Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 21, 2019

The Australian government has unveiled incentives to encourage students to study at universities in regional areas outside the major cities. The government has announced up to 4,720 scholarships over four years worth up to 15,000 Australian dollars ($10,690) per year to attract both domestic and international students to study in regional Australia. It also will give international students who study at regional universities an additional year to work in Australia on a poststudy work visa.

The executive director of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, said the incentives could add to the appeal of studying at regional campuses. But she added that universities will be looking at the details of how the program is funded.

“Money to support regional campuses is welcome, but we also need to ensure it doesn’t come at the expense of other vital programs across the sector,” she said in a statement.

March 21, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, part of USC Dornsife Week, Daniel J. Benjamin, associate professor of economics at the University of Southern California, examines whether one's genes dictate one's highest level of education. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 20, 2019

The University of Missouri at Columbia announced Tuesday that it has fired a police officer for posing in blackface. The police officer acknowledged that he was the one in the photograph, which was from before he was employed at the university.

“This type of behavior is not tolerated at Mizzou, and we understand how this impacts our entire community profoundly,” said a statement from Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright. “Racism, hate and insensitive behavior have no place on our campus. We are committed to our values of respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence, and to making our campus a place where everyone feels welcome and protected.”

March 20, 2019

Carol Folt (at right) has been selected as the next president of the University of Southern California, the Los Angeles Times reported. Folt recently left the chancellorship of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she served amid controversies over athletics and over a Confederate statue on campus -- a statue students and others tore down. On her way out of office, she took steps to remove the remains of the statue from campus -- receiving widespread praise from students and faculty members and criticism from members of the statewide UNC board. At USC, she will take over an institution facing multiple scandals and much criticism that it failed to prevent them.

Inside Higher Ed will have a full report on the appointment tomorrow.

March 20, 2019

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign got skewered on social media Tuesday for advertising “0 percent, [full-time equivalent], unpaid” adjunct faculty positions in social work, human behavior and social environment, and related areas. Minimum requirements included a master’s degree in social work and prior teaching experience. Duties included preparing and teaching classes weekly.

The online job ad said that an adjunct search committee will screen applicants to determine whether they are a “good fit” for the program and, “If considered to teach future courses, salary will be offered.” Many readers understood the ad to mean that adjuncts would have to initially teach for free, as a kind of audition for additional courses -- and a salary. And they criticized Illinois for apparently exploiting a bad academic job market for free labor. Illinois wouldn’t be the only institution accused of doing so. Last year, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale asked its professors to ask alumni to assist with faculty work.

Illinois quickly changed the ad to clarify that applicants will merely apply to be included in a pool of preapproved faculty candidates -- not to work for free, it says. Steven Anderson, dean of Illinois’s School of Social Work, explained via email that the original post was “soliciting applicants who would be given 0 percent appointments in the school and therefore vetted and available to teach specific courses in the future as the school needed.”

If chosen to teach, candidates will be paid at a level determined by experience, course load and according to standard campus and school policies, Anderson said. "We value and competitively compensate all of those who are chosen to teach in the School of Social Work." The school "apologized for any confusion," he added.

March 20, 2019

Graduate student assistants at the University of Illinois at Chicago went on strike Tuesday over stalled contract negotiations. “Despite being highly educated professionals providing skilled labor for a multibillion-dollar institution, [campus] grad workers live on the edge of poverty,” the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated graduate student union, Graduate Employees Organization, said in a statement. “Grad workers’ low pay, high fees and often precarious employment negatively impacts their academic progress, professional development and overall health, which only undermines [the university’s] educational and research mission.”

Graduate assistants receive a minimum annual salary of $18,065, plus $13,502 in tuition and fee waivers. The university offered an 11.5 percent minimum pay increase over three years, according to the Chicago Tribune. The union is seeking a 24 percent increase over the same period and more tuition waivers. The Tribune reported that some 200 graduate assistants and supporters staged an on-campus protest over what they described as their lack of a living wage, with some saying they rely on food pantries or other assistance to eat.

Chancellor Michael Amiridis, Provost Susan Poser and Vice Chancellor Robert Barish said in a statement that the “work stoppage is not in the best interest of the university, or our students” and that all “members of the university community will be expected to meet for classes as usual.” During a strike, they said, “the university is committed to continuing normal operations to the fullest extent possible. Students and parents can be assured that educational objectives will be fulfilled, and grades should not be affected.”

March 20, 2019

Arizona State University is creating a for-profit spin-off that will seek to attract large employer partners for its online education programs, according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The new venture is aimed at corporations that will subsidize online programs for their employees, as Starbucks does through its deal with the university. ASU also may seek university partners for the venture.

The Chronicle reported that a private equity fund will be the spin-off's majority owner. That fund was led until recently by Bill McGlashan, who was arrested last week as part of the U.S. Department of Justice's high-profile "Varsity Blues" admissions dragnet.

March 20, 2019

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors agreed Monday to end the use of placement exams in the system.

The board was required to make the change because of a new state law that took effect in January 2018. The bill requires the community college system to be compliant by this fall. The new law mandates that colleges rely on high school course work, high school grades and grade point averages to assess students' abilities.

“The research is overwhelmingly clear in showing how low-income and minority students are significantly more likely to be wrongly placed in remedial classes, creating a chain of events that contribute to stubborn equity gaps,” Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said in a news release. “These changes constitute a major step forward in meeting the commitments and goals set forth in the California Community Colleges Vision for Success.”

March 20, 2019

Many state grant aid programs use data from the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid. And those programs often feature fixed application deadlines or distribute aid on a first-come, first-served basis. As a result, if students file earlier, they may be more likely to access state aid.

New data from CampusLogic, a student financial services firm, tracks when the roughly 2.4 million FAFSA applications were filed during the 2018-19 aid cycle. The company found that dependent students from the wealthiest quartile were mostly likely to file their applications early, in the months between October 2017 and January 2018. Dependent students from the neediest quartile tended to file later, between April and October 2018.

However, the neediest independent students submitted a higher percentage of FAFSAs earlier in the aid year than other independent FAFSA filers.

March 20, 2019

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia accepted a staff recommendation Tuesday to move forward with administrative processes that could lead to the revocation of Virginia International University’s certificate to operate. An audit done by the agency uncovered concerns about academic quality in VIU’s online programs, including concerns about “rampant plagiarism” by students; online classes that are “patently deficient” in terms of quality and content; and the admission of “large numbers” of students with inadequate English proficiency.

The audit by Virginia state regulators found that “the single most important factor contributing to the substandard quality of online education at VIU is the institution’s acceptance of international students with an abysmally poor command of the English language. This is especially true for graduate-level programs.” VIU, which according to its website enrolled 632 students in 2017-18, predominantly enrolls international students. It is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Independent Colleges and Schools, an accreditor with a troubled past.

J. Chapman Petersen, a lawyer for VIU, said he is confident that VIU and SCHEV will come to a resolution that will allow VIU to continue operating. In a written response to SCHEV, VIU said it is prepared if necessary to shut down its online programs, which were the focus of the negative audit, in order to avoid damage to the rest of the institution. (It's worth noting, however, that auditors wrote that they did not believe the deficiencies they identified were limited to VIU's online classes. They cited a number of reasons for reaching this conclusion, including the lack of English proficiency they identified within the student population and the fact that the same faculty were teaching online and face-to-face classes.)

VIU said in its written response it has made a number of changes to its course offerings in response to the audit, including changes relating to the detection and punishment of plagiarism. "Additionally, although alleged in the 2018 audit findings, VIU does not admit students with poor command of the English language," VIU's response reads. "VIU requires proof of English proficiency in the form of (1) a TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] or IELTS [International English Language Testing System] score, (2) proof of education in the United States, or (3) completion of an accredited ESL [English as a second language] program." VIU said it can provide documentation that all students identified in the audit had either completed education in the U.S. or an ESL program.

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