Higher Education Quick Takes
A report from a panel of higher education experts, including college presidents and foundation leaders, has called for changes to simplify federal financial aid in a white paper released Thursday. The white paper, "The American Dream 2.0," published by HCM Strategists, a public policy consulting group, is part of a larger effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to recommend changes to financial aid to boost completion rates.
The group includes many familiar names -- among its members are Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, and Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor and new Purdue University president -- and many of its recommendations are familiar by now as well. In its final report, the group deplores college completion rates (about half of all first-time, full-time students do not graduate within six years), recommends that colleges pay more attention to the needs of nontraditional students, and says that the financial aid system should be easier to navigate and more transparent. The group calls for strengthening the bedrock Pell Grant Program for needy students, and streamlining multiple grants and tax credits. The report also says the federal government should encourage colleges to innovate and invest more heavily in research on financial aid's effectiveness.
The report also says that colleges should link aid "to the extent possible" to outcomes for students and graduates. Accompanying the report were polling data that suggested voters are supportive of higher education, but more aware of (and concerned about) student debt levels than they are about the college dropout rate.
Since several commission members are the leaders of organizations preparing reports of their own as part of the Gates initiative, HCM's effort could represent the closest the different groups will get to consensus on changes to financial aid. Several more organizations are expected to issue their white papers next week.
A white paper from the Committee for Economic Development, another entry in an effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to redesign federal financial aid to focus on completion, calls for a radical change to student aid: turning the Pell Grant and other need-based aid into block grants for states. The paper, "A New Partnership: The Road to Reshaping Federal & State Financial Aid," calls for requiring states to match 20 percent of federal funds with need-based aid of their own. States would also be required to hold down tuition at public institutions in order to be eligible for federal aid. Grants would be portable across state lines.
The report, one of many released this month from organizations that received Gates grants, proposes the biggest changes so far of any Gates recipient. It also calls for eliminating tax credits for higher education and automatically enrolling student loan recipients in income-based repayment, both ideas that other groups have also proposed.
Dolours Price, who was once a key figure in the Irish Republican Army, was found dead in her home Thursday, and her death could change a fight over oral history records held at Boston College, the Associated Press reported. Scholars have been fighting to prevent the papers about the conflict in Northern Ireland from being turned over to British authorities, who have demanded access to the documents, saying that they are needed for criminal investigations. Many scholars have urged courts to block the records' release, saying that pledges to those interviewed -- including Price -- to maintain their confidentiality for set periods of time should not be broken. It is unclear how the death of Price -- which some are suggesting was suicide -- will affect the legal issues of the case, an appeal of which has been filed by researchers with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ed Moloney, who led the collection of the oral history records, and Anthony McIntyre, who conducted the interviews, pledged to continue to fight the release of the papers. "Throughout the last two years of our fight to prevent her interviews being handed over to the police in Belfast, our greatest fear was always for the health and wellbeing of Dolours,’’ Moloney and McIntyre said in a statement. ‘‘Now that she is no longer with us, perhaps those who initiated this legal case can take some time to reflect upon the consequences of their action.’’
Colleges and universities in Utah are preparing for enrollment declines (and tuition revenue declines) following a change in the age at which members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints go on missionary trips, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Some institutions are imposing hiring freezes and stepping up efforts to recruit out-of-state students as a result. Mormon men can now leave on the missionary trips at age 18 (a year earlier than before) and women at 19 (two years earlier). Up until now, many have enrolled for a few semesters of college before leaving on the trips, and those enrollments are now in danger. Higher education officials still hope to recruit those who have completed their missionary travel, but are concerned about losing the transition from high school to college.
Mills College has settled a disability complaint by federal officials by agreeing to make 368 changes in facilities by 2014, with additional projects to be completed by 2017 and then 2023, the Bay Area News Group reported. Federal officials had identified inaccessible facilities ranging from bathrooms to drinking fountains to parking to lecture halls. When the various commitments are completed, all lecture halls, auditoriums and the gym will be fully wheelchair accessible.
Texas A&M University announced a major campaign to increase enrollment in engineering, with the goal of enrolling 25,000 students (more than double current levels) by 2025. The effort will involve both recruiting more students, but also looking for ways to improve the educational experience of engineering students.
The Heritage Hall Museum, in Alabama, has canceled a short of work by Troy University faculty members. The Daily Home reported that some of the art caused offense. "It was supposed to be a group exhibit for Troy University’s communication/fine arts/design program," a museum official said. "There were nine artists that contributed, and the theme was ‘A Sense of Place.’ There was a piece by Ed Noriega that showed cans of Ajax, I guess, that had been relabeled, and had swastikas on the top. There were also some digitally altered images of the Virgin Mary holding a dead chicken in one hand and a broom and dust pan in the other. But the biggest problem was with the swastikas.” The art work with the swastikas was about Alabama's immigration laws, considered "ethnic cleanser" measures by the artist.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor leading its inquiry into whether it inappropriately handled the federal prosecution of Aaron Swartz has provided some details on the investigation. In an open letter published in The Tech, MIT's student newspaper, Hal Abelson pledged a full and open inquiry, and said that the issues were extremely important. "This matter is urgently serious for MIT," Abelson wrote. "The world respects us not only for our scholarship and our science, but because we are an institution whose actions are and always have been guided by the highest ideals and the most thoughtful judgment. Our commitment to those ideals is now coming into question. At last Saturday’s memorial, Aaron’s partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman described his mental state: 'He faced indifference from MIT, an institution that could have protected him with a single public statement and refused to do so, in defiance of all of its own most cherished principles.'"
Abelson also announced the creation of a website on which MIT students and faculty members can suggest questions that the review should consider. The site can be viewed by people without MIT affiliations, but they may not contribute.