Why grad transfer success stories no longer apply to just college football elite

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So maybe K.J. Costello won’t play the part of Joe Burrow this season after all.

The Mississippi State (nee Stanford) quarterback gave a Burrow-like recital at Tiger Stadium in the Bulldogs’ season-opening 44-34 upset of defending national champion LSU on Sept. 26. Costello threw for an SEC-record 623 yards and matched his personal high of five touchdown passes. In the two games since, Costello has thrown one touchdown and seven interceptions, including a personal high of four picks in the 24-2 loss at Kentucky on Saturday night.

So maybe there is only one Burrow (nee Ohio State), but there are plenty of Costellos. His performances straddling the mediocrity line underscored a new reality for college football: The graduate transfer is not for just the elite anymore. Grad transfers have gone mainstream.

Yes, Burrow and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (nee Alabama) finished 1-2 in the Heisman Trophy race last season. Yes, Jake Coker (nee Florida State) took the Crimson Tide to the national championship five years ago, and Russell Wilson (nee NC State) led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl nine years ago. I can go back further than that, to the OG — Original Grad — cornerback Ryan Smith. Soon after the NCAA passed the grad transfer rule in April 2006, Smith moved from Utah to Florida and started on the Gators’ 2006 national championship team. Not just started. “We wouldn’t have won the national championship without him,” Colorado State defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, Smith’s secondary coach at Florida, told me a few years ago.

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They are the grad transfer success stories, and perhaps their high profiles opened wide the gates of the transfer portal. In 2014, Division I programs (FBS and FCS) enrolled 67 grad transfers. Five years later, that number more than tripled, to 225. This year,


Covid-19 will make college admissions even easier for the elite

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The idea of pure meritocracy has always been a fantasy, of course. The offspring of alumni often get an especially close look, some colleges give an advantage to students who can pay full tuition or close to it, and top-notch students can lose out to weaker ones who fill key roster spots on athletic teams. But one thing that surprised me during the year I spent inside the selection process at three top-ranked institutions, to research a book, was how often admissions officers were evaluating high schools as much as they were students. It’s that tendency that is going to make life more difficult this year for bright students from high schools without a track record of sending lots of people to competitive colleges.

Selective colleges — by which I mean the 200 or so institutions that accept fewer than half the students who apply — have a long tradition of looking to “feeder” schools that can be relied on to produce students who perform well, year after year. As late as the 1950s, that often meant they preferred students from New England prep schools.

But even today, highly selective colleges depend on what the admissions professionals refer to as “busy” high schools to supply a significant portion of their incoming class. There are some 43,000 high schools in the United States, public and private. One analysis of 130,000 applications to a top university over the decade beginning in 2005, by an admissions-consulting firm, found just 18 percent of these schools were responsible for 75 percent of applications. Those few schools were responsible for fully 79 percent of admitted students.

For admissions officers, there is comfort in certainty: Can students do the academic work here? Will they enroll if accepted? Such questions become easier to answer when colleges are familiar


Minnesota college is home to elite program in musical instrument repair

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RED WING, MINN. — The most intimate relationship a musician may have is with a precious instrument. And when that relationship breaks down, an elite group of students here can fix it.

At Minnesota State College Southeast, about 85 students are learning to repair musical instruments. Most of them choose from among three specialties: band instruments, violins and guitars (whose students also learn to build guitars).

It’s a rare chance to learn these special skills. Only three schools in the country offer band instrument repair, according to school spokeswoman Katryn Conlin, and no other college offers violin repair. The rarity of the programs here attracts students to Red Wing from across the United States and Canada.

At age 18, Sarah Jensen of Clearfield, Utah, has already been working for several years in the instrument repair shop of her dad, who graduated from Red Wing in the 1990s. As she refurbished a tray of saxophone keys and pads, Jensen said she loves seeing the joy on people’s faces when they get their instruments back.

“I’m autistic,” she added, “and I think in certain ways. I like puzzles. For me, the saxophone is a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, and I love it.”

Michaela Alderink of Fairfax, Minn., had been working “a lot of not-fun jobs.” At age 33, she decided to enroll in the program after she opened her clarinet case from high school one day.

When she got a whiff of the wood and leather and metal inside, Alderink said, “I realized that I could be surrounded by this smell the rest of my life.”

Many of the students are musicians; some have advanced degrees in performance and have played professionally. But musicians often have to cobble together a living. Learning repair skills can be a welcome addition to income from playing


Putin Critics Ousted From Elite University Set Up ‘Free’ Rival

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(Bloomberg) — Professors who say they were dismissed from one of Russia’s most prestigious universities for refusing to curtail criticism of President Vladimir Putin have set up a new institution to counter what they argue is an assault on academic freedom.


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The controversy over the departure of several dozen staff at the state-run Higher School of Economics, a one-time symbol of Russia’s post-Communist transformation, comes amid fears of a widening crackdown on dissent fueled by the near-fatal poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

One of the acedemics, Elena Lukyanova, who has co-founded the new “Free University,” accused the Kremlin of reining in the HSE. The constitutional law professor’s contract was terminated after she criticized changes to Russia’s basic law that allow Putin to remain president potentially to 2036.

“The state has started to intervene in academic rights and freedoms,” Lukyanova said. “Every new year of normal-thinking graduates is a threat to the authorities.”

Some 5,500 people have applied for places at the Free University, which began offering online classes to around 500 students last month. It hopes to be able to offer degrees in the future.

Established in 1992 after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the HSE has expanded well beyond economics and now has around 47,000 students. It offers dual degrees with 36 foreign universities, including the London School of Economics and Germany’s Humboldt.

HSE officials deny any political motive for the job cuts. It barred students and faculty this year from expressing political views that could reflect a public affiliation with the university, following the 2019 prosecution of Yegor Zhukov, an opposition blogger and HSE student who received a three-year suspended sentence for “extremism” after attending Moscow protests.

Some critical voices remain at HSE and other prominent institutions, though their number has been shrinking in recent years.