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Bernadette Russoniello

By Bernadette Russoniello

Since the early 2000s, educational policy has placed increasing expectations on accountability through testing. Conversely, our public universities in Arizona chose to make admissions tests optional. Students can gain admittance to Arizona’s big three universities without a qualifying test score. What is the significance of traditional college admissions testing and why does it matter?

Regardless of whether a university requires a test score, the answer is, “Yes,” your test scores matter, and you need to plan and prepare to do your best on these exams. The majority of scholarships students earn are based on academic merit, a combination of grades, course rigor and test scores. If you or your child want free money for college, then preparing and studying for admissions testing is a must.

The SAT, developed by the College Board, a private, nonprofit organization, originally tested a student’s aptitude for the rigors of college. The assessment helped prestigious and exclusive colleges across the United States determine if a potential applicant had the skills requisite for success. Since the 1990s, the mission of the SAT changed to promote excellence, access and equity in education, connecting students to college success and opportunity.

The suites of assessments offered by the College Board, including the PSAT and PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10, offer students the ability to predict AP potential and connect students at younger ages to universities and colleges matching their interests and abilities.

The ACT (American College Testing) originally offered a variant to the “traditional” aptitude testing of the SAT. The ACT was designed to measure what a typical high school junior should know and be able to do, across subject areas including mathematics, reading comprehension, language and scientific reasoning.

For decades, universities aligned with one test philosophy or another. The standard now is that all universities accept either test for admissions.

At Maricopa High School, we encourage students to take both exams. You never know which test you will perform better on. Many students report that the SAT feels harder than the ACT, but often students score better on the SAT than the ACT. Both exams take three hours and a Saturday morning to test. Exams are offered nearly every month at schools around the state. Registration is done entirely online, and each test costs $46. Fee waivers are available through school counselors for students qualifying for the National School Lunch Program or receiving other forms of public assistance.

Increasingly, competitive universities (schools that accept fewer than 35 percent of applicants) require SAT subject tests. The SAT subject test is a course-specific assessment that demonstrates a student’s credential within that field. SAT subject tests help competitive schools determine program readiness and course placement.

Students need to research admission requirements to their schools of interest and be ready to meet those expectations.

Bernadette Russoniello is the Career and College coordinator at Maricopa High School. She can be reached at BRussoniello@MUSD20.com.


This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Bernadette Russoniello

By Bernadette Russoniello

I can’t afford college.”

“I didn’t apply. I didn’t think I could afford it.”

These comments resound among students in Maricopa and present a challenge for parents and educators. News media is filled with reports on the rising costs of college and the declining worth of college degrees – and students are internalizing the message. Giving up; abandoning hope and potential without even considering the options.

However, many of our Maricopa students have plenty of affordable options; they simply do not realize it.

Maricopa Unified School District is a Title I district, indicating 50 percent or more of students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch programs. These students are highly likely to qualify for the Federal Pell Grant – an award of up to $5,920 annually – for the pursuit of college, university or trade school programs.

Many colleges and universities provide matching funds for qualifying students. Northern Arizona University awards “University Grants” of $6,000 to students who receive Pell Grants. Arizona State University offers College Attainment grants that cover all direct costs and fees. Numerous Maricopa graduates receive more funds in grants than the actual cost of attendance.

The more competitive the school is, the greater the financial award. Competitive colleges accept fewer than 35 percent of applicants and usually have more intense requirements for college admissions. Many of these schools cover 100 percent of financial need. Consider Harvard, America’s oldest and most prestigious college. Harvard’s Financial Aid Initiative requires no contribution from families earning less than $65,000 per year. For families earning under $150,000, students will pay no more than 10 percent of their income to cover college costs, making the most coveted school’s attendance cost lower than in-state universities. The only catch? You have to be accepted.

If a student doesn’t apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), he or she will never know what awards they might be eligible for. The application process does not commit students or parents to accept awards; it simply informs families of what aid is available. Students can apply anytime; for rising seniors (current juniors), the application window opens Oct. 1, 2018.

If a student wants to earn these scholarships, they need to set that goal early. Before even attending high school, a student should decide to take the most rigorous classes and to earn the best grades they can. NAU offers the Lumberjack Scholarship to students who meet all university admissions requirements and maintain all A’s and B’s in core classes. Having this goal set before starting ninth grade helps students attain their best performance.

Bernadette Russoniello is the Career and College coordinator at Maricopa High School. She can be reached at BRussoniello@MUSD20.org.


This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa. 

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Danae Ruiz

Maricopa High School graduate Danae Ruiz is leading her new team in scoring.

Midway through its inaugural season, the women’s basketball team at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is 6-6.

In those 12 games, Ruiz has scored 169 points for a 14.1 average. She also has 50 rebounds,38 assists and 19 steals.

Saturday, she had a “career game” at Simpson University in Redding, California. In an ERAU loss, Ruiz scored 31 points. She shot 10-for-15 from the field and 7-for-9 from behind the arc. She was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.

Ruiz is a 5-foot-5 guard for the Eagles, a team comprised primarily of freshmen. She is majoring in forensic psychology.

By Murray Siegel

Murray Siegel
Murray Siegel

Bernie Sanders has recommended college be free for all Americans while Hillary Clinton has opted for debt-free college. In either case, how would the costs be covered?

Most likely we would see an increase in taxes and/or the national debt. Actually, free college and debt-free college already exist with many options for students. Those who incur a large college debt that places limitations on life choices after graduation may simply have failed to make proper decisions in their college searches.

There are a handful of colleges that are free for all students. College of the Ozarks (Missouri) and Berea College (Kentucky) are free, but students are required to earn that benefit by working for the college. Alice Lloyd College (Kentucky) is free for any student living in Central Appalachia, and The Webb Institute is a free engineering college in New York. There are five outstanding universities where all costs are covered – they are the military academies: West Point, Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, Merchant Marine Academy and Coast Guard Academy.

Beyond the limited number of free schools, there are many ways for a student to attend college without having to borrow money. A student who has performed well in high school will find numerous merit-based scholarships available. Since many private colleges are interested in geographic diversity, a student with excellent grades from Arizona may have a better chance to win a scholarship at a school in Georgia or Connecticut than a school in or near Arizona.

There are all sorts of scholarships available for students who meet special requirements. I have had students offered scholarships because:

•    a parent served on a nuclear sub
•    a grandparent worked in the shoe industry
•    the student’s ethnicity
•    the student attended a Methodist church
•    the student agreed to major in pulpwood/paper engineering

There are also ROTC scholarships good at most universities that pay tuition, fees and books, as well as offering a monthly stipend.

What about the student who did not do that well in high school? Some colleges have work-study programs where a student alternates between attending classes one semester and working full-time the next. The jobs are generally related to the student’s field of study and pay enough to cover the next semester’s costs.

Then there are the community colleges where costs are generally lower than at a four-year school. The student can live at home, saving money and work part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer, thus saving enough funds to pay for the final two years at a university. Finally, a student could enlist in a military service, earn enough to build up a savings account, and then receive payments via the GI Bill once the military commitment has been met and the individual attends college.

It would appear the only ones who would benefit from free or debt-free college are those unwilling to work hard in high school and unwilling to do what it takes to get university education without borrowing money. Why should taxpayers help them?

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a doctorate in Math Ed and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon are volunteer teachers of advanced math classes at Butterfield Elementary School.


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