Pearson enters partnership with Chegg on textbook rentals

Student-services provider Chegg is the first company to work with Pearson on a new textbook-rental program the publisher announced in January, according to a report in Inside Higher Ed last week.

Students who attend college full-time for even one semester are more likely to graduate

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A growing body of research shows that full-time college students are more likely to graduate, yet experts caution against policies that neglect part-time students.

Number of Hispanic-Serving Colleges Grows

As the number of Latinos who attend college grows, growing as well is the number of colleges that meet the federal definition of being Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), which is generally 25 percent or more Latino enrollment. There were 472 HSIs last year, which is up 37 from the previous academic year, according to Excelencia in Education and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

The two groups also said the growth remains concentrated, with 14 percent of all institutions enrolling 64 percent of all Latino undergraduates.

“The continuing growth in the number of HSIs is a positive sign of progress in educational opportunity and achievement for Hispanics, who account for almost three quarters of the growth in the U.S. work force in this decade. Hispanic educational success is vital to America’s future prosperity and security,” John Moder, senior vice president and chief operating officer at HACU, said in a written statement.

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'Takeover' at Utah Research Center Stuns Faculty

Mary Beckerle, CEO and director of the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute, was removed from both roles this week, effective immediately, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. "It was totally surprising," Beckerle told the newspaper. "I didn't expect it at all." David Pershing, university president, and Vivian Lee, senior vice president of health sciences, announced the move internally Monday but did not provide a reason.

Professors criticized the change at a meeting Tuesday, with one calling it a "coup," and launched a petition to reinstate Beckerle. Members of the Huntsman family, after which the institute is named, also spoke out against the move, with Jon Huntsman Sr. calling it a "power grab" by Lee. He said that he’ll make sure Beckerle is back in charge "one way or another," according to the Tribune. His wife, Karen Huntsman, called the move "a hostile takeover. … This is just the beginning, the war."

Kathy Wilets, university spokeswoman, declined comment, saying the change was a personnel matter. Beckerle, who has led the institute since 2006, will remain a distinguished professor in biology, according to administrators. Kathleen Cooney, a clinical oncologist and prostate cancer researcher, was appointed interim center CEO and director.

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University System of Georgia announces new administrative review

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As consolidation efforts continue, the public university system sets its sights on assessing campus and systemwide administrative costs and performance.

Scholars and others strongly object to Berkeley's response to Justice Department accessibility order (essay)

In August 2016, the Department of Justice sent a letter to the University of California, Berkeley, asking it to implement procedures to make publicly available online audio and video content accessible to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf and blind, and blind. Rather than comply with this request, the university took the outrageous step of ending public access to those valuable resources, which include over 20,000 audio and video files, to avoid the costs of making the materials accessible.

We, the undersigned, strongly object to Berkeley’s choice to remove the content, and its public statement that disability access requirements forced the decision. That is not the case. Berkeley has for years systematically neglected to ensure the accessibility of its own content, despite the existence of internal guidelines advising how to do so. Further, the Justice Department letter left room for many alternatives short of such a drastic step. It was never the intent of the complainants to the department, nor of the disability community, to see the content taken down.

The public response to Berkeley’s announcement -- and to Inside Higher Ed’s reporting -- has been disheartening. While some commenters have acknowledged the need for accessible e-learning content, others have cast blame on those seeking access, accusing people with disabilities of putting their own interests first. Many have suggested that calls for access, such as captioning and audio description for video content, deprive the broader public of these resources. Many misrepresent this issue as one where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

In fact, people who depend on the accessibility of online course content constitute a significant portion of the population. There are between 36 and 48 million individuals in the United States with hearing loss, or about 15 percent of the population. An estimated 21 million individuals are blind or visually impaired. Altogether, about one in five adults in the United States has a functional disability.

The prevalence of disability increases significantly after the age of 65: more than one in three older adults have hearing loss, and nearly one in five have vision loss. Refusing to provide public access to online content negates the principle of lifelong learning, including for those who may eventually acquire a disability. Moreover, many individuals without hearing and vision disabilities benefit from accessible online course content.

Despite the large number of people who stand to gain from accessible content, changes to existing practice are rarely made voluntarily and typically occur through the enforcement of disability civil-rights laws. Those laws, including the Americans With Disabilities Act and its 2008 amendment, were passed unanimously or with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

Once disability civil-rights laws are passed and implemented, the broader public stands to gain. As laid out by “The Curb Cut Effect,” the installation of curb cuts -- a direct consequence of the unanimously passed 1968 Architectural Barriers Act -- permitted diverse public access that has nothing to do with wheelchairs: baby strollers, shopping carts, bicycles, roller skates, skateboards, dollies and so forth. Today, curb cuts are so ubiquitous that we do not usually think about their existence anymore, yet we cannot imagine our country without them. In fact, Berkeley, often considered the birthplace of the civil-rights movement, led the way in curb cut implementation.

Captions are often referred to as digital curb cuts. As with physical curb cuts, widespread digital captioning originates from civil-rights legislation, including the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. About 30 percent of viewers use captions, according to Amazon, 80 percent of whom are not deaf or hard of hearing. A 2011 Australian survey revealed similar numbers, and a 2006 British study found that 7.5 million people in Great Britain had used captions to view television, including six million, or 80 percent, with no hearing loss. On Facebook, 85 percent of viewers consume video without sound, and captioning has increased user engagement. And an October 2016 study found that about 31 percent of hearing respondent college students “always” or “often” use closed captions when they are available, and another 18 percent sometimes use captions.

It was never the intention of the complainants or their allies to have course content removed from public access. With the recent mirroring of 20,000 public lectures, the net outcome is that we are back to square one with inaccessible content, now outside of the control of Berkeley. (We wish to emphasize that we have no quarrel with the decision to mirror the content, and affirm the right to freedom of speech in the strongest terms.)

The Department of Justice’s letter did not seek the removal of content, either. Indeed, Berkeley’s peer institutions have affirmed that they will continue to make their materials publicly available while striving to make them accessible as well.

The letter cannot have come as a surprise to Berkeley. In February 2013, seven months after the university announced its partnership in edX with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, faculty and staff members on Berkeley’s now-dismantled Academic Accommodations Board met to discuss how to “make sure students with disabilities have access” in “online education, including MOOCs.” There, board members warned that the university needed strong and immediate plans for disability access in its MOOCs.

In April 2014, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, on behalf of the complainants, contacted Berkeley and offered to engage in structured negotiation -- a successful method of dispute resolution that has been used with some of today’s biggest champions of captioned online video content. When the offer of structured negotiations went nowhere, the center filed with the Department of Justice in October 2014.

The Justice Department letter issued in August 2016 found that Berkeley had failed to enforce the accessibility of such content, resulting in few of their video or audio files being accessible. The department asked that the university strengthen its procedures to enforce accessibility guidelines. In response, rather than make the suggested changes, Berkeley publicly threatened to withdraw content and then went ahead with its March 2017 announcement to remove content.

We acknowledge that remedial accessibility work -- after-the-fact efforts to make content accessible -- can be costly. Such work requires not only the addition of captions and audio descriptions but also checking to ensure that documents and materials can be read by screen readers or accessed on a variety of devices. That is why it is so important that leadership enforce accessibility policies from the beginning. The ADA contains an undue-burden defense that protects public entities that cannot afford to make accessibility changes. But it is difficult to see how this applies here, since Berkeley was offered the option to make content accessible over a longer period of time to keep the cost manageable.

The fact that the online content is free is immaterial. Civil-rights justice and access are built on the premise that everyone, with or without a disability, should be able to participate. Online educational content has become a key ingredient of community participation, irrespective of whether it is free or paid. Moreover, Berkeley created the content at the outset -- which means taxpayers, including taxpayers with disabilities, partially funded it.

Barriers to accessing the educational materials of a respected university hinder community participation by people with disabilities. Most of the signatories to this article experience such barriers on a very personal level. The removal of digital access barriers is a crucial endeavor for a society that continues to revise its aspiration of justice for all. We urge the university to reconsider its decisions.

Christian Vogler is an associate professor and director of the Technology Access Program at Gallaudet University.

Others Undersigned (Institutional affiliations are provided for identification purposes only):

Robert M. Anderson, professor emeritus of economics and mathematics, University of California, Berkeley
Teresa Burke, associate professor of philosophy, Gallaudet University
Patrick Boudreault, associate professor of interpretation and translation, Gallaudet
Claudia Center, adjunct professor of disability rights law at Berkeley Law School and senior staff attorney at National ACLU's Disability Rights Program
Mel Y. Chen, associate professor of gender and women's studies, Berkeley
Mel Chua
Geoffrey Clegg, faculty specialist I, Western Michigan University
Lawrence Cohen, professor of anthropology and South and Southeast Asian studies, Berkeley
Marianne Constable, professor of rhetoric, Berkeley
Adam Cureton, assistant professor of philosophy, University of Tennessee
Philip Kan Gotanda, professor of theater, dance and performance studies, Berkeley
Alastair Iles, associate professor of environmental policy and societal change, Berkeley
Stephanie L. Kerschbaum, associate professor of English, University of Delaware
Raja Kushalnagar, associate professor and director, Information Technology Program, Gallaudet
Celeste Langan, associate professor of English, Berkeley
Arlene Mayerson, adjunct professor of disability rights law, Berkeley Law School; directing attorney, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
Karen Nakamura, Robert and Colleen Haas Distinguished Chair in Disability Studies and professor of anthropology, Berkeley
Stacy Nowak
Stephen A. Rosenbaum, John & Elizabeth Boalt Lecturer, visiting researcher scholar, Haas Institute, Berkeley
Leslie Salzinger, associate professor of gender and women’s studies, Berkeley
Susan Schweik, professor of English, Berkeley
Katherine Sherwood, professor emerita of art practice and disability studies, Berkeley
Charlotte Smith, faculty lecturer, University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health
John F. Waldo, counsel to the Association of Late-Deafened Adults, Washington State Communication Access Project and Oregon Communication Access Project
Lisa Wymore, associate professor of theater, dance and performance studies, Berkeley

American Council of the Blind -- Eric Bridges, executive director
Association of Late-Deafened Adults -- Sharaine Roberts, president
Communication Service for the Deaf -- David Bahar, director of public policy and government affairs
Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights at the University of California, Berkeley -- Georgina Kleege, president
Hearing Loss Association of America -- Barbara Kelley, executive director

Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Inc. -- Claude Stout, executive director

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N.M. Governor Vetoes All Higher Education Funding

New Mexico's governor has vetoed all public higher education funding in a standoff with the state's Legislature over tax increases and spending, The Washington Post reported.

The move by Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican, to eliminate $745 million in planned state contributions to the state's colleges and universities appears to be a game of chicken, where one side will blink eventually. But it's unclear how the situation will resolve or how much damage New Mexico's institutions may sustain during the fracas. The fiscal year in question begins in July.

Higher education leaders at the state's seven public four-year universities last week wrote to Martinez to urge her to reinstate the funding, the Albuquerque Journal reported. They said the financial instability could hurt students, faculty, economic development and the universities' accreditation status.

“The message the veto sent to our 133,505 registered students and their families, while unintended, leaves them confused and wondering whether they should enroll in a New Mexico college, whether they’ll be able to finish their degree or whether they’ll be able to graduate," they wrote. "While we are trying to calm their fears, there is concern that many of our state’s brightest students will move to other states to pursue their higher education."

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Publishing Gaps in STEM Ph.D. Programs

A new study in PLOS One suggests that structural interventions in Ph.D. programs in the natural and applied sciences may increase publication rates for underrepresented minorities. The study analyzed data from two internal surveys of Ph.D. students at University of California, Berkeley, both of which indicated that underrepresented groups engage in publishing activity at significantly lower rates than more represented male students (the study considers student feedback on whether they’d recently submitted a paper for publication or delivered papers at national scholarly meetings).

The authors argue that such outcomes perpetuate the diversity gap in the STEM fields because publications matter in appointments to postdoctoral and faculty positions. Yet a “conspicuous exception” to their findings was Berkeley’s College of Chemistry, which the study describes as “a highly structured environment in which [students] are introduced to research (via lab rotations) at the outset of their studies, their advisors are regularly and systematically queried as to their students’ progress, and expectations surrounding publication of research results are both implicitly and explicitly clear even in the first two years of study.”

Co-author Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Psychology and associate dean for diversity and inclusion in the College of Letters and Science at Berkeley, said in an interview that he’s currently engaged in qualitative work to further define the relationship between the chemistry department’s structure on campus and student publication engagement. He nevertheless called the paper’s existing hypothesis that there is a connection “compelling,” and said there’s no reason why chemistry’s more structured approach to Ph.D. education can’t be exported to other disciplines and campuses. “It’s fairly straightforward,” he said, noting that a number of other STEM diversity efforts have attempted to change students' mind-sets or train faculty members to recognize unconscious biases, but few have taken a structural approach. “That’s why we’re so excited about it.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

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A better way to finance tuition than the recent New York plan (essay)

Bernie Sanders started the ball rolling in the most recent presidential campaign by arguing that everyone in this country should be able to go to college for free (at public universities and colleges). Hillary Clinton reworked that idea to say that public higher education should be free for students from low- and middle-income families. Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York now have taken this idea one step farther by enacting Excelsior Scholarships that will make public higher education tuition-free for state residents whose family income falls below specified levels.

The debate leading to the New York legislation is encouraging in at least one important regard: it was not based on blanket statements about the desirability of free tuition and instead flowed principally from the notion that students who come from families who lack the resources to pay for college should not have be out of pocket for their tuition expenses. But lost in the recent New York debate, and the continuing national debate over the exploding price of college, is the fact that there is a better and simpler way for all states to achieve the goal of greater affordability within existing budget levels without imposing unreasonable requirements that blunt the intent and the impact of the legislation.

The new program in New York seeks to ensure that state residents from families with annual incomes up to $100,000 (eventually $125,000) can afford to attend the state’s public community colleges and four-year colleges. It would do this by providing enough state grant aid to offset tuition costs after other aid such as Pell Grants has been taken into account. Also, to ensure that assets “stay in state” (in Cuomo’s words), the legislation requires that Excelsior recipients continue to live and work in New York State after they graduate -- one year of residence for every year that they received the scholarship. The governor’s office estimates that nearly one million state residents will eventually benefit from the new program.

Some are suggesting that New York should serve as the model for other states to achieve greater college affordability. But several key concerns suggest its approach is not the way to go.

One set of concerns relate to the particulars of the plan. Making Excelsior grants into last-dollar scholarships will sharply reduce the progressivity of the plan, as the lowest-income students are most likely to receive aid from other sources and will thus qualify for less in Excelsior Scholarships. Perhaps of more concern, the requirement that recipients remain in state is not only largely unenforceable but patently unfair. What this policy says is that wealthier students who benefit from subsidized tuition incur no obligation to stay in state after college but less affluent students who receive Excelsior scholarships of some amount would be limited in making their future plans.

Other concerns about the New York plan are more generic. For one, it takes existing tuition levels as a starting point so that whatever led to those levels in the first place is frozen into the future. Ultimately, to be successful, higher education financing reforms must address underlying cost pressures rather than accept them as a fact of life.

Another generic concern is that plans that increase aid and lower public tuition place private nonprofit institutions at a severe disadvantage in competing for state residents. In the case of New York, this is a big liability. The state has many private nonprofit institutions and, for decades, its policies have recognized the value of using the private sector to reduce the costs to the state of providing a quality higher education to its residents. It does so through a generous financial aid program and longstanding “Bundy Aid,” which pays private institutions for each resident that they graduate at different levels of study.

A Better Way

What might be a simpler and more effective way to do this -- one that can be accomplished at existing budget levels in most states? It would entail following two key steps.

The first would be to move to a system in which tuition at public institutions is based on the ability of families with average means to pay for college. That would involve setting tuition as a proportion of a general index of ability to pay, such as state median family income or GDP per capita. It would be up to the state to set the percentage and decide whether that figure should vary for different types of public institutions. Such a policy would have the salutary effect of moving the tuition-setting process in the public sector from an institution-based approach, in which state funds fill the gap between what institutions spend and what they charge, to a student-oriented concept based on what families can actually afford.

The second step would be for the state to provide enough grant aid to cover full tuition levels for students from families with below-average incomes. That component is vital, as it would provide an effective safety net for students whose families lack the necessary resources.

There also is a symmetry in this relationship that bears telling. It would be up to state officials to set the tuition percentages that apply to each type of institution, but the reality is that the higher the percentage of income used to pay tuition, the less that the state would need to provide to subsidize the difference in what is spent by institutions and what is charged to students. But it is also true that the higher the price, the more that states would have to provide in the form of grant aid to allow students from families with below-average incomes to meet their tuition expenses. So it would be up to state officials to decide the appropriate balance between tuition subsidies and financial aid.

The important point here is that it is within the power of every state to make this kind of determination without the federal government stepping in to tell them how to do it or what percentage of average income should be devoted to paying tuition. It also makes sense in this context to view Pell Grants primarily as a means to help low- and moderate-income students pay for the living costs that their families cannot afford to pay. Using Pell Grants to pay living costs would also help to reduce students’ reliance on borrowing to pay those costs -- one of the biggest problems with the current loan structure, as much of the existing debt is accumulated to pay living costs.

The issue of making public higher education “free” should also be seen in the broader context of the continuing higher education policy debate in this country and the importance of finding solutions that meet the very real financial challenges that the sector faces. What we need are middle-course policies that steer between, on the one hand, free tuition and, on the other, an even greater reliance on loans and the for-profit sector to fill gaps in what the public sector can provide.

The many calls for making public higher education tuition-free tend to ignore the reality that tuition revenues are a crucial resource for institutions to maintain the quality of education. The tuition-free argument also discounts the fact that, in looking around the country and the world, low or no tuition usually results in greater inequities in enrollment. Middle- and upper-class students flock to the low-cost alternative, freezing out students with fewer resources who don’t have as good grades.

By the same token, calls for deregulating public tuition and leaving it to students to borrow more and to rely on the private for-profit sector to provide more higher education is a recipe for disaster. The result will be that the system becomes even more dependent on loans and even more inaccessible to students whose families lack the necessary resources to pay mounting prices.

The Trump administration’s recent backing away from various consumer protections put in place by the Obama administration is another bad sign of moving to the extremes rather than seeking out the middle course. Similarly, one part of the daunting student loan problems we face is that, over time, the federal government has not exercised enough due diligence in ensuring that programs of study meet minimal requirements for financial integrity and that many colleges lack the academic quality to ensure that students would benefit from receiving federal aid and borrowing for their education without defaulting.

So in this context, the free-tuition debate should be seen as an opportunity to look at policy solutions that would improve affordability and accessibility of higher education on a sustainable basis. The answer, however, is not to make public higher education tuition-free. Rather, it should entail making sure that tuition charges are reasonable in the context of what the average family can afford to pay -- not based on what institutions require to fund their ever-increasing needs. And there must be a full commitment to fund aid sufficiently to help those students who cannot reasonably pay that tuition.

Arthur M. Hauptman is an independent public policy consultant specializing in higher education finance issues.

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