Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 16, 2014

A branch of Giant, a grocery store chain in the Washington, D.C., region, produced a circular to promote shopping by Howard University students returning to campus from break. The ad ended up offending many Howard students, Washington Business Journal reported, because it features a white woman and Howard is a historically black college. A spokesman for Giant said that "unfortunately an incorrect stock photo was used in the ad and we apologize for this oversight."

January 16, 2014

The U.S. Education Department plans to provide guidance counselors and state agencies with more information about students who are filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, Obama administration officials said Wednesday at the department's so-called "Datapalooza" event.

The goal is to boost the rate at which students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, complete the FAFSA.

The department will “responsibly” share data with high school guidance counselors on which of their students have begun the FAFSA so they can work with those students on actually completing the forms, according to a department fact sheet. Department officials will also share that information with state student aid agencies “early” this year, the White House announced separately on Thursday.  

The department is also eyeing the development of a FAFSA Application Program Interface, a set of web protocols that would allow developers to build third-party services and applications that work with the complicated form, which is currently available only through the government’s website, FAFSA.gov.

Officials will soon issue a formal request for information and feedback on how the department might develop feeds (known as application programming interfaces, or APIs) of “key education data, programs and frequently used forms,” including the FAFSA, the department said.

James H. Shelton, the department’s assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, told attendees that a FAFSA API would be useful in expanding the way students, families and others use the form. For instance, he said, the department has talked with KIPP charter schools about how they might be able to submit all of their students’ FAFSA forms at once.

The announcement came at a symposium Wednesday where Obama administration officials highlighted companies, nonprofit and academic groups that have used government data to build products and services aimed at helping students prepare for, apply to, and select a college. The Datapalooza event on Wednesday attracted more than 500 entrepreneurs, software developers and education technology experts.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told attendees that his goal was to reduce the amount of time it takes to obtain degree and promote competency-based education. The administration is currently soliciting ideas on how it should waive federal student aid rules to certain colleges who want to experiment with innovations that will reduce the cost of higher education. 

January 16, 2014

The compromise appropriations bill that has passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting Senate approval does not contain the measure in last year's bill that barred most National Science Foundation support for political science. The ban -- pushed by Republicans who would like to limit NSF support for the social sciences generally -- stunned political scientists. They are hopeful that the current appropriations plan will stay intact.

 

January 15, 2014

A “Do Not Drink” ban was put in place Thursday after a chemical spill contaminated a West Virginia river, leaving 300,000 people -- and several campuses -- without safe tap water. The University of Charleston's spring semester was scheduled to start on Jan. 13, but university officials were asked to instead open campus on Jan. 16. Students who live on campus were sent to a residence hall on a new campus in Beckley, W.V., an hour south of Charleston. On Friday, a quick count showed that at least 60 students had been displaced, but that number rapidly increased to more than 150 over the weekend. Those students can return this evening.

Another school that has had to delay its spring semester is Marshall University’s South Charleston campus. It had to close although the main Marshall campus was not affected.

West Virginia State University also closed and classes will begin Jan. 21.

January 15, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Elizabeth Pringle of the University of Michigan reveals how some tropical trees pay armies of ants to defend them against herbivorous pests. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

January 15, 2014

The federal government should create a matching grant program to reward states that maintain and increase their funding for public colleges, by linking the maximum Pell Grant awarded to students in states to per-student funding or higher education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities argues in a new report. The paper documents the decline in states' funding per full-time equivalent college student since 2000 and the role that trend has played in driving up tuition prices (and student debt). 

The report asserts that the federal government can influence state behavior, citing the maintenance of effort provisions that were inserted into the federal stimulus legislation (and other measures) that provided funds to states that kept their own spending on higher education above certain thresholds. Those efforts have not gone far enough, though, AASCU argues, by rewarding states that at least maintained their spending no matter whether their levels were high or low. "A new model is needed that acknowledges existing levels of per-student state support for public higher education and that strategically leverages federal dollars to incentivize additional state investment."

The association calls for a matching grant program of up to $15 billion a year, with grants to states based on how much money they provide per student compared to the Pell Grant maximum award. (A state's federal grant award would be cut if it reduced its spending on public university operating support.)

The proposed additional spending of billions a year may seem like an unlikely luxury in an era when members of Congress are bickering over millions, but AASCU suggests that funds for the program could be derived from "better gatekeeping of institutional eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs (particularly for for-profit colleges), and "risk sharing" for federal student loans.

January 15, 2014

Last week, campuses throughout the Midwest shut down due to dangerously cold weather, but the University of Michigan remained open -- to the frustration of many of its employees and students. Now the university says it is reviewing its procedures for closing during bad weather, MLive.com reported. Provost Martha Pollack told a faculty committee that one reason the university didn't close last week was the lack of procedures to do so. "We didn't have the appropriate mechanisms, even if we wanted to close the university," she said. "That said, after this was all over, I and some of the other executive officers really strongly believe that we ... need to revisit this policy." The university last closed for weather-related reasons in 1978.

 

January 15, 2014

Open SUNY -- through which the State University of New York plans to take existing online programs in the 64-campus system and to build on them, making them available for students throughout the system -- has its first degree programs. In her annual address on the state of the university, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher announced the first degree programs and the campuses that are producing them. The offerings include associate, bachelor's and master's degrees. Two SUNY institutions -- Empire State College and SUNY Oswego -- are each offering two programs. The others are being offered by Broome Community College, Finger Lakes Community College, SUNY Delhi and SUNY Stony Brook.

 

January 15, 2014

The Yale University Faculty of Arts and Sciences has voted to form a faculty senate. The faculty was one of the last of its kind in the Ivy League not to have a senate or similarly formal representative body. Tensions between the faculty and administrators highlighted that fact in 2012, as some professors questioned the university’s partnership with the National University of Singapore to create a new college.

The vote was initiated by the Faculty Input Committee, an ad-hoc group of professors that investigated shared governance on campus, starting last year. Steve Wilkinson, a professor of political science who chaired the committee, said via email: “Our committee looked at a number of peer institutions and we realized that we’re an outlier. Most other universities, as their faculties have grown significantly in size, have moved from the traditional town meeting model to an elected representative body which reflects the broader faculty’s interests and concerns.”

Wilkinson said his own opinion was that a faculty senate was a good idea, regardless of the Singapore debate. “Universities are grappling with lots of big issues where faculty input is needed -- budget issues, MOOCs, internationalization, to name just a few – and faculty also have a role to play in providing advice on a whole host of other more routine issues that affect the [Faculty of Arts and Sciences],” he said.

A Yale spokesman said the President Peter Salovey will appoint a faculty committee early this semester to design the structure, staffing and rules of the new senate. The committee will report back to the full Faculty of Arts and Sciences by December for a vote on the plan.

January 15, 2014

Ties between libraries and their institutions' university presses are growing, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Association of American University Presses. A report issued with the survey results praises this collaboration, but urges both parties to work to avoid duplication of services and to coordinate their activities.

 

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