Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 3:00am

California's community colleges need a sharper, more focused set of goals and the state needs a stronger body to oversee the institutions, a bipartisan panel focused on improving state programs said in a report Tuesday. The Little Hoover Commission argued that the state's scores of two-year institutions suffer because they try to do too many things with too few resources, and that Californians would be better off if the colleges focused on student success in three main areas: basic skills education, career technical education, and preparation for transfer to four-year institutions. It also calls for making the colleges' chancellor's office an independent agency with more authority and responsibility, and for allocating funds to community colleges in ways that encourage and reward student success.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 3:00am

Smith College students and alumnae have come up with a creative response to an alumna's letter to The Sophian, the student newspaper, questioning efforts over the last decade to recruit more low-income and minority students. The letter (currently removed from the newspaper's website) suggested that the college has lowered its standards and abandoned a tradition in which wealthy students with "cashmere coats and pearls" were educated at the college and then went on to become wealthy donors. In response, Smith students have started posting their stories on a new blog called Pearls and Cashmere. Many of the women talk about how they do not fit the stereotypes of the past, and are proud of what Smith has become. Their stories stress that strong academics and diversity are by no means incompatible. And while the women pose in nontraditional ways for the photos that accompany their stories, many put on their pearls.

The letter that set off the fracas said that Smith attracts lesbians, low-income students and those who can't get into the Ivies. But the women who tell their stories on the blog -- white and minority, lesbian and straight -- talk about what they gained from enrolling at Smith, and at a more diverse Smith.

Birgitta Hendron from Washington state and Wiame El Bouhali from Morocco posted together: "Both of us applied to Smith early decision, both of us speak four languages (though not the same four), both of us are products of public school systems on two different continents. Without Smith, Wiame never would have had the chance to study the liberal arts (or build a tornado simulator). Without Smith, Birgitta never would have taken Russian -- the language that has become her passion. In addition to a world-class education and brilliant professors and peers, Smith has given us courage, perspective and confidence. It’s also given us each other -- not lesbians, not Ivy League rejects, but best friends."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

Public and private colleges alike saw a steady rise in the proportion of revenues they derived from tuition from 1999 to 2009, the Government Accountability Office said in a report Monday. The report, which examined financial and other data provided by institutions, found that net tuition and fees rose to 22 from 16 percent of total revenue at public colleges and universities, and to 40 from 29 percent at private nonprofit institutions.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Antonio Sagona of the University of Melbourne discusses his archaeological excavation of one of the First World War’s most famous battlefields. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 4:39am

Republicans in the California Senate on Monday blocked a vote to confirm Herbert L. Carter for a second term of the California State University Board of Trustees, forcing him to step down, The Los Angeles Times reported. Carter, chair of the board, had been nominated for a new term by Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat. Republicans said that they objected to Carter's support for a $400,000 pay package for the new president of San Diego State University, a package that set off a large debate in the state about compensation for public university presidents. Many Democrats (including Governor Brown) have also raised questions about pay for university presidents, but said that Carter had done a good job as chair despite their disagreements with him on that issue.

 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- President Obama continues to make college affordability a key theme of his domestic policy agenda, but to tailor his message to his audience of the moment. On Monday, addressing the members of the National Governors Association, the president reiterated his views -- highlighted in last month's State of the Union address -- that higher education is increasingly important for individual Americans and for the country's economic future, and that rising prices threaten to put a postsecondary education out of reach for many. But while his speeches to campus leaders have focused on colleges' responsibility to contain their own costs and the prices they charge students (and federal carrots and sticks he might use to elicit that behavior), he used his appearance before the governors to reiterate his belief that states share significant culpability for driving up tuition prices.

"Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state than the decisions you make about where to invest," President Obama said in urging the governors to "invest more in education." Describing the college affordability problem as a "shared responsibility," he said the administration has sought to do its part by significantly upping federal spending on Pell Grants and other student financial aid. But "[w]e can't just keep on, at the federal level, subsidizing skyrocketing tuition. If tuition is going up faster than inflation -- faster, actually, than health care costs -- then no matter how much we subsidize it, sooner or later we are going to run out of money.  So everybody else is going to have to do their part as well."

The president repeated that he had put colleges and universities "on notice" that "if they are not taking some concrete steps to prevent tuition from going up, then federal funding from taxpayers is going to go down." But the states have to do their part by "making higher education a higher priority in your budgets," the president said. "Over two-thirds of students attend public colleges and universities where, traditionally, tuition has been affordable because of state investments.... But more than 40 states have cut funding for higher education over the past year. And this is just the peak of what has been a long-term trend in reduced state support for higher education. And state budget cuts have been among the largest factor in tuition hikes at public colleges over the past decade. So my administration can do more, Congress can do more, colleges have to do more. But unless all of you also do more, this problem will not get solved."

Robert L. Moran, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said his members were heartened by the president's remarks. They signal, he said, that "just as he's keeping our feet to the fire" on controlling public colleges' costs and prices, "he's not backing off the message that he needs to keep the fire on the feet of the state legislators and governors, too, because if state support goes down, tuition goes up." The president has comparatively little sway over state policies or priorities, Moran said, so his rhetoric and use of the bully pulpit matters.

(Side note: While he did so subtly, the president appeared to directly rebut criticism that a potential opponent in November, Rick Santorum, aimed at Obama over the weekend. Santorum called the president a "snob" for, he said, suggesting that all Americans should go to college, saying that there are "good, decent men and women" proud that their skills were "not taught by some liberal college professor." Without identifying the former Republican senator, Obama told the governors that "[w]hen I speak about higher education, we’re not just talking about a four-year degree. We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.")
 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

Some Japanese universities are stepping up efforts to recruit students from India, The Times of India reported. The University of Tokyo recently opened up a recruiting office in India. Officials there have noted Japan's success at attracting students from China is not matched in India. The University of Tokyo has 1,000 Chinese students and only 35 Indian students.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 3:00am

The National Association of College Stores and Amazon.com have settled complaints and a suit over Amazon's claims about the savings it offers customers on textbooks, The Wall Street Journal reported. No money changed hands in the settlement. The college store association said that, after a review of Amazon's methodology for its claims, there is "no current dispute" over the advertising.

 

Monday, February 27, 2012 - 3:00am

Athletic officials at Radford University were already in trouble when the National Collegiate Athletic Association learned that players on the men’s tennis and men’s basketball teams, and one prospective basketball recruit, received impermissible benefits such as transportation, lodging and meals. But university officials made the case all the worse by “not only providing false and misleading information, but the encouragement of a student athlete to do the same,” Britton Banowsky, commissioner of Conference USA and chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions said in a call with reporters Friday. “This conduct, which is really the essence of this case, is obviously inconsistent with the core values of honesty and sportsmanship, and completely counter to a coach’s responsibility to educate student athletes in their program.”

As punishment, Radford will receive public reprimand and censure; two years’ probation; a two-scholarship reduction in basketball for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years; vacation of four wins during the 2010-11 season, when an ineligible athlete competed, and a $2,000 penalty ($500 for each game in which said athlete played); and, self-imposed by the university, a reduction of two official paid visits in basketball during the 2011-12 academic year and the suspension of the head tennis coach during the 2011 season. In addition, the NCAA imposed a five-year "show cause" penalty on any institution that hires two former assistant basketball coaches and a former director of operations, requiring them to explain why they should not limit those officials' recruiting activities.

Radford is the latest to be reprimanded for a deliberate cover-up, following the University of Tennessee and Louisiana State and Ohio State Universities last year. Not only did coaches knowingly violate NCAA rules, the public infractions report says, the head basketball coach in interviews during the investigation didn’t disclose several instances of students getting impermissible travel and lodging from other coaches, and in one instance lied about whether he was aware of such activity. He also told staff and coaches not to provide further information to the NCAA, the report says. It goes on to say that the athlete whom the coach encouraged to “provide false and misleading information” to  the committee ended up withdrawing as a student after undergoing “serious emotional distress.”

This was Radford’s first major infractions case.

Monday, February 27, 2012 - 3:00am

The Women's Campaign of the University of Cambridge is organizing a petition drive to disinvite Dominique Strauss-Kahn -- the former head of the International Monetary Fund -- to speak at the university. "The Cambridge Union Society's decision to invite Dominique Strauss-Kahn to speak this term displays, when interpreted most charitably, a callous desire to exploit gender crime allegations in the service of controversy. At worst, the invitation betrays an abhorrent disregard for the many survivors of sexual violence amongst the student body," says the petition. "We believe that free speech is about more than inviting rich, white, powerful (in this case allegedly rapist) men to define the union's termcard year after year." The petition notes that Strauss-Kahn has not been convicted of anything but says that this is "because of institutional sexism in the legal system."

Katie Lam, president of the group that invited him, defended the decision. "The reason he's been invited is because he's a fascinating figure and has exceptional knowledge in this field," she told AFP. "So I don't think it's inappropriate to have invited him. Speaking at the Union doesn't imply approval or endorsement, or indeed disapproval."

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