Two high-ranking nominees in the Obama administration have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Martha J. Kanter, under secretary of education, and Jane Oates, assistant secretary of labor for employment and training, gained the Senate's stamp of approval on June 19, giving them formal authority to dive into their duties. Oates, a longtime aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, was most recently New Jersey's commissioner of higher education; Kanter, who was chancellor of California's Foothill-De Anza Community College District, was sworn in Wednesday morning.
Higher Education Quick Takes
The leaders of some British universities found themselves sharing a little more information than expected when a journal published their views -- prior to the chance they had been promised to clear quotes and use of their names, The Times Higher reported. The journal Higher Education Quarterly has since removed the article from its Web site, but not before the Times Higher saved a copy. The newspaper quoted one vice chancellor as fearful of "the faintest hint of revolution." Further, this vice chancellor said: "We all know that education is a commodity that can be bought and sold, often at a very high price.... So universities are busy doing that - charging students a large amount of money to study in England because it is a popular destination. Branding and marketing take the front seat, and education is in the back."
Lansing Community College appears to have set a new world record for the largest slab of fudge. The Lansing State Journal reported that the 5,500 pound slab created there beat the old record of 5,050 pounds. The Lansing fudge required 705 pounds of butter, 2,800 pounds of chocolate, and 305 gallons of sweetened, condensed milk. The fudge will now be sold, to benefit local charities, at $10 a pound.
Colleges in most states have, since a national change made in 2006, been granted the authority to spend endowment money from individual funds whose value has fallen below what it was when originally made. A new survey suggests that institutions have taken advantage of that additional flexibility. The study, by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the National Association of College and University Business Officers, and the Commonfund Institute, finds that as of the end of 2008, 38 percent of survey participants' total endowment funds were "underwater," or now valued below the value of the original gift. While colleges previously were barred from spending an endowment fund to a level below the value of the original gift, the 2006 change -- the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, which has been adopted in 38 states -- allows colleges to do so. Since the change, the survey found, 11.3 percent fewer colleges and universities have ceased discontinuing all distributions from "underwater" funds, and more are finding ways to use the money to support their institutions.
Colleges are making it more expensive for families to pay tuition bills with credit cards. USA Today reported that a growing number of colleges are adding fees to such payments, to offset the fees colleges must pay the credit card companies. Among the colleges that have adopted or are starting fees, the newspaper said: George Mason, Northwestern, and Wichita State Universities, and the Universities of Southern Maine and Virginia.
The national economic downturn appears to be reversing the long-standing trend in which larger college endowments earn more than smaller endowments. Of course this year, the comparisons are about losses, not gains. The Wall Street Journal reported that in the fiscal year ending today, the five largest college and university endowments anticipate final losses in the 25-30 percent range. But examining data from Northern Trust Corp., which manages 90 endowments, the Journal found that the median loss for endowments for institutions with less than $100 million was only 16 percent.
A survey of private colleges has found that they are increasing tuition and fees by an average of 4.3 percent for 2009-10, the smallest increase in the survey since 1972-3, when the hike was similar. The survey results reflect 350 members of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. The College Board releases a more comprehensive analysis of changes in college costs in the fall. A NAICU spokesman said that the association's results are usually within two- or three-tenths of a percentage point of the College Board data. Last year, NAICU found a 5.7 percent increase and the College Board found a 5.9 percent increase for private colleges.
Wisconsin's budget bill, signed into law on Monday, gives collective bargaining rights to academic employees in the University of Wisconsin system, including tenured and tenure-track faculty members, part-time and full-time lecturers, adjuncts and others. The Wisconsin branch of the American Federation of Teachers lobbied for the law and is expected to now move ahead with organizing campaigns. Those drives would be campus-by-campus, and an AFT spokesman declined to say which institutions might be first. Also on Monday, the AFT announced that instructors and adjuncts at Western Michigan University voted, 207-29, to unionize with an AFT affiliate called the Professional Instructors Organization.
Brigham Young University on Friday ended its blocking of YouTube on the university network, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Students still must be careful about what they view on YouTube because the honor code requires that they avoid Internet material that is not "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy," and plenty of the videos on YouTube would not meet that standard. But university officials said that the wealth of educational material on the site convinced them to stop blocking it.
The Oregon Senate and House have now passed (with gubernatorial approval expected) legislation to codify principles of the Faculty and College Excellence Campaign of the American Federation of Teachers, which aims to improve the working conditions of faculty members and to push colleges to hire more tenure-track professors. Under the Oregon legislation, public colleges and universities will be required to report on the make-up of their faculties -- something faculty groups say is essential for drawing attention to and changing hiring patterns. Further, some part timers will be able to gain eligibility for health insurance based on work at multiple colleges, not just one.