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by Agnes Jasinski

More than one in four college students took at least one online class in the fall of 2008, according to an annual survey released yesterday called "Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States." Those numbers, which come from the Sloan Consortium and reflect data from thousands of colleges and universities across the country, illustrate a 17 percent increase in the number of students enrolling in online classes since the survey was released last year.

To put things in perspective, the number of students enrolling in higher education overall only grew by 1.2 percent. More than 4.6 million students are enrolled in online courses across the country, compared to 3.9 million the previous year. Less than 10 percent of students were taking classes online in 2002; today that figure is more than 25 percent. The survey did not take a close look at online degree universities, although it would be interesting to see whether distance learning has also seen an increase in applicants who see the benefits of completing their coursework at their own pace. (About 73 percent of fully online universities reported requests from students to offer even more online courses than they already do.)

The Chronicle of Higher Education today describes the survey's data even further, and suggests that despite the increase in online enrollment, many colleges are still not offering a sufficient number of online offerings despite the potential for that strategy to address some schools' budget problems. (According to the report, enrollment numbers in general increase in times of economic crisis.) Public institutions are more likely to offer more online courses, according to the article. At the University of Central Florida, for example, more than half of the student population is taking at least one class online each year.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • More than 80 percent of these students taking online courses are studying at the undergraduate level, with only 14 percent taking graduate level courses and the remainder in some other for-credit course.
  • 54 percent of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for existing face-to-face courses.
  • 66 percent of institutions report increased demand for new courses and programs, and 73 percent report increased demand for existing online courses and programs.
  • Less than one-third of administrators believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education. (This has changed little over the last six years.)
  • Nearly 300 institutions with no current online offerings are reporting increased student demand to begin such offerings.

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by Agnes Jasinski

Has the week been feeling a little long lately? Can Friday never come soon enough? If you're at the University of Montana, you could be in luck. In response to continued economic troubles and predicted shortfalls in state and federal revenue, the university's president announced this week that the school could benefit from a four-day work week that would reduce operating costs and address their budget woes.

The measure would make faculty and students' days longer, and professors would still make the same salaries. Faculty and staff had mixed feelings about the idea - Does this mean more cutbacks in the future? Are jobs on the line here? - but students have found few negatives to bring up. It'd mean every weekend was a three-day weekend, and for the green among them, a reduced carbon footprint since there would be fewer commuters on that day off and less energy expended to run the school. Others think it could allow them to pick up more hours at on-campus and off-campus jobs to help cover those college costs. Students who have expressed concerns worry that this may mean it takes them longer to graduate. Programs with rigorous curriculums, like law and pharmacy, may have trouble fitting in all of their required instruction into a shortened week.

According to the Western Montana newspaper "The Missoulian," the change would involve the following: The University would be open Tuesday-Friday, to account for the many activities that happen on Fridays. Classes would run at 90 minutes, which already happens campus-wide on Tuesdays and Thursdays. More classes would be offered early in the morning and late in the evenings, meaning more 8 a.m. classes for students. Faculty and staff would work 10-hour days. Administrators think the change would save the college about $450,000 each year, or about 15 percent of the university's overall budget to heat and light buildings. The earliest a shortened week would take effect is July 2010.

Some community colleges already operate in a similar fashion. The unusual thing here is that the University of Montana is a research institution, where arguably more time on campus is needed by those who are there for the school's research capabilities. Administrators say they have a few things to iron out before discussing the idea further, including whether the school's library and University Center would remain open on Mondays.

What do you think? What are your pros and cons of a short week? Should other schools consider it to save some money or recoup some funding for their budgets? Let us know what you think.


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by Agnes Jasinski

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

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

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

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

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


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by Agnes Jasinski

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

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

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

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

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


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by Agnes Jasinski

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

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

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

As the economy has only just begun to rebound and students' job outlooks continue to suffer, colleges have been getting creative to address not only declining enrollment numbers, but an increase in applicants. Most community colleges have actually seen a growing number of returning adults coming onto their campuses, and are in need of more funding to accommodate all of those students. Nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up 24.1 percent since 2007, with overall community college enrollment increasing 16.9 percent over the same period.

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


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by Agnes Jasinski

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

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

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

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


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by Agnes Jasinski

The country's Millennials, the 50 million or so teens and 20-somethings who are entering adulthood around the start of the new millennium, are on track to become the most educated group of individuals the country has ever seen. But they're also entering adulthood to face the largest number of unemployed and out of work people in more than 30 years.

A study released today by the Pew Research Center included new data that surveyed 2,020 adults, including 830 Millennials, to determine how future generations will look and to nail down the "Millennial Identity." The study also drew on more than two decades of Pew Research Center surveys, and was supplemented by an analysis of Census Bureau data and other relevant studies. Among the findings, a record 39.6 of Millennials were enrolled in college as of 2008.

Although the recession has greatly affected their chances of landing jobs post-graduation (22 percent of businesses report they will hire fewer college graduates than in previous years), the group remains confident and upbeat about both their chances on the job market and the economy. About nine-in-10 either say that they currently have enough money or that they will eventually meet their long-term financial goals, despite the 37 percent of Millennials who reported they were unemployed, the largest number among this age group in more than three decades.

Among other findings: 

     
  • About one-in-six aged 22 and older admitted to returning to a parent's home because of the recession.
  •  
  • Nearly six-in-10 said that work ethic was one of the big differences between young and old workers; about three-fourths said that older people had the more impressive work ethic.
  •  
  • Nearly one-in-four have a piercing in some place other than an earlobe, and nearly four-in-10 have a tattoo. (Of those who are tattooed, half have two to five and 18 percent have six or more.)
  •  
  • More than eight-in-10 say they sleep with a cell phone near the bed, and nearly two-thirds admitted to texting while driving.
  •  
  • Three-quarters have created a profile on a social networking site like Facebook or Twitter, and one-in-five have posted a video of themselves online.
  •  
  • Two-thirds agreed that "you can't be too careful" when dealing with people, but place more trust in the federal government than previous generations.
  •  
  • One-in-four are not affiliated with any particular religion, but responded that they pray about as often as previous generations.
  •  
 The study also found that about 74 percent of all respondents, young and old, agreed that there was a generation gap. Most of this was related to technology use, although some was related to the state of the nation. About 41 percent of Millennials say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country. About 26 percent of those 30 and older said the same, suggesting that the recent troubles with the economy have affected the older more than the young.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As the number of returning and adult students continues to grow in an economy where advanced skills are necessary to not only land a good job but keep that job, it was only a matter of time when we'd start seeing more students in school at the same time as their parents.

We've already written about growing community college enrollment. The numbers speak for themselves—nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up 24.1 percent since 2007, with overall community college enrollment increasing 16.9 percent over the same period, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Many of those enrolled are returning adult students who want to amp up their skill sets or start on a path toward a new career, perhaps due to a recent layoff or desire to go into a more desirable field. Community colleges have also always been an affordable option for traditional students either looking for a two-year start before transferring to a four-year university, or a two-year associate's program that will get them out onto the market faster. It's only natural then that there would be some overlap, with students and their parents taking courses at the same time.

In Illinois, college students who are 40 and older make up about 23 percent of the community college populations. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune looks at mothers and daughters taking community college courses together, such as Diana Gudowski, a 52-year-old attending Prairie State College in Chicago Heights with her 19-year-old daughter Marissa. The two found themselves on the same campus when the family decided collectively that they could not afford Marissa's first choice, the $30,000 per year St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. Marissa plans to complete her prerequisites at the community college and then transfer to Northern Illinois University. Meanwhile, her mother is taking classes toward a bachelor's of fine arts in photography; she already has an associate's from Prairie State in photographic studies. Although their courses don't overlap, their schedules do—the two carpool to campus, as the family shares one car.

"When I got out of high school, I thought ‘Cool. … Now I can take my first class at noon.' But four out of five days, my Mom starts at 8 a.m.," Marissa said in the article.

The article's focus is on mothers and daughters because the female population has been hit harder by the struggling economy. Despite some upturns, there are still more than 15 million people out of work across the country, and many of those are older women with limited educations, according to the Tribune. Are you (or your parents) interested in the community college option? Try our free college search or look through our library of resources for more information.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A recent survey shows that college students are in line with young adults when it comes to the economy and President Obama's handling of the economic situation in recent months—they're all worried.

The report, titled "Survey of Young Americans' Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service: 17th Edition," was an online survey conducted by Knowledge Networks for Harvard University's Institute of Politics. It joins similar surveys on college and the economy that look to determine where college students stand in terms of their own economic outlooks. Between Jan. 28 and Feb. 22, more than 3,000 adults ages 18 to 29, including college students, were asked to comment on whether they were concern about the economic crisis, politics, and their ideologies, among other topics. Despite recent upswings in the economy and the federal government's general positive outlook on how the economic landscape will improve by year's end, the survey showed that college students and young adults aren't as optimistic.

According to the survey:

  • About 60 percent of respondents overall are concerned about meeting their current bills and obligations.
  • About 45 percent of respondents overall report that their personal financial situation is bad.
  • About 45 percent of college students are concerned about their ability to stay in college given the state of the economy.
  • About 41 percent of young Republicans are planning on voting in the next midterm elections, compared to 35 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Independents.
  • About 58 percent of young adults are worried about affording a place to live; about 56 percent are worried about affording health care.
  • About 46 percent of those in the workforce are concerned about losing their job; that same number are concerned about being able to live in the city or town they want to.
  • Less than half of overall respondents feel that they will be able to live the "American Dream."

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looked at other intricacies of the survey, and compared the two age groups. While college students and young adults mostly agreed about the economy, college students were generally more concerned about climate change, foreign policy decisions, and the idea that community service is an honorable thing to do. College students were also less likely to get involved in politics and participating in voting activities if they were not well-versed on candidates and issues than young adults, and agreed more strongly that basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that government should provide to those unable to afford them.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many students are preparing for the last few weeks of finals, completing projects and cracking books open for a week of finals. Students at Southern Catholic College in Georgia, however, are packing up their bags, potentially for good. Tomorrow is the last day of the semester at the college, nearly a month ahead of schedule due to budget woes that made it impossible for the school to maintain its schedule of courses through mid-May, the traditional end of the spring semester.

The decision was announced abruptly earlier this month by Rev. Shawn Aaron, the school's president and a priest of the Legionaries of Christ, via email to faculty, staff, and the school's nearly 200 students. Students will receive full credit for the entire semester, and graduating students will receive their diplomas in an upcoming simple ceremony at the college. In the email, Father Aaron gave no indication as to whether the school would reopen at all, or whether this was a temporary budget fix. According to an article in The Catholic Review, the school would need $6 million to reopen by June.

The school was founded in 2000, but has had some financial trouble since its first years of operation. According to The Catholic Review, the school had gotten into the bad habit of spending more than it took in; in 2007, the college spent $2.5 million more than it should have, and only continued the trend in the years that followed. The formerly privately-run institution was transferred to the Legionaries of Christ in the fall of 2009, but the congregation was unable to financially support the school. In addition to overspending, the students at the school who were on full scholarships outnumbered those who paid full tuition, room and board, which runs more than $24,500 a year.

Students didn't see the early closure coming, according to the article. They went to social networking sites when they heard the news, learning mostly through hearsay why the school would be closing so suddenly. Their worries include how their grades will be calculated based on the shortened semester, and whether their credits will transfer over to other institutions if the school closes for good. According to The Catholic Review, the school's president waited so long to notify the student body because the school board was waiting to hear back about a last-minute plea to a benefactor of the college. That plea did not lead to any last-minute funding, so the decision was made to close the school when it was apparent the school was unable to pay its faculty and staff beyond April 15.


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