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An Apple a Day...

Students and Staff Receive More Than the Daily Fruit Requirement

September 9, 2010

An Apple a Day...

by Alexis Mattera

Since its debut in early April, the iPad has had quite the effect on consumers – even the most PC-loyal ones – around the world. The student population is no exception and just as they use the iPad and other Apple products every day on and around campus – this year, all Seton Hall undergrads received an iPad, while Stanford is bestowing the device on its incoming medical students – many colleges are even integrating the device beyond their curricula.

Eric Stoller of Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U. posted a piece last night where he followed up on a recent tweet from UNCP’s Assistant Director in the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Becca Fick. In 140 characters or less, Fick said her office was getting – her words – a fleet of iPads…and while that particular fleet turned out to be just four (cuatro, quatre, vier, etc.), the department is making good use of its new quartet in conferences, student voice assessment and social media management, among other fields.

Have you noticed iPads popping up more around your school and, if so, how and by whom are they being used? If not, do you think wider usage would be a benefit or a burden?


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An Update on Harrisburg University’s Social Media Shutdown

Some Students Participate, Others Find Ways Around It

September 16, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

When I first heard that Harrisburg University of Science and Technology planned to block Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and AOL Instant Messenger from its campus wireless network this week, I wondered how it would play out. Today, I got my answer (thanks, Inside Higher Ed!).

Fact: The sites are blocked on campus. Another fact: Students are resourceful. It seems like every student carries a smartphone or iPad equipped with access to their carriers’ respective 3G networks and Harrisburg U. students who don’t have left campus to get their social media fixes via the Wi-Fi in a nearby hotel’s lobby or attempted to hack into the campus network to bypass the block. Eric Darr, the provost behind the plan, said the university never expected full abstinence but bus personal observations reveal the proportion of students participating is between 10 and 15 percent – notable because students are required to have laptops and have their computers open in class. In Darr’s eyes, the initiative has been a success because people have become more aware of the role social media plays in their lives. “This extreme media coverage in and of itself is forcing more focus on social media,” he said. “That was the whole point of this in the first place.”

The slight percentage Darr noted could have been far different if the social media ban was implemented on a residential campus (Harrisburg is nonresidential, meaning that many students live nearby instead of living in dormitories and on-campus apartments), where students were more dependent on campus networks. Plain and simple, students can log on all they want when they get home…and they have been: Gio Acosta, a junior, said that while the ban has helped him focus in class, he still gives in to the digital urge at home. “They didn’t make any rules about that,” he said.

Do we have any readers currently at Harrisburg U. out there? If so, tell us how you’ve been dealing with the ban. Are you participating? Ignoring it? Hacking your way around it?


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You Majored in…What?

What Your College Degree Really Means to Employers

September 21, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Two students from two schools majored in the same subject and obtained degrees in the same field. They took equivalent classes, received identical grades, won similar scholarships and are now both being considered for the same job. Who is the better candidate? Put it this way: You don’t want to be the hiring manager.

In fields like nursing and accounting, there are licensure examinations in place to determine which graduates studied smart and have the greatest understanding of the material they have learned in school. The results are cut, dry and conclusive here but for those organizations hiring graduates from fields without these tests, finding the perfect candidate isn’t easy. In his recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, Forrest Hinton states that the disparity in grades and academic standards is so significant between institutions, departments and instructors that comparing applicants’ transcripts is often just as useless as offering someone a job because of their connections, alma mater or the hiring manager’s gut instinct. Hinton argues that the only way to mend this ailing hiring system is for academia and industry to work together to conclude which skills and knowledge students need to master most. Just because a candidate went to a less-selective college doesn’t necessarily mean they are any less qualified than a graduate of a more competitive institution and the same goes for students who are first-generation, low-income or minorities. Hinton suggests common and field-based assessments should be implemented to separate the candidates who thrive from the ones who will do just enough but, unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in…yet.

Though assessments across a wider variety of fields may be difficult to implement, I think they would make a huge difference in the quality of candidates employers hire and, in turn, the quality of work they produce. What about you, readers? Should someone get the job based simply on where they graduated from or their fluency in the field they seek to work in? What DOES a degree really mean these days and, more importantly, what SHOULD it mean?


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Pay-Per-Click, Reinterpreted

Johns Hopkins Students Not Feeling New Fees

September 24, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

College students always looking for ways to stretch their money as far as it can go. This could mean getting meals strictly from the campus dining halls or doing laundry once a month instead of every week but if that means a little extra cash in their pockets or bank accounts, scaling back on luxuries (and even essentials) is an easy sacrifice to make. That being said, I can completely understand why some Johns Hopkins students are up in arms.

Nearly 200 students are protesting a new fee for classroom clickers, a technology that allows professors to gauge student understanding or opinion in real time by giving them handheld voting devices and taking polls throughout a class period. Students can pay per course ($13) or a one-time fee ($35) that covers all courses, all semesters; students must also purchase enrollment codes and the actual clicker devices, which cost between $20 and $30. Adding this cost to the already large amounts students spend on tuition, housing, books and other supplies may not seem like a lot but to a college student, it’s about the price of two movie tickets and some Chinese carry-out. The university, however, thinks the program adds considerable value to the education of its students: One biology lecturer found that since he started using clickers, class attendance and grades have gone up 30 percent.

Still, students are not down with the added costs and have created a Facebook page where they can voice their displeasure about everything clicker-related. Thought time: Would you pony up the extra cash if it meant better grades or would you rather keep it and splurge on a night out with friends instead?


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SUNY Albany Bids Adieu, Ciao and Do Svidaniya

Classics and Theater Departments Also Eliminated…But Why?

October 4, 2010

SUNY Albany Bids Adieu, Ciao and Do Svidaniya

by Alexis Mattera

Coptic, Ancient Greek, Latin and Sanskrit have long been considered “dead languages” but at SUNY Albany, a few more are joining that list in terms of majors. On Friday, language faculty members learned the university was ending all admissions to programs in French, Italian and Russian. Classics and theater are also being cut once current students in those programs graduate.

At least 10 tenured faculty members in language programs, 20 adjuncts and tenure-track educators were told they have two years of employment left in which to help current students finish their degrees. It came as more of a shock, however, that so many languages were being eliminated at the same time – not to mention that it was happening at a doctoral university that touts the motto of "the world within reach." How could this be happening, they wondered? University president George M. Philip cited deep, repeated budget cuts and the failure of the New York Legislature to pass legislation that would have given more control over tuition rates and the use of tuition revenue to the state's university systems.

If this news left me slack jawed, I can only imagine how faculty members in the impacted departments must be feeling. One French professor said no other university of the caliber and size of Albany has taken such drastic measures so why now and with this institution? If others are making it work, why can't Albany?


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Teachers Who Tweet

Professors Microblog to Share Info and Get News, Not Teach

October 5, 2010

Teachers Who Tweet

by Alexis Mattera

Remember how weird it was when your mom friended you on Facebook? It’s probably the same way you’d feel if your calculus professor retweeted your weekend escapades at an off-campus party. That’s an unlikely scenario but more professors are using Twitter for purposed outside the classroom, reveals research by Faculty Focus.

The report, detailed yesterday in the Chronicle of Higher Education, says 35.2 percent of 1,372 individuals surveyed – a 5 percent increase from last year – have an account on the popular microblogging site and use it to share information with colleagues and get news in real time. Though some use it for this purpose, most professors do not communicate with students via Twitter or use the site as a classroom learning tool but perhaps they should, says Reynol Junco. Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, is studying social media and found that Twitter can improve student engagement because they are more likely to continue discussion outside the classroom.

Twitter wasn’t around when I was in college but since creating an account in 2008, I have seen the ease and efficiency of sharing information and couldn’t help but wonder if the site could have impacted my academic endeavors. Sometimes I had questions even after going to my professors’ office hours, posting on class message boards and studying the material; perhaps Twitter could have provided the answers I needed in a more timely fashion.


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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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Study Abroad Overhaul

October 18, 2010

Study Abroad Overhaul

by Alexis Mattera

Studying abroad for a semester can be a rewarding experience for college students but do those benefits translate to potential employers? For a long time, they haven't – many have dismissed time overseas as an excuse to backpack and party in multiple countries – but Cheryl Matherly is setting out to change that.

Matherly, the associate dean for global education at the University of Tulsa, is designing a series of workshops and seminars to help students discuss their time studying abroad in a way meaningful to employers. The common perception – that studying abroad is a perk for wealthier students, typically white females in the humanities or social sciences packing their bags for Europe – is exactly what Matherly is attempting to reverse and show to employers that the students who studied abroad may actually be better assets to their companies. "The value isn't that you had the abroad experience itself," she says. "It's what you learned overseas that allows you to work in a cross-cultural environment. Students have to learn how to talk about that experience in terms of transferrable skills, how it relates to what an employer wants."

Much of the blame for this falls on the schools themselves, as the paths of study abroad and career counselors rarely cross, and Martin Tillman, a former associate director of career services at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, stresses the importance of deliberate efforts to build connections. The University of Michigan offers panel discussions each year on what it calls "international career pathways” and the Georgia Institute of Technology touts a Work Abroad Program to place students in international internships and jobs and advises them throughout the process. Some schools are even bringing in third-party providers, like Cultural Experiences Abroad, to help students translate their study-abroad experience into terms employers can understand. CEA has createda semester-long career development course which includes pre-arrival reading assignments, Webinars with career consultants and regular meetings that incorporate experiential exercises and journal writing.

I knew a number of people who studied abroad in college (I didn’t because I couldn't find the right program for my major and regret it to this day) and I’m sure they would have benefited from programs like the ones detailed above. Any graduates in the same boat? And for current college students considering studying in another country, do you think you’d take advantage of these resources if they were readily available to you?


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The Deal with Debt

Who Owes What, Where and Why

October 22, 2010

The Deal with Debt

by Alexis Mattera

$24,000. To a recent graduate, that five-figure number could be 1. their starting salary at their first entry-level job or 2. the amount of student loan debt they have accrued while in school.

We’re going to talk about the second choice this morning, as a study by Peterson’s and the Project on Student Debt just revealed it was the average amount owed by graduates of the class of 2009. The study broke down debt levels by state and school (D.C. graduates had the highest while Utah students had the lowest) but did not include debt levels for graduates of for-profit schools because of a lack of data.

Arriving at these tallies didn’t come easy for the Project on Student Debt, which adjusted the averages initially recorded by Peterson’s ($22,500 and 58 percent of students who borrowed) because it felt they were too low when compared to the statistics recorded last year by the National Post Secondary Student Aid Study ($22,750 and 65 percent).

You may be one of the lucky students who scored enough scholarships and grants to have a degree in hand and no debt in sight or you may be flipping couch cushions in search of change to put toward your next payment but what do you think of these findings? A college degree certainly doesn’t come cheap these days!


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And the Best Value Colleges Are…

Kiplinger Ranks Top Private and Liberal Arts Schools

November 15, 2010

And the Best Value Colleges Are…

by Alexis Mattera

True or false: Public schools are always a better value than private schools or liberal arts schools. Have your answer all bubbled in? Let’s see if it’s right.

A school’s value isn’t solely determined by cost; though it does play a significant role, if you factor in curriculum caliber and overall quality of life, it turns out that many private and liberal arts schools are indeed better values than their public counterparts. That and the amount families actually have to pay after financial aid is only around $20,000. Nice.

According to Kiplinger’s annual lists, Swarthmore College and Princeton University lead the pack for liberal arts and private institutions, respectively. Why? Swarthmore’s most qualified applicants only pay $18,791 – that’s nearly two-thirds off the school’s $52,650 sticker price and a huge reason why almost all Swatties return for sophomore year – and Princeton graduates leave its hallowed halls with the lowest average debt, due in large part to a tuition bill less than $50,000 and the elimination of student loans from its financial aid package. Here are the top 10 in each category:

Best Values in Liberal Arts Colleges

  1. Swarthmore College
  2. Pomona College
  3. Williams College
  4. Washington and Lee University
  5. Davidson College
  6. Bowdoin College
  7. Claremont McKenna College
  8. Amherst College
  9. Hamilton College
  10. Vassar College

Best Values in Private Colleges

  1. Princeton University
  2. Yale University
  3. California Institute of Technology
  4. Rice University
  5. Duke University
  6. Harvard University
  7. University of Pennsylvania
  8. Columbia University
  9. Brown University
  10. Dartmouth University

Students and parents, does this information have you rethinking the possibility of private and liberal arts schools?


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