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by Emily

High school seniors in a school district in Texas will receive $1 million in scholarships after their district was named the winner of this year's Broad Prize for Urban Education. The award is offered annually by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and is designed to reward notable gains in student achievement and in narrowing the achievement gap for poor and minority students. Aldine Independent School District, which serves the Houston area, won the top prize this year, after having previously been a runner up for the prize three times.

The Broad Foundation names five finalists each year and from them, chooses a winner for the $1 million Broad Prize. This year, the other finalists were Broward County, Florida (a two-time finalist); Long Beach, California (a former winner and three-time finalist); Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas; and Gwinnet County Public Schools in the Atlanta, Georgia area.

Aldine won the prize based on a number of factors. The Broad Foundation cited the district's gains in breaking "the predictive power of poverty," as the district's predominately low-income students outperformed peers of similar backgrounds on state standardized tests. The achievement gap for both low-income and minority students has been closing at Aldine, with a 14-point reduction in the achievement gap for African-American middle schoolers in math over the last four years. Other successes included Aldine's recruitment of highly qualified teachers, engagement with students, and districtwide standardization of education practices and curriculum (many poor families move around within the district, so making what is taught in each grade more uniform across the district helps them keep from falling behind).

The scholarship awards will help further the success of graduates from Aldine, with $20,000 over four years going to students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities and up to $5,000 over two years going to students who enroll in community colleges. Students at other finalist schools will also receive scholarship money: each of the prize's four finalist districts will receive $250,000 to award to their high school students.


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by Emily

Colorado's CollegeInvest agency, an organization in charge of state loan forgiveness and scholarship programs, is facing criticism and increased scrutiny from the state's legislature after an audit revealed conflicts of interest and a surprisingly low number of scholarship awards being made by the board. The state legislature will now require the agency to report to them monthly to ensure proper oversight of the state's scholarship and student loan funds.

The audit found that the CollegeInvest Early Achievers Scholarship, a fund that awards high-achieving high school students with college financial aid, had only given out a tiny fraction of the awards it was expected to since it was established in 2005. Students opt into the scholarship program as 7th, 8th or 9th graders and pledge to take pre-college coursework in high school and maintain a GPA of 2.5 or better. The Colorado legislature estimated that the scholarship fund would award about $3.8 million in scholarships per year, but awarded only $91,000 this year. A volunteerism scholarship program and a student loan forgiveness programs managed by CollegeInvest also fell significantly short of goals and projections.

Meanwhile, the fund incurred over $12 million in administrative expenses beyond salaries and benefits for its employees. Reports on the audit note that the program has spent $10 on administrative costs for every $1 in scholarships awarded. The audit also found conflicts of interest with the board awarding funding to other organizations they were connected to and giving out large payments to financial advisors.

CollegeInvest officials say that the program is off to a slow start and that potential conflicts of interest were disclosed and didn't affect board decisions. For now, the state legislature has just asked for increased oversight of the program. But for Colorado students who were expecting to benefit from academic scholarships, community service scholarships, or loan forgiveness programs for which money is in place but funds aren't being awarded in large amounts, any change in these programs cannot come soon enough.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Pittsburgh has dropped a proposal to enact a tax on college students as a way to raise revenue for the city following several weeks of criticism from not only students but the higher education community. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced yesterday that the city would instead focus on a "leap of faith," urging local colleges, nonprofits, and the business community to increase voluntary donations.

At a press conference Monday, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University both pledged to offer larger donations to the city than they had in previous years. Local insurer Highmark also pledged support. About 100 tax-exempt organizations gave a total of $14 million to the city between 2005 and 2007. The 1 percent tuition tax, described as the “Post Secondary Education Privilege Tax” or Fair Share Tax,” would have raised $16 million for the city to cover things like city employees’ pension funds and costs associated with the public library system until the city is able to get a handle on its budget problems. This "voluntary" agreement with the city's institutions only covers the upcoming fiscal year, however, so whether the city would ever revisit a student tax is unclear. The mayor also failed to say how much money would be offered voluntarily, as those deals have not yet been finalized.

The mayor also said he would target the state for more funding to solve the city's budget problems. A new group, the New Pittsburgh Collaborative, will come up with a list of things to ask the state for when the time comes, according to an article today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Previous talks have focused on raising taxes for those who in the city and expanding a tax on currently tax-exempt employees' payrolls, two proposals that would also not be met without resistance.

The fallout from the proposal was immediate. About 100 students came to a Pittsburgh City Council meeting recently to protest the measure, calling the idea "Taxation Without Representation" and a double tax on those students already paying taxes on things like sales items and property. An article in Inside Higher Ed today suggests other institutions of higher education were anticipating the outcome of the student tax to determine whether this could be an option in their cities. Some municipalities without strong support from outside organizations and voluntary contributions from their local colleges and universities may look to pass similar measures anyway, especially if those local economies fail to improve.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Community colleges are enjoying a growth in enrollment numbers like never before. Nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up more than 24 percent over the last two years. The American Association of Community Colleges suggests the economic recession has led to more adults returning to college and improving upon their skills, or learning new ones. And the community colleges themselves are taking notice and planning for the future as their institutions become increasingly important on the higher education landscape.

In California, lawmakers are considering allowing the state's community colleges the authority to award bachelor's degrees, a move that is already in practice in 17 other states across the country. In Florida, for example, a number of community colleges offer nursing and teaching bachelor's degrees to address shortages in those fields across that state and, more generally, a shortage in college-educated residents. (Community colleges typically offer two-year associate degrees and certificates for a number of different professions.) While California's community college administrators agree the move would be a good one at a time when the state's four-year institutions are overcrowded and, many students say, overpriced, the state would need to budget it doesn't really have at this time to cover the costs of new programming. According to an article in the Contra Costa Times recently, California's community college system consists of 110 schools and nearly 3 million students. The campuses are also already overcrowded, according to state administrators.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, lawmakers are looking to introduce proposals that would have the state's 13 community colleges working more closely together with the state's four-year institutions. One plan would make it much easier to transfer credits from community colleges to four-year schools, something that has been a problem among students transferring after two years on the community college level. Legislators also hope to raise the state's graduation rates from both two- and four-year schools by offering remedial classes solely on the community college level rather than at four-year institutions and coming up with a broad curriculum that would remain the same across the board at all of the state's community colleges.

In Florida, the state administrators say is the best example of how a community college system should work, the graduation rate from the two-year schools is about 30 percent, the highest out of anywhere in the country. According to an article today in The Tennessean, this is thanks to how easy it is to transfer credits in Florida between two- and four-year schools. Indiana and North Carolina are also moving to similar models, making community colleges more "feeders" to four-state private and public universities rather than independent entities that only award associate's degrees.


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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

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

You’ve read all about how colleges have been coping with budget cuts over the last year or so. Wait lists. Hiring freezes and holds on infrastructure improvements. Short weeks.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill they hope will allow administrators at those institutions of higher education to breathe a little easier. The $26 billion they approved will go toward those same state budgets that have suffered in the economic crisis; while the funding isn’t specifically earmarked for state colleges, any funding the states receive at this point will allow those schools to avoid further cuts in an already-hurting higher education system. About $16 billion of that total will go toward Medicaid assistance.

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, more than half of the country’s state lawmakers have been counting on varying amounts of emergency federal aid from Congress. While the expected totals aren’t as much as many had hoped—Maine had budgeted for $100 million, but will receive $77 million; Pennsylvania had budgeted for $850 million, but will receive about $600 million—the funding will help public university systems avoid further cuts. In Maine, administrators were preparing for cuts in the $8.4 million range, according to The Chronicle. While they had already reduced their budgets by $8 million over the previous year, the new funding will allow the state’s colleges to remain steady in the coming fiscal year.

Some states had already been preparing for massive cuts had the funding not come through. In Massachusetts, funding for public colleges there was already cut by 12 percent, a move lawmakers there must analyze now that some additional funding has come through. In Texas, a higher-education panel recently recommended that students take more of their learning off campus to save public institutions some money. According to another article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the proposal suggested students should complete at least 10 percent of their degrees via online courses and remote programming. The plan would affect undergraduates at all of the state’s public colleges. While this is still just a proposal, a push toward online learning isn’t a new idea. In Minnesota, higher education officials hope to have students earn 25 percent of all credits earned through the public college system through online coursework by 2015.


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Illinois State Senate Passes DREAM Act

DREAM Act Passes with Overwhelming Bipartisan Majority

May 5, 2011

Illinois State Senate Passes DREAM Act

by Suada Kolovic

After much heated national debate, the Illinois state Senate passed the DREAM Act, a measure that will give undocumented students who’ve graduated from high school, completed two years of college or military service and have no criminal record a shot at citizenship. The bill passed the Senate by a margin of 45-11, with wide bipartisan support – 11 Republicans supporting the bill alongside 34 Democrats.

It is important to note that the State of Illinois does not have the authority to grant citizenship, but will instead create a “DREAM Fund” – a scholarship account funded entirely by private dollars that will provide scholarships to undocumented students seeking higher education. The fund would also encourage counselors to receive training on educational opportunities for undocumented students, as well as open up college savings programs and prepaid tuition programs to all Illinois residents.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), one of many pro-immigrant groups that descended on Springfield for Wednesday's vote, tweeted "Perfect timing. The state Cinco de Mayo celebration has started in the State Capitol."


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