administrators

Fight over "Forbearance Fees" Now On Facebook

Protests against Sallie Mae's $50 "forbearance fees," which the lender charges to borrowers who cannot pay their loans and opt to let the funds accumulate interest, unpaid, rather than defaulting, have spread to Facebook. Thursday, Sallie Mae changed its policy after a petition to end the fees gained more than 75,000 signatures: after the borrowers have begun repaying the loan, the $50 fee will be applied against the loan's balance rather than pocketed by the company.

But that wasn't enough for many who wanted to see the fees vanish entirely, and many commented on the Facebook page for Sallie Mae's Upromise accounts asking that the policy be changed. The company later removed the Facebook posts, according to before and after screenshots. The "before" screenshot was provided by Change.org, the website where the petition started. (By Monday evening, more comments had appeared. Sallie Mae representatives did not respond to a request for comment from Inside Higher Ed.)

Essay on the rankings scandal at Claremont McKenna

As the president of a small, selective – and, I hesitate to add, highly ranked – liberal arts college, I’d like to say that I’m surprised by the recent news that Claremont McKenna College has been submitting false SAT scores for incoming freshmen to, among others, U.S. News & World Report for the last six years. And I’d like to say that I believe that whatever the reason for the transgression, we can all rest assured that it’s an aberration, an unseemly and unfortunate action of a single bad actor – in this case a senior admissions official at what is clearly a fine college. Sadly, I can’t in good faith say either of those things.

We should have seen this coming.

But, as history has taught us, the tip of the iceberg is sometimes pretty easy to miss. And what’s below the surface? An entire panoply of sophisticated methods of gaming the system – all on the margins of acceptable practices and mostly, we hope, well clear of the boundary that Claremont McKenna crossed.

For instance, since some ranking formulas rely heavily on low admission rates as a measure of selectivity, it’s not uncommon for colleges to cast the broadest net possible when seeking applicants – with the certain knowledge that many of those applicants will not qualify for admission. Conversely, when calculating the percentage of living alumni who give, it makes more sense to cast a smaller net, leading to wildly different definitions of what constitutes “living” alumni, all for the sake of a higher level of alumni participation.

For years, those of us who are entrusted with the job of guiding places like Claremont McKenna or any other institution of higher education have been playing a dangerous game of chicken with college rankings. Few of us have any confidence in their ability to truly represent what we are all about, or gauge, in any meaningful way, our capacity to transform the lives of those we serve. Yet we – and I include Colby College – continue to participate. But why?

In part because we recognize that, much to our dismay, the college experience has been increasingly commodified over the last decade. Students and families turn to rankings in much the same way we peruse consumer guides before buying a major appliance, comparing models, makes, and features to determine – prior to our actual use – which one will suit us best. In some ways, the White House’s recent proposition to create “easy to read” scorecards for colleges is a logical – and, I would argue, unfortunate – evolution of this process.
 
But we also participate – and this admission makes me a bit squeamish – because of the tremendous risk inherent in not doing so. It's one thing to believe, as I do, that the tangible difference in being ranked, say, 9th or 29th, is meaningless, and that for many students, the likelihood of personal success has nothing whatsoever to do with rankings of their college. But I’m also sure that, absent collective action, any college that opts out of the rankings game invites potentially negative outcomes. And, as those who have been entrusted to safeguard both the present and the future of the institutions we serve, that’s a risk that few presidents or boards are prepared to take.

Or are they?

Perhaps the time has come for us to admit that we are trying to work within a system that substitutes measures of inputs – how many volumes are in the library, for example, for measures of outcomes – how many graduates have gone on to become useful, productive, and engaged citizens in their communities.
 
Perhaps the time has come for us to admit that we are trying to work within a system that encourages us to skew our work toward improving our performance in the rankings rather than focusing on our core educational missions; deploy teams of people to squeeze each ranking data point until it screams, rather than take all possible measures to find students who seek – and will truly benefit from – the distinctive experience we each have to offer.

And perhaps the time has come to admit that we are trying to work within a system that is such a powerful corrupting influence on us all that it has the power to make a senior official at a college like Claremont McKenna take the catastrophic professional and reputational risk of fudging SAT data to make already outstanding students look just a shade better.
 
It’s time for us to take collective action. To speak loudly and clearly and in a single voice that we will not participate in that kind of system.  

We could, as Colby and many other colleges have already done, pledge to no longer use rankings to promote ourselves. But, as well intentioned as these efforts are, they have done little to mitigate the influence of these instruments. Suppose every college in the country stopped participating in these ill-defined measures of quality? And suppose we found new ways to collaborate with those who would rank us, ways that generate information to better help prospective students and their families make an informed decision?

And finally, suppose we all agreed to reclaim our integrity by not playing along with a system that both encourages and rewards deceit?

Now THAT would be surprising.

William D. Adams is the 19th president of Colby College, in Waterville, Maine.

Movers and Shakers: Albright College, National Student Clearinghouse, Nova Southeastern U., 2tor, U. of Dayton, U. of Kansas

  • Paul M. Bobrowski, associate professor and former dean of the College of Business at Auburn University, in Alabama, has been named dean of the School of Business Administration at the University of Dayton, in Ohio.
  • Jack Cline, assistant vice president for federal relations at the University of Massachusetts System, has been chosen as director of federal relations at the University of Kansas.
  • Thomas W. Durso, senior director of marketing and communications at Holy Family University, in Pennsylvania, has been appointed as associate vice president for college relations and marketing at Albright College, also in Pennsylvania.
  • Tracie MacMahon, vice president for marketing and client relations at the National Student Clearinghouse, in Virginia, has been promoted to chief operating officer there.
  • Chip Paucek, president and chief operating officer at 2tor Inc., in New York, has been named chief executive officer there.
  • Robert J. Pietrykowski, assistant vice president for human resources and chief negotiator at Cleveland State University, in Ohio, has been selected as vice president of human resources at Nova Southeastern University, in Florida.

The appointments above are drawn from Inside Higher Ed's job changes database. To submit news about job changes and promotions, please click here.

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Colleges increasingly switching from quarters to semesters

In the Buckeye State and beyond, colleges ditch quarters for semesters.

New book on the politics of higher education

New book sheds light on higher education's complicated history with the federal government.

An In-Depth Look at Florida A&M Hazing Death

An investigation by The Orlando Sentinel provides an in-depth look at the circumstances of the hazing death of a member of the marching band at Florida A&M University. The article details the significant programs in place to ban hazing, and the determination of band members to ignore all the warnings and rules.

 

Penn Cancer Center Sues Head of Sloan-Kettering

A cancer research institute at the University of Pennsylvania has sued its former scientific director, now president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, charging him with taking research with him to start a biotechnology company, The New York Times reported. The lawsuit by the Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at Penn called its former scientific director, Craig B. Thompson, "an unscrupulous doctor" who "chose to abscond with the fruits of the Abramson largess," the Times said. Thompson denied doing anything wrong.

 

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Kiplinger's Drops Claremont McKenna From Rankings

Kiplinger's has dropped Claremont McKenna College from the magazine's list of the "Best Values in Liberal Arts Colleges," where the college had been No. 18. A statement by the magazine said that recent reports about the college inflating its SAT averages suggested that it had earned its spot "unfairly," and so has been removed. U.S. News & World Report has said that it will calculate the likely impact of the false reporting on the college's rank, but will not issue new rankings.

Providence Wants More From Brown U.

Angel Taveras, the mayor of Providence, R.I., said last week that the city would go bankrupt unless it achieves certain savings and also obtains new revenue -- with much of the extra money coming from Brown University, the Associated Press reported. Taveras said that the university needs to commit to $40 million in additional payments over the next 10 years. That would be on top of the $4 million a year Brown already pays to reflect its use of city services because university property is tax-exempt. A university spokeswoman said that a panel of Brown board members has proposed that the university provide an additional $2 million a year over the next five years. The spokeswoman said that "we regret that the mayor rejected this offer and hope that we can continue our discussions and reach an equitable and sustainable solution."

Colleges sell naming rights to bathrooms

Cash-strapped colleges with senses of humor sell naming rights to their toilets, bathroom stalls and restrooms.

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