Senate Republicans Question Probation of U of Phoenix by Pentagon

Three Senate Republicans on Thursday wrote to the U.S. Department of Defense to question its recent decision to temporarily suspend the University of Phoenix's eligibility for military tuition benefits.

The Pentagon's sanction of the for-profit chain was due to allegations about Phoenix improperly sponsoring recruiting events and using the Defense Department's seal on commemorative coins. Newly enrolling students may not use military tuition assistance at the university. Roughly 4,000 Phoenix students currently receive the benefit, which active-duty members of the military are eligible to receive.

Senators John McCain, Lamar Alexander and Jeff Flake, all Republicans, wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, asking him to "examine and reconsider" the decision. They said the move was unfair and based on vague, technical violations the university has worked to fix. The senators also wrote that the Pentagon's sanction was motivated by partisan congressional critics of for-profits, and criticized that the Defense Department cited ongoing investigations of Phoenix by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and California's attorney general as part of the justification for the decision.

"We strongly believe that these earned benefits and educational opportunities for our service members should not be jeopardized because of political or ideological opinions of some members of Congress regarding the types of institutions that provide postsecondary education to our troops," they wrote.

The real costs of accreditation, and the process's value (essay)

Much has been made in recent months by higher education and political leaders about how the costs to institutions of federal regulation are driving up the price of colleges and universities.

A new report from Vanderbilt University and the Boston Consulting Group claims that institutions spend about $3 billion for regional accreditation. This figure -- based on approximating accreditation costs as a percentage of the overall costs of regulation at 13 institutions and other industrywide data -- seems designed to reach a similar conclusion as an earlier report released by an influential Senate committee: that the cost of accreditation is unusually high.

The previous report claimed that Vanderbilt University’s College of Art and Sciences devotes more than 5,000 hours annually, at a cost of about $2.92 million, to report to its regional accreditor. The earlier study also included data gathered by Duke University asserting that the cost of accreditation in faculty and staff time over the last few years has been about $1.5 million. This is in addition to the $500,000 the university spends each year to manage required reporting related to academic assessment and other matters.

These costs are significantly inflated and irresponsibly misleading. As multiple news outlets have reported, the vast majority of the costs identified in the previous Vanderbilt study were related to regulations related to federal research grants and not accreditation.

In addition, suggesting, as this report does, that the cost of accreditation includes significant faculty costs ignores the reality that accreditation activities are part of regular faculty service and committee work and contribute to the overall improvement of the institution.

Unlike the many regulatory requirements that institutions have to deal with that are really only reporting, the process of peer review creates significant benefit to institutions to help them study themselves with expert colleagues, plan for the future, and discover and address their blind spots.

There is no doubt that colleges, universities and pre-K-12 institutions suffer from overregulation, but accreditation -- a process that reinforces continuous improvement of institutions -- isn’t the primary culprit. Accrediting agencies in both pre-K-12 and higher education are working to streamline their processes, to lower costs and become more cost-effective.

They are also seeking to become more transparent about decision making, and ensure that the broadest range of stakeholders is included in discussions of academic standards and quality -- quality that translates into real improvements at institutions, not just checklist compliance.

So what is the real cost of accreditation?

As two leaders of accreditation agencies -- one that assures quality in over 34,000 pre-K-12 institutions around the globe and the other that provides regional accreditation for over 800 Southern higher education institutions (including Duke and Vanderbilt) -- we estimate the cost of accreditation to be significantly lower than those reported in the Senate report.

A 2012 doctoral dissertation project conducted by Paul Woolston Jr. at the University of Southern California looked at the average cost for institutions seeking to reaffirm their accreditation through three of the six regional accreditation agencies. Woolston found that the average cost -- including both direct and indirect costs -- was $327,254 over a seven- to 10-year cycle. This means the annual cost to institutions ranges from roughly $32,000 to $41,000 per year depending on the length of the accreditation cycle.

Even at doctorate-granting research universities, the average combined direct and indirect cost over this entire span was about $415,000 for these institutions across three accreditation regions. Hardly the millions of dollars being bandied about by those who would like to see the accreditation process dismantled, and certainly an amount that is manageable enough to budget for over the long term.

Moreover, the cost of accreditation is significantly lower than what those unfamiliar with the process might expect because of the volunteer nature of the work. AdvancED, for example, recently brought a 40-member team to examine evidence of school quality in Hillsborough County, Fla., that included significant on-site time to review information and meet with district and community representatives -- a process similar to that undertaken during accreditation of higher education institutions.

If the cost of one day of that single visit was an outright business charge, at an average rate of $2,500 per consultant, the cost for the four-day visit could have exceeded $400,000. However, AdvancED charged the district $4,000 for the accreditation effort plus individual travel and expenses. Institutions are also charged an annual accreditation fee of $750. For Hillsborough, a district of 245 institutions, the cost per year is $183,750. The process resulted in the development of the district’s new five-year master plan that has received significant buy-in from teachers, staff, students, parents and other stakeholders, whose views were surveyed and taken into account to develop the plan.

The reality is that, typically, accreditation costs are only 5 to 10 percent of the costs of overall investment in institutional research and continuing improvement. This, we believe, is a small cost to pay for a vital service that ensures quality and spurs continuous improvement in all areas that affect student learning.

Why the huge disparities between our view and what some of the recent studies have found? For the most part, they reflect some of the confusion about what accreditors actually do, what is required of institutions and what institutions must do to improve themselves.

Accreditation sets standards for quality in pre-K-12 and higher education institutions, and measures and monitors institutional and student performance through a carefully orchestrated multiyear process of peer review. Teams of experts -- including academic deans, presidents and faculty from peer institutions, and nonacademic experts in particular disciplines -- work closely with institutional officials to investigate every aspect of what the institution does.

The process provides an in-depth view into the vital systems of the institution: the effectiveness of instruction, the availability and strength of student support, how the institution is led and governed, its financial management as well as how it uses data in decision making. Accreditors provide their seal of approval after institutions make needed changes and work closely with college and university leaders to develop an ongoing improvement strategy and demonstrate that they have achieved key standards according to clear indicators of performance, including measures of what students learn.

We believe this work represents a significant investment in the future of colleges and schools. A recent survey by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges suggests that this is so. Only about 16 percent of responding institutions said that accreditation is only or primarily an expense to the institution while the vast majority (over 80 percent) saw accreditation as primarily an investment (42.5 percent) or as both an investment and an expense (41.5 percent).

The survey also showed that institutional leaders believe that about two-thirds of the cost is spent on what the institution needs to invest in to improve, while only one-third of the cost is seen as stemming from the specific requirements of accreditation. Likewise, AdvancED conducts biannual surveys of its institutions. Results consistently show that over 90 percent of institutions find significant value in the accreditation process as a primary driver of continuous improvement and accountability. The cost of accreditation is viewed as minimal in comparison to the benefits and impact.

The cost of improving an institution is the singular responsibility of the institution, and part of its daily work. Exemplar colleges -- and even corporations like IBM -- do not consider the work of improvement to be an onerous task or something that an accrediting body forces them to do but an essential part of their management.

We hope that policy makers will come to recognize that the cost of accreditation is what is required to help guide institutions on their improvement journey; it is not the cost of the journey itself.

Belle S. Wheelan is president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Mark A. Elgart serves as the founding president and chief executive officer for Advance Education (AdvancED).

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Fired DuPage President Sues College

As many predicted he would, Robert Breuder sued the College of DuPage less than a day after it formally fired him, The Chicago Tribune reported. The board cited financial mismanagement, among other issues. But Breuder is arguing that he had an exit agreement with the college that it lacked the legal right to void, as it did to fire him.

New presidents or provosts: Australian National Berkeley Boston FDU Foothill-De Anza NAU NMHU SVC Tallahassee

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  • Christopher A. Capuano, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Fairleigh Dickinson University, in New Jersey, has been chosen as president there.

Costly Overpayments of Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doled out $416 million in Post-9/11 GI Bill overpayments during the 2014 fiscal year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found in a new report. The VA provided $10.8 billion in GI Bill benefits to 800,000 student veterans last year. But overpayments affected about one in four veteran beneficiaries, according to the GAO report. As of November 2014 the VA still was collecting $152 million in overpayments from last year and another $110 million from previous years.

Enrollment changes and college errors are primary drivers of the overpayments, the GAO said. And inadequate guidance, processes and training have limited the VA's ability to reduce overpayments. Many veterans may not realize they can incur overpayments as a result of enrollment changes, because the VA gives them limited guidance on its policies, according to the GAO.

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, responded to the report with a written statement. He said the VA typically fails to account for when a student changes enrollment status during the course of a semester. That means when a student drops a class, the resulting overpayment to the college can result in the veteran unknowingly owing a sizable debt to the federal government.

"I'm concerned the VA’s current system for administering Post-9/11 GI benefits is too confusing, and that the burden for repaying overpayments falls disproportionately on veterans, many of whom may be unaware that they may have been given too much money and owe it back," Carper said. "Ultimately, we must ensure that we are not, through poor management of this program, placing yet another barrier to success in front of veterans trying to get a high-quality education."

The VA accepted the GAO's recommendations for fixing the problem and has begun working on making those changes.

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Carson Renews Call to Monitor Colleges for Bias

Ben Carson, among the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, on Wednesday renewed his call for federal monitoring of colleges' potential political bias. Appearing on Glenn Beck's radio show, Carson was asked if he favored shutting down the Education Department. Carson surprised his host by saying that he had a job for the department. That job: "It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and to deny federal funding" when such bias is found. His campaign staff did not respond to a request from Inside Higher Ed for a definition of the type of bias that merits denial of federal funds.

The exchange starts at about 3:26 of the video below.

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Multiple Protests of New U of Iowa President

In a rare move of coordinated reproof, leaders of the faculty governance bodies of eight Big Ten universities are rallying around their counterparts at the University of Iowa -- decrying the lack of faculty consultation that went into the university's most recent presidential search. And at Iowa, the protests are continuing.

The Iowa Board of Regents selected the businessman Bruce Harreld as the institution's next president, despite widespread faculty opposition to Harreld's candidacy. Shortly after the selection, the Faculty Senate at Iowa passed a vote of no confidence in the governing board, saying the selection showed "blatant disregard for the shared nature of university governance."

Now leaders of the faculty governance bodies at eight of Iowa's Big Ten colleagues have signed a statement supporting the no-confidence vote. The statement was signed by leaders of the faculty groups at Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue Universities, and the Universities of Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska at Lincoln, Wisconsin at Madison and Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Principles of shared governance dictate that the voice of the faculty, which carries out the core mission of the university, is accorded considerable weight in all important decisions of university governance. In appointing Bruce Harreld as the president of the University of Iowa against overwhelming opposition from the faculty, the Board of Regents, state of Iowa, appear to have violated these principles," the statement reads. "We call on the Board of Regents, state of Iowa, to adhere to the principles of shared university governance and to ethical behavior and transparency."

At Iowa on Wednesday, hundreds of protesters interrupted a Board of Regents meeting, chanting, "Resign, resign," and urging board members and Harreld to quit, The Gazette reported. While board members didn't in fact resign, protest organizers said that they would continue their efforts.

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Community college faces criticism after football player convicted of rape in high school joins team

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As colleges enroll athletes found to have engaged in sexual misconduct, including athletes the colleges don't deem safe to live in their dormitories, some question institutions' motives.

Tarleton State Professor's Bizarre Resignation

Tarleton State University, in Stephenville, Texas, says that it followed proper procedures in the events leading up to the resignation of Jeff William Justice, a former assistant professor of social science accused of performing a self-mutilation-based ritual in front of students. “Tarleton’s highest priority is the welfare of our students,” Cecilia Jacobs, a university spokeswoman, said via email. “These allegations were taken seriously and an investigation was promptly launched, during which time Dr. Justice was placed on administrative leave. In the midst of the investigation, Dr. Justice offered his resignation and it was accepted.”

The university had no additional comment on the allegations, but Inside Higher Ed obtained a campus police report. It is based on a complaint from a single student who says that Justice invited several students to his home and drank alcohol with them before complaining that he was sore from hanging by spikes in his chest from a tree branch in order to pray to the sun. He allegedly hung from the tree twice before the students left. The student who filed the complaint allegedly returned at a later date at Justice’s prompting, out of fear it would it affect his class grade if he did not. The student said he got scared and left, then talked to his father, who helped him report it to campus police in May.

Justice, who is no longer at Tarleton, could not immediately be reached for comment. The event was first reported by the Texan News Service, Tarleton's student newspaper. In a statement from Justice posted to the newspaper’s website, Justice denied giving alcohol to minors, but said he had attempted to harm himself in front of students due to severe depression, for which he is seeking treatment.

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Court: East Stroudsburg U Must Reinstate Professor Denied Tenure

East Stroudsburg University must uphold an arbitrator’s decision that it reinstate and reimburse for lost wages a professor denied tenure by the university president, according to a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court decision.

John Freeman, a former assistant professor of chemistry at East Stroudsburg, appealed through his union the president’s determination that he did not deserve tenure because he hadn’t sufficiently progressed as a scholar. (He was denied tenure by the previous president two years earlier and was allowed to reapply, when he was again reject by the new president, Marcia Welsh.) As dictated by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty-negotiated union contract, Freeman’s case eventually went to arbitration. The arbitrator decided that the university had violated the contract when Welsh denied Freeman tenure without reviewing the recommendations of the department chair and the universitywide tenure and promotion committee, and also by improperly consulting the provost.

The arbitrator said Freeman should be reinstated as a professor with the ability to reapply for tenure, to be determined by a neutral third party. The university challenged the arbitrator’s decision in court, which found that the president had indeed violated the terms of the contract by not consulting previous reviewers’ recommendations and by consulting with the provost.

The collective bargaining agreement “prescribes a detailed procedure by which faculty committees and department chairpersons are to submit written tenure recommendations to the president within specific time frames,” Judge Rochelle S. Friedman wrote in her opinion. “While the president may ultimately disagree with those recommendations, he or she cannot make a decision without first considering them. … [The contract] expressly permits the president to ‘act independently’ on a tenure decision only ‘if the committee(s) fail [sic] to act within the time limits specified’” for submitting recommendations to the president. Friedman also rejected East Stroudsburg’s claim that limiting the president’s authority would violate public policy.

A university spokesperson said administrators were reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment. William H. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said via email the decision’s major takeaway is that it “rested on the negotiated language concerning the tenure review procedures in the collective bargaining agreement. The excerpt of the at-issue contract provision, set forth in the court’s decision, supports the conclusion that a final decision to grant or deny tenure is to be based, in part, on a review of the positive recommendations.”

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