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by Suada Kolovic

With the cost of a college education continuing to skyrocket, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have become increasingly popular. If you’re not familiar with MOOCs, they provide students with the opportunity to study high quality courses online with prestigious universities – we’re talking Harvard, Yale and Stanford – for free. Well, at least, that used to be the case: Udacity, one of the three MOOC providers, said on Wednesday that it would no longer give the opportunity to earn free, “non-identity-verified” certificates.

On the bright side, students will still be able to view Udacity’s online-course materials without paying but those looking to earn a certificate to prove they've mastered the material will have to pay for it. The policy change, effective May 16th, is to help employers take MOOCs more seriously, Udacity’s founder Sebastian Thrun said in a blog post. “Discontinuing the ‘free’ certificates has been one of the most difficult decisions we’ve made,” wrote Thrun. “We know that many of our hardworking students can’t afford to pay for classes. At the same time, we cannot hope that our certificates will ever carry great value if we don’t make this change.” Currently, Udacity offers two types of courses: full and free. (The “full” courses cost $150 per month and include personalized support, project-based assignments, job-placement services and the coveted verified certificate while the free courses only include access to the online course material.) “We keep working hard to bring you the best learning experience. Sometimes it means making tough choices – this was one – to maximize the learning outcome for our students,” he said. “I can’t wait to see more employers seek you out for the skills you develop on Udacity.” (For more on this story, click here.)

Do you agree with Udacity’s policy change? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.


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What to Expect as a Resident Assistant

by Melissa Garrett

Resident assistants. So you’ve seen them around campus and you admire how much they help out their fellow students. You’ve seen how much everybody loves them and what a positive impact they have on your university. Are you thinking of becoming a resident assistant yourself? As a new RA, I honestly expected it to be a lot less challenging than it has already proven to be but rather than explaining every last detail, I can tell you that there are some major dos and don’ts for the job:

  • Do come up with some great ideas for your residents. Do you want to plan a fun event or activity? The power is in your hands!
  • Don’t dominate everything. It is important to work with your co-RAs when planning events or deciding on new residence hall policies.
  • Do get excited! Being an RA is not only a rewarding experience but it is also a great way to get to know a lot of people.
  • Don’t expect it to be easy. RAs have to go through a lot of training and come back to campus earlier than most students.
  • Do put your residents first. They will be coming to you with some pretty intense problems and you should be willing to help them out whenever they need it.
  • Don’t abuse your schoolwork. Although your job is a super important duty, learn to balance your time in such a way that your academic performance will not suffer.
  • Do be sure to alert your residents if things are getting out of hand. Nobody wants a messy kitchen or bathroom and chances are that your residents will blame you for not calling a hall meeting.
  • Don’t be bossy. Your residents won't feel comfortable coming to you for advice if they’re afraid that you will snap at them.

Most importantly, you should never get involved in something simply for the popularity aspect. If being an RA sounds like something you would be really dedicated to, go for it! It may be a lot of work but if you enjoy helping people, you will probably have a lot of fun being a resident assistant at your university!

Melissa Garrett is a sophomore at Chatham University majoring in creative writing with minors in music and business. She works as a resident assistant and is currently in the process of self-publishing several of her books. She also serves as the president of Chatham’s LGBT organization and enjoys political activism. Melissa’s ultimate goal is to become a college professor herself.


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Popping the Bubble: How to Keep Up on Current Events in College

by Mary Steffenhagen

The crisis in Syria! The Bradley Manning sentencing! The fracking debate! Yet another random act of violence!

The media bombards us with information and news every second of every day – a sensory overload of grim stories and political biases. It's overwhelming but college can become a sort of bubble, a relaxing retreat from the cares of the outside world. You don’t see the news unless you turn on your own TV or radio or follow a news site or newspaper. With all the other fun things to do, who’s got time to be depressed and bored by other people’s problems?

It’s incredibly easy to feel that what you see on CNN doesn’t affect you – a college student in America – but it does. You may not live in a small village in the Middle East but actions cause ripples and what happens across the globe may, in any small way, touch your life. Some events will affect you directly. For example, President Obama recently signed a bill to restore lower interest rates on student loans: This directly affects you and me, who will now be paying a 3.4 percent interest rate on our loans as opposed to the previous 6.8 percent.

Current events are nearly always incendiary topics as well. You will encounter a diverse range of people in college with a diverse range of ideologies...and a shrug and a “Whatever, I don’t really care about that” won’t get you off the hook in discussions anymore. It’s important to know where you stand and even more important to do your research, so as not to form a hasty assumption. First off, it will help you not to look like a buffoon or needlessly offend others and secondly, being able to form and articulate a well-thought argument is an invaluable skill!

Lastly, being cognizant of “the outside world” is an important development in the whole messy process of becoming an adult. Forming opinions, arguments and worldviews – and having them challenged – is a necessary part of life...especially in an environment such as college, where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. So don’t let college become a bubble and cut you off from the vital circulation of ideas and news. Get (and stay) informed!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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Who Am I Really?

Creating Your Own Identity on Campus

August 29, 2013

Who Am I Really?

by Chelsea Slaughter

Starting off in a new place with new people can be scary. As young people, we tend to flock together in “cliques” or groups we feel most comfortable with and the majority of the time, the members of our groups share many of the same qualities. It's perfectly fine to have friends but it’s important not to lose your own identity.

When I was a freshman, I had a circle of friends that were “one for all and all for one.” When schedules got hectic later in the year, we had less and less time to do things together but it seemed like every time I went somewhere alone, someone asked “Where are the others?” At the moment, it did not occur to me that I was not known as my own person but instead as a member of “that group.”

As an RA in a freshman residence hall, I was able to witness the same cycle constantly repeating. I am not saying to not have friends or a circle to can call upon but I AM saying that you must remember who you are and what’s important to you. If you want to join a club and your friends are uninterested, you should still go for it! This gives you a chance to meet others who share interests the friends you already have may not.

As the years progress, you will see the importance of having a personal identity on your campus. You will see the difference between “Oh look, it’s that group” and “Oh look, it’s Chelsea and her friends.” This is your chance to transition from fitting in to standing out – it's time to find who you are, not lose who you are!

Chelsea Slaughter is currently a junior at Jacksonville State University majoring in communications major (public relations concentration) and minoring in art. She serves as a resident assistant on campus, serves as treasurer in the Public Relations Organization and is an active member in W.I.S.E., NAACP and Omicron Delta Kappa Honors Leadership Society. She aims to work in the entertainment industry post-graduation and is well on her way thanks to an internship with a digital marketer to several music artists. Chelsea strives to achieve all of her goals and motivate others along the way.


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Why Single-Sex Colleges are Worth Considering

by Melissa Garrett

With the number of single-sex colleges in the nation dwindling, it can be rare to hear someone say that they attend a college for women but for me, it is something that I say with pride. Although some people have perceptions that single-sex institutions take away from one’s college experience, I personally believe that it has made mine unforgettable.

I had always visited my family in Pittsburgh during the summers as a teenager. As we would drive around the city looking at universities that I may want to attend, I always immediately dismissed Chatham University. However, I began to wonder how much a single-sex institution could really benefit me and over time, the idea actually became appealing. I looked into it and learned some interesting statistics, such as the fact that only 2 percent of female college graduates attend women’s institutions, yet they make up 20 percent of women in Congress.

I ultimately decided to apply to Chatham, which is most famous for alumni Rachel Carson, the marine biologist and conservationist who wrote Silent Spring. Making the choice to come here once accepted was definitely the best one I have ever made: Since we are all women, we can relate to each other well and are free to act as silly and comfortable as we would like. Close bonds are formed that I believe are found much less often at traditional universities. We don’t have sororities because essentially, we are one big sorority.

If you are exploring your college options, I encourage you to add single-sex institutions to your list. The experience is enriching and anybody who gets to attend college in this form should consider himself or herself to be lucky. Traditional colleges definitely have their great qualities but I personally wouldn’t trade my time at Chatham for anything in the world.

Melissa Garrett is a sophomore at Chatham University majoring in creative writing with minors in music and business. She works as a resident assistant and is currently in the process of self-publishing several of her books. She also serves as the president of Chatham’s LGBT organization and enjoys political activism. Melissa’s ultimate goal is to become a college professor herself.


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Becoming a Commuter Student

September 5, 2013

Becoming a Commuter Student

by Mary Steffenhagen

Living on campus is almost a necessary rite of passage for the college freshman. “Don’t miss out on the full college experience!” you’re warned, enticed with stories of spacious dorms, fantastic parties and few rules. Sure, living in the dorms can be fun, exciting and new but it also has it downsides: expensive room and board fees, a mandatory meal plan with food usually not worth the cost, lack of privacy or the risk of a bad roommate. Being a commuter student, on the other hand, isn’t as difficult as it seems: Your school probably has commuter lockers if you have a lot of books, packing a lunch is cheap and quick and carpooling is an efficient way to travel with friends.

I lived on campus for my first two years of school and experienced all the downsides listed above to varying degrees so this year, I am living at home and commuting. In some cases, the pros and cons were obvious. Did I want to pay thousands for a meal plan rather than eat with my family for free? No. Would I rather share a small space with three girls instead of having my own familiar bedroom? No. But would I like to be closer to campus than have the 40-minute commute I now have each day? Yes. I was reluctant to commute at first but I found that the time spent would be made up for and then some by the money I would save. If living at home for a year or two is an option for you, consider it! You’ll save money that you can put toward paying off any student loan debt or – who are we kidding – buying stuff you actually want when you want it.

If a long commute doesn’t interest you but you’re still looking to live off campus, it’s not too late to begin the apartment search. It is possible to find a nice place with affordable rent: College towns often have complexes with student budgets in mind. Splitting rent is an easy way to keep costs down and this time you get to choose your own housemate!

When you live off campus and commute, your time feels more like your own and it doesn’t have to revolve around what’s going on at school. If you’re feeling the itch to leave campus, check out your options and see what’s best for you!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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How to Become a Student Leader

September 6, 2013

How to Become a Student Leader

by Chelsea Slaughter

Are you already involved on your campus? Take it a step further by becoming a respected individual in your organization(s) – there are so many opportunities for you to show people you are just another face walking the campus! Here are some tips on how to be seen as a student leader:

  • Run for Office in an Organization. Choose that one organization that you absolutely adore and run for a position. Don’t be scared about the extra responsibilities: The more in tuned you are with the mission and goals of the organization, the less it will feel like work. As an officer, people will see YOU when they think about the organization...let your love and pride be shown!
  • Join Your School’s SGA. The Student Government Association is a great way to get your feet wet in student leadership. Through the SGA, students can let their voices be heard about campus events, extracurricular activities and policies so if you feel like you have ideas that need some shine, this is the perfect place to bring them. You could even run for a SGA office. (Bonus: Most schools have scholarships for their SGA officers.)
  • Become a Peer Educator, Campus Ambassador or Student Life Worker. I am sure you have seen such people working around your campus, especially during freshman year. Here at JSU, we have peer educators and campus ambassadors that conduct activities like giving campus tours, speaking in freshman orientation class and promoting campus safety. If your campus has something similar, this is an amazing way to get your face seen and gain respect from your peers. There are also student life workers that help in the office and orientation leaders that run freshman orientation during the summer. Many of these are paid positions as well so you can earn money as you give back to your campus.

Chelsea Slaughter is a senior at Jacksonville State University majoring in communications major (public relations concentration) and minoring in art. She serves as a resident assistant on campus, serves as treasurer in the Public Relations Organization and is an active member in W.I.S.E., NAACP and Omicron Delta Kappa Honors Leadership Society. She aims to work in the entertainment industry post-graduation and is well on her way thanks to an internship with a digital marketer to several music artists. Chelsea strives to achieve all of her goals and motivate others along the way.


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College Tuition Increases Slow, Government Aid Falls

by Suada Kolovic

High school seniors heading to college in the fall, listen up: The average cost at the nation’s four-year public universities rose 2.9% this year, the smallest annual increase in more than three decades (yay!) but the slowdown in tuition increases have been offset by reductions in federal grant aid (boo!).

According to a new report from the College Board, public colleges have raised tuition prices so sharply in recent years not to gouge students but to bank on the increased state aid. And although the increase is moderate, "this does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable," says economist Sandy Baum, co-author of Trends in Higher Education reports on tuition and financial aid. "It does seem that the [upward tuition] spiral is moderating. Not turning around, not ending, but moderating." Unfortunately, students continue to suffer from the constant cycle of rising costs and serious college debt. Shrinking state aid for public colleges and universities has translated into the cost of public schools to jump $1,770 in inflation-adjusted dollars. The amount of government aid received last year fell $6,646 for every full-time student at those institutions while just five years ago, each student received $9,111 in today’s dollars. (For more on this report, click here.)

If college is in your forecast, what do you make of the report’s findings? Let us know in the comments section.


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Study: Majors Are More Important Than Where You Went to College

by Suada Kolovic

With fall semester in full swing, high school seniors are mere months away from deciding where they’ll spend the next four (or more) years. And while there are multiple factors to consider when making such a major decision, most would argue that prestigious universities and high-earning salaries are intrinsically tied...or are they?

According to a recent study by College Measure, students who earn associate degrees and occupational certificates often earn more in their first year out of college than those with traditional four-year college degrees. Examining schools in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, the study found that short-term credentials such as two-year degrees and technical certificates were worth more than bachelor’s degrees in a graduate’s early years. College Measures President Mark Schneider said, “The findings challenge some conventional wisdom, showing for example that what you study matters more than where you study. Higher education is one of the most important investments people make. The right choices can lead to good careers and good wages while the wrong ones can leave graduates with mountains of debt and poor prospects for ever paying off student loans.” (For more on this study, click here.)

It’s important to remember that the study focuses on short-term gains as opposed to long-term/lifelong earnings. It’d be interesting for College Measure to reexamine their findings over the next few years but what do you think of its current report? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section!


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Prioritizing Your Study Time

September 10, 2013

Prioritizing Your Study Time

by Veronica Gonzalez

Exams lurk in college classrooms and quizzes have been known to (literally) pop out of nowhere! The question is: Will you be ready for them? Professors know that every student has time to study no matter what and as a college student, list-making, planner-investing and avoiding distractions has helped me improved my study skills when exams and quizzes draw near. Need help prioritizing your study time? Take note!

Homework will come at you like angry bees before you know it so take the time to determine what you need to work on, which papers are due when and what needs to be turned in. If you like going digital, make a list on your phone and/or tablet.

To-do lists are essential but what would make them easier to remember and complete is a planner. Planners aren’t hard to find – most retail stores sell them for between $3 and $20 depending on the brand and style – but if you want to save money, consider the fact that some mobile devices like tablets and cell phones have planners just by using the calendar feature.

Although we’re in the digital age, digital mobile devices can be both allies and adversaries. Try to limit the use of cell phones, social media and other distractions while catching up on homework or when studying for a test. If you cut out the distractions during study time, you’re more likely to focus more on the course content.

The main focus in college is supposed to be academics. By taking extra steps in prioritizing your study habits, you’ll be on the right path to success.

Veronica Gonzalez is a junior at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Her current major is English and she plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in this field. She served as the vice president of the UIW chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta from 2012 to 2013 and she returns as a junior delegate in the fall of 2013. Her dreams are to publish novels and possibly go into teaching in the field of English.


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