Monthly Archives: August 2011

Wednesday Weekly Reader: The Digital Revolution Edition

Some weeks, I must admit, there is more to read than time for reading (and time to write about it). Today I’m offering up a couple of long-reads that I’m working my way through plus a shorter piece, all of them wrapped around new trends in college learning and admissions brought about by the ‘digital revolution.’

Starting off with the shorter piece…

Walkway near the Quad

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1.  Virtual and Artificial, But 58,000 Want Course. The New York Times wrote about a free online course in Artificial Intelligence taught by two Silicon Valley experts, offered by Stanford. 58,000 is nearly four times the size of Stanford’s entire student body. Absolutely worth reading.

The two scientists said they had been inspired by the recent work of Salman Khan, an M.I.T.-educated electrical engineer who in 2006 established a nonprofit organization to provide video tutorials to students around the world on a variety of subjects via YouTube.

“The vision is: change the world by bringing education to places that can’t be reached today,” said Dr. Thrun.

An interesting analysis of this story, written by Kevin Carey, policy director of The Education Sector and who blogs at The Quick and the Ed, can be found here.

A course credit from Stanford says two things about the bearer. First, “I learned a certain body of knowledge as represented by the course.” Second, “I won a highly-competitive admissions tournament for the privilege of attending Stanford.” So Stanford can’t start handing out “Stanford credits” to tens of thousands of people around the world who didn’t win the tournament, because then there’s no point in having the tournament. However, there’s nothing stopping any other, less-selective colleges and universities from awarding credit to students with a “statement of accomplishment” from Stanford, or from employers using that information to make hiring decisions, and so forth.

We’re going to be seeing more and more online courses — at every level of education, not just higher ed.

2.  The Digital Revolution and Higher Education. Further related to online learning and what the public (read: students and parents) and college presidents think about it, the Pew Internet and Pew Social & Demographic Trends released a study on the topic this week. Here’s a link to the study, which can be read online or downloaded as a pdf. A couple of clips from the Executive Summary:

The Value of Online Learning. The public and college presidents differ over the educational value of online courses. Only 29% of the public says online courses offer an equal value compared with courses taken in a classroom. Half (51%) of the college presidents surveyed say online courses provide the same value.

The Prevalence of Online Courses. More than three-quarters of college presidents (77%) report that their institutions now offer online courses. These courses are more prevalent in some sectors of higher education than in others. While 89% of four-year public colleges and universities offer online classes, just 60% of four-year private schools offer them.

3.  The End of College Admissions as We Know It. This long read was written by Kevin Carey (already mentioned in story #1) and published in Washington Monthly (in a college-themed issue offering their rankings of colleges). Carey provides deep background on the college admissions process and how it has effectively been off-limits to lower-income students who often do not have access to the information they need to consider applying to colleges. ConnectEDU may help level the playing field.

If you want to buy shares of stock, bid on antiques, search for a job, or look for Mr. Right in 2011, you will likely go to a marketplace driven by the electronic exchange of information. There will be quick, flexible transactions, broad access to buyers and sellers, and powerful algorithms that efficiently match supply and demand. If you are a student looking for a college or a college looking for a student, by contrast, you’re stuck with an archaic, over-complicated, under-managed system that still relies on things like bus trips to airport convention centers and the physical transmission of pieces of paper. That’s why under-matching is so pervasive. The higher education market only works for students who have the resources to overcome its terrible inefficiency. Everyone else is out of luck.

There, that should keep us all reading for a while.

I feel somewhat guilty for offering up such long reads; if you’re interested in these posts and you haven’t yet met Instapaper, now is a good time to sign on.

As always, please let me know (in comments, below) if you found any of this useful. And feel free to share links to anything you’ve read…

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Got Time for 9 Essays on: Do We Spend Too Much on Education?

It’s back to school — and homework — now for all three members of our Mod Squad. Only appropriate, then, to assign homework for the parents.

I will be reading the New York Times “Room for Debate” series of essays on Education, titled:  Do We Spend Too Much on Education?

In case you’ve not seen them, the “Room for Debate” discussions bring in outside contributors to discuss multiple sides of an issue on a wide variety of important topics.

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel. Image via Wikipedia

See the current Room for Debate on Education here. It begins, for example, with an essay by Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, who has offered $100,000 each to 20 people under 20 years old, in order to spur them to quit college and create their own ventures.

There are nine essays in this Education series; here’s the intro:

Americans are spending more and more on education, but the resulting credentials — a high-school diploma and college degrees — seem to be losing value in the labor market.

Americans who go to college are triply hurt by this. First, as taxpayers: state and federal education budgets have ballooned since the 1950s. Second, as consumers: the average college student spends $17,000 a year on school, and those with loans graduate more than $23,000 in debt. And third, as a worker: in 1970, an applicant with a college degree was among an elite 11 percent, but now almost 3 in 10 adults have a degree.

Given that a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree and even graduate school are no longer a ticket to middle-class life, and all these years of education delay the start of a career, does our society devote too much time and money to education?

Sounds like just the sort of question parents of a HS senior should be asking. Let me know if you read these as well and, if so, what’s your take on the debate? Please comment below…

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Student Debt: How High Will it Go?

A constant drumbeat of reports on escalating student debt prompted me to take a look at student loans and accumulated debt before tackling the bigger picture of financial aid (still to come).

Start with this article from The Atlantic with the chart showing a red line of student debt versus the blue line of mortgage debt (both pre- and post-housing bubble):  Student debt is up 511% since 1999.

How does the housing bubble debt compare? If you add together mortgages and revolving home equity, then from the first quarter of 1999 to when housing-related debt peaked in the third quarter of 2008, the sum increased from $3.28 trillion to $9.98 trillion. Over this period, housing-related debt had increased threefold. Meanwhile, over the entire period shown on the chart, the balance of student loans grew by more than 6x. The growth of student loans has been twice as steep — and it’s showing no signs of slowing.

Move on to Real Time Economics and the chart here showing all types of consumer debt, 2008 – 2011 at the Wall Street Journal. All other types of consumer debt — credit card, mortgage, auto, home equity — have gone down during the three years of the recession. Only one has gone up.

Mortgage debt, home equity loans, credit card debt and auto loans are all down sharply — partly because people are being more careful, but also because many have defaulted. But student loans are up sharply.

In April, the New York Times Education section reported that two-thirds of 2008 graduates carried student loan debt, as opposed to less than half in 1993. In 2010 the average student indebtedness was $24,000. The article also touches on the difference between student loan debt and other types of consumer debt:

Unlike most other debt, student loans generally cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and the government can garnish wages or take tax refunds or Social Security payments to recover the money owed.

Fox Business News, in its personal finance column, offers three tips on how to limit student debt. Read the entire article here. Below, the tips:

1.  Your Debt Should Relate To Future Pay.

It’s Common Sense 101, but somehow it eluded us. You must be able to make your student loan payments out of your post-college paycheck.

2.  Guesstimate What You’ll Earn

Katharine S. Brooks, author of “You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path From Chaos to Career,” says anticipating your future salary is a challenge.

But Brooks advises: “Don’t hide out for four years,” delaying a visit to your school’s career office until graduation. Learning more about internship opportunities and what talents that job postings require can help students learn what skills to develop and what salaries and jobs will be available to them.

3.  Choose the Right School

Saleh agrees that students and their parents should set a maximum student debt for themselves, regardless of what the career might be. “Students getting $40,000 in debt need to pull back and look at what they are doing, no matter how high-paying a career (they are aiming for),” Saleh says.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Finally, here’s a Boston Globe magazine article by Zac Bissonnette, whose book Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents is on my to-be-read shelf.

College is an active experience, not an intellectual amusement park ride where you strap in and see what happens. Find one with a wide array of programs and, above all, a price tag that won’t put parents’ retirement on the back burner or make a student an indentured servant of Sallie Mae into middle age. Just as driving a Mercedes won’t make you rich, attending an expensive school won’t make you smart. But it very well could make you poor.

I probably won’t ask Mod Squad Pete to read Bissonnette’s book, but I’ve already emailed him the link to this article. Maybe he can fit it in around homework…

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: 4 Stories

News from the college search / admissions / finance front.

1.  Relish High School. As I wrote yesterday, today is the first day of Mod Squad Pete’s senior year. Thanks to Cappex, who’ve provided five reasons to appreciate high school.

So let me play devil’s advocate with you because it’s likely you’re going to ignore your parents’ pleas to you to “not grow up too fast.” But hey, don’t grow up too fast. Sure high school can seem lame because everyone’s telling you what to do and you’re just like, so over it. But, let me try to convince you why you shouldn’t let yourself get too over it too quickly.

2. Don’t Believe the Myths You Hear About College. Thanks to Penn State student Emily Grier, writing for USA Today’s College blog, as she offers the perspective of a college student busting myths high school students hear about college. A few opposing views speak up in the comments; great read for high school seniors (hear that, Pete?).

Picking a college is the biggest decision of your life.

Let’s be honest: Although it completely seems true during your senior year of high school, picking a college probably isn’t the biggest decision you will ever make in your lifetime (kickin’ in the front seat or sittin’ in the back seat?…now there’s a big decision). It took me basically an entire year away at school before I finally realized this. Meeting people who didn’t end up at their first choice schools (and were convinced their lives were over because of it), will eventually convince you otherwise. For anyone who didn’t get into their dream school, you’ll probably figure out (if you haven’t already) that you’re where you’re meant to be.

3.  Completing College. Dr. Michael Kirst, writes on his College Puzzle blog about an older, but still relevant, report on what students can do to increase their chances of completing a college degree. Here’s the link to the brief article. Below is the advice offered:

Advice for students on how to improve chances of college completion

  • Do not delay college entry after high school. Stay continuously enrolled, do not stop out.
  • Attainment during second academic college year is crucial –can recapture academic momentum and complete “gate-way core courses.”
  • Earning four or more credits in summer—positive contributor to degree completion, so enroll all year around for some credits
  • Part-time attendance hurts a lot in terms of completion probability
  • Remediation seems to help completion in four-year, less so in two-year.
  • Withdrawal or repeating courses without penalty is big negative in terms of completion
1967 U.S. postage stamp honoring Henry David T...

Image via Wikipedia

4.  The Value of the Humanities. The debate over the worth of college in general still roils across the mass and social media, a more specific debate over the value of a degree in the humanities churns through higher ed reports, and now the question is raised:  Is there any value to teaching the humanities to the poor and / or homeless?

In many ways, the debate over the value of the humanities has been shaped by those who have a lot—affluence, one or more degrees, prestigious positions, and the privilege of voicing their opinions via newspapers and blogs.

But what might those who have relatively little say about the value of Plato, of poetry, of postmodernism? If you’re poor, can you still learn something from Henry David Thoreau? If you’re homeless, can you still find meaning in a Baroque painting?

Antioch University‘s Bridge Program (in California) provides humanities courses, free of charge to low-income adults. Kathryn Pope, the program director, recruits students at shelters, community centers, and rehab facilities. This fascinating article relates the tangible and intangible benefits the students gain. Great story.

Any thoughts? What have you read?

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Looking Backwards… And Forward.

Tomorrow is the first day of school and Mod Squad Pete’s senior year. Just like every other school year, he’s raring to go, ready to see friends (including teachers as well as peers), get back into the routine (even though it cuts down on the pool and sports club time), and [perhaps] thinking there won’t be any real work required for a while.

Photo courtesy

I’ve written a lot about the college application and SAT prep work we expected of him over the summer. He may not agree (though he doesn’t often say much on this site), but I think he found a somewhat happy medium between the amount of work he wanted to do (close to zero?) and the amount we wanted him to do (close to final draft on how many essays?).

Ok, enough with the parenthetic comments. Here’s what I’m thinking and bear with me, please, it’s a bit of a ramble.

Annie Dillard wrote a truly wonderful book, The Maytrees, about the breakup of a marriage and a friendship when the husband moved away with the best friend, followed twenty years later by the first wife helping the husband care for the very ill second wife. Trust me, it’s a wonderful, spare story of enduring love.

In one scene the first wife, Lou, sees their adult son and wishes he could be in the same room with all his former selves:  the three year old, the adolescent, and so on. They were all such great guys; what a joy it would be to see them together. [Apologies to any other Dillard fans for however I may have misremembered this scene.] This scene has stuck with me for years; something about it captured the ongoing loss of parenting, as the child moves through stages, leaving behind younger versions of him or her self.

I see the tall, funny Mod Squad Pete today, talking blithely of ‘next year when I won’t be here’ and remember the younger fellow in preschool, elementary, and middle school, then another one three years ago as a freshman.

So here’s one of the delights of parenting:  watching our child mature, as he realizes more of his self and shares it with us. How can he be thinking of moving on, just as this stage gets to be more and more fun? What in the world would we do if he wasn’t thinking of moving on — how awful would it be to have to push him on to the next step?

This is a post with no to-do lists, no reminders, no gentle nudges. Just an appreciation for the boy* who brings such delight to our lives and a wish for a great, safe, fun senior year.

*Worry not, children, Mod Squad Julie and Linc are in my thoughts, too.

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How Do I Pay for College? Part 1.

Click to see larger.

A well-respected friend (and parent of a HS senior) requested more information on ‘Paying for College.’ I was surprised to see how little I’d written about this; I’ve written about the value, but not much on how to pay.

Here are a few places to start. I’m writing this for parents; it’s hard for me to imagine asking a teenager to decipher the financial aid puzzle.

1.  Complete the FAFSA.  It all starts with FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Key word here is free. (Be sure to go to, the Federal site, and not, which charges for consulting help in completing the free application.) Register for a PIN and keep that in a safe place; you’ll use the same one all four years (and for graduate school). Many guides are available online or in print. (One worth looking at is Paying for College without Going Broke; the 2012 version will tie in with the 2012 FAFSA.)

Two specific pieces of advice I’ve seen:

  • Complete the FAFSA whether or not you think your family will qualify for need-based aid; it is often used to determine merit-based awards as well.
  • Complete it as soon as possible after January 1. Colleges will provide a deadline, but a lot of the funds are first-come, first-served, so the earlier the application is submitted the better. The screenshot shows a series of tweets on this from Russell Golowin, of College Funding Relief, LLC. (Thanks to Smart College Visit for hosting the weekly #CampusChat.)

From the FAFSA, the Federal government will determine your family’s Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. Each college uses the EFC to determine the aid they will offer to your student. My understanding from reading about it and talking to other parents:  the Expected Family Contribution is typically far higher than any family feels they can contribute. (And, perhaps, want to contribute.)

Mechanical calculator from 1914

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2.  Complete the CSS Profile. Or, for the official name:  the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®. The CSS [College Scholarship Service] Profile is a financial aid application service offered by the College Board. The Profile is required by most private colleges, costs a flat fee for submission (last year, $9) and a fee per each college it is sent to (last year, $16). The online app for 2012-13 should be available October 1, 2011.

The Profile also calculates the EFC, but uses a different methodology. Here’s a brief outline from Peterson’s College Search:

Comparing the CSS Profile with the FAFSA:

  • In measuring your family’s ability to pay for college, the PROFILE uses the Institutional Methodology (IM) instead of the Federal Methodology (FM), which is used on the FAFSA. Although the two systems are fundamentally the same—in both the IM and FM, the primary “drivers” that determine how much you will be expected to pay for college are income, assets, family size, and the number of children in college—the IM takes into account whether your family owns a home and assumes a minimum student contribution.
  • The PROFILE contains questions specific to the schools you’re applying to, while the FAFSA is a standardized financial aid application designed to be used in conjunction with federal aid.
  • The PROFILE allows financial aid counselors to take special circumstances into greater consideration.

3.  Determine Costs.  How to compare college costs should be easier this year than in previous years, as the Department of Education will require colleges to post a net price calculator no later than October 2011. Here’s more information on the requirement. See these tips, from Lynn O’Shaugnessy at The College Solution, on how to use the calculators correctly.

These so-called net price calculators will be incredibly valuable because they will allow students and their parents to learn in advance what the price of individual colleges will be for them. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, these net price calculators will determine the price for a family after any grants are subtracted from the sticker price.

These calculators, which must be installed by late October, aren’t going to be perfect. You will increase your chances of using them effectively, however, if you understand some of the issues facing users and the colleges that are creating the calculators.

Lynn also writes that side-by-side comparisons will be difficult. At best, this is a start.

Please note that in Virginia, we also have access to the VA Education Wizard, which helps calculate and compare costs for Virginia Community Colleges against four-year colleges, including the complete cost of a Bachelor’s Degree.

As I understand the entire Paying for College process, these three steps are necessary for every family. I’ll write about researching funding sources soon.

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: 4 Stories.

News from the college search / admissions / finance front.

There are far more stories available right now than I have the space to feature here. I see a ‘clean out the file’ post coming in the future, with one line descriptions and links. On to today’s stories…

1.  Education Week‘s College Bound blog writes about an alternative to the Common Application (which has 456 participating colleges this year), is the Universal College Application. The UCA has only 60 participating schools, but offers some significant differences if your desired college is on their list. Here’s one:

One feature that sets UCA apart is the ability of students to include a link to their online content—a YouTube video, website, social-networking page, or news article. This solves a headache for colleges that get thousands of CDs and videos mailed into admissions offices for review, says Reiter.

2.   Is Mod Squad Pete ready for his close-up? Suzanne Shaffer, who blogs at Parents Countdown to College, writes here about colleges accepting video applications. She offers tips to the students considering this option.

The thought of a video application may seem odd to many of you, but the advantages of doing an application through video are numerous. A traditional application doesn’t allow the student an opportunity to truly show off their originality. Also, through a video submission college representatives are able to see how the student looks, sounds, and presents themselves. Video applications are the wave of the future and students need to prepare themselves for the possibility of having to present themselves to college representatives through the use of video.

Four schools are now encouraging students to send videos instead of essays. According to Newsweek about 5-10% of the applications sent to the four schools include videos. The four schools include Tufts, George Mason, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and William and Mary. Some of the videos submitted have gained thousands of views on YouTube.

3.   From Daniel DeVise, who blogs on education for the Washington Post, here is an updated look at StraighterLine, which offers basic 100-level college courses for $99 a month. A recent survey shows positive feedback from StraighterLine students, as opposed to a reporter’s view after taking a course in Econ101. The students compared StraighterLine courses to other online courses they’d taken and community college courses.

StraighterLine students tend to be older and otherwise more diverse than traditional college students. And most have attended two or more colleges; they tend to view college not as a campus so much as a collection of credits. To Smith, that is the future of higher education.

4.  The Huffington Post reported recently that, “Seven out of 10 undergraduates surveyed at 13 college campuses said they had not purchased one or more textbooks because the cost was too high.” Hat tip to Dr. Michael Kirst at The College Puzzle, Stanford University.

“Students recognize that textbooks are essential to their education but have been pushed to the breaking point by skyrocketing costs,” said Rich Williams, Higher Education Advocate for U.S. PIRG in a release. “The alarming result of this survey underscores the urgent need for affordable solutions.”
Any thoughts? What have you read?


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