Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 3:00am

The State University of New York at Stony Brook is today announcing a $150 million gift from James and Marilyn Simons and the Simons Foundation. The gift is the largest ever to Stony Brook or any SUNY campus, and comes from donors who have already been generous to the university. James Simons has been a strong advocate for giving the SUNY system's research universities more autonomy and more control over their funds, and has said in the past that he would be motivated to give more if he saw movement in that direction. Shifts in the last year gave more authority over tuition revenue to the SUNY system. The $150 million gift will support medical research, new endowed professorships, and funds to recruit top undergraduate and graduate students.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 4:36am

A new report from the College Board finds that progress toward increasing degree attainment in the United States has been minimal in recent years. The report, consistent with numerous other reports, suggests that -- barring major changes -- the United States will miss various goals set by the College Board and other groups for much higher levels of degree attainment. The College Board's goal is that by 2025, 55 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 would have an associate degree. The most recent data, the organization said, show that figure at 41.1 percent.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 3:00am

Because expected state revenues did not materialize, the University of California and California State University systems must each cut an additional $100 million from their operating budgets, California Governor Jerry Brown announced Tuesday. The cuts come on top of $650 million each system had to cut after the budget was finalized this summer. The community college system, also facing new cuts, will probably increase tuition $10 per unit, starting with the summer 2012 session, on top of a $10 increase imposed this fall. In total, the cuts to higher education and other services will total about $1 billion.

The cuts are not entirely unexpected. When Brown signed the state budget in June, many said revenue projections were too optimistic. The Davis Enterprise quoted a University of California spokesman as saying that the system planned to absorb the additional cut and would not ask campuses to contribute.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 4:38am

The Illinois prepaid tuition program is short by about 30 percent -- or nearly $560 million -- to meet the obligations it has made to families, The Chicago Tribune reported. The article is based on a new report by actuarial accountants. The state stopped selling new contracts in the program in September, but has yet to figure out how to meet the commitments the program has already made.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 3:00am

While many business schools are struggling with decreased interest in M.B.A. programs, those business schools that are at the top of the prestige lists are spending much more to attract top students, Fortune reported. Among "top 20" programs, at least four business schools -- those of Harvard, Northwestern and Yale Universities and the University of California at Los Angeles -- have increased average scholarship values by more than 100 percent since 2004-5, the magazine reported. "It is an arms race," said Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. "The race has gotten so hot, so fast that schools are using operating money to pay for a lot of these scholarships. No one had ever, ever done that in M.B.A. land. Almost everybody is doing it now."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 3:00am

Members of the faculty at Shorter University, which recently instituted new faith statements that, among other requirements, ban gay staff members, have consulted with the American Association of University Professors, which is concerned that the new requirements threaten academic freedom. In a letter to the university's president, Donald Dowless, and Joe Frank Harris Jr., chairman of the board, the AAUP's associate secretary wrote that the association wished "to convey its concerns over the ramification of these requirements for the exercise of academic freedom at Shorter University."

"Additional allegations we have received about adverse actions that the administration has already taken against faculty members" add to the organization's concerns, Associate Secretary Robert Kreiser wrote. The faith statements have caused an uproar at the Georgia Baptist university, which did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 3:00am

When the time comes for a freshman to move on to sophomore year, the odds that the college retains him might hinge on whether it retained his friends. Relationships are more important than a student’s academic ability, financial aid, ethnicity or socioeconomic status in determining whether he will complete the transition to a second year, according to a new study published in Social Psychology of Education. Researchers at Rhodes College, a small liberal arts institution in Tennessee, and Welch Consulting in Washington analyzed the social networks of the institution’s entire class of 2012, examining the social and academic connections between things such as course registrations, team and club rosters, and residence hall records. Unsurprisingly, James Eckles and Eric Stradley found that students “on the outside of the social network” are more at risk for attrition. But they also found that whether a student’s friends stick around makes a difference -- every friend who left made a student five times more likely to leave, and every friend who stayed made a student 2.25 times more likely to stay.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 4:27am

An arrest warrant has been issued for the former Dean College freshman who was seen on video attacking a student in a fight over a pair of sneakers, The Boston Herald reported. Images from the video -- in which other students watched and cheered, but did not intervene -- stunned many, prompting many to wonder why no arrests had been made. (The college expelled a total of nine students in the incident.) Authorities said other arrest warrants may be issued, but that the former freshman being charged was the "primary aggressor" in the case.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Barbara Landau of Johns Hopkins University reveals what she has learned about how the brain creates art from her research with a talented artist working to recover from a brain injury. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 3:00am

Congressional negotiators are close to reaching agreement on a $1 trillion budget for the federal government in 2012, with a vote expected by the end of the week. The measure would draw from competing House and Senate budget plans to pay for the Pell Grant Program, enacting changes to both the grant program itself and to subsidized undergraduate student loans.

The six-month grace period on subsidized student loans, in which the government currently pays the interest after a borrower leaves college, would be eliminated, saving about $400 million for the fiscal year. The length of time over which a student can be eligible for a Pell Grant would reportedly also be cut to 12 semesters from the current 18, which would affect about 62,000 students, according to a lobbyist with a higher education association. Students without a high school diploma or equivalent credential will also reportedly be barred from receiving Pell Grants, and the family income at which the government would expect a recipient of federal financial aid to contribute nothing to the cost of his or her education would drop from $30,000 to $20,000 per year.

Senate Democrats had proposed the change to the interest rate subsidy; the other cuts were drawn from a House Republican budget plan. But other proposed cuts in the House plan would not be enacted, including a proposed change to the income protection allowance that the American Council on Education estimated could affect up to 400,000 students.

Full details on the final bill are expected today.

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