Category: Suzanne Wegmiller’s Blog Posts

Suzanne Wegmiller, Executive Director, shares her thoughts on hot topics, common questions, and all things higher education.

Which program should I choose?

The applications for Early College are about to open. Scheduling high school classes for next year will start in just a few short weeks. Some students and families might be getting anxious about these choices. Crosby Scholars staff members often get asked, “What program should my student be in?” or “Should we go with AP or IB?” As much as we’d like to be able to answer these questions for you, we can’t! These decisions should be based upon what you know about your child.

Here are some things to consider when trying to decide about a high school (or middle school) program:

  • Is your student more mature or less mature than most of his/her peers?
  • How much time after school is your student willing to commit to schoolwork?
  • In how many extracurricular activities will your student participate?
  • How much time/ability do you have to support your student with transportation, homework help, community service requirements, etc?
  • How much flexibility is there to change programs if our choice doesn’t work out?

Colleges look at the courses taken as well as the grades earned.

It is true that sometimes a “B” in a more rigorous course might be more impressive to colleges than an “A” in an easier class. However, a “C” in any class won’t impress the most selective college admissions officers. So, it’s important to have a balance between challenge and support to ensure success.

My best piece of advice is to do your homework. Talk to counselors and principals to learn about what it takes to be successful at their school. Ask questions and read the registration guide for your district. (You will be amazed at how many choices there are!) Involve the student in the process of deciding. If your child ends up somewhere they really don’t want to be, it probably won’t go well.

To help you understand just a little bit about some of the programs you can choose from in Iredell County, I created a chart. This is just a starting point to begin exploring and doesn’t include every choice available! I hope it helps.


Are College Rankings Meaningful?

It’s easy to get caught up in the college rankings hoopla! Who doesn’t’ love a “Top Ten” or “Best of”? Lists are fun and we like to see if our favorites are included. College rankings can be confusing because there are so many lists! (And they don’t agree often!) Here are some of the most well-known sources for annual college rankings:

Creator: UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA WILMINGTON 
Copyright: 2014©UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT WILMINGTON

                Forbes Rankings

                Princeton Review

                Social Mobility Index Rankings

                Top Research Universities

                US News & World Report

                The Wall Street Journal

                Washington Monthly

                Bloomberg Business

Department of Education College Scorecard

One of the reasons there are so many lists, is that each source has its own method(s) to determine the rankings. Here are a few of the factors considered in some or most of the lists:

Graduation and Retention Rates

Academic Reputation (as rated by guidance counselors and academic peers)

Faculty Resources

Student Selectivity

Financial Resources (endowments, etc.)

Alumni Giving

                                                                      

You might be surprised to learn that these rankings can be traced all the way back to 1900. Some employers at that time published a list of “Where We Get Our Best Men”. They publicized the schools that their best new hires had attended. Over time this morphed into some of the “Who’s Who” publications that you might know. The modern version of college rankings really took hold in 1983 when US News and World Report first published “America’s Best Colleges”.

If you want to dig deeper into this topic, there are plenty of great sources online—just search! To keep this blog short, I want to highlight just a couple of points regarding college rankings.

  1. Know what information is used to determine the ranking.
  2. Be aware that some colleges have specific strategies aimed at moving up in the rankings.
  3. Remember to look at the college major/program you are interested in. The program reputation is often more important that the college’s rank as an institution. You can have a great program at a lesser-known (possibly lower ranked) college. There are also highly ranked colleges where some departments might be just average.
  4. Remember that “fit” is more important than a ranking. Find the college where you feel a sense of belonging—“your people” are there. Students excel when there is the right combination of challenge and support.


Making a Perfect Choice

Many high school seniors have a difficult time trying to figure out what to do after high school. One of the reasons is the fear of making the “wrong” choice. Which college is the perfect choice? What major is the perfect choice?

I’m writing this blog post to say I don’t think there is a “perfect” choice. For every student, there are probably two or three choices that would be great. Several colleges could be a good fit and provide a solid education.

So there might not need a “perfect” choice, but everyone needs at least one good choice. Preparing early is one of the best ways to make sure you will have a good option after graduation. Crosby Scholars works with students in middle school. It’s not too early for them to start thinking about their future selves. Do they want to go to college for 4 years, or would they prefer a shorter 2-year path? What kind of lifestyle do they want to achieve?

High school students can prepare to have several good choices after graduation.  Building leadership skills and volunteering will improve the chances of getting a scholarship. By studying hard and making the effort, they can learn time management and other good habits. Students who do this earn good grades.

The trouble is, many students don’t worry about these things until their senior year. By then, time is too short. High school success starts the first day of freshman year. (Some students get a head start by developing good academic habits in middle school!

There’s a song called, Freewill, by Rush. Some of the lyrics are “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Think about it. If you choose to do no planning or preparation for your future, you are making a choice. You’re choosing to limit your options.

I spoke to middle school students several years ago about rowing the boat or floating in the current. If you choose to float, you are at the mercy of the tides or currents. You may run into rocks or overturn because of a  branch in your path. If you choose to row, you have to use energy to work, but you also have control. You can steer clear of danger and speed up or slow down.  Most of us enjoy having some control!

Crosby Scholars is here to encourage students to plan for a future they want. We help provide resources and support to help students row their boat in the direction they wish to go.


Community College is not a Dirty Word

Are you a parent thinking community college is fine—as long as it’s not where your student will attend? Students, do you think less of your peers if they attend community college? Face it, whether we like it or not, there is a stigma about attending a two-year college.  

It’s time to change the idea that a community college education is only a fallback plan. Many students and their parents don’t even consider community college. They believe that classes or the campus experience at a two-year school are not as good.  

Last year, Mitchell Community College was the top choice for Crosby Scholar graduates. But, “I’m only/just going to Mitchell” is a statement we heard way too often! Students should be proud to attend community college. Crosby Scholar alums who attend community college aren’t there because they lacked options. They chose a two-year college for good reasons.  

 Value 

The old adage, “you get what you pay for” doesn’t work when talking about college. The price of college (which varies widely) doesn’t always reflect the value of what you are earning. Instead of seeing community college as a great value, people assume that if it is cheaper, it must not be as good. There is nothing wrong in wanting to earn a degree in a cost-effective way. One semester of tuition and fees at App State will cost about the same as three semesters at MCC. Avoiding student debt is a very good reason for choosing an economical education. 

Students who choose a career degree at a community college also do well. There are two-year degree programs that result in high-wage occupations. (Think R.N.’s, medical technologists, engineering technicians, etc.). For students interested in these careers, community college is a no-brainer!  

 Convenience 

In NC, we are lucky to have a community college in every county. Students who have family responsibilities or a job are able to commute. Room and board prices at colleges are often as much or more than tuition and fees. Families have already covered those costs, so living at home doesn’t add to the bill for parents.  

Big fish, smaller pond 

Students at community college won’t find themselves in a class of 100 or 200 students. They will also have professors as teachers, not graduate students. Professors at community colleges spend most of their time in the classroom, teaching. Community colleges have libraries, student clubs, campus activities, and new people to meet.  

Career and transfer options 

Many students want to transfer credits from a community college to a university. To make this possible, courses must be similar. Two- and four-year colleges earn accreditation from the same organization. They must meet the same standards for faculty credentials. 

Every four-year college accepts transfer students—even the most competitive institutions. Research shows that two-year college graduates complete a four-year degree more often than other students. Those same two-year graduates are also have higher grades than their counterparts who were at the university for four years. 

Support systems 

Why do these students do better? Some of these students realize they are not ready to move out and take on more responsibility. By commuting to school, they maintain support systems with local teachers and family members. Gaining confidence through successful college work is valuable before starting at a university. 

So, let’s all work to get rid of the stigma that community college is less. The only way to correct this perception is to change our own attitudes and behaviors. Students should not be “looked down upon” for selecting a higher education path that is the best fit for them. Instead, let’s congratulate students on making the right choice for them! 


A Secret to College Success: Awesome Academic Advising

Coordinator of Advising and Assessment—my first position after completing graduate school. At Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio, I trained faculty advisors to work in the Advising Center. These expert advisors could explain a variety of options and possibilities for every student. They knew about every program offered at the college. 

Like today, students struggled with transportation and budgets. As advisors, we knew that it was important to take all these factors into account as we worked with people. We stayed in close contact with financial aid, career counseling, and other student services. We helped connect students to other resources available to them.

Students I knew came to college to make their lives better. Some were re-training after a lay-off. Others were coming to college for the first time after children were older. A few were starting over after making a poor attempt at college right after high school. So why, then and now, do students who come to the college so motivated, not finish a degree? Why is there such a high rate of attrition at community colleges and universities? 

There are many answers to those questions. This blog is focused on one. Students don’t finish degrees when they never see a clear pathway to the goal. Taking a class here and there with little direction means that a student often doesn’t see a finish line. Or, because of haphazard scheduling, the finish line is further away than it could have been. Most students, though, do have a goal that they want to complete—usually in the shortest time possible. 

When I was a freshman, I received a paper worksheet that listed all the requirements for my degree. My path was visible on that 8.5 x 11 page. I loved using my highlighter to cross off classes every quarter. I felt a great deal of satisfaction as I completed more and more pieces of my program. Today, many of those worksheets are digital, but still a powerful tool and motivator!

I had the advantage of knowing the degree I wanted to pursue when I started college. But, it’s okay to start as an “undecided” or “undeclared” major. These students need advisors and information more than anyone! One benefit of not declaring a major is the freedom to explore options. Yet, this can and should happen with a plan in mind. Advisors can recommend courses to a student based on conversations with him or her. The advisor knows the course offerings, professors, and “insider” information. By working with an advisor, the student’s schedule can be the best possible choice each term. 

Colleges publish plenty of information about degree plans and program offerings. But, advisors always know more than what’s in writing. They know which professors might be on sabbatical or medical leave. They often know what type of research a professor is conducting. Advisors know which courses are offered in certain patterns. Although 100 level courses are for freshmen, the advisor knows which ones tend to be more difficult than described. They can suggest good fits during the semester that requires several difficult courses. They also know about clubs and organizations on campus that might interest a student. Students who know their academic advisors well receive more than a signature on a schedule each semester. 


Students, though, should not depend on the advisor alone. Each student must become a self-advisor, too. Students need to know the degree requirements and the recommended course sequences. Undergrads should read the college catalog. They should explore study abroad, online, and other options. Good advising happens when a student brings a tentative schedule to the appointment. Instead of dealing only with scheduling questions, there will be time to talk about internships or co-op experiences. Students and advisors might also discuss the best options for classes in a minor field of study. Job opportunities in the field could also be a topic of conversation. 

Advising is offered by colleges to support students. Students should take full advantage!