Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

James Runcie, who has served as interim chief operating officer of the Education Department's Federal Student Aid office since William J. Taggart resigned his post in July after two years in the job, has been appointed as chief operating officer on a permanent basis, Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter announced in an e-mail on Thursday. Runcie joined the Federal Student Aid office, the "performance-based organization" that administers the government's financial aid and loan programs, in 2009 after a career in banking.

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Pearson continued adding to its education empire, buying the online charter school operator Connections Education, the company announced Thursday. Connections Education, which runs online K-12 schools in 21 states, represents a new sort of business for Pearson, which currently offers a variety of online education products but does not operate any American educational institutions on its own. Pearson bought the company from Apollo Management, a private equity firm that is unrelated to the Apollo Group, owner of the University of Phoenix.

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Maryland authorities say that an 18-year-old Bowie State University student was fatally stabbed Thursday by her roommate, The Washington Post reported. The stabbing followed an argument, but officials do not know what the dispute was about. Bowie State has canceled classes for today, and plans to hold a "community gathering for consolation."

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Peter Lepage, dean of arts and sciences at Cornell University, on Wednesday released a letter in response to recent allegations by alumni of the Africana Studies and Research Center that the university is treating the center in ways that are "regressive and colonial in nature." Lepage said he wanted to assure alumni that the center would soon launch searches for three to five faculty members over the next two years (building on a faculty of eight), and that funds would be provided to create a Ph.D. program. Lepage said he wanted to provide "reassurance and optimism" about the center's future.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Costs most commonly incurred by colleges rose in 2011 at greater than the national rate of inflation and more than twice as much as they did in 2010, according an annual report by the Commonfund Institute on what it calls the Higher Education Price Index. The index, which includes factors such as faculty, administrative and staff salaries and fringe benefits, services, supplies and utilities, aims to calculate an inflation rate that more closely captures higher education spending than does the national inflation index. In 2011, according to the Commonfund Institute, those costs rose by 2.3 percent, above the 2.0 percent national inflation rate and far above 2010's 0.9 rate for the higher education index. All categories of costs except for administrative salaries and service employee salaries rose, the institute said.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Conde Nast, publisher of Vogue, announced plans Wednesday to open a fashion college in London, BBC reported. Initial plans do not call for degrees to be awarded, but officials are in discussion about affiliations with various universities. Topics for courses to be offered include the history of fashion and design, the fashion year, and journalism and business skills related to the fashion industry.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday sued Linn State Technical College over its decision to test all of its students for drugs. Administrators at the Missouri college, whose comprehensive drug-testing program is believed to be a first for a public institution, said the approach was justified because many of its students are in programs (such as aircraft maintenance) in which they will operate sometimes dangerous equipment. But the ACLU said that college officials' acknowledgment that they will test students whom they do not suspect of drug use made the program clearly unconstitutional.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The Open Society Foundations on Wednesday announced a grant program that will provide $20 million to colleges and universities that integrate debate into the curriculum, across disciplines. "Today’s undergraduates are the first to come of age in a post 9/11 world. Students around the world have few if any recollections of a time before the 'war on terror,' " said a statement from Noel Selegzi, director of the Youth Initiative at the Open Society Foundations. "Debate helps us recognize that public policy is best developed when the force of an argument, and not the argument of force, is most potent."

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

A day after his board approved a plan for yet another round of potential budget cuts, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia told members of the Board of Regents that the 35-campus system needs to study whether merging some campuses might be a more effective way to reduce spending. “I believe it is time for the system to study if campus consolidations are justified and will enhance our ability to serve the people of Georgia at less cost,” Chancellor Hank Huckaby told the regents. Previous such discussions have run into a buzzsaw in Georgia, often because they have involved the possible closure of historically black colleges, inflaming issues of race. Huckaby said that in addition to the study of possible consolidations, the system would examine more closely how it utilizes facilities space on its campuses.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The Association of American Universities on Wednesday announced a five-year effort to improve the quality and effectiveness of undergraduate teaching in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, focused on the 61 U.S. and Canadian research universities that are its members but in tandem with similar initiatives in other sectors of higher education. The AAU plan, more details of which can be found here and here, was announced by the group's new president, Hunter S. Rawlings. It seeks to spread the use of existing, successful methods of teaching undergraduates (not just STEM majors) in math and the sciences, through demonstration projects and other means. “A number of our universities are already leading the way in developing and implementing these new ways of teaching," Rawlings said in a news release. "But there is a long way to go, and there is an urgent need to accelerate the process of reform.”

The AAU effort won early praise from several Obama administration officials in a post on the White House's blog.

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