Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 26, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute: Stephen Kane, associate professor in the department of physics & astronomy at San Francisco State University, scours the universe for Earth-like rocks. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 23, 2016

National Association for College Admission Counseling President Phillip Trout issued an apology Friday after saying “all lives matter” at the organization’s opening general session the day before.

“As the NACAC president, I wish to offer my sincere apology for the words I used yesterday afternoon at our opening general session,” Trout said in a message distributed Friday afternoon. “I am sorry to know that I have offended and hurt so many people.

“What I did is not right,” Trout continued. “I have asked for the support of my colleagues on the NACAC board to allow us to spend additional time addressing issues of race and human relations.

“With your help and advice, we will work hard toward making our association a center of inclusion and personal dignity for all counseling and admission professionals,” Trout concluded.

Trout had asked for a moment of silence Thursday to show support and consideration of those suffering discrimination and hurt. The request came as NACAC opened its national conference in Columbus, Ohio, as a national debate on race, discrimination and police tactics plays out across the country and on college campuses.

The phrase “all lives matter" has drawn objection in the past from those who see it as an affront to or minimization of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Trout, a college counselor at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota, is set to complete his time as NACAC president Saturday with the annual conference’s end. Nancy Beane, a college counselor at the Westminster Schools in Georgia, will be taking over the role.

September 23, 2016

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday backed a federal panel's recommendation to terminate recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a national accreditor that oversees many for-profit colleges. If enacted, the decision would mean that ACICS would no longer be a gatekeeper to federal aid for 245 member colleges, which collectively enroll 600,000 students. Last year the council oversaw the disbursement of $4.76 billion in federal financial aid.

The federal panel in June voted to terminate the accreditor, bolstered by a department report that found ACICS was too lax and inconsistent in its oversight. The collapsed Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute chains were ACICS members, among other controversial and failed for-profits.

The accreditor said it plans to appeal the decision. After the outcome of an appeal -- and a possible legal challenge -- is determined, ACICS's member colleges would have 18 months to find a new accreditor. Those that fail to do so would lose access to federal financial aid.

September 23, 2016

U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin and Brian Schatz on Thursday introduced legislation that would increase accountability for accreditors and require new standards for student outcomes they use to evaluate colleges and universities. Warren and Durbin have frequently called for greater accountability in higher education, particularly in the for-profit college sector. But the bill suggests a new focus by consumer advocates on the role of accrediting agencies in providing oversight of colleges.

Earlier this week, the umbrella organization of seven regional accrediting bodies announced that its members would conduct a joint review of institutions with extremely low graduation rates -- a move that followed heavy scrutiny of accreditors’ performance in both the media and policy circles.

The Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act would direct the Education Department to establish clear student outcome data, require accreditors to respond quickly to both state and federal investigations, add more transparency to accreditation decisions, address conflict-of-interest issues involving accreditors and the colleges they oversee, and give the department more power to punish or terminate failing accreditors, among other measures.

“Accrediting agencies are supposed to make sure students get a good education and ensure colleges aren’t cheating students while sucking down taxpayer money. But right now the accreditation system is broken,” Warren said. “This bill gives the Education Department more tools to hold accreditors accountable, increases accreditors’ focus on student outcomes and affordability, and requires accreditors to respond when there is evidence of colleges committing fraud.”

The Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions this week highlighted issues involving discrepancies in federal data on student outcomes, specifically involving graduation rates. The group of regional accreditors cited a need for better data from the Department of Education and said its members would consider additional information in their review of institutions with low graduation rates.

September 23, 2016

LinkedIn on Thursday unveiled its own learning platform, which its paying members can use to learn new skills and make themselves more attractive to potential employers. LinkedIn Learning features about 9,000 existing courses from Lynda.com, which the professional networking site acquired last year, and plans to add about 25 new courses a week. The company also plans to launch an enterprise version of the platforms, which employers will be able to use to recommend courses to their employees.

September 23, 2016

Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky exceeded his authority in unilaterally cutting the budgets of the state's community colleges and universities last spring, the state's Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The court's 5 to 2 decision overturned a lower court's ruling in a lawsuit brought by the state's attorney general, Andy Beshear, with whom the governor has been clashing frequently, including over the makeup of university boards.

Bevin sought last spring to reduce the size of appropriations awarded to public institutions in the state by the General Assembly. The roughly $18 million he cut has been held in a separate account pending the Supreme Court's vote, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.

September 23, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Martin Krieger, professor of planning at the University of Southern California, explains that as we look deeper into what we thought we knew, new details emerge. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 22, 2016

A number of academics were among those announced today as winners of the MacArthur Fellows Program, widely called the "genius" grants, although that's not the term favored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The winners (who don't apply but learn that they have won) are selected based on "exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work." They each receive $625,000, paid out over five years.

The winners in academe:

  • Daryl Baldwin, a linguist and cultural preservationist who is director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University of Ohio
  • Anne Basting, professor of theater at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
  • Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a playwright and master artist in residence at Hunter College of the City University of New York
  • Kellie Jones, associate professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University
  • Subhash Khot, professor of computer science at New York University
  • Josh Kun, professor of communication at the University of Southern California
  • Maggie Nelson, a writer and faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts
  • Dianne Newman, professor of biology and geobiology at California Institute of Technology
  • Victoria Orphan, professor of environmental science and geobiology at California Institute of Technology
  • Manu Prakash, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University
  • Claudia Rankine, professor of poetry at Yale University
  • Lauren Redniss, assistant professor of illustration at Parsons, the New School for Design
  • Mary Reid Kelley, a video artist and a senior critic at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and a critic in painting at the Yale University School of Art
  • Rebecca Richards-Kortum, professor of bioengineering at Rice University
  • Julia Wolfe, a composer and associate professor of music composition at New York University
  • Gene Luen Yang, a graphic novelist who teaches writing at Hamline University
  • Jin-Quan Yu, professor of chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute.
September 22, 2016

Two U.S. senators on Wednesday proposed legislation that would give selective colleges that enroll relatively few low-income students (the bottom 5 percent of all institutions) four years to boost their enrollment numbers from this group or face paying a fee to continue being eligible for federal financial aid.

The bill also would use money from the fees to grant up to $8 million to colleges with mostly open admissions and low graduation rates (also bottom 5 percent) to improve their student outcomes. Colleges would need to opt in to be eligible for the completion money. If they failed to improve graduation rates, participating colleges could face a penalty and temporary loss of access to federal financial aid.

Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, and Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, proposed the legislation. They said the bill also would include competitive funding grants aimed at college completion, with priority going to minority-serving and historically black colleges. The proposal includes up to $200 million aimed at improving graduation rates, as well as nonfinancial rewards, such as bonus points in federal competitive grants or a reduced regulatory burden.

A news release about the proposal included supportive comments from a broad group of higher education leaders, including presidents of the University of California System and Georgia State University.

“Accessing quality, affordable higher education should be part of the American dream for those who choose to pursue it,” Isakson, a member of the Senate education committee, said in a written statement. “We’re working to even the playing field to make sure that’s a reality for students of all economic backgrounds at every college and university in the country. We’re modeling this new initiative after schools such as Georgia State University, which has opened its doors to more students while offering innovative ways to make tuition more affordable and creating a path to success for its students.”

September 22, 2016

The California State University System's governing board this week voted to increase its graduation rates by 2025, an effort that will cost an estimated $400 million or more. The system said it would seek to hit a 70 percent rate (meaning the six-year rate for freshmen), which would be a 13 percentage point increase from the current rate of 57 percent. The graduation-rate push also will include efforts to close achievement gaps for underrepresented and low-income students.

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