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Blogging Bridges the Digital Divide

by Alexis Mattera

Teaching students how to write (and write well) has long been a challenge for educators. Sure, there are always those students with a knack for style and syntax but how can teachers get less-proficient or ESL students excited about writing and bridge the digital divide at the same time? Through blogging.

Jon Schwartz, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher from Oceanside, Calif., found that more than 60 percent of his students “came from households where English was the second language, or wasn’t spoken at all." To increase their interest in writing, Schwartz forewent the traditional pencil-to-paper route and introduced his students to blogging. After teaching them the basics, Schwartz required each student to submit a 90- to 100-word writing assignment each day. They had the option to turn in their assignments via the blog or on paper but after hearing how much some of Schwartz’s former students enjoyed blogging, almost all of them opted for the digital method.

From there, Schwartz said "creativity and productivity skyrocketed because they knew that their work had the potential to be viewed quickly by an authentic audience that mattered to them." In addition to the new-found enthusiasm about writing – Schwartz’s students continue to blog on their own time even when no assignment is required and utilize the Internet for research – the project has helped to bridge the digital divide. "If they aren’t trained to use the computer as a tool for learning, work, and personal growth, they’ll not be able to compete in high school, college, and job markets."

What do you think of Schwartz’s experiment? Would a program like this one get you more interested in writing in and out of the classroom?


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Fees Fatten College Costs

by Alexis Mattera

Take a look at your bills for next semester. If the costs seem a little higher than usual, don’t be quick to blame tuition. It could be fees plumping up your payments.

In an attempt to combat diminishing state funding, many public colleges have elected to raise student fees in lieu of increasing tuition. Though many schools have been quick to point out that the fee increases – $180 for repairs and maintenance (Indiana University-Bloomington), $150 for matriculation (Southern Illinois University-Carbondale) and a whopping $1,088 “special institutional fee” (public universities in Georgia), for example – are temporary to make up for budget shortfalls, it doesn’t change the fact that college students and their parents need to secure additional funding.

Not only are students questioning the rationale behind these various fee hikes but laws have been proposed to allow legislators to better examine how fees are justified and, later, spent – much like the Department of Education’s tuition report mandate from earlier this month. New Jersey legislators have proposed that state schools be required to detail on tuition bills how fees are allocated and, starting in August, state schools in North Dakota must publish an online breakdown of where the mandatory fees go.

Has your school increased its fees? If so, which ones? Are you happy to hear some states are taking steps to combat potentially unnecessary fee hikes?


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Could Foursquare Be the Next Big Thing on College Campuses?

by Alexis Mattera

It should come as no surprise that the number of higher education institutions with social media presences has skyrocketed over the last few years. Today, 98 percent of colleges are on Facebook, 84 percent are on Twitter and some of these savvy schools are beginning to complement the information shared through these platforms with the geo-social site, Foursquare.

According to a recent study, just 20 percent of campuses have an institutional presence on Foursquare. Though the usage is limited by comparison, officials at the schools using the site are finding it is an effective tool for engaging with students. How? First, a quick breakdown for the uninitiated: Foursquare uses the geo-locator technology built into smartphones and encourages users to “check in” virtually at places they’re visiting in real life, leave notes for future visitors and possibly earn perks (discounts, badges, etc.) for doing so.

While Liz Gross, director of university marketing and communications at the University of Wisconsin at Waukesha, says, “You can’t say ‘10 percent off tuition for checking in,’ or ‘free tuition for the mayor,’” she does believe foursquare allows administrators a direct way “to tap in to student engagement.” Texas A&M is doing it right – the winner of a recent Foursquare scavenger hunt throughout campus earned a 30-percent discount at the school bookstore – and Syracuse University will soon offer a special badge to users checking in at campus venues and could eventually allow students to redeem badges for campus bucks.

Do you think incentivizing students is the best way to engage them or is organic involvement more effective?


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New Study Explores Higher Ed Stratification

by Alexis Mattera

Money may not be able to buy happiness or love but a new study shows it’s an integral factor in getting into college.

The study – “Running in Place: Low-Income Students and the Dynamics of Higher Education Stratification” – reveals that despite efforts to attract and enroll more low-income students, such students are still more likely to attend community colleges or noncompetitive four-year universities than more elite schools. These students are indeed taking the steps necessary to increase their grades and standardized test scores but their wealthier counterparts are taking wider, faster strides toward the same goal.

According to the study’s lead author and associate professor of higher education at the University of Michigan Michael N. Bastedo, “The distance between academic credentials for wealthy students and low-income students is getting longer and longer...and that’s despite the fact that low-income students are rising in their own academic achievement.” Selective colleges claim they want to bring in more low-income students but the study’s authors say ancillary factors like higher/better job placement and more generous alumni are proving detrimental.

There is much more to the study here including the authors’ suggestions for improving equity (i.e., optional SATs, greater access to Advanced Placement and honors courses). Take a look and share your thoughts!


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Roommate Request Accepted

Students Find Dorm Roommates via Social Networks

August 8, 2011

Roommate Request Accepted

by Alexis Mattera

When I began college, I knew three people at my school of choice: a high school classmate, a friend of a friend set to become an RA and a girl I met while we were both waiting to triple jump at a track meet. This was fine by me, as I was excited to meet new people and thought the best way to do so would be to go the random roommate route. It didn’t work out but today, some incoming freshmen aren’t tempting their roommate fate and finding the person they’ll share an 11’-by-14’ room with online, the Washington Post reports.

With the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy for first-time college students to seek out their ideal roommates based on their online profiles and 140-character musings on life. While some schools still prefer having control over housing assignments to ensure new students are exposed to different points of view – the University of Virginia has seen requests for first-year roommates skyrocket over the past five years and can no longer honor all requests – others are slowly but surely embracing social networking as a resource. At American University, incoming students are presented with a list of possible roommate matches based on their replies to short questionnaires and the University of Maryland has set up its own internal social network for admitted students to get to know each other and look for roommates. These methods can result in fewer roommate conflicts but some college officials – and even some students – fear they focus on the wrong qualities: One USC student revealed a few potential roommates asked her for her clothing and shoe sizes, not what her sleep and study habits were.

Current and soon-to-be college students, did you find your first-year roommate online or did you let your school choose for you? What characteristics did you cite as important in a roommate? Do you regret your decision?


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Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

August 10, 2011

Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

by Alexis Mattera

A few months back, we wrote about helpful tips on maximizing merit aid, or aid based on a student’s attributes like academics, athletics and extracurriculars. For college applicants who aren’t deemed financially needy in terms of their FAFSA or EFC, merit aid can make a huge difference in the schools they can realistically afford to attend. Students and families seeking this extra financial aid boost should consider researching schools more likely to dispense merit-based awards but with so many colleges and universities in the U.S., which ones are the best financial bets?

Help has arrived in the form of U.S. News, which has compiled a top 10 list of schools that awarded the highest percentage of merit-based funding to non-needy students during the 2009-10 academic year (the stats do not include financially needy students who were given merit aid or students who received athletic scholarships or other tuition breaks). Take a look:

High school students, does this data have you looking at these schools in a new light? Current college students attending one of the schools listed above, did merit aid make the difference as to whether or not you enrolled?


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Tuition, Food, Books: Pick Two

Rising Costs Have Students Skimping on Textbooks

August 12, 2011

Tuition, Food, Books: Pick Two

by Alexis Mattera

If you’re a current or soon-to-be college student, you’ve probably heard the saying “Friends, school, sleep: Pick two.” If you haven’t, it means you won’t have time to do everything you want...and sometimes need. While there are students who can balance all three, they have another difficult decision to make at the beginning of each semester: tuition, food or books?

According to survey conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, seven out of 10 undergraduate students reported not buying one or more textbooks because the cost was too high. How high? The Government Accountability Office estimated textbooks cost a quarter of the average state college tuition (three-fourths at community colleges) and the U.S. PIRG revealed textbook prices have risen faster than overall inflation with a 22-percent uptick in the past four years. For students, this means some serious money management is in order. "Generally what we get from students is 'Yeah, it's only a few dollars, but it could be my dinner,'" said Jessica Bruning, a student at Iowa State University. "It adds up pretty quickly." The survey also revealed four out of five students said new editions prevented them from purchasing cheaper used books and half cited bundles or custom editions as the culprits for increased costs.

The good news – yes, there is some! – is that groups like Textbook Rebellion, Campus Progress and even individual professors are doing their part to keep textbook costs from negatively impacting students’ college experiences. "Better options are out there," said Nicole Allen, textbooks advocate for the Student PIRGs. "Between used books, rental programs and long-term alternatives like open textbooks, we have the tools we need to make textbooks affordable for more students." Have you had to choose between tuition, food or books? What are you doing to keep your college costs in check?


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Could College Culture Facilitate Gender Segregation by Major?

by Alexis Mattera

Next time you sit down in your favorite major class, take a look around. Are your classmates primarily male or female...and why? That depends: According to a new study, the culture of your school could be fostering gender segregation by major.

Authored by Ann L. Mullen and Jayne Baker, an associate professor of sociology and a doctoral student in sociology, respectively, at the University of Toronto, the study found that while college promoting liberal arts study have more students majoring in fields traditionally associated with majors of the opposite sex, “highly gendered” colleges – those with few tenured female faculty members, exceptionally small numbers of male undergraduates, and NCAA Division III football teams, for example – generally have higher levels of male and female segregation by major. The study also revealed it’s possible that culture of these schools influence "the options that become more thinkable and unthinkable for students as they choose their field of study" and that "gender segregation cuts across all types of institutions" and does not vary based on institutional selectivity.

While there are certainly other factors to consider (read more about Mullen and Baker’s study here), their findings are something to think about. Does your school sound like one of those described in the study? If so, have you noticed gender segregation by major?


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College Costs Continue to Outpace Savings

by Alexis Mattera

There are lots of ways students and their parents can pay for college – at Scholarships.com, we’re familiar with nearly 3 million options – and many begin socking away funds early on. As admirable as this timely planning is, a new study shows it won’t come close to covering the ever-rising cost of higher education.

Boston-based Fidelity Investments has revealed that while 67 percent of parents surveyed have put money into some sort of college fund this year, current and expected savings project the typical American family will only be able to pay for 16 percent of college costs when the time comes. Why? Many factors contribute, like the less-than-stellar economy and existing student loan payments (more than half of parents with children under five still have outstanding balances) but perhaps the hardest-hitting element is the colleges' steep price tags: Over the past five years alone, college costs have jumped 26 percent.

This news may sound bleak but families are still finding ways to afford school without going into debt...or having their children graduate with a mountain of it. More parents are asking their kids to work part-time, commute to save on room and board, opt for state schools over private ones and take additional credits - all to keep costs in check. These are all excellent options to defray ballooning education costs but don’t forget scholarships and grants – aka free money for college! Just like saving, it’s important to start searching for scholarships early and often. No time’s better than the present – complete a free scholarship search today!


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Apple’s Impact on Higher Ed

Will It Flourish or Falter Without Steve Jobs?

August 26, 2011

Apple’s Impact on Higher Ed

by Alexis Mattera

You may be pro-PC or a Linux lover but you have to give Steve Jobs some credit for not only the projects he’s helped spearhead during his time at Apple but also the personal emphasis he’s put on higher education initiatives. Now that Jobs has resigned as Apple’s CEO, many are wondering if and how the company will keep its collegiate focus.

Apple has been involved in higher education since the company’s early days with what’s now called the University Executive Forum, an advisory panel of top college officials who get early looks at products and a chance to influence design. For example, prior to the iPod’s debut, several schools experimented with the devices and their feedback prompted Apple to create iTunesU, a free service designed to store and stream audio and video files for university courses. The company also offers many incentives to college students, like sizeable discounts on computers and bonus iTunes gift cards...but will it all continue?

Despite new CEO Tim Cook’s responsiveness to and interest in higher ed, some college officials are concerned about what a Jobs-less Apple may mean. (Perhaps they're remembering when Apple forced Jobs out in 1985 and the company paid less attention to colleges.) Do you share in these concerns or do you think the culture Jobs has fostered will withstand the test of time?


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