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by Agnes Jasinski

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

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

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

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

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


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by Agnes Jasinski

A recent Craigslist posting has officials at Columbia Basin College trying to determine whether students looking to take advantage of scarce seats in popular college courses have been selling their spots to those desperate enough to pay money for the enrollment advantage.

The posting in question came from one such desperate student. According to an article yesterday in Inside Higher Ed, it came from a student looking to pay for a seat in Biology 160, a popular and required class for students in most of the school’s health profession programs. It is still unclear whether the posting was from a real student, or a student looking to stir up discussion on the school’s recent course cuts that have made the enrollment process more competitive, according to Inside Higher Ed.

A spokesman for the college said it was possible for students to sell their spots by telling student “buyers” exactly when they would drop the class in demand, according to the article. This would give a student a window to enroll in the class that other students may not know about. Most popular courses at the college that are over capacity fill any dropped spots within minutes anyway, the spokesman said, as students check in on those full classes on a regular basis just in case spots open up. An assistant professor interviewed for the article said she doubted the ad was real because of the hierarchical system of course enrollment at Columbia Basin. Students who really need to get into courses will do so as they get farther along in their programs, and get first dibs on many of their required courses before undergraduates with fewer credit hours to their names.

According to some of the comments on the Inside Higher Ed article, this isn’t a new phenomenon, and the Internet has made it easier for students to exchange money for course seats. Elsewhere, colleges have formalized the system of bidding. At the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, MBA students participate in an online auction system when the demand for popular business electives exceeds supply. New students are given a set amount of points with which to bid, and receive more as they move through the program. Class spots then go to the highest bidder. In essence, the longer you’re at Wharton, the more seniority you have. That kind of system is common on college campuses anyway, although those with more credits may still arrange to drop courses they enroll in to have friends register immediately after in their place.

What do you think? Does this happen at your school? Or is this “problem” overblown? Let us know!


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you’re entering college this fall, Beloit College has you pegged as a group that doesn’t know how to write in cursive, believe email is too slow, and can’t relate to those who don’t know what it’s like to have hundreds of cable channels on their televisions.

The school’s annual Beloit College Mindset List includes 75 items that go beyond the technology gap to describe the incoming class of freshmen (in somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek manner), as a way to remind professors and instructors that there are vast cultural differences between them and the new students. The list is put together each August by a Beloit College professor and a former official at the school, and represents the at times amusing world view of new freshmen, in this case the Class of 2014. The officials putting together the list began to do so in 1998, when they realized how outdated the references many instructors used in their classrooms were.

Included on the list:

  • “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.
  • Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.
  • Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.
  • They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.
  • The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are now in a museum.
  • Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.
  • Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

The originators of the list feel knowing these tidbits will help professors create more meaningful discussion in the classroom. It may also help instructors avoid blank stares when they use a cultural reference beyond the experiences of those new students. The 46th item on the list, for example, “Nirvana is on the classic oldies station,” may make some instructors feel old, but may also be a wake-up call for others when they’re looking to relate to students.

An article in USA Today this week quotes students that both disagree and agree with the list. While some say they do indeed still know how to write in cursive, one described the only time she’s ever used a telephone with a cord as such: “Yes, I’ve used them but only at my grandparents’ house.” Take a look at the list. Do you have anything to add? Is there something on the list you’d remove? We’d love to hear your ideas!


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Playing Favorites?

Kahlenberg and Co. Discuss Legacy Preference in College Admissions

September 22, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

I used to hate Hate HATE when my brother was allowed to do something and I wasn’t because he was a boy and I was a girl. I’d stomp and sigh and eventually find something better to do but the sting of that bias stuck with me for a while. I (and I’m sure my parents) would shudder to think of my reaction had I been denied admission to the college of my choice when another candidate got in based on any other reason than merit.

Though college officials claim their preference toward alumni children is modest at best, a new book states the opposite. In Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions, editor Richard D. Kahlenberg calls for a reexamination and elimination of alumni preferences now; as an advocate for class-based as opposed to race-based affirmative action, Kahlenberg also argues that with the elimination of affirmative action in several states (a shift he predicts will spread), existing biases make it “hard to justify alumni preferences when you have gotten rid of help for minorities.” One section of the book, which is a collection of research articles by scholars, journalists and lawyers, even details how much the advantage of being an alumni child has increased in the last 20 years (Princeton admitted 41.7 percent of legacy applicants in 2009 – 4.5 times the rate for non-legacies – while the legacy admit rate was only 2.8 times the rate in 1992) though they are typically are “average” academically and “under-perform” those with similar demographic backgrounds who did not receive alumni admissions preferences; there is also additional assistance for white applicants, athletes and the children of wealthy donors. Inside Higher Ed delves deeper here.

I haven’t read the book so therefore I cannot choose a side just yet, but I have to say the article has me intrigued. Getting into college (not to mention finding the money to pay for it) is competitive enough so why turn it into a steeplechase rather than the marathon it already is?


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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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