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September 2006

What if the Contract Colleges Dropped ED?

While the upper floors of Day Hall are “very seriously considering” doing away with Cornell’s early decision policy, I think I may have a possible solution to Cornell’s early decision dilemma. Not that I actually have any sway with the people who set policies in the Cornell administration, but I don’t see any harm in thinking out loud…

Some have claimed that ending early decision would be a disaster for Cornell, as top students would apply early elsewhere (UPenn, Dartmouth) to enjoy the leg up that applying early grants them. Others argue that Cornell needs to abandon its early decision policy now if it wants to stay true to the founding principles of the University. And for what it is worth, I have made the argument that early decision policies may be increasingly irrelevant for schools trying to attract the top applicants if the top applicants increasingly hold out to for possible admission to the top schools.

I'm still in favor of Cornell completely getting rid of ED. I don't think it would hurt the University nearly as much as some of its proponents claim. But why don’t we meet half-way and allow individual Cornell colleges to decide for themselves whether or not they will allow early decision admissions? I could definitely see the contract colleges hopping on this plan.

Presumably, those Cornell colleges with high yield rates would be less adverse to getting rid of ED than some of the others. As an added bonus, this could also play into Cornell’s recent announcement that it will allow students to be considered for admission at two undergraduate colleges. Get denied to Engineering early decision? Well, you’ll still be up for consideration for the AEM program through the Ag School.

N.B. When UVa announced their decision yesterday, they released some stark numbers that puts to rest the issue of whether or not a binding early decision programs favors students from more affluent backgrounds:

Early decision had become inconsistent with the goals of AccessUVA, a financial aid program designed to lower college costs for the lowest-income students who apply to the university… of the more than 170 students who qualified for the program’s maximum financial aid package last year, only one applied under the early decision plan. Fewer than 20 of the 947 students accepted under the early decision plan last December applied for financial aid.

And people should realize that UVa is most definitely a competitor school to Cornell. Among common admits to both schools, roughly half end up going to Cornell. Meanwhile, it's Jefferson Scholars program is one of the most prestigious undergraduate scholarships in the country.

Matthew Nagowski | September 27, 2006 (#)

Cornell's Real Image Problem

I was traveling for work today, and I came home to find this gem in my mailbox:

Cornell is currently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the number 12 university in the country. Back in the 1990s Cornell regularly ranked in the top ten... Cornell is heavily penalized for its large classes, relatively high admittance rates and the low test scores of our matriculants.
So back in the good ol' days, Cornell ranked in the top ten on three seperate occasions between 1991 and 2000. I wonder if the author didn't do his homework on this one, of if he just has a different definition of 'regularly' than I do, because he seems to make the claim that there used be a golden era when Cornell consistently ranked high according to U.S. News's completely arbitrary rankings scheme.

Coincidentally, at the same time Cornell was regularly in the "top ten" it also had four consecutive years of being no higher than thirteenth, including one year at fifteenth. So there you go.

I've said it once and I'll say it again: yes U.S. News rankings matter for the marginal accepted student, but the fact that a vocal minority of Cornell students constantly whine about Cornell's ranking does not help Cornell's image problem, if it indeed even has one.

So talk all you want about the need for Cornell to put even more of an emphasis on undergraduate education, but it might behoove all of us if you didn't obnoxiously complain about Cornell's rankings all of the time. Brown ranks below us, but you don't hear them concerning themselves about it all that much. After all, it doesn't seem to affect Brown's abillity to enroll 75 percent of the common admits between Cornell and Brown either.

And by the way that's an interesting $750 million dollar figure that is being tossing out there for the financial aid component of the University's capital campaign.I wonder who scooped that?

Matthew Nagowski | September 25, 2006 (#)

Four Billion Dollars

Yep. That's what I understand to be the dollar amount for Cornell's upcoming capital campaign. Sources close to MetaEzra tell us that the Dean of Human Ecology mentioned this figure to alums at a recent gathering. So that's what we'll run with until the capital campaign is officially announced on trustee weekend.

Of the four billion, one billion will be for the Medical College in New York City, leaving three billion for the Ithaca campus. Weill, of course, just finished a very succesful 750 million dollar campaign.

Sources say that roughly 25 percent of the money will be dedicated to financial aid concerns. If that's right, that's 750 million dollars in financial aid endowment, more than enough to cover the 20 million needed annually to match Harvard's (and Yale's and Stanford's and Princeton's and Columbia's) generous financial aid policies. (More to come on the university's financial aid situation soon.) Hopefully the Cornell Committment programs will be expanded as well.

No word on where the rest of the money will go, but I imagine that half will go into the endowment and the other half to cover the University's continued and future construction efforts.

For comparison purposes, Brown University is in the middle of a 1.5 billion dollar capital campaign, and Duke just finished a 2.4 billion dollar capaign.

Further word on the street is that the "quiet phase" of the capital campaign has already been more succesful than the University anticipated. Maybe that four billion will turn into five billion? Of course, I encourage everybody to give what you can if you can afford it.

Matthew Nagowski | September 21, 2006 (#)

Castles Built On Ravines

So by now everybody can at least agree that the new Milstein Hall design is a Danish architect's wet dream. Say what you will about the design; I am no architecture critic and simply like things that work. (I always liked how the outside of Uris Hall looked.)

But I have a more serious question: What do the civil engineers think of the project?

Consider this: The newly proposed Milstein Hall will stand less than a stone's throw away from a 150 foot gorge that experiences erosion every year during the spring thaw. This undoubtedly must unsettle all of the surrounding land, and might pose a problem to a building that is being lauded for having "hidden depths". Does anybody out there know what the stability of the land is like on this part of campus?

The University is fully aware that it has erosion and unstable land issues. Court Hall is sinking and Martha Van has been condemned. One just hopes Koolhaas and Kompany took this fact into consideration before they started gushing how genius they all are.

Matthew Nagowski | September 20, 2006 (#)

Provost Martin and President Skorton Speak

The University is scrambling fast to find the $17 million that it needs to match the generosity of the Princeton's and Columbia's of the higher education world.

David Skorton in a column in the Sun today (emphasis added):

We must work to secure more financial aid to allow those of varying economic circumstances to be a part of Cornell. We must be prepared to do our part to convince Congress to increase the availability of federal student aid, especially in the critical Pell Grant program. We must bolster our state legislature’s support of the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and the opportunity programs that help make Cornell more accessible. Moreover, our upcoming comprehensive philanthropic campaign must include a strong thrust in need-based student aid, even as we consider reallocation of funds within our control in the current budget.
And Biddy Martin at a Faculty Senate meeting last year:
We would like to be able to compete with (these financial aid policies), and we will spend more financial aid dollars in order to compete for the best students but we can’t possibly now, nor probably in the foreseeable future, and possibly ever, compete with what Harvard, Yale and Princeton have decided to do.

Some people believe that it might already be starting to make a little difference but in my meetings with the Ivy Provosts, the Provosts have acknowledged that it is a very, very, very difficult thing to do. Why is that? Because students and their families care about more than just money and a lot of students from backgrounds with which I feel I’d be familiar, don’t feel comfortable, don’t believe they would feel comfortable at Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

Ouch. Score one for Biddy. Besides, who needs those elitest East Coast over-glorified country clubs anyway?

But here's to hoping that the University will find an extra $17 million a year to compete in the student aid ams race, and that it will find it soon.

Matthew Nagowski | September 20, 2006 (#)

The Costs of Economic Diversity

In wake of Columbia's announcement that it will follow Harvard, Yale, Stanford, UPenn, and Princeton to cover the full cost of tuition to all incoming students with a family income of less than $50,000 dollars a year, how is Cornell fairing in offering grants to students with need-based aid?

A recent, wonderfully written, Cornell Alumni Magazine article helps to paint the picture for us:

At Cornell... only 30 to 35 percent of students pay full tuition (almost $33,000 a year in the endowed colleges). Almost half of the undergraduates receive need-based aid, with a combined value close to $110 million annually in loans and grants. Yet the University typically requires students receiving aid to supply $11,500 from work and loans during each academic year, the highest self-support requirement in the Ivy League. Matching Penn's grant policy for one year would raise Cornell's aid outlay by $12 million; matching Harvard would cost more than $17 million.
$17 million doesn't seem like a whole lot, but the University's endowment would have to increase by $350 million in order to cover those expenses on a yearly basis.

Even so, the University is able to enroll a lot more students from lower-income backgrounds than its peers:

At Princeton, where all students receiving aid get grants, not loans, only about 17 percent have family incomes lower than $60,000. At Cornell, close to 25 percent fall into that category...
But in a perverse outcome, this just makes it more costly to provide aid for such students. Princeton only has 700 such students it needs to cover. Cornell? Five time as many: 3500.

And Cornell actually over-enrolled students last year because it anticipated that it would be a less attractive destination to students than what it was:

Unable to beat the competition and concerned that more students than usual might decline offers from Cornell in favor of better financial aid elsewhere, the University's admissions office increased the number of acceptance letters it mailed this year. Those fears proved unfounded, though, and the Class of 2010 overenrolled by almost 200 students. "My guess, from the way things turned out, is that our packages were just as appealing as what our applicants were getting from other schools," says Doris Davis, associate provost for admissions and enrollment. "Or, setting financial aid aside, it's the total package Cornell presents. For those students making decisions about where to enroll, it doesn't always come down to finances."
Still, the article correctly establishes that unless Cornell is able to increase its financial aid coffers, its long-standing tradition of enrolling students from working and middle-class backgrounds may be in jeopardy. This, no doubt, will be a main thrust of the University's upcoming capital campaign, and I hope all alums will be at least able to give a nominal sum to outstanding programs like the Cornell Tradition.

But with the Alumni Magazine's great coverage on the need for Cornell to have more financial aid available to its students, it kinds of begs the question: Why doesn't the University send the magazine to all of its alumni?

Matthew Nagowski | September 19, 2006 (#)

Who's Next?

In many ways, Princeton's decision to get rid of its binding early decision program is a lot more monumental than Harvard's similiar decision a week ago.

For one, with Princeton in the ring, it seems increasingly hard for Stanford and Yale not to follow. If Derek Bok has labeled such programs as “advantaging the advantaged” and Shirley Tilghman claims that regular admission policies are the only “fair and equitable” thing to do, how could Harvard and Princeton’s only true peers show face if they didn’t follow suit?

After all, both schools are considered to be more desirable than Princeton by common admits, and both schools depend less heavily upon their early admissions program than Princeton. In fact, both schools, unlike Princeton, currently only have a non-binding early action program. So it’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump to getting rid of their programs, as opposed to the large plunge that Princeton is taking.

Over the past week, there had been some discussion (here and elsewhere) that Harvard’s decision might help schools that keep their early decision programs to “win” students that otherwise would have gotten into Harvard. But if Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford all don't accept early applications any more, I can see such an environment changing the popular opinion that early decision is the way to go.

Matthew Nagowski | September 18, 2006 (#)

Buying Your Way Into College

Forbes Magazine is running an article on “Dorm Room Titans”, or students who follow in the footsteps of Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Mark Zuckerberg and start their own businesses while still in college.

A junior from Cornell, Seth Flowerman, is highlighted in the article:

Flowerman's company, Career Explorations, operates a summer program for high school students that brings them to Manhattan or Boston for an internship…He doesn't draw a steady salary--most profits go back into the business--but he paid for a trip to Spain last summer, bought himself an Audi A4 and covers his own living expenses. His parents pay for tuition.

At a cost of $5,500 for four weeks, the company provides students with room, board and adult supervision. It broke even in its first year and has been profitable ever since.

Career Explorations tapped a nerve. In a competitive world, it gives students an edge when applying to college, and helps them discern early on which careers interest them most.

With all due respect to Mr. Flowerman’s business savvy, programs like these are exactly the problem when we talk about college access and creating an even playing field for the college admissions process (let alone future internships or job offers). A high school student whose family can afford to lay down six thousand dollars gets rewarded, while a student who works his way through high school stocking shelves at the local super market will get passed over.

The irony, of course, is that stocking shelves probably builds more character and job experience than what is effectively an expensive summer camp.

And I wonder if that Audi A4 is a tax-deducted company car…

Matthew Nagowski | September 18, 2006 (#)

Why Cornell Will Keep Its ED Program

The Times has a week-in-review piece that provides a nice perspective on Harvard’s decision to go without an early decision program.

What, then, might a world without early applications look like?

It would indeed go a small way toward leveling the field among applicants, researchers say. But it would also have an effect on colleges, and the biggest winner would almost certainly be Harvard, a fact that may prevent many other colleges — perhaps all of them — from mimicking Harvard this time. Any college that does so will risk losing some of its best applicants.

This is what Andy mentioned earlier this week: the decision by Havard actually become an incentive for other schools to keep their early decision programs to encourage top students from otherwise attending the most desired school in the country: Harvard.

To show what the college admissions would be like without early decision, The Times cites a study by Caroline Hoxby, an economist at Harvard, of the “revealed preferences” in colleges that are demonstrated by common-admits. (I originally talked about this study back in April when discussing Cornell’s low yield rate relative to places like Columbia.) I would encourage everybody to read the paper: it’s interesting and the math will not hurt you!

The Times even includes a handy table showing what percentage of common admits between any two colleges go where. Among common admits, Cornell wins (barely) to places like Duke, Northwestern, and Georgetown, but loses to Brown, Dartmouth and UPenn.

This is why it is in the University’s best interest to keep early decision: it will gain admit some students who otherwise would have gone to Brown or Dartmouth (or Yale or Harvard) by having them apply early. Similarly, Duke or Northwestern will get some students who otherwise would have gone to Cornell had it not been for early decision programs.

Now the study is not without its caveats (which I will discuss after the fold), but I wanted to point out something striking in one of the tables: Cornell loses a lot more common admits interested in either engineering or the humanities to places like Brown and Georgetown, respectively. And I think it would be a fair assessment to say that Cornell academics are a lot better than Brown for an education in the sciences and a lot better than Georgetown for an education in the humanities (even though Brown might be better than us for the humanities and Georgetown better for us in foreign relations). In fact, I knew transfers at Cornell from both schools who felt that the environment at Cornell relative to these places was wonderful.

So there's something about the nature of Cornell, its academic reputation aside, that precludes students from considering it. President Rawlings obviously wanted to create a more intimate educational experience for those who wanted it, and created the West Campus residential houses as a result. But doubly-stressing the University’s wonderful teaching and research opportunities can’t hurt either.

But I imagine a lot of student perceptions about schools boils down to what they hear about the place, and whether they think it is "an exciting" place to be. Are the students there doing stuff that is fun and cutting edge? Are the students there happy? Perhaps Cornell also needs to focus on these things more in order to win-out among common admits.

As for concerns about the methodology:

Matthew Nagowski | September 17, 2006 (#)

Are Universities a Luxury Good?

Reader AH writes in response to the posts discussing Harvard’s recent early admissions decision:

Why are people shocked when they find out that money plays a factor in college admission? Universities are businesses, they are rational economic actors. They manage a set of short run revenue and profit maximization goals and longer term brand management goals just like Proctor and Gamble….

The world is not fair but it is rational. Those with the most resources will always have disproportionate access to luxury goods and a college education is a luxury good. It’s time to grow up.

I will freely concede that universities behave like businesses along certain dimensions, in that they attempt to maximize educational and research output constrained by a budget, but I will not go as far to assert that universities are businesses.

Matthew Nagowski | September 16, 2006 (#)

Annals of Data (and Stupidity)

As reported earlier, I heard that a number of applicants to Cornell last year had sent in their application without indicating which undergraduate college they would like to be considered at. Well, the university has kindly released the numbers, and the total number of students who should not have been admitted anywhere for virtue of their carelessness was 1,114.

I wonder where they ended up…

Anyways, I’ve compiled all of the acceptance rate statistics for Cornell's Class of 2010 together into a convenient table for you to analyze to your heart’s content. Of course, none of these data tell us anything about the quality of the student body (or applicants), but are interesting nonetheless.

Of those who indicated which college they wanted to be considered at, the acceptance rate was 25.7 percent.

Moreover, had the university not overenrolled by 240 students, it could have lowered its acceptance rate to 22.9 percent. But enrollment management is a hard science to master, especially at such a large institution.

Art, Architecture, and Planning had the lowest acceptance rate at 19.9 percent, just under Arts and Sciences.

Engineering had the highest acceptance rate at 36.5 percent and the lowest yield rate at 38.5 percent, most likely reflecting its difficulty in recruiting common admits with MIT, Caltech, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and the like. And for all the Cornell engineers out there—you can probably enjoy some MIT-like street credibility (and yield rates) if you stopped studying and pulled a prank every once in a while.

Elsewhere, minority students (a self-reported stat) enjoyed a slightly higher acceptance rate – 26.1 percent, while transfers has a 27 percent acceptance rate, with an outstanding yield rate of 70 percent.

And Hotel School admits obviously want to manage hotels for a living—over 80 percent of accepted students there chose to enroll in Statler High.

Matthew Nagowski | September 14, 2006 (#)


Not to beat a dead horse, but a reader writes in regarding my most recent post:

Matt: Cornell may have more lower-income students than Dartmouth, but can you really say that's conclusively due to admissions policies? There are plenty of other factors, including location, size, tuition, financial aid, and of course Cornell's land-grant mission and practical focus. Cornell also doesn't have the elitist reputation that the D. does.
The reader touches on good points, and they are the reasons why my wording wasn't very strong in that paragraph.

However, that Dartmouth has less low-income students isn't the point; that Dartmouth claims its early admissions programs don't tilt the tables is. Maybe Dartmouth can overcome most of the problem with other policies as it mentions, but it still creates two distinct applicants pools at the end of the day: those that don't care about what college costs and those that do.

If most everybody agrees that early admissions puts less-well off students at a disadvantage (merely for the fact that they can't compare financial aid policies before deciding which college to attend), then it’s just a little bit funny when a school that is more successful at getting low-income students (Cornell) says it is still a problem, when a school that is less successful (Dartmouth) says it is not a problem.

The reader further writes:

Also, are disadvantaged students really not as "savvy" because they don't have full-time paid college advisors? Honestly, it doesn't take that much to conclude that applying early might boost your chances of getting in, and someone applying to Harvard should probably have the smarts to figure that out in the first place.
Given that college admissions are still as confusing as all hell (or at least, I know it was when I applied), I still don’t know how many students fully realize what a boost applying early gives them in admissions. However, that’s not the issue. What is the issue is the behavior of a student coming from a family that is making 50,000 dollars a year versus a family that is making 100,000 a year and a family that is making 150,000 dollars a year. The less your family makes, the less inclined you will be to apply early simply because of concerns over your financial situation, and that's how the tables are tilt in favor of the well-off.

Admittedly, non-binding early action programs aren’t nearly as guilty as binding early decision practices because students are still given an opportunity to compare their college choices. But any step by Harvard that may prod other colleges in the right direction should be lauded.

And reader mail is always welcome!

Matthew Nagowski | September 13, 2006 (#)

Spinning Harvard's Early Decision Decision

The Times is running a follow-up piece to yesterday's decision by Harvard to get rid of its non-binding early admission programs. It's not that hard-hitting of a piece, and the least they could do is mention that some colleges are much more dependent on early admit programs than others (cough, Princeton, cough UPenn), but it's interesting because most of the college officials interviewed come across like a deer-in-headlights, not knowing how to react to the Harvard decision.

However, in it, they interview Cornell provost Biddy Martin (the true person in power at Cornell, and by the way, who calls her Carolyn?):

At Cornell, Carolyn Martin, the provost, said officials there had been discussing for quite a while their concerns that early admissions might deter some low-income students from applying and pressure other students to commit too quickly.

"I don't know where we will end up," Dr. Martin said. "It's been fairly widely recognized, certainly at Cornell, that it does put students in a disadvantaged position."

This of course, the commonly accepted view by students, colleges, and academics alike, but then we have officials from places like Dartmouth trying to spin things the other way:
“For the moment, our plan would be to stick with early admissions but keep a close eye on how this might affect the admissions market,” said Karl M. Furstenberg, dean of admissions at Dartmouth. “A lot of places are going to think about what this means for their own programs.”

Mr. Furstenberg was among the admissions officials who said that through substantial recruiting and outreach, their colleges had been able to attract low-income and minority students to apply through early admissions. “I’m not as convinced that early admissions programs are as big a barrier to kids as Harvard thinks,” he said.

But, of course, the numbers speak for themselves. If Cornell thinks it is a problem, and Dartmouth says it doesn't, and if Cornell has a lot more low-income students than Dartmouth, than it suggests that somebody is being misleading, and I don't think it is Biddy.

Also, major props go out to the Cornell Daily Sun for not covering what may turn out to be the most important story in higher education this year, even when it seems that every other college newspaper did.

Matthew Nagowski | September 13, 2006 (#)

Early-Action Overreaction

The world has apparently changed, irrevocably and for the better, with Harvard's decision to end early admissions entirely. This may very well be true: it is certainly a move of noble intentions. But so much of the analysis of Harvard's plan has focused on the goodness of their hearts, and so little on what Harvard without early admissions might actually look like.

Today, that picture is one of distinct disadvantage for lower-income and minority students who may not, for varying reasons, apply early. The main reason seems to be that other colleges -- but not Harvard -- have binding early-decision programs that sometimes entice students away from a shot at the nation's #2 ranked school. Binding policies also often require a decision before financial aid details become available. (I've never been convinced that this is a tragedy; plenty of top-ranked schools don't require a binding decision. I'll concede the point anyway, because I'm not an admissions expert.)

The real problem was never Harvard to begin with -- they don't force anyone to make uninformed decisions. But the hope is that Harvard will pressure other schools to abandon their binding policies. So far, so good, except for one thing: This could actually become an incentive for other schools to keep their early action or early decision programs, since they'd have a larger pool of available students who would be, essentially, fair game.

So, let me sketch an alternate vision of what might happen after Harvard's bold move:

Andy Guess | September 12, 2006 (#)

Three Cheers for Derek Bok

Harvard has decided to end its early admissions program, the much decried program that offers students with an advantage by applying to a college early as part of the admissions process. This is huge news, and hopefully more colleges will follow Harvard's lead on this.

The practice has a strong reputation of favoring well-off and well-groomed applicants: those high-school students that have "college admissions consuelors" rather than "guidance consuelors" and parents who aren't nervous about the financial difficulties of attempting to foot the bill for college. While the early decision process is a win-win for colleges and some students (students enjoy slightly easier admissions requirements while colleges are able to lock away a third to a half of their entering class and manage their enrollment process a a lot better), everybody agrees that early admit programs put disadvantaged or ill-advised students on an uneven playing field when compared to their prep-school peers. The New York Times has more:

"We think this will produce a fairer process, because the existing process has been shown to advantage those who are already advantaged,'' Derek Bok, the interim president of Harvard, said yesterday in an interview.

Mr. Bok said students who were more affluent and sophisticated were the ones most likely to apply for early admission. More than a third of Harvard's students are accepted through early admission. In addition, he said many early admissions programs require students to lock in without being able to compare financial aid offerings from
various colleges.

Mr. Bok also spoke about reducing the frenzy surrounding admissions. "I think it will improve the climate in high schools," he said, "so that students don't start getting preoccupied in their junior year about which college to go to.''

Derek Bok, of course, is also the co-author of the The Shape of the River which wonderfully describes the issues surrounding higher education's affirmative action debate.

The Times has a handy chart that lists the regular and early decision acceptance rates at many colleges, but Cornell is not included.

Matthew Nagowski | September 12, 2006 (#)

The New Ivy League

With college admissions season right around the corner, nervous parents and bratty, adderall snorting high school students bent on rising into America’s power elite should not be setting their sites on the Ivy League.

Why? Cutting-edge research now indicates that the classrooms producing the educators of America’s aristocracy are in such far away locales as Dillard University in Lousiana or Queens College… Canada. At some point, America’s ruling class got smart, and decided to educate their educators at Podunk U. No doubt because it was cheaper. (The rich will stop at no end to save a penny.)


Yep. That’s the percentage of current Ivy League university presidents that had their undergraduate degree signed by the president of an Ivy League institution.

So why go to Columbia when the guy that oversees Columbia went to the University of Oregon? And Dartmouth students: We understand that Wisconsin has really good beer and cheese. Just ask your president. He went to some no-name school out there that nobody has ever heard of.

Click below for the data that went into this groundbreaking research. (And please note that any attempt for this post to be a knock-off of IvyGate was intended.)

Matthew Nagowski | September 11, 2006 (#)

The Blogging of the Ivy League

Over the past month or so, two different blogs, IvyGate and IvyLeak have emerged claiming to “cover the news, gossip, sex, and sports” of the ancient eight, “plumbing their depths with muckraking flair.” Both are ostensibly run by Ivy League alumni, and both bring a considerable amount of Gawker-esque satire, snark, and sarcasm to your daily Ivy League news dish.

Both sites are also run completely anonymously, but my hunches would have it that IvyGate was started by Columbia alums, while IvyLeak has demonstrated a considerable interest in all things Cornellian.

Given that both sites possess a commanding knowledge and interest in higher education and the Ivy League, it would be hard to imagine either of their origins coming out of anything other than the minds of disaffected former college newspaper editors, now slacking away on their mundane day jobs as fact checkers and copy room clerks.

Here at MetaEzra, your polite and ever-thoughtful alumni-interest Cornell blog, we are amused by these two websites. One simply can’t help but marvel how well they get caught up in an over-glorified sports league (and how seriously some people take them to be):

Creating a petition to send to Mark Zuckerberg? Yep. Singling out Ned Lamont’s daughter for unneeded attention? You bet. Facebook messaging the son of a former Ivy League President? It’s not past them. Eiffel Towering President Skorton’s mom? Got it. Or spending way too much time pulling together statistics to demonstrate the Ivy League’s control of the world?* Well…errr… okay, we kind of spend too much time on statistics here too.

Me thinks that they may have way too much time on their hands. Could it be that their Ivy League degrees and connections couldn’t help them land a job that would actually keep them occupied during the work day? And maybe the reason why they blog anonymously is because they are afraid of being fired for their blogging-by-day antics.

Or, perhaps, they are all doing it all for the Google Adsense money as they claim. MetaEzra is certainly not raking in much dough through its ads, but as most people tell me, I went to the “non-Ivy” part of Cornell (a contract college), and perhaps the bona-fide Ivy League kids actually can make more money than us losers who went to SUNY-Ithaca.

*N.B. Kudos, however, must be given to IvyGate as they slyly not only know who Phil Gourevitch is, but decided to exclude him in their measures of Ivy League media hegemony.

Matthew Nagowski | September 11, 2006 (#)

The Bourgeoisie and College Admissions

I spent this past weekend in Ithaca, but somehow only managed to make it on to campus for around 15 minutes or so. While the crisp, pre-autumnal air made me remember how much I miss Upstate New York, the majority of students that I ran into – complete with oversized sunglasses, oversized sport-utility vehicles, and oversized attitudes, reminded me of some elements of Cornell life that I would much rather forget.

Still, on Saturday night I dined overlooking Ithaca Falls, eating fresh bread with brie and gouda, while drinking more expensive alcohol than I ever did during my undergraduate years. The hushing water silenced the night, and any bad thoughts slipped far away into the untouched crevices of memory.

However, I did come across two interesting anecdotes over the weekend:

Last year, close to two thousand applications for undergraduate study at Cornell University were promptly thrown out because applicants failed to mark which college they were applying to. What I don’t know is if the university counted these applications when it announced that a record number of students applied to the university last year, but if they weren’t smart enough to indicate which college they wanted to apply for, they probably shouldn’t be going to any college, let alone Cornell.

I also met a Cornell undergraduate who has made a business out of “advising” the college application process to insecure and wealthy Long Island students who are afraid that their “personal statements” are not up to snuff. While I have heard about such types of services available, I never imagined how much somebody could get for "selectively editing" a student’s essay: a thousand dollars.

Now, if both of these anecdotes are not signs of the hyper-competitive attitudes of upper-middle class students and their parents, I don’t know what is.

Matthew Nagowski | September 11, 2006 (#)

Cornell: Top School for African Americans?

"Black Enterprise names Cornell one of nation's best colleges for African-Americans," boasts a recent Cornell Chronicle press release. Hooray! If true -- and assuming there's an objective set of conditions that would make a university preferable to African-American students -- this would be great for Cornell, great for the student body, and of course, a great selling point.

The press release notes that Cornell falls at #26 in this year's Black Enterprise "Top 50 Colleges for African Americans" rankings. Halfway down out of 50 ain't bad, when you consider the 1,400 or so other schools considered. But Cornell is beat out by Harvard, Columbia, and Penn, and this is actually a drop from 2004, which is the latest year for previous rankings I could find online. (That year, Cornell's endowed colleges ranked #24.) Also, this year's methodology was changed to weigh black graduation rates more heavily, arguably one of the most important factors that should be considered. The result was that Harvard shot up from #9 in 2004 to #4 now, and Morehouse College, previously #1, plummeted to #45.

The upshot of it is this: If you're a minority student looking to apply to an Ivy League university, would you choose the 26th-ranked school, or a higher-ranked college that offered no-loan financial aid?

Andy Guess | September 10, 2006 (#)

Confirmed: Okun at Columbia

Columbia University's people search is now listing Kathy Okun as the senior deputy vice president for development, at the Office of the Vice President for University Development and Alumni Relations where, incidentally, the executive vice president, Susan Feagin, was previously vice president for development at -- you guessed it -- the University of Michigan.

Former Cornell president Jeffrey Lehman '77, who is married to Okun, finished his year-long term at the Wilson Center last month. The Cornell directory still lists him as a professor of law, with an office and a phone number, and he seems to be active according to the Law School's website, but he does not appear to be teaching any courses this semester. The Courses of Study also doesn't seem to have any Lehman-taught courses listed for the academic year.

Will Jeffrey Lehman return to teaching this year, as he originally pledged after his resignation? If so, will he commute back and forth to New York City using the Campus-to-Campus luxury bus he originally commissioned?

Andy Guess | September 10, 2006 (#)

Skorton Crashes Cornell.edu

With the inauguration of David Skorton, Cornell's 12th president, taking place on the Arts Quad this afternoon, I suspect that many alumni were hoping to tune in to cornell.edu to watch a live feed of the inaugural exercises. Unfortunately, it appears that the cornell.edu website has crashed:


Nevertheless, here's to hoping that it is a glorious day in Ithaca. May Caygua's shimmering blue, Ithaca's haze-tinged hillsides, and the clock tower’s reverberating bells usher in a successful Skorton Era.

Matthew Nagowski | September 07, 2006 (#)

Skorton and the State of New York

Loyal readers will recall an earlier article suggesting the need for Cornell to reinforce its attention to Upstate New York and to help facilitate Upstate New York’s (eventual?) turnaround.

Well, the Albany Times-Union reports today just that:

In an interview last week, Skorton outlined his vision for the 20,440-student university. Like the 64-campus SUNY system, Cornell, Skorton says, should play an important role in a variety of initiatives, including efforts to improve K-12 education and attempts to reverse the economic slide that has afflicted much of upstate…

Skorton also wants Cornell to fully participate in efforts to boost the local and state economy. Cornell is already a major player in that area and lawmakers are well aware of its importance.

I would ideally like to see Cornell go one or two steps further and actively re-organize its teaching, research and extension operations to better serve New York State. Over the long-term this might involve re-organizing Cornell’s undergraduate business programs (why are programs in AEM, PAM, Human Resources, Organizational Behavior, the Hotel School, and ORIE so disparate?) while dissolving the social-science/policy oriented disciplines in the Schools of Agriculture, Human Ecology, and ILR to create a new college of applied social sciences and public policy that would have an explicit outreach agenda, similar to what Harvard has done with it’s Kennedy School of Government.

Of course, this couldn’t be done without the State of New York on board, as the institutional politics and momentum of Cornell's colleges are such that no amount of strong-arming by Biddy Martin or David Skorton could get them to change their ways. Just look at what happened with the administration tried to dissolve the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, or appoint a business-school professor to become ILR’s dean...

I hope to write about these issues further, but in the interim, I am pleased. That David Skorton – barely two months into his new job – is giving lip service to these issues, striving to develop connections with the State of New York, and is already stewarding developments that address the Upstate’s plight, is inherently a good thing.

So much of a good thing, in fact, that I am actually considering biting the bullet and finally donating some money of my hard earned money to my beloved alma mater—as a vote of confidence in David Skorton’s leadership.

Matthew Nagowski | September 05, 2006 (#)

A Better Measure of College Quality?

Amidst all of the recent fuss over college rankings, the president of Lewis and Clark College ran an interest op-ed piece in the Washington Post this week. In it, he questions the conventional wisdom among private higher education institutions that a federal database tracking student achievement in higher education might turn into yet another bureaucratic federal program, infringing on student privacy, and leading to “No Student Left Behind”-type testing.

He writes:

We in academia know remarkably little about what emerges from the vast and diverse system of higher education. Why do students drop out? Where do they go when they do? What factors in primary and secondary school, beyond grade-point averages, class rankings and standardized test scores, best predict their success or failure in college? What impact does their educational experience have on our students' success or failure after graduation?

We are ill-equipped to answer these questions. Without comprehensive information, both individual institutions and society lack the tools to assess how the system is working, how it is failing and how it might be improved.

Proponents of the database -- including, interestingly, many leaders of the nation's community colleges and public universities -- view it as a means for educators to achieve the accountability for which lawmakers and the public are clamoring.
Obviously, any elite private institutions has a reputation to protect, and it would not want to willingly release any data demonstrating that a student can get a similar educational experience paying only a quarter of the price at a public university. But still, aren’t we all supposed to be interested in the students’ best interest?

If the student privacy issues are addressed, I can see such a database being a great boon to higher education in America. Schools would instantly become more accountable for the quality of the education that they would provide, and the public would finally have meaningful ways to measure and assess the quality of an institution. After all, instead of measuring how wealthy and well-educated a school’s entering undergraduates (which is essentially what U.S. News does), we should really be rankings institutions by the quality of the undergraduate experience and how much they actually educate students.

It would be interesting to know how the Cornell administration stands on these issues. If anybody out there knows, feel free to shoot me an email.

And obviously, U.S. News would never go for it, because they are trying to sell magazines.

Matthew Nagowski | September 01, 2006 (#)

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