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2014 September 9

First-generation students

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:27
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There were a couple of blog posts by in The Academe Blog in August 2014 pointing to articles about first-generation college students: students whose parents did not graduate from college with 4-year degrees.  This is a particularly important topic for University of California campuses, as UC admissions puts a high premium on being a first-generation student, resulting in large numbers of first-generation students.  (In Fall 2013, 44% of the freshmen at UCSC were first-generation students.)

In the first post First Generation Students Part I: Difference-Education, Walter Breau quotes from an  interview published in the Stanford Report:

“Closing the Social-Class Achievement Gap,” offers a new approach to help [first-generation students] advance in college: discuss class differences rather than ignore them. The research showed that when incoming first-generation students saw and heard stories from junior and senior students with different social-class backgrounds tell stories about their struggles and successes in college, they gained a framework to understand how their backgrounds shaped their own experiences and how to see this as an asset,”

(How’s that for 4 levels of indirection: me quoting Breau quoting an interview with Hamidani about a paper by Hamidani, Stephens, and Westin.)

The abstract of the paper itself sums up the research fairly well:

College students who do not have parents with 4-year degrees (first-generation students) earn lower grades and encounter more obstacles to success than do students who have at least one parent with a 4-year degree (continuing-generation students). In the study reported here, we tested a novel intervention designed to reduce this social-class achievement gap with a randomized controlled trial (N = 168). Using senior college students’ real-life stories, we conducted a difference-education intervention with incoming students about how their diverse backgrounds can shape what they experience in college. Compared with a standard intervention that provided similar stories of college adjustment without highlighting students’ different backgrounds, the difference-education intervention eliminated the social-class achievement gap by increasing first-generation students’ tendency to seek out college resources (e.g., meeting with professors) and, in turn, improving their end-of-year grade point averages. The difference-education intervention also improved the college transition for all students on numerous psychosocial outcomes (e.g., mental health and engagement).

The do not identify the private university at which they did the study, and I believe that the details of the university make a huge difference.  The adjustments needed when first-generation students are an insignificant minority (as they are at most elite private colleges) and when they are 44% of the incoming class are likely quite different, and so the interventions needed may differ not just in scale but in kind.  Since all the authors are at private research universities (Stanford and Northwestern), they likely did their study at either Stanford or Northwestern, neither of which has many first-generation students, and both of which have large numbers of rather wealthy students.  I question somewhat how well the results of studies on such campuses generalizes to the public universities which may soon be majority first-generation students (or already are in some cases), and where social class is not so skewed toward the wealthy.

In First Generation Students Part II: Cultural Fit, Walter Breau points to an article about cultural fit:

“Unseen Disadvantage: How American Universities’ Focus on Independence Undermines the Academic Performance of First-Generation College Students,” published in 2012 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, concluded:

“That the seemingly positive middle-and upper-class cultural norms that pervade traditional American universities—norms that emphasize independent values such as ‘do your own thing,’ ‘pave your own path,’ and ‘express yourself’—can undermine the academic performance of first-generation students.”

The distinction that the article makes between “middle-class” and “working-class” values is independence vs. interdependence.  They found that college administrators at top-ranked colleges valued independent decision making much more than they valued interdependence, but that there were not significant differences between responses to questions about about independent vs. collaborative work.  Lower ranked colleges had less of a skew toward valuing independent decision making, but were otherwise fairly similar.

The study looked at a modest sample of student surveys and grades (245 first-generation, 1179 continuing-generation) to see whether independent/interdependent motive predicted cumulative GPA at the end of 2 years.  The effect sizes they saw were tiny—only coming out larger than race because they lumped all non-white race categories together, which makes some sense for looking at independent/interdependent, but not for looking at GPA, since Asian student typically perform quite differently from black and Latino students.  SAT scores alone were a much better predictor of grades than any of the sociological variables they looked at, and the only really good predictor of 2-year GPA was the 1-year GPA. So, while their results were statistically significant, it is not clear that they were really large enough to justify any conclusions about whether the “American Universities’ Focus on Independence Undermines the Academic Performance of First-Generation College Students”.  I certainly would not want to base policy decisions on such small effects.

Their study was done at schools with only about 17% first-generation students (based on the participant numbers in their study), which may be typical of US colleges as a whole, but is nothing like the UC system.  Even UCB, with the lowest ratio of first-generation students of any UC campus, had 23% first-generation students in 2010 (the latest for which I could find UC-wide data), and some campus were majority first-generation even in 2010 (Merced and Riverside).

Although it is important for UC to figure out how to help first-generation college students succeed, it is not clear to me that either of the studies that Breau reported on have much relevance for UC.

 

2014 August 4

Changes to UC admissions requirements

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:25
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The University of California has just made it much more difficult for students to satisfy the a–g requirements for admission:

Effective for students applying to UC in November 2014 for freshman admission in fall 2015, one full year of Geometry must be completed to satisfy the mathematics (“c”) subject area requirement. In other words, even if students complete three year-long math courses, they will not have fulfilled the mathematics subject requirement for UC admissions unless they have taken, and passed with a letter grade of C or better, one full year of Geometry.

As a result of the revised mathematics subject requirement, the omission of a Geometry course can no longer be validated by higher-level math courses, such as Algebra II/Trig, Trigonometry, Math Analysis, Pre-Calculus, or Calculus, taken at the high school or college level. Furthermore, the omission of a Geometry course cannot be validated with any examination score.

UC faculty have determined that an examination score (SAT/ACT, SAT Subject, AP, IB, etc.) cannot validate the omission of a Geometry course. This includes “challenge” exams taken to demonstrate proficiency in a subject for which a student receives only a Pass or Fail grade. If, however, based upon a challenge exam, a high school awards both grades and units for the completion of Geometry, UC would consider that course omission validated.

A student can use a non-transferrable college/university course in Geometry to satisfy the requirement. However, advanced courses in mathematics, even those that are UC-transferrable, will not validate the omission of a Geometry course.

[http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/counselors/files/geometry-requirement-factsheet.pdf]

My son was fortunate in that he got into UC before this requirement was created, and he had taken a high school geometry course (in 7th grade) that would count:

UC will continue to allow students to self-report on the UC admission application a Geometry course completed in grade 7 or 8 to meet the mathematics (“c”) subject requirement. UC will not require the submission of a middle school transcript, nor will high schools be required to list middle/junior high school math courses on high school transcripts, but doing so is recommended.

But students who are relying on on-line courses are in deep trouble (particularly since the UC-approved online courses are generally rather awful remedial courses):

 Non-UC-approved online courses may not be accepted through principal certification. Beginning with
the 2013-14 academic year, students may use only UC-approved online courses to satisfy the subject
requirement.

2013 November 28

First college application sent

Last night my son got his first set of college applications sent off: University of California, which has its own idiosyncratic deadline and application form. UC does not ask for transcripts and does not want letters of recommendation—students have to enter all their transcript information into web forms.  The lack of letters of recommendation may be a blessing in disguise, as one of his recommenders has still not been able to get the Common App to accept her letter for him. The UC web forms are set up to be fairly easy (though tedious) for students at California high schools, since UC has a list of all UC-approved courses at each high school, but they are really a pain for a home school student.  We were lucky in that his home-schooling was done under a public-school umbrella (Alternative Family Education) that appeared on the drop-down list.  Otherwise, it would have been difficult even to say where he did his high school education.  The instructions for home-schoolers seem to be non-existent and figuring out where to tuck various bits of information was tough.

He ended up applying to 3 of the UCs (UCB, UCSB, and UCSD), though the only campuses he has visited are UCB, UCLA, and UCSC. Why the change?  Well, UCSC is too close to home—he needs to move to more independent living.  Our visit to UCLA made it very clear that undergrads in computer science there got almost no attention from faculty (unless the students were very strong at self-promotion) and acting was mostly restricted to theater arts majors. UCB was better—much better on the acting opportunities, with an attractive acting minor, but undergrads in computer science still had little research opportunity or interaction with the faculty.

We added UCSB primarily because of the College of Creative Studies (CCS) there, an honors college of about 300 students that (the website claims) has close faculty advising and is expected to do graduate-level research as undergrads. The computer science major within CCS looks quite interesting, and (if it lives up to its advertising) may represent a good compromise between the resources of a large university and the attention and nurturing of a small college. Unfortunately, we don’t have an equivalent of the Common Data Set numbers to know how selective CCS is nor does their web site really tell us what they are looking for.

One interesting point is that CCS has a supplementary application that is circulated among the faculty—we regard it as a good sign when the faculty care enough about their program to be involved in choosing who gets in, and when a university allows the faculty to have some say (most UC admissions keep the faculty completely out of freshman admissions—except for coaches at the sports-mad campuses, who seem able to get jocks in even when they don’t come close to being UC-eligible).  Note: transfer admissions at least at UCSC is different, with faculty in the intended department having final say about whether students can be admitted to the major.

UCSD was added as an afterthought, as having a reasonable engineering program while being easier to get into than UCB (38% instead of 17% for male freshmen—UCSB is even higher at 43%).  It is more of a safety school than a careful choice, but the marginal effort of doing an application to it was small—mainly trying to rank the six colleges there based on the very scanty information on the UCSD web site. If he gets in at UCSB or UCSD, but not one of his top three choices, we’ll probably end up doing another visit to southern California, to see how these two campuses feel to him.

The UC applications cost $70 per campus plus another $11.25 each to send SAT scores for a total of $243.75.  He’ll be applying to another 3–7 colleges, so I expect that application fees will end up costing around $1000.  When the cost of college visits and taking the SAT and AP tests in the first place is included, the cost of the application process rises to around $4000–5000.  That seems like a lot, but is dwarfed by the cost of college itself, which for us will be $120,000 to $240,000, depending on which college he goes to—the amount of financial aid that we qualify for seems to vary enormously from school to school.

UPDATE 2013 Dec 1: A reader just pointed out “You can have your official score report sent to one UC campus, and all campuses you apply to will receive it.” http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/freshman/requirements/examination-requirement/ I wish I’d noticed that buried in the instructions.  (I’d looked for it, but must have skipped over the line that said it.)

My son, like many high school seniors, has been struggling with the college application essays.  The two he produced for UC seem pretty good to me—one concentrates on the data logger project and is an adaptation of the essay he wrote for the Common Application prompt, while the other talks about why he chose to home school and what that has done for him.  Both essays managed to pack in a lot of information about him and his education, without sounding like laundry lists.

But it took him two weeks to write these essays whose combined length was just shy of the 1000-word limit.  He still has a large number of essays to write (1–3 per college application), and his writer’s block seems to get worse the more important the thing he is writing, so he’s been struggling most with the colleges he cares most about. I have the same problem—I can knock off a blog post like this one in an hour or two, but I have research papers still unfinished that should have been published a decade ago.

The huge amount of time each application takes means that there’s no way that he’ll be applying to the 100s of colleges who send brochures and postcards (most of which are getting recycled unread these days).  Occasionally one of the colleges will send a letter to “the parents of …”, and I sometimes read those for the amusement value, as most of them are so far off target as to be ludicrous.

The main limitation on how many colleges he applies to will probably be how many essays he can get done. I suppose that is why each selective college adds a bunch of essay questions to their application—not so much to find out more about the student as to reduce the flood of applicants to just those who are somewhat serious about attending. This selection process may be counterproductive though, as it would be much easier to churn out acceptable essays for schools he cared nothing about than to try to get a really good essay for a school he cares a lot about.

This weekend, I’m hoping he’ll get the essays done for one of his high-priority colleges (Harvey Mudd or Stanford, for example).

2013 September 7

Meeting UC a–g requirements

Filed under: home school,Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:23
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Back in March, I wrote a post Admission by exam at UC, in which I listed how my son was meeting UC a–g requirements, which I had originally talked about a couple of years ago,  when we started home schooling. This post updates that information:

  1. 1 year World History, 1 year US history  (world history at home in 10th grade, US history at AFE in 11th)
  2. 4 years English (9th grade English didn’t happen, so we had to overload in 10th and 11th grade)
  3. 3 years Math (Art of Problem Solving Precalculus, Calculus, and Group Theory; Mathematical Problem Solving at UCSC, Applied Discrete Math at UCSC)
  4. 2–3 years science (Physiology in 9th, calculus-based physics in 10th and 11th, chemistry in 12th)
  5. 2 years foreign language (Spanish, through Spanish 3 at Cabrillo College, possibly through Spanish 4 next year)
  6. 1 year visual and performing arts (9th grade drama class, continuing theater classes at WEST performing arts)
  7. 1 year elective (various computer science and robotics projects, including the Art of Problem Solving Java course)

I managed to talk him into doing the SAT 2 tests in US and World History, which means that he can now validate all the UC a–g requirements by standard exams.  He does not expect to do any more SAT tests, though he’ll probably do the AP Chem test at the end of his current AP chem class, just to validate that the level of the course was real.

The history requirements (requirement a) are validated by SAT 2 scores, English (requirement b) is validated by his SAT score on the reading section, math (requirement c) is validated by his SAT 2 and AP Calculus BC scores, the science (requirement d) is validated by his AP Physics C scores and the UC-approved physiology course (and probably by the AP chem as well), the foreign language (requirement e) by his community college Spanish courses, the arts (requirement f) by his high school drama course, and the elective (requirement g) by the AP Comp Sci exam, the math courses at UCSC, or his video editing course in 9th grade.

Of course, he could also qualify for Admission by exam, based on his SAT scores and 2 SAT 2 scores, even if we used his 2 lowest SAT 2 scores, rather than his 2 highest, so it doesn’t really matter whether he has completed the a–g requirements.  But the a–g requirements to represent a fairly typical college-prep curriculum, so it is good that we can show that he’s covered all the standard courses—even the material that did not thrill him—for colleges other than UC, who may not have the admission-by-exam work-around.

2013 August 3

University of California faculty commit to open access

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:06
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According to the press release, The University of California faculty have just endorsed an open-access publication policy.  The policy does not require publication in open-access journals, but deposit of articles in  eScholarship (UC’s open access repository).  There are supposedly opt-out mechanisms, which will undoubtedly see heavy use, both because many major journal still don’t allow deposit in university repositories, and because depositing in the UC repository will probably be a bureaucratic hassle that is easier to opt out of than to comply with.

Of course, I haven’t seen the details of the policy—it has not been distributed to the faculty yet.  Once again, I find out UC changes of policies first from the news media, not from any internal communication with the faculty.

I’m basically in favor of open-access publishing, but not in favor of author-pays funding of it (as an unfunded researcher, I can’t afford $2000–3000 per article).  Having a UC-based respository is basically a good idea, as long as it isn’t as much hassle to deal with as the NIH repository was (and maybe still is—I’ve not had NIH funding for a while).  I don’t know how good the indexing is going to be, either—whether people will be able to go from a standard journal citation to the UC copy of the article easily, without having to go to the eScholarship site explicitly looking for the article.

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