Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 15, 2009

The College Board is postponing plans to introduce a standardized test for eighth graders -- a test that the board said would promote rigor in high school and that critics said wasn't justified educationally but was just a money-making tool for the organization. The College Board announced plans for the new exam -- ReadiStep -- in October. Word that the test has been put off -- due to the economy -- surfaced Thursday when The Big Money, a division of Slate, published a highly critical article about the various ways that the College Board makes what the article called "gobstopping amounts of money" off of students. The article cited ReadiStep's launch as another way to make money, and the online magazine corrected that assertion after being informed by the College Board that it had decided to postpone the new test.

May 15, 2009

Most states that have already decided how to allocate the education funds they're receiving from the federal stimulus package are directing the bulk of the money to elementary and secondary education, according to an analysis of 13 states by the New America Foundation. The group's analysis, which is based on applications that the Education Department has already approved for how states plan to use the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, largely mirrors the (somewhat diminished) expectations of college officials that the recovery package would totally bail them out of financial trouble. New America's analysis shows that while states such as Oregon and Georgia will use significant portions of their stabilization funds on higher education, several others are planning to spend virtually every penny on K-12.

May 15, 2009

Larry Nielsen has resigned as provost of North Carolina State University, saying that a controversy over his hiring of the former governor's wife was making it impossible for him to do his job, The Raleigh News & Observer reported. Many have been critical not only of the hiring of Mary Easley to coordinate some special events for the university, but also her salary -- $850,000 over five years -- at a time of budget constraints. North Carolina State officials have consistently defended the hire as completely legal and legitimate, but another article in the News & Observer noted that Nielsen won his job (after serving in the position on an interim basis) after he hired Easley.

May 15, 2009

A few weeks back, several bloggers commented on reports that "Wife Swap," an ABC reality show in which the wives of two families are switched for a week, was seeking philosophers. Kieran Healy wondered which of two ways the show might go: "airy-fairy life of the mind vs huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ " or a contrast of philosophical beliefs, such as "Modal Realists vs Phenomenologists ('I thought you said all the beer was in the effing fridge'); Rawlsians vs Libertarians; or John Emerson goes to live with John Hawthorne." ABC was quiet at the time the rumors appeared, but the network now confirms that it is looking for philosophers -- and will pay $20,000 to those selected. Danielle Gervais, casting producer for the show, said in an interview said that "we thought it would be interesting to find parents who are philosophical" and who bring their philosophical outlook into their role as parents. How might that be evident? Gervais said philosopher parents might teach young children that "we don't believe in things like the tooth fairy" and would encourage children to "really question things" and to "ponder deep things." Gervais said she wasn't sure if the network would swap the wives in two philosophy couples or swap the wife of a philosophy duo with the wife of a non-philosophy duo. But the network wants to have couples where both spouses are philosophers and have similar approaches to raising their children. Several faculty couples have already applied, but interviewing is still going on and more candidates are welcome.

May 15, 2009

During the Bush Administration, the Education Department signaled approval for some lender policies that then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings halted in 2007, according to an investigation by the New America Foundation's Higher Ed Watch blog. The apparent inconsistency comes to light from Higher Ed watch comparing program review reports issued by the department, which suggest approval for policies that Spellings and others derided as providing excessive profits to nonprofit lenders.

May 15, 2009

The Foreign Relations Authorization Act, introduced Thursday by Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Cal.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, includes a bill of great importance in the study abroad field. The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act aims to quadruple study abroad participation to one million, and diversify study abroad in terms of who participates and where they go. The Simon bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate in February.

May 15, 2009

Students at Newnham College, part of the University of Cambridge, have rewritten a Latin Grace said before the weekly formal meals where they dine together, and more than a few eyebrows have been raised as a result, The Times of London reported. According to the Times, the prayer has been said as: “Benedic nobis Domine Deus et his donis quae de liberalitate tua sumpturi sumus per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.” (Translation: “Bless us Lord God and bless these gifts which by your generosity we are about to eat, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.") The new version, prepared to be more inclusive of students from many faiths, is as follows: “Pro cibo inter esurientes, pro comitate inter desolatos, pro pace inter bellantes, gratias agimus." (The translation: “For food in a hungry world, for companionship in a world of loneliness, for peace in an age of violence, we give thanks.") Mary Beard, a Cambridge classics professor who blogs for the Times, has published a critique of the new language. Beard writes that "the undergraduates' rewrite was a classic case of disguising a load of well meaning platitudes in some posh dead language, which was actually an insult to that dead language."

May 14, 2009

President Obama gave the commencement address at Arizona State University Wednesday night and joked about the controversy over the university's decision not to award him an honorary degree. While honorary degrees are commonly given to commencement speakers -- most of whom have never achieved something on par with, for example, being elected president of the United States -- Arizona State officials said that they believed Obama had not yet completed a "body of work" worthy of the honor. In his remarks, Obama mixed some jokes about the flap with serious thoughts about not resting on one's laurels. “I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven’t achieved enough in my life.... First of all, Michelle concurs with that assessment. She has a long list of things I have not yet done waiting for me when I get home," he said, according to an account in The New York Times. And while calling the controversy “much ado about nothing," he also quipped that “President [Michael] Crow and the board of regents will soon learn about being audited by the IRS." More seriously, he said that “I come to embrace the notion that I haven’t done enough in my life. I heartily concur. I come to confirm that one’s title, even a title like president of the United States, says very little about how well one’s life has been led — and that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, always more to learn, and always more to achieve.” Barbs have continued to be aimed at Arizona State over its refusal to offer the honorary degree. This week, "The Daily Show" examined the issue.

May 14, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Negotiations over possible new regulations to carry out a range of changes in the Higher Education Act ended in acrimony Wednesday amid disagreement about proposed reporting of college outcome measures and the availability of year-round Pell Grants. The negotiation that concluded Wednesday, which covered general non-loan issues, was one of five that the Education Department has been conducting since February to gather recommendations from higher ed professionals and others about how it should carry out changes Congress made to the law with the Higher Education Opportunity Act last summer. (Another, on accreditation issues, resumes next week.) The general session covered an enormously wide range of issues, from fire safety and campus crime to peer to peer file sharing (and even some student aid matters!), and the negotiators reached agreement on the vast majority of them. But most college officials on the panel fought an effort by Education Department officials on the negotiating team to adopt regulatory language that would require colleges to make public job placement rates for any program on their campuses that calculates them, and to publish the methodology used to calculate the rate. College administrators objected that the department's approach went well beyond the more "illustrative" information about alumni satisfaction and student outcomes that the Higher Education Act renewal (after significant negotiation) called on colleges to produce, and many of the negotiators refused to sign off on the language, dooming the talks to a conclusion without "consensus." Negotiators representing two-year and four-year public colleges also balked at a proposal that would require students to have completed 24 hours of academic credit during an academic year to qualify for continuing Pell Grant funds during the following summer, saying such an approach would hurt their students.

May 14, 2009

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has laid off five employees as part of budget cuts necessitated by diminished investments and declines in its conference revenue, the group announced Wednesday. Many higher education associations have suffered drops in attendance at their annual conferences, and it is not surprising that groups that have colleges or their employees as members would struggle given the financial difficulties that institutions themselves are facing. "The recent economic downturn has affected everyone, including many of our member colleges and universities, and NASFAA is no different," Philip R. Day Jr., the group's president, said in a news release. The NAFSAA statement said that the association's "institutional membership reached historic highs this year," but NASFAA may have been particularly vulnerable because of the struggles facing the student loan industry and the association's 2007 decision -- prodded by New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo -- to severely limit sponsorships at its annual meeting, which had long had a heavily corporate feel to it. Among those laid off this week were Larry Zaglaniczny, the group's vice president for Congressional affairs since 1988 and a fixture on the Washington higher ed lobbying scene for more than 30 years. NASFAA's budget cuts come at a time when Day, the president, is being investigated for alleged improprieties in his old job, at the City College of San Francisco.

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