Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

Stanford University announced Monday that it raised $6.2 billion between October 2006 and Dec. 31, 2011, shattering the record for the largest university fund-raising campaign in history and exceeding the university's original goal of $4.3 billion. Before Stanford's announcement, Yale held the record for the largest fund-raising campaign on record, raising $3.881 billion between 2004 and July 2011. Stanford's announcement even exceeds the largest announced goal, $6 billion, which the University of Southern California announced in August.

The $6.2 billion will go to fund cross-disciplinary initiatives in every area of the university, including more than 130 new endowed faculty appointments and 360 new fellowships for graduate students. Many large campaigns include gifts that are paid out over time, so it's particularly noteworthy that more than 80 percent of campaign commitments have already been fulfilled. The university has set up a website detailing what the money will be used for.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

During 2011, a record 800,000 people took the GRE, an increase of 13 percent, the Educational Testing Service announced today. ETS officials noted that this increase came in the year that the test featured numerous redesigned features. While not all GRE test-takers end up applying to graduate programs, increases in volume on the test are usually reflected in subsequent applications to graduate schools. If these figures do predict subsequent trends, look for major increases from outside the United States. The increase in the United States was 10 percent, while test-taking in other countries was up by nearly 25 percent. The two largest providers of foreign students to the United States both saw substantial gains, with the numbers from China up 28 percent, and the figures from India up 43 percent.

 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

A majority of more than 800 bankruptcy lawyers in a survey say they have seen an increase in clients with student loans over the past few years and that most of those debtors are unlikely to be able to discharge their loans due to "undue hardship." The survey, published by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, found that 62 percent of the lawyers have seen bankruptcy cases involving student loans increase at least 25 percent since 2008. A paper published with the survey warns of a "Student Loan ‘Debt Bomb,' " and calls for restoring the ability to discharge student loans in bankruptcy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

Blackboard today unveiled a “more modern” look for its industry-leading learning management system, Blackboard Learn, which has been criticized in some quarters for being hard to use and unappealing to look at. The new interface is meant to “surface” some of the system’s features — especially its real-time assessment tools — in the hope that instructors will use them more frequently. The new design also puts an emphasis on customization: a “course entry wizard” guides instructors through the process of setting up courses “based on different pedagogical models and content models,” according to Brad Koch, director of product development. Afterward, instructors can manually rearrange items on their course pages and select from a buffet of design themes (“pizzazz,” “coral,” “mosaic,” etc.). Notably, the new interface will be capable of assuming the form of the LMS interfaces for WebCT and Angel Learning, which Blackboard bought years ago — a possible attempt to keep those clients as the company begins to stop supporting the legacy versions of the WebCT and Angel LMS products.

In recent months, competitors have attempted to cast Blackboard as aesthetically retrograde and more concerned with the needs of high-level administrators than those of individual instructors. During a demo of the new interface last week, Ray Henderson, the president of Blackboard Learn, said the company was aware of the knocks against its interface. And while he insisted that back-end integrations with campus information systems were still Blackboard’s trump card against more lightweight entrants to the LMS marketplace, “We think design and user experience [will only get] more important,” Henderson said.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

Moody's Investors Service said this week that a class action filed against 12 law schools last week could endanger those schools' financial positions, since they rely overwhelmingly on tuition revenue, and a lawsuit alleging that a school inflated graduation and employment statistics is not a strong selling point for attracting students. "The lawsuits are credit negative for the law schools given the potential for reputational damage leading to application and enrollment declines that would pressure tuition revenue," Moody's analyst Emily Schwarz wrote in the ratings agency's weekly credit outlook.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

If it happened in football, it would be a big-time violation of NCAA rules. But Webster University announced this week that it had recruited Susan Polgar -- winner of four world championships -- her Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, and her national championship team away from Texas Tech University, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The move helps make St. Louis a major force in the sport. Nearby, Lindenwood University has announced that it will start to offer chess scholarships in an attempt to build up the chess team there.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

Colleges and universities must transform undergraduate education in sciences, math and engineering -- in large part by expanding the reach of "evidence-based teaching approaches" -- if the United States is to meet a goal of producing 1 million more bachelor's and associate degree holders in those fields within a decade, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said in a report issued Tuesday. The report, released in conjunction with a webcast featuring the presidents of the University of Virginia and Anne Arundel Community College and other higher education leaders, is built around evidence that significant numbers of those who enter college inclined to study math and science abandon those plans within the first two years, often citing uninspiring introductory courses or an environment that is "unwelcoming" to some groups.

To overcome those problems and produce more graduates -- which the report joins previous studies in arguing is essential to stimulate economic innovation and feed the U.S. work force -- the report from President Obama's science advisory council calls for catalyzing "widespread adoption" of empirically proven teaching methods in key science courses, establishing discipline-based federal programs to train graduate students and faculty members in those methods, replacing standard lab courses with "discovery-based research courses" (and using federal programs to help redesign those courses), closing the "mathematics-preparation gap" that leaves so many students unprepared for college-level science and technical courses, and clearing paths for would-be science and math students from K-12 to community colleges and then to four-year institutions.

The White House's agenda and suggestions overlap significantly with other reports and recommendations made in recent years, including an aggressive push announced last fall by the Association of American Universities.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

The American Federation of Teachers Executive Council on Tuesday reaffirmed a commitment to collaborating with the American Association of University Professors on advocacy efforts and union organizing. The announcement extends a relationship created in 2008 as part of an effort to bring more faculty members -- especially at research universities -- into collective bargaining. The joint effort resulted in a big win with the unionization of faculty members at the University of Illinois at Chicago (although the university is challenging the win). Currently, the AFT and AAUP are jointly organizing faculty members at the University of Oregon.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

An investigation by The Washington Post has revealed many millions in earmarks -- grants made by members of Congress to specific institutions, bypassing peer review -- that have gone to colleges that employ close relatives of the lawmakers who obtained the funds, or who have such relatives on their boards. For example, Representative Robert Aderholt, an Alabama Republican, helped get about $440,000 for the University of Montevallo while his wife was on its board. Or there's Representative Robert E. Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, who won $3.3 million over the last 10 years for a scholarship program at the Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, where his wife is an associate dean in charge of scholarships. And Rep. Robert E. Latta, an Ohio Republican, co-sponsored earmarks worth $2.8 million for Bowling Green State University while his wife was a senior vice president there.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 4:26am

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, on Tuesday proposed cutting the state's higher education budget by 30 percent, on top of a 20 percent reduction approved last year, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Democratic legislators and faculty unions denounced the proposed cuts and said that they would lead to significant tuition increases, but some Republican legislative leaders said that it was time to focus on whether the state has too many campuses.

 

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