Friday, May 29, 2009

Going the Extra Mile

May 29, 2009- I sometimes tell the story of my own experience at my high school guidance office. It’s not an unusual story. It’s not a shocker. There’s no punchline. And for people my age or older, it’s pretty much a common experience.

Here we are, years later and the role of college counseling has taken a new form. Higher credentials, enhanced training, and professional resources have all helped counselors become better prepared for a career in school counseling. The career path to the guidance office is much more prescribed than it had been only a few short decades ago. The close-to-retired teacher burned out from the classroom isn’t getting the desk job any more.

Unfortunately, the caseload for a guidance counselor continues to escalate as more students are placed on a college-bound path, especially as college planning now starts with freshman in some districts. Fortunately, technology, like the platforms provided by ConnectEDU, is designed to help counselors better manage the volume of students they are assigned. It gets them out of the paperwork business and back into the counseling business. That has been our shared goal since day one.

Progressive counselors are putting in the extra effort to take full advantage of what technology can do to make their job more manageable. Counselors at Lisbon High School in Maine, Del Valle High School in Texas, and Midland High School in Michigan are just a few of our 2,000+ high schools making a difference with their students by fully implementing ConnectEDU’s technology. The adoption of our platforms is just one indicator of how high schools are changing their approach to helping students transition to college and careers.

Even more evident to how far college counseling has come, we need just look to David Coates, another counselor in our national network who is dedicated to his students’ success. From Kenmore East High School in Tonawanda, New York, David not only provides the extra effort in the office to help kids, he’s challenging himself outside the office. David is riding his bicycle from Buffalo to New York City for the annual State Conference for the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling (NYSACAC). David has already raised $10,000 for one of the organization's flagship programs, Camp College. Camp College is a three-day weekend residential campus experience for traditionally underserved students who are first generation college-bound, and/or students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The program provides additional advice and guidance to students beginning the college process.

ConnectEDU salutes David and his colleagues and wishes his team best of luck as they go the extra mile, literally, to help students realize their dreams.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect?

May 24, 2009- Growing up, in the fall it wasn’t unusual to see me tackling a football dummy a 100 times, if you consider a tire swing a tackling dummy. In the winter, it wasn’t uncommon to find me on a wrestling mat for hours on end, even if the mat was actually my parents’ worn basement carpet. I loved sports and I learned early on, the only way to be the best I could was to practice, even after coach’s practice. And then practice some more. Like they say, perfect practice makes perfect.

Arguably, the same holds true for academics. If you don’t show up for class, if you don’t finish your homework, if you don’t study for exams, you’re not (unless you’re a phenom) going to carry the best GPA. Colleges have understood that for decades and that is why schools use GPA as a benchmark for admissions. No news there. But another benchmark that has raised a few eyebrows is standardized testing. Such tests beg the question, does an exam predict that a teenager will be a success in college or does it mean that a teenager can or cannot test well? Some colleges believe the latter and have removed scores from their admission formulas. Others have data to prove that a higher score indicates a higher college grade point average.

As long as colleges insist that test scores provide insight into student success, taking the SAT or ACT will continue to be a rite of passage in the going to college process for millions of high schoolers each year. It’s no surprise an industry has evolved to help students prepare for these tests. Students take the prep courses to improve their scores, and data proves that scores improve.

This week, the National Association for College Admission Counseling released an analysis on the impact of test prep, a recurring debate between college admission officers, high school counselors and test prep providers. The report confirms that scores improve. But some ask are they significant enough to justify the investment? Ask a valedictorian-soccer playing-first chair trumpet-class president with a 3.955 GPA and 1750 SAT who’s applying to a selective college alongside the next valedictorian-soccer playing-first chair trumpet-class president with a 3.955 GPA and 1730 SAT. Depends on whom you ask.

Reporting the results, points out several suggestions from the report: “Colleges are urged to avoid using the SAT and other tests in ways for which they aren’t intended. And test takers are cautioned against expecting too much of an impact from test prep.”

At ConnectEDU, we recognize that standardized test scores are currently ingrained in the college admission process. Until they become obsolete, students will continue practicing for the exams. Students with means will afford the formalized test prep programs. Others, with less resources, will turn to the internet or the library for the tools to practice. Still others will simply show up on exam day if they don’t have plans. Like many processes in college admissions, without democratization of resources, socio-economics becomes the more glaring indicator of student success.

Fortunately, college recruiting has entered a new age fueled by technology. Our platforms (free to students) give students a method to communicate their competencies and tell their story. The more students can tell colleges about themselves in the most efficient manner, the less colleges will rely on standardized tests. Until that day, students will continue to take the exams. Test Prep providers will continue to offer services for those who have the means. And students will continue to practice in hopes of getting a better score. And we’ll do our best to deliver the best possible preparation resources that we can deliver to our students as cost-effectively as possible. In the world of test prep, practice might not make perfect, but it surely makes a difference.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

CDU Team Member Sings Anthem at Fenway

May 20, 2009- There has been another star sighting at CDU. Jeff Alderson, Director of Product Management, was spotted singing in front of a large crowd again. This time not as part of the acapella group that was a Top Five Finalist in the CBS News Early Show/Boyz II Men Acappella Competition, or as the main act at the CDU Christmas party.

This time, Alderson along with a group of alums from the WPI Glee Club, sang the National Anthem in front of a packed house at Fenway Park. Congrats Jeff!

Check out the video

Friday, May 15, 2009

MA Invests in Students

May 15, 2009- True story. “Johnny T. (aka JT)” is an honors student from the south of Boston. He lives in a small rental with his mother and two younger brothers. Dad left 13 years ago. His mother never stops reminding her boys to put school first. She’s not very helpful with calculus homework, but she certainly helps them understand the importance of an education, even though no one in her family went to college.

JT’s guidance counselor saw his GPA during their “Fall meeting” of JT’s senior year. JT’s counselor made sure he handed him a few state college view books. He recommended that instead of a community college, he should consider a 4-year school. He then prepared for the next 150 seniors he was scheduled to meet. Without much thought, JT graduated and enrolled at the closest suburban 4-year public so he could commute in under 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, JT didn’t adjust to being one of 8,000 students trekking across 200 acres. He’d never been in a class with 125 students before. And he quickly learned that his peers’ idea of “student life” was much different than the church retreats he and his brothers enjoyed.

After a tough semester, JT struck up a conversation with one of his mom’s friends. She started to tell JT about a small, faith-based private college in his hometown. With the help of his mom’s friend, he met with the financial aid office, transferred some of his credits, and enrolled as a sophomore… he finally found his fit. Unfortunately, it cost him a lot of time, money and experiences that couldn’t be recovered.

This is an all too common story… and one that fails everyone involved- JT, his over-worked & under-supported counselor, the public college that lost tuition revenue, and the private college that missed out on enrolling JT as a freshman. Roughly 45% of college students transfer from their initial college w/in the first-two years of arrival. An astonishing statistic that highlights the extent of a broken system for all involved.

MEFA (Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority) in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and the Department of Education, have partnered with ConnectEDU to build the Massachusetts College & Career Planning Web Portal. Through this technology, students in Massachusetts schools will be provided web-based tools to make sure they have the information, resources, and guides to identify and learn about colleges that are a best fit for them. The MEFA web portal ensures that all students in Massachusetts, including lower income and underserved populations, have access to college and career planning assistance and mentoring required to make more informed decisions about their future.

In addition, the Massachusetts College & Career Planning Web Portal is being built so that it has full interoperability with ConnectEDU’s existing college and career planning solutions. This will provide students with even greater access to the MEFA tools as well as the benefits of the ConnectEDU National Network. Great stuff!

What does this mean for students like Johnny’s younger brothers? It means figuring out what they want to be “when they grow up”… and how to achieve their goals. It means being introduced to college preparation and colleges as early as the 7th grade. It means building relationships with colleges and employers to truly find the right “fit” and optimal career path.

But more than anything, it means “fixing” a broken process! It’s a new era in college recruitment and admissions in Massachusetts. At ConnectEDU, we’re looking forward to helping more students across the state invest in their future as we help Massachusetts invest in its students.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How's Business

May 9, 2009- I am often asked, “How’s business?” If I’m at a cocktail party…how’s business. If I am back home at my folks house…how’s business. Even if I’m in the barber’s chair…how’s business. Despite the state of the economy, I’ve been extremely fortunate over the past 7 years to be able to answer positively, usually with a quick anecdote.

During good economic times, I told the story about a Connect! parent, who used our technology for tutorials about financial aid options, which opened the door to allow his son to apply to a prestigious private college in the Northeast. When the economy faltered, I told the story of how a college partner recruited a student without having to spend the thousands of dollars executing their slick communication funnel. Either way, our business is always about putting families in the center of the solution to help them make better-informed decisions.

Recently, our local ABC affiliate asked how’s business. Even more specifically, they wanted to know how a web-based company like ConnectEDU is thriving in the midst of a national recession. Channel 5’s Chronicle news program featured ConnectEDU and the services we provide to high schools and colleges. For those of you who wonder what ConnectEDU does on a daily basis, the segment is a perfect summary of how we are solving a problem that challenges college applicants year after year.

In a time when budgets are being cut, staff is being reduced, and education leaders are seeking solutions to streamline their processes, ConnectEDU is finding its niche. While other major industries, such as banking, finance, travel, and hospitality, are turning to the internet to transform their business operations, high schools and colleges are now embracing web solutions to help their students.

Seven years ago we imagined a time when colleges would use the web to meet students they targeted with customized information. Seven years ago we imagined a time when student data would flow securely between education institutions to break the existing administrative barriers. The time is now and ConnectEDU is the solution helping make it possible, in good times and in bad.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Tale of Two Students

May 1, 2009- For most of 2009’s college bound-seniors, the nerve-wracking trips to the mailbox are finally over. The rejection letters are no longer visible, yet their sting still lingers. Some acceptances are being framed. A few have made it to the graduation scrapbooks. And others still hang on the fridge. It’s now just a matter of a million plus students deciding where they’ll find themselves when summer ends.

For many, it’s been a long journey culminating in years of planning, prudent decisions, and plenty of support. For others it’s been a few months of capricious choices, cumbersome paperwork and “let’s get this over with”. College planning in America is still a paradox among youth transitions. Unfortunately, this scenario is not the norm for all students.

A recent report released by the Joyce Ivy Foundation focused on Ohio, one state in America, to demonstrate not only the disparity between the services students receive, but to show how the college and career planning process, as it stands today, needs more focus, added attention and an improved system “democratization”.

According to the report, at a private school a student is likely to receive almost three times the amount of time with a counselor on college planning than at a public. Even more surprising, public high school counselors say they spend a little more than a quarter of their time helping students with college counseling. Maybe because according to NACAC, the national average is now reaching 500 students to every one counselor. And with budget cuts looming, this ratio isn’t likely to improve even with a shrinking student demographic. Who pays the price?

Meet Rachael, a senior at a regional high school in a metro suburb. She shares her counselor with 440 other students. She might appear to be distracted when she’s thinking about what color prom dress to buy or whom she can get to cover her Saturday shift at Applebee’s. But never does a minute go by that she is not trying to figure out what she’s going to do in the Fall. She’s deciding if she should apply her full Pell grant to cover all costs at the local community college as an undecided freshman or use her credit cards to finance the heftier tuition for the nursing program. Too bad she didn’t know she could have qualified for a waiver if she had enrolled in A&P and earned a better Chemistry grade.

Meet Justin, a senior at an all-boys private high school. He is one of 25 seniors his counselor supports. He might look distracted with band practice or the town wiffleball league he founded. But, never does a minute go by that he is not struggling with his admission decision; even when his parents aren’t cornering him in his room where they find him studying for his calculus test. He is trying to decide if he “accepts” at the large public state university with a $4,500 annual scholarship that pays half his tuition and membership in the Honors Program or does he go to the elite private college, in Washington DC, where he has received no aid and a $45,000 tuition bill.

Ironically, as this report was being publicized, ConnectEDU was in Ohio connecting with our many high school counselors at the Ohio Association of College Admission Counseling Conference. In addition to touching base with our district partners from Cincinnati, Dayton, and Cleveland – who are committed to improving this process- we introduced our college and career planning solutions to help reverse the trend that the Foundation pointed out. We continue to show counselors how they can find more time to work with their students on planning & preparation – whether they’re at a private or public school.

Our mission is to fix a broken system in order to benefit students and those who serve them. With more time, perhaps counselors may have set Rachael on a curriculum plan that included Anatomy & Physiology during her junior year. Or even shown Justin and his parents how to manage college finances long before senior year. ConnectEDU’s solutions can help.

These are just two kids out of millions struggling to decide what their future holds. Clearly, the economy in which we find ourselves isn’t making the decision any easier this year – for both sides of the spectrum. For many seniors, things are going as planned. For others, the plan has yet to be mapped out. Unless we do something to improve the system for students (all students) as they plan their future, college decision season will continue to be the best of times, and the worst of times… depending on who you ask.