Higher Education Quick Takes
Moody's Investors Service said this week that a class action filed against 12 law schools last week could endanger those schools' financial positions, since they rely overwhelmingly on tuition revenue, and a lawsuit alleging that a school inflated graduation and employment statistics is not a strong selling point for attracting students. "The lawsuits are credit negative for the law schools given the potential for reputational damage leading to application and enrollment declines that would pressure tuition revenue," Moody's analyst Emily Schwarz wrote in the ratings agency's weekly credit outlook.
If it happened in football, it would be a big-time violation of NCAA rules. But Webster University announced this week that it had recruited Susan Polgar -- winner of four world championships -- her Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, and her national championship team away from Texas Tech University, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The move helps make St. Louis a major force in the sport. Nearby, Lindenwood University has announced that it will start to offer chess scholarships in an attempt to build up the chess team there.
Colleges and universities must transform undergraduate education in sciences, math and engineering -- in large part by expanding the reach of "evidence-based teaching approaches" -- if the United States is to meet a goal of producing 1 million more bachelor's and associate degree holders in those fields within a decade, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said in a report issued Tuesday. The report, released in conjunction with a webcast featuring the presidents of the University of Virginia and Anne Arundel Community College and other higher education leaders, is built around evidence that significant numbers of those who enter college inclined to study math and science abandon those plans within the first two years, often citing uninspiring introductory courses or an environment that is "unwelcoming" to some groups.
To overcome those problems and produce more graduates -- which the report joins previous studies in arguing is essential to stimulate economic innovation and feed the U.S. work force -- the report from President Obama's science advisory council calls for catalyzing "widespread adoption" of empirically proven teaching methods in key science courses, establishing discipline-based federal programs to train graduate students and faculty members in those methods, replacing standard lab courses with "discovery-based research courses" (and using federal programs to help redesign those courses), closing the "mathematics-preparation gap" that leaves so many students unprepared for college-level science and technical courses, and clearing paths for would-be science and math students from K-12 to community colleges and then to four-year institutions.
The White House's agenda and suggestions overlap significantly with other reports and recommendations made in recent years, including an aggressive push announced last fall by the Association of American Universities.
The American Federation of Teachers Executive Council on Tuesday reaffirmed a commitment to collaborating with the American Association of University Professors on advocacy efforts and union organizing. The announcement extends a relationship created in 2008 as part of an effort to bring more faculty members -- especially at research universities -- into collective bargaining. The joint effort resulted in a big win with the unionization of faculty members at the University of Illinois at Chicago (although the university is challenging the win). Currently, the AFT and AAUP are jointly organizing faculty members at the University of Oregon.
An investigation by The Washington Post has revealed many millions in earmarks -- grants made by members of Congress to specific institutions, bypassing peer review -- that have gone to colleges that employ close relatives of the lawmakers who obtained the funds, or who have such relatives on their boards. For example, Representative Robert Aderholt, an Alabama Republican, helped get about $440,000 for the University of Montevallo while his wife was on its board. Or there's Representative Robert E. Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, who won $3.3 million over the last 10 years for a scholarship program at the Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, where his wife is an associate dean in charge of scholarships. And Rep. Robert E. Latta, an Ohio Republican, co-sponsored earmarks worth $2.8 million for Bowling Green State University while his wife was a senior vice president there.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, on Tuesday proposed cutting the state's higher education budget by 30 percent, on top of a 20 percent reduction approved last year, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Democratic legislators and faculty unions denounced the proposed cuts and said that they would lead to significant tuition increases, but some Republican legislative leaders said that it was time to focus on whether the state has too many campuses.
Amid an ongoing furor over the Obama administration's decision to require Roman Catholic colleges, hospitals and other religious employers to offer health insurance plans covering birth control at no cost, a senior adviser to the president's re-election campaign suggested Tuesday that compromise might be possible. On the MSNBC program "Morning Joe," David Axelrod, a top campaign adviser, said the White House would look for "a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions," The New York Times reported.
Religious institutions' objections were well-known before the final rule was issued in January. But the contraception coverage requirement has become a feature of the Republican presidential campaign, with Mitt Romney, considered most likely to face Obama in the general election, accusing the president of attacking religious liberty.
Many statehouses are seeing student protests this month, as lawmakers deliberate over proposed budget cuts, and symbolism is a common part of the scene -- with students regularly producing coffins for public higher education and so forth. In Kentucky Tuesday, students decided to use a stereotype to make their point. They took off their shoes, WDRB 41 News reported. "If they're going to keep cutting higher education, we're going to fulfill our own stereotypes and we're going to end up being the barefoot state everyone makes fun of," said Olivia McMillen, a student at the University of Louisville.
The increased public focus on community colleges makes this a time for policy makers and others to gain a better understanding of the demographics of the institutions, according to a brief released Tuesday by the American Association of Community Colleges. Many assumptions that people have about college enrollment generally, or about community colleges, are out of date, the brief argues. For instance, many people assume fall enrollment figures are a good indication of total enrollment. But at community colleges, unduplicated year-round enrollments are on average 56 percent higher than fall enrollments. Including non-credit students would further add to the total.