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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Turning The Tide: Reforming The Admissions Process

In this morning’s New York Times, Frank Bruni writes about Turning The Tide, a report by administrators from Yale, MIT and the University of Michigan. The report details recommended changes to the college admissions process intended to relieve some of the stress it places on students.

Mr. Bruni writes: “Focused on certain markers and metrics, the admissions process warps the values of students drawn into a competitive frenzy. It jeopardizes their mental health. And it fails to include — and identify the potential in — enough kids from less privileged backgrounds.”

“The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income … It asks colleges to send a clear message that admissions officers won’t be impressed by more than a few Advanced Placement courses. Poorer high schools aren’t as likely to offer A.P. courses, and a heavy load of them is often cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students at richer schools.”

“The report also suggests that colleges discourage manic résumé padding by accepting information on a sharply limited number of extracurricular activities; that they better use essays and references to figure out which students’ community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some underprivileged kids take on.”

“Colleges are … realizing that many kids admitted into top schools are emotional wrecks or slavish adherents to soulless scripts that forbid the exploration of genuine passions. And they’re acknowledging the extent to which the admissions process has contributed to this.”

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