Higher Education Quick Takes
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal from several religious colleges and organizations to the requirements under the Affordable Care Act that employers provide contraceptive coverage. The Obama administration, in response to earlier litigation on the subject, has said that religious organizations may indicate their objection to providing contraceptive coverage, and that, in such cases, the government and insurance companies will arrange for coverage, without the religious organizations subsidizing or directly providing the coverage. But the religious colleges maintain that even the role outlined by the Obama administration involves them in activities that conflict with their religious views.
A new European University Association report on trends in public funding for higher education systems across the continent finds diverging trends, with projected year-over-year increases in public funding for 10 of the university systems studied (the French-speaking community of Belgium, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden) and decreases in another 9 (Croatia, the Czech Republic, Flanders in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Serbia, Spain and the United Kingdom). Public higher education funding in Austria was flat from 2014 to 2015.
In Norway, a 10-year plan is providing resources for university infrastructure, and there is increased funding to support greater numbers of doctoral candidates. Ireland, on the other hand, "illustrates particularly well the type of pressures universities are increasingly operating under. The recurrent grant per student has been diminishing continuously in the last years, and research funds have progressively been shifted towards competitive funding schemes."
"A series of countries show different types of trajectories; on the one hand Iceland and Latvia, for instance, have faced a major drop in funding at the beginning of the period, which an upward trajectory since then has only marginally corrected," the report states. "On the other hand, Portugal has technically compensated the cuts of 2012 and 2013 in 2014 and continues on an upward trend. Hungary is an extreme case, with very large cuts in the system that seem to have stopped last year and a positive outlook for 2015. There is however much to be done to restore funding anywhere close to its 2008 level."
The EUA report also notes “worrying signals” regarding funding trends in the north, specifically in Denmark and Finland: “Worryingly, countries that have so far shown comparatively high levels of investments, and stable or positive funding trajectories, have reported serious concerns regarding current and upcoming funding, although figures have not been fully disclosed yet,” the report states. The EUA report also describes a trend toward performance-based funding, in which universities are rewarded for specific outputs (in terms of graduates or research grants, for example) rather than just their inputs (such as student enrollments).
The Association for the Study of Higher Education gave Inside Higher Ed its special merit award Friday, at the research group's annual meeting in Denver. The award, which is given only in years in which the association's members believe it is warranted, honors an "influential academic leader, group or scholar outside the field of higher education who has offered a valuable perspective for studying and understanding colleges and universities." The publication was recognized for its timely and sophisticated coverage of research on higher education and of the higher ed enterprise generally. The editors of Inside Higher Ed appreciate the award.
A recently published study of Indian academics working at a research-intensive university in the United Kingdom challenges the “discourse of disadvantage” common in discussing the experiences of foreign academics. The study by Dulini Fernando, of the University of Warwick’s business school, and Laurie Cohen, of Nottingham University’s business school, is based on interviews with 32 early- to midcareer researchers in science and engineering fields. Fernando and Cohen found that the respondents’ single-minded focus on research and publishing over teaching, combined with their competitiveness, resilience, and work-centeredness enabled the international academics to advance in British universities.
The Indian academics in the sample also successfully leveraged their “ethnic capital” -- that is, “advantages pertaining from one’s ethnicity such as cultural knowledge and networks.” The academics were, for example, able to use their connections and cultural knowledge in India as an asset in collaborating with leading British researchers.
In short, the article highlights the unique advantages enjoyed by Indian academics, while also raising concerns about their relative (self-reported) weakness in teaching, which, the article notes, is becoming an increasingly important indicator in measuring faculty performance at British universities.
“Rather than considering international colleagues as deficient and in need of remedial support, our data reveal considerable strengths and unique advantages,” the article states. “Home academics might benefit from listening to some highly agentic international colleagues’ career accounts, in particular how they manage research alongside other work commitments, how they balance home and work and how they develop strategic research partnerships. Likewise international academics may be able to learn about citizenship and teaching from home colleagues.”
Voters in Pueblo County, Colo., last week voted to impose a tax on marijuana growers, and to use half of proceeds to fund college scholarships for local students, CNN reported. The county expects to bring in $3.5 million annually with the new tax.
The chancellor of the Georgia higher education system announced Friday afternoon that he plans to seek the merger of Albany State University, a historically black institution, with Darton State College, whose enrollment is about half white. Georgia's higher education system has been pursuing mergers in recent years, but the state has not to date proposed mergers involving historically black colleges. In other states in the past, such proposals have been controversial. Many advocates for historically black colleges believe such mergers erode these institutions' historic commitment to educating black students, many of them from low-income areas.
At Albany State, 90 percent of students are black. Albany State last month announced budget cuts, including the "deactivation" of undergraduate majors being eliminated: English, history, speech and theater, music, music education, and science education.
The Georgia plan, which must be approved by the Board of Regents, would keep the Albany State name for the combined institution.
Hank Huckaby, the chancellor, said in a statement, “We recognize this is a historic milestone for Albany State. We are committed to continuing to serve the HBCU mission and building upon the mission to serve an increasingly diverse student population and community. We also recognize the key role Darton has played in meeting the access mission and offering workforce-related associate degrees. We will maintain both missions under the consolidated institution and believe this strengthens public higher education in Southwest Georgia.”
For-profit, Colorado-based Westwood College has reached a $15 million agreement with the Illinois attorney general, according to a report from a Chicago ABC News affiliate.
The college voluntarily agreed to pay $15 million to wipe out loans criminal justice students have obtained through Westwood since 2004. However, the credit does not cover the students' federal loans.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan launched the lawsuit almost four years ago after receiving complaints from students and former students about the "exorbitant costs, poorly accredited programs and failure to get a job in the field their degree was in."
After leading Wittenberg University through two rounds of major cuts since she joined the institution in 2012, Laurie Joyner abruptly resigned from the presidency of the private Ohio college Tuesday.
Upon her arrival, Joyner was tasked with improving the university's finances, and recently the college announced a plan to cut $6.5 million from its budget, according to an article in the Springfield News-Sun. “This decision to leave Wittenberg has not been easy,” Joyner said in a news release announcing her departure.
Added Wittenberg governing board chairperson Thomas Murray, in a statement: “Dr. Joyner is leaving Wittenberg University in a much stronger financial position and with talented staff members to continue the progress begun during her tenure.”
Duke University on Thursday announced a new program for first-generation students or those from disadvantaged high schools, designed to help these students succeed at the university. The program will provide mentors, extra financial support and a summer "bridge" program to help students get ready for the academic demands of Duke. The university stressed that the participants will meet Duke's normal, highly competitive admissions standards.
“This is not remedial,” said a statement from Stephen Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education. “But students who come, for example, from a less-resourced high school may not have taken Advanced Placement classes, while most of their Duke classmates have, so some start the race a few steps behind.”