Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 7, 2015

The online education market showed "no discernible growth" between the fall of 2012 and 2013, according to a preliminary analysis of the federal government's data on students enrolled in distance education courses. The analysis, conducted by higher education consultant Phil Hill, shows that the number of students enrolled in fully online programs grew from 2.63 million to 2.65 million, a margin small enough to be considered statistical noise as many institutions changed how they reported enrollment data during that period.

"Think of the implications here if online education has stopped growing in U.S. higher education," Hill wrote. "Many of the assumptions underlying institutional strategic plans and ed-tech vendor market data are based on continued growth in online learning. It is possible that there will be market changes leading back to year-over-year growth, but for now the assumptions might be wrong."

The federal government data on students taking distance education courses only goes back to the fall of 2012, meaning the release of the fall 2013 data is the first time year-over-year comparisons have been possible.

January 7, 2015

The University of Virginia has lifted the ban on Greek social activities that was imposed last semester after an article in Rolling Stone detailed an alleged gang rape at a campus fraternity. The article's accuracy has since been questioned, but the university chose to keep the ban in place while it worked with Greek leadership councils to create new safety policies. The university adopted a new fraternal organization agreement on Tuesday, authorizing safety practices submitted by the Greek councils. Reflecting the concerns of the university's Board of Visitors, the precautions largely focus on alcohol consumption.

A minimum of three fraternity brothers must be "sober and lucid" at each social function, with at least one member present wherever alcohol is being distributed and at stairways leading to bedrooms. Fraternities must provide one additional sober member for every 30 members of the chapter. The new agreement allows for beer to be served unopened in its original can, but wine must be poured by one of the sober monitors. At parties where the number of guests exceeds the number of members present (what are called "Tier I events"), hard liquor cannot be served unless the fraternity hires a licensed bartender. Bottled water and food must be provided. Sororities, too, enacted new safety practices, including adopting an "Inter-Sorority Council Women On Call" program, where chapter leaders sign up in shifts to be the lead contact person for members in "unsafe situations."

January 7, 2015

The National Collegiate Athletic Association will help cover the expenses of basketball players' family members who travel to the men's and women's Final Four games this spring, the association announced Tuesday. The NCAA also granted a waiver that allows the College Football Playoff to help cover the expenses of families traveling to the national championship football game next week.

Under a new pilot program, the NCAA will pay up to $3,000 in travel, hotel and meal expenses for family members of each athlete who competes in the Final Four. The association will pay as much as $4,000 for families of athletes playing in the championship games. The NCAA will allow the College Football Playoff to provide $3,000 in assistance to families of football players participating in the national championship. Member institutions can now also begin providing family travel expenses for other championships on a permanent basis, the NCAA said. The current, 14-year deal between CBS and the NCAA to broadcast the men's basketball tournament is worth $11 billion.

The change is among several the NCAA is making in response to pressure it's under to provide more support for athletes. At the NCAA convention next week, the newly autonomous "power five" conferences are expected to vote on several reforms, including providing better medical, financial, and academic support to athletes. "From multiyear scholarships to opportunities to return to school and complete their degree on scholarship, we have been dedicated to further improving the student-athlete experience since our presidential retreat in August 2011,” Mark Emmert, NCAA president said. “Providing travel expenses for student-athletes’ families is another example of this progress.”can we add a sentence of context saying that this is among the changes the NCAA is making to try to respond to pressure it's under to give more support to athletes? also, any sense how much this will in total? dl

January 7, 2015

Joy Laskar, a a former tenured professor of electrical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, has been indicted on two counts of racketeering, based on allegations that he poured some $1 million of university funds into his own tech company, Fox6 WBRC reported. In an interview with the station, Laskar denied the charges, saying that he used university funds to make legitimate purchases of computer chips that benefited his students and research work. Laskar’s university office was raided by investigators in 2010, and he was later suspended and fired. In 2011, the university settled with him for more than $181,000, after he sued, saying he'd been wrongfully suspended without pay. A criminal investigation continued, however, and the indictments were handed down as the statute of limitations for the case neared. Craig Frankel, one of Laskar’s attorneys, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A university spokesman confirmed that Laskar’s employment there ended officially in August 2011, but he declined further comment on the pending litigation.

January 7, 2015

In today's Academic Minute, Charlton McIlwain, associate professor of media, culture and communication at New York University, explores news coverage specifically about Michael Brown and the ways it did and did not focus on issues of race and ethnicity. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 6, 2015

The University System of Georgia will attempt another merger, this time between Georgia State University and a community college, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, citing unnamed sources close to the matter.

Since 2011, the Georgia system has embarked on a series of mergers unlike any other state system in the country. The sixth and latest would be between Georgia State, a four-year university with an urban campus and about 25,000 undergraduates, and Georgia Perimeter College, a two-year college with about 21,000 students in the suburbs. Both are in or near Atlanta, but they have far different missions and programs. Georgia State has a $740 million budget, about four times Perimeter’s, and has a significantly higher tuition, which could become a knot to untangle for Georgia officials.

The merger is expected to be recommended at a meeting today of the system’s Board of Regents. The board is also set to finalize a merger between Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University that was announced in November 2013 and approved by accreditors just last month.

Georgia has already merged a four-year with a two-year college, when it combined North Georgia College and State University with the two-year Gainesville State College, but those institutions are smaller and had roughly the same budget. The state has also combined two colleges with vastly different missions and budgets: Augusta State University, a mostly undergraduate institution, and Georgia Health Sciences University, a medical college with a $630 million budget that was 10 times that of Augusta State's.

Mergers have been a key goal of Georgia system Chancellor Hank Huckaby’s since he took the job in 2011. With the Kennesaw and Southern Poly merger, the number of public colleges in the state will be reduced to 30 from 35 when he took office.

The Georgia system makes its decision to merge based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative factors, which the board has publicly boiled down to a half-dozen “principles for consolidation.” 

January 6, 2015

Kaplan Higher Education, a for-profit chain, on Monday agreed to a $1.3 million settlement with the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. The civil settlement resolves whistleblower allegations that Kaplan employed unqualified instructors at its campuses in Texas, the U.S. Attorney's office said in a written statement. The agreement did not include a finding of wrongdoing by the company. The for-profit settled to avoid the "expense of protracted litigation," a Kaplan official said in a written statement. 

January 6, 2015

Dalhousie University revealed Monday that it had suspended from clinical activities 13 male dentistry students involved in a Facebook group that joked about chloroforming female students to have sex with them, among other comments, The Globe and Mail reported. The students' behavior first drew attention last month, but at the time the Canadian university's president said the students would not be suspended but would be required to attend face-to-face mediation with the women they were accused of harassing.

Pressure has grown on university administrators to take tougher action against the male dentistry students. On Monday, President Richard Florizone said the university had suspended the men from clinical activities (but not from classes) in late December but delayed announcing the punishment because of "credible" risk that some of them might do themselves harm. The men are now on campus and have access to counseling, administrators said. The temporary clinical suspension will stay in place while an academic panel considers other penalties, The Globe and Mail reported. Four faculty members at Dalhousie initiated a complaint against the male students under the student code of conduct, demanding tougher punishment.

January 6, 2015

Washington and Lee University will no longer hold classes on Martin Luther King Day, starting in 2016, The Washington Post reported. The undergraduate faculty voted in November to make the change and officials said that they would not be able to alter the academic calendar until 2016. Washington and Lee has faced criticism from some black students and others for holding classes on the federal holiday, but the university has also faced criticism for some traditionalists for efforts it has made to either limit or place in historical context Confederate symbols that have been revered by some alumni and students.

January 6, 2015

Adjunct professors at Washington University in St. Louis voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Monday. More than 400 adjuncts will be part of the new bargaining unit, which is the first in St. Louis affiliated with SEIU's Adjunct Action metro-wide organizing campaign. Some 62 percent of adjuncts turned out to vote; 138 voted yes and 111 voted no. Michael O’Bryan, an adjunct instructor of English, called the vote an "important step toward improving the labor conditions of university faculty and, consequently, the learning experience of the students taught by those faculty" in an announcement. The university said in a statement that it is "committed to working with the union on matters of mutual importance."

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