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by Agnes Jasinski

As more states continue passing medical-marijuana laws (14 and counting), it was only a matter of time before higher education would take notice. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at Oaksterdam University, an Oakland, Calif., institution that provides "quality training for the cannabis industry."

Oaksterdam (named after Oakland and Amsterdam) has been offering weekend seminars and semester-long courses since November of 2007, when a group of marijuana-legalization activists their burgeoning movement deserved a trade school. The main school exists in a 30,000-square-foot converted office building, with satellite campuses in Los Angeles, Sebastopol, Calif., and Flint, Mich. Its academic departments, which admittedly began as a "political stunt," according to the article, now include coursework in biology, political science, horticulture, and "methods of ingestion," a class that teaches the benefits and history of extracted medicine, the chemistry behind it, and the different extraction methods and equipment used.

Although classes at the school aren't transferable - Oaksterdam isn't an accredited institution - that fact hasn't seemed to hurt enrollment. The "campus tour" described in the Chronicle article included an out-of-work engineer looking for a new career and a teenager who decided against majoring in horticulture at the University of California at Davis in favor of Oaksterdam. "I was convinced it was the best road for me to go down," he said in the article.

MedGrow Michigan Cannabis College is the Midwest's version. Students there take one class a night for six weeks, and take a cooking and concentrates lab, a history of cannabis class, and several horticulture lectures. The school's site boasts that more schools outside of its current Southfield, Mich., location are coming, and the faculty there include attorneys, professors in botany, and a professor of history who was one of the first 500 patients in the state of Michigan to obtain his patient ID card for medical marijuana use.

Cannabis colleges aren't the only kind of school taking advantage of career changers looking to pick up new skills and improve their job outlooks. Michigan’s ABC School of Bartending and Casino College has been training potential new employees for new casinos planned across the border in Ohio. Students at the casino school learn how to deal cards and count poker chips, among other tricks of the trade, to prepare for the more than 7,500 potential jobs at casinos to be built in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. A new school that recently opened in Tinley Park, Illinois, Bette Baron’s Art of Body Coloring School, offers a two-week intensive program in body art.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released its latest list of the highest-paying college majors of the class of 2010 last week, with engineering- and technology-related fields of study once again coming out on top.

This probably won''t come as much of a surprise to you. Engineering and technology majors consistently rank high on any list of highest-paying careers, and there have only been minor changes in the ranks over the last few years. (Information sciences and systems is a new addition to the list this year, coming in at 10th place.) The only non-engineering related degrees in the top 10 this time around were computer science and information sciences and systems. According to NACE, petroleum engineering earned the highest starting salary reported at the bachelor’s degree level ($86,220). That average starting salary was more than one-and-one-half times the average starting salary reported for bachelor’s degree graduates as a whole ($48,351). The average starting salary for all graduates has fallen about 2 percent since 2009, by the way.

It's certainly not always the case, but often, the more technical your skills are, the more potential you have of landing an impressive starting salary. There''s less competition in a field like petroleum engineering, for example, as it isn't the most popular of majors, so those engineers benefit from those odds with higher salaries. (Petroleum engineering degrees account for less than 1 percent of all bachelor’s degrees conferred, according to NACE.)

What does this mean for you liberal arts majors? Even you business majors may worry that you''ll have a tough time making ends meet, as business isn't exactly overrepresented on the NACE list. Still, not everyone is going to grow up to become an engineer. (And if they did, the list would surely shift, as it depends greatly on the supply and demand of new graduates.) Certainly, the kind of field you're interested in should play a big part when you're deciding on a college major. And most college students do still consider interest over salary potential when choosing their majors, as the most popular fields of study fall well outside petroleum engineering. (According to the U.S. Department of Education, the most popular college majors are in business, the social and health sciences, and education.)

Take the NACE list with a grain of salt, and don't change your focus to aeronautics just because of the pay potential. If you have no interest in one of those high-paying majors, chances are you'll have a tough time getting through a four-year program in that discipline, and if you do graduate, an even tougher time liking a job in a career you chose for the money. But if you are passionate about engineering and technology, that's great. You'll have a good starting salary to go along with a job you enjoy.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As the number of returning adult students continues to grow and the "traditional" student population has only become more diverse to include those with backgrounds and life experience in varying fields of study, some schools are looking at rewarding those new students with credit hours for "prior learning," rather than prompting them to start over as most freshmen do.

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education explores schools that consider academic achievements alongside individual accomplishments before students step onto campus, and look at their volunteerism, years in the military, or on-the-job training, among other life experiences. Formal assessments of those experiences are then used to evaluate incoming students as a way to award them credit hours, often as a replacement of general education coursework.

At Valdosta State University, professors conduct assessments of students' experiences by having them demonstrate what they already know about a certain field. The Chronicle describes a biology professor who awards credit to students who may have a background in science from volunteering to clean up local streams, for example, or lab experience. The school has been conducting such assessments for about a year and a half; the program started when the school decided to begin training students who had come from non-traditional backgrounds to become teachers.

At Empire State College, which is part of the State University of New York, students are able to write their own degree plans. Faculty committees and administrative offices review portfolios students craft based on their work experience in a particular field, for example, and determine how many credits students should receive based on that information. The school's administrators say having the students reflect on what they've learned before going to college helps them realize their potential and make obvious the kinds of skills they may have, as they are forced to put those talents on paper. At Inver Hills Community College, students are asked to complete two courses at the school before attempting a portfolio, which not only involves writing about their past experiences, but being able to discuss them.

Other schools conduct more standardized tests and formal assessments for students to demonstrate prior learning skills, such as the American Council on Education's evaluations of work and military training or the College Level Examination Program tests. According to the Chronicle and Stamats, a higher-education marketing company, the availability of credit for life experience is the top thing adults look for when selecting a school in their college search. About half of all schools have some kind of prior learning assessment available to students, according to the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning, so if you're a returning adult student, consider that the work you've already done could save you some time—and money—as you take on that college experience.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A new survey looking at entering community college students' opinions on the obstacles they face during their first year found that those students need more guidance to succeed as they transition from high school to higher education.

The study, released yesterday, was the ongoing Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE), which was first given to poll students in 2006. Since then, more than 91,000 students have been polled, with the results used by community colleges to improve preparedness programs and tactics to help new students achieve. The survey this time around looked at data from more than 50,000 students at 120 participating community colleges in 31 states and the Marshall Islands.

The survey looks to examine the first three weeks of new community college students' experiences at their respective colleges. Most of the respondents felt their colleges were doing a good job with the welcome wagons, and making them feel comfortable in their new surroundings. But others still felt more could be done to help them prepare for college, and to navigate administrative processes that seemed complicated at times. The findings included the following:

  • About 72 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they felt welcome the first time they came to their colleges; 25 percent expressed no opinion on this item, which concerned the providers of the SENSE survey.
  • About 49 percent said they agree or strongly agree that their colleges provided them with adequate information about financial aid, while 25 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • About 33 percent agreed or strongly agreed that a college staff member helped them determine whether they qualified for financial assistance; 40 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • About 45 percent agreed or strongly agreed that at least one college staff member (other than an instructor) learned their names, compared with 37 percent who disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • About 23 percent said that a specific person was assigned to them so they could see that person each time they needed information or assistance.
  • About 90 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they have the motivation to succeed in college, but about a quarter of those students also admitted to skipping class or failing to turn an assignment in at least once.

According to an analysis of the survey from Inside Higher Ed yesterday, the results point to the missed opportunities that face students and administrators on a daily basis on community college campuses. When students were asked to elaborate on their answers using short answers, some said they were forced to make decisions on choosing college courses, for example, with little guidance from their counselors, something they could well enough do on their own. The article also pointed to contradictions in the study; for example, students responded that they enjoyed the access they had to college staff members, but still felt unprepared to navigate college processes.

The providers of the survey suggest more needs to be done to engage students, and that administrators should take regular looks at their processes to make them even more easy to access by students who may need more help as first-year community college students.


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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

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

For some students entering their fifth, sixth, maybe even seventh years of college in the fall, administrators in the California State University system have a message for you: Graduate. Please.

You may remember reading about the trouble California colleges and universities in general have had over the last year. Budget problems have forced schools to significantly limit enrollments, placing students on wait lists for the first time in many of the schools’ histories. “Super seniors” are now viewed as part of the problem, taking up valuable space on the state’s campuses while would-be freshmen look elsewhere for available slots.

The California State University system has begun introducing initiatives targeting those students who take longer than four years to graduate. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the state system’s dilemma describes these initiatives as expanding advising services, limiting financial aid, and getting department heads more involved in making sure students graduate in a more timely fashion. Administrators say this doesn’t mean students will be prohibited from switching majors if they find themselves flailing in a potential degree they were pushed toward by their parents, for example.

In fact, students who take longer to graduate but aren’t amassing a large number of credits (perhaps because they are attending school part-time, for example) aren’t even the target of the initiatives. The school is after the “Van Wilder” types. The Chronicle describes one 50-year-old student who had more than 250 credit hours under his belt, which came out to about eight years of full-time college schooling. He had enough credits for degrees in both health sciences and theater, but wanted to start over to get a degree in marketing. According to The Chronicle, the school handed him his degrees and told him to look elsewhere for that new degree: "At 50 years old, you should know what you want, and you're stopping two other young people from coming to this university,” Cynthia Z. Rawitch, associate vice president for undergraduate studies at California State University, said in the article.

The California State University system hopes to raise its six-year graduation rate up to about 54 percent by 2016, according to The Chronicle. Studies over the years from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics have shown that less than 40 percent of students graduate within four years, so this may be something other states should look into doing to increase freshman class sizes as well. There may be a number of reasons for students’ graduation delays, however: transferring schools, balancing work and school, indecision about choosing a major or switching majors well into a college career, or a number of other potential factors. What do you think? Should students be held more accountable for how long it takes them to graduate?


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by Agnes Jasinski

As the weather grows warmer and spring semester grades are announced, many college students have little on their minds beyond relaxing poolside until the fall semester. Some students, however, won’t be getting much of a break, taking classes right through the season in what admissions officials say may be record numbers.

An article in Inside Higher Ed today reports that at schools across the country, summer enrollments are up, following suit after a year of increased enrollments and admissions competition across the board. Why the bump? Inside Higher Ed suggests a number of possibilities.

The economy may be one reason, as it has not only been more difficult to find a job these days, it has been harder for students to line up internships and other summer opportunities. Some students may also be more aware of the cost of college, and choose to complete their degrees as quickly as possible, often on satellite campuses closer to home. (Some students may be worried that they’re getting on the five-year or “super senior” plan rather than the traditional four-year undergraduate experience, due to major switches or other factors.) With less competition for summer classes than during the fall and spring semesters, signing up for courses in the summer months may also make strategic sense, as students worry about getting all of the credits and requirements completed in a timely manner. Admissions officials have also reported more nontraditional students enrolling in their schools overall, and that population is more likely than the traditional group to enroll in school year-round.

At the University of California-Berkeley, the school’s officials made a concerted effort to attract more students to their summer offerings. As a result, about 1,000 more have registered for summer classes this year compared to 2009. The school also offers more online courses this summer, making it easier for students to justify sacrificing some of their summer off for academics.

Summer enrollments at community colleges are even higher. An increase of more than 6,000 students over the previous year have enrolled in summer classes in the Houston Community College District, according to Inside Higher Ed. Administrators there say many of the students are new, coming from four-year institutions to grab up some credits at their local community college while they work to have some money by living at home or working part-time jobs in their hometowns.

How about you? Are you taking summer classes? If so, what’s your reasoning? If you are signed up, make sure you know of the financial aid opportunities available to summer students, as most schools still offer aid in the summer months, even if you’re only enrolled part-time. And, as always, consider scholarships for summer.


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by Agnes Jasinski

You probably know all about dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses, two strategies used by high school students to get into college-level work sooner and set themselves up for graduating from college early (or even on time). But how early is too early to get started on that college education? Lake-Sumter Community College says 13.

Thirteen-year-old Anastasia Megan and her parents have filed an age-discrimination complaint against the community college with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to fight the school’s decision to reject Anastasia’s application for dual enrollment. According to a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel, Anastasia, a home-schooled student, has already breezed through her high school curriculum, and her parents say they no longer have the means to challenge her academically.

Officials at Lake-Sumter Community College say it would be inappropriate for Anastasia (or anyone of her age, as the college is unable to talk about the case specially) to enroll at the school because it could pose a safety risk. The college attracts a large number of adult students, and unlike a high school where there may be some limits as to who enters the school, Lake-Sumter is open to anyone who wishes to come onto the campus. In the article, the school’s president Charles Mojock says: “And we have many adult students having adult conversations on adult topics and that may or may not be suitable for some young students.” The growth in young applicants, some as young as 8 years old, even led the school to add a minimum-age requirement of 15, according to the article.

Anastasia’s parents, meanwhile, say their daughter is “well-suited” for college, and has experience among adults from a number of international trips she has taken with her parents and siblings. She has completed online college courses successfully, and had above-average scores on the college-placement tests required as part of the admissions process by Lake-Sumter. If the Department of Education rules on the side of the college, Anastasia’s parents said they may need to supplement their daughter’s education in other ways, perhaps by more world travel. Lake-Sumter is the only college in the area that Anastasia could attend that would not mean a move away from home for the family.

What do you think? Should Anastasia be allowed onto a college campus at 13? Should her parents look instead into high schools for gifted students that may allow her to socialize with kids her age? How young is too young for the college experience?


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by Agnes Jasinski

A recent Craigslist posting has officials at Columbia Basin College trying to determine whether students looking to take advantage of scarce seats in popular college courses have been selling their spots to those desperate enough to pay money for the enrollment advantage.

The posting in question came from one such desperate student. According to an article yesterday in Inside Higher Ed, it came from a student looking to pay for a seat in Biology 160, a popular and required class for students in most of the school’s health profession programs. It is still unclear whether the posting was from a real student, or a student looking to stir up discussion on the school’s recent course cuts that have made the enrollment process more competitive, according to Inside Higher Ed.

A spokesman for the college said it was possible for students to sell their spots by telling student “buyers” exactly when they would drop the class in demand, according to the article. This would give a student a window to enroll in the class that other students may not know about. Most popular courses at the college that are over capacity fill any dropped spots within minutes anyway, the spokesman said, as students check in on those full classes on a regular basis just in case spots open up. An assistant professor interviewed for the article said she doubted the ad was real because of the hierarchical system of course enrollment at Columbia Basin. Students who really need to get into courses will do so as they get farther along in their programs, and get first dibs on many of their required courses before undergraduates with fewer credit hours to their names.

According to some of the comments on the Inside Higher Ed article, this isn’t a new phenomenon, and the Internet has made it easier for students to exchange money for course seats. Elsewhere, colleges have formalized the system of bidding. At the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, MBA students participate in an online auction system when the demand for popular business electives exceeds supply. New students are given a set amount of points with which to bid, and receive more as they move through the program. Class spots then go to the highest bidder. In essence, the longer you’re at Wharton, the more seniority you have. That kind of system is common on college campuses anyway, although those with more credits may still arrange to drop courses they enroll in to have friends register immediately after in their place.

What do you think? Does this happen at your school? Or is this “problem” overblown? Let us know!


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