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Online education enhances traditional college experience, no replacement

December 6, 2012
Information compiled by Sloan/Babson 2011 report on higher education.

Information compiled by Sloan/Babson 2011 report on higher education. Click here or an interactive graph.

The increased popularity of online courses challenges traditional institutions of higher education and has provoked faculty at Elon University to revise its relationship to online education.

Elon University’s Office of Academic Affairs appointed a committee in 2011 to review the university’s current online course offering and challenge the decision of a 2003 committee. The 2003 committee concluded Elon University can only offer online courses during the summer semester.

Nevertheless, Connie Book, associate provost and one of the two administrative leaders of the committee, determined the existing policy restricting. They published the report in spring of 2012.

“We’re creating a home for online education where we can develop our faculty and integrate it into our curriculum,” Book said. “Our hands were tied with the 2003 decision and we decided to come back to the faculty and ask for more flexibility.”

While Book does not propose online education effectively replaces face-to-face learning, she recognizes a trajectory of growth toward Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).

Dianne Ford, serial and documentation librarian at Elon, speaks positively about online education. While working toward her master’s degree 10 years ago, she completed a number of her courses online.

“I loved working at my own convenience,” said Ford, who worked a full-time job while going to school. Nevertheless, she had previously attended classes on-site and was already familiar with the faculty and some other students.

Although she has since earned the degree, Ford continues taking classes online to advance her foreign language skills.

We’re creating a home for online education where we can develop our faculty and integrate it into our curriculum – Connie Book, associate provost.

“I expect to continue taking online courses my entire life,” she said.

Book has also experimented with online courses and has enrolled in a class in Coursera, a for-profit business that allows established institutions to offer courses online. Her experience on the online forum demonstrates shared attractions between traditional college and online higher education.

She identified three reasons individuals typically attend college, and online education advances one of the motives.

“The second one is to preserve our democracy, and I think that’s why Coursera is of value because it brings great thinking to the table,” Book said. “It takes the ivory tower and makes it more accessible.”

Junior Jeff Stern’s enrollment in the MOOC supports that of Book.

“Coursera is an incredible accomplishment in the way they have allowed technology to facilitate education on a global scale,” he said.

Stern has participated in Google hangouts, which allow him to interact with his virtual classmates and share ideas with students throughout the world.

Furthermore, the program allows him to take classes that do not fit into his schedule at Elon.

“It is definitely a great compliment to my education,” Stern said.

But, even within a traditional college environment, one Elon professor found an avenue to integrate online forums and into the traditional college experience.

Kenn Gaither, associate dean of the School of Communications and associate professor, teaches Public Opinion through Media and meets in Second Life for one class period each semester.

The class explores to what extent public opinion forms as a result of social media, which allows discussion to cross geographic boundaries.

“What better way to see how that works that to do that in a virtual environment,” Gaither said.

The online interaction enhances the students’ study, but does not serve as a substitute for face-to-face interaction.

“It is very difficult to suggest it is the same experience you get in the classroom because there is a certain climate that cannot be recreated,” Gaither said.

Gaither’s opinion is in accordance with the Elon committee recommendation, which advocates for a hybrid of online education and face-to-face interaction during the traditional academic year.

Although the recommendation argued online education is not less engaging, Stern cautioned want of face-to-face interaction has the potential to decrease students’ motivation. With respect to Coursera, students do not receive a grade or pay for the class.

Senior Natalie Allison recognized the same obstacle.

“Since I’ve technically been enrolled in Coursera classes during the academic year, I haven’t been able to set aside much time for the classes, which seems natural sine there isn’t anything at stake,” Allison said. “It’s free, I wouldn’t be getting real college credit for tem and there’s not a professor I have to face.”

Still, she agrees it is a positive supplement to traditional higher education. The committee recommendation aligns with this theory and purposes Elon reverse the 2003 decision and instead embrace a blended model.

“We’re trying to remove the barriers for good ideas to be tested and piloted,” Book said.


Elon community divided on legalization of marijuana

November 28, 2012

Wendy Foster has witnessed her cousin’s immersion into heavier drugs. The experience informs her opposition to the legalization of marijuana.

“Kids think marijuana is the least of the evil, but it could lead to heavier drugs,” the local resident said.

The Nov. 6 election resulted in the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, which places the state law in direct conflict with that of the United States. As a result, debate surrounding the use of marijuana continues to surge in the country.

But Foster is not alone in her opinion. Maggie Bailey, a freshman at Elon University identifies with those against the legalization of the drug.

Pew Research Center data indicates rising support for legalization of marijuana.

Bailey said she considered marijuana a gateway drug and would increase the experimentation with other illegal substances.

“If marijuana is legal then more people would then have access and become more involved in drug culture and meet other people who have access to other illegal drugs,” she said.

While freshman Zoe Heiberg recognizes their argument and acknowledges people associate marijuana with a gateway drug, she does not believe it is an appropriate categorization.

“I know so many people who smoke, but set limits,” she said, referring to individuals who use marijuana, but do not other drugs.

Although Foster and Bailey indicates dangers associated with legalization of marijuana, senior Avery Lucas classifies legal substances as more dangerous.

“Marijuana is less harmful than cigarettes and cigarettes have been legal for more than a century,” Lucas declared.

Additionally, sophomore Kate Jablonski said she does not believe the legalization of the drug would modify individual’s habits with respect to marijuana.

Although Heiberg supports the legalization of marijuana, she said she is in favor of regulation concerning individual’s use.

“There should be rules in place if it is legalized, so it isn’t abused,” she said.

She expressed concern about those who would elect to drive under the influence and limitations regarding testing drivers.

Lucas argued the population’s favorability toward the legalization of marijuana should determine legislation.

According to Pew Research Center, in 2011 45 percent of the American population supports the legalization of marijuana compared to 50 percent who oppose it. The survey also indicates men are more supportive of the legalization of the use of marijuana and the majority of those surveyed in the 18-29 age think it should be legal.

Hurrican Sandy motivates Elon to extend application deadline

November 16, 2012

Hurricane Sandy’s impact reached the doors of college admissions offices.

Elon University’s admissions demonstrated sensitivity toward those affected by Hurricane Sandy and extended the deadline for early decision and early action applicants.

“It shows we’re in tune with what is going on in people’s lives,” said Greg Zaiser, vice president of admissions and financial planning.

The early decision deadline moved from Nov. 1 to Nov. 5, and the university received 1,400 applicants. Additionally, the early action deadline, the most popular deadline under which students apply, extended until Nov. 12.

The areas impacted, which include New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania account for an estimated 30 percent of Elon applicants, according to Zaiser.

Nevertheless, he said the university would have extended the deadline regardless of which area was hit out of concern for those suffering in our nation.

“It’s just responsible,” he said. “More than anything it’s to be sensitive. These people are suffering beyond belief. That goal is to be sensitive to people.”

Faculty members in admissions communicated the extension using social media platforms, as well as the university website. Furthermore, regional representatives informed people in person following the storm.

“In a very electronic age, we still did grassroots to make sure the staff knew immediately,” Zaiser said.

Although the university initiated the deadline extension, Zaiser said he his mindful that Elon still offers a regular deadline. He advised a student to take advantage of the final deadline rather than rushing through the application after experiencing nine days without power.

Nationally, university admissions offices have introduced similar practices, he said.

In previous years snow storms have provoked university admissions to change application deadlines.

“Weather wreaks havoc on deadlines,” Zaiser said.

While such events usually occurred during the winter months, the fall has exhibited destructive patterns.

Blessings for Numen Lumen center communicate religious diversity on campus

November 16, 2012

Shereen Elgamal, assistant professor of Arabic, participated in the first ceremony and represented the Islamic tradition. Photo by Melissa Kansky

The series of blessings for the Numen Lumen building demonstrates the facility’s function and dedication to interfaith dialogue.

“It’s a visible way of demonstrating these are communities on our campus that take ownership of this building and want to see its mission succeed,” said Lauren Emery, associate chaplain at Elon University.

Following College Coffee, a different faith community will offer a blessing each week for the building that expresses the hope for its protection, security of its inhabitants and success for its purpose. The series of blessings will continue until the end of the semester, and the Multi-Faith Center will open January 2013.

The prayers offered will be displayed in the building upon its completion.

“The main inspiration to involve our community is to welcome the building and to envision what it might mean for us here at Elon and to involve the community in actual blessings,” said Jan Fuller, university chaplain.

The ceremony indicates the shared ownership of the building among everyone on campus, according to Emery.

“This is a place that everyone has a piece of and a hand in it, and that’s why these interfaith blessings are so important,” Emery said. “It’ is everyone’s home.”

Most recently, Jane Wellford, professor of performing arts, recited a blessing on behalf of the Protestant Christian tradition.

Shereen Elgamal, assistant professor of Arabic, participated in the first ceremony and represented the Islamic tradition. The following week Anthony Weston, professor of philosophy, and Dianne Ford, coordinator of serials and government documents in the library, offered a blessing on behalf of nature tradition.

“The name is intentionally nebulous so people who don’t seem themselves in any of these religious blessings can kind of see themselves in that one,” Emery said.

The inclusion of the nature tradition communicates the building is available for people of any faith or of no organized religion, according to Emery.

The Numen Lumen building is scheduled for completion early 2013. Photo by Melissa Kansky.

Furthermore, involving various members of the community illuminates the religious diversity embedded in the institution, Fuller said.

“What I wanted to highlight was we have practitioners, believers and thinkers on our campus that cover all the bases: religious, spiritual and ideological,” Fuller said.

Nevertheless, the building itself denotes the university’s commitment to spiritual life and respect for all faiths, Emery said.

As an alumna, she said she is excited to return to Elon to witness its progress regarding religious diversity.

“A building is a very powerful symbol of this mission,” said the 2008 alumna. “To have it so centrally located on campus shows it’s a huge priority for campus and it’s a really powerful change from where we were. It shows we’re continually investing in it and moving forward.”

Representatives from the Interfaith Youth Core visited Elon and helped the faculty clarify the mission of the Numen Lumen Center.

Following the visit, Elon has identified the building as a place of spiritual formation and exploration; a house of religious, societal and cultural study, emphasizing the advancement of the study of religion in an interdisciplinary manner; a place to develop spiritual life on campus; and a place to increase religious literacy.

Math Tools for Journalists ch. 9-12

November 15, 2012

Numbers help accurately and effectively convey occurrences within the community, such as construction projects, accidents and races. Additionally, knowledge of the metric system allows one to report for an international audience, provided that all countries besides for the United States use the metric system.

Calculating distance, rate and time allows reporters to confirm the accuracy of accident reports and ensure readers receive the correct information. As Kathleen Woodruff Wickham indicates, “the challenge here is to be able to check the work of officials, and to do it with confidence” (122). Knowledge of formulas enable one to calculate the distance, rate or time, provided one knows two of the components in the formula.  The same applies for distance, time and average speed.  Such calculations are used when discussing transportation or competitive races.

Area measurements are used to explain the size of construction projects and buildings relevant to the audience. While Wickham explains analogies are often useful to communicate size, at times the exact measurements are of greater interest to the reader. The journalist needs to determine which is most appropriate in a given situation and know the formulas when the exact numbers are needed.

  • Perimeter is often used when writing about new developments, construction projects and sizes of objects on the ground
  • Circumference is necessary to communicate the perimeter of circular objects.
  • Area is used when discussing real estate and construction

Reporters refer to volume measurements when discussing business, especially to convey the selling price of goods. Units of measurement include cord, ton, barrel and gallon. A cord indicates a measurement of firewood, and a standard cord is 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet high. While “tons” is a unit of measurement, there are three different types of tons: short ton, long ton and metric ton. A short ton equals 2,000 pounds; a long ton equals 2,240 pounds; and a metric ton equals 1,000 kilograms, which translates to 2,204.62 pounds.

As stated above, the metric system is useful when communicating to an international audience or writing about issues pertaining to commerce and science. In the metric system, the meter is the basic unit for length. Other measurements in the system are based on multiples of 10. For example, a centimeter is one-hundredth of a meter, a millimeter is one-thousandth of a meter and a kilometer is 1,000 meters. Wickham provides conversion formulas in “Math Tools for Journalists” to translate metric lengths into American lengths. One should multiply inches by 2.5 to find the number of centimeters. One can also multiply the number of feet by 0.3 to find meters and by 30 to find centimeters.

Stylistic rules also apply to units of measurements.

  • The name of all units start with a lower case letter except for “degree Celsius”
  • Unit symbols are written in lower case, except for liter and Newton
  • Symbols for units are never pluralized
  • In numbers less than one, zero should be written before the decimal point: 0.25

Young voter turnout exhibits increase in national election

November 15, 2012

Younger generations have historically voted in fewer numbers, but the recent elections have witnessed a climb in young voter turnout. President Barack Obama executed a campaign that swallowed voters into the political sphere, and young voter turnout has increased in 2008 and 2012.

Young voters are characterized as voters in the 18-29 age group.

“We have more at stake in these issues than any other generation,” said Andy MacCracken, executive director for National Campus Leadership Council, an organization designed to connect student government presidents to national leaders.

Students matter and they matter not just because they’re the leadership of tomorrow, but it speaks to the affect that we are future homeowners and future employers and future retirees, so it’s important for students to vote. – Andy MacCracken, executive director for National Campus Leadership Council

Prior to the election, Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon University Poll, predicted voters would be less enthusiastic this election. However, young voters represented 19 percent of all those who voted this election, an increase of one percentage point since the previous election.

Nevertheless, the percentage of young voters still falls below the national average for all voters. In contrast, the percentage of voters older than 65 years exceeds that of national voter turnout.

Voter turnout among those 18-29 reached 52 percent during the 2008 election, with an estimated 23 million casting a ballot, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE). In 2012, the number of active young voters increased to 53.7 percent of the young voter population.

“Students matter and they matter not just because they’re the leadership of tomorrow, but it speaks to the affect that we are future homeowners and future employers and future retirees, so it’s important for students to vote,” MacCracken said of the younger generation.

Young voter turnout has demonstrated a trajectory of growth. Turnout in 2008 exhibited an increase of 4 percentage points since the 2004 election and 12 percentage points since the election in 2000, according to the Center.

Attracting the youth vote

Obama’s charisma captured young voters’ attention and largely influenced voter engagement since his entrance into the political arena.

The percentage of young voters who voted Democratic is equal to or greater than that of all voters. Graphic created by Melissa Kansky.

The allure relies on his novelty, according to Fernandez.

“Turnout was higher in 2008 (compared to previous years),” he said. “Why? Barack Obama was younger than the average presidential candidate; he is African-American. That brought a lot of news and attention.”

Nevertheless, Fernandez argued the public’s enchantment with Obama has diminished.

While voter turnout increased, the percentage of young voters who cast a ballot in favor of Obama decreased 6 percent.

An Elon University Poll released in September indicated young voters expressed the least excitement about the 2012 election in comparison to any other age group, perhaps contributing to the headlines’ suggestion of dissolving enthusiasm. According to the poll, 36 percent of likely voters 18-30 years indicated they were “very excited” about the upcoming election, a percentage that lags behind every other age group examined.

But, the increase in young voter turnout during the 2012 election proves enthusiasm is not a direct indication of engagement.

“I think it’s a question of definitions,” MacCracken said.  “I think young people are enthusiastic about making a change in our community and anything that says otherwise is misinterpreting what that level of enthusiasm is.”

Inspiring political engagement

NCLC developed the Campus Vote Challenge to help campus leaders incite a “pro-vote” culture on campus.

“The traditional definition of political engagement is shifting with our generation,” MacCracken explained.

While members of the organization aim to increase voter registration, civic engagement is not limited to voting, said MacCracken, who traveled to various colleges in the United States to advocate for political activity and observe student initiatives. He commended George Mason University for devising media coalitions to translate political jargon into language more manageable for college students and Michigan State students for engaging in local elections and communicating issues especially of interest to the campus community.

“Students are actively talking about elections and are actively engaged in the issues, so when they go to cast a vote they can make an educated vote and know what they’re talking about,” MacCracken said.

His observations of various campus communities show students embrace a more holistic approach to civic engagement.

“It’s been exciting for me to be able to see who these communities are rallying around the election and how different communities are working together and really being active participants and channeling their enthusiasm into the election,” he said.

Although there is evidence of increased political activity among the young voter population, the age group still votes at a rate less than those of other age demographics.

“Young voters represent a voting block that is basically untapped because younger voters vote in fewer numbers than anyone else in the nation,” said Sharon Spray, chair of the political science department and associate professor.

Fernandez attributed the low level of young voter participation to their busy schedules and general detachment from the area in which they live.

“In many places young voters may be new to an area,” he said. “If you’re an Elon student and you moved from Georgia or from Maine, you’re not going to be connected to the governor, the state legislature or the mayor, all of which really create an emphasis to vote.”

Elon University freshman Meghan Slattery, who said she did not believe she was knowledgeable enough about the candidates to vote, exemplifies Fernandez’s declaration. Although she observed her suitemates enthusiasm, she said she did not have enough spare time to learn about the election.

“All my suitemates came from pretty politically active families, and they love watching the debates,” Slattery said. “They’ve been following the election a lot farther back than I have before it got to crunch time.”

Power of the youth vote

Nevertheless, attracting this demographic has contributed to Obama’s victory during both the 2008 and 2012 election. According to research conducted by CIRCLE, the youth vote caused 80 electoral votes to swing in the president’s favor during the most recent election.

The youth vote caused 80 electoral votes to swing in the president’s favor during the most recent election. Graphic by Melissa Kansky.

The Center suggested Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia would likely have been counted among the red states had Obama not received overwhelming support from young voters.

“The mobilization of the vote can have a great impact for any of the candidates,” Spray said.

More recently young voters have leaned Democratic, according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

In 2008, 53 percent of all voters voted in favor of Obama, in comparison to 66 percent of young voters who supported the Democratic candidate. This past election exhibited a similar divide in young voter preferences, with 60 percent voting for the incumbent, compared to the 39 percent who cast a ballot for Romney.

As a result, Fernandez said expanding one’s voting base has proved to be more influential than persuading the small margin of undecided voters.

Demonstrating excitement on campus

The election season generated political discussion throughout Elon’s campus, which witnessed increased activity within political organizations and realized a politically conscious community.

“Students were very excited to vote, especially because it was many students’ first time voting,” said Elon University freshman Marshall Moore. “I don’t know of any students who didn’t vote if they could.”

Elon University’s campus is not reflective of the traditional young voter apathy, according to junior Morgan Pillsbury.

“There was definitely activism on campus,” she said.

Members of Elon’s Politics Forum gathered together to watch the results unfold Election Day. Members represent various political ideologies. Photo by Melissa Kansky.

Student organizations orchestrated activities related to the election season, and the university partnered with TurboVote, a nonprofit organization designed to increase voter registration and facilitate requests for absentee ballots.

“This type of program helps students immensely because only 17 percent of our students are from North Carolina, and so this makes it easier for them to navigate the waters once they get here,” Spray said.

As of Election Day, 1,005 individuals registered to vote through TurboVote, and an additional 1,168 requested an absentee ballot using the online resource. Of those who used the tool, 98 percent are under the age of 30.

The national election has also motivated politically-focused organizations on campus, specifically College Democrats, College Republicans, and the non-partisan Politics Forum, to increase their activity. The College Democrats and College Republicans have been fairly inactive the past two years, but they have enhanced their presence during the campaign season.

“We want discussion,” said junior Patrick Brown, president of the College Republicans, who acknowledged his age group is known for low voter turnout.

Junior Jordan Thomas, president of the College Democrats, expressed his organization has similar objectives.

“The biggest thing that affects voting is education,” he said. “Those with more education are more likely to vote.”

Although Brown favored the Republican candidate, he said his primary goal was to not to enhance support for Romney, but rather to engage people in the political process.

While both organizations’ presidents promoted non-partisan objectives, the Politics Forum was founded with the intention to provide a place for discussion in a space not affiliated with any political organization, according to Greg Honan, the founder and president.

Honan designed the Politics Forum to facilitate discussion about international and domestic politics and to host panels that advance these conversations, he said.

Junior Raymond Haack discusses politics with members of Elon University’s Political Forum on Election Day at Speaker’s Corner. Photo by Melissa Kansky.

Members of the organization gathered at Speakers Corner during Election Day to share opinions related to the election and the media’s portrayal of the candidates.

“You’ll probably find it’s fairly balanced,” Honan said in reference to the representation of political beliefs within the organization.

Jana Lynn Patterson, assistant vice president for student life, praised the healthy debate and tolerant environment cultivated on campus.

“You don’t find that much in the real world,” she said. “You don’t find people who are willing to engage on issues with an intellectual bias without it bifurcating a relationship.”

College is a place to grow intellectually and share ideas, which allows for students to gain insights into both political parties, Patterson said.

The student debate Oct. 26 created a space for such discourse and represented the community’s interest in the political process. Prior to the debate, 600 students, faculty and staff voted on topics to be discussed during the campus-wide event. The economy, same-sex marriage and health care were the most popular topics selected.

Debating issues that matter

According to Fernandez, highly discussed topics can influence young voters’ interest in the election. He named the economy and war as two important factors in attracting the youth’s attention.

Although the war in Afghanistan and Iraq has slowed, increased tension in Libya, Syria and Iran have simulated discourse concerning foreign policy and diplomacy, he said.

International conflicts have domestic impact, but for young voters, other issues occupy their concerns.

“The number-one issue on students minds is college affordability and student debt,” MacCracken said.

Such issues impact students’ ability to be effective consumers and influences their job prospects, he said. Voting enables students to express their interests to the larger community.

“For me, I couldn’t wait to vote because it was a rite of passage when you became invested in your country, and your vote can count and make a difference,” Patterson said.

She reflected on her first-grade memories of the National Guard’s presence in her newly desegregated school and recounted her participation in protests against the Vietnam War during her college years. Being an advocate during college prepared her for activism today, she said.

She compared young voter participation to internships and academic experience.

“It prepares them for being an adult later on,” Patterson said.

Spray said she encourages students to engage in issues that will influence the near future. According to Spray, the 2012 election was especially significant for the young voter population.

“Every election has critical points, but this is an election that will make a difference,” she said.

A probable new appointment to the Supreme Court could solidify the court’s position, and federal action could advance energy policies and, in turn, reshape the environment.

“I think all of these elections have more value than people realize,” Spray said.

Math Tools for Journalists ch. 5-8

November 9, 2012

Knowledge of math helps journalists accurately report on issues pertaining to poll and surveys, businesses and property tax. While polls and surveys help communicate the public’s opinion, results can also be manipulated and skewed. According to Kathleen Woodruff Wickham, author of “Math Tools for Journalists,” “it is a reporter’s job to help readers understand the validity of polls and surveys they are reading about” (69). Understanding the significance of the margin of error and confidence levels allows journalists to interpret polls more clearly. Margin of errors are measured in percents, but treated as percentage points. Especially during polls concerning debates, the margin of error is key when reporting who is leading. As Wickham explains, although a poll may indicate one contestant is leading in the polls, the margin of error may reveal there is little statistical difference in the level of the candidates’ support.

It is also important to note that as the confidence level increases, the margin of error increases as well. The confidence level indicates what percentage of the results could be a result of pure chance and helps determine the validity of the findings. Also, polls can be by population sample, cluster sampling, systematic random sampling or quota sampling.

When covering businesses, math skills enable reporters to “access the financial condition of the company” (83) and determine if the business is profitable. Profit and loss statements provide reporters with information to evaluate a business’ expenses and determine the value of the company’s cost of goods sold, overhead and profit. The difference between the cost of goods sold and the selling price indicates the gross margin. Multiplying this difference by the number of products sold produces the gross profit. In order to determine the net profit, one must subtract the “overhead” from the gross profit.

Stocks and bonds allow consumers to purchase a tiny piece of ownership of a company. The value of a company’s stock changes frequently, which requires journalists to be able to read a stock table in order to accurately report the most updated numbers. A stock table indicates the highest and lowest value of the stock in a 52-week period, the company name, the most recent annual dividend a company paid to share holders, the price of the share at the end of the previous day and the change in value.

Bonds help the government raise money for projects. Individuals can purchase bonds to receive a return on the investment. To calculate the current yield of the bond, one must know the interest rate, the face value and the price of the bond.

According to Wickham, stories concerning property tax are worthy of the front page. As a result, it is necessary to understand what the property tax reveals about the community and how it relates to the reader. Property taxes are measured in units called mills, valued at 1/10, and property taxes are expressed as one mill per each dollar. Property taxes are allocated according to the municipality’s budget, meaning taxes to be collected by the government, and the size of each resident’s property, which is measured by the assessed valuation of all property.