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by Agnes Jasinski

A Capella groups, vocal troupes and pitch-perfect singing clubs are fairly common on college campuses as a diversion from academics and another option among the dozens of extracurricular activities students have to choose from. But show choirs have always been more popular at high schools. That is, until the television show "Glee" came onto screens across the country with aims to popularize glee clubs and add some levity to the mood of the country.

Colleges have taken notice, forming their own glee clubs and show choirs that have students singing, dancing, and performing for their student populations and, in some cases, in competitions across the country. An article in USA Today takes a look at some of the new college programs, and what they've done to not only ride the wave of the popularity of "Glee," which returns from its hiatus tonight, but to make their music programs more current and adapt to the tastes of those who buy tickets to their shows.

At Millsaps College, a group of 15 students came together to form a show choir that now performs songs like the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling." The group has its first show in two weeks. The University of North Texas created a new singing group shortly after the first season of the Fox show came to an end; more than 100 students auditioned, according to the USA Today article. That group has 30 student members, and will premiere its first performance next month.

High schools across the country have also revamped their concert choirs and chorus groups, incorporating what some say is more audience-friendly music. (Some choirs that aren't too enthusiastic about the show say "Glee" hurts rather than helps them by giving the impression that all choirs perform top 40 hits and include extensive choreography.) The choir at Hoquiam High School in Washington state still performs the traditional tunes one would expect from a conventional vocal group, but the addition of a show choir at the school has allowed Hoquiam to give students the option of performing classic choral styles with the concert choir, and more mainstream country, rock, and hip hop with the show choir. The school's show choir has even performed a song by Weird Al Yankovic.

Tell us about your college or high school show choir or glee club. What kinds of things does your group do to get more students involved in music on campus? Do you still prefer a traditional concert choir over the more unconventional show choirs? And if you are a performer, don't forget that there are music scholarships out there for those with not only vocal talents, but instrumental abilities as well.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many colleges and universities offer students dorms particular to their fields of study. A future engineer can bunk with others interested in engineering, for example, or future educators may find a place for others interested in becoming teachers. The dorms then become learning communities, and allow students a built-in support network when they're struggling with homework or an upcoming exam.

Some schools, however, have been experimenting with communal living for interests outside of students' majors, perhaps to get more students interested in those colleges, keep students already enrolled happy, or to get students to live in the dorms beyond their first years. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education explores the kinds of dorm communities that are cropping up on college campuses across the country, and they're as diverse as students' interests come.

At the University of Vermont, students interested in healthy eating, anime or Harry Potter are able to live in dorms set aside for students with those interests. (According to The Chronicle, The Harry Potter dorm caters more to those interested in social justice issues, and how "magic is symbolic for an individual's ability to change the world." It couldn't be all fun.) Students at the school must come with proposals of their own for the special interest dorms to take shape, and find student leaders who will come up with extracurricular activities and collaborate with faculty advisers.

At the Georgia Institute of Technology, themed dorms explore the less academic side of science. The 160 or so students who live in the learning communities are able to find dorms based on their interests in humor, robotics, space colonization, and the science of food, according to The Chronicle. Faculty members, who say the students living in the themed dorms are more engaged in their learning able to converse about academic subjects more easily than their peers, meet with the students once a week. At Ball State University, students from all majors interested in film, video, and emerging media, are able to live in a dorm that provides them with all of the technical equipment they would need to shoot projects on their own time. The dorm cost the school about $60,000 to renovate and equip.

What kinds of themed dorms, if any, does your school offer undergraduates? Do you like the idea, or do you think students should live with others who have more varied interests? Let us know what you think about the specialized dorms.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Just in time for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, The Princeton Review has come up with a list of the 286 greenest colleges. The list is based on the notion that the environment has become so important to college students that some would base their college searches on whether or not a school is as concerned as they are about preserving the ecosystem.

The Princeton Review partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council to come up with the list, which gives colleges and universities a “Green Rating” based on their environmentally-related policies, practices, and academic offerings, according to the test prep company. The schools on the list include: Allegheny College, where 40 percent of the food budget is spent on local or organic food and 90 percent of the school grounds are maintained organically; Illinois State University, which opened a Center for Renewable Energy in 2008 and which holds an annual “Healthy You Healthy Earth” environmental fair; Lawrence University, which recently opened a new LEED-certified student center and campus garden that provides produce to the dining hall; and Mills College, which reuses or recycles more than 60 percent of its waste and is working to restore nearby Leona Creek and Lake Aliso as school-wide projects.

Each school that received a “Green Rating” in the 80s or 90s on a scale of 60-99 was included in the ranking, which explains the odd number of schools who made it on the list. While it’s difficult today to find a college that doesn’t feel some responsibility to preserve the environment through recycling or energy conservation programs (which can also save schools struggling to cope with budget shortfalls some money), the list went further than those basic safeguards to determine which schools included “green” thinking in their curricula and broad policies.

An article this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education was skeptical of the list, citing anecdotal evidence of student demands that are not all that “green.”Private rooms and bathrooms and well-equipped recreation and student centers, among other things that would in fact make a college less environmentally-friendly, often top students’ wish lists on what they need out of their college experience, according to the Chronicle article. What do you think? Do you agree that college students are more "green" these days? Would you base your decision on where you plan to go to college on a "Green Rating"?


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by Agnes Jasinski

In the wake of the first lawsuits filed against the Arizona immigration law, the University of Arizona’s President Robert E. Shelton released a letter Thursday describing the effects the law has already had on the school’s admissions.

In that letter, Shelton says administrators are worried about the international community on the school system’s campuses. He goes on to say the college will do whatever they need to do to keep the “health and safety” of those international students a top priority, and will put procedures in place to allow them the “free movement” they are accustomed to on the college’s campuses. Perhaps most significantly, however, Shelton describes how the law has already hurt the college on the admissions level:

“We have already begun to feel an impact from SB1070. The families of a number of out-of-state students (to date all of them honors students) have told us that they are changing their plans and will be sending their children to universities in other states. This should sadden anyone who cares about attracting the best and brightest students to Arizona."

The new law requires all immigrants in the state to have their alien registration documents or other documents proving citizenship available at all times, and allows police to stop and question anyone in the state suspected of being in the United States illegally. The law would also crack down on illegal day laborers looking for work and those who hire them. There has been a national uproar since the law was passed, with many concerned that the law encourages racial profiling against Latinos.

College students have been particularly vocal. A story on CNN.com today describes the mood on the University of Arizona’s Tucson campus. One student there, Francisco Baires, has been circulating a petition summing up students’ concerns with the new law. He and others plan to present that petition to the school’s president next week, and will ask him to sign it himself. Another student, Jessica Mejia, organized Immigration Awareness Week on the campus, which included a series of programs and informational sessions on the intricacies of the law and acted as a place where students could share their personal immigration stories.

Students outside of Arizona have protested the measure as well. Throughout the Denver area today, hundreds of both high school and college students will stage a walk-out in protest. Administrators at the schools and police departments are all in on the walk-out. Is anything happening at your high school or college campus related to Arizona’s immigration law? What do you think about the immigration law, and what has the mood been like at your school since it was passed?


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many of you have probably joked about being “addicted” to your Twitter accounts, cell phones, and other social media outlets. A recent study from the University of Maryland shows that for many college students, that description of their relationship with those tools may not be too far off.

The recent study, “24 Hours: Unplugged,” found that at least on the Maryland campus, students hooked on social media may experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those addicted to alcohol and other substances if they are forced to do without those tools for any longer period of time. The study, led by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, came to that conclusion after asking 200 students on the Maryland campus to give up all modes of media for one full day. Those students were then asked to describe their personal experiences on, somewhat ironically, a blog, the next day.

According to the results of the study, the students came up with the equivalent of a 400-page novel when describing their experiences. So what did they say? We’ve come up with some highlights:

  • "My attempt at the gym without the ear pieces in my iPhone wasn’t the same; doing cardio listening to yourself breathe really drains your stamina."
  • "I literally had to have my friend hide my phone so I wouldn’t check it by accident."
  • "It becomes a normal task to look at my phone every few minutes, yes minutes."
  • "It is almost second nature to check my Facebook or email; it was very hard for my mind to tell my body not to go on the Internet."
  • "I knew that the hardest aspect of ridding myself of media though, would be not checking Facebook or my emails, so I went ahead and deactivated my Facebook account in advance. It’s pathetic to think that I knew I had to delete my Facebook in order to prevent myself from checking it for one day."
  • "Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely. I received several phone calls that I could not answer."

Addiction is a strong word, and there haven’t been any formal initiatives to add things like “Internet addiction” to the American Psychiatric Association’s list of disorders and addictions. But is this something we should worry about nonetheless? According to the news release on the study, even the study’s project director was surprised by the number of students who had such intense reactions to leaving their media alone for a day. What do you think? Are college students too dependent on media? How long could you go without your favorite media outlets?


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by Agnes Jasinski

As further evidence that “going green” is here to stay, college graduations across the country may be looking a bit more environmentally-friendly this commencement season. According to a recent article from the Associated Press, at least 100 schools will have their graduates decked out in gowns made of recycled or biodegradable materials.

The gowns come from a number of manufactures, and a number of materials. Plastic has proved to be one of the more popular options, although schools have explored gowns made of sustainable bamboo and acetate, a material that decomposes within a year, according to the article. (Those made with the acetate come in a variety of colors; the plastic bottle gowns come only in black.)

Wake Forest University is one school that will have its graduates dressed in gowns made of recycled plastic bottles this season; each gown is made of about 23 plastic bottles. Students at Lafayette College and the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh will be trying out the biodegradable gowns instead. According to an article in The Christian Science Monitor, administrators at those schools said they wanted to test the product’s claims that the gowns would biodegrade within a year’s time, as they assume students will most likely toss their gowns after the ceremonies rather than looking for recycling bins set up campus-wide.

The gowns made out of the plastic bottles cost about $2 more apiece, although most colleges will be absorbing those costs. The biodegradable gowns range in price, although administrators have said they cost about 18 percent more than the gowns they had been using. Traditional gowns are made out of petroleum-based polyester. Students who have already tried out the varieties of “green” gowns made say they’re much lighter than the alternative, making them ideal for warm weather ceremonies.

It may no longer even be accurate to say that colleges are “going green.” Many of them are already there if you consider lists like the recent ranking of the 286 greenest colleges in the country from The Princeton Review. Commencements have also been a target of the environmentally-conscious for quite some time, with schools making sure to print programs on recycled paper, sending emailed invitations and tickets rather than printing them, using recycled cardboard in caps, or looking for ways to cut down on electricity use at the actual ceremonies. Would you describe your impending graduation ceremony as “green”? What has your college been doing to become more environmentally sound, or what more can they do?


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by Agnes Jasinski

It’s coming to the end of final exams at California State University in Los Angeles, but you won’t see students there studying at the library well into the night. You’ll see them in the make-shift “People’s Library,” an open air study spot outside the school’s main library set up by students looking for an answer to shortened library hours.

The “People’s Library” opened on June 1 as a response from students dealing with state budget cuts that have forced the college to cut library hours. The school’s library now closes at 8 p.m. each night, while the students’ version operates through midnight. According to an article today in the Los Angeles Times, the students have been using donated tables and chairs, and the campus’ lighting and electrical equipment. Free coffee is brewed to fuel the study sessions, and students have access to the Internet, a copier and a printer. According to the article, the students’ “library” has the support of administrators, despite initial resistance and concerns. (Administrators helped the students set up their electrical hook-ups safely.)

The state university system’s library budget was cut 20 percent overall this fiscal year. At Cal State L.A., student library assistant positions were cut from 19 to 11, and subscriptions to more than 400 print journals and 10 databases were canceled, potentially hampering students’ research capabilities. Although library attendance has decreased across the board, perhaps due to advances in technology and increases in access to the Internet thanks to wireless networks, it remains both a communal space and option for those who don’t have access to online tools at home or in the dorm, or who want a quiet place to study. According to the article, administrators will reconsider the main library’s operating hours for next year, although budget shortfalls will continue to dramatically affect the state’s university system.

Across California, institutions of higher education have been looking for ways to cope with millions of dollars in cuts in the state budget. At the University of California, a wait list was used for the first time in the school system’s history to allow the school to be more flexible in the number of students it enrolls for fall 2010. There and elsewhere, major school decisions are dependent upon what happens with the state budget.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A new study from Ball State University shows further proof that students’ reliance on mobile devices is here to stay, with more students using their smart phones over their computers to access the Internet and communicate with one another than ever before.

Smart phone use has doubled over the last year, according to the study, with nearly half of phone-owning students boasting the devices. Text messaging has become students’ main form of communication, with 97 percent of students surveyed using that method to communicate, compared to 30 percent using e-mail. The study took into account 11 different surveys of mobile device usage since 2005, with 5,500 college students participating.

The study suggests that while it should be easier to reach students now with these smart phones in hand, it also makes it easier for them to multi-task and lead more hectic lifestyles. An increase in students owning more sophisticated devices has also led colleges to reconsider how to both use advancing technologies in the classroom and limiting devices where they may serve as more of a distraction. Cell phone use is still typically prohibited in the classroom, although colleges have been working to integrate other technologies into students’ curricula. Seton Hill University saw so much potential in the new iPad that they announced they would give one to all incoming students. Elsewhere, professors are embracing social networking sites like Twitter as a way to make their instruction more relevant.

Laptops in the classroom in particular have been a topic of discussion since they began cropping up on desks, assisting students in note-taking during lectures. Some professors argue that while some students use their computers appropriately, others spend entire periods surfing the Internet or perusing their Facebook pages. An article in Slate this spring looked at measures some colleges have taken to keep students tuned in to class discussion, which often means disconnecting them from wireless access. The University of Chicago’s Law School shut off Internet access in classrooms several years ago along with several other law schools, where discussion is an integral piece of the educational experience. A professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that those who used laptops in the classroom scored 11 percent lower on their first exam than those who took notes the old-fashioned way.

What do you think? Would mobile devices in the classroom be helpful or harmful? What about laptops? What kinds of regulations regarding technology already exist on your campus?


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by Agnes Jasinski

The cost of books and supplies may not seem like all that much when compared to the thousands of dollars you’re spending on tuition, fees, and room and board, but it’s still painful to drop $100 or more on a textbook you may not even use as often as your professors think. Recognizing your pain, colleges are looking for ways to reduce the costs of textbooks without sacrificing instruction.

At Rio Salado College in Arizona, administrators issued the rule that faculty members must choose one printed textbook for all sections of each course. At most colleges, professors and instructors are able to choose different books for different sections, leading to a rise in cost of those books because colleges aren’t able to purchase them in bulk. At Rio Salado, the school’s relationship with Pearson has allowed them to cut costs even more by promised the publisher it would be the school’s sole supplier. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, those decisions have allowed the college to retail textbooks for about half of what they would have charged under the old system. This kind of standardization wouldn’t work at all colleges, according to the article. Many professors use books they’ve authored, or customized texts based on what they’d like to highlight in their sections.

Elsewhere, campus bookstores have joined the textbook rental trend to respond to students going online to rent print copies of the requisite texts. Even though many students are able to recoup some of the cost of their books by selling them back at the end of the semester, putting down hundreds of dollars up front for a stack of books isn’t easy for anyone, especially a new freshman. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education recently, colleges had been hesitant about offering the service until now because of high start-up costs and lack of profits, and the fact that rental programs often require professors to keep the same edition of a book for at least four to six semesters. Storage can also be an issue, especially in a survey course that enrolls hundreds of students. Others say e-books will be the way of the future, with more textbook providers going digital and college campuses and bookstores following suit. Many students are already renting digital textbooks to peruse on their iPads and Kindles, according to The Chronicle article. Does your college offer a unique alternative to the traditional campus bookstore textbook purchases?


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College Cuts Housekeeping Services

George Washington University Says Students Too Messy for Perk

July 2, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

New freshmen at George Washington University this fall won’t be as pampered as their predecessors. Administrators there have decided to cut the housekeeping services they had offered in the past, in part to keep the costs of room and board at their current levels.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the services included vacuuming students’ residence hall rooms and cleaning their private bathrooms. Come fall, it will be up to the students to tidy things up, although administrators said some housekeepers were unable to vacuum a number of freshmen’s rooms properly anyway because of the messes students would leave on their floors, which first prompted the school to look into eliminating the service. About 80 new freshmen have been vocally opposed to the school’s decision to cut the service, signing Facebook petitions to demand it be added back. In one article, one incoming student said it was one of those things that “semi-convinced” her to come to GW, and that with tuition at $54,000, it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep such perks in their communal living spaces.

It may seem silly to have a housekeeper keep your dorm room tidy, but GW wasn’t unique in offering the service. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology still offers the service, with housekeepers there changing linens, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and taking out students’ trash. According to the Inside Higher Ed article, administrators there said if they needed to trim their budgets, they would cut housekeeping staff rather than eliminating the program altogether, as they describe it as “one of the top selling points” of the college. At Xavier University, administrators use their housekeeping service (offered in three out of four dorms) as a way to relieve parents worried about their sons and daughters living in messy rooms now that they’re out on their own.

At other schools that have instituted cuts to housekeeping services, the reaction from students has been mixed. The College of the Holy Cross and Claremont McKenna College both reduced their service from twice a week to once a week, which may not seem like that big a deal to students without any kind of formal cleaning service. Administrators at Holy Cross said having housekeepers allowed the school to maintain a sense of upkeep in residence halls, and keep rooms in better shape for the next round of freshmen. The Inside Higher Ed article closed with a rising senior at Claremont deriding what he thought of as an excess: “Do we really need maids cleaning up after every mess? It’s pretty ridiculous. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love it. Who wouldn't? But I think for college students trying to become adults, people shouldn't be cleaning up our mess. That is a mother thing to do when you're 10 years old.”


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