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Como Se Dice College?

The Best Languages to Learn in School

September 21, 2011

Como Se Dice College?

by Alexis Mattera

Regardless of how demanding your college class schedule and major requirements are, a foreign language course could be among the most useful credits you accumulate.

According to Dr. Ali Binazir’s recent Huffington Post article, he recommends taking a foreign language to all incoming college students because “universities generally do a fantastic job of teaching them, they're a super-useful lifelong skill, and they're generally an easy 'A'.” But are all languages created academically equal? It depends on your future goals, he says: If you don’t want be treated like an "ugly American" while studying abroad in France, learn French but if you want to get a leg up in business negotiations, opt for Chinese. Here are the rest of the doctor’s orders, broken down by ease of learning, employability enhancement and "cool factor":

Chinese: Ease of learning - 1; Employability enhancement - 10; Cool factor - 10

Japanese: Ease of learning - 2; Employability enhancement - 7; Cool factor - 10

French: Ease of learning - 6; Employability enhancement - 1; Cool factor - 10

Italian: Ease of learning - 10; Employability enhancement - 1; Cool factor - 9

German: Ease of learning - 5; Employability enhancement - 2; Cool factor - 9

Spanish: Ease of learning - 10; Employability enhancement - 8; Cool factor - 6

Russian: Ease of learning - 4; Employability enhancement - 8; Cool factor - 9

Portuguese: Ease of learning - 9; Employability enhancement - 8; Cool factor - 9

Binazir has taken lessons in six of the eight languages listed and his explanations of why each language made the list are entertaining and informative. Are you taking or considering taking a language in college? If so, which one and why?


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Financial Aid Change Has Many UB Students Struggling

by Alexis Mattera

The fall semester is in full swing at universities around the country and college students are trying to stretch their funds for tuition, books, housing and other college costs as far as they can go. It’s never easy but students at the University at Buffalo are having a more difficult time than usual.

In the past, UB sent out financial aid to coincide with the start of the academic year but pushed disbursement for roughly 18,000 students back three weeks this year – a 21-day difference that left many UB students unable to buy books, pay rent or pay for classes. Though UB’s Vice Provost A. Scott Weber said the change was made to “protect students” by making sure they would receive the exact amount of money they are eligible for, the student newspaper previously quoted interim financial aid director Jennifer Pollard as stating the policy change was a response to fraudulent activities by students.

UB officials did admit they should have done a better job getting the word out about the financial aid change but students and educators alike are still not happy: One professor called the situation “chaos in the classroom” and a “stupid disaster” and a graduate student said the ordeal “draws to question some bigger problems with the administration.” (We’re sure these are among the tamer reactions.) Any UB students out there? Has the funding disbursement delay negatively impacted your semester? College students in general, how would you react if this financial aid fiasco happened at your school?


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The Kindle Fire: Will It Have a Place in College?

by Alexis Mattera

Since its debut in 2007, the Amazon Kindle has changed the way people buy and enjoy books. Amazon’s wealth of e-book offerings and new rental program have proved to be valuable weapons for college students in the war against rising textbook costs but will Amazon’s newest addition to the Kindle family – the Kindle Fire – find its own place in higher education?

The 7-inch Android-powered Kindle Fire tablet was revealed last week and though it won’t begin shipping to customers until mid-November, the buzz surrounding it is already significant. With a $199 price tag, could the Kindle Fire be a cost-effective alternative to the collegiate bank account-busting iPad? Maybe, but will it truly gain a toehold in college classrooms? Robert Talbert isn’t so sure it will. In his recent article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Talbert states the device is great for electronic textbooks and fun applications but little else for college students. “Could you write a research paper on it? Or a LA TE X document? Or a computer program? How about creating and then giving a slideshow presentation? Or running a computer algebra system to do your math homework? Or shooting a video? When it comes to consuming things, the Fire seems like a great device. For creating things? Not so much. And college work is about creating things, not consuming them,” he says.

What do you think of the Kindle Fire? Would you buy one for college or would you rather wait for a tablet with more useful college features AND a lower cost?


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Flipped Classrooms Gain Momentum, Critics

by Alexis Mattera

Picture two Advanced Placement classes. One features a teacher giving a lengthy lecture while students take notes and the other has the instructor fielding questions and interacting with students based on the previous night’s digital assignment. Which one is producing higher AP test scores and information comprehension? According to some, it’s the latter – a method being referred to as flipped classrooms.

A growing number of teachers are recording their lectures, uploading them to iTunes and assigning homework based on their digital lessons. Instead of covering an entirely new topic during class time, students review the material at home, bounce queries off of friends and arrive in class the next day ready to work out any remaining problems they’re having with the teacher. The approach may seem strange but teachers who have tried it – including Stacey Roshan, a calculus teacher at the Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland – say flipped classrooms offer greater control over material and more face time with students.

The flipped classroom method is gaining more support – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has taken note – but also has amassed its fair share of critics: Lisa Nielsen, author of the new book "Teaching Generation Text," worries that low-income students may fall behind because they don't have reliable Internet or computer access at home and says the approach "could lead us down the path of doing more of something that doesn't work because it gives us more time to do it."

Has anyone experienced the flipped classroom method first-hand? If so, what did you think of it? If not, would you be willing to give this learning method a try?


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A New Approach to Learning

October 18, 2011

A New Approach to Learning

by Alexis Mattera

Did you know that approximately nine out of 10 of the nation's two- and four-year colleges enroll students with disabilities and 86 percent of those schools enroll students with learning disabilities? Promising statistics...but only at first glance: The Department of Education reports just 24 percent of these schools say they can help disabled students "to a major extent." Fortunately, Landmark College exists.

The transition from a specially designed high school program to a mainstream college campus environment can be a bumpy one but Vermont-based Landmark has developed a number of programs and strategies to help these students stay focused, remain on top of assignments and understand their rights as college students with documented learning disabilities like dyslexia or attention-deficit disorder. Offerings include boot camp-style seminars, internship programs and scholarships paired with one-on-one coaching – assistance bureaucracy-mired traditional colleges often cannot provide – and with the number of disabled college students steadily increasing (they comprised 11 percent of the college student population in 2008, up from 9 percent in 2000), these programs are helping to take away the social stigma associated with these disorders and empowering students to speak up, seek assistance and ultimately succeed.

You can learn more about Landmark’s goals and additional information about learning disabled students here but we think student Morgan Behr sums up what Landmark is addressing perfectly in 10 words: "We're not that weird. We're normal. We just learn differently." What do you think about Landmark’s approach to learning?


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The Daily Paywall

College Newspapers Get Mixed Reactions to New Fee Initiatives

October 17, 2011

The Daily Paywall

by Alexis Mattera

You’re working on a paper in your dorm room one evening (not the night before it’s due, of course!) and are searching for sources to strengthen your argument. As you near the required page limit, you remember your brother mentioning a series of articles published in his school's newspaper a few months back that would help bolster your point. So you log on to the paper’s website and find the articles you are looking for...only to be met with a paywall.

If you haven’t experienced the scenario above, you may in the near future as a number of college newspapers are adding paywalls for online content access. Early adopters of the initiative aren’t charging on-campus users but are instead asking off-campus non-students for donations or relatively small dues depending on the amount of content they consume. How does it work? It depends on the school: For example, Boston University’s Daily Free Press added a donation page and Oklahoma State’s Daily O’Collegian charges a nominal $10 yearly fee to non-students outside a 25-mile radius of the college to access more than three articles a month.

The paywall initiative does have its supporters – BU calls it a “no-lose situation” and digital-subscription company Press+ has offered to cover the start-up fees of the first 50 campus papers that sign up for their service – but it also has its detractors: Jeff Jarvis, a blogger and professor of new media at the City University of New York, thinks colleges would be better off taking a page from Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and looking for alternative revenue streams. Where do you stand on the college newspaper paywall issue? Should the content be free to everyone or are fees a way to remedy the broken traditional media model?


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The Impact of Merit Aid

October 19, 2011

The Impact of Merit Aid

by Alexis Mattera

Wherever you are in the financial aid process, you’ve probably heard the term merit aidfinancial aid based on students' academic and other merit rather than financial need – and its increasing popularity over the last decade or so. What you may not know, however, is the impact this trend has had on students seeking need-based aid.

According to a new report by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, state and institutional financial aid for low-income students has dropped significantly as merit aid has increased. From 1995-96 to 2007-8, the proportion of merit aid recipients in the highest quartile of family income rose from 23 percent to 28 percent, while the proportion of merit aid beneficiaries from the lowest economic quartile fell to 20 percent from 23 percent. (See more statistics here.) The report also suggests that many institutions have embraced merit aid because they believe this type of award will entice middle- or high-income applicants to attend their school over others (and pay more money to the school as a whole during the time they are enrolled) instead of offering financial assistance to low-income students who truly need the funds to attend college.

What’s your stance on merit aid? Does it help more than it harms in higher education or vice versa?


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Fairness in College Admissions

by Alexis Mattera

Accepted, rejected, deferred and waitlisted are all responses students can receive when tearing open a decision envelope or clicking on an admissions-related email. Some are obviously more favorable than others but are the practices that lead to these decisions as fair as they can be?

In its latest State of College Admission report, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) highlights the impact of wait lists in the college admissions process. Data reveal 48 percent of institutions surveyed used wait lists in fall 2010 – up from 39 percent the previous year – but of the students who elected to remain on the lists, colleges admitted just 28 percent of wait-listed students, a figure six percentage points lower than 2009. “Colleges are leaning more heavily, and perhaps more ‘craftily,’ on the wait lists, which may be tipping the balance in ways that students and counselors are finding objectionable,” said NACAC’s public policy and research director David A. Hawkins.

There are multiple culprits contributing to admissions committees’ rationales – application inflation and yield predictability complications are both cited – but in terms of fairness, not all schools are leaving would-be students in admissions limbo as, on average, four-year institutions accept 65.5 percent of all applicants. It’s the report’s predictions that are most concerning: Prolonged economic decline and uncertainty could make it more difficult for all parties “to adhere to fair practices” in the admissions process.


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The Fight Against Federal Student Aid Fraud

by Alexis Mattera

Firefighters. Police. Ghostbusters. Your mom. There are certain people you instinctively contact when you need assistance and the same holds true for the federal government. When the Department of Education noticed there was something strange in the neighborhood regarding federal student aid, they knew just who to call.

Less than a month after releasing a report detailing how organized fraud rings were exploiting distance education programs, the ED contacted colleges across the country urging them to develop additional ways of identifying threats to federal funding. Schools were encouraged to combat potential fraud rings by monitoring groups of students using the same IP or email addresses to apply and participate in online programs, paying closer attention to students living outside the schools' normal coverage areas and delaying the disbursement of federal funds or releasing said funds in multiple disbursements. In addition to the steps colleges are taking internally, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the department will be working with Congress and schools "to ensure we have all the tools we need to prevent criminal elements from defrauding federal student aid dollars."

Do you think colleges are doing enough to prevent federal student aid fraud?


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Tuition at Cooper Union?

November 1, 2011

Tuition at Cooper Union?

by Alexis Mattera

If you’re a prospective college student considering a career in engineering, architecture or art, Cooper Union is probably on your radar. Not only is the school among the most selective in the nation but the tuition – zero – has been the best deal in higher ed for more than a century...or it was.

Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha recently announced that the weak economy has prompted the school to reevaluate its scholarship policy and possibly begin charging tuition for the first time since 1902. Bharucha stressed that lower-income students and many middle-income ones would continue to attend for free and that none of the 900 current undergraduates would be charged but the mere mention of tuition for degree-seeking students marks a serious cultural shift for the institution: Though a final decision has yet to be made, alumni are furious – “It’s a contradiction to everything we’ve learned about Cooper. It’s the last opportunity for free education on that level in the entire country,” said graphic designer, New York magazine co-founder and Cooper Union graduate Milton Glaser – and students are planning to walk out of classes in protest tomorrow.

Bharucha did say that implementing tuition would be a last resort but what do you think of his announcement and its corresponding reaction? What avenues should be explored to preserve free tuition and are there any ways students and alumni can support or contribute to the cause? Lastly, does a potential tuition bill have you reconsidering applying to Cooper Union?


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