Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 3:00am

California's three public college systems cannot educate the state's citizens without more help from their private nonprofit and for-profit peers -- and state politicians and regulators should acknowledge the role of the latter, a new report argues. The report, produced by two researchers at the University of Southern California's Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis and funded by the National University System, argues that "the three public higher education systems in California cannot, by themselves, respond to increased demand for higher education," and that "they, and the two private higher education systems, need to be re-engineered to function as five parts of one coherent system, collectively growing in capacity to keep pace with the state’s demand for an educated work force." Among the ideas put forward by the authors, which are certain to face pushback from public college and university leaders at times of state funding cutbacks: allowing "state funding for students to take classes offered by private institutions, especially in high-demand majors such as nursing, science, engineering and math," creating a common course numbering system to allow for easy transfer among colleges of all types, offering "state incentives for nonprofit private institutions to increase student enrollment by up to 10 percent," and changing "the 'quasi-cartel' licensing requirements used to keep some out-of-state programs from competing in California."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Claudette Artwick of Washington and Lee University examines the traditional media's evolving use of social media. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Biden will today urge every state's governor to produce a plan to increase college completion, and announce a set of resources (though no new money) designed to help them do that. The announcement, which will come at an education summit here, includes the release of a new “college completion toolkit,” which lays out for states and governors a set of "no-cost or low-cost" programs that some of their peers have used to improve student persistence, increase the productivity of public colleges, or otherwise help states contribute to President Obama's much-touted goal of giving the U.S. the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. The vice president's announcement also discusses a new grant program within the current budget of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education and two proposed programs that are contained in the Obama administration's 2012 budget, all of which are designed to reward institutions that increase completion rates. The Department of Education also announced a state-by-state outline of how much each state has to increase its graduation rate to further the administration’s goals. For most states, that will mean increasing their graduation rates by about 50 percent by 2020. “Right now we’ve got an education system that works like a funnel when we need it to work like a pipeline,” Biden said in a press release. “We have to make the same commitment to getting folks across the graduation stage that we did to getting them into the registrar’s office.”

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, John Mutter of Columbia University’s Earth Institute reveals that in the wake of a natural disaster, the poor often face a unique set of challenges to survival and recovery. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

There's a new online satire of life working at a college -- the fictional Juniper College. Episodes look at gossip, ambition, frustrations and many other situations familiar to all who work at colleges. The stories are told through the perspective of an adjunct. As The Altoona Mirror reported, most of those involved in the project have ties to Juniata College, a real institution with similarities to Juniper. The show, "Office Hours," may be found here.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

A state judge in Wisconsin temporarily blocked a controversial state law that would bar faculty unions at the University of Wisconsin System and limit collective bargaining by most public workers in the state, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The judge ruled in a suit backed by critics of the law, but her finding was focused not on the substance of the law, but on lack of required notice given for a key committee vote on the bill. The judge indicated that legislators could take new votes to make the issues in the suit moot, but for now Republicans who pushed the law are vowing to fight her ruling.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Michigan has shut down its Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, and some of its members face university discipline over hazing issues, The Detroit Free Press reported. The investigations followed allegations from the parent of a pledge that the fraternity hazed pledges by, among other things, hitting them with broomsticks, shooting them with Airsoft guns, making them drink regurgitated water with goldfish and requiring them to pay for strippers. Chapter officials could not be reached for comment, but the national organization disbanded the chapter for a year.

Middlebury College suspended its men's and women's swimming teams, and ended the season for most of its women's team swimmers because of hazing incidents, The Burlington Free Press reported. Also last week, two former pledges settled lawsuits against the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and Sigma Chi over alleged hazing, The Lincoln Journal Star reported. Each student will receive at least $62,500 from the university, but full details of the settlement were not available. The university has suspended the fraternity.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

Last week's news that the latest essay question on the SAT focused on reality television has set off quite a bit of media commentary and comedy. The Huffington Post, for example, suggested that the College Board might shift the focus of the SAT entirely, with questions requiring aspiring college students to calculate the circumference of a Kim Kardashian body part, or to "compare and contrast the social impact of Kanye West's interruption of the VMA's with his tweet on abortion."

The College Board is not making any apologies, however, and is stressing that the essay questions it asks are judged not on content knowledge, but on the ability to explore an issue and make an argument. Laurence Bunin, senior vice president of the College Board, wrote an essay on the controversy for The Daily Beast, saying that all of the "breathless commentary" was irrelevant.

"The central task of the SAT essay -- any SAT essay -- is to take one side of an issue and develop an argument to support that position. Questions raised about the so-called reality-show prompt miss this basic point entirely and confuse the literal topic with the task of writing the essay. Everything a student needs to write a successful essay is included in the prompt itself; one need not have spent any time watching a 'reality' television program to write a strong essay," Bunin wrote. "If the topic had been about balancing the risk of climbing a mountain with the reward of reaching the summit, for example, you could write that essay without ever having done so. It’s about the balance, not the mountain climbing. Students tell us that they can relate to popular-culture references. Using such references is not only appropriate, but potentially even more engaging for students."

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

The Education Department's new rules on the credit hour, state authorization of postsecondary institutions, misrepresentation and incentive compensation are being challenged on a range of fronts. But for now, the regulations are set to take effect on July 1, and the department late last week published guidance designed to answer the many questions college officials have about the rules. College leaders were generally unimpressed with the "Dear Colleague" letters, one of which covered the department's move to establish a federal definition of the "credit hour," and the other, regulations that expand state authorization requirements, crack down on misrepresentation of colleges' programs and results, and limit the use of incentive compensation.

"We appreciate that the department finally published" the guidance, said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, which had urged the department to rescind the rules on the credit hour and state authorization and has now asked Congress to delay their implementation. The guidance "clarified some of the things we were concerned about ... but in terms of the fundamental concerns, it doesn't help very much. Schools will find some relief, but not a great deal."

Russell Poulin, deputy director for research and analysis at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, was even more critical in a detailed analysis of the guidance on state authorization.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

Matthew Cucchiaro, a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has resigned from his position as diversity director of the student government after the dean of students approached him with concerns about a blog post, The Boulder Daily Camera reported. Officials at the student government confirmed that Cucchiaro was asked to resign and did so. The post, which Cucchiaro said was "clearly satirical," ran on his blog, StupidHumanBeings.com. In the post (currently labeled as satire), he identifies women as that day's "stupid" subject for the blog. Part of the post: "Guys, I don’t need to tell you this: women are not as smart as men. Now before all you chicks look up from your gossip mags and yammer on and on as you do about how that’s sexist, I don’t mean all women – I’m sure there are a couple of heffers in congress or the senate who are about on par with the average male. Also, that Asian character on Grey’s Anatomy knows some big words but she obviously doesn’t count because … well, she’s Asian. In your defense, look at who your options are for role models on TV: Tyra Banks, the cast of Friends, The Hills, Sex and the City, and women on Lifetime."

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