Higher Education Quick Takes
The Council of Independent Colleges, a group representing more than 600 private liberal arts colleges and universities, is arguing against what it says are myths about student debt (and for its members' affordability) in a new presentation, indicating that the concern around growing student debt might be affecting the group. Among the myths: many students owe more than $100,000 at graduation (in fact, six-figure borrowers are a tiny fraction -- less than 1 percent -- of the undergraduate population). It also points out that its members have generous financial aid and that the high sticker price of tuition at private colleges does not take financial aid into account.
The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed legislation requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to require more transparency from colleges that serve students who are veterans. The bill calls for counseling of students and ways to track feedback on the quality of academic programs. Some for-profit institutions, including the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities and the University of Phoenix, supported the bill.
Recent developments in online higher education will likely benefit the credit ratings of brand-name and niche institutions while possibly threatening for-profit institutions and smaller, regional colleges and universities, according to a new report by Moody's Investor Service. In a report that elides the potential implications of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the continued growth of conventional online programs, Moody's analysts predicted that well-reputed institutions will band together around online offerings to reduce operating costs. Meanwhile, there could "eventually be negative side effects on for-profit education companies and some smaller not-for-profit colleges that may be left out of emerging high reputation online networks," the report said. However, the analysts suggested that well-known institutions that rush too heedlessly into MOOCs could sacrifice their reputational footing. "[T]he rapid pace of the MOOC movement presents the possibility of brand dilution as universities rush to join the trend without controlling the quality of the product/content being posted," they wrote.
The University of Tulsa on Wednesday night fired Geoffrey Orsak as president, a position he had held for only 74 days, The Tulsa World reported. The day before, the university announced that Orsak was taking a leave to care for his seriously ill father. But the announcement Wednesday did not say why the president was dismissed. In his own statement, Orsak said, "I am very disappointed given the lengthy due diligence process for the position that within such a short period of time the board has decided to go in a different direction." Previously, Orsak had been dean of engineering at Southern Methodist University.
Jamie Kuntz, who is gay, says he was kicked off of the football team of North Dakota State College of Sciences, for being seen kissing his boyfriend, the Associated Press reported. The kiss took place at a football game where Kuntz could not play because of a concussion, so he was in the press box at a game, filming the competition. His boyfriend was with him and at one point they kissed. The coach of the team asked Kuntz about the kiss and he initially said that his boyfriend (who is older) was his grandfather. He later told the coach the truth, and was subsequently kicked off the team. The coach says he violated team rules by lying to a coach, but Kuntz said that the real reason was that he was seen kissing a man. College officials are investigating whether this was the first time someone was kicked off the team for lying.
Amy Bishop has reached a plea agreement to resolve the charges that she murdered three of her colleagues in the biology department of the University of Alabama at Huntsville, The Huntsville Times reported. Under the agreement, she entered a guilty plea in one of the murder counts, and also admitted that she tried to kill three others. The agreement means she will spend the rest of her life in prison, but spares her the death penalty.
Tying a college's Pell Grant eligibility to completion rates could undermine college access for poor and minority students, especially at community colleges, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, wrote in an analysis Monday. Rather than focus on completion rates, Kantrowitz argued, more focus should be placed on increasing the number of Americans with college degrees -- a focus that could even cause completion rates to fall if more students enroll and do not all complete college. Focusing solely on completion, as some fear a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported panel that will focus on student aid as an incentive might do, could end up hurting low-income students, Kantrowitz wrote: "One of the easiest ways to increase graduation rates is to exclude high-risk students. So efforts to boost college completion may directly or indirectly shift eligibility for the Pell Grant program from financial need to academic merit, hurting college access by low-income students."
The annual college rankings of U.S. News & World Report are out today, with only one change in methodology. The two most recent years of guidance counselor surveys, rather than just one year of data, will be used to calculate the counselors' ratings. The participation of college presidents in the survey (by filling out reports on the reputations of other colleges) is up a bit this year, if still way behind the two-thirds participation levels of a decade ago. For the new edition, 44 percent of all presidents participated, up from 43 percent a year ago. Liberal arts college presidents have been particularly critical of the rankings, but their participation rate was also up this year -- 47 percent, up from 44 percent a year ago.