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Australian Student Discovers Universe’s "Missing Mass"

by Alexis Mattera

Summer breaks vary from college student to college student. Some work multiple jobs to help defray tuition costs, others intern or volunteer in their field of study and a select few sit by the pool and do absolutely nothing. Regardless of what they accomplish this summer – a semester paid in full, a professional reference or a tan – this student’s “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essay is going to be way more impressive.

Twenty-two-year-old Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, an undergraduate intern with a team at Monash University's School of Physics, recently confirmed she had found part of the universe’s “missing mass.” For those not majoring in science or aerospace engineering, this basically means that scientists had previously detected matter present in the early history of the universe but it had disappeared. Astrophysicists had been stymied by its absence for decades...until advanced technologies and Fraser-McKelvie came along. "We don't know where it went. Now we do know where it went because that's what Amelia found," said Monash astrophysicist Dr. Kevin Pimbblet. Pretty amazing stuff!

Now we have to ask: What are you doing over your summer break?


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Cheating Scam Busted in Beijing

by Alexis Mattera

There have been countless movie and television show plots surrounding forms of academic dishonesty but in real life, cheating doesn’t pay. The cheater’s reputation, on the other hand, does. Dearly.

The Associated Press reported 62 individuals have been detained by China's Education Ministry for selling wireless devices they believe would be used to cheat on the upcoming college entrance exam. Since the plot was discovered before the exam, however, the ministry hopes its actions will protect the test's integrity, which more than 9 million high school students are expected to take this week.

Whether it’s copying and pasting someone else’s words into your paper, crafting the tiniest of crib sheets or constructing an elaborate system of two-way radios to relay information in real time, cheating is everywhere. The good news is that educators are fighting back with new outlooks, smarter software, harsher punishments to curb students’ urges to cheat. Are these tactics working? The jury’s still out. What’s being done at your school to limit and eventually stop academic dishonesty? Do you have any suggestions how to make these methods more effective?


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Students Say "I Do" for Lower Tuition

Would You Marry to Keep College Costs Down?

June 7, 2011

Students Say "I Do" for Lower Tuition

by Alexis Mattera

In February, we read a New York Times article about students getting married to save on tuition and asked our Facebook friends and Twitter followers if they, too, would get hitched if it meant they’d pay less for school. The responses? Mixed, but the topic is still hot four months later.

State aid is down, tuition is up and students are stuck in a tough position these days. While some are continuing down the traditional paths of obtaining funding for college (filling out the FAFSA, applying for scholarships and grants, taking out loans, etc.), others are taking a different route – or should we say aisle – with a friend or another student in a similar monetary situation. Why? If a student is single and under the age of 22, their financial aid is determined by their parents’ income but if the student is married, aid is determined by the joint income of the student and their spouse – an enticing loophole for cash-strapped undergraduate and graduate students. Unlike marrying to obtain citizenship, marrying for financial aid or in-state residency benefits is legal according to WalletPop; there are even matchmaking services that help students find likeminded individuals to marry for tuition relief and divorce after graduation!

What are your thoughts on these “on-paper” marriages? Would you say “I do” if you could save thousands on tuition and fees or do you feel this practice – while legal – is too unethical to consider?


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From Yale, With Love (and Perhaps a Lawsuit)

Online Course Transcripts for Sale in China

June 8, 2011

From Yale, With Love (and Perhaps a Lawsuit)

by Alexis Mattera

This is not a good week for higher education in China. First, a cheating scam is toppled just days before the national college entrance exam and now, it’s been discovered that Shaanxi Normal University Press is selling transcripts of Yale University’s free online courses.

The content – five transcripts from Open Yale Courses, a program that’s been offering free online videos of popular Yale classes since 2007 – has been published by Shaanxi without Yale’s permission. In addition to lifting content from the video lectures, Shaanxi also took material directly from the transcripts’ translations prepared by YYeTs, a Chinese nonprofit. Diana Kleiner, a Yale art history professor and principal investigator for Open Yale Courses, told the Yale Alumni Magazine blog “possibly as much as 95 percent” of the material was copied; this plus the sale of the content violates the terms of the course giveaway, which states others cannot profit from the material.

Though one professor says he is flattered by the attention, Yale officials are less than pleased, especially since the school is planning its own book series based on the Open Yale Courses.


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College Acceptance in 500 Words

Common App Sets Essay Word Limit, Counselors Voice Concerns

June 10, 2011

College Acceptance in 500 Words

by Alexis Mattera

The college application essay has long been the place where students with mediocre grades, lackluster standardized test scores and nonexistent extracurricular activities have displayed their above-average writing skills and possibly turned admissions tides in their favor. College hopefuls will still be able to achieve this feat next year but with far fewer literary devices.

Officials for the Common Application have announced they’ve set a new word limit for its essay section. For the 2011-2012 application cycle, students will choose from one of five prompts – for example, "Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence." – and have 250 to 500 words to respond AND effectively sell themselves to college admissions officers at 415 colleges and universities. Some guidance counselors have complained about the limit, saying students will not have enough space display their writing abilities; in truth, the new parameters are plenty wide if students have received sufficient writing instruction in high school.

I believe brevity is a virtue but know this truncated word count will be shocking to college applicants. What do you think of the Common App’s announcement? Are you up for the challenge or has the change deterred from using the application entirely?


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Wikipedia Gaining Classroom Approval

by Alexis Mattera

“Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.”

Though those words were spoken by a bumbling television character, there is some truth to his musings: The website is slowly gaining legitimacy...and not just within the walls of a fictional paper company – in college classrooms.

While many professors have banned students from citing information from the free, web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project, Wikipedia is gaining some academic traction. "I do encourage [my students] to use it as one of many launch points for pursuing original source material," said Karl Kehm, associate professor of physics at Washington College. Peter Shulman, assistant professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, agrees it's ok for basic facts but tells his students they shouldn't be referencing the site for anything further. "Saying it's off-limits won't stop students from using it, so I've switched to helping students understand when it's useful and when it's not," he said.

Strides are being taken to further legitimize Wikipedia – faculty members and students from more than 20 colleges are helping site editors clean up errors and broaden articles directly applicable to specific college classes – but its status as a 100-percent trusted source is still a long way off. Do you use Wikipedia in your classes? If so, is it frowned upon or somewhat accepted?


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The Adderall Effect

"Study Drug" Creates Issues for Users and Non-Users

June 21, 2011

The Adderall Effect

by Alexis Mattera

It’s the night before your final in a particularly challenging class and though you’ve been studying for weeks, you decide to turn this evening into an all-night cram session. You feel your eyelids starting to droop at around 2 a.m. and to prevent your GPA from doing the same, do you run to the vending machine for a soda or down the hall to buy some Adderall from your floormate with ADHD?

The latter scenario is playing out far more than the former on college campuses across the nation as students turn to Adderall to gain an academic edge. The 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported full-time students are twice as likely to illegally use Adderall as individuals their age who are not in school or only enrolled part-time. But how are students getting their hands on the drug? Usually from other students whose ADHD or narcolepsy warrants a prescription. While some students are happy to act as their dormitory’s resident pharmacists – a UC Davis sophomore said they make about $200 per week selling Adderall but a whopping $1,200 the last two weeks of the quarter from students studying for finals – others are less than willing: A student at Christopher Newport University said she has to deadbolt her door and carry prescriptions in her purse to ensure her Adderall pills (which she actually needs) aren’t pilfered.

Does your school have an Adderall addiction? Do you think students who take it are cheating in a way and that those who don’t are at an academic disadvantage? If you have an Adderall prescription, are other students constantly asking you to sell it?


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Facebook College Group Etiquette

by Alexis Mattera

You’ve been accepted. You’ve paid your deposit. You’ve stocked up on apparel emblazoned with your future school’s name. What’s next? For many students today, it’s joining their new school’s Facebook page to share their excitement, concerns and any other feelings about their upcoming postsecondary experience. Sure, some students think that what they say or do on this page won’t matter because it’s “just Facebook” but others – like incoming Wake Forest freshman Nicole Echeverria – will tell you that being “that guy” or “that girl” won't help your cause.

Echeverria recently penned a piece for USA Today Education detailing her experiences on her school’s Class of 2015 page and the recent high school graduate has created some pretty good guidelines for other incoming freshmen to follow online. Metaphorical pinkies up!

  • Introducing yourself with a few simple facts (name, hometown, prospective major, interests, etc.) and initiating conversations with other admitted students is a great way to make friends before setting foot on campus in the fall. Meeting new people can be difficult for some; breaking the ice online makes the process that much easier.
  • Asking questions about anything and everything can bring about some excellent insight about the coming year. You could find a mentor on campus, seek out help filling out housing forms or see who else is going to a meet-up for students in your major.
  • Limit your comments and likes to a reasonable amount. Chances are, other members of the group have notifications sent to their inboxes and if they see your name on each and every one, you can bet they’ll want to delete you from all friend lists – virtual and real.
  • Feel free to friend others, but don’t do so with reckless abandon. If you notice you and another person have been commenting on all the same threads, send them a friend request with a short message noting this. Who knows...you could have just met your new roommate!

First collegiate impressions are no longer made on move-in day but instead in the months leading up to it. How are you putting your best foot forward online?


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Starting Salaries Increase for 2011 Grads

by Alexis Mattera

Attention recent college grads: You may be able to pay down those student loans a bit sooner than expected!

According to the annual Salary Survey by National Association of Colleges and Employers, graduates from the Class of 2011 shows a 4.8 percent starting salary bump over last year’s graduates. The increase was seen across most disciplines including engineering, liberal arts and social sciences, though 5 percent more 2010 graduates were able to find jobs than their 2011 counterparts. With approximately $2,357 more before taxes (this year’s grads will average $51,018 to last year’s average of $48,661), new grads will have enough for a few months of rent, some padding to a savings account or, yes, a way to make a dent in those loans.

Recent grads, are you happy about this news? Soon-to-be grads, are you hopeful the salary figures will continue to increase until you finish college?


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A Step Beyond Defriending

Saint Augustine's Sued by Student Barred from Commencement

July 12, 2011

A Step Beyond Defriending

by Alexis Mattera

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. If you’re unhappy and you know it, do not take to Facebook.

This is advice Roman Caple could have used a few months back when he was barred from commencement exercises because of something he posted on Saint Augustine’s wall. He’s still mad – suing mad, in fact: Caple is suing the North Carolina school for more than $10,000 in damages.

Caple’s legal complaint accuses Saint Augustine’s of breach of contract, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He claims that he has incurred extreme mental anguish and distress, including bouts of uncontrollable crying, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, loss of confidence and difficulty transitioning from a college student to a professional. Saint Augustine’s is standing by its decision for now.

Do you think Caple’s suit is justified or should he have just been more cognizant of what he was posting? Did Saint Augustine’s go too far in disciplining Caple or did its response fit the infraction?


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