Monday, August 27, 2012

A Year Unlike Any Other....Again

"They say that these are not the best of times, but they're the only times I've ever known...."
- Billy Joel, Summer in Highland Falls

Looking out my office window, as I see the size of our summer tour groups dwindling and more and more faculty returning to campus, it is a sure reminder that the start of another school year is upon us.  For high school seniors, it marks the beginning of the end in some ways, as the reality of graduation and the pressure of post high school plans takes hold.  To be sure, the pressures facing this year's high school graduates are intense, as a quick glance of the daily headlines will attest:
  • Unprecedented student debt
  • Poor job market for graduates
  • Tuition increases
  • Reduction in State support for education
While all of these are realities that will affect higher education in the years to come, the fact is that going to college, and finding the right "fit" academically as well as financially, has never been more important.  Equally as true is that however much the headlines portray a system of higher education out of control and beyond the reach of so many, enrollment in higher education has never been higher.  Regardless of the challenges colleges, parents, students, high school counselors and others face, as Billy Joel so beautifully pointed out, this is the world we live in, and over the next several months we will all navigate these difficult challenges and find great opportunities. 

This is not the first time a graduating class has entered college in difficult times.  Those of us old enough to remember - and this is my 26th year working in admissions and enrollment so I qualify - there have been challenging economic times before.  There have been seismic demographic changes before.  And there have been legal decisions that have altered the landscape of higher education for better or worse.  Each new class of entering freshman begins their college search with the challenges of the day guiding their decisions.  And while this particular group of seniors may have more than their share - especially in the backdrop of a presidential election - the fact remains that there are many, many excellent opportunities available to them at many schools and colleges. 

That brings us to the purpose of my writing this blog - to help facilitate a conversation between those students, parents, and counselors who are navigating these stormy seas.  Over the next eight months, as we make our collective way toward May 1, I hope to shed some light on the issues of the day, perhaps help clarify processes and procedures that may seem random or confusing to those outside the academy.  I hope I can debunk some popular myths about the college search process and perhaps even make some of you feel a little less stressed about the times ahead.  Of course, I will weave in a few things about USD, but I hope this is more about the bigger picture.  That's a rather ambitious agenda, but I think we can make it happen.  As you have already noticed, I will reference some of the music of my day (which maybe only some parents and counselors will get) to help frame some discussions.  I will try and tackle head on some of the more challenging issues facing the admissions and financial aid offices across the country, helping you to understand things from the college's perspective.  And I will try and respond to your comments, questions, criticisms, and insights so that this can be more of an exchange of perspectives and ideas.

These are challenging times, but they are not the first or last challenging times we will face together.  But they are real, and they frame the decisions we will all make during this process.  In order to make the best decisions, all we can do is get the best information we can, be open to many perspectives, and focus on what's most important. 

It won't be easy, and this process can be, as Billy Joel goes on to sing, "either madness or euphoria".  But all we can do is try.  I hope you will all join in and let's enjoy the ride together.

Next time, I'll be writing about our decision to do away with our early action deadline, and along with that, the proliferation of early programs in general.

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