Posted by: Gregory Linton | 08/24/2019

My advice to teachers of first-year students

At the start of each academic year, I send an email to instructors at our university who will be teaching freshmen classes. This email provides tips for engaging and retaining first-year students. I have include the text below in case these suggestions are helpful to others.

In my role as Retention Director, I am sending this email to all instructors of first-year students to provide some tips about how to teach and engage those students. The first year is crucial for retention. Most students that an institution loses from its first-time, full-time cohort are lost in the first year. Faculty members play a key role in encouraging retention of our freshmen, so here are some friendly suggestions that I hope you will consider.

  • Require the freshmen to complete team projects or put them in discussion groups so that they get connected with other students. If you can identify commuter students, put them in their own groups.
  • Remember that most of the freshmen are making the difficult transition from high school to college, so consider how to ease them into that. Make sure that your course content, requirements, and readings are pitched at the foundational, first-year level.
  • Bear in mind that we get mostly average and underprepared students. Elite students can go to highly selective, prestigious colleges for almost nothing, so we don’t get many of them here. View it as your mission and privilege to develop smartness in students who have been disadvantaged. I highly recommend the little book by Alexander Astin titled Are You Smart Enough?: How Colleges’ Obsession with Smartness Shortchanges Students.
  • Remember that many of our students are from low-income households, and most of those are first-generation students. If you assign an expensive textbook or access codes in your class, many of them will not be able to purchase them. Try to keep your course affordable.
  • If any students stop coming to class or are not submitting assignments, please fill out an Early Alert Form so that Academic Support can follow up.
  • A major contributor to retention is students connecting with instructors outside of class. I know this is challenging, especially for part-time faculty members, but try to think of ways to engage with students outside of class also.

Thank you for dedicating yourself to educating and mentoring our students. I am always available if you need any advice or encouragement.

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 08/24/2019

Higher Ed Quote of the Week: 8/19/19

“Whereas most hospitals are designed and equipped to treat seriously ill patients, most colleges and universities are not well designed to educate the less-well-prepared student. Faculty tend not to welcome such students and typically gear their college courses and their teaching methods to the smartest ones. Less-well-prepared students are expected to sink or swim, and many of them sink.”—Alexander W. Astin, Are You Smart Enough?: How Colleges’ Obsession with Smartness Shortchanges Students (Stylus, 2016), p. 61

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 08/15/2019

Higher Ed Resource of the Week: The Missing Course

GooblarOn August 20, Harvard University Press will release The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You about College Teaching by David Gooblar. Gooblar is Associate Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Temple University and publishes a column in Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Pedagogy Unbound.” This book attempts to address the lack of instruction on pedagogy in most doctoral programs, which prepare faculty members to be researchers but not teachers. The eight chapters of the book distills result of research on learning and effective teaching. It promotes the design of student-centered classrooms where students take control of their own learning and become active participants in the process. The 272-page book can be pre-ordered on Amazon for $29.95.

Screenshot_2019-08-15 How America Pays for College 2019 Study - HowAmericaPaysforCollege2019 pdfLast week, Sallie Mae released its annual report titled How America Pays for College. Conducted by Ipsos, the report summarizes the results of 2,000 online interviews of 1,000 parents of 18- to 24-year-old undergraduate students and 1,000 18- to 24-year-old undergraduate students. The list below distills some of the key findings reported in the press release, infographic, and full report.

  • 92% of parents believe education is an investment in their student’s future.
  • 71% of families say the price they are paying is fair for the education received.
  • 80% of families feel confident about how they are paying for college.
  • 44% of families have a plan to pay for all years of college.
  • In 2018-19, families spent an average of $26,226 on college.
  • College costs were covered by the following means on average: 43% by family income and savings; 33% by scholarships, grants, and gifts; and 24% by borrowing.
  • 38% of families reported the student borrowed money, and 21% reported a parent borrowed.
  • 27% of those who used federal student loans expect them to be forgiven.
  • On average, students apply to four schools and are accepted at three.
  • Cost is listed most frequently (by 77%) as a top consideration when choosing a college to attend.

In 2014, the Gallup-Purdue Index Report, based on data received from 30,000, identified six key college experiences that contribute to long-term success, engagement in the workplace, and a sense of well-being. Three of the six focused on the relationship between the student and a professor:

  • I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams.
  • I had at least one professor who made me excited about learning.
  • My professors cared about me as a person.

Connected Teaching coverThese findings show that, if professors want to make an impact on the future of their students, they must connect with them relationally and not just intellectually. A book released by Stylus Publishing on May 14 provides guidance for how to do that. Connected Teaching: Relationship, Power, and Mattering in Higher Education by Harriet L. Schwartz applies the concepts of Relational Cultural Theory (RCT) to teaching as a relational practice. RCT believes that engaging in growth-fostering interactions and relationships is essential to human development. Schwarz encourages faculty members to seek relationships with students, understand their own socio-cultural identity, and recognize the role of emotion in the learning process.

Schwartz is professor of psychology and counseling at Carlow University. She is also Lead Scholar for Education as Relational Practice for the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute. The 192-page book has nine chapters. It is available on Amazon for $32.50 or in Kindle format for $25.99.

Two weeks ago, the National Center for Education Statistics released a report with the long title “Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&BL16/17): A First Look at the Employment and Educational Experiences of College Graduates, 1 Year Later.” This report summarizes the findings from the first follow-up on a nationally representative longitudinal study of students who completed the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in the 2015-16 academic year. The follow-up was conducted in 2017 and was based on a sample of 26,500 students who represent the 2 million recipients of bachelor’s degrees in 2015-16. Here is a selection of the findings:

  • 42% of the graduates had parents who had not earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • 27% of them began their degree at a 2-year-or-less institution.
  • 44% of first-time bachelor’s degree recipients completed their degree within 48 months after first enrolling in postsecondary education.
  • 4% of all first-time bachelor’s degree recipients borrowed money to pay for their undergraduate education, averaging $30,500.
  • 69% of first-time bachelor’s degree recipients from private nonprofit institutions borrowed money to pay for their undergraduate education, averaging $32,500.
  • 65% of first-time bachelor’s degree recipients from public institutions borrowed money to pay for their undergraduate education, averaging $27,900.
  • 77% of first-time bachelor’s degree recipients had not enrolled in any additional education within 12 months of completing their bachelor’s degree. 12% had enrolled in a master’s program, and 4% had enrolled in a doctoral degree program.
  • 67% of first-time bachelor’s degree recipients were employed only, 12% were both employed and enrolled in additional education, 9% were out of the labor force, 6% were enrolled only, and 6% were unemployed.
  • Male first-time bachelor’s degree recipients who were employed full time had a median annual income of $41,600. Females had a median annual income of $37,400.
Posted by: Gregory Linton | 06/24/2019

How colleges can respond to market risks

ZemskyLast week, the American Council on Education released a brief white paper sponsored by the TIAA Institute titled “Too important to fail, too big to be complacent: An analysis of higher education market risks and stressors.” The report was co-authored by Robert Zemsky of the University of Pennsylvania and Philip Rogers of the American Council on Education.

Since 2016, twenty private, nonprofit colleges have closed, and others merged with other institutions. The pressures of declining enrollment for first-year classes and increasing tuition discounts, combined with poor retention rates, have led some pundits, such as Clay Christensen, to predict that 50 percent or more of colleges will eventually fail.

Zemsky and Rogers dispute these predictions. Their data shows that less than 10 percent of over 2,300 institutions of higher education nationwide are in serious risk of closing or merging. Another 20 percent of institutions are genuinely struggling but are not in immediate danger of closing. Of the 13 million undergraduates represented by these institutions, “just over half attended institutions facing no more than minimal market risk, roughly a third attended institutions experiencing moderate risk, and fewer than 7 percent attended institutions facing the threat of near-term closure” (p. 2). However, the greatest impact of closures would fall on students of color, Pell-eligible students, and adult learners.

Institutions have responded to market pressures primarily in two ways: (1) tuition reset where the sticker price is lowered and less student aid is provided; and (2) reducing instructional expenditures per student by at least 20 percent, usually by increasing the student-to-faculty ratio. Both of these strategies have had mixed, unclear results.

Zemsky and Rogers propose another strategy: redesigning the general education curriculum to promote higher retention of students. They suggest that, in the first year, students should take an introductory class in their preferred major and classes in practical learning skills that have a post-graduation payoff in the marketplace, such as writing, statistics, and problem solving. In the junior and senior years, students can engage in a broad exploration of topics outside, but ideally connected in meaningful ways to, their majors.

The key with these initiatives is working to overcome the growing (mis)perception that higher education does not provide value, in spite of the abundant evidence to the contrary.

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 06/21/2019

Higher Ed Resource of the Week: Cracks in the Ivory Tower

CracksReleased by Oxford University Press on May 1, Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education offers a scathing indictment of the higher education industry. The authors are Jason Brennan, Flanagan Family Professor at Georgetown University, and Phillip Magness, Senior Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research in Great Barrington, MA. This book claims to provide a comprehensive account of why higher education is dysfunctional. The authors offer evidence that most higher education marketing is deeply immoral and deceptive. They argue that colleges and universities fail to deliver what they promise. Faculty members exploit students for tuition dollars through general education requirements. Students, professors, and administrators are all guided by self-interest rather than ethical concerns. If you want to know everything that is wrong with higher education, this is the book to read. The 336-page book is for sale on Amazon for $28.45 and in Kindle format for $19.99.

Each May, the National Center for Education Statistics releases an annual report called The Condition of Education. The report also includes information about K-12 education, but here I will list interesting statistics about postsecondary from the 2019 report, grouped by category.


  • In 2017, 67% of recent high school graduates enrolled in college. Since 2000, this percentage has fluctuated between 62% and 70%.
  • 61% of male high school completers enrolled immediately in college, whereas 72% of female high school completers enrolled immediately.
  • In 2017, 40% of young adults (ages 18-24) were enrolled in college, an increase from 35% in 2000. 44% of females were enrolled, and 37% of males were enrolled.
  • In 2017-18, 19.77 million Americans were enrolled in postsecondary education, a decrease of 70,00 from the year before.
  • In 2017, 16.8 million students were enrolled as undergraduates, and by 2028 this will increase by 400,000 (3%).
  • In fall 2017, female students made up 56% of undergraduate enrollment, and male students made up 44%. This means there are 2.1 million more women than men enrolled as undergraduates.
  • From 2000 to 2017, Hispanic undergraduate enrollment increased by 142% (1.4 million to 3.3 million).
  • From 2010 to 2017, both White and Black undergraduate enrollment has decreased by 19%.
  • In 2017, 3.0 million students were enrolled in postbaccalaureate programs, and by 2028 this will increase by 100,000.
  • In fall 2017, female students made up 59% of postbaccalaureate enrollment, and male students made up 41%. This means there were 600,000 more women than men enrolled in postbaccalaureate programs.
  • Of the 2009 ninth-graders who enrolled in postsecondary education in 2016, 78% percent of the highest-SES students were enrolled, while only 28% of the lowest-SES students were enrolled.

Degrees Conferred

  • The number of associate degrees awarded peaked in 2011-12 at 1.02 million, and it has remained flat since then with 1.01 million awarded in 2016-17.
  • From 2011-12 to 2016-17, the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred increased from about 1.6 million to 2.0 million.
  • In 2016-17, 264,000 more women than men earned bachelor’s degrees.
  • From 2011-12 to 2016-17, the number of master’s degrees awarded increased from 756,000 to 805,00 (6%).
  • In 2016-17, 151,000 more women than men earned master’s degrees.
  • In 2016-17, of the 2.0 million bachelor’s degrees conferred, half of them were in the following five areas: (1) business (381,000 degrees); (2) health professions and related programs (238,00 degrees); (3) social sciences and history (159,000 degrees); (4) psychology (117,000 degrees); and (5) biological and biomedical sciences (117,000 degrees).

Distance Education

  • In fall 2017, 1/3 of undergraduates were enrolled in any distance education course, and 1/8 of undergraduates were enrolled exclusively in distance education.
  • In fall 2017, 38% of postbaccalaureate students were enrolled in any distance education course, and 29% were enrolled exclusively in distance education. At private nonprofit institutions, 25.5% of postbaccalaureate students were enrolled exclusively in distance education.
  • Of the 2.2 million undergraduate students who exclusively too distance education courses in fall 2017, almost 2/3 were enrolled in institutions located in the same state in which they resided.

Retention and Graduation Rates

  • In 2016-17, the retention rate of first-time, full-time undergraduates at 4-year institutions was 81%.
  • Of the full-time, first-time students who started seeking a bachelor’s degree in fall 2011, about 60% completed the degree at the same institution within 6 years.
  • This 6-year graduation rate was higher for females (63%) than for males (57%).


  • In 2016-17, the average total cost of attendance for first-time, full-time undergraduate students living on campus at 4-year public institutions was $24,300, and the cost at private nonprofit institutions was $50,300.
  • In 2016-17, the average net price of attending a 4-year public institution was $13,760, whereas the average net price at 4-year private nonprofit institutions was $26,840.
  • From 2010-11 to 2017-18, average tuition and fees at 4-year private nonprofit institutions increased by 16%.
  • In 2016-17, 85% of students received any financial aid at 4-year institutions.
  • In 2016-17, students at 4-year private nonprofit institutions received an average of $22,300 in grant and scholarship aid.
  • In 2016-17, 46% of first-time, full-time undergraduates were awarded loan aid, which is a decrease from 50% in 2010-11. The average loan amount was $7,200.
  • In 2016-17, 59% of undergraduates at 4-year private nonprofit institutions were awarded loans, a decrease from 64% in 2010-11. The average loan amount was $8,500, an 11% decrease from $9,600 in 2010-11.

At the end of every semester, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center releases postsecondary enrollment statistics drawn from data submitted by 97 percent of Title IV, degree-granting institutions. Here is a list of some of the interesting statistics included in the report released on May 30:

  • Overall postsecondary enrollment decreased 1.7 percent from the previous spring. In real numbers, this is a decline of 300,000 students.
  • Undergraduate enrollment decreased by 2.3 percent, while graduate enrollment increased by 2.0%.
  • Enrollments increased 3.2 percent at four-year private nonprofit institutions, but the increase is attributed to the conversion of Grand Canyon University from a for-profit institution to nonprofit.
  • Enrollment in four-year private nonprofit institutions with less than 3,000 headcount declined by 0.8 percent.
  • Graduate enrollment in four-year private nonprofit institutions increased 5.8 percent, but again this may be due to Grand Canyon University becoming a nonprofit institution.
  • Despite the initiatives of some state governments to increase enrollment in 2-year public institutions (to provide “free college”), their enrollment actually declined 3.4 percent.
  • Women outnumber men in postsecondary enrollment by 2.8 million. Women make up 58 percent of enrollment. For 40 years, women have been the majority of postsecondary enrollment.
  • Male enrollment decreased by 2.8 percent from the previous spring (212,000 fewer men!), while female enrollment decreased by only 0.8 percent.
  • The states with the biggest percentage decline in enrollment were Alaska and Florida, both decreasing by 5.2 percent.
  • Tennessee’s enrollment increased by 1.4 percent. It was one of eleven states than had an increase in enrollment.

The following instructional programs experienced the biggest decreases in enrollment at four-year institutions:

  • Personal and Culinary Services (-16.7%)
  • Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities (-7.1%)
  • English Language and Literature/Letters (-4.8%)
  • Philosophy and Religious Studies (-4.7%)
  • Physical Sciences (-4.6%)
  • Theology and Religious Vocations (-4.5%)

The following instructional programs experienced the biggest increases in enrollment at four-year institutions:

  • Science Technologies/Technicians (6.4%)
  • Transportation and Moving Materials (6.2%)
  • Construction Trades (5.7%)
  • Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services (5.4%)
  • Architecture and Related Services (4.5%)

Analyses of this report can read at Marketwatch and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce released a new report titled Born to win, schooled to lose: Why equally talented students don’t get equal chances to be all they can be. This 40-page report challenges the presumption of the American Dream that “individual talent will be rewarded, regardless of where one comes from or who one’s parents are.” Instead, a child’s ability to succeed educationally is determined more by the circumstances into which that child is born than by the innate talent or abilities of the child. Although some students from low socioeconomic conditions are able to rise above their circumstances in spite of the odds against them, most find the obstacles stacked against them insurmountable. The authors state bluntly: “In general, money trumps talent when it comes to the prospects of the poor and the working class. In other words, if you come from a poor or working-class family, the changes are slim that you’ll be able to be all than you can be” (p. 3). Here is a list of some of the key points made in the report:

  • Talent isn’t fixed: Innate ability can be nurtured over time, or it can remain underdeveloped.
  • The ability of children to improve their academic talent is determined more by income, class status, race, and ethnicity than by hard work.
  • Half of low SES students who have high test scores in kindergarten have fallen behind their peers by eighth grade.
  • Equally talented children from low-income backgrounds are held back by lack of access to enrichment activities, underfunded schools, poorly maintained neighborhood infrastructure, limited interactions with role models who have postsecondary experience, and racial and ethnic discrimination.
  • A student from a low-SES family who shows academic promise has less of a chance of “making it” than a student from a high-SES family who is academically weak.

The authors offer this trenchant observation: “In America, it is often better to be rich than smart” (p. 5). Of course, the recent admissions scandal has made that point very clear to the American public. For another summary of the report, read this article on

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