TIME Education

Rally Responding to American Flag Trampling Shuts Down Georgia University

Students walked on a flag last week to protest racism

A Georgia university shut down on Friday in preparation for a huge demonstration after a video of protesters trampling an American flag went viral.

Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress told the Valdosta Daily Times that thousands of people who “just want to come down here and support the American flag” were expected to descend on Valdosta State University Friday afternoon.

The rally is a response to a video of students walking on a flag last Friday to protest racism, reported NBC affiliate WALB.com.

“After further discussions with local law enforcement and in the interest of the safety of our…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Education

University of Florida Suspends Fraternity Over Alleged Insults to Disabled Veterans

"There is no doubt that some of our members engaged in ugly and unacceptable behavior"

The University of Florida suspended one of its fraternities on Friday, after several fraternity members were accused of disrespecting wounded military veterans during an event at a Panama City Beach resort last weekend.

Members of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, which was already on probation for hazing during the fall semester, are accused of spitting on veterans, throwing bottles of beer over a balcony and urinating on the American flag, according to a letter sent to University of Florida President Kent Fuchs, the Gainesville Sun reports.

University officials said the chapter was accused of a series of offenses, including obscene behavior, public intoxication, theft, damage to property and physical harm. The fraternity will be suspended from participating in all university activities until the investigation has concluded.

“I am personally offended and disappointed by the behavior that has been described to me,” said student affairs vice president Dave Kratzer, also a retired U.S. Army major general, in a public statement. “This is not representative of our students or of the university.”

Fuchs and the fraternity have apologized to Linda Cope, the founder of the Warrior Beach Retreat, who had organized the gathering of about 60 veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Zeta Beta Tau also posted a statement to its website condemning the frat members’ misbehavior.

“While the details of their actions are still under investigation, there is no doubt that some of our members engaged in ugly and unacceptable behavior,” it reads. “Their actions have no place in ZBT or anywhere, and they will not be tolerated.” The fraternity chapter has suspended all its activities and is cooperating with the investigation, the statement added.

The University of Florida also issued a separate apology earlier Friday:

The University of Florida is extremely concerned about reports of illegal behavior involving our students last weekend in Panama City. Our policies establish standards of conduct, and we are investigating this matter.

We are deeply sorry for any hurt caused to veterans and their families. This is not representative of our students or our university.

Cope told the Gainesville Sun that she is looking forward to the university’s response.

“Nothing else is going to teach these men and women that you don’t treat these heroes with disrespect,” she said.

 

[Gainesville Sun]

TIME Education

Drexel University Mistakenly Congratulates the Rejected

This happens all the time

(PHILADELPHIA) — Drexel University in Philadelphia is apologizing to hundreds of applicants who were denied admission but then mistakenly received follow-up emails congratulating them on getting in.

The university says the follow-up emails were intended only for admitted students. Though they contained a congratulatory note, their purpose was to remind the admitted students about a reply deadline.

The emails went out in error to 495 students who had been denied admission to Drexel or submitted incomplete applications.

Seventeen-year-old Tearra Bookard told WTXF-TV the email came three weeks after she was denied admission. She immediately told friends and family the good news only to find out seven hours later it was a mistake. She calls it a “slap in the face.”

In 1994, the university mistakenly sent early acceptance letters to 25 students.

TIME Innovation

Are We Breaking Up With Saudi Arabia?

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Is the special Saudi-U.S. relationship on the rocks?

By Ray Takeyh at the Council on Foreign Relations

2. Two-year degrees can really pay off.

By Liz Weston at Reuters

3. A self-contained urban farm, delivered in a box, could slash water use by 90 percent.

By Danny Crichton in TechCrunch

4. How a lake full of methane could power Rwanda and DR Congo.

By Jonathan W. Rosen in MIT Technology Review

5. Nope, we’re not going to live on crickets in the near-future.

By Brooke Borel in Popular Science

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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

The College Education Game Just Got Changed

Computer
Matt Cardy—Getty Images

Arizona State now offers online pay-as-you-pass freshman years with no required SAT

Arizona State University (ASU) is partnering with the education nonprofit edX to offer students around the world the opportunity to take freshman year courses online — without a required SAT score or high school transcripts.

The earned credits enable students to finish their degrees at Arizona’s campus or that of any university campus accepting the courses.

Inportantly, students will only pay for classes which they pass and plan to use as college credits.

“For under $6,000, you would have completed a freshman year’s worth of courses. The important thing is you have to pay for credit only if you want to and only if you pass the course,” edX CEO Anant Agarwal told business education web site Poets & Quants.

“The model makes freshman year relatively risk free and significantly less expensive than the typical first year of study on a college campus,” the site said.

Courses featured in the initial offering include math, humanities, arts and design, social-behavioral sciences, and natural sciences.

Read more here.

TIME Education

Former Undergraduate Council President: What Happened Behind Divest Harvard Closed Doors

Courtesy of Tara Raghuveer Divest Harvard students protest in May 2014.

Tara Raghuveer is the policy director at the National Partnership for New Americans and the former president of the Harvard Undergraduate Council.

It turned me from a bystander into a protester

Last week, Divest Harvard, a campaign to push Harvard to divest from fossil fuels, staged a week of demonstrations in Harvard Yard. On Thursday, University President Drew Faust offered the student protesters a meeting if they ended their blockade. They declined, and I support that decision. I was one of the students who blocked the entrance to Faust’s office with Divest Harvard last year.

In November 2012, when Harvard students voted in the Undergraduate Council presidential election, I was on the ballot, running for president. For the first time in six years, undergraduates also had the chance to vote on referendum questions. There were three: one on establishing a social choice option in Harvard’s endowment, another on revising sexual-assault policies, and a third on divesting the university’s then $30.7 billion endowment from fossil fuels.

On Nov. 17, the council announced the results: I had been elected president, and students had approved all three questions. Harvard became the first school in the nation to pass a student referendum in support of divestment. Since the majority of voting students, 72% of the 3,556 voters, had passed the divest referendum, the council was obligated to support it in whatever capacity we could. Accordingly, I became Divest Harvard’s de facto liaison to the administration.

In the beginning, I didn’t feel any real ties to the movement. I was an interested but neutral bystander. I was impressed and, to be frank, intimidated by the conviction I observed in my peers who led Divest. As the rest of us bumbled through seminars and lectures and lunch meetings in desperate search of our passions, they possessed laser focus.

Over the next year and a half, I spoke at rallies and moderated a town hall featuring Harvard professors, some who supported and others who decried divestment. I facilitated meetings between Divest leaders and members of Harvard’s administration, including members of the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility and President Faust herself. Those meetings turned me from a bystander into a protester. You should know what happened behind those closed doors.

The first meeting, in February 2013, felt productive. But as the meetings continued, my skepticism about their utility grew. We kept hearing the same responses from university representatives: “This is a really thorny issue.” “Don’t discount the contributions Harvard makes through research.” “We can’t predict the future.” “The endowment shouldn’t be used as a political tool.” One of the CCSR representatives bemoaned the “myopic American public,” arguing that fossil fuels are too entrenched in our society for Harvard’s divestment to matter. Another suggested, “Driving a car has the same moral culpability as owning a fossil fuel company.” They reiterated that they believed climate change to be one of the world’s most consequential challenges, but that the university would not consider divesting. They promised instead to pursue engagement with fossil fuel companies through shareholder activism.

These meetings showed me a side of Harvard — an institution that I love — that terrified me. Harvard the corporation seemed to represent interests that ran directly counter to those of Harvard the venue for intellectual and social transformation. For the first time, it hit me. On this issue, impartiality was a false posture, and performing it made me complicit in the university’s iniquities. I abandoned my role as facilitator and voiced my disappointment, as a student, in the university’s technocratic, disempowering, and ultimately irresponsible approach. In early May, I woke up at 5:15 a.m., put on a bright orange shirt, and joined my peers blockading Massachusetts Hall, which houses the office of the university president.

That was a year ago. Now, Divest Harvard is at it again. The group continues to protest because the university has not only sustained but has also actually increased its sponsorship of fossil fuels by sevenfold. It’s clear that shareholder activism has been a failed tactic for other institutions and an empty promise by Harvard.

I commend the students, alumni, and community members who participated in the thoughtful civil disobedience during Harvard Heat Week. I encourage skeptics to avoid hasty judgments and instead consider that Divest is following in a long tradition of peaceful agitation that has created the conditions for Harvard to lead social movements for decades. Sit-ins and blockades helped push Harvard to cease financial support of companies tied to South Africa during apartheid and of Big Tobacco in America.

We must strive for consistency between our institutional values and practices. Harvard’s endowment is and has always been a “political tool.” It is time that we accept this. To respond to climate change, we need all of the tools at our disposal.

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

Why Student Athletes Continue To Fail

sports-trophies-books-shelves
Getty Images

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

The problem’s not the NCAA. It’s players’ expectations of their peers

Seventy-four college underclassmen have been declared eligible for the NFL’s upcoming draft, but Ohio State’s quarterback Cardale Jones won’t be among them. A few days after winning the national championship game in January, Jones shocked fans and football analysts by saying he wasn’t ready to go pro, that it was important for him to graduate from college first. What made the announcement all the more surprising, beyond the fact that Jones may never again be as desirable an NFL prospect as he is the year he won a national championship, was that his previous claim to fame was a notorious tweet posted two years ago in which he complained about the “college” part of being a college football player. He wrote that he’d gone to Ohio State to play football, not “to play school,” and that classes were pointless.

Jones now regrets and disavows that tweet. Earlier this month, he was tweeting that nothing is more important than education, under the hashtag “StudentBeforeAthlete.” It’s hard to know how sincere his attitude adjustment has been, or how sincere his initial dismissal of academics was. What is clear is that Jones and his conversion represent a messaging coup for his university and for the NCAA, which has maintained for decades that its primary goal is to help scholar-athletes receive an education that would prepare them for life beyond sports.

Despite the NCAA’s insistence that it is concerned about student athletes’ academic growth, it often feels as though “student” plays second fiddle to “athlete.” Indeed, on a typical day, a visitor to the NCAA homepage will be overwhelmed by the articles (and videos) about athletics but will not find a single article (or video) about the academic achievements of the athletes.

This also seems to hold true for many of the NCAA’s member schools. The University of North Carolina and Syracuse are just two of the most recent universities to be under the spotlight for academic scandals involving student athletes. UNC offered a “no show” class for student athletes (where students received grades for phantom classes that they didn’t attend), and Syracuse allowed academically ineligible athletes to compete. And while these cases are the ones currently grabbing headlines, they are hardly unique; The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that 20 additional schools are being investigated for academic fraud.

And what about the student athletes themselves? Student-athletes tend to take easier classes and get lower grades than non-athletes. This is not only true for schools from power conferences in big-money sports, it has been observed in Division III liberal arts colleges and Ivy League schools, neither of which even offer athletic scholarships.

It’s tempting to believe that student athletes care only about their sport, and not about their schoolwork, as many popular commentators have suggested – and as Ohio State’s Jones once tweeted — except that in the dozen years that I’ve been teaching in university settings, that hasn’t been my experience at all. I’ve taught hundreds of Division 1 student athletes at several different schools, and they have been among the hardest working students I’ve encountered. The student athletes I’ve worked with have viewed their sport as a complement to, not a replacement for, their studies.

My observations were hardly unique. One of my students, Josh Levine, ran a youth hockey clinic and was upset by the widespread perception that the students he worked with did not care about school. After several conversations about the issue, we decided that the only way to find out the truth was to run a study. And so we did, surveying 147 student athletes (including some still in high school) involved in various team sports from football and basketball to lacrosse and golf about how much both they and their teammates cared about sports and academics.”

Here’s what we found: When student athletes were asked how much they care about athletics, they rated their interest a healthy 8.5 on average, on a scale of 1 to 10. But when asked the value they place on academics, the result was higher than 9 on average. If anything, the average student athlete cares more about his studies than his sport. #StudentBeforeAthlete indeed.

So why do they underperform in their classes?

One possible and intriguing reason suggested by our study is that student athletes don’t think their teammates take academics as seriously as they do. When asked to assess how much their teammates cared about athletics, the athletes were close, guessing 8.8. However, when asked to evaluate how much their teammates cared about academics, those same athletes guessed only 7.8 – far below the 9+ average.

Why is this important? Because when an athlete thinks that the rest of the team doesn’t care about academics, that athlete tries to fit in by pretending not to care either. In a perverse form of peer pressure, Cardale Jones’s tweet about classes being worthless may be what student athletes tell each other in an effort to fit in, based on the mistaken belief that if they care about academics, they are in an uncool minority.

All of this creates a distressing and self-perpetuating cycle. Tight-knit student athletes will seek ways of fitting into a culture that they perceive as neglecting academics (by defaulting into majors of dubious merit and spending less time doing homework), knowing that their habits are observed by teammates. When their teammates observe those habits, it reaffirms the (false) conviction that caring about academics is an unfortunate aberration, best suppressed.

One of my co-authors on this project, Sara Etchison, has described this process particularly well: “There are student athletes who want to excel in the classroom, but think their teammates would judge them for it, so they study a little less, or take an easier major. And it turns out, that’s how virtually everyone on the team feels, but there’s never an opportunity to realize, ‘Oh wait, all of us really care about what’s happening on the academic side.’”

This is a phenomenon that psychologists call “pluralistic ignorance” – when private preferences differ from perceptions of group norms. It leads people to engage in public behaviors that align more with the perceived norms than with their true preferences. The tragedy is that the norms are false – in reality, everybody would be happier if they just behaved in line with their true preferences.

Pluralistic ignorance has also been shown to underlie the phenomenon of binge-drinking on campuses. A study conducted at Princeton University revealed that a majority of students who drink excessively did so not because they wanted to, but because they felt that was what their friends wanted to do. Once they all had a more accurate assessment of what the group norm was, the amount of alcohol consumed declined.

This suggests that helping student athletes do better in the classroom may be as simple as letting them know that their teammates care as much about academics as they do. Many of them care deeply about the education they are receiving, and should care, because financial success in professional sports will elude the vast majority of them.

As the NCAA and the media focus more attention on athletes’ academic performance, one of the best ways to improve the education of student athletes is to give them license to pursue their academic goals by making it clear that their teammates, and society as a whole, support them in their academic endeavors. For this to happen, we will need many more stars like Cardale Jones speaking out about the importance of education, instead of tweeting about the pointlessness of going to class.

Daniel Oppenheimer is a professor of psychology and marketing at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. He is the author of over 30 peer-reviewed journals, and several books, including Democracy Despite Itself: Why a System that Shouldn’t Work at All Works So Well. In addition to numerous awards for his teaching and research, he won the 2006 Ig Nobel science humor award. He wrote this for Zocalo 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.

MONEY financial literacy

Most 20-Somethings Can’t Answer These 3 Financial Questions. Can You?

people taking quiz
Getty Images—Getty Images

A new study finds that young Americans could use some help when it comes to managing their money.

Just in time for financial literacy month, a new San Diego State University study of young Americans has found that they are lacking when it comes to financial knowledge and behavior.

Out of these three questions measuring basic financial knowledge, the average respondent could answer only 1.8 correctly—and only a quarter got all three right. (Answers are at the bottom of this story.)

(1) Do you think that the following statement is true or false? Buying a single company stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund.

(2) Suppose you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2% per year. After 5 years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow: More than $102, exactly $102, or less than $102?

(3) Imagine that the interest rate on your savings account was 1% per year and inflation was 2% per year. After 1 year, would you be able to buy more than, exactly the same as, or less than today with the money in this account?

Perhaps most troubling was what the research showed about how respondents have actually been managing their money. The average young person surveyed showed responsible behavior in only one of three categories: Paying off debts on time, budgeting and living within one’s means, and having any retirement savings at all. Only 2% of all respondents showed responsible behavior in all three categories.

Furthermore, the study—led by SDSU professors Ning Tang, Andrew Baker, and Paula Peter—found that there was little to no effect of financial knowledge on financial behavior. That is, young people manage money poorly, even when they know better.

But there is hope for America’s youth, says Tang.

“Our findings suggest that if you want to improve your own financial behavior, the best thing you can do is be open to the influences of others,” says Tang.

Though the study did not examine the influence of peers, its results suggest both family and financial professionals could play an important role in improving young people’s financial habits. The researchers found that being close with parents was correlated with better money management among women—and that higher self-reported levels of being “thorough” and “careful” was correlated with better financial behavior among men. Among both sexes, higher self-reported levels of being “self-disciplined” was correlated with better money habits.

That suggests educators and financial planners should focus on getting young people to be more self-aware in general and more motivated to improve their organizational habits across the board—not just when it comes to finances, says Tang.

“It can be helpful just to be more aware of your own psychological barriers,” she says.

One thing the study did not explore much is the cause of gender differences in the results. For example, the authors did not control for whether parents tend to treat daughters differently than sons.

And the answers to the questions above? They are: (1) false; (2) more than $102; and (3) less than today.

Read Next: This One Question Can Show If You’re Smarter Than Most U.S. Millennials

TIME Education

Thousands of Kids Opt Out of Standardized Common Core Tests Across U.S.

At some schools, up to 70 percent of kids are refusing to take the exams

(ATLANTA)—Thousands of students are opting out of new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core standards, defying the latest attempt by states to improve academic performance.

This “opt-out” movement remains scattered but is growing fast in some parts of the country. Some superintendents in New York are reporting that 60 percent or even 70 percent of their students are refusing to sit for the exams. Some lawmakers, sensing a tipping point, are backing the parents and teachers who complain about standardized testing.

Resistance could be costly: If fewer than 95 percent of a district’s students participate in tests aligned with Common Core standards, federal money could be withheld, although the U.S. Department of Education said that hasn’t happened.

“It is a theoretical club administrators have used to coerce participation, but a club that is increasingly seen as a hollow threat,” said Bob Schaeffer with the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which seeks to limit standardized testing.

And so the movement grows: This week in New York, tens of thousands of students sat out the first day of tests, with some districts reporting more than half of students opting out of the English test. Preliminary reports suggest an overall increase in opt-outs compared to last year, when about 49,000 students did not take English tests and about 67,000 skipped math tests, compared to about 1.1 million students who did take the tests in New York.

Considerable resistance also has been reported in Maine, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania, and more is likely as many states administer the tests in public schools for the first time this spring.

The defiance dismays people who believe holding schools accountable for all their students’ continuing improvement is key to solving education problems.

Assessing every student each year “gives educators and parents an idea of how the student is doing and ensures that schools are paying attention to traditionally underserved populations,” U.S. Department of Education Spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said in an emailed statement.

Opposition runs across the political spectrum.

Some Republicans and Tea Party activists focus on the Common Core standards themselves, calling them a federal intrusion by President Barack Obama, even though they were developed by the National Governors Association and each state’s education leaders in the wake of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program.

The Obama administration has encouraged states to adopt Common Core standards through the federal grant program known as Race to the Top, and most have, but each state is free to develop its own tests.

In California, home to the nation’s largest public school system and Democratic political leaders who strongly endorse Common Core standards, there have been no reports of widespread protests to the exams — perhaps because state officials have decided not to hold schools accountable for the first year’s results.

But in deep-blue New York, resistance has been encouraged by the unions in response to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to make the test results count more in teacher evaluations.

In Rockville Centre on Long Island, Superintendent William H. Johnson said 60 percent of his district’s third-through-eighth graders opted out. In the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca, nearly 70 percent didn’t take the state exam, Superintendent Mark Crawford said.

“That tells me parents are deeply concerned about the use of the standardized tests their children are taking,” Crawford said. “If the opt-outs are great enough, at what point does somebody say this is absurd?”

Nearly 15 percent of high school juniors in New Jersey opted out this year, while fewer than 5 percent of students in grades three through eight refused the tests, state education officials said. One reason: Juniors may be focusing instead on the SAT and AP tests that could determine their college futures.

Much of the criticism focuses on the sheer number of tests now being applied in public schools: From pre-kindergarten through grade 12, students take an average of 113 standardized tests, according to a survey by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban districts.

Of these, only 17 are mandated by the federal government, but the backlash that began when No Child Left Behind started to hold teachers, schools and districts strictly accountable for their students’ progress has only grown stronger since “Common Core” gave the criticism a common rallying cry.

“There is a widespread sentiment among parents, students, teachers, administrators and local elected officials that enough is enough, that government mandated testing has taken over our schools,” Schaeffer said.

Teachers now devote 30 percent of their work time on testing-related tasks, including preparing students, proctoring, and reviewing the results of standardized tests, the National Education Association says.

The pressure to improve results year after year can be demoralizing and even criminalizing, say critics who point to the Atlanta test-cheating scandal, which led to the convictions 35 educators charged with altering exams to boost scores.

“It seems like overkill,” said Meredith Barber, a psychologist from the Philadelphia suburb of Penn Valley who excused her daughter from this year’s tests. Close to 200 of her schoolmates also opted out in the Lower Merion School District, up from a dozen last year.

“I’m sure we can figure out a way to assess schools rather than stressing out children and teachers and really making it unpleasant for teachers to teach,” said Barber, whose 10-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, will be in the cafeteria researching Edwardian history and the TV show “Downton Abbey” during the two weeks schools have set aside for the tests.

Utah and California allow parents to refuse testing for any reason, while Arkansas and Texas prohibit opting out, according to a report by the Education Commission of the States. Most states are like Georgia, where no specific law clarifies the question, and lawmakers in some of these states want protect the right to opt out.

Florida has another solution: Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill strictly limiting testing to 45 hours each school year.

In Congress, meanwhile, lawmakers appear ready to give states more flexibility: A Senate committee approved a bipartisan update of No Child Left Behind this week that would let each state determine how much weight to give the tests when evaluating school performance.

TIME Education

How Colleges are Squeezing Students on Financial Aid

Dalia Garcia breathed a sigh of relief when she found out that she had been given enough financial aid to nearly cover the cost of tuition for her first year at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona. Because her father earned less than $20,000 a year as a janitor, college would have been out of reach without the help. The aid meant “having a sense of security,” she recalled. And as a high school valedictorian with a high grade-point average, Garcia was able to add several scholarships to her bounty.

Then, heading into her junior year, the money stopped.

“I would go to the financial aid office, they would direct me to websites, and everything was for first- and second-year students,” Garcia said, explaining that college officials told her she would have to find work-study programs or loans to cover whatever her family couldn’t afford.

“I was shocked,” she said. “Especially being closer to graduating, I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t they want to help me?’ ”

Many parents exulting at the financial-aid offers their children have received from colleges this spring are in for a similar surprise, several experts warn. As colleges compete to attract new students, they often often dangle more aid in front of prospective students who are still deciding where to go, and reduce the flow later.

The practice is well-known to education policy analysts. Ben Miller, a senior policy analyst at the liberal think tank the New America Foundation, refers to it as “bait-and-switch pricing.” Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president at Edvisors, an organization that researches and advises on financial aid, calls it “front-loading.” He says it’s the result of schools offering more aid to first-year students and their parents as a kind of “leveraging; they’re using financial aid as a recruiting tool.” Once the student has been recruited, the financial aid declines.

Such drop-offs can leave students particularly vulnerable, especially in this moment of rising tuition rates. Front-loading leaves many upperclassmen facing the difficult choice of going deep into debt to stay in school, transferring or dropping out. To make matters worse, many private scholarships are also restricted to freshmen, and end after the first year. Discovering the loss of funding as suddenly and unexpectedly as many students do is like “getting to the edge of a cliff,” said Amy Weinstein, executive director of the National Scholarship Providers Association, or NSPA.

Kantrowitz estimates that about half of all colleges and universities front-load in some form. Indeed, Federal data bear out that the practice is widespread. They show that a lower percentage of undergraduates in general receive financial aid from colleges and universities than freshmen alone do. The amount awarded to the typical freshman is higher, too, before it then declines. More than 46% of freshmen get tuition discounts, according to an annual survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers —but fewer than 41% of all undergraduates do.

Not everyone in the field believes the practice is misleading or even deliberate.

“The numbers are what they are, but there are so many reasons why it might be happening,” said Megan McClean, managing director of policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. She points to circumstantial changes that could lead to diminished aid, such as a family’s financial situation improving, and upperclassmen who transfer to another school and need less grant money.

“I don’t think it’s intentional,” McClean said.

A 2013 report by the NSPA urged that financial aid administrators disclose to families of students whether they practice front-loading or not, either in person or in financial aid award letters.

McClean said her organization “encourages parents and students to talk up front” with colleges about their financial aid packages. But Kantrowitz said they may not get an honest answer.

“Schools aren’t necessarily open about this,” he said. He has attended meetings, he said, at which parents ask school officials if they front-load their financial aid packages, and the “school acts dumb. They prevaricate.”

Earlier clarity would have helped Garcia. After scrambling to fill the gap left by her diminished aid, Garcia got financial help from Bright Prospect, a nonprofit that assists high-achieving, low-income students, and graduated in 2013. She now works for the organization, managing scholarships, and said she sees a lot of students in a similar position. “The first year looks amazing,” she said, “and then, from the second year on, the financial aid goes down, and the loans increase.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education

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