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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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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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Playing Favorites?

Kahlenberg and Co. Discuss Legacy Preference in College Admissions

September 22, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

I used to hate Hate HATE when my brother was allowed to do something and I wasn’t because he was a boy and I was a girl. I’d stomp and sigh and eventually find something better to do but the sting of that bias stuck with me for a while. I (and I’m sure my parents) would shudder to think of my reaction had I been denied admission to the college of my choice when another candidate got in based on any other reason than merit.

Though college officials claim their preference toward alumni children is modest at best, a new book states the opposite. In Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions, editor Richard D. Kahlenberg calls for a reexamination and elimination of alumni preferences now; as an advocate for class-based as opposed to race-based affirmative action, Kahlenberg also argues that with the elimination of affirmative action in several states (a shift he predicts will spread), existing biases make it “hard to justify alumni preferences when you have gotten rid of help for minorities.” One section of the book, which is a collection of research articles by scholars, journalists and lawyers, even details how much the advantage of being an alumni child has increased in the last 20 years (Princeton admitted 41.7 percent of legacy applicants in 2009 – 4.5 times the rate for non-legacies – while the legacy admit rate was only 2.8 times the rate in 1992) though they are typically are “average” academically and “under-perform” those with similar demographic backgrounds who did not receive alumni admissions preferences; there is also additional assistance for white applicants, athletes and the children of wealthy donors. Inside Higher Ed delves deeper here.

I haven’t read the book so therefore I cannot choose a side just yet, but I have to say the article has me intrigued. Getting into college (not to mention finding the money to pay for it) is competitive enough so why turn it into a steeplechase rather than the marathon it already is?


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Save the Perkins!

Proposed Amendment Will Keep This Loan Alive

September 23, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

The Perkins Loan Program has played a vital role in the quest for higher education (mine included) since 1958 but in two years, it could end up just as extinct as dinos and dodos. Can it (and the dreams of countless students) be saved?

The Perkins, or as one supporter affectionately calls it, “the David among the Goliaths of other aid,” is used by 1,800 colleges across the country yet Congress hasn’t provided any new money for the program since 2004. In 2009 alone, colleges awarded 495,000 new Perkins loans at an average of $2,231 per student and its demise would shut out college access to low-income students and eliminate the jobs of campus officials and loan servicers who help distribute the funds. Representative John Spratt clearly understands the importance of the Perkins and is sponsoring an amendment to delay the program’s cancellation – so much so that he held a hearing in Washington yesterday discussing the Perkins’ significance; though it probably won’t pass this year, Spratt is optimistic that with the support of the House Budget Committee and the schools relying on the loans, the amendment has a shot at approval next year.

“By its very nature, the Perkins Loan Program provides schools the flexibility to provide additional aid to needy students. The importance of this flexibility cannot be overstated,” said Sarah Bauder, assistant vice president of enrollment services and student financial aid at the University of Maryland at College Park, in her testimony during the hearing. “Financial aid administrators work where the rubber meets the road and have a unique perspective that allows them to assess students’ and families’ ability to pay for college in ways that aid applications will never be able to assess. When aid administrators see students and families struggling with unique circumstances, they need some flexibility to deliver funds to ensure the success of these students.” One such student, Joseph Hill, also testified. The Georgetown senior stated that though he received $26,000 in scholarships, the Perkins was what made it possible for him to attend the school of his dreams. “Last week, I was talking to my mother, and without hesitation, she said, ‘It still wouldn’t have worked without that Perkins Loan,’ ” Hill revealed.

There’s a lot more to the history of the Perkins and the fight to save it (get the details here) and as a former Perkins recipient, I can’t help but root for this little amendment that could. I'm definitely making a t-shirt.


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SUNY Albany Bids Adieu, Ciao and Do Svidaniya

Classics and Theater Departments Also Eliminated…But Why?

October 4, 2010

SUNY Albany Bids Adieu, Ciao and Do Svidaniya

by Alexis Mattera

Coptic, Ancient Greek, Latin and Sanskrit have long been considered “dead languages” but at SUNY Albany, a few more are joining that list in terms of majors. On Friday, language faculty members learned the university was ending all admissions to programs in French, Italian and Russian. Classics and theater are also being cut once current students in those programs graduate.

At least 10 tenured faculty members in language programs, 20 adjuncts and tenure-track educators were told they have two years of employment left in which to help current students finish their degrees. It came as more of a shock, however, that so many languages were being eliminated at the same time – not to mention that it was happening at a doctoral university that touts the motto of "the world within reach." How could this be happening, they wondered? University president George M. Philip cited deep, repeated budget cuts and the failure of the New York Legislature to pass legislation that would have given more control over tuition rates and the use of tuition revenue to the state's university systems.

If this news left me slack jawed, I can only imagine how faculty members in the impacted departments must be feeling. One French professor said no other university of the caliber and size of Albany has taken such drastic measures so why now and with this institution? If others are making it work, why can't Albany?


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An Unfair Hike

California Supreme Court May Up Tuition for Illegal Immigrants

October 7, 2010

An Unfair Hike

by Alexis Mattera

Proposed tuition increases at several institutions have been in the news lately. While the ones being discussed at the University of Colorado and Adams State College will affect all students as the schools compensate for the lack of state funding, California’s are targeting one specific sect of the student population: illegal immigrants.

No official ruling has been made yet (one is expected within 90 days) but California’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing whether illegal immigrants must pay higher tuition at state universities. The arguments center on a 2002 law that allows anyone graduating from a California high school can pay in-state tuition at a California state school – a law that more than 40 out-of-state students from the University of California and other public colleges say violates federal immigration law. If the court rules in the students’ favor, illegal immigrants will be required to pay out-of-state tuition. To put the cost in perspective, that would be $34,000 per year instead of $11,300 at the University of California. That’s not pocket change.

As someone who once paid out-of-state tuition and has the student loan bills to prove it, I can say from experience that ponying up the monetary difference isn’t fun…but if I was living in-state and got slapped with a tuition bill more than triple what I was expecting to pay, wow. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in California or the Carolinas, are a citizen or in this country illegally, how do you feel about this proposal and the impact it could have if it’s passed?


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The Early Student Gets Admitted

Colleges See More Interest, Accept More Students Early

October 21, 2010

The Early Student Gets Admitted

by Alexis Mattera

Hiring managers and interviewers like to say “If you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late” and over the course of the most recent recession, that motto has been unofficially adopted by admissions committees and prospective college students.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)’s annual “State of College Admission” report, many colleges (private and public) have reported increased interest from applicants in applying early and a jump in the number of students admitted this way. The former remained relatively the same as over the last two years but the latter – 65 percent of schools accepting more early decision applicants compared to 43 percent just one year prior – is pretty remarkable. The same can be said about the growing gap between the admissions rates for early decision and regular applicants at the same institutions: Colleges with early decision admit about 55 percent of all applicants, but 70 percent of early decision applicants, though only 7 percent of applications received take advantage of the early decision option. Another facet of the NACAC report is the overwhelming popularity of applying online, up to 80 percent in 2009 from 68 percent in 2007.

Does this mean schools are becoming less selective and simply rewarding the early birds in their quests for the worm? Not entirely…and not at all for the Ivies. The top criteria remain grades, the strength of the high school curriculum and admissions test scores but what NACAC calls "demonstrated interest in enrolling" is also climbing those ranks. Does this info change how you plan to apply?


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The Deal with Debt

Who Owes What, Where and Why

October 22, 2010

The Deal with Debt

by Alexis Mattera

$24,000. To a recent graduate, that five-figure number could be 1. their starting salary at their first entry-level job or 2. the amount of student loan debt they have accrued while in school.

We’re going to talk about the second choice this morning, as a study by Peterson’s and the Project on Student Debt just revealed it was the average amount owed by graduates of the class of 2009. The study broke down debt levels by state and school (D.C. graduates had the highest while Utah students had the lowest) but did not include debt levels for graduates of for-profit schools because of a lack of data.

Arriving at these tallies didn’t come easy for the Project on Student Debt, which adjusted the averages initially recorded by Peterson’s ($22,500 and 58 percent of students who borrowed) because it felt they were too low when compared to the statistics recorded last year by the National Post Secondary Student Aid Study ($22,750 and 65 percent).

You may be one of the lucky students who scored enough scholarships and grants to have a degree in hand and no debt in sight or you may be flipping couch cushions in search of change to put toward your next payment but what do you think of these findings? A college degree certainly doesn’t come cheap these days!


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Montana State Aims to Up Graduation Rate

by Alexis Mattera

Montana State University has a glass-half-full outlook when it comes to graduation rates but its students aren’t exactly sharing that mentality: Though the school announced it had enrolled record 13,559 students for the fall semester, only half that number will make it to graduation day.

Graduation rates aren’t that different nationwide – about 57 percent of students who enroll in U.S. four-year colleges earn a degree in six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics – but these low numbers are cause for concern and in order to reach President Obama’s goal of making America the leader in college graduates by 2020, the country’s public universities need to do whatever they can to shed the label of "failure factories." Things are looking up for MSU for the time being, though: The retention rate for last year's freshmen who returned this fall was 74 percent - 2 points higher than last year and a record for the past 10 years.

So what’s being done in the Treasure State? MSU President Waded Cruzado says she plans to renew attention to the goal of graduation with the help of the Montana Board of Regents by getting more people to earn two-year or four-year degrees. But why are so many MSU students are dropping out in the first place? Despite the less-than-favorable economy, finding money for college isn’t the issue; instead, students surveyed cited lack of direction, affinity/connection with the school and overall interest in college classes. MSU is responding by ramping up its career coaching with freshmen and advising to help undecided students pick a major and launching a campaign to lure back former students who have left the university in the last three years.

The university is doing much more than what’s listed above (check out yesterday’s article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle) but will any of it work? Students leave school for myriad reasons and sometimes no amount of advising, coaching or incentives can change that. Then again, an extra push can make a difference for many students on the fence about their education. How would you respond to MSU’s initiatives?


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Popular Culture 101?

TV + Trends + College = Fun and Unusual New Classes

December 1, 2010

Popular Culture 101?

by Alexis Mattera

No, there are still no classes entitled “The Anatomy of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” or “The Hanukkah Snuggie’s Effect on Modern Judaism” but classes with roots in popular culture are popping up on college campuses everywhere. If you’ve yet to select your classes for next semester or have found a few empty blocks in your schedule, consider enrolling in one of these fun, weird and surprisingly informative courses. (Bonus: They could help you earn an equally unusual scholarship!)

  • Consumerism and Social Change in Mad Men America, 1960-1963: Northwestern University history professor Michael Allen teaches this freshman course, which examines the relationship between consumerism and the social and political changes of the 1950s and 1960s. Students attend lectures and read historical texts but are also required to watch several “Mad Men” episodes each week. We’d assume cigarette smoking, scotch swilling and infidelity do not earn extra credit points.
  • South Park and Contemporary Issues: This course at McDaniel College mixes sociology and philosophy while exploring the controversial contemporary social issues featured on the long-running Comedy Central cartoon. The official course description states, “Ultimately, students will gain…new knowledge of the benefits of applying an interdisciplinary approach to contemporary social issues.” No Kennys will be harmed but bring your own Cheesy Poofs.
  • Music, Video Games, and the Nature of Human Cognition: This NYU psychology class already has a waiting list and there’s a good reason for it: Professor Gary Marcus believes video games – specifically “Guitar Hero” – can be used to enhance human cognition. Some parents are upset that this is the type of class their tuition is going toward but Marcus stresses that delving into this understudied area will yield positive results. Rock on, Professor!
  • Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame: The University of South Carolina’s Mathieu Deflem has gone gaga for Gaga and he hopes his students will too with his sociological analysis of selected social issues related to the pop star’s work. Though the course is within the sociology department, the subjects of music, fashion, art, business, marketing, new media, religion and politics will be integrated to dissect Gaga’s rise to fame and impact on society. Unlike the infamous meat dress, this approach is well done.
  • Zombies in Popular Media: Vampires are so last year, people, and Columbia College Chicago has the latest undead trend – zombies – ready to take over your brain, not eat it. Literature, comics and film will “foster thoughtful connections between student disciplines and the figure of the zombie,” states the course description and the history, significance and representation of zombies will be discussed and implemented on a daily basis. Hopefully, this class doesn’t take place after dark.

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