Starfish's retention software includes both early alerts and kudos

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As colleges turn to vendors for help on retention services, one company offers a way to give positive feedback to students.

Winthrop Board Formally Fires President

Winthrop University's board on Thursday fired Jamie Comstock Williamson as president. The board suspended her this month amid public criticism of the university's hiring of her husband for a part-time job. Williamson had been in office less than a year.

A statement from the board chair said in part: "Whenever legitimate concerns arise, it is important-- first to trustees and then to the public -- that questions be addressed factually and as fully with the public as the university's legal obligations will allow. That is especially important for a public university. Not everyone may agree with every decision made or action taken in the day-to-day operations of a university. Yet public trust, like board trust, requires that true and sincere openness guide all responses in regard to who made key decisions and how those decisions were reached. Candor and trust between the president and the board are crucial for this university, and any university, to thrive. And once candor and trust are irretrievably broken, decisions must be made to chart a different course."

Williamson's lawyer told The Rock Hill Herald that she said this was “a very sad day for Winthrop University and me personally, adding, "I believed that I could provide the leadership to accomplish the visions that so many people shared with me."


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Wilberforce U. Could Lose Accreditation

Wilberforce University, the oldest private historically black college in the country, is in danger of losing accreditation. The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, this week sent the university a "show cause" order asking Wilberforce to give specific reasons and evidence that it should not lose accreditation. The letter says that Wilberforce is out of compliance with key requirements, such as having an effectively functioning board and sufficient financial resources. The university has a deficit in its main operating fund of nearly $10 mllion, is in default on some bond debt, and problems with the physical plan have left the campus "unsafe and unhealthy," the letter says. University officials did not respond to local reporters seeking comment on the accreditor's action.


Senate Passes Work Force Training Bill

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved legislation that will overhaul federal job training programs and funding for vocational education.

Lawmakers passed the measure, which reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act, on a 95-3 vote. Democrats and Republicans struck a bipartisan deal on the legislation earlier this year.

The bill would streamline job training programs an emphasize partnerships between higher education and employers. Community colleges and other higher education have praised the bill.

The Obama administration on Wednesday formally backed the Senate-passed bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives. It’s unclear what path the legislation will take in that chamber since House lawmakers previously passed a vastly different rewrite of the Workforce Investment Act that drew opposition from Democrats and mixed reviews from community colleges. 

Point Park U. Adjuncts Vote to Form Union

Part-time professors at Point Park University in Pittsburgh have voted 172-79 to form a union affiliated with the United Steelworkers, the Associated Press reported. Point Park's Adjunct Faculty Association got the go-ahead from the National Labor Relations Board in April to hold a mail-in election. Adjuncts at nearby Duquesne University in Pittsburgh are still waiting to have their UAW union recognized, since that institution has challenged its adjuncts’ organizing bid on religious grounds. Point Park, a lay institution, said Wednesday it would not challenge the union. Lou Corsaro, university spokesman, said in an emailed statement: “We are pleased that so many adjunct faculty members took the time to make their voices heard on this important issue. We respect the decision made by those eligible to vote and look forward to working with all faculty members to fulfill Point Park’s mission of educating the next generation.”

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Nearly 70 Colleges Team Up to Assess Student Learning

Nearly 70 institutions are collaborating to better assess learning outcomes as part of a new initiative called the Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment. The colleges and universities are a mix of two- and four-year institutions.

The initiative, funded in its initial planning year by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was announced Monday by the Association of Colleges and Universities and the State Higher Education Executive Officers association.

”The calls are mounting daily for higher education to be able to show what students can successfully do with their learning,” said Carol Geary Schneider, AAC&U president, in an announcement. “The Multi-State Collaborative is a very important step toward focusing assessment on the best evidence of all: the work students produce in the course of their college studies."

The 68 colleges and universities participating in the collaborative are from Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Rhode Island and Utah. Faculty at those institutions will sample and assess student work as part of a cross-state effort to document how students are achieving learning outcomes such as quantitative reasoning, written communication, and critical thinking.

All of the assessments will be based on a set of common rubrics. The project will also develop an online data platform for uploading student work samples and assessment data.

Professor says Brooklyn College missed chance to get millions from Koch Foundation

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Brooklyn College professor accuses administrators, allegedly afraid of controversy involving the foundation of the brothers who bankroll many conservative politicians, of passing on a chance at millions.

Essay argues that colleges are better with old-style dormitories than apartment-like facilities

Apartment-style dorm rooms are the Hot New Thing at some colleges nowadays. Single rooms instead of doubles or even quads, exterior doors instead of crowded hallways, private bathrooms instead of gang showers and those icky shared toilets, even mini-kitchens instead of the noisy dining hall – all have an undeniable appeal for incoming freshmen looking to maximize the more adult features of undergraduate life.

Many contemporary students grew up with their own bedrooms, and perhaps even their own bathrooms, and may recoil from sharing their personal spaces with that mysterious stranger, the roommate or hallmate. So colleges and universities, particularly sensitive to the preferences of full-pay students, are starting to move away from traditional long-hallway dorms to more individualized rooms, some with generous amenities. Prospective students seem to love the idea.

They shouldn’t. Apartment-style dorms can be deadly for a student’s long-term success in college, isolating newcomers at exactly the moment when they most need to be reaching out and making friends. Early connections, made when students are most available for meeting new people, are a crucial first step to the community integration that scholars have long known is crucial to student retention and success. When my former student and current doctoral student Chris Takacs and I followed nearly 100 students throughout college and afterward in researching our book How College Works, we found that “high contact” settings such as traditional dorms – featuring long hallways, shared rooms and common bathrooms, where students have no choice but to meet lots of peers – are the single best device for helping new students to solve their biggest problem: finding friends. And dorms are especially valuable for students who are shy, unusually nervous about coming to college, or otherwise feel excluded. Finding one buddy to pal around with is all that’s needed to ensure a positive first-year experience.

Of course dorms aren’t the only place that students make friends. Extracurricular groups that convene frequently and include a couple dozen members are a great source of potential companions (smaller groups don’t work as well). Greek letter societies, sports teams, campus newspapers, and larger musical ensembles serve the purpose. At the college we studied, the choir -- with over 70 members, a dynamic director, rigorous auditions, and frequent rehearsals and performances -- offered a marvelous opportunity for its members to form close bonds, which in turn helped them become, in our network analysis, some of the most socially connected students at the college. 

Still, dormitories are different: they are open to everyone. You don’t need any special talent or athletic ability or an outgoing personality to live in a dorm and thus benefit from meeting a variety of peers. Dorms aren’t exclusive. After that first year, a student will likely have made friends and found his or her niche, but until then, broad exposure seems to be the best pathway to success. 

So how can admissions and student affairs staff convince incoming students to live in those overcrowded rooms and share their showers with people they may not even like?  And how can college presidents be convinced not to engage in the housing arms race of catering to the students who seem to favor luxury and privacy over the group experience? Apartments are appealing, after all, and colleges need the money that full-pay students will pony up for their own little pad.

Try anything. Tell students the odds are they will have a more successful and happy first year at college in this kind of dorm. If you have any money, recarpet the long hallways, improve the shared bathrooms, and upgrade the dorm rooms in that big old building. Try to keep the showers clean. If the rooms can’t be quads, at least make them doubles; if they are singles, at least keep the common bathrooms. Point out that you charge less for the old-fashioned dorm rooms.

Tell prospective students that they’ll meet more people in a dorm; give dorm residents priority in getting sophomore housing. Focus your programming efforts on the early part of the first year, when students are socially available – and often looking for friends. Remember, when more students have repeated, obligatory exposure to a sizable group of other students, more of them will find the one or two buddies who see them through their first year.

Ten years ago this August my wife and I drove our youngest daughter Rebecca down to New York City, to help her move into a freshman dorm at Fordham University. We arrived amid a sea of parents, siblings, RAs, and energetic young women hauling those loaded duffel bags and laundry baskets up big institutional stairwells to the fourth floor. The scene at the top was unforgettable: scores of people, crowded into a long hallway, with 20 rooms – all quads, bunk beds stacked up – lined down a long hallway, girls laughing and talking, helping each other out, and making introductions all around. A young faculty couple with a baby lived in an apartment at the end of the hall, and a priest had a room on the floor below. It was a scene of gentle pandemonium.

Becca stood there, her mouth hanging open in amazement, not yet realizing that four of her best friends in life would come from that hallway. My wife and I, both professors, smiled at each other. “This,” we thought, “will be great.”

It was.

Daniel F. Chambliss is Eugene M. Tobin Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Hamilton College. He is the author, with Christopher G. Takacs, of How College Works (Harvard University Press).

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USC to Award 4-Year Sports Scholarships in Football, Basketball

The University of Southern California announced Monday that all of its football and men's and women's basketball scholarships would last for four years, instead of being the common one-year renewable grant. While it is commonly assumed that college athletic scholarships are for four years, the reality is that most are not -- an issue that has surfaced frequently in the growing debate over whether college athletes are treated fairly. In mandating four-year scholarships for all current and future football and men's and women's basketball players, USC Athletics Director Pat Haden said "USC hopes to help lead the effort to refocus on student-athlete welfare on and off the field."

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Oregon Athletes Accused of Sexual Assault Suspended for Up to 10 Years

Three former University of Oregon men's basketball players accused of sexually assaulting a female student will be suspended from the campus for as long as the alleged victim remains enrolled at the university, The Oregonian reported. The suspension could last between 4 and 10 years.

The alleged assault occurred on March 9, and the players were dismissed from the team in late April. The county district attorney's office did not charge any of the suspects due to insufficient evidence.

"My client is very relieved to get the news," John Clune, the attorney for the victim, told Inside Higher Ed. "It is the right result and it would have been very hard to stay at the UO if it came out another way."

News of the suspension comes as several universities grapple with how to appropriately punish students accused of sexual assault and protect assault victims, even when the suspects have not been found guilty in criminal court.

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