Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, December 9, 2011 - 3:00am

Virginia Tech, where the tragedy of shooting deaths is known too well, again experienced that trauma on Thursday afternoon. Students and others were encouraged to stay wherever they were -- with activities called off -- after a police officer was shot at a routine traffic stop. Reports followed of another dead body and of a search for the killer. By the end of the afternoon, news reports said that the second body was the shooter, and the university said that normal activities could resume. Final exams that had been scheduled for today have been postponed for a day.

Late Thursday, Virginia Tech identified the police officer who was killed: Deriek W. Crouse, 39, who with his wife was raising five children and step-children. He was an Army veteran who had worked for the university since 2007.

 

Friday, December 9, 2011 - 3:00am

An article in Science explores how some Saudi universities are building their research reputations in nontraditional ways. King Abdulaziz University has hired more than 60 top researchers in the sciences, at nice salaries for part-time work, if they agree to list the university with their other institutions in identification lines in journal articles. The idea is that rankings of citations will show a sharp increase for the university. King Saud University is working to recruit researchers to affiliate in loose ways so that their discoveries will be linked to the university. Some academics quoted in the article said that they feared such efforts would detract from the real advances being made by Saudi universities.

Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 4:27am

As expected, the University of Texas at Austin on Wednesday formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear an appeal of lower court rulings upholding the institution's right to consider race and ethnicity in admissions decisions. Those challenging the Texas policies argue that because the university has attracted diverse students with a race-neutral approach (admitting those in the top 10 percent of their high school classes), Texas should not be permitted to consider race. The university argues that the lower courts got it right in that some level of success in one diversity strategy does not preclude a university from adopting other strategies to enhance diversity. The Supreme Court is likely to announce early next year whether it will hear the case, which would be its first consideration of affirmative action in higher education since 2003.

 

Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Dominik Guess of the University of North Florida explains how an individual’s approach to problem solving is shaped by cultural attitudes. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

 
Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 4:31am

Some new evidence in the continuing debate over the impact of large classes on teaching and learning: The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario has just released a report that notes a lack of consensus on whether class size alone is a key factor in learning. However, the report concludes that "if size matters ... teaching methods and course design probably matter more."

Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 3:00am

Simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to include only information already provided to the IRS would increase the number of upper-income families eligible for aid at the state and federal level, according to a report released Wednesday by the College Board and the Lumina Foundation for Education. The study, which looked at FAFSA data from five states, found that the expected family contribution for students at higher income levels -- greater than $75,000 per year -- would decline, but that simplification would have only a modest effect on eligibility for Pell Grants and state need-based aid.

"These modifications would lead to relatively small changes in eligibility for the state grant programs studied in this analysis," wrote the authors of the report, "Can Simple be Equitable?" "Further, these types of changes could result in federal and state grant application and eligibility systems that are simpler and more predictable for filers."

Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 3:00am

The Government Accountability Office on Wednesday released the latest in a recent series of reports requested as part of Sen. Tom Harkin's continuing investigation into for-profit higher education, with this one focused on student outcomes. The new GAO report, which leaned heavily on a research study examined in an Inside Higher Ed article Wednesday, finds that the colleges lag other institutions in student unemployment, borrowing rates, debt loads, loan default rates and licensing exam pass rates, but performed better on certificate program completion rates and had similar outcomes in associate degree graduation rates and student earnings.

The GAO report acknowledged that it is difficult to compare the performance of for-profits with public and private nonprofit institutions, because the industry enrolls a "higher proportion of low-income, minority and nontraditional students who face challenges that can affect their educational outcomes," and because none of the available data sets are complete enough to give a fully accurate comparison across sectors. The GAO conducted mostly new research in analyzing licensing exam pass rates, which found that for-profit-college students had worse pass rates than their peers at nonprofit colleges in 9 of 10 exams, such as those for paramedics, lawyers and massage therapists. But the GAO cautioned that few college graduates take the exams and that student characteristics, such as race and income, were generally not available. The GAO was not able to control for those factors, which might have influenced outcomes.

Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 3:00am

Most department chairs and most faculty members at Columbia University's engineering school have signed letters of no confidence in Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora, The New York Times reported. While top administrators are backing the dean, faculty members say that he has broken deals he made with various departments, particularly on issues of space allocation. Peña-Mora told the Times that the culture at Columbia "takes some getting used to."

Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 3:00am

Datatel and SunGard Higher Education announced Wednesday that the U.S. Justice Department has cleared a proposed combination of the two companies. Both companies are major players in providing back-office software and a range of other services to colleges and universities. The planned merger was announced in August, but needed government approval to proceed. The companies anticipate a formal combination early in 2012.

 

Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 4:25am

Rob Francis, the head baseball coach at St. Petersburg College, was arrested Tuesday after authorities said he drove to a meeting in Orlando he set up with someone who identified in a chat room as a 14-year-old girl, The Orlando Sentinel reported. In fact, there was no 14-year-old but a police officer. Francis was charged with two felony counts of obscene communication and transmission of harmful material to a minor via an electronic device. The college has placed Francis on leave and barred him from campus.

 

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