Vanderbilt Changes Lives
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.