Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

July 1, 2013

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law last week to encourage the state's K-12 and higher education systems to use massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

The law has narrower scope than early versions of the bill but its critics remain deeply concerned. An earlier proposal could have allowed anyone to create and seek “Florida-accredited” status for courses that Florida's public colleges and universities would have to granted credit for.

The bill Scott signed allows MOOCs, under certain conditions, to be used to help teach K-12 students in four subjects and also orders Florida education officials to study and set rules that would allow students who have yet to enroll in college to earn transfer credits by taking MOOCs.

Tom Auxter, the president of the 7,000-member United Faculty of Florida, said "intense and feverish" opposition from faculty helped scale back the plan. Still, he warned of a generation of "cheap and dirty" online courses offered to students before they enroll in college. “No matter how many times they use ‘quality,’ this is a cheapening of what higher education is all about,” Auxter warned, referring to supporters of MOOCs for credit.

Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes, who sponsored early versions of the bill, did not give the unions or faculty credit for the changes.

Much remains up in the air now, though. Brandes said he expected the scope of the law to eventually be expanded. Much will also be decided in coming months as state education officials study the issue and set rules about how to use MOOCs for college credit. “We’re giving them two years to set up all the rules and procedures they need to allow us to work with Udacity, or edX or Coursera to offer their wealth of knowledge in Florida,” Brandes said, referring to three MOOC providers.

Dean Florez, a former California state senator who leads the Twenty Million Minds Foundation and generally supports efforts to expand online education, said the Florida law encourages "practices that consider the future of the classroom from the early years into college.”

“Florida has recognized the opportunities inherent in MOOCs and in admirable fashion reached consensus on a bill incorporating all public education systems, from K-12 to higher ed,” he said in a statement. 

June 28, 2013

Public higher education and states need a "new compact" to promote the needs of states and colleges, according to a new report by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The report urges public colleges and universities to adopt accountability measures, deal with concerns about college affordability, link priorities to state needs and report on institutional outcomes. But the report stresses that these commitments will be difficult to make without consistent state financial support.

 

June 28, 2013

The website of Renmin University, in China, has experienced unprecedented traffic (and has crashed as a result) because of a photograph of an attractive woman who recently graduated, The South China Morning Post reported. While the photograph is not the least bit risqué by American standards, it is quite unusual for a Chinese university's website. The photograph has prompted considerable debate in China, with some praising it and others wondering if it is shifting attention away from academic issues.

 

June 28, 2013

After a 19-month suspension, the marching band at Florida A&M University will perform again, the university's interim president Larry Robinson said Thursday. The November 2011 death of drum major Robert Champion, who was brutally hazed in a post-football game ritual, led to the university putting the famed Marching 100 on hiatus and attempting to reform a well-established hazing culture. Robinson said that after taking measures including revising Florida A&M's anti-hazing policies and hiring a staff member to monitor and prevent the practice, the “right conditions” were in place to bring back the band, though he did not say when it will start performing again.

June 28, 2013

Jack R. Ohle announced Thursday that he will retire as president of Gustavus Adolphus College after the next academic year. The announcement referenced the completion of a strategic plan, fund-raising successes and other accomplishments. But faculty members and students have been pushing for some time for Ohle to leave. They question his financial decisions and say that he has largely cut many on the campus out of any meaningful participation in governance. The campaign against him has featured an anonymous website, GustieLeaks, that has featured numerous documents about the college and its leadership.

 

June 28, 2013

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed his own idea on Thursday to make the University of California and California State University systems spend $10 million each on education technology.

The new money was designed to allow the two systems to increase the number of online courses available to undergraduate students. Instead, under the budget Brown made law Thursday, the two universities will get to keep the money and spend it any way they want. Brown used his line-item veto power to take the strings off the money, although both UC and Cal State say they will go ahead with plans to buy technology with the funds. "Eliminating these earmarks will give the university greater flexibility to manage its resources to meet its obligations, operate its instructional programs more effectively, and avoid tuition and fee increases," his veto message said.

Even though they don't have to, both systems said they plan to spend the money on technology. “We’ve made a commitment to provide the $10 million, so it’s not going to affect our plans,” said Steve Montiel, a spokesman for the UC president's office.

Michael Uhlenkamp, spokesman for Cal State Chancellor Timothy White, said the system thinks technology can help address a critical need and that it can use the money to alleviate bottlenecks.

"So while there is no legislative mandate in the budget to accomplish this, we’ll still continue to work along those lines," he said in an email.

An earmark that gives nearly $17 million to the California community college system and mandates the system spend the money specifically on ed tech remained in the budget Brown signed Thursday.

Dean Florez, the head of the pro-online education 20 Million Minds Foundation and former majority leader in the California Senate, said Brown's veto should make colleges think about spending more on online education rather than less.

"Governor Brown vetoing his own earmark for online education in the CSU and UC, emphasizes that funding for said programs should not be limited in any way,” he said in a statement. “The California Community Colleges, who serve 2.4 million students and already have approximately 17 percent of their courses online, will still receive $16.9 million in dedicated funds for expansion of online access. In light of the advances made in the CCC system, we hope that the other two segments will follow through with their assurances of online program advancement to alleviate system-wide bottlenecks.”

June 28, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, James Cavanagh of Brown University reveals how our brain and behavior can be influenced by our evolutionary past. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 28, 2013

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed, 68-32, an immigration reform bill with several provisions sought by higher education leaders. The bill would create a path to citizenship for those who are in the United States without documentation to permit them to reside in the country, and provisions would be of particular help to students who were brought to the United States as children. Many colleges have pushed for such a change, saying that these students never sought to break a law, and that they have completed high school in the United States, only to face difficulty being admitted to or receiving aid for higher education. Other provisions would ease the visa process for some international students and make it easier for American colleges and universities to hire some professors from abroad. President Obama praised the legislation, but Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have vowed not to allow a vote in that chamber on the bill. Rather the Republican leaders have said that they would draft their own bill, and it is unclear how the provisions of importance to colleges would fare in that version.

 

June 27, 2013

Mark G. Yudof, president of the University of California, has approved a controversial proposal by the University of California at Los Angeles business school to make its M.B.A. program "self-supporting." Under the plan, the business school would gain more autonomy and flexibility for managing the program in return for giving up the $8 million it would otherwise receive from the state for the program. UCLA officials have argued that since that money is now a small share of operating funds, it can make up the difference -- and stands to gain more from increased autonomy. Some faculty critics have called the plan "privatization" -- a word avoided by proponents of the plan. The announcement of Yudof's approval noted conditions he placed on the concept. On issues of academic quality, the M.B.A. program remains subject to the same policies governing other professional schools in the UC system. Further, financial aid for low-income students must be provided at similar levels to those of other UC M.B.A. programs.

 

June 27, 2013

Building on research earlier this year that showed colleges are failing to reach high-achieving, low-income students, two researchers on Wednesday called for a nationwide expansion of a pilot program that sends information packets to those students. In a discussion paper for the Hamilton Project, part of the Brookings Institution, the researchers, Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University and Sarah Turner of the University of Virginia, renewed a call from their earlier work for sending high-achieving poor students information about their college options in a partnership with the College Board or ACT.

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