Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 3, 2009

"States are current facing one of the worst, if not the worst, fiscal periods since the Great Depression." With that downbeat assessment, the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers introduced their semi-annual "Fiscal Survey of States," which projects continued declines in tax revenues driving the need for additional cutbacks in state spending in 2010, 2011 and possibly 2012. Thirty-three states cut their spending on higher education in the 2009 fiscal year and 30 did so for 2010, although federal stimulus funds backfilled the cuts in states such as Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma in 2010, the report said. Lawmakers or governors in several other states exempted higher education (Tennessee and Vermont) or student financial aid (Indiana and South Carolina) from budget cuts in 2010.

December 3, 2009

Nearly 50 years after adopting its celebrated Master Plan, California’s vision for higher education has become “less cohesive,” and the state has failed to link funding decisions to clearly defined policy goals, according to a report released Tuesday by California's non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. The report questions whether the state’s policy pre-occupation with expanding “access” has “come at the expense of other critical goals, including student learning and degree completion.” Among other suggestions, the LAO recommends the Legislature consider new governance structures, as well as new funding models driven by student outcomes.

December 3, 2009

Kevin Segawa, who is on leave as police chief at Mt. San Jacinto College, has been charged with eight felonies and one misdemeanor, The Press-Enterprise reported. While details of the charges and Segawa's response were not available, the charges include asking or receiving a bribe, forgery, embezzlement by a public officer and destroying or concealing evidence.

December 3, 2009

Pittsburgh's City Council on Wednesday voted to delay by one week a final decision on the idea of a 1 percent tax on tuition, a tax strenuously opposed by area colleges and their students, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The idea behind the tax -- which is being championed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl -- is to deal with a looming deficit. College leaders have said that they are willing to talk about new ways to assist the city, but not with the tax idea in play.

December 3, 2009

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a legislative alternative to President Obama's plan to end student lending through the Federal Family Education Loan Program would save about $75 billion, several billion less than the administration's plan, Congress Daily reported. The alternative is similar to one put forward last summer by lender groups, which would allow banks and other lenders to continue to make loans and sell them to the government. A spokesman for Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), who asked the budget office to "score" the proposed legislative language, said the senator has not necessarily decided to introduce the measure as an alternative to the bill that Senate Democrats are expected to unveil in the weeks to come. "We requested a preliminary score from CBO of possible legislative language," the spokesman said. "We sought the score to obtain as much information as possible as we make determinations on how to proceed."

December 3, 2009

The National Institutes of Health said on Wednesday that it had approved 13 new "lines" of embryonic stem cells to make available to biomedical researchers. The groups of cells are the first approved for use since President Obama signed an executive order in March that revoked President George W. Bush's 2001 order limiting federally sponsored research on embryonic stem cells to 60 lines that had already been created at that time -- 21 of which were scientifically useful. In announcing the newly available stem cell lines, the NIH's director, Francis S. Collins, said the new lines had been "derived from embryos that were donated under ethically sound informed consent processes," a nod to critics who say the research leans on cells from embryos from donors who never intended them for that use. The NIH said that 96 additional lines were under review.

December 2, 2009

A semi-annual report to Congress by the National Science Foundation's Office of the Inspector General documents five new cases of scientific misconduct by university researchers since the last such report in March, and lists actions taken by the science foundation in six cases described by the IG's office in that March report. These semi-annual reports are the main way in which the NSF makes public cases of scientific wrongdoing, and it does so in a limited way -- without identifying the wrongdoers or their institutions. The new cases described in the September 2009 report, which was released this week, include the following: A professor at a South Dakota university resigning after plagiarism was discovered in an NSF grant proposal; a Pennsylvania university doctoral student purposefully falsifying data and conclusions in five NSF-supported manuscripts; a Nevada research professor fabricating images in an NSF proposal; a Nevada university doctoral candidate submitting a dissertation grant proposal that contained others' work; and two primary investigators at a Wyoming university plagiarizing in a total of four NSF grant proposals. The inspector general's report also notes several major audits the office has conducted examining institutions' spending of NSF grant money, including findings involving the University of Michigan, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Cornell University, among others.

December 2, 2009

Yoga instructors went to federal court on Tuesday, seeking to block the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia from regulating the programs that train yoga teachers, The Washington Post reported. The council views its oversight as a routine part of its role overseeing all kinds of training programs, including bartending schools, not just those run by traditional colleges and universities. But yoga instructors say that their work can't be viewed in the same way. Suzanne Leitner-Wise, a plaintiff and president of U.S. Yoga Teacher Training, told the Post: "Yoga is the study of the self through direct experience.... You simply can't put regulations on that. It's just dumb."

December 2, 2009

Student advocacy groups published two studies Tuesday that draw attention to student loan debt at a time when the economy -- and their job prospects -- are imperiled. The Project on Student Debt released "Student Debt and the Class of 2008," which finds that the average senior who had college loans graduated last spring with $23,200 in debt, at a time when his or her odds of landing a job were at long-time lows. The group also published a state-by-state map with detailed borrowing and other information by college. Meanwhile, U.S. PIRG and several other groups issued a briefing paper that, citing concerns about private student loan debt, urges Congress to pass legislation to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which has been embroiled in controversy over proposed exemptions for for-profit colleges that make loans to their students.

December 2, 2009

A report being released today by the Brookings Institution documents the national decline in coverage of education issues. During the first nine months of 2009, only 1.4 percent of national news coverage focused on education issues, the study found. And much of the coverage that did occur was focused on issues beyond education -- such as crime or H1N1. The study found that coverage of community colleges is "especially" poor.

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