Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 20, 2017

The Association of American Medical Colleges came out against the latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act in a letter to senators Tuesday.

The Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson bill has been gaining momentum as Republicans attempt to meet a Sept. 30 deadline to pass repeal legislation with a simple majority in the Senate through a process known as reconciliation.

But AAMC's president and CEO, Darrell G. Kirch, told senators they should pursue a bipartisan health-care deal through the committee process. And he said the latest repeal legislation failed to meet key principles the group considers fundamental to a successful health-care system.

"These principles include offering high-quality, affordable health insurance to all; preserving and fortifying the safety net through Medicaid and other policies; and encouraging innovation in the delivery system, among others," Kirch wrote. "The GCHJ legislation does not meet these principles, as it repeals the individual and employer mandates, repeals Medicaid expansion, and caps traditional Medicaid funding. Under this legislation, the number of uninsured patients nationwide will increase dramatically and important existing patient protections will be at risk."

He added that the proposal should be scored by the Congressional Budget Office before further action. But the CBO will only have a partial analysis of the legislation available by the Sept. 30 deadline.

September 20, 2017

Association of American University members institutions want more transparency when it comes to data on Ph.D. programs. Chief academic officers representing AAU campuses at their annual meeting last endorsed a statement calling on “all Ph.D. granting universities and their respective Ph.D. granting colleges, schools and departments, to make a commitment to providing prospective and current students with easily accessible information.” Such data should include student demographics, average time to finish a degree, financial support and career paths and outcomes both inside and outside academe, according to AAU. 

Member institutions "should commit to developing the infrastructure and institutional policies required to uniformly capture and make public such data,” reads the statement. 

Emily Miller, associate vice president for policy at AAU, said that her organization won’t necessarily be enforcing the commitment to data transparency, but that it now expects such a commitment from members. Data on who’s enrolling in graduate programs, what they’re doing while they’re there and where they go later on is crucial to having meaningful discussions about the future of graduate education, she said, noting that a number of institutions both inside and outside AAU have already taken steps toward transparency. 

The University of Michigan, for example, makes publicly available data on admissions, enrollment, funding, time to degree completion and completion rates, along with the results of a basic doctoral exit survey and job placement information. 

Calls for more information about how graduate students fare during their programs and after have increased in recent years, along with worries over the state of the academic job market. Some disciplinary organizations have even sought to provide Ph.D. program outcomes information on their own. The American Historical Association, for example, has tracked history Ph.D. recipients using publicly available information to paint its picture. Jim Grossman, executive director of the AHA, said of AAU’s pledge, “We’re thrilled that AAU institutions have committed themselves to collecting data more comprehensively and providing access to those data.”

 
September 20, 2017

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will offer a history course called Big Time College Sports and Rights of Athletes, 1956 to the Present next year, The News & Observer reported. Jay Smith, a professor of history who was to teach the class again this year for a third time, said in June that it had been cancelled because administrators feared “blowback” over it

The course discusses the major UNC “paper classes” scandal involving student athletes, as it’s based in part on Smith’s 2015 co-authored book about the case. He filed a grievance alleging a violation of his academic freedom in July, according to the News & Observer, and was notified two weeks later that he could again teach the class in the spring. He participated in a hearing before a faculty panel on the matter earlier this month and is awaiting the results. 

 
September 20, 2017

The U.S. Department of Education confirmed Wednesday that it has granted initial approval to acquisitions of Kaplan University and Education Management Corp., two large for-profits. The proposed transactions -- by Purdue University to acquire Kaplan and create a new online university -- and by the Dream Center, a nonprofit missionary group, to buy EDMC and its for-profit campus chains, both have drawn controversy. Earlier this week BuzzFeed reported that the feds had signed off on the deals, citing emails the publication obtained.

The state of Indiana has backed Purdue's move. But the public university still must get approval from the Higher Learning Commission, the regional accreditor for both Purdue and Kaplan.

EDMC is overseen by several accreditors. One has rejected part of the deal, while another has backed it.

A department spokeswoman confirmed the feds' initial approval of both transactions. But she said those decisions are not final.

"The department has preliminarily concluded that, based on the information provided to the department, there are no current impediments to the requests for approval of change of ownership," she said via email. "But, keep in mind, a preacquisition determination is not a final approval. The department has laid out clear criteria each university must meet as well as conditions it would impose if it were to approve any change of ownership transaction and subsequently enable the acquiring parties to retain Title IV eligibility. We also notified the parties of additional documents and information that must be submitted for the department to conduct its final review of a formal change in ownership application."

Purdue described the approval process in a news release, noting that the department included conditions with its initial backing of the deal. Those conditions have not yet been publicly released.

September 20, 2017

The California Community Colleges announced Tuesday that the Board of Governors Fee Waiver program, which provides nearly half of the system's 2.1 million students with free tuition, would be renamed the California College Promise Grant, a name reminiscent of many free college programs.

"California has long been a leader in college opportunity," said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the system's chancellor, in a news release. "By rebranding our fee waiver program as the College Promise, we are aligning our historical commitment to affordability with the successful Promise partnership model to send the message that college is within reach to young Californians who otherwise may not see higher education as an option."

The need-based fee-waiver program is first dollar, which means it covers tuition first before any other financial aid awarded to the student. That allows students to use other financial aid to offset the cost of textbooks, transportation and other expenses.

September 20, 2017

The California State University Academic Senate is urging the chancellor's office to delay enacting reforms to the system's curriculum. The Academic Senate voted for the delay last week.

The faculty is asking the chancellor to hold off on implementing the changes until a full consultation and review can occur and the administration and faculty can determine the best way to implement the changes. The changes are connected to two executive orders from the chancellor's office, one of which is about changing developmental math and English programs.

The chancellor's office has been planning to move away from offering noncredit remedial courses and ending placement exams.

September 20, 2017

The Urban Institute this week released 10 new papers from a high-profile bipartisan group of scholars and experts on federal higher education policy.

"The federal role in higher education has grown over the past two decades, and now a new administration has the opportunity to strengthen policies that support students and their colleges and universities," the institute said. "To help inform these decisions, we offer a series of memos written by a bipartisan group of scholars and policy analysts and rooted in an understanding of the importance and limits of the federal role in higher education."

The memos cover the following areas:

  • Data and transparency
  • Institutional accountability
  • Accreditation
  • Innovation
  • Work-force development
  • For-profit colleges
  • Understanding and modifying student behaviors and decisions
  • Pell Grants and student aid simplification
  • Student loan repayment
  • Private loan financing mechanisms
September 20, 2017

Democrats used a Senate nomination hearing Tuesday to press the Department of Education's nominee for general counsel on questions involving federal Title IX policy and oversight of for-profit colleges.

Carlos Muniz, the nominee for general counsel and a former Florida deputy attorney general, is only the third Senate-confirmed education official to be nominated by the administration, after Secretary Betsy DeVos and Assistant Secretary Peter Oppenheim. While Muniz revealed little about how he would act on specific issues, the hearing highlighted areas where congressional Democrats will continue to clash with the department and DeVos.

Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, said the secretary's "lack of understanding of education issues and current law make it clear she needs an independent" counsel.

Muniz said he understood his "ultimate duty will be to the law, not to any individual or objective."

Democratic senators asked Muniz to commit to upholding the preponderance-of-evidence standard in campus-based Title IX proceedings (he didn't directly answer); asked him whether he would "stand in the way" of other federal agencies investigating for-profits colleges (he said he didn't have a view on the authority of other agencies); and asked him to explain why the Florida AG didn't investigate Trump University or for-profit colleges like Bridgepoint Education (he cited a low number of complaints from Floridians).

It was widely reported last year that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi received a campaign donation from then candidate Donald Trump before declining to pursue an investigation of Trump University, a real estate training program. Her office insisted there was no connection between the donation and that decision. A federal judge this year approved a $25 million settlement between Trump and former students of the real estate seminar.

September 20, 2017

The for-profit online education provider Udacity at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference announced plans to create a new Flying Car nanodegree.

The Flying Car program’s curriculum will be developed in collaboration with Nicholas Roy, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT; Raffaello D’Andrea, a professor of dynamic systems and control at ETH Zurich; Angela Schoellig, professor of aerospace studies at the University of Toronto; and Sebastian Thrun, Udacity’s founder. It is expected to start in early 2018.

In addition to the Flying Car program, Udacity also announced a new Introduction to Self-Driving Cars nanodegree, to complement Udacity’s existing Self-Driving Car Engineer program. Thrun, who founded Google’s self-driving car team, said in a blog post that the program would be accessible to anyone with minimal programming experience.

“Self-driving cars is a field of vastly growing opportunities but with an alarming shortage of talent,” said Thrun. To this end, transportation company Lyft has partnered with Udacity to offer 400 scholarships for the Intro to Self-Driving Cars program for underrepresented students.

September 20, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Rebecca Dunn, a professor in the health science program at Keene State College, explores what role a mother’s diet before and during breastfeeding can play in what their children find tasty. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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