Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 17, 2019

Ashim Mitra has resigned his position as a tenured professor of pharmacy at the University of Missouri at Kansas City amid a university investigation of reports that he used graduate students from India for what one called "slave labor," doing yard work, taking care of Mitra's dog and other tasks, The Kansas City Star reported. Former students told the Star, which first reported the allegations, that they were pressured into performing this work. Mitra did not comment on his resignation, but he earlier denied wrongdoing.

January 17, 2019

The University of Denton may sound like a bargain, but the online "university" is attracting attention for its lack of real accreditation, lack of real facilities (its address is of a Denton, Tex., travel center not related to the institution) and its too-good-to-be-true offers. Pretty much anyone can earn a degree, for a fee, often within days. For $999, you can get every degree from an associate degree to a doctorate, all for one price. As The Denton Record-Chronicle noted, and Inside Higher Ed verified, the phone just rings and rings, without an answer. Denton has two genuine universities, Texas Woman's University and the University of North Texas, neither of which have any connection to the University of Denton. Leah Matthews of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission told the Record-Chronicle, "I haven’t seen a diploma mill with such a brazen online presence like this in a while."

January 17, 2019

Ilene Forsyth, professor emerita of art history at the University of Michigan, gifted the institution $8.2 million, one the largest sums ever given to a humanities department in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Michigan announced recently. One part of the gift establishes the George H. and Ilene H. Forsyth Professorship in Medieval Art, in honor of Forsyth and her late husband, George H. Forsyth Jr., a former chair in the art history department and director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology on campus. The second part of the gift establishes the Ilene H. Forsyth Fund supporting art history initiatives, including postdoctoral fellowships, a visiting scholars program, faculty research and student study trips.

(This article has been updated to correct an error; Ilene Forsyth is still alive. Inside Higher Ed regrets the error.)

January 17, 2019

The relationship between student loan debt and home ownership is complex, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve. Previous reports from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York have found mixed evidence of the impact of student loan debt on the likelihood of whether the borrower will buy a home. While student loan payments may reduce the borrower's ability to save for a down payment or to qualify for a mortgage, investment in higher education tends to result in higher earnings and a smaller chance of unemployment, which means a better chance of being able to buy a home.

The new analysis from the Fed's headquarters -- the first in a series aimed at consumers -- attempts to isolate the negative effect of increased student loan burdens on home ownership from the potential positive effects of attending college. The home ownership rate in the U.S. has fallen by about four percentage points in the recession's wake, according to the Fed, with an even larger drop of nine points among heads of households who are 24 to 32 years old.

The new analysis finds that student loan debt does indeed decrease the odds of home ownership, with each $1,000 increase in debt causing a one- to two-percentage-point drop in the home-ownership rate of student loan borrowers during their late 20s and early 30s. Likewise, the Fed found that the aggregate increase in student loan debt from 2005 to 2014 reduced the national home-ownership rate among young adults by two percentage points. That means 20 percent of the overall decline in home ownership among young Americans can be attributed to student debt, the Fed found.

The analysis also said increased debt levels cause borrowers to be more likely to default on their student loans, which has a major adverse effect on credit scores and their ability to qualify for a mortgage.

"While investing in postsecondary education continues to yield, on average, positive and substantial returns, burdensome student loan debt levels may be lessening these benefits," the analysis concluded. "As policymakers evaluate ways to aid student borrowers, they may wish to consider policies that reduce the cost of tuition, such as greater state government investment in public institutions, and ease the burden of student loan payments, such as more expansive use of income-driven repayment."

January 17, 2019

Employers want college graduates who have “soft skills,” such as being a good listener or thinking critically, but they have difficulty finding such candidates, according to a new report.

The survey was conducted online in September by Morning Consult for Cengage, an educational technology and services company, among more than 500 hiring managers and 150 more human resources professionals. More than 1,500 current and former college students from two- and four-year institutions were also surveyed.

The companies found that the most in-demand talent among employers was listening skills -- 74 percent of employers indicated this was a skill they valued. This was followed by attention to detail (70 percent) and effective communication (69 percent).

About 73 percent of the employers said that finding qualified candidates was somewhat or very difficult. Roughly one-third of the employers (34 percent) indicated colleges and universities have not prepared students for jobs.

The students reported finding jobs was challenging. About 65 percent of the students said getting a job is more difficult for them than for their parents’ generation. About 77 percent also expressed concerns about whether they had the skills needed for a job.

“There is a need for more soft skills training, both in college and on the job, and today’s learners and graduates must continue to hone their skills to stay ahead,” Michael Hansen, chief executive officer of Cengage, said in a statement. “The onus is on everyone -- students, colleges, employers and industry partners like Cengage -- to make learning more accessible, relevant and affordable.”

January 17, 2019

The University of Liverpool was accused of racism after it sent an email to international students saying that Chinese students usually don’t know the word for “cheating” in English, the BBC reported.

The email, sent by Liverpool’s international advice and guidance team, stated that “a number of international students breach the rules” and goes on to specifically reference Chinese students. The email stated that students from China “are usually unfamiliar with the word ‘cheating’ in English” and provided a Chinese translation.

Liverpool’s vice chancellor, Janet Beer, apologized for the email. “This was a mistake, and is not representative of the high regard in which the university holds its Chinese students,” she wrote in a message posted on Liverpool’s Facebook page.

January 17, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, Michael Grabowski, associate professor of communication at Manhattan College, determines why horror movies can be so effective at scaring us. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 16, 2019

Michigan State University's board has scheduled a special meeting Thursday morning to discuss "a personnel matter" amid growing calls for the ouster of John Engler as interim president.

Engler has been under increasing criticism for comments he made about some of the scores of victims of Larry Nassar, the former university employee now in jail for abusing them. In an interview with The Detroit News, he contrasted those who have received public attention with those who have not. "You’ve got people, they are hanging on and this has been … There are a lot of people who are touched by this, survivors who haven’t been in the spotlight," he said. "In some ways they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition. And it’s ending. It’s almost done."

Michigan State declined to comment when Inside Higher Ed asked if Engler had any response to those angered by his remarks. This was not the first time Engler has been in the news for controversial remarks.

One trustee, Brian Mosallam, told The Detroit News, "I have watched Engler not only interact with our courageous survivors but our faculty, employees and students as well. He's not only a bully, he is a mean-spirited human being. His time is up."

Another trustee, Joel Ferguson, said, "We’re better off looking for a new president right now and having less controversy and less drama as possible. We just have to put our best face forward."

Mosallam told The Detroit Free Press, "John Engler's reign of terror is over. Michigan State University will be returned to its people."

January 16, 2019

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the Trump administration from adding a question on U.S. citizenship to the 2020 Census, ruling that the plan was based on Republican political goals, not the laws governing the process of collecting data on people who live in the United States.

Many social science organizations have opposed the Trump administration's plans, saying that they would lead to smaller (and thus inaccurate) counts of people in states or localities with large immigrant populations. Others have noted that the new question was going to be added without testing to identify problems, even though past changes have been tested before being adopted.

January 16, 2019

A study published by researchers at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health found that graduates from for-profit nursing programs were more likely to fail the National Council Licensure Examination on the first try compared to their peers from public and nonprofit institutions.

"Students who fail can try again but they cannot get an entry-level nursing job until they pass the test," Patricia Pittman, the lead study author and a professor of health policy and management at Milken, said in a news release.

The researchers gathered data on first-time nursing exam pass rates and sorted them by degree and ownership status from 2011 through 2015. They found that, on average, public programs had an 88 percent first-time pass rate, nonprofits had 84 percent and for-profits had 68 percent.

“Many states and accreditation agencies consider an NCLEX pass rate of at least 80 percent as a minimum quality threshold for nursing programs,” Pittman said. “Our study found that for-profit nursing programs were nearly twice as likely to have failed to meet that 80 percent threshold as compared to public programs.”

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