Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 26, 2020

The Johnson & Wales University Board of Trustees voted at a recent meeting to close its North Miami, Fla., and Denver campuses.

Students will return to both campuses during the 2020-21 academic year, and operations will cease in summer 2021. Neither campus will admit new students for the upcoming academic year. Returning students who do not graduate in the spring will have the option of transferring to the university’s Providence, R.I., or Charlotte, N.C., campuses, or continuing their studies online, according to a press release.

The Denver and North Miami campuses have struggled to become financially self-sustaining in past years, and efforts to increase enrollment, solicit donations from alumni and other supporters, and introduce new revenue streams have failed.

“A major guiding principle of our previous and current strategic plan has been positioning the university for a sustainable future,” James Hance, chair of the JWU Board of Trustees, said in a press release. “As we position JWU away from being a specialty institution to a more comprehensive one, its unique status as one university, with four geographically diverse on-the-ground campuses, must now become part of our past.”

Combined, the two campuses being closed employ 195 faculty and 197 staff members and serve 2,237 students.

June 26, 2020

Three organizations that advocate for free speech rights on college campuses filed a petition in Maryland district court seeking to intervene in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that challenges the United States Department of Education’s new Title IX regulations. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Speech First and the Independent Women’s Law Center seek to defend the regulations, which they argue provide First Amendment protections for college students and faculty members. The organizations contend in their June 24 filing that such protections were previously absent from college policies and procedures under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded institutions. 

The new regulations were issued on May 6 and adopt a legal definition of “peer-on-peer harassment” that the ACLU and advocates for survivors of sexual assault believe discriminates against women because it differs from the Department of Education’s definition of harassment based on race, national origin and disability as being harassment that is "severe, pervasive or persistent​." They argue the definition also deviates from one previously used by the department since 1997, according to the ACLU lawsuit filed on May 14. 

The new standard, based on a 1999 Supreme Court case, requires sexual harassment to be so “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it denies a person educational access in order for institutions to initiate a Title IX investigation. Previously this standard was “severe, pervasive or objectively offensive,” and this continues to be the standard for discrimination based on race and other personal characteristics. [Italics added.]

The organizations argue the new definition ensures “that college harassment policies are in line with the First Amendment,” according to a press release from FIRE

June 26, 2020

Student spending on course materials continued to decline during the 2019-20 academic year, according to a survey report released by OnCampus Research, the research arm of the National Association of College Stores, or NACS, a trade association that represents college retailers. The average annual cost to students for required materials was $413, a decrease of $2 from the previous year, while their average spending on digital course materials and technology for classes increased by $106, the survey found.

Of all the course materials students said they purchased during the 2019-20 academic year, 21 percent were digital, which is a 7 percent increase from the previous year, Brittany Conley, research analyst for NACS OnCampus Research, said during a media briefing Thursday. Student spending on new print materials remained consistent, but used print made up only 39 percent of students’ purchased course materials this year, compared to 47 percent last year, the report said. Conley said the significant increase in digital and decrease in used print purchases in the same year aren’t directly correlated.

The survey also found that students spent more than $100 more on technology for their classes than they did on materials; the difference was around $20 last year. Richard Hershman, NACS vice president for government relations, said this increase is not likely related to the coronavirus pandemic and colleges moving to remote instruction. Eighty-six percent of the 14,000 student responses to the survey came in before March 16, when colleges began to respond to the pandemic, Conley said.

But Hershman does expect to see the effects of COVID-19 on course material spending this upcoming year. Colleges with quarter-based academic calendars that have remained in session longer during the pandemic have been “early testers” of a larger transition to digital materials that could be coming in the fall, Hershman said.

Those that had inclusive access programs and advanced delivery of digital course materials “had a much easier time transitioning to online education more quickly versus schools predominantly using more print materials,” Hershman said.

The number of students who participated in an inclusive access program, which bills students for discounted required materials along with their tuition and fees, reached an all-time high in the 2019-20 academic year. The Student Watch survey has been tracking the growth of inclusive access since 2017, and 26 percent of responding students said they took part in inclusive access this past year versus 15 percent in 2018-19, the report said.

June 26, 2020

A new study from Johns Hopkins University researchers looking at gender gaps in the hospital medicine field revealed that more than three-quarters of academic hospital medicine programs are run by men.

Hospitalists are “trained in internal medicine and focus their work on hospitalized patients rather than outpatient settings,” a press release said. The field has only existed for about 20 years, leading some to believe that gender disparities may be less present than in other, older medical specialties.

Programs are likely to have equal numbers of male and female faculty members, but 37 percent of male hospitalist leaders were full professors, while no female hospitalist leaders held that rank, the study shows.

The study surveyed 135 hospital medicine programs, and 80 responded. Responding programs were similar to nonresponding programs in terms of funding, region, age and type of institution.

June 26, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, a Student Spotlight as part of New York University Week, Shahrzad Goudarzi, doctoral candidate in psychology, examines whether Americans care about economic inequality. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 25, 2020

In a new article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of 17 scholars warns that COVID-19 will widen the equity gap in research for women and other underrepresented groups for years to come. The authors focus on women because there are already some data demonstrating how their research productivity has been impacted by increased caring and other gendered responsibilities during COVID-19. Yet the paper also warns that Black, Indigenous and other people of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in terms of public health, and that all scholars from these backgrounds, and especially women of color, may therefore be more professionally disrupted than their white peers.

Even among "those with privileged positions, including many academics," the paper says, "women will likely bear a greater burden of this pandemic. The burden will be even heavier for women who face intersecting systems of oppression, such as ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender, age, economic class, dependent status, and/or ability."

In response, academe "will need to enact solutions to retain and promote women faculty who already face disparities regarding merit, tenure, and promotion," the authors urge. They caution against one popular COVID-19-era accommodation, in particular, however: tenure-clock stoppages. Instead of advantaging scholars by giving them more time to work toward tenure, the authors say, stoppages hurt scholars by decreasing their long-term earning potential, putting them out of sync with time-restricted funding mechanisms and delaying the power than comes with tenure, such as applying for large research center grants that require the principal investigator be tenured.

Rather than offering gender-neutral accommodations, the paper encourages colleges and universities to develop a strategic action plan with "metrics and accountability for dealing with changes in faculty productivity because of COVID-19."

June 25, 2020

Sixty-nine professors of law at George Washington University, current and emeritus, are calling for the investigation, censure and resignation of Attorney General William Barr, a 1977 alumnus of the law school. The letter is signed by 80 percent of full-time faculty with governance voting privileges, across political lines. Barr’s actions as attorney general have “undermined the rule of law, breached constitutional norms and damaged the integrity and traditional independence of his office and of the Department of Justice,” the letter says. Among other specific actions, signers fault Barr for participating in the removal of protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, intervening in the sentencing of Roger Stone, seeking to drop the prosecution of retired U.S. Army general Michael Flynn and, more recently, apparently attempting to dismiss U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan.

June 25, 2020

A new report from Moody’s Investors Service examines which states are likely to see enrollment rise or fall in the event the coronavirus pandemic prompts students to stay closer to home than they have in recent years.

The ratings agency and other experts have theorized that heightened health and affordability concerns will cause many students to enroll in college closer to home than they otherwise would have. Moody’s used recently released National Center for Education Statistics data on first-time undergraduate enrollment, residence and migration by state to determine which states are most likely to see gains and losses come fall under such a scenario.

More than 20 percent of college students come from out of state in seven in 10 states, according to the data, from fall 2018.

New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Vermont all rely on out-of-state students for more than 40 percent of enrollment -- putting institutions within their borders at high risk for losses if large numbers of students do in fact decide to enroll closer to home. On the other hand, Alaska, California, New Jersey and Texas rely on nonresident students for less than 10 percent of enrollment, meaning they are less vulnerable to such a change in student behavior. At the same time, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont lost over 35 percent of first-time students who reside within their borders to other states for college, meaning they’re poised to gain at least some students -- although such gains may not be enough to offset losses from out-of-state students that normally would migrate in for college.

Moody’s has previously noted that rising enrollment does not necessarily translate to increasing revenue for colleges and universities. It forecast falling net tuition and other student revenue in fall 2020 despite enrollment gains across higher education.

Different institutions could also experience disparate enrollment trends, although public universities and community colleges are generally expected to gain market share.

June 25, 2020

Students in Generation Z believe that higher education is important, but many are interested in taking alternative routes to the traditional four-year degree, according to a new study.

ECMC Group, a nonprofit focused on student success, partnered with Vice Media to survey 2,200 high schoolers ages 14 to 18 in late February and mid-May. Some of the results and additional resources are on the website QuestionTheQuo.org.

More than half of the respondents said they are open to pursuing something other than a four-year degree, and 70 percent want to follow their own educational path. Less than one-quarter said a four-year college is the only path to a decent job.

“This study shows that today’s students are incredibly resilient and resolute in their desire to forge their own path when it comes to education,” Jeremy Wheaton, president and CEO of ECMC Group, said in a news release. “It also illustrates that they have a keen understanding of the need for skills-based training and lifelong learning, which are integral to succeeding now and in the future.”

Many of the respondents -- 74 percent -- believe an education based in things like trade skills, nursing or science, technology, engineering and mathematics makes sense. More than half said the best place to learn is on the job. A little less than half expect companies to provide formal education to upgrade their skills.

At the same time, 64 percent worry about how they'll pay for higher education. And while 65 percent are confident about their personal futures, less than one-quarter are confident in the future of the world.

Their experiences during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic led half or more to believe education will suffer if less time is spent in the classroom, and that inequality will increase due to inequitable access to technology.

June 25, 2020

A new report argues that community colleges are in the best position to upskill and train the millions of Americans who became unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A working group on community college workforce education created by Opportunity America, a nonprofit focused on economic mobility, released 11 recommendations for how two-year institutions can take this role. They argue that the pandemic will hasten the future of work and likely change the economy. Because community colleges come in many forms and already serve a diverse student population, the group says they are in one of the best positions to help workers pivot their skills and reboot the economy.

The recommendations from the report include:

  1. Focusing on trends in the college's local economy
  2. Offering more courses at times convenient for adult learners, as well as more online instruction
  3. Creating policies that align community college funding with job placement rates and wages
  4. Creating and maintaining partnerships with local employers who will hire students
  5. Ensuring students learn both foundational skills like problem solving and job-focused skills like teamwork
  6. Funding efforts to increase work-based learning opportunities
  7. Building bridges between credit and noncredit programs
  8. Improving stackability of certificates into traditional programs
  9. Providing supports for students seeking jobs, like career maps and labor market information
  10. Cooperating with local workforce boards to create a single system for the public workforce
  11. Rethinking funding methods.


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