Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 8, 2018

The leaders of 49 wealthy postsecondary institutions sent a letter to congressional leaders Wednesday urging them to repeal or amend the so-called endowment tax enacted as part of last year's Republican tax overhaul.

College costs or student debt will not be addressed by the tax, wrote the university leaders, who hold top executive positions at institutions potentially affected -- including Amherst, Bryn Mawr and Franklin & Marshall Colleges; the Juilliard School; Princeton Theological Seminary; Brown, Duke, Rice and Stanford Universities; and Washington University in St. Louis.

“Instead, it will constrain the resources available to the very institutions that lead the nation in reducing, if not eliminating, the costs for low- and middle-income students, and will impede the efforts of other institutions striving to grow their endowments for this very purpose,” the letter said. It went on to warn that taxing college and university resources will force institutions to provide less in student aid, spend less on research and dedicate less to public engagement in their surrounding communities.

It’s not clear whether the letter, addressed to both Republican and Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress, will lead to changes in tax law. But it demonstrates that the leaders of institutions with large endowments have not dropped the issue in the months since the tax reform package was signed into law.

“Endowments are not kept in reserve to be drawn on only occasionally or on a rainy day,” the letter said. “In fact, across our institutions, endowments support a significant and growing portion of our operations; for many, endowments provide almost half of annual revenues.”

Although it is commonly referred to as an endowment tax, the law in question places a 1.4 percent excise tax on net investment income at colleges and universities with at least 500 students and more than $500,000 in net assets per student. Institutions have faced uncertainty about which assets will be counted. Estimates vary, but dozens of colleges and universities could have to pay the tax.

March 8, 2018

A second complainant joined a lawsuit alleging that the University of Arizona paid a female former dean significantly less than her male counterparts and then ended her deanship in retaliation for raising the issue, their attorneys announced Wednesday. In January, Patricia MacCorquodale, dean emerita of Arizona’s Honors College and a professor of gender and women’s studies, sued the university for gender discrimination, saying she was underpaid as compared to male deans. 

Now Janice Cervelli, former dean of architecture at Arizona and current president of Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, alleges that the difference between her pay and the average male dean’s was $80,000 annually in her last two years at Arizona. The women’s collective action seeks to represent all female deans at Arizona and asserts that there is a broader pattern of underpaying these women in relation to male deans. MacCorquodale and Cervelli are seeking a jury trial and back pay for lost compensation, along with damages and relief. Arizona’s governing Board of Regents has previously said it does not comment on pending litigation.

March 8, 2018

TIAA is recognizing its 100th anniversary by giving away $1 million to 100 "difference makers" who work in the academic and nonprofit worlds, the financial services company announced. TIAA will recognize individuals for either professional or personal contributions. Nominations for the competition are due June 12 and may be submitted here.

March 8, 2018

An investigation by Foreign Policy examines the links between the Chinese Embassy and consulates and campus chapters of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which have long hosted cultural and social events and provided support for Chinese students at U.S. universities. Foreign Policy reported that campus chapters of CSSA regularly accept funds from Chinese consulates and that many describe themselves as being under the embassy's "guidance" or "leadership." The article cites "numerous CSSA members, including two current chapter presidents," who "say that they are uncomfortable with what they felt was growing ideological pressure from the embassy and consulates."

The Foreign Policy investigation found that embassy and consulate officials are regularly in contact with CSSA presidents, with whom they share information related to safety and "the occasional political directive." Consulate officials have asked CSSA leaders to share articles spouting a Chinese Communist Party line and last fall encouraged CSSAs to hold events tied to the 19th Communist Party Congress. In addition, the Chinese government has worked through CSSAs to organize welcoming parties for visiting Chinese leaders and pay students -- in one case, $20 each -- for their participation. 

Foreign Policy also reported that a "few CSSAs explicitly vet their members along ideological lines, excluding those whose views do not align with Communist Party core interests." The Chinese embassy did not respond to Foreign Policy’s requests for comment.

March 8, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute: Jonathan Pruitt, associate professor in the department of ecology, evolution and marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara, asks a good leader is always able to rally the troops. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 7, 2018

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is the latest institution to have an email error confuse people about who was admitted. The university sent out 11,000 messages this week that were supposed to go only to parents of admitted applicants. But about 500 went to parents of rejected applicants, leading some of them to think that their children had in fact been admitted. Calls started to arrive 15 minutes after the email went out, and Colorado Springs followed up with correct information and an apology.

March 7, 2018

Grand Canyon University's accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, approved the for-profit institution's application to convert to a nonprofit entity. 

"We appreciate the Higher Learning Commission's due diligence in thoroughly examining our proposal," said Brian Mueller, president of Grand Canyon, in a news release. "This is consistent with GCU's history and puts us on a level playing field with other traditional universities with regard to tax status and among other things the ability to accept philanthropic contributions, pursue research grant opportunities and participate in NCAA governance." 

The conversion means the company will sell the university and its academic-related assets to a nonprofit entity. The company, Grand Canyon Education, will continue as a for-profit entity that operates as a third-party provider of services like recruiting, counseling and human resources to the new nonprofit university.

Grand Canyon announced in January it would attempt to change its tax status after failing to make the conversion in a similar bid a few years ago. 

The deal still needs approval from the Education Department and the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education. 

March 7, 2018

A former assistant secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration will join the U.S. Department of Education again after a brief stint at the Department of Labor.

Diane Auer Jones will serve as senior adviser to the assistant secretary for postsecondary education, the post she previously held. She had joined the Department of Labor as a senior policy adviser last fall.

Politico first reported her return to the department. Jones was a senior fellow at the Urban Institute for more than two years. She served as assistant secretary from 2007 to 2008. Since leaving the Department of Education, much of her work has focused on career training, including apprenticeship programs.

Frank Brogan, whom the White House nominated for the assistant secretary for K-12 education job, is overseeing postsecondary issues as acting assistant secretary until he is confirmed by the Senate.

March 7, 2018

A federal district judge in Maryland on Monday upheld the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers temporary protection against deportation and provides the right to work to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers. The ruling has no immediate practical effect, as federal judges in California and New York previously ordered nationwide temporary injunctions barring the Trump administration from ending the program as planned.

Whereas the other two district judges found that the administration’s reasoning for ending DACA was arbitrary and capricious and based on the flawed legal conclusion that DACA was unlawful, Judge Roger W. Titus of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland found that based on a review of the administrative record, “it was reasonable for [the Department of Homeland Security] to have concluded -- right or wrong -- that DACA was unlawful and should be wound down in an orderly manner.”

Judge Titus indicated he would have preferred to come to a different conclusion. “The result of this case is not one that this Court would choose if it were a member of a different branch of our government,” the opinion states. “An overwhelming percentage of Americans support protections for 'Dreamers,' yet it is not the province of the judiciary to provide legislative or executive actions when those entrusted with those responsibilities fail to act.”

A legislative solution for Dreamers has been elusive since the Trump administration announced plans to end the DACA program in September. The Senate failed to pass three separate bills that would have codified protections for Dreamers. After initially suggesting he would sign whatever bill Congress sent him, President Trump has shifted his stance to insist that legislation protecting Dreamers include other immigration-related provisions anathema to many Democrats, specifically $25 billion for a southern border wall, the elimination of the diversity visa lottery program and new restrictions on family-based immigration.

While Judge Titus's ruling may not have a practical effect, CNN noted that it represents a symbolic victory for the Trump administration. CNN quoted Department of Judiciary spokesman Devin O'Malley: "The Department of Justice has long maintained that DHS acted within its lawful authority in making the discretionary decision to wind down DACA in an orderly manner, and we welcome the good news today that the district court in Maryland strongly agrees," O'Malley said. "Today's decision also highlights a serious problem with the disturbing growth in the use of nationwide injunctions, which causes the Maryland court's correct judgment in favor of the government to be undermined by the overbroad injunctions that have been entered by courts in other states."

Trump also cited the ruling in a tweet in which he cast blame for lack of a solution for Dreamers on Democrats.

CASA, the immigrant rights group that filed the lawsuit, said in a statement it was weighing its legal options. “The judiciary is the last line of defense for the Dreamers and we still hope we can depend on the courts to save our young people from deportations,” said Gustavo Torres, CASA's executive director. “With the lack of action from Congress and the president’s decision to cancel the program with no solution in place, we see the judiciary branch as our last hope. President Trump broke up DACA and as far as we see it, is showing no intention to fix it.”

March 7, 2018

This week's edition of “Inside Digital Learning” explores the following:

  • Coursera's expanded foray into degrees.
  • A new tool that incorporates artificial intelligence into the student course evaluation process.
  • One faculty member's explanation for why he'll never teach online.

Sign up for the weekly “Inside Digital Learning” newsletter here.


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