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Budget 101: Determining Your Monthly Rent

Thu, 2014-10-02 12:22

If this is your first time renting an apartment, congratulations! Living on your own can be very exciting. After all, you now have a place to decorate, store your belongings and host killer parties. However, renting also comes with its share of challenges - particularly the cost! While renting an apartment can seem prohibitively expensive, it's actually possible to look at your monthly costs and calculate a rent budget that won't put too much excess strain on you (or your wallet). If you're wondering "What can I afford to rent?" and want to know more about how to figure out how much money you can allocate for your monthly rent, well, look no further. We've uncovered some easy tips to make sure your apartment is a peaceful respite, and not something that causes financial stress!

TIP #1

First, renters should approach their rent budget mathematically. Real estate experts believe that the typical renter should be able to comfortably afford to pay 30% of their annual income in rent. Thus, you can take your annual income and multiply by it .3. Then, you'll want to divide that number by 12, which will give you the number you can comfortably afford to spend monthly on an apartment.

To specifically determine if you qualify for an apartment, you should get together with your roommates and add up your combined gross pre-tax income. Divide this value by 12 to figure out your monthly gross income. In most cities, landlords will required that this combined value is 3 to 4 times the monthly rent. It can be challenging for younger renters to financially qualify alone, so living with at least one roommate helps position you for better income qualifications. Want more perks of living with at least one roommate? In some cities you're able to save up to 40% on your monthly rent.

TIP #2

While the above mathematical approaches are fairly simple and work for many renters, there are other factors you'll want to consider when determining how much you can afford to pay for your monthly rent. Consider your lifestyle and daily expenses. Are there are any big costs, like medical care, or large debts you're paying off, like student loans? If so, calculate how much those costs will be, then subtract that number from the amount of rent in your budget. This will ensure that you don't allocate too much towards your rental, leaving you with too little for other important expenses.

TIP #3

Another important step to take when creating your monthly rent budget is to think about personal priorities. Some people place a high priority on the size or quality of their home, while others aren't as picky about the space they live in. Make a list of all your day-to-day activities and priorities, and then parse out the cost for each. If you have several priorities that feel more important to you than the place you live, consider allocating more to those activities or items than to your rent. When you search for an apartment, make sure to set price and amenity filters so you're able to focus your search on what you can actually afford.

TIP #4

Finally, it's important for people looking for rental homes to consider the market in the city where they desire to rent. For example, there are several big cities in the U.S. where people will need to accept that they'll have to pay more for their apartment than other cities. Some cities with a challenging market for renters include New York and San Francisco. Renters in those big cities (as well as plenty of others) can expect median rent prices to be exceptionally high at $3,175 and $3,285, respectively. Do some research about the place you're planning to rent, and look at apartments that appear to be within your price range. If you see places that fit within your budget, that's great! If not, you may have to expand your location search parameters or look at your budget and allocate more funds to your housing expenses and fewer funds to other things you may have originally planned for.

Ultimately, if you plan ahead and go through your proposed budget with a fine toothed comb, you can alleviate some of the stress associated with your monthly rent. Rent is the largest expense most people pay in a given month, so you owe it to yourself to take the time necessary to sit down and figure out the numbers before you actually begin your search. With a clear plan (and in certain markets, a touch of luck), you'll be sure to find a place that fits into your budget and lifestyle.

Note: A version of this post first appeared on Lovely Blog

This Is What The Changing Of The Seasons Looks Like From Space

Thu, 2014-10-02 11:53
A NASA satellite captured these spectacular images of the arrival of fall foliage in Canada and the northeastern United States at the end of September. Fall officially began last week with the autumnal equinox, but these changing colors are still a welcome signal that hot summer days are finally giving way to cooler weather.

Color change between June 16, 2014, and Sept. 27, 2014.

When days shorten in autumn, trees slow and then stop their production of green-pigmented chlorophyll as they prepare to drop their leaves. As chlorophyll degrades, it allows other red, yellow and orange pigments to shine through. Watch this video for more info on the science behind leaves changing color.

Want to get out there and see beautiful fall foliage before it fades? Check out these maps from the Weather Channel, which show the typical peak foliage times across the country as well as this season's progress. Some areas are already at or past their peak, so get out and catch these colors before they're gone!

Color change between Aug. 9, 2014, and Sept. 26, 2014.

All images from NASA Worldview. Explore more fall foliage near you using Worldview's interactive satellite imagery.

The Rumors of Opera's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated (Pt. 1)

Thu, 2014-10-02 11:36
I first started ruminating on the idea for this post a couple of weeks ago when I was reading some glowing reviews for The Collaborative Works Festival in Chicago. The Collaborative Arts Institute was founded three years ago by three musicians: two of whom, Nicholas Phan and Shannon McGuiness, happen to be friends of mine, and so I have been eagerly following their progress. In only three seasons, the festival has collaborated with world class artists, presenting them in song recitals, and has created an organization which is not only artistically compelling, but also financially stable. All during a time in which a new press outlet or company head bemoans the death of opera and classical singing on a daily basis. The idea that two people I know, in spite of all the odds and the constant barrage of negative press about the "state of opera", managed to create something that makes a real artistic contribution from scratch got me wondering about just how many other companies and festivals featuring classical singing and opera had cropped up during this new millenium.

Surely it must only be a few. I mean, what has the bulk of the news been in the past five years in the opera world? New York City Opera closes, San Diego Opera comes within an inch of closing, and The Metropolitan Opera faces possible bankruptcy and a work stoppage if they don't make big changes within their financial operations. Nobody would be foolish enough to actually start a company that promotes this "dinosaur" art form where our audiences are dying and enthusiasm is waning.

But what I discovered when I began collecting information for this post shocked me. I thought that maybe I could scrape together ten companies who have, against all odds, turned themselves into viable presenters of opera. I was sure there were at least ten who could inspire people and give us all hope. I started brainstorming.

As I began thinking about the articles I had read and asking people I knew for suggestions, I realized that actually, narrowing it down to ten worthy organizations to focus on would be a bit of a challenge. Then a friend referred me to a list that a musician and blogger has been putting together since the year 2000 of every new organization formed to present opera, and there were TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY ORGANIZATIONS LISTED. The listing spans the entire country, ranging in budget, scope, mission, repertoire, format and vision. There are companies created to present contemporary composers, baroque companies presenting opera with period instruments, companies commited to presenting traditional operas to underserved areas, companies that perform in bars, schools and on docked ships. Companies whose budgets started in the low thousands and have grown to the millions. In fact, there were so many excellent choices and so many people to acknowledge, my original article was rejected by the Huffington Post for being too long, and I had to separate it into installments.

I have to tell you -- I thought to myself: We've been bamboozeled. Opera is so far from dying it isn't even funny. Opera in the U.S in 2014 is practically a newborn baby.

Are the biggest companies suffering from financial strain? Yes. But is interest in opera waning? Absolutely not! It is as passionate and varied as ever. And so I present to you ten companies that I chose as a sampling of the organizations that have come into being just since the new millenium. I tried to choose examples that were geographically diverse, as well as varying in repertoire, method of presentation, budget, and mission.

First installment: Five companies that present modern and contemporary opera:

Opera Parallele, San Francisco, CA.
Year Founded: 2004, began presenting only opera; 2007
Current annual budget: $650,000 - $900,000
Number of productions per season: Two fully staged productions plus extras
Mission: Founded by conductor Nicole Paiement as a contemporary music ensemble, her mission to present opera exclusively came about after she worked on the revision and presentation of Lou Harrison's "Young Ceasar". She made a commitment to see the project to its completion in spite of the unexpected death of the composer. Following this premiere, the company expanded its board and has been producing two operas per year since 2009. Opera Parallele is the only organization in the Bay Area presenting fully staged contemporary opera exclusively. The company continues to earn rave reviews for the clarity of their mission and the high quality of the work they produce. From the company website: "Since it was founded, Opera Parallèle has presented 134 performances including 30 world premieres, released 14 recordings, and commissioned 20 new works; and has performed in North America, Australia, and Asia". That is quite a list of accomplishments for a company just entereing their 10th season. They have also managed to find a sucessful niche for themselves, despite existing in a city that already boasts a major opera house. (I will be performing the role of Sister Helen in a new production of "Dead Man Walking" with Opera Parallele in February and March of next year which is how the company first came to my attention.)

Beth Morrison Projects and PROTOTYPE Festival, New York NY and beyond
Founded : 2006
Current Annual Budget: $900,000 - $1.2 Million
Number of Productions per season: Fluctuates year to year. This year: three world premieres, two New York premieres, four workshops, three tours, and a festival.
Mission: Force of Nature Beth Morrison founded her eponymously named organiztion for living composers. She considers herself a composers producer. She wanted to "push the boundaries of what opera and art could be - and to theatricalize the art form and contemporize it. BMP is a boutique operation that works against the notion of institutionalizing art. There are no formulas. Only artists visions and dreams." Since 2006, she has established herself as a true leader in producing and presenting contemporary music, with a new model that she basically created herself. The New York Times did a profile of Morrison and said about her organization, "Starting with a practical dreamer's sophisticated gamble on a new paradigm for staging contemporary opera, the company is now a potent creative force." She wanted to breathe new life into the art form and the artists who create it and she has done that and more. Her organization continues to grow fiscally and she takes on more new projects each season.

UrbanArias, Arlington, VA
Founded: 2010
Current Annual Budget: $150,000
Number of productions per season: Two fully staged productions, two-four produced short works programs
Mission: Founder Robert Wood is an opera conductor who loves the art form and wanted to create a forumla which would encourage more people to experience it. He came up with the idea to produce short (under 90 minutes) contemporary (composed in the last 40 years) opera with the hopes that by removing some of the barriers that prevent newcomers from believing they can actually enjoy opera (length and langauge, for example) he might be able to entice new audiences into this engrossing combination of music and theater. Working as an assistant conductor and chorus master on several world premieres, it occurred to Wood that not nearly enough composers were getting the chance to premiere their works, and he wanted to do something about it. "UrbanArias is known for their fresh, witty, and often crazy takes on opera" (DCTheater Scene). The list of singers and collaborators who have worked with UrbanArias in the few short years since its inception is a testament to the kind of work they are doing on a relatively small budget, which continues to increase each year.

Odessy Opera, Boston, MA
Founded: 2013
Current Annual Budget: Not disclosed
Number of productions per season: Varies; 2014: two fully staged productions and two concert operas
Mission: Founded by conductor Gil Rose after the beloved company Opera Boston, for which he served as artistic director, had to shut its doors, the company mission is to produce lesser known works and commissions with world class artists. Their first few productions have received reviews bordering on rhapsodical, and they have an unusal financial strategy to avoid the monetary pitfalls of their predecessor; they are currently a "pay as you go ad-hoc organization" where each new project will not go forward until the financial obligations are met or at least promised. When I asked for their annual budget, I was told they could not disclose it. They also don't have a set number of productions or a set season. In an interview with The Boston Globe, Rose explains his mission; "What we're dedicated to -- the guiding principle, really, for us -- is the exploration of repertoire... there has been a phenomenon, in both the symphonic and the opera world, where the choices of what's acceptable to the audience, what the theoretical paying audience wants to see, has been seemingly narrowed." In a town like Boston, with quite an array of musical choices, Odessy Opera already seems to have found not only a very enthusiastic audience, but an unsual organizational strategy that faces any financial challenges head-on.

The Industry, Los Angeles, CA
Founded: 2010
Current Annual Budget: $150,000
Productions per season: Fluctuates depending upon projects plus biannual new works festival. Next world premiere slated for 2015.
Mission: I first got to know wunderkind Yuval Sharon when he was in charge of the Vox Festival at the New York City Opera, which presented a sampling of new works with full orchestra. After Sharon assisted Achim Freyer in Los Angeles for his Ring Cycle, he "fell in love with the city's range of possibilities and the enthusiasm audiences here have for the new and the daring," and so The Industry was born. Their mission is defintely about pushing the boundaries of how one thinks of opera, with the use of unsual environments, experimental media, and interdiscipinary collaborations. Their enormously successful project called "Invisible Cities", in which the audience members wandered among the chaos of Union Station, listening to the score wearing headphones and interacting with both the actors and the public, garnered an enormous amount of press. The piece was a finalist for the Pullitzer Prize among other accolades, and will be released as a recording later this fall on The Industry's own record label, Industry Records. Another important component of the Industry is the biannual new works festival called First Take, which continues the work Sharon began at Vox, developing and presenting new pieces and up and coming composers. The Industry's next large scale project, "Hopscotch", was recently previewed in the Los Angeles Times.

It is true that none of these organizations present more than a few fully staged operas per season, and that most of their budgets don't allow them to do "grand scale opera." However, they represent a shift in the way we look at the art form, and remind us that bringing art to a community sometimes requires building blocks that start on a smaller scale. The exciting news is that these organizations represent just a sampling of what is currently happening in opera presenting in the U.S. since the new millenium. There are also more well known organizations like the Gotham Chamber Opera, who some would say remains the shining example of how a boutique opera company can not only survive, but thrive and grow. Also in New York City, we have American Lyric Theater, commissioning and producing new works, Operamission, presenting varied works that are often informal and educational, and On Site Opera, presenting operas in locations that fit the opera itself. There are literally too many success stories to list in just one article, and that, in and of itself, is the news we should be spreading. What these new companies that are succeeding have in common is a clear mission and an incredible belief in and commitment to what they are bringing to the public.

Opera as an art form is thriving, pulsating, changing, and adapting. From the oldest operas in existence to ones that have yet to be thought of, there are passionate people all across the country thinking of new and exciting ways to bring this art form to as many people as they can. Let's spread this news and let the world know that the only thing ready to die is the joke about the fat lady singing. The rest of the industry is alive and well, and making a contribution to the landscape of the culture with projects large and small.

Opera is dead my foot.

Stay tuned for part two....

Changing Direction: A Roadmap for Reforming Illinois' Prison System

Thu, 2014-10-02 10:49
After decades of using incarceration as the country's primary response to crime, leading Republicans and Democrats are embracing safe, fair, and cost-effective prison reform.

As Illinois prepares to elect its next governor, voters should ask the candidates where they stand on this issue and what their vision and goals are for the state's crowded and under-resourced $1.3-billion prison system.

Like all states, Illinois' prison population has grown exponentially over the past 40 years, going from around 6,000 inmates in 1974 to 49,000 today, despite the fact that the system was designed to hold only 32,000.

Two policy trends, promoted by both political parties, drove this dramatic increase. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, policymakers expanded the number of offenses for which a person could be sent to prison, particularly low-level offenses, and they also increased the length of time offenders serve for more serious crimes.

While policymakers hoped this increased use of prison would improve public safety outcomes, a growing consensus of research and experience has found that overusing incarceration produces a host of harmful, unintended consequences.

Though prison can effectively incapacitate people who pose risks to public safety, research has shown that it transforms low-risk offenders into high-risk offenders and makes it difficult for all prisoners to re-integrate back into society when they are released.

Prison is also the state's most expensive form of punishment. Illinois spends about $22,000 to house an inmate for one fiscal year. That amount is about four times the average cost of diversion programs for low-level non-violent offenders that are funded through Adult Redeploy Illinois, the state's most successful and effective alternative-to-incarceration program.

The only way for Illinois to get a handle on its prison system is to safely reduce its overreliance on incarceration. This needed change can come in one of two ways.

The first is the predicament in which California now finds itself. After failing to reduce its prison population and address conditions that endangered inmates and staff, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered California in 2011 to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 people. Three years and several hundred million dollars later, California is still struggling to fulfill the Court's mandate.

The second option is to follow the example of states like Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, and New York that have used reforms in law and policy to safely decrease their prison populations and the crippling costs of incarceration.

Although Illinois' prison overcrowding hovers around California-like levels, it is not too late for the state to implement needed changes and avoid the path of litigation-driven reform. Indeed, the state has recently taken some concrete steps in the right direction. In recent years, Illinois has reduced unnecessary and unfair barriers to re-entry; it has safely right sized its juvenile correctional system, taking it from a population of 1,400 incarcerated youth in 2005 to fewer than 750 today; and it has created a capacity for safe and effective alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders in two model programs, Juvenile Redeploy and Adult Redeploy Illinois.

Alongside these reforms, Illinois has also made an essential investment in thoughtful criminal justice policymaking in the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council (SPAC). Created by statute in 2009, SPAC is a bi-partisan commission of criminal justice stakeholders, academics, and community representatives dedicated to using cost-benefit analysis, evidence-based practices, research, and data to evaluate sentencing and correctional policy. Since it was formed, SPAC has helped inform policymaking, engendering an environment for rigorous discussion of criminal justice policy. This includes the formation of the Joint Commission on Criminal Justice Reform, a bicameral, bipartisan group of legislators tasked in 2014 with searching for comprehensive approaches to gun violence and the state's use of prison.

Whether Illinois continues on this path to smart criminal justice reform depends largely on the leadership of the state's next governor.

In Changing Directions, a new report by Illinois' only non-partisan prison watchdog and justice reform advocate, the John Howard Association describes foundational achievements in criminal justice reform that were accomplished over the last four years, suggests a framework for crafting principled and outcome-based reforms, and provides a list of recommendations that we believe the next governor should use to change the direction of Illinois' prison system so that it does a better job of protecting public safety by making wiser use of incarceration.

While JHA never supports a political candidate or party, we believe informed policymakers and voters are essential pieces of an effective, fair, and humane criminal justice system. You can download a copy of Changing Directions on JHA's website.

Changing Chicago: Reducing Violence in the Windy City

Thu, 2014-10-02 10:41
Chicago is home to some of the greatest architecture, culture, food and people in the country. Frank Sinatra sang about the people in the song My Kind of Town he said, "My kind of people, too. People who smile at you." If you walk along North Ave Beach during the summer, you'll see people smiling from ear to ear, if you smile at them, they'll smile back at you. Or go to a Chicago Bears game, everybody's for the most part, friendly.

When the Chicago Blackhawks won the championship in 2013, over two million people came out to celebrate at the parade. Even on a local level Chicago fans are supportive; Jackie Robison West Little League was recently in the little league World Series. When they came home, over 12,000 people showed up for their parade. President Obama even called the Jackie Robison's head coach Darold Butler to congratulate him.

However, it's also home currently to one of the highest rates of gun violence in the country. In 2012, Chicago had 500 murders; in 2013, the Chicago Tribune reported that there were 440 murders, and is currently reporting 280 murders.

The rapper Common just released an album in July entitled No Buddy's Smiling. The album was influenced by the ongoing violence occurring in Chicago -- Common's hometown. Common is trying to help out in the community by raising awareness about job creation and other activates through his foundation, the Common Ground Foundation.

Joakim Noah, a player on the Chicago Bulls, is urging Chicago to "stand up," and is raising awareness through his organization Noah's Arc Foundation. On Twitter, the hashtag #ChicagoStandUp is trending to raise awareness about the violence in Chicago. Noah recently took part in the Chicago Peace Basketball Tournament. The tournament was organized by a Roman Catholic Priest and social activist named Michael Pfleger, who brought on Joakim Noah, Cobe William, and Deuce Powell. Many famous faces were in attendance, including Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Senator Dick Durbin, and Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls.

Derrick Rose also just gave one million dollars to After School Matters, an initiative that is helping Chicago school children get access to out-of-school apprenticeship services in the area of science, sports and other productive activities.

On a local level, there are activists like Marshawn Feltus, who is teaching yoga in Chicago's Westside. Feltus, a former member of a gang, killed someone when he was 17, and he ended up spending 18 years and nine months in prison. Now, he's out there trying to make a difference in the lives of young people, trying to persuade them to do the right thing with their lives. One of the tools he uses is yoga; he teaches yoga in the Cook County Prison and in several other communities in Chicago. Yoga changed Feltus's life, and he's trying to change the lives of as many people as possible. He speaks at corporations, schools and churches in Chicago to spread a positive message of change.

CeaseFire has been an organization that has played a vital role in helping to reduce gun violence in the streets of Chicago. CeaseFire was started in 1995; the first program saw a 67 percent drop in shootings and murders in the neighborhood. In 2004, CeaseFire communities saw a drop of up to 50 percent in murders. A documentary entitled The Interrupters features several members from CeaseFire and shows many of the struggles in Chicago. CeaseFire is stationed in some of the most dangerous parts of Chicago, they have a team of members working to reduce violence in Chicago, sevearl of the members are former gang members.

Causing change can't just come from a few people in one community; it needs to come from all communities in Chicago. I think its possible to make Chicago one of the safest cities in America, but it takes time, it takes grassroots activism. It's going to take the entire city of Chicago to create change.

These Are The People Waiting 8-Plus Hours For A Hot Dog

Thu, 2014-10-02 09:20
CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago's hippest hot dog stand helped elevate the lowly sausage into a culinary superstar by stuffing it with exotic ingredients including escargot, foie gras and rattlesnake. When the owner announced the gourmet shop was closing, everyone expected encased-meat aficionados to line up for one last taste.

But this?

Lines forming deep in the night. Lawn chairs, card tables, poker chips, sleeping bags and booze to help pass the wait of up to eight hours. A spot in line popping up on Craigslist for $300. Apologetic announcements telling patrons they won't reach the front of the line and secure their coveted dog before closing time.

As Hot Doug's prepares to close Friday, in a city that takes its hot dogs seriously, the line outside Doug Sohn's "sausage superstore" has become as big a sensation as the stand itself. And nobody entertains the idea for even a second that this is the least bit crazy.

So, who are these people? Well, just go down the line:


NO. 1

Christopher Sanders and his buddy David Kudla became Wednesday's first customers at 12:45 a.m., unfolding lawn chairs to wait for the doors to open at 10:30 a.m.

Sanders, 29, had never been to Doug's before - put off, by all things, by the sight of constant but shorter lines.

"I've driven past it, seen the lines and said, `I'm not waiting that long, it's crazy,'" he said. "I will never get a chance to do it ever again."



Sergio Deleon, who arrived at 3 a.m., knows that if he's not in his college classroom by 11 it will cost him a full grade in class.

"Gonna be worth it," said the 24-year-old Deleon, though he had a plan for salvaging an A - buy a dog for the professor too.

"See if it works," he said.



Bartender Dani Ploszaj thought it nice to learn the names of the other people in line - all of them.

"I was like, `Hey, what's your name, what's your name?'" she said, pointing to the 48th, 49th and 50th people in line - Michelle, Annie and Patrick. "Now they're all my friends."



From his lawn chair about 70 people down, retired physician Jack Laude can tell you all the reasons why hot dogs aren't healthy.

Not that the 62-year-old Laude would be deterred from the boar and bacon cheese dog he's intent on ordering.

"You want to know the secret of longevity?" he asks. "Pick your parents well."

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Obama To Speak About Economy At Northwestern University

Thu, 2014-10-02 08:00
CHICAGO (AP) — While Washington's attention was focused on a Secret Service scandal, President Barack Obama slipped away for an overnight trip to his family home in Chicago and a speech Thursday to assure voters he is still focused on the economy.

Obama is delivering his afternoon economic address at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, just a short hop from Chicago by helicopter. The White House has long planned the speech as a way to frame the closing arguments of a midterm campaign with control of the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance. WHY ANOTHER ECONOMIC SPEECH?

The president has spent weeks consumed with international crises and wants to let voters know he hasn't forgotten about their money struggles. "I can put my record against any leader around the world in terms of digging ourselves out of a terrible, almost unprecedented financial crisis," Obama said in an interview that aired Sunday on "60 Minutes." An Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday found that the economy is the top issue for the Americans most likely to cast ballots in the midterm elections. Nine out of 10 consider it extremely or very important in deciding their votes for Congress. They have just one month to make up their minds, and Obama plans to speak out more during that time on pocketbook concerns, including a jobs speech Friday in Indiana.


Obama's challenge is to walk a delicate line between taking credit for an economic recovery without seeming to disregard continuing hard times. His aides say this speech isn't designed to lay out new policy ideas, but to explain what he's done to help the nation recover from the Great Recession. He also plans to acknowledge the reality that many Americans aren't feeling the recovery and argue that more needs to be done. His aides say he intends to be more presidential than partisan.


Home court advantage. The former Illinois senator can't go just anywhere these days, with Democratic candidates avoiding the spotlight with the divisive president. Obama aides also thought a scholarly business school audience would be the ideal setting for an address scheduled to last about 45 minutes and dive deeper into the economic issues than a typical campaign speech. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama will be speaking to the "students who will have a hand in shaping America's economic future and leadership both at home and abroad."


Many important indicators are good — unemployment has been going down, consumer spending is up and housing prices are rising. The stock market hit records in the past month, then softened in recent days. A big sign will be the jobs report coming out Friday. But although some of the figures look good, they aren't helping family budgets. "They don't feel it because incomes and wages are not going up," Obama said on "60 Minutes." He argued that Democratic priorities like raising the minimum wage, job training and road building will help. It's yet to be seen if voters agree.


Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at

University Of Chicago Draws Up Plan To End Use Of Student Loans

Wed, 2014-10-01 21:52
CHICAGO (AP) -- As selective colleges try to increase economic diversity among their undergraduates, the University of Chicago announced Wednesday that it's embarking on an unusual effort to enroll more low-income students, including the elimination of loans in its aid packages.

What's more, the elite school will no longer expect financial-aid students to hold jobs during the school year and application fees will be waived for families seeking aid. The initiative includes scholarships, career guidance and a guarantee of paid summer internships, officials said as they announced the No Barriers program. The university will offer more than 100 workshops across the nation to demystify the admissions and financial aid process.

"We want to ensure that students of high ability can aspire to join this community without financial worry, and with comprehensive support for their success both in the College and beyond graduation," University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer said in a statement.

While other elite schools have tried the no-debt policy, the University of Chicago program is the most thorough effort of its kind, outside experts said.

"This is as complete and comprehensive an approach as you'll ever see," said Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education, which represents college presidents.

The percentage of low-income students in selective universities hasn't changed much in two decades. Higher education leaders recognize the growing wealth gap in the United States and are recommitting to enhancing economic opportunity, Hartle said.

The University of Chicago's economic diversity has lagged behind that of other institutions, with roughly 12 percent of freshmen coming from low-income families. Annual tuition, room and board tops $62,000. The university's endowment, meanwhile, is $6.67 billion.

Last year, the University of Virginia ended its no-loan policy, citing rising costs. "After the University of Virginia disbanded its program, we were starting to become nervous that other elite institutions would follow," said Michelle Asha Cooper of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit group working to increase access to higher education.

"What needs to happen now is follow-through with sustained action," Cooper said of the Chicago program.

Sandy Baum, a higher education economist at the Urban Institute, applauded the Chicago effort, particularly the paid summer internships, which she said "can really improve the experience for low-income students." But Baum cautioned that elite universities can only do so much.

"They aren't going to solve the problem" of lack of preparation for elite schooling among low-income students, Baum said. "We need to solve the problem earlier in these kids' lives" with early childhood and K-12 education, she said.

A Week Without an Inbox

Wed, 2014-10-01 16:21
In honor of National Work and Family Month, I want to throw down a challenge. Take one week in October and ban your team from using email. Get them to step away from the inbox.

I issued the same edict to my team this past spring, after reading a Chicago Tribune interview with Arianna Huffington in which she advised entrepreneurs to avoid the reactive nature of email. As she said, "Any time we are on email, we are reacting. Very often, we may spend an entire day, week, month, year, just reacting and operating from our inbox rather than from what we want to create."

Huffington is not the only one to recognize that responding to an inbox could be interfering with our innovation and energy. Far from it.

German car maker Daimler has implemented a radical new program in which employees can automatically delete incoming emails while on vacation. While they are out, the system automatically kicks back an email notice indicating the recipient is out of the office and offering an alternative contact instead.

And in France, select unions and employers have signed a labor agreement, giving employees the right (or obligation, depending on how you read it) to disconnect from their email for a certain number of hours each day.

People, Purpose and Potatoes

During our email hiatus at Life Meets Work, I wanted to push team members to connect with people on a more personal level. The email ban included not only emails amongst ourselves but also with clients. We set up autoresponders to let people know we weren't checking email and encouraged them to call us instead.

Here are some things we learned:

  1. Email makes us feel important. This gets to the same ego issues we have around being hyper-busy at work. If we're not constantly getting emails, are we valued?

  2. Email can mask what is truly important since the emails in our inbox feel more urgent. We feel an obligation to acknowledge and respond promptly, and that makes us feel reactive rather than purposeful.

  3. Email creates a game of hot potato, as in: "I got the email out of my inbox and into yours. I win!" Email is efficient for delegating, but are we really getting work 'done'? Some tasks can be resolved more efficiently through conversation.

  4. Email is highly useful for transactional types of communication. During our weekly ban, we quickly realized that we needed to bend the rules if, and only if (!), we needed to exchange documents with a client.

  5. When sharing documents with each other, we posted them to our shared file system and then found ourselves sending instant messages to alert each other that a) the document was ready and b) located here ___. Admittedly, it was slightly awkward and not altogether efficient.

  6. There are better ways to collaborate than email. By forcing ourselves over to group chat, phone, and video conferences for the week, we eliminated many of those infernal 'reply all' email exchanges. We also used Yammer for idea sharing and posting information updates to the entire team.

We're back at our email, but I'd like to think we're a little better at it. We're picking up the phone a bit more. We're using subject line conventions like "FYI Only." And we're parking ideas in the cloud, instead of our inboxes.

For one week, we stopped reacting and started interacting. It felt good. It felt less stressful. And for my team, it was a reminder that email begets more email.

It's one thing to step away from your own email and work from a place of purpose. But we do even more for each other when we think twice about the emails we send--how many we send and when we're sending them.

This Sketch Is A News Anchor Meltdown Done Right

Wed, 2014-10-01 15:18
It's got to be tough being a news anchor these days. Almost the entirety of the job is filmed and broadcast to a wide audience. So, if you mess up, there's proof. And it will probably get distributed to an even wider audience via the Internet.

But, really, if you're going to mess up or lose it on air, why not go all out? Do it with some gusto like the news anchor in this UCB Comedy sketch by Los Angeles Digital. And we can all agree that an ill-fitting wig is key.

This Church Needed The Money, But Gave $500 To Every Member To Go Do Good In The World

Wed, 2014-10-01 13:19
After receiving an unexpected windfall of $1.6 million, a small Chicago church took a giant leap of faith earlier this month: it choose to give a chunk of the money away to congregants, with little more than a modest request for how it was to be spent.

Members of the the LaSalle Street Church in Chicago's Near North Side were shocked when Pastor Laura Traux told them during services September 7 that each "actively engaged" member of the church would receive a check for $500. The money came with no conditions, but recipients were encouraged to use it for good works.

"It feels like a faith experiment more than a social experiment," Traux told The Huffington Post. "We say we trust the Gospel, we say we trust each other. But I was wondering, 'Is this going to be a waste of money?'"

Church elders deliberated for months over how to spend the money -- an unexpected windfall from a real estate investment made in the 1970s -- mulling options that included a housing investment and an Ebola clinic in Africa. They agreed that while they'd eventually determine how to give all the money away, 10 percent would go to the congregation up front. In all, the church wrote 320 $500 checks to members deemed "actively engaged" with their "time, talents or treasures."

Invoking the Biblical parable of Jesus feeding multitudes with nothing but a small amount of food, the money quickly became known to the social justice-minded congregation as the "Loaves and Fishes" checks. And church members immediately started thinking of ways the money could make a bigger impact in the world.

One church member, John Bakker, wants to use his $500 to help the non-profit World Vision create an Ebola education campaign in West Africa by leveraging social media the way the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge did so successfully.

"We need to act fast," said Bakker, whose family has a 64-year-history of missions work in Nigeria. "Every 15 days, the number of people living with the virus doubles.”

Though Traux was anxious, admitting that "our little church has a budget hole of its own," she'd put her faith in the congregation before: two years earlier, using $1,000 of her own money, Traux taped $100 bills under some of the pews to illustrate a parable about undeserved grace.

She later learned most of the 10 recipients used the cash to help someone else.

"Jesus is an unconventional guy. And he’s risky. And he’s bold," Traux said. "It struck me in all this that he never bothers to write down his own story: He gives his followers incredible freedom to write down what he says. Jesus could trust it all. He trusted people would listen as they were going to listen and follow as they were going to follow."

Only 13 members of LaSalle's congregation were around when the church first bought into a residential complex in the neighborhood back in 1978. Worried poorer residents were being priced out, LaSalle and several other area churches bought stakes in the property to set aside affordable housing units. But when the covenants expired and the new primary developer wanted to sell, the churches negotiated for more affordable units in the new development. In exchange, they had to relinquish their shares in the property; each church walked away with $1.6 million.

“Pretty good for a deal you did back in 1978, huh?” Traux said.

Immediately after checks were issued, Traux said half of the congregation signed up to pool their money for high-impact projects, plotting ideas on whiteboards in the church's basement.

"A few guys want to start a credit union after seeing the poor get hurt by predatory lending; another group is looking at a program for LGBT youth," Traux said. "If you can dream it up, it’s down there on that board."

Former LaSalle elder Paul Hettinga said he plans to pool his $500 with checks from a group of other members, to create a "dream fund" that can help struggling entrepreneurs get small business loans at low or no interest. They plan to couple the fund with job training to help members of the community be more successful in getting a job or running a business.

“One of the things I’ve noticed over the years, especially at LaSalle: Once you start living creatively and generously, it’s contagious," Hettinga said. "Once you do a little of it, you’ll be looking to do more of it."

Member Rob Austin and his husband both received checks. Along with donating to local efforts like the anti-violence group CeaseFire, Austin is considering how their money can best support at-risk or homeless LGBT teens in Chicago: "My husband and I have both been blessed with families that have been nothing but supportive, but not everyone has that."

Nestled in Chicago's tony Gold Coast neighborhood, just blocks from where the infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects once stood, the LaSalle congregation is a diverse mix of members who range from the homeless to the well-heeled, according to Traux. Needier members who chose to use the money on themselves were not violating the spirit of the experiment, she said.

"I know one woman for sure who needed it to pay rent. She felt sheepish about it, but I assured her that sometimes these are the blessings we’re seeking," Traux said. "We’re praying ‘How am I going to make rent this month?' and this [gift] is what we’re seeking."

When a homeless congregant was taken in by a scam and lost $100, Traux was matter-of-fact.

"We talked about it. He feels embarrassed, but this is part the story," she said. "Sometimes we get hoodwinked. Sometimes we gather with others. Sometimes we go it alone. We have an entire array of the human experience here."

"Our fundamental belief is that everyone in the neighborhood matters and that our diversity in the neighborhood is an asset -- and that asset can be enhanced if we interact with each other,” said member Charlie Branda, who used her $500 as seed money for a fund-matching campaign benefitting Art on Sedgwick. The young arts organization is geared toward uniting the neighborhoods economically and racially diverse residents.

The $500 sums make the congregations' good deeds quantifiable, but Traux said she hopes the "Loaves and Fishes" checks show congregants to power of giving not merely money, but self.

"We've been granted so much power to bring forth light -- to love and to give," Traux said, stressing the importance of human kindness compared to cold hard cash. "How much more good could we effect if we used our lives? [This experiment] might help people see, 'Man, I have such great capacity. I have such great power in my life. I'd like to use it for good.'"

Niykee Heaton's 'Bad Intentions' Reveal The Struggles Behind Her Best Intentions

Wed, 2014-10-01 12:33
"So, your 'Bad Intentions' EP dropped today and it has been absolutely killing it," I say to 19-year-old rising singer-songwriter Niykee Heaton in the HuffPost office on Sept. 23. "It’s currently number six on the Top-10 charts for iTunes and has already topped the Billboard + Twitter Trending 140 chart."

With a somewhat detached gaze, Heaton said, "It's crazy. I didn't expect it all."

I don't mean to portray her demeanor as a blasé response that's rooted in arrogance. If anything, her poise was the nervous realization of achieving a goal that was never set. Little to no money was spent on any promotional material leading to the EP's release -- partly a strategy by label All Def Digital, founded by Def Jam-founder Russell Simmons, entrepreneur Steve Rifkind and film director/producer Brian Robbins -- relying entirely on persistent self-promotion on social accounts by Heaton and her manager, Lauren Pisciotta. And while Heaton is extremely grateful for everyone purchasing and listening to her music, she isn't getting lost in the numbers.

Wielding turn-up jams like "Champagne" and "Villa" in the same space as the somber "Sober" and mid-tempo "Rolling Stone," Heaton's EP offers a significant variety for a debut, all held together by her vocals, most ravishing in her lower register. Discussing her rapid surge to popularity, Heaton opens up about her childhood struggles, her promise to a lost sibling and her favorite lyrics from the EP.

Do you have any idea of what might have propelled the album? You’ve had a number of articles written leading up to the EP.
BuzzFeed was the biggest, but I think I owe the most to my fanbase. They are so crazy. They are so insane.

When did that really start to build? Was it around the time of your “Love Sosa” cover that you noticed?
That was when everything kind of blew up. Before that, I had a number of videos on YouTube with 45 to 100 views. It was “Love Sosa” that got picked up by WorldStar, the day before my 18th birthday, and it was crazy. I didn’t know what WorldStar was, but my name was on it. I owe everything to them because that was the first community to really see me. The hip-hop, urban community I owe everything to.

You’re part of the YouTube generation where you establish yourself just by putting up your own videos of yourself. How do you establish and distinguish yourself as an artist outside of those videos.
The thing that has always been important to me is that people know me as a writer. I’ve been writing since I was 5 years old, and it’s always been my main thing. I never thought that I was going to be known for singing because I didn’t have that much confidence in my voice, but I always knew I was going to be a writer. When I was doing covers and getting known for it, it was cool, but I didn’t want people to think, “Oh, she’s a cover artist.” A lot of YouTube artists get their shit professionally filmed and edited, but, to me, that’s so corny. I kept it organic and just used my iPhone. I feel like doing that helped me because people didn’t know me as a professionally YouTube cover artist. And just putting in my own originals and letting people know I’m a songwriter, I’m an artist, made that transition a little easier. Even though a lot of people knew me from Instagram -- they thought I was an Instagram model. So I would have my bikini selfies, but I would also put a new clip of a song I was writing.

Your Instagram has definitely played a role in you getting some attention. As an artist, where do you see the balance in projecting your personal life with your art?
I think it’s important to never overshadow it. If I was just nonstop posting sexy pictures and there was no music to match up with it, that would be a problem. But I think it’s very important to take advantage of your social platforms. Before even my YouTube account, I was going to open mics and driving hours to creepy bars and begging them to let me play and doing dumb contests, and it wasn’t getting me anywhere.

Based off of my image on Instagram, people thought I was this girl who was trying to use her appearance to get far. I never understood that because I was always the ugly duckling. I was the girl in high school who was a complete outcast, so I’ve never thought of myself as a thirst trap, so it was weird to hear that from people.

There’s a good variation of sound on your EP. “Champagne” is a club-ready track, and then you have “Sober” and “Bad Intentions,” which are more somber. What inspires this variation?
My music is a direct reflection of who I am. My writing is everything to me because that’s all I had growing up. I had a really tough childhood and at a point when I was very young, I sort just stopped speaking because I stuttered. I was in an environment where no one was paying attention to me, I was very isolated, so when people talked to me, I would talk as fast as I could so that they could hear me. Trying to talk so fast, I developed a terrible stutter. The only way I could get out was through my writing, so I was this 5-year-old with these journals of poetry. In elementary school they would tell us to write a poem about our dog, and kids would write, “I like dogs, they are nice,” and I wrote a poem based on the Tom Waits’ song “Rain Dogs,” and my teacher is like, “What the fuck is wrong with her?” I was that complete weirdo.

Each song is a piece of my life. “Sober” is about my father. Both of my parents were raging alcoholics, and my father still is and my sister’s dying wish was, “Dad, can you please get sober?” And I remember being in the hospital room when I was 12, the day that she died, and him going up to her and putting his hand on her shoulder and promising her that he would get sober. The fact that he couldn’t do it, and that it was his own inner demons and it wasn’t about her. “Rolling Stone” is just about past relationships, how someone could love me even though I’m so damaged. Those emotions are so genuine and so that’s why each song isn’t the same mood.

I don’t mean to press too much, but could expand a little more on your childhood?
When I was born, my sister was already sick. She was 9 years older, but was diagnosed with cancer when she was 3. Her whole life was being sick and I witnessed all of it, so all of my childhood was watching her die. My brother was a little bit older and he was going through the same things, but he didn’t take the route I did. He turned to drugs and alcohol because he wasn’t getting the attention that he needed as a child either, so I watched that happen. I was like, “Okay, someone needs to be the hero here. I can’t be the problem child, I’m not the sick one.” So I became the silent hero.

I had to grow up super fast. At 5 years old I was already an adult, and I thought very differently. When kids asked if I wanted to come hang out and play, I was like, “No, I think I’m going to watch ‘Law & Order: SVU.’ I don’t really have time to play.” I wanted to have friends, but I thought so differently that I couldn’t be a kid. My sister and my mom were always in the hospital, my dad was always drunk, the rest of my family was in South Africa so they were never around. I was always alone, so I would just write all the time. It’s kind of sad, but if I didn’t go through all of that shit, I wouldn’t be the artist that I am.

And to say that it created the artist you are, it isn't about right or wrong, but the reality of things as they happened outside of your control. Now that you have this platform, how does it feel to put out these songs where you can embody all these things you have been keeping to yourself for so many years and the see people responding and connecting to them?
When I came in to this I never had any idea of wanting to win a VMA or hitting top 10 on the Billboard charts. The only reason I wanted to do this was because I wanted my music to make an impact. Even though music is the gift that I have to work with, the night that my sister passed, everyone was going up to her to say goodbye, and I remember going up to her and holding her hand. I just kind of promised her -- I didn’t understand why I got to live and she didn’t -- my promise to her was that I wouldn’t just live for me, but also that I would live for her too. My goal is to be the angel that saves someone else’s life, even though I couldn’t save hers. When I go to my Instagram messages and there’s a 13-year-old girl [who] Sharpied my lyrics on her arm where she had cut herself, that’s the most amazing thing.

Do you have any plans to collaborate with any artists in the near future?
Ever since the “Love Sosa” cover, rappers have been reaching out. Pretty much every song I covered, the artist would reach out. The first was 2 Chainz, he reached out at the very start. But right as I started doing this is when Miley Cyrus came out with her new thing, and she started collaborated with all these rappers. I was like, “Cool, a white girl with blond hair, singing and she has all these rappers on her songs. Fuck.” Because I love rap music, so that was my first thought. So we held out on all features. I would much rather my music be true and have someone on it because I have a connection with that person, not because I paid them a lot of money to do a feature on it.

Speaking generally, I would love to work with Nicki Minaj because she’s my favorite female artist. I really respect artistry and craft and she’s all about that. I would love to do something with Drake and Kanye. And then I would love to do a feature with Bob Dylan. I know he would never do it, but something that’s unheard of, something special.

Niykee Heaton's favorite lyrics from "Bad Intentions":

I’m still lying awake by your side, and even though I know I shouldn’t I’m feeding the monsters I’m afraid to fight - "Sober"

"This line represents the meaning of this entire song. I wrote this song, literally, from my father’s point of view regarding his alcoholism and his inability to achieve sobriety. It signifies being so close to someone, trying to love them so badly, but your demons are stronger than your intentions. And it’s easier to give into those monsters, rather than to defy them."

Is it too late? I’m so afraid. This poison, I need a drink to spite you. Will you ravage me? - "Champagne"

"The meaning behind 'Champagne' is the act of substituting the loss or pain of something with another, more destructive replacement. Trying to mend a broken heart with drugs and alcohol, etc. This line is important to the song because I’m saying I’m in so much pain and its gone too far, so ill consume this poison to spite you, when in the end, all I’m doing is destroying myself."

Love me even though I’m a motherfuckin’ rolling stone. - "Rolling Stone"

"I wrote the song, 'Rolling Stone' about finding that someone who can look past all the faults and flaws in you and love you even though you may think you’re so damaged. In regards to Bob Dylan’s classic, 'Like A Rolling Stone,' he describes someone 'lost,' and 'a complete unknown.' To love someone completely, despite their defects, is incomprehensible and so beautiful."

I know we’ve made a graveyard of this all. I know I don’t feel too sober know. I wanna lie awake with your black soul, count your fears if you let me. Baby, I just want your damn bad intentions. - "Bad Intentions"

"I wrote 'Bad Intentions' about my own internal struggle about loving someone else and letting them love me back. I feel that because of what I’ve been through, and the way that my pain has changed me, that I am apprehensive and slightly incapable of loving someone else fully and completely. In this line, it is the turning point, or moment of clarity when I see that someone else may be just as damaged as I am, and if I can learn to love their weaknesses, then perhaps they might just be able to love mine."

Before The Beat Drops is an artist introduction series dedicated to bringing you the rising acts before they make their break. Our unlimited access to music of all kinds is both amazing and overwhelming. Keeping your playlists fresh, we'll be doing the leg work to help you discover your next favorite artist.

Illinois' gubernatorial candidates in their own words

Wed, 2014-10-01 12:29
Illinois voters have a difficult choice to make in less than five weeks: Who will become the next governor?

Reboot Illinois teamed up with the Better Government Association to ask the three gubernatorial candidates - Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn, Republican Bruce Rauner and Libertarian Chad Grimm - their thoughts on some of the most important issues facing the state.

Writes Madeleine Doubek:

While the barrage of campaign ads filled with personal attacks might make a voter feel as though she or he is contemplating a muddy mess, the questionnaire provides a clear view of some significant differences on the critical challenges in Illinois.

See for yourself what our would-be governors have to say, or refuse to say in our Reboot Illinois/Better Government Association questionnaire. We believe it will help you make your choice for our future in Illinois.

See the rest of her thoughts about the questionnaire results at Reboot Illinois.

On the questionnaire, the candidates discussed why they want to run for governor.

From Quinn:

But there's much more work to do.

That's why in the State of the State, I laid out a 5-year blueprint for economic growth in Illinois. If we follow this blueprint, we'll do three things: create more jobs, deliver stronger education and build an economy that works for everyone. I am running for a second term to finish the job and reform Illinois for the next generation.

From Rauner:

I love our state and believe we have incredible potential to lead and prosper again. Unfortunately, we've entered a downward spiral as a state, but I know we can turn it around. I am laser focused on four priorities to do that. First, we have to revitalize our economy and attract good paying jobs...Second, we need to drive results for taxpayers...Third, we need to dramatically improve education...Last, we need to enact term limits on the career politicians and make politics about public service again.

From Grimm:

I am tired of living in the most corrupt state in the union. You can barely fit a thin piece of paper between the ideology of the republicans and democrats. They are both elected by special interest groups, but my only interest is the people of Illinois!

See the rest of their answers at Reboot Illinois.

Getting To Work: Improving Public Transportation For America's Workers, Employers And Economies (VIDEO)

Wed, 2014-10-01 12:01
Watch Live at 12:00 - 1:30 pm EST.

During this Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program event, panelists will discuss the specific transportation challenges workers face; creative and cost-effective solutions being explored and implemented across the country; and examples of how communities, organizations and employers have mobilized to address this critical workforce issue.

Quiz: How Well Do You Know Illinois? Test Your Knowledge Here

Wed, 2014-10-01 11:47
You probably know which presidents are from Illinois, where the capitol is located and which great lake forms our eastern border. But how much do you really know about the Land of Lincoln? Can you name the state bird or how many counties are in the state?

Test your knowledge about our state with this quiz and then see more information about the answers at Reboot Illinois.

P.S. Detailed information on each question is listed below the quiz in case you'd like to learn more, but no cheating! :)

Subscribe to our mailing list

See more about Illinois' statehood history, its musical inhabitants and past capitols at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Like Beauty and the Beast? This is the Illinois colleges' version
The BGA's Private Eye is turning over stones in Cook County
Don't wait until the last minute-make sure you know where your candidates stand on the issues you care about
Let 'em know what you want! Sound Off tool to talk to your representatives about education funding
Bet these college students are upset by big tuition hikes for this school year

The U.S. Is Home To Nearly One-Third Of The World's Female Prisoners

Wed, 2014-10-01 11:36
The U.S. has a serious female prisoner problem.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, there are 201,200 women incarcerated in the U.S. -- almost one-third of the world's documented female prison population as of 2013.

An infographic designed by Niall McCarthy, charted by Statista, shows how the population of women prisoners in the U.S. compares to those in other countries -- and the results are pretty shocking.

So, why does America imprison so many women? Mandatory sentencing minimums have led to prison overcrowding in general. An estimated two-thirds of women incarcerated in federal prisons are serving time for nonviolent, drug-related crimes.

Female prisoners are disproportionately women of color, and one study suggests that 44 percent of female prisoners in the U.S. don't have a high school diploma or GED. Incarcerating women also plays a huge role in breaking up families -- 64 percent of female state prisoners lived with and cared for their minor children before their imprisonment.

24 Things That You're Only Proud Of In College

Wed, 2014-10-01 11:32
College is a time to explore yourself and the world around you. It's about figuring out what you and life are all about. But let's be honest, our standards during college were relatively low. So many of the things that happened back then go into our personal "lock boxes" never to be spoken of again.

Until now!

These are things most college students are proud to brag about. And then you grow up, you become an adult, and these same things just don't carry the same amount of pride that they once did.

Like ...

Succeeding without doing any work at all.

You passed your classes without attending and sometimes without buying the required textbook. An interesting strategy.

Showing off your beer pong setup.

But perhaps it led to a bright future in engineering.

Waking up in a random bed after a night of drinking.

Throwing up and rallying back to drink more.

Getting up before noon on the weekends.

11 am? What an early bird!

"Cooking" Kraft mac and cheese all by yourself.

The secret ingredient is poor.

Improvising in the kitchen.

Bam! What's all the racket in there?

Pulling all-nighters.

Asking your parents for money.

Thanks, mom and dad!

Showing off your fake ID.

"What, it's totally me! I got a haircut and lost a lot of ... nose."

Stringing up Christmas lights in your room year round.

The night-light for college kids.

Displaying the street signs you and your friends had stolen.

Bragging about your one night stand.

Dazzling people with your homemade bong.

Bong, James Bong. (Joke h/t to RoarLikeBear.)

Sneaking onto the roof of a building and leaving your mark.

Having food delivered in class or the library.

Smuggling alcohol where alcohol was not allowed.

Pretty sneaky.

Claiming any furniture that was totally free.

Awful? Or pure JEAN-ius?

Binging on some sugary, caffeinated, alcoholic monstrosity.

Beer bonging it up.

Painting your body up for the big game.

Our bodies all looked a lot better back then.

Knowing everyone at the bar.

Showing off your totally tasteless Halloween costume.

(Psst, she's a tampon. Yeah, we know...)

Getting your party getting broken up by the cops.

But now, adult you is just like ...

55 Colleges Sign Up For Campus Mental Health Review With Jed Foundation

Wed, 2014-10-01 10:17
Fifty-five colleges and universities have signed on to participate in a program run by two prominent nonprofits to examine how well the schools are handling student mental health on campus, the organizations plan to announce Wednesday.

The schools on the list are taking part in the The Jed & Clinton Health Matters Campus Program, a partnership of the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes mental health at colleges and universities, and The Clinton Foundation Health Matters Initiative, which is part of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. The program is designed to help universities prevent students from dying by prescription drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, or by suicide.

As part of the program, each college will conduct a self-assessment survey of its programming around mental health promotion and substance abuse and suicide prevention. The program will provide assessment tools and reports to the schools over a four-year period.

John MacPhee, executive director and CEO of The Jed Foundation, explained to The Huffington Post that eventually the schools will work to implement policies and practices to address a checklist laid out by the Jed Foundation. The program's framework encompasses everything from medical leave policies and functional "at-risk" or "behavioral intervention" teams, to making sure that campus housing facilities include features to hamper suicide attempts.

The list of schools, which may grow, includes elite and Ivy League universities, state schools and lesser-known institutions.

"We are thrilled to announce the first group of schools in the nation to join The Campus Program, and to celebrate these institutions for their recognition of mental health as an essential element of student education, development and maturation," said Rain Henderson, CEO of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, in a statement.

Participating schools may or may not have exceptional policies and procedures already in place to deal with student mental health, but the goal is ultimately that these schools will represent the gold standard for such policies in higher education.

"We're not saying these schools have the best programs in place today, but these are schools that are making the commitment to enter the process of continued improvement," said MacPhee.

The Jed Foundation also said it is working to identify those schools, on or off the list, that it believes can model the best mental health services.

"Our hope is most of the schools -- thousands of schools nationwide -- will join the program and participate in this systematic process of looking at the programming and sharing the learnings across the schools," MacPhee said. "If we see a great program at one of these universities, we'll be sharing it with all the schools. A big part of what we want to do is socialize that."

According to the National Survey of College Counseling Centers, sponsored by the American College Counseling Association, more than 9 in 10 administrative heads of college and university counseling centers have reported an increase in the number of students who have come to campus counseling centers for help with psychological problems, and nearly half have noticed an increase in student self-injury behaviors, like cutting. At the same time, administrators say they're under more stress themselves, because of the increased demand on staff time due to the "growing complexity of client problems."

Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, told HuffPost that mental health on campus has become one of the top concerns nationwide for college officials, along with sexual assault.

A complete list of the initial 55 colleges and universities participating in the Campus Program:

Alfred University
Aurora University
Azusa Pacific University
Barnard College
Boston University
Butler University
California Institute of Technology
California State University - Chico
Cameron University
Columbia University
Connecticut College
Cornell University
Davidson College
Fordham University
Georgetown University
Indiana University
Marymount Manhattan College
Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Monmouth University
Montana State University
New York University
Northwestern University
Oklahoma Baptist University
Oklahoma City University
Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology
Pace University
Pennsylvania State University - Altoona
Pennsylvania Highlands Community College
Pomona College
Princeton University
Saint Francis University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Southeastern Oklahoma State University
St. Cloud State University
Stevens Institute of Technology
State University College at Geneseo, State University of New York
State University College at Oneonta, State University of New York
The Ohio State University
Three Rivers Community College
Tulane University
University at Albany, State University of New York
University of Arizona
University of California – Los Angeles
University of Central Oklahoma
University of Illinois - Champagne Urbana
University of Pennsylvania
University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
University of South Carolina
University of West Georgia
Viterbo University
Wake Forest University
Washington University in St. Louis
Western Oklahoma State College
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Yeshiva University

Illinoisans have been trying to reform the pension system for almost 100 years

Tue, 2014-09-30 12:14
The condition of Illinois' failing public pension systems has been topic No. 1 in state government for the last five years. Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President John Cullertain Eric Madiar recently discovered that Illinois officials, legislators and citizens have been trying to reform the state's pension system for almost a century.

He writes:

In 1917, the Illinois Pension Laws Commission warned State leaders in a report that the retirement systems were nearing "insolvency" and "moving toward crisis" because of the State's failure to properly fund the systems. This nearly century old report also recommended action so that the pension obligations of that generation would not be passed on to future generations.

The 1917 report's warning and funding recommendation went unheeded, as were similar warnings and funding recommendations found in decades of public pension reports issued before and after the Pension Clause was added to the Illinois Constitution in 1970.

These reports consistently have warned the public and lawmakers for decades of the dire consequences of the State's continued underfunding, and of the significant burden that unfunded pension liabilities posed for taxpayers. They have also been advised that the Pension Clause bars the legislature from unilaterally cutting pension benefits of retirees and current employees.

Read the rest of Madiar's thoughts at Reboot Illinois.

Illinois' pension crisis is only one of many issues facing the state that our elected officials will have to deal with in the coming years. As the election approaches, choosing the right people to deal with those issues becomes a major responsibility for all Illinois voters. Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek takes a look at what voters and candidates should be considering in the coming weeks.

Education Department Awards $75 Million In Innovation Grants

Tue, 2014-09-30 11:52
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Education Department has awarded $75 million to 24 colleges and universities to foster innovation in college value and efficiency.

The new competition is called "First in the World" and 500 schools applied. Applicants submitted proposals with plans in areas such as improving graduation rates, making it smoother to transfer between schools and increasing enrollment in science and technology programs. For example, Purdue University in Indiana says it will use its winning $2.3 million grant to redesign large lecture courses in areas such as science to more fully engage students.

And, in New York, LaGuardia Community College says it will use $2.9 million it was awarded to strengthen its curriculum to better assess students and track their progress.