Admissions / registrar

Babson Group reflects on final report on online education enrollments

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The 13th and final annual report on online education enrollments by the Babson Group shows how much the market has grown since 2002 -- and how little it has changed.

Goucher reports that students admitted via video did better academically than other students

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Goucher says students admitted on the basis of a short film did better academically than those who applied in traditional ways. But is sample large enough to be meaningful?

Princeton University will resume transfer admissions for first time since 1990

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Experts see move as one sign of increased interest by highly competitive colleges in transfers.

Competency-based education threatens to further stratify higher education (essay)

Among the calls for university reform currently in circulation, competency-based education appears to be the one, at least at the moment, that has gained a bit of traction.

This is due largely to a funding push by the Lumina and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations, advocacy by groups such as the American Association of Colleges & Universities that have promoted a particular version of CBE, and a somewhat hesitant thumbs-up from the U.S. Department of Education, which has recently put in place a program to encourage experiments with competency-based approaches and other forms of experimentation in its Educational Quality Through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) program.

In the presidential campaign, CBE has also gained some limited attention for being one of the central planks of Marco Rubio’s plan to transform higher education.

Resurrected from the archive of failed education experiments, CBE has recently undergone a conceptual makeover to become the poster child for various reform-minded groups seeking to disrupt higher education. Some see it as a way to provide a “more relevant 21st-century general education curriculum” (i.e., to turn universities into soft-skill vocational programs, aka Jebification).

Others want to use CBE as a means to “personalize learning” (i.e., to place all students in front of a screen, aka Zuckerberging). While still others see it as a way to “increase time to degree completion” (i.e., to get students in and out as quickly and cheaply as possible, aka Gatesification or Merisotising).

In some higher education settings, CBE has led to the creation of entirely new degree programs, primarily at online universities such as Capella, Western Governors and Southern New Hampshire’s College for America. In other, more brick-and-mortar locales, it has served as a means to restructure general education, such as found in institutions that are part of the AAC&U’s General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs) project.

However, in the rush to emphasize marketable skills over a deeper liberal knowledge content, proponents of CBE in all forms are forcing students (particularly the underserved in lower-tier institutions, whom they claim to be helping) into a “knowledge-less” version of liberal learning in order to “hurry things along” and not get in the way of their job training.

Despite the rhetoric of “serving the underserved” and “closing the skills gap,” they are responsible for generating new hierarchies between those who receive a cheap, fast food-style or “good enough” education from those who receive a quality one. They are forging new barriers and strata in an already highly stratified higher education system, not removing them as they often claim.

CBE stands in marked contrast to a past emphasis on quality, across-the-board liberal learning to be acquired regardless of the type of student or institution that was at the heart of general liberal education. This was partly what a Dewey-style social democratic vision of liberal arts education was supposed to be about -- general knowledge available to and shared by all -- a kindergarten for adults.

CBE essentially gives up on this dream of democratizing knowledge and promotes a division between those who need a thorough, content-centered liberal education and those who only need a light, fast and vocation-friendly version. It suggests that the big questions, or what the British sociologist Basil Bernstein referred to as powerful or sacred knowledge, where the unimaginable becomes imagined, is not really relevant for most middle- and working-class students who attend community colleges and regional state universities where most of the CBE experiments are being played out.

These students will not need to concern themselves with the bigger questions of theoria -- those can be left up to those with more elite training who will occupy the corridors of power, making laws and running things, but can instead stick to the mundane knowledge and the basics of everyday praxis happening in their assigned cubicles.

In this new model, students in more elite institutions will go on receiving broad liberal training and having access to powerful knowledge as a core part of their university experience, while those at lower-tier public institutions will be loaded up with watered-down, box-checking skills and vague competencies like “critical thinking” or “intercultural understanding” to be provided by standardized, online platforms.

In the market-centered spirit of our times, the move to CBE is presented as simply a matter of the new economic realities of higher education in the age of austerity and state budget constraints, or as a matter of “consumer choice” where wily student consumers and their parents comparison shop at the knowledge mall and select the educational experience that provides “more bang for the buck.”

However, on closer inspection the move to CBE is much more politically scripted than mandated by the inevitability of the economics of higher education. It is, in short, an economically biased political experiment of epic proportions. It creates, as Guy Standing describes it, an education system that is “restructured to stream youth into the flexible labor system, based on a privileged elite, a small technical working class and a growing precariat.”

CBE as a policy only makes sense if we place it in the larger ongoing political project of public realm minimization. Here the activities of public institutions and publicly funded services are reduced to a bare-bones, absolute minimal level of functioning in order to “create efficiencies” and induce “taxpayer savings.”

When this happens public services, such as schools, some hospitals and public transportation, and even the public domain itself, become chronically underfunded and prone to dramatic and often willy-nilly cuts. This minimization generates uncertainty, competition and conflict within the organization servicing the public and produces the inability to provide adequate or even second-rate services.

This often magnifies calls for public sector reforms, such as more businesslike models of new public management, privatization and increased auditing and accountability. As this process continues onward, budget cycle after budget cycle, services may become so reduced that the system either slows to a crawl or breaks down entirely (think of the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Flint, Mich., water supply). In turn those who are serviced by these organizations develop an extreme cynicism and even revulsion toward public services. When politically inflamed, as with Scott Walker in Wisconsin, this cynicism stokes antiunion and antiprofessional sentiments, where public sector unions are blamed for having too much guild-like power and draining away public resources.

What this all means is the CBE is not just a statement about the future of a certain segment of American higher education but one about what opportunities should be there for those who partake of public services. Are these services to be on par with those in the private sector in the social democratic spirit, or are they to be cheap, reduced-rate imitations that can only be avoided by those with the right purchasing power?

Steven C. Ward is professor of sociology at Western Connecticut State University and author of Neoliberalism and the Global Restructuring of Knowledge and Education (Routledge).

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NYU questions Common Application on value of asking applicants about criminal records

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NYU asks Common Application if it can demonstrate the value of asking applicants about their criminal or disciplinary records. If there is no proof, does that change the debate?

NCAA punishes Louisiana-Lafayette over test fraud, and university sues ACT

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NCAA punishes U of Louisiana-Lafayette over egregious case of test fraud -- and the university in turn sues ACT over its role.

New Jersey higher ed is doing just fine, thank you (essay)

While one interpretation of recent IPEDS data (by Matt Reed in Inside Higher Ed's “Confessions of a Community College Dean” blog) might “suggest that more young people want out of New Jersey than want in,” a closer look at the numbers indicates that New Jersey is retaining just about as many of its students as it can. We are also making investments in facilities to maintain -- and, we hope, expand -- our ability to serve the state's students, who in turn will build the backbone of our workforce.

The high net outmigration of first-time degree-seeking undergraduates is an old story in New Jersey. The New Jersey Higher Education Task Force, chaired by former Governor Tom Kean, wrote in its December 2010 report:

In part because of a lack of college capacity, New Jersey has a too-long history of losing more college-bound students than attend in state. In fact, New Jersey has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in net outmigration of college-bound students, earning New Jersey the nickname of the “cuckoo bird” state, since the cuckoo bird lays its eggs in other birds’ nests.

We could note that the roadrunner is a species of cuckoo, so it’s no wonder so many students quickly leave New Jersey. But a closer and more serious look at the IPEDS data shows that New Jersey’s institutions strongly attract -- and well serve -- New Jersey’s students.

The College Board’s "Trends in College Pricing" report for 2015 indicated that 93 percent of first-time students at public four-year colleges in New Jersey were residents of New Jersey. We have been at that level for at least 10 years. In fact, New Jersey attracts a higher percentage of its own students to stay for college than any state in the U.S. other than Alaska (we are tied at 93 percent) and Texas (94 percent). More recent data being compiled by the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities (NJASCU) indicate that the figure is even higher for the eight member institutions of NJASCU, which I head.

As the Kean Commission noted, capacity is the key to understanding enrollment in New Jersey. Simply put, our institutions are nearly full. It has been estimated that our institutions would need to expand by 44 percent to accommodate every student in New Jersey.

For decades, New Jersey shortsightedly underinvested in higher education infrastructure. New Jersey provided no capital funding for higher education between fiscal year 2003 and fiscal year 2014, and was one of only seven states that failed to invest in higher education capital needs between 2012 and 2014.

We are slowly reversing that trend. In 2012, New Jersey’s voters -- with a strong yes vote of 63 percent -- approved a $750 million bond issue for higher education construction, the first state-backed financing for higher education in New Jersey since 1988. Also in 2012, New Jersey renewed over $560 million in revenue bonds for projects targeting capital improvements, technology and equipment.

The results of that investment are coming into view. Buildings for programs in engineering; environmental, health and other sciences; business; and nursing are all underway or completed.

The investment trend in capital needs continues in the right direction and is answering the call of the Kean Commission, which wrote, “The future of the state … depends on retaining good students who wish to stay in New Jersey but who are squeezed out by New Jersey’s lack of capacity.” Another $180 million in bond funds has recently become available, and our institutions are working to meet the Jan. 16 deadline for applications.

Public-private partnerships are another important way in which our institutions are constructing facilities to benefit students and the campus communities. Projects providing classroom and retail space, bookstores and student apartments, campus-altering residence halls, and even brand-new campuses are being built with private financing to help our institutions stretch their resources.

New Jersey’s overall investment in the operation of its public four-year institutions, however, is falling, and is a cause for concern. In fiscal 2016, appropriations for operating expenses at New Jersey’s senior public colleges and universities were cut over $34 million, with the state colleges and universities suffering a 7.3 percent loss and the public research institutions enduring a 4.65 percent reduction.

These cuts are part of an unfortunate trend in New Jersey. Between 1994 and 2014, educational appropriations per full-time-equivalent student at public institutions in New Jersey dropped over 46 percent, according to data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

Under the direction of autonomous boards of trustees and presidents, our institutions have deftly handled the reduction in state operating support. Over the past five years, the public four-year institutions in New Jersey were tied for the fourth-lowest percentage increase in in-state tuition and required fees, at 4 percent.

Despite the capacity crunch and the financing challenges, New Jersey’s public institutions are serving more students than ever. Between 2003 and 2013, New Jersey had the sixth-highest increase in FTE enrollment at public institutions, at 22 percent.

Demand remains strong. Some of our member institutions are reporting increases of 4 to 5 percent -- and even higher -- in applications over this time last year for regular decision.

After they enroll, our students do well in their studies. They persist from year to year, and then graduate, near the top of national charts. Almost 85 percent of first-time college freshmen at senior public institutions in New Jersey return for their second year, sixth highest in the nation. The six-year graduation rate for members of the Class of 2014 at New Jersey’s four-year public institutions was 61 percent, also sixth highest in the U.S.

Once they receive their diplomas, students from the state colleges and universities tend to stay here in New Jersey. Out of over 518,000 alumni from our NJASCU institutions, more than two-thirds (363,000) reside in New Jersey.

It is critically important to our state’s future that our graduates stay and work in New Jersey. New Jersey’s workforce, more and more, demands workers with an advanced education. Jobs requiring a postsecondary education in New Jersey will increase from 62 percent in 2010 to 68 percent in 2020, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The percentage of jobs in New Jersey requiring a bachelor’s degree will be the highest of any state in 2020, at 29 percent. The member institutions of NJASCU produced over 63 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in New Jersey in 2014, making us the engine that will help drive the state’s workforce.

It has been said that “Unless you’re from New Jersey, you can’t understand New Jersey.” Looking at only one IPEDS statistic obscures the view of the high demand and high quality of public higher education in New Jersey. Our story is worth explaining.

Michael W. Klein is the executive director of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities.

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States cry foul over U.S. plan to curtail access to FAFSA student data

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States worry that a Department of Education plan to curtail their access to data from the federal student aid form will cause headaches for state aid awards.

Reports of Indian students being turned away at border cast spotlight on two little-known California institutions

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Reports of Indian students being turned away by customs officials and prevented from boarding U.S.-bound flights cast spotlight on two little-known California institutions with 90 percent-plus international enrollment.

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