Higher Education Quick Takes
The University of Pennsylvania announced this week that its employee health plans would include an option that would cover sexual reassignment surgery for transgender employees. Covering such surgery is rare for higher education employers (and for many employers outside academe). The change was sought by student and employee groups at Penn.
- 2012 Annual Meeting, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, April 1-4, Philadelphia
- Education in a Changing World: What's Next? SCUP 2012 North Atlantic Regional Conference, Society for College and University Planning, April 11-13, New York
- NITLE Symposium: Inventing the Future, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, April 16-17, Arlington, Va.
- CIC Department and Division Chair Workshop, Council of Independent Colleges, May 22-24, Charleston, S.C.
- NEH Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers: Jane Austen and her Contemporaries, National Endowment for the Humanities, June 18-July 20, Columbia, Mo.
- 119th Annual Conference, American Society for Engineering Education, June 17-20, Vancouver, British Columbia
These meetings, conferences, seminars and other events will be held in the coming weeks in and around higher education. They are among the many such that appear in our calendar, to which campus and other officials can submit their own events. Our site also includes a comprehensive catalog of job changes in higher education; please submit your news to both listings.
Tens of thousands of students held protests in Spain on Thursday to express anger over budget cuts to education, the Associated Press reported. In Barcelona, riot police charged the crowd, and some students fled to the University of Barcelona campus.
The state auditor's office in Texas has found numerous instances of public colleges and universities failing to follow federal rules for managing student aid, The Dallas Morning News reported. Ten institutions were found to be making incorrect calculations of the cost of attendance. Several institutions were found to award too much aid, or to fail to adequately monitor students' academic progress.
Private admissions counselors -- who work directly for applicants and their families -- are commonly associated with students finishing high school. But The New York Times reported that many counselors are seeing increased use (and are reaching out to) adults thinking about continuing their educations. Adults who worry about getting into the best program and may not have access to a high school counselor are interested in the one-on-one help available.
Northeastern University announced Tuesday that, based on student concerns, it will not consider Chick-Fil-A for a spot in the student union, The Boston Globe reported. The Student Senate recommended the action Monday, based on reports that Chick-Fil-A has donated heavily to groups that lobby against measures that promote equity for gay people. The company did not respond to requests for comment, but has in the past denied being opposed to any groups.
The House of Representatives voted 303-114 Tuesday to repeal the Education Department's credit hour and state authorization regulations, with 69 Democrats joining the all of the chamber's Republicans to back the bill. Higher education groups cheered the House's actions, but the next step for the measure is unclear.
While the bill might be able to attract enough Democratic support in the Senate to become law, the Obama administration has said it strongly opposes any attempt to repeal the regulations, and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has waged a high-profile fight against for-profit colleges. The state authorization and credit hour rules apply to nonprofit, public and for-profit institutions, but Democrats who voted against the measure characterized it as an effort to erode consumer protections.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday that the government would join a lawsuit in which former employees of American Commercial College, Inc., allege that the for-profit college chain falsely asserted its compliance with federal requirements that it derive at least 10 percent of its revenues from sources other than federal student aid. The class action was brought under the federal False Claims Act, which allows individuals to bring lawsuits on behalf of the federal government, claiming that the defendants have defrauded the treasury of funds and hoping to be joined by the U.S. Justice Department. The plaintiff shares in any financial penalties, which can include trebled damages.
American Commercial College, Inc., operates five campuses in Texas and one in Louisiana.
For-profit higher education providers have been a target of numerous False Claims Act lawsuits, and the federal government has joined several of them, including a high-profile case involving Education Management Corp. Some have speculated that the Obama administration -- which has toughened its oversight of the career college sector through regulation -- is increasingly turning to the courts to do so as well.
In announcing Tuesday's intervention, Tony West, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s civil division, said: “Colleges and universities that receive federal funds must be honest with the government and follow the law.... We will use the False Claims Act and other tools to protect students and taxpayers from for-profit institutions that fail to measure up to that standard.”
California's community colleges need a sharper, more focused set of goals and the state needs a stronger body to oversee the institutions, a bipartisan panel focused on improving state programs said in a report Tuesday. The Little Hoover Commission argued that the state's scores of two-year institutions suffer because they try to do too many things with too few resources, and that Californians would be better off if the colleges focused on student success in three main areas: basic skills education, career technical education, and preparation for transfer to four-year institutions. It also calls for making the colleges' chancellor's office an independent agency with more authority and responsibility, and for allocating funds to community colleges in ways that encourage and reward student success.