Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 11, 2013

Graduation rates among Division II athletes dropped by an unusually high three percentage points this year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Tuesday, but officials say it’s likely due to a technical glitch. The Academic Success Rate – similar to Division I’s Graduation Success Rate, except that it includes non-scholarship athletes -- measures the number of players who graduate within six years or leave in good academic standing. The ASR for cohort entering college in 2006 is 69 percent this year, compared to 72 percent for the six-year cohort that enrolled in 2005.

The division's Federal Graduation Rate, which counts transfers and other departures as dropouts, held steady at 54 percent.

An NCAA researcher, Gregg Summers, said the “very rare” large ASR decline is probably a result of the new reporting system Division II programs used this year. Instead of entering data manually, student by student, the staff transferred the data en masse electronically, and probably let some errors pass through in the process, Summers said. Specifically, because the number of athletes in the tracking system fell short of the number counted in the ASR by about 10 percent, and because the number of students recorded as leaving while eligible was unusually low, officials suspect that many athletes who left their teams while eligible were incorrectly marked as dropouts. (Typically, about a quarter of Division II players leave their sport voluntarily at some point.) Also, after asking a couple institutions whose data seemed off to review their numbers to address this question, their ASRs improved.

Still, NCAA officials acknowledged they would like to see the rate go up. At January’s NCAA convention, Division II members will vote on a new academic rules package similar to one that NCAA President Mark Emmert pushed through Division I in October 2011, which Division II Director Maritza Jones said should help improve the ASR. (This year’s Division I GSR tied an all-time record of 82 percent.) Rates for individual colleges and sports can be viewed in the NCAA's searchable database.

December 11, 2013

Nearly 140 ineligible Southeastern Louisiana University athletes in all 16 sports were allowed to practice, compete and receive scholarships because of the institution’s failure to monitor its eligibility certification process, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Tuesday. The NCAA cited Southern Louisiana with a lack of control over its athletics department and issued penalties including a $25,000 fine, scholarship reductions and vacation of wins from 2005-9 for teams that played ineligible athletes. The mistake stemmed from a compliance coordinator’s misunderstanding of NCAA progress-toward-degree requirements and failure to verify those rules, the public infractions report says, and the subsequent failure of other staff to step in and correct the system.

December 11, 2013

More evidence that all that texting you see isn't about academics? Researchers at Kent State University tracked how much time students spend on their phones, and their grades. More use of phones is negatively related to grades, but positively related to anxiety. The research appears in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

December 11, 2013

The college commission of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools took several institutions off of probationary or warning status at its meeting this week, including the University of Virginia, Fisk and Florida A&M Universities, and Greensboro College. UVa had faced scrutiny from the accreditor because of an effort by a cadre of trustees in summer 2012 to dump President Teresa A. Sullivan. SACS' president, Belle Wheelan, said the university had presented evidence that it had changed its governance policies to ensure that a small minority of the board could not bring about change in leadership. "The board has right to fire president -- in fact, it has the responsibility to do so in some cases. But it is the board that has that right, not a minority of the board -- that was the issue with them," Wheelan said.

Fisk, which has faced significant financial problems that most visibly led it to sell its high-profile art collection, came off probation because the SACS commission was persuaded that its new president had raised sufficient money and had it "heading in the right direction," Wheelan said. Florida A&M, which has undergone enormous turmoil and turnover in the face of a fatal hazing scandal, was taken off probation even though most of its top officials are serving on an interim basis, Wheelan said. Greensboro has resolved many of its financial troubles, the agency determined.

SACS placed or continued another set of institutions on warning status at the meeting, including several because of financial issues (Newberry College, Allen University, Midcontinent University), Norfolk State University (financial and governance issues), Hampden-Sydney College (failure to have sufficient representation of full-time faculty), and Erskine College. (Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version.)

December 10, 2013

A report released Monday by Brandeis University’s International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life calls for a resumption of the university’s partnership with Al-Quds University, a Palestinian institution in the West Bank. The report, which was commissioned by Brandeis’s administration in the wake of a Nov. 5 rally at Al-Quds in which demonstrators in black masks and military dress carried fake automatic weapons and employed fascist-style salutes, finds that officials at Al-Quds “responded promptly and appropriately to the November 5 rally by communicating to both internal and external constituencies that the rally violated university policies and principles.”

In suspending its partnership with Al-Quds in November, Brandeis cited both the rally and the university's response to it, specifically a Nov. 17 letter from Al-Quds President Sari Nusseibeh that Brandeis characterized as "unacceptable and inflammatory." The letter emphasized values of equality and mutual respect, but it also criticized “Jewish extremists” who "spare no effort to exploit some rare but nonetheless damaging events or scenes which occur on the campus of Al Quds University…These occurrences allow some people to capitalize on events in ways that misrepresent the university as promoting inhumane, anti-Semitic, fascist, and Nazi ideologies. Without these ideologies, there would not have been the massacre of the Jewish people in Europe; without the massacre, there would not have been the enduring Palestinian catastrophe.” 

The report from faculty affiliated with Brandeis's center for ethics, justice and public life delves into the context for that letter and ultimately concludes that it "expressed neither intolerance nor hatred" (although the authors write that they understand the reasons it caused offense). They write that “Al- Quds University is playing a courageous frontline role in working for peace by engaging those minority factions in its midst that hold extreme attitudes” and urge Brandeis to resume and “redouble its commitment” to the partnership. A separate statement calls for Nusseibeh to be reinstated as a member of the center's international advisory board. 

Ellen de Graffenreid, Brandeis’s senior vice president for communications, said that President Frederick Lawrence is out of the country, but added that he asked for the report and she is certain he will read it carefully. Brandeis released a statement Nov. 22 requesting a dialogue with Al-Quds University. That dialogue is ongoing, de Graffenreid said, but she declined to be more specific. “With sensitive issues like this, having this discussion through the media is not productive,” she said.

December 10, 2013

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday announced the appointment of two new members to the department’s advisory committee on accreditation.

Simon Boehme, a Cornell University student, and Roberta “Bobbie” Derlin, the associate provost of New Mexico State University will be the newest members of National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.

Duncan also re-appointed three incumbent members of the panel: Susan Phillips, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York at Albany; Frank Wu, chancellor and deal of the University of California Hasting College of the Law; and Frederico Zargoza, vice chancellor of economic and workforce development at Alamo Colleges in San Antonio, Texas.

The committee is set to meet later this week in Washington, D.C. 

December 10, 2013

Arkansas Baptist College faculty members have not been paid since Nov. 1, KTHV News reported. The Faculty Senate also released a letter calling for the removal of President Fitz Hill, questioning his financial decisions and saying that he was not supporting the principles of shared governance. The college responded with a statement saying that the faculty accusations were inaccurate.

December 10, 2013

Florida International University announced Monday night that university police "have arrested three individuals, including two current students," on charges that "range from dealing in stolen property to theft and burglary." The charges relate to an effort "to gain unauthorized access to exams and sell them to students." An investigation "has revealed that one class in the current semester is impacted with a limited number of students involved," the university said. Florida International's statement said that because the investigation is ongoing, few details can be released at this time. The statement said that "FIU will pursue all avenues to ensure that everyone who is involved is held accountable."


December 10, 2013

The University of Texas Board of Regents has scheduled a closed-door discussion Thursday of the employment status of Bill Powers as president of the flagship campus at Austin, The Texas Tribune reported. What the discussion means is unclear. Regents with close ties to Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, have been pushing for the ouster of Powers, but he has strong support among many students, alumni and faculty members.


December 10, 2013

The National Institutes of Health has hired its first permanent associate director of data science -- a formal signal by the biomedical agency that the age of "big data" has arrived in scientific research. The NIH's director, Frances S. Collins, said that Philip E. Bourne, associate vice chancellor for innovation and industry alliances at the University of California at San Diego, would help ensure that the NIH plays a "major role in coordinating access to and analysis of many different data types that make up this revolution in biological information.” Bourne, who is also a professor of pharmacology, will take over from Eric D. Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, who Collins appointed in an acting role earlier this year to drive the agency's big data work.


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