Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday released a report on how some states and colleges are using data to improve student graduation and retention rates. The foundation said the report is based on a decade's worth of lessons learned.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is working with the foundation to develop a forthcoming "metrics framework" that further refines the data areas identified in the new report. The foundation said it will work with policy makers and others to encourage the use of those metrics, including their use as a way to measure the effectiveness of the foundation's own investments. The IHEP report is slated for release in March.

The impetus for the data push is gaps in knowledge about "posttraditional" students, the foundation said, including low-income, first-generation and adult students.

"Higher education is reproducing privilege in this country," said Dan Greenstein, the director of education and postsecondary success in the foundation's U.S. program. "It's unsustainable."

Many data tools from the federal government and other sources have failed to keep up with changing demographics in higher education, according to the foundation.

"We can't answer some of the basic questions," said Jennifer Engle, a senior program officer for Gates who previously worked for IHEP. "We're going to have modernize our data systems."

The foundation said it has focused on metrics that many in higher education agree have value and where serious gaps remain. Those areas include data about students' progress toward a credential (including part-time students), time to completion, transfer rates, debt accumulated, employment after graduation, how much students learn in college and how they use that knowledge and those skills.

Gates last year announced its policy priority areas for college completion. The new report is part of that effort. The foundation has convened a working group it said will make specific policy recommendations later this year on how to improve institutional, state and federal data systems. Likely topics include a federal student unit record, public-private partnerships and improving the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 4:22am

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a proposal to merge the University of Baltimore into Morgan State University, a historically black institution, The Baltimore Sun reported. The judge is overseeing the process by which Maryland and advocates for its historically black colleges propose plans to end what the judge previously found was the perpetuation of segregation through similar programs being offered at Maryland's black colleges and nearby institutions that are not historically black. Judge Catherine C. Blake ordered further discussion of a range of proposals made by advocates for black colleges, but she said that the idea of merging the University of Baltimore into Morgan State would not be considered further.

"It is apparent from the current record that such a merger is neither educationally sound nor practicable; any numerical benefit as to the racial identifiability of the resulting student body would be outweighed by its academic and financial cost," she wrote.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 4:31am

A student at Syracuse University, Alex Purdy, created a video in which she talks about her decision to leave a sorority. She talks about wanting to find friendship and support and, instead, finding women who make cruel comments to one another about their bodies, sexuality and other subjects. Purdy does not name the sorority and says she wants to spark discussion about the topic generally, not a focus on one house at one university. The video -- and a related Twitter hashtag, #sororityrevamp -- are attracting considerable attention online. Many commend the discussion as overdue while others are praising Greek life.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

First-semester grade point average may be a better way to predict whether students will graduate than an ACT score, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The study examined more than 1,900 freshmen over a multiyear period, focusing on students from low-income families, poorly financed high schools and historically underrepresented groups. Among these students, the GPAs of those who went on the graduate were virtually identical to those who dropped out. But first-semester grades were an effective way to predict graduation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

Non-tenure-track faculty members in two academic units at the University of Southern California voted to form a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, while adjuncts in a third major unit voted down the bid, they announced Tuesday. Adjuncts in the Roski School of Arts voted 31-6 to unionize, and those in the International Academy voted for a union, 32-3. Non-tenure-track faculty members in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences voted down the bid, 127-113. A university spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

The world is not lacking for reports on how to restructure the federal student financial aid programs. But here's a new one to chew over, from the Urban Institute and its researchers Sandy Baum and Martha Johnson: "Strengthening Federal Student Aid."

The report calls for combining the varied student loan repayment plans based on borrowers' incomes into one "universal, automatic and frugal income-driven repayment plan," and consolidating the numerous tax credits and deductions for college expenses into a single option, among other things.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Tuesday announced a slate of new initiatives to expand and research digital and online education for learners of all ages. For its residential students, MIT will offer a program through its Digital Learning Lab for postdocs who want to create digital materials for use in their fields, including online course work that can be used in face-to-face courses. MIT is also expanding its continuing education courses and creating a new faculty advisory committee to coordinate digital learning initiatives aimed at K-12 students.

On the research side, MIT is launching the Integrated Learning Initiative, an interdisciplinary center that will examine the process of learning. Sanjay Sarma, appointed to the new position of vice president for open learning, will lead MITili (pronounced "mightily"), and its findings will be applied to MIT's online and in-person programs.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 4:26am

Two students at Santa Clara University have meningococcal meningitis, The San Jose Mercury News reported. Of particular concern is that the students have a strain of meningitis against which most college students aren't protected, because vaccinations for it were approved only recently. University officials are working to inform people on campus of symptoms and precautions to take.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

The Saudi government approved more restrictive eligibility rules for its foreign university scholarship program on Monday, Reuters and the Saudi Gazette reported. Details of the new rules are vague, but they would appear to make the scholarship program more academically elite. The Saudi government is facing a budget deficit due to low oil prices and is looking for ways to reduce state spending.

Saudi Arabia's foreign university scholarship program, started in 2005, has led to big increases in the number of Saudi students at U.S. universities. Nearly 60,000 Saudi students were enrolled at American colleges in 2014-15, making Saudi Arabia the fourth-largest country of origin for international students in the U.S.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

A new alliance between Arizona State University, King’s College London and the University of New South Wales will focus on cross-border research on issues related to health, social justice, sustainability and innovation. At a launch event in London next week, the universities plan to announce the inaugural group of more than 60 “PLuS Alliance” fellows, who will come from across the three institutions and who will receive stipends to cover travel and other costs. A pool of money will be available for research projects. The universities plan to announce the first joint research initiatives, on sustainability, at next week’s event.

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