By Ashley Cronin

Collage of film screenshots from We The Voters
Ashley Cronin
Inspire young people to get engaged with the political process through a timely new film series about the U.S. system of democracy, elections, and governance.

Source: Edutopia


By David Matthews for Times Higher Education

Chinese students at top-ranking universities are less creative than those at less prestigious institutions, a new study has found, with the authors blaming China’s exam-dominated education culture and intense university workload.

The research sheds further light on the long-running debate over whether Chinese graduates lack creativity and critical-thinking skills or if it is simply a comforting Western stereotype about a rising rival economic power.

To measure creativity, two researchers from Kyungpook National University, in South Korea, tested 400 business school students across 16 universities in both China and Korea with a widely used creativity survey, which, for example, asks participants to link different words and to answer a series of questions about their attitudes, such as whether they “aim for stability.”

As expected, Korean students at top-ranked universities performed slightly better than their counterparts at lower-ranked institutions.

But in China, the situation was the reverse: students at top-ranked universities scored considerably worse than any other group in either China or Korea.

“This result is quite different from our expectation,” remarks the paper, “Analysis of University Students’ Creativity According to University Level and Gender: Focusing on Business School,” published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Multimedia Services Convergent with Art, Humanities and Sociology.

The authors hypothesize that those students who won entry to high-ranking universities through China’s brutal entrance exam, the gaokao — often blamed for rewarding rote memorization over original thinking — will have already had their creativity killed.

“Chinese universities ranking among the top have a study environment with fierce competition. Most students concentrate on dealing with examinations and obtaining various certificates. University life becomes an extension of [the] middle school stage,” the paper argues.

This latest study, although relatively small scale, adds to concerns over the teaching quality at some of China’s universities. Researchers at Stanford University have found that computer science and engineering students in China made almost no improvements in critical-thinking skills after two years of university, while Russian and U.S. counterparts made sizable gains, The New York Times reported in July.

But student creativity is difficult to define, let alone measure. A 2011 study that interviewed German and mainland Chinese undergraduates found that the former identified philosophers, artists and writers as creative people, whereas the latter were more likely to name politicians, scientists and inventors (students in Hong Kong fell between the two groups).

This is because Chinese society sees creative people as those who have worked toward a collective good and have earned influence and recognition, whereas Western society sees creativity as a more individualistic, aesthetic endeavor, the authors argued.

However, some see criticisms of Asian students’ creativity as a mark of Western stereotyping. Bertil Andersson, the Swedish president of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, has repeatedly made this argument, telling a higher education conference last year that “we cannot keep hoping that ‘yes, Asian students are good, but they are not creative.’”

“Maybe Asian students are risk averse, but they are creative,” he said.

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By Rick Seltzer

Pressure keeps rising on large college and university endowments, even as early returns show their investment performance falling.

Last week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump criticized universities, alleging they do not use enough of their tax-free endowments to assist students with tuition, and then dangling the idea of killing federal tax breaks for wealthy institutions that don’t lower costs sufficiently. Trump included the idea in a speech coming just nine days after the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee held a hearing on tax-exempt college and university endowments. It also came as U.S. Representative Tom Reed, a New York Republican, continues to push legislation that would penalize institutions with large endowments that do not spend enough on student aid.

Trump may have raised the profile of a long-simmering debate over endowment spending by tossing it into the presidential race. But colleges and universities packing some of the country’s largest endowments have released investment reports this month that could undercut the popular image of ever-growing piles of cash stashed away in ivory towers.

Harvard University, which owns the country’s largest endowment, posted a 2 percent annual investment loss. Combined with spending, the negative return dropped the endowment’s value by $1.9 billion, to $35.7 billion. Rival Yale University, which has the second-largest endowment in the country, fared better with a return of 3.4 percent. But after factoring in spending to support operations like salaries and scholarships, Yale’s endowment dropped in value, too. It fell by $200 million to $25.4 billion.

The two institutions weren’t alone. Cornell University on Thursday said its $6.1 billion endowment skidded to an investment return of negative 3.3 percent. Dartmouth College reported a 1.9 percent investment loss as its endowment dropped to $4.5 billion. Outside of the Ivy League, the University of California recorded an annualized endowment loss of 3.4 percent to $9.1 billion, and Pennsylvania State University’s endowment lost less than 1 percent, dropping to $3.62 billion. Bloomberg reported Sept. 12 that college endowments were set for their worst performance since the 2009 recession, citing Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service data showing that funds with more than $500 million lost a median 0.73 percent in the fiscal year ending June 30.

Endowment Investment Returns
University Percent Return
Ohio State University -3.4
University of California -3.4
Cornell University -3.3
University of Colorado -2.6
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -2
Harvard University -2
Dartmouth College -1.9
University of Iowa -1.8
University of Washington -1.6
University of Virginia -1.5
University of Pennsylvania -1.4
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 0.8
University of Oregon 2.5
Yale University 3.4

The spate of poor returns adds to an element of financial stress looming over college and university operations. It also invites scrutiny of endowment management, as many universities’ funds underperformed basic market indicators like the S&P 500 Index. Most agree it won’t change anything in the legislative push to examine endowment rules, while endowment defenders say the funds are working as they were designed to function.

A quick dive into Harvard’s endowment data illustrates the high stakes surrounding returns. The endowment distributed $1.7 billion to the university in the 2016 fiscal year ending in June. That’s more than a third of the university’s total operating revenue. It’s also about 4.8 percent of the endowment’s value.

Pundits were quick to pounce on Harvard’s investment loss. Bloomberg View columnist Barry Ritholtz wrote that “the combination of academic hubris and political correctness led to a series of terrible — and expensive — decisions” for the endowment in recent years. By Ritholtz’s account, Harvard bowed to political pressure from faculty and alumni who objected to high compensation levels for its successful money managers. Harvard replaced its existing team with a slightly cheaper one, but endowment performance has never been the same. Today, he wrote, the university is still paying plenty for endowment management, but it’s no longer getting top returns.

Other critics questioned whether most universities with large endowments follow an investment strategy that’s too complex, noting large chunks of losses that were driven by investments in natural resources and public equities, particularly foreign equities.

“I wonder if sometimes, in their effort to outperform the competition, they’re ending up with portfolios that are so complex that they’re hard to get their heads around,” said Preston McSwain, managing partner of Fiduciary Wealth Partners in Boston.

Harvard Management Co. Inc., the university arm that manages its endowment, declined an interview request. The group has refined its strategy and hired a new head of its natural resources portfolio, according to a statement from Robert Ettl, the group’s interim president and CEO. Former President and CEO Stephen Blyth, who had instituted major investment approach changes, resigned in July, citing personal reasons. His departure left the Harvard Management Co. seeking a new leader for the fourth time in a decade.

Institutions with larger endowments tend to draw more of their funding from those endowments, said Cathy Konicki, a partner who oversees the endowment and foundation consulting practice at Boston-based investment-consulting firm NEPC. Forecasts have said returns across asset classes may be subdued for the next five to seven years, she said. That means it’s going to be hard for endowments to meet their target returns.

Stagnant and negative returns can lead institutions to explore lowered spending — but that might not be easy at some colleges and universities.

“Many university endowments have already done that,” Konicki said. “That’s a painful process, to have to reduce your spending, and many university endowments have already pulled that lever as much as they can to still be able to support operations for the university.”

The crunch may be felt particularly strongly at public universities. With sources of state funding drying up, many are trying to build private sources of cash, including endowments.

“It makes it difficult on both sides,” Konicki said. “It makes it difficult for state appropriations to education. And I think historical studies will show you if you have poor stock markets, philanthropy is lower because everybody’s pocketbooks are smaller.”

Still, one or two years of low returns will not break an endowment.

“The short term does not make the long term,” said Nita Patel, managing director at investment adviser Cambridge Associates. “Looking at one year does not build your long-term record.”

Patel cautioned against reading too much into the returns that have posted in September, noting that they generally reflect endowment levels as of June 30. Stocks in non-U.S. markets were down at that time, in part battered by the United Kingdom’s vote to exit from the European Union. Stocks then rallied in July, and endowments had a chance to buy overseas at attractive prices.

It’s also probably too early to panic about endowment contributions to colleges. Short-term struggles tend not to drastically affect the amount of money endowments contribute to college and university operations, said Ken Redd, director of research and policy analysis at the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Endowments are structured to allow for stable or even rising spending rates in years of financial downturns, Redd said. An annual NACUBO survey found that most colleges reported increased endowment spending in 2015 even though overall investment returns slowed.

“This is exactly why universities want to have endowments,” Redd said. “They are a source of spending for financial aid and for faculty research in spite of turbulent financial markets.”

The jury is still out on endowment returns for 2016, Redd added. While a number of high-profile institutions have reported endowment losses, they only represent a small sliver of the nation’s colleges. NACUBO surveys more than 800 institutions annually for its endowment survey.

Indeed, some endowments have posted gains. The $13.2 billion Massachusetts Institute of Technology endowment gained 0.8 percent in 2016. The $755 million University of Oregon endowment gained 2.5 percent.

Still, it’s not surprising that early returns are lower than many would have liked, Redd said. In addition to the trouble with foreign investments, commodities like oil and gas have been beset by financial market turbulence in recent years. That can especially take its toll on larger endowments, he said.

“The schools below $100 million tend to be invested in U.S. stocks, bonds and, relatively speaking, more liquid assets,” Redd said. “The larger endowments are much more likely to be in commodities — oil and gas futures, those kinds of things. When they work, they produce outsized returns. But when they don’t work, their returns tend to be fairly steeply negative. So it’s a double-edged sword.”

Against that backdrop, it looks harder to sell the idea of mandating minimum endowment spending requirements. An argument can be made that forced spending will hurt endowments in down years, leading to smaller overall fund levels that generate lower returns even in good years. Under that line of reasoning, endowments’ purchasing power would ultimately be eroded.

“It’s what we’ve always said,” said Steven Bloom, director of government relations at the American Council on Education. “Endowments can go up and they can go down, and that’s one reason we wouldn’t want a mandatory payout. It puts us in a straitjacket.”

Many reject that logic, however. They argue that endowments have done well over the last several decades and that the largest endowments are still worth billions of dollars.

Colleges and universities don’t just rely on investment returns to grow their endowments, said Dean Zerbe, who was senior counsel to the U.S. Senate’s Finance Committee when Republican Senator Chuck Grassley criticized wealthy university endowments and pitched the idea of minimum spending requirements in 2007 and 2008. Institutions are constantly adding to their endowments through donations, Zerbe said.

“Whatever the story is, it’s always not a good day to spend money out of the endowment,” said Zerbe, now a partner at Zerbe Fingeret Frank & Jadav in Texas. “It’s always an excuse, so I think people are a lot more cynical about the universities and the stories they tell about their endowments.”

Zerbe is also highly skeptical of a key argument against higher endowment spending — that large chunks of endowment funds are restricted, or set aside for specific use, making them impossible to dedicate to lowering tuition. He said colleges and universities could use restricted endowment dollars to fund university operations in ways that would lower their need to raise money through tuition. Or they could convince donors to remove the strings they attach to their gifts.

Zerbe also criticizes trustees’ endowment oversight.

“Some universities have been better, but by and large, the boards have really failed their duty of taking a hard look at their endowments, understanding them, factoring in the costs, what the spend-out rate should be,” he said.

Meanwhile, Reed has not backed off from his push to add spending requirements to large endowments. The congressman, whose upstate New York district includes Cornell University, wants to require institutions with endowments over $1 billion to distribute a portion of investment earnings as grants toward students’ cost of attendance. Institutions missing benchmarks would be subject to escalating tax penalties culminating in a loss of tax-exempt status.

Reed cast his legislation as an idea that allows for years with poor investment returns. The proposed required minimum spending on student aid — 25 percent of annual endowment earnings — wouldn’t apply to years when endowments lose money, he said.

“If you get into a flat or negative space, that distribution number wouldn’t be applicable,” Reed said in an interview. “That’s why we focus on the investment returns, not the principal of the endowment. We recognize that we want these endowments to be sustainable.”

At the end of the day, the endowment proposal is one of several strategies Reed wants to follow to cut college costs for students. One year of endowment returns doesn’t affect that goal, he said.

“This has always been an additional resource that I saw as a possibility to help us get through the immediate crisis,” he said.

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Harvard Management Company
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Harvard’s endowment posted a -2 percent return in the 2016 fiscal year.
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By Scott Jaschik

East Tennessee State University was shaken Wednesday when a white student wearing a gorilla mask interrupted a Black Lives Matter rally and thrust a banana hanging on a string in the faces of black students who were participating in the rally.

Images of the white student — who carried a sack with a Confederate emblem — taunting the black students spread on social media and outraged many on the campus. The black students did not respond directly to the taunts — and have received praise for their calm. A university statement said, “Our campus community was outraged by the behavior of one student who confronted the participants. The actions of this one individual go against the values of our university, where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect.”

The student has been identified by campus police as Tristan Rettke. He was arrested by campus police for civil rights intimidation, based in part on his having told the campus police officers that his costume was an attempt “to provoke” the black students. Civil rights intimidation is a felony in Tennessee. Rettke posted bail and has been released from jail, but the university has placed him on interim suspension, meaning that he cannot be on campus, pending an investigation that may result in a permanent suspension or other sanction.

The fall semester has already seen numerous incidents of racism nationwide, including many personal and online attacks that mock the Black Lives Matter movement. The idea of denigrating black people as gorillas is an old racist trope. Also this year, at American University, hundreds of black students held a protest last week after two black women reported incidents involving bananas — one thrown at a woman and one left outside the door of a woman’s room. Students carried signs saying “Racism at AU Is Bananas.”

At East Tennessee, the university organized an open forum Wednesday night to discuss what had happened.

Brian Noland, the president of the university, started the event by talking about how proud he was of the way the black students handled themselves when they were taunted. Noland said he was particularly upset because the event took place at a fountain that was dedicated to honor the five black students who integrated the university in the 1950s. He listed their names: Eugene Caruthers, Elizabeth Watkins Crawford, Clarence McKinney, George L. Nichol and Mary Luellen Owens Wagner. He talked about how their values were those of the university and its students.

After he spoke, many students and faculty members did as well. Many black students spoke about everyday racism they face on social media and said that even that experience did not prepare them for the shock and pain they felt on Wednesday. Faculty members spoke of being stunned by what had happened as well.

One professor said that Wednesday’s incident was “one of the ugliest things I have seen on a college campus.” He asked if administrators present would talk about how they view the balance between hateful statements or acts and the First Amendment.

Joe H. Sherlin Jr., vice president for student affairs, answered by saying that the First Amendment grants “broad latitude for speech” and that “the best antidote for speech that is offensive is more speech.”

But he added that when speech “becomes intimidating” or “threatening” or “inhibits someone else’s right to express their own civil rights,” that may not be protected. And he said campus police officers believed that was the case at the rally.

Several people at the forum noted that another Black Lives Matter rally would take place Thursday. Only about 15 to 20 people were present on Wednesday when the student in the mask disrupted the event. On Thursday, officials estimated the crowd at 350 to 400 — and there were no disruptions.

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Student who interrupted a rally at East Tennessee State
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By Paul Fain

Student loan guarantee agencies too often have abandoned their public-interest missions, the Century Foundation says in a new report, which calls on the U.S. Department of Education to make sure the agencies’ collective $5 billion in assets are being spent productively.

The bulk of guarantors’ money came from the federal government or from fees charged to former students who defaulted on their loans, the report said.

“Many of those defaults, it turns out, were the result of predatory colleges convincing students to enroll in programs that were of poor quality, failing to meet students’ needs and leading to debts rather than a degree or a job,” according to the report. “Given the source of the money, an appropriate way to use it would be to repair the damage done by some participants in the federal student loan program and to prevent further hardship. For example, support is sorely needed, now, to provide counseling and legal aid to distressed borrowers.”

Bob Shireman, a senior fellow at the foundation, and Tariq Habash, a policy associate there, co-wrote the report. Shireman is a former Education Department official who is advising Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and appears likely to join the campaign or a possible Clinton administration in an official capacity.

Shireman and Habash’s call for the feds to push guarantee agencies on how they spend their money faces a serious regulatory barrier, said experts on federal financial aid and the National Council of Higher Education Resources, a group that represents the sector.

The report “ignores a clear reading of the Higher Education Act — that each guarantee agency’s operating fund is the property of the agency and that the funds shall be used for specific activities selected by the agency,” the council said in a written statement. “All guarantee agencies are committed to doing what they can to fulfill their nonprofit missions and to support students and borrowers within their areas of service, and they do so using the resources in their operating funds. The Century Foundation report fails to acknowledge the many important services provided by these organizations.”

The agencies provide financial awareness and outreach services to students, families, schools and community organizations, according to the council. They also help borrowers take advantage of federal repayment and rehabilitation programs.

Habash said the foundation recognizes the spending authority the U.S. Congress granted to guarantee agencies through the Higher Education Act — the law that oversees federal financial aid.

The report doesn’t advocate for the department to use authority it doesn’t have, Habash said. “We are simply asking these guarantee agencies to act like the charities they are claiming to be.”

Shifting Activities

The agencies, which are required to be nonprofits or part of state governments, lost their core function in 2010, when the federal government ended federally backed private lending. While it will take decades, the business of insuring bank loans will dry up under direct federal lending.

Yet guarantors continue to earn revenue off the $280 billion in outstanding private loan principal. They collect a standard fee of 1 percent of the balance of loans for insuring them against default, as well as fees for collection and account maintenance.

As a result, guarantee agencies have been branching out in efforts to diversify both their revenue and how they spend money. Most focus on college completion and financial advising. But one, United States Aid Funds, or USA Funds, has distributed grants aimed at closing the skills gap. Another, Education Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), in 2014 bought 56 campuses from the collapsing Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit chain.

The report aims its harshest criticism at USA Funds and ECMC, which, along with the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation, are the three largest guarantee agencies. The two nonprofits followed an “empire-building script,” according to the foundation, creating subsidiaries and failing to use their coffers to help borrowers struggling with student loans.

Both agencies fired back with written statements saying the report provides an unbalanced and erroneous view of the organizations and their activities.

“The Century Foundation report grossly misrepresents the activities of USA Funds, which has opened the doors to college for millions of Americans and saved former students and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in potential loan costs,” USA Funds said. “Furthermore, the report utterly ignores USA Funds’ role as a major philanthropic force for improving student success rates in college while better connecting graduates to rewarding careers, the most important determinants of whether former students successfully manage their college debt.”

Board Pay

One of the report’s key findings, which it says bolsters arguments that the agencies often are not acting in the public interest, is that USA Funds and ECMC pay the members of their governing boards, a practice frowned on by experts (except for reimbursing board members for limited, direct expenses).

In 2014, USA Funds paid its 11 board members between $43,000 and $95,000 in annual compensation, according to the report. ECMC paid its nine directors between $76,000 and $142,000 for their service to the board, according to a federal tax filing.

Few nonprofits pay their board members substantial sums. And the payments received by ECMC’s and USA Funds’ boards appear to violate at least the spirit of nonprofit governance rules.

“Charities should generally not compensate persons for service on the board of directors except to reimburse direct expenses of such service,” the National Council of Nonprofits said on its website.

ECMC’s written response to the report included a section on the board’s pay. It said the directors’ time commitment is “at or near the very top” of their peer group among nonprofits. ECMC said those roles have increased — meaning the necessary level of experience, expertise and engagement — as the guarantee agency’s revenue grew to $783 million last year, up from $48.5 million in 2005.

An independent firm and legal counsel have reviewed ECMC’s board pay on annual basis, the agency said, making sure it is reasonable under laws and regulations.

“The Century Foundation’s publication of false and misleading information is highly regrettable and does a disservice to enhancing the public’s understanding of the critical contributions ECMC has made since its inception,” the agency said. “Further, we stand behind the transparency, accuracy and compliance of our IRS filing. We are as committed now as ever to fulfilling our mission of helping students succeed.”

Both ECMC and USA Funds listed their charitable contributions in recent years, which they said the report failed to capture. For example, ECMC spent $345 million on California’s Cal Grant, a state aid program for low-income students.

The Century Foundation report questions ECMC’s purchase of Corinthian’s campuses and programs, which the agency runs through a new subsidiary, Zenith Education Group. The report asks whether ECMC “made a noble if misguided attempt to transform a corrupt enterprise,” or if the purchase is “just a corporate board seeing if they can make a buck.”

If the latter, ECMC hasn’t been successful — it’s spent $300 million so far on Zenith, which has hemorrhaged students as fast as money. The nonprofit career education chain lost $100 million last year, and now enrolls just 10,000 students at 24 campuses, having consolidated, closed or begun teaching-out the remaining campuses.

Even so, Shireman and Habash would rather see ECMC’s resources going more directly to students.

Yesterday Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, criticized the department for collecting on the student debt held by 80,000 former Corinthian students. Money from guarantee agencies could be used to help those borrowers, Habash said in a tweet.

Perhaps another place where guaranty agencies can invest resources to support distressed borrowers? @nasiripour

— Tariq Habash (@edpolicyhabash) September 29, 2016

Student Aid and Loans
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By Scott Jaschik

It may be hard for today’s undergraduates at elite colleges and universities to imagine that many of their institutions — as recently as the 1960s and 1970s — would not admit female students. These days when coeducation is in the news, it is typically a women’s college deciding to admit men. But the reality is that coeducation at elite institutions that were once all male did not happen overnight — and didn’t happen without considerable backlash from alumni and others. Nancy Weiss Malkiel tells the story in “Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation (Princeton University Press). Malkiel is professor emeritus of history at Princeton and served there as dean of the college, overseeing the undergraduate academic program, for 24 years.

Her book details how American and British universities moved toward coeducation, typically with some leaders pushing the process through against strong opposition from alumni and others who wanted, as the book’s title says, to “keep the damned women out.” The presidents formed committees, lobbied influential faculty members and tradition-minded trustees, and also eyed their competitors. One section of the book explores how Smith, Vassar and Wellesley Colleges considered coeducation, with only Vassar opting to make the move.

Malkiel responded via email to questions about her book.

Q: What message do you think was sent by these institutions to the young people (male and female) of that era, by barring women?

A: The message was very clear: women were second-class citizens. The historic role of elite universities was to train leaders — for public life, for the professions, for commerce. Leaders meant men.

Q: You note that most of the leaders who pushed for coeducation at elite all-male institutions were men, motivated by issues beyond equity. What motivated them?

A: They were motivated by strategic advantage. By the late 1960s, schools like Yale and Princeton were beginning to see a decline in their applicant pools. The “best boys,” as these institutions described the most talented high school students, were making increasingly clear that they wanted to go to school with girls. Admitting women was a way of recapturing the traditional hold of these institutions on those “best boys.”

Q: Today many leading universities face charges that — while their institutions are coeducational — female students continue to face discrimination, sexual assault and harassment in some elements of campus social life that are much revered at their institutions. Do you think these institutions would have evolved differently had women led the efforts to address issues related to coeducation?

A: These are very challenging issues, and it is very difficult to know what would have happened if women had been in charge from the beginning of coeducation. What we do know is that the universities in the 21st century that undertook the most important studies to try to make sense of the differential experience of female and male students did so at the initiative of women presidents: Nannerl Keohane at Duke and Shirley Tilghman at Princeton. And Drew Gilpin Faust has led the attack on the all-male final social clubs at Harvard.

Q: Your title comes from a phrase used by students and alumni who opposed coeducation. How long did it take for (most of) them to come around?

A: The first decade of coeducation was very challenging. Many male students made plain to their female counterparts that they did not belong on their campuses. And very conservative alumni organized oppositional alumni groups for whom coeducation was one of the many things wrong with their universities. Over time, however, opposition diminished on most campuses. For alumni, the most important influence in changing the minds of opponents of coeducation was that their daughters and granddaughters could now enroll.

Q: Many women’s colleges are today opting to admit men. At the same time, many coeducational colleges have a solid majority of female students. What do you make of these trends?

A: For women’s colleges, the decision to admit men is often very practical — it’s a way of ensuring that they can enroll a sufficiently robust student body to stay in business. As for the majority of female students at coeducational colleges, the majority of students going to college these days are women, and their credentials are every bit as strong as those of college-going men.

Q: I see in your biography that you are an alumna of Smith. Would you have preferred to attend Williams or Amherst or some other college then closed off to women?

A: I had a wonderful experience at Smith, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. But deciding to go there was a function of the East Coast, middle Atlantic world in which I grew up, which made plain to me, as it did to my peers, that if you were bright and you were a girl, you aspired to go to the best of the women’s colleges. Today that world has changed; the most talented women high school students aspire to go to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Amherst, Williams — all of them long coed.

New Books About Higher Education
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By Barbara Fister

Cognitive dissonance made me do it. If you want social justice, why do you let your research be locked up for profit?

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By Joshua Kim

Dreaming about 2020.

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By Rosemarie Emanuele

A different take on Uber.

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By John Warner

Others are planning on the university of the future, and most aren’t going to like it.

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By Matt Reed

Routine can enable creativity.

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By Elizabeth Redden

A U.S. Government Accountability Office review of 12 American universities operating in China identified Internet censorship and reports of self-censorship as two key issues.

“University members generally indicated that they experienced academic freedom, but they also indicated that Internet censorship and other factors presented constraints,” the 59-page report released Wednesday states. “Administrators said they generally controlled curriculum content, and faculty and students said they could teach or study what they chose. However, fewer than half of the universities GAO reviewed have uncensored Internet access.

“At several universities that lacked uncensored Internet access, students and faculty told us that, as a result, they sometimes faced challenges teaching, conducting research, and completing coursework. Administrators, faculty, and students also cited examples of self-censorship, where certain sensitive political topics — such as Tiananmen Square or China’s relationship with Taiwan — were avoided in class, and of constraints faced by Chinese students in particular.”

The report further notes that those U.S. institutions approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education as having independent legal status, a category that includes the branch campuses of Duke, Kean and New York Universities, “share characteristics — such as campuses located away from their Chinese university partner’s campus and extensive student life programs — that may be correlated with greater academic freedom and other key freedoms.”

Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, the Republican chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations and a critic of China’s record on human rights and civil liberties, had asked the GAO to review U.S. university agreements to establish satellite campuses in China, saying in a Dec. 2014 statement that he would “like to know if those agreements are public, whether they compromise academic or other freedoms of faculty, students, and workers and whether Chinese teachers are allowed the freedom to worship as they please and teach about Tiananmen, Tibet, and Taiwan.” Rep. Smith presided over two subcommittee hearings on the subject of Chinese government influence in U.S. universities, in Dec. 2014 and June 2015.

GAO investigators reviewed the Chinese operations of 12 U.S. universities that have developed degree-granting institutions in partnership with Chinese universities. In compiling the report, investigators reviewed university documents — 11 of the 12 shared either all or part of their written agreements with their Chinese partner universities or other written policies — solicited answers to a questionnaire, interviewed administrators, faculty, and students, and visited campuses for five of the 12 institutions.

Those 12 institutions are Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Fort Hays State, Johns Hopkins, Kean, Missouri State, New York, Northwood, and Rutgers Universities; the New York Institute of Technology; and the Universities of Michigan and Pittsburgh.

The 12 China campuses collectively enrolled more than 6,500 students in the 2014-15 academic year, with enrollments ranging from fewer than 40 to more than 3,000 students. More than 90 percent of the enrolled students were Chinese, while fewer than 6 percent were U.S. citizens. By contrast the majority of the faculty — about 60 percent — were Americans.

Much of the GAO report focuses on written policies in place to safeguard key values of American higher education including academic freedom and freedoms of expression, assembly and worship. Six of the universities reviewed include language in their agreements or other written policies about protecting academic freedom while another three have language stipulating that the Chinese institution will adhere to U.S. academic standards.

Another institution — the report does not identify by name which institutions have which policies and practices — includes more ambiguous language on academic freedom in its written policies. “This institution’s faculty handbook includes language that protects academic freedom but also encourages self-censorship to prevent externally imposed discipline,” the report states.

Another university does not have any language in its written agreement pertaining to academic freedom, while the twelfth and final institution did not provide any documentation of its policies.

The issue of access to information behind what’s commonly dubbed “the great firewall of China” was another key issue discussed in the report. Just five of the universities reported access to unrestricted internet access, generally through use of a virtual private network, while the remainder did not have full access to uncensored Internet.

As for civil liberties more broadly, the report notes that about half of the universities have policies that “address at least one of the freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion or worship at their institutions in China,” with one other university including “language that suggests a possible restriction on speech.” The table below, taken from the report, includes examples of such written policies:

Examples of Policies Seen as Protecting Freedoms of Speech, Assembly and Religion Examples of Policies Seen as Restricting Freedoms of Speech, Assembly and Religion
• Members of the university community will not be restricted in formal or casual speech.
• Faculty members can voice concerns related to their rights and interests.
• Students are encouraged to form student clubs and organizations.
• Faculty and students may join faculty and student unions of the Chinese partner university.
• Student organizations can invite outside speakers.
• Students can lawfully protest off campus.
• Students are offered places of worship on-campus.
• Students are provided with services to help locate places of worship off-campus.
• Faculty are advised to proceed carefully when broaching topics on religion or politics in the classroom.
• Faculty are reminded that Western ideals of freedom of expression are not protected in China.

The faculty and students who were interviewed — more than 130 of them across seven universities — generally reported that their academic freedom had not been limited and they could “teach or study whatever they chose. For example, several faculty members asserted that neither they nor their colleagues would tolerate any academic restrictions, and one faculty member told us he and his colleagues intentionally introduced class discussions on politically sensitive topics to test whether this would trigger any complaints or attempted censorship.”

Even so the report identifies self-censorship as a problem. The report notes that it is difficult to determine how frequently cases of self-censorship occur. “Nonetheless,” it states, “administrators, faculty, and students representing more than half of the universities we reviewed gave examples of self-censorship, including some cases where individuals were advised by their teachers or others in positions of authority to avoid certain topics. For example, an administrator at one university noted that he believed it was advisable, as a guest of China, to refrain from insulting China, while an administrator at another university noted that the university advises teachers to avoid discussing sensitive subjects in class. Several professors at one university told us that they avoid certain political topics or topics that may make others uncomfortable.”

The report identifies specific constraints for Chinese students, with some of the interviewees suggesting “that Chinese students may know or suspect that their Chinese classmates are government or Communist Party monitors and will report on whatever the students say. Moreover, an administrator at one university told us that he assumes there are Chinese students and faculty in the institution who report to the government or the Communist Party about the activities of other Chinese students. Faculty members at several universities also told us that they understood there were Chinese students in class who intended to report on the speech of faculty or Chinese students.

“Several faculty members told us they had adopted various teaching approaches to circumvent these constraints and encourage greater participation among Chinese students. One professor told of constructing classroom debates in which students were required to argue both sides of a sensitive political issue regardless of their nationality or belief; he believed that this enabled Chinese students to speak more freely about these topics. We found other examples of certain conditions Chinese students face that could constrain their academic experience. For example, one university provides only non-Chinese students access to its main university web portal, which provides uncensored Internet access. In addition, according to university administrators, only Chinese students must complete military training and take certain courses, such as on Chinese political thought. A student at one university told us Chinese students had a curfew and Internet restrictions while international students did not.”

Rep. Smith said in a statement that “U.S. universities in China operate in a difficult academic environment, with the Chinese government, and even President Xi Jinping himself, directing Chinese university leaders to purge teaching and research on ‘Western-inspired liberal ideas.’ We all want U.S. satellite campuses in China to be oases of free inquiry, the Congress asked for this study to identify remaining challenges and then find ways for the U.S. government to help American educational initiatives prosper in China.”

He added: “The pressure faced to make compromises and to self-censor teaching and research projects continue to be significant concerns, some are doing a better job than others is seems, and the GAO report also details serious restrictions on Internet access in many places. There needs to be complete transparency of the agreements made between American universities and the Chinese government, though some are reluctant to do so, sharing this information widely and publicly will foster standards that can be followed by others — we should not have a two-tiered system where some universities negotiate better deals because of their brand power and others make compromises to get access to a lucrative education market.”

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By Jim Reische

Work from the inside out.

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By Colleen Flaherty

When it comes to shared governance, is OK good enough? That’s the question behind — and the title of — a new report from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. It’s based in part on input from a focus group of faculty members, conducted earlier this year in conjunction with the American Association of University Professors. Three hundred presidents and several thousand board members weighed in via surveys; their feedback makes up the bulk of the report.

The answer to the shared governance question? Not quite. While most presidents and board members from both public and private institutions believe that shared governance is working adequately, they believe it could be more effective. Some 95 percent of board members said that shared governance is a very important or moderately important component of decision making on their campuses, and they also overwhelmingly said that it’s important or moderately important to higher education overall.

At the same time, very few presidents or board members see shared governance as sharing “equal rights” with other constituencies, including faculty members. The majority of respondents said it should work as a system of aligning priorities.

More than 80 percent of trustee and president respondents said they support faculty members’ role in overseeing academic programs. A smaller percentage, but still a significant majority, said that faculty members respect their role in overseeing their institutions. Interestingly, board members had a less positive view of administrative support for their authority.

“If it ever worked easily in the past (and such an assumption is speculative), in today’s environment, shared governance requires renewed effort to function well,” reads the report. “Governing boards and presidents report strong interest in developing high-functioning shared governance,” which “should be an essential institutional asset.”

Yet “careful board, president and faculty leadership is needed to prevent it from becoming a liability,” the report says.

The majority of presidents and board members also reported that discussions of difficult matters among the board, faculty and administration are conducted in good faith, with trust.

At the same time, the survey also made clear that presidents think board and faculty members would benefit from better understanding each other’s roles. Only about 30 percent of presidents reported that the typical board member understands the work of the faculty well or very well, and only about 20 percent said that the typical faculty member understands the work of the board well or very well.

“That is, presidents perceived board members to have greater awareness of faculty responsibilities than the reverse, although in neither case was the answer impressive,” the report says. “Perhaps more remarkable is the tepid degree to which presidents believed members of either group typically understand the work of the other.”

One major area of concern is how the changing faculty role — namely the decline of full-time, tenure-line positions — is affecting shared governance. Some 50 percent of presidents at both public and private institutions said their policies related to shared governance haven’t changed, despite the dramatic shift toward part-time, non-tenure-track instructors, who historically have been shut out of institutional decision making.

Improving shared governance is major focus for AGB at the moment; it’s working on a white paper on the topic and has commissioned a book. Calling the matter “puzzling” in light of the changing faculty role, Susan Whealler Johnston, AGB’s executive vice president and CEO, said, “We know it’s particularly important to have effective shared governance, but we’re not sure how effective it is right now.”

Whether shared governance is OK or really bad — as several recent, faculty-driven books claim — probably depends on one’s perspective, Johnston said. “If you’re part of the growing percentage of part-time faculty and adjunct and contingent faculty and you’re excluded, it can look like a big failure. And if you’re part of the declining percentage of tenure-track faculty and you’re reeling from the pressure of taking on the burden of full shared governance, then it can also look like a failure.”

Shared governance is also a focus of the AAUP — so much so that’s it’s holding a special conference on the topic, starting this week. AGB’s report will be discussed. Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary for tenure, academic freedom and shared governance for AAUP, said the association wants to generate broad discussion about shared governance, on topics from presidential searches to the relationship between shared governance and collective bargaining.

AGB’s report closes with several questions for presidents and boards to consider. Have they received sufficient information about the nature of faculty work and the faculty role in shared governance, and do faculty members understand the board’s role, it asks. How well do board members understand the value that faculty members bring to institutional decision making? How might the institution benefit from more robust collaboration among governing boards, administration and faculty?

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By Colleen Flaherty

Philosophers are used to hearing and debating controversial ideas. But recent keynote speeches by philosophers at two different conferences — including one talk that referred to being gay as a “disability” — have some scholars wondering where the boundary between controversial thought and bigotry lies. Others say criticizing invited conference speakers amounts to censorship.

In the first instance, at the Society for Analytical Feminism’s annual conference two weeks ago, Tommie Shelby (right), Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African-American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University, based his address on his forthcoming book, Dark Ghettos. Part of his argument was that ethical responsibilities, including those related to procreation, can’t be ignored because one is oppressed.

Shelby did not respond to a request for comment, but some accounts of the event suggest that he was most offensive not during the talk itself, but during a question-and-answer period. One self-identified “poor black woman who was there” wrote in a comment on the popular philosophy blog Daily Nous that when asked about his methodology and the context of his arguments about reproductive ethics, Shelby dismissed such questions by saying he was “just trying to do philosophy.” It came across as “effectively demeaning the questions being posed to him and implying that those (black women) who were raising particular issues were not doing philosophy,” the attendee wrote.

“Last time I checked, metaphilosophical and intrinsic critiques do qualify as philosophy,” she added. “No, the issue is not the notion that ‘the oppressed have moral duties, too.’ Shelby actively silenced and belittled black women during a keynote where black women’s bodies were the object of discussion. That is offensive.”

Other attendees balked at the discussion, at least enough so that conference organizers sent out an email asking for feedback. It’s been reported that they apologized for Shelby’s talk, which has prompted another wave of criticism that such an apology amounted to censorship of an invited speaker.

Conference organizers maintain that they did not apologize for controversial philosophy, but rather apologized more generally about how the discussion was handled.

Distance vs. Censorship

The second instance happened at last week’s Society of Christian Philosophers’ Midwest conference. Richard Swinburne (right), professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Oxford, reportedly referred to being gay as a “disability” and an “incurable condition.”

J. Edward Hackett, a senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Akron, was in attendance and wrote that he was immediately offended. While Swinburne said he did not think homosexuality was intrinsically wrong in the same way that adultery was wrong, Hackett explained in a blog post, “he argued (if that’s the right verb under some principle of charity) that homosexuality was extrinsically wrong. Homosexuality was a disability in the lacking of the ability to have children, and God’s commands of abstaining from homosexuality might prevent others from fostering this incurable condition in others.”

Hackett said he told Swinburne that he’d effectively “medicalized being gay in the same way that phrenology medicalized racism.”

In a public Facebook post, Michael Rea, professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and society president, expressed his “regret regarding the hurt” Swinburne’s comments caused. Rea said those views are not those of the society itself, and while its membership “is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse.”

Rea said that society president, he is “committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward.”

Rea received praise for his comments, but also criticism. More than 70 scholars signed an open letter saying that while Swinburne’s “disability” reference was fraught, it’s a violation of academic freedom to chide an invited speaker to a conference on Christian philosophy for defending traditional Christian views on sexuality.

“Given that the [society] feels the need to apologize when one of the world’s premier philosophers defends what has been the standard Christian view for two millennia,” the letter says, “one wonders if the apology is meant to suggest that papers defending any doctrine or philosophical view that might prove offensive to someone wouldn’t be welcome at [society] conferences in the future.”

Yoram Hazony, a Jewish philosopher and president of the Herzl Institute, a research institute in Jerusalem, also said, as reported by The American Conservative, that it “hurts to see [Swinburne] being shamed in this way for taking a side in a philosophical and religious controversy. What are we trying to do — create a world in which philosophers are only permitted to express certain views? Isn’t the traditional response to write an essay arguing with him, rather than posting an apology?”

Rea declined immediate comment on the matter, and Swinburne did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Eric Schliesser, a professor of philosophy and moral sciences at Ghent University in Belgium, argued that Rea’s comments weren’t an apology at all. Expressing “regret [for] hurt done by others is a species of symbolic speech that falls short of censure,” he wrote on his blog. “There are contexts in which I would describe such expressions of regret as a cop-out. But given the intense reaction it provoked, it is clear that this went well beyond empty symbolism.”

Kathryn Norlock, the Kenneth Mark Drain Chair in Ethics at Trent University in Ontario and president of the Society for Analytical Feminism, did not provide the email to conference participants. A copy posted to the philosophy blog Leiter Reports says, in part, “What was said was wrong, and inappropriate at a feminist conference, and we take responsibility for our roles in the events that took place.”

But instead of apologizing for Shelby’s talk, Norlock said, the email “intended to address concerns that included how the substantive and methodological challenges made by a number of [society] members were handled, to recognize the accountability of the [society] executive for moderating discussion in a feminist philosophical community and to invite feedback for future events.”

Those concerns are part of a broader society effort to be “accountable to traditionally marginalized voices in philosophy,” she added.

‘A Really Stupid View’

If Norlock doesn’t see debate about the two conferences as one about the boundaries of scholarly speech — and how fellow philosophers and professional societies police them — then others do.

Brian Leiter, Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago, sided with Shelby on Leiter Reports. “Shelby (and everyone else) has learned an important lesson here, namely, that the meeting of the Society for Analytic Feminism is not really a philosophical conference, but one in which failure of ideological purity (which is marked by giving ‘offense’ — heavens!) is verboten and results in an ‘official’ repudiation by the organization,” he wrote.

Of Swinburne, Leiter wrote that his views “really are a philosophical embarrassment.” Yet he said Rea would have been much better off simply distancing the Society of Christian Philosophers from his comments, rather than promising to “strive” for its ideals going forward, and more.

Justin Weinberg, associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina and moderator of Daily Nous, wrote that both speeches should be understood as those delivered at “resonance conferences.” So unlike at more general philosophy conferences, where difference and debate abound, he argued, there’s a presumption among both speakers and attendees of some level of understanding or shared ideas — in these cases, among analytical feminist and Christian philosophers, respectively. Dissonance is perhaps more powerful in these settings, and — perhaps — organizers and speakers at resonance conferences have different obligations to their colleagues, he said.

At the same time, Weinberg wrote, Swinburne “was explicitly expressing a really stupid view, held by some Christians (and others), that gays and lesbians are defective humans.”

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By Rick Seltzer

A judge on Wednesday rejected Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s attempt to replace the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees, issuing a strongly worded ruling calling the change inconsistent with state law and an invitation to future abuses of power.

“The governance of public universities has been carefully structured to insulate institutions of higher education from the direct influence of partisan politics,” Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip J. Shepherd wrote in a 17-page opinion. “The governor’s assertion of the right to unilaterally abolish and recreate the Board of Trustees during the interim between legislative sessions is wholly inconsistent with the statutory framework of higher education in Kentucky.”

The ruling is a major blow for Bevin, who in June called Louisville’s Board of Trustees dysfunctional while issuing executive orders to abolish the university’s 20-member board and create a new 13-member governing body. It is a victory for opponents of that move, many of whom had been concerned the executive action infringed on the university’s governance structure and academic legitimacy while imperiling its accreditation.

It is also a victory for Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who sued to block the governor’s orders and has frequently been in conflict with the Republican Bevin.

Shepherd’s judgment follows a summer of uncertainty at Louisville. Bevin’s revamp of the Board of Trustees came with a deal under which the university’s embattled president, James Ramsey, resigned in late July. Shepherd issued a temporary injunction July 29 blocking the new board. After several weeks of confusion, the university’s original board met in late August to formally approve a budget. But key administrative operations were slowed or curtailed — the budget was passed nearly two months after the university’s fiscal year began July 1, and Louisville has not yet been able to launch a search for a permanent president to replace Ramsey.

Shepherd found in his judgment that the governor does not have reorganization power over public universities in Kentucky, where the Legislature placed public universities outside the executive branch’s organizational structure. The judge also found that the governor must hold to state laws requiring board members to be removed only for cause — such as neglect of duty or malfeasance — and entitling board members who are removed to a hearing in front of Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education.

Previous governors have dealt with divided university boards of trustees by requesting resignations or by going through normal judicial and administrative processes, Shepherd wrote. They have not attempted to reconstitute troubled boards.

“There is no legal or historical precedent for the governor’s actions in abolishing and reconstituting the Board of Trustees of a public university,” Shepherd wrote.

Bevin had argued that laws requiring due process for board member removal applied only to individual board members, not to entire boards. But the judge rejected that argument.

“By this logic, the governor could abolish an entire department of state government and lay off all of its employees without giving any employee the right of appeal,” Shepherd wrote.

The judge continued by saying that one of Bevin’s executive orders “reads like a bill of particulars” alleging misconduct, neglect and malfeasance on the part of board members. The allegations “malign the integrity and competence of board members” without giving them recourse, Shepherd wrote. He called the move a “unilateral fiat” by the governor.

“He served as judge, jury and executioner of the incumbent board without any legal process to determine the merits of the charges,” Shepherd wrote.

The judge took further issue with the way Bevin apparently negotiated Ramsey’s departure. The ruling says that the governor improperly agreed to fire and replace Louisville’s Board of Trustees as a condition of Ramsey’s resignation. That violated state statutes giving governance power to trustees.

Bevin had argued the board’s makeup did not meet certain legal requirements for minority representation and political party balance. But Shepherd wrote that the governor could have corrected that issue by filling existing vacancies on the board with minority trustees and Republicans. His judgment noted that Bevin has not fulfilled a legal settlement from March requiring him to appoint additional minority trustees.

Shepherd wrote that he did not doubt Bevin’s intentions were good when he attempted to abolish and reconstitute the board. But he said allowing such action would set a dangerous precedent.

“If the court adopts his interpretation of the reorganization statute, there would be nothing to stop a future governor from employing it to destroy a university board as a means of political retaliation, or to extort some economic advantage, or for other motives that are not yet in the public interest,” Shepherd wrote.

The judgment enjoins the executive orders’ implementation and declares that public universities are outside of Kentucky governors’ reorganization power. It also declares that university board members cannot be removed except for cause and after hearings.

The governor’s lawyers are reviewing the ruling, Amanda Stamper, a spokeswoman for Bevin’s office, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. She declined to address whether an appeal is coming but said that the ruling ignores an opinion issued under a previous attorney general giving the governor reorganization authority.

Beshear issued a statement asking Bevin to move quickly after the ruling — whether he decides to appeal or not. The statement noted the Board of Trustees has unfilled openings.

“What our students and faculty need now is finality,” Beshear said. “That is why I am calling on Governor Bevin to either accept the ruling and appoint trustees to the five openings, or agree to move this case immediately to the Kentucky Supreme Court.”

University officials offered their own statements.

“We look forward to the final resolution of this issue,” Acting University of Louisville President Neville Pinto said in a statement. “In the meantime, the University of Louisville continues in its commitment to providing high-quality education to our students, conducting groundbreaking research and being engaged in the community we serve.”

Larry Benz, who chairs the board that had its power upheld, said he would not make any comments on legal matters concerning trustees.

“It is an honor and a privilege for all appointed trustees to serve the University of Louisville,” Benz said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing with Dr. Pinto and the office of the president, students, faculty, and staff in the ongoing progression of student success, breakthrough research and community engagement.”

The ruling Wednesday comes less than a week after Kentucky’s Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 2 decision that Bevin overstepped his authority when he unilaterally cut the budgets of Kentucky community colleges and universities. The decision, which frees $18 million in appropriations for colleges and universities, was cited in Wednesday’s ruling.

Shepherd’s decision also referenced worries that Bevin’s Board of Trustees changes could affect Louisville’s standing with its accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The accreditor wrote in August that the trustee overhaul appeared to put the university out of compliance with the agency’s standards.

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By Jake New

The commissioner of the Big 12 Conference on Wednesday called on colleges to prevent athletes with histories of violence from so easily transferring from team to team, and expressed support for allowing the National Collegiate Athletic Association to punish programs that mishandle sexual and domestic assault cases involving athletes.

Speaking at a forum about sexual assault and domestic violence organized by the conference, Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12’s commissioner, said that colleges should use “every tool that is available in eradicating the behavior,” including possible NCAA intervention. Bowlsby described the forum as “timely and important,” but some victims’ advocates worry that the forum’s message may be muddied by the fact that the Big 12 invited Ray Rice, a former National Football League player who was arrested in 2014 for domestic violence, to speak at the event.

“The challenge is someone gets in trouble, it’s cloaked in darkness, they move on to another institution and they’re a perpetrator all over again,” Bowlsby said, with Rice sitting two chairs to his right. “We have to weed out the perpetrators and we have to hold them accountable, and that doesn’t just mean packing their bags and moving to another institution. If conferences or the NCAA can have a role in that, I’m all ears to listen.”

The NCAA indicated in September that it might be willing to take a larger role in punishing sports programs when teams and athletic departments interfere with sexual misconduct investigations. The announcement followed two years of debate over the issue.

In July 2014, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, released a report suggesting that more than 20 percent of institutions allow their athletic departments to oversee sexual assault cases. McCaskill called the finding “borderline outrageous,” and in a Senate hearing that week, Mark Emmert, the NCAA’s president, promised he would raise the issue with the association’s members.

Later that year, the NCAA released a handbook instructing colleges on how best to prevent and respond to sexual assaults involving athletes, and adopted a resolution telling athletic departments not to interfere with such investigations. The guidelines are not enforceable rules, however, and since the handbook’s release, several institutions — including the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Baylor University — have been accused of allowing their athletic departments to influence disciplinary decisions for athletes accused of sexual violence.

During a discussion on college sports issues at the Aspen Institute earlier this month, Emmert admitted that the guidelines had been ineffective at some institutions, despite strong support for the handbook and resolution among the association’s members.

“We passed that unanimously, promulgated it, continued to talk about the issue, and then we had a series of very high-profile issues happen yet again over the past, even, just six months,” Emmert said. “It’s pretty shocking to me personally when you see universities not understanding what that relationship should be.”

Emmert added that the NCAA recently created a new committee to explore the possibility of creating rules that would allow the association to punish colleges that do not follow the 2014 resolution. The decision came after 170,000 people signed a petition created by a sexual assault survivor named Brenda Tracy and her son that asked the NCAA to ban any athletes who have committed violent crimes.

Tracy said she was gang-raped by football players while attending a party at Oregon State University in 1998. The Oregon State players were punished with a one-game suspension and 25 hours of community service. The players’ coach at the time, Mike Riley, called the two men “really good guys who made a bad choice.” Since 2014, Tracy has visited college campuses speaking to football players about sexual assault, including recently meeting with the team at the University of Nebraska, where Riley now coaches.

Earlier this year, Tracy and Oregon State’s president persuaded the Pac-12 conference to adopt new rules barring programs from offering scholarships to athletes who have been kicked off another team for assault and harassment. The Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 have also adopted similar policies. Tracy spoke at the Big 12’s forum on Wednesday.

She said too often sexual assault is thought of as a women’s issue. It’s up to men — and in the context of athletics, that includes players, coaches and athletics directors — to find ways to prevent sexual violence against women, she said.

“Asking women to end sexual violence is like asking children to end child abuse,” Tracy said.

The Big 12’s forum comes four months after one of the conference’s members forced out several administrators over a long-brewing sexual assault scandal. In May, Baylor’s Board of Regents asked the university’s president to resign and fired its head football coach over allegations that they had continuously mishandled — and sought to suppress public discourse about — sexual assaults committed by its football players and other students. Baylor’s athletics director later resigned, as well.

Pepper Hamilton, a law firm the university hired to investigate how it has handled allegations of sexual assault, presented a lengthy oral report to the board, which placed blame on the university’s president, athletics director and football coaching staff, noting that the staff covered up assaults involving players. The following month, the Big 12 Conference’s Board of Directors requested “a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding the sexual assaults” at Baylor.

The board asked that Baylor provide “written materials as well as any information that has been conveyed orally to university leadership or to its Board of Regents including, but not limited to, the unedited written or verbal information from Pepper Hamilton, omitting only the names of any involved students.” Baylor officials said no written report was ever created, and in an interview with Inside Higher Ed, the university’s executive vice president said there are no plans to release any other documents related to the investigation, citing student privacy laws.

The conference met with Baylor officials for two hours in July, and the Board of Directors said it came away satisfied that the university was being forthcoming and making the “changes that are necessary.”

Other members of the conference have also recently faced allegations that they have mishandled cases of gender violence involving athletes. Last season, the University of Oklahoma’s football roster included a player who was charged in 2014 with punching a woman and breaking four bones in her face. In defending his decision to keep the player on the team, Bob Stoops, Oklahoma’s head football coach, espoused the importance of second chances.

The forum itself was also not without criticism. Among the panelists speaking at the event was Rice, the former NFL player who was fired from the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 after a video emerged showing him dragging his then-fiancée into an elevator after he knocked her unconscious during an argument. Rice has not been employed by any other teams since the assault, though he has said he would like to continue his career in the NFL. In recent months, he has spoken to high school and college teams about domestic abuse.

“I learned that there’s a difference between being the man and being a man,” Rice said Wednesday.

Some victims’ advocates said this week that they don’t believe enough time has passed for Rice to be addressing gender violence in this way. Criminal charges against him were dropped after he agreed to undergo court-supervised counseling, and he sued the Ravens in 2014 for $3.5 million for wrongful termination. The team settled with the player.

“I think in time it would be appropriate to include Mr. Rice in these discussions, but it is our position that it seems too soon for him to have learned much,” Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said. “The dynamics of domestic violence are complicated and it seems to me that Mr. Rice should still be in a learning mode. The Big 12 is asking that Mr. Rice be trusted to speak on the issue from a changed and learned space. For some of us, we are just not trusting that this change has occurred.”

Ken Luce, a spokesman for the Big 12, defended Rice’s inclusion on the panel.

“The reason for including Ray is a very simple one,” Luce said. “Ray has been out talking about what he has learned in counseling and what were the root causes that caused his actions. If we’re going to inform and educate and move forward on some of these issues, it’s important to hear that rationale and hear what he has learned.”

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By Doug Lederman

This month’s edition of the “Pulse” podcast features a discussion with Randy Swearer, vice president of education experiences at Autodesk.

In the conversation with Rodney B. Murray, the host of “The Pulse,” Swearer discusses Autodesk’s design software (which it provides free to faculty members and students), as well as how the company’s “design thinking” approach can enable lifelong learning and help colleges provide it.

“The Pulse” is Inside Higher Ed‘s monthly technology podcast, and Murray is executive director of the office of academic technology at University of the Sciences.

Find out more, and listen to past “Pulse” podcasts, here.

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By Joshua Kim

Evidence from my wife.

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By Chris Smith

One student reflects on his extracurricular employment.

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By Eric Stoller

Popular messaging app gets controversial.

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By Laura Tropp

A public discussion.

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By Doug Lederman

  • Scott Davidson, deputy vice chancellor at the University of Lincoln, in Britain, has been selected as vice chancellor at Newman University, also in Britain.
  • Bruce Walker Ferguson, professor of practice of engineering systems and management and head of the Institute Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, in Abu Dhabi, has been appointed president of American University of Iraq, Sulaimani.
  • Fernando Figueroa, vice chancellor for educational policy at the Dallas County Community College District, in Texas, has been chosen as president of Gateway Community and Technical College, in Kentucky.
  • Richard J. Gallot Jr., former state senator and representative in Louisiana, has been named president of Grambling State University, also in Louisiana.
  • Joseph L. Jones, visiting professor of political science at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, has been appointed president of Arkansas Baptist College.
  • Drew Nelson, dean of liberal arts and sciences at Alvin Community College, in Texas, has been named provost of the Boone campus of Des Moines Area Community College.
  • Terry Parker, provost and executive vice president of the Colorado School of Mines, has been selected as provost at Florida Polytechnic University.
  • Donald Sweeting, president of the Reformed Theological Seminary, in Florida, and a trustee of Colorado Christian University, has been appointed president of Colorado Christian.
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By Colleen Flaherty

Love or hate the lecture, more and more professors are abandoning it for higher-impact teaching practices. Yet at most institutions, innovative instruction comes only from individual professors, at certain times, in certain courses. That is, the “magic” has yet to be bottled and broadly adopted across general-education programs or other key course offerings.

A new grant initiative affiliated with the popular Reacting to the Past curricula — in which students participate in rigorous role-playing games to learn about historical events and debate ideas across disciplines — is trying to change that.

“Reacting has spread rapidly to many different colleges and universities — some 350 at present — but the broader curricular implementation has been slower,” said Mark Carnes, a professor of history at Barnard College who invented the curriculum nearly two decades ago, to cure his students’ painfully apparent ennui. (He details the process in his 2014 book, Minds on Fire: How Role Immersion Games Transform College.)

Carnes added, “This grant seeks to focus on the hard work of implementing strong innovation in large curricular swaths.”

With games on everything from Athenian democracy to Charles Darwin and the rise of naturalism, Reacting has a huge following among individual professors across disciplines. Both faculty members and institutions make up the Reacting Consortium, housed at Barnard, with access to existing games and involvement with those in development. To call Reacting series games might by a bit misleading, by the way, since — while fun — they’re heavy on reading and student preparation for in-class role playing.

A number of colleges and universities also have made Reacting a mandatory part of freshman experiences, majors or programs; Carnes and his fellow “gamemasters” — as instructors are called during the multiweek units — want more of that kind of involvement.

With support from the Endeavor Foundation, which supports the liberal arts, Reacting is accepting proposals for grants to help institutions further embed Reacting and its fundamentally active learning strategies into curricula on a broader scale. The grant guidelines are purposefully broad, but possible applications include those across departments, colleges and general-education curricula. Grants go to teams, not individual professors.

“We believe that we are enhancing the efforts of faculty and administrations to engage their students more deeply in their academic work, which we find critical,” said Ashley Kidd, a program officer at Endeavor. “Too often, we see students sitting in lecture halls disengaged. Self-reflection on the ways in which students actually learn best requires dedicated professors experimenting with enlivening and liberating pedagogies, such as the creative game-playing pedagogy that Reacting to the Past represents.”

Endeavor is about to begin accepting its second and final round of grant applications; the deadline is Dec. 1. Eighteen colleges will receive “mini grants” of $7,500 each to help them incorporate practices such as Reacting into their undergraduate programs.

Funds will primarily help five members from each institution attend a team-based track at the Reacting Winter Conference. In addition to Reacting experts, Peter Felten, assistant provost for teaching and learning and a professor of history at Elon University and co-author of the recent The Undergraduate Experience: Focusing Institutions on What Matters Most, is also scheduled to speak. Any remaining funds will go toward campus workshops, stipends for course development or travel to future conferences.

Kidd, of Endeavor, said that in helping faculty members to attend the institute, “we believe that we are also helping them to reflect on and experiment with their teaching such that they can then help their students to become more active learners, and, by extension, more critically engaged and active citizens in our democracy.”

Reacting is already the signature course of the Liberal Arts Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Larry Carver, honors program director, said the class is one that prospective students visit and that graduates “remember and argue about years later.” He described Reacting as an “exciting and successful way of introducing students to great ideas and significant moments in history and doing so with a rigor and discipline that significantly improves the writing and speaking skills of our students.” One colleague believes that students who have taken a Reacting class are more likely to speak up in other classes, for example, he said.

Beyond the skills they acquire, “the delight the students take in the course is infectious,” Carver said (so much so that he’s actually changed an upper-division class to History at Play).

“That the class builds community can be measured in part by the reactions of [liberal arts honors] students who don’t elect to take Reacting. They feel a bit left out and often sign up for the course next semester,” Carver added via email. “As for their understanding of history, few students lose sight of what actually happened; all come away with a better understanding of what might have happened and why what happened actually did.”

John Burney, vice president for academic affairs at Doane University, which offers Reacting courses, will oversee how teams from the various grant recipients collectively strategize about implementation strategies and curricula. He said one common barrier to involvement in Reacting is time; professors worry about taking away from their material, especially in sweeping general-education courses. Yet time and again these courses prove “a natural home for Reacting, because they’re teaching critical-thinking and written and speaking skills,” he said.

Students’ imaginations are engaged, he said, causing them to more deeply understand and retain essential content, Burney added.

Teaching and Learning
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A Reacting to the Past-based U.S. History survey course at Cal State East Bay.
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Source: Inside Higher Ed


By Scott Jaschik

Part of applying to college is paying for doing so. Stanford University is known for its high fee ($90) and long odds of admission. The University of Georgia charges $60. The University of Florida charges $30 for the application plus a $5 processing fee.

These colleges and others with fees typically permit those who say they can’t afford it to file a form to seek to waive the fee, and officials report that it’s not hard to get a waiver for those who meet certain conditions.

But momentum appears to be building for the idea that fees may discourage low-income applicants, who may doubt that they will get a waiver and who already may feel intimidated by a college-application process that no one in their family might have tried before.

This month, two liberal arts colleges — Bowdoin College and Trinity College of Connecticut — announced such initiatives. And on Monday, the City University of New York announced a systemwide initiative that will drop fees for many more students and families because CUNY educates so many more low-income students than do most private liberal arts colleges. All three institutions have a $65 regular fee.

The programs vary slightly in defining who is eligible:

  • CUNY will waive its fee for New York City high school students eligible for the federal free or reduce-price lunch program, plus students living in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home, or who are homeless, and students whose families receive public assistance.
  • Bowdoin College will no longer require application fees from those who are in the first generation of their family to go to college, or who are applying for financial aid.
  • Trinity is waiving it for those who are in the first generation of their families to enroll.

For an institution with a large population of low-income students, meaningful revenue may be lost, but meaningful numbers of students may be encouraged to apply. CUNY estimates that there are students from more than 37,500 families who will be eligible for the fee waiver. New York City schools will identify the students and show them how to have the fee automatically waived. The cost (in lost application fees) is expected to be about $2.4 million annually. New York City plans to provide $2 million a year, with CUNY providing the remaining funds.

In all the plans, students will simply have to indicate that they are eligible rather than filling out a form.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has been encouraging colleges — especially elite colleges — to recruit and enroll more low-income students than they have historically. One strategy recommended by the foundation is waiving application fees for low-income students.

Harold O. Levy, executive director of the foundation, said via email that all colleges should follow the pattern of those that have recently changed their policies.

“Application fees act as a life-changing barrier preventing many low-income students from applying to college, or at minimum severely limit the number of colleges they apply to,” Levy said. “Eliminating these fees for such students is a positive step that more colleges and universities should adopt to create equal educational opportunity for all. Cooke Foundation research shows that nearly a quarter of high-achieving students from low-income families don’t even apply to college, and that’s a tremendous loss that deprives our nation of their talents and denies the students a pathway out of poverty.”

Other studies back the idea that dropping the application fee may have an impact.

A 2013 report by Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University and Sarah Turner of the University of Virginia examined an experiment they conducted with high achieving, low-income students. A number of interventions — including offering them fee waivers to 171 selective colleges — were conducted to make these students more aware of their options. The students in the program were more likely than similar students outside the program to apply to more colleges, and to more competitive colleges.

That study was one of the reasons cited by Reed College when it dropped all application fees.

Reed groups applicants by socioeconomic quartiles. The number of applications in the lowest quartile increased by 40 percent and 35 percent, respectively, in the two years after Reed dropped application fees. Enrolled students from that quartile increased only modestly, but Reed officials said that they view the process of attracting more of them as a long-term project. And they are pleased that more people from low-income families are considering the college.

Milyon Trulove, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at the Oregon private college, said that it was “core to our mission” to try things to encourage low-income applicants.

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By Andrew Kreighbaum

In the latter half of the 2000s, it became commonplace for regulators and policy analysts to refer to the “Wild West” landscape of student lending, especially private student loans. A decade later, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has announced itself as the new sheriff in town to the student loan industry and the for-profit colleges that fueled it.

Launched in 2011, the agency was formed as a response to the 2007-8 financial crisis and given oversight of mortgage lending, credit cards and student loans. Its formation put the regulatory functions of a number of federal agencies under one roof and meant that, for the first time, someone was looking over the shoulders of many private companies in higher education and other industries.

The result of that scrutiny over the last two years?

  • In July 2015, the agency ordered Discover Bank to repay $18.5 million in student loans.
  • In August, it took action against Wells Fargo’s student lending division for illegal student loan practices, ordering the company to pay a $3.6 million penalty and provide $410,000 in relief to consumers.
  • In September, it fined Bridgepoint Education $8 million for allegedly deceiving students into taking out private loans that were more costly than advertised. The agency also ordered the for-profit college provider to award $23.5 million in student loan relief.

Most telling of all were the lawsuits the bureau filed against Corinthian Colleges and, later, ITT Technical Institute for separate predatory lending schemes. Those lawsuits preceded further federal sanctions and helped drive the collapse of Corinthian in 2015 and ITT this summer.

For-profit colleges were not part of the agency’s stated oversight mission. But its focus on student financial products led the CFPB to investigate those entities’ roles in facilitating private student loans as well as misrepresentations of outcomes like job placement rates.

The agency began looking into the for-profit chains at a time when the political environment in Washington was much less receptive to aggressive regulation of the industry. It eventually played a larger role than initially anticipated by many in higher ed in dealing a major blow to the for-profit industry.

It has, meanwhile, also reshaped the regulatory landscape for student lenders by hearing consumer complaints, issuing new lending standards and taking enforcement actions involving specific institutions. The CFPB focused not just on the providers of private student loans but also the entities — guarantors and loan servicers — who support the biggest lender all, the federal government. And it is primed to have an ongoing part in cleaning up practices in the student lending sector.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who was instrumental in establishing the CFPB, said in 2011 congressional testimony that enforcement is generally a last resort but having a “cop on the beat” is an essential tool for consumer protection. She said in a statement that the Bridgepoint action was the latest example of the agency acting on behalf of students.

“In just five short years since the CFPB opened its doors — even as Republicans are trying to kill the agency — we’ve seen example after example of the CFPB standing up for students who’ve been cheated by shady for-profit colleges and greedy student loan companies,” she said. “It’s increasingly clear with each enforcement action that the CFPB really is starting to level the playing field for students in this country.”

Clear Priorities

The agency was established by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, a law pushed by Warren (at the time a special adviser to the president) and other Democrats in response to the financial abuses that drove the financial crisis. Student lending quickly emerged as one of its key stated policy priorities, as seen in the cases it pursued.

“The CFPB certainly has a lot of its fingerprints on this shift in policy toward the for-profit colleges and toward questionable marketing and questionable loan practices,” said Teddy Downey, executive editor at the Capitol Forum, which provides analysis of consumer protection, antitrust enforcement and other issues.

Ori Lev, a lawyer at D.C.-based firm Mayer Brown and former deputy enforcement director at the CFPB, said the agency’s actions in the student loan space have helped raise the profile of the issue, much like the impact of its enforcement in the mortgage servicing market.

Consumer advocates say the CFPB’s impact has gone far beyond the enforcement actions it has taken against specific institutions and that the agency has played a key role in uncovering and publicizing abuses affecting student borrowers. The CFPB launched a complaint reporting system for student borrowers that provided an outlet for victims of shady dealings to report problems where they had none before. And the bureau is drafting a Payback Playbook to help guide borrowers through an overwhelming number of choices for payment plans.

“They’ve done a really great job highlighting a lot of the abuses in the for-profit [industry] and in the servicing sphere,” said Persis Yu, director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project. “Having a national agency able to take complaints nationwide and able to do investigations that private citizens are not able to do has been very meaningful in this sphere.”

Influence on Other Regulators

The bureau has pushed other agencies to become more forceful in their own enforcement of those sectors as well, observers said, both through the influence of key personnel and a lead CFPB role in federal interagency collaborations. They say the agency’s leadership has helped push other agencies, like the Education Department, to take a more active regulatory role in the for-profit and student loan servicing areas.

Rohit Chopra, the agency’s first student loans ombudsman, joined the U.S. Department of Education in January as special adviser to Education Secretary John King Jr. He previously was a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress after leaving CFPB. (Chopra this month moved to the Hillary Clinton campaign’s transition team.)

“The CFPB is not just an amorphous institution. It’s made up of people with ideas and priorities,” Downey said.

Downey observed that CFPB has thus had a direct influence on the department through former employees like Chopra. But it’s also influenced the department with sharing of information and competition for enforcement and jurisdiction, factors reflected in recent steps by the department.

The Department of Education in July launched a federal student aid feedback system. The department has also taken a more forceful role in enforcement on for-profit college and student loan servicing issues. The two agencies collaborated with the Treasury Department to release in July a set of customer service standards for student loan servicing companies.

In 2014, an interagency task force launched to build on the work being pursued separately by the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities Exchange Commission, the Departments of Justice, Treasury and Veterans Affairs, and the CFPB. Many cited the task force as driving investigations and enforcement actions in the for-profit sector. Secretary King has become increasingly outspoken on for-profits in particular, even using the denial of nonprofit status for one institution as a warning to other colleges looking to dodge federal oversight.

Message to #4profit schools who are thinking about converting to nonprofit status for the wrong reasons: #DontDoIt

— U.S. Dept of Education (@usedgov) August 11, 2016

Downey said the Department of Education’s involvement in the sector hasn’t been a question of the tools available but the willingness of its leaders to go after the sector.

“This not a question of law or jurisdiction,” he said. “It’s a question of political will.”

Role Going Forward

It’s not clear what role the CFPB will continue to play in oversight of for-profits. In investigations involving ITT and Corinthian, the agency targeted private student loans facilitated by the institutions.

“The hook for CFPB’s jurisdiction — at least predominantly for the for-profit side — has been the for-profit’s willingness to make their own [private] loans, to be lenders, or at the very least to facilitate a private loan scheme,” Downey said.

He and other observers said that as for-profits have drawn back from facilitating private student loans, the CFPB is likely to take a less active role in regulating the sector. That’s because when private student loans aren’t in play, the watchdog agency’s jurisdiction becomes less clear.

“The CFPB only has authority over for-profit schools if they can tie the school’s conduct to either private student loans or debt collection activity,” Lev said.

Agencies like the Department of Education and Federal Trade Commission, on the other hand, have much broader jurisdiction to act in the for-profit sphere.

Some prominent voices within the agency have argued that it has jurisdiction over any financial product, including federal student loans. The CFPB said it does not comment on issues of jurisdiction. But spokeswoman Moira Vahey said CFPB has authority over entities that offer consumer financial products and services.

Pushing the Envelope

The agency hasn’t been without its critics, including those who say it has overstepped its role in some instances.

Richard Hunt, president and CEO of the Consumer Bankers Association, has written that the agency should reform its complaint process, which he said takes complaints directly and releases them each month unverified and without context. He also said the agency’s high-profile enforcement actions don’t provide clear guidance to the industry as a whole.

Hunt said in a statement that multiple disclosures, in addition to strong underwriting by lenders, are helping student loan borrowers pay off their debt.

“Robust underwriting used by banks, plus strong servicing programs to assist their borrowers throughout the life of the loan, are helping families meet their obligations. To make college more affordable, we need to help students become better informed, more careful borrowers,” he said.

Aaron Lacey, a lawyer in St. Louis, whose clients have included entities like for-profit colleges and others in the higher ed sector, said the CFPB has gone beyond its jurisdiction in certain arguments made in the Corinthian and ITT cases.

“I certainly believe there were elements of those actions that arguably went beyond what most people felt was the purview of the CFPB,” he said.

The agency suffered a rare public setback in April when a federal judge ruled that the agency did not have authority over college accreditors. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon blocked the CFPB’s efforts to force the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools to release information about its approval process for several for-profit college chains.

It was another issue where the bureau was out in front of other regulators. Two months later, the federal panel that oversees accrediting agencies recommended shutting down ACICS, and the department announced last week that it would terminate federal recognition of the accreditor.

Aside from the ACICS case, Lacey said it was hard to imagine the agency’s enforcement activities otherwise being seriously reined in on for-profits.

“It is hard for me right now to imagine anyone feeling a lot of heat for going after this industry,” Lacey said. “It is so unpopular. The narrative is too good for cracking down on for-profits. It’s very hard to sell the counternarrative.”

And although the CFPB has had a busy summer, more enforcement actions involving student loan servicing companies may be forthcoming before the year is over. CFPB has issued NORA notices — providing notification to institutions that agency staff intend to recommend a potential claim to the director — to Xerox, First Marblehead and Navient, according to investor filings issued by those companies.

Lev said all of those cases “seem ripe for resolution.”

The agency said it does not comment on potential enforcement actions.

Student loans ombudsman Seth Frotman, who assumed that role after Chopra’s departure, said the bureau has done considerable work setting up the first federal supervisory program to oversee student loan servicers’ compliance with the law and to root out harmful practices.

“We are working to create a market that better protects student loan borrowers,” he said.

Frotman said that serious problems remain for the CFPB to tackle in the student loan servicing sector. He said breakdowns in student loan servicing have left millions of student borrowers without protections against default that they are guaranteed by law. His predecessor has often compared the patterns in the industry to those in the mortgage sector before subprime mortgage crisis. And Frotman didn’t shy away from making the same comparison himself.

“You can make the case that in certain regards what is happening in terms of student loan breakdowns is even more acute and more troubling than what you saw in the mortgage space,” Frotman said.

Student Aid and Loans
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By Scott Jaschik

In the United States, Hillary Clinton is pushing to make public higher education debt-free for most Americans. Britain, meanwhile, is adjusting to much higher tuition rates than have been the norm. And policy makers in many countries are debating the significance of countries without tuition.

A new book — The Political Economy of Higher Education Finance: The Politics of Tuition Fees and Subsidies in OECD Countries,1945-2015 (Palgrave Macmillan) — aims to put these developments in context. Julian L. Garritzmann, the author, is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Konstanz and the University of Zurich. He responded via email to questions about his book. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How similar were the leading Western nations on tuition policy in the immediate post-World War II years?

A: After World War II, the higher education systems of all Western nations were almost identical in many important respects. Firstly, enrollment levels were very low in all countries. That is, hardly anyone studied. In all countries about 5 percent of each cohort attended higher academic education. The U.S. was somewhat ahead of the other countries at this time, but even here enrollment was still very low, well below 10 percent. Secondly, access to higher education was strongly stratified in all countries. Whether kids made it to college or not mainly depended on their parents’ educational and financial background. It was mainly the children of higher socioeconomic strata that made it to college. Thirdly, the systems were also highly similar regarding their funding. In the late 1940s and 1950s, tuition fees were very low or even nonexistent in all Western countries. The U.S., Sweden and Germany, for example, looked still highly similar at this time. Finally, there was no public financial aid to support students. In short, the higher education systems resembled each other very closely in many respects in the immediate postwar period.

Q: Many Americans assume that the role of private higher education in the United States makes comparisons between the U.S. and European countries difficult. Does it?

A: I don’t think so. First of all, whether higher education is privatized or not is a political decision, so it is interesting and necessary to compare countries that have made different decisions. A comparative perspective can clearly help us here to understand the causes and consequences, the advantages and disadvantages of privatization. In the U.S., for example, most of the early higher education institutions were private. Public institutions were only founded later to expand access (by the land-grant acts and other bills), which is why there are many more private institutions on the East Coast than in the rest of the country, as the settlement moved westwards.

Consider Japan as a second example: its first higher education institutions were all public, designed after the role model of the European medieval elite universities. When demand for more higher education increased in the 1960s, the government had to respond. Japan was governed by conservative parties at this time, who were unwilling to spend more public money on education, so they “outsourced” the enrollment expansion into the private sector. As an effect, the Japanese system today doesn’t look too different from the U.S. one in terms of privatization and in terms of tuition amounts (it differs in other important respects, though). The same holds true for many Eastern European countries. That is why I think that a comparative perspective analyzing higher education systems across countries and time can help a lot in understanding the broad variety of systems around the globe, their advantages and disadvantages, and potential challenges for the future.

Q: Why did the U.S. and many European nations diverge on tuition policy?

A: That was exactly the question that got me interested in higher education policy. I found this especially puzzling against the background that the higher education systems had been so similar at the end of World War II. Why is it that seemingly similar countries have diverged in these different directions over the postwar period? When I looked into the existing literature, two arguments were predominant: some scholars argued that the divergence is due to different economic circumstances. Others believed it is due to different cultures. I don’t believe either is true. And I didn’t find any empirical proof for these arguments in my research.

Rather, I found — and show in my book — that it’s all about politics. Whether countries have tuition fees today or not and whether they support students financially depends on which parties were in office during the immediate postwar decades and how long they were in office. In some countries — like Sweden — left-wing, progressive parties were predominant in government. They kept tuition low and installed generous student financial aid to expand enrollment levels and to make access more equal. In other countries — like Japan — conservative parties were constantly in office. They held very different goals: they were very concerned that an expansion of higher education would lead to a decline of the quality of higher education. So they tried to slow the enrollment expansion down, did not install any student aid and introduced tuition fees to bring additional money in and to make students pay for their own education.

These cases illustrate why right-wing-dominated countries today have high tuition fees and low student aid, while left-wing-dominated countries combine low tuition fees and high student subsidies. I also found, however, that some countries — like Germany — have low tuition fees and low student support, whereas others — like the U.S. — charge tremendous tuition fees and simultaneously offer far-reaching student aid (grants, and — increasingly — loans). I show in my book that this is again due to politics: it matters not only which parties were in government, but also how long they governed.

Taken together, my research shows that, first, countries used to be highly similar; second, today they fall into four different groups regarding their tuition-subsidy systems (I label these the Four Worlds of Student Finance); and third, the divergence can be explained by the partisan composition of office and the duration of parties in office.

Q: Britain is moving toward an American model, with high (for the U.K.) tuition charges. How significant is that?

A: The change in the U.K. is considerable, even path breaking. As said before, my research shows that the advanced democracies fall into four groups with regard to their tuition-subsidy systems. Over time, these four worlds have become increasingly resilient. In countries with tuition fees — like the U.S. — tuition keeps constantly increasing. In countries without tuition fees — like Sweden or Germany — no attempts are made to install tuition. Although there was a lot of policy change in the 1960s and ’70s, there has hardly been any change since the 1980s. Political scientists call these continuities “path dependencies.” Against this background, the introduction of tuition fees in the U.K. in 1997 was a considerable, path-breaking change. In fact, the U.K. is the only country that has changed from one world of student finance to another.

The U.K. example also shows, however, what the political consequences of such a dramatic policy change can be: the Labour party, which introduced the fees (because the Conservatives had pushed for them for more than two decades, emphasizing the decline of the quality of higher education), lost many votes among young adults and their parents in the subsequent elections. The same happened to the [Liberal Democrats] when they promised not to raise fees but still did so in the end. Moreover, the tuition introduction had a number of socio-economic consequences, some of which are visible already and some that will become much more visible in the future. I am convinced, for example, that we will see an increase in wage inequality in the U.K. in the next years due to the introduction of fees. Educational inequality is also likely to rise. That all said, I think it is noteworthy to point out that it is only England and Wales — and to a lesser degree Northern Ireland — that installed tuition fees. In Scotland, most students still study free of charge. This is again due to party politics….

Q: In the current presidential campaign in the U.S., Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton proposed to make public higher education free for most Americans. Critics say this is impossible, but proponents point to European nations. How relevant are the policies in Scandinavia and Germany to the debates in the U.S.?

A: On the one hand, I believe they are very relevant because they are good examples that one can achieve high-quality higher education and stable economies with considerable economic growth while simultaneously maintaining low private costs. While many U.S. citizens call Sanders’s higher education program “socialist,” it rather appears a moderate Social Democratic program to many Europeans. The countries’ different trajectories can thus stimulate the debate and offer options for policy diffusion.

On the other hand, my research shows that whereas parties and politicians had much leeway in designing the higher education systems in the 1950s through the ’70s, their room for maneuver has become smaller and smaller over the decades. I show in my book that this is mainly due to what political scientists call “positive feedback effects.” That is, the existing higher education institutions shape people’s preferences and affect public opinion. As the share of the population that themselves had paid tuition fees increases year by year, it becomes more and more difficult to reverse track. People of course do not want to “pay twice,” first for their own, then for others’ education. So at this point I agree with the more pessimistic view that it is highly unlikely that we will see free higher education in the U.S. (although for different reasons than those usually brought forward in the U.S. debate).

Q: Do you think the U.S. could make public higher education free without sacrificing its quality?

A: Theoretically yes, practically no. In principle, it is of course possible to have a system with low or no tuition fees but high quality. Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland are but some examples. But this only works at the expense of high public costs. Of course the funding has to come from somewhere — if not from tuition, then from taxes. So in principle, it would of course be possible to substitute the immense tuition fee amounts in the U.S. with public money by increasing taxes. One does not even have to look at Europe to see this. Historically, the U.S. was much closer to this system in the mid-20th century. In practice, however, I don’t believe that could politically be a viable option in current U.S. politics. This is mainly due to the Republicans’ (and especially the Tea Party’s) vetoing and demonization of any suggestions in this direction. As these debates are so salient and prominent in the current debate, more progressive policy making is impossible, at least in the short and medium run.

Q: So what can be done to make the system more just while maintaining its quality?

A: I can imagine several options. Consider two: first of all, while I don’t believe that radical and large policy change is possible, I suppose that small, incremental change is possible. Political actors seeking more equality of opportunities in higher education could try to establish tuition models that defer the costs to the time after graduation. Instead of paying up front, students could be charged income-contingent tuition fees. That is, students would pay fees — but only after graduation and when they are in paid work. The amounts could then differ on their respective wages. This is the case in Australia and the U.K.

A second — in my view crucial — policy change would be to simplify the funding system as much as possible. At the moment the U.S. higher education funding system is way too nontransparent. It is entirely unforeseeable for most students how high the tuition amounts will be and how much financial support they will receive. This is so because of the higher education institutions’ increasing use of “personalized” tuition amounts and due to the nontransparent multitude of funding streams (some state and some federal funding, several public and private grant and loan systems, etc.). This nontransparency is worrisome, because we know that children from lower socioeconomic and educational strata are much more likely to overestimate the costs and to underestimate the benefits of higher education.

Thus, one reason why the U.S. is far away from achieving equality of access is the complexity of its funding system. Simplifying this a lot (to, say, two simple rules) and making highly transparent for each student what the costs and benefits of higher education are could be a second crucial policy for the U.S. system. In fact, the Obama administration has already tried to go some steps in this direction, but overall much more needs to be done for this to be successful. If nothing changes, tuition and student debt amounts will keep increasing, and educational and wage inequalities will continue to increase. In the long run, this might not only have worrisome political and social effects, but also macroeconomic effects, as the total [national] student debt amount by now is larger than total credit card debt and total auto debt.

New Books About Higher Education
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By Joshua Kim

Please disagree with this critical review.

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