Sunday, July 17, 2011

Federal website serves as tool to compare real college costs

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a website ranking colleges and universities by their cost of tuition and fees, and of the 64 schools in the cheapest 10 percent nationally, Florida has 12. All of them are former community colleges that now offer bachelor's degrees. The least expensive among them: Palm Beach State College, where annual tuition was $1,990 last year.

The College Affordability and Transparency site is part of the federal government's efforts to deal with the lofty cost of higher education. Congress required the U.S. Department of Education to create the site "to sort of shame institutions that have tuition and fees rising a lot faster than their peers'," said Brian Cook, of the American Council on Education. He noted, however, that some schools have had to increase tuition to make up for plummeting taxpayer support.

That's how Florida State University wound up in the top 5 percent of four-year, public institutions with the fastest-rising tuition. Between 2006-07 and 2008-09, FSU tuition and fees jumped by 36 percent, to $4,566 a year for a full-time student.

Tuition and fees climbed almost that much at the University of South Florida and several other public universities, but they still charge far less than their peers elsewhere.

State schools in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Maryland and New Jersey took the top five spots, all costing more than $12,800 annually.

The government's site enables users to search the highest, lowest and fastest-rising costs at four- and two-year public and private schools. Private schools are divided into nonprofit and for-profit institutions. One list shows only tuition. Another shows average net costs, which includes tuition and other major costs minus the value of government student grants.

People considering a career college can search by their area of interest, such as culinary services or cosmetology. All the data come from information the schools regularly report to the federal government.

But the new site has limits. The four-year college list mixes traditional universities with community colleges that offer bachelor's degrees, even if most of their students are there for associate's degrees. The site also shows only the schools at the top and bottom of the cost spectrum.

But the department's College Navigator site, which has links from the Affordability and Transparency site, gives the details for all colleges and universities individually.

A comparison of Florida's 11 public universities shows wide variations. Florida Atlantic University, based in Boca Raton, reported the lowest average 2010-11 costs: $16,101 for tuition, room and board, books and expenses for in-state undergrads living on campus. The highest, $21,852, was at Miami's Florida International. USF reported $19,798.

It's good information for parents trying to get a rough idea of what they may have to pay, said Billie Jo Hamilton, USF's financial aid director. But a lot of it, including book costs, is based on estimates. USF reported $1,500 in average book and supply costs. The University of Central Florida in Orlando reported only $924. "We tried to be conservative but realistic," Hamilton said.

No matter how realistic colleges try to be, the federal cost information is so general it's almost useless, said Mary Fallon, of Student Aid Services in California. Fallon's company designs Web-based college price calculators. "These lists are just sticker prices," she said. "They don't apply to very many people because so many get some kind of grant money, federal or state or something."

That problem, however, should be solved by the end of October, she said, when another congressional mandate on college costs kicks in. It requires that all colleges and universities offer Web-based price calculators so students can find out how much they will owe based on their aid eligibility, family income and other circumstances.

In the past, students had to wait for a college's acceptance to know how much aid they would receive and how much tuition would cost. When the calculators are available, "you can know what your price will be before applying," Fallon said.

Hamilton agreed that the calculator will be more useful for parents and students than the cost lists. She warned, however, that it won't be much good until students know as much as possible about their aid eligibility.

"It's kind of a timing thing," she said. "The DOE website may be best early when you begin to look around, but then the calculator will help when you narrow your focus." Fallon added another warning. "These are estimates, not guarantees."


An insider view of a British school

Ceri Radford reviews a documentary about how children misbehave in school

The parents were a sight to behold. They were goggle-eyed, pucker-lipped, leaning back in their chairs, shaking their heads in disbelief. A mother chewed her tongue; a father looked as though he was about to burst into tears. What were they watching? Nothing more than the behaviour of their own children, caught on camera, in school.

For last night’s Classroom Secrets (BBC One), a camera crew spent a week filming the children of Class 4FF, a typical primary school in Leicester. It had once been failing, but the current head had turned things round, earning it a “good” rating from Ofsted. The programme showed a set of four parents watching the footage alongside their children’s teacher and headmistress.

The very ordinariness of the school was part of this programme’s compulsive appeal. No doubt more shocking, headline-generating images can be – and have been – captured at the sort of inner city hell-hole which makes Lord of the Flies look like a pleasant afternoon picnic.

This was no such place: it was located in an anodyne bit of suburbia, there was a nice playground for hopscotch and games, the school staff were nice, the children were (mostly) nice, the parents were nice. Everything was nice, and everything was tainted by persistent, nagging, low-level disruptive behaviour, something which swallows up, on average, three whole weeks of teaching time per year. This was a fascinating insight into what is going wrong, and why.

A case in point was nine-year-old Maisy. To put it kindly, she was a livewire; to put it in terms my mother would use, she was a little madam. She was shown, on camera in the classroom, pulling faces, dancing, blowing bubbles and doing quite a successful job of diverting the attention of her classmates away from their work and onto herself. Her parents, already visibly shocked, were in for worse when she was also seen writing out the F-word and showing it to her friends. Clearly, this was not the desired result of her literacy lessons.

What did they think had led to her “inappropriate behaviours”, the headmistress asked, mildly. It was astonishing that it took until this point for her parents – who both came across as caring and sensible – to realise that letting their young daughter stay up watching television until 10 or 11 o’clock at the weekend might not be conducive to good behaviour.

This documentary will naturally have appealed to parents of school-age children – but it was perhaps even more interesting for the childless. I had no idea how much school had changed. It’s not as if I was educated in the days of the inkwell and the slipper, but still; the classroom experience was almost unrecognisable. Children were free to get up and get a drink of water; if they were hungry, they would be taken out and given toast. Instead of facing the front, they worked – or not, as the case may be – in groups, facing one another. It gave them, in fact, all the freedom of an office, without the restraint of knowing that they would be fired if they spent all day chewing pencils and dithering at the photocopier.


Australia: Students 'brainwashed' over climate change in Queensland schools

(The LNP is Queensland's conservative party)

The Liberal National Party president has blasted the Queensland education system for "brainwashing" students about climate change.

Speaking to LNP members at the party's state conference today, Bruce McIver said he was discouraged about how children were being taught about climate change in schools. Mr McIver said he was shaken by the way issues were being taught when he and his wife visited their grandson's school. "We were shocked at the way the climate change debate on one side is being pushed in the classroom," he said. "And not balanced perspectively. Our kids are being brainwashed under this Labor education system."

Mr McIver's comments received loud applause from more than 700 delegates from throughout the state.

"Why aren't they being told that if you go to Quilpie and you drive to Windorah - [Liberal National Party MPs] Vaughan Johnson's country, Howard Hobbs' country - you will see these sand hills that have been blown up years ago," he said. "When the droughts were much bigger than the ones we have just had. "And why aren't we being told that Brisbane has had floods in the 1890s of over eight metres.

"[LNP leader] Campbell [Newman] tells me that back in the 1820s - even before white man even came here - there were floods that could have been over 12 metres at the post office at the bottom of Elizabeth Street. "So, things change. Climate is constantly changing. Is man having an effect? Well I will leave it for you to judge."

Queensland Education Minister Cameron Dick said Mr McIver’s comments were an “outrageous slur” on the professionalism of the state's 38,000 teachers. “The curriculum taught in Queensland state schools is developed and delivered by educational experts, not politicians, nor backroom political party operatives like Mr McIver," he said. "Quite simply, students studying science in Queensland state schools are taught scientific facts.

"We all know that Mr McIver and the LNP are climate-change deniers, and his comments are not only wrong and insulting, but an attempt to push the party’s ‘head-in-the-sand’ beliefs on Queenslanders."

Mr McIver described Labor's carbon tax as a "socialist" policy would have a devastating effect on Queensland business and on Queensland jobs. "It is a direct threat to our economy. I believe it is a redistribution of wealth," he said to cheers of "hear, hear" among delegates. "It is a direct threat to Queensland jobs."

Mr McIver also challenged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to install more Queenslanders onto his shadow front bench. The LNP won 21 of Queensland's 30 Federal seats at the August 2010 election.

Mr McIver said the LNP had added an extra 4000 members since it formed in July 2008.


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