Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 13, 2014

Coursera will offer all U.S. veterans the chance to earn a verified certificate free of charge, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. First lady Michelle Obama announced the department's partnership with the massive open online course provider during the Women’s Veterans’ Employability Summit, saying Coursera will also expand its network of "learning hubs" -- spaces where MOOC students can meet and collaborate -- in the U.S. with the launch of 20 new hubs aimed at veterans. The VA will market the partnership through its employment center.

November 13, 2014

Business leaders must lead efforts to close the skills gap, according to a new report from Accenture, Burning Glass Technologies and Harvard Business School. The report focuses on the demand for "middle-skills" jobs, which require more education and training than a high-school diploma but less than a four-year degree. It argues that businesses "must champion an employer-led skills-development system, in which they bring the type of rigor and discipline to sourcing middle-skills talent that they historically applied to their materials supply chains." Educators and policy makers also have roles to play in fixing the problem, which the report said is urgent.

November 13, 2014

The massive federal law governing student aid needs to be simplified, allow more room for innovation, and hold colleges more accountable for student outcomes, a top U.S. Department of Education official said Wednesday.

Speaking at a New America Foundation event about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said that the federal government should have more power to hold colleges and universities accountable for academic and educational problems. 

“I would love there to be more authority in the federal government to crack down on what we see as educational abuses as opposed to financial abuses or the like,” he said, citing the recently uncovered academic fraud scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Mitchell added that any increased federal regulation of colleges should be focused on student outcomes.

“I would want to make a very bright line: if we’re going to expand, by statute, federal regulatory authority to have it be about outcomes and not processes and inputs,” he said, referencing some of the criteria that accreditors use in approving institutions. 

Mitchell said he was optimistic that accountability in higher education was an issue on which there is room for consensus between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Another Education Department priority in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, he said, would be simplifying what has become a “convoluted” federal student aid system.

Rewriting the law, which was last updated in 2008, should be a “pretty dramatic gardening project” to streamline existing federal student loan rules and get rid of requirements that inhibit innovation in higher education, he said.

“We have this really crazy matrix of different loan programs, different loan servicers,” he said. “If we could, in the Higher Ed Act, streamline that, that would be great.”

He said that the government should “simplify or eliminate the FAFSA form” and make better use of existing sources of information on families’ financial information in determining eligibility for federal student aid.

Mitchell also said that a new Higher Education Act should restore year-round Pell Grants and provide incentives for states to maintain spending on higher education and not pass large tuition increases on to families.

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the Republican who is expected to chair the Senate educate committee in the next Congress, has said that deregulating higher education and simplifying the FAFSA form is a priority of his in higher education policy. He’s said he wants to “start from scratch” in rewriting the Higher Education Act, to weed out requirements that he says are burdensome and have been layered on over decades.

Representative John Kline, the Minnesota Republican who is expected to continue as chair of the House education committee, said in a video announcement Wednesday that improving the higher education system will be among his priorities in the new Congress, but did not offer any details about that plan. 

November 13, 2014

Authorities have arrested a man and recovered 50 laptops stolen from the University of California at Los Angeles. UCLA announced that the man arrested, Seyed Ali Pakizehkar Hesari, is not currently a UCLA student, but was a history undergraduate as recently as March. At right, a photo of the recovered laptops.

 

November 13, 2014

Some academics in Australia are accusing universities of admitting “functionally illiterate” international students and tolerating widespread cheating because they are “addicted” to the fees these students pay, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The academics spoke to the newspaper in the wake of its investigation into a Sydney-based essay-writing company that targeted its services to international students. Universities contacted for the story said that the problem involves only a small number of students and that systems are in place to detect cheating.

November 13, 2014

Middlebury College announced that with a gift and funds from the college, the Bread Loaf Campus -- home to an English and writing program on 2,100 acres in the Green Mountains -- will be conserved in perpetuity. An endowment will pay for conservation funds.

November 13, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Keith Hatschek, a professor of music at the University of the Pacific, discusses the civil rights activism of jazz legend Dave Brubeck. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

November 12, 2014

North Carolina State University says that a professor there will apologize to his students for making "an offensive statement in jest." A statement from the university says that "the professor realizes that his statement devalued the heritage of some students and was inappropriate for the classroom or anywhere else on the university's campus." Further, the department head will meet with any concerned students.

The university did not name the professor or say what he said. But WTVD News reported that the professor was Charles Hardin and that, when he was returning exams in a biochemistry course, he had difficulty reading some names and said that students should "Americanize" their names "because this is America." Hardin did not respond to a request for comment.

 

 

November 12, 2014

The last academic year has been a difficult one for those seeking jobs in the field of religion. A joint report by the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature -- released Tuesday -- found that 452 positions were listed with the two organizations during the 2013-14 academic year, down from 548 the year before. While not all religion faculty jobs are listed with the two groups, their listings are considered a good general measure of the health of the academic job market. The latest figures are well below the 652 listings in the 2007-8 year, the last one before the economic downturn hit.

 

November 12, 2014

Reducing class size and shaking up grading systems could help close the gender gap in professional schools, suggests new research in the Journal of Legal Studies. Authors Daniel Ho and Mark Kelman, both professors of law at Stanford University, say that common professional school pedagogies, such as the Socratic and adversarial methods, may put women at a disadvantage when class sizes are big. In their study, Ho and Kelman analyzed 15,689 grades assigned by 91 instructors to 1,897 students from 2001-12.

During the first part of that time period, from 2001-08, women earned grades that were 0.05 grade-point-average points lower than those for men. But in the data from 2008-12, when Stanford adopted a lower-pressure “honors and pass” grading system, the gender gap disappeared across all classes. That change didn't just reflect "masked" grade differences under the new system, the authors determined through a kind of "shadow" grade analysis of pre-2008 data -- women were really doing better. And in a mandatory class whose size was shrunk and instruction was made more “simulation-intensive,” involving more student interaction and participation, the gender gap was reversed.

Although the original gender gap was relatively small, the authors say, it’s statistically significant when students hit the law job market. For example, they say, a GPA increase from 3.6 to 3.65 is associated with a 7 percent higher chance of landing a federal appellate clerkship. Kelman said that the study refutes a common assumption that performance is predetermined by "fixed" student traits. "To me, the most important finding is the most general one: gender inequality is sensitive to pedagogy," he said via email. "I think this fact is more significant than the particular pedagogical mechanisms that were in play here at Stanford."

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