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by Emily

Community colleges are becoming increasingly popular options for young people looking to save money on their college degrees. However, despite their initial college plans, community college students are statistically less likely to earn a degree within six years than students who enroll immediately in a four-year college or university.

A report released this week by Demos, a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy institution, looks at the role of financial obligations in college completion rates for community college students under the age of 24. The report points to two things students can do to beat the odds and achieve their college goals: enroll full-time and work no more than part-time.

One of the key findings highlighted in the report is that most community college students have thousands of dollars in unmet financial need, even after accounting for grants and student loans. The lowest income quartile of students had $7,147 in financial need on average after grant aid, and $6,544 in need after accounting for all financial aid. Virtually all students in this quartile had unmet need and 92 percent of these students still had unmet need after all scholarships, grants, and loans. The overwhelming majority of students in the bottom 50% of family income had unmet financial need, averaging nearly $5,000 even after all financial aid.

Based on the substantial amount of unmet financial need these students had, it's not surprising that most community college students worked through school. The report shows 84 percent of young community college students worked while attending college in 2007-2008, and 61 percent of these students worked more than 20 hours a week, despite research showing that students who work fewer than 15 hours a week are the most successful academically. Community college students are more likely than students at state colleges to work their way through school and to work more hours while attending school. Of students who worked, 63 percent said they would not be able to pay for college without work, and 72 percent said they worked to help pay their college costs.

Community college students are also increasingly likely to enroll part-time, despite full-time enrollment being a key predictor of college success. Over half of community college students enrolled part-time in 2007-2008, compared to 19 percent of state college students, and most of these students worked more than part-time, primarily at low-wage jobs that are unrelated to their major or field of study. Just over half of students who initially enrolled part-time left college after 3 years without earning a degree or certificate, compared to only 14 percent of students who initially enrolled full-time.

This report adds to the growing body of research suggesting that borrowing heavily or relying entirely on income from work are not the best way to pay for college. In order to succeed in community college or any higher education institution, students should strongly consider attending full-time and only working part-time. To do this, saving for college or finding additional financial aid may be required. Applying for and winning scholarships can become a major component of college success--not only can scholarships help students meet their full financial need, but students who earn scholarships are also more likely to earn a college degree.


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by Emily

Whether you're applying for college, considering a transfer, or nearing graduation, chances are moving somewhere new has crossed your mind. Any number of factors can come into play in such a big personal decision: closeness to family, availability of jobs in your field, the cost of living, the quality of education, and more. But regardless of their other criteria, few people want to feel like one of the only people under 40 living in their town. This week, The Wall Street Journal came out with a list of ten cities that have the potential to be post-recession "youth magnets." If you're undecided as to where to head for college or after graduation, their list may be worth a perusal.

While the Wall Street Journal is not exactly known as the authority on hip, this list is the product of a panel of six experts on geography, demographics and economics assembled for this purpose. Panelists each provided their top 10, giving reasons for their choices, then the cities with the highest total rank were chosen for the list.

First place, somewhat surprisingly, went to Washington, D.C. (in a tie with Seattle), which doesn't have much of an established reputation as a hot destination for young people. The recent explosion in federal hiring and President Obama's cool are drawing young job seekers, and the museums and live music, as well as the large number of universities in the area also help attract young people beyond just political science majors. The down sides of D.C., though, are its high cost of living and the potential for government to drastically scale back hiring next year.

Seattle, on the other hand, has a diverse economy and a relatively low unemployment rate (currently 7.7%). Its music and media scenes and employment prospects in these areas are strong and well-known, and other high-tech job opportunities for computer science or medical students abound. Like many of the other cities in the list, Seattle also has a strong university presence, providing more incentive for college students and graduate students to place it at the top of their lists as well. The best part: the only negative listed in the article is the weather.

The rest of the top 10, in order, were New York City; Portland, OR; Austin, TX; San Jose, CA; Denver, CO; Raleigh, NC; Dallas, TX; Boston; and Chicago. Several of the cities in the list struggle with high unemployment or high costs of living. Most feature excellent colleges and universities and may already be focal points for your college search. A number also have an excellent variety of things for young people to do; for example, Portland and Austin are well-known cultural outposts and Chicago also has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment and night life, though sports fans may be disappointed that Chicago didn't land the 2016 Olympics.

What do you think? Are any of these places you'd consider heading for college or after?


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by Emily

From best dorm food to greatest contributions to the social good, regardless of the criteria you're using in your college search, there are likely lists available to help you find the best colleges to fit your needs. The latest college scorecard to emerge this college application season is the College Sustainability Report Card, an annual publication that grades public and private colleges and universities nationwide on eco-friendliness. For students who are passionate about the environment and want to attend a college that shares their concerns, this may be a useful list to check out.

The Report Card has been in existence since 2007, when it began grading the schools with the largest endowments on sustainability efforts. This year, it opened up its survey to other schools, promising to include any institution willing to pay $700 to offset the additional costs of research and reporting. The 2010 Report Card graded 332 schools, ranging from small private colleges to flagship state universities, with 26 schools earning the highest grade of A-. Over half of the schools surveyed earned a higher grade this year than last, despite budget cuts brought about by losses in endowments and state funding due to the recession.

In addition to the overall grade, report cards for each institution also feature grades in the following categories: administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, green building, student involvement, transportation, endowment transparency, investment priorities, and shareholder engagement. Some of these individual scores may be especially useful elements of the college search for students interested in becoming engaged in their campus communities and contributing to the greening of their colleges. Low scores can point to things students can help improve (such as implementing recycling programs on campus), and high scores in student involvement can indicate a community of like-minded individuals willing to collaborate to bring about change.

Beyond incorporating sustainability into the criteria you use in choosing a college, eco-minded students may also want to look into the opportunities for green scholarships available. These awards may point to additional ways to help the planet, and they can also help you pay for school at your green college of choice.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Most of you know what a college town looks like - a community dominated by the students, faculty and staff of the school that occupies the community there. While many students prefer to apply to the more insulated school environment that comes with a college town, others seek out educations in cities where there's more to the community than the college housed there. Something those students may not consider when filing their applications is whether that intended school has been a good neighbor or a stranger to that surrounding community.

A survey presented yesterday by Dr. Evan S. Dobelle, the president of Westfield State College, ranked 25 colleges based on just that. The survey, called "Saviors of Our Cities: A Survey of Best College and University Civic Partnerships", looked at schools' contributions to the towns and cities they're found in, and which had the best relationships with the residential and business communities in those locations. The top 25 schools were picked based on their positive impacts on their communities, including community service involvement. Another 100 schools were recognized on the survey's "Honor Roll" of friendly neighbors.

The best neighbors according to Dobelle's survey were the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California, tied for number one. Neither Westfield nor the two other schools Dobelle was once president at - Trinity College and the University of Hawaii - made the list. Dobelle, a researcher specializing in public/private partnerships, collected his data by sending the survey he composed to schools across the country for distribution in their communities. Some schools were then contacted for on-campus visits or interviews. The University of Pennsylvania was chosen based on its work with schools in West Philadelphia; the University of Southern California got high marks for working on a program that revitalized businesses in Los Angeles.

Other schools that ranked in the top 25 on Dobelle's list included Tulane University, Portland State University, and the University of Dayton. His specific criteria included real dollars invested, a quantifiable increase in positive recognition of the institution and the length of involvement with the community, among others. Dobelle first came up with the survey in 2006. As colleges are obviously closely linked to their communities in college towns, those schools weren't considered in the survey in favor of looking at urban universities' relationships with their towns and cities.

So what do you think? Should the "good neighbor" factor be included in a student's college search? Do you attend a particularly  neighborly institution? Let us know your thoughts.


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Most Expensive College Dorms

November 5, 2009

by Emily

Tuition and fees aren't the only college costs families are finding hard to swallow these days. Room and board is also on the rise--now nearing $16,000 a year at some colleges. A survey of the most expensive college dorms found that students attending The New School's Eugene Lang College in New York City can expect to pay more than any other college students in the nation for standard-option housing and a meal plan, at $15,990 per year.

Rounding out the top five were Cooper Union in New York City, at $15,275; Suffolk University in Boston, at $14,544; the University of California at Berkeley, at $14,384; and the New York Institute of Technology at Manhattan, at $14,290. By contrast, the average college room and board costs for 2009-2010 were $8,193 at public four-year schools and $9,363 for private colleges. Students who want extras can expect to pay a lot more--to get an idea of how much, check out the New York Times' run-through of a few of the swankiest college living arrangements that have debuted recently on three campuses.

The list of the top 20 was largely dominated by schools in cities with high costs of living, where housing costs of $12,000 to $16,000 per year might not seem all that unreasonable. However, when you consider the fact that these costs are for a standard double room without any extravagant extras, students may still want to see if they can get a better deal living off-campus. It's possible to pay a comparable price to on-campus room and board for your own bedroom in many locations, and considering college students' general ingenuity when it comes to apartment penny-pinching and packing people into houses and apartments, living off-campus could very well be a cheaper option than the dorms, regardless of where you attend college.

However, living off-campus isn't always the best or cheapest option, even if the hefty price tag for a shared room and mediocre dorm food offends your sensibilities. Before you decide where to live (if you're given that option--some colleges require students to live on-campus all four years), come up with a sample budget, taking into account realistic costs for housing, food, maintenance, and commuting to and from campus. For example, don't budget for walking 20 blocks each way in the winter or eating nothing but ramen and leftover cookies you snag from your department's faculty meetings, unless that's really how you intend to live. Think about what you're giving up, as well--easy trips to class, free cleaning services, and a close sense of campus community. If you're not saving much by living off-campus, perhaps those things will encourage you to stay.


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by Agnes Jasinski

You don't need to work retail or deliver pizzas to make money in college. Many on-campus opportunities have the potential to act as good resume-builders and keep you interested in the task at hand while providing you with a (modest) wage. They don't all have to be federal work study positions, either, although it does work in your favor if you have some financial need when applying for campus jobs, and some will bump up your hourly wage if you can boast some experience in that field.

And now the not so good news. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at student pay at the more unique campus jobs across the country. Not to scare you away from working through college at an on-campus job, but according to one example in that article, a student office assistant making $7.25/hour in the chemistry department at the University of Notre Dame would have to work 135 hours a week and 50 weeks of the year to cover tuition, room, and board. These wages will probably compare to most off-campus jobs you find near your college as well, however, so you may as well investigate all of your job options. Even if you'd be making more elsewhere, it may be worth the convenience and experience to work on campus.

Some examples of hourly wages at on-campus jobs:

It probably won't allow you to retire early, but an on-campus job could help you make ends meet and pay for some of those expenses that seem to crop up out of nowhere while you're pursuing that college degree. Balancing work and college certainly has its advantages - you're able to potentially lessen that student loan debt, build up your resume and learn the value of time management and responsibility - but it can be difficult, especially if you're a freshman being bombarded by all your campus has to offer. Browse through our site for tips on how to land and keep a job and keep your academics in line if your financial need means working your way through college.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

The National Survey of Student Engagement is an annual survey given to undergraduate students at colleges and universities nationwide for the last ten years. Participation has grown from 140 schools in its 1999 pilot program to 643 colleges this year. Nearly 1,400 schools have participated at least once, with many opting to participate every other year, rather than every year. The survey attempts to measure what students get out of their college experiences and to track whether students are becoming more involved in college life over time.  The categories NSSE measures schools in are level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment. The NSSE also features questions on special issues each year, and this year the focus was on transfer students. The survey tracks trends from year-to-year, and also categorizes results as "promising" or "disappointing."  While the results of NSSE are largely seen as beneficial to campus administrators and to national policy-makers, students can get a lot out of it, too. It gives students a rough idea of what most schools are doing, providing them some context in which to compare their colleges of choice as they're conducting their college search. As the New York Times education blog The Choice points out, the questions asked by NSSE may be questions you want to ask on campus visits. Also, the factors linked with college success and more enjoyable college experiences may be things you want to make a point to seek out while attending college. Noteworthy results:

  • About 1 in 3 seniors participated in a capstone course, senior project, comprehensive exam, or some other "culminating experience." Of those, more than three-quarters felt that it contributed substantially to their education.
  • Over half of students surveyed "frequently had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity" and only 1 in 7 reported never having such conversations.
  • Transfer students were less likely than students who completed their education at one institution to participate in "high-impact" activities like learning communities, internships, and study abroad. Men were also less likely than women to participate in these.
  • One in three seniors rated the quality of academic advising at their school as fair or poor.
  • One in five students said they frequently came to class without completing reading or assignments.
  • Forty percent of freshmen reported never discussing ideas from reading or classes with faculty members outside of class.

NSSE results are available online for free from Indiana University.  There's a lot of information to sort through, but there are tools to help, both on the NSSE website and others. In 2007, schools began sharing their NSSE results with USA Today, which publishes and tracks the data in a more user-friendly format. Over 400 schools chose to list their results this way in 2009, making comparisons easier for students and parents.


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by Agnes Jasinski

More study abroad participants outside the kinds of majors that typically spend time overseas are going to places like Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to recent data from the Institute of International Education, with less growth in European countries that have traditionally been considered study abroad staples.

While Britain is still the most popular study abroad destination, the number of program participants there grew by only 2 percent over the last year, compared to 19 percent in China, nearly 20 percent in India, and 18 percent to countries in Africa, such as Ghana. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week describes possible reasons for the trend. College students could be looking toward the future and are intrigued by technological advances in countries like India, as many of the new study abroad participants come from majors outside the usual liberal arts programs. (The number of math and science majors studying abroad increased by about 17 percent.) And signing up for a program in a developing country will cost a lot less than spending a semester in Western Europe.

Last year was a record year for study abroad programs, with more than 260,000 American students participating in programs across the world, an increase of about 8.5 percent over the year before. Why the increase? Looking at the kinds of programs that have seen increases could lead to some explanation. Study abroad programs in the health sciences increased by about 19 percent. At home, more undergraduates are interested in focusing on public health issues, which lends itself easily to study abroad programs. And economic problems in the United States have affected the global economies, making it less expensive to travel to many destinations.

The number of foreign students coming to study in the United States has also increased by about 8 percent over the last year, according to the Institute. The number of first-time international students rose even more, by about 16 percent. The increases were most apparent among undergraduate students, which is somewhat surprising as international students have traditionally come to study here for graduate programs.

If you're interested in studying abroad, don't assume you'll need to pay for a program out of pocket or increase your student loan debt. There are study abroad scholarships available to help you cover those expenses, especially if you’ve shown that you have significant financial need.


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Are You Ready for Finals?

November 18, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

Although you're probably ready to sit down and enjoy a big Thanksgiving meal, you may be feeling some dread about what you'll be facing once you return to college after that turkey coma. Finals Week Many of you will have been procrastinating up to this point, falling behind on the study skills you honed in your high school AP classes to prepare for this moment. Luckily, it's not too late.

If you're really behind, chances are you may need to pull an all-nighter or two to catch up with your studies. Do it.  Even if you're just a freshman getting used to your first year on campus, you should still focus on making your grades the best they can be. There are still a ton of scholarships out there if you're a sophomore, junior, even a graduate student, so don't assume the loot you won to pay for your first year is out of your reach once you complete your freshman year.

If you're in better shape than I was in college, you haven't fallen too far behind and actually have notes from most of your lectures. Make a list and check it twice of all that you need to do before finishing off the semester. Talk to your professors if things aren't clear before final exam time to feel more prepared and more confident going in to those testing sessions. If you've been fairly responsible up to this point, you probably don't need to be reminded not to cram, but don't catch the procrastination bug now.

Here are some of our other favorite tips on improving your study skills in time for college exams:

  • Stay focused. If you're less distracted at the library, go to the library. Dorm rooms and apartments are full of potential time-wasters - TV, video games, snacks, chatty roommates. If you can't study in silence, bring your books and headphones to a less distracting place.
  • Figure out your learning style. What may have worked for you in high school may not be relevant anymore. You probably have more work to do, with more opportunities for distraction and non-academic related activities. Figure out how you manage your time best and what makes you the most successful learner, because the study method that works for your friend down the hall may not be the one that will work best for you.
  • Keep everything. That syllabus you used as a coaster the first week of class? It could have some important information about final exam week buried in between the professor's introduction and the required textbooks. File away every handout you get from every class, because they could be useful later. Toss them once the course is over and you've turned in that exam.
  • Don't panic. If this is your first experience with finals week, put things in perspective. Yes, you'll need to do well so that you're around for finals next semester, but panic will only stress you out and potentially cause you procrastinate even more. Focus, breathe, and take care of yourself. You want to be feeling healthy and alert when you're staring down at that college exam, and, as prepared as you're able to be.

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by Scholarships.com Staff

Last week, we blogged about the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), an annual report on students at four-year colleges and universities. The survey provided information about everything from academic advising to study habits at participating schools. This week, its community college counterpart was released, and for students deciding whether to save money by starting at a two-year school, that data might be useful, as well.

The Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSE) is conducted annually by the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin. This year, more than 400,000 student from 663 institutions participated. Engagement is regarded as serious concern at community colleges, as they tend to have a less clearly-developed sense of campus community as four-year schools and also have a far greater portion of part-time students and faculty.

Part-Timers and Engagement

The survey found that 60% of students were attending community college part-time, and that significant portions of students were taking night classes and online courses. Coming to campus less often, coming to campus at night, and having primary learning experiences take place off-campus can all result in less engagement among community college students. As a result, part-time students and students who work more than 30 hours a week are some of the least-engaged students on campus. Male students and traditional-age students were also among the least engaged students.

Study skill courses, orientation, learning communities, and developmental courses can all boost engagement. Interaction with students and faculty outside of class are also signs of a more engaged student body. Just under half of students currently engage in group activities in class, and just under two-thirds ask questions or contribute to class discussions, yet a small minority engage with instructors or peers outside of class. More faculty engagement and more programs to encourage student interaction may help.

Student Services and College Goals

Community college students and faculty recognize the role of student services, such as tutoring and advising, in promoting college success, but the numbers of each who participate in such activities are much lower than the numbers who view them as important. Few faculty members, especially part-timers, meet with students outside the classroom at least once a week, and few students regularly take advantage of advising or other services. This could partially explain the continued disparity between students' college goals and actual degree attainment.

A full 73 percent of students listed transferring to a four-year college or university as a goal they had when choosing to attend a community college, and 80 percent of students listed obtaining an associate degree as a primary or secondary reason for attending. Yet actual rates for both are much below the goals.

If you're considering attending a community college, the key seems to be to get involved and actively seek out help. Form study groups and talk to your instructors outside of class. Set and attend academic advising appointments to keep yourself on track for graduation and keep you informed of the next steps you'll need to take in your education. Also, consider applying for financial aid to reduce your need to work and allow you to more fully appreciate what your college has to offer.


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