Higher Education News

Investments in ed-tech companies reach new high in first half of 2015

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 07:00

With $2.51 billion invested in educational-technology companies during the first half of 2015, investors continue to defy fears that interest in the sector is waning. Yet analysts say the staggering figure distracts from what and who isn’t being funded.

Lynda.com in January set the pace for what has already become a record-setting year for investments in ed tech, announcing an investment of $186 million. The online learning platform, which was later acquired by LinkedIn for $1.5 billion, still holds the record for the largest funding amount so far this year, but investors have found plenty of other investment opportunities.

Between January and June, investors poured $2,512,803,700 into ed-tech companies, eclipsing the record high $2.42 billion invested in all of 2014 -- the first year investments broke the $2 billion barrier. Five years ago, during the turmoil of the global recession, investments only totaled about $600 million.

The data come from a white paper released by market research firm Ambient Insight, and includes investments in learning-technology companies in 118 countries serving both K-12 and higher education. Since the white paper only covers “instructional products directly involved in the learning process” -- excluding, for example, a $200 million funding round to a lending platform that also offers peer-to-peer student loans -- the total amount of investments directly or indirectly related to education is likely much larger.

Even with those qualifiers, Ambient Insight calls the results from the first six months of 2015 “astonishing” and “unprecedented.” Among ed-tech companies, meanwhile, there is a sense that investors are only beginning to take the market seriously.

“Relative to the size of education as a market, venture investment into the space is a small fraction of what it should be,” said John Baker, founder and CEO of learning management system provider D2L. “Given the contribution that education makes to overall society, GDP -- you name it -- we’re still well below what we should be seeing.”

Another roundup of deals, which looked at funding of venture capital-backed companies, found investments reaching $1.6 billion during the first two quarters of 2015, up from $944 million last year.

One reason for the growth seen this year: more companies are getting funded, and investors are cutting those companies larger checks. Last year, 13.4 percent of the 336 companies invested in received $10 million or more; so far this year, that share is up to 27 percent. Funding rounds larger than $100 million, previously a rarity, are growing more common. In the last 17 years, only 10 companies have cracked nine digits, but 2015 has already seen four such deals.

A second reason may be that the ed-tech market is still unsettled, and that investors are searching for eventual success stories. A previous Inside Higher Ed analysis, using data from research firm PitchBook, suggested many companies that received one round of venture capital funding received follow-on deals.

Investors are also finding new places to spend their money, for example in growing markets in Asia and South America. Twenty Chinese companies account for $798.6 million of the total dollars invested during the first half of 2015, already topping last year’s total of $634.4 million. That figure dwarfs the money invested in companies operating in India ($137 million) and Brazil ($97 million), but those countries are still on track for a manyfold increase in funding over last year. As a point of comparison, investments in Brazilian ed-tech companies previously peaked at $5.3 million in 2013.

Chinese companies hold five of the top 10 spots on the list of the largest funding amounts obtained this year; American, four; Brazilian, one.

Consumer Facing Up, Higher Ed Down

China is the “big growth driver” behind the 2015 numbers, said Max Woolf, a senior analyst with the research firm Eduventures. But the money invested in Chinese companies may be less impressive than it initially appears, he added. “If you think about the spending per learner in China, it’s really a drop in the bucket,” he said.

While the takeaway from this year’s market activity appears to be uninhibited growth, some segments of the market are trending down. Companies that primarily serve colleges and universities, for example, do not appear to be attracting investors’ interest. In fact, those companies received nearly $100 million less in funding during the first half of 2015 compared to the previous year -- $152.3 million versus $251.7 million.

Apart from learning management system provider Instructure’s $40 million funding round, “it looks like investors are staying away from [higher education] learning-tech companies,” Sam S. Adkins, chief researcher at Ambient Insight, said in an email.

Adkins, who wrote the white paper, pointed out that the higher education-facing sector of the ed-tech market pulled in a total of $579.6 million in 2014. “Things would have to pick up significantly for the [higher education] sector to accomplish that this year,” he said.

Consumer-facing companies, however, are receiving more funding than ever before. Adkins notes in the white paper that there was “virtually no investor interest in consumer-facing learning-technology companies between 2003 and 2009,” but since 2012, funding for those companies has grown from $626 million to $1.41 billion.

Adkins said he was not sure if the trend signals that investors’ behavior is changing. “There is huge interest in consumer-facing ed-tech companies (what we call retail education) but I don’t know if those investors used to fund [higher education-facing] companies,” he said.

Interest in consumer-facing companies is not restricted to education. Apple is the world’s most valuable company, and appears destined to become the first $1 trillion company in the U.S. Facebook’s market value this week reached $275 billion, passing General Electric.

But the education sector presents some specific quirks that may make investors more likely to favor consumer-facing companies, Woolf said. Colleges have long sales cycles, infrequently replacing administrative and other types of software. Federal regulations also make education a challenging market to navigate, he said.

To complicate matters, the line between higher education- and consumer-facing companies may be blurring. Even learning management system providers such as D2L, which traditionally have measured their success by how many colleges adopted their system, now offer products aimed at individual faculty members and students. Still, D2L's Baker said, the higher education-facing model is “critical.”

D2L, which was founded in 1999, waited until 2012 before it took in any outside investment -- $80 million. Two years later, it had raised another $85 million.

“I’ve been in the space long enough to have heard investors having no appetite whatsoever for ed tech,” Baker said. “I see that diminishing.”

TechnologyEditorial Tags: TechnologyImage Source: Illustration PhotoImage Caption: A collection of recent headlines about ed-tech deals.

Number of for-profit colleges declines as enrollments wither

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 07:00

As enrollments tumble at for-profit colleges, the number of proprietary institutions is dwindling, too.

Data released by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics Thursday show that 3,436 for-profit colleges participated in federal financial aid programs in the just-ended academic year, down 2.6 percent, from 3,527 such institutions two years earlier, in the 2012-13 academic year.

For all the talk about the financial vulnerability of private nonprofit colleges in the wake of recent campus closures (and near closures), meanwhile, the number of such institutions actually increased marginally from 2012-13 to 2014-15, as seen in the table below. And the number of public colleges dipped by just under 1 percent.

Title IV-Eligible Institutions

  2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 % Change, 2012-13 to 2014-15 Total 7,416 7,397 7,310 -1.5% Public 2,009 2,008 1,991 -0.9% Private Nonprofit 1,880 1,892 1,883 0.2% For-Profit 3,527 3,497 3,436 -2.6%

Most of the decline among for-profit institutions occurred in four-year institutions (from 790 to 738) and two-year institutions (1,042 to 965), while the number of fewer-than-two-year campuses rose, to 1,733 from 1,695.

The erosion of for-profit campuses is not surprising, given the various forces -- regulatory and financial -- that have been buffeting the sector.

The NCES report also provides data on enrollments, which parallel those already reported in recent months by the National Student Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse's more timely enrollment reports provide year-over-year comparisons each semester; the federal data, from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, provide unduplicated annual enrollments for a full academic year, in this case 2013-14 (a year earlier than the institutional numbers).

The data show that postsecondary enrollment over all dropped by 4.2 percent over two years, with undergraduate enrollment falling by 4.8 percent and graduate enrollment by 1.6 percent.

The overall numbers were skewed heavily by declines in the for-profit sector, at all degree levels, and by a 7.5 percent drop in community college enrollment from 2011-12 to 2013-14, as seen in the table below.

12-Month Unduplicated Head Count Enrollment, Title IV institutions

  2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 % Change, 2011-12 to 2013-14 Total 29,041,553 28,305,025 27,883,323 -4.2% Undergraduate 25,205,671 24,524,988 24,058,253 -4.8% Graduate 3,835,862 3,780,037 3,775,070 -1.6%           4-year         Public 9,731,959 9,677,135 9,759,129 0.3% Private Nonprofit 4,738,223 4,807,850 4,819,214 1.7% For-Profit 2,509,477 2,311,768 2,159,520 -16.2%           2-Year         Public 10,626,384 10,211,926 9,887,224 -7.5% Private Nonprofit 71,279 59,869 58,637 -21.6% For-Profit 734,955 657,232 598,676 -22.8%           Fewer than 2 Year       Public 91,041 84,307 73,975 -23.1% Private 20,869 17,620 17,221 -21.2% For-Profit 517,446 477,318 459,727 -12.6% For-Profit Higher EdEditorial Tags: For-profit colleges

After shooting by campus police officer, university reconsiders campus police force policies

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 07:00

Sunday night, a University of Cincinnati police officer followed a car off campus before pulling it over for not having front license plates. A few minutes later, a shot rang out and the man inside the car was dead.

The death of Sam Dubose, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a white officer is sparking protests in Cincinnati, and the university president is taking steps to build community connections that he hopes will prevent future incidents.

After the 2001 Cincinnati riots, the largest race-related demonstrations since the Los Angeles riots, the Collaborative Agreement was formed.

Created in 2002 by the Cincinnati police force, the city government, the Cincinnati Black United Front and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the document lays out ways police officers and officials and members of communities can work together to improve relationships between citizens and law enforcement, educate the public on police procedures and improve hiring, education and accountability within the Cincinnati police department.

The University of Cincinnati has now agreed to join the agreement as one of the steps it will take in response to the death of Dubose.

University President Santa Ono said the campus police force will work with the organizations within the Collaborative Agreement and will help to review the university’s relationships with surrounding communities.

“We want to make sure the university is really applying best practices in terms of how they’re handling the public safety of our community,” Ono said.

He said he will meet with leaders involved in the agreement early next week, and was already meeting with community leaders, such as pastors of local parishes and owners of nearby businesses, to discuss safety in the area.

He said the university's police force will also undergo an institutional review to ensure that best practices are being adopted for officers, including looking at topics like training and cultural competency education, although plans for that review are still in the preliminary stages. A permanent independent committee will be created to conduct the review.

On Thursday, the university announced a change in its patrol policies -- a shift under which the shooting might not have taken place. The change in policy: "UC Police will focus its patrols within campus boundaries. UC has multiple campus locations, so university police vehicles will still be seen traveling between locations. The City of Cincinnati Police Department has agreed to increase its patrols outside the boundaries of campus in the interim. UC Police will conduct traffic stops only within the boundaries of UC’s campuses."

Many black leaders in the city have been upset with the official response to the shooting, requesting that footage from the body camera worn by the officer be released. While the footage is ready to be released by the university, Cincinnati officials said it wouldn’t be made public until a full investigation is complete, at the request of the county’s prosecutor.

Protests are being planned by critics of the university police force.

Ono said that many at the university are “down” in spirits as they deal with the effects of having a tragic event be tied so closely to their own campus.

David Perry, the immediate past president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and the vice president for safety and chief of police at Florida State University, said that by joining the agreement, the university was solidifying its relationship with the immediate Cincinnati neighborhoods and displaying a commitment to public safety in the area.

“It reinforces the community concept, that the university is connected to the community and that the community is connected to the university,” he said.

Perry noted that the campus police force is going through a period of transition, as a new chief was hired nearly a year ago and is now seeking accreditation for the force, something it currently does not have.

He said that because the campus is in an urban area, it becomes lumped into national discussions about race, policing and other topics. The shooting is gaining national attention as it fits into a countrywide dialogue involving incidents in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, and now in Texas, with the death of Sandra Bland.

“I hope they allow the University of Cincinnati police department to review and respond and really see exactly what happened before people rush to judgment,” Perry said.

Officers in the University of Cincinnati police force are allowed to carry weapons. Tasers were banned at the university after a student died after a campus police officer used a Taser on him in 2011.

Editorial Tags: Safety

U of Toledo launches first full undergraduate major in disability studies

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 07:00

The University of Toledo is starting the nation's first full undergraduate major in disability studies, an interdisciplinary field that already has considerable scholarly interest and graduate options.

A generation or two ago, students interested in disabilities "had to invent our own programs," finding faculty members in various disciplines who had an interest in the subject, said Jim Ferris, the Ability Center of Greater Toledo Endowed Chair in Disability Studies. Creating formal major programs -- which he expects other colleges to do -- will attract more students, and those who go on to graduate study will have a firmer base in the field, Ferris said.

Students are drawn to the field for many reasons, but many have a personal connection to the issue of disability, said Ferris, who has a mobility impairment and also a brother with Down syndrome. Because people with disabilities -- in part because of the scholarly interest -- are more visible today than in the past, more students have a personal connection.

Twenty years ago, he said, when he would ask college classes whether any student had gone to elementary and secondary school with someone with a disability whom they got to know, one or two hands would go up. Today, a large share of the students in these classes have a personal connection that makes them want to learn more because so many more children with disabilities attend the same public schools as other students.

"This formerly cloistered, segregated group of people have become more present in public life," Ferris said. He added that he was particular pleased to see Toledo announcing the program as the United States marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The disability studies major at Toledo will be based on a 21-credit set of required courses. They include an introduction to the field, courses on disability culture and a course on the history of disability in the United States. Students will then select electives from options that include deaf studies, gender and disability, and autism and culture.

The program at Toledo will join minors at such colleges as Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of California at Berkeley. Toledo will also continue to offer a minor. City University of New York offers an online bachelor's in disability studies for those who have already completed some course work elsewhere.

The creation of a full major at Toledo is "a big deal," said Lennard J. Davis, a leader in the field of disability studies and a distinguished professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which offers a doctorate in disability studies.

"I think this puts disability studies in the same category as women's and gender studies, African-American studies, queer studies, and the like," Davis said. "Disability for too long has been the banished sibling of the other identity and diversity groups. And over time, when other minors become majors, disability will be seen as a legitimate and important topic of study. Let's not forget that people with disabilities are the largest minority in the U.S."

Hot IdeasEditorial Tags: Disabilities

Scholar documents continuing inequalities in South African higher education

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 07:00

South Africa’s university system may no longer be segregated by race, but it continues to be plagued by “equally serious social inequality,” a scholar has concluded.

Based on an analysis of admissions data, David Cooper, emeritus associate professor of sociology at the University of Cape Town, found that class plays an increasingly significant role in the educational prospects of young South Africans and that the “Africanization” of some traditionally white institutions has stalled.

In a paper published in Higher Education Quarterly, Cooper says that in the first years after the abolition of apartheid, there was a significant influx of black students at historically white universities, and the number of white students recruited by many elite institutions declined.

He highlights, however, that by 1998 black students still represented a low proportion of master’s and Ph.D. students, and their recruitment was concentrated outside the sciences, engineering, commerce and medicine.

In addition, many historically black universities experienced a decline in student numbers between 1993 and 1998.

After 2000, while the racial composition of the student cohort continued to shift at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (created in 2004 from a merger of two institutions), the pace slowed at the Universities of Cape Town and Pretoria, and Stellenbosch University.

According to Cooper, these five are seen as elite institutions, performing strongly in research output and in the number of postgraduate qualifications they award. However, several recruit relatively few students with working-class or even lower-middle-class backgrounds.

In contrast, lower-ranking universities that do not perform as well in research and postgraduate numbers continue to enroll large numbers of black students. But anecdotal evidence suggests that black students from professional and upper-middle-class households do not seek entry to these institutions, Cooper says.

These trends, he argues, “reflect a higher education system that has shifted since 1988 from one that reproduces serious social inequality based particularly on ‘race’ categories to which students are assigned, to one that reproduces an equally serious social inequality based, by 2012, on students’ ‘race-class’ position.”

GlobalEditorial Tags: South Africa

New presidents or provosts: Allied Brockport EMCC Golden Gate Hocking IIT Mansfield North Dakota Samford UMass

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 07:00
  • Frances Bronet, distinguished professor and dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts at the University of Oregon, has been named provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Illinois Institute of Technology.
  • David J. Fike, president of Marygrove College, in Michigan, has been chosen as president of Golden Gate University, in California.
  • Mark Hagerott, senior civilian and deputy director of the new Center for Cyber Security Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, in Maryland, has been selected as chancellor of the North Dakota University System.
  • Chelsea Hansen, dean of general studies at Allied American University, in California, has been promoted to provost and chief academic officer there.
  • J. Michael Hardin, dean of the Culverhouse College of Commerce at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, has been appointed provost at Samford University, also in Alabama.
  • Thomas Huebner, dean of student services at Shelton State Community College, in Alabama, has been selected as president of East Mississippi Community College.
  • Heidi Macpherson, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, has been named president at the State University of New York College at Brockport.
  • Martin T. Meehan, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, has been chosen as president of the University of Massachusetts System.
  • Steven Siconolfi, vice president of academic affairs and provost at Rockford College, in Illinois, has been named provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Mansfield University, in Pennsylvania.
  • Betty Young, interim president of Hocking College, in Ohio, has been appointed to the job on a permanent basis.
Editorial Tags: College administrationNew presidents

Suit against U California San Diego could provide framework for other students accused of assault

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 07:00

Earlier this month, a California trial court judge ruled that the University of California at San Diego must reverse the suspension of a male student whose due process rights UCSD officials violated during a hearing over allegations he assaulted a female student.

The lawsuit is a rare win for accused male students who turn to legal action after having been found responsible for sexual misconduct. While the lawsuit is unlikely to set any true legal precedent unless the university appeals, some experts say that the case could provide a road map for other suspended or expelled students looking to challenge the way universities adjudicate allegations of sexual assault against them.

“I think if any other judge knows about this case, it’s going to more easily allow them to take a similar stance when they see the outrageous way colleges handle these cases,” said Mark Haberkorn, the lawyer who represented the male student and who is now turning his attention to similar lawsuits. “I don’t think schools should be involved in this process whatsoever.”

Rather than focusing on any alleged gender discrimination, as many other cases have, the suit against UCSD accused the university of violating the due process rights of the student by presuming his guilt ahead of a hearing, not allowing the accused student access to witnesses and evidence, and informing a hearing panel of his guilt instead of letting the panel reach its own conclusion.

The judge generally agreed, also criticizing the university for later increasing the student’s suspension from one academic quarter to a year without explanation, and for not allowing him to include as evidence text messages between himself and the alleged victim. The texts show conversations between the two students before and after the alleged assault, including the female student asking the male student to reciprocate oral sex. The female student did not report the alleged assault, which took place in February, until June, and the texts continued until at least April.

Victims’ advocates, however, often warn against giving much weight to the tenor of such correspondence, citing research on the effects of trauma and the psychology of victimization. The female student later told the university that her relationship with the accused student, which mostly consisted of partying and doing homework together, was an attempt to mollify him, as he would grow aggressive when she implied that he assaulted her.

The court records in the case do not name either party, so it was not possible to contact an advocate for the woman in the case. The university did not respond to requests for comment.

A university hearing panel eventually found the male student responsible for “digitally penetrating” the female student despite her protests, though not of an additional charge that he had assaulted her the previous night when she said she was too intoxicated to consent. After an argument about the first encounter, they had sex again the following evening, but the experience, the female student wrote in a statement, left her “feeling pathetic and worthless.”

While the lawsuit seemed to include the texts as a sort of smoking gun, the judge deciding the case singled out a different aspect of the hearing as especially egregious: that the university limited the student’s “right of confrontation,” meaning he was not allowed to cross-examine the accuser, witnesses or the university official who investigated the alleged assault.

“While the court respects the university's determination to address sexual abuse and violence on its campus, after reviewing the administrative record, the court finds that in this particular case, the hearing against [the student] was unfair,” the judge, Joel Pressman, wrote. “The right of cross-examination is especially important where findings against a party are based on an adverse witness's testimony. Here, cross-examination was essential.”

Citing several earlier court cases regarding the due process rights of students and others involved in administrative hearings, Pressman stated that the right of the student -- referred to in the lawsuit and the judge's decision as John Doe -- to cross-examine is considered “as fundamental an element of due process as it is in court trials.” The law does not require institutions to allow for such questioning in all disciplinary hearings, but it does for hearings “where important decisions turn on questions of fact,” the judge wrote in his ruling, noting that allegations of sexual assault rise to such a level.

Because campus hearings are not court trials -- and because federal regulations require protecting victims from hostile environments -- colleges like UCSD often opt to handle cross-examinations by asking the accused student to provide a written list of questions, rather than potentially allowing a rapist to directly confront a victim. The U.S. Department of Education does not dictate whether a college should or should not allow for cross-examination, only that both the accused and the accuser have equal opportunities to do so if is allowed.

According to the UCSD’s “Hearing Procedures for Alleged Sex Offense Harassment or Discrimination,” students accused of sexual assault are permitted to submit questions to a hearing officer or panel chair who can relay the questions to the accuser. That person is allowed to exclude any questions that he or she considers to be unduly repetitious or irrelevant.

In Doe’s case, the chair opted not to ask 24 of the 33 questions he submitted, and she rephrased the remaining questions. The questions were mostly concerning the text messages between the two and their continued relationship after the alleged assault. One question attempted to make clear that the female student never actually said Doe had digitally penetrated her, only that he attempted to while she told him to stop. Doe denies this attempt, as well, but wanted to clarify the allegations, his lawyer said.

“The court determines that it is unfair to [Doe] that his questions were reviewed by the panel chair for her alone to determine whether or not the question would be asked and then answered by the witness,” Pressman wrote. “While the court understands the need to prevent additional trauma to potential victims of sexual abuse, this can be achieved in a less restrictive manner. The limiting of the questions in this case curtailed the right of confrontation crucial to any definition of a fair hearing.”

The judge also lambasted the university for presenting the university’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment & Discrimination’s findings to the panel, without allowing Doe to cross-examine the official who conducted the investigation. “Based upon the totality of the circumstances and the evidence presented, I find it more likely than not that Mr. Doe ignored [the female student’s] objections to sexual activity in violation of the Student Sex Offense Policy,” the official stated in her report.

Unlike criminal proceedings, colleges use a lesser standard of proof known as “preponderance of evidence,” which means the panel must feel that there is a 50.1 percent -- “or more likely than not” -- chance that the accused student committed the misconduct. By presenting the OPHD investigation without allowing the official to be questioned or Doe to view any of the statements that led to her conclusions, Pressman wrote, the university “improperly delegated the panel’s duty to an outside witness that was not present at the hearing.”

It was the panel’s job to decide the student’s culpability, he wrote, not simply to defer to an investigator’s judgment.

Gary Pavela, a fellow at the National Association of College and University Attorneys and former president of the International Center for Academic Integrity, said this conclusion is the core of Pressman’s decision, and the ruling could have wider ramifications for colleges, as it’s perhaps “the first time a court has looked carefully at the investigatory process” in a contemporary campus sexual assault case.

“I would expect other judges to look at these kinds of issues and also be concerned that the investigator is reaching a conclusion of guilt or innocence on the same standard the hearing panel is supposed to use,” Pavela said. “Here we have someone held up as an expert, and they’ve concluded this guy is guilty, so what’s the panel supposed to think? If we want credible, enforceable, reliable sexual assault polices, we’ve got to have adequate due process for the accused, because that will create legitimacy in the process for everyone.”

The judge's decision and Pavela's comments echo those in a February open letter from University of Pennsylvania law professors, who wrote that “it is difficult to understand, particularly in light of the absence of fair procedures, how a panel would not defer to the ‘expertise’ of the investigative team, which has already conducted a full investigation.”

In an analysis of the case, Erin Buzuvis, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies at Western New England University, said that institutions can still fulfill their obligations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 without taking the shortcuts the University of California at San Diego seemingly did. It's important, she said, that colleges that are increasingly aware of their Title IX obligation to address sexual assault also remember their “obligation to provide fair and meaningful hearings to students” who are accused of sexual assault.

“Not only for the sake of students who are accused, but victims and their advocates have a stake in the integrity of the process as well,” Buzuvis said. “It is possible to hold fair hearings and comply with Title IX, and that is what colleges and universities should be striving to do.”

Students and ViolenceEditorial Tags: Sexual assault

Hiring materials for Kean U's campus in China raise questions about whether institution is upholding antidiscrimination principles abroad

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 07:00

“Membership in Chinese Communist Party is preferred,” says the job advertisement for a “specialist for residence life” position at Kean University’s China campus, which is run jointly with Wenzhou University and is known as Wenzhou-Kean University (WKU). The same preference is stated in a posting for a “specialist for student conduct."

Other posted jobs at the institution don't include that stipulation. But the standard staff employment application posted on the WKU human resources website does ask prospective employees to attach a photo and requests any number of details regarding political affiliation and personal background that would be problematic to ask under American antidiscrimination law -- birth date, birthplace, nationality, gender, marital status, “politics status," even height.

Kean, a public university in New Jersey, said its Chinese partner institution, Wenzhou, is responsible for hiring student service and operations personnel according to Chinese laws, while it handles academic hiring according to American ones. But that means that staff with direct responsibility for student life can be hired according to criteria that privilege Chinese Communist Party membership and that would be considered discriminatory in the U.S.

The norm for American colleges and universities with campuses abroad -- especially in parts of the world that don't share American values in hiring -- is to state repeatedly that they hire as if hiring in the United States. But the (non-American) hiring practices for nonacademic staff at WKU raise questions about whether Kean is upholding values central to American universities -- antidiscrimination and academic freedom among them -- at the campus that bears its name in China.

The Council of New Jersey State College Locals -- an American Federation of Teachers affiliate made up of faculty and staff unions at nine New Jersey public colleges, including Kean -- issued a press release on Wednesday first calling attention to the aforementioned materials on the WKU website. In addition to raising concerns about discrimination in employment, the union said that the university’s hiring practices and application criteria “also raise serious concerns about the existence of academic freedom at Wenzhou.”

Steve Young, the executive director for the council, said the two positions that state a preference for Chinese Communist Party members -- specialists for residence life and student conduct -- could function like the political commissars of Soviet Russia to make sure that students toe the political line (both positions, the union's press release notes, involve close daily work with students). “How much control does China really have over this deal,” said Young, who is calling for the New Jersey state legislature's higher education committee to investigate Kean's campus in Wenzhou.

A Kean spokeswoman, Susan Kayne, described WKU as "a dual degree-granting, English-speaking university created and operated through a unique partnership between Kean USA and its Chinese partnerships."

"Per the agreement that helped establish the Wenzhou-Kean University partnership, Kean University is responsible for the academics at WKU and our Chinese partners are responsible for all general operations and student services," said Kayne. "All academic personnel are hired and employed by Kean University in accordance with the same laws, policies and practices at all Kean campuses. Operations personnel are hired by our Chinese partners in accordance with their laws."

Michael A. Olivas, the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair of Law and director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston, described the hiring materials on the WKU website as troublesome. “I think it’s a very problematic acquiescence to norms that wouldn’t fly here, and it’s not entirely clear that they can escape obligations to civil rights laws extraterritorially,” Olivas said.

Regardless of the legal implications, Olivas stressed the ethical imperative for American universities that establish campuses overseas to try to improve the countries in which they work.

“These are fundamentally transgressive criteria that simply shouldn’t be used by U.S. institutions going abroad,” he said. “If they do, they are not going to improve the ground that they find. They are only going to plow it down and acquiesce to regimes that need us more than we need them.”

GlobalInternational Branch CampusesEditorial Tags: DiscriminationChinaInternational higher educationU.S. Campuses AbroadImage Caption: Flag of Communist Party of China

Faculty members and president face off in fight over curriculum changes

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 07:00

When the English faculty at Delta College in Michigan set four hours as the amount of time instructors would spend each week with students in the college’s introductory writing course, professors were under the impression that it was a permanent change. The college’s president had something else in mind.

The two-year community college has found itself as the battleground over the issue of who has the final say over curriculum changes. English professors say that President Jean Goodnow is overstepping her role in violation of the college’s Senate policies -- and it isn’t the first time she has been criticized for her management of the college.

In 2010, Delta’s Curriculum Council signed off on a series of changes to the college’s English curriculum, including adding an hour to the required composition course, English 111. Faculty used the new hour, which was designated as a contact or workshop hour -- not a credit hour -- to expand the topics covered in the course to include source and research-based writing and to spend more time individually working with students on writing.

Had the faculty increased the credits for the course, there would have been financial implications for the change, because instructors are paid per credit. But costs are minor since the additional hour didn't change the base pay for professors.

But in 2014, the administration decided to remove the additional hour from the English course, saying there hadn’t been demonstrated improved success for the students over the past three years. Faculty protested and a grievance was filed against Goodnow and the dean of teaching and learning.

The grievance committee found that because there were no criteria to determine the success of the extra hour, it couldn’t be removed at the time. In December of 2014, the Curriculum Council approved the hour staying on as part of the course.

Drew Colenbrander, an associate professor of English, said the additional hour made a huge difference for students in the course, who were afforded things they had been requesting in course evaluations for years, including an increased focus on topics like grammar and more time spent actually writing in the classroom.

He said that if the hour were to be removed, both students and faculty would be shortchanged in terms of how much information would be covered in the course. And after a change in requirements, students need only one English course to apply to four-year colleges, so this class might be the only chance students at Delta get to learn critical reading and writing skills.

“The time factor is huge alone. Adding the fourth hour enables us to do more with students than you can get done in just three hours a week,” Colenbrander said.

After hearing of the council’s decision to keep the hour, Goodnow sent a memo in January 2015 to the English division, offering a compromise: only students whose skill level required would receive the extra hour. Otherwise, it would be removed.

“The intent of this compromise is to support the decision made by Curriculum Council and to remove barriers for students that may not require the excess contact hour for success in ENG 111. It is my feeling that the English Division and I have the same goal -- to help our students succeed at Delta College,” she wrote, noting that the data on student success compiled by faculty didn’t demonstrate a statistically significant difference between having and not having the hour.

The faculty filed another grievance, and last week the Board of Trustees released a ruling in favor of Goodnow, a move that faculty say sets a dangerous precedent for how involved the president can be in matters she traditionally doesn’t address.

Colenbrander, who has taught at Delta for more than 20 years and has worked with three presidents at the college, said this is the first time he has ever seen a president get involved with details like how many hours a week faculty members should spend with students in a given course.

“I think we’ve seen a tendency of this president toward taking more personal control over more areas of the college, definitely more than with the previous two presidents,” he said.

Goodnow said in an email that she chose not to continue the pilot because she believed there was no demonstrated need to continue the program.

"As president of Delta College, I am responsible to serve as an advocate for students -- all students," she wrote of her decision, saying she based her decision on helping as many students as possible.

The chair of the Board of Trustees reviewed the second decision of the grievance committee and agreed with its decision that the authority to make the final decision on the curriculum rests with the president and the Board of Trustees.

The college’s policies on faculty state that curricular decisions are typically left to the professors, but “on these matters the power of review and final decision is lodged with the Board of Trustees or delegated to it by the president.”

In cases when the board differs from faculty opinion, faculty are allowed to communicate further with the board, but those views can be limited in influence on matters like “budgetary concerns; manpower limitations; the time element; and the policies and procedures of other groups, bodies and agencies having jurisdiction over the institution.”

“Delta College has a robust shared governance system that we all value as part of what makes Delta an innovative community college and a great place to work. We’ve had a lively debate on this issue and gone through the prescribed process to resolve it,” Goodnow said in an email.

She continued, “I’m looking forward to working with the entire faculty body on a variety of other projects at hand, which are focused on our students’ success. It is due to the hard work and dedication of our faculty that Delta College enjoys such a strong reputation of excellence, both here in our region, and nationally.”

But the fight isn’t over yet. Faculty said that in the coming months they will file a complaint with the Higher Learning Commission, the college's accreditor, saying that Delta is in violation of policies seen as the commission's core components for accredited institutions.

The commission requires that accredited institutions have “sufficient numbers and continuity of faculty members to carry out both the classroom and the nonclassroom roles of faculty, including oversight of the curriculum and expectations for student performance; establishment of academic credentials for instructional staff; involvement in assessment of student learning,” and that faculty are expected to oversee academic issues.

There is no direct mention of administrators, including presidents, in determining curriculum, although it is later stated that “administration, faculty, staff and students are involved in setting academic requirements, policy and processes through effective structures for contribution and collaborative effort.”

Goodnow said that she was confident that Delta is "in full compliance" with the criteria set by the Higher Learning Commission.

Alex Goudas, an assistant professor of English, said the Board of Trustees made their decision without seeing all of the data he and another professor had compiled on the course, including results showing greater success in other classes after taking the introductory composition class with the additional contact hour.

He added that one of the administration’s biggest arguments against the addition of the contact hour was that it made the class a four-credit course, which could cause difficulties during transfers. Goudas said this was inaccurate -- the course now meets four hours a week, but is still only worth three credits.

“The faculty have responses to every single one of those arguments, one of which is that the two flagship universities in Michigan … both of these institutions have four-credit and four-hour college composition courses,” Goudas said. “If our three credit plus one contact hour is much too big to be a barrier, it doesn’t make sense. Why, if anything, our course should be four credits to resolve that problem.”

Denise Hill, chair of the English division, said that "for the division and the faculty, I think it's an issue that has unified them," she said. "It's something we all have a stake in."

CurriculumEditorial Tags: CurriculumImage Caption: Jean Goodnow

Senate hearing features familiar tensions between innovation and quality assurance

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 07:00

In recent years the U.S. Senate has done plenty of hand-wringing over “bad actors” in higher education, many of them for-profit and online. And that tension goes back to policy debates on distance education in the 1990s.

“We don’t want to repeat debacles,” said Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, during a Senate education committee hearing on Wednesday. “That actually is the theme of our committee.”

Franken was kidding, mostly. The hearing was one of several in the run-up to the eventual reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the law that governs federal student financial aid.

The title of Wednesday’s event was “exploring barriers and opportunities within innovation.” During the hearing several senators and the four witnesses said they are optimistic about the potential of competency-based education and noninstitutional boot camps to provide a quality higher education at a lower price than traditional colleges typically charge.

The U.S. Department of Education is working on an “experimental sites” project that would allow some of those providers to offer federal financial aid to students by partnering with traditional colleges.

The goal of that project, and of experimental sites more broadly, is for the feds to craft limited, controlled experiments they can learn from in creating policies.

Senators from both sides of the aisle support that approach. But during the hearing, senators and witnesses said they want to prevent an opening of the floodgates of federal aid to undeserving institutions. Hence Franken’s comment in response to a panelist’s statement about previous missteps in online education.

A group of 17 institutions that have taken the plunge on competency-based education shares some of those concerns.

In a letter sent Wednesday to education committee leaders in both chambers of Congress, the group called for lawmakers to take a cautious approach with competency-based education as they overhaul the Higher Education Act.

“Policies that overprescribe stand to squelch innovation. Policies that are too lax will either get it wrong on the technical side (on issues such as aid disbursement) or allow poor programs and disreputable providers into the market,” they wrote. “We urge those involved in making policy around competency-based education to think in terms of creating safe spaces for responsible experimentation.”

Paul LeBlanc is president of Southern New Hampshire University, which signed the letter. He echoed the group’s points with his comments during the hearing and in his prepared statement, which called on Congress to create “safe innovation spaces” for colleges to experiment outside of the typical regulations that govern them.

Creating those spaces for experimentation hasn’t always been easy, at least for accreditors, said Barbara Gellman-Danley, president of the Higher Learning Commission.

“Accreditors are increasingly less able to provide a safe harbor. When our institutions come to us with new ideas, we find ourselves dealing with possible judgment by the U.S. Department of Education, and the Office of the Inspector General, who sometimes don’t agree with each other, and we are caught in the middle,” she said.

Accreditors, particularly the Higher Learning Commission, which is the largest of the seven regional accreditors, have absorbed some of Senate Democrats’ harshest criticism about for-profits. As a partial result, accreditors could be excused for being wary about giving their approval to emerging forms of higher education, some of which look nothing like traditional colleges.

“When it comes to innovation, we are not a barrier,” said Gellman-Danley. “We have to take some risks. It is a delicate balance.”

For example, Senator Lamar Alexander, the Republican from Tennessee who chairs the education committee, asked Gellman-Danley why the Higher Learning Commission put a freeze on colleges’ applications for competency-based programs that use direct assessment -- an approach that does not rely on the credit hour.

Gellman-Danley said Washington was to blame for that temporary halt, which since has been dropped. “The bus had left the station. We were ready to go,” Gellman-Danley said, but “we had some interference from the Department of Education.”

The reason, she said, was conflicting messages from the Education Department and its own Office of the Inspector General over the faculty role in online, competency-based programs.

Gellman-Danley also called on the Senate to create a new experimental sites project for accreditors. That experiment would allow “us to come out from underneath the statutory and regulatory barriers, which hold us back in working with institutions to promote innovation.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren echoed the theme of the hearing when striking a cautionary note about the federal government’s responsibilities with emerging forms of higher education.

“If we’re going to loosen federal regulations, we need to ensure that the benefits are being passed on to students,” said the Massachusetts Democrat. “Right now, colleges will not commit to doing that.”

Warren also reprised her role during a similar hearing almost two years ago, where she lambasted LeBlanc over the financial surplus Southern New Hampshire reaps from its online programs.

This time, as before, LeBlanc fired back, arguing that “cross-subsidization” is common in higher education and that in this case it typically benefits low-income students. One difference in the exchange this time, however, is that LeBlanc just finished a three-month stint at Education Department. He advised the feds on competency-based education, alternative accreditation pathways and other issues.

Over all, however, the hearing was a genial affair, with plenty of bipartisan interest in competency-based education. And LeBlanc struck an optimistic, conciliatory tone when he said Congress -- just like accreditors and colleges -- is still learning about the promising form of higher education.

“You will make better policy in a couple years,” he said. “You will know a lot more about this in a couple of years.”

Teaching and LearningHot IdeasEditorial Tags: AccreditationCompetency-based learningFederal policyHigher Ed Act ReauthorizationEducation DepartmentImage Source: U.S. SenateImage Caption: Barbara Gellman-Danley at the Senate hearing

CFPB orders loan servicer to pay $18.5M over illegal charges, signals broader crackdown

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 07:00

Discover Bank has agreed to pay $18.5 million to resolve allegations that its student loan servicing and debt collection practices were illegal, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced Wednesday.

The settlement, $16 million of which will be paid out in refunds to borrowers, marks the first time the CFPB has publicly taken an enforcement action against a student loan servicer since it began overseeing much of the industry in 2013.

It also comes as the consumer bureau signals that it may crack down on student loan servicers even further by issuing its own set of rules governing how those companies operate.

The CFPB said Discover overstated the minimum amount due on borrowers' billing statements, misrepresented information that could have allowed borrowers to receive tax benefits and called borrowers early in the morning and late at night, “often excessively.” The company also, according to the CFPB, failed to provide defaulted borrowers with legally required notices about their rights.

“Discover created student debt stress for borrowers by inflating their bills and misleading them about important benefits,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. He called the action “an important step in the bureau’s work to clean up the student loan servicing market.”

The CFPB last week ended a “public inquiry” into student loan servicing and received more than 30,000 comments in response to its request for information that may be used to inform new regulations.

Bureau officials have repeatedly said they’re concerned that loan servicing problems similar to those that plagued the mortgage industry during and after the financial crisis are cropping up in the student loan market. The CFPB’s response to the mortgage problems was to issue regulations that took effect last year.

The Discover settlement applies only to private loans, many of which it acquired from Citibank, but CFPB officials have made clear that they are also worried about the quality of loan servicing for borrowers who owe money directly to the U.S. Department of Education for federal student loans.

The consumer bureau last year referred to the Department of Justice allegations that Navient, formerly Sallie Mae, overcharged military service members on their federal and private loans. Navient agreed to pay $97 million to settle the government’s charges, but it denied any wrongdoing.

The Education Department’s subsequent review of Navient and its other loan servicers largely cleared the companies of wrongdoing. The department last fall renewed Navient’s loan servicing contract, to the consternation of a coalition of student, labor and consumer groups and some Democratic lawmakers who had been pushing the department to cut ties with the company.

The Education Department has said it plans to conduct a new competitive bidding process for its loan servicing business later this year.

Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: Federal policyLoan programs

The Pulse podcast features interview with Mark Strassman about Blackboard Ultra

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 07:00

This month's edition of "The Pulse" podcast features an interview with Mark Strassman, senior vice president for industry and product management at Blackboard Inc.

In the podcast, Rodney B. Murray, the host of "The Pulse," interviews Strassman about Ultra, the technology company's new user experience.

The podcast comes as Blackboard holds its annual user meeting in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

The Pulse is Inside Higher Ed's monthly technology podcast, produced by Murray, executive director of the office of academic technology at University of the Sciences.

Teaching and LearningTechnologyEditorial Tags: Technology

Freshman reading focuses on diversity, racial equality

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 07/22/2015 - 07:00

Social justice. Climate change. Racial inequality. Immigration. Hunger. While those topics might read like a laundry list of some of the world’s biggest problems, they are just a few of the issues covered in books that are required reading for freshmen at colleges across the country.

Freshman reading programs are popular among institutions, used as a community-building project that helps freshmen to unite academically with a common discussion on one book. The selections are generally skewed toward nonfiction (although fiction is sometimes selected), and choices for this year are no different.

Out of 121 institutions surveyed by Inside Higher Ed, the top pick was Bryan Stevenson’s memoir, Just Mercy: A Story of Redemption and Justice, with 10 institutions electing to use the book as its common reading. Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and a law professor at New York University, writes about his experiences trying to help -- and sometimes failing -- to overturn death and prison sentences for criminals Stevenson believes to be wrongly convicted. The majority of those criminals are black men.

The book will be read by incoming students at California State University at Chico; Colorado and Butte Colleges; Michigan State, Northern Arizona, Northern Illinois and Washington State Universities; and the Universities of Delaware, North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wisconsin at Madison.

Other titles on the freshman reading list this year range from The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities at Ohio State University to Bad Feminist at the University of California at Los Angeles and Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash at Rowan and Lock Haven Universities. Texts on economics, sustainability and food remained popular, but were second to books dealing with topics such as diversity and race relations.

The Other Wes Moore, a nonfiction book about two black boys named Wes Moore who grew up blocks away from each other in Baltimore but had dramatically different outcomes in life, written by one of its namesakes, has been a popular freshman reading choice over the past three years. At least six colleges will feature the book this year.

Kathleen Muzevich, an assistant professor of education and the director of the First-Year Seminar at Alvernia University in Pennsylvania, said she and others at Alvernia had been recommended The Other Wes Moore in the past, and were particularly attracted to the book because the author was available to lecture on campus, adding another dimension to the story for students.

She said all professors teaching a freshman seminar will incorporate the book into their curriculum in any way they wish, but she is most interested on hearing students’ reactions to the book after protests over the death of Freddie Gray broke out in Baltimore earlier this year.

“It’s a book that some of our students might be able to relate to and open up,” Muzevich said. “And yes, some of our students have not lived in that kind of a culture or setting, so I’m really looking forward to some very good and engaged conversations.”

Enrique's Journey will also be taught by at least five colleges this year. The book, which tells the story of a Honduran boy searching for his mother after she goes to the U.S. to find work, has been widely popular on summer reading lists and has served as required reading for nearly 80 higher education institutions since its publication in 2007.

"This astonishing story puts a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States," reads a summary on the website for the University of New Mexico, where all incoming freshmen will be required to read the book. "Now a beloved classic, this page-turner about the power of family is a popular text in classrooms and a touchstone for communities across the country to engage in meaningful discussions about this essential American subject."

Some critics (most notably the National Association of Scholars) have criticized a relative lack of serious literature among selections. While relatively new works and nonfiction dominate reading lists, some fiction and classics make appearances. Cornell University elected to read Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut attended the university), freshmen at the University of Kansas will read A Farewell to Arms and Southern Methodist University chose Station Eleven, a dystopian science fiction novel.

Just Mercy

Stevenson’s book, the hit this year, is recent, having been published in October. But the directors of programs that chose the memoir said the themes -- like mass incarceration and race relations -- struck a chord with them, especially in light of recent events in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and New York City.

Karen Weathermon, co-director of the Common Reading Program at Washington State University, said a different book on a similar topic, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, had been nominated multiple times but had never been selected because it wasn't considered to be a good fit for freshmen.

But after the book made it farther along the selection process this year, Weathermon set out to find a book with similar themes. After reading an advance copy of Just Mercy, she passed it along to the selection committee, and the title was soon chosen by the university’s provost.

Weathermon said the book was relevant in not just a national context but fit in with conversations on campus about race. Tensions flared at Washington State earlier this year when a member of the university’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity allegedly made a racial slur toward a group of black women on campus.

“The point of the program isn’t, ‘here’s what you should think about this topic,’ but ‘here’s this topic that deserves our attention and these are the ways we can approach it,' and particularly with this one, because it gets so much attention in the news,” Weathermon said. “You hear all of these stories about protests and charges of racial biases in policing and the use of force and so on. So you hear those stories all the time, but what are really the issues behind that?”

And with so many universities developing curricula for a new book at the same time, staffers from across the country are reaching out and discussing lesson plans to make sure their students get as much out of the book as possible.

Rebecca Campbell, the director and department chair for academic transition programs at Northern Arizona University, has created summaries of the book's themes that she's shared with the university's faculty in an attempt to engage them more thoroughly with the novel.

She said she has never received as great of a response for a book from faculty as she has for Just Mercy.

"Frequently, in the TED Talk and throughout the book and everything you read where [Stevenson] has spoken, he talks about how everyone is bigger than their biggest mistakes," Campbell said. "First-year students make a lot of mistakes, we all make a lot of mistakes, so it's also a book about resiliency and finding resiliency in ourselves to overcome our mistakes."

Denise Rode, the director of the First- and Second-Year Experience at Northern Illinois University, will help guide students through Just Mercy for their first two years at the university and said she has been in touch with Weathermon and Campbell, among others, to help plan programming for the fall semester.

She said the book hits home for some of the university’s students -- the campus is roughly 60 miles from Chicago and attracts many students from the area. She said some of the student population is likely to at least know someone affected by themes discussed in Stevenson’s work.

“The hope is that they understand the issues raised in this book, that they see a connection between their lives and the lives of those in prison -- perhaps wrongly imprisoned -- and decide whether they want to change our world in that respect,” Rode said.

Teaching and LearningEditorial Tags: Teaching

In Russia, a crackdown on foreign funding and influence

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 07/22/2015 - 07:00

Does a continuing crackdown on foreign influences in Russia threaten to interrupt the internationalization agendas of the country’s top universities?

The recent removal of an American as vice rector of Lobachevsky State University of Nizhni Novgorod after the host of a state television show questioned why a Russian university would have an American in such a senior position has been widely viewed as chilling, as has a remark by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin describing foreign organizations offering scholarships as “vacuum cleaners” sucking up and taking away talented Russian students.

There's also been a growing clampdown within Russia on nongovernmental organizations with foreign ties. Russian lawmakers have compiled a list of 12 NGOs that they’ve proposed banning under a new “undesirable organizations” law: the list of NGOs that could be banned includes ones with ties to science and higher education worldwide, such as the Open Society Foundations and the MacArthur Foundation.

At the same time, a private foundation supporting Russian science, Dynasty, announced this month that it would close after running afoul of a two-year-old “foreign agent” law targeting NGOs with international funding that are found to have engaged in “political activity.” The Moscow Times reported that the foreign funding at issue came from the overseas bank accounts of Dynasty’s founder, a Russian telecommunications mogul named Dmitry Zimin, while the alleged political activity involved the foundation’s funding of an NGO called Liberal Mission that, according to Dynasty's website, brings together liberal academics and aims "to develop and distribute liberal values and ideas throughout Russia."

"Of all the actions of the Russian government, the one that’s most surprising and dismaying to me in terms of science is the forcing of the Dynasty Foundation out,” said Loren Graham, a professor emeritus of science, technology and society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on the history of Russian science. Dynasty, Graham noted, didn’t have an overt political agenda. However, he said, it should be acknowledged that some of the NGOs on the proposed list to be banned, groups like MacArthur and Open Society, “were interested in funding not just science and education. Those organizations were interested in creating a more democratic, just society. The tragedy is that’s suddenly seen by Putin as a threat.”

Graham said that the atmosphere for international collaboration has worsened significantly since Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine. Graham stressed that individual-level collaboration between Russian academics and their foreign colleagues is continuing as normal -- as is international travel by Russian scientists -- even as he said that the door for cooperation between American and Russian organizations has been partially closed. “The lesson that [Russian scientists] are hearing now is a lesson that is psychologically very depressing to them and that lesson is that it’s wrong to take foreign money -- it’s wrong to work with foreign organizations," Graham said. “And that has poisonous effects far beyond the financial loss of the individual grants that are being canceled now.”

Dmitry Dubrovsky, a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy -- one of the 12 NGOs on the proposed list of banned organizations -- and the former director of the human rights program at St. Petersburg State University, said he is concerned that scholars could be punished for even past associations with organizations deemed to be “undesirable.”

“That is my concern about the legislation about undesirable organizations -- that people could be punished even though they had these grants several or even 10 years ago, but that somehow could be a reason for people to be fired,” Dubrovsky said.

As for the American who lost his vice rector post at Lobachevsky State University of Nizhni Novgorod, Kendrick White, the university has cited "restructuring" as the reason for White's removal and indicated that he will retain a position of some kind at the university. A university spokeswoman said via email that "a restructuring of university organizational structure is underway at UNN in order to enhance its global competitiveness …. It is expected that in the course of the restructuring process, UNN Associate Professor Kendrick White will be offered some additional functions in accordance with his qualifications and experience."

In an email thanking his supporters White said that the university's vice rector for science will take over all of his previous responsibilities, including directing the university's technology commercialization center, which he developed.

"It is a sad comment on our times that in spite of my 20 year plus history of supporting Russia’s modernization, a popular Moscow TV personality could be allowed to present an unverified report depicting me with unsubstantiated innuendo as a harmful threat to Russia’s security," White wrote.

"This situation is all the more ironic, given that only four months ago I was invited by the Russian Ministry of Science and Education to make a presentation to both Russian and American scientists at the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC on the successful new model of technology commercialization which we have developed in Lobachevsky as a breakthrough for Russian science collaboration in the world."

Philip G. Altbach, a research professor and founding director of Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education, noted that White’s university is one of 15 institutions participating in the 5-100 project, a government initiative to improve the international standing of top Russian universities (and their performance in international rankings). The irony is that "one of the main goals of what the 5-100 campaign is trying to do is internationalize the universities -- to hire internationally,” said Altbach, who is part of the international council overseeing the 5-100 program.

Altbach continued, “My Russian friends say like everything else there it’s complicated in the sense that there are a lot of people in the Russian establishment who are very serious in having Russia participate internationally, to be globally engaged and join the rest of the world in higher education and science. It’s going on at the same time as all these ultra-nationalists, many of them in the Duma, in the Parliament, are mouthing off all the time.”

Russia’s minister of education and science, Dmitry Livanov, has weighed in on the Kendrick White case. He was quoted Friday in the Russian-language newspaper Gazeta as saying that it’s not right for a university to dismiss someone based on a television program. “Are we interested in foreign specialists coming to us? Of course, if they’re qualified,” the minister said to the paper

Andrei Volkov, a professor and former dean at the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo and the deputy chair of the international council of the 5-100 program, said that “it’s not an easy time for every rector who decided to make his university much more global.” At the same time, he emphasized that the Ministry of Education and Science has issued clear guidance that the 5-100 project -- with its emphasis on publication in international journals and the recruitment of international students and faculty -- should continue to move ahead.

"There is no question we should continue to follow the same way as when we created this program three years ago," Volkov said. "We should attract faculty, administrators and students as much as possible from outside of Russia. It doesn't mean we should discriminate against Russians -- not at all -- but we should attract as much as possible."

“I hope,” Volkov said of the Kendrick White case, “it will not spoil the atmosphere for hiring new faculty and administrators in Western countries.”

Timothy O’Connor, an American in Russian higher education administration -- he’s the vice rector of academic affairs at the National University of Science and Technology MISIS (another 5-100 participating institution) -- described the press reports about Kendrick White as "most unfortunate" and said they certainly gave him "cause to think about my own situation and in general about the situation of other Westerners placed in universities in Russia."

But he also said that at his university, “people have not treated me any differently with the deterioration of formal relations between the United States and Russia.”

"As far as I'm concerned," O'Connor said, "it's been business as usual."

GlobalInternational Higher EducationEditorial Tags: RussiaInternational higher educationImage Source: Getty ImagesImage Caption: Russian Federation flag

New program at New Jersey's Kean U. will limit the number of state residents

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 07/22/2015 - 07:00

In pitching a new B.A. in architecture program to a state oversight body for approval, Kean University made an unusual promise -- that it would limit the number of in-state students to 25 each year. The rest are to be recruited nationally and internationally -- the program has links to China -- so as to minimize competition with other New Jersey institutions.

The fact that Kean, a public university in New Jersey, is starting a new academic program with a cap on in-state residents was first reported Sunday by the Bergen County Record.

“We are a state university for the state of New Jersey,” said James A. Castiglione, an associate professor of physics and president of the Kean Federation of Teachers. “Our mandate, our mission is to provide an affordable education for the children of the citizens of New Jersey. That’s what we’re here to do, and to take the state subsidy and the state appropriations meant for that purpose and redirect it elsewhere is utterly at odds with our mission.”

The New Jersey Institute of Technology had initially opposed the introduction of an architecture program at Kean on the grounds that it would be duplicative of its own. NJIT, whose main campus is located less than 10 miles away from Kean’s, has since dropped its opposition and the Kean program gained approval from the Presidents' Council, which is made up of New Jersey college presidents.

“As Kean University followed the process for achieving approval of its architecture program, we learned more about it and its target audience and were no longer opposed to the program,” a NJIT spokeswoman, Lauren Ugorji, said via email. “Our president, Joel S. Bloom, was briefed on the program by Kean's president.” (Ugorji did not elaborate, saying she was not privy to the conversation, but an accounting of it in Sunday’s Record said that Bloom was assured by Kean President Dawood Farahi that the majority of seats would go to foreign students.)

Kean is planning to offer the new B.A. in architectural studies and, eventually, an M.A., at both its New Jersey campus and its campus in Wenzhou, China. The university expects, according to the proposal for the B.A. program submitted to the Presidents' Council, to ultimately enroll about 250 students at each of the two sites.

That proposal states: "The number of New Jersey residents will be limited to a total of 25 students at the B.A. degree each year. At the M.A. level only 15 New Jersey residents will be admitted into the program each year. The remainder of the cohort at each level will be recruited at national and international arenas to significantly minimize the impact on our New Jersey sister institutions."

“Enrollment in the School of Public Architecture in the Michael Graves College at Kean University in Union, N.J., is limited and competitive,” a Kean spokeswoman, Susan Kayne, said in an email. “Our fall 2015 cohort will have approximately 15 students from New Jersey with enrollment increasing to 25 per cohort. Classes are small as there will be intense individual tutorial sessions between students and faculty throughout the course of study. Students will have the opportunity to study at the Michael Graves School of Architecture at Wenzhou-Kean, Kean University’s English-speaking campus in China. Matriculation to the Michael Graves School of Architecture at Wenzhou-Kean will begin in fall 2016.”

Kayne did not directly address a question about why the university opted to impose a quota on the number of New Jersey students, but in a subsequent email she said the university expects enrollment at its Union, N.J., campus to be half in-state and half out-of-state. "We will accept 25 students a year from New Jersey and another 25 from out of state and/or international, eventually growing the program to 250 students, half of which will be from New Jersey," she said. "Given that more than 90 percent of our students are in-state, we don’t envision a one-to-one ratio for quite some time. We anticipate that most of the architecture students here in Union will be New Jersey residents for the near future, although we anticipate that the high caliber of this program will attract attention well beyond state borders."

Earlier this year, Kean’s University Senate issued a statement on the issue of shared governance after it said the proposal for the B.A. in architectural studies program was forwarded to the Board of Trustees for a vote prior to getting Senate approval.

As public universities nationwide have seen declines in state appropriations, they have increasingly looked to out-of-state domestic and international students for the tuition dollars they bring.

Edward St. John, an education professor at the University of Michigan who has researched the privatization of public universities, said the Kean case is at the “intersection” of issues of state regulation and privatization -- “but is not a new pattern per se.”

"Public colleges and universities now develop their financial strategies for new programs within market systems with dual methods of recruiting for in-state and out-of-state students," he said. "The 'duplication' argument was used in the Kean case relative to in-state competition for students. But to be understood, it must be placed in the larger national marketplace, including competition for high-achieving international students who can pay to attend."

Foreign StudentsEditorial Tags: Foreign Students in U.S.State policyStatesNew Jersey

Davidson College launches Advanced Placement test preparation modules

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 07/22/2015 - 07:00

Davidson College is today launching a series of online test preparation modules through massive open online course provider edX to help high school students and teachers in Advanced Placement courses.

The initiative, known as Davidson Next, has been in the works since late 2013, when the college brought together the College Board, edX, regional schools and other partners to increase access to college-level course materials. Using data from the College Board, faculty members identified low-scoring question topics in calculus, macroeconomics and physics and, working with local high school teachers, built standalone modules to help students understand each concept.

“A big concern for our president [Carol Quillen] and the institution right now is trying to expand access to high-quality instructional materials, both for people coming to Davidson and also nationally,” said Patrick Sellers, vice president for strategic partnerships and professor of political science at Davidson. “This effort really fits into that focus on access.”

The modules are available to anyone through edX, but the initiative is particularly concerned with expanding access to underserved students. A recent study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed students who came to college with AP credit were more likely to graduate from college within four years, yet many low-income, minority and rural students lack access to the courses.

"We have heard a lot about a number of initiatives that are … trying to increase the enrollment of traditionally underrepresented groups in AP classes," said Julie Goff, project manager of Davidson Next. "What we're going to see is an increased demand for these types of resources when you have students enrolling who may not have enrolled in AP classes before."

Sellers stressed the modules are meant to supplement -- not replace -- instruction, whether that means a high school AP class or an online course. For the time being, the modules are not full courses (although those are on the way). One module, for example, breaks down the Phillips curve, an economics concept that explains the relationship between inflation and unemployment. Another explains pressure, force and flow in fluids.

In total, Davidson Next includes 14 modules in each of the three disciplines. Each module, aligned with AP curricula and approved by the College Board, was designed by a different high school teacher.

For Davidson Next to succeed, however, the college needs to get the modules into the hands of teachers. The college is working with school systems as well as tapping into the College Board’s network to spread awareness about the modules, a spokeswoman said. Davidson Next will also offer an introductory MOOC for AP teachers.

“A big focus is to help teachers use these modules in a blended learning framework,” Sellers said. Many of the modules include short video explanations, interactive elements and prompts to complete a task using pencil and paper. Combined with classroom instruction, Sellers said, “It’s not like [students] are doing just one thing” to learn the concepts.

Teachers in North and South Carolina spent the previous academic year piloting the modules. In all, about 1,200 students and 34 teachers across 26 high schools participated. At the end of the year, 70 percent of teachers scheduled to teach the same AP courses this coming year said they would use the Davidson Next materials again, Sellers said.

Davidson is working with a researcher at Harvard University to test the impact of the modules. Results from that study should be ready next summer, Sellers said.

Davidson’s interest in MOOCs, combined with its status as a liberal arts college, has drawn interest from edX. Another of the college’s recent initiatives includes forming a consortium with three other liberal arts colleges to work together on blended learning, which the MOOC provider pledged to support.

EdX’s course lineup mostly consists of college-level content, but the MOOC provider is slowly building a catalog of high school-level courses. The edX High School Initiative, which Davidson Next is a part of, features 57 additional courses, many of them designed to help students prepare for AP tests.

Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, said the MOOC provider launched the High School Initiative in response to the fact that most of the learners taking MOOCs have already earned a bachelor’s or advanced degree. Data from the high school-level courses show half of learners lack such a credential, he said, adding that about one-quarter of learners in those courses are either parents or teachers.

“It’s really moved the needle on demographics,” Agarwal said.

EdX has “a number of things on our road map” to support the use of modules like those in Davidson Next in a blended setting, Agarwal said. He mentioned more feedback on student performance and new forms of student engagement as features edX is looking to add to its platform.

Davidson Next plans to apply the modular concept to other AP courses -- there are 38 in total -- but will need more funding to do so, Sellers said. A $1.8 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, as well as some funding from Davidson, paid for the initial modules. Other than foundational support to finance Davidson Next, the college is also exploring whether the modules could be turned into a professional development program for teachers.

“We want to be committed to this core principle of access,” Seller said. “We can’t see that changing.”

Editorial Tags: High schools

Colleges start new degree programs

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 07/22/2015 - 07:00
Editorial Tags: New academic programs

Student debt protesters crash annual gathering of college financial aid officers

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 07:00

NEW ORLEANS -- The beer-soaked streets leading to Jackson Square in this city’s historic French Quarter bustled on Monday evening with characteristic revelry – and a short-lived, if chaotic, debate over student loan debt.

“They’re coming,” a face-painted man in a full-body alligator costume yelled from his bicycle. “They’re two blocks away.”

With that warning, several dozen student activists, staged strategically at a corner bar, finished their drinks, gathered their protest signs, and geared up for action.

The target? Hundreds of college financial aid officers who were parading -- complete with Mardi Gras beads, marching band and police escort -- through the French Quarter to celebrate the end of the second day of their annual gathering here.

“No cuts, no fees, education should be free,” the protesters from the Occupy-inspired Student Debt Collective chanted in repetition, throwing fake money at the financial aid officers and interrupting their parade with music.

The protest, which lasted less than an hour, came during the annual meeting of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, known as NASFAA. What is usually a wonkish conference filled with sessions on the mechanics of Education Department data systems, the intricacies of federal student aid regulations and best practices for running financial aid offices was enlivened by the Debt Collective’s physical and social media demonstrations here.

The group pushed out its message on a spoof Twitter account (below) that appeared to be sanctioned by NASFAA, and published a blog post claiming its debt-free-college proposal had won the Big Idea contest at the conference. (The actual winner of the contest for the best policy idea for improving student aid will be announced Tuesday.)

We endorse the Debt Collective's proposal -- everyone can go to school for free http://t.co/fIvyXeHlL7 #NASFAA2015 pic.twitter.com/837FdXZcuN

— #NASFAA2015 (@NASFAA15) July 20, 2015

The Debt Collective said it wanted to “rain on NASFAA's parade” being hosted in New Orleans. And their complaints were varied: corporate and Wall Street greed in lending, unfair loan servicing and predatory for-profit colleges.

Although NASFAA attendees are largely rank-and-file financial aid officers at colleges, its exhibit hall is filled with a range of student loan-related companies, like the Education Department’s contracted loan servicers (Navient, Great Lakes, Nelnet, Fed Loan Servicing) and the biggest private lenders, like Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo and Discover.

Ann Larson, one of the Debt Collective organizers based in New York, said the group was trying to broaden its campaign from Corinthian Colleges and for-profit institutions to “address systemic causes” of student loan debt.

NASFAA, she said, “isn’t the problem, but they are simply one node in industry and system that works against students.”

Earlier this year, the Debt Collective’s student loan debt strike of federal loans owed by Corinthian students, in part, pressured the Obama administration into setting up a debt relief process for those students and others similarly situated. The group doesn’t believe those steps went far enough.

Protesters said their action here was also aimed at the Education Department, which isn’t a financial sponsor of the conference but sends about a dozen department officials to educate financial aid officers about the federal rules they must follow.

Dawn Lueck of California was a regular NASFAA conference attendee during her 13-year career as a corporate finance manager at for-profit colleges, first ITT Technical Institute and then Heald College. She said she usually found it useful to talk about best practices in the industry, and fun to network with others.

On Monday, though, she returned to the conference as a protester with the Debt Collective.

“What we’re protesting is what’s not being said here,” Lueck said, adding that she herself has more than $100,000 in outstanding student loan debt. Roughly half of it came from her associate degree at ITT Technical Institute and her bachelor’s degree at the University of Phoenix. “The student voice and perspective is not there.”

“We’re not directly attacking NASFAA,” said Sarah Dieffenbacher, an Everest Institute graduate from Lake Elisnore, Calif. “We’re here to make our presence known.”

Another protester, Jessica King, objected to the expense of hosting a large conference -- colleges spend several hundred dollars for each employee to participate.

“Where do you think all that money is coming from? It’s coming out of our pockets and from taxpayers,” she said. “They have this idea they’re helping us here. What are they doing?”

King, 32, attended an Everest Institute in Newport News, Va. She said she is $33,000 in debt after completing a nine-month medical assistant program, which hasn’t enabled her to get a job in that field.

Several of the protesters were particularly critical of a NASFAA event earlier in the day that debated whether student loan debt amounted to a “crisis.”

After a panel of policy analysts debated the issue, attendees voted on which side had won the debate. A majority of attendees voted to say that student loan debt, while perhaps problematic, was not of crisis proportions.

The protesters said that showed how out of touch NASFAA members were with the burden of student loans on individual borrowers.

Justin Draeger, president of the financial aid officers' association, said he was “baffled” why the group chose to protest the meeting.

“As far as I can tell, they’re advocating for debt-free education, which is great. I admire that there is a grassroots effort trying to get at a debt-free education,” he said. “But after watching them troll our Twitter account, steal our logo and set up a fake account, their tactics sort of muddy their message.”

Draeger said the protesters’ message was misplaced at the financial aid conference.

“None of the colleges here get money from lenders or servicers,” he said. “It’s the wrong venue, unless they’re just using a big-name event to get their message out.”

He said that financial aid officers are "on their side," advocating for the forgiveness of debt for students displaced by Corinthian Colleges. He pointed out that NASFAA partnered with the Education Department in California to help get former Corinthian students the relief to which they were entitled.

On the humid streets of the French Quarter Monday, Debt Collective protesters and financial aid officers were peaceful, even polite to each other, save for a few isolated confrontations.

One woman in a NASFAA T-shirt was seen quickly grabbing the arm of and pulling away her male companion, also in an association T-shirt, who had given the middle finger to a few boisterous protesters throwing fake cash.

Others were more perplexed by the protestors than anything.

“Hey, we give scholarships to college students,” one man retorted to a group of protestors around him, sounding puzzled. “I just don’t get your argument.”

Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: Loan programsFinancial aidImage Source: Michael StratfordImage Caption: Protestor heckles financial aid officers carrying the NASFAA banner in the parade.

Point Park recognizes faculty union, in possible sign NLRB has weakened 'Yeshiva' decision

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 07:00

Point Park University on Monday announced that it was dropping legal appeals designed to prevent its full-time faculty from unionizing. The decision could be a sign that a December ruling by the National Labor Relations Board will make it more difficult for private colleges to fight off union drives for full-time faculty members.

And that would be a significant shift away from the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in NLRB v. Yeshiva University, a decision that has largely made unionization impossible for tenure-track faculty members at private colleges and universities, unless those colleges agreed.

In accepting the union, Point Park ended 12 years of legal battles to prevent collective bargaining by its faculty members, who voted in 2004 to be represented by the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America. A statement by the university noted that a prior administration at Point Park started the effort to block the union. "The current administration at Point Park does not wish to spend any resources on a potentially costly legal battle with its full-time faculty. Therefore, the university will recognize the right of the full-time faculty to form a union and begin collective bargaining accordingly," said the statement.

As recently as May, however, the university was urging the NLRB to back off plans to apply its December ruling to Point Park. The decision by Point Park to drop its appeals follows the NLRB stating that it would apply the December ruling, which came in a case involving Pacific Lutheran University.

"This would be indicative that Pacific Lutheran raised the bar on what a university is going to have to prove to exclude full-time faculty from unionizing," said William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions. While it is possible that a private college could still win, the NLRB's ruling had made that process potentially long and expensive, with the outcome uncertain, he said. The decision by Point Park could illustrate how other colleges may consider "the judgment call about where they will spend their resources -- fighting unionization with lengthy hearings or on educational matters."

Peter McDonough, interim general counsel of the American Council on Education, said via email that "litigating for more than a decade is costly, and continuing to litigate for months or years longer obviously prolongs the expense. Of course, I do not know the factors that Point Park balanced in making its decision, but it strikes me that prudent use of financial resources had to be at the top of the list. I sense that Point Park's announcement today says more about that than it does about the Pacific Lutheran decision or the Yeshiva standard."

The Pacific Lutheran Ruling

The Pacific Lutheran ruling dealt with multiple issues raised by a drive to organize adjuncts at the university. (In a great irony of the case, while the adjuncts won the legal issues considered by the NLRB, they withdrew their request for unionization after uncontested votes showed them losing.)

Pacific Lutheran challenged the adjuncts' right to unionize in part because of the university's religious status and in part over definitions of faculty members as managerial employees who would be ineligible for collective bargaining. The religious aspect of the case isn't relevant to Point Park as the latter university is secular. But the section on whether faculty members are managerial had a big impact on Point Park and could have a big impact on other colleges as well.

In the Yeshiva ruling, the Supreme Court found that the structure of private higher education was not typical of corporate hierarchies, and that faculty members had substantial managerial authority such that they couldn't be considered simply to be employees. The question to consider when deciding whether faculty members are managerial isn't whether presidents and Boards of Trustees have final right of approval, but whether the faculty have "effective recommendation or control," the Supreme Court ruled.

The NLRB ruling in December noted that there has been some dispute over how to determine whether the faculty members at a particular college have managerial authority. Before naming the areas where faculty must control decision making to be managerial, the ruling said that the authority must be real. "The party asserting managerial status must prove actual -- rather than mere paper -- authority," the NLRB said. "A faculty handbook may state that the faculty has authority over or responsibility for a particular decision-making area, but it must be demonstrated that the faculty exercises such authority in fact."

The NLRB decision also endorsed the view offered by many professors that the power of the faculty has eroded considerably since the Yeshiva ruling.

"Indeed, our experience applying Yeshiva has generally shown that colleges and universities are increasingly run by administrators, which has the effect of concentrating and centering authority away from the faculty in a way that was contemplated in Yeshiva, but found not to exist at Yeshiva University itself. Such considerations are relevant to our assessment of whether the faculty constitute managerial employees," the NLRB decision said. "A common manifestation of this 'corporatization' of higher education that is specifically relevant to the faculty in issue here is the use of 'contingent faculty,' that is, faculty who, unlike traditional faculty, have been appointed with no prospect of tenure and often no guarantee of employment beyond the academic year."

Based on its analysis, the NLRB said that to determine whether faculty members have managerial authority, one must examine faculty control of academic programs, enrollment management policies, finances, academic policies, and personnel policies and decisions. The ruling stipulated that "greater weight" be given to the first three of those factors. That could be significant because many private college administrators say they defer to the faculty on academic programs, but not necessarily on enrollment policies and finances.

The union at Point Park expressed confidence that under this standard, faculty members there were not managers. And with Monday's announcement, the university indicated it would not contest that view.

Editorial Tags: Unions/unionizationProfessors

Feds mull experiment on aid and accreditation for alternative providers

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 07:00

The U.S. Department of Education continues to work on its plan to grant experimental federal aid eligibility to partnerships between accredited colleges and alternative providers, such as job skills boot camps, coding academies and MOOCs.

A wide range of experts have been summoned to the White House for a meeting at the end of July to discuss this growing space. And department officials say they are seeking comments on how best to spot and ensure quality with nontraditional providers.

“We think that a new set of quality assurance questions will need to be developed to ask hard, important questions about student learning and outcomes,” said Ted Mitchell, under secretary of education, in a blog post last week. “These questions will help students, taxpayers and those evaluating educational programs separate programs that are high quality from those that do not meet the bar.”

Growing numbers of students are enrolling in noninstitutional programs. For example, roughly 16,000 students are expected to graduate from boot camps this year, Fast Company reported, which is up from 6,740 last year.

The White House wants to encourage that growth, at least among what it sees as high-quality providers. As a result, the department has been mulling an “experimental sites” project that would open up federal aid to a limited group of academic programs that colleges and nontraditional providers would offer jointly.

As Inside Higher Ed reported in April, the department would waive certain rules for federal aid eligibility under the experiment, such as the regulation that fewer than 50 percent of academic programs can be outsourced to nonaccredited, noninstitutional providers. The results of the experiment could be used to inform future policy and regulatory decisions.

Details are still being sorted out for the project, sources said. But the goal is to announce its creation in the next two months.

In June, Jamienne Studley, deputy under secretary of education, told a meeting of accreditors that the department was considering the partnership approach to an experimental site. She said the feds are seeking to “encourage dialogue” on how to ensure quality with approved boot camps and noninstitutional online providers.

“We’re very much in listening mode about what we might do,” said Studley, adding that the department’s goal is to strike a “balance between being deliberative and creative.”

To participate in the project, an accredited college and its partner provider -- perhaps a boot camp like General Assembly or an online course provider such as Udacity -- would need to apply to the department and be accepted as an experimental site. Qualifying programs would include the imprimatur of some third-party, such as an accreditor, that does quality assurance based on minimum thresholds the department would establish.

This pathway to alternative accreditation could be managed by a regional accreditor, perhaps through a newly created subsidiary. Another possibility would be a new national accrediting body that specializes in nontraditional providers.

The WASC Senior College and University Commission, a regional accreditor, could be a player in this space. Recently the commission released a policy for how a nonaccredited provider could partner with a traditional college for a “period of incubation” and eventually evolve to hold its own accreditation.

Paul LeBlanc, Southern New Hampshire University’s president, recently wrapped up a three-month stint as an adviser to the department. One of his tasks was to work on the experimental site project for alternative providers.

The blog post from Mitchell, LeBlanc said, “speaks to the desire to bring new, effective partners into the Title IV ecosystem.”

One goal in this work is for the feds to help students get financial support for the “best of these programs,” he said. But just as important is for the department to ensure quality control and consumer protection, said LeBlanc. That's because the department wants to avoid opening the floodgates of federal aid to subpar providers -- “bad actors” in the parlance of Washington.

“We don’t want to go down the path of Corinthian,” LeBlanc said, referring to the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, a controversial for-profit chain.

Partial Agreement

Mitchell’s statement includes three general categories for questions the department should ask in deciding which programs meet the bar. They revolve around “measurable claims” a provider makes about student learning, the reliability and validity of learning assessment, and the outcomes completers achieve -- including both academic transfer and employment and salary.

Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who heads the Senate’s education committee, also has floated ideas for opening up accreditation to noninstitutional online course providers and other new entrants.

On Wednesday Alexander’s committee is holding a hearing on “exploring barriers and opportunities within innovation.” In a news release the committee’s staff said the “hearing will be an opportunity to explore new models of delivering education that could provide high-quality and affordable education, such as competency-based education and personalized learning models.”

In many ways Alexander and other Senate Republicans, including presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, are on the same page as the Obama administration when it comes to upstarts in higher education. All three have said they would like to expand opportunities for students to attend promising providers that exist outside of the models of traditional colleges.

For example, Rubio recently called higher education a "cartel" and promised that, as president, he would create a new accreditation process that "welcomes low-cost, innovative providers."

Yet Rubio and Alexander differ with Obama in their view of the federal role in encouraging and overseeing that sector’s growth. A heavier hand for the feds, where the department controls the path to accreditation, will be less amenable to Republicans.

Andrew Kelly is director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. He applauded the department’s desire to experiment with alternative providers, and to study the results of such a project.

“There is a clear role for the federal government to play in research and development,” said Kelly.

However, Kelly said he is wary of the department playing favorites with the experimental sites project, as he said they did with the gainful employment regulations, which largely target programs at for-profit colleges.

“I don’t think the department is the right institution to make all the calls about who gets in and who gets left out,” he said.

Kelly said he generally likes the approach of bringing in outside entities to do quality assurance. But that still might not be enough to prevent the department from bigfooting the process, he said.

“I don’t have as much confidence about where they end up,” said Kelly. “There’s almost an inevitable momentum to federalize these decisions.”

Student Aid and LoansTeaching and LearningHot IdeasEditorial Tags: AccreditationFederal policyEducation Department
Syndicate content