Higher Education Quick Takes
The day after the University of Tulsa announced the firing of President Geoffrey Orsak -- after only 74 days in office -- the university issued a vague statement that did not offer any explanation for the action. "Discretion and university policy dictate that I not discuss the specific circumstances surrounding the decision, except to underscore my confidence in the collective wisdom of the University of Tulsa Board of Trustees," said a statement by Duane Wilson, the board chair. The statement called the board's decision "unavoidable," but offered no information on why this was the case.
Last fall, Occupy Student Debt, an activist group, called on students to stop paying their student loan bills as a form of protest. Now another group has called for burning those bills on Sept. 22, promising a 20-foot high "ceremonial fire" in Hollywood. Hard Block, a group that supports the goals of the Occupy movement and describes itself as a "developer and enabler of the burgeoning protest culture," has organized the event and says that an "elected official" will dump the ashes of the student loan bills on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
It's unclear how successful the protest will be: Occupy Student Debt promised that students would stop repaying their bills if 1 million students signed on. So far, just over 4,000 have.
The Council of Independent Colleges, a group representing more than 600 private liberal arts colleges and universities, is arguing against what it says are myths about student debt (and for its members' affordability) in a new presentation, indicating that the concern around growing student debt might be affecting the group. Among the myths: many students owe more than $100,000 at graduation (in fact, six-figure borrowers are a tiny fraction -- less than 1 percent -- of the undergraduate population). It also points out that its members have generous financial aid and that the high sticker price of tuition at private colleges does not take financial aid into account.
The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed legislation requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to require more transparency from colleges that serve students who are veterans. The bill calls for counseling of students and ways to track feedback on the quality of academic programs. Some for-profit institutions, including the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities and the University of Phoenix, supported the bill.
Recent developments in online higher education will likely benefit the credit ratings of brand-name and niche institutions while possibly threatening for-profit institutions and smaller, regional colleges and universities, according to a new report by Moody's Investor Service. In a report that elides the potential implications of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the continued growth of conventional online programs, Moody's analysts predicted that well-reputed institutions will band together around online offerings to reduce operating costs. Meanwhile, there could "eventually be negative side effects on for-profit education companies and some smaller not-for-profit colleges that may be left out of emerging high reputation online networks," the report said. However, the analysts suggested that well-known institutions that rush too heedlessly into MOOCs could sacrifice their reputational footing. "[T]he rapid pace of the MOOC movement presents the possibility of brand dilution as universities rush to join the trend without controlling the quality of the product/content being posted," they wrote.
The University of Tulsa on Wednesday night fired Geoffrey Orsak as president, a position he had held for only 74 days, The Tulsa World reported. The day before, the university announced that Orsak was taking a leave to care for his seriously ill father. But the announcement Wednesday did not say why the president was dismissed. In his own statement, Orsak said, "I am very disappointed given the lengthy due diligence process for the position that within such a short period of time the board has decided to go in a different direction." Previously, Orsak had been dean of engineering at Southern Methodist University.
The winners of the 2012 McGraw Prize in Education include a prominent innovator in non-credit online education, and a journalist. The winners are:
- John Merrow, an education reporter for National Public Radio and "NewsHour" and president of Learning Matters.
- Sal Khan, who created the Khan Academy, which provides free online videos on a huge range of education topics.
- Two leaders of TNTP -- CEO Ariela Rozman and President Timothy Daly -- whose organization helps to produce and retain top teachers.
Concordia University-St. Paul announced Wednesday that it was dropping its undergraduate tuition and fees by a third for next year, joining a handful of institutions including the University of the South and the University of Charleston to cut their sticker price in the face of increased price sensitivity in the market. The sticker price for tuition and fees, currently set at $29,700, will be $19,700 next fall for all students, including those currently enrolled.
Administrators at Concordia said they were becoming concerned that students their traditional demographic -- middle- and lower-income students in Minnesota -- were ruling out Concordia as an option based on its price, despite the fact that after aid few students actually ended up paying that much. According to federal data, 99 percent of students at Concordia received some form of institutional aid.
Much of the student population at Concordia currently pays less than the new sticker price. The college's discount rate was 48 percent, meaning that students paid just over 50 percent of the sticker price on average. Concordia administrators said some revenue is likely to be lost by lowering the price, but that they hope to offset that by increasing enrollment.
Tying a college's Pell Grant eligibility to completion rates could undermine college access for poor and minority students, especially at community colleges, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, wrote in an analysis Monday. Rather than focus on completion rates, Kantrowitz argued, more focus should be placed on increasing the number of Americans with college degrees -- a focus that could even cause completion rates to fall if more students enroll and do not all complete college. Focusing solely on completion, as some fear a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported panel that will focus on student aid as an incentive might do, could end up hurting low-income students, Kantrowitz wrote: "One of the easiest ways to increase graduation rates is to exclude high-risk students. So efforts to boost college completion may directly or indirectly shift eligibility for the Pell Grant program from financial need to academic merit, hurting college access by low-income students."