Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 3:00am

A Long Island district attorney on Tuesday announced that the College Board and the ACT had agreed to tighter security measures for those taking the SAT and the ACT. Nassau County authorities have charged 20 people with involvement in schemes in which supposed test-takers paid others to take the SAT for them. Among the new rules:

  • Test registrants will be required to upload a photograph of themselves when they register for the SAT or ACT. The photo will be printed on admissions tickets and the test site roster, and checked against the photo ID registrants provide at the test center, and the photo will accompany students’ scores as they are reported to high schools and colleges.
  • Uploaded photos will be retained in a database available to high school and college admissions officials.
  • All test registrants will be required to identify their high school during registration so that high school administrators receive students’ scores as well as their uploaded photos. 
  • All test registrants will provide their date of birth and gender, which will be printed on the test site roster.
  • Standby test registration will be eliminated.
  • Students will certify their identity in writing at the test center, and acknowledge the possibility of a criminal referral and prosecution for engaging in criminal impersonation.
  • Proctors will check students’ identification more frequently at test centers. IDs will be checked upon entry to the test center, re-entry to the test room after breaks, and upon collection of answer sheets.

Kathleen M. Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, said that "these reforms close a gaping hole in standardized test security that allowed students to cheat and steal admissions offers and scholarship money from kids who played by the rules."

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (a critic of standardized testing), said that the new system "is likely to reduce significantly, if not eliminate entirely, the likelihood of impersonators entering an exam center." But he added that the new measures do "nothing" for "much more common types of cheating: collaboration among students once they are inside the test site or copying answers as the result of wandering eyeballs." He also questioned why the enhanced security rules, which he said were "technically feasible at least a decade ago," were adopted only after the Nassau County investigations.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 4:28am

A profile in The Boston Globe examines the work of Ray Cotton, a Washington lawyer who frequently negotiates contracts for college and university presidents. The profile notes that Cotton has negotiated some benefits for college presidents that have been questioned as too generous for institutions to provide. Cotton's supporters note that he has an awareness of issues facing college presidents that non-specialists would miss, but others suggest that colleges that negotiate with Cotton are at a disadvantage as they don't have a counterpart on whom to rely.

 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 3:00am

A day after Blackboard announced its acquisition of two prominent Moodle partners and the creation of an open-source services arm, various Web discussion boards were abuzz with chatter about the implications. At Moodle.org's official "Lounge" forum, some open-source advocates lamented what they read as a corporate intrusion on the open-source community -- prompting Martin Dougiamas, the founder and lead developer of Moodle, to defend his decision to lend moral support to Blackboard’s takeovers of Moodlerooms and NetSpot.

“Moodle itself has not, and will not, be purchased by anyone,” Dougiamas wrote to a discussion thread. “I am committed to keeping it independent with exactly the same model it has now.”  While the new Blackboard subsidiaries and their clients have produced many helpful modifications to Moodle’s code, “it's always up to me to include [modifications] in core (after it gets heavily reviewed by our team),” Dougiamas said, “otherwise it goes into Moodle Plugins.” He added that Moodle still has dozens of other partner companies that are not owned by Blackboard.

Charles Severance, another big name in the open-source movement who not only endorsed the deal but has been hired to work with Blackboard’s new open-source services division, expanded on the implications of the move in a post on his own blog. “The notion that we will somehow find the ‘one true LMS’ that will solve all problems is simply crazy talk and has been for quite some time,” Severance wrote. “I am happy to be now working with a group of people at Blackboard that embrace the idea of multiple LMS systems aimed at different market segments.” The watchword of this era of multiple learning platforms per campus, he said, is interoperability, and that will be a priority for him in his new capacity with Blackboard. (This paragraph has been updated since publication.)

Severance assured the open-source community that contributions he makes to Sakai on Blackboard company time will remain open, and that he “[doesn’t] expect to become a developer of closed-source applications.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 4:34am

A few years ago, a number of community colleges introduced "midnight classes," courses meeting late at night, at a time that works for some working adults (and for institutions without space during peak hours). The Miami Herald reported that Miami Dade College and a few other institutions have started courses that meet at 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. For some students, this is the time that they have free. Students report that the courses fit their schedules and it's one time of day that parking is easy to find.

 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 3:00am

Princeton Review is selling the test-prep business around which a larger education business has grown, and is giving the purchaser -- the private equity firm Charlesbank Capital Partners -- its name, the Associated Press reported. Princeton Review was once the upstart in the test-prep business, boasting of teaching test-takers how to outsmart testing companies, but of late has faced competition both from less expensive outfits and from boutique operations. The company will now focus on its Penn Foster division, a for-profit online education provider; it at one point seemed to be an effort to diversify the company's operations, but now appears to be its focus.

 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 3:00am

The Washington Internship Institute has selected a Vanderbilt University expert on experiential learning to lead the organization. Mark Taylor Dalhouse, founding director of Vanderbilt's Washington internship program and a lecturer in history and assistant dean at the university, will succeed Mary Ryan as the institute's president and CEO. The internship institute sponsors numerous programs that place American and foreign college students in government and international relations positions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 3:00am

The University of Illinois at Chicago and a faculty union seeking to be recognized have been fighting over whether a single unit can represent both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty (as the union wants) or whether separate unions are needed (as the university wants). The union is now proposing that the university recognize two unions, but that may not happen either -- at least right now. Last week, an Illinois appeals court ruled that state law bars a single union for the faculty groups. Throughout the dispute, the university has said it would not object to two unions, and on Tuesday the union proposed just that. It stated that it would not appeal the court ruling, but asked the university to "voluntarily" negotiate with two faculty unions -- even though the only official filing of petitions has been on behalf of a single union.

"We take this step because, like you, we are concerned about the deteriorating relations between the faculty and the administration. Although the appeal process so far has only worsened those relations, we recognize and applaud the board’s acknowledgement that there is a problem," says the letter from UIC United Faculty, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors. "In urging you to begin negotiations with us as two bargaining units, we are, of course, only asking you to do what you have consistently said you wanted to do..... We ourselves are not convinced that two separate units is the best way to foster a better relationship between the faculty and the administration but, like the administration, we are very eager to make that relationship better....  If you will join us -- on your terms -- at the bargaining table, the turnaround can begin today."

The university indicated, however, that it may insist on the two unions starting from scratch obtaining signatures on petitions. A spokesman said via e-mail: "As a general policy and practice, the university does not voluntarily recognize unions as 'exclusive representatives' for collective bargaining on behalf of groups of employees. Majority interest is determined either by the union prevailing in a secret ballot election, or by investigation and certification by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board that the union has obtained authorization cards signed by a majority of employees in the bargaining unit."

Union leaders said that the university's response raised doubts about its earlier statements about being open to two unions. But the union has collected petitions for two unions and is prepared to go ahead one way or another, they said.

 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, David Clark of Alma College reveals deceptive behavior found in male wolf spiders. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 3:00am

The Asian University for Women was founded in 2008, in Bangladesh, with high hopes of providing a liberal arts education to women from that country and elsewhere in the region. While the university attracted many prominent backers in the United States, it has been hit over the last week by a series of articles in Bangladesh about the departure of senior leaders, delayed fund-raising and the failure to create an independent board, The Wall Street Journal reported. Jack R. Meyer, chair of the board of the university's fund-raising foundation, posted a letter on the university's website, in which he said that much of the criticism was valid, but reflected problems on which the university was working and that it had in many cases solved. He said that the university is making strong progress, and asked for critics to stop sending anonymous letters to donors, discouraging gifts.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - 4:32am

Gov. Chris Christie's plan to restructure New Jersey's higher education system -- most notably (and controversially) by merging Rutgers University's Camden campus into Rowan University -- needs the approval of the state Legislature before it takes effect, an independent panel in the state declared Monday, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark. Christie had signaled a willingness to work around the legislature to push through the plan, which includes merging parts of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey into Rutgers. But the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, in a non-binding opinion obtained by The Star-Ledger, said the plan requires the approval of lawmakers.

In a related development, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg asked U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to look into Christie's proposed restructuring of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Lautenberg's letter expressed concern that the plan was "crafted to benefit powerful political interests without regard for the impact on students."

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