Tuesday, January 06, 2009


The Uses of Students

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a contact at a respected private university. We discussed the different effects the recession is having at the cc level, as opposed to the private university level, and compared notes on enrollment trends. Then she mentioned something that explained a lot.

She said that while cc grads who transfer to her university do just as well academically as native students, they don't donate as much back to the university as alums. They only spent two years there, instead of four, so they don't feel the same level of attachment. The university knows that, so it puts a pretty tight lid on transfer admissions. It admits a few students to fill out the numbers in some upper-level courses, but that's it. It doesn't want to jeopardize the future funding stream from donations.

I have to admit, I hadn't thought of that.

In the cc world, we don't really talk about the usefulness of different types of students. (Since we have open-door admissions, there wouldn't be much point anyway.) That's not because we don't need contributions from alums -- heaven knows we do -- but it just isn't consistent with our mission. We take everybody, whether they're good risks for future philanthropy or not.

But it did help to explain the weirdly bifurcated responses we usually get when we try to send students to certain private universities.

The lower-tier ones are almost entirely tuition-driven, and our grads pay tuition like anybody else, so they take our folk with open arms. The very elite places only take small numbers, but they only take small numbers of anybody, so we're not singled out. But certain mid-level schools will take just a few students -- often taking every credit they transfer -- and then shut the door quickly.

It would be tempting to take the moral high ground here and decry certain places for using students as cash cows, but honesty compels me to admit that we often use student success stories in both our advertising and our philanthropic appeals. I don't have a problem with that; a college that doesn't have success stories to show probably has some tough questions to answer. Of course, we also use student tuition to pay bills, and strong enrollment numbers help us make the case to legislators (when state budgets allow) to improve our funding. So yes, we use students to keep the place running; after all, if we didn't have students, I'd be hard-pressed to justify our existence. It's just that, at this level, we don't connect 'admissions' to 'development.' Other places do.

I'm not sure what to do with this information, beyond sharing it with everyone in internet land. Should we start coaching our sophomores to talk about their future philanthropic prospects? Maybe use this as an angle to pursue "joint admissions" programs with some of the local schools, to get students identifying with them early?

Oddly enough, the two corners of higher ed with reliably 'need-blind' admissions are the super-elites, who can afford anything, and community colleges. The folks in between see prospective students not only as tuition payers, but as future donors, and judge them accordingly.

Wise and worldly readers, I need your help. Is there a way to use this information to help cc grads transfer more successfully?

...interesting. Do they also show a preference for students with majors that tend to lead to greater earning potential? I mean, a Modern Poetry student is likely to be a deadweight loss no matter what. ;)
Wow. I wouldn't think of it, but it makes perfect sense, doesn't it? But that doesn't help your students.

I guess I'd like to ask how things are with your local public universities?
I'm not all that surprised that students who transferred from CCs donate less to 4-year colleges than those who were there all 4 years ... but I wonder how much of that is because they're less attached to the institution and how much is because they had less money to begin with. After all, at least some of the students who start at CCs and transfer to 4-year colleges do so to save money. Those who can afford 4 years of higher tuition may also be more likely to continue receiving support from parents or other extended family members after they get their bachelors degrees, while those from less well-off families may have little left over to "give back" after making their student loan payments and paying their rent and other expenses.
Also important is that transfers "don't count" for IPEDS information. If a significant portion of students don't show up in the number, then they're often weirdly left out of the decision-making process.
Hm, that's an interesting perspective. One wonders if this idea of "students as cash cows" pervades the campus and how enlightened their self-interest actually is.

Oh, and there's a world of difference between providing a service and telling people you provide a service and only providing a service to people who will praise you.
Well, ccs could stop providing personal attention and small class sizes, so that 4 years didn't seem so lonely by comparison once transfer students got there.

CC's could make it their new mission to take competent, working adults and erode their self confidence to the point where they are equivilently desperate for group-identity as the sorts of 18 year olds who dash off to college, join a frat, and start standing in freezing weather shirtless cheering for a lousy football team.
This should be easy. Just start treating people like grad students. Seems like a straightforward way to break their spirits and make them insecure enough to be controlled.

Nah. Seriously, I think it mostly comes down to making the four years better. If you want to have your students invested in the university, you can only get away with treating them like a cog in the machine so much. I had great experiences with most of my profs in undergrad (even in 600+ person lecture halls), but the advising... *shudder*.
Did anyone happen to catch the article, "How Sensitive are They?" in last Sunday's NY Times Education Supplement (http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2009/01/04/education/edlife/04data.ready.html?ref=edlife)?

The National Association for College Admissions Counseling assessed which private colleges are 'sensitive' to students' ability to pay during the admissions process. Colleges were grouped into "Need-Blind" and "Need-Sensitive" categories. I thought that the lists were interesting and in some cases surprising. For example, most of the remaining "Seven Sisters" are quite need-sensitive.

Not much data from my CC as the overwhelming majority transfer to one of our State universities.
I wonder if the transfer student came from money would the private university have a different admission policy? If the bulk of transfers from CCs went there due to economics, this seems to be a class issue. I receive my share of donation envelopes from the Catholic h.s. and private grad school I attended and neither has very effective material. Fundraising/philanthropy is a business and maybe these institutions need to try a new tactic to get people to open up there checkbooks. We all witnessed some politicians do it this year, why can't universities make just as good an argument?
Knowledge is power, so I'd make sure the college advising office knew what nearby schools fell in that category so they could help interested students write a better application letter.

One way to signal future potential as a donor would be to say that you have always been a fan of Smelly Rodent basketball in addition to admiring their academic program. As one person noted, athletic fandom usually signals a strong connection to the institution, and most mid-tier private schools have a basketball program they try to feature on the national stage.
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