Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, June 29, 2015 - 3:00am

The University of the West of England is promoting its research on uses for urine by setting up a special area at a music festival where attendees may urinate and see their waste products used as a biofuel to generate electricity to light up the urinal. University researchers hope to take advantage of the typical shortage of bathrooms at outdoor music festivals to generate excitement about the project. Those who visit the special facility will also see materials about uses for urine that can promote sustainability and help those in refugee camps and elsewhere. University researchers refer to the product as “urine-tricity” or “pee power.”

Monday, June 29, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Emily O’Brien, a medical instructor at Duke University Medical Center, discusses her work to treat the cardiac condition. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, June 26, 2015 - 4:15am

Two neighboring performing arts colleges -- the Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory -- are exploring a merger, The Boston Globe reported. Berklee, with an endowment of $321 million and more than 4,000 students, is the larger of the institutions. But Boston Conservatory -- with a $15 million endowment and enrollment of 730 -- has some academic strengths not in the broader curriculum of Berklee.

Friday, June 26, 2015 - 3:00am

A new poll by Gallup finds that Americans give fairly similar grades, and positive ones, to two-year and four-year colleges. Asked to base their judgments on their own knowledge, 70 percent of Americans said that the quality of four-year institutions was good or excellent. The figure was only slightly lower, 66 percent, for community colleges. But the figure was much lower -- 36 percent -- for online-only programs. Gallup conducts surveys for Inside Higher Ed, but this poll was conducted independently of Inside Higher Ed.

Friday, June 26, 2015 - 3:00am

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics shows that the proportion of adults with a work credential typically increases with educational attainment, excluding those adults with a doctoral degree. The figures range from 6 percent for adults with a high school diploma having a work credential to 68 percent for people with a professional degree.

Over half of credentialed adults -- 53 percent -- have less than a bachelor's degree.

Work credentials are often used as an alternative or supplement to education credentials like diplomas and degrees. The credentials include occupational licenses and certifications. The most common work credentials are obtained in health care, education and the trades, according to the report.

Friday, June 26, 2015 - 3:00am

Speaking at the Campus Safety Nation Forum on Thursday, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, urged college law enforcement officers to more speedily and thoroughly collect evidence and interview witnesses when investigating claims of campus sexual assault. "That is where the truth reveals itself," McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor, said. "Witnesses corroborate or they show lies. Evidence corroborates or it shows lies. And this can't be done weeks later or even months or years later."

McCaskill described Florida State University's handling of sexual assault allegations against former star quarterback Jameis Winston as "terribly unfair" to both the accuser and the accused, in part because the university waited so long to conduct an investigation. The alleged victim reported the assault three hours after she said it occurred. The first witness, McCaskill said, wasn't interviewed until 342 days later. The campus hearing did not take place until two years after the allegations were made.

Treating all claims of campus sexual assault as worthy of a thorough investigation, McCaskill said, could help later clarify who is telling the truth in "he said, she said" types of hearings. "All of these cases deserve to be investigated one way or another," she said.

Friday, June 26, 2015 - 3:00am

Glenn F. McConnell, president of the College of Charleston, has faced criticism for not speaking out as other higher education leaders in South Carolina have called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds. McConnell, while a member of the legislature before becoming a college president, orchestrated the deal under which the flag not only appears as it does but can be moved only by supermajority votes of lawmakers. He has been declining to comment, but a day after his college's board endorsed the removal of the Confederate flag, McConnell did the same, issuing a statement Thursday. He said that he supports the idea of removing the flag "as a visible statement of courtesy and goodwill to all those who may be offended by it."

But he added that he hoped other symbols of the Confederacy, which many are calling to be removed, stay put. "I also urge all public officials and activists who are focusing on this issue to come together, the way the good people of Charleston joined hands following the terrible tragedy we suffered, and agree not to transfer the fight to other physical vestiges and memorials of our state’s past. In a spirit of goodwill and mutual respect, let us all agree that the monuments, cemeteries, historic street and building names shall be preserved and protected. How sad it would be to end one controversy only to trigger a thousand more," he said.

McConnell's appointment as college president last year was controversial for many reasons, including his long support for Confederate symbols. He used to own a shop that sold memorabilia of the South’s rebellion, and he appears in a widely circulated picture dressed as a Confederate general.

Friday, June 26, 2015 - 3:00am

This has been a rough week for higher education accreditors. Days after a Wall Street Journal article raised questions about whether the agencies are doing enough to improve (or, alternatively, shut down) institutions that struggle to retain and graduate students, the committee that advises the U.S. education secretary on accreditation took up much the same theme Thursday at its semiannual session to review some accrediting bodies.

During a review of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, members of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) -- led by a new student member, Simon J. Boehme -- listed colleges and universities that are in good standing with the commission despite having federal graduation rates of under 20 percent. Some committee members suggested that there should be "bright lines" on key indicators such as retention and graduation below which accreditors punish colleges, which is not typically how accreditation works now. (The discussions Thursday were resonant of similar conversations a decade ago, when then Education Secretary Margaret Spellings pushed NACIQI to put pressure on colleges about whether their students were learning enough, and suggested "bright lines" below which institutions should be penalized.

Officials of the Higher Learning Commission and some members of the accreditation panel noted that the federal graduation rates for some institutions capture small proportions of their total student bodies and may not be representative of how most students are faring. But there was little disagreement that retention and graduation rates at many institutions could be better, and that there was a role for accreditors to play in prodding the institutions they oversee to perform better. Discussion on Friday is likely to return to how that might be done most effectively (and without inappropriate federal intervention).

Also on Thursday, the accreditation panel voted to recommend that the education secretary strip federal recognition from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, which has been locked for years in a confounding feud with the National League for Nursing over control and independence. Members of the panel expressed confusion over why the two groups had been unable to reach agreement, alternately wondering whether the two organizations were greedy and power hungry. More than one called it "embarrassing" for the nursing profession that they groups returned before the panel, for the third time in four years, having not resolved their differences.

Friday, June 26, 2015 - 4:26am

The University of Idaho is leasing an old courthouse for a new law school facility, and has decided to cover up two of a series of murals in the courthouse, the Associated Press reported. The two murals depict the lynching of a Native American. The university will uncover the murals for those with a need to view them, but does not want them generally on display.

Friday, June 26, 2015 - 3:00am

A new report from ACT and the Council for Opportunity in Education found that the vast majority of first-generation students who take ACT's college entrance exam plan to attend college, but about half of them are academically unprepared to succeed.

The report found 52 percent of ACT-tested first-generation college students in the 2014 high school graduating class failed to meet the four college readiness benchmarks set by the nonprofit testing organization. Overall 31 percent of all ACT-tested graduates failed to meet benchmarks in English, math, reading and science. More than 9 in 10 first-generation students who took the ACT said they plan to attend college.

"The upside of these findings is that as more first-generation students take the ACT, their access and exposure to the college admissions process is increasing," said Jim Larimore, ACT's chief officer for the advancement of underserved learners, in a news release. "But our research also shows that students' likelihood of enrolling in college right after high school increases based on the number of readiness benchmarks they meet."

The minimum scores students must earn on each of the ACT's four subject tests indicate that students have about a 75 percent change of earning a grade of C or higher in a typical credit-bearing, first-year college course in the corresponding area.

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