Other Topics

Managing Test Stress

Managing Test Stress

For high school students the number of tests is relentless and steady. Sadly, depending on the professional course taken, the frequency and importance of these tests only intensifies over time. So, learning how to deal with test stress is a necessity whether one is planning to become an accountant, architect, or dentist.

Obviously, test stress can have severe ramifications, so gaining a raw familiarity with the key elements to control this stress is worthwhile.

Haunted Campuses

Haunted Campuses

The New York University (NYU) application essay reads: ‘NYU is global, urban, inspired, smart, connected, and bold. What can NYU offer you, and what can you offer NYU?’ Whatever you might offer NYU, NYU offers you a place in the elite of haunted campuses, along with a very good scare above and beyond its annual tuition rate of $45,000.

Founded in 1831, NYU has over 20,000 souls buried beneath its main campus. The land comprising Washington Square Park, NYU’s Greenwich Village location, was a ‘potter’s field,’ a graveyard for the indigent.  It also served as a mass grave for the thousands who died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of the 1820s. The Old University building, one of the first buildings built on the campus, was haunted by a young artist who committed suicide in one of its turrets.

Save Thousands of Dollars with Western University Exchange (WUE)

Save Thousands of Dollars with Western University Exchange (WUE)

Last year 26,700 students from fifteen western states (including California) saved $210 million by enrolling in universities and colleges outside their home states through the Western University Exchange (WUE)—pronounced “woo-wee”-- program. That ‘saved’ sum almost equals 4,200 students’ paying full, out-of-state costs for one year at UC Berkeley.

The Dying Art of Cursive Writing

The Dying Art of Cursive Writing
I remember learning cursive in 2nd grade comparing the cursive ‘r’ to the print ‘r’ and thinking I’ll never figure this out. Then the teachers would write in cursive on the blackboard as cleanly and beautifully as was in the workbook and I wondered when will I ever gain such command over cursive? These days, students needn’t worry about such things. With the arrival of the Common Core curriculum, cursive will no longer be taught within the national curriculum. Nor will spelling.

The Honors College and ASU’s Barrett’s Honors Program

If you want a solid alternative to the elite private college experience, without the $230,000 price tag, then public college honors programs warrant consideration.

Though honors programs within many public colleges have been around for years, including University of Michigan’s LSA Honors Program, and University of Virginia’s Echols Scholars Program, many students and their families are unaware of the opportunities honors programs provide.

The National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC), (www.nchchonors.org), describes an honors program as a small college within the bountiful resources of a large university that provides personal attention, top faculty, scintillating seminars, numerous research opportunities and internships, and oftentimes scholarship money.

Public University Honors (PUH) (www.publicuniversityhonors.com)   provides criteria to measure the ‘overall excellence’ of an honors program, Listed in order of importance:

  1. The number of honors classes necessary to fulfill  graduation requirements (the more the better)
  2. Prestigious scholarships (Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, Truman etc.) awarded honors participants  
  3. Special honors housing 
  4. Select honors study abroad programs
  5. Priority registration.   

With this criteria in hand, PUH recently ranked honors programs, noting that among the top programs, ‘distinctions’ were slight: for example, differentiating among housing on campuses quickly becomes subjective. In any case, among the larger honors programs, those with more than 1,800 students, the top five were:

  1. University of Michigan, LSA Honors Program
  2. Arizona State University, Barrett Honors College
  3. University of Georgia, Honors Program
  4. Penn State University, Schreyer Honors College
  5. University of Minnesota, Honors Program

While Arizona State’s (ASU) regular undergraduate school accepts 89% of applicants, and is best known for its Earth Sciences department, which ranks 17th nationally,  ASU’s Barrett Honors Program requires a minimum SAT score of 1300 (out of 1600), or an ACT composite of 29, a GPA of 3.75+ (unweighted) and an essay.  In other words, Barrett’s is one of the most select colleges in the country set within a land grant mega university.

Arizona State’s honors program was created by the Arizona Board of Regents in 1988, one of the first eminent honors programs in the country. After a $10 million gift to ASU from Craig Barrett, the then CEO of Intel, and his wife, who was an ASU alumna, the Honors College assumed Barrett’s name. The Barrett campus comprises seven residence halls all of which have classrooms for seminars and classes held exclusively for honors students.

Looking at the above PUH criteria for ‘overall excellence’ in an honors program, Barrett’s Honors Program satisfies all of them. Freshmen entering Barrett’s Honors Program are required to take 30% of their total graduation credits in honor’s courses. This ensures rigor and more access to smaller class size and faculty. Additionally, the Barrett Honors students are among the best in the country. ASU was awarded 26 student Fulbright scholarships (out of 60 applications) for 2013-2014. That is third among all the colleges in the country, just behind Harvard and the University of Michigan. Barrett’s also leads in recruiting National Merit Finalists: in 2006, it had over 180 National Merit Scholars enroll.

Barrett Honor’s students also have access to dedicated Honor’s Faculty Fellows along with over 1400 honors faculty across all the ASU colleges. Its housing is spacious and central, the dining hall offers exceptional range and quality, while the Honor’s Hall contains its own exercise gym, coffee shop, computer lab, and lounge area. Beyond this Barrett has a ‘three pronged advisory system’, exceptional research opportunities and funding, and even its own endowment.

Despite all this, Barrett’s gets no respect: among the top 50 public university honors programs it is perceived as 48 (Public University Honors). However, when measured by the students for ‘overall excellence’, it always ranks among the top three.

If you are feeling alienated and underappreciated by the run for the Ivies, or the other highly selective schools dotted across the country, public universities might prove to be an antidote. Apply, visit and consider them. They might be the perfect alternative to launch you toward your own drive for excellence.

Cooper Union: No Longer ‘Free as Water and Air’

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, located in Manhattan’s East Village with 1,000 students and an admission’s rate of 8%, was founded in 1859 by Peter Cooper, a successful entrepreneur who had designed and built the first steam railroad engine.

Cooper wanted to create a college, ‘equal to the best’ yet ‘open and free to all’ regardless of sex, wealth, or social status. Cooper Union is comprised of three schools: Irwin Chanin School of Architecture, the School of Art, and Albert Nerkin School of Engineering.

The engineering school offers both bachelors and masters degrees in chemical, electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering. Thomas Edison is a notable former student.

The architecture school, ranked among the five top architecture programs in the country, offers a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree.  Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, architects of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Redevelopment project, and the expansion of the Julliard School and the School of American Ballet, are Cooper graduates.

The School of Art’s 4-year BFA degree allows students to select courses from any of the school’s departments thereby creating their own program of study. Focus is on imagination and creativity. Milton Glaser is a famous alumnus whose graphic designs brand DC Comics, Target, and JetBlue.  

With the endowment of the land under the Chrysler Building in 1902, Cooper Union had sufficient funding to be tuition free through two world wars, a depression, and even the devastating crash of 2008; however, 2013 will put an end to its111 years of free tuition, leaving Cooper’s faculty, students, and future applicants shaking their heads in dismay— what happened?

What happened were miscalculations in managing its endowment. First, 84% of Cooper’s $667 million endowment is in one asset, the land under the Chrysler Building. John Michaelson, Chairman of Cooper’s investment committee stated having so much money in one asset, “is against everything I stand for”. Emory University in Atlanta, which in 2001 had over 60% of its endowment in Coca Cola stock, sold and diversified. Yet, Cooper’s board appears to have a sentimental attachment to the Chrysler Building, describing it as a ‘gift from the children of Peter Cooper.’ In 2006 the 666 Fifth Avenue Building, which doesn’t compare to the Chrysler building, sold for $1.8 billion; Cooper never explored the market.

When Cooper needed to upgrade the engineering facilities, instead of first arranging for a donor, Cooper built a $166 million building using the Chrysler Building as collateral, and then went searching for a donor—no one has come forward. In 2008, Cooper’s portfolio (excluding the Chrysler Building) was $169 million. By the end of 2012 it had sunk to $86 million and Cooper’s operations suffered a cash flow shortfall of $13 million.  

This left Cooper Union with two funding alternatives: donations (alumni contributions), and tuition. Cooper has not nurtured a charitable alumni base. It’s not easy to do. UCLA Anderson School of Management, to offset state funding declines is developing alumni giving; it takes time. This leaves raising tuition. Though Cooper’s consultants recommended charging a maximum 25% of posted tuition (listed at $38,500 a year) Mark Epstein and his Board of Directors elected to charge 50% (Olin School of Engineering transitioned from tuition free in 2010 to charging 50%-a precedent had already been set).

In April, Mark Epstein announced, “The time has come to set our institution on a path that will enable it to survive and thrive well into the future.” Cooper’s President, Jamshed Bharucha, asked faculty for advice on future revenue streams. When the Art School faculty refused to comply, early acceptance letters to art school applicants were not sent out. Mauricio Higuera, a senior art student, while protesting the tuition decision, told a group of about 200 students assembled at the Great Hall, where Lincoln had once given his Cooper Union Address: “For 150 years this building, these columns, has held a dream, a dream for free education for all. I propose we all join hands and give this institution a big hug, because it needs it.” The crowd encircled the building and complied.  

The Allure of Out of State College Opportunities

Less than 14% of high school students attend college out of state. Cost considerations, proximity to friends and family, and climate deter many from going too far afield, but having an adventurous spirit might pay dividends in the world of colleges. Outside the golden state an assortment of public schools, private research universities, and liberal arts colleges seek to enroll Californians. These schools behoove your investigation.  

The RACC (Regional Admissions Counselors of California) is a cross section of regional admissions officers from such schools as the University of Glasgow (Scotland), University of Minnesota (Twin Cities), Lafayette (PA) and Northeastern (MA). Many have gorgeous campuses, competitive tuition, hundreds of majors, honors programs, non-impacted nursing programs, and even four-year graduation guarantees (such as the University of Minnesota). Best of all, they want Californians on their campuses.

True, some of the public out-of-state schools want to get you on to their campuses simply because you will be paying out-of-state tuition, and this can get expensive. Though, as mentioned in a previous column, through WUE, Western University Exchange, schools charge only 150% in-state tuition for Californians. Getting accepted under the WUE program at Montana State in Bozeman costs less than $8,000 annually in tuition, versus over $18,000 for full out-of-state tuition.

Several flagship public universities are already composed of substantial portions of out-of-state students. The University of Vermont, for instance, is 75% out-of-state students; University of North Dakota (a WUE member) 67%; and University of Colorado, Boulder, over 40%.  A number of schools in the Northeast and Midwest are joining Vermont’s lead in the search for out-of-state students because the number of high school graduates in their region of the country is declining. University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Rutgers (NJ), and SUNY campuses (State University of New York) are all increasing their portion of out-of-state students.

The flow of Californians venturing out is becoming pronounced. Last year Washington State, which has a superb pre-veterinarian program, doubled the number of Californians it enrolled to 132, while the University of Arizona and Arizona State each had more than 1,000 California freshmen. University of Oregon, a third of whose football team is composed of Californians, enrolled over a 1,000 Californians in its 2011 freshman class; that’s double the number from five years ago.   Some marquee schools have doubled their number of Californian enrollments over the last decade as well, including NYU, whose recent freshman class had 600 California students, along with Wesleyan (CT), and Williams (MA).

Private research universities and liberal arts colleges seek California students to secure a national body of students. Prestige factors into the equation. Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, one of the top research universities in the country, offered six figure scholarships and grants to California applicants over the last three years. Geographic diversity helps their recruiting and, possibly, their US News ratings. Coming from outside a school’s traditional recruiting range, renders you special. Lynn O’Shaughnessy in her second edition of The College Solution mentions that her Californian daughter enrolled at Beloit College in Wisconsin and was featured in a guide for prospective students; after all, if a girl from San Diego attends Beloit that shows the allure of Beloit.

The reasons to join this migration are as many as there are graduates from California high schools. Beyond the golden state there are schools that graduate high percentages of students in four years, have available seats in what are high-impacted majors in the Cal State or UC systems, and have programs or grants/scholarship/work study aid to offset some of the costs—thereby bringing many of their costs into parity with the ever escalating costs of California state schools. Don’t dismiss the entreaties beyond the golden fence: create more options and unfold to the undiscovered. 

Questioning the Value of the Bachelor’s Degree

The confluence of rising tuition, increasing student debt, and declining employment opportunities for recent graduates is raising questions about the value of a bachelor’s degree. These concerns have been around for years, but the good news is there are rays of hope in the form of tuition rates beginning to freeze or even contract. Better still, over the next five years, expect the use of online classes to snowball across the postsecondary universe. Institutions that fail to respond will, in all likelihood, start to fall to the wayside—unless the size of their endowments insulates them.

Since 1983, annual postsecondary costs have risen at five times the rate of inflation, meaning what had cost $5,000 in 1983 now costs $60,000. Consequently, over two-thirds of students have had to take out loans. Currently, the average student debt load is $26,000. Total student debt now tops $1 trillion dollars.

The United States spends more of its GDP on higher education than any other developed country, yet the US ranks 15th in the number of university graduates per capita. Worse, a federal survey discovered the literacy of college graduates declined between 1992 and 2003. Only a quarter were considered proficient in using the printed word to learn and solve problems. Almost a third of students had taken courses that required fewer than 40 pages of reading a term. 

During the fall of 2012, 40% of private universities saw their enrollment ebb, with over a third witnessing it dive by 5% or more.   By the end of last year’s admissions cycle, 15% of the colleges reported space was still available. In the public universities, state funding has dipped by over 10%, while tuition rates have risen into the double digits, reducing the number of high school graduates enrolling by 4% over the last two years. Even at community college, enrollment, which has risen 22% since 2007, dropped 1% last year.

To combat declining enrollment, the University of California recently announced a tuition freeze, with a UCI graduate petitioning to ban tuition increases on students already enrolled. The University of Arizona and ASU, after five years of increases surpassing 80%, froze tuitions. The Iowa Board of Regents, the Universities of Minnesota, Massachusetts, Texas, Austin, and New Hampshire all joined in freezing rates. On the private school side, the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee actually reduced tuition by 10% and Concordia University (MN) reduced tuition by a third. Duquesne University, a Catholic university in Pittsburgh, is discounting tuition by 50% for incoming freshmen to its school of education. Outside the most selective branded elite institutions, the days of unlimited tuition increases appear to be ending (though even the venerable Mount Holyoke, in MA, elected not to raise fees this year).

To address tuition costs, and impacted registration, colleges are augmenting their investments in online learning, especially through ‘massive open online courses’ (MOOCS) as a means to teach thousands calculus or physics. The ability to scale classes and courses can easily be done online. The University of California system through UC Online Education offers online courses for credit (for both UC and non-UC students). A coalition of western states set up the Western Governors University (WGU), which provides an enormous selection of courses and majors, tailored to the student’s schedule, with most students gaining a degree in two and a half years (with annual tuition under $6,000), rather than the six years which is the timeframe, on average, for only 57% to achieve a bachelors. MITx will be offering certifications in particular skills online. Khan Academy, an online free tutorial site, had over 41 million visits in the US alone in 2012, which speaks volumes to the efficacy of online educational delivery.

The existing higher education model is undergoing tectonic changes. The transition is already underway. If there is any place in the world that can shake the inertia of the ivory towers into willful action, it is in these United States. As Churchill remarked, “The Americans will always do the right thing…after they have exhausted all the alternatives.” We’re still exhausting the alternatives, but not for much longer.

The Speed Reading Fallacy

In the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy, a fervid advocate of the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading program, recommended that all members of Congress take Wood’s ‘Reading Dynamics’ course.  Using Reading Dynamics, it was claimed, could triple or more a person’s reading speed with improved comprehension levels. Reading Dynamics features having the reader move her finger down a page to increase the number of words viewed per fixation (eye scan). It also sought to suppress sub-vocalizations (saying each word either aloud or ‘thinking’ it aloud) while reading. Yet another speed reading method, ‘Photo Reading’ by Learning Strategies Corporation of Minnesota, launched a bit later with claims of users reading at speeds of 25,000 WPM.    

Photo Reading’s hyperbolic claims were debunked by NASA in its ‘Preliminary Analysis of Photo Reading’ (2000), http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20000011599_2000009345.pdf. Photo Reading experts were given a timed reading from a college level psychology text, followed by a comprehension test. The results “showed an increase in reading time with the Photo Reading technique compared  to normal reading…accompanied by a decrease in comprehension.” In short, ‘Photo Reading’ ignominiously failed at the task. Yet, the issues over Wood’s fixations and sub-vocalizations still linger as palpable speed reading techniques.  

Walter Pauk of Cornell University, in his How to Study in College text, examines the limits and scope of speed reading. There are certain factors that limit even the most capable reader’s speed and comprehension: Eye pauses (fixations), eye motion (saccades), and sub-vocalization (also known as ‘silent speech’) are among them.

Speed reading is based on the premise that the eye, given the path through the greatest number of words, can see many words in one fixation. Unfortunately, the eye doesn’t work like that. When the eye is moving, called saccades, it sees nothing but blurs on the retinas. The way the eye actually sees words is when it pauses on a page and focuses on a word, or a set of words (called fixations); the normal reader sees around 1 word per fixation, while an exceptional reader might, possibly see 2.5 words per fixation. With the average student making about 4 fixations per second, this limits the reading speed to 600 WPM.  Yet even at 600 WPM, many readers regress to reread a passage.  Anne Cunningham, a professor of Cognition and Development at UC Berkeley, puts ‘the speed reading ceiling at closer to 300 WPM.’

Vocalization is another limiting factor to speeding through material. When students read they vocalize the words (or do so silently, which is sub-vocalization).  Research conducted by both the University of Stockholm in Sweden, and NASA, confirm that ‘silent speech’ is part of everyone’s reading process. The vocalization process actually is a double check to ensure a word is understood. Without sub-vocalization, comprehension dips precipitously.

To improve both comprehension and speed, given the limitations of fixation and sub-vocalization, preparation is paramount. Figure out how your text is structured and the important passages. Then attempt to recall any information you might already know about the subject. The more experience you bring to the reading, the quicker you will gain a firm understanding of the material. Additionally, preview the book. Review the book’s table of contents, read through the introduction, and prepare a list of questions you hope the book will answer.

Reading good books across a range of subjects will also help improve speed and comprehension. Challenging material such as Shakespeare’s plays, or William James’ Psychology, broaden the reader. Lastly, improving vocabulary by understanding usage helps improve reading speed. If a reader doesn’t have to guess at meanings, or look words up, reading speed obviously will improve.

There are no simple methods to increase by two, three, or four times your current reading speed with solid comprehension. Your eyes can only fixate on so many words per second, and words are essential elements in the world of reading. Even the process of vocalizing (aloud or silently) is indispensable for comprehension. To read well, both quickly and with comprehension, you need to read a lot, build up your knowledge of culture and vocabulary, and read often. All other solutions are mere words.