Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 2, 2012

Moody's Investors Service said Monday that the weak return on Harvard University's $30.7 billion endowment, which the university announced last week had shrunk 0.05 percent in the 2012 fiscal year, is a bad sign for endowment-dependent universities. The rating agency said the results probably won't affect Harvard's rating, but are likely to lead the institution and others to rethink their dependence on endowments. "Based on highly variable investment returns over the past decade, we expect endowment-dependent institutions to make more conservative spending decisions for future fiscal years and to more fully assess their operational vulnerability to investment volatility," the agency wrote. "Budgetary models are increasingly stress tested, and management teams are adjusting to more conservative assumptions about long-term rates of return on their endowment. Many have lowered their assumed annual endowment returns to 7 percent to 8 percent, compared to the higher 9 percent to 10 percent return assumptions that were common prior to 2009."

Only a handful of private universities have announced their returns for the past fiscal year, but Moody's projects most endowments to have returns similar to Harvard's. "Most university endowments likely declined by 1 percent to 5 percent in fiscal 2012, net of new gifts, owing to weak investment performance and 4 percent to 6 percent endowment spending for the annual budget," the rating agency wrote.

October 2, 2012

Thirteen academics were among those named today as new MacArthur Fellows by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The fellowships -- commonly called "genius" awards -- provide $500,000 over five years, no strings attached. This year's academic winners are:

  • Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Harvard University.
  • Maria Chudnovsky, associate professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University.
  • Eric Coleman, professor of health care policy and research at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
  • Junot Díaz, the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Oliver Gunyon, assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona.
  • Elissa Hallem, assistant professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the University of California at Los Angeles.
  • An-My Lê, professor of photography at Bard College.
  • Sarkis Mazmanian, professor of biology at California Institute of Technology.
  • Dylan C. Penningroth, associate professor of history at Northwestern University.
  • Terry Plank, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University.
  • Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.
  • Daniel Spielman, the Henry Ford II Professor of Computer Science at Yale University.
  • Melody Swartz, professor of bioengineering at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

Details on these and other winners, and on the program, may be found here.

 

October 2, 2012

A new company, Wordprom, is helping those who have recently been admitted to M.B.A. programs sell their application essays, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The site charges people $50 to buy an essay and half of that goes to the person who wrote it. Not surprisingly, admissions directors of M.B.A. programs are not happy about this new business, whose CEO earned her M.B.A. at Stanford University.

 

October 1, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Vernon Scarborough of the University of Cincinnati explores the complex infrastructure that supplied the largest Mayan city with water. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


 

October 1, 2012

An article in The Irish Times explores the reasons why experts periodically propose (as happened last week in a government-requested report) that Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin be merged, and why just about everyone associated with the two institutions hates the idea. The idea of a merger is that a combined institution would be stronger (especially in international rankings). Historically, religion and class might have divided the two institutions, since Trinity was founded for the Protestant elite under English royal rule, UCD was founded by Roman Catholics to serve those excluded from Trinity. Today such ethnic divides are less evident, although the universities prefer to be rivals who sometimes cooperate than to shed their institutional identities, the article said.

 

October 1, 2012

Governor Jerry Brown has signed into California law a measure that will require universities that receive more than $10 million in media revenue related to athletics to cover insurance deductibles and pay health care premiums for low-income athletics, and to give academic scholarships to students who lose their athletic scholarships after becoming injured while playing their sport, the Associated Press reported. The legislation also requires universities to pay future medical costs for on-the-field injuries. The four universities covered by the law are Stanford University, and the Universities of California at Berkeley, California at Los Angeles and Southern California. San Diego State University may eventually cross the $10 million threshold and become covered as well. Stanford objected to the bill, saying that it was unfair to only impose the requirements on some colleges and universities.

 

October 1, 2012

James Holmes, who is charged in the Colorado movie theater killings, threatened a psychiatrist he was seeing at the University of Colorado at Denver, according to court documents released Friday, The Denver Post reported. Holmes, who left a graduate program at the university, was reported by the psychiatrist as a danger and she ended the professional relationship with Holmes, the documents indicate. The documents do not indicate -- as many have reported -- that the university banned Holmes from campus.

October 1, 2012

The University of Mississippi has held a series of events in recent weeks to mark the 50th anniversary of its desegregation. But as The New York Times noted, some have questioned whether the emphasis is on the wrong time period. Much discussion has noted the progress of the last 50 years to the point where the president of the student body is a black woman. But Charles W. Eagles, a history professor and the author of The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss, has prompted campus discussion with a talk in which he said that the university was celebrating its progress and not talking about the realities that came before integration. "The doors were open for 50 years yes, but they’d been closed for a century,” he said. “We don’t want to talk about that do we?"

October 1, 2012

Southern Methodist University -- facing criticism over its handling of sexual assault reports -- has announced a new task force to study the issue, The Dallas Morning News reported. In the last month, two SMU students have been arrested on sexual assault charges. In one of the cases, the district attorney's office was not informed of the allegations until eight months after they had been made. In that case, a campus disciplinary body found the accused guilty of misconduct over an allegation that he raped another student. An appeals panel overturned that ruling and it was only then that information was sent to the district attorney, who convened a grand jury, which indicted the accused. "We want to make sure victims get their day in court. And eight months is too long. Eight months is way too long," said a spokeswoman for the district attorney.

 

October 1, 2012

Kaplan's higher education division announced Friday that it will close nine campuses, The Washington Post (which owns Kaplan) reported. The company did not say why the campuses were being closed, but did recently disclose that an accreditor had recently warned that three campuses might lose recognition. Students currently enrolled in the campuses being closed will be permitted to finish their courses, but new students will not be enrolled.

 

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