Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 3, 2017

A study released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here) finds variation in the effectiveness of instructors at the University of Phoenix, using a required college algebra course to measure results. The study finds that there is not a relationship between pay and instructor effectiveness. The study concludes that "personnel policies for recruiting, developing, motivating and retaining effective postsecondary instructors may be a key, yet underdeveloped, tool for improving institutional productivity."

January 3, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Rafael Narvaez, associate professor of sociology at Winona State University, explores the question of souls and our reality. Click here to catch up on episodes of the Academic Minute that we published over the holidays.

December 24, 2016

Part-time faculty members at the University of Hartford have voted to unionize, The Hartford Courant reported. The new union is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. The vote to unionize was 278 to 230. The university said it would negotiate with the new union, but also noted that many of the 850 adjuncts eligible to vote didn't do so.

December 23, 2016

A majority of counted votes of Harvard University graduate students were against forming a union for teaching and research assistants, but the number of contested ballots is greater than the margin. That means that the National Labor Relations Board will determine the status of the contested ballots and will then make a final determination. Hearings are expected in January. A statement by the United Auto Workers unit organizing at Harvard said that an initial count found 1,272 graduate students voted for unionization and 1,456 against, while there were 314 contested ballots.

"While this news is not what we were hoping for today, our work is not over," said a statement from the UAW. "From the beginning, we have had concerns about Harvard's eligible voter list, and we are looking into its potential impact on the election results. We will continue to work to make sure that eligible voters who cast ballots subject to challenge have their votes counted."

December 23, 2016

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Thursday, 9-2, that the State Technical College of Missouri may not require all students to submit to drug testing prior to enrollment. The college, which was Linn State Technical College when the case started, has been through repeated court hearings, and the full appeals court found that there was no evidence of a widespread drug problem or a compelling reason to test all students. The ruling does not contest the right of the college to require drug testing for students in programs -- such as aviation maintenance -- that involve public safety and the use of complicated equipment.


December 22, 2016

The Obama administration is undoing the regulatory framework for a dormant registry program for visitors from countries with active terrorist groups -- acting before a Trump administration can revive it, The New York Times reported.

The program in question is the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, which was created after the Sept. 11 attacks and which at one point mandated special registration requirements for individuals coming from 25 countries, most of which had majority-Muslim populations and were located in Africa or the Middle East. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, Neema Hakim, said in a statement quoted by the Times that the department “ceased use of NSEERS more than five years ago, after it was determined the program was redundant, inefficient and provided no increase in security.”

A member of Trump’s transition team and the Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, had floated the possibility of restarting the registry. President-elect Donald J. Trump has called for increased screening of individuals coming from regions with "a history of exporting terrorism."

Nearly 200 civil rights and other organizations wrote a letter to President Obama in November calling on him to undo the regulatory framework for the NSEERS program, describing it as “ineffective as a counterterrorism tool” and a “discriminatory policy that ran counter to the fundamental American values of fairness and equal protection. Rescinding the regulatory framework of the program will ensure that our nation does not target communities based on national origin and faith in the future.”

December 21, 2016

The U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday released the latest version of an annual report on compliance with the so-called 90/10 rule, which prohibits colleges from collecting more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal aid sources.

The report identifies 17 for-profit colleges that exceeded the limit, up from 14 the previous year. Two of the for-profits, Pat Wilson's Beauty College and United Medical and Business Institute, were out of compliance for two consecutive years and, as a result, have lost their ability to collect federal aid for at least two years. 

Southern Careers Institute, which has seven campuses in Texas, was at the top of the department's list. Federal aid comprised more than 98 percent of the $33 million the for-profit collected in annual revenue.

The department also released a new analysis showing that many more for-profits would exceed the 90/10 limit if dollars from Post 9/11 GI Bill and active-duty military student benefits were counted as federal aid. Nearly 200 institutions collecting a total of $8 billion in federal aid would exceed the 90-percent limit under that scenario, according to the department. 

Democrats in the U.S. Senate have attempted to close the veterans' benefit "loophole" in the 90/10 rule. But the Republican-led Congress is unlikely to back those efforts.


December 21, 2016

Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, on Wednesday signed into law legislation -- opposed by faculty groups -- to lift the state's ban on guns at colleges and universities. The legislation also lifts a ban on guns in other locations, such as day care centers, leading critics to call the legislation the "guns everywhere" bill.

Under the new law, college boards still need to formally permit guns on campus. Even if boards don’t rush to welcome guns on campus (and they aren’t currently expected to do so), critics say the legislation would effectively make it too easy to bring guns on campus. Currently, bringing a gun to a “gun-free zone” such as a campus is a low-level felony. Under the legislation, doing so would no longer be a felony and would be equivalent to a parking ticket -- so many professors fear that people wouldn’t think twice about bringing a gun to campus.

Some professors also fear that public higher education boards will feel pressure to permit guns.

A resolution sent to the governor by the Ohio Faculty Council -- urging him to veto the bill -- says that “the free and open exchange of ideas” is fundamental to higher education and such “exchanges are facilitated by environments that are violence‐free/safe spaces.”

Added the resolution: “An understanding that individuals engaged in these exchanges could legally possess handguns would significantly and negatively impact the dynamic of those discussions and the value of higher education in Ohio.”

December 21, 2016

Last week the U.S. Department of Education announced a delay in the release of an updated template colleges are required to use next year to make gainful employment disclosures. The gainful employment regulations, which went into effect last year, set performance standards for the ability of graduates of vocational programs to repay their federal student loans. The rule applies to for-profits and non-degree programs at community colleges and other nonprofit institutions.

The department in November released its first batch of gainful employment data, which it plans to use to enforce the rule. The public release didn't include programmatic numbers, and the disclosure template is not slated to be available until the tail end of January, the department said. Colleges will have at least 60 days to post the required information once the template is out. Prior disclosure requirements remain in effect under the 2016 version of the template. But experts said specific gainful employment data might not be publicly available until the new template is out.

Congressional Republicans have been critical of the gainful employment rule and likely will seek to roll it back, or at least portions of it, probably with the backing of the incoming Trump administration.


December 21, 2016

The American Bar Association is suing the Department of Education over the denial of Public Service Loan Forgiveness to four attorneys employed at the association and previously approved for the program.

The lawsuit claims that three plaintiffs received employment verification for the program and a fourth believed she qualified because she worked at a nonprofit employer certified by the department before it dropped the ABA and other public interest law organizations from the program. The ABA says in the lawsuit that qualifying as an eligible employer under PSLF its essential to its recruitment and retention efforts. The lawsuit was filed after multiple attempts to resolve its eligibility with the department, the association said in a release.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness was enacted in 2007 to allow borrowers of federal direct student loans working in public service careers to have their loans discharged after 10 years and making 120 qualifying monthly payments under an income-driven repayment plan. Data released by the department in August showed that more than 430,000 student loan borrowers had submitted at least one employment certification form required to qualify for the loan forgiveness program.

"The PSLF program promised these dedicated lawyers a chance at financial stability in return for doing public service work," said ABA President Linda A. Klein. "After following the rules, these people had the rug pulled out from them."


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