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by Agnes Jasinski

The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the voluntary federation that represents the country's union movement, announced last week that it would be teaming up with the Princeton Review, the Princeton Review's subsidiary Penn Foster, and the National Labor College to offer an online institution to the organization's 1.5 million members and family of members. The college, to be named the College for Working Families, would aim to offer an affordable alternative to union members and their families and expand those new students' skill sets.

The news is unique in that it expands the first and only college dedicated solely to educating union members, offering rates per credit hour that will be competitive with the local community colleges. Penn Foster has some experience in the field, having provided mail correspondence safety courses to coal miners in 1890, and currently providing online courses to more than 220,000 students across the country.

Elsewhere, The New York Times announced earlier this month that it would begin offering online education certificates with the help of four colleges. The certificates would be given in emerging media journalism. Ball State University, for example, will offer a six-week course in video storytelling through its College of Communications, Information, and Media. Professors from those colleges will be teaching the courses, while the newspaper company will offer its staff for guest speaker engagements and will provide support in advertising the programs and coming up with the tools and technologies professors may need to teach the courses.

There hasn't been much negative press regarding the New York Times' announcement (perhaps because as the press, they're not viewed as a for-profit entity), but the National Labor College deal has stirred up some controversy. An article in Inside Higher Ed yesterday suggested that the for-profit nature of the partnership would move academics below turning a profit. The article also describes concerns about the alliance between the labor movement and higher education in general. Advocates for the partnership said that the link with the for-profit entities was needed as "support" in the marketing aspects of higher education, and that the new college would offer degrees not before offered at the National Labor College, such as business, health care and criminal justice.

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College News

Tags: College News , Online College

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by Agnes Jasinski

By now you've probably slept in, taking advantage of the day off from class. If you venture outside of your dorm room or apartment though, chances are your campus will have a number of activities happening surrounding the holiday. Why not then recognize the work and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by participating in a local activity celebrating diversity? It'll probably be more rewarding than watching reruns all afternoon.

Here are some highlights we found from college observances of Martin Luther King Jr. Day:

  • Former "lost boy" John Bul Dau will speak today at Champlain College tonight. Dau led groups of displaced Sudanese boys after 27,000 of them were driven from their homes in 1987 by the region's violence, and has raised $700,000 through a foundation he set up to open a clinic in Sudan.
  • Northwestern University will feature a performance tonight by Chicago jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis and his trio, as well as lectures, panel discussions, and film, music and theater events throughout the day.
  • Alma College will host a live performance tonight of "The Meeting," a drama about the lives and philosophies of Malcolm X and King.

Some students had planned to make the most of the day off well in advance. At the College of Charleston, teams of 10 students apiece are participating in the MLK Day Challenge, also known as the National MLK Day of Service.  Each team receives $75, a van, and six hours to help a local nonprofit group complete a community service project (painting playground equipment or leading educational sessions in the community, for example) by the end of the day. A number of students from Whatcom Community College will work on two projects today, partnering with Habitat for Humanity and with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association in stream-side restoration.

If you need some inspiration on this important day, check out how some teens in the Silicon Valley are living King's dream. It's never too late to help out, whether it's looking for ways to make change in Haiti or as close as your local neighborhood. Enjoy the day off if you want to, but consider what you can do to help out once you're done relaxing, because there aren't a shortage of volunteer opportunities out there. And if you need even more of an incentive, conduct a free scholarship search to see the number of community service scholarship opportunities out there for college students interested in volunteerism.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Peter Backus had been single for about three years when he decided not to exactly do something about it, but to find out why he had been so unlucky in love. The result was a paper called "Why I Don't Have a Girlfriend: An Application of the Drake Equation to Love in the UK."

Backus, a 30-year-old doctoral student in economics at Britain's University of Warwick, found that the reason was in the odds. Using the Drake Equation, typically applied to determine the odds of extraterrestrial life in the universe, he found that his odds of finding that woman of his dreams on any given night to be 1 in 285,00, or a 0.0000034 percent chance.

The equation assumed the following: only half of the women Backus would be interested in are single themselves, and Backus would only get along with 1 in 10 of those. (Backus only considered women in London.) Just 1 in 20 women were considered attractive by his standards, and the same number considered him attractive as well, something Backus joked in his paper was "depressingly low." Also included were the traits Backus looked for in a woman - a university education, an age between 24-34, and physical attractiveness. Based on those criteria and results, finding a girlfriend was fortunately about 100 times easier than finding an alien. (The Drake formula was originally used to determine that there could potentially be up to 10,000 civilizations in our galaxy.) Still, the odds weren't that good - only 26 women in London, where Backus lived, fit the profile of a woman Backus would date, and vice versa.

He ends his paper with this: "Make of this what you will. It might cheer you up, it might depress you. I guess it depends on what you thought your chances were before reading this." Single college students, don't panic yet. Despite the odds, Backus has found a girlfriend in London since, and one who meets all of his named criteria. Consider also that those numbers were specific to Backus. You may have a better chance wherever you are, your criteria may differ, or you may just be more attractive to the opposite sex than Backus. Or you may just consider this "data" for its entertainment value.

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Tags: Just for Fun

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by Agnes Jasinski

As the Red Cross speculates that up to 50,000 people may have died in the Tuesday earthquake in Haiti, colleges across the country have begun tracking down students, staff, and faculty members who are studying or conducting research on the devastated island.

Several schools had already been able to locate their students and employees. The University of Wisconsin at Madison has reported that the two student groups who were studying in  Haiti were safe and accounted for. One group was about 70 miles north of the capital with the organization Engineers Without Borders as part of a project to build a small hydroelectric plant. The second group was there as part of the Haiti Project, doing electrical work and working on bringing Internet connections to a small mountain village. A dean from Maryville University is safe and writing a blog about the situation. Four people from Virginia's Blue Ridge Community College who had traveled to Haiti as part of a program through the nonprofit SIFE, which works to build socially responsible business leaders, were safe following a full day of emailing and phone calls by administrators. Two students and a faculty member from Taylor University were also reported safe; the students were there working with Radio Lumiere, a Christian radio station.

Others were still looking to make contact in a country where it has become increasingly difficult to reach people, or even send aid. Administrators at Lynn University are still waiting for word about whether six of the 12 members of a group that arrived in Haiti hours before the earthquake hit are safe. The group was on a humanitarian mission. The University of Florida has not been able to make contact with two graduate students who went to Haiti to work on a documentary about building a school there. Two faculty members from that school working on a grant through the U.S. Agency for International Development were safe and accounted for.

If you feel helpless and want to do something, consider contacting the American Red Cross about a donation. The organization has already raised more than $800,000 for Haiti through its online and text messaging campaign - people can text "Haiti" to 90999 to send an automatic $10 donation to the Red Cross, an effort backed by the U.S. State Department. (Your donation will appear on your next phone bill, and all cell phone carriers are participating in the program.)

If the news has made you more aware of countries in need, there are a lot of things you can do both abroad and closer to home, and many alternatives to employment for college graduates looking to make a difference. Interested in education? Consider Teach for America, a program that offers a stipend and teacher certification in exchange for a commitment of one or two years teaching in a high-needs school. Often, students are eligible for loan deferment or forgiveness programs if they consider programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. Looking for something more short-term? Organizations like Habitat for Humanity work with student-led projects that have done quite a bit of difference in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Such programs don't just build character and help people, either - they're also good for your resume. So if you're interested, there's no time like now to sign up and help out, even if you just do some community service in your neighborhood.


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by Agnes Jasinski

High school seniors preparing for college and the task of choosing a major may be more aware now than ever before about the repercussions of choosing one field of study over another. Sure, the economy is looking like it could rebound this year, but all of those who lost their jobs in the crisis - many of whom have quite a bit more experience to boast than a recent college graduate - will be causing more competitiveness on the job market for years to come.

Should you sacrifice where your interests are for what you think may be a more secure, safe major? An opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week says "no." Obviously you need to exhibit some marketable skills to land a job post-graduation, but many of those skills are things you're able to pick up on your own. (The article gives the example of computer science majors. Many of the things you'll learn as a computer science major could be obsolete in the real world by the time you graduate, as those technologies are typically very fast-paced and ever-changing.)

It's also probably not a good idea to go into a field you have no interest in just because your parents think that major will land you an impressive salary later on. If you don't have a knack for a particular field of study, chances are greater that you won't do well in your core classes, and potentially even flunk out of school. You really won't be making that great salary if "college dropout" is a part of your resume. If you're interested in English, go for it. You'd be surprised to learn the premium employers place on good writing and communication skills. And if you're at the University of Texas at Austin, the course "The English Major in the Workplace" will offer you tips on building a resume, interviewing, and networking - skills that are important in all fields of study.

On the other side is the idea of "careerism," or that intense desire to succeed professionally. Schools are beginning to see this as a good thing, introducing ways to improve their graduates' chances when they're ready to start looking for jobs and to help those students worried about what they're going to do with their degrees. An article in the New York Times recently discussed ways colleges were adapting to a difficult economy by making drastic changes to their curricula. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has gotten rid of its philosophy major; Michigan State University did the same with American studies and classics. Declining enrollments in those fields suggested the students, at those schools, not administrators, were looking to more practical majors that would make them more marketable job candidates.

If you're able to, dabble a bit. You may not even know what you want to major in as soon as you get on campus. Reflect on where you'd like to see yourself after college, and what your goals are while you're in college. For some a high-paying major may be just the ticket. Others may not be left-brained enough to become engineers and computer technicians. It's fine to take some time to think about what you'd like to spend the next two to four years doing.


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by Agnes Jasinski

What if those worried about whether they can handle the rigors of college had an option to ease their worries about whether they were making a good investment? Would "failure insurance" get more of these hesitant students onto college campuses? How would students pay into such a program if they're already struggling to come up with the funds to cover college costs?

An academic paper called Insuring College Failure Risk put together by Satyajit Chatterjee, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and A. Felicia Ionescu, an assistant professor of economics at Colgate University, looked at the benefits of failure insurance, or policies that would reimburse students or offer forgiveness of some of their student loans if they flunked out of school. The paper concluded that the policies would be most useful to students from low-income backgrounds, a population that has been found to have higher college drop-out rates than other groups of students.

So how would it all work? The authors put forward a series of mathematical models that looked at both students' decisions to go to college and their decisions to drop out, finding that most any decision students make about college is a financial one. An insurance policy that offered students an amount that was high enough to make sense for them to continue taking classes, and often taking on more debt, but not so high that it would be an easy decision to drop out for the financial incentive, would be most successful. Students would be eligible for some loan forgiveness if they met the criteria for failing grades. Because students would still bear some of their student loan burden, that total would go toward something of a deductible, and could potentially work to keep more students in school so that they can avoid paying those fees to whatever insurance carriers would be offering these policies. Students would only have one shot at such an insurance policy, meaning they'd be on their own if they returned to school later in life after having flunked out.

Obviously something needs to be done to address high college dropout rates and the number of former students out there saddled with student loan debts but no degrees to speak of. According to the Federal Reserve Bank’s Survey of Consumer Finances, on average about 47 percent of those not in school with student loans to repay report that they don’t have two- or four-year college degrees. An article this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests there's no way to tell whether the academic paper has any legs outside of academic circles, and also points to other researchers' suggestions that offer students an incentive to stay in school - lowering tuition and fees and increasing access to and amounts of financial aid assistance, as examples.


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by Agnes Jasinski

One of the most common scholarships by type is the religious scholarship. No matter your denomination, there are probably a number of awards out there that you're uniquely qualified for, just for practicing your faith. If religion is an important part of your life, make sure you consider that when seeking out scholarships.

This week's Scholarship of the Week is awarded to "spiritual" applicants. The Roothbert Fund Scholarships don't emphasize a particular type of religious background or practice, but they do look to support those who are motivated by spiritual values. The Fund is a small, nearly all-volunteer scholarship fund based in New York City, which awards yearly grants and works to foster fellowship among grant recipients. Those grants are sent directly to the winners' colleges and universities.

Prize: Scholarship awards range from $2,000-$3,000, and about 20 scholarships are given annually

Eligibility: Scholarships are open to all regardless of sex, age, race, nationality, or religious background. The Fund has awarded grants to applicants entering a variety of fields, but preference will be given to those with impressive academic records and who are considering careers in education. Applicant interviews are scheduled on fairly short notice, so the New York-based Fund typically awards scholarships to those in the following states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia.

Deadline: February 1, 2010

Required Material: Applicants must request printed applications from the Fund. Those applications will require an autobiographical essay, transcripts, and recommendation letters. Applicants chosen to move on to the next round will be asked to come in for an interview held during March in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New Haven.  Applications change annually, so applicants are discouraged from copying printed applications from previous years.

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

Most would agree that 2009 wasn't a banner year in higher education. As the country dealt with a recession, colleges and universities were forced to find ways to make up budget deficits, at times increasing tuition and fees for incoming freshmen. Enrollments at some schools increased, but so did the number of financial aid requests. Several states were forced to cut aid programs at a time when students needed funding the most.

Could it get any worse? Some administrators think so.<

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week describes many administrators' belief that schools will need to continue to weather the storm through fall 2010. At a meeting of the Council of Independent Colleges this week, about 60 administrators from schools across the country discussed "keeping morale up" in the wake of a persistent recession and competing with community colleges, where enrollments only continue to grow as more adults return to school to improve their skills and become more competitive in a weak job market. Some college leaders said they were even working more closely with their local community colleges to improve not only relationships among institutions of higher learning, but transfer rates between community colleges and four-year institutions. One president said she now had at least two recruiters focusing solely on recruiting on the community college level.

The administrators also said this past year wasn't as bad as they had thought, so perhaps their predictions won't come to fruition. Most met the enrollment numbers they were hoping for, despite community college competition, by getting creative - targeting more graduate students and returning adults. Unique academic programs specific by campus also did well, as did athletic programs. (Recruitment efforts of athletes on two-year campuses also increased.)

What do you think about the outlook of 2010? Is there anything for administrators, and perhaps more importantly, students, to worry about? Is this the year we'll see changes to the federal student loan program? Tuition rates will probably continue to rise, but that was happening before the recession. Will enrollments drop at four-year colleges? So far it would seem that even at schools where available financial aid has decreased, enrollment has remained steady. There are reasons to be positive, so even if college leaders think 2010 will be the tough one, the college-bound should never use that as a reason to put off going for a college degree, especially with all of the scholarship opportunities out there.


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by Agnes Jasinski

President Obama announced a renewed focus on "Educate to Innovate" yesterday, this time targeting the need for more math and science teachers. As part of the most recent developments involving that initiative, leaders representing more than 120 public universities pledged to do their part to increase the total number of math and science teachers from 7,500 to 10,000 by 2015. Of those who pledged that promise to the White House, 41 said they would double the number of teachers they trained in that same period.

"Educate to Innovate" was first announced last November. The program was first announced with the aims to encourage more middle and high school students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The program called on outside organizations to spend their own money and time to educate students on the kinds of things they could do in those fields, and improve their skill sets in those areas. This time around, the focus was on the colleges. The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities has admitted it could do more to not only get more students interested in the maths and sciences, but to better prepare those who do pursue those fields to make the United States more competitive on the international scene in those disciplines.

The White House also announced that the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships in Math and Science program would be expanded to include Michigan and Ohio, the National Math + Science Initiative's UTeach program would be expanded to include 20 additional universities, and that NASA, in partnership with companies, non-profits, and states, will launch a pilot program to enhance learning opportunities in STEM fields for students during the summer.

If you're already interested in science and math, make sure you know about all of the scholarship opportunities that could be available to you. As more emphasis is placed those fields of study, the incentives to pursue those disciplines will grow, so the time is now to apply for funding to pursue a degree in a STEM field. The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retail Talent (SMART) Grant is awarded to undergraduates in their third or fourth year. Eligible recipients must already be Pell recipients, and the maximum award is $4,000. If you’re interested in competitions, the Intel Science Talent Search targets high school seniors with original research. To see whether you qualify for any of these or thousands of other scholarships, many of them related to the maths or sciences, conduct a free scholarship search to see the kind of awards you’re eligible for.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Whether you place much value on the lists that come out ranking colleges each year or not, it's never a bad idea to do your research and be informed when starting your college search. The latest, a ranking of the "100 Best Values in Public Colleges," comes from Kiplinger, which based its conclusions on a combination of academic quality - standardized test scores, retention and graduation rates, student-faculty ratios - and the schools' costs vs. financial aid offerings.

Knowing what the "best deals" are out there, at least according to Kiplinger, may not be bad information to have, especially as tuition costs continue to rise and high school graduates are increasingly looking at college costs and the best bang for their buck when choosing their intended colleges. The list is led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for overall value, and Binghamton University for best out-of-state value. Kiplinger says both those schools offer either the same or more financial aid than they have in previous years, despite a year where schools have looked to raise tuition and cut aid to recoup budget losses, while still delivering impressive academic programs. Other schools that ranked high included the University of Maryland at College Park and the University of Virginia.

Using the magazine's scoring tool, Kiplinger also offers a large amount of data that allows students to make their own assumptions, including in-state vs. out-of-state costs at public institutions and the average financial aid award at any given school. You're also able to search by state or by school to see whether the school you intend to attend is a "good deal." It may not hurt to know whether you're sacrificing quality for cost, or weighing the options of an expensive private college over a less expensive public institution. (Kiplinger also ranks the "Best Value" private colleges with rankings for the top 50 private liberal arts colleges and the top 50 private universities. Pomona College led the liberal arts colleges; the California Institute of Technology led the private universities.)

Remember that it's also important to do your own research when choosing the right school. Consider not only the tuition and fees associated with the school, but whether the colleges you're considering offer the fields of study you may be interested in down the line. Do you want to be close to home, or a little farther away? What kinds of extracurricular activities are you interested in? Are you an athlete, narrowing your choice by a school's sport offerings and athletic scholarships? Weigh the pros and cons of every school you're considering to make the best choice, and when you've narrowed that list down, it may come down to the financial aid each school is offering you.


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