Colleges Recruit at Richer, Whiter High Schools

Colleges like to tout their commitment to diversity, but the way they recruit students tells a different story.

For example, the typical high school visited by Connecticut College during recruitment events was richer and whiter than the typical high school they didn’t visit.

An analysis of 41 other colleges and universities shows a similar trend: high schools that were visited for recruiting events tended to be whiter and wealthier than schools that were not visited.

The findings come from newly collected data on high school recruitment visits, when colleges send representatives across the country to court potential students. We gathered data on these visits throughout 2017 for 150 colleges and universities. (The data does not include other forms of recruitment like brochures, emails and visits not posted online. It also cannot account for instances where a high school may lack the capacity to host recruitment events.)

Knowing which high schools receive recruiting visits is important because debates about access to higher education often focus on students’ abilities but ignore how colleges identify and prioritize prospects.

A study by Meagan Holland at the University at Buffalo found recruitment visits aren’t merely an indicator of each college’s priorities; they also influence where students — and particularly first-generation students — apply and enroll. The study found that many smart kids from less affluent backgrounds are sensitive to “feeling wanted,” often attending colleges that took the time to visit.

High Schools Receiving Visits Were in Wealthier Neighborhoods

Median neighborhood income for …

Typical skipped high school

Typical visited high school

Stony Brook U.

Rutgers U.–New Brunswick

U. of Massachusetts–Amherst

North Carolina State U.–Raleigh

U. of California–Irvine

U. of Kansas

U. of Pittsburgh–Pitts. Campus

U. of South Carolina–Columbia

U. of Georgia

U. of Colorado Boulder

U. of Cincinnati–Main Campus

U. of California–Berkeley

U. of Nebraska–Lincoln

U. of Alabama

U. of Arkansas

Southern Illinois U.–Carbondale

Median neighborhood income for the typical high

school that was …

Stony Brook U.

Rutgers U.–

New Brunswick

U. of Mass.–

Amherst

North Carolina

State U.–Raleigh

U. of California–

Irvine

U. of Kansas

U. of Pittsburgh–

Pitts. Campus

U.S.C.–

Columbia

U. of Georgia

U. of Colorado

Boulder

U. of Cincinnati–

Main Campus

U. of California–

Berkeley

U. of Nebraska–

Lincoln

U. of Alabama

U. of Arkansas

Southern Illinois

U.–Carbondale

The clearest finding from our study is that public high schools in more affluent neighborhoods receive more visits than those in less affluent areas.

Only about a third of households across the country earn more than $100,000 annually, but nearly half of high schools receiving visits by private colleges and universities were in neighborhoods where average incomes were higher. Connecticut College visited neighborhoods with an average median household income of $121,578. Private colleges also disproportionately visited private high schools over public high schools.

Andy Strickler, dean of admissions at Connecticut College, said the school targets high schools that have historically provided students, or other schools that have a similar profile.

He said there was a good reason Connecticut College doesn’t always visit other areas: “There’s a trend for these students to stay closer to home for college.”

While public research universities visited rich and poor neighborhoods nearly equally when recruiting in their home states, they visited the same affluent high schools targeted by private colleges when recruiting elsewhere. Most public colleges also visited far more high schools out of state than in-state. The median income of areas where the University of Pittsburgh recruited out of state, for example, was $114,000, compared with $63,000 for areas that were not visited.

Average median income for the typical visited high school …

Out-of-State

Rutgers U.–New Brunswick

Stony Brook U.

U. of Massachusetts–Amherst

U. of California–Berkeley

U. of Pittsburgh–Pitts. Campus

U. of Colorado Boulder

U. of California–Irvine

Southern Illinois U.–Carbondale

U. of Kansas

U. of Cincinnati–Main Campus

U. of Nebraska–Lincoln

U. of Georgia

U. of Alabama

U. of South Carolina–Columbia

North Carolina State U.–Raleigh

U. of Arkansas

Average median income for the typical

visited high school …

Out-of-State

Rutgers U.–

New Brunswick

Stony Brook U.

U. of Mass.–

Amherst

U. of California–

Berkeley

U. of Pittsburgh–

Pitts. Campus

U. of

Colorado Boulder

U. of California–

Irvine

Southern Illinois

U.–Carbondale

U. of Kansas

U. of Cincinnati–

Main Campus

U. of Nebraska–

Lincoln

U. of Georgia

U. of Alabama

U.S.C.–

Columbia

North Carolina

State U.–Raleigh

U. of Arkansas

The attention public universities lavish on wealthy out-of-state schools is a response to state policy. Over the past decade, many states have cut funding for higher education, forcing public universities to become more dependent on tuition revenue. Research shows that public universities responded by enrolling more out-of-state students, who often pay two to three times more than state residents. And of course, only well-off students can afford that.

JL201.jpg

When Boulder visited the Chicago metro area, it did not tend to visit schools like East Chicago High School, where only 2 percent of students are white. Joshua Lott for The New York Times

Some people argue that poor students and students of color are less likely to attend college because they have lower grades or standardized test scores. But we found that colleges and universities tended to avoid visiting schools in poor areas even when those schools had a large number of students who had performed well on tests.

For example, when the University of Colorado Boulder visited public high schools in the Boston metropolitan area, it focused on schools in wealthy communities but skipped many poorer schools that had higher numbers of students scoring proficient in math.

In their out-of-state visits, our data also suggest, public universities were more likely to visit predominantly white public high schools than nonwhite schools with similar levels of academic achievement. For example, the University of Colorado Boulder visited Dover-Sherborn Regional High School, which is 88 percent white and has about 154 students with proficient math scores, according to the federal Department of Education. But it did not visit Brockton High School, where just 21 percent of students are white but about 622 students have proficient math scores.

“In order to be good stewards of our funding, we consistently recruit at schools that have historically given us applications,” said Colleen Newman, admissions director at Boulder. “Given our limited funding, we are unable to expand our traditional recruitment efforts to all regions and all high schools that have academically talented students.”

Recruitment Is Big Business

20162college0135.jpg

A recruiter for the University of Alabama speaks to prospective students at a college fair run by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island. Michael Nagle for The New York Times

Colleges don’t treat recruitment lightly. It’s big business for colleges and the firms they hire. Most colleges identify prospects by purchasing lists of students and their backgrounds from the testing agencies College Board and ACT. They can also hire enrollment management consulting firms, which integrate data from the university with data on schools and communities. This helps them decide which schools should be visited and which should be targeted with emails and brochures. One consulting firm we spoke with even knows information about individual students such as their family income and net worth, and the value of their home.

If colleges have all this data, why aren’t they better at targeting talented poor students and students of color?

The most common explanation is that there aren’t enough of them applying (the so-called achievement gap). Another explanation we hear is that talented students don’t apply because they don’t have the right guidance (called “under-matching”). These explanations assume that doubling the number of high-achieving students who apply would automatically double enrollment. But this treats universities as though they are passively receiving applications, when they are actually actively seeking and encouraging certain applicants over others. Our data suggests universities are determined to court wealthier students over others, and they expend substantial resources identifying and reaching them.

There are many students from poor communities who get excellent grades but end up going to a community college because no one bothers looking for them. If colleges are serious about increasing socioeconomic and racial diversity, they should look for merit everywhere, not just in wealthy, white communities.

Ozan Jaquette is an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Karina Salazar is a doctoral candidate at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona.

Graphics by Jessia Ma and Stuart A. Thompson

Methodology

Throughout 2017, we collected data from over 150 colleges and universities that posted off-campus recruiting events on their admissions website. For each institution, we collected data from every page containing data on recruiting events. Data was collected once per week. Every two months, we re-investigated each institution to identify new pages or changes in formatting to an existing page. Additionally, we collected data about participation in National College Fairs and group travel tours. Income data from the census was matched to the high school using its zip code.

We define off-campus recruiting events as those focused on soliciting undergraduate admissions applications, hosted by paid personnel or consultants at any off-campus location. Nearly all colleges and universities convene three broad types of off-campus recruiting events: receptions/college fairs at hotels and convention centers; evening college fairs at local high schools; and daytime representative visits to local high schools. Some institutions in our sample did not post all three types of recruiting events on their admissions website. This story includes only institutions that posted all three types of recruiting events on their admissions website. Nevertheless, our data should be interpreted as all events advertised on admissions websites, rather than as a complete list off off-campus recruiting events. Non-visited schools are an average of all high schools in states where the college made at least one visit a high school in the state. More data can be found at emraresearch.org.

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Teacher Marries Her Girlfriend, and Then Catholic School Fires Her

On Feb. 9, Ms. Morffi spoke out in a statement on Instagram.

“This weekend I married the love of my life and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result,” she wrote in the post. “In their eyes I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner.”

Mary Ross Agosta, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Miami, said in an email that Ms. Morffi was fired because she violated a contract stipulating that teachers must abide by Catholic teachings and traditions.

She declined to say whether Ms. Morffi had been fired for marrying a woman, noting that it was “a personnel issue.”

Four teachers attended the wedding, one of them told The Times. She asked not to be named out of fear for her career.

Photo

Ms. Morffi, left, and Ms. Hass. Credit Katerina Reyes-Gutierrez

After Ms. Morffi was fired, the teacher said, they were called into a meeting with school officials. She said they were warned that if they wanted to continue working for the school, they could not post pictures or attend events that would be considered supportive of same-sex marriage.

The human resources representative at the meeting “didn’t straight out say you’ll be fired if you do, but that’s what she led us to believe,” the teacher said, adding that she was disappointed about how the situation was handled.

“We pick and choose what is considered wrong and what we’re going to enforce, and I think it’s like a joke,” she said.

The teachers were also asked to read a memo written in 2015 by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, after Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was lifted.

The memo cited a statement from the Catholic Bishops of Florida that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and said that if employees did not lead lives that were consistent with Catholic teachings it could lead to firing, even if the behavior in question occurs outside of work.

When asked about the meeting between teachers and school officials, Ms. Agosta, the archdiocese spokeswoman, said in an email that the details were “personnel-related and not for publication.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Almeida and other parents searched for the right way to explain to their children what had happened. In the end, she told hers that the school had made a mistake.

“Many of the parents are outraged,” Ms. Almeida added. Other teachers at the school were not upholding Catholic values, she said, and yet no action was taken against them.

“Do they investigate teachers to see who is using birth control?” she asked.

Ms. Morffi was an exemplary teacher, several parents said, and one friend described her as a faithful Catholic.

She encouraged students to distribute food throughout Miami’s poor neighborhoods through a nonprofit she created called Teach Hope. She volunteered as a basketball coach. And Ms. Mills recalled that every morning, as Ms. Morffi’s students filed into class, she played feel-good songs, like Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Ms. Morffi has since been replaced by someone Ms. Agosta described as a permanent substitute teacher who is “working on her certification.”

Ricardo Oviedo, whose daughter was in Ms. Morffi’s class, said he was examining whether the parents can take legal action. Other parents said they had considered starting a petition, holding a protest or contacting the State Legislature.

In Florida, the state civil rights law does not refer to sexual orientation. Certain counties in Florida, however, have established protections for gay workers, including Miami-Dade, where the school is, but that code does not apply to religious organizations.

Ms. Morffi declined to comment through her lawyer, Erica Cañas.

“Jocelyn is humbled by all the love and support she has received,” Ms. Cañas said in a written statement. “She feels that the manner of her firing was unfair, not only to her, but to her students as well. At this time, we are considering our legal options.”

Although Roman Catholic doctrine opposes same-sex marriage, many parishes have become more accepting of gay and lesbian parishioners in recent years, said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and the author of “Building a Bridge,” a book about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

In December, the Rev. Gregory Greiten, a Roman Catholic priest in Wisconsin, wrote a column in The National Catholic Reporter, declaring: “I am gay.” He received a standing ovation when he told his parishioners. Also last year, the leader of the Archdiocese of Newark, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, offered a welcoming Mass for gay and lesbian Catholics and their families.

Still, according to New Ways Ministry, an advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, at least 80 church employees have lost their paid and volunteer jobs in L.G.B.T. employment disputes since 2007.

Mr. Oviedo said that he and his wife — like many other parents at the Miami school — did not even know Ms. Morffi’s sexual orientation until the school fired her.

“It’s just incredible,” Mr. Oviedo said, “in this day and age in 2018 you can lose your job over who you choose to love.”

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Grading the Digital School: At Waldorf School in Silicon Valley, Technology Can Wait

“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Eagle knows a bit about technology. He holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, where he has written speeches for the chairman, Eric E. Schmidt. He uses an iPad and a smartphone. But he says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)

Three-quarters of the students here have parents with a strong high-tech connection. Mr. Eagle, like other parents, sees no contradiction. Technology, he says, has its time and place: “If I worked at Miramax and made good, artsy, rated R movies, I wouldn’t want my kids to see them until they were 17.”

While other schools in the region brag about their wired classrooms, the Waldorf school embraces a simple, retro look — blackboards with colorful chalk, bookshelves with encyclopedias, wooden desks filled with workbooks and No. 2 pencils.

On a recent Tuesday, Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates refreshed their knitting skills, crisscrossing wooden needles around balls of yarn, making fabric swatches. It’s an activity the school says helps develop problem-solving, patterning, math skills and coordination. The long-term goal: make socks.

Down the hall, a teacher drilled third-graders on multiplication by asking them to pretend to turn their bodies into lightning bolts. She asked them a math problem — four times five — and, in unison, they shouted “20” and zapped their fingers at the number on the blackboard. A roomful of human calculators.

In second grade, students standing in a circle learned language skills by repeating verses after the teacher, while simultaneously playing catch with bean bags. It’s an exercise aimed at synchronizing body and brain. Here, as in other classes, the day can start with a recitation or verse about God that reflects a nondenominational emphasis on the divine.

Andie’s teacher, Cathy Waheed, who is a former computer engineer, tries to make learning both irresistible and highly tactile. Last year she taught fractions by having the children cut up food — apples, quesadillas, cake — into quarters, halves and sixteenths.

“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” she said. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?”

Some education experts say that the push to equip classrooms with computers is unwarranted because studies do not clearly show that this leads to better test scores or other measurable gains.

Is learning through cake fractions and knitting any better? The Waldorf advocates make it tough to compare, partly because as private schools they administer no standardized tests in elementary grades. And they would be the first to admit that their early-grade students may not score well on such tests because, they say, they don’t drill them on a standardized math and reading curriculum.

Photo

Cathy Waheed helps Shira Zeev, a fifth grader. Waldorf parents are happy to delay their children’s engagement with technology. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

When asked for evidence of the schools’ effectiveness, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America points to research by an affiliated group showing that 94 percent of students graduating from Waldorf high schools in the United States between 1994 and 2004 attended college, with many heading to prestigious institutions like Oberlin, Berkeley and Vassar.

Of course, that figure may not be surprising, given that these are students from families that value education highly enough to seek out a selective private school, and usually have the means to pay for it. And it is difficult to separate the effects of the low-tech instructional methods from other factors. For example, parents of students at the Los Altos school say it attracts great teachers who go through extensive training in the Waldorf approach, creating a strong sense of mission that can be lacking in other schools.

Absent clear evidence, the debate comes down to subjectivity, parental choice and a difference of opinion over a single world: engagement. Advocates for equipping schools with technology say computers can hold students’ attention and, in fact, that young people who have been weaned on electronic devices will not tune in without them.

Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, which represents school boards nationwide, said computers were essential. “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children,” Ms. Flynn said.

Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, who has written 12 books about public educational methods, disagreed, saying that “a spare approach to technology in the classroom will always benefit learning.”

“Teaching is a human experience,” he said. “Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”

And Waldorf parents argue that real engagement comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans.

“Engagement is about human contact, the contact with the teacher, the contact with their peers,” said Pierre Laurent, 50, who works at a high-tech start-up and formerly worked at Intel and Microsoft. He has three children in Waldorf schools, which so impressed the family that his wife, Monica, joined one as a teacher in 2006.

And where advocates for stocking classrooms with technology say children need computer time to compete in the modern world, Waldorf parents counter: what’s the rush, given how easy it is to pick up those skills?

“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”

There are also plenty of high-tech parents at a Waldorf school in San Francisco and just north of it at the Greenwood School in Mill Valley, which doesn’t have Waldorf accreditation but is inspired by its principles.

California has some 40 Waldorf schools, giving it a disproportionate share — perhaps because the movement is growing roots here, said Lucy Wurtz, who, along with her husband, Brad, helped found the Waldorf high school in Los Altos in 2007. Mr. Wurtz is chief executive of Power Assure, which helps computer data centers reduce their energy load.

The Waldorf experience does not come cheap: annual tuition at the Silicon Valley schools is $17,750 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $24,400 for high school, though Ms. Wurtz said financial assistance was available. She says the typical Waldorf parent, who has a range of elite private and public schools to choose from, tends to be liberal and highly educated, with strong views about education; they also have a knowledge that when they are ready to teach their children about technology they have ample access and expertise at home.

The students, meanwhile, say they don’t pine for technology, nor have they gone completely cold turkey. Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates say they occasionally watch movies. One girl, whose father works as an Apple engineer, says he sometimes asks her to test games he is debugging. One boy plays with flight-simulator programs on weekends.

The students say they can become frustrated when their parents and relatives get so wrapped up in phones and other devices. Aurad Kamkar, 11, said he recently went to visit cousins and found himself sitting around with five of them playing with their gadgets, not paying attention to him or each other. He started waving his arms at them: “I said: ‘Hello guys, I’m here.’ ”

Finn Heilig, 10, whose father works at Google, says he liked learning with pen and paper — rather than on a computer — because he could monitor his progress over the years.

“You can look back and see how sloppy your handwriting was in first grade. You can’t do that with computers ’cause all the letters are the same,” Finn said. “Besides, if you learn to write on paper, you can still write if water spills on the computer or the power goes out.”

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