Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 3:00am

Many colleges require standardized tests of applicants but fail to conduct research on whether the tests in fact predict college success and do so better than other tools, found to a new report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The complaint is longstanding and may become more relevant as increasing numbers of colleges are dropping testing requirements. “As high school curricula and transcripts continue to diversify, regular predictive validity research can help colleges better understand the degree to which various factors influence student success at their schools,” said a statement from NACAC CEO Joyce Smith.

Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 3:00am

The service the U.S. Education Department provides to student loan borrowers is "poor" in several areas and needs significant improvement, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report Wednesday. The report found limitations in borrowers' access to federal service call centers, the department's complaint tracking and other areas, and made a series of recommendations aimed at improving the situation.

The government's servicing of loans has become a political football particularly since the Obama administration moved to take over origination of all federally subsidized loans during its first term in office, though the administration now takes shots from the right (which perceived a government takeover) and from the left (on behalf of borrowers).

Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 3:00am

After starting out in engineering, women are less likely than men to stay in the profession. But rather than a toxic curriculum or classroom environment, the problem may come from the group dynamics found in teamwork and summer internships, according to a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When MIT researchers analyzed more than 40 engineering students’ twice-monthly diaries, they found that female students often felt marginalized during group activities. In these situations, men are more likely to work on challenging problems, while women are more likely to be assigned menial tasks. For example, one of the students wrote about a group project in her design class: “Two girls in a group had been working on the robot we were building in that class for hours, and the guys in their group came in and within minutes had sentenced them to doing menial tasks while the guys went and had all the fun in the machine shop.”

Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 3:00am

A group of Australian research universities known as the Group of Eight issued a policy paper on Wednesday calling for the government to “moderate growth in degree level participation, while opening up a wider range of opportunities, including at the subdegree level in both vocational and higher education.”

The paper argues that the shift to a “demand-driven” funding system, which removed caps on the number of domestic undergraduates universities could enroll, has been successful in substantially increasing higher education participation. However, the paper argues that the demand-driven system “is rapidly becoming financially unsustainable” and has fallen short in delivering on equity goals, with most of the growth in participation involving students from middle and high socioeconomic backgrounds. The proportion of undergraduate domestic students coming from low socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds increased by just 1.5 percent between 2009 and 2014.

The paper calls for targeted support for low-income and indigenous students to attend university and for increased government investments in research, among other recommendations.

Some vice chancellors from outside the elite eight research universities slammed the proposals as self-interested in reports in The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald. Greg Craven, vice chancellor of Australian Catholic University, is quoted in The Australian describing the Group of Eight’s position as “crapulous”: “Their position is that they want more money in the system but that money should go to them,” he said.

The Regional Universities Network also issued a statement strongly supporting keeping the demand-driven funding system in place. “Many more low-SES and regional students have attended university because caps on places have been removed,” the group's chair, Jan Thomas, said. “Proportionally, there has been a 1.5 percent increase in the participation by low-SES students overall, which is progress. More than four to five years is needed to solve the problem.”

Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 3:00am

The University of Oxford's technology transfer office is changing its name, partly for branding reasons, but also because "Isis Innovation" brings up unfortunate associations with the Islamic State, the terror organization controlling much of Iraq and Syria. The office will henceforth be known simply as Oxford University Innovation. Last year, the University of Florida said it would rename its student record system, the Integrated Student Information System (ISIS), for the same reason.

Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 3:00am

The University of California, Merced, is moving forward on a $1.14 billion campus expansion plan designed to use a public-private partnership to allow the newest campus in the University of California System to grow by 3,300 students.

UC Merced on Wednesday named international investor and infrastructure developer the Plenary Group as the lead developer on a project to increase the size of its campus by 2020. The plan calls for new facilities to be built within a 219-acre site currently supporting the existing campus. Under the public-private partnership, private companies will design and build new facilities, then operate them over a 39-year contract. Funding will include private financing from the developer, money from UC Merced and up to $600 million in revenue bonds issued by the University of California Board of Regents.

The UC Board of Regents approved the project's budget, commercial terms and other major elements in November. It will be reviewing conceptual designs and external financing this summer. Government and other public organizations are increasingly turning to public-private partnerships as ways to finance construction and infrastructure. UC officials hailed Wednesday's announcement as a possible model for the future.

“UC Merced, the youngest campus in our system, is poised to become a model for our other campuses as we look for the most efficient ways to construct, operate and maintain facilities that enable us to pursue our teaching, research and public service missions,” UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement.

Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Corinna Loeckenhoff, associate professor of human development at Cornell University, delves into whether our age determines where our mind may be. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - 4:18am

Following a lengthy court fight, officials have released a video showing a shooting and a heroic student stopping the shooter at Seattle Pacific University in 2014, The Seattle Times reported. The video shows a man opening fire on students, one of whom died. Families of those shot argued against the release of the video, as did the university. But press outlets successfully argued that the video was public information. The Times article linked to in this item includes only the portion of the video in which a student heroically stops the shooter from killing more people, and does not show the shootings themselves.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - 4:07am

Grace University, a small Christian institution in Nebraska, is responding to a deficit by cutting all salaries by 10 percent, The Omaha World-Herald. The university is also raising tuition by 7 percent, cutting some student scholarships and eliminating its baseball and softball teams.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - 3:00am

Earl H. Potter III, president of St. Cloud State University, died Monday night as a result of injuries in a car crash. He was driving to Minneapolis-St. Paul for a meeting with the university's foundation board chair. A biography on the university's website notes many accomplishments since he became president there in 2007.

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