Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 25, 2012

The 10-person commission charged with plotting the future of the University of North Texas at Dallas released its recommendations Monday, largely backing a consultant's advice that the university focus on hybrid learning, minimizing the time to degree, and aligning courses of study with regional needs.

In 2011 the university commissioned 10 leaders from higher education, business, and local government, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, to develop a strategy to expand the university from 2,000 students to 16,000 students while decreasing the cost of education and improving graduation rates. The Commission on Building the University of the 21st Century reviewed reports from the consulting firm Bain & Company, brought in on a pro bono basis in 2011 to suggest long-term plans for the 11-year-old institution, and from a group of faculty and staff who, critical of Bain’s analysis, drew up their own recommendations. While Bain advised increasing teaching loads and freshmen enrollment while decreasing the array of majors and integrating online courses, the faculty plan proposed focusing on transfer and underprepared students, developing a liberal arts core, and emphasizing research.

The commission’s recommendations, which its members will vote on a vote of who? dl Tuesday, largely fall in line with Bain’s suggestions. The 10 strategies the commission lists include developing hybrid courses that blend in-person and online instruction, increasing freshman enrollment, providing students with the option for year-round instruction, and working with local business leaders to develop degree programs that mesh with local workforce needs. The report states that the university will have a student focus and will value teaching over research, but acknowledges as one of its guiding principles, “Faculty play a key role in the success of students and UNT Dallas,” and suggests a comprehensive development program to engage faculty and staff in this “new model.”

September 24, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Darryl de Ruiter of Texas A&M University reveals what we can lean about the diet of Australopithecus through a chemical analysis of their fossilized teeth. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

September 24, 2012

A new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York finds a relationship between state appropriations cuts and tuition increases in public higher education. The report notes increased interest in the views espoused by critics of higher education that the availability of federal grants and loans has encouraged colleges to increase their charges. But the report looks at the tuition shifts since 2008, and finds that the greatest increases are in states that made the deepest cuts in spending on higher education.

September 24, 2012

London Metropolitan University’s international students will have the opportunity to continue their studies at the institution, assuming their visa status is in order, a High Court judge ruled Friday. The decision comes almost a month after the U.K. Border Authority revoked London Met’s right to sponsor international students, citing “systemic failures” in the verification and monitoring of students’ English proficiency levels, visa status and course attendance.

The university also has gained permission to seek a judicial review of the UKBA's decision, although in the meantime it remains unable to recruit new students from outside the European Union, Times Higher Education reported.

September 24, 2012

The American University in Cairo announced Sunday that it is suspending operations -- including classes -- because protesting students have for the last week been closing the gates to the campus. Closing the gates creates a safety hazard, the statement said, because emergency vehicles would be unable to enter. "The obstruction of access and the prevention of other students from receiving the education to which they are entitled will not be tolerated. The administration will be taking disciplinary action against those students who obstructed access and behaved in ways inconsistent with university policy," said the statement. The students are angry over tuition increases. University officials said that they have been negotiating with the students, but that some of the protest demands (such as rescinding this year's tuition increase) are not possible.


 

September 24, 2012

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Friday told an audience at the University of Florida that he doesn't trust rankings of law schools and that he may have a bias against those who graduated from so-called top law schools, the Associated Press reported. Thomas is a graduate of Yale University's law school, but he said that "my new bias, which I now embrace, is that I don't eliminate the Ivies in hiring, but I intentionally prefer kids from regular backgrounds and regular  students."

He said he has been thinking about rankings since his law clerks -- graduates of law schools that aren't at the top of various rankings -- told him that they were being mocked on law blogs as "TTT," for "third-tier trash." Thomas said he doesn't believe that the best talent comes from highly ranked law schools. "I never look at those rankings. I don't even know where they are. I thought U.S. News & World Report was out of business," Thomas said. "There are smart kids every place. They are male, they are female, they are black, they're white, they're from the West, they're from the South, they're from public schools, they're from public universities, they're from poor families, they're from sharecroppers, they're from all over.... I look at the kid who shows up. Is this a kid that could work for me?"

September 24, 2012

Problems with linking Internal Revenue Service data to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid have led to delays in processing financial aid applications and, in some cases, discouraged students from enrolling, according to the Council for Opportunity in Education. The council said many of its TRIO programs, which help low-income students get ready for college, have reported problems with the data retrieval tool. The tool links students', or their families', tax information directly to the FAFSA, but students who don't use it are often asked to provide a tax transcript for verification. Because the IRS and Education Department work on different schedules, getting the transcript has been an issue for some low-income students, and some TRIO programs have reported that students aren't enrolling because of problems processing their application, said Kimberly Jones, associate vice president for public policy at the council.

The National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators said the delays have been frustrating, but they haven't heard from their members that the problems have blocked students' access to aid. Still, the problems are likely to persist, because the IRS processes some tax returns well after April 15 -- after many financial aid awards are made -- and retrieving the data will continue to be difficult. 

September 24, 2012

Shirley M. Tilghman announced Saturday that she will leave the presidency of Princeton University in June, and will return to the faculty there. Tilghman has served as president since 2001, and had an unusual route to the presidency. She had been serving as the faculty-elected member of the presidential search committee when other members of the panel asked her to leave that role so she might be considered for the presidency. As Princeton's leader, she has been a national advocate for women in science and for improvements in science education, while overseeing growth in Princeton's undergraduate student body and completion of a $1.88 billion fund-raising campaign.

 

September 24, 2012

Christopher Newport University, following a protest letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, may change its protest policy, The Daily Press reported. The university requires groups planning a protest to provide notice 10 days in advance. Last week, the university refused to grant an exception to the rule when some students wanted to protest a visit by Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate. Ryan's visit was announced only a day in advance, so there was no way those who wanted to protest could have met the university's 10-day requirement. "It is very disconcerting that an institution of higher education, which is supposed to educate young people, has instead abridged their constitutional rights," said Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. In response to the ACLU letter, the university has invited the student government to propose changes in the protest rule, and has said that it will try to have changes in place soon, given that the election season may lead to other situations similar to the Ryan visit.

 

September 24, 2012

Saylor.org, a clearinghouse for open educational resources (OER), announced on Thursday that it has teamed up with Google to offer its recently unveiled line of free online courses through Google's new massive open online course (MOOC) platform. Google leaped into the MOOC fray earlier this month with Course Builder, which it has pitched as an "open-source," do-it-yourself platform for colleges and individuals that want to adapt their courses to the trendy MOOC format.

Saylor.org, which is run by the nonprofit Saylor Foundation, recently announced it will be opening 240 peer-reviewed courses. It also announced partnerships with Excelsior College and StraighterLine that could give learners who take those courses pathways to formal college credit. Right now the Saylor courses live on their own website; the organization has not yet promised to migrate the lot of them to Google's platform -- just one for now, an introductory course in mechanics.

Google is not the only MOOC platform provider that has expressed an interest in letting other developers and course designers build freely on its code. edX, a nonprofit MOOC provider funded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been talking about making its own software platform similarly "open source."

Google's arrival in the fray has produced some unusual bedfellows. Peter Norvig, the company's director of research, has been involved with Udacity, a for-profit MOOC provider that grew out of an open teaching experiment Norvig led last year with Sebastian Thrun, a colleague of Norvig's at both Google and Stanford. Google has now made Norvig a figurehead for Course Builder, and he has been talking up a potential collaboration with edX. "edX shares in the open source vision for online learning platforms, and Google and the edX team are in discussions about open standards and technology sharing for course platforms," wrote Norvig in a blog post for Google.

"We're all still experimenting to find the most effective ways to offer education online," he says in a video introducing Course Builder. "And that's why we're so excited to be offering this initial set of tools: so that there will be more of us trying different approaches and learning what works."

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