Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 25, 2013

WASHINGTON — With less than a week remaining until the interest rate on new, federally subsidized student loans is scheduled to double to 6.8 percent, President Obama will take borrowers' questions about student loans via text message, the White House announced Monday. Obama will pick one question to answer per day. 

June 25, 2013

Bard College, in New York, has entered into a partnership with Soochow University, in China, to include the establishment of the Bard College Liberal Arts Academy in Soochow University, an undergraduate degree program modeled on Bard’s curriculum. Students who complete the four-year undergraduate program, on Soochow’s campus, would receive bachelor's degrees from both institutions.

Internationally, Bard already awards dual degrees in cooperation with universities in Germany (ECLA of Bard), Kyrgyzstan (the American University of Central Asia), Russia (Smolny College), and the West Bank (Al-Quds University). 

June 25, 2013

By far the most significant higher education case out of the U.S. Supreme Court Monday was its affirmative action ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (see our coverage here). But universities were parties in two other decisions by the justices as well, and while the issues at play were not specific to higher education, the rulings have implications for colleges as well as other employers.

In both cases, the Supreme Court, divided 5 to 4, narrowly defined employees' rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In Vance v. Ball State University, the majority endorsed a restrictive definition of which kinds of managers count as "supervisors" for purposes of defining discrimination that automatically can be ascribed to the employer. The case involved a cafeteria worker who suffered abuse at the hands of a fellow worker whom she considered to be a supervisor.

In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the court adopted a stricter standard for retaliation claims than for other types of employment discrimination. The case involved a Middle Eastern physician who believed that he had been discriminated against by a Jewish supervisor and was then retaliated against for complaining about the alleged harassment.

Full analysis of the cases can be found at SCOTUSBlog.

June 25, 2013

WASHINGTON — As Congress begins preparing to eventually reauthorize the Higher Education Act, many suggestions have already been put forward for reorganizing and rethinking financial aid programs to better meet the needs of current students. The American Enterprise Institute joined the fray on Monday with several research papers on rethinking grants, loans and the student aid system as a whole to focus on college affordability.

The papers, which centered around a theme of "The Trillion-Dollar Question: Reinventing Student Financial Aid for the 21st Century," focused on a range of subjects — from "promise programs" that aim to help students plan and prepare for college to alternative approaches to student loans and repayment — but aimed to increase institutional accountability, as well as effectiveness for students. They included a look at the historical context for federal financial aid programs as well as the return on investment for federal student aid, and generally emphasized the importance of a research- and evidence-based approach as Congress reevaluates financial aid programs.

June 24, 2013

Ashford University has begun a voluntary buyout program for non-faculty employees, said a spokeswoman for Bridgepoint Education, which owns the for-profit institution. Enrollment has tumbled at the university, which is also grappling with uncertainty about its regional accreditation. To reduce class sizes, Ashford has hired more faculty members while eliminating all of its teaching assistant positions, according to the company. Next month the Western Association of Schools and Colleges is expected to publicly announce whether Ashford has succeeded in a revised accreditation bid. The university's current regional accreditor is the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

June 24, 2013

Professors at Hebrew University are objecting to a plan to add some single-sex courses (in which female instructors would not be permitted to teach male students) as part of a plan to attract ultra-Orthodox Jewish students, Haaretz reported. Israel is currently in the midst of a national debate on how to better integrate ultra-Orthodox Jews into society, and how to encourage more of them to get a (secular) higher education and to pursue employment. Some universities are adding gender-segregated classes to make these students more comfortable and there is a plan for Hebrew University to do so. But administrators -- facing widespread faculty opposition last week -- held off on seeking a vote on the idea. Professors say that segregated classes would be illegal, would discriminate against women and violates academic norms.

 

June 24, 2013

The University of California at Berkeley is struggling to pay the bills on its newly renovated $321 million football stadium, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. A major part of the plan was to sell premium seats, at $40,000 to $250,000 each for use for 40 to 50 years. The university's plan for paying off the debt on the stadium assumed that, by this month, the university would have sold 2,902 of the seats. In fact, the university has sold only 1,857 seats, and 16 purchasers have stopped payments and are giving up their seats.

June 24, 2013

FutureLearn, the British provider of massive open online courses, is planning to create "badges" that can be earned for each section of its MOOCs, Times Higher Education reported. This will make it easier for those who enroll to show that they have learned something even if they do not complete the course. Martin Bean, vice chancellor of the Open University, which created FutureLearn, said that it was "sad" when journalists talk about those who don't finish MOOCs as "dropouts." He said that these badges might change that. "As a vice-chancellor I get very annoyed when I see people who don’t complete [courses] described in negative terms. We’re trying to design FutureLearn pedagogy around a 'mini-MOOC' model, shorter in duration and broken down into bite-sized pieces," he said.

June 24, 2013

The latest leaks from Edward Snowden, provided to The South China Morning Post, focus on U.S. National Security Agency hacking of backbone computer networks at China's Tsinghua University. A Post article said that documents provided by Snowden showed the hacking to be "intensive." On one day, 63 computers and networks were hacked by the NSA.

June 24, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Donald Stewart of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry explains why he went looking for a new species of fish in a library. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

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