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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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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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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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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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Fed Law Requires College Net Price Calculators, Experts Question Accuracy

by Alexis Mattera

How much will it cost to attend the school of your dreams? The federal government hopes its new law will make that question easier to answer but higher education experts have their doubts where accuracy is concerned.

By this October, the federal government will require all U.S. higher education institutions to offer net price calculators on their websites so prospective college students can easily compare attendance costs earlier in their college searches. Users will be asked questions about their financial and academic backgrounds and their answers – and the calculator’s tallies of tuition, fees, books, housing and food, minus scholarships and grants – will reveal the net price to attend that particular school. Though many experts are glad students will have access to this information, accuracy is a concern. Certain factors won’t be taken into consideration because direct student-to-school contact has been eliminated; for example, Washington University is willing to adjust financial aid packages if a parent loses their job and this might not be reflected in the calculators’ answers.

It’s likely the law will be revised to make side-by-side comparison more accurate before the calculators are implemented - read more about the net price calculators in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch - but would you use this new technology or do you think it’s still too early to glean accurate information?


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Department of Ed Demands Special Reports for Tuition Increases

by Alexis Mattera

Do you get a headache when thinking about rising college tuition and fees? You’re not alone...but your company may surprise you.

Yesterday morning, administrators at more than 500 colleges reached for metaphorical Advil bottles when the Department of Education decreed special reports detailing tuition and student fee increases must be submitted to the government for review. Schools cited include public institutions Arizona State University, Georgia State University, Alabama State University and roughly two-thirds of California State University's 23 campuses for tuition hikes of 38 percent, 46 percent, 43 percent and between 37 and 46 percent, respectively, over the last three years as well as for-profit colleges from DeVry University, Education Management and Corinthian Colleges. In addition to explaining why costs have gone up so dramatically, the schools must also discuss how they plan to address the rising prices.

Do you think these new measures will help students make more informed college choices?


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UConn's New President Donates $100K for Scholarship

by Alexis Mattera

When most people start a new job, it takes a while for them to find their way and perfectly arrange their tchotchkes before they feel truly comfortable. Not Susan Herbst: She took over as president of the University of Connecticut just 22 days ago but she’s already made a huge impact on campus and beyond.

Herbst, the former executive vice chancellor of the University System of Georgia, and her husband, marketing consultant Douglas Hughes, have announced they will donate $100,000 to create a scholarship for needy UConn students pursuing degrees in the arts and humanities. "In these difficult times, UConn desperately needs increased private funding of student scholarships, faculty research, and building projects in order to become the top flagship university the state of Connecticut and its citizens deserve," she said in a statement.

The aptly-named Susan Herbst and Douglas Hughes Family Scholarship will be based on academic achievement and need and will be awarded for the first time next spring. Does this financial aid opportunity have you considering spending your college years in the Constitution State?


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The Good News and Bad News About State Aid for Students

by Alexis Mattera

There’s good news and bad news regarding state aid for students. The good: State financial aid for college students, including grants, work-study and loans, rose by nearly 4 percent last year. The bad: Just about half of the states surveyed cut need-based grants, even as demand for financial aid increased.

The data – from a report by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs – also revealed a 1-percent decline in overall state higher education spending and more money spent on need-based grants versus the amount spent on merit-based grants. While this means some students have access to resources that will help them complete college and bolster the economy, not all students are benefiting. Ohio, Alaska, Michigan, Hawaii and Utah have cut need-based grant funding by as much as 66 percent and in Georgia, lower award levels have been implemented for the HOPE Scholarship. And what about California and Washington, where financial aid increased? They’ve seen an increase in student-aid applications but cannot honor all requests because they have run out of money.

Experts view these findings as positive overall but are proceeding with “cautious optimism.” Do you agree or disagree with the actions taken thus far?


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The Best Financial Aid Policies in Higher Ed

by Alexis Mattera

Did you know that more than 70 colleges across the country have replaced loans with grants? That’s right: Schools are offering more free money to entice students to enter their hallowed halls, meaning they will not be saddled with the often-dreaded student loan payments after graduation. What institutions come out on top? Here are a few of the best aid policies, courtesy of the Washington Post’s Daniel de Vise:

For de Vise’s complete top 12, click here. If your school made the cut, are you reaping the financial benefits? If your school is not represented, how are you paying for your degree?


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The Recession: College’s Sorting Hat?

by Alexis Mattera

When the recession hit in 2008, higher education officials wondered how – not if – enrollment numbers would be impacted. Three years later, the damage has been revealed...and it’s not what anyone anticipated.

In a new report conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment of traditional-age, first-time college students rose to 2.135 million in 2010, a 6.8-percent increase from 1.997 million in 2006. Enrollment at four-year public and private colleges remained relatively stable, as did retention and persistence rates, while more students than ever have enrolled in two-year colleges, from 41.7 percent in 2006 to 44.5 in 2009. The report suggests these students either 1. might have chosen a costlier school in a better economy or 2. would have otherwise joined the work force after high school. "The news of our demise is greatly exaggerated," Don Hossler, the center's executive director and a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington, says of four-year institutions in general. "I was expecting more dramatic data, and thus far, the changes are not that dramatic." He does, however, go on to say that despite the encouraging findings, the recession's impact on college choices and educational paths may take years to emerge completely.

The report, "National Postsecondary Enrollment Trends: Before, During, and After the Great Recession," is the first in a series of analyses that the National Student Clearinghouse plans to release in the coming months. Given what you’ve seen or personally experienced, do you feel the results are accurate?


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