Higher Education Quick Takes
The Educational Testing Service today announced two new assessment tools to measure student learning. Test takers of the iSkills assessment and Proficiency Profile standard form will be able to earn an "electronic certificate which can be shared with an unlimited number of recipients in academia and beyond," the nonprofit testing organization said in a written statement. The profile assesses critical thinking, reading, writing and mathematics, while iSkills measures a student's ability to navigate and use information through digital technology. The certificates will be offered through colleges' testing programs, ETS said, as well as through StraighterLine, an online course provider.
Transylvania University announced Monday that R. Owen Williams will step down as president after the 2013-14 academic year. The statement from the university indicated that the board supported Williams and quoted the board chair, William T. Young Jr., as saying: “It is with regret that we accept his resignation.” Faculty members have been calling for Williams to step down, saying that he has cut them out of decision-making and in particular objecting to what they see as his applying new tenure standards to candidates before those standards were supposed to be used.
Only 16 percent of colleges that offer degrees in communications offer at least one online course in the subject, according to a new survey by the National Communication Association. The association noted that a few of the departments listed as not having a program have password-protected course listings and some of them might have a course.
FutureLearn was created this year as a MOOC platform for British universities, to counter the main American MOOC providers, which have plenty of non-American universities involved, but which are based in the United States. On Monday, FutureLearn announced it was admitting two non-British universities and embracing the idea of international MOOCs. The two members from outside Britain are Monash University, in Australia, and Trinity College Dublin, in Ireland. Also joining is the University of Edinburgh, which is already part of Coursera.
In a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday, consumer advocacy groups, higher education associations and others asked the bureau to require that colleges give prior approval before students borrow private loans, saying that the bureau has the power to require full certification by institutions. Right now, students "self-certify," meaning they sign off on a form that includes information about federal student loans and other forms of financial aid. Requiring colleges to certify that they are aware of the loans, the groups argued, would help ensure that students have already maxed out their federal loan options (many private loan borrowers have not), because federal loans usually offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans.
New York University is breaking new ground in compensation for higher ed executives and star faculty members by providing loans for vacation homes, The New York Times reported. President John Sexton received $1 million in loans for a home on Fire Island, while others have received assistance to buy second homes in other prime vacation areas. The article notes that many colleges provide homes for presidents, and some institutions in places like New York City -- where housing is expensive -- provide housing assistance for many others. But the article says that help for second homes is "all but unheard-of in higher education."
John Beckman, a university spokesman, told the Times: "The purpose of our loan programs goes right to the heart of several decades of sustained and successful effort at NYU: to transform NYU from a regional university into a world-class research residential university." The loans help attract and retain talent, he said.
Among the critics of the practice quoted in the article was Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, a former president of George Washington University who has been a defender of high salaries and benefits for higher education leaders. "That’s getting to be a little too sexy even for me, and I have a good sense of humor about these things," he said. "I don’t think that’s prudent. I don’t mind paying someone a robust salary, but I think you have to be able to pass a red-face test."
Sports Illustrated has published damning new reports on the investigative arm of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and of the football program of the University of Miami.
The enforcement division has "gone from bad to worse," one article says. It notes many departures of key people in the division, a campaign (much mocked internally) to boost morale through the use of corporate buzzwords and complaints about Mark Emmert, the NCAA president. Emmert is said to focus more on publicity -- he is called by some "King of the Press Conference" -- than on the association's challenges. One former enforcement official told the magazine: "The time is ripe to cheat. There's no policing going on." Emmert declined to comment for the piece.
The article on Miami meanwhile includes allegations that a one-time booster, Nevin Shapiro, whose past allegations have already led to numerous problems for the university, "used inside information from Hurricanes players, coaches and athletic department staffers to win bets on 23 Miami football games" between 2003 and 2009.
Scientists in Russia are objecting to the addition of a theology department at the National Research Nuclear University, in Moscow, RIA Novosti reported. Many researchers see the move as inappropriate at a secular university and inconsistent with the focus on science at the institution. Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, however, say that the administration thought of the idea of adding the department, and that it will offer a wide range of programs.
Since 2006, the athletics department at the University of Colorado at Boulder has paid nearly $9.8 million in severance payments to former coaches and other employees, The Boulder Daily Camera reported. The payments are generating scrutiny because the department currently has a $7.5 million deficit. Jerry Peterson, a physics professor and chair of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, said that "we all recognize that the Boulder campus is facing tight financial times, and that [nearly] $10 million -- even if it's over several years -- is a loss to academics."