Mary Sue Coleman announced Thursday that she will be retiring as president of the University of Michigan in July 2014. Coleman started at Michigan in 2002. While there, she backed numerous major research projects and pushed hard to raise private funds to offset state support that was for many years in steep decline. She also promoted the hiring of more junior faculty members and the decision to be one of the founders of Coursera, a provider of massive open online courses.
Also on Thursday, Michigan announced its largest ever gift -- $110 million for graduate fellowships and to create a residential space where 600 graduate students will live in a space designed to encourage interaction across disciplines and research approaches. The residence will be named for its donor, Charles T. Munger, a close associate of Warren Buffett's.
The University of Missouri Board of Curators is preparing to change a rule that has, until now, stated that donors to the system's campuses could have only one building named after them, The Kansas City Star reported. Officials believe that lifting the rule may encourage some major donors to give even more, enticed by the possibility of having their names on multiple buildings.
Higher education believes in sustainability to such extent that at Midwestern universities, like my own, we advocate for ingredients on food labels. The biggest issue in sustainability, however, is not a green environment as much as the greenbacks it takes to earn a college degree.
University presidents are trying with moderate success to lower burgeoning student debt, more than $29,000 on average per student at my institution with similar amounts at other public colleges and universities. The conventional wisdom is to raise more scholarships from alumni (many of whom are still paying off debt), raise legislative awareness about the importance of higher education (been there, done that) and, more recently, raise students’ financial acumen about the cost of a degree. (Some 13 percent of Iowa State University students with loans didn’t realize they had debt).
Of all consumer economic sectors, higher education can do a better job in providing information about what tuition dollars buy. To mitigate that effect, the Iowa State Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, which I direct, has assembled a fact sheet for current and prospective students, informing them how long it takes to earn a journalism or advertising degree, the availability of scholarships and financial aid, current enrollment figures, recruitment and retention rates, placement data within six months of graduation (in Iowa, U.S. and abroad), and average starting salaries in advertising, journalism and public relations.
Average student debt remains a problem at Iowa State. Because administration here has focused on lowering debt, it is slowly decreasing from a high of $30,619 for bachelor's graduates in 2005-06 to $29,324 in in 2010-11. We all know that is not good enough at a land-grant institution where a college education should be most affordable.
Average debt for Iowa State advertising and journalism majors from 2005-11 essentially mirrored that of the university, with advertising hovering at $29,000 over the past eight years and journalism at about $27,000. We have been addressing debt in orientation classes by requiring students to file four-year undergraduate plans of study, to discourage people from taking more than four years (and thereby adding to their debt). We have streamlined curriculums to accelerate graduation. We also have raised millions in support from our donors.
Starting salaries in a desired field should at least equal average student debt so that graduates pay off loans in about 10 years while working in their chosen professions.
In our disciplines jobs are readily available with sufficient entry-level salaries to offset debt. But that assumes we can graduate students within 4-5 years (about 60 percent at Greenlee do) and place them in industry, graduate school or military (we place 97 percent within six months of commencement). More than half of our most recent graduates have found employment in Iowa, a fact about which we are proud, as a land-grant institution serves the state as well as the nation and world.
This is why transparency is vital if we ever hope to enlist faculty and administration (with oversight by legislatures and regents) in the collective effort to reduce tuition. I have written about that previously in Inside Higher Ed, focusing on curricular expansion and student debt.
In October 2012 we began providing transparent data on our school website that goes beyond that recommended in the College Scorecard, announced in President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address. Each institution’s "scorecard" is supposed to provide information about default and graduation rates, average debt, cost of tuition, and job prospects after graduation.
The scorecard has been criticized on a number of fronts. There is concern that students at prestigious colleges, such as the Ivy League, for example, may not need to borrow as much as counterparts at less wealthy public institutions. Prospective students viewing average loan debt might be misled by such a statistic. The liberal arts also might come off poorly because technical and professional degree-holders earn more in entry-level positions.
Those are persuasive arguments that have little to do with transparency, which has three rules:
Transparency requires data. No data, no transparency.
Transparency requires sunshine. No sunshine, no transparency.
Transparency requires assessment. No assessment, no solution.
In other words, you not only must gather facts; you need to display those facts for all to see and then assess how to address problem areas. The real challenge is collecting data down to the degree level (rather than at the institutional level) and then showcasing that information on each department’s website.
Your institution, college, school or department may balk at sharing data as we are doing at the Greenlee School. There is a reluctance to acknowledge potentially embarrassing information as there was in the 1990s about publicizing crime statistics on campuses. Just as those days ended by regulation, law and decree, the current status quo of documenting vital statistics in hard-to-access fact books also soon will end.
In September, we received a letter from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, informing us that no later than next fall accredited colleges like ours must post graduation and retention statistics clearly on our websites, with data updated annually.
Upon further investigation, we found that the new requirement was inspired by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which advocates self-regulation of academic quality through accreditation. (CHEA recognizes ACEJMC.) "CHEA has been encouraging colleges, universities and accrediting organizations to provide additional information to the public about performance and what counts as academic effectiveness for some time," Judith Eaton, CHEA president, told me. Eaton added that the decision on what data to share with constituents is left up to individual institutions and academic units, but particularly welcomes "evidence of student achievement, what students learn and can do."
We have an obligation to share that information with the public. Data on student debt per academic discipline is an essential criterion of this effort. When coupled with placement, retention and graduation rates, along with job opportunities, that information can help prospective students and their parents make smart consumer choices.
However, typical institutions collect debt data only at the college and university levels. Thus, generating statistics for each academic unit can overload financial aid offices, which already have significant reporting obligations to document how federal and state aid was distributed and to make a case for more in the future. If any office needs expanding to help offset student debt, financial aid should be a top priority.
Imagine, though, the benefit of supporting that office and the utility of the data that it can generate, particularly if the information is posted on websites. What would be the effect in the public, legislative and regents’ arenas if every academic unit was obligated to do this for institutional reaccreditation?
Taxpayers would know which department requires 6.5 years on average to graduate students with a bachelor’s degree, which department’s average student debt exceeds the institutional norm, and which department’s graduates are apt to find jobs in their majors or assistantships in graduate school. These data then can become part of a unit’s assessment plan, with the emphasis on continuous improvement. Faculty can streamline curriculums with a focus on rigor rather than pedagogical expansion. Chairs can put more emphasis on recruitment and retention. Directors and deans can emphasize fund-raising. Provosts can revise budget models to reward units that recruit, retain and graduate students in a timely manner. Presidents can tout access to education to regain the public’s trust, which just may be the key to higher levels of fund-raising and legislative support.
Internally, we would also have additional criteria to evaluate the performance of chairs, deans, provosts and presidents and to focus the faculty on areas of public service and access to education.
Michael Bugeja chairs the Contemporary Leadership Committee of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Seven full-time faculty members -- most of them off the tenure track but including one tenured professor -- have received layoff notices, The Bangor Daily News reported. Faculty union leaders said that the university is eliminating jobs as a tactic in contract negotiations, which have been going on without progress since a contract expired in 2011. The university's spokesman said that the layoffs were needed for budgetary reasons.
Pittsburgh has been the site of some of the most contentious debates in recent years on payments by colleges to localities in lieu of taxes on their property -- and tensions are heating up again. The city recently moved to remove the tax-exempt status of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that, in response, colleges throughout the area have said that they will no longer negotiate with the city on payments they make to support local governments. "Making progress on these long-standing issues is difficult even in the best of circumstances,” said a letter from college leaders to the city. “It would be counter-productive to try to push forward in the adversarial environment that exists today.”
City University of Seattle, a 40-year-old nonprofit institution that serves mostly adults, will become part of the National University System, under an arrangement announced by National officials Wednesday. City University operates significant teacher education and business programs, and provides a significant amount of its instruction online. Under the new arrangement, which has already won approval of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, it will remain an independent institution but be part of National's growing system of nonprofit institutions, which also includes John F. Kennedy University (as of 2008), WestMed College, and National University itself, which is headquartered in San Diego but has campuses throughout California and surrounding states.
National is one of a small number of growing systems of nonprofit institutions that have been adding colleges with related missions and that are seeking additional resources to either survive or thrive. The TCS Education System, for instance, took over Pacific Oaks College in 2010.
Following more than a month of resounding protest from students, faculty and staff, the sponsor and planned namesake for Florida Atlantic University’s new football stadium has withdrawn, FAU announced Tuesday, leaving the university to find a replacement for the private prison company GEO Group (the GEO Group Foundation was the official donor) and the $6 million its founder had pledged toward the project. Protesters had criticized the management and inmate and employee treatment at prisons run by GEO, whose chairman is a Florida Atlantic graduate and former trustee.
FAU is technically out nothing yet in terms of dollars, Athletics Director Pat Chun said in an interview Tuesday. But as the university looks at its budget for next year, which it’s in the process of setting, there’s a hole where $500,000 should have been accounted for. (This would have been the first of 12 payments. About half of the $75 million stadium was financed with debt and in need of repayment.) Asked how long until the change in plans causes a serious financial problem, Chun said, “We’re probably there now,” but said the university will go "back to square one" to get it taken care of.
GEO’s withdrawal does have a financial benefit for the university’s academic side, however; officials said the company will donate $500,000 toward scholarships, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
Most universities will face only minimal effects from the automatic budget cuts that went into effect at the beginning of the month, according to a report released Thursday by Moody's Investors Service. The report looked at the projected financial effect of the 5 percent cuts to domestic discretionary spending, known as sequestration, and found that only 1 percent of colleges and not-for-profits stood to lose more than 3 percent of their annual revenue as the result of the cuts.
Research universities were most likely to be hit hard by the cuts because federal funding for scientific research is one of the areas affected. While some financial aid programs -- particularly federal work-study and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant -- will also be cut, the Pell Grant, bedrock of need-based financial aid programs, is safe for the 2013-14 academic year.