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Federal Incentives for Aid

September 9, 2013

Federal Incentives for Aid

by Mike Sheffey

Recently, the federal government came out with a proposed plan to encourage academic excellence in college and linking it to federal aid.

Linking financial aid to academic performance? Wasn’t this already a thing? I mean, really? I completely understand where they’re coming from – I can’t slip below a 3.0 or I risk losing scholarships – and would have thought the federal government would be on a similar page. OK, so maybe that’s a bit harsh and I’m not saying that the minimum GPA would have to be a 3.0 but having some minimums on grading is something I fully support the federal government doing. I mean, if they view college students as the future, then they are investing in America’s future...and they’re probably going to want to emerge at the other end having viewed that investment as a smart idea. I know I’ve seen my fair share of people getting by without incentive to succeed but if your money and future were on the line, you’d see drastically different outcomes. And in the long run, I think we’d appreciate it: Better grades = better GPA = better skills = better jobs. (Or at least in simple terms, that’s how it would go.)

There is, however, the other side of the argument: In the same way that I believe high schools are pushed to be teaching to a test and not to the things we really need to learn (let alone the fact that ALL PEOPLE learn differently but standardized testing pushes a one-way system), I believe a federal system for weighing academic merit could descend into standardized tests for college professors. To be able to hold all college students to federal standards, the government would have to, right? THAT I cannot agree with.

The proposed plan also proposes a heavier focus on online classes. You can read my previous post about online textbooks but would a federal push for online classes devalue the classroom? All I know is that I’d need more details before they could sell me on some of this. But allocating more money to those doing well in school and less or none to those who don’t take it seriously or do well? I can see that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a 2.5 GPA or anything like that, but if you have a 0.5 and you are receiving federal aid, that’s a problem.

What do you think about the proposed federal plan?

Mike Sheffey is a junior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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Majoring in a Foreign Language Yields Lifelong Benefits

by Mike Sheffey

As my bio states, I am a Spanish major...and I love it! If you’re considering majoring in a foreign language, here are some helpful tips:

  • It’s time intensive. Foreign languages are about memorizing and practice, practice, practice. If you aren’t willing to put in time – and a lot of it – this may not be the path for you. Also, professors like to assign many small tasks with intermittent bigger ones so if you’re one to only focus on the big pictures, you’ll be challenged with what you might think is ‘busy work’. (It’s not, though...it’s crazy useful.)
  • You should study abroad. I highly recommend a language-intensive study abroad for anyone majoring in a foreign language. (Side note: Wofford’s Foreign Language Department is now called Modern Languages because “Foreign” was too alienating and encouraged a cultural divide. Just some food for thought...) I loved studying in Chile for a semester and knowing Spanish definitely helped. Also, studying abroad is essentially required to major in another language at many colleges and universities: I know Wofford’s program helped me tremendously and it also wound up being cheaper than a semester on campus!
  • It’s incredibly helpful in life. I know that because I’m bilingual, I’ll be more desired in the job market (some jobs more than others), but it also helps with learning other languages. Similar to computer languages, once you know one, the others become easier to learn.
  • It’s a one-stop shop. Language courses cover history, humanities, public speaking, writing, team-based work as well as the actual language you are learning. Hate talking in front of crowds? Work on that but also present in another language. Not the best in research? Now work on writing a huge thesis in Spanish (at least I did when in Chile). Overall, the language aspect is the bare minimum of what you learn or accomplish. Being a foreign language major makes you into a well-rounded, practiced individual with skills that many graduates won’t get from other majors.
  • It broadens your world view. As a foreign language major, you learn very quickly that the United States isn’t everything and that the world needs its diversity and cultural mix to work and function. Foreign language majors have wider scopes than most people and a leg up on the competition in all aspects of life because they can view problems with more open minds and approach challenges from different angles.

So I urge you to consider a major (or even a minor) in another language. You won’t regret it: They’re easy to double major with and you’ll emerge a better person!

Mike Sheffey is a senior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He also works with several friends to promote concerts and shows in Greensboro, NC. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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Making Time for Reading Assignments

by Veronica Gonzalez

Stuck on a textbook or novel on your syllabus? Want to make your reading assignments much easier? Here’s an idea: JUST READ! This may sound too obvious or pointless but it just might be crazy enough to work – all you have to do is prioritize, don’t think of it as a chore and go for it.

  • Prioritizing: It’s imperative that you make time during your studying and school time to read what’s being assigned to you by your professors. If you have free time in your class schedule, dedicate it as reading time.
  • Don’t Think of Reading as a Chore: Most college students cringe at reading long chapters in a textbook, with most turning to SparkNotes or other related websites to get an understanding of the chapters that they’re supposed to read for class. However, the websites only give you summaries, which may be missing important information that would be mentioned in class by your professors. Summaries are great if you are in a pinch but if you truly want to understand the assignment and be prepared for class discussion, actually reading the text is the way to go.
  • Go for It: Here are few tips on reading chapters from your textbooks. First, take a deep breath before you start to read. Next, read slowly to better understand the subject matter. And lastly, make sure to take notes on what you’ve read so far in the chapter so that you can refer back to what you learned and review any trouble spots.

What are your tips for tackling reading assignments?

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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by Mike Sheffey

It’s that time of year: admission decision time. Those daunting, time-consuming and incredibly necessary applications that you sent off months ago have yet to result in anything concrete and you – like many high school seniors across the country – are now playing the waiting game. The process is now, for all intents and purposes, out of your control. (I found myself in this situation when I applied for college and have recently returned to the game as I wait to hear from potential employers.) Worried? Don’t sweat it. Here’s what to do while you wait:

  • Keep those grades up. This goes out to you high school seniors: There is a myth that once you’re in, you’re in for good...and it’s simply not true. You get the fat envelope because the school wants you there and thinks you will bring a good work ethic and dedication to campus. Slacking off will only prove them wrong and could cause them to rescind your acceptance. Senioritis is tough (trust me, it occurs as a senior in college as well!) but your hard work will pay off.
  • Continue applying for scholarships. Every little bit helps when funding your education so if you find an award for which you qualify, apply! Also, it’s not too late to apply for scholarships in college – there are lots of awards out there for undergraduate and even graduate students!
  • Weigh your options. Once you get in, don’t instantly say yes – do your research! Look into the college culture, the activities, the campus, the surrounding city, the class size, etc. I’m sure you’ve done the majority of this research before applying but keep at it until you are 100-percent sure the school is the place you want to live, study and socialize; if it’s not, you still have time to consider your other choices.

Mike Sheffey is a senior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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by Emily

Here's something for new college freshmen and college-bound high school seniors to keep in mind: college students and professors often have very different expectations when it comes to grades.  An article appearing earlier this week in The New York Times highlights just how vast this difference can be, citing testimony from students, faculty, and one recent study.  According to the study, one third of students feel they deserve a B or better just for attending class, and 40 percent feel they should earn at least a B by doing the reading for a class.  The faculty members cited in the article disagree with these assumptions, emphasizing merit over effort in awarding final grades.

While many students believe that hard work should result in high grades, many faculty members believe that grades should be based on the finished product, not the effort it took to arrive there.  While a student may pour hours of studying or research into a college exam or paper that only earns a C, the outcome can be perplexing and discouraging.  Often, this experience is vastly different from the experience students have in high school, especially since many undergraduate students are used to being high achievers.  Students perceive grading as unfair and instructors perceive students as having too great a sense of entitlement.

There is another factor the article doesn't address, which may become a concern for readers of our site--sometimes, students don't just feel they deserve a good grade, but they might actually need one to pay for school.  Many scholarship awards have minimum GPA requirements, and nearly all financial aid programs require students to maintain satisfactory academic progress, which includes maintaining a certain GPA.  So while a student's freshmen year of college can be a learning experience and a period of adjustment to a new grading system, it can potentially be a period of fear and worry about the security of their student financial aid.

If you're struggling to maintain the grades to keep your aid, don't be discouraged by your professors' attitudes towards grading.  Talk to your instructor if you're struggling with a class and explain your concerns.  Many will be more than willing to sit down with you and offer some help, or at least point you in the right direction.  Join a study group and consider signing up for tutoring.  If writing is your problem, look up the university's writing center--they usually offer free consultations and can help you with the problem that's standing between you and the grade you want or need.  All of this is part of the increased time management and overall responsibility that comes with attending college, so prepare yourself accordingly and don't be caught off guard.


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by Agnes Jasinski

It may not make students too happy, but a number of schools across the country are taking a closer look at whether their professors are doling out marks that are a bit on the high side.

According to a study conducted by the University of Oregon's Undergraduate Council, the number of A's given to students increased by 10 percent over a 12-year period, and the school's overall GPA has increased by about 5 percent. The average SAT score, however, has remained the same, suggesting that students aren't necessarily studying harder, but benefiting from grade inflation at work.

In a story from news station KVAL CBS 13 in Eugene yesterday, administrators said the school needs to come up with guidelines where students are awarded grades that are reflective of their work, and where students aren't just given a "B" for showing up on time. "If all the grades are squeezed in between B+ and A+ what are we really communicating to students about the quality of their work?" Karen Sprague, vice provost for undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon asked in the story.

Princeton University has been trying to put a stop to grade inflation for six years now, with some in its student body complaining of the opposite - grade deflation. A recent article in the New York Times said students on campus were worried about other Ivy League students who perhaps didn't have to work as hard. One student in the article described the "nightmare scenario" of competing against someone from Yale University who had a 3.8 GPA, compared to his 3.5. The percentage of students with Princeton "As" was below 40 percent last year, down from nearly 50 percent when the policy was adopted in 2004, according to the New York Times. In a survey last year by the undergraduate student government, 32 percent of students said grade deflation was their main source of unhappiness. About 25 percent said they were more unhappy with lack of sleep.

An easy fix would be to give only those students As who deserve them, without figuring in quotas of how many high marks a professor is allowed to award or hold back. This would require a campus-wide standard, however, that takes a close look at defining "excellence," a criteria for that A grade. Students' expectations may need to be tweaked as well, as grade inflation isn't only limited to college campuses. Not too long ago, some high schools considered placing limits on how low to go; some schools argued that awarding scores below the 50 percent mark may do more harm than good, worried that improving those GPAs could become an impossible feat for students with a particularly low grade.

Posted Under:

College Classes , GPA

Tags: College Classes , GPA , Grades

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by Agnes Jasinski

One California law school is being very transparent in their attempts to make their students' grades more competitive, thanks to recent revisions in their grading system. Loyola Law School in downtown Los Angeles recently announced they would be bumping students' GPAs up by one-third of a point, to align themselves with other schools in the area they feel already grade on a higher curve. Students who had an A- in a course would now receive an A, for example.

The fix may not be considered grade inflation in the traditional sense, as it involves a school-wide decision to raise the student population's GPAs and includes the full support of the administration. Grade inflation is typically less obvious, and may vary course by course. The stereotype at many of the most prestigious private colleges across the country is that once you gain admittance to such a school, you won't meet much resistance in your goal to graduate with an impressive GPA.

The situation at Loyola suggests that schools are paying more attention to their grading policies as a way to keep students from seeking out colleges where they have better potential to graduate with a higher GPA. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the school decided to give students' GPAs a boost when it noticed many of their graduates had been entering the job market at an unfair competitive disadvantage. The change won't only affect current Loyola students, but recent graduates since 2007. The boost will make the most difference to students on the cusp of a B-average, as many employers are hesitant to consider job applicants with GPAs below that point.

Critics suggest it will make it even harder for graduates to land jobs now that the change has hit the news, as now employers know the school has artificially inflated the students' GPAs. Administrators disagree: "We're not trying to make them look better than other comparable students at other schools. We just want them to be on an even playing field," Victor J. Gold, the school's dean, said in The Chronicle. The students' class ranks will not be affected by the change.

On the other hand, professors at some schools have been faced with "quotas" that limit them in awarding a certain amount of one letter grade over another, leading some students to complain of grade deflation. This has created some discontent at Princeton University, for example, where students worry that grade inflation at nearby Ive League schools will place them at a disadvantage. (Princeton has been working to urge professors to offer grades based solely on work and merit, not outside pressures, for several years.)


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by Agnes Jasinski

Teaching assistants who may not be able to keep up with the rigors of marking up hundreds of papers per semester while maintaining their own academic schedules may soon be relieved of their duties if a new trend catches on - outsourced grading.

The University of Houston is already trying it out through Virtual-TA, a service of a company called EduMetry Inc. whose employees work mostly from Asia. According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Houston business professor Lori Whisenant decided to use the service when she realized her seven teaching assistants were having trouble giving productive, detailed feedback to the 1,000 or so juniors and seniors who enrolled in her course in business law and ethics each year. Her students come up with nearly 5,000 words a semester.

The company, which was co-founded by a business professor, boasts that it can do the job even better than teaching assistants, and leaves professors with more time to teach and conduct research. According to the Chronicle, many of the American schools that have signed up are business schools, with a mix of for-profit and nonprofit institutions using the outsourced services. West Hills College in California uses the service for its online courses, and instructors there say the extensive feedback on grammar and other writing errors that teaching assistants may ignore in favor of more "big picture" problems with essays has kept some students from dropping out of the online classes.

So how does it work? "Expert graders," or "assessors," submit grades online using rubrics from the professors teaching the courses. They communicate solely via email, and are given syllabi and textbooks from the courses to prepare for their grading assignments. Their feedback is embedded into the documents they receive from students; those comments may be edited by the professors before they are returned to the students. The graders do this for a living, so the biggest difference between the outsourced assessors and local teaching assistants is that they're not juggling their coursework at the same time.

Critics of the service worry that it makes the grading process even less personal than it already is with teaching assistants at the helm. These outsourced graders don't know anything about the students they are grading, critics say, making it difficult to adjust their comments to fit each student. Those who like the service, however, say it shouldn't matter where a grader is submitting their feedback from, whether that is across the hall or from a work station in Singapore. What do you think? Is this the future of grading?


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Head(s) of the Class?

Naming Multiple Valedictorians Becoming More Common

July 6, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

If you just attended your high school graduation, you probably still remember some of the advice given to you by the valedictorian for your class, the student who received the highest marks and highest GPAs over their four years there.

If you attended graduation at Long Island’s Jericho High School, though, it may not even be that easy to name who was up on stage, no matter their words of wisdom. That’s because seven high school seniors were named valedictorians at the school, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Rather than giving a captive audience seven inspirational speeches, the group came up with a skit about their experiences at Jericho. Each valedictorian also had 30 seconds to devote to their personal well wishes.

Honoring multiple students with the title of valedictorian isn’t unique to Jericho. Many of the best suburban schools across the country are now naming more than one student to the top spot, and administrators say this leaves students less stressed and less focused on competition. According to the Times article, administrators say it is usually mere fractions that separate the top five (or seven) spots at any given school, making it difficult to be fair when it comes to choosing a valedictorian and even salutatorian, traditionally the second-place finisher.

How has this changed the make-up of high schools? Consider this. According to the Times, eight high schools in the St. Vrain Valley district in Colorado crowned 94 valedictorians. Cherry Hill High School East in New Jersey chose a speaker via lottery among its chosen nine valedictorians. Harrison High School in New York City got rid of the title altogether, naming top graduates a part of the “summa cum laude” class instead. Does this mean students are just more serious about academics, and more are doing better in high school? Or does it mean more have access to a traditionally elite group of high school graduates?

Administrators on the college level warn that the practice only contributes to “honor inflation,” according to the article. Competition exists on the college level, and a healthy degree of that in high school serves as preparation for the rigors of keeping up at institutions of higher education, they say. One Harvard University dean quoted in the article described the case of a home-schooled student applying to the Ivy League institution. That student claimed they were at the top of their class—of one student. What do you think? How many valedictorians did you have at your own graduation?


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by Agnes Jasinski

A report released yesterday shows that college students today study about 10 hours less on average than college students in the 1960s. The report explains further that technology isn’t the cause of less time hitting the books or the library, as has been traditionally believed. The researchers say it’s up to the colleges to give students more work and to enforce academic standards and requirements to boost study times.

The American Enterprise Institute report, “Leisure College, USA,” looked at a number of national surveys over the last several decades to come to their conclusions. In contrast to previous theories over why students study less these days—some students choose tougher college majors, attend “easier” colleges, or work part- or full-time while in school—the researchers say the evidence points to other factors at play. Achievement standards at post-secondary schools have fallen, they said, and there’s been an overall shift in “college culture” to allow for more leisure time.

According to the study:

  • In 1961, the average full-time student at a four-year college studied 24 hours per week; today, college students study about 14 hours per week.
  • Although students are spending more time working than they did before, the number of hours spent studying fell for all kinds of students, including those who didn’t have a part- or full-time job on their schedules in addition to their coursework.
  • Employers seem to care less about students’ GPAs while in college and more about an applicant’s individual experiences and college choices. This gives students less incentive to study hard for those good grades.
  • Students seem to be spending more time on applying to college and getting accepted to the college of their choice; once they’re there, the pressure seems to be off.
  • How's this for incentive? Students who study more in college earn more in the long run.

As with any report like this, it’s important to consider that these are theories of the researchers that could be explained in a number of different ways. Why do you think students are studying less? Should professors be tougher on their students? If you need some tips to stay motivated and meet your own personal academic goals, there are things you can do to stay on track. Check out our Study Skills section to learn more about topics like how you can become a more efficient student by studying smart, how you can feel more prepared going into a college exam, and how to tackle that first all-nighter, among a number of other topics. Have more tips? Share them with us!


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