Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 25, 2009

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education has released the latest AASHE Digest, a 356-page report that compiles campus news on sustainability in 2008. Among AASHE's findings are that, in the last year, more than 66 sustainability-focused academic programs were created, at least 13 sustainability-themed research centers were opened and plans for 33 more were announced, and more than 130 green buildings were planned, started, opened or awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The Digest chronicles progress in the United States and Canada.

June 25, 2009

President Obama on Wednesday signed the Supplemental Appropriations Act, a war spending measure that includes a provision allowing for the GI Bill benefits of service members killed in duty since Sept. 11 to be transferred to their children, as McClatchy Newspapers has reported.

June 25, 2009

Diploma mills have never shown much respect for state or national borders, so the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization have issued a joint set of guidelines on "effective practice" in preventing the spread of disreputable institutions. The document covers such topics as defining diploma mills, agreeing on the importance of the role of quality assurance bodies, and finding ways to share information about these institutions with the public.

June 25, 2009

Officials at Britain's University of Nottingham are inspecting reading lists used in the School of Politics and International Relations to look for material that is illegal or that could incite violence, The Times Higher reported. The committee that is reviewing the materials was created following the arrest of a graduate student and a clerical assistant who were arrested under anti-terrorism laws after police found that the latter had a copy of a terror training manual on his computer. The terrorism charges were eventually dropped. Some professors told the newspaper that they were outraged by the reviews. David Miller, professor of sociology at the University of Strathclyde, called the policy a "fundamental attack on academic freedom," adding that "the module review committee is a censorship committee: it can't operate as anything else."

June 25, 2009

A federal grand jury in Arizona on Tuesday indicted 65 people on charges that they obtained more than $530,000 in student aid illegally -- by pretending to be students. According to the indictment, one woman recruited the rest of those indicted to play the part of "straw students," who would pretend to enroll, and would then receive financial aid. The woman who organized the system is charged with taking fees from every participant. The students pretended to enroll at Rio Salado College -- and it was officials there who first noticed apparent discrepancies and reported them to the U.S. Education Department. Linda Thor, president of the college, issued a statement in which she said: "I want to express how proud I am of the staff of our financial aid office for their stewardship of taxpayers’ funds. I commend them for being alert, vigilant, well-trained and cooperative.... We will not tolerate abuse of the system, and we will continue as a college to practice due diligence in processing all financial aid applications.”

June 25, 2009

A Senate appropriations subcommittee crafted a bill Wednesday that would increase spending on the National Science Foundation to $6.9 billion in the 2010 fiscal year, $426 million more than the agency is receiving this year but slightly less than would be allocated in parallel legislation in the House of Representatives. The Senate measure approved by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies includes $5.55 billion for research, $122 million for research equipment and facilities; and $857 million for the foundation's science education programs. It also would provide $878.8 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, $59.8 million above the 2009 level.

June 24, 2009

The U.S. Department of Defense on Tuesday released its policy for transferring educational benefits to spouses and children under the new, Post-9/11 GI Bill. Intended in part as a retention incentive, service members wishing to transfer their GI Bill benefits must have served at least six years and commit to another four (although there are specific exceptions for those nearing retirement age). The ability for service members to transfer benefits to family members -- rather than use them or lose them, themselves -- has been highly anticipated by many in the military: “Transferability of GI Bill benefits is the most requested initiative we receive from our service members, and we believe it will assist us in retaining highly qualified military personnel," Bill Carr, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, said in a statement announcing the new policy. Down the road, the policy could potentially lead to shifts in who uses GI Bill benefits, and how. The Post-9/11 GI Bill goes into effect in August, and service members can make transfer designations online starting Monday.

June 24, 2009

During the last year, Tufts University awarded grants to 288 alumni who work for nonprofit groups or in the public sector to help them repay their student loans. The grants -- which ranged from $500 to $5,000 and for which alumni may reapply annually -- are part of what may be the broadest program of its kind. Many colleges have programs to repay the loans of alumni in selected fields. The Tufts program, in contrast, is open to all of its alumni providing that they are working in government or for nonprofit groups, and provided that they are repaying loans they took out to attend the university.

June 24, 2009

A survey by the Health Research Alliance of nongovernmental funders of health research and training (much of which takes place at universities) has found the following impacts of the economic downturn: 63 percent of funders are decreasing the number of awards, either by decreasing the number of awards granted per funding cycle for a given grant program and/or placing entire grant programs on hiatus for at least one funding cycle; 31 percent are delaying consideration of new initiatives or multi-year obligations for at least a year; 22 percent are decreasing the average amount of new awards; and 22 percent are making percentage reductions to the payment of existing grants.

June 24, 2009

The American Association of University Professors issued a statement Tuesday saying that it is "gravely concerned about state sponsored or state encouraged violence in Iran," which "has the potential to undermine further the already fragile status of academic freedom in Iranian universities." The statement added: "As an association devoted to the protection and expansion of free expression on university campuses, the AAUP supports the right of students and faculty to express their views of public events and national policy without fear of intimidation, arrest, or physical harm."

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