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by Agnes Jasinski

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a U.S. Congressman for more than 40 years, has left behind a long history of higher education programming, including the passage of an act last summer that expanded grant funding for low income students.

Kennedy died late Tuesday from the cancerous brain tumor he was diagnosed with in May of last year. One of his most recent efforts was working to pass the Higher Education Opportunity Act last August, which reauthorized the Higher Education Act for the first time since 1998. The act increased Pell Grant maximums, reaffirmed several scholarship programs, including the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program, implemented loan forgiveness programs for eligible teachers and services in areas of national need, and detailed requirements that lenders provide borrowers with more information before issuing loans. The focus of the latest reauthorization was on expanding opportunities for scholarships and grant funding and streamlining the federal financial aid process in the wake of rising tuition costs and a more competitive student loan industry.

Kennedy had a long history of crafting higher education and student financial aid programs beginning with his work in 1972 on Pell Grants and Title IX, which prohibits the discrimination of women in education institution and has become known for increasing the number of women participating in college sports typically dominated by men. An article in the Chronicle for Higher Education today describes him as a "lifelong champion of equal rights and educational opportunity," attributing to him much of the work that went into the implementation of the federal direct-loan program introduced in the 1990s. The program allowed the government to lend money directly to students through their colleges.

>Kennedy, while not without his share of controversies, was able to get much of his work done through compromise and friends in the Republican base. Still, he was not without his critics. He publicly expressed his displeasure when the No Child Left Behind Act, legislation he had worked on with a number of Republican lawmakers, was passed with restrictions on grant aid to high-achieving math and science majors. In 2003, Kennedy attempted to move a bill through that would target colleges that gave preference to children of alumni, a timely topic today in the wake of the admissions controversies at several Illinois universities. His ties to his home state were obvious in much of his work in higher education, as Kennedy opposed any legislation that would impact the amount of student financial aid available to Massachusetts students

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Senator's sister and the founder of the Special Olympics, died earlier this month. Jean Kennedy Smith is the last surviving Kennedy daughter.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A recent Scripps Howard News Service article looks at one government job you may be surprised you don't need a college degree for. According to the Congressional Research Service, 27 House members, one senator, and two governors are currently serving without college degrees.

The article claims this is great news, considering the history of the position. Just 30 years ago, Congress had at least 48 representatives and seven senators without college degrees. Historians point to the idea that a college degree is becoming increasingly relevant for the position, which currently only requires U.S. citizenship and a number of years of residency in the state a politician is running in.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, right? We want our lawmakers to be educated. Do you know if your Congressman or Congresswoman holds a college degree? Considering the number of bills moving through Congress now related to college students' financial aid options and student lending practices, a college campus experience could be especially beneficial.

According to the article, the degree-less lawmakers defend themselves by saying they came up in a different era, when it was more beneficial to have a background in labor-intensive professions. In certain constituencies across the country, it may also be more useful to come from a farmer's background than an Ivy League one to better serve the communities those lawmakers look to represent. "They put their pants on the same way I put my pants on," Rep. Solomon Ortiz, a Democrat representing Texas' 27th District, was quoted as saying in the article about the difference between lawmakers with and without college diplomas. Ortiz joined the Army as a military officer to help support his migrant family, eventually becoming a sheriff when he returned home. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, ran a construction business for 28 years in Western Iowa before pursuing a Congressional seat.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the more educated Congressional lawmakers include 169 House members and 57 senators with law degrees, 83 House members and 17 senators with master's degrees, 16 doctors, six former Peace Corps participants, and five accountants. A more educated Congress also reflects the national trend. The percentage of people 25 and older with bachelor's degrees has increased from 4.6 percent to 28.7 percent between 1940 to 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Seventeen states across the country have joined together in a pledge to improve college graduation rates as part of the Complete College America Alliance of States.

The alliance, announced today, is led by Stan Jones, Indiana’s former commissioner for higher education, and the Washington-based nonprofit group Complete College America. It is part of a larger, national effort led by President Obama of making the United States the most educated country by 2020. The main goal is to raise the number of adults between 25 and 35 with associate's or bachelor's degrees from 38 percent to 60 percent.

How will they do it? According to Complete College America, a number of things need to happen to develop  action plans and move legislators to create change. Among those are the following:

  • We must ensure all students are ready to start and succeed in freshman credit courses. (According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, about 41 percent of students who start college aren't ready for college-level work, resulting in delays and, worse yet, dropouts. We've already reported more college freshmen are in need of remedial coursework.)
  • We must use available financial aid resources to provide incentives to students and colleges for progress and completion.
  • We must develop new, shorter, and faster pathways to degrees and credentials of value in the labor market.
  • We must develop and implement aggressive state and campus-level action plans for meeting the state's college completion goals.
  • We must use consistent data and progression measures to create a culture that values completion, including publicly reporting benchmark data and annual progress on college completion, progression, transfer, job placement and earnings, and cost and affordability measures.

The United States ranks 10th in the percentage of young adults with college degrees, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and an article yesterday in the The Chronicle of Higher Education. While there have been a number of initiatives cropping up recently to move high school students into college faster and move college students through college faster, this project is unique in that it focuses on involving state legislators and creating new policies that would make move such initiatives into law. As ideas become policies, more funding also becomes available on the state and federal level to keep programs in place. (Even successful programs that have helped thousands of students get into and through college have been affected by budget cuts over the last year or so due to the recession.)


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by Agnes Jasinski

While the debate over the effectiveness of standardized test scores continues, one school has decided to do away with the tests as part of their application process. Vermont school Saint Michael's College announced Tuesday that its applicants will no longer need to include their SAT results as part of the school's admissions process. Students will be evaluated on other criteria instead, including their high school academic records, leadership and service work, and extracurricular activities, among other factors.

Students will still be able to choose whether or not to submit both their SAT and ACT scores to the college. Some students are just good test-takers, the college reasons, so impressive scores may add value to an application. But the decision signals a shift, at least at Saint Michael's and other schools with similar requirements, that there are other, more important factors of a student's college application outside of standardized test scores. For example, the school has always paid attention to the kinds of courses students choose to tackle in high school, according to Jacqueline Murphy, the school's director of admissions. Murphy was quoted in the Burlington Free Press as saying the decision "made official something we've always done in practice -- and that is, focus on a holistic review of the student."

The standardized testing system has been criticized for years, most prominently by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. NACAC has gone so far as to say standardized tests should be removed from admissions processes altogether, and that standardized prep services benefited only those who could afford them.

Whether you agree or not, you'll probably be faced with the prospect of taking some kind of standardized test in your college or post-graduate career. Although hundreds of schools across the country have done away with the standardized testing requirement, many more still require students submit their ACT or SAT results. If you're planning on going to law or graduate school, you'll also need to take either the LSAT or the GRE to gain admittance into those programs. It's best then to at least familiarize yourself with the formats of the tests. Best case scenario, you'll also take some time to practice taking the tests and studying up on the main themes you'll be asked to recall on the exams. If you're worried, browse through our tips for taking standardized tests. Being prepared will help you feel more confident come testing day, potentially raising your final score.


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A ‘W’ for Women

For the First Time, Females Earn Majority of Doctorates

September 14, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

I’ve been hearing the Spice Girls on the radio a lot lately but before you question my taste in music, I’m thinking the stations had to have gotten wind of this next piece of girl power-infused news: Data released today show that in 2008-2009, women earned the majority of doctoral degrees in the U.S. for the first time ever.

These numbers shouldn’t be surprising given that female enrollment has grown at all levels of higher education (thanks in large part to scholarship funding for both undergraduates and graduates), but the doctoral degree arena has been male-dominated until now. Though the female doctorate majority is slight at 50.4 percent, in 2000 women were earning just 44 percent of doctoral degrees; progress like this in just under a decade is hard to ignore.

The probability a new doctorate recipient being female depends on the field: In the study, just 22 percent of doctorates in engineering were awarded to women and 27 percent in computer science and mathematics. According to Nathan Bell, director of research and policy analysis for the Council of Graduate Schools (the organization that compiled and released the data), this is because the number of undergraduates majoring in these fields remains disproportionate. If it weren’t for this fact, he says, women would have surpassed men in doctoral awards already.

Inside Higher Ed presents additional details from the study here, definitely worth looking into, in my opinion...but what about yours? It doesn't matter if you're male or female, what do you think on this announcement?


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Do Something…and Win!

This Scholarship of the Week Award is Twofold

September 20, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Hey, you. The one with the sketchpad full of doodles, memory card filled with images and computer crammed with creations. Yes, YOU. Want to score a college scholarship and help out your school at the same time? Of course you do, because in addition to being wildly talented, you’re also a good person. Here’s what you need to do to make a difference in your life (a $1,000 scholarship) and the lives of others ($5,000 for your school’s music program and 5 HP Pavilion dv6z laptops for your school’s art program) with the Make Art. Save Art. Scholarship from DoSomething.org.

Like the award, the requirements are also in two parts. First, create a PC wallpaper using either your photographic, graphic design or traditional visual art skills and tell DoSomething.org why you think art education is important and why it should continue to be part of the curriculum. Next, upload your original work to Facebook and Twitter and see how many people share your design. Each time someone shares what you created, you’re one step closer to victory so use any and all connections you have to ensure your art is seen. And if a scholarship and funds for the arts aren’t enough, the winning designs will be available for download as PC wallpapers and featured on DoSomething.org.

There are many talented artists out there but only one entrant age 25 or younger will receive this excellent award. For more information, visit www.makeartsaveart.org and for other scholarships like it, conduct a free scholarship search at Scholarships.com.


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WISE Reinvents Senior Year

Independent Study Program Quells Boredom, Increases Motivation

November 3, 2010

WISE Reinvents Senior Year

by Alexis Mattera

Despite the numerous advancements in medicine, there is still no cure for a highly contagious disease plaguing high school seniors. Symptoms include excessive yawning, lack of concentration, procrastination, class skipping and a blasé attitude toward anything relating to education. Dun dun dunnnnn…it’s senioritis!

Fortunately, there’s a potential vaccination circulating which could quash most strains and keep seniors on track until graduation. It’s called WISE, or the Wise Individualized Senior Experience, and it’s been helping students not only stay focused but gain real-world experience while they’re still in high school for more than 30 years. Take Ralph Vasami, for example: He spent the majority of his senior year as a WISE participant interning at a weather forecasting company and though the self-described “ordinary student with ordinary ambitions” wasn’t even sure if he would attend college, his experience with WISE opened his eyes to the possibility. He went on to attend Lyndon State College and today, he is the CEO of the company he interned at, Universal Weather & Aviation Inc., which has 1,300 employees in 20 countries and $860 million in annual billings. Yeah. Wow.

WISE participants spend most of their days outside the classroom but many, like Vasami, report they are more motivated to learn than ever. Dave Marcus, the writer of this piece, was a classmate of Vasami’s in 1970s and was also a WISE participant when the program was in its pilot stage; he feels is one of the few education reforms that actually delivers what it promises and Marcus’ former classmates agree, saying they would have floundered in their college classes without the practical experiences they had during internships at museums, publishing houses and engineering firms the WISE program provided.

So seniors, think WISE will keep you on track for the remainder of your time in high school? If so, see if your school is one of the program’s partner schools. And if there are any former WISE participants in the audience, did the program have the same impact as it had on Vasami and Marcus?


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The Far-Too-Common Application

Advocates Displeased with Rejection of New Questions

January 26, 2011

The Far-Too-Common Application

by Alexis Mattera

Can you remember the first time someone asked you to think outside the box? Whether it was for a homework assignment, a science fair project or college admissions essay, you probably noticed taking this creative approach was appreciated – and earned you an A, a medal or admission – but sometimes, unfortunately, the status quo wins.

This scenario was recently echoed by the Common Application’s board when it rejected a proposal to add optional questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. The organization – which recently added a LGBT category in the activities section for students who participate in gay-straight alliances in high school – said the questions could "pose problems" now and though it left the possibility of addition open in the future, advocates are none too pleased with the message that’s being sent to the students applying to the 414 colleges that accept the Common App…especially Shane L. Windmeyer.

Windmeyer, the founder of Campus Pride, a national group that works on behalf of gay students and sponsors college fairs at which gay students can meet college representatives, believes the Common App organization is "acting like a parent of the 1950s" because the proposed questions would not be an issue: Since they would be optional, any applicant uncomfortable with them could elect not to answer; he also said a second gender question following birth certificate information would allow colleges to meet reporting requirements while accommodating all gender identities.

You can read more from both sides here but the fact of the matter is this: Many students go to college to find themselves but when they can’t even find a way to identify themselves on the application, is that school really where they want to be?


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Obama (Sorta Kinda) Keeps His Promise

Changes in Higher Ed Funding Afoot

February 15, 2011

Obama (Sorta Kinda) Keeps His Promise

by Alexis Mattera

While "Honest Barack" doesn't have quite the same ring as our 16th President’s nickname, we have to give him credit for keeping his promise to privilege spending on education and research...for the most part: Some potentially painful cuts could slice through the higher education pie relatively soon.

First, the good news. The 2012 budget blueprint reveals the maximum Pell Grant (currently set at $5,550 per year) would not be slashed by $845 as originally expected and funding will continue for financial aid programs including AmeriCorps, the Perkins Loan and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Programs and academic research agencies. The Education Department's overall budget would grow by 4.3 percent in 2012 under the President's budget but despite this positive information, it won’t be all unicorns and butterflies for college students. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the administration had to make some "tough choices" to maintain the current level of funding and compensate for future spending. For example, the department's 2012 budget calls for ending a three-year experiment allowing students to qualify for two Pell Grants in a calendar year and use this funding to attend college year-round, as well as eliminating the subsidy in which the government pays interest on graduate student loans while the students are in school; the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program, the Byrd Honors Scholarships and the TEACH Grant program would also be eliminated.

Obama said, "Education is an investment that we need to win the future...and to make sure that we can afford these investments, we’re going to have to get serious about cutting back on those things that would be nice to have but we can do without," but student advocates, like Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, were quick to show their displeasure. "It is regrettable that the administration is proposing to maintain Pell by making cuts to other student aid programs that provide much needed funds to students," he said.

The information above merely scratches the surface (check out Inside Higher Ed’s article for all details) but it’s enough to get the conversation started. What do you think of the proposed budget? Will the changes impact your ability to pay for school? Would you propose a different course of action?


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DePaul Joins the Test Optional Club

University Says Standardized Testing is Out, Essays are In

February 18, 2011

DePaul Joins the Test Optional Club

by Alexis Mattera

Standardized testing is as much – if not more – a part of the college process as dancing when the fat envelope arrives, Facebooking your new roommate and shopping for extra-long twin sheets. That will no longer be the case for DePaul University applicants for the freshman class entering in 2012 because the Chicago school has announced its plans to make the reporting SAT and ACT scores optional.

But don’t start shredding your test prep materials into confetti just yet: Students choosing not to submit ACT or SAT scores will be required to write short responses to essay questions designed to measure "noncognitive" traits, such as leadership, commitment to service, and ability to meet long-term goals. These essays were introduced a few years ago and subsequent research convinced the admissions committee that the nontraditional measures did more than the ACT or SAT to predict the success of low-income and minority students at the university. Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management, said he wants to encourage applicants with high grade-point averages but relatively low standardized test scores to apply and believes the new method will allow his colleagues to better select applicants who are most likely to succeed and graduate.

DePaul is now the largest private university to join the FairTest list, joining Wake Forest as one of the most selective institutions to adopt test-optional policies. Do you think giving students the choice to report their scores will produce the results DePaul expects? What do you think is a better barometer of qualified applicants: test scores or essays?


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