Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 10, 2015

The Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) announced Monday that it has added 15 new college members. The Lumina-funded group now features 30 institutions and 4 public college systems, all of which either offer competency-based degrees or are creating them. The C-BEN was created for participants to share information on the emerging form of higher education. New members include several community colleges, a midsized for-profit chain and large universities, including the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Texas System.

February 10, 2015

An investment banking and consulting firm focused on education, Tyton Partners, is issuing a report today that attempts to create a framework for measuring "evidence of learning." The research, which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded, seeks to take a holistic approach to defining the "body of knowledge, skills and experience" people achieve in both formal and informal activities throughout their lifetime. Tyton, which until this month was Education Growth Advisors, also released a second report on the "supplier ecosystem" that surrounds related markets, such as accreditation services, portfolio platforms and assessment services.

February 10, 2015

Just in time for tax season, hackers are escalating their efforts to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service in attempts to defraud taxpayers, the Research and Education Networking Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or REN-ISAC, warned on Monday. In an advisory, the organization warned I.T. executives and business officers to watch for suspicious e-mails and phone calls from people claiming to represent the I.R.S. and to protect personal information.

"Every tax season brings a host of fraudulent activities from scammers utilizing a variety of tactics," Kim Milford, executive director of REN-ISAC, said in an e-mail. "This year seems to be even worse than past years, with rampant reports of phishing, phone scams and fraudulent filings."

February 10, 2015

In today's Academic Minute, Rhett Brymer, a professor at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University, analyzes officiating in the National Collegiate Athletic Association and looks for instances of bias. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 9, 2015

It's become fashionable among some pundits and politicians to question the economic value of the bachelor's degree. But the latest unemployment figures, which show good hiring trends across the board, suggest to Bloomberg Business that there is one possible labor market problem for bachelor's degree holders: there may not be enough of them. The article notes that the unemployment rate for bachelor's degree holders is now down to 2.8 percent (compared to 5.7 percent for the adult population as a whole). The rate for bachelor's degree holders is the lowest since September 2008, and the article says that this level makes it conceivable that the job market will run out of bachelor's holders to hire.

February 9, 2015

Auburn University will spend $13.9 million for what it says will be the largest scoreboard in higher education. The new display area on the scoreboard will measure 190 feet by 57 feet, compared to the current 71 feet by 28.5. The image at right shows how large the new scoreboard (shaded area) will be, compared to the current one. Al.com did an analysis of how Auburn's new scoreboard will compare with existing, smaller ones. Auburn fans will have 10,830 square feet of scoreboard, compared to 7,661 at Texas A&M and 7,370 at the University of Texas at Austin.



February 9, 2015

University of California at Berkeley is “faced once again with the threat of political interference in academic affairs,” its chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, wrote Friday in the university’s student newspaper.

Dirks (photo at right) took exception to California Governor Jerry Brown’s contention that the state’s flagship university has closed its doors to “normal” people. Dirks said reading Brown’s remarks was an “otherworldly experience.”

“Personally, I am not much interested in a campus filled with ‘normal’ students,” Dirks wrote. “What I am interested in preserving is what we have: a place where the extraordinary is, well, ordinary.”

Brown, a Berkeley graduate, has taken a more assertive role in trying to manage the UC system, although sometimes it perhaps hasn't always been clear what he is proposing, as with his complaint about the lack of “normal” students at Berkeley. Was that to suggest the university should let in other, less qualified students? As one long-time California political columnist pointed out recently, Brown -- a four-term Democrat who served two of those terms in the 1970s -- has long been interested in changing the state’s education system, one way or another.

“I’m going to starve the schools financially until I get some educational reforms,” Brown said when he took the office for the first time 40 years ago.

“What kind of reforms?” he was asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Brown replied.

The governor has recently said he wants to study several things for the UC system, including expanded online education, offering three-year degrees and offering credits for students who can prove they are competent in certain subjects.

February 9, 2015

New data released by the National Science Foundation show that research and development spending by universities -- from all sources -- edged up slightly, to $67.2 billion in 2013. When adjusted for inflation, that reflects an increase of less than half of a percent. The largest source of funds was the federal government, at $39.5 billion. The NSF also released data on which universities spend the most, a ranking led for many years by Johns Hopkins University, where a majority of the R&D funds are spent by the Applied Physics Laboratory.


February 9, 2015

The American Anthropological Association has issued a statement on climate change and the need for broad study of its impact. The statement -- consistent with the scientific consensus -- states that climate change is a "present reality" and will have a growing and profound impact on humanity. The statement further says that climate change is likely to intensify "underlying problems" related to economic inequality, and says that the impact of climate change "will fall unevenly."

Given these aspects of the climate change, the association calls for the involvement of many types of scholars in studying the issues. "Focusing solely on reducing carbon emissions will not be sufficient to address climate change — that approach will not address the systemic causes. Climate change is rooted in social institutions and cultural habits. Real solutions will require knowledge and insight from the social sciences and humanities, not only from the natural sciences. Climate change is not a natural problem, it is a human problem," the statement says.

The statement reflects the work of a task force of the association.

February 9, 2015

President Obama said Friday that the popularity of 529 college savings accounts made him abandon a proposal to end the tax benefits of those accounts just days after first proposing it. "It wasn’t worth it for us to eliminate it," he said during remarks at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana. "The savings weren’t that great.”

Families using 529 plans "were a little more on the high end" of the income scale, Obama said, noting that he has such accounts for his two daughters. "Our thinking was you could save money by eliminating the 529 and shifting it into some other loan programs that would be more broadly based," he said. 

Although his plan would not have retroactively cut the tax benefits for savings that were already in a 529 account, Obama said that enough people liked the program -- or liked the idea of using the program in the future -- for him to change his mind. The plan, which would have raised about $1 billion in revenue over 10 years, also came under attack from both Congressional Republicans and Democrats, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. 

A Government Accountability Office study in 2012 found that just 3 percent of families were using 529 savings plans, and roughly half of them earned more than $150,000 a year.


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