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College Software Suggests Courses Based on Student Data

by Suada Kolovic

What do Amazon, Netflix and Google all have in common? Well, they are constantly learning about you – the user – storing and analyzing data to find relationships and patterns about what you’re viewing. A new project, unveiled at the Educause conference, plans to provide college students with a similar experience on academic websites. The software, called Sherpa, was developed by the South Orange County Community College District and intends to mine data about students to guide them to courses, information and services.

That’s a shift from what students experience today with the Blackboard course-management system, said Robert S. Bramucci, South Orange’s vice chancellor for technology and learning services. “It’s as if Blackboard is somebody with hippocampal damage, that has severe amnesia,” he said. “It’s never seen you before, other than knowing that you have an account in the system. The systems outside learn about you. But the systems typically in academia do not.”

The goal of Sherpa is to offer students an array of options pertinent to them. For instance, a student with a high grade-point average might get a link to the honors program, while a student with low grades might be directed to tutoring services. And with more information about students, the suggestions could get even more specific. Jim Gaston, South Orange’s associate director for IT, academic systems, and special projects, gave this example of a tip he hopes to send to a student who hasn’t yet registered for class:

“Your classes are filling fast. We looked at your academic plan and saw that you plan on transferring to UC Berkeley as a biology major. We searched the class schedule. We found a set of courses you said you were interested in. Based on the pattern of classes you’ve taken in the past, here are the four classes we think you’re going to be most interested in. We’ve already screened them for pre-recs. They don’t have a time conflict with when you said you were going to work. And one of them is your favorite instructor.”

If that’s doesn’t scream convenience, you may want to have your ears checked.


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Want to Get into an Ivy League?

All You Need is $19.99!

October 15, 2010

Want to Get into an Ivy League?

by Suada Kolovic

And I’d have to agree – $19.99 is a steal. Aren’t we all just a tad curious as to what those select few wrote to be granted access behind those coveted gates? I know I am and Howard Yaruss figured you, future college applicants, would be too. So he founded the Application Project Inc. WeGotIn.net, which sells copies of successful applications to Ivy League colleges. For $19.99, you can browse applications submitted by 21 members of Brown University’s 2009-10 freshman class and for the same price, you can access applications submitted by 14 members of the 2009-10 freshman class at Columbia University. (Or buy both for $34.99 and save five bucks!)

For the price of large pizza, you’ll get copies of the applications with entire responses to each question, including essay and short-answer prompts. But are they legit? According to Yaruss, the company obtains the copies directly from students, who are asked to submit their application via their college e-mail as proof of enrollment. Wondering what other Ivy League institutions are in the database? As of right now, just the two mentioned above – Brown and Columbia – but Yaruss plans to expand to all Ivy League institutions, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011.

The catch, since there always seems to be one, is that an accepted application may not necessarily reveal why a student was selected. The truth of the matter is that multiple factors go into a student’s admittance into a university and to provide students with such a tiny piece of such a complicated puzzle is frankly misleading. That’s why a few admissions counselors who have perused through WeGotIn.net could only scoff. “An application out of context has no value, and it’s disingenuous at best to imply that it does,” said Willard M. Dix, an independent counselor in Chicago who works with low-income students. “But there’s a sucker born every minute. Sites like this clearly know that.”

Yaruss admits he has already encountered some “hostility” in the admissions realm and suspects more criticism will come. But he’s been pleased by the response from the people whose help he needs most—college students. He has solicited their applications by contacting them through, of course, Facebook. His pitch: sharing them would help other students who aspire to attend elite colleges.

Why would such elite students offer their personal responses that they surely put their blood, sweat and tears into to a stranger? Did I mention each student who shared his or her application was paid (two received $100, and the others less)? And in the world of a college student, that ain’t too shabby.


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Professor Lama is ‘In’

Not Your Average Office Hours Held at Emory

October 20, 2010

Professor Lama is ‘In’

by Alexis Mattera

Do you take advantage of the office hours and review sessions held by your professors and teaching assistants? You may be more inclined to if you were meeting with the Dalai Lama.

The spiritual leader is currently at Emory University as part of a presidential distinguished professorship and during that time he has met with researchers, students and members of the spiritual community to discuss everything from traditional coursework to meditation. One of these events included Tuesday’s “office hours,” which were held in the private school’s gymnasium and attended by 4,000 members of the campus community.

After laughing and bowing while taking the stage, the Dalai Lama answered a series of questions posed by students and faculty about enlightenment, world affairs and his greatest influence and biggest fear. In addition, the Dalai Lama talked about keeping a calm mind, reaching out to others, recognizing the connection between all humans and learning how to be centered. "My generation ... we need to say 'bye bye' so you transform the 21st century," he told the students. "The people who create the new shape of this century is you. You must protect, not only taking care of yourself but you must have responsibility to take care of this planet."

Did any of our readers attend this event or have the chance to interact with the Dalai Lama during his time at Emory? Interested in hearing a first-hand account…and if he was able to help out with your calculus homework.


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The End of Traditional Textbooks is Near

Colleges to Force Switch to E-Textbooks

October 25, 2010

The End of Traditional Textbooks is Near

by Suada Kolovic

The start of every new semester calls for a new set of textbooks- very expensive textbooks. Students can’t really think about the cost of college today without factoring in the skyrocketing cost of textbooks. For years students have improvised on ways to dodge buying a new copy- purchasing a used one, borrowing a copy from the library, sharing with a friend, renting one, downloading an illegal version, or simply going without. We recently posted about how e-textbooks and textbook rental services are saving students money but it may not be too long before they’ll be a students’ only option. The plan is to have colleges require students to pay a course-materials fee, which would be used to buy e-books for all of them (whatever text the professor recommend, just as in the old model).

And why not? Electronic copies are far cheaper to produce than printed text, making a bulk purchase more feasible and with colleges ordering books by the hundreds of thousands, they can negotiate a much better rate than students were able to get on their own, even for used books. The hope is to thwart the possibility of students dropping out because they could not afford textbooks, whose average price rose 186 percent between 1986 and 2005, and continue to shoot up each year faster than inflation.

"When students pay more for new textbooks than tuition in a year, then something's wrong," says Rand S. Spiwak, executive vice president at Daytona State, who is leading the experiment there. "Our game plan is to bring the cost of textbooks down by 75 to 80 percent."

But not everyone is buying into the hype of the e-textbook. Issues of ethics have aroused, for instance, what if a professor wrote the textbook assigned for his or her class? Is it ethical to force students to buy it, even at a reduced rate? And what if students feel they are better off on their own, where they have the option of sharing or borrowing a book at no cost?


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Community College Tuition Rise Looming

Community Colleges Charging More For In-Demand Programs

October 26, 2010

Community College Tuition Rise Looming

by Suada Kolovic

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

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

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


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Credit-Card Companies Paid Colleges Almost $84-Million

Payment Based on Cards Issued to Students and Alumni

October 27, 2010

Credit-Card Companies Paid Colleges Almost $84-Million

by Suada Kolovic

As a college student, I must admit I was duped into opening a credit card my freshman year. I was lured in by the fact that all my friends were rockin’ their free TCF sweaters and, of course, the concept they pushed of “buy now, pay later.” But credit-card companies marketing themselves heavily on college campuses isn’t new: It’s the perfect place to find new customers who are low on cash and looking for a sweet deal. But have you ever wondered why some colleges allow TCF on campus as opposed to Bank of America- they pay to be there. That may not be the shock of the century but with payments hovering at almost $84 million, you have to question the ethics of it. According to a report released by the Federal Reserve Board, credit-card companies paid $83.5 million to colleges, their foundations and alumni organizations last year under agreements that allow them to market credit cards to students and alumni. Under the agreements, schools and affiliated groups were generally paid for each account opened.

Why were credit-card companies willing to disclose such details? Under the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, credit-card issuers are required to submit their agreements with colleges and related organizations to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve; they must also disclose the total number of opened accounts. Of the agreements reported, about 40 percent were with colleges and 33 percent were with alumni associations. The agreements resulted in the opening of 53,000 accounts in 2009.

The college with the most accounts was Penn State Alumni Association at 1,600 and they were paid $2.8 million by the card issuer FIA Card Services, a subsidiary of Bank of America. The University of Illinois Alumni Association received the most money at about $3.3 million. If you’re interested about your school’s agreement with credit card issuers, check out the Federal Reserve database.

The agreements, certainly ones that involve marketing credit cards to students, can be considered predatory in nature. An examination of this year’s contracts found that they required colleges to provide personal information about their students and, in some cases, even paid the institutions extra when students carried a balance on their cards. And with what sounds like colleges profiting from student debt, it would seem that “free sweater” doesn’t seem like such a sweet deal after all.


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Unemployed Boston College Law Student Wants a Refund

by Suada Kolovic

Recent college graduates entered one of the worse job markets in history. And while some have opted to stick it out busing tables to pay the debt caused by their college education, a third-year Boston College Law School student decided he wasn’t willing to bear the cost of an education that did not guarantee a job upon completion. In an open letter posted on EagleiOnline — an online student-run newspaper at BC’s law school — the anonymous student made a proposition to the school’s dean: Refund his tuition and he’ll leave school without a degree.

The student explained that the lackluster job market, a massive student loan debt load and his wife's pregnancy were all causing him undue stress. And he went on to say, “This will benefit both of us: on the one hand, I will be free to return to the teaching career I left to come here. I'll be able to provide for my family without the crushing weight of my law school loans. On the other hand, this will help BC Law go up in the rankings, since you will not have to report my unemployment at graduation to US News.”

How did the school respond? Shockingly enough, BC did not meet the student’s request. According to the Boston Herald, the law school said in a statement that while it is "deeply concerned" about its students' job prospects no institution of higher education can guarantee a job after graduation. "What we can do is provide the best education possible, and work together to provide as many career opportunities as possible," the statement said.

What do you think? Should tuition be conditional?


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Students Shamed for Not Contributing to Senior Gift

Two Ivy League Students Publicly Humiliated for Not Donating

October 29, 2010

Students Shamed for Not Contributing to Senior Gift

by Suada Kolovic

“Have pride in giving back to the institution that has given you so much” is surely the sentiment colleges intends for students to graduate with. And while a majority may decide to give back, what will come of the students who decide not to? Two students from elite Ivy Leagues – where you might expect a higher degree of integrity – were faced with that exact predicament and were subsequently shamed by their peers for not contributing to the senior class fund.

At Dartmouth, the single student from the 1,123-student Class of 2010 that did not contribute was publicly criticized in the college newspaper where they addressed Laura DeLorenzo directly without publishing her name, writing she has “symbolically shown the Class of 2014 that she did not consider their chance at happiness valuable.” The next day, another student – writing under a pseudonym – revealed DeLorenzo’s identity on the Little Green Blog, a popular blog on campus. But why was there such a hostile response towards a student with possible financial strains? Her decision jeopardized a potential donation from the Class of 1960, which had promised to give $100,000 to the college if every graduating senior contributed. In response, DeLorenzo sent out an e-mail, posted on the Little Green Blog, writing that her decision not to donate was personal and reflected “that the negative aspects of Dartmouth outweigh the positive, and nothing more."

At Cornell, volunteers overseeing fund raising efforts were provided lists of classmates who had not donated. They were encouraged to send multiple e-mails and to call students on their cell phones, telling them that they were among the few who had not yet given. One student, Erica Weitzner, reported getting four or five e-mails in addition to phone calls imploring her to contribute. "I understand the theory behind the Cornell campaign is they want their seniors to donate, but pushing this hard makes it seem like it's no longer really a donation but more like part of tuition," Weitzner told the New York Times.

Do you think imploring such pressure tactics – repeatedly calling and sending multiple e-mails – and public humiliation is the approach in which well-respected institutions should conduct themselves in order to solicit donations?


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Students Shamed for Not Contributing to Senior Gift

Two Ivy League Students Publicly Humiliated for Not Donating

October 29, 2010

Students Shamed for Not Contributing to Senior Gift

by Suada Kolovic

“Have pride in giving back to the institution that has given you so much” is surely the sentiment colleges intends for students to graduate with. And while a majority may decide to give back, what will come of the students who decide not to? Two students from elite Ivy Leagues – where you might expect a higher degree of integrity – were faced with that exact predicament and were subsequently shamed by their peers for not contributing to the senior class fund.

At Dartmouth, the single student from the 1,123-student Class of 2010 that did not contribute was publicly criticized in the college newspaper where they addressed Laura DeLorenzo directly without publishing her name, writing she has “symbolically shown the Class of 2014 that she did not consider their chance at happiness valuable.” The next day, another student – writing under a pseudonym – revealed DeLorenzo’s identity on the Little Green Blog, a popular blog on campus. But why was there such a hostile response towards a student with possible financial strains? Her decision jeopardized a potential donation from the Class of 1960, which had promised to give $100,000 to the college if every graduating senior contributed. In response, DeLorenzo sent out an e-mail, posted on the Little Green Blog, writing that her decision not to donate was personal and reflected “that the negative aspects of Dartmouth outweigh the positive, and nothing more."

At Cornell, volunteers overseeing fund raising efforts were provided lists of classmates who had not donated. They were encouraged to send multiple e-mails and to call students on their cell phones, telling them that they were among the few who had not yet given. One student, Erica Weitzner, reported getting four or five e-mails in addition to phone calls imploring her to contribute. "I understand the theory behind the Cornell campaign is they want their seniors to donate, but pushing this hard makes it seem like it's no longer really a donation but more like part of tuition," Weitzner told the New York Times.

Do you think imploring such pressure tactics – repeatedly calling and sending multiple e-mails – and public humiliation is the approach in which well-respected institutions should conduct themselves in order to solicit donations?


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Ohio Program Rewards Higher GPA’s with Cash

by Suada Kolovic

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

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

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


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