Marketing 101: How do Academic Interests Translate into Bullet Points and Discussion Topics?

Last week, we discussed some of the ways in which universities are trying to make liberal arts courses more marketable through activities like group work and class presentations. Another part of that process, though, is presenting what one has learned in a positive light to potential employers. To do that, students, recent grads, and job seekers in general need to turn their interests and experiences into resume bullet points and interview discussion topics.

personal brand, students

Students turn interests into resume bullet points and interview talking points to build their own brand.

Are you taking a class on the Roman Empire? Cool, explain how the class helped you better understand the downfall of Lehman Bros. Class on Shakespearean literature? Discuss Macbeth’s leadership strengths and flaws. Are you in a punk rock band? Awesome, put a bullet point on the CV and talk about how you overcame adversity to book gigs and manage the band budget, all while keeping the drummer sober.

It’s kind of fun to make those connections. Demonstrates creativity. (Quick write that down for your next interview.) I do wonder, though, how that pressure to make everything marketable influences the educational experience. We think of higher education, or at least I think of higher education, as a time when students are encouraged to challenge assumptions and continually ask why. Do we sacrifice any intellectual space by following our ‘why’ questions so quickly with ‘how does that relate to a career”?

I don’t have an answer for that and am very interested to hear if any educators, students, or other readers have opinions to share. How strongly should the potential marketability of a class or an activity factor into a student’s choice to participate? Do those considerations make classes any less academic?

A Scholarship in Need is a Scholarship Indeed!

We’ve talked a lot in our blog about the rising costs of college and deepening student debt. But we have not discussed ways in which students might avoid those debts through scholarships. I realized this as I read through this article earlier this week about a girl that applied for over 100 scholarships. Her lessons from the process – stay organized, apply early, and recycle essays and recommendation letters, among other tips.

scholarships, video games

Many unusual scholarship opportunities exist for those willing to put in the time to find them

After reading about this, I thought I’d look up a few scholarships, just to see what I might recommend to someone getting ready to attend college.  I found some cool stuff. For example, did you know that you can win scholarships for devising a zombie apocalypse plan, wearing Duck Tape to prom, or coming up with a new peanut butter sandwich recipe? Sound like fun scholarship applications. Maybe I should go back to school. And to prom.

Beyond these sorts of deals, though, I wanted to offer some serious advice. I found tips plastered all over the internet. The reoccurring themes were apply early, apply often, and apply for everything, whatever the award amounts. That all seems reasonable to me, but it also seems exhausting. I still recommend that you do it, of course.

But I want to recommend one big step first. Many students with good guidance counselors and involved parents will already know this step, but I am amazed by how often people misunderstand the types of scholarships that are available to attend more selective, high-priced schools. I am not talking about scholarships for the best essay, the best test scores, or the best apocalypse plan. I am talking about need-based scholarships.

I think many people don’t realize that once they get into a university, that university will very often offer free money for them to attend. Will they still have loans? Probably. Will they have to work while studying? Again, probably. Will they have to pay something? Yea, of course. Will it be much less than that $100,000+ price tag? Very often the answer is yes.

To qualify for this sort of aid, you need to fill out and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) AND you may need to fill out a College Scholarship Service’s PROFILE form. I put that AND in capital letters because my high school guidance counselor did not even realize that a second form existed. Filling out these forms will require some effort from you and your parents. If you are financially independent, which will be very tough to prove, you can qualify for even more aid.

Is it worth doing all that, just to go to a better school? Absolutely. It will of course look better on your life-long resume, and you will likely have better teachers and smaller class sizes, though no guarantees. Equally important, though, a point often overlooked when choosing colleges, graduation rates are higher at more selective schools. Yea, those schools admit more serious students, but they also tend to offer more support for students in trouble and sometimes a little grade inflation to boot.

One more big point here. You do not have to be below the poverty line or even close to qualify for aid. Schools look at all sorts of factors and then make a determination on the abilities of you and your parents to pay tuition. They generally don’t expect your parents to be broke before OR after paying tuition. Different schools offer different amounts, so explore the options.

Definitely apply for all those crazy scholarships. Apply early, apply often, all that stuff. But first, sit down with your guidance counselor and figure out what forms you need (and double check online, because trust me, they don’t always know.) Then sit down with your parents and get them to fill them out. Those few hours could be the most economically well spent of your life.

As for universities, 61 in the US claim to meet 100% of student financial needs, according to US News. Theoretically, that means they do everything possible to make it financially viable for a student to attend once he or she is accepted. Beyond these, many other schools offer need-based scholarships, often very generous ones.

By giving need-based aid, the schools get some advantages, in terms of tax policies and media rankings, and they may get more advantages once the Obama administration’s new ranking system comes out. This doesn’t mean that universities don’t want or often prefer students that can pay full price. We’ll discuss a few of the strategies they employ on that front next week when we discuss the challenges facing need-based aid.

I Think, Therefore I Am…. Employable?

What should be the purpose of undergraduate education?

College costs are going up. We’ve written about that a lot here on our blog and so has everyone else anywhere that covers education. These skyrocketing costs have prompted much soul-searching and more number crunching for students, professors, administrators, and policymakers.  What is the value of college? And is it worth it?

educational cost, employmeny

What should be the goals of an undergraduate education? Who should decide them?

Undergraduate degree holders earn about $500,000 more over a lifetime compared to students with only a high school diploma, as we discussed last month in this post. Still a good deal overall. In this post, I want to put the numbers aside for a moment and ask the deeper question, what should a college education be about and how much freedom should the student have in determining that?

As an undergrad, I attended a special presentation by the philosophy department that was loosely themed, “Why it is not totally crazy to major in philosophy?” The primary speaker, a professor, offered several lofty goals for four years of higher education, finding oneself, thinking critically, that sort of stuff.

Then he added, as a final point, marketable skills. It was a bit of a buzzkill for us unrealistic, I mean idealistic, types. This professor had a simple solution, though. Take some computer science classes. Seriously, that was his advice, not a CS major or minor, just some classes. It seemed a strange point to hear from a philosophy prof, but looking back, gosh, I wish I had listened.

Last week, the New York Times Magazine offered some insight on the same topic in its article, “How to Get a Job With a Philosophy Degree.” The article, which I recommend reading, highlights some of the ways in which schools are trying to help undergraduate students, especially those in liberal arts majors, develop marketable skills for the post-graduation job search.

The article’s author, Susan Dominus, cites the example of group research and presentations incorporated into a Japanese history class, with the goal being the development of teamwork skills. She brings up an interesting point, though. What about students that simply want to learn, in the classic, academic sense, about Japanese history? Does group work contribute to or distract from their goals? And who makes that determination?

The question was less important when college was cheaper and data less plentiful. Even though recent reforms may bring college costs down, or at least slow the growth in prices, the success of graduates in finding jobs will be even more important. The government will measure it and potentially tie the universities’ eligibility for federal funds to that, among other measures. For these reasons, universities will care about employability even if students don’t.

So what happens to that classic, long-haired, knowledge-loving liberal arts guy that is a staple of freshman dorms everywhere? Well, he’ll probably still be there. But the question is, where will he be by senior year and where will that take him in the years that follow? The answer is not only important to him, who likely has debt related to his education, but to his university as well, which relies on his success in finding a job for its own federal funding.

Can Obama’s Higher Education Reform Pass?

Obama’s higher education reform is ambitious. In fact, one could call it ambitious if the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. With the current, divided Congress, it looks like something between wishful thinking and a kamikaze crash. Some might wonder why Obama bothered to introduce this plan, or any plan for anything ambitious really. There is little to no chance these proposals will survive in the House of Representatives. Obama’s plan calls for more government oversight, with complicated caveats, which conservatives can’t stand. Plus, agreeing with Obama on almost anything can have political consequences for red-state representatives.

Obama, edtech, higher education reform

Obama’s Higher Education Reform Faces Challenges in Congress

So why did he do it? Well, looking more closely, we can see that many of his proposals don’t actually require Congressional approval. For example, he asked the Dept of Education to create a new university ranking system based on value, affordability, and other factors by 2015. By 2018, he wants to tie those ranks to the distribution of financial aid. For the first task, he doesn’t need approval. For the second, he does, but not until 2018, more than a year after he leaves office.

By that time, the rankings system will have been in place for a few years. Maybe if it works well, Congress will go for it. Maybe they won’t. If not, Obama will lose a key element in his reform plan, but some important goals are still likely to be accomplished. Schools will hopefully begin paying attention to these issues in the same way, or even more carefully, than factors like selectivity and average test scores that improve standing in US News & World Report’s annual ranking.

It is a bit like one of those diets where they ask you to write things down. Even if you don’t consciously change your behavior, the fact that you are writing it down and paying attention influences your habits. Check it out here, if you don’t believe me. Hopefully, the Education Dept’s rankings can bring this sort of awareness to the nation’s colleges and universities. Earlier this year, the Dept website already began publishing more information about colleges and universities on its College Scorecard webpage.

On loan repayment, the President’s administration can make some significant progress, even without Congress. Obama cannot automatically make all borrowers eligible for the pay-as-you-earn program without Congress. He can extend eligibility to all direct loan (from the Education Dept) borrowers, though, just not those that borrowed through the FFEL program, which was discontinued in 2010. And those in the FFEL program can generally convert loans into direct loans, so in a sense, most borrowers are eligible, if they take the time and effort to make themselves so. The Education Dept does not need approval for its awareness program, which basically educates students and recent grads about their eligibility for benefits.

Finally, for the new emphasis on technology, discussed in our last post, the Obama administration has few congressional hurdles. Of course, many of the bullet points on the plan are simply statements of support, so it is tough to stop measures that are not specifically spelled out yet. In terms of announced funding, Obama will need congressional approval for his $260 million “First in the World” program promoting innovation, but not for the Labor Dept’s $500 million program for accelerated degree programs at community colleges and some four-year universities.

For the competency-based credit system and the re-design of courses and student services through technology, all areas which are important for Rukuku and its business, the administration is free to begin launching experimental programs. We’re excited about that and looking forward to joining in. Let the innovation begin.

Down with Technology? Yea, You Know Me!

edtech, white house, dept of education, support

President Obama and the Department of Education  Say Technology is Cool. We Agree.

In our most recent posts, we’ve discussed the student debt and cost control measures in Obama’s recent higher education reform proposal. The most exciting part of the reform, at least for non-traditional educational suppliers such as Rukuku, is its emphasis on technology and innovation. Some of that emphasis shows up in funding initiatives, and the rest of it shows up in general statements of support.

A few of the highlights:

  1. The Department of Education will promote programs that award learning based on competency rather than class time. That means that independent learners, such as those on Rukuku, can earn credit for what they learn even if they learned it outside the traditional classroom setting.
  2. The administration has introduced a $260 million dollar fund, called First in the World, for testing and evaluating new approaches to higher education. A cooperation with Rukuku could be an excellent example for this one, hint, hint.
  3. The Department of Labor is also offering $500 million for community colleges and some four-year colleges. A portion of that money will be dedicated to programs that accelerate progress along the educational track and reduce costs for students.
  4. The White House will try to reduce some regulatory barriers, which seems to mean they will let more people qualify for financial aid for doing less traditional stuff. My guess is that they will keep a pretty tight rein on this starting out, offering some financial assistance with competency test fees and that sort of thing, but hopefully we can eventually look at financial aid for classes on media such as Rukuku.
  5. The announcement included several other statements of support for tech stuff, many of them related to course design and student skill evaluation. These are all pretty general, but they do highlight some of the successes of recent programs involving technology and seem to say, “hey, we’re down with technology and will be open-minded about this.” Once again, good news for Rukuku.

In our next post, the final one related to this higher education reform, we’ll look at the chances that any of this reform will survive in Congress and the consequences if it doesn’t. Also, the White House has a full rundown of the plan here.