Posted by: Gregory Linton | 11/12/2019

Higher Ed Quote of the Week: November 11-15

“Smaller institutions outperform larger ones on the three experiences that relate to having supportive relationships with professors and mentors, reflecting the known challenges that faculty often face at bigger schools in establishing meaningful connections with students, especially in the context of large class sizes.”—Steve Crabtree, “Students at smaller colleges more likely to say faculty care,” retrieved from

West Virginia University Press has released Teaching about Race and Racism in the College Classroom: Notes from a White Professor by Cyndi Kernahan. Kernahan is professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin—River Falls. In this 228-page book, she offers practical strategies for teaching about race and racism while maintaining a compassionate learning environment that allows for mistakes and avoids shaming students. She also describes how white students and students of color experience the classroom differently. The six chapters of the book are as follows:

  1. Naïve Understandings: How We Differ from Our Students
  2. Struggling Students: How and Why Resistance Happens
  3. Getting Yourself Together: Developing a Secure Teacher Identity
  4. Belonging in the Classroom: Creating Moments of Positivity and Connection
  5. Expectations: From Ground Rules to Growth Mindsets
  6. Course Content: Problems and Solutions

The book is for sale on Amazon for $24.99 and in Kindle format for $23.74.

A couple of weeks ago, the National Association for College Admission Counseling published “2019 State of College Admission,” which was authored by Melissa Clinedinst. The report summarizes data from two annual surveys: Counseling Trends Survey (2,345 responses from secondary school counselors) and Admission Trends Survey (447 responses from U.S. four-year colleges that NACAC members). The report is divided into four parts: College Applications, Recruitment and Yield Strategies, Factors in Admission Decisions, and Secondary School Counseling. Here are highlights of the 27-page report:

  • The number of applications from first-time freshmen increased 6% from fall 2017 to fall 2018.
  • Transfer applications increased 4.7% at private colleges but declined 1.7% at public colleges.
  • For fall 2017, 36% of first-time freshmen applied to seven or more colleges.
  • For fall 2017, 66.7% of applicants were offered admission at four-year colleges and universities.
  • The average yield rate (percentage of admitted students who ultimately enroll) for fall 2017 was 33.7%. This rate has declined steadily since reaching a high of 48% in fall 2007.
  • For fall 2018, 57% of private colleges had an application fee, which averaged $50.
  • For fall 2018, the primary means of recruiting first-time freshmen were sending email, maintaining institutional websites, and hosting campus visits.
  • At least 50% of colleges also rated the following strategies as considerably important: high school visits, direct mail, outreach to parents, and outreach to high school counselors.
  • The top factors in admission decisions were overall high school GPA (75%), grades in college preparatory classes (73%), strength of curriculum (60%), and admission test scores (50%).
  • Public institutions valued admission test scores more highly than private colleges.
  • The next most important factors were the essay, a student’s demonstrated interest, counselor and teacher recommendations, class rank, and extracurricular activities.
  • In the past decade, class rank and interviews have declined in importance.
  • In 2016-17 each public school counselor was responsible for 455 students, on average.
  • In 2018-19, only 29% of public schools employed at least one counselor (full- or part-time) whose exclusive responsibility was to provide college counseling, compared to 48% of private schools.
Posted by: Gregory Linton | 11/05/2019

Higher Ed Quote of the Week: November 4-8

“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, and the lowest performing students are doing worse. In fact, over the long term in reading, the lowest performing students—those readers who struggle the most—have made no progress from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago.”—Peggy G. Carr, Associate Commissioner for Assessment of the National Center for Education Statistics

Reports released in the last several weeks have hit higher education with a double whammy of bad news: Future students will not only be fewer in number but also less prepared for college-level work. Three reports show that the readiness of high school graduates to succeed in college continues to decline.

Every two years, the National Center for Education Statistics administers mathematics and reading assessments to representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grades across the nation. The 2019 scores showed the following changes from the 2017 results (scores are on a 0-500 scale):

  • 4th-grade math: increased by 1 point (241 to 242)
  • 8th-grade math: decreased by 1 point (283 to 282)
  • 4th-grade reading: decreased by 1 point (226 to 225)
  • 8th-grade reading: decreased by 3 points (269 to 266)

The report offers a state-by-state breakdown. This analysis shows that average reading scores were significantly lower in 17 states at grade 4 and in 31 states at grade 8. Only one state/jurisdiction had a significant score increase in reading at each grade level (Mississippi with a 4-point increase at grade 4 and District of Columbia with a 3-point increase at grade 8).

Nationwide, about a third of students scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level for reading in grades 4 and 8. For mathematics, 41% of 4th-graders and 34% of 8th-graders scored at or above the Proficient level.

Analyses of the report were published by The Hechinger Report and The 74.

Every year, ACT, Inc. releases a report summarizing the results of the year’s administration of the ACT. This year’s report is based on the results of 1.8 million graduating seniors. ACT reports that “the percentages of graduates meeting the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in math and English are the lowest they’ve been in 15 years.” The average ACT Composite score was 20.7, down from 20.8 in 2018.

ACT sets College Readiness Benchmarks for each of the four areas of the test. Students who achieve these benchmarks have a 50% chance or higher of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year courses. The benchmark scores are 18 for English (=English Composition), 22 for Reading (=Social Sciences), 22 for Math (=College Algebra), and 23 for Science (=Biology).

Only 26% of 2019 graduates met all four benchmarks. 37% met at least three of the four benchmarks, and 36% met none of the benchmarks. Readiness levels in all four subject areas have decreased since 2015 with the largest declines in English (64% to 59%) and math (42% to 39%).

The report also examines results for “underserved learners” who are defined as being members of a minority group from low-income families whose parents did not attend college. Just 9% of these graduates met three or more of the benchmarks.

ACT’s research has found that a key factor in meeting the College Readiness Benchmarks is taking a rigorous core academic curriculum that includes four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies. The average Composite score for those who have taken this curriculum was 22.2 versus 18.9 for those who haven’t.

A couple of weeks ago, I summarized the results of the 2019 administration of the SAT. Here are some of the results that reinforce the information above:

  • The mean score was 1059, down from 1068 for the class of 2018.
  • 45% of test takers met both college readiness benchmarks (480 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 530 for Math).
  • 30% of test takers met no college readiness benchmarks.
  • 68% of test takers met the readiness benchmark for Reading and Writing, but only 48% met the benchmark for Math.

Response to the Results

These results are mystifying in light of the many initiatives undertaken in the past couple of decades to improve our educational system: No Child Left Behind, Common Core, holding schools and teachers accountable for student performance, increased use of technology, expansion of magnet schools and charter schools, reforms of teacher preparation programs, and increased investment in education. Nothing has seemed to make a difference. There are no easy answers or quick fixes, or someone would have discovered them by now.

How should college instructors respond to these facts? We can no longer assume that most of our entering students are ready for rigorous, college-level work. Only the most selective schools can operate on that assumption. Schools whose mission is to educate average and underprepared students must view the first year as a year of transition to prepare high school graduates for college-level work. Instructors will need to meet students where they actually are, not where we wish or imagine they should be, and guide them into higher-level thinking, comprehension, and competence.

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 10/30/2019

Higher Education Quote of the Week: October 28-November 3

“To ensure success and well-being, students must have a strong support system when dealing with the pressing academic, financial and personal concerns that come to the surface during their tenures at school.”—Barnes & Noble College Insights, Mental health and well-being on campus: How we better care for the whole student, p. 2

One of the hot topics in the higher education media these days is the increase in mental health issues among college students. A special concern is that suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among college students. I am going to summarize key findings from three recent reports on this topic.

Lipson, S. K., Lattie, E. G., & Eisenberg, D. (2019).  “Increased rates of mental health service utilization by U.S. college students: 10-year population-level trends (2007-2017).” Psychiatric Services, 70(1), 60-63.

This study drew on ten years of data from the Healthy Minds Study, an annual Web-based survey of 155,026 students on 196 campuses. Here are some of the key results:

  • 26.9% of respondents screened positive for depression, and 8.2% reported suicidal ideation.
  • Suicidal ideation increased from 5.8% in 2007 to 10.8% in 2016-2017.
  • Rates of past-year treatment increased from 18.7% in 2007 to 33.8% in 2016-2017.
  • The proportion of students with a diagnosed mental health condition increased from 21.9% in 2007 to 35.5% in 2016-2017.
  • The most common location for receiving services was on campus, with rates increasing from 6.6% in 2007 to 11.8% in 2016-2017.
  • Rates of personal stigma decreased from 46.0% to 5.7%.

Chessman, H., & Taylor, M. (2019). College Student Mental Health and Well-Being: A Survey of Presidents. Retrieved from

In April 2019, the American Council on Education conducted a Pulse Point survey to which 410 college and university presidents responded. Here are some of the key findings:

  • 80% of presidents indicated that student mental health has become more of a priority on their campus than it was three years ago.
  • 72% of presidents reported they had reallocated or identified additional funding to address the issue over the last three years.
  • About 1/3 of presidents of private nonprofits report hearing once a week or more about students struggling with mental health, and an additional 41% report hearing about these students a few times a month.
  • 84% of presidents of private nonprofits said the top mental health concern they were most likely to hear about was anxiety, and 83% reported depression as a top concern.
  • Presidents at private nonprofits were more likely to hear about non-suicidal self-injury (18%) than other presidents.
  • 90% of presidents agreed or strongly agreed that their staff is spending more time addressing these concerns than they did three years ago.
  • Over half of presidents at private nonprofits indicated that student mental health is mentioned specifically in their strategic plan—much higher than presidents who lead public institutions.

Barnes & Noble College Insights. (2019). Mental health and well-being on campus: How we better care for the whole student. Retrieved from

Barnes & Noble Education surveyed 762 college students and 1,708 parents of college students to understand the state of mental and physical well-being among college students. Here are some of the key findings:

  • 24% of students reported that they are extremely or somewhat unhappy with where they are currently in life. Women and first-generation students were more likely to say they were unhappy.
  • 76% of students say they have experienced mental health issues.
  • Among students who report mental health issues, 89% report high levels of stress, 86% experience anxiety, and 66% experience depression.
  • Students manage their mental health issues by talking with family/friends (77%), spending time on hobbies/interests (68%), seeing a professional psychologist/therapist (21%), taking medication (21%), drinking socially (17%), talking with university faculty/advisors (10%), and not doing anything specific (8%).
  • 35% of college students said having open conversations with professors about mental health would help them manage their own well-being.
  • Only 24% of students reported using campus counseling centers. Women were more likely to use them than men, and freshmen were less likely to use them than upperclassmen.
  • The main sources of stress and anxiety for students were getting good grades (79%), finding a balance between different areas of life (74%), paying for tuition and/or room and board (57%), and having friends and a social life (42%).

Several organizations have been developed to support students with mental health issues, especially suicide prevention. Some of these were initiated by students themselves. Here are several of these services:

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 10/25/2019

College Board publishes results of SAT for class of 2019

Last week, the College Board released its annual report on SAT results for the class of 2019. Here is a summary of the key statistics:

  • 2.2 million students took the SAT, the highest number ever.
  • The mean score was 1059, down from 1068 for the class of 2018.
  • Male test takers averaged 1066, and females averaged 1053.
  • Asian test takers averaged 1223, White test takers averaged 1114, Hispanic/Latino test takers averaged 978, and Black/African American test takers averaged 933.
  • 45% of test takers met both college readiness benchmarks (480 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 530 for Math).
  • 75% of Asian test takers met both college readiness benchmarks; 57% of White test takers met both; 29% of Hispanic/Latino test takers met both; and 20% of Black/African American test takers met both.
  • 30% of test takers met no college readiness benchmarks.
  • 68% of test takers met the readiness benchmark for Reading and Writing, but only 48% met the benchmark for Math.
  • Mean SAT scores of students whose parents did not attend any college decreased 12 points from 2018 to 2019.
  • Over 2/3 of all test takers first take the SAT in 11th grade, but low-income students are more likely to take it as seniors.
  • Low-income students are far less likely to retake the SAT even though they see larger score increases that their higher-income peers when they retake it and their likelihood of enrolling in a four-year college goes up by 30 percentage points.

As InsideHigherEd reports, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) claims that the SAT measures a test taker’s family background more than his or her capacity to do college-level work. Because of the perceived unfairness of the test, 47 colleges and universities stopped requiring applicants to send standardized test scores last year alone. About 40 percent of all four-year colleges and universities (more than 1,000) no longer require applicants to send test scores.

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 10/25/2019

Higher Ed Resource of the Week: Intentional Tech

On September 26, West Virginia University Press released Intentional Tech: Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching by Derek Bruff. Bruff is the director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. For years, he maintained a blog in which he provided tips for incorporating student response systems and other technologies in the classroom. In this book, he explores seven research-based principles for matching technology to pedagogy in the following chapters:

  1. Times for Telling
  2. Practice and Feedback
  3. Thin Slices of Learning
  4. Knowledge Organizations
  5. Multimodal Assignments
  6. Learning Communities
  7. Authentic Audiences

The 240-page book is available on Amazon for $24.99.

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 10/24/2019

Two reports explain how to teach critical thinking

In the last two weeks, two major articles have been published that explain how to develop critical thinking in college students. I will summarize the main points here, but instructors will benefit from reading the full articles.

The first article is a 13-page white paper by Daniel T. Willingham titled “How to Teach Critical Thinking,” which was published in the series Education: Future Frontiers by the State of New South Wales Department of Education. Willingham is a well-known expert on the relation of cognitive science to learning. Although he focuses primarily on K-12 education in this article, his discussion is relevant for higher education also.

He focuses on critical thinking as successful, effective thinking, and he argues that it can be taught. He discusses the contentious issue of whether general critical thinking skills can be transferred to different domains, and he concludes that critical thinking is domain-specific. Different domains (such as science or history) have different definitions of what it means to know something, and they apply analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in different ways. Because of this, students must possess enough content knowledge in a domain to be able to perform critical thinking.

Willingham proposes a four-step process to develop a program to teach critical thinking:

  1. Identify a list of specific critical thinking skills for each subject domain, and then teach and practice them.
  2. Identify subject matter content for each domain.
  3. Plan the sequence in which knowledge and skills should be taught.
  4. Plan which knowledge and skills should be revisited across years.

The other article is titled “New Directions in the Teaching of Critical Thinking.” The author is Martin Davies, who is Associate Professor of Education at the University of Melbourne and co-editor of the Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education. The article was published in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 51(5), 18-27.

Davies acknowledges the difficulty of defining “critical thinking,” but he concludes that the common element in most views of critical thinking is that it has to do with the process of, and knowledge of, argumentation. Although every university would list critical thinking as one of their learning objectives, Davies opines that universities actually do not succeed in teaching critical thinking, primarily because they do not implement an explicit strategy for doing so.

Davies proposes using the approach of computer-aided argument mapping (CAAM) to enhance skill development in critical thinking. Software programs such as the fee-based Rationale and the free MindMup can aid this process, but it is possible to do it with paper and colored pens.

The process of argument mapping involves the following eleven steps:

  1. Establish if the passage is advancing an argument (with reasons, objections, and rebuttals) and not merely making an assertion.
  2. Number any independent claims in a passage of text, ensuring that each claim is a singular statement. Ignore filler words.
  3. Eliminate any redundancy in the sentences and list the claims given in the argument under consideration.
  4. Establish the conclusion, contention, or point of the passage.
  5. Establish the first level of main reasons that are offered in support of the contention.
  6. Group claims that might be similar in nature under claims that might be assumed and yet not formally stated in the argument.
  7. Identify claims that support other claims rather than the contention, which are called “co-premises” or “linked premises.”
  8. Include any objections to the contention.
  9. Include any reasons that are supporting other reasons.
  10. Include any objections to objections, which are called “rebuttals.”
  11. Where applicable, include any “terminal evidence” supporting the reasons or objections.

Davies presents evidence that learning to use argument maps improves critical thinking skills by .8 SD compared to groups that do not. Also, some studies suggest that gains in critical thinking using argument maps are triple that of other ways of improving critical thinking. Unlike Willingham, Davies believes this approach to critical thinking is transferrable across the curriculum.

“Student Debt and the Class of 2018” is the 14th annual report by The Institute for College Access & Success, which advocates for student-centered public policies that promote affordability, accountability, and equity in higher education. The study relies on data provided to Peterson’s voluntarily by about half of all public and nonprofit bachelor’s degree-granting four-year colleges and universities, representing over 70 percent of graduates. The data include only student loans and do not include federal Parent PLUS loans. Here are some of the key findings:

  • 65% of college seniors who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2018 had student loan debt, which is the same share as the Class of 2017.
  • Borrowers from the Class of 2018 owed an average of $29,200, a 2 percent increase from the Class of 2017.
  • States with the highest average student debt are concentrated in the Northeast, and states with low debt are located mainly in the West.
  • Tennessee ranks 34th in average debt of graduates ($26,838) and 31st in percent of graduates with debt (55%).
  • About 17 percent of the Class of 2018’s debt was comprised of nonfederal loans, which are typically more costly than federal loans and provide fewer consumer protections.
  • More than half of undergraduates who take out private loans have not used the maximum available in federal student loans, which suggests the need for better financial aid education.
  • Graduates more likely to default on their loans include Black (21%), low-income (11%), for-profit (30%), and first-generation (10%) graduates.

The report offers the following seven policy ideas for institutions to reduce student debt burdens:

  • Look at borrowing trends across types of students and types of debt.
  • Set some financial aid resources aside to help students with emergencies.
  • Set clear, reasonable student budgets.
  • Protect access to federal student loans.
  • Develop and provide supplemental counseling and information.
  • Provide counseling for students seeking private loans.
  • Ensure that net price calculators are easy to find, use, and compare.

TICAS also provides information on more than 12,000 U.S. colleges as well as detailed, research-level higher education data at

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