TED SIMONS: Welcome to Ask a College Expert. I'm Ted Simons. For students who are about to embark on a college education, the process can seem overwhelming. Where to go, what to study and how to pay for it all are common concerns. Tonight we will hear from a panel of experts about the best ways to prepare and make the transition to college life. We also will give our viewers the opportunity to call in and ask a college expert about their questions and concerns. Information specialists will be taking calls throughout the show at the statewide toll-free number appearing on the screen. Phone lines will remain open until 9:30 p.m., and we encourage you to call.
Joining me tonight is Fred Corey, Dean of University College at Arizona State University. Also joining me is Craig Fennell, Director of Student Financial Assistance at ASU, and Carey Burnand, Instruction Leader for the counseling department at Alhambra High School. Welcome to all of you. Thank you for joining us. Carey, let's start with you: biggest concern high school kids have about making that jump going on to college?
CAREY BURNAND: I think it's probably twofold; number one is: “What do I do to get there? How do I start this process?” And once I'm into it, “How do I pay for it?”
TED SIMONS: And when--as far as selection--the college selection process is concerned, when does that begin?
CAREY BURNAND: Really we're starting earlier and earlier; we have freshmen coming in to talk to us about, you know, “This is what my goal is.” “Where do you think I should go?” “I've heard this is a good school.” “How do I start looking for scholarships?” So we're starting it and we're seeing it earlier and earlier with our student, on our campus and throughout the district. We're finding that the more kids are informed, the better prepared they are, and the better decisions they make for their future goals with college and beyond.
TED SIMONS: As far as the college selection process is concerned, just general concerns regarding college, what are you seeing as well?
FRED COREY: The same. We would encourage students to be thinking about their university education in ninth grade. The Arizona Board of Regents, for example, has a set of requirements that would want to receive a student's courses that they want to take before they come to us, and they don't want to come to the University with deficiencies. So, it's a good idea to begin thinking about college in middle school.
TED SIMONS: Interesting. When you think about a college, talk about the factors that are involved. What should a student look at in terms of what kind of college he wants to go to?
FRED COREY: Well, I—I’d talk about the good match with students; it’s that you want to find the right match for academics—
CAREY BURNAND: Right.
FRED COREY:--that you want to think about what type of academic program you're looking for, and then pick a University that has an excellent reputation in that area. So if you're interested in engineering, or medicine, or education, the humanities, you would want to look for a University that offers those programs.
CAREY BURNAND: Right. And I'm absolutely amazed at the number of kids that will be going through a magazine, or hear from a friend, “Oh this is a great school,” and they plan on investing a lot of time and money, and they've never visited a campus. They definitely need to get out there and look at the schools they're thinking of, because when I'm talking to some of my seniors what I tell them is, “Visit.” You're going to pick up right away if this is a place that you could attend, or if not. And oftentimes go off your gut reaction too.
TED SIMONS: And we're talking about selecting a college and being prepared. When do you need to be prepared if you're a parent, but even if you're a student, regarding the expenses, the tuition, that sort of business?
CRAIG FENNELL: We advise students and parents to think about it early. In fact, at ASU now we're reaching out to eighth graders. Just with a simple message of, “There is a cost involved, so start thinking about how you might want to cover it.” And we give them some thoughts, some ideas about what to think about: scholarships, grants, federal aid, state aid, just get them out– once these things are in their mind, they start asking the right questions; they start coming to us with those questions. And by the time they're juniors or seniors, they're well versed in the process.
TED SIMONS: Do you find that parents especially, but even the students, they're not thinking through those things quite that early?
CRAIG FENNELL: They're not. They’re not. But we believe we can make a difference there; we're seeing the interest in those eighth and ninth graders and their parents, so we want to take advantage of that, and we're sending some outreach counselors out to help them.
TED SIMONS: Yeah, and we want to remind our viewers now: throughout the show you can call the toll-free number, statewide toll-free number, on your screen to ask an information specialist, a college expert, regarding what we're talking about right now, and that's getting young people prepared and on their way to post-secondary education. Talk about the role of community colleges and where this fits into the plan.
FRED COREY: The state of Arizona has an outstanding community college system, and we offer all of our students a wide range of excellent options. The community colleges in the state of Arizona do offer some outstanding developmental programs for students who might feel they're not quite ready for--for a University level course work. There are also some work force development programs that are highly recommended. We also have a large number of transfer programs, and I think that these transfer programs speak to many of our students.
CAREY BURNAND: Right. Exactly. And for many reasons, some of our students, they're just not prepared to go to a big university. Community colleges are an excellent option. Just like was just mentioned, the transfer programs, ASU has a new program that's going to be starting next fall called the MAP, and I'm not quite sure what that stands for, but it's with the idea that those students will start at community college, commit to going to ASU after two years, and they've gotten their associates of arts degree, and then transfer to ASU. But what I like about it, and talking to parents and students about it, is that the--when they start ASU, it will be at the tuition rate that they would have started if they had been a freshman. And just lately with the news that ASU and other colleges might be upping their tuition, you know, that to me is excellent news, that even though my student might be delaying going to a university, at least they're going to go in under a good tuition plan.
FRED COREY: And we very much want the students to complete the associate degree at the community college. That's crucial.
TED SIMONS: And that's one way you were talking about the maps and the way to estimate college costs, and I want to get back to that in just a second, but from where you are at a high school, and if someone is watching right now, and they've got a son or daughter, nephew, niece, grandchild, and they just don't know if they're quite ready for a major University yet. What kind of signs do you see? What do you look for in a student?
CAREY BURNAND: Well a lot of it is what Fred just said. Sometimes students have not met the extra stuff, is what I tell my seniors. You know, in other words, we have a requirements for a high school diploma, but the Universities want more. They want maybe more years of math or science, they want the two years of world language, they want the year of fine art. Maybe, for whatever reason, some of those students have not acquired that. Likewise, ASU, the other Universities in the state, they want to you have roughly a 3.0, which is what we know as a b average. Some students might not quite be there, or they might not be in the top 25% of the class, or there might not be the, you know, the scores they wanted on their entrance exams. So there's a multitude of factors that are really based on their performance in high school. Then you look at the other things: is the student really ready to leave home, and can they afford it? You know, these are tough economic times, and it's considerably putting pressure on these families and kids.
TED SIMONS Speaking of the pressure and tough economic times, financial aid now compared to years past: A: is it tougher to find? B: is it tougher to get?
CRAIG FENNELL: The answer is no to both; it's as easy to find as it was before, and it's easier to get than it used to be. This year's FAFSA form for next fall is actually shorter and easier than it has been in several years; parents are able to fill it out more quickly and more accurately than ever before. And we're seeing that; in terms of FAFSA forms coming into the office, we're getting more than ever, which is a good sign; more people are applying, and they're having an easier time doing it.
TED SIMONS: Is it the kind of thing, though, where you still find parents especially, and some students, who don't know where to turn, who don't know where to look? Sometimes it can be blinding, all the information out there. How do you winnow that down? How do you focus?
CRAIG FENNELL: Particularly for first-time students, first student in the family going to college, we encourage them to contact us, and we just work with them on their questions as they go. We always have a few leading: “Have you ever done a FASFA before?” If no, we’ll explain it. If you have, here's how it's changed. If you have problems filling out the FAFSA, work with one of our staff either by phone or coming into the office, or email us. We're happy to answer all those questions. In fact, any college is happy to answer all those questions.
TED SIMONS: And --
CAREY BURNAND: In fact, Ted, most campuses, high school campuses, have what we call college or university reps. You know, we have a fabulous one that serves all our students, from ASU, and I was just sharing that slowly but surely we're sending more and more students from Alhambra to ASU and to the other state schools. And that person, at least on our campus, is there once a month; the students can sign up to meet with that person. We also have financial aid advisors coming out from ASU that will sit and work either with kids or parents one-on-one. Likewise, we mentioned community colleges. They also sponsor various workshops, you know, events for students and parent. For instance, we just had College Bowl Sunday, where they can go, bring their tax information, find out how to fill out the FAFSA and at least get the process started.
TED SIMONS: And a reminder: you can get the process started of asking a college expert by calling the number, the statewide toll-free number, on your screen. We have information specialists standing by until 9:30 this evening. They're there to answer your questions regarding a college education and the best ways to go about getting one. How has this process changed over the years? Is it--streamlined? I would imagine, yet streamlined in an ever-widening field.
FRED COREY: The process of applying to college?
TED SIMONS: Yes.
FRED COREY: Obviously technology has had a huge impact. And when, you know, when I was applying for college I filled out a form, wrote an essay, but today it's an online application. So that would be the biggest change. I think that universities also have become a little bit more confusing to some students, that it's sometimes harder to find the right academic home. And so, it can behoove a student to simply ask. And even though that we are working with web-based applications, there are always people willing to answer questions.
TED SIMONS: And once they get to the University, once they get to the college, living arrangements: what, again, do parents, students need to keep in mind?
FRED COREY: Well, at Arizona State University, we recommend students, freshmen, live on campus. We have created these residential communities that create a sense of belongingness, and we create programs that help students succeed. So we have math tutoring, and English tutoring right in the residence hall, and this creates a culture of studying that we encourage.
TED SIMONS: It's interesting, because in a dim and distant past when I went to college, I remember the same advice. A freshman who is on campus in terms of research now, in terms of studying, it just seemed like they did better. Do you try to tell parents this, do you encourage this in parents and students, or do you kind of have to play it by the individual?
CAREY BURNAND: I think you need to play it by the individual. You know, we were talking earlier: my daughter is a freshman at ASU, and she's living in one of the new dorms. And it's been an excellent experience for her. In fact, even- now is the time to renew all this, and with the option of even not having to live at, you know, on campus, she's saying, “I need to stay there. It enforces my study habits, it's much more convenient, I don't have to worry about parking, I don't have to worry about the commute.” So for some kids, at least in my daughter's case, it's an excellent decision to live on campus.
TED SIMONS: That is a decision, though, that often costs money, and again, it's something that parents are going to have to kind of figure. How best do you do it? How best do you estimate that particular cost?
CRAIG FENNELL: When we're talking to parents, we encourage them to think of it this way: there are direct costs: tuition fees; room and board, if you live on campus, and books, and there's indirect costs: travel back and forth, toothpaste, soda, things of that sort. The indirect costs you’re probably going to have anyway, whether the student goes to college or not. Focus on the direct costs. When you focus on the direct costs when you apply for aid, consider what aid you're getting and deduct from that cost. In other words, don't focus on the list price. Three out of four students at ASU get some form of financial aid. They're not paying the full cost. That's what financial aid is for, to help make it more affordable.
TED SIMONS: When we talk about estimating college costs, and especially when it comes to tuition, but just the whole nine yards, it seems like a moving target; it seems like it changes all the time. What's the best way to go about this? I mean, do you just aim high and hope that things come in under budget? Or what do you do?
CRAIG FENNELL: Well it depends on where you are in the process. If you've got several years to go for your student, aim a little high, because it's going to go up from now to then. And start thinking about savings or a 529 college savings program, something like that. If you're very close to it, that's when we encourage you to come in and talk to us. And we'll work you through what can you do now, what do you have, if anything, and then what financial aid might be available to help you out.
TED SIMONS: I was going to--
CAREY BURNAND: Likewise, all the colleges, universities, whether in state or out, they provide excellent literature that pretty much details what it's going to cost in the freshman year. You know, even for students that are nonresidents here, you know, the way ASU breaks it down it will even show, you know, travel time so that when you need to go home at Christmas, or the summer or whatever. So they give a pretty good estimate exactly, you know, what it's going to look like. You know, where I was caught off guard as a mom is, “Okay, I didn't realize I'm going to have to pay for toilet paper, and living in a new dorm you got to buy that shower curtain. So, here again, those are the unexpected costs, but also maybe not essential costs. But you have to formulate it in there.
TED SIMONS: We want to remind you that the telephone number on your screen is a statewide toll-free number for you to call. We have college experts, information specialists, standing by until 9:30 this evening. They are there to answer your questions, one-on-one, regarding just how you go about getting this son or daughter, or niece or nephew, or grandchild or neighbor through the college process. Getting a kid through the college process: what are the -- what do you watch out for? Especially with the incoming freshmen, what do you try to keep an eye on as far as these kids are concerned?
FRED COREY: Keeping the student on track. That's a phrase we use at Arizona State University. Every--every student should be able to graduate in four years, and in order to do that, though, you need to stay on track; you need to take the right courses each semester, stay with them, don't make a habit of withdrawing from classes. So begin studying, and see it through to the end.
TED SIMONS: Is that something that, again, over the years has changed a little bit? I remember when I went to college, there weren't a heck of a lot of folks looking over my shoulder, and not that it was necessary really being a model student, but you know what I'm saying. Has it changed a little bit? A little more focus these days?
FRED COREY: Well, I don't – I mean, I was—I was a good student when I was in college. But I had friends who, you know -- they dropped as many classes as they took, and it's going to take them longer to graduate. So I think that there's nothing wrong with helping a student make wise decisions.
TED SIMONS: What happens if the student makes a wise decision, and decides in the middle of the process he doesn't want to go to business school; he wants to be an art major? Talk about that.
FRED COREY: Well, we have a degree audit that will be a what-if program. “What if I change my major from business to art?” And so, the answer to that would be available through the Degree Audit Review System, or DARS, what we say. So it may be an extra semester, and then that would be a responsible decision that the student would have to make in concert with the student's support system; family, friends.
TED SIMONS: And then—please.
CAREY BURNAND: Yeah likewise, when a student decides on a major, and please correct me if I'm wrong, they meet with an advisor in that college. So that advisor keeps them on track, so to speak. You know, students have judgment as such in picking their classes they want to take, but, like we've talked, they have a map that they can follow through. So if they decide to change majors, which my daughter did several times, she can take that original map to the new advisor, and have them plot it side by side so they don't lose credits in doing that. The other thing is too-- going back to your original question, have things changed? The things that I've noticed is, working in a—in a school system that's primarily minority, I'm amazed at the number of services out there for minority kids. You know, no matter what your ethnicity, whatever chances are, ASU and the big schools have an organization, a club, a support system, something built in because they want those students to succeed also.
TED SIMONS: And—please.
FRED COREY: Change is good. We need to teach all of our students how to embrace change because things will change over time, and we need to prepare them for change. And if part of that is changing a major, then we need to teach them how to do that in a responsible way.
TED SIMONS: And--in a responsible way is the important point there because there are times--every kid that age, we all were like that, you weren't quite sure where you were going or what you were doing. But when you see someone who is -- I don't know how would you figure this out, but when you would see someone who’s pretty well-suited, and pretty well on-target and pretty well going where they need to go decide they want to veer off a little bit, how involved do you get? What do you do?
FRED COREY: As faculty?
TED SIMONS: Yeah, yes. As a school sees a kid heading down this path, he's kind of wandering and straying a little bit.
FRED COREY: Well there would be two different kinds of straying; one would be a change in academic interest, and that's the type of change that we would want to provide a supportive environment for, but we need to make sure that there aren't other things going on as well, personal--personal issues that are preventing academic success. So at ASU, you know, we're very attentive to academic success. So, if the veering off course is failing courses that the student shouldn't be failing, then we need to do a direct intervention.
TED SIMONS: And we need to remind you that the telephone numbers on your screen are statewide toll-free numbers with information specialists standing by to answer your questions regarding the college experience, how to prepare for the college experience and what to do once you get there. Those information specialists will be there until 9:30 this evening, so give that number a call for a one-on-one conversation there. Again, when we come back to finances, what do you see, what do you hear the most in terms of questions, concerns?
CRAIG FENNELL: Well, we're hearing a lot being in a recession, we're hearing a lot about parental lost income, some foreclosures. Just reduced income and reduced assets altogether. That's hitting families really hard. So we're hearing from a lot of families we normally never would have heard from before. So what we're doing is taking those calls as they come in, and just reaching out with how to think about it, don't panic, never panic, and putting them in touch with all the resources that we have: brochures, our website, all the people that we have, the contacts even in the community: high school guidance counselors, even some faculty. Helping them--reassure them that help is available.
TED SIMONS: So basically I call, the job situation is not good, kids in school, want to keep the kid in the school, want to keep the kid on this particular path. Advice mostly, just where to go and what to do?
CRAIG FENNELL: We can help. So in that case, if the parent has done -- if the student and the parent have done the FAFSA form, we go in and will actually change that information to reflect the new financial reality. And that often results in more financial aid for the student that very year.
TED SIMONS So changing financial realities do change in other realities regarding –
CRAIG FENNELL: Correct.
TED SIMONS: --college experience.
CRAIG FENNELL: That's correct.
TED SIMONS: Interesting.
CRAIG FENNELL: And that's something people aren't aware of; so we try and make them aware of that.
TED SIMONS: The--I want to get back to the high school level and kids kind of figuring out what they are, and who they are and what they want to do. Is it good for someone in high school to know exactly what they want to do?
CAREY BURNAND: This is a very well kept secret: the vast majority do not. But when I do what we call our exit interview, our senior checkouts on my students, everyone thinks that everyone else has this wonderful plan, and they're the only ones that don't know what they want to do. That's why you can enter either at the community college or university level undecided. You know, that's why we invented that word. And once I start talking to kids, I point out that it's just as important to know what you don't want to do as much as you do want to do. You know, I have--we talked earlier. Alhambra is the medical magnet for Phoenix Junior District. Some kids walk in as freshmen knowing they want to go on doctors, nurses, you know, somewhere in the health care field. They'll finish out all four years with us, and go on and pursue that. Other kids know, just like you said, it depends on the individual student. I think, though, that it's important, especially at the high school level, to take advantage of some of the courses that are offered; experiment with business courses, or art courses, or, you know, numerous things that the various schools offer to see if it's a fit, you know, and pursue it from there.
TED SIMONS It was like you were saying: this is an opportunity here. People change, people are curious. It's a wonderful opportunity to go find out if that acting class is something you really want to take.
FRED COREY: Absolutely. You know, we have 250 undergraduate majors at ASU. So we also have a very elaborate system that helps students find the right academic home, and we help them through assessments. They can explore their talents, explore their interests and explore their possibilities. So they're not on their own; students at ASU have unlimited access to individual appointments with academic advisors. We have a whole course in major and career exploration, and then we have learning communities where students can talk with other students who are exploring their options.
TED SIMONS: Interesting.
CAREY BURNAND: Can I just interject something in there?
TED SIMONS: Yes, please.
CAREY BURNAND: Going back to original question about community colleges, that's another excellent reason to go to community college first. If I know a student that is just truly undecided and very intimidated by the process, I might recommend that they start out at the community college level, because just at the high school level, the universities have basic general study requirements that you need to take. So do you want to spend ASU's prices for basic English 101, or a community college? So sometimes that's a good holding pattern for students until they narrow down their career choices, and then transfer to the Universities that has the most specialized--
FRED COREY: I'm going to offer a slightly different perspective on that.
CAREY BURNAND: OK.
FRED COREY: We do have 250 majors, and it's only at ASU that we can help the students find which major is most appropriate. And even though we do have a universitywide general education curriculum, the courses are not; they can be very specific to the major.
CAREY BURNAND: That’s true. That’s true
FRED COREY: So you need to make sure you're in the math that will get you where you need to go—
CAREY BURNAND: Right.
FRED COREY:--the science that will get you where you need to go, and that would only happen at the University.
TED SIMONS: Is there a place to go for those watching that just – they know they’re going to need some help, or they just want to find out what a University costs these days, in state or otherwise? Where do you go? What do you do?
CRAIG FENNELL We can go to any financial aid office, and certainly come to ours at ASU; we have a financial aid office on all four campuses. So if you visit any one of the campuses you can talk to financial aid folks there who can walk you through costs, expected costs, what might be expected of your family in terms of financial support there, if anything. And then all the financial aid that’s available:
TED SIMONS: OK.
CRAIG FENNELL: Scholarships, grants, loans, work study.
TED SIMONS: All there.
CRAIG FENNELL: All there.
TED SIMONS: All right. Very good. I think we got almost all of it here. Thank you so much. Great conversation. Great information. And appreciate your expertise. I'd like to thank our panel of experts for joining us, and remember, information specialists will be available to take your calls toll-free at the number on your screen until 9:30 p.m. And you can visit our website at azpbs.org/college. That’s azpbs.org/college for more information and links to additional resources. Thanks for joining us. I'm Ted Simons.