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Save the Perkins!

Proposed Amendment Will Keep This Loan Alive

September 23, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

The Perkins Loan Program has played a vital role in the quest for higher education (mine included) since 1958 but in two years, it could end up just as extinct as dinos and dodos. Can it (and the dreams of countless students) be saved?

The Perkins, or as one supporter affectionately calls it, “the David among the Goliaths of other aid,” is used by 1,800 colleges across the country yet Congress hasn’t provided any new money for the program since 2004. In 2009 alone, colleges awarded 495,000 new Perkins loans at an average of $2,231 per student and its demise would shut out college access to low-income students and eliminate the jobs of campus officials and loan servicers who help distribute the funds. Representative John Spratt clearly understands the importance of the Perkins and is sponsoring an amendment to delay the program’s cancellation – so much so that he held a hearing in Washington yesterday discussing the Perkins’ significance; though it probably won’t pass this year, Spratt is optimistic that with the support of the House Budget Committee and the schools relying on the loans, the amendment has a shot at approval next year.

“By its very nature, the Perkins Loan Program provides schools the flexibility to provide additional aid to needy students. The importance of this flexibility cannot be overstated,” said Sarah Bauder, assistant vice president of enrollment services and student financial aid at the University of Maryland at College Park, in her testimony during the hearing. “Financial aid administrators work where the rubber meets the road and have a unique perspective that allows them to assess students’ and families’ ability to pay for college in ways that aid applications will never be able to assess. When aid administrators see students and families struggling with unique circumstances, they need some flexibility to deliver funds to ensure the success of these students.” One such student, Joseph Hill, also testified. The Georgetown senior stated that though he received $26,000 in scholarships, the Perkins was what made it possible for him to attend the school of his dreams. “Last week, I was talking to my mother, and without hesitation, she said, ‘It still wouldn’t have worked without that Perkins Loan,’ ” Hill revealed.

There’s a lot more to the history of the Perkins and the fight to save it (get the details here) and as a former Perkins recipient, I can’t help but root for this little amendment that could. I'm definitely making a t-shirt.

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Pay-Per-Click, Reinterpreted

Johns Hopkins Students Not Feeling New Fees

September 24, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

College students always looking for ways to stretch their money as far as it can go. This could mean getting meals strictly from the campus dining halls or doing laundry once a month instead of every week but if that means a little extra cash in their pockets or bank accounts, scaling back on luxuries (and even essentials) is an easy sacrifice to make. That being said, I can completely understand why some Johns Hopkins students are up in arms.

Nearly 200 students are protesting a new fee for classroom clickers, a technology that allows professors to gauge student understanding or opinion in real time by giving them handheld voting devices and taking polls throughout a class period. Students can pay per course ($13) or a one-time fee ($35) that covers all courses, all semesters; students must also purchase enrollment codes and the actual clicker devices, which cost between $20 and $30. Adding this cost to the already large amounts students spend on tuition, housing, books and other supplies may not seem like a lot but to a college student, it’s about the price of two movie tickets and some Chinese carry-out. The university, however, thinks the program adds considerable value to the education of its students: One biology lecturer found that since he started using clickers, class attendance and grades have gone up 30 percent.

Still, students are not down with the added costs and have created a Facebook page where they can voice their displeasure about everything clicker-related. Thought time: Would you pony up the extra cash if it meant better grades or would you rather keep it and splurge on a night out with friends instead?

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The Common App Conundrum

Why Some Schools Still Won’t Adopt It

September 25, 2010

The Common App Conundrum

by Alexis Mattera

The college application process is already underway and for many high school seniors, this means filling out multiple applications and composing an essay for each school on their list…unless they use the Common Application. This 35-year-old document is accepted by more than 400 schools; in fact, in the 2009-2010 admissions cycle, approximately 500,000 students used the Common App. While some admissions deans sing its praises for helping to recruit more first-generation and minority students, it elicits a far less favorable response from others.

Some of the most selective schools in the country have adopted the Common App like UChicago and Columbia but there are still a number of schools averse to the idea. The Chronicle’s Eric Hoover picked the brain of Charles A. Deacon, Georgetown’s dean of admissions and a vehement opposer of the Common App. While he agrees with the Common App promotes equality, Deacon feels it is an unnecessary tool, an unwelcome symbol of homogenization in admissions and “an enabler of bad behavior.” If the school adopted the Common App, Deacon says it would likely attract 3,000 to 5,000 additional applicants but “as long as you get the diversity you need, it doesn’t matter how many applications you have.”

Some admissions staffers at schools not accepting the Common App have been asked essentially what their problem is for not accepting it. It’s a decision that shouldn’t been arrived at quickly, that’s for sure, but it seems to be one that can do more good than harm – especially since so many schools allow their applications to be submitted online and the amount of paperwork (and risk of paper cuts) is far lower. Maybe I would feel differently if I were on an admissions committee but from where I’m currently sitting, wider adoption of the Common App seems like the way to go for schools wanting to attract a more diverse pool of applicants.

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Final Exams - The New Health Risk?

Grandmothers Be Advised

September 28, 2010

Final Exams - The New Health Risk?

by Suada Kolovic

The life of the average college student is riddled with papers, mid-terms, all-nighters and of course the untimely tragic death of beloved family members come finals week. Just days into the fall semester, professors say excuses for missing class have already begun to flow: food-borne illnesses, fender-benders, religious holidays, roommate squabbles, registration snafus.

Then there are the grandparents, those poor souls conveniently killed off by college students whose tuition they might even be paying. One commenter on a Chronicle Forums thread on student excuses suggests sending out warning notices to the old folks: "The midterm exam for [course and number] is scheduled for [date]. This puts your life in danger. We recommend that you get a physical exam before that date and avoid all unnecessary travel until the test is over. Grandmothers are particularly at risk."

It happens to the best of us. We’re ill-prepared, panic and give the first excuse our minds can muster. Honesty may be the best policy, but below are a few of the most creative excuses from students who decided to steer away from the classics and put their own special spin on explaining their absence:

  • "My father owns a liquor store and we got a big delivery right before your 11:00 class."
  • "I was absent for yesterday's test because my girlfriend was having a baby."
  • This one is verbatim: "I am really sorry I was not in class today. I some how came down with ammonia and have been really sick for the past 2 days."
  • E-mail just received from student who missed first two classes. Unfortunately it is a once-a-week three-hour block class, so she has missed two weeks of class: "I just found out I am registered for your Wednesday class. I didn't realize I was registered for it. Now that I've found out I'm registered, I would like to attend. Do you think I can still catch up? May I stop by your office and get the syllabus?" I wonder who registered her.
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    Keeping it All in the Family

    College President’s Family Members Make Bank

    October 1, 2010

    by Suada Kolovic

    For those of you who aren’t familiar with what exactly is going on here, I’ll tell you: It’s called nepotism - defined as favoritism shown to relatives or close friends by those with power or influence. And what I wouldn’t give to be a member of Paula S. Wallace’s family right now. Ms. Wallace co-founded the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 1978 with her parents and her then-husband. Since then, it has grown into one of the nation’s largest art schools and with that increase in success came an increase in compensation. According to her 2008 tax returns, Ms. Wallace made $1,946,730.

    That amount tops the compensation of all but a handful of college chiefs. But SCAD, a relatively pricey and prosperous art school, is smaller than universities that pay in that range. Ms. Wallace, who is in her early 60s, became SCAD’s president in 2000. Her total compensation package grew by about $1.5-million between 2008 and the previous reporting period. But Ms. Wallace isn’t the only one raking in insane amounts of cash; she turned it into family affair.

    Employee Current Title 2008 Compensation
    Paula S. Wallace President and co-founder $1,946,730
    Mother, May L. Poetter Trustee and co-founder $61,767
    Husband, Glen E. Wallace Senior Vice President for College Resources $289,235
    Son, John Paul Rowan Vice President, Hong Kong Campus $233,843
    Daughter, Marisa Rowan Director of Equestrian Programs $101,493
    Daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Rowan Director of External Relations, Hong Kong Campus $85,494

    But where exactly does this money come from, you ask? Well, a large portion of the pay earned by Ms. Wallace and her husband comes from a for-profit entity called the SCAD Group Inc. This for-profit arm provides nonacademic services to SCAD—which has three branch campuses and a distance-education operation—including human resources, financial management, communication and student support. In 2008, its share of total income amounted to $111 million, or an amount equal to about 43 percent of the college's total expenses of $261 million. Did I mention this for-profit subsidiary also owns an airplane that administrators and trustees use for business, AND the pays for a personal assistant for Ms. Wallace? Guess I just did!

    If you’re a SCAD student, were you aware this collegial family tree was in place? And for students everywhere, how would you feel knowing that your school was structured this way instead of with much more qualified individuals?

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    Teachers Who Tweet

    Professors Microblog to Share Info and Get News, Not Teach

    October 5, 2010

    Teachers Who Tweet

    by Alexis Mattera

    Remember how weird it was when your mom friended you on Facebook? It’s probably the same way you’d feel if your calculus professor retweeted your weekend escapades at an off-campus party. That’s an unlikely scenario but more professors are using Twitter for purposed outside the classroom, reveals research by Faculty Focus.

    The report, detailed yesterday in the Chronicle of Higher Education, says 35.2 percent of 1,372 individuals surveyed – a 5 percent increase from last year – have an account on the popular microblogging site and use it to share information with colleagues and get news in real time. Though some use it for this purpose, most professors do not communicate with students via Twitter or use the site as a classroom learning tool but perhaps they should, says Reynol Junco. Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, is studying social media and found that Twitter can improve student engagement because they are more likely to continue discussion outside the classroom.

    Twitter wasn’t around when I was in college but since creating an account in 2008, I have seen the ease and efficiency of sharing information and couldn’t help but wonder if the site could have impacted my academic endeavors. Sometimes I had questions even after going to my professors’ office hours, posting on class message boards and studying the material; perhaps Twitter could have provided the answers I needed in a more timely fashion.

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    Colleges Use Social Networking as Academic Tool

    October 11, 2010

    Colleges Use Social Networking as Academic Tool

    by Suada Kolovic

    You can’t go anywhere today without hearing the words social networking. But unlike Facebook, where students go to poke at friends and post pictures of their latest shenanigans, college campuses are attempting to harness the popularity of social networking and create online learning communities attempting to mix serious academic work, and connections among working scholars, with Facebook-style fun.

    At the City University of New York, a new project called Academic Commons is connecting faculty, staff, and graduate students across the system's 23 institutions. The CUNY-only network allows its more than 1,300 users to write, share blogs, join subject groups, and participate in academic discussions.

    At CUNY, registered members of Academic Commons get their own profile, where they can post information about themselves and link up with friends in groups online. The subject groups focus on topics that include open-source publishing, graduate admissions, and—on the nonacademic side—the top New York City pizza joints.

    As Matthew Gold, Academic Commons' director put it, “You may not want to friend your dean on Facebook, but you still want to be connected to your dean.”

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    College Dropouts Cost Taxpayers Billions

    October 12, 2010

    College Dropouts Cost Taxpayers Billions

    by Suada Kolovic

    Dropping out of college would surely ruffle a few feathers at home, but it seems mom and dad may not be the only ones affected. While dropping out after a year can translate into lost time and a mountain of debt for the student, now there’s an estimate of what it costs taxpayers: billions.

    According to a report released Monday, states appropriated almost $6.2 billion for four-year colleges and universities between 2003 and 2008 to help pay for the education of students who did not return for year two. The report takes into account spending on average per-student state appropriations, state grants and federal grants – such as Pell grants for low-income students – then reaches its cost conclusions based on students retention rates. It’s worth mentioning though that the report’s conclusions are considered incomplete: Because it’s based on data from the U.S. Education Department, it does not take account of students who attend part time, who leave college in order to transfer to another institution, or who drop out but return later to receive their degrees.

    And with figures in the billions, critics agree that too many students are attending four-year schools – and that pushing them to finish wastes even more taxpayer money. Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor, questions promoting college for all. He said the reports fleshes out the reality of high dropout rates. But it could just as easily be used to argue that less-prepared, less-motivated students are better off not going to college."Getting them to go a second year might waste even more money," Lerman said. "Who knows?"

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    Obama Extends an "Opportunity" to College Students

    The American Opportunity Tax Credit, That Is

    October 13, 2010

    Obama Extends an "Opportunity" to College Students

    by Suada Kolovic

    The financial aid process can be a daunting one but if you’re planning on attending college any time soon, you should know that there are tons of federal student aid options out there – from Pell Grants to Perkins Loans to FAFSA – but your eligibility to receive aid depends on your level of need and, subsequently, how much aid you are eligible to receive. So, to the folks right in the middle: How does a tax credit sound? The American Opportunity Tax Credit, created in the 2009 economic stimulus bill, expires in 2010, but President Obama has proposed making it permanent, with a price tag of $58 billion over 10 years.

    Now what does this mean to you? Because the Opportunity Tax Credit is more generous than its predecessor, the Hope Tax Credit, it provides a credit of up to $2,500 rather than $1,800 and it phases out at a higher income level – $160,000 for married couples filing jointly instead of $100,000. According to a report by the Department of Treasury, it’s also partially refundable so students and families with little or no tax liability can receive up to $1,000 of it as a tax refund. The report comes as lawmakers are debating a bill to extend several expiring tax credits. Recent versions would not extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit, but President Obama hopes lawmakers will reconsider.

    "The president obviously feels strongly that this is an important relief for middle-class families," said Gene Sperling, counselor to the Treasury Secretary.

    Comments

    College Software Suggests Courses Based on Student Data

    October 14, 2010

    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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