Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, July 27, 2012 - 3:00am

The Pew Research Center today released a survey of academics, entrepreneurs, I.T. workers and various other "experts and stakeholders" that was designed to glean whether colleges and universities are likely to undergo significant changes by the year 2020.

The survey's 1,021 respondents were asked to choose which of the following scenarios is more likely to come true in the next seven and a half years: a) Not much will have changed, aside from the proliferation of certain mobile and classroom technologies, and "most universities will mostly require in-person, on-campus attendance of students most of the time at courses featuring a lot of traditional lectures" and assessment methods; or b) Self-paced learning, online "hybrid" courses will have become par for the course at most universities, and assessment will have shifted to "more individually oriented outcomes and capacities that are relevant to subject mastery."

Sixty percent of respondents predicted that the latter is more likely to be true, and 39 percent endorsed the former, more conservative prospectus. (The remaining 1 percent did not respond to the question.) The survey, administered by Pew's Internet & American Life Project in concert with Elon University, framed the questions as a stark dichotomy in order to provoke strong responses. But it noted that respondents revealed many shades of gray in their qualified responses, and that "a significant number of survey participants said the true outcome will encompass portions of both scenarios."

The sample was admittedly nonrandom, and purposefully sought out self-identifying "futurists," "entrepreneurs" and "advocates," among other experts.

Friday, July 27, 2012 - 3:00am

Moody's Investors Service's U.S. Higher Education Mid-Year Outlook, released Thursday, paints a grim picture for higher education in which existing challenges of heightened competition for students, declining revenue sources, and backlogged maintenance get worse, while new problems emerge.

Problems that the ratings agency sees on the horizon for higher education institutions include the following:

  • Based on poor returns in financial markets, Moody's expects that after endowment spending is accounted for, endowment portfolios will decline for fiscal year 2012, the first decline since 2009.
  • An increase in outcomes-driven state and federal funding, federal regulation, re-examination of the tax-exempt status for nonprofit universities, and a demand for better disclosure for all universities.
  • An increased level of political attention on affordability in higher education and student loan burdens through the presidential election.
  • A greater number of warnings and sanctions imposed by accreditation agencies as those organizations seek to avoid tighter regulations from Congress.

The agency says public colleges and universities will have to shift toward a more market-driven approach rather than continuing to act as state agencies, "which means accelerating the pace of tuition increases or enrolling a higher percentage of out-of-state students, and adjusting their operating models to allow for surpluses that can be carried over as cash reserves." The conflict between that model and public pressure to continue to act as low-cost institutions with a public mission of accessibility is likely to lead to more conflicts between boards, administrators, and faculty members similar to what transpired at the University of Virginia last month.

Friday, July 27, 2012 - 4:26am

A faculty study of athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has called for an outside review of the relationship between athletics and academics at the university, The News and Observer reported. The panel concluded that recent scandals were not isolated incidents, but reflected broader problems, such as poor oversight, improper roles for athletes' academic counselors and a culture in which faculty members feel shut out of decisions about athletics programs.


Friday, July 27, 2012 - 3:00am

Portland State University expelled and banned from campus a graduate student who a classmate said had made threatening remarks involving guns and a professor, The Oregonian reported. The article describes how the university acted quickly after receiving the report and about how Henry Liu says the university unfairly viewed him as, in his words, a "crazy Asian shooter." Liu denies making the remarks attributed to him, and a psychiatrist concluded that he poses no danger to himself or others.

Friday, July 27, 2012 - 4:28am

Louisburg College, a private two-year institution in North Carolina, wants to move the grave of its first president (who died in 1809) to a site on campus, but the relatives of the first president don't like the idea, WRAL News reported. Louisburg officials feel that the current grave site is in a cemetery that has been neglected. But family members say that moving the first president's grave will disrupt the resting spots of other relatives as well.


Friday, July 27, 2012 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Tracy Alloway of the University of North Florida explains how using social media can improve the performance of your memory. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


Friday, July 27, 2012 - 3:00am

Britain's University of Manchester has unveiled a "pray-o-mat," a small booth in which people can listen to, and join in, 300 pre-recorded prayers from a range of faiths, in 65 different languages. The project is part of study on multi-faith spaces. Ralf Brand, the lead researcher, said that "though the pray-o-mat is a bit tongue-in-cheek, there is a serious message to what we're doing. Successful multi-faith spaces do not need to be flashy or expensive. In many places a small, clean and largely unadorned space can serve adequately."

Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 3:00am

A professor at the University of Texas at Austin is facing questions about his credibility after a nonprofit watchdog group said that he did not reveal ties to a drilling company as he led a study on hydraulic fracturing that found that the process produced no groundwater contamination. “UT promoted the study as an independent inquiry into fracking’s environmental risks, but PAI found that the study was actually led by a gas industry insider and UT faculty member, Charles ‘Chip’ Groat, who sits on the board of fracker Plains Exploration & Production (PXP),” according to the introduction to the report by the Public Accountability Initiative, the watchdog group.

After the watchdog group published its report, the Austin American-Statesman reviewed SEC filings and found that Groat had been paid $413,900 in cash and stock by the company last year and holds $1.6 million of the company’s stock. Groat called the report a mix of truth, half-truths and unfounded conclusions, according to StateImpact, an NPR project with local public radio stations that examines public policy issues. The university said Tuesday that it would ask outside experts to review the fracking study, according to StateImpact. 

The Public Accountability Initiative recently raised questions about a study on fracking at the State University of New York at Buffalo, as more and more universities become battlegrounds for debates over the issue.

Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 3:00am

While Pell Grants would be safe even if deep, mandatory cuts to domestic spending go into effect early next year, many other education programs would be at risk, according to a report released Wednesday by Senator Tom Harkin. The Iowa Democrat's report singled out TRIO and GEAR UP, two programs that prepare low-income students for college, saying that the programs could lose $90 million if sequestration goes into effect, eliminating services to more than 100,000 students. During a Senate hearing Wednesday on the effects of the spending cuts, which will take hold in January if Congress does not act on a long-term debt reduction plan, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said student loan processing would also be affected.

Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Jacob Hirsh of the University of Toronto examines how the effectiveness of advertisements could be improved by ignoring demographics and focusing on the customer’s personality. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.



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