administrators

College Readiness of Low-Income Students Stagnates

Roughly one in four of the 1.9 million high school students who graduated in 2015 and took the ACT are from low-income backgrounds, meaning their annual family incomes are less than $36,000. This group continues to lag in college readiness, according to the latest version of an annual report from the testing organization and the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships.

For example, half of the low-income students failed to meet any of the four ACT college readiness benchmarks, according to the report, compared to 31 percent of all students. And the proportion of students reaching each of the four benchmarks, which are in English, reading, mathematics and science, was roughly 40 percentage points lower for students from poorer families compared to those from families with annual incomes of $100,000 and up.

The readiness indicators of low-income students have remained largely unchanged for six consecutive years, ACT said, and have declined in some areas.

“Until these results improve, many students from poorer families are likely destined for a life of financial struggle and lapsed educational plans,” said Jim Larimore, ACT's chief officer for the advancement of underserved learners, in a written statement. “Beyond lamenting the well-known systemic challenges these students face, we are committed to acting on our knowledge, through research partnerships with organizations like NCCEP and our own initiatives, to expand access to rigorous course work and provide free resources to students in need.”

Education Dept. Adds Requirements for Accreditors

The U.S. Department of Education this week introduced several new requirements for accreditors, adding to the slightly beefed-up new rules it announced in November. The department has pushed more aggressive reforms to the accreditation process, including a request for the U.S. Congress to drop its ban on imposing specific standards on accreditors. But those ideas are unlikely to come to fruition during the Obama administration's final year.

This week the department said it would require accreditors to provide more information to the feds -- and to the public, when possible -- about sanctions the agencies slap on colleges, including the reason for those sanctions. The department also will require accreditors to separate their reporting of punitive actions against colleges from the other information they submit to the federal government, such as when colleges receive renewal of their accreditation status.

"Agencies need to do more than certify that institutions make quality offerings available; they must gauge the extent to which the institutions actually help more students achieve their goals," Ted Mitchell, the Under Secretary of Education, wrote in a blog post. "And because of our belief in the importance of equal opportunity to learn and achieve, that means strong outcomes for all students, not just some."

Other new requirements announced this week generally revolve around more coordination and basic communication. For example, accreditors will meet more regularly with the department and share information about "schools of concern."

Backlash Against Plan to Hire Shooting Coach

Simpson College, in Iowa, is facing criticism from some alumni for plans to hire a coach for a shooting team, The Des Moines Register reported. Students on the shooting team say that they are a student club like any other, and that they promote safe and responsible use of guns for sport. But critics have organized this petition, arguing that the college shouldn't be taking money from a pro-gun group to hire the coach. "We believe that the hiring of a full time shooting coach in these difficult financial times for Simpson, does in no way positively influence students to come to Simpson," the petition says. "There are many nationally awarded academic programs for prospective students to consider. We believe that sanctioned gun related activities have no place in our curriculum and call for the monies designated for them be applied to our college’s academic programs."

 

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Professor Resigns After Repeated Run-Ins With the Law

Ravi Shankar, the tenured professor of poetry at Central Connecticut State University who was infamously promoted while in jail in 2014, prompting criticism of his administration, has resigned. Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College and University System, announced Wednesday that Shankar agreed to resign, effective last month. Shankar, whose repeated run-ins with the law attracted the attention of state lawmakers, agreed to terminate all appeals and claims against the system’s Board of Regents for Higher Education, in exchange for a settlement of $60,409. He’s also permanently prohibited from applying to or accepting any position within the state college and university system. Since 2011, Shankar’s been convicted of crimes including credit card fraud and driving under the influence. He was arrested again last year for shoplifting at Home Depot. Shortly after that arrest, in August, Shankar was suspended without pay, a university spokesman said. The settlement terms were informed in part by Shankar's annual salary of about $85,000.

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Three Maryland community colleges close health education facility amid rising costs

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Three Maryland community colleges plan to close a jointly run health education center because of enrollment changes.

Attempt at Compromise at Suffolk U

Suffolk University issued a statement Wednesday afternoon stating that Margaret McKenna, the president (at right), and Andrew Meyer, the board chair, met Wednesday morning and were trying to resolve differences. Meyer has been widely reported as having organized a board meeting for Friday to fire McKenna. Faculty, student and alumni groups have all been backing McKenna and calling on Meyer to leave. The precise nature of the disagreements has been unclear, but those on campus say McKenna has been doing an outstanding job and consulting with all campus groups about advancing the university. McKenna is Suffolk's fifth president in five years.

The full statement from the university says: “Suffolk University Board Chair Andrew Meyer and President Margaret McKenna met today and agreed to work toward a resolution of issues. Chairman Meyer and President McKenna strongly agree that the interests of Suffolk University, its students, faculty, staff and alumni, must come first. Both the chairman and the president believe Suffolk is such an important institution to Boston and this region and they realize they need to work to resolve issues and continue to strengthen the university. They will continue to meet and work toward a proposal that they hope to jointly present to the board on Friday. Given the importance of these efforts, Chairman Meyer and President McKenna will have no public comment at this time.”

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Another Fraternity Under Fire for Offensive Emails

Alpha Epsilon Pi is investigating the University of Chicago chapter of the Jewish fraternity for sending emails containing derogatory references toward black people, women and Muslims.

"We are going to work with the individuals in the chapter to educate them about the harm that such speech and thinking can bring to others," Jonathan Pierce, the international fraternity's spokesman and former president, said. "It is important to note, though, that many of these private emails are from some time ago and the chapter has worked to eradicate this type of behavior and speech."

The email chain, obtained by BuzzFeed News, contains messages sent between 2011 and 2015. The string of emails features frequent use of racist terms for black people, a warning to members to not to have sex with "fatties" and an invitation to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day at a fried chicken restaurant. In the emails, members of the off-campus fraternity refer to a Muslim member of the student government as a "terrorist" and to an empty, weed-filled lot located near the chapter as "Palestine."

"The language used in these emails is offensive, and it is not consistent with the university's values or our strong commitment to ensuring that people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can thrive on our campus," Michele Rasmussen, the university's dean of students, said in a statement. Fraternities and sororities are not officially recognized student organizations at the University of Chicago.

The fraternity is one of several in the last year to come under fire after racist and sexist messages shared between members have surfaced online.

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2 Santa Clara U Students Have Meningitis

Two students at Santa Clara University have meningococcal meningitis, The San Jose Mercury News reported. Of particular concern is that the students have a strain of meningitis against which most college students aren't protected, because vaccinations for it were approved only recently. University officials are working to inform people on campus of symptoms and precautions to take.

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Two Groups of Adjuncts at Southern Cal Unionize, One Group Rejects Bid

Non-tenure-track faculty members in two academic units at the University of Southern California voted to form a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, while adjuncts in a third major unit voted down the bid, they announced Tuesday. Adjuncts in the Roski School of Arts voted 31-6 to unionize, and those in the International Academy voted for a union, 32-3. Non-tenure-track faculty members in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences voted down the bid, 127-113. A university spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Gates Foundation Sharpens Its Data Push

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday released a report on how some states and colleges are using data to improve student graduation and retention rates. The foundation said the report is based on a decade's worth of lessons learned.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is working with the foundation to develop a forthcoming "metrics framework" that further refines the data areas identified in the new report. The foundation said it will work with policy makers and others to encourage the use of those metrics, including their use as a way to measure the effectiveness of the foundation's own investments. The IHEP report is slated for release in March.

The impetus for the data push is gaps in knowledge about "posttraditional" students, the foundation said, including low-income, first-generation and adult students.

"Higher education is reproducing privilege in this country," said Dan Greenstein, the director of education and postsecondary success in the foundation's U.S. program. "It's unsustainable."

Many data tools from the federal government and other sources have failed to keep up with changing demographics in higher education, according to the foundation.

"We can't answer some of the basic questions," said Jennifer Engle, a senior program officer for Gates who previously worked for IHEP. "We're going to have modernize our data systems."

The foundation said it has focused on metrics that many in higher education agree have value and where serious gaps remain. Those areas include data about students' progress toward a credential (including part-time students), time to completion, transfer rates, debt accumulated, employment after graduation, how much students learn in college and how they use that knowledge and those skills.

Gates last year announced its policy priority areas for college completion. The new report is part of that effort. The foundation has convened a working group it said will make specific policy recommendations later this year on how to improve institutional, state and federal data systems. Likely topics include a federal student unit record, public-private partnerships and improving the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

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