Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 14, 2009

President Obama gave the commencement address at Arizona State University Wednesday night and joked about the controversy over the university's decision not to award him an honorary degree. While honorary degrees are commonly given to commencement speakers -- most of whom have never achieved something on par with, for example, being elected president of the United States -- Arizona State officials said that they believed Obama had not yet completed a "body of work" worthy of the honor. In his remarks, Obama mixed some jokes about the flap with serious thoughts about not resting on one's laurels. “I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven’t achieved enough in my life.... First of all, Michelle concurs with that assessment. She has a long list of things I have not yet done waiting for me when I get home," he said, according to an account in The New York Times. And while calling the controversy “much ado about nothing," he also quipped that “President [Michael] Crow and the board of regents will soon learn about being audited by the IRS." More seriously, he said that “I come to embrace the notion that I haven’t done enough in my life. I heartily concur. I come to confirm that one’s title, even a title like president of the United States, says very little about how well one’s life has been led — and that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, always more to learn, and always more to achieve.” Barbs have continued to be aimed at Arizona State over its refusal to offer the honorary degree. This week, "The Daily Show" examined the issue.

May 14, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Negotiations over possible new regulations to carry out a range of changes in the Higher Education Act ended in acrimony Wednesday amid disagreement about proposed reporting of college outcome measures and the availability of year-round Pell Grants. The negotiation that concluded Wednesday, which covered general non-loan issues, was one of five that the Education Department has been conducting since February to gather recommendations from higher ed professionals and others about how it should carry out changes Congress made to the law with the Higher Education Opportunity Act last summer. (Another, on accreditation issues, resumes next week.) The general session covered an enormously wide range of issues, from fire safety and campus crime to peer to peer file sharing (and even some student aid matters!), and the negotiators reached agreement on the vast majority of them. But most college officials on the panel fought an effort by Education Department officials on the negotiating team to adopt regulatory language that would require colleges to make public job placement rates for any program on their campuses that calculates them, and to publish the methodology used to calculate the rate. College administrators objected that the department's approach went well beyond the more "illustrative" information about alumni satisfaction and student outcomes that the Higher Education Act renewal (after significant negotiation) called on colleges to produce, and many of the negotiators refused to sign off on the language, dooming the talks to a conclusion without "consensus." Negotiators representing two-year and four-year public colleges also balked at a proposal that would require students to have completed 24 hours of academic credit during an academic year to qualify for continuing Pell Grant funds during the following summer, saying such an approach would hurt their students.

May 13, 2009

Syracuse University's law school, responding to reports that students were using bathroom breaks during final exams to cheat, has decided to limit students to one restroom visit per exam, The Syracuse Post-Standard reported. Exams can last up to four hours. Some students were reportedly using bathroom breaks to use their cell phones to send and receive text messages. The newspaper said that students who present documentation of medical conditions requiring more frequent bathroom visits will be exempted from the new rules.

May 13, 2009

Many low-income students who could benefit from higher education don't apply to college because they don't know they could get financial assistance or they are intimidated by the process, says a new report, "Promoting Economic Mobility by Increasing Postsecondary Education," released Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report argues that simplifying the aid application process is crucial if more disadvantaged students are ever to have a shot at college.

May 13, 2009

Community colleges need better measures of student learning, measures that yield more information than tests, according to a study issued Tuesday by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The report is based on three years of research, supported by Carnegie and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, on the teaching of basic math and English skills at 11 California community colleges. The research explored a wide variety of assessment techniques. Techniques studied included traditional tests and also "think aloud protocols" (audio and video records of students talking about their thought process while trying to read texts or solve problems), focus groups and surveys.

May 13, 2009

Jack McDonald, athletics director at Quinnipiac University, on Tuesday admitted in court that some men's coaches rigged rosters to try to make the institution look better on gender equity than it really was, The Connecticut Post reported. The testimony came in a suit in which women's team members charge the university with gender bias violations, and the specific allegation was made earlier in the trial, by a women's coach. McDonald admitted that rosters were rigged as the coach said they were -- with men's coaches dropping some men from their squads a few days before statistics were reported, and then adding the men back a few days after the reports were filed. The reports thus didn't reflect the full range of athletic opportunities available to male students, and the gap between those opportunities available for male and female students. While McDonald admitted that the manipulation took place, he said that the university never tolerated the practice and has addressed it. "Nobody told coaches that, 'This is how you get around it guys,' " the Post quoted him as testifying.

May 13, 2009

The National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Committee on Infractions banned the men's tennis team at the University of South Alabama from postseason competition next year in response to several major violations of association rules. The infractions panel found that the university's former coach had engaged in unethical conduct by providing more than $12,000 in impermissible financial aid to international athletes, giving cash to another player for a visa, and refusing to cooperate with NCAA investigators. The NCAA also concluded that the university had failed to monitor the conduct of the tennis program. South Alabama faced tougher penalties than it might have otherwise because this was its second major infractions case this decade; in addition to the postseason ban, it must vacate all games in which the ineligible athletes participated.

May 12, 2009

With anti-abortion groups continuing to criticize the University of Notre Dame's decision to have President Obama speak at graduation ceremonies, there was one commencement address the critics might like. The commencement speaker at Ave Maria University, which prides itself on strict adherence to Roman Catholic teachings, devoted time to denouncing Obama and Notre Dame. The Naples Daily News reported that the speaker at Ave Maria -- Thomas Hilgers, an obstetrician from Nebraska -- called Obama "viciously pro-abortion" and compared having him to the the invitation made to the speaker Hilgers heard at his own graduation, whom he described as a priest who turned out to be "a denier of the Resurrection, pro-homosexuality and pro-contraception." The anti-Obama talk on graduation day prompted one person to write to The Sun-Sentinel to ask: "Uh, what happened to 'love thy neighbor.' "

May 12, 2009

Harvard University has had notable success in recent years at attracting more students from low-income backgrounds. But even as the university offers generous aid packages that cover all official expenses, students without money find themselves in a series of awkward social and financial situations, The Boston Globe reported. The article looked at the gaps between students who use laundry services and those who wait at the washing machines in the dormitory basements, or those who tell fellow choir members that male students should have tuxedos for a concert, and those who not only don't have a tux, but lack the funds to rent one.

May 12, 2009

The District of Columbia agency that handles financial aid requests has just sent detailed information about 2,400 aid applicants to 1,250 of those applicants, The Washington Post reported. The office sent an e-mail to 1,250 applicants and accidentally attached a spreadsheet with 2,400 applicants' names, e-mail and home addresses, Social Security numbers, phone numbers and dates of birth. The agency has since asked all of those who received the spreadsheet to destroy it. Further, it sent an apology to the students whose information was shared, and is offering one-year subscriptions to a credit-monitoring service so that they can try to prevent identity theft.

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