First Impressions: Hampshire College (MA)

Hampshire College was the second New England school that I visited in April. It was a strikingly different setting than I found at Western New England University. While located in Amherst, one of the nicest college towns in the United States, Hampshire has a rural setting on the outskirts of town. The setting is one of the most beautiful in the country, while the college is a model for sustainable building and living. Yet the architectural mix can best be described as eclectic. It looked to me, like a farm and an art school folded together. I have gathered First Impressions and collected photos to make a Pinterest page.

Founded in 1965, Hampshire graduated its first senior class in 1974. One of the Colleges That Change Lives (through not covered in the book on the colleges that you can buy in your local bookstore), Hampshire has an open curriculum organized around Divisions. There are no formal majors nor formal grades. Students take responsibility for working with faculty advisors to design their own academic program and receive written evaluations. Hampshire College allows students to have tremendous freedom. But they need to develop excellent relationships with adults to successfully work with it. Going to Hampshire College is like jumping from high school to graduate school, without a structured college degree in between. A student who has strong inklings of curiosity about solving a problem will succeed here, and possibly turn the solution into a business, scientific, professional or academic career. But a student who has little to no direction will have a difficult time, as will a student with poor people skills.

While Hampshire is a fairly new college, it is able to house any student who needs housing and has been able to provide reasonable amounts of scholarship aid. Students who need to borrow, on average, owe less than they might have borrowed to attend their home state university. Hampshire College also offers the opportunity to choose from over 6,000 courses offered with the Five Colleges: Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to design their degree program.

Hampshire College also has a unique admissions process. The college is “test blind.” Don’t bother submitting ACT or SAT scores. The admissions office does not consider them in reviewing applications. The admissions staff does consider academic performance, essays, graded work and recommendations. Hampshire admitted about two-thirds of the students who applied for the class that entered in 2014, with a quarter of the class admitted through Early Decision.

Hampshire’s four-year graduation rates have been between 55 and 60 percent, below average compared to test-optional schools that admit students with similar transcripts. However, it is common for Hampshire students to take time off, then return to finish their degree. As one example, 74 percent of the students who entered in 2009 had graduated six years later.

It has been over 40 years since Hampshire graduated its first senior class, enough time to learn if the college’s educational model has worked as its founders hoped. Hampshire’s non-traditional approach to a liberal arts education has produced artists, entrepreneurs and scientists, among many others. It has successfully propelled graduates on to further education as well as employment. However, it requires self-direction from the start. Not every 18 year old is ready for that. But those who are will find a place that is very much like Santa’s Workshop. Everything is there to make whatever you want, provided that you are ready to work and get along with the faculty and your peers.

Report Card for Hampshire College

  • Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: C/B
  • Freshman Retention: B+
  • Costs: A
  • Curriculum: A
  • Community: A
  • Comforts: B+
  • Connections: B

Check out my First Impressions of Hampshire College!

Check out my Hampshire College Pinterest page!


Profile: Western New England University (MA)

This month I visited four New England colleges, starting with Western New England University, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. I had the opportunity to conduct enough interviews to write a full profile, though it also rained that day. I don’t have many pictures, but I can link you to a virtual tour. This campus is very nice, the architecture of most of the academic buildings looks much like a New England liberal arts college with a longer history than Western New England really has.

Founded in 1919 as an extension of Northeastern University’s business school, Western New England offers a selection of majors more commonly found in a large school within a fairly small (only 2,700 undergraduates) one. Today Western New England offers degree programs not only in business, but also in engineering and pharmacy as well as joint degrees with its own law school. Within the College of Arts and Sciences, the Criminal Justice and Communications programs are quite comprehensive.

The small student body size of Western New England University is a major attraction considering that most comparable programs are offered by larger private schools such as the University of Hartford and Quinnipiac University that two to three times the numbers of undergraduates as well as by state universities in the New England and Mid Atlantic states. The most comparable school, in terms of academic offerings and freshman academic achievements, might be the University of Rhode Island (URI), which has over five times the number of undergraduates. But while you are likely to find over 100 students in an introductory biology or psychology class at URI, you will never see that many in a similar class at Western New England University.

Career services and student opportunities are other strengths, as is the location of the school in terms of getting to other places. Western New England University students find good job markets for internships, and often full-time jobs in Hartford or Springfield after graduation. It is very easy to network or get to work if a student has access to a car. The university participates in three larger career fairs, two on campus. Student government is also taken more seriously here than at comparable schools, partly because the majority of students (around two thirds) live on campus and the university has neither fraternities nor sororities. There are many attractions off campus, however, starting with the ‘Big E’ fair in the fall around Springfield, and sprawling out towards the Berkshires, the Five College region, Boston and Hartford.

The downsides of Western New England University appear in statistics as well as the conditions of the surrounding neighborhood, which is not complementary to the interests or needs of a college campus community. The university loses just over a fifth of a freshman class each year, a reflection on finances–on average, the school meets about 75 percent of need–and mis-match between the demands of the academic programs and the entering skills of some students. Retention and graduation rates are likely to improve as the pharmacy program graduates its first classes and the business and engineering programs continue to attract students who want more attention than they might receive from the faculty and staff at a state university.

Western New England University is a good school for a B or better student who might believe that s/he would have a difficult time succeeding at a much larger college or university. The academic support will be stronger, the on-campus life less intimidating, the success at finding internships and other experiential learning opportunities or finding a job after graduation could be very much the same.

The Report Card for Western New England University

  • Four-Year/Six Year Graduation Rates: C/C
  • Freshman Retention: C+
  • Costs: B
  • Curriculum: A
  • Comforts: A
  • Community: B
  • Connections: B+

Check out my profile of Western New England University!



‘Disrupted’ Gives Students a Taste of Start-Up Culture

This week I finished Disrupted, a business/memoir book by Dan Lyons, who now writes for the television show Silicon Valley, and formerly covered technology business for Forbes and Newsweek. Lyons, who, like me, is in his middle 50’s, spent slightly more than a year worked for HubSpot, a dot-com that makes tools to help business persons to market their firms and products by blogging. This practice has several names such as Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM), “Inbound Marketing,” and “Content Marketing.”

Disrupted caught my attention at the bookstore because it is about the corporate culture of a young firm that relies quite heavily on entry-level and limited-experience workers, usually very recent college graduates, to engineer their software platform and do “boiler room” sales. Leads are generated using free e-books and lavish conferences that appear to come out of Las Vegas. Forced to accept a public relations/marketing position with HubSpot between his time at Newsweek and his current job, Lyons was much like the embedded anthropologists who accompanied U.S troops in Iraq. In both cases the employer deemed the experiment a failure and worked to abruptly dismiss the employee.  The lack of fit as well as cynicism, did the employee in.

As someone who advises on college admissions, Disrupted left me concerned for the college-bound and current college students who hear and read only of the “glamour” of workplaces like HubSpot’s, which are a combination of fraternity house, sports bar and sweat shop (for the sales force). An employee who survives this culture, a combination of Greek life and a cult follower-ship is considered a veteran after 18 months. Most are dismissed far earlier, or in company-speak they have “graduated.” Women do not fare as well in this corporate culture as men, unless they pick up the less desirable male traits that a more traditional corporate environment, like a consumer products company or a commercial bank, would never tolerate. But in the end,  according to Lyons, most end up in lousy jobs with little security, let alone hope of cashing out after a public offering.

When an admission advisor works with high school students, s/he not only wants them to be admitted to college. The advisor also wants them to succeed, to have a rewarding career, earning opportunities towards further education, if necessary. That same advisor would not like to see their students end up working at a company such as HubSpot. The start-up culture at a firm like this might sound fun from a distance. But when it is led by people who believe that their brilliance at coding, sales or marketing makes them an evangelist or management guru, and those people had never led a growth company, a college student should look elsewhere.

I could relate to Lyon’s story. I am a former senior executive, and one of the original professionals in a technology business, who did not enter the start-up world until his late 30’s. Fortunately, I worked with partners who were also adults who put the work first. As partners, we also held the majority of the equity in our company. We did not have a Silicon Valley venture capitalist to deem us the “next new thing” and risk their millions. We knew of larger competitors who had created entry-level jobs as well as a workplace setting much like HubSpot. Their investors told them to come out with a big splash. Big promotions would make them look bigger and more stable than they actually were. As the person responsible for business development for our company, I would hear prospects ask: “Why can’t you give us (item) or take us to (fancy place for user’s conference) like they do?” My answer was: “I come directly to see you and I’m an owner.” That was enough to retain over 90 percent, sometimes more than 95 percent of our customer base while we continued to earn new business. The business has done fine without me for the past ten years. I was there for the first eleven. Most firms that embrace a start-up culture similar to HubSpot’s do not survive as long. They run out of money well before then.

Which takes me to last point about the start-up culture. It’s fun if you are an owner and your know your business. You use your position to take care of your company first, then let any other “good” happen later. It’s not much fun if you are an underling who is being used and abused while being delivered a mantra of “love for company” combined with “value over replacement employee.”

Companies that have a start-up culture such as HubSpot’s need to learn to master the “Four T’s,”  Training, Technology, Turnover and Taxes.  Read Disrupted and you will be led to believe that HubSpot did not come close to mastering a single one. Worse, despite giving its founders an obscenely high net worth, HubSpot has never turned a profit. Nor has it appeared to earn the trust of most of its customers. A start-up culture where young people constantly come and go while the business loses money is not an appropriate place for a recent college graduate to work at their first or second or third job after graduation.

I hope that prospective young entrepreneurs who are still in high school or early in their college education will read Disrupted. It should give them ideas for the business they should not attempt to create and instruct them about the management styles that are unprofessional or totally irresponsible. This book is an appropriate supplement to an undergraduate business education.



UMaine’s Flagship Match Might Boost Non-Resident Student Recruitment

Next year the University of Maine (UMaine) launches a program called Flagship Match. Admitted students who come from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will pay no more in tuition and fees than they would pay to attend their flagship state university. There is a provision: they must have a 3.0 (unweighted) GPA or better in high school as well as a super-scored SAT of 1050 or higher or an ACT composite of 22 or higher.

Flagship Match was announced in December presumably to attract more applicants to UMaine, as well as to help them to make admissions decisions. With the exception of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of Pittsburgh, I have visited the flagship state universities in all of these states. The student who would fall in the middle of the admit pool at Penn State, Rutgers-New Brunswick and the University of Connecticut would likely fall in the upper quarter of the admit pool at UMaine. Previously, such applicants would have received much smaller scholarships. They would have likely paid over $20,000 in non-resident tuition and fees. With Flagship Match, Maine became a much better buy.

Is Flagship Match a good idea? Hard to say. But it is an interesting one.

Unlike a merit-based scholarship, Flagship Match is a discount tied to remaining in good academic standing. Students who enter UMaine under this program will always pay the same as they would have paid to attend the flagship state university in their home state. However, they also need to hope that the people who lead their home state university, as well as their state legislatures, do not propose and pass dramatic tuition and fee increases while they remain in college. Between my freshman and senior year at Rutgers, my tuition and fees tripled, though they were far less than students and their families pay today.

Should non-residents who come from the targeted states consider UMaine?

It depends. If the dream school is the flagship university and you do not get in, then another flagship university becomes a viable alternative. Among the states where Flagship Match applies, only Pennsylvania offers in-state students the option of going to satellite campuses of their stronger research universities, Penn State and Pitt, with the option of transferring to the main campus for most majors by the junior year. Temple, which recently became test optional is another viable alternative for those denied admission to Penn State, but still want to attend a larger university. The rest of the states have only one flagship state school.

There is another consideration, regardless of home state: financial need. It’s nice to get a discount, but suppose your student needs more money? New Jersey, as one example, does not allow Tuition Aid Grants to be used to cover tuition and fees at out-of-state schools. Maine is not among the states where Pennsylvania residents may apply small grants towards attending an out-of-state school. If you receive a grant to help defray costs at a state school in your home state, it will be less expensive to stay home.

UMaine has a smaller flagship campus, in terms of undergraduate enrollment, than any other state university system in the country. The university has fewer than 9,000 undergraduates. That might not be much of an attraction for Vermonters who are willing to stay home. The University of Vermont has fewer then 11,000 undergraduates. The same is true for New Hampshire residents who might be willing to stay in state. Their main campus has fewer than 13,000 undergraduates. The freshman retention rates at both schools are better than they are for UMaine. UMaine has retained just under 80 percent of a freshman class in recent years. The University of Vermont and the University of New Hampshire have retained no worse than 85 percent of their freshmen. The University of Vermont and the University of New Hampshire graduate more than 60 percent of their freshmen within four years. For UMaine, this number is around 40 percent.

However, if the decision rests between UMaine and a much larger flagship such as the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Penn State or Rutgers-New Brunswick, things become interesting. Rutgers has more than 30,000 undergraduates. Penn State has closer to 40,000. Suppose the mid-pack freshman at either school has the option of going to a much smaller flagship school for the same price–neither awards much in the way of merit-based aid below the upper ten percent of their admit pool–and possibly be admitted to an Honors College. That might be a deal worth considering, provided that there is an academic as well as a social fit. UMaine, especially through an Honors College, offers a better opportunity to work closely with the faculty, being a smaller school that has fewer graduate programs. Living costs on and off-campus are quite reasonable for a college community that hosts a flagship school. UMaine has a strong “spirit and sports” culture that might not equal Penn State’s, but the Black Bears have produced successful teams in football, hockey and baseball. The Flagship Match for Pennsylvania residents is actually less than Penn State’s charges. Penn State charges Pennsylvania residents around $17,000 for tuition and fees. Pennsylvania residents are assessed around $11,400 under UMaine’s program. The Maine campus is also easy to navigate on foot. No need to ride campus busses as Rutgers students do. I have been to Rutgers enough times to know that the busses scare prospective students away.

I can picture that more New Jersey students will consider UMaine in their college search. New Jersey is one of the states that college-bound students love to leave for college. However, most do not venture as far as Maine for their education. They typically look at schools in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland, with the University of Delaware being the most popular option. Flagship Match might tempt a few to look further north. I also picture Flagship Match being an attraction for Connecticut, Massachusetts and possibly Pennsylvania residents who cannot get into their flagship schools.  UMaine would cost less than Temple as well as Penn State.

The hope is that Flagship Match will help to raise retention and graduation rates at UMaine and keep more brains in Maine after college. It will be interesting to see the results after four or five years, presuming Maine politicians and university trustees continue to support the program.



‘Hacking College Admissions’ Has Sound Advice–for Seventh Graders

Last week I wrote about two recent high school graduates, Victor Agbafe and Harold Ekeh, who successfully gained admission to all eight Ivy League schools two years ago. Victor is now at Harvard, Harold is attending Yale. These two men collaborated on a book called Hacking College Admissions. The company that published their book, Frog Tutoring, was kind enough to send me a copy after I wrote my post.

I read the book. It tells two great stories. Victor and Harold truly worked hard to earn the acceptances they received. They earned excellent grades, scored high on every standardized test and have impressive extracurricular accomplishments. Most important, these two men are very self aware. They had their interests formed early and pursued them through academics, extracurricular activities and volunteer work.

But most important, they thought long term. Their self awareness began before high school.

Victor and Harold were taking advanced courses in the middle school–and they knew that they would have to take them in order to move into more advanced courses, more responsible roles outside of school and earn scholarships to college. One would have to impressed not only with their drive, but also with the support structures around them.

Which takes me back to Hacking College Admissions. The audience for this book is not the high school student or their parents. It is the seventh grader and their parents. The academic building blocks towards acceptance at an Ivy League school or similar institution begin no later than the eighth grade. This is the first opportunity to take honors-level high school courses, or at the very least take Algebra or begin learning a foreign language. Comfort with a high state of academic preparedness in the eighth grade ramps a student up for more study as well as the tests that the most selective colleges require. This is not news. My younger brother graduated high school with Calculus and French 5 on his transcript nearly four decades ago. He has had an interest in politics since the seventh grade. He was a state champion public speaker in high school, freshman through senior year. And he did get into an Ivy. He is a proud Cornell alum.

Victor and Harold deserve credit not only for their effort, but also for understanding that an Ivy League or similar education could be very expensive. They used their senior year to pursue scholarships after their college admissions applications were submitted, and earned more than enough to cover the direct charges (tuition and fees, room and board) at any school that accepted them, as well as money from the schools themselves. If you are the parent of a seventh grader, and you and your student want to go on this long journey together, you need a financial plan or the diligence and preparedness to find the money. From my experiences around higher education, Victor and Harold are quite unique in this regard.

As I mentioned in the prior post, these men also visited the schools that they were considering, or attended programs where they could meet admissions officers or alumni. While Victor and Harold make this recommendation and provide charts to help families compare their impressions of different colleges, I wished that they had been less focused on the Ivies. I totally understand when a bright high school student applies to Harvard, Yale and Princeton. These are the strongest brand names among the Ivy League schools as well as the most generous when it comes to financial aid. But the “big three” of the Ivy League are more similar to schools such as Tufts or Washington University in St. Louis then they are to Penn or Cornell. Columbia is more similar to the University of Chicago than it is to Brown or Dartmouth.

If you are the parent of a seventh grader, and you and that student harbor Ivy League ambitions, you might want to check out Hacking College Admissions. Both of you will learn what it takes to build the right resume that will attract the right attention from admissions officers. No doubt this book will become dog-eared if your student follows their advice through high school. Or it will need to remain on your iPad, Kindle or other reader as you upgrade. If you are the parent of a tenth grader who has achieved far less than Victor and Harold had done at the same stage of their lives, you might want to consider a different journey to college and seek different advice.