Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 10, 2012

Stanford University researchers are using MRI images to study the brain patterns of literary Ph.D. candidates while they read Jane Austen. The early results suggest a very high level of brain activity prompted by close reading of the novelist.


September 7, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Greger Larson of Durham University reveals how the DNA of modern dogs is changing our understanding of what the earliest domesticated dogs were like. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


September 7, 2012

A study from the MetLife Mature Institute found that 29 percent of grandparents have given their grandchildren financial support for education, spending an average of $8,276 over five years. Of those grandparents who did fund their grandchildren’s education, 32 percent helped with tuition or loan payments, 29 percent donated to a college savings plan, and 7 percent helped pay for graduate school.

“It seems to be a change from earlier generations where we all graduated from college and pretty much felt we were on our own,” said Sandra Timmermann, a gerontologist and the director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Timmermann noted that whereas people used to be concerned about leaving money for their children and grandchildren in their wills, there is now more of a tendency for that money to be given earlier.

When MetLife conducted a similar survey in 2009, it found that 26 percent of all grandparents helped pay for their grandchildren’s education, but of those, the largest proportion, 46 percent, put their money in a college fund. The 2009 survey, however, was administered only to grandparents with grandchildren 25 or younger, while the 2012 iteration surveyed all grandparents.


September 7, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a speech accepting his nomination for re-election Thursday night, President Obama laid out an ambitious higher education goal for his second term: he said he’d “work with colleges and universities” to slow the rise in college tuition by half over the next decade -- but gave no details on how he would accomplish that. It was the first discussion at the Democratic National Convention of what education policy might look like in a second Obama term.

During the State of the Union speech in January, Obama proposed expanding campus-based financial aid programs -- such as the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and the Perkins Loan -- and using the extra money to reward colleges that keep tuition low or provide “good value” (and punish those that do not).

Early attempts by the Education Department to implement parts of that plan, such as a new competitive grant program for higher education, went nowhere in the Senate in next year’s budget negotiations. But Thursday night’s speech appeared to signal that the president, if re-elected, intends to keep pushing colleges to keep tuition prices low -- or at least slow their growth.

How Obama would do that, let alone whether he would succeed, is unclear. The past two decades have seen several federal attempts to pressure colleges to lower tuition, most recently in 2003, when Republicans in Congress proposed cutting off federal aid to colleges whose price increases outstripped inflation. Colleges greeted the proposal with howls of protest, and the measure never got beyond the education committee.


September 7, 2012

An internal police report has found that Santa Monica College could have avoided using pepper spray on protesters in April, The Los Angeles Times reported. The report found that, had the college moved a board meeting to a larger room and provided additional police resources, there would have been no need for pepper spray, which was used when protesters tried to enter a meeting room. The protest took place against a controversial two-tiered tuition plan since abanadoned by the college. Santa Monica officials declined to comment on the report.


September 7, 2012

Representative Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican running for re-election, said in a recent town hall meeting that student loans -- while potentially doing good -- may be unconstitutional, The Washington Post reported. Bartlett said that he had searched the U.S. Constitution and found no justification for a federal role in education, including student loans. "Not that it’s not a good idea to give students loans, it certainly is a good idea to give them loans,” Bartlett said. “But if you can ignore the Constitution to do something good today, tomorrow you will be ignoring the Constitution to do something bad. You could. There are more people in our, in America today of German ancestry than any other [inaudible]. The Holocaust that occurred in Germany — how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope."

Asked about the statement on Thursday, a spokesman for Bartlett said that he "is also a strong supporter of making college accessible to all Americans, and unlike most politicians he has put his money where his mouth is by donating a substantial portion of his salary to help underprivileged students attend college.”

September 6, 2012

The Boston University men’s ice hockey team enjoys an insulated culture and celebrity status that “can lead to unacceptable and destructive behavior, including a culture of sexual entitlement and abuse,” according to the findings of a task force that was charged with reviewing the program after two players were accused of sexual assault last spring. The task force, co-chaired by Boston’s provost and a trustee, made a series of recommendations to improve oversight of the program and address systemic issues of assault and alcohol abuse on campus. In a statement Wednesday, President Robert A. Brown said the university would move to carry out the recommendations, which include reorganizing reporting relationships in the athletics department and updating the Student-Athlete Code of Conduct, as quickly as possible. Brown noted that “excessive alcohol consumption” has played a role in the majority of alleged sexual assaults and other incidents, and the university is “reviewing the recommendation about how best to implement a comprehensive, campus-wide program aimed at moderating alcohol use by our students.”

September 6, 2012

It was a frustrating first week for many students and faculty at Purdue University, where the Blackboard system went down four separate times over a period of nine days. The outages, which resulted largely from increased usage and the use of a new version of the learning management system, ranged from 45 minutes to more than four hours.

Purdue, which hosts Blackboard on its own servers, has been in communication with Blackboard technicians three times a day and has also contacted other universities to see how they have managed the upgrade to Blackboard Learn. According to university spokesman Steve Tally, the downtime was not the result of one big problem, but of several small glitches that needed to be fixed.

Blackboard, for its part, acknowledged that the back-to-school period can be particularly problematic, since the systems see much more traffic than usual. But Matt Maurer, a spokesman for the company, said Blackboard has seen a decrease in the downtime for all users in the past few years, along with a faster response time by technicians when there is a problem. In Purdue's case, a representative from Blackboard was sent to the university to help deal with the problem on-site.


September 6, 2012

A new federal report details the scientific misconduct that authorities found Marc Hauser to have committed while a psychology professor at Harvard University, The Boston Globe reported. Hauser was found to have fabricated data, manipulated results in experiments, and incorrectly described how studies were done. A lengthy internal investigation led him to leave Harvard, but details have been minimal until now about what he did. Hauser disputed some of the findings of the federal inquiry, but has admitted to research misconduct in his laboratory, and said that he took responsibility for it.


September 6, 2012

A new study of members of the American Economic Association finds a gender split on many issues. The study, which will be published in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy, finds women in economics more willing than men to consider interventions in market policies. In terms of academic careers, male economists generally believe that opportunities are equal for men and women, but female economists are more likely to see an advantage for men.



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