Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 12, 2009

A professor at the University of California at Los Angeles last year reported to university officials that he had concerns about the mental health of the student now accused of slashing a classmate's throat last week, the Los Angeles Times reported. The professor, who provided the Times with e-mail documentation, said that the accused student claimed that other students were distracting him while he was taking tests -- even though no such activity was witnessed by anyone. UCLA has acknowledged that it was aware of concerns about the accused student, but has said that it cannot discuss details because of privacy regulations.

October 12, 2009

A nonpartisan group of student health experts issued a statement Saturday warning that none of the major proposals under consideration in Congress to reform health care explicitly considers the needs of college students. The organization, the Lookout Mountain Group, cited two major issues. It said that the plans to date do not define "group insurance" to specifically include health insurance sponsored by colleges and universities for their students, and that the various pieces of legislation do not authorize colleges to continue to collect college fees or to use tuition dollars to fund health care for students.

October 12, 2009

The number of U.S. students visas issued in India fell 25 percent in the last year, The Economic Times reported. Experts told the newspaper that they believed the decline was not due to tougher standards on visas, but because many colleges in the United States appear to be cutting down on financial aid awards to Indian students, making them less interested in seeking a visa.

October 12, 2009

The University of Chicago is planning a faculty expansion in coming year -- not just the unfreezing of selected positions that some institutions are hoping for this year, but an effort to increase the total size of the faculty. Robert J. Zimmer, the university's president, recently sent faculty members an e-mail in which he noted the impact of cuts in the last year, and said that he believed additional cuts would not be necessary. Further, he outlined plans for a faculty expansion. While details are not yet available, he said the following: "[W]e will institute a program for the gradual expansion of the faculty. Organized by the deans and provost and led by the faculty, we will seek out special opportunities and address key needs through a selected expansion over the next five years. Nothing is more essential to the university, to the evolution of our research and education programs at all levels, and to fostering our distinctive academic culture than the renewal of our faculty. This will be the first time in many years that the university has undertaken a systematic expansion of the faculty, and you will be hearing more from the deans and provost about the organization of this effort." In addition, he said that the university would evaluate the impact of cuts in the size of new Ph.D. cohorts admitted in many programs this year. "Robust graduate programs, in particular doctoral programs, are essential to the nature of the University. We must remain vigilant in our support for these programs," Zimmer said.

October 12, 2009

In a speech at the University of Virginia on Friday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for more Americans to consider teaching careers, and praised the U.Va. students for the rigor and breadth of their programs. But he also suggested that Virginia was the exception that demonstrated problems elsewhere with teacher education programs. "In far too many universities, education schools are the neglected stepchild. Often they don't attract the best students or faculty. The programs are heavy on educational theory -- and light on developing core area knowledge and clinical training under the supervision of master teachers," he said. "Generally, not enough attention is paid to what works to boost student learning -- and student teachers are not trained in how to use data to improve their instruction and drive a cycle of continuous improvement for their students. Many ed schools do relatively little to prepare students for the rigor of teaching in high-poverty and high-need schools. In all but a few states, education schools act as the Bermuda Triangle of higher education — students sail in but no one knows what happens to them after they come out. No one knows which students are succeeding as teachers, which are struggling, and what training was useful or not."

October 9, 2009

Usually groups like the Project on Student Debt are worried about college students taking on too large a loan burden. But in a report released Thursday, the group argues that many community college students are actually hurt because their institutions do not give them access to federal loans. As a result, the group says, the students either work so much that they hurt their chances of succeeding academically, or turn to riskier and more expensive private loans instead. The report examines the reasons why some community colleges shun the federal loan program and how their decisions hurt their students.

October 9, 2009

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the formal launch Thursday of the new National Institute of Food and Agriculture, about which university officials are very excited. The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities anticipates that the institute, which will replace the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, the Agriculture Department's chief provider of academic research funds, will significantly boost the amount of federal funds for ag research that flows to universities. Also Thursday, a conference committee of the U.S. Senate and House approved a compromise spending bill for the Agriculture Departnt that would increase spending on agricultural research to $2.767 billion in 2010, up $174 million over 2009. The National Institute of Food and Agricultur would receive $1.343 billion, $176 million more than what President Obama requested.

October 9, 2009

An Evergreen State College professor has been placed on leave after an audit revealed that he could not account for at least $50,000 that he collected from students for study abroad trips he organized to Chile, The Seattle Times reported. Thirteen students have settled a dispute with the college over payments and are receiving refunds.

October 9, 2009

In an attempt to show that there are no "trick questions," the University of Oxford has for the first time released samples of interview questions used in the admissions process, The Times of London reported. Mike Nicholson, Oxford’s director of admissions, told the newspaper: "The interviews are all about assessing academic ability and potential.... The aim is to get candidates to use their knowledge and apply their minds to new problems while allowing them to shine. No special knowledge is required and there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers.” Among the questions released: "What is language?" and "Why might it be useful for an English student to read the Twilight series?"

October 8, 2009

Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, is proposing that Congress bar the National Science Foundation from supporting research in political science. While the NSF is best known for its support for the physical sciences, computer science and engineering, it has a long history of also supporting work in the social sciences. A statement from the senator said: "The purpose of this amendment is not to restrict science, but rather to better focus scarce basic research dollars on the important scientific endeavors that can expand our knowledge of true science and yield breakthroughs and discoveries that can improve the human condition." While such an amendment is unlikely to be enacted, the American Political Science Association is organizing letter-writing efforts against the measure.

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