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An Important Piece of the Economic Puzzle

Obama Reveals Community Colleges Integral to Recovery

October 6, 2010

An Important Piece of the Economic Puzzle

by Alexis Mattera

Yesterday was a big day for community college students and faculty everywhere and rightly so: Not only did a recent poll reveal four-year colleges may not be the right educational choice for all students but President Obama himself stated that two-year colleges are instrumental to our country’s economic recovery.

Yesterday’s summit was attended by more than 100 community college decision makers and was the first of its kind at the national level, thanks to Second Lady and longtime educator Jill Biden. Two-year colleges were heralded as a bridge to jobs and four-year universities – state and private – alike and a key factor to enrolling more students and boosting completion rates. The summit comes on the heels of Obama’s announcement of the Skills for America’s Future program, which will connect businesses with community colleges to help better match workers with jobs now and into the future. Obama also brought to light a Republican plan proposing to cut education spending by about 20 percent – exactly the opposite of what this country needs if it wants to become the nation with the highest college graduation rate. “We are in a fight for our future,” he added, and community colleges are crucial to boosting degrees and competing with countries that are leading in higher-education attainment.

Community colleges have gotten a bad rap over the years but in truth, they are responsible for a number of outstanding individuals, like this 20-year-old who’s concurrently attending the University of Wisconsin-Barron County and serving as his town’s mayor. Pretty impressive!


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Textbook Alternatives = Big Savings

Open Books, Rentals Preserve Students’ Funds

October 8, 2010

Textbook Alternatives = Big Savings

by Alexis Mattera

As a college student, my pockets were far from deep but they got even shallower when I stopped at the co-op to buy my books at the beginning of each semester. My wallet and I loathed the astronomical price tags (even for used copies!) with a passion because we both knew there had to be a way for me to get books and not be forced to subsist on Top Ramen until my next break. I was right…just kind of bummed it didn’t happen during my collegiate tenure.

Data from the Student Public Interest Research Group’s new survey disclose textbooks available for free online or sold in print for low cost could slash students’ textbook bills from $900 to $184 each year. Using eBooks and textbook rental services like BookRenter.com and Chegg.com can also reduce book costs by $300. Though 93 percent of students surveyed said they would rent “at least some of their textbooks,” Cerritos College student Donald Pass prefers the flexibility of open textbooks because he could read the material for free online, purchase a print copy with study aids or print it himself. (Daytona State's administration agrees and will begin offering eBook access to students this coming January.) Professors like Lon Mitchell of Virginia Commonwealth University, however, say this option is troublesome because students often bring only limited sections of text to class, making it difficult for instructors to review supplemental material in different chapters. Mitchell also said that a number of his students have resisted the online versions of the open textbooks because compared to the print versions, they felt the online text was lacking.

I hear what Mitchell is saying loud and clear but if a student can reduce their spending by up to 80 percent by using open books and textbook rentals, I have a feeling print editions are going to be seen less and less as the years go by. Students, are you utilizing eBooks and textbook rentals or are you still relying solely on hard copies you don't have to share or return? If you’re using both, is there a noticeable difference in the material quality like Mitchell said? What's your preference between these options?


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Montana State Aims to Up Graduation Rate

by Alexis Mattera

Montana State University has a glass-half-full outlook when it comes to graduation rates but its students aren’t exactly sharing that mentality: Though the school announced it had enrolled record 13,559 students for the fall semester, only half that number will make it to graduation day.

Graduation rates aren’t that different nationwide – about 57 percent of students who enroll in U.S. four-year colleges earn a degree in six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics – but these low numbers are cause for concern and in order to reach President Obama’s goal of making America the leader in college graduates by 2020, the country’s public universities need to do whatever they can to shed the label of "failure factories." Things are looking up for MSU for the time being, though: The retention rate for last year's freshmen who returned this fall was 74 percent - 2 points higher than last year and a record for the past 10 years.

So what’s being done in the Treasure State? MSU President Waded Cruzado says she plans to renew attention to the goal of graduation with the help of the Montana Board of Regents by getting more people to earn two-year or four-year degrees. But why are so many MSU students are dropping out in the first place? Despite the less-than-favorable economy, finding money for college isn’t the issue; instead, students surveyed cited lack of direction, affinity/connection with the school and overall interest in college classes. MSU is responding by ramping up its career coaching with freshmen and advising to help undecided students pick a major and launching a campaign to lure back former students who have left the university in the last three years.

The university is doing much more than what’s listed above (check out yesterday’s article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle) but will any of it work? Students leave school for myriad reasons and sometimes no amount of advising, coaching or incentives can change that. Then again, an extra push can make a difference for many students on the fence about their education. How would you respond to MSU’s initiatives?


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You’re Hired…Maybe

College Grads Get Good News on Employment

November 18, 2010

You’re Hired…Maybe

by Alexis Mattera

Finding a job has never been easy but over the past few years, that same task has become even more nerve-wracking and downright disheartening. This situation is all too familiar to recent college graduates, who – save for an internship or two – have very little experience outside the classroom but the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University just revealed the hiring of new bachelor's-degree graduates expected to increase by 10 percent this academic year.

Institute director Phil Gardner describes this news as the first step out of a deep hole – this year’s increase is over last year's hiring, which held steady after it tumbled 35 to 40 percent in 2008. The report, "Recruiting Trends 2010-2011," says hiring will not increase across the board but will instead be seen in certain industries, for specific majors and in isolated areas of the country:

  • More recent graduates will be hired by manufacturers, professional-services companies, large commercial banks and the federal government; smaller banks, state governments and colleges and universities project drops.
  • Grads with majors and experience in business, technology, e-commerce, entrepreneurism and public relations will have better luck than those in the fields of health sciences and social services; companies also plan to increase hiring 21 percent among liberal-arts majors.
  • The Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions will see the highest increases in recent graduate hiring, while the Northwest will see a 10-percent decline.

If these findings don’t relate to your situation, there’s still a chance you could snag the job of your dreams: Thirty-six percent of employers say they will consider applicants regardless of major. So, recent and soon-to-be college graduates, breathe those sighs of relief and start updating those resumes!


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Nobody’s Business

Interest in the Once Most Popular Major Stalling, Falling

December 13, 2010

Nobody’s Business

by Alexis Mattera

One would think that the condition of the U.S. economy would have undergraduates declaring business as their majors in droves. One would also, however, be wrong: Federal and college data show interest in the field is mimicking the Metrodome roof and falling.

Inside Higher Ed reports business is no longer the big man on campus in terms of majors and interest appears to be static and even waning at many schools. Since 2008, Pennsylvania State University has recorded a 30-percent decline in undergraduates accepting offers from its Smeal College of Business – a trend that’s far from isolated: Though rates have remained stable and even increased at the University of Oregon and Indiana University, the share of business majors at University of Central Florida is down by nearly 15 percent this semester relative to 2008 and 13 percent fewer students are enrolled in Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management this semester compared to two years ago; last year, the number of applicants dropped 26 percent from the previous year.

John Pryor, director of the survey-conducting Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California Los Angeles, suggested student loan debt and the perceived lack of career stability in business may be fueling this shift. "Even though students have higher debt, some are seeing that business is not as likely to help them pay that debt back," he wrote. "We also saw business employees losing jobs and having lower incomes, so perhaps students see business as not providing as sure a track towards economic freedom as in the past." The survey also suggested undergraduate interest in business peaked long ago – 1987 to be precise, the same year Gordon Gekko famously declared "greed, for lack of a better word, is good” in the movie “Wall Street.” Coincidence?

Students, has the economy influenced what you’re majoring in? Are you more likely to take pages from the books of computer science majors Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg instead of emulating good ol’ Mr. Gekko?


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Happy Holidays…We’re Eliminating Your Degree!

U. Missouri to Reduce Degree Offerings by 16

December 27, 2010

Happy Holidays…We’re Eliminating Your Degree!

by Alexis Mattera

Welcome back, everyone! Have the holiday hazes, mall bruises and food comas worn off yet? If not, this next story may snap you back to reality…especially if you’re a University of Missouri student.

Just before our break, the Chronicle and Columbia Daily Tribune reported the university is poised to truncate its degree offerings by 16 - a decision that came after a state-mandated review revealed multiple programs graduating on average fewer than 10 bachelor’s, five master’s and three doctoral degrees per year. While a change like this isn’t new – SUNY Albany announced similar changes a few months ago – the method is: Some programs will be disappearing all together but the majority will merge with existing programs and create new degrees. Among the changes, Spanish and French programs will join to form a Romance language degree and the three master’s programs within the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources may be rolled into one catch-all degree covering forestry parks, recreation, tourism, and soil, environmental and atmospheric sciences; education specialist and doctoral degrees in career and technical education, a specialist degree in special education and communication sciences and disorders doctorate and a clinical laboratory sciences bachelor’s program within the School of Health Professions will be eliminated completely.

The proposed changes are expected to be approved by the Missouri Department of Higher Education and the Coordinating Board of Higher Education in February. The affected programs, however, will continue for a while – even years – because, says Deputy Provost Ken Dean, the university will not implement anything that would have a negative impact on current undergraduate and graduate students. Are you enrolled in any of the programs mentioned? Will this news impact your decision to remain in your current major? Are you considering transferring to a different school with a more specialized program?


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Fee Increase? No Problem!

Students Willing to Pay Up for Needed Projects

January 13, 2011

Fee Increase? No Problem!

by Alexis Mattera

Scenario: You’ve been accepted by College A and College B - your two top choice schools - and have been awarded generous financial aid packages by both. You decide to attend College B but one year in, a project is announced that would increase the fees you’re paying...on top of the already hefty sums of tuition, books and housing. Are you on board? If so, you’re in good company.

State funding for colleges isn’t what it used to be so when a school needs new dormitories, laboratories and classrooms, students have become more willing to fund these endeavors because they will benefit their educational experience. In Colorado, mandatory student fee increases range from 18.5 percent (University of Colorado at Colorado Springs) to 611 percent (Mesa State) since 2006 but current students are readily handing over the cash…even though the majority will have graduated long before the projects are finished.

"I won't be a student here when the projects are complete, but I do know my degree will only gain in value," said Sammantha O'Brien, a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Brad Baca, vice president of finance and administration at Western State College in Gunnison, agrees. "We're in a very competitive environment and having high-quality amenities and facilities is an important factor," he said. And if the upgrades aren’t reward enough, students at these schools are more informed and involved: At Western State, for example, 40 percent of the student population participated in the fee vote – a record turnout.

What do you think, readers? Would you pony up the dough for a dorm you won't live in or an academic building in which you’ll never hear a lecture?


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College Costs (Literally) an Arm and a Leg

Parent Offers to Become Live Cadaver to Pay Off Children's Student Loans

February 28, 2011

College Costs (Literally) an Arm and a Leg

by Alexis Mattera

There's been a lot of talk about Harvard lately – its reinstatement of early action, a graduate winning the Best Actress Oscar, another Winklevoss lawsuit against Facebook, etc. – but this next story doesn’t fall within the boundaries of its ivy-covered campus...and not that far away, either. An arm’s length, shall we say?

Desperate to pay off their children's $20,000 worth of student loans, a Boston-area parent recently posted on Craigslist that he or she was willing to sell their body parts to combat the mounting debt. The posting did not include a name, gender or exact location but listed the "live cadaver" was 5 feet 10 inches tall, 200 pounds and had all organs in working order. "If you eliminate my children's student loans, I will give you my life!" the poster wrote. "Take my blood, take my plasma. Drill into my brain, my leg, my arm. Tap my heart, my liver, my kidney," the poster wrote, adding, "I am very very serious."

There are a lot of options out there to limit exorbitant loans (scholarships, grants and fellowships, to name a few) and consolidation can simplify the loan repayment process by allowing the borrower to combine several types of federal student loans and repayment schedules into one...but selling off one’s body parts piece by piece? We’re all for finding interesting ways to pay for school but this is just plain crazy. Would you ever consider taking this route to keep loan collectors at bay?


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Louisiana Board of Regents Cuts 100+ Programs

by Alexis Mattera

With the royal wedding set to happen in less than one day’s time, many people’s minds are filled with thoughts of excess, grandeur and all things sparkly. But instead of waking up at an ungodly hour to toast the new bride and groom with sapphire-hued Kate-tinis, the Louisiana Board of Regents has a rather opposite plan: cut more than 100 academic degree programs statewide.

The Regents labeled the programs averaging fewer than eight bachelor’s degree graduates, five master’s degree graduates or three doctoral graduates in the past three years as low-completers and terminated 109 programs directly, while 189 will be consolidated or shaped into new programs. Southern University, LSU, the University of Louisiana and Southeastern Louisiana University recorded the most degrees lost and no public historically black colleges will offer a bachelor’s degree in a foreign language once the programs are phased out; a small sliver of positive news for students is that eliminated programs will remain in place until currently-enrolled upperclassmen graduate.

Though Karen Denby, Regents associate commissioner for academic affairs, said the colleges will be more efficient with class sizes, faculty loads and graduation rates as a result of the cuts, some administrators – like Mike Gargano, LSU System vice president of student and academic support – are still wary about the motivation behind the changes...and we’d assume students are as well. To our Louisiana readers, does this announcement impact your intended major or career path?


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Department of Ed Demands Special Reports for Tuition Increases

by Alexis Mattera

Do you get a headache when thinking about rising college tuition and fees? You’re not alone...but your company may surprise you.

Yesterday morning, administrators at more than 500 colleges reached for metaphorical Advil bottles when the Department of Education decreed special reports detailing tuition and student fee increases must be submitted to the government for review. Schools cited include public institutions Arizona State University, Georgia State University, Alabama State University and roughly two-thirds of California State University's 23 campuses for tuition hikes of 38 percent, 46 percent, 43 percent and between 37 and 46 percent, respectively, over the last three years as well as for-profit colleges from DeVry University, Education Management and Corinthian Colleges. In addition to explaining why costs have gone up so dramatically, the schools must also discuss how they plan to address the rising prices.

Do you think these new measures will help students make more informed college choices?


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