Higher Education Quick Takes
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today announced it was seeking proposals for the creation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) designed to serve as remedial and other general education courses, which are often stumbling blocks for lower income students. The foundation said in its request for proposals that it hopes to encourage high-quality MOOCs that could help improve college completion rates. Currently, most MOOCs are geared to upper-division classes. "Ultimately, our vision is that MOOCs may provide institutions a way to blend MOOC content into formal courses with more intensive faculty, advising and peer support and also provide students an alternative and direct path to credit and credentials," the foundation said.
The University of Rochester has announced that it will no longer require all undergraduate applicants to submit either the SAT or ACT, but they will still have to submit some test. Others that might be used include the SAT subject exams, Advanced Placement tests or International Baccalaureate tests. In a statement, Jonathan Burdick, dean of admissions and financial aid, said: "Many prospective students 'test well' on general standardized exams, and bring that ability to campus, while some are best at mastering specific material in subjects that interest them most, and bring that diligence and focus. Both kinds of students can thrive at Rochester, and both will do best when they find each other here and develop many ways to collaborate and challenge each other."
Two House of Representatives committees announced a joint hearing Wednesday on the National Labor Relations Board's agenda in higher education. Congressional Republicans have frequently clashed with the NLRB on issues outside of higher education. But now the NLRB is exploring the right to collective bargaining for graduate students and faculty members at private colleges. A statement announcing the hearing said: "Higher education officials are concerned the NLRB’s efforts to impinge into postsecondary schools could lead to reduced academic freedom and higher costs for students."
The report, which called for increased regulation on private student loans, including asking Congress to consider allowing borrowers to discharge those loans during bankruptcy, understated the proportion of student borrowers who hadn't exhausted their federal loan options. Since some students did not take out federal loans at all, and in some cases did not apply for federal financial aid, 55 percent — not 40 percent — of private student loan borrowers did not first exhaust their eligibility for federal loans, which have more flexible repayment options than most private loans.
But the report also overstated how many loans were made without college involvement. From 2005 to 2007, the proportion of loans made without a college's involvement or consent grew from 18 percent to more than 31 percent, the agency said. It had reported earlier that as many as 70 percent of loans were made without college certification.
That correction was the result of an updated methodology developed with industry experts and sample student lenders, the agency said. The previous number had not counted loans if the lender did not provide specify in what program (undergraduate, graduate, medical, law, and similar classifications) the borrower was enrolled, meaning many undergraduate loans were missed, the agency said in its report. The new methodology used proxies (such as "course of study" or "year in school") from the data to determine the program type.
The agency said the corrections do not affect the report's conclusions. "While the frequency of [direct-to-consumer] borrowing is lower than the Agencies had previously concluded, the risk of consumer harm related to DTC lending programs is unchanged from the original analysis," the consumer protection bureau wrote in its report on the changes.
The Middle East Studies Association of North American has written to senior Iranian officials asking them to stop official newspapers from attacking the International Society for Iranian Studies. That group typically holds its annual meeting in North America, but this August held its 2012 meeting in Istanbul, with the goal of allowing more scholars in Iran to participate. As described in the letter from the Middle East Studies Association, an officially supported newspaper ran an article on the international group, saying it was dominated by "Royalists" and "Zionists," among others. Following this article, many of the scholars based in Iran canceled plans to go to Istanbul for the meeting. The letter to Iranian officials said, "The open pursuit and free expression of knowledge and ideas, without fear of reprisal and discrimination are guaranteed under Iran's Constitution.... MESA urges the authorities in Iran to work towards and protect the free exchange of ideas, freedom of expression in all forms, and the unrestricted pursuit of academic research without fear of intimidation and persecution."
Florida A&M University is defending itself in a wrongful death lawsuit by the parents of a student who died in the middle of hazing by the marching band by saying that it was the student's fault he participated, The Orlando Sentinel reported. Papers filed by the university said that Robert Champion, the man who died, should have known that hazing was wrong and dangerous and against university policy, and so the university should not be held liable. Christopher Chestnut, a lawyer for Champion's family, said he was stunned by the argument. "We cannot ignore the irony and audacity of an institution in blaming Robert for his death," he said. "Blaming students for hazing allows the culture of hazing to become deadly."
Campaigns by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Native American groups have led most universities that had Native American team names to eliminate them. But Eastern Michigan University, one of those universities, is bringing back (in part) use of the Hurons logo that was replaced with Eagles in 1991, The Detroit News reported. The marching band will now have uniforms that include the Eagles, the Hurons and the Normalites (the original logo). Officials say that they are not violating the NCAA ban (because of an exemption for historical uses of old names) and that the use of all three mascots on the uniform will unite alumni from different eras. Some alumni who remain loyal to the Hurons name are cheering the shift. But Fay Givens, director of American Indian services, said, "I don't like native people being used as mascots in any situation."
In today’s Academic Minute, Nancy Kiang of Columbia University’s Earth Institute explains a recent discovery that hints at the potential color of extraterrestrial plant life. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
The debt collection industry is benefiting from the large numbers of people in default on their student loans, The New York Times reported. In the last fiscal year, the U.S. Education Department paid collection agencies more than $1.4 billion to try to collect debts. Critics argue that the government should be doing more to help borrowers avoid default, rather than focusing on collecting the debts. The article opens with a column from a collection industry trade publication in which the author describes attending a rally at New York University at which students angry about debt wore T-shirts with their large, personal debt totals on them -- $95,000, $60,000 and so forth. "As I wandered around the crowd of NYU students at their rally protesting student debt at the end of February, I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represented – for our industry," the columnist wrote. "It was lip-smacking."