Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Urgo Responds to Criticism EDITED/UPDATED

Urgo, a week later, sent out the following email about the Admissions changes:
Dear St. Mary’s College Community,

News of changes in Admissions and Financial Aid took many by surprise. I want to outline the reorganization of our admissions and financial aid functions and articulate why these changes will move the College forward in significant ways. The new strategy has necessitated a reorganization of positions, which included the departure of colleagues who have contributed a great deal to the College over the years. We will miss Rich Edgar and Lisa Crowe. I want to thank them for their hard work over many years in the service of St. Mary's, and wish them the best in their future endeavors.

For years, St. Mary’s College separated its admissions from its financial aid processes. In Admissions, we admitted students regardless of their financial profile and awarded merit aid to the highest achievers. Then, in Financial Aid, we distributed our limited budget for need-based aid equitably among accepted students who qualified, and capped the amount any single student would be awarded. These policies resulted in many students being left with a large gap between what they were awarded and what they could afford, and we lost many students whom we believed would benefit from  a St. Mary’s College education. 

We need to do better—and we will. 

In order to offer prospective students the opportunity to benefit from the St. Mary’s experience, we will integrate admissions and financial aid and, for this reason, the reorganization of these two divisions at the College is critical.

Under the guidance of our legislative charge to be “affordable to all and thriving on diversity,” we will admit students and strive to make their attendance at St. Mary’s College financially possible. Wherever we are able, it is our plan to offer larger grants and smaller loans to students with financial need. We are in the planning stages of a campaign to raise private funds to help us move toward the goal of placing St. Mary’s College within financial reach of any student whom we admit.

We will also continue to award merit scholarships in strategic ways. In 2012-13, students will be required to apply for merit aid, and scholarship applicants will also be asked to submit the FAFSA to determine if they might qualify for federal and state funds.

In order to achieve the best possible mix of students in our community, it is imperative that we select our classes from a broad and deep applicant pool. To date, our entering classes have been consistently strong. We must secure that strength going forward in an increasingly competitive environment.

We are casting a wider net for qualified applicants, revising recruitment materials, and stepping up fall recruitment travel schedules. We have streamlined the admissions process by becoming exclusive users of The Common Application. We’ve altered application deadlines, aligning them with other colleges in and out of state. Our applicant pool will be evaluated by committee to assure we continue to build the kinds of talented, quirky, independent-minded classes for which St. Mary’s has always been known, but which we risked losing without significant realignment of the Admissions and Financial Aid offices.

We’re not changing our end-goal, but our strategy is evolving. My commitment to you is to work to preserve what we hold most dear, and what we know as the essential spirit of St. Mary’s College. As always, I am available to discuss the reorganization or any other issues of concern.
This was a long email!  Let us ~analyze~ it.

Urgo states that "the news of changes in Admissions took many by surprise," which if we are to believe various rumors and comments on this 'student' blog would include Rich and Lisa themselves.  According to comments Rich had "and hour to clear out his desk" and "Lisa had no time to say goodbye to coworkers."  IDK how truthful these comments are, but that would be kinda 'shitty' if they are true.

So, according to Urgo this is all the result of decreasing number of applicants.  According to some INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM the 2016 class is comprised of LESS THAN 250 STUDENTS (usually it's like 400~)Which is an absurdly low number.  Obviously something had to be done.  Urgo's first plan was to make St. Mary's less unique via jettisoning the old application and using the increasingly popular 'Common App'.  The Washington Post writeup covers this and explains it a bit (along with the whole situation, and links to SOMDnews.com but failed to reference this ever important 'student' blog) that basically you fill out on application and you can send that to lots of expensive fancy schools.  So, the idea was that by making St. Mary's, a college that is often described by many as being 'unique', less unique via a simpler application process more students would apply.  But clearly that didn't work since the incoming freshman class is UNDER 250 STUDENTS (btw this figure comes from a really reliable source). 

I would like to pause here because it seems like no one has even commented on the fact that perhaps applications are down BECAUSE TUITION HAS BEEN RAISED FOR FIVE OF THE PAST SIX YEARS.  And that tuition had doubled over the past decade.  Tuition has literally doubled over the past decade.

Okay.

Moving on, the 'mainstream' Common App clearly failed, so Urgo's next plan is to restructure how Financial Aid is distributed.  In the past St. Mary's used 'blind-based-need admissions,' meaning that you get admitted regardless of how much financial aid you need.  Which makes sense.  Actually I think I used the wrong term just now, but you should read the WaPo article for a fuller explanation.  Urgo wanted to change this system to 'need-sensitive' meaning that admission of a student will depend on the family's ability to pay for college.  I don't really understand this.  Are people's families actually able to pay for college, like...100k over the course of four years?  I thought everyone just took out loans that will stick with them for the rest of their life.  IDK.  Anyway, the idea is to admit people whose families can pay for college (is this a real thing?) and then to only admit some people whose families cannot pay for college.  By admitting fewer people 'whose families can't pay for college' they will be able to support those people better financially.

Okay, so the above got a little difficult to understand by the end because I forgot how to write coherently.  But the basic idea is, increase the amount of financial aid PER STUDENT that really needs it, and decrease the amount of financial aid going to other students.  So I THINK this means increasing for financial aid for really poor kids, and reducing financial aid for middle class kids who can't fully pay for college, via college is fucking expensive.  Which sounds okay, via getting more poor kids into college.  Also the total amount of financial aid money that is going towards 'need based' vs. merit is increasing from 25% to 50%, according to comments.

Sorry if none of the above made sense.  Some of my explanations may be way incorrect.  Anyway, it would seem that Rich and Lisa did not agree with this plan, and so they were sacked.  There are also allegations that the new VP Pat Goldsmith just wanted her own people in charge of Admissions and Financial Aid, and that she selected a friend for the job.  Who knows if those ~rumors~ are true though.

Okay so I think most importantly, what does this mean for the future of ~St. Mary's~ ???

I think that some people would agree that over the past few years as tuition rates have increased the number of really affluent students has increased.  I can honestly say that if St. Mary's cost what it does today, when I first applied, I would not have applied.  So, with the new system that gives financial aid for fewer people (but those that do get it will get a lot, which is great via supporting people who cannot afford college) I would imagine the number of 'affluent students' will continue to increase, similar to how nearby private liberal arts colleges (George Washington, Georgetown, American, St. John's, etc.) have lots of 'affluent students'.  Which in a sense is good for the school, via they will probably donate more.  And if the students are affluent/prestigious, then the institution will begin to be seen as 'prestigious.  The new policy seems like a deliberate effort to make permanent the changes that have occurred over the past few years, the increase in 'affluent students,' via pricing the college out of range of many students, those who can't afford the 15k+ tuition without any financial aid.

So IDK, that is my ~tin foil hat~ theory.  What do yall think ???  Any important points/issues I forgot to address?

56 comments:

  1. Translation: Times are changing, so we need to appoint people like Pat Goldsmith who understand the value of corruption and institutional cronyism.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't entirely disagree with this policy change, its almost more a matter of going from De facto to De jure exclusion for people who will be underwater and transfer out. Making sure that low income students can afford st mary's all four years is essential to the integrity of maintaining a diverse population of students. The inverted triangle model of income distribution is the most sustainable system for any college that doesn't get oodles of state money (i.e. UMD).
    On the other hand, the firing of rich and Lisa was not done in a respectful manner and should rightfully be criticized as a tactless, and un-st mary's move.

    ReplyDelete
  3. For the record the incoming class number is at 523.

    ReplyDelete
  4. idk.. a lot going on here, not quite sure how i feel about all of it yet. BUT i don't think there are 250 freshman. the wapo article says that 2,003 students applied and there was a 71% acceptance rate. 1422 accepted students. of that, only so many are going to actually go to smcm. the percentage that accepts and attends is called the 'yield' (i know this from my college confidential reading days... yeah). looking at 2011-12 common data set, smcm has a yield of ~30%. so assuming a 30% yield, there would be 433 freshmen actually. (yeah, i took stats)

    also, my impression from the article was that they used the common app last year but it had so many supplements that it actually wasn't so common? idk. so they're going to continue to use the common app but have less supplements so it's actually more convenient for kids applying to to other schools on the common app. i actually don't remember the st. mary's application being particularly unique or more difficult via i don't remember it at all except that my essay was really dumb. i do remember, however, that i put a lot of creativity into my common app essay.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I actually met with Jurgo last weekend and the way I understood it, what we used to do is give a little bit of aid to a lot of students, which wasnt doing anything because the needy kids still couldnt afford to come after receiving their package. so what they are tryna do now is give a LOT of aid to fewer students, in the hopes that needy kids can actually come and the campus diversifies. I guess this is what most other *broke* public schools do so it didn't make sense that we weren't doing it. idk hope this helps

    ReplyDelete
  6. I attended smcm from 2005-2009. I would not have decided to attend in the 2005-2006 school year if I could have foreseen the tuition increases/ decreases in financial aid at the state level that would face me. I graduated with twice as much debt as I had predicted I would. It was for this reason that I organized a poorly attended protest against tuition hikes in 2008 (http://thepointnews.com/2008/12/st-mary%E2%80%99s-tuition-to-climb-by-five-percent?style=print).

    I was so disappointed in the lack of enthusiasm on the issue then, but I'm excited to see more interest in affordable education/ economic diversity from the college community now.

    ReplyDelete
  7. PANIC! SMCM evolving into a private institution!!!

    I honestly give it 3 years.

    ReplyDelete
  8. We need to move away from the oxford comma. This is a terrible example for a university president to set.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I don't totally disagree with changing over to the common app, I remember senior year was crazy busy and having to fill out a different app for every school was often really frustrating and a different application did not make me find a school unique, it just took up more of my time often answering much of the same questions. Not sure why it didn't increase the number of applicants, St. Mary's needs to get out there and make itself known to high school kids who have never heard of it more than anything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "St. Mary's needs to get out there and make itself known to high school kids who have never heard of it more than anything."

      Jeez, if only we could find some BAMF who would ride on a motorcycle from coast to coast, school to school, spreading the knowledgeable gospel like a modern day Johnny Appleseed....

      Delete
    2. Honestly the only way I knew St. Mary's at all was through Rich Edgar, "the essay guy." And I have to say, everyone else at my school remembered him because of how awesome/helpful his speech on applying to college was.

      Delete
  10. gotta make dat zeni

    ReplyDelete
  11. This is tough. St. Mary's is certainly not the only school where tuition is skyrocketing. Rising costs are a national trend. Further, as a public institution, the school has to rely on the state to keep prices low for students. The state doesn't want to give more money, so the school really doesn't have many options other than moving towards a more private model.

    If you look at the colleges that are need-blind and provide full need to all students, we're not exactly a peer institution (or even an aspirant peer haha). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Need-blind_admission has the list. It didn't make much sense to act like a heavily-endowed private college in this regard when we clearly are not.

    If Urgo doesn't make changes, people will be upset and the value of our education will decrease. When he does, people are still upset. It seems pretty impossible to please everyone with this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "It seems pretty impossible to please everyone with this one."

      St. Mary's students, as a group, are pretty impossible to please. <3 y'all, but it's true.

      Delete
  12. Seems that this will create a larger gap between affluent and needy students, reminiscent of the shrinking middle class in the US. Will this create more diversity or lead to segregation on campus?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Could not agree with this sentiment more. This was the first thing I thought of while reading this.

      Delete
    2. same here, I feel like this is going to kill the "family" atmosphere of St. Mary's and make it really segregate into groups of haves and have-nots :(

      Delete
    3. that's rediculous. if anything it'll integrate the socioeconomic classes. you guys just don't get it- the classes are de facto segregated when poorer people drop out for financial reasons, leaving the wealthy people to feel good about "diversity" and the family atmospheres they share with other wealthy people instead of having friends that can make it the entire 4 years that are actually not in the same socioeconomic class.

      I mean really- explain how giving more money to poor students widens the gap between the affluent and the needy. You are literally helping a needy student do something that a wealthy student can do practically by birthright. How does that widen the gap?

      I really do want an explanation, because the only thing I can think of is that people will become more aware of the lower socioeconomic class as more of those students stay in college for the full 4 years.

      Delete
    4. I think the idea is that the school would only have two groups: stdents wealthy enough to pay for college out of pocket and those who couldn't afford anything. WIthout that "middle class" group, you would create a gap within the campus community, which sort of goes against the diversity initiatives (can't retain students who don't feel comfortable at the school). Not a social science person, so if someone can do a better job of explaining, please do.

      Delete
    5. According to last year's (or perhaps 2010's) figures, 66% of SMC students applied for need-based aid, and only 42% got it. Of that 42%, the average amount of need met was 49%, and only FOUR percent got their full need met. So poor or middle-class, a lot of students are being practically shut out of SMC already. What happens if simeone decides to attend with only half their need met? They work (perhaps a lot) while they're in school. They don't study abroad, or do an unpaid internship in the summer. They pick a more "practical" major. They maybe have a harder time getting a job after college, because of no internships. They stop out for a term (or drop out) because they an't afford it any more. Tell me how that doesn't create a divided student body? In other words, we already have one. If everyone has their need met, then the gaps won't be as visible. The poorer kids can relax a bit, and get to experience college without a knife in their backs. And really: if admissions is looking at need, they can (and probably will) still select for an economically diverse class. Just as easy to do that as it is to select for gender, race, region, etc.

      Delete
  13. Hey, LOL, you know Urgo, eh? Why don't you, like, ask him?

    ReplyDelete
  14. This whole letter is a diversion from what was done to Rich and Lisa.

    Of course colleges have to change with the times. And Rich and Lisa should have been part of the change.

    Whatever the direction the college goes, firing them and hiring a colleague of Pat Goldsmith stinks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is the direction..George Waggoner the former IT director, was fired to make room for Provost Rushing's husband Michael Gass to take over IT as an Assistant Vice-President (more $$)

      Delete
    2. Hey Anon, That’s not how we roll at SMCM ..Gass was chosen after an extensive national search by an unbiased selection committee ;)

      Delete
    3. yeah, it looks like there was an extensive search for this new VP of Admissions. Hired before Rich even left his office.

      Delete
    4. FYI: Waggoner was compensated $112995 while Michael was hired at $92500. I've worked directly with Gass, and will say that he's far more receptive to concerns and attempting to make improvements with the limited resources given...

      Delete
    5. Also, George Waggoner retired. He'd been planning on it for some time. The two situations are completely different.

      Delete
    6. Waggoner was poison. From what I hear, his staff lived in fear of him.

      Delete
    7. Waggoner knew he was on his way out, but he was shuffled out quicker because of Gass (not blaming Gass - hiring a spouse of a new faculty or adminstration is commonplace, but it does seem like Waggoner's decision was hastened up a bit once Rushing was hired).

      Delete
  15. 500-525 is the size of the incoming class via student who works in admissions. don't know if that is first-years only or also transfers but still - looks like a normal/slightly larger incoming class size - but we had to use a 72% acceptance rate to get that yield and that definitely is not the kind of rate we are shooting for.

    ReplyDelete
  16. when I applied a couple years ago (in the time before the common app *gasp*), the application was actually quite unique; it strongly encouraged creativity and out-of-the-box-type applications.

    This blog misses a lot of the nuance in this whole mess. JUrgo's not an idiot. He's just changing things- streamlining the way that St. Mary's works so that less stupid shit happens like kids dropping out because they don't have enough money. But that inherently means people will get pissed off and fight back. eg the blowup on campus. I think people need to cool off a bit and take a step back. two people getting fired is nothing to cry about. it happens all the time, on a much greater scale everywhere else for dumber reasons.

    also consider that tuition increase of 7 percent each year leads to the tuition about doubling in 10 years. consider inflation is 3-4 percent, the increase in tuition effectively is 3-4 percent per year, which is not that unreasonable. It represents a match of inflation and a small supplement to account for the rising cost of educating on such an intimate scale.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Inflation has only been 2-3 percent a year recently, and considering wages haven't been going up nationally at the same rate of inflation, the tuition increase is huge. If paying an extra $1000+ a year isn't huge, you fall into the group that doesn't need financial aid.

      The real killer is that the states block grant to the college only increases at an annual rate equivalent to the increase in state GDP, or some such thing, rather than equivalent to the increase in educational costs nationally. Thus, the increased costs are being shunted more and more towards the students. A decade ago, 44% of the school's funding came from the state. Now, it's down to about 25%. The difference has been made up for in the 'small supplement' to what student's were already paying.

      Delete
  17. I've had the opportunity to speak to some high school students from surrounding counties that would probably be included in the students who need more help paying for school. Ive heard more than a few say the culture at st mars was not something they thought they could adjust to so that AND money were a part of the issue. I think the converse side of having a student body more on the extremes is going to polarize the applicant pool and drop numbers more

    ReplyDelete
  18. Though I know the number is false (via Ken sucks at investigative journalism, though he is really good a drunkingly yelling at/with me -- miss you!), if the incoming class was only 250 -- wouldn't that be a pretty good reason to fire the Director of Admissions? Similarly, if applicants are down and its time to move in a new direction, replacing the Director of Admissions isn't exactly a radical concept.

    As for the whole tuition thing, tuition for every college in the country has skyrocketed in the last ten years. This is not a problem unique to St. Mary's. Urgo and Botzman fought hard for a $5 million increase to the block grant but the political pressure of fiscal austerity won over -- maybe if all the passion students put into things like this and a living wage and chicken sandwiches had been spent lobbying Annapolis on that...

    I don't know enough to say if the college did the right thing or the wrong thing (and in my experience, it's never that black and white) but surely our wonderful SMCM education should prompt us to ask a few more questions and learn the nuance before we jump down Urgo's throat. We wonder why sensationalist journalism and radical, short-sighted politics are the norm in this country...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. HAH! Always - the lamestream media is controlled by the gov't!

      Delete
    2. Completely agree with Dave Chase, one of the more sensible things said on this topic. Getting tired of the shoot first, ask questions later mentality that is taking place all over this blog and facebook profiles of alumni.

      Delete
    3. If suddenly applications are down and you have the same Admin Director for 25 years, is it his fault? What other factors could be a part of that?

      Um, Mold?

      Yes, as a parent (& I am one) I would be concerned sending my child off to a school that is known for a major mold issue. Wouldn't you look at potential other factors.

      This situation smacks of some disagreement and I think Rich raising his concerns about the "new" direction did him in. Too bad that he wash't asked if he could get on board with the new direction instead of opening the door and pushing him through. Just awful from my perspective.

      Delete
  19. Why was Rich NOT offered the "newly reorganized position"? Oh yeah, Napoleon, uh...I mean Urgo, doesn't want the competition of a highly respected campus leader. I hardly think that someone with 25 years of dedicated service to an institution that has changed so much over the years would suddenly decide that he could/would not accept this new change. Wouldn't he make his own decision to leave rather than be suddenly canned? Was this change in Admissions so dire that Lisa could not be given the courtesy of maintaining her employment for the 2 more months before her official retirement? I agree that this latest "letter" is just a diversion to the unacceptable actions of "management"! And if they were truly concerned about the cost of college/tuition increases, there are plenty of other places to cut Waste and ridiculous salaries and salary increases. And on the idea of SMCM becoming a "Private" institution...we are Well on our Way with the arrogance of upper management and their own sense of entitlement...Maggie O'Brien did an excellent job of instituting that Mind-Set, and Urgo has just taken it to the next level!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Could you please elaborate on places to cut waste?

      Delete
  20. This schools administration is a joke. If your going to get rid of people then start at the VERY TOP of the chain. Leave the hard working and dedicated employees alone!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Isn't everyone on an equal plane when it comes to filling out financial aid forms? Doesn't all that information go to the financial aid office? Aren't there deadlines to be met in order to receive financial aid? And isn't the federal government financial aid need based? Wouldn't that mean that any other financial aid would come from some other area such as specific scholarships at the foundation? Just asking.

    It would seem to be that the students who are more affluent probably live in affluent neighborhoods and better school districts. They as a rule have the higher SATs and GPAs. But they wouldn't be offered need based financial aid, would they? But they need to be enticed in order to maintain the high standards of St. Mary's. Otherwise, the school becomes just one other mediocre school in the state system.

    Doesn't SMCM have a campus-wide computer system so that the director of financial aid can access all the applicant information? Why would this burden be placed on the director of admissions. Certainly, the office administrator would not be included in any financial aid decisions. Urgo's response is bogus.

    Check out the salary of the new associate director. Probably the elimination of the two admissions positions justifies the salary of the new crony as far as the state budget is concerned.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Tuition is increasing across the country. Unfortunately, the price of a college education is increasing as both merit and need based aid is decreasing. I think the real tragedy is that many students will not have the chance to attend St. Mary's due to that fact. Sure, aid is being offered to those who really need it i.e. those whose families are extremely destitute but what about the other students? Personally, I took out loans to finance my education and worked several jobs to pay for on-campus housing. It sucks but that's the world we live.

    I think that admissions had the right idea. If someone is too lazy to complete an application than they obviously don't care about coming to St. Mary's. Rich was the reason I decided to attend the college and I am sad that his value, as well as, Lisa's was not seen by Urgo. I really like President Urgo but I think he is making a mistake in the way he is approaching this situation. Yes, the college is a business but like all businesses the CEO must maintain morale, as well as, the bottom line. By allowing so many changes in staff/faculty in the last few years President Urgo has ignored morale of the campus community and instead of attempting to preserve a St. Mary's culture he appears to be making cuts because that is easier.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with you about the application--if you can't take the time to fill out the St. Mary's application are you a student of the caliber that should be attending. For that matter, how many schools are you applying to--how many are your first choice?

      Delete
    2. it's not about not taking the time. It's about the application never even getting to the college. once the application is at the college, admissions can ask for an essay, a piece of cheese, or a favor. But if the application never gets here then the electronic application is a waste.

      Delete
  23. It is true they were given an hour to clear out, and didn't know it was coming. It's disgraceful and they were treated like felons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder how the college administration can justify the treatment that Rich and Lisa got. Rich must have known that he was butting heads with Pat Goldsmith, but Lisa must have been so blind-sighted. As you say, it was disgraceful to have treated them this way. It just shows there is no reason for any employee to have any loyalty to St. Mary's College. Start dusting off your resumes should be the mantra.

      Delete
    2. It also shows the college has no loyalty to its employees - if Lisa, who did nothing wrong and was getting ready to retire, can be given an hour's notice, ANYONE CAN AND YOU MIGHT BE NEXT.

      And if HR and the administation don't see that's the message they've sent... well, actually, that wouldn't surprise me one bit. More's the pity for them.

      Delete
    3. I really have no pity for HR.

      Delete
  24. So glad I recently transferred. St. Mary's is turning into a shithole and I moved on before drowning in that mess they call an "institution".

    ReplyDelete