Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 7, 2013

Officials at the University of Maryland at College Park knew that many fans would react its move to the Big Ten "emotionally and negatively," so the university planned a public relations campaign to win them over, according to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Many fans were bothered by the loss of long-time regional rivalries, among other issues. Maryland's response was to "plant positive comments into fan message boards," the article said. Email messages exchanged among university officials talked about seeing all the negative reaction and working to change attitudes. One official talked of plans to "engage professional assistance in helping to drop positive messages into the blogs, comments and message board sites. I will arrange for this service today."


November 7, 2013

A paperwork snafu following the merger of two Georgia colleges may have contributed to an 8 percent enrollment decline, according to officials at Middle Georgia State College.

Middle Georgia State – the combination of Macon State College and Middle Georgia College – is the product of a round of mergers pushed by the University System of Georgia. When the first class of students to attend the merged college used the Free Application for Federal Student Aid this year, the online application presented them with these two choices: "Middle Georgia College, Cochran, GA" and "Middle Georgia State College, Macon Cam, Macon, GA.” Students who picked the first received their financial aid normally. Students who picked the second choice didn’t because the identifier was tied to an old school code.

Sheri Rowland, the head of enrollment management at Middle Georgia State, said the problem and resulting delays in offering aid awards caused some students and families to believe the college was providing poor customer service. That, in turn, may have cost the newly merged university some first-year students. “Because of this delay in processing, we wonder if students went elsewhere because they got notification of their financial aid in a much timelier fashion from other institutions than we were able to provide to them this year,” she said.

Rowland said the first-to-second-year retention rate was pretty good, but there was an 8 percent decline in first-year enrollment at the new institution compared to what the total enrollment had been at the two institutions before they merged, which was about 9,100 students. She said no one was at fault and the problem would not occur again.

Rowland said the FAFSA problems didn’t help, but were not the only problem. She said the college has had to rebrand and market itself in a totally different fashion since the merger. “It was a drastic enough difference that it just wasn’t tied to a bad recruiting year,” Rowland said.

The Georgia higher ed system has been pushing mergers since 2011. A recently announced merger of Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University is meeting strong opposition from students and alumni. On Wednesday, local news media reported an iconic globe in the center of Southern Poly campus had been toppled, apparently in an act of vandalism or protest linked to unrest after announcement of the merger.

November 6, 2013

Time for another chance at Inside Higher Ed's Cartoon Caption Contest.

We invite you to submit your ideas for the cleverest caption for the new cartoon, which you can find here.

Pick your favorite from among our judges' three finalists from among the suggestions we received for last month's cartoon.

And kudos to Jim Snyder, who is coordinator of the writing center at Ohio State University-Mansfield. His caption earned the most reader votes among the three finalists chosen by our panel for August's cartoon. You can find out more about his winning entry here.


November 6, 2013

Trinity College Dublin and the University of Melbourne will become the first international participants in the course consortium Semester Online, the education technology company 2U announced on Wednesday.

Semester Online enables students to enroll in for-credit online courses offered by faculty members at participating institutions -- or keep up with their studies while away from those campuses. Students complete coursework on their own time, but the courses also include online face-to-face sessions. The effort is being piloted this fall and will launch in January.

Trinity College and Melbourne will supply one course each to the spring semester offerings: "Ireland in Rebellion" and "Classical Mythology," respectively.

With the addition of the two new partners, the Semester Online consortium now includes 10 institutions. Trinity College and Melbourne join Boston College, Brandeis, Emory, Northwestern and Wake Forest Universities; the Universities of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Notre Dame, and Washington University in St. Louis.

November 6, 2013

DePauw University and Wabash Colleges have followed Indiana University in joining Freedom Indiana, which is opposing a proposal that Indiana amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage. A joint statement from the DePauw and Wabash presidents, Brian W. Casey and Gregory D. Hess, respectively, gave the following rationale: "Our students come from around the country and around the world, and our fundamental goal is to educate them to think critically, exercise responsible leadership, communicate effectively, and tackle complex problems. This depends on attracting talented faculty and staff, a task that is made more difficult by the passage of this amendment. We are also engaged in the enterprise of fostering ideas and innovation, a mission which inherently depends on an environment of openness and inclusion that would be compromised should this amendment be enacted."


November 6, 2013

Unauthorized outside pay for David Smith, president of the State University of New York Upstate Medical University, may have derailed his candidacy to become the next president of Pennsylvania State University, The Albany Times Union reported.

SUNY announced Tuesday that Smith has been placed on on leave. The announcement said that Smith was placed on leave while SUNY reviews unspecified "compensation issues" and because of health issues facing Smith. The Syracuse Post-Standard reported that Smith's compensation in 2012 included  $363,537 from the university, $268,923 from the SUNY Research Foundation, and a monthly housing allowance of $5,000.

But the Times Union said that a search firm vetting Smith for the Penn State presidency (which he may have been close to winning) found that he was also receiving unauthorized payments from two companies with ties to Upstate Medical University. The search firm's inquiries apparently alerted SUNY to the situation. A letter to Smith from SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher says that these substantial additional payments may need to be returned and she ordered him to stop accepting such funds. Smith, formerly chancellor of Texas Tech University, declined to comment.



November 6, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, William Powell of the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry explains how genetic modification can save trees from blight. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


November 6, 2013

The student body president at Northwest Christian University has revealed that he is an atheist, The Register-Guard reported. Eric Fromm, the president, said he decided to go public to respond to shunning and rumors about his beliefs, which he had been discussing informally. Fromm shared his views with the campus at large by writing an essay for the student newspaper. He said that reaction since he did so has mostly been positive. Michael Fuller, the university’s vice president for enrollment and student development, called Fromm "a man of very high character and respect" and "a great advocate for our student body, which is exactly what he’s supposed to be and do." As to Fromm's lack of faith, Fuller said that, "If we all had our wishes, we wish Eric would be a strong Christian man." But he added: "We’re an open and welcome community, and we meet students exactly where they’re at."


November 6, 2013

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that male and female students will be segregated in university dorms, the Associated Press reported The issue points to continuing tensions between Erdogan’s Islamic-leaning government and secular-minded Turks, many of whom accuse Erdogan of imposing his conservative beliefs on society at large. Erdogan said of the decision regarding dorms that the government has a duty to students’ parents.

November 5, 2013

While public and private institutions have chosen different strategies on online education, academic officials in both camps face the same challenges with getting faculty members on board with the efforts, according to new research conducted by the Learning House, Inc., of members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges.

The findings, detailed in two separate reports, show that public institutions continue to be the driving force when it comes to offering fully online programs. Nearly half of the surveyed AASCU member institutions, or 48 percent, said they offer five or more such programs, while an equal number of CIC member institutions reported they don't offer a single one. 

The independent institutions are unlikely to close the gap in the coming years. Asked to list their top priorities in the next two years, only 23 percent of respondents picked creating fully online undergraduate or graduate programs. Still, the report notes that "Even among institutions that do not offer any fully online programs now, interest is strong, and across all degree types." For example, the survey suggests these institutions are more likely to consider hybrid programs. About one-third of respondents listed that as a priority -- the second most popular item after increasing international student enrollment. 

Officials at public institutions also placed a heavy emphasis on international students, but many of their priorities appear to reflect the fact that their institutions have already established more robust online offerings than their independent counterparts. Fully online certificate programs are on the agenda for 41 percent of AASCU members, and while about two-thirds of those respondents already provide support services for online students, another 33 percent plan to do so in the next two years.

Although online programs are more prevalent in public institutions than in private ones, lack of acceptance among faculty members continues to be prevalent. More than half of respondents in AASCU and CIC member institutions said they still encounter that kind of hostility. Both groups still pointed to the time and effort it takes to teach online as the most common barrier they face.


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