How much have you saved?

by Finn

While this story is about college financial aid, what I found most interesting was the finances of the families involved:

An inside look at financial aid offers from private Franklin & Marshall College

For example, Student A comes from a family with an AGI of $400k, with $635k in home equity and $360k in assets not in retirement accounts. While recognizing the possibility that they could have millions stashed in retirement accounts, doesn’t that seem like a net value of less than $1M outside of retirement accounts is low for that level of income? Granted, I also don’t know what sort of special circumstances they might’ve faced, e.g., expensive medical treatments, long periods with much less income, but if we assume they didn’t face any of that, wouldn’t you think they’d have accumulated more?

Side note: This example does suggest that maximizing retirement account contributions is one way to maximize financial aid.

Looking through the other examples, while some families have assets that seem commensurate with their incomes, especially the families with low incomes, it seems to me that others should’ve been able to accumulate more assets, including home equity.

What do you think? I know I’m well above national norms in terms of how much I save, but do you think these levels of assets and home equity seem low relative to their incomes, taking into account where they live?

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208 thoughts on “How much have you saved?

  1. I think most people around here save far less than Student A’s family even on that income, Finn.

    For one thing, it’s likely that the family income was not $400k for the ten years prior to the student going to college – if you have one parent out of the workforce or working part time when the kids are younger, that income was probably more like $250k when the kid was young.

    For another, if the older sibling is three years older and they have already paid full freight for that kid for three years, $200k or so has been spent.

    I’d love to know how Student G’s family is going to pull off a $58k annual bill with an income of $213k, minimal cash, no home equity, and another kid to educate.

    I would have sent him to state school.

    Compared to when I went to college and was on aid almost 20 years ago, these parental contributions are about three times higher than my parents were charged at the same income/asset levels.

  2. I agree that we don’t know the family histories, but we, like Finn, have much greater proportion of savings to income outside of retirement. This does make me think I might need to look at our allocations of where money is placed before we have to apply for FASFA.

  3. To me, a family with an AGI of $400k and a college age child should have at least $1 million saved barring the AGI being a recent phenomenon and/or extenuating circumstances such as child with high medical needs. Should be maxing out all retirement vehicles and I would hope have at least $50k dedicated college savings set aside.

  4. Finn,

    I think you maybe looking at this from the perspective of engineering salaries that start high but quickly plateau vs. say a radiologist that won’t start making big bucks until their early to mid 30s or an accountant or business major who starts low but eventually hits a higher peak.

  5. Wait, student C had a combined SAT in the 1100’s and turned them down for Williams? I had no idea you could get into Williams with a 1100 SAT.

  6. Just for kicks, I went to the T. Rowe Price college savings calculator to see what we “should” be saving for our three kids, aged 7, 5, and 3.

    7 year old: $1,950/month
    5 year old: $1,800/month
    3 year old: $1,700/month

    Total: $5,450/month

    Are we going to find $65k/year after tax to save for college, beyond the $60k/year we should be saving for retirement?

    HA HA HA

    They can be plumbers.

  7. Mia, I think you are assuming that the parents are not paying off their own professional school loans when the kids are little (or in residency, taking a government job to get the skills to be a big firm partner, etc. etc.)

    I know very few people with kids under five with $400k incomes, unless they had kids very late.

  8. Finn – Most people with that sort of income and a commitment to elite private schooling or a high tax zip code like to eat more luxuriously than your family and their kids have smartphones. And Sky’s point about fluctuation is a good one. I got two paychecks (salary continuation from previous layoff) one year, plus my husband’s pension. Looked like we were in xtra fat city from the tax return. Maybe the equity in their home is not just a function of skyrocketing values on a mortgaged property, but because they chose to pay it all off and are using cash flow from two earners to pay for college out of pocket. I found the entire article interesting, as well as the companion article on merit aid. F&M, Skidmore, attending those sorts of schools at full price or nearly so is completely outside my comprehension.

  9. I personally prioritize saving over paying down mortgage and having the latest and greatest car, house, and clothing. We aim to save 30% of income but I feel like it should be more like 50% if your AGI is 4-5x household income for your MSA.

  10. Current AGI is a snapshot. We are at that AGI level, but we weren’t there even 5 years ago. When our kids were babies, we were barely into six figures. Many professional parents, especially doctors, could say the same. Add student loans to the mix and I am surprised that their savings apart from retirement are so high. Ours are not.

  11. Speaking of savings rates, I recently found a new tool in the Firdelity 401k app. It allows you to compare your savings rate and account balance to those in your area.

    For example – in MA the average contribution rate is 9.22% with an average balance at 40 of 118,200. In Texas, the average contribution rate is 7.82%. with an average balance at 40 of $79,700. While the balances could be the result of low wages, one would think the low cost of living would allow people to save more.

  12. Anon for this, but what percentage of the American public is willing to save *half* of its annual income toward college costs for a decade or more?

    I have to assume it is vanishingly small once we leave this message board.

  13. “our retirement savings dwarf non-retirement right now.”

    Us too. Plus paying down the mortgage aggressively is our next priority vs. adding more aggressively to savings.

    Also agree with others on the fact that salaries in that range are achieved gradually over a long career or started at 30ish with a large student loan load to pay off. And that number of children, ages, etc comes into play as well.

  14. We aim to save 30% of income but I feel like it should be more like 50% if your AGI is 4-5x household income for your MSA.

    I assume the plan is to retire early?

  15. Meme-agreed. Who in their right mind would pay sticker price for F&M. Or go into $200k of debt for that. I would rather community college and a state school. Or a trade school. I actually think a trade and purchasing a business for that trade may be a better investment.

    I made the exception for the $400K being a recent phenomenon. Timing of cash flow matters for tax statements. All the more reason to max out pretax retirement vehicles. Should barely note the difference at that income level.

  16. Is there a way to read the article if you’ve already hit your limit on WashPost for the month & don’t subscribe?

    Rhett – I am always skeptical of those calculators. It only can compare what is in my actual Fidelity 401(k), not other accounts. With people changing jobs every few years, it is really not an accurate picture. If my 401(k) were my only retirement savings, I would look underfunded too, but I have other accounts, including a Rollover IRA which has the savings from the first 15 years of my career before I started at my current company.

  17. Ivy,

    Right, but one would assume the contribution rates are still a valid data point. Also, are we assuming that the rate of job change differ significantly by MSA?

  18. Saving half when you are making 5x or more the household income for your MSA still puts you in a pretty cushy lifestyle IMO.

    We have been fortunate with real estate and have made six figures on each home sale except one. We live off base salaries including maxing out 401k’s and then bank bonuses. Gives us optionality. We live in an affluent area and I still feel poor most of the time. I would like to spend more time with my kids but right now is the highest earning years of my career. I do not believe the opportunity will be there in my 50’s and expect I may be put out to pasture by then and may only make half as much, if hired in a senior role at all.

  19. “Just for kicks, I went to the T. Rowe Price college savings calculator to see what we “should” be saving for our three kids, aged 7, 5, and 3.

    7 year old: $1,950/month
    5 year old: $1,800/month
    3 year old: $1,700/month”

    Sky, I used the calculator also (left the default annual cost of 20K)

    it said for my 5 year old : 624/month

  20. “Also, are we assuming that the rate of job change differ significantly by MSA?”

    I have no idea. But I think it’s pretty rare for a 40 year old to have spent their entire career at one company. I agree that the contribution rates are a better directional factor, although I guess it is going to vary a lot based on salary. (e.g., one could be putting in 8%, but be maxxing out – although are enough people at that income level on an overall basis to really move the needle? I don’t know.)

  21. We save a large portion of our income, when we can, because our income swings wildly. Getting/ keeping benefits is a struggle for us. We have conversations every 6 months about how much and how long we expect to be paid. These experiences make me very conservative with money.

  22. Just for a frame of reference, median household income on the upper east side of Manhattan is $101,417 and for Santa Clara County, CA (east bay) is $93,500. Both are as of 2014.

    I am concerned that the idea of college for everyone is unsustainable at the tuition rates being charged relative to average household income in this country. It is a set up for a student loan bubble incapable of repayment and non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.

  23. We save a lot more than the national average, and I’m grateful that DH has a similar philosophy about saving.

    We each had a running start when we met because we married late in life compared to average, and we waited to late 30s to have a child. I think many of you know that I’m a big believer in the power of compounding.

    I’m always looking for ways to save money even when we’re splurging on a vacation. We enjoy a more luxurious lifestyle now, but we still live in our first home. That’s saved us a lot of money because we bought it when just one of us could have paid the mortgage each month.

    I still have some regrets because it’s not my dream home, but we’re happy there. My priorities keep shifting about what I “need” and I prefer to see our savings continue to grow.

    I went to a funeral today for a parent of a friend. I keep getting reminders of how short life really is because my new milestone age is getting closer to the age of some of these people.

    I continue to try to balance the amount of money we’re saving with the knowledge that I might only have x number of healthy years left to enjoy.

    I’m not surprised at how little some people have saved for college, emergencies and retirement. Ive seen so many of my neighbors spend so much money without thinking of the consequences. Maybe some of the people in the article will do what I continue to see my neighbors do, and that is receive gifts from parents and grandparents. Even my nephew just moved to a new state with a car that was “donated” by my FIL along with a moving gift.

  24. Mia,

    But, per the article, with an income of $72k while the sticker is $54,924 the actual out of pocket cost is $6,400.

  25. The line that was most interesting to me was number of people in the household. We have the in laws living with us, as a result our expenses are higher than they would have been. We are thrifty and are saving but the amount we could have been saving for college is lower.

  26. Yes, Rhett, but doesn’t someone have to pay $52k? How does the college survive if most of the students only pay $6k. I went to a solid state U and the average student loan debt at graduation today is $19k. Totally doable. You could get comparable education at a smaller private school and quadruple that number. Is someone better off making that “investment”?

  27. Yes, Rhett, but doesn’t someone have to pay $52k?

    It’s like buying something at Macy’s that’s $200 marked down to $100 on sale. Well, doesn’t someone have to pay $200? No. Or hospital billing where a CBC is $600 and insurance pays $120, Medicare pays $110 and Medicaid pays $100. Well, doesn’t someone have to pay $600? No, that’s not how it works. Those sticker prices are pure fiction.

  28. Rhett – People do pay sticker price for private colleges or nearly so. Wealthy foreign students are one source of cash. Grandparents. Private lending. And of course there are the much lower sticker price fly by night schools that burden the unsophisticated with debts that can’t be discharged. The companion article about merit aid found that small private colleges were no longer getting the bank for the buck in boosting US News rankings by offering partial merit aid – they can get a sufficient number of full price 1350 SAT kids anyway.

  29. There are people in NY, DC and other burbs that are willing and able to pay full fare at F & M, Skidmore and other similar colleges. Many of my neighbors can and will pay full price for these schools. I was out with college friends last night. We’re all living in different parts of the US, but they would pay.

    They can afford it, or they already have the money saved for a private college. They don’t view it as a waste of money. They would much rather pay to have their kid sitting in a Muhlenberg with small classes vs. the anonymous state U.

  30. I did not get time to read the article, but does it suggest to save this amount in a 529?
    So far we have all our savings In a single bucket because I haven’t yet looked into 529.

  31. Rhett – People do pay sticker price for private colleges or nearly so. Wealthy foreign students are one source of cash. Grandparents.

    Right, they are choosing to consume a luxury good. It’s not like $60k a year is the minimum to set them on the path to a totebag income.

  32. I agree it is totally regional and industry specific. Locally the private university here carries a much better network and a graduate of that school would have a better chance of a successful career than a graduate of an ivy. After that it is a pecking order of public U’s in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and the southeast. Ivy entrance was a prime goal in South Florida and at my prior firm, we would favor hiring from many schools in the Northeast over the state U I attended. It is hard to make a choice at 18 that affects your long term career and geographic preferences.

  33. OK, maybe because I am in the business, but I just don’t get this preference ” Muhlenberg with small classes vs. the anonymous state U.”.

    First of all, the better comparison with Muhlenberg would be with the local directional state u, not Anonymous Big Flagship. At Directional State, you will find similar class sizes, similar professors, similar students. Trust me. I taught at Directional State U at the same time my DH was teaching at elite Catholic SLAC, and we were teaching exactly the same stuff, in the same way, on the same equipment, with the same class sizes.

  34. Here if a student does well enough they will get into the public flagships and that is considered to be very good – given that it has enough name brand recognition. Some of the better known private colleges will offer merit aid and will compete with state flagship for the good students. My neighbors kids went to small private colleges out of state. I hadn’t heard of these and I am not sure why they picked them over going to the second tier state schools that at least have regional recognition.
    I don’t see extravagant consumption but people do take vacations to the Carribean, Disney cruises are popular, country club memberships, kids with smart phones…so I am not sure to what extent people are saving for college.

  35. My child is a bright little totebagger, and usually has a lot in common with kids of other people on the blog. But this past year has been very different because of a serious illness over the winter. It seems to have ended now, but we are still trying to get out of its effects. Getting behind in math can be deadly, because then you don’t understand the next thing or the next. That is exactly what happened. My child failed the course and now feels like a failure. Making up the credit in an online course is not working because of the self-confidence problems related to failing the class. Fall semester is coming soon. It’s getting desperate here.

    If I could find a one-week algebra camp that gives credit for a semester of alegbra, we would sign up and get tickets immediately. In all your searching for summer enrichment, have you come across anything that gives actual school credit? Do you have good ideas about where to look for a class?

    Thanks in advance!

  36. Ivy, you can get a Post subscription for about $5/month from Amazon Prime.

    About half the students at our university are getting financial aid, which means that the other half are full pay. Many of those families take out loans, but grandparents and professional parents seem able and eager to write the checks.

  37. Finn, it looks to me like Student A’s family aggressively paid down their mortgage or paid cash for their house. Combine that with maxing our retirement account options and you may have an explanation for why they have few assets in non qualified accounts. Alternatively, they’ve just seen a lot of appreciation on their home and haven’t saved much outside of retirement. The assumption that families will utilize home equity to pay for college seems like an argument against pre-paying the mortgage in some respects.

  38. Embarrassed regular, so sorry about your situation. I am going to ask a non Totebaggy question. What about just taking algebra over this school year, and use next summer to catch up on geometry or whatever math class comes next?

  39. In all your searching for summer enrichment, have you come across anything that gives actual school credit?

    That was the traditional role of summer school. How old are they?

  40. Scarlett, thanks for your comment! I did consider stepping off the calculus track and trying to get back on next summer. But it isn’t just that. It is also advancement to the next grade, which is high school.

  41. Rhett, in our area, algebra is only offered online in the summer. This kid really seems to need classmates and a teacher who is physically present and encouraging

  42. “What about just taking algebra over this school year, and use next summer to catch up on geometry or whatever math class comes next?”

    In our district, and I think lots of others, you can only take summer school if you actually FAILED the course. It is sad – I defintely used summer school to get credits I couldn’t get in the regular year

  43. Embarrassed regular – would the teacher be willing to recommend some tutors and then let that tutor test your child? Is this a public or private school?

  44. Embarassed regular, how about one on one tutoring by professional? My my own experience, this needs to be addressed ASAP or will result in lack of confidence/hate of algebra for a long time.

  45. This kid really seems to need classmates and a teacher who is physically present and encouraging.

    I know it can be a little pricey but can you hire a tutor to do the online class with him/her?

  46. “do you think these levels of assets and home equity seem low relative to their incomes, taking into account where they live?”

    No. Totebaggers are big savers, but many others with higher incomes have relatively low levels of financial assets. It used to surprise me, but I’ve seen too many examples so I’m used to it. These people are living at their income level or beyond. They’re spending on vacations, designer clothing, new luxury cars, and $6,000 summer camps. ;)

    I’m reminded of that trust fund murder case where the son allegedly murdered his hedge fund father. Their lifestyle included multiple homes and exclusive club memberships, but it turned out his estate was only valued at about $1.6 mil (or less, depending on the source).
    http://nypost.com/2016/05/02/rich-kid-who-killed-dad-over-allowance-cut-may-not-have-been-rich-after-all/

  47. Ok – I got to the article.

    I am way more inclined to clutch my Totebag pearls at the parents of Student G who have over $200K in income in the Southeast and no home equity and savings of $16K than the parents of Student A. Compare that to Student D who has a fairly similar income level (but lower) with home equity of over $800K and almost half a million in non-retirement savings.

  48. So I read the companion article… unless I misread it (possible), the article made it sound like merit aid is only for those “non-need” students across the board. That’s not true. My college scholarship counted as merit aid, and came with lots of requirements that had to be met each year. My HS grades earned me that “merit” aid. I also had need-based aid. Just my 2 cents.

    Reading through the different students, I don’t understand how they calculate “home equity used” or how that factors into the aid package. And where do they think people can afford 30% of their AGI towards one child’s education? If the number in the household includes multiple college-age students, and the other school requires 30% AGI as the family contribution… that’s 60% of AGI.

    Some of these students who said yes must be applying for more loans than F&M proposed, or the families are applying for loans.

    IF DS was going to school today, and everything else was the same (income as it is now, home equity as it is now, etc), we would not be able to pay 30% of our AGI towards school. He’d go somewhere else.

  49. We tried Mathnasium and Sylvan Learning Center tutors. Kid turned white as a sheet, couldn’t answer anything, and threw up after one of those visits. I think having other kids around, not being 1:1, would ameliorate the “on the spot” feeling.

    But I appreciate the ideas. Please keep em coming!

  50. I am way more inclined to clutch my Totebag pearls at the parents of Student G who have over $200K in income in the Southeast* and no home equity and savings of $16K

    My guess is they lost everything in the financial crisis and are finally at least back to the same income level but only after they burned through their savings and investments.

    * My guess is FL.

  51. “And where do they think people can afford 30% of their AGI towards one child’s education?”

    Yes, it comes as a shock to many people. Parents were supposed to be saving all those years. Plus, having multiple students in college at the same time is considered in the calculations.

    Much need-based aid is hybrid, based on financially needy kids who meet the school’s academic requirements.

  52. Embarrassed – I understand why you chose that moniker for this situation, but you should not be embarrassed and neither should your child.

    Life happens and sometimes life gets really hard. If you were ignoring the problem or somehow thinking that good wishes and unicorns would make it better, then you should be embarrassed. But you’re not. Your trying to find the best way for your child to succeed and keep your child on the track s/he started. Don’t be embarrassed.

    Would it help to talk to the high school? Maybe step off the calc track and see how things go the first year and see if there’s an on ramp for year #2? I started HS on the “normal” track but did well enough in algebra 1 (which I took in 8th grade as well and did poorly in, I think I got a C by the skin of my teeth), to enter the calc track in year #2. It meant that sophomore year had both algebra 2 and geometry/trigonometry but no “fun” elective.

  53. Embarrassed: My child missed his freshman fall semester and sophomore spring semester due to illness, so I can definitely relate. He was on the honors/AP track, and his self worth was tied up in his classes/grades, so dropping out of the AP track was not really an option. We hired a tutor. If your child wants a small class setting, you can hire a tutor and ask your child to invite a friend or two to join him/her for a fun summer of learning algebra (on your dime).

  54. I agree with Rhode that you should speak with the high school. Get a doctor’s note explaining the situation. Schools have some flexibility in addressing the needs of sick kids.

  55. “Santa Clara County, CA (east bay)”

    Santa Clara County is south bay. East bay is more like Alameda County.

  56. On the math track thread, my child did not take calculus in high school, but took it in community college the summer after she graduated, so started college with that out of the way. Obviously this is not a good option for an engineering school applicant, but for a lot of other students it is an acceptable path.

  57. According to the college savings calculator we’re covered for state school but for private school we’d need to save an additional $1150 per month for each kid. I’m not inclined to save any more in a 529 (above the $400 per month per kid).

    I think that it’s obviously better to save little amounts early because of compounding, but most people think that they’ll start saving once the kids are out of daycare, after they buy a house, etc. We’ve been maxing out retirement since DH started his job out of law school, but our savings beyond that and the 529s were relatively meager because a lot of it went into a downpayment on our house. It’s only now in our late 30s when we have much smaller child care costs and DH’s salary has taken off that we can save 40 or 50% of our after tax salary. It would have obviously been better just to plow even $1K per month into a taxable account for the last ten years (and we very well could have but didn’t).

  58. “Is there a way to read the article if you’ve already hit your limit on WashPost for the month & don’t subscribe?”

    Try finding and deleting the WaPo cookie.

  59. “I went to a solid state U”

    Hmm… I went to a state U and studied solid state physics.

  60. Wine – How did we decide on the $400? No real reason, just seemed like it was around $5K per year per kid which seemed like a decent start. We started the accounts for each kid when they were born.

  61. ‘“Is there a way to read the article if you’ve already hit your limit on WashPost for the month & don’t subscribe?”

    Try finding and deleting the WaPo cookie.’

    Going incognito on Chrome always works for me.

  62. “What is “home equity used”?”

    I’m not sure. My guess is that home equity is part of their EFC calculation, but only a certain part of equity is figured into the calculation.

    This would suggest that student A (Home equity: $635,000, Home equity used: $506,880) lives in a quite upscale community, while student D (Home equity: $848,565, Home equity used: $246,140) lives in a high COL area, and their formula does take COL (or perhaps more accurately, cost of housing) into account.

  63. got it Atlanta, thought you were referring to a number from the article or calculator

  64. Finn, I read that as outstanding mortgage on the value of the home. So it is “used”.

  65. Wine – no, but apparently that amount does set you up for being able to fully fund in-state tuition (at least according to the calculator with a 6% return). If you change it to a 7% return it says we can pay for out of state tuition too but we come no where close to being able to fully fund our SLAC (which is where my oldest says she wants to go).

  66. Embarrassed – as a person who has taken algebra 3 times (8th grade, 9th/10th grades (I & II), and freshman year college), I can tell you I understand higher math concepts quite easily. So, having your kid take algebra twice will only help your child’s confidence in understanding harder and harder concepts.

    I ended up repeating my math curriculum in college – algebra, pre-calc, and calc I and II (HS ended with calc I). I understand math now and can explain it. I can teach math when I need to. It helped immensely in grad school to understand some fluid dynamics and physical oceanographic concepts that stumped most of my classmates

  67. Rhode, thank you for your compassionate comment, and for your suggestion.
    It is not the high school that is refusing to let him start; the middle school won’t sign off on him because he doesn’t have enough credits. The academic AP told me at the start of the summer that he thinks it would be good for my kid to have to learn to buckle down. I don’t think he or the math teacher ever understood that my kid was seriously depressed, wishing to die, etc. I have a call in to the guidance counselor. She is under the AP, but maybe she can help us find a solution. I came up with the idea of camp because I think it deals with both the academic and the confidence issue, and if it is accredited, the AP would accept it.

  68. Rhode, make that two compassionate and empathetic responses from you that I appreciate!

  69. “it looks to me like Student A’s family aggressively paid down their mortgage or paid cash for their house. Combine that with maxing our retirement account options and you may have an explanation for why they have few assets in non qualified accounts.”

    Yes. My guess is that their income prevented them from getting any aid, but note that part of their home equity, and all of their retirement savings, were apparently excluded from the aid calculation.

    I found that encouraging, as that is how our finances are structured, and we don’t have that level of income to disqualify us from aid.

  70. I was going to give a trip report on our free time in Washington DC, but I didn’t get to go anywhere because of the heat. We took a cab to a museum, it was shut for power outage. So we had to figure out how to stay cool for 4 hours till our next engagement. We enjoyed my daughter’s trapeze performance (she goes to TSNY near Navy Yard), had a couple of very nice meals out, played some bridge, but were confined to the indoors. I know that this week was a severe heat wave, and that it has been very warm in Massachusetts as well, but the extra 8-10 degrees on the mercury mean a lot, and it was over 100 the day we left and just sat in the hotel lobby after checking out, then went to the airport early, skipping planned outings. Santa Cruz as a late life destination looks better and better. I can report that the lines to get into the Air and Space museum are no longer under the blazing sun – they have a disney style covered zig zag walkway.

    I am in matriarch heaven. Just visited DD2 and her two elderly cats. Our cuddly cat was waiting on the steps like a puppy to greet us when we got home last night. DD1 comes to live with us around Aug 1 (no pets). DS2 is visiting for a week in the middle of the month, volunteered to bring his cat to complete the family reunion but we declined. Grandkids need babysitting from time to time. DH is as well as can be expected.

  71. Kid turned white as a sheet, couldn’t answer anything, and threw up after one of those visits.

    It looks like DD is busy so I’ll just add that maybe the pressure is dialed up just a little bit too high.

  72. ‘“What is “home equity used”?”
    I’m not sure. My guess is that home equity is part of their EFC calculation, but only a certain part of equity is figured into the calculation.’

    That’s correct. The calculation commonly used for private colleges of this type typically caps the value at 2-3 times income or use some similar formula.

  73. I thought that the Home Equity Used referred to the aid formula used. Not all home equity is considered as eligible for consideration as part of the family contribution. I asked the Google & it said in the formula that a lot of elite schools use, home equity is capped at, say, 1.5X annual income. But the multiplier varies by college. (Finn – I think this is also what you were saying.)

    Thanks for the tips – I didn’t even know “private mode” on Chrome existed. I ended up just going to my never-used Internet Explorer browser and that did the trick too.

    @Meme – I have sworn up & down that I will never visit DC in summer again, but then always end up out there due to family obligations or something. You remind me of the time that I walked around the National Zoo and thought I was going to pass out. It was over 100 on the thermometer (with the characteristic humidity as well), and most of the animals were off exhibit due to the heat anyway. UGH.

  74. “I don’t think he or the math teacher ever understood that my kid was seriously depressed, wishing to die, etc.”

    Embarrassed, I may have missed it but does your child have an IEP? Schools must offer special services and accommodations should be given for certain emotional conditions that affect academic performance. It may be a long shot, but that angle may be one worth pursuing. With an IEP, the school may be more flexible in handling his situation. OTOH, trying to convince everyone that this is not such a big deal may do more for your child’s health and be the best for the long term.

  75. Rhett, I have really been trying hard not to be angry or add pressure in any way. Fact is, no algebra credit this summer, no high school in a few weeks. That’s real, even if I don’t say a word about it.

  76. CoC, IEPs for temporary things like depression? I wish I had known. Child does have some of the tendencies that are common around here, but I’ve avoided an IEP because of stigma that may be attached.

  77. “The academic AP told me at the start of the summer that he thinks it would be good for my kid to have to learn to buckle down. I don’t think he or the math teacher ever understood that my kid was seriously depressed, wishing to die, etc.”

    Ok, this is a huge red flag. Your child’s mental health is far more important than getting the right math courses. Our university is top-ranked, and does NOT require calculus even for the engineering college. From what you’ve said here, it seems that trying to get caught up is creating more stress than your child is currently able to handle. It’s not worth it. Your child is protected by the ADA and other laws. I’m not sure I understand the exact issue — are they refusing to let him register for 9th grade because he lacks the algebra credits?

  78. “You remind me of the time that I walked around the National Zoo and thought I was going to pass out.”

    Didn’t they have the misting machines set up?
    I was in DC last week and it brought back not so fond memories. I love it there, but not in the summer.

  79. It would probably be a 504, “Other Health Inpaired”. And any time a serious illness of ANY kind causes a student to miss class for an extended period, the school should be providing at home services.

  80. Embarrassed, depression is typically an ongoing concern. I would look into a 504 plan asap.

  81. Embarrassed,

    I assume from you comment they’ve been diagnosed with major depression? That is most certainly not anything you should be embarrassed about in any way.

  82. “Fact is, no algebra credit this summer, no high school in a few weeks. That’s real, even if I don’t say a word about it.”

    OK, I posted too soon. That policy is absurd. Your child didn’t fail algebra because he/she was cutting class or failing to turn in assignments. A suicidal child is suffering from a serious illness, and though your instinct to keep this medical condition confidential is totally understandable, it may also not be in your child’s best interest. The school can’t help your family if they don’t know what is actually going on.

  83. “Didn’t they have the misting machines set up?”

    They did. They helped. A little. Not enough. >100 with swamp-like humidity is not fit for humans. It’s hot & humid enough here in the summer for me. I don’t think I would have made it if I had to live in the South in the summer before air conditioning.

  84. Embarrassed – I am going to say something hard to hear, but I had a kid who went to day school at a leading psychiatric hospital for 2 1/2 years, so I am not talking through my hat. this sounds like a restricted admission private/parochial or public magnet or charter (do those even exist at high school level?) high school for which your child will be denied a previously granted admission or promotion unless he/she passes algebra this summer. Public school has to take all comers, and algebra is not a prerequisite for ninth grade. So if your child will lose his/her place you are faced with a problem. A seriously depressed adolescent who is still unable to cope with this single academic task after therapy and drugs needs to be in a safe environment for the next year or two. Even if your heroic efforts get the student through the algebra hoop in the next five weeks, another point of pressure will occur soon and another after that. It is time to re-evaluate the chosen educational path before something awful happens.

  85. My kids were on the swim team because I needed them to be physically active in the summers and the only activity fit for humans in that weather is swimming. I felt so sorry for the miserable tourists slogging around the city last week with their visors and water bottles and whining red-faced children.

  86. Public school has to take all comers, and algebra is not a prerequisite for ninth grade.

    My understanding from what Embarrassed has posted is that the middle school will not pass the child out of 8th grade without the Algebra credit. So regardless of whether the HS requires algebra or not, it probably requires the child to have completed 8th grade.

  87. ” >100 with swamp-like humidity is not fit for humans.”

    Living where I do, I wholeheartedly agree.

  88. Comparing students E, F and I was the most interesting to me. Similar high 5 figure household incomes resulted in vastly different EFC.

  89. Embarrassed – I agree with Meme that you may want to reevaulate the educational path that you are seeking. If the school won’t pass him out of 8th grade than you’ll have to look at other options, including homeschooling. I highly recommend going the 504 route, but keep in mind that it won’t be fixed a few weeks time. Your child’s immediate health is the top concern, followed by the education they need to receive right now, not what math class they’ll have in 4 years.

  90. I have no idea what the constraints are in this specific situation. Most public school systems will promote with one F in a class, especially if it above basic math, rather than force the child to repeat the entire grade. They will offer either the option to retake the class in the next year or a suggest for a more relaxed path in that subject. If the child is changing from private to public, the public school has to take the child in at the appropriate grade level and 8th grade algebra is not a pre-req for 9th grade. That is the situation to which I referred. In any case, attempting an academically rigorous program in high school without formal support, while there are still active anxiety issues, is risky.

  91. “the middle school will not pass the child out of 8th grade without the Algebra credit. ”

    That’s the way I read it also.

    My kids go to arguably on one of the top two schools in the state (some on another island might say top 3), and only about a third of the kids finish algebra I in 8th grade.

    I used to question that, but I’ve accepted it.

  92. My understanding from what Embarrassed has posted is that the middle school will not pass the child out of 8th grade without the Algebra credit.

    I looked it up and it seems that IEPs can override grade promotion requirements.

  93. Meme, if only that were the case! This is a standard public middle and high school.

  94. DD, exactly! Thank you for your careful read.
    Lemon, I have often thought about homeschooling. Looking back at elementary, I think homeschooling would have been easier than schools then, and may have eliminated this problem. But this experience with the algebra shows me that between the psych issues and the parent-child dynamic, homeschooling is sadly unlikely to be successful now.

  95. Rhett, where did you find that? It’s too late in the day now, but with all the comments here, I’m thinking of calling the district tomorrow. The more info I am prepared with, the better, so I’d like to read your source.
    The child does have a very out-of-date (completed in 3rd grade) IEP.

  96. “Comparing students E, F and I was the most interesting to me. Similar high 5 figure household incomes resulted in vastly different EFC.”

    Yes, I’m wondering especially about student E. Family AGI ~$89k, 2 kids in college, EFC ~$30k. So unless the other kid has a lower net price, they’re looking at spending over 2/3 of their AGI on college, leaving about $30k for the parents to live on, unless they dip into savings or tap equity.

    The other two project to have about $57k and $45k (in the midwest, where perhaps COL is lower) to live on.

    My guess is that student E’s sib has pretty close to a full ride somewhere, or perhaps a full tuition scholarship and lives at home.

  97. So your child had an IEP in the 3rd grade? When was he taken off the IEP? A school district can’t take a child off an IEP without a formal evaluation – did that happen? If not, the IEP must be updated every year, with goals, progress, etc.

    I have a kid who was on an IEP from K to 8th grade (and on Early Intervention before that), as well as another on a 504. For both, the school district faithfully calls us in every year to meet and develop the plan for the next year. When DS2 was declassified, he had to be evaluated by a psychologist first. We then had the meeting, and he was moved to a 504 plan.

    The point I am trying to make is that there should be no such thing as an out of date IEP. EIther your kid is classified, in which case the IEP must be up to date, or he was formally declassified at some point, with lots of paperwork and meeting time.

  98. winemamma,
    The Indiana 529 offered by College Choice allows a state tax credit of up to $1000 each year at 20% of the amount contributed.

  99. “I didn’t even know “private mode” on Chrome existed.”

    There’s also a private mode in Firefox. I haven’t used it much, but perhaps I should start for sites like NYTimes, LA Times, and WaPo that apparently count how many times you access their sites.

  100. Rhett, where did you find that?

    I googled “iep override 8th grade graduation requirements” and the first two hits were Chicago and NYC schools and in both IEPs can override 8th grade graduation requirements. You’ll need to find out what the state and local policy is in your area. I assume it must be universal? But, I’m not sure.

  101. Embarrassed – Like other posters, I am astonished that you have no recourse for one failed class other than repeating 8th grade in its entirety. Only you and your family can decide whether you want to approach the school system with a medical certificate to get an exception made to the graduation requirement, or go to the system for a formal IEP, which could take several months during which they are likely to make the child repeat eighth grade anyway, or to find at the last minute an alternative school that might not have a full quality academic curriculum (and will cost money as well), but will get the child through the next year.

  102. Embarassed,

    I know you don’t want to share your state. I can only speak to NY and NJ, but those states would be required to send teachers or other staff to your home for additional assistance with certain illnesses such as depression. Please do not worry about a stigma because so many children have 504s and IEPs for a wide variety of reasons. Depending on where you live, there could be a large percentage of kids with accommodations and you just might not be aware.

    The 504 is important because of the ADA. The school and the district will have to try to accommodate you.

    When my friend’s daughter went through something similar in NJ, their district had to pay for her to be in a school that was a safer environment. As FYI, her depression also started in middle school and became dangerous by sophomore year of HS.

    The proper documentation could open doors to help that your child might not have access to today. It may help for years to come.

    A college will not be aware that your child had special accommodations unless your child discloses this information. The 504 is confidential.

  103. Embarrassed,

    nothing of value to add, but I feel for the situation the school has put you and your child in, it is ridiculous taking algebra in 8th grade and not doing well would prevent them from graduating 8th grade

  104. For Chicago: Promotion Criteria for Diverse Learners
    Diverse Learners receiving special education and related services under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) are expected to
    meet the same promotion criteria as their same age, same grade, non-disabled peers unless the IEP modifies the promotion criteria in
    whole or in part (this includes English Learners with an IEP)

    http://cps.edu/Pages/Gettingtothenextgrade.aspx

  105. The Indiana 529 offered by College Choice allows a state tax credit of up to $1000 each year at 20% of the amount contributed.

    thanks A parent, will need to look into

  106. I’m not familiar with this school, but looking at the competition, it’s clear that money is not the main factor in determining admission. No mention is made of whether these kids are from single-parent homes or of race/ethnicity, so I’m not sure how much I can glean from this about how we will look to unis in a few years.

    The decision re Student A doesn’t make sense to me–truly talented, but no merit?

    From the article: “One other technicality: To determine an expected family contribution, F&M takes into account home equity relative to parental income. This is described as ‘Home equity used.’” I don’t understand how that works. For student B, are they saying the income and equity are both low, so they didn’t consider them? Most people consider 6 figures to be high income, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here?

    Student C accepted with 1100? Those numbers truly are not cut-offs–wow!

  107. Just saw your reply to Mooshi. Your child should be admitted to the high school and be able to repeat the class there. Even if the IEP has in some fashion gone dormant under your state’s rules, the mere fact of there being one in the past should force the promotion during the time you get it updated. Be prepared to call a special needs advocacy group or attorney. We had to get a full second evaluation for my child because the first was elementary and the second was secondary.

  108. Before I read the article, I wasn’t familiar at all with Franklin and Marshall.

    Especially for those in the northeast, what’s its reputation? Is it largely a regional school with a regional reputation and network?

    Mooshi mentioned that one of the kids profiled chose Williams over F&M; I’m familiar with Williams (we know a kid there now), and I’m wondering if F&M is considered, regionally at least, to be at or near the level of Williams.

    Anyone familiar with Swarthmore?

  109. Modified promotion criteria can be part of an IEP. The most common one I know of is waiving foreign language requirements for dyslexic students. Here’s an NYC document showing a kind of decision tree for making modifications.
    http://www.cfn211.com/uploads/7/9/9/0/7990034/modpromotioncriteriaquickreferenceguide.pdf

    If your child was diagnosed and you like his doctor, it may be helpful to talk with him. If this present situation is creating more emotional problems for your child, then that seems to be the important focus now. This should be the school’s focus also. Considering he had an IEP, the school may be open to allowing him to continue on to high school for now in anticipation of an upcoming evaluation.

  110. I said ” a period of illness”, and there were plenty of absences but the child did attend school most days during that period. Fell asleep in math class–totally atypical, and did not do well in other classes.

  111. ” Be prepared to call a special needs advocacy group or attorney.”

    I second this advice.

  112. Moshi, Meme, Lauren, and many others, thank you, thank you for the info, advice, and encouragement! I’m trying to decide now if I should speak to the guidance counselor (actually have a call in to her already), the AP, or the district first thing in the morning.
    Also, does school attendance during the depression change anything?

  113. Embarrassed, I don’t know if this would be an option for you, but in your situation I would be seriously considering sending the kid off to spend a semester with grandparents or aunt / uncle in another place. It sounds like the kid is feeling like the current school situation is just impossible, and with the depression and talk about wanting to die it might be good to shake things up and let the kid start fresh in a different environment. Especially if the different environment would be a less academic, less ambitious school. Kind of sending the message that there’s always another way out. That would also seem likely to help with the issue of grade placement, if as far as the new school is concerned 9th grade is the appropriate placement, because then your student would be returning home as a mid-year 9th grader.

  114. Embarrassed, I’m wondering if the HS you planned for your kid to attend offers Algebra I. If the feeder schools won’t graduate kids who haven’t finished it, there shouldn’t be any need for the HS to teach it.

  115. Emb – I would speak first with the guidance counselor, and find out who the special ed coordinator is for your school. That person will be your next stop. Find out if your kid is still classified, and if so, set up a meeting to bring the IEP up to date. If not, find out when and why your kid was declassified, and then restart either the classification process or the 504 process. At the same time, contact the psychologist or healthcare provider who made the diagnosis, because you are going to need documentation.

  116. AFAIK, requiring algebra before entering high school is rare among public schools. A few years ago California disastrously implemented this policy but then abolished it. I wonder if Embarrassed kid was on the fast track for math, but then since he failed algebra he now simply lacks the minimum math requirements for high school, which may be pre-algebra.

  117. In addition to what HM said, I’ll mention that at my kids’ school there are commonly used paths for kids who did not finish Alg I in 8th grade to get back onto the calculus track.

    Some kids take Alg I the summer after 8th grade, while others take geometry the summer after 9th grade (after taking Alg I during 9th grade).

    So if your kid can finish Alg I this upcoming year, and then take geometry next summer, he or she might be able to rejoin his cohort from last year.

    I’m not so clear about this, but I don’t think all of the concepts of Alg I are necessary to start geometry (I think DS might have mentioned that sometimes kids double up on Alg I and geometry to regain the calculus track), so your kid might be able to start studying geometry (perhaps Khan Academy?) well before next summer.

  118. CoC, yes, exactly. Was on the top of 3 tracks, failed the course, now doesn’t have the requisite credits to move up. The middle/normal track has algebra in 9th grade.

    504 is “stronger” than IEP, right? The plan from third grade is the first step/less severe.

  119. it was common at my HS for kids to double up sophomore year with geometry and algebra II

  120. IEP is stronger than 504. An IEP has more legal requirements that schools typically pay more attention to.

    “ I’m wondering if F&M is considered, regionally at least, to be at or near the level of Williams.”

    I would say F&M is a level or two below Williams, but still generally well regarded. Its reputation is probably more regional in nature, which also is the case for many high-ranked liberal arts colleges. I happen to have close connections to F&M, from family members and friends. They all love it. :)

  121. I just pulled up guidance at the middle school’s website and found this, apparently from my kid’s guidance counselor. I think it changes my game plan altogether. I’ll call the high school counselor first. One of our big concerns is getting into a certain elective (before it fills up), so talking to the guidance counselor now sounds better.

    8th Grade Guidance Announcements
    Students enrolled in VS [virtual school] should change their neighborhood school to their assigned high schools once I have approved courses. This will enable their high school counselors to access final grades and input them onto their official transcripts.

  122. Cordella, good point! But I might still call first, because the middle school guidance counselor seemed very aware that spoken communications were off the record, so would chat with me about lots of options and aspects of situations, but in email, everything was always very tight, boxed in and inflexible. So I think I’ll call, feel things out, and then write a follow-up email asking for confirmation that it is a correct summary of what we worked out.

  123. Embarrassed, any chance of credit by exam for the lowest track math class? Or perhaps passing an online version between now and the start of school?

  124. My point being that the lowest math track class might be much easier and thus also less stressful.

  125. “My point being that the lowest math track class might be much easier and thus also less stressful.”

    DS did this in biology. Dropped out of Pre-AP to remedial biology for a semester, just to give him some breathing room. He then was able to move back to his former level the next semester.

  126. Finn, one of DH’a former students teaches at Swarthmore, and when he visited to give a seminar he came away very impressed with their students. He always mentions it to parents of academically gifted kids.

  127. Emb, if your child was dragging himself to school through his depression, and wasn’t actually absent more than other kids, then it’s unlikely that the school is aware of the nature and seriousness of his illness.

  128. Emb – everything I was going to suggest is already covered here. My main reaction, though, is that there is always a workaround with the school system. My personal experience may not apply to your situation, but I agree strongly with the posters who suggested focusing entirely on getting the emotional health back on plan and making math level a very secondary issue right now.

    Good luck to you and your child; I know this must be very stressful for you both.

  129. I read this article in the OP several weeks ago, and I guess I kinda forgot about this, in context of the girl who chose Williams over F&M:

    “Schools like the Ivies, Williams, Amherst, etc., continue to be in our aspirant group in terms of competing for students.”

    I took this to mean that they are sort of a safety school relative to the Ivies, Williams, and Amherst. Or am I misreading that?

  130. Emb – if your child is just lacking a math credit, does it have to be algebra that they take this summer? Can they not just take the lower level math and get through that for the credit, and deal with algebra in the upcoming year?

  131. Wine, you’re right, I’m pretty sure it was the same math double (Alg II/geometry) that DS mentioned as another way onto the calculus track.

  132. Finn – Williams and Swarthmore are several levels above F&M. Back in my day, several of the Ivies and Amherst would rank below Williams and Swarthmore. Of course, when I was applying, most of those schools (not Swarthmore) were men only. Back to today, you (Finn) would never consider paying for F&M. If Finn Jr’s best fit were an Eastern small campus with a liberal arts focus and you (Finn) chose to support that, you might very well be willing to pay for Williams or Swarthmore.

  133. I just got in touch with a former neighbor who is an elementary special Ed teacher in our district and told her what’s up. Her first response was “that should be covered by a 504/IEP”. We will talk more later once some of the neighbor kids who are at her house go home. I’m feeling really hopeful that I’ll be able to take this kid on a quick little summer break!

  134. An easier math class could be a fallback, but I’d really rather get the whole thing waived, because even if it is easy, there would still be a ton of assignments to complete, and we are very close to the deadline to sign up for VS classes that will finish before school starts.

    Rhett @ 3:14, that can be interpreted at least two ways–kiddo has achieved the math required of 8th graders on standard track, so same completion as peers, or (AP’s interpretation) kiddo has fewer credits, so has not done as much as peers.

    CoC 3:23, this level of stress all summer is decimate oh causing more stress and problems!!!

    Meme, are you saying that there may be a medical waiver that would be quicker and involve less paperwork?

    Scarlett, you are probably right that if the school needs to cover its self, it will probably say that it didn’t realize that the depression was real. That is complete bs, of course. The AP and other faculty members noted a clear decrease in functionality from 7th to 8th grade and I spoke to every single teacher at every conference every quarter about the depression, meds, and how very worrisome this huge change was.

    I’ll start making calls to get documentation tomorrow–the psychiatrist, who we first saw nearly four years ago, the pediatrician who has known my child for about 6 years, the family practitioner who just met us in the fall can all document the severity of the depression. I might also ask a therapist we worked with for a year or two before the IEP was written and a psychologist who did testing and made a Dx (not of depression, but a very real diagnosis) just before 7th grade.

  135. Emb – hope things work out for you and your son. What a horribly stressful situation. Post back on what happens.

  136. “An easier math class could be a fallback, but I’d really rather get the whole thing waived”

    And thus the suggestion to look into testing out of the easier math class (i.e., credit by exam), then taking Alg I as a freshman.

  137. For a student who’s so stressed about math right now that s/he can’t answer anything and throws up after a tutoring session, “Here’s a math test that you have to pass so you can start high school, no worries, should be easy for you!” may not be a successful approach.

  138. The valedictorian of my class went to Williams and it”s #1 on US News liberal arts colleges list. F&M is #40. It’s a nice school and not very far away from where I went to school.

  139. Emb,
    Just one more observation. Depression in children and adolescents often presents very differently from adults. Like many drowning victims, depressed kids may suffer in silence and sink to the bottom instead of causing the sort of behavior problems that draw attention from teachers and school officials. If that is your child, then it is entirely possible that, notwithstanding your perception that the school was aware of your child’s situation and is just disregarding it, the teachers and AP are pretty clueless that something beyond ordinary adolescent angst is behind the failing grade. Teachers and administrators have lots of students, and can’t be as attentive as parents to the signs of serious problems, especially in larger schools that may have lots of needy students. So it may not be CYA, but genuine ignorance, that is motivating the apparently heartless approach they have been taking.

  140. Scarlett, from observation only, they certainly knew there was a problem, and they mentioned it to me. But seeing as I told them in words to their faces that the kid had been diagnosed as depressed, was starting meds, that the earliest the any effects might be seen was 2-3 weeks (and in fact it took much longer), there is no objective way to say they did not know that it wasn’t just puberty.
    But I am not planning to approach them adversarially, especially since I’ll be starting with the high school.

  141. I love the Totebag, because it is such a wealth of information ! So many good points were made regarding E’s situation.
    Though technically my kids are not first generation to go to college, I feel that way and I also feel some level of stress to guide them correctly. Totebaggers have been so helpful along the way.

  142. My cousin is a professor at Williams. I think it is a great school and I really like that part of MA, but it might be a little isolated in the winter. I have another cousin (different side of the family) that graduated from Williams 10 years ago. He loved it there. It was a really challenging to get accepted when I was looking at schools 30 years ago, and it is even harder now. I think that
    F & M is a solid school, but it is much easier to get accepted to F & M vs. Williams or Amherst. A couple of my local mom friends went to F & M, and they have high powered careers. They both also have MBAs though from top 5 MBA schools, so the undergrad might not matter as much.
    I know they liked it there because they always go back for reunions, and have a lot of college friends that they are still in touch with today.

    I happen to like the location of Swarthmore because there are other small schools within 10 miles. These include Haverford/Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, and Villanova. It is main line PA, but there are lots of college students around.

  143. “The decision re Student A doesn’t make sense to me–truly talented, but no merit?”

    Yes, F&M apparently considers itself a HSS, and most HSS only give need-based aid, except the ones with DI athletic programs, which also give athletic scholarships.

    As the Harvard admissions director said, “All our students are meritorious.”

    Student A had the scores to go anywhere, but we don’t see her grades, ECs, or hooks. Being truly talented and having high test scores isn’t enough to get into a HSS.

    “Student C accepted with 1100? Those numbers truly are not cut-offs–wow!”

    Student C has a hook (her parents did not go to college), and would need one to get into Williams or F&M; I’m also guessing she’s URM. A score in the 1100s, even 1190, still puts her well into the bottom quartile at Williams. Even at F&M, an 1190 is in the bottom quartile.

  144. “Yes, F&M apparently considers itself a HSS, and most HSS only give need-based aid, except the ones with DI athletic programs, which also give athletic scholarships”

    But keep in mind many colleges with similar rank DO give merit aid. These colleges, let’s say ranked 20-75, are typically targeted by high-achieving applicants who do not qualify for need aid but are seeking merit aid. When F&M decided to abolish merit aid, about 5 years ago, it was notable. It could be considered either a match or safety for applicants competitive for top-ten schools.

    “A couple of my local mom friends went to F & M, and they have high powered careers.”

    It’s a school that has been on the short list for many NYC-area students and seems to have a good mid-Atlantic network. It used to be more preppy, but I think that may have changed. Maybe other posters can sound in on that.

  145. “Even at F&M, an 1190 is in the bottom quartile.”

    Every school has a bottom quartile. Recruited athletes, development admits, kids with special non-academic talents in the arts, celebrities, URM, first-generation college students, illegal immigrants, and whatever other hooks the college wants to use will be down there. So, yes, there will be admitted students with very low test scores, but there is a specific reason for admitting every one of them. That’s why most schools provide SAT ranges. For “regular” applicants, those are the relevant numbers.

  146. “from observation only, they certainly knew there was a problem, and they mentioned it to me”

    It could be argued that the school failed in its legal mandate to seek out and provide services to disabled students.

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act includes the Child Find mandate. Child Find requires all school districts TO identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities, regardless of the severity of their disabilities. This obligation to identify all children who may need special education services exists even if the school is not providing special education services to the child.

    http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/child.find.mandate.htm#sthash.GLxCDX7z.dpuf

    While this point could be part of discussion with the school, I completely agree with your plan not to be adversarial in your approach.  Good luck.

  147. Williams is a top tier SLAC, as is Swarthmore. I honestly have barely heard of F&M, and am not even sure what part of the country it is in. So name recognition-wise, I don’t think it is at the same level.

    I have a good friend who teaches at Swarthmore, and have visited the CS department. They have huge amounts of grant money, and really great facilities.

  148. I have been thinking about the savings question. Our split of “long-term” savings (excl 529s) is about 70% tax-advantaged retirement / 30% after tax. Maybe we should have a more even split, but everyone’s situation is different. For us, I am within a year of being able to withdraw IRA/401K money penalty-free, should it ever come to that, so the high % being retirement $$ is no issue. I suspect some of the families in the article could be in the same situation. And, of course, pre-59.5 age withdrawals that are used for allowable college costs are exempt from the penalty; still count as taxable income, but no penalty.

  149. RMS, thanks for posting that link. It was an interesting thought experiment, making some points I had never really considered, like the effect on private colleges excluded from the “free tuition” program:

    “Pondering the last potential impact of Mrs. Clinton’s plan requires some speculative thinking: Let’s assume students chase free tuition at the public colleges, abandoning fragile private colleges and leading to their closure. What would happen to a place like Rensselaer, Ind., home of Saint Joseph’s College?

    Saint Joseph’s is a Roman Catholic institution with 2,000 students. Forty-five percent of them are first-generation students, most of whom would be covered by the Clinton plan. “If you take 45 percent of our population, and you allow them to go to Purdue or Indiana University or any of the state schools in Indiana for free, more than likely they are not going to be coming here,” says Robert A. Pastoor, the college’s president. “The viability of the institution is going to be seriously called into question.” Indiana has 31 private institutions, he adds, and many of them would find themselves in the same situation.

    In a town of 6,000, the college employs about 250 people — roughly half the number of employees of other private bachelor’s institutions of its size, according to a Delta Cost Project study. Saint Joseph’s is not Rensselaer’s biggest employer — the town also has a ConAgra plant, a factory for White Castle hamburger buns, and other manufacturers — but it is a significant economic engine. Students who matriculate here — and parents and alumni who visit — shop at the grocery store, eat at the restaurants, and sleep in the hotels. Locals go to sports games, attend Mass in the college’s iconic Romanesque chapel, and hold wedding receptions and meetings in the college facilities.

    “All of that would go away,” says Mr. Pastoor, “and there is nothing to take its place.”

    Even without a “free college” program, it seems inevitable that many of these fragile private schools are doomed, but I had never thought about the larger economic effects when they shut down.

  150. Hm. That’s a slightly odd objection, given that Indiana already has programs for first-generation, low-income students to go to the state schools for free.

  151. Back in my day, college was essentially free. I recall writing a tuition check to the UC for less than $400 per quarter. I am not a progressive, or a liberal, but I don’t think a decent education should be limited to those with upper middle class or above parents.

  152. Scarlett,

    One option would be for St. Josephs to become Indiana State College, Rensselaer. The have the physical plant and the staff, so it would be a relatively easy transition. And perhaps cheaper than expanding existing Indiana State facilities.

  153. Rhett’s comment reflects what happens in many places as the facilities of non public institutions are absorbed by the public university/college/community college system. However, the argument that many small private institutions will close and we will have social and cultural loss and change in employment is no different from the argument that small retailers close because of Walmart and Amazon. Yes, government programs that do not involved the private sector via portable loans and grants can accelerate that process, but the availability of gov’t student loans in particular for any sort of non profit or profit based institution has propped up the desirable but not economically viable good small colleges for several generations.

  154. The private colleges will not be excluded. Their lobby is too powerful. Either a) the plan will never be enacted due to Republican and state opposition (by far the most likely scenario) or b) it will revert back to a more standard grants n’ loan program that covers both public and private schools.

    The public universities do not have capacity, the states have no interest in beefing up their contributions to the level that would be needed, and the private colleges have too much sway. Heck, even the predatory for-profits were able to rip off students for years because of their clout with lawmakers.

  155. And, BTW, this is the fundamental reason why I always thought Bernie’s plan was an empty promise

  156. I know several people who went to St. Joe’s.They aren’t from Indiana, and most didn’t stay in Indiana after graduating, but they are a passionate bunch of alumni. I would assume that they would still want their children to go there and would pay, even if the public colleges are free.

  157. Embarassed – Wishing you luck & hoping you can get a good resolution and a good start to HS in this tough situation. Let us know what happens.

    MM – I agree. How are the states going to expand their programs? My state is completely dysfunctional at this point. The state university system can’t just accept thousands more kids even at the directional/commuter schools. And the community colleges – the state budget crisis/dysfunction/arguing has them in complete crisis mode. The private colleges will not go down so easily either.

    @Fred – our split is even more heavily weighted toward retirement, but we have access to a 457 plan as well as our other plans, which does not even have an age penalty. Everyone’s situation is different. (and our split will adjust over time as well as our life stage/kid’s age changes of course)

  158. “I would assume that they would still want their children to go there and would pay, even if the public colleges are free.”

    Most lower ranked private colleges are probably doomed even if free college legislation never passes.

    St. Joseph over 4 years costs about $168k. Indiana state school costs about $100k for residents. More full-pay families are beginning to believe that extra $70k is just not worth it, especially if loans are involved.

  159. I remain skeptical about the predicted horrors of free public college, just because I lived through it. In the 60s and 70s in California, the community colleges were free, the California State University campuses were cheap as chips, and the University of California campuses were very affordable. And yet, not only did Stanford flourish, and below that Pomona, Scripps, Occidental, and so on, but even Mills College, University of Redlands, Pacific Lutheran College, and a bunch of other ones that you’ve never heard of.

  160. My first-thing-in-the-morning call was met with a VM saying that counselors are on a modified schedule and the office is being renovated (an addition is being built), so they are not in their offices and can’t get phone messages. I’m heading out now to meet the counselor, popped by one more time to read yesterday’s comments for courage.

  161. Meme,
    Yes, it is a very similar argument. But, in the thought experiment, dozens of these schools would collapse virtually overnight as a result of free public college tuition.

    Lemon,
    Sweet Briar trustees tried to close the college, and the alumni headed them off.

  162. “More full-pay families are beginning to believe that extra $70k is just not worth it, especially if loans are involved.”

    Yet several of the F&M admits in the original linked article did choose to attend even with heavy loans. I keep waiting for these lower-ranked colleges to close, but most of them are still hanging in, both directional and private schools. Is it possible that they can be saved by an influx of full-pay Chinese/Indian kids whose parents don’t really care about the rankings so long as they get a U.S. degree?

  163. I agree with the article RMS posted and have already thought about the effects of public education crowding out private education. It would be interesting to see how private and public college graduates vary by state.

    Here’s an article from a while back about South Korea, when everyone goes to college. Summary: Increasing the rate of college attendance doesn’t increase the fraction of jobs that require a college education. http://chronicle.com/article/When-Everyone-Goes-to-College-/236313

    Another factor in public university access is whether you can be admitted to the major you want. Studies showing ACT/SAT scores underpredict GPA for women/underrepresented minorities often don’t factor “major” into the calculation which I find frustrating. Success in some majors (physics; foreign language) practically requires strong academic preparation. Success in other majors (teaching; nursing) is sometimes more dependent on personality factors.

  164. Success in some majors (physics; foreign language) practically requires strong academic preparation. Success in other majors (teaching; nursing) is sometimes more dependent on personality factors.

    Is strong academic preparation more important than general intelligence which is what the SAT purports to measure.

  165. Rhett, I think people select out of some majors or some fields based on raw intelligence. I don’t know how important IQ is vs. academic preparation. A person with a higher IQ will obtain a given ACT/SAT score with less preparation.

    Within fields, theoretical physicists have to be smarter than solid state physicists to be employed. You have to speak English to do well on the SAT-V. Especially on the post ~1993 SAT, you can study hard with moderate ability and get a very high score. SAT/ACT depends heavily on speed, so slow, brilliant deep thinkers will be disadvantaged.

    In short, correlations that are true at a population level are not true at an individual level. I don’t know the answer to your question.

  166. One of the things that astounds me in the Catholic higher ed sector is the ferocity with which students and their families believe in Catholic education. And now, evidently Muslim families believe too, which is why we have so many Muslim students (and this has been reported by colleagues at other Catholic schools).

  167. you can study hard with moderate ability and get a very high score.

    The SAT folks aggressively insist that’s not true.

  168. Rhett, I know they say that, but I’m not sure if studies have been done with highly motivated students of adequate ability who study for hundreds (not dozens) of hours and who are primarily limited by their speed on the tests. What other explanation could there be for the preponderance of high scorers with Asian backgrounds?

  169. I don’t understand why we wouldn’t just improve/expand existing pell grant programs. I agree that providing more “free” money is an incentive to continue to raise costs. I also think that to be eligible for the program, there should be minimum qualifications that need to be met. I agree with Cordelia that college should not be only for the affluent, but if a student has made no effort through high school and has bottom quartile test scores, I think s/he is better served by a program other than college. But I don’t believe anyone proposing free college will expect anything in return.

  170. I’ve seen compelling arguments that public loans with longer repayment terms (till social security eligibility?) are working well in Australia and the UK. The problem is that many/most of these private colleges will disproportionately benefit from taxpayer funded loan forgiveness.

  171. Whoops, private college graduates. One year old moving the mouse often around these parts.

  172. What other explanation could there be for the preponderance of high scorers with Asian backgrounds?

    Genetics.

  173. CoC, do they still claim that? My understanding of their new test is that it’s more similar to the ACT, that is an achievement test rather than a test of aptitude.

    WCE, I love that age! ‘saac does too. He is looking forward to his Child Development class this fall, because he will be working in a preschool. He talks about it all the time. Wish you could post pix of your little girl on here.

  174. “My understanding of their new test is that it’s more similar to the ACT, that is an achievement test rather than a test of aptitude.”

    That is my understanding as well, and that it will not do as good a job of identifying the bright kids in poor school situations.

  175. Finn, I agree. It becomes basically a redundant piece of data, showing which kids have the motivation to study and the parental support, financial and otherwise, to get them prepared for a test. In other words, the same things grades already show.

  176. I attribute the switch in the SAT, at least in part, to W and NCLB.

    Because of NCLB, public schools increased their standardized testing. The ACT saw and grabbed an opportunity to increase their presence by becoming the test many school districts chose to give all their sophomores and juniors, not just the college-bound students. SAT began to lose market share, with that increasing as more colleges decided to accept the ACT in place of the SAT, and the increasing visibility of the ACT relative to the SAT meant many parents and kids opted for the ACT over the SAT because it was more favorable to them (probably those who were hard working more than innately bright benefited more from the ACT) or because they’d had to take the ACT anyway. So the SAT responded by becoming more like the ACT, and this was exacerbated by trying to align with common core to make them more attractive to public school districts as a competitor to the ACT for the federally mandated testing.

    Big losers are the ‘diamond in the rough’ bright kids in non-optimal HS settings, and society in general for not identifying, and thus not developing, those kids.

  177. Scarlett, the events at Sweetbriar, begining with the decision to end the school, were discussed here in real time.

    Finn, I hadn’t thought of that connection before, but think you are right. Late bloomers and kids who are way better at either verbal or math skills over the other also lose our if everything is geared towards measuring what students have already learned.

    What is an HSS? High status?

  178. I like the ACT because the scoring system removes the micro-distinctions that are possible with the SAT. The HSS are forced to find another way to evaluate the kids at the upper end of the distribution.

  179. Scarlett, does your school actually try to resolve the differences at the high end of the distribution?

    E.g., WCE and I have discussed here how a histogram of SAT scores has a spike at 800 for a single test, indicating there are a group of kids who could score above 800 if the test had that level of granularity. Do you try to determine which kids are at, say, a 1100 level vs a 900 level vs an 810 level?

    A kid who takes the SAT multiple times and consistently gets 800s on the math portion is probably at a higher level than someone who takes it 3 times and gets an 800 once.

    Perhaps that’s why some HSS require all test results to be submitted, even if they say they superscore.

    BTW, the new SAT and PSAT appear to compress the upper end of the score ranges more than the old versions. Perhaps you’ll like them more because they reduce the micro-distinctions at the top end.

  180. IOW, the difference between a 780 and 790 is, potentially, much less than the difference between a 790 and 800.

  181. Scarlett, when you say, “I like the ACT because the scoring system removes the micro-distinctions that are possible with the SAT. The HSS are forced to find another way to evaluate the kids at the upper end of the distribution,” I’m curious about why you think that, since both tests have a few hundred “perfect” scores.

    According to this, several hundred people got a 36 ACT composite, and presumably fewer got a 36 composite with all 36 subtest scores. (You can have a 35 on 1 or 2 subtests or a 34 on 1 subtest and still get a 36 composite.) https://www.applerouth.com/blog/2013/12/06/the-odds-of-perfection-too-many-perfect-scores-for-the-acts-good/

    I can’t find great data on the SAT M+V but I saw a reference that several hundred people got a 1600 SAT M+V, which seems about right since the 1993 renorm. Before that SAT-V of 800 was incredibly rare.

  182. WCE, it also depends on how you define a “perfect” score.

    It is quite possible to get an 800 on a portion of the SAT without answering every single question correctly. In the old SAT (2400 scale, not the old old SAT on the 1600 scale), it was possible to get an 800 on the writing portion with less than the highest score of 12 for the essay.

    I suppose one way to evaluate the kids who got 800s would be to look at the actual scores, although that may be somewhat at odds with the norming that the CB does.

  183. My issue with the SAT is not with the “perfect” scores, but with the kids who get 1590, who are ranked higher than the kids who get 1580, who are in turn ranked higher than those who get 1570 or 1560. The SAT/ACT conversion tables tell you that the equivalent ACT score for that entire SAT range is 35, which IMO is sufficient information for admissions purposes. But if you give admissions offices more granular information, they’re going to use it to make minute distinctions among functionally equivalent applicants. (My admissions supervisor told me that if the school reported that the top GPA in a class was 4.35 but provided no other information about GPA distribution, I could not conclude that a student with a 4.34 GPA was in the top 1% or even 5% of the class, and should leave the “estimated rank” box on the score sheet blank.)

    Our school did not require students to submit all SAT scores, and sometimes there was a discrepancy between the number of times the student had reported taking the exam and the number of scores reported. It was sad to see the applicants who had gotten 28 on the ACT after taking it 4 times, but very few students reported taking the exam only once. There was a definite positive correlation between apparent SES level and number of reported scores.

    As an external reader, I did not participate in admissions decisions beyond recommending second reads for promising files. But what I did see convinced me that I am not cut out for admissions work. As I moved through the files, it became apparent that very few, if any, of the files assigned to the external readers would make it to the review committee level, and that virtually none of them would be admitted. Near the end of the process, we were assigned to read HUNDREDS of incomplete files — missing test scores or transcripts or other essential data. The admissions office sent out automatic emails warning that items were missing, but for whatever reason these applicants never responded. Most of these kids appeared to be lower income than the typical admitted student. Instead of closing out the files as withdrawn, they were deemed to have been completed, and we were instructed to evaluate them as though they were complete, but ALL of them were sent to the reject pile. Of course, that increases the denominator while keeping the numerator constant, making the school appear more selective. It’s all about rankings. I don’t blame the admissions office, because they are acting under orders from the powers that be. But I don’t want to be part of that process.

  184. Scarlett, that makes sense. In my imagination, admissions officers understood the statistical error bars around standardized test scores.

  185. Scarlett — i never considered the situation of high numbers of incomplete applications. Some of those could be kids that lost interest in the college, either because of other acceptances or indications of acceptance or any number of reasons. And of course when application fees are waived, it becomes easier for students to haphazardly apply and then not follow through with missing documents.

  186. CoC,
    Frankly, most of the incomplete applications would have been rejected, no matter what the missing materials would have added, because they simply weren’t remotely competitive. These were not the kids who lost interest because they were accepted at a better school in the EA process. They were kids who never should have applied in the first place, many but not all of whom were fee waivers, and from high schools without a strong relationship with the university. Maybe they or their overworked GC figured that out. More likely, as you suggest, their applications were haphazard and they just lost track of the process. But it made me wonder how many of their other applications were also incomplete, and whether they were shut out from those schools because they hadn’t included the teacher letter or official test score.

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