Higher Education Quick Takes
A new website, Science Works for Us, has been launched to document the impact on federally supported research of the possible across-the-board budget cut (or sequestration) that looms if President Obama and Congress don't reach a budget deal. The site was created by the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Science Coalition. Among the features is a state-by-state map showing how much money would be lost to university research if sequestration goes forward.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is among the Republicans being talked about as one who might lead his party to more moderate positions on issues such as immigration. Rubio sits on the Senate science committee, and an interview with GQ created much Internet buzz over his statement in response to a question about the age of the earth. "I'm not a scientist, man," said Rubio. "I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries."
Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, a Democrat, has ordered state higher education officials to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates as long as they receive work permits through President Obama's new program to eliminate their risk of deportation, The Boston Globe reported. Thousands of students may eventually benefit. Because these students aren't eligible for federal aid, non-resident tuition rates can be prohibitive for many of them.
Administrators of intensive English programs are concerned about guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that could change the way colleges make conditional admission offers to international students. Conditionally admitted students typically must complete English language coursework as a prerequisite for entering their degree programs.
In such cases, many colleges have made it a practice to issue an I-20 certifying admission to the degree program in question. Recent verbal guidance from DHS suggests, however, that the institution must issue an I-20 for admission to the English language program instead. Patricia Juza, director of global programs at Baruch College and vice president for advocacy for the American Association of Intensive English Programs, said this could complicate efforts to attract top foreign students. “In some countries it has been easier for a student to get a visa if they have conditional admission to a degree program as opposed to an intensive English program,” said Juza. She added that government scholarship bodies also generally prefer that students have an admission offer -- conditional or not -- to a degree program in hand.
Officials at DHS' Student and Exchange Visitors Program said there’s been no change in policy, but that the agency is simply enforcing current guidelines stipulating that colleges can issue an I-20 only after the student meets a number of conditions, including that “the appropriate school authority has determined that the prospective student's qualifications meet all standards for admission” and “the official responsible for admission at the school has accepted the prospective student for enrollment in a full course of study.” A spokeswoman for DHS, Ernestine Fobbs, said that the department is refining its policy on this subject. She said new draft guidance on conditional admissions and pathway programs – which blend intensive English and academic coursework – will be posted for comment soon, likely before the end of the year.
Pitzer College, known for environmental studies, and Robert Redford, the actor known for environmental activism, have teamed up to create a conservancy at the college that will promote study of and conservation of the environment in Southern California, The Los Angeles Times reported. The program will be housed on an old infirmary on 12 acres of land next to the college's campus. The land is a rare coastal sage scrub ecosystem, and students will work on preserving it as part of the program.
New York University has suspended its study abroad program in Tel Aviv. Participating students were evacuated to London on Sunday and have the choice of completing the fall semester at the New York campus or the university’s academic centers in London, Prague or Florence.
“We did not think our students and personnel were in proximate or imminent danger,” John Beckman, a NYU spokesman, said in an e-mail. “We wanted to avoid a situation where the students would get [to] the end of the semester and have difficulties returning home. Given that consideration, the high priority we always place on student safety, and our confidence that we were at a point in the semester where we could ensure they would be able to satisfactorily finish out the semester's work, we thought this was the prudent course.”
October is typically the most popular month for prospective law students to take the Law School Admission Test -- and this October's totals provide more evidence that all those reports about lawyers struggling to find jobs and pay back loans may be discouraging interest in the field. While 37,780 people took the LSAT in October, that's a 16.4 percent drop from October 2011, the total that year was a 16.9 percent drop from October 2010, and the total for that year represented a 10.5 percent drop. There have not been this few LSAT test-takers in October since 1999.
The University of Maryland at College Park, a founding member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, is along with Rutgers University contemplating a switch to the Big Ten Conference, The Baltimore Sun and other publications reported. Newspaper reports indicated that the board of the University System of Maryland was scheduled to receive a written proposal Sunday about such a move, which, if consummated, would give the Big Ten 14 members. Big Ten officials had said as recently as September that they were contented having grown to 12 members this year, and Maryland officials had said they planned to stay in the Atlantic Coast. But Maryland was one of two institutions to oppose an increase to $50 million (from $20 million) in the fee imposed on members that leave the league. (The increase passed despite Maryland's opposition.) Rutgers is a member of the Big East Conference, which has been raided frequently in recent years.
Colleges have long tried (with limited success) to make sure classes are in fact held on the Wednesdays before Thanksgiving break or the Fridays before various weeks off, but many professors have reported that they call off class in part because few students show up.
At the University of Florida this year, for the first time, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be an official holiday, but the university is now campaigning to be sure classes are held today and tomorrow. Some students are planning to be away for all of this week. But The Gainesville Sun reported that Bernard Mair, associate provost, told faculty members last week that they should not let vacations start early. "I'd just like to encourage you to reinforce that with your students and spread the word in your departments that Monday and Tuesday are not holidays," he told the Faculty Senate. "If students start to try to make that such, you should disabuse them of that idea."