January is the time when we say good-bye to the previous 12 months and look ahead to the next ones. It’s clear that 2016 was an especially turbulent year for higher education. What’s on tap for 2017?
Here are a few of the most serious trending issues that are likely to affect colleges and universities.
Sliding enrollments. College and university enrollment in America continued to decline in 2016, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Not all institutions have been affected equally: four-year public and elite private institutions continue to grow, while small colleges are under strain, intensifying the gap between haves and have-nots. The University of California, Berkeley, for example, tipped over the 100,000 mark for applications this fall, and Yale University announced a multiyear effort to enroll more students from its sizable pool. But more than four in 10 private colleges and almost three in 10 public ones missed their goals for enrollment and tuition revenue in 2016.
While demographic trends vary by region, in general the student population is becoming more diverse, fueled by increases in numbers of Hispanic and Asian students. Many colleges also have relied upon international students to diversify their campuses and plug the enrollment hole, but concerns over Trump administration rhetoric about immigration may depress international applications, as has already occurred in British universities in the wake of the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union.
Concerns about cost and access. The free-college effort is likely dead at the federal level, but that doesn’t mean concerns about cost will abate. Bipartisan pressure will continue to force colleges and universities to rein in tuition increases and justify endowment spending, as well as compel selective institutions to increase enrollment of low-income students. States and cities also have the opportunity to adopt the narrative about free; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was first out of the gate in 2017, and others are likely to follow.
Celebrity authors and scholars as well as politicians have led such efforts. Malcolm Gladwell launched a podcast series in 2016 decrying the high cost of college and poor access for low-income students. Sara Goldrick-Rab at Temple University and Inside Higher Edcolumnist Wick Sloan, among others, have led campaigns to highlight the challenges of college students who are homeless or food insecure -- more than 20 percent, according to a national report.
Colleges and universities are responding. Thirty campuses have joined an effort funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies called the American Talent Initiative, while more than 90 institutions participate in the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success. Both efforts aim to reduce barriers and increase the number of lower-income students who apply to and enroll in selective colleges. Campuses also are launching food banks, shelter programs and emergency assistance funds for students who have short-term challenges with food or housing.
Questions about value. A growing chorus of business and civic leaders is questioning the value of college. One of the most vocal proponents of the skip-college narrative, Peter Thiel, has a newly influential role as a member of the Trump transition team. The presidential election pointed up a stark gap in opportunity and perception between college graduates and those with a college degree, leading to headlines about the “humbling of higher education” and college graduates who are “out of touch.”
Colleges are renewing their efforts to demonstrate value, not only in employment and earnings benefits to graduates but also in their role as an economic engine for regional economies. A growing number of campuses, both large and small, have embarked on new efforts to engage with their local communities. And research institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University have large, sustained innovation initiatives to spur new business development and commercialize faculty and student discoveries.
A focus on careers and job placement. Although related to the discussion about value, the growing concern about employment and job placement is so powerful that it deserves its own entry. Students and parents increasingly expect their college or university to be a partner in helping them to map out a successful career path. The 2016 Gallup-Purdue study found a gap between student expectations and college performance in career placement, with only one in six college graduates saying their campus career office was helpful.
Colleges and universities of all types and sizes -- from research-intensive institutions to small liberal arts colleges -- are revamping career services and redefining their role in student career planning. Examples of new programs include engaging first-year students in the career office from day one, alumni career mentoring initiatives and targeted efforts to provide career support for low-income and first-generation college students.
Declining state support. Although not a new trend, the impact of declining state support for higher education has generated a new level of concern. Starving the Beast, a documentary about ideological shifts in state government and the resulting impact on public universities, was released in 2016 and sparked public discussion and numerous opinion pieces.
In December, the University of Virginia’s Miller Center issued recommendations on how to sustain public higher education. The center assembled a team of college administrators, business executives and former public officials, including former governors of Delaware and Florida. Their list of solutions includes federal block grants designed to pressure states into supporting public colleges adequately, as well as funding incentives tied to graduation rates.
Collisions over campus climate. Creating a welcoming climate for women and minorities is a long-running issue for college campuses, but things reached a boiling point after the 2016 presidential election. White nationalist groups have seized the opportunity to spread hate messages on campuses across the country. Trump rhetoric about immigration and Muslims has left many students feeling vulnerable, leading to pressure for campuses to declare themselves “sanctuaries” for undocumented students.
Immigration policy under a Trump administration is uncertain, as is the position of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights -- and in particular the enforcement of Title IX. Regardless of federal policy, activism around Title IX and sexual misconduct is likely to continue, and campuses are expected to sharpen their focus on programs, policies and support systems to combat sexual assault and harassment.
The dialogue about campus climate has increasingly included overcoming a racist past. Some institutions -- Georgetown University has been a leader -- have owned up to a history of slavery and made significant changes such as renaming buildings or programs. Other campuses have dedicated new or existing spaces in honor of African-American leaders. Whether proactively, such as the University of Michigan, or responding to a crisis, such as the University of Missouri, a number of colleges and universities have launched comprehensive plans focused on diversity and inclusion.
The defense of academic freedom and free speech. The University of Chicago brought free speech back into the spotlight this fall with the welcome letter its college dean sent to incoming students. Exactly what constitutes free speech in a university, and does it conflict with trigger warnings and attempts to create safe spaces for vulnerable groups such as members of racial minorities or survivors of sexual assault? Although all colleges defend free speech and play an important role in educating students about it, the precise boundaries vary from one campus to another.
One thing is certain: it’s easier to argue for free speech when you’re the one speaking. After the presidential election, some students who voted for Trump felt attacked and said they needed safe space, too. A “professor watch list” has been launched to shame faculty members conservatives think are pushing liberal ideas in the classroom. And the Trump transition team recently sent questionnaires throughout the Department of Energy to identify work done on climate change, raising alarm bells in the academy. Climate scientists are now organizing to defend their research and academic freedom.
So, What to Do?
The tensions are mounting and so are the stakes. Since head in the sand is not an effective strategy, we’d like to offer a few guideposts for higher education institutions that are navigating today’s uncertain terrain.
Be self-critical. Colleges and universities can assess and acknowledge areas for improvement and confront them with constructive game plans. Proactive leadership begins with self-evaluation and plans for change.
Make sure college is worth it. It is not enough to decry the devaluing of a liberal education. Our scan shows just how deep public skepticism about the cost and value of college runs, and higher education must find substantial ways both to lower student costs and increase the return on their investment. Career assistance, better information about job placement, opportunities for internships and increases in scholarship support all have to be on each institution’s docket.
Bridge the divide with new communications methods and fresh perspective. If it is us versus them, we cannot make progress. From continued defunding of public higher ed to sensationalized campus rhetoric, polarized stances are inhibiting shared understanding. Can we set aside blame and labels and work instead to listen more carefully toward finding some common ground? That will entail an authentic, two-way dialogue and new ways of describing and demonstrating value in today’s world, not just the usual universityspeak.
Find innovative new collaborators and partnerships. The coming year won’t be one of business as usual. New partnerships and opportunities, more innovation, and perhaps the occasional odd bedfellow can help illuminate new opportunities and advance mutual goals.
Get out ahead. The colleges and universities that best weather challenging storms are those that best anticipate and confront issues early and honestly.
Lisa M. Rudgers and Julie A. Peterson are co-founders of Peterson Rudgers Group, a consulting firm focused on higher education strategy, leadership and brand.
Many colleges and universities loudly and proudly proclaim they are committed to admitting more low-income students. The institutions are sincere, but despite the best of intentions, many of their policies act as barriers to keep most low-income students out, including those students with outstanding academic records.
The exclusion of the brightest low-income students is most severe at our nation’s highly selective colleges. A study issued this year by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, where I serve as executive director, found that a mere 3 percent of students at America’s top colleges come from the 25 percent of families with the lowest incomes. In contrast, 72 percent of students at these institutions come from the 25 percent of families with the highest incomes.
This enormous gap in admissions between students in the highest and lowest income groups is a national embarrassment. It doesn’t exist because the rich are smarter than the poor. It exists because the rich are getting a lot of breaks the poor simply aren’t. One of those breaks is the policy of early admissions.
Candidates for early admissions get many advantages, but the disadvantage the practice confers on low-income students is a fatal flaw. For that reason, colleges should abandon early admissions and return to admitting all students on the same timetable in the spring, so everyone competes on a level playing field.
According to the College Board, about 450 colleges now offer early admissions. That’s up from just over 100 in the 1990s, a Stanford University study found. There are two types of early admissions. Early-decision admissions require students to commit to attend the college if admitted and withdraw applications to other schools. Early action is not binding, so students are not required to attend after being admitted.
A survey by The Washington Post earlier this year “found 37 schools where the early-decision share of enrolled freshmen in 2015 was at least 40 percent,” including 54 percent at the University of Pennsylvania. That leaves a lot fewer openings for students applying during the regular admission period.
Early-admissions policies are good for colleges, because they attract students with a strong desire to attend, making it less likely the students will turn down offers of admission. That allows colleges to fill a good chunk of each freshman class early with a diverse mix of students. It also lets them shape a class with students needing little or no financial aid, to keep institutional budgets in balance.
On top of that, early admissions help colleges decrease their acceptance rates. College rankings, such as those complied by U.S. News & World Report, often use a low admit rate as an indication of an institution’s desirability, boosting its ranking.
Early-admissions policies are also good for students who apply this way -- usually by early November instead of the standard application deadline in January or February. Students admitted early find out in December or January, instead of during the regular admission-decision period in late April. That saves them months of worry and uncertainty and enables them to avoid applying to colleges that were merely backup choices.
More significantly, applying early can dramatically increase a student’s chances of acceptance at his or her first-choice school -- particularly at the most selective colleges and universities. For example, for the Class of 2020, only 6.8 percent of all students who applied for regular-decision admission to Ivy League schools were accepted. But the acceptance rate in the Ivy League for early-decision applicants was 20.3 percent -- nearly three times as high.
At Harvard University, which had the lowest acceptance rate in the Ivy League, just 3.4 percent of students applying for regular admission to the Class of 2020 were admitted, compared to 14.9 percent of those applying early. A study published by Harvard University Press estimated that students applying for early admission receive the equivalent of a 100-point bonus on the SAT -- an enormous advantage.
Students from affluent families often learn about the advantages of applying for early admissions from their college-educated parents, from expensive courses they take to prepare for taking the SAT and ACT exams, from their high school counselors or from private college coaches their parents hire to boost their admission chances.
But many low-income students are unaware of the option of applying early. Their parents typically have not gone to college and so can’t advise them. Guidance counselors at high schools with many low-income students are responsible for advising hundreds or as many as 1,000 students each, and so don’t have the time and, in many cases, the training to explain all the steps students can take to increase their odds of college admission.
For example, many low-income students are never told in their junior year of high school that they will need to have their ACT or SAT scores in hand by early-admission application deadlines, which are in November of their senior year. To have the scores in time, they need to take one or both of the tests in their junior year or the very beginning of their senior year in high school.
Most important, because low-income students can’t attend college without getting substantial financial aid, they can’t commit to enrolling in an institution by applying on an early-decision basis. They need to compare aid offers once they hear from all the colleges and universities that accept them. This fact alone essentially precludes those with financial need from applying early.
In contrast, wealthy students -- whose parents can pay their full college costs without financial aid -- have no problem applying for and accepting early-decision admissions.
The Cooke Foundation study found that only 16 percent of high-achieving students from families with annual incomes below $50,000 applied for college admission on an early-decision basis in the 2013-14 academic year. But 29 percent of high-achieving students from families with incomes above $250,000 applied on an early-decision basis. Is it any wonder that so many more upper-income students gain admission?
The blatant unfairness of early admissions was obvious even before they became as widespread as they are today. In 2006, Harvard University, Princeton University and the University of Virginia eliminated early admissions to give all students a fairer chance of being admitted. But unfortunately, they later had to reinstate early-action admissions to remain competitive when essentially all other colleges and universities offering early admissions refused to drop the policy.
Derek Bok, who was president of Harvard in 2006 when early admissions were dropped, justified the move in words that are as true today as they were 10 years ago. “Early-admission programs tend to advantage the advantaged,” Bok said. “Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent high schools often apply early to increase their chances of admission, while minority students and students from rural areas, other countries and high schools with fewer resources miss out. Students needing financial aid are disadvantaged by binding early-decision programs that prevent them from comparing aid packages. Others who apply early and gain admission to the college of their choice have less reason to work hard at their studies during their final year of high school.”
Similarly, a 2011 study of early admissions -- published in Teachers College Record and supported by the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice at the University of Southern California -- concluded that “those who enroll through early deadlines tend to be white, with higher family incomes and parents with greater levels of education.” The study added that “early decision in particular works as a sort of class-based affirmative action that gives wealthier applicants a ‘plus’ factor: a higher likelihood of being admitted than if they applied under the regular-decision deadline.”
The sad truth is that in our nation that proclaims itself “the land of opportunity,” the wealthy have far greater educational opportunities than the poor. A 2014 White House report explains just how much greater when it states, “While half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just one in 10 people from low-income families do.”
When the wealthy are getting college degrees at a rate five times higher than the poor, something is terribly wrong and unjust. And it’s not only the low-income students who are being hurt. Our nation is being deprived of the talents of young people who could go on to become doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers and government leaders -- and who could fill many other vital jobs if only they had the chance to get a college education.
Barriers to equal educational opportunity for academically qualified students need to come down. One of the first to go -- and one that won’t require massive government spending to eliminate -- should be early-admissions policies in our nation’s colleges and universities.
Former New York City Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy is executive director of the Cooke Foundation, which has awarded over $152 million in scholarships to nearly 2,200 high-achieving students from low-income families and over $90 million in grants to organizations that serve such students.
The American Historical Association Council rejected one petition from a group of historians critical of Israel and reworded another at its recent meeting. After two unsuccessful attempts to get AHA members to approve boycott, divestment and sanctions-related resolutions at the association’s annual gatherings in 2015 and 2016, a group of historians, some of whom are affiliated with Historians Against the War, petitioned the AHA’s governing body directly. The first petition called on the AHA to investigate “credible charges of violations of academic freedom in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories,” whether by “constituting a fact-finding committee, authorizing a delegation or issuing an investigative report,” similar to efforts undertaken by the American Anthropological Association.
The second petition asked the AHA Council to make a statement upholding “the right of students and faculty to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse points of view on Israel/Palestine issues” and condemning “all efforts at intimidation of those expressing such views. Specifically, we condemn the maintenance of blacklists, such as those on the anonymous ‘Canary Mission’ website publicizing names, photographs and contact information for hundreds of supporters of Palestinian rights, predominantly Arab-American students.”
Jim Grossman, executive director of the historical association, said the council “discussed the complicated intellectual and practical issues" raised by the first petition. And while it “benefited from the experience” of the anthropological association, he said, the council “determined that the petition is requesting investigative work that is beyond the scope and mission of the AHA.”
Instead of addressing political speech regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue specifically, as requested in the second petition, the council released a statement upholding “the rights of students, faculty and other historians to speak freely and to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse perspectives on historical or contemporary issues.” The statement continues, “We condemn all efforts to intimidate those expressing their views. Specifically, we condemn in the strongest terms the creation, maintenance and dissemination of blacklists and watch lists -- through media (social and otherwise) -- which identify specific individuals in ways that could lead to harassment and intimidation.”
Grossman said the more general statement reflects the AHA's concern “that any such harassment and intimidation is contrary to our values and to the generally accepted principles of academic freedom articulated by the American Association of University Professors.” He added, “We're grateful to the petitioners for raising this issue, and think that what matters is the larger problem of any entity creating what essentially look like blacklists.”
Van Gosse, chair of history at Franklin and Marshall College and a member of Historians Against the War, said AHA has “the right and responsibility” to take political stances on issues under its purview. Regarding the first petition, Gosse said he didn’t understand how the AHA could cite the anthropologists’ action, then state that the requested investigation was outside its own purview. “A small, volunteer committee vetted by council could have done that work; there is vast documentation already available,” he said. Gosse said he was not aware of anyone involved in drafting the petitions who was “disturbed” by the council’s response to the second one, however.
A professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, accused of harassing two former graduate students, canceled several of his classes earlier this week due to student protests upon his return to campus following a related suspension. Gabriel Piterberg has not admitted to any misconduct, but the university settled with the two students last year after they sued it for responding insufficiently to their claims. Piterberg also agreed to a separate settlement with the university in 2014, which halted a campus investigation into one of the students’ claims. That agreement included a $3,000 fine, a one-quarter suspension without pay and a three-year ban on meeting alone with students in his office with the door shut.
That last detail has played a key role in ongoing protests about Piterberg’s return, as some students questioned how a professor who can’t be trusted to be alone with students can be trusted to teach them. “We wanted to send a clear message to the university and the history department that we don’t think someone accused of sexual harassment should be teaching undergraduate classes,” protester Melissa Melpignano, a fourth-year doctoral student and member of the group Bruins Against Sexual Harassment, told theLos Angeles Times.
Kathryn Kranhold, a university spokesperson, said that Piterberg would continue to teach, but that videotaped lectures will be available to students who choose not to attend class. Piterberg, who canceled class after protesters stood inside his classroom and others could be heard shouting outside, did not respond to a request for comment. He’s accused of harassing the two students over several years and of forcibly touching and kissing them.
Submitted by Paul Fain on January 11, 2017 - 3:00am
Students at for-profit institutions achieve learning results that are similar to those of students who attend comparable nonprofit colleges, according to a new study by the Council for Aid to Education. The study was funded by the for-profits that participated in the research. (Note: This paragraph has been changed from a previous version to add new information about the study’s funding source.)
The council used its Collegiate Learning Assessment to measure learning outcomes in six areas for 624 students from four for-profit higher education systems, which the study does not name, and then compared the scores with those of a matched group of students from 20 unnamed public and private institutions that were selected because they were similar to the for-profits on key measures related to academic performance. The CLA aims to show how students' learning has grown on average between when they entered and when they graduated from an institution.
"In all six comparisons, students at proprietary institutions outperformed the students at the nonproprietary comparison institutions," the study said. "However, in all but one case, the difference in mean scores is too small to be considered statistically significant." Students from the for-profits outperformed their peers at nonprofits to a statistically significant degree on the performance task section, which includes measurements of problem solving and writing.
On average, the students in the sample of for-profit attendees were older and more likely to graduate than those at the comparison nonprofits. "It is possible that some of the above findings could be attributed to one or both of these factors," the study said. "However, if age or graduation rate had a strong effect on CLA+ performance, one would expect that it would influence all three outcomes and not just seniors’ Performance Task scores."
A new report from the National Association of Scholars warns against the rise of what it calls “new civics” and recommends that legislators mandate a course in “traditional” American civics as a graduation requirement at all colleges and universities that receive public funding. “What we call the ‘new civics’ redefines civics as progressive political activism,” reads the 525-page report. “Rooted in the radical program of the 1960s’ New Left, the new civics presents itself as an up-to-date version of volunteerism and good works. Though camouflaged with soft rhetoric, the new civics, properly understood, is an effort to repurpose higher education.”
The report says that the alleged movement, above all, seeks to make students “enthusiastic supporters” of the “New Left’s dream of ‘fundamentally transforming’ America,” including by “decarbonizing the economy, massively redistributing wealth, intensifying identity group grievance, curtailing the free market, expanding government bureaucracy, elevating international ‘norms’ over American constitutional law and disparaging our common history and ideals.” The report asserts that “service learning” initiatives at colleges seek to teach students that a “good citizen is a radical activist, and it puts political activism at the center of everything that students do in college, including academic study, extracurricular pursuits and off-campus ventures.” By “rebranding itself as ‘civic engagement,’” the report continues, “service learning succeeded in capturing nearly all the funding that formerly supported the old civics. In practice this means that instead of teaching college students the foundations of law, liberty, and self-government, colleges teach students how to organize protests, occupy buildings and stage demonstrations. These are indeed forms of ‘civic engagement,’ but they are far from being a genuine substitute for learning how to be a full participant in our republic.”
Beyond the traditional civics requirement, the report recommends establishing a public body to set the guidelines and review and approve textbooks for the courses, “which should at a minimum teach the history, nature and functions of our institutions of self-government, and which should aim to foster commitment to our form of self-government.” The association asks that the requirement be met only through classroom instruction and that public funding for service learning and civic engagement programs be terminated.
Adjunct faculty members at the University of Southern California’s David and Dana Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences have withdrawn their petition to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union. Part-time faculty members at Dornsife narrowly voted down a union last year, but alleged administrative interference in the election in charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The board decided that a second election could proceed, but the union says it can’t hold another election in the current environment. The board also recently ruled that adjunct faculty members at the Roski School of Art and Design are not managers, allowing them to proceed with forming the SEIU-affiliated union they voted for last year.
Provost Michael Quick said in an email to faculty members on Tuesday that the university had now been cleared of all charges related to Dornsife, and that there “are more legal steps ahead concerning Roski, and the final decision will probably be made by a federal appeals court.” He noted that the NLRB had voted 2 to 1, not unanimously, on the managerial issue.
Bob Schoonover, president of the local SEIU, said about the NLRB’s decision concerning Roski, “To cast aside this frivolous appeal marks yet another important victory” for faculty members and “clears the way for faculty to begin the process of bargaining a contract that raises standards for themselves and the students they teach.” Of the Dornsife petition withdrawal, Schoonover said, “Unfortunately, based on our past experience we have come to the clear conclusion that a new election will be met with another onslaught of illegal tactics aimed at dividing faculty and protecting university profits.”
Postdoctoral positions in the biomedical sciences are now considered almost a prerequisite for a permanent position in the field. But a new study published in Nature Biotechnology suggests that postdoc stints don’t yield positive returns in the labor market and likely cost graduates three years’ worth of salary in their first 15 years of work. “A majority of biomedical Ph.D.s enter postdocs that last an average of four years,” one of the study’s authors, Shulamit Kahn, professor of business at Boston University, said in a news release. “These scientists hope that the postdoc will propel them into their ideal career in tenure-track academia. The problem is that 80 percent of them are going to have made this investment for naught and will be sorely disappointed. … They would be much better off if they moved directly into the same industry or staff scientist jobs that they will end up working in anyway.”
For their study, Kahn and co-author Donna Ginther, a professor of economics at the University of Kansas, analyzed longitudinal data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates and its Survey of Earned Doctorate Recipients, from 1981 to 2013, comparing the later careers of biomedical Ph.D.s who completed postdocs with those who didn’t. The study suggests that opportunity costs of pursuing a postdoc are high over the course of one’s career, in that the median annual starting salary for postdocs four years after earning their Ph.D.s was $44,724 in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars, compared to $73,662 for those who had entered the permanent work force immediately. And when postdocs did eventually enter the work force, they were not awarded with a higher salary for their experience. Controlling for various factors, the 10-year post-Ph.D. salaries of those with postdoc experience were $12,002 lower than those of their peers without it.
The paper offers suggestions for alleviating the problem, including that universities hire staff research scientists to assist tenured faculty members with research, paying postdocs more to reduce the reliance on “cheap” labor and creating more tenure-track faculty lines for new graduates.