Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011 - 3:00am

Another day, another flurry of activity related to federal regulation of for-profit colleges. The Government Accountability Office announced Tuesday that an internal investigation into its August report on for-profit institutions had concluded that the office had shown "no bias or conflict of interest" in producing the report, which was released months later with numerous corrections. Advocates for the colleges have gone so far as to sue the agency for "professional malpractice," but the GAO inquiry concedes only that "there were process, supervisory and analytical weaknesses that led to errors and missing context" that were corrected in the followup report. Officials at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities said they were "extremely disappointed" by the agency's statement and by its failure to make the internal report public. “The fox is not only guarding the henhouse, he’s writing reviews about his own performance,” said Harris Miller, the group's president. “Forgive us if we are not convinced.”

Meanwhile, in a speech on the Senate floor late Monday, Senator Tom Harkin laid out a new series of accusations about the recruiting practices of for-profit colleges. Citing documents collected as part of his committee's investigation into the sector, he discussed comments in which admissions officials at Kaplan University and ITT urge recruiters to capitalize on students' "pain" and "fears" about their futures to encourage them to enroll. “Rather than offering students a better life, these types of strong-arm, emotionally abusive tactics are all too typical of schools that have little or no interest in providing students the academic help and support they need to succeed," Harkin said. "When these types of deceptive and exploitative tactics are used to enroll students, we should not be surprised to see high drop out and high default rates as a result.”

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 3:00am

The annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology this year was dominated by a talk charging that the disciplines represented in the organization may have a bias against conservatives, The New York Times reported. Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia made his point by polling the audience of 1,000 scholars and asking by shows of hands how many of them identified themselves in various political ways. He found that about 80 percent called themselves liberals, a few dozen said that they were centrists or libertarians, and only three said they were conservatives. "This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity," Haidt said, given that 40 percent of Americans identify as conservatives. He told the Times that social psychologists are a "tribal-moral community" with values that may hinder research and make them fail to see their hostility toward non-liberals.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 3:00am

Robert E. Witt, president of the University of Alabama, sent an e-mail to all students and faculty members denouncing the reported use of a racial slur by a white student against a black student, The Birmingham News reported. "The words that were used are offensive to our community, and are especially upsetting to African Americans," he wrote. "I want to emphasize in the strongest possible terms that the University of Alabama finds this behavior totally unacceptable, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken," The News also reported that the fraternity from which the white student reportedly shouted the word has suspended him. Some students are saying that the incident was "isolated," but others say it is not. "I have five good friends and all of us have been called the n-word at one time or another here," said Crystalline Jones, a junior at the university.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Alma College's William Gorton reveals that while Americans have displayed increasing intelligence over the past century, our political discourse has yet to follow. Find out more about the Academic Minute here. (This podcast can be downloaded directly here.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 3:00am

The heads of the California State University and University of California systems said Monday that their boards would absorb hundreds of millions of dollars in state budget cuts without raising tuition, The Sacramento Bee reported. At a news conference before UC President Mark G. Yudof and Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed testified at a legislative hearing, they and the president of the California Community Colleges, Jack Scott, said the institutions would absorb a total of $1.4 billion in cuts ($500 million each for the university systems and $400 million for the two-year colleges) through program cuts and some enrollment limits. (The community colleges plan a $10 per unit increase in student fees.) The university systems have raised tuitions sharply in recent years, but said they would forgo increases this year unless voters reject tax extensions that Governor Jerry Brown has proposed for a June election.

The campus leaders said that they hope legislators will give the systems increased flexibility and more stable financing going forward in exchange for the newest round of cuts. "We're saying, 'I don't like it. I don't want to do it, but I'm willing to do it for the CSU if there is a future to reinvest in California and have a conversation about what kind of California do we want for our kids, what kind of economy do we want, what kind of people do we want in the work force," Reed said. "So this one time, sure. I'm willing to sacrifice because every public agency is going to have to sacrifice something."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 3:00am

College financial aid offices are so pinched by the costs of complying with federal regulations that they are shortchanging students as a result, aid directors said in a survey by their national group. The survey by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators found that 90 percent of campus financial aid officers "reported having fewer resources to dedicate to critical student services that promote college access, success, and successful student loan repayment," and that most respondents cited the increased demands of complying with federal rules as a primary cause of the dearth of resources.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 3:00am

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges -- which accredits two-year institutions in California, Hawaii and several Pacific island nations and territories as part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges -- has placed one two-year institution on probation and taken several others off. At its meeting last month, the accreditor placed San Jose City College on probation on the basis of a comprehensive evaluation. The San Jose Mercury News reports that, among a number of deficiencies cited in a recent letter from the accreditor, San Jose City College was told “to make changes to ensure financial solvency,” “establish a climate of trust and respect” with the new chancellor of its district, and “better assess student learning outcomes.” Crafton Hills College, Diablo Valley College and Solano Community College were removed from probation after follow-up visits. The Western accreditor continued the probations of Berkeley City College, College of Alameda, Cuesta College, Laney College, Merritt College, and Southwestern College.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 3:00am

Canadian universities are once again debating whether it is appropriate to support anti-abortion groups. Carleton University, in Ottawa, revoked the club status of Carleton Lifeline, saying that it violated campus rules by seeking to limit the rights of women, The Canadian Press reported. Several other universities have made similar moves, but critics of the decisions (who are not necessarily anti-abortion) say that these actions limit freedom of expression.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 3:00am

When the U.S. Education Department holds a meeting today to gather feedback about new rules on incentive compensation, many interested parties will be there -- with one big exception. An e-mail invited higher education officials and other parties to "share [their] questions and concerns to help inform our anticipated upcoming guidance regarding the rule." Unless, that is, they happen to be from the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the main lobbying group for for-profit colleges, or from one of its members. The association has sued the department over the incentive compensation regulation and two other rules. "As you may be aware, APSCU recently filed a complaint against the Department challenging the legality of the incentive compensation rule. In accepting the invitation to meet, you are certifying that you or your parent company are not members or affiliate members of APSCU, and that you have no connection to the filing of the claims by APSCU."

A department spokesman could not be reached for comment. The president and CEO of the college group, Harris N. Miller, said via e-mail that his association has "asked for and been granted a separate meeting with ED to air our concerns about the incentive compensation regulation. We find it strange that the lawsuit has anything to do with who is or is not invited.... Such behavior is enough to make one more than a little paranoid and also wonder what happened to Obama's transparency in government."

Monday, February 7, 2011 - 3:00am

Villanova University's Law School "knowingly" gave false information about the LSAT scores and grade-point averages of entering students to the American Bar Association, the dean admitted in a letter sent to alumni late last week. The letter was published on the blog Above the Law. The dean, John Y. Gotanda, said that the practice was uncovered during a study by a law school committee to assess the effectiveness of various academic programs at the law school. Villanova then conducted its own review and obtained an outside audit to determine the extent of the problem. The data reported are those used by U.S. News & World Report and others to rank law schools.


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