Higher Education News

Colleges turning to judges in campus sexual assault cases

Inside HigherEd - 5 hours 40 min ago

Campus hearings, even when they’re regarding an activity as serious as sexual assault, are not courtrooms.

It's a distinction that the U.S. Department of Education has embraced, requiring colleges to conduct their own investigations into claims of sexual assault, and to adjudicate those cases under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Colleges use “preponderance of evidence” instead of “beyond reasonable doubt” as the standard of proof. If a student is found in violation of campus rules, he or she is “responsible” for the misconduct, not “guilty” of a crime. The potential punishments are writing assignments, suspension or expulsion -- not prison.

In the past, there were no lawyers or judges, just panels of faculty, students and administrators. But that's beginning to change at some colleges, where outside judges -- typically retired state judges -- are being hired to oversee hearings. The hearings are still held under college rules, not state rules for courts.

Critics worried that campus sexual assault hearings are nothing but a kangaroo court that ignores the accused’s due process rights are praising the change. Some victims’ advocates, however, worry that turning a campus hearing into a courtroom could replicate the same perceived pitfalls of the legal system that have led many victims of sexual assault to turn to Title IX in the first place.

“There is a distinct subset of people in schools that are of the opinion that external adjudicators are the way to go,” Peter Lake, a law professor and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, said. “I think people are experimenting with a variety of different models, and there are some who think that working with highly professionalized external adjudicators is the right pathway, especially in complex or high-profile cases. It's uncharted territory. We're essentially creating a college court system.”

Colleges that opt to use outside adjudicators, Lake said, don’t often advertise that fact, so it’s difficult to get a read on how common the practice currently is.

Brett Sokolow, president and CEO of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, said he couldn't comment on which colleges use outside adjudicators, but noted that a few of NCHERM's clients do use judges now. It’s not a system he recommends, though.

“I am hearing about it more,” Sokolow said. “Generally I don’t think judges are a good idea, as it makes the process more legalistic and held to higher standards in terms of later legal challenges.”

In 2013, Swarthmore College hired former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Jane Greenspan to adjudicate cases of sexual assault there. Like most colleges, cases of sexual assault at Swarthmore were previously brought before a panel of students and faculty members. Under the previous system, Swarthmore faced lawsuits from both victims and accused students over how it handled sexual assault allegations.

In December, Florida State University hired retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding to adjudicate the hearing of Jameis Winston, the university’s star quarterback. FSU faced intense scrutiny over its handling of allegations that Winston raped a female student. The university was aware of the allegations for two years before scheduling the hearing.

By hiring Harding -- a seemingly impartial party with no stake in the performance of the university’s football team -- FSU hoped to avoid any further accusations that it was shielding Winston from being punished. John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, has long argued that colleges should use outside adjudicators to remain impartial. Banzhaf has also suggested creating regional consortiums independent of any one college that could be brought in to decide cases of sexual assault.

“Retired judges and others trained to evaluate evidence could better and more fairly, free from any possible biases, determine the truth, much better than professors of computer science or geology who today often make up the disciplinary panels on many campuses,” Banzhaf said.

Having experience as a criminal judge doesn’t always equate to having experience with campus administrative procedures, however, and the differences between the two can muddy the process. A transcript of Winston’s hearing in December revealed that Harding, the former Florida Supreme Court justice, and some of the lawyers acting as advisers to the students in the case were sometimes unaware of how the hearing was supposed to proceed, including whether lawyers were permitted to listen in on the hearing and who was meant to speak and when.

The university attempted to bring Harding and the advisers up to speed with a briefing about the process, according to the transcript, but the session wasn’t completed before the hearing began. Harding ruled that both students' versions of the events were equally probable, thus the evidence was “insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof.”

“There is a challenge in getting somebody who is extremely talented as a jurist or an investigator, but isn’t perhaps specialized in Title IX training or campus culture,” Lake said. “That’s a little harder to pick up unless those folks are especially trained in it. There’s no question that we’re moving from a more amateur system to a more professionalized one, and if that’s happening we’re going to need to build a culture of professional individuals who are highly trained in both internal and external processes.”

Another way the campus model is becoming professionalized, Lake said, is the increasingly involved role of lawyers. In the past, accusers and the accused have been allowed to consult with lawyers, but only in an advisory role. That’s changing, too.

Inspired by fears that the federal government’s pressure on colleges to better investigate and adjudicate cases of campus sexual assault is leading administrators to trample on the due process rights of accused students, North Dakota and South Carolina are both considering legislation that would allow attorneys to more fully participate in campus proceedings on behalf of accused students.

North Carolina already passed a similar bill last year, and students in Arkansas now have the right to an attorney when appealing “nonacademic” suspensions or expulsions.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called the North Dakota legislation “sorely needed,” saying that the bill would provide students with “a powerful new tool to ensure that their rights won’t be trampled on.” In a letter sent to state legislators in February, NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education disagreed, saying that the “approach ignores the balance set by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the scope of accused students’ due process rights” under the Constitution.

Laura Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, a victims' advocacy group, said that that the involvement of legal professionals in Title IX hearings is a good thing, but that lawyers should not participate in the actual hearing. They should remain in an advisory role, said Dunn, who is herself a lawyer who attends campus hearings on behalf of victims.

Rather than shoehorning lawyers and judges into the campus model, she said, colleges should instead focus on making sure their employees are appropriately trained in legal and campus procedures.

“We’re not in a court, we’re in a hearing about a school’s code, and I think there is a value to not making it like a courtroom,” Dunn said. “This is not a criminal court or a civil court, it’s an administrative hearing. In some ways it makes sense to have outside investigators and to make sure Title IX coordinators are actual lawyers and make sure they’re complying with law, but those people don’t inherently need to be an actual judge.”

Students and ViolenceEditorial Tags: Sexual assaultImage Source: Wikimedia Commons

U of Texas System builds researcher database to attract private sector investments

Inside HigherEd - 5 hours 40 min ago

The University of Texas System employs more than 15,000 faculty members. Why are they so difficult to find online?

The university system believes it has solved that problem with Influuent, a searchable database of facilities and researchers. The website, which launched last month, centralizes what used to be 15 separate sites listing the faculty experts working at the nine universities and six medical centers in the system.

Influuent (the university says the name is a combination of “influence” and “influunt,” the Latin word for “flow”) is being developed as more than just a faculty directory. For the private sector, administrators say, the database could serve as a starting point for commercial partnerships; for faculty members, a “matchmaking” site for research projects; and for journalists, a catalog of experts available to comment.

The Texas system is the most recent to reconsider how it can use websites such as Influuent to communicate the work taking place on its campuses to the world outside academe. Faculty members in the system have produced nearly 110,000 publications in the last five years alone, and with a new platform in place, system leaders see an opportunity to publicize that research and demonstrate the value of higher education.

During Rick Perry's time as governor, the system was forced to defend itself against what some critics called a “faculty productivity gap” -- that some “star” faculty members were bringing in research dollars while others were simply “coasting” along. To combat that assumption, the system will maintain a social media presence for Influuent, promoting new research on platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

“As a system office, we don’t have the day-to-day issues of running a university,” said Stephanie A. Bond Huie, vice chancellor for the Office of Strategic Initiatives. “We have an opportunity to showcase the amazing work that our faculty do.”

But Influuent is as much -- if not more -- about bringing resources into the university as it is about sending information out. With Congress likely to keep flat or slash funding for grant-making agencies, many universities are looking elsewhere to bolster their research budgets.

Federal funding makes up nearly half -- 49.7 percent -- of the roughly $2.5 billion the Texas system spends on research and development a year, Huie said. Private sector investments total less than a quarter, or about 21 percent, but the system hopes to increase that share by making it easier for faculty members and industry to connect.

“Universities are having to change the way we do business,” Huie said. “The University of Texas System said, ‘We need to put ourselves out there. We’re not going to wait for companies to come to us anymore. We’re open for business.’”

Before Influuent, individual universities and medical centers in the system were in charge of their own faculty expert websites. That decentralized approach led to fragmentation, Huie said. For example, a pharmaceutical company interested in finding researchers and a lab to test a new drug might have searched the MD Anderson Cancer Center’s website for potential partners, but in the process overlooked researchers at the Simmons Cancer Center and the UTMB Cancer Center.

A search for “cancer” on the Influuent website, by comparison, brings up researchers across the system. Clicking on a name pulls up a profile of research interests, publications and co-authors, and users can quickly pin multiple researchers at different institutions and send them an email through a single contact form.

Influuent keeps the website up-to-date by pulling data every week from Scopus, the citation database owned by Elsevier. That means faculty members don’t have to worry about updating their profiles, Huie said.

“There’s no work on the faculty’s part,” Huie said. “Faculty members don’t necessarily have time to go out, meet with companies, do deals and say, ‘This is what I do.’”

Copies of the emails sent to researchers through Influuent go to the system office, which plans to follow up with researchers to track if the emails lead to partnerships and funding. In the future, the system hopes to expand Influuent with grants, patents and badges for faculty to indicate which stage of the research process they are in.

The Texas system consulted university leaders in Michigan and North Carolina as they were developing Influuent, Huie said. In Michigan, six public universities in 2011 banded together to form the Michigan Corporate Relations Network, or MCRN, in response to a challenge from the former University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman to “partner or perish” (a play on the academic adage “publish or perish”).

The six universities received about $35,000 to help set up business engagement offices at their campuses. The initiative has also spawned a series of programs to help small- and medium-sized businesses and keep college graduates from leaving the state in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Stella Wixom, executive director of the office at the University of Michigan, said the first grant to the MCRN created 116 new jobs through co-funding research projects and internships, and more than $500,000 in financial benefits for the companies that participated. The network is in its second grant cycle and will seek a third, she said.

Influuent strongly resembles the MCRN’s Expertise and Resource Portal, which also pulls data from Elsevier. By compiling faculty experts across institutions in one database, Wixom said, business engagement offices can now more easily refer inquiring companies to researchers at other universities, should there be a better match there.

“Typically we’re very competitive with each other,” Wixom said about Michigan and the other universities in the state. “What we realized is that’s OK on the football field… but as a state, we needed to work together.”

Image Source: University of Texas System

Council of Graduate Schools survey shows continuing increase in international student applications

Inside HigherEd - 5 hours 40 min ago

Foreign students' applications to American graduate schools climbed by 2 percent this year, driven in part by continued growth in applications from India, according to survey results released today by the Council of Graduate Schools.

Applications from India increased by 12 percent over the previous year, the third straight year of such double-digit increases.

Meanwhile, the number of applications from China continued its modest decline -- another trend that's three years running -- dropping by 2 percent. These two country-specific trends -- China down, India up -- should be understood against the fact these two countries are the two largest sources of international students at U.S. graduate schools by far, together accounting for about 67 percent of all international applications received.

“China has been investing pretty heavily in its higher education capacity for both graduate education and research,” said Jeff Allum, the author of the report and the council's director of research and policy analysis. “I suspect that might be one reason why the number of applications from China appears to be going down, but there may be other reasons that quite frankly we're not fully able to explain yet.”

The picture is also mixed across the top fields of study. International applications in engineering -- the most popular field of study for non-American students -- increased by 4 percent. The number of international applications also increased by 14 percent for the physical and earth sciences, a category that includes mathematics and computer science programs. Fully half of all international applications to U.S. graduate programs are for engineering and mathematics and computer science programs.

At the same time, the number of international applications for the next most popular field of study for international students, business, dropped by 2 percent -- the first decline for the field since the council began collecting data on this topic in 2004.

Percent Change in International Applications to U.S. Graduate Schools

Final Number of Applications, 2011-12 Final Number of Applications, 2012-13 Final Number of Applications, 2013-14 Preliminary Number of Applications, 2014-15 International Total 9% 2% 10% 2% Field of Study         Arts and Humanities 7% 4% 5% 1% Business 7% 1% 7% -2% Education 18% -2% 4% 16% Engineering 14% 5% 12% 4% Life Sciences  -1% -7% -1% 16% Physical and Earth Sciences 8% 3% 18% 14% Social Sciences and Psychology 11% -2% 2% -2% Other 9% 5% 4% 22% Countries of Origin         Brazil 9% 25% 61% 4% Canada 7% -5% 1% 2% China 19% -3% -1% -2% India 3% 22% 33% 12% Mexico 10% -8% 1% 8% South Korea -1% -15% -5% 4% Taiwan -2% -13% 0% 0% Regions of Origin         Africa -3% 4% 9% *** Europe 7% -2% 3% -1% Middle East 11% 2% 8% *** Sub-Saharan Africa and Middle East *** *** *** 6%

 ***Changes not calculated because of changes in the definitions of regions.

For the first time this year, the CGS report breaks down international student applications according to degree level. Over all, about 63 percent of international applications were to master's and certificate programs, while the rest were for doctoral programs -- though there are big variations across countries and regions in this regard.

For example, about 84 percent of all graduate applications from India, and 64 percent of graduate applications from China, are for master’s or certificate programs. 

By contrast, applications from South Korea, the third-largest sending country, are skewed heavily (70 percent) toward doctoral programs. A large majority of graduate applications from Europe (65 percent) and the Middle East and North Africa (62 percent) were also for doctoral programs.

Also for the first time this year, the CGS report disaggregates the application data according to institutions' Carnegie classifications -- a breakdown that reveals variations in application trends across institutional types. Despite the overall 2 percent gain in international applications across all universities, only those institutions classified as having “very high research activity” reported growth (4 percent), while less research-intensive institutions reported declines (though the following chart shows especially large swings for private nonprofit institutions, the report stresses those results should be interpreted with caution because of the relatively small number of private institutions in the sample. Allum, the author of the study, also noted that private nonprofit universities tend to have smaller international enrollments than their public counterparts). 

Percent Change in International Graduate Applications by Institution Type from 2014 to 2015

  Public Private Nonprofit Total All Institutions 1% 5% 2% Research Universities (very high research activity) 2% 9% 4%

Research Universities (high research activity)

-5% -5% -5% Doctoral/Research Universities -5% -22% -18% Master's-Focused Universities 8 -10% -2%

A total of 377 universities -- 244 public and 133 private -- participated in the survey, for a 48 percent response rate. The Council of Graduate Schools estimates that the responding institutions account for about 70 percent of graduate degrees awarded to international students in the U.S. 

This year marks the tenth consecutive year the council has documented increases in the number of international applications to U.S. graduate schools. Though the 2 percent increase represents a slower rate of growth compared to the 10 percent gain recorded last year, Allum said he is not concerned. “We saw 2 percent growth two years ago, and then we learned that did not impact the overall growth in the offers of admission and first-time enrollment,” he said.

Allum noted that the report released today tracks numbers of applications, not applicants, as a single student might apply to many institutions. The application numbers included in today's report are preliminary, and the council will release survey data on final application numbers, offers of admission and new international enrollments later this year. 

Year-to-Year Percent Change in International Applications to U.S. Graduate Schools


Percent Change

2005 to 2006 12% 2006 to 2007 9% 2007 to 2008 6% 2008 to 2009 4% 2009 to 2010 9% 2010 to 2011 11% 2011 to 2012 9% 2012 to 2013 2% 2013 to 2014 10% 2014 to 2015 2% GlobalForeign StudentsEditorial Tags: Graduate educationInternational higher educationForeign Students in U.S.

New presidents or provosts: Albany Ashland Cal Baptist Caldwell Clark Atlanta Gateway LMU Missouri Southern Spelman

Inside HigherEd - 5 hours 40 min ago
  • Jimmie Bruce, vice president of academic success at Northwest Vista College, in Texas, has been chosen as president of Eastern Gateway Community College, in Ohio.
  • Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean emerita of the Tisch School of the Arts and university professor in the New York University's Department of Art and Public Policy, has been appointed president of Spelman College, in Georgia.
  • Carlos Campo, former president of Regent University, in Virginia, has been selected as president of Ashland University, in Ohio.
  • Paula Phillips Carson, assistant vice president for institutional planning and effectiveness at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, has been chosen as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Missouri Southern State University.
  • Barbara A. Chesler, dean of the College of Education and Health Professions at Columbus State University, in Georgia, has been appointed vice president for academic affairs at Caldwell University, in New Jersey.
  • Ronald Johnson, dean of Texas Southern University's business school, as been named president of Clark Atlanta University, in Georgia.
  • Tarun B. Patel, professor in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics at Loyola University Chicago, has been named provost and vice president of academic affairs of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, in New York.
  • Michael Quick, interim provost and professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California, has been selected as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs there.
  • Charles D. Sands, dean of the College of Allied Health and professor of public health at California Baptist University, has been promoted to provost and vice president for academic affairs there.
  • Timothy Law Snyder, former vice president for academic affairs at Loyola University Maryland, has been appointed president of Loyola Marymount University, in California.
Editorial Tags: College administrationNew presidents

Supreme Court will once again consider affirmative action in college admissions

Inside HigherEd - 5 hours 40 min ago

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to review the constitutionality of the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions cases. And many legal experts believe the justices are likely to be skeptical of such consideration.

The case involves the admissions practices at the University of Texas at Austin. It is possible that the Supreme Court could rule in a narrow way about UT. But the case also gives the justices, several of whom are dubious of the legality of the consideration of race by schools and colleges, a chance to limit or ban the consideration of race in college admissions. The case will now be heard in the fall, with a decision likely in early 2016. The issues in this case are also likely to be debated in the 2016 presidential race.

As is the norm in cases it agrees to hear, the Supreme Court did not issue any explanation about its decision. But the notification that the justices would take the case confirmed, as expected, that Associate Justice Elena Kagan would recuse herself from consideration of the case. Kagan was solicitor general in the Obama administration before being appointed to the court, and presumably worked on the case in that capacity. With Kagan not voting, only three justices on the court are considered reliable backers of affirmative action.

The Supreme Court on Affirmative Action in Higher Education

  • 1978: In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the court ruled that the medical school at the University of California at Davis could not reserve some slots with separate admissions standards for minority applicants. But the court also ruled that colleges could consider race and ethnicity in admissions decisions in ways that did not create quotas.
  • 2005: In Gratz v. Bollinger, the court ruled that the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor had unconstitutionally used an undergraduate admissions system in which underrepresented minority applicants received points on the basis of their ethnic or racial background.
  • 2005: In Grutter v. Bollinger, the court ruled that the University of Michigan's law school was within its constitutional rights in considering applicants' race and ethnicity because it did so through a “holistic” review and not by simply awarding points based on race and ethnicity.
  • 2013: In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the court ruled that lower courts needed to apply “strict scrutiny” and not give colleges deference in reviews of challenges to the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions.

The Supreme Court's 2013 ruling is in the same case that has now returned to the justices.

Ruling 7 to 1, the court in 2013 found that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had erred in not applying “strict scrutiny” to the policies of UT Austin. The case is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, in which Abigail Fisher, a white woman rejected for admission by the university, said that her rights were violated by UT Austin's consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions. Fisher's lawyers argued that the University of Texas need not consider race because it has found another way to assure diversity in the student body. That is the “10 percent plan,” under which those in the top 10 percent of students at Texas high schools are assured admission to the public college or university of their choice.

The 2013 ruling essentially raised the bar for colleges in terms of how they had to justify the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions, but did not bar its use.

In July 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld, 2 to 1, the UT admissions plan. And it is an appeal of that ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court has again agreed to consider.

The majority decision from the appeals court said that just because Texas could get some diversity based on the percent plan alone does not mean it can't do more than that. “An emphasis on numbers in a mechanical admissions process is the most pernicious of discriminatory acts because it looks to race alone, treating minority students as fungible commodities that represent a single minority viewpoint,” the judges wrote. “Critical mass, the tipping point of diversity, has no fixed upper bound of universal application, nor is it the minimum threshold at which minority students do not feel isolated or like spokespersons for their race.”

Further, the appeals court said that the University of Texas is correct not to rely solely on the percent plan, which in turn works because of segregation. The plaintiff's “claim can proceed only if Texas must accept this weakness of the top 10 percent plan and live with its inability to look beyond class rank and focus upon individuals,” the decision says. “Perversely, to do so would put in place a quota system pretextually race neutral. While the top 10 percent plan boosts minority enrollment by skimming from the tops of Texas high schools, it does so against this backdrop of increasing resegregation in Texas public schools, where over half of Hispanic students and 40 percent of black students attend a school with 90 [to] 100 percent minority enrollment.”

The dissent argued that the majority decision did not comply with the Supreme Court's 2013 decision. “At best, the university’s attempted articulations of ‘critical mass’ before this court are subjective, circular or tautological,” the dissent says. “The university explains only that its ‘concept of critical mass is defined by reference to the educational benefits that diversity is designed to produce.’ And, in attempting to address when it is likely to achieve critical mass, the university explains only that it will ‘cease its consideration of race when it determines … that the educational benefits of diversity can be achieved at UT through a race-neutral policy ….’

“These articulations are insufficient. Under the rigors of strict scrutiny, the judiciary must ‘verify that it is necessary for a university to use race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.’ It is not possible to perform this function when the university’s objective is unknown, unmeasurable or unclear.”

What the Supreme Court says about these issues could be crucial to colleges nationwide. Many of them cite the idea of a “critical mass” as part of their explanation for a range of policies that consider race and ethnicity.

Another key issue for many colleges other than UT is the question of how much deference to give to colleges generally on matters related to their desire for diverse student bodies. The 2013 Supreme Court ruling said that no deference should be given to colleges just for being colleges as opposed to other kinds of organizations. And that significantly increased the burden for colleges because many courts have said, historically, that they are hesitant to question decisions on such policies as admissions.

The appeal filed by Fisher's lawyers, urging the Supreme Court to take the case, said that the appeals court had not in fact applied the required “strict scrutiny” to the university's actions.

“At every turn, the majority was ‘persuaded’ by UT’s circular legal arguments, post hoc rationalizations for its decision to reintroduce racial preferences and unsupported factual assertions,” the brief says, adding that the Supreme Court “has a special interest in ensuring that courts on remand follow the letter and spirit of [its] mandates …. That institutional interest is triggered here as the Fifth Circuit applied strict scrutiny in name only.”

In its reply brief, the University of Texas said the appeals court had indeed applied the Supreme Court's standards for reviewing the consideration of race in admissions. The Texas brief said Fisher's lawyers are in reality just trying to eliminate the right of colleges to consider race in any circumstance. “As is evident from their desire to eliminate racial preferences in education altogether, the real problem for petitioner and her amici is this court’s decisions … [that] establish that universities may consider race -- when narrowly tailored to their compelling interest in student body diversity.”

Fisher was a high school senior when she first sued UT Austin in 2008. She enrolled at and graduated from Louisiana State University after she was rejected by UT, but has continued the legal case over her rejection.

Why Supporters of Affirmative Action Are Worried

Generally, Monday's announcement was praised by those who want to limit the way colleges consider race. Fisher issued a statement that said: “I am very grateful that the Supreme Court will once again hear my case. I hope the justices will rule that UT is not allowed to treat undergraduate applicants differently because of their race or ethnicity.”

For its part, the University of Texas projected confidence. Gregory L. Fenves, president of UT Austin, released his own statement: “Our admissions policy is narrowly tailored, constitutional and has been upheld by the courts multiple times. We look forward to making our arguments before the Supreme Court later this year.”

Molly C. Broad, president of the American Council on Education, similarly expressed confidence in a statement: “As they rehear the ‘Fisher’ case, we remain confident that the justices will continue to recognize the importance of diversity and show appropriate deference to the judgments made by the University of Texas, which inform its admissions policies and practices.”

But many legal observers -- including plenty who favor the consideration of race in admissions -- are worried. The Supreme Court historically doesn't take up cases just a few years after a similar case, unless there is a specific desire to change things, or a split has developed among appeals courts. In this case, the case is the same one from just two years ago, and there are no conflicting appeals court rulings.

Another reason for concern of affirmative action supporters is in simply counting justices with various voting records on government policies that involve race. Generally, the conservative wing of the court (Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas) has provided a solid four votes against government consideration of race, consistently arguing that such policies aren't needed today. The liberal wing of the court (which, excluding Kagan, includes Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor) has generally been sympathetic to affirmative action.

But while Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is talked about as a swing vote, and has voted with the liberal wing on issues such as same-sex marriage, that is not the case when it comes to race. In 2003, he dissented from then Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's decision upholding the consideration of race by the University of Michigan Law School. In his dissent, Justice Kennedy specifically questioned the idea of seeking a critical mass of minority students. He wrote that, at Michigan's law school, “the concept of critical mass is a delusion used by the law school to mask its attempt to make race an automatic factor in most instances and to achieve numerical goals indistinguishable from quotas.”

Further, a book on Justice Sotomayor's arrival on the court has provided details about the 2013 deliberations on the University of Texas case that year, and suggests that Kennedy was prepared then to write a strong rejection of the university's admissions policies and watered down his opinion to attract more justices in what was reportedly a deeply divided court. Many experts suggest that this suggests Kennedy's vote will be a hard one for the University of Texas and supporters of affirmative action to win.

Tom Sullivan, a lawyer who is also president of the University of Vermont, said he still believes Justice O'Connor got it right, and that “diversity in higher education is a public good.”

But he added that the task for the University of Texas will be difficult. “Given the multiple reviews of this case by the court, the university's plan might well receive less deference than previous rulings," he said.

Rod Smolla, who starts this week as the dean of Widener University Delaware Law School and is author of The Constitution Goes to College, said via email that he would be surprised if Justice Kennedy backed the University of Texas. “The question, in my judgment, is not whether the current principles governing race-conscious admissions will be altered, but rather how much they will be altered. Justice Kennedy is likely to tighten the current principles in a manner less hospitable to affirmative action. This could range anywhere from a complete abolition of race-conscious admissions, to requiring some form of stronger showing that no race-neutral alternatives to achieving more diverse student bodies will suffice. It is unlikely that Justice Kennedy would endorse the current regime of strong deference to the judgment of university officials on these issues.”

Michael A. Olivas, director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston and author of The Law and Higher Education, is a strong supporter of affirmative action. He said that there was no real reason for the Supreme Court to take the case, and that leaves him concerned. He said that the University of Texas admissions process is “the most scrutinized admissions process in higher education” in the last 20 years. And he said it is largely the same as it was in 2013.

He said that the Supreme Court should not have allowed Fisher, “who has graduated from college and who therefore has no more standing, [to] continue to get a bite at the apple.” That the Supreme Court would take the case is “disconcerting,” he said. “Once the Supreme Court acts, it ought to leave it alone.” Having agreed to another review, Olivas said, Fisher's suit becomes “the case that will not die.”


Affirmative ActionEditorial Tags: AdmissionsAffirmative action/racial preferences

Northwest Nazarene stands behind decision to end job of noted theologian

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 07:29

The board of Northwest Nazarene University announced Friday that it is standing behind a decision to end the job of a theologian whom students, former students and colleagues view as a model teacher and an important thinker.

Officially the elimination of Thomas Jay Oord's job was a layoff that the university said was necessary for financial reasons. But professors and others doubt that reason, and say that universities don't generally eliminate the jobs of their best known and most loved faculty members -- especially those with tenure -- without faculty consultation and without sound evidence of financial distress. Many of Oord's supporters believe his job was eliminated because his views on evolution clash with those of some Nazarene traditionalists. And for many, his case has raised concerns about the state of academic freedom at some religious institutions.

After the uproar over the elimination of Oord's job at the end of March, the faculty voted no confidence in President David Alexander, who promised a review of the decision. That promise, followed in May by Alexander's resignation, led many of Oord's supporters to hope his job might be saved.

But in its statement, the board said it backed and would carry out the March decision, except that in an agreement with Oord, it would let him teach full-time for one year and part-time for two additional years, after which he will no longer be employed. The statement said that the board acknowledged that “the process of decision making related to the administrative action raises legitimate concerns,” and pledged to address those concerns. But the statement insisted that the decision to eliminate Oord's job was correct.

At the same time, the board statement said that trustees directed the administration to start measures that would “show clear progress" in three areas: “To study and better understand the concept of shared governance across the university,” “to explore and clarify all policies and procedures related to tenure in the context of the university,” and “to engage in a thoughtful discussion about academic freedom in a Christian university context and its implications for teaching, scholarship and publication in traditional print and digital media (including social media).”

For many of Oord's colleagues and former students, however, the bottom line was that a beloved professor was still being forced out of a job. And they point to numerous signs that the university is not in a financial crisis of the type that would justify eliminating the job of any tenured professor.

And there are signs that the board's statement will not satisfy Oord's defenders. On a Facebook page organized to back Oord, one participant wrote Friday: “It would much better if NNU's BoT just said this: ‘We are in charge. Ultimately, tenure at this institution is pure and total artifice. We will let anyone go, at any time, for any reason.’ Months of duplicitousness, however, make it very clear that saying true things is not the culture of the BoT, even if some individuals on the Board may themselves be honest and good people.”

‘Questions of Change in Our Contemporary World’

Oord late Friday issued his first public response to the events of recent months. It was more measured than some of the comments his supporters are posting to social media, but expressed his sadness at the outcome. He said that he too had hoped that the review would lead to an outcome that allowed him to continue at the university.

His numerous books and articles (sympathetically) examine the way Christians are able to embrace evolution while maintaining their faith. Oord has drawn attention to the views of many Nazarene scholars and rank-and-file believers who accept evolution, suggesting that there is much to be learned scientifically from sources other than the Bible.

In his statement Friday, Oord argued for the importance of the work he has done, and noted that he is aware that it upsets some.

“I believe the most fundamental reason for the NNU crisis, at least as it concerns me, has to do with questions of change in our contemporary world. The fundamental issue at stake is the way we ask and seek to answer the biggest and most important questions of our time,” he wrote. “In the past 15 or so years that I have been a professor at Church of the Nazarene education institutions, I have not been afraid to tackle the challenging questions of life. And I have not been afraid to do so in public or in the academy. In fact, I saw my calling to speak both to scholars and to laity in the church, a dual calling somewhat rare among academically trained theologians.”

Noting opposition to his work, Oord wrote: “Of course, even asking difficult questions can make some people nervous. Proposing new answers unfamiliar to conservatively inclined people especially alarms them. As I see it, most of my detractors and critics fear answering challenging questions in any way other than the ways they have been taught or heard in the past, answers so many today find unsatisfactory.”

His statement also addressed academic freedom.

“Christian universities have always wrestled with questions of academic freedom. I hope my situation will be used as a tool to teach Christians that the church must support its brightest scholars,” he wrote. “A well-known guide to thinking about academic freedom is an ancient phrase that says, ‘In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, freedom; in all things, love.’ In my case, I have affirmed the essentials of the Christian faith and my denomination. I strongly suspect that my exploration of nonessential beliefs and proposal of sometimes nontraditional answers have been a major reason why I am writing this note now. I have freely explored important questions, but I have tried to [do] this in the spirit of love.”

‘Balancing Act’

The Oord case has drawn attention and concern not just from academic freedom purists, but from those who accept the idea that religious institutions may limit their faculty members in some ways. Ken Schenck, a professor of New Testament in the School of Theology and Ministry at Indiana Wesleyan University, blogged this weekend that he has some sympathy for the board and administration at Northwest Nazarene “because having professors that are radical for their clientele is not good for a desired trajectory or potentially for business. This may seem Cro-Magnon to say, but universities do have to have students to stay open, and what parents think of a university is a significant factor in whether you have students.”

But Schenck also said that Oord is an important thinker and that it is “overwhelmingly clear to any fair-minded person that this layoff is for ideological reasons rather than NNU's economic situation.”

By eliminating Oord's job, Schenck said, Northwest Nazarene is making a choice.

“The leadership of NNU has soundly located it yesterday in the formation/vocation camp with this decision, not the research/push the bounds of truth camp. They've implicitly said, ‘Send your kids here to be formed along traditional Nazarene lines.’ They've rejected, ‘Send your kids here to be cutting-edge thinkers.’ I accept this decision as the nature of the game, even if it saddens me,” he wrote. Now, he added, some other university may gain. “I think there are students who would go to a particular graduate school just to study with him (including a lot of angry young Nazarenes right now).”

Editorial Tags: Academic freedomImage Caption: Thomas Jay Oord

Will Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage challenge or change Christian colleges?

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 07:00

Friday's Supreme Court decision that states must authorize and recognize gay and lesbian marriages could create major legal challenges for religious colleges -- primarily evangelical Christian colleges that bar same-sex relationships among students and faculty members. Or the decision may not create much of a legal challenge at all. Or it may create challenges, but not soon.

Legal experts are divided. But the question of whether same-sex marriage as a national right changes the legal status of Christian colleges is no longer just theoretical.

For the majority of colleges that do not bar same-sex relationships, the decision won't change very much, or may simplify things. Many colleges and universities embrace the same-sex partnerships or marriages of their students and employees, and accord them the same benefits as straight couples. In states without same-sex marriage rights, many colleges have offered or tried to offer domestic partner benefits (which some state governments by legislation or political influence have blocked at public institutions). Colleges that were not comfortable offering health insurance to employees when not all employees could get marital or family coverage no longer face that prospect, as everyone has equal marriage rights.

Not all religious colleges -- even those from faiths that oppose same-sex marriage -- may be affected by the Supreme Court's decision. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, is a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage. But Roman Catholic colleges do not bar people in same-sex relationships from enrolling or being hired. And as states have recognized same-sex marriage, many Catholic colleges, such as the University of Notre Dame, have extended health and other benefits to the gay and lesbian partners of employees. As a result of such policies, Catholic colleges are unlikely targets for those who want religious colleges to fully respect gay and lesbian marriages.

Some Past Articles on Academe and Same-Sex Marriage and Benefits

But that is not the case for many Christian evangelical colleges, the vast majority of which bar students and faculty members from having gay or lesbian relationships.

And those colleges, some legal experts believe, may now face challenges to their tax-exempt status or other government benefits. "Private institutions that dissent from today's reformulation of marriage must be prepared for aggressive legal attacks on all fronts," said Michael W. McConnell, the Richard and Frances Mallery Professor and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University Law School.

The Bob Jones University Precedent

The Internal Revenue Service grants tax-exempt and charitable status to colleges and other nonprofit organizations with a range of views on many issues, including issues of faith. Generally, there is a high bar for the IRS to deny such status to a nonprofit college, but a precedent involving Bob Jones University illustrates to some legal observers how Christian colleges' tax status could be challenged now.

In 1970, the Internal Revenue Service adopted a policy that it would not grant tax-exempt status to private schools and colleges that engaged in racial discrimination, saying that as a matter of public policy, such groups could not be viewed as "charitable." That ruling led to a series of disputes with Bob Jones University, which barred the admission of any applicants in an interracial marriage or dating relationship, or who advocated interracial marriage. (Single black students who did not date or marry anyone who was not black were permitted to enroll.) The IRS found these policies to be racially discriminatory and revoked the tax-exempt status of the university.

Bob Jones sued on the grounds that its policies were based on its religious views, and thus should be protected. But in 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the IRS was within its rights.

"It would be wholly incompatible with the concepts underlying tax exemption to grant tax-exempt status to racially discriminatory private educational entities. Whatever may be the rationale for such private schools' policies, racial discrimination in education is contrary to public policy," the Supreme Court decision said.

Bob Jones University dropped its ban on interracial dating in 2000. But the university, like many Christian colleges, continues to bar same-sex relationships. On Friday, the university denounced the Supreme Court decision and called it a threat to the religious freedom of colleges like Bob Jones.

What the Decision Says

The decision itself expressed support for the religious liberty and free speech rights of those who oppose same-sex marriage. But the decision does not speak directly to the question of colleges' tax exemptions, and a dissent suggests that religious organizations could be challenged.

In the majority decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote: "Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered."

In a dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the decision's language did not go far enough. "Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage -- when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples," Roberts wrote.

The chief justice also noted a statement by Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the U.S. solicitor general, in oral arguments about the case.

Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who on Friday dissented from the ruling, asked Verrilli: "Well, in the Bob Jones case, the court held that a college was not entitled to tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?"

Verrilli, who was arguing in favor of extending same-sex marriage rights, answered: "You know, I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue. I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito. It is ­­going to be an issue."

How Likely Would Challenges Be?

That statement by the solicitor general has prompted much of the discussion of those who believe tax exemptions could be at risk for Christian colleges. (A college could stick to its policies and give up its tax exemption, but paying taxes on transactions and property, and having donors lose their tax deduction for their contributions, could combine to seriously harm a college's finances.)

Seventy leaders of Christian colleges and schools wrote to congressional leaders this month -- prior to the Supreme Court's ruling -- asking Congress to enact a law to protect religious colleges and schools that want to keep their current policies on gay people. Their letter, citing the solicitor general's statement, said that tax exemptions for Christian colleges would be endangered if the Supreme Court recognized a national right to same-sex marriage. And the letter said that this would be disastrous to Christian colleges and schools.

"The tax exempt status they enjoy helps substantially in enabling them to offer quality education to millions of young Americans. Its loss would be premised on a historic abandonment of the principles of religious liberty that are foundational to our republic and also would have a profoundly adverse financial effect on religious-based primary, secondary, collegiate and postgraduate institutions," the letter said. "If the government could revoke the tax-exempt status of such schools, what is to prevent other forms of government discrimination such as revoking grants or contracts or funding for services unrelated to marriage?"

The authors of the letter are all people who want to preserve the current policies of Christian colleges. But the view that the Supreme Court's decision could result in challenges to Christian colleges' tax exemptions extends to critics of their policies.

Michael A. Olivas, director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston and author of The Law and Higher Education, said that the Supreme Court ruling should prompt Christian colleges to rethink their policies. "In an area of social change that is as well defined as this issue is, why would any college want to violate the law by banning relationships that are not only legal, but if they led to marriage would be legal and recognizable in every jurisdiction in the country?" he asked

Olivas said that this issue will likely play out as the Bob Jones case did. The policies Bob Jones defended were once reflected by public policy, and so are the policies Christian colleges are defending. But public policy changed in both instances, he said.

"it is one thing to premise behavior bans on what was illegal at one time," he said, noting that Bob Jones's policies against interracial dating were once consistent with South Carolina law. "But if you liken this historical period to that one, it is clear that public policy has changed with regard to the underlying illegality or inability to effectuate a marriage as same sex. That is no longer a shield," he said.

Olivas said he could see a "small" exemption for seminaries that train clergy, but not for most Christian colleges that train undergraduates and students for a variety of careers other than becoming a member of the clergy. For most religious institutions, he said, they would need to renounce tax exemptions to maintain their policies. "They can't have it both ways," he said.

Protection for Religious Views

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities issued a statement Friday that focused on Justice Kennedy's reference to religious freedom, and that argued that this should protect Christian colleges.

"The Supreme Court’s affirmation of the First Amendment draws from a deep well of precedent that protects free exercise. Free exercise has long been regarded as a fundamental right under the First Amendment, ensuring religious individuals and organizations can exercise their beliefs not only in synagogues, mosques and churches, but also beyond their walls. These full protections for religious individuals and organizations to exercise their beliefs privately and publicly are not diminished by expanded marriage rights," said the statement.

"Christian colleges are places where students are taught to be people of integrity, people of character, people who pay back their loans. They are institutions whose graduates contribute to the public good as artists, health care providers, educators, public servants and entrepreneurs. At the core of this work are deeply held religious beliefs. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion named with respect the plurality of religious beliefs throughout the United States, and specifically affirmed the space in the public square for individuals to have those beliefs and opinions."

The council's statement closed by saying: "It stands to reason, then, that the tax-exempt status and religious hiring rights of religious institutions will be protected when they advance the religious mission of a college or university."

Thomas Wilson, professor of law at Biola University, a Christian institution that has policies of the sort that some fear may be endangered, said via email that he thought there was a good chance Christian colleges would be able to maintain their views. The decision says that "a state [Wilson's emphasis] cannot refuse to acknowledge same sex marriage. It does not specifically set out legal responsibilities for churches or Christian universities. It may not have intended to do so," he said.

Steve Sanders, associate professor of law at Indiana University at Bloomington, who has worked on behalf of legal equity for gay people, said he did not expect that Christian colleges would lose tax-exempt status. Sanders noted the ways that protections for gay people, even after Friday's ruling, do not equal those for people of all races at the time of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Bob Jones case.

"It's very important to recall that there is currently no federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, education or any other area, and many states still lack such policies. That's a much different situation than was the case in Bob Jones, where federal law had prohibited race discrimination for almost two decades under the 1964 Civil Rights Act," Sanders said via email. "So until federal law addresses that more basic question of discrimination, I think the fears of the religious colleges are unfounded and premature."

A Long and Contested Process

Rod Smolla, who starts this week as the dean of Widener University Delaware Law School and is the author of The Constitution Goes to College, said he could see legal challenges for Christian colleges, but that the process would be a long one and they may have protections that were not available to Bob Jones, he said.

Smolla noted that nothing would happen quickly, as the IRS would need to adopt a policy about colleges that don't treat gay people equally and state tax agencies would have to do the same. That is "a policy and political decision," he said, adding that it is "difficult to know whether government agencies would take that step, or just leave nonprofits alone on this issue, at least in the near future."

Then, if the IRS did so, and challenged tax exemptions, Smolla said that litigation would likely result. In that litigation, he said, Christian colleges would likely cite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a federal law that many states have versions of, designed to prevent government actions that would force religious people or organizations to violate their beliefs). That law was enacted in 1993, so it was not something Bob Jones could cite. Smolla said that cases involving the act "have been extremely close," so it's hard to predict if it would shift courts away from the precedent involving Bob Jones.

As a result of all of these factors, he said, government is likely to "go slow" in questioning Christian colleges' tax-exempt status.

Olivas of the University of Houston acknowledged this possibility, but predicted that the issue will eventually be addressed. "There is a tension, to be sure, if colleges try and carve out such enclaves and evade their obligations, such as has been happening with some religious colleges that do not want to implement" the new health care law. "The administration has treated them gingerly, but at some point, the outlier colleges will not accommodate or yield. Then, the cases will carve out a common law. But this is dangerous ground, and they will have to act carefully. If it is a clash, it will have to be addressed by the courts."

Editorial Tags: Religious collegesImage Source: Wikimedia Commons

Workforce dollars in Indiana are tied to graduation rates that cause trouble for Ivy Tech

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 07:00

Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana's statewide two-year institution, has a reputation for supplying students to the workforce. But recently the college has been questioned about the success of its students and the effectiveness of training dollars it receives from the state.

The community college system is facing questions from state lawmakers and its workforce council over low graduation rates. The workforce council has set minimum state completion rates for short- and long-term programs. And based on graduation data, Ivy Tech isn't meeting those minimums. Not meeting those standards threatens the federal job-training dollars the college receives.

But Ivy Tech argues, like many community colleges across the country, that graduation rates don't tell the entire story.

"What we have here is apples talking to oranges," President Tom Snyder said, adding that transfers aren't included in graduation rates. "The good thing is we're closing the gap between what is being done in the college and what's needed in the workforce."

The council set graduation standards for all 260 of its training providers, including Ivy Tech, after federal directives were changed last year to require states to track what happens to students in workforce training programs. Indiana's new standards are a 28 percent minimum graduation rate threshold for two-year degree programs and a 60 percent rate for career-technical programs or nondegree programs, said Joe Frank, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The state receives about $60 million a year in workforce innovation dollars that it passes on to the providers, with Ivy Tech receiving about $6.5 million, Frank said. Ivy Tech is the largest of the state's providers.

Using graduation information from the Indiana Commission of Higher Education, Ivy Tech's total completion rate is at 5.2 percent for full-time students who completed within two years and 27.7 percent for students who completed an associate degree or certificate within six years. For part-time students those numbers change to 2.1 percent within two years and 20.8 percent within six.

Based on those measurements, the college isn't meeting the workforce requirement.

But the college points to other measurements that they feel are more reflective of what happens on campuses.

For instance, using 2014 data from the National Community College Benchmark Project, Ivy Tech ranked in the top 30 percent in the country for first-time, part-time students to complete or transfer within six years -- at nearly 40 percent.

And the majority of Ivy Tech's students aren't first-time students who are seeking to complete in two years, said Jeff Fanter, the college's senior vice president for student experience, communications and marketing.

"Only 6.6 percent of them are taking enough credits to graduate in two years, 28.3 percent are on a three-year track and over 65 percent are on a six-year track," he said.

Mary Alice McCarthy, a senior policy analyst in the education policy program at New America, said graduation rates weren't meant to be used with the new workforce law.

"This is showing the dangers of mixing up data sources for accountability purposes," said McCarthy, who previously worked for both the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Labor. "Credential attainment is important, but completion and earnings are the big measures in workforce development."

Ivy Tech's graduates earn an average of about $37,700 in annual salary the first year after graduation, $43,100 annually after five years and nearly $50,000 per year after 10 years, according to the state higher education commission.

Ivy Tech said the state's workforce development program is holding off on cutting any funding while updated data are being provided.

"We view it as they have the most robust program in the state and they're the largest with the most robust infrastructure," Frank said. "We will continue to work with them to make sure they're in compliance, and they've been a great partner in the past."

Snyder is optimistic that the disconnect will be resolved over the next couple of months.

"We'll give them more appropriate data points," he said.

Community CollegesFinancesEditorial Tags: Community collegesIndianaImage Source: IvyTech.eduImage Caption: Welding at Ivy Tech

One women's college introduces a hybrid degree program to help women juggle their education with other demands

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 07:00

One women’s college is making sure that all students who want a degree can earn one.

Alverno College, an all-women’s institution in Wisconsin, is phasing out its once popular weekend courses in favor of a hybrid option for students, a move the college’s president said will allow the student body to better balance personal and professional demands while still pursuing a degree.

President Mary Meehan said when the weekend program at Alverno began more than 40 years ago, the institution would see women travel from as far as Colorado to attend the courses. But over the years, students found working full-time during the week and giving up weekends to be too demanding. Enrollment numbers fell from about 1,000 a decade ago to roughly 100 now, and the college started exploring other options.

The roughly 100 students in the weekend classes can continue in their programs, but no new students will be accepted. Instead, students can study business, communication or liberal studies with a weekly night session and online lessons supplemented by outside group work.

Seventy-five percent of Alverno’s student body are first-generation students, and the college has recently experienced a significant increase in enrollment, primarily in graduate studies, while other institutions throughout the country have struggled to keep their numbers up.

“The fact that kept coming up again and again was the students were saying, ‘we need a more flexible time frame,’” Meehan said. “And with the demands people have in their lives personally and professionally, to give up Friday night, Saturday and Sunday morning and then head right back to work, they would rather have the flexibility of going in one night and doing more of it online.”

She said that the typical student at Alverno works more than 30 hours a week -- including students who come to the college straight out of high school -- and this hybrid program gives them an opportunity to earn a living and a degree at the same time.

The online course work, which was created in-house at Alverno, means that -- barring the in-class sessions -- students don’t have to worry about being in a certain place at a certain time to cover class material, a restriction that hurt those juggling multiple responsibilities.

Meehan said officials at the college first struggled on how to reconcile the college’s ability-based curriculum, which grades students based on how they perform in simulations, with the online courses, but determined that those assessments will take place during the in-person classes.

She added that the college has also stayed in touch with roughly 500 students who left the college, and after introducing them to the new program, officials received a “positive” response.

“We invite students back, so it’s really important to us that we help them graduate in whatever way we can,” Meehan said. “So this is another way to help those students to degree completion.”

Matthew Chingos, the research director of the Brookings Institute’s Brown Center on Education Policy, who has done studies on the effectiveness of hybrid programs, said he has found that the alternatives help students to learn the same amount of material in a hybrid statistics course as they would in a traditional classroom, but in a shorter amount of time.

He was quick to note that his research was only on certain kinds of courses and the effectiveness of a hybrid course depends on a number of factors, including the subject of the class.

He added that caution should be used with hybrid courses because unmotivated students will simply use the online lessons and not show up to the in-person class time, or a student will miss too much of the online course work and be too embarrassed to attend the other session.

“It helps with engagement, it helps with accountability,” Chingos said of the in-person sessions.

Kim Bobby, the director of the American Council on Education’s Inclusive Excellence Group, said she was impressed with Alverno’s efforts to reach more populations of women, not just traditional students who could make it to campus to take classes during the day.

She said the topics Alverno was covering in its hybrid programs can help the women who are already working or hope to join the workforce learn skills that will apply directly to their career aspirations.

“I think looking at the student body and then looking at what the workforce is looking at, a lot of it is focused on leadership,” Bobby said. “We need good leaders across all sectors, and in these three sectors women leaders are currently underrepresented, and this is helping to close some of those gaps.”

Lotte Bailyn, a professor of management emerita at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has done extensive research on the role of women in higher education, said because over all there are higher percentages of women pursuing bachelor's degrees than men, higher ed is already more customized for women than men.

She said when looking at Alverno’s program, the college didn’t have to just consider women, but working women or mothers who would be the best fit for a hybrid course.

“I think what’s important is the particular group this college is attracting. I don’t think it’s the normal education,” Bailyn said.

Editorial Tags: Women's colleges

Proposed 2016 U.S. spending on education, health, labor programs

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 07:00

Both congressional appropriations committees approved legislation last week that would set spending levels for the nation's health, education and workforce programs, setting up likely showdowns with the Obama administration over budgets for some programs and policy initiatives that congressional Republicans want to stop.

The policy battles could trump any deliberations over the spending levels, as the Obama administration is likely to go to the mat over its efforts -- now backed by two federal courts -- to require vocational programs at for-profit and other colleges to prove that they provide "gainful employment" to their graduates.

The spending bills passed by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees last week would block the gainful employment rule and a series of other regulatory efforts that the Obama Education Department has undertaken, but the administration has invested so much time and energy in the gainful rule that it is almost certain to fight any attempt to undermine it.

Whatever potential battles emerge over policy issues will not preclude shorter-term negotiations and debates over spending levels for various programs, as the competing House and Senate bills differ significantly on numerous fronts from the Obama administration's preferred budget levels and, to a lesser extent, from each other, as seen in the table below.

To the satisfaction of higher education groups, both spending bills would increase spending on the National Institutes of Health beyond the $1 billion increase requested by President Obama, with the Senate adding a full billion dollars on top of that.

College leaders are much less happy about a proposal to use $300 million (in the Senate bill) and $370 million (in the House bill) in surplus funds from the Pell Grant program for other purposes, even though the maximum Pell Grant would rise to $5,915 under both bills.

The table below shows proposed spending levels for many key federal programs for higher education, based on the recently passed House and Senate bills for the Departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, and related agencies.

2016 Spending Plans for Education, Health and Labor Programs

Obama Request
2016 House

Senate Committee

LABOR DEPARTMENT         State Job Training Grants / Adults $776,736 $815,556 $776,736 $737,000           EDUCATION DEPARTMENT         Student Financial Assistance         Maximum Pell Grant $5,715 5,915 5,915 5,915 Cut to Pell Grant Surplus     -370,000 -300,000 Supplemental Ed Opportunity Grant 733,130 733,130 733,130 704,000 Work Study 989,728 989,728 989,728 950,000           Support for Institutions         Strengthening Institutions 80,462 80,462 82,071 78,048 Hispanic-Serving Institutions 100,231 100,231 102,236 97,224 Promoting Postbacc Opportunities for Hispanic Americans 8,992 10,565 9,172 8,722 Strengthening Historically Black Colleges 227,524 227,524 232,074 220,698 Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institutions 58,840 58,840 60,017 57,075 Strengthening Predominantly Black Institutions 9,244 9,244 9,429 8,967 Asian-American/Pacific Islander 3,113 3,113 3,175 3,020 Strengthening Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving 12,833 12,833 13,090 12,448 Strengthening Native American-Serving Nontribal 3,113 3,113 3,175 3,020 Strengthening Tribal Colleges 25,662 25,662 30,000 24,892 Tribally Controlled Postsec Voc/Tech Institutions 7,705 7,705 8,705 7,705 Howard U 221,821 221,821 221,821 219,500 Gallaudet U 120,275 120,275 121,275 120,275 National Technical Institute for the Deaf 67,016 67,016 68,016 69,016 HBCU Capital Financing 19,430 19,436 19,430 19,430           Other Education Programs         International Education and Foreign Language 72,164 76,164 72,164 46,945 Fund for the Improvement of Postsec Ed 67,775 200,000 0 0 Postsec Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities 11,800 11,800 11,800 10,384 Minority Science and Engineering Improvement 8,971 8,971 8,971 8,971 Federal TRIO Programs 839,752 859,752 900,000 839,752 GEAR UP 301,639 301,639 322,754 301,639 Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need 29,293 29,293 25,075 20,000 Teacher Quality Partnerships 40,592 0 0 34,000 Child Care Access Means Parents in School 15,134 15,134 15,134 0 Education Research 179,860 202,273 93,144 177,860 Education Statistics 103,060 124,744 103,060 102,060 Office for Civil Rights 100,000 130,000 100,000 100,000                     Career Training State Grants 1,117,598 1,317,598 1,117,598 1,117,598 Adult Education 582,667 588,667 579,195 547,712           Health Programs         National Institutes of Health 30,084,000 31,084,000 31,184,000 32,084,000 Health Workforce Training 751,600 856,820 742,670 720,970           Other Programs         AmeriCorps 335,430 425,105 318,046 270,000           Editorial Tags: Budget

Colleges start new academic programs

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 07:00
Editorial Tags: New academic programs

Faculty members criticize proposed changes to gen ed accreditation standards for engineers

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 07:00

What have long set U.S.-trained engineers apart from their global peers -- at least in the minds of lots of employers -- are their softer skills. While universities in many other countries focus almost entirely on technical mastery, American engineering programs also stress the development of additional competencies, such as critical thinking, writing and the ability to work across disciplines and in diverse settings.

And that hasn’t been an accident. For years, the major undergraduate and master's-level engineering program accreditor, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET, has made these outcomes part of its standards. So proposed changes designed to streamline those standards are worrying some faculty members, who say they’ll inevitably narrow American engineers’ skills set -- and therefore take away their competitive edge. But ABET argues that the changes will benefit the discipline over all, by making less opaque the process of assessing some of these outcomes and by encouraging innovation in teaching.

“Engineering is increasingly being done in a much more complex context and -- I’m going to show my age here a bit -- engineers can no longer afford to be the guys with pocket protectors and slide rules,” said Charles N. Haas, the L. D. Betz Professor of Environmental Engineering and chair of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at Drexel University, and an opponent of ABET’s changes. “They need to be able to interact with people from diverse communities and understand and meet their needs and communicate with different constituencies as much as possible.”

Donna Riley, a professor of engineering education at Virginia Tech and a past chair of the American Society for Engineering Education’s Liberal Education and Engineering and Society division, agreed.

“U.S. engineers will be at a disadvantage if they don’t understand the global context of their work,” she said. “This is about being able to see the big picture, and in so many ways this is what this [debate] is all about.”

In the mid-1990s, amid high-profile calls for more well-rounded engineers who would remain competitive internationally, ABET released its Engineering Criteria 2000 accreditation standards. Arguably the most significant part of the document, Criterion 3 said all engineering programs had to demonstrate that their graduates could:

  • Apply knowledge of mathematics, science and engineering
  • Design and conduct experiments, and analyze and interpret data
  • Design a system, component or process to meet desired needs
  • Function on multidisciplinary teams
  • Identify, formulate and solve engineering problems
  • Understand professional and ethical responsibility
  • Communicate effectively
  • Understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context, due to a “broad education”
  • Recognize the need for and engage in lifelong learning
  • Grasp contemporary issues, based on background knowledge, and
  • Use the techniques, skills and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.

The 11 subcriteria in Criterion 3, widely referred to as A-K, weren’t perfect. Some faculty members said they didn’t stress liberal education enough, while others pointed out how hard it was to assess outcomes such as lifelong learning. But many agreed the criteria did provide guidance for departments in helping their students prepare for an increasingly global field. Virtually all accredited U.S. engineering programs have been assessed by A-K for the past 15 years. A number of those requirements led engineering programs to be sure to include writing, public speaking, history and world cultures instruction in the requirements for students.

Cut to last week, in Seattle, when a presentation on proposed changes to the accreditation criteria stunned many attendees at the American Society for Engineering Education’s annual meeting. Small groups of faculty members, administrators and members of professional societies already had been briefed on the changes. But for many faculty members, the conference was the first time they’d heard about them -- just two weeks ahead of the end of a public comment period.

“We were all very much surprised by it,” said Riley, of Virginia Tech. “The process remains opaque … Whatever attempts at communication were made weren’t effective.”

More than process, faculty members are concerned about the content of the changes. According to a slide presentation from ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission, A-K will be reorganized into six outcomes. Students must have the ability to:

  • Use the principles of science and mathematics to identity, formulate and solve engineering problems
  • Apply both analysis and synthesis in the engineering design process, resulting in designs that meet constraints and specifications (including societal, economic, environmental and other factors appropriate to design)
  • Develop and conduct appropriate experimentation and testing procedures, and analyze and draw conclusions from data
  • Communicate effectively with a range of audiences through various media
  • Demonstrate ethical principles in an engineering context, and
  • Establish goals, plan tasks, meet deadlines, manage risk and uncertainty, and function effectively on teams.

ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission says that individual programs may articulate additional outcomes, but that it is focusing on what is “necessary” to professional practice. For example, references to a "broad education," "life-long learning," knowledge of contemporary issues and professional responsibility are gone. One of the commission’s concerns, according to the presentation, is that programs aren’t adopting additional goals under the more lengthy A-K guidelines. And that’s stifling teaching innovation, it says. Moreover, “some outcomes have proven difficult to assess in a useful and repeatable manner.”

But some faculty members and administrators are nevertheless alarmed by the changes, particularly the omission of the global and multidisciplinary competencies. While engineering programs are hard-pressed to meet the A-K requirements and stay on top of their increasingly complex technical curricula, these additional competencies are necessary for students’ career prospects, they say. But they'll likely fall by the wayside if ABET abandons them, given the constant pressure of decreasing credit hours required for the major.

“What’s necessary for a strong engineering education is being profoundly weakened,” said Amy Slaton, a professor of history at Drexel who teaches many engineering students completing general education requirements, including in a course on technology in historical perspective. “The concern is this is a terrible time to do this, with the number of engineers increasing from India and China and [Brazil and Russia]. The thing that has made American-trained engineers stand out is that they can think critically and ethically and they can write.”

Slaton said the new standards don’t seem to support the “T-Shaped” worker -- one with foundational technical skills and a broadly educated mind -- businesses say they want.

Riley said she wondered how a student who hadn’t been trained in global competencies and contemporary issues, for example, might approach building an electrical grid in another country, in which so many cultural factors are at play -- what drives usage, when is peak demand, what happens if it goes out?

Haas, also at Drexel, said he particularly worried about the elimination of “multidisciplinary” teamwork. No real engineering problem these days applies to just one discipline, he said.

Asked how hard it was as a department chair to meet all the A-K requirements, Haas said it's a constant "balancing act." But it’s all worth it, he said. As for difficulty assessing things such as lifelong learning and global competency in the undergraduate classroom, both Haas and Riley said it’s possible. There are off-the-shelf assessment tools, they said, and building these skills means anything from sending someone on a semester abroad to simply including a module in a lab.

Riley and several colleagues are currently circulating a petition, asking ABET to extend its period for feedback on the changes. The engineering education society's Liberal Education and Engineering and Society division also has shared with ABET its "deep" concerns in an open letter. 

Faculty members aren’t the only one who are concerned. Some professional societies have offered their feedback, as well. Jim O’Brien, managing director of the American Society for Civil Engineers, said his organization wrote a letter to the ABET commission suggesting changes to the changes. While the old standards did probably stifle some teaching innovation, he said, the new standards leave out key outcomes. Of particular import, he said, was the “global” competency reference. If ABET doesn’t include it in the general standards, he said, his organization will work to add it to their own set of standards. O'Brien guessed the proposal wouldn't pass as is, however, given the level of concern.

Norman Fortenberry, executive director of the American Society for Engineering Education, said he couldn't comment, as the association was still considering the changes.

ABET was unable to make anyone available to immediately comment on the draft changes. But a spokeswoman stressed that they are just a draft, reflecting discussions that have been underway since 2009. They'll be open to additional comment for a year after ABET further considers the changes starting this summer.

Accreditation and Student LearningEditorial Tags: EngineeringImage Source: Getty Images

Monks sue trustees for more authority at Benedictine University

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 07:00

Monks are suing trustees at Benedictine University in Illinois for shutting their religious order, which founded the institution 128 years ago, out of major decisions.

The monks want power to approve the institution’s next president and say the Board of Trustees has been unwilling to disclose possible conflicts of interest, despite repeated requests by the monks to do so and, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this week, mandates in Benedictine’s bylaws that require disclosure.

Benedictine is a Roman Catholic university that enrolls around 6,500 students and is 30 miles outside Chicago.

Father Austin Murphy, the abbot of St. Procopius Abbey, which is part of the order that founded Benedictine in 1887, says a group of seven members, comprised of Benedictine monks from the Abbey, is given leadership powers in the university’s bylaws that are being denied by the university and its trustees.

One of those powers, they contend, is to approve the president of the university. When longtime president William Carroll was elected in 1995, Abbot Murphy says, members approved the selection. Yet in the search for Carroll’s successor, members were denied a chance to meet finalists, despite repeated requests. They were also not consulted when trustees selected Michael Brophy to succeed Carroll, effective in August.

Abbot Murphy says he does not have a problem with Brophy, who was most recently president of Marymount California University, but is instead unhappy with the selection process. He also said he doesn't have a specific concern about conflicts of interest, but has been told by Carroll that conflicts of interest don't need to be disclosed by trustees. Yet Abbot Murphy says the bylaws state differently and he has requested disclosure, but has been denied.

“We’re meant to be participants in the affairs of the university,” Abbot Murphy said. “We obviously can’t oversee and govern a university on our own, so we’re looking to collaborate.”

Shifting Identity?

Tensions at Benedictine are indicative of the tensions that sometimes occur as the relationship changes between colleges and the religious groups that founded them. Generally, clergy are less likely to lead Catholic colleges or to dominate boards than was the case a few generations ago. Forty years ago, for example, Benedictine elected its first lay president. The vast majority of its Board of Trustees are laypeople, and many are prominent players in the Chicago business scene.

“The contributions of the founding orders continue to guide and add distinctive value” to Catholic institutions, Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said in a statement. “With the decline in people entering religious life, laypeople have taken on roles that were once held only by sisters, brothers and priests, including leadership, faculty and staff.”

As modern religious institutions depend less on their founders for monetary and other support -- St. Procopius Abbey offers donations to the university, but they are not an annual or fixed source of income -- there’s a question about how involved religious orders should be in the institutions they founded.

“There is out there an idea that the religious order has played their part and now they have to hand it over to nonreligious lay persons,” Abbot Murphy said.

Yet while the abbey’s relationship with the university has evolved over time, Abbot Murphy says Benedictine’s core religious identity and spiritual values remain the same.

“We believe we have something to offer in that regard,” he said.

By refusing to let the monks participate in the president’s selection, trustees are making a “strong statement” about limiting the involvement of the order in the university's affairs.

“It gets to the very nature and identity of the school. It’s a Benedictine school,” Abbot Murphy said. “To go in another direction is changing it in a dramatic way, and that is really an issue about our core identity.”

While not referencing Benedictine specifically, Galligan-Stierle said lay trustees at Catholic institutions are committed to the traditions and missions of founding orders.

“Even while leading our institutions through contemporary changes, the drive to remain faithful to the founders’ ideals is strong,” he said.

Difference in Interpretation

Benedictine administrators and the chair of the Board of Trustees declined to be interviewed for the article, but in a statement said that the university is a “family and not immune to disagreement” and asserted that trustees interpret the bylaws differently.

“The abbot, like the president of the university, is an ex officio member of the Board of Trustees, meaning both have full voting rights on all matters,” the statement says.

“The university’s interpretation of this is the abbot, and his vote, represents the abbey and its members on all matters put before the university’s board. The monks’ governance per their reserve powers outlined in the bylaws pertains to sale of property, closure of the university, election of new trustees and debts that produce liens on university property.”

The university asserts that monks have been involved in all changes to the bylaws over the years.

“The only change in recent years has been that of leadership within St. Procopius Abbey and a different interpretation of the bylaws by that leadership,” the statement reads.

Neither Abbot Murphy nor the university would provide Inside Higher Ed a copy of the bylaws for this article.

Abbot Murphy is hoping that the lawsuit, filed in DuPage County Circuit Court, will provide a binding interpretation of the bylaws in favor of the abbey.

He says tensions began a few years ago when “large decisions were being made” and monks felt like they should be consulted more.

“We’re at an impasse. We’ve tried to work it out for the past few years -- we don’t feel like it’s going anywhere,” he said.

Editorial Tags: Religious collegesImage Caption: Benedictine University

Author discusses book on how historically black colleges evolved amid unfair treatment

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 07:00

Historically black colleges -- public and private -- were created amid an era of overt discrimination and hostility to their mission. A new book traces how they responded to those challenges, typically without the financing enjoyed by other institutions, as well as to challenges that followed the theoretical end of Jim Crow. In the Face of Inequality: How Black Colleges Adapt (State University of New York Press) is by Melissa E. Wooten, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She responded via email to questions about the book.

Q: Your book is about historically black colleges, but in the 20th century, not the 21st. Why did you focus on black colleges primarily before today?

A: The last half of the 20th century was a fascinating time in both American and black college history. Events such as the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS, ruling and the 1964 Civil Rights Act fundamentally altered black Americans’ educational and political possibilities. At the same time, events like this caused many to question the necessity and relevance of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). It is in the last decades of the 20th century that a narrative casting HBCUs as impediments to desegregating America’s colleges and universities developed. This was an unexpected turn.

The initial focus on desegregating America’s colleges and universities focused on guaranteeing an individual’s right to access predominantly white colleges. Yet, the judiciary responsible for interpreting Brown and subsequent desegregation rulings, as well as southern political leaders implementing desegregation plans, claimed the presence of HBCUs prevented black students from choosing to attend a predominantly white college. How did HBCUs garner political and financial support during such challenging circumstances? How did HBCUs adapt culturally and organizationally within an environment that constantly questioned their relevance? Did HBCU efforts to adapt result in a re-evaluation of the schools as impediments to desegregation? Studying HBCUs in the last half of the 20th century provides a chance to understand how the schools navigated this pivotal moment.

Q: You document the way black colleges were encouraged (or required) to focus on certain academic fields, such as education. What is the significance of that, compared to the broader range of programs at predominantly white institutions?

A: That black colleges historically focused on certain academic fields (e.g., education) and not others (e.g., business administration) is significant because it demonstrates the effect of racial inequality on organizational development. Prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that specifically dealt with labor market discrimination, people took it for granted that black college graduates would have limited job opportunities. No such assumption existed for white college graduates. As a result, degree programs at predominantly white colleges were not constrained to particular fields whereas those at black colleges were. Even as late as 1969, the average black college had 32 degree programs compared to 113 for the average predominantly white college in the South. Ultimately, colleges and universities are responsive to the job opportunities available to their core students. However, it’s important to understand that at times, this responsiveness is reflective of limited opportunities available to students and that in the case of black colleges these limits were racially based.

Q: You note that efforts by state governments and society to limit the role of black colleges continued past the era of desegregation. How did those efforts change after the end (in theory) of Jim Crow?

A: Because state governments could not as easily explicitly disadvantage black colleges, one of the ways efforts to limit the role of HBCUs changed following Jim Crow was in their subtlety. Take the proliferation of predominantly white state university satellite campuses across the South as an example. Despite the objections of black college leaders, policy makers have located many satellite campuses within the vicinity of existing HBCUs. Placing satellite campuses close to HBCUs cuts into these schools’ market share, making it especially difficult to recruit nonblack students that may have otherwise chosen to attend a black college because of its proximity to their home. Most students prefer to attend college close to home, and this is particularly true within the South. While many assume HBCUs can’t recruit nonblack students, the public HBCUs in West Virginia with their significant white enrollments suggest otherwise. So here we see something seemingly unrelated to HBCUs, the extension of state universities via satellites, limiting their ability to adapt.

Q: You write at length about the way black colleges adapted. What are some key ways they adapted, both in the segregated era and after?

A: Across both the segregated and desegregated eras, black colleges have shown remarkable creativity when it comes to adaptation. When revenues stagnated in the 1940s, the presidents of private black colleges formed the United Negro College Fund -- the first collective fund-raising program among colleges and universities. When higher education desegregation rulings began to depict black colleges as impediments to racial integration, black college leaders and advocates not only challenged these interpretations in the courts, they also rearticulated the importance of single-race educational settings for a society now privileging racially integrated ones. Most importantly, across both eras, black colleges consistently adapted to meet the educational needs and career opportunities of their students. When few black Americans had access to elementary and high school education, black colleges took it upon themselves to offer courses at these levels in addition to their collegiate work. HBCUs expanded their curricula to ensure that their graduates could take part in the career opportunities that emerged for black Americans following the Civil Rights Act. These trends have continued into the 21st century, as HBCUs are now a key site for black college students to earn degrees in STEM-related fields.

Q: Are there lessons to share from your book about the challenges facing black colleges and their role today?

A: Yes, I’m a firm believer that understanding the present requires deep knowledge of the past. Take the events surrounding South Carolina State University earlier this year that were often discussed through the lens of mismanagement. In February 2015, the South Carolina House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Higher Education proposed shutting down the school, the state’s only publicly supported HBCU. Legislators pointed to the school’s deficit as one of the factors contributing to their decision. Absent the historical context, it was easy to make the case that fiscal mismanagement explained the school’s fate. But it’s important to realize that focusing on mismanagement glosses over the links between school’s current situation and the inequities in funding and resources that are rooted in racial inequality.

During de jure segregation, throughout the South HBCUs were intentionally and strategically underfunded. HBCU advocates have consistently fought to obtain more funding for these schools particularly in the years following legal rulings aimed at racially desegregating higher education. Advocates filed lawsuits to force the southern states to pony up not only going forward, but also for a century’s worth of underfunding. Southern politicians, southern district court judges and ultimately the Supreme Court consistently rebuffed these efforts, declaring that reparations for past wrongs unduly burdened the contemporary southern states. Data from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities indicates that between 2010 and 2012, the legislature underfunded South Carolina State University by more than $6 million. Add to this the overall declines in state support that colleges and universities have dealt with nationwide alongside the changes to the Federal Parent-Plus Loan Program that removed $155 million from HBCU budgets, and a more complex picture emerges. Understanding how state-sanctioned inequality negatively affected HBCUs and the compounding consequences of this is paramount to our ability to properly appreciate, value and converse about HBCUs.

New Books About Higher EducationEditorial Tags: Historically black colleges

Officials at U.S. universities in China tell Congress they have protected academic freedom

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 07:00

WASHINGTON -- Leaders of universities with partnerships or campuses in China attempted to assuage the fears of a congressman about academic freedom in the country, saying that their institutions had not seen any restrictions.

The hearing was lead by Representative Christopher Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who chairs the subcommittee on Africa, global health, global human rights and international organizations of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and who has chaired many hearings related to China and human rights in the country, including academic freedom. In the past, Smith has expressed skepticism about the situation and how it related to officials both abroad and in the U.S., and held the hearing to return to the issue, asking among other things whether China's one-child-per-couple policy is enforced on the American campuses.

Jeffrey Lehman, the vice chancellor of NYU Shanghai, one of New York University’s two degree-granting global branches, and Mirta Martin, the president of Fort Hays State University in Kansas, which has partnerships with universities in China, both said faculty members in their programs were able to make individualized choices without fear of backlash from Chinese leaders.

Lehman, whose campus launched in 2013, said his faculty members are able to choose their own curriculum without any repercussion from Chinese leadership -- just as those professors would be able to teach if they were in New York.

He said NYU only agreed to open the campus in Shanghai if professors were allowed to have absolute academic freedom and independence, and while its Chinese student population -- making up 50 percent of the institution’s student body -- receives significant scholarship funds from the Shanghai government, Chinese officials have no say in the university.

“I would be very surprised if the government of Shanghai said, ‘we don’t want you anymore,’” and conversely it could go a different way, when they say ‘we want you but you can’t have academic freedom,’” Lehman said. “If they said that, we would pack up and leave.”

Robert Daly, the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, said that the environment in China is not as restrictive as it has been in the past, noting the power of social media in the country. Messages that mocked a recent speech by China’s minister of education on how Chinese universities should decrease their use of Western textbooks were not taken down, which Lehman described as a signal of the influence social media can have.

Martin said that her university is able to hire its own faculty members and train them in the U.S. before sending them to China to work at one of its two partner universities in the country, where students can either earn a dual degree or just one from Fort Hays.

She said the Chinese government once requested, in 2001, to review the university’s materials for the China programs, including syllabi, textbooks and faculty credentials, but officials approved the documents and the courses. Never again have those materials been requested.

In her testimony, Martin said the faculty does not teach about Tiananmen Square, but not because it was forbidden -- professors felt it was too sensitive a subject to bring up in China and weren’t comfortable covering it.

But faculty members in law and government courses have no qualms about discussing topics like civil rights and freedom of speech with students.

“We have not experienced any resistance from students, faculty or administrators,” she said in her testimony. “Fort Hays State University’s faculty in China have covered content that included discussion of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution in China, including coverage of Chinese dissidents. Students have read articles and viewed documentaries that included versions of events different from what they had previously been taught.”

Yaxue Cao, the founder and editor of the website ChinaChange.org, which is dedicated to covering civil rights in China, said she was concerned about the finances behind the U.S. and Chinese joint ventures in higher education.

She said it could be possible for an institution to receive funds from the Chinese government and have that funding influence the decisions officials make without those transactions being documented. Martin and Lehman both said this did not take place at their institutions.

International Higher EducationEditorial Tags: Academic freedom

Study links procrastination and bogus excuses by German university students

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 07:00

Sudden illnesses, unlikely hardships and other tales of student woe always seem to pop up as deadlines loom.

A study of about 2,000 German university students has confirmed what lecturers have long suspected: bogus excuses are more likely to be provided by badly organized students who procrastinate.

Students who put off doing their work until the last minute are also more likely to cheat in other ways, according to researchers at Bielefeld University in northwest Germany.

Those who admitted to a high level of procrastination were more likely to fabricate or falsify data, to use forbidden materials in exams, or to copy from another person’s exam sheet, according to a paper published in the journal Studies in Higher Education.

They were also more likely to copy other students’ homework or to engage in other forms of plagiarism, the report says. However, the strongest association between procrastination and academic misconduct related to the invention of ailments or false excuses, with procrastinators 68 percent more likely to lie about their circumstances than those who organized their time more effectively.

“Not only does academic procrastination have unfavorable effects on students’ well-being and academic successes, but it enhances the risk for engaging in academic misconduct,” the study’s authors conclude.

Overall, the study found that 75 percent of students admitted to some form of academic dishonesty in the past six months, with copying others’ homework or essays the most common form of cheating. Male students were 31 percent more likely to copy another person’s assignment, but women were 22 percent more likely to copy in an exam, according to the study, which analyzed responses from students in different disciplines at four German universities.

Universities could eliminate a great deal of academic misconduct if they established programs to help students manage their time, the study suggests.

“It could be helpful to teach students to break their assignments down into small goals and deliberately allocate their resources to these goals,” it says.

“Academic teachers can serve as role models for students by explaining their strategies for working on different assignments, such as writing empirical articles or preparing oral presentations,” it adds.

Editorial Tags: Germany

Education Department says rating system will be consumer tool rather than comparison of colleges

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 07:00

The federal government will not compare colleges or pass judgment on their relative merits as part of the ratings system the U.S. Department of Education plans to release before the end of the summer, department officials said Wednesday.

But the department isn't bailing on the idea entirely, as some would have liked.

Instead, the system will be more of a consumer-facing tool that students, their families and high school guidance counselors can use to learn more about how undergraduate institutions stack up, said Ted Mitchell, the under secretary of education.

“We want to empower them to make comparisons based on measures that matter to them,” Mitchell said.

The new tool will feature a broad range of data about college costs and outcomes, officials said, some of it publicly available for the first time. That information will be available to researchers, colleges and others, who can use it to rate colleges and compare them against one another.

“It’s a chance for institutions to get better,” said Jamienne S. Studley, the deputy under secretary.

The department, however, will not create a scoring system for colleges at this point. That means no singular rating or set of ratings that would group colleges into high-performing, low-performing and middle categories, as department officials previously said they were considering.

The department announced this significant shift in its approach to the ratings in a Wednesday afternoon call with Inside Higher Ed, on the condition that the news not be shared until Thursday. (Click here for a Thursday blog post by Studley.)

The move toward a primarily consumer-facing tool rather than a ratings system with teeth is a departure from the rhetoric President Obama used to describe the plan when he unveiled it, almost two years ago.

“What we want to do is rate them on who's offering the best value so students and taxpayers get a bigger bang for their buck,” Obama said at the time.

The president also proposed linking the ratings system to institutions' receipt of federal financial aid. But that would require the approval of the U.S. Congress -- always a long shot, and even more so after Republicans took control of both chambers last year.

Colleges and their proxies in Washington pushed back on the plan from day one. So did congressional Republicans, who have sought to prevent federal funding from being used for the creation of the ratings.

Complaints about the proposed accountability system included concerns about whether the federal government could generate data that are complete enough to accurately measure the performance of colleges. Firing back was Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who said the higher ed lobby was “propping up the status quo.”

And supporters of the rating system noted that some higher education leaders have long fought against the feds collecting more student-level data, which could be used to learn about how students fare in the job market.

Another widely cited concern has been whether the ratings could account fairly for the differences among institutions. Many wondered how to compare colleges across geographic areas, with widely varying student populations, missions and budget situations. How to rate cash-strapped, open-access community colleges that serve local areas and don’t compete for students? And would historically black colleges be rated against each other in a separate category or lumped in with other types of institutions?

Studley and other department officials spent much of the last 22 months hearing those and many other concerns, at public forums, from written comments and in meetings with a wide range of people, including many who work in higher education.

“We’ve heard from thousands,” Mitchell said. “The needs of students are very diverse. The means they use to pick a college vary widely.”

Following Through

The change in plans for the ratings might not be a surprise to some, as the task increasingly appeared to be Herculean, if not quixotic. At times department officials seemed to acknowledge they were facing an uphill battle.

Even so, many higher education leaders will welcome a consumer-facing tool that has less punitive potential. And department officials can make a good case that they listened in all those public forums. But some consumer groups and think tanks will be disappointed that the White House has tabled its stab at a federal form of performance-based funding for higher education.

Mitchell signaled that the debate over the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the law that governs federal financial aid, would be where the drive for new public accountability systems would occur.

“We need Congress’s help,” he said.

Department officials did not say which data would be used to create the final system. Some of those decisions have yet to be completed, they said. But they promised that the metrics will be ready by the end of the summer.

Last December the department released a ratings framework. The 11 categories of data in that document remain the basis for what will emerge in the next couple months, according to Mitchell and Studley.

Those 11 data points are grouped into three broad areas: college access, affordability and performance. They include measures of net price, the percentage of a college’s students who receive Pell Grants, completion and transfer rates, and former students’ employment outcomes, such as earnings.

The final product will be customizable, said Mitchell, and will “empower consumers to make their own decisions.”

It will join other attempts by the White House to get more information about colleges in front of students and others who care about higher education. Those efforts include the interactive College Scorecard and a website the department and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs created specifically to help recipients of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The Obama administration also appears to be closing in on successfully launching its gainful employment accountability system, which goes live in July and is primarily aimed at for-profit institutions.

The ratings will be an “an important contribution to the suite of tools,” said Mitchell, and not just for consumers. “The data will be as interesting to institutions as they are to students.”

The department plans to disseminate the ratings far and wide. Mitchell said officials will work with college advising organizations and developers of web and smartphone apps to make sure the data get into the hands of students and their families.

“We are going to do what we set out to do,” he said, by releasing a “tool kit that provides for public accountability.”

Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: Federal policyEducation DepartmentImage Caption: Ted Mitchell and Jamienne Studley of the Education Department

Florida's remedial law leads to decreasing pass rates in math and English

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 07:00

Colleges across Florida are getting a more accurate look at how changes in the state’s remedial law have affected students.

Administrators are seeing that traditional students who decided not to take developmental or remedial courses, after being advised to do so, were more likely to fail college-level or gateway courses.

For example, officials at Miami-Dade College found that enrollment in college-level math or intermediate algebra increased from 20,000 students this school year from just under 16,000 two years ago, which was the year before the controversial remedial legislation took effect. Yet the pass rate for those Miami-Dade students over the same time period decreased to 46.8 percent from 55.7 percent. 

Enrollment in developmental math decreased by about 42 percent, according to the college. 

“This would point in the direction that the drop in the pass rate has to do with students who are not possibly prepared for these courses and are now entering these courses,” said Lenore Rodicio, provost for Miami-Dade College’s academic and student affairs. “The ramifications are multiple. In the simplest case, the students retake the course, but retaking the course if you still don’t have the proper preparation just means more money wasted.”

There are other concerns besides the financial for students with remedial needs who fail these courses, such as a negative effect on retention and the length of time it may take them to complete their degree. 

In 2013, Florida legislators sought a way to help students save money and encourage them to stay in college. Developmental education courses, which are not credit bearing and don’t count toward a degree, would no longer be mandated for traditional high school graduates who don’t score well on the state’s standard placement tests. And the placement test that would determine whether a student should enter a developmental education course was no longer mandatory, either. Adult or nontraditional students, however, weren’t exempt from placement tests.

Hunter Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education at Appalachian State University, said he's not certain what legislators expected would happen. 

“This isn't rocket science. If students don't have the skills to complete a college course and you let them take the course, there's a likelihood they'll fail the course,” he said. “What did they expect? All along this legislation was questioned by experts in the field.”

The law, in essence, left the decision up to students to figure out if they were college ready, or not. Yet students often aren't sophisticated about the level of rigor in college courses, even in a remedial or developmental course, he said. 

Some two-year colleges in Florida, like St. Petersburg College, devised their own measurement that could be used to help recommend if students needed remediation. The college created a prediction model that used high school records to determine the likelihood of student success in college-level courses. That likelihood was determined using the historical performance of past incoming students with similar backgrounds. The prediction model determined whether students fit into three categories: “likely college ready,” “developmental education recommended” or “developmental education strongly recommended.” (Click here for a presentation from the college about how it adjusted to comply with the law.)

Plenty of students ignored those recommendations, which also increased their likelihood of not passing the college-level-equivalent course. There was a more than 15 percent difference between those students who followed the college's recommendation and those who didn't, with a 70.5 percent success rate for those who followed the recommendation compared to 55.3 percent. For those students who chose to take college-level math when they were advised to take the developmental equivalent, only 2 out of 10 passed with a C or better in the spring 2014 semester, according to the college.

St. Petersburg College -- Spring 2014 
  • Students recommended for developmental math but enrolled in college-level course -- 2 out of 10 passed with a C or better
  • Students recommended for developmental reading but enrolled in college-level course -- 5 out of 10 passed with a C or better
  • Students recommended for developmental writing but enrolled in college-level course -- 5 out of 10 passed with a C or better

“We were surprised when we literally had students who not only didn't take the recommendation in one of those areas, but they also didn't take it in two or three courses, so the success rate got progressively worse,” said Jesse Coraggio, vice president of institutional effectiveness and academic services at the college. That 55.3 percent success rate fell to 51.9 percent for those not taking two recommended courses. It dropped to 45 percent for three courses.

Student Choices

Researchers at Florida State University's Center for Postsecondary Success have been studying the effects of the legislation and found results across the state similar to St. Petersburg and Miami-Dade. Students are reluctant to enroll in developmental education courses even when advised to do so. The study pointed to future career goals as the most important factor to students. 

“Student enrollment in developmental education courses is a complicated decision process,” said Shouping Hu, the lead researcher at FSU, in a written statement. “A targeted discussion with students about occupational options can play an important role, as experienced academic advisers already know.”

Coraggio said there are other factors at play, such as the negative perception of taking remedial courses and the need to be on par intellectually with one's peer group. 

The negative perception also depended on the type of remedial course that was recommended -- students at St. Petersburg, for example, were less willing to take a developmental writing or reading courses.

“There's a little bit of a social stigma. It's easier for students to say they're not good at math. It's much harder to have conversations about having difficulty with writing or reading, even though at the end of the day we're talking about the college perspective of reading and writing,” Coraggio said. 

But the stigma of taking developmental or remedial courses was created by academics who at times looked down on or ignored the field, said Boylan. But he said there is also a stigma in failing college-level math.

St. Petersburg also learned that students who failed college-level math or English courses were more likely to put off retaking those courses or not return to college. 

For example, 412 student enrolled in a gateway math course this past fall despite recommendations to take developmental math. Of those students, 250, or 60 percent, failed to pass.

Among those who failed the course, 70 percent re-enrolled that spring. However, 50 percent of those who re-enrolled repeated the course. Three percent of them decided to take developmental math. And 47 percent of the students chose not to retake any math at that time, which is one reason the college is changing its policy on how long students have to retake a course, said Patrick Rinard, St. Petersburg's associate vice president of enrollment services.

“One of the things we were noticing for those students was that a certain percentage weren't enrolling the following term. They were choosing to take other courses,” said Coraggio. “It's like their heads are in the sand. They're putting it off.”

That's why the college is looking at changing its policy so that students will have to complete the required math or English courses before they progress too far in their education plans. For example, if students failed college math and didn't register the following term to retake the course, they would be required to complete math by the fourth term, Rinard said.  

Besides the potential for discouraging students not to continue on their educational path, failing a college course can hurt students financially. It's a catch-22 or a gamble for many students who seek to avoid remediation for financial reasons. 

“The majority of our students are on federal financial aid. So for a very unsuccessful attempt at a course, it does two things. One, it eats away at the number of credits or courses they can continue taking [that are] being paid completely by federal financial aid,” Rodicio said, adding that the effects for these students won't appear until they're pursuing a bachelor's degree at a four-year institution and that aid has been chipped away. “But it also begins to push them closer to falling into academic probation. Multiple attempts, dropping [grade point average] and withdrawing from courses means you're at risk of losing your aid.”

Boylan said some of these problems can be solved if developmental courses counted toward a student's degree plan. But that solution won't fix everything. 

And while there are plenty of colleges in the country that overplace students in remediation, or offer too many remedial courses, there are students who just aren't ready for college and won't be successful. 

“If you read at a fifth-grade level, you're going to have a tough time, and a lot of the legislation ignores that,” Boylan said. 

Many of the remedial reform efforts and approaches that have been applauded across the country are being used at Florida's colleges. Miami-Dade, for instance, uses a combination of accelerated, modular and corequisite courses. And they've seen success, with pass rates increasing by 4 percent in developmental math during the last three years, Rodicio said. 

“The improvement in developmental teaching has shown some return in terms of students being successful, but the challenge here is that our hands are tied in how we place students,” she said. “I understand the emphasis for the legislation and change was needed in developmental education and we needed to do better to help our neediest students succeed, but we've gone to the other extreme.”

St. Petersburg's new system features more advising and mentoring for students in developmental courses. It also includes accelerated pathways and corequisite approaches -- which are credit-bearing courses with additional tutoring and support -- to help those students become college ready. The pass rate in the college's redesigned developmental math course, for instance, jumped to 69.2 percent in 2013 from 60.3 percent the previous year. 

Coraggio said they're working with FSU researchers and others across the state to use the prediction model to better advise students on making the right choices. 

Miami-Dade College  Developmental Education Enrollment         Math  Writing  Reading  2012-13 to 2014-15   -42%  -44%  -46%         College-level Enrollment  Math  English   2012-13 to 2014-15   +30%  +10%           Pass Rates  Math  English   2012-13 55.7% 74%   2014-15 46.8% 70.3%            Community CollegesEditorial Tags: Community collegesRemedial educationFloridaImage Source: Miami-Dade CollegeImage Caption: Miami-Dade College's Kendall campus

WikiLeaks memo sheds new light on 2012 cheating scandal involving Saudi students

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 07:00

This is a story of how one university’s massive cheating scandal became a minor diplomatic incident.

In January of 2012, Montana Tech reported that 36 of its students were involved in a grade-changing scandal in which an unidentified former employee altered grades and removed courses from transcripts. As The Montana Standard, the local paper in Butte, reported at the time, the university identified 126 grade changes, 119 cases of courses being removed from transcripts and 19 cases in which courses were added. The paper also reported in its Jan. 7, 2012, article that the university intended to turn over the results of its investigation to local and state authorities for possible criminal prosecution.

That scandal came back to life this week when the Associated Press reported on Saudi Arabian embassy memos released by WikiLeaks suggesting that almost all of the students who were involved were Saudis studying in the U.S. on government scholarships and that their government attempted to shield them from potential criminal liability.

The AP reported on a memo describing a Jan. 4, 2012, meeting between top Montana Tech administrators and Saudi diplomats at the Saudi embassy in Washington in which Chancellor Donald Blackketter reportedly suggested that the students be flown out of the United States. The memo says that a Saudi diplomat subsequently “issued travel tickets to those students … to return to the kingdom so they don't face jail or deportation by the American authorities.”

Another Saudi memo cited by the AP indicated that the employee who changed grades had accepted “gifts” in exchange. In an interview with the AP, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Douglas Abbott said he recalled the gifts as being “small tokens of appreciation” and the employee did not accept money.

In a written statement provided to Inside Higher Ed, Blackketter described “innuendos or accusations that Montana Tech conspired to fly students out of the United States” as being false and suggested that the university had an obligation to inform the “sponsoring agency” in advance of the likelihood that the students would be punished.

“The visit Doug Abbott and I made to the sponsoring agencies was to inform the agencies of pending Montana Tech sanctions and to remind them that it was almost certain sanctions would be given,” Blackketter said. “Furthermore, we reminded them that when sanctions were imposed, the students’ SEVIS [Student and Exchange Visitor Information System] status would be terminated and students would be required to return to their home country. I informed the sponsoring agency that preparations for this action were needed. This visit to the sponsoring agency was even more critical because we determined the extensiveness of the grade changes only after students left for the holiday break, and many of the involved students were not on campus. We used all means available to promptly contact the students.”

Blackketter said he kept the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and local police informed of completed and pending sanctions against students as the investigation unfolded over multiple weeks in late 2011. “While bribery is a crime, academic dishonesty is unethical, but not a criminal violation,” Blackketter wrote in his statement. “No students involved in the grade-change incident committed a crime in their academic violations (according to conclusions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security and Butte-Silver Bow law enforcement).”

The chancellor said that some of the students involved were expelled, others had their diplomas revoked, and others were allowed to return to the university, which is part of the University of Montana system.

Blackketter declined, through a spokeswoman, to answer questions following up on his written statement.

Tricia Bertram Gallant, a lecturer at the University of California at San Diego who studies academic integrity issues, said the case reminds her of one at Diablo Valley College a number of years back in which dozens of students reportedly paid bribes to student workers to change their grades. But generally she said this type of case is more common overseas in countries where corruption is more rampant.

That said, she noted that after reading research done by UNESCO on corruption in education internationally, "I thought how much longer will it take for that to infiltrate the U.S., Britain, Canada and Australia, with the amount of international students we have coming to our schools. I’m not surprised we have had a story along those lines.”

The number of international students in the U.S. has increased by 72 percent since 2000, while the number of Saudi students in particular has increased more than tenfold, driven by the Saudi government scholarship program. According to the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors report, there were 53,919 students from Saudi Arabia at U.S. universities in 2013-14, compared to just 5,273 in the year 2000-1.

Researchers have found that international students' self-reported rates of cheating are higher than for domestic students (self-reported cheating rates are also especially high for fraternity and sorority members). Bertram Gallant said an article she's co-authored similarly finds that "being an international student is a 'risk factor' for being reported for cheating [by others]. Does that mean that international students cheat more, does it meant that faculty are looking for it, does that meant they cheat poorly so that they’re noticed more easily than a domestic student? We don't know -- the numbers don’t tell us that -- but they do say that we have an issue."

Nasser Razek, a clinical faculty member in the higher education administration program at the University of Dayton, has found in his research that Saudi students in the U.S. are much more likely to report engaging in academically dishonest behaviors than are their American counterparts. For example, they're more than twice as likely to report getting questions from someone who has already taken a test (32 versus 15 percent) or to report receiving substantial unpermitted help on an assignment (53 versus 24 percent). Razek noted, however, that the type of extreme grade changing reported at Montana Tech is not something he's encountered in his research of Saudi student behaviors.

Context is key to understanding the problem, Razek said. Before the creation of the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program in 2005, only Saudi students with excellent English skills would be likely to get a visa. But suddenly anyone with a high school diploma could come here to study on a full scholarship. Universities lowered their standards, conditionally admitting scores of Saudi students without TOEFL or SAT scores pending completion of an intensive English program.

Students don't intend to cheat from the outset, Razek said, but they can find themselves in a situation where they feel unequipped to do the course work and where they fear having to return home with the shame of having lost their scholarship.

One behavior that Razek says is very prevalent in his research participants is "paper writing -- someone else being paid to write papers for the Saudi students, or do homework for them, specifically for longer research papers where they lack the skills of using the libraries and doing the research in English."

They don't see it as something bad, he said. "For them, it’s the only way of survival. They say, 'after one year in the English Language Institute, I can’t write an email without 20 or 25 mistakes. How can I write a research paper of 25 pages?'"

GlobalForeign StudentsEditorial Tags: International higher educationForeign Students in U.S.

TIAA-CREF survey reveals adjuncts' concerns about having enough savings in retirement

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 07:00

Just 19 percent of adjunct faculty members say they’re very confident they’ll have enough money for retirement, while another 49 percent say they’re somewhat confident at best. Nearly one-third of adjuncts (31 percent) say they’re not confident they’ll be financially able to retire at all.

Those are the findings of a new report from TIAA-CREF Institute, the research arm of TIAA-CREF, which is a major provider of financial services and retirement planning to colleges and universities.

The results -- based on a national survey of some 500 part-time and full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members -- are hardly surprising. That is, many adjuncts report that their relatively low pay makes it hard to make ends meet at the end of the month, let alone put money away for retirement. But the data nevertheless shed new light on a perhaps neglected subtopic of the national debate over adjunct working conditions. And while some advocates for adjuncts say that the reality for many is worse than what this study found, they hope TIAA-CREF’s attention will jump-start overdue conversations.

“A major portion of college education is being conducted by adjuncts, and we need to treat them properly,” said Mary Gray, a tenured professor of mathematics and statistics at American University who studies economic equity and education issues, after reviewing the report.

Adjuncts and Retirement

Some 82 percent of adjuncts said they’re saving for retirement, either through a plan at work or on their own, according to TIAA-CREF’s report. Some 74 percent of adjuncts in the sample have the option to contribute to a retirement savings plan at the college or university where they work. Some 60 percent of adjuncts with that option are exercising it, while more than half of those who don’t have retirement plans through their institutions wish they did. The report does not specify whether colleges with programs open to adjuncts match their contributions.

“The top reasons cited by academics in adjunct faculty positions for a lack of confidence in their retirement income prospects appear interrelated -- 28 percent do not feel that they are saving enough and 33 percent cite low earnings,” reads the report. About one-third of adjuncts also say they don’t have confidence that Social Security as they know it will exist when they intend to draw on it.

Some 15 percent of adjuncts under 40 say they’re very confident they’ll have money for retirement, compared to 40 percent of adjuncts 65 or older. About 48 percent of those under 40 say they’re somewhat confident, while 46 percent of those 65 and older say they are.

Adjuncts in the liberal arts tend to be less confident than their peers in the professional disciplines: 37 percent in the liberal arts are not confident, compared to 21 percent in the professional fields.

Debt likely also is impacting the ability of adjuncts -- especially younger ones -- to save for retirement. About half of adjuncts say debt is personally problematic, and 13 percent consider it a major problem.

Career Satisfaction

TIAA-CREF also asked adjuncts about career satisfaction, and compared their responses to similar questions posed to tenured and tenure-track faculty members (who were also included in the survey but are the primary subjects of a separate report released earlier this month). The results suggest that adjuncts enjoy the nature of and want more academic work, but feel they’re underpaid. They also parallel the findings of a 2010 study of adjuncts from the Coalition on the Academic Workforce.

“The top reasons adjunct faculty give for not being ‘very satisfied’ with their careers are level of pay (cited by 25 percent), not having a full-time positions (23 percent), not having a tenure-track position (22 percent) and lack of job security (14 percent),” TIAA-CREF notes. So “it appears that the lack of a tenure-track position is not the issue so much as the lack of full-time employment for a number of academics in full-time positions.”

Comparatively, level of pay and poor work-life balance are the top reasons tenure-track faculty members are not very satisfied with their academic careers.

In terms of institutional support, adjuncts reported being most satisfied with teaching supports: 56 percent were “very satisfied,” for example. Satisfaction is lowest regarding institutional support for research, with 27 percent not satisfied (although 34 percent were still very satisfied). The study notes that while 99 percent of respondents reported having teaching duties, 31 percent say research is part of their job. TIAA-CREF assumes this more of a “self-requirement” that might assist in securing a tenure-track position or promotion.

Adjuncts most value students, with 90 percent saying they enjoy teaching and interacting with them. Nearly 30 percent of adjuncts feel strongly that nothing they could do outside academe would provide an equivalent sense of fulfillment -- although about one-third of adjuncts say they could find another similarly fulfilling job outside of higher education.

Unsurprisingly, adjuncts with the lowest household incomes were more likely to report career dissatisfaction. There’s no statistically significant difference in satisfaction between adjuncts teaching at private and public institutions. Community college adjuncts are slightly more likely than their peers elsewhere to cite low pay as the primary cause of their dissatisfaction.

TIAA-CREF’s sample does not include what it calls “professors of the practice,” or those who have primary work outside the academy. It’s also weighted by age according to the larger 2010 study of adjunct faculty by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce. It should be noted that that report, which did include professors of the practice, found a much lower rate of availability for institution-based retirement plans for adjuncts: 41 percent.

More than 60 percent of the adjuncts surveyed by phone for TIAA-CREF by an independent firm were under age 55, and nearly 30 percent were under 40. Women made up 52 percent of the sample.

Some 79 percent of respondents were employed at one institution; 17 percent were employed at two. Four percent were employed at three or more institutions. Just about two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents worked at public institutions. They were roughly split between doctoral-, master’s-, baccalaureate-, and community-level colleges and universities. Some 65 percent of respondents worked in the liberal arts, 32 percent worked in professional fields and 2 percent worked in other fields.

One-quarter of respondents said their 2013 income was $50,000 or less. Some 30 percent of adjuncts said their income was $100,000 or more, which TIAA-CREF says indicates a partner or other family member earning a relatively high income.

Age seemed to affect adjuncts’ perspectives, with older adjuncts more likely to be satisfied with their work experience. Some 52 percent of those 55 to 64 and 64 percent of those 65 or older said they were very satisfied with their careers. But just 35 percent of those under 40 and 29 percent of those 40 to 54 were very satisfied. The oldest adjuncts in the survey were the least likely to say they desired a full-time or tenure-track position.

Paul Yakoboski, a senior economist at TIAA-CREF Institute and author of the report, said the organization wanted to look at how adjuncts, not just tenure-line faculty, thought about retirement. While there wasn’t anything particularly shocking about the data, he said, comparing tenure-line and adjunct faculty attitudes about retirement and career satisfaction proved interesting. While there’s a big overall satisfaction gap between the two groups, he said, they have similar views on more focused questions.

Yakoboski said he didn’t notice any major push among institutions to include adjunct faculty members in their retirement plans, but he also said adjuncts might not know about the various options that are already available to them.

Important Conversations

Adrianna Kezar, a professor of higher education and director of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success at the University of Southern California, has previously consulted TIAA-CREF on adjunct faculty issues. While the scenario presented in their findings might be “bleaker” for many adjuncts, she said, TIAA-CREF’s focus will bring more attention to adjunct retirement concerns -- a good thing.

“I know of no institutions that think of the long-term financial future of adjuncts,” she said. “So I am really glad TIAA-CREF has started this conversation.”

Gray, the statistician at American, was more critical, saying TIAA-CREF’s methodology left much to be desired, including a larger sample size and more clarity about adjunct response rates and how contact lists were generated (TIAA-CREF says they were “representative” of the adjunct population, and not exclusive to those working at TIAA-CREF member institutions). But she credited the report with fueling discussion and with noting the differences between tenure-line and adjunct faculty in retirement attitudes.

Gray said part-time workers at public institutions in some states get shut out of Social Security, and that lawmakers should work to close gaps that keep adjuncts from benefiting from this kind of “security blanket” in the absence of meaningful retirement benefits.

And Social Security doesn’t necessarily help adjuncts much, even in states where part-time faculty members can draw on it, said Keith Hoeller, a longtime adjunct professor of philosophy at Green River Community College in Washington and author of Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System.

“Social Security benefits are calculated based on earnings in your top 35 years,” Hoeller said via email, so if “you have some years when you have not worked or earned very much, as is often the case with graduate students, your benefits will be lower.” Additionally, he said, “years in which you earn little will also mean lower benefits. Since adjuncts are often impoverished, they tend to take benefits earlier, which means they collect less money overall from Social Security. Few adjuncts can wait to retire until they are 70, when their benefit amount will be highest.”

Pensions, too, are based on how much one earns, Hoeller said. And some adjuncts may not qualify for pensions, especially if they are considered independent contractors. Moreover, he said, adjuncts in states such as Washington have traditionally had high eligibility thresholds for pensions, meaning that adjuncts in some case would have had to take on course loads larger than what was typically allowed by the college to qualify.

Unions have had some success in this area. The 2010 academic workforce report found that unionized adjuncts were more likely to have access to health and retirement benefits (60 percent of unionized adjuncts said they had access to retirement benefits from their employer versus 28 percent of nonunionized adjuncts). Lesley University adjuncts affiliated with Service Employees International Union recently won enhanced benefits in their contract, including access to a retirement plan with a university contribution, for example, according to SEIU.

Still, Michelle Healy, an organizing director with SEIU, said that contract negotiations at the many campuses that have seen successful adjunct union drives in recent months are focused first and foremost on raising adjunct pay.

“This is the more glaring problem,” she said. “Adjunct faculty are being paid a rate that we routinely hear is near poverty level,” making it hard for many to “fathom” putting any money away for retirement.

Anne Wiegard, a board member for the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct faculty association, said more retirement benefits are nevertheless an important part of the reform agenda.

“People should be talking about retirement benefits for adjunct faculty that are equitable in relation to benefits provided to full-time faculty,” she said via email. “This principle of equity is really part of the urgent, larger conversation about contingent workers in the U.S.: retail and restaurant workers, domestic workers, etc., people whose work is essential for the economy but whose contributions are undervalued or even invisible.”

AdjunctsEditorial Tags: AdjunctsPayRetirement
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