Higher Education News

Colleges rush to prepare for Amazon expansion

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/14/2018 - 08:00

After weeks of speculation, tech giant Amazon confirmed yesterday that it would be building not one but two new headquarters in the U.S. -- one in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., and the other in Arlington, Va.

College presidents and business leaders in both locales expressed relief and excitement at the news. But the pressure is now on to quickly establish a talent pipeline for the more than 50,000 new jobs expected to arrive with the new headquarters. In a press release, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the company plans to establish 25,000 jobs in each location, with an average salary of $150,000. Hiring will begin next year.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University yesterday announced ambitious plans to support this expansion by building a $1 billion Tech Innovation Campus in Alexandria, Va. -- less than two miles away from Amazon’s chosen 105-acre site near Reagan National Airport. University administrators said in a press release that the planned project was part of a "comprehensive higher education package that was cited as a key reason Amazon selected Virginia for a new headquarters site."

Tim Sands, president of Virginia Tech, said his institution began planning the one-million-square-foot Innovation Campus four years ago, but “considerably accelerated” its plans to support Virginia’s Amazon HQ2 bid -- which beat out competition from more than 200 localities across the country.  

Ambitious Plans In Virginia

The new campus will be built with $500 million in seed funding -- half of which will come from the state and half from the institution, said Sands. The other $500 million is yet to be secured but will come from a mixture of philanthropic grants and industry partnerships over the next decade. "We're thinking big because the challenge and the opportunity is huge," said Sands

The Innovation Campus will focus on computer science and software engineering majors, and 500 master’s degree students are expected to be studying there within five years. The campus will eventually be home to 750 master’s degree students as well as hundreds of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

Virginia Tech is not the only research institution in the state gearing up to support Amazon’s work-force needs. George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., plans to triple its computer science graduates -- by growing undergraduate and graduate enrollment to 10,000 and 5,000 students respectively over the next five years -- said Ángel Cabrera, president of George Mason. George Mason also plans to create a new School of Computing and build a 400,000-square-foot Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA) on its existing Arlington campus.

Like Virginia Tech, George Mason's expansion will be supported with state funding. Virginia governor Ralph Northam announced yesterday that Virginia Tech and George Mason will share a pool of performance-based state funding worth up to $375 million over the next 20 years, subject to one-to-one matching by the institutions. In addition, Northam plans to invest $50 million in tech internships for K-12 students. Additional funding to develop bachelor’s degree programs in computer science and related fields will be available to other public universities and community colleges in the state subject to negotiation.

“Already, Northern Virginia is a data science hub in terms of entrepreneurship and density of talent,” said Cabrera. But the Amazon HQ will have a “multiplying effect” -- attracting new companies, investment and talent to the area, and making institutions like George Mason more attractive to potential students. “It will be game-changing,” he said.

A Big Role for Community Colleges

Scott Ralls, president of Northern Virginia Community College, anticipates that his institution’s already strong relationship with Amazon could be “deepened and broadened” by the new HQ.

The college has been partnering with Amazon for some time, and last year announced an apprenticeship program with Amazon Web Services, or AWS -- the first of its kind on the East Coast. The first group of students in the program, all of them U.S. military veterans, are scheduled to complete their training Thursday and to be hired by Amazon as full-time cloud consultants.

The college was already planning to scale up enrollment in its cloud computing degree program, designed collaboratively with AWS, as well as its cybersecurity degree program, but is now poised to do more, said Ralls.

“AWS has said we are a college that is bold in terms of moving quickly and scaling to meet their demands.”

New York universities and colleges stand ready to partner with Amazon, too. In prime position is LaGuardia Community College, located just minutes away from Amazon’s proposed HQ in Long Island City.

Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College, said she was “delighted” by Amazon’s choice.

“One of the biggest challenges that the tech sector faces is a lack of diversity,” she said. As one of the most diverse colleges in the U.S., with students from more than 150 countries, “LaGuardia would be able to provide that diverse employee pipeline,” said Mellow.

Mellow hopes LaGuardia can work closely with Amazon to “build the ladders” that will allow graduates to “move into increasing levels of responsibility” at the company.

“It would be great if we could arrange an internship strategy,” she said.

Mellow also wants to work with Amazon to create technical education programs for incumbent workers who may need training to update their skills and knowledge. “Technical education changes so fast,” she said.

Mellow looks forward to building a relationship with Amazon. “Geography matters even to tech companies,” she said.

Sean Gallagher, founder and executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, said Amazon’s picks for HQ locations were not surprising. Amazon made clear that it was looking for “proximity to talent and a strong supply of people with college degrees.”

“From the beginning, D.C. and New York were being speculated as potential winners,” he said.

Josh Hartmann, chief practice officer at Cornell University's Cornell Tech campus, which offers graduate engineering courses, said he was excited to see Amazon recognize the potential of New York City’s rapidly expanding tech industry and “solidify New York’s ranking as the nation’s most diverse tech hub.”

“This is good news for New York City,” he said.

A Growing Backlash

Although colleges close to the new headquarters locations welcomed Amazon’s announcement, there is mounting criticism of the chosen locations. Residents of Queens and Arlington voiced concern about expected rent increases and construction disruption. And some politicians slammed plans to offer Amazon large taxpayer subsidies.

We’ve been getting calls and outreach from Queens residents all day about this.

The community’s response? Outrage. https://t.co/Jl4OIfa4gC

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) November 13, 2018

“Amazon is a billion-dollar company. The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need more investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here,” tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was recently elected to Congress and will represent a congressional district that includes the Bronx and Queens.

Ron Kim, a Democratic New York assemblyman, vowed to introduce legislation that would block the city from offering taxpayer money to Amazon and instead use the money to reduce student debt for New Yorkers. He said the return on investment would be “tangibly greater.”

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More Pell recipients attended community college last summer after return of year-round Pell

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/14/2018 - 08:00

An overwhelming majority of community colleges saw increased enrollments of Pell Grant recipients last summer, suggesting that the federal government's reinstatement of year-round Pell eligibility last year may be helping to stem overall enrollment declines in the two-year sector.

Just three years after its creation, the Obama administration, with the backing of the U.S. Congress, in 2012 eliminated summer Pell eligibility, meaning the ability for students to access two grants in a year to help pay for courses during the summer. Bipartisan concern about rising costs of year-round Pell -- $2 billion at the peak -- led to its demise.

But Congress and the Trump administration reinstated the program last year, after a strong push by community college leaders. The first year of that eligibility concluded at the end of June.

The American Association of Community Colleges conducted a national survey of its members to gauge the impact of year-round Pell's return. The survey yielded responses from 109 community colleges and statewide responses representing another 77 colleges, for a total of responding institutions that enroll 1.9 million students, or 34 percent of the sector’s total enrollment.

The survey’s results show year-round Pell has had a major impact. Almost 83 percent of responding colleges reported increases in Pell Grant recipient enrollments this past summer compared to the previous one. And half saw increases of 15 percent or more.

“We are pleased that the survey documents what we have heard from campuses across the country, that the reinstated year-round Pell Grant has had a truly dramatic impact,” David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at AACC, said in a written statement. “In particular it appears to have helped students stay continuously enrolled, and accelerating time to degree has always been a prime reason to provide aid 12 months of the year.”

Community colleges have been hit hard by enrollment declines in recent years, following the catastrophic enrollment collapse of the for-profit college sector.

Such declines are common in a strong economy, particularly at open-access and career-oriented colleges, as people return to the work force. But the substantial dips at community colleges during the last four years have worried many in the sector.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, for example, found a 2 percent decline at public community colleges this spring compared to the previous spring, and a 3.3 percent drop in 2016.

While AACC cautioned against drawing a causal link between summer Pell’s return and enrollment trends, the association said the survey’s results show that community college enrollments last summer “improved in a robust way that might not have been anticipated absent the new year-round Pell Grant.”

For example, the survey found that 62 percent of responding colleges saw an enrollment bump last summer compared to the previous one. While most reporting increases saw upturns of 5 percent or less, more than 17 percent of responding colleges saw an enrollment increase of at least 10 percent.

Community colleges are using summer Pell eligibility to try to attract students, according to the survey, with 70 percent of responding colleges reporting that they explicitly marketed about the new funding eligibility or otherwise highlighted it.

“AACC continues to advocate aggressively for increased support for the Pell Grant program in addition to year-round eligibility, including increasing the maximum grant, adding eligibility for short-term workforce development programs, providing support for some incarcerated students and in other areas.”

Previous research found that for each $1,000 of additional year-round Pell funding, summer enrollment increased by 27 percentage points and associate degree completion grew by 2.2 percentage points.

The study's author, Vivian Liu, a postdoctoral research associate at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, said she was surprised that the AACC survey didn't find larger enrollment growth. And Liu said the fact that 20 percent of colleges saw a decrease or no enrollment change suggests that students are unaware of summer Pell.

"I would say it is a step toward the right direction but the battle is not over," Liu said in an email. "It's essentially free money. Why aren't more people taking advantage of it? And how can we get more enrollment in the summer?"

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UT San Antonio investigates whether student escorted out of class for having feet propped up was discriminated against

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/14/2018 - 08:00

A black student at the University of Texas at San Antonio was escorted out of her biology class by police for purportedly putting her feet up, the latest incident to go viral in the phenomenon of African American men and women having law enforcement called on them for everyday activities.

The episode is being investigated as potential discrimination, according to the university.

Apurva Rawal, who said on Twitter he was a student at UT San Antonio, posted a one-minute video to the website of police taking his classmate out. Rawal wrote that the student had put her feet up on the seat in front of her. Students say that the faculty member, identified as Anita Moss, senior lecturer in the department of biology, stopped the lecture to “go on a tirade” about how the class was uncivil and not paying attention.

Moss, who did not respond to Inside Higher Ed’s request for comment, apparently then called the police on the student.

The video as of Tuesday evening been retweeted more than 15,600 times. It had been viewed more than two million times.

“I chose to attend this university because of its welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, and today's events genuinely make me concerned for not only my fellow students, but any future Roadrunners that may choose to attend this institution in the future,” Rawal wrote on Twitter.

The student in the video also posted to Twitter but did not identify herself by name. She wrote that she was told she would need to leave or she would be escorted out by police.

“I never disobeyed the student code of conduct,” the student wrote. “Not once,” adding that a police report over the incident had been filed.

UT San Antonio officials responded quickly to the video, writing on Twitter that they were “aware” of the situation and were investigating. Officials posted to Twitter on Tuesday to say they had met with both the professor and the student. The university said on Tuesday that the professor's classes will be taught by another faculty member for the remainder of the semester. The student has been "welcomed back" to class and offered support services. 

President Taylor Eighmy released a statement to campus acknowledging that a professor had called the police on a student. Eighmy said that “while the facts aren’t fully known,” the Office of Equal Opportunity Services was investigating the incident as possibly discriminatory.

Howard Grimes, the interim dean of the College of Sciences, also will be inquiring about the classroom’s “academic management,” Eighmy said in his statement. He also noted that a new vice president for inclusive excellence, Myron Anderson, would be arriving on campus soon.

“Beyond this particular incident, I am very much aware that the circumstance represents another example of the work we need to do as an institution around issues of inclusivity and supporting our students of color,” Eighmy said. “This concerns me greatly, and it’s incumbent upon us as an institution to face this head-on. It’s something that we need to address immediately as a university community.”

Eighmy said in a separate statement that the institution needed more faculty, staff and administrators of color on campus and has "accelerated" the search to diversify the university's employees.

Provost Kimberly Andrews also posted on Twitter that she was “concerned” and that “creating a classroom environment that is conducive to learning is our priority.”

Despite administrators’ assurances that the video would be investigated, the institution garnered widespread anger on social media.

Prominent academic Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote on Twitter to her nearly 70,000 followers that she was so angry she was “about to black out.”

Another Twitter user, who said she was a university instructor, responded to Rawal to say she doesn’t care if students sit or stand.

“I don't get too excited about petty seating, but worry more if my students are not successful,” the professor wrote. “Empowerment has no correct seating position to capture it.”

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Northeastern plans to acquire humanities college in London

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/14/2018 - 08:00

Northeastern University in Boston plans to acquire the New College of the Humanities, a London-based institution with 210 students founded by the philosopher A. C. Grayling in 2012.

NCH prides itself on offering an education that melds aspects of the Oxford tutorial system and the American liberal arts college and boasts a roster of superstar visiting professors like Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker who give guest lectures. From its start the private institution has been a controversial player in the United Kingdom’s heavily public higher education system, in large part because it is controlled by a for-profit company, Tertiary Education Services Limited.

Pending regulatory approvals, NCH will soon be known as NCH at Northeastern. Northeastern president Joseph E. Aoun declined to share the details of the financial terms of the transaction but said the current shareholders will transfer their shares to Northeastern, a large not-for-profit research university with more than 20,000 students.

Northeastern is most well-known for its signature co-op program in which students alternate between full-time work placements and classroom study. NCH at Northeastern would become the sixth campus for Northeastern, which in addition to its main campus in Boston has campuses in Charlotte, N.C.; Seattle; Silicon Valley and Toronto and is in the process of opening one in Vancouver.

“We are building a global university system,” said Aoun. “The whole idea is that this global system will allow the learners to access our education wherever they are and wherever they need it and also allows mobility so the students can start in Boston, move to Silicon Valley, go to Vancouver and London, and in each place they will have a different curriculum and a different experience.”

Aoun said that Northeastern has 600 students in London each year. In an email to Northeastern faculty, administrators and staff, he wrote that the proposed acquisition will “pave the way for Northeastern to become the first U.S. university with a college in its global network that can confer undergraduate and graduate degrees in the U.K.”

However, NCH currently lacks the authority to grant its own degrees, and teaches degrees that are validated by a public university in Southampton, Solent University. Aoun said NCH is in the process for applying for a license to grant its own degrees. “Because they will be part of Northeastern, we will have the authority through them, through NCH, to offer degrees in the U.K.”

“Their application [for degree-granting powers] is very much strengthened, they believe, by this new partnership,” added Michael Armini, Northeastern’s senior vice president for external affairs.

NCH’s executive dean, Martin Smith, declined to comment on the licensing issue, but said the tie-up with Northeastern “fast-forwards us considerably in terms of what we can do. One of the driving factors is the student experience. The ability to be able to travel and to take their degree elsewhere is hugely appealing to our students.”

An announcement from the master of the college, Grayling, says that in addition to the ability to study at multiple Northeastern campuses, NCH also expects its students to have access to Northeastern's career development department, "including internship and career development opportunities with a global network of more than 3,000 graduate employers."

Nick Hillman, the director of the London-based Higher Education Policy Institute, said that the deal is somewhat puzzling from another perspective. “Some people are asking what is in it for Northeastern given the small size of NCH and the fact that it doesn’t have its own degree-awarding powers,” he said.

“It has been struggling as an institution -- and I don’t say that with any relish, because I’m very pleased it exists. I think diversity of institutions is a good thing and we don’t have small specialist liberal arts colleges the way that you do in the U.S., so I’m glad it exists. I don’t want to see it fail, but we’re a bit confused.”

The most recent statement of accounts from the company that controls NCH, Tertiary Education Services, suggests that the college has struggled to meet its recruitment and financial targets, pushing the projected date on which it would become financially self-supporting further into the future. "Whilst student numbers are growing and the college is achieving excellent exam results, the present student numbers are not sufficient to meet all the costs of the college,” the corporate filing says.

The college dropped its U.K. and E.U. student tuition rate in September 2017 to bring it into line with tuition rates for other British universities; at 9,325 pounds (a little more than $12,100), annual tuition is now about half what it was when the college opened in 2012 (its original annual price tag of £18,000, or about $23,400 at today's currency conversion rate, was eye-popping in the British higher education context, attracting many critics who dismissed it as an intellectual playground for the rich).The TES filing says that the company received additional funding in the form of a loan from the college’s largest shareholder and that the shareholder “has confirmed their willingness to provide further funds if necessary to take the College through to break-even which is forecast to be in the financial year 2023/24."

The filing also notes that the directors "have been discussing a transaction with an overseas institution" -- presumably Northeastern -- "that would provide further assurances in terms of ongoing financial support."

"With any start-up organization there’s always going to be challenges, and one of the challenges has been around recruitment," said Martin. "Saying that, though, we’ve doubled the number of our first-year students from where we were in 2015."

Aoun said that NCH was an attractive partner for Northeastern because of the compelling vision of its founder, Grayling.

“He believes that the one-on-one attention to the students and the personalized education is key, hence the one-on-one tutorial; he also believed that it is possible and imperative to build a liberal arts college that has [a focus on] entrepreneurship and is experiential, and this is where we saw a fit with what we’re doing. We saw that this marriage between the two institutions will allow us to put together the best of U.K. education with the best of U.S. education," Aoun said.

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Michelle Obama talks about her experience at Princeton for the first time in new book

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/14/2018 - 08:00

During her husband's campaigns and eight-year tenure in the White House, former first lady Michelle Obama remained fairly silent about her experience at Princeton University.

In her autobiography Becoming (Penguin Random House), released Tuesday, Obama disclosed for the first time details about her experience at the Ivy League university, one marked by feelings of otherness and a strong determination to disprove the negative racial stereotypes held by some of her professors and classmates. She graduated in 1985.

“If in high school I’d felt as if I were representing my neighborhood, now at Princeton I was representing my race. Anytime I found my voice in class or nailed an exam, I quietly hoped it helped make a larger point,” she wrote.

While she was a student, Princeton was "​extremely white and very male."

Because of this, Obama quickly made friends with other students of color and discovered that the harmonious diversity portrayed in college brochures didn't translate to her own college experience.

“I imagine that the administrators at Princeton didn’t love the fact that students of color largely stuck together. The hope was that all of us would mingle in heterogeneous harmony, deepening the quality of student life across the board. It’s a worthy goal. I understand that when it comes to campus diversity, the ideal would be to achieve something resembling what’s often shown on college brochures -- smiling students working and socializing in neat, ethnically blended groups," Obama wrote. "But even today, with white students continuing to outnumber students of color on college campuses, the burden of assimilation is put largely on the shoulders of minority students. In my experience, it’s a lot to ask.”

Obama graduated in the top 10 percent of her high school class and participated in a number of extracurricular activities, including serving as class treasurer, that made her a good candidate for top universities. But, early in the book, she recounted a meeting with a high school college counselor that she had, for the most part, “blotted out" of her memory.

“It’s possible, in fact, that during our short meeting the college counselor said things to me that might have been positive and helpful, but I recall none of it,” she wrote. “Because rightly or wrongly, I got stuck on one single sentence the woman uttered. ‘I’m not sure,’ she said, giving me a perfunctory, patronizing smile, ‘that you’re Princeton material.’”

Even after Obama was admitted, some questioned her belonging at the university.

"It was impossible to be a black kid at a mostly white school and not feel the shadow of affirmative action. You could almost read the scrutiny in the gaze of certain students and even some professors, as if they wanted to say, 'I know why you’re here.' These moments could be demoralizing, even if I’m sure I was just imagining some of it," she wrote. "It planted a seed of doubt. Was I here merely as part of a social experiment?"

During her freshman year, Obama lived in a triple in Pyne Hall with two white students, whom she remembered as nice for the most part, although she didn't spend much time hanging out in their room. Midway through the year, one of her roommates, Cathy, moved into a single, and Obama discovered many years later that "her mother, a schoolteacher from New Orleans, had been so appalled that her daughter had been assigned a black roommate that she'd badgered the university to separate us."

Other parts of her life at Princeton came out during the campaigns, including her senior thesis, a survey of African American alumni about their perceptions of race and identity after having attended Princeton. Obama wrote that right-wing media used the thesis to paint a picture of her as a radical determined to "overthrow the white majority" and to further alienate her and her husband in the eyes of American electorate. "For reasons I’ll never understand, the conservative media was treating my paper as if it were some secret black-power manifesto, a threat that had to be unburied. It was as if at the age of twenty-one, instead of trying to get an A in sociology and a spot at Harvard Law School, I’d been hatching a Nat Turner plan to overthrow the white majority and was now finally, through my husband, getting a chance to put it in motion," she wrote.

Obama included little about affording college, but did mention that her parents “never once spoke of the stress of having to pay for college, but I knew enough to appreciate that it was there.” At Princeton she received a financial aid package that required she have a work-study job, and throughout her four years she served as an assistant for the Third World Center, a support center for students of color that Obama described as “poorly named but well-intentioned.” The center was renamed 20 years later as the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, which it is still called today.

As a first-generation college student, Obama remembers the steep learning curve required to pick up college lingo.

“What was a precept? What was a reading period? Nobody had explained to me the meaning of 'extra-long' bedsheets on the school packing list, which mean that I bought myself too-short bedsheets and would thus spend my freshman year sleeping with my feet resting on the exposed plastic of the dorm mattress,” she wrote.

Obama also noted how different life on campus was to her childhood on the South Side of Chicago, which she proudly announced whenever anyone asked where she was from.

“At Princeton, it seemed the only thing I needed to be vigilant about was my studies. Everything otherwise was designed to accommodate our well-being as students,” she wrote. “The dining halls served five different kinds of breakfast. There were enormous spreading oak trees to sit under and open lawns where we could throw Frisbees to relieve our stress. The main library was like an old-world cathedral, with high ceilings and glossy hardwood tables where we could lay out our textbooks and study in silence. We were protected, cocooned, catered to. A lot of kids, I was coming to realize, had never in their lifetimes known anything different.”

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