Liberal arts college tries new approach to teaching soft skills

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Reinhardt University launches program to train students in soft skills such as conflict management and strategic listening -- while preserving liberal arts mission.

Student Creating 'Pro-White' Group Torched Black Churches

A University of Wisconsin at Madison student who has been campaigning to create a white nationalist organization on campus was convicted of racially motivated arson against two African-American churches in 2005. In a statement released Thursday, Rebecca Blank, the university's chancellor, defended the student's right to free speech but denounced his actions.

"The student claims to be affiliated with the American Freedom Party, a recognized hate group," Blank said. "Its activities are diametrically opposed to our campus values of respect and inclusion. I’ve been heartened to see many students state their strong disagreement with the views of this group. At this point, we have no information to suggest a specific safety threat to individuals or campus. Any time we become aware of a potential safety concern, we work with law enforcement and other partners to gather information and determine whether laws or campus policies are being violated. We continue to track this situation closely given the student’s history."

The University of Wisconsin system's admission process does not allow institutions to consider a student's criminal history. In her statement Thursday, Blank said the process "is intended to ensure that students who have made mistakes, but paid their debt to society, are not prevented from accessing education." She said the university's Board of Regents will now consider reviewing the policy.

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Pennsylvania System Considering Closings, Mergers

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is engaging in a strategic review that will include weighing mergers and closings among its 14 universities, officials said Thursday.

Currently, the state system’s organizational structure, funding and operations are unsustainable, Chancellor Frank T. Brogan said, according to prepared remarks delivered in an annual State of the System address. He noted that many state higher education systems are confronting financial issues and enrollment challenges by looking at mergers or closures.

“Is that were we are headed? That’s a question I can’t answer today, nor can anyone else,” Brogan said. “But it is a question we must ask -- and answer -- this year.”

Pennsylvania is increasing its appropriation to its higher education system this year. But system Board of Governors Chair Cynthia D. Shapira noted in remarks that the system is receiving $60 million less from the state than it did before the recession.

The system has 105,000 students across its campuses but has experienced five consecutive years of enrollment declines. This is the first time the state system of higher education has considered options like mergers or closures in its 35-year history, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

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A provost describes what she's learned about departmental and campus culture (essay)

New administrators need to be sensitive to the culture of their workplace, even when making an internal move, advises Terri E. Givens.

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Judge sides with University of Kentucky in lawsuit against student newspaper over sexual assault records

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State judge says University of Kentucky need not release records related to sexual assault allegations against a former professor. University officials say student privacy wins out; critics call Kentucky's argument a "smokescreen."

States Intervene in Accreditor's Suit Against Feds

Attorneys general from five states and Washington, D.C., on Tuesday filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools is pursuing against the U.S. Department of Education, which last month finalized its decision to terminate the national accreditor.

The council oversees roughly 245 colleges, most of them for-profits. The department decided to de-recognize ACICS over concerns about lax oversight of the collapsed Corinthian Colleges, ITT Technical Institute and other colleges. ACICS sued to block the department's move.

The filing by the six attorneys general, including those representing Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York, said the department cannot be expected to adequately represent the states' interests in the legal fight.

"ACICS’s accreditation failures are both systemic and extreme. If ACICS is successful in its efforts to vacate the secretary’s well-founded decision to terminate ACICS’s recognition as a federally recognized accreditor, the state movants’ interests in protecting their students, ensuring the effectiveness of state regulations and preserving finite state resources will be harmed," they wrote in the filing.

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Carol Swain to Retire From Vanderbilt

Carol M. Swain, a controversial professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, will retire in August, she announced this week. “I will miss the students and the rhythm of campus, but I will not miss what American universities have allowed themselves to become,” Swain said in a statement on her website. “What will I do next? I anticipate spending my time writing, speaking and making myself available for my next assignment.”

Swain has faced criticism for her comments about Islam and Black Lives Matter, among other topics. In 2015, for example, some students pushed for Vanderbilt to take action against Swain for writing in a column in the wake of the January terror attacks in Paris, “What would it take to make us admit we were wrong about Islam? What horrendous attack would finally convince us that Islam is not like other religions in the U.S., that it poses an absolute danger to us and our children unless it is monitored better than it has been under the Obama administration?”

A university spokesperson told The Tennessean, “We wish Professor Swain well in her retirement from Vanderbilt.”

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A list of don'ts for presidential spouses (essay)

A presidential spouse for two decades, Mort Maimon shares what he’s learned along the way.

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Why University of Kentucky has significantly shifted its ratio of merit to need-based financial aid (essay)

One of the strengths -- and there are many -- of the American higher education system is its traditional commitment to access.

Higher education leaders at all levels have been united in their desire to create and maintain affordable pathways to attendance at postsecondary institutions. We all are aware of the well-documented potential for progress that higher education offers generations of students and families.

But without question, during the last 30 years, the affordability of a college degree has eroded noticeably and significantly. A number of factors have contributed to that trend, but it’s clear that, as low-tuition, low-aid models have evolved into high-tuition, high-aid models, more and more middle-class students have been denied the opportunity to pursue higher education. That is why we at the University for Kentucky have evaluated how we structure our scholarships and have decided to chart a dramatically different path -- one much more aggressive in facilitating the success of students and families of limited financial means. It is right for our students, and it is right for the Commonwealth.

We’ve seen that, over time, colleges and universities have begun to use institutional aid to “sculpt” their entering classes. We have deployed aid to meet institutional priorities -- to support worthy goals of academic achievement and diversity, and to achieve important strategic objectives such as higher graduation rates.

But at what cost?

The connection between socioeconomic status and academic ability is well established. On average, students from families with higher incomes score better on national tests (ACT and SAT), are academically prepared, and engage in college-preparatory tutorials, among other advantages. It is no wonder, then, that those students also are rewarded more generously with institutional aid that is targeted toward merit.

At the University of Kentucky, we understand the results of these socioeconomic advantages and merit-based aid strategies. Students at the top end of both academic preparation and income receive the bulk of our merit-based aid -- which means the students who have the most options for postsecondary attainment are also receiving the most resources.

The fact is, however, that promising students who come from lesser means have not had such additional advantages and, in too many cases, have suffered as a result. As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, we have a moral responsibility to change that situation.

To be sure, we have institutional aid dedicated to those with the most need, and we take advantage of the longstanding state and federal funds available. But, as has also been the case in the overall American economy since the Great Recession of 2008, we are observing the worrisome trend of a hollowing out of the middle. It is those students in the middle -- both in terms of socioeconomic background and academic preparation -- who are facing increasing obstacles to postsecondary attainment.

There is no question that these students can succeed. The question is can they afford the opportunity? At UK, our goal through our strategic plan is to place the student at the center of all of our decisions. Against that backdrop, we recently announced a new initiative that will radically change how we allocate our institutional aid.

Through UK LEADS (Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success), we are intentionally moving away from the institutional merit-based-aid arms race and instead committing ourselves to serving our students and our state. We want unmet financial need to be off the table as a concern for students and families.

A review of internal data has indicated that students with $5,000 or more unmet need -- defined as the amount remaining after the expected family contribution and all other aid (institutional, state and federal aid) -- had a significantly higher risk of attrition than students with less than $5,000 unmet need. And attrition increased significantly with each additional $5,000 in unmet need.

UK LEADS will dramatically shift the ratio of merit to need-based financial aid over the next five years. Currently, 90 percent of our aid is targeted to merit. By 2021, we hope 65 percent will be directed to financial need.

We plan to continue offering merit-aid based on a set of selection criteria. But if we do not make a radical change, it will become more difficult for our middle-class students to attend and graduate from our institution.

As public institutions have entered the institutional-aid arms race, institutional goals have taken precedence over the needs of their states and students. At UK, we believe that if we focus instead on student success and what is best for our state, institutional success will follow. But the reverse may not be true.

In the wake of the recent presidential election, there is also a strong push nationally to reinvest in the middle class, to address economic dislocations wrought by globalization and technology. Access to higher education must be a vital component of that effort.

In changing the way we think about aid -- by focusing less on sculpting a class of students and being more concerned about who can be positively impacted by a renewed commitment to affordable access -- we in higher education can once again honor our legacy as the nation’s brightest hope for economic and social progress.

Eli Capilouto is the president and Tim Tracy is the provost of the University of Kentucky.

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

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