Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 30, 2018

British universities will no longer require applicants to declare previous criminal convictions, The Guardian reported. Ucas, the admissions service for the country's universities, said that for the admissions cycle for September 2019, it would drop the box that ex-offenders have had to check acknowledging their convictions, which critics have viewed as a deterrent to applying and as a potential source of bias during institutions' reviews of applicants.

Increasing numbers of American universities have made decisions to "ban the box," as advocates have sought, and higher ed groups have urged Congress to pass legislation doing so.

May 30, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of New York Institute of Technology Week, Joanne Donoghue, assistant professor of osteopathic manual medicine there, looks into a specific case where eating less and exercising more may hurt some athletes. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 29, 2018

Morthland College, a small Christian institution in Illinois, has announced that it is shutting down. The college has faced scrutiny from state officials and its accreditor, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, since the U.S. Education Department put Morthland on the heightened cash monitoring list, which makes it more difficult for federal funds to flow to aid for the college's students. A press release from the college said that the department has blocked all aid to the college, and the release said that the college denied all allegations from the department about the use of federal funds. The press release said that because the college is located in an area of high poverty, it is impossible to operate without federal student aid.

The college has enrolled a few hundred students, on campus and online, but recent federal data show enrollment of less than 200.

Marylhurst University, in Oregon, also announced this month that is closing. Mount Ida College, in Massachusetts, announced in April that it would close.

May 29, 2018

A federal district court on Friday ordered the Education Department to resume full debt relief for those previously found to have been defrauded by the defunct for-profit Corinthian Colleges, the Associated Press reported. The Obama administration started a program for full debt relief, but the Trump administration pulled back that plan and said it would provide only partial relief, based on earnings data from students in comparable programs. The judge's ruling Friday found that the department was violating privacy laws in its use of Social Security data, and ordered the department to stop that practice and to resume full debt relief.

The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment from the AP.

The ruling is a preliminary injunction and could be challenged.

But Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending, at Harvard University, which represented some students who lost full debt relief under the Trump administration plan, called the ruling significant. “This is an important ruling for former Corinthian Colleges students. It clearly states that the Department of Education must immediately stop using its lawless partial denial rule,” he said in a statement.

May 29, 2018

A profile in The Wall Street Journal explores how an orthodontist, Mike Meru, faces student loan debt of $1,060,945.42. His debt (much of it interest) comes entirely from paying for dental school at the University of Southern California. The article explores the logic behind his borrowing, the advice he received from the university and the difficulties he faces in paying off his debt. While most people who borrow for higher education borrow less than $30,000 for a four-year degree, the share of student loan borrowers with debt of at least $100,000 has been going up -- and is now about 6 percent of those with debt.

May 29, 2018

Three historians last week issued a manifesto, saying that the discipline of history has become dominated by empiricist approaches, to the neglect of the role of theory. This approach, they argue, limits the relevance of history as a field. "Existing academic history promotes a disciplinary essentialism founded upon a methodological fetishism," says their document. "Treating reified appearances (i.e. immediately observable, preferably archival, evidence) as embodying the real and containing the truth of social relations, it evaluates scholarship based on whether this empiricist method has been capably employed. The field tends to produce scholars rather than thinkers, and regards scholars in technocratic terms."

They added, "History, as a field, encourages a system of discipline or punish. Those whose positions appear to be cutting-edge but hedge their bets and organize their thought around common convention are rewarded, while those who strike out for new territories are condemned. By 'new territories' we mean alternative epistemological inquiries, orientations, or starting points, not new themes or topics. The disciplined are rewarded by the guild while the innovators are punished. Nowhere is this disciplining process more apparent than in the review and publication process of the American Historical Association’s flagship journal. The disciplining occurs via the practice of multiple anonymous reviewers policing their disciplinary turf and then congratulating themselves and their authors for their scientific objectivity and resultant meritocracy."

The American Historical Association has announced steps to "decolonize" its main journal, but the manifesto says that those steps have not gone far enough.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said that the organization's Research Division planned to discuss the statement this week, but he declined to comment further.

May 29, 2018

Thirty-two nonfaculty employees at Benedictine University, in Illinois, were informed Friday that their jobs are being eliminated. Most of them worked at a Springfield campus that is being shut down. A spokeswoman for the university said that the university -- which offers programs for a range of students -- needed to make cuts because of declines in traditional-age undergraduate enrollment. In fall 2016, Benedictine enrolled 2,615 such students, and that fell to 2,417 last year. This fall, enrollment is projected to be 2,373.


May 29, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of New York Institute of Technology Week, Jeffrey Raven discusses the need to design cities for a warmer climate. More information on the Academic Minute may be found here. And if you missed Monday's Academic Minute on juveniles and the prison system because of the holiday, you can find it here.

May 25, 2018

California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, is in his last year in office, and he got in some swipes at higher education during a speech Wednesday at the California Chamber of Commerce. "What I like about Chipotle is the limited menu. You stand in the line, get either brown rice or white rice, black beans or pinto beans. You put a little cheese, a little this, a little that, and you're out of there. I think that's a model some of our universities need to follow," Brown said, according to an account in The Sacramento Bee. He said that if universities would adopt a "limited-menu concept, everyone would graduate on time."

Brown said that the abundance of course offerings hurts graduation rates. "They have so damn many courses because all these professors want to teach one of their pet little projects, but then you get thousands and thousands of courses, and then the basic courses aren't available. It takes kids six years instead of four years," he said.


May 25, 2018

The University of Chicago has agreed to pay $6.5 million to settle a class action alleging that it failed its fiduciary duty to employees in ways that forced them to pay excessive fees in their retirement plan, Investment News reported.

A St. Louis law firm has brought similar lawsuits against 19 major universities in the last two years, and Chicago is the first institution to have settled one of them. The complaints center around 403(b) defined-contribution retirement savings plans that are similar to the better-known 401(k) but are available for nonprofit institutions.

Generally, the suits allege that universities offered employees too many investment options in their retirement plans, which can confuse employees and also result in higher fees. Arguments also include that universities did not swap out expensive and poor-performing investments for better options and that higher-fee retail-class funds were available instead of a menu made up of only less expensive institutional funds.

In a memo recommending the settlement, the plaintiffs in the Chicago case called it "fair, reasonable, adequate, and in the best interests of Class members," providing a "substantial and immediate benefit to them in the form of a multi-million dollar cash payment." After legal fees, the settlement funds will be distributed to people who participated in the pension plan from May 2011 through this month.

A statement released by the university and the plaintiffs Thursday said that Chicago denies allegations that the plaintiffs paid excessive fees and insists that its conduct was proper.


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