time which is fraught with decision-making and stress and deadlines.

College Planning – Mistakes you don’t want to make

In recent posts we introduced you to Jason and his friends and the student loan problems they all have. Jason and two of his friends, Terrell and Kate, are seniors in college, just months away from graduation. Olivia is a junior. We focused on Jason and told you something of his loans.

To summarize, Jason has taken five years to get to graduation and has borrowed the maximum amount of federal student loans, a total of $31,000. Because no more than $23,000 in subsidized loans is permitted, the remaining $8,000 in federal loans is unsubsidized. Jason also has two private loans totaling $15,000 which his uncle cosigned. Jason’s first payment on his federal loans is not due until six months after graduation but his first private student loan payment is due 60 days after graduation.

Another factor is that Jason has not received a job offer, although he has been interviewing with various corporations for jobs in human resources. The average starting salary in human resources is $53,000. The rule of thumb is not to borrow more than your anticipated first year salary. Therefore, Jason should be able to repay his loans without difficulty, even with the accrued interest added to his loan total. But he’s going to have to upgrade his job search now.

A look back often helps us to see forward more clearly. So, let’s take a look at what contributed to Jason being where he is now.

Jason and his sister were raised by their mother after his father became gravely ill and died a short time later. Jason was just nine years old and his sister two. Jason’s mother had to work full-time and eventually earn enough money to keep the family together. In fact, she had done well enough that Jason was not eligible for a Pell grant when he applied for financial aid to college. (Students whose total family income is $50,000 a year or less qualify.)

During high school, Jason had taken a mix of business and machine shop courses as well as college prep courses in English, math and science, but he was not interested in school and graduated with just a little better than a C average. Nevertheless, along with his group of friends, he assumed he would go to college. He attended a less selective college among his state’s several regional colleges where he changed his major after freshman year to psychology and then to physical therapy. He will graduate with a GPA similar to his high school average.

Jason is not unlike many students. And like many students, his decision to attend college was made without considering any alternatives. Upon entering college, his goal was unclear and he changed majors twice. This extended his time to graduation, costing him another year of college as well as the lost income he would have earned if he had graduated on time. Additionally, this required borrowing more money for school and more time during which interest continues to accrue.

Your homework is the following:

  • review our previous four blog posts about Jason and student loans:

Jan. 10; Jan. 18; Jan. 26; Feb. 2

  • reread this post carefully; and
  • make up a list of things Jason might have done to change the outcome.

In our next post about Jason, we’ll discuss some of the ideas you suggest and some you might have missed.

China’s Infiltration of America’s Universities

About one week ago, Jorge Salcido was sentenced in federal court in Boston to eight months in prison. This news made headlines even though the individual sentenced was not a celebrity. The mere fact that he was part of the Varsity Blues scandal was enough to warrant national coverage.

While this sentencing is newsworthy, a much bigger story goes largely unreported. The much bigger story is the threat to our national security. China has infiltrated our universities to steal intellectual property and conduct military espionage. Yet most people are unaware of the influence of China on many of America’s college campuses.

William Evanina, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said, “We estimate $500 billion a year in economic loss just from the country of China. That’s theft of intellectual property and trade secrets.” China’s undercover work in our universities goes beyond this to include military espionage. China’s interests on American campuses, and elsewhere throughout the world, focus on science, technology, mathematics, medicine and economics.

America’s colleges and universities are widely recognized as among the best in the world. As such, they are where the best minds gather and where cross-pollination of the best ideas result in cutting edge discoveries in the fields most important to our future. This attracts undergraduate and graduate students from around the world. Many professors also come to U.S. colleges and universities to teach and do research. Virtually all of these students and professors are honest and come only to study, to do research, to teach and to learn. But there is a small but significant minority, some U.S. citizens and others from abroad, who have sinister and self-serving motives.

Three cases announced by the Justice Department in January 2020 illustrate this. The three unrelated cases involve two Chinese nationals and an American college professor who were arrested and charged with working on behalf of China.

According to the Justice Department, Yanqing Ye, 29, was working as a student and researcher at Boston University. The Justice Department alleges that on questioning Ye admitted she held the rank of Lieutenant in the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and that she was a member of the Chinese Communist Party, which she did not disclose on her student visa application.

The Justice Department statement also alleges that “a search of Ye’s electronic devices demonstrated that at the direction of a PLA Colonel, Ye had accessed U.S. military websites, researched U.S. military projects and compiled information for the PLA on two U.S. scientists with expertise in robotics and computer science.”

Ye was indicted on January 9, 2020 but is now in China.

In a second case the Justice Department alleged that Zaosong Zheng, 31, working on a student visa, conducted cancer-cell research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and that on Dec. 9, 2019 he stole 21 vials of biological research and attempted to smuggle them out of the United States aboard a flight to China. According to the Justice Department, Zheng admitted he had stolen the vials from a lab at Beth Israel and that he intended to bring the vials to China to use them to conduct research in his own laboratory and publish the results under his own name.

Zheng is charged with multiple crimes including visa fraud, acting as an unauthorized agent of a foreign government and smuggling goods from the United States.

On January 6, 2021, Zheng was sentenced in U.S. District Court to time served (approximately 87 days), three years of supervised release and ordered removed from the United States.

In a third case, the Justice Department stated that Dr. Charles Lieber was the chair of Harvard’s chemistry and chemical biology department and also served as the Principal Investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard University. The Lieber Research Group, which specialized in nanoscience, has received more than $15,000,000 in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Defense (DOD). NIH and DOD grants require disclosure of significant foreign financial conflicts of interest, including financial support from foreign governments or foreign entities.

The Justice Department alleges that beginning in 2011, Dr. Lieber became a “Strategic Scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China and that under the terms of his Thousand Talents contract WUT paid him $50,000 per month, living expenses and gave him more than $1.5 million to establish a research lab at WUT. The Justice Department further alleged that in return, Dr. Lieber was required to work for WUT “not less than nine months a year” by “declaring international cooperation projects, cultivating young teachers and Ph.D. students, organizing international conference[s], applying for patents and publishing articles in the name of” WUT.

The Justice Department made clear that Harvard University was unaware of any engagement by Dr. Lieber in what is alleged against him.

Dr. Lieber was indicted on January 9, 2020. He denies all allegations.

In a press conference following these indictments, U. S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said, “Our community benefits greatly from the diversity and talent of international visitors and our partnerships with foreign institutions. But Chinese economic espionage and theft is a real and daily occurrence that we must begin to confront.”

The news media that feature stories like Varsity Blues don’t cover the China story, but you can. To find out more about China’s undercover work at our colleges and universities, simply Google it. It’s that easy.

Varsity Blues Update

On April 22, 2019 I posted a piece about a prominent attorney who had confessed to having paid $75,000 to have his daughter’s ACT test “corrected” before submission to the ACT. He had “employed” the services of Rick Singer to have the test score rigged. As you will recall William Rick Singer is the man behind what became the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.

Having written about the attorney, Gordon Caplan, I feel obligated to provide an update following the decision of New York’s Appellate Division to suspend Mr. Caplan from practicing law for two years. This closes the legal proceedings for the former co-chairman of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, a major international law firm in New York City.

In my prior post, “The Immorality of It All,” I quoted Mr. Caplan’s wiretapped statement to Rick Singer – “I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about the – if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.” In response, I wrote, “As a lawyer, as a certified college admissions advisor, as a former high school English teacher and as a former proctor for the College Board’s SAT examination, my reaction to [what Mr. Caplan had said] was multifaceted disgust.”

Today, I feel much better about Mr. Caplan. And unlike some, I believe the Appellant Division decided correctly.

Following his guilty plea in May, 2019, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani sentenced him to one month in federal prison, one year of supervised release (parole), 250 hours of community service and ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine. This, together with the loss of his position at his law firm, the personal and public embarrassment he suffered and the legal bills incurred, comprise a very significant consequence for his actions.

Just before his sentencing, Mr. Caplan told Judge Talwani, “I disregarded the values I’ve had throughout my life.” He continued, “I failed. I failed my daughter. I failed my wife. I failed my parents. I failed my colleagues. And I failed the profession that I love.” He added, “This was not a victimless crime. The real victims of this crime were the kids and parents who play by the rules.”

By all accounts, Gordon Caplan was a much better man than the man who employed Rick Singer. And by all accounts, he is chastened and become, again, the better man he was before the Varsity Blues scandal.

Note: Two days ago Netflix released Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, a documentary about the bribery scandal from 2019.

Lee Bierer, a nationally syndicated columnist and independent college counselor, apparently had access to a preview of the film and wrote in her column,

It’s a powerful film that shows the ugly underbelly of what happened to the college admissions process. It features reporters, independent educational consultants and the sailing coach from Stanford who pleaded guilty. Since William “Rick” Singer, the kingpin coordinator of the bribery scandal, agreed to plead guilty and share information with law enforcement officials, the documentary has the original taped conversations between Singer and his unknowing clients.

In our next post, we will tell of a much more important college admissions scandal – one that threatens our national security.

Your College List – and Phi Beta Kappa

In our last post, we talked about a college rankings list you probably never heard of, the ranking of colleges with the most students selected for an award in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. We thought colleges with Fulbright awardees indicated those schools had serious academic programs and advisers who helped the students earn their awards.

We also said another program, Phi Beta Kappa (PBK), was a sure indicator of the quality of the colleges’ strength in the liberal arts and sciences. Of the approximately 1,400 four-year colleges and universities U.S. News ranks, just 290 institutions have a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. (The more than 4,000 colleges and universities the U.S. Department of Education lists includes satellite campuses of larger universities, community colleges and for-profit colleges.)

Phi Beta Kappa’s first meeting took place on December 5, 1776 in Williamsburg, Virginia. Five years later, in nearby Yorktown, what became the climactic siege of the American Revolutionary War was imminent.  Afraid for the fledgling organization, one member persuaded fellow members to allow colleges in New England to charter chapters. That preserved Phi Beta Kappa, and chapters were established at Yale in 1780, at Harvard in 1781 and at Dartmouth in 1786.

Of course, most people hearing of Phi Beta Kappa believe it is such an exclusive academic achievement that it is well beyond their realizing and, therefore, of no importance to them. So, what does it matter whether a college you are considering has a Phi Beta Kappa chapter?

What matters is that these colleges and universities are different from all others, and here’s why.

  • Colleges that shelter, i.e. host, a Phi Beta Kappa chapter have applied for selection and submitted to a rigorous, three-year course of examination and re-examination by Phi Beta Kappa to prove the high quality of its liberal arts and sciences course of study and its support of its programs.
  • The steps in the application process consist of a review of the application by the Committee on Qualifications, a visit to the campus, an updated application, recommendations to the PBK Senate, and recommendations by the Senate to the Triennial Counsel. Rejection of the application is possible at each step. Then, at the end of three years, a vote by the Triennial Council approves or disapproves the applications that got that far.
  • So special is earning a Phi Beta Kappa chapter that the president of the University of Houston, Renu Khator, said, “Our earning a Phi Beta Kappa chapter…was the culmination of a tenacious and protracted effort led by a group of staunch faculty members.” He continued, “In many ways, I point to the Phi Beta Kappa chapter as the achievement I’m proudest of so far. . . . Simply put, you [a college] don’t qualify for Phi Beta Kappa unless you have clearly established a culture that supports your students at every turn.”

As a student compiling a college list, realize that many colleges that don’t have well-known “brand names” and that you, your parents and your friends might never have heard of are, in fact, very fine colleges that host Phi Beta Kappa chapters.

For example, what do you know about Muhlenberg College, Saint Joseph’s University, Swarthmore College and Ursinus College, all in Pennsylvania? What do you know of Alfred University, several of the City University of New York colleges, St. Lawrence University, and Union College, all in the state of New York? They all have PBK chapters.

If you’re interested in traveling farther from the New York-Philadelphia area, do you know the College of Wooster in Ohio; Grinnell College in Iowa; Rhodes College in Tennessee; and Wabash College in Indiana? They all have PBK chapters.

We are not suggesting you must consider these colleges. On the contrary, the presence of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter should not be the determining factor in whether you consider a particular college.

However, if someone whose opinion you trust recommends a college, but neither you nor your friends ever heard of it, check to see if it has a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. If not, continue to look further into the recommendation. If yes, you know that that college is one of the special 290, just one of many factors to consider as you make your college list.

Even if you don’t believe you could ever achieve a Phi Beta Kappa key (only 10 percent of graduates do), the presence of a PBK chapter is a sure sign of the college’s high academic quality and its commitment to its students’ success.

The College Rankings Are Here – The Ones You Never Heard Of

Everyone enjoys rankings regardless of the subject, and that includes ranking colleges. The Wall Street Journal does it. The Washington Monthly does it. The less well known Niche publishes a very different version of college rankings. And the Princeton Review publishes a book each year, The Best 386 Colleges.

But the college rankings that everyone knows about are the U.S. News & World Report rankings. They garner headlines and lots of commentary every year.

At the same time, a list of colleges ignored by the mass media is the list The Chronicle of Higher Education dubbed this past week the “Top Producers of Fulbright U.S. Scholars and Students, 2020-21.”

Admittedly, this is a list that would be of most interest only to students (and their parents and school counselors) who have the potential to be awarded a Fulbright U.S. student award. However, to those students and their parents and counselors, the possibility of competing for a Fulbright award might be a consideration in deciding where to apply for college.

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to support academic exchanges between the United States and over 150 countries around the world. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers awards for U.S. graduating college seniors, graduate students, young professionals and artists to study, conduct research, and/or teach English abroad.

Just over 500 U.S. colleges and universities actively participate in the Fulbright program, and the Chronicle of Higher Education published lists of the colleges and universities with graduating students who competed successfully for an award. The lists are grouped according to the type of institution the students graduated from. The four types of institutions are doctoral, master’s, baccalaureate and 4-year special-focus (institutions where a high concentration of degrees is in a single field or set of related fields).

The full list of all of the colleges and universities is available at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Below are the lists for baccalaureate and 4-year special-focus institutions. The number of applications and number awarded suggests the emphasis of the program and its advisers at each school.

Baccalaureate institutions (49 colleges – Those with 10 or more Awards are listed.)

4-year special-focus institutions (10 colleges – All had one or more Awards offered.)

As you can see, the Fulbright U.S. student award is quite exclusive. The number of applicants are few and the awards are still fewer. The point here is that the presence of such a program is indicative of what these colleges and universities make available to their best students.

Another excellent indication of the academic quality of a college is the presence of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Just 290 institutions have a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. To qualify for this, an institution goes through a three-year process of examination by three levels of Phi Beta Kappa examining committees. We will have more about this in our next blog post.

Two Essential Resources – FREE!

February is financial aid month and, appropriately, we have a wealth of free resources to tell you about. The first is a free guidebook for the SAT and ACT tests and the second is information about financial aid provided by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

First, a free, newly updated SAT and ACT guidebook.

The Compass Education Group is offering for free its newly updated (2.1.21) Guide to College Admission Testing. The guide is 69 pages of information about the SAT and ACT aptitude tests and subject tests. The guide is available here.

Compass Education Group is a long-established, national company providing college admissions advising and test prep services. The well-known college admissions advisor, Lynn O’Shaughnessy (The College Solution) said she always looks forward to reading the latest update of the guide.

You will also find free access to webinars and other information at the Compass Education Group website.

Second, February is Financial Aid month, and to celebrate, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has assembled a collection of useful information.

For example, many people assume that they won’t qualify for financial aid because their grades are not good enough, they make too much money (or their parents do), or lots of other reasons. But, you won’t know for sure unless you try, and applying is free

You’ll also find links to the following helpful financial aid resources here: