Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 16, 2013

Florida Atlantic University has had more than its share of controversies in the last several months, over the naming of its football stadium for a private prison company owned by an alumnus and a professor's in-class exercise in which he invited students to step on a piece of paper with "Jesus" written on it, among others. (The university took heat from many in the public for the professor's actions, and from many faculty members for failing to defend his academic freedom to their satisfaction.)

President Mary Jane Saunders staunchly defended the university's actions throughout both of those situations, but late Tuesday Florida Atlantic's board accepted her resignation, which she attributed to the controversies. “There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the University community," she wrote in a letter to the board. "The issues and the fiercely negative media coverage have forced me to reassess my position as the President of FAU. I must make choices that are the best for the University, me and my family.”

May 16, 2013

LaGuardia Community College's enhanced GED preparation program substantially boosts GED pass rates and the likelihood of college enrollment, according to a newly released study by MDRC, a nonprofit social research firm. Students in the program, which is designed to serve as a pathway to college and careers, were more than twice as likely to pass the high school equivalency exam as were students in traditional GED prep courses. They were also three times as likely to enroll in college.

May 16, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that would keep the interest rate on subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent for another two years at a cost to the government of $8.6 billion -- a measure that underscored the distance between Congressional Democrats and the White House on interest rates. The interest rate for subsidized Stafford loans, need-based loans that don't accumulate interest while students are enrolled in college, will double to 6.8 percent on July 1 if Congress does not act. 

The interest rate increase was long planned -- it was written into a 2007 law that gradually lowered interest rates for four years before letting them rebound -- and was supposed to occur last year, but Congress passed a one-year extension of the 3.4 percent rate. The White House and Congressional Republicans have both proposed plans to base the interest rate on the government's cost to borrow, which would allow the rate to vary from year to year.

Congressional Democrats, though, want to keep the rate at 3.4 percent until the issue can be considered in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The legislation proposed Wednesday, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, among others, would pay for the extension through changes to tax law affecting retirement accounts, the oil industry and tax deductions for foreign companies. The House, meanwhile, will mark up its interest rate proposal at a hearing today.

May 15, 2013

State officials in Texas today unveil Compare College Texas, a website that gives students and policy makers easily comparable data on key higher education outcomes for all public institutions in the state.

May 15, 2013

A prominent Harvard University historian, Niall Ferguson, has been apologizing for statements he made that John Maynard Keynes didn't care about future generations because he was gay and did not have children. The chair of the Committee on LGBT History, a national group, on Tuesday issued a statement encouraging Ferguson to read more gay history, and calling on Harvard to use the Ferguson controversy to play more of a role in gay history. "Harvard should show leadership here by, at a minimum, hosting a major conference about LGBT history and encouraging Ferguson to attend. It is also high time that Harvard makes a new tenure-track hire in LGBT history. The incident has underscored the value of teaching and researching LGBT histories. This confronts ignorance about LGBT people, lives, and communities, and in the process, builds a more accurate historical record overall," said the statement, published at the History News Network.

In an e-mail message to Inside Higher Ed, David Armitage, the chair of history at Harvard, said: "We do not currently have a tenure-track position specifically focused on gay and lesbian history but we did request a post in the modern history of gender and sexuality (jointly with Harvard's program in women and gender studies) long before the recent debate arose. We already have great strength in this field, with Afsaneh Najmabadi, Nancy Cott, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in our department, but we very much hope to extend our reach in this area, alongside many other pressing priorities for our department."

May 15, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Frank Elgar of McGill University explores the psychological benefits of making time for family meals. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 15, 2013

The University of Southern California announced Wednesday that it would receive $70 million from the music producers Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre to create an academy designed to encourage entrepreneurship in the music industry. The USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation -- Andre Young is Dr. Dre's real name -- will bring together courses in business, marketing, engineering and the arts, among other disciplines, to try to stimulate creativity in the music industry.

May 15, 2013

St. Mary's College of Maryland, a public liberal arts college, is likely to face a budget shortfall of about $3.5 million after commitments from incoming freshmen came in short of what the college expected, The Washington Post reported. Aiming for a class of about 470, the university has received commitments from only about 360 students so far. Administrators said the college is trying to attract more applicants and enroll students off the waitlist, as well as figure out how to cope with the lost tuition revenue. Administrators said they are not yet sure why the college saw a decrease in commitments after receiving a 14 percent increase in applications, but are looking into it.

May 15, 2013

Fifteen percent of college students have or have a friend who has ordered drugs off the Internet without a prescription, according to a new survey by the Digital Citizens Alliance. The survey of 366 current and recent students found that one in three students took prescription drugs “to get through finals,” and a third of them obtained the pills without a prescription.

May 15, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, is using an unusual tactic to promote a bill she proposed on student loan interest rates: asking for "citizen co-sponsors" for the legislation. The bill, one of many proposals put forward in recent weeks to stop the interest rates for subsidized student loans from doubling as planned on July 1, would reduce student loan interest rates to 0.75 percent for a year -- the rate at which the Federal Reserve lends to major banks.

President Obama and House Republicans want a market-based rate for student loan interest; some Senate Democrats would prefer to extend the current subsidized loan interest rate of 3.4 percent while they work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

So Warren's measure isn't likely to pass. But as the first stand-alone legislation from the closely watched freshman senator, it has generated considerable interest online. "If Congress doesn't act by July 1, our students will pay nine times more than big banks," Warren said in an e-mailed appeal to supporters sent via a liberal political action committee, Democracy for America. "Our students are the engine of our economic future, and they deserve at least the same deal as Wall Street."

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