Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

In recent years the number of credit-rating downgrades to colleges and universities has significantly outnumbered the number of upgrades given by Standard & Poor's credit rating agency. And the trend is expected to continue, but slow, in the coming year.

Yet some institutions will experience more financial difficulty than others, depending on their size, academic standing and financial strength. The result is a bifurcated outlook for higher education in 2016, according to a new report from Standard and Poor's.

"We believe most institutions have adapted to the 'new normal' of more competition for students and limited tuition flexibility and are taking advantage of their individual strategic positions to continue operating successfully," the report states. "However, these factors are not affecting all institutions equally. Schools with national or international reputations and growing resources will likely be able to capitalize on opportunities to further strengthen their positions, while smaller, regional schools will continue to struggle to differentiate their brands, which will require additional investment and resources that could weaken their credit profiles in 2016."

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

College bookstores looking to lure students back from Amazon and other online retailers may want to consider meeting them where they are -- on their smartphones, according to a survey conducted by OnCampus Research, the research arm of the National Association of College Stores. Smartphones are in virtually every student's pocket (97 percent), and 40 percent of surveyed students said they would consider downloading an app from their college bookstore. About half of the respondents (48 percent) said they would sign up for text message alerts notifying them of sales and other promotions. College bookstores may also want to redesign their websites. The most important feature (69 percent) students look for when shopping online, according to the report, is a mobile-friendly website.

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Justin Dressel, assistant professor of physics at Chapman University, explains how quantum physics has a lot to do with what shows up on the digital pictures on your screen. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 3:00am

African-American students feel less mentally prepared for college than white students do but are also less likely to discuss those concerns or seek help for mental health issues, a new study has found.

The study, based on a survey of 1,500 freshmen by Harris Poll, was released Wednesday by the Jed Foundation, an organization that works with colleges to prevent campus suicides, and the Steve Fund, a new group dedicated to studying and improving the mental health of students of color.

The online poll found that black students were nearly twice as likely as white students to say they considered transferring during their first semester of college. Fewer than half of black students rated their experience at college as "good" or "excellent," compared to about two-thirds of white students. Yet white students were about twice as likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Three-quarters of black students said they tend to keep their feelings about the difficulty of college to themselves.

Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 4:14am

Three students were killed and others injured when a bus carrying members of a Columbia University volunteer group crashed on a humanitarian mission in Honduras Wednesday, according to news reports and a statement from Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger.

The students were part of Columbia's chapter of Global Brigades, which promotes health and holistic development in underresourced parts of the world. Two of the women, Olivia Erhardt and Daniella Moffson, were traditional-aged undergraduates at Columbia and Barnard College; the third, Abigail Flanagan, was a nurse practitioner at Columbia University Medical Center who was also enrolled in Columbia's General Studies program for adults. Other students and alumni were injured in the accident, in which the bus went off the road and fell roughly 80 feet into a gully, according to NBC News.

“This terrible and tragic loss is all the greater because these individuals were dedicating their passion and very special talents to serving those in need,” Bollinger said in a statement. “No endeavor more proudly exemplifies the traditions and values of our university.”

Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 3:00am

The University of Missouri at Columbia said it would bar its men's basketball team from postseason play this season and impose other penalties for violations uncovered by a joint investigation with the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Missouri said in its statement that NCAA investigators had been tipped off to potential problems more than two years ago. The joint inquiry revealed that one booster had given basketball players pay for work not performed and other benefits through a summer internship program at his company, and another booster had given players other benefits. The investigation found that Missouri officials had not adequately monitored the internship program.

In addition to barring the team from its conference tournament this spring, Missouri will vacate its wins from the 2013-14 season and limit scholarships and recruiting in subsequent seasons.

Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 3:00am

State funding for public higher education has increased in the five years since the recession. However, those increases are not keeping pace with inflation. Just two states -- Utah and Massachusetts -- have had operating-fund support for public higher education that matched or surpassed the rate of inflation in each of those five years, according to a new report from the University of Alabama's Education Policy Center. Five states failed to hit the inflation rate a single time.

Tuition hikes have continued due to state disinvestment, found the report, which was based on a survey of state-level leaders of community colleges in 49 states. Tuition rates are expected to top this year's 2.1 percent inflation rate (from the Higher Education Price Index) for community college students in 25 states, regional university students in 28 states and flagship university students in 26 states, according to the report. State-based student aid also is not keeping up with inflation.

The report's coauthors are Stephen Katsinas, the center's director, Mark D'Amico, associate professor of education leadership at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Janice Friedel, associate professor of education at Iowa State University, and three researchers at the University of Alabama.

Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 3:00am

About 40 percent of admissions officers say they research applicants on social media, according to a survey released Wednesday by Kaplan Test Prep. That's quadruple the percentage from a 2008 Kaplan survey. At the same time, the survey found that most admissions officers who do check social media don't use it often -- of those who use social media to check on applicants, 89 percent said they did so "rarely." Some of the reasons people check are potentially positive, such as investigating applicants' abilities and interests. But Kaplan officials have heard anecdotal reports of "admissions sabotage" in which some people send tips to admissions officers that other applicants have images on Facebook or elsewhere that might give an admissions panel doubt about offering a spot.

Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 4:25am

The National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I council on Wednesday voted to give male basketball players more flexibility to test their professional sports options and return to college, and to let the Big 12 Conference have a championship game despite having only 10 members.

The change in basketball eligibility rules gives players more time to decide whether they want to enter the National Basketball Association draft without forfeiting their collegiate eligibility. It will allow players until 10 days after the NBA's draft combine (where players are scouted) to remove their names from consideration for the draft, and to let them enter the draft in multiple years without losing their collegiate eligibility. The change is part of the NCAA's push -- prompted in large part by pressure from athletes and unionization efforts -- to give athletes more rights.

The other change approved by the Division I council will allow Football Bowl Subdivision leagues to hold year-end conference title games even if they don't meet current requirements that they have at least 12 members and two divisions. The change was requested by the Big 12 Conference, which has been left with only 10 members in the latest round of conference realignment and does not want to have to expand to hold a conference tournament. The exemption was approved by a 7-2 vote.

Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 3:00am

Colleges and universities reduced their emissions by 13 percent per square foot between 2007 and 2014, according to a report released Wednesday.

Yet institutions made less progress in curbing energy use, which was down just 2 percent per square foot during the same period. The reason? Because most of the sustainability strides made by colleges in recent years have come from switching from coal and oil to natural gas, not from curbing overall usage.

These figures come from a report by Sightlines and the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute, which studied 343 colleges and universities with a combined 1.5 billion square feet of campus facilities across 44 states.

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