Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - 3:00am

The law school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has posted correct data about the class of 2014, replacing inflated data that were online previously. The university continues to investigate how the incorrect data were placed there. While the data had not yet been reported to the American Bar Association when the errors were discovered, they were visible to prospective applicants. And had the data not been corrected, they likely would have boosted the law school's rankings in various systems that use ABA data. The accurate data, which the university had independently verified, said that the class had a median score of 163 on the Law School Admission Test and a grade-point average of 3.7. The earlier data had the LSAT median at 168, and the G.P.A. as 3.8.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - 3:00am

Donors who believe in social media have pledged $1 for each person (up to $50,000) who either friends the University of Wisconsin at Madison or its alumni association on Facebook, or who becomes a Twitter follower. Will Hsu, who graduated from UW-Madison in 2000 and is one of the donors, said that he views social media as "a powerful way for younger alums and current students to get connected and stay connected with the university.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - 3:00am

The blogosophere was abuzz Monday with a post at a blog at the University of Pennsylvania about how some political science students were sitting in class for 15 minutes before receiving an e-mail telling them that the course had been canceled over the summer because the professor, Henry Teune, had died. The incident may be a good illustration of the value of updating Web pages. The political science department's home page prominently features a notice about a memorial service for Teune. But he remains on the faculty list, and the course list for the fall lists him for two courses. He died in April.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - 3:00am

Since 2005, Moody's Investors Service has affirmed the vast majority of existing ratings of postsecondary institutions, but the upgrades and downgrades the agency has made have occurred for consistent reasons, according to a new report released by Moody’s.

The top factors driving credit upgrades include (1) consistently strong operating performance, including balanced budgets or surpluses, (2) improvement in market position and brand identity, (3) growth of wealth in balance sheets, particularly due to fund raising, (4) improvements in liquidity and reduction of debt risks, and (5) diversity of revenue and strength across business lines.

In the wake of the 2008 economic downturn, the liquidity of institutional assets became a major concern for colleges and universities. As a result, many institutions started keeping larger pools of unrestricted assets on their balance sheets. That concern is reflected in the report, with high debt and insufficient liquidity being the top factor for downgrades. The other factors were poor operating performance and cash flow; a weak market position and poorly defined market niche; a weakening of the balance sheet, often marked by a significant increase in debt; and major events such as litigation, excessive management change, or revoked accreditation.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The Internal Revenue Service formally declared last week that employers -- including colleges and universities -- can provide cell phones to workers for business purposes without the worker paying any tax on the benefit. The issue has been raised in IRS audits of several major universities, and colleges had been hopeful that this change was coming in the wake of a provision included in the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 last fall, which removed cell phones from the definition of listed property, a category that normally requires additional recordkeeping by taxpayers. But the IRS declaration provides a formal measure of relief to college officials.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Chris Impey of the University of Arizona explores ancient light in an effort to better understand the lifecycle of supermassive black holes. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

A Canadian scientist has been stripped of a federal research grant after authorities found that his application materials and C.V. included claims that he had conducted research and published findings about the research -- even though the research and publications did not exist, Postmedia News reported. The Canadian research agency that took action against the scientist declined to identify him.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Greg Mortenson has declined this year's Grawemeyer Award for contributions to education. The University of Louisville makes the annual award and selected Mortenson -- author of Three Cups of Tea and a philanthropist who has promoted the development of schools for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- just before questions were raised on "60 Minutes" about his book and about the management of his philanthropy. A university press release quoted Mortenson as saying that the award was a great honor, but that he was declining nonetheless. “I wish to humbly decline the Grawemeyer Award as a way to acknowledge the dedication and sacrifice of all those who have gone before us and those who continue to promote peace through education,” Mortenson said. The scandal over Mortenson's work has put many colleges in an awkward position because they assign his work and he is a popular speaker on campuses.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The Department of Homeland Security on Friday unveiled a new website to assist international students interesting in studying in the United States. Secretary Janet Napolitano said it will be a "one-stop shop" for questions about visas, visa renewals and qualification requirements for students looking to come to the United States to study. She said it is part of the department's initiative to encourage international involvement in higher education. John Morton, director of immigration and customs enforcement, said. "We want to be welcoming and to encourage the best and the brightest with a system marked by integrity."

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Today was supposed to be the day when the next big shoe dropped in the frenzied free-for-all over conference affiliations in big-time college football, with the governing boards of the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas scheduled to meet to discuss expected moves by those institutions. But the Atlantic Coast Conference sent another set of shock waves through the industry by announcing Sunday that Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh had decided to bolt the Big East Conference and join the ACC.

The moves by Pitt and Syracuse appeared to take other members of the Big East Conference by surprise, and angered some, who questioned whether Pitt's chancellor, Mark Nordenberg, was shooting straight when, as chair of the league's board, he called for Big East solidarity on several key issues. The defections appear to put the Atlantic Coast league on a path to becoming the first 16-member Football Bowl Subdivision league and to threaten the viability of the Big East as a football conference.

Developments later today, meanwhile, could put another existing league at similar risk, if Texas and Oklahoma, as expected, say they are leaving (or considering leaving) the Big 12 Conference for the Pacific-12 Conference (or perhaps another league, in Oklahoma's case).

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