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Pay-Per-Click, Reinterpreted

Johns Hopkins Students Not Feeling New Fees

September 24, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

College students always looking for ways to stretch their money as far as it can go. This could mean getting meals strictly from the campus dining halls or doing laundry once a month instead of every week but if that means a little extra cash in their pockets or bank accounts, scaling back on luxuries (and even essentials) is an easy sacrifice to make. That being said, I can completely understand why some Johns Hopkins students are up in arms.

Nearly 200 students are protesting a new fee for classroom clickers, a technology that allows professors to gauge student understanding or opinion in real time by giving them handheld voting devices and taking polls throughout a class period. Students can pay per course ($13) or a one-time fee ($35) that covers all courses, all semesters; students must also purchase enrollment codes and the actual clicker devices, which cost between $20 and $30. Adding this cost to the already large amounts students spend on tuition, housing, books and other supplies may not seem like a lot but to a college student, it’s about the price of two movie tickets and some Chinese carry-out. The university, however, thinks the program adds considerable value to the education of its students: One biology lecturer found that since he started using clickers, class attendance and grades have gone up 30 percent.

Still, students are not down with the added costs and have created a Facebook page where they can voice their displeasure about everything clicker-related. Thought time: Would you pony up the extra cash if it meant better grades or would you rather keep it and splurge on a night out with friends instead?


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Final Exams - The New Health Risk?

Grandmothers Be Advised

September 28, 2010

Final Exams - The New Health Risk?

by Suada Kolovic

The life of the average college student is riddled with papers, mid-terms, all-nighters and of course the untimely tragic death of beloved family members come finals week. Just days into the fall semester, professors say excuses for missing class have already begun to flow: food-borne illnesses, fender-benders, religious holidays, roommate squabbles, registration snafus.

Then there are the grandparents, those poor souls conveniently killed off by college students whose tuition they might even be paying. One commenter on a Chronicle Forums thread on student excuses suggests sending out warning notices to the old folks: "The midterm exam for [course and number] is scheduled for [date]. This puts your life in danger. We recommend that you get a physical exam before that date and avoid all unnecessary travel until the test is over. Grandmothers are particularly at risk."

It happens to the best of us. We’re ill-prepared, panic and give the first excuse our minds can muster. Honesty may be the best policy, but below are a few of the most creative excuses from students who decided to steer away from the classics and put their own special spin on explaining their absence:

  • "My father owns a liquor store and we got a big delivery right before your 11:00 class."
  • "I was absent for yesterday's test because my girlfriend was having a baby."
  • This one is verbatim: "I am really sorry I was not in class today. I some how came down with ammonia and have been really sick for the past 2 days."
  • E-mail just received from student who missed first two classes. Unfortunately it is a once-a-week three-hour block class, so she has missed two weeks of class: "I just found out I am registered for your Wednesday class. I didn't realize I was registered for it. Now that I've found out I'm registered, I would like to attend. Do you think I can still catch up? May I stop by your office and get the syllabus?" I wonder who registered her.

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    Teachers Who Tweet

    Professors Microblog to Share Info and Get News, Not Teach

    October 5, 2010

    Teachers Who Tweet

    by Alexis Mattera

    Remember how weird it was when your mom friended you on Facebook? It’s probably the same way you’d feel if your calculus professor retweeted your weekend escapades at an off-campus party. That’s an unlikely scenario but more professors are using Twitter for purposed outside the classroom, reveals research by Faculty Focus.

    The report, detailed yesterday in the Chronicle of Higher Education, says 35.2 percent of 1,372 individuals surveyed – a 5 percent increase from last year – have an account on the popular microblogging site and use it to share information with colleagues and get news in real time. Though some use it for this purpose, most professors do not communicate with students via Twitter or use the site as a classroom learning tool but perhaps they should, says Reynol Junco. Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, is studying social media and found that Twitter can improve student engagement because they are more likely to continue discussion outside the classroom.

    Twitter wasn’t around when I was in college but since creating an account in 2008, I have seen the ease and efficiency of sharing information and couldn’t help but wonder if the site could have impacted my academic endeavors. Sometimes I had questions even after going to my professors’ office hours, posting on class message boards and studying the material; perhaps Twitter could have provided the answers I needed in a more timely fashion.


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    Textbook Alternatives = Big Savings

    Open Books, Rentals Preserve Students’ Funds

    October 8, 2010

    Textbook Alternatives = Big Savings

    by Alexis Mattera

    As a college student, my pockets were far from deep but they got even shallower when I stopped at the co-op to buy my books at the beginning of each semester. My wallet and I loathed the astronomical price tags (even for used copies!) with a passion because we both knew there had to be a way for me to get books and not be forced to subsist on Top Ramen until my next break. I was right…just kind of bummed it didn’t happen during my collegiate tenure.

    Data from the Student Public Interest Research Group’s new survey disclose textbooks available for free online or sold in print for low cost could slash students’ textbook bills from $900 to $184 each year. Using eBooks and textbook rental services like BookRenter.com and Chegg.com can also reduce book costs by $300. Though 93 percent of students surveyed said they would rent “at least some of their textbooks,” Cerritos College student Donald Pass prefers the flexibility of open textbooks because he could read the material for free online, purchase a print copy with study aids or print it himself. (Daytona State's administration agrees and will begin offering eBook access to students this coming January.) Professors like Lon Mitchell of Virginia Commonwealth University, however, say this option is troublesome because students often bring only limited sections of text to class, making it difficult for instructors to review supplemental material in different chapters. Mitchell also said that a number of his students have resisted the online versions of the open textbooks because compared to the print versions, they felt the online text was lacking.

    I hear what Mitchell is saying loud and clear but if a student can reduce their spending by up to 80 percent by using open books and textbook rentals, I have a feeling print editions are going to be seen less and less as the years go by. Students, are you utilizing eBooks and textbook rentals or are you still relying solely on hard copies you don't have to share or return? If you’re using both, is there a noticeable difference in the material quality like Mitchell said? What's your preference between these options?


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    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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    Community College Tuition Rise Looming

    Community Colleges Charging More For In-Demand Programs

    October 26, 2010

    Community College Tuition Rise Looming

    by Suada Kolovic

    As state funding for higher education across the country continues to shrink, more community colleges are considering charging higher tuition rates for costly career and technology programs. This notion of charging differential tuition is definitely a new concept for community colleges and Pima Community College, in Tucson, Ariz., is exploring the idea after having its state appropriation cut by 30 percent in two years. Some of the college’s most popular programs, like nursing and avionics, would be among those charging a premium.

    “It looks like we’ll have budget cuts for the foreseeable future,” said Roy Flores, the college’s chancellor. “I’m mindful of price elasticity and that some students might be shut out if the price goes too high.… But it’s a balancing act, and we’re a long way from shutting people out.” In 2009, the college’s enrollment grew by nearly 14 percent, with a high demand for occupational programs, such as those in the health sciences and engineering. And the reality is, these programs are more expensive due to low student-teacher ratios they must maintain and the expensive training equipment required.

    It is interesting to note that in states like Arizona, where there is no state community college board or coordinator board for all of public higher education, individual institutions and community college districts can set their own tuition polices. So, while currently in-state tuition at Pima is $53 per credit hour, it may not be too long before there is an increase for in-demand workforce programs. Flores insisted, “We would just want to close up that gap a little bit. We have yet to do an analysis on this, but my… estimate would be that there would be somewhere between a 10 and 30 percent premium charged for these courses. And it would be phased in, of course, and not brought on all at once.”


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    Ohio Program Rewards Higher GPA’s with Cash

    by Suada Kolovic

    Imagine a world where cold, hard cash was the incentive for doing well in school. A new study, that examined three Ohio community colleges, attempted to explore if paying students is the answer for an authentic effort in their education. The report, "Rewarding Progress, Reducing Debt: Early Results From Ohio's Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration for Low-Income Parents," showed that using financial aid strategically – providing low-income parents scholarships based on their performance – was “encouraging.” The program offered the low-income parents up to $1,800 for one academic year if they earned at least a “C” in 12 or more credits, or $900 for the same grade in six to 11 credits.

    According to Lashawn K. Richburg-Hayes, deputy director of young adults and postsecondary education with MDRC, a nonprofit research organization based in New York, “the goal is to understand if performance-based scholarships can work for different populations, in different amounts." The result – of the students assigned to the scholarship group, 33 percent earned the full-time award and 41 percent received the part-time award in the first term. Thirty percent earned the full-time award and 31 percent the part-time award in the second term. The scholarships earned were then paid directly to the students, “allowing them to use the money for whatever expenses were most pressing”, said Reshma D. Patel, a research analyst with MDRC and a co-author of the report. Unlike scholarship funds that must be put towards tuition fees or books, the student has the freedom to use the cash as they see fit. “That flexibility was especially important for the program's target population, low-income parents, who could use the money for child-care or other living expenses,” Patel said.

    So, future college attendees, do you think students would be more inclined to put in a wholehearted effort in their education if they were paid to do so?


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    Colleges Revive the Humanities

    by Suada Kolovic

    Due to the drastic economic downturn, students are flocking to majors considered “safe” – economics, engineering and computer science – and steering clear of ones that develop creative thinking and imagination – the humanities. It makes sense, since the objective after graduation is to obtain a well-paying career to pay for that prestigious college education and the best way to do so, in the eyes of the majority of college students, is to select a major where the potential for a generous return on your investment is high. According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, student interest in the humanities – which include the classics, literature, languages, history, philosophy, and religion – has dropped dramatically in recent years. Only 8 percent of American undergraduates majored in a humanities field in 2007, compared with 17 percent in 1966.

    At esteemed universities, including Cornell, Dartmouth, and Harvard, there is concern that without humanities students won’t develop the kind of critical thinking and empathy “necessary to solve the most pressing problems facing future generations.” Drew Faust, Harvard’s president, explained, “That’s a real shift from seeing an undergraduate education as general preparation in a wide range of fields to seeing undergraduate education as getting a particular vocational emphasis. People worry a lot about what you do with that degree. I think the change has been accelerated and intensified by people’s immediate concern of getting a job — especially with the increasing cost of higher education and the challenges in the economy.’’ (In case you were wondering, the most popular field of study at Harvard is economics.)

    In response, colleges have begun pledging huge sums to their literature and arts departments, while others have begun erecting buildings. Among the universities attempting to restore interest in the humanities is Brandeis, which recently dedicated a new $22.5 million glass-and-slate hilltop home, called the Mandel Center for the Humanities. Harvard and Brown have also received millions to support new humanities initiatives.


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    A Little Birdy Told Us Tweeting May Boost Grades

    Recent Experiment Revealed Higher Marks, Increased Discussion

    November 17, 2010

    A Little Birdy Told Us Tweeting May Boost Grades

    by Alexis Mattera

    Logging onto certain social networking sites while in class may be frowned upon by some schools but at one Midwest institution, doing just that resulted in grade point averages about half a point higher over the course of a semester.

    The school was not named to protect the identities of the 125 participating students but the subsequent report, entitled “The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades,” showed the 70 students who used Twitter to access information and complete four class assignments displayed higher GPAs, were more engaged in classroom discussion and more likely to interact with their instructor about course material than the 55 non-tweeting students in the control group.

    But is Twitter really responsible for the grade boost? Reynol Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, said the familiarity with Twitter (which is a lot like Facebook’s status update feature) may make students more comfortable participating in discussions outside the classroom and responding to class material. But Dave Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media at the University of Texas at Dallas who has used Twitter in his classes, had reservations. He said more specific studies needed to be conducted to determine if Twitter is the deciding factor in increasing grades and what uses of Twitter are most effective to achieve desired results.

    Students, do you tweet? What do you tweet about: schoolwork, politics, gossip? Have you noticed a difference in your grades – positive or negative – since activating your account? Do you follow us?


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    From Hogwarts to Harvard

    How Would “Potter” Characters Fare in College Admissions?

    November 19, 2010

    From Hogwarts to Harvard

    by Alexis Mattera

    After you rub the sleep out of your eyes left over from the midnight “Deathly Hallows” showing, consider this: How well does Hogwarts prepare its students for college? Well, we Muggles would have some definite competition if our applications went head-to-head with Harry Potter's, Hermione Granger's and Ron Weasley's before They Which Shall Not Be Named (aka admissions committees).

    First, there’s Harry. From losing many people he loved – parents, godfather, mentor and friends – to having the Dark Lord trying to kill him at every turn, his application essay would tug at the heartstrings but also reveal a young man able to succeed against all odds. He’s as skilled with a quill as he is with a wand and admissions committees would be impressed with his ability to work with others toward a common goal. He’d gain admission because he’d be an asset to any department (I’m thinking his major would be chemistry or political science), study group and, obviously, the Quidditch team.

    Next, Hermione obviously has the brains and could dominate the SATs or ACTs just like she owned the O.W.L.s…but what about extracurriculars? In her case, wizarding and witchery definitely count as community service and her compassion for oppressed individuals (mudbloods, ogres, elves, etc.) hints at possible careers in social work, nursing or medicine. Maybe the actress portraying her can put in a good word with the dean at Brown, though Ms. Granger would surely gain admission on her own merit. She wouldn’t have it any other way!

    Lastly, we have Ron. As one of seven Weasley kids, Ron knows a thing or two about standing out in a crowd…even if he does so while wearing his older brothers’ hand-me-downs. His athletic skills may garner a scholarship or two but admissions committees will be most impressed with his essay, which would detail his problem solving skills and loyalty demeanor. His innate investigative skills are top notch and could easily translate into aced journalism and criminal justice classes. And don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley: Not only will Ron get in but he’s also going to get an excellent financial aid package!

    Though Harry, Hermione and Ron won’t be applying for a spot at your dream school, other students possessing equally impressive skills and backgrounds will so it’s important to make your college application memorable. We’ve got plenty of tips on the college application process throughout our site as well as strategies for winning valuable scholarships. Hurry, though: Application deadlines are approaching faster than the Hogwarts Express!


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