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Six is the Magic Number

Report Reveals Half of First-Time Students Finish School in Six Years

December 2, 2010

Six is the Magic Number

by Alexis Mattera

Theoretically, earning an undergraduate degree takes four years. But when you factor in internships, work and extraneous circumstances, getting a diploma or certification seldom happens within that timeframe. How long does it take? The U.S. Department of Education says six years…for just half of first-time students.

The DoE’s new report, "Persistence and Attainment of 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students: After 6 Years," states that of students who entered higher education in 2003-4, about half had earned degrees or certificates by June 2009 – the breakdown is 9 percent certificates, 9 percent associate degrees and 31 percent bachelor's degrees – 15 percent were still enrolled and 36 percent had left higher education. The report further dissects trends among students who began their post-secondary education at public two-year schools and four-year colleges (both state and private) as well as whether these students stayed with their initial institution or transferred to and graduated from another school.

I was able to graduate from the same university I enrolled in as a freshman in four years but I had to sacrifice several things – studying abroad, working more, accepting additional internships – in order to do so. Graduates, does the report sound at all like your college experience? Current students, are you on track to finish school when you thought you would when you started? High school students, what are your plans for the next four (or more) years?


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Happy Holidays…We’re Eliminating Your Degree!

U. Missouri to Reduce Degree Offerings by 16

December 27, 2010

Happy Holidays…We’re Eliminating Your Degree!

by Alexis Mattera

Welcome back, everyone! Have the holiday hazes, mall bruises and food comas worn off yet? If not, this next story may snap you back to reality…especially if you’re a University of Missouri student.

Just before our break, the Chronicle and Columbia Daily Tribune reported the university is poised to truncate its degree offerings by 16 - a decision that came after a state-mandated review revealed multiple programs graduating on average fewer than 10 bachelor’s, five master’s and three doctoral degrees per year. While a change like this isn’t new – SUNY Albany announced similar changes a few months ago – the method is: Some programs will be disappearing all together but the majority will merge with existing programs and create new degrees. Among the changes, Spanish and French programs will join to form a Romance language degree and the three master’s programs within the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources may be rolled into one catch-all degree covering forestry parks, recreation, tourism, and soil, environmental and atmospheric sciences; education specialist and doctoral degrees in career and technical education, a specialist degree in special education and communication sciences and disorders doctorate and a clinical laboratory sciences bachelor’s program within the School of Health Professions will be eliminated completely.

The proposed changes are expected to be approved by the Missouri Department of Higher Education and the Coordinating Board of Higher Education in February. The affected programs, however, will continue for a while – even years – because, says Deputy Provost Ken Dean, the university will not implement anything that would have a negative impact on current undergraduate and graduate students. Are you enrolled in any of the programs mentioned? Will this news impact your decision to remain in your current major? Are you considering transferring to a different school with a more specialized program?


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eBay Item 160522990911: Academic Dishonesty

Georgetown Alum Peddles Essays, Term Papers Online

December 28, 2010

eBay Item 160522990911: Academic Dishonesty

by Alexis Mattera

Once you’ve graduated from college, what do you do with the pages upon pages of writing assignments you completed during your tenure? You could go green and recycle them, I suppose…or you could try to make some green off of them, like the subject of our next story.

Having been there and done that once himself (or herself), one Georgetown alum knows that writing essays for admissions, scholarships and college classes takes a lot of time – time frazzled students just don’t have – and is attempting to profit from that burden by selling their own admissions essay, multiple class papers and a graduate school scholarship essay on eBay via the handle and alzheimers_caregiver. Georgetown’s own Vox Populi reported that while there are currently no bids on the items, the eventual winner (and I use that term very loosely here) will be e-mailed the materials and is free to edit the pieces as they see fit before turning them in.

Yes, we know the writing that goes into getting admitted to and succeeding in college is no small amount (just ask Harvard grad Natalie Portman) but if you’re truly committed to making the most of your college experience, crafting a few thousand words into an original essay isn’t going to kill you. Passing someone else’s work off as your own won’t either…but it could make your time at Big State U or Fancy Private College a lot shorter than you anticipated. An equally terrible but less-academically-poisonous bet? Buying alzheimers_caregiver’s other offering, a VHS copy of Look Who’s Talking Now.


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Mind the Gap

Should You Take a Year Off?

December 30, 2010

Mind the Gap

by Alexis Mattera

The road to college – once thought to be straight and narrow – is detouring into uncharted territory. It was once expected for all high school seniors to matriculate to an institute of higher education the semester after they graduate but today, many students (and their parents) are considering the notion of taking a year off from formal schooling first.

But what do students do during this time, often called a gap year? Not catching up on “Extreme Couponing” or trying out online dating: Students use this time to volunteer abroad or build their resumes and schools are adopting formal programs allowing incoming freshmen to defer admission for a year to do so. According to the Wall Street Journal, "gap fairs" are becoming just as common as campus job expos. The results? Mixed. While most students end their gap years better prepared to attend college, some get so waylaid that they abandon a collegiate education all together.

It may sound tempting to take a year off to explore the unknown but there are a few confounding variables. First, the price tag is far from alluring – unless you feel $35,000 is a reasonable figure. (The upside is that costs can be defrayed by stipends, grants, research fellowships and scholarships or the agreement to work in a very remote area.) Next, the hazy direction of your future. I won't deny that your late teens and early 20s are the best times to gain life experience but if said experience is going to leave you in debt or questioning once-important educational goals, is taking the time off worth it?


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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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A Ripe Idea at UC-Davis

New Facility Combines Winemaking, Wi-Fi

February 7, 2011

A Ripe Idea at UC-Davis

by Alexis Mattera

The last thing many people want to think about the day after the Super Bowl (beside Christina Aguilera’s National Anthem flub or the overall lack of enjoyable advertisements) is alcohol but this next story won’t add to a hangover. We promise.

The University of California at Davis, long known for its winemaking program, has unveiled new technology at the school’s Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science to fine-tune the fermentation process. Custom-built probes embedded with microchips measure the sugar density and temperature of fermenting wines every 15 minutes; the readings are then wirelessly transferred to a server at the facility and displayed on a large monitor. The use of Wi-Fi to monitor the process is certainly a big step but enology professor Roger B. Boulton says the footprint will be even larger as the measurements will soon be viewable on the Web and via smartphones. Students and researchers will be able to compare their results with expected outcomes and adjust as necessary to determine how different fermenting conditions affect different grape varieties.

Boulton continued to say that the measurement technology puts the university years ahead of commercial operations because it will ultimately reduce the number of failed batches. How green! What do you think of these developments at UC-Davis? Would having access to this new technology get you to consider a major in winemaking?


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Beware the Ides of March...and the New GRE Format

Changes Will Be Implemented August 1st

March 15, 2011

Beware the Ides of March...and the New GRE Format

by Alexis Mattera

Advice to heed today: Don’t leave your house if a soothsayer warns you not to, don’t run through the Tufts quad sans clothing and don’t study for the GRE using last year’s study guides.

Beginning on August 1st, graduate students to-be will make the acquaintance of the new Graduate Record Examination (aka the GRE). For those unfamiliar, the GRE is currently computer-adaptive and adjusts the difficulty of each successive problem based on the answer given to the previous question; the new version allows students to skip questions and return to them later (the computer just modifies the difficulty of the next part at the end instead), which prevents test-takers from losing time and could ultimately lead to a better overall score. As for the content, the writing section will include two pre-selected essay prompts that will require "more focused" responses, the math section will swap out a number of geometry problems for real-world data interpretation (bonus: an on-screen calculator will be accessible) and the verbal section will feature more reading comprehension but no more antonyms and analogies. GRE scoring will range from 130 to 170 rather than 200 to 800 per section but the cost of taking the test will hold steady at $160. There will also be changes to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), but those won’t take place until June 2012.

What do you think of the changes to the GRE? For those who have taken the current version, which format appeals more to you? For those who are preparing, do you think you'll fair better, worse or the same when these changes debut?


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Unusual (but Useful!) College Majors

by Alexis Mattera

You know the most popular college majors and the majors with the highest earning potential. You are even aware of some of the more unusual classes students can take while attending college...but can unique translate into useful in the real world?

As it turns out, some of the most out-there-sounding majors are producing satisfied graduates making real contributions to their fields of choice after graduation. What are these majors and where can interested students find them? Here’s an abridged guide:

  • Packaging. University of Wisconsin-Stout packaging majors don’t think outside the box. They think about the box, specifically how to create “economically, aesthetically, environmentally and technically sound” packaging. And they’ve got it in the bag: A 2009 survey showed 95 percent of packaging graduates were employed by major companies like Frito-Lay and FedEx, no less!
  • Viticulture and enology. Graduates from Cornell’s program could soon be giving Dionysus a run for his money. Though it only recently became an official major, coordinator Kari Richards said the majority of graduates are involved in the industry. "Some have continued enology-related studies in graduate school, others travel worldwide to gain experience in harvest and crush, [and a] few will or have returned to the home winery/vineyard," she said.
  • Puppetry. UConn’s not just known for basketball but for being one of only two schools in the U.S. offering undergraduate degrees in puppetry arts...and the only one offering a graduate program in the field. It’s selective – enrollment is limited to 22 students – but graduates have gone on to work and perform in theatres, television shows and films. Guess being green isn’t so difficult after all!

The complete list of unusual college majors can be found here. Wondering if the school of your dreams offers them? Check out our college search!


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Teen Prodigy Earns $30K Scholarship for Grad School

by Alexis Mattera

Most 14-years-olds spend their school days learning algebra and being awkward. Not Colin Carlson: He’s too busy earning hefty scholarships for graduate school.

Carlson is a higher education veteran despite his limited years. Since the age of nine, Carlson has been taking classes at the University of Connecticut and today, he is a junior in the honors program and is working toward a dual degree in evolutionary biology and in environmental studies and ecology. The scholarship – $30,000 from the Truman Scholars program – is only the fourth of its kind bestowed upon a UConn student and these funds, plus another recently awarded $7,500 from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship program for students headed into mathematics, science or engineering careers, will surely help the real genius as he pursues a law degree, a doctorate and a career in environmental advocacy.

Some may say $30,000 isn’t that much money for college these days but to others, it’s a life-changing sum. How are you planning to pay for school?


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Duke Faculty Raise Concerns Over Kunshan Campus

Questions of Cost, Academic Freedom Voiced

April 25, 2011

Duke Faculty Raise Concerns Over Kunshan Campus

by Alexis Mattera

International campuses are becoming somewhat of a trend lately – NYU, Yale and Vanderbilt all have plans in the works – but the faculty at one well-known school is questioning its proposed overseas operation.

Duke University approved the first round of development for a comprehensive campus in Kunshan, China nearly a year and a half ago but educators voiced their concerns to President Richard Brodhead at a recent academic council meeting. Though the school already has an overseas presence (Duke partnered with the National University of Singapore to create a graduate medical program in 2005), faculty members said now that the campus is actually under construction, they feel they’ve been left out of the loop on matters including cost, academic freedom, Internet access and faculty involvement and buy-in. Craig Henriquez, chairman of Duke’s academic council, believes faculty members are just as apprehensive about the Kunshan campus as they would be about anything unfamiliar. “In the beginning I think most people saw it as just simply an idea,” he said. “But now that it’s all coming together, I think you’re starting to see a level of anxiety that comes with any new venture.”

To be clear, there have been some major changes to the initial proposal (check out Inside Higher Ed’s article for specifics) but Provost Peter Lange says that since “nobody has ever launched something like this before,” the school has to be “cautious and careful, but we also have to take some risks in order to learn what is possible." Do you agree with the administration or side with the faculty on this matter? Would you be interested in attending Duke’s Kunshan campus given the controversy?


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