At Enrollment Conference, Experts Ponder a Higher Education 'Puzzle'

August 05, 2008

Los Angeles — Why are Americans who attend college more likely to vote than those who do not? And why are people who earn degrees less likely to smoke cigarettes?

Michael S. McPherson isn’t sure, but on Monday evening he told an audience of admissions officials here that such questions were worth investigating. After all, the answers might help explain how, exactly, attending college changes people.

“What makes these outcomes happen is a great, interesting puzzle,” said Mr. McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation and a former president of Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minn.

Mr. McPherson’s remarks came during an opening speech at the inaugural conference of the University of Southern California’s new Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice. The center was created to improve the admissions profession’s understanding of admissions, financial aid, and student outcomes.

Today, attendees plan to discuss a host of issues, including college readiness, the implications of demographic changes, and the impact of tuition and financial aid on college choice.

As they ponder such topics, Mr. McPherson said, they should also consider big-picture questions that transcend admissions outcomes. One: What are the experiences of students once they enroll?

“We study how to get in, how to pay for it, and what happens after college,” Mr. McPherson said. “But there’s less on what happens to students while they’re there.” —Eric Hoover