The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today announced it was seeking proposals for the creation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) designed to serve as remedial and other general education courses, which are often stumbling blocks for lower income students. The foundation said in its request for proposals that it hopes to encourage high-quality MOOCs that could help improve college completion rates. Currently, most MOOCs are geared to upper-division classes. "Ultimately, our vision is that MOOCs may provide institutions a way to blend MOOC content into formal courses with more intensive faculty, advising and peer support and also provide students an alternative and direct path to credit and credentials," the foundation said.
Higher Education Quick Takes
A new ranking of colleges -- the Alumni Factor -- will debut today. As the name suggests, most of the criteria are based on alumni views of their own colleges. Only 2 of the 15 criteria do not come from alumni surveys. Four of the criteria are related to wealth: average household income, percentage of graduates in high-income households (above $150,000), average net worth of households, and percentage of graduates in high net worth households (above $1 million). Other criteria -- such as preparation for job success and immediate job opportunities -- focus on careers generally, not pay. The new ranking effort is led by Monica McGurk, formerly of McKinsey and Company. In an interview, McGurk said that her company has figured out a reliable way to get representative samples of alumni to survey and that these names are not provided by their alma maters. She said that typically about 200 alumni are needed per college, and that they are evenly distributed in age, but that people are not surveyed until they are at least two years out of college. She declined to say how the company identifies the alumni.
Asked if her system favors colleges that educate investment bankers over, say, teachers, given the wealth-based criteria, McGurk said that it did not. She noted that other criteria in her methodology, such as friendship development at college, and social and communication skill development, have nothing to do with salaries or wealth. And she said some colleges that have over the years educated many teachers (she named Spelman College as an example) did quite well in her rankings. While the criteria are ranked equally in the Alumni Factor methodology, the company will offer a tool for prospective students to set their own methodology in the rankings, so they can count factors they care about, and not others.
The Alumni Factor plans to make money by offering low-cost access to its rankings, with the idea that students and families will want to see them, and that some alumni may as well. The company also plans to sell its data to colleges that may be able to compare themselves to peers, having access to aggregate data. McGurk declined to say how much the company would be charging colleges.
Stanford University researchers are using MRI images to study the brain patterns of literary Ph.D. candidates while they read Jane Austen. The early results suggest a very high level of brain activity prompted by close reading of the novelist.
As more colleges -- public and private -- are coming to rely on community college transfers, four-year institutions are doing more to welcome them, The Los Angeles Times reported. Four-year institutions are creating special orientation programs for transfers, setting aside space in campus housing, creating clubs and offering scholarships.
A Towson University student who sparked debate last year by founding a chapter of Youth for Western Civilization is now trying to create a White Student Union, The Baltimore Sun reported. The group he created last year has fallen apart after losing its faculty adviser. L. Victor Collins, assistant vice president of student affairs for diversity, said the proposed group would be evaluated like all others, based on non-political criteria. While Collins said he supported the group's First Amendment rights, he questioned the need for a white organization. "They think they are a parallel comparison to the Black Student Union," he said. "In my observation in American society and history, I don't know if white students have been discriminated against or denied access to institutions. This is a predominantly white institution. I don't understand why they have to [form a group]."
Campaigns by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Native American groups have led most universities that had Native American team names to eliminate them. But Eastern Michigan University, one of those universities, is bringing back (in part) use of the Hurons logo that was replaced with Eagles in 1991, The Detroit News reported. The marching band will now have uniforms that include the Eagles, the Hurons and the Normalites (the original logo). Officials say that they are not violating the NCAA ban (because of an exemption for historical uses of old names) and that the use of all three mascots on the uniform will unite alumni from different eras. Some alumni who remain loyal to the Hurons name are cheering the shift. But Fay Givens, director of American Indian services, said, "I don't like native people being used as mascots in any situation."
In today’s Academic Minute, Nancy Kiang of Columbia University’s Earth Institute explains a recent discovery that hints at the potential color of extraterrestrial plant life. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
The debt collection industry is benefiting from the large numbers of people in default on their student loans, The New York Times reported. In the last fiscal year, the U.S. Education Department paid collection agencies more than $1.4 billion to try to collect debts. Critics argue that the government should be doing more to help borrowers avoid default, rather than focusing on collecting the debts. The article opens with a column from a collection industry trade publication in which the author describes attending a rally at New York University at which students angry about debt wore T-shirts with their large, personal debt totals on them -- $95,000, $60,000 and so forth. "As I wandered around the crowd of NYU students at their rally protesting student debt at the end of February, I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represented – for our industry," the columnist wrote. "It was lip-smacking."
Representative Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican running for re-election, said in a recent town hall meeting that student loans -- while potentially doing good -- may be unconstitutional, The Washington Post reported. Bartlett said that he had searched the U.S. Constitution and found no justification for a federal role in education, including student loans. "Not that it’s not a good idea to give students loans, it certainly is a good idea to give them loans,” Bartlett said. “But if you can ignore the Constitution to do something good today, tomorrow you will be ignoring the Constitution to do something bad. You could. There are more people in our, in America today of German ancestry than any other [inaudible]. The Holocaust that occurred in Germany — how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope."
Asked about the statement on Thursday, a spokesman for Bartlett said that he "is also a strong supporter of making college accessible to all Americans, and unlike most politicians he has put his money where his mouth is by donating a substantial portion of his salary to help underprivileged students attend college.”