Senioritis

It’s getting to be that time of year.  High school seniors are so DONE with school.  Graduation is so close, it feels like they can reach out and touch it.  They are down to their last few months with friends – often lifelong friends – who will scatter in all directions come fall (maybe even summer).  Time is precious, and priorities are conflicted.  “Good thing,” they think, “my college admission letter is safe in hand.  At least I don’t need to worry about THAT any more.  Now I can relax.”  Well, not really.

Each summer I have the sad responsibility of rescinding admission for students who have experienced a serious downturn in senior year performance.  Sometimes this means that they fail key core classes, without which they no longer meet minimal academic expectations.  Sometimes it simply means that their senior year grade point average is significantly below the GPA that they presented at the point they were admitted.  Either way, their performance moves from an admissible level to an inadmissible level.  And we simply cannot ignore it.   In all fairness to the students who maintain their performance throughout senior year, and in fairness to the students we denied earlier in the application cycle, we simply cannot look the other way.  In addition, we know that serious downturns in performance often continue into freshman year in college.  A downturn in performance automatically makes a student “high risk.”  There’s no way we can condone the performance, and ignoring it would do just that.  We have to rescind.

Believe me, we understand the angst that this causes for students and their families, and rescinding admission is not a decision we make lightly.  Rescinding admission means a mad scramble to make alternate plans at short notice.  Choices are often limited.  And, well, it’s embarrassing. 

But it happens.  It happens virtually every year.   It happens all around the UW System (and at private colleges too, I imagine).  Yet, there still seems to be a general perception (among students, at least)  that senioritis is OK…as long as your college admission letter is safely in hand.

If you are a school counselor reading this entry, feel free to cut and paste this into your next senior newsletter.  Tell your students you got this from a 25+ year admissions veteran:  senioritis is NOT acceptable, and the impact can be significant.  Tell your students that we will be requesting final high school transcripts after graduation, and we will be examining every single one of them.  And if we see a serious downturn, we will have no choice but to respond accordingly.

The best cure for senioritis is a dose of reality.

On another note, and I would be remiss not to mention this:  some students encounter legitimately traumatic experiences during senior year that have a negative impact on performance…things that are beyond their control, and disrupt even the most determined efforts to succeed.  In those cases, school counselors can help by letting us know what is going on.  Whether it’s UW-Green Bay or another school, if there’s something we should know about that has impacted senior year performance, give the admissions director a call or drop an email.  Help us to understand the background, and tell us your opinion about how the student would have performed had the event/situation not impacted performance.  Having this perspective can make a world of difference.

Counseling the Detour

I once said that counseling denied students was one of the most satisfying parts of my job.  Certainly not because it’s fun.  Often it’s anything but.  Nevertheless, when a student comes to see a denial as a detour, rather than a dead-end, the situation is often redeemed.

I should first make sure it is clear that denying an applicant is not a decision that is made lightly.  We understand the sort of trauma that often accompanies the decision.  Lives are changed by that decision.  Tears will fall.  Anger will (sometimes) rise.  It’s hard on a young person to feel rejected.  We know all that, and consequently weigh our decisions very carefully.

The bottom line, when we do deny admission to an applicant, is that we really feel that the student does not have a reasonable chance of success at our institution given the evidence of previous performance.  We do not operate under the philosophy that “everyone deserves a chance to fail.”  Rather, we strive to admit students who have a reasonable chance of success in our specific environment.  If we believe that a student will not be successful here, we do not think we are doing a favor by admitting that student, no matter how intense their desire to be admitted. 

Having said that, I would go back to the concept that this decision can definitely be viewed as a detour, not a dead end.  Remember, I said that our decision is based on the evidence of previous performance.  This suggests that it is possible to pursue a course that allows for new evidence to be developed. 

Most often, when we coach a student regarding options, we suggest that they enroll in another post-secondary environment to earn transferrable course work.  This can be a 2-year UW College, a WTCS campus, or a local satellite campus of another college.  Their task while at that institution will be to change the evidenceregarding their ability to succeed in a post-secondary environment.  Generally, once a student has earned at least 15 transferrable credits with a reasonable level of success, we will reconsider them for admission.  For most students, that is not a lengthy detour.  Helping them to see that starts the mental transition from “dead end” to “detour.” 

This process of changing the evidence may be made necessary by a couple of different things.  One typical profile of a student who is not granted admission is that of a person who has terrific test scores but a very low GPA.  What this tells us is that the student has great potential, but has not used that potential in the past.  When we “coach the detour” for those students, we’re looking for evidence that s/he has become willing to apply that great potential to achieve better grades.  Another typical profile is that of a student who has achieved marginal success in academics (shown by grades and/or test scores), and who may benefit from additional preparation in an academic setting.  Some weaker students benefit from starting college in an environment where freshman class sizes are lower, for instance, and which allow for closer contact with their teachers.  There are also the students who “are just not good test takers.”  We hear that a lot.  The reality of college, however, is that grades (especially in the freshman year) are heavily weighted on a handful of timed tests (in an environment where “extra credit” is virtually unheard of to compensate for low test scores).  If a student in that situation is coached through a detour, the experience will help to provide evidence that they have learned to test successfully in a high-pressure, timed environment.  Or, the experience may get them further along in their academic career to a point that their grades become more project- and research-based.

Whatever the initial reason for the denial, the option of proving one’s ability to succeed in a different environment may help encourage a student.  The key is to make sure they have a plan. 

When I coach the detour with a student, the first thing we do is to decide which environment is most appropriate for them – UW College, WTCS, or another local college.  Then, using TIS (for UW colleges or WTCS), we actually choose courses that will 1) transfer, 2) apply toward General Education requirements, and 3) build needed skills.  We talk about whatever needs to be done to get started at that school, and we talk – in very specific terms – about what the ONE NEXT STEP is.  That keeps in manageable for most students.  Finally, I invite the student to get in touch with me when it’s time to take the step after that.  And the step after that.  And so on.  Most importantly, before the student leaves my office, I ask, “Do you feel like you have a plan?”  If they say no, we go back to whatever point is causing the confusion. 

When the student says, “Yes, I have a plan,” we can both feel good about the fact that the “dead end” has become a “detour.”

Thoughts on “A Higher Calling”

Perhaps the coming of a new year has made me thoughtful.  Perhaps it was attending UW-Green Bay’s commencement ceremony in December.  Perhaps it was a phone conversation earlier in the week during which I was able to reassure an applicant that a documented learning disability is not a cause for embarrassment. 

Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking about what it means to make one’s life in the realm of education.  I’ve been thinking about having a “higher calling” that involves changing lives, rather than making money for corporate executives.  And in thinking about it, I’ve come to a renewed apprciation for the privilege of working in higher education.

Commencement.  December 19.  As I sat in the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, surrounded by beaming family members, graduates, and university personnel decked out in academic regalia, I found myself truly moved by what was happening.  At UW-Green Bay, well over half of our students are first-generation (that is, neither parent has earned a college degree).  What an amazing thing to be part of that kind of life change!  These students, decked out in those silly-looking mortarboards, will probably experience dramatically different lives than their parents…because of their college degree.  For many of these students, the pride of college graduation is as acute for the parents and family members as it is for the student.  These parents have dreamed of this moment, just as their sons and daughters have.  And I got to be a part of it.  It doesn’t matter that those people don’t know my name or know what I do.  The fact that I’m part of this organization is enough.  That is so much more satisfying than feeding a corporate bottom line. 

If you are reading this and work in the field of education,  take a moment now and then to reflect on your own “higher calling.”  Clearly, careers in education can be fraught with frustration, politics, budget problems, and challenges too numerous to list.  However, though we may  never get rich in our chosen careers, each of us who has the privilege of changing lives through education would do well to remember that changing a life is priceless.

The Phoenix Men Follow Suit

Phoenix Drops Badgers, 88-84, in Overtime Thriller

Bryquis Perine (Milwaukee, Wis.) scored a career-high 22 points as Green Bay beat Wisconsin (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) 88-84 in overtime on Wednesday night in front of a sellout crowd at the Resch Center. It was the second straight victory against a top-25 team (No. 11 Butler on Feb. 2, 2009) for the Phoenix and just the fourth ever for the Green Bay program.

The Badgers came into Wednesday’s game with a 15-0 all-time record against Green Bay and the Phoenix was just 2-32 against schools from the Big Ten prior to the contest.

The Phoenix outplayed the Badgers throughout the evening, as Wisconsin had just four leads during the contest and never had more than a two-point advantage.

Five Phoenix players scored double figures. Rahmon Fletcher (Kansas City, Mo.) had 18 points for the Phoenix (9-2), who held off a second-half surge by the Badgers and took control in overtime.

Randy Berry (Plover, Wis.) registered his fifth career double and third this season, with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Fellow seniors Troy Cotton (Milwaukee, Wis.) had 15 points and Cordero Barkley (Racine, Wis.) added 11.

Green Bay students swarmed in the middle of the court — but left their seats a little too early, as referees were putting 1 second back on the clock. After returning to their seats, students retook the court to celebrate.

Trevon Hughes scored a career-high 27 points for the Badgers (6-2) but fouled out in overtime.Wisconsin jumped into the rankings after knocking off Duke last week.

–GreenBayPhoenix.com–

Women’s Basketball Victory against UW-Madison!

From our faculty/staff eletter today….  Great accomplishment!

Phoenix beats the Badgers, 60-58
The regular season winning streak is now 22, as the UW-Green Bay women’s basketball team held off a late run by the UW-Madison Badgers, Tuesday (Nov. 24) at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Phoenix never trailed, leading by double digits midway through the second half. But turnovers and cold shooting allowed the Big T1e1n Badgers to narrow the margin. With 2.5 seconds left, guard Alyssa Karel missed a base-line jumper that would have given the Badgers the lead. Phoenix freshman Adrian Ritchie was fouled on the rebound and made one of two free throws to seal the victory.

Prof. Gurung is Wisconsin Professor of the Year

UW-Green Bay Prof. Regan A. R. Gurung of Human Development and Psychology was formally recognized Thursday (November 19), as the Wisconsin Professor of the Year. The recognition came from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching at an event in Washington, D.C. The award honors undergraduate teachers who excel as educators and influence the lives and careers of their students. A member of the UW-Green Bay faculty since 1999, Gurung is well known for knowing each of his students by name, even in classes held in large lecture halls. He also is highly involved in independent projects with students and provides a number of opportunities for student research. Some of these efforts have led to undergraduate student presentations at regional and national conferences. Gurung takes the “craft” of teaching seriously. He co-directs UW-Green Bay’s Teaching Scholars program, which works with both new and tenured faculty in a yearlong program to improve teaching and research that can potentially be published and shared with others. He serves on the UW System Office of Professional and Instructional Development Executive Committee that works to improve teaching across the entire UW System. He has published extensively in areas of teaching and pedagogy. He has edited books, including Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind and Getting Culture: Incorporating Diversity Across the Curriculum, along with numerous journal articles on teaching and pedagogy research. He has also authored a major text on health psychology titled Health Psychology: A Cultural Approach. Gurung received “fellow” designation from the American Psychological Association in 2008. The University’s Founders Association recognized him twice, in 2007 as the University’s best in scholarship, and in 2004 as its best in teaching.

Prepping for the Future

Do your students seem to think that it will be forever before they start a career?  It’s not, really – only a few short years.  The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay can help your students get from here to there, from now to then!  We have academic programs that prepare students for good careers, and that’s what many of them are looking for, isn’t it?

 UW-Green Bay has many features that help graduates get good jobs:

  • Real-world experience – many of our students get professional experience before graduation.  Our students have done marketing with the Green Bay Packers, accounting with Wisconsin Public Service, food science with Schreiber Foods, media relations with the Green Bay Blizzard…just to name a few.
  • Hands-on projects – Lots of classes at UW-Green Bay include projects that help students apply what they learn in class to real-life projects.  They might do a marketing audit of a local company.  Work with a professor to analyze water quality in Green Bay.  Create art for a juried exhibit.  The possibilities are endless. 
  • Opportunities to lead – UW Green Bay is a smaller campus, which means that anyone who wants to get involved can do it.  This includes music, theatre, intramurals, student government, service organizations…you name it.  Did you know that one of our students actually helped make the arrangements when David Cook performed at UW-Green Bay?  That’s great resume material.
  • Travel and exchange programs – Our students can spend a month, semester, or year in another place.  UW-Green Bay has lots of opportunities!  They could go to to Florence, Italy for a semester (I wish I could!), or to Paris for two weeks.  They will have opportunities to experience the world, and come back better prepared to work in a global economy.
  • Professors who know them – This is something that high school students might think is a “no brainer” but it’s really not.  Small classes and professor contacts often happen more at small schools than at large ones.  UW-Green Bay grads talk a lot about how much they appreciate our faculty, and how much our faculty helped them have a great college experience.  A big plus: professors who know them can provide great recommendations when they look for a job.

 UW-Green Bay graduates get good jobs.  We have teachers, doctors, and veterinarians who are UW-Green Bay graduates.  Ditto for sportscasters and weather persons.  And attorneys and judges.  And accountants.  And nurses. And news writers.  And web developers.  And artists.  And musicians….  You get the picture. 

We’re proud of our graduates, and think the the “UW-Green Bay Experience” helps prepare them for success.  See the link for “Graduate Surveys” on the right side of your screen to connect to our alumni survey.  You’ll find a wealth of information there!

Opening Doors for Foster Youth

Ever been to a conference or professional meeting, and find that one of the sessions really sticks with you?  It happened to me last week.  The conference was for Admissions professionals and Registrars.  (The organization is called WACRAO – please no cracks about how it sounds like “wacko!”)  The session was called “Opening Doors to College for Foster Youth.” 

 Check out these YouTube videos, by a remarkable young lady who testified before Congress: Greta’s testimony part 1, Greta’s testimony part 2, and Greta’s testimony part 3.

At some level I had certainly understood about the challenges facing foster youth, especially as they “aged out” of the foster care system (which, in Wisconsin, happens at age 18).  What I didn’t realize was how astonishing some of the numbers are: on a national basis, foster youth are 20% less likely to graduate from high school and 40% less likely to attend postsecondary education than their non-foster peers.  Thing is, a majority – 64% – say they want to graduate from college (or beyond) when surveyed at age 17.

So, somewhere the dream dies.

And why wouldn’t it? 

Foster youth have a high probability of changing schools and of missing extensive amounts of school.  They often do not have in-home adults who value and promote higher education.  They are disproportionately low-income and/or homeless.  They perceive the cost of college as more of a barrier than it is in fact.  They often lack a stable, long-term relationship with an adult who can help them navigate the bureaucratic barriers often inherent in higher education.

Discouraging isn’t it?  Imagine how much more so for them.

There is some good news, though – we are in a position to help: “we” being you as school counselors, and “we” being those of us in college admissions.  How?  Well, first we in admissions need to know who these kids are – that’s where you can help, either by telling us (with permission, of course) or by encouraging the student to self-disclose in the applicant statement/essay.  Once the situation is identified, then we can proceed sensitively…taking into account the unique challenges inherent in the foster-youth experience.  This does not mean that we throw standards to the wind – but it does mean that we can look deeper into the student’s experience to better assess the student’s likelihood for success on campus.   Knowing circumstances can explain a lot, and can help us better translate prior experience into present potential. 

In addition, we can help the student to navigate the sometimes-tricky bureaucracy of higher education.  There are designated campus contacts in Wisconsin, at both the University of Wisconsin campuses and the Wisconsin independent colleges and universities.  Contact Denny Roark at UW HELP (denny.roark@learn.uwsa.edu) for the list.   (Contacts at the Wisconsin technical college campuses are forthcoming.) 

Let’s face it, we didn’t get into higher education for the money.  We are in the profession because we believe in the value of education and its potential for life transformation.  So, when the opportunity arises to truly change a life, most of us will welcome the opportunity.  Once a student is identified, we can get to know the student can become the “go-to” contact on campus.  Sometimes the saying holds true: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know….”  Most of us have been in higher ed (and on our campuses) long enough to know who to go to for what, and how to get things done.  Our expertise and familiarity with “the system” can help roadblocks become mere speedbumps. 

So, if you have a student who might benefit from a savvy campus contact, let us know.  Perhaps we can work together to make college a reality for another deserving student like Greta.  Isn’t that why we’re in this business?

Helpful links:

Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

Chaffee Foster Care Independence Act of 1999

McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act

Education and Training Vouchers (ETV)

DCF Scholarship Application

Orphan Foundation of America

Talent Incentive Program (TIP) Grant

Tips for Foster Youth Completing the FAFSA

Higher Education Act Reauthorization: Homeless and Foster Youth

Foster Club

Burger King, Viewbooks, and the Campus Visit

We’ve all had the experience.  It’s 5:30 p.m.  You’ve had a long, hard day at work.  You’ve gotten home and turned on the television.  It’s a Burger King ad.  And the burger is beautiful.  Perfection.  The lettuce and tomato are from God’s own garden.  The sesame seeds on the bun have clearly been individually placed with the utmost care.  There’s just a hint of steam rising, making it obvious that the burger is neither too hot nor too cold.  You can’t resist, so you run out to your nearest Burger King and order your burger.  When you get it, it’s smooshed, the lettuce is wilted, the tomato is definitely from a garden other than God’s, the bun is mangled, and it looks nothing like what you saw in the commercial.  Now, in all fairness, you may still love it.  It tastes great and totally hits the spot, and you are absolutely satisfied.  But it’s not quite like the picture.

 College viewbooks are like the Burger King ad.  Every campus is beautiful.  The weather is always good.  Students and professors are all uncommonly good looking…and always smiling.  (Clearly, no one ever fails an exam at that school.)  The residence halls resemble the Ritz.  The food looks like the fare at an upscale restaurant. 

 Let’s face it; all of us in higher education produce our viewbooks to show our best face.  It would be foolish to do otherwise.

 Which is why the campus visit is so important.  Until a prospective student actually visits a college campus, there’s no way to know what it’s really like.  Now, even if the experience of the campus visit shows a student that the weather isn’t always perfect, and the people aren’t all beautiful, and the food is mediocre, it may still be a perfect fit for that student – and it may cement the decision to go there.  In fact, the student might actually like it better because of the average-looking people and the reality of snow in the winter. 

 Or, the student might arrive at the campus to find that s/he simply does not feel comfortable there.  The reasons might be hard to define, but they are what they are.  It’s something that it’s better to know before enrolling.  We get calls all the time, one or two days into the semester, from frantic parents whose children have gone away to school and have found that they hate it there.  At that point it’s too late to start with us, and the student needs to decide whether to move home and sacrifice the semester of school, or tough it out and be unhappy.  (Or, best case scenario, the student might end up staying at the school and loving it.)  A campus visit doesn’t always pre-empt that sort of situation, but often it does.

 Today and tomorrow are Campus Preview Days at UW-Green Bay.  We’ll have close to 1,000 people here over the two days – it’s busy and crazy, but we couldn’t be happier.  We know that students who have visited are 1) more likely to enroll, and 2) more likely to stay.  It’s a win-win, if ever there was one. 

If you have students considering UW-Green Bay (or any other school, for that matter) who have not yet visited the campus, please encourage them to do so.  Encourage them to visit several campuses.  Students need a basis of comparison in order to make a good decision.  It’s OK to be a smart shopper when selecting a school.  Many years and much money are tied to the decision.  It’s never too early to learn a little Latin - caveat emptor – and to gain a little wisdom from a Burger King ad.

 [Credit goes to Dustin Thill, from the Admissions Office at St. Norbert College for the Burger King analogy.  Thanks Dustin for the brilliant idea!]

Balance

I don’t know about you, but there are some days I would rather not come to work.  I like my job and I’m reasonably good at it, but there are other things I like to do and am good at, too.  But the bottom line is this: my work has to be my priority.  It is what I have chosen to do, and it carries obligations.  Granted, it’s important to sometimes take time away and do that other stuff, but it just can’t be whenever I feel like it or just because I feel like it.  First things first, you know, and most days that means coming to work.

So, what’s the point? 

I got to thinking about this analogy because of a conversation I was having with a student.  It went something like this:

Me: “We like to see more rigor during senior year.”

Student: “But you said that extracurriculars were important.  I was in band (and went to state), three sports (and lettered in all of them), and I worked, too.  I didn’t want to load up too much with classes because I didn’t want my GPA to go down.”

Me: “Yes, we noticed your involvement, and actually your ‘engagement’ was a plus factor in our evaluation.  But that doesn’t make up for the fact that you could have – and should have – fit more college-prep classes into your senior schedule.  Lack of rigor was a ‘minus’ factor.”

Student:  “But I LIKE those other classes, and I’m good at them.  And I LIKE music and sports, and I’m good at them.  Why shouldn’t I be able to do those things?”

 Maybe you see my point.  The lesson this particular student had to learn was about priorities, making choices, and balance.  If you think of the primary “job” of a college-bound student as preparing for college-level course work, then the analogy falls into place.  We all have to make choices, and we all have to decide what is most important when making choices – it’s called “priorities.”  No one can do it all.  It’s a life lesson: the choices we have to make are not always the choices we want to make. 

Having said that, I would also acknowledge that the “other stuff” is important and worthy of some portion of available time.  That’s where the “balance” comes in.  It is true that we like to see engagement and leadership in high school – and we like to see it in college, too.  The things learned outside of the classroom are valuable life lessons, and can serve students well in the future.  It’s when the “other stuff” crowds out the primary responsibility – academics – that both high school and college students run into trouble.  Every student must find the point at which their academics and activities balance in such a way as to allow for excellence in both.

I won’t pretend that it’s an easy lesson to teach because so much depends upon the individual.  However, high school is a good time for students to start learning to recognize their skills and limitations, and to learn the life lessons of priorities, choices and balance.  When they learn this in high school, it will carry into their college years, hopefully leading to success there, and then into their career and family lives.

No, I didn’t particularly want to come to work today.  It’s cold, blustery, and rainy and I’d have preferred to stay home and can homemade applesauce (which I’m good at and I LIKE doing).  But I did come to work, and will fulfill my obligations here, and will plan to can applesauce on the weekend.  Priorities, choices and balance.  It’s real life.