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unCommon Spring Break: A Whirlwind College Adventure

For Spring Break, I combined business and pleasure in a whirlwind Southern college adventure. Included were 19 campuses in DC, Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, only some of which I had seen previously.

Road Trip Reflections

By now, you know how I feel about ranking institutions of higher learning. But I can’t resist finding an interesting way to present my findings.

Most Innovative: High Point University

The Disney-like campus features 17 fountains and stunning buildings straight out of an exclusive executive retreat. Its leader, Nido Qubein, connected and successful, has raised $300 million and has secured big names to speak on campus. In many ways, his model is the exact opposite of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and satellite campuses. The staff, dressed in their business best, greeted me warmly and pitched heavily. Right now, I’m not buying it, but HPU’s business model is one to follow.

High Point students enjoying the warm day.

Most Sustainable: Warren Wilson College

While in Asheville, I had to stop at Warren Wilson College, a campus that attracts outdoor enthusiasts and writers’ colonies. The students played a role in building some of the dorms and creating items that adorn the eco-friendly admissions office. WWC is known for its Triad, which blends academics, work and community engagement. From Admissions, I could grab a view of the Warren Wilson College Farm, which was getting ready for its weekly market. (They gave me a coupon.)

Outside WWC’s admissions office

Most Spirited: UNC Chapel Hill

Who could resist a stop at the home of the NCAA champion Tar Heels? This picturesque campus features a planetarium and arboretum, and students seem glad to be there. The admissions officers were interviewing out-of-state students for whom a spot in the freshman class can be extremely difficult.

(See featured image at top.)

Most Refreshing Urban: Catholic University of America

In scores of trips to DC, I have often gone to GW and Georgetown. But last week, I went to the other side of the District to see Catholic University of America. I spoke with the enthusiastic admissions staff and walked a well manicured campus filled with happy students. A highlight for many is the Basilica visited by Pope Francis.

The Basilica at CUA

Most Spectacular Campus: Duke

In the early evening, Duke glowed in all the right ways. Joggers ran down Campus Drive and Chapel Drive, undergrads congregated quietly on Abele Quad, and graduate students walked among the law and business schools. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Fuqua School of Business and the university’s magnificent sports facilities. With its Collegiate Gothic style and manicured grounds, Duke was like Princeton . . . on steroids.

Duke early in the evening

Have an interest in Southern colleges? Get in touch.

Marketing Gone Wrong

Recently, I heard from a friend whose daughter, a junior, had received a mailing from Harvard. The daughter is bright for sure, and her father got particularly excited. I had to deliver the reason: it’s (not highly targeted) marketing.

In “The Business of College Marketing,” the Atlantic explains that colleges are able to purchase student data from testing organizations:

“As part of the registration process for the PSAT, the SAT, and the ACT, students are asked a series of questions about their grades, family income, interests, intended major, and types of colleges they might want to attend. The answers yield dozens of data points that are sold with the student’s name and contact information to colleges and scholarship services.”

The article points out that technology has only made marketing campaigns more frequent, and targeting remains haphazard. Perhaps the marketing people should take some courses at their graduate schools of business.

Class of 2021 Round-Up: Same Frustrations, Same Stories

May 1, the National Reply Date, is around the corner. Students are selecting from available options and perhaps still thinking about whether or not they will be offered a spot off a waitlist. This admissions season saw a continuation of trends among highly selective universities which left scores of sensational students feeling that they had “failed” by not gaining a coveted spot. Nonsense! It’s all about making the most of an opportunity.

If Princeton comes up in your household, know that this year it accepted a mere 6.1 percent of its applicants, while Columbia offered a spot to only 5.8 percent.

Worth the Money?

Thanks to Business Insider, we have a look at the most expensive U.S. colleges. Of course, not many dollars separate the players among the top 40. During my trip, I stopped at these four high-priced institutions on the list: Haverford ($66.490), Duke ($66,381), Georgetown ($66.115), and Franklin & Marshall ($65,410). Remember: These schools also extensive financial support to those who can get admitted.

If you think the costs are depressing, just wait until 18 years from now. Vanguard claims the price will be up to $120,000 in 18 years.

Meanwhile, in “Why Parents Pick the Wrong Colleges for their Kids,” Noodle founder John Katzman slams college rankings and the administrators who “actively participate in the rankings game led by U.S. News,” calling instead for surveying graduates.

“All — or nearly all — graduates should be surveyed annually for the decade after they graduate. They should be asked how their college prepared them for the real world; about their satisfaction, their success and their engagement with work and community. These responses should be tracked (anonymously) and seek to answer the question: How do their perceptions, performance and happiness change over those 10 years?”

This Noodle Expert recommends Noodle Pros, they are test-prep gurus!

All in all, I enjoyed the college adventure and have plenty more to share with my students. If offered the beauty of springtime with none of the tension of family visits.


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