5 stories you should read this May

Getting your syllabus read, finding the keys to success after graduation, tracing the high cost of education, engaging students in big classes, and boosting unions for graduate students

May 12, 2015

Summer is just around the corner. If you’re looking for something to read after grading your way through piles of final exams and research papers, check out these five articles:

Few things are more frustrating than to spend hours crafting a great syllabus, only to get emails from students that prove they’ve never read it (“How many pages is our term paper supposed to be?”). Blogger and professor James M. Lang offers some helpful tricks for getting students to pay attention to a syllabus. One way is to have syllabus quizzes that ask students thoughtful questions, such as writing about which assignment they’re most (or least) looking forward to, and why. Another idea is to use an “open” syllabus that asks students to choose which assignments to complete from a list or to suggest their own ideas for final projects.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 30, 2015.

Conventional wisdom holds that a college degree is the ticket to success. But recent research shows that graduates who have certain experiences while in college—such as having a professor who cares about them as a person—are far more successful in life and at work than graduates who don’t. A Gallup survey of more than 30,000 U.S. college graduates uncovered six factors that have a profound effect upon graduates’ well-being, including having a professor who made them excited about learning, having a job or internship where they put their learning to use, and being involved in extracurricular activities. A startling 82% of students who experienced all six factors were prepared for life after college, compared with only 5% of those who experienced none.
Gallup, April 8, 2015

In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, law professor Paul Campos argued that administrative bloat, and not declining government subsidies, is the reason tuition has almost quadrupled over the past 35 years. Commentators, including Slate’s Jordan Weissmann, have taken issue with the piece. Weissmann points out that, while total education subsidies have risen, government funding per student has fallen 25%–30% from 15 years ago. Since the cost of teaching has remained fairly constant during that time (despite increased reliance upon adjuncts), colleges have no way to make up the shortfall except by raising tuition.
Slate, April 6, 2015.

Students taking large lecture sections can feel anonymous, and, when that happens, they’re more likely to lose focus, get distracted, or passively soak up information without expecting to participate. This article offers excellent suggestions for engaging students in large classes: stay mobile, be excited about the content, arrive early and stay late to get to know students, and have strict participation policies. Another good idea is to have graded mini-assignments at varying times during a class period to keep students on their toes and thinking about the material.
Vitae, The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 10, 2015.

At many universities across the country, graduate students are forming or joining unions to campaign for higher pay and better benefits. High tuition, substantial loans, and receiving low compensation for the essential service of teaching have left many feeling exploited. As grad students aren’t classified as employees by the National Labor Relations Board, they aren’t covered by most labor laws, leading some to turn to unionization for greater bargaining power.
The Atlantic, April 18, 2015.

Courtney L. Vien is an associate editor with the magazines and newsletters team at the AICPA.