East Central University reverses position on its chapel

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East Central University, facing complaint, agrees to remove religious symbols from chapel. But after criticism, institution halts the removal.

The importance of a core curriculum (essay)

In a recent salvo in what some observers call the “war on the core (curriculum),” Donal O’Shea, president of New College of Florida, points to the disadvantages of the ostensibly rigid and compulsory nature of too many fixed graduation requirements. He alleges that such a dynamic limits opportunities for intellectual exploration and development. Such criticisms might leave readers with the impression that colleges with strong core requirements leave students with little intellectual room to grow.

But naysayers rarely mention this: a thorough seven-subject general education sequence, such as the core curriculum for which the American Council of Trustees and Alumni advocates in its “What Will They Learn?” report, occupies at most 30 semester hours. It provides an unparalleled, diverse intellectual foundation for further study, while still affording students ample opportunity not only to complete their major but also to devote their attention to the topics that personally excite them.

Every educator will join O’Shea in his appreciation of the way that “serendipity” and discovery compose a major part of the excitement of liberal learning -- the “intervention of a gifted professor … taking an inspiring course or excitedly talking over an idea with a friend in a residence hall.” But colleges should not confuse intellectual exploration with the absence of structure and intentional scaffolding of intellectual growth or overlook how profoundly curricular standards help students distinguish between the serious and the trivial.

How does a course on Horror Films and American Culture at the University of Colorado at Boulder equate to an American history course designed to cover a comprehensive study of key events in our nation’s past? What about The Fame Monster: The Cultural Politics of Lady Gaga, offered in 2013 at Indiana University, where the most frequent grade was an A-plus? These misplaced priorities are a predictable consequence of privileging curricular “serendipity” over sound curricular structure.

Students enjoy flexibility, agency and choice -- but they also need and appreciate direction and structure, rather than being left to pick and choose course sequences with limited intellectual coherence. How will students be ready for serendipity when it comes, if they lack the intellectual foundation required to meaningfully engage in those pursuits? A Lumina Foundation study found that students get “tangled up” when they are left with too many choices, lengthening their time to degree. Faculty members and administrators have an obligation to give students the framework they need to grow intellectually and graduate.

Attributing boredom and tedium to required courses, and excitement and joy to curricular choice, simply does not stand up to a logical examination of the facts. A required course can be taught well or taught badly, and the same is true of the most culturally relevant elective. Try telling graduates of core curricula at programs as varied as those at Columbia University, Hampden-Sydney College, Pepperdine University, the University of Dallas and the University of Georgia that their experience was stale and intellectually limited.

The decimation of clear requirements and frameworks is likely a major contributor to a growing sense of drift and disappointment among college graduates -- and their employers. Survey data show that while nearly all provosts believe their institution is doing an excellent job of preparing students for careers, employers sharply disagree -- particularly when it comes to writing and critical thinking. A survey of employers by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that only 26 percent deemed the critical thinking skills of their recently hired college graduates excellent. Just 23 percent thought that recent graduates were well prepared at “applying knowledge/skills to the real world.”

“Serendipity” is ultimately a poor substitute for academic leadership, for a board, administration and expert faculty coming together, determining the priority skills and knowledge that equip graduates for successful careers and informed citizenship, and then having the determination to reify those priorities in requirements -- not aspirations. Privileging faculty excitement over the needs of students -- about to face a ferocious, globalized job market -- is academic malpractice.

The survival of the liberal arts tradition demands that colleges act with urgency to clarify their requirements and expectations of students. Costs and sagging class enrollments are threatening entire majors and departments in essential subjects such as physics, philosophy and foreign language on many college campuses. Students at some liberal arts colleges are opting into vocational courses such as accounting and computer science.

Without rigor and cohesive requirements, the liberal arts will eventually confront a future of irrelevance. What’s called for here is a rigorous liberal arts education and facing up to our responsibility as standard-bearers in that process. Employers, taxpayers, parents and students are quite reasonably demanding more from higher education. Are we listening?

Michael B. Poliakoff is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

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How tenure-track and adjunct faculty joined forces to unionize at Notre Dame de Namur

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Deciding to unionize alongside part-timers could have backfired on Notre Dame de Namur’s tenured and tenure-track faculty members. Here’s how it didn’t.

How Title IX can work against the interests of sexual assault survivors (essay)

Sexual Assault on Campus

Sexual assault takes away a victim’s power and agency, and to assist with their healing, universities need to affirm their agency and re-empower them, argues Cybill Rights.

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Ted Mitchell Could Be ACE's Next President

Ted Mitchell, an under secretary of education during the Obama administration, is one of two finalists to be the next president of the American Council on Education, several observers said.

ACE is higher education's chief lobby group. Molly Corbett Broad, its president since 2008, is retiring in October.

Mitchell was under secretary from 2014 until President Trump assumed office. He also previously served as president of Occidental College. During his busy stint as under secretary, Mitchell played a primary role in overseeing the department's push for innovation in higher education. He worked on the administration's attempt to crack down on for-profit institutions as well as the aftermath of the collapses of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, which the department in both cases helped make happen.

ACE's board is meeting this week, and observers said the board anticipated making a decision on its next president. The actual hiring and announcement could be weeks away, however.

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Year-Round Pell Could Help Community Colleges

The resumption of year-round Pell Grants, scheduled for July, could help offset the enrollment declines many community colleges are experiencing, according to Moody's Investors Service. The restored grant eligibility, often called Summer Pell, allows students to receive up to 150 percent of a typical Pell award amount during the course of a year.

Nationwide, enrollments at community colleges have been slumping for several years, due in part to the recovering economy. When the U.S. Congress in 2011 discontinued the availability of year-round Pell Grants -- with the Obama administration's backing -- the average grant amount per recipient fell by 11 percent, Moody's said. The return of year-round grants will make it more affordable for community college students to enroll throughout the year, which Moody's said would accelerate degree completion and bolster enrollment.

"Although we do not anticipate substantial enrollment increases from the Pell expansion," said Moody's, "the incremental additional credits that summer Pell Grant student will take will help to offset some of the countercyclical enrollment declines due to improving employment opportunities and economic conditions in most states."

Bar graph: Community college enrollment continues to decline due to improving economic conditions. Graph shows enrollment of 5.75 million in 2006, increasing to nearly seven million in 2010, then decreasing to just over six million in 2015.

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Cathy Sandeen updates her MOOC predictions

Writing for Inside Higher Ed, Cathy Sandeen looked back at her past predictions and claims about massive open online courses to see how they’ve held up. Sandeen, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin Extension, provided new insights and predictions. She said:

Suit Seeks to Block $600,000 Severance Payment

A citizen lawsuit against Northern Illinois University seeks to block its board's approval of a $600,000 severance payment to Doug Baker, who resigned as president amid criticism of spending practices at the university, The Chicago Tribune reported. The suit charges that the board violated open meetings laws by not telling the public it was planning to make a deal with the outgoing president. The university declined to comment.

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College gives iPads to students -- and enrollment rises 17.7%

Ed-tech blogger Josh Kim writes in Inside Higher Ed that Maryville University's experience with giving all students iPads should cause higher education to re-examine conclusions about 1:1 technology programs and the value of using a single device for all students.

2 very different ways to help professors analyze digital courseware

New framework aims to help professors make sense of the landscape of digital tools that promise to change the nature of learning.


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