Higher Education Quick Takes
The federal government paid out $1 billion in improper Pell Grant payments in 2011, but the proportion of all payments that were erroneous fell to 2.7 percent -- below the government's target of 3.3 percent and the lowest level since at least 2005, the White House announced Tuesday. The Obama administration credits the drop to new measures that linked the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to Internal Revenue Service data, making it less likely that information about students' family income would be entered improperly. Improper payments in 2010 also totaled about $1 billion, but the rate that year was 3.1 percent because overall grant volume was lower.
WASHINGTON -- A budget compromise for fiscal year 2012 expected to be approved later this week would increase funding for the National Science Foundation and other federal scientific research efforts. The Senate and House have agreed on a "mini-bus" bill with funding for five cabinet-level departments: Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation, as well as for science and other related agencies. Their budget would increase NSF funding to $7 billion, $173 million more than in 2011 and more than was proposed by either the House or Senate appropriations subcommittees, although significantly less than the $907 million increase President Obama requested in February.
NASA would face a budget cut of $648 million, mostly in space exploration, but funding for NASA's science programs would increase by $155 million. The National Institute for Standards and Technology would see a $33 million increase to $751 million -- also below the president's request.
The package also includes a continuing resolution that would avert a government shutdown in December.
Cabrini College has announced that it is cutting tuition by 12.5 percent, to $29,000, for 2012-13. Some colleges that have in the past cut or frozen tuition rates have fairly quickly seen increases in subsequent years, but Cabrini has imposed a limit on future increases. It has pledged that tuition will remain below $30,000 through May of 2015. The college also said that current merit scholarship awards will not be reduced.
India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, on Tuesday announced plans to create a "meta university." This new university would be a structure that would allow students to simultaneously enroll in programs at multiple institutions. "This would enable a student of astrophysics in the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, for example, to take up a course in comparative literature at the Jadavpur University. Such creative reconfigurations are expected to create 'new minds' conducive to the growth of innovation," said Singh, in a speech at India's National Innovation Council.
Canadian university leaders are defending their new statement on academic freedom, which has been criticized by faculty leaders for what they see as limits on the protections it provides for academics. Faculty leaders have said that the references in the statement to peer review suggest that ideas that have yet to capture a critical mass of support may not be covered (in the view of university leaders), potentially hurting those who challenge conventional wisdom in their disciplines. The Canadian Association of University Teachers recently released an open letter outlining concerns about the new statement, which it said would "undo many of the advances that have been achieved in the understanding of academic freedom over the past 100 years." Now the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, which prepared the academic freedom statement, has responded with a letter to the faculty group. The university letter states: "We have confidence in the peer review process and the standards of research and teaching in our academic disciplines. We do not share your concern that these processes and standards may not apply to 'ideas at the margin or ideas that are critical of the mainstream.' Our position is based on the rigor of inquiry, not the outcome."
The career services office at Pennsylvania State University is offering students advice on what to do if they are asked by prospective employers about the sex-abuse scandal. In a letter, the office says that it has not experienced cancellations of recruiting sessions, but has received questions from students about what to do if the topic comes up.
The advice is as follows: "Students may acknowledge that they are primarily concerned for the victims and also concerned for Penn State in these unsettling times. However, students should keep the focus on the job or internship for which they are applying and how they will excel in the opportunity. Students should note that they can only take personal responsibility for their individual actions. Talk about the good work accomplished at Penn State in building the skills and professional qualities in preparation for the position, and about the excitement to put those skills to work for the employer. Inform the employer or internship site that, if hired, you will reflect favorably on the employer through your good work, core values and skill obtained through our university."
Rutgers University says it wants to be fair to those who want to supply food to its students and employees. But a plan at the New Brunswick campus to do so may result in kicking out "grease trucks" that have for years been situated in parking lots serving sandwiches with names such as "Fat Darrell" and "Fat Cat," The Star-Ledger reported. Many students are outraged. Anthony Sandelli told the newspaper that his favorite sandwich is the "Fat Beach" (cheesesteak, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks and french fries). He said it would be a "disgrace" to force the trucks to move. "This is their spot and nobody should be able to take that away from them," said Sandelli.
Thirty-one scientists from 21 colleges and universities in Iowa have issued a letter to the Republican presidential candidates, urging them to admit that the science of climate change is real. Many of the candidates have asserted that there is not a scientific consensus on the issue, even though scientists say that such a consensus exists. Gov. Rick Perry, for example, has called himself a "skeptic" on climate change. Mitt Romney, the frontrunner, has in the past acknowledged climate change but of late has backtracked from that position. The Iowa letter was drafted by four professors at Iowa State University.
The University of California Board of Regents announced Monday that it is postponing meetings planned for Wednesday and Thursday at the university's San Francisco campus because of security concerns. A statement from the board said that university security officials asked the board not to meet. "From various sources they had received information indicating that rogue elements intent on violence and confrontation with UC public safety officers were planning to attach themselves to peaceful demonstrations expected to occur at the meeting," the statement said. "They believe that, as a result, there is a real danger of significant violence and vandalism. They have advised us further that this violence could place at risk members of the public, students lawfully gathered to voice concerns over tuition levels and any other issues, and the UCSF community, including patients, public safety officers, UC staff and neighbors of UCSF Mission Bay."
Student groups who were planning nonviolent protests condemned the decision to call off the meeting. "Today’s decision raises serious questions about the commitment to an open, accountable decision-making process by the regents -- many who are the 1 percent," said a statement from the ReFund California Coalition. "Furthermore, it is outrageous that the Board of Regents would attempt to dismiss the serious efforts of thousands of students and other peaceful demonstrators to refund public education and essential services by insinuating that our cause is motivated by violence. Only the police, acting under the direction of campus authorities subordinate to the Regents, have instigated violence on UC campuses -- not the thousands of peaceful demonstrators who seek solutions to the urgent crisis of higher education in California."