Higher Education Quick Takes
Colleges' “green revolving-funds” -- money set aside to provide up-front capital for investments that reduce environmental impact, such as light bulb replacement -- have quadrupled in number since 2008 and are generating considerable investment returns, a survey by the Sustainable Endowments Institute has found. The report, “Greening the Bottom Line,” is the first survey of green revolving-funds ever conducted. It included data from 52 universities from 25 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. It found a 32 percent median annual return on green revolving-fund investments, with median total project payback of four years. Funds surveyed ranged in size from $5,000 at the College of Wooster to $12 million at Harvard University, with an average size of $1.4 million. “The trend is clear both in terms of money saved and reduced energy consumption,” said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute.
When the University of Kentucky announced that its new basketball dormitory would be named, at the request of donors with ties to the coal industry, the Wildcat Coal Lodge, some of the campus objected to such an honor for an industry associated by many with environmentally harmful practices. The Lexington Herald-Leader obtained the full gift agreement and it turns out to not only have "coal" as part of the name, but to require the creation of "an exhibit in the primary entrance lobby which presents in print, photographic, sound, video, DVD and/or other format, a discussion of and tribute to the importance of the coal industry to the Commonwealth of Kentucky." Further, the exhibit "shall be reasonably acceptable" to Joseph W. Craft III, who heads Alliance Coal and who organized the contributions.
Eleven community colleges in Illinois are considering a plan to join forces on health insurance so that their larger pool creates savings, The Chicago Tribune reported. Institutions could end up saving 5 percent on health insurance costs.
Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday proposed an overhaul of governance of higher education. He would create a single board to replace those that oversee the state's community colleges and the Connecticut State University System, as well as the coordinating board. The only free-standing board that would remain would be for the University of Connecticut. He said the new system would help the state educate a larger share of its citizens.
Blackboard has made its name on selling Blackboard Learn, its industry-leading learning management system (LMS), to universities. But professors will soon be able to use the platform for free even if their institutions do not have a contract with Blackboard, the company plans to announce today. Blackboard CourseSites, a cloud-based version of the company's LMS product, will allow instructors to use most of the features available through the normal learning-management system, minus those that require full integration with campus information systems. The idea is to give faculty members at non-Blackboard colleges, as well as those that have not upgraded to the latest versions “more options for experimentation” with the platform’s newest capabilities. Blackboard tells Inside Higher Ed that it does not plan to sell advertising or otherwise make money from CourseSites, so presumably the company is betting that this experiment will inspire instructors to press their bosses to invest in the campus-wide version that institutions must purchase. Blackboard Learn remains the most popular learning-managment system among nonprofit colleges, but it has lost some market share in recent years to Moodle, the open-source platform that has evolved into a viable campus-wide solution after making early inroads at the level of individual instructors.
The chair of the Iowa House Appropriations Committee has introduced a bill to force the University of Iowa to sell Jackson Pollock's "Mural" and to use the $140 million that the painting is worth to set up a trust for scholarships, The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported. The bill states that the terms of the sale would have to allow "Mural" to be back on campus for three months every four years, so students could continue to learn from it. In the past, when the idea of selling the famous painting has come up, university officials have noted that art museum ethics bar such sales, and that auctioning off the painting could endanger the reputation of the university and its art museum, while depriving students and faculty of an important work of modern art.
Utah legislators are considering a proposal to raise tuition rates substantially (to cover the full costs of instruction) for students who earn 120 percent of the credits needed to graduate, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Lawmakers say that these students should be encouraged to leave public colleges and universities or to share more of the costs of higher education. But others note that many of these students have so much credit because they are top students who enter college with Advanced Placement or dual-enrollment credit and pursue double majors or minors in addition to a standard program.
The University of California at Berkeley is reconsidering a plan to eliminate five athletic teams, The New York Times reported. Supporters of the teams have been lobbying for their preservation, and some have pledged money to pay for the teams, although those funds are far short of the $80 million that the university earlier said would be needed to keep the teams. The Times noted that the elimination of the two women's and three men's teams would make it difficult for the university to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex bias in programs receiving federal funds. Officials estimate that, if Berkeley went ahead with the cuts, it would need to add an additional 50 women's athletics slots and to eliminate an additional 80 men's slots to comply.