Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 27, 2014

The California State Auditor on Thursday issued a scathing report on the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the regional accreditor that has come under fire for its handling of the City College of San Francisco crisis.

The auditor's office said the commission acted in an inconsistent manner with its decision to terminate City College's accreditation. The report found that City College was given less time to come into compliance than were other institutions. It also criticized the commission for a lack of transparency.

In its recommendations, the auditor said the California community college system's chancellor should consider the possibility of finding a new accrediting body for the state's 112 community colleges. A spokesperson for the system said a single accreditor is the best approach, and that having multiple accreditors operate in the state would "create a number of distracting challenges."

The commission fired back at the auditor's findings, saying in a written statement that the state agency lacks the authority and expertise to audit the commission. "While the analysts attempted to be thorough," the commission said, "the lack of expertise in accreditation regulations and practice created difficulties."

In January the U.S. Department of Education renewed the commission's recognition. That process, which occurs every five years, gives accreditors the authority to act as gatekeepers for federal financial aid.

June 27, 2014

The June 27 edition of our weekly audio newscast featured William Durden and Ann Kirschner -- college leaders with experience in for-profit higher education and at liberal arts institutions -- in a discussion about pressures on both sectors. They spoke with Inside Higher Ed's Doug Lederman and the moderator Casey Green about the apparent demise of Corinthian Colleges and the federal government's role in hastening it, and about a new study asserting that while private liberal arts colleges themselves may be declining, the liberal arts live on -- especially in honors colleges and other expanding programs at public institutions. Stream or download the program here.

Click here to sign up for an email reminder about each week's program.

June 27, 2014

Eleven Democratic Senators joined Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois in calling on the U.S. Department of Education to freeze new enrollments at Corinthian Colleges' 107 campuses. The for-profit chain is currently negotiating a plan to teach out or sell its Heald College, Everest and WyoTech brands. The group of senators also asked the department to prevent any for-profit that is facing state or federal investigations to participate in the phasing-out of Corinthian's campuses.

June 27, 2014

New York University announced the hiring of an investigative firm to look into labor conditions for the workers who constructed its recently completed Abu Dhabi campus in the wake of a New York Times article documenting widespread abuses, the newspaper reported. The founder of the firm, Nardello & Company, declined to comment on details of the planned investigation but said he expects it will conclude by the end of the year.  

The Abu Dhabi government entity that oversaw the campus construction, Tamkeen, selected Nardello & Company as the investigative firm. 

June 27, 2014

Winthrop University's board on Thursday fired Jamie Comstock Williamson as president. The board suspended her this month amid public criticism of the university's hiring of her husband for a part-time job. Williamson had been in office less than a year.

A statement from the board chair said in part: "Whenever legitimate concerns arise, it is important-- first to trustees and then to the public -- that questions be addressed factually and as fully with the public as the university's legal obligations will allow. That is especially important for a public university. Not everyone may agree with every decision made or action taken in the day-to-day operations of a university. Yet public trust, like board trust, requires that true and sincere openness guide all responses in regard to who made key decisions and how those decisions were reached. Candor and trust between the president and the board are crucial for this university, and any university, to thrive. And once candor and trust are irretrievably broken, decisions must be made to chart a different course."

Williamson's lawyer told The Rock Hill Herald that she said this was “a very sad day for Winthrop University and me personally, adding, "I believed that I could provide the leadership to accomplish the visions that so many people shared with me."


June 27, 2014

House Republicans on Thursday released a package of three bills that kick off their step-by-step approach to rewriting the Higher Education Act.

  • The first bill aims to boost financial counseling for students who take out federal loans or grants. It would also direct the Education Department to develop an online tool that would help students “understand their rights and obligations” of having a federal student loan.
  • The second bill would create a new “College Dashboard” website to tell families consumer information about colleges, including financial aid information and graduation rates. The data would include nontraditional students as well as Pell Grant recipients (groups of students for whom the federal government doesn’t track completion rates). The legislation would also eliminate the department’s current College Navigator website.
  • The third bill, the only one that attracted Democratic co-sponsors, aims to simplify the process by which students apply for federal student aid. It would allow the Education Department to calculate families’ needs based on their taxes filed two years prior. It would also require more data-sharing between the Internal Revenue Service and the Education Department.

The prior-prior year concept is also endorsed in legislation introduced last week by Senator Lamar Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate education committee. Alexander’s bill, though, calls for a far more drastic overhaul of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Representative John Kline, the Republican who chairs the House education committee, has said he expects the full House to vote on some of his piecemeal Higher Education Act rewrites before the November elections. 

June 27, 2014

The University of California system has ended a ban on investing in companies that were created based on research at the university. Janet Napolitano, the system's president, said, “The technology and companies incubated at UC have a direct and critical impact on the state’s economic growth, and our continued support is integral to our university’s public mission."


June 27, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Anne Warlaumont, a cognitive scientist at the University of California at Merced, discusses positive feedback loops, or the way successful interaction catalyzes future successful interaction in children. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 26, 2014

Wilberforce University, the oldest private historically black college in the country, is in danger of losing accreditation. The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, this week sent the university a "show cause" order asking Wilberforce to give specific reasons and evidence that it should not lose accreditation. The letter says that Wilberforce is out of compliance with key requirements, such as having an effectively functioning board and sufficient financial resources. The university has a deficit in its main operating fund of nearly $10 mllion, is in default on some bond debt, and problems with the physical plan have left the campus "unsafe and unhealthy," the letter says. University officials did not respond to local reporters seeking comment on the accreditor's action.


June 26, 2014

The Obama administration is delaying its plan to develop a controversial rule that would require online programs to obtain approval from each and every state in which they enroll students, a top Education Department official said Wednesday.

Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said that the administration would not develop a new “state authorization” regulation for distance education programs before its November 1 deadline.

“We, for all intents and purposes, are pausing on state authorization,” Mitchell said during remarks at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation conference. “It’s complicated, and we want to get it right.”

Mitchell said he wanted make sure the regulation was addressing a “specific problem” as opposed to a general one. The goal, he said, should be to promote consumer protection while also allowing for innovation and recognizing that “we do live in the 21st century and boundaries don’t matter that much.”

Distance education providers and state regulators have criticized the department’s approach in recent months. The department’s last draft proposal would have effectively required states to take a far more aggressive approach to regulating the online programs beamed into their state than many currently do.

Separately, the Education Department earlier this week again delayed the implementation of its existing state authorization rule for colleges that have a physical presence in different states. Officials said they needed to give states additional time to bring their college approval processes into compliance with the federal standards. 


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