institutionalfinance

Columbia Will Divest From Private Prison Companies

Columbia University's board voted Monday to divest its endowment from private prison companies, CNN reported. Columbia may be the first American college or university to adopt such a policy. Student and faculty groups have been urging the shift. Columbia has in the past invested in two such companies, although there have been reports that holdings in one company were sold prior to Monday's vote. A statement from the university to CNN said: “This action occurs within the larger, ongoing discussion of the issue of mass incarceration that concerns citizens from across the ideological spectrum. The decision follows… thoughtful analysis and deliberation by our faculty, students and alumni.”

Refunds Offered for Sweet Briar Transfers

Three women's colleges that accepted students transferring from Sweet Briar College plan to refund the deposits of any student who has changed her mind about transferring now that Sweet Briar will remain open for the 2015-16 academic year.

Hollins University, Agnes Scott College and Mary Baldwin College will each refund enrollment deposits for students returning to Sweet Briar, which on Saturday announced that it is abandoning a plan announced four months ago to close the women's college. At Hollins, 70 students transferring from Sweet Briar paid enrollment deposits for the fall.

"We are in the process of contacting all Sweet Briar students who have enrolled as transfers at Agnes Scott and are offering to refund their deposit if they choose to stay at Sweet Briar," Agnes Scott President Elizabeth Kiss said in a statement. "We remain committed to providing a warm Scottie welcome to all admitted transfer students from Sweet Briar who wish to join the Agnes Scott community."

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Essay defends the idea that colleges have climbing walls and other recreational facilities

One of the most popular critiques of higher education is that climbing walls and recreation centers are the sources of all financial problems and destructive student-coddling behaviors. Armed with outrage and anecdote, sometimes spiced with snark but little real information or context, ostensibly well-intentioned commentators have made an industry out of bashing these facilities.

I confess that, when it came to recreation centers, I was once a card-carrying member of the arched-eyebrow club. In my former position as budget director and later vice chancellor for finance for the Ohio Board of Regents, I had limited authority over campus issuance of new debt for construction. “Tut, tut, tut,” I used to think. “How could the trustees and administrators be so extravagant as to spend money on these luxurious student facilities? Why aren't running, cycling and walking on outdoor paths good enough? Why can't students do calisthenics in their dorm rooms?” (The tuts are added for dramatic effect. I never actually thought these words.)

Fortunately for the campuses and students in public institutions in Ohio, my opinion had little effect on these decisions. In terms of process, the institutions were, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion. The administrations would generally seek and receive approval from students, either through an actual referendum or through student government. Students would usually approve the projects and, most importantly, the new fees associated with them.

At the University of Cincinnati, students approved the immediate imposition of new fees for a recreation center they would never use -- due to the construction schedule -- arguing that previous generations of students had supported existing, older facilities, and that the current cohort of students were in debt for these past sacrifices and investments. The staff of the Board of Regents would review the financial viability of the project, making sure that operations and debt could be financed with the plan submitted by the campus.

I was on a road in Athens -- Ohio, not Damascus -- when I got knocked off of my proverbial ass, discovered the value of these centers and changed my opinion 180 degrees. I visited the Ping Center at Ohio University on a Saturday night. What I discovered amazed me. I found the 168,000-square-foot recreation center filled with hundreds of students, faculty and staff, exercising, competing in recreational and intramural sports, socializing, doing homework in the juice bar, and generally having productive shared experiences in a safe, comfortable and challenging environment.

At a time when binge drinking and obesity are two of the most serious health issues faced by college students, and faculty-student interactions are few and far between, I was impressed with the level and type of unstructured, positive activity I witnessed among students and faculty that night. I assume that recreation centers at other institutions serve similar purposes. In addition, at urban campuses, these centers serve as a magnet on weekends and off hours that bring people, life and income to areas that otherwise would be dark and dead. In a small way, they help keep the city alive.

For someone who is still proud of his education in the liberal arts, it took me a long time to come to appreciate the words of the Roman poet Juvenal: “Mens sana in corpore sano.

You can look it up on your smartphone, while you're on your stationary bike, at your campus recreation center.

Richard Petrick is the retired vice chancellor for finance of the Ohio Board of Regents.

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South Carolina State U Declares Financial Exigency

South Carolina State University's board on Wednesday declared financial exigency, potentially making it easier for the university to eliminate jobs of employees, including faculty members, the Associated Press reported. The university is $20 million in debt. The university received some good financial news Wednesday when a state board gave the university a five-year delay in repaying a $6 million loan. State leaders have repeatedly criticized the financial management of the historically black university. But its defenders have pointed to years of underfunding.

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Cornell Tech Receives $100M From Bloomberg

Bloomberg Philanthropies, the philanthropic arm of Michael Bloomberg's business interests, is giving $100 million to Cornell University for its new technology campus in New York City. While mayor of New York City, Bloomberg championed a competition won by Cornell to build a new campus on Roosevelt Island. The first academic building on the new campus will be called Bloomberg Center.

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Performance Funding in Massachusetts

Massachusetts' nine public universities will have some of their state support tied to a funding formula based on the number of students they graduate. The state board of higher education on Tuesday voted to approve the formula and will apply $5.6 million to it in the coming fiscal year.

The board described its approach to performance funding in a news release: "It is based on a complex formula of metrics and weights developed by NCHEMS, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. An institution’s share of the funding will be determined in part by its five-year graduation rates, annual head count, full-time enrollment, year-over-year increases in degrees awarded, the numbers of students who reach 30 and 60 credit hours each year (with additional points awarded for low-income students who qualify for federal Pell Grants), as well as numbers and types of degrees awarded (with additional points awarded for degrees in 'priority fields' such as STEM, health, business and education). Campuses are also awarded points for 'degree productivity,' the cost of producing a degree per $100,000 in total revenue."

Community colleges in Massachusetts have received some performance funding since 2013. While the formulas are different, the board said both seek to close achievement gaps and to improve the graduation rates of underrepresented minority and low-income students.

Report: Giving to Education Up in 2014

Donations to education institutions hit $54.62 billion in 2014, a 4.9 percent increase over 2013, according to the annual "Giving USA" report. When adjusted for inflation, the increase is 3.2 percent. In total, Americans gave $358.38 billion to charity in 2014, a 7.1 percent gain.

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Marian Court College to Close

Marian Court College, a small Roman Catholic college outside of Boston, will shut down later this month, The Daily Item reported. Denise Hammon, the president, said that “as a highly tuition-dependent education institution, Marian Court can no longer maintain our operations given declining enrollment numbers.” She said that Salem State University has agreed to enroll Marian Court's students. Marian Court was founded as a two-year institution, but just last month awarded its first bachelor's degrees. The Education Department lists enrollment as 266.

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Budget Deal Averts Severe Cuts in Louisiana

The Louisiana Legislature on Thursday approved a budget deal that is expected to avert severe cuts to the state's higher education system. The deal is based on a series of legislative maneuvers to raise revenue while allowing Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, to say he stuck to his pledge not to raise taxes. The New York Times reported that many legislators -- Republican and Democratic alike -- used phrases like "money laundering" and "stupid" to describe the deal. But they said they were voting for it because Governor Jindal had threatened to veto all other approaches, and lawmakers did not want to see the deep cuts to higher education.

Nearly Half of Senior Tenured Professors Want to Delay Retirement

Some 65 percent of tenured senior faculty members plan to put off retirement for various reasons, according to a new study from the TIAA-CREF Institute. But the reasons behind that figure might not be what you think. Just 16 percent of respondents said they’d like to retire by the “normal” retirement age of 67 but expected to work longer for financial reasons. A much bigger proportion of respondents -- 49 percent -- said they’d want to work past age 67 by choice.

Those findings are similar to what was observed in a similar 2013 TIAA-CREF study on faculty retirement: that faculty members were putting off retirement, but not just for financial reasons in a still-bumpy economy. Some of those choices are based on “unconfirmed assumptions,” according to the report -- either that faculty members won’t have enough money to retire or that they won’t find viable work alternatives. Female faculty members are more likely than their male colleagues to expect to retire by normal retirement age. Paul J. Yakoboski, a senior economist who co-authored the report, said universities should talk to faculty members about both the financial and psychosocial aspects of retirement so that they can make informed choices. The full report is available here.

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