Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, July 12, 2013 - 3:00am

Blackboard, the classroom software company, may be heading in the right direction, judging from a question and answer session with top executives the company hosted for customers on Thursday.

The unusual ritual at Bb World of subjecting executives to public and not always positive feedback from clients has served as a big griping session for perturbed customers in previous years. The company has lost market share over the last several years, according to annual surveys by the Campus Computing Project, though Blackboard remains the largest provider of learning management systems to American colleges.

This week, clients who stood up to talk to the executives generally tossed aside those overarching gripes as things of the past. Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt joined the company seven months ago following the departure of Michael Chasen, a co-founder.

Jean Mankoff, the director of learning technology support at Texas Woman's University who has attended 14 of the company's conferences, praised Ray Henderson, who joined the company four years ago. She said the company had lost its collegial feeling for several years until recently.

The company is not without issues, however. Mankoff said the company had too many different product lines and sometimes she feels like she is working with different companies when she tries to purchase each product. That's something Bhatt said he is working to fix. Another user complained a featured in one of the disparate product lines had been neglected.

Another customer complained the software has become so feature-laden that faculty have trouble using it, something Bhatt also said he is working to deal with. 


Friday, July 12, 2013 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- A group of former presidents and chancellors of historically black colleges and universities have sent a letter to President Obama requesting more resources to make their institutions "comparable and competitive" with predominantly white colleges. The letter praises Obama's overall accomplishments, but goes on to say that "addressing the plight of the HBCUs has to be among the highest priorities" for the administration. Among the requests: locating the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities within the White House rather than the Education Department, and raising its director to the level of a deputy secretary; using the "bully pulpit" of the presidency to encourage support, including grants, for HBCUs; and directing the Office for Civil Rights to consider lawsuits against states that are in violation of the desegregation agreement.

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 3:00am

The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations passed a 2014 spending bill Thursday that largely reflects one approved two days earlier by the subcommittee that allocates funds for education, with one notable difference: the subcommittee’s version of the bill would have allocated $400 million to the Race to the Top program, while the full committee slashed that amount by $150 million.

Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s initiative focused on college affordability, was allocated $250 million in the Senate’s spending bill -- significantly lower than the $1 billion the administration requested for the program last year.

Funding for other education and research programs stayed the same in the full committee’s version of the bill. The bill allocates $850 million for the TRIO programs, which help low-income, first-generation college students prepare for postsecondary education. The bill also maintained the $31 billion provided to the National Institutes of Health, which would allow the NIH to allocate $40 million for the new brain research initiative. Under the bill, the total maximum Pell Grant would rise by $140 to $5,785.

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 3:00am

A tentative deal reached late Wednesday night to tie interest rates on federal student loans to the market seemed ready to collapse late Thursday, after the Congressional Budget Office estimated the compromise's costs at $22 billion over 10 years, The New York Times reported. The proposal worked out in Wednesday's compromise would tie interest rates on subsidized undergraduate Stafford loans to the yield on 10-year Treasury bills plus 1.8 percentage points (rates for graduate and PLUS loans would be slightly higher), and the rates for all loans would be capped. But the carefully arranged deal, in which Congressional Democrats gave the most ground, could be threatened by the higher-than-expected cost estimate, which would make the loans unprofitable for the government. “It’s going to be difficult to find a middle ground,” one Democratic aide told the Times.

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Gerald Newsom of Ohio State University reexamines Admiral Byrd’s data to determine if he really reached the North Pole. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 3:00am

Community college students on average will receive more economic benefit from their higher education if they complete an associate degree before transferring to a four-year institution, according to new research from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College. The study considered data on credit accumulation, completion and labor market returns for students from North Carolina's Community College System. One reason for the eventual pay-off of a two-year degree, according to the study, is that relatively few students who transfer early ever complete a bachelor's degree and therefore end up leaving college with no credential.

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 4:20am

Graham Spanier, the former president of Pennsylvania State University, filed papers Thursday indicating that he will sue Louis Freeh, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for defamation, The Centre Daily Times reported. The charges concern the report Freeh and his consulting group did for Penn State about the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The report was highly critical of Spanier and other top Penn State administrators. Freeh declined to comment on the Spanier suit.


Friday, July 12, 2013 - 3:00am

The University of Wisconsin System has earned approval from its regional accreditor for several competency-based programs, the Wisconsin State Journal reports. The low-cost, self-paced degrees, which will feature prior-learning assessment, include a handful of bachelor tracks, a certificate and a general education associate degree from the University of Wisconsin Colleges, a two-year system. The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association signed off on the competency-based degrees, which the system calls the "UW Flexible Option." The system will now apply to the U.S. Department of Education to seek approval to participate in federal financial aid programs.

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 4:31am

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has signed legislation that could require Bryant University to reimburse the town of Smithfield for police and fire department service, The Providence Journal reported. The legislation requires that university and town officials try to negotiate an agreement. If they fail to reach a deal, the town can start charging the university on March 1. Bryant, like many private colleges, said it does not object to discussing ways to compensate the town, but that it is inappropriate for a state government to force a private, nonprofit college to pay its locality. The university, which urged Governor Chafee to veto the legislation, said it will negotiate with the town but may also consider litigation against the law.


Friday, July 12, 2013 - 3:00am

Lawyers for the families of two University of Alabama in Huntsville employees murdered in 2010 by Amy Bishop have charged that senior university officials knew of the risk that she could become violent, and protected themselves without warning others, AL.com reported. The families are suing various administrators and former administrators for failing to take action against Bishop, who was denied tenure before she killed departmental colleagues. University officials have said that Bishop, not administrators, is responsible for the tragedy.


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