The Challenge of Being Poor at America’s Richest Colleges

I recently read an article on Forbes that really pulled on my heart strings. It was about society’s and policy’s continual focus on making elite higher education more accessible to low income students, but the gap that exists between receiving an acceptance letter and the next 4 years on campus. Overall, the challenge for low-income students does not end with admittance to a prestigious university, and it can be argued that unfortunately it seems really only begin at that point.

When we think of collegiate rights of passage, typically the first things that come to mind involve dining hall meals, all nighters and living in a dorm. However, for students who are financially privileged, collegiate rights of passage often also include spring break excursions to exotic locations, buying the $250 textbook, and having the ability to purchase an expensive and polished looking suit for a last minute job interview or career fair. To illustrate the economic disparities between students at prestigious institutions, as the Forbes article points out “At Harvard, 45.6% of undergraduates come from families with incomes above $200,000 — in other words, incomes in the top 3.8% of all American households.”

Overall, I find this data to be troubling, as our elite institutions are not nearly as diverse as we would like to think. I also cannot help but wonder of the role that technology can play in this issue – for both leveling the playing field and resources available for students of less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds, and exacerbating the differences the experiences they have.

Is there such a thing as technological inequality on our college campuses?

Technological inequality is having the refurbished tablet PC or even being without a laptop, when your classmates are all sporting trendy MacBook Pros, retailing at over $1,000. Technological inequality is not being able to check your email throughout the day on the smartphone that you cannot afford, and missing that message about last minute extended office hours. Technological inequality is missing precious moments of valuable study time, because you do not have the ability to download the latest flashcard mobile app to study your Spanish vocab on the go.

I just wanted to create this post to raise awareness about the role that technology can play in perpetuating inequality on campus. I am aware that some schools have laptop loan programs, but the real problem is more systemic and deeper than that. Technology is nearly synonymous with innovation, and those of us in higher education, whether it is administration, student life, teaching, or tech, can use that innovative spark to find a solution for these issues.


The ROI on Higher Education’s Use of Social Media

In post-recession American, the organizational focus on the bottom line and the return on investment has becoming increasingly focused on in an organization’s strategy. Even within the realm of higher education, where we are not necessarily as profit focused as private business enterprises, return on investment is still an important metric of success. According to a recent article featured on Inside Higher Education, college administrators are more confident than ever that social media outlets are useful to achieving institutional goals and that their own institutions have been more successful than ever. However, the exact metrics for measuring this success remain a challenge.

I recommend taking a look at the 2012 Topline report on Social Media & Advancement Research, a study that focuses on how institutions (mainly colleges and universities) use social media related activities. In summation of the report’s key findings, about 96% of respondents agreed that “social media have great potential for achieving important goals in my unit.” An additional 90% responded that their unit’s social media efforts are at least “somewhat successful.” And a promising 86% reported they disagreed that it is “too soon to say whether social media will be useful at all in our line of work.”

For a social media enthusiast like myself, the Topline survey results are a great sign of success – however, understanding the exact “outcomes” of social media efforts and campaigns are a bit more elusive. To give an example, as the Inside Higher Ed article mentioned, most administrators looked to at criteria such as “the number of ‘active’ friends, likes, members, people who post, or number of comments” as metrics for evaluating their social media success. While these metrics are important, they are also a bit crude, in the sense that they represent the most basic of social media activities. This raises the question as to if it is more important to count the number of likes, or focus on the level of influence wielded by those who like your posts.

The quintessential quality over quantity debate.

My opinion is that both matter for different reasons – and even if most of your “likers” are not highly influential, you never know who could find your social media profile through many degrees of separation. However, I do think it is important for higher education institutions to encourage the use of social media in an intelligent and mindful way – and I am not quite sure if a “follow” or a “like” is truly a genuine interaction.

As I also mentioned in a recent post – we are still learning about social media’s best practices and will be for the foreseeable future. If the Topline report results were not enough, for anyone who may need a reminder about the power we posses at our fingertips and laptops screens when we use social media for both personal and professional purposes, I recommend this inspiring video clip.


Why We Will Always Be Learning About Social Media


We will always be learning about social media.

This is something I was thinking of in reflection to a previous post about the Bureau of Labor Statistics job categories finally being revamped to include social media related positions. Social media is extremely unique as a communications medium – it can almost be considered to be its own living and breathing entity that is perpetually growing and changing on its own. Unlike telephone, email, text message, or even the dreaded fax machine, the platforms used for social media engagement keep growing and changing as the internet and our technology that supports it (example: mobile platforms) continues to do so. Even in my role working in an office of a higher education institution, I find that there are people who are very well versed in social media platforms and then those who are just trying to reach for a basic understanding. There is a huge spectrum of individual variance when it comes to comfort level with social media.

Even in my role within university career services and career counseling, we constantly expand our social media usage. In this past year alone, our office has joined Facebook and Twitter, in the hopes of better connecting to students and alumni who are active on social media. We have also recently installed flat-screen tv panels into the waiting areas of the office, so students can continue to be engaged with useful career development material even while waiting for their appointment or campus interview. The screens are programmed weekly to include content for career-related panels and workshops held in our office or on campus that week. We also use the screens to feature “alumni spotlights” showcasing brief bios and the careers of university alumns, and “fast facts” for quick tips related to resumes, cover letters, interviewing, job searching, and basically all steps of career development through freshman year to graduation day.

We have made great gains in 2013 with these recent developments in the social media usage of my particular office, but by no means are we about to rest on our laurels. As social media and technology continues to change, we will continue to change our strategy to best harness the power and resources it offers. To acknowledge that we will always be learning about social media is not to admit a lack of knowledge or ameturization, but shows a level of professionalism and commitment to excellence in that we are constantly reevaluating best practices in light of future technological developments. I truly believe this mindset is essential to those working within higher education – we need to keep up with our trend setting students!


Crowdfunding Higher Education with Nakoo

Crowdfunding is arguably one of the most important technological developments we have seen this decade. For some background information on crowdfunding for those who are maybe less familiar with it, check out this informational video:

While crowdfunding has typically focused on small business and entrepreneurial developments, it actually has many creative uses and funding higher eduction is one of them! I’m very inspired by the efforts of Nazia Mintz-Habib, and her organization Nakoo, which is beginning to spin the wheels in motion for revolutionizing the way we fund education. Nakoo is a Kiva meets Kickstarter effort. Kiva is a non-profit organization which allows people to loan money to aspiring business starters and entrepreneurs in underdeveloped or impoverished countries, and Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. However, unlike Kiva, the money donated through Nakoo is not a loan – Nakoo is an online platform which brings students in need of tuition support together with contributors or companies who can fund them. In case you were wondering, Nakoo also means “tallest tree” in the Mayan language.

Prospective students can put together a profile on Nakoo’s website, including information such as the school they attend, the amount of funding they need, and any other relevant personal information. So far, Nakoo has only launched 1 month ago, and is featuring 4 students on its Alpha version while looking for feedback from users.

I’m very excited to follow the growth and development of Nakoo, and think crowdfunding is a very creative and tech-savy way for raising the needed funds to attend college. However, part of me also fears that resources such as Nakoo and their success could take away from the bigger picture and the larger conversation that needs to be had, such as the fact that higher education is quickly becoming more of a necessity, but also less and less affordable for many. I hope that this technological outsourcing to crowdfunding platforms does not take away from the urgency of creating better institutional support and institutional funding or an overhaul of the federal financial aid system that has increasingly become compromised of high interest loans.

While we can only wait and see what the future may hold for making higher education more accessible and affordable, Nakoo is definitely an organization to keep on your radar!

2013 Year End Wrap Up – How Technology Has Impacted Higher Education

With 2013 coming to a close, it is time for the year end technology wrap up! I’ll be taking a look at a predicted list of trends that Forbes coined as being highly influential in late 2012 and reviewing their foresight! Here are some ways that technology has impacted the higher education industry in this past year:

Curious to hear your thoughts about these developments and what you have experienced in 2013 higher ed & tech developments!

1. Growth in Online Education – Year of the MOOC!
2013 was predicted to be a big year in growth for the online education sector. Most of this growth happened at top-tier universities. Over the last two years, the number of top-tier Universities with at least some online activity has more than doubled, in large part due to MOOCs. However, growth in MOOCs does not necessarily correlation with improved educational access, as was recently illuminated in a research study that found typical MOOC users are already highly educated individuals.

2. Innovation in the Classroom
In my opinion, this has probably been the most successful element in 2013, and will continue to be the most robust for development in the future. Long gone are the days of piling into a lecture hall, as students can now utilize online platforms and their content anywhere and anytime. With more online content accessible to students, classroom time can be used to augment lecture content, with discussions, group activities, and so on. Online platforms also provide analytic that tell instructors who is learning, what they are learning, and how. This online connectivity, creativity, and accessibility will continue to create opportunities to improve how we use classroom time and space.

3. Hybrid Programs
Perhaps a development for 2014 – hybrid program is the new buzzword for educational programs that are both online and classroom based. A hybrid program is different from a MOOC in that students would formally be enrolled in their course for credit in a given degree program, and of course as a hybrid program the learning would not be totally online. Hybrid programs can offer great opportunity for students who are working professionals, and for universities who want to experiment in the online education sector without fulling loosing their more traditional methods. Sounds like an interesting development at my graduate school, Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education, where many students are full-time employees and part-time students.

4. Picking the Latest Instructional Model
The race is on for the next educational model that will revolutionize technology in the classroom. With all of the new and existing online developments, there is a wealth of possibility for instructors to create a more in-depth learning experience with their students. This is definitely a budding area, but I am confident for some new and exciting innovation in 2014!

Overall, 2013 has seen some interesting developments for how we interact in the higher educational relam. However, the sustainability of these 2013 trends will only be truly known as we follow these developments into the future – 2014, 2015, and beyond. As a tech-loving optimist, I think that the most influential developments for higher education and beyond are those that haven’t even been invented yet! And for a snapshot of those future ideas, check out the Impact 15; the 15 most influential and creative classroom revolutionaries.

The MOOC Momentum

An interesting technology and higher education related trend I have been following has been the development and popularity of MOOCs.  The acronym MOOC stands for “massive open online course” – and according to some supporters, MOOCs are revolutionizing the accessibility of higher education. There has definitely been a lot of hype surrounding MOOCs in the past year. Such massive online courses not only make education accessible to anyone with an internet connection and computer, but they are usually offered free of charge. Even more inciting, many well known universities participate, including prestigious institutions such as M.I.T, Stanford, Harvard, and UPenn. For more specific information about MOOCs and the courses/universities offered, visit Coursera, the provider platform that most universities have partnered with to deliver the content.

Personally, I am a little skeptical about MOOCs. I certainly agree that they are a great educational resource and I love their free and low-cost nature. However, I think it is a little too early to praise MOOCs for being an educational equalizer and opening up access to prestigious universities. I feel this way mostly because I know that no employer would acknowledge a resume full of open-access and free MOOC courses from Stanford University as being close to the equivalent of a Stanford degree. So how exactly are MOOCs truly bringing the value and professional prestige of a traditional degree? The more I read, the more I begin to decide that they do not.

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about a recent study undertaken by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the majority of people using MOOCs are already highly educated and career minded. The findings of the study are also particularly important, because it is the first research on MOOCs that has been completed by those that are not from the direct MOOC provider platform (ex: Coursera). In addition, the finding from UPenn go directly against the so-called truism that MOOCs are providing educational opportunities to those who would have been unable to take advantage of them otherwise.

In the UPenn study, out of survey results based on answers from nearly 35,000 students worldwide who were enrolled and participating in 24 of Coursera’s offered MOOCs, about 80% had a 2 or 4 year degree, and about 44% had some graduate education. Overall, the research concluded that 80% of MOOC students come from the wealthiest and most well-educated 6% of the population. These results held true even across user data from developing countries, with 80% of developing-world students enrolled in MOOCs already holding college degrees. Check out the complete paper here.

Sample infographic of UPenn research results:


I am curious to hear your opinions on MOOCs and educational access, especially if you happen to have any of your own direct experience in taking them. According to Coursera in light of the UPenn research study, the company is well aware of their demographic trends and is working on projects to help reach more potential students in need. If anything can be learned, I would say it is that education unfortunately does not easily become boarder-less, gender blind, race blind, class blind, or bank account blind, even with the increased access that technology brings.

It’s College Admission Season! Can LinkedIn Give Applicants an Edge?

A recent article from’s Technology and Media section has raised the point that applying to college is not merely about only standardized test scores, extracurriculars, and your grades. While some time has probably past since most of us reading this blog have applied to college, the rapid development of technology and social media networks has definitely made a major impact on the way students apply to college today.

A big part of this new trend has been on the part of LinkedIn, who recently lowered their minimum-age requirement to 14, which allows those applying for fall college admissions in this application cycle to take advantage of the professional social networking tool. Engagement on LinkedIn can take place in two ways; by researching potential universities and by creating a profile that can highlight accomplishments that a student would include in a potential college application. While you may seem reasonably skeptical that a high-schooler who has perhaps only worked in an ice cream shop would want to create a professional LinkedIn profile, LinkedIn’s Higher Education developer John Hill says, “it’s totally fine to have work experience that may not relate to what you want to be when you grow up,”. He also urges students to “connect to groups, connect to companies that you’re interested in learning more [about to] make your network a little bit more robust.”

A snapshot from one of LinkedIn’s university pages that a high school student could use to research a particular school:University Pages

My take on the development is that while LinkedIn’s popularity could initially be slow to catch on amongst high school students, it is a great step in the right direction on the part of the organization. I applaud LinkedIn for taking the step to lower their minimum age requirement to 14 and therefore making their technology and social networking platform available to a much wider audience. While we can only speculate how this newly eligible demographic may begin to use LinkedIn, one thing is for sure – they will use it! As evidenced by the popularity of other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, LinkedIn will also likely catch on in a similar fashion.

Another point to be considered is that in an increasingly digital age with heightened college acceptance competition, colleges are beginning to Google search prospective candidates for admission. In light of this knowledge, LinkedIn is a great way for high school students to maintain a positive web presence by showcasing their classes, extracurricular activities, leadership positions, part-time employment, or other marks of responsibility. I also think LinkedIn’s popularity among a younger demographic will provide a new platform of engagement for college staff and administration, especially those working in admissions and recruitment.

Only time will tell exactly how LinkedIn is utilized and received by high school students but I am hopeful that the future class of 2018 will be quick to embrace the resource!