Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, February 9, 2015 - 3:00am

It's become fashionable among some pundits and politicians to question the economic value of the bachelor's degree. But the latest unemployment figures, which show good hiring trends across the board, suggest to Bloomberg Business that there is one possible labor market problem for bachelor's degree holders: there may not be enough of them. The article notes that the unemployment rate for bachelor's degree holders is now down to 2.8 percent (compared to 5.7 percent for the adult population as a whole). The rate for bachelor's degree holders is the lowest since September 2008, and the article says that this level makes it conceivable that the job market will run out of bachelor's holders to hire.

Monday, February 9, 2015 - 3:00am

Auburn University will spend $13.9 million for what it says will be the largest scoreboard in higher education. The new display area on the scoreboard will measure 190 feet by 57 feet, compared to the current 71 feet by 28.5. The image at right shows how large the new scoreboard (shaded area) will be, compared to the current one. Al.com did an analysis of how Auburn's new scoreboard will compare with existing, smaller ones. Auburn fans will have 10,830 square feet of scoreboard, compared to 7,661 at Texas A&M and 7,370 at the University of Texas at Austin.



Monday, February 9, 2015 - 3:00am

University of California at Berkeley is “faced once again with the threat of political interference in academic affairs,” its chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, wrote Friday in the university’s student newspaper.

Dirks (photo at right) took exception to California Governor Jerry Brown’s contention that the state’s flagship university has closed its doors to “normal” people. Dirks said reading Brown’s remarks was an “otherworldly experience.”

“Personally, I am not much interested in a campus filled with ‘normal’ students,” Dirks wrote. “What I am interested in preserving is what we have: a place where the extraordinary is, well, ordinary.”

Brown, a Berkeley graduate, has taken a more assertive role in trying to manage the UC system, although sometimes it perhaps hasn't always been clear what he is proposing, as with his complaint about the lack of “normal” students at Berkeley. Was that to suggest the university should let in other, less qualified students? As one long-time California political columnist pointed out recently, Brown -- a four-term Democrat who served two of those terms in the 1970s -- has long been interested in changing the state’s education system, one way or another.

“I’m going to starve the schools financially until I get some educational reforms,” Brown said when he took the office for the first time 40 years ago.

“What kind of reforms?” he was asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Brown replied.

The governor has recently said he wants to study several things for the UC system, including expanded online education, offering three-year degrees and offering credits for students who can prove they are competent in certain subjects.

Monday, February 9, 2015 - 3:00am

New data released by the National Science Foundation show that research and development spending by universities -- from all sources -- edged up slightly, to $67.2 billion in 2013. When adjusted for inflation, that reflects an increase of less than half of a percent. The largest source of funds was the federal government, at $39.5 billion. The NSF also released data on which universities spend the most, a ranking led for many years by Johns Hopkins University, where a majority of the R&D funds are spent by the Applied Physics Laboratory.


Monday, February 9, 2015 - 4:32am

The American Anthropological Association has issued a statement on climate change and the need for broad study of its impact. The statement -- consistent with the scientific consensus -- states that climate change is a "present reality" and will have a growing and profound impact on humanity. The statement further says that climate change is likely to intensify "underlying problems" related to economic inequality, and says that the impact of climate change "will fall unevenly."

Given these aspects of the climate change, the association calls for the involvement of many types of scholars in studying the issues. "Focusing solely on reducing carbon emissions will not be sufficient to address climate change — that approach will not address the systemic causes. Climate change is rooted in social institutions and cultural habits. Real solutions will require knowledge and insight from the social sciences and humanities, not only from the natural sciences. Climate change is not a natural problem, it is a human problem," the statement says.

The statement reflects the work of a task force of the association.

Monday, February 9, 2015 - 3:00am

President Obama said Friday that the popularity of 529 college savings accounts made him abandon a proposal to end the tax benefits of those accounts just days after first proposing it. "It wasn’t worth it for us to eliminate it," he said during remarks at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana. "The savings weren’t that great.”

Families using 529 plans "were a little more on the high end" of the income scale, Obama said, noting that he has such accounts for his two daughters. "Our thinking was you could save money by eliminating the 529 and shifting it into some other loan programs that would be more broadly based," he said. 

Although his plan would not have retroactively cut the tax benefits for savings that were already in a 529 account, Obama said that enough people liked the program -- or liked the idea of using the program in the future -- for him to change his mind. The plan, which would have raised about $1 billion in revenue over 10 years, also came under attack from both Congressional Republicans and Democrats, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. 

A Government Accountability Office study in 2012 found that just 3 percent of families were using 529 savings plans, and roughly half of them earned more than $150,000 a year.

Monday, February 9, 2015 - 4:15am

Sojourner-Douglass College, in Maryland, has closed a satellite campus as the college fights to deal with serious financial and accreditation problems, The Baltimore Sun reported. All but one of the employees at the Anne Arundel County campus have lost their jobs. Students are being helped to transfer to college's main campus in Baltimore or elsewhere. The college currently has 750 students, down from about 1,300 before the recent problems.


Monday, February 9, 2015 - 3:00am

On the latest "This Week," Inside Higher Ed's free news podcast, Kevin Eagan of the University of California at Los Angeles Cooperative Institutional Research Program and Kevin Kruger of NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education joined Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik and "This Week" moderator Casey Green to review and analyze the findings of this year's freshmen survey, which showed students under ever-growing stress. In our other segment, Algonquin College's Jack Wilson and consultant Liz Reisberg discuss the climate for foreign universities operating in countries such as Saudi Arabia. Sign up here for notification of new "This Week" podcasts.


Monday, February 9, 2015 - 3:00am

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities on Friday filed a motion calling for a judge to issue a ruling without a trial on the for-profit trade group's legal challenge to the U.S. Department of Education's gainful employment rules.

The regulations would impose penalties on vocational programs at for-profits and community colleges that do not meet standards the department has set for graduates' debt-to-earnings ratios. (The rules would only apply to non-degree programs at community colleges, however, while applying to degree and non-degree programs at for-profits.)

The for-profit association quickly sued after the rules were released, calling them arbitrary. A department official, however, said at the time that he was confident the regulations would withstand legal scrutiny.

Monday, February 9, 2015 - 3:00am

Sami Al-Arian, who was fired as a tenured professor by the University of South Florida in 2003, was deported last week from the United States to Turkey. Al-Arian was fired after he was indicted on federal charges of helping a terrorist group. In 2005, a jury cleared him of some charges and deadlocked on others -- convicting him of nothing. He has continued to deny doing anything illegal, but in 2006 he accepted a plea agreement under which he served jail time and agreed to be deported after that. The university said after the 2005 jury decision that it would not take him back as a professor. Many faculty groups over the years criticized the way the university handled the case -- especially for suspending him, prior to his indictment, after comments he made were viewed by Florida politicians as supporting terrorism. The university said that his presence on campus could lead to disruption or safety issues.

Jonathan Turley, who in the past was part of Al-Arian's legal team, posted on his blog a statement in which he said the case "raised troubling due process, academic freedom and free speech issues."

Turley's blog also features a statement from Al-Arian in which he said in part: "Today, freedom of expression has become a defining feature in the struggle to realize our humanity and liberty. The forces of intolerance, hegemony and exclusionary politics tend to favor the stifling of free speech and the suppression of dissent. But nothing is more dangerous than when such suppression is perpetrated and sanctioned by government."


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