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by Agnes Jasinski

College professors worried about low enrollments in their courses are going the advertising route, posting videos on YouTube to show potential students what they should expect in their classes, and why students should put those classes on their schedules.

Jeremy Littau, an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University, put up a YouTube video about his multimedia reporting class last week, just before registration started for the fall semester. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the clip includes footage of current students interviewed about what they learned in the class and of projects produced by students in the class. Littau said in the article that the video may be even more helpful than emailing a current syllabus of the class to interested students. He has posted the link on Facebook and Twitter, and emailed the video to journalism majors at the colleges.

The videos may also be useful in disproving popular misconceptions about courses that professors want to change, or making traditionally dry subjects in the science and math fields more interesting. Joe Pomerening, an assistant professor of biology at Indiana University, has used YouTube to promote his Biology 211 course on molecular biology.

Some professors will be struggling even more than usual to fill seats in their classrooms as colleges begin retooling their general education curricula. George Washington University, for example, recently dropped foreign language requirements from the school’s curriculum, a move that has professors in those courses worried that their positions will be eliminated. According to a recent story in USA Today, foreign language courses at the school won’t count toward the fulfillment of any requirement, in effect discouraging students from enrolling in those classes, the professors say. The school dropped the foreign language requirement as part of a broader effort to make necessary courses more about learning outcomes like critical thinking, creative thinking and quantitative reasoning, and not about particular subjects. 

How flexible is your college when it comes to general education requirements? Would you consider a course based on the promotion behind it? We want to know!


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by Agnes Jasinski

You may remember a recent initiative begun by Lansing Community College that guaranteed students jobs post-graduation if they completed programs in high-demand fields at the school. The idea of offering incoming freshmen guarantees in exchange for their enrollment in a particular school has caught on, with more schools, especially those with low enrollments, providing students with promises of clearer career paths and timely graduations.

Albion College, also in Michigan, recently unveiled a new program called “The Albion Advantage,” which aims to get students career-ready as soon as they step onto the school’s campus. Students will now be provided with a higher degree of professional services early on, with career planning weaved into the private liberal arts school’s curriculum and assessments that analyze students’ strengths and weaknesses to provide them with a better idea of which careers they would be most successful in. The biggest change, however, is the school’s new post-graduation guarantee. Students who graduate with a 3.0 GPA but are unable to find jobs in their major areas after they graduate are eligible to receive assistance from the school in the form of internships and research assistant opportunities on and off campus, more professional development services until they land jobs, and a free, noncredit semester at Albion.

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education took a look at the Albion’s program and the reasoning behind it. Administrators at the school say the college decided something had to be done after the previous year’s enrollment numbers came in. Albion had planned to enroll 475 to 500 new students; 434 freshmen enrolled instead. The cost of attending the school (about $40,000 per year) may have been a factor in the decrease in applicants, as students are looking for better deals elsewhere through state colleges or vocational schools where they may learn a skill or trade and enter the workforce. Michigan is also the state with the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Elsewhere, colleges are using different guarantees to get students interested in their schools. The University of Maine at Farmington introduced the "Farmington in Four" program earlier this year. That program promises incoming freshmen that if they don’t graduate from the school within four years, they will be able to complete their remaining coursework free of charge. (According to the U.S. Department of Education, a little more than half of all students at four-year colleges graduate within six years. Private colleges have the highest graduation rates, according to U.S. News and World Report’s recent rankings of the “best colleges” in the country.)


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you're a decent writer, essay scholarships may be your opportunity to shine and win awards to help you cover your college costs. This week's Scholarship of the Week doesn't ask for things like your race or financial status. All it asks for is an essay and verification that you'll be enrolled in at least three credit hours this summer or fall.

The Alvin Cox Memorial Scholarship asks applicants to write an essay on what you've probably already thought about - their reasons for deciding to go to college. (An essay like this could also easily be retooled to serve other purposes, from personal statements to other awards that have broad essay requirements.) The fund was created in 2006 in memorial of Alvin Cox, a public school teacher for more than 40 years whose passion was matching students with financial aid opportunities so they may have a way to pay for college. Although the prize money may not seem very impressive, if you're a natural when it comes to the written word, winning several scholarships like this one will make a difference when you're determining how much to borrow to pay for college.

Prize:

15 $700 scholarships, with several smaller award amounts possible as well

Eligibility:

Undergraduates and graduates enrolled in at least three credit hours this summer or fall are eligible to apply. Those attending career schools are also eligible to apply, as long as they describe why they chose a career school in their essays. (About 10 percent of the fund's scholarships are awarded to those attending career schools.) High school students enrolled in dual credit courses that require out-of-pocket expenses are also eligible to apply.

Deadline:

May 31, 2010

Required Material:

Those interested in the scholarship must submit online their name, email address, academic year, and and an essay based on the following: Please discuss any factors that influenced your decision to pursue a college degree. You may discuss any people who affected your decision making process and explain how your decision may have been different without their influence.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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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

As students begin evaluating their offers of acceptance from colleges, one factor may weigh more heavily than any other on the tough decisions of choosing the right school - financial aid. The financial aid opportunities School A offers to incoming freshmen that School B does not may be what makes or breaks the decision on where a student will enroll, even if School B is the student's "dream school." Comparing financial aid offers is then an integral process in the decision-making process, and unfortunately you don't have a lot of time to send your notice back to each school you've been accepted to. Here are some tips to navigate the process, and help you determine how to find the "best value":

  • Compare the scholarships and grants available at each school. Have you already been offered either, or has the school simply notified you of your eligibility for more free funding?
  • Compare student loan amounts. What may seem like the best offer at first may actually be anchored by a significant amount of student loan debt. Student loans should be your last resort as far as covering college costs.
  • Compare your expected family contributions. Schools may handle this piece of information differently, and may even accept more information about your family's financial situation after you've received your financial aid package. It's fine to question a school's offer, especially if there are big discrepancies between what each school is offering you.
  • Compare the tuition and fees of each school, and what that financial aid package covers. Some schools may offer you what appears to be an impressive amount of aid based on the cost of tuition alone, and you already know college costs include a lot more than that base price - fees, books and supplies, and room and board, for example.
  • Be aware of what you're eligible to receive next year. Some schools may offer a more impressive financial aid package to incoming freshmen, and pad students' offers the following year with more student loans. Do your research. Compare average student loan debts at each school, talk to students already attending each school, and be frank with your financial aid administrator.
Some students may have been lucky enough to have been accepted into a program that has offered them a tuition-free education. A recent article in USA Today took a look at colleges that offer to pay the tuition of all new students, despite all you've already read about tuition and fee increases across the country. Some are military schools that require a commitment from you to serve in the military post-graduation, but others are schools where there exists a need for new graduates, either due to the school's locations or lack of graduates in certain fields of study. Webb Institute, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and the College of the Ozarks, for example, all offer tuition-free educations to students. Do you know of more? Tell us about them!


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many students are preparing for the last few weeks of finals, completing projects and cracking books open for a week of finals. Students at Southern Catholic College in Georgia, however, are packing up their bags, potentially for good. Tomorrow is the last day of the semester at the college, nearly a month ahead of schedule due to budget woes that made it impossible for the school to maintain its schedule of courses through mid-May, the traditional end of the spring semester.

The decision was announced abruptly earlier this month by Rev. Shawn Aaron, the school's president and a priest of the Legionaries of Christ, via email to faculty, staff, and the school's nearly 200 students. Students will receive full credit for the entire semester, and graduating students will receive their diplomas in an upcoming simple ceremony at the college. In the email, Father Aaron gave no indication as to whether the school would reopen at all, or whether this was a temporary budget fix. According to an article in The Catholic Review, the school would need $6 million to reopen by June.

The school was founded in 2000, but has had some financial trouble since its first years of operation. According to The Catholic Review, the school had gotten into the bad habit of spending more than it took in; in 2007, the college spent $2.5 million more than it should have, and only continued the trend in the years that followed. The formerly privately-run institution was transferred to the Legionaries of Christ in the fall of 2009, but the congregation was unable to financially support the school. In addition to overspending, the students at the school who were on full scholarships outnumbered those who paid full tuition, room and board, which runs more than $24,500 a year.

Students didn't see the early closure coming, according to the article. They went to social networking sites when they heard the news, learning mostly through hearsay why the school would be closing so suddenly. Their worries include how their grades will be calculated based on the shortened semester, and whether their credits will transfer over to other institutions if the school closes for good. According to The Catholic Review, the school's president waited so long to notify the student body because the school board was waiting to hear back about a last-minute plea to a benefactor of the college. That plea did not lead to any last-minute funding, so the decision was made to close the school when it was apparent the school was unable to pay its faculty and staff beyond April 15.


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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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Bonner Scholars Program

April 12, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

Community service scholarships and awards based upon an applicant's volunteer experience are one of the more common scholarship categories out there, so if you have quite a bit of volunteerism under your belt, you could be eligible for a large number of scholarships that reward altruistic individuals like yourself. In honor of April being National Volunteer Month, this week's Scholarship of the Week is one such scholarship, and recognizes students interested in continuing their volunteer work on the college level.

The Bonner Scholars Program is open to students in 27 schools across the country, and annually recognizes more than 1,500 students who wish to engage in community service while going to college. Chosen scholars are asked to serve at least 10 hours of volunteer service each week, and must complete at least one full-time summer service internship during their time in school. If this sounds like something you're interested in and your school is on the list of schools that operate the Bonner Scholars Program, you could be eligible for a stipend rewarding your hard work.

Prize:

Award amounts vary by school. Davidson College, for example, allocates $1,250 to each scholar per semester, with more funding available for summer-service stipends and in loan reductions. (The four-year total there is $17,500.)

Eligibility:

Applicants must be attending one of 27 schools that support the Bonner Scholars Program, and most recipients also demonstrate high financial need. Applicants will be asked to fulfill set community service requirements, and will need to recommit to the program annually if they wish to remain Bonner Scholars.

Deadline:

Deadlines will vary by campus.

Required Material:

Applicants should contact the admissions of financial aid office of their intended college to apply for the program. Those administrators will then direct you to the Bonner Scholars Program office where applicants may receive additional information about applying to the program. Applicants may complete more than one application if they are considering more than one school with the Bonner Scholars Program.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Teaching assistants who may not be able to keep up with the rigors of marking up hundreds of papers per semester while maintaining their own academic schedules may soon be relieved of their duties if a new trend catches on - outsourced grading.

The University of Houston is already trying it out through Virtual-TA, a service of a company called EduMetry Inc. whose employees work mostly from Asia. According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Houston business professor Lori Whisenant decided to use the service when she realized her seven teaching assistants were having trouble giving productive, detailed feedback to the 1,000 or so juniors and seniors who enrolled in her course in business law and ethics each year. Her students come up with nearly 5,000 words a semester.

The company, which was co-founded by a business professor, boasts that it can do the job even better than teaching assistants, and leaves professors with more time to teach and conduct research. According to the Chronicle, many of the American schools that have signed up are business schools, with a mix of for-profit and nonprofit institutions using the outsourced services. West Hills College in California uses the service for its online courses, and instructors there say the extensive feedback on grammar and other writing errors that teaching assistants may ignore in favor of more "big picture" problems with essays has kept some students from dropping out of the online classes.

So how does it work? "Expert graders," or "assessors," submit grades online using rubrics from the professors teaching the courses. They communicate solely via email, and are given syllabi and textbooks from the courses to prepare for their grading assignments. Their feedback is embedded into the documents they receive from students; those comments may be edited by the professors before they are returned to the students. The graders do this for a living, so the biggest difference between the outsourced assessors and local teaching assistants is that they're not juggling their coursework at the same time.

Critics of the service worry that it makes the grading process even less personal than it already is with teaching assistants at the helm. These outsourced graders don't know anything about the students they are grading, critics say, making it difficult to adjust their comments to fit each student. Those who like the service, however, say it shouldn't matter where a grader is submitting their feedback from, whether that is across the hall or from a work station in Singapore. What do you think? Is this the future of grading?


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by Agnes Jasinski

One California law school is being very transparent in their attempts to make their students' grades more competitive, thanks to recent revisions in their grading system. Loyola Law School in downtown Los Angeles recently announced they would be bumping students' GPAs up by one-third of a point, to align themselves with other schools in the area they feel already grade on a higher curve. Students who had an A- in a course would now receive an A, for example.

The fix may not be considered grade inflation in the traditional sense, as it involves a school-wide decision to raise the student population's GPAs and includes the full support of the administration. Grade inflation is typically less obvious, and may vary course by course. The stereotype at many of the most prestigious private colleges across the country is that once you gain admittance to such a school, you won't meet much resistance in your goal to graduate with an impressive GPA.

The situation at Loyola suggests that schools are paying more attention to their grading policies as a way to keep students from seeking out colleges where they have better potential to graduate with a higher GPA. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the school decided to give students' GPAs a boost when it noticed many of their graduates had been entering the job market at an unfair competitive disadvantage. The change won't only affect current Loyola students, but recent graduates since 2007. The boost will make the most difference to students on the cusp of a B-average, as many employers are hesitant to consider job applicants with GPAs below that point.

Critics suggest it will make it even harder for graduates to land jobs now that the change has hit the news, as now employers know the school has artificially inflated the students' GPAs. Administrators disagree: "We're not trying to make them look better than other comparable students at other schools. We just want them to be on an even playing field," Victor J. Gold, the school's dean, said in The Chronicle. The students' class ranks will not be affected by the change.

On the other hand, professors at some schools have been faced with "quotas" that limit them in awarding a certain amount of one letter grade over another, leading some students to complain of grade deflation. This has created some discontent at Princeton University, for example, where students worry that grade inflation at nearby Ive League schools will place them at a disadvantage. (Princeton has been working to urge professors to offer grades based solely on work and merit, not outside pressures, for several years.)


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