USA: Maryland – Center for Talented Youth (CTY), Johns Hopkins University


The Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) was founded in 1979 to run the Johns Hopkins Talent Search and associated summer school programmes.

Initially it coexisted with Julian Stanley’s Study of Mathematical Precocious Youth (SMPY) which he started eight years beforehand in 1971. Stanley had introduced above-grade testing via the SAT and, in 1972, used this as the basis for the first talent search.

The Center’s Wikipedia entry outlines a complex early history involving several changes of name and responsibility:

‘The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) and the Program for Verbally Gifted Youth (PVGY), were combined in the early 1980s to form the Office of Talent Identification and Development (OTID). OTID was renamed Center for Talented Youth, which was expanded to Center for the Advancement of Academically Talented Youth (CAATY) for a brief period. Later, CTY became the Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth (IAAY). However, most students, parents, schools, and staff members preferred to call it CTY, and the name was changed back in 1999.’

Meanwhile, SMPY had moved in 1986 to Iowa State University. It moved again in 1998 to Peabody College at Vanderbilt University where it remains.

CTY is unusual in boasting over 30 years’ uninterrupted existence. The 2011 Annual Report says that, over its lifetime, it has served half a million learners from 120 countries.

It is interesting to compare the more recent statistics supplied in the three most recent Annual Reports:

Year 2009 2010 2011
Talent search participants 64000 60000 50025
Student enrolments in all CTY programmes 26884 28150
Summer programmes enrolments 10000 9279 9233
CTY online enrolments 10300 10302 11450
Family academic programme enrolments 7303 7467
Total financial aid awarded $7.4m $7.1m

It is evident that participation in CTY’s Talent Search is falling significantly, as are enrolments in summer programmes. But total enrolments are increasing, driven particularly by enrolments in CTY Online. Other things being equal, we might expect these trends to continue, provided that demand holds up under the onslaught of recession.

Mission Statement

CTY says its threefold mission is to:

  • Seek students of the highest academic ability through its talent search and offer them challenging educational opportunities that develop their intellect, encourage achievement, and nurture social development.

  • Conduct research and evaluation studies that advance knowledge about gifted education; develop best practices in educating highly able children; and disseminate its findings to parents, the education community, and policy makers.
  • Support educators in their efforts to meet the needs of highly able students, assist parents in advocating for their gifted children, and participate actively in community service.

The order in which these aims are stated probably reflects their priority for the Center.


CTY’s current Executive Director is Elaine Tuttle Hansen. She took up the role relatively recently, in August 2011, in succession to Lea Ybarra, who was Director from 1997 to 2011. The founding Director, Ybarra’s predecessor, was William G Durden.

CTY’s website is not very informative about the number of staff who work year-round for the Center and how they are organised. This is unusual and may suggest that they would prefer to keep fairly coy about the size of the staff complement.

Six clinical staff are listed as attached to the Diagnostic and Counselling Center and seven are attached to the Research Department, though two are in both sections. A staff list is also given for the Study of Exceptional Talent (SET). The Director of SET is also the Director of the Diagnostic and Counselling Center.

The 2011 Annual Report offers a budget summary for the year from 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011 (which includes 2010 summer programmes). According to this, 28% of the Center’s annual income of $52.2m – a sum of $14.816m – was dedicated to General Services and Administration, so the organisation is clearly substantial, if largely anonymous.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor courtesy of Reev

Talent Search

CTY talent searches are open to learners in grades 2-8 inclusive who score in the top 5% on an approved nationally normed test, or at ‘advanced levels’ on approved state tests, or can otherwise demonstrate ‘superior academic performance’.

There is an online application process. An application fee is levied (currently $37). There is also a test registration fee, payable to the testing agency (currently between $34 and $75). Support is available for those eligible for free or reduced price lunches but they must follow a separate application process.

Participants take a test designed for learners in a higher grade at a centre near to where they live. Parents receive the results accompanied by support materials. Participants get a certificate of recognition and those who score highly may also receive ‘Certificates of High Honors’ at a state award ceremony. Successful participants are eligible for CTY summer courses and online programmes.

The Center argues that above-level testing avoids the ceiling effects that render within-grade testing imprecise when candidates score very highly, because there is no possibility of ascertaining whether they could potentially answer harder questions.

However, when top students take an above-grade test, their scores tend towards a normal distribution, so it becomes easier to differentiate between them. The Center also claims its research demonstrates that high scores on above-grade tests are ‘highly predictive of a student’s capacity to succeed in advanced-level courses’.

CTY lists the benefits of participating in their talent search as:

  • reaffirming students’ high ability and/or revealing previously unrecognised verbal and mathematical abilities. This can inform decisions about their future education and may help ‘when asking for…modifications to your child’s school program’;
  • providing data that analyses test scores by grade, so students can see how they compare with their peers;
  • offering public recognition for academic ability, by means of certification and awards ceremonies, which can build participants’ self-confidence and self-esteem. (At the pinnacle stands an annual ‘Grand Ceremony for students in grades 7-8 worldwide who achieve sufficiently high scores);
  • providing access to CTY’s Family Academic Programmes (open to all talent search participants) and, for those who score sufficiently highly, access to summer and online programmes. Some 50% of participants in grades 2-6 qualify for summer or online courses. The same proportion of students in grades 7-8 qualify for online programmes, but only 30% are eligible for summer programmes.

Schools are advised that participation by their students will help them to access services and programmes for highly able students. They also receive a school report providing the scores of talent search participants, a school certificate and a guide to the talent search process.

Participants in grades 2-6 will normally take the School and College Ability Test (SCAT), a verbal and mathematical reasoning test, but typically at a level designed for higher grades:

  • those in grades 2-3 take the Elementary SCAT designed for grades 3-6;
  • those in grades 4-5 take the Intermediate SCAT designed for grades 6-9;
  • those in grades 6-8 take the Advanced SCAT designed for grades 9-12.

Participants in grades 7-8 will usually take either the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the ACT (a college entrance exam). Both are taken typically by high school juniors and seniors. The SAT tests maths and critical reading (there is also a writing component that CTY ignores). The ACT tests maths, reading, English and science.

CTY also offers an optional Spatial Tests Battery, a computerised test of spatial reasoning for grades 7-8.

In most cases, students need only qualify once to continue to be eligible for summer and online programmes until they reach the maximum age. But all 7th grade students must take the SAT or ACT (unless they took the SCAT in grade 6 after November 2010!)

Summer Programmes

The Center publishes complex charts showing the scores that talent search participants must achieve on different tests to access its summer and online programmes. This is the Summer programmes eligibility chart for grades 2-6 and this is the comparable chart for intensive CTY programmes for grades 7-8.

The standard model is a three-week residential summer school, but all sessions for grades 2-4 are non-residential and there is a choice between residential and non-residential for grades 5-6. For grades 7-8, learning activities typically take up seven hours a day, though this is reduced to five and a half hours a day for younger participants. There is also nightly homework.

Courses are grouped into four categories: humanities, maths and computer science, science and writing

Class sizes range from 12-14 for younger students and 15-18 for grades 7-8. Each class has an instructor, who may be a teacher, university lecturer, postgraduate, professional working in the field or even an ‘exceptional’ undergraduate. An assistant – typically an undergraduate majoring in a relevant field of study – provides additional support.

All these programmes are very expensive. The current residential core fee is $3,830 regardless of the participant’s age. A range of additional fees are payable for application and administration, laboratory sessions and field trips, and additional student services. The cost of supplies and any books (an average of $75 per course but can be as high as $250) is excluded.

CTY also offers a Civic Leadership Institute (core fee $4,120) and a Princeton-based Programme focused on Global Issues in the 21st Century (core fee $4,320) for students in grades 10-12.

Although financial support is available for some participants with a family income of below $50,000 (see below) this would suggest that the vast majority of participants are from wealthy middle class backgrounds. A breakdown of the socio-economic composition of students is not made available on the CTY website.

Family Academic Programs

All participants in CTY talent searches are eligible to take part in its Family Academic Programmes, regardless of their test scores. Some 90 of these offered annually in different formats – single day, overnight, weekend and week-long – for grades 2 to 12. Locations are:

‘predominantly concentrated in the mid-Atlantic, northeast, and on the west coast, include colleges and universities, research institutions, museums, science and nature centers, and aquariums.’

Costs range from $75 to $825. Only limited financial aid is available.

CTY also offers Educational Travel Programmes for Grades 5-12 and their families. Current locations are Belize, Wyoming, Colorado, Indonesia, Scotland and Alaska. These can cost up to $5,600 per adult.

CTY Online

The Center began offering distance learning courses in 1983. Its online operation now supports learners in over 90 countries, but there is no information about the distribution of the 11,450 currently enrolled.

There are year-round activities for eligible learners in grades pre-K to 12. Courses are:

‘designed to enrich and accelerate academically gifted students in the areas they show the strongest abilities’

rather than helping students with particular strengths in some areas to build their capacity in others.

Eligibility depends on performance in the relevant section of an above-level test rather than the test as a whole. Participation in writing, language arts, humanities or social science courses rests on performance in the verbal element of the relevant test, while participation in maths, computer science, science and technology courses is dependent on performance in the mathematical element.

Those wishing to take courses in web design, music or foreign languages can pass in either the verbal or the mathematical element.

As with face-to-face courses, the duration of eligibility depends on the test taken.

Courses are offered in three different formats:

  • individually paced: students can enrol at any point in the year, for three, six or nine months. They progress at their own pace. If they complete the course within the allotted time they can progress to another, or they can pay an additional fee for extra time to complete it.
  • session based: these courses have set start and finish dates and participants must meet set deadlines for handing in work and undertaking any tests that form part of the course.
  • flexi-paced: students start on a set date and negotiate a timetable for completion with their instructors up to a maximum of nine months.

Online courses can be used:

  • to supplement the school curriculum. Schools can timetable online sessions as alternative in-school provision, or sessions can take place outside the normal school day and may even offer an alternative to summer residential opportunities. Schools may give credit for such courses;
  • as an accredited alternative to courses taken in school;
  • as part of the curriculum for home-schooled learners.

The media and learning methods used vary between courses:

‘We bring together the best resources for each course, which may include multimedia resources, interactive whiteboard, web-based classrooms, texts, student guides, and CD-ROMs.’

But each student is paired with ‘a qualified CTY faculty member who provides guidance, feedback, encouragement, and evaluation’. The Center describes these online instructors as ‘faculty’. The minimum requirement is a relevant undergraduate degree, though some have higher degrees.

Instructors communicate with students via online whiteboard, e-mail and telephone. Many courses – but not all – permit interaction with other learners via a virtual classroom.

Tuition fees depend on the course and duration of study. Most cost from $500 to $1,000. Additional fees are charged for application, for participants living outside the US, late applications and changes of course. Books may also need to be purchased.

The website says:

‘A long-term goal of CTY is to enable all qualified students to participate regardless of the family’s economic circumstances.’

but applications for financial assistance are restricted to one course per year and are not available to international students.


Cogito is branded separately to CTY online and has its own website. It was developed by CTY and launched in 2006.

Between 2004 and 2011 it has received funding of $2.5m from the John Templeton Foundation. It is now a multi-partner operation involving 9 US organisations, as well as the Permata Pintar National Gifted Center in Malaysia.

There are also five affiliates, three of them outside the US, and Cogito has its own Advisory Board of US-based scientists, academics and students.

It is essentially a social networking platform, including a database of learning opportunities and resources, for young people aged 13-18 with high ability in STEM subjects. Teachers and other education professionals can nominate students for membership, which is free of charge. Members can engage in online interviews with scientists and use the discussion forums. Once they are 18 they can continue to participate as alumni.

Some of the content is developed by Cogito’s staff. Other material is generated by the partner organisations, by external contributors, parents, alumni and students themselves. Content is filtered through 15 different channels. Thirteen of them are dedicated to different areas of maths and science, one is for young gifted learners and one is about being a gifted student.

There is no prominent information about the number of Cogito members or the overlap with CTY online. The website says that, despite its initial funding, it depends on private donations to meet ongoing maintenance and operation costs.

Cogito recently won a Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE).

The Study of Exceptional Talent (SET)

Rather curiously, CTY’s website describes the Study of Exceptional Talent as ‘an outgrowth’ of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), founded in 1971 by Julian Stanley and, as we have seen, now located elsewhere.

SET was established in 1991, five years after SMPY moved to Iowa State University, with a remit to study both verbally and mathematically talented students. To fall within scope of the Study students must score at least 700 on either the mathematical or verbal (critical reading) element of the SAT before age 13.

Slightly older students can also qualify but they must achieve a score at least 10 points higher for each month by which they are over 13, so a student aged 13 and one month must score 710, a student aged 13 and 2 months must score 720, and so on.

The core purpose of SET is given as helping such students to achieve their full potential, primarily through a counselling service.

A SET Precollege Newsletter is available to members containing news from members worldwide. Otherwise communication is conducted via Cogito (see above) and a database maintained by CTY called SET Alumni on the Web.

But SET is also a research study that:

‘studies talent development and evaluates the effectiveness of various educational strategies and interventions in meeting the individual needs of exceptional youths.’

Several of the studies it has generated are included in the Center’s Research Bibliography (see below).

CTYI International

CTY’s 2011 Annual Report says that 1,100 students from 50 countries attended summer programmes in 2010 and that overseas students account for around 10% of enrolments in CTY Online (so roughly 1,150).

Although custom is still predominantly US-based, these figures show that CTY is rapidly developing a significant global presence.

This involvement is secured through the International Talent Search, which has existed since 1981 and is solely for learners who live and/or attend school outside the US. Testing is undertaken via a separate company called Prometric.

The Center is also actively supporting other countries to develop their own versions of CTY with the declared goal of creating an international network. The Annual Report highlights three particular international projects:

  • Partnership with Malaysia to support development of the Permata Pintar programme; and
  • Support for programme development in Kazakhstan.

The Center offers ‘consulting services to countries interested in starting their own programmes’. The website mentions that it is in discussion with potential partners in Brazil, Kuwait, Singapore, and the Czech and Slovak Republics (via the American Fund for Czech and Slovak Leadership Studies).

It also provides details of several other established international relationships:

  • An exchange programme with Bildung und Begabung, which offers the Deutsche Schulerakademie, a residential programme for 600 students;
  • A talent search run by the The Institute for Talented Students in Bermuda;
  • A talent search run by the Center for Academic Services at Mae Fah Luang University in Thailand

Through its membership of the Advisory Committee on Exceptional Children and Youth for the Office of Overseas Schools, CTY is also involved in providing support for ‘over 200 international schools for dependents of American citizens serving the U.S. government abroad’.

The website also has a special section featuring a new programme in Hong Kong, operated in partnership with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

This is in direct competition with the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education (HKAGE) though it is claimed that the events are intended to attract participants from across Asia. There are separate offers for grades 5-6 and grades 7-10 and the core fee is set at $4,030 per course.

There is still material on the website relating to a summer 2009 programme in Nanjing China but this venue has presumably been superseded by Hong Kong. And in 2010 there was a programme in Monterrey Mexico which seems also to have closed down.

This would suggest that CTY is not averse to setting up short-term arrangements and terminating them if demand dips, or if the people who set them up move on. Whether this lack of continuity is always in the best interests of gifted learners is open to question.

In February 2011, CTY published a first quarterly International Newsletter. However, only this edition is available on the website, so the three subsequent editions may not have materialised.

The Newsletter mentions the same network partners – Bermuda, Hong Kong, Ireland, Malaysia and Thailand (although the Thai Partner is given as ‘the Gifted and Talented Foundation’ rather than Mae Fah Luang University).

It adds:

‘CTY has a number of ongoing relationships with colleagues in countries including Mexico and Spain. The programs in these countries are shifting in response to economic and other concerns.’

It also mentions an annual International Educators’ Institute. The third of these took place in June/July 2011:

‘The Educators Institute provides its global participants with a window into the workings of CTY, with a particular focus on CTY’s Summer Programs. Educators attend sessions focusing on topics such as giftedness, gifted education, and academic talent development as related to the CTY model. In addition, attendees interact directly with CTY Summer Programs staff and students through shadow assignments in classes at CTY Summer Programs sites….Participants in the 2010 Educators Institute included faculty members from University Kebangsaan Malaysia and educators from Saudi Arabia. The educators from Saudi Arabia were sponsored by the King Abdulaziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and creativity (Mawhiba).’

Strangely, these institutes don’t seem to be referenced on the CTY website.

This is the only reference to a relationship with Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that it is a major sponsor of CTY (see below). It will be interesting to see to what extent the relationship develops in future years.

Other CTY services for Gifted Students and their Schools

CTY publishes Imagine, a magazine for gifted students in grades 7-12. There are five editions each year and each has a specific theme. An individual subscription (print or electronic) is $30 for one year, though selected highlights from the current and back issues are freely available online.

Descartes Cove is a:

‘collaborative virtual space accessible via the web and CD-Rom where students can explore the farthest reaches of their mathematical reasoning by solving real-world puzzles and problems’.

It is intended for students in middle and early high school and follows the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards for grades 6-8. There are six island-based adventures, each covering a different area of maths.

This paper describes the development of Descartes Cove.

The Diagnostic and Counselling Center provides:

  • Psycho-educational evaluations, testing cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and for specific learning difficulties and ADHD. Students are often bright underachievers, under-challenged in school or twice-exceptional. The cost ranges from $1,000 to $2,500.
  • Educational consultations, to advise parents on the interpretation of test results, the development of personal education plans and how to work with their child’s school. The cost is typically $175-350.
  • Ability and achievement testing for grades 2-12 using either the CSAT or STEP tests in reading, writing and maths. A test plus individualised report costs $255.
  • Careers guidance, via completion of ‘personality and interest inventories’ that inform a report costing $250.
  • Consultations for schools to support the development of their identification and assessment processes, maths programmes and IEPs; evaluations of existing identification and provision are also offered. Costs are agreed on a school-by-school basis.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Young Scholars Programme is for gifted and high-achieving students from poor backgrounds entering grade 8. Scholars access educational opportunities and advice throughout high school. CTY doesn’t run the scheme but: ‘assists the Foundation with recruiting, selecting, and serving Young Scholars’.

There is also a Johns Hopkins CTY Scholars Programme which also supports grade 8 students throughout high school via access to summer activities, online courses, academic counseling and something the website calls ‘a mention and entrepreneurship program’ [sic] The 2011 Annual Report says that 240 students have completed the programme since its inception in 204 and that there are 358 current scholars.

A new scholarship programme called Rural Connections, again funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, has just been announced for students in grades 7-9 who live in a rural community and have a family income below $45,000.

The scholarship covers the full cost of one summer programme and includes pre- and post-course advice and support. The Foundation is providing funding for three years but:

‘CTY is committed to sustaining this effort to enrich the lives of gifted rural students beyond the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation grant. To this end, CTY will actively fundraise for summer program scholarship support for up to 30 highly qualified, low-income rural students to be selected each year. In addition, CTY is seeking funds to offer online courses to these students during the school year.’

The Center Scholars Programme originated in the JHU School of Medicine. It enables students from under-represented ethnic minorities to study Genomics and receive a paid internship at a research laboratory. There are two 3-week summer schools in successive summers and then a 6-week internship in the third and final summer.

The Mathematics Academy for Promising Students (MAPS) is described as:

‘a supplementary math program designed to reach high potential middle school students from low-income families whose math skills and test scores fall just short of qualifying for admission to CTY’s rigorous academic programs.

It targets students in grades 7-8 and takes place on Saturday mornings over a 16-week period

The Center is also engaged in local initiatives. Since 2000, a variety of sponsors have funded its work with high ability students in Newark, New Jersey, supporting over 500 to undertake online courses and summer schools.

CTY is similarly engaged – though to a lesser extent – in Baltimore, Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle. From 2011, nine students from the latter three areas are being sponsored to become Johns Hopkins CTY Scholars. Math for America is also sponsoring poor students from New York City to undertake CTY courses in maths and science.

CTY’s Teacher Recognition Programme provides support for teachers nominated by their students and schools. It includes:

  • The Sarah D. Barder Educator Recognition Programme for teachers nominated by students from California, Nevada, and Maryland. Nominees can apply to become SDB Fellows who attend an annual conference. This benefits around 20 teachers and administrators annually.
  • Physics and engineering teaching internships are paid 4-day summer placements offered annually to seven teachers in conjunction with the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

Alumni Support

CTY estimates that it has over 70,000 ex-participants. It began to publish an online newsletter for them in 2009, but the most recent edition dates from Summer 2010 while an Events Calendar has the heading ‘2011 Events’ and nothing more.

There are links to CTY Alumni networks on Facebook and Linked In, but the 2011 Annual Report refers to the development of a new alumni social networking site, though there is no timeline for completion of this project. Alumni can already use Cogito, as well as the MyCTY online portal to connect with others and to keep in touch with the Center.


CTY maintains a seven-strong Research Department which:

‘leads, facilitates, and supports efforts across the organization to develop and carry out a systematic research and evaluation agenda for CTY’.

The Department divides its activities into four distinct strands:

Educational studies with policy and instructional implications: this addresses such issues as acceleration, grouping and identification strategies and support for subsets of the gifted population. The Center also undertook a state-wide evaluation for Maryland in 1994.

Psychological studies that explore the development and needs of gifted children and how best to support their achievement and wider development. This includes work on: parents; personality and learning styles; self-perception, motivation and metacognition; and socio-emotional development.

Longitudinal studies: the Developmental Study of Talented Youth (DSTY) was undertaken from 1993 to 1999 and focused on the early development of younger gifted learners. A second longitudinal study is linked to the Study of Exceptional Talent (see above). It began in 1980 and is ongoing.

A third study, scheduled for 2007-2010, was to examine the impact of participation in CTY programmes, comparing participants against a matched control group. It was to include a specific focus on the recipients of scholarships. It is not quite clear what happened to this. Publications are cited that may refer to it but I could not find a full report.

The website also mentions a new project ‘Outcomes from Participation in CTY’s Summer Program’ which may or may not be part of this – and there is an associated publication‘The Benefits of Summer Programs’ which may well be linked:

‘With the help of a grant from the U. S. Department of Education, CTY’s Research Department was able to identify, collate, organize, integrate, and analyze over 30 years of research findings, evaluation data, alumni surveys, interviews, and unsolicited letters/e-mails from students and families regarding the benefits and outcomes of participation in CTY’s Summer Programs. This document summarizes the findings that emerged. A technical report that provides extensive background for the project, statistical data, accompanied by charts and graphs, is available. At the end of this document is a list of all resources, technical reports, and published research papers that were used to inform this project.’

Evaluation Studies. The website states that all CTY activities are continually evaluated. It also mentions external evaluation activity and psychometric studies which examine the validity and reliability of its assessment and testing practices. This includes work related to the Spatial Test Battery.

That said, the evaluation evidence published on the website – such as that contained in ‘The Benefits of Summer Programs’ seems mostly qualitative or focused on short-term academic gains. There is reference to a longitudinal control study of a sample of summer school participants from under-represented populations, but the findings are referenced only briefly and without quantification:

‘Summer Program participants:

    • are more likely to be accelerated in their home schools and/or to participate in supplemental academic coursework,
    • take more honors and Advanced Placement courses in their home schools,
    • show a greater increase in their SAT scores from middle to high school, and
    • are more likely to attend highly competitive colleges and universities in greater numbers.’

I could find no substantive evaluation evidence relating to CTY Online or Cogito.

All of the Center’s research findings are published, though not always by CTY itself. However, the website says:

‘CTY is committed to making its findings available to parents, educators, researchers, and the wider community. We believe through our dissemination efforts that we can make a positive contribution to the education and well-being of all children, not only those with exceptional abilities’.

Within the site there is a useful section called ‘What we know about academically talented students: a sample of our findings’ and an extensive Research Department Bibliography which seems up to date, though there are relatively few publications from the last 2-3 years.

There is also a series of topical research summaries, though all date from 1999-2002 (even though the website says ‘New topics are added to this series in response to interest level and research activities’).

Finally, there is a small library of full CTY reports, including:


CTY has been active for a long period and the website contains a huge wealth of information. However, some of it is now rather out of date and it is hard to find the wood for the trees. A new and more modern online environment is somewhat overdue.

The Center does a good job of identifying the benefits of participating in its programmes but the evaluation evidence is perhaps less hard-edged than it should be. It would be good to see the figures showing concrete, long-term attainment gains and even a measurable, positive impact on future income.

I have spent more time than is customary on the cost of the programmes and services offered by CTY because some of the charges seem very high, particularly in these straitened times, and this may become problematic if it depresses demand to the extent that the Center can no longer maintain its current size and scope of activity.

I am also concerned about participation by students from low and middle income families. Despite the financial aid made available, the high cost of summer schools in particular must surely limit their engagement.

The median household income in the US is around $50,000. Students in families with incomes of up to 130% of the poverty level are eligible for free school meals. The current threshold for a family of four is an income of $29,055. Those with an income of between 130% and 185% of the poverty level qualify for a subsidised lunch costing 40 cents. The current threshold, again for a family of four, is $41,348.

In 2011, the National Assessment of Educational Progress noted that 52% of US grade 4 pupils were now eligible for free or subsidised lunches. Some 21 million students benefit in all.

The CTY website makes clear that most beneficiaries of its financial aid have an adjusted gross income of under $50,000. The 2010 report says that, in 2009/10, it awarded $5.3m to 1,800 beneficiaries. Given that there were 26,884 participants in all, this amounts to only 6.7% of the total. However, some 18% of summer programme participants – around 1,670 – received financial aid in summer 2010.

There is always a risk that the kind of opportunities offered by CTY and its competitors become middle class enclaves, but this risk is compounded in times of financial difficulty, as fewer families can meet the cost and the supply of financial aid is also reduced.

The 2011 Annual Report reveals that the King Abdul Aziz and his Companions Foundation (the organisation behind Mawhiba in Saudi Arabia) contributed at least $1m to CTY in 2010/11 out of a total income from gifts, grants and investments of $6.793m

However the 2010 report shows gifts grants and investment income in that year was close to $1m more, at $7.642m – suggesting that, without the Mawhiba money, CTY’s aid budget would have been quite seriously compromised in 2011.

For as long as the US market remains depressed, it makes sound economic sense for CTY to pursue overseas markets through franchised operations and CTY online. It is likely that the trends identified in the table above will continue into 2012 and beyond.


February 2012

Postscript: Shortly after I published this prophetic review, CTY launched a new website, which is much more easily navigable than the former site. Most of the links above still work, but they will now point you to the new pages rather than the old.



2 thoughts on “USA: Maryland – Center for Talented Youth (CTY), Johns Hopkins University

  1. Even as a relatively “high-income” family, I have found the fees ridiculously high. My kids have both qualified through the international talent search (we are Canadian), but when I attempted to sign them up for online courses to supplement their homeschool curriculum, I was deterred by the $850 fees for each course. While I CAN pay those fees, I find it hard to justify for elementary-aged children who don’t need the courses for a transcript at this point. There are comparable courses (perhaps not as good, perhaps better) available for homeschoolers — even gifted ones — for $150-200.

  2. Hi Lisa

    I guess CTY know their market and are well aware of what price it will bear without reducing overall demand. Equally, they must know to what extent they can reduce costs without compromising quality. That said, the prices do seem high compared with many of their competitors. I suppose CTY must be trading on their reputation as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of gifted summer school providers, which is a risky strategy when money is scarce and so many exciting new social media-based platforms are beginning to emerge.

    I don’t know if they ‘overcharge’ those prepared to pay the full fee so they can use the surplus to cross-subsidise financial aid for poorer participants, but I suspect they rely exclusively (or at least predominantly) on donations for that purpose. That means the proportion of participants from poorer backgrounds will always be very much in the minority – and the chances are that there will be still fewer when times are hard.

    I’ve always thought that operations like CTY should turn round their business model so they prioritise learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. One option might be to charge wealthy families twice the real price for a summer school place, so that they also pay for a poor student to attend – or at least recoup 50% of the cost that way and the rest from financial aid.

    And I’ve always been surprised that CTY hasn’t devoted more attention to developing the professional development arm of its business, or developed business partnerships with organisations that specialise in that field. The absence of any significant relationship with JHU’s School of Education is odd…

    It will be interesting to see whether the new Director decides to move in a different direction or whether she will want to keep things much as they are. One thing is certain, unless CTY can continue to get big donations from backers like Saudi Arabia, they will need to increase significantly the income they generate from services they provide.

    Accepting Saudi money also comes with strings attached, in that it requires one to set aside certain scruples about human rights and wider social conditions in that country. Even if parents of CTY participants don’t have ethical concerns of this kind, I’m sure many of the learners themselves will suffer at least a momentary pang of conscience.

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