1. The 104 Applicants’ schools, while all private non-profits from our nine eligible states with student populations between 1,000 and 5,000, varied tremendously in terms of mission and resources available to accomplish the mission and outcomes. A description of the Applicant schools as reflected in key data points is part of the body of this report.
2. Due to the dramatic differences between applicant schools, the Trustees created peer groupings based on what we felt to be the most reliable among the important outcome data points – four year graduation rates. The schools within a given graduation rate peer grouping were cross-analyzed in terms of several key quantifiable variables. The peer schools were also cross-analyzed based on narrative information concerning each school’s efforts and programs to increase retention/graduation rates, to decrease and/or control student costs and levels of student debt, to enhance its students’ career preparedness and marketability, and to survey and demonstrate employment/career outcomes of its graduates.
3. Generally speaking, the data received concerning persistence/graduation rates and factors affecting those rates was clearer for purposes of comparison than was the data on levels of student debt which, in turn, was clearer for purposes of comparison than the data on career and job outcomes of graduates.
4. The applications reflected strong pre-existing institutional focus on most of the issues which the Alden Trustees tried to address through the Award.
5. On the issue of retention/persistence/graduation rates there seems to be a broad consensus concerning the strategies, resources and efforts that are useful and necessary to achieve improvement. As might be predicted, this issue was more intensely focused upon by the schools with less academically prepared and less affluent students.
6. On the related issues of student costs and student debt, there is broad recognition that these issues are in the public mind. However, there is also a broadly shared determination to ensure that accessibility to a college degree not be denied to those of modest means. It is clear that the tools available to limit the debt of students who lack the capacity to pay are limited and, practically speaking, vary greatly between institutions. The basic strategies are (1) to slow the rate of tuition increase, (2) to educate students and families about the loan process (public vs. private), (3) to provide work opportunities, and (4), most importantly, to attempt to increase the resources available for institutional aid and scholarships. There is no silver bullet.
7. On the issue of career-relatedness there was much said of interest, including:
(a) Impassioned defenses of the liberal arts and sciences educational model as a route for career preparation.
(b) Articulated concerns that the relevance and value of the liberal arts model is being questioned.
(c) An extremely broad consensus that “experiential learning” (under its many names and guises) has become more recognized as a useful and important component of the undergraduate educational program and is especially valuable in the job/career marketplace.
(d) Efforts are being made to strengthen and reorganize Career Centers, often aligning the Centers with External Affairs Offices.
(e) Efforts are being made to engage students in goal (career) identification early in their undergraduate career, to better coordinate curriculum choices with identified goals and to measure progress toward goals during the undergraduate years.
(f) Broad efforts are being made to encourage interdisciplinary courses and curriculum.
(g) Broad efforts are being made to more deeply engage alums, parents and other friends in these career preparedness activities.
8. As far as we can tell there is broad diversity in levels of rigor, in the methodology, and in the timing of the schools’ data gathering efforts about their graduates’ career and job outcomes. By and large, the data elicited concerning job/career outcomes seemed sketchy and unconvincing. It seemed that for many schools the gathering of this outcome data had probably not been a high priority, which was a disappointment to us. We conclude that a stronger focus on career outcome data gathering would be beneficial and that a greater level of consensus on the mechanics, timing and best practices of job/career outcome data gathering and reporting would benefit everyone concerned, and we encourage (and will applaud) efforts to reach such a consensus.
9. Choosing winners was difficult. We were impressed by the results and efforts not only of the schools we honored, but also of many, many schools who were not honored.
10. We would consider offering Excellence Awards again at some as yet undetermined time in the future, but are aware that much effort is involved in applying for the Award. Presently, we are undecided on the Award’s future.
DESCRIPTION OF APPLICANT POOL
By definition, all the schools met Alden’s eligibility requirements. They are all private, independent non-profit schools with at least 1,000 full time undergraduates and no more than 5,000 f.t.e.’s, including graduate students. The 104 applicant schools were spread among the nine eligible states as follows: Connecticut (3), Maine (2), Massachusetts (22), New Hampshire (2), New Jersey (7), New York (30), Pennsylvania (33), Rhode Island (2) and Vermont (3).
In terms of Carnegie Classifications, 36 schools are classified as (Liberal) Arts and Sciences Focus; 15 schools are classified as Arts and Sciences and Professional; 15 schools are classified as Balanced; 20 schools are classified as Professional and Arts and Sciences; 12 schools are classified as Professional Focus, 5 schools are classified as Special Focus Institutions, and 1 was classified as Associates.
The pool serves a broad spectrum of student preparedness as reflected by critical reading and math SAT scores. Of the schools that reported such scores, 4 averaged over 1400, 8 were between 1350-1399, 8 were between 1300-1349, 8 were between 1250-1299, 6 were between 1200-1249, 9 were between 1150-1199, 13 were between 1100-1149, 15 were between 1050-1099, 10 were between 1000-1049, 8 were between 950-999, 10 were between 900-949, and 4 were below 900. The median fell in the 1100-1149 range.
The 4 and 6 year graduation rates reflect the broad spectrum of students. In terms of 4 year graduation rates, the data shows 4 schools over 90%, 11 schools between 85%-90%, 8 schools between 80%-84%, 12 schools between 75%-79%, 11 schools between 70%-74%, 6 schools between 65%-69%, 4 schools between 60%-64%, 13 schools between 55%-59%, 5 schools between 50%-54%, 10 schools between 40%-49% and 15 schools below 40%. The median fell in the 65%-69% range. Five schools did not report 4 year graduation rates.
In terms of 6 year graduation rates, the data shows 13 schools over 90%, 9 schools between 85%-89%, 11 schools between 80%-84%, 12 schools between 75%-79%, 13 schools between 70%-74%, 13 schools between 65%-69%, 7 schools between 60%-64%, 7 schools between 55%-59%, 10 schools between 50%-54%, and 9 schools below 50%. The median fell in the 70%-74% range.
Grouping the schools by 6 year graduation rates into three groups (80% and above, 60% -79%, and below 60%) revealed the following comparative information and data.
In terms of Carnegie Classifications, of the 35 schools with graduation rates 80% and above, 27 were Arts and Sciences; 3 were Arts and Sciences and Professional; 1 was Balanced; 1 was Professional and Arts and Sciences; 1 was Professional Focus; and 2 were Special Focus Institutions. Of the 42 schools in the 60%-79% group, 7 were Arts and Sciences; 8 were Arts and Sciences and Professional; 9 were Balanced; 9 were Professional and Arts and Sciences; 5 were Professional Focus; 3 were Special Focus Institutions; and 1 was Associates. Of the 27 schools in the below 60% group, 2 were Arts and Sciences; 5 were Arts and Sciences and Professional; 5 were Balanced; 9 were Professional and Arts and Sciences; and 6 were Professional Focus.
SAT: The average SAT scores ranged from a high of 1432 to a low of 845. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates 80% or higher, the average SAT scores ranged from a high of 1432 to a low of 1133. The average was 1309 and the median was 1307. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates between 79% and 60% the average SAT scores ranged from a high of 1378 to a low of 942. The average was 1107 and the median was 1100. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates below 60% scores ranged from a high of 1110 to a low of 862. The average was 971 and the median was 958.
1st GENERATION: The first generation percentage numbers ranged from a high of 76% to a low of 5%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates 80% or higher, the first generation’s percentages ranged from 5% to 19%. The average was 12.9% and the median was 13%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates between 79% and 60% the range was 7% to 58%. The average was 28% and the median was 28%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates below 60%, the range was 11% to 76%. The average was 38% and the median was 37%.
PELL ELIGIBILITY: The percentage of Pell eligibility ranged from a low of 10.3% to a high of 60%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates 80% or higher, the Pell eligibility percentages ranged from 10.3% to 30%. The average in this group was 16.6% and the median was 16%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates 60% to 79%, the Pell eligibility percentage ranged from 17% to 41%. The average in this group was 26.6% and the median was 24.7%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates below 60%, the Pell eligibility percentage ranged from 25% to 67%. The average in this group was 40.5% and the median was 39.5%.
UNDER-REPRESENTED MINORITIES: The underrepresented minority percentages we calculated ranged from a high of 70% to a low of 4%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates 80% or higher, the minority percentages ranged from a high of 23% to a low of 5%. The average was 12.7% and the median was 11.5%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates between 79% and 60% the range was 25% to 4%. The average was 9.6% and the median was 8%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates below 60%, the range was 70% to 6%. The average was 22.3% and the median was 19%.
COST: The total yearly cost for tuition, room and board and fees ranged from a high of $58,500 to a low of $28,000. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates 80% or higher, the costs ranged from $45,800 to $58,500. The average was $54,700 and the median was $55,600. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates between 79% and 60%, the range was $36,100 to $57,900. The average was $44,200 and the median was $43,000. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates below 60%, the range was $38,000 to $49,700. The average was $40,700 and the median was $40,900.
ENDOWMENT/STUDENT: The endowment per student was calculated to range from a high of $1,064,000 per student to a low of approximately $1,000 per student. Among the schools with 6 year graduation rates of 80% or higher, the range was from $27,000 per student to $1,064,000 per student. The average was $264,500 per student and the median was $174,500 per student. Among the schools with 6 year graduation rates between 79% and 60%, the range was $2,000 per student to $116,000 per student. The average was $37,600 and the median was $31,000. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates below 60%, the range was from $1,000 per student to $46,000 per student. The average was $12,400 and the median was $9,000.
% RECEIVING AID: The percentage of students receiving institutional aid ranged from 41% up to 99%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates of 80% and above, the range was 41% to 93%. The average was 57.2% and the median was 53%. Among schools with rates from 79% to 60%, the range was 54% up to 99%. The average was 88.9% and the median was 91%. Among the schools with rates below 60%, the range was 71% to 99%. The average was 94.3% and the median was 96.5%.
AVG. FAMILY INCOME: Average family income (presumably of the students receiving aid) for the schools that reported on it (93) averaged $93,300. Median family income (same presumption) for the schools that reported on it (91) averaged $80,400. The average family incomes ranged from $43,000 to $138,000 and the median family income ranged from $31,000 to $125,000. In only seven instances did the median family income exceed the average family income, with the largest differential being $30,000. In the other 82 cases, the average family income exceeded the median family income, with the largest differential being $32,000. Among the schools with 6 year graduation rates of 80% or higher, the average family income averaged $111,000 and the median family income averaged $93,000. Among the schools with 6 year graduation rates between 60% and 79% the average family income averaged $95,000 and the median family income averaged $84,000. Among the schools with 6 year graduation rates below 60%, the average family income averaged $74,000 and the median family income averaged $64,000.
AVG. INST. AID PER STUDENT: The average institutional aid per student ranged from $2,400 per student to $43,500 per student. The overall average was $19,729. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates of 80% and above, the range was $14,900 to $43,500. The average was $30,000 and the median was $30,400. Among schools with rates from 79% to 60% the range was $2,400 to $38,000. The average was $15,900 and the median was $15,500. Among schools with rates below 60%, the range was $6,000 to $23,300. The average was $13,300 and the median was $13,000.
AVG % INCURRING DEBT: The average percentage of students incurring debt ranged from 22% up to 99%. The overall average was 67.3%. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates 80% and above, the range was 22% up to 84%. The average was 47.4% and the median was 46%. Among schools with graduation rates from 79% to 60%, the range was 46% up to 89%. The average was 75.4% and the median was 75%. Among schools with graduation rates below 60%, the range was 55% to 99%. The average was 79.5% and the median was 80%.
AVG. TOTAL DEBT IN THOUSANDS: The average student debt incurred, based on our assumptions and calculations, ranged from $12,800 to $61,200. The overall average was $29,048. Among schools with 6 year graduation rates 80% and above, the range was $12,800 to $39,400. The average was $24,000 and the median was $24,400. Among schools with rates from 79% to 60%, the range was from $20,700 to $61,200. The average and median were $33,700. Among schools with rates below 60%, the range was $20,300 to $42,300. The average was $28,700 and the median was $27,600.
Given the above, if you compare schools with 6 year graduation rates 80% or higher with schools with 6 year graduation rates below 60%, there are decidedly different inputs as well as outcomes. Those schools below 60%, had combined SAT scores which averaged 338 points lower than the 80% and over schools. Their first generation percentages were roughly triple (2.95:1). Their black/Hispanic percentages were almost double (1.76:1). The Pell grant eligibility percentages were almost two-and-one-half times higher (2.44:1). The average yearly “sticker price” cost was roughly a quarter lower (.744:1). The percentage of students receiving institutional aid was roughly two-thirds higher (1.65:1). The average family income (presumably of those students receiving aid) of $74,000 was exactly one-third lower (.667:1) and represented the average income of over 94% of the class versus 57.2% of the class (1.64:1). The average endowment per student was roughly 95% lower (.047:1). The average institutional aid afforded per student was roughly 55% lower (.443:1). The percentage of students incurring debt was just over two-thirds higher (1.68:1) and the average student debt per student basically 20% higher (1.196:1).
Relatively speaking, the below 60% schools and the 80% and over schools are obviously dealing with very different student populations. The below 60% schools’ students are generally less academically prepared, more likely to come from underrepresented populations, more likely to be less affluent, less likely to come from families with prior college experience, more likely to be working while attending school, less likely to be campus residents and more likely to be incurring debt.
THE AWARD PROCESS AND METHODOLOGY
Prior to receipt of your applications, we anticipated that the selection process to determine our honoree(s) would be challenging especially given the marked differences between the eligible schools. Since our goal was to compare peer institutions, the question became how to group the schools for purposes of comparison. After much deliberation we decided to group schools by outcome. The outcome we chose was four year graduation rates. Schools of comparable graduation rates were analyzed in terms of several variables which we deemed most significant. These variables included persistence trends, graduation trends, six year graduation rates, average S.A.T. scores (taking into account percentage of students submitting), Pell percentages, first generation percentages, underrepresented population percentages, endowment per student, cost of tuition, room and board, levels of average student debt, percentage of students on institutional financial aid, graduating senior and alumni survey percentage response, and survey response results. In addition to these quantitative measurement data, we also considered the narratives concerning programmatic efforts and strategies that were detailed in the applications in relation to improving retention/graduation rates, holding down student cost and student debt, and to launching/assisting students on their intended career paths. The process combined objective elements and subjective elements. Each of the four trustees inevitably brought different perspectives and biases to the decision process. Value judgments were inevitable.
It is important to reemphasize that we did not see the Award process as a best school award competition. The goal was not to simply honor a school with the best outcomes. It was to identify and honor the schools whose outcomes we felt were most impressive given their inputs and/or whose programs and institutional values most impressed us.
We are happy to report that there were excellent Award candidates from the whole spectrum of eligible schools. This made our task difficult but fascinating at the same time. Trying to weigh these competing factors and the relative strengths of your schools was educational.
In the end, we came away very impressed not only with the schools we ultimately honored, but also with many of the schools who were not so honored. The efforts of those who were involved in pulling the information together for the application was terrific. It was largely the numbers which drove our decision making, not the relative quality of the presentations.
RETENTION/GRADUATION RATE ISSUES UNRELATED TO COST
The applications set forth in detail the various programs (often starting during the summer before freshman year, or even during the admission process) your schools employ to address the academic, financial, family, social, health and other issues that can impact retention and graduation rates. The discussions of persistence/graduation rates tended to be the most lengthy in the applications as is justified by these critically important measurements.
Although the persistence/graduation rates are obviously important to all the applying schools, the presidents in their letters gave the persistence/graduation rates issues different levels of attention depending on the schools’ actual rates. For those at the higher end of the graduation rate curve, the issue was not a primary focus. For schools in the middle and lower ends of the curve, the priority on the issue rose dramatically.
Among those with higher graduation rates the programs most frequently emphasized were programs for the underserved populations, and strong academic support services, including access to faculty, for successful intervention and support. There were also a few discussions of first year seminars and learning communities, resource/learning centers, enhanced advising, and peer monitoring.
Among those with mid and lower level rates, there was much more emphasis on learning/resource centers, enhanced counseling/advising, programs for the less academically prepared, and enhanced academic support services. There was also reference to first year seminars and learning communities, peer mentoring, and access to faculty, but with more intense focus on early intervention, better student engagement, tutoring, pre-freshman year summer programs, improvement of facilities, attention to health and wellness, faculty upgrades and creation of retention task forces to follow the retention data closely.
Our overall sense is that the strategies for improving retention are well understood within your community, and consultants who specialize in the issue are available as a resource to those who may feel the need for assistance. The keys include an engaging and attractive college environment, a determination to identify and support at-risk students as early as possible, a curriculum that the students find relevant and stimulating, a system that helps students get to their major, and the fostering of a realization that the value of the education being received actually exceeds its cost.
COST V. DEBT
The cost/affordability/student debt issues were, for the most part, not subjects of prime focus either in the presidents’ letters or in the body of the applications. As a matter of fact in approximately a quarter of the presidents’ letters, the issues were not directly touched upon.
Efforts to limit or reduce operating costs were only touched upon by five presidents and only received detailed discussion in one letter. Efforts to cap or limit tuition increases were discussed in six presidents’ letters, and there was one letter that referred to the leanness of the school’s operation.
The issue of cost/affordability came up most frequently in the context of the accessibility issue. There seems to be nearly universal agreement on the desirability of broad diversity, including economic diversity, on campus. Accessibility for students of limited personal and family resources, of course, has obvious associated costs, and, even taking into account Pell grants and other available governmental grant opportunities, brings into play the questions of cost, affordability and student debt.
A few schools, primarily those which benefit from substantial endowments, seek to meet all demonstrated need, eliminate loans as a component of the financial aid package for families below a certain level of income, and/or limit the total debt for any student to a relatively low figure. Most schools cannot afford that level of financial support, but try to achieve student cost containment by keeping their tuition, room and board costs lower, by extending institutional aid to a very high percentage of their students, by increasing the financial aid allocations in their budgets, by offering on-campus student jobs and, to the extent feasible, use scholarship endowment to help in their efforts. The schools also try to protect students by discouraging private and imprudent loans.
None of this is likely news to you, but it is noteworthy concerning the importance of accessibility as an issue that implicitly (12), or explicitly (61), or in all, 73 of the 104 applicants planned to use any financial award for permanent scholarship endowment, often with stated preferences for use with first generations, the financially needy, or with other populations for whom access may require an economic boost.
On the specific issue of respective levels of student debt, our review of the responsive data quickly led us to conclude that different schools had interpreted our questions in differing ways making accurate comparisons difficult and somewhat speculative. To a degree, this difficulty can be ascribed to a lack of precision on our part in creating the application. We had hoped to determine (1) the average amount of student debt each school’s students incurred over the course of their undergraduate career on which debt the students were the sole obligor, primary obligor, or co-obligor; (2) to the extent known by the school, the average amount of education-related debt each school’s students’ families incurred over the course of the student’s undergraduate career, on which debt the family was the sole obligor or primary obligor; and (3) again to the extent known, the total amount of education-related debt incurred by each student and by each student’s family, taken together, over the course of the student’s undergraduate career. We should have stated our purpose more clearly.
This being said, it also strikes us that there appears to be a lack of uniformity in the ways schools collect data concerning student debt, and/or in what is included in student debt calculations, and/or in the way the debt calculations are made. Certainly, should we do a follow up Excellence Award cycle, we would hope to discuss this issue with a representative group of eligible schools with the hope of establishing a common understanding on how best to obtain comparable student debt data from all schools and to identify exactly how the schools should calculate the data to be most meaningful.
CAREER PREPARATION/JOB PLACEMENT
The issue of “career-related education” seems to provoke both passionate and eloquent defenses of the long term career benefits of a liberal arts and sciences education as well as soul-searching concerning what can be done to enhance the marketability of the liberal arts and sciences education in the existing and evolving job and career marketplace.
The defense of liberal arts and sciences as an excellent career foundation centered on the intangible and transferable skills and the other intellectual, personal and social benefits which are believed to flow from a liberal arts and sciences foundation. Among these intangible skills and benefits which were collectively discussed were intellectual/communication skills (critical thinking, analytical and empirical reasoning, clear verbal and written expression, problem identification, problem solving, careful reading, ability to deal with complexity), intellectual characteristics (creativity, innovation, originality, curiosity, aesthetic and artistic appreciation, flexibility and fluidity, attentiveness, practical idealism), intellectual possessions (broad knowledge, global perspective, world understanding, language competencies, technological literacy, quantitative literacy, research capacity), personal attributes (leadership, ethical behavior, integrity, perseverance, resilience, dedication to service, self-motivation, entrepreneurship, responsibility), and social skills (teamwork, collaboration). The theme was college education as a foundation for a lifetime not just as skill preparation for a first job.
Running against this theme was an acknowledgment (1) of criticisms of the liberal arts education model, (2) of the importance employers place on previous relevant experience, and (3) of the benefits students can gain from experiences outside the classroom. Almost a quarter of the presidents’ letters spoke unabashedly concerning reform/revitalization of curriculum, comprehensive evaluation and self-assessment of programs and services, new models and narratives for the liberal arts education, redefinition of the role of liberal arts colleges in launching students into careers, the need to reexamine priorities, and the need for significant and aggressive steps to enhance prospects after graduation.
The acknowledgement of criticism of the liberal arts education model was articulated in various ways. Among other comments, there was discussion of people (outside the academic community) believing liberal arts are not relevant and do not facilitate career preparedness, a “public policy tilt toward more direct, pre-professional undergrad focus,” “the increasingly vocationally-oriented higher-ed marketplace,” “the perception of higher ed as a simple exchange of values – tuition for career prep,” and “pressure to demonstrate that (the liberal arts) brand of education ultimately provides access to jobs and employment security.” While there was stated commitment on the part of liberal arts schools not to “vocationalize learning” and not to elevate “short-term employability. . . over long-term outcomes,” there was also commitment to (seek) “non-traditional ways of pursing the liberal arts mission,” “identify existing pilots and/or best practices with promise for liberal arts schools,” “reimagine a liberal arts education,” “redefine the role of liberal arts colleges in launching students into careers,” and to support “initiatives and programs bridging curriculum and career.” Some of this probably flows from the job shortages brought about during our recent (current) recession.
One thing is clear. Schools throughout the Carnegie Classification spectrum, from the Liberal Arts and Sciences focus schools at one end to the Professional and Specific focus institutions at the other end, all take career-relevance seriously and, basically, are all attempting to take concrete steps to enhance both the short-term and long-term career opportunities of their graduating students. There also seems to be a very broad consensus about the strategies to be pursued to enhance students’ chances for successful, rewarding careers.
Overwhelmingly, the most mentioned strategy was to increase the commitment to, and support of, Experiential Learning. There were lots of names attached to the concept of Experiential Learning including “High Impact Experiences,” “Out-of-Classroom Experiences,” “Career Related Experiences,” “Real-World Learning,” etc., but, in essence, the goal is to increase access to internships, externships, faculty-student research opportunities, programs of community service, clinical practice, relevant work experience and other non-classroom work/learning experiences. Fully three-quarters of the responding presidents explicitly referred to Experiential Learning as a career-related education focus, and also as a major aspect of the schools’ programs to improve integration of the schools’ curriculum with development of career plans. As a matter of fact, roughly one-third of the presidents’ proposed to use the Excellence Awards’ cash payment to support students during their experiential learning opportunities. Several schools have, or are creating, experiential learning requirements.
Along with this commitment to experiential learning, many see a need to strengthen and/or reorganize career services, often within a Career Center. The discussion went beyond a catalogue of common career center services (i.e., job search skills, counseling, career focus, workshops, enhanced web-based services, networking opportunities, etc.) to indicate a more comprehensive approach often beginning freshman year and carrying right through senior year. The strategies commonly included early advising/coaching on goal identification and efforts to better coordinate curriculum choices with career goals and to better monitor progress toward identified goals. The pattern is to more intentionally treat undergraduate school as a four year “gateway” to post-graduate life.
Additional frequently mentioned strategies were increased interdisciplinary programming, increased emphasis on off-campus-study/global exposure, more leadership training and entrepreneurship programming, and overall better integration of academics with community life, practical world experience, and post-grad plans. For professionally focused schools there was an emphasis on establishing employer relationship programs which would allow real world input into curriculum planning in order to provide relevant pre-professional majors and specific job skills in demand in the local, regional, national and global economies. Often this translated into more focus on the challenges and opportunities created by technological innovation and more focus on S.T.E.M. disciplines.
The overall sense that is left by the collective input is that greater integration of classroom and practical experience, theory and practice, intellectual and character development, is the path to better student outcomes and a more rewarding and satisfying undergraduate experience. There is also the sense that such integration need not compromise and, in fact, will probably enhance the traditional educational methodologies, and that the integration is part of a deepening commitment to achieve demonstrable student outcomes and, when necessary, a lengthening of that commitment beyond the traditional four year undergraduate program. It appears that career-relatedness is being taken very seriously by every school that applied for the Excellence Award.
STUDENT EMPLOYMENT OUTCOMES
AS REFLECTED IN SURVEY RESPONSES
Perhaps due to shortcomings in the way the requests for information concerning graduates’ employment/grad school results were framed, or perhaps due to a broad diversity in the vigor with which and/or the methods by which the applicant schools approach the collection of information concerning employment/grad school results, or perhaps due to both, we found the data in this area to be the weakest and most inconsistent of all the data elicited by our application form. For roughly half of the schools it was unclear precisely what the percentage survey response was. In a few instances there were no responsive surveys. There were several instances where we could not correlate the employment results cited in the Presidents’ letters with the specific data provided in the applications.
There were, fortunately, about 15% of the schools that were able to report good survey response percentages, with 8 schools actually reporting responses from over 90% of their graduates and other schools indicating high, but unspecified, response rates. These schools demonstrate that if job/career outcome surveys are taken seriously and pursued with discipline and diligence, the information can be secured. But several important questions remain.
The first question is whether schools should be expected to pursue job/career outcome information in a disciplined and diligent manner. Stated differently, should potential student applicants and the parents of those potential applicants reasonably expect detailed job/career outcome data to be available during the college selection process and will the inability to provide such outcome data prove to be a competitive disadvantage against those schools that can? If the answer to the first question is yes, then the second question is when should the outcome data be pursued and obtained? Six months out? One year out? Five years out? Twenty years out? All of the above? Some of the above? What time frame(s) are most relevant? Once a decision is made on the timing of outcome surveys, the third question is what information should be elicited and in what detail. The next questions are what is the appropriate follow up to an outcome survey and what is an acceptable survey response percentage. Finally, there are the questions of whether schools should develop a more common approach to this enterprise so that those schools that choose to pursue the job/career outcome data issue diligently can come to agreement on best practices and pursue the information in basically the same way.
As may be obvious given our request for job/grad school data, the Alden Trustees consider the requested data relevant and important not only to us but also to potential students and their families. We also believe that the information should be important to our eligible schools and institutions. The information serves as a measurement tool of a school’s performance in successfully readying its students for their future professional challenges, and as a demonstration of a school’s interest in its graduates’ professional outcomes. The information may also serve to justify in a quantifiable fashion “the private school premium.”
In terms of the mechanics and timing of the outcome data gathering process, we realize that reasonable people can and will differ. Some of you have eloquently articulated that your mission is to prepare students for productive careers and not to focus on an initial job. Others of you focus very seriously on imparting job specific skills responsive to current market demands. We do not quarrel with either perspective, and we conclude that outcome information gathered shortly after graduation and outcome information gathered further out are both important and relevant. We also conclude that a greater level of consensus on the mechanics, timing and best practices for obtaining job/career outcome data would benefit all your schools, your student applicants, your students and your graduates.
We encourage broader and more effective efforts and more uniformity in approach in graduate outcome data gathering. You may have thoughts on how best to approach the issue. If you do, we would welcome your input.
THE FUTURE OF THE EXCELLENCE AWARD
The Excellence Award process continues to be a terrific learning opportunity for the Alden Trustees. Thanks to the thought and effort the participating schools put into their respective applications, we have been able to gain a lot of knowledge about your core values, your institutional strategies, your points of emphasis, your retention programs, your cost and student debt programs, your programs to help students in their professional endeavors, your outcome data, and your statistical performance on a number of fronts. We know that this wealth of information has provided us with insights into your collective and individual endeavors and has given us a better appreciation of what you have in common and what makes each of your schools unique in your missions, inputs, goals, methods and outcomes.
Looking back, we also know that this process has involved a lot at your end. We also know that leading up to the end of the October deadline you and your staffs put in a tremendous amount of effort to pull together the data and narratives needed to complete the application, including the excellent presidents’ letters.
There are certainly aspects of the application that could have been done better to eliminate ambiguities and, especially in the area of post-graduate outcome data, to better draw out the career data at your disposal and the survey practices and the other alumni follow up practices that would best allow worthwhile job and career outcome analysis and comparisons. We feel that the ambiguity and shortcomings in the student debt and career outcome measurements areas of the application questionnaire limited their usefulness to us and resulted in a stronger than originally intended focus on persistence and graduation rates.
One sad aspect of the Award process is that only a few were honored whereas many are doing excellent jobs with their students in getting them through to degrees and in providing them with the tools, values and skills that will enable them to succeed in their short-term and/or long-term pursuits. Offsetting that sadness was the encouragement we took from the response to the George I. Alden Excellence in Career-Related Education Award, which was a new special initiative for the Trust in our 2012 100th anniversary year. At this time, we have come to no conclusion about offering it again at some point in the future. In the meantime, you may be assured of our deep interest in the questions the Award sought to answer and our commitment to seeking valuable ways of supporting innovative and leading edge practices that result in student success in college and in life.
 It should be noted that for many applicant schools, SAT (and/or ACT) scores are not required as part of the student application process. The percentage of students that submitted SAT scores was considered in our overall analysis, but not in the actual calculation of the applicant schools’ average SAT scores.
 We have assumed that the data concerning family incomes was largely, if not entirely, based on those families of students who applied for and/or received aid. Therefore, we assume that the higher the percentage of student aid, the more accurate the average family income data reflects the student body as a whole. We also assume that the lower the % of students aided, the more the average student aid data understates the actual student body family income as a whole.
 We realize that the questions concerning percentages and average amounts of student debt and family debt presented challenges and that data collection is a problem. It appears most schools only reported federal debt, and that much information concerning private debt incurred by families and/or students is undoubtedly opaque to the applicant schools.
 It was also clear to us that different schools were operating under different assumptions in providing average student debt calculations. We did the best we could to decipher those assumptions and to compare apples with apples to the extent possible. These figures reflect and include our interpretive efforts.