Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 15, 2020

The University of Southern California has fired three high-ranking athletics officials tied to the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.

USC is parting ways with Steve Lopes and Ron Orr, two senior associate athletic directors, and Scott Jacobson, an associate athletic director, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Orr and Jacobson led the Trojan Athletic Fund, and Lopes was the department’s CFO and COO, according to Southern California’s athletics staff directory. Donna Heinel, the department’s chief administrative officer and senior woman administrator, was fired in March 2019 after being indicted on one count of racketeering conspiracy for her involvement in the admissions scandal.

January 15, 2020

A Texas nonprofit has created a report card to score the state's public institutions on how well they serve first-generation, low-income students.

ScholarShot, based in Dallas, rates the colleges using metrics like graduate outcomes, academic engagement, financial management and interventions. Twenty-eight of the state's 35 public institutions participated in the nonprofit's survey.

At the top of the list are the University of North Texas at Dallas and the University of Texas at Arlington. ScholarShot is not releasing the names of institutions that scored below a "B" grade.

The report was created to address a "blind spot" in Texas education, ScholarShot said in a news release. This blind spot is the failure to transition first-generation, low-income students from high school to college and careers.

These students represent about half of those graduating from Texas high schools annually, the group said, and more than half of students enrolled in the state's four-year public institutions are economically disadvantaged. However, about 90 percent of first-generation, low-income students leave college before graduating.

ScholarShot says that systemic failings in high schools, colleges and public policy are to blame for this issue. Its report card is intended to push state legislators to change how they distribute funds, encourage universities to improve supports for these students and inform parents and academic advisers in the state.

January 15, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Kenneth Roemer, distinguished teaching professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, examines how to decide whether your story is fit for an autobiography. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 14, 2020

Student loan debt for graduate students is up, and black students are the hardest hit, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

The report looked at the $37 billion in student debt that U.S. graduate students accrue each year, and found that this amount increased by 7 percent between the 2010-11 and 2017-18 academic years. In contrast, undergraduate student debt decreased by 21 percent during that time period. Undergraduate enrollment has also decreased more substantially than graduate enrollment.

Equity is also an issue with the debt problem, the report found. Almost 80 percent of black students take out federal loans for graduate school, compared to 56 percent of white students. When looking at the median amounts borrowed, black students borrowed 25 percent more than white students, according to the report.

The report also found that black students need higher education levels to achieve earnings similar to their white peers, but they are less likely to hold fellowships or assistantships when in research and scholarship-based doctorate programs.

“Graduate student debt is an increasing problem in America, but given the substantial equity implications involved in confronting it, it’s critical that policymakers develop nuanced policy solutions to support women and people of color seeking to get an advanced degree,” said Ben Miller, vice president of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, in a news release.

The report proposed several policy ideas to consider to combat inequity, including creating price caps on graduate programs and requiring programs not to produce more debt than graduates can pay off.

January 14, 2020

Franklin College president Thomas Minar was fired over the weekend following his arrest in Wisconsin for alleged sex crimes against a child, the Indianapolis Star reported.

Minar, who has led the liberal arts college in Indiana since 2015, is being charged by authorities in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., with use of a computer to facilitate a sex crime, child enticement and exposing a child to harmful materials, according to the Indy Star. Minar was fired by Franklin’s Board of Trustees ahead of his planned departure at the end of the 2019-20 academic year, the newspaper reported.

The college has launched an investigation into Minar’s conduct during his tenure as president, officials told the Star. He was previously vice president for development and alumni relations at American University in Washington, D.C.

Provost and dean Lori Schroeder will serve as interim president until an acting president is appointed, the newspaper reported.

January 14, 2020

Newman University in Kansas discriminated against a former professor of elementary education because she is a woman and now owes her $800,000, a federal jury decided Monday. Cindy Louthan’s lawsuit is the first of five to be resolved against Newman, as other former employees have similarly accused it of unfair termination, according to The Wichita Eagle. Louthan said that a supervisor was hostile toward women and treated her differently than her male colleagues, and that her annual employment contract was not renewed after she complained to the university. Her award reportedly includes some $26,550 in back pay, $50,000 in compensatory damages and $725,000 in punitive damages. Louthan may now also seek reinstatement, and she plans to do so, her attorney told the Eagle. Newman said in a statement that it is “disappointed in the jury’s decision” and is “considering our appeal options.”

January 14, 2020

Faculty members at Harrisburg Area Community College voted no confidence in their college president last month, while trustees have unanimously voted to extend his contract. President John Sygielski’s contract was set to expire at the end of 2020 but now has been extended through June 2023. According to information on the university’s website, the extension was approved by trustees before the resolution of no confidence was formally presented to Sygielski.

About half of the college's 812 eligible faculty members participated in the online survey in December. Of those who took a side on the resolution, 70 percent expressed no confidence in Sygielski and other senior leaders.

The resolution stated several faculty concerns, among them a hasty and disruptive reorganization of library services and virtual learning, the elimination of wellness counseling for students, and declining efficacy of shared governance. Faculty requested Sygielski and trustees consult all stakeholders in planning for these transitions and comply with existing shared governance policies. Additionally, faculty members requested that the president’s contract not be extended or renewed.

Sygielski’s reorganization of the college, referred to as the One College plan, is meant to stem what has been a sharp enrollment decline and retain students. It also called for eliminating staff positions, outsourcing functions and terminating programs.

“This action by faculty is regrettable, because the One-College reorganization and other measures are being taken to ensure HACC avoids becoming another statistic in the nationwide trend of college closings,” Sygielski said in a statement.

Kathleen Pratt, president of the faculty organization, said that faculty do not see the vote as a “divorce.” “Faculty care deeply for our beloved institution and our students. Our every effort is focused on the success of students and we recognize that HACC must thrive for students to succeed,” she said in a statement.

January 14, 2020

A bipartisan bill unveiled in the U.S. Senate last week would create a demonstration program designed to encourage groups in rural communities to partner together to encourage students to pursue higher education, graduate and enter the workforce.

Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Senator Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat, introduced the bill. It would spend $60 million per year for six years to help expose rural students and their families to college campuses and programs. The project also would seek to remove financial aid barriers and could include work-based learning through apprenticeships, internships and stackable career credential programs.

January 14, 2020

Florida will issue cash refunds for families who have participated in its prepaid tuition plan, officials announced Monday.

The Florida Prepaid Plan is designed to enable families to lock in college costs by making regular payments toward a child’s future college or university attendance. In the past, the plan increased prices because rising tuition and fees were expected. But those costs didn’t grow as anticipated.

Now, $500 million will be refunded, Governor Ron DeSantis announced. A total of 224,000 accounts stretching back to 2008 will be affected, with payouts averaging $4,700, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Roughly 108,000 will be paid in full.

January 14, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Scott Allison, professor of psychology at the University of Richmond, explores four reasons why mothers are heroes. A transcript of this podcast can be found here.

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