TIME Education

Here’s What I Learned From the Near-Death of a Small College

It's not just this school

If there is one thing I learned during my two years as vice president at the American Council on Education, it’s this: US higher education is truly blessed with a huge diversity of institutions, large, small, public, private, urban, rural, specialized, liberal arts, comprehensive and research-intensive.

If there’s one thing I learned during my two years on the faculty at Mills College in Oakland, California, it’s this: women’s colleges are unique, they are empowering, and we need them in our higher education ecosystem.

If there’s one thing I learned while earning an MBA, it’s this: numbers usually don’t lie and there comes a time when you need to face reality. (Well, that’s two things.)

So it’s from this context I observe the near death experience of Sweet Briar College. I appreciate the value of small liberal arts institutions and note with sadness the decline in number of women’s colleges for decades.

I also know that, from a purely financial and marketing perspective, it will be difficult for Sweet Briar to increase enrollment and manage expenses, essentially reversing direction after announcing closure. I also know that Sweet Briar is not the only one, and many other colleges are likely to confront challenges similar to Sweet Briar’s.

Tough road ahead

Sweet Briar in Virginia was founded as a women’s college in 1901 with a mission to “unite classical and modern ideals of education and, in the words of its founder, prepare young women ‘to be useful members of society.’”

However, hit hard by enrollment declines beginning with the 2008 economic downturn, in March 2015, Sweet Briar’s board voted to close the college at the end of the 2015 academic year. A group of alumnae mounted an effort to save the institution. Earlier this month, a court agreed to a negotiated settlement that would keep Sweet Briar open another year.

I — and so many others — wish them well. However, based on their numbers as described by past board members last month, the going will be tough.

Enrollment has declined from 611 in 2010 to 561 in 2015. Their four-year graduation rate slipped from 70% in 1996 to 54% in 2014.

At the same time, Sweet Briar’s average discounted tuition rate for first-year students increased from 48.9% in 2010 to 61.9% in 2015. And the spending of their endowment exceeded the recommended 5% per year.

Sweet Briar has several challenges ahead.
Boston Public Library, CC BY

I predict Sweet Briar will have an extremely difficult time coming back from the brink.

On top of their financial challenges, Sweet Briar will confront difficult morale issues as faculty and staff begin to look for other more secure positions elsewhere.

It’s not just Sweet Briar

Many other small institutions are confronting financial challenges not unlike Sweet Briar’s.

According to Bloomberg, Moody’s, which rates more than 500 public and private nonprofit colleges and universities for credit quality, “downgraded an average of 28 institutions annually in the five years through 2013. This is more than double the average of 12 in the prior five-year period.”

With heightened public scrutiny on the value of a college degree, greater consumerism on the part of students, and more downward pressure on tuition increases, US higher education confronts a major adjustment. It is likely we will see even more closures and mergers in the future.

Women’s colleges confront a double whammy: dealing with financial challenges as well as questions about the relevance of single-gender institutions. Women’s colleges are down from 230 in 1960 to 47 in 2015.

Given this environment, how difficult will it be for universities and colleges to attract students, especially in times of failing financial health? Will prospective students and families ask questions about the financial health of an institution before enrolling? Such information is now available to them from the US Department of Education and other sources.

As it is, tuition costs are rising. Affordability is the number one issue we face in higher education today. There has been a 33% increase in tuition costs in the ten years from 2003 to 2013 across all institutions.

There are other issues as well: Currently only 59% of first-time full-time students who begin a four-year degree graduate within six years. And even those often carry a high burden of debt. As of 2013, 69% of students graduated with loan debt.

But, at the same time, universities are binging on expansion. Some of this may be strategically necessary (like replacing decrepit academic buildings or establishing new relevant degree programs), but much may not be.

In efforts to attract students with a broad program array and popular amenities, we may be sacrificing the one thing that helps students most: graduating on time affordably.

The way forward

Fortunately, boards and administrators have options as long as they face reality quickly. They need to gather the right data, act decisively, and confront difficult decisions to avoid closure.

We know that the four things that can lead to financial sustainability are clear focus on core mission; reducing administrative cost; selling non-core assets; and investing in innovative models.

Women’s colleges can adapt and are adapting to new realities, like Alverno College in Milwaukee, that converted a long-standing classroom-based weekend program for nontraditional working students to a blended hybrid format to meet today’s need for greater flexibility.

Based on my own experience leading major organizational transformations, Sweet Briar’s leadership will need to move quickly and decisively to forge their future. Gaining commitment from all stakeholders to work together to “row in the same direction” will be essential. Balancing the need to face reality and telling the truth about that reality while also painting a picture of a positive future will make the difference.

We can’t put our heads in the sand, ignore the numbers, maintain the status quo, and hope things will be fine. For those of us who care about higher education and our students, we need to step up.The Conversation

Cathy Sandeen is Chancellor at University of Wisconsin Colleges and the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs to Grads: Happiness Is a Goal of Life

Cheryl Boone Isaacs gave this commencement speech at University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Growing up in Springfield, Massachusetts I was first exposed to movies in the 1960s, which was one of the most creative and exhilarating periods in the history of film.

The young filmmakers and artists of that period were daring and brash and influenced by the social forces that were transforming society in such films as To Kill A Mockingbird, In The Heat of the Night, The Graduate, and A Hard Day’s Night.

One of my favorite films from that era was 1961’s West Side Story. At the time, my brother Ashley was an executive at United Artists, which released the film. I remember my family getting all dressed up to drive to New York to attend the premiere. And when the film won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and when cast members Rita Moreno and George Chakiris won Oscars, I was ecstatic.

When I graduated from high school, I thought I was going to work for the government. I went to college with the vision of working for the United States Information Agency and a career in public diplomacy.

After graduation from college, I decided to take time off from school, and took a number of different jobs including being a stewardess for Pan American World Airways.

But at age 25, I sat down and had an honest conversation with myself. I wanted to do something I love in a world that I loved, which was the film industry.

Little did I dream then that someday I would be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, much less its President.

The Academy is made up of more than 7,000 men and women working in film around the world, and led by a Board of Governors representing 17 different branches of the industry that include Directors, Actors, Editors, Cinematographers and public relations, which is the branch for which I’ve served as a Governor for 22 years.

The Academy’s mission today is largely the same as it was when I became a member in 1987, and when it was founded 87 years ago: to recognize and uphold excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences, inspire imagination, and connect the world through the medium of motion pictures.

As an Academy, we celebrate creative artists who are pushing the boundaries of cinema — men and women whose accomplishments touch people’s hearts and capture the world we live in.

Every year at the Oscars we honor the courage of filmmakers who cross borders and test boundaries, who give voice to challenging ideas and alternative points of view, and who encourage us to see the world and those around us in new ways.

As you embark on the next phase of your careers in the arts, I hope you will carry that torch, tell the truth about the world as you perceive it and change the narrative.

As the world becomes smaller and more globally connected, you as artists also have a responsibility to protect freedom of expression and ensure that no one’s voice is silenced by threats, violence or prejudice, and that different opinions can be shared without fear of personal or professional attack.

I want you all to follow your passion. There may be detours, but just keep moving forward. Stay focused on your goals and dreams.

Happiness is a goal of life.

In my years in the film industry, as a marketing and public relations executive both at major studios and independent companies, I have had to learn to maneuver both sides of the show business equation — the show side and the business side.

As creative artists nowadays, it’s incumbent on you to understand the business of the arts and the different funding channels available to you. A career in the arts does not guarantee financial stability, but if you’re smart about finding ways to monetize the work you love, the rewards will be immense.

I also urge you to give back to the community through the nonprofit sector.

In my career, I’ve also been lucky to serve as an artist in residence and university professor, to support programs for public schools in Los Angeles, to bring arts education to the under-served community and at-risk youth.

There are so many youngsters who haven’t had the opportunity to explore the arts. And as people have helped you, in your journey, I hope that you will support arts education for under-served youth.

In our ever-changing world there are countless opportunities available to your generation, more so than ever before.

With all of technology’s advancements one thing that has not changed is the human love of storytelling — whether it is music, painting, literature, dance or film.

It’s a thrill to stand here alongside you as you embark on this exciting next chapter of your lives. And I offer my very best wishes that you can bring the light of humanity and inspiration that you found here at UNC School of the Arts to the world around you.

This article was originally published by The Academy on Medium

TIME Courts

Family Sues After Student Dies During Fraternity Hike

Joshua Castaneda, Martha Castaneda, Maria Castaneda
Damian Dovarganes—AP Family members of late Armando Villa. Left to right: Joshua Castaneda, his mother Martha Castaneda, and aunt, Maria Castaneda react as California State University, Northridge, CSUN president Dr. Dianne Harrison, not seen, reads a statement regarding Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity activities that lead to the death of CSUN student Armando Villa, during a news conference at the CSUN campus in Northridge, Calif., on Sept. 5, 2014.

Armando Villa's family filed a lawsuit against California State University

(LOS ANGELES) — The family of a California college student who died during a grueling fraternity hike sued the organization and the school on Wednesday, saying the young man’s death was senseless and easily preventable.

Armando Villa, who attended California State University, Northridge, died a year ago Wednesday after the 19-year-old collapsed during an 18-mile hike organized by Pi Kappa Phi. The group was hiking in hot temperatures with little water and inadequate shoes, a school investigation found.

The investigation concluded that hazing was to blame.

Villa’s mother and stepfather filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the university, school administrators and the fraternity, alleging negligence and hazing. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages.

“We’re just looking for a little closure and justice,” Villa’s mother, Betty Serrato, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “They’ve ruined a life and broken a family.”

The lawsuit alleges that fraternity members forced pledges to go on the dangerous hike without adequate supplies as a last ritual before they could become full-fledged members. The lawsuit says the university had a duty to oversee fraternity activities and should have been aware of and stopped any hazing that was happening.

The national fraternity’s CEO, Mark Timmes, declined to comment on the lawsuit, except to reiterate that the organization closed its chapter at the school after Villa’s death.

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with Armando’s family and all those affected by his passing,” Timmes said in a statement.

The university declined to comment on the litigation, but said in a statement that any claim that the school “was in any way responsible for the tragic death of Armando Villa is untrue.”

The school cited its investigation and said it banned the fraternity from ever operating on campus again.

“The death of Armando was a tragedy and our hearts continue to go out to his family and friends,” the statement said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department opened a criminal investigation after Villa’s death, though results haven’t been released, including a coroner’s report.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Biddle, who investigated the case, said he has turned it over to the district attorney’s office to consider whether charges should be filed. A district attorney’s spokesman said the case was under review.

“We want the truth. We still want to know what happened out there,” Serrato said. “We deserve that much at least.”

In September, university President Dianne Harrison condemned hazing while addressing Villa’s death.

“Hazing is stupid, senseless, dangerous and against the law in California,” Harrison said. “It is a vestige of a toxic way of thinking in which it was somehow OK to degrade, humiliate and potentially harm others.”

Harrison is among those named in the lawsuit. She didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

TIME Education

How Classroom Curriculum Can Impact Children’s Friendships

Getty Images

Simply placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom will not guarantee peer acceptance or friendships

Friendship is often described as a major outcome of early childhood inclusive classrooms that support all children, irrespective of their abilities.

Friendships provide children with joy, laughter and comfort. They may also prevent later bullying and support smoother transitions into kindergarten for children with a range of disabilities. Friendships are considered a vital developmental milestone for all children.

Yet, developing close relationships may be difficult for some children. This is especially true for children who enter school without well-developed social-emotional skills. About 40% of children with disabilities, for example, enter kindergarten without developing age-appropriate skills in this area.

So, what impact does curriculum have on the development of friendships for children with disabilities? And how can teachers help nurture these friendships?

Investigating the impact of curriculum

To answer these questions, we conducted a study that included 110 kindergarteners, 26 of whom had disabilities, within six classrooms across a Midwest and a New England state.

This study took place as part of another longer-term research project in which teachers were randomly assigned to use either a “disability-awareness curriculum” or a modified science curriculum.

In our study, curricula included similar components of class-wide book readings and teacher-led discussions, “cooperative learning groups” (a teaching strategy that brings together groups of students with different abilities), and a classroom lending library to promote shared reading at home.

These curricula were chosen because they were alike in some ways. Both allowed teachers to focus discussions on similarities between the book content and kindergarteners. And both could include the three core components (ie, book reading, cooperative groups, and home literacy).

What we found surprised us. The number of close friendships among children with disabilities significantly increased in classrooms where the science curriculum was implemented.

Examining the results more closely

Implementation of the two curricula was designed to create similar opportunities for interactions between children with and without disabilities.

In their classrooms, children participated in similar activities: they were read books and encouraged to participate in discussions either about disability or science-related topics. Each week, children were able to take one of the books home that was read to them at school.

However, the cooperative learning groups were designed differently. In the cooperative learning groups for the science curriculum, children focused on science activities that were more outcome-orientated (eg, making bird nests, measuring worms).

In the cooperative learning groups for the disability-awareness curriculum, children participated in play-based activities with open-ended materials and toys (eg, farm animals and a barn, pretend kitchen set and food).

Our observations of children’s play during the cooperative learning groups suggest that participating children with disabilities may not have had the skills needed to fully engage in the group’s play.

For example, some children struggled to enter into ongoing play. During one such activity, a child was playing with a “pretend cash register” and another child with a disability wanted a turn with it. The child asked his peer if he could play with it. However, the peer said no.

In response, the child repeated his same question again and again, receiving the same response from his peer. The child with a disability did not have a broad repertoire of social or play skills to try other strategies such as asking if he might have a turn when the peer was done, or if he could trade roles with the peer (eg, become the cashier and suggest the peer become a shopper).

It seems that cooperative play is an area in which advanced or higher-level skills are needed to be successful. These skills include sharing materials, assisting peers, entering into ongoing play or offering a storyline for imaginative play.

The results from this study on friendships suggest that without these skills, children’s contributions to play may have been less successful, and peers may have viewed children with disabilities as less than ideal play partners.

In comparison, the science experiences such as making bird nests together, painting group posters with each child’s handprints on them and measuring the length of worms may have provided children with outcome-oriented tasks and the support needed to participate in ways similar to peers.

A shared activity with a common goal may have provided the structure that some children with disabilities needed to successfully participate alongside peers. In this arrangement, peers may have viewed classmates with disabilities as competent contributors to the group task.

Taken together, this could have been the reason for the increase in close classroom friendships for children with disabilities who participated in the science curriculum.

What can we learn from this?

First, there has been a lot of discussion focused on how play is no longer a valued part of kindergarten education in the United States. Also, kindergarten schedules leave very little room for play or for supporting the development of social-emotional skills.

Our results provide support for creating opportunities for children to learn through playful interactions. These findings also acknowledge that some children may enter school with limited social-emotional and play skills that are needed to form friendships. These children need teacher support and repeated classroom opportunities to master those skills.

Second, the debate of whether kindergarten classes should have either an academic or social focus must stop.

We believe that the structure of the science-based cooperative learning groups in our study may have served an important role in supporting the development of close friendships, especially for children with disabilities.

We also believe that social-emotional skill development, and the development of friendships, can occur across the school day depending on how teachers structure their classroom environment and schedule, and support learning outcomes.

What can teachers do?

Early childhood teachers can support the development of friendships by the way they structure activities in their classroom.

For example, teachers can purposefully place more social children next to quieter children during group activities. They can pair children who already have a budding relationship to do an activity together, or they can create activities in which small groups of children can interact while completing a project together.

Teachers can support the development of social skills through large and small group instruction. Also, teachers can provide individualized social skill instruction based on student needs, and on an individual basis as necessary.

Inclusive classrooms are a trend increasing in the United States. Teaching children how to share, how to handle anger and conflict, how to express their emotions and how to enter into ongoing play situations are all important skills for young children to learn. Some children might need more support than others to develop these skills.

Simply placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom will not guarantee peer acceptance or friendships.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

The Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

My Immigrant Students Don’t Test Well—But They’re Learning

Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

In this high school classroom, resilience is as important as textbooks

My mother immigrated to the United States when she was 16, in May of 1943. Though she didn’t know English when she arrived, she claims that by the fall she was able to read Silas Marner. I am sure that this is not true, but she graduated and went on to get a doctorate in psychology. Despite narrowly escaping annihilation in the Holocaust, she arrived in this country with a suitcase of virtual advantages: her parents were Viennese doctors; she had already learned a second language, having lived the war years in Bolivia; and she had read hundreds of books.

I have spent the past 20 years teaching immigrant high schoolers, many of those years in California, where 23 percent of K-12 students are English learners. Though there are some young immigrants, like my mother, who arrive in this country with a strong academic foundation, the vast majority of them do not. They come mostly from rural communities in Mexico and Central America and their schooling is rudimentary at best; few have read one book, never mind many.

When we talk about educating immigrant students, we focus almost entirely on teaching them English, but for many students the needs run deeper. In 2012, I taught at the Fremont High School Newcomers Program in the Fruitvale neighborhood of East Oakland. My students there were Mayans from Guatemala, who had had so little formal schooling we needed to teach some of them the alphabet. But they were not empty-handed. They also brought with them hope, resilience, and an ability to rely on their community that was rare in their adopted neighborhoods.

The idea for newcomer high schools and programs within regular high schools took off in the 1970s because this focused instruction proved so effective at helping students integrate linguistically and culturally. Since 2000, though, their numbers have fallen by at least half because of postrecession budget cuts and difficulty conforming to the testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Fremont High School had a 15-foot-high, barbed-wire fence, a security guard, and seven full-time security officers patrolling the grounds. The fence and guards were not there to keep people out, but rather to keep the students in. The buildings were dilapidated and covered with graffiti. The windows were barred, as were the doors, the lockers banged up and dented. There was rarely toilet paper in the bathrooms, and if there was, it was strewn all over the floor. After lunch, the halls and patios were covered with paper plates and half-eaten pizzas, apple cores, and purposefully squished oranges; the air was filled with cursing and the ubiquitous odor of marijuana. When it was windy, napkins flew about, keeping low like the ghosts of birds who had died a violent death.

The Newcomers Program, in contrast, is a sheltered environment, where immigrant teens study the basic subjects in English and take intensive English classes. Here students form a community, sharing curse words and traditional dances, as well as their problems. When one student was beaten so badly that he was hospitalized just a few weeks after he arrived in Oakland, the students supported him. I was struck by his maturity and lack of anger: “They thought that if they hurt me, they would be strong, but they are not strong,” he said.

My students had strong emotional survival skills, but they didn’t know that there were planets or that the Earth revolved around the sun. They did not know that the world was divided into continents or that it was round. They did not think it was flat, either. They had simply never thought about what the Earth was beyond where they were from. They did not know the difference between a city and a state and a country. They knew they were in California, but they didn’t quite understand the difference between California and Oakland and the United States.

So in the Newcomers Program, we all started from the beginning. I began my class with the Big Bang and continued on to the creation of the solar system and Earth, to Pangaea and tectonic plates and the seven continents and dinosaurs and the evolution of Homo sapiens. That took months. There were so many gaps in their knowledge that I kept finding I had to go back farther. Once when I said, “Save a tree. Don’t waste paper,” they asked me, “What do trees have to do with paper?” So I went all the way back to the beginning to show them how paper was made and to teach them about deforestation in the Amazon. They had never heard of the Amazon, so I had to backtrack again.

I felt as though I was always backtracking, though I understood that what we were really doing was moving slowly forward, building not only on what I taught them but also on the strength of what they had brought with them. Like my mother, they had survived violence and carried unique advantages. They know that they are strong—like the young man who was beaten so badly—for they have traveled through Mexico on the top of the train called La Bestia; they have been robbed by coyotes and crossed the desert on foot; they have brought with them their looms to weave huipiles so that they will never forget the past even as they are making their future.

My students made tremendous progress, but this progress looked like failure on the standardized tests: Their academic abilities were still far below grade-level and all tests are in English, which they have not yet mastered. By the time they are seniors, they most certainly will not be able to read Silas Marner. My most gifted Mam-speaking student is now in 11th grade, and is taking Algebra II in a regular high school class. The young man who was beaten up in his early days in Oakland is also on track to graduate, but many students have dropped out to have babies and work. Yet, this is not necessarily a failure. They have learned to speak English and how to read and write. They know that the universe began with a Big Bang and that paper comes from trees.

Over the past 20 years there has been a constant debate about how to educate immigrants, and most of this debate has focused on the acquisition of English: what proficiency in English is, how long it should take a student to reach it, and whether total immersion, bilingual education, or sheltered classes taught in English works best. Recently there has been an emphasis on cultural awareness and how to integrate this into the curriculum. All of these things are certainly part of the equation, but I have learned that there is no algorithm, no one ideal way to address all the needs of all English learners.

Because newcomers bring with them a great variety of skills and come from such diverse academic and cultural backgrounds, programs must be flexible. We cannot serve these students if we let ourselves be controlled by state and federal edicts or by the data accumulated by standardized tests and scientific studies. We must meet students where they are, keeping in mind what they have brought with them. There should be more vocational programs for students who are not on a college track and partnerships so that students can take hands-on courses in such fields as health technology, mechanics, and carpentry. When schools provide newcomers with the extra support they need and a safe, nurturing, and rigorous academic community, they will make progress. This progress will not necessarily be evident in the data, but it will be evident to them. This progress will be the foundation for a new generation of Americans.

Anne Raeff teaches English learners at East Palo Alto Academy. Her novel Clara Mondschein’s Melancholia came out in 2001 and she has just completed a memoir. She wrote this for “Reimagining California,” a partnership of the California Endowment and Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

What Common Core Teaches Us About the Future of Testing

Getty Images

Shifting emphasis to understanding over rote

Whether you love it or loathe it, the Common Core State Standards Initiative has officially arrived in American classrooms. The origin of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, or the Common Core for short, is a widely recognized need for uniformity in United States education. In other words, a diploma from a suburban California school should mean that a student is as well prepared for college and the workforce as a student from rural Iowa or urban New York. The debate around the Common Core has been fierce, but this article will not revisit it. Instead, it will shed light on three things the Common Core assessments teach us about the future of testing:

1. Contextual learning

One feature of the Common Core that resonates with students, parents, and schools alike is the increased importance of understanding concepts in their natural contexts. Students no longer learn simple word definitions; they learn to decode the nuances of a word as it is used in a specific passage. Similarly, knowing how to construct an equation based on a given scenario is just as important as being able to solve that equation for x.

In a sense, this is no different from what many great teachers have always done. However, some teachers were forced to emphasize rote memorization of basic facts in order to prepare their students for standardized tests. These instructors can now begin to re-emphasize understanding.

2. New testing directions

As one might expect, a new set of standards calls for a new set of assessments to evaluate how well these objectives are being met. The Common Core does not include any standardized tests, so the exams that debuted widely this year are developed and administered by several different groups, including the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. While each state can choose which test to give, they are alike in emphasizing context and fluency of knowledge.

Both groups are also attempting to make their exams more interactive by incorporating computer-based assessments. The interactive elements of Common Core-affiliated testing are still in their infancy, but it is clear that the future lies with computers. Students might one day be asked to highlight the sentence in a passage that best supports a thesis, or that defines a term, or that disproves another statement. Math problems could be constructed to involve drawing geometric figures, or, for younger children, grouping objects by type using a mouse.

3. Critical thinking and fluency

A traditional test question might provide a student with a vocabulary word, and then ask him or her to choose the single best synonym from a list of five possible choices. A slightly more sophisticated question might use the form of an analogy where definitions for three individual terms would have to be parsed in order to secure a correct answer for the fourth word. On a Common Core assessment, a student might be asked to define an underlined word in a passage, and he or she may then have to choose from a set of phrases that are all possible definitions of the term. “State,” for example, is not a challenging word on its own, but it has several distinct meanings.

One benefit of this approach is that adept students can puzzle out the meaning of an unfamiliar word using clues from the surrounding text. If the rest of the paragraph discussed politics, for example, any unrelated answer phrases could likely be ruled out. The new format, then, emphasizes critical thinking and reading comprehension over simple memorization.

Fluency is also critical in the Common Core era. Fluency refers to understanding information thoroughly – inside and out, backward and forward, etc. In math, for example, it is not sufficient to simply memorize the Pythagorean Theorem (a2 + b2 = c2 for right triangles). You would also need to know when it is an applicable technique. For example, you might be told that movers trying to load a truck want to roll a heavy piece of equipment aboard (rather than lifting it). If the truck bed is three feet high, and if they have a ramp that is 12 feet long, how much room will they need to leave such that the ramp can be laid out straight behind the truck?

The great news is that the ACT and the SAT are moving to similar formats, so the time spent preparing for Common Core exams during the K-12 years can be applied to college entrance tests too. In short, almost all of our pre-college education is currently attempting to shift its emphasis to understanding over rote. The success of that shift remains to be seen, but in the meantime, it is well worth considering the bigger picture and knowing all possible applications of material when testing. Good luck!

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.

More from Varsity Tutors:

TIME Education

38 Ways College Students Enjoy ‘Left-Wing Privilege’ on Campus

Getty Images Empty auditorium

Tal Fortgang is a student at Princeton University.

'I can take classes and earn degrees in departments that are designed to line up exactly with my worldview'

Among the great ironies surrounding the state of academia is the continued insistence on hearing more and more “marginalized voices” and increasing “diversity” on campus, as if there is some kind of archaic conservative establishment making that difficult to do.

One would likely be hard-pressed to find a more left-leaning group than college professors and admissions officers, who prioritize pulling marginalized groups out of their marginalization and adding people of diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to campus conversations.

Yet in their efforts to achieve a more egalitarian conversation, left-wing academics and their students completely ignore (at best) and marginalize (at worst) students and the rare colleague who disagree with them politically.

And therein lies the ultimate irony: The very voices that decry inequality in all its manifestations either accept or turn a blind eye to the stunning dearth of conservative academics and the de facto censorship of right-wing students on overwhelmingly left-wing campuses.

Were it some other group suffering such a marginalization, there is no doubt that the left would be up in arms, crying discrimination and demanding rectification.

Some might even call such a monopoly on prevailing campus orthodoxy a type of “privilege,” defined as an asset “of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to,” to quote Peggy McIntosh, the matriarch of privilege’s modern construction.

While the marginalization of right-wing thinkers on campus in no way compares to the experience of black Americans throughout history, it might behoove left-wingers on college campuses to think about the various privileges from which they benefit simply by being members of the overwhelmingly dominant group in their academic communities.

1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my political persuasion most of the time.

2. I can spend my entire college career taking only classes with professors who think exactly as I do.

3. I can take classes and earn degrees in departments that are designed to line up exactly with my worldview.

4. I can be sure that an overwhelming majority of the material I am assigned to read for class will confirm what I already believe.

5. My professors will assume that I already think just like them, and use examples and anecdotes that testify to our philosophical uniformity.

6. I can almost always be sure that my professor will present or corroborate my side of a debate.

7. I will likely never have to make the choice between writing what I believe to be true and writing what I think will get a good grade.

8. If I do not get the grade I was hoping for, I can be sure it had nothing to do with the professor’s antipathy towards the political views I have expressed, or me personally.

9. I do not have to fear tipping my hand about my political views in my schoolwork.

10. I can pursue an English degree out of my love for literature, not put off by the lenses of critical theory that influence the way literary analysis is taught.

11. I can speak up in class without fear of being derided for my politics.

12. I can feel confident that even if I don’t personally speak up for my side of an issue, it will likely cross my classmates’ minds.

13. I can be sure that even if people disagree with me, they will not call me evil or bigoted.

14. I can avoid spending time with people whom I have been taught to disagree with, and who have learned to disagree with me.

15. I can be sure that no one will chalk up my opinions to privilege or lack of empathy.

16. More generally, I can express my views on controversial topics without my motives and character being questioned.

17. If my ideology becomes a source of personal issues, I have ample support available at an institutional level.

18. If I need a role model with whom I agree politically, I can easily find one or more.

19. I can freely use social media to share my politics (not that I should) and I will receive encouragement and support in ‘likes,’ ‘shares,’ and especially in comments.

20. I can be social and go to parties without facing mockery and looks of confusion from those who assume my lifestyle is ascetic and Puritanical.

21. I can act disrespectfully toward figures of authority and remain immune from criticism.

22. I can talk about my politically oriented extra-curricular activities without fear of judgment or derision from my peers.

23. I can describe my summer writing job without censoring the name of the publication or its political leanings.

24. If I am religious, others will assume that my beliefs are a force for good and not an extension of an anachronistic and oppressive legacy of superstition.

25. I can use buzzwords and academic jargon to make my arguments, and they will be accepted as legitimate.

26. I can safely say that the arc of history bends in my direction and anyone who disagrees will be “on the wrong side.”

27. I can write off opinions of those who disagree with me because of their overarching ideology.

28. If I can categorize someone who disagrees with me as “powerful” or “oppressive,” I don’t even have to listen to them to begin with.

29. I can be confident that no one will dismiss the sources of my news and information as biased.

30. I can easily obtain my college’s support for explicitly political events I’d like to organize.

31. I can get “trigger warnings” appended to texts that challenge me or make me feel uncomfortable.

32. I can get commencement speakers, recipients of honorary degrees, and other guests disinvited from my campus if I disagree with them.

33. I can disrupt and disrespect speakers whom I do not wish to hear; I will subsequently be praised for my denial of their freedom to speak.

34. I can monopolize terms like “justice” and claim that they only apply to what I am saying.

35. I can accuse those who disagree with me of “violence.”

36. I can claim that my personal experiences are “invalidated” by those who disagree with me.

37. If I have to follow current events for class, I can be confident that the recommended sources of news will be slanted in my direction.

38. If I find my ideas challenged, I know I always have a “safe space” to retreat to, where people will massage my challenged beliefs and sing me a lullaby of things I’d like to hear.

This article originally appeared on The College Fix.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Sheryl Sandberg to Grads: Fortune Favors the Bold

Sheryl Sandberg gave this commencement speech at Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management

I am honored to be here today to address Dean Yingyi Qian, Tsinghua School of Economics and Management’s distinguished faculty, proud family members, supportive friends, and most importantly, the class of 2015. Unlike my boss, Mark Zuckerberg, I do not speak Chinese. For that I apologize. But he did ask me to pass along this message – zhuhe. I am thrilled to be here to congratulate this magnificent class on your graduation.

When Dean Qian invited me to speak today, I thought, come talk to a group of people way younger and cooler than I am? I can do that. I do that every day at Facebook, since Mark is 15 years younger than I am and many of our employees are more his contemporaries than mine. I like being surrounded by young people, except when they say to me, “What was it like being at university without a mobile phone?” or worse, “Sheryl, can you come here? We need to see what old people think of this feature.”

I graduated from college in 1991 and business school in 1995. This was not that long ago. But I can tell you: the world has changed an awful lot in just 25 years. My business school class tried to have our school’s first online class. We had to pass out a list of screen names because it was unthinkable to put your real name on the internet. And it did not work because the system kept crashing – it just wasn’t possible for 90 people to communicate at once online.

But for a few brief moments in between crashes, we glimpsed the future – a future where technology would connect us to our colleagues, our relatives, our friends. The world we live in today is one I could not have imagined when I was sitting where you are. And 25 years from now, you will have helped shape your generation’s world.

As graduates of Tsinghua, you will be leaders not just in China, but globally. China is a world leader in terms of educational attainment and economic growth. It is not just political and business leaders that recognize the importance of China. Many American parents realize it as well; the hardest schools to get into in the San Francisco Bay area where I live are those that teach Chinese.

But the fact is countries don’t lead: People lead.

As you graduate today, you start your path toward leadership. What kind of leader will you be? How much impact on others will you have? What will be your mark on the world?

At Facebook, we have posters on our walls to remind us to think big – to challenge ourselves to do more each and every day. There are important leadership lessons reflected in these posters – and today, I want to cover four of them that I think can be meaningful for you.


Facebook exists because Mark believed that the world would be a better place if people could use technology to connect as individuals. He believed it so much that he dropped out of Harvard College to pursue that mission and he fought to hold onto it over the years. What Mark did was not lucky. It was bold.

It’s unusual to find your passion as early as Mark. It took me far longer to figure out what I wanted to do. When I was sitting in a graduation robe, I could not have considered a job at Facebook because the internet did not exist – and Mark was only 11 years old. I thought I would only ever work for the government or a philanthropic organization because I believed these institutions made the world a better place while companies only worked towards profits. But when I was working at the U.S. Treasury Department, I saw from afar how much impact technology companies were having on the world and I changed my mind. So when my government job ended, I decided to move to Silicon Valley.

In retrospect, this seems like a shrewd move. But in 2001, it was questionable at best. The tech bubble had burst. Large companies were doing massive layoffs and small companies were going out of business. I gave myself four months to find a job. It took almost a year. In one of my first interviews, a tech company CEO said to me, “I took this meeting as a favor to a friend but I would never hire someone like you – people from the government can’t work in technology.”

Eventually I persuaded someone to hire me, and fourteen years later, I still love working in tech. It was not my original plan but I got there — eventually.

I hope if you find yourself on one path but longing for something else, you find a way to get there. And if that isn’t right, try again. Try until you find something that stirs your passion, a job that matters to you and matters to others. It’s a luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a clear path to happiness.


At Facebook, I knew that the most important determinant of my performance would be my relationship with Mark. When I joined, I asked Mark for a commitment that he would give me feedback every week so that anything that bothered him would be aired and discussed quickly. Mark not only said yes but immediately added that he wanted it to be reciprocal. For the first few years, we stuck to this routine and met every Friday afternoon to voice concerns big and small. As the years went by, sharing honest reactions became part of our relationship and we now do so in real time rather than waiting for the end of the week.

Getting feedback from your boss is one thing, but it’s every bit as important to get feedback from those who work for you. This is not an easy thing to do as employees are often eager to please those above them and don’t want to criticize or question their higher-ups.

One of my favorite examples of this comes from Wall Street. In 1990, Bob Rubin became the CEO of Goldman Sachs. At the end of his first week, he looked at Goldman’s books and noticed large investments in gold. He asked someone why . The answer? “That was you, sir.” “Me?” he replied. Apparently, the day before he had been walking around on the trading floor and he commented to someone that “gold looks interesting.” This got repeated as “Rubin likes gold” and someone spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make the new boss happy.

On a smaller scale, I have faced a similar challenge. When I joined Facebook, one of my tasks was to build the business side of the company — but without destroying the engineering-driven culture that made Facebook great. So one of the things I tried to do was discourage people from doing formal PowerPoint presentations for meetings with me. At first, I asked nicely. Everyone ignored me and kept doing their presentations. So about two years in, I said, “OK, I usually hate rules but I now have a rule: no more PowerPoint in my meetings.”

About a month later I was about to address our global sales team, when someone said to me, “Before you get on that stage, you really should know everyone’s pretty upset about the no PowerPoint with clients thing.” I was shocked. I had never banned these presentations for clients! I just did not want them in meetings with me. How could we present to our clients without PowerPoint? So I got on the stage and said, “One, I meant no PowerPoint with me. And two, next time you hear a bad idea – like not doing proper client presentations – speak up. Even if you think it is what I have asked for, tell me I am wrong!”

A good leader recognizes that most employees won’t feel comfortable challenging authority, so it falls upon authority to solicit feedback. I learned from my PowerPoint mistake. I now ask my colleagues “What could I do better?” And I always thank the person who has the guts to answer me honestly, often by praising them publicly. I firmly believe that you lead best when you walk side-by-side with your colleagues. When you don’t just talk but you also listen.


When I started my career, I observed people in leadership roles and thought, “They’re so lucky. They have so much control.” So imagine my surprise when I took a course in business school on leadership and was told that as you get more senior, you are more dependent on other people. At the time, I thought my professors were wrong.

They were right. I am dependent on my sales team…not the other way around. If they fall short, it is my mistake. As a leader, what I can accomplish is not just what I can do myself but what everyone on my team does.

Companies in every country operate in ways that are right for their cultures. But I believe that there are some principles of leadership that are universal — and one of those is that it is better to inspire than to direct. Yes, people will do what their bosses tell them to do in most organizations. But great leaders do not just want to secure compliance. They want to elicit genuine enthusiasm, complete trust, and real dedication. They don’t just win the minds of their teams, they win their hearts. If they believe in your organization’s mission and they believe in you, they will not only do their daily tasks well, but they will do them with true passion.

No one won more hearts than my beloved husband Dave Goldberg who passed away suddenly two months ago. Dave was a truly inspiring leader. He was kind. He was generous. He was thoughtful. He raised the level of performance of everyone around him. He did it as CEO of SurveyMonkey, an amazing company that he helped build. He did it for me and for our children.

A friend of ours named Bill Gurley, a leading venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, wrote a post where he urged others to “Be Like Dave.” Bill wrote, “Dave showed us all exactly what being a great human being looks like… But it was never frustrating because Dave’s greatness was not competitive or threatening, it was gentle, inspirational, and egoless. He was the quintessential standard for the notion of leading by example.”

Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei has said “leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.“ Like Dave, you can do this for others over the course of your career.

Fourth, LEAN IN.

As the Chinese proverb holds – “women hold up half the sky.” This is quoted all over the world and women have a special role in China’s history and present.

When the world has gathered to discuss the status and advancement of women, we’ve done it here in Beijing. In 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – which called for women’s full and equal participation in life and decision-making – was adopted by 189 governments. Last year, on the 20th anniversary of that historic declaration, leaders again gathered here to mobilize around what has become known as the promise of Beijing: equality for women and men.

Yet while we all acknowledge the importance and strength of women, when we look at leadership roles in every country, they are overwhelmingly held by men. In almost every country in the world – including the United States and China – less than 6% of the top companies are run by women. Women hold fewer leadership roles in every industry. This means that when it comes to making the decisions that affect all us, women’s voices are not heard equally.

There are many reasons for the gender leadership gap – outright discrimination, greater responsibilities at home, a lack of flexibility in the workplace, and importantly, our stereotypical expectations. While cultures differ all over the globe, our stereotypes of men and women are remarkably similar. Although the status of women is changing and evolving in China and many parts of the world, traditional expectations and stereotypes linger. To this day, in the US, in China, and everywhere, men are expected to lead, be assertive, succeed. Women are expected to share, be communal, acquiesce to others. We expect leadership from boys and men. But when a little girl leads, we call her “bossy” in English, or qiang shi in Chinese.

Other social barriers also hold women back. Women are often excluded from professional networks—like Guanxi–and both formal and informal socializing that is critical for job advancement. This is also true in the United States, where men often chose to mentor other men instead of women.

I believe that the world would be a better place if men ran half our homes and women ran half our institutions – and the good news is that we can change the stereotypes and get to real equality. We can support women who lead in the workforce. We can find more balance in the home by fathers helping mothers with housekeeping and childrearing; more equal marriages are happier and more active fathers raise more successful children. We can walk up to someone who calls a little girl “bossy,” and say instead, “That little girl is not bossy. That little girl has executive leadership skills.”

And I want to make this very clear— equality is not just good for women. It’s good for everyone. Female participation in the workforce is a major driver of economic growth. Companies that recognize the full talents of the entire population outperform those that do not. AliBaba CEO Jack Ma, who stood here last year, has said that “one of the secret sauces for Alibaba’s success is that we have a lot of women… without women, there would be no Alibaba.” Women hold 40 percent of all jobs at Alibaba and 35 percent of senior positions – far more than most companies anywhere in the world.

Great leaders don’t just develop people like them, they develop everyone. If you want to be a great leader, you will develop the women – as well as the men – at your companies and on your teams.

Our peers can help us develop, too. When Lean In was published in 2013, we launched LeanIn.org, a nonprofit with a mission to empower all women to achieve their ambitions. LeanIn.Org helps form Lean In Circles, small peer groups who met regularly to share and learn together. There are now over 23,000 circles in more than 100 countries.

The first international Lean In Circle I ever met with was in Beijing — a group of young professional women who gathered to support each other’s professional ambitions and challenge the idea of “shengnu,” leftover women. In the past 2 years, they have built a network of Circles throughout China from working professionals to university students – women and men who come together to support equality. One of these Circles is at Tsinghua, and I met with them earlier this morning. I was inspired by their passion for their studies and their careers. As one member told me, “it was when I first joined Lean In Tsinghua that I began to fully understand the Chinese proverb, A just cause enjoys abundant support.”

I believe your generation will do a better job than mine at fixing the problem of gender inequality. So we turn to you. You are the promise for a more equal world.

Today is a day of celebration. A day to celebrate your accomplishments, the hard work that brought you to this moment.

This is a day of gratitude. A day to thank the people who helped you get here – the people who nurtured you, taught you, cheered you on and dried your tears. Today is a day of reflection. A day to think about what kind of leader you want to be.

I believe that you are the future leaders, not only of China but of the world. And for each of you, I wish four things:

1. That you are bold and have good fortune. Fortune favors the bold.
2. That you give and get the feedback you need. Feedback is a gift.
3. That you empower everyone. Nothing is somebody else’s problem.
4. That you support equality. Lean In!


Read more 2015 commencement speeches:

Alan Alda to Grads: Everything in Life Takes Time

Arianna Huffington to Grads: Make Time to Connect With Yourself

Bernard Harris to Grads: You Are an Infinite Being With Infinite Possibilities

Bill Nye to Grads: Change the World

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Grads: Make Feminism an Inclusive Party

Chris Matthews to Grads: ‘Make Them Say No. Never Say No to Yourself’

Colin Powell to Grads: Learn to Lead

Darren Walker to Grads: Build a Bridge to a Better World

David Brooks to Grads: Be Really Good At Making Commitments

Ed Helms to Grads: Define Yourselves

Eric Schmidt to Grads: You Can Write the Code for All of Us

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to Grads: ‘This Is the World We Were Born Into, and We Are Responsible for It’

Gwen Ifill to Grads: If You See Something, Do Something

GE CEO Jeff Immelt to Grads: Become a Force for Change

Ian Brennan, Creator of Glee, to Grads: Audition for Everything

Ian McEwan to Grads: Defend Free Speech

Joe Plumeri to Grads: Go Out and Play in Traffic

Jon Bon Jovi to Grads: Lead By Example

Jorge Ramos’ Message for Journalists: Take a Stand

Joyce Carol Oates to Grads: Be Stubborn and Optimistic

Katie Couric to Grads: Get Yourself Noticed

Ken Burns to Grads: Set Things Right Again

Kenneth Cole to Grads: Find Your Voice

Madeleine Albright to Grads: The World Needs You

Mark Ruffalo to Grads: Buck the System

Matthew McConaughey to Grads: Always Play Like an Underdog

Maya Rudolph to Grads: Create Your Own Destiny

Mellody Hobson to Grads: Set Your Sights High

Meredith Vieira to Grads: Be the Left Shark

Michelle Obama to Grads: Shape the Revolution

Mitt Romney to Grads: America Needs You to Serve

Natalie Portman to Grads: Carve Your Own Path

President Obama to Grads: We Should Invest in People Like You

President Obama to Cadets: Lead the Way on Fighting Climate Change

Richard Engel to Grads: Never Miss a Chance to See Something New

Salman Rushdie to Grads: Try to Be Larger Than Life

Samantha Power to Grads: Start Changing the World By ‘Acting As If’

Stephen Colbert to Grads: You Are Your Own Professor Now

Tim Cook to Grads: Tune Out the Cynics

TIME White House

Education Department Dials Back Plan to Rate Colleges

Getty Images

The Department of Education announced this week that it’s backing off its ambitious and controversial plan to rate all of the nation’s colleges and universities, marking a win for institutions and the vast higher education lobby that vehemently opposed the idea.

Administration officials promised nearly two years ago that they would roll out a new federal ratings plan, the Post-Secondary Institution Rating System (PIRS), to help push students toward high-quality schools that would give them the best return on their money. President Obama also suggested that the system could eventually be used as a tool to hold institutions accountable, by tying federal financial aid to institutions’ ratings.

The Education Department announced yesterday that it would instead release a different, significantly less ambitious “ratings tool” that will simply provide information about all of the more than 7,500 colleges and universities in the country, so students can “reach their own conclusions about a college’s value.” The new tool will not explicitly rate the institutions based on any measures of quality nor tie federal aid to a school’s performance. (The announcement prompted a cheeky discussion on Twitter about how, exactly, that could be called a “ratings tool” at all.)

Administration officials insisted that the Education Department’s decision to back off on the ratings system did not mark a significant policy shift: the original rating plan was designed primarily as a consumer-facing tool, to help students make informed decisions; the new tool will play precisely role.

Still, many advocates were disappointed. Ben Miller, the senior director of post-secondary education at the Center for American Progress, says it was “a decent step back from putting colleges on notice.”

“The problem I have is that anyone can create a consumer tool” that provides information about schools to students, he said. The Education Department’s College Scorecard and the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator already do some of that.

“What the Education Department does have is an accountability role over every college and university in the country,” he said. “So that’s my disappointment. I wish it would use that unique role more and not do something anyone can do.”

Rachel Fishman, a policy analyst with New America’s Education Policy Program, saw the Education Department’s reversal this week as a “major win for institutions,” which, along with the higher education lobby and a coalition of mostly Republican lawmakers, opposed the ratings plan from the start. They argued that it was little more than a government-led effort to publicly shame certain schools on the basis of incomplete federal data and biased formulas that would reward schools for doing things like, say, admitting high percentages of low-income students.

The higher education lobby argued that PIRS, which was never completed, would be inherently unfair, “since it would be based on incomplete federal data on student achievement,” Fishman said. “They’re right that there’s incomplete data, but the reason for that is because the higher education lobby fought for a ban on that data,” she said. (The government’s ability to collect student records is currently very limited.)

Andrew Kelly, the director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute, saw the Education Department’s reversal on its rating plan as an indictment of the plan itself. “It’s easy to chalk this up to the higher education lobby’s power, but that implicitly suggests that the policy itself was sound and was the right way to go, and I think that’s not correct,” he said. “I think the notion of the federal government rating colleges wasn’t particularly appropriate in the first place. Where they would up is probably where they would have started.”

Administration officials argued that it hasn’t dropped the ball on holding institutions accountable; it’s just using other tools. For example, on Tuesday this week, a federal court judge threw out a lawsuit brought by for-profit colleges that attempted to overturn the federal government’s new “gainful employment rules,” which will require for-profit and a very limited number of other colleges to meet certain benchmarks of quality—like whether alumni get jobs that pay them well enough to repay their loans—in order to receive federal financial aid. The new rule are now set to go into effect next week.

TIME Education

University Survey Highlights Role of ‘Verbal Coercion’ in Sexual Assault

University administrators say they have a responsibility to protect students from all kinds of sexual misconduct

An internal survey at the University of Michigan of students’ experience with sexual misconduct found that more than 20% of undergraduate women had been touched, kissed or penetrated without their consent, prompting the university to use new tactics to address the problem.

University administrators were not surprised by the high level of reported misconduct, but they conducted the survey to identify particular areas for improvement. Ten percent of female undergraduates surveyed said they had experienced unwanted sexual conduct as a result of “verbal pressure,” an area administrators say now warrants greater focus.

“The role that verbal pressure and coercion play has not had the same national spotlight that sexual assault has had,” said Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center at the University of Michigan.

In response to the survey results, the University of Michigan will expand the healthy sexual relationship training the school already holds for incoming freshmen to sophomores, juniors and seniors, so that they can address age-specific issues as students mature, Rider-Milkovich said.

Ever since the White House recommended anonymous sexual misconduct “climate” surveys in April of last year, they have been an important hallmark of reform at many colleges. Sexual assault is a vastly underreported crime and the surveys are designed to give a more realistic picture of what is happening on campus. The University of Michigan is one of the few colleges that have chosen to make its survey results public.

Though it is difficult to compare surveys that ask different questions on different campuses, there are similarities among the results at schools across the country.

In October, MIT published survey results that showed 17% of female undergraduates experienced unwanted sexual behaviors while at MIT, involving use of force, physical threat or incapacitation. The University of New Hampshire, a unique school in that it has been doing climate surveys for years, found in 2012 that 16% of its undergraduate women had experienced unwanted sexual contact or intercourse through force, threat or harm, or intoxication.

MORE: The Troubling Statistic in MIT’s Sexual-Assault Survey

Similar, external surveys have also produced somewhat similar findings. The 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study conducted at two large public universities, one in the Midwest and one in the South, found that 19% of undergraduate women had experienced sexual misconduct, a study that has become the basis for the 1-in-5 statistic often cited by the White House and victims’ advocates. A recent Washington Post–Kaiser Family Foundation poll of a random sample of 1,053 women and men who were students at a four-year college, or had been at some point since 2011, found that 25% of young women experienced “unwanted sexual incidents” in college.

The surveys conducted by colleges often include a broad range of sexual misconduct, not just forcible rape, a wide net that Rider-Milkovich believes is important to capture all behavior that endangers students. The threshold for “verbal pressure” in the survey, she said, was deliberately high — defined to include: “telling lies, threatening to end the relationship, threatening to spread rumors about them, showing displeasure, criticizing your sexuality or attractiveness or getting angry.” The purpose of climate surveys, she said, is to figure out areas where the specific campus needs to focus new efforts.

Reform efforts at colleges across the country have included healthy sexual-relationship training for incoming freshmen, bystander-awareness training to teach students to step in to stop sexual assault, climate surveys and changes in college-disciplinary-board rules.

MORE: California Passes First-Ever Bill to Define Sexual Consent on College Campuses

At Michigan, Rider-Milkovich said the data shows that the real need on the campus is in “changing our cultural expectations, so that sex is something people engaged in when it is equally desired, not a goal that someone strives toward, regardless of objection.” At Michigan, she added, “We are really transforming how students think about way interact with each other. We will put everything we have towards that goal.”

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com