U. of Virginia president to leave over 'philosophical differences'

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Teresa Sullivan, president for only two years, will leave position due to "philosophical differences" with board.

MIT's quick president search is a lesson in how to shorten selection timeline

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MIT's three-month presidential search suggests that with all the change going on in higher education, universities don't have the time or appetite for drawn-out selection processes.

Columbia trustee's column challenges notion that trustees should speak with one voice

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A trustee's critical column in Columbia's student paper challenges the notion that private university trustees should speak with a unified voice.

Essay calls for sustained effort by colleges to focus on economic inequality

Income and wealth inequality in the United States, which has become even more pronounced since 1967, continues to interfere with the national need for an increasingly sophisticated and skilled workforce and citizenry. Federal financial assistance to financially needy college students is a rational response to this recognized social and economic inequality.  About 30 years ago, in ways clearly demonstrated by Tom Mortenson in ”How to Limit Opportunity for Higher Education 1980 – 2011,” federal and state policy shifts placed an increasing share of the cost of higher education on students and their families, turning higher education into a commodity provided to those who could pay. Primarily as a consequence of these policies and the associated spiraling costs of attending college, the growth in the portion of our population with a college degree has been slow, increasing from 17 to 30 percent over the past 30 years.  Strikingly, the gains were made primarily by those from the wealthiest backgrounds (18 percent increase) in contrast to a small 4 percent growth, over the same 30 years, for those in the lowest socioeconomic quartile.

Globally, as various analyses show, while many countries are making solid progress in educating their populations, the United States is losing ground, slipping from first to 12th among 36 developed countries in percent of the population with a degree. Although American students from the upper quartile of the national income distribution can continue to have high expectations of completing college, their success alone is not enough for our economy and society to thrive.

If we are to educate the nation to meet the current challenges of the global economy, our democratic society, and our planet, we need to use all means possible to educate the largest number of people possible. This will require increased financial assistance for low- and moderate-income students.  Federal and state support for education is the single most rational investment we can make in our future. Yet we continue to face threats even to the inadequate support that remains today. Some current candidates for president of the United States oppose any federal role in supporting college students.

The return on investment (tax dollars) in Pell Grants and other forms of federal assistance is currently being measured by the number of degrees produced for the number of grants given.  Since data are not systematically collected, it is estimated that 30 to 50 percent of Pell recipients graduate with a bachelor’s degree in six years or an associate degree in three years.

Whatever the exact number, for some observers it is easy to conclude simplistically that the "return" is not worth the investment of tax dollars -- even at a 50 percent degree completion rate -- because those who receive Pell Grants aren’t measuring up and therefore Pell funds must be reduced. Interestingly, there is no national discussion about the effectiveness (or not) of tax credits for college tuition, which benefit those with higher incomes. And merit aid by institutions of course helps the wealthier and leaves less need-based aid.

Although finances are often among the primary reasons for student dropouts or stopouts before degree completion, higher education cannot avoid its share of the responsibility. We cannot evade blame for our own inability to innovate and respond to the students in our colleges and universities by simply pointing to their lack of financing and lack of academic preparation for higher education. We college and university administrators and faculty need to own this issue. We need to own the overall 56 percent graduation rate for all those who enroll in college -- keeping in mind that graduation rates correlate perfectly with family income level.  In 2009, the bachelor’s degree completion rates for those who enrolled in a college or university were 19.9 percent for those from the lowest income quartile, 28.2 percent for the second quartile, 51.4 percent for those from the third quartile and 97.9 percent for those from the top quartile. (Mortenson “Family Income and Educational Attainment 1970 to 2009”).

These data make clear that the crisis in higher education completion rates in the United States is really a crisis of completion for this who are not wealthy.

Copious data, like Mortenson’s cited above, indicate that a caste-like education system exists in America.  The economic group you are born into is the best predictor of your access to and completion of a college degree.  This should be unacceptable to a democracy.  It should be unacceptable to higher education.  How can we feel good about being part of an enterprise in human development that solidly succeeds only with wealthy people?

Instead of asking what’s wrong with the students who don’t complete a college education, we need to admit that something is wrong with the educational experience offered to almost half of the students who actually enroll. What is the matter with the way we are educating in the 21st century that results in these low success rates for those that we enroll?  Only if you come from the highest income quartile (over $100,000) can we feel comfortable that you will be a “good fit” and continue on the path of intellectual and social development that will lead to the awarding of a college degree.  

Is it not the responsibility of educators to address this caste-like education system and not leave the statistics for policy makers to use as justification for eliminating financial support for those who need it?  Pell Grants are currently being defined as a failure based on the graduation rates of those who receive them.  Implicit in the condemnation is a suggestion that the recipients of Pell Grants are not “college material” and so they fail to complete college.  But while Pell Grants are necessary, they are not sufficient:  Pell Grants are the means to assist in access and persistence; they are not sufficient on their own to get to the desired ends.

If Pell Grants are to succeed, then institutions must recognize their responsibility to craft learning environments for the 21st century --- collaborative learning environments that engage the whole student as well as the whole campus in learning. If we are serious about changing graduation outcomes, all current systems and processes, that constitute the way we do business, need to be reexamined putting at the center a student who may not have been on a path to college since birth and who must integrate financial and perhaps familial responsibilities into their life as a student. Rather than having this reality be the cause of attrition, how can higher education be reshaped to be inclusive of these full lives?  How do recruitment, student life, financial aid, the president’s office, advising, the athletic program, learning inside and outside of the classroom reshape themselves to better meet students where they are rather than where they might be if they came from more privileged backgrounds? Those in higher education are often called upon to apply their wisdom and creativity to finding solutions and improving outcomes that benefit all of us.  Educational inequality, particularly as it resides right within the academy, is such a challenge.

The question of financing students and financing the institutions who serve them should be addressed collectively as well: How can costs be reduced by more institutional collaboration and less duplication of services?  The demographics of those who earn their living in the academy and are responsible for the values and processes of higher education differ from those who we most need to increase their success in the academy. Yet it is exactly those who are now underrepresented in higher education -- those from low-income backgrounds, who are likely to be the first in their families to attend college, and who are likely to be from communities of color and from rural America; those who may well be the recipients of state and federal assistance -- who are the 21st-century Americans who must take their rightful places in higher education, in our economy and our civil society.

Without them, America will continue to lag behind on the global economic, political and cultural stage. All of these areas are dependent on an educated population that can create far less inequality than we seem willing to accept today. Without them, we are giving up on the power of our country to further evolve the reality of democracy as an inclusive model of how people can progress.  Instead, we are accepting increasing inequality and division among people on all measures that matter.

What is the purpose of the 3000+ institutions of higher education in our country if not to meet these students where they are and engage with them in the process of their intellectual growth?  And yes, I’ve been in the classroom and know how hard it is.  It is extra hard if you can’t take learning outside of the classroom; if you can’t shed the mantle of your own Ph.D. and admit there is much you can learn from your students and from other educators on campus; if you can’t penetrate the elitist boundary between “student life” and “academics”; if the future of your job depends on enrolling “full pay” students and achieving high rankings in U.S. News & World Report; if you see other colleges as competitors for those students and those rankings; if you are forced to function narrowly within the hierarchy of your university and the hierarchy of higher education.

Educators have the capacity as well as the responsibility to discuss, imagine and ask for the changes that are necessary for education in the 21st century. Instead of measuring the “return on Pell,” we should be measuring the success of individual colleges and universities in adding value to our society by producing graduates from among those who have been and remain underrepresented.  It’s a challenge that has been addressed by conferences, studies, books, and reports. But where are the regional and national standards to hold colleges and universities accountable for helping the country meet a critical need --  more college- educated citizens from all income backgrounds?

Those of us who have made both education and increasing social justice our life's work have a responsibility to do the work that needs to be done. It starts with being willing to change in order to help transform.

Gloria Nemerowicz, formerly the president of Pine Manor College, is founder and president of the Yes We Must Coalition.

President of Minnesota's Rochester College faces backlash in her first year

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Faculty and student leaders alike criticize leader of Minnesota's Rochester Community and Technical College over issues of spending, hiring and communication.

Latest developments in campus racial protests and responses to those protests

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1,000 complaints to U.S. Education Department in seven years; Brown releases $100 million plan to promote inclusiveness; Occidental sit-in ends after six days.

How and why American Council on Education developed the Alternate Credit Project (essay)

Last month the American Council on Education launched the Alternative Credit Project Ecosystem. Through this project, students who successfully complete courses in a pool of 111 low-cost or free lower-division general-education online offerings will have a transparent pathway to determine, prior to transferring, whether certain higher education institutions will accept those alternative credit courses. ACE has engaged 40 colleges, universities and systems that all have a strong commitment to access and attainment and that have agreed to accept a large amount, if not all, of the courses in the pool.

The project is meant to give nontraditional or underserved learners introductory knowledge upon which they can build as they pursue a formal degree or credential. It also aims to encourage greater acceptance of alternative credit recommendations among higher education institutions.

ACE believes it is important that colleges and universities consider and accept such alternative credit courses. Nontraditional students find them useful as low-cost points of re-entry into the higher education system and helpful as they strive to complete a degree program. Institutions have indicated that these types of courses serve as gateways or filters for student success, since nontraditional students who successfully complete such alternative credit courses tend to persist and graduate at higher rates than nontraditional students who have not taken such courses. These courses are thus important for the nation’s postsecondary attainment agenda on several levels.

With the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ACE has designed a process to deepen the shared understanding of how to evaluate the quality, content, scope and rigor of courses nonaccredited providers offer. The 25 founding institutions -- an additional 15 joined the project earlier this year -- provided input to ACE on subject areas to include in the project, the development of the course rubric, and the process by which institutions would determine which courses they would accept for transfer credit.

ACE invited seven nonaccredited course providers to join the project and offer the online courses: Ed4Online, edX, JumpCourse, Pearson Learning Solutions, Saylor Academy, Sophia Learning and StraighterLine. These providers submitted more than 160 courses for consideration, and we selected the final pool based on the outcomes of ACE faculty evaluation teams and institutional acceptance rates. Some of the courses that the providers submitted fell outside the scope of the project because they were in non-general education disciplines, such as criminal justice or allied health, and did not receive reviews.

Selecting the Courses

As many higher education institutions and policy makers are discovering, evaluating these types of courses requires somewhat tailored standards to ensure the quality of learning that takes place in a self-paced environment compared to that which goes on in a college classroom. Because ACE has a long history of leading academic quality evaluation processes through previous work evaluating learning that takes place in military and workplace settings, we understand that while the wide array of nontraditional courses share common features, we must also take into account key differences in assessing the effectiveness of teaching and learning that take place in different settings.

For example, we would evaluate a training course provided in a military setting somewhat differently than a training course provided in a workplace setting. The types of instruction vary -- and the kinds of assessment also vary -- in these very distinct contexts. Evaluation of alternative credit courses should differ, too, from these types of evaluation -- and the Alternative Credit Project provided us with the opportunity to learn more about the most effective methods for assessing this type of learning.

In studying how best to evaluate these nonaccredited provider courses -- across disciplines such as business, critical thinking and writing, foreign language, humanities, mathematics, natural and physical sciences, and social and behavioral sciences -- we have remained committed to providing an assurance of academic quality based on faculty evaluations that institutions can rely on. ACE does not accredit a course, a company or an institution. Rather, we recommend that a particular course is worthy of credit due to its subject matter, the knowledge a student will gain and how that knowledge aligns with what typically takes place in a formal college class in that subject area.

As with all ACE credit reviews, experienced college and university faculty members have operated as independent teams and carried out rigorous evaluations to assess the content, scope and rigor of each organization’s courses in order to make appropriate recommendations for comparable college credit. These are individuals who are teaching college-level courses at an accredited institution recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, and who have been teaching for at least five years.

The faculty reviewers used a newly designed course quality assessment rubric to evaluate the courses that qualified for review. All of the courses that were included in the Alternative Credit Project pool successfully met the rubric standards and were reviewed by faculty evaluators to ensure that the content, scope and rigor of the course aligned with what is expected in a similar course at colleges and universities across the country.

Specifically, the rubric outlined seven mandatory minimum standards for which each course was required to receive either an “effective” or “exemplary” rating in order to be included in the final pool. Those standards are: 1) articulating student expectations, 2) course organization/navigation, 3) course syllabus, 4) course objectives, 5) curriculum alignment, 6) mastery of concepts and 7) assessment criteria.

If a course failed to meet one of the mandatory minimum standards, it did not receive a credit recommendation and was not included in the final pool. If it met those minimum standards, it was evaluated against 11 additional mandatory standards: 1) student support services, 2) course provider policies, 3) functional design, 4) grading standards, 5) learning engagement, 6) active learning, 7) references and resources, 8) student grades, 9) student assessment of learning, 10) learning technology and tools, and 11) technology requirements and aptitude. Nine of those had to be deemed “effective” or “exemplary” for a course to be included in the final pool.

As an example, one course in the area of English Composition was found not to have adequate assessment criteria because a 50-question multiple choice test was used to measure learning rather than the submission of a writing sample. In another example, a humanities course did not provide adequate course organization or navigation for a student, which may contribute to low completion and success rates.

One key difference in the process used to evaluate courses that are part of the Alternative Credit Project compared to a workplace credit review is that a traditional syllabus was required for a nonaccredited provider course to be considered for inclusion in the pool. Since the participating institutions are guaranteeing that they will accept for credit a large number, if not all, of the courses in the pool, they and ACE felt that this portion of a course needed to align more closely with traditional higher education methodology. In some cases, that requirement resulted in submitted courses not receiving a credit recommendation.

Other standards against which courses did not pass muster under the rubric include grading standards, course provider policies, technology requirements and aptitude, and learning technology and tools.

In total, seven courses with prior credit recommendations under ACE’s traditional process did not measure up against the rubric and were not included in the final pool. Among them was a JumpCourse Introduction to Sociology course, which Daniel F. Sullivan, president emeritus of St. Lawrence University, recently critiqued in an Inside Higher Ed column. While the Introduction to Sociology course has value, it did not meet the parameters of the Alternative Credit Project rubric because the course learning objectives did not align with what would be found in an Introduction to Sociology course at a regionally accredited institution. In addition, most postsecondary sociology courses today require a written project, which was also missing from this course. However, seven other JumpCourse courses were accepted into the pool.

Lessons for the Future

As we continue a process of continuous improvement based on what we are learning through the Alternative Credit Project and other self-assessment processes, it is possible that some of the courses that currently have credit recommendations may have to meet an updated set of standards the next time they come up for review. In addition, ACE will be evaluating, along with participating institutions, the results for student success in the coming months and years -- both in terms of this pool of courses and also how this work might be adapted to our workplace-credit recommendation processes. That fits with ACE’s commitment to exploring new ways to improve all of our quality assessment methods.

What we have learned so far in applying the new Alternative Credit Project rubric to this pool of courses offered by an array of nonaccredited providers is insightful and promising. For example, we have found that evaluating new kinds of content and methods of delivering instruction to nontraditional students requires refinement of the processes used to evaluate other types of content and instruction more applicable to and aligned with how adult students with some prior college experience learn.

We have also learned that various approaches to online instructional design can each be successful, as long as they all meet certain basic criteria. Finally, we have found there are multiple ways in which students can demonstrate learning in different settings, even using the same modality across those settings -- such as online workplace training versus online alternative credit instruction by nonaccredited providers.

Most of all, we’ve learned that the objective is ambitious but achievable: providing nontraditional learners with additional tools to speed their path to a degree or credential, while giving higher education institutions the quality assurances they need to help those students succeed.

Deborah Seymour is the American Council on Education’s chief academic innovation officer.

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Protests and controversies over race proliferate on campuses

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Princeton agrees to consider changing role of Woodrow Wilson name on campus; white student union surfaces (online) at Illinois; black ministers want Kean president to quit; Smith students exclude journalists; Towson president signs list of demands; and more.

As campus protests continue, Princeton becomes flashpoint with debate over Woodrow Wilson

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Princeton becomes flash point in campus protests as students demand end to links to Woodrow Wilson. The same day, institution ends the use of "master" to describe leaders of residential colleges.

Role boards play in the racial debates on campuses (essay)

The long-simmering tensions related to race, ethnicity, inclusion and diversity in higher education have reached the boiling point nationally. The headlines regarding protests and demands, not only by students but also by faculty and staff members, at Claremont McKenna College, Ithaca College, the University of Missouri, Yale University and elsewhere have put such issues firmly on the agendas of boards of trustees everywhere, if they were not there already.

And those recent controversies probably have added a sense of urgency to the conversations. While some boards have been giving these matters some attention for some time, we have now reached a tipping point where all boards must step up to partner in leadership with the president.

Regardless of trustees’ personal or political views on affirmative action and other policies, boards have an important role to play in their fiduciary as well as strategic roles with respect to race and inclusion at their institutions and within the state systems that they govern. The following are some specific steps that boards should consider. They should:

Ask for numbers and climate data. Boards should request meaningful data related to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic diversity; discuss the data and trends over the past three to five years; and understand the implications of what they learn.

Beyond the data on enrollment, retention and graduation rates by race and ethnicity, Pell eligibility, and gender, boards should ask for more granular data to identify meaningful trends. In what degree programs are students of different races and ethnicities enrolling? How well are different demographics of students progressing across these various degree programs?

For instance, are white students succeeding in STEM at different rates than minority students? Does a higher percentage of minority students leave after junior year as compared to other types of students? Or do those students not return as sophomores at different rates than majority students? What about admissions and yield patterns by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status?

Another type of data to collect relates to campus climate, which differs from asking for information that the institution already has. The methodologies often include surveys, focus groups and interviews. Climate studies may be a significant undertaking, yet they can yield keen insights because they allow personal stories to emerge. They help leaders understand the actual experience of students, faculty and staff in ways that numbers alone cannot.

Ensure a comprehensive diversity plan. In addition to the need to understand current and emerging issues, boards should ensure that the institution has an intentional plan to encourage campus diversity and equity for students, faculty and staff. Such questions include: Is the plan appropriate? Does it address the right elements? Is it consistent with other institutional goals and priorities, such as those outlined in the strategic plan? Are the milestones and metrics sensible? How realistic is the timeline? Does it clarify who is responsible for what?

Hold the president accountable. A primary responsibility of boards is to ensure progress on institutional milestones and goals, and they do this by holding the president accountable. In turn, the board should be assured that the president is holding his or her staff and the faculty accountable for progress, as well. By being explicit about their expectations, the board sends an important signal that it too cares about equity in a sustained and systematic manner.

That said, any new goals must work in concert with other presidential priorities. Unrealistic goals and a constantly changing set of priorities do little to advance the institution or provide an effective North Star for progress.

Support the president. When the institution faces difficult and challenging issues -- as those involving race, diversity and inclusivity frequently are -- a board will also often need to counsel and support the president. Many presidents have and will come under fire for lack of perceived progress on objectives related to diversity and equity. While some deserve the criticisms they receive, others are and have been working diligently on this agenda.

Given the sense of frustration on many campuses, the way forward is often unclear, with no road map. There are no simple, proven strategies or silver-bullet solutions. If progress on diversity were easy, higher education -- and the nation -- would be farther along on these lasting challenges.

Acknowledge complexity. Change in the academy can be difficult and seem slow, much to the frustration of some trustees. The complex and often contentious issues of diversity and inclusion are adaptive challenges, not technical problems with quick fixes or clear answers. In fact, treating these issues as technical problems in order to apply a tried solution may only exacerbate them.

Instead, boards must work with the president, staff, faculty and students to examine the issues, acknowledge the complexity of views of multiple stakeholders, think critically about them, define what can be done and take steps forward -- in some cases boldly, and in others more incrementally.

Make sure a campus protest plan is in place. Headline-grabbing protests have occurred at a handful of campuses and are likely to unfold at others. It is impossible to say which institutions might face significant protests. Boards should help ensure that their campuses are prepared for possible protests and know their role if such protests emerge. Intentional conversations with campus leaders can help articulate a strategy and minimize any risks to people, property and reputations.

Develop a media strategy specifically for the board. An effective approach includes clarifying questions with the board such as: Who speaks for the board? Who crafts the talking points? What do rank-and-file board members say or not say if they are approached by the media?

Any communication strategies also need to attend to social media. How are the institution and the board monitoring it? What are the means of communication that the board should pursue or try to minimize? What are the priority outlets where the board and institution should focus their attention? How agile can such media strategies be if the platforms shift, from, say, Twitter to Instagram?

Discuss lessons learned from other industries, fields or sectors. Many trustees are highly effective leaders in their own industries and fields. They may have lessons and insights to share from outside of higher education that can help campus leaders.

For instance, many corporations and nonprofit organizations have made tremendous strides related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Others may have lessons to share from failed efforts that can also be illuminating. Boards should not shy away from serving as counselors when they have insights to share.

At the same time, savvy boards know that not all ideas from corporate or other settings transfer smoothly into higher education. Discovering what applies well or not can only happen through a candid dialogue between the board and the administration.

Look in the mirror. Most boards themselves have a lot of work to do regarding their own diversity. According to the most recent survey of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the racial and ethnic diversity of boards has not increased significantly over many years. Thus, boards should consider the ways in which issues of diversity, inclusion, voice, power and perspective play out in their own boardrooms.

Key questions to ask include: How diverse is the board? To what extent does it mirror the campus or larger community? What are the experiences of minority board members? Do they feel their voices matter consistently? How well has the board retained minority members? Do they hold positions of board leadership?

Such conversations can be difficult to frame and hold, much like what is occurring on college campuses -- yet they are essential for the board to have. People on the campus must know the board is as serious about addressing such issues within itself as it is within the institution.

Build the campus culture by design, not default. Values matter greatly in the academy. In their dialogues with key stakeholders, boards should always think about the campus culture they want to build and the values they hold most dear and want to perpetuate. Those values should be pervasive throughout the campus -- so embedded in the culture (part of the ethos of the place) that they define all interactions and are defended at all costs. Boards should spend time learning how students experience the climate and culture, what shapes the student experience, and whether that differs across diverse groups and individuals.

Listen to students, faculty and staff. Trustees often are most comfortable in a problem-solving mode. But what may better serve their institutions is simply to be able to listen and empathize with students, withholding immediate judgment. Boards must remember that the heart of the matter is about students, their experience and their success. Moving too fast to solutions without understanding the nuance of the issues may provide a short-term sense of progress but create more significant challenges in the future. Building bridges between the board and students and other groups on the campus may be more important now than it has been in the last decade.

In sum, the challenges of race/ethnicity and equity are longstanding in the academy. Ten years ago, the American Council on Education released a report aimed at new presidents about leadership strategies for campus diversity, Leadership Strategies for Advancing Campus Diversity. The insights still resonate today, because unfortunately the challenges remain even if the stakes are higher now. In addition to the work of administrators, faculty and staff, board members have the potential to add value in creating a campus culture that is truly open, welcoming, respectful, diverse and inclusive.

Peter Eckel is a senior fellow and the director of leadership programs at the University of Pennsylvania’s Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy. Cathy Trower is president of Trower & Trower Inc., a board governance consulting firm.

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