Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 16, 2021

David Baca, longtime chair of Linfield University’s Board of Trustees, said this week that he’s stepping down. “After 13 years on the Board and four years as chair, Dave decided it was in Linfield’s best interest that he step down and allow new leaders to come to the forefront,” Scott Nelson, university spokesman, told The Oregonian. Kerry Carmody, the board’s vice chair, was named interim chair, effective Oct. 1.

Both students and faculty members have repeatedly called on Baca to step down over Linfield’s handling of sexual misconduct reports by students against David Jubb, a former trustee who is facing a criminal trial. In a related case, Linfield faces a whistle-blower lawsuit from a former professor, Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, who says he was fired for standing up to the board about sexual misconduct and discrimination.

September 16, 2021

Hourly Walmart employees who participated in Live Better U, the company’s staff education and training program, were less likely to leave the company and more likely to receive promotions than other employees across gender and racial lines, according to a new study from the Lumina Foundation, a private foundation focused on higher education access. Participants also improved their performance ratings after enrolling in the program.

Walmart launched Live Better U in 2018, in partnership with Guild Education, a for-profit company that facilitates programs in which employees work toward credentials subsidized by employers. Walmart announced this July that the program would fully cover tuition and book costs for employees.

The study found that 30,000 students were participating in the program in April 2021. Since the program launched in 2018, employees have earned almost 7,300 new high school diplomas, college degrees and short-term credentials. The study focuses on hourly workers, 94 percent of Walmart’s workforce, and disaggregated the data by race and ethnicity.

Program participants left the company at a significantly lower rate than their colleagues outside the program and saw their performance ratings go up within six months of enrolling, across racial and ethnic groups. Among Live Better U participants, 17 percent received promotions. Black hourly employees were 88 percent more likely to receive promotions relative to their peers, while Latinx employees were 71 percent more likely. White participants were 80 percent more likely.

"To our knowledge, this study represents the first time a company has shown employee outcomes disaggregated by race and ethnicity," Haley Glover, a Lumina strategy director and the report’s author, said in a press release. "Understanding program impact on diverse employee populations is necessary to building a program that is equitable in delivery and outcomes."

September 16, 2021

A new survey found that community colleges, and especially their noncredit programs, play an outsize role in providing job-focused education.

Opportunity America, a Washington, D.C., think tank focused on economic mobility, explained the survey findings in an accompanying policy report released Tuesday.

The report says community colleges are “poised to come into their own as the nation’s premier provider of job-focused education and training.”

Community and technical colleges educate more people per year than apprenticeship programs, coding boot camps and federal job training programs combined, noted Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America and author of the report. Nonetheless, many people underestimate the value of these institutions.

“They provide an important stepping stone to four-year colleges and universities, but that’s only part of what they do,” she said in a press release, referring to the capacity of community and technical colleges to prepare students directly for the workforce through job-oriented programs.

More than 600 colleges answered at least one of the survey questions, and 477 institutions offered more thorough responses, a 38 percent response rate.

Survey findings show that more than half of the students at community colleges who responded are enrolled in job-focused programs.

The report also argues that community college noncredit education programs in particular demonstrate a “signature strength” in offering workforce education, but policy makers know little about who these students are. The report notes that an estimated 3.7 million students nationwide are enrolled in noncredit programs. More than half of noncredit students, 57 percent, were enrolled in job-focused programs.

About three-quarters of the students enrolled in noncredit workforce programs were age 25 and older, compared to 44 percent of community college students in degree programs. Students in noncredit workforce programs were also more likely to be white relative to those in degree-seeking programs, based on the data available. However, fewer than half of responding colleges had information on the race or ethnicity of students in noncredit workforce training.

The report makes a number of policy recommendations to improve community college workforce education. It recommends policy makers collect more robust data, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, on enrollment and student success for noncredit workforce community college programs, among other suggestions.

September 16, 2021

Hawaii governor David Ige, a Democrat, said Tuesday that the University of Hawai‘i will continue its policy of banning all fans from football games, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

“I hope we will be in a better place before the end of the football season,” Ige said in a statement. “However, at this point, this type of activity is simply not safe.”

He added, “We understand how important University of Hawaii athletics is to our community. The pandemic has really challenged our effort to balance our support of UH athletics with the need to protect the health and safety of our community. Our hospital ICU units are at maximum capacity. Any significant increase in ICU patients could put our healthcare system over the threshold.”

The University of Hawai‘i is the only college among 130 major college sports programs banning fans from games.

September 16, 2021

Today on the Academic Minute: Torsa Ghosal, assistant professor of English at California State University, Sacramento, examines why forgetting may be a good thing from time to time. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 15, 2021

When a professor asked if she could teach online this term because it’s difficult for her, as an autistic person, to wear a mask, Edgewood College in Wisconsin said that she could teach behind Plexiglas instead and then canceled her courses and stopped paying her when she said no to that idea, according to Madison.com. Susan Rustick, who taught English at Edgewood for 30 years, reportedly said that the situation has been “deeply painful.” Edgewood says Rustick hasn’t been terminated but that she’s been relieved of all obligations and her contract is “null and void.” Rustick says this status makes it unclear whether she still has health insurance or a right to appeal as a tenured professor.

Ed Taylor, a college spokesperson, told Madison.com that some other professors had been granted COVID-19 teaching accommodations deemed “acceptable” to both Edgewood and those employees. Rustick said that she can’t wear a mask for more than 30 minutes, as her sensory sensitivity makes her feel “like I am suffocating.” She added, “It’s not uncomfortable; it’s intolerable.” She said one proposed solution was that she teach remotely with a teaching assistant in class to help students, but that the college rejected this idea as an “undue burden.” Rustick’s doctors documented her diagnosis and recommended accommodation.

September 15, 2021

The Mills College Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to approve an acquisition by Northeastern University, months after the college first announced the deal.

The vote was originally scheduled for mid-August, but it was delayed after an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued several restraining orders preventing the vote. On Monday, an existing restraining order was lifted, and the women’s college proceeded with the vote.

The acquisition will be finalized on July 1, 2022, and Mills College will become the coed Mills College at Northeastern University.

September 15, 2021

The Senate voted 58 to 37 Tuesday to confirm James Kvaal as under secretary of education, nearly five months after his confirmation hearing.

Kvaal, who most recently served as president of the Institute for College Access and Success, was broadly supported by the higher education community for the department’s top higher education post. But his confirmation vote was held up by Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, until last month.

“James Kvaal, the nation’s new Under Secretary of Education, has a deep understanding of the strengths, needs, and challenges in postsecondary education,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “With this confirmation, the Biden administration and the American people gain a dedicated and distinguished public servant with strong expertise in higher education who will always put students first.”

September 15, 2021

A new report from the Century Foundation, a progressive, independent think tank focused on equity in education, health care and work, explores the extent of public underfunding for historically Black colleges and universities and the financial ramifications for the affected institutions, students and parents.

The report, released Tuesday, found that non-HBCUs had significantly larger endowments than their HBCU counterparts. The average endowment per student for public colleges, $25,390, was more than three times larger than the average endowment of $7,265 per student at public HBCUs. At private institutions, the average endowment per student was more than seven times larger -- $184,409 compared to $24,989 at private HBCUs.

In a ranking of higher education endowment sizes, no HBCUs made the top 100, and the HBCU with the largest endowment, Howard University, ranks 160th on the list.

The report says HBCUs need an influx of $53 billion in endowment funds to cover the loan debt burdening HBCU students and their parents, described as a symptom of historic state and federal underfunding. The report proposes Congress put $40 billion toward that goal, with the rest of the money coming from matching funds from states or private sources.

“While lawmakers extol the virtues of HBCUs in their words, their actions have deprived these illustrious institutions with the funding needed to ensure their financial stability, independence, and continued academic excellence,” Denise A. Smith, a fellow at the foundation and author of the report, said in a press release. “Much like the racial wealth gap, our ongoing short-changing of HBCUs and failure to address historical funding gaps have forced HBCUs to operate today at a severe disadvantage. It’s time to fix that.”

September 15, 2021

Brown and Syracuse Universities tightened their rules for preventing the spread of COVID-19 on Monday.

Brown announced "temporary restrictions" due to "an increase in positive asymptomatic COVID-19 cases as the campus resumes significant on-site operations, primarily among undergraduate students."

The university will increase testing of all students from once a week to twice a week, impose a pause on in-person dining and set a limit of five students for undergraduate social events.

Syracuse announced that, in the wake of Saturday's football game, at which few fans followed the rules to be masked, ushers will now enforce masking rules, WSYR News reported.

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