U.S. senators and state attorneys general were among the more than 10,000 individuals and groups to submit comments on the U.S. Department of Education's 530-page proposed rule for federal loan forgiveness for students whom colleges defrauded or misled. Most lined up along partisan lines, with Democrats supporting the rule or calling for it to be strengthened, while Republicans said the rule was overly broad and unfair.
A group of 19 Senate Democrats and Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, called on the department to "close unintended loopholes, increase accountability to students and reduce the complexity of the regulation." Senator Patty Murray, the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), signed the letter.
On the Republican side, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the HELP Committee, submitted a comment warning of "unintended consequences" of the proposed rule, saying it is vague and ambiguous, unfairly targets for-profits, and will be expensive to taxpayers.
Likewise, attorneys general representing Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas wrote to raise concerns about the financial responsibility portion of the regulations, which includes the filing of certain types of lawsuits against colleges as "triggers" requiring actions that could get expensive. The automatic triggers would "violate due process and fundamental fairness" while failing to further the goal of ensuring institutions' financial and administrative responsibility, they said.
A group of attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia wrote in "strong support" of much of the rule. The group, which was led by Maura Healey, a Massachusetts Democrat, also called on the department to strengthen language around group discharges and arbitration agreements.
In addition, Tom Miller, a Democrat and Iowa's attorney general, submitted a comment that, while applauding the rule over all, raised a concern about a "potential chilling effect these rules could have on settlements with educational institutions." The problem, Miller said, is that AG investigations are an automatic triggering event under the rule, so colleges being investigated will have a "strong incentive" to resist settling to avoid the expensive outcome of a financial trigger.
Albany State University and Darton State University, two public institutions that Georgia officials are moving to merge, jointly announced plans Monday to eliminate faculty and staff positions and to eliminate "low-producing academic programs." The programs were not identified. The universities cited enrollment declines as the reason. The breakdown between faculty and staff positions was not released.
Albany State, a historically black college, which saw enrollment drop 25 percent from 2011 to 2015, is eliminating 80 positions, of which 48 are currently filled. Darton State, which saw a 10 percent decline during that period, is cutting 30 positions, none of which are filled.
Many colleges have adopted affirmative consent policies in recent years to help combat sexual assault. But some research suggests that the policies are far removed from how students actually request and receive consent.
Anthony Bieda is resigning as the leader of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, said the large, national accrediting agency, which is facing an existential threat. Bieda took over in April after the abrupt departure of the group's longtime president, Albert Gray. In addition to Bieda's resignation, roughly a quarter of the agency's staff has been laid off in recent days.
Roger J. Williams is ACICS's new interim leader. Williams, an accreditation expert, has been an adviser to the agency since May.
ACICS accredits 245 institutions (many of them for-profits) and a larger number of branch campuses, which enroll a total of roughly 800,000 students. The accreditor has faced intense pressure for its oversight of Corinthian Colleges and other controversial institutions. In June a federal panel voted to terminate ACICS. If the department is able to follow through on that recommendation, the colleges ACICS accredits would need to find a new accreditor.
This week the agency is conducting hearings related to its possible sanctioning of several high-profile institutions, including ITT Technical Institute, Education Management Group and Zenith Education.
As educators, we often assume that we have the answers. In some cases, we also expect that we can -- and should -- anticipate the questions. Yet I can one thing say with absolute certainty: our listening and learning never stops.
Last April, I was welcomed as the seventh president of the University of Nebraska. New to the university and the state, I embarked on a 20-stop, statewide listening tour, Getting to Know Nebraska, augmented by additional community visits over the summer. I had the opportunity to meet and converse with hundreds of Nebraskans and hear firsthand how deeply they care about their public university.
It was insightful and inspirational. And it was just the beginning.
Today’s university presidents are required to be thought leaders and cheerleaders, professional spokespersons and personal ambassadors for their university brand. We must navigate innovations in information technology, shifts in student and faculty needs due to the internationalization of academe, changing rules around college athletics, state and federal politics, and more.
For me, carrying out those roles effectively meant committing to continued listening and informed leadership.
So my communications team and I brainstormed a 21st stop on my statewide listening tour -- one that transcended geographic boundaries and provided continuing opportunities for engagement, conversation and connection. We launched a Twitter listening tour from my new personal handle, @hankbounds, as a way to encourage dialogue about higher education in Nebraska and nationally.
Many of my peers have shied away from the Twitterverse. According to a 2013 study conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, just over half of university presidents have a presence on Twitter. And industry experts say that, among those early adopters, even fewer use the full potential of Twitter to listen and learn, engage with stakeholders, and articulate a differentiating vision.
Not surprisingly, then, a Twitter listening tour concept raised several challenging questions for us.
Is the Twitterverse too uncertain? The platform has inherent risks: being held under the microscope of public scrutiny in a high-traffic digital arena, exposed to not-so-positive or even negative comments and questions, and potentially losing control of the message when conversations are opened up to the masses.
Too constraining? My communications team debated how thoughtful of a question could be asked in 140 characters, and how meaningful of an answer could be delivered in return. But as Biz Stone, cofounder of Twitter, asserts, “Constraint inspires creativity.”
Do university presidents have any business being on Twitter? Removing ego from the equation entirely, would tweeters -- especially students -- have enough of a vested interest in higher education in the state of Nebraska that they’d actually pose questions?
We mulled over all of these things. We couldn’t deny social media’s potential to personalize the presidential role, open up lines of communication, promote leadership transparency and meet stakeholders where they’re at. We recognized the importance of fielding questions and fueling conversation.
So at the start of the 2015-16 academic year, I embarked on Nebraska Talks: A Digital Listening Tour. Over the course of two and a half weeks, and with the support of NU campuses and the local news media (which announced the launch of the tour while select reporters encouraged participation through their own tweets), the Twitter-based tour reached more than 150,000 stakeholders: current and prospective students, faculty and staff members, educators, business and civic leaders, policy makers, alumni and donors.
My Twitter follower numbers saw a healthy spike. But more important, engagement soared.
Questions and conversations -- threaded with #PrezUnplugged -- spanned access and affordability, global education, outreach to first-generation students, the recruitment of out-of-state and international students, the production of more graduates to meet Nebraska’s workforce needs, and the need to increase lifelong learning and alumni engagement, among others.
Outside of the questions, we saw a steady stream of what can only be classed as “affirmation” tweets. People -- some within the university or the state of Nebraska, others completely unaffiliated -- took to Twitter to say how refreshing it was to see a university president using social media as a listening tool and a way to drive engagement and dialogue.
I share this not to pat my communications team on the back. Rather, I share it to challenge my peers to rethink -- and even embrace -- social media as an opportunity to connect with stakeholders in real time, to listen and engage on real topics, and to be accessible. For new and established presidents alike, Twitter is an underused tool for gathering information, understanding the evolving educational landscape, and hearing and recognizing the needs of key audiences.
For me, it’s become a way to continually hear from stakeholders about how we can work together to shape a stronger future and position the University of Nebraska as a leader in higher education. The university has four campuses, with a one- to two-hour drive in between them, so Twitter is also a way to keep a finger on the pulse of multiple campuses and be accessible to faculty, staff and students in an ongoing way.
Twitter can help establish meaningful connections and build trust among key audiences. In my experience, the platform can even facilitate off-line, more traditional relationships. Based on the thoughtfulness, creativity and relevance of the Twitter listening tour questions that came in, I selected two Nebraskans -- one a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the other the president of the Nebraska Educational Technology Association -- to continue conversations with me in person.
Twitter is a prime space for sharing university success narratives and engaging a wide range of people in them. And if approached strategically, it’s also an excellent forum for commenting on trends, highlighting the varied expertise the university can provide and articulating institutional messages and presidential passion points. Early childhood and youth education, for example, is very important to me, since I began my career as a high school teacher and principal. Twitter has opened new doors to talk about the University of Nebraska’s world-class work in that space.
But Twitter is not for the weary. It’s a demanding platform that requires time and cultivation. The listening never stops, and patience is key, as success cannot be measured overnight or simply in quantitative terms. Twitter’s potential expands beyond numbers of followers or the volume of posts or retweets -- it can be a powerful driver for long-term goals such as relationship and reputation building.
Even after a year in my role as president of the University of Nebraska, my listening tour is, in a way, just beginning. To sum up this lesson in 140 characters or less: “Listening has made me a better leader, and social media has allowed me to lend an ear to more people. #PrezUnplugged.”
Hank Bounds is the president of the University of Nebraska.
Temple University on Sunday fired one of its police officers after he was arrested on murder charges, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. A total of three men were charged Friday with murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy and abuse of a corpse in the death of a woman. One of the men who was not a Temple police officer at the time used to be one, but was fired by the university in 2012.
The U.S. Justice Department last week announced a settlement with the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center over a student's complaint that she suffered illegal discrimination as a result of her mental health condition. The student was in a one-year master's program and reported being placed on mandatory medical leave -- against her will -- after she returned from a two-week leave due to her mental health condition. The university has stipulated that the settlement does not constitute admission of guilt. But the settlement requires some new policies at the university, including conducting individual assessment of students before barring them from campus (except in emergency situations), and striving to determine if there are accommodations that could make it possible for students to continue in their academic programs.
The current existential threat to many law schools represents the canary in the coal mine for higher education.
Law schools have typically long enjoyed budget surpluses, and the universities in which they sit have benefited. But over the last few years, the financial situation of most law schools has reversed. Facing multiple years of declining enrollment and public support, alongside increasing costs and tuition discounting, law schools often are no longer a source of surplus revenue. Many law schools now are relying on financial support from their universities to stay afloat. This reversal is a harbinger for the rest of higher education, which is beginning to face some of the same challenges.
The steps law schools are taking -- in the hope they can survive just long enough for precrisis status quo conditions to return -- represent a doubling down on their traditional strategies. What’s so punishing is that because the precrisis status quo is gone forever, they are only worsening the overall outlook for the sector.
As we write in our new research paper published by the Clayton Christensen Institute, “Disrupting Law School: How Disruptive Innovation Will Revolutionize the Legal World,” the precrisis status quo is gone in large part because of the disruption of the traditional business model for the provision of legal services. Simply put, disruption is lessening the need for lawyers, which means law schools are producing too many lawyers for positions that increasingly do not exist.
Disruptions are bringing three significant changes in the legal services market.
First, from LegalZoom to Rocket Lawyer, more affordable, standardized and commoditized services now exist in an industry long dominated by opaque, highly customized and expensive offerings only accessible on a regular basis to a limited part of the population.
Second, from ROSS to the Practical Law Company, to e-discovery and predictive coding, disruptive innovations are allowing traditional law firms and general counsel’s offices to boost their productivity and perform the same amount of work with fewer lawyers. New technologies are able to do tasks that lawyers -- particularly entry-level lawyers -- performed traditionally. This is hollowing out the job market for newly minted lawyers.
And third, disruptive innovations are breaking the traditional rationale for granting lawyers a monopoly on the practice of law. Just as disrupters like Southwest Airlines and Uber changed who could operate in highly regulated industries, if a nonlawyer aided by software can provide the same service as a lawyer, then it is not the public but the lawyers who are being protected by the legal profession’s monopoly on the provision of legal advice.
State regulators of bar licensure are taking note. Some states are beginning to experiment with providing non-J.D.s limited licenses to provide legal services that until now only J.D.s could provide. The state of Washington was the first to license legal technicians -- non-J.D.s who are specially trained to advise clients in a limited practice area, in this case family law. Akin to a nurse-practitioner, under new regulations, a limited license legal technician (LLLT) can perform many of the functions that J.D.s traditionally performed. Only two years old, this new model is already gaining traction outside of Washington; the bars in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Utah are each considering similar steps.
Because there are fewer jobs for lawyers, fewer people are seeking to enroll in law schools -- hence the crisis.
When disruption is afoot, incumbents typically remain tethered to their longstanding habits to sustain themselves. In the context of an increasingly competitive marketplace for law students, this is playing itself out in a quest to retain prestige in the legacy system for ranking law schools, the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Law schools continue to chase prestige by luring students whose LSAT scores and undergraduate grade point averages will help them move up the rankings. They are attracting students by offering tuition discounts -- during the 2013-14 school year just under 40 percent of law students paid full tuition.
But this push to retain prestige in turn reduces revenues and places the schools in a vicious cycle as the expenditures to remain competitive and improve continue to escalate, as has been true in all of higher education.
Lawsuits challenging the veracity of claims that law schools make around job placement are increasing, and if a verdict goes against a law school, the floodgates against them could open that much wider.
On top of all these challenges, higher education itself is, of course, seeing a variety of potential disrupters emerge, all powered at least in part through online learning.
To this point, disruptive innovators have not directly attacked law schools by offering new versions of a legal education. But were entities to emerge that paired online learning, with its flexibility and competency-based learning attributes, with place-based boot camp-type clinical experiences that trained students to practice law in a more affordable and practice-oriented fashion, the pressure on law schools would only increase.
We see four possible solutions for nonelite law schools.
First, launching an autonomous entity is a proven way to combat the impact of disruption. By harnessing an existing law school’s superior resources to pioneer the disruption and create enough separation so the parent entity’s existing processes and priorities do not stifle the new entity, a law school-based educational start-up could itself become the first disrupter.
Second, schools could use online learning technologies as a sustaining innovation to improve learning and control costs. By blending online learning with face-to-face instruction, law schools could incorporate more active learning and professional skills development into the existing three-year educational model.
Third, they could specialize by creating programs that allow J.D. students to focus deeply on a particular area of law. Students could learn core subjects through online, competency-based programs and their in-person experience would focus on extensive training in a particular area of law through experiential learning courses, live-client clinics, simulations, capstones, directed research and writing, moot court and trial advocacy exercises, and field placements.
And, finally, innovative law schools could build new, non-J.D. degree programs that specialize in training students for careers that combine elements from law, business and government -- in international trade, for example -- but do not fit neatly into existing law, business or government schools and are less time-consuming and expensive than, say, a joint J.D.-M.B.A. Or they could offer new credentials that prepare non-J.D.s for the many fields that intersect with the law but do not require a J.D. degree, such as regulatory compliance.
The future is coming for law schools; the question is whether law schools themselves will play a role in shaping that future or be shaped by the cascading circumstances surrounding them.
Michele R. Pistone is a professor of law at Villanova University's Charles Widger School of Law and an adjunct fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. Michael B. Horn is a cofounder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute and a principal consultant for Entangled Solutions, which offers innovation services to higher education institutions.