Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 26, 2013

Have enrollments in traditional liberal arts fields dropped? Debates over the issue turn up everywhere, and Nate Silver -- the popular New York Times analyst of polling and statistics -- has taken up the issue. He argues that it all depends how you frame the question. If you ask whether certain majors are less popular, you may find that they are relative to other majors. But part of that is because the college population has expanded over time, with many of those going to college -- who might not have in earlier generations -- picking practical majors. But if you look at the percentage of all college students majoring in a given field, you may get a different figure. So, for example, English majors as a share of all majors have fallen in recent years, but English majors as a percentage of all college students have been relatively constant.


June 25, 2013

By far the most significant higher education case out of the U.S. Supreme Court Monday was its affirmative action ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (see our coverage here). But universities were parties in two other decisions by the justices as well, and while the issues at play were not specific to higher education, the rulings have implications for colleges as well as other employers.

In both cases, the Supreme Court, divided 5 to 4, narrowly defined employees' rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In Vance v. Ball State University, the majority endorsed a restrictive definition of which kinds of managers count as "supervisors" for purposes of defining discrimination that automatically can be ascribed to the employer. The case involved a cafeteria worker who suffered abuse at the hands of a fellow worker whom she considered to be a supervisor.

In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the court adopted a stricter standard for retaliation claims than for other types of employment discrimination. The case involved a Middle Eastern physician who believed that he had been discriminated against by a Jewish supervisor and was then retaliated against for complaining about the alleged harassment.

Full analysis of the cases can be found at SCOTUSBlog.

June 25, 2013

WASHINGTON — As Congress begins preparing to eventually reauthorize the Higher Education Act, many suggestions have already been put forward for reorganizing and rethinking financial aid programs to better meet the needs of current students. The American Enterprise Institute joined the fray on Monday with several research papers on rethinking grants, loans and the student aid system as a whole to focus on college affordability.

The papers, which centered around a theme of "The Trillion-Dollar Question: Reinventing Student Financial Aid for the 21st Century," focused on a range of subjects — from "promise programs" that aim to help students plan and prepare for college to alternative approaches to student loans and repayment — but aimed to increase institutional accountability, as well as effectiveness for students. They included a look at the historical context for federal financial aid programs as well as the return on investment for federal student aid, and generally emphasized the importance of a research- and evidence-based approach as Congress reevaluates financial aid programs.

June 25, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, David Lentz of the University of Cincinnati reveals how a volcanic eruption has increased our knowledge of everyday life among the Maya. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


June 25, 2013

WASHINGTON — With less than a week remaining until the interest rate on new, federally subsidized student loans is scheduled to double to 6.8 percent, President Obama will take borrowers' questions about student loans via text message, the White House announced Monday. Obama will pick one question to answer per day. 

June 25, 2013

Bard College, in New York, has entered into a partnership with Soochow University, in China, to include the establishment of the Bard College Liberal Arts Academy in Soochow University, an undergraduate degree program modeled on Bard’s curriculum. Students who complete the four-year undergraduate program, on Soochow’s campus, would receive bachelor's degrees from both institutions.

Internationally, Bard already awards dual degrees in cooperation with universities in Germany (ECLA of Bard), Kyrgyzstan (the American University of Central Asia), Russia (Smolny College), and the West Bank (Al-Quds University). 

June 24, 2013

The latest leaks from Edward Snowden, provided to The South China Morning Post, focus on U.S. National Security Agency hacking of backbone computer networks at China's Tsinghua University. A Post article said that documents provided by Snowden showed the hacking to be "intensive." On one day, 63 computers and networks were hacked by the NSA.

June 24, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Donald Stewart of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry explains why he went looking for a new species of fish in a library. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


June 24, 2013

Today is another day that the U.S. Supreme Court might rule on a landmark decision on affirmative action in college and university admissions. The affirmative action case is by far the case in this Supreme Court term that was argued the longest ago (back in October) without a ruling yet issued. A hashtag based on the name of the plaintiff #waitingforfisher has turned up on Twitter. Numerous articles have cited various theories about what the delay could mean -- although the authors of those articles typically admit that they are guessing, since the Supreme Court doesn't leak.

One law blog -- Noncuratlex.com -- poked fun at all the impatience by publishing a fake news story in which Chief Justice John Roberts offered the real reason for the delays: "I want to put to rest all of the nutty conspiracy theories that have circulated around the Fisher case," the blog quoted Roberts as telling reporters. "Any speculation that the Court is struggling with drafting the opinion, or opinions, is pure nonsense. The truth behind the delay is far more mundane. As you may have guessed, we’re still waiting for the go-ahead from Madame Zena, the official Court Astrologer."

June 24, 2013

Ashford University has begun a voluntary buyout program for non-faculty employees, said a spokeswoman for Bridgepoint Education, which owns the for-profit institution. Enrollment has tumbled at the university, which is also grappling with uncertainty about its regional accreditation. To reduce class sizes, Ashford has hired more faculty members while eliminating all of its teaching assistant positions, according to the company. Next month the Western Association of Schools and Colleges is expected to publicly announce whether Ashford has succeeded in a revised accreditation bid. The university's current regional accreditor is the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.


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