Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, August 1, 2016 - 3:00am

Fifty years ago today, Charles Whitman killed 17 people and injured 30 more (one of the victims lived for years but ultimately died from wounds linked to the shooting). Whitman killed his wife and mother first and then went up the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin and fired on the campus, terrorizing everyone who was there that day. In the era before Columbine or Virginia Tech or Orlando, it was a kind of tragedy people could not imagine until it happened.

Today, a campus carry law takes effect in Texas -- over the objections of nearly all campus leaders and faculty members.

Also today, UT Austin will unveil a new memorial to those killed on Aug. 1, 1966. A photo of the new memorial is at right.

Monday, August 1, 2016 - 3:00am

The for-profit chain ITT Technical Institutes, already facing scrutiny over its financial condition, may be in for tough times ahead. In a filing last week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company predicted that its new student enrollments in the last six months of 2016 will be 45-60 percent below levels of the same time period in 2015.

Monday, August 1, 2016 - 3:00am

An investigation in The Portland Press Herald details questions being raised about the EDMC Foundation and its ties to the for-profit Education Management Corporation, known as EDMC. The article notes that many for-profit entities start tax-exempt foundations, but that the foundations aren't supposed to simply be arms of the business trying to advance the goals of the business. In the case of the EDMC Foundation, the article notes that strong ties between board members and senior officials of EDMC and also the purpose of the foundation. The EDMC Foundation provides scholarships, but only to students who attend EDMC institutions.

“If the Coca-Cola Foundation’s purpose was to give grants to people to buy Coke, that would not be seen by the IRS as an appropriate use of the charity,” said Robert Shireman, a former U.S. Department of Education official in the Obama administration, now a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a prominent critic of for-profit higher education.

Some quoted in the article speculate that the foundation helped EDMC appear to comply with the 90-10 rule, which requires for-profit colleges to show that 10 percent of their revenues are coming from sources other than federal aid. EDMC officials denied any wrongdoing and said that the foundation's purpose was indeed charitable.

Monday, August 1, 2016 - 3:00am

The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success -- a group of dozens of leading colleges and universities -- has released its first application form. Most of the questions are similar to the information requested by most applications. But the release provides the first look at how the coalition is handling questions on gender and disciplinary or criminal records, two topics that have been the subject of much debate of late.

Under gender, the application gives a choice of male or female and then another box, "Gender (optional)," in which applicants can provide more information. Both the Common Application and the Universal College Application in April, in response to many years of pushing by advocates for transgender students, added new ways for applicants to indicate that the male/female binary is not a choice that corresponds with their identity.

The Education Department and others have been urging colleges to rethink whether they need to ask about disciplinary and criminal records of applicants, given concerns that such requests for information may discourage some students from applying and that many minority youth feel treated unfairly by law enforcement officials. The coalition application stresses that people who answer yes to any of the questions will be able to explain the circumstances, and that answering yes will not automatically lead applicants to be rejected. The relevant questions are:

  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime other than a minor traffic violation?
  • Are there any criminal charges currently pending against you?
  • Have you entered a plea of guilty, a plea of no contest, a plea of nolo contendere, an Alford plea to a criminal charge or a plea under a first offender act?
  • Do you currently have disciplinary charges (nonacademic or academic) pending against you from a high school, college, university or other postsecondary educational institution?
  • Have you ever been suspended or expelled for any reason from a high school, college, university or other postsecondary educational institution?
Monday, August 1, 2016 - 3:00am

A University of Washington at Bothell student is being held by authorities as the suspect in the shooting deaths of three people at a party on Saturday, The Seattle Times reported. Many of the guests attended high school together in Mukilteo, a city outside of Seattle where the shootings took place. The suspect, Allen Christopher Ivanov, reportedly dated a woman who was killed in the shooting. One of the others killed was Jordan Ebner, a student at Everett Community College.

Monday, August 1, 2016 - 3:00am

New York University will announce today that it will stop considering at all a broad question on the Common Application about applicants' disciplinary and criminal records. The Education Department and many organizations have been pushing colleges to avoid policies that may punish students for incidents they have moved past, or for encounters with a law enforcement system that in some localities is seen as hostile to minority youth. NYU previously announced that it would stop considering answers to the Common Application question (which includes any discipline from ninth grade on) in the first review of applicants and would only consider answers for those who made it past the first review of applicants. Under a new policy, applicants will be asked not about all disciplinary or criminal records they may have, but only about violent incidents.

For example, the criminal question on the Common Application covers any crime. On the NYU application it sends those using the Common Application to apply, students will see a more focused question: "Within the last seven years after the age of 14, have you ever been convicted at trial, or pled guilty to, a criminal offense involving violence, physical force or the threat of physical force, a sexual offense, possession of a weapon, kidnapping, arson, or any offense which caused physical harm to another person?"

Monday, August 1, 2016 - 3:00am

Research by Prashant Loyalka, a faculty member at Stanford University, is pointing to a key weakness -- in critical thinking -- of students at China's universities, The New York Times reported. The research is still preliminary and won't be published until next year. But initial findings suggest that Chinese students arrive at universities with much better critical thinking skills than their counterparts in the United States and Russia. The critical thinking skills of Chinese students stall once they reach higher education, however, while American and Russian students see significant gains in college. Critical thinking skills measured include the ability to identify assumptions and to test a hypothesis.

Monday, August 1, 2016 - 4:10am

Temple University on Sunday fired one of its police officers after he was arrested on murder charges, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. A total of three men were charged Friday with murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy and abuse of a corpse in the death of a woman. One of the men who was not a Temple police officer at the time used to be one, but was fired by the university in 2012.

Monday, August 1, 2016 - 3:00am

Three black women have filed a suit against Cottey College, a women's college in Missouri, saying that they were the victims of race discrimination while on the basketball team and that they were unfairly expelled, the Associated Press reported. The suit says that the black players were called "Black Attack" by their coach and that the coach frequently organized practice games featuring black players against white players. Then the students were expelled for being "disruptive," without due process or a chance to appeal, the suit charges.

A spokesman for Cottey released this statement to Inside Higher Ed: "Given that the matter has proceeded to litigation, we believe commenting on the particulars would be inappropriate, except to say that there has been no unlawful treatment of our students. Cottey College is committed to equal opportunity and an inclusive college experience for all students, in the academic, athletic and cocurricular settings. We take these matters very seriously and are committed to providing a sound, healthy campus environment for all of our students, including our student athletes."

Monday, August 1, 2016 - 3:00am

The U.S. Justice Department last week announced a settlement with the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center over a student's complaint that she suffered illegal discrimination as a result of her mental health condition. The student was in a one-year master's program and reported being placed on mandatory medical leave -- against her will -- after she returned from a two-week leave due to her mental health condition. The university has stipulated that the settlement does not constitute admission of guilt. But the settlement requires some new policies at the university, including conducting individual assessment of students before barring them from campus (except in emergency situations), and striving to determine if there are accommodations that could make it possible for students to continue in their academic programs.

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