Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

July 11, 2018

The California Institute of Technology has announced that it is dropping a requirement that applicants submit the SAT or ACT writing test. Caltech's move follows those of Stanford and Princeton Universities last week. Only 22 colleges appear to still require the writing test, although millions of students take the exams every year. A statement from Caltech said, "Writing and communications skills are valued highly by Caltech and will continue to be evaluated through the information collected in the SAT/ACT verbal sections as well as through required application essays. With this policy, Caltech aims to streamline the application process and eliminate additional testing fees incurred by applicants."

The University of Michigan is considering such a change.

A spokesman for the College Board defended the value of the SAT writing test. "Everyone agrees that writing essays and developing extensive research projects are essential for college readiness and success," he said. "We believe that the SAT essay provides a strong complement to the multiple-choice section by asking students to demonstrate reading, analysis, writing, and critical thinking skills in the context of analyzing a provided source text. As part of the redesign, we lengthened the SAT essay to 50 minutes to give students more time to engage in thoughtful, effective writing. Moreover, because essay responses are collected in a secure test administration, individuals and institutions making use of the essay’s scores can have confidence that the work produced is each student’s own."

July 11, 2018

Northwestern University on Tuesday addressed a series of harassment allegations against Alec Klein, a professor of journalism who has been on leave since February. Northwestern “takes seriously all complaints that are brought to its attention and investigated those allegations promptly and thoroughly, following established university procedures,” Alan K. Cubbage, campus spokesperson, said in a statement. “Complaints to Northwestern’s Office of Equity are confidential in nature in order to protect the individuals involved” and Northwestern “cannot confirm the details that have been made public regarding the investigation” into Klein’s behavior.

In any case, Northwestern “apologizes to our current and former students and former employees for the experiences that they went through,” Cubbage said. “Their decisions to come forward with their complaints undoubtedly were not easy ones, and we commend them for having the courage to do so. Northwestern is committed to fostering an environment in which all members of our community are safe, secure and free from sexual misconduct of any form.”

Klein remains on leave from all his positions and is not on campus, Cubbage said.

Earlier this year, group of 10 former students and employees of the Justice Project at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism published an open letter accusing Klein of sexual harassment, abusive behavior and bullying. A month later, the group published another open letter saying 19 additional women had come forward to complain about Klein’s alleged sexually suggestive comments, unwanted touching and verbal abuse. Klein has denied the claims, saying in a statement that many came from a “disgruntled former employee.” Northwestern has said that some allegations dating back several years were previously found by the university to be unsubstantiated, but that new allegations would be investigated.

July 11, 2018

Capella University received approval Monday from its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, to merge its parent company, Capella Education Company, with Strayer Education Inc. The merger is expected to close on or before Aug. 1. Capella University and Strayer University, both successful for-profit universities, will continue to operate independently under the combined parent company, renamed Strategic Education Inc. The merger was originally announced last October. Together, the universities enroll about 80,000 students, and the new combined company is worth an estimated $1.9 billion.

July 11, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Rene Price, professor of earth and environment at Florida International University, explores how to stop salt water intrusion in the Everglades with more water. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

July 11, 2018

A new study questions the conventional wisdom that the best way for students to succeed in calculus in college is to take calculus in high school. A study of more than 6,000 freshmen at 133 colleges found that the real key to college calculus success is mastery in high school of algebra, geometry and trigonometry. The study was published in The Journal for Research in Mathematics Education and was conducted by Philip Sadler and Gerhard Sonnert of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

July 10, 2018

The National University System has purchased technology from UniversityNow, a venture that had worked to create online, competency-based programs and that operates Patten University. The California-based system, a nonprofit that enrolls roughly 35,000 students, will use UniversityNow's platform to create self-paced (but not strictly competency-based) online degree programs with annual tuition rates of $8,500. The system did not disclose the purchase price of the deal with UNow.

Dubbed FlexCourse, the system's new platform will offer several degrees -- an M.B.A., bachelor's degrees, an associate of arts in general studies -- through its John F. Kennedy University.

Michael Cunningham, chancellor of the National University System, said in an interview that JFK University plans eventually to use FlexCourse in all of its offerings. And he anticipates that it will be able to bring tuition in those programs down farther, perhaps to $5,000 per year, in part because the platform is designed to recruit and assess students at relatively low cost.

National is conducting a $20 million project to design general education courses for adult students that combine adaptive courseware, predictive analytics and competency-based learning. Through its Precision Institute, the university is sharing what it learns and develops in the experiment.

July 10, 2018

Mount Ida College’s former president defended his record leading up to the institution’s controversial closure, but some of his statements were contradicted by his Board of Trustees and questioned by another college leader Mount Ida left at the merger altar.

In his first public interview on Mount Ida’s shutdown, former president Barry Brown told The Boston Globe that Mount Ida did everything possible to remain open before making the best decision available. Mount Ida leaders have been under intense scrutiny since they walked away from talks to merge with nearby Lasell College as a financial crisis bore down upon them. They instead opted to close Mount Ida and sell its campus to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a series of decisions that has been harshly criticized in the Boston area and across Massachusetts.

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Brown said Lasell changed the terms of a proposed merger after learning that Lasell's lenders would not approve the deal. Mount Ida trustees felt the newly proposed terms would have ceded too much control to Lasell, and there “was not the sense of a culture of equals” that had been discussed, Brown told the Globe.

The deal was also different from previous discussions financially and in protection that would have been afforded for Mount Ida students and staff members, according to Brown’s account. It left questions about whether Lasell would have enough resources to run Mount Ida. Brown declined to go into specifics, citing a confidentiality agreement.

But Mount Ida’s trustees sent a statement denying that the deal fell apart because of control, the Globe reported. The statement said trustees rejected Lasell’s last offer because they feared the college was an unreliable partner that could abandon the talks.

The trustees’ statement comes after Mount Ida’s board chair, Carmin Reiss, testified before a state Senate committee in May that the Mount Ida Board of Trustees would have been disbanded under Lasell’s revamped proposal. Mount Ida would have had to take on more debt, and its board did not believe Lasell would be able to fund Mount Ida’s losses, she said at the time.

Lasell’s president, Michael Alexander, confirmed to the Globe that his college’s lenders wouldn’t approve the merger because of Mount Ida’s debt. So Lasell restructured the deal in a way that bondholders would not have had to approve it, he said. The restructured deal could have been approved quickly before Mount Ida ran out of money but would have given Lasell more control over Mount Ida.

Alexander disagreed that Lasell was the unreliable party in the talks, pointing out that it was Mount Ida that cut off merger discussions.

Brown also answered questions on his relationship with a wealthy Mount Ida donor he has advised on real estate and finances for decades. The family of Rosalie Stahl loaned $23 million to Mount Ida in its last years -- and decided to forgive almost half of what it was owed when the college closed. The family also donated $8 million to the college in recent years.

The relationship between Brown and the donor raised concerns about possible conflicts of interest.

Brown told the Globe he had been a good trustee of Stahl’s money by making loans to Mount Ida. The transaction took place properly, “with outside representation,” he said.

July 10, 2018

Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., has taken over operations of St. Vincent’s College, it said Monday, closing an acquisition deemed likely last year when the university entered a management agreement with St. Vincent’s, which largely awarded two-year nursing degrees.

The two institutions share similar missions, core values and a Roman Catholic identity, said John J. Petillo, Sacred Heart's president, in a news release. Combining them could create new models for clinical education and expand programs at St. Vincent’s, according to the university. Areas to expand in the future include distance education and continuing and professional education.

St. Vincent’s students will have a pathway toward baccalaureate and master’s degrees at Sacred Heart. Sacred Heart will have additional access to inpatient clinical sites. Those were also some of the key benefits leaders stressed when the management agreement was first announced last year.

The deal was officially effective July 2.

July 10, 2018

Newly released federal data show that a large portion of students enrolled at public, two-year colleges in 2011-12 worked during their first year at those institutions.

Some 44 percent of students worked “while enrolled in their first year of postsecondary education,” according to a new report by the National Center for Education Statistics,

The report, “Working Before, During, and After Beginning at a Public 2-Year Institution: Labor Market Experiences of Community College Students,” describes the employment of students before they enrolled in college for the first time and during their first year of enrollment. The report also examines how employment is related to these students’ postsecondary experiences and employment outcomes after they left or completed postsecondary education.

Among the key findings of the report:

  • Of the 44 percent of students who worked while enrolled in their first year of postsecondary education, 18 percent worked 35 hours or more per week, 14 percent worked between 21 and 34 hours per week, and 11 percent worked fewer than 21 hours per week.
  • Twenty percent of beginning students who worked 20 hours or fewer while enrolled in 2011-12 had attained an associate degree by 2014, compared with 10 percent of students who did not work while enrolled in their first year and 9 percent of students who worked full-time during their first year.
  • Among students who first began attending college in 2011-12 and were not enrolled three years later, a higher percentage of students (20 percent) who did not work while attending school in 2011-12 were unemployed in 2014 than were students who worked 20 hours or fewer while attending school (4 percent), those who worked 21 to 34 hours while attending school (9.4 percent), and those who worked 35 hours or more while attending school (5.6 percent).
July 10, 2018

"One Man's Vulgarity" is the name of a report being issued today by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on censorship of art on campus. The report documents numerous cases and urges those concerned with free expression in higher education to protect artistic freedom in higher education. "The artwork described here expresses a multitude of ideological viewpoints and depicts subjects ranging from critical illustrations of the Confederate flag to theater productions about Lenny Bruce to posters of beloved television characters. The one thing they all have in common is not the message they send, but the censorship their messages provoked," the report says.

Some of the cases discussed have been covered in Inside Higher Ed, including articles about controversies at Brandeis University, Salem State University and the University of Southern Maine.

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