US News Announces 2018 Rankings

US News: “Princeton University is No. 1 for Best National Universities for the seventh year in a row. For the 15th consecutive year, Williams College takes the top spot for Best National Liberal Arts Colleges.”

“California schools and military academies perform strongly in this year’s top public universities rankings. For the first time, the University of California—Los Angeles moves up to No. 1 for Top Public Schools among National Universities, tying with the University of California—Berkeley. The United States Military Academy ranks No. 1 for Top Public Schools among National Liberal Arts Colleges.”

You can access the full report here.

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Toward a Car-Free Campus

The New York Times: “More universities are beginning to consider where transportation is headed as they wrestle with parking woes, often one of the thorniest issues on campus. Over the last 20 years, many campuses have shifted their emphasis to manage the demand, rather than build more garages, out of a desire to reduce their carbon footprint, put valuable land to higher uses and avoid construction costs that can run $20,000 to $30,000 a space … Increasingly, campuses are … charging more for the most convenient spaces, running shuttles, subsidizing public transit passes, and adding bike and car-sharing services.”

“Some universities are building mixed-use garages, which can be a more efficient use of land and help ensure maximal use of spaces. Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., has built two mixed-use garages in recent years, as part of a plan to move parking to the periphery of campus and free up more interior land for green space. A 1,125-space garage at the north end of campus houses an entrepreneurship incubator known as the Garage, as well as a speech and hearing clinic open to the community.”

Alan K. Cubbage, Northwestern’s vice president for university relations, comments: “We believe that it doesn’t really make sense to have space that is just for cars. You want to use the space in a thoughtful way.”

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Food For Thought: Campus Cuisine Updated

The Wall Street Journal: “College students across the U.S. are making some precise demands of school chefs and dining halls. For a generation animated by a desire to make a difference and raised to believe personal wellness is paramount, a meaningful academic experience begins with minding what you eat.”

“That’s inspired the University of Houston to spend $6,500 to build two hydroponic grow towers, vertical gardens that use nutrient-rich waters to cultivate cilantro and oregano indoors, without soil. The University of California, Los Angeles has installed aeroponic grow towers that grow plants with just mist. Thyme, butter lettuce and microgreens are flourishing in the breeze on the roof of UCLA’s Bruin Plate dining hall.”

“When Virginia Tech students demanded more free-trade coffee in 2008, dining-services head Ted Faulkner booked a trip to Nicaragua, where he helped pick beans at an organic, bird-friendly coffee estate that now supplies the school. A churrascaria, a gelateria and a sushi bar are among Virginia Tech’s other campus dining options.”

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UK Universities Top Global Rankings

The Wall Street Journal: “Oxford and Cambridge, the intellectual one-two punch of the U.K., took the first and second spots in the 2018 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Their showing marked the first year schools outside the U.S. seized the two top positions in the 14-year history of the list. The U.S., led by California Institute of Technology and Stanford University, took seven of the top 11 spots.”

“Peking University and Tsinghua University topped Chinese schools, ranking 27th and 30th, respectively. That placed them ahead of the Georgia Institute of Technology (No. 33), Brown University (No. 51) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (No. 56) … The World University Ranking awards about a third of its score to the research generated by a university’s scholars, in part by culling 62 million citations and 12.4 million research publications. Research funding also plays a role.”

“The ascendance of Oxford and Cambridge comes after years of increases in research revenue—but much of that money, as well as the researchers who use it, come from the European Union. Britain’s decision to withdraw from the EU has thrown that revenue source into question … The rise of Chinese universities also comes as the Chinese Communist Party has invested heavily in research universities.”

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Supply & Demand Reduces Tuition Costs

The Wall Street Journal: “U.S. college tuition is growing at the slowest pace in decades, following a nearly 400% rise over the past three decades that fueled middle class anxieties and a surge in student debt … Abundant supply is running up against demand constraints … Longer-running economic and demographic shifts also are at play. Lower birthrates and the aging of baby boomer children have reduced the pool of traditional college-age Americans.”

“Another factor: Congress last increased the maximum amount undergraduates could borrow from the government in 2008. Some economists have concluded schools raise prices along with increases in federal financial aid. A clampdown on aid, in turn, could limit the ability of schools to charge more … Moreover, the number of schools is declining in response to oversupply, particularly among for-profit schools, a trend that could reduce competition and increase pricing leverage for schools that remain open.”

“Public four-year colleges, which teach the majority of bachelor’s candidates in the nation and tend to be cheaper than private schools, are benefiting from increases in direct state funding as tax revenues improve. That has eased schools’ need to raise prices on students … State officials have also pressured schools, through legislation and public speeches, to rein in prices, and they are admitting more international students to boost revenues.”

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What is ‘The Essay’?

Lit Hub: “As accommodating as they are to subject matter and formal experimentation, essays permit no substitutes; every piece of short nonfiction prose is not an essay … the term ‘essay’ is ambiguous and thus allows those who use it to project onto it whatever it is that we either find most desirable or objectionable about certain kinds of nonfiction writing.”

“It is also easier to define the essay by insisting on what it is not. A habitual skepticism and self-awareness are qualities of mind we often associate with the genre’s most famous practitioners … essayists undo certainties almost as soon as they dare to appear in their own minds, or at least on their pages … genuine essays must not be confused with stories, and formulaic school writing … and worst of all, scholarly articles.”

“Michel de Montaigne … was the first to name his compositions “essais” when he first published them in 1580 … His titles reveal curiosity and reach: several of his most famous essays on topics with broad appeal, ‘Of friendship,’ ‘Of books,’ and ‘Of experience,’ find for company more unexpected foci, ‘Of the custom of wearing clothes,’ ‘Of smells,’ and ‘Of thumbs’ … With his own example, Montaigne offers his reader the possibility that the essay itself can protect us from our worst impulses—to ‘parrot’—and gives us something to do with what we know.”

“Montaigne seeks an education that would require students to examine ‘the relationship between individuals and the conventions by which their experience is defined and contained’ … ‘The true mirror of our discourse is the course of our lives’ … he is most concerned not that our language reflects our actions, ‘the course of our lives,’ but that we will shape our lives to fit the language we have learned to value; his essays model a use of language that encourages us to examine lies we are tempted to tell about those lives.”

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Grade Inflation: Getting ‘A’s is Easier

USA Today: “There’s a pretty clear trend: At four-year schools, awarding of A’s has been going up five to six percentage points per decade, and grade point averages at four-year colleges are also rising at the rate of 0.1 points per decade … And grade inflation is more prevalent at private institutions than at public ones … the mean GPA for both private and public schools in the 1930s was 2.3, or a C+. That number for both types of institutions increased at the same rate until recently – today, the average GPA at private colleges is 3.3 (a B+), while at public universities it’s 3.0 (a B).”

“Although the meaning behind an A still varies at different schools … receiving high marks could mean anything from ‘you showed up for class and didn’t insult the professor’ to ‘you’re a good to excellent student.’ According to a 2013 study conducted by the University of North Texas’s Department of Economics, class size may be one factor in the grade inflation increase, and departments with smaller student-faculty ratios have a greater tendency to exaggerate grades. The type of degree program could also influence the extent to which professors overstate students’ grades: inflation was more prevalent among Ph.D. departments than it was among lower-level programs, according to the study.”

“Student evaluations could also incentivize instructors to issue higher grades than they deserve in an effort to ‘buy’ higher evaluation scores.”

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St. John’s College: ‘Old School’ is New Again

Quartz: “Consider St. John’s College, America’s third-oldest institution of higher education, founded in 1696. With fewer than 700 students between two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, St. John’s is a bit under the radar. But it’s emerged as one of the most distinctive colleges in the country by maintaining a strict focus on the classics of the Western canon … a big part of that distinction is due to a strict adherence to its own curated curriculum and teaching methods, know simply as “the Program” implemented back in 1937.”

“Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors … Another unique feature of St. John’s is a resistance to placing texts in a political, social or historic context for discussion. Context is viewed as ideology, something that St. John’s believes distorts true education and the ability to form one’s own opinion. This is crucial to the school’s philosophy; by freeing texts from context, St. John’s claims it frees students’ minds to ponder the multiple possibilities and meanings that are actually in the text.”

“Clearly St. John’s is not for everyone. First, you need to be a voracious reader to cover the Program texts at a brisk pace. You also need the capacity for and love of writing because St. John’s requires a lot of it. It helps to feel comfortable speaking in public, since so much of St. John’s learning occurs out loud around a table with your classmates and tutors … In recent years, Forbes ranked the Santa Fe campus as the “Most Rigorous” in the US (with Annapolis ranked eighth, odd given the same Program), way ahead of the big Ivies like Harvard (17th), Princeton (20th), Yale (23rd), and Stanford (25th). The school’s tutors are often cited as among the best teachers in the country.”

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When Harvard Rescinds Admissions

The Harvard Crimson: “Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups in a private Facebook group chat … In the group, students sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, according to screenshots of the chat obtained by The Crimson.”

“After discovering the existence and contents of the chat, Harvard administrators revoked admissions offers to at least ten participants in mid-April, according to several members of the group. University officials have previously said that Harvard’s decision to rescind a student’s offer is final.”

“This incident marks the second time in two years that Harvard has dealt with a situation where incoming freshmen exchanged offensive messages online. Last spring, some admitted members of the Class of 2020 traded jokes about race and mocked feminists in an unofficial class GroupMe chat … But administrators chose not to discipline members of the Class of 2020 who authored the messages.”

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Essay Advice: Fortune Favors the Bold

Business Insider: Ross Galloway “decided to answer Harvard Business School’s (HBS) sole essay question in the voice of an ESPN anchor on SportsCenter.” He explains: “The prompt was: ‘Introduce yourself to your section mates,'” so I wrote my essay as if it was the script. I tried to create this picture for readers.”

His lead-in:

*Turns on SportsCenter theme music from his phone.*

“Hello and welcome to SportsCenter! On today’s special edition of our program we will be providing you the top 3 highlights of Ross Galloway’s life.”

“He had some doubts about this approach, especially as he received some advice to stick to a more traditional response to the question. But he wanted to remain authentic to himself … That bet paid off. Galloway finished his first year at HBS in May.” Says Ross: “Fortune favors the bold.”

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