A group of public and for-profit institutions has agreed to collaborate on a project aimed at finding a common way to use the data they collect about students' academic progress to better understand how and why students succeed or fail. The project will be led by WCET, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, and funded by a new $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is designed to bring student-level data (drawn from learning management and student information systems) from six institutions -- American Public University System, Colorado Community College System, Rio Salado College, University of Hawaii System, University of Illinois Springfield, and the University of Phoenix -- into a common format so they can be stripped of identifying information about students and merged into one dataset. The researchers say this will allow them to study the variables that affect student progress, and test the ability to merge student-level data from numerous and varied colleges in one place -- a goal that some policy makers have laid out as the holy grail of education research.
Higher Education Quick Takes
Days after a speech in which President Obama vowed to reform U.S. immigration policy in part by making it easier for foreign graduates of American universities to stay in this country, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office announced an expanded list of science and mathematics fields whose graduates can stay in the United States for an additional year for more training. "By expanding the list of STEM degrees to include such fields as Neuroscience, Medical Informatics, Pharmaceutics and Drug Design, Mathematics and Computer Science, the Obama administration is helping to address shortages in certain high tech sectors of talented scientists and technology experts-permitting highly skilled foreign graduates who wish to work in their field of study upon graduation and extend their post-graduate training in the United States," the office said in its news release.
Jill McDonald, the head of the British division of McDonald's, gave a talk this week in which she said that many of those put off by the increasing tuition rates at universities should consider working at McDonald's instead, Financial News reported. "We need to acknowledge that the road many young people take today may not be the one we took in the past," she said. "We need to remove the snobbery." Added McDonald (who happens to have the name of her employer): "I am definitely not saying that people shouldn’t go to university if they have the opportunity to do so, but I do believe it might not be the right route for everyone."
The National Junior College Athletic Association's board has voted to limit the number of non-U.S. athletes to one-fourth of scholarship players, USA Today reported. In basketball and volleyball, for instance, that would be three per team. The move follows reports of growing numbers of foreign athletes -- some of them older than most American team members, some of whom it may be questionable to call amateurs -- on some teams.
The economic downturn of fall 2008 left many colleges -- even wealthy institutions -- with cash flow problems, as their suddenly sagging investments were anything but flexible in providing money in the short term. A new report from Moody's finds that most colleges have recovered and are in much healthier condition with regard to liquidity. "Liquidity risks have stabilized for most universities nearly two years after unexpected cash shortages caused fifteen highly rated private universities to borrow more than $7 billion in taxable debt to bolster their liquidity," says the report's summary. "The healthy liquidity position of most U.S. colleges and universities has also aided bank liquidity facility renewals for the sector thus far in 2011. Nevertheless, significant uncertainty remains for some universities that face potential liquidity risks from variable rate debt structures, weak tuition pricing power, investment volatility and cuts in government funding."
Carl Wieman, the Nobel laureate at the University of British Columbia, has released new findings to show that the right approaches to teaching can have a big impact on student understanding of science. The findings, published in Science, show that exercises in which students work through problems together are far more effective than lectures.
In the latest of a slew of higher-ed publishers to join forces with lecture capture companies, the e-learning giant Pearson this week announced a partnership with Panopto, a leading player in the growing market for technology aimed at recording and storing classroom lectures. Last October, the publisher McGraw-Hill bought the lecture-capture company Tegrity; Macmillan, another major publisher, formed a partnership with Panopto a week later. Lecture capture has emerged rather quickly as widely sought technology: The consulting firm Frost & Sullivan last year reported that lecture companies did $50 million in business last year, a figure that could triple in the next five years.
Publishers seem to regard lecture capture as both a sound investment and a natural fit. "The big publishers, (McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Reed Elsevier), all realize that unless they change, they will suffer a similar fate as the music publishers," wrote Joshua Kim, an instructional technologist at Dartmouth College and tech blogger for Inside Higher Ed, last fall. "...Lecture capture platforms will be one source in which faculty (and later student!) created content can be seamlessly folded into professionally produced (publisher) content."
Pearson not only sells course materials and learning-management platforms but also co-manages online curriculums for some big-ticket institutions. "With this partnership, Pearson will work directly with administrators and faculty to integrate Panopto into their program offerings and curriculum," the company said in a press release.
The U.S. Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education in March sought applications for its "comprehensive" grant program, with the goal of making more than $20 million in awards. But FIPSE has now announced that there will be no grants awarded. "Congressional action on the FY 2011 budget substantially reduced funds available for grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, including new grants under the comprehensive program," said a notice on the agency's website.
Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, on Thursday defended the importance of research at the state system’s universities -- and received a unanimous vote of support from the system’s regents, according to the Texas Tribune.
“Teaching and scholarly research go hand-in-hand in a university of the first class,” Cigarroa said, in what the Tribune described as highly anticipated remarks at the regents’ meeting. Cigarroa’s speech, which is in keeping with his previous statements on the subject, comes on the heels of a forceful defense of the research mission of the flagship, UT-Austin, made by its president, William Powers Jr., on Monday.
Questions about the appropriate balance of research and education at Texas universities -- and the regents’ position on the matter (and whether they fully supported Cigarroa) -- have recently gained urgency due to a set of seven “breakthrough solutions” that have been advanced by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank whose policies are aligned with those of Governor Rick Perry. Among these ideas is a call to separate universities’ research and teaching budgets in order to get more faculty members in the classroom. Many faculty members have seen the push for separation as an attempt to micromanage and reduce support for scholarship.