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by Agnes Jasinski

The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the voluntary federation that represents the country's union movement, announced last week that it would be teaming up with the Princeton Review, the Princeton Review's subsidiary Penn Foster, and the National Labor College to offer an online institution to the organization's 1.5 million members and family of members. The college, to be named the College for Working Families, would aim to offer an affordable alternative to union members and their families and expand those new students' skill sets.

The news is unique in that it expands the first and only college dedicated solely to educating union members, offering rates per credit hour that will be competitive with the local community colleges. Penn Foster has some experience in the field, having provided mail correspondence safety courses to coal miners in 1890, and currently providing online courses to more than 220,000 students across the country.

Elsewhere, The New York Times announced earlier this month that it would begin offering online education certificates with the help of four colleges. The certificates would be given in emerging media journalism. Ball State University, for example, will offer a six-week course in video storytelling through its College of Communications, Information, and Media. Professors from those colleges will be teaching the courses, while the newspaper company will offer its staff for guest speaker engagements and will provide support in advertising the programs and coming up with the tools and technologies professors may need to teach the courses.

There hasn't been much negative press regarding the New York Times' announcement (perhaps because as the press, they're not viewed as a for-profit entity), but the National Labor College deal has stirred up some controversy. An article in Inside Higher Ed yesterday suggested that the for-profit nature of the partnership would move academics below turning a profit. The article also describes concerns about the alliance between the labor movement and higher education in general. Advocates for the partnership said that the link with the for-profit entities was needed as "support" in the marketing aspects of higher education, and that the new college would offer degrees not before offered at the National Labor College, such as business, health care and criminal justice.

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by Emily

Last week’s earthquake in Haiti has had a profound impact on students, faculty, and staff at a number of college campuses. Students and faculty from Lynn University in Florida are still missing in Haiti, while members of other campus communities in the U.S. and Canada have been counted among the more than 70,000 dead. Schools are beginning to reach out to their students who suffered losses in the earthquake, including one college that’s offering free tuition to its Haitian students.

Tallahassee Community College is offering 100% tuition relief for the duration of their education to 35 currently enrolled students from Haiti. After a unanimous vote from the school’s trustees, Tallahassee Community College will begin figuring out the logistics of offering this assistance immediately. The college’s president Bill Law said, “These students will go to school for free. We will keep that in place while they are here,” while acknowledging that there are still details to be ironed out when it comes to getting the funding to the students.

While Tallahassee Community College appears to be first to announce special financial aid for all Haitian enrollees, other schools are reaching out to their students who were affected by the earthquake. Colleges and universities are offering counseling, help contacting friends and family, and assistance finding ways to stay in school for their Haitian students and students of Haitian descent.

The City University of New York and Miami Dade College are also engaging in a variety of special efforts to help their students who are from Haiti or who have family and friends there. CUNY has 6,000 students who are either Haitian or of Haitian descent on its 23 campuses. Miami Dade College Both schools are offering counseling services and are trying to help students stay in school during this crisis. Medgar Evers College, part of the CUNY system, has set up support centers to help students reach friends and family members in Haiti. Students are able to make long distance calls and use computers to try to reach their loved ones.

In addition to aiding in the search for four students and two faculty members who were volunteering in Haiti when the earthquake struck, Lynn University has established a fund to assist members of their community whose lives the earthquake has impacted. The Lynn University Haiti Crisis Fund donation page states the money will provide assistance for 40 Haitian staff members at the school, as well as students and faculty from Haiti.

Students and schools nationwide are engaging in other relief efforts, including holding fundraisers and donation drives for a wide range of charities that are assisting in the recovery effort. Doctors from several medical schools have already arrived in Haiti to assist in treating the wounded. As more time passes and immediate needs are met, there will be more opportunities for students interested in community service and humanitarian aid to help out in Haiti, both through sustained donations and volunteer efforts.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The Washington-based American Council on Education (ACE) released figures today that while female undergraduates continue to outnumber men at community and four-year colleges, that gender gap has begun to level off. According to the report, "Gender Equity in Higher Education: 2010," the percentage of undergraduate men at community colleges and four-year institutions remained between 42 and 44 percent between the 1995-1996 and the 2007-2008 academic years.

Exceptions remain among Hispanic undergraduates, where the men continue to lag behind the women when it comes to enrolling in college. The percentage of male Hispanic students 24 or younger enrolled in undergraduate programs fell from 45 to 42 percent between 1999 and 2007. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the reports suggests this can be explained by the large number of Hispanic males who are also immigrants, making it more difficult to get in and pay for college costs. Less than half of Hispanic male immigrants who live in the United States complete high school.

So why has the gender gap stabilized among all of the other student populations? Jacqueline E. King, the assistant vice president of ACE’s Center for Policy Analysis and the author of the study, said in Inside Higher Ed that this was the "new normal," and that the stabilization was a good thing. She also warned that the data that will account for the 2008-2009 could be different, however, as the recession may have caused some effects to college enrollments. (Only time will tell, but anecdotal evidence suggests more men have been enrolling in college in the difficult economy, perhaps as a response to lay-offs or to sharpen their skills in a tough job market.)

Prior to the report, some organizations had suggested more attention be paid to the low numbers of men enrolling in higher education, proposing types of affirmative action programs to get more men onto college campuses. Since then, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights began an inquiry to determine whether men were in fact getting preferential treatment. The ongoing gender bias investigation has targeted 19 schools across the country.

Sure, some women now boast that they're the breadwinners of their households, but disparities remain once you look beyond those undergraduate figures. While men are less likely to go to college than women, and even return to college later in life, men still lead in the number of PhD and MD degrees awarded and pull in larger salaries, perhaps because they dominate high-paying fields like engineering and computer science. Inside Higher Ed also suggests the most attention should be paid to minority applicants, as many of the men who struggle academically or choose not to enroll in college come from minority backgrounds.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The University of California is planning to place some incoming freshmen on wait lists for the 2010 academic year to address uncertainties in the state's higher education budget. This would be the first time in history that the university system is considering a wait list, and more than 1,000 students may be affected by the change.

According to an article in The Daily Californian, the wait list would allow the school to be flexible in the number of students it enrolls for the upcoming school year. Enrollment numbers may change depending on state funding available; the decision to increase enrollments is dependent on the more than $51 million in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget. That $51 million would fund 5,121 out of around 14,000 currently unfunded enrollments. Last month, Schwarzenegger proposed restoring $370 million to the university in his budget, and also proposed a a constitutional amendment that would earmark at least 10 percent of the state's general fund to higher education.

Wait lists are typically more common at private institutions where enrollment numbers are much lower and the unpredictability of students' decisions about whether to enroll in those private schools is much higher. An interview with Nina Robinson, the university’s director of student policy and external affairs, in the New York Times last week, looked at the unstable environment at schools across the state of California, and what a wait list could mean for students looking to attend colleges there.

Robinson said the wait lists would help the school hit their enrollment numbers without over-enrolling students, which has contributed to budget shortfalls. "It’s one thing to over-enroll 100 students if you’re going to get the funding for them anyway, but now if you’re adding 100 students and you‘re already over enrolled 1,000 students, that’s a serious problem," she said in the interview. Robinson also suggested a wait list may lead applicants to think space at the University of California is more scarce, allowing them to plan accordingly and apply to more "Plan B" schools.

Whether this would be a temporary change or a more permanent one is difficult to tell. California's financial woes go far deeper than over-enrollment at the University of California, and the lack of state support up to this point has made it difficult for the university system to avoid fee increases - the state's Board of Regents approved a fee increase that would raise costs by at least $2,500, or 32 percent - and turning away transfer students. Whether those students placed on a wait list face a good chance to eventually gain admission to the school is also difficult to tell, and largely dependent on the state's budget, something administrators won't know until well into the fall semester. Typically, a student’s odds of getting admitted off a wait list is about 1 in 3. If you're concerned about your chances, or if you intend to attend the University of California, it may not be a bad idea to expand that college search.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Several colleges across the country have opened food banks to assist students struggling to make ends meet at a time when tuition costs continue to rise and schools look to find ways to recoup budget losses over the last academic year.

Michigan State University, where students have dealt with the loss of the Michigan promise scholarship, has seen a 25 percent increase since 2008 in the number of students who visit its student-run food bank. Grand Valley State University opened a food pantry in April to help students cope with higher tuition costs. An article in the Detroit Free Press over the weekend describes the situations students have found themselves in. Some have parents who have been laid off and can no longer contribute to college educations, some have children and families of their own that they have had trouble supporting, some have lost part-time jobs that covered the costs of food, and others just need some help in between paychecks as they work campus jobs when they're not attending class.

Michigan State's Olin Health Center, where the food bank operates biweekly, and the Grand Valley State pantry, which has helped more than 200 students since it opened. Both are able to run through regular donations of cash and food.

Food banks across the country have seen an increase in visitors, both student and not, in tough economic times. Nearly one in 10 Massachusetts residents visited a food bank in 2009; one in eight people in both Fort Worth, Texas, and Greensboro, North Carolina visited a food bank last year. College campuses have responded with other types of emergency financial assistance, as well. The University of Michigan has been offering emergency grants to students who need help paying for the costs of food or medication, or an unexpected move. Students can apply online and receive $500 by the next morning, according to the Free Press article. Western Michigan University offers short-term emergency loans to help with living expenses.

If you're having trouble covering costs, despite living frugally and within your means, there is help out there. Whether you look to your local community or explore options through your financial aid office, consider every option.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Remember that Monroe College student who sued her alma mater when she failed to find a job? Lansing Community College plans to introduce a new program next month that would provide training in high-demand fields and a guarantee of employment upon completion, or your money back. (The Monroe College student, Trina Thompson, sued for the full cost of her tuition, or about $70,000.)

The Michigan community college announced the plan at a State of the College speech yesterday morning. An article in the Lansing State Journal included an interview with the school's president, Brent Knight. "Why spend money, take time to learn when you may not get a job?" Knight said in the interview. The program will be called "Get a Skill, Get a Job or Your Money Back."

The program will be offered only to those pursuing short-term, non-credit training programs for high-demand occupations, according to the Lansing State Journal. Those include programs targeting pharmacy technicians, customer service call center workers, certified quality inspectors, and home technology integration technicians. (You didn't think this was a blanket guarantee, did you?) Students interested in the program will be asked to sign contracts where they agree to attend all of their classes, complete all assigned work, and participate in a job preparedness workshop. The students will also need to make "good-faith efforts" to find a job once they complete their programs. The college plans to begin offering the program this May.

As the economy has only just begun to rebound and students' job outlooks continue to suffer, colleges have been getting creative to address not only declining enrollment numbers, but an increase in applicants. Most community colleges have actually seen a growing number of returning adults coming onto their campuses, and are in need of more funding to accommodate all of those students. 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.

These growing enrollments have also caused some problems on the four-year college level. Last fall, Ithaca College offered 31 students $10,000 each to defer their enrollment for one year after they ended up with an incoming class that was 20 percent larger than expected. The University of California plans to use a waiting list for incoming freshmen if it does not receive the necessary funding that would fund 5,121 out of around 14,000 currently unfunded enrollments. This would be the first time in history that the university system is considering a wait list, and more than 1,000 students may be affected by the change.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The president of Middlebury College has introduced a plan that would cap the school's annual comprehensive cost increases at 1 percentage point above inflation, a proposal that would slow increases that have been running well above and independent of changes in the Consumer Price Index. The school's board is expected to approve the proposal prior to planning its budgets for the next year.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the decision to come up with a proposal for a tuition increase cap came when administrators started talking a hard look at the ever-growing cost of a liberal arts degree. At Middlebury, the "comprehensive fee" of an education there - tuition, room and board - has reached past the $50,000 per year mark. And despite a record number of students applying to the school, administrators felt they should be forward-thinking rather than taking advantage of the current windfall of applicants. Those numbers won't keep up forever, after all. In a speech at the college on Friday, the school's president, Ronald D. Liebowitz, said there would eventually "be a price point at which even the most affluent of families will question their investment; the sooner we are able to reduce our fee increases the better."

A number of schools have tried to impose tuition freezes in the past, only to revert back to their old ways when budgets tightened. Princeton University tried in 2007; Williams College tried in 2000. Middlebury administrators, however, hope their cap is sustainable for the long term. Middlebury's increase for the current 2009-10 year was 3.2 percent, 3 points above inflation. The average annual increase for private, four-year colleges is 4.4 percent, according to the College Board. Critics of the proposal worry that cuts will come from elsewhere to make up the funds lost by the cap; the school loses about $900,000 for each percentage point increase it doesn't make. In the Inside Higher Ed article, Liebowitz said he saw revenue potential in the school's unique programming, and that the move could make the college even more desirable to applicants also applying to private colleges who are not considering tuition increase caps.

In 2008, only five colleges charged $50,000 a year or more for tuition, fees, room, and board. In 2009, 58 did, making $50,000 the new norm. Still, it could be worse. Tuition and fees increased by an average of 4.3 percent at private colleges and universities nationwide for the 2009-2010 academic year, according to data from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Those figures, although much higher than the rate of inflation, were still lower than previous averages. In fact, those tuition increases were the lowest they have been in 37 years, despite the struggling economy. On average, schools also allocated 9 percent more to college scholarships and grants for 2009-2010 than the previous academic year.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro unveiled a new program yesterday that would allow undergraduates to graduate within three years. The initiative, UNCG in 3, would target "highly motivated students," according to the school's press release, and would address the growing number of high school seniors who enter the university with transferable college credit earned through Advanced Placement (AP), UNCG iSchool or other early college programs.

Graduating early isn't a new phenomenon. Many college students consider graduating early to save costs (the UNCG in 3 program would save undergraduates about $8,000 in tuition, fees, room and board) and get a jump on their post-college careers. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president at the University of Tennessee turned Republican lawmaker, has said the three-year degree track would would save students money, ease the dependence on federal and campus-based financial aid, and allow students  to move into the working world or to pursue an advanced degree in less time. But it is unique for a college to set up a program specifically to get students on that track

Incoming freshmen in the following degree programs would need 12 college credit hours prior to enrollment to be eligible: Accounting, African-American Studies, Business Administration, Communications Studies, Economics, Elementary Education, English, Entrepreneurship, Finance, German, History, Information Systems and Operations Management, Political Science, Psychology, Religious Studies, Romance Languages and Russian. Those eligible students would need to take and pass at least 16 credits each fall and spring, plus seven credits each for two summer sessions.

The decision to offer the program came following a survey of the North Carolina school's student body. According to the school's press release, in the fall of 2009, 526 freshmen came to the college with AP credits; 92 students had 12 or more credits. That year, 59 first-year students entered with credits from UNCG iSchool, joining 139 continuing students with iSchool credit. A number of high schools across the country are also set to begin offering early high school graduation plans, further shortening not only the college but the high school experience.

Other colleges are looking to keep students from taking too long to graduate. At the University of Texas at Austin, a 20-member committee has recommended placing a limit on the number of semesters it should take undergraduates to graduate at 10. The current average length of time is 8.5 semesters; the national standard is four years, or eight semesters. According to the Associated Press, another task force recommended a 10-semester limit in 2003. Students would be able to appeal the limit, which would not apply to those in some architecture and engineering programs, or to shorter summer sessions. The committee also looked at limited the number of times students should be allowed to switch majors.

The Texas college has been looking to place such limits on the student body to better serve those students. According to the committee's report, "By remaining at the university for extended periods, these students reduce the university's capacity to serve other students who wish to attend UT, both freshmen and transfers." The Associated Press did not address whether there was a financial incentive for the school to graduate students early and get new freshman applicants enrolling.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Seventeen states across the country have joined together in a pledge to improve college graduation rates as part of the Complete College America Alliance of States.

The alliance, announced today, is led by Stan Jones, Indiana’s former commissioner for higher education, and the Washington-based nonprofit group Complete College America. It is part of a larger, national effort led by President Obama of making the United States the most educated country by 2020. The main goal is to raise the number of adults between 25 and 35 with associate's or bachelor's degrees from 38 percent to 60 percent.

How will they do it? According to Complete College America, a number of things need to happen to develop  action plans and move legislators to create change. Among those are the following:

  • We must ensure all students are ready to start and succeed in freshman credit courses. (According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, about 41 percent of students who start college aren't ready for college-level work, resulting in delays and, worse yet, dropouts. We've already reported more college freshmen are in need of remedial coursework.)
  • We must use available financial aid resources to provide incentives to students and colleges for progress and completion.
  • We must develop new, shorter, and faster pathways to degrees and credentials of value in the labor market.
  • We must develop and implement aggressive state and campus-level action plans for meeting the state's college completion goals.
  • We must use consistent data and progression measures to create a culture that values completion, including publicly reporting benchmark data and annual progress on college completion, progression, transfer, job placement and earnings, and cost and affordability measures.

The United States ranks 10th in the percentage of young adults with college degrees, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and an article yesterday in the The Chronicle of Higher Education. While there have been a number of initiatives cropping up recently to move high school students into college faster and move college students through college faster, this project is unique in that it focuses on involving state legislators and creating new policies that would make move such initiatives into law. As ideas become policies, more funding also becomes available on the state and federal level to keep programs in place. (Even successful programs that have helped thousands of students get into and through college have been affected by budget cuts over the last year or so due to the recession.)


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by Agnes Jasinski

Teaching assistants who may not be able to keep up with the rigors of marking up hundreds of papers per semester while maintaining their own academic schedules may soon be relieved of their duties if a new trend catches on - outsourced grading.

The University of Houston is already trying it out through Virtual-TA, a service of a company called EduMetry Inc. whose employees work mostly from Asia. According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Houston business professor Lori Whisenant decided to use the service when she realized her seven teaching assistants were having trouble giving productive, detailed feedback to the 1,000 or so juniors and seniors who enrolled in her course in business law and ethics each year. Her students come up with nearly 5,000 words a semester.

The company, which was co-founded by a business professor, boasts that it can do the job even better than teaching assistants, and leaves professors with more time to teach and conduct research. According to the Chronicle, many of the American schools that have signed up are business schools, with a mix of for-profit and nonprofit institutions using the outsourced services. West Hills College in California uses the service for its online courses, and instructors there say the extensive feedback on grammar and other writing errors that teaching assistants may ignore in favor of more "big picture" problems with essays has kept some students from dropping out of the online classes.

So how does it work? "Expert graders," or "assessors," submit grades online using rubrics from the professors teaching the courses. They communicate solely via email, and are given syllabi and textbooks from the courses to prepare for their grading assignments. Their feedback is embedded into the documents they receive from students; those comments may be edited by the professors before they are returned to the students. The graders do this for a living, so the biggest difference between the outsourced assessors and local teaching assistants is that they're not juggling their coursework at the same time.

Critics of the service worry that it makes the grading process even less personal than it already is with teaching assistants at the helm. These outsourced graders don't know anything about the students they are grading, critics say, making it difficult to adjust their comments to fit each student. Those who like the service, however, say it shouldn't matter where a grader is submitting their feedback from, whether that is across the hall or from a work station in Singapore. What do you think? Is this the future of grading?


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