Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 19, 2010

The semi-annual gathering of the Association of American Universities is one of the least visible events you can imagine. The group of leading research universities, which tends to like to operate quietly, doesn't even promote the meeting on its own website. But the meeting that began Sunday in Washington is generating some unusual interest in unusual places -- like at ESPN. That's because the presidents of the Big Ten Conference are using the conference as a setting for their continuing discussions about adding new members, since all of the league's current 11 members belong to the AAU and its meeting is one of the relatively few times they all gather in one place, as the Chicago Tribune pointed out. ESPN confirmed that they will be joined there by the conference's commissioner, James E. Delany. The Big Ten's expansion plans could help to reshape the college sports landscape, especially if the league seeks to add Big East powers like Rutgers or Syracuse University or the University of Pittsburgh, Big 12 Conference institutions like the University of Missouri at Columbia -- or the University of Notre Dame.

April 19, 2010

Daniel LaVista was named Friday as the next chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District. LaVista, a newcomer to California, is executive director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Earlier in his career, he led three different community colleges: the College of Lake County, the Community College of Baltimore County and McHenry County College.

In an interview Friday, LaVista said he was attracted to the job by the idea of being closer to the campuses and their students than he is in a statewide role.

He said that, in terms of his goals, "I want to have another look at what's happening with student success," especially at a time when national attention is focused on community colleges. He said that there are many outstanding programs already in place in the district, and that he wants to focus on applying best practices -- the use of learning communities, better advising systems and so forth -- so that they reach as many students as possible.

A major topic of his discussions with the board, LaVista said, was California's terrible budget outlook. LaVista said he believed that the district could achieve some additional savings through economies of scale of various campus operations, but that he would need to learn more in Los Angeles first. He said he believes that, however tight budgets are, it is important to have "innovation funds" so that some new ideas needing money can get off the ground.

April 16, 2010

Despite severe budget cuts, the University of California has spent about $2 million on bottled water in recent years, The New York Times reported. The article noted that the expenses include bottled water that goes to campuses in areas known for particularly high quality tap water.

April 16, 2010

A group of Democratic U.S. senators and representatives introduced legislation Thursday that would once again make most private student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy. Borrowers could discharge such loans before Congress changed the bankruptcy laws in 2005, and advocates for students have argued since then that the often high-risk and costly loans should be treated like automobile and other forms of consumer loans, which distressed borrowers can discharge.

April 16, 2010

A state appeals court has revived a lawsuit challenging a University of Colorado rule barring concealed weapons on its campuses, the Associated Press reported. The suit -- by a student group in favor of concealed weapons on campus -- says that state law bars other entities such as local government from banning concealed weapons. But university officials have said that they do not believe they are covered by the law. The university is considering an appeal.

April 16, 2010

Hundreds of college history professors -- many from Texas but others from around the country -- have signed a letter urging state education officials to delay and revise history standards that the historians say distort the field, The Austin American-Statesman reported. Some historians involved said that their reputation is being hurt by the state backing standards that appear to portray only the positive (and conservative) in American history. One historian talked about speaking recently at the University of Oxford and being barraged by questions about the standards.

April 15, 2010

South Carolina legislators voted narrowly Wednesday to keep the only black member of the board of the University of South Carolina, The State reported. Many political observers expected the lawmakers to vote for another candidate, leaving the board all white, and some black legislators set off a debate by threatening -- if a white candidate won -- to discourage black athletes from enrolling at the university.

April 15, 2010

Eamonn Daniel Higgins pleaded guilty Wednesday to visa fraud in a case in which he was accused of writing papers and taking exams for foreign students, the Los Angeles Times reported. Authorities said that dozens of students from the Middle East paid Higgins for his inappropriate help from 2002 to 2009, and that he earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in his illegal business.

April 15, 2010

A House of Representatives subcommittee on Wednesday approved legislation that would extend the National Science Foundation's spending authority for five years, approving a slew of new programs as well as affirming lawmakers' intention to continue on a path of doubling the agency's budget. The measure passed by the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education is part of a package of bills that together would renew 2007's America COMPETES Act. The legislation approved Wednesday would, among other things, direct NSF to spend at least five percent of its research budget on high-risk, high-reward research proposals, give grants to colleges to support fundamental research leading to "transformative advances" in manufacturing, and provide grants to encourage research-based reforms in science education.

April 15, 2010

A group that advocates for high-quality, affordable student health insurance plans released an analysis Wednesday that suggests the recently passed health care reform law could be detrimental to colleges' and universities' abilities to provide health care and insurance to students.

The Lookout Mountain Group, which calls itself "a non-partisan study group of college health and higher education professionals," said it anticipates that the likely shift of many students to high-deductible "young invincibles" plans (and perhaps their parents' or employers' high-deductible plans) that don't pay for primary and preventative care would be damaging to student health centers and the students themselves. There are mixed opinions on whether students under the age of 27 will choose to stay on their parents' plans -- an option that goes into effect next fall -- rather than buying campus-based policies, but Lookout Mountain thinks students will choose to go for their campus-based policies.

The group added that regulatory and statutory changes will be needed to keep student plans legal past 2014, and that international students will have a hard time finding coverage.

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