The Tower & Girl of UT Austin

UT Austin: “For more than 80 years, the UT Tower has been the academic symbol and architectural emblem of The University of Texas at Austin. The 307-foot-tall Tower … is a commanding symbol of pride on the Austin skyline, especially at night. From its beginning, the Tower has been bathed in a combination of orange and white light to celebrate academic honors and sport victories … Most commonly used, the top glows orange to commemorate regular-season victories or a conference title in any intercollegiate sport, and it stands dark on somber occasions.”

“The Main Building and its tower were originally designed to serve as the campus central library … librarians were stationed on every other floor. They would roller skate to retrieve requested books and send them down to the desk via dumbwaiter to the students below … In recent years, the Main Building has been renewed as space for students. Within the atrium of the Life Sciences Library, freshmen now attend classes in small seminar rooms.”

“Above the Observation Deck are the bells of the Knicker Carillon, which ring on the quarter hour. With 56 bells, the carillon is the largest and heaviest in Texas, with the low B flat 2 bell weighing in at 7,350 pounds and the high G7 a mere 20 pounds … And above the carillon is one final sight to behold, but you’ll need binoculars. The building’s very top is home to a peregrine falcon, nicknamed ‘Tower Girl.’ She is the — ahem — apex predator of the Forty Acres. Tower Girl lives in Austin year round, and this fastest of all animals on Earth can be seen dive-bombing unfortunate grackles, pigeons and other prey.”

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Monserrat: Climbing Mountains at Holy Cross

Holy Cross: “From their very first days on campus, Montserrat challenges students to expand their idea of where and how learning happens by intentionally blurring the boundary between classroom, residence hall and co-curricular activities. The program’s design pushes students to make connections between parts of their lives that are sometimes seen as separate: learning, living, and doing.”

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How to Study for Jobs of the Future?

NPR: “Eighty-five percent of the jobs that today’s students will do in 2030 don’t exist yet, the Institute for the Future has predicted. That might seem like a high number to reach in only 12 years. But think about the now-mainstream careers that did not exist just a handful of years ago: drone operator, social media manager, app developer and cloud computing engineer, among others … Even if that 85 percent is ultimately smaller, the number begs an important question about how the workforce is preparing for the future, starting in the classroom. What role should colleges and universities play in preparing students for a workplace that is constantly changing?”

“At the University of Utah, the new Degree Plus program seeks to fill the job skills gap. It offers eight-week courses intended as an add-on to a student’s main degree. The courses include data analysis, web design and digital marketing, all taught by industry professionals … The model is similar to ‘badge’ programs, which aim to give students a certificate showing they know a skill that employers might find useful.”

“The University of California, Berkeley, is another school that is trying to foster student-driven pursuits, which may not have a traditional, professional outlet. Students there can design their own courses, such as ‘Blockchain Fundamentals’ and ‘Impact of AI,’ a class that explores ‘various economic, social, and ethical challenges facing AI’ … In addition to allowing students to study subjects not taught in a standard university class, the DeCal, short for Democratic Education at Cal, program is designed to foster creativity–a skill that could be valuable in any job market.”

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Well Spoken: Bike-Friendly Schools

Kentucky.com: “The University of Kentucky was named the most bike-friendly college in America by the non-profit group League of American Bicyclists, which uses results from an annual survey. Schools are evaluated based on the Five E’s: engineering a safe bike network, education by incorporating bikes into the class room, encouragement in motivating students to bike, enforcement in protecting riders and evaluation in forming committees to improve campus cycling.”

The other top schools “are University of Maryland, College Park; Harvard University, Dickinson College, University of Utah, University of Vermont and University of Washington.”

“Amelia Neptune, program director of the bicycle league, said UK stood out due to its incentives for students and faculty members. Those include a free bike-share membership or $200 to spend at a local bike shop, as well as offering students who don’t bring cars to school free access to bike rentals. UK also hired a full-time coordinator to oversee its support for cycling, the league said.”

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The Top 10 ‘Most Underrated’ Colleges

Boston.com: “CollegeVine, a Cambridge-based college guidance company, recently examined the ‘most underrated’ colleges in the United States, by comparing their cost of attendance and generosity of financial aid with ‘qualitative data’ on students’ career outcomes. Unlike traditional college rankings, CollegeVine co-founder Vinay Bhaskara said they primarily focused on financial outcomes, like students’ starting salary and return on investment one and five years after graduating, as well as ‘qualitative outcomes like job placements’.”

“The No. 1 school on the list is San Jose State University … The second most underrated college was the University of Houston, followed by SUNY Binghamton, City College of New York, George Mason University, WPI, Fordham University, and University of Texas at Austin — with Babson and Wellesley rounding out the list.”

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Will Algorithms Change Admissions?

USA Today: “Relax, the robots aren’t coming for college admissions quite yet. Real people will still be deciding on applicants for quite some time, and in all likelihood will always have the final say on admissions. Yet, just as artificial intelligence is in the relatively early stages of impacting practically every business, AI will almost certainly assume a bigger role across college campuses, too, and perhaps help university staffers decide whether you ultimately make the cut.”

“While University of Texas at Austin isn’t currently using or planning to use AI in its admissions process, UT-’s executive director of admissions Miguel Wasielewski told USA TODAY in an emailed statement that AI could become a useful tool. He wrote that, in conjunction with a robust ‘holistic review,’ AI ‘could have potential to reveal additional perspectives that might inform the admissions review process and … could support some of our practices around determining, based on a student’s application materials, what student success interventions might be important for timely graduation’.”

“That holistic review, Wasielewski makes clear, is still a ‘human endeavor,” and it is people, not machines, that will pore through and evaluate an applicant’s written responses to essay and short answer questions, transcripts, test scores and letters of recommendation.”

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Grade Inflation: Putting the ‘Grit’ Back in GPA

Mitch Daniels: “In many cases, the GPA proves to be a reliable indicator of discipline, persistence and resilience — characteristics necessary to succeed at the college level (to say nothing of adult life). In the current vernacular, these traits are often collectively called ‘grit.’ Enrollment experts agree on its significance. The problem is in knowing when a high GPA reflects it and when it doesn’t. The challenge for today’s college admissions officer is like the one faced by corporate recruiters: In an era of rampant grade inflation, which grades can you believe?”

“Last year, researchers reported that nearly half of high school seniors in 2016 — 47 percent — graduated with an A average. That’s up from 38.9 percent in 1998. As ordinary students increasingly ‘earn’ higher marks, teachers help top students stand out by granting them extra credit of various kinds. The result: It is now not unusual for colleges to see high-school GPAs above a ‘perfect’ 4.0 … It is increasingly clear that, though a strong high-school GPA may indicate grit, it can also just be a sign of lax grading — producing not resilience but its opposite.”

“Of course, one easy solution for colleges is just to go with the grade-inflation flow, and obviously many institutions of higher education have chosen that route. Places determined instead to stretch and challenge students, aiming to help them achieve their full potential, will have to take on the trickier task of identifying and fostering true grit, providing quality counseling everywhere it’s needed … Meanwhile, let’s hope the College Board comes up with a new GPA — Grit Potential Assessment. I guarantee you, our university will be the first customer.” (Mitch Daniels is President of Purdue University)

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Aw, Snap: Admissions Interest in Social Media Drops

Adweek: “The emergence of social platforms and features where content disappears or is not easily available for viewing by people who are not friends or contacts, such as the Stories format on Snapchat and Instagram, has reduced college admissions officers’ focus on applicants’ social media profiles, according to the latest survey from Kaplan Test Prep.”

“Kaplan surveyed 364 admissions officers from national, regional and liberal arts colleges and universities in the U.S., and it found that only 25 percent visit applicants’ social media profiles to learn more about them, down from 40 percent in 2015, prior to the emergence of the Stories format and similar features on other social platforms. Indeed, 52 percent of college admissions officers that did visit applicants’ social media profiles said those applicants have become more savvy about hiding their social media presence or using platforms where their content is not easily found by the public.”

“In Kaplan’s 2017 survey, 68 percent of admissions officers felt that it was ‘fair game’ for them to visit applicants’ social media profiles, but that number dropped to 57 percent this year. Meanwhile, 70 percent of students in a separate study conducted by Kaplan earlier this year felt that the practice was fair game.”

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What Is Campus Life *Really* Like?

Her Campus: “It might seem silly, but a meme page can tell you more about a college than you’d think … Inside jokes between students can be about anything—fights with rival schools, the gross dining hall food and super strict professors. If you can learn about the things students usually make fun of or complain about on campus, you’ll have a much better idea of what student life is like. Just don’t take everything at face value—it’s a meme page, after all.”

“Instagram is a great way to find out about student lifestyle at a university. You can look through public pictures and comments posted by students there, and even reach out to someone if you’re interested. Most likely, they’d be willing to speak with you. Just make sure it’s not the school’s official Instagram—it probably won’t be any more insightful than a brochure … college newspapers can hold a treasure trove of information for you. From opinion pieces to campus news, you’ll find all the details on student ideologies and the latest changes on campus.”

“Believe it or not, reading student responses on a site like Rate My Professors can tell you a lot about student life. Whether they’re angry or happy with their professors, you’ll be able to see if students are petty about their grades or have actual, intelligible responses.” And, finally: “Make sure you check your school’s College Confidential forum for anything you want to find out about student life—from academics to intramural sports. It’s a great resource that you should check out at least once.”

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