Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 21, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Professor Nancy Kim of the California Western School of Law explores the nature of Internet-based contracts we often agree to without careful consideration. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

August 21, 2013

King's College London has accepted Arjun Singh, a 14-year-old resident of Hong Kong to enroll for a physics degree, and he would be the youngest international student ever to enroll, The South China Morning Post reported. But there is a chance he may not be able to go to Britain, as that country's visa rules require students to be at least 16. His family is scrambling to find a way for him to get around the rule.

 

August 21, 2013

MOOC provider Coursera on Tuesday announced Lila Ibrahim will become its first president. Ibrahim, who will continue to serve as an operating partner for the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, previously spent 18 years with the chip maker Intel. "Lila has worked closely with the company founders over the past year," Coursera founders Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller wrote in a blog post. "She has been consistently passionate about education and brings the experience to help us turbo charge Coursera’s growth." Ibrahim will join Koller and Ng to form Coursera's executive team.

August 21, 2013

Case Western Reserve University has announced an overhaul of its law school curriculum, The Plain Dealer reported. Among the changes: increased writing requirements, student work for clients starting from the first semester of law school, a third-year semester in a clinical position and a required leadership course at Case's business school.

 

August 21, 2013

Citing concerns about shared governance, faculty members at Pennsylvania State University have formed an advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The association has two kinds of chapters: advocacy, for non-unionized faculty, and union. It’s unclear whether Penn State’s unique public-private status (it’s state-supported but privately chartered) would prevent future attempts to unionize, given current restrictions on tenure-track faculty unions at private institutions.

Brian Curran, president of the new chapter and professor of art history, said he couldn’t comment on any intent to unionize “at this time.” But through the advocacy chapter, he said he hoped to bring to Penn State a kind of transparency and shared governance that is lacking through the Faculty Senate. For example, he said, the body has no means of sending out mass e-mails to faculty to alert them of decisions.

The Faculty Senate president did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Penn State faculty expressed outrage this summer at the university's new “Take Care of Your Health” wellness initiative, which requires that all faculty complete biometric screenings and online wellness profiles that include questions some faculty have said are invasive, such as those pertaining to mental health and frequency of testicular self-exams. Faculty who don’t complete the annual screenings will have to pay a $100 monthly surcharge.

Additional surcharges have been announced for smokers and for coverage for spouses and domestic partners eligible for insurance through their own employers.

The university has said that attempts to control its skyrocketing health care costs through voluntary measures proved unsuccessful. Susan Basso, vice president for human resources, has said the university's new program complies with health care privacy laws and that personal information will be used for health promotion only.

In an e-mail, a university spokesman said Penn State values shared governance "because we do encourage participation in many aspects of decision-making. We balance this with our need for administrative accountability." To that end, members of the faculty and staff were consulted on the health care plan as early as 2011, he said.

In other Penn State news, Harvard Business Review dedicated a blog post to the wellness initiative Tuesday called “The Danger of Wellness Programs: Don’t Become the Next Penn State.”

The post’s authors, well-known benefits experts Tom Emerick and Al Lewis, wrote that “Wellness is supposed to 'empower' employees but instead did just the opposite at Penn State. Ironically, the only thing that has empowered Penn State employees has been fighting back against this misdirected wellness tyranny.” Instead of a “‘culture of wellness,’ Penn State has created a culture of resentment,” they wrote, arguing that “Take Care of Your Health” may not save the university much money after all.

Basic calculations “would have told them that their 43,000 covered lives probably incurred a total of only about 100 wellness-sensitive medical inpatient events, like heart attacks, of which a few might have taken place in people who were not previously diagnosed and were therefore at least theoretically avoidable, saving the tiniest fraction of their healthcare spending. But we'll never know because they embarked on a prevention jihad against their employees without knowing the value of what they were trying to prevent.”

August 21, 2013

City College of San Francisco on Tuesday formally asked its accreditor to reverse the decision that, a year from now, would strip the college of its accreditation, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. But to the disappointment of many students and faculty members, the college's request to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges did not mention a recent report by the U.S. Education Department faulting the accreditor for being out of compliance with several rules that relate to its review of the college. Robert Agrella, a state-appointed trustee who has been running the college since shortly after the accreditor's decision to revoke recognition, defended the decision not to focus on the commission's own problems. "I believe that if the college changes direction and begins to attack the commission, rather than working with it to correct the problems in the institution, it will jeopardize our ability to maintain accreditation," he said.

About 150 students, meanwhile, demanding Agrella's ouster, staged a sit-in at San Francisco City Hall, KTVU News reported.

 

August 21, 2013

A think tank report released Tuesday argues for making student loans -- but only some student loans -- dischargeable under federal bankruptcy laws. The report from the Center for American Progress joins other recent calls for more protection for distressed borrowers than they now have, but it recommends targeted rather than blanket bankruptcy protection for student loan borrowers, based not on their source (the federal government or private lenders) but on the repayment terms and the educational and repayment track record of the institutions whose students received them.

Under the plan, certain types of products could qualify as "qualified student loans," which would both need to meet set definitions of borrower-friendly terms (low interest rates, access to favorable repayment options) and be available only to students at institutions and academic or training programs that "by virtue of their graduate employment rates" or other outcome measures "give graduates a reasonable chance to repay." Qualified loans would not be dischargeable in bankruptcy, but all loans that did not meet that definition would be.

The group argues that moving to such a system would prod lenders to create loans that were better for borrowers, and discourage predatory practices because both lenders and, quite possibly, institutions could be on the hook if loans that didn't "qualify" were able to be discharged in bankruptcy.

"Including some student loans in bankruptcy reforms and expanding borrower protections through Qualified Student Loans will ultimately maintain bankruptcy as the narrow path of last resort it was designed to be, while giving those burdened by student debt a chance for a fresh start," says the center's report, which was written by Joe Valenti, director of the center's asset building program, and David Bergeron, a longtime Education Department official who is now its vice president for postsecondary education.

August 20, 2013

A Florida appeals court has reduced -- from $10 million to $200,000 -- the amount the University of Central Florida must pay to the family of a football player who died after drills in 2008, the Associated Press reported. The ruling concerned the extent to which the university has immunity from various types of lawsuits. The appeals court also denied a request by the university's athletics division for a new trial.

August 20, 2013

The proportions of American undergraduates who received federal financial aid (57 percent) or at least some form of financial aid (71 percent) in 2011-12 both rose considerably from 2007-8, when the proportions were 47 percent and 66 percent, respectively, a new federal report shows.

The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, which the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics releases every four years, provides a wealth of data about how students are financing their higher education, based on a survey of about 100,000 students.

Among other findings:

  • About 40 percent of students borrowed federal loan funds in 2011-12, up from 35 percent in 2007-8. The average amount they borrowed rose to about $6,400 from about $5,000.
  • The proportion of students on federal grants rose sharply, to 42 percent from 28 percent, due to a significant expansion (now partially undone) in funding and eligibility criteria for Pell Grants.
  • The proportion of students on state grants remained largely flat, at 15 percent, but the percentage of full-time dependent students on state grants dipped to 26 percent from 29 percent, as some states contracted their aid funds.
August 20, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Gerald Koudelka of the State University of New York at Buffalo explains why some of the most dangerous strains of bacteria can outlive their benign cousins in the wild. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

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