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by Agnes Jasinski

Hobart and William Smith Colleges is looking to give juniors narrowing down their college search choices a more unique brochure experience. More than 20,000 of them will receive 3-D glasses to go along with the school's brochures, a strategy the school describes as both a gimmick and symbolic of what the school is all about.

Viewing things in 3-D has only become more popular thanks to the success of James Cameron's "Avatar." But looking at a brochure is undoubtedly a different experience than sitting in a movie theater with a bucket of popcorn in your lap. The New York Times talked to the school's director of communications, Cathy Williams, this week. She sees it this way: Hobart is looking to change the way students "see the world." The 3-D glasses are symbolic of that idea, and the brochures ask potential applicants to "open your eyes to new possibilities at HWS."

Nearly 10,000 of the recipients requested the catalogs; another 12,000 or so were identified through a College Board search program. (Institutions of higher education are able to purchase lists of students who have scored above a certain level on standardized tests or who have expressed interest in a particular field of study.) Those who receive the brochures don't only get the 3-D experience on paper. They're also then able to view videos of professors explaining the science behind the concept of 3-D.

Colleges have been working extra hard lately to entice potential applicants. Some have revamped their college application packets to resemble credit card offers, now speeding up processing times, waiving application fees, and using language typically used by credit card companies: Advantage Application, Distinctive Candidate Application, and the Candidate’s Choice Application, to name a few. More than 100 colleges and universities paid the same marketing company to send out variations of these applications last fall. Some spent more than $1 million on these application campaigns, according to the New York Times.

While their applicant pools have indeed increased thanks to the marketing campaigns, it makes one wonder how colleges find advertising dollars in their budges while tuition and fees continue to increase, schools shutter their "no loans" programs, and colleges struggle with budget deficits. What do you think? Would 3-D glasses included in your college brochure spark your interest in a school more than the glossy materials you usually receive? What other gimmicks have you seen colleges use to get students to apply to those schools?


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by Agnes Jasinski

As more states continue passing medical-marijuana laws (14 and counting), it was only a matter of time before higher education would take notice. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at Oaksterdam University, an Oakland, Calif., institution that provides "quality training for the cannabis industry."

Oaksterdam (named after Oakland and Amsterdam) has been offering weekend seminars and semester-long courses since November of 2007, when a group of marijuana-legalization activists their burgeoning movement deserved a trade school. The main school exists in a 30,000-square-foot converted office building, with satellite campuses in Los Angeles, Sebastopol, Calif., and Flint, Mich. Its academic departments, which admittedly began as a "political stunt," according to the article, now include coursework in biology, political science, horticulture, and "methods of ingestion," a class that teaches the benefits and history of extracted medicine, the chemistry behind it, and the different extraction methods and equipment used.

Although classes at the school aren't transferable - Oaksterdam isn't an accredited institution - that fact hasn't seemed to hurt enrollment. The "campus tour" described in the Chronicle article included an out-of-work engineer looking for a new career and a teenager who decided against majoring in horticulture at the University of California at Davis in favor of Oaksterdam. "I was convinced it was the best road for me to go down," he said in the article.

MedGrow Michigan Cannabis College is the Midwest's version. Students there take one class a night for six weeks, and take a cooking and concentrates lab, a history of cannabis class, and several horticulture lectures. The school's site boasts that more schools outside of its current Southfield, Mich., location are coming, and the faculty there include attorneys, professors in botany, and a professor of history who was one of the first 500 patients in the state of Michigan to obtain his patient ID card for medical marijuana use.

Cannabis colleges aren't the only kind of school taking advantage of career changers looking to pick up new skills and improve their job outlooks. Michigan’s ABC School of Bartending and Casino College has been training potential new employees for new casinos planned across the border in Ohio. Students at the casino school learn how to deal cards and count poker chips, among other tricks of the trade, to prepare for the more than 7,500 potential jobs at casinos to be built in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. A new school that recently opened in Tinley Park, Illinois, Bette Baron’s Art of Body Coloring School, offers a two-week intensive program in body art.


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you've had classes since 2001, the year the (in)famous online, user-edited encyclopedia was launched, chances are you're guilty of using Wikipedia as a source of information while completing your coursework. A new report from First Monday, an online peer-reviewed journal, took a look at just how prevalent the site has become on college campuses in particular (although high school students are probably just as bad offenders), and how students have begun to rely on Wikipedia as a resource.

According to the study, more than half of all respondents use Wikipedia frequently or always for course-related research. Students in architecture, engineering, or the sciences were more likely to use the site in their courses than other majors. (This could have something to do with the fact that students in social sciences like psychology or history must provide reference lists more often for papers they turn in, and citing Wikipedia simply won't fly on a college level essay.) The study surveyed 2,318 students, and took qualitative data from 86 of those students who participated in focus groups.

Other major findings of the study include the following:

  • Most students said they used Wikipedia for a summary about a topic (82 percent), the meaning of related terms (67 percent), and to get started on research (76 percent).
  • About 52 percent of the respondents were frequent Wikipedia users, even if an instructor advised against it.
  • Only 22 percent reported that they rarely, if ever, used Wikipedia.
  • About 17 percent used Wikipedia because they thought it was more credible than other sites.
  • Only about 2 percent used Wikipedia toward the end of their research process.
  • Overall, the strongest predictor of using Wikipedia was being someone who also used Google for course–related research.
  • Those enrolled in two–year campuses were less likely than those in four–year institutions to report that they used Wikipedia.

Whether you're writing a college essay or applying for an essay scholarship, here's a good rule of thumb on citing Wikipedia as a reference—don't do it. While the site can be an excellent tool for you to kick off your search, as the study above suggests, it simply isn't reliable enough to be taken seriously by academia. Anyone can add to and edit entries on the site, so it's always best to do some fact-checking after you get your Wikipedia summary prior to the start of the rest of your research. (Stephen Colbert proved this point when he edited Wikipedia articles on his own show, George Washington, and elephants, all while viewers watched. He also coined the term "wikiality," which refers to the reality that exists if you make something up and enough people agree with you.)


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by Agnes Jasinski

Not too long ago, the furnishings in a typical college dorm room included things like posters of your favorite band, boxes of ramen noodles for late-night snacks, and a land-line phone. The rogue mini-fridge that you covered with a bed sheet to avoid a fine (as mini-fridges were on the "banned" list, along with candles and stolen street signs) was probably the most controversial item in your shared room.

Dorm living today seems to have undergone a makeover. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune took a look at what college students at the University of Illinois bring with them as part of their dorm experience, including flat-screen televisions (on which they immediately install cable, often in HD), sleek laptops, and cell phones to replace land-lines. In fact, the school no longer even offers connections for land-line phones to students, as it became clear to administrators students just didn't need them anymore. In that article, a school spokeswoman said students didn't even notice they removed phone lines in the rooms; students are now able to get everything they need on their cell phones, including emergency text messages when the school is under a weather advisory or another safety-related incident. In one dorm, according to the Tribune, students are able to get a text message or e-mail when their laundry is done, or when there's an available washer or dryer.

Elsewhere, dorms are changing in different ways, unrelated to changing technologies. Mixed-gender dorms are becoming less taboo, with members of the opposite sex not only sharing bathrooms (taboo enough as recently as the 1970s), but rooms, as well. Students at Pitzer College have the option of choosing a roommate of the opposite sex to dorm with, one of about 50 schools across the country that offer incoming freshmen that choice. Still, few students take advantage of the option, with only about 1 to 3 percent choosing to do so at schools where they are allowed room with the opposite sex.

Dorm cafeterias have also been changing dramatically. Some have begun offering healthier fare in the dining halls, or catering to incoming students' food allergies. Others look more like the local Flat Top, with stir fry stations where students are able to pick and choose exactly what they'd like grilled up for them that day, or brick oven pizza days where students choose their favorite toppings.

What changes have you noticed at your dorm? If you've been away from college for a while and are not returning as an adult student, what do you remember about dorm living from your first year on campus?


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by Agnes Jasinski

A Capella groups, vocal troupes and pitch-perfect singing clubs are fairly common on college campuses as a diversion from academics and another option among the dozens of extracurricular activities students have to choose from. But show choirs have always been more popular at high schools. That is, until the television show "Glee" came onto screens across the country with aims to popularize glee clubs and add some levity to the mood of the country.

Colleges have taken notice, forming their own glee clubs and show choirs that have students singing, dancing, and performing for their student populations and, in some cases, in competitions across the country. An article in USA Today takes a look at some of the new college programs, and what they've done to not only ride the wave of the popularity of "Glee," which returns from its hiatus tonight, but to make their music programs more current and adapt to the tastes of those who buy tickets to their shows.

At Millsaps College, a group of 15 students came together to form a show choir that now performs songs like the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling." The group has its first show in two weeks. The University of North Texas created a new singing group shortly after the first season of the Fox show came to an end; more than 100 students auditioned, according to the USA Today article. That group has 30 student members, and will premiere its first performance next month.

High schools across the country have also revamped their concert choirs and chorus groups, incorporating what some say is more audience-friendly music. (Some choirs that aren't too enthusiastic about the show say "Glee" hurts rather than helps them by giving the impression that all choirs perform top 40 hits and include extensive choreography.) The choir at Hoquiam High School in Washington state still performs the traditional tunes one would expect from a conventional vocal group, but the addition of a show choir at the school has allowed Hoquiam to give students the option of performing classic choral styles with the concert choir, and more mainstream country, rock, and hip hop with the show choir. The school's show choir has even performed a song by Weird Al Yankovic.

Tell us about your college or high school show choir or glee club. What kinds of things does your group do to get more students involved in music on campus? Do you still prefer a traditional concert choir over the more unconventional show choirs? And if you are a performer, don't forget that there are music scholarships out there for those with not only vocal talents, but instrumental abilities as well.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As further evidence that “going green” is here to stay, college graduations across the country may be looking a bit more environmentally-friendly this commencement season. According to a recent article from the Associated Press, at least 100 schools will have their graduates decked out in gowns made of recycled or biodegradable materials.

The gowns come from a number of manufactures, and a number of materials. Plastic has proved to be one of the more popular options, although schools have explored gowns made of sustainable bamboo and acetate, a material that decomposes within a year, according to the article. (Those made with the acetate come in a variety of colors; the plastic bottle gowns come only in black.)

Wake Forest University is one school that will have its graduates dressed in gowns made of recycled plastic bottles this season; each gown is made of about 23 plastic bottles. Students at Lafayette College and the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh will be trying out the biodegradable gowns instead. According to an article in The Christian Science Monitor, administrators at those schools said they wanted to test the product’s claims that the gowns would biodegrade within a year’s time, as they assume students will most likely toss their gowns after the ceremonies rather than looking for recycling bins set up campus-wide.

The gowns made out of the plastic bottles cost about $2 more apiece, although most colleges will be absorbing those costs. The biodegradable gowns range in price, although administrators have said they cost about 18 percent more than the gowns they had been using. Traditional gowns are made out of petroleum-based polyester. Students who have already tried out the varieties of “green” gowns made say they’re much lighter than the alternative, making them ideal for warm weather ceremonies.

It may no longer even be accurate to say that colleges are “going green.” Many of them are already there if you consider lists like the recent ranking of the 286 greenest colleges in the country from The Princeton Review. Commencements have also been a target of the environmentally-conscious for quite some time, with schools making sure to print programs on recycled paper, sending emailed invitations and tickets rather than printing them, using recycled cardboard in caps, or looking for ways to cut down on electricity use at the actual ceremonies. Would you describe your impending graduation ceremony as “green”? What has your college been doing to become more environmentally sound, or what more can they do?


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many of you have already made your decisions on the school you’ll be attending come fall. The next step (outside of the obvious, determining how you’ll pay for that choice and evaluating your financial aid letter) will be figuring out where you’ll be living once you’re on your chosen campus.

Many colleges will require freshmen to live in dorms, to build a sense of community and give those first-year students better access to campus offerings and guidance. You’ve probably heard quite a bit about communal living already, either through older siblings’ roommate horror stories or warnings of consuming too many calories in the dorm cafeterias. A number of recent articles have taken a lighter approach to dorm living, looking at the unique options you may have when determining where you’ll be spending most of your time come fall. (You may remember reading about college students demanding more from their dorms; it seems like schools are taking notice.)

One article in The New York Times took a look at dorm rooms that came with “bragging rights” and an air of celebrity about them. While wait lists for them are typically high, some students discover only after they’ve moved in that they’re bunking in the same space as a former politician, celebrity, or historical figure. Princeton University in particular has quite a few of these famous spaces—Michelle Obama had a single room there, and four freshmen currently live in Adlai E. Stevenson’s old room. (The school razed the building where James Stewart spent his evenings.) Yale University boasts Anderson Cooper’s and Paul Giamatti’s old rooms. While colleges are often hesitant to disclose where famous alums lived while attending their schools, the article suggests it’s not too hard to figure out using old yearbooks, and the Times piece alone discloses quite a few of the celebs’ previous addresses.

For those who would rather bring a furry friend from home to college than boast of their rooms’ history, a number of colleges have become more amendable to allowing students to bring the family pet to live with them in the dorms. Another recent Times article took a look at the trend, as colleges begin setting aside dorms specifically for pet owners. The dorms include daycare facilities for when students are in class—although hours are limited to prevent pet neglect—and other amenities staffed by work-study students interested in working with animals. According to that article, about a dozen colleges currently have policies allowing pets access to the dorms. Typically, the policies are limited to cats and small- to average-sized dogs.

What kinds of things will you be considering when you’re ready to make your housing choice? Are you looking for a more traditional dorm room experience, without the frills or additional options now offered by colleges?


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College Cuts Housekeeping Services

George Washington University Says Students Too Messy for Perk

July 2, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

New freshmen at George Washington University this fall won’t be as pampered as their predecessors. Administrators there have decided to cut the housekeeping services they had offered in the past, in part to keep the costs of room and board at their current levels.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the services included vacuuming students’ residence hall rooms and cleaning their private bathrooms. Come fall, it will be up to the students to tidy things up, although administrators said some housekeepers were unable to vacuum a number of freshmen’s rooms properly anyway because of the messes students would leave on their floors, which first prompted the school to look into eliminating the service. About 80 new freshmen have been vocally opposed to the school’s decision to cut the service, signing Facebook petitions to demand it be added back. In one article, one incoming student said it was one of those things that “semi-convinced” her to come to GW, and that with tuition at $54,000, it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep such perks in their communal living spaces.

It may seem silly to have a housekeeper keep your dorm room tidy, but GW wasn’t unique in offering the service. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology still offers the service, with housekeepers there changing linens, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and taking out students’ trash. According to the Inside Higher Ed article, administrators there said if they needed to trim their budgets, they would cut housekeeping staff rather than eliminating the program altogether, as they describe it as “one of the top selling points” of the college. At Xavier University, administrators use their housekeeping service (offered in three out of four dorms) as a way to relieve parents worried about their sons and daughters living in messy rooms now that they’re out on their own.

At other schools that have instituted cuts to housekeeping services, the reaction from students has been mixed. The College of the Holy Cross and Claremont McKenna College both reduced their service from twice a week to once a week, which may not seem like that big a deal to students without any kind of formal cleaning service. Administrators at Holy Cross said having housekeepers allowed the school to maintain a sense of upkeep in residence halls, and keep rooms in better shape for the next round of freshmen. The Inside Higher Ed article closed with a rising senior at Claremont deriding what he thought of as an excess: “Do we really need maids cleaning up after every mess? It’s pretty ridiculous. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love it. Who wouldn't? But I think for college students trying to become adults, people shouldn't be cleaning up our mess. That is a mother thing to do when you're 10 years old.”


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by Agnes Jasinski

Those interested in what conservative Fox News commentator Glenn Beck has to offer in terms of an academic experience will have a chance to explore that idea for themselves starting this week. The broadcaster has officially launched his own online summer program, Beck University.

The program, which does not give those enrolled college credit, offers online lectures and discussions based on the concepts of faith, hope and charity instead. Those enrolled don’t pay tuition, but must instead subscribe to Insider Extreme, which comes at a cost of $6.26 per month.

Beck isn’t an academic by any means—according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, he dropped out of Yale University after taking one course—but he has given the reigns of the program to outside experts. According to the program’s website, this week’s schedule includes Faith 101 with David Barton, the founder and president of a “pro-family organization.” Courses later this summer include Hope 101 and Charity 101, with the philanthropic course led by James R. Stoner Jr., a professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Beck isn’t the only famous face to have ventured into the world of online education. Donald Trump started the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, renamed from Trump University after he was told calling the school such violated New York Education Law and the Rules of the Board of Regents in the state. The program, which does not offer college credit, describes itself as a resource for business leaders and those interested in wealth creation. Bassist Bootsy Collins has started the online Funk University, which gives aspiring musicians access to online lectures on music history and funk from “Professor Bootsy” and lessons in advanced bass and rhythm. The program is more a tutorial in bass Bootsy-style, as it doesn’t offer college credit either.

However you feel about such programs, make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into no matter what you sign up for. If you’re up for a few classes in funk to supplement your coursework elsewhere, that’s perfectly fine, but know that many of these entertainingly-named “schools” don’t offer college credit and certainly won’t be accepted by your home institution as transfer credit. That probably means they won’t exactly give your resume a boost either when you’re out there applying for jobs. Check out the information we’ve come up with on choosing the right school if you’re unsure, including tips on finding an accredited distance learning program if you’re looking for an online college in particular.


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by Agnes Jasinski

You’ve already read about the website that allows college students to wager on their grades. A new online tool allows students to calculate not whether they should risk some cash on their academic performance, but whether sleeping in and skipping class is worth their while.

The “Should I Skip Class Today?” calculator asks users 10 questions that glean information about how many times that user has that class in question, when the next major test/quiz will be held, and whether that class has an attendance policy, among other criteria. Once they hit submit, users are told whether they’d be safe or sorry if they stayed in bed and skipped class. For example, I was told it was OK to skip class but that I wasn’t completely safe when I gave the calculator a whirl. I used a hypothetical class that met twice a week, included regular handouts in class, and had an attendance policy where my instructor did not take attendance, but where participation mattered in my final grade. The results also told me that I had already skipped 7 percent of my classes this semester (I had informed the web tool that this would be my third absence), and when my next test or quiz was (I offered that information up as well).

The calculator is the brainchild of Jim Filbert, who thought of the idea “one cold morning” in February of this year. Filbert, a telecommunications management student at the time, didn’t want to go to class that day, and found himself wondering what the risks were to stay in his warm bed. Following a quick search online, he was unable to find a similar tool, so he took it upon himself to create an online risk calculator himself. He did end up skipping class that day, according to his bio on the site, but he spent his free time working on the calculator, instead.

While you should probably go to class as often as you can, barring an unfortunate illness, flat tire, or other incident that would stop you from doing so, it’d be interesting to see how “accurate” this calculator is in a real situation. How you’d measure its accuracy, though, I’m not exactly sure. Have you tried out this new online tool? How do you go about determining how risky it is to skip class? What’s an appropriate excuse? If you’re feeling swamped, check out our College Classes and Study Smart sections before deciding whether you’re really too overwhelmed to go to class; we have tips on everything from preparing for exams to choosing which courses you should sign up for.


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