Bookbyte Blog

The amount of money parents contribute to their kids’ college education is dropping. Or, more accurately, it’s struggling to keep up. As recently as 2010, parents paid for 37% of the total money spent on college education around the country from their own income. Three years later, that amount has dropped 10%, with grants and scholarships now taking over a greater percentage of the heavy lifting.

Student Borrowing 18%, Parent Borrowing 9%, Parent Income & Savings 27%, Grants & Scholarships 30%, Relatives & Friends 5%, Student Income & Savings 11%

How college was paid for in the 2012-2013 academic year. Source: Sallie Mae

Simply put, the cost of college is increasing faster than parents can afford to keep up with it.

To fill the gap, more students need to take out loans (14% in 2010 has become 18% in 2013) or simply fit the bill for their education from their own income and savings (9% in 2010, 11% in 2013). It’s to the credit of colleges and universities that these numbers aren’t much higher than they could be. They’ve upped how much they spend on scholarships and grants, as well as simply offering more full-rides and other financial support, in order to keep the burden on students from getting too overwhelming.

Keep in mind that these numbers are percentages of total money, not of students. In other words, 18% of total amount spent on education last year came from student loans. It’s not that 18% of students took out loans. The actual total number of students graduating with some sort of  debt? Nearly two-thirds.

So what can a student do? Not much, unfortunately. Basically, you can be very grateful to your parents for what they’ve done and go out of your way to find scholarship opportunities. Obviously it’s going to vary greatly from individual situation to situation, but here are a few general pointers:

  • Even if your parents are paying for college, apply for some scholarships. There are tons of them out there, and your parents will certainly appreciate any money you save them.
  • Weigh your options with student loans carefully. While often necessary, they can be very tough to pay off for young professionals. On the other hand, taking the income hit you’ll get from not getting your ideal degree might leave you just as strapped for cash through your 20s.
  • There are a lot of great scholarship resources out there, but no single, completely comprehensive search engine, so don’t limit yourself to Google. Ask around. If there’s some sort of local community group, church, synagogue, mosque, sports team, etc. that you’re a part of, your odds of getting their scholarship are definitely higher.
  • Don’t just look during the summer. Most scholarships are offered year-round, and the earlier you look the more likely you won’t miss an application deadline.

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It’s a tough time to be a student. Landing a halfway decent job is always a struggle, but recent graduates have to deal with a weak economy and devalued degrees, all while more and more of them need to take out loans and find other methods of paying for their education.

Students, you get hit with a flood of advice at all times. (I realize the irony of saying this while being another of many voices telling you what to do.) Lately, there’s been popular refrain among post-graduation advice: get a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) major and earn more money. Just look at these headlines: “Face the Facts: STEM degrees earn the highest paying jobs,” “STEM jobs pay more, reduce the wage gap between men and women,” “STEM Workers are in High Demand.” Study after study indicate that STEM jobs pay better than other fields and that investing your time in something like art, English, or God forbid, theater, is not a wise investment of your tuition dollars.

As an English and art major myself, it goes without saying that I’m not too keen on seeing my chosen areas of study get put down so often, but that’s not what this article is about.

I think there’s a danger in the tone we’ve set about discussing STEM degrees and jobs. The narrative in so many articles (and in many a Reddit thread) is that STEM students are inherently more valuable, that they do serious work, while we liberal arts majors play around with frivolous things. The tone is dismissive, condescending, and accordingly, really, really easy to ignore. Specifically, by focusing so much on money, we’re doing a disservice to the aspects of creativity and inspiration that can exist in the hard sciences.

That last part is the problem. Very few college students choose their area of study according to future earning potential. And telling them over and over again about the money isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. Why? Because students are going to study what they find interesting, engaging, and exciting on a day-to-day basis. Future potential money is not as much of a motivator.

The more students think of STEM as the practical and stable area of study, the less the field fosters imagination. And that’s a real problem with the current American attitude towards science. There’s an obsession with practical application of science and a decreased focus on programs that don’t have immediately accessible real-world applications, like NASA or particle physics. Politicians and bureaucrats are overly concerned with the short-term return-on-investment of the sciences, and inherently distrustful of science of science’s sake. Unfortunately, it’s the latter that usually leads to great leaps forward, either through happy accidents or by making little bits of progress that can be carried, football-like, further down the field by later researchers.

Only one in a million of those dreams ever need to come true, but as a society, we aren’t doing enough to foster STEM dreams. Dreams are being dominated by the people who want to write the great American novel or become a world-famous actor or musician.

Most people with STEM degrees aren’t professional scientists, just as most English majors aren’t professional writers. But the ultimate reason for going to college only half lays with the question “What job can I get with this degree?” English majors mostly aren’t writers, but studying literature and the written word inform their broader world view, teach them to appreciate the arts, and help define the person they will be and the work they will do in a thousand unknowable ways.

Studying the sciences is no different. If we want more students to study STEM, we only need to show them how much they’ll get out of a STEM degree. Not the money or the degree, but curiosity, engagement, and that one in a million chance of finding something, not really practical, but really cool.

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College students living on campus need to adjust to a life spent mostly in dorm rooms, lecture halls, the library, and walking around campus. But they also need to adjust to that hallmark of dorm life: the communal bathroom. It’s a pretty dramatic departure from whatever routine you’d established up to this point, unless you grew up in a home with a couple dozen siblings.

Your normal college prep materials tend to do very little to brace you for the dorm bathroom experience. Most lists you see focus on the obvious: laptop, extra-long sheets, desk lamp, laundry detergent, etc. But you often don’t get much of a bathroom-related inventory, except for, once again, the obvious choices: soap, shampoo, towels.

Here’s a list of the ten adjustments you’ll need to make when moving into a dorm.

  • Buy a shower caddy. Of course you’ll need to bring along your normal list of toiletries, but you can’t just leave them sitting in the shower like you do at home. Unless you want soap scum on whatever drawer or closet you hide your shower stuff in, life will be much easier if you just bring a big plastic carrying case.
  • Cover yourself. While guys’ bathrooms can sometimes be a little more accommodating to simply wrapping yourself in a towel, the girls should certainly invest in a decent bathrobe. The key here is to only take into the shower something you can hang up. I guarantee that you do not want to just drop your dirty clothes on the floor like you do at home, at least not if you ever intend to wear them again.
  • Definitely cover your feet. Waterproof flip-flops are your friend. The stuff everyone else in your hall just washed off themselves on to the shower floor is not.
  • Clean up after yourself. Ladies, I really and truly feel for you on this one, because while we men deservedly have a worse reputation in terms of bodily fuctions, you all tend to leave a wider path of destruction when getting ready. Whatever bits of debris, lotions, or just puddles of water you leave behind need to be cleaned up. That goes double for hair…
  • Hair clogs drains. No matter what, you’ll lose some hair when you shower. Now multiply that by the 20+ other people who need to hop into the same set of showers each day. Drains get clogged fast, and it’s your responsibility to pick up what you leave behind.
  • Pee does not go on there. You’d think this one would be limited to guys’ bathrooms, but I’ve heard numerous reports that indicate otherwise. I hope I don’t have to remind anyone reading this article of how toilets work, so instead, I’ll just advise you all to remain ever-vigilant of the not-as-rare-as-it-should-be misfire. Tilt your head to see if you can catch a reflection in a puddle at a different angle. You want to watch what you sit and step in.
  • Throw out all used toilet paper, even the stuff you didn’t technically “use.” This one kind of baffles me, but it happens so often in all types of public restrooms that apparently someone has a problem remembering. Somewhere in the process of removing paper from roll, a chunk of paper comes loose and floats to the floor. Please pick it up and get rid of it yourself. You can always wash your hands after.
  • Get a sense of the busiest times and avoid them. Each term, as your fellow dormmates are adjusting to their new schedules, you will find certain little pockets of time where it seems like everybody and his/her roommate are showering at once. Identify those times and stay far, far away from them. Even if you have to change your personal schedule, you’ll be much happier not competing with a dozen peers every morning for grooming time.
  • If you don’t have to do it in the bathroom, don’t do it in the bathroom. Growing up, most people see the bathroom as a place for privacy. That all goes out the window the minute you move into a dorm. So if there’s any aspect of your day — drying your hair, clipping your nails, putting on makeup, whatever — that doesn’t absolutely require a shower, toilet, or sink, you’re better off staying out of everyone else’s way.
  • Be ready for things that don’t make sense. Bathrooms are primarily places for necessities. However, when they’re in close proximity to a large number of people in the middle of their terrible-decision-making prime, they become places for just about everything else. One night in my freshman year of college, I woke up at around 3-4 am to use the bathroom, then, while washing my hands, noticed something dark and green behind me in reflection. A Christmas tree had been planted and held upright in the toilet, with a little support from the sides of the stall.

Young woman smokingAccording to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, 1,182 colleges in the U.S. have campus-wide smoking bans. To illustrate just how much this trend has taken off recently, back in 2010, that number was only 420. (There’s got to be some joke in that second stat, right?) Not all schools have come to this decision on their own: Oklahoma, Iowa, Arkansas, and, earlier this summer, Louisiana have all issued smoking bans to all public institutions statewide.

Before we go any further, let me clarify. Personally, I have no horse in this race. I don’t smoke but I’m not particularly bothered by the smell. I could wake up tomorrow and learn that all tobacco products had been banned in the US and it really wouldn’t change my life whatsoever. On the flipside, I could wake up tomorrow and learn that I had been transported into a noir film, or Eastern Europe, and my reaction as far as smoking is concerned would be basically non-existent.

As far as I can tell, smoking bans exist for one reason: to make smoking less culturally acceptable. After all, that’s the only way to effectively fight the practice. The less people see others smoking, whether it’s in movies or walking down the street, the less it’ll be seen as normative behavior, and the less they’ll have a desire to try.

And that’s a noble goal. There are any number of statistics I could throw out related to lung cancer, heart problems, or any other sometimes fatal condition that’s exacerbated by smoking. But I’m pretty sure you’ve heard them all before.

That being said, part of me feels sorry for smokers. I know, I know, cry me a river for all the smokers who need to huddle together in the cold X number of feet away from a building every time they want to reduce their life expectancy by a few minutes. But at the end of the day, smoking is a personal choice and everyone needs to respect that. I generally feel that the impact one person’s choice has on other non-smokers is overstated. I’m not arguing against research findings on second-hand smoke, I’m just saying that, personally, I think the name “Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights” is kind of silly, as if nonsmokers were under attack by smokers, big tobacco, and their lobbyists.

As always, the opinions above are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Bookbyte. However, my straddling-the-fence position on the topic leaves me wide open for posts from people with all sorts of perspectives to tell me how wrong I am. Fire away, commenters!

A football sitting on a fanned-out stack of 20 dollar bills.

The bigger the business of college sports gets, the more the line between student and professional blurs. They already don’t make any money on jersey sales (though most schools just sell jerseys with numbers, not names). And they also don’t see a dime for having their name and likeness used in official NCAA video games.

That’s the official practice, but it may or may not be… technically speaking… legal. Starting with former UCLA player Ed O’Bannon, a total of seven college athletes have joined together on a long-brewing class-action lawsuit against the NCAA, Electronic Arts (EA), and the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) for licensing out their likeness without permission. This could become a major case, not so much because of what it means for videogames, but because the only way the NCAA has a case is to argue that college athletes should not be granted the same rights as professionals, that their work and their likeness are not their own property, but the property of the college they attend. If the NCAA loses, that sets a precedent for many, many more cases regarding the professional nature of the college athlete.

In the latest wrinkle to this story, the NCAA has decided to part ways with EA, mostly out of fear of the monetary damage this lawsuit could do. EA (which, it’s worth noting, has been voted the worst company in the world by Forbes magazine two years in a row) has in turn said, “Well, whatever, we don’t need you anyway. We’ll just go through the CLC and the individual colleges.” In theory, that just means their upcoming games will be titled things like College Football 2015,”instead of NCAA Football 2015. In practice, it could mean there are bizarre holes in the games’ conferences. What if EA can’t come to an agreement with some football powerhouse like the Ducks or the Wolverines? Will they just not exist in the world of the game? Or will EA try to plug the holes with imitation brand teams: the Mallards and the Weasels?

Back in 2009, EA announced that it would be putting its college basketball games on indefinite hiatus. At this point, the series was only selling around 600,000 copies per entry. (The NCAA Football series sells about 1 million more per entry.) Keep in mind these retail for around $50-$60 a piece, and each new yearly entry is basically just a roster update and one or two new interface changes. I can’t imagine production costs are that high. The licensing fees with the NCAA must be absolutely insane if selling half a million copies each year is considered enough of a failure to quit altogether.

And that’s excluding royalties sent to college athletes.

I can’t get behind the idea that college athletes should be paid for their performance. At that point, there really isn’t anything separating them from professionals. But using their likeness? I’m not sure what to think. I’d certainly want to be compensated if someone ever made money off a digital version of me.

In 2009, a court ruled that universities cannot claim ownership of inventions simply because they were made using campus resources. College athletes might not be inventors, per se, but money is still being generated because of their work. I’m not sure exactly what that ownership looks like, but I’m pretty sure that there is some ownership there.

iStock_000015650351XSmallThe traditional idea of a college town is one that’s truly built up around the college. These towns have bars and restaurants packed with students. They root for the school’s sports teams, especially the local hotels and motels who fill up with visiting family during games and graduations. The campus is the most identifiable landmark in town. It’s the largest contributor to the local economy. It’s in the identity of the town.

Many of the largest state schools are in these sorts of towns. The students of Arizona State University makes up over a third of the population of Tempe. University of Georgia students a little shy of 30% of Athens’ population. Virginia Tech is in Blacksburg, a city of 42,620. Total number of students at VA Tech? 31,087. Over 70%.

Yet in most cases, the student population is considered essentially transient, and that has a big impact on both the way these towns think about the students as members of the community and the way the students view themselves.

Berkeley, CA, realizing the size and impact of UC Berkeley (about 32% of city population), recently approved a measure that would let the school be considered its own voting district. It was an amazing act of faith in the judgment of the student body and their say in local politics. A similar proposal was suggested regarding the University of Vermont (about 27% of Burlington), but was dismissed by the local government. The Burlington city government simply assumed that students would not be interested enough to get involved.

That assumption might not be as baseless as it sounds. UVM hasn’t been able to drum up enough enthusiasm among the student body. So what’s happening? Why would students pass up the opportunity for greater direct influence?

As politically involved as students can be, it’s rare to see that same passion applied to local politics. As far as I can tell, here are the biggest reasons why:

  • The student body is made up of lots of people from lots of different places. I went to a college outside of my home state, and probably around 80% of my friends were from out of state (or country) too. Our local politics were the decision made by the school itself. That’s what had a direct impact on our day-to-day lives. It didn’t feel like we moved into a community as much as we created a new community of people from around the country (or planet).
  • Local politics aren’t as flashy, dramatic, or interesting as national/international politics. Strike up a conversation about politics and it would usually be (at the time I was in college) about the Iraq War, abortion, or gun control. Either international relations or broad social issues. As students (especially at a liberal arts college), we were used to speaking about vague theoretical concepts of how things should be. We weren’t used to discussing practical issues like construction on the freeway or a tax hike on property owners. We had very little media exposure to city-level concerns, even in the media we created ourselves (like student newspapers).
  • Students don’t think of themselves as members of the community yet. It’s a little like the old question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We get so used to thinking of our education as the time before we start our “real” lives. Local politics don’t seem like something we can, or should, be a part of yet. College students have largely not yet been greeted as full adults, so on some level, they don’t see themselves as full adults.

If Burlington changes its mind and lets UVM become a district, I think it would the student interest would follow. Students would be more interested in local politics if they were invited to become more invested. But if the city/community doesn’t try to get the students involved, it’s unlikely they’ll bother.

Whether or not a city wants so many young people to have a more powerful voice is a different matter…

 

A finger held disconcertingly close to Sideburns' faceIt’s no fun being an intern. If you’re lucky enough to get an internship that actually pays you, it’s probably chump change. It’s unlikely you’re doing the work you want to be doing. You’re almost entirely at the mercy of the company you’re working for, and they don’t have much reason to treat you as well as their normal employees.

Continually fighting the tedium of your position, avoid the temptation to editorialize, plagiarize, or to try too hard to be funny. Because if you do and it makes the company you work for look bad, you’re already in ready, aim, fire position.

Then again, saying “uh… the intern did it” is a pretty lame, cliched PR excuse. It’s entirely possible that none of these public screw-ups actually were the intern’s fault. We might want to consider the possibility that there wasn’t even an intern to begin with. But I’ll leave that to you to decide, depending on how much you trust politicians and government bureaucracies to own up to their responsibilities.

1. Plane crashes aren’t the best time for bad puns

KTVU, a local news channel in San Francisco, recently pulled a Ron Burgundy when reporting on the recent Asiana Airlines crash at the San Francisco airport. The network reported the names of the pilot and crew as a  string of cheesy, racist puns. Asiana Airlines threatened to sue. KTVU obviously needed an excuse fast. They apologized, saying they only read these names after confirming them with the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB followed up with their own excuse, saying this was all the work of a devious, rogue intern, who had been promptly fired. The airline ultimately decided to drop the lawsuit.

2. Politicians can’t keep track of what they have and haven’t said, that’s the intern’s job!

During the 2008 presidential election, a web page with a list of “McCain Family Recipes,” something that has no reason to exist apart from illustrating just how stupid our election process is, appeared on the McCain website. Under the section of recipes accredited to Cindy McCain were verbatim copies of Food Network recipes. Campaign spokesman: “The intern [responsible] has been dealt with.” In 2011, former senator from Massachusetts Scott Brown had a supposedly autobiographical section of his website lifted word-for-word from a speech written by former North Carolina senator Elizabeth Dole. Brown: “It was a summer intern that put together the site.”

3. The thousands upon thousands of tweets that come back to haunt their senders

If I had a dollar for every time something stupid was posted on Twitter… wait, let me back up… that’s far more money than I could ever spend in a thousand lifetimes. If I had a dollar for every time a company or politician followed up a stupid tweet with a “But I don’t even know how to Twitter!” type excuse, I’d be a rich, rich man. Listen, politicians, just because you don’t understand social media and your interns do, doesn’t mean your interns should be solely responsible for handling what’s said on Twitter, Facebook, etc. All that proves is that you don’t understand how powerful social media can be. Would you ask someone who was only getting paid with a handshake and recommendation to send out your press releases unapproved and unedited? Of course not. Twitter is the exact same thing, except the damage and bad press fallout occurs about 1,000 times faster.

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