Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 25, 2017

Students from American families with the highest incomes are almost five times likelier than students from the poorest families to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24, a new report shows.

The report, Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 2017 Historical Trend Report, is a joint product of the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the University of Pennsylvania's Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy. It melds Census and Education Department data to provide insights into economic inequalities in higher education.

The two groups also developed an Equality Indicators website.

April 25, 2017

University of Cincinnati College of Law Dean Jennifer Bard is suing the university and its interim provost after she was placed on administrative leave last month, alleging violations of due process and freedom of speech as well as breach of contract.

Bard’s complaint, filed late Friday in the Western Division of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, says that she was illegally placed on leave after she responded to media reports about faculty members who were attempting to have her removed. Bard told The Cincinnati Business Courier a “small but vocal cabal” of faculty members was trying to have her ousted after she moved to close a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

In response, University of Cincinnati Interim Provost Peter Landgren placed Bard on leave, the complaint alleges. It also alleges that Bard attempted to go through a mediation process with faculty members but was blocked by the interim provost.

The suit seeks Bard’s reinstatement as law school dean and a statement from the university and interim provost that she engaged in no misconduct. It also requests compensatory and punitive damages from Landgren for allegedly violating Bard’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, along with monetary damages from the university for breach of contract.

“I came to UC in good faith, deeply committed to addressing the College of Law’s failure to adapt to a rapidly changing legal market,” Bard said in a statement. ”Although I enjoyed the support of the students and many highly talented faculty and staff, the university now seems committed to seeing a small, entitled minority of faculty hijack reform efforts that should be dedicated solely to the welfare of its students. I have no recourse but to protect my good name and encourage an open discussion of the deeply rooted and ongoing problems that existed here well before my arrival.”

Bard is the first woman to be dean of the university’s College of Law. She was placed on leave less than two years after her hiring in July 2015.

A University of Cincinnati spokesman told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the university was reviewing the lawsuit and welcomed the chance to “present the truth” in court.

April 25, 2017

The Department of Education announced Monday that it would give added flexibility for colleges after the removal of a data retrieval tool created to simplify the financial aid process.

Effective immediately, institutions can accept a signed paper copy of the 2015 IRS tax return in place of an tax transcript, which can take up to two weeks to receive. And institutions will no longer be required to get documentation verifying that a student or their parents did not file a tax return in 2015. Both changes apply to the 2016-17 and 2017-18 aid cycles.

The IRS data retrieval tool allows students to automatically import income information already on file with the federal government into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It was abruptly taken down in March because of concerns over the security of the website.

“These flexibilities are an important step toward making the process easier. They help applicants who normally would have used the IRS DRT to more easily complete the application process,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. “We will continue to look for additional ways to ease the burdens created by the IRS DRT outage until the tool can be restored with added security measures in place later this year.”

Student aid groups called for the tool to be restored as quickly as possible and asked in the meantime that the department take steps to provide relief to students affected by its removal. The department's announcement Monday implements one of the specific steps requested by those student groups. But it didn't address others, including a request that the department reconsider its criteria for verification checks of student income information.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators found in a recent poll of members that more than a quarter of institutions has seen an increase in verification checks as a result of the data retrieval tool's removal. And 81 percent of respondents said the verification process had taken longer since the outage.

Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate education committee, said in a statement that 20 million families fill out the FAFSA each year and the absence of the tool since March was "a huge inconvenience."

"Secretary DeVos's steps today help to reduce that inconvenience, but it is important to get the system up and running as quickly as possible with adequate protections for taxpayers' data," he said.

April 25, 2017

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics finds that 63 percent of college graduates still held student loan debt within four years of earning their degree. And among borrowers who were employed and paying back loans, their average monthly payment was about 10 percent of their salary.

The report, The Debt Burden of Bachelor's Degree Recipients, examined the student loan repayments four years after graduation for bachelor's degree recipients from 2007-08. The data analyzed for the report came from the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study, a national longitudinal survey.

April 25, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Joanna Huxster, postdoctoral research fellow at Bucknell University, looks into whether the partisan divide on climate change is due to some portions of the media. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

April 24, 2017

Kristina M. Johnson will be named the next chancellor of the State University of New York System today, The New York Times reported. A leader in engineering education, Johnson has been dean of the engineering school at Duke University and provost of Johns Hopkins University. In 2009, President Obama nominated her and she was confirmed as U.S. under secretary of energy.

April 24, 2017

Washington & Jefferson College announced Friday that its next president will be John C. Knapp (right), president of Hope College. Statements from both Washington & Jefferson and Hope were standard for this kind of transition, praising Knapp. Some at Hope, however, are worried about the transition. Knapp has been president there since 2013. Last year, some board members attempted to oust him. The move failed when students, faculty members and alumni rallied behind Knapp, whom they saw as someone devoted to shared governance, the college's liberal arts mission and seeking ways to advance the mission of the Reformed Church in America, with which Hope is affiliated, while also being more welcoming to gay people and to people of other faiths.

Privately, faculty supporters of Knapp at Hope said they hope Knapp's agenda continues, but that they are worried it may not.

Asked about his job change and last year's tensions, Knapp said via email, "During my tenure as president, the college has been strengthened in nearly every area, thanks to the support and shared vision of Hope's dedicated faculty, staff, students and alumni. Despite the challenges we faced last year, Hope College is better positioned than ever to succeed in today’s highly competitive environment. I am tremendously honored to be president-elect of W&J, which has a stellar academic reputation and storied history."

April 24, 2017

A College of Charleston student was kicked out of the campus recreational center last week for wearing a crop top during her workout, The Post and Courier reported.

Sarah Villafañe wrote in a Facebook post last Wednesday that she was repeatedly asked to “put on a shirt” at the gym but given no further explanation. She was wearing a cropped tank top, which extends slightly farther down the midriff than a sports bra.

“I’ve worn this same outfit all day. Went to three classes and spoke personally with each of my professors today and they didn’t have a problem,” Villafañe wrote in a Facebook post that has been liked more than a thousand times and shared and commented on by hundreds of users.

“But when I walked into the gym, they asked me to put on a different shirt,” she wrote. “Obviously I didn’t bring an extra shirt to the gym and wasn’t about to wear my flannel while working out.”

By Villafañe’s description, three separate employees, including the “boss,” came up to her and asked her to find a different shirt or to leave the gym.

“What is the issue? Why can’t I work out in this outfit? Is my belly button distracting to the general 85 percent male demographic that your gym serves?” she wrote. “I’m forced to leave, why? Honestly I’m so floored that I just got kicked out for this. Do better, College of Charleston.”

The George Street Fitness Center requires patrons wear “athletic attire” but does not specifically note the rules surrounding bare midriffs. A university spokesperson said the gym asks its attendees to wear T-shirts to reduce skin contact with exercise equipment for “sanitary reasons.”

April 24, 2017

A Texas appeals court last week granted an injunction to a 2008 chemistry Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin who’s fighting to keep her doctorate after accusations of scientific misconduct. Suvi Orr’s dissertation paper was retracted for unreproducible data in 2012, but she’s since argued that she misread data and didn’t falsify anything. Austin has twice taken the rare step of trying to revoke Orr’s degree, and she’s sued the university each time, arguing that she wasn’t given an opportunity to defend herself and that she’s the “sacrificial lamb” for an ultimately culpable professor, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The injunction says Austin can’t proceed with actions that could result in the revocation of Orr’s Ph.D. -- specifically a disciplinary process that Orr has called a "kangaroo court" -- until a court of law rules on her full complaint.

A university spokesperson said via email that the institution “respects our students' privacy and, as a policy, will not publicly discuss an individual student's academic performance or issues related to it. We will continue to respond to this lawsuit through the appropriate legal channels.”

April 24, 2017

A freshman at Wheaton College in Illinois was killed Saturday afternoon during a track and field event for which he was volunteering, The Chicago Tribune reported.

Ethan Roser, a 19-year-old student from Cincinnati, transferred to the private Christian college outside Chicago just a few months ago, ahead of the spring 2017 semester.

Roser, who was a member of the men’s soccer team at Wheaton, was volunteering at the track meet when he was accidentally struck by a hammer during a hammer throw event around 4:15 p.m.

Campus safety officials and paramedics rushed to the scene and helped Roser get to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“We are deeply grieved, but, because of our faith in Christ, not without hope,” said Philip Ryken, the president of Wheaton College, in a statement. “We ask people to pray for Ethan’s family, his friends and our campus community.”

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