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by Agnes Jasinski

As a response to "operating in unsettled and ... unsettling times," Williams College has decided to stop offering its no-loan student-aid program and to reintroduce modest student loans to students' financial aid packages.

In an open letter to the Williams community released over the weekend, the school's Interim President Bill Wagner said the change would not affect current students, but beginning with the class that enters in the fall of 2011. Families below a certain income will still not be expected to borrow at all, and other students will be offered loans on a sliding scale up to a maximum size that the school says will still be among the lowest in the country.

Student loans were eliminated at Williams in the 2008-2009 academic year, joining more than 30 private colleges that had adopted similar policies, such as Amherst and Claremont McKenna colleges. (There have already been rumors that Amherst College may join Williams in amending its own policy.) The decision to cut loans out of students' financial aid packages came at a time when the school's endowment had grown so large that there were demands to spend more. But at the same time, more students were applying for and qualifying for financial aid.

Williams isn't the only college to renege on a promise to students, nor is it the first. Lafayette College raised the loan limit it pledged to students from $2,500 a year to $3,500 a year if they had family incomes of between $50,000 and $100,000. Dartmouth College has been requiring loans again for those at certain levels now exempt from borrowing. Endowments across the country have plummeted, suffering their worst losses since the Great Depression. According to an article in The Chronicle for Higher Education published last week, the value of college endowments declined by an average of 23 percent from 2008 to 2009. An endowment student sponsored by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found that of the 654 institutions that reported carrying long-term debt, the average debt load grew from $109.1 million to $167.8 million.

Are "no loans" policies feasible at all? Some critics explain that there are students currently exempt from taking out loans who could easily be able to pay them off once they graduate. Students with family incomes of more than $120,000 have the resources to borrow less than other students, critics say, and the focus instead should be on helping low-income students keep their loan debts at a minimum. Williams hasn't been clear as to what the family income cutoff would be for its new policy, but it will undoubtedly hit the middle class hard.


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by Agnes Jasinski

College seniors who prioritize "prosocial" activities while on campus have a better chance to lead more productive lives in adulthood than their peers who may have focused more on their academics or landing a high-paying job post-graduation, according to a University of Notre Dame.

"Prosocial" activities are described as helping friends through difficult situations and participating in community service projects, not making sure your Friday and Saturday nights are planned well in advance. The researchers suggest the results point to the benefits of having goals focused on helping others rather than just helping yourself.

The two studies looked at a sample of 416 college seniors (57 percent were male) who were evaluated again 13 years after graduation, once they reached their mid-30s. As seniors, the respondents had four types of "life goals" in the following categories: creative ("becoming accomplished in one of the performing arts"), prosocial ("helping others who are in difficulty"), financial ("being successful in a business of my own"), and personal recognition ("becoming an authority in my field"). At adulthood, however, those who responded that they still considered themselves prosocial after all those years also described greater personal growth and integrity.

It isn't a stretch to believe that being kind to your peers and spending some time volunteering may make you a better person, or at least allow you to work toward being a better person. It's interesting to think, however, that how you behave in college may have a hand in shaping who you are as an adult. The studies suggest that if your purpose in life is helping others, you're set to become a well-rounded adult. Colleges may want to take notice and provide students with more of these types of activities and opportunities, or even promote service as part of their curriculums.

You don't need to allow your grades to slip or stop working hard to graduate on time and land that first job out of college. The studies are more a reminder that other things are important, too, like evaluating your life goals and giving yourself a priority check once in a while. Make the most of your college experience, and consider volunteerism and service as a way to make you more well-rounded. And if you are that go-getter worried about how the state of economy will hinder your job prospects post-graduation, consider this: community service looks great on a resume, and great on applications for advanced degrees. There are also a large number of scholarships that reward students for their service, so consider all of your options when you're planning that social calendar.


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you're worried about how your food allergies will affect your experiences in that dorm cafeteria this fall, you're not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict the number of allergy sufferers will only continue to grow in the coming years, as record numbers of children with allergies grow up and head onto college campuses. To address the increase in coeds with allergies, many colleges have started to revamp their cafeteria kitchens and menus to make it easier for students to find allergy-free options.

According to the CDC, the number of Americans 18 and younger with allergies is at a record high. About 3 million, or 4 percent, of that age group suffers from food allergies; in 1997, about 2.3 million in that population reported food allergies. About 12 million people of all age groups in the United States have food allergies.

A recent article in USA Today took a look at colleges that have been making changes to their students' dining options. Franklin and Marshall College went nut-free about three years ago. (Nuts are the most problematic and common food allergy. Many places, like elementary schools and airlines, have already banned them from their menus.)  The University of New Hampshire is stocked with gluten-free foods, and its dining halls include cookware used solely in the preparation of gluten-free dishes. (You can't make a food less allergenic by cooking it, by the way.) At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, students are able to determine the exact ingredients in foods available on campus. Eventually, the school plans to run a database that catalogs foods with allergens in them. The College of the Holy Cross allows students interested in the school's meal plans to pre-order their meals via email. The school is also opening an allergy-free kitchen this fall, making it easier for students to eat in the dining hall with their friends.

The article also points to a recent initiative from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. Last October, the group premiered its College Network, a database that allows college students to determine who they should contact at schools about their food allergies, and information about colleges that have taken measures to address food allergies. The site also gives tips on dorm living with allergies, determining whether your allergy will affect living with a roommate, and steps to take once you arrive on campus to make sure those around you know about what you're allergic to and what to do if you have an allergic reaction.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Spring break is fast approaching. Some college students already have their all-inclusive vacations planned out for beach-side locations like Cancun and South Padre Island, taking the week to relax, kick back, and take a break from campus life. Others, however, have alternative plans, and hope to give back a little in the wake of a number of recent devastating natural disasters.

An article in Inside Higher Ed yesterday describes the plans of David Adewumi, a Pennsylvania State University student who will join 10 of his peers on a relief trip to Haiti. They plan to spend the week of their spring break helping with minor medical care, food distribution and building shelters for those who lost their homes and livelihoods in the recent quake. A group of 20 to 25 students from the University of Maryland, College Park, and Howard University have similar plans to spend their spring breaks in Haiti, training Haitians to build homes using dirt-filled bags.

The earthquake in Chile on Feb. 27 may cause some to divert their spring break attentions to that country as well. Some schools, like the City University of New York, have already expanded their relief efforts to include both Haiti and Chile. (So far, all students who had already been living or visiting in the South American country have been reported safe, including 27 University of Notre Dame students and faculty members, a group of business-school students and faculty members from the University of Tennessee, and students studying abroad from the University of South Carolina at Columbia.)

Organizers of alternative spring breaks say college students' relief trips are nothing new. But the speed with which students have mobilized to assist countries with recent disasters is. Students have expressed so much interest that some organizers, relief agencies, and college administrators worry that the situation in both Haiti and Chile is not stabilized enough to make for a meaningful experience for spring breakers. In the Inside Higher Ed article, Suzanne Brooks, the director of the Center for International Disaster Information, says inexperienced volunteers should wait a year before planning any relief missions to Haiti. "I don’t think it’s impossible that a year from now for spring break there may be some programs up and running, but I really don’t think it makes sense for this year," she said in the article. It may also not be the safest option, other say, or even a wise idea to send more relief agencies out there when those already on site have had trouble finding sufficient food, water, and housing.

Lucky for you, there are plenty of options if you want to organize an alternative spring break closer to home. At Tulane University, "service learning" has become a part of the curriculum, as students work to continue rebuilding a city still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Those interested in local community service opportunities should also be aware that many nonprofits reward those good deeds with scholarships.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As the number of returning and adult students continues to grow in an economy where advanced skills are necessary to not only land a good job but keep that job, it was only a matter of time when we'd start seeing more students in school at the same time as their parents.

We've already written about growing community college enrollment. The numbers speak for themselves—nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up 24.1 percent since 2007, with overall community college enrollment increasing 16.9 percent over the same period, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Many of those enrolled are returning adult students who want to amp up their skill sets or start on a path toward a new career, perhaps due to a recent layoff or desire to go into a more desirable field. Community colleges have also always been an affordable option for traditional students either looking for a two-year start before transferring to a four-year university, or a two-year associate's program that will get them out onto the market faster. It's only natural then that there would be some overlap, with students and their parents taking courses at the same time.

In Illinois, college students who are 40 and older make up about 23 percent of the community college populations. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune looks at mothers and daughters taking community college courses together, such as Diana Gudowski, a 52-year-old attending Prairie State College in Chicago Heights with her 19-year-old daughter Marissa. The two found themselves on the same campus when the family decided collectively that they could not afford Marissa's first choice, the $30,000 per year St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. Marissa plans to complete her prerequisites at the community college and then transfer to Northern Illinois University. Meanwhile, her mother is taking classes toward a bachelor's of fine arts in photography; she already has an associate's from Prairie State in photographic studies. Although their courses don't overlap, their schedules do—the two carpool to campus, as the family shares one car.

"When I got out of high school, I thought ‘Cool. … Now I can take my first class at noon.' But four out of five days, my Mom starts at 8 a.m.," Marissa said in the article.

The article's focus is on mothers and daughters because the female population has been hit harder by the struggling economy. Despite some upturns, there are still more than 15 million people out of work across the country, and many of those are older women with limited educations, according to the Tribune. Are you (or your parents) interested in the community college option? Try our free college search or look through our library of resources for more information.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A Capella groups, vocal troupes and pitch-perfect singing clubs are fairly common on college campuses as a diversion from academics and another option among the dozens of extracurricular activities students have to choose from. But show choirs have always been more popular at high schools. That is, until the television show "Glee" came onto screens across the country with aims to popularize glee clubs and add some levity to the mood of the country.

Colleges have taken notice, forming their own glee clubs and show choirs that have students singing, dancing, and performing for their student populations and, in some cases, in competitions across the country. An article in USA Today takes a look at some of the new college programs, and what they've done to not only ride the wave of the popularity of "Glee," which returns from its hiatus tonight, but to make their music programs more current and adapt to the tastes of those who buy tickets to their shows.

At Millsaps College, a group of 15 students came together to form a show choir that now performs songs like the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling." The group has its first show in two weeks. The University of North Texas created a new singing group shortly after the first season of the Fox show came to an end; more than 100 students auditioned, according to the USA Today article. That group has 30 student members, and will premiere its first performance next month.

High schools across the country have also revamped their concert choirs and chorus groups, incorporating what some say is more audience-friendly music. (Some choirs that aren't too enthusiastic about the show say "Glee" hurts rather than helps them by giving the impression that all choirs perform top 40 hits and include extensive choreography.) The choir at Hoquiam High School in Washington state still performs the traditional tunes one would expect from a conventional vocal group, but the addition of a show choir at the school has allowed Hoquiam to give students the option of performing classic choral styles with the concert choir, and more mainstream country, rock, and hip hop with the show choir. The school's show choir has even performed a song by Weird Al Yankovic.

Tell us about your college or high school show choir or glee club. What kinds of things does your group do to get more students involved in music on campus? Do you still prefer a traditional concert choir over the more unconventional show choirs? And if you are a performer, don't forget that there are music scholarships out there for those with not only vocal talents, but instrumental abilities as well.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many colleges and universities offer students dorms particular to their fields of study. A future engineer can bunk with others interested in engineering, for example, or future educators may find a place for others interested in becoming teachers. The dorms then become learning communities, and allow students a built-in support network when they're struggling with homework or an upcoming exam.

Some schools, however, have been experimenting with communal living for interests outside of students' majors, perhaps to get more students interested in those colleges, keep students already enrolled happy, or to get students to live in the dorms beyond their first years. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education explores the kinds of dorm communities that are cropping up on college campuses across the country, and they're as diverse as students' interests come.

At the University of Vermont, students interested in healthy eating, anime or Harry Potter are able to live in dorms set aside for students with those interests. (According to The Chronicle, The Harry Potter dorm caters more to those interested in social justice issues, and how "magic is symbolic for an individual's ability to change the world." It couldn't be all fun.) Students at the school must come with proposals of their own for the special interest dorms to take shape, and find student leaders who will come up with extracurricular activities and collaborate with faculty advisers.

At the Georgia Institute of Technology, themed dorms explore the less academic side of science. The 160 or so students who live in the learning communities are able to find dorms based on their interests in humor, robotics, space colonization, and the science of food, according to The Chronicle. Faculty members, who say the students living in the themed dorms are more engaged in their learning able to converse about academic subjects more easily than their peers, meet with the students once a week. At Ball State University, students from all majors interested in film, video, and emerging media, are able to live in a dorm that provides them with all of the technical equipment they would need to shoot projects on their own time. The dorm cost the school about $60,000 to renovate and equip.

What kinds of themed dorms, if any, does your school offer undergraduates? Do you like the idea, or do you think students should live with others who have more varied interests? Let us know what you think about the specialized dorms.


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by Agnes Jasinski

It’s late in the semester, and you’ve got final projects and exams staring you in the face. Now seems like as good a time as any to skip class, either to get a jump on the above-mentioned workload, sleep in, or enjoy the warmer weather. Your professor won’t miss you in that big lecture hall, right?

Come fall, students at Northern Arizona University may be missed more than usual in those big college classes thanks to the installation of a new electronic system that will measure students’ attendance. According to a recent article in The Arizona Republic, the new system will effectively mark students present by scanning their ID cards as they walk in. That system, paid for by $75,000 in federal stimulus money, then produces an attendance report for the instructor of that course.

The system will affect the most popular — and populated — courses, typically taken in students’ freshman and sophomore years. This doesn’t mean the school will be introducing mandatory attendance policies; but instructors may be more likely now to consider attendance as a factor when awarding grades. (Most instructors in smaller classrooms already count attendance/participation as part of students’ final grades.) Students are unsurprisingly upset by the plan, calling it an invasion of privacy. According to The Arizona Republic, a new Facebook group in opposition to the measure has already collected more than 1,300 members. Some students suggest that if they really want to skip class, they’ll find ways around the new system, like handing their IDs to a study buddy so that their name is counted on that day’s roster.

In response to complaints that the process was a little too “Big Brother,” administrators say they’re doing this for the students’ own good and to lower the number of students who miss class. Those who frequently miss class will probably not do as well in school, thus increasing their likelihood that they’ll drop out of college altogether. Administrators point to a number of research studies that link academic achievement with attendance to help their cause. A study in 2001 from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, for example, found that students scored higher on quizzes if they were responsible for signing in to class each session.

What do you think? Would you try to avoid classes that scanned ID cards? Is it an invasion of privacy, or just a way to make students more accountable?


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many of you have probably joked about being “addicted” to your Twitter accounts, cell phones, and other social media outlets. A recent study from the University of Maryland shows that for many college students, that description of their relationship with those tools may not be too far off.

The recent study, “24 Hours: Unplugged,” found that at least on the Maryland campus, students hooked on social media may experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those addicted to alcohol and other substances if they are forced to do without those tools for any longer period of time. The study, led by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, came to that conclusion after asking 200 students on the Maryland campus to give up all modes of media for one full day. Those students were then asked to describe their personal experiences on, somewhat ironically, a blog, the next day.

According to the results of the study, the students came up with the equivalent of a 400-page novel when describing their experiences. So what did they say? We’ve come up with some highlights:

  • "My attempt at the gym without the ear pieces in my iPhone wasn’t the same; doing cardio listening to yourself breathe really drains your stamina."
  • "I literally had to have my friend hide my phone so I wouldn’t check it by accident."
  • "It becomes a normal task to look at my phone every few minutes, yes minutes."
  • "It is almost second nature to check my Facebook or email; it was very hard for my mind to tell my body not to go on the Internet."
  • "I knew that the hardest aspect of ridding myself of media though, would be not checking Facebook or my emails, so I went ahead and deactivated my Facebook account in advance. It’s pathetic to think that I knew I had to delete my Facebook in order to prevent myself from checking it for one day."
  • "Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely. I received several phone calls that I could not answer."

Addiction is a strong word, and there haven’t been any formal initiatives to add things like “Internet addiction” to the American Psychiatric Association’s list of disorders and addictions. But is this something we should worry about nonetheless? According to the news release on the study, even the study’s project director was surprised by the number of students who had such intense reactions to leaving their media alone for a day. What do you think? Are college students too dependent on media? How long could you go without your favorite media outlets?


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by Agnes Jasinski

A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research has shown what many among the older generation may have been saying all along. College students today just don’t study as much as they did.

According to the paper, compared to their campus counterparts in 1961, the average full-time college student in 2003 spent at least 10 fewer hours per week on academic work (attending classes, studying, and completing assignments). The paper, titled The Falling Time Cost of College: Evidence from Half a Century of Time Use Date, included analysis from two California researchers of data from both 1961 and the more recent National Survey of Student Engagement. <

The paper showed that there has been a decline in the number of hours spent on academic work since that first study in the 1960s. Students in 1961 spent about 40 hours per week in class and studying; about 24 hours of that was spent hitting the books specifically. Students today spend about 27 hours per week on academic work; 13 hours of that was spent studying and working on homework.

So are college students just lazier? The research doesn’t really point to an answer, but they did describe which factors probably weren’t the behind the decrease in study time. The declines can’t be explained by any one reason alone, like work or choice of college major, according to the paper, or "compositional changes" in the students themselves or the colleges they’re attending. The paper also showed that study times declined across all student groups and populations, meaning one group didn’t account for the decline more over another, skewing the data. The paper did suggest the way students study may be different.

Why do you think students are studying less? Articles on the paper since have suggested that college students simply have less time for school than in previous generations. They work more, spread themselves thin, and engage in more extracurricular activities to make themselves more competitive on the job market after graduation. Or it could be a technology issue. The Internet and social media may have made completing assignments easier, or, in a more negative light, have become such a distraction to students that it is  much easier to spend time online (and procrastinate, pull all-nighters) than open up a textbook. You’ve already heard about the hard time students have unplugging from their phones, computers, and social networking sites. What do you think?


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