It’s All Downhill For Mid-Year Middlebury Grads

Last Saturday, 113 Middelbury College seniors took part “in one of the most unusual processions in higher education: The 29th Annual Middlebury Ski-Down,” reports The Wall Street Journal. Taking a post-graduation ski run is a tradition reserved for the so-called “Febs” — or those Middlebury students who graduate in February because they entered the college mid-year. “While proficiency in snow sports isn’t a formal graduation requirement like the first-year writing-intensive seminar, the ski-down might as well be mandatory.”

“At a formal ceremony in the morning, students walked across a stage, listened to speakers, shook hands with the college president and received a replica of the walking stick used by the school’s co-founder. But under their caps and gowns, some said they sweat through fleece and wool since there is little time to change before jumping on buses for the ski-down … Most are on skis or snowboards. A few walk. Many wear their caps and gowns, even accessorizing with bright feathered boas. Family and friends cheer from the bottom of the hill.”

“They don’t make you go down if you don’t want to,” said Olivia Aborn, a 22-year-old history major from Hingham, Mass. “But I would hate to not be there. This is it.”

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Survey: Political Activism Rising On Campus

FiveThirtyEight: “A new survey that captures the attitudes of 2015 college freshmen shows unprecedented levels of interest in both political engagement and student activism, underscoring the youth vote’s potential to reshape the electoral landscape.”

“The survey found that nearly 9 percent of freshmen say there’s a “very good chance” they’ll participate in a student protest on campus, the highest in the survey’s history and up from about 6 percent in 2014. Black and Latino students were more likely to express this view than white and Asian-American students.”

“From one vantage point, the emboldened political attitudes of these 18- and 19-year-olds mirror a rise in volunteerism and commitment to others also captured in the survey — offering evidence disputing the view of younger Americans as narcissistic or incurious about the world.:

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University of Netflix: Cutting the Cord on College Costs

The Washington Post: “College has a lot in common with your cable TV package, according to Michael Horn, a principal consultant at innovation agency Entangled Solutions. As schools plow money into new dorms, administrative costs and sports stadiums, some students find themselves paying for ‘channels’ they have no use for. Horn is co-chairing a new group to make ‘cutting the cord’ a viable option for students who find college painfully expensive and poorly suited to their needs.”

“The task force is creating a nonprofit to develop modern standards for ensuring the quality of a higher education at a decent price. Horn says the existing accreditation system is broken and hampers innovative programs that could address the affordability issue. He says a fresh take on certification will open the door for the Airbnbs and Ubers of higher education.”

“You really want just the accounting degree and you also get the football team alongside it,” Horn said. “You’re paying for things that you will never ever use. It’s not tailored to actual needs.”

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New SAT Stresses Reading Comprehension

“The College Board, which makes the SAT, is rolling out a new test — its biggest redesign in a decade, and one of the most substantial ever,” The New York Times reports. “Chief among the changes, experts say: longer and harder reading passages and more words in math problems.”

“The College Board said that the number of words in the reading section had remained the same — about 3,250 on the new test, and 3,300 on the old one — and that the percentage of word problems in the math sections of the old and the new test was roughly the same, about 30 percent … But outside analysts say the way the words are presented makes a difference. For instance, short sentence-completion questions, which tested logic and vocabulary, have been eliminated in favor of longer reading passages …These contain sophisticated words and thoughts in sometimes ornate diction.”

“College Board officials said the new test was devised to satisfy the demands of college admissions officers and high school guidance counselors for an exam that more clearly showed a connection to what students were learning in school. The College Board has also been grappling with complaints that the old SAT, with its arcane vocabulary questions, correlated with advantages like parental income and education, and that whites and Asians performed better on average than blacks and Hispanics.”

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Rutgers Gives Students The Tools to Tinker

The New York Times: “At Rutgers, a bustling maker space can be found in a moldering wood-frame structure on the Livingston campus in Piscataway, N.J. … On any given day, as many as 20 students could be working on the array of equipment that the center offers training on and time to use.”

“There are 3-D printers, which can be programmed to create wildly inventive shapes out of plastic or resin … There is a laser cutter to etch materials like fabric, marble or wood and cut through plastic. Next door is an electronics shop, with racks upon racks of parts. Close by are drill presses, a router and a key cutter … a piece of equipment neophytes can use to produce something they really need. A common space with couches and a television gives students a place to talk, show off their projects or just hang out.”

“Students love it. Alexandra Garey, who graduated from Rutgers in May, credits tinkering with changing the course of her studies, and life: ‘I went from somebody who was majoring in Italian and European studies to someone who was designing and prototyping products and realizing any product that came into my head.'”

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No Place Like Home: College & Personal Growth

“For previous generations, college was a decisive break from parental supervision; guidance and support needed to come from peers and from within,” write A. Douglas Stone and Mary Schwab-Stone in The New York Times. “In the past two decades, however, continued family contact and dependence, thanks to cellphones, email and social media, has increased significantly — some parents go so far as to help with coursework.”

Stone is a physics professor at Yale and Schwab-Stone a retired psychiatrist at the Yale Child Study Center. “Instead of promoting the idea of college as a transition from the shelter of the family to adult autonomy and responsibility,” they write, “universities like Yale have given in to the implicit notion that they should provide the equivalent of the home environment … But college is a different kind of community than a family, and its primary job is education of the student and adaptation to independent community living.”

They conclude: “Every college discussion about community values, social climate and behavior should also include recognition of the developmental importance of student autonomy and self-regulation, of the necessary tension between safety and self-discovery.”

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A Prestige Diploma May Not Yield a Bigger Salary

The Wall Street Journal: “Diplomas from prestigious schools boost future earnings only in certain fields, while in other fields they simply don’t make a difference. Specifically, for business and other liberal-arts majors, the prestige of the school has a major impact on future earnings expectations. But for fields like science, technology, education and math, it largely doesn’t matter whether students go to a prestigious, expensive school or a low-priced one—expected earnings turn out the same. So, families may be wasting money by chasing an expensive diploma in those fields.”

“For potential employers, the skills students learn in these fields appear to trump prestige—possibly because curriculums are relatively standardized and there’s a commonly accepted body of knowledge students must absorb. So, a student may not need to attend the best possible school to ensure a good salary after graduation.”

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Open Syllabus: Which Books Will You Read in College?

Quartz: “The leaders of tomorrow will be well versed in dead philosophers, according to a new database of college syllabi. The Open Syllabus Project, a collection of over 1 million curricula from English-language colleges and universities over the past 15 years, released its data on Friday (Jan. 22). Plato, Hobbes, Machiavelli, and Aristotle overwhelmingly dominate lists in the US, particularly at the top schools.”

“See the texts taught at 10 of the top US colleges and how often they appeared over the last 15 years here.”

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U.S. Colleges Attract $40 Billion in Gifts

“U.S. colleges and universities raised a record $40.31 billion last year, buoyed by megagifts to Stanford University, Harvard University and other wealthy institutions,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “The top 10 fundraising recipients accounted for 18% of gifts in the latest year, or $7.27 billion, up from 17.5% the preceding year and 16.1% a decade earlier, said Ann E. Kaplan, who directs the survey.”

“The richest schools are encouraging an arms race among donors as they seek funds to build sprawling health-care and academic complexes or to launch interdisciplinary programs. Successful alumni donors are eager to preserve their legacies by backing institutes that take on pressing challenges like global poverty and climate change.”

“Stanford led the pack with a record $1.63 billion raised in its fiscal year ended Aug. 31, followed by Harvard, which brought in $1.05 billion in its fiscal year ended June 30.”

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What Your Major Might Say About You

The Atlantic: “According to a new meta-analysis, there are significant personality differences between students in different academic majors. For the review paper, Anna Vedel, a psychologist from Aarhus University in Denmark, analyzed 12 studies examining the correlation between personality traits and college majors. Eleven of them found significant differences between majors. The review examined the so-called “Big Five” traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.”

“Arts and humanities majors, Vedel found, are in the unenviable position of being anxious, but not very organized. They were less conscientious than students in fields like science, law, or engineering. They also tended to score higher on neuroticism … Economics and business students rated consistently lower in neuroticism than other groups. Along with law students, business and economics students were also less agreeable than students in the other majors. Economics, law, political-science, and medicine students were more extroverted than students in the arts, humanities, and the sciences.”

“Vedel writes that she hopes her findings can help college counselors guide students into the best majors for their personalities. That, she thinks, might help reduce drop-out rates.”

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