Archive for August, 2014

August 29, 2014

Beloit College goes test optional, hoping to attract more applicants

by Grace

Starting with the fall 2015 admission cycle, Beloit will become test optional, which means that the submission of standardized test scores (i.e. ACT/SAT) will be optional for domestic first-year applicants.

Statement from the vice president for enrollment, Robert Mirabile:

“Given the extremely competitive marketplace in which we recruit students, it is important for us to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of each part of our application,” Mirabile said. “From this perspective, I am concerned that the standardized test requirement adds little unique value to our selection process. Indeed, the requirement can, in some cases, inhibit access to Beloit among capable students who would greatly contribute to and benefit from the College.”

There are different ways to interpret the meaning of “contribute” as used in Mirabile’s statement.  The cost of attending Beloit College is $54,524 annually.  Here’s one cynical reaction to the announcement:

Translation: We’re so desperate, we’ll take anyone.

August 28, 2014

Make your college application essay memorable

by Grace

Franklin & Marshall College president Daniel R. Porterfield offers some advice for high school seniors dealing with “college mania”.  His thoughts on how to approach the college application essay seem particularly insightful.

write an application essay that’s so true to you that you’ll want to read it again in ten years as a snapshot of where you were at age 18. What experiences have shaped you? What questions obsess you? What people inspire you? How do you want to give and grow in college?

Approaching the essay this way may be a helpful tactic for applicants, but the piece matters most for its value to you at one of life’s turning points. And, as I’ve learned from my own applications for schools and jobs, when we honestly and authentically present ourselves and then don’t get selected, it doesn’t feel so bad. In fact, we’re often left with a strong sense of personal integrity.

I believe it’s true that most essay readers can tell if an application essay is authentic and genuinely reveals a student’s perspective.  So the advice to “put it in your own words” makes sense.  Thus the challenge sometimes becomes how a teacher or parent can help in editing an essay without changing the author’s voice.  The first time I tried helping with my kid’s essay, I found myself quickly falling into the trap of obliterating his message and inserting what I thought he should be saying.  I learned my lesson, and later I mainly left any editing to his guidance counselor, who seemed to know the right balance between minor corrections and sweeping modifications.

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Daniel R. Porterfield, “Six — Well, Seven — Pieces of Advice for College-Searching High School Seniors”, Forbes, 8/11/2014.

August 27, 2014

Step-by-step planning for college is one way to reduce the stress

by Grace

Families are stressed out about getting into college.

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They’re also stressed out about paying for college.

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All this is not breaking news to most families with teenage children.  However, since these survey results are from readers of  Princeton Review’s “Best Colleges” guidebook and users of their website, they are not really representative of the general population.  These survey respondents are more likely to be overly obsessed with the college application process than the average person.

Most families believe providing a college education for their children is very important, but are probably not “extremely” stressed out about it.

It is important to plan for college, but it’s unhealthy to become obsessed with the process.  Here’s some advice from parents and children on dealing with the stress.

Don’t spend too much time comparing notes with others going through the process. Makes people crazy. …

Make sure to take the college process in steps and you won’t feel so overwhelmed….

Don’t freak out. College is not the end of your life. Everything will be OK….

Have fun with it! If you enjoy the process along the way, the outcome will hopefully be more beneficial….

Thoughtful planning is good, and deep breaths can also help.

August 26, 2014

‘The intern has become the new entry-level hire’

by Grace

Because of technology, many entry-level jobs require more advanced skills.  This means that internships, either unpaid or low-paid, have sometimes become the new entry-level jobs.

Companies bruised by the recession have stayed lean by automating and outsourcing core functions while slashing training budgets and payrolls. But in an effort to cut costs, some companies also have cut entry-level jobs that serve as a crucial first step on the path to a professional career. And others have made the responsibilities for first-timers more sophisticated, raising the bar for new graduates, who are expected to arrive job-ready from day one.

Here’s how some entry-level accounting jobs now require sophisticated skills.

Four years ago, the Boston-based bank began an overhaul of its technology systems to cut costs and streamline operations. Now, as the project nears its end, the company is assessing how to employ fund accountants when some of their main assignments—such as calculating funds’ net asset values—have been automated, said Executive Vice President Kathy Horgan, who oversees talent management.

The job titles are the same, but the responsibilities have shifted significantly from a few years ago. Instead of memorizing 15 or 20 steps in a calculation process, fund accountants at the bank now must be able to identify anomalies, help resolve software glitches and figure out which other teams they should work with. In some cases, they must also call clients directly, Ms. Horgan said, putting a new premium on people skills.

At the same time that entry jobs are becoming more demanding, many employers are reducing their training budgets.

For example, training programs for sales jobs at major corporations regularly lasted two years in the 2000s, teaching the ins and outs of the products they were selling and explaining market trends for distributors and end users. Now, new hires would be lucky to get six months of ramp-up time, said Andrea Dixon, executive director of Baylor University’s Center for Professional Selling …

The squeeze in on for job seekers in some fields, while other areas have seen increases in entry-level jobs.

Negative outlook:  loan officers, insurance underwriters and credit analysts
Positive outlook:  computer systems analysts, public relations specialists, social-media managers

As always, luck plays a role in the job outlook for new college graduates.

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Lauren Weber & Melissa Korn, “Where Did All the Entry-Level Jobs Go?”, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 6, 2014.

August 25, 2014

Buying and selling college class notes is made easier by technology

by Grace

Selling class notes can be a way for college students to make extra money, but is it a good idea?

Every student could use a little extra spending money, and selling your class notes and study materials is one way to make some on the side for something you’re doing for free already. Flashnotes lets you sign up by school, post your notes for specific classes, and sell them to other students.

Sharing class notes and tests has been going on for years, but somehow using technology to escalate this practice to an efficient business transaction seems to go over the edge.

… Flashnotes says their average students pick up a couple hundred dollars on the site, and that their in-house team reviews and monitors materials uploaded to make sure the notes being sold are actually of decent quality before they’re posted. Plus, you can preview any notes before you buy them, to make sure you’re not shelling out for what amounts to be useless. They also offer a money-back guarantee if you’re displeased with your purchase. For their part, Flashnotes doesn’t add listing fees, but they take 30% of every sale, so price accordingly….

Some pushback in the comments to the original article included a discussion about the legality of profiting from someone else’s intellectual property, which apparently is not a problem since the students’ notes are considered “their own personal interpretations of what has been taught within the class”.

At least one commenter gave several reasons why buying and selling class notes is generally a bad idea.

Speaking as a college professor of 4 decades’ experience, please, please don’t do this. Buying classnotes is a lucrative business for the resellers, but leaving aside the issue of intellectual property, buying classnotes is no substitute for being present and taking notes yourself. Buying notes is to entirely misunderstand why we take notes: it’s not in order to capture a set of objects, but in order to process heard & seen data intellectually into our own words, which form unique mnemonics and significantly enhance recollection, synthesis, and critical thinking. With respect, Alan: please reconsider this recommendation—it is highly problematic, possibly unethical, and certainly unstrategic and counterproductive for learning. I respect Lifehacker enormously, but this is a very bad idea.

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Alan Henry, “Flashnotes Offers College Students a Place to Buy and Sell Class Notes”, Lifehacker, August 8, 2014.

August 22, 2014

Many kids are not emotionally ready for college

by Grace

We already know that many college freshman are academically unprepared for college, but Professor Claire Potter finds that they are also emotionally and functionally unprepared.

By September, one of the biggest topics for discussion — and one of the biggest gripes — among many college faculty will be how emotionally, and practically, underprepared many of your kids are for their freshman year. Although I now teach the non-traditional, adult students who are becoming the majority of undergraduates, for years I welcomed fresh-faced 18 year olds whose academic preparation often far exceeded their ability to navigate school independently of their parents.

The two major changes I observed over those two decades was an increasing lack of emotional separation between parents and children (with an accompanying rise in students having difficulty making their own decisions); and an increasing tendency, on the part of first year students, to presume that college was more or less similar to high school in its expectations and practices.

Academic and emotional development are certainly related in some respects.

Some possible reasons for students failing to develop independence:

Technology has certainly enabled parents and children to remain emotionally close.  Constant texting can mean that young people are relying too much on their parents to make decisions for them.

I think trends in K-12 education have also contributed to this “over-parenting”.  From the early grades, the schools encourage the wrong kind of parental involvement.  Parents feel forced to help their kids with homework that is developmentally inappropriate, like third-grade projects that require sophisticated Internet research skills.  Then, success in middle school often requires advanced organizational skills that drive parents to intercede lest their kid falls behind to a point where he cannot catch up in high school.  Instead of helping develop independent students who will be ready to succeed in college, schools are inadvertently promoting excessive reliance on their parents and other adults.

Potter offers some advice to help parents in making their kid a “strong and independent college student”.  The first suggestion is to “reduce contact” with a college kid.

… If your kid is going away to college, let him go away. This means not texting and talking every day, or even every other day, or every other other day….

I agree with this advice, and have found it surprising when I hear about some parents who are in constant contact with their adult children.  On the other hand, from personal experience I know that some kids are more verbal than others, and are driven to share many details of their lives.  As a parent, I can see the advantages and disadvantages of this.  Obviously there are some nuances to consider in following Potter’s advice.

Complete details on Potter’s recommendations can be found at the link below.

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Claire Potter, “Bye-Bye Birdies: Sending The Kids Away to College”, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 28, 2014.

August 21, 2014

Should the government enable every kid to go to college?

by Grace

If college is supposed to represent some sort of advanced or more demanding level of education, why has it become a national priority to send every kid to college?

Jim Geraghty asks this question in an article questioning the wisdom of our government’s expansive student loan policy.

Is it really in the country’s best interest to enable every aspiring college student to attend college? Right now the federal government is in the business of loaning money to young people to attend college, only to watch significant numbers — 600,000 or so last year — fail to pay the money back. College students are defaulting on federal loans at the highest rate in nearly two decades, with one in ten defaulting on their loans in the first two years. This is not merely one late check; to meet the Department of Education’s definition of default, a borrower’s loan must be delinquent for 270 days — nine months.

The college gets its money, the taxpayer loses theirs, and the deadbeat student can be left with all kinds of frustrating consequences — seized tax refunds, garnished paychecks or benefits, or a lawsuit. (Though the deadbeat student is often in this situation because their college education failed to prepare them to find a job in a mediocre-at-best economy and make a living, so there may not be much money in their wages to garnish.)

How many of those students really should go to college? If college is supposed to represent some sort of advanced or more demanding level of education, why has it become a national priority to send every kid to college? Wouldn’t the nation be better off if at some point it said to these young people, “you can go to college if you want, but we’re not paying for it”?

Remember the burst of the housing bubble?

 “If nothing else, the recent financial crisis should have taught us that it’s not in the country’s best interest to enable every aspiring homeowner to buy.”

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Jim Geraghty, “The American Dream Peddlers”, National Review Online, April 23, 2014.

August 20, 2014

Enrollment in two-year colleges continues to grow

by Grace

As families seek ways to make college affordable, the percentage of students choosing two-year colleges continues to grow.

Enrollment by School Type, Over Time

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School choice may be a key driver in containing total average spending.

This year, families reported the highest enrollment in two-year public colleges since the survey began, 34 percent in 2013-14 from 30 percent the previous year. At the same time, enrollment at 4-year public colleges declined from 46 percent to 41 percent. Although the proportion enrolled at 4-year private colleges remained the same year-over-year (22%), the average spending at that type of institution appears to reflect a reduced cost to the families who chose them.

In 2013 the private college tuition discount rate – the amount of financial aid as a percentage of tuition and fees – was “again at an all-time high”.

Not surprisingly, the amount spent to attend four-year schools is higher than two-year schools. The average yearly amount spent for two-year public schools was $11,012, a slight increase of $344 from the prior year but $10,060

In affluent Westchester County, New York, more high school graduates seem to be “choosing community college as a way to save money”.

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How America Pays for College 2014, Sallie Mae & Ipsos Public Affairs, August 2014.

August 19, 2014

Families are finding various way to cope with rising college costs

by Grace

Sallie Mae reports that American families are finding various ways to cut college costs.  They are relying more on out-of-pocket contributions and less on student loans.

Cost-Saving Measures

How America Pays for College 2014 finds that families are adopting multiple strategies to reduce the cost burden of paying for college, such as opting for in-state tuition (69%), living closer to home (61%) or at home/with relatives (54%), filing for education tax credits (42%), getting a roommate (41%)6, accelerating the pace of coursework (28%), or not deferring payments on student loans (23%). Not only was the choice of an in-state school the most frequently mentioned response, it is also most likely to be mentioned if only one cost-saving measure is adopted by the family. Most families, however, are likely to adopt a combination of cost-reduction approaches, such as opting to go to school in state and living at home or with relatives (43%).

Paying from current income and savings increased while borrowing decreased.

Out-of-Pocket Contributions

A significant source of college funding comes from the income and savings of families known generally as “out-of-pocket” contributions. In 2014, American families reported that out-of-pocket spending from parents and student combined was $8,850, accounting for 42% of the total amount paid for college. This breaks a three-year trend in decreasing out-of-pocket spending (46% in 2010, 41% in 2011, 40% in 2012, and 38% in 2013). Compared to 2013, American families increased their contributions from income and savings by $839 while decreasing the total spent on college by $295.

 

How the Typical Family Pays for College, Year-over-Year

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Borrowing

Families’ use of borrowed money used to pay for college in 2014—a combined parent and student amount of $4,610— dropped to the lowest it has been in five years. Borrowed funds paid for 22 percent of college costs in 2013-14, a decline from 27 percent the prior year. Student borrowing (15%) accounted for twice as much as parent borrowing (7%).

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How America Pays for College 2014, Sallie Mae & Ipsos Public Affairs, August 2014.

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August 18, 2014

Are you eligible for a college tuition discount?

by Grace

How do you know if a particular college is likely to offer you a discount on their tuition price?  Before you even apply, you can get an estimate by running your specific profile data through a Net Price Calculator (NPC), a tool that can be found on every college’s website.

Forbes ran a Net Price Calculation for five schools using several hypothetical scenarios.  The results show discount rates (financial aid) that would be awarded given specified parameters.

… two types of students, one from a family with an annual income of $300,000 and another from a single-earner family making a mere $12,000 a year. We tested two different academic scenarios: a supersmart kid scoring 1540 on his SAT, with a 4.0 GPA and in the top 10% of his class, and a “B” student scoring 1250 on the SAT, with a GPA of 3.0 and in the top 50% of her graduating class.

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The biggest surprise is that RPI gives more financial aid to English majors than to engineering students.

As you can see all the top institutions except well-endowed Amherst offer discounts or “merit” aid. Only Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) differentiates its aid on its calculator by the student’s intended major as well as by income and ability. RPI clearly wants more poets and is willing to pay for them. President Nixon’s alma mater, Whittier College in southern California, clearly isn’t eager to attract lower-income students. In our test it offered an additional grant of only $1,334 to the low-income overachiever. Even after its ample discount, the needy student’s family still has to come up with half the cost of attendance.

This illustration is a reminder that a Net Price Calculator can help guide your college search.

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Lucie Lapovsky, “What’s Your Tuition Discount?”, Forbes, 7/30/2014.

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