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September 16
University Innovation Alliance Unveils Collaborative Plan to Increase College Completion

​Platters of cheese empanadas and fresh fruit greeted guests as they entered the Rotunda of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to attend the University Innovation Alliance’s Announcement and Public Rollout event on Tuesday morning. But if the finger food was a notch above the usual, the content of the event cleared the bar with room to spare. Through well-moderated discussions and lively presentations, leaders from the UIA member institutions and their sponsors laid out plans to realize a vision of partnership that has been taking shape behind the scenes for the past fifteen months.

The University Innovation Alliance (UIA) is a group of eleven public universities committed to increasing the country’s number of graduates through collaboration and sharing of successful methods. The goals are to find scalable models of retaining and graduating students, particularly those who are underserved, underrepresented, and non-traditional. Alliance members are: Arizona State University, Georgia State University, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, The Ohio State University, University of California at Riverside, University of Central Florida, University of Kansas, and the University of Texas at Austin. The Alliance has approximately $5.7 million in funding from the Ford Foundation, Gates Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Markle Foundation, and USA Funds. The Alliance’s focus on these universities is an acknowledgment that, in order to meet college completion goals set by the Lumina Foundation and by the Obama Administration, public institutions of higher education will need to be the primary drivers of increased completion rates. There is no question that elite liberal arts colleges and Ivy League institutions are producing strong results, said Michael Crow (President, Arizona State University and Chair, University Innovation Alliance), but the problem with those models is that they are not scalable to impact the number of students who need to be reached if the country is to meet completion goals.

“Scale” is one of Mark Becker’s (President, Georgia State University and Vice Chair, University Innovation Alliance) four go-to words to describe UIA: Innovation, collaboration, translation, and scale. UIA member institutions will innovate on their own campuses and collaborate through a mentor/mentee relationship to learn from one another, and the projects they pursue will be able to be translated to the other member schools and scaled to affect large populations of students. Each member institution has a particular method it is using, successfully, to help attain the Alliance’s goals. Institutions that are leaders in one area will serve as mentors to the other institutions, who will work to adopt and adapt the strategies to their campuses. Some examples include:

  • Georgia State University – GPS Advising system that uses predictive analytics to predict an individual student’s performance in any given class and any given major
  • Oregon State University – E-Campus (Extended Campus) to reach 25-64 year olds with some college and no degree
  • Iowa State University – Learning Communities of 25-40 students that bring students together around shared areas of interest (specific academic program, social concern, identity, etc.) – students share classes, residence hall, dining, etc.
  • University of Texas at Austin – University Leadership Network financial intervention program that uses predictive analytics to identify the students at the very bottom of expected 4 year graduation rate and then provides them $5,000 scholarships each year, spread out in increments that are awarded as they meet certain academic goals.
  • University of Central Florida – Direct Connect program that creates very easy transfer between FL community colleges and UCF
  • Michigan State University – Campus neighborhoods created by dividing the 24 residence halls into 5 communities, each of which has access to academic advising, study spaces, a health facility, and financial  counseling.

When pressed on whether the Alliance will be open to other institutions to join, Kim Wilcox (Chancellor, University of California at Riverside) demurred, saying, “This isn’t a club you join; it’s a commitment you make.” He elaborated on the UIA member institutions’ determination to make sure they are able to accomplish their goals; before broadening the Alliance, the first step will be to ensure that the collaboration is producing results. Hilary Pennington (Vice President, Education, Creativity and Free Expression, Ford Foundation) expects that even if no other institutions are added to the Alliance, the ideas and methods developed will spread organically throughout higher education as administrators, who work on UIA projects, talk with non-UIA colleagues and move from one institution to another.

University leaders expressed differing views on the role public policy should play in helping prod along college completion rates. Current policies, David Leonhardt (Managing Editor of The Upshot, The New York Times) acknowledged, stress  enrollment, not completion--though this is changing as more states turn to performance based funding models. John Hitt (President, University of Central Florida) welcomes his state's performance based model, while Bernadette Gray-Little (Chancellor, University of Kansas) was more hesitant. Performance based funding is a good idea, she said, but has not necessarily been used "in a sensitive way." She argues that metrics must be adjusted to account for the students an institution serves; an admirable graduation rate at University A may be subpar for University B and truly unattainable at University C. Given budget realities, it is unlikely that colleges will lower tuition any time soon, but UIA members hope to help lower the cost of a degree by streamlining the process and accelerating the timeline on which students earn their credentials. Joseph Steinmentz (Executive Vice President and Provost, The Ohio State University) expressed a sentiment that seemed widely shared among UIA representatives when he said he feels "like much of the national commitment to have students go to college regardless of income has been lost." UIA member institutions are dedicated to reclaiming that lost commitment and taking a leading role in producing a high number of new college graduates.

None of the panelists or presenters feigned naiveté​; all recognize that the work ahead will be challenging. Wilcox lamented that "the sense that some universities provide access and some provide excellence is a profoundly disappointing notion"--one that UIA hopes to counteract. While the universities have their work cut out for them, as Becker noted in his introductory remarks, "these are not insurmountable problems." Indeed, each of the UIA member institutions is already making progress alone. In the coming years, the universities will work together to continue expanding opportunity. Their first initiative? Predictive analytics, for which Georgia State University, Arizona State University, and the University of Texas at Austin will serve as mentors.

September 15
2014 School Counseling Grants Issued

​Last Thursday, the Department of Education announced the recipients of its 2014 Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Grants. The grantees represent forty school districts in twenty states, and award amounts range from $180,928 to $398,279. Grantees will use the funds to train and support counseling staff, as well as to hire more school counselors. While most of the projects awarded funding are geared exclusively toward elementary students, some will also target secondary schools. Mental health is a prominent concern in the project abstracts, with grantees hoping the increased counseling manpower and training will allow their schools to more effectively aid students, particularly those coping with external pressures, such as poverty and dysfunctional home lives.

Descriptions of the projects awarded funding are available here. Earlier this summer, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged the Chief State School Officers to maximize their use of counseling professionals, and issued a comprehensive list​ of federal resources and funds available to support school counselors.

September 12
Higher Education Act Reauthorization: What You Should Know about the Senate Draft

​NACAC has endorsed and submitted comments on the Senate HELP Committee’s draft of the Higher Education Affordability Act (HEAA), which would update and reauthorize the Higher Education Act. NACAC identified several provisions that may be of particular interest to members. You can read the full summary of these provisions here.

If the current draft of the HEAA were to be enacted:

  • ​Colleges would not be able to use federal education funds for marketing and recruitment.
  • Colleges would have to use a standardized financial aid award letter.
  • Colleges would have to make certain their Net Price Calculators meet specific standards, and the Department of Education would develop a Universal Net Price Calculator, which would allow a student to generate net price estimates for multiple colleges simultaneously.
  • Colleges would not be able to use incentive-based compensation and would have to annually notify employees of the policy.
  • Colleges would not be allowed to enter into revenue sharing agreements with third party entities.
  • Colleges would not be allowed to include pre-dispute arbitration agreements in enrollment contracts, and all previously-signed pre-dispute arbitration agreements would be voided.
  • Colleges that pose a high student loan default risk would have to provide admitted students with a two week waiting period and full financial aid information before requiring them to sign enrollment agreements.
  • Colleges would be subject to review by the Department of Education if they meet certain outcome (low graduation rate, high student loan default rate, etc.), financial (fiscal health, percent of revenue spent on marketing/recruitment/executive compensation, etc.), or consumer protection (high complaint rate, investigation or disciplinary action by an accrediting body or government agency, etc.) criteria. Additional criteria (high profit margin, percent of revenue derived from federal education funds, change in ownership, etc.) may trigger reviews of for-profit colleges.
  • Colleges under review by the Department of Education (above) would have to post a notice of this review on their websites’ home pages.
  • Several federal grant programs would be established, including one to incentivize states to keep tuition costs low and to enroll more low-income students and another to help certain immigrant students attend college.

While the Senate has adopted a comprehensive approach to reauthorizing the HEA, the House is approaching the task in a piecemeal fashion and h​as passed a few stand-alone bills​. It is unlikely that both chambers will come to an accord soon. NACAC will keep membership updated on developments through the Bulletin, Admitted Blog, and monthly Legislative Updates (contact Michael Rose at if you would like to receive these). 

September 04
Will Federal College Ratings Disproportionally Impact Minority Students?

​The Civil Rights Project of UCLA hosted a briefing on September 2, 2014, to introduce seven draft research papers examining the potential effect of the Obama administration's proposed Postsecondary Institutional Ratings System (PIRS) on minority students and minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

The idea behind PIRS is to measure which colleges are doing the best job at affordably and effectively educating their students. Eventually, federal aid may be linked to an institution's performance under the ratings system. PRIS is still in the development stages; the Department of Education has not yet issued specifics of how it intends to rate institutions. Even so, the possibility of a federal rating system tied to funding has drawn criticism from higher education groups that are worried that the system, when developed, will be unable to equitably capture institutional differences (NACAC submitted comments expressing concerns with the proposal in February).

The research discussed at Tuesday's briefing set aside general concerns with rating/ranking systems to instead focus on the practical implications of PIRS, particularly if federal funding is contingent upon institutional performance. Unsurprisingly, minority-serving institutions enroll higher percentages of high-need students, making federal aid all the more vital to their sustainability. At the same time, these institutions tend to not stack up as well against predominantly white institutions in metrics such as graduation rate. MSI advocates point to student demographics and lack of resources as primary causes of the disparity, and they stress that many MSIs outperform expectations when these factors are taken into account. One of the more provocative presentations came from Nicholas Hillman of the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Dr. Hillman's research exposes so-called "education deserts" -- communities in which there are few, if any, public institutions of higher education. These regions align with lower socioeconomic and minority demographics. Hillman concentrated on public institutions because the majority of students enroll in public sector institutions​, and they tend to be lower cost to attend than private non-profit or proprietary options. What would happen to college access, Hillman asks, if the few public options available to students in education deserts lose funding under PIRS?

All of the presenters used their research to urge the Department​ of Education to carefully consider these aspects in developing and implementing PIRS. ​According to Deputy Undersecretary Jamienne Studley, who attended the briefing, the department is committed to doing just that, and she promised that the department would seek feedback and advice from researchers like those present to help make sure PIRS supports, rather than suffocates, success among minority and underrepresented students.

The papers discussed at the briefing are still in draft form and are undergoing the peer-review process. When finalized, they will be posted on the UCLA Civil Rights Project website.

August 20
How Often and in What Amounts Do Credits Transfer When Students Move From One Postsecondary Institution to Another?

​This was one of the questions a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics sought to address by examining a cohort of first-time beginning undergraduate students who began their postsecondary study in the 2003-04 school year (BPS longitudinal study). The analysis found that about one-third of students in the cohort transferred or coenrolled at least once during a six-year period and of those who did transfer, approximately:

  • ​32 percent transferred all previously earned credits in the first transfer, 
  • 28 percent transferred some credits, and 
  • 39 percent transferred no credits.
Students who transferred all previously earned credits retained, on average, 24 credits, whereas students who lost credit, lost approximately 13 credits on average following their first transfer. 


In addition, the report also looked at factors that consistently contributed to the likelihood of credit transfer. The two factors that stood out were:


  • ​Academic performance prior to transfer (as measured by GPA)- “Specifically, higher GPAs were related to lower probabilities that zero credits will transfer and to a higher number of credits accepted.”

  • Transfer direction (e.g., vertical, reverse, or horizontal)- “Reverse or horizontal transfer was related to higher probabilities that zero credits will transfer and a lower number of credits accepted at the destination institution… Overall, the findings suggest that when student transfer is aligned with how the higher education system is designed to accommodate credit transfer (e.g., from 2-year institution to 4-year institutions)… credit transfer is more likely to occur.”


Visit NACAC’s Transfer Knowledge Hub to learn more about the latest research related to transfer success. You can also find a wealth of resources such as journal articles, presentations, and other links related to transfer in the Knowledge Center

Reference: Simone, S.A. (2014). Transferability of Postsecondary Credit Following Student Transfer or Coenrollment (NCES 2014-163). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

August 13
DACA Toolkit for Community Partners

Two years ago this week, the Department of Homeland Security began approving requests from those wishing to be considered for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Because recipients must reapply for DACA every two years, this is a good opportunity to review some basic information about DACA and highlight resources for students and counselors.

What is DACA?

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It allows the Department of Homeland Security to exercise prosecutorial authority to not pursue the deportation of certain undocumented immigrants, who have been deemed low-priority and low-risk. Individuals who meet the criteria for DACA must apply to DHS, and must renew their request every two years. DACA does not grant a lawful status -- only lawful presence -- nor does it offer a path to citizenship. In this way, DACA is very different from proposed DREAM Act measures, which would create a path to citizenship.

Who qualifies for DACA?

To qualify for DACA, an individual must meet the following criteria (source: USCIS)

  • Was under age 31 on June 15, 2012
  • Entered the U.S. before turning sixteen years old
  • Since June 15, 2007, has lived continuously in the U.S.
  • Was present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and when making a DACA request
  • Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012
  • Is currently enrolled in school or has graduated/obtained a certificate or GED; or has been honorably discharged from the USCG or military
  • Has not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and is not deemed a threat to national security or public safety

Haga clic aquí ​para información sobre DACA en español.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services released a DACA Toolkit: Resources for Community Partners booklet, which explains in detail the requirements for DACA and addresses frequently asked questions. In addition, the guide explains the differences in how to apply for initial DACA approval and how to apply for renewal of DACA status. All of the necessary forms, and much other valuable information, is available on the USCIS website. NACAC also has resources and articles about DACA and college admission for undocumented students. If you are working on advocacy and policymaking surrounding DACA, you may be interested in this April 2014 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, "Immigration and Legalization: Roles and Responsibilities of States and Localities." Pew hosted a panel discussion on August 12, 2014, to explore this topic in depth. Guest speakers and their research can be found here​.

August 08
New Rules for PLUS Loan Borrowers?
Newly-announced proposed changes to PLUS loan eligibility have entered the fray of ongoing debates about the intersection of accessibility and accountability in higher education. PLUS loans​, which are usually made to parents and to graduate students, are unlike other student loans in the federal financial aid arsenal. PLUS loans have high interest rates (for loans dispersed July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015, the rate is 7.21%) and they do not have annual or total limits, allowing borrowers to borrow up to the total cost of attendance at an institution. Also unlike other student loans, PLUS loans are subject to credit approval.

In 2011, the Department of Education tightened PLUS loan eligibility requirements. As a result, many PLUS loan applicants were denied. At the undergraduate level, the new restrictions measurably impacted low-income and minority students, as well as minority-serving institutions. Several HBCUs suffered from declining enrollments when students, who relied on PLUS loans to bridge the gap between what their family could afford out of pocket and cost of attendance, could not longer afford tuition and fees.

Announced today, the Department of Education has proposed rules that would ameliorate this situation. Should the rules be approved, the look-back window for reviewing most adverse credit history would be shortened to two years from the current five, and would allow up to $2,085 of delinquent debt to not count against an applicant. If an applicant still fails to qualify, she may appeal the decision with an explanation of any extenuating circumstances. If the Department approves a PLUS loan for an applicant with adverse credit history, the loan will then be given with mandatory counseling. In sum, the Department expects 371,000 more applicants will qualify for PLUS loans under the revised requirements.

While this is good news for institutions that serve high percentages of PLUS loan holders, consumer protection advocates warn that it might not be such a good deal for the borrowers themselves. Because the new rules would allow borrowers with already fragile finances​ to take out large sums of money, at high interest rates, consumer protection advocates have seen the proposed rules as setting the stage for higher default rates and economic difficulties. For parents borrowing on behalf of the their children, the risk could even further outweigh the reward, since the borrowers are not the ones directly benefiting from the education the loan is financing.

Both The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed have summaries of the debate and proposed rules. The public comment period will last until September 8, 2014. You may submit comments via the Federal Register.
July 31
Reflections from the “College Opportunity Agenda” Event on Strengthening School Counseling and College Advising

A miracle.  A marathon.  A momentum.  The July 28 "College Opportunity Agenda: Strengthening School Counseling and College Advising" event, co-sponsored by the Office of the First Lady and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, was all about those three "M"s. Trish Hatch of San Diego State University described the event as a "miracle in the making." More than 100 professionals attended in person, more than 500 participated via the live stream online, and nearly 20 experts shared their knowledge.  The event united individuals from all types of educational fields, industry, government, and settings.

The event started with a video greeting from First Lady Michelle Obama who emphasized her passion for this effort.  Following that inspirational message about the important work of school counseling and college advising, Mandy Savitz-Romer of Harvard described this work as "crossing borders" and uniting pioneers.  She used the framework of describing three gaps in this arena: the pre-service gap, the on-going professional development gap, and the content gap.  She reminded us that these gaps become our opportunities that will require new investments.

Three themed panels framed the day:


Panelist Brandy Johnson of Michigan talked about the positive results of a new training program for school counselors in Michigan.  Melissa Miller Kincart from the state of Utah showcased two types of training approaches:  a curricular-infused model and a hybrid model of training, noting that a "coalition of the willing" will help you get there. Rachelle Perusse of the University of Connecticut-Storrs discussed the use of data and equity-based counseling. The bottomline:  training is paramount for improving our college-going and college-completion rates.


In this set of panelists, education consultant Pat Martin kicked off the conversation by emphasizing that "today was a window of opportunity," that we needed to scale this work up, and that there was a seat at the table for everyone. She also used the metaphor of this being a marathon (not a sprint) and that we needed to consider the long-term effects of this important work. Joyce Brown, formerly of the Chicago Public Schools focused on how to deliver college and career readiness to all students.  Judy Petersen from Utah explained how she established a “College and Career Readiness Department” in her school district.  Laura Owen from San Diego State University discussed the role of FAFSA simplification and some emerging research about “summer melt.”  Martin concluded this session reminding us that “the ground is fertile for research.”


Framed by Cheryl Holcomb McCoy of Johns Hopkins University, this final section of the program featured current and emerging tools in the field of college counseling.  Alice Anne Bailey of the Southern Regional Education Board discussed how the College and Career Counseling Training Initiative (CCCTI) is working in 13 states.  Keith Frome from the College Summit shared that the three roadblocks in this arena are a lack of planning, a lack of information, and a lack of support.  He also referred to an emerging area he called the “digital field of college apps” – discussing smartphone ​apps that can help students through the steps of preparing for college.  Drew Scherberle from Austin shared the perspective from a chamber of commerce and the path to college.  Sylvia Lopez from Dallas discussed the importance of a tri-level approach:  student level, school level, and district level for improving our college going cultures.

During the lunch hour, Eric Waldo from the Office of the First Lady shared the journey of this emerging effort, emphasizing the importance of it to President and Mrs. Obama.  Waldo referred to Michelle Obama as our nation’s “chief school counselor” because of her commitment to this agenda. Representatives from 8 national organizations shared progress on their previous commitments to this effort.  It was rewarding to learn about what had been accomplished in the last 6 months.  

Throughout the day, three breakout sessions enabled attendees to respond to the expert panelists, share new ideas, and begin developing action items for improving our work in this area.  It was frequently referred to as a “historical event.”

The momentum is here – it’s time to join the marathon and make this miracle a reality.   What happens from here will redefine school counseling and college advising in America.  #collegeaccess14


Dr. Christopher Tremblay​ is the Associate Provost for Enrollment Management at Western Michigan University.

July 31
Graduate Coursework in College Counseling: The Certificates Training Pathway

Since 1990, eight graduate certificate programs in college counseling have existed in the United States. A recent study​ by Dr. Christopher ​Tremblay from Western Michigan University identified programs at four schools in California, one school in Michigan, one school in Minnesota, and one school in Massachusetts. This research revealed seven major themes among these certificate programs in college counseling: 


  1. Conceptually and operationally, two different types of college counseling certificate programs have emerged in the United States: post bachelor’s and post master’s. A post bachelor’s program offers a certificate earned after having received a bachelor’s degree; whereas a post master’s program certificate is obtained after having received (or in process of simultaneously earning) a master’s degree. Of the eight programs, six* can be classified as post bachelor’s programs and two can be classified as post master’s programs. 

  2. All certificate programs are operating independently with neither national affiliation, nor connection to a specifically-correlating accrediting body, and are only loosely tied to professional associations. 

  3. Practicums in the certificate programs are prevalent, but differ greatly in format and expectations. Of the eight certificate programs studied, six include a practicum as a course and certificate completion requirement. 

  4. A majority of the certificate programs are preparing individuals to start their own college counseling practice as a business. Of the seven currently-operating programs, five of them are preparing individuals to start their own business in college counseling. 

  5. The readings used among the courses in the certificate programs are varied except for a reliance on one single textbook. Among the 17 certificate courses in which textbook information was available, 20 different texts are being used. These textbooks were categorized into four types: “how to” guides, narratives, homegrown texts, and hybrid texts. The Fundamentals of College Admission Counseling textbook authored and published by NACAC is the most common reading among all certificate programs and has received mixed reviews. Currently, it is the only designated textbook developed for these certificate programs. 

  6. The certificate program courses vary in number and subjects. The number of courses required to earn the certificate ranges from three to seven. The topic of college admissions is instructed in 100% of the programs. This is followed by a career planning course in all but one of the programs, a counseling course in five of the eight programs, and a financial aid course in half of the programs. 

  7. Individuals who are or have been practitioners in the areas related to college counseling, rather than full-time college faculty, are primarily serving as the instructors of the courses in the certificate program. The purpose of this study was to fill a gap in the literature on graduate coursework in college counseling. In the 25 years that graduate coursework in college counseling has existed, little was known about it. Training in college counseling has primarily existed informally, but is slowly being recognized in a formal, academic context. This study documented current practices in graduate coursework in college counseling at eight different sites in the United States. While there has been much reference to graduate coursework in the field of college admissions, in previous surveys and in opinion-print pieces, this research was the first known, major, comprehensive, national study on the training pathway of graduate certificate programs in college counseling. This research responded to Savitz-Romer’s 2012 call for a review of these offerings.



A recent emergence is the non-credit bearing “Fundamentals of College Counseling Online Program” at Rice University’s Center for College Readiness. Launched in Fall 2013, Rice’s offering covers four topics in four-week modules.  

*Of the seven currently-operating graduate certificate programs, the program at Suffolk University will be closing as of 2016, when the last student graduates.  However, Dr. Timothy Poynton has aspirations of creating a graduate certificate program in college counseling at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.


Savitz-Romer, M. (2012). Professional college knowledge: Re-envisioning how we prepare our college readiness workforce. [2012 National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Discussion Paper]. Arlington, VA: NACAC.  Retrieved from

July 30
Encouraging Transfer Champions

​On July 29, I co-presented a session with assistant director for professional development Crystal Newby about transfer coaching "champions" at NACAC's Guiding the Way to Inclusion conference. The session was a reminder that there are a few...too few...people out there working on behalf of transfer studetns, and that they (and the students they serve) need more help and support. Academic research, focus group results, and national survey data all point to the need for well-informed professionals to assist transfer students as they navigate their higher education pathways. To assist, NACAC recently released a new Transfer Knowledge Hub, designed to give professionals research- and policy-to-practice information on how to best advise students who may transfer at some point in postsecondary education. Check it out here.

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