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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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An Unfair Hike

California Supreme Court May Up Tuition for Illegal Immigrants

October 7, 2010

An Unfair Hike

by Alexis Mattera

Proposed tuition increases at several institutions have been in the news lately. While the ones being discussed at the University of Colorado and Adams State College will affect all students as the schools compensate for the lack of state funding, California’s are targeting one specific sect of the student population: illegal immigrants.

No official ruling has been made yet (one is expected within 90 days) but California’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing whether illegal immigrants must pay higher tuition at state universities. The arguments center on a 2002 law that allows anyone graduating from a California high school can pay in-state tuition at a California state school – a law that more than 40 out-of-state students from the University of California and other public colleges say violates federal immigration law. If the court rules in the students’ favor, illegal immigrants will be required to pay out-of-state tuition. To put the cost in perspective, that would be $34,000 per year instead of $11,300 at the University of California. That’s not pocket change.

As someone who once paid out-of-state tuition and has the student loan bills to prove it, I can say from experience that ponying up the monetary difference isn’t fun…but if I was living in-state and got slapped with a tuition bill more than triple what I was expecting to pay, wow. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in California or the Carolinas, are a citizen or in this country illegally, how do you feel about this proposal and the impact it could have if it’s passed?


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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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The Early Student Gets Admitted

Colleges See More Interest, Accept More Students Early

October 21, 2010

The Early Student Gets Admitted

by Alexis Mattera

Hiring managers and interviewers like to say “If you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late” and over the course of the most recent recession, that motto has been unofficially adopted by admissions committees and prospective college students.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)’s annual “State of College Admission” report, many colleges (private and public) have reported increased interest from applicants in applying early and a jump in the number of students admitted this way. The former remained relatively the same as over the last two years but the latter – 65 percent of schools accepting more early decision applicants compared to 43 percent just one year prior – is pretty remarkable. The same can be said about the growing gap between the admissions rates for early decision and regular applicants at the same institutions: Colleges with early decision admit about 55 percent of all applicants, but 70 percent of early decision applicants, though only 7 percent of applications received take advantage of the early decision option. Another facet of the NACAC report is the overwhelming popularity of applying online, up to 80 percent in 2009 from 68 percent in 2007.

Does this mean schools are becoming less selective and simply rewarding the early birds in their quests for the worm? Not entirely…and not at all for the Ivies. The top criteria remain grades, the strength of the high school curriculum and admissions test scores but what NACAC calls "demonstrated interest in enrolling" is also climbing those ranks. Does this info change how you plan to apply?


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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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Is Your School Transfer-Friendly?

Why it Pays to Accommodate

November 2, 2010

Is Your School Transfer-Friendly?

by Alexis Mattera

Transfer students have long been afterthoughts at many schools but they are beginning to be viewed as quite the opposite. Just ask Bonita C. Jacobs, a woman aiming to increase transfer friendliness one college at a time.

Jacobs, the executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Texas, recently spoke to the Chronicle about the integral pieces of the higher education puzzle transfer students have become. More schools are thinking harder about the needs of transfer students and the advantages of enrolling them - benefits discussed by Jacobs and others at the College Board’s annual conference. Jacobs and Alfred Herrera, the assistant vice provost at the University of California at Los Angeles, detailed how four-year colleges can better serve students coming from community colleges by making transfer students’ success an institutional priority as opposed to seeing such students as a way to “backfill” freshman classes to meet enrollment goals.

How are they planning to achieve this? At UCLA, for example, reps from various campus offices that serve transfer students meet regularly to discuss their strategies and progress; the university also has a dedicated resource center that caters to transfers. “These students add to the richness and diversity of our campuses,” Herrera said. “When we don’t look at the transfer experience, we’re really in trouble.” Jacobs added, “We often put transfer students in this package, and they don’t all fit neatly into that package. They’re a distinct population, but they’re very diverse. Some of them see their first semester as their first-year experience. Others are older, with children, and are totally different. So many times, campuses will look at transfers as an admissions issue. But it’s also a student-affairs issue.”

We know some of our readers are considering transferring from a community college to a four-year institution so what do you think of the work Jacobs, Herrera and others are doing to make your transition more seamless? And for students who have already transferred, is there anything you wish your school had offered you when you were the new kid on campus?


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How Expensive is "Too Expensive" for a College Education?

Students Willing to Spend More for Academics, Prestige

November 4, 2010

How Expensive is "Too Expensive" for a College Education?

by Alexis Mattera

The true cost of a college education is seldom the number that’s printed in school brochures and on various college comparison lists. When you figure in federal aid, scholarships, grants, room and board, books and supplies, that price fluctuates. One thing remains constant - higher education doesn’t come cheap - but a new poll finds students are willing to stretch their finances for several key factors.

In April, right up until enrollment deadlines, students were still considering “too expensive” schools and were willing to stretch to pay for their education, poll conductors the College Board and the Art & Science Group report. While it would be more financially sound to select the school with the lower tuition and better financial aid package, “too expensive” colleges remained in play if they had strong academics in students’ fields of interest, were places students felt comfortable, had prestigious academic reputations or had excellent records of graduate school acceptance or good job placement after students graduated. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Twenty-six percent of students surveyed said their family would have to stretch a lot, but “I think we’ll make it.”
  • Twenty-two percent chose “I’m not sure how my family will afford to send me to college, but I believe we’ll work something out when the time comes.”
  • Eleven percent said, “I don’t think my family can afford to send me to college, but we are going to try.” Nearly 40 percent of students surveyed did not have a sense of long-term costs, citing “no idea” what their likely monthly payment on student loans would be after graduation.

If you think back to every award show you’ve ever seen, you’ll recall those who do not win always say it is an honor just to be nominated. The same can be said for college admissions: It’s an amazing achievement to be accepted to a prestigious college but is attending worth it if the cost of attendance is going to drive you and your family into debt?


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What the Blank?!

Experts Say Filling All Application Fields Isn’t Necessary

November 5, 2010

What the Blank?!

by Alexis Mattera

You’re applying for a job, seeing a new doctor or creating a Facebook page and you’re asked to tell the powers that be a little bit about yourself. This information could range from work history to preexisting conditions to favorite bands, respectively, but what do you do when there’s still space left on the form? That’s right: You scour every square inch of your thinkspace for relevant (and maybe not-so-relevant) information to fill in the blanks.

College applicants know this situation well during this time of year and for those who don’t have a laundry list of extracurricular activities or community service hours at the ready, filling out applications – like this year’s Common App, which has 12 blank fields for “Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience” – can cause some serious anxiety. Admissions officers, however, say there’s no need to input something into each field. “The perception is that you have to fill in all the blanks,” said Jennifer Delahunty, the dean of admissions at Kenyon College. “What we hate to see is when students do things like check ‘9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades’ and then write ‘personal reading.’ Yes, we’re glad you’re a reader. But it looks decidedly like filler.” Monica C. Inzer, the dean of admissions at Hamilton College and a member of the Common Application board, agrees: “We’d rather see depth than a longer list. I think students think we want well-rounded kids. We do. But we really want a well-rounded class. That could be lots of people who have individual strengths. Distinction in one area is good, and better than doing a lot of little things.”

So, college students to be, does this news warrant a gigantic sigh of relief or are you worried the 12 blank fields won’t be enough to hold all of your accomplishments? If you’ve already been through the process (this year or 20 years ago), did you find the application process daunting?


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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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The Evolution of College Admissions

Eight Changes Geared to Weeding Out the Wheelers

November 16, 2010

The Evolution of College Admissions

by Alexis Mattera

You all remember Adam Wheeler, right? If not, he’s the kid who lied his way into Harvard and Stanford and made a mockery of the college admissions process along the way. Though his actions were definitely considered, what Wheeler did is just part of the reason why these two schools – and many others – are revising their admissions rules to ensure only the most honest and qualified candidates get in.

According to a U.S. News and World Report article, eight major changes are afoot, ranging from limiting the time admissions counselors spend reviewing each application and relying less on recommendations to setting earlier deadlines and placing more emphasis on the application essay. Each modification is twofold: It will expedite the process for admissions committees and separate the truly worthy applicants from the ones trying to game the system.

The more noteworthy changes include the diminished emphasis on high school class rank. Where a student stood amongst his or her peers used to be quite weighted but a survey by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) found that from 1993 to 2009, its importance dropped from a “considerable” 42 percent to 15 percent with admissions officers. Also changing in prominence is the emphasis on high-caliber coursework, even through senior year. The rationale? Students who take more rigorous courses in high school have a higher likelihood of collegiate success. Think you’re a shoo-in because you got all A’s in moderate classes while your best friend pulled B’s in her honors and AP courses? Hate to break it to you, but your buddy is the better candidate for admission. Senioritis is no longer tolerated, either: Last year, the University of Washington withdrew 27 offers of admission of students who goofed off too much during senior year. Lastly, quality control is through the roof thanks to Turnitin, an anti-plagiarism software that scans essays for similar or identical phrases found on millions of websites, articles and books. Sorry, Wheeler wannabes.

The full article is pretty interesting (view it here), as is the united front these schools have created to ward off scammers and slackers. If you’re just applying this year, do you think these changes will affect your chances? And if you are currently in college or have already graduated, would you be where you are now if these regulations existed when you applied?


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