The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday released its latest data on students with disabilities in higher education. As of the 2008-9 academic year, 88 percent of two- and four-year institutions reported enrolling students with disabilities. Specific learning disabilities were the most common (31 percent), followed by Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (which were counted separately) at 18 percent, then mental or psychiatric conditions at 15 percent. About a tenth of the reported learning disabilities were related to physical health and illness. Students who have trouble seeing accounted for 3 percent. The survey also revealed deficits between the needs of students with disabilities and what their college are providing. For example, while nearly every college has a main website, only 24 percent of them said they accommodated disabled users "to a major extent." About half of institutions cited financial barriers to training faculty and staff to accommodate various disabilities and buying "appropriate technology" for students with impairments.
Higher Education Quick Takes
The House of Representatives on Thursday approved long-debated legislation to revamp federal patent laws, a measure that has strong support from higher education groups. The House-passed bill will have to be reconciled with a version the Senate approved in March, but the legislation is expected to be signed into law by President Obama.
Marquette University has announced revised policies on dealing with sex assault charges. The Journal Sentinel reported that chief among the changes is that the university will report all allegations to the Milwaukee police. The move follows criticism of the university over two incidents in which allegations of sexual assault by athletes at the university were not immediately reported to authorities, leading to delays that critics say made it less likely that criminal charges could have been filed.
The University of Texas System is preparing a pilot program designed to shave a year off of the time it takes someone to earn an undergraduate degree and an M.D., The Austin American-Statesman reported. Under the first pilot, selected students at UT-Austin would be assured a spot in one of the system's medical schools and could finish their undergraduate degree in three years. Texas is becoming a center for experimentation in shortening the time to become a doctor. Texas Tech University is starting a three-year M.D.
Lake Michigan College has agreed to let a student who is a sex offender remain enrolled, The Herald Palladium reported. The college had moved to kick out the student based on a policy barring those convicted of sex offenses involving minors. The reinstatement involved a challenge to the policy by the American Civil Liberties Union and an agreement on changes to the policy, including an appeals process.
The University of Michigan Library will announce today that it will be allowing authorized library patrons to access all of its digitized "orphan works" in full. Students and guests will now be able to access online any texts they would have been able to find in the stacks, Michigan officials said in a press release. This is the latest step in Michigan's attempts to identify and unlock the orphans -- books whose copyright holders cannot be found or contacted -- in its collection. The university announced last month that it is also working to identify more orphans the millions of volumes held by HathiTrust Digital Library, a Michigan-based aggregator of university library collections. Other institutions are preparing making their own orphans available to authorized students and researchers, officials said in Wednesday's press release.
In light of a federal court's recent rebuke of Google's attempts to sell broad access to orphan works through its controversial Google Books Project, experts have speculated that it may be up to Congress to determine how orphans can and cannot be used. Michigan is not waiting around to open up its own orphans to authorized users, a move that it sees as covered by the "fair use" exemptions to copyright law.
California State University on Wednesday released the results of a months-long evaluation of the accessibility, for students with disabilities, of Google Apps for Education, a popular suite of software tools used by approximately half of nonprofit colleges. "The applications tested had varying levels of accessibility; most had significant accessibility problems which inhibit users of assistive technology from successful, regular use of the products," wrote the task force members, who since last fall had been testing various features -- Google Mail Chat, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites -- that Google provides to colleges with its Google Apps suite.
However, despite these findings, the California State task force stopped short of recommending that colleges refrain from using Google Apps. Instead, the committee recommend a series or "workarounds" and "best practices" to help minimize the disadvantages of students with disabilities. "Due to the extent of the accessibility issues discovered, limiting use (when possible) of Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Forms, Calendar, Sites and Gmail Chat in large group, student-centric or public-facing activities is recommended until native accessibility of those products improves. In addition, limiting the use of Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Calendar to administrative or back-office applications or activities is recommended when possible."
This is not the first time anyone has flagged accessibility barriers in Google's popular campus software: In March, students filed civil rights complaints against New York University and Northwestern University after those institutions adopted Google Apps. The U.S. Department of Education also recently warned colleges against adopting "emerging technologies" that discriminate against students with disabilities.
A state audit has blasted the management of a transportation research center -- completion of which was to have cost tens of millions of dollars -- at South Carolina State University, The Post and Courier reported. The project is currently $83 million short of funds and has no plans for obtaining them. University officials said that the report provided them with some vindication by disputing earlier reports of up to $50 million in missing funds. The audit accounted for the funds, and said that they had been poorly spent. In one example, the project paid $40,000 for real estate costs for property the university didn't buy. In another case, the university billed and received reimbursement for $200,000 from two federal agencies for the same expense.