Pennsylvania Colleges

The return on investment and cost of a four year college education remain headline concerns for most parents and college bound high school students. What is the most cost effective and viable path to gaining marketable skills as well as the cultural and social capital to navigate the 21st century?

Many educators see the four year brick and mortar college as an institution whose days are numbered. Some see online education as the democratic future of higher education. Still others continue to maintain that the small, liberal arts classroom is the best route to a productive professional and civic life. The practical and pragmatic believe that a return to trades and lower-median level technical and technological skills in science and medicine is the most economically sensible and productive route.

In the midst of this conversation, check out this USA Today ranking of Pennsylvania colleges. As a Philadelphian I am proud to see U of Penn retain its number one rating. As a Bucknell graduate, I was pleased to see that my alma mater ranked as number two. In any case, as you investigate the best path for your student, check out these top ten colleges and universities rated the best in a state riff with higher education opportunities.


Be a Part of Your Student's Critical Thinking and Writing

I often talk to parents about their frustration and helplessness with their students' struggles to produce detailed, illustrated and analytical writing that most high schools and colleges currently demand.

Many public and private high schools over the last twenty years have developed comprehensive rhetorical and process based writing programs to help students have something specific and yet debatable to say. Still, parents can also play a role from the earliest grades on to help their students develop analytical and critical thinking and writing skills about culture, images and texts.

One of my more recent modes of engagement with young clients to get them involved in critical thinking and writing is this NYT online every Monday exercise called "What's Going On in This Picture?" Instead of the live conversation that follows, I turn this into a jump-off for spontaneous writing. This activity brings together a student's ability to observe, bring their understanding of multiple contexts to bear, and then write a 5-12 sentence paragraph, depending on their age. In that paragraph they first make an "interpretive claim" about the picture as their topic sentence, then provide evidence and examples to develop it. Try this with your kids at home. (In your spare time, right?) It might also spark all kinds of open-ended conversations about life and the world.


Back to College and Behavioral/Mental Health

As exciting as the final push senior year in high school  and freshman year in college are for those planning for and entering higher education, an equally present part of that transition is the potential for adult mental health crises or impaired function, such as performance affecting depression and anxiety.

The college matriculation zeitgeist in media over the last decade has thankfully helped heighten awareness of endemic binge drinking and sexual assault, as well as needed attention to the unsustainable increase in the cost of a traditional four-year college degree (and its doubtful investment payoff).

In recent years, media attention has shifted toward a broader focus on institutions addressing behavioral and mental health within an increasing percentage of traditional university students. I was reminded of this shift as two informative pieces hit my desk this week: A May 2015 New York Times article titled "Anxious Students Strain College Mental Health Centers" and an Aug. 30 rendition of a Philadelphia-area NPR weekly program examining the rise of student behavioral and mental health treatment on college campuses.

I am not surprised by this current media alarm that significant percentages of college students are seeking treatment for more common mental illness conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as severe, persistent mental illnesses (SPMI) such as various forms of psychosis, obsessive compulsive, and borderline personality disorders. For almost 20 years, I taught English, Composition, and American/Women's Studies at Penn State University, an institution whose population is arguably a microcosm of the range of college-age personalities, temperaments and socio-economic backgrounds.  During that time, I witnessed a rise in students presenting with all manner of behavioral/mental health concerns that often, but not always, inhibited their ability, even with treatment, to finish successfully a four-year college degree.

While depression interacting with substance abuse perhaps began and continues as the dominant behavioral/mental health concern for students at Penn State and nationwide, during my time at PSU as a faculty member I also interacted with students increasingly entering college with a history of diagnosis and treatment for higher order forms of psychosis and personality disorder. Before psychotropic medication, these students' attendance  and completion of degrees at traditional universities would have been impossible.

So while the proliferation and availability of medication for students presenting with behavioral/mental heath problems have  allowed young adults to continue rather than interrupt their educational and professional lives, the significant increase in that population attending higher education has presented a challenge to university facilities and to levels of collaboration between student mental health services and other student services.

In my present practice as a college coach, writing tutor and independent educational consultant, I work to help those students whose college trajectories have been troubled by problems ranging from executive functioning to bipolar disorder, and whose families are not only sometimes paying for a college semester their students were not able to complete, but for psychological, tutorial, and psychiatric triage in addition. 

What I have observed is that those families and individuals who can use the increased awareness of everyday mental illness to help educate, treat, and de-stigmatize the presenting behavioral and mental challenges to college student life, and to talk openly and honestly about moving forward with a team of professional helpers much as they would work to treat physical problems or disease, often watch those sons and daughters receive a college diploma and enter a workplace that allows them greater access to the socio-economic benefits of an educated workforce.

It is promising to know that colleges and universities, as well as a discerning media, are paying attention to improvements in behavioral health that can be accomplished at the systemic level as well as in individual treatment available to students. Systemic change and public accountability benefit all of us parents, educators, and students, as the majority of families do not have the resources themselves to identify and treat mental health conditions that impede students' educational and professional growth

The hope with these changes is that students who suspect they are suffering from mental illnesses can seek out better resources to improve their ability to function and perform.

With Spring Comes the SAT

Some writing instructors view the "five paragraph essay" as an unnatural rhetorical exercise that students learn for artificial circumstances--like standardized  tests--only to be abandoned for more flexible and useful writing rubrics later in college and professional school. I stress in my practice again and again that the SAT score does not college success predict, nor does it necessarily serve as a marker of intelligence. 

Reflections on Launching Chancellor Writing Services

Reflections on Launching Chancellor Writing Services

"Despite the increasingly digitalized universe in which we live, the ability to craft fluent sentences, developed and coherent paragraphs, and pages of persuasive discursive or research writing for school, work and community remains a fundamental index to those who will gain entrance into the channels of civic and professional leadership." Read more about the convictions that led me to start and build Chancellor Writing Services.