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by Agnes Jasinski

Offering students a formal path toward a three-year degree has been a popular proposal for the last few years, with proponents of the idea describing it as a way to save college students some money, at least on room and board.

In an article in Inside Higher Ed today, one national organization has spoken out against formalizing three-year plans for students. Carol Geary Schneider, the president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, issued a statement today that was critical of cutting the college experience short. In her statement, Schneider said the higher education system can do better working on those struggling—or unwilling—to graduate in the traditional four years. (About 27 percent of students at public institutions and 48 percent at private institutions finish in four years.)

Beyond that, Schneider said it takes longer now to prepare students for the world off college campuses than it has in the past. Students are expected to know more today about global knowledge, for example, and need to boast a wide range of experiences outside of the classroom that would be difficult to fit in if colleges began offering three-year degrees. A criticism has been that offering students the three-year degree option might lead to some unprepared graduates who spent their summers working toward their accelerated degrees, rather than spending time at internships or other experiences that could not only serve as resume boosters, but as ways for them to explore fields of study.

Supporters of shortening students’ time spent in college have included Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president of the University of Tennessee who wrote an editorial on the topic in Newsweek last fall. He said in his piece that the move would ease the dependence on federal and campus-based financial aid, and would free up precious time for students interested in moving into the working world faster or pursuing advanced degrees. Robert Zemsky, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, said in Inside Higher Ed that pushing for a three-year degree could lead to positive changes in higher education. This leads to another debate: how useful general education requirements are to a student not majoring in the liberal arts.

Many schools already offer three-year degrees, whether officially via accelerated programming targeting those who have dual enrollment or AP credits or unofficially to highly motivated students. What do you think?


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many of you have already made your decisions on the school you’ll be attending come fall. The next step (outside of the obvious, determining how you’ll pay for that choice and evaluating your financial aid letter) will be figuring out where you’ll be living once you’re on your chosen campus.

Many colleges will require freshmen to live in dorms, to build a sense of community and give those first-year students better access to campus offerings and guidance. You’ve probably heard quite a bit about communal living already, either through older siblings’ roommate horror stories or warnings of consuming too many calories in the dorm cafeterias. A number of recent articles have taken a lighter approach to dorm living, looking at the unique options you may have when determining where you’ll be spending most of your time come fall. (You may remember reading about college students demanding more from their dorms; it seems like schools are taking notice.)

One article in The New York Times took a look at dorm rooms that came with “bragging rights” and an air of celebrity about them. While wait lists for them are typically high, some students discover only after they’ve moved in that they’re bunking in the same space as a former politician, celebrity, or historical figure. Princeton University in particular has quite a few of these famous spaces—Michelle Obama had a single room there, and four freshmen currently live in Adlai E. Stevenson’s old room. (The school razed the building where James Stewart spent his evenings.) Yale University boasts Anderson Cooper’s and Paul Giamatti’s old rooms. While colleges are often hesitant to disclose where famous alums lived while attending their schools, the article suggests it’s not too hard to figure out using old yearbooks, and the Times piece alone discloses quite a few of the celebs’ previous addresses.

For those who would rather bring a furry friend from home to college than boast of their rooms’ history, a number of colleges have become more amendable to allowing students to bring the family pet to live with them in the dorms. Another recent Times article took a look at the trend, as colleges begin setting aside dorms specifically for pet owners. The dorms include daycare facilities for when students are in class—although hours are limited to prevent pet neglect—and other amenities staffed by work-study students interested in working with animals. According to that article, about a dozen colleges currently have policies allowing pets access to the dorms. Typically, the policies are limited to cats and small- to average-sized dogs.

What kinds of things will you be considering when you’re ready to make your housing choice? Are you looking for a more traditional dorm room experience, without the frills or additional options now offered by colleges?


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by Agnes Jasinski

A new study from Ball State University shows further proof that students’ reliance on mobile devices is here to stay, with more students using their smart phones over their computers to access the Internet and communicate with one another than ever before.

Smart phone use has doubled over the last year, according to the study, with nearly half of phone-owning students boasting the devices. Text messaging has become students’ main form of communication, with 97 percent of students surveyed using that method to communicate, compared to 30 percent using e-mail. The study took into account 11 different surveys of mobile device usage since 2005, with 5,500 college students participating.

The study suggests that while it should be easier to reach students now with these smart phones in hand, it also makes it easier for them to multi-task and lead more hectic lifestyles. An increase in students owning more sophisticated devices has also led colleges to reconsider how to both use advancing technologies in the classroom and limiting devices where they may serve as more of a distraction. Cell phone use is still typically prohibited in the classroom, although colleges have been working to integrate other technologies into students’ curricula. Seton Hill University saw so much potential in the new iPad that they announced they would give one to all incoming students. Elsewhere, professors are embracing social networking sites like Twitter as a way to make their instruction more relevant.

Laptops in the classroom in particular have been a topic of discussion since they began cropping up on desks, assisting students in note-taking during lectures. Some professors argue that while some students use their computers appropriately, others spend entire periods surfing the Internet or perusing their Facebook pages. An article in Slate this spring looked at measures some colleges have taken to keep students tuned in to class discussion, which often means disconnecting them from wireless access. The University of Chicago’s Law School shut off Internet access in classrooms several years ago along with several other law schools, where discussion is an integral piece of the educational experience. A professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that those who used laptops in the classroom scored 11 percent lower on their first exam than those who took notes the old-fashioned way.

What do you think? Would mobile devices in the classroom be helpful or harmful? What about laptops? What kinds of regulations regarding technology already exist on your campus?


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College Cuts Housekeeping Services

George Washington University Says Students Too Messy for Perk

July 2, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

New freshmen at George Washington University this fall won’t be as pampered as their predecessors. Administrators there have decided to cut the housekeeping services they had offered in the past, in part to keep the costs of room and board at their current levels.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the services included vacuuming students’ residence hall rooms and cleaning their private bathrooms. Come fall, it will be up to the students to tidy things up, although administrators said some housekeepers were unable to vacuum a number of freshmen’s rooms properly anyway because of the messes students would leave on their floors, which first prompted the school to look into eliminating the service. About 80 new freshmen have been vocally opposed to the school’s decision to cut the service, signing Facebook petitions to demand it be added back. In one article, one incoming student said it was one of those things that “semi-convinced” her to come to GW, and that with tuition at $54,000, it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep such perks in their communal living spaces.

It may seem silly to have a housekeeper keep your dorm room tidy, but GW wasn’t unique in offering the service. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology still offers the service, with housekeepers there changing linens, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and taking out students’ trash. According to the Inside Higher Ed article, administrators there said if they needed to trim their budgets, they would cut housekeeping staff rather than eliminating the program altogether, as they describe it as “one of the top selling points” of the college. At Xavier University, administrators use their housekeeping service (offered in three out of four dorms) as a way to relieve parents worried about their sons and daughters living in messy rooms now that they’re out on their own.

At other schools that have instituted cuts to housekeeping services, the reaction from students has been mixed. The College of the Holy Cross and Claremont McKenna College both reduced their service from twice a week to once a week, which may not seem like that big a deal to students without any kind of formal cleaning service. Administrators at Holy Cross said having housekeepers allowed the school to maintain a sense of upkeep in residence halls, and keep rooms in better shape for the next round of freshmen. The Inside Higher Ed article closed with a rising senior at Claremont deriding what he thought of as an excess: “Do we really need maids cleaning up after every mess? It’s pretty ridiculous. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love it. Who wouldn't? But I think for college students trying to become adults, people shouldn't be cleaning up our mess. That is a mother thing to do when you're 10 years old.”


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you’re an incoming freshman new to the idea of communal living, there’s something you should know. You may not be instant best friends with your new roommate. Random pairings are just that: random. And a recent article in The New York Times describes just how bad new undergraduates have gotten at managing even the minutest problems. 

According to the article, students are getting more passive aggressive, using technology and social networking to vent rather than confronting an annoying roommate. One director of housing says students text one another while they’re in the same room rather than talking out a disagreement. Or their complaints will go “public” via Facebook, with the other roommate finding out on the website that there’s trouble brewing in their living space. Students won’t even tell noisy dorm-mates to quiet down, according to a recent focus group at North Carolina State University.

Another problem is more parents getting involved in the conflicts, rather than the students handling their roommate issues themselves, according to the article. Most colleges have mediation services or resident advisers at the ready to handle these problems, but few students take advantage.

But there are ways to make a mismatch work. If you’re aware of the common roommate problems before you move in, like borrowing personal items without the roommate’s permission or messy living habits, you may be more prepared to handle them. If you think you may be the problem, it may be time for a bit of self-reflection. It’s probably not a bad idea, for example, to learn how to not eat food that isn’t yours. 

If it gets really bad, most colleges have systems in place that allow students to swap out their roommates. At Loyola University in Chicago, students are able to move out of their rooms if they find other students to trade places with them, according to the Times article. The school gives unhappy roommates a little help with organized “swap nights,” where they are able to meet other students looking for improved living situations. The University of Florida has introduced the Facebook tool RoomBug as a move away from random assignments. The application allows students to give more detailed responses on what they’d like to see in a roommate, and to match themselves with profiles they feel may be a good fit. Whatever your situation, don’t take a failed roommate situation too personally. By sophomore year, more than 70 percent of freshman year roommates are no longer living together, choosing instead to bunk with friends they make freshman year.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Each year the Princeton Review releases its comprehensive list of colleges ranked by the extracurricular and social offerings on their campuses, how happy their students are, and which schools are the most religious or LGBT-friendly, among a number of other categories. The distinction that gets the most attention year after year, however, is the school the review dubs as the top “party school,” an honor that may be lauded by students but dreaded by the chosen school’s administrators.

The title this year goes to the University of Georgia in Athens. The school has appeared on the list 10 times since the Princeton Review began ranking the colleges based on these criteria in 1992. Choosing the top “party school” may seem like a difficult task, but according to an Associated Press article, students at the Georgia college party from Thursday through Sunday at the nearly 100 drinking establishments surrounding the college.

Administrators at the school aren’t unhappy, obviously. President Bruce Benson questioned the research methods used as part of the survey, and highlighted the efforts the school has made to introduce student alcohol education programs. Ohio University, funnily enough also found in a town called Athens, was ranked second, followed by Pennsylvania State and West Virginia universities. The University of Mississippi rounded out the top five. On the other side of the spectrum, Brigham Young University was ranked as the first-place finisher among “Stone-Cold Sober Schools,” a distinction that college has held for the last 13 years.

The Princeton Review collects its data based on email surveys of 122,000 students across more than 370 college campuses. The “party school” ranking comes from responses on alcohol and drug use, hours spent studying, and how prevalent Greek life is on each campus, according to the Associated Press article. Among the Review’s other findings:

  • Students study the most at the Massachusetts Institution of Technology; they student the least at the University of North Dakota.
  • Harvard University has the best college library; Bradley University ranked highest in the “This is a Library?” category.
  • Brown University students are the happiest in the country; the unhappiest are at Fisk University.
  • Bowdoin College serves up the best campus food; the worst food is found at the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
  • The most politically active students are found at American University; students are most apathetic when it comes to politics at Salisbury University.

Obviously, take all lists like this with a grain of salt. While it may be helpful to have information on student-faculty ratios or the financial aid help offered by campus, only you can determine where your best fit will be when it comes to less tangible criteria like how social a college is or which school offers the tastiest meal plan. Do your own research, starting with a college search based on the most important criteria to you.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A report released yesterday shows that college students today study about 10 hours less on average than college students in the 1960s. The report explains further that technology isn’t the cause of less time hitting the books or the library, as has been traditionally believed. The researchers say it’s up to the colleges to give students more work and to enforce academic standards and requirements to boost study times.

The American Enterprise Institute report, “Leisure College, USA,” looked at a number of national surveys over the last several decades to come to their conclusions. In contrast to previous theories over why students study less these days—some students choose tougher college majors, attend “easier” colleges, or work part- or full-time while in school—the researchers say the evidence points to other factors at play. Achievement standards at post-secondary schools have fallen, they said, and there’s been an overall shift in “college culture” to allow for more leisure time.

According to the study:

  • In 1961, the average full-time student at a four-year college studied 24 hours per week; today, college students study about 14 hours per week.
  • Although students are spending more time working than they did before, the number of hours spent studying fell for all kinds of students, including those who didn’t have a part- or full-time job on their schedules in addition to their coursework.
  • Employers seem to care less about students’ GPAs while in college and more about an applicant’s individual experiences and college choices. This gives students less incentive to study hard for those good grades.
  • Students seem to be spending more time on applying to college and getting accepted to the college of their choice; once they’re there, the pressure seems to be off.
  • How's this for incentive? Students who study more in college earn more in the long run.

As with any report like this, it’s important to consider that these are theories of the researchers that could be explained in a number of different ways. Why do you think students are studying less? Should professors be tougher on their students? If you need some tips to stay motivated and meet your own personal academic goals, there are things you can do to stay on track. Check out our Study Skills section to learn more about topics like how you can become a more efficient student by studying smart, how you can feel more prepared going into a college exam, and how to tackle that first all-nighter, among a number of other topics. Have more tips? Share them with us!


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by Agnes Jasinski

You’ve already read about the website that allows college students to wager on their grades. A new online tool allows students to calculate not whether they should risk some cash on their academic performance, but whether sleeping in and skipping class is worth their while.

The “Should I Skip Class Today?” calculator asks users 10 questions that glean information about how many times that user has that class in question, when the next major test/quiz will be held, and whether that class has an attendance policy, among other criteria. Once they hit submit, users are told whether they’d be safe or sorry if they stayed in bed and skipped class. For example, I was told it was OK to skip class but that I wasn’t completely safe when I gave the calculator a whirl. I used a hypothetical class that met twice a week, included regular handouts in class, and had an attendance policy where my instructor did not take attendance, but where participation mattered in my final grade. The results also told me that I had already skipped 7 percent of my classes this semester (I had informed the web tool that this would be my third absence), and when my next test or quiz was (I offered that information up as well).

The calculator is the brainchild of Jim Filbert, who thought of the idea “one cold morning” in February of this year. Filbert, a telecommunications management student at the time, didn’t want to go to class that day, and found himself wondering what the risks were to stay in his warm bed. Following a quick search online, he was unable to find a similar tool, so he took it upon himself to create an online risk calculator himself. He did end up skipping class that day, according to his bio on the site, but he spent his free time working on the calculator, instead.

While you should probably go to class as often as you can, barring an unfortunate illness, flat tire, or other incident that would stop you from doing so, it’d be interesting to see how “accurate” this calculator is in a real situation. How you’d measure its accuracy, though, I’m not exactly sure. Have you tried out this new online tool? How do you go about determining how risky it is to skip class? What’s an appropriate excuse? If you’re feeling swamped, check out our College Classes and Study Smart sections before deciding whether you’re really too overwhelmed to go to class; we have tips on everything from preparing for exams to choosing which courses you should sign up for.


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by Agnes Jasinski

There hasn’t been much to laugh about at many schools across the country, what with budget cuts and creative cost-saving measures affecting course offerings and faculty positions. At one North Carolina community college, however, a new course is teaching students how to chuckle, giggle and guffaw, no matter how they feel about the state of affairs outside of the classroom.

While the class is targeted at retirees—the noncredit eight-week “Laughter in the Sandhills” is put on by Sandhills Community College’s Center for Creative Retirement—it’s a good example of the kinds of offerings you may not know existed as you focus your attentions instead on the general education requirements in your course catalog. This class is taught by a “certified laughter coach,” according to an article about it in The Fayetteville Observer, and focuses on the positive health benefits behind a good laugh and the right and wrong way to let out a chortle. The class isn’t about perfecting your stand-up comedy routine, but about learning to induce laughter; students spend about 15 minutes of the start of each class greeting each other with silly handshakes, for example, or high-fiving to the sounds of “Alo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”

If you’re more interested in virtual LOLs rather than learning appropriate laughter techniques, and have the time (and funding) to explore unique courses at your college, do so. You may not use your new underwater basket weaving skills (courses in the craft are offered at the University of California-San Diego), but you may meet some interested characters along the way. Or you may find a hidden talent for analyzing pop culture (the University of California-Berkeley has a class on the philosophy behind the Simpsons). Or, that quirky course may even add to your skill set. Courses on social networking, especially Twitter, for example, may be more useful than you think. (DePaul University has a course in how Twitter has changed the way reporters do their jobs.)

It’s important to choose college courses wisely so that you’re able to graduate in a timely fashion and meet the requirements of both your school and chosen field of study. But it’s also important that you keep going to your classes, and a fun course here and there may help keep you motivated. We’ve all taken that intro to bowling/ice skating/curling course, and some colleges may be more lenient about how you fulfill certain general education requirements. Just remember to talk to your counselor or adviser about how much leeway you have when it comes to coming up with your schedule of courses.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A college freshman goes through a wide range of emotions when it's time to leave home. Many are a little nervous, but mostly excited, with a laundry list of things to do before they're able to relax about their first round of courses. It's probably for the best then for parents to get back on the road and leave new freshmen to their orientations and campus exploring, right? For some parents, seeing their first son or daughter go to away to college has been harder than most.

A recent article in The New York Times took a look programs at colleges across the country that aim to make the transition easier for both incoming freshmen and their parents. According to the article, a formal “Parting Ceremony” at Morehouse College involves literally shutting the gate to the campus as the newly enrolled are left on one side, their parents on the other. At Colgate and Princeton universities, school officials are quick to remind parents that student-only activities start the afternoon or early evening of move-in day. At Grinnell College, a formal welcoming from the school’s president keeps parents on one side of the college gym, students on the other.

The article is one of several lately on “helicopter parents,” or moms and dads who can’t help but involve themselves in every aspect of their children’s lives. While moving day may be an important milestone for college students to share with their parents, especially if they’re the only child, it’s also important for parents to realize that this is their freshman’s first taste of independence. And they won’t learn how to be self-sufficient if mom and dad are hovering.

A recent article in The Chicago Tribune looked at how technology has made helicopter parenting even easier, leading with the story of a 19-year-old college sophomore who has a frequent texting relationship with her mother back home. Administrators say constant communication becomes a problem when parents start taking the lead on their children’s schedules and social lives. According to the Tribune article, some call to remind their sons and daughters about upcoming exams or other deadlines, and are the first point of contact when laundry issues or conflicts with other students and professors arise.

Having a close relationship with your parents is great, but it’s also important to use college as a period of self-discovery. Set up boundaries (do you really need to be Facebook friends with mom and dad?) and make sure that you’re taking advantage of your first stab at independence. And worse comes to worse, you can always study abroad.


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