Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, June 24, 2011 - 3:00am

The nation’s historically black colleges and universities need to assume a far more active role in the national push to get more students to complete their degrees, a group of HBCU presidents said Thursday. "We need to be much more aggressive in taking the lead in setting the agenda," Walter Kimbrough, president of Arkansas' Philander Smith College, said at a news conference in Atlanta during a seminar organized by the Southern Education Foundation. "We are going to have to make a break from some of our historical ideology and looking at ourselves in a defensive posture."

Greater participation of HBCU's in the larger public debate will become only more urgent, many speakers noted, because of the shifting demographics of the student body. Kimbrough cited preliminary 2010 U.S. Census data showing that the majority of babies born in the U.S. over the past two years were not white. "By 2019 there’s not going to be one racial majority in this country," said Kimbrough. And, several speakers said, with nearly one in five black college students attending HBCU's, these institutions have a lot to contribute to conversations about how these students can succeed in higher education. But, even as HBCU's need to increase their expectations of students and welcome the push for accountability, several speakers lamented the funding environment. "You have these two trains running," said David Wilson, president of Morgan State University, in Maryland. "You have the college completion goal, and we’re not investing in the students we need to achieve that goal."

That trend is holding true in higher education more broadly, said Carlton Brown, president of Clark Atlanta University. "We want to regain a position from which we have fallen, but we haven’t addressed how we got there in the first place," said Brown, who added that a college education had been slowly redefined over time as an individual benefit rather than a broader societal one. "When you redefine it to an individual benefit, the real consequence is an erosion of national capacity," Brown continued. "How we got to this position was through an investment of the government and private entities. How we lost it was a disinvestment of government and private entities."

The press conference, which included six HBCU presidents, covered wide ground. Several discussed the importance of connecting more to each other, to other private and public colleges, to K-12 education and to the wider public. Others talked about the need to advocate for continued support for Pell Grants (some presidents said that 70 percent of students at their colleges were Pell-eligible), and about the communal and historical value of their institutions.

Friday, June 24, 2011 - 3:00am

William R. Harvey, president of Hampton University, and Norma B. Harvey, his wife, have donated $166,000 to the university for staff salaries. The money will pay for the 118 full-time staff members who earn less than $8 an hour to have their pay rate raised to $8 an hour. The gift follows a $1 million donation by the Harveys this year for faculty salaries.

Friday, June 24, 2011 - 3:00am

Two major education companies, Pearson and College Board, announced today that they are collaborating on a product aimed at more accurately gauging student readiness for college. The new product "identifies areas of strengths and weaknesses for each student and then builds a personalized learning path linking students to tutorials, interactive instruction and practice exercises," according to a release. The companies say they hope the new technology, which combines College Board's diagnostic software (Accuplacer) and Pearson's adaptive tutoring software (MyFoundationsLab), will prepare students for college-level work more efficiently than traditional remediation by assessing and addressing their specific weaknesses more precisely. Hunter Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Learning, told Inside Higher Ed that while he believes "the idea is probably sound," he cautioned against over-relying on technology to address the needs of students who need extra preparation.

Friday, June 24, 2011 - 3:00am

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday released its latest data on students with disabilities in higher education. As of the 2008-9 academic year, 88 percent of two- and four-year institutions reported enrolling students with disabilities. Specific learning disabilities were the most common (31 percent), followed by Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (which were counted separately) at 18 percent, then mental or psychiatric conditions at 15 percent. About a tenth of the reported learning disabilities were related to physical health and illness. Students who have trouble seeing accounted for 3 percent. The survey also revealed deficits between the needs of students with disabilities and what their college are providing. For example, while nearly every college has a main website, only 24 percent of them said they accommodated disabled users "to a major extent." About half of institutions cited financial barriers to training faculty and staff to accommodate various disabilities and buying "appropriate technology" for students with impairments.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 - 3:00am

 

In today’s Academic Minute, James Schwab of the State University of New York at Albany explores the complexity and mysteries of cloud formation. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 - 3:00am

California State University on Wednesday released the results of a months-long evaluation of the accessibility, for students with disabilities, of Google Apps for Education, a popular suite of software tools used by approximately half of nonprofit colleges. "The applications tested had varying levels of accessibility; most had significant accessibility problems which inhibit users of assistive technology from successful, regular use of the products," wrote the task force members, who since last fall had been testing various features -- Google Mail Chat, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites -- that Google provides to colleges with its Google Apps suite.

However, despite these findings, the California State task force stopped short of recommending that colleges refrain from using Google Apps. Instead, the committee recommend a series or "workarounds" and "best practices" to help minimize the disadvantages of students with disabilities. "Due to the extent of the accessibility issues discovered, limiting use (when possible) of Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Forms, Calendar, Sites and Gmail Chat in large group, student-centric or public-facing activities is recommended until native accessibility of those products improves. In addition, limiting the use of Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Calendar to administrative or back-office applications or activities is recommended when possible."

This is not the first time anyone has flagged accessibility barriers in Google's popular campus software: In March, students filed civil rights complaints against New York University and Northwestern University after those institutions adopted Google Apps. The U.S. Department of Education also recently warned colleges against adopting "emerging technologies" that discriminate against students with disabilities.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 - 3:00am

Marquette University has announced revised policies on dealing with sex assault charges. The Journal Sentinel reported that chief among the changes is that the university will report all allegations to the Milwaukee police. The move follows criticism of the university over two incidents in which allegations of sexual assault by athletes at the university were not immediately reported to authorities, leading to delays that critics say made it less likely that criminal charges could have been filed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Texas System is preparing a pilot program designed to shave a year off of the time it takes someone to earn an undergraduate degree and an M.D., The Austin American-Statesman reported. Under the first pilot, selected students at UT-Austin would be assured a spot in one of the system's medical schools and could finish their undergraduate degree in three years. Texas is becoming a center for experimentation in shortening the time to become a doctor. Texas Tech University is starting a three-year M.D.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 - 3:00am

Lake Michigan College has agreed to let a student who is a sex offender remain enrolled, The Herald Palladium reported. The college had moved to kick out the student based on a policy barring those convicted of sex offenses involving minors. The reinstatement involved a challenge to the policy by the American Civil Liberties Union and an agreement on changes to the policy, including an appeals process.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Michigan Library will announce today that it will be allowing authorized library patrons to access all of its digitized "orphan works" in full. Students and guests will now be able to access online any texts they would have been able to find in the stacks, Michigan officials said in a press release. This is the latest step in Michigan's attempts to identify and unlock the orphans -- books whose copyright holders cannot be found or contacted -- in its collection. The university announced last month that it is also working to identify more orphans the millions of volumes held by HathiTrust Digital Library, a Michigan-based aggregator of university library collections. Other institutions are preparing making their own orphans available to authorized students and researchers, officials said in Wednesday's press release.

In light of a federal court's recent rebuke of Google's attempts to sell broad access to orphan works through its controversial Google Books Project, experts have speculated that it may be up to Congress to determine how orphans can and cannot be used. Michigan is not waiting around to open up its own orphans to authorized users, a move that it sees as covered by the "fair use" exemptions to copyright law.

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