Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 8, 2015

In today's Academic Minute, Lori Hunter, a sociologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, discusses the relationship between human migration and the natural environment. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 5, 2015

Barnard College, the women's college associated with Columbia University, will begin admitting transgender women in fall 2016. The Barnard College Board of Trustees approved the new policy at its June 3 meeting following "a full year of conversations" about the issue. "As expected, a wide range of passionate and deeply held beliefs were discussed and debated," Debora Spar, Barnard's president, and Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald, chair of the Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "But on two main points, the responses were compelling and clear. There was no question that Barnard must reaffirm its mission as a college for women. And there was little debate that trans women should be eligible for admission to Barnard."

June 5, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Two lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday designed to combat sexual assault on college campuses. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Representatives Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, and Patrick Meehan, a Republican from Pennsylvania, would provide $5 million per year in additional funding to the Department of Education's understaffed Office for Civil Rights; require the department to issue stiff penalties for colleges that don't comply with the nondiscrimination law Title IX; increase penalties for violating the Clery Act, which requires colleges to disclose information on campus crimes, from $35,000 to $100,000; and require colleges to conduct biennial climate surveys. The bill, called the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) Campus Sexual Violence Act, would also create an interagency task force to increase coordination between the agencies dealing with campus sexual assault, and require colleges to sign memorandums of understanding with local police.

“No student should have to fear sexual assault on campus and no parent should fear their child is in danger when they send them to college,” said Meehan, who is so far the only Republican member among the 27 sponsors of the bill. “As a prosecutor, I worked closely with the victims of sexual assault on campus and I saw firsthand the need to improve protections for survivors. This legislation takes sensible steps forward to strengthen protections for victims and it will help them access the resources they need in the wake of attack.”

June 5, 2015

The American Council on Education and Universities Canada have reiterated their longstanding opposition to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s AHELO (Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes) project, an effort to measure teaching quality globally that is often described as a higher education equivalent of the K-12 level Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). In a May letter to OECD’s secretary-general, the American and Canadian presidential associations objected to a “one-size-fits-all” approach to outcomes assessment worldwide.

“The AHELO approach fundamentally misconstrues the purpose of learning outcomes, which should be to allow institutions to determine and define what they expect students will achieve and to measure whether they have been successful in doing so. AHELO, which attempts to standardize outcomes and use them as a way to evaluate the performance of different institutions, is deeply flawed,” states the joint letter from ACE and Universities Canada.

The letter also objects to the process behind the AHELO project and to what the associations describe as an “unwillingness to openly hear the views of institutional leaders.”

OECD’s press office declined to comment on the letter on Thursday. In a blog entry recently published in Inside Higher Ed, the Toronto-based higher education consultant Alex Usher described some of the criticism of AHELO on the part of higher education associations in the West as “a defense of privilege: top universities know they will do well on the comparisons of prestige and research intensity, which are the bread and butter of the major rankings. They don’t know how they will do on comparisons of teaching and learning. And so they oppose it, and don’t even bother to suggest ways to improve comparisons.”

June 5, 2015

Several dozen congressional lawmakers on Thursday urged the Obama administration to use its existing authority to allow students to apply for federal financial aid based on their family’s income from two years earlier instead of the immediately previous year.

In a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, 51 Democrats and 2 Republicans said the Education Department should switch the aid application to what is known as “prior-prior year” tax information.

Requiring students to provide tax information for the prior year has created a “highly disjoined process timeline” that especially harms low-income and first-generation students, the lawmakers said. The problem is that many colleges require students to apply for federal aid before they are able to file their taxes for the previous year.

“We do not need to wait to provide students and families much-needed relief,” the letter says. “The Department can and should improve the process of filling out the FAFSA right now.”

The change to prior-prior year data is backed by a wide range of groups, including student and consumer advocates, college access organizations, and associations representing colleges and universities.

Education Department officials have indicated that they support the change but are concerned about its financial cost to the government.

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the Republican who chairs the Senate education committee, also backs prior-prior year data and has included it in his student aid simplification bill. But he did not sign on to Thursday’s letter calling on Duncan to make that change immediately.

“Senator Alexander supports the idea,” an aide said in an email. “But thinks it should be done in a fiscally responsible way within the context of a full reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is underway in the Senate education committee.”

June 5, 2015

The group of former Corinthian Colleges students refusing to repay their federal loans and pressing the Education Department to forgive their debt announced Friday that their membership had again grown.

The Debt Collective said that nearly 200 former Corinthian students were now participating in the debt strike against their federal loan debt. In addition, the group said that more than 1,200 graduates of other colleges have pledged to stop repaying their federal loans in solidarity if the Education Department doesn’t provide the widespread debt forgiveness the Corinthian students are seeking.

The announcement comes as the Obama administration is expected to be nearing a decision on how it plans to address an unprecedented influx of thousands of debt-relief claims by former Corinthian students. The department has said it will create a new debt-relief process for the students but hasn’t said how it will be structured.

Student activists also sent Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Friday proposed language of an order wiping out the existing loan debt of all former Corinthian students. They’ve said they want the department to provide across-the-board relief for students as opposed to individually judging each of the students’ claims.

June 5, 2015

Colorado State University will be the new academic sponsor for the Institute for Shipboard Education’s Semester at Sea study abroad program starting in June 2016. The institute’s current academic sponsorship agreement with the University of Virginia is due to expire then.

The Institute for Shipboard Education entered into an agreement with a German bank last year to forestall action by creditors as it sought to sell its cruise ship, the MV Explorer. The organization reported in late May that it has no further financial obligations related to the MV Explorer and that it has leased a new vessel for the upcoming fall voyage.

June 5, 2015

Georgetown University announced Thursday that it will sell endowment holdings in coal companies and seek not to make such investments in the future. A statement from President John J. DeGioia said, '“The work of understanding and responding to the demands of climate change is urgent and complex. It requires our most serious attention. As a university community, we can best respond to this evolving and ongoing challenge when we embrace the tensions embedded in this work -- and the variety of perspectives that are present -- as we seek an ever deeper understanding of how to respond best in ways that contribute to the common good." The resolution adopted by the university's board stated that only an "insubstantial portion" of the $1.5 billion endowment is invested in coal companies.

GU Fossil Free, a student group that has been pushing for university to sell holdings in oil, gas and coal companies, said that the university has not gone far enough. "It is evident that the university made its decisions for mostly financial and public relations reasons. If the board had made their decision for principally moral reasons, then they would have supported full divestment," said a statement the group posted on its Facebook page.

June 5, 2015

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provided impermissible academic benefits to its athletes and demonstrated a lack of institutional control when it allowed athletes to participate in years worth of phony "paper courses," according to a notice of allegations sent to UNC last week by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. UNC released the redacted notice on Thursday. The allegations are of the level 1 variety, the most serious breach of conduct in the NCAA.

The NCAA's findings mirror those of Kenneth Wainstein, a former official with the U.S. Department of Justice, whom UNC hired last year to investigate the allegations. In October, he released a detailed report about widespread and long-lasting academic fraud at the university. For 20 years, some employees at the university knowingly steered about 1,500 athletes toward no-show courses that never met and were not taught by any faculty members, and in which the only work required was a single research paper that received a high grade no matter the content, according to the report.

The university has 90 days to respond to the notice of allegations, and the NCAA's enforcement staff has 60 days to send its own response. A hearing before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions would not take place until at least this fall. The committee then may take up to eight weeks to issue its final report, which would include any sanctions for the university.

June 5, 2015

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Thursday announced a lawsuit against the College Network, an Indiana company. The suit charges that the company duped students in the state into thinking that the College Network had an affiliation with Excelsior College and then selling various services that were in theory designed to help with Excelsior programs. But the services were unrelated to Excelsior, and the College Network's products did nothing to prepare students for Excelsior exams, the suit says. A lawyer for the College Network told Syracuse.com, "Mr. Schneiderman's bloviating statements are the real false advertising in this case. The law is clear and we have done nothing unlawful."

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