Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - 1:08pm

Higher education advocates are again on the defensive in the ongoing battle over Pell Grants, which Congressional Republicans are hoping to cut in deficit reduction talks. Eight college presidents joined student activists and U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin (both Maryland Democrats) at a rally Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill to criticize proposals to cut Pell's budget back to pre-stimulus levels.

Tuesday’s event was the result of some last-minute organization – the presidents were in town for a meeting of the Coalition of Urban-Serving Universities and worked with the U.S. Students Association to bring it together.

USU’s 46 member institutions, which are all public research universities in large metropolitan areas, have a lot to lose if Pell is cut next year because large percentages of their students rely on their grants. At Florida International University, for example, 37 percent of the 43,000-member student body received Pell Grants last year. More than half of those students – 54 percent – received the full grant amount of $5,500.
Mikulski asked students to be more vocal in their opposition to proposed Pell cuts, which could keep many low-income students from being able to afford a college education.
“We need you to flood the airwaves and the broadband,” she told the audience of students and education lobbyists. Student activists responded by talking about their plans to flood lawmakers’ Twitter and e-mail accounts on Monday – which they’ve dubbed “Save Pell Day” – to call attention to their campaign to preserve the program.
Pell Grants were spared major cuts in April, when Republicans agreed to preserve the maximum award amount while cutting the summer grant program – which shielded most of the program's 9.4 million recipients from cuts. But Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposal for the upcoming fiscal year would reduce the maximum award by $845 and render 1.7 million current students ineligible to receive the grants.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Francine Berman of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute discusses our growing need to store massive amounts of digital data and the problems we face in keeping our data accessible as storage formats change. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Boston College on Friday filed a brief in federal court, defending the right of oral historians to make confidentiality pledges, arguing that courts need to factor in academic needs when weighing requests for access to those records. The college's brief answers one filed by the U.S. government, which asserted that academic freedom is not a defense to protect the confidentiality of such documents. The U.S. government has taken the side of the British government, which is fighting for access to oral history records at Boston College that authorities in the U.K. say relate to criminal investigations of murder, kidnapping and other violent crimes in Northern Ireland. The college promised confidentiality to many of those interviewed and is trying to protect those pledges.

In its brief, Boston College says that it has never made an argument of an "absolute" right to protect confidentiality of oral history documents. But the college says that numerous federal courts have called for a balancing of interests in such cases, and that academic freedom and the rights of researchers are parts of the public policy equation that should be considered. The college's brief also says that the government unfairly cited oral history agreements between interview subjects and researchers at other universities -- agreements that don't go that far too protect confidentiality. These "selective" comparisons, Boston College said, didn't include topics as "traumatic as the Troubles in Northern Ireland." The brief closes by stating that forcing the college to release the documents in ways that violate confidentiality would create "a daunting impediment to collecting candid information about important subjects from willing participants in future oral history projects."

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Many community colleges have a range of athletic options for male students, but just a single team for women, and dozens of community colleges have gone years without any women on athletic rosters, The New York Times reported. As an example, it cited Los Angeles Southwestern College, where women make up two-thirds of students and a quarter of athletes.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Many community colleges have a range of athletics options for male students, but just a single team for women, and dozens of community colleges have gone years without any women on athletic rosters, The New York Times reported. As an example, the article cited Los Angeles Southwestern College, where women make up two-thirds of students and a quarter of athletes.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Officials at Edison State College suspended two administrators with pay, and admitted Thursday that the college had awarded degrees to students who didn't complete program requirements, The News-Press reported. A public records request from the newspaper led to the focus on the issue. The inappropriate degrees were awarded to students who were given permission to substitute in electives for required courses. "Substitutions were often provided to enhance matriculation rates into a baccalaureate degree program," Steve Atkins, vice president for academic affairs, said at a news conference.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

The number of credit cards issued by colleges or alumni associations dropped in 2010, suggesting that a federal law aimed at restricting the marketing of cards to students appears to be having an impact, USA Today reported. The article cites a report this month by the Federal Reserve Board finding that the number of credit cards issued by colleges and alumni associations fell by 17 percent, and that the revenue colleges and alumni groups received from marketing agreements with credit card providers declined by 13 percent. A 2009 law aimed at limiting credit card excesses included several restrictions on the marketing of cards to undergraduates.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Elizabeth Jakob of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst explains why a better understanding of how vision works in the insect world can lead to technological innovations that will help us all. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Many German academics have been angered to learn of a deal between Deutsche Bank, Humboldt University and the Technical University of Berlin, under which the bank gave $17 million to finance the Quantitative Products Laboratory, to pay the cost of two endowed professorships. As The New York Times reported, the controversy is because of what the bank received: a say in the hiring of the professors, the right to have bank employees designated as adjunct professors, and a role in selecting topics for research by the research center.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Federal authorities on Thursday charged Thomas C. Briggs, formerly an administrative support specialist for international students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, with falsifying student visa records, The Charlotte Observer reported. Briggs is charged with indicating that 66 foreign students were enrolled full time (a requirement for their visas) when he knew that was not the case. A lawyer for Briggs said that he acted not for profit or political motive, but to help students about whom he was concerned.

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