Higher Education Quick Takes
With the new film "Les Misérables" winning rave reviews, it was inevitable that a college parody would emerge, focusing on the struggles of today's students.
The Boston Globe reported that Boston University students -- with majors in journalism, philosophy, theater, and anthropology and with many worries about their job prospects -- created the parody.
The National Association of College and University Business Officers has issued guidance for colleges on using debit cards for financial aid refunds, a fast-growing practice that has led to criticism of the companies that offer the cards, which can have high fees. The association asks colleges to encourage students to use a full-fledged bank account rather than a preloaded debit card; to offer direct deposit of refunds; to use a competitive bidding process; and to negotiate no-fee or low-fee options for students from the third-party vendors that offer the debit cards. About one-quarter of colleges said in a NACUBO survey that they already use the debit cards, and 33 percent are considering doing so.
Wyoming's attorney general has sued DegreeinaDay.com, which is based in Cheyenne, asking that it stop operating as an unaccredited institution, The Casper Star-Tribune reported. The site offered degrees in medicine, cosmetic dermatology, law and teaching based on life experience. The suit charged that the institution had no authority to award degrees. Officials from the website could not be reached for comment.
State officials in Pennsylvania are preparing to sue the National Collegiate Athletic Association, perhaps as early as today, over the sanctions imposed on Pennsylvania State University, Sports Illustrated reported. Penn State -- which has accepted the association's penalties -- is not involved in preparing the suit. While many supporters of Penn State have said that the NCAA went too far and may not have had the authority to punish the institution, university officials have defended their stance of accepting the punishments by saying that the NCAA might otherwise have imposed harsher punishments known as the "death penalty."
A New York Times article examines the potential for conflict of interest in Quacquarelli Symonds (known as QS) operating an international rankings system for universities and also a "ratings" system -- with the latter open to those who pay for an audit. The article notes that institutions that do poorly in international rankings (which tend to give the highest marks to research universities known around the world) are evaluated on different criteria, and are then awarded stars that they can use to boast and to recruit students. Two universities in Ireland are cited as examples of institutions that paid QS and now boast five-star ratings. Several international education experts are quoted expressing skepticism about whether the stars are meaningful. But the universities say that if they attract more students, their payments to QS will be worth it.
Many of the details on a possible deal between the White House and Congress to avert the looming "fiscal cliff" are still unclear -- including, most crucially for higher education, what (if any) spending cuts would be included. But a possible agreement on taxes, reportedly reached today between Vice President Joe Biden and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, would extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit for college tuition for five years.
The tax credit, originally included in the 2009 stimulus bill, provides up to $2,500, of which $1,000 is refundable. It was scheduled to expire this week without Congressional action.
If a deal is not reached to avert the tax increases, many domestic discretionary programs — including some important to higher education — will see an 8.2 percent cut in 2013. In a statement Monday afternoon, President Obama said the future of the spending cuts remains unresolved, but said he would insist on a balanced approach to avert the across-the-board cuts.
As politicians try to avert the fiscal cliff, Lake Superior State University wants to ban it -- the phrase at least. "Fiscal cliff" tops the university's 38th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness. The university's press release states: "If Congress acts to keep the country from tumbling over the cliff, LSSU believes this banishment should get some of the credit."
Other words and phrases banned are:
- Kick the can down the road
- Double down
- Job creators/creation
- Spoiler alert
- Bucket list
- Boneless wings
Bowl attendance is dropping, according to an analysis released Sunday by USA Today. Through this year's first 19 bowl games, attendance is down by an average of 3,138, and six games have seen drops of at least 5,000. The article said that as bowls proliferate and some teams seem to be playing a bowl game every year, fans are unwilling to spend what it costs to travel to a second-tier bowl to root for a team that had an off year (but still won a bowl bid). Last week's Military Bowl, in Washington, had attendance of 17,835 -- the lowest for any bowl game since USA Today started tracking bowl attendance in 2004-5.
Morgan State University's board on Friday reversed itself, and extended the contract of President David Wilson by one year, The Baltimore Sun reported. The board's decision this month to oust Wilson -- after his contract expires at the end of the academic year, stunned and angered many students, faculty members and alumni. The vote to oust Wilson was 8-to-7, and board members repeatedly declined to explain why they wanted him gone. While the board's action on Friday came in response to an outpouring of support for the president, some of his backers were not impressed with the one-year extension on his contract. The head of a campus employee union told the Sun that the one-year extension was "a death sentence," and "just a smoke screen they put up."