Tennessee high school senior gets into all 8 Ivy League schools — and turns them down for the University of Alabama

Aside from the fact that this student seems to be rather bright, academically, I find it more heartening and impressive that he decided against the Ivy’s because of the almost ensured debt he will be taking on over the years. Yes, to graduate from an Ivy league school is prestigious but ultimately, it is the students that are left with a huge debt to start of their careers. Nelson showed that he is not only academically responsible. Hats off to him and good luck.
-Andreas Kristinus
President, EduGate LLC
Monday, May 18, 2015, 12:39 PM

Ronald Nelson, a Tennessee high school student who got into all eight Ivy league, will attend the public University of Alabama this fall.

A Tennessee genius teen got into all eight Ivy League schools — but he’ll root for the Crimson Tide this fall.

Memphis-area high school senior Ronald Nelson announced he’ll attend the University of Alabama, meaning he is rejecting offers from the eight Ivies plus a handful of other competitive, private schools.

Nelson said a generous full-ride scholarship convinced him to enroll at the public school.

He’ll use the money he’s saving on his undergrad degree on medical school, he told Business Insider.

Nelson — who will graduate from Houston High School in Germantown, Tenn., on Tuesday with a 4.58 GPA — said he received financial aid packages from many schools.

Still, he was unsure if he could manage the cost of a pricey private degree. His older sister is due to grade from college next spring, meaning he’d likely receive less financial aid after that since his parents would only be supporting one college kid.

Nelson said he decided on Alabama for its financial aid package and its elite honors college. Butch Dill/AP

Nelson said he decided on Alabama for its financial aid package and its elite honors college.

“(The private schools) told me that I would probably end up paying quite a bit more over the next three years,” he said.

So the senior class president and award-wining saxophone player turned down the Ivy offers.

He also rejected bids from Stanford, Johns Hopkins, New York University, Vanderbilt, and Washington University in St. Louis.

While he was at first hesitant about turning down so many high-profile schools, Nelson said Alabama’s selective honors college helped persuade him the public university was the right choice.

“It was kind of amazing being around so many like-minded students, which is why I think I’ll be able to have a similar situation (to an Ivy League school), considering the type of students they’re attracting,” he said.

Nelson, who earned a 34 out of 36 on his ACT and a 2260 out of 2400 on the SAT, plans to attend medical school and become a doctor after he finishes undergrad.

“With people being in debt for years and years, it wasn’t a burden that Ronald wanted to take on and it wasn’t a burden that we wanted to deal with for a number of years after undergraduate,” the teen’s dad, Ronald Sr., said of his son’s savvy college decision. “We can put that money away and spend it on his medical school, or any other graduate school.”

Nelson said he’s certain he’ll get into a top medical school so long as he works hard enough.

“The Ivy League experience would certainly be something amazing, to make these connections, and have these amazing professors,” he said. “But I really do think I’ll be able to make the same experience for myself at the college I chose.”

The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much


BOULDER, Colo. — ONCE upon a time in America, baby boomers paid for college with the money they made from their summer jobs. Then, over the course of the next few decades, public funding for higher education was slashed. These radical cuts forced universities to raise tuition year after year, which in turn forced the millennial generation to take on crushing educational debt loads, and everyone lived unhappily ever after.

This is the story college administrators like to tell when they’re asked to explain why, over the past 35 years, college tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled, to $9,139 in 2014 dollars. It is a fairy tale in the worst sense, in that it is not merely false, but rather almost the inverse of the truth.

The conventional wisdom was reflected in a recent National Public Radio series on the cost of college. “So it’s not that colleges are spending more money to educate students,” Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute told NPR. “It’s that they have to get that money from someplace to replace their lost state funding — and that’s from tuition and fees from students and families.”

In fact, public investment in higher education in America is vastly larger today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was during the supposed golden age of public funding in the 1960s. Such spending has increased at a much faster rate than government spending in general. For example, the military’s budget is about 1.8 times higher today than it was in 1960, while legislative appropriations to higher education are more than 10 times higher.

In other words, far from being caused by funding cuts, the astonishing rise in college tuition correlates closely with a huge increase in public subsidies for higher education. If over the past three decades car prices had gone up as fast as tuition, the average new car would cost more than $80,000.

Some of this increased spending in education has been driven by a sharp rise in the percentage of Americans who go to college. While the college-age population has not increased since the tail end of the baby boom, the percentage of the population enrolled in college has risen significantly, especially in the last 20 years. Enrollment in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs has increased by almost 50 percent since 1995. As a consequence, while state legislative appropriations for higher education have risen much faster than inflation, total state appropriations per student are somewhat lower than they were at their peak in 1990. (Appropriations per student are much higher now than they were in the 1960s and 1970s, when tuition was a small fraction of what it is today.)

As the baby boomers reached college age, state appropriations to higher education skyrocketed, increasing more than fourfold in today’s dollars, from $11.1 billion in 1960 to $48.2 billion in 1975. By 1980, state funding for higher education had increased a mind-boggling 390 percent in real terms over the previous 20 years. This tsunami of public money did not reduce tuition: quite the contrary.

For example, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in 1980, my parents were paying more than double the resident tuition that undergraduates had been charged in 1960, again in inflation-adjusted terms. And of course tuition has kept rising far faster than inflation in the years since: Resident tuition at Michigan this year is, in today’s dollars, nearly four times higher than it was in 1980.

State appropriations reached a record inflation-adjusted high of $86.6 billion in 2009. They declined as a consequence of the Great Recession, but have since risen to $81 billion. And these totals do not include the enormous expansion of the federal Pell Grant program, which has grown, in today’s dollars, to $34.3 billion per year from $10.3 billion in 2000.

It is disingenuous to call a large increase in public spending a “cut,” as some university administrators do, because a huge programmatic expansion features somewhat lower per capita subsidies. Suppose that since 1990 the government had doubled the number of military bases, while spending slightly less per base. A claim that funding for military bases was down, even though in fact such funding had nearly doubled, would properly be met with derision.

Interestingly, increased spending has not been going into the pockets of the typical professor. Salaries of full-time faculty members are, on average, barely higher than they were in 1970. Moreover, while 45 years ago 78 percent of college and university professors were full time, today half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.

By contrast, a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

Even more strikingly, an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase.

The rapid increase in college enrollment can be defended by intellectually respectable arguments. Even the explosion in administrative personnel is, at least in theory, defensible. On the other hand, there are no valid arguments to support the recent trend toward seven-figure salaries for high-ranking university administrators, unless one considers evidence-free assertions about “the market” to be intellectually rigorous.

What cannot be defended, however, is the claim that tuition has risen because public funding for higher education has been cut. Despite its ubiquity, this claim flies directly in the face of the facts.

Forget Harvard and Stanford. It really doesn’t matter where you go to college… Hmmm… I agree…

I have been thinking about this for quite some time now – does it really matter to the majority of students where they go to college…? Or is it the parents (as is the case with China) who want to garner the glory of their oh-so-successful child..? Let’s face it, there are way too many parents running around these days, wearing sweatshirts with the logo of their child’s school… Or is it the student who will succeed and be become happy in his/her job, who picked the school THAT IS RIGHT FOR HIM/HER..? We seem to get sucked into the “ratings war” and “connections” psycho thriller, thinking, without an ivy league education, there is no future… And yet, there are literally hundreds of good schools in the USA AND in Europe, that have a long track record of laying the foundation for some rather important and successful men and women… Yes, competition remains fierce and many will fail (China, Japan, South Korea) but only because they set their sights too high… We must educate students and parents alike that, yes, an education is super important these days, but there are solid, strong, and affordable choices left untapped – the only thing it takes is to look upon them in a humble fashion…
-Andreas Kristinus
President EduGate
March 16

In the coming weeks, college acceptances will start rolling in for a select group of high-school seniors vying to get into the three dozen or so most-selective colleges and universities in the country. Most seniors planning to go to college this fall already have been accepted somewhere, either because they applied early or they chose less-selective schools that notify applicants almost immediately of their decision.

But for those waiting to hear from Harvard, Stanford, Williams, and other elite schools, this time of year is one of high anxiety. By May we’ll hear yet again from those campuses bragging about how they set records for the number of applications they received this year and how few students they accepted — likely about one out of every 10 applicants.

For all the attention showered on these elite college and universities, however, they enroll fewer than 6 percent of U.S. college students. To put it another way, Stanford received approximately 40,000 applications last year when about 3.4 million students graduated from high school across the U.S.

The competition for getting into elite colleges seems to be getting more intense, leaving frustrated students, parents, and counselors to wonder: Does it really matter where you go to college?

It doesn’t, according to Frank Bruni. The New York Times columnist is author of a new book coming out on Tuesday, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.

The book is a quick read for stressed-out students and their parents. In it he has plenty of examples and lengthy stories of Americans of all ages and from all walks of life who have found success without degrees from brand-name universities. Bruni points out, for instance, that among the American-born chief executives of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500, just about 30 went to an Ivy League school or equally selective college. (Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, graduated from my alma mater, Ithaca College, and unlike many other top executives never got an MBA).

Bruni told me last week that he decided to write the book because of the constant chatter among his friends who have kids in high school and among his nieces and nephews “all whipped up in a frenzy” over where to go to college.

“I was watching this and comparing it to my own life and the successful people I know,” he said. “I wondered if there was anything in their résumés, a uniform attendance at a few select schools, and I didn’t see it. It wasn’t the case. It was a patchwork of educational pedigrees.”

You wouldn’t know that from conversations at cocktail parties or college nights, particularly in competitive suburban and urban areas, such as Washington, D.C. and New York. There, the talk is all about how to get into the “right college.” I asked Bruni how you change that culture to persuade more of those students and their families to consider a broader array of schools.

In his opinion, the obsessive focus on elite schools begins with parents, some of whom he said are rightly concerned about launching their kids into a much more competitive world and want to give them every advantage. “I understand that motive,” he told me, “but some parents are simply trying to flatter themselves.”

In turn, guidance counselors take their cues from parents and are often evaluated, especially at private high schools, by how many of their students go to elite colleges.

Perhaps the shift away from the admissions frenzy needs to begin with employers who have long used admission to an elite school as a signal of a top job candidate. In the book, Bruni interviews a few employers and venture capitalists and also shows where recruiters say they find their best employees.

Many recruiters tell him they are much more focused on the experience of a candidate than where they went to school. And as Bruni points out when the Wall Street Journal asked recruiters the best universities for their entry-level hires, the top five were Penn State, Texas A&M, the University of Illinois, Purdue, and Arizona State. They are all brand-name schools, but they’re also public universities and hardly elite.

Bruni worries about the unintended consequences of putting so much pressure on teenagers to get admitted to a selective school. Last year, Bruni taught a course at Princeton and saw firsthand how many students view life as a series of challenges, a set of hoops to jump through, and getting into Princeton was one of them.

“A significant number of students had put so much energy into getting in, and then getting ready for the next competition, the job,” he said, “that they didn’t save their best energy and best selves for tilling the four-year experience for what it’s worth.”

A college alone doesn’t make a successful graduate. Sure, top college provides a peer network that greatly helps both while students are on campus and afterwards as alumni. But someone with grit and ambition can succeed at many different types of schools.

The reality is that if those students Bruni taught at Princeton didn’t go there, it’s likely they would have gone to another fairly selective school anyway. So they’ll do just fine. Few students who get rejected by Princeton end up at Northern Michigan University.

That’s where Howard Schultz went to college, and today he is CEO of Starbucks.

Higher education isn’t in crisis…?! Really…?

March 12

Imagine, if you will, an American business that other countries, from China to Saudi Arabia, seek to emulate. A business that routinely accounts for the advances in science, medicine, technology, arts and humanities that have established the United States as the most innovative nation in the world. A business whose customers number about 20 million in this country alone, spanning the spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds. A business that conservatively contributes more than $400 billion annually to the U.S. economy. A business that is commonly recognized as one of America’s greatest contributions to civilization.

That enterprise is America’s system of higher education. Why, then, is it routinely characterized as in crisis? This diagnosis comes mainly from three groups: those who believe that technology inevitably, and radically, will transform how education is delivered, whether the traditionalists want it to or not; others who cite rising tuition prices and foresee an escalation of the divide between the privileged and the disadvantaged; and finally, and I consider myself in this camp, advocates for public higher education who are raising alarms about a retreat from the commonwealth ideal that gave rise to this nation’s great public universities in the first place.

For the past few years, this chorus of doom has grown steadily louder: The model is broken and outdated and must be replaced with . . . something. Costs have climbed past benefits, both for students and for society. Traditional pedagogy has become passe. What propels these grim prognostications? I’m tempted to say that eulogizing higher education sells books, fills newspaper columns and makes for fetching political sound bites. But a more optimistic view would be that the raging debate reflects an appreciation of the importance of universities and colleges in shaping American society and securing this country’s place as a world leader. The stakes, after all, are high.

So let’s be clear. Higher education in this country is not in crisis. Instead, it is in motion, and it always has been. Higher education evolves as knowledge expands, societies change and new technologies are introduced. This does not mean that we should relax: There should be no comfort taken in maintaining the status quo.

As our universities and colleges undergo an intense period of evolution driven by advances in technology and better understanding of cognitive learning, and by concerns about cost and job-market demands, we should be asking ourselves questions, but they should be the right questions: Is higher education evolving in the right way? Will it continue to be able to meet the needs of students and their families, to keep pace with an expanding list of responsibilities that range from promoting civil discourse to preparing the next generation of scientists and researchers, and to ensure that the fundamentals of American higher education — fundamentals that have served this country so well — remain strong?

When people think of higher education, they generally think of residential, four-year colleges and universities. In truth, just a little more than half of college students attend such institutions. Roughly 40 percent attend two-year community colleges, and the rest are enrolled in for-profit institutions. Yet the bulk of commentary about higher education concerns four-year, residential colleges and universities, perhaps because that is where America’s contribution has been greatest — and because the commentators themselves attended such institutions.

Two recent contributions to the higher education commentary are Ryan Craig’s “College Disrupted” and Kevin Carey’s “The End of College.” Craig, a former management consultant, is a founding managing director of University Ventures, self-described as “the only investment firm focused exclusively on the global higher education sector.” Carey is a higher education policy analyst who serves as director of the education policy program at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Craig’s point — when one cuts through the jargon and the unnecessary stories about pranks he pulled as a Yale undergraduate — is that American universities have too many non-education-related expenses bundled into their cost models. He characterizes these as the 4 R’s: rankings, which force all universities into “pernicious isomorphism” (i.e. unnecessary duplication); real estate, or absurdly expensive campus buildings, especially dorms and dining halls; rah, an awkward alliteration that refers to intercollegiate athletics, especially Division I football and basketball; and research, which he asserts subordinates teaching and is mostly superfluous.

Craig’s solution is to unbundle these types of expenses and convert higher education into “competency management platforms” that better match what students learn with what employers need. He has ideas about how this can be done. Pointing to Linn State Technical College in Missouri, he recommends “double click degrees,” with which employers can double-click a transcript to learn about a course and the competencies a student has mastered. His other recommendations are more mundane, such as improving “rigor” and moving more students from part time to full time. Nowhere does he confront the tremendous practical and political challenges associated with unbundling existing institutions — dismantling college sports, for example.

The more thorough, more thoughtful book is Carey’s “The End of College.” It begins with a discussion of the evolution of the modern American university, something that is particularly useful for those who presume that universities have never changed. In fact, universities have transformed alongside the societies they serve. Carey continues by explicating the rise of online technology, which, in a variety of forms, is permeating higher education today. The critical insight, however, is his combining of online technology, which after all is only a delivery device, with our increasing knowledge about the brain and how students actually learn. Not surprisingly, the more interactive the technology and the more precisely aimed at an individual student’s capabilities and understanding of the course material, the better the educational outcome. But inserting the right kind of technology into the classroom is not cheap. Not surprisingly, a lack of educational interaction contributed to the troubles experienced by the early iterations of online learning, such as “massive open online courses,” which in their initial incarnation were mistakenly believed to be a way to cut college costs dramatically.

In Carey’s view, universities that develop personalized online platforms will succeed in the global higher education market. In addition to traditional degrees, they will offer “open badges,” essentially searchable, open-source credentials that will allow employers to look up the assignments and exams a student was required to master. They will invest in immersive digital learning environments, rather than building $100 million student unions. They will become the “university of everywhere.”

This is thought-provoking, fascinating material. But one finishes Carey’s book with a sense of unease. Our universities are among the most complex, difficult-to-manage institutions around. While they most certainly will evolve over the long term, there are near-term challenges that must be addressed. This is especially true for public universities, which educate almost two-thirds of all undergraduates at residential, four-year institutions. These schools have undergone a decades-long period of public disinvestment — during the years of the Great Recession, 44 out of 50 states cut funding on a per-student basis to their public institutions of higher education — resulting in increases in tuition and a diminishment of the student experience.

No doubt the severity of cuts varies from state to state. For the University of California, nearly $1 billion in funding was cut after the economy went into free fall in 2008 — a 30 percent reduction to the university’s core budget. The state has restored only about half of the recession cuts, even as the university system has continued to meet demand and increase enrollment. Indeed, at the University of California, the costs of education on a per-student basis have not risen; tuition increases have occurred only to fill the gap left by state cuts. Neither Craig nor Carey offers any realistic — or magical — solutions to the problem of public funding.

Likewise, neither book really addresses new roles that our universities have undertaken. They are now being asked, for example, to prevent and prosecute sexual assault — and rightly so. The demand for mental health services continues to mount. As large employers, universities must pay ever-growing retirement benefits and satisfy union contracts. All of these (and many other new roles) result in additional legal and regulatory oversight, all with considerable cost.

At the same time, chronic underfunding of the true costs of delivering a quality education has been mirrored by underfunding of the basic research that underlies so much of the innovation in our economy. Basic research is time-consuming. It has a high rate of failure. No wonder the private sector is increasingly abandoning the field to institutions like the University of California.

These are the sorts of issues that are on my desk and on the desk of every leader of public research universities today. But beyond those immediate real-world concerns lie more fundamental questions. What do we lose in the college experience if we over-rely on online learning? How amenable are online-learning platforms and open-source badges to teaching in the arts and humanities, and to producing a well-rounded, well-educated citizenry? If we focus on preparing a student for his or her first job, are we ignoring the likelihood that students will have many jobs over the course of a lifetime? How do we best prepare students to be lifelong learners and adapters, to be critical thinkers?

Universities are not factories; students are not widgets. They come from different backgrounds, with different degrees of preparation, and with different talents and skills that they might not even know they possess when they enter. Universities are not venture-capital-based software companies, the vast majority of which fail. When it comes to public higher education, failure is not an option.

If every crisis presents an opportunity, then the opportunity is now to ensure that higher education remains a distinguishing feature in the fabric of our republic. To that end, some immediate measures can be taken to meet our near-term challenges: simplify financial aid applications and extend Pell grants from the school year to the full year; ease the extensive and expensive regulatory burdens placed on all schools and focus instead on removing low-performing ones from eligibility for federal aid; and prioritize the flow of federal research dollars.

In exchange for these types of reforms at the federal level, the states should invest in their public universities, even as those universities continue to adapt to new forms of learning. Too many states, including California, spend more money on prisons than on higher education. Community college is not enough. It is time for both the White House and our state capitols to apply a laser focus to the challenges facing our four-year universities and colleges.

Besides near-term fixes, however, these times call for the development of, and dialogue about, a much larger vision for higher education in America. We need to end conversations about colleges that linger too long on costs, computer learning, Cassandra-like predictions and canards such as PhD baristas.

Instead, we need a national dialogue that gives rise to serious, thoughtful perspectives and creates a common belief in what our great schools have meant and must continue to mean. We are not degree factories. Our business, if you will, is to transform individual lives and to transport new knowledge into the world. As university leaders, we must strive to convince the general public that higher education is a common goal worthy of public investment. This is our grand challenge. This is our great hope.