Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 1, 2013

A standardized test taker filed a multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit against ACT and the College Board for selling personal information about her and millions of American high schoolers.

The lawsuit, filed this week in a federal district court in Illinois, seeks more than $5 million in damages from the test makers for “unfair, immoral, unjust, oppressive and unscrupulous” conduct. Namely, the plaintiff, a Cook County woman about which little else is known, alleges that ACT and the College Board do not tell test takers what will be done with their personal information. She said test takers are asked if ACT and the College Board can "share" personal information with others. That is misleading, the lawsuit alleges, because the information is in fact sold and test takers -- almost entirely high school teens -- become part of a multimillion-dollar money-generating machine for ACT and the College Board.

The test makers have long sold high school students’ personal information to colleges that want to market to students. The current price is about 37 or 38 cents per name. Colleges are using increasingly sophisticated data mining techniques to recruit and shape their classes. Colleges can use such information to deny admission to students and perhaps reduce financial aid awards.

A spokesman for ACT said it would not comment on pending litigation but that the lawsuit was a “unique instance," meaning ACT at least has not previously faced such a challenge. The College Board could not immediately say if it had ever faced such a lawsuit and would not comment on ongoing litigation, but a spokeswoman said, “as a guiding principle in all we do, the College Board takes very seriously the privacy, security and confidentiality of information entrusted to us by the students in our care.”

Three Illinois attorneys representing the woman bringing the lawsuit did not respond to messages seeking comment.

November 1, 2013

Strayer Education announced Thursday that it would close about 20 physical campuses, mostly in the Midwest, to cut costs in response to a 17 percent year-over-year enrollment drop that has sharply reduced its revenues. Strayer is the latest for-profit higher education provider (and among the last) to curtail its on-ground presence in the wake of the double whammy of a tough economy and increased regulatory oversight. The campus closures will affect about 5 percent of the company's roughly 50,000 students, Strayer said; those students will be encouraged to shift to the university's online programs, where most of them already study. (An email sent to students at the affected campuses said those who enrolled in spring courses would receive a $500 voucher toward the purchase of a new computer or mobile device.)

Strayer also said that it would cut its tuition price by about 20 percent effective in January.

November 1, 2013

Maryland officials and lawyers for the state's public historically black colleges have agreed to mediation on what to do about a federal judge's ruling that the state has discriminated against the colleges by permitting duplicative programs to be set up at nearby predominantly white institutions, the Associated Press reported. The judge in last month's ruling suggested that the state and the colleges would be well served by mediation, as opposed to the judge outlining a full plan for dealing with the discrimination.


November 1, 2013

A group of Northeastern University students stormed the library quad in a flash mob performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” Thursday, in support of the university’s adjuncts’ union drive. About a dozen Empower Adjuncts Student Coalition members broke out in dance and song, changing the lyrics of Jackson’s creepy classic to reflect their cause. Here’s the first verse: “It's after midterms, and we're all gasping sighs of relief/But across campus, injustice has its claws sunk in deep/They're everywhere: teachers without proper compensation/Poverty wages, no offices or job security -- and we don't agree.” And the chorus? “It's time for adjunct, adjunct rights/We're building up momentum, the fuse is set alight/We've got to stand up, fight the fight/Let's organize together to make things better, better tonight.”

Similar events took place throughout the week at campuses nationwide, as part of the United Students Against Sweatshops’ “Hallo-Week of Action” against what it calls low-wage worker “exploitation” in higher education, and Campus Equity Week, a national, adjunct-driven campaign to raise awareness of their working conditions.

But Northeastern students said they were protesting in particular the university’s recent hiring of Jackson, Lewis, a New York-based law firm specializing in “labor and preventive practices,” among other areas, according to its website, as outside counsel for a union drive there. Sophomore Troy Neves said the student group hoped to encourage university administrators to “remain neutral” as adjuncts attempt to organize under the Service Employees International Union. Tufts University adjuncts recently voted to unionize with SEIU, which seeks to organize adjuncts across Boston, but Bentley University adjuncts recently voted down a union effort there.

Mike Armini, a Northeastern spokesman, said the university had met with concerned students recently, telling them the firm had been hired to help the university “navigate” the intricacies of labor law related to the union drive. He referred questions about the university’s position on the drive to a letter to part-time faculty from Stephen Director, the provost. “Ultimately, the decision about whether to support SEIU or not is yours,” the letter reads. “We do want to emphasize that the issue of union representation is of critical importance to every faculty member, including you, as well as to the university as a whole. Therefore, we urge you not to remain uninvolved. However you may feel about this issue, please make your voice count.”

November 1, 2013

Johnson C. Smith University announced 21 non-faculty layoffs Thursday (as well as the freezing of 30 unfilled positions) in response to a significant enrollment decline this fall, The Charlotte Observer reported. A year ago, fall enrollment at the university set a record at 1,801, but this fall it ended up at 1,387. A key factor in the decline, officials said, was tighter rules on loan eligibility that resulted in some students or families being denied loans that they received in the past -- an issue that has been a source of frustration at many historically black colleges this year.


November 1, 2013

Twenty-nine of the 64 State University of New York campuses will modify their sexual assault policies and procedures to align with each other and with federal law, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights announced Thursday. The resolution agreement concludes a three-year compliance review, one of OCR’s “proactive” efforts undertaken not because of an individual complaint but because of a combined set of factors, among them SUNY's size. The agreement does not apply to SUNY’s community college campuses, each of which has its own governing board and financial structure. Still, it is OCR’s most impactful agreement to date in terms of reach: 219,000 students and 70,000 employees will be subject to the new policies. (Note: This item has been corrected from an earlier version to clarify that this was a voluntary agreement reached between SUNY and OCR.)

As part of the investigation, OCR reviewed 159 cases of alleged sexual harassment at four SUNY campuses. Officials found that in some instances complainants did not receive “prompt or adequate investigations,” did not receive notice of the outcome of their complaints, or were not provided equal opportunities to attend pre-hearing conferences or present evidence and witnesses at their hearing.

The agreement requires the campuses to make several adjustments to comply with Title IX, including: designating a Title IX coordinator at each campus; setting up procedures for 24-hour reporting; providing sexual harassment training for all staff; conducting annual climate reviews; and ensuring all students and staff know their rights and options under Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination. Those steps are more or less consistent with changes colleges entering resolution agreements have been ordered to make since OCR issued its April 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter.

November 1, 2013

"Full Moon on the Quad" is a tradition at Stanford University in which students kiss one another at midnight on the first full moon of the fall semester. The New York Times reported on how Stanford officials try to make sure people are kissed only when they want to be (the use of slogans like "Consent Is Sexy") and that the event doesn't result in the mass spread of germs (students with colds are discouraged from participating, and students are encouraged to use mouthwash, but not to brush or floss beforehand).

November 1, 2013

Massive open online course provider Coursera will provide physical spaces in which to use its digital content, the company announced on Thursday. Along with five partner organizations, including the U.S. State Department, Coursera will establish "Learning Hubs" at more than 20 locations around the world, including at campuses and U.S. embassies.

The hubs will provide free access to the Internet and Coursera's MOOCs, but the company is also promising a more traditional learning experience. Some courses will feature in-person sessions, which can range from tutoring to discussions, moderated by a "local facilitator who has familiarity with the subject."

Coursera's announcement is the latest in a trend of MOOC providers expanding abroad. In the past month alone, Coursera and edX have both targeted China to broaden the scope of their platforms.

November 1, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Elaine Handley of Empire State College explores the long literary tradition of writing about inanimate objects. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 1, 2013

The University of Oregon has discovered that some employees working on federal grants padded their pay by putting in for hours they didn't work, The Oregonian reported. The university has already repaid the government $330,000 as a result, and officials said that there are other employee pay records that are still being investigated.



Back to Top