Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 5, 2014

Educational Testing Service this week announced that it is offering digital badges that students can earn by taking two assessments the group released last year. Those tests -- the Proficiency Profile and iSkills assessments -- seek to measure what students learn in college. They are not designed to be used by employers, for now at least. But they might have job market potential at some point.

Now students can earn digital badges based on their performance on the two assessments. For example, badges are linked to all four skill areas the Proficiency Profile measures: mathematics, writing, reading and critical thinking. The badges can be added to a Mozilla "backpack" and shared with an "unlimited number of recipients in academia and beyond," ETS said in a news release.

February 5, 2014

Radford University announced Tuesday that it is adding women's lacrosse, but cutting three other teams, The Roanoke Times reported. The teams being cut are women's field hockey, women's swimming and diving, and men's track and field. The university said that the changes were part of a "realignment" to improve athletic offerings, but those associated with teams being cut said they were dismayed.

February 5, 2014

A group of 50 organizations has written to officials at the White House and U.S. Department of Education to "urge the administration to issue promptly a stronger, more effective" set of gainful employment regulations. The group includes higher-education associations, faculty unions, consumer advocates and veterans organizations.

In December a panel of department-appointed negotiators failed to reach consensus on the proposed rules, which would affect vocational programs at for-profit institutions and community colleges. The department is expected to issue its final draft standards in coming months. A period of public comment will follow their release.

February 5, 2014

Jeff Wilson, associate professor of biological sciences at Huston-Tillotson University, moved into a dumpster Tuesday, planning to live there for a year. Working with students, he plans to show how one could live in a dumpster, using much less space and energy than Americans typically consume. “The overarching goal ... is to test whether one can have a pretty good life while treading lightly on the planet — all from a dumpster that is 1 percent the size of the average new American home,” he said.

February 5, 2014

A bill pending in the New York Assembly that would prohibit the use of state aid to fund or pay membership dues to academic organizations that endorse the academic boycott of Israel was withdrawn from consideration by that body’s Higher Education Committee on Monday, The Albany Times Union reported. A spokesman for the bill’s sponsor, the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, told the newspaper, “We are addressing some concerns with the bill." The spokesman did not elaborate further.

The move comes days after a similar bill passed the New York Senate by a wide margin. Similar legislation has also been filed in Maryland, prompting a renewed statement of protest from the American Association of University Professors on Tuesday.

“While it is the position of the AAUP that academic boycotts contravene the principles of academic freedom, the Association has nevertheless asserted that it is 'the right of individual faculty members or groups of academics not to cooperate with other individual faculty members or academic institutions with whom or with which they disagree,' the association said in the statement. “Legislative interference in academic decision-making and with the freedom of scholars to associate and exchange views with their peers is even more dangerous than the academic boycotts this legislation is intended to oppose. That is because this legislation undermines constitutionally protected academic speech and debate in order to promote a particular viewpoint.”

The New York and Maryland bills were introduced after the American Studies Association endorsed a controversial boycott of Israeli universities in December. The American Studies Association has also issued a statement condemning the New York anti-boycott bill.

February 4, 2014

Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee burnished his credentials as a higher education governor Monday night by promising in his State of the State speech to make two years of a community or technical college education free to graduating high school seniors in the state.

Haslam, whose state has aggressively overhauled its postsecondary system under both him and his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, proposed using lottery reserve funds to create an endowment to cover the tuition and fees of high school graduates who attend a community college or one of the state's colleges of applied technology. He called it the "Tennessee Promise."

"It is a promise that we have an ability to make," he said in a prepared text of his remarks. "Net cost to the state, zero. Net impact on our future, priceless."

The governor's 2014-15 budget proposal also calls for expanding the Degree Compass program developed at Austin Peay State University to help students navigate academic paths and creating a data system to help colleges identify adults who are likely to return to college and earn a degree.

February 4, 2014

Continuing its focus on problems with the servicing of private student loans, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday released an analysis of its voluntary request for information from the private student loan industry. The bureau was especially interested in information about how loan servicers process the payments of borrowers seeking to pay down their debt ahead of schedule. The CFPB has said it’s concerned that some loan servicers apply prepayments in a way that maximizes their profits but makes the cost of the loan more expensive for borrowers.

In its report, the CFPB found that servicers varied in how they apply prepayments to student loans. Some were able to accept a borrower’s instructions through their online payment platform, while others were did not accept such instructions for certain types of loans. The bureau did not release the names of which entities responded to its request for information.

Rohit Chopra, the bureau's assistant director and student loan ombudsman, vaguely alluded to potential compliance issues in Monday’s report. He noted that it is illegal for companies to charge student loan borrowers a penalty for making early payments on their debt and said that one way for some servicers to ensure compliance with that requirement would be to automatically direct prepayments to a borrower’s loan with the highest interest rate first. In analyzing the servicers' prepayment policies--all of which were submitted voluntarily -- the CFPB did not check to see whether the policies were complying with the law. However, prepayment issues on private student loans could become a focus of the agency's efforts when it officially begins its supervision of large student loan servicers in March. 

February 4, 2014

Long Beach City College is taking advantage of a new California law authorizing it to offer tiered tuition -- charging more in the winter and summer for some high demand courses. An article in The Los Angles Times finds that there are clearly students willing to pay more, in many cases because the regular, less expensive versions are full, semester after semester. At the same time, the article finds continued concerns about the idea of providing some access based on ability to pay more. "It creates two types of students: those who can pay and those who cannot. And it's unfair to the students who have to feed families and are unemployed," said Andrea Donado, student representative on the Long Beach Community College District board.

February 4, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Adam Gordon of the State University of New York at Albany discusses a common behavioral pattern found in living things from honey bees to humans. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 4, 2014

Full-time, non-tenure-track professors at Rutgers University are celebrating after winning key bargaining goals in their new contract. Career titles outlining paths for promotion have been established for teaching, professional practice and librarian faculty members, similar to those already in place for clinical and research non-tenure-track faculty members. Explicitly non-renewable contracts have been abolished, as has the title of “assistant instructor.” For non-grant-funded faculty members, appointments will be for one to five years, and advance notice of non-reappointment is now required.

Current assistant instructors also will be absorbed into the rank of instructor as of July and those assistant instructors making the minimum salary for their rank, about $34,000, will be paid the minimum salary for instructors – about $39,000. (No other raises for non-tenure-track faculty are included in the agreement). The union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers, covers all tenure-line and about 1,000 full-time adjunct faculty at all three Rutgers campuses.

Ann Gordon, a recently retired, longtime, non-tenure-track research professor of history at Rutgers’s main campus at New Brunswick, said that the university previously had no strategy for managing the career paths of non-tenure-track faculty, but that the new agreement – reached after many months of negotiations -- puts it ahead of many peer universities on that issue. In a statement, a Rutgers spokesman said the contract recognizes the “important role” of non-tenure-track faculty there. Some 1,300 part-time adjuncts at Rutgers are unionized with the AAUP and AFT, but in a separate unit. The contract does not affect them.

 

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