Higher Education Quick Takes
The Government Accountability Office on Wednesday released the latest in a recent series of reports requested as part of Sen. Tom Harkin's continuing investigation into for-profit higher education, with this one focused on student outcomes. The new GAO report, which leaned heavily on a research study examined in an Inside Higher Ed article Wednesday, finds that the colleges lag other institutions in student unemployment, borrowing rates, debt loads, loan default rates and licensing exam pass rates, but performed better on certificate program completion rates and had similar outcomes in associate degree graduation rates and student earnings.
The GAO report acknowledged that it is difficult to compare the performance of for-profits with public and private nonprofit institutions, because the industry enrolls a "higher proportion of low-income, minority and nontraditional students who face challenges that can affect their educational outcomes," and because none of the available data sets are complete enough to give a fully accurate comparison across sectors. The GAO conducted mostly new research in analyzing licensing exam pass rates, which found that for-profit-college students had worse pass rates than their peers at nonprofit colleges in 9 of 10 exams, such as those for paramedics, lawyers and massage therapists. But the GAO cautioned that few college graduates take the exams and that student characteristics, such as race and income, were generally not available. The GAO was not able to control for those factors, which might have influenced outcomes.
Jon Huntsman has tried to stand out in the Republican presidential field by, among other things, arguing that scientists should be trusted on issues such as evolution and climate change. Huntsman also has yet to experience a surge in his standing in the race. The Washington Post and others speculate that the latter fact may explain an evolution of Huntsman's position on climate change. After earlier saying that Republicans cannot be seen as the "anti-science party," he is now questioning whether researchers have demonstrated the validity of climate change. "There are questions about the validity of the science — evidence by one university over in Scotland recently,” he said Tuesday, referring to the leaked e-mail messages that were dubbed a scandal but that several scientific inquiries have said don't change the consensus that climate change is real. Huntsman denied he was changing his position about trusting scientists, but said that “I think the onus is on the scientific community to provide more in the way of information, to help clarify the situation. That’s all."
Under pressure from state lawmakers, the central administration of the State University of New York system backed off a plan to have one president oversee two campuses, though system administrators stressed that the decision would not keep the campuses from putting cost-saving administrative structures in place. The system announced in August that three pairs of campuses would share presidencies, part of a larger initiative designed to stimulate regional cost-saving initiatives. The announcement spurred particular backlash at one pair of institutions -- SUNY-Potsdam and SUNY-Canton -- and drove one state representative, whose district includes the campuses, to introduce a bill that would guarantee each campus had its own president.
The other two pairs will move ahead with unified presidencies. According to a resolution passed in November, the campuses, including Potsdam and Canton, have until July 15, 2012, to produce a report about how they will meet certain cost-savings goals. "Chancellor Zimpher and the SUNY Board of Trustees decided this was more important than allowing one hurdle to distract from our efforts to channel more funding to our academic courses, which has always been our goal, and remains our goal," said a spokesman for the chancellor's office. "There will still be a consolidation of the administrative structure at Canton and Potsdam."
The University of California at San Diego has agreed to expand library hours -- including 24/7 hours in the main library during finals week -- following student protests that involved taking over a closed library, NBC San Diego reported. University administrators responded to the building take-over in part by removing police officers from the scene, hoping to avoid confrontations that have been so controversial at the University of California's Berkeley and Davis campuses, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Students, while they were arguably occupying a space, tried to differentiate themselves from the Occupy movement. The students said they were focused on their need for room to study, and they said that they were "reclaiming," not "occupying" the library.
Faculty members at Ocean County College are protesting a tenure denial they say was based on the professor involved living in another county, The Asbury Park Press reported. Maria Flynn, who was denied tenure despite outstanding reviews, said that she was told by President Jon H. Larson that he rejected her tenure bid because she lives elsewhere. Faculty leaders said that such a policy would violate college rules, and was inappropriate. Larson did not comment on whether he is considering residency in making tenure decisions.
President Obama has signed an executive order calling on federal agencies to work to support tribal colleges and universities. The executive order notes gaps in educational attainment between Native American and other students, and the role of tribal colleges in closing those gaps.
Educators in China are debating whether the value of majors can be determined by their graduates' employment, Xinhua reported. Officials are planning to phase out majors that have less than 60 percent job placement rates two years in a row. While some praise the plan as focusing resources on programs that will prepare students for jobs, others are not so sure. Some educators are questioning whether this narrows the focus on higher education, while others note that many graduates find employment in careers not directly linked to their majors.
Academics worried about the various reform ideas being proposed in Florida (such as ending anthropology programs) may not like the latest proposal to come up. Mike Haridopolos, who is finishing a term as Senate president, told The Orlando Sentinel that higher education needs more cuts, and that public campuses can consolidate based on the ideas behind trading baseball cards. "I would prefer that the college presidents sit around a table and literally start trading like baseball cards some of these majors,” said Haridopolos. "If they have a program that is kind of underserved, why don’t they just talk to other universities and see if they have the same kind of program?... Why not consolidate them on one campus, and then say ‘I’ll take your British history program, and you’ll take our medieval studies program.'... I just think that’s a common-sense way of doing things."
Congress should create incentives to make sure publishers and education technology companies take the needs of disabled students into account when designing new products, the U.S. Education Department’s Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education said in a report released on Tuesday. The commission, which was created as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, issued a number of recommendations to Congress in its hefty report, including "establishing a process for creating uniform accessibility guidelines for industry and consumers" and "revisiting the components of existing copyright exception" to make sure digital content can be duplicated in accessible formats. James H. Wendorf, vice chair of the commission, emphasized the latter in a statement: "There is general confusion over the application of the existing [copyright] law and regulations – especially as [the law] applies to students with learning disabilities -- and specific uncertainty as to which organizations are permitted to reproduce instructional materials." The commission reported that, on the whole, publishers had been accommodating of the needs of disabled students, but "some developers of Web applications, social media and productivity software used to support postsecondary instructional practice are less proactive."