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Colleges Consider "Prior Learning" When Awarding Credit

March 18, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As the number of returning adult students continues to grow and the "traditional" student population has only become more diverse to include those with backgrounds and life experience in varying fields of study, some schools are looking at rewarding those new students with credit hours for "prior learning," rather than prompting them to start over as most freshmen do.

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education explores schools that consider academic achievements alongside individual accomplishments before students step onto campus, and look at their volunteerism, years in the military, or on-the-job training, among other life experiences. Formal assessments of those experiences are then used to evaluate incoming students as a way to award them credit hours, often as a replacement of general education coursework.

At Valdosta State University, professors conduct assessments of students' experiences by having them demonstrate what they already know about a certain field. The Chronicle describes a biology professor who awards credit to students who may have a background in science from volunteering to clean up local streams, for example, or lab experience. The school has been conducting such assessments for about a year and a half; the program started when the school decided to begin training students who had come from non-traditional backgrounds to become teachers.

At Empire State College, which is part of the State University of New York, students are able to write their own degree plans. Faculty committees and administrative offices review portfolios students craft based on their work experience in a particular field, for example, and determine how many credits students should receive based on that information. The school's administrators say having the students reflect on what they've learned before going to college helps them realize their potential and make obvious the kinds of skills they may have, as they are forced to put those talents on paper. At Inver Hills Community College, students are asked to complete two courses at the school before attempting a portfolio, which not only involves writing about their past experiences, but being able to discuss them.

Other schools conduct more standardized tests and formal assessments for students to demonstrate prior learning skills, such as the American Council on Education's evaluations of work and military training or the College Level Examination Program tests. According to the Chronicle and Stamats, a higher-education marketing company, the availability of credit for life experience is the top thing adults look for when selecting a school in their college search. About half of all schools have some kind of prior learning assessment available to students, according to the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning, so if you're a returning adult student, consider that the work you've already done could save you some time—and money—as you take on that college experience.

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Not Rejected, Not Accepted: Tips for Handling the Waiting List

April 6, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

While many students marked April 1 as the day they found out whether they were accepted or rejected to their first-choice colleges, many others were given a different response - placement to the waiting list. High school seniors are then faced with a tough decision. Should you take a risk and bank on placement at a school you're wait-listed at, even if you miss notification deadlines at schools you've been admitted to? Or should you cut your losses and inform the schools you've been wait-listed at that you'll be going elsewhere?

The waiting list generally benefits the colleges. The schools' administrators are able to wait until their own first-choice students make decisions on where they intend to attend, moving to those on the waiting list typically by May 1, once students' deadlines to notify the school of their choice have passed. The schools may also use the waiting list to fill gaps in their student population, according to The New York Times, offering eventual admittance to a student with a particular musical or athletic talent that the school had hoped to enroll in their first-choice pool.

Knowing this, it may seem like a risky endeavor to bet on a school choosing you out of the hundreds of other students on waiting lists. Still, many do choose to stay, especially at the most prestigious, private schools. At Yale University, for example, about two-thirds of students remain on the waiting list. (More than 900 were wait-listed at Yale this year.) Of those offered eventual admittance to Yale, a majority do choose to enroll there.

So what should you do? It really depends. Here are a few tips: 

     
  • If you know you won't be attending a school you're wait-listed at, notify them of your intentions right away. There's someone out there who does want that spot, and you may be keeping them from being placed at their top-choice school.
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  • If you know you're sincerely interested in the school you're wait-listed at, let the school know that. Notify them immediately that you intend to wait for their decision, and send admissions staff a personal letter on why you want to go to that school. If they're your top choice, tell them. If you know any alumni from the school, ask them to write a letter on your behalf. This is the stage of the game where admissions officials are looking at every piece of information coming in on an applicant.
  •  
  • Ask for an interview. You wouldn't be wait-listed if you didn't have the academic credentials to attend their school, so the admissions office will now be looking at other factors - extracurricular activities, outside interests, and whether your personality is a good fit for their campus.
  •  
 While waiting lists are more common at private institutions where enrollment numbers are much lower and the unpredictability of students’ decisions about whether to enroll in those private schools is much higher, some schools have used the list as more of a strategy to deal with uncertainties in state budgets or over-enrollment. California's public university system is using waiting lists to deal with a record number of applicants this year and a state budget shortfall that has made it impossible for the school system to accept as many students as it had been admitting in year prior. This is the first time the state universities have used waiting lists, and students have until April 15 to remove their names from the lists or continue waiting until around the first week in June. Any new admittances will be determined by the outcome of the state's 2010-2011 budget negotiations.

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Southern Catholic College Closes Mid-Semester Due to Lack of Funding

April 14, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Many students are preparing for the last few weeks of finals, completing projects and cracking books open for a week of finals. Students at Southern Catholic College in Georgia, however, are packing up their bags, potentially for good. Tomorrow is the last day of the semester at the college, nearly a month ahead of schedule due to budget woes that made it impossible for the school to maintain its schedule of courses through mid-May, the traditional end of the spring semester.

The decision was announced abruptly earlier this month by Rev. Shawn Aaron, the school's president and a priest of the Legionaries of Christ, via email to faculty, staff, and the school's nearly 200 students. Students will receive full credit for the entire semester, and graduating students will receive their diplomas in an upcoming simple ceremony at the college. In the email, Father Aaron gave no indication as to whether the school would reopen at all, or whether this was a temporary budget fix. According to an article in The Catholic Review, the school would need $6 million to reopen by June.

The school was founded in 2000, but has had some financial trouble since its first years of operation. According to The Catholic Review, the school had gotten into the bad habit of spending more than it took in; in 2007, the college spent $2.5 million more than it should have, and only continued the trend in the years that followed. The formerly privately-run institution was transferred to the Legionaries of Christ in the fall of 2009, but the congregation was unable to financially support the school. In addition to overspending, the students at the school who were on full scholarships outnumbered those who paid full tuition, room and board, which runs more than $24,500 a year.

Students didn't see the early closure coming, according to the article. They went to social networking sites when they heard the news, learning mostly through hearsay why the school would be closing so suddenly. Their worries include how their grades will be calculated based on the shortened semester, and whether their credits will transfer over to other institutions if the school closes for good. According to The Catholic Review, the school's president waited so long to notify the student body because the school board was waiting to hear back about a last-minute plea to a benefactor of the college. That plea did not lead to any last-minute funding, so the decision was made to close the school when it was apparent the school was unable to pay its faculty and staff beyond April 15.

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So You’re a College Grad

Part I: Dealing with Post-Graduation Anxiety

May 18, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As graduation season begins on college campuses across the country, many of you are well-prepared and excited for this new chapter in your lives. You have jobs or internships lined up in your fields of study, or have travel plans set for the summer before you’re officially labeled “adults.” For many others, however, the months after graduation are more nerve-wracking than anything else. So we’ve come up with a series of posts this week that will hopefully ease your minds a bit, and perhaps more importantly, help you see that you’re not alone.

Before we get into ideas on what you could do with your life post-graduation if you haven’t yet nailed down a job or other plans, we think it’s important to address the anxiety many graduates feel when their college experience is coming to an end. You probably became used to the freedom you first felt as a freshman on a new campus with endless possibilities. Now, as you’re watching your senior year come to end, you’re probably faced with endless questions instead from family and friends: "Have you found a job?" "What are your plans?" "Where will you live?"

First of all, take a step back and breathe. Although the economy has yet to rebound completely, there are thousands of others in the same boat as you, and it’s fine to take some time to be indecisive about what you want to do next. Once you’ve done that, you need to prepare to confront your future and do a bit of self-reflection. Graduating from college can be overwhelming. Many college students end up in careers unrelated to their majors, or take time off after college (if such an option is financially feasible) to figure out what it is they really want to do, via travel, volunteerism, or internships in fields they may be interested in exploring further.

Speaking of finances, much of the anxiety felt by recent graduates comes from the doom and gloom that comes with budgeting once you’re out of college. You no longer have your financial aid package or the option to increase your student loan totals (a bad idea, by the way, that should only be considered as a last resort) as a cushion, although there are things you can do to ease the burden a little bit right after graduation. If you’re unemployed, defer your student loans. You don’t want to face fees and interest charges for being unable to make payments on your loans and hurt your credit score in the process. If you have any prospects for part-time work or full-time temporary work, start saving. Finding a job isn’t a science, and sometimes it does take a while to find that perfect fit.

Tomorrow we’ll talk more about what you can do in the short-term as a recent graduate, because you really do have quite a few options. Were you floundering until you came across that perfect post-graduation plan? We'd love to hear your stories!

This is the first post in a three-part series on dealing with that “What’s next?” feeling college students may get post-graduation. Return to the Scholarships.com blog tomorrow for a look at popular short-term plans for recent college graduates, especially if your upcoming summer is looking fairly open!

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California Targets "Super Seniors" to Address Over-Enrollment

May 7, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

For some students entering their fifth, sixth, maybe even seventh years of college in the fall, administrators in the California State University system have a message for you: Graduate. Please.

You may remember reading about the trouble California colleges and universities in general have had over the last year. Budget problems have forced schools to significantly limit enrollments, placing students on wait lists for the first time in many of the schools’ histories. “Super seniors” are now viewed as part of the problem, taking up valuable space on the state’s campuses while would-be freshmen look elsewhere for available slots.

The California State University system has begun introducing initiatives targeting those students who take longer than four years to graduate. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the state system’s dilemma describes these initiatives as expanding advising services, limiting financial aid, and getting department heads more involved in making sure students graduate in a more timely fashion. Administrators say this doesn’t mean students will be prohibited from switching majors if they find themselves flailing in a potential degree they were pushed toward by their parents, for example.

In fact, students who take longer to graduate but aren’t amassing a large number of credits (perhaps because they are attending school part-time, for example) aren’t even the target of the initiatives. The school is after the “Van Wilder” types. The Chronicle describes one 50-year-old student who had more than 250 credit hours under his belt, which came out to about eight years of full-time college schooling. He had enough credits for degrees in both health sciences and theater, but wanted to start over to get a degree in marketing. According to The Chronicle, the school handed him his degrees and told him to look elsewhere for that new degree: "At 50 years old, you should know what you want, and you're stopping two other young people from coming to this university,” Cynthia Z. Rawitch, associate vice president for undergraduate studies at California State University, said in the article.

The California State University system hopes to raise its six-year graduation rate up to about 54 percent by 2016, according to The Chronicle. Studies over the years from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics have shown that less than 40 percent of students graduate within four years, so this may be something other states should look into doing to increase freshman class sizes as well. There may be a number of reasons for students’ graduation delays, however: transferring schools, balancing work and school, indecision about choosing a major or switching majors well into a college career, or a number of other potential factors. What do you think? Should students be held more accountable for how long it takes them to graduate?

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University of California Looks to Expand Online Education

May 12, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

In another attempt to address budget shortfalls due to a significant decrease in state funding for higher education in the state, the University of California system has proposed increasing their online offerings to get more students enrolled, thus bringing more revenue into the school.

The proposed pilot project would not only offer students more online class choices, but offer students a path toward complete online degrees. If the plan moves forward, administrators would start with offering the schools’ core, general education classes online, before moving on to classes further on in students’ fields of study. Those core classes are typically high enrollment anyway, composed predominantly of freshmen. Freshman Composition 1-2, for example, has an average annual enrollment of 31,585, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The real accomplishment, administrators say, would be leading students through a complete sequence of online courses in any major offered at the college.

Although it may take a while for the project to get off the ground—administrators will be putting out requests for proposals in the fall, with the earliest start date for the program suggested for 2011—it already has its supporters. According to another article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, those supporters feel the plan will not only make the school system a significant amount of money, something it desperately needs, but it would improve the school system’s reputation as an innovative force. More online classes would also give professors interested in teaching them more time for research, as they will be working remotely, thereby further solidifying the school system's role as a research institution.

The proposal also has its critics. Some worry that online education won’t meet the academic standards the schools’ in-class programs currently set, and that the school system’s reputation will actually be hurt by the move if freshmen fail to excel in the virtual classroom. According to The Chronicle, although online classes are commonplace, elite public universities haven’t exactly latched onto the idea of online degrees. Even those schools that offer their complete course materials online (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, among many other examples), have been hesitant to express any interest in the online degree market.

The state system’s campuses currently enroll more than 25,000 students online each year as part of their graduate and extension programs, according to The Chronicle. This proposal would greatly expand the schools’ online courses to undergraduates, who have typically not been able to take for-credit classes online. (The University of California at Berkeley has been the exception, offering eight online summer classes to undergraduates.) What do you think? Would you skip the campus experience for a virtual one?

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Colleges Cut Costs Creatively

May 28, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As colleges prepare for another academic year of tightened budgets, some schools have found ways to rein in costs more creatively than using wait lists for incoming freshmen, recouping revenue through increases in tuition, or introducing new student fees.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education recently took at look at several of these colleges’ efforts to cut costs creatively, focusing a majority of the article on Middlebury College, where students make their own granola. The executive chef at the school decided several years ago that the rising cost of granola was a waste of money. Rather than cut granola out of students’ diets, he decided to get those students already working in the college bakery to help hand-mix and bake the oats for their own brand of granola made on site. The school ended up saving $27,000 in their food budget, which has already seen several budget cuts and could use the additional revenue.

Colleges elsewhere are looking for ways to pinch pennies as well. According to the article, a recent office-supply swap at Marquette University saved the school $10,000 over the last year, as departments used the school’s website in the same way one might use Craig’s List, to furnish and equip their offices and classrooms. At Miami University, a program called “Leveraging Efficiencies and Aligning Needs” allows focus groups to convene and look for potential savings on the Ohio school’s campus. They’ve come up with $16,000 in savings by no longer offering bottled water in campus hotel rooms and $66,000 in savings by asking students to switch their steam heaters off over winter breaks, according to The Chronicle.

Have you noticed your college cutting costs creatively, rather than going the traditional route of increasing tuition and fees? If you find yourself struggling with those rising college costs, know that there are options out there that have nothing to do with helping the college bakery cook up granola. Take a look at the resources we’ve come up with to help you manage college costs. We have tips on everything from saving money on books and supplies to preparing for those hidden student fees you may not have factored in when budgeting for your first year on campus.

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Students Create Makeshift Study Spot to Address Cuts to Library Hours

June 10, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

It’s coming to the end of final exams at California State University in Los Angeles, but you won’t see students there studying at the library well into the night. You’ll see them in the make-shift “People’s Library,” an open air study spot outside the school’s main library set up by students looking for an answer to shortened library hours.

The “People’s Library” opened on June 1 as a response from students dealing with state budget cuts that have forced the college to cut library hours. The school’s library now closes at 8 p.m. each night, while the students’ version operates through midnight. According to an article today in the Los Angeles Times, the students have been using donated tables and chairs, and the campus’ lighting and electrical equipment. Free coffee is brewed to fuel the study sessions, and students have access to the Internet, a copier and a printer. According to the article, the students’ “library” has the support of administrators, despite initial resistance and concerns. (Administrators helped the students set up their electrical hook-ups safely.)

The state university system’s library budget was cut 20 percent overall this fiscal year. At Cal State L.A., student library assistant positions were cut from 19 to 11, and subscriptions to more than 400 print journals and 10 databases were canceled, potentially hampering students’ research capabilities. Although library attendance has decreased across the board, perhaps due to advances in technology and increases in access to the Internet thanks to wireless networks, it remains both a communal space and option for those who don’t have access to online tools at home or in the dorm, or who want a quiet place to study. According to the article, administrators will reconsider the main library’s operating hours for next year, although budget shortfalls will continue to dramatically affect the state’s university system.

Across California, institutions of higher education have been looking for ways to cope with millions of dollars in cuts in the state budget. At the University of California, a wait list was used for the first time in the school system’s history to allow the school to be more flexible in the number of students it enrolls for fall 2010. There and elsewhere, major school decisions are dependent upon what happens with the state budget.

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Report Shows Jobs Await Those with Degrees

June 15, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As if you didn’t already have a number of reasons why you should go to college, a report being released today projects that the United States will face a shortage of college-educated workers by 2018.

The report comes from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, and describes a shift since the 1970s on the kind of training required to land jobs in sectors that will continue to see rapid growth as the economy improves. An article on the report in Inside Higher Ed today analyzes the specifics of the report:

  • By 2018, the economy will face a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and a shortage of 4.7 million workers with postsecondary certificates. (By that time, there will be 22 million jobs for new workers with college degrees.)
  • In 1973, 28 percent of jobs required post-secondary education, compared to 63 percent projected by 2018.
  • In 1970, 26 percent of the middle class had some post-secondary education, compared to 61 percent today.
  • In 1970, 44 percent of the upper class had some postsecondary education, compared to 81 percent today.

While the data certainly suggests going to college is a good game plan for those worried about their job prospects, it may also mean a shift for colleges to offer more programs in the fields that will see much of the projected growth. According to the report, those industries include health-care, government, private and public education, and the business and financial services. Jobs in the technology sector may taper off, as technological advancements make it more possible for companies to do the work required with fewer employees.

Inside Higher Ed suggests that the data could have an impact on high school students who do not have a clear vision of what they’d like their future careers to be. Some may opt for a more career-oriented program at a two-year college if there is a promise of employment on the horizon. Some schools already offer students incentive programs if they enter into certain majors. At Lansing Community College, students are guaranteed jobs after they complete a program at the school that focuses on training in high-demand fields.

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Community Colleges Forced to Become More Selective

July 1, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Open access may become a thing of the past at community colleges if they cannot find a way to accommodate a marked increase in applicants using their limited budgets.

A recent article in The New York Times described the tough spot community colleges were in. On the one hand, President Obama has expressed his desire to see an increase in five million community college graduates by 2020 via his American Graduation Initiative. On the other, an increase in visibility for the two-year schools has led to the colleges being stretched to their limits enrollment- and budget-wise.

The article opens with a student who was shut out of winter-term classes because he was assigned a late registration slot. By the time he was able to sign up for his next round of college classes, the ones he needed were full. Being unable to register for classes has led some students to delay completion of their programs. The article gives another example of a student at Mt. San Antonio College who has taken a dance class three times so far because she has been unable to register for any required courses that would get her on the path to transferring to a four-year university.

The problem is greater elsewhere; some schools have had to turn students away as classrooms are already packed with as many first-year students as they can hold. In California, a state that has had to introduce wait lists in its public university system, about 21,000 fewer students were admitted to community colleges there for the upcoming school year. According to the Times article, some districts had to reject half of those applicants interested in enrolling at the community colleges. The City University of New York and its six community colleges have also had to limit their enrollment numbers for the fall. The schools have introduced wait lists, but hundreds of students will probably not be allowed admittance into the state system.

Unfortunately, the situation won’t improve until community colleges return to the levels of funding they need to accommodate the influx of students. In states like California, both community colleges and four-year institutions have been struggling with cutting classes and consolidating programs to save some money in their budgets. Schools across the country hope to see more generous budgets come the next enrollment cycle.

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