Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 12, 2020

Adtalem Global Education announced today that it will acquire Walden University, an online institution that enrolls 48,000 students, from Laureate Education. Adtalem agreed to a pay $1.48 billion for Walden, the company said.

The for-profit Walden has one of the largest online enrollments in the U.S., according to federal data. Most of Walden's students are enrolled in graduate programs -- just 7,000 are undergrads. About a third of its students are in nursing programs, with its next biggest enrollments in education, management and social work.

Adtalem is the former DeVry Education Group. In 2017 it sold DeVry University, once a large, prominent player in higher education, to a small private company.

Laureate has been selling off institutions for several years. The Baltimore-based, publicly traded Laureate has long been known for its broad global campus network. But Laureate in recent years has been selling off many international institutions as it shifts toward emerging or large markets, including South and Central America.

Walden apparently had been on the blocks in recent years. But Laureate last year decided not to sell the university after weighing some offers.

The acquisition positions Adtalem to become even more focused on health care, the company said.

"By adding Walden to its existing health care portfolio -- which includes American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, Chamberlain University, Ross University School of Medicine and Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine -- Adtalem is better positioned to increase the talent supply to address the rapidly growing and unmet demand for healthcare professionals in the U.S. and globally," Adtalem said in a statement.

The combined institutions will have 26 campuses in 15 states and four countries, the company said, with 6,100 faculty members and more than 90,000 students -- 34 percent of whom are Black.

"The combined organization will rank number one for total undergraduate and graduate nursing enrollment in the U.S. and be the world’s top provider of M.D.s, Ph.D.s and nursing degrees to African Americans," said Adtalem.

The deal is expected to close around mid-year in 2021. It will require approval by accreditors and the federal government.

September 11, 2020

All 23 campuses of the California State University system will continue to operate primarily with virtual instruction during the spring semester of 2021.  

System officials announced the plans for the academic term beginning next January in an email to the university Wednesday.  

“After extensive consultation with campus presidents and other stakeholders, and careful consideration of a multitude of factors – regarding the pandemic and its consequences, as well as other matters impacting the university and its operations – I am announcing that the CSU will continue with this primarily virtual instructional approach for the academic term that begins in January 2021, and also will continue with reduced populations in campus housing,” CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White announced in the message. “This decision is the only responsible one available to us at this time. And it is the only one that supports our twin North Stars of safeguarding the health, safety and well-being of our faculty, staff, students and communities, as well as enabling degree progression for the largest number of students.”

White said the decision was announced early in order to give students and their families time to plan for the spring 2021 semester. He also cited the need to publish and promote course offerings and to meet accreditation requirements for virtual courses.



September 11, 2020

Northern Michigan University settled for $1.46 million with four female professors of business who accused it of gender discrimination, the parties announced Thursday. The professors, Claudia Hart, Carol Steinhaus, Karin Stulz and Margaret Vroman, sued the university last year, alleging that Northern Michigan paid them all significantly less than their male counterparts at the same rank, on average. The professors also said the College of Business routinely gave male professors preferential treatment when it came to picking their classes and even going up for tenure. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission previously reviewed the professors' complaints, determining that Northern Michigan could address the matter through the commission’s conciliation process, The Mining Journal reported in January. The case eventually was referred to the Justice Department, which declined to prosecute it, and the women took their case to federal court.

Northern Michigan denied charges of gender discrimination throughout the process and continues to deny any liability or wrongdoing. Stulz said in a statement that “we have been fortunate to have friends, family and complete strangers stand by us and our cause for equal pay for equal work. We hope to inspire others to pursue justice.”

September 11, 2020

The University of California, Berkeley, announced on Sept. 10 that it will pay $2.35 million to the United States Department of Education for violations of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or Clery Act, which requires federally funded colleges to publish statistics on criminal incidents on or near campuses.

The fine was agreed upon after the department concluded a six-year review of the university’s campus safety policies and procedures and crime statistics reporting, which ended in September 2019, said a message to campus from Chancellor Carol Christ and Marc Fisher, vice chancellor for administration.

The review of records found that among other violations, UC Berkeley misclassified 1,125 crimes, most of which were liquor, drug and weapons violations; the students went through campus disciplinary proceedings, but the cases were not marked as violations of the law, the message said. The department reviewed about 32,000 records from between 2009 and 2016, the message said.

UC Berkeley made “significant improvements” to these processes and policies starting in 2014, and the university will be monitored by the department for an additional two years, the message said.

“We wholeheartedly agree that students and employees are entitled to accurate and honest information about the realities of crime and other threats to their personal safety and the security of their property,” Christ and Fisher said in the message. “UC Berkeley has been and remains committed to complying with the Clery Act’s many technical requirements and campus safety objectives.”

September 11, 2020

Front-line workers in Michigan can now attend community college tuition-free.

Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan's governor, announced the Futures for Frontliners program Thursday. It will provide tuition-free college to about 625,000 people in the state, according to a release.

The funding will be available to those who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic during the state's stay-at-home orders from April through June. It includes those in the medical field, as well as people who worked in manufacturing, nursing homes, delivery, retail, grocery stores and sanitation.

A person must be a Michigan resident and have worked in an essential industry at least part-time for 11 of the 13 weeks that the state had a stay-at-home order to be eligible. Applicants must also have not previously earned a college degree and not be in default on a federal student loan. The application closes on Dec. 31.

The Governor's Education Emergency Relief Fund is investing $24 million into the program.

“The vast majority of good paying jobs continue to require at least some education beyond high school,” Jeff Donofrio, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, said in the release. “Futures for Frontliners gives those who helped save lives and kept our communities operating during the height of COVID an opportunity to increase their skills and income and helps us close the state’s skills gap. For Michigan’s economy to recover and grow, it's critical we continue to provide expanded opportunities to all.”

A long list of businesses, corporations, unions and legislators have volunteered to inform the people they work with and serve about the program.

September 11, 2020

Open educational resources publisher OpenStax plans to develop dozens of new free textbook titles -- doubling its current catalog of 42 textbooks.

OpenStax has so far secured $12.5 million in grants to support this goal, including support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Support also comes from the Charles Koch Foundation and its parent nonprofit organization, Stand Together, formerly known as the Seminar Network. OpenStax aims to raise an additional $17.5 million to increase its catalog to nearly 90 textbooks.

“Nine years ago, we dreamed about solving the textbook affordability and access crisis for students,” said Richard Baraniuk, founder and director of OpenStax and Victor E. Cameron professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University, where OpenStax is based. “Now, with this tremendous investment in open education, we will be able to not only accelerate educational access for tens of millions of students, but also drive innovation in high-quality digital learning, which has become commonplace due to COVID-19.”

Since colleges switched to remote instruction in March, OpenStax has seen a 217 percent increase in use of its materials over the same period last year.

September 11, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Ray Brescia, professor of law at Albany Law School, examines how successful social movements get their messages across. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 10, 2020

As Congress continues to be gridlocked over another coronavirus relief package, Senator Lamar Alexander on Wednesday urged Democrats to support the limited proposal being pushed by Senate Republicans, saying it would include $105 billion in aid for education.

But associations representing the nation’s colleges and universities said the proposal, which includes $29 billion for higher education, is not enough. And presidents of research institutions, who have seen their work disrupted by the pandemic, told a House subcommittee they need more federal aid.

The Senate is expected to vote today on the Republicans’ roughly $500 billion targeted proposal. However, it is not expected to garner the necessary 60 votes to keep Democrats from blocking it and is considered an opening bid in the negotiations over a new relief package.

In comparison, Democrats are pushing for a $3 trillion package, which would include $37 billion for higher education. The American Council on Education, however, is seeking $46.6 billion in aid, which does not include another $74 billion the group estimates as the cost of reopening colleges and universities this fall.

Neither the Democrats’ proposal nor the Republicans’ “stripped-down” bill, is enough, said Terry Hartle, ACE’s senior vice president for government relations.

With the gulf between Democrats and Republicans measured in trillions of dollars, Hartle said it’s urgent for the sides to quickly find a compromise. “Students and campuses -- like millions of other Americans -- are facing serious financial challenges, and we need the government to move forward quickly with a generous package. And we need this not at some unspecified future date, but right now,” he said.

September 10, 2020

The Department of Education on Wednesday finalized its new rule requiring among other things that public universities uphold the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and academic freedom. Private colleges and universities are required to follow their own policies on freedom of expression.

Initially proposed in January, the final version of the Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities rule also prohibits institutions from denying faith-based student groups "any of the rights, benefits, or privileges that other student groups enjoy."

In addition, the rule codifies how educational institutions can show they are exempt from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972's sex discrimination rules because they are religious institutions. Religious groups were already exempt, but regulations have until now not defined what it means to be controlled by a religious organization.

The rule will take effect in about 60 days.

"These regulations hold public institutions accountable for protecting the First Amendment rights of students and student organizations," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. "And they require private colleges and universities that promise their students and faculty free expression, free inquiry, and diversity of thought to live up to those ideals."

The rule was praised by a number of faith-based groups, including Impact Movement, a Christian campus ministry at historically Black colleges and universities. “Our beliefs are not interchangeable or negotiable. Universities that want to support students of color need to support their religious traditions,” Jimmy McGee, the ministry’s president, said in a statement.

“Too many institutions violate student and faculty free speech rights as a matter of course,” said Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “Hopefully, the additional risk of losing federal grant money will encourage them to rethink their practices.”

But Dena Sher, associate vice president of public policy at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the rule will prevent universities from keeping religious student groups from discriminating based on religion, race, sexual orientation and other factors.

"This rule creates troubling exemptions for religious clubs at public colleges and universities, and the result is discrimination underwritten by tax dollars and tuition fees," Sher said.

September 10, 2020

Mercy College’s adjunct faculty union on Wednesday publicly asked the institution to “allow adjunct faculty to teach remotely if they wish to.” Professors “know our students. We know our disciplines. We understand that in-person instruction is best for our students,” the union said in a statement. Yet Mercy “needs to stop hiding behind our students' preferences to avoid prioritizing the health and safety of the entire campus community.”

Calling Mercy’s COVID-19 reopening plan, which is heavy on face-to-face classes, “risky,” the union called for “adult leadership from college faculty and administrators -- leadership which puts the health and safety of students and staff first.” The union added that the “worst possible situation for our students is to start in one modality and switch to another. We did this last semester and we saw in real time how our students struggled.” Fall classes started Wednesday. The Service Employees International Union-affiliated union is currently negotiating its first contract.

Mercy president Tim Hall said in a written statement that the college has scheduled “a limited and tightly monitored reopening for its campuses this fall, built around the same kind of hybrid model of instruction” used by local peer institutions. Just about 4 percent of courses this term are entirely face-to-face, he said, while the rest are hybrid or completely online. At the same time, a “clear majority” of students who responded to a survey on the issue said they wanted at least some face-to-face classes, and the “underserved students that Mercy mostly serves fare less well in fully remote environments.”

Face-to-face class options are also “likely to preserve the greatest number of jobs within the college, including adjunct jobs,” Hall said. It would be “imprudent” to offer more all-online sections at this point “simply because some individuals want to work but not on campus. No one else in our academic community, including me, gets this privilege.” Hall noted that he worked remotely through mid-August and is now back on campus. As for the future, Hall, said events “beyond our control may force us back online, either temporarily or for a longer duration. But we have done the work necessary to protect our campus community as specified by state and local laws and officials and by the prevailing norms of higher education, especially in New York.”


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