Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, January 4, 2013 - 3:00am

College football has been "by far the slowest sport to react" to the growing concerns about brain trauma from repeated concussions and other head injuries, as one expert says in the first of a four-part series published Thursday in The Birmingham News. The article quotes numerous experts saying that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has failed to respond to growing evidence of a severe problem in the sport, though it notes progress made by several conferences.


Friday, January 4, 2013 - 4:20am

David Coleman, the new president of the College Board, last year gave a speech (related to his prior position as co-leader of the effort to write the Common Core State Standards, and not serving at the College Board) in which he offered strong criticism of the SAT, The Washington Post reported. Coleman focused on an issue that has bothered other educators -- the way the SAT writing test doesn't judge whether students are making arguments that have a basis in facts. (This paragraph has been updated to correct an error about Coleman's position at the time of the remarks.)

Here's a portion of the transcript of the talk that the Post found at the Brookings Institution: "Right now, I think there’s a breakthrough that the SAT added writing, because we do want to make the claim that kids need to write to be ready. Like, duh, right. To be ready for college and career, it obviously includes writing. But I have a problem with the SAT writing. So if you look at the way the SAT assessment is designed, when you write an essay even if it’s an opinion piece, there’s no source information given to you. So in other words, you write like what you’re opinion is on a subject, but there’s no fact on the table. So a friend of mine tutors in Hong Kong, and she was asked by here Hong Kong students, where do you get the examples for the essay? She said, you know, it’s the American way, you make them up. Now I’m all for creativity and innovation, but I don’t think that’s quite the creativity we want to inspire in a generation of youth. That is, if writing is to be ready for the demands of career and college, it must be precise, it must be accurate, it must draw upon evidence. Now I think that is warranted by tons of information we see from surveys of college  professors, from evidence we have from other sources, so I think there is good reason to think about a design of SAT where rather than kids just writing an essay, there’s source material that they’re analyzing."

He also criticized the selection of vocabulary for the SAT: "I think when you think about vocabulary on exams, you know, how SAT words are famous as the words you will never use again? You know, you study them in high school and you’re like, gosh, I’ve never seen this before, and I probably never shall. Why wouldn’t it be the opposite? Why wouldn’t you have a body of language on the SAT that’s the words you most need to know and be ready to use again and again? Words like transform, deliberate, hypothesis, right?"

Asked about those comments recently, Coleman told the Post that "I want to be careful to say in a clear voice that any changes in SAT require the team, the trustees, and our partners in higher education to agree. The real question is can we make a revision of SAT a victory for everyone – more aligned with what colleges need as well as better work for kids. I think we can."

Friday, January 4, 2013 - 4:22am

The Dutch education ministry wants to ban universities from investing in derivatives, Times Higher Education reported. Derivatives have become a popular financial strategy for many Dutch universities, but the government fears that twists in the economy could leave the universities in a highly vulnerable position because of the reliance on these investments.


Friday, January 4, 2013 - 3:00am

In the weeks before Congress reached a last-minute agreement on the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, a proposed cap on deductions for charitable giving alarmed colleges and universities. That wasn't included in the final compromise to avoid the "fiscal cliff," but one provision does slightly dent the tax advantage for donations, including to colleges. The package Congress voted on Tuesday reinstates the Pease Amendment, which reduces the value of tax deductions for wealthy households. The value of deductions is reduced by 3 percent of a taxpayer's income over a certain threshold -- $300,000 for taxpayers married and filing jointly, $150,000 for married taxpayers filing separately and $250,000 for unmarried individuals.

The Pease limitation is a concern, said Brian Flahaven, director of government relations for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. But the group was far more worried about the proposed deduction cap or other limitations. "Anything that increases the cost of giving, and this would, certainly could lead to some decline in giving," Flahaven said. "The effect is much less than a cap."

Friday, January 4, 2013 - 3:00am

Gerda Lerner, considered one of the pioneers of women's history, died Wednesday at the age of 92. An obituary in The New York Times detailed her career, much of which was spent at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She focused on the history of women in the United States when such a focus was highly unusual among historians. In 1972, when Lerner was teaching at Sarah Lawrence College, she created a master's degree in women's history -- the first graduate degree in the field.

Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 3:00am

Japan's Education Ministry is preparing to allow universities to use a quarter system in addition to the traditional semester system, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported. In the current system, students take up to 10 courses a semester but the courses meet only once a week, and critics say that there is not enough focus on anything. Under a quarter system, students would take fewer courses but they would meet twice a week.

Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 3:00am

Connecticut officials are investigating the sudden closure this week of three for-profit colleges, The Hartford Courant reported. Two of the campuses are Sawyer Schools, and one is a Butler Business School. All are owned by Academic Enterprises, Inc. State regulations require 60 days' notice of a school closure, and that was not given. School officials could not be reached.


Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 3:00am

Harvard Law School is preparing to offer a free course through edX -- the platform Harvard University uses for MOOCs (massive open online courses). But as The National Law Journal reported, the law course (on copyright) won't be totally open or massive. Enrollment will be limited to 500. The course description explains the rationale behind the limit: "Enrollment for the course is limited, in keeping with the belief that high-quality legal education depends, at least in part, upon supervised small-group discussions of difficult issues. Fidelity to that principle requires confining the course to the number of participants that can be supervised effectively by the 21 teaching fellows. The limit on the enrollment does not mean, however, that there will not be access to the course materials. On the contrary, all of the readings and recorded lectures used in the course will be made available to the public."

Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 3:00am

National Collegiate Athletic Association officials offered a sharp-elbowed rebuttal to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's announcement Wednesday that the state would sue the association over the harsh penalties it imposed on Pennsylvania State University in the wake of its child sex abuse scandal. In his statement, Corbett said the NCAA had largely ignored its own procedures by injecting itself "into an issue they had no authority to police and one that was clearly being handled by the justice system," and that the "arbitrary and capricious" penalties that resulted would irreparably harm the university.

The NCAA's executive vice president and general counsel, Donald M. Remy, characterized the lawsuit as without merit. He noted that Penn State officials had signed off on the consent decree that dictated the penalties, thereby "accept[ing] the consequences for its role and the role of its employees" in the tragedy that destroyed the lives of those molested by a former coach, Jerry Sandusky. "Today's announcement by the Governor is a setback to the University's efforts,” Remy said.

Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 3:00am

When the 113th Congress convenes, the leaders of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the subcommittee focusing on higher education won't change -- John Kline, a Minnesota Republican, will remain chairman of the committee, while Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, will return as chairwoman of the subcommittee on higher education. The committee also adds three new Republican members -- Susan Brooks and Luke Messer, both of Indiana, and Richard Hudson of North Carolina.


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