Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 5, 2016

A new study finds that among community college students in California, 70 percent experience the threat of housing insecurity or homelessness, and 12 percent experience the threat of hunger. More than 70 percent of these students are enrolled in remedial mathematics, pointing to the relationship between poverty and educational challenges, the report says. The report was based on an analysis of more than 3,600 students at California community colleges. The study was done by the Community College Equity Assessment Lab at San Diego State University.

December 5, 2016

Some students are calling on the University of Nevada at Las Vegas to fire George Buch, a part-time math instructor, who said in Facebook post that he would report to immigration officials any students in his classes who lack the legal right to be in the country, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. He has since apologized and said he was only joking. The university did not respond to a request for comment.

December 5, 2016

North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx, a vocal critic of the Obama administration's higher education policies, will be the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Foxx, a former community college president, replaces Minnesota Republican John Kline, who is retiring at the end of the 114th Congress. She will take over leadership of the committee as Republicans in both chambers make plans to roll back Obama-era regulations on a number of sectors, including higher education.

In a postelection interview with Inside Higher Ed, Foxx said studying how those regulations could be repealed would be a top priority. And she said she would support scaling back the size of the Department of Education in the next Congress.

Foxx's committee will also play a key role in shaping education policy through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

She said she looks forward to building on the work of Kline and former House Speaker John Boehner.

“The committee will continue to work towards fostering the best opportunities for students to learn, workers to succeed and employers to grow,” Foxx said in a statement. “At all times, we will strive in our service to hold government institutions to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, with a constant eye towards eliminating waste and inefficiency. Our creative, ambitious pursuit of good policy will be guided by the Constitution with solutions centered on securing and protecting access to high-quality education and safe and productive workplaces for all Americans.”

December 5, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Craig Thorley, lecturer in psychology at the University of Liverpool, explains that slacking off isn’t the reason groups can fail to remember vital information. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

December 2, 2016

A Nigerian-born Nobel-prize winning author who has taught at Cornell, Harvard and Yale Universities has thrown away his green card in protest of Donald J. Trump’s election win, The Independent reported. Wole Soyinka was the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1986.

Soyinka had previously pledged he would throw out his U.S. permanent residency permit and “start packing” if Trump were to win the presidency. “I have already done it, I have disengaged [from the United States]. I have done what I said I would do,” Soyinka reportedly said at a conference in Johannesburg. 

December 2, 2016

The College Board on Thursday announced a new process for people with disabilities to request test accommodations. Under the new system, most students who have been approved for test accommodations in high school will receive accommodations as long as their high school can answer two questions in the affirmative: “Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student’s plan?” and “Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?”

Many advocates for students with disabilities have complained in the past that such students should not have to go through an entire process when they have already done so in high school (and in many cases before that). The changes announced are among those such advocates have sought.

The new policy applies to a number of College Board tests, including the SAT and Advanced Placement exams.

December 2, 2016

Arizona State University will, starting this summer, help run HASTAC -- the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory -- an interdisciplinary academic social network, alongside Duke University and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The university will officially become an institutional partner on July 1, and its Nexus Lab for Digital Humanities and Computational Informatics will co-manage the 15,000-member organization, according to an announcement from HASTAC.

December 2, 2016

The average amount of debt per student at private universities rated by Moody’s Investors Service is declining, the ratings agency said in a new report released Thursday.

Debt levels are declining at private universities because those institutions are increasingly discounting tuition and absorbing more educational costs. In essence, the burden of affordability has shifted to universities as students and families remain price sensitive, Moody’s found. Students at wealthy private universities have lower debt levels on average because the institutions they attend have greater financial resources they can commit to priorities like meeting students’ full need or supporting need-blind admissions policies.

“Moody’s-rated private universities have lower debt per student than the national average because they have greater financial resources to support financial aid,” said Eva Bogaty, a Moody’s vice president and senior analyst, in a statement. “Nonetheless, we expect continued financial pressure for universities with more limited resources that need to discount tuition to stay competitive.”

Debt levels were still slightly lower for public university students than for private university students, but the gap is narrowing, Moody’s found. Public university students graduating with debt and with four-year degrees from a Moody’s-rated university in May 2014 would have had an average student debt burden of $27,056. Those who borrowed and graduated with four-year degrees from rated private universities would have seen average debt burdens of $27,806.

Moody’s also projected that growth in public university students’ debt will slow as state operating support stabilizes and tuition increases are limited. But it noted operating support will vary by state and that large cuts in state support could change the trends surrounding student debt.

The Moody’s report comes as student loan debt is under intense public and political scrutiny. Still, the ratings agency found that loans are not deterring demand at universities it rates.

Moody’s noted that default and delinquency rates are lower than the national average at institutions it rates, however. Institutions with low graduation and degree completion rates -- like for-profit colleges and certain community colleges -- have higher default rates and higher credit risks.

Moody's called student loan burden a modest credit risk for colleges and universities it rates.

December 2, 2016

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which seeks to adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism so that the Education Department may consider it in investigating reports of religiously motivated campus crimes. The State Department defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The bill was proposed by Senators Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, to “ensure the Education Department has the necessary statutory tools at their disposal to investigate anti-Jewish incidents,” according to a news release. The senators say the act is not meant to infringe on any individual right protected under the First Amendment, but rather to address a recent uptick in hate crimes against Jewish students. The bill is supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Casey listed the following examples of anti-Semitism in his explanation of the bill:

  • Calling for, aiding or justifying the killing or harming of Jews
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust
  • Demonizing Israel by blaming it for all interreligious or political tensions
  • Judge Israel by a double standard that one would not apply to any other democratic nation

The bill has attracted criticism from groups including Palestine Legal and Jewish Voice for Peace, who say the proposed definition of anti-Semitism wrongly conflates any criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish sentiments. The definition was rejected by the University of California earlier this year after similar complaints from free speech advocates, faculty and students. Kenneth Stern, who helped write the European Monitoring Center’s “working definition on anti-Semitism” on which the State Department definition is based, at that time argued that it would do “more harm than good” on college campuses.

December 2, 2016

Austin College has announced that it is dropping its requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores. The college will now accept, instead of test scores, an expository paper written for a high school course, with teacher comments and a final grade on the paper.

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