Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 29, 2017

Sweet Briar College enrolled just under 100 new students this fall in its second admissions cycle since alumnae blocked an attempt by the small private women’s college’s former board to close it.

This year’s new class totals 95 new students -- 81 first-year students and 14 transfers. On-campus enrollment stands at approximately 300 this fall.

Enrollments are significantly below those of last year, when Sweet Briar reported 134 degree-seeking first-time freshmen and 22 other first-year degree-seeking students on its Common Data Set. Sweet Briar reported a total of 350 full-time undergraduate students last year and 376 students counting part-time and graduate students.

Sweet Briar’s former board announced plans in March of 2015 to close the college at the end of that academic year, citing an unfavorable admissions climate and enrollment trends. College leaders moved to close while the institution still had substantial resources to pay for winding down operations. But alumnae fought the move in court, eventually winning a deal to keep the college open under a new president and remade board.

In 2014-15, the last year before Sweet Briar was nearly closed, it enrolled 641 full-time undergraduates. Its enrollment totaled 700 when graduate and part-time students were counted.

President Meredith Woo shared this year’s enrollment total Monday in a letter marking the start of the new academic year and summarizing recent Board of Directors meetings. Woo also detailed plans to grow and revamp the college’s academic offerings.

Sweet Briar plans to put a new core curriculum in place in the fall of 2018, a set of a dozen courses organized around the theme of leadership. Faculty members are also developing three centers of excellence around human and environmental sustainability, science and technology, and collaboration with the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Woo also wrote of some three-week courses and giving students the chance to attend year-round in order to earn a degree in three years. A student could then earn a master’s degree in her fourth-year.

The college has relied heavily on fund-raising for the last two years. Fund-raising for 2016-17 included $14 million in gifts and grants and $6.8 million in future pledges. Sweet Briar’s endowment was valued at $73.9 million as of the end of June. When the former board decided to close the college, its endowment stood at approximately $85 million.

August 29, 2017

Hundreds of students, organized by minority student groups, held a sit-in Friday at Washington State University, The Spokesman-Review reported. The students demanded that the administration respond to recent issues involving bigotry. Many remain angry that a student who was a leader of the campus Republican group participated in the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville. Others noted the recent discovery of swastikas in a dormitory.

Student demands included the development of a policy clarifying what constitutes free speech and what constitutes hate speech, cultural competency training for all new students and employees, the hiring of more minority faculty members, an increase in the number of gender-neutral bathrooms, and free tampons to be provided in bathrooms. University officials did not comment on the specific demands, but said that they would work with the students.


August 29, 2017

White nationalist posters appeared on the campus of Weber State University Monday, the first day of classes, The Deseret News reported. The posters, which were quickly removed, said "diversity is a code word for white genocide." The posters violated university rules in that outside groups must seek permission before putting up posters.



August 29, 2017

University of Maryland’s marching band will no longer play the state song, a pro-Confederate battle hymn that refers to the Union as “northern scum.”

Spokeswoman Katie Lawson released a statement Monday:

“As part of the university’s efforts to reaffirm our values as a campus community, we are assessing the songs that are played at intercollegiate athletic events. We are suspending the playing of ‘Maryland, My Maryland’ to evaluate if it is consistent with the values of our institution at this time.”

Written in 1861 and adopted as the state’s song in 1939, “Maryland, My Maryland” calls Abraham Lincoln a “tyrant,” “despot” and “vandal.” It also encourages Maryland to fight against the north.  

The decision by the state’s flagship university comes at a time when other Confederate symbols are either being taken down or protested on college campuses. Institutions are moving to do so after the deadly protests in Charlottesville roiled University of Virginia and the city earlier this month.

August 29, 2017

A report from the ACT Center for Equity in Learning finds that working more than 15 hours per week can be detrimental to the academic success of college students. 

That conclusion came from a study of first-time freshman tracked over six years in the National Center for Education Statistics' most recently completed survey of college students' educational and early career experiences. 

The students who work more than 15 hours per week also tend to be from underserved backgrounds, the report says, and consequently are less academically prepared than their peers. So, obstacles posed by busy work schedules can further set back students already behind. 

Those disparities are further reflected in the types of institutions attended by student workers -- they are less likely to have attended selective institutions that have more resources to support student success. 

The report found that those who worked intensive hours were less likely to have graduated than their peers, even when compared to other low-income students. However, among low-income students, those who worked had less student loan debt than their peers.

Policy changes to make college more affordable, expand financial aid, and boost wages for hourly workers could lead students to work fewer hours, the report says. 

August 29, 2017

A newly released paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that spending on improved educational quality is more effective for degree attainment than using the same funds to cut the cost of tuition. 

The paper, by Harvard education professor David Deming and University of California-Berkeley economist Christopher Walters, seeks to determine what is the most effective use of public subsidies to help more students graduate college. The authors found that price changes, while saving money for students and their families, had almost no effect on degree attainment. But spending on smaller class sizes and academic support like tutoring did more to get students across the finish line and graduate. 



August 29, 2017

Chinese universities are tightening their ideological control of faculty members’ views, with seven top-tier universities having established “teachers’ affairs departments” to oversee the ideological and political views of professors, the South China Morning Post reported. The establishment of the departments comes amid a broader push by the Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping to strengthen the party’s ideological hold on university campuses.

August 29, 2017

Umair Hamid has been sentenced to 21 months in prison and was ordered to forfeit about $5.3 million for his role in an international diploma mill scheme operated by the Pakistani company Axact, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York  Hamid, a Pakistani national who served as assistant vice President of international relations for Axact, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in April. He was accused of helping Axact to commit fraud in the U.S. and elsewhere and traveled to the U.S. in 2016 to open a bank account that, prosecutors said, was used to collect money from defrauded customers.

“Umair Hamid and Axact operated a massive diploma mill that preyed on consumers who thought their tuition would pay for a college education,” Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in a statement. "Instead, Hamid provided victims with worthless fake diplomas.  Defendants like Hamid who profit from fake schools face very real penalties, including prison time.”


August 29, 2017

The government of Ontario is proposing to create the province’s first French-language university and will introduce legislation to this effect in the coming months. According to the government’s announcement, Ontario is home to 611,500 Francophones, the largest Francophone population in Canada outside Quebec. 

August 29, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute: Sahana Mukherjee, assistant professor of psychology at Gettysburg College, examines why this can lead to denying injustices of the past. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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