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Federal Incentives for Aid

September 9, 2013

Federal Incentives for Aid

by Mike Sheffey

Recently, the federal government came out with a proposed plan to encourage academic excellence in college and linking it to federal aid.

Linking financial aid to academic performance? Wasn’t this already a thing? I mean, really? I completely understand where they’re coming from – I can’t slip below a 3.0 or I risk losing scholarships – and would have thought the federal government would be on a similar page. OK, so maybe that’s a bit harsh and I’m not saying that the minimum GPA would have to be a 3.0 but having some minimums on grading is something I fully support the federal government doing. I mean, if they view college students as the future, then they are investing in America’s future...and they’re probably going to want to emerge at the other end having viewed that investment as a smart idea. I know I’ve seen my fair share of people getting by without incentive to succeed but if your money and future were on the line, you’d see drastically different outcomes. And in the long run, I think we’d appreciate it: Better grades = better GPA = better skills = better jobs. (Or at least in simple terms, that’s how it would go.)

There is, however, the other side of the argument: In the same way that I believe high schools are pushed to be teaching to a test and not to the things we really need to learn (let alone the fact that ALL PEOPLE learn differently but standardized testing pushes a one-way system), I believe a federal system for weighing academic merit could descend into standardized tests for college professors. To be able to hold all college students to federal standards, the government would have to, right? THAT I cannot agree with.

The proposed plan also proposes a heavier focus on online classes. You can read my previous post about online textbooks but would a federal push for online classes devalue the classroom? All I know is that I’d need more details before they could sell me on some of this. But allocating more money to those doing well in school and less or none to those who don’t take it seriously or do well? I can see that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a 2.5 GPA or anything like that, but if you have a 0.5 and you are receiving federal aid, that’s a problem.

What do you think about the proposed federal plan?

Mike Sheffey is a junior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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by Mike Sheffey

It’s that time of year: admission decision time. Those daunting, time-consuming and incredibly necessary applications that you sent off months ago have yet to result in anything concrete and you – like many high school seniors across the country – are now playing the waiting game. The process is now, for all intents and purposes, out of your control. (I found myself in this situation when I applied for college and have recently returned to the game as I wait to hear from potential employers.) Worried? Don’t sweat it. Here’s what to do while you wait:

  • Keep those grades up. This goes out to you high school seniors: There is a myth that once you’re in, you’re in for good...and it’s simply not true. You get the fat envelope because the school wants you there and thinks you will bring a good work ethic and dedication to campus. Slacking off will only prove them wrong and could cause them to rescind your acceptance. Senioritis is tough (trust me, it occurs as a senior in college as well!) but your hard work will pay off.
  • Continue applying for scholarships. Every little bit helps when funding your education so if you find an award for which you qualify, apply! Also, it’s not too late to apply for scholarships in college – there are lots of awards out there for undergraduate and even graduate students!
  • Weigh your options. Once you get in, don’t instantly say yes – do your research! Look into the college culture, the activities, the campus, the surrounding city, the class size, etc. I’m sure you’ve done the majority of this research before applying but keep at it until you are 100-percent sure the school is the place you want to live, study and socialize; if it’s not, you still have time to consider your other choices.

Mike Sheffey is a senior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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by Emily

We're now a solid week into May, and for most high school seniors, that means a switch back from obsessively worrying about making it into college to concentrating on the more immediate task of trying to make it to graduation while finalizing those all-important summer plans.  Once AP exams are out of the way and college deposits are paid, it can be tempting to shift focus entirely away from schoolwork and towards enjoying your last days as a high school student.

However, an article in USA Today warns that the temptation to just coast through the last days, weeks, or even months of one's senior year of high school can carry dire consequences this year.  Colleges typically request a final transcript once you've officially graduated from high school, and often include language in their admission letter saying that their decision is contingent on receiving this information.  While colleges have always given this final semester at least a cursory glance, in previous years, they have tended to largely be forgiving.  But as with nearly everything else in college admissions, this year may be different.

Many schools are admitting more students and adding more names to their wait lists due to a larger group of applicants and greater uncertainty about where students will end up attending college.  As a result, it's more possible now than ever that some schools will overfill their freshman class, prompting them to need to rescind some admission invitations, while others may find themselves drawing extensively from the wait list, meaning students who may not have been reevaluated at all are having their transcripts scrutinized for possible acceptance into their dream school.

Students are encouraged to let colleges know if any problems have come up that might jeopardize their acceptance for fall.  Your college would rather hear from you than your high school, especially if you are able to explain extenuating circumstances and how the situation has been addressed.  This is generally good policy if you find yourself falling short of requirements after something's been awarded, whether it's acceptance into a program or a college scholarship.  On the same note, letting schools know if something fantastic has happened your final semester of school also couldn't hurt.  For example, if your GPA has jumped and you are now eligible for more financial aid at your college, contact the school and see if there is still funding.  I know people who have found themselves awarded university scholarships as late as July, and every time it was because they contacted the school, explained their situation, and asked about the award.


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by Emily

More material continues to be added to the debate over whether sites like Facebook help or hurt undergraduate students.  Last month, preliminary research by a graduate student at Ohio State University caused a stir by suggesting that the use of social networking websites was somehow connected to lower college grades. Now, a new study published by researchers at Northwestern University, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania suggests that if anything, Facebook users have higher grades than students who do not use social networking sites.

While both studies are very preliminary, their findings have sparked a great deal of discussion and debate.  Many professors and some students regard sites like Facebook as distractions from coursework and assaults on students' attention spans.  Others see no harm and a great deal of benefit from being able to connect with peers and share ideas and information more easily online.  Some instructors have even incorporated social networking into their curricula and have encouraged students to friend them online.

Social networking sites are becoming an increasingly large part of the lifestyle associated with attending college, and are increasingly being used as tools in college admissions, as well.  Do you use any of these websites?  Have you seen any connection between your internet habits and your grades?


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by Agnes Jasinski

It may not make students too happy, but a number of schools across the country are taking a closer look at whether their professors are doling out marks that are a bit on the high side.

According to a study conducted by the University of Oregon's Undergraduate Council, the number of A's given to students increased by 10 percent over a 12-year period, and the school's overall GPA has increased by about 5 percent. The average SAT score, however, has remained the same, suggesting that students aren't necessarily studying harder, but benefiting from grade inflation at work.

In a story from news station KVAL CBS 13 in Eugene yesterday, administrators said the school needs to come up with guidelines where students are awarded grades that are reflective of their work, and where students aren't just given a "B" for showing up on time. "If all the grades are squeezed in between B+ and A+ what are we really communicating to students about the quality of their work?" Karen Sprague, vice provost for undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon asked in the story.

Princeton University has been trying to put a stop to grade inflation for six years now, with some in its student body complaining of the opposite - grade deflation. A recent article in the New York Times said students on campus were worried about other Ivy League students who perhaps didn't have to work as hard. One student in the article described the "nightmare scenario" of competing against someone from Yale University who had a 3.8 GPA, compared to his 3.5. The percentage of students with Princeton "As" was below 40 percent last year, down from nearly 50 percent when the policy was adopted in 2004, according to the New York Times. In a survey last year by the undergraduate student government, 32 percent of students said grade deflation was their main source of unhappiness. About 25 percent said they were more unhappy with lack of sleep.

An easy fix would be to give only those students As who deserve them, without figuring in quotas of how many high marks a professor is allowed to award or hold back. This would require a campus-wide standard, however, that takes a close look at defining "excellence," a criteria for that A grade. Students' expectations may need to be tweaked as well, as grade inflation isn't only limited to college campuses. Not too long ago, some high schools considered placing limits on how low to go; some schools argued that awarding scores below the 50 percent mark may do more harm than good, worried that improving those GPAs could become an impossible feat for students with a particularly low grade.

Posted Under:

College Classes , GPA

Tags: College Classes , GPA , Grades

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by Agnes Jasinski

One California law school is being very transparent in their attempts to make their students' grades more competitive, thanks to recent revisions in their grading system. Loyola Law School in downtown Los Angeles recently announced they would be bumping students' GPAs up by one-third of a point, to align themselves with other schools in the area they feel already grade on a higher curve. Students who had an A- in a course would now receive an A, for example.

The fix may not be considered grade inflation in the traditional sense, as it involves a school-wide decision to raise the student population's GPAs and includes the full support of the administration. Grade inflation is typically less obvious, and may vary course by course. The stereotype at many of the most prestigious private colleges across the country is that once you gain admittance to such a school, you won't meet much resistance in your goal to graduate with an impressive GPA.

The situation at Loyola suggests that schools are paying more attention to their grading policies as a way to keep students from seeking out colleges where they have better potential to graduate with a higher GPA. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the school decided to give students' GPAs a boost when it noticed many of their graduates had been entering the job market at an unfair competitive disadvantage. The change won't only affect current Loyola students, but recent graduates since 2007. The boost will make the most difference to students on the cusp of a B-average, as many employers are hesitant to consider job applicants with GPAs below that point.

Critics suggest it will make it even harder for graduates to land jobs now that the change has hit the news, as now employers know the school has artificially inflated the students' GPAs. Administrators disagree: "We're not trying to make them look better than other comparable students at other schools. We just want them to be on an even playing field," Victor J. Gold, the school's dean, said in The Chronicle. The students' class ranks will not be affected by the change.

On the other hand, professors at some schools have been faced with "quotas" that limit them in awarding a certain amount of one letter grade over another, leading some students to complain of grade deflation. This has created some discontent at Princeton University, for example, where students worry that grade inflation at nearby Ive League schools will place them at a disadvantage. (Princeton has been working to urge professors to offer grades based solely on work and merit, not outside pressures, for several years.)


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Head(s) of the Class?

Naming Multiple Valedictorians Becoming More Common

July 6, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

If you just attended your high school graduation, you probably still remember some of the advice given to you by the valedictorian for your class, the student who received the highest marks and highest GPAs over their four years there.

If you attended graduation at Long Island’s Jericho High School, though, it may not even be that easy to name who was up on stage, no matter their words of wisdom. That’s because seven high school seniors were named valedictorians at the school, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Rather than giving a captive audience seven inspirational speeches, the group came up with a skit about their experiences at Jericho. Each valedictorian also had 30 seconds to devote to their personal well wishes.

Honoring multiple students with the title of valedictorian isn’t unique to Jericho. Many of the best suburban schools across the country are now naming more than one student to the top spot, and administrators say this leaves students less stressed and less focused on competition. According to the Times article, administrators say it is usually mere fractions that separate the top five (or seven) spots at any given school, making it difficult to be fair when it comes to choosing a valedictorian and even salutatorian, traditionally the second-place finisher.

How has this changed the make-up of high schools? Consider this. According to the Times, eight high schools in the St. Vrain Valley district in Colorado crowned 94 valedictorians. Cherry Hill High School East in New Jersey chose a speaker via lottery among its chosen nine valedictorians. Harrison High School in New York City got rid of the title altogether, naming top graduates a part of the “summa cum laude” class instead. Does this mean students are just more serious about academics, and more are doing better in high school? Or does it mean more have access to a traditionally elite group of high school graduates?

Administrators on the college level warn that the practice only contributes to “honor inflation,” according to the article. Competition exists on the college level, and a healthy degree of that in high school serves as preparation for the rigors of keeping up at institutions of higher education, they say. One Harvard University dean quoted in the article described the case of a home-schooled student applying to the Ivy League institution. That student claimed they were at the top of their class—of one student. What do you think? How many valedictorians did you have at your own graduation?


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by Agnes Jasinski

As if you needed more reason to study abroad, a recent study looking at 10 years worth of data shows that students who take educational experiences overseas have higher graduation rates once they’re back on their campuses. Not surprisingly, the study also found that those students also have a greater appreciate of cultures outside of their own once they’re back from their time abroad, and see the world in the a broader context.

The project comes from the Georgia Learning Outcomes of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative, or GLOSSARI. It looked at data from 35 institutions of higher education and more than 19,000 students across Georgia since 2000. Study abroad students were compared to a “control group” of nearly 18,000 students who matched those students studying abroad when it came to variables like socioeconomic status and where they were in their college careers, among other characteristics. Among the findings:

  • The six-year graduation rate for study abroad students was about 88.7 percent, compared to 83.4 percent for those in the control group.
  • The four-year graduation rate for study abroad students was 49.6 percent, compared to 42.1 percent for those in the control group.
  • Four-year graduation rates for African-American students who studied abroad were 31 percent higher than for those African-American students in the control group. (According to an article in Inside Higher Ed on the study, it is important to note that minorities are still underrepresented in study abroad programs; about 81.8 percent of American students studying abroad are white.)
  • GPAs were higher among those studying abroad as well. Those who went abroad had average cumulative GPAs of 3.30, compared to 3.06 among those in the control group.

This doesn’t mean your grades will automatically improve once you study abroad, or that you’ll get back on track to graduate on time if you head overseas for a while. But it may mean that even those students at risk of dropping out of college may benefit from study abroad.

Study abroad isn’t always painted in a positive light. Some critics say it’s a distraction from academics, and more of a vacation for college students than a learning experience. Sure, living in a foreign country for a semester or even just a summer probably has perks that have nothing to do with your job as a student. But there is value in the experience. You’ll be forced to become more independent and hone new skills, have the opportunity to learn a new language, and even give your resume a boost. Have you studied abroad? What would you say to college students considering going abroad?

Posted Under:

GPA , Study Abroad

Tags: GPA , Graduation Rates , Study Abroad

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by Agnes Jasinski

A report released yesterday shows that college students today study about 10 hours less on average than college students in the 1960s. The report explains further that technology isn’t the cause of less time hitting the books or the library, as has been traditionally believed. The researchers say it’s up to the colleges to give students more work and to enforce academic standards and requirements to boost study times.

The American Enterprise Institute report, “Leisure College, USA,” looked at a number of national surveys over the last several decades to come to their conclusions. In contrast to previous theories over why students study less these days—some students choose tougher college majors, attend “easier” colleges, or work part- or full-time while in school—the researchers say the evidence points to other factors at play. Achievement standards at post-secondary schools have fallen, they said, and there’s been an overall shift in “college culture” to allow for more leisure time.

According to the study:

  • In 1961, the average full-time student at a four-year college studied 24 hours per week; today, college students study about 14 hours per week.
  • Although students are spending more time working than they did before, the number of hours spent studying fell for all kinds of students, including those who didn’t have a part- or full-time job on their schedules in addition to their coursework.
  • Employers seem to care less about students’ GPAs while in college and more about an applicant’s individual experiences and college choices. This gives students less incentive to study hard for those good grades.
  • Students seem to be spending more time on applying to college and getting accepted to the college of their choice; once they’re there, the pressure seems to be off.
  • How's this for incentive? Students who study more in college earn more in the long run.

As with any report like this, it’s important to consider that these are theories of the researchers that could be explained in a number of different ways. Why do you think students are studying less? Should professors be tougher on their students? If you need some tips to stay motivated and meet your own personal academic goals, there are things you can do to stay on track. Check out our Study Skills section to learn more about topics like how you can become a more efficient student by studying smart, how you can feel more prepared going into a college exam, and how to tackle that first all-nighter, among a number of other topics. Have more tips? Share them with us!


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by Agnes Jasinski

What motivates you to study for your exams? Is it the potential for a good grade or high GPA? Is it the guilt of paying thousands of dollars for that college education? What if you could score some cash—and not in the form of scholarships and grants, as we hope you’re doing already—for doing well in your courses?

A site that has been making the rounds in the media lately offers just that. Ultrinsic.com is based on the premise that students should be rewarded for doing well academically and for meeting their own high expectations. The site allows students at 36 colleges so far to place bets on how well they think they’ll do in their college classes. If they make the grade, they win money based on a calculated “handicap”; if they don’t, they lose whatever they wagered. The starting limit on what students will earn is $25, and the better the students do, the more they win. (The higher the risk, the higher the payoff, as in most gambling situations.)

College officials are understandably concerned. In an article posted on eCampus News this week, the CEO of the site Steven Wolf says it isn’t about gambling but about providing students with an incentive to do well. Furthermore, it doesn’t fit the criteria for online gambling, he says, because students have control over what they win and how they do in their courses.

There are studies out there that show that students do better on tests if they’re promised payment in return for a good score. An Inside Higher Ed article yesterday points to several. One Stanford University professor found that paying elementary- and middle-school aged students to do well on standardized tests had as positive an effect as other proven strategies. Ultrinsic hasn’t seen widespread support for its methods among academics, though, despite Wolf’s insistence that they’re out there. A Harvard University professor says in the Inside Higher Ed article that the idea would be “better left in the hands of colleges” rather than a business. A business’ purpose is, after all, to make money.

What do you think about betting on your grades? Would you try harder in your classes, knowing that there was some money to win or lose on the line? Let us know if you have experience using this site or others like it.


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