January 2016 newsletter
Discover how a January-term class at Hamline University is preparing juniors and seniors for career success. Explore recent opinion pieces on college value and costs by College of Saint Benedict President Mary Hinton and Council President Paul Cerkvenik. Then explore a new data analysis that illustrates how attending our 17 member colleges increase a student’s odds of completing her degree in four years.
The end of the holiday break signals the return to school for some students. But at several of our colleges, it means January term — a four-week session between semesters where students can take advantage of an intensive class on campus. And for a group of Hamline University students, the focus has been on their future career success.
Taught by Career Center career counselors Christine Francis and Joan Ostergren, Piper to Professional: Essential Skills for Career Success is a four-credit course that is geared towards juniors and seniors — one of dozens of classes offered at Hamline during J-term. Offering them the chance to develop professional skills as they seek internships and employment, the class is capped at 20 students and is gaining in popularity. “We saw a need for more career development,” said Francis. “Students don’t know what they don’t know. We want to provide students with practical skills so they can be competitive in the job market.”
Those practical skills go beyond resumes and cover letters — which they do plenty of reviewing and revising during the course; students work hard to develop a personal brand and professional skills that set them apart. “We do focus on financial literacy as well,” Francis added. “Many students don’t know how to start a simple budget or how to evaluate different compensation packages.”
The course also works with students to develop their professional online presence through LinkedIn and their interview and networking skills. Students will go through mock interviews with professionals and receive feedback, and there is a site visit to a local business and plenty of guest speakers.
Senior Ben Williams took the class in 2015 and knows first-hand the benefits of the course. “I learned so much! Before this class, I was at a point where I knew that I needed to start looking to make future plans but was sort of floundering around not knowing what to do,” he said. “The class helped to take all of that anxiety towards the future and turn it into skills that will help me achieve that.”
Williams points towards his confidence in job interviews and learning how to move from student to professional in helping him land two internships. Last summer, he interned at Metro Transit and credits the class for the internship. “I used the resume and cover letter and my new interview skills and got some amazing results from it,” he said. “In my interview, I was told 82 people had applied for two open intern positions and only 10 were brought in for interviews. They picked me because they were impressed with the materials I had submitted. I don’t think I could have beaten out the other 80 applicants were it not for what I learned in this class.”
This January, student Law Thao hopes to develop his personal brand. Thao, a junior studying digital media and nonprofit management, wants to learn how to market himself better. “So far, this class has challenged me to understand what kind of person I am,” Thao reflected. “It is helping me find my strengths and weaknesses. I am gaining a stronger resume and it is giving me the confidence to apply to outside jobs and internships.”
According to Francis, increasing students’ knowledge and confidence is a big part of the class. “There is quite a difference between students at the beginning of the course and the end,” she said. “Students really feel that confidence and realize how applicable these skills are. These are tangible results.”
As for Ben Williams? This J-term, he is interning at a public accounting firm. Part of the Piper to Professional class teaches students how to network and requires them to conduct two informational interviews. Williams took those skills, used a family member’s business contact and set up an informational interview to try to secure an internship in public accounting. “About two weeks later, I got a call from Grant Thornton LLP saying that my resume had been passed along to them and they wanted me to interview. The interview went well, thanks again to skills from the J-term class, and a few days later I had an offer for an internship starting in January. This shows the power of networking. I was very happy to have secured two separate internships within four months of taking the class.”
by Cecilia Petschel
We’ve excerpted two recent opinion pieces that address two of today’s hot-button topics. Mary Hinton, president of the College of Saint Benedict, tackles the deeper purpose behind college — beyond simply getting a job — and how the liberal arts are critical. The Council’s president, Paul Cerkvenik, takes on the myths around affordability and debt.
The negative narrative that keeps a college president up all night
by Mary Hinton, president of the College of Saint Benedict
As a relatively new college president, there are many things that keep me awake at night: supporting the well-being of the 1900-plus students entrusted to me; ensuring we are fulfilling the mission our founding order established 100 years ago; wondering how we will raise the dollars to grow our endowment; and presenting a balanced budget in the face of flat net tuition revenue.
While each of these items is vitally important, the most frequent nightly worries I face involve the overwhelmingly negative narrative about higher education that is currently unfolding. I say this because while many of my worries are local, the public discourse about higher education is global and has potentially devastating consequences for the young people involved. There are two parts to the narrative, both disturbing and worthy of my night terrors.
The first part of the prevailing narrative states that a college education, especially a liberal arts education, is not a worthwhile investment. It posits that, in fact, young people can expect to have healthy, happy and economically rewarding lives without going to college. Health and happiness may not be directly related to college attendance (though some evidence suggests otherwise) but the evidence of the economic value of a college education is irrefutable. So why, then, is it being refuted?
In the midnight hour, one’s thoughts run wild and I often wonder if it’s not an attempt to maintain seemingly entrenched class differences. You see, the messages questioning the value of college, especially liberal arts colleges, are not being sent to the very wealthy. Rather, the suggestion is that those of us who grew up in working class or impoverished families (I count myself among this group) need not worry ourselves about the outcomes of a liberal arts education. We can eke out a perfectly fine existence if we are “job ready.”
The liberal arts educate toward liberation, toward the ability to excel within any context, toward the ability to expand one’s own world and degrees of freedom . . . If anyone merits a liberal arts education, it’s those to whom it has been so systematically denied . . .
Let’s ignore the data that college graduates earn twice their counterparts. Let’s ignore that many skilled labor jobs have been replaced by technology or continue to leave the United States. Instead, we should not seek access beyond our current circumstances. We should cede the liberal arts to those for whom it is intended (the wealthy) and the rest of us should focus on job readiness.
I find this narrative disheartening and incredibly troubling for several reasons. The liberal arts educate toward liberation, toward the ability to excel within any context, toward the ability to expand one’s own world and degrees of freedom. Collectively, these freedoms empower not only self but can also be used to uplift a community. If anyone merits a liberal arts education, it’s those to whom it has been so systematically denied; those who are told they don’t need it and should simply be made job ready. What about life ready? What about leadership ready?
College, and its value, is within the reach of all
by Paul Cerkvenik, president of Minnesota Private College Council
The cost of college and the level of student debt are topics of great concern for most families these days. But much that is found in the media relies on anecdotes and outliers who can present a misleading picture of the economics of higher education.
It is important to realize college remains within reach for families of all income levels.
Start with cost and financial aid. Lots of attention is paid to the published tuition price at colleges. However, the important price is not the published price but the net tuition, the price a student actually pays after taking into account grants and scholarships provided by the institutions and by state and federal programs like the Pell Grant and Minnesota State Grant.
Consider the 17 Minnesota private nonprofit colleges that I work for . . . At our colleges, 94 percent of first-time full-time students receive scholarships and grants they do not have to pay back. Last year, our colleges provided more than $500 million in grant aid to students. These grants and scholarships meet the financial needs of low- and middle-income families and reward students for academic merit while substantially lowering the actual price of going to college. As a result, the average net tuition (excluding room and board) at our private colleges in Minnesota is under $15,000. That’s less than half the average published tuition.
Lots of attention is paid to the published tuition price at colleges. However, the important price is not the published price but the net tuition, the price a student actually pays after taking into account grants and scholarships . . .
How can students and families know the price they will actually pay? They can explore net price calculators (which are on every college’s website), visit college campuses and talk with financial-aid counselors. They will learn that the cost of college can be affordable for families at all income levels. In fact, 25 percent of students at Minnesota’s private colleges come from families with incomes below $40,000; another 25 percent of students’ families earn between $40,000 and $80,000.
Next, consider debt. The media often reports on students with six-figure student loan debt. Are these anecdotes typical? Not at all. About 28 percent of students who graduate from Minnesota’s four-year colleges graduate without any debt at all.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in four years is the goal for students — and their families. That’s why they’re often called “four-year degrees,” right? But that timeframe is often not met, with consequences in terms of extra costs and lost earnings. New data analysis highlights how enrolling at Minnesota’s Private Colleges increases the odds of meeting the four-year goal.
Start with all the people who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Minnesota — and consider those who did so in four years at the same institution. That’s what we’re measuring with the four-year completion rate for graduates. Looking at those degree earners at the 17 private colleges that are members of the Minnesota Private College Council, the share who graduated in four-years was 87 percent.
Now look at the data for the public alternatives in our state. In contrast, the share of graduates from the University of Minnesota who completed their degrees in four years averaged 64 percent — 23 percentage points lower than the figure for the private colleges. The figure for the state universities was lower still: the share of graduates from MnSCU who completed their degrees in four years averaged 43 percent — 44 percentage points lower than the figure for the private colleges. These comparisons are all looking at first-time students who were enrolled full-time at the start of their first year and attended at the same institution through graduation.
*The Minnesota Private College Council’s 17 member institutions
So why do graduates from private colleges have far greater odds of actually completing their degrees in four years than grads from Minnesota’s public institutions? With smaller enrollments and a focus on smaller classes, students receive more personal attention at private colleges than at public ones, notes Jon McGee, vice president of planning and public affairs at College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. “The time-to-completion success at private colleges is based on a couple of things,” McGee said. “Students are able to get the classes required to complete on time and they are receiving the kind of advising and support they need along the way.”
For families considering the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, their institutional time-to-completion figures have been shared for years. McGee said it has been a helpful tool for families as they weigh their options. With the aggregate data in this article, the Minnesota Private College Council is aiming to provide a similar resource.
Pulling in graduation rates
Another way to consider what happens at colleges and the odds of earning a degree is by looking at the actual graduation rate. This measure looks at a group or cohort of entering students and considers how many of them have stayed at that institution and earned their degree. (Unlike with the completion rate for graduates, students who leave a college either to transfer or to stop being in school would lower the four-year graduation rate.)
For the 17 institutions in the Minnesota Private College Council, our four-year graduation rate is the best in the state — above the public systems here. It is also the best in the Midwest, compared to public systems and other states’ private colleges. In fact, our graduation rate ranks third highest in the nation.
Source: Graduation Rate Report, January 2016, Minnesota Private College Council
Some may question the meaning of this graduation rate success. There’s the question that arises about whether students at our institutions are dramatically different, say in the share of students who are going full time. But part-time and transfer students are left out of these data, at public institutions as well, to ensure that the comparisons are as apples-to-apples as possible. Another question arises at times about if our students come uniquely well prepared academically. But that’s not the case. Using ACT scores as an indicator of academic preparation, we see students with a wide variety of those scores at our institutions, just as there are at public institutions.
What’s different, then, aren’t our students. What’s different is the experience they have at our institutions. Simply put, our smaller private colleges are focused on helping students and setting them up for future success. As our alumni know, it’ unlikely that you’ll be lost in the crowd at our colleges — that’s just not how they work. And that’s why our graduation rate and completion rate for graduates are as strong as they are.
Why it matters
Completing in four years allows students to move on sooner — to begin careers and go on to earn additional degrees. But completing in four years also matters because it helps families control their costs. The consequences of taking longer aren’t just about the extra tuition. You have to consider the so-called “opportunity cost” too; that’s the income a student doesn’t have a chance to earn since she’s still working on that degree. Imagine a new graduate who is able to earn $35,000 in her first year after college. If that student wasn’t able to graduate and is instead enrolled for a fifth year of college, that $35,000 is the sizable opportunity cost of taking longer to complete her degree.
by John Manning
The number of working adults, ages 25-64, holding at least an associate degree in Minnesota and the nation continues to increase, with Minnesota’s overall degree-attainment rate 8% above the national average of 40% in 2013. However, both the state and the nation have yet to close the attainment gap for Black, Hispanic and Native American adults.
Source: A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, April 2015 policy brief from the Lumina Foundation; data based on U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey PUMS files
Saint John’s Franta wins People's Choice Award
Former Saint John’s University student Connor Franta won a People's Choice Award for "Favorite YouTube Star" on Jan. 6 in Los Angeles.
Saint Benedict students assist Syrian refugees
Three College of Saint Benedict students were recently featured in a St. Cloud Times article about their experiences helping Syrian refugees while studying abroad.
Gustavus becomes first fair trade college in Minnesota
Gustavus Adolphus College is the first Minnesota college or university to be designated a “Fair Trade College/University” by Fair Trade Campaigns, a collection of fair trade organizations from across the globe.
St. Olaf launches Public Affairs Conversation
St. Olaf College’s Public Affairs Conversation combines a two-course series with a paid internship to bring students together to critically examine current social debates from interdisciplinary perspectives.
Innovative alumnus donates to fund innovation studies at Hamline
Building on an illustrious career at 3M and more than two-dozen patents, Hamline alumnus Roger Appeldorn ’57 will fund innovation studies at Hamline University.
Teachers can take free engineering-education courses thanks to Google
Google is sponsoring full tuition for the full-credit courses taught this spring and summer by University of St. Thomas engineering and education professors.
Concordia College approves neuroscience major
Concordia College, Moorhead, has approved a new major in neuroscience that builds on a minor that has been offered since 2007.
St. Scholastica’s master of education receives accolades
The College of St. Scholastica’s online master of education program has been named one of the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
Bethel physics professor receives competitive NSF CAREER Award
Bethel University Assistant Professor of Physics Nathan Lindquist received a 2016 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for nanotechnology research.
A (contemporary) Brahms companion
Twin Cities composer and Macalester College Music Professor Randy Bauer spoke with MPR's classical music host Steve Staruch to introduce Bauer's Music for Clarinet and Strings.
Saint Mary's to construct alumni heritage room
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota has announced that it will construct an alumni heritage room on its Winona Campus, thanks to a generous and successful alumnus.
Job and Internship Fair, Feb. 17-18
In its 39th year, the annual Job and Internship Fair is attended by over 2,000 students from our member institutions and allows undergraduates to meet and interview with about 200 employers. The fair is limited to our colleges’ undergrads and organized by the career services offices.
Over the last decade, total MPCC member institution enrollment has held steady while growing increasingly more diverse. Students of color now account for more than 20 percent of enrollment. For more on enrollment changes, see the Council’s annual enrollment report released this month.
Graduation rate report
Our four-year graduation rate continues to rank first in the Midwest, higher than the region’s public systems as well as the other Midwestern states’ nonprofit colleges, looking at the latest data in the Council’s graduation rate report released this month.
Minnesota private college student leaders to hold conference
Minnesota Association of Private College Students is holding a one-day conference — Developing Approaches to Campus Activism — on Feb. 13 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul for student leaders at MPCC member colleges. The focus is learning how to address campus activism, improve student government practices and advocate for private college education. Higher Education Commissioner Larry Pogemiller will speak.
One way states can help student loan borrowers
The Pew Charitable Trusts, Dec. 14, 2015
Training more Black men to become teachers
The Atlantic Magazine, Dec. 15, 2015
How efforts to combine arts with STEM education could improve tech diversity
The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 16, 2015
The trouble with student loans? Low earnings, not high debt
The Brookings Institution, Jan. 7, 2016
Challenging the barista myth
Inside Higher Ed, Jan. 7, 2016
The importance of high-school mentors
The Atlantic Magazine, Jan. 13, 2016