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The Significance of Graduation

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Our local paper arrived this morning amid mid-40-degree temperatures, dark skies and a cold drizzle. Just another dreary lockdown day here in Pennsylvania. I was hoping for some good news as I scanned the front-page headlines. No such luck.

These disappointing words spelled out a nearby high school’s plight: “AASD seniors to have virtual ceremony.” Altoona Area School District has decided that seniors from Altoona Area High School will graduate online this year. While Blair County, in which AAHS is located, remains on lockdown, according to Governor Tom Wolf’s guidelines, school board members had to make a decision about graduation since time is growing short and COVID-19 restrictions remain in place.


The process for this virtual graduation is interesting, if not challenging. According to the Altoona Mirror‘s report:

“… The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of this year’s traditional June 5 ceremony at Mansion Park.

At Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, high school Principal Andrew Neely told the board that [521] graduates will do a “Senior Spotlight,” in which seniors, dressed in caps and gowns, will be brought to the school where they individually will walk in front of a video camera, state their name and turn their tassel.

Starting today, seniors will be scheduled to come to the school to pick up their caps and gowns. Neely said the process will follow social distancing guidelines.

“Seniors will be given a date and time to come in for their caps and gowns. Those will be in 20-minute increments,” he said. “They are all going to be required to wear face masks.”

Neely said the senior spotlights will be recorded on May 18 in hour slots, with 25 students per slot. The event will not be broadcast live but will be recorded and edited together with music by the school’s broadcasting teacher Doug Sipes and posted for viewing on June 5.

“It won’t be live, but it will be broadcast on the actual day of what would have been commencement, June 5,” he said. “At that point, Mrs. (Sharon) Bream can declare them graduated as board president.”

I was tempted to call the school to clarify whether or not seniors would be required to wear their masks as they’re recorded turning their tassels, but this is the best Altoona officials can do for the Class of 2020 currently, although there is some hope for a better ceremony:

Neely said if social distancing requirements are relaxed later in the summer, a live commencement will be held 10 a.m. July 25 at the Jaffa Shrine [an indoor venue].

“It’s hard to say what is going to be allowed and what is not going to be allowed,” he said.

If a live commencement is held on July 25, a senior only dance will be held in the Jaffa banquet hall on the same evening.

The Class of 2020 Misses out on Milestones

I empathize with this year’s high school and college seniors. Graduations are very special events that give a firm note of finality to eras of academic life. This got me to wondering about the emotions of others in the Class of 2020. How do they feel about their virus-derailed graduations?

National Public Radio’s Elissa Nadworny investigated this issue from the college perspective in No Caps, No Gowns: For Many In The Class Of 2020, Commencement Is Called Off. News of the changes dictated by the COVID-19 did not land lightly for UVA senior Nathan Stewart when “an email landed in their inboxes: Classes were moving online and graduation was indefinitely postponed.”

“Honestly, my friends and I just immediately started crying,” says Stewart. Throughout his four years at UVA, graduation had been a major motivator. When he and his friends were having tough days, they’d tell each other, “Just wait till graduation day. We’re all walking across the stage together and we’ll get our diplomas. It’ll be so worth it then.”

This is what I meant when I referred to graduation as a note of finality. It’s a capstone of sorts that puts an exclamation mark on all the good and not-so-good times accumulated over the course of a college (or high school) education. Of course, the students aren’t alone in their respective dilemmas. Administrators, like AASD’s mentioned above, are also in a difficult position.

“… Administrators and college presidents are scrambling to figure out what to do about graduation this year. How can they acknowledge students’ hard work and success, while still maintaining social distancing amid the outbreak of coronavirus?

Many colleges across the country have outright cancelled graduations, others, such as Harvard and Miami University in Ohio, have scheduled virtual ceremonies. Some students have taken things into their own hands and created their own ceremonies — on a reconstructed campus — through Minecraft.”

Parents Suffer as Well

Parents obviously have a significant emotional and financial investment in their children’s higher education. One California State University, Los Angeles senior spoke of her parents’ anticipation and disappointment over canceled graduation.

“When they cancelled graduation, it was exactly 60 days prior to our scheduled commencement,” she explains. She knows that because her mother and father kept track, counting down the days, crossing each one off on their calendar. When she told them it was off, her mom cried. “My parents didn’t get to finish high school,” she says, “so for them, seeing their daughter graduating college was just beyond their dreams.”

Opinions vary. In my discussions with seniors and parents within my network, I’ve been surprised by some pragmatic attitudes about canceled or deferred ceremonies. One local family I spoke with was almost relieved that they didn’t have to make the cross-country journey for graduation.

Due to the family’s recent economic circumstances and medical issues, the costs involved for them to attend an on-campus graduation would have been well beyond their budget, although they were willing to make the sacrifice had a traditional graduation been scheduled. The senior-student son was happy that his parents didn’t have to somehow find the finances to make the long journey. He told me that his main concern right now is finding work so that he might be able to help his parents through a difficult time.

This practical attitude is also reflected by one of the students mentioned in Nadworny’s article.

“It’s just a ceremony,” says Alexandrea Mares, who lives with her grandparents and attends California State University, Northridge. Right now, she says she’s far more concerned with keeping herself and her family healthy. “You know what? My health and their health is what matters most,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s the degree that you get and I’m gonna get the degree either way at the end of the semester.”

That’s not to say she isn’t extremely proud of her six-year journey: “Even though we’re not having a graduation, I’m still excited to get my diploma in the mail and hang it up on the wall.”

I received my college diploma in the mail, too, choosing not to attend my college graduation. There was no pandemic back then, but my family’s circumstances dictated that more important priorities ruled. I didn’t regret my decision. Frankly, I would have also chosen not to attend my high school graduation, but I did. I’ve been a “social-distancer,” one way or the other, most of my life, I guess.

There’s an important lesson to be learned from this year’s graduation dislocations, in my view. The lesson is: Real life is not a straight line. Be flexible. Aside from the wisdom and maturity this extraordinary time bestows, it also creates a great cache of stories that today’s seniors can pass on to their grandchildren when they ask, “What did you do during the Great Pandemic?” Now that’s significant.

By: Dave Berry
Title: The Significance of Graduation
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/cancelled-graduations-class-of-2020
Published Date: Thu, 07 May 2020 15:58:40 +0000

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New Study Reveals 1,000 Students’ Opinions on Returning to College

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The decisions that college students and university administrators have to make about returning to campus this fall are rooted in complicated feelings about online education, COVID-19 and cost, among other issues. But many students aren’t confident that their classmates will follow the appropriate social distancing and mask-wearing protocols required to keep everyone safe, a new report reveals.


The study from Real Estate Witch (REW) includes “new research … on how 1,000 students feel about going back to school and how 100 US universities are handling the COVID-19 pandemic,” REW says. When I initially saw the study, I was intrigued by the combined keywords “students,” “universities” and “COVID-19,” all of which occupy a place of honor in my column’s wheelhouse these days, so I dug deeper.

What I found was, essentially, a comprehensive snapshot of student attitudes about what’s happening right now, on the cusp of the 2020-2021 academic year. The study found that 72 percent of college students want to return to campus this fall, but 86 percent are concerned about their health as a result of going back to school.

This has led many students to consider online classes, but 81 percent believe in-person classes provide a better education than online courses. As a result, 90 percent think online courses should cost less than in-person classes. Just three percent of the college administrators surveyed, however, say their colleges plan to reduce tuition this fall. No wonder students are distressed.

Students Worry About Quality of Online Classes

One of the first things I do when scanning a study is to check the methodology to get some perspective on how the numbers were generated and where they came from. This is how REW did it:

We surveyed 1,000 undergraduate students in the U.S. who were enrolled in college courses during the spring/summer 2020 semesters and have enrolled for the fall 2020 semester using an online survey platform between July 23 and 26, 2020.

University data were collected by searching 100 randomly selected university sites. The colleges were all four-year establishments, split evenly between public and private and split evenly among the four major Census regions in the United States (West, Midwest, Northeast and South). These data were collected between July 23 and 28, 2020.

You can view the numerical study results here and the university data here.

Here are the main areas covered:

  • Students Are Stuck in Rental Agreements
  • Students Are Missing Out on Resume-Building Opportunities
  • Students Struggle to Keep or Find Jobs to Pay for School
  • Parents Are Losing Their Jobs, Impacting Students’ Finances
  • Job Losses Lead to Steep Increase in Debt
  • Students Are Worried About Online Education Quality
  • Students Are Unsure Colleges Can Ensure Student Health
  • Students Trust Themselves, Not Peers, to Socially Distance

I’ll highlight portions of only the last three areas, so if you’re interested in finding out what a thousand students think about all of this, please read the entire report.

As more and more colleges — that as recently as June touted their in-person teaching plans for Fall semester — shift to online classes (Goucher College is a good example), students and their families are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of their education, and those attitudes are reflected in the REW study:

In order to afford continued education, colleges are making significant changes to their campuses, classrooms and course formats come fall. Although nearly 30 percent of college students enrolled in at least one online course each semester before COVID-19, students are wary of shifting to all or mostly online courses …

… Only 34 percent of students said they’re moderately or extremely confident that their college can provide the same quality of education as they had in previous years. Part of that lack of confidence stems from their beliefs about online courses: 74 percent think online courses are more difficult and provide a subpar education (81 percent) compared to in-person courses.

Nearly 90 percent of students agreed that online courses should cost less than traditional, in-person classes. But our investigation into 100 colleges across the US indicated very few (about three percent) plan to reduce tuition in the fall despite the fact that most are introducing more online and hybrid courses to their catalogs.

Contrary to students’ desires, more colleges (four percent) are planning to increase tuition this year as a result of COVID-19 than are planning to decrease

That last sentence will cause some severe heartburn for those affected. Speaking of health issues, student concerns are critical:

31 percent of students said they’re extremely concerned about their health as a result of going back to school, while only about 14 percent said they weren’t concerned at all.

Health concerns have students questioning whether they should return to school: 39 percent said they only want to return if their college plans to take precautionary measures, while 28 percent said they want to only take online courses in lieu of returning to campus

Beyond limiting time in the classroom, colleges are also taking additional measures to ensure students aren’t inadvertently spreading the virus:

  • 78 percent of colleges mentioned required mask-wearing on campus
  • 33 percent said students will be required to be tested before entering campus and/or regularly throughout the year
  • 29 percent have required symptom checks/monitoring to enter campus
  • 19 percent are participating in contact tracing
  • 9 percent are requiring students to quarantine before returning to campus or if they test positive.
  • Other common measures include additional cleaning, social distancing throughout campus and in classrooms, and take-out food only (i.e., closed cafeterias for in-person dining)

Despite these precautionary plans, 17 percent of students aren’t confident at all in their colleges’ ability to enforce the measures, and 12 percent said they’re not at all confident that their university will take responsibility for ensuring student safety

Students are just about as confident in their peers’ willingness to participate in social distancing measures as they are in their college’s ability to enforce them.

About 18 percent said they’re not confident at all in other students’ participation in social distancing and mask-wearing measures on campus — only 17 percent were extremely confident.

In contrast, the students we surveyed are confident in their own compliance: 44 percent reported they’re extremely likely to avoid social gatherings if campus resumes in-person classes

These are important insights, in my view. The big-picture takeaway, at least from this study’s sampling, should be that students are seriously concerned about the quality and cost of online classes, although their specific resentment of hiked tuition was left unqueried. Most importantly, they’re quite anxious about their health in on-campus situations. Their lack of confidence about classmates’ safety practices is not reassuring.

Obviously, colleges have been thrown a huge curveball for 2020, but students and their families have been thrown a bigger one because of the financial (value) implications of all this. My past higher education “sea change” prediction is now in full bloom, and all it took to start the devolution was a 125-nanometer-sized particle called COVID-19.

——————

By: Dave Berry
Title: New Study Reveals 1,000 Students’ Opinions on Returning to College
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/new-study-reveals-1-000-students-opinions-on-returning-to-college
Published Date: Thu, 06 Aug 2020 13:23:10 +0000

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New Tool Helps Simplify Merit Aid Search

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When it comes to paying for college, most families are looking for as much financial assistance as possible, but it can be challenging to determine which schools are more likely to offer merit aid. Thanks to a new free tool, that may be easier for students and their parents to investigate.


Neeta Vallab founded MeritMore after going through the admissions process with her own daughter. “Everywhere we looked, we heard ‘Don’t worry about the sticker price, most families don’t pay that,’ but when we realized we wouldn’t qualify for need-based aid, it started looking like we might have to pay the full sticker price, which was daunting” she said.

Then she discovered the option of attending a college that offers merit aid, which consists of funds that colleges disburse at their own discretion to attract students who are high performers, have particular talents, or meet other institutional needs that the college may be seeking. “Merit aid includes about $8 billion to $10 billion that colleges use to attract the type of students they want,” Vallab said. “This is a bigger pool than private scholarships, and the money doesn’t have to be paid back.”

In addition, she adds, merit aid is typically renewable, so students can usually get it for all four years of college if they meet the guidelines, which may include requirements like maintaining a particular GPA. “In this way, merit aid is also better than private scholarships, which are generally one-shot awards,” Vallab notes. “There are exceptions of course, but those tend to be rare.”

The problem, she found, was that the process of finding a school where her daughter’s stats might qualify her for merit aid was cumbersome. “I sat in on a workshop where someone showed us a process of which schools are likely to offer your child merit aid and there were eight steps involved, including creating a variety of spreadsheets. I’m a software engineer so inherently I wanted to simplify that. I built myself a quick tool that we could use and share with friends and family, which cut the steps down significantly.” That tool later became MeritMore, she said.

Enter Stats, Get Merit Estimates

To use the tool, students will visit the site and enter their unweighted GPA and SAT or ACT score, as well as the geographic area where they’d like to attend college. Then the platform automatically returns results showing which schools are likely to offer merit money, as well as the average amount. The photo below shows the results that were returned after plugging in an ACT score of 33 and an unweighted GPA of 3.9, using the New England and Rocky Mountain regions as potential locations.

Merit scholarship search
MeritMore

She designed the tool using the formula that many schools utilize when calculating merit aid, which typically involves offering merit money to students whose stats are in the top quartile of applicants. “The whole idea is to guide parents to better financial fit decision,” she said.

College is one of the most expensive investments you make in a lifetime outside of buying your home,” she said. “So I thought about incorporating some of the tools you’d find on the better real estate search sites so users of MeritMore can slice and dice the data to find those financial fit gems.”

Site Also Offers Real-World Data

In addition to using institutional data, MeritMore offers a separate tool where families can compare the aid they are offered with those of other families. “So far, we have about 2,000 records of actual offer data and that’s all free to access and is based on what parents enter,” Vallab says. Students and their families can compare their expected family contribution and stats to other students who have similar numbers and see what offers they received. “We’re trying to bring more transparency to the black box of how aid is disbursed by colleges,” Vallab said.

In addition, MeritMore offers a third free tool that helps families stay on top of all the tasks and deadlines required during the admissions process. “We have an application task manager and on one screen it has all the tasks and deadlines for all the schools you enter,” Vallab notes. “You can remove or add tasks and it tracks everything as you complete it and gives you a status of how far along you are.”

——————

By: Torrey Kim
Title: New Tool Helps Simplify Merit Aid Search
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/new-tool-helps-simplify-merit-aid-search
Published Date: Wed, 05 Aug 2020 14:10:47 +0000

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How to Get the Most Out of Virtual College Tours

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Whether you’ve been talking to your school counselor, your parents, friends, parents’ friends, friends’ parents, or any other combination thereof, you’ve probably been told that it’s a good idea to visit the campuses of the colleges you’re strongly considering before committing to go there. After all, what seems like a dream college on paper to other students can sometimes feel like a nightmare to others. Trust me — any time you might save now is going right out the window if you have to transfer to another school later on!


However, the reality of the situation is that we can’t always travel to every school. Distance is a consideration, and with that, the cost of traveling. It’s one thing to check out the local schools — and you should always start there, just so you have a sense of what to look for once you start getting further away — but it’s another to visit an overseas campus, or one thousands of miles away. Colleges understand this, which is why many do their best to offer online tours of their campus. They’re no substitute for the real thing, but they’re better than nothing at all, and now more than ever, with COVID-19 temporarily shuttering many physical locations and rescheduling travel plans, it’s worth checking them out.

To aid you, we’ve gathered most of the colleges from our Best 385 Colleges guidebook at our handy online hub, and you can scour other university homepages, use College Confidential’s Virtual Tour Database or reach out to other colleges directly to see if they have similar offerings. That said, just because these are online tours, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do any work! Here’s how to get the most out of your virtual college tours.

Take Notes and Screenshots

The one advantage to an online tour is that it’s much easier to record your thoughts than when you’re trying to keep pace with a group of other people. Feel free to take a screenshot of any image that catches your fancy, or bookmark the page if it has a direct URL. Also make sure you interact with images as much as you can. Some may be static photos, but you may encounter some panoramic views that you can rotate around.

  • Tip 1: Write down your first impressions and then, later on, revisit them and see if you still feel the same way.
  • Tip 2: Always come up with at least one question to ask. This ensures that you’re more actively looking at these images than you would be otherwise.

Maintain the Big Picture

Many online tours will show you both a street-level view and a bird’s-eye map of the location. This helps you to get perspective that is missing from a remote tour, where you’re not physically walking between locations.

  • Tip 3: Record the distance between common places on campus and replicate that walk in your own neighborhood. It’s important that you know what that distance feels like — small things like the hike from your prospective dorm to the dining hall can add up when you have to do them multiple times each day.
  • Tip 4: For extra credit here, check the weather listings for that campus, or try to find the average highs and lows over each semester. If at all possible, try to take your walks at different times of the year. If you’re not normally a cold-weather person but you’re set on a northern college, you might be looking for a smaller, more centrally located campus.

Get a Second Opinion

When you’re on an actual tour, you don’t have to assume that everything you’re being told is accurate. That’s because you can ask other students on the campus what they think and ask follow-up questions of your in-person tour guide (as opposed to a virtual host). But guess what? You can still do that with these online, remote tours. It just means that you’re going to have to reach out to students, alumni, and admissions officers through email.

  • Tip 5: Always reach out to an admissions officer with specific questions. Not only will this get you some much needed clarity on the things that the virtual tour cannot show you, but will also help you make an impression with the school. It may seem like nothing to send an email, but that one little action can go a long way in helping to set you apart from other students, especially if you ask specific questions that can’t simply be answered on their website.
  • Tip 6: Though it may be a little more difficult, try to reach out directly to current students or, barring that, alumni. (This is what we’ve done with our book The Best 385 Colleges, which is filled with insider observations from current students.) While this sort of outreach won’t win you any points with the admissions officials, it will provide you with the sort of firsthand knowledge about the unseen pros and cons of the school and the curriculum that you can’t get from simply browsing pictures online.

The moral of this story is very simple: Even if you can’t physically visit all the schools you’re considering, that doesn’t mean you should skimp out on your research — it just means you have to get more creative about the ways in which you gather it. For instance, consider using an online map service to get street-level views of any nearby off-campus hotspots as well! There’s no need to make assumptions about what you’ll have access to once you make this commitment. Take action to get the answers you need (we’ll help as much as we can).

By: Rob Franek
Title: How to Get the Most Out of Virtual College Tours
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/how-to-get-the-most-out-of-virtual-college-tours
Published Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2020 15:59:18 +0000

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