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How (and Why) to Rock the Vote

by Radha Jhatakia

Debt. Destruction. Terrorism. The economy. Social security. Foreclosure. Poverty. Famine. Do any of these words sound familiar? Well, they should because they are all over the news lately. Reality television may be more entertaining but by limiting yourself to watching only these kinds of shows, you’re missing out on what’s really going in the world. You’re also losing valuable time in learning more about the candidates running for office in upcoming elections.

Voting isn’t simply limited to presidential elections – there are also state and county elections where you select senators, congressmen and city council members. I truly can’t stress how important it is to vote, and that who you vote for affects many issues. Don’t vote randomly, either: That’s worse than not voting because now you could be voting for things you don’t believe in. Be educated in your choices by researching the parties and representatives, their policies and proposed plans. Read the pamphlets you receive in the mail, as well as the voting books that have information about the candidates and their platforms.

Don’t feel as though you must vote along party lines; instead, vote for the principles you believe in. It’s ok to like certain policies proposed by one candidate and some supported by another. If you’re facing that conundrum, research the minor policies that might affect you. Students at public schools are especially affected by this as they tend to vote for candidates who claim they will help education. Just be aware that no single candidate can fix the education system, it also depends on the people they're surrounded by, people who you should be voting for. If you believe in an issue before you vote and know the benefits and consequences of that decision, your vote will truly count.

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major who will be transferring to San Jose State University this fall. She’s had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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Federal Mandate Will Standardize High School Graduation Rates

by Alexis Mattera

High school graduation rates have been on the rise across the nation but are the numbers of mortarboard-tossing students truly accurate? Experts say a new approach to data calculation will reveal the truth.

A new federal mandate scheduled to take effect next year will standardize graduation rates by calculating the number of students who graduate high school in four years divided by the number of students who entered the school four years prior. This means states will no longer be able to count students who complete special education programs, night school, the GED and virtual high school programs along with those who earn a traditional high school diploma; when these students are removed from the equation, Chris West of Johns Hopkins University's Everyone Graduates Center estimates official national graduation rates will likely decrease between 5 percent and 10 percent.

Parents may be alarmed when they see the numbers fall but the standardization will do far more good than harm: West says it will level the playing field for high schools vying for federal money through the Race to the Top program – funds that will allow these schools to better prepare their students and further increase graduation rates. Do you think the graduation rate standardization will have a positive or negative impact? Is this a change that should have happened a long time ago or was the old way of reporting just fine?


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Campus Vote Project to Help Students Overcome Voting Barriers

by Alexis Mattera

For many college students, this is the first year that they’ll be able to vote in a presidential election...but do they know exactly how, where, when, why and for whom to cast their votes? One advocacy organization hopes to eliminate all doubt and increase student voter turnout in November.

The Fair Elections Legal Network kicked off the Campus Vote Project yesterday at George Washington University's Law School with the hope of creating campus-wide policies and programs that would make voting more accessible for students. College students are often unaware of voter registration rules, polling locations and, for students attending college away from home, how to meet proof-of-residency requirements and obtain the proper identification but the Project’s advisory board is already discussing the creation of election-awareness campaigns, college-centric voting websites, on-campus polling stations and even rewards programs to entice more students to register and cast their votes. "We have to re-energize schools and get them to be creative," said Robert Newsome, director of outreach and state relations at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and a member of the advisory board. Newsome’s fellow advisory board member and president of the United States Student Association Victor Sánchez agreed, stating, "With help and guidance, there should be better ways to help go about increasing access to voter registration and increasing voters on campus."

Do you think the goals set forth by the Campus Vote Project will get more students to the polls?


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Obama Grants NCLB Waivers to 10 States

by Alexis Mattera

When the No Child Left Behind Act went into effect 10 years ago, public schools across the country were tasked with developing assessments for students in certain grades in order to receive federal funding. A decade later, President Obama has waived these requirements for 10 states in exchange for new programs that will benefit both students and educators.

Though public schools in the states of Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee will no longer have to meet the NCLB achievement standards, they will now be required to adhere to three specific reform criteria: standardizing curricula for specific classes, holding individual schools accountable for improving student performance (particularly for minority and disabled students) and establishing a system to evaluate teachers. The plans will vary from state to state based on individual needs – New Jersey, for example, must improve high schools with low graduation rates or face state action while Oklahoma will be monitoring school culture and attendance rates – something both Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan view as vital to future success; less than enthusiastic, however is Republican chairman of the House Committee on Education John Kline, who would have rather continued working within Congress until bipartisan support was achieved.

What do you think of the NCLB waivers? Was change necessary now or do you feel the administration could have taken more time to formulate a decision?


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SOPA, College and the Future of Online Content

by Kara Coleman

The Web was abuzz last month with talk of the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. Most people were probably aware that sites like Wikipedia and Reddit blacked out in protest on January 18th but what is SOPA and why should it matter to the average American? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stop online piracy, right? It depends.

U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) authored SOPA and introduced it to the House in October 2011. (The bill’s complete title is “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes” -H.R. 3261.) While protecting ideas that belong to the States from plagiarism by people outside the U.S. jurisdiction certainly sounds like a noble cause, dealing with the Web is a tricky demographic: If SOPA comes into effect, the U.S. Department of Justice will be able to seek court orders against sites generated in foreign countries that they believe are violating copyright laws and American sites would no longer even be allowed to conduct business with or be linked to these sites.

The Motion Picture Association of America is a proponent of the bill, citing protection of creative ideas. Other supporters of SOPA say that it will help the pharmaceutical industry in America by preventing counterfeit drugs from being shipped in inexpensively from other countries. Opponents of the bill fear that their First Amendment rights are being encroached upon, as user-generated sites would likely feel the biggest sting. If a small minority of users violated copyright laws, would sites like YouTube or Flickr be shut down for everyone?

Two days after the online blackout/protest, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) announced that the decision to consider SOPA was being postponed due to the negative response from the sites who protested and the citizens who supported them for doing so. Is this the last we will hear of SOPA or is it set to be an ongoing battle? And finally, how would SOPA affect college students? While most professors don’t consider Wikipedia to be a valid source of information to cite on a research paper, it does give students a good overview of a topic and provide valuable links to scholarly websites that would be good resources. Social networking sites could be affected, too...need I say more? SOPA is not just talk that will stay on Capitol Hill – it could potentially change the way Americans use (or don’t use) the Internet forever.

This summer, Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree. She is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books.


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Romney on College Costs

GOP Candidate Offers Little Comfort to Current and Hopeful College Students

March 6, 2012

Romney on College Costs

by Alexis Mattera

If you want to go to college but can’t completely afford it, don’t expect Mitt Romney to help you bridge the financial gap.

During yesterday’s town hall meeting in Youngstown, Ohio, Romney made it clear that he would not promise to give students government money to cover higher ed costs. The advice he did offer regarding colleges was blunt – pick an affordable option, get scholarships, join the military and graduate early – and very different than the words of President Obama during his third State of the Union address, which discouraged tuition increases and aimed to double the amount of federal work-study jobs. Though this is a man who pushed for state-funded four-year tuition scholarships while serving as the governor of Massachusetts, Romney’s mantra is now firmly “don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on”...or protect you from it, for that matter: He supports the House Republican budget which would cut Pell Grants by at least 25 percent.

What do you think of Romney’s position regarding higher ed funding?


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IL Professors' Children Could Lose Tuition Benefit

by Alexis Mattera

There have been strides taken to ease the financial burden of higher education but for every state that limits college credits to keep degree costs down or entire college system freezing its tuition, there’s another school increasing its fees and cutting benefits. The latter could soon happen in Illinois, as lawmakers are weighing whether to eliminate tuition discounts for the children of professors and other university employees.

The legislation would get rid of this prized benefit, which allows faculty and staff members who have been employed at public universities for at least seven years to receive half-price tuition for their children. More than 2,000 college students take advantage of this perk each year and advocates of the bill say the state cannot afford to continue to offer the discount because it costs the Land of Lincoln about $8 million annually. Bill sponsor State Rep. Luis Arroyo also questioned the lack of income cap on who can use the waivers (for example, a college president earning a six-figure salary could pay far less for their child to attend college than a lower-income family would) but university officials say the discount is an important tool for recruiting and retaining top faculty members.

Does the possible end to this tuition benefit impact you in any way? How are you covering the costs of your own college education?


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Should Guns Be Allowed on College Campuses?

by Carly Gerber

Every time I learn about a school shooting, I feel less safe at my university – my paranoia has become so severe that I won’t study in the library because this location has been a target in several shootings – and I’ve often wondered what could be done to prevent incidents like this from occurring again. With the recent situation at UCF still fresh in our minds, let’s discuss: Would allowing guns on campus make a difference? Some may think so while others are very much opposed.

Some state legislatures feel that allowing students to carry concealed firearms on campus will ease the worry of students like me. They say it’s an extension of a person’s constitutional right to protect oneself, yet higher education institutions that are in states that want students to be allowed to have a handgun do not agree with their lawmakers. (Texas and Kansas, for example, are two states whose lawmakers want to allow firearms on campus, while the schools within their borders want quite the opposite.) According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 20 states that ban concealed weapons on campus, five states that allow concealed weapons at higher education institutions, 24 states that allow schools to set their own policies and several other campuses are debating whether or not to allow concealed firearms.

At the end of the day, people kill people, so I don’t believe guns are the real issue. Let me know your views about guns on campus: Would you feel safer or less safe if your student body and faculty were allowed to carry handguns?

Carly Gerber is majoring in journalism at Columbia College Chicago. She loves fashion and hopes to cover the topic for a Chicago-area magazine. In her free time, she focuses on her blog, loves making jewelry and spending time on Pinterest and Pose. She hopes to use this blog to guide and relate to its followers: college students like herself!


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