Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 9, 2020

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Wednesday announced a new $20 million grant program for 12 organizations that will act as intermediaries between a broad set of partner groups and colleges that are attempting substantial transformations around student success.

"Pressure is mounting for colleges and universities to transform -- demand for an educated workforce is rising, financial pressures are intensifying and public confidence is wavering," the foundation said in a written statement. "A growing number of institutions are embracing the need to transform, and they seek networking, resources and guidance for their efforts."

The foundation selected the dozen recipients of the two-year grants (see list, below) after first announcing the project a year ago. Foundation officials compared the role of the intermediaries to that of a general contractor in a home renovation, where the intermediaries will help colleges find the right partners (or subcontractors) to help them make fundamental changes in their culture, organizational structure and business models to better meet the evolving needs of students.

The intermediaries were picked in part because they are trusted by colleges, the foundation said. Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit group, served as a test case for Gates in creating the program, which it calls an experiment.

The foundation currently works with a core group of 30 colleges and universities on student success, its so-called Frontier Set. With the help of intermediaries, Gates hopes to expand this group to 300 institutions.

Collectively, the intermediaries currently work with or represent roughly three-quarters of the nation's community colleges and public, four-year institutions.

These groups "have demonstrated commitment and experience in supporting institutions as they reduce college success disparities by race and income; promoting continuous learning and improvement through the use of data; and identifying, implementing and evaluating significant campus-level changes in policy and practice," the foundation said.

The intermediaries are:

  • Achieving the Dream
  • American Association of State Colleges and Universities
  • American Indian Higher Education Consortium
  • Association of Public and Land-grant Universities
  • Complete College America
  • E3 Alliance
  • Excelencia in Education
  • Growing Inland Achievement
  • John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education
  • MDRC
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • UNCF
January 9, 2020

Russian academic journals are retracting more than 800 papers following an investigation by a Russian Academy of Sciences-appointed commission, Science reported. The investigation comes amid concerns in Russian science about plagiarism, self-plagiarism and “gift authorship,” in which academics are listed as co-authors without contributing work. The commission used software to search hundreds of Russian-language journals for text overlap, and manually checked papers that were flagged as suspicious for plagiarism or self-plagiarism. The commission also identified cases of “obscure authorship” in which academics were listed as an author on one version of a paper but not another.

January 9, 2020

The Southern Political Science Association confirmed that its annual conference will still take place starting today in San Juan, Puerto Rico. That’s despite a major earthquake that hit the island Tuesday and a string of earlier, smaller earthquakes -- not to mention the ongoing reconstruction from 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria. Bob Howard, executive director of the association, took to Twitter this week from Puerto Rico assure members that the conference hotel is safe and functional, and to encourage registrants to attend and support the island’s struggling economy.

"Everything is very safe here in San Juan. The epicenter is far south of San Juan. If we did not think [it was] safe, it, we would leave," Howard wrote. "Puerto Rico has been hurting and that has added to the exaggerated reporting. The island, hotel and city need our tourist dollars. They have stressed this to me in every meeting."

January 9, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, part of University at Albany Week, Wonhyung Lee, assistant professor in the school of social welfare, discusses business improvement districts and how they can foster a long-term approach to helping the homeless. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 8, 2020

John F. O'Brien has been dean of New England Law, a freestanding law school, since 1988. The compensation package he'll receive after retiring later this year will be worth at least $5.3 million, The Boston Globe reported.

New England Law reported O'Brien's scheduled retirement package in its 2018 federal tax filing. His total annual compensation that year was roughly $800,000. The law school said the retirement package, which would vest this year, would be worth an estimated $4,048,000. O'Brien also would qualify for payments for unused sabbaticals, which would be worth roughly $1.3 million.

The law school said it created the retirement package for O'Brien to recognize his "30-plus years of distinguished service." In the previous year's tax filing, New England Law said that in 2008 a school committee spent four months working on a compensation plan for O'Brien, drawing guidance from independent law and accounting firms.

Critics, however, told the Globe that his compensation was "outrageous" and much too large for a nonelite law school that enrolls 700 students and has had operating deficits in recent years. A spokeswoman for the school told the newspaper that its finances, enrollment and selectivity are improving.

It's not the first time that O'Brien's pay has drawn fire. For example, observers took issue with his $867,000 compensation in 2013, which may have been the largest in the nation for a law school dean.

Scott Brown, a Republican former U.S. senator, will become the law school's dean later this year.

January 8, 2020

Most adults in the U.S. (60 percent) say education beyond high school is available to anyone in the country who needs it, according to newly released results of a Gallup poll. That finding is similar to what Gallup found in 2015, the last time it asked that question. But the number has declined since 2011, when it was 71 percent.

Those portions decline among younger respondents, however. For example, 46 percent of respondents who are 18 to 29 years old think higher education is available to anyone who needs it.

The poll found more negative opinions overall about higher education's affordability. About a quarter (27 percent) of adults said education beyond high school is affordable, a rate that has been fairly consistent since Gallup began asking the question in 2012.

January 8, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, part of University at Albany Week, Beth DuFault, assistant professor in the department of marketing, details how one overseas neonatal intensive care unit handles parents. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 7, 2020

Educational technology services company Zovio has stated its intention to spin off Ashford University, the for-profit institution it has been trying to convert to a nonprofit for more than a year.

In a statement on Monday, Zovio said it had entered into a nonbinding agreement to transfer ownership of the university to an independent nonprofit entity created specifically for the purpose of the conversion transaction. The nonprofit entity is creatively named the "Ashford University non-profit entity (AU NFP)".

This course of action would “cause Ashford to separate from the company through a series of conversion and merger transactions,” the statement said.

Zovio, formerly Bridgepoint Education, previously announced that it was considering selling Ashford to a large nonprofit higher education institution in order to proceed with the conversion of the university from for-profit to nonprofit. Now, the company has returned to its original plan. 

January 7, 2020

Academic groups on Monday condemned threats by President Trump to attack Iranian cultural sites. Trump said over the weekend that his administration had identified 52 Iranian sites, some of importance to “Iranian culture,” to target for attacks in the event Iran retaliates for the killing of Major General Qassim Suleimani last Friday in an American drone strike. Targeting cultural sites could be a war crime under international laws, but Trump has doubled down on the threat, as The New York Times reported.

“On behalf of more than 50,000 scholars and researchers in the humanities and social sciences, our scholarly and professional societies call upon people throughout the U.S. and, indeed, around the world to remind the President of the United States that targeting cultural sites for military activity is a war crime except under the narrowest of circumstances, and cannot be justified under any circumstances,” says a joint statement from 11 scholarly groups, which variously represent anthropologists, archaeologists and literary scholars.

“Cultural sites at risk of damage or destruction by military activity are irreplaceable and result in a loss to civilization, history, and human understanding,” the statement added. “The U.S. Department of Defense has gone to extraordinary lengths to coordinate with knowledgeable experts over the past two decades to protect cultural sites in the region. This apparent reversal of strategy is misguided, short-sighted, and will only serve to enrage the Iranian people, for whom the President himself has professed his personal admiration.”

The statement was signed by the American Anthropological Association, the Archaeological Institute of America, the Coalition for American Heritage, the Society for American Archaeology​, the Society for Applied Anthropology, the Modern Language Association, the Penn Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the Society for Biblical Literature, the Society for Classical Studies, the Medieval Academy of America and the Society of Architectural Historians. The Archaeological Institute of America also issued its own separate statement on the matter, and the Society for American Archaeology sent a letter to Trump opposing the targeting of cultural sites.

January 7, 2020

For the past 11 years, Wayne State University has at the start of the year released a list of long-lost words to bring back into current use. This year's list:

  • Cachinnate -- to laugh loudly
  • Coruscate -- (of light) to flash or sparkle
  • Gewgaw -- a worthless, showy bauble
  • Luculent -- clear in thought or expression
  • Mullock -- rubbish, refuse, dirt
  • Perendinate -- to procrastinate a long time, especially two days
  • Redolent -- reminiscent or suggestive of, like a scent
  • Seriatim -- taking one subject after another in regular order; point by point
  • Somnambulant -- resembling or characteristic of a sleepwalker; sluggish
  • Velleity -- a wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action

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