Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 5, 2013

The Obama administration is moving ahead with plans to waive certain federal student aid rules for a limited number of colleges that want to experiment with competency-based education and other innovative forms of higher education.

Officials are soliciting suggestions on what those experiments should look like, according to a notice set to be published in the Federal Register this week. The Education Department said it is “particularly interested in experiments that are designed to improve student persistence and academic success, result in shorter time to degree, including by allowing students to advance through educational courses and programs at their own pace by demonstrating academic achievement, and reduce reliance on student loans.”

The department gave three examples of the types of innovations it may approve: competency-based education, dual enrollment of high school students in higher education, and prior learning assessment.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in remarks at a student aid conference Wednesday that the experiments will allow colleges to “pursue responsible innovations to increase college value and affordability.”

The Obama administration first announced in August that it wanted to use its “experimental sites” authority to pilot higher education innovations aimed at lowering costs while maintain quality.

President Obama said in a speech on the economy Wednesday that his administration was “pursuing an aggressive strategy to promote innovation that reins in tuition costs.”

The push for federal funding for higher education innovations has been aggressive elsewhere in Washington as well. Several education foundations and think tanks have embraced alternative models of higher education, and the issue is attracting attention from a growing number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.  

The Education Department said it wants to hear experiment proposals from colleges, businesses, philanthropies and state agencies. The suggestions are due by January 31 of next year.

December 5, 2013

Professors at Davidson College, working through the MOOC provider edX and the College Board, are going to start to prepare online tutorials in select topics in the Advanced Placement program, The New York Times reported. The goal is to create units covering specific topics within AP courses that may be tripping up students. The effort will start with AP courses in calculus, physics and macroeconomics.

 

December 4, 2013

Instructors at Princeton University discussed developing a homegrown massive open online course platform during a faculty meeting on Monday, The Daily Princetonian reported.

The university joined Coursera's consortium in April 2012. By building their own platform, some faculty members argued they would eliminate the question of intellectual property rights. Other faculty members were reportedly less interested in the endeavor, however, with President Christopher Eisgruber saying, ​“I must say that developing our own proprietary platform gives me nightmares.” Faculty members also discussed creating a new Faculty Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning, which would evaluate online courses.

December 4, 2013

Students who complete algebra II while they are in high school are more likely to succeed in college, according to a new study. But those benefits are less pronounced once students enter the job market. The new study, which was written by researchers at Pearson's Center for College and Career Success and from the University of Michigan, used two national datasets in its exploration of differences between college readiness and career readiness.

December 4, 2013

Students during the 2011-12 academic year paid, on average, higher immediate out-of-pocket costs to attend public and private colleges than their counterparts in 2007-8, according to a new federal report released Tuesday.

The average out-of-pocket net price -- a college’s sticker price minus all forms of financial aid -- increased by $800 at both private not-for-profit and public four-year universities, after adjusting for inflation. At community colleges, the same figure rose by $400.

The for-profit sector was the only one to see a decrease between 2011-12 and 2007-8. Across all for-profit institutions, the average out-of-pocket net price fell from $11,500 to $9,900 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Still, the average out-of-pocket net price at two-year for-profit institutions ($12,400) was more than double the figure at two-year public institutions ($6,000) in 2011-12. 

The out-of-pocket net price essentially represents the amount of money a student has to pay up front while attending college. It doesn’t include the value of loans that have to be repaid or the long-term cost of such debt.  The data come from the Education Department’s latest National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, which is completed every four years. 

December 4, 2013

A national poll of four-year college students has found that they are more likely to blame colleges than other institutions for the rising levels of student debt. The poll, by the Harvard University Institute of Politics, found that 68 percent of those polled viewed student debt for young people as a major problem, while 21 percent viewed it as a minor problem. Asked who was "most responsible" for rising levels of student debt, students cited the following:

  • Colleges: 42 percent
  • Federal government: 30 percent
  • State governments: 9 percent
  • Students: 8 percent
  • Other: 4 percent
  • Refused to answer: 7 percent
December 4, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Susan Fiske of Princeton University reveals what baseball rivalries can teach us about why we sometime take delight in the misfortune of others. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

December 4, 2013

Some for-profit medical schools in the Caribbean that are ineligible for federal student aid programs have been encouraging their students to access those funds by simultaneously enrolling in U.S.-based online programs, Bloomberg reported.

The medical students take out federal loans by virtue of their enrollment in the U.S. online programs and then use the money to support themselves in the Caribbean, the article says. The institutions defended the practice to Bloomberg, saying that the online programs are valuable to students and give them a better shot at landing a residency in the U.S. But critics of the arrangement argued it’s a loophole that Congress should close.  A previous Bloomberg investigation of for-profit medical schools in the Caribbean that revealed the relatively higher loan debt that their students carry prompted scrutiny from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat. 

December 4, 2013

The Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled a new web portal aimed at the people who help students and families prepare for college.

The site aggregates a range of Education Department resources and promotional material meant to encourage students to attend college and take advantage of federal student aid programs. Guidance counselors and other mentors are able to search a database containing infographics, fact sheets, videos, and other presentation materials relating to the financial aid process. 

The new effort comes as the administration is increasingly using its bully pulpit to promote college access. First Lady Michelle Obama has recently begun speaking out on higher education. And, after hosting a series of meetings with college presidents over the past several months about boosting low-income students’ access to higher education, the White House plans to hold a symposium on the topic December 11. It’s not yet clear if administration officials will announce any new policy proposals at that event, which is set to feature business leaders, philanthropists and college presidents.  

December 4, 2013

The most frequently awarded grade for undergraduates at Harvard University is an A, and the median grade is A-. University officials released those facts Tuesday at a meeting of arts and sciences faculty members, and a Harvard spokesman confirmed the information Tuesday night. The spokesman cautioned in an email against too much emphasis on the grade data. "We believe that learning is the most important thing that happens in our classrooms and throughout our system of residential education. The faculty are focused on creating positive and lasting learning outcomes for our undergraduates," he said. "We watch and review trends in grading across Harvard College, but we are most interested in helping our students learn and learn well."

Some Harvard faculty members are concerned, however, about grade inflation. Harvey Mansfield, who has repeatedly raised the issue, was the one who brought it up with questions at Tuesday's meeting. He told The Boston Globe that he thought grading patterns were "really indefensible."

 

 

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