Colleges High Cost, Before You Even Apply

As the frenzied admissions season winds to a close, many students finally know where they will be attending college in the fall.

But there remains a troubling question: how much damage was done along the way?

This year’s crop of applicants faced an unusually grueling admissions process. A demographic bubble has produced the largest group of graduating seniors in history, and they now are facing rejection by colleges at record rates — more than 90 percent at Harvard and Yale, for example.

There will be more disappointment this week as the May 1 admissions deadline passes and thousands who were on waiting lists learn that there are no spots left for them. And today’s high school sophomores and juniors may face worse odds. After a 15-year climb, the number of high school graduates still hasn’t peaked — that is expected to happen within the next two years.

“The college admissions process is an initiation rite into adulthood,” says Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of books on teenage stress and resiliency for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “But if success is defined very narrowly, such as a fat envelope from a specific college, then many kids end up going through it and feeling like a failure.”

Students complain about lack of sleep, stomach pain and headaches, but doctors and educators also worry that stress tied to academic achievement can lead to depressioneating disorders and other mental health problems.Continue reading the main story


“There are some kids who can handle it,” says Denise Pope, a Stanford University education lecturer and author of “Doing School,” a book about stress and academics. “But some of these kids have had college on the brain since sixth or seventh grade or even earlier. When you have that kind of stress over that kind of time, that’s where it starts to worry us.”

At the start of the admissions season, Austin Grogin, 18, from Bellaire High School near Houston, applied to 12 colleges, writing different essays for each school. He had strong test scores and a journalism internship at The Houston Chronicle, he had organized a major breast cancer fund-raiser at his school, and he hoped to attend Emory University in Atlanta. “I had countless stomachaches and headaches,” says Mr. Grogin.

By April, he was checking online at least twice a day, and was stunned when Emory didn’t accept him.

“At first I refreshed the page to make sure it wasn’t a mistake,” he said. When the official rejection letter arrived in the mail, he invited his friends over and burned it. “I felt burned by the school,” he says, adding that he is looking forward to attending his second choice, the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Some high schools are trying to improve the process by easing up on the workload of seniors who are filling out college applications. At Princeton High School in New Jersey, Patti Lieberman, a guidance counselor, says she emphasizes stories of real students who won better opportunities — like research grants and White House internships — after going to slightly less competitive schools. “We try to teach them, ‘Bloom where you are planted,’ ” she says.

Stanford University’s School of Education this week is kicking off Challenge Success, expanding the mission of its previous program, Stressed Out Students. Challenge Success will work with high schools, teenagers and parents to help them redefine success in college admission and academic achievement in general.

“College admission is how a lot of people are defining success these days,” says Dr. Pope, founder of the group. “We want to challenge people to achieve the healthier form of success, which is about character, well-being, physical and mental health and true engagement with learning.”

Dr. Ginsburg says parents can help children develop resiliency for coping with life’s ups and downs. The key, he says, is to teach them that their parents’ high expectations of them aren’t tied to grades or accomplishments. “It means teaching them, ‘I know who you are deep inside, and I always expect to see that compassion and generosity in you,’ ” says Dr. Ginsburg.

After achieving perfect scores on his SATs, Sam Werner of Norwalk, Conn., was devastated by rejections from Stanford and Princeton. Mr. Werner was also on the crew and golf teams, performed in his high school musical and ranked third in his class.

“I kept wondering what more I could have done,” he says. “I realize I didn’t found a company or discover a new insect. I feel like it’s coming to a point where you have to do something like that to get into schools like Princeton or Stanford.”

Today, Mr. Werner, a pre-med student at Notre Dame, says he has new perspective on being “rejected” by his top college picks. “At the time, it felt like it was the biggest deal in the world that I didn’t get into those schools,” he says. “But I love it here. Looking back on it now, this is definitely the right place for me.”

New York Times

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The Scholar Ship

The Scholar Ship
This week Georgia Tech’s Director of Special Scholarships, Chaffee Viets, joins us for a piece about preparing a scholarship application. Chaffee has been administering prestigious scholarship programs for the past 20 years, and is also a past president of the Undergraduate Scholars Program Administrators Association. Welcome, Chaffee!

I met an old sea captain while travelling through Croatia about five years ago. While we chatted, he told me his criteria for assembling a crew. Each member had to fundamentally understand that when you are at sea, the ship comes first, the crew comes second, and the sailor comes last. Those who didn’t understand and embrace the concept in action weren’t fit for his ship.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Titanic, but I suspect neither the ship nor the crew were the captain’s primary concern. The wealthy passengers’ interests, or perhaps the company’s that owned the ship. Maybe it was the fancy white hat? Need I say more?One of the sea captain’s stories focused on how to best prepare for a typical six month trip at sea. When it came to provisions, all the food had to be packed very carefully in a tight room in his small vessel. The items set to expire early in the journey needed to be near the door and other items at the back – which literally could not be accessed until months into the journey. Such packing couldn’t be left until the last minute. Careful planning and execution prior to setting sail was essential. What weighed too much and had to be left behind? What food didn’t have enough calories to sustain the crew? What was frivolous?

There are lessons to be learned in pondering this story which relate to scholarship (and admission) applications. So I invite you now to board a different vessel, the “Scholar Ship,” and take a guided tour with me. While this isn’t the first time someone has used this metaphor (nor will it be the last), it will help you visualize your own scholarship journey.

Captain’s Lesson #1: The Ship and the Crew Come Before You

This one is pretty simple, but is often overlooked. When you are working through a scholarship application (and/or admissions application if that is used for scholarship consideration), focus on what you can bring to the institution, not initially what you will get out of the deal. How will your presence will ostensibly improve the college community if you are given a scholarship? Focus on those elements in your application and subsequent interviews if applicable. It not only shows you want to give back, but also shows humility and a contributor mindset. These days, universities want to give scholarships to people who will make a difference, not just those looking for a cash prize.

Captain’s Lesson #2: Pack Only the Necessary Items in the Right Order for the Journey

When you are boarding the Scholar Ship, you’ve got to pack only the most important items. This means when you list your extracurricular activities, awards, work or volunteer experience, and honors on your application, or deciding on elements of your essay, focus on the ones that are the most significant to you and provide you with the most excitement, joy, and impact (this is especially if you are limited in what you can share). Case in point: many professionals have a 1-2 page resume. Compare this with my experience hearing from a few high school students and their parents that only an 8-pager will capture all they’ve accomplished. See the irony here? If a seasoned professional with years of experience can fit their biggest accomplishments on a 1-2 page document, so can you!

The order is also important. You don’t put cookies on the ship before potable water. List your activities and ideas by importance to you. Put down your accomplishments before you list your hobbies. Note also that written communication typically precedes verbal, so focus on your application before preparing for a potential interview. Most universities’ top scholarships are given to intellectually curious students who think critically, communicate effectively in writing and voice, and make an impact in some fashion, whether in leadership, service, or some other emphasized arena.

Captain’s Lesson #3: The Sailor (that’s you!) Does in Fact Matter

Colleges and scholarship programs also want to know why you are interested in them. Why is what they offer compelling to you? How you will make the world a better place by taking advantage of those offerings and produce a return on their investment? Imagine for a second that you tell the old sea captain, “I’m a good fit because I know you will stop on this particular island where I can find a resource that will lead to cures for diseases back on the mainland. I am really interested in being able to go to that island.” Even more simply, it’s fine to say, “I really want a strong degree, great job or graduate school offer, and the rich college experience your school offers.” Be sure to articulate your “why,” because that’s important! Colleges want scholars who will make an impact, but they also want to see you enjoy yourself simultaneously on campus. Most will even try to ensure it!

Captain’s Lesson #4: Don’t Be Afraid to Jump Ship

Well, honestly, the old sea captain never told me this one. It’s just one I think he might have shared had he had the opportunity. While you may have a destination in mind on the Scholar Ship you board, you are likely to find that some of the places you visit along the way – like a backup school or the more obscure one that offered you a great scholarship complete with both financial and developmental incentives – is really where you want to disembark. Such a school might end up being a better endpoint to your journey than you originally intended. If the final destination is what you want, that’s wonderful—go there and finish the voyage. If not, and something else feels like a better option, throw out your anchor and row to shore!

GeorgiaTechAdmissions Blog

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You’ve Been Counseled!

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The Robots Are Coming, and They Want Your Job

Experts believe that almost a third of the global workforce will be automated by 2030. But are universities preparing students for the rise of the office machines?

Had you popped into the equity trading floor at Goldman Sachs’ New York headquarters in 2000, you would have walked into a bloodbath of the senses: 500 men and women projectile swearing, phones blaring, the dizzying aroma of adrenaline oozing from every human orifice. These days, you might just make out the lifeless whir of 200 high-speed servers over the ticking clock. Because those 500 people have been whittled down to three. The other 497 have been usurped by complex algorithms. 

These were not working stiffs: cleaners, receptionists or other service-industry hirelings already humbled by computers. They were university graduates with hard-fought degrees in subjects like business, finance or economics. Trouble was, for all their brainpower, passion and pedigree, algorithms just did the job better. They aren’t the only victims. The computers, now, have caught the scent of blood.

“A lot of people assume automation is only going to affect blue-collar people, and that so long as you go to university you will be immune to that,” says Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. “But that’s not true, there will be a much broader impact.”

This raises the question: as we move toward the brave new automated world, is a university degree in, say, economics, philosophy, English or anything else that isn’t to do with fixing cobots (collaborative robots) or writing algorithms worth the PDF file it was exported on? Or is it, practically speaking, useless? And if so, what are universities doing about it?

“Most universities are simply not doing enough to prepare students for the automated workforce,” says Nancy W Gleason, PhD, director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Singapore’s Yale-NUS College, and the author ofHigher Education: Preparation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “We need to teach students to be cognitively flexible, to have the skills and confidence to try different jobs throughout their lives. In the gig economy, you’re not going to have seven employers, you’re going to have seven careers. People might say, ‘Oh my degree in history didn’t do me any good.’ Well, guess what, neither will a degree in radiology, dentistry or law.”

This is not a joke. Last year, a report by McKinsey Global Institute suggested that up to 800 million careers (or 30 percent of the global job force) – from doctors to accountants, lawyers to journalists – will be lost to computers by 2030, while every single worker on earth will need to adapt “as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines”. Others suggest this number may be as high as 50 percent. “Machines are taking on cognitive capability, beginning to compete with our ability to reason, to make decisions and, most importantly, to learn,” adds Ford. “At least over the next couple of decades, AI and robotics are going to eliminate huge amounts of jobs. Beyond that, it gets more unpredictable; we really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

To find out more, I contacted 25 of the world’s leading universities to ask what, if anything, they are doing to prepare students for the choppy waters of fluid work. Of America’s eight Ivy League schools, only Dartmouth College had something to say; the rest either did not reply, were too busy or couldn’t find the proper person for me to speak to. And of the eight UK universities I approached, the London School of Economics and University of Sheffield did not reply, while Leeds and Birmingham both couldn’t find anyone suitable to comment. A press officer for the University of Cambridge said she wasn’t “aware of anything Cambridge-specific”.

Oxford, Bristol, Manchester and City, University of London, however, all got back to me. “Next year, we’ll be introducing an interdisciplinary course unit that all of our undergraduates can take, and which looks at exactly this issue,” said Caroline Jay, PhD, a senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Manchester.

According to its overview, the course, called AI: Robot Overlord, Replacement or Colleague?, aims to “equip Manchester graduates from all disciplines with an understanding of the impact this technology currently has, the way this is likely to change in the future and, crucially, the ability to grasp the opportunities it brings, whatever your chosen career.”

“The whole point of universities is to equip people with the skills to learn,” adds Jay. “Students are not just here to learn a set of facts, but to learn how things change, evolve and how they can fit into that future.”

The University of Bristol takes a broader view. “If the economy is becoming more of a gig economy, preparing students to become entrepreneurial is something we take very seriously,” says Dave Jarman of the university’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

So the university has built Bristol Futures, a new initiative that offers a range of open online courses designed to provide “the opportunity for the development of core academic skills and key personal attributes to help students become adaptable, successful graduates”. The courses currently offered – Innovation and Enterprise, Global Citizenship and Sustainable Futures – are not degrees per se, but run alongside a student’s chosen subject.

“This is our long game,” says Jarman. “We’re looking at how we smuggle those ideas into anything from classics to chemistry. Of course, sometimes changing practice in a university is like turning round an oil tanker in a phone box, but we’re in that process.”

Dirk Erfurth, the careers service director at the University of Munich (LMU), in Germany, agrees. “You cannot expect every professor in every faculty to take these issues as their most serious concerns. That is not their task. It is our task in the careers service, as the bridge between the labour market and the academic world.”

He says LMU offers funded overseas internships, mentoring programmes and holiday-season mini-courses (€95 (£85) for 40 hours of class time) in subjects like presentation and rhetoric, leadership, time management and communication, and conflict management, as well as a “professional education unit” for former students looking for a skills bump. Erfurth says LMU takes students’ future employability very seriously, as long as the students are prepared to play the game. 

“This is not about grades or certificates,” he adds. “We want to show students that, if you invest a little bit of time and money in your skills, wonderful things can happen to you. You have to leave your comfort zone and go out into the world, to distinguish yourself from others, take internships, develop your open-mindedness, creative thinking, curiosity, networking and entrepreneurial spirit. Those are the skills that will make you employable in the future.” This is what the University of Copenhagen calls an “interdisciplinary skills profile”.

“We aim to improve students’ opportunities to exploit the potential of digitalisation and big data both across the university and with our collaborated partners,” says the university’s vice-provost, Anni Søborg, echoing much of what I’ve already heard. “And we make explicit how programmes can be applied in the job market, including a focus on initiatives that ensure students have the requisite skills for innovation and entrepreneurship.”

And so, over to America, which Dr Gleason says is “doing very little in higher education relative to other countries”. “The truth is, we don’t actually know all the jobs we are preparing students for,” says Dartmouth’s associate dean for the sciences, Dan Rockmore. “Dartmouth is the premier liberal arts university in the world. The liberal arts ethos is that a well-rounded and broad education, an exposure to the multidimensional nature of the great challenges of our day, are what prepares a mind for the unpredictable challenges of the world post-graduation. We aim to teach critical thinking, habits of mind that can be brought to bear in many different contexts.”

He then pointed to the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, which gives students “the opportunity to try out ideas for and in the ‘new economy'”, along with its “flexible quarter” system that gives students the “opportunity to experience the workplaces of the new economy” all year round. “In short, a Dartmouth education will prepare students to take advantage of those [technological] transformations.”

The key point here is that all these courses are optional. No students are forced to take them, and they offer no future-proofing guarantees. But then, is it really a university’s responsibility to hold students’ hands throughout their lives? Or is it, really, up to students?

“I would say this is like a gym membership, not a butler,” says Jarman. “You don’t pay your money and the goods turn up. You pay for an opportunity, but you’ve got to go in and lift the weights and run the distance. If you do those things, universities have got amazing facilities and people that can help you accelerate that process. But it doesn’t land on a plate.”

University students – as Jonathan Black, the director of university career services at Oxford University, is keen to point out – are adults after all. “One of the things Oxford, and other universities, endeavour to do is to persuade people who are perfectly bright enough to benefit from a university education to consider our many extracurricular services, such as the careers department, student societies, volunteering or work experience in the summer. That’s where they’re going to get that experience, but they’ve got to realise they’re getting it.”

He went on: “But we’re not going to tell students what to do. I think we’d be doing students a disservice if we hold their hand all the way until the end and then say, ‘Here’s your job.’ We’re here to lay the table, show students what’s available, but it’s up to them to decide if they want to eat.”

The truth is, what keeps most university presidents up at night is not the robocalypse, but shorter-term threats to their survival, like competing for endowments and enrolment. But there is one university president whose dreamsare overrun by robots. That, Joseph E Aoun says, is his advantage: robots cannot dream. The president of Northeastern University (NU) in Boston has developed a strategy to fight back. He calls it “humanics”.

“If robots are going to replace human beings in the workplace, then we need to become robot-proof,” he says. “The rise of extraordinary artificial intelligence requires us to cultivate extraordinary human intelligence. Even today’s most brilliant machines still have limitations. Machines do not yet have a capacity for creativity, innovation or inspiration.”

His idea, essentially, is to give students the ability to solve the world’s most urgent issues in a way that robots cannot – with empathy. Or, as he puts it: “I’ve not yet seen a computer cry.”

Laid out in his book, Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, humanics has become a staple of Northeastern’s programme that requires computer science majors to, say, take side classes in theatre or improvisation. “Why? Because it allows them to start interacting with others, which is a simplistic but vital example of getting people to go beyond what they’re studying,” he says. “Human interaction is going to be a vital skill in the future.”

Aoun argues that the only way to create a curriculum for a “robot-proof” education is by fostering “purposeful integration of technical literacies, such as coding and data literacy, with human literacies, such as creativity, ethics, cultural agility and entrepreneurship”.

But, he says, experiential learning is also essential, and so has developed an acclaimed co-operative education and career-development programme called Co-op at NU. “We have a network of 3,000 employers in 136 countries on all continents, including Antarctica, where the students apply for paid jobs for six months,” he says. “There, they get the unique opportunity to learn how people interact in the workplace, what opportunities look like, what it’s like to work in a different cultural setting; they start understanding themselves better. That is powerful and transformational.”

The numbers speak for themselves: most students do two or three co-ops throughout their college years, and 92 percent of them find full-time work within nine months of graduating.


The flood of automation is coming. But Aoun and Gleason say simply teaching students to swim – as the handful of universities I spoke to are beginning to do – will not save them from drowning eventually. Instead, they agree, we need to build an arc. “We must move away from the idea of a university degree being front-loaded in the first 18 to 24 years of your life,” says Gleason. “Instead of a three- to four-year model, students should be admitted for 20 years with the ability to come back and take classes for free whenever they want.”

That is exactly what both NU and NUS, where Gleason works, are doing. NUS, for example, has launched two government-supported “lifelong learning institutes”, where graduates can return at any stage of life to “upskill” in hundreds of courses – long and short – from psychology to Arabic, “business agility” to “cyber security for the internet of things”. “We are looking at stacking courses together to re-skill adults,” Gleason says. “It’s a long road ahead, but the real low-lying fruit is more experiential learning, and less lectures.”

As for NU, Aoun has overseen the establishment of a lifetime-learning network of campuses in Charlotte, North Carolina, Seattle, Silicon Valley, Toronto and San Francisco, where members can return to learn new skills. “Seventy-four percent of the population are what we call ‘non-professional learners’,” he says. “Ignore them and universities will become irrelevant. If we don’t step in and integrate lifelong learning as part of our core mission, we become like the railway industry that saw the onset of the airline revolution and said, ‘This is nothing to do with us.’ They didn’t see themselves in the transportation business, and their business suffered as a result.”

None of this, of course, comes cheap. NUS and NU are both well-funded institutions. Gleason suggests a tax on robots would cover it. If not, industry needs to step up and cough up. “I don’t see why industry shouldn’t,” she adds. “It’s not like they won’t be profiting from some of the jobs that go away.”

So what, in the meantime, can students who don’t go to NUS or NU – or one of the world’s few other universities with similar ideas – do to future-proof their careers? The answer, really, is to become as human as humanly possible. We need to fight back with feelings. “The future labour market needs not content experts or information processors,” says Gleason, “but creators, analysers, problem solvers, collaborators and lifelong learners who are able to acquire new skills as old ones quickly become obsolete. The best place you can learn those skills are in the liberal arts.”

Maybe, as a start then, that degree in philosophy or English isn’t such a bad idea after all.

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A Tale Of Two Institutions: Amherst And Wisconsin Take Education Down Different Paths

As I look around the higher education landscape these days, I see two distinct trends: The first sees small, private liberal arts colleges retrenching and defending the liberal arts tradition, where students are encouraged to question assumptions; value clear, thoughtful thinking and communicating; deepen their understanding of the world and how it works; and take an interdisciplinary approach to their studies. The second sees large, public institutions shearing off arts, languages, history, philosophy, and anything not considered pragmatic or leading to a job in order to meet immediate market needs. In other words, they’re going for vocational at the expense of holistic education.

This contrast is vividly demonstrated in the recent science center developments of Amherst College and the University of Wisconsin. The former has begun a $625M capital campaign to maintain the institution’s high quality education, support students “regardless of means,” and, significantly,

The Promise campaign includes support for a new interdisciplinary science center, the largest project in Amherst’s history, that is likely to be unsurpassed at a liberal arts college. With this center and additional faculty positions, the College will set a new standard in the mathematical, physical and biological sciences and enhance its historic excellence in the humanities, arts and social sciences.

The College’s press release goes on to note that two anonymous alumni (unfortunately, neither one is yours truly) have already given a combined $150M to support the campaign, which Amherst president Biddy Martin says “will ensure that we can continue to develop independent, versatile, and creative thinkers.” The key word is “interdisciplinary.” Although the science center will have advanced facilities for the sciences, it will also accommodate genuinely wide-ranging studies linking many different fields within and outside of the sciences. 

Through purely private support, Amherst is creating a new center not just of science but of thought, a hub for encouraging the disciplines to work together and build on the successes of the past while looking to the future. Its creation not only brings Amherst’s scientific capabilities firmly into the 21st century, but also reaffirms its commitment to the form and spirit of the liberal arts. (I encourage you to take a look at the center’s page here to see its innovations and the commitment made to educational, environmental, and practical considerations.)

The University of Wisconsin, in contrast, along with its branches shedding humanities courses left and right, has recently made a $100M deal with Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwanese company that recently agreed to build a plant in Wisconsin after receiving nearly $4B in tax breaks to lure it there. The University, once a bastion of liberal arts and independent thinking, has now hitched itself to a major tech manufacturing company that, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, is funding an “interdisciplinary research facility for students and faculty to collaborate closely with the company’s Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park near Racine.”

The $100M deal also comes with a major caveat: Foxconn has no obligation to follow through unless the University raises a matching amount for the facility. Essentially, the University of Wisconsin has made itself a subsidiary of Foxconn, which CEO Terry Gou says “will provide funding on practical topics and capabilities in core areas that will become increasingly invaluable to the advanced technology hub, along with the artificial intelligence, 8K resolution and 5G wireless technology ecosystem that we are building in Wisconsin.”  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these things, and while there will likely be many students now and in the future interested in them, we should be concerned when a respected state university intends to make itself “a pipeline of research and engineering talent to the company, which could employ up to 13,000 people.” 

Perhaps it’s unfair to contrast two such different institutions at opposite ends of the higher education spectrum. Amherst has a long history and many supportive alumni (wealthy and otherwise), an envied position in the college world, and a comfortable endowment, while the University of Wisconsin has had to deal with an increasingly hostile state government that, like many other state governments, has been starving its higher education system of financial resources, forcing it to find money where it can. So it’s hard to blame the University for doing what it thinks needs to be done. And the Madison campus, at least, hasn’t gone down the road taken by some of its other campuses; it still offers an excellent undergraduate education.

Nevertheless, the differences between these two institutions’ approach to their new science/research centers clearly delineate widely disparate views of higher education’s purpose. Is it to create individuals with the capacity for wide-ranging, independent thought or to train worker bees for industry?Should one industry or corporation command such a large swath of a public institution? And will private institutions’ commitment to liberal arts become an increasingly rarified commodity in the 21st century?

(Two interesting notes: The State Journal reports that the university has declined to provide them with a copy of the University’s agreement with Foxconn; they have had to request it through the state’s open records law. And Amherst’s current president, Biddy Martin, was Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus from 2008-11. During that time she proposed “The Madison Initiative for Undergraduates [which] promoted student advising, innovations in undergraduate programs and faculty diversity. Martin also spearheaded an effort to gain greater operating flexibility and increased autonomy for Wisconsin’s flagship campus.” This effort created a great deal of controversy and Martin left for Amherst not long after.)


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U.S. News Changes Its College-Ranking Methodology Again; Why You Shouldn’t Care

The college-rankings game has been silly enough for years, but now it’s just absurd. U.S. News has just revealed that it changed its methodology again for this year’s list, suggesting that it’s now “woke” because it’s giving more weight to “social mobility” aspects of each institution. Decipher this statement, if you can, as reported in Inside Higher Ed:

New this year in the outcomes section are two social mobility factors that together make up 5 percent of the total ranking. One looks at the graduation rates of Pell Grant recipients, and the other compares Pell-recipient graduation rates to those of all students. Both of those figures are then adjusted for the share of all students who are Pell recipients. So if two colleges have the same Pell graduation rates, but one has a larger share of Pell recipients, the second college would earn more points in the formula. U.S. News counts the graduation rate formula as also indicating social mobility and so says that 13 percent of its formula is now based on social mobility.

Focusing only on this change (there are others), several schools vaulted upward significantly, such as Howard University, which rose from 110 to 89. Valerie Strauss puts it succinctly in the Washington Post:

If you put junk in, you get junk out. And that’s pretty much what you get with most rankings of schools. The folks doing the ranking decide what is important to them or their audience, and, for some reason, consumers and schools themselves put a great deal of stock in the outcome of ever-changing, questionable methodology.

At the same time, the top-ranked schools continue to be the usual suspects, without having changed much at all. They’re still the richest, the most privileged, the oldest (more or less), and in general the most established institutions in the United States. No matter how you slice it, this hierarchy will never change unless rankers decide to invert all their current measures.

U.S. News announces changes to its methodology every few years, so each new list is a “re-centering” along the lines of the College Board’s re-centering of the SAT a number of years ago. A 730 today isn’t the 730 of twenty years ago, so making comparisons over time requires conversion charts and a fierce resolution. Have the institutions changed? Over time, all institutions do; the ranking methodology says more about the rankers and their audiences than it does about the institutions.

One very interesting difference is that this year U.S. News eliminated“acceptance rate” from the equation. Although it accounted for only 1.25% of each school’s ranking, it probably accounted for closer to 35% of consumers’ thinking. Perhaps that goes with a greater emphasis on social mobility–it’s better to focus on inclusion than exclusivity, but at such a low weight it hardly makes a difference. Unfortunately, it also eliminates one of the useful features of the ranking that enabled college counselors to see where their seniors might have a good chance to be accepted. And it’s always helpful to remind readers that most colleges and universities in the United States accept more than 50% of their applicants. In fact, the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACACState of College Admission 2017 report indicates that, despite a 7% increase in applications from first-time freshmen, 66.1% of applicants were offered admission, the “average selectivity rate.”

Interestingly, Stanford edged out U.S. News by announcing it would no longer publicize its admit rate. Coincidence? I doubt it; they saw what was coming and figured it was good PR to get out in front of the change, despite its having no real meaning and despite Stanford’s already having “won” the race to be among the most exclusive schools in the country.

Perhaps, as Sandy Hingston puts it in Philadelphia magazine, we can now all agree that college rankings are “bunk.” They’re really reflections of their creators, not unbiased scientific observations, no matter how many times words like “methodology,” “formula,” and “analysis” are used. Measuring once’s own priorities and concerns against such non-objective systems is folly. In the search for the “best” college for your children, it would be better to decide what your own “methodology” is and work from there.


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Do critical thinking skills give graduates the edge?

It has long been claimed that critical thinking ability sets graduates apart. But are universities really preparing students for the modern workplace? 

Two years ago, the accountancy firm EY made an announcement that no doubt sent a shiver down many lecturers’ spines. After failing to find any published evidence that graduates with good degree results made for better employees, a trawl through its own data, the company revealed, similarly found “no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken”.

Instead, what predicted success at EY, defined by recruits’ performance in annual appraisals and accountancy exams, is a “mix between behavioural and cognitive attributes”, explains Dominic Franiel, head of student recruitment at the company. These attributes include many things that higher education is supposed to instil. Among them are logical thinking, ability to understand the root cause of a problem, rapid comprehension of new concepts, self-motivation, a confidence-inspiring and professional manner and a strong work ethic, Franiel explains.

Acting on these findings, the company, which recruits about 900 UK graduates alone each year, scrapped its requirement for applicants to its graduate scheme to have an upper second-class degree and 300 Ucas points (equivalent to three B grades at A level). They still need a degree, and the company “still values academic achievement”, says Franiel. But rather than relying on university grades, EY now assesses applicants using its own bespoke tests. And this has had a noticeable effect on the kinds of people being successful – with a jump in recruitment of graduates who went to state schools and who were the first in their family to go to university, says Franiel. Nearly one in five new recruits would have been excluded under the old system for having low grades, he adds.

EY’s move is part of a growing trend. Another UK-headquartered accountancy firm, Grant Thornton, also scrapped its 2:1 requirement in 2013. In the same year, Google’s internal research discovered that college grade-point averages and other test scores were “worthless” in predicting future success at the company, and scrapped its requirement for applicants to submit detailed results for everyone except brand-new graduates. And last year, the publisher Penguin Random House UK dispensed with the need for a degree altogether, saying that there was no link between having one and workplace performance. According to Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the UK’s Association of Graduate Recruiters, “there’s a growing recognition that using academic grades as a kind of binary cut-off, as a cliff edge, is no longer [effective]”.

Few would argue that universities should simply be factories for the production of trainee accountants able to fit seamlessly into the corporate world. Higher education is clearly about much more than that. But there is increasing scrutiny of graduate outcomes by both governments and students (the UK’s teaching excellence framework and Longitudinal Education Outcomes project are good examples). If higher education is not seen to be adding any value to graduates’ skill sets, that has clear implications for university enrolment and funding levels.

So what value is higher education supposed to add? And how is this different from what school or vocational education offer? When challenged on this, the stock response from university leaders is “critical thinking”. Although the term is rarely defined in great detail, it is understood to involve an ability to think independently and to question assumptions in a structured, logical way. And, quite apart from the usefulness of such an ability in the professional sphere, it is also seen by many as a crucial element of informed citizenship. Insufficient levels of it among the electorate have been blamed by some for the success of last year’s campaigns for the UK to leave the European Union and for the US to elect Donald Trump as president – which, opponents say, made claim after claim that bore scant relation to logic or truth.

But there are two related questions around this. One is whether firms themselves really value the kind of critical thinking that academics prize. The bespoke tests that they are increasingly using to sift job applicants suggest that the kind of contemplative, expansive anatomisation of arguments that leads to high essay grades may not be what is required by successful operators in the modern, time-pressed workplace.

A further question is whether even the academic brand of critical thinking is being particularly well taught at university. According to Bryan Greetham, a philosopher and university researcher who has written several books on how students and professionals can improve their thinking, “We tend to want to do the simple thing – which is to teach students what to think, not how to think.” And it has long been an open secret in higher education that the sharpening effect, however defined, of a university education on students’ minds is far from well evidenced.

This was most famously explored in the 2011 book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. The authors, American sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, found that 45 per cent of US undergraduates failed to significantly improve their critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills during their first two years at university. Other US-based studies have raised similar concerns. One from 2009, “Improving Students’ Evaluation of Informal Arguments”, published in the Journal of Experimental Education, warned that college and high school students have “difficulty evaluating arguments on the basis of their quality”.

But definitive studies of the issue are still lacking. There is, for instance, no university equivalent of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Pisa tests for schools, which measure reading and numeracy skills at different ages across countries. When the OECD recently trialled a programme to measure the “learning gain” of graduates, it was effectively scuppered after opposition in the UK, the US and Canada.

So, with the credibility of their credentials questioned, what can universities do to ensure that their students graduate with better cognitive skills? How can they live up to their claim that critical thinking is their unique selling point?

Some have begun explicitly teaching analytical skills. For instance, Anne Britt, a psychologist who has conducted studies into whether students can comprehend, evaluate and write arguments, runs a course at Northern Illinois University called simply “thinking”. After just half an hour of instruction, she says, most students do show significant improvement – although there is also a significant minority who make little progress even after a term.

To get the hang of certain ideas, she says, requires plenty of contact time between student and teacher. “I have many students who come in and think they’re excellent at argumentation. In fact, they’re not. Early on, they need feedback because they conflate argumentation with giving an opinion,” she says.

But if universities don’t have the resources to offer intensive classes, could they weave the teaching of critical thinking skills into regular teaching? Britt thinks that academics can easily make time for quick “check-ins” during their lectures to ensure that their students understand what they’ve been told. “It doesn’t have to take long. It could take 10 minutes at most…otherwise students are not actually thinking during the lecture,” she says. A quick intervention can make students realise: “Oh! This is how I’m supposed to be reading my book. These are the kinds of questions I’m supposed to be asking.”

High school experience, of course, varies enormously by country. In France, studying philosophy – arguably the closest that traditional disciplines get to explicit critical thinking courses – is compulsory. In England, meanwhile, the critical thinking A level has recently been scrapped. And Robert de Vries, a lecturer in quantitative sociology at the University of Kent, became “convinced pretty quickly” that many UK students need “explicit, remedial instruction in these abstract skills. I get the sense that students are used to being marked for content – ‘Have you covered this topic? Have you mentioned this fact from the textbook?’ – rather than for the quality of their reasoning or argumentation.”

However, according to de Vries, university courses “often can’t devote the time needed to explicitly teach the abstract tools of critical thinking: how to construct a good argument, how to spot weak evidence for a claim. They have a lot of substantive content to cover, and, to an extent, they have to assume that students will have already picked up a lot of this stuff by the time they get to university.”

This state of affairs, he says, explains why he too teaches a specific critical thinking course, which is compulsory for Kent’s sociology, social policy and social research students, and can be taken as an optional module by other students.

Another problem with assuming that students can pick up critical thinking skills during their normal studies, Britt adds, is that each subject leaves them with very different ideas about how to argue. In contrast to the scientific approach, “in history, I might never have a graph of data”, she says. Hence, when graduates start work, a historian and a scientist may begin with very different concepts of what constitutes reliable evidence, she says. So the idea that all university graduates have a generic ability to think critically may be somewhat misleading.

Moreover, widespread doubts exist that critical thinking is the be-all and end-all of employability. As previously mentioned, employers additionally value certain attitudinal traits, which their aptitude tests also seek to test. And, according to Greetham, critical thinking is not enough to enable graduates to do what their employers prize above all: the ability to come up with new ideas and concepts, and to create solutions to problems.

For him, critical thinking is useful, but it “works on the assumption that facts, right answers and certainties are out there just waiting to be discovered” by logical thinkers. “It assumes that a teacher’s role is to find these facts and transmit them, while teaching students the skills to chip away all those things that obscure them, [such as] the inconsistencies in our reasoning, irrelevant arguments and unsupported assumptions.”

But, this, Greetham says, is a flawed picture of reality. Rather than creative thinking, he says, students need to be taught what he calls “smart thinking”. This requires lecturers to allow far more discussion in class, and to guide students in how to analyse and synthesise concepts. “You need to lose control in the classroom in a way – because you’ve got to say: ‘Let’s have your ideas,’” he argues. Instead of requiring students to present their ideas to the class, followed by a discussion, lecturers need to get students to analyse the meaning of concepts, “recording their ideas on a whiteboard as they shape and reshape them”, and guide them in “reinterpreting and adapting their solutions”. This kind of teaching, he maintains, genuinely develops creative and conceptual skills.

But, Greetham warns, such change is unlikely to be possible while academics continue to be recruited on their research record, as opposed to their teaching ability.

As well as calls for critical thinkers and smart thinkers, there are also frequent demands from politicians for more “entrepreneurial” university graduates – who, instead of joining graduate recruitment programmes at large employers, might start their own businesses. Exactly what this means is hard to pin down, but it generally involves an emphasis on less theory and more practical experience.

Indeed, there is a general move across the world to align higher education more closely with vocational training. Nowhere is this trend more apparent than in Germany. “Years ago, the two education sectors were following different, opposite, logics – scientific versus practical orientation – and were addressing strictly separated job markets,” says Ulrich Mueller, head of policy studies at the Centre for Higher Education, a German thinktank. “The situation now is different: there is a big overlap between academic and practical education.” There are now very job-focused academic courses, he says, as well as vocational programmes with lots of academic content. The overlap is such that graduates of these two streams now compete for the same jobs in some areas, such as medicine and computer science. “I am sure that in 15 or 20 years there will be an [integrated] system of post-secondary education,” Mueller concludes.

In such a world, of course, there would be no need for higher education to define itself in a particular way, in contrast to other forms of education. But in the meantime, pinning down the unique skills of university graduates remains moot – especially when accessing higher education can be so much more expensive than vocational alternatives.

It is possible to overstate the level of concern about the issue. The US National Association of Colleges and Employers, for instance, says that it hasn’t seen a shift away from degrees towards employer-designed tests, suggesting that US firms largely still see college GPA as a reliable indicator of the kinds of skills they are looking for. And, in the US, getting a college degree is arguably more crucial than ever in terms of being competitive in the job market.

Yet, paradoxically, the bigger the graduate cohort becomes, the more employers are likely to question exactly what, if anything, having a degree really indicates. And that, in turn, could require universities to ask hard questions about how much – or how little – their courses really change how their students think. 

Think fast: what do graduate recruitment tests actually involve?

Having taken several of the bespoke tests that firms are now using to put their graduate applicants through their paces, it’s probably fair to say that I shouldn’t give up the day job.

But I suspect that I am not the only degree-holder who would struggle: the tests assess skills rather different from those required to pass university exams. Some questions involve numbers, shapes or text, but all are broadly designed to gauge mental agility. In abstract reasoning tests, for example, a typical question features a sequence of shapes, which you are asked to continue. Circle, square, circle, square: what next? That’s easy – but the patterns quickly get a lot more complex than that.

Another spatial reasoning test designed for recruiters by specialist firm Saville Assessments involves rotating 3D shapes in your head to see which is the odd one out. Meanwhile, a verbal reasoning section requires you to speed-read a passage about eating habits – putting any emotional or critical reaction out of your mind – and then click on the best summary of it, or choose the best synonym to replace a word. Worryingly for a journalist, I completely flunk error-checking, which involves scanning a spreadsheet at a furious pace.

It is the rapid-fire nature of the tests that most distinguishes them from university work. You rarely have more than 30 seconds to answer a question; in some cases, you have little more than 
10 seconds. It’s a different form of mental activity from, say, crafting a dissertation over many months.

But perhaps the skills that these tests assess – can you quickly skim a paragraph or a screen of numbers, and then fire off an acceptable answer? – are more useful 
in the modern, time-pressed office than the sustained thought that higher education is supposed to -inculcate.

That said, it is important to note that the tests aren’t used in isolation. Situational judgement tests, where applicants are presented with a real-world dilemma, are also increasingly in vogue. According to Dominic Franiel, EY’s head of student recruitment, a candidate might be asked, for instance, how they would handle a situation in which a more senior colleague was suddenly called away and they were left having to meet clients. Given a list of five choices, “there’s probably an ideal answer”, but it’s “quite nuanced”.

Moreover, applicants who get past the first online round do then have to weigh evidence and formulate their own opinions at a more leisurely pace at assessment centres, he adds.

It is also worth noting that the testers make no pretence to be assessing raw ability. They readily admit that scores can be enhanced by effective prepping – which I did not do. So perhaps there still hope for more ponderous graduates like me after all.

David Matthews


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As a parent, I know how hard it can be to let go and allow our children to manage the bumps and bruises of life. I wish I could protect my daughter from every difficulty and shield her from every hurt. However, as a higher education professional, I know that I can’t, and shouldn’t, parent with that as my priority.

In my work, I see the effects of hyper-involved parents who have been more concerned with preparing the path for their child than with preparing their child for the path. Their parental over-involvement may come from love, but may not in the end succeed in  producing confident, capable adults. Here are some signs that you may be over-parenting your college student, and  some suggestions  about what you can do instead.

What NOT to Do if You are the Parent of a College Kid

1. You contact their professors, because you didn’t like a grade/want to ask for clarification on an assignment/want to ask for an absence to be excused/want to ask for an extension on an assignment due date

Unless your child is incapacitated (heaven forbid), this is not okay. It doesn’t matter if you are paying your student’s tuition. Professors do not want to hear from parents.  They want to hear from their students and engage them in these conversations.  Instead of picking up the phone yourself, talk to your student about what is happening.  Make sure they’ve thought through their concerns. Encourage them to consult the syllabus, in case there is information that might shed light on the issue.  Then, coach them on how to approach the professor and ask for what they want.

2. You say “we” and “our” when talking about your student’s college experiences. (“We got a bid from our first-choice sorority!” or “ We really hope to get into the 11am section of Biology 101.”)

YOU are not joining the sorority or taking Bio, so stop that! This subtle pronoun choice communicates a lot to your student. It can make them feel pressured to achieve the things that will make you happy. Conversely, it could make it easier for your student to “check-out” on taking responsibility for making things happen. After all, if “we” want something, “we” will handle it. Also, it sends a message that you are personally invested in these experiences to a level that goes beyond concern for your student. It sends the message that these things are about you, when they really aren’t. On a side note, it’s also a red flag to higher education professionals that you are overly involved in your student’s college life.

3. You read their emails and check their assignment grades on a regular basis.

Put down the passwords! You don’t need to know everything. I think it’s reasonable to request final course grades at the end of each semester if you are supporting your college student financially. Beyond that, stay out of the minutiae. You don’t need to know what they earned on every test. You don’t need to know what their professors and friends are emailing to them. You might argue that being aware of course grades throughout the semester will allow you to help your student get back on track before it’s too late. I get that, but I’ve never in my 17-year career seen it work.

If your college kid isn’t responsible enough to make changes after earning a poor test or assignment grade, they won’t develop that skill by you checking in on them and trying to make them manage it in the way you think is best. They will learn through experiencing the consequences of their choices and by learning to ask for help. A little adversity goes a lot farther than over-parenting in moving a college student toward good habits. If final course grades come out, and they are less than desirable, talk to your student about what changes he or she needs to make to avoid the same mistakes. Make sure they are aware of campus resources such as academic coaching, tutoring, and professor office hours. Reiterate your expectations for their performance next semester.

4. You call them to wake them up for class.

If they are bright enough to get into college, they are bright enough to figure out how to get themselves out of bed. This is a basic life skill that they need to learn now (and probably should have learned in middle or high school). There are all kinds of wild alarm clocks on the market, from the super loud, to the bed shakers, to the ones that fly around the room until you catch them!  Tell your student about them and ask them to pick one if a regular old alarm clock isn’t cutting it.

5. You beg them to come home frequently (with the bribe of doing their laundry).

Of everything on this list, this one will probably be the hardest for me as a parent. I have a few years before my daughter is college-age, and I already know the mom part of me will want her to come home to visit as often as possible. However, the college professional part of me knows this is a terrible idea.  Students who leave campus frequently don’t connect with their institutions and to other students (a critical factor in college success and completion).  Students who leave frequently also don’t study enough. Especially during their first year, encourage your student to get involved on campus and to spend time on the weekends studying and working ahead on papers.  (And tell your student to do their own laundry.  You’ve done enough.)

6. You contact the university when your student can’t get into a class they want/earned a grade they don’t like/has a conflict with a roommate/doesn’t like their math tutor, etc.

You’re calling because your college kid is so busy, and you just want to help him out, right? We see through that excuse, so don’t go there.  What makes you think your student can’t handle those things for himself? And if he can’t…teach him!  Barring an incapacitating event, resist the urge to contact university offices (and professors, as previously mentioned) to get information or “fix” things for your student.  Talk with them about what their concerns are, and coach them on whom to call and how to express themselves.  Help them think through the resolution they are seeking and how to ask for what they want.

When we smooth the way through every challenge they encounter, students don’t learn how to address problems and handle adversity.  Nor do they develop the confidence that they CAN address problems and handle adversity. Also, we can’t live through our children or get our sense of self from them.  They need to have their own experiences separate from us. We need to not care what other people will think of us if our kids mess up. We need to have the confidence that our students can do this!

Ultimately, we need to love them enough to get out of their way and know they can handle it. Trust them to do well, but know that mistakes will be made. Trust them to survive those mistakes, learn from them, and emerge as confident, capable adults who will make us proud!

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How Educators Can Become More Resilient This Year!

What are your hopes for the new school year? Maybe you want to get better at handling the day-to-day stresses of the job, or be more patient with yourself and your students. One teacher-friend I know says her hope for this year is to learn to “soften more and more into the inevitable chaos and messiness of life.” Can you relate?

The problem is, of course, that it isn’t so easy—this softening thing. Elena Aguilar knows this, which is why she wrote the new book Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators.

“Simply put, resilience is how we weather the storms in our lives and rebound after something difficult,” explains Aguilar. But resilience is more than this, she claims—it’s also “what enables us to thrive, not just survive.”

Last year may go down in history as one of pure “survival” for some of us, but why settle for managing or enduring when we have the potential to feel energized and joyful in our work? After all, it’s not ultimately about us—it’s about our students. They need us, with all of our faults and complexities, to walk into the classroom fully present and alive to them.

If thriving is your goal, Onward is worth reading. Although Aguilar acknowledges how our neurobiology can influence resilience, she reminds us that we can ultimately become much more emotionally resilient by simply changing our daily habits. Onward (with its accompanying workbook) serves as a practical, user-friendly resource for change—a daily guide for teachers’ personal growth and professional development.

Fostering new habits (and ways of being)

With 25 years in education under her belt and a decade as an instructional and leadership coach, Aguilar draws on research in mindfulness, neurobiology, positive psychology, change management, and systems thinking to package a coherent year-long program for developing resilience.

She explains that resilience is influenced by four factors: who you are (genetics, values, personality), what you do (habits), where you are (context), and how you are (emotions, dispositions).

Aguilar teaches you how to work on these factors with her 12 habits of emotionally resilient educators, which include things like building community, being here now,  and taking care of yourself. You can choose to read about one habit every month or go straight to the topics that are most important to you, each of which is supplemented by a long list of daily activities and practices in the companion Onward Workbook.

On your journey, Aguilar believes that there are three foundational habits all educators should start with: knowing yourself (purposefulness), understanding emotions (acceptance), and telling empowering stories (optimism). 

1. Know yourself. According to Aguilar, to become emotionally resilient, you must begin by exploring the key elements of self: your values, personality, aptitudes, and skills. Aguilar recommends two free online assessments for identifying some of your personality traits and character strengths. If, for example, you can identify one of your personal strengths (like kindness, curiosity, or perseverance) and creatively use your strength every day for a week, you may find yourself happier (and potentially more resilient).

To become emotionally resilient, you must begin by exploring the key elements of self: your values, personality, aptitudes, and skills.

“When you know yourself well, you gain clarity on your purpose in life and work,” says Aguilar. As you begin to understand and embrace your purpose, skills, and areas for growth, your sense of efficacy can increase—and in one research review, efficacy (or self-belief) was one of the personal resources most frequently linked to teacher resilience.

To help you get to know yourself better, Aguilar’s companion workbook includes activities like identifying your hopes, creating a values jar, and crafting a mission statement.

2. Understand your emotions. Once you have a better sense of “who you are,” it’s important to understand “how you are”—what sorts of emotions influence your daily life. By spending time observing your emotions, you can begin to understand how they function. For example, knowing that your fear reaction to an aggressive student (the tensing of your muscles, the increased heart rate, and the tightening in your throat) is both protective and temporary may help you let it go more easily and move toward a more thoughtful response to her anger.

This form of self-awareness is one of the fundamental components of emotional intelligence as described by psychologist Daniel Goleman, and studies indicate that emotional intelligence facilitates resilience to stress and may even lead to less burnout. Although Aguilar doesn’t directly cite emotions studies—in fact, most of the research in her book is implicit rather than explicit—she seems to draw on the work of researchers like Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner.

In her supplementary workbook, you can develop your emotional intelligence by examining your beliefs about your feelings, observing your emotions (see sidebar) and how they affect your body, and learning techniques for relaxation such as the body scan.

3. Tell empowering stories. Aguilar also encourages us to focus on the narratives we create to understand (or distort) our reactions to daily events. When we tell positive, empowering stories about our lives, we are likely to feel more optimistic and resilient as a result.

One study found that people who experience greater well-being tend to tell stories of change and growth about the obstacles they face. For example, if a new teacher reminds himself that he is a lifelong learner who is improving every day, rather than continually telling himself, “I’m just not a good teacher,” he’s more likely to hang in there and keep trying rather than burn out early in his career.

Aguilar draws on work in the field of cognitive behavioral therapy to help you interrupt your interpretations of events, identify common patterns of distorted thinking, and learn how to shift your thinking and core beliefs. When a challenging event happens, our interpretations are often dramatized and exaggerated, but we can shift our thinking by asking ourselves simple questions about the beliefs underlying our thoughts (see sidebar).

The Onward Workbook also features activities for increasing gratitude, fostering optimism, and reflecting more broadly on your life story.

Cultivating resilience to transform schools

Apart from the concrete tips and activities featured, Onward doesn’t shy away from bigger-picture questions about how our context can influence our emotional resilience, which is one of the things I appreciate most about it.

Aguilar does this by prompting us to examine our “sociopolitical identities” and how they function in schools. In other words, which aspects of your identity are most relevant to you and your work—and which are you most aware of every day (e.g., ability, age, education, marital status, language, race, religion, socioeconomic status)?

For example, as a bilingual Latina (woman) who teaches American History, how do you relate to all of the students in your class who are immigrants and refugees? If you are a white woman serving as a principal at an ethnically diverse elementary school, how do you view your position of leadership? Are you aware of your power? Where do you feel powerful and where do you sometimes feel powerless?

“In order to create the just and equitable society that I know so many of us yearn for, we need tremendous reserves of resilience. We must change the macro conditions in which we live and work, and to do that, we’ll need all the physical and emotional resources we can muster,” writes Aguilar. “If we foster our individual resilience first, then we may have the courage to address the more complex organizational and systemic conditions we face in schools.”

So grab a group of colleagues and map out a plan (formal or informal) for sharing this resource. It was designed for teachers, school staff, coaches, and site administrators—“any group that operates in or with our educational system.” For further motivation, pick up the workbook; hop on the Onward website for meditations, handouts, blog posts, and videos; or even join the Facebook page to engage in discussions with the larger educational community. Let’s all work together to create spaces where we not only survive but also thrive this year.


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What do Boundaries Feel Like?

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