Thursday, September 26, 2013

Twenty-seven of 224 Oxford High seniors last year scored 30 or higher on the ACT

    I recently posted congratulations to Oxford High School's 11 National Merit Semifinalists. And I mentioned once again that this massive number of Semifinalists isn't an anomaly, but rather the result of ongoing brain clustering in the Oxford Community.
    This brain clustering is one of the most important socio-economic trends occurring in both our state and nation, and I'm going to post some more thoughts at a future time.
    Anyway, two days after my National Merit post, in which I stated my opinion that Oxford High School is the best open-enrollment high school in the state, the School District posted on Facebook that 27 of the 217 seniors last year who took the ACT scored a 30 or higher. And there are only 224 seniors, so almost every student took the ACT.
    The school district's post:
Oxford school officials just announced that 27 Oxford High School seniors in the 2013 graduating class scored a composite score of 30 or above on the ACT college entrance exam, reaffirming what school officials know: Oxford High School seniors continue to perform at the top among their peers on the national college entrance exam.
Of 224 Oxford High seniors, 217 took the ACT: that’s 97 percent of the 2013 senior class who took the ACT. It's also the highest number of high school seniors who have ever taken the ACT at Oxford High.
    I would guess that perhaps half of Mississippi high schools did not have a single senior who scored a 30 or higher on the ACT last year. In fact, quite a few don't have a STAR student every year, as that award requires a minimum ACT of 25. So for Oxford to produce 27 of these high scorers -- 12 percent of the senior class -- is just unheard of.
    Of course congratulations to all of these students are in order; but the school district and the community as a whole are to be congratulated as well. And I am desperate to know whether there is an open enrollment public school in the entire nation with a greater percentage of high scorers.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Here are the types of scholarships this year's National Merit Finalists can look forward to

    I've talked about the National Merit awards in recent posts and have mentioned the possibility of scholarships based on being named a semifinalist or finalist.
    The College Confidential website has a list of full or almost full scholarships available to National Merit Finalists. The beauty of these scholarships is that they are automatic. In many cases additional scholarships can be piled on so that a student truly attends college for free, with tuition, books, room, board and spending money provided. The latter takes some application and effort.
    Many solid state universities have established top-notch Honors Colleges over the past 20 years or so. Students in the honors program live with other honors students, take many of their classes with other honors students, get first choice of classes, and are essentially treated like minor royalty by the university.
    The College Confidential list is easy enough to read that I don't need to elaborate much. But I will mention three programs:
    Ole Miss enrolled 40 National Merit Finalists last year. Most, no doubt, are in the McDonnell-Barksdale Honors College. Ole Miss guarantees Finalists full tuition and the cost of a dorm room, with additional scholarship money available. The Honors College has been very aggressive in trying to keep some of the best Mississippi students in-state, which translates into lots of potential merit aid. Last year the average ACT score of the roughly 200 students admitted to the Honors College was between 31 and 32. This group of kids is as talented a bunch as you will find almost anywhere.
    The University of Alabama has been one of the most active in the country in recruiting Finalists. Last year 241 Finalists enrolled at UA. And for good reason; the UA National Scholars program is one of the best in the nation, offering 10 semesters of free tuition (and more) that can be used for both undergraduate and graduate work. So a student who arrives with a substantial number of hours through Advanced Placement or dual enrollment can go to graduate school free or almost free.
    I'm not sure how many people from the Southeast consider the University of Oklahoma, but it also boasts a tremendous Finalist package. It's not a full ride, but like Alabama it is a 10 semester award that can be used for both undergraduate and gradate school. Oklahoma houses its National Scholars together and gives them all sorts of other perks. A full-time administrator is devoted solely to providing special assistance and advice to these students.
    I could go on, but there is no need to. It's worth the effort to set a goal of being a National Merit Finalist.
    And what if a student sets this as a goal and doesn't make it? Even the best student can have a bad test day. All is not lost. Most of these schools offer good merit aid for students with high ACT scores and good grades. So even if a student has a bad day when he takes the PSAT, he can still, with luck and effort, get a nearly full ride. But it won't be automatic, which is the beauty of the Finalist scholarships.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fuddy-duddy me had no idea of how much tuition has gone up in 25 years.

    I just had an experience that shows just how old and out of touch I am.
    I blogged a few weeks ago (I haven't been very active lately) that Ash was taking a single college course and much to my surprise he got a tuition scholarship. From my post:
After his acceptance into the program we got a very welcome surprise. We had expected to pay about $400 in tuition to cover Ash's three-hour college course. When he got his acceptance email he also got a notice that all high school students in the Ole Miss dual credit program receive a tuition scholarship. So his cost to take the college course is limited to the price of the textbook.
    Well, I logged into Ash's account today and saw he had a balance due. I called the bursar to see what was going on and was informed that the cost to take a single three-hour course is roughly $840. Ash's tuition scholarship covered only half of this amount.
    My best recollection is that when I was in school in the early- to mid-1980s the cost of tuition was substantially less than $1,000, with the student activity fee and other costs adding about $300 to this amount. I tried to find some exact numbers but came up empty, so I have to go from memory. I didn't pay much more than that for law school, perhaps $1,500 per semester total. I remember thinking that out of all the costs associated with going to college, tuition was just a drop in the bucket.
    UPDATE: Several people have posted on my Facebook thread that the total undergraduate tuition in the mid-1980s was about $750.
    Tuition is no longer a drop in the bucket. It's a bucket full! The cost for an Ole Miss undergraduate attending full time is $3,300 per semester. The cost for law school is almost $6,800 per semester.
    Things aren't so bad when you put an inflation calculator to it. $1,100 in 1984 had the same buying power as $2,500 today. $1,500 in 1987 had the same buying power as $3,000 today. So undergraduate tuition has risen 50 percent more than the Consumer Price Index; law school tuition, though, has outpaced inflation by more than 100 percent.
    When you put an inflation calculator to this, you find that $750 in 1985 had the same buying power as 1,630 today. Since current tuition is $3,300, undergraduate tuition at Ole Miss has risen at more than twice the inflation right. So in constant dollars, tuition has doubled in less than 20 years.
    Of course, the tuition at other state schools is far higher than Ole Miss. Tuition and fees at the Universities of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, or Texas run from $5,000 to $5,500 per semester. So despite the tuition increases Ole Miss is still only charges in-state residents about two-thirds of the tuition in other states. Out-of-state students pay an extra $5,000 per semester, which for many students is still a bargain compared to other colleges.
    Part of what is going on with these tuition increases is that virtually all state governments have cut back on support for higher education, as this USA Today story illustrates. The money has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is frequently from the students themselves. And today's college campuses just seem a lot nicer than they used to. This luxury costs money, too.
    There are some legitimate concerns about the amount of debt that students are having to take on to finance these ever-increasing tuition costs. That's a post for another day. For now, I'll quit my belly-achin' and go pay the bursar  -- and be grateful that we got a half-scholarship.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Congratulations to Oxford High's 11 National Merit Semifinalists -- about five percent of junior class

National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalists are: Abbigail Pullen, Yuqi Zhao, Dion Kevin, Brian Clancy, Matthew Forgette, Yoomin Jo, Joelle Young, Cynthia Torma, Shreya Mathur, Mary Kathryn Pearson, and Reid Mallette.

    I mentioned about three weeks ago that the release of National Merit semifinalists was coming soon. It came and not a word from me. Better late than never.
    Once again Oxford High School had a tremendous number of semifinalists: Eleven this year. Last year the school boasted a record 12 semifinalists. I said at the time I didn't think these large Semifinalist numbers were an anomaly. I believe they are the wave of the future. People from throughout the Delta and other parts of the state are flocking to Oxford because of the good school system. The type of parents who are willing to make this type of move tend to have smart children, sometimes very smart.
    The Tupelo Daily Journal reported the names of Northeast Mississippi students who made the Semifinalist cut this year. There were a total of 18 Semifinalists in the entire northeast region covered by that newspaper, which goes as far west as Lafayette and Marshall Counties and as far south as Oktibbeha County. Eleven of the 18 were from Oxford High School. They are:

  • Brian Clancy
  • Matthew Forgette
  • Yoomin Jo
  • Dion Kevin
  • Reid Mallette
  • Shreya Mathur
  • Mary Pearson
  • Abbigail Pullen
  • Cynthia Torma
  • Joelle Young
  • Yuqi Zhao

   There are approximately 16,000 Semifinalists nationally; this year Mississippi had 136. Each state has a separate cutoff score, which is designed to recognize the top one percent of students in each state, and so the number from a low-population state will fluctuate a good bit each year, as it  is impossible to set a score that will recognize exactly one percent. Mississippi's cutoff score this year was 207, up three points from last year. By comparison, Tennessee has a cutoff score of 212; Massachusetts and New Jersey have cutoffs of 224. National Merit also offers "Commended" status to the almost-made-its, roughly the top four percent. This year the national cutoff for Commended status was 203 for all states, unchanged from last year.
    The Mississippi School for Math and Science apparently led the National Merit race statewide (from a percentage standpoint), with 12 of approximately 120 juniors being selected, or about 10 percent. Of course, MSMS should do well; it's a magnet boarding school that only takes extremely bright kids.Oxford had 11 out of approximately 220 students selected, or about five percent of juniors. I can't find the link, but I believe Madison Central High School had 23 Semifinalists this year. But that school has more than 550 juniors, so about four percent of its students were Semifinalists.
    As I mentioned earlier, Oxford High School is starting out with some of the brightest kids in the state. But to achieve the numbers that it's getting the school is clearly doing something right. This past year Oxford also had eight students who scored a 35 or 36 on the ACT. Roughly 5,000 students nationally made a 35 or 36, out of almost 1.7 million who took it. It's just unheard of for a relatively small school to produce these kinds of scores.
    Oxford High School is not perfect, but a strong argument can be made that academically it is the best public school in the state of Mississippi, and that it is better than almost all private schools as well. The only possibly "better" schools I can think of in the entire state are MSMS, which isn't open enrollment, and private St. Andrews Episcopal School in Jackson. Of course the floor is open for additional nominations in the comment section.
    I'm fascinated by the opportunities that Mississippi and other students from low cutoff states have in gaining Semifinalist status. In the most competitive states one has to score in something like the national 99.7th percentile to snare the award. In Mississippi it's more like the 97.5th percentile.
   What this means is that every student who participates in the Duke TIP program as a seventh-grader ought to have a shot at earning Semifinalist status. The TIP program is open to students in roughly the top five to seven percent of their class all students nationally, and I think five years of hard work can move one from the 93rd percentile to the 97th percentile. A Duke TIP participant whose ACT score puts him in the top half of this group ought to be a Semifinalist -- provided he puts in the work that he is supposed to over the next five years. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how many students are parents are aware of the fact that Semifinalist might be an attainable goal.
    I've written about the National Merit test a number of times, and in the next few days I'm going to have a couple of additional posts. If it's overkill, no one is required to read them!

Edited 9-26-13 to add photo.