Higher Education Quick Takes
Depression and a loss of financial aid significantly influence college students to consider dropping out -- while events such as a death in the family and students' failure to get into their intended major have little apparent effect on continued enrollment, according to a study by Michigan State University scholars. The study, which was funded by the College Board and is forthcoming in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, used a mathematical model to analyze the "shocks" that promoted 1,158 freshmen at 10 U.S. colleges and universities to withdraw (or not). “Prior to this work, little was known about what factors in a student’s everyday life prompt them to think about withdrawing from college,” said Tim Pleskac, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State. “We now have a method to measure what events are ‘shocking’ students and prompting them to think about quitting.”
The American Association of University Professors has launched a formal inquiry in the way the State University of New York at Albany moved to close several language programs. The eliminations -- which the university has said are necessary due to tight budgets -- have been criticized by professors at Albany and nationally. Some have focused on the wisdom of a university that boasts about its global ambitions scaling back language programs. Others have questioned whether there was appropriate faculty consultation. The inquiry by the AAUP, a letter it sent to the university said, will focus on "the academic and educational ramifications for a prominent research university to end such programs" and "the bases and the methods for reaching the decisions," among other issues.
Eight for-profit colleges failed in 2008-9 to meet federal requirements for student aid eligibility that at least 10 percent of their revenue come from sources other than federal student aid, according to data released by the U.S. Education Department on Wednesday. No colleges failed the test the prior year. The data also show increasing numbers of for-profit colleges that, although in compliance with the law, are extremely dependent on federal student aid. From 2007-8 to 2008-9, the number of for profit colleges with 85 to 90 percent of revenue coming from federal student aid increased to 257, from 209. Further, the number with 80 to 85 percent of revenue coming from federal student aid increased to 285 from 248.
Leaders of the University of Wisconsin System are urging Governor Scott Walker to reconsider a plan to spin off the system's flagship Madison campus into an independent university -- while the chancellor at Madison has quietly been encouraging the governor to set the campus loose, The Journal-Sentinel of Milwaukee reported. In a letter to Walker on Tuesday, Kevin Reilly, the system's president, and the leaders of its board write that "it has come to our attention that elements of your proposed 2011-13 biennial budget might remove UW-Madison from the UW System." Doing so would return the state to a two-tiered university system that it abandoned 40 years ago, the letter states, which would be bad for students and taxpayers. The UW system officials said that they are committed to giving the Madison campus more flexibility and autonomy, and noted that Madison's chancellor, Biddy Martin -- while pushing hard for more autonomy -- "is not advocating for UW-Madison to be removed from the system."
But late Wednesday, The Journal-Sentinel reported that it had uncovered evidence to the contrary. It cited a brief memo that Martin wrote in January to a member of the governor's cabinet acknowledging Walker's proposal and expressing support for it, if obliquely. "As I indicated when we met, we will need to continue working with the leadership of our key internal constituencies, among them our key alumni, to ensure support for a proposal," Martin wrote. And Wednesday night, the newspaper reported, Martin -- wrote a letter to the regents explaining why she had "ventured as far as I have" in pushing for Madison to split off from the system. "In my view, it is dangerous not only for UW-Madison, but for the entire System and the state to have the System administration and the regents oppose the possibility that its flagship campus, or any other campus, be given the tools it needs to preserve quality and contribute to economic recovery," she wrote.. There is nothing to be gained, in this economic and political environment, from opposing an innovative and helpful step that could move the entire system and state forward."
The University of Notre Dame is facing -- for the second time this academic year -- charges that it was slow to investigate an alleged sexual assault by one of its students on a female student at nearby St. Mary's College, the Chicago Tribune reported. In the first case, the student who brought the complaint subsequently committed suicide. In the new case, the man who was accused of the sexual assault (and who says the sex was consensual) was not interviewed by authorities for 11 days after the accusation was made. Notre Dame, while not discussing details of the cases, issued a statement defending its handling of such allegations.
Westmont College, a Christian institution that bars "homosexual practice," is facing a serious debate over how it treats its gay students, the Los Angeles Times reported. The discussions were spurred by a letter in the student newspaper, signed by 31 gay and lesbian alumni who wrote of their "doubt, loneliness and fear due to the college's stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues." The alumni said they wanted their names known as "proof that LGBT people do exist within the Westmont community." There are no signs that Westmont is reconsidering its views on sexual orientation, but 50 of the college's 92 faculty members issued their own letter, asking the gay alumni for "forgiveness for ways we might have added to your pain."
The California State University System spent $1.87 million on legal bills related to a whistle-blower lawsuit that it settled last month (for $2.7 million) with David Ohton, formerly a football strength coach at San Diego State University, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Ohton's lawyer told the newspaper that said he initially offered to settle the case for an apology and his former coaching assignment -- with no money involved -- and that proposal was rejected. Ohton is leaving the university as part of the settlement. His suit focused on his demotion to other jobs, which he said was related to assistance he provided to a Cal State audit that was critical of spending practices in the athletics program at San Diego State.
Nevada education is facing a "state of fiscal collapse," and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas faces budget cuts so large that it will likely have to declare "financial exigency," officials told faculty members Tuesday, The Las Vegas Sun reported. Such a declaration could lead to layoffs of tenured faculty members and the elimination of entire programs. UNLV has faced about $50 million in cuts over the last four years, but may face another $47 million over the next year. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Provost Michael Bowers appeared to be on the verge of breaking down during his talk, saying, "I never thought this day would come."
Twenty-three academic groups issued a joint statement Tuesday condemning Glenn Beck, the television commentator, for language that has inspired others to make threats against Frances Fox Piven, a noted professor of sociology and political science at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Beck has said that he was only engaging in legitimate criticism of a scholar with whom he disagrees. The statement from the scholarly groups says in part: "We vigorously support serious, honest, and passionate public debate.... We support serious engagement on the research of Professor Piven and of others who study controversial issues such as unemployment, the economic crisis, the rights of welfare recipients, and the place of government intervention. We also support the right of political commentators to participate in such debates. At the same time, we insist that all parties recognize the rights of academic researchers not only to gather and analyze evidence related to controversial questions, but also to arrive at their own conclusions and to expect those conclusions to be reported accurately in public debates." The groups that signed the letter are:
- American Anthropological Association
- American Association of Geographers
- American Council of Learned Societies
- American Educational Research Association
- American Sociological Association
- Association for Humanist Sociology
- Board, American Society of Criminology
- Board, Research Committee 19 (Poverty, Social Welfare, and Social Policy) of the International Sociological Association
- Board, Society for the Study of Social Problems
- Consortium of Social Science Associations
- Eastern Sociological Society
- Linguistic Society of America
- Mid-South Sociological Association
- Midwest Sociological Society
- National Women’s Studies Association
- Pacific Sociological Association
- Planners of Color Interest Group, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning
- Rural Sociological Society
- Social Science History Association
- Social Science Research Council
- Sociologists for Women in Society
- Sociologists Without Borders
- Southern Sociological Society