Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, December 19, 2011 - 4:28am

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- which pioneered the idea of making course materials free online -- today announced a major expansion of the idea, with the creation of MITx, which will provide for interaction among students, assessment and the awarding of certificates of completion to students who have no connection to MIT.

MIT is also starting a major initiative -- led by Provost L. Rafael Reif -- to study online teaching and learning.

The first course through MITx is expected this spring. While the institute will not charge for the courses, it will charge what it calls "a modest fee" for the assessment that would lead to a credential. The credential will be awarded by MITx and will not constitute MIT credit. The university also plans to continue MIT OpenCourseWare, the program through which it makes course materials available online.

An FAQ from MIT offers more details on the new program.

While MIT has been widely praised for OpenCourseWare, much of the attention in the last year from the "open" educational movement has shifted to programs like the Khan Academy (through which there is direct instruction provided, if not yet assessment) and an initiative at Stanford University that makes courses available -- courses for which some German universities are providing academic credit. The new initiative would appear to provide some of the features (instruction such as offered by Khan, and certification that some are creating for the Stanford courses) that have been lacking in OpenCourseWare.



Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Tea Party organizers and others are gathering petitions for a statewide vote in California to repeal the state's Dream Act, which authorizes students who do not have the legal right to reside in the United States to receive state financial aid, The Los Angeles Times reported. It is unclear whether the organizers will be able to gather enough signatures to get their proposal on the ballot. Polls have shown that 55 percent of state residents oppose the law that gave the students aid eligibility, but the outcome of California ballot measures is difficult to predict.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

A new study released by the Community College Research Center found that performance-based funding policies lead to greater use of data by colleges in institutional planning. Performance-based funding also encourages academic improvements and better student services. However, the policies can create unintended consequences, such as compliance costs, narrowing of institutional missions and grade inflation, the study found.

Monday, December 19, 2011 - 4:32am

Riley Westmoreland, student government president at Samford University, doesn't need to worry about access to the university president. The Birmingham News reported that the university's president is Andrew Westmoreland, her father. And he has a tradition of regularly inviting the student government president to dine with his family.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Ugandan higher education authorities recently authorized the Virtual University of Uganda to begin offering fully online programs, the first such programs in the region. The university has created an open access virtual library and a course management system through Moodle. Instruction will be in English, but there are plans to expand to French as well.

Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Carly Pacanowski of Cornell University explains how the cultural expectation of food at meetings and gatherings has contributed to the obesity epidemic. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The U.S. Justice Department announced Friday that it did not see antitrust problems with the Designated Suppliers Program, an effort of the Worker Rights Consortium to assure that employees at factories that produce collegiate apparel receive basic rights and fair treatment. Some have expressed fears that colleges that agree to participate in the program might be found in violation of antitrust laws. But a statement from the Justice Department noted that no college is forced to participate. Further, the Justice Department noted that the program may create new competition among colleges and companies that abide by the conditions of the program.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri (right) has been developing a plan for public universities to provide more than $100 million in interest-free loans to the state, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The Democratic governor's plan would benefit the universities, in theory, because the funds would be used for public higher education, reducing the chances of a large cut in appropriations. The money for the loans would come from reserve funds at the institutions. Republican legislators are lining up against the idea. Kurt Schaefer, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, questioned whether the universities would be repaid. "If the proposal is a Bernie Madoff-type Ponzi scheme to make it look like something's being funded that isn't really being funded, that's not acceptable," Schaefer said.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The Houston Athletics Foundation, an endowment that supports athletics programs at the University of Houston, lost more than 40 percent of its assets to a Ponzi scheme, the Associated Press reported. More than $2.2 million of the endowment's $5.1 million had been invested with a financial adviser for college basketball coaches who is believed to have set up the scheme and who committed suicide last summer.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Michigan on Friday promoted news coverage of an open letter on college costs by Mary Sue Coleman, president of the institution, to President Obama. "Higher education is a public good currently lacking public support. There is no stronger trigger for rising costs at public universities and colleges than declining state support," Coleman wrote. In the letter, she praised Obama for recently gathering a small group of college presidents to talk about college costs. But in offering this public advice to Obama, Coleman didn't note that she was one of the presidents invited to the White House, but sent her regrets. A spokeswoman said that Coleman's "schedule wouldn't permit" her to join the White House meeting.



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