Higher Education Quick Takes
The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts on Tuesday sided with Regis College in a dispute over its plans to build a retirement community, The Boston Globe reported. Massachusetts law gives leeway on zoning rules to educational institutions, but the town of Weston has argued that the planned retirement community should be viewed primarily as residential, not educational. Regis, in an argument that now appears likely to prevail when the case returns to a lower court, has argued that because residents would take courses at the college, and college students in gerontology and social work would have internships at the retirement center, that the plans are for an educational use.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney released a list of his education advisory committee Tuesday, including several veterans of George W. Bush's administration (among them former Education Secretary Rod Paige). Romney's higher education co-chairs are Phil Handy, former chairman of the Florida Board of Education, and Bill Hansen, a former deputy education secretary; for vocational education, he is seeking advice from Carol D'Amico, formerly an assistant education secretary and executive vice president of Ivy Tech Community College, and Emily DeRocco, formerly assistant secretary for employment and training at the Labor Department.
Higher education has not featured strongly in the former Massachusetts governor's campaign so far, although Romney has supported an extension of the 3.4 percent interest rate for subsidized student loans.
Students from different racial, ethnic, socioeconomic backgrounds and at urban and non-urban institutions performed comparably on the Collegiate Learning Assessment after researchers controlled for pre-college academic preparation, according to a study released Tuesday by the Council for Independent Colleges. The study, conducted by Josipa Roksa, a University of Virginia sociologist and co-author of Academically Adrift, examines the performance on the CLA of students from a range of backgrounds at two sets of urban and non-urban independent colleges that belong to CIC. While "descriptive results" of students' performance on the exam have appeared to show that first-generation, black and Latino, and Pell-eligible students perform less well than their peers, the researchers find that when they control for students' incoming academic preparation, there are no meaningful gaps in the performance of those groups.
A recent report calling on states to target their financial aid to students with financial need but set expectations and support for college success has come under criticism from the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, a federal panel that advises Congress. In a statement, the federal panel says that the Brookings Institution report released this month (and described by its authors in an Inside Higher Ed essay here) would, if followed, result in states developing many different approaches that link grants to differing measures of on-time enrollment, rejecting "the longstanding, widely-shared goal of an integrated and consistent federal-state partnership in need-based grant aid." The proposal would also reduce grant aid for the "students most at risk in institutions with the least resources to support those students." The authors of the Brookings report said they believed the advisory panel's members had misinterpreted their recommendations.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators released a report Tuesday recommending best practices for financial aid award letters, including 10 elements that it says should be standardized across institutions. Financial aid award letters should clearly state the cost of attendance; total grants and scholarships; the net price after those scholarships are taken into account; and "self-help" options such as the federal work-study program, student loans or parent loans, among other information, the association's task force wrote in its report.
The report also calls for requiring reporting all student loans — including those from private lenders — to the federal government, possibly through an expansion of the National Student Loan Data System.
The recommendations come amid calls from some consumer advocates for total standardization of financial aid awards and reports that some award letters confuse prospective students by including loans when calculating expected payments.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has expanded its investigation of for-profit institutions with a broad inquiry received last week by ITT Educational Services Inc., according to a corporate filing. Corinthian Colleges Inc. is responding to a similar probe. The new federal watchdog group has been tight-lipped about the investigation, but its director has spoken out in the past about colleges with institutional loan programs that have had high default rates. And both ITT and Corinthian have been criticized by consumer advocates for their lending practices.
At the five most competitive colleges in the City University of New York, the combination of tougher admissions standards and the economic downturn has led to shifts in demographics, with the colleges attracting more students with high SAT scores, and more students who are white or are Asian than in the past, The New York Times reported. At these colleges, the percentage of freshmen with SAT scores of 1,200 or more has gone up 12 percent in 2001 to 16 percent in 2007 (before the recession) to 26 percent last fall. At the same time, the percentage of black students has fallen from 17 percent to 10 percent. CUNY officials said that the shift were an area of concern, but they noted that many students enter the college as community college transfers, and said that more black and Latino students are graduating than ever before.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal has set off a debate about academic freedom and free expression in South Africa with a last-minute decision to cancel a planned lecture by an official of the Israeli embassy, The Independent Online reported. Some academics at the university had called for the lecture to be canceled to object to Israel's treatment of Palestinians. The deputy-vice chancellor, Joseph Ayee, sent an e-mail in which he said: "I have reconsidered the sensitivities that the visit of the Israeli deputy ambassador have generated. Given the negative publicity that the visit will give UKZN, I hereby cancel the visit and the lecture." A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy told the newspaper that "anti-Israeli elements have embarked on a campaign [of] intellectual terror which rejects everything that the academia believes in: meaning dialogue, discussions, research, understanding and freedom of speech."
Students who don't learn civics -- starting at young ages -- are less likely to grow up to be students and citizens who vote and who volunteer, says a report being issued today by the Educational Testing Service. The report urges an increased emphasis on civic education at all levels of education, and urges colleges to look for ways to encourage their students to vote and to participate in public life.