North Dakota College Pushes for Free Online Textbooks

free online textbooksAll prospective college students have been spooked by horror stories about the rising costs of textbooks – legends about that one student who spent over a thousand dollars on books in a single semester, and only got five cents back when he went to resell them.

Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but the sentiment still stands: book costs are one of the biggest financial deterrents to college students, and they’re only getting more expensive.

Luckily, there have been a number of alternatives popping up that help students save, but even if you rent textbooks or buy them used, the costs still add up. If only there was a way to get them for free…

That’s the train of thought that Michelle Murphy, an assistant professor of biology at Lake Region State College of Devils Lake in North Dakota, had when she wrote her own textbook and allowed her students to download it for free. She tried this out for the first time in 2014 when she was teaching online college courses, and has since been using student feedback to tweak and improve the material. The result: learning materials that meet the specific needs of her course and her students, and a smaller bill for those who want to take her course.

Since then, the movement toward free online learning materials at the college has spread. Tanya Spilovoy, the director of distance education and state authorization for the North Dakota University System, has been pushing for open textbook usage recently. It’s really taken off: recognizing that students spend, on average, $1,100 per year on textbooks, the State Board of Higher Education requested funding for this open educational resource project last year. According to Spilovoy, this is a momentous beginning to the project.

How it Works
The open educational resources network has partnered with the online library of the University of Minnesota to provide access to approved textbooks for free. Professors like Murphy are beginning to author materials specifically designed to meet the library’s guidelines. So many professors at Devils Lake college have caught on that students give “negative feedback when they have to pay for something they could get online for free,” according to Murphy.

State Support
This past October, the higher education board in North Dakota has incorporated open textbooks in its five-year plan. Other colleges, like the Washington state college system, have already done the same.

A $500,000 approved budget request is currently being reviewed by the Legislature, and if it goes through, it’ll be put towards training professors and implementing the plan at colleges statewide. House Bill 2161 is also on the table, which would provide financial incentive for educators to contribute to the free resources.

According to Spilovoy, North Dakota is leading the rest of the nation’s education systems by example, and this would create a long-term positive influence on students.

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The 5 Best Colleges for Ski Bums

Many college students decide where to go to school based on the location and accompanying climate. While lots of students prefer a place where they can do their studying with their toes in the sand, plenty are drawn to the complete opposite: the slopes. For those of you who see some fresh powder and can’t wait to gear up for a skiing or snowboarding trip, these schools might fit the bill of what you’re looking for.  Check out the 5 best colleges for ski bums in the United States!


Montana State University

Montana State University
Not many people dream of living in Montana – after all, the entire state of Montana’s population is eight times smaller than the population in NYC alone. Those that do visit this mountainous state, however, know that it’s a dream come true for ski bums. MSU is located in Bozeman, a town that’s known far and wide for its world-class slopes. It’s right in the middle of the Bridger Bowl and the Moonlight Basin, but if you’re adventurous, you could just kite ski across campus.



University of Colorado-Boulder
CU-Boulder is also home to some of our nation’s best slopes such as Eldora Mountain, Vail, and Beaver Creek. That said, this school takes it up a notch with its national championship-winning, incredible ski team, which has produced many professional American skiers. The school provides some of the best equipment available for its athletes to practice with, making it a ski-head’s dream come true.



University of Vermont
There’s just as many ski schools on the East Coast as there are out west, and UV is the perfect example. Students at this school are so enthusiastic about snow sports that those who aren’t might even be a bit out of place. The campus offers snowshoe and ski rentals and is nestled between Killington Mountain Resort, Smuggler’s Notch, and Mad River Glen, which has some notorious off-trail spots to explore. UV’s ski team is extremely competitive as well.



College of the Rockies
The name alone elicits thoughts of snowcapped mountains and sweet, sweet trails, though you wouldn’t expect any less of a school that’s located in British Columbia. It’s a smaller community college but it packs a big punch – students are welcome to major in Adventure Tourism or take classes such as Avalanche Skills Training. Not only are these a great way to make you a better skier, but they’ll help boost your knowledge in the sport and traveling to enjoy it, too.



Plymouth State University
At PSU, skiing is so well-loved, it warrants its own holiday. That’s right – the administrators grant students a day off to go hit the slopes in the midst of winter, although the school gets enough snow that snow days are fairly regular, anyway. On top of that, free lift tickets are offered to students by different mountains each year, so you’ll get to try out all the hottest trails during your college career. The Tenney, Waterville, Loon, and Ragged Mountains are also within an hours’ drive of this unbeatable ski school.

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The Growth of Colleges in America

eCollegeFinder is back with new map, this time it’s in motion!  Late in 2014, we stumbled across Flowing Data’s map showing “The Growth of Walmart”, which Excel Hero recreated using a simple Excel workbook.  We found the map to be mesmerizing and immensely informative, telling the story of Walmart in such a simple fashion.  So much so, that we decided to recreate a similar map of our own, this time looking at “The Growth of Colleges in America”.

Our team downloaded a full list of colleges and universities in the United States that offer 4-year degrees from the National Center for Education Statistics.  We then manually searched for each college’s founding date and latitude/longitude, finishing with a list of 2,068 schools!  Using Excel Hero’s workbook, we uploaded our data to create this awesome map showing where and when colleges were founded.  With a little beautification and hard work, eCollegeFinder is proud to present “The Growth of Colleges in America”!

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Some notable dates and observations:

- First College: Harvard University founded in 1636 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was another 57 years before the College of William and Mary, the nation’s 2nd college, was founded in 1693.

- First 4-year College west of the Mississippi: Centenary College of Louisiana founded in 1825 in Shreveport, Louisiana.

- First 4-year College on the West Coast: Willamette University founded in 1842 in Salem, Oregon.

- Top 5 Years for Colleges:

  • 1891 – 33 colleges founded
  • 1889 – 31 colleges founded
  • 1946 – 30 colleges founded
  • 1965 – 30 colleges founded
  • 1890 – 26 colleges founded

- Most recent 4-year college founded: Middle Georgia State College founded in 2013 in Macon, Georgia.

Please let us know if don’t see your college on the map!

For those who are more info GIFs, no worries, we got that too!

ECF - College Founding Dates

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Sources: Wikipedia, GPS Coordinates, Excel Hero, National Center for Education Statistics

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‘Adventures in Writing:’ Stanfords’ Invaluable Non-Credit Course

stanford-ovalFor many people, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which people – teenagers, nonetheless – would be jumping at the opportunity to take a college-level writing course that offers no college credits, even if that course was being offered by Stanford. But, remarkably, the university’s online branch, Stanford Online, has managed to do it – to offer a non-credit online course and make it sound appealing. Adventurous, even.

‘Adventures in Writing’ is Stanford Online’s latest course offering, which is currently trying to snowball a roster of students aged 16 to 20 (both high school and college students are welcome). To do this, they knew they’d have to take an innovative approach, and thus, they’ve framed the class to be more like a graphic novel. It’s illustrated, features characters named Maya and Chris, and takes its students on a journey that lasts only six to eight hours. Five student illustrators and two colorists collaborated to turn each learning module – five in total – into a chapter of a graphic novel that’s alarmingly well-rounded in the topics it covers.

The modules are as follows, respectively:

• Introduction to Academic Language
• Purpose, Audience, and Context: Language as Communication
• Identifying Passive and Active Voice
• Punctuation: Signposts to Guide Readers
• Argument: Making Supporting Claims

Writing – whether purposefully, technically, or argumentatively – is an invaluable skill not just in the college landscape, but in many career paths as well. Thus, the main characters of the course/novel hybrid, Maya and Chris, demonstrate the learning process of effective communication and encourage students to engage in a way that’s never been seen before. If all goes as planned, this supplemental knowledge will serve as the foundation that students will build their academic and working futures on – a skill that’s.

The students aren’t the only ones benefitting from the course. “It was a great learning experience for us as writing instructors [as well[, because we were learning to be more creative as authors – and to think in those different modes ourselves,” says one of the course’s founders.

While the aim is to arm students with the ability to communicate in a manner that’s persuasive and cohesive, the course covers a wide range of other disciplines, including computer science; feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; symbolic systems; mechanical engineering; and arts. Though many students of the targeted age range are looking for courses to fill out their requirements, everything the class has to offer – combined with its brevity – more than compensates.

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Live vs. Self-Paced Online College Courses

455658343If you look at the e-learning landscape now and compare it to how it was 5 years ago, you’ll see that online schools have been advancing at an amazing rate. There are now endless options for online degree programs, platforms for interaction, ways to access material, and more. One decision you may have to make is to choose between classes that are self-paced and classes that are live.

Objectively, there are pros and cons to each type of course. However, what type of learner you are comes into play as well. These points of consideration may help you decide what type of course you’re better suited to if you get the opportunity to choose.

What is Your Learning Pace?
Consider how much time you’ve needed to learn new concepts in comparison with your classmates in the past. Some students simply need (or want) more time to review content and grasp new ideas. If you find that you like to take your time, you may perform better in a self-paced course. These allow you to revisit material as often as you like. In ‘live’ courses, the atmosphere will be similar to an in-class lecture as the professor will be speaking in real time. Interactive learners who learn more by hearing could potentially benefit more from this style.

How do you Deal with Deadlines?
One thing about self-paced courses is that no one will be checking in with you to make sure you’re on track to complete the course within a certain time frame. If you’re self-disciplined enough to complete the course in a timely manner without someone breathing down your neck, these will be fine for you. However, if you need the accountability of a professor’s e-mails to keep you on-schedule, live courses will be superior for your learning style.

Do you Require Interaction?
Many students like to engage, asking the professor questions as they come up and debating with other students. Live courses are great for this – they promote a traditional classroom environment in spite of being online. You can type messages during the lecture and have the professor respond, and you can message other students instantly for scheduled discussions. Self-paced learning means you may be learning, essentially, on your own as it won’t require the professor or other students to respond to you in real-time.

How Free is your Schedule?
While taking online courses is, by nature, extremely convenient, some still operate on a strict schedule. Are you able to tune in at certain times for lectures or exams? If so, live courses will definitely jive with what you’re looking for – and you may even find them beneficial. However, if you’re the type who needs to study in the middle of the night, then self-paced learning might be a better fit.

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Transferring Credits from Online to Brick-and-Mortar Colleges

71704382One of the major concerns a lot of students have about attending online schools is whether or not they can transfer their credits should they decide to switch to a brick-and-mortar campus. It’s a reasonable concern to have – the truth is, some online credits won’t transfer. Of course, you might find that some credits wouldn’t transfer even if they were from another traditional school. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that yours will, and having credits transferred isn’t too difficult.

Equivalency from School to School
The fact of the matter is that it usually doesn’t matter whether your schooling was completed online or on-campus – it’s all about equivalency of accreditation. It’s important to only attend online schools and enroll in degree programs that are accredited by a legitimate accrediting body. You can do that through the website for the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or by contacting the US Department of Education.

Remember to hold on to your course syllabi in case your new school requires that you prove that the courses you took were intensive enough. Even if they initially deny a transfer, you may be able to make a case for yourself.

Finding Out Which Credits will Transfer
Every school has different standards, which definitely doesn’t make things easy. Nowadays, though,  most schools have online tools that let you check if your courses will transfer. Poke around the site of your new school to see if this is true for them.

That being said, most schools follow a general set of standards for what they will and will not accept. Speaking very generally, most schools will accept the majority of undergrad courses, lower-level courses for specific degree programs, and general education courses. On the other hand, many won’t accept credits for graduate courses, upper-level degree-specific courses, or courses for which there is no equivalent at the new school. It’s also common for schools to only accept a certain number of credits within a certain category (e.g., basic science).

Further Advice
As mentioned before, every school is different so it’s important to take advantage of the availability of academic advisors. The school likely wants you to attend, so they’ll work with you to find a solution that enables you to. Many schools also have other ways that you can earn classes, such as externships or lab time, so those can help you make up for courses that won’t transfer. All in all, before even looking, it’s best to decide whether it’s more important to you to transfer as many credits as possible, or go to your top choice school, because you won’t get to have both in many scenarios.

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What Makes College Textbooks So Expensive?

452659579A lot of high schools allow you to borrow your textbooks for the year and only pay a fine if the book is damaged or lost. This is why a lot of students get sticker shock when they realize that not only do they have to buy their textbooks themselves, but they’re so expensive. Even people who are savvy textbook shoppers can end up paying around $1,000 a year, which seems extremely excessive. Plus, everyone knows you don’t always get a good return when you sell them back to the college bookstore.

So, what contributes to the sky-high cost of your learning materials? There are a few things – plus some ways to lighten the blow.

How many you need: Assuming you’re taking three, four, or five classes per semester, and some classes require multiple books, you’re going to have quite a few books on your shopping list. Overachievers out there who take more courses have it even worse. Even if the books are a “reasonable” price, having a lot to purchase means the final bill adds up quickly.

Copyrights:  A lot of textbooks have many contributors, and all of these contributors have copyright fees. This makes the overhead cost on a textbook much more expensive for a publisher than it would be for a regular novel.

Exclusive material: Some textbooks are the best of the best in the sense that they contain information that isn’t published elsewhere. For that reason, publishers can jack up the prices on scarcity alone and use it to turn a profit.

Professor’s choice: While high school students usually have to stick to a strict budget and curriculum, college professors can usually choose their own learning materials. Unfortunately, not all of them are sympathetic about what students will have to pay – or they just favor superior material over price.

How do I manage these costs?
There is a silver lining to this unfortunate fact about college life: the rise of technology means you can sometimes get around them. Since there are so many e-learning platforms that allow professors to upload their own course material for easy access. A lot of professors are going this route to make learning more accessible for all students; contrary to what you may think, these platforms aren’t exclusive to online colleges.

You could also buy your textbooks used off sites like Amazon and BetterWorldBooks. As you can probably imagine, used books are much less expensive than buying them new from the bookstore. Plus, you can usually sell them back on these sites for a much higher return. Even more eco-friendly: buy from former students of the course, and sell to incoming students once you’ve finished.

Some classes don’t go through hundreds of pages at a time, which means you may be able to work out a way to split the cost with someone else in the class and share the textbook. By either photocopying or working out a schedule, you can both get the material for half the price.

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Achievable and Practical New Year’s Resolutions for College Students

187567568Let’s be honest, keeping New Year’s resolutions is pretty hit or miss. If one year you really do lose that ten pounds before June, the next year you’re bound to forget your fitness goals by January 5th. That being said, time you spend bettering yourself (even if it only lasts few days…or don’t do anything past just thinking about it) is not wasted time, so it’s worth at least attempting to set resolutions. They help you get a clear idea of what things you’d like to improve about yourself so that maybe the motivation will strike you now, or maybe it will down the road.

As a college student, you don’t need your resolution to be anything massive – it’s all about baby steps! Here are some to consider that are within reach but will benefit you in the long run.

Cut Back on Time Spent on Social Media
College students are the most prone to using social media too often, but they’re also the most prone to being affected by its detriments. If you find that Facebook is distracting you from studying or Instagram is making you unsatisfied with your appearance, maybe it’s time to unplug every now and then. Cut yourself back to only checking each profile once per day or turn off notifications on your phone so that you’re not getting them all the time – it’s a great way to focus on your education and other things that really matter this New Year. You’ll thank yourself once you graduate and there’s less for potential employers to dig up about you.

Less Junk, More Water, More Energy.
Do you have the tendency to cook up some ramen noodles at 1am when you’re not even hungry, or drink a couple extra beers throughout the week that you could probably go without? All that junk is adding to your spare tire, but more importantly, it’s probably making you lethargic. Try to get a more balanced diet by including a fruit or vegetable with every meal and exchanging some of your beer consumption for water. You’ll likely slim down and find that you’re more focused in class.

Make Small Financial Cutbacks.
If you’re the type of person that doesn’t have a meal plan but still stops at Starbucks before class, or you order out just because you’re too lazy to cook, making small cutbacks could be a good resolution. Just by making home-cooked coffee and meals, you could be adding several hundred dollars to your savings account per semester – and you’ll find that this was a good decision once you graduate and student loans start rolling in.

Read More.
Want to be a better student? Enhance your vocabulary and round out your knowledge by setting a goal to read more this year. Make it a book a month – or, just resolve to do all your assigned reading from class instead of phoning it in.

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Top 5 Online Colleges of 2014

83402617Every year, online colleges become more prevalent than the last. More students attended online college in 2014 than ever before, and each subsequent year is expected to set a new record. In a time that’s so technologically integrated, it’s easy to see why. These schools take the daily technology that already runs our lives – like computers, smartphones, and tablets – and use them as a vehicle for a fully-functioning college learning experience. Without leaving the home or rearranging their schedules, students are able to earn degrees and certifications of varying levels.

With all that in mind, you can imagine how schools are trampling all over one another to earn a reputation as one of the best online schools. They’re advancing their curricula and updating their technology to name themselves the top choices for online schools. Here are a few that went above and beyond in 2014.

Kaplan University
Whether they’re looking to acquire a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate’s degree, many students turn to Kaplan. It boasts an incredibly low net tuition cost and a disproportionately comprehensive program offering. There are eleven major areas of study that Kaplan offers: Social and Behavioral Sciences, Business, Criminal Justice, Education, Fire Science, Health Sciences, Legal Studies, Nursing, Technology, Special Military Programs, and General Courses. All programs are highly interactive, which means that 75% its students end up graduating, which is extremely high in the online landscape.

Southern New Hampshire University
Over 100 online bachelor’s programs are offered at SNHU, and scheduling is incredibly flexible. The complete ability to customize the learning experience seems to be what draws so many students to the school’s online programs – and the students that do attend seem to be highly motivated. Results from a recent poll showed that nearly 100% of all respondents attended all their online SNHU lectures and completed all their coursework. Most agreed that SNHU was their top choice in online schools.

Liberty University Online
Liberty allows students to get any degree from high school diploma all the way up to postgraduate studies, and all of this can be done online. For college students, the school offers an extremely comprehensive list of over 100 online degree programs, and they also offer intensive courses for students who want to earn degrees quickly. The school has received a number of awards and rankings for affordability and the quality of their degree programs. For example, it was ranked 8th for “Best Online Nursing Degree” by, and the same list ranked it #1 for “The Best Online Bachelor’s Program in Psychology.”

Indiana Wesleyan University Online
One of the reasons students love to attend Indiana Wesleyan Online is because their online courses feel similar to on-campus courses: they have a low enrollment capacity for smaller classes and a more intimate learning experience. The school also prides itself on being just as rigorous on online students as on-campus students. It’s a great place to earn a degree if you’re wary about the quality of online learning, and it’s also incredibly affordable.

American Public University
For students that want the social aspect of traditional schooling but aren’t able to visit a campus regularly, American Public University might be the right pick. The school fosters online learning “communities” which function much like clubs for niche discussions, making it easy for students to make study partners and engage in conversation. In 2009, APU received the Ralph E. Gomory Award for Quality Online Education, and the Association for Continuing Higher Education gave APU the Creative Use of Technology Award. At $8,839 (net) per year, it’s another affordable school.

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4 Ways to Use LinkedIn to Research Colleges

linkedin-networkingIf you’re beginning to research colleges to advance your education and you don’t already have a LinkedIn account, now might be the time to consider getting one. LinkedIn is kind of like Facebook for the professional adult – it allows you to get in touch and stay connected with people and pages that are of interest to you academically and professionally.

About a year ago, LinkedIn developed University Pages, which allows different schools to set up their own profiles to keep students connected and informed. As a result, LinkedIn has become more valuable than ever to prospective college students. Here are a few wise ways to use it to help you decide which school to attend.

Find out what alumni and former students thought about different schools.
If you visit a school’s website, they’re obviously only going to feature quotes and experiences from happy alumni. On LinkedIn, students have no obligation to sugar coat what they thought about their schools. Visit a school’s page and click on the ‘recommendations’ tab to see what they have to say. You can hear from students that graduated from the program you plan to enroll in to get an idea of what the professors are like and all the pros and cons.

Find out where alumni work.
Maybe you want to find out about a school you’ve never heard of, or you want to see how well graduates of online colleges are doing in the career world. LinkedIn allows you to see lists of the top companies that employ graduates at that school under a tab called “Where they Work.” There’s an accompanying tab titled “What they Do.” This information gives you some insight about what companies are recruiting alumni from certain schools and how successful each degree helps students to be.

Find out the school’s most renowned majors.
Under the “What they Studied” section, you can see which programs alumni enrolled in and get an idea of what majors were most possible. This might be useful for helping you determine what the school’s best programs are and whether they pertain to you. You can browse by major to visit the profiles of specific alumni so you can also connect with your colleagues and see what kinds of careers they’ve gotten into.

See what the school is up to.
Following a University Page on LinkedIn means that all their news will be in your feed, so you can keep tabs on what’s happening on campus. This can help you get an idea of what it will be like to live on campus and what sorts of things you’d like to get involved in.

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