Saturday, January 23, 2010

Yale's new admissions video strikes a different chord

Yale University hardly needs the promotion, but it’s difficult to resist the campy exuberance of That’s Why I Chose Yale,” a music video premiered with much fanfare on campus and across the country via YouTube. In her email introducing the “new Admissions rock musical,” Yale Associate Director of Admissions Marcia Landesman said, “We think it is safe to say that there has never been another admissions presentation like it!” Then again, she’s probably never seen Appalachian State is HOT HOT HOT” or the series of Marshall University TV commercials—other musical college recruitment videos currently making the rounds on YouTube.

But the Yale video is different, for Yale at least. The 16-minute musical foregoes campus stills and student interviews pasted together with acappella renditions of old school favorites. Instead, viewers are treated to an entire production company of more than 200 students, faculty and staff dancing across library tables and through residence halls. Even NBC’s Brian Williams makes a cameo appearance, clearly avoiding an obvious prompt to sing his lines. Although the net effect is more Bollywood than Ivy, the message is fun and removes any hint of stuffy from the Yale image.

Targeting a generation of high school students weaned on Disney’s High School Musical and MTV, “That’s Why I Chose Yale” does evoke mixed reactions from prospective students, alums, and current undergrads. Armchair critics characterize the production as everything from embarrassing to fabulous. One local undergrad remarked, “It’s 14 minutes too long.” Another viewer called it “cheesy.” But many wonder exactly who the real audience might be. After all, as one prospective student pointed out, “Yale chooses us—not the other way around.”

If the goal was to create “edgy fun buzz” around the internet, then the video has succeeded. At last count, YouTube posted nearly 152,000 hits, including many from staff at local high schools who have been frantically forwarding the link with notes reading, “You have to view this!” And maybe you should

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UVA posts 4 percent increase in applications for the Class of 2014

CHARLOTTESVILLE—Despite a decline in the expected number of high school graduates in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, applications are once again on the increase at the University of Virginia. Projecting a 3 to 4 percent growth in the total number of applicants for the UVA Class of 2014, Dean of Admission Gregory Roberts speculates that the flood of applications “represents the triumph of economics over demographics.” He goes on to explain that UVA “is an attractive option for recession-strapped families, having been ranked as No. 1 ‘best value’ among public colleges for two straight years by the Princeton Review.”

But beyond looking for value, applicants also appear to be attracted to more practical professions with guaranteed post-graduation employment. The number of students applying to the School of Nursing rose by more than 20 percent, and applications to the School of Engineering and Applied Science went up by about 10 percent. “My informal theory would be that in a bad economy, these are the kinds of jobs that people are drawn to,” explained Theresa Carroll, assistant dean in the UVA School of Nursing.

Among public institutions, UVA represents a great bargain, especially for in-state students. The total cost of attendance for the current freshman class is estimated at $21,140 for Virginians and $43,140 for out-of-state students. The University’s financial aid program, AccessUVa, guarantees student aid packages meeting 100% of demonstrated need—with no loans for students from families whose income is up to 200% of the federal poverty level. For students receiving aid, the average award is $15,840.

In addition to financial advantages, student recruitment was also bolstered by UVA’s continued participation in a traveling road show including admissions representatives from Harvard and Princeton universities. The joint tour attracted huge numbers of high school students and their families throughout the country—1400 participants at a single information session in Washington DC. While UVA’s applications went up by 3 or 4 percent, Harvard’s applicant pool crossed the 30,000 mark for the first time in school history and Princeton experienced a 19 percent bump in applications received.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Virginia's public institutions once again named 'best value'

The Commonwealth is on a roll! Earlier this month, Virginia’s colleges and universities made an impressive showing on Kiplinger's Best Values in Public Colleges for 2010, with 6 schools named among the top 100 in the nation. This week, the TODAY Show and USA Today debuted the Princeton Review Best Value Colleges for 2010, and for the second year in a row, the University of Virginia topped the public college list followed by Virginia Tech, the College of William and Mary, James Madison University, and the University of Mary Washington.

Across the Potomac, the State of Maryland was also represented on the Princeton Review list. Salisbury University, St. Mary’s of Maryland, and the Naval Academy earned three of the highly-coveted places among the top 50 in the nation.

Area private colleges did less well in the ranking. The only local schools appearing among the 50 Best Value Private Colleges were Sweet Briar College and the University of Richmond. Once again, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania topped the 10 Best Value Private Colleges, with Harvard University and Weslyan College of Macon, Georgia, coming in at two and three respectively.

The Princeton Review selected its 100 “best values”—50 public universities and 50 private colleges—based on surveys of administrators and students at more than 650 institutions. Selection criteria covered academics, costs, and financial aid. “[T]he economic crisis and financial downturn have presented sobering challenges both to families struggling to afford college and to higher education institutions struggling to maintain their programs in the face of budget and funding shortfalls” said Robert Franek publisher of the Princeton Review. “We are pleased to partner with USA Today to present these schools for all they are doing to provide outstanding academics at a relatively low cost of attendance and/or generous financial aid.”

Tuition, fees, and room and board at four-year public institutions jumped 46 percent, from an average of $10,440 in 2000 to $15,210 last year, according to the College Board, which tracks costs. For private four-year institutions, costs rose by 28 percent during the same period. But to counter these increases, “Best Value” colleges provided on average $875 more in grant money per student this year over last. Nine schools on the list don’t even charge tuition, including the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

For UVA, the total cost of attendance for in-state students is approximately $19,112 and $41,112 for nonresidents. Need-based aid distributed to undergrads rose from $37 million in 2003-04 to $59.1 million last year, and 1250 entering students received these funds, according to USA Today. The average student got $9673 in need-based grants and graduated about $19,016 in debt.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

College rivalry plays out in local chess championship

As reported earlier, college rivalries come in all shapes and forms. The more traditional football or basketball rivalries are celebrated events attracting huge national audiences. Other rivalries might be less visible, but are competed just as fiercely on fields of play appropriate to the sport.

One such rivalry, while not as long-standing as The Game between Harvard and Yale, is the chess duel between the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of Texas—Dallas (UTD). Capping a near flawless performance over four days of competition play, the UMBC chess team recently captured first place at the Pan American Intercollegiate Championships held at South Padre Island, Texas, soundly beating both UTD and the University of Texas—Brownsville for possibly the biggest win in team history.

Earning bragging rights as champions in the “World Series of College Chess,” the UMBC Retrievers placed ahead of 27 other teams including Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and NYU. “This may be the greatest chess accomplishment for UMBC because it came against the strongest competitive field ever assembled on college chess,” said Alan Sherman, director and founder of the UMBC chess program and associate professor of computer science.

UMBC has now won or tied a record nine Pan-Am titles and is among the best college teams in the country. UTD challenged in the past, winning the championship in 2007 and 2008.

Members of the team include Leonid Kritz ’12 and Sergey Erenburg ’11, who are both grandmasters, and Giorgi Margvelashvili ’12, Sasha Kaplan ’11, and Sabina Foiser ’12. Many players attend UMBC on chess scholarships—up to full tuition plus a housing stipend. They play at least two hours per day in mentally challenging workouts and yet maintain very impressive GPA’s.

In 2008, UMBC got swept into its first-ever run to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But that was nothing compared to the crushing chess victory over rival UTD, at a school where “chess is king” and "Retrievers are believers."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The top 20 most expensive college dormitories

One of the more interesting battlegrounds of the escalating college amenities war involves the continuing construction of glitzier upscale dormitories. It’s really no surprise. Today’s college student needs more dorm room to accommodate the variety of electronics necessary to support his or her lifestyle, and the more pampered prefer singles, hopefully with fully tricked out private baths. And many colleges, particularly those not engaged in the US News and World Report prestige war, are increasingly willing to provide whatever is necessary to attract students to their campuses and keep them there.

But lifestyle accommodations come at a cost. For the 2009-2010 school year, room and board increased 5.4 percent at public colleges and 4.2 percent at private colleges to an average price of $8193 and $9363 respectively for a standard double room. When available, private rooms come in somewhat higher.To get an idea of how much these costs can figure into the total price of a college education, Campus Grotto compiled a list of this year’s most expensive* college dorms:

1. Eugene Lang College, NY: $15,990
2. Cooper Union, NY: $15,275
3. Suffolk University, MA: $14,544
4. UC Berkeley, CA: $14,384
5. New York Institute of Technology, NY: $14,290
6. Fordham University (Lincoln Center), NY: $13,830
7. Fordham University (Rose Hill), NY: $13,716
8. UC Santa Cruz, CA: $13,641
9. Manhattanville College, NY: $13,500
10. Chapman University, CA: $13,384
11. Sarah Lawrence College, NY: $13,370
12. UCLA, CA: $13,314
13. Olin College of Engineering, NY: $13,230
14. New York University, NY: $13,226
15. St. Johns University of Queens, NY: $13,140
16. American University, DC: $12,930
17. Marymount Manhattan, NY: $12,874
18. Drexel University, PA: $12,681
19. Pomona College, CA: $12,651
20. Vanderbilt University, TN: $12,650

* Double occupancy freshman dorms

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Colleges create new majors in video game design and development

Not so many years ago, majoring in game design at the University of Pennsylvania meant skipping class and staying up all night playing pinball at the "Dirty Drug" on the corner of 34th and Walnut Streets. At some point, Pong and Pac-Man introduced the digital age, and students found new, technology-based ways to waste time.

Flash forward a few years, and games have suddenly joined other mainstream media worthy of academic study. Today it’s all about the industry, as perfectly respectable post-secondary institutions are rushing to offer majors in video game design and building breathtaking facilities to support student interest in the field.

This fall, UC Irvine announced the establishment of the Center for Computer Games & Virtual Worlds. Construction is nearing completion on a 4,000 square-foot, 20-room “Cyber-Interaction Observatory” for faculty research that includes plans for floor-to-ceiling projection screens, 3-D stereoscopic displays, and gesture-based interfaces. Expanding on the Game Culture and Technology Lab founded in 2001, UCI will offer a 4-year undergraduate program in “game science” joining radio, TV, and film as legitimate media-based academic majors or concentrations.

But it isn’t just about fun and games. Advocates for video design and development are quick to point out that applications go far beyond game-playing or entertainment. Virtual worlds and simulators are used for everything from stroke rehabilitation to combat exercises. In fact, the entertainment industry frequently leads the way for computer applications in health, communications, and defense.

On the east coast, High Point University recently opened the Nido R. Qubein School of Communication which offers a similar major in Games and Interactive Media supported by an amazing lab also featuring floor-to-ceiling screens and up-to-date video equipment used to provide students with hands-on experience in virtually every video game currently on the market. Students in the program are not only encouraged to play to learn but also to hone skills as story-tellers, critics, artists, and potential entrepreneurs.

So far, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has not created a specific job category for game design and development. But students graduating with related majors are expected to find jobs in the rapidly expanding market for serious games development, especially those with specific expertise in design, animation, programming, audio engineering, or testing. The new majors at UCI and High Point join those already offered at the University of Southern California, UC Santa Cruz, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the Rochester Institute of Technology and several other colleges and universities bringing respect to a field formerly considered a simple waste of time.

For a complete list of all colleges currently offering majors in Game Design and Development, click here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Stanford students discover 'creepy' monument moved to less intrusive site

It’s not on the usual tour guide route. And if you’re interested, you will have to ask for directions and take a major detour across campus to a spot adjacent to the newly-constructed Hyatt Classic Residence senior housing complex facing the Stanford Mall on Sand Hill Road. But if you’re looking for the memorial tablet constructed to mark Leland Stanford Jr.’s original burial place, you’ll be disappointed. It’s gone. In its place, an unobtrusive metal sign advises the curious that the memorial tablet has been moved.

Following a story that appeared a couple of weeks ago in this column, several Stanford students set out to find Leland Stanford Jr.’s original burial place and the memorial tablet marking its location. “It took two tries,” said Stanford senior Justin Solomon. “The second time, we went with a flashlight. The tablet is really nowhere near the development or the burial site.”

For over 100 years, the marble memorial stood sentry over the spot where Leland Jr. was originally buried. Carved into its face are lines selected by Jane Stanford from a poem by Felicia Dorothea Hemans that read in part “Yes, it is haunted this quiet scene, fair as it looks and all softly green….” In response to questions concerning the poem, Stanford’s archeologist Laura Jones said, “There is something kind of creepy about it.”

In 2000, the tablet disappeared to make way for the university’s Sand Hill Road development. Evidently, a monument proclaiming that the area was “haunted ground” did not suit developers hoping to attract upscale senior citizens. To avoid disturbing the community, Stanford University quietly relocated the tablet some distance away from the site of the small mausoleum that held Leland Jr.’s remains from 1884 until they were exhumed and moved to the much grander family mausoleum in 1893.

While a series of metal signs explains the relocation, the tablet no longer marks what Jane Stanford hoped would be a permanent memorial to her son. Stanford’s real “haunted ground” is actually down the street somewhere in the vicinity of the Hyatt-managed senior citizen complex.