Schools

So How Bad Is Grade Inflation?

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Cleaning out my parents’ attic the other day, we found my dad’s old college transcripts.  Turns out he wasn’t as much of an academic superstar as he always claims.  “But a C back then is like an A today!” was his excuse. 

And, as annoying as it is to admit, he’s kind of right.  We’ve all heard about grade inflation, but it turns out it may be more rampant than you may have guessed — at least at some schools.  Private colleges and universities have, on the whole, way more A’s and B’s than their equivalently selective public counterparts, which lends credence to the argument that you get the grades you pay for.  Geographically, the harshest graders are in the South.  Schools that focus on science and engineering give fewer A’s than liberal arts-focussed schools — something that’s probably no surprise to all those stressed out Johns Hopkins students out there.

But grade inflation’s influence stretches across the country — a full 43 percent of all letter grades given are A’s these days.  In 1960, they made up only 15 percent. Which begs the question(s):  does getting an A mean anything these days? Or is it true that, as one study’s authors assert, “It is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools, undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers.”

UMD Security Dispatcher’s Secret Other Life

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Between the hours we log at our jobs, some of us garden; others watch TV. Very few of us spend our extra time training to be a professional athlete — but that’s just what Andrew Pedrick, University police dispatcher for the University of Maryland, College Park, does. At least if you consider professional bowlers to be athletes — but, hey, they’re on ESPN so why not?

What does it take to be a professional bowler? More and better bowling, it turns out — Pedrick will have to end the year with an average score of 200 or more to be considered a pro. (Remember that a perfect game — 12 strikes in a row — comes to 300.) And while Pedrick has scored his fair share of perfect games, he still has a ways to go.

So between his 4 PM to 2 AM security shifts, Pedrick is spending his spare time (pun intended) taking a tour of local bowling alleys —  thanks to unique oil patterns, each alley has its own quirks and demands a slightly different style of play. “You can get a different shot every time,” Pedrick told the UMD’s Diamondback. “It’s like tennis, with clay courts and then grass.” If you care to cheer Pedrick on, he competes alongside his parents most Fridays at the AMF Country Club Lanes in Rosedale.

Student Photographer Earns National Recognition

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David Cha, a rising junior at Gilman, is going to be photo editor of the school yearbook, Cynosure, next year and, judging by the quality of the shot he took to win a top spot in the Josten’s Yearbook student photo contest, he has the chops to take on that important role and then some. Cha was just awarded fifth place in the Sports Athletes in Action category.  Photo contest winners were judged on composition, artistic merit, technical qualities and the ability to tell a compelling story.

Cha’s prize winning track photo titled “Full Speed” captures relay runner Daniel Yue at an indoor track meet. David panned with the running action during the 4×200 event.

“It took me at least 150 shots to get that one. I tried panning in every running event. I didn’t have a good telephoto. I shot it hand-held, which is why it is so hard. I ran with the person to get the pan and I ran into the fence once. It took a lot of attempts. It is really, really hard to pan when the person is moving everything. I got really lucky on that one,” says David.

Cha shot the photo using a Canon 60 D SLR, Tamron 17 to 50 mm 2.8 lens with vibration control, using a slow shutter speed of 1/30 sec. ISO 100. We won’t forget the cool image and we’ll keep his name on file!

Is the Internet Ruining College Admissions?

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Is the Internet ruining the college admissions process as we know it? John Christensen, outgoing director of admissions at St. John’s (the one in Annapolis, not the one in New York) seems to think so.

As Christensen told the Chronicle, the internet has fundamentally changed the college admissions process. Whereas once the schools controlled most of the information that prospective students got about them via brochures, campus visits, etc. These days, though, blogs, gossip boards, and Facebook can offer a fuller — if not quite as flattering! — portrait of a school. Admissions officers now must spend their time mastering YouTube and Twitter, trying to create an engaging and appealing online personality for their institution. (See, for example, Johns Hopkins’ attempt to woo undergrads.)

But this comes at a price. As Christensen puts it, “Admissions directors spend so much time grappling with these issues that many of us feel more and more removed from working directly with high school counselors, prospective students, and their families—the work that once made our jobs enjoyable and rewarding.” In this way, college admissions is subject to the paradox of online socializing:  more information and access can sometimes lead to an increased sense of alienation and distance.

To be fair, Christensen notes the positives, too:  namely, that schools are attracting more and more international students. Still, what does it mean that admissions officers feel “managers of media campaigns [who] do not have time for the work we enjoy”? Do the pluses outweigh the minuses?

Quidditch: Not Just for Wizards Anymore

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“We have three bludgers instead of two,” says a member of the Johns Hopkins Quidditch team. “That’s pretty much the only other adjustment [from Wizard Quidditch to Muggle Quidditch]. Except for the flying.”

If that paragraph didn’t make any sense to you, then you should put your computer away and go pick up some Harry Potter books. You’re a little behind. For the rest of you:  yes, it’s true, Johns Hopkins has a Quidditch team, and so does the University of Maryland. Yes, plain old muggles like you and me can play. And yes, there are brooms involved.

Muggle Quidditch is something like a combination of rugby, dodgeball, and performance art. The goals are hula hoops; the quaffle is a slightly deflated volleyball; the golden snitch is a person dressed in gold who sprints around and tries not to get caught. As silly as it may sound, quidditch is probably the most popular sport to have been invented in our lifetime. More than two hundred colleges have teams registered with the International Quidditch Association, which was founded in 2007.  Middlebury College’s team has won the Quidditch World Cup for the past four years, which makes them something like the Slytherin of liberal arts colleges.

So if you’re nervous about Potter withdrawal after HP7 Part 2 opens this weekend, never fear – once fall comes around, the Quidditch players will be trotting around campus with their brooms again, and you’re welcome to stop by and cheer them on.

Baltimore International College: Not Long for This World?

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Unfortunately for Baltimore International College, many Baltimoreans are just now hearing of the school for the first time — right as it may be facing an economic meltdown that just might lead it to shut its doors.

If “Baltimore International College” sounds suspiciously like a college that someone just made up (although not quite as much as the University of Maryland University College, which I promise is a real institution), that’s because the culinary/hospitality training school often flies under the radar when local colleges are considered. For one, it’s small:  in 2010, BIC awarded 194 degrees. But the school is accredited and non-profit, and offers courses in business and traditional liberal arts, along with advanced pastry making and hotel management. As part of its educational program, the school owns and operates two Baltimore hotels:  the Mount Vernon Hotel and the Hopkins Inn, both of which show middling reviews on TripAdvisor.

Or, at least, that’s how things have been going over the past few decades.  It’s unclear, though, whether the school will be able to weather the storm of the past few weeks. Over the past few months, the school has been crippled by two situations that threaten to shut it down. This week, BIC was slapped with a lawsuit by its former president, who claims the school has neglected to pay him $5 million in retirement benefits that he’s owed. At the same time, the Commission on Higher Education announced that the school would lose its accreditation as of August 31, making it ineligible to receive federal funding.

According to the Sun, “in a series of scathing reports, evaluators from the Middle States Commission described Baltimore International as an institution with little grasp of how to retain students, measure academic performance or generate revenue from sources other than tuition.” 

Will the Geeks Really Inherit the Earth?

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In Geeks, a new study of the high school misfit, Alexandra Robbins tracks a host of teen nerd archetypes:  “the loner, the gamer, the nerd, the new girl, the band geek and the weird girl.”

According to Robbins’ “Quirk Theory,” the very qualities that might get a kid sidelined as a nerd/geek/”cafeteria fringe” are the same traits that will help her succeed in the long run. Not much new there, at least if you’ve kept up with teen movies, or considered the many famous teen-nerd-makes-it-big celebrity stories (JK Rowling, Bruce Springsteen… Megan Foxx?!)

What’s new (or new-ish), according to Robbins, is that teachers, administrators, and parents are increasingly trying to mold these kids to be more like their popular equivalents. Creativity, individuality, a willingness to go against the grain — all are traits that would serve kids well as adults. That is, if they don’t get disciplined out of them by adults who would prefer that they fit in. It doesn’t help that teachers and administrators tend to promote students who are athletes or cheerleaders to act as de facto representatives of their schools, neglecting the quirky kid in the corner who might be both nicer and more brilliant. Robbins also points out that teenagers’ hypersensitivity extends to the adults around them, and that their awareness of cliques and popularity differences between teachers doesn’t help matters, either.

And so, “young people are trying frantically to force themselves into an unbending mold of expectations, convinced that they live in a two-tiered system in which they are either a resounding success or they have already failed.” The homogenization of the US educational system and the competitive atmosphere of many schools leaves kids feeling that non-conformity is akin to social death — which, to a hyped-up teenage mind, is  pretty much actual death.

It’s a pretty dire picture — does it ring true with you? In a city that celebrates its quirks, are oddball students getting the recognition and support they need?

Johns Hopkins Growing Pains

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If you’ve spent any time in Charles Village recently, you’ve probably heard that soothing background hum that can only come from heavy machinery. Yes, that’s right, it’s summer — also known as major construction time for Johns Hopkins, which is trying to move ahead on several new buildings before students crowd the campus again in the fall.

According to the architectural renderings, the Brody Learning Commons promises to be an Apple Store-like glowing cube attached to the Milton S. Eisenhower Library. Or, as the PR copy puts it, “a light-filled, four-story hub for collaborative learning, with a robust technology infrastructure [and] spaces for group and individual study.” The BLC will provide the new home for the Rare Books and Manuscript collection, and an atrium level will bridge the new building and the older library; it will allow “natural light to reach the [formerly dungeon-like] lower levels of the Library.”

The two other buildings celebrate two of Johns Hopkins’ strengths:  lacrosse and health sciences. One alum is providing all the cash to build the Cordish Lacrosse Center, which will apparently be the fanciest/only facility of its kind, featuring a reception area, training room, 50-person theater, and everything else a reasonable lacrosse building might need.

Finally, a new 56,000-square foot building will host Hopkins’ brand new initiative in individualized health, a kind of interdisciplinary program that will unite engineers, life scientists, and medical researchers who “will focus on bringing information science into the practice of medicine, with an initial emphasis on cancer, in a manner that will allow an unprecedented focus on treatment designed for the individual patient.”

Eighteenth Ain’t Half Bad

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If you are a little snooty about colleges, and have an undisclosed preference for private institutions, you might be surprised to learn the following:

University of Maryland, College Park is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the 18th best among national public colleges and universities.  UC Berkeley is number one.  UVA is number two.  William & Mary is number six.  Okay, so we share the rank of 18th with a few others:  Ohio State, Purdue, and University of Georgia.  But 18th out of the 107 ranked?  Honestly, I was impressed!

University of Maryland, College Park was founded in 1856.  It has a total undergraduate enrollment of 26,493.  In-state tuition and fees are $8,416 (2010-11); and out-of-state tuition and fees are $24,831 (2010-11).  DID YOU READ THAT?  $8,416!  (Okay, okay…  add books for about $1,000, room & board for about $9,800, and other expenses, around $3,000, and the total cost for the in-state experience is still around $22,216 – quite literally, cheap at twice the price, compared to some of its private counterparts.)  With over 500 clubs and organizations, and 35 fraternities and sororities, there is usually something to do, including going to watch the NCAA D-1 Terps play basketball.  It is a short metro ride from the nation’s capital, and the school has numerous research partnerships with the federal government (read “job”, “transcript”, or “grad school criteria”).

Although a relatively high percentage of applicants are admitted (45%), the stats of those admitted are pretty good.  Average SAT scores of admitted applicants are pretty strong:  the 25th/75th percentiles are 580/680 for Critical Reading, and 610/710 for Math.  That means that 25% of admitted applicants have Critical Reading scores over 680, and 25% of admitted applicants have Math scores over 710.  Again, not bad!  The same 25th/75th split for UCLA?  Critical Reading:  560/680, Math:  590/720.  How do you like that?

In terms of bang for the buck, your kid can leave college with a degree in any of literally scores of disciplines, with the shirt still on his (or your) back. 

College Radio Round-Up

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When I first came to Baltimore, I remember sitting in my car, scanning the low spectrum of the FM dial, trying to find college radio. I was a college radio enthusiast – so much that I actually had my first college radio show when I was in high school. (What can I say? I was a prodigy.) I loved — and was occasionally frustrated by — college radio’s zany mix of the avant-garde, the absurd, and the awkward.

But I couldn’t find any of that in Baltimore, no matter how long I kept forlornly scanning. No surprise that I couldn’t find the college radio station of my dreams, it turns out:  According to the Chronicle, college radio is becoming increasingly endangered. As universities try to tighten their budgets, many have considered selling their FM license and switching to online-only operations — or phasing out college radio entirely.

That’s just what happened to the Johns Hopkins radio station over the past few decades. After an initial run on the AM band, the station gained popularity with students and the community in the 1970s, and switched to 88.1FM. In 2002, however, that frequency was sold to WYPR, and the university’s station switched to an online-only format. That means student DJs don’t have to bleep out profanity — and that fewer people listen.

Loyola’s WLOY (1620 AM) is one of the few that’s bucking the trend; at the same time that WJHU was selling its terrestrial radio presence, WLOY was expanding. Its operations manager, John Devecka, doesn’t see HD or online radio as a viable alternative. As he told the Chronicle, “instead of a potential listening audience of 50,000, they’ll have a potential listening audience of the eight people in town who have an HD radio.”

So what does college radio in Baltimore look like these days?

  • Johns Hopkins’ WJHU is online only, streaming here.
  • Loyola’s WLOY operates at 1620 AM. It’s probably the most active student-run station in the area.

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