Using the Common Data Set to answer that question

Notes on presentation by Dewey Wilmot & Francine Block at HECA conference, 6/13/2023

Most of us know that Section C gives us information about admissions, but it’s good to look at other sections of the Common Data Set, too.

CDS Section B

Graduation rates are in Section B. Look at the four-year graduation rate: How good is the school at supporting students in getting them to graduation? Still, what’s the population?

CDS Section I (letter i)

Student-faculty ratios are often reported, but look for the number of full-time faculty in Section I. More full-time faculty means more support and investment in the faculty. Adjuncts can be part-time or contingent. It doesn’t mean they’re not qualified but can mean they’re underpaid. It may also represent high turnover among instructors.

Section I also indicates the size of classes. does a good job of displaying data graphically. Click on Academics and scroll down to Faculty and Instruction to see the percentage of classes with as few as 2-9 students or over 100 students. Dewey tells students if they’re in a large lecture hall, sit in the first three rows to make eye contact with the professor.

What to say when parents ask if it’s REALLY a good school:

Francine Block joined Dewey to say to parents that we’re looking at finding a good school for your child, schools that fit socially, academically, financially. Don’t ask if it’s a good school. Ask if it’s a good school FOR YOUR CHILD. Be strategic, not just selective.

Questions to ask:

What’s the freshman support like? Do first-years read a book and discuss it together with a faculty member? Is there a course for freshmen on how to succeed? Majors are likely to change, but every student will have a first year in college.

What are the RA’s responsibilities? Is the school hiring and training RAs to do bonding activities? Are RAs adequately supported?

What are they doing for orientation? (Do all the activities, even if you think they’re silly.)

Do they create cohorts with a faculty adviser?

When visiting a school, here are some things to do and to ask:

Go eat in the dining room.

Look at the notes on bulletin boards in the Student Union and elsewhere. Are there activities that appeal to you?

Pick up a student newspaper.

Look at the gym. Is it open to everyone most of the time or mostly reserved for athletes?

What’s the style of housing? Francine likes the mixing that occurs with the  traditional dorm hall and common bathroom. Socializing is part of college.

What’s the policy for selecting or changing roommates?

How soon can you get studio space if you have a creative child? Is there a maker space for engineers?

How soon can you get involved in research?

What did you do in high school? Do they have those activities in college? How soon can students get involved? It should be right away. Resources should be available to freshmen.

Are there community service and alternative spring breaks for bonding experiences?

Do kids get reduced pricing at entertainment venues in school and in town?

Student Government: Can freshmen elect officers? Can they elect their own representatives?

How many hours a week do faculty have office hours?

Do students have options for advisers? Do they have a college adviser and an adviser for their major?

Talk to professors!

Ask the tour guide what the largest lecture hall is. Go see it.

See the career center. Do they start career planning with freshmen? Look for a list of internships, hiring. Where do students go? Where do internships come from? Alumni network?

Can they have unlimited sessions with a psychologist or therapist? Is there a psychiatrist on campus? Are they there on weekends? How long does it take to get an appointment?  Is there a quiet place to have a private Zoom session with a therapist at home?

For students of color, where do they get hair done? Where can they comfort food?

What’s the town-gown relationship like?

Final words:

Students have to be proactive, but parents can help research. To get a feel for a college, look for student feedback on Niche, at Campus Impressions, or Campus Dive (previously InDuck). Look into the school’s Tik Tok, Instagram, and other social media.

Check out ED rates versus RD rates using Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy’s fantastic resources at BigJ Consulting. Less common sources of information:

  • School-based surveys (ask admissions or dean of students)
  • HERI Higher Education Research Institutes: faculty and first-years surveys
  • NSSE: National Survey of Student Engagement
  • CLA: Collegiate Learning Assessment (assess learning)
But is it a GOOD school?