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N.Y. Times' Education Life': A Welcome Visitor Every 3 Months

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The New York Times published its latest "Education Life" section on Sunday. If the Times is the "Gray Lady" (or "Old Gray Lady") of journalism, the quarterly education section is like a slightly eccentric aunt who visits you every three months.

She has been around the block and back. She is erudite and sparks some thoughtful conversation. She is a bit underappreciated. And she comes bearing gifts in large and small packages, no matter what the season.

Education Life is always smartly written and thought-provoking. It is certainly underappreciated in that it flies well below the radar of other education coverage, even in its own parent newspaper. 

My recollection is that the section has been around for at least some 30 years. Other major papers have had similar sections, which from a business standpoint were a good vehicle for education ads, naturally. But not every paper has been committed to putting quality content into such vehicles. The Chicago Tribune, for one, had a periodic education section that was full of editorial drivel.

In 2005, the Times retooled Education Life from a more general focus on education issues at all levels to a "focus on higher education and practical advice to help parents and college-age students navigate through today's higher education system," as a New York Times Co. press release put it at the time.

Among the "gifts" the section has brought in recent issues are these feature articles:

• An adaptation from a book by a college student who lives out of a van to keep down his higher education debt.

• Pieces last August about revising the SAT and ACT, as well as a buzz-creating story about the efforts of Georgetown University, the Jesuit-run institution in the nation's capital, to become the most gay-friendly Catholic college in the country.

— A package in the November issue on "The Disrupters," such as a piece about online learning as an agent of change for colleges, and another about the graduates of the first free online university.

The latest Education Life section, from the Feb. 9 edition of the Times, brings a variety of features. For example, there are interesting small items in the "Blackboard" section. Also with each edition comes the quarterly "Pop Quiz." Here's a sample question:

Which institution of higher learning was the first in the United States to have the word "university" in its name?

a. Boston University

b. Columbia University

c. University of Pennsylvania

d. Harvard University

You'll have to look in the section for the answer, but the institution in question opened as an academy in 1751, graduated its first class as a college in 1757, and was chartered by its state as a university in 1779.

This quarter's feature articles include the cover story on "bystander intervention," the idea that third parties can help block bad behavior such as sexual assaults on campus by getting involved. That piece is by Michael Winerip, the veteran Times reporter who has written widely on education and parenting and is a frequent contributor to Education Life.

Other features include a look at financial and other troubles facing historically black Howard University in Washington, by veteran journalist and higher education integration pioneer Charlayne Hunter-Gault; and a piece on the first Muslim college fraternity in the United States, by Kyle Spencer.

Once again, a lively mix. And in case you missed the Sunday Times, Education Life has a home on the paper's Web site. So you don't have to wait three months to check in on your loving auntie.

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