Here's a bit of depressing news from Sarah Sparks:
In the last few years, students from low-income families have...start[ed] to delay higher education in the wake of dismal economic forecasts and dwindling financial aid. In 2009, only 55 percent of graduates from low-income families immediately enrolled in a two- or four-year college, hugely trailing the rates of high-income students, at 84 percent, and middle-class students, at 67 percent.
That's her read of data from the Condition of Education report, which the US Department of Education released yesterday morning. Low-income students may be waiting a year or so to save up for college, she writes.
That could be a big problem. Sparks cites research that paint a grim picture for low-income students students who do not enter college directly after high school. Even when you control for academic and demographic traits, they are much, much likely to get a degree in five years.
Poor preparation for college is one big factor in low success rates among students in the lowest income brackets. Lack of money is surely another.
In recent decades, science fairs have hit the big leagues. The young finalists in fairs sponsored by companies like Intel and Google have moved miles and miles beyond what Katherine Harmoncalls “the classic vinegar-and-baking soda volcano.” As science fairs get more sophisticated, are the tools you need to play in the big leagues getting out of reach? Do you need the keys to your local particle accelerator to have a shot at doing cutting-edge science? Not necessarily.
Harmon points parents and their students to Science Buddies, a website that enlists "working scientists to help design cutting-edge experiments that qualify as real research." For example, Dr. Elizabeth Young from MIT has brought her research on renewable energy within reach of parents and their children. "This high-level work requires equipment and materials costing tens of thousands of dollars," she said in a recent press release:
Now through Science Buddies, we've created a similar experiment that students can perform in their own kitchens. These 'kids' are exploring catalysts for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, at the same time becoming passionate about developing alternative fuels for their generation.
The press release offers other examples of sophisticated kitchen-table science: students use mud to build a microbial fuel cell or other readily available tools to explore plant DNA. The site now offers more than 1,000 project ideas.
Science Buddies seems to be making its mark. This year, AAAS gave it an award for the Best Online Resource for Education. AAAS is not alone in its admiration. Almost 10 million people visited it in 2010.
May it continue to grow and prosper.