Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 3:00am

Several South Korean universities have started Internet curfews, blocking all online access or access to games at certain hours, The Korea Times reported. Yonsei University Wonju Campus halts Internet access from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., and both Catholic University of Daegu and Mokpo National Maritime University have a curfew from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. Pohang University of Science and Technology blocks online game websites from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. University officials said they needed these policies because students who stay up and online all night prevent roommates from sleeping. But students say they need 24-7 access and claim they need this access for academic reasons.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 3:00am

The University of Missouri notified graduate student employees that it will no longer pay for their health insurance, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported. In a letter to students, the university said businesses like theirs were prohibited from “providing employees subsidies specifically for the purpose of purchasing health insurance from individual market plans,” in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. A university administrator attributed the change to a recent interpretation of the law by the Internal Revenue Service, saying that health care plans such as Missouri’s Aetna package for grad students are “individual market plans” and therefore exempt from employer subsidies. Other Missouri employees use one of a number of “employer-sponsored plans” and are therefore unaffected, the university explained in an online memo.

The university said not complying with the law could result in fines. It is reportedly using the $3.1 million originally budgeted for health insurance subsidies for graduate student employees to create one-time fellowships of between $600 and $1,200 for those affected, to be spent at their discretion. Starting in the spring, graduate student employees will have to pay completely out of pocket for health insurance.

Graduate students have taken to Twitter and other social media to express their outrage and concern about being able to pay for health care. John Meador, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology, told KOMU that the university effectively “eliminated my ability to function as a graduate student. … They knew about it. I believe they could have warned us earlier.” The university became aware of the issue in late July and consulted lawyers and various national organizations for advice before notifying students late last week.

The change could affect other graduate student employees elsewhere in the U.S. Andy Brantley, president and chief executive of College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, said via email that several colleges and universities have "expressed concern about this issue, and we have been working with other higher ed associations to get clarity from the IRS." He added, "We are hoping the agency will issue a short-term waiver as it deliberates application of the [Affordable Care Act] in these situations so colleges and universities can move forward this year without fear of liability."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 3:00am

A new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that there’s a dependable way to foster long-term improvements in students’ critical thinking skills. Researchers at Stanford University and the University of British Columbia developed a framework consisting of cycles and decision making based on comparisons between data sets or data and models, and applied the learning structure to 130 students in an introductory physics lab.

During a series of simple physics experiments, the students received instructions to compare new data to existing data, and to decide how to act on those comparisons based on statistical tests. For example, students used a stopwatch to time a pendulum swinging between two angles of amplitude. Rather than just conducting data and comparing them to equations in a textbook, as a control group of students did, the students in the modified course were instructed to make decisions based on the comparison. What should they do to improve the quality of their data and better explain the difference between their results and the equation in the textbook? Students chose everything from conducting more trials to putting the team member with the biggest finger on stopwatch duty. Their data improved, along with their understanding of the process.

Even after the instructions were taken away, the students in the test group were 12 times more likely than a group of 130 students the previous year (the control group) to propose changes to improve their data or methods. The test group students also were four times more likely to identify and explain a shortcoming of the model using their data.

The test group students demonstrated similar critical thinking skills in a second course the next year, suggesting that their learning was long-term. Lead author N. G. Holmes, a postdoctoral researcher in physics education at Stanford, and her co-authors argue that the framework they developed could be adapted to a range of settings beyond physics. The study is available here.

Holmes said via email that "giving students the space to make decisions about how to follow up on an experimental result, with careful guidance, ingrained critical thinking long-term. … I think this adds to the existing literature a concrete, yet simple way to structure how these skills can be taught with lasting improvements. It is a demonstration of how to teach expert-level skills in context that can be generalized outside a particular classroom."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 3:00am

The University of Central Florida chapter of Sigma Nu has been suspended after the university received and reviewed a video of some of the fraternity's members chanting phrases that seemed to encourage sexual assault. "Let's rape some bitches, rape some sluts" the members are heard saying in the video.

The incident occurred during an off-campus party in June. In October, a member of the chapter was accused of raping a woman at the Sigma Nu house. That student was found responsible of sexual misconduct and suspended.

“The words used by people in the recordings are disrespectful, despicable and vile,” Brad Beacham, Sigma Nu fraternity executive director, said in a statement. “The fraternity and university are investigating the recordings. Following the completion of the investigation, the fraternity will take action as may be appropriate.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Gayathri Devi, associate professor of pathology and surgery at Duke University, discusses research exploring the possibility that a medication used to treat alcoholism can be repurposed for other medical conditions. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, August 17, 2015 - 3:00am

Donald Trump on Sunday released his first full policy paper, and the topic was immigration. Certain parts of the plan -- making Mexico pay for a wall on its border with the United States, and ending "birthright" citizenship -- are receiving the most attention. But Trump also touches on visa issues about which many in academe care.

He said that he wants to make it more difficult for noncitizens to receive H-1B visas, which are awarded to people with specialized skills needed by employers in the U.S. Trump said that "we graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs," and said this would change if employers had to pay higher salaries than they do now to H-1B visa holders.

The topic of STEM employment rates is much debated, with some agreeing with Trump, and others not. In his plan, he cited an article from the journal Issues in Science and Technology. Many higher education groups have been pushing to grant more H-1B visas. Many universities are employers of H-1B visa holders, and many universities' international students want to obtain the visas.

Trump's plan also calls for the elimination of J-1 visa program for foreign youth to work in the United States. It is unclear if he is calling for the elimination of the entire program -- parts of which are used at colleges to hire international students and faculty members, generally for short-term programs -- or just the jobs portion. Trump said he would replace the jobs program with a "résumé bank" for young people in inner cities.

Monday, August 17, 2015 - 3:00am

Hillary Clinton on Friday outlined some of the details to her plan for the federal government to do more to support students working to get undergraduate degrees while also raising children.

The proposals are part of Clinton’s $350 billion college affordability plan and would involve boosting a federal-state matching grant program for campus child care centers and creating a new grant program for student parents. Her plan would increase spending on the Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program from $15 million to $250 million. That would create 250,000 child care spaces for student parents, according to her campaign.

In addition, Clinton is calling for a new federal program that award grants of up to $1,500 per year to help parents pay for things like transportation and child care costs while they attend college. Her campaign says the program would award grants to as many as one million student parents, who would have to maintain a 2.5 grade point average to remain eligible.

Monday, August 17, 2015 - 4:12am

A new report questions the conventional wisdom that the jobs that have returned to the economy since the economic downturn started are low-wage jobs, and the views of some pundits that having a college degree doesn't help anymore. A report being released today by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce finds that the economy has added 6.6 million jobs since 2010, and that 2.9 million of these were "good" jobs, which the center defines as jobs that paid more than $53,000, tended to be full-time, and provided health insurance and retirement plans. Of those 2.9 million jobs, 2.8 million have gone to college graduates.

Monday, August 17, 2015 - 4:21am

A new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis raises questions about equity in American society and the role of higher education. Typically, educators argue that more education helps individuals and their families economically. The study found that, for white and Asian families, those headed by four-year college degree holders were better protected and gained wealth during the recent economic downturn and over the long term than were similar families without college degree holders. However, black and Latino families headed by someone with a four-year college degree fared worse than did black and Latino families without a degree holder. The report offers various theories for this inconsistency and suggests further research is needed.

Monday, August 17, 2015 - 3:00am

Gregory Gray announced Friday that he will resign, effective at the end of the year, as president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, a system of regional public four-year universities and community colleges. In a statement, Gray said that the move was personal. “This decision was purely a personal one, arrived at after a number of months of consideration and discussion with my family,” he said. Gray has clashed with faculty groups throughout the system and has been the subject of a series of no-confidence votes over his plans to centralize the curriculum and make more use of online education than many professors believe is appropriate for their at-risk students.


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