Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 29, 2017

Rider University announced Tuesday that it plans to sell Westminster Choir College, a small, highly regarded music college with its own campus in Princeton, N.J. The college was merged into Rider in 1992, and university officials have been considering a plan to move the college's programs to Rider's main campus. Rider officials said that it wasn't practical to maintain the two campuses at a time of difficult budget choices for the university. Students, faculty members and alumni of Westminster have opposed the plan to move the college onto the main Rider campus. A statement from Rider said the university would try to sell the college to another entity. Alternatively, Rider could sell the college to an entity that would relocate Westminster, allowing Rider to sell the Princeton campus. Westminster supporters rallied outside the board meeting where Rider trustees agreed on the new plan (photo at right).

Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Rider's president, told PhillyNews.com that he expected strong interest in purchasing Westminster. “We’re obviously looking at other not-for-profit higher education institutions, like us, especially music schools that fall into that category,” he said. “Everything from there to international institutions that might be interested in being near Princeton, to for-profit operations.”

March 29, 2017

A new report from the Center for American Progress says 12 of the largest accrediting agencies lack the budgets and staffing necessary to adequately monitor the quality of colleges they oversee.

For example, the left-leaning group found, the 12 accreditors in 2013 spent a total of $75 million on quality assurance. As a result, the agencies are serving as gatekeepers to $1,693 in federal aid for every dollar they spend to oversee colleges. The report also cited the argument that accreditors are vulnerable to expensive lawsuits when a college challenges a sanction in court.

The conservative Heritage Foundation also released a report on accreditation this week, calling on the U.S. Congress to decouple federal aid financing from the accreditation process. Instead, the report called for all federal loans to be issued under the terms of graduate Stafford Loans.

Heritage also voiced support for a 2014 legislative proposal from Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, that would allow states to opt out of the current, federally sanctioned accreditation system and to instead set their own rules for accreditation. That might mean accrediting and issuing aid for alternative programs of study and even individual courses.

"This student-centered approach to accreditation reform could foster much-needed innovation in higher education and link student learning to skills needed in the marketplace," the Heritage report said.

In its report, the Center for American Progress called for accreditors to set minimum fees for their member institutions and to increase those fees on poor-performing colleges.

"Changing the funding structure could accomplish two goals. First, higher revenue would allow accreditors to hire more staff and focus more time and energy on schools in need of improvement," the report said. "Second, higher fees and more oversight for low performers would create incentives to improve performance. Accreditors should work to ensure these fees are adequate but not overly burdensome."

Barbara Brittingham, chair of the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions and president of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, responded to the Center for American Progress report with a written statement. While Brittingham said she appreciated that the report seeks enhanced legal protections for accreditors, she said its take on the agencies' staffing levels failed to recognize contributions of volunteers in the current peer-review structure.

"It notes that regional accreditation in a recent year was supported by over 4,300 volunteers, but does not reflect the value of the expertise of these volunteers to the enterprise," said Brittingham. "Because these volunteers are generally college and university presidents, academic officers, senior faculty, and others with specialized expertise, including members of the public, regional accreditation operates with capacity that goes far beyond a count of its employees. The depth and diversity of volunteer expertise keeps capacity high while staying financially efficient. We don’t want to unnecessarily increase cost that would likely be passed along to students."

March 29, 2017

The president of a Budapest-based university founded by investor and philanthropist George Soros said in a letter to faculty, students, alumni and staff that legislation has been proposed that imperils the university's future operations in Hungary.

In the letter, Central European University President Michael Ignatieff wrote that the proposed legislation “would make it impossible for CEU to continue its operations as an institution of higher education in Hungary authorized to grant degrees accredited in both Hungary and the United States. As we see it, this is legislation targeted at one institution and one institution only. It is discriminatory. It strikes at the heart of what we have been doing at CEU for over two decades. We are in full conformity with Hungarian law and have been for more than two decades.”

Ignatieff wrote that the university's board and administration "will contest this legislation through every means possible" and that "CEU has no other desire than to remain in Budapest."

CEU, which opened in 1991, offers graduate programs taught in English in the humanities, law, management, public policy and the social sciences. Scholars took to social media Tuesday to express their support for the university -- and their dismay at the Hungarian government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

March 29, 2017

Science organizations spoke out forcefully Tuesday in response to President Trump's executive order to unravel Obama administration climate policies. 

The order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, a federal rule that set targets for carbon emissions targets. 

"The EPA has a legal obligation under the Clean Air Act to curtail global warming emissions to help limit the impacts of climate change," said Union of Concerned Scientists President Ken Kimmell. "The Clean Power Plan cost-effectively addresses one of the nation’s largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions -- power plants -- and gives states the flexibility to tailor the plan to their needs. The executive order undercuts a key part of the nation’s response to climate change, without offering even a hint of what will replace it."

The executive order also orders the Interior Department to end a moratorium on new coal mine leases on federal land and nixes guidance requiring that climate change be considered in planning infrastructure projects, among other concessions to industry. 

Scientists have been increasingly vocal since Election Day about Trump's personnel choices and policy steps involving research, health and the environment. Tuesday's executive order was his clearest step yet on environmental policy. 

Rush Holt, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said the scientific research is clear that climate change is happening as a result of human activities and affecting people and the environment. 

"Scientific research helps us better understand climate change and society’s potential responses, including decisions by individuals, communities, businesses and federal agencies," he said. "There is much our nation can do to address the risks that climate change poses to human health and safety, but disregarding scientific evidence puts our communities in danger."

Holt also offered to have scientists meet with policy makers to discuss the science of climate change and the degrees of understanding about the research. 

March 29, 2017

Some 85 percent of tenure-stream professors at Loyola University at Chicago's School of Education who participated a recent vote said they had no confidence in Terri Pigott, their dean. About 82 percent of voting professors also expressed no confidence in the leadership of Ann Marie Ryan, associate dean of academic programs in education. Twenty-seven of 33 total eligible faculty members voted.

Professors in the school have repeatedly expressed concerns about a hostile climate there, including intimidation, discrimination, threats against faculty members and programs, and the erosion of shared governance. Higher education faculty members also have accused the deans of deliberately misrepresenting their interest in a now-canceled executive doctor of education program to the greater university. The education school's Academic Council also censured the deans over similar concerns last month. (Note: This sentence has been updated from a previous version to reflect that the school's Academic Council, not the university's, resolved to censure the deans.)

David E. Chinitz, professor of English and president of Loyola’s advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said via email that members have been “following the developments in the School of Education for some time and have had serious concerns about issues of governance and the treatment of faculty there.” The recent vote of no confidence “signals unmistakably that the situation has become a crisis,” he added, “and we hope for an expeditious resolution so that the school can come together and begin to repair the damage.”

A university spokesperson declined comment on the vote, saying it was a confidential “personnel matter.”

March 29, 2017

Online education platform Coursera has set a goal of offering 15 to 20 degree programs by the end of 2019. The company took another step toward that goal Wednesday, announcing new degree offerings from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and France’s HEC Paris.

“This is our coming-out party for online degrees on Coursera,” Nikhil Sinha, Coursera’s chief business officer, said in an interview.

HEC Paris plans to launch a master’s degree in innovation and entrepreneurship. UIUC, which already offers two degrees on Coursera, will launch a third: a master’s degree in accounting. The university also offers an M.B.A., known as the iMBA program, and a master of computer science in data science. The programs will launch this fall.

UIUC has previously said the iMBA program has exceeded its expectations. Since launching in January 2016, the program now enrolls about 500 students across three cohorts, said Jeffrey R. Brown, dean of the College of Business.

March 29, 2017

Many students struggle to find someplace to catch up on sleep. Rochester Institute of Technology is helping its students out with the Nap Spot Map, which identifies officially designated napping zones on campus. Students rated napping spots on such factors as comfort levels, surrounding noise, foot traffic and accessibility. RIT officials say many students benefit from naps and may find themselves more productive and creative after some downtime. At right, Kyle Suero, a third-year computer security student from Los Angeles, catches a quick nap between classes.

March 29, 2017

The American Bar Association is mulling whether to eliminate a requirement that full-time faculty members teach at least half of every law school's upper-level courses.

A committee of the ABA, which accredits law schools, earlier this month recommended eliminating the requirement. The group is accepting public comments and has scheduled a July hearing on the proposal.

Kyle McEntee, executive director and co-founder of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit group, was cautiously supportive of the ABA's possible move, with some caveats.

"Faculty expenditures are among the highest line items on a school's budget. I have no problem with the ABA providing schools more flexibility in hiring, as long as schools study and indicate how they measure the effectiveness of their teachers, including full-time faculty already on staff," McEntee said via email. "Part-time teaching resources are a real opportunity to bring down the costs of legal education, while satisfying the demands of the practicing bar. But it also has the potential to create an army of aimless, well-intentioned adjuncts."

March 29, 2017

An elite Chinese university has introduced a controversial new requirement -- a swim test. The BBC reported that the requirement -- that new Tsinghua University students prove they can swim at least 50 meters using any kind of stroke -- has prompted debate on social media, with some suggesting it is unreasonable to require students who grew up in inland cities to learn to swim as adults. Tsinghua says swimming is a key survival skill.

Many U.S. colleges have dropped their swim tests in recent years, though some still require them.

March 29, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Wayne Campbell, professor of nutrition science at Purdue University, examines whether eating red meat is bad for you. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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