Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 4, 2013

The Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled a new web portal aimed at the people who help students and families prepare for college.

The site aggregates a range of Education Department resources and promotional material meant to encourage students to attend college and take advantage of federal student aid programs. Guidance counselors and other mentors are able to search a database containing infographics, fact sheets, videos, and other presentation materials relating to the financial aid process. 

The new effort comes as the administration is increasingly using its bully pulpit to promote college access. First Lady Michelle Obama has recently begun speaking out on higher education. And, after hosting a series of meetings with college presidents over the past several months about boosting low-income students’ access to higher education, the White House plans to hold a symposium on the topic December 11. It’s not yet clear if administration officials will announce any new policy proposals at that event, which is set to feature business leaders, philanthropists and college presidents.  

December 4, 2013

The most frequently awarded grade for undergraduates at Harvard University is an A, and the median grade is A-. University officials released those facts Tuesday at a meeting of arts and sciences faculty members, and a Harvard spokesman confirmed the information Tuesday night. The spokesman cautioned in an email against too much emphasis on the grade data. "We believe that learning is the most important thing that happens in our classrooms and throughout our system of residential education. The faculty are focused on creating positive and lasting learning outcomes for our undergraduates," he said. "We watch and review trends in grading across Harvard College, but we are most interested in helping our students learn and learn well."

Some Harvard faculty members are concerned, however, about grade inflation. Harvey Mansfield, who has repeatedly raised the issue, was the one who brought it up with questions at Tuesday's meeting. He told The Boston Globe that he thought grading patterns were "really indefensible."

 

 

December 4, 2013

Instructors at Princeton University discussed developing a homegrown massive open online course platform during a faculty meeting on Monday, The Daily Princetonian reported.

The university joined Coursera's consortium in April 2012. By building their own platform, some faculty members argued they would eliminate the question of intellectual property rights. Other faculty members were reportedly less interested in the endeavor, however, with President Christopher Eisgruber saying, ​“I must say that developing our own proprietary platform gives me nightmares.” Faculty members also discussed creating a new Faculty Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning, which would evaluate online courses.

December 4, 2013

Students who complete algebra II while they are in high school are more likely to succeed in college, according to a new study. But those benefits are less pronounced once students enter the job market. The new study, which was written by researchers at Pearson's Center for College and Career Success and from the University of Michigan, used two national datasets in its exploration of differences between college readiness and career readiness.

December 3, 2013

A federal judge on Monday approved a plea agreement under which Anna Catalan, formerly an administrator at Santiago Canyon College, was sentenced to 21 months in jail for stealing student aid, The Orange County Register reported. Some of the money she took was for her family members or on behalf of students who didn't qualify for the federal support. But in other cases, she took money that was supposed to go to students who qualified for the aid, and she told the students that there was no money for them. Without a plea agreement, she faced up to 20 years in jail.

December 3, 2013

The University of California at Santa Barbara and local health authorities on Monday confirmed that a fourth student at the university has contracted meningitis. The outbreak at UCSB -- combined with a larger outbreak at Princeton University -- has many campus health officials concerned. Health officials in California are stepping up efforts to provide antibiotics to students who may have been exposed to meningitis and to discourage activities such as large parties that may increase the chances of the disease's spread.

 

December 3, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Justin Denney of Rice University reveals the connection between social status and the likelihood of death in a preventable accident. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

December 3, 2013

Chile’s National Accreditation Commission has rejected the appeal of a university affiliated with the Baltimore-based for-profit education company, Laureate, after it was denied reaccreditation in October. The Universidad de Las Américas (UDLA) next plans to appeal the decision to the country’s Higher Education Council. As in the U.S., universities in Chile must be accredited in order for their students to access government-backed loans and grants.

In its report on its decision not to reaccredit UDLA, the accreditation commission cites the university’s rapid growth and unsatisfactory graduation rates. The commission’s report notes that the number of students grew by more than 36 percent in three years, from 25,272 to 34,436, while the growth in instructors has failed to keep pace: the number of full-time instructors increased only slightly, from 231 in 2010 to 235 in 2012, and the number of part-time instructors actually fell, from 177 to 164.

The accreditation report also raises concerns about the financial resources of the university, and finds that while spending on academic salaries was low, the amount spent on leases and educational and administrative services provided by companies related to Laureate was substantial. Under Chilean law, universities must be not-for-profit, but they can ally with for-profit entities like Laureate, which provide educational, administrative and real estate services at a price.

UDLA has posted various documents related to its appeal of the accreditor’s decision on its website. The university argues that the growth rate is somewhat misleading in that enrollments were temporarily depressed in 2010 (the base year used in the accreditor’s calculations) and it says that average class size has actually stayed relatively constant from 2009 (22.8 students per section) to 2013 (22.1 students per section). It also says that the amount spent on academic salaries is similar to that of peer universities in Chile.

“We remain confident that a clear and objective analysis of the facts will reveal that UDLA deserves to be reaccredited," a Laureate spokesman, Matthew Yale, said in a statement. 

 

December 3, 2013

Northwestern University is today announcing a new effort to help prepare more students in the Chicago public schools to enroll at Northwestern or other competitive colleges, The Chicago Tribune reported. Fifty high school freshmen a year -- from the city's regular high schools -- will be selected for a special academy in which they will receive year-round tutoring, college counseling and test prep. All costs will be paid by Northwestern. Currently about 75 of Northwestern's 2,000 freshmen come from the Chicago schools. That's up from 28 five years ago, but university officials want to see significant growth in that figure.

 

December 3, 2013

Administrators at the University of Michigan are delaying a controversial attempt at cost savings amid faculty uproar. University officials had planned to move 275 staffers from across campus into a single building on the edge of Ann Arbor to save money. But on Monday, university administrators said the move, scheduled to begin in April, would be delayed "beyond April." It is unclear if the university still intends to finish the move by next fall, its initial deadline to consolidate scores of staffers under one roof. The "shared services" plan has met with opposition from faculty concerned about losing trusted staffers. There are also questions about how much Michigan will actually save as a result. Administrators have gradually bowed to this concern since faculty began going public in recent weeks. The statement Monday from top Michigan administrators, including Provost Martha Pollack, is the clearest sign yet that faculty have been heard.

"We will bring faculty into the process immediately to evaluate the timeline and to ensure the establishment of a shared services program that is structured to meet the needs of our faculty and our students while achieving necessary cost savings," the statement said. "Each school and college will work directly with its faculty so the ultimate outcome is one that provides adequate support for teaching and research."

University officials initially hoped to save $17 million using shared services but now that figure is down to as little as $2 million in the first year and $5 to $6 million per year in the near term after that. Some of that savings is offset by new costs, including $4 million to fix up the building staff are supposed to be moving to, $1 million a year to lease the building and nearly $12 million for consultant Accenture to work on shared services and other cost-saving efforts. 

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