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University of Texas to offer free tuition for low-income students

The university will also offer partial financial aid to middle-income students.

Image source: Wimedia Commons
  • The University of Texas at Austin will completely cover tuition for some qualifying low-income students, and partially cover tuition for some middle-income students.
  • Students hoping to benefit from the program will still need to achieve the grades necessary to be accepted into the university.
  • The move comes at a time when student loan debt is a key issue among 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.



The University of Texas at Austin plans to create a program that will make tuition more affordable for low- and middle-income students.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously voted to establish a $160 million endowment that, as Forbes reports, will:

  • Completely cover tuition and fees for students from families that earn up to $65,000.
  • Provide some financial aid to students from families with incomes of up to $125,000.

Only in-state students will be eligible for the program, which starts in the fall of 2020. The program is expected to completely cover tuition (but not board or living expenses) for some 8,600 low-income undergraduates, and about 5,700 middle-income students. The average in-state tuition at UT Austin is $10,314.

"Recognizing both the need for improved access to higher education and the high value of a UT Austin degree, we are dedicating a distribution from the Permanent University Fund to establish an endowment that will directly benefit students and make their degrees more affordable," Chairman Kevin Eltife said in a statement.

Students must first be accepted into UT Austin — one of the nation's most selective public universities — to benefit from the program. For context, Texas high school students must graduate in the top 6 percent of their class to be automatically accepted by the university, while students with lesser grades typically have to compensate with a high ACT score.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times editorial board said society has an incentive to help high-achieving, underprivileged students attend university:

"If you qualify on both accounts, UT should be especially interested in enrolling you because it means you overcame more challenges to make those high grades than a rich kid who made high grades. Your demonstrated achievement suggests that by helping you, UT helps us all, and that by not helping you, UT and society in general run the risk of squandering your talents.

"Philosophically, this program should appeal to Texans of all political persuasions because it's a hand up, not a handout."

National student loan debt

Most 2020 Democratic presidential candidates want to make it financially easier for students to attend college, and for borrowers to pay off loans. Some candidates — among them, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — want to make college completely free. Setting aside the economic implications of such policies, it's easy to see why some candidates and many Americans want to tear down the financial hurdles that come with obtaining higher education.

According to Student Loan Hero and other 2019 statistics:

  • Some 44 million Americans collectively owe $1.56 trillion in student loan debt.
  • American student loan debt now represents a bigger debt category than both credit cards and auto loans.
  • The average monthly student loan payment is $393.
  • 11.5 percent of student loans have been delinquent or in default for more than 90 days.

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Tuberculosis vaccine shows promise in reducing COVID deaths

A new study suggests that a century-old vaccine may reduce the severity of coronavirus cases.

Closeup of a BCG vaccination.

Credit: Kekyalyaynen.
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds a country's tuberculosis BCG vaccination is linked to its COVID-19 mortality rate.
  • More BCG vaccinations is connected to fewer severe coronavirus cases.
  • The study is preliminary and more research is needed to support the findings.
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Human brains remember certain words more easily than others

A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.

Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
  • Some faces are also easier to commit to memory.
  • Scientists suggest that these words serve as semantic bridges when the brain is searching for a memory.

Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

An odd find

Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

Why understanding memory matters

person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

Party chat

Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

spinning 3D model of a brain

Temporal lobes

Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

Seek, find

Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

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