California's Legislative Analyst's Office issued an extensive report Wednesday that praised some aspects of Governor Jerry Brown's plan to finance higher education in 2012-13 but said the proposal could "unduly" curtail student access and would limit the legislature's right to set budgets for different types of institutions. The analysis says that the governor's plan to impose grade point average requirements on the receipt of some state student aid and to cut need-based aid for students at private institutions would "unreasonably harm access" to postsecondary education. The analyst's office also proposes changes to the program that grants fee waivers to community college students, and notes that the plan would impose devastating cuts on the three systems of public higher education if voters do not approve a tax increase in November.
Higher Education Quick Takes
Northern Essex Community College has taken an unusual approach to sharing its new strategic plan with various constituents: it is using a theme song. Jeff Bickford, chief information officer at the institution, wrote and performed the song, now available on YouTube:
Facing banishment from the 2012-13 National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament because of its men's basketball players' academic underperformance, the University of Connecticut has proposed an alternative set of penalties in exchange for remaining eligible for the postseason, ESPN and the Associated Press reported. The AP said that the university's waiver request to the NCAA -- which the news service obtained through an open-records request -- said that if the team was allowed to participate in the 2012-13 tournament, UConn would limit the number of regular season games it played, limit Coach Jim Calhoun's role in recruiting, and forfeit the funds due to the Big East Conference because of UConn's participation in the 2012-13 tournament. "Collectively, the university's proposal will clearly send the message that the institution fully accepts the responsibility for past failings," the AP quoted the university as saying in its waiver request. "It will result in the economic equivalent of a postseason ban without harming the very students the NCAA is trying to protect." (Note: This item has been updated from an earlier version to correct the reason for UConn's postseason ban.)
UConn faces the penalties under the NCAA's system for imposing penalties on teams that fail to reach minimum scores on the Academic Progress Rate, the association's measure of athletes' classroom performance. The university's president, Susan Herbst, said in a statement to the AP that the university had made significant progress in improving on its historical performance and that its officials will be "deeply disappointed if our request for a waiver ... is denied."
A committee in the Utah House of Representatives on Wednesday killed a bill that would have barred public colleges and universities from offering tenure to new faculty members, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Utah higher education officials said that the bill, if passed, would have been the first such law in the United States, and would have hurt the reputation of the state's colleges. But Representative Christopher Herrod, who proposed the measure, said: "There’s been no academic research that tenure benefits the system. I believe competition brings out the best. I believe in the capitalist system." He added that, if the state's higher education leaders really believe in tenure, they wouldn't be relying on adjuncts. "If we think tenure is so valuable, why don’t we have 100 percent on tenure? Are we not creating two classes of individuals?" he said.
A contentious lawsuit by a law professor against the dean of the Widener University law school has been settled, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The suit by Lawrence Connell charged that Dean Linda L. Ammons defamed him by making false statements that he was racist and sexist. Connell argued that those statements were made because of his conservative political views. No terms of the settlement were announced, except that Connell no longer works at Widener.
The never-ending saga of the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo has been extended again, with the university tentatively embracing the controversial moniker while a statewide referendum plays itself out, the Associated Press reported. After several years of machinations and stops and starts, the university stopped calling its teams the Fighting Sioux in late 2010 under pressure from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, whose 2005 campaign to end the use of Native American nicknames and mascots considered to be "hostile and abusive" targeted about 20 colleges. At risk was the university's ability to play host to NCAA championships, among other things. But state legislators approved a law last March requiring the university reinstate the Fighting Sioux name, which was promptly repealed in a special legislative session last November, citing the continued threat of NCAA retribution.
Now a group of Fighting Sioux advocates are petitioning to force a statewide vote on the matter, and the university's president said he had reinstated the name and logo to honor the state's referendum process, which mandates that a law must be in effect if it is to be legally challenged. The AP said that state officials would meet soon to decide whether to once again seek legal action to block reinstatement of the law, since the NCAA remains poised to punish North Dakota if the Fighting Sioux nickname is retained.
A majority of more than 800 bankruptcy lawyers in a survey say they have seen an increase in clients with student loans over the past few years and that most of those debtors are unlikely to be able to discharge their loans due to "undue hardship." The survey, published by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, found that 62 percent of the lawyers have seen bankruptcy cases involving student loans increase at least 25 percent since 2008. A paper published with the survey warns of a "Student Loan ‘Debt Bomb,' " and calls for restoring the ability to discharge student loans in bankruptcy.
Blackboard today unveiled a “more modern” look for its industry-leading learning management system, Blackboard Learn, which has been criticized in some quarters for being hard to use and unappealing to look at. The new interface is meant to “surface” some of the system’s features — especially its real-time assessment tools — in the hope that instructors will use them more frequently. The new design also puts an emphasis on customization: a “course entry wizard” guides instructors through the process of setting up courses “based on different pedagogical models and content models,” according to Brad Koch, director of product development. Afterward, instructors can manually rearrange items on their course pages and select from a buffet of design themes (“pizzazz,” “coral,” “mosaic,” etc.). Notably, the new interface will be capable of assuming the form of the LMS interfaces for WebCT and Angel Learning, which Blackboard bought years ago — a possible attempt to keep those clients as the company begins to stop supporting the legacy versions of the WebCT and Angel LMS products.
In recent months, competitors have attempted to cast Blackboard as aesthetically retrograde and more concerned with the needs of high-level administrators than those of individual instructors. During a demo of the new interface last week, Ray Henderson, the president of Blackboard Learn, said the company was aware of the knocks against its interface. And while he insisted that back-end integrations with campus information systems were still Blackboard’s trump card against more lightweight entrants to the LMS marketplace, “We think design and user experience [will only get] more important,” Henderson said.
Moody's Investors Service said this week that a class action filed against 12 law schools last week could endanger those schools' financial positions, since they rely overwhelmingly on tuition revenue, and a lawsuit alleging that a school inflated graduation and employment statistics is not a strong selling point for attracting students. "The lawsuits are credit negative for the law schools given the potential for reputational damage leading to application and enrollment declines that would pressure tuition revenue," Moody's analyst Emily Schwarz wrote in the ratings agency's weekly credit outlook.
If it happened in football, it would be a big-time violation of NCAA rules. But Webster University announced this week that it had recruited Susan Polgar -- winner of four world championships -- her Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, and her national championship team away from Texas Tech University, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The move helps make St. Louis a major force in the sport. Nearby, Lindenwood University has announced that it will start to offer chess scholarships in an attempt to build up the chess team there.