Why is the College Dropout Rate So High?

The New York Times: “Sixty percent of people go to college these days … But more than a quarter of those who start college drop out with no credential.” The drop-out rate is especially high among first-generation students who “miss out on the advice, support and voice of experience provided by parents with firsthand experience of higher education. There is only so much information that overburdened guidance counselors can cram into students during a few short meetings.”

“Researchers are uncovering promising interventions that help get these students to graduation … Benjamin L. Castleman of the University of Virginia and Lindsay C. Page of the University of Pittsburgh devised a program that nudges students to complete the administrative paperwork required to stay in college. They sent texts reminding students to complete their re-enrollment forms and financial aid applications. Among freshmen who received the texts, 68 percent completed their sophomore year, compared with 54 percent of those who did not receive reminders.”

“A new program at the City University of New York offers many of the supports that college-educated parents typically provide: intensive advising, a subway pass, textbooks and money to cover any shortfall between costs and financial aid. The CUNY program doubled the three-year graduation rate and also increased the proportion of students who went on from a two-year community college to a four-year institution. The program is now being replicated at colleges in Ohio.”

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Test Scores & The Time of Day

Pacific Standard: “As it turns out, each hour that passes before starting a test drags scores down by a little bit, meaning students who take a test late in the day will perform noticeably worse.” A study by economists Hans Henrik Sievertsen, Francesca Gino, and Marco Piovesan “analyzed scores from every student who took the Danish National Tests between the 2009–10 and the 2012–13 school years … Tests were given in three parts, presented to each student in random order, and lasted throughout the day, with breaks around 10 a.m. and noon.”

“Percentile rankings, which show where students rank on a 100-point scale, declined by about two-tenths of a point per hour on average, though how much scores dropped—and whether they dropped at all—changed throughout the day. Students who took a test at 9 a.m., for example, ranked 1.35 points lower than those who were tested on the same material at 8 a.m. Ranks increased 0.37 points after a 10 a.m. break, but dropped again by 0.58 points for tests taken at 11 a.m.”

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Everybody Is Eligible For Financial Aid

Christian Science Monitor: “If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible for financial aid to help pay for college, there’s an easy answer: Yes. You are. ‘Everybody is eligible, regardless of income,’ says Brad Yeckley, assistant manager of the Student Financial Education Center at Penn State University. What varies is the type of aid you’ll get and whether you’ll have to pay it back.”

Some highlights:

“To get federal, state and school financial aid — and even some private scholarships — you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA … Some forms of financial aid are first-come, first-served, and schools and states often have their own deadlines. Apply for financial aid as soon as possible once the FAFSA opens on Jan. 1 of each year.”

“Schools start by granting you need-based aid (if you qualify), meaning funds that are earmarked for students with financial need. Those can include need-based grants — from the government or the school — and need-based federal loans such as Perkins and direct subsidized loans. Direct loans, also known as Stafford loans, are the most common types of federal student loans. Subsidized loans are more favorable than their unsubsidized counterparts because they don’t accrue interest while you’re in school or for the six months following graduation.”

“If you don’t receive enough need-based aid to cover your cost of attendance, or didn’t qualify for any at all, the school will then offer you federal direct unsubsidized loans or PLUS loans (available to parents and graduate students).These loans are less desirable than direct subsidized or Perkins loans because they accrue interest while you’re in school and during your grace period after you graduate. PLUS loans in particular carry high interest rates, and those made to parents are eligible for fewer repayment plans.”

“A net price calculator will show you how much grant aid you’re likely to receive to attend a particular school. That amount could include federal Pell Grants as well as state and school grant funding. But net price calculators don’t always show you exactly how much of each you’ll receive. That’s why it’s helpful to get an estimate of your potential Pell Grant from the FAFSA4Caster. Most colleges include net price calculators on their websites, but the tools aren’t always easy to find. Search for a calculator using the U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator Center.”

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High Schools Address The Stress of College Admissions

The Wall Street Journal: “With growing evidence that students are suffering from the intense competition for college admission, schools around the country are rethinking everything from tests to classes to start times.” For example, superintendent David Aderhold of the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in central New Jersey “abolished midterms and final exams and instituted a no-homework policy during breaks and some weekends.”

As Mr. Aderhold put it: “We’re not producing widgets. We’re producing citizens of the world.”

“To deal with the problem of sleep deprivation, some schools have adopted later start times. In 2014, researchers at the University of Minnesota examined data collected from more than 9,000 students at eight high schools in Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming that had made this shift. The study found that when schools started at 8:30 a.m. or later, teenagers reported lower rates of depression and substance use, fewer car crashes, less absenteeism and tardiness, and higher test scores.”

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Survey: America’s Best Public Colleges

Business Insider: “Niche, a company that researches and compiles information on schools, ranked the best public schools in the US … To determine its rankings, Niche considers factors like academic strength, campus quality, caliber of professors, and quality of student reviews for more than 1,500 schools across the country. Read on to see which school is repping your state.”

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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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