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Ohio Program Rewards Higher GPA’s with Cash

November 8, 2010

Ohio Program Rewards Higher GPA’s with Cash

by Suada Kolovic

Imagine a world where cold, hard cash was the incentive for doing well in school. A new study, that examined three Ohio community colleges, attempted to explore if paying students is the answer for an authentic effort in their education. The report, "Rewarding Progress, Reducing Debt: Early Results From Ohio's Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration for Low-Income Parents," showed that using financial aid strategically – providing low-income parents scholarships based on their performance – was “encouraging.” The program offered the low-income parents up to $1,800 for one academic year if they earned at least a “C” in 12 or more credits, or $900 for the same grade in six to 11 credits.

According to Lashawn K. Richburg-Hayes, deputy director of young adults and postsecondary education with MDRC, a nonprofit research organization based in New York, “the goal is to understand if performance-based scholarships can work for different populations, in different amounts." The result – of the students assigned to the scholarship group, 33 percent earned the full-time award and 41 percent received the part-time award in the first term. Thirty percent earned the full-time award and 31 percent the part-time award in the second term. The scholarships earned were then paid directly to the students, “allowing them to use the money for whatever expenses were most pressing”, said Reshma D. Patel, a research analyst with MDRC and a co-author of the report. Unlike scholarship funds that must be put towards tuition fees or books, the student has the freedom to use the cash as they see fit. “That flexibility was especially important for the program's target population, low-income parents, who could use the money for child-care or other living expenses,” Patel said.

So, future college attendees, do you think students would be more inclined to put in a wholehearted effort in their education if they were paid to do so?

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Colleges Revive the Humanities

November 9, 2010

Colleges Revive the Humanities

by Suada Kolovic

Due to the drastic economic downturn, students are flocking to majors considered “safe” – economics, engineering and computer science – and steering clear of ones that develop creative thinking and imagination – the humanities. It makes sense, since the objective after graduation is to obtain a well-paying career to pay for that prestigious college education and the best way to do so, in the eyes of the majority of college students, is to select a major where the potential for a generous return on your investment is high. According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, student interest in the humanities – which include the classics, literature, languages, history, philosophy, and religion – has dropped dramatically in recent years. Only 8 percent of American undergraduates majored in a humanities field in 2007, compared with 17 percent in 1966.

At esteemed universities, including Cornell, Dartmouth, and Harvard, there is concern that without humanities students won’t develop the kind of critical thinking and empathy “necessary to solve the most pressing problems facing future generations.” Drew Faust, Harvard’s president, explained, “That’s a real shift from seeing an undergraduate education as general preparation in a wide range of fields to seeing undergraduate education as getting a particular vocational emphasis. People worry a lot about what you do with that degree. I think the change has been accelerated and intensified by people’s immediate concern of getting a job — especially with the increasing cost of higher education and the challenges in the economy.’’ (In case you were wondering, the most popular field of study at Harvard is economics.)

In response, colleges have begun pledging huge sums to their literature and arts departments, while others have begun erecting buildings. Among the universities attempting to restore interest in the humanities is Brandeis, which recently dedicated a new $22.5 million glass-and-slate hilltop home, called the Mandel Center for the Humanities. Harvard and Brown have also received millions to support new humanities initiatives.

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GPA, SAT, and a Great Sense of Humor Walk into a Bar

November 12, 2010

GPA, SAT, and a Great Sense of Humor Walk into a Bar

by Suada Kolovic

When you envisioned what your college application process would be like, I’m sure you anticipated stress and anxiety but I doubt you expected a joke could get you in. This was the moment you were told to draw on your strengths and articulate every achievement – countless community service hours, stellar GPA, and the fact that you were senior class president. Every sentence would be so perfectly and meticulously thought-out that who you were just leapt right off the page. You prepared your answer on why you belonged at your dream college and pinpointed what you had to offer…until you opened the actual application and found a serious curveball.

In addition to common essay prompts, more and more institutions are jumping on the unconventional question bandwagon and are interested knowing not only in why students want to gain admission but just how creative they can be when challenged. Here are the far-from-average questions schools are asking this year:

California Institute of Technology

Caltech asks applicants to not overanalyze:

  • “What are three adjectives your friends would use to describe you?”
  • “Caltech students have long been known for their quirky sense of humor and creative pranks and for finding unusual ways to have fun. What is something that you find fun or humorous?”

University of Chicago

Each year the University of Chicago asks newly admitted and current students for essay topics:

  • “Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?”

Yale University

Yale asks applicants to write essays, plus answer the following questions in 25 words or less:

  • “If you could witness one moment in history, what would it be and why?”
  • “Recall a compliment you received that you especially value. What was it? From whom did it come?”

University of Dallas

Along with three conventional questions, including “What influenced you most to apply to the University of Dallas?” the school also asks:

  • “Tell us your favorite joke or humorous anecdote.”

Soon-to-be college applicants, what do you think of this technique? Are you a fan of the challenge or frustrated by the fact that not only are you expected to impress them with your achievements and extracurricular activities but now you’re expected to be witty, too?

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A Little Birdy Told Us Tweeting May Boost Grades

Recent Experiment Revealed Higher Marks, Increased Discussion

November 17, 2010

A Little Birdy Told Us Tweeting May Boost Grades

by Alexis Mattera

Logging onto certain social networking sites while in class may be frowned upon by some schools but at one Midwest institution, doing just that resulted in grade point averages about half a point higher over the course of a semester.

The school was not named to protect the identities of the 125 participating students but the subsequent report, entitled “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades,” showed the 70 students who used Twitter to access information and complete four class assignments displayed higher GPAs, were more engaged in classroom discussion and more likely to interact with their instructor about course material than the 55 non-tweeting students in the control group.

But is Twitter really responsible for the grade boost? Reynol Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, said the familiarity with Twitter (which is a lot like Facebook’s status update feature) may make students more comfortable participating in discussions outside the classroom and responding to class material. But Dave Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media at the University of Texas at Dallas who has used Twitter in his classes, had reservations. He said more specific studies needed to be conducted to determine if Twitter is the deciding factor in increasing grades and what uses of Twitter are most effective to achieve desired results.

Students, do you tweet? What do you tweet about: schoolwork, politics, gossip? Have you noticed a difference in your grades – positive or negative – since activating your account? Do you follow us?

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Student Loans Leave Student $200,000 in Debt

Northeastern Grad Starts Website to Help Make Payments

November 23, 2010

Student Loans Leave Student $200,000 in Debt

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how to pay for a college education can be complicated, but what happens once you’ve graduated and your loans become so overbearing that even with a full-time job, monthly payment are implausible? A few weeks ago, we blogged that the average college student leaves school with $24,000 in debt, but what about the student who’s debt is about eight times that amount? Northeastern alum Kelli Space, 23, found herself in that exact predicament: With $200,000 in debt, Space was unable to pay her stifling student loans – her monthly payments to Sallie Mae are $891 and by next November that figure will nearly double – so she started a website, Two Hundred Thou, in order to solicit donations from the public.

The site is devoted to sharing her story about the naivety of an 18- year-old, who was the first in her family to attend college and her reliance on readers to foot the bill. Space explains, “At the moment, I like to think I have great things going for me! A job, an accommodating family, loyal friends, etc... but these loans are crippling my ability to enjoy these things – or pay rent. Can I live?” She goes on to explain that by donating to her cause, you’ll also be helping the country as a whole.

Two Hundred Thou also tracks Space’s progress and so far she’s raised $1,726.50, leaving a mere $198,273.50 to go. Space ends with the notion that once her student loans are paid off she’ll spend her money elsewhere, “probably single-handedly spurring the economy.” To think you’re just a click away from cleaning up the mess of a recent college graduate, while fixing the economy and helping the country as a whole – and at $200,000, that’s a bargain.

However, we should point out – before you lend a helping hand – that we really don’t know who this person is or even whether this story is embellished or even entirely fabricated. The domain is registered privately, hiding the identity of the registrant, and the email address is just a gmail account anybody could have created. Sure, maybe this is on the up-and-up, but there’s really no way of knowing. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a bunch of these sites spring-up if this idea gains traction and exposure.

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Data Spill at University of Hawaii

Former Student Sues Over Privacy Breaches

November 22, 2010

Data Spill at University of Hawaii

by Suada Kolovic

Every day, you’re prompted to enter personal information on the web. Whether you’re buying a Kindle from Amazon, filling out a college application or applying for a job, you’re asked for a credit card number, your social security number and, in some cases, even your mother’s maiden name. And sure, in the back of your mind you know there’s the slightest possibility that your personal information could be disclosed, but I doubt that fear was a serious concern on your university’s website. Former University of Hawaii-Manoa student Philippe Gross was no different but on Thursday, Gross filed a class-action suit against the university after the system allowed a series of privacy breaches. It was only last month that the system discovered that a retired professor had posted social security numbers and other personal information about more than 40,000 alumni on a public web server. That wasn’t the first incident either: Back in July, the system acknowledged that hackers gained access to records of 53,000 students and employees at its Manoa campus.

Mr. Gross’s lawyer, Thomas R. Grande, said the University of Hawaii had violated the constitutional right to privacy of the students and employees who were affected. “For those with access to private security information comes a heavy responsibility to protect that information,” Mr. Grande said. The University of Hawaii-Manoa has acknowledged that they are working on improving its data security and, as of right now, their approach was inadequate. Though I doubt the thousands affected by the breaches take comfort in knowing that only now, after two incidents, has the university taken action.

Do you think the University of Hawaii – or any institution for that matter – should be liable for data breaches?

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Boston University Student Wins ‘Jeopardy!’ College Championship

Will Use Winnings to Pay Student Loans, Graduate Debt Free

November 26, 2010

Boston University Student Wins ‘Jeopardy!’ College Championship

by Suada Kolovic

Competing against some of the brightest young minds in the country, Boston University sophomore Erin McLean became the 2010 “Jeopardy!” college champion on Saturday. The 2009 Danvers High School graduate beat out 14 competitors for the coveted title. Taking on challengers from Yale University and Southern Adventist University in Tennessee in the final round, McLean won the grand prize of $100,000. Aware of the current economic climate, McLean shared how she planned on spending her winnings: "The first thing I'll do is payoff my student loans. I'm really looking forward to graduating debt-free; that will be amazing." Any money remaining will go towards a new MacBook and a spring break trip with friends. (She is in college, after all!)

McLean, a lifelong “Jeopardy!” fanatic, explained that after missing the Final Jeopardy question, she was unsure of her fate – “If you watch the show, it looks like I didn't know whether I won or not," she revealed – but after a few gut-wrenching seconds, host Alex Trebek announced her the winner. As she made her way out to center stage, she stood beside Trebek clutching the championship trophy, giggling all the while. “It was unreal and one of the best moments of my life," McLean said. "I got to actually live my childhood dream. I never thought I'd even get called to be on the show, so to win ... Words can't even describe it."

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Meet Your New Floormate: Your Professor

University of Houston Encourages Interaction Between Students and Faculty

November 29, 2010

Meet Your New Floormate: Your Professor

by Alexis Mattera

Now that the tryptophan has worn off (we hope!), it’s time to get back to work and start preparing for finals. But would doing so be easier or more difficult if your professor lived down the hall?

University of Houston freshmen have been testing these waters since move-in day when associate professor of history Raul Ramos, his wife, their two sons and their dogs started calling the new Cougar Village dormitory “home.” Their relocation is part of the university's efforts to engage students by encouraging more informal interactions with faculty. Ramos and his family aren't alone, either: Two other faculty members – Catherine Horn and Carroll Parrott Blue – have also taken advantage of on-campus housing.

Provost John Antel believes this initiative will make the campus more personal – "We're a big, urban research university," he said. "It can be intimidating." – and increase the amount of students living on campus: Long known as a commuter school, UH currently has about 6,500 of its 38,750 students living on campus but its target is 8,500. University officials believe it will ultimately improve graduation rates and de-mystify academic life. "As a professor, you know the first year is critical," Ramos said. "Students don't know that one mistake can take two years to fix. One mistake that first year, and you're graduating in six or seven years instead of four."

The idea may seem novel but UH isn’t the first school to promote student-faculty interaction – Rice University places faculty members and their families in each housing complex on campus, as do other universities – yet I’m interested in seeing the long-term results. If there are any UH students in the audience, has having professors living in the residence halls changed the way you study, behave or view your future? We’d love a first-hand account!

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Hummusgate 2010

Princeton Students Say Sabra Spreads Injustice

November 30, 2010

Hummusgate 2010

by Alexis Mattera

While you may not think hummus is as newsworthy as Google buying Groupon, Nina Garcia’s new baby or the death of Leslie Nielsen, a group of Princeton students would beg to differ.

The Princeton Committee on Palestine recently circulated a petition (and collected more than 200 signatures) regarding Sabra hummus, whose owner has been accused of contributing to human rights violations of Palestinians in the West Bank because the company supports the Israeli military. A referendum will appear on this week's Undergraduate Student Government election ballot and if the measure is approved, a formal request will be submitted to Dining Services to provide an alternative hummus option at all university-run outlets. “We think it’s important to allow students to have choice, and if they want to eat hummus, not have to buy a product that’s so morally problematic,” said Yoel Bitran, president of the Princeton Committee on Palestine.

This issue isn’t just isolated inside Princeton’s gates: Students at DePaul, Georgetown and other schools across the country are voicing their support for or against Sabra via – where else these days? – Facebook. Events like “Save the Hummus! -- Vote Against the Sabra Hummus Boycott” and its counterpart, "Boycott Sabra Hummus" have gained substantial followings, more evidence the matter is spreading across campus populations. But even if the measure doesn’t pass at Princeton, Bitran is just glad awareness is being raised. “In the beginning people didn’t really understand why this mattered,” he said. “People thought that it was just about hummus and kind of trivial. I think most people kind of changed their minds…. At this point the referendum itself is a detail.”

What’s your take, readers? Is a chickpea just a chickpea or does it represent much more?

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Six is the Magic Number

Report Reveals Half of First-Time Students Finish School in Six Years

December 2, 2010

Six is the Magic Number

by Alexis Mattera

Theoretically, earning an undergraduate degree takes four years. But when you factor in internships, work and extraneous circumstances, getting a diploma or certification seldom happens within that timeframe. How long does it take? The U.S. Department of Education says six years…for just half of first-time students.

The DoE’s new report, "Persistence and Attainment of 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students: After 6 Years," states that of students who entered higher education in 2003-4, about half had earned degrees or certificates by June 2009 – the breakdown is 9 percent certificates, 9 percent associate degrees and 31 percent bachelor's degrees – 15 percent were still enrolled and 36 percent had left higher education. The report further dissects trends among students who began their post-secondary education at public two-year schools and four-year colleges (both state and private) as well as whether these students stayed with their initial institution or transferred to and graduated from another school.

I was able to graduate from the same university I enrolled in as a freshman in four years but I had to sacrifice several things – studying abroad, working more, accepting additional internships – in order to do so. Graduates, does the report sound at all like your college experience? Current students, are you on track to finish school when you thought you would when you started? High school students, what are your plans for the next four (or more) years?

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