Higher Education Quick Takes
A group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers said Monday that they would seek to use budget legislation the House will consider this week to try to block the Education Department from carrying out regulations requiring vocational programs (and all programs at for-profit colleges) to ensure that they prepare students for "gainful employment." In an interview in his office, Representative John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said that he and three other lawmakers would sponsor an amendment to the continuing resolution legislation that the House could take up as early as today. The measure would bar the Education Department from using any of its appropriated funds in 2011 to promulgate or enforce the gainful employment regulations, which for-profit college officials have fought on a variety of fronts.
Kline, who spoke with reporters along with Representative Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, said the lawmakers were confident that the House would pass the legislation, and hoped that that vote would send a "strong signal" to "the administration and our friends in the Senate" that "somebody ought to take another look at" the wisdom and fairness of the rules. "We have an opportunity right now to make a statement." Kline said the lawmakers objected both to the one piece of the gainful employment regulation that the department has already published -- which requires institutions wishing to create new vocational programs to get the Education Department's approval to do so -- and to the forthcoming portion of the rules that would institute a new set of outcomes that vocational programs would have to meet.
Students at California State University at Northridge are being hit by worsening personal economic conditions, higher tuition rates and greater difficulty getting into courses, according to a report, "Squeezed From All Sides," being released today by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles. Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 students at Northridge, which like most of the Cal State campuses is ethnically diverse and includes many first generation college students. Among the findings:
- Students' families have taken hard hits. More than 10 percent of students reported that at least one parent had lost a job since 2008, and 21 percent reported that at least one parent had lost income or hours of work.
- Paying for college has become more difficult. Among students enrolled for at least two years, 57 percent said that paying had become "a little more difficult" and another 28 percent said that it had become "a lot more difficult."
- Getting into courses has become more difficult, with 77 percent of students reporting that the inability to get into classes will result in longer time to degree.
The renovation of the student center at the University of Colorado at Boulder was finished this fall, adding more comfortable seating and a fireplace, among other amenities. The Boulder Daily Camera reported that the new facility and the particularly cold winter have drawn homeless people to the center in greater numbers than in the past. Some students have raised concerns, but officials say that as long as the homeless people don't break rules, they cannot be kicked out of a public building.
Next Generation Learning Challenges, a program that plans to disburse $20 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to educational technology projects over the next two years, on Monday released the 50 higher-ed finalists for its first round of grants. The projects were chosen as finalists based on their potential impact on college access and completion through the development and use of open courseware, blended learning, "deeper" learning, and learning analytics. About 60 percent of the finalists are expected to receive grants. The foundation is currently working on selecting the winners, which are expected to be announced in early spring.
Utah State Representative Chris Herrod introduced a bill Monday to require the state's public colleges and universities to stop offering tenure to faculty members, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Higher education leaders are speaking out against the bill, saying it would make it difficult to attract top academic talent to the state. (Currently tenured faculty members would not have their tenure revoked.) Herrod said that the bill would be good for higher education. In tight budget times, he said, “I would hate to have to cut a young, energetic Ph.D." to preserve a position for a tenured professor who is "barely there."
Brown University will stop all future investment in HEI Hotels and Resorts, a real estate company under scrutiny for its treatment of workers. Any current investments held by Brown will not be affected "since they may be difficult or impossible to divest from due to long-term commitments," according to Luiz F. Valente, chair of Brown's Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies, which recommended the investment review. Critics have said that HEI interferes with union organizing and other worker rights. “After conferring with the Investment Committee of the Corporation, the university's governing body, the university has accepted ACCRIP's recommendation,” wrote Sarah Kidwell, Brown’s director of news and communications, in a statement via e-mail. The Brown Student Labor Alliance had lobbied for years for this result, said Lenora Knowles, a member of the alliance, and who said that "this is a big accomplishment" that assures "our university is using this money in a way that is not compromising the values of students.” HEI declined to comment on Brown's move, but has in the past disputed criticisms of its labor practices.
The London School of Economics and Political Science has declined to ban from a panel discussion on Europe's future two speakers who are seen as anti-Muslim for questioning the willingness of Muslim immigrants to integrate themselves into German society, Times Higher Education reported. German students and academics based in Britain had asked for the panelists to be removed, but the student organizers and the institution itself declined to do so, citing a commitment to free speech.
Gallaudet University announced Monday that it will eliminate 17 academic programs (pdf) in a gradual process that will end in August 2013. Six undergraduate majors, six undergraduate minors, three master’s degree programs, one educational specialist program, and one doctoral program will be affected. No faculty layoffs of any kind are planned. The programs include an undergraduate major and minor in French, majors in theater arts and computer science, and a master's program in deaf history.
The announcement comes after a university task force spent seven months reviewing 99 undergraduate and graduate academic program offerings “on a set of agreed-upon common criteria for recommending growth, monitoring, restructuring, merging, or discontinuing.” A campus-wide public comment session followed. The review was prompted in an effort to meet the goals set out in the university’s “Vision 2020” plan, explained Benjamin J. Soukup, chair of the university’s board of trustees. “We feel these recommendations will help us meet those milestones and dramatically improve our offerings to ensure Gallaudet’s continued growth and success,” he said.
Jane Dillehay, chair of the Gallaudet Faculty Senate, issued the following statement on its behalf: "As a whole we recognize that resources are limited and our ability to support all of our programs effectively are limited. Our first commitment is to provide an educational experience to prepare today's students for their futures. While many faculty remain concerned with flaws in the process, the Program Prioritization Task Force was a product of shared governance. The university provost and president have pledged to continue that approach in developing an implementation plan for transition to help students complete their studies by August 2013, place faculty in other programs to avoid layoffs, and reallocate resources to support our stronger programs."
The ratings outlook for nonprofit higher education's 2011 remains mixed, according to a report issued Monday by Standard & Poor's. In 2011, "operating results and demand will likely be uneven, and institutions with high debt and limited liquidity could experience severe stress," according to the report. However, "many institutions will perform favorably over the next year," and, in the long-term, the credit profile remains stable. Standard & Poor's does not expect public colleges as a whole to face more serious difficulties than private colleges -- despite state funding cuts. But the credit-rating agency projects that public four-year colleges will experience increased competition from both private and community colleges.