NCAA Faces Another Lawsuit Over Concussions

Another set of former college athletes are suing the National Collegiate Athletic Association for allegedly failing to educate football players about the long-term effects of head injuries, The Birmingham News reported. The class action, filed by two former football players at the University of Tennessee and one from North Carolina State University, is the latest lawsuit to try to hold the NCAA accountable for concussions and other head injuries suffered in intercollegiate competition. The lawsuit seeks to require the NCAA to provide a medical monitoring program to former athletes.

Ad keywords: 

Early Court Win for Pa. Officials in Suit Over NCAA Fines of Penn State

A Pennsylvania court on Wednesday refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by state officials who want to ensure that $60 million in fines Pennsylvania State University has agreed to pay the National Collegiate Athletic Association stays in the state, The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported. The NCAA had asked the Commonwealth Court to dismiss a lawsuit, filed by a state senator and Pennsylvania's treasurer, asking that the hefty fine the university agreed to pay as part of a consent decree in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal go into a state-established endowment for child abuse victims, rather than going to the NCAA to spend on child abuse advocacy nationally.

A majority of the court's judges rejected the NCAA's arguments that the Pennsylvania officials did not have legal standing, that the case is moot because Penn State is not a party to it, and that the lawmakers' actions illegally interfere with the consent decree between the NCAA and Penn State, among other things, the newspaper reported.

U. of Phoenix President to Retire

William J. Pepicello will retire as president of the University of Phoenix after seven years in the job, the institution announced Wednesday. Pepicello, who has worked at the for-profit university since 1995, has navigated Phoenix through both strong growth and the contraction that much of his sector has encountered post-recession, and has been a visible presence at meetings of higher education leaders.

$200M Gift for U. of Michigan B-School and Athletics

Stephen M. Ross, a real estate developer, has given the University of Michigan a gift of $200 million. The funds will be split between the business school and the athletics department. Gifts by Ross to Michigan now total $313 million, making him the largest donor in the institution's history.


Vacancies on U. of California Board

Governor Jerry Brown has, since his inauguration in January of 2011, yet to appoint a member to the University of California Board of Regents, even though 5 of the 18 spots are vacant, The Los Angeles Times reported. Three of the positions have been open for 18 months. The vacancies are surprising to some because Governor Brown has attended board meetings and spoken out on university issues more than many governors have in the past, so he is clearly interested in the university system. Further, the seats are generally considered to be among the political plums available to a governor. A spokesman said that the governor was aware of the vacancies and focused on finding the best candidates.


Ad keywords: 

Former UMUC Chief Chosen to Lead Drexel Online

Drexel University has hired Susan C. Aldridge, the former president of the University of Maryland University College, to lead its online learning efforts. Aldridge has been a highly visible leader in online education for nearly two decades; she led UMUC for six years after serving as vice chancellor of Troy University's Global Campus, and resigned from the Maryland post last year suddenly and under circumstances that were never fully explained. She has been a senior fellow at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and will be senior vice president for online learning and president of Drexel e-Learning.

senior vice president for Online Learning and president of Drexel e-Learning, - See more at:

Appeals Court Upholds $1M Harassment Verdict Against Alabama State U.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a lower court's ruling that awarded three former female employees at Alabama State University about $1 million for discrimination and retaliation by their supervisors there. The ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a 2012 federal jury verdict holding Alabama State accountable for the behavior of John Knight, a former special assistant to the president and interim president, and LaVonette Bartley, who worked for Knight. (Knight is also a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.) The appeals panel supported the lower court's findings that Knight and Bartley regularly called the three employees "niggers" (both of the supervisors and two of the three plaintiffs were African-American -- the third was of mixed race) and sometimes engaged in sexual harassment, verbal and physical -- and that university officials failed to stop or respond to the harassment. "[W]e are unnerved by the apparent acquiescence to, if not outright condoning of, the abusive work environment created by its high-level employees," the 11th Circuit panel said. "Such conduct simply has no place in a work environment, especially at a publicly funded university."

Alabama State's president emeritus, William H. Harris, said in a statement Tuesday that the university "vehemently" disagrees with the court's ruling and denies that it discriminated. But "the court has spoken," Harris said, and "I want the public to be assured we have taken and continue to take seriously any allegation of discrimination. We will address appropriately any allegation of discrimination lodged against any person at this university."

Ad keywords: 

Tensions at Hunter College

Jennifer J. Raab, president of Hunter College of the City University of New York, has had considerable success with fund-raising and building projects, The New York Times reported. But she has also seen rapid turnover in key positions, especially in the College of Arts and Sciences. One assistant dean departed with a letter accusing her of "personal attacks and a culture of fear and mistrust." Raab defended her management of the college, and said that critics were outliers.


Ad keywords: 

Essay on how President Obama could reform student aid without ratings

Understand one fact about the president's speech in Buffalo August 22 and the White House's plans to reform college financial aid: President Obama's proposed tie of financial aid prospects to ratings relies on an overcomplicated, implausible set of mechanisms to accomplish a simple task. The admirable goal: target financial aid on the colleges and universities that make it easier for students of moderate means to attend and complete undergraduate programs.

We should not be surprised that the president's goal is mixed up with the fantasy of an algorithm that can judge the merit of colleges and universities. Ratings and rankings are the crack cocaine of today's generation of education reformers and have been since the Reagan administration concocted a "wall chart" attempting to compare state educational performance. Our current president, his White House advisers, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and many others cannot get the idea out of their heads -- that if we just find the right (magical) formula, we can push the education system to perform better.

Sometimes algorithms are important and helpful, and I understand why dreams of a perfect educational judgment system are so appealing. Brookings Institution researchers Matthew Chingos and Beth Akers have the best short description of the potential benefits of a ratings system for higher education, written from the perspective of two algorithm advocates. Alas, they assume both the existence of meaningful, comprehensive, nonmanipulable data, and the ability of an algorithm to spot high and low performers with accuracy. We know from both college ranking systems and the history of elementary and secondary school accountability that such attempts generally fail. Cedar Reiner and Timothy Burke have explained some of the concerns I have about applying blind faith in bad formulas for higher education... and I am afraid that the president's promise, "We'll figure out the right formula in the next two years!" is as comforting as other similar claims have been. Such a system is inevitably a Rube Goldberg machine.

But we do not need to feed politicians' dependency on school and college ratings. Mr. President, tear down that wall chart! You can accomplish the same goal with much simpler, more robust tools -- and even better, you would not need Congress to amend the Higher Education Act to improve the federal government's financial aid system. Here is my Five-Step Program to break politicians' addiction to ratings systems, at least in higher education:

1. Distribute a large chunk of college aid directly to colleges and universities based on Pell graduates, if not exactly as proposed. The basic idea is good: institutions that effectively serve poor students should have some support to continue and expand their work. But we do not know whether it would be best to have a flat payment per graduate or weight it by financial aid received by the student. There are some potential advantages of weighting the reward by the size of Pell Grant received while enrolled, and possibly other financial aid: addressing transfer issues in a rational (if not perfect) way, giving some advantage to institutions with the poorest students, and giving institutions a significant incentive to help students keep Pell grants and other aid year-to-year. Instead of making one decision at the federal level, Congress could distribute funds to states, tell them they must distribute funds based on associate or bachelors degrees earned by those who received Pell grants, and let states partially or fully weight those rewards based on federal and/or state and institutional financial aid received by the graduates. Letting states determine if the rewards are weighted by financial aid may appeal to governors and state legislators, as well as allowing states to include state and institutional financial aid in the weights.

2. Cap student loans not just by students but also by institutions, with the cap tied to the number of recent graduates who carried federal student loans at the institution. For example, if the cap for four-year colleges was hypothetically set at $10,000 times the total loan-carrying graduates in the past three years, then an institution with a consistent 40 percent graduation rate would have a much lower loan cap for all its students than an institution with a consistent 60 percent graduation rate. (For example, a college that admits 1,000 students who take outloans every year would graduate 400 of them annually, 1,200 every three years, with a total loan cap of $12 million. If it graduated 600 students carrying loans instead every year, it would have a total loan cap of $18 million.) Institutions with lower graduation rates would either have to have lower net costs, raise their graduation rates, or stop recruiting students who need large student loans. 

Capping loans at an institution by the absolute number of loan-carrying students would not need a difficult-to-calculate graduation rate but would realistically address the capacity of an institution to educate students. The formula could be generous at the start and focus on limiting loans for the worst actors in higher education, those whose business plans rely on both the federal financial-aid system and also the gullibility of prospective students.

3. Cap not only personal student loans but also loan-forgiveness and so-called PLUS loans available to parents and graduate students, to circumvent individual loan caps. A comprehensive all-system cap that sets annual, per-degree, and lifetime loan and forgiveness caps would end the structure that has allowed Georgetown Law School to game graduate student PLUS loans so that neither Georgetown nor its students pay (in net) anything to the federal government. A comprehensive family-based cap on college-related loans would also address concerns about the exploitation of students and their families by tuition-dependent colleges and universities of all sectors. This subject is sensitive because of the claims by many tuition-dependent colleges and universities that they serve the public interest even while graduating a small minority of their students. The latest round of debates on PLUS loans and private historically black colleges and universities has gone to HBCUs, with what appears to be largely a reversal of the Obama administration's efforts to tighten credit-worthiness criteria for parents. The solution to the dilemma of the nonselective tuition-dependent college should not be the exploitation of families but the direct support of valuable institutions, which is why two more steps are necessary.

4. Use the Experimental Sites waiver provision of Title IV (the portion of the Higher Education Act with the rules for most student aid programs) to let public and nonprofit colleges work together on the student-services and business sides of their work, creating consortiums that draw on common services for some critical supports. Using Experimental Sites to improve student services and tighten the business operations of colleges is far more likely to help students than using Experimental Sites for MOOCs. In May, Southern New Hampshire University President Paul LeBlanc complained that federal rules prohibited nonprofits from working together on bundled services, even as many used commercial (and more expensive) corporations such as Academic Partnerships. Now, LeBlanc thinks that Experimental Sites might allow that bundling of services in the nonprofit college world. While LeBlanc would like SNHU to provide bundled services for online, competency-based education, we can extend the concept to consortiums of nonprofits with common interests, such as relatively nonselective HBCUs, and encourage such consortiums to address issues that most directly affect student persistence and completion and that can reduce costs if shared between institutions.

5. Directly support consortiums of tuition-dependent colleges and universities, contingent on sharing of relevant data on student progress and completion. If the federal government provides technical assistance grants supporting both instruction and student persistence/completion efforts to consortiums of nonselective public and private colleges, it could make data-sharing a condition of such grants. This could be accomplished through the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE).

Together, these five steps address the general goals the president is targeting but likely without needing the Higher Education Act to be amended. None of them require the assumption of finely tuned ratings, and none should require a huge amount of statistical work by institutions beyond what Title IV colleges and universities must track today. The greatest difficulty is likely in using the appropriations process for the first and last steps -- and my guess is that it is easier to persuade Congress to send money to the states to reward colleges that graduate poor and moderate-income students than to ask members of Congress to give up their FIPSE earmarks.

But as long as no statutory change is required, there is some hope of addressing the fundamental dilemma with allowing loans to prop up tuition-dependent colleges and universities. The controversy over HBCUs and student/family loans is one form of a broader question untouched by the ideas above: How can we address the needs of tuition-dependent private colleges that admit students with weaker records -- when it is difficult to separate exploitative institutions from institutions that have an historical record of serving the public good? In the last century, black college graduates have represented a disproportionate number of African-American professionals after college. That history does not justify indefinite indirect subsidies by the federal government through student and family loans, especially given the inability to discharge educational debt in bankruptcy. But it does justify an understanding that some private institutions have low graduation rates while meeting a legitimate public purpose. In that regard, HBCUs constitute the canaries in the coal mine for tuition-dependent institutions more generally.

Advocates of a federal ranking/rating system argue that they can adjust measures of student success by the difficulties of serving the institution's population. I am skeptical of that claim, in part based on the experience with K-12 accountability algorithms that repeatedly fail to demonstrate sensitivity or specificity in identifying weakly performing schools, and in part based on the substantial disconnect between the available database (IPEDs) and even the best social scientific attempts to quantify entering-student needs. My experience and common sense about statistics lead me to believe that a federal ranking/rating system would not be worth all the candlepower that the White House is going to put into it. Or fairy dust sprinkled into the computers.

Instead of trusting a magical-algorithm approach, we should provide some direct support to such institutions in a way that allows them to be a little more efficient business-wise, boosts capacity in supporting students, and provides a little more accountability. The last two suggestions above focus on those goals. For tuition-dependent private colleges and universities that are allergic to sharing records, they could join together in consortiums without getting federal assistance. Those that most desperately need direct support and technical assistance would access to resources, with the understanding it comes bundled with accountability and sharing of data.

I am highly skeptical that the president's desire for a rating system will do much good. But it is not enough for skeptics of college ratings/rankings to point out all their flaws. We need concrete policy alternatives, ways to get to the same end without them. The above is my not-so-modest attempt to tackle that goal. It eliminates the Perfect Algorithmic Mechanism (that is DOA anyway) in favor of simpler, more robust mechanisms. And for tuition-dependent nonprofits that have a claim of serving the public good by serving especially needy students, it has the option of providing modest direct support in return for sharing of data.

But my attempt may not be the best option. What is your proposal for targeting aid to the most needy students in a way that realistically could happen in the next few years?

Sherman Dorn is a historian of education at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He wrote Accountability Frankenstein (Information Age Publishing, 2007) and blogs here.

Editorial Tags: 

Sheriff Criticizes University President Over Hip-Hop Concert

Mike Scott, a county sheriff in Florida, is criticizing Florida Gulf Coast University -- and specifically President Wilson Bradshaw -- for a planned concert for the fall featuring the hip-hop performers Ludacris and Kendrick Lamar. The News-Press of Fort Myers, Fla., obtained e-mail messages between Scott and Bradshaw about the event. Scott questioned why the sheriff's office should help with security and why the university would host an event featuring performers who use explicit language (including the n-word) that offends many people. And Scott specifically noted Bradshaw's race. "I can’t for the life of me begin to imagine why a black university president would sanction such vile content; especially so proximate to the golden anniversary of Dr. King’s speech."

Bradshaw responded by noting that the university had found that the performers had appeared without incident at more than 200 colleges, and that students selected them. "As a university president -- black or white -- periodically there are expressed views related to students and faculty that the president doesn’t personally or professionally sanction or share," Bradshaw responded. "In this case, our students indicated a strong interest in inviting these performers."

Ad keywords: 


Subscribe to RSS - administrators
Back to Top