administrators

Alaska Professor Mauled by Bear During Mountaineering Class

An assistant professor of outdoor studies at the University of Alaska Southeast was mauled by a bear during a mountaineering class on Monday, the Associated Press reported. The professor, Forest Wagner, was with a group of students on Mount Emmerich when he was attacked by a sow with two cubs. A student hiked down the mountain to notify authorities, since there was no cell phone service at the site of the attack. Students were safely removed from the mountain but the professor remained in the hospital in serious condition on Tuesday.

Study: Wealthy Students Still Much More Likely to Earn Bachelor's Degree

While diversity in American higher education has improved substantially in recent decades, wealthier students still earn the bulk of the bachelor's degrees awarded in this country, according to new data from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy.

A newly released study from the two groups found that the distribution of bachelor's degree attainment between family levels has remained relatively constant since 1970. The top two family income quartiles accounted for 72 percent of the total number of bachelor's degrees earned that year -- and 77 percent of bachelor's degrees earned in 2014. "The bottom two quartiles accounted for 28 percent in 1970 and 23 percent in 2014," the study found, "a decline of five percentage points over this period."

Students criticize Saint Louis University over handling of baseball players' racist text messages

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Saint Louis University officials promise "restorative justice" amid growing anger over lack of punishment for baseball players who sent racist text messages.

New Employee Degree Program From JetBlue

JetBlue on Monday announced a new employer-sponsored college degree program with some unusual features. The airline is offering its employees with at least 15 previous college credits the chance to earn a bachelor's degree for $3,500 or less.

So far 400 JetBlue employees have signed up for the program. Each is assigned one of six success coaches JetBlue has trained and employs. The airline and its coaches then help employee students map a path to a degree from Thomas Edison State University, an online, public university based in New Jersey.

Students will receive prior learning credits for skills and knowledge they've picked up on the job. They also will be directed to online courses from Sophia, StraighterLine.com and Study.com, which in turn can earn students credit recommendations from the American Council on Education, which Thomas Edison accepts.

"We give them one class at a time," said Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Technology Ventures, who helped create the program. She said the airline sought to eliminate some of the complexity in earning a degree and to use coaches to review students' transcripts and to help them fill in the gaps.

The company is planning for 1,000 of its 18,000 employees to be enrolled in the degree program on an annual basis, Simi said.

Tenure-Line Professors at Southern Nevada Unionize

Tenured and tenure-track faculty members at the College of Southern Nevada voted 263 to 126 to form a union affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, they announced Monday. The college said in a statement that its looks "forward to moving ahead with the collective bargaining process."

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Los Angeles to Offer Year of Free Community College

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last week said the city would help finance a newly announced program to offer one year of free community college to graduates of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The announcement, which Garcetti made Thursday during his 2016 State of the City address, includes a $1.5 million fund-raising commitment from the city, the Los Angeles Times reported. The program's initial cost will be $3 million, and the K-12 district will pick up the other half of that amount. (Closing the price gap in California is fairly affordable, given the two-year system's low tuition prices.)

"Los Angeles will become the largest city in the nation to commit ourselves to a new goal: every hardworking student who graduates from LAUSD will receive one free year of community college," Garcetti said in the written version of his speech.

Kansas City-Based Career College Closes Abruptly

Wright Career College, a small, Kansas City-based career college chain, closed its five campuses last week and filed for bankruptcy. The college said in a written statement it had sought to bring in an outside group to gradually phase out the campuses, but that effort failed. Wright emailed its students about the closure on Thursday night, The Kansas City Star reported.

The chain included campuses in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. It enrolls about 1,400 students, according to federal data.

“We are saddened by these events,” said John Mucci, Wright's president. “From our beginning in 1921 until our closure, we have always operated with the focus of putting the interests of our students first. It is unfortunate our students cannot complete their programs at Wright Career College. I would like to thank our employees for their tireless dedication and commitment in helping our students achieve their educational and career goals.”

Claude Steele Steps Down as Berkeley Provost

The University of California at Berkeley announced Friday that Claude Steele would be stepping down as provost and joining the faculty of the psychology department. Steele became provost in 2014 and his tenure has been controversial at times, with some faculty members and others questioning whether he was sufficiently communicative and whether he was strong enough in acting against those accused of sexual harassment. The Berkeley announcement made no mention of those issues, and said that Steele was stepping down because his wife is facing serious health issues.

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Hope College moves away from immediate plan to fire president

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Board drops plan to fire president immediately but may do so next month. Case is latest in which campus leaders face ouster from trustees, despite strong backing from students, professors and alumni.

Essay challenging academic studies on states' performance funding formulas

A recent Inside Higher Ed article about the analysis of state performance funding formulas by Seton Hall University researchers Robert Kelchen and Luke Stedrak might unfairly lead readers to believe that such formulas are driving public colleges and universities to intentionally enroll more students from high-income families, displacing much less well-off students. It would be cause for concern if institutions were intentionally responding to performance-based funding policies by shifting their admissions policies in ways that make it harder for students who are eligible to receive Pell Grants to go to college.

Kelchen and Stedrak’s study raises this possibility, but even they acknowledge the data fall woefully short of supporting such a conclusion. These actions would, in fact, be contrary to the policy intent of more recent and thoughtfully designed outcomes-based funding models pursued in states such as Ohio and Tennessee. These formulas were adopted to signal to colleges and universities that increases in attainment that lead to a better-educated society necessarily come from doing a much better job of serving and graduating all students, especially students of color and students from low-income families.

Unfortunately, Kelchen’s study has significant limitations, as has been the case with previous studies of performance-based funding. Most notably, as acknowledged by Kelchen and Stedrak, these studies lump together a wide variety of approaches to performance-based funding, some adopted decades ago, which address a number of challenges not limited to the country’s dire need to increase educational attainment. Such a one-size-fits-all approach fails to give adequate attention to the fact that how funding policies are designed and implemented actually matters.

For example, the researchers’ assertion that institutions could possibly be changing admissions policies to enroll better-prepared, higher-income students does not account for differential effects among states that provide additional financial incentives in their formulas to ensure low-income and minority students’ needs are addressed vs. those states that do nothing in this area. All states are simply lumped together for purposes of the analysis.

In addition, the claim that a decrease in Pell dollars per full-time-equivalent student could possibly be caused by performance-based funding fails to account for changes over time in federal policy related to Pell Grants, different state (and institutional) tuition policies, other state policies adopted or enacted over time, changes in the economy and national and state economic well-being, and changes in student behavior and preferences. For example, Indiana public research and comprehensive universities have become more selective over time because of a policy change requiring four-year institutions to stop offering remedial and developmental education and associate degrees, instead sending these students to community colleges.

If any of these factors have affected states with newer, well-designed outcomes-based funding systems and other states with rudimentary performance-based funding or no such systems at all, as I believe they have, then there is strong potential for a research bias introduced by failing to account for key variables. For example, in states that are offering incentives for students to enroll in community colleges, such as Tennessee, the average value of Pell Grants at public bachelor’s-granting institutions would drop if more low-income, Pell-eligible students were to choose to go to lower-cost, or free, community colleges.

I agree with Kelchen and Stedrak that more evaluation and discussion are needed on all forms of higher education finance formulas to better understand their effects on institutional behavior and student outcomes. Clearly, there are states that had, and in some cases continue to have, funding models designed in a way that could create perverse incentives for institutions to raise admissions standards or to respond in other ways that run contrary to raising attainment for all students, and for students of color in particular. As the Seton Hall researchers point out, priority should be given to understanding the differential effects of various elements that go into the design and implementation of state funding models.

The HCM Strategists’ report referenced in the study was an attempt by us to inform state funding model design and implementation efforts. There needs to be a better understanding of which design elements matter for which students in which contexts -- as well as the implications of these evidence-based findings for policy design and what finance policy approaches result in the best institutional responses for students. There is clear evidence that performance funding can and does prompt institutions to improve student supports and incentives in ways that benefit students.

Analysis under way by Research for Action, an independent, Philadelphia-based research shop, will attempt to account for several of the existing methodological limitations correctly noted by Kelchen and Stedrak. This quantitative and qualitative analysis focuses on the three most robust and longest-tenured outcomes-based funding systems, in Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee.

Factors examined by Research for Action will include the type of outcomes-based funding being implemented, specifics of each state’s formula as applied to both the two- and four-year sectors, the timing of full implementation, changes in state policies over time, differences in the percentages of funding allocated based on outcomes such as program and degree completion, and differences in overall state allocations to public higher education. And, for the first time, Research for Action will move beyond the limitations of analyses based primarily on federal IPEDS data by incorporating state longitudinal data, which give a more complete picture.

As states continue to implement various approaches to funding higher education, it is essential to understand the effects on institutional behavior and student outcomes. Doing so will require more careful analyses than those seen to date and a more detailed understanding of policy design and implementation factors that are likely to affect institutional responses. Broad-brush analyses such as Kelchen and Stedrak’s can help to inform the questions that need to be asked but should not be used to draw any meaningful conclusions about the most effective ways to ensure colleges and universities develop and maintain a laser focus on graduating more students with meaningful credentials that offer real hope for the future.

Martha Snyder is a director at HCM Strategists, a public policy advocacy and consulting firm.

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