In today’s Academic Minute, Tal Ezer of Old Dominion University explains why one section of the Atlantic coast is more vulnerable to sea level rise than others. And if you missed Thursday's Academic Minute (on what makes a good citizen) because of the Independence Day holiday, you can catch up on it here. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Higher Education Quick Takes
Lawmakers in Oregon have passed legislation authorizing a study and pilot of the idea of replacing tuition at public colleges and universities with commitments by students to repay a small percentage of future income to the state, The New York Times reported. In Oregon, a class at Portland State University did extensive research on the idea. The idea has also been much discussed (but without legislative action comparable to Oregon's) in California.
WASHINGTON — After protests from historically black colleges that new underwriting standards for Parent PLUS loans have hurt their institutions, the Education Department has told colleges it will simplify the appeals process for students who are denied loans but stands by its new criteria. In a notice sent to institutions, the department announced it would create lists of applicants who are eligible to appeal loan denials and inform applicants by e-mail if they qualify.
Since the department tightened underwriting standards in 2011, 400,000 parents have been denied loans. The denials have fallen disproportionately on historically black colleges, leaders of those institutions have argued in asking the Obama administration to reconsider.
Cengage Learning, Inc., the second largest publisher of higher education course materials in America, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday. The move had been expected by financial analysts.
The company hopes to eliminate about $4 billion of its $5.8 billion in debt, the company said in a statement. The company's chief financial officer, Dean Durbin, blamed the company's woes on the move away from traditional printed textbooks to digital offerings, cuts in government spending since the recession, and piracy of its materials.
In a court filing, he said the company is working on a new business plan and pointed in particular to MindTap, a new cloud-based platform the company has elsewhere described as "more than an e-book and different than a learning management system." The company expects to continue to make timely payments to its vendors and offer the same wages and benefits to its employees, it said in a press release.
“The decisive actions we are taking today will reduce our debt and improve our capital structure to support our long-term business strategy of transitioning from traditional print models to digital educational and research materials," CEO Michael Hansen said in a statement. "Cengage Learning began an operational transformation six months ago under the leadership of our new senior management team, which is executing bold plans to enhance our customer relationships and introduce innovative digital and print products and solutions to meet our customers’ evolving needs."
Sonoma State University is apologizing for an incident in which a student working an an orientation event for new students was told by an administrator to remove her necklace because it had a cross on it, and that might offend other students. The Liberty Institute, a group that defends the rights of religious people, has written the university, demanding that the student be allowed to wear the cross, which is an expression of her religious faith. A spokeswoman for the university said that the student never should have been asked to take off the necklace, and that the university regrets the incident and wants to make sure nothing similar happens in the future.
A report issued Tuesday by Education Sector, a Washington, D.C. think tank, examines the federal government's three-year cohort default rate for federal student loans as well as alternative ways to measure how many students fail to repay their debt. The report, "In Debt and In the Dark," argues that current publicly available information on loan defaults is incomplete and doesn't represent students' total risk of default. The author, Andrew Gillen, research director of Education Sector, calls for combining default rates with graduation rates — saying that graduation rates that exceed default rates, found at 514 colleges, the majority of which are community colleges, are a "red flag" for prospective students.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker vetoed a budget provision on Sunday that would have kicked the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism off of the University of Wisconsin’s campus and barred any university employee from working with the nonprofit group. Walker said since the journalism center is a private group, relationships between it and the university should be addressed by the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, not lawmakers in the state budget, according to the Journal Sentinel. The veto comes as a relief to Greg Downey, the director of the School of Journalism at UW-Madison, who fought to reverse the Joint Finance Committee’s budget provision after it was introduced in early June. On his blog, Downey wrote a blog post titled “Ten things to consider if you find your research, teaching, or service under political attack,” in which he explains the lessons he learned from this experience.
About a month after being banned from postseason competition, the baseball, volleyball, football and men’s basketball teams at Alabama State University have been cleared to play, after the National Collegiate Athletic Association reviewed new data from the institution. The teams had initially been punished for failing to meet the NCAA’s minimum Academic Progress Rate, a score based on athletes’ eligibility, retention and graduation rates. The historically black university accounted for four of the 18 teams banned from postseason play – the NCAA’s harshest punishment for missing APR benchmarks, and one handed down most often to HBCUs – more than any other institution.
The Arabic Overseas Flagship Program is relocating from Alexandria, Egypt to Meknes, Morocco, having determined that restrictions in place to ensure students’ safety were undermining opportunities for informal language and cultural learning.
Demonstrations against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi have swelled in the last week; an American college student in Alexandria was fatally stabbed on Friday while observing a protest. The U.S. State Department has warned against non-essential travel to Egypt in light of the growing political and social unrest, prompting universities to reevaluate their study abroad programs there.
“In recent days, it had become clear that in order to guarantee the safety of our students in Egypt, it had become necessary to establish curfews and limitations on their movements (including escort and shuttle arrangements to and from classes at the university), [meaning that] the students were essentially having to give up many of the kinds of informal language contacts and cultural exploration that overseas immersion study is designed to provide,” Dan Davidson, the president of the American Councils for International Education, which administers the program, said in an email.
“It was as much a concern for the quality of the learning experience available to our students under present conditions in Egypt, as it was immediate specific concerns about the students' immediate personal safety” that the decision was made to relocate the program to Morocco beginning July 6, Davidson said. The program's Egyptian partner institution, Alexandria University, will be transferring some of its language teachers to Morocco to continue working with students.
The yearlong Arabic Overseas Flagship Program began in early June and involves 18 students from five U.S. universities. The Flagship language programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Security Education Program.