Paying the College Price Tag

Roll of $100 bills with small graduation cap on top

If you need financial help for college, don’t worry; you have options.
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According to collegedata.com, the average cost (including tuition, fees, room and board, and books and supplies) of the 2014-15 school year for an in-state resident at a public college was $20,089. Add another $11,000 for an out-of-state student, or double the original average for a private school.

Considering that a year’s wages working full-time on minimum wage in 2014 was $15,080, it’s easy to throw up your hands and decide that you can never afford a college education. But there is help available for almost everyone trying to go to school.

Your high school’s counselor or career center should be the first place you look. Their literal job is to find scholarships and help you apply for them. They usually know about the local scholarships, too, so you’re not competing nationally for a limited pool of money.

Don’t forget the businesses where you or your parents work, or any other local businesses. Many companies offer scholarships for employees or dependents–or just locals. You might have to go in person to check, or it might be on their website. If you do go in, dress as if you are going to a job interview.

Check your target school! Many colleges and universities have scholarships available for their students, though you’ll have much better luck with this if you’re considering a private school. Public colleges and universities have precious little to give. Even considering that huge check they want from you. Still, don’t be afraid to call the admissions office and ask.

And of course, take your search to the internet. Fastweb is a whole database of scholarship information, including an OKCupid-like engine for matching you up with your best bests. Chegg is another in the same vein. Do Something lets you trade volunteer efforts for tickets in their scholarship raffle. And there are so many more. (A caveat: Any site or company asking you to pay to apply for a chance at a scholarship is a scam. Run away.)

This last one should go without saying: look into using the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Fill this out in January and renew it every year. There is absolutely no reason not to do this one. Depending on your circumstances, it can get you loans or outright grants via the federal government. It does have a big downside–it bases your financial status on your parents’ income, assuming they’re paying your bills. If they aren’t, you will have to jump through a lot of hoops to prove that.

Don’t look at the numbers and give up hope! You have options.

Choosing Your College

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Here are some tips for researching and applying to college.
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If you’re a teenager in a typical American high school, this is exactly what your guidance counselor is supposed to be for. They have all the college catalogs you could want, and they know what to look for in a school. But not every guidance counselor is up to par, so here are some tips on taking this search into your own hands.

Before you even start Googling specific schools, figure out the basics of what you want. Big school? Small school? On-campus housing? Religious or political leaning? The three most important factors are probably programs, location, and cost, but you don’t have to choose specifically along any of those three axes. Cost can be assisted, location can be a great new experience, and whether you’ve decided your major or not, many schools will have the flexibility to make sure you get the education you want.

When you have a list of those basics, put them in columns. You need this, you want that, you don’t want the other thing.

Now, fire up your internet. Google’s great, but College Navigator is a federal tool made exactly for this. So use it. You can search by all the qualities mentioned above, as well as by admission requirements and the average scores and grades of applicants. All the data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, and it is 100% free. It’s a good way to get a fast sampling of colleges that fit your list of needs and wants.

Once you’ve narrowed things down a bit, you can refine your research. If you don’t know what you want to do in college, that’s fine. You don’t have to have a major right away. Any major you want is going to wind up being built on most of the same prerequisites, anyway. Look up a sampling of teachers attached to your favorite schools and look up student reviews on them. Search for appearances of the schools in the news.

You have more research on colleges and universities available to you than any previous class has ever had. Use it all. And then when you’ve refined your selection down to 3-5 colleges, apply to them all. Applying to more schools will only increase your odds of being accepted.

Good luck!

Stanford Tops US News and World Report’s List of Top Business Schools

Stanford campus

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business was chosen as US News & World Report’s top business school of 2015.
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Every year, the US News and World Report releases its ratings for the top graduate programs in the country. Of these graduate programs, the category of the top graduate schools in business is one of the most anticipated. Here are the top ten entries on the list:

  1. Stanford University
  2. Harvard University
  3. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  4. University of Chicago (Booth)
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
  6. Northwestern University (Kellogg)
  7. University of California—Berkley (Haas)
  8. Columbia University
  9. Dartmouth College (Tuck)
  10. University of Virginia (Darden)

Stanford’s place at the top of this list is not very surprising. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) is one of the top-rated business schools in the world. Stanford also received high marks for other graduate programs, including education, engineering, law, and medicine; all of these schools ranked among the top three in the nation.

At the Stanford GSB, they believe in empowering students with the knowledge, skills, and long-term vision to lead through constant innovation and growth.

Notable Stanford Graduate School of Business alumni include Paul Thelen, CEO and founder of Big Fish Games, astronaut Steven L. Smith, General Mills CEO Ken Powell, billionaire investor Richard Rainwater, and CEO of General Atlantic William E. Ford, among many other successful graduates. Ford is also the Vice Chairman of the graduate school’s board of advisors.

The Stanford Daily reached out to Robert Morse, Chief Data Strategist at the US News & World Report, in order to explore what these ranking say about the deserving schools. “They all have a reputational component that’s conducted among academics, and then they all have a separate component…of surveying recruiters or practitioners in the field from areas who typically hire recent graduates or new graduates from that particular program,” Morse said.

What do you think about how high Stanford’s Graduate School of Business ranks on this list? Are you surprised by any of these top ranking business schools?

Facebook: Tool or Time-Sink?

Three children with Facebook image

Should students be allowed to use Facebook in school?
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When Facebook came online in 2004, it was originally a social service for students only. Through 2005, one had to have an email address from a member school to join. A decade later, it’s so ubiquitous that many schools have formal policies governing its use, mostly about limiting social media contact between students and teachers.

There’s no denying it: Facebook is a pervasive presence in education. Every student has it. Most parents have it. Many teachers have it. But there is no solid consensus anywhere on if or how that very pervasiveness should be put to use.

There are obvious downsides. A teacher-student relationship would be markedly difficult to sustain with all your students privy to your slides-how from your brother’s bachelor party or with your teacher witness to your huge blow-out fight with your significant other. But privacy filters are a thing, and they don’t take much practice to get right. With a little attention to detail, there’s no reason why anyone on Facebook, friend of yours or stranger, should see anything you don’t want them to see.

The benefits of interactions between students and teachers on Facebook are plain, though. It gives teachers a greater insight into their students’ lives and into what their honest opinions are and why. It lets students feel more free to ask questions, improving their understanding of course material. In-class groups can easily collaborate with educator supervision (already a common use within college classes), and discussion can be tossed back and forth easily.

That said, if your school is one of those with a formal policy about this, don’t try to get around it. If friending isn’t allowed, a teacher’s fan page might be just the thing. Set up by the teacher, it wouldn’t require any sharing of private things. Only what the teacher chooses to put up would ever appear, but students, teachers, and parents could all easily interact.

We are in the era of social media. Adopting it in our schools is more radical a change than switching from chalk and slate to pen and paper, but it’s just as smart.

Every Child Succeeds

Children taking a test in a classroom

The Every Child Succeeds Act could potentially solve some of the problems of No Child Left Behind.
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No Child Left Behind, the Bush-approved law from 2002 that put all public schools under federal scrutiny, expired in 2007. But so long as nothing has replaced it, schools were still required to abide by its mandates.

The purpose of NCBH was to measure school performance by a single standard, using regular standardized testing of students. This testing was the root of much of the criticism of the former law – there was no allowance made for varied abilities among students, and most states did not provide a non-English version of the test. The coveted 100% scores were all but impossible, and penalties for failing grades were high. And expensive.

Striving to pass, teachers’ lesson plans frequently focused on only what was relevant to the test, instead of trying to instill a broad understanding in their students. About 71% of schools reduced time spent on subjects not covered by the test, including history, language, science, and all of the arts.

Now a new alternative is on the table. The Every Child Succeeds Act (ECSA) was unanimously approved by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in the Senate on April 16th. The bill was proposed by the bipartisan team-up of Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Patty Murray (D-Wash) and garnered three days on the floor and more than two dozen amendments.

ECSA will still mandate standardized testing, but the federal government will no longer be able to impose expensive sanctions on schools not meeting their goals. States would be allowed to use those scores as they see fit to create their own standards of accountability and could use many other measures of school performance to give the public a more detailed and accurate assessment of any given school.

The new bill, should it pass, won’t get our students out of the interminable cycle of tests, but it will protect already under-funded schools from being driven into closure by sanctions. And it will, hopefully, pull teachers back from the trend of “teaching to the test” en mass and neglecting all else.

But Who Listens to Students?

Bored students in a lecture

Several recent studies showed that students aren’t retaining information in school. Who would’ve guessed? Oh, that’s right–the students themselves.
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Several months ago, blogger Grant Wiggins posted a piece about a study done by his daughter, high school learning coach and former teacher Alexis Wiggins. Her study was simple: for two school days, she had put herself in the shoes of a student at her school, shadowing an actual student through their day. She went to every class, did every assignment, took every test with that student.

Her findings were utterly unsurprising to anyone with a clear memory of their days in school. A day spent in enforced sitting is exhausting. Students who spend 90% of their time passively receiving information with no choice in the subject matter do not absorb it well. Teachers are often condescending and outright rude, discouraging students from asking questions they need to ask.

Her study only mirrored what high school students have been saying all along. Ask any junior how their school could be improved, and those are the answers they will give you. More involvement. Less contempt.

Another teacher doing a similar study was shocked to learn how boring his school was from the student side of the desk, a school he took much pride in. He understood easily that it was difficult to learn in an environment where you struggled to stay awake, but he had never realized that the common methods of teaching employed by him and his fellow staff offered his students so little engagement.

If a student had presented these findings, in a balanced, constructively critical report, not one of these educators would have taken it seriously. Similar to problematic experiments like thin people wearing fat suits to “understand” what it’s like to be fat in public, or wearing a hijab as a costume to see if racism is real in their communities, this study only adds a “trustworthy” voice to a statement already coming from thousands…thousands who should have been listened to on their own.

Education Loan Woes

Graphic depicting education loans

Education loans–and the amount of time and work it takes to repay them–are bigger# than ever.
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The Class of 2014 graduated college with the highest average student debt on record – a little more than $33,000 per loan-holding student. This June, the Class of 2015 will almost certainly snatch that unhappy record away from them, along the record of highest percentage of students with those loans. Twenty years ago, it was fewer than 50%. Now it’s north of 70% and rising steadily.

It’s not an exaggeration to call this a crisis. This is our incoming pool of professionals, and as young as twenty-two, they have to think first and foremost of managing these massive debts. A graduate facing that kind of debt has limited options. The networking and jockeying and climbing the ranks to find a stable, solid career in their field may take too long. Payments become due 30 days after graduation, obligating many to take the first job that comes their way. And many kinds of jobs are scarce.

President Obama has spoken out strongly in favor of income-based repayment plans, which help widen those options, but they don’t reduce the over-all burden. If a student’s loans are federal, there are several options for loan forgiveness, but they all obligate someone to work in the public sector – they are for teachers and state or federal employees. Many programs take as long as a decade of work to reach loan forgiveness. And they don’t allow you to pursue further education – there are no dedicated forgiveness plans for masters degrees or PhDs.

After mortgages, student debt is the most massive debt in the US–$1.16 trillion dollars and counting. Burdened with tuition rates that are continuing to climb far ahead of inflation, the lion’s share of that debt is being taken on by young people still trying to secure their very first job.

How long can we possibly have before the situation reaches a tipping point, with either an entire professional workforce literally unable to escape debt, or a generation of students whose indebted parents discourage them by word or example from attending college at all?