Special Programs Help Prepare Freshmen

The Washington Post: The Educational Opportunity Program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, “designed to prepare students for their first year in college, subjects them to 15-hour days full of classes and study sessions … Its requirements were a shock to most of the 18-year-olds in the program. Many received their high school diploma less than a week before the session started. Before students really knew what they agreed to, they surrendered their cellphones and were followed when they went to the bathroom during class.”

“But most agree it’s worth it. Educational Opportunity Programs, a feature of university systems in several states, have shown that a carefully structured combination of demanding academics and intensive support can launch vulnerable students to success during their first year in college. Students then often go on to graduate at higher rates than their peers.”

“New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Program is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It’s a positive vestige of the riots that roiled Newark in 1967. In the aftermath, state legislators allocated money to help urban students who weren’t getting a good enough K-12 education attend and succeed at the state’s colleges. Similar programs popped up nationwide around the same time, but not all remain. The largest programs are in California, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington state.”


Planetarium is ‘High Point’ at HPU

Greensboro: At High Point University, “The Wanek School of Undergraduate Sciences is more than 70 percent complete and on schedule to open in August. Not only will this four-story building serve as the new home for the university’s growing undergraduate programs in biology, chemistry and physics, the $65 million facility will also complement the university’s graduate-level offerings in pharmacy and the health sciences.”

“The main lobby of the new science building is nearly 50 feet high, topped by a cupola. A hallway leads into the building past big windows that show off two labs — microbiology on the left, physics on the right. At the end of the hallway is one of the building’s key features: a planetarium with 125 stadium-style seats and an overhead dome that’s 50 feet in diameter. HPU students will use the planetarium for earth studies, astronomy and other science courses. It’ll also be the site of one of the few planetarium operations courses in the country, said Brad Barlow, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy.”

“The science building will have classrooms, faculty offices and 30 labs, including ones for animal, insect and cadaver research. It also will have a makerspace so students can work on their own projects outside of class. Next door to the Wanek building, HPU will erect a 15,000-square-foot conservatory that will house a new greenhouse for botany research and to grow the trees, shrubs and flowers that are planted throughout campus.”


How Many APs Is AP-propriate?

US News: “Advanced Placement classes can set applicants apart in a competitive college admissions environment, demonstrating the ability to perform well on more challenging coursework. Experts say performing well in AP courses often signals readiness for college. But for students looking to land at a top college, the question of how many AP courses to take persists … for those academically unprepared for the challenge, struggling in AP courses can backfire, with low grades and exam scores reflecting negatively on college applications.”

“A 2013 study conducted by admissions officials at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill found almost no difference in the first year GPA for students who took five college-level classes during high school compared with those who took six or more. Based on these findings, UNC officials remarked in the study they will encourage students ‘to pursue at least five college-level courses’ during high school.”

“Jack Whelan, director of college guidance at Providence Day School in North Carolina, says he generally sees students taking too many AP classes in high school rather than too few … While experts say AP courses are viewed favorably by admissions officers, Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling and outreach at The Derryfield School in New Hampshire, notes colleges will consider a student’s application in the context of the curriculum offered at his or her high school, meaning the applicant won’t be penalized if few or no AP classes are available.”


Major Dilemma: What to Study at College?

US News: “College majors can be conventional, such as business, or off the beaten path. California State University—Fresno, for example, offers majors in viticulture and enology through its agriculture program, where students learn about grape cultivation, wine production and the industry … The most popular college majors, based on National Center for Education Statistics data on degrees conferred in 2014-15, were ‘in the fields of business (364,000), health professions and related programs (216,000), social sciences and history (167,000), psychology (118,000), biological and biomedical sciences (110,000), engineering (98,000), visual and performing arts (96,000), and education (92,000)’.”

“Another field experts expect to grow is unmanned aerial systems, often referred to as drones … uses for drones include agriculture, real estate, medicine, security and more. Another in-demand major at the University of North Dakota is petroleum engineering, which fetches the highest median earnings among college majors, coming in at $136,000 annually, according to research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.”

“To help students narrow down their college major options, some schools offer online quizzes. Loyola University Chicago has a 35 question online quiz to help students learn more about potential majors … Marquette offers a similar quiz, but instead of suggesting individual majors, it groups students into categories such as communicator, entrepreneur, helper, problem-solver and thinker. When a student completes the college major quiz, suggested disciplines are matched to their results.”


Admissions Tip: Making the Grade with GPA

Jeffrey J. Selingo: “A recent survey of college admissions officers found that nothing carries more weight in deciding which applicants to accept than high school grades. Why? Research shows that a student’s high school grade-point average is consistently a better predictor than test scores of a student’s likely performance in college. It’s not just about whether those students will get good grades in college.”

“Grades matter in college admissions because they are a signal of a student’s effort, grit and determination … But it’s not only applications with all A’s that rise to the top of a pile in an admissions office. Officers look for students who challenge themselves by taking courses outside academic areas where they are strongest. They want applicants who are interested in studying engineering to also have taken a full slate of English courses in high school, even if they struggled at times.”


Cannabis Class: UConn Goes to Pot

NBC: “The University of Connecticut is in spring 2019 going to offer a new course on marijuana and what it takes to work in the industry. It is already causing a buzz. ‘We ran out of seats before half of the university could register for the course,’ Professor Gerard Berkowitz, who will be teaching the class, told the Hartford Courant. ‘There’s going to be more students taught in this one class than in my department, all the professors, all the classes they teach, both semesters’.”

“Connecticut is one of 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana. It has also decriminalized marijuana possession to some degree, but the cultivation and distribution of pot are still felonies, according to NORML, an advocacy group for legalization.”

“In Colorado, the University of Denver offered a pilot course in 2017 on the business of marijuana. University of California, Davis, announced in January 2017 that undergraduates could learn how cannabis affects the body in a physiology of cannabis course. The University of Washington offers medicinal cannabis and chronic pain, described as a course for health professionals on the use of medical marijuana to treat pain.”


Life @ BU: Finals Week at Mugar Library

Boston University: “It’s that time again. Twice a year Mugar Memorial Library is transformed into BU’s ground zero … The Mugar staff, which includes some 200 student-employees, puts out candy and Post-its with words of encouragement. And during the end-of-semester frenzy, the library provides van service from midnight to 6 a.m. for any student living on campus who needs a ride home. There are other stress-busters, too: visits from Rhett the Terrier and from real (What! Rhett isn’t real?) four-legged creatures, among them Ana, a two-year old Great Pyrenees therapy dog, the undisputed star attraction.”


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.”


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.”


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)