Skip to main content

Vanderbilt Changes Lives

Posted by on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 in Academic Life.

Loren Pope’s tome Colleges That Change Lives offends me. Responding to the book, however, is difficult.  Here’s my dilemma: CTCL highlights 40 schools that deserve serious consideration from students as they progress towards post-secondary education.  In no way do I find fault with the talented students, staff, or faculty of these aforementioned schools. These 40 institutions are in fact changing lives every day, and I recognize that.

My primary concern with the book is the author’s methodology.  At times he provides statistics and omits any references.  He offers no footnotes, notes section, or appendices.  He passes off anecdotes as fact.  That’s not evidence of changed lives.

His 382 pages prove useless when you consider real-world family concerns: going to college, affording college, and graduating from college.

Going to college changes lives. Repeated studies show that those holding a college degree have a higher quality of life.  Presently, those with a bachelor’s degree earn $22,000 more per year than those with just a high school diploma.  Moreover, those with a bachelor’s degree are less likely to be unemployed, even in an economic recession.  Plus, those with a college degree are generally healthier individuals; they smoke less, exercise more and are more likely to carry health insurance.  Therefore, colleges who partner with community-based organizations (CBOs) to increase college-going rates are changing lives.

College debt changes lives. Class of 2009 college graduates had a debt load, on average, of $24,000.  This represents a 6 percent increase from the year before; meanwhile, unemployment among recent college graduates rose nearly 3 percent from the previous year.  The Project on Student Debt found that 62 percent of graduates from public universities carry debt and 72 percent of graduates from private, nonprofit universities carry debt.  The average debt for a graduate from a private nonprofit university exceeded $27,000.  Debt restricts career opportunities, geographic flexibility, and opportunity for advanced degrees.  It is in our national interest to reduce debt among college graduates.  Colleges with debt reduction initiatives such as meeting full demonstrated need and offering need-based grant aid are changing lives.

Retention and graduation changes lives. The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) recently compiled multiple studies and found that only 3 out of 10 students entering community college graduate with a degree in 3 years. Only a bit more than half of students entering a four-year institution graduate with a degree in 6 years.  College completion rates are even lower than average for students from an underrepresented group.  It’s no longer enough just to go to college, you’ve got to finish.  College retention rates and graduation rates are one of the most important statistics a student should consider when exploring post-secondary options.  Colleges who retain and graduate their students change lives.

Ways to identify colleges that change lives:

  • Ask colleges about the efforts to partner with CBOs.  Ask if the application process includes a holistic review.
  • Ask colleges what they are doing to reduce student debt.  Ask colleges how they are reaching out to students from low-income families.  Ask colleges how they are ensuring affordability for middle-income families.
  • Ask for the most recent freshmen retention data.  Ask how many students graduate within six years (ask about four years).

For the record, Vanderbilt reaches out to community-based organizations across the nation to encourage at-risk students to attend college.  In 2009, 40 percent of our graduates carried student debt and the average indebtedness was $19,563.  Furthermore, 2009 was the first full year of our Expanded Aid Program which promises to be need-blind, meet full demonstrated need, and do so with no student loans. Finally, the Vanderbilt freshmen retention rate last year was 97 percent and 91 percent of our students graduate within six years.

Vanderbilt is also a school that changes lives.

Gift Assistance Awarded to First-Year Undergraduates for the 2010/2011 Academic Year

Tags: , , , ,


  • Laura

    November 9th, 2010

    I think it’s worth noting that “Colleges That Change Lives” is a line given to the book by an editor to rile tempers. The real title (and value) of the book is in the tagline: “40 schools that will change the way you think about colleges.” The book is, frankly, poorly written. But you should not overlook the point: as the education editor for the NY Times, Pope got tired of hearing about the same big-name institutions over and over again, when he knew there were other schools out there doing great things but not getting the exposure. He basically said hey… I found 40 colleges who are doing really interesting, progressive things in the classroom and on their campuses in order to turn the A/B average high school student into college graduates who can compete in the real world with any graduate of a name-brand college who only accepts A+ high school students. It encourages students (and their parents!) to take the focus of the college search off of “where can I get in?” and instead turning it into “which college is going to provide the educational experience that is best-suited to me?” You make great points about what really changes lives, but I think you unfairly malign 40 wonderful institutions when you really mean to critique the book.

  • Kylie

    November 10th, 2010

    Laura: I think your point is well taken. “Unfairly malign” is exactly what I hoped not to do because I know for a fact that the schools on that list are amazing. My point was merely one of frustration with a lack of data-driven research in an age where data is so readily available. I hope everyone reading this posting knows how much respect I harbor for the individual institutions mentioned by Pope. This is only meant to encourage conversation about ways we can measure changed lives.

  • Jed

    November 10th, 2010

    Kylie: I do not think that you “unfairly malign” the other 40 institutions mentioned in the book as your post specifically states in its opening that your issue is with the book/author’s methodology, not the institutions. I also think that as a contributor for the “Vandy Admissions Blog,” you have done an excellent job of bringing to light some of the data that is readily available to prospective students should they choose to take advantage of it and ask the right questions. With recent articles (ie: focusing on some of the more “shadier” admissions practices, if you will, it is refreshing and necessary to see a post that focuses on what prospective students can do to make the most informed decisions possible. Moreover, I appreciate that while this blog displays how Vanderbilt can “change lives,” it also leaves its audience with useful information and specific questions allowing each prospective student the opportunity to take control of their college search and research whatever institution they are most interested in—brand name or otherwise. Well done!

  • John

    November 15th, 2010

    Ms. Stanley,

    Your informative post proved to me a few things, all while casting you and your institution in a positive light. Some colleges would rather see their admissions rates drop than admit the worth of a rival institution; I am drawn all the more strongly to Vandy because you did just that. Thank you.

  • Justin

    January 15th, 2011

    As a student who transferred into Vanderbilt after two years at another institution, I can’t emphasize how important looking at the freshman retention rate is. At my first college, the freshman retention rate was around 75 percent, so not only did a lot of my friends leave the school entirely, but as you can probably assume, if 25 percent of the students hate the school so much that they leave, an enormous number beyond that felt a lukewarm-at-best relationship to the college.

    And yes, Vanderbilt has changed my life. :)