Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 5, 2014

Radford University announced Tuesday that it is adding women's lacrosse, but cutting three other teams, The Roanoke Times reported. The teams being cut are women's field hockey, women's swimming and diving, and men's track and field. The university said that the changes were part of a "realignment" to improve athletic offerings, but those associated with teams being cut said they were dismayed.

February 5, 2014

A group of 50 organizations has written to officials at the White House and U.S. Department of Education to "urge the administration to issue promptly a stronger, more effective" set of gainful employment regulations. The group includes higher-education associations, faculty unions, consumer advocates and veterans organizations.

In December a panel of department-appointed negotiators failed to reach consensus on the proposed rules, which would affect vocational programs at for-profit institutions and community colleges. The department is expected to issue its final draft standards in coming months. A period of public comment will follow their release.

February 4, 2014

Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee burnished his credentials as a higher education governor Monday night by promising in his State of the State speech to make two years of a community or technical college education free to graduating high school seniors in the state.

Haslam, whose state has aggressively overhauled its postsecondary system under both him and his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, proposed using lottery reserve funds to create an endowment to cover the tuition and fees of high school graduates who attend a community college or one of the state's colleges of applied technology. He called it the "Tennessee Promise."

"It is a promise that we have an ability to make," he said in a prepared text of his remarks. "Net cost to the state, zero. Net impact on our future, priceless."

The governor's 2014-15 budget proposal also calls for expanding the Degree Compass program developed at Austin Peay State University to help students navigate academic paths and creating a data system to help colleges identify adults who are likely to return to college and earn a degree.

February 4, 2014

Continuing its focus on problems with the servicing of private student loans, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday released an analysis of its voluntary request for information from the private student loan industry. The bureau was especially interested in information about how loan servicers process the payments of borrowers seeking to pay down their debt ahead of schedule. The CFPB has said it’s concerned that some loan servicers apply prepayments in a way that maximizes their profits but makes the cost of the loan more expensive for borrowers.

In its report, the CFPB found that servicers varied in how they apply prepayments to student loans. Some were able to accept a borrower’s instructions through their online payment platform, while others were did not accept such instructions for certain types of loans. The bureau did not release the names of which entities responded to its request for information.

Rohit Chopra, the bureau's assistant director and student loan ombudsman, vaguely alluded to potential compliance issues in Monday’s report. He noted that it is illegal for companies to charge student loan borrowers a penalty for making early payments on their debt and said that one way for some servicers to ensure compliance with that requirement would be to automatically direct prepayments to a borrower’s loan with the highest interest rate first. In analyzing the servicers' prepayment policies--all of which were submitted voluntarily -- the CFPB did not check to see whether the policies were complying with the law. However, prepayment issues on private student loans could become a focus of the agency's efforts when it officially begins its supervision of large student loan servicers in March. 

February 4, 2014

Long Beach City College is taking advantage of a new California law authorizing it to offer tiered tuition -- charging more in the winter and summer for some high demand courses. An article in The Los Angles Times finds that there are clearly students willing to pay more, in many cases because the regular, less expensive versions are full, semester after semester. At the same time, the article finds continued concerns about the idea of providing some access based on ability to pay more. "It creates two types of students: those who can pay and those who cannot. And it's unfair to the students who have to feed families and are unemployed," said Andrea Donado, student representative on the Long Beach Community College District board.

February 4, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Adam Gordon of the State University of New York at Albany discusses a common behavioral pattern found in living things from honey bees to humans. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 4, 2014

Full-time, non-tenure-track professors at Rutgers University are celebrating after winning key bargaining goals in their new contract. Career titles outlining paths for promotion have been established for teaching, professional practice and librarian faculty members, similar to those already in place for clinical and research non-tenure-track faculty members. Explicitly non-renewable contracts have been abolished, as has the title of “assistant instructor.” For non-grant-funded faculty members, appointments will be for one to five years, and advance notice of non-reappointment is now required.

Current assistant instructors also will be absorbed into the rank of instructor as of July and those assistant instructors making the minimum salary for their rank, about $34,000, will be paid the minimum salary for instructors – about $39,000. (No other raises for non-tenure-track faculty are included in the agreement). The union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers, covers all tenure-line and about 1,000 full-time adjunct faculty at all three Rutgers campuses.

Ann Gordon, a recently retired, longtime, non-tenure-track research professor of history at Rutgers’s main campus at New Brunswick, said that the university previously had no strategy for managing the career paths of non-tenure-track faculty, but that the new agreement – reached after many months of negotiations -- puts it ahead of many peer universities on that issue. In a statement, a Rutgers spokesman said the contract recognizes the “important role” of non-tenure-track faculty there. Some 1,300 part-time adjuncts at Rutgers are unionized with the AAUP and AFT, but in a separate unit. The contract does not affect them.

 

February 4, 2014

A study published today in the journal mBio finds that an alternative version of an introductory laboratory course for undergraduates can significantly increase the odds that students will complete the course and take a second year of science. The alternative system -- in which students do actual science rather than replicating various experiments -- was designed with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

February 4, 2014

Ray Cool, an assistant professor of health, physical education and recreation at Western Michigan University, will be reimbursed after his paycheck was stolen by hackers, he said Monday. The news came a day after MLive reported that the university had not reimbursed Cool for the paycheck, which was stolen in mid-December. A hacker using a computer in New Mexico accessed Cool's university account and changed the routing number for his direct deposit from a local credit union account to one in Utah. By the time university public safety detectives traced the hack, all that was left in the Utah account was $11 -- some $1,500 short of his paycheck (the amount does not reflect his actual salary; Cool has several automatic deductions, such as to a retirement account, that were apparently unaffected by the theft).

In response, the university offered Cool an advance on his next paycheck but did not reimburse him for the missing check. Cool said he was frustrated by the university's stance, as it was their system that had been breached. But on Monday, the university informed him via email that he would be "made whole" financially, he said. Going forward, Cool said, "They need to make sure the system protects faculty and staff."

Cheryl Roland, a university spokeswoman, said in an email that she did not know how the hack occurred, but suspected it was the result of an organized phishing attempt. The university's backup verification system picked up on the problem and sent emails to both Cool and a second victim, a university staff member who also has been reimbursed, telling them their bank routing numbers had been changed, she said. But neither Cool nor the second employee opened the message until after the funds had been diverted, a week later. The university has indefinitely suspended online changes to direct deposit information, Roland added.

February 4, 2014

George Washington University has opted not to move ahead with building a campus in China. Under the leadership of the university’s former business school dean and vice president for China operations, Doug Guthrie, the university had explored the possibility of seeking approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education to develop a campus in partnership with the University of International Business and Economics, in Beijing. (Only five Western universities, including Duke, Kean and New York Universities, in the U.S., have such approval.). Guthrie was fired from his administrative posts in August for budget overages.

“The university did not have a formal plan to build a campus in China,” the university’s provost, Steven Lerman, said in a statement. “We had been looking at a variety of options, and with the help of a faculty advisory group, we decided instead to enhance existing partnerships such as our new Confucius Institute and study abroad programs."

In an interview, Guthrie said he believed the administration’s decision to be a result of pushback from the Faculty Senate. “It’s fully within the right of the administration and the faculty to decide what direction they want to go, but my hope is that universities will go as deep into relationships with China as they can,” said Guthrie, who’s now a professor of international business and management at George Washington. “That was always my vision.”

The decision not to build a China campus was first reported by the student newspaper, The GW Hatchet

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