Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 4, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Sera Young of Cornell University explores why some pregnant women experience a compulsion to eat odd things. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


December 3, 2012

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 245-139 on Friday in favor of the STEM Jobs Act, a Republican-backed measure that would make 55,000 visas available for foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. The bill is unlikely to progress in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Although there is bipartisan support for visas for STEM graduates, many Democrats oppose a provision of the bill that would eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, which allocates visas for  those coming from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The White House opposes the STEM Jobs Act, as does NAFSA: The Association of International Educators, which said, in a statement, “In the acrimonious political debate about immigration reform, we lose our way by embracing a mistaken, zero-sum approach to permanent immigration.”

December 3, 2012

The American Federation of Teachers is proposing today a new national exam that all new teachers -- whether prepared by teacher education or other programs -- would have to take to be certified. "Just as in professions widely recognized for having a set of rigorous professional standards, such as law or medicine, teaching must raise standards for entry into the profession through a process similar to the bar process in law or the board process in medicine," says an AFT report, "Raising the Bar." "There has been significant debate about the quality of teacher preparation programs — both traditional and alternative. By requiring all teacher candidates to pass a universal assessment, we ensure all teachers who enter the classroom, whether trained in a traditional program or alternatively certified, meet the same standards of competence."

The report also calls for tougher standards for teacher education programs. "Completion of a set of program requirements including a minimum G.P.A., documentation and demonstration (through midpoint and exit examinations) of an understanding of fundamental or 'high-leverage' practices needed to be an effective beginning teacher, and at least a full year of successful clinical experience" are needed, the report says. It also says that new teacher education graduates should be able to demonstrate "mastery of subject-matter knowledge and competence in content-specific pedagogical approaches, as demonstrated by passage of a rigorous written exam."

Sharon P. Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, offered this reaction via e-mail, to the AFT report: "AACTE is encouraged by the vision expressed by the American Federation of Teachers. A national 'bar' for teachers, including a teacher performance assessment, would represent the consensus of the broader professional community concerning novice teacher capabilities. The community of teacher educators, working with accomplished teachers across the country, has been working to create such an examination. edTPA has just been field tested by 7000 candidates from more than 160 institutions from 22 states. As we go forward, we look forward to working with the AFT and the full range of stakeholders in the education community to make the vision of a performance-based profession a reality."


December 3, 2012

Dixie State College, in Utah, is considering changing its name to reflect its status as a university and is also considering an end to the "Dixie" part of its name at the same time, the Associated Press reported. The name reflects the identity of a group of 19th-century Mormon settlers from the South who wanted to turn Utah into a cotton-growing region. Advocates of a name change say that Dixie has associations with the slave-owning or segregated South, while defenders of the name say that it reflects Utah history and doesn't prevent the college from promoting equity and diversity.

December 3, 2012

The preeminence of American science and technology is at risk and requires "bold investments," according to a report issued Friday by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The report notes that other countries are improving their research infrastructures, and that corporate support of research in the United States is increasingly focused on "near-term results," and not the basic research that can ultimately be more transformative.

Among the recommendations in the report;

  • Long-term growth in research and development spending such that it increases from 2.9 percent of gross domestic product to 3 percent.
  • New efforts by the administration and Congress to promote the "stability and predictability" of federal research support.
  • Immigration reform to make it possible for those from abroad who graduate with science and technology degrees to stay in the United States.
  • Significant improvements in science and technology education at the undergraduate level.


December 3, 2012

The board of Wilson College has been expected to vote Saturday on whether to accept a controversial plan to admit men to the residential undergraduate program, but announced instead that the board was delaying a decision until January. An announcement from the board said that it needed more time to consider the options. The college has only about 300 women in the residential program, and although men are admitted to other programs, Wilson's identity has been as a women's institution. A panel recommended a number of steps, such as a tuition cut, along with coeducation, to attract more students. Barbara K. Mistick, the president of the college, has warned that Wilson's finances are precarious and that few high school seniors these days seek out a women's college, making it difficult to attract the size of student body that would sustain the institution. In an interview after Saturday's announcement, she said that she backs the coeducation plan and believed enrollment could double within five or six years if men are admitted.

Students and alumnae, however, have criticized the coeducation plan. They have questioned whether the college will attract men in large numbers and have said that they fear losing Wilson's mission as an institution that nurtures young women.

December 3, 2012

Saudi Arabia's Cultural Mission to the United States has banned Saudi students from enrolling in an English language program at Southern Utah University, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. The program is currently investigating allegations that it looks the other way at plagiarism and has lax academic standards to keep foreign students enrolled. Saudi students make up 158 of the 182 students enrolled.

December 3, 2012

Emmanuel Christian Seminary, the Tennessee college that cited financial concerns as one reason for threatening to fire a tenured professor for cause earlier this year, has received a $3 million gift from a donor, the largest in the college's history. Emmanuel's president told Chris Rollston, a professor of Old Testament and Semitic studies, that he should look for work elsewhere because his liberal theological views were offending students and prospective donors. Rollston's status at Emmanuel is still in flux, but the college announced the gift, from an unnamed Christian donor, to students earlier this week..

The money will be used for debt reduction and could hasten a merger between Emmanuel and its neighbor, Milligan College, which both institutions have said they are exploring. "Since the discussions between Milligan and Emmanuel began, Emmanuel has been blessed with a significant gift from a donor who has designated these funds to go toward relieving their debt," Milligan said in a statement. "Both institutions are grateful for God’s provision through this donor." A letter of intent between both institutions has begun the due diligence that could lead to a merger, Emmanuel announced.

December 3, 2012

Giving students and parents targeted information about colleges' pricing and outcomes is a worthy goal that could improve their decision-making about higher education, the Center for American Progress says in a report released today. But the federal government's process for developing its "College Scorecard" has fallen well short in practice, says the report, which offers a slew of recommendations for how the government could rework the document, particularly with advice from actual consumers. Among the report's findings are that the government should: test ways of communicating the concept of “net price”; emphasize four-year graduation rates, not six-year rates, if further testing confirms that the shorter time-frame is more relevant to students’ decision-making; and develop alternative measures of student debt that matter to students if further testing confirms that traditional measures such as repayment rate or default rate are not meaningful to students.

December 3, 2012

Peter F. Burnham, former president of Brookdale Community College, in New Jersey, was sentenced Friday to five years in jail for using college funds to pay for $44,000 in personal expenses, and for accepting $20,000 in tuition reimbursement for his son to attend Monmouth University when his son's tuition was already covered by financial aid, The Daily Record reported. The prosecutor, Christopher Gramiccioni, said that Burnham was arrogant in thinking he could do whatever he wanted with college funds. "He was the king, and everyone else were his subjects,” he said. Burnham won one concession in sentencing: He will be allowed to have $36,000 that the college owes him for unused vacation days applied to the restitution of $44,497 that he was ordered to pay.


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