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by Agnes Jasinski

A recent analysis by the Associated Press (AP) shows that student-athletes are 10 times more likely than non-athletes to gain admission to their intended colleges and universities through a "special admissions" process. The special admissions refer to allowing students to attend a school on criteria outside of what is typically judged by admissions officials, such as grades and standardized test scores. Put more simply, if you're a stellar athlete with grades that aren't so stellar, you're more likely to gain admittance to an institution of higher education than your less athletic peers.

The analysis identified more than 25 schools, including Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Alabama, where admissions requirements were bent significantly in favor of athletes. According to the AP, at the University of Alabama, 19 football players got in as part of a special admissions program from 2004 to 2006, the most recent years available in admissions data submitted to the NCAA by most of the 120 schools in college football's top tier. The AP got the information using open record laws. Ten schools did not respond to the AP's request, and 18 other schools, including the University of Notre Dame and the University of Southern California, declined to release their admissions data.

Coaches contacted for the AP story justified the special admissions on the basis that other students with special talents - musicians, for example, or gifted dancers - are also judged based on those talents. "Some people have ability and they have work ethic and really never get an opportunity," the University of Alabama's coach Nick Saban said in the article.

So do you buy it? The AP article suggests there isn't anything inherently wrong with special admissions, until it leads to student-athletes being admitted to schools they aren't prepared to attend. Should NCAA admissions criteria be more lax then? Student-athletes participating in NCAA sports are expected to not only have a minimum GPA and decent standardized test scores, but to maintain those qualifications while on a team. Those admitted for their special skills may not be ready for the rigors involved in maintaining a certain academic standard, or more generally, keeping to a rigorous academic schedule. What do you think? Should certain groups of students be offered "special admissions," or should standards remain the same across the board?


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by Agnes Jasinski

Michigan's ABC School of Bartending and Casino College has been capitalizing on out-of-work career-changers with classes in training potential new employees for new casinos planned across the border. Unemployment rates remain significant in Ohio, the site of the future casinos, despite a more positive economic outlook for 2010, and those looking for jobs with earning potential - casino dealers may make up to $60,000 a year - and a change of pace are learning to deal cards and count poker chips, among other tricks of the trade, at the casino school.

Many at the school hope to leave the school prepared for the more than 7,500 potential jobs at casinos to be built in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune says nearly 200 Ohio residents have come through the school's doors over the last two years. Students pay the base price of $1,000 to get through nearly 300 hours of training for a dealer certification, spending about 40 hours a week with current and former professional dealers. (The tuition increases if the students wish to learn more beyond properly counting chips, managing a game and dealing blackjack and basic poker.)

While the certification isn't a requirement of casino jobs, the students at the school feel their participation in the program could give them a leg up in a hiring process that will be undoubtedly competitive no matter the state's job outlook. The college has been so successful that it plans to open locations in Cleveland and Columbus next spring. In the Tribune article, John Pifer, who directs the Sacramento, Calif.-based Casino College, described the gaming industry as a field that "survives all economies."

The schools are good examples of certificate programs tailored to prepare residents of a community or state for local employment options. The Midwest has a number of technical schools specializing in automotive fields that have both suffered and thrived depending on changed in the auto industry. Other places offer certificates for those, like many of the students at the casino school, who have lost their jobs or are looking to build up their resumes. The Chicago Botanic Garden offers a horticultural therapy certificate program through a partnership with Oakton Community College. The focus of that program is on-site education with hands-on training in the field of horticultural therapy. Northern Essex Community College offers a certificate in sleep technology, a program that focuses on teaching students how to diagnose sleep disorders.

Many community colleges offer certificates in accredited programs that could help you land a job in even the toughest market, or to specialize a degree you may already have in your chosen field of study. If you're interested in adult programs or returning back to school to learn a new skill, consider your local options, as they may cost you less and even have ongoing relationships with local employers that hire a large number of applicants from those schools.


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by Agnes Jasinski

One of the most important steps you'll need to take in the financial aid application process is applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The Department of Education starts accepting the FAFSA Jan. 1 of each year, which just so happens to be tomorrow. So start your new year off right by filing that financial aid document, or filing a renewal FAFSA if this isn't your first time. State financial aid deadlines fall as early as February, so it's best to get a head start and know how much funding you can expect come next fall.

Both the FAFSA and renewal FAFSA are available online through Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. Completing the FAFSA online will speed up processing and leave less time for you to worry about how much financial aid you'll be receiving. Remember that it doesn't cost anything to fill out your FAFSA - the FAFSA is free - and some agencies will charge you for filling the application out for you. Once you complete the online form, you’ll be able to check its status, make any corrections as needed, and print your Student Aid Report once that is ready. (Your Student Aid Report summarizes what you've filled out on your FAFSA, and provides you with an Expected Family Contribution, or the total you and your family would be expected to come up with to fund your education.) If you aren’t comfortable filling out your FAFSA online, you can submit a paper form, but it does take longer to process than the online form.

In order to complete your FAFSA, you'll need the following:

  • your Social Security number
  • your driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • your bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • your records of untaxed income (if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2008 for the 2009-2010 FAFSA)
  • all of the above from your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • an electronic PIN to sign the form online

We have a number of resources available to those filling out their FAFSAs and preparing to apply for federal aid. Browse through our site so that you know exactly where to begin, what to expect, and how to file the application successfully, because if you do make mistakes you may delay the processing of your FAFSA. Happy New Year!


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by Agnes Jasinski

A recent Scripps Howard News Service article looks at one government job you may be surprised you don't need a college degree for. According to the Congressional Research Service, 27 House members, one senator, and two governors are currently serving without college degrees.

The article claims this is great news, considering the history of the position. Just 30 years ago, Congress had at least 48 representatives and seven senators without college degrees. Historians point to the idea that a college degree is becoming increasingly relevant for the position, which currently only requires U.S. citizenship and a number of years of residency in the state a politician is running in.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, right? We want our lawmakers to be educated. Do you know if your Congressman or Congresswoman holds a college degree? Considering the number of bills moving through Congress now related to college students' financial aid options and student lending practices, a college campus experience could be especially beneficial.

According to the article, the degree-less lawmakers defend themselves by saying they came up in a different era, when it was more beneficial to have a background in labor-intensive professions. In certain constituencies across the country, it may also be more useful to come from a farmer's background than an Ivy League one to better serve the communities those lawmakers look to represent. "They put their pants on the same way I put my pants on," Rep. Solomon Ortiz, a Democrat representing Texas' 27th District, was quoted as saying in the article about the difference between lawmakers with and without college diplomas. Ortiz joined the Army as a military officer to help support his migrant family, eventually becoming a sheriff when he returned home. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, ran a construction business for 28 years in Western Iowa before pursuing a Congressional seat.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the more educated Congressional lawmakers include 169 House members and 57 senators with law degrees, 83 House members and 17 senators with master's degrees, 16 doctors, six former Peace Corps participants, and five accountants. A more educated Congress also reflects the national trend. The percentage of people 25 and older with bachelor's degrees has increased from 4.6 percent to 28.7 percent between 1940 to 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Community colleges are enjoying a growth in enrollment numbers like never before. Nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up more than 24 percent over the last two years. The American Association of Community Colleges suggests the economic recession has led to more adults returning to college and improving upon their skills, or learning new ones. And the community colleges themselves are taking notice and planning for the future as their institutions become increasingly important on the higher education landscape.

In California, lawmakers are considering allowing the state's community colleges the authority to award bachelor's degrees, a move that is already in practice in 17 other states across the country. In Florida, for example, a number of community colleges offer nursing and teaching bachelor's degrees to address shortages in those fields across that state and, more generally, a shortage in college-educated residents. (Community colleges typically offer two-year associate degrees and certificates for a number of different professions.) While California's community college administrators agree the move would be a good one at a time when the state's four-year institutions are overcrowded and, many students say, overpriced, the state would need to budget it doesn't really have at this time to cover the costs of new programming. According to an article in the Contra Costa Times recently, California's community college system consists of 110 schools and nearly 3 million students. The campuses are also already overcrowded, according to state administrators.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, lawmakers are looking to introduce proposals that would have the state's 13 community colleges working more closely together with the state's four-year institutions. One plan would make it much easier to transfer credits from community colleges to four-year schools, something that has been a problem among students transferring after two years on the community college level. Legislators also hope to raise the state's graduation rates from both two- and four-year schools by offering remedial classes solely on the community college level rather than at four-year institutions and coming up with a broad curriculum that would remain the same across the board at all of the state's community colleges.

In Florida, the state administrators say is the best example of how a community college system should work, the graduation rate from the two-year schools is about 30 percent, the highest out of anywhere in the country. According to an article today in The Tennessean, this is thanks to how easy it is to transfer credits in Florida between two- and four-year schools. Indiana and North Carolina are also moving to similar models, making community colleges more "feeders" to four-state private and public universities rather than independent entities that only award associate's degrees.


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The Morality of Profit Project

December 28, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

Still finding yourself with a lot of time on your hands this winter break? This week's Scholarship of the Week could help you with that. The Morality of Profit Project through the SEVEN Fund asks applicants to write an essay of up to 3,000 words on the morality of profit, and whether the pursuit of profit is moral in the current global economic crisis.

The SEVEN Fund, or the Social Equity Venture Fund, is an independent nonprofit organization that provides monetary, organizational and intellectual support for the study of enterprise-based solutions to poverty. The essay scholarship aims to get more young people thinking about profit motives, as the debate is currently fairly polarized. If you have opinions on the topic and enjoy writing a good essay, this could be the perfect contest to get your creative juices flowing. The organization is also all about diversity, so those from diverse cultural, religious, philosophical, and academic traditions are especially welcome to participate.

Prize: SEVEN will award top honors to three essays, with a grand prize of $20,000, a second prize of $10,000, and a third prize of $5,000. The best pieces will be collected into a manuscript, which is intended for publication, and the program will culminate with an international conference in 2010.

Eligibility: Everyone is welcome to apply, no matter your field, discipline, or profession. The competition is also a global one, so both U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens are welcome to participate.

Deadline: February 28, 2010

Required Material: The essay must be submitted electronically in a Microsoft Word or PDF format only, using the submission form on the organization's website. Every essay must, in addition to the actual essay, include a 100 word abstract at the beginning of the document. Along with the submission, applicants are asked to include the following information in the submission form, as well as on the first page of your submitted essay: full name and mailing address, a contact telephone number, your email, and a brief paragraph biography. All information requested, including contact information, abstract, and the essay should be included in a single document.


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by Agnes Jasinski

For the first time in history - or in admissions officials' memories - Yale University has offered admission to a set of quadruplets. Ray, Kenny, Carol, and Martina Crouch of Danbury High School in Connecticut haven't yet decided whether they'll be attending the Ivy League school, but they've already made history just by receiving those acceptance letters.

In an article in The New York Times recently, the quadruplets describe being shocked by the news. While they were all hoping for that best-case-scenario of all being admitted to Yale, they were ready for at most one of their brothers or sisters being admitted, and the awkward scenarios that would follow. Jeffrey Benzel, the dean of admissions at Yale, called the quadruplets' applications "terrific," and that the school hoped they would attend.

The quadruplets have all also applied to the University of Connecticut and a number of other institutions separately. In the New York Times article, they describe the pros and cons of all attending the same school. “It might be fun to go somewhere where I’m not ‘one of the quads,'" said Kenny, who has also applied to Princeton University, Williams College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The cost of attending an elite private university is also a large factor. The kinds of financial aid the quadruplets receive from each school they've applied to could very well make their decisions for them.

The New York Times' education blog The Choice revisited the quadruplets' story this week after a number of comments from readers over the weekend suggested that the siblings only gained admission to Yale based on their minority status. (Their mother is Nigerian, and their father is white and from Connecticut.) Their applications, however, were solid. According to the New York Times article, their class ranks ranged from 13 out of a class of 632 (Kenny) to 46 (Martina). They also had impressive standardized test scores. Carol scored a perfect 800 on the verbal portion of the SAT.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Pittsburgh has dropped a proposal to enact a tax on college students as a way to raise revenue for the city following several weeks of criticism from not only students but the higher education community. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced yesterday that the city would instead focus on a "leap of faith," urging local colleges, nonprofits, and the business community to increase voluntary donations.

At a press conference Monday, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University both pledged to offer larger donations to the city than they had in previous years. Local insurer Highmark also pledged support. About 100 tax-exempt organizations gave a total of $14 million to the city between 2005 and 2007. The 1 percent tuition tax, described as the “Post Secondary Education Privilege Tax” or Fair Share Tax,” would have raised $16 million for the city to cover things like city employees’ pension funds and costs associated with the public library system until the city is able to get a handle on its budget problems. This "voluntary" agreement with the city's institutions only covers the upcoming fiscal year, however, so whether the city would ever revisit a student tax is unclear. The mayor also failed to say how much money would be offered voluntarily, as those deals have not yet been finalized.

The mayor also said he would target the state for more funding to solve the city's budget problems. A new group, the New Pittsburgh Collaborative, will come up with a list of things to ask the state for when the time comes, according to an article today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Previous talks have focused on raising taxes for those who in the city and expanding a tax on currently tax-exempt employees' payrolls, two proposals that would also not be met without resistance.

The fallout from the proposal was immediate. About 100 students came to a Pittsburgh City Council meeting recently to protest the measure, calling the idea "Taxation Without Representation" and a double tax on those students already paying taxes on things like sales items and property. An article in Inside Higher Ed today suggests other institutions of higher education were anticipating the outcome of the student tax to determine whether this could be an option in their cities. Some municipalities without strong support from outside organizations and voluntary contributions from their local colleges and universities may look to pass similar measures anyway, especially if those local economies fail to improve.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Do you think you'll get bored during winter break? If so, or if you want to be more productive than most during your time off, it's not too late to apply for essay scholarships with upcoming deadlines. This week's Scholarship of the Week invites applicants to describe political courage by any elected official on the local, state, or national level. With the deadline fast approaching, taking some time out to apply for this and other awards could be the perfect way to kick off the new year - especially if you're chosen as a winner.

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest wants to know what you think about political figures who you think have acted courageously in addressing political issues since 1956, the year John F. Kennedy's book "Profiles in Courage" was released. That book recounted the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers by taking stands for unpopular positions. The scholarship is presented annually by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

Prize: The winner receives $10,000 in the form of a $5,000 cash award and a $5,000 John Hancock Freedom 529 College Savings Plan. A second place winner receives a $1,000 cash award, and up to five finalists each receive $500 cash awards. The nominating teacher of the first place winner will receive the John F. Kennedy Public Service Grant in the amount of $500 for school projects encouraging student leadership and civic engagement.

Eligibility: The contest is open to U.S. high school students in grades 9-12 attending public, private, parochial, or home schools, U.S. students under 20 enrolled in high school correspondence/GED programs, and U.S. citizens attending schools overseas.

Deadline: January 10, 2010

Required Material: Applicants must write an essay between 700 and 1,000 words using at least five sources on how an elected official demonstrated political courage by addressing an issue at the local, state, or national level. John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Edward M. Kennedy are not eligible subjects for essays. A registration and essay submission form is available online through the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

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

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has chosen 19 schools across the country that it will investigate for instances of gender bias in the admissions process. The schools were chosen based on their proximity to Washington, D.C., with an eye toward making sure the list was a mix of the different kinds of liberal arts public and private four-year institutions.

The commission began its inquiry into whether colleges were being more selective when considering female applicants in November. Why is this happening now? Female enrollment has grown steadily over the years, with about 58 percent of bachelor's degrees being awarded to women, and there has been some concern that men have been given some admissions preference over women as the number of female applicants continues to rise.

The issue has been made even more controversial due to its link to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding. The law has been most often applied to athletics, as it mandates that men and women are equally represented on sports teams at these institutions. Advocates for female athletes have grown concerned over the inquisition, as it could raise questions about Title IX and whether the legislation is even still needed because the number of women in higher education has grown so significantly.

Perhaps the real question, however, is why the number of men enrolling in college has decreased. A focus on liberal arts colleges in this investigation could point to the fact that fewer men are interested in liberal arts educations, preferring instead technical or research universities or institutions that have proven backgrounds in male-dominated fields like engineering. Regardless, the results of the investigation should at least answer some questions as to whether gender bias is as prevalent as the commission believes, if women are being treated unfairly, and if there need to be changes made on the federal level regarding legislation to prevent inappropriate admissions practices.

The schools receiving subpoenas include the following: Georgetown University, Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, Shepherd University, Virginia Union University, Gettysburg College, Goldey-Beacom College, Goucher College, Messiah College, Washington Colleges, Catholic University of America, Loyola College in Maryland, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, York College of Pennsylvania, the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, and the University of Richmond. All of the schools were chosen based on their location and how representative they would be in the sample with the exception of the University of Richmond, which has been criticized extensively for reports of gender bias in its admissions policies.


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