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by Agnes Jasinski

A group of Cuban students that had plans to attend American community colleges on U.S.-funded scholarships have been denied visa requests to leave their home country.

A Miami Herald article today says that some of the students were also expelled from the Cuban universities they had been attending prior to winning the awards. The group of about 30 Cuban students were part of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs scholarship program. The program, which received more than 750 applications from Cuban students this year, provides scholarships to international students interested in attending American colleges. Candidates are chosen based on merit and are offered one-year scholarships to community colleges in Arizona, Tennessee and Idaho in fields like business, agriculture and communications.

The article suggests that the Cuban government felt the students would have been adversely affected by enrolling in colleges in the United States, and that the scholarships aimed to "ideologically permeate university students" because they included a summer program for the students on developing their leadership skills. This was the first year Cuban students would have participated in the program.

American students, on the other hand, have had success enrolling in Cuban programs. Recently, a medical student from Dallas opted to finish her degree in Havana because the Cuban school offered her a full scholarship, monthly stipend and room and board paid for by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health. The Latin American School of Medicine in Havana has seen an increase in the number of American students applying to its program the last few years. For those interested in less of a commitment but want a taste of college life outside the United States, perhaps a study abroad program is the way to go.


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Twitter Goes to College

September 3, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

This fall, a group of journalism students at DePaul University will learn how to be even more concise with their news briefs. The Chicago school claims their new course "Digital Editing: From Breaking News to Tweets" will be the first class devoted to Twitter and how the new media tool has changed the way reporters do - and should do - their jobs.

According to the syllabus, the course will look at not only how Twitter can be used as a source for finding out about legitimate news events, but how to fact-check information gleaned from the microblogging site. The class, taught by Craig Kanalley, a DePaul alum and digital intern at the Chicago Tribune, will also explore the effects of citizen journalism and bloggers on the industry, Search Engine Optimization and basic WordPress.

The school's news release describes Twitter as a "major player" and source of breaking news information, citing citizen reporting on the Iranian election and the school's own students tweeting at President Obama's inauguration as examples of how the site has not only competed with the major news organizations, but at times beat them to the big story.

Is the school placing too much emphasis on Twitter as a news source? Maybe a whole class devoted to the subject seems silly. But it's safe to say Twitter has become a go-to for journalists following politicians, who post everything from their plans to host health care forums to what they purchased recently at farmers markets. There's no doubt new journalists need to be well-versed in not only Twitter but how social networking in general can supplement - not drive - their stories.

Twitter is also useful not only for writers, but for job seekers, public relations and marketing professionals or those promoting fledgling freelance careers. Professors use the site as another way to reach their students or promote new courses. A one-time course this fall at Harper College in Schaumburg, Ill., will look at what Facebook and Twitter can do from a business perspective. While I'm not sure how many people would buy into some academics' assertions that sites like Twitter improve students' writing, perhaps it's not as silly to think of an all-Twitter course at a university when you consider how it and sites like it have changed how people communicate.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Just about a decade ago now, e-mail addresses were created as a reflection of how cool you were, or how funny you could be within the constraints given by AOL or Yahoo!

Today, e-mail addresses are less a novelty than a necessity, used with everything from shopping online to applying to jobs. No one will deny you a scholarship or financial aid if you have a goofy e-mail address, but it's best to get an early start now before you enter into the job world. In a tough economy and competitive job market, something as simple as an e-mail address could drop your resume to the bottom of the pile, or worse, fail to get past the employer's spam filter. Potential new hires spend so much time crafting that perfect resume and paying extra to print it on the fancy paper that topping it off with PartyGrl124@email.com seems counterproductive.

I was an offender myself, and recall a great deal of anxiety surrounding that first e-mail address. I went with a variation of my birthday and a personal quality I believed I had, "funnie," spelled that way because the right way was already taken by another individual who believed they were just as funny. Once I discovered Gmail, I went with the straight first and last name combo, and the old e-mail address is probably still collecting spam somewhere. I was also blessed with a college e-mail address that I used to apply to internships or correspond with professors as an undergraduate, but as some colleges are no longer assigning freshmen their own e-mail addresses or run forwarding services; instead, many are left to their own devices.

More often than not employers now prefer that resumes and cover letters be e-mailed to them rather than sent through snail mail. So get yourself on a free email site and see what's available related to your actual name, like John.Smith@email.com or JohnSmith321@email.com. Even something as innocuous as showing your love for your pet or baseball or food (spaghettilover@email.com) could put off or even offend an employer. (What if they hate cats, the Cubs or spaghetti?) If you're trying to be funny, charming or original, you're probably trying too hard. Maybe it's not fair, or an example of e-mail discrimination. Or maybe a professional e-mail address makes you look more professional.

If you have a sentimental attachment to your old e-mail address or feel that the new, straightforward address infringes on your creative side, keep the old one as your personal address. If you want to change user names across the board, UserNameCheck.com will show you which names are taken and which are up for grabs.


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by Agnes Jasinski

High school students now have more proof that it's as hard to get into college as they think it is. A study released this week titled "Playing the Admissions Game: Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition" looked at the record number of students applying to the country's top colleges and the decrease in admission rates at those schools.

Not surprisingly, the "most pronounced increases in competition" were in the Northeast - New Jersey, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York - where the most prestigious schools are located. The number of applicants accepted there fell by about 25 percent between 1986 and 2003. But competition has also increased everywhere else. Between 1972 and 2004, there was a 9 percent decrease in admission rates to four-year colleges.

The study, done by scholars from Harvard University and the University of Michigan for the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at potential reasons for the numbers. Students have become more competitive on their own, taking more AP classes and upper-level math courses, and the sheer number of applicants for the same number of slots at colleges has contributed to the frenzy.

So is this good or bad?

The study suggests that students are getting more stressed than anything else. Among those applying to the most selective colleges, more students are doing homework for 10 hours or more per week. But the majority are spending less time on homework than studying for and taking standardized tests. More students are taking both the ACT and SAT, multiple times. (The results of the latest batch of SAT-takers shows a drop in two points, according to the College Board.) Students are also applying to more colleges than ever before, perhaps a reflection of more schools using common online applications and the pressure to get into the most competitive schools.

One good trend coming out of the data and contributing to a more competitive applicant pool is the higher number of female applicants in recent years compared to the 1970s when the study's research pool began, an article by Inside Higher Ed says. Overall, it seems intense competition is here to stay, and it may do well for high school students to look beyond the most competitive colleges and make decisions based on whether a school has the programs they're interested in pursuing instead.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A Web site that aims to help more Hispanics graduate from four-year colleges has kicked off a research campaign to find out about those students' perspectives on higher education to make services for them more effective.

Latinosincollege.com will offer the survey, designed with the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, for the next few months on their site. The questions, which target high school, college and MBA students, explore students' thought processes in choosing careers, whether they apply for scholarships and how many receive them, and where they seek out their career advice. Also included are questions specific to students' experiences as Hispanics, namely how they feel about assimilating and maintaining their identities post-high school. The site's founder Mariela Dabbah said she hopes the results will make it easier for outside organizations to find more ways to help Hispanic students succeed in college and the workplace.

The site is geared toward the college-bound with blogs by educators and high school and college students, a resource guide that includes posts on topics like leadership development, managing a social life, money and time in college, and being the first in the family to attend college. Students also have access to other students and professionals, with "Ambassadors" responding to questions. The Ambassadors, who mentor high school students applying to college, attend youth workshops to learn about issues and concerns on the minds of those pursuing a higher education.

Dabbah came up with the site as a response to her own experiences looking for a job as an immigrant from Argentina and the lack of information for a population that she felt was being underserved. According to the site, Hispanic students have the highest high school dropout rate of any group at 50 percent and a college enrollment rate of 20 percent. A study done several years ago by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that although the number of Hispanics going to college was slowly rising due in part to the rapidly growing population, they were still half as likely to finish their bachelor's degrees as white students.

Joan Sotero Alvarez, a blogger on the site and assistant principal in the Progreso Independent School District in Texas, struggled to earn his bachelor's degree. He felt the pressure as the first in his family to finish college, resulting in several failed attempts at the state's entrance exam. Eventually, he was not only a successful undergraduate, but completed a master's degree as well. Today, he mentors students in Texas and Mexico who are at risk of dropping out of school. "I don't see failure in my students; I see hope," he says.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a U.S. Congressman for more than 40 years, has left behind a long history of higher education programming, including the passage of an act last summer that expanded grant funding for low income students.

Kennedy died late Tuesday from the cancerous brain tumor he was diagnosed with in May of last year. One of his most recent efforts was working to pass the Higher Education Opportunity Act last August, which reauthorized the Higher Education Act for the first time since 1998. The act increased Pell Grant maximums, reaffirmed several scholarship programs, including the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program, implemented loan forgiveness programs for eligible teachers and services in areas of national need, and detailed requirements that lenders provide borrowers with more information before issuing loans. The focus of the latest reauthorization was on expanding opportunities for scholarships and grant funding and streamlining the federal financial aid process in the wake of rising tuition costs and a more competitive student loan industry.

Kennedy had a long history of crafting higher education and student financial aid programs beginning with his work in 1972 on Pell Grants and Title IX, which prohibits the discrimination of women in education institution and has become known for increasing the number of women participating in college sports typically dominated by men. An article in the Chronicle for Higher Education today describes him as a "lifelong champion of equal rights and educational opportunity," attributing to him much of the work that went into the implementation of the federal direct-loan program introduced in the 1990s. The program allowed the government to lend money directly to students through their colleges.

>Kennedy, while not without his share of controversies, was able to get much of his work done through compromise and friends in the Republican base. Still, he was not without his critics. He publicly expressed his displeasure when the No Child Left Behind Act, legislation he had worked on with a number of Republican lawmakers, was passed with restrictions on grant aid to high-achieving math and science majors. In 2003, Kennedy attempted to move a bill through that would target colleges that gave preference to children of alumni, a timely topic today in the wake of the admissions controversies at several Illinois universities. His ties to his home state were obvious in much of his work in higher education, as Kennedy opposed any legislation that would impact the amount of student financial aid available to Massachusetts students

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Senator's sister and the founder of the Special Olympics, died earlier this month. Jean Kennedy Smith is the last surviving Kennedy daughter.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A new study offers surprising news in an uncertain economy: families are actually borrowing less money to cover college costs.

The study, titled "How America Pays for College," shows that about 58 percent of families did not borrow money for college for the 2008-2009 school year. Despite rising tuition prices of up to 5 percent over the last year, according to the College Board, high unemployment rates and deep budget cuts at schools across the country, it seems more families are relying on their own savings, scholarships and grant funding. While parents paid for about 36 percent of college costs, about 25 percent of students' costs in the year surveyed were covered by grants and scholarhips, and more than half of the respondents received some form of free aid, according to the study. The reliance on grants and scholarships increased by  15 percent over the last year, which could show more of an awareness by students to money available outside of lending in a struggling economy.

The same survey last year showed that about 53 percent of families chose not to take out loans for college. According to the New York Times, the numbers do not suggest that students would rather skip college than take out loans. In fact, fewer students than last year said taking out loans would stop them from pursuing an undergraduate degree, according to the article.

Other highlights of the study showed that:

  • 67 percent said they were confident in their ability to continue to meet the cost of college in the current economy.
  • 5 percent used credit cards to pay for college expenses.
  • 10 percent of costs were covered through students' own savings and employment.
  • 6 percent of costs were covered through students' relatives and friends.
  • 91 percent said that pursuing higher education led to a better life.

Of those who did borrow for the last school year, 25 percent took out federal student loans and 12 percent borrowed private education loans. Those who did borrow also spent about 30 percent more on their educations than those who did not, suggesting a higher cost of education for those who took out federal and private loans.

The study was conducted by Gallup for Sallie Mae last spring with more than 1,600 college-going students and parents of undergraduates responding.


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