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by Agnes Jasinski

Community colleges are enjoying a growth in enrollment numbers like never before. Nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up more than 24 percent over the last two years. The American Association of Community Colleges suggests the economic recession has led to more adults returning to college and improving upon their skills, or learning new ones. And the community colleges themselves are taking notice and planning for the future as their institutions become increasingly important on the higher education landscape.

In California, lawmakers are considering allowing the state's community colleges the authority to award bachelor's degrees, a move that is already in practice in 17 other states across the country. In Florida, for example, a number of community colleges offer nursing and teaching bachelor's degrees to address shortages in those fields across that state and, more generally, a shortage in college-educated residents. (Community colleges typically offer two-year associate degrees and certificates for a number of different professions.) While California's community college administrators agree the move would be a good one at a time when the state's four-year institutions are overcrowded and, many students say, overpriced, the state would need to budget it doesn't really have at this time to cover the costs of new programming. According to an article in the Contra Costa Times recently, California's community college system consists of 110 schools and nearly 3 million students. The campuses are also already overcrowded, according to state administrators.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, lawmakers are looking to introduce proposals that would have the state's 13 community colleges working more closely together with the state's four-year institutions. One plan would make it much easier to transfer credits from community colleges to four-year schools, something that has been a problem among students transferring after two years on the community college level. Legislators also hope to raise the state's graduation rates from both two- and four-year schools by offering remedial classes solely on the community college level rather than at four-year institutions and coming up with a broad curriculum that would remain the same across the board at all of the state's community colleges.

In Florida, the state administrators say is the best example of how a community college system should work, the graduation rate from the two-year schools is about 30 percent, the highest out of anywhere in the country. According to an article today in The Tennessean, this is thanks to how easy it is to transfer credits in Florida between two- and four-year schools. Indiana and North Carolina are also moving to similar models, making community colleges more "feeders" to four-state private and public universities rather than independent entities that only award associate's degrees.


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by Emily

Even as many colleges cut course offerings in the wake of budget crises, "green" college majors are booming. According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, more than 100 majors, minors, and certificates in programs related to energy and sustainability were created in 2009.

The growth has been partly attributed to employer demand, as more companies and individuals show an interest in pursuing greater environmental-friendliness and sustainability in their work. The Obama administration has been promoting green jobs and predicts a growth of 52% in energy and environmental-related occupations through 2016, compared to a projected 14% growth rate for other occupations. With added incentives at the state and federal level for going green, and the prospect of major environmental policy changes on the horizon, there's a growing demand for workers trained in a variety of fields that can contribute to these efforts.

Students, especially those whose plans have been changed by the current job market, are also increasingly interested in training for green careers, partially because it appears to be a growth industry. Beyond economic interest, a personal interest in sustainability is also driving demand. According to a survey by the Higher Education Research Institute, protecting the environment was one of the issues with broadest support among college freshmen in 2008. In 2007, the College Sustainability Report Card was launched to help students choose eco-friendly colleges. Green scholarships also are increasingly popular college-funding options. Students at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania can even earn up to $40,000 by taking time off before school to help the environment.

With all the growth in green education options, there is some skepticism. Critics have long accused corporations of "greenwashing," declaring things environmentally-friendly to tap into the green movement, without actually making a significant contribution to sustainability. A post on the Wallet Pop blog wonders whether colleges might be doing the same with their new green programs and encourages students to investigate whether the new green majors are truly new, and whether they're really able to prepare students for good, green jobs. It's good advice for students truly interested in both sustainability and employability-a thorough college search can ensure that you get a good education at a school that fits your needs and helps you meet your college goals.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Whether you place much value on the lists that come out ranking colleges each year or not, it's never a bad idea to do your research and be informed when starting your college search. The latest, a ranking of the "100 Best Values in Public Colleges," comes from Kiplinger, which based its conclusions on a combination of academic quality - standardized test scores, retention and graduation rates, student-faculty ratios - and the schools' costs vs. financial aid offerings.

Knowing what the "best deals" are out there, at least according to Kiplinger, may not be bad information to have, especially as tuition costs continue to rise and high school graduates are increasingly looking at college costs and the best bang for their buck when choosing their intended colleges. The list is led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for overall value, and Binghamton University for best out-of-state value. Kiplinger says both those schools offer either the same or more financial aid than they have in previous years, despite a year where schools have looked to raise tuition and cut aid to recoup budget losses, while still delivering impressive academic programs. Other schools that ranked high included the University of Maryland at College Park and the University of Virginia.

Using the magazine's scoring tool, Kiplinger also offers a large amount of data that allows students to make their own assumptions, including in-state vs. out-of-state costs at public institutions and the average financial aid award at any given school. You're also able to search by state or by school to see whether the school you intend to attend is a "good deal." It may not hurt to know whether you're sacrificing quality for cost, or weighing the options of an expensive private college over a less expensive public institution. (Kiplinger also ranks the "Best Value" private colleges with rankings for the top 50 private liberal arts colleges and the top 50 private universities. Pomona College led the liberal arts colleges; the California Institute of Technology led the private universities.)

Remember that it's also important to do your own research when choosing the right school. Consider not only the tuition and fees associated with the school, but whether the colleges you're considering offer the fields of study you may be interested in down the line. Do you want to be close to home, or a little farther away? What kinds of extracurricular activities are you interested in? Are you an athlete, narrowing your choice by a school's sport offerings and athletic scholarships? Weigh the pros and cons of every school you're considering to make the best choice, and when you've narrowed that list down, it may come down to the financial aid each school is offering you.


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by Emily

To make up for budget cuts and other difficulties caused by the recession, many state colleges, including some prestigious research universities, have begun admitting more out-of-state students, who typically pay more in tuition than in-state students. While this could make getting into a top school in your own state more challenging, this shift does present some unique opportunities. If you're starting your college search, you may want to consider applying to state colleges in neighboring states. You can get a bargain on tuition compared to private colleges, and there may even be tuition discounts and scholarship opportunities to further help you further bring down costs.

University systems and state higher education agencies offer tuition discounts for certain out-of-state students, bringing down your tuition costs to anywhere from 100% to 150% of in-state tuition: as much as a 50-75% discount on the regular out-of-state rate. High-achieving students, children of alumni, and residents of neighboring towns or states may qualify for programs at specific universities or for certain state scholarships.

If you have specific schools in mind, look to see if they offer discounts for students in your situation. Many large public universities will have some program in place to offset costs for out-of-state students. State colleges and universities near borders may also offer a discounted rate to students living just across a state line.

State-wide tuition discounts also exist. Students in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin can take advantage of a wide-ranging tuition reciprocity agreement: Minnesota's public colleges and universities charge in-state tuition for students from the Dakotas and Wisconsin, and schools in those states return the favor for Minnesota residents. Minnesota also has similar agreements with Manitoba and some community colleges in Iowa.

The Southern Regional Educational Board offers the Academic Common Market for students in the southeastern United States pursuing specialized degrees at schools out-of-state. Students who qualify to participate in ACM are able to pay in-state tuition at the school they attend, provided their degree program is not offered by any colleges in their home state.

Other regional tuition exchange programs offer students a chance to go to school out-of-state at a special discounted rate. The two largest of these programs are the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Midwest Student Exchange Program. Both allow students to attend participating state colleges for 150% of in-state tuition, and MSEP also allows students to receive a 10% discount on tuition at participating private colleges.

If you want to attend school out-of-state, you may also be able to qualify for in-state tuition by becoming a resident of the state. Check the residency requirements of the state and the school where you want to attend college--while some will not allow college students to apply for resident tuition, others happily grant residency to students. A recent article by Kim Clark in U.S. News gives some other tips for how to get in-state tuition at out-of-state schools.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Yale  University is playing on the popularity of the tween classic "High School Musical" with a new spot from its admissions - a peppy, somewhat cheesy music video that offers would-be applicants the answer to "That's Why I Chose Yale."

The video, which clocks in at around 15 minutes, starts off safe, with an admissions official discussing what makes Yale stand out above the rest as potential students and their parents look on. That same admissions official, while thinking of an answer to a prospective student's question with a wry smile, breaks out into song. What follows is campy, but it does make the Ivy League institution seem a little less stuffy. There's choreographed dancing in addition to the singing, along with a cameo from NBC news anchor Brian Williams, whose daughter attends Yale. The administrators love it, saying that an effort by students (only current students and alums participated in the making of the video) captures the spirit of the school better than any marketing professional could do. Many students love it, saying that the cheesiness of it makes it cool.

Not everyone has had a positive response to the video. One blogger described the video as "That's Why I Chose to Ram a Soldering Iron into My Ears" instead, calling the effort too earnest. The Yale Herald, while it admitted that the musical romp was fun to watch, especially for those currently at Yale who may recognize familiar faces, suggested the video may do little to entice new applicants not already interesting in the school.  Comments on the story about the video on the Yale Daily News range from "this is so embarrassing" to this: "Next year's class is going to be devoid of any serious academic talent. What a huge sap on our prestige."

What do you think? Are there any Yale students out there who like or dislike the video? Most would agree it's at least better than the effort from Harvard University last year, "Harvard by the Numbers." Let us know what you think, and whether these kinds of efforts hurt or help admissions.


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by Emily

As a college degree has become increasingly necessary in our global economy, career colleges have rapidly risen in popularity. Career colleges are run as businesses and their degree programs are substantially more expensive than the equivalent at community colleges. However, their course offerings appeal to students, with online classes, flexible scheduling, and accelerated programs. Now, a new study shows there are additional draws to for-profit career colleges: compared to community colleges, students who attend career colleges are more likely to graduate.

The Imagine America Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides research and support for career colleges, released a report this week analyzing the retention and program completion rates of career college students in two-year programs, compared to those attending community colleges and not-for-profit two-year colleges. The study found that career colleges have substantially higher rates of both retention and graduation compared to public community colleges, and slightly higher rates compared to other private schools.

Currently, only 57 percent of full-time students at community colleges return the next year, compared to 72 percent of full-time students at career colleges and 68 percent of students at private not-for-profit two-year schools. Part-time students, the group typically seen as most at risk of dropping out, also fared better in retention at career colleges, with 60 percent returning the next year, compared to 42 percent at public two-year schools and 56 percent at private institutions.

Degree completion rates were also significantly higher at for-profit colleges, compared to community colleges. At for-profit schools, 59 percent completed their degree programs, compared with only 23 percent at community colleges. At not-for-profit private schools, 55 percent of students graduated. The degree completion rates at for-profit and private two-year schools are comparable to graduation rates at four-year colleges.

However, there are still questions about whether attending a career college is the best choice. Many in the higher education community have raised concerns over career colleges’ ability to educate students and prepare them to land lucrative jobs, especially given the high rates of student borrowing and student loan default among career college attendees. Currently, the Department of Education is debating increased regulation of career college recruiting to prevent students from borrowing more than they can afford or enrolling in costly programs that don’t produce a measurable economic benefit.

If you’re considering an associate’s degree or certification program, be sure to explore your options. There are pros and cons of both community and career colleges, as well as a number of other factors to be weighed in your college search.


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by Emily

High school juniors who took the PSAT this fall are likely beginning to notice a new phenomenon hitting their mailboxes at home: a wave of mailings from colleges across the country. To parents, the flood of viewbooks and application packets is likely reminiscent of the piles of credit card offers that often make up the bulk of their mail. Beyond sheer volume, there are other traits that college mailings share with credit card offers, and these were recently explored by The New York Times.

In recent years, colleges across the country have been sending out priority applications to entice students to apply and hopefully attend. The applications usually come in bright packaging, usually with some language that suggests the student has been singled out as someone of special interest to the college. Some examples the article gives are “Advantage Application,” Distinctive Candidate Application” and “Exclusive Scholar Application.”

Inside, students find a partially completed application and an announcement that the school has waived the application fee, and possibly some of the application requirements, for a select number of students, including the recipient of the application. In reality, most priority applications are sent out in batches of tens of thousands. The wording isn’t always strictly honest, either. One college, University of the Pacific, promised to waive application fees for its “Distinctive Candidate” applicants, but they don’t actually require an application fee from anyone.

Still, the applications are convenient for students interested in attending these institutions. Waived fees can save students $50 or more per application, and the option to substitute a graded high school paper for a freshly written college application essay can also be enticing. They can also provide an opportunity to learn about a college the student might have never considered otherwise. In fact, this is the reason many admission officials state for choosing to launch a priority application campaign.

However, some counselors are worried that the inundation of priority applications may encourage students to wind up only applying for college at schools that mail them priority applications. Students can also be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of mailings landing on their doorstep, especially when each application is a nearly identical, overly fluffy, and not necessarily true portrayal of the college and the applicant's chances of being admitted.  This can complicate the college search for students who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to visit or fully research each school that seems promising. Others in the higher education world worry that these applications represent a prioritization of selling the school, boosting enrollment, and increasing their U.S. News ranking (an increase in applications or in test scores of applicants can be a considerable boost) over their mission of recruiting and educating students who will thrive at their school.

What do you think of these applications? Did you receive any from colleges? Did they affect your college choice in any way?


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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

Hobart and William Smith Colleges is looking to give juniors narrowing down their college search choices a more unique brochure experience. More than 20,000 of them will receive 3-D glasses to go along with the school's brochures, a strategy the school describes as both a gimmick and symbolic of what the school is all about.

Viewing things in 3-D has only become more popular thanks to the success of James Cameron's "Avatar." But looking at a brochure is undoubtedly a different experience than sitting in a movie theater with a bucket of popcorn in your lap. The New York Times talked to the school's director of communications, Cathy Williams, this week. She sees it this way: Hobart is looking to change the way students "see the world." The 3-D glasses are symbolic of that idea, and the brochures ask potential applicants to "open your eyes to new possibilities at HWS."

Nearly 10,000 of the recipients requested the catalogs; another 12,000 or so were identified through a College Board search program. (Institutions of higher education are able to purchase lists of students who have scored above a certain level on standardized tests or who have expressed interest in a particular field of study.) Those who receive the brochures don't only get the 3-D experience on paper. They're also then able to view videos of professors explaining the science behind the concept of 3-D.

Colleges have been working extra hard lately to entice potential applicants. Some have revamped their college application packets to resemble credit card offers, now speeding up processing times, waiving application fees, and using language typically used by credit card companies: Advantage Application, Distinctive Candidate Application, and the Candidate’s Choice Application, to name a few. More than 100 colleges and universities paid the same marketing company to send out variations of these applications last fall. Some spent more than $1 million on these application campaigns, according to the New York Times.

While their applicant pools have indeed increased thanks to the marketing campaigns, it makes one wonder how colleges find advertising dollars in their budges while tuition and fees continue to increase, schools shutter their "no loans" programs, and colleges struggle with budget deficits. What do you think? Would 3-D glasses included in your college brochure spark your interest in a school more than the glossy materials you usually receive? What other gimmicks have you seen colleges use to get students to apply to those schools?


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by Agnes Jasinski

As more states continue passing medical-marijuana laws (14 and counting), it was only a matter of time before higher education would take notice. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at Oaksterdam University, an Oakland, Calif., institution that provides "quality training for the cannabis industry."

Oaksterdam (named after Oakland and Amsterdam) has been offering weekend seminars and semester-long courses since November of 2007, when a group of marijuana-legalization activists their burgeoning movement deserved a trade school. The main school exists in a 30,000-square-foot converted office building, with satellite campuses in Los Angeles, Sebastopol, Calif., and Flint, Mich. Its academic departments, which admittedly began as a "political stunt," according to the article, now include coursework in biology, political science, horticulture, and "methods of ingestion," a class that teaches the benefits and history of extracted medicine, the chemistry behind it, and the different extraction methods and equipment used.

Although classes at the school aren't transferable - Oaksterdam isn't an accredited institution - that fact hasn't seemed to hurt enrollment. The "campus tour" described in the Chronicle article included an out-of-work engineer looking for a new career and a teenager who decided against majoring in horticulture at the University of California at Davis in favor of Oaksterdam. "I was convinced it was the best road for me to go down," he said in the article.

MedGrow Michigan Cannabis College is the Midwest's version. Students there take one class a night for six weeks, and take a cooking and concentrates lab, a history of cannabis class, and several horticulture lectures. The school's site boasts that more schools outside of its current Southfield, Mich., location are coming, and the faculty there include attorneys, professors in botany, and a professor of history who was one of the first 500 patients in the state of Michigan to obtain his patient ID card for medical marijuana use.

Cannabis colleges aren't the only kind of school taking advantage of career changers looking to pick up new skills and improve their job outlooks. Michigan’s ABC School of Bartending and Casino College has been training potential new employees for new casinos planned across the border in Ohio. Students at the casino school learn how to deal cards and count poker chips, among other tricks of the trade, to prepare for the more than 7,500 potential jobs at casinos to be built in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. A new school that recently opened in Tinley Park, Illinois, Bette Baron’s Art of Body Coloring School, offers a two-week intensive program in body art.


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