Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Scholarship applications 

I had decided with the Saturday classes to do a "digression" today from the progress that we were making on factoring based on the question that I ended class with last week: Given the prime factorization of an integer, can we find how many factors that integer has? This lead quite nicely to some basic combinatorics (and it was interesting how many of the students knew their way around some of the features in their calculators). We worked through what the odds were of winning the lottery (and to give them a sense of how big that number was, I proposed that they and 99 of their closest friends would pool their funds to buy every possible lottery ticket. If they bought 1 ticket every 20 seconds, working non-stop 24/7 it would still take them over 5 weeks to buy all the tickets. And they'd win less money than they spent.

From there we worked out the odds of being dealt certain poker hands in five cards, which kept most of the class quite interested in the problem. We got to look at permutations and think about when we needed to multiply our odds by 5, 5! or 5 choose 2, etc. to compensate for the fact that we've been specific about the order of the cards.

And I got a chance to point out to the students that no matter what the game, when it comes to gambling the most important rule to remember is: The house always wins.

But then before I could teach the second class, I was told that all of the students would be working on financial aid applications in the computer lab. Gee, thanks for letting me know this in advance.

It was interesting to see what looking for college scholarships looks like in the 21st century. When I was an undergrad, to be honest, I didn't really look for scholarships. The college I attended had a need-blind admissions policy and a high enough nominal tuition, that I would have had to come up with over $7000 in additional scholarships per year before it would affect my actual cost of attending: Anything less than that would just reduce the grant that the school gave me.

Many of the students were using Monster.com's FastWeb service. A couple of things:

The second point requires some elucidation: To start searching, there's a long application process which includes numerous attempts to get students (or their parents) to agree to receive marketing e-mails, apply to DeVry and Lord only knows what else. The presentation was seldom clear and there were many times as I was watching the students navigate through this that I wasn't sure what was being asked and I have almost 20 years more experience resisting advertising and scams. I wonder if there's something equivalent to FastWeb without all the sales pitches. That would be a good thing.

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