Higher Education Quick Takes
The U.S. Education Department on Thursday announced several new sanctions on ITT Technical Institutes, which experts said could push the large for-profit chain toward bankruptcy and closure. ITT is facing a wide range of federal and state legal challenges, in addition to scrutiny by its national accreditor, which believes the for-profit chain is unlikely to come into compliance with its requirements. Department officials said the “sweeping” sanctions were necessary to protect students and taxpayer dollars.
The new federal sanctions include moving ITT to a tighter form of financial oversight, dubbed heightened cash monitoring; a freeze on new students receiving federal aid; an increase in the amount of a required letter of credit to $247 million; and limits on the compensation of the for-profit’s executives.
“Looking at all of the risk factors, it’s clear that we need increased financial protection and that it simply would not be responsible or in the best interest of students to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal student aid funds,” John King Jr., the U.S. education secretary, said in written statement.
The board of Florida A&M University on Wednesday voted down, 7 to 5, a proposal to extend the contract of President Elmira Mangum, who has started the third year of her three-year contract, The Tallahassee Democrat reported. The vote took place at a board meeting where Mangum and supporters contested negative portions of a board evaluation. Board members talked about, but couldn't reach consensus on, how to change the relationship with the president. While board members have questioned some of her decisions and faulted her communication, many students, alumni and faculty members praise Mangum. They say she has brought needed improvements to the university, that board members are micromanaging, and that instability is among the bigger dangers facing the historically black institution.
An unusual protest in the works for months took place Wednesday at the University of Texas at Austin. Students carried dildos, posted photographs of themselves in class with dildos (see above) and announced that they had dildos in their bags -- pointing out that there are provisions of Texas law that could punish them for carrying sex toys -- even as the new campus carry law would not punish them for carrying guns. The Austin American-Statesman reported that one student told a protest crowd, “If there are guns in your bags, there will be dildos in mine …. If you pack heat, we’re packing meat! We’re going to make you as uncomfortable as we are [with guns].”
Heather Bresch (right), the CEO of Mylan Inc., the pharmaceutical company pushing mammoth price increases in EpiPens, was at the center of a controversy in higher education in 2007, when The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that West Virginia University awarded Bresch an M.B.A. even though she completed only about half the required credits. Bresch is the daughter of Joe Manchin, a Democrat who was then governor of West Virginia and is now a U.S. senator from the state. While West Virginia University originally denied anything inappropriate had happened, its own investigation eventually confirmed the Post-Gazette's findings, and the university's president resigned under pressure amid widespread faculty anger over the scandal. At the time, Bresch was chief operating officer of the pharmaceutical company Mylan Inc. Today she is CEO of the company, which produces EpiPen.
Bresch's biography on the Mylan website no longer references an M.B.A.
Many colleges allow students or families to pay tuition bills with credit cards, but the fees associated with those payments may be costly enough that any rewards from the credit card company are wiped out. That is the bottom line of a new survey from CreditCards.com, a division of the finance research site Bankrate. The survey of the 300 largest public and private colleges found that 85 percent accept payments with credit cards, but the average "convenience fee" is 2.62 percent, generally more than the value of reward points a card user might receive. While substantial majorities of four-year colleges (public and private) charge convenience fees, only 8 percent of community colleges do so.
Sweet Briar College is expecting to continue a heavy reliance on donations in its 2017 fiscal year, with a newly passed $33 million operating budget calling for a whopping $20 million in donations.
The rural women's college to the north of Lynchburg, Va., has so far landed donations and pledges totaling roughly $2.5 million toward the fund-raising goal. But the goal remains a high bar, particularly after the college and an alumnae group raised more than $22 million in the last year as they fought to prevent a planned closure.
“This year will have to be a heroic effort,” Sweet Briar Board Chair Teresa Pike Tomlinson told The News & Advance of Lynchburg. “It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be all hands on deck.”
Sweet Briar's former administration attempted to close the college in 2015 as heavy tuition discounting and falling enrollment raised doubts about the institution's viability. But alumnae fought the move and won an agreement that summer to keep Sweet Briar open under a new administration. The college missed admissions targets this spring and summer, but its backers remained notably optimistic. Sweet Briar has roughly 340 students on campus for the fall and another 42 studying abroad. That's up from enrollment of 245 students in 2015-16.
Before its near closure, Sweet Briar had 561 students. The college's administration wants to grow on-campus student numbers toward a capacity of 800.
Under the current operating budget, student tuition accounts for less than a quarter of Sweet Briar's operating revenue. The college's tuition discount rate is 64 percent, similar to its discount rate before the closure attempt.
The board of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges issued a statement on the responsibility of trustees to promote an inclusive campus climate, with principles of civility in place.
The statement said that boards and campus leaders should:
- Embrace "transparency on the part of presidents, who must work in collaboration with their boards on campus climate issues."
- Conduct "a periodic review of policies that impact campus climate, ensuring that they are current and consistent with institution mission and relevant laws and regulations."
- Ensure "the allocation of appropriate resources to address campus climate needs."
- Support "the creation of proactive, responsive, and adaptive governance practices, including those that create diversity on the board itself."
- Be champions of "diversity and equal opportunity in the faculty and staff hiring and development process."
The full statement may be found here.
A new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that fewer students are enrolling in two-year institutions after earning bachelor's degrees.
Of students who earned a bachelor's degree in 2013, 5.8 percent enrolled in a two-year institution -- the lowest point in 14 years. Students who are over age 30 when they earned a bachelor's degree are least likely to seek further education at a two-year institution, according to the report.
"The great recession compelled many individuals to return to college," said Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, in a news release. "Upon earning their bachelor's degrees, those students typically did not seek further training at two-year institutions."
A yearlong evaluation of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education by the Council on Library and Information Resources has produced three alternative paths forward for the organization: relaunch, reconfigure or shut down. NITLE, which has helped liberal arts colleges use technology in the classroom, last year moved from its home at Southwestern University to CLIR in order to determine if the organization had a future in the face of dwindling funding and reduced activity. Six current or former CLIR postdoctoral fellows examined NITLE's history, interviewed people associated with the organization and surveyed individuals involved in ed tech or liberal arts education to produce the white paper, which was published Tuesday.
The authors identified a handful of activities an organization focusing on technology in liberal arts education should pursue in order to remain viable. The organization, whether it is NITLE or not, should continue to focus on liberal arts colleges, communicate with members and conduct market research to gather input about its work, and develop a mission that sets it apart from other organizations in the space.
"Whatever shape a future initiative may take, its endurance would rely on its ability to help its constituents adapt to rapid change," the white paper reads. An advisory council will take the report into consideration as it determines NITLE's future.