Higher Education Quick Takes
The American Historical Association, trying to build buzz for its annual meeting in January in New Orleans, is asking historians for names of drinks to be served at hotel bars during the meeting. Among the nominees that have come in so far: ABD, Postmodern Turn, Oral History ("your mouth will never forget it"), the Jacobite Rebellion ("Scotch with just a soupcon of haggis floating in it") and the Dead White Male.
Roger Williams University has announced that it will no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. "While we recognize that standardized tests accurately measure aptitude for many students, there are many others whose talents are not measured by such tests and they can serve as an artificial barrier to many highly qualified students, preventing them from even considering an RWU education," said a statement from the university.
An article in The New York Times looks at a growing student movement to push colleges to sell their endowment holdings in fossil fuel, coal and oil companies. To organizers, such moves are seen as a way to combat climate change. With a few exceptions -- such as the 1980s movement to sell stocks of companies doing business in apartheid-era South Africa -- colleges have generally resisted moves to use their endowment holdings to encourage causes. Two small colleges -- Unity College and Hampshire College -- have adopted policies that will end investments in fossil fuels, but institutions with large endowments have thus far declined to get behind the new movement.
About a dozen students occupying the clock tower at Cooper Union, protesting the decision by the president of one of the last remaining institutions to offer students a tuition-free education to take it off that short list. The students, who began their protest Monday, vowed Tuesday to remain until their list of demands, including the president’s resignation and a hiring freeze, are met. The occupation is the latest action by students unhappy with the steps taken by President Jamshed Bharucha, who said in April that the institution would start charging for some new graduate programs, and might start charging tuition for all students after 2013. Police have been in and out of the clock tower, and Bharucha said in a statement Tuesday that his first priority is the safety of the students, whose full tuition is covered through scholarships. Faculty members held a press conference at the site Tuesday afternoon, reaffirming their support for a tuition-free college.
A University of Alabama graduate student faces criminal charges of stalking and making terroristic threats against officials there in e-mail messages, The Tuscaloosa News reported. The newspaper said that Zachary Burrell, a doctoral student in physics, had been jailed since Friday as a result of “erratic” e-mails that included video clips of a movie ("Dark Matter") that depicted a graduate student's 1991 shootings of professors and a peer at the University of Iowa. While the e-mails "did not contain direct threats to the general campus population,” according to a university spokeswoman quoted by the newspaper, a deposition filed in court said that he had been dismissed from the university for "various behavioral issues.”
Coursera, the largest platform for massive open online courses (MOOCs), on Tuesday announced Coursera Career Services, a match-making tool aimed at connecting its most talented students to companies that are looking to hire. The company will offer its students the chance to opt in to a database that employers can then browse in search of job candidates. "If you do well in a Coursera class and allow us to share that information with potential employers (who will have agreed to keep this information in strict confidence, and use only for the purpose of considering you for employment), this could make you even more appealing to employers," wrote the company in a release.
At first the service will focus on software engineering. Coursera says it has relationships with several software companies, including Facebook, Twitter, AppDirect and TrialPay, and has successfully gotten students hired during a pilot phase the company has been running for several months. As MOOC providers explore revenue models in lieu of charging tuition for their massive courses, recruiting services such as this may figure prominently. Udacity, another for-profit MOOC provider, has also been pursuing a "headhunter" model whereby companies pay for introductions to talented students.
In Coursera's contract with the University of Virginia the company lists "employee recruiting" as one of its potential monetization strategies. "Company will allow prospective employers to execute queries against end user records," stipulates the contract. "These queries might involve end user performance in relevant courses... as well as end user-supplied demographic information." A percentage of the revenue generated by Coursera Career Services would go to the universities that are running the relevant courses.
Xavier University of Louisiana is planning layoffs and other cuts to deal with a $5 million deficit created when fewer students enrolled this year than had been expected, The Times-Picayune reported. At this point, faculty members will not be subject to layoffs. The university is cutting its contribution to all employees' health insurance. Enrollment this fall is 3,178, down more than 200 from last fall, and below the 3,300-3,400 estimates the university made for the year. Officials blame the poor economy and tighter student loan eligibility rules for the decline.
The Common Application has been facing criticism from some high school counselors and college admissions officials over two changes being made: the elimination of a "free choice" essay topic, and an announcement that the essay maximum of 500 words will be strictly enforced. On Tuesday, the Common Application issued a letter defending the changes. The association said that applicants would have five essay prompts "that will allow students to thoughtfully and creatively write about themselves and their interests." The letter predicted that once the prompts are announced, people will see that applicants have plenty of options. On the length limit, the Common Application noted that colleges can (and some do) have applicants fill out supplemental forms, with essays of whatever length is acceptable to the colleges. The letter notes that Common Application members have varying ideas about essay length, but that some institutions lack the resources to review long essays or see longer essays as "a hurdle for applicants."