September 19, 2008
In order to reduce the amount their students have to spend on textbooks, more and more professors are using course material that can be found for free. With the advent of sites such as Google Books, which serve as valuable and easily accessible sources of full-text works that are no longer copyrighted, students can get their course material for free, rather than having to shell out $15 or more for a brand new copy of a book originally published a century ago. I noticed this trend gaining momentum throughout my academic career, especially in courses geared towards graduate students.
This option to access older literature online and save money is nice, but it still leaves students who don't want to spend hours hunched over their computers with the task of tracking down a hard copy of the book on their own, especially since my professors, at least, never seemed to place bookstore orders for texts they knew we could find for free. Buying a copy requires forethought and printing the complete text of a 200-page essay can eat up a student's morning and their on-campus printing budget. This scenario too often leaves students with less than a week to find, read, annotate, and understand a lengthy reading assignment for class.
The University of Michigan has just taken a step to make procuring books for class easier. They have purchased and installed a machine, dubbed the "ATM of Books," that can print and bind a book in a few minutes at a cost to students of around $10 per copy. This isn't much more expensive than buying a used paperback online or in the bookstore and is much faster and more convenient.
The Espresso Book Machine has access to the school's database of pre-1923 books, as well as websites that offer works that are not copyrighted, such as open-source textbooks. Coupled with trends in making more course-related content available online, such as Stanford's recent move to place engineering and computer science course materials online, widespread use of the Espresso Book Machine could revolutionize the way students get textbooks.
This is nothing but good news for students: free digital course material, $10 bound copies of textbooks, and no worries about hunting all over for a book or printing a copy and losing pages. With the prospect of eventually spending as little as $40-100 on textbooks for a semester, students at the University of Michigan will be able to stretch their financial aid dollars further and dip less into their college savings for books. As online libraries of free textbooks continue to expand, hopefully other schools will invest in similar tools, cutting down on students' book expenses and making it a little bit easier to pay for school.
September 24, 2008
The National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) plans to address questions of early decision admission and the role of standardized testing in the admission process in panels during their annual conference this week. In preparation, they have released the results of a survey showing that early decision admissions had begun to fall, as well as commentary on the state of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) in college admissions.
A special panel convened by NACAC released a statement suggesting that standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT may play too prominent a role in college admissions. While the report emphasizes that standardized tests can play an important role in the admissions process, especially in helping students choose which schools may be a good fit for them, it also declared the importance of avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to testing. This position represents a shift from previous NACAC commissions' stances on standardized testing.
Another survey released this week by NACAC highlighted other shifts in college admissions, namely a slowing of the increase in early decision admissions as compared to previous years. Many schools are giving students going through the college application process the option to make a binding committment to attend that college if accepted in a process known as early decision. Critics argue that this puts poorer students who are unwilling to commit to attending a college without receiving their financial aid package at a distinct disadvantage in being considered for admission. While many colleges still are embracing the idea, this shift in figures could show some hesitation on the part of admission offices or students regarding the still-controversial issue.
Additionally, the survey illustrated some doubt regarding a new practice of priority applications, which are sent to students based on a variety of criteria and are already partially completed. Priority admission applications are sent by the school, rather than requested by the student, and are typically sent out based on prior contact with the admissions office, test scores, or geographic location. Only 4% of these forms, which occasionally come with an application fee waiver, are sent to students based on economic status.
Other survey results showed that more students seem concerned with ensuring they make the right college choice, and that most students who apply to schools are given the opportunity to go to college. An increasing number of students are applying to more than seven colleges, and that about the same number of students as the previous year applied to more than three schools. Nationally, 68 percent of students who apply to colleges are admitted. Online applications also continue to gain popularity.
September 25, 2008
In the wake of the credit crisis of the past year, innumerable articles have been written about the impact on the student loan industry, as several student lending agencies have been forced to stop offering federal and private loans to students or at least scale back their operations considerably. Credit requirements have gotten more stringent for students whose lenders are still in business, and taking out a student loan is an even more time-consuming and uncertain process now than ever.
At the same time, the economic downturn that's accompanied the credit crisis is highlighting the difficulty students are facing repaying all of these student loans--loans they're being told now that they're lucky to get. Many students feel caught in a difficult position. Do they take out student loans, go horribly in debt, but get to ultimately pursue a fulfilling degree and a potentially more fulfilling career? Do they work full-time through school and take longer to get the degree and spend less time in their dream job? Or do they minimize debt by going to work sooner in a field that's easier to break into and requires less education?
According to the results of a survey published in the Boston Business Journal, that first option might not even be an option for many students. An online poll of 336 recent college grads revealed that 47 percent said that their career pursuits were influenced by their need to make student loan payments, while 25 percent reported putting future education plans on hold in order to minimize debt. While these numbers are the results of only one web survey, they still send a pretty clear message that avoiding student loans is a good idea when trying to pay your way through school.
Congress is advocating the wider adoption of college savings accounts, such as 529 plans, and more universities are retooling their financial aid packages to benefit more needy students and rely more heavily on scholarships than on student loans. Many of the nation's top colleges have made a commitment to helping all accepted students afford to attend, and other schools are offering larger scholarship awards to students who most need them, as well. For example, Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia just launched the Starfish Initiative, where anonymous donations are used to cover the remaining tuition balances of deserving seniors who might otherwise need to take out a substantial private loan or leave college.
But institutional aid and college savings accounts aren't the only options available to students. A vast number of scholarship opportunities are out there, and despite the scholarship myths you may have heard, you can fund a substantial portion of your college education with such sources. So start your scholarship search early and be persistent. While soaring college costs and a weak economy may make it harder to pay for school, they don't mean you have to stay home or be overwhelmed by debt. Do your research and find out what resources are available to help fund your education.
October 1, 2008
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October 14, 2008
I remember sitting around in an English class one day, waiting for the professor to arrive, when one of my classmates mentioned the GRE (graduate record examination) test that we’d all recently taken to apply to graduate programs. She had been worried she wouldn’t even be able to get into English grad programs because of her abysmal standardized math test performance. Everyone chimed in with their GRE scores and application process anecdotes and I spoke up with, “I was surprised that I actually scored higher on the math than the verbal!” It was akin to announcing that I tortured small animals. The air went out of the room and I think some girls actually edged away from me.
This social stigma about math certainly doesn’t start with graduate students in English departments. Most students who excel at math, especially girls, have certainly felt it at one point or another. So while some previous research has suggested that girls just aren’t as good as boys at math, a new study published Friday in Notices of the American Mathematical Society suggests something different. Combining two of the facts of life of high school—popularity is important to many girls and math just isn’t cool—the study proposes that girls don’t do as well at math in middle school and high school and don’t pursue math-heavy degrees as undergraduate students because of social pressure.
This conclusion comes from looking at the cultural backgrounds of some of the highest-performing college and high school students who participate in math competitions. Most of these students, especially the girls, came from cultures where math is prized as an important and useful skill and a source of prestige. These students or their parents tended to be from Asian or Eastern European countries, either sparing them from or giving them a social counterpoint to American beliefs about math. These countries produce a higher proportion of mathematically gifted women, as well as higher numbers of math superstars overall, suggesting that it’s not that girls aren’t good at math, but that girls in the U.S. are socialized to not make math a priority.
So, if you’re a high school math nerd, hang in there. At least one research team believes that you are good at math and you’re not a weirdo for being good at math. If you can stick with math into college, you’ll likely encounter a different attitude. And if the article in Friday’s New York Times is any indication, top colleges want mathematically-inclined students. They might even pony up some scholarship money to woo you.
October 15, 2008
Texas A&M, Boston University, and Vanderbilt University have all recently announced expanded financial aid programs to help lower-and-middle-class students deal with the rising cost of college education and the tough economic situation the country currently faces.
This news comes as many other colleges are announcing budget cuts and tuition hikes in order to break even in the face of declining state funding. Proposed cuts to higher education funding currently range from a one percent cut in Maryland to a reduction of funding by more than 14 percent in Nevada, according to a recent write-up in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Despite financial concerns, though, more and more schools are digging into their pockets to find additional scholarship and grant money for their students. Texas A&M will provide free tuition to all freshmen with a family income below $60,000 and a GPA above 2.5. Boston University plans to meet all financial need for every Boston public school graduate admitted to the university. Vanderbilt will replace all need-based student loans with grants for its students starting next fall, though it still needs to raise an additional $100 million to fully fund the program.
U.S. News and World Report provides more information on these new financial aid programs. You can find out more about these and other generous institutions by conducting a college search on Scholarships.com.
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