What’s Really Behind UF’s controversial PaCE program… and why that Matters!

If you have ever been through the college Admissions process, you’ve endured the excruciating waiting period between the day you hit Submit on the application to said dream school and the day that school let you know whether your application had been accepted.  Historically this has been a rather routine and straighforward process: in most cases you were either in or out.  Only rarely did you hear about a student living in the extended purgatory that is the waitlist.

Not so anymore.  Nowadays the Acceptance process has become almost as complex and convoluded as the Admissions process at many schools.  But today I’m singling out the University of Florida which on Feb 13 sent out 13,667 acceptance letters, of which 3,118 (22%) contained this message:

“Because of limitations to our freshman enrollment on UF’s residential campus, we are unable to accommodate every capable student who applies to the university.”

“However, because of your demonstrated potential, we are offering you a pathway to UF’s residential campus different from our traditional transfer program.”

Huh?  Turns out that these would-be Gators had been accepted to a brand-new program that they had never heard of, let alone applied to, called Pathway to Campus Enrollment, or PaCE. With PaCE, students begin their college careers online and once they earn 60 credits, they are guaranteed admission as a ‘typical’ residential student for the remainder of their college experience.   The program was so new (and ill-conceived) that Florida’s Admissions officers did not have enough information to field the flood of inquiries by confused counselors, students and parents regarding housing, access to meal plans, clubs, fraternities, etc.   In fact, since I started digging into this, I’ve seen new information trickling out almost daily (seemingly on the fly).

Not surprisingly you’ve got some pretty angry parents — many of whom are Gators themselves who remember fondly their college experience — who reasonably thought that their children were applying to — well, you know — college.  Instead, their kids got admitted to what is essentially a costly MOOC (a massive open online course).  MOOCs, which I first wrote about in 2012, are a model of delivering learning to a large number of people FOR FREE.

Which brings me right to the heart of the matter.  Colleges are businesses – those of you who are long-time subscribers know this (both because they demonstrate it and I say it a lot).  UF’s decision to create PaCE (and summer B acceptance, the Innovation Academy and Gator Engineering @ Santa Fe) is simply smart economic strategy to maximize marginal revenue while minimizing marginal cost.  PaCE allows UF to accept more students (including more full-paying, out of state and international students) without increasing cost or requiring capital investment, which raises their net profit for the school… by a lot!

Consider that PaCE students pay 75% of the actual tuition cost of a residential student (for what  should be almost free – see MOOC above).  And though your FL Prepaid Plans can be applied, don’t expect to receive a refund for the balance of the discounted credits. FL Prepaid will keep that.  And if you have the dorm plan, good luck using it if your child is in PaCE, especially if you have a son.  There are only 2 dorms available, and one of them is female-only.

This is not college – rather, it is the right to take classes on a computer screen which could be located in Gainesville, or in a bedroom in Weston, or anywhere else.  PaCE students are almost second class citizens, without access to rec centers, student athletic tickets, Student Health Care Center, or free campus buses (PaCE students must pay).  Which I could live with if I didn’t know that at the college level, where real-time, interactive discussion and an exchange of ideas is critical to the learning process, the traditional classroom model still trumps the current online models. But tell that to a child who has been doing the Gator Chomp since birth.

Truth is UF can probably get away with implementing such a program without notice simply because students so desperately wish to go there.  But the controversy is gaining traction nationally, and we’ll see if PaCE can, er, set the pace with the evolution to low-cost online learning at other universities.

For now, I will continue to recommend the traditional educational model over the online version, so long as it remains a better product delivered at an affordable price.  When you are looking at colleges for your child, you’re essentially a consumer researching a very large, very important purchase.  You’re going to be making an investment that will have implications and returns well beyond four years.  It behooves you to know where your leverage as a potential buyer lies.  If you understand what motivates colleges to create programs like PaCE, how they set (and discount their prices), how to identify the hidden costs, potential product defects and how to maximize your child’s opportunities, then your children can get a quality college education at a price that you can afford.  And this is true whether you’re in the 1%, the forgotten middle class or struggling to make ends meet.

I’m going to be discussing the business of college Admissions, how to help your child find, gain admission to and obtain a great college education for a reasonable price that you can afford at my upcoming class next Tuesday in Weston.  Attendance is free, nothing is sold, but you’ll leave empowered with the knowledge that college can be affordable.  If you’re the parent of a 9th, 10th, or 11th grader, it’s more critical than ever that you become informed now. The sooner you are armed with the right information, the more options you’re likely to have when your child is getting ready to hit ‘submit’.  So the time to act is now.  Not after the acceptanceletter arrives. Please don’t delay and be that parent who says, “I wish I knew you a year ago”.

I look forward to seeing you in my class.

Best,

Peter

P.S. If you have friends, neighbors or colleagues who are the parents of high schoolers, please share.  I promise that they’ll thank you for this one!

P.P.S. We only have 15 spots remaining for next Thursday’s FREE LIVE WEBINAR on the Seven Things You Should Know About The New SAT.  Our total capacity is 100 (no exceptions!), so if you’re the parent of a 9th or 10th grader then this webinar — which will be dissecting the new, completely redesigned SAT’s format and implementation – is a MUST.

Recommended Posts