Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 3:00am

Educational technology giant Blackboard is exploring a sale, according to anonymous sources who spoke to Reuters. The company, which develops the learning management system Learn and a host of other products, is reportedly seeking a deal of around $3 billion. Blackboard was a publicly traded company from 2004 to 2011, when it was bought by the private equity firm Providence Equity Partners for about $1.64 billion. 

"Blackboard, like many successful players in the technology industry, has become subject of sale rumors," a spokesperson for the company said. "Although we are transparent in our communications about the Blackboard business and direction when appropriate, it is our policy not to comment on rumors or speculation."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 3:00am

Many observers of Christian higher education have been wondering how the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities would respond to the move last week by two of its members -- Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College -- to change their employment policies to permit the hiring of faculty members in same-sex marriages. While CCCU does not have a specific policy on members with regard to hiring gay faculty members, some member institutions have reportedly voiced discomfort with Eastern Mennonite and Goshen maintaining their current role after adopting the new policies, the first of their kind at CCCU institutions.

A board meeting (previously scheduled) of CCCU just ended and the council issued a statement about a process to consider the latest developments. The statement says in part: “The CCCU has received inquiries regarding the recent change by member institutions Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College in employment policies regarding faculty and staff in same-sex marriages. At the recent meeting of the CCCU Board of Directors, which includes the president of EMU, the board engaged in thorough deliberations regarding this policy change. The president of EMU recused himself as appropriate. As a result of their discussions, the board has reaffirmed its commitment to a deliberative and consultative process. Therefore, in the coming weeks and months, the board will be calling all member presidents to discuss this issue. This plan is consistent with feedback from CCCU members, the vast majority of whom are supportive of the board following a good and respectful process before making any decision.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 3:00am

The Jefferson Education Accelerator, an effort by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education to help efficacious educational technology companies, has found its first partner company: the online learning platform provider Echo360. The accelerator supports companies that have progressed past the start-up stage and provides services such as consulting, mentoring and efficacy research. A spokesperson for the JEA said information about which organizations will help the accelerator research the efficacy of partnering with ed-tech companies will be released in the coming months.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 3:00am

More than 700 students at Wheaton College of Illinois will need to find a new health care plan on Friday, as the college will cease providing health care to students to avoid complying with a federal requirement that employers include emergency contraceptives in its coverage.

The Obama administration two years ago set a compromise on the health care law. Under that plan, religious colleges and other religious institutions need not pay for contraception, but insurance companies that cover their employees are required to provide the coverage, and the institution must fill out a form to be given an exemption. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not require Wheaton to fill out such a form. But Wheaton continued to argue that the mandate violated the college's religious beliefs as its plan, no matter how indirectly, would still be allowing the use of contraception.

"The college’s concern is with its own actions in facilitating the provision of morally objectionable products on its own plans, and with its right to constitutionally protected religious liberty," Paul Chelsen, vice president for student development at Wheaton, said in a statement.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 3:00am

Higher Ed, Not Debt is a nonprofit advocacy group with a focus on for-profit colleges. It joined with the Service Employees International Union and Student Debt Action to organize a Monday protest outside the annual shareholder meeting of ITT Educational Services Inc., which owns ITT Tech, an embattled for-profit chain that is facing federal fraud charges and various other state and federal lawsuits.

Inside Higher Ed reported on the demonstration in Arlington, Va., which featured about 20 protesters. A news release Higher Ed, Not Debt distributed before the event said “former educators and ITT students” would attend. At the demonstration, an official with the group told a reporter that multiple students who had attended ITT were there.

However, only one former ITT student attended, the group later disclosed. The former student, Anthony Byrd, said he attended an ITT campus for about six weeks. Inside Higher Ed was not able to confirm those details, as Byrd refused to grant a waiver from federal student privacy rules that would have allowed ITT to release details about his time at the school.

Higher Ed, Not Debt is organized by unions and progressive groups, including the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Center for American Progress confirmed that only one former ITT student attended the event.

“Anthony Byrd was the only former ITT Tech student who was able to attend the demonstration yesterday,” the spokesman said in an email. “Many of [the] demonstrators were advocates from groups like Higher Ed, Not Debt and the SEIU, which advocate for students who were wronged by for-profit institutions like ITT Tech.”

The spokesman said many ITT Tech students are financially stressed and unable to make the trip for the protest. But he said 1,500 former students of the for-profit chain have signed a petition asking for a refund.

On Monday ITT said the protest's organizers were not providing accurate information to students or shareholders about ITT's successes.

“Organizations with ideological biases are tainted by ulterior motives, and they frequently recruit people to stage protests,” said Nicole Elam, an ITT spokeswoman, in an emailed statement. “We are helping students build better lives, secure employment and earn higher salaries. The targeted recruitment of former students as ‘spokespeople’ by these organizations also provides us no option to counter claims that may be false, without a student providing a signed release of their records.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 3:00am

An influential and frequently cited study on the prevalence of repeat sexual assault offenders is riddled with inconsistencies and possible errors, a new analysis of the paper asserts. The study in question is David Lisak's 2002 paper “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists,” which argued that 90 percent of campus rapes are committed by serial offenders. His work has been cited by Inside Higher Ed, by the White House, in the documentary The Hunting Ground and in Jon Krakauer's most recent book, Missoula.

Writing for Reason, a libertarian magazine, Linda LeFauve, associate vice president for planning and institutional research at Davidson College, stated the paper is based on four other studies that were possibly conducted by Lisak's doctoral students in the 1990s. The studies were not entirely focused on campus sexual assault, and were based on surveys that mostly asked questions about child abuse. In an interview with Reason, Lisak was unable to identify the lead investigators of the studies.

LeFauve also criticized the paper for making claims about campus sexual assault when the studies referenced in the paper do not specify whether the assaults happened on campus or if the respondents or victims were actually students. The surveys were handed out to random men on a commuter campus. Lisak, according to LeFauve, told her he had subsequently interviewed those respondents. “When I asked how he was able to speak with men participating in an anonymous survey for research he was not conducting,” LeFauve wrote, “he ended the phone call.”

Lisak did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 4:25am

Students stormed out of a meeting of the governing council of the University of Hong Kong Tuesday, with one person collapsing and needing to be hospitalized, The South China Morning Post reported. The students and many others are angry that the council is refusing to go ahead with filling a senior position with an academic who has wide campus support for the job but who has been criticized by pro-Beijing newspapers.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 3:00am

Adults in the U.S. who have graduated with more than a bachelor’s degree are the most likely than others to feel that they learn something new or do something interesting every day, according to a new poll released by Gallup Tuesday. While 74 percent of those with postgraduate courses or degrees under their belt felt this way, only 66 percent with only bachelor’s degrees agreed, and the number dipped to 65 percent for those with some college or associate degrees. Adults with a high school education or less were the least likely to agree, clocking in at 63 percent. The question was posed during a larger six-month survey that ended at the beginning of June and surveyed more than 250,000 adults in the U.S.

Participants were asked to place their level of agreement on learning or doing something interesting every day on a five-point scale. “Higher education institutions across the U.S. share similar mission and purpose statements. These statements often include a core goal of ‘fostering lifelong learning’ among students and graduates,” the authors wrote in the report. The authors also noted that communities with “a strong academic presence” are more likely to have events and opportunities for residents to participate in and learn from.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 4:22am

An article in The New York Times explores how alumni of Haverford College, a small, academically rigorous Division III institution, have come to play an outsize role in professional baseball. While a Haverford pitcher was recently an eighth-round draft pick, the college's power base is off the field. And at least 15 alumni hold significant jobs in baseball, as executives, agents and evaluators of talent. And they all have degrees in the liberal arts and sciences.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Jeffrey Hall, professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, discusses his research on the nature of flirtation. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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