Category Archives: Higher Education

July 15, 2015

Race-Based Admissions Bans On Medical Schools

Affirmative Action is still a highly debatable, controversial issue in medical school admissions. In institutions of higher education, affirmative action refers to admission policies that provide equal access to education for those groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented, including women and minorities. Since the Supreme Court in the Fisher v. University of Texas case voided the lower appellate court’s ruling in favor of the University and remanded the case, there has been an even greater debate about the best practices in admissions.

Eight states have banned medical schools from considering race in admissions, which leads those schools to try other ways to recruit a diverse student body without explicitly asking for race. Schools are increasing their outreach in minority communities to try and reach more diverse applicants. Many schools look at applicants with other socio-econmic factors, like those who have overcome adversity, shown leadership, and displayed a variety of different activities. Others have been giving preference to working-class students or those whose parents did not attend college.

Since race-based admissions bans have passed, there has been noticeable changes in the amount of colored students attending college in states without affirmative action. Before the bans passed, approximately 18% of students were of color, and now after the bans, approximately 15% of students in states with bans are of color. In the example below from the NY Times, Hispanic freshman students at Berkeley have dropped significantly after approving the statewide ban on affirmative action.

Affirmative Action at Berkeley

Admissions offices are forced to think outside of the box to be able to sustain a diverse class.  At the University of Texas at Austin, they have enforced the Top 10 Percent plan, which allows three-quarters of the incoming class to be automatically admitted based on the students’ position in their high school class. The remaining students of the class are admitted after review of academic achievement and other factors.

What is your school proactively doing to maintain a diverse incoming class?

May 13, 2015

Medical School Curriculum Changes

Prospective students in upcoming classes for medical school are going to have a significant change in curriculum than their previous peers. Many medical schools are beginning to take into account the undeniable fact that medical training for doctors should change as the practice of medicine is changing.

Typical medical school curriculum usually involves teaching based around  Abraham Flexner‘s once-famous ’2 Plus 2 Model’, which involves two years in the classroom and two years shadowing in hospitals. The curriculum for medical school is now starting to include classes meant to build communication skills, teamwork, and adaptability to change. The new MCAT makeover released last month, April 2015, has included testing for similar qualities/traits as well. These medical school curriculum changes are going to be taking place at many medical schools, including the University of Michigan Medical School.

Dr. Raj Mangrulkar, the Associate Dean for medical student education at the University of Michigan Medical School states, “Flexner did a lot of great things, but we’ve learned a lot and now we’re absolutely ready for a new model.”

The University of Michigan Medical School is implementing many changes to adapt to a newer, more innovative model. They are including classes within their curriculum based solely on improving communication skills, by giving negotiation scenarios to students to compromise and decide upon solutions with their fellow peers.

“Listed with the new prerequisites is a group of Core Competencies. The four competencies are analytical thought and problem-solving skills, written and verbal communication, mathematical/statistical analysis and application of hypothesis-driven methods of research.” Mangrulkar states, “These competencies began as expectations for residents, but have now trickled down to the pre-medical level.”

Along with the University of Michigan Medical School, many other medical schools have already began to look for those qualities in students and incorporate the search into their admissions process. Medical schools are searching for students who can exhibit not only top grades in school and scores on their MCAT, but also for students who exhibit teamwork, compassion, and communication skills within their activities and experiences. A well-rounded student who has the ability to display intelligence and communication skills, among other traits, is ideally the type of applicant that medical schools would like to extend offers to.

Evaluating applicants based on multiple variables and qualities can become difficult for schools, especially when trying to keep information on each applicant in order. ZAP Solutions admissions software, AMP, has the ability to simplify the process for admissions offices, keeping all student information securely placed in one system. ZAP has been continuously innovating AMP to incorporate new ways to evaluate these changes. AMP has also given schools the capability to use standard interviewing, MMI interviewing, or a hybrid combination. Each step of the admissions process is within AMP, making it easier, faster, and more effective for admissions officers to go through the process from the initial/secondary application to screening, interviewing, reviewing, and matriculation with each applicant. The goal of AMP is to customize the software specifically to each school’s process, growing and innovating with the school through their changes.

How do you think medical schools will continue to incorporate the new changes into their admissions process and curriculum?

April 11, 2015

Key Lessons That Need To Be Taught In Med School Classrooms

A recent News Ok article states that Costa Rica is outperforming the United States in terms of health care and wellness.  How can that be when the United States spends more money on health care than any other country in the world?  Simple, Costa Rica is healthier. Their government spends more money than the U.S. on prevention and wellness.

The United States fails to focus on wellness and chronic disease management in many ways. For example, we don’t consistently control glucose levels in diabetics. This disease will then often go untreated until an emergency situation arises, such as a seizure, a stroke, or a heart attack.  In return, these individuals are then placed on medical disability, commonly resulting in a greater expense than the cost of the original health management. Another major chronic disease is coronary heart disease. Two of the most profitable prescriptions drugs in the U.S., are those that reduce blood cholesterol and prevent blood clots - both symptoms of coronary heart disease.  This raises the question, why spend more on prescriptions than on prevention?

UC Riverside School of Medicine (UCR), located in Southern California, first opened its doors in 2013.  Dean of UCR, Dr. G. Richard Olds, says, “This school was founded on the need for well-trained doctors…We also wanted to demonstrate that a health-care system that rewards keeping people healthy is better than one that rewards not treating people until they become terribly ill.”  The school places a large emphasis on wellness, prevention, chronic disease management, and finding ways to deliver health care in the most cost-effective setting.

Closely related to prevention is wellness.  Many health problems in the U.S. come as a result of self-infliction – smoking, drinking, eating an unhealthy diet, overeating, failure to exercise. An important part of a doctor’s job should be providing the patient with information about healthy eating, exercise, and harmful products; regardless of the behaviors they are currently exhibiting. To accomplish this shift in focus, future doctors must be taught to think with a preventative mentality, right from the beginning.  For that reason, it is vastly important that medical schools in the United States re-evaluate their teaching curriculum and their approach to heath and wellness.

UCR has the right approach in training this country to take a more proactive stance on health and wellness.  This is not a process that will happen overnight  but slowly, this approach could change the face of medical education in the United States on a grand level.

What is your medical school doing to teach students the importance of teaching their future patients about wellness and prevention?

February 23, 2015

The MCAT Gets a Makeover


In order to be accepted into medical school, students must take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test).  The MCAT has traditionally been comprised of 144 questions which are to be completed in a three hour and twenty minute time frame. Prospective med students spend years preparing themselves for this exam; taking classes, joining study groups, purchasing MCAT study books – the list goes on and on.  But, starting April 2015 there will be a new and improved MCAT which promises to be more difficult and extensive.  The purpose is to better forecast how well the student will perform in medical school.

The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) has been conducting research for the past five years in order to constitute these changes.  By surveying faculty, admissions, and deans of medical schools, the AAMC was better able to understand what types of general knowledge and thinking skills are needed by students to succeed in their medical school programs.

Here are some changes that students can expect on the new MCAT:

  • Different scoring scale:  The old MCAT had a total possible score of 45.  On the new MCAT, sections will be scored 118-132, for a total possible score of 528.  The median score is estimated to be around 500.
  • New questions that test a variety of skills: Just like the old MCAT, the new one will test content knowledge and critical thinking, but with the added challenge of two additional skill areas.  The first is Research Design, which focuses on the fundamentals of creating research projects.  The second is Graphical Analysis & Data Interpretation, which focuses on deriving conclusions and drawing inferences from visual data (figures, graphs, tables…).
  • Double the length: Previously, the MCAT was to be completed within a three hour and twenty minute time frame.  The new MCAT now has a maximum time limit of six hours and fifteen minutes – upping the questions from 144 to 230.
  • More prerequisite classes: Three additional semesters’ worth of material will be covered in college-level biochemistry, introductory psychology, and introductory sociology.  This increases the prerequisite class number from eight to eleven.
  • A slight change to the Verbal Reasoning section: Instead of being called Verbal Reasoning, the section will now be titled Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills or CARS.  In addition, the CARS section will no longer include passages on the natural sciences but will instead focus entirely on passages from the humanities and social sciences.

Although the MCAT is never the ultimate decider to get into medical school, it does play a large part in the admission decision. Since the exam is designed to test how students will stand up to the academic rigors of medical school, it is important for all aspiring doctors  to note these monumental changes to the test.

As an added incentive for test takers to not shy away from the new MCAT, the AAMC is offering a $150 Amazon gift card to all students who register for the April 17th or April 18th test dates.

According to Eric Chiu, executive director of pre-medical programs, Kaplan Test Prep, “While the new MCAT is more challenging than the old one, our experience of preparing students for the medical school admissions process for over 40 years tells us that with the right preparation, they will rise to the occasion, and succeed.”

January 22, 2015

Six Questions Grad School Prospects Should Ask Themselves

In a US News article, six questions were presented for graduate school prospects to ask themselves when visiting and interviewing at potential colleges. The questions within the US News article are centered around the initial impression that the prospect had from the admissions office. Many times how one is treated as an applicant can be indicative of how the individual will be treated as a student. Listed below are the six questions that US News challenged grad school applicants to ask themselves.

graduate admissions

1. Did the admissions staff seem to care?

First impressions are everything. Showing potential students that you and your admissions staff care about the applicant and their individual situation is important. AMP, one of the most customized graduate application systems, is one way to help your office stay focused on giving prospective applicants an effective experience.

2. How professional and informed was the staff?

To be a professional and informed staff member, the staff needs to have a good overall understanding of the type of upcoming class and applicant that they want their school to have. An enrollment management system can keep staff informed on the applicant’s background, grades, history, interests, scheduled visits and more within one secure place, so that staff can effectively evaluate applicants for the best possible class.

3. How did the admissions staff behave during the campus visit, event, or fair?

The US News article also continues to ask , ”If you visited the campus, was your visit confirmed with you in advance? If you sent an RSVP, did you get a friendly reminder?” Admissions staff should be knowledgeable about the applicant’s situation during any encounter with the prospective applicant.

 AMP’s system takes care of notifying and informing faculty and applicants of their upcoming meetings and appointments. Instead of worrying if every faculty member or applicant knows when and where to be, the top administrators can focus on the applicant.

4. How long did it take to get someone on the phone or receive E-mail response?

Communication and staying engaged is key with prospective applicants. With many applicants and  faculty members, it’s hard to keep track of all of the communication going on between. AMP can help your staff organize the communications in one place. Keeping track of every communication with each student allows your staff to see which students have been helped and contacted.

5. How was admissions information presented on the website?

Applicants want to find information quickly and easily. Within AMP‘s enrollment management system, every bit of information can be micromanaged to ensure that your applicants are getting everything they need to know. AMP gives your staff the opportunity to edit every page that the applicants see in their portal, all the way down to the specific stage of the application process they’re in. This ensures that the applicant has all the information that they may need, which will help to further streamline and simplify the admissions process for both the admissions staff and the applicant.

6. What was the online application procedure like?

The actual application is a sensitive and important part of the application process. This is where your admissions office has a chance to see behind just the GPAs and academic scores, and to look at applicant’s experiences and thoughts on important matters. Easy access to a student’s information, letters of recommendation, and transcripts help to simplify the process for admissions staff. By keeping all of the application materials in one place, and integrating with third parties, like, AMCAS, CAS, and TMDSAS, the admissions staff can better evaluate applicants.

For the admissions and recruitment office, their goal is to have their school stand out to applicants. With detailed and complicated admissions processes for graduate schools, admissions offices frequently struggle to make enough time in the day to complete everything on their to-do lists. Utilizing an enrollment management system, like AMP, can simplify the admissions process and help admission staff members prepare for the next hectic, but exciting, admission season.

How does your school currently prepare for the admissions season?

November 12, 2014

AACRAO: Predict Performance with Evidence Based Research

aacraoA few of our team members from ZAP Solutions attended the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) SEM Conference this past week in Los Angeles.

AACRAO is a professional organization of personnel working in college and university admissions, academic records, and enrollment services. The AACRAO SEM Conference is an interesting and affluent event that brings together college enrollment management and admissions professionals from institutions throughout the country to collaborate with other individuals to discuss coordinating campus-wide efforts to ensure the success of students, from initial contact until graduation. The AACRAO SEM Conference had workshops and sessions discussing the creation of effective enrollment management plans to lead campus strategic planning efforts and improve student access and success.

One of the sessions that I attended was entitled, “Predicting Performance: using evidence based research and analytics to select best fit applicants.” It was presented by Dr. Jim Lloyd from the University of Florida College of Veterinary School, Coretta Patterson from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Hilda Mejia Abreu, a former employee of Michigan State University. The goal behind the study was to look at the datasets of accepted students to see how their traditional and non-traditional factors correlated with their academic success.

The session was extremely informative, providing research results that they took from admitted students from 2000 to 2006 at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The study used datasets from the admissions office and the student’s curriculum to compare both traditional and non-traditional characteristics. Traditional characteristics included GPA and GRE test scores, while non-traditional characteristics consisted of race/ethnicity, state, gender, age, residency, prior degree, and interview score. Using both traditional and non-traditional characteristics provided the opportunity for a more holistic admissions process in order to see if either type of characteristic was predictive of academic performance as measured by either cumulative clinical and didactic GPA.

In the research study, there were a few different types of studies that were reviewed throughout the session that were used to help evaluate the results. The studies consisted of the Astin I-E-O Model and the 2004 Sedlacek Non-cognitive Variables Model.

To what extent did traditional and non-traditional characteristics contribute to the prediction of the cumulative clinical GPA?

Research from the study showed that there were certain non-traditional and traditional characteristics that were the most predictive of the student’s academic success or cumulative clinical GPA, including the GRE Quantitative (traditional) and the interview score (non-traditional). The Accreditation Service will look at the school’s admissions process and give suggestions on what should be done, not what must be done. This means that their recommendations are solely suggestions, not mandatory requests. It is up to the institution to review their goals and implement the changes. This research study helps show the importance of a holistic admissions process that looks at more than just the applicant’s test scores and traditional characteristics.

Lessons Learned from the Research Study

  • Admissions process selection and goals should be defined and aligned with the mission and goals of institution and profession.

In the field of veterinary medicine, people skills are en extremely important need in veterinarians. Veterinarians must not only connect with animals but the humans that are at the end of the leash. People skills are needed in many fields of work, but it is particularly important in the medicine field due to the usually serious and sensitive nature of a patient’s visit. More often than not, grades and scores are viewed as the only important factor in finding a good doctor and the experience as a whole is often forgotten as a significant necessity.  This is a topic that has been the focus in the past year  when discussing the importance of people skills in doctors. The new MCAT test coming out in April 2015 is addressing this issue by including more questions in the MCAT test related to the student’s people and social science skills.

  • Complete an analysis of admissions variables and curricular performance completion as each semester concludes

Reporting and tracking the progress at the end of each semester will help to continuously update the admissions process as the time sees fit.

  • Regularly export data sets on performance to SPSS or another tool for easy mining for future use

Even if the data is not evaluated at that point, it is critical to keep data for future analysis and reporting.  Data analytics are essential for admissions offices to see what variables and factors are working the best for their institution and incoming class.

  • Establish a scholarly research agenda

Scheduled research studies can help to consistently analyze the data of your institution and applicant pool to confirm if your school’s admissions process is working towards your institution’s mission and goals.

  • Practice holistic admissions

The benefits of holistic admissions has been noted by many institutions more recently over the past five years. Looking at all aspects of the applicant will only help admissions officers to better select the applicants that will work best for their school.

  • Implement both traditional and non-traditional components in review process

As shown in this research study, both traditional and non-traditional components are both useful in predicting academic success. Many schools are taking the initiative to focus on both traditional and non-traditional components when admitting applicants into their programs. This does however lengthen the process and adds time to the already complex process of selecting future students. In efforts to maximize efficiency and create a more dedicated and observant process, many schools are turning to admissions software to organize, track, and assist with the entire enrollment process. Enrollment management software, such as AMP, are saving institutions money and time by holding the entire process in one place. By utilizing a centralized management system, admissions staff are able to easily, seamlessly and securely manage the student lifecycle from prospect to alumni, enabling schools to turn complex data into business intelligence and choose the candidates who are the very best fit for  their program.

 How is your institution selecting your admissions process?

October 7, 2014

Marketing vs. Counseling: The Changing Field of Admissions

In the last couple of decades, and particularly the past few years, colleges have become accessible to more than just the upper-middle-class. What used to be “the ideal college” is no longer tied to one demographic or set of qualities. Students are looking for many different options and features for their future college. With the number of entering college students hovering above 21.8 million and the number of accredited colleges nearing seven thousand, the options are bountiful and so are the students’ preferences.  Admission staffs are now forced to balance the needs of the institutions and the ever increasing and diversifying applicant pool.  Admission staffs are constantly struggling with enrolling students that will “ensure a college’s financial stability”, diversify and enrich the student population, and become substantial additions to the institution. In many cases, these requirements do not always match up, causing drifts between the financial and academic departments and leaving the admissions staff stuck in the middle. A field traditionally known as ‘counseling’ has turned into ‘marketing’.

Admission staffs are now starting to look more like marketing teams and this raises the stress levels on many of the officers who are not used to spending as much time and effort with the prospecting process. Institutions are continuously tightening budgets, which is causing an ever increasing rise of dependency on the recruitment and acceptance of future students. Class sizes from year to year are increasing at a phenomenal rate; the number of enrolled students has increased by six million in the last thirteen years – a 38% increase.  The growth in applications and admission duties has left admissions officers in a stressful and time-scarce cycle facing many challenges.

Looking at a bar chart figure from The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Shaping the Class, admissions officers from different levels of colleges and universities are facing many challenges, including maintaining an enrollment focused culture in the institution.

Enrollment Management


The chart above shows just how far the responsibilities and functions of the  admissions officers have changed and expanded. There are ways to minimize and manage the amount of stress within the admissions office. Using scheduling tools, such as Schedule Today, has decreased the amount of time the admission staff have to spend on menial tasks like scheduling appointments and updating calendars. Medical, Law, and Graduate schools are also using programs, such as AMP Admissions Software, to balance the lengthy and in-depth admissions process. By transferring over duties automatically to simplified software, admission staffs are able to manage more time with students and balance tasks with tight budgets.

Although schools are finding ways to stretch budget dollars with prospecting and the admissions process, the question of how to balance a genuine relationship and encouraging ‘sales’ is still unanswered.  In a recent Chronicle article, Dr. Hawkins, director of public policy and research at NACAC, says, “Even though admissions has been around for a long time, the field still isn’t at a point where it has really defined itself. This profession is being shaped right now, and there’s this question of, Are we counselors or are we marketers? Do we understand the emerging markets that we’re trying to tap into? Ideally, you don’t want to see the entire emphasis be on marketing.”

April 9, 2014

The Adjunct Issue

The recent implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has had an unfortunate impact in the world of higher education. Reacting to a provision that mandates employer-provided healthcare  for employees who work 30+ hours per week, many colleges & universities have cut adjunct hours in order to remain in compliance. This has caused further hardship on adjunct faculty, an already struggling segment of the educational workforce.

L4535690946_e3b88b7941ow-paid, part-time adjunct faculty represent a growing majority of educators in higher education. In 1969, 18.5% of professors were part time. From 1975 to 2011, that number has grown by 300%. Today, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, part-time professorships represent 75.5% of educators, or 1.3 million people. One big motivator for this shift has been cost; it’s simply easier to fill courses with part-time faculty instead of full time, salaried professors with full benefits. With this trend maintaining traction for more than 40 years, it is no huge surprise that the Obamacare coverage mandate has only added fuel to the fire.

At the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, David Hoovler, the executive assistant to the president, says it was “simply unaffordable” to expand health coverage to would-be qualified adjuncts, although the college would have preferred to provide access. CCAC has an annual budget near $109 million and providing health benefits to the ~400 eligible part-time employees would have cost the school upwards of $6 million (Dunn, 2013). However, it can also be argued that trying to live on an adjunct salary is also “simply unaffordable.” Of 152 respondents who provided their estimated annual teaching salary in an Adjunct E-Forum Report, the average was $24,926, with the median at $22,041. In contrast, the median pay for a full time faculty member is $47,500. In order to garner comparable wages, an adjunct would have to teach nearly seventeen courses per year. To put this in perspective, researchers consider a full course load to be eight courses in an academic year.

One educator reports “My university pays $2100 per class which means even if I work at 100% – 10 classes per academic year – I would only make $21,000,” a salary that hovers right above the poverty level. In the Adjunct E-Forum Report, one educator tells her story of survival on an adjunct salary;

“Because I was also the sole support of my two children (both of whom are gifted and honors students, I am proud to report), I relied on Medicaid to pay for the medical bills of my daughter. And, during the time I taught at the community college, I earned so little that I sold my plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pay for her daycare costs. Seriously, my plasma paid for her daycare because I taught English as adjunct faculty.”

The big problem with tying medical coverage to adjunct hours is that administrators must also consider the time spent prepping for classes, grading assignments, attending meetings, and communicating with students. With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, the IRS has advised schools to calculate total hours worked by accounting for an additional 1.25 hours of outside work for every hour spent in the classroom. Prior to this recommendation, many schools acted preemptively to avoid taking the risk that an adjunct would go above 30 hours per week, enacting blanket measures to slash schedules and cap adjunct course loads.

With so many adjuncts and recent Ph.D. graduates trying to forge careers in academics, the supply of teachers will continue to outstrip demand. Schools are already extremely motivated to hire these extremely well-qualified professionals as cheap part-time labor. Once hired, adjuncts are often doomed to a life of poverty and uncertainty, where their classes can be canceled and their livelihood compromised at a moment’s notice. “There are really no opportunities for advancement because there [are] very few full-time opportunities available, most likely because the schools are using more and more adjunct instructors instead of adding the higher-paid full-time positions (with or without tenure),” reported one educator.

As a result of their permanent part-time status, many adjuncts choose to teach classes at multiple schools in order to make ends meet – and even a crushing workload doesn’t guarantee a livable wage. “I was teaching five classes at three different campuses. I was quickly going broke and my student debt was still growing,” said Gillian Mason (Lewin), a former adjunct with a Ph.D. in Literature from Boston University.

With the Affordable Care Act bringing this issue to a tipping point, adjuncts are looking for ways to advocate for change. Some activists are looking at unionization, while others have already taken their case to Congress. After hearing congressional testimony from adjuncts, California Representative George Miller said of adjuncts, “You look at their credentials, their background and experience—there has to a conscious decision to treat them this way,” he says. “Then you start to look at it through a student’s eyes, and then you think, I’m getting a person who’s stressed out, maybe just drove three hours to get to my class, doesn’t have time to see me afterward, and you think, Wait a minute, there’s some false advertising going on here.”

The adjunct situation is far from over, so we will be certain to keep you posted on the latest news regarding acts of congress, unionization, adjunct activism, and school reactions. How has your school reacted to the roll out of the Affordable Care Act? Do you think it has affected your school’s treatment of adjunct faculty?

April 1, 2014

Taking the Grade to Court

It’s the classic “he said/she said” in the world of education. A student claims that a professor unfairly gave out a bad grade. The professor counters that grades aren’t given; they are earned. In the case of Megan Thode v. Lehigh University, a judge ruled in favor of a school’s right to use their own discretion in awarding grades.

Megan Thode sued Lehigh University in an effort to have a C+ grade retroactively changed to a B and claimed $1.3million in damages for lost wages because she had to change her career path. The low grade meant that Thode could not advance in her chosen field of study, counseling psychology, and she instead pursued a master’s in education and human development. Thode received the C+ because she received zero credit for in-class participation in her graduate level Therapy Internship course. In this particular course, participation credit requires students to conduct themselves with professionalism, to self-reflect on their personal behavior and perspectives, and to collaborate with other students.

Thode claimed that Amanda Eckhardt (née Amanda Carr), the course’s student teacher, discriminated against her because of her support of gay marriage and that the grade was retaliation for voicing her opinion during class time. Thode had attended every single class session, making the mark of zero all the more suspect. Her lawyer, Richard Orloski, argued, “My client stands alone in the history of Lehigh in getting a zero in class participation.” Steven Thode, the plaintiff’s father and former professor of Finance at Lehigh, supports this point, “I have never heard of a case, not just at Lehigh, where a student achieved a zero in class participation where they attended and participated in every class,” he said.

The defense claimed that, while Thode had indeed attended every class session, she had not met the aforementioned requirements of professionalism, self-reflection, and collaboration. While testifying, Eckhardt defended her decision to award zero participation points to Thode based on her inability to participate appropriately in her internship, citing outbursts, swearing, and emotional instability. During the semester in question, Eckhardt knew that Thode’s behavior was leading her down the path to a failing participation grade and she gave Thode a letter addressing her concerns and advising her on ways to improve her participation. After the warning, Thode failed to change her attitude and became defensive when confronted, at one point saying “I need to get a lawyer.” When awarding final grades, Eckhardt consulted with other faculty at Lehigh before deciding to give Thode no credit for participation. Although she acknowledged that the grade was unprecedented, “I … believed she received the grade she earned,” said Eckhardt.

Eckhardt also addressed the allegations of discrimination, saying that while she believed that marriage was between a man and a woman, she wouldn’t allow her personal opinion to cloud her professional judgment. She also noted that her own sister is a lesbian and that she would support her if she chose to get married.

Throughout the court proceedings, the elephant in the room was the sticky situation of having few precedents for a court to change a student’s grade. In previous court cases of this kind, judges have upheld the respective school’s policies in awarding and appealing grades except in the most extreme cases. In fact, the judge in this case, Emil Giordano, said that he is “unconvinced that the judiciary should be injecting itself in the academic process.”

In the end, Giordano ruled in favor of Lehigh. The school affirmed his decisions. In a statement, Jennifer Tucker, vice president of Public Relations and Communication at Lehigh, said

“Our faculty have a responsibility to evaluate students fairly and accurately as to their attainment of competency in their field and grant a Lehigh degree only when those standards for competency are met. We are defending the right of the university and the right of our faculty to exercise their professional judgment as educators.

Looking at this case from an outsider’s perspective and seeing all of the time, money, and resources that have been tied up in this litigation, I can’t help but think – Why would Ms. Thode abandon her career aspirations (and the supposed $1.3 million that would come with it) simply because she got a C+? While I personally agree that a zero was too harsh for a student who did, at least, attend every class, it is evident that Ms. Thode had plenty of chances to take personal responsibility and turn her grade around without involving the courts.

As demonstrated in the defense testimony, she had ample opportunity to improve her class participation after receiving a written warning and advice from her instructor. And, as noted by a Lehigh student in an editorial, all Lehigh professors are required to hold office hours every week so that students may meet with their instructors and voice their concerns. If Ms. Thode was truly determined to stay in good standing in the counseling psychology program, she could have easily met with Ms. Eckhardt to create a plan of action and remedy the situation. Furthermore – even after receiving the poor mark, she still had the option of re-taking the course in an effort to perform better than the first time; an option that is always available for students.

In the end, Ms. Thode was disappointed to discover that the judicial system could not be used to punish Lehigh for awarding a failing grade, and university professors everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. University professors; how have you approached a difficult student when they were at risk of failing?

January 10, 2014

Syracuse University Rankings

cantorAs she ends her tenure at Syracuse University, Chancellor Nancy Cantor leaves behind a mixed legacy. During her 9 1/2 years at the university, she has aggressively worked to improve the the city of Syracuse as well as the town-gown relationship, pulled $1 billion in capital contributions, and expanded the campus with several building projects. However, SU’s rankings have slipped, much to the dismay of stakeholders at Syracuse University. In the mid-90′s, prior to Cantor’s hiring, SU was consistently ranked in the 40s on U.S. News and World Report‘s annual college ranking list. Now, Syracuse University has dropped to rank at #63. Cantor’s stance on college rankings has sparked debate about the value of such reports.

Syracuse University’s rankings have slipped as result of several factors. An often cited reason is Cantor’s changes in admissions policy. When she came to SU, a majority of the student population was well-to-do, white, and from the Northeast. Cantor chose to buck the historical trend of focusing on this limited demographic. “If you were a strategic business you would be optimizing on what the world is going to look like,” she reported to the Chronicle of Higher Education. “You wouldn’t be holding on for dear life to your brand.” Cantor brought minority enrollment from 18.5% to a high of 32% in 2011 while also increasing undergraduate enrollment by 22%. As a result, SU experienced an all-time high acceptance rate of 60% in 2011, leading to lower rankings on the U.S. News list.

This is a cause for concern for some students and faculty, as reported by the SU student paper, The Daily Orange, in 2011; “The shift in recruitment strategy and subsequent rise in the acceptance rate could devalue the SU diploma, cause larger freshman classes, and affect the quality of an SU education.” Cantor defended the stability of SU in spite of a rankings slip, saying “U.S, News rewards institutions for the number of students whom they can reject, not for whom they reach.” Syracuse, she said, was “succeeding – with or without the imprimatur of popular magazine rankings.”

Cantor has not made an effort to improve Syracuse’s U.S. News rankings as a matter of principle. In a piece she wrote for the Huffington Post, Cantor criticizes the rankings as volatile and mysterious, and a tool to sell magazines. To her, they “simply don’t begin to comprehensively capture the strategic directions that most of higher education must follow to establish secure footholds in what is often referred to as a “new normal” world.” Indeed, a look into U.S. News’ methods for ranking schools reveals that little meaningful data is actually communicated through the annual list. The Atlantic magazine tends to agree, saying “The rankings don’t take into account measures of the quality of education at each institution, nor is there any consideration of outcomes” such as graduation or job placement rates.

Worryingly, the popularity and influence of the annual U.S. News list motivates schools to cheat the system in order to achieve a higher ranking. In recent years several schools have admitted to providing false reports to U.S. News, including Providence College, Claremont McKenna College, Emory University, George Washington University, Tulane University, and Bucknell University. Additionally, a large percentage (about 22.5-25%) of the ranking is determined by reputational measure determined by peer assessments by higher education professionals. According to Malcolm Gladwell, this reputational measure is simply a collection of “prejudices” that turn the U.S. News rankings into a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that rewards historically elite institutions.

While it is easy to determine that the annual U.S. News list is, at best, an imperfect assessment, it is difficult to discredit its enormous reach and influence. With a circulation of over 1 million subscribers (and an even wider audience discovering these rankings secondhand via advertising, news reports, and articles), this list remains an extremely influential source of information to prospective students and to potential financial donors. As reported in the Daily Orange,

“[Chancellor Cantor] snuffed the rankings off by saying they’re going obsolete, but they’re not going obsolete,” said Joel Kaplan, an associate dean at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “That’s what people are going to look at when they’re looking to go to college. I hate the notion that we could lose quality students because of that.”

and as reported on Inside Higher Ed,

“When you’re charging what we’re charging, [ranking] matters,” said Robert McClure, a professor in Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Public Policy. “But to sit around and say [rankings] don’t mean anything – nonsense. They mean lots and lots of dollars; I wish it weren’t so.”

With her tenure as Chancellor at an end, Syracuse University will again return to the rankings game with newly appointed Chancellor Kent Syverud, scheduled to begin on January 14 of this year. His position on the role of U.S. News rankings is more pragmatic than that of Nancy Cantor. In a November radio interview, he spoke of rankings, “They are imperfect, their metrics are manipulable and in some ways they’re quite troubling what they value, but they matter because they affect decision-making of constituencies that matter to universities.”

Will a new Chancellor with a fresh attitude towards the U.S. News list be able to successfully improve Syracuse University’s ranking? It’s definitely something to keep an eye on in the coming years.

How have the annual college rankings affected your school’s admissions policies?