Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 12, 2013

Haverford College officials are backing away from a pledge to ensure no students are forced to borrow money to attend the private liberal arts college.

College administrators told students this week they are looking to do away with their six-year-old “no loan” pledge to some students – mostly its students from upper middle class households. The new plan still has significant protections for needy families in lower income brackets: Families making less than $60,000 will still not have to take out loans and no family should have to borrow more than $12,000 over four-years, which is far less debt than the average debt-bearing student. (The median family income in the United States is about $51,000.)

The plan still needs the approval by the college's board, which could modify or reject the proposal by college administrators.  But Haverford seems ready to join the likes of Dartmouth and Williams Colleges, which all tried no loan programs but then abandoned them following the recession. The market blew a hole in many university endowment funds, which colleges draw on to provide financial aid.

There has been an increase in aid spending at Haverford -- which awards aid based solely on need -- but the no loan program is not entirely to blame, according to a presentation by college officials posted online by a Haverford student newspaper. Haverford spent $16.9 in financial aid in 2009 and over $23 million in 2013 – an increase of about $6.6 million per year. The no loan program cost about $1.9 million this year. 

Jess Lord, the dean of admissions and financial aid, said the college has been seeking "equilibrium" between access and affordability and long-term sustainability. 

“The truth is that we’ve been having conversations about the long-term sustainability of the financial model since 2008, since the economy took the turn that it took in 2008,” Lord said in a telephone interview Wednesday night.

The proposal to scale back the no loan program to only cover the lowest income families will save the college about $800,000 a year. For the Haverford class of 2012, which entered the college before the no loan program took effect, the average four-year debt burden was about $14,000. Nationally, the average debt burden for the class of 2012 is $29,000.

Colleges with no loan programs calculate a family's assets and use a formula to determine what they can afford to pay. The college picks up the difference between what a family can pay out of its own pocket or with scholarships and the college's price -- a gap that would either force families to borrow or send their students somewhere else. Tuition, fees and room and board at Haverford are priced at $59,000 a year.

December 12, 2013

The president of the University of Michigan plans to go ahead with a controversial cost-cutting program, despite faculty objections. University officials had planned to move 275 staffers from across campus into a single building on the edge of Ann Arbor to save money. Faculty objections have already delayed staff moves beyond April.

Several hundred faculty voted Monday to back a longer delay, but President Mary Sue Coleman made clear on Wednesday her so-called "shared services" plan might be delayed but it cannot be stopped. “The Administrative Services Transformation — our efforts to accomplish routine business functions in a more efficient way — must and will continue,” Coleman said in a statement. “The question for me is not whether the university will mount a shared services program, but how to do so in a way that best meets the needs of the Michigan community.”

The faculty vote on Monday also admonished the administration for spending “tens of millions” on outside consultants. Faculty, in effect, said Michigan faculty and administrators should be experienced enough to run the institution without such paid help.

University officials initially hoped to save $17 million from the plan, but now that figure is down to as little as $2 million in the first year and $5 to $6 million per year in the near term after that. Some of that savings is offset by new costs, including $4 million to fix up the building staff are supposed to be moving to, $1 million a year to lease the building and nearly $12 million for Accenture to work on cost-saving efforts.

December 11, 2013

Details emerged Tuesday about allegations that tests prepared for use at Florida International University were being stolen and sold. The university announced Monday that three people -- two of them students -- had been arrested in such a scheme, but released few details. Officials said Tuesday that the case involved hacking into a professor's email account, stealing four tests, and then selling them to students for $150 each, The Sun Sentinel reported.

December 11, 2013

Students in courses hosted by Coursera, the massive open online course provider, can now access lessons on the go -- as long as they have an iPhone. The MOOC provider launched an official mobile app on Tuesday, allowing iPhone users to browse courses, receive notifications from the courses they are enrolled in, and stream and download lectures.

Additional features such as in-video quizzes and private courses are not yet available. The official app is in development for other platforms, according to Coursera's website, but for now, Android users have to make do with several unofficial options. Coursera is the first of the larger MOOC providers to create an app, but competitors such as edX may soon follow. "We are working on a mobile solution for a global audience -- we think of mobile from the [inexpensive Android tablet] Akash to the iPhone," an edX spokesman said in an email.

December 11, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Martin Hasselmann of the University of Cologne discusses the genetic process that determines the sex of honey bees. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

December 11, 2013

Activists are questioning proposed new rules on protests at Cooper Union and the City University of New York, The New York Times reported. In both cases, the institutions have in the past faced long-term protests. University officials say that the proposed rules allow for the orderly functioning of campuses, without diminishing the ability of students and others to express critical views. Critics say that the rules go too far.


December 11, 2013

Graduation rates among Division II athletes dropped by an unusually high three percentage points this year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Tuesday, but officials say it’s likely due to a technical glitch. The Academic Success Rate – similar to Division I’s Graduation Success Rate, except that it includes non-scholarship athletes -- measures the number of players who graduate within six years or leave in good academic standing. The ASR for cohort entering college in 2006 is 69 percent this year, compared to 72 percent for the six-year cohort that enrolled in 2005.

The division's Federal Graduation Rate, which counts transfers and other departures as dropouts, held steady at 54 percent.

An NCAA researcher, Gregg Summers, said the “very rare” large ASR decline is probably a result of the new reporting system Division II programs used this year. Instead of entering data manually, student by student, the staff transferred the data en masse electronically, and probably let some errors pass through in the process, Summers said. Specifically, because the number of athletes in the tracking system fell short of the number counted in the ASR by about 10 percent, and because the number of students recorded as leaving while eligible was unusually low, officials suspect that many athletes who left their teams while eligible were incorrectly marked as dropouts. (Typically, about a quarter of Division II players leave their sport voluntarily at some point.) Also, after asking a couple institutions whose data seemed off to review their numbers to address this question, their ASRs improved.

Still, NCAA officials acknowledged they would like to see the rate go up. At January’s NCAA convention, Division II members will vote on a new academic rules package similar to one that NCAA President Mark Emmert pushed through Division I in October 2011, which Division II Director Maritza Jones said should help improve the ASR. (This year’s Division I GSR tied an all-time record of 82 percent.) Rates for individual colleges and sports can be viewed in the NCAA's searchable database.

December 11, 2013

Nearly 140 ineligible Southeastern Louisiana University athletes in all 16 sports were allowed to practice, compete and receive scholarships because of the institution’s failure to monitor its eligibility certification process, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Tuesday. The NCAA cited Southern Louisiana with a lack of control over its athletics department and issued penalties including a $25,000 fine, scholarship reductions and vacation of wins from 2005-9 for teams that played ineligible athletes. The mistake stemmed from a compliance coordinator’s misunderstanding of NCAA progress-toward-degree requirements and failure to verify those rules, the public infractions report says, and the subsequent failure of other staff to step in and correct the system.

December 11, 2013

More evidence that all that texting you see isn't about academics? Researchers at Kent State University tracked how much time students spend on their phones, and their grades. More use of phones is negatively related to grades, but positively related to anxiety. The research appears in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

December 11, 2013

The college commission of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools took several institutions off of probationary or warning status at its meeting this week, including the University of Virginia, Fisk and Florida A&M Universities, and Greensboro College. UVa had faced scrutiny from the accreditor because of an effort by a cadre of trustees in summer 2012 to dump President Teresa A. Sullivan. SACS' president, Belle Wheelan, said the university had presented evidence that it had changed its governance policies to ensure that a small minority of the board could not bring about change in leadership. "The board has right to fire president -- in fact, it has the responsibility to do so in some cases. But it is the board that has that right, not a minority of the board -- that was the issue with them," Wheelan said.

Fisk, which has faced significant financial problems that most visibly led it to sell its high-profile art collection, came off probation because the SACS commission was persuaded that its new president had raised sufficient money and had it "heading in the right direction," Wheelan said. Florida A&M, which has undergone enormous turmoil and turnover in the face of a fatal hazing scandal, was taken off probation even though most of its top officials are serving on an interim basis, Wheelan said. Greensboro has resolved many of its financial troubles, the agency determined.

SACS placed or continued another set of institutions on warning status at the meeting, including several because of financial issues (Newberry College, Allen University, Midcontinent University), Norfolk State University (financial and governance issues), Hampden-Sydney College (failure to have sufficient representation of full-time faculty), and Erskine College. (Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version.)


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