Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 1, 2014

With student borrowing rising -- and political concern about debt growing with it -- Inside Higher Ed today publishes a free compilation of articles about the future of student loans. The news and opinion articles -- in a print-on-demand booklet -- explore the impact of federal policies, strategies some institutions are adopting, and the views of thought leaders on the issue.

Download the booklet here.

This booklet is part of a series of such compilations that Inside Higher Ed is publishing on a range of topics.

On Wednesday, May 21, at 2 p.m. Eastern, Inside Higher Ed editors Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman conducted a free webinar to talk about the issues raised in the booklet's articles. To view the webinar, please click here.

April 30, 2014

The college and career planning startup ConnectEDU filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday night after struggling to repay debt held by more than 200 creditors.

ConnectEDU offers consulting services and planning and tracking tools to help students through high school and college and into careers that match their abilities and interests. In the petition, filed in a New York federal district court, the company lists between ​$10 million to $50 million in liabilities and less than $10 million in assets. The news was first reported by BostInno.

ConnectEDU becomes the second company backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to run into trouble in the previous week. The company last July received a $499,375 grant from the foundation to build a platform for students to collaborate on learning Common Core standards for literacy. Last week, the student data repository inBloom -- for which the foundation provided millions of dollars in startup funds -- announced its plans to shut down. 

April 30, 2014

Attorney General Mark Herring of Virginia announced on Tuesday that under state law, Virginia residents who qualify for the federal government's "deferred action" program for immigrants without legal documentation can qualify for state financial aid. The attorney general's announcement, which his office made in Hindi and Korean as well as Spanish and English, comes weeks after the state's legislature rejected a bill that would have established a state "Dream Act," won support from Gov. Terry McAuliffe but some criticism from Republicans in the state.

Nearly 20 states have established some sort of tuition equity for undocumented immigrants.


April 30, 2014

The University of California at Los Angeles will return $425,000 and cancel plans to accept a total of $3 million for kidney research from the foundation of Donald Sterling, The Los Angeles Times reported. Sterling is the National Basketball Association team owner whose racist comments have drawn near universal criticism and who was banned for life by the association on Tuesday. In a statement, UCLA explained its decision: “Mr. Sterling’s divisive and hurtful comments demonstrate that he does not share UCLA’s core values as a public university that fosters diversity, inclusion and respect."

April 30, 2014

Pasadena City College has last its second announced commencement speaker. The college is still facing criticism for withdrawing an invitation to Dustin Lance Black, the film writer, amid reports that the college was offended by a sex tape involving Black several years ago. The college blamed an "honest error" for extending an invitation to Black without following proper procedures. And the college announced that Eric Walsh, the City of Pasadena’s director of public health, would be the speaker. But on Tuesday, the college announced that Walsh should not speak because of "an unforeseen scheduling conflict." A piece in The Los Angeles Times says that the college has lost credibility due to the rescinded invitation to Black and that students are being embarrassed by the situation.


April 30, 2014

The Kansas Board of Regents is not budging on its proposal to regulate social media use.

The board's revised proposal, released Monday, does contain much of the language found in a draft released earlier this month by a working group of faculty and staff representatives from the state’s six public four-year institutions. It quotes the American Association of University Professors’ 1940 Statement of Principles, and states that employees are free to use social media in contexts involving research, teaching or shared governance.

“When you compare the original policy with the workgroup’s recommended policy, you will see that they have had a major impact on the board’s work in this area," Fred Logan, who chairs the board, said in a statement. "The revised policy will contain the strongest statement made by the board anywhere in its policy manual in support of academic freedom and First Amendment expression.”

But along with the additions, the proposal retains the two paragraphs that set off the months-long process of reaching a compromise.

The definition of improper social media use is still left up to the discretion of university administrators, who are tasked with balancing “the interest of the university in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees against the employee’s right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern.” Employees found to have improperly used social media could face sanctions such as “suspension, dismissal and termination,” the proposal reads.

“How do you put those two together -- the first half that looks pretty protective and the second half that looks pretty punitive and disciplinary?” said Charles R. Epp, the University of Kansas professor of public affairs and administration who co-chaired the workgroup. “Rather than reassuring faculty and staff, this mixed message is going to cause a lot of confusion and concern. I just don’t see it resolving the issue.”

The board will accept comments on the proposal until May 2, and will likely act on the policy during its meeting in mid-May.

April 30, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Lee Newman, associate professor at the State University of New York's College of Environment Science and Forestry, discusses phytoremediation as a potential clean-up method. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


April 30, 2014

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois sent high school principals in his state a letter Tuesday urging them to shield their students from the "often irresistible lure" of for-profit colleges -- drawing a pointed response from one of his constituents, DeVry Education Group.

Durbin, a leader among the Congressional Democrats who are deeply skeptical of the for-profit higher education sector, told the principals that he was continuing his work in Washington to "correct federal policies that enable this industry to take advantage of students." But he asked the principals to do their part to "ensure that your students are receiving honest and accurate information about their higher education options. "Students can hardly ride a CTA bus, watch their favorite prime-time sitcom, or surf the internet without being bombarded by attention-grabbing advertisements from for-profit colleges offering a hassle-free enrollment process, federal financial assistance, flexible schedules and a promised path to high-paying jobs and a better life," Durbin wrote. "But too often it doesn't work out that way."

His letter cites statistics about the completion rates and debt loads of the colleges' students and suggests that principals remind their students that community colleges offer similar programs "at a fraction of the cost."

In its response, DeVry, which is based near Durbin's Chicago home, noted that DeVry has educated tens of thousands of Illinoisans since 1931 and that the company teams with the Chicago Public Schools on an Advantage Academy that lets students earn associate degree credits while in high school. The program, it notes, was started in tandem with the then-head of the city's schools, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a close ally of Durbin's.

"The facts, and our history, demonstrate our commitment to Illinois students and their success in higher education," wrote Sharon Thomas Parrott, DeVry's senior vice president for external relations and global responsibility. "We encourage the senator to visit our Chicago campus, and our Advantage Academy, so that he can learn firsthand how we serve our students."

April 30, 2014

Franklin University, a private institution in Columbus, Ohio, is planning to buy Urbana University, a smaller private college about an hour away.

Urbana, which reported operating losses and significant debt in recent years has about 1,800 students, including about 400 who live on campus. Franklin is a commuter college with what it says are nearly 10,000 students.

According to Urbana's most recent publicly available tax filing, it’s been losing money each year – its $24.5 million in expenses were $570,000 more than its revenue in 2012 – and has about $18 million in liabilities from bonds, mortgages and bank notes. 

Christi Cabungcal, Franklin’s chief of staff, said her institution likes Urbana's assets, including its campus. Franklin, she said, has developed an international, nontraditional and online market in the past few years, and is now aiming to take advantage of Urbana’s more traditional student population. Franklin is acquiring Urbana’s assets but will not say what it is doing with the debt or even confirm Urbana’s current liabilities.

She said Urbana will operate as a subsidiary of Franklin and continue to issues degrees bearing with Urbana name. Franklin said in the near term it plans to keep Urbana’s sports teams. Franklin didn’t announce changes to Urbana's programs, personnel, salary and benefits or tuition – but reserves the right to in the future.

“We have no immediate plans to go in and make any dramatic changes to programs or to staffing,” Cabungcal said.

Urbana officials did not respond to an email seeking comment.

April 29, 2014

The hot presidential candidate in Ohio higher education doesn't have a Ph.D. or much in the way of campus administrative experience. But he sure can coach.

James P. Tressel, who resigned under pressure as Ohio State University's football coach in 2011, was named as one of three finalists for the presidency of the University of Akron, where he has served since 2012 as executive vice president for student success.

And Monday, the search committee at Youngstown State University -- which gave Tressel his first head coaching job and later made him its athletics director as well -- made him one of its three presidential finalists, too.


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