The Southern University System Board of Supervisors has voted not to extend the contract of President Ronald Mason, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported. Earlier, Mason had said that he would not stay on unless the board committed itself to a plan for improving the system, and the board didn't approve his plan. Mason has said that significant changes are needed at Southern, but board members have questioned whether his plans are detailed enough and faculty members have said that the system office is trying to run campus operations.
In the hope of improving American higher education, President Obama set a goal in 2009 of improving college degree attainment rates from 40 percent to 60 percent by 2020. This represents a 50 percent increase in attainment rates. This does not seem to me to be an outlandish objective. Indeed, we accomplished just such a 50 percent improvement at my college over an eight-year period. It happened by accident, but we learned something from it about the kinds of things that might help one meet such a goal intentionally. Here is the story.
It happened “by accident” because we did not set out to reduce attrition or increase graduation rates. Instead, we fixed things at the college that were not working well or were broken. It was an ad hoc process, with no particular order. Indeed, progress was often slowed for want of adequate funding. But with a few years’ attention to improving conditions for living and learning, we suddenly discovered we had another problem to address: We had a larger student body than we had intended because fewer students were leaving. As problems go, this was a nice one to have.
Let me give examples of the kinds of changes that produced this happy result.
We repaired physical facilities that had fallen into disrepair through petty acts of vandalism. And we found ways to increase student self-policing, which led to greater student pride in their campus facilities.
Since freshmen, as a general rule, were responsible for the largest portion of misbehavior on campus, we increased upper-class presence in freshman dorms, doubled the number of adult senior residents, and built new dormitories to bring back to campus a larger percentage of upperclassmen.
There were parts of the academic program where our students needed more help than they could get in class. So we established a formal group of paid student mentors to help individuals with their classroom studies.
Medical problems were the single greatest cause of students' leaving during the academic year. So we improved the quality and number of our medical, nursing and counseling staff.
We added a substantial competitive paid internship program that allowed students to build their own internships over the summer. This helped to greatly decrease the anxiety among upperclassmen about their future job prospects.
For students who felt the need to leave for financial reasons, we established a crisis fund, from which they could seek up to $3,000 to tide them over through an emergency.
These examples may sound familiar to experienced campus program administrators. But my point is that every college is going to have a different problem to solve at a different time. Each campus community has a better sense of itself and its needs than someone from outside. The only way we can improve student retention substantially is to support a wide range of self-identified improvement efforts at each college and university.
Every change identified above had a cost attached to it, sometimes quite significant. We did not spend our scarce resources on measuring the retention effects of each program. Instead we continued to invest in programs and improvements that our students and faculty told us would be helpful and good in themselves. Higher retention rates seem to have been an inevitable byproduct.
What we could have used was a start-up grant to help us test ideas before building them into our operating budget. Fortunately, funds were available to us from private sources. But imagine the impact that a grant program could have on such efforts — a program designed not to provide solutions from above but to support individual campus efforts toward meeting President Obama’s 2020 college completion goal.
Here is an idea for such a program that would be simple to administrate and extremely helpful, especially to the smaller institutions across the country that are the front-line providers of educational opportunities to first-generation college students and the seriously disadvantaged. The Department of Education could make a block grant to one of our national college presidential associations, or to the various state associations.
I imagine some of these associations would be eager to help ease the burden on both the department and the colleges in administering such start-up or incentive-based programs for their members, allowing member institutions to apply for such grants as would help achieve the purposes I have described.
I think it is bad public policy to have institutions breaking their backs to chase government money. Instead, government money should be following the need and investing in the efforts that local administrators and teachers believe will help keep their students in school, or better yet, investing in the programs that are already working to achieve the president’s objectives.
Christopher B. Nelson is president of St. John's College, in Annapolis.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association filed a notice of appeal Thursday, repeating its stance that the association violated no antitrust laws when it prevented college athletes from profiting on the use of their names and likenesses. Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled against the NCAA in a class action filed by a former college basketball player named Ed O'Bannon. The ruling will allow institutions to pay athletes up to $5,000 above the full cost of attendance if they wish to do so. Those payments are capped at that amount per year, and would be held in a trust fund until the students have completed their athletic eligibility.
At the NCAA's request, Judge Claudia Wilken clarified earlier in the week that those benefits would not begin until the 2016-17 academic year.
"In its decision, the Court acknowledged that changes to the rules that govern college athletics would be better achieved outside the courtroom, and the NCAA continues to believe that the Association and its members are best positioned to evolve its rules and processes to better serve student-athletes," Donald Remy, the NCAA's chief legal officer, stated. "The reform conversation began long before this lawsuit and the changes announced earlier this month are evidence of the NCAA continually working to improve the student-athlete experience."
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has placed Cheyney University of Pennsylvania on probation for five years after it allowed more than 100 athletes to compete without first being certified as amateurs by the NCAA's eligibility center.
From 2007 to 2011, 109 uncertified athletes competed and received financial aid, the NCAA said in a conference call Thursday. During that same time frame, a men's basketball player was allowed to compete while not enrolled in the required number of credit hours and three other players competed despite not having met transfer requirements. Two football players were also permitted to compete after they were deemed "academic non-qualifiers" by the NCAA.
"A former compliance director failed to monitor when she neglected to follow proper procedures in student-athletes’ eligibility certification," the NCAA stated. "The failure resulted in violations of initial, transfer and continuing eligibility certification; financial aid; and extra benefits involving numerous student-athletes in all of the university sports."
In addition to the probation, Cheyney University will lose its NCAA Division II voting privileges for two years, must attend a rules seminar every year for the next five years, and will have all wins in which the ineligible athletes participated from 2007 to 2011 vacated.
College presidents -- some joined by others on campus -- are taking the "ice bucket challenge," in which people dump a bucket of ice on themselves and challenge others to either do the same or donate to the ALS Association within 24 hours. The effort has raised more than $41 million for the association and brought new attention to ALS -- although it also has been criticized by some as too much hype. At least one Inside Higher Ed reporter had to be recused from a discussion on coverage of this trend, having already participated.
Among those academic leaders (some with colleagues) taking to social media to note their participation (see videos below) are Hal Higdon, chancellor of the Ozarks Technical Community College System; Sister Jane Gerety, president of Salve Regina University; Michael Benson, president of Eastern Kentucky University; Tracy Fitzsimmons, president of Shenandoah University; and Susan Herbst, president of the University of Connecticut. Herbst had the UConn Husky do the honors with the ice bucket. Some presidents are challenging other presidents, as well. Herbst challenged her brother, Jeffrey Herbst, president of Colgate University. A spokesman for Colgate said Jeffrey Herbst was out of the country but that the university was "aware of the challenge." We're not sure that being out of the country gets someone an extension, so he may need to donate to the ALS Association and to UConn.
The University of Houston has killed a plan to require freshmen who live more than 20 miles away to live on campus for one year, The Houston Chronicle reported. The university pointed to evidence of higher retention rates for those who live on campus, but a state senator argued that it was less expensive for students to live elsewhere.
Earlier this month, the NCAA granted a greater level of autonomy to the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 12, and Southeastern Conferences. The five richest conferences can now more easily adopt changes like allowing cost-of-attendance stipends, moving to four-year scholarships, and improving medical coverage. Colleges outside of the five conferences will not have to adopt those same rules, but they will be allowed to if they choose. In addition, the judge's recent ruling in Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA means colleges will be able to pay athletes for using their name and likeness.
Moody's estimated that the changes would create an additional $3.5 million in expenses per school.
"The power five conference members may be well equipped to absorb incremental costs, but other universities with less profitable programs will become less competitive," the report stated. "The cost-of-attendance stipend, for example, will give the powerful conference members an additional recruiting tool that others will lack. Other expense pressures relating to amateurism, such as those rising from litigation, could impact lower resourced athletic departments as well."
Roosevelt University, facing financial difficulties, has decided to shrink its suburban campus down to one program (pharmacy) and to focus on its main campus in Chicago, Crain's Chicago Business reported. The move comes amid faculty complaints about the university's financial decisions, and declines in enrollment.