Higher Education Quick Takes
Today on the Academic Minute, Blaine Pfeifer, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo, explains why we should look beyond E. coli's bad reputation. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
U.S. Department of Education officials have determined that a slew of additional campuses owned by Corinthian Colleges misrepresented job placement rates, a finding that could help some 85,000 former students have their federal loans canceled.
The department announced Tuesday that hundreds of programs at the now-defunct for-profit chain's Everest and Wyotech campuses in California misled students about their job prospects after graduation. Officials also said they found misrepresentation at Everest University online programs based in Florida.
The announcement is essentially an expansion of the scope of the department's April findings against Corinthian-owned Heald College. At that time, the department slapped Heald with a $30 million fine, which sunk Corinthian's efforts to sell off those campuses and helped push the struggling company into bankruptcy several weeks later.
The new findings by the Education Department mean little for Corinthian as a company, which was dissolved in bankruptcy in August. But they could be significant for former Corinthian students who seeking to have their loans canceled.
The department earlier this year said it would "expedite" the debt relief applications for about 40,000 former Heald College students because officials already had enough evidence to process their claims. (As of August, though, only 1,500 of those former students had actually filed claims).
With Tuesday's findings, the department said an additional 85,000 students at the affected WyoTech and Everest campuses will be eligible to have their loans canceled.
The department described its findings as the product of a joint investigation with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office sued Corinthian more than two years ago, alleging misrepresentation of job-placement rates among other wrongdoing.
Harris said in a statement that the "findings will expand the pool of Corinthian students eligible for streamlined student loan relief options." She thanked the department for "joining" her office "to keep Corinthian accountable for their actions and providing debt relief to students who were misled."
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the "results of our joint investigation will allow us to get relief to more students, more efficiently."
Fewer students are earning a college credential within six years of first enrolling in college, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The nonprofit clearinghouse is able to track 96 percent of students nationwide. It found an overall national completion rate of 52.9 percent for students who enrolled in the fall of 2009. That rate was down 2.1 percentage points from that of the previous year's cohort of students, according to the clearinghouse, and the rate of decline is accelerating.
The declines were across the board, the report found. Completion rates sagged for students regardless of their age, whether or not they attended college full-time or not, and across the various sectors of higher education. For example, 38.1 percent of students who first enrolled at a two-college earned a credential (either at a two- or four-year college) within six years, a decline of one percentage point.
The recession and its aftermath likely were responsible for some of the decrease in completion. The 2009 group of new students was larger than in previous years, the report said, as more adult students returned to the college while the job market was weak. Yet a smaller percentage of that group completed than in previous years, perhaps due in part to some students returning to the workforce.
"These results should not be taken as an indication that the considerable efforts to drive improvement in student outcomes at the institutional, state and federal levels have been ineffective," the report said. "Indeed, one might easily conclude that without them the declines could have been even worse for particular types of students or institutions, given the demographic and economic forces at play."
Protests over race and diversity continued to spread Monday, with actions at numerous campuses:
- At Occidental College, students took over parts of an administration building to demand the creation of a black studies major and the hiring of more minority faculty members, The Los Angeles Times reported.
- At Iowa State University, students and faculty members held a rally to support black students at the University of Missouri, and to draw attention to their concerns about experiencing racism on campus, The Ames Tribune reported.
- At Niagara University, students walked out of classes to hold a rally on issues of racism and inequality, The Niagara Gazette reported.
- At the University of South Carolina, about 150 students walked out of class and held a protest to demand that the university do more to promote diversity, The State reported.
- In Boston, students from 17 colleges held a march against racial injustices, blocking traffic at some points in their protest, Boston.com reported.
Northern Virginia Community College's zero-textbook-cost degree programs are going open source. The community college, with help from open-courseware provider Lumen Learning, on Monday made nine of its courses available under a Creative Commons license, meaning instructors at other institutions are free to reuse and repurpose the content. The courses, which use free open educational resources instead of textbooks, satisfy requirements in NOVA's associate degree programs in general studies and social sciences. Lumen Learning and NOVA plan to release a total of 24 courses.
The College of New Rochelle, which has an undergraduate liberal arts college for women and graduate and professional programs that serve women and men, is considering going completely coeducational. The college sent a letter and an FAQ to alumnae, seeking input. The materials make points similar to those offered by other women's colleges that have decided to admit men, with an emphasis on the very small proportion of high school girls who will consider women's colleges.
Such shifts at some women's colleges have led to major protests. Alumnae have created a Facebook page, and it is clear many of them are disappointed by the shift, but also that many fear for the financial future of the college as currently operated.
The Board of Governors of California's community college system voted Monday to replace the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges as the accreditor for the system's colleges, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The current accreditor has frustrated many faculty groups and administrators, who say it has been unfair to colleges, and in particular to the City College of San Francisco. Any move to a new accreditor will take time, however. Steve Kinsella, chairman of the accrediting commission being ousted, tried to convince the board to hold off, arguing that the accreditor has improved and that the board was “looking at old information.” He added, “If you think you’re getting away from regulatory compliance, I think you’re mistaken.”
Westwood College, a for-profit chain with 14 campus locations, last week announced on its website that it has stopped enrolling new students. Earlier this month Westwood agreed to a $15 million settlement with the office of the Illinois attorney general, which had sued the for-profit over allegations of deceptive marketing. The company also in 2012 agreed to a $4.5 million settlement with the attorney general of Colorado over a similar lawsuit. And in 2009 it agreed to a $7 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice related to a complaint about filing false claims for federal student aid.
Oxford Dictionaries, part of Oxford University Press, on Monday announced its annual Word of the Year. For 2015, it's not a word, but rather an emoji -- in this case the emoji called “Face With Tears of Joy” (at right). Why was it selected? “Emojis (the plural can be either emoji or emojis) have been around since the late 1990s, but 2015 saw their use, and use of the word ‘emoji,’ increase hugely,” said a statement from Oxford. Among the words or phrases that were also considered: “refugee,” “dark web” and “sharing economy.”
Wartburg College in Iowa has confirmed that it’s laying off three of its tenure-track faculty members. But President Darrel D. Colson objected to the idea that Wartburg is becoming less of a liberal arts institution based on personnel and curricular changes Inside Higher Ed reported on last month. “Notwithstanding our loss of some wonderful faculty, a loss I too feel, we have not abandoned our mission or eschewed the liberal arts,” he wrote. “We are duty bound to serve the students we enroll as best we can within the constraints of our resources, and we will continue to meet their needs -- both by responding to the ever-changing vocational choices they make and by ensuring the intellectual rigor inherent in liberal education.”
Meanwhile, two members of the college’s Faculty Council, a faculty representative body, have resigned in protest of how the college handled recent personnel cuts, according to resignation notices to colleagues obtained by Inside Higher Ed. “This resignation is motivated by behaviors and decisions that have affected our work and the institution as a whole,” wrote one of the former council members, Maria Paula Survilla, a professor of art. “As I watch my colleagues struggle to address the loss of faculty and the decimation of their offerings, I feel that I cannot, in good conscience, continue as a member of the council.” Survilla acknowledged the letter in an email but declined an interview.
The college also held a listening session earlier this month to discuss what’s happening there. According to notes from the meeting circulated via email by Pastor Ramona S. Bouzard, dean of the chapel, and obtained by Inside Higher Ed, the tone of the meeting was “sad, frustrated, angry, betrayed, sorrow[ful] and hurt.” Faculty in attendance also agreed there’s been a “lack of leadership” and that they’re concerned “about not having enough resources to accomplish [Wartburg’s] mission,” according to the notes.