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You Majored in…What?

What Your College Degree Really Means to Employers

September 21, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Two students from two schools majored in the same subject and obtained degrees in the same field. They took equivalent classes, received identical grades, won similar scholarships and are now both being considered for the same job. Who is the better candidate? Put it this way: You don’t want to be the hiring manager.

In fields like nursing and accounting, there are licensure examinations in place to determine which graduates studied smart and have the greatest understanding of the material they have learned in school. The results are cut, dry and conclusive here but for those organizations hiring graduates from fields without these tests, finding the perfect candidate isn’t easy. In his recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, Forrest Hinton states that the disparity in grades and academic standards is so significant between institutions, departments and instructors that comparing applicants’ transcripts is often just as useless as offering someone a job because of their connections, alma mater or the hiring manager’s gut instinct. Hinton argues that the only way to mend this ailing hiring system is for academia and industry to work together to conclude which skills and knowledge students need to master most. Just because a candidate went to a less-selective college doesn’t necessarily mean they are any less qualified than a graduate of a more competitive institution and the same goes for students who are first-generation, low-income or minorities. Hinton suggests common and field-based assessments should be implemented to separate the candidates who thrive from the ones who will do just enough but, unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in…yet.

Though assessments across a wider variety of fields may be difficult to implement, I think they would make a huge difference in the quality of candidates employers hire and, in turn, the quality of work they produce. What about you, readers? Should someone get the job based simply on where they graduated from or their fluency in the field they seek to work in? What DOES a degree really mean these days and, more importantly, what SHOULD it mean?

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Playing Favorites?

Kahlenberg and Co. Discuss Legacy Preference in College Admissions

September 22, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

I used to hate Hate HATE when my brother was allowed to do something and I wasn’t because he was a boy and I was a girl. I’d stomp and sigh and eventually find something better to do but the sting of that bias stuck with me for a while. I (and I’m sure my parents) would shudder to think of my reaction had I been denied admission to the college of my choice when another candidate got in based on any other reason than merit.

Though college officials claim their preference toward alumni children is modest at best, a new book states the opposite. In Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions, editor Richard D. Kahlenberg calls for a reexamination and elimination of alumni preferences now; as an advocate for class-based as opposed to race-based affirmative action, Kahlenberg also argues that with the elimination of affirmative action in several states (a shift he predicts will spread), existing biases make it “hard to justify alumni preferences when you have gotten rid of help for minorities.” One section of the book, which is a collection of research articles by scholars, journalists and lawyers, even details how much the advantage of being an alumni child has increased in the last 20 years (Princeton admitted 41.7 percent of legacy applicants in 2009 – 4.5 times the rate for non-legacies – while the legacy admit rate was only 2.8 times the rate in 1992) though they are typically are “average” academically and “under-perform” those with similar demographic backgrounds who did not receive alumni admissions preferences; there is also additional assistance for white applicants, athletes and the children of wealthy donors. Inside Higher Ed delves deeper here.

I haven’t read the book so therefore I cannot choose a side just yet, but I have to say the article has me intrigued. Getting into college (not to mention finding the money to pay for it) is competitive enough so why turn it into a steeplechase rather than the marathon it already is?

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Save the Perkins!

Proposed Amendment Will Keep This Loan Alive

September 23, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

The Perkins Loan Program has played a vital role in the quest for higher education (mine included) since 1958 but in two years, it could end up just as extinct as dinos and dodos. Can it (and the dreams of countless students) be saved?

The Perkins, or as one supporter affectionately calls it, “the David among the Goliaths of other aid,” is used by 1,800 colleges across the country yet Congress hasn’t provided any new money for the program since 2004. In 2009 alone, colleges awarded 495,000 new Perkins loans at an average of $2,231 per student and its demise would shut out college access to low-income students and eliminate the jobs of campus officials and loan servicers who help distribute the funds. Representative John Spratt clearly understands the importance of the Perkins and is sponsoring an amendment to delay the program’s cancellation – so much so that he held a hearing in Washington yesterday discussing the Perkins’ significance; though it probably won’t pass this year, Spratt is optimistic that with the support of the House Budget Committee and the schools relying on the loans, the amendment has a shot at approval next year.

“By its very nature, the Perkins Loan Program provides schools the flexibility to provide additional aid to needy students. The importance of this flexibility cannot be overstated,” said Sarah Bauder, assistant vice president of enrollment services and student financial aid at the University of Maryland at College Park, in her testimony during the hearing. “Financial aid administrators work where the rubber meets the road and have a unique perspective that allows them to assess students’ and families’ ability to pay for college in ways that aid applications will never be able to assess. When aid administrators see students and families struggling with unique circumstances, they need some flexibility to deliver funds to ensure the success of these students.” One such student, Joseph Hill, also testified. The Georgetown senior stated that though he received $26,000 in scholarships, the Perkins was what made it possible for him to attend the school of his dreams. “Last week, I was talking to my mother, and without hesitation, she said, ‘It still wouldn’t have worked without that Perkins Loan,’ ” Hill revealed.

There’s a lot more to the history of the Perkins and the fight to save it (get the details here) and as a former Perkins recipient, I can’t help but root for this little amendment that could. I'm definitely making a t-shirt.

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Community Colleges Seek New Revenue Streams

Schools Try to Keep Lines of Communication Open with Alumni

September 27, 2010

Community Colleges Seek New Revenue Streams

by Suada Kolovic

College is expensive - no one would argue that. That being the case, attending community college is an option students are turning to. But with the economy in a slump, community colleges across the country are faced with booming enrollment amid decreasing financial support from the state government.

State appropriations for community colleges have taken a hit in recent years. In the past decade alone, state funding per full-time equivalent student fell to $3,150 from $4,350. Accordingly, the state’s community colleges turned away about 4,000 applicants this fall alone because of lack of capacity, turning away a similar number last fall.

The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges, a newly created development organization courting donations for the state’s seven two-year institutions, has begun a $10 million fund-raising campaign to help with the slumping state’s support. Foundation officials note that they expect the majority of the funds to come from state businesses that see community colleges as serving them, in contrast to the development work many four-year institutions do among alumni.

But as state budgets continue to dwindle, experts expect more community colleges to look to private donations in the future.

"Most donors to universities are alumni who have been carefully cultivated and served," said Linda Serra Hagedorn, professor and interim chair of Iowa State University’s Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies. Community colleges typically do not keep communications open with their alumni. Most do not keep any contact with their alumni. As a result, most CC graduates do not identify with the CC as an alma mater. I think we will see this changing with time."

Hagedorn acknowledges that donors can be very helpful to providing the funds necessary to serve their students and many community colleges have yet to explore the options of naming their buildings or providing endowed professorships.

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Keeping it All in the Family

College President’s Family Members Make Bank

October 1, 2010

by Suada Kolovic

For those of you who aren’t familiar with what exactly is going on here, I’ll tell you: It’s called nepotism - defined as favoritism shown to relatives or close friends by those with power or influence. And what I wouldn’t give to be a member of Paula S. Wallace’s family right now. Ms. Wallace co-founded the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 1978 with her parents and her then-husband. Since then, it has grown into one of the nation’s largest art schools and with that increase in success came an increase in compensation. According to her 2008 tax returns, Ms. Wallace made $1,946,730.

That amount tops the compensation of all but a handful of college chiefs. But SCAD, a relatively pricey and prosperous art school, is smaller than universities that pay in that range. Ms. Wallace, who is in her early 60s, became SCAD’s president in 2000. Her total compensation package grew by about $1.5-million between 2008 and the previous reporting period. But Ms. Wallace isn’t the only one raking in insane amounts of cash; she turned it into family affair.

Employee Current Title 2008 Compensation
Paula S. Wallace President and co-founder $1,946,730
Mother, May L. Poetter Trustee and co-founder $61,767
Husband, Glen E. Wallace Senior Vice President for College Resources $289,235
Son, John Paul Rowan Vice President, Hong Kong Campus $233,843
Daughter, Marisa Rowan Director of Equestrian Programs $101,493
Daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Rowan Director of External Relations, Hong Kong Campus $85,494

But where exactly does this money come from, you ask? Well, a large portion of the pay earned by Ms. Wallace and her husband comes from a for-profit entity called the SCAD Group Inc. This for-profit arm provides nonacademic services to SCAD—which has three branch campuses and a distance-education operation—including human resources, financial management, communication and student support. In 2008, its share of total income amounted to $111 million, or an amount equal to about 43 percent of the college's total expenses of $261 million. Did I mention this for-profit subsidiary also owns an airplane that administrators and trustees use for business, AND the pays for a personal assistant for Ms. Wallace? Guess I just did!

If you’re a SCAD student, were you aware this collegial family tree was in place? And for students everywhere, how would you feel knowing that your school was structured this way instead of with much more qualified individuals?

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Colleges Use Social Networking as Academic Tool

October 11, 2010

Colleges Use Social Networking as Academic Tool

by Suada Kolovic

You can’t go anywhere today without hearing the words social networking. But unlike Facebook, where students go to poke at friends and post pictures of their latest shenanigans, college campuses are attempting to harness the popularity of social networking and create online learning communities attempting to mix serious academic work, and connections among working scholars, with Facebook-style fun.

At the City University of New York, a new project called Academic Commons is connecting faculty, staff, and graduate students across the system's 23 institutions. The CUNY-only network allows its more than 1,300 users to write, share blogs, join subject groups, and participate in academic discussions.

At CUNY, registered members of Academic Commons get their own profile, where they can post information about themselves and link up with friends in groups online. The subject groups focus on topics that include open-source publishing, graduate admissions, and—on the nonacademic side—the top New York City pizza joints.

As Matthew Gold, Academic Commons' director put it, “You may not want to friend your dean on Facebook, but you still want to be connected to your dean.”

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College Software Suggests Courses Based on Student Data

October 14, 2010

College Software Suggests Courses Based on Student Data

by Suada Kolovic

What do Amazon, Netflix and Google all have in common? Well, they are constantly learning about you – the user – storing and analyzing data to find relationships and patterns about what you’re viewing. A new project, unveiled at the Educause conference, plans to provide college students with a similar experience on academic websites. The software, called Sherpa, was developed by the South Orange County Community College District and intends to mine data about students to guide them to courses, information and services.

That’s a shift from what students experience today with the Blackboard course-management system, said Robert S. Bramucci, South Orange’s vice chancellor for technology and learning services. “It’s as if Blackboard is somebody with hippocampal damage, that has severe amnesia,” he said. “It’s never seen you before, other than knowing that you have an account in the system. The systems outside learn about you. But the systems typically in academia do not.”

The goal of Sherpa is to offer students an array of options pertinent to them. For instance, a student with a high grade-point average might get a link to the honors program, while a student with low grades might be directed to tutoring services. And with more information about students, the suggestions could get even more specific. Jim Gaston, South Orange’s associate director for IT, academic systems, and special projects, gave this example of a tip he hopes to send to a student who hasn’t yet registered for class:

“Your classes are filling fast. We looked at your academic plan and saw that you plan on transferring to UC Berkeley as a biology major. We searched the class schedule. We found a set of courses you said you were interested in. Based on the pattern of classes you’ve taken in the past, here are the four classes we think you’re going to be most interested in. We’ve already screened them for pre-recs. They don’t have a time conflict with when you said you were going to work. And one of them is your favorite instructor.”

If that’s doesn’t scream convenience, you may want to have your ears checked.

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Want to Get into an Ivy League?

All You Need is $19.99!

October 15, 2010

Want to Get into an Ivy League?

by Suada Kolovic

And I’d have to agree – $19.99 is a steal. Aren’t we all just a tad curious as to what those select few wrote to be granted access behind those coveted gates? I know I am and Howard Yaruss figured you, future college applicants, would be too. So he founded the Application Project Inc. WeGotIn.net, which sells copies of successful applications to Ivy League colleges. For $19.99, you can browse applications submitted by 21 members of Brown University’s 2009-10 freshman class and for the same price, you can access applications submitted by 14 members of the 2009-10 freshman class at Columbia University. (Or buy both for $34.99 and save five bucks!)

For the price of large pizza, you’ll get copies of the applications with entire responses to each question, including essay and short-answer prompts. But are they legit? According to Yaruss, the company obtains the copies directly from students, who are asked to submit their application via their college e-mail as proof of enrollment. Wondering what other Ivy League institutions are in the database? As of right now, just the two mentioned above – Brown and Columbia – but Yaruss plans to expand to all Ivy League institutions, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011.

The catch, since there always seems to be one, is that an accepted application may not necessarily reveal why a student was selected. The truth of the matter is that multiple factors go into a student’s admittance into a university and to provide students with such a tiny piece of such a complicated puzzle is frankly misleading. That’s why a few admissions counselors who have perused through WeGotIn.net could only scoff. “An application out of context has no value, and it’s disingenuous at best to imply that it does,” said Willard M. Dix, an independent counselor in Chicago who works with low-income students. “But there’s a sucker born every minute. Sites like this clearly know that.”

Yaruss admits he has already encountered some “hostility” in the admissions realm and suspects more criticism will come. But he’s been pleased by the response from the people whose help he needs most—college students. He has solicited their applications by contacting them through, of course, Facebook. His pitch: sharing them would help other students who aspire to attend elite colleges.

Why would such elite students offer their personal responses that they surely put their blood, sweat and tears into to a stranger? Did I mention each student who shared his or her application was paid (two received $100, and the others less)? And in the world of a college student, that ain’t too shabby.

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Study Abroad Overhaul

October 18, 2010

Study Abroad Overhaul

by Alexis Mattera

Studying abroad for a semester can be a rewarding experience for college students but do those benefits translate to potential employers? For a long time, they haven't – many have dismissed time overseas as an excuse to backpack and party in multiple countries – but Cheryl Matherly is setting out to change that.

Matherly, the associate dean for global education at the University of Tulsa, is designing a series of workshops and seminars to help students discuss their time studying abroad in a way meaningful to employers. The common perception – that studying abroad is a perk for wealthier students, typically white females in the humanities or social sciences packing their bags for Europe – is exactly what Matherly is attempting to reverse and show to employers that the students who studied abroad may actually be better assets to their companies. "The value isn't that you had the abroad experience itself," she says. "It's what you learned overseas that allows you to work in a cross-cultural environment. Students have to learn how to talk about that experience in terms of transferrable skills, how it relates to what an employer wants."

Much of the blame for this falls on the schools themselves, as the paths of study abroad and career counselors rarely cross, and Martin Tillman, a former associate director of career services at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, stresses the importance of deliberate efforts to build connections. The University of Michigan offers panel discussions each year on what it calls "international career pathways” and the Georgia Institute of Technology touts a Work Abroad Program to place students in international internships and jobs and advises them throughout the process. Some schools are even bringing in third-party providers, like Cultural Experiences Abroad, to help students translate their study-abroad experience into terms employers can understand. CEA has createda semester-long career development course which includes pre-arrival reading assignments, Webinars with career consultants and regular meetings that incorporate experiential exercises and journal writing.

I knew a number of people who studied abroad in college (I didn’t because I couldn't find the right program for my major and regret it to this day) and I’m sure they would have benefited from programs like the ones detailed above. Any graduates in the same boat? And for current college students considering studying in another country, do you think you’d take advantage of these resources if they were readily available to you?

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Professor Lama is ‘In’

Not Your Average Office Hours Held at Emory

October 20, 2010

Professor Lama is ‘In’

by Alexis Mattera

Do you take advantage of the office hours and review sessions held by your professors and teaching assistants? You may be more inclined to if you were meeting with the Dalai Lama.

The spiritual leader is currently at Emory University as part of a presidential distinguished professorship and during that time he has met with researchers, students and members of the spiritual community to discuss everything from traditional coursework to meditation. One of these events included Tuesday’s “office hours,” which were held in the private school’s gymnasium and attended by 4,000 members of the campus community.

After laughing and bowing while taking the stage, the Dalai Lama answered a series of questions posed by students and faculty about enlightenment, world affairs and his greatest influence and biggest fear. In addition, the Dalai Lama talked about keeping a calm mind, reaching out to others, recognizing the connection between all humans and learning how to be centered. "My generation ... we need to say 'bye bye' so you transform the 21st century," he told the students. "The people who create the new shape of this century is you. You must protect, not only taking care of yourself but you must have responsibility to take care of this planet."

Did any of our readers attend this event or have the chance to interact with the Dalai Lama during his time at Emory? Interested in hearing a first-hand account…and if he was able to help out with your calculus homework.

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