Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, September 10, 2012 - 3:00am

A new ranking of colleges -- the Alumni Factor -- will debut today. As the name suggests, most of the criteria are based on alumni views of their own colleges. Only 2 of the 15 criteria do not come from alumni surveys. Four of the criteria are related to wealth: average household income, percentage of graduates in high-income households (above $150,000), average net worth of households, and percentage of graduates in high net worth households (above $1 million). Other criteria -- such as preparation for job success and immediate job opportunities -- focus on careers generally, not pay. The new ranking effort is led by Monica McGurk, formerly of McKinsey and Company. In an interview, McGurk said that her company has figured out a reliable way to get representative samples of alumni to survey and that these names are not provided by their alma maters. She said that typically about 200 alumni are needed per college, and that they are evenly distributed in age, but that people are not surveyed until they are at least two years out of college. She declined to say how the company identifies the alumni.

Asked if her system favors colleges that educate investment bankers over, say, teachers, given the wealth-based criteria, McGurk said that it did not. She noted that other criteria in her methodology, such as friendship development at college, and social and communication skill development, have nothing to do with salaries or wealth. And she said some colleges that have over the years educated many teachers (she named Spelman College as an example) did quite well in her rankings. While the criteria are ranked equally in the Alumni Factor methodology, the company will offer a tool for prospective students to set their own methodology in the rankings, so they can count factors they care about, and not others.

The Alumni Factor plans to make money by offering low-cost access to its rankings, with the idea that students and families will want to see them, and that some alumni may as well. The company also plans to sell its data to colleges that may be able to compare themselves to peers, having access to aggregate data. McGurk declined to say how much the company would be charging colleges.


Monday, September 10, 2012 - 3:00am

Stanford University researchers are using MRI images to study the brain patterns of literary Ph.D. candidates while they read Jane Austen. The early results suggest a very high level of brain activity prompted by close reading of the novelist.


Monday, September 10, 2012 - 4:19am

As more colleges -- public and private -- are coming to rely on community college transfers, four-year institutions are doing more to welcome them, The Los Angeles Times reported. Four-year institutions are creating special orientation programs for transfers, setting aside space in campus housing, creating clubs and offering scholarships.


Friday, September 7, 2012 - 4:11am

An internal police report has found that Santa Monica College could have avoided using pepper spray on protesters in April, The Los Angeles Times reported. The report found that, had the college moved a board meeting to a larger room and provided additional police resources, there would have been no need for pepper spray, which was used when protesters tried to enter a meeting room. The protest took place against a controversial two-tiered tuition plan since abanadoned by the college. Santa Monica officials declined to comment on the report.


Friday, September 7, 2012 - 3:00am

Representative Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican running for re-election, said in a recent town hall meeting that student loans -- while potentially doing good -- may be unconstitutional, The Washington Post reported. Bartlett said that he had searched the U.S. Constitution and found no justification for a federal role in education, including student loans. "Not that it’s not a good idea to give students loans, it certainly is a good idea to give them loans,” Bartlett said. “But if you can ignore the Constitution to do something good today, tomorrow you will be ignoring the Constitution to do something bad. You could. There are more people in our, in America today of German ancestry than any other [inaudible]. The Holocaust that occurred in Germany — how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope."

Asked about the statement on Thursday, a spokesman for Bartlett said that he "is also a strong supporter of making college accessible to all Americans, and unlike most politicians he has put his money where his mouth is by donating a substantial portion of his salary to help underprivileged students attend college.”

Friday, September 7, 2012 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Greger Larson of Durham University reveals how the DNA of modern dogs is changing our understanding of what the earliest domesticated dogs were like. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


Friday, September 7, 2012 - 3:00am

A study from the MetLife Mature Institute found that 29 percent of grandparents have given their grandchildren financial support for education, spending an average of $8,276 over five years. Of those grandparents who did fund their grandchildren’s education, 32 percent helped with tuition or loan payments, 29 percent donated to a college savings plan, and 7 percent helped pay for graduate school.

“It seems to be a change from earlier generations where we all graduated from college and pretty much felt we were on our own,” said Sandra Timmermann, a gerontologist and the director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Timmermann noted that whereas people used to be concerned about leaving money for their children and grandchildren in their wills, there is now more of a tendency for that money to be given earlier.

When MetLife conducted a similar survey in 2009, it found that 26 percent of all grandparents helped pay for their grandchildren’s education, but of those, the largest proportion, 46 percent, put their money in a college fund. The 2009 survey, however, was administered only to grandparents with grandchildren 25 or younger, while the 2012 iteration surveyed all grandparents.


Friday, September 7, 2012 - 3:00am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a speech accepting his nomination for re-election Thursday night, President Obama laid out an ambitious higher education goal for his second term: he said he’d “work with colleges and universities” to slow the rise in college tuition by half over the next decade -- but gave no details on how he would accomplish that. It was the first discussion at the Democratic National Convention of what education policy might look like in a second Obama term.

During the State of the Union speech in January, Obama proposed expanding campus-based financial aid programs -- such as the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and the Perkins Loan -- and using the extra money to reward colleges that keep tuition low or provide “good value” (and punish those that do not).

Early attempts by the Education Department to implement parts of that plan, such as a new competitive grant program for higher education, went nowhere in the Senate in next year’s budget negotiations. But Thursday night’s speech appeared to signal that the president, if re-elected, intends to keep pushing colleges to keep tuition prices low -- or at least slow their growth.

How Obama would do that, let alone whether he would succeed, is unclear. The past two decades have seen several federal attempts to pressure colleges to lower tuition, most recently in 2003, when Republicans in Congress proposed cutting off federal aid to colleges whose price increases outstripped inflation. Colleges greeted the proposal with howls of protest, and the measure never got beyond the education committee.


Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 3:00am

A new federal report details the scientific misconduct that authorities found Marc Hauser to have committed while a psychology professor at Harvard University, The Boston Globe reported. Hauser was found to have fabricated data, manipulated results in experiments, and incorrectly described how studies were done. A lengthy internal investigation led him to leave Harvard, but details have been minimal until now about what he did. Hauser disputed some of the findings of the federal inquiry, but has admitted to research misconduct in his laboratory, and said that he took responsibility for it.


Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 3:00am

A new study of members of the American Economic Association finds a gender split on many issues. The study, which will be published in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy, finds women in economics more willing than men to consider interventions in market policies. In terms of academic careers, male economists generally believe that opportunities are equal for men and women, but female economists are more likely to see an advantage for men.



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