Higher Education News

Academy of Arts and Sciences makes case for increasing foreign language learning capacity

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 02/28/2017 - 08:00

A major 2013 report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences warned that at “the very moment when China and some European nations are seeking to replicate our model of broad education,” including the humanities, the U.S. was instead “narrowing” its focus and abandoning its “sense of what education has been and should continue to be.”

The paper caught the attention of policy makers, including members of Congress. Four Republicans and four Democrats asked the academy to dig deeper into the state of language education in the U.S. They wanted to know what the U.S. could do to ensure excellence in language education, especially how it might more efficiently use existing resources. They also asked how language learning influences economic growth, cultural diplomacy, productivity for future generations and a sense of personal fulfillment.

Political winds now seem even more foul to the humanities (and more inward-blowing) than they were in 2013. And many foreign language departments at all kinds of colleges and universities have found their budgets threatened and, in some cases, eliminated. But those involved in the resulting report are hopeful their findings in support of language education opportunities for all students will gain traction.

America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century,” released today, doesn’t call for “massive increases in funding at the local, state or federal levels,” said Paul LeClerc, director of Columbia University’s Global Center in Paris and chair of the academy’s Commission on Language Learning. “For the most part, we ask for sustained funding and encourage creative partnerships to increase teaching capacity, not massive government spending programs.”

The commission acknowledges its greatest challenge in making foreign language learning accessible to all students is teaching capacity, and it recommends upping the number of teachers in pre- and K-12 schools. But it hopes such instruction will be supplemented with partnerships among schools, governments, businesses and nonprofits. The Chicago Public Schools system, for example, offers an Arabic language program that's guided by Chicago's Center for Arabic Language and Culture, and supported by local Arabic speakers, local and international businesses, and the Qatar Foundation International.

The report also calls for more teaching of heritage languages spoken by immigrants to the U.S. and their families, in part to help those skills persist from one generation to the next. It urges additional, targeted support for the many Native American languages.

The commission calls, too, for more opportunities for students to learn languages -- and, with them, cultures -- abroad. One specific recommendation is to restructure federal financial aid to help students from low-income backgrounds study abroad during the summer, as well as the academic year.

As for what’s at stake in such efforts, LeClerc said having more Americans with competency in languages other than English “is essential from virtually any point of view you can think of” -- from economic growth and competitiveness to national defense to increased academic achievement and what he called “successful functioning in a global economy.”

Rosemary Feal, fellow commissioner and executive director of the Modern Language Association, was more pointed. “The greatest risk for failing to implement the key recommendations in this report is to further aggravate national isolationism,” which is not only detrimental for business purposes, she said, “but downright dangerous in an era in which immigration bans and a physical barrier with Mexico are being instituted or threatened.”

In the current political climate, Feal added, “the recommendations of the report are even more relevant than when it was commissioned.” She said language learning is one of the best ways to cultivate empathy, and the earlier in children's education the process starts, “the more likely they are to become well-functioning global citizens.”

Making the Case

The report notes that national law enforcement offices and the State and Defense Departments all have increased their foreign language capacities in recent years, citing national security. “The message in each case was clear: effective communication is the basis of international cooperation, and a strong national defense depends on our ability to understand our adversaries as well as our friends,” it says.

Regarding business, nearly 30 percent of executives say they’ve missed out on opportunities over a lack of on-staff language skills, according to a 2014 NAFSA: Association of International Educators study quoted in the report. Some 40 percent said they’d failed to reach their international potential due to language barriers.

“America’s Languages” includes profiles of professionals who’ve thrived due to their language skills -- whether they originally understood their value or not. “When I was in high school, I thought learning a foreign language was a complete waste of time and effort,” said James Tobyne, who works in strategic partnerships and business development at alibaba.com, which is often referred to as China’s Amazon.com. Yet now, he told the commission, “as an employee of one of the world’s largest internet companies, my language skills -- including proficiency in Mandarin Chinese -- are an essential component of my job.”

Globally, the commission says, some 300 to 400 million Chinese students are studying English, and about two-thirds of all European adults know more than one language. That’s compared to some 200,000 U.S. students studying Chinese in K-12, according to government estimates, and the approximately one-fifth of Americans who know a language other than English.

The report also calls for an expanded capacity in world languages “a social imperative,” with the provision of language access to social services mandated under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Affordable Care Act. 

“Growing numbers of American citizens speak languages other than English, and in some major urban areas, as many as half of all residents speak a non-English language at home,” it says. “But all too often, their access to vital services, including health care, and even their ability to exercise simple rights are limited not only by their inability to communicate in English,” but also by service providers’ inability to speak or secure the help of those who speak other languages.

The commission also cites additional research suggesting that foreign language study has numerous cognitive benefits for children and adults, and has been linked to higher academic achievement in other disciplines.

The academy hinted at these findings in December with a data-based national “snapshot” of U.S. language capacity, and the picture wasn’t pretty: language education is dwindling at every level, from K-12 to postsecondary, and a diminishing share of U.S. residents speak languages other than English. That’s despite an “emerging consensus among leaders in business and politics, teachers, scientists, and community members that proficiency in English is not sufficient to meet the nation’s needs,” the paper read.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data included in that report and again in “America’s Languages,” more than 60 million residents over age 5 -- or about 20 percent of the population -- speak a language other than English at home. But other research suggests that just 10 percent of the population speaks a second language proficiently, and most are "heritage speakers,” meaning they speak it for family or cultural reasons. Of those who speak a language other than English at home, 57 percent were foreign born.

Public elementary and middle school language education options have decreased within the last decade, and only a small minority of high school students are taking intermediate or advanced language courses. The number of college students enrolled in the most commonly studied languages -- with the exception of American Sign Language -- also has fallen in recent years.

Building Language Learning Capacity

Like Feal, the commission as a whole believes that instructional opportunities in other languages should be offered as early in life as possible. Its primary goal is that every school in the U.S. offer meaningful instruction of languages other than English as part of their standard curricula. The commission encourages colleges and universities to offer beginning and advanced language instruction to all students, and to reverse recent programmatic cuts "wherever possible." It also applauds recent efforts to expand undergraduate language requirements.

Some 44 states and Washington, D.C., report that they can’t find enough qualified K-12 teachers to meet current needs, but all districts respond to shortages in different ways, the commission says. It encourages further study and better data of the scope of the problem.

As for creatively increasing capacity, the commission calls for federal loan forgiveness plans to attract qualified teachers. While the federal Perkins Loan program will forgive up to 100 percent of a need-based loan for students training to become language teachers, the report says, the Education Department offers no such forgiveness for Direct Loans, offered irrespective of need.

The report also advises coordination of state credentialing systems so that qualified teachers can more easily find work in areas that need them. It imagines that technology will play a role in expanding capacity, including in offering blended-learning models in understaffed areas.

Within college and universities -- for students who wish to become language teachers and those who don’t -- the commission calls for a “recommitment” to language instruction.

While language programs were particularly vulnerable to cuts during the Great Recession, the report says, two- and four-year colleges and universities should now find new ways to provide opportunities for advanced study in languages, including through blended-learning programs and the development of new regional consortia that allow colleges and universities to pool resources. A number of such collaborations exist, including the Big Ten Academic Alliance. Fourteen member universities use a distance-learning program to offer online classes in some 65 less commonly taught languages, including Uzbek and Dutch.

Such efforts will be particularly important “as we increase the number of learning opportunities in less commonly taught languages like Arabic, Persian and Korean,” the commission wrote. “Only by maintaining such offerings in higher education can we ensure that we will have the teachers and linguistic and cultural experts we need for life and work in the 21st century.”

The report praises institutions that have instituted mandatory language study even for those undergraduates who took Advanced Placement courses in high school. Such institutions recognize that this kind of course work is “a qualification for higher-level language courses, rather than an exemption from language requirements,” the report says. “Not every college or university has the resources to institute such a policy immediately, but it is a laudable goal and worthy of serious consideration.”

The commission also encourages college and university curricula designed for Native American and heritage language speakers, and supports offering course credit for proficiency in these languages. The Spanish Heritage Language Program at the University of Houston, for example, offers specific courses for heritage Spanish speakers. Students who have successfully completed the intermediate level fulfill the university’s foreign language requirement but are encouraged to enroll in more advanced classes.

Feal said that the report strongly emphasizes a “K-16” approach, with schools working with colleges and universities to promote language learning. It also promotes as “glocal” (local-to-global) approach. Still, she said, as far as funding and other resources are concerned, the new report “outlines a clear and compelling case for the value of language learning in the postsecondary system, where language study at the most advanced levels takes place."

The report ends by saying that in the past, the U.S. has only focused on language education "in times of great need, such as encouraging Russian studies during the Cold War or instruction in certain Middle Eastern languages after the terrorist attacks of 2001." At such moments, it says, "enrollments increase dramatically, but students require years of training before they can achieve a useful level of proficiency, often long after the immediate crisis has faded and national priorities have changed."

A wiser, more forward-thinking strategy, then, "would be to steadily improve access to as many languages as possible for people of every age, ethnicity and socioeconomic background -- to treat language education as a persistent national need like competency in math or English, and to ensure that a useful level of proficiency is within every student’s reach."

CurriculumEditorial Tags: LanguagesImage Source: iStockIs this diversity newsletter?: Diversity Newsletter Order: 0

Proposed UNC policy would keep academic centers from taking part in lawsuits

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 02/28/2017 - 08:00

The Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill does not disguise its advocacy for minority and low-income people in the state.

Since the late Julius L. Chambers -- the civil rights lawyer noted for winning cases before the Supreme Court and for pursuing lawsuits on school desegregation and job discrimination, even though he was the target of bombings -- founded the center in 2001, it has taken part in federal and state lawsuits on school segregation and finance, housing discrimination, compensation for victims of forced sterilization, and community displacement. It has filed supporting briefs in landmark affirmative action cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The center has filed administrative complaints with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights over school segregation, helped the NAACP oppose local election changes and staffed an Election Day protection call center.

Now the center’s supporters say it is the target of a proposed UNC system policy change that would prevent academic centers and their employees from filing legal claims, acting as legal counsel or representing others in complaints, motions, lawsuits and other legal actions. Such a policy change would have a devastating impact on academic freedom, as well as on the privately funded center’s work and its ability to prepare students for careers as lawyers, those supporters argue. It could also have significant ramifications for other university centers and functions across the 16-university system, they believe.

Those behind the change retort that it is intended to rein in academic centers that have dragged the university system into advocacy. They want to return North Carolina’s public institutions to a focus on academics, they say.

The proposal has inflamed an already tense atmosphere around public higher education in North Carolina, where many faculty members and students worry that legislators and members of the Board of Governors have taken to meddling in university operations. On Feb. 18 the UNC system’s Faculty Assembly sent a note to the system’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, complaining of board and legislative actions it said apparently violated accreditation standards.

Actions cited included legislators imposing a plan to drop tuition to $500 per semester at three system campuses and stripping North Carolina’s governor of the ability to appoint some state university campus trustees. They also included the Board of Governors deciding to close three campus research centers, including the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, in 2015 amid complaints the centers were being used to attack Republican politicians. The existence of that center, like the civil rights center, has been defended locally by those championing free speech and expression and advocacy on behalf of the disenfranchised.

The Center for Civil Rights came under scrutiny at the time of the research center closures in 2015. It survived, but several members of the Board of Governors were sharply critical of it at the time. Those members included Steve Long, who said the center has an ideological basis and it should not be allowed to take part in lawsuits against the state or other governments.

Do Lawsuits Violate UNC's Mission?

Long submitted the new proposal to prevent university centers from participating in litigation for discussion at a Feb. 23 committee meeting. The new policy would need a committee vote and a vote from the full Board of Governors to pass. That could not happen before May.

When reached by telephone Monday, Long declined to comment. But a memorandum he submitted to the Board of Governors committee that will review his proposed policy spells out several reasons he is seeking the change. First among them is that initiating lawsuits against governments violates UNC’s mission of teaching, research and service to the state.

“If the state or a local government fails to comply with a legal requirement, it is not UNC’s place to initiate a lawsuit against that government but to advise the government of the legal requirements so they can be met,” Long’s memo reads.

UNC regulations currently limit academic centers’ ability to engage in lobbying. A Board of Governors policy also prevents UNC’s constituent institutions from filing lawsuits in their own names or in the name of the university, Long’s memo said. But centers are not prevented from taking part in litigation in other ways, like providing legal representation for other parties.

Long’s memo continues to say that no oversight body exists to prevent UNC centers from pursuing litigation because of personal interests, that academic center employees work for the government and have no incentive to resolve claims, and that there is risk center employees will become too focused on litigation. It goes on to argue that the centers are not law school clinics providing students with hands-on legal training and that real-world litigation experience is available to law students elsewhere through internships with private law firms, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and law school legal clinics.

Board of Governors member Joe Knott, a Republican, will bring the proposal before the committee. It will return the university system to a focus on education and academics, he said.

“I think the university has a fairly narrow mission, and it is a mission of education,” he said. “We are an academic institution.”

Defenders of the Center for Civil Rights say that stance is at odds with state Republicans’ recent emphasis on jobs and postgraduate employment. Former Governor Pat McCrory was critical of the liberal arts and supportive of measures to base public funding for higher education on postgraduate employment.

Instead, they say, leaders are hostile to the practice of civil rights law.

Law schools across the country have programs, many of which file lawsuits, typically on behalf of those without money to afford lawyers. They involve work in order to prepare students to be ready to practice, said Ted Shaw, a UNC law professor and director of the Center for Civil Rights. Other programs, including medical schools and graduate programs, have students working in order to prepare to practice their professions, he said.

“I’m pretty clear about what I think is underlying all of this,” Shaw said. “I think that there is a particular viewpoint about the practice of civil rights law and civil rights issues. Sadly, North Carolina has, as a state, been having a lot of controversy about those kinds of issues. I’m not interested in demonizing the Legislature or the Board of Governors or anybody, I just hope they reconsider this and realize the importance of this kind of training.”

The center should be allowed to train another generation of civil rights lawyers, Shaw said. He also believes its work benefits North Carolinians of all races and different income levels. He gave as examples times when the center has fought for improved educational quality.

Shaw also rejected the idea that the center is too focused on litigation.

“We don’t make up the matters that people ask us to represent them in or get engaged in,” Shaw said. “They come to us because they experience inequality.”

Gene Nichol is a professor of law at UNC School of Law and the school’s former dean. He also had a hand in starting the civil rights center, and he was the director of the poverty center that the Board of Governors decided to kill in 2015. Back then, he was outspoken in his arguments against closing the poverty center, writing that the process leading up to its closure was a charade triggering censorship and demeaning academic freedom.

Nichol is just as plainspoken in analyzing the proposed policy that would affect the Center for Civil Rights. The move is ideological, he said. He went on to note that the Board of Governors has not proposed any policy that would affect the UNC School of Law’s Center for Banking and Finance, which examines banking policies and regulations.

It makes no sense to prevent a law school from practicing advocacy, Nichol said.

“We are schools that teach advocacy -- that’s a central part of our mission,” he said. “‘Advocacy’ is a slippery term. You can’t define something as being political by whatever a hyperpoliticized member of the Board of Governors says is political. The carelessness of it is remarkable. It’s typical of what’s happening in North Carolina. They’re willing to do destruction of all institutions across the board.”

Mark Dorosin, an adjunct professor of law and managing attorney at the Center for Civil Rights, argued against the idea that the center should be prevented from going to court with state or local governments. The idea that it should be banned from doing so because it is part of the same state does not hold up, he said.

“Different arms of the state sue each other all the time,” Dorosin said. “The cities sue the state. School boards sue counties. The governor sues the Legislature, and vice versa. The idea that the state is this monolith and that there can never be any legal disputes between parts of it just doesn’t make sense.”

Debate Over Full Impact

It’s not entirely clear how deep an impact the policy change would have on the Center for Civil Rights, which has four full-time employees and employs varying numbers of recent law school graduates as fellows. The center, which has an annual budget of approximately $500,000, isn’t run on state funding but relies on grants, foundations and gifts.

Even if the policy passes, it’s possible the center could continue to operate in some capacity. But it would not be the same, said Dorosin.

“I think it would put us out of business regarding the way the center has always operated since it was founded,” Dorosin said. “I don’t know what would be left of a center that couldn’t do direct advocacy and represent communities and families and individuals.”

Meanwhile, Nichol, the former UNC law dean, worries that the proposed policy could affect other UNC law programs, including one that operates like a legal aid office. It’s not yet clear which operations, at the institute or elsewhere, would be endangered, he said. The UNC system has about 240 academic centers and institutes.

“It uses very broad language about representing clients,” Nichol said. “And to be truthful, when they start toying with your curriculum over there, you don’t have any way to know where it’s going to end up.”

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill wants to learn more about the proposal, according to spokeswoman Joanne Peters.

“Carolina believes in and supports the mission, the work and the legacy of the Center for Civil Rights at the School of Law,” she said in a statement. “We will learn more about this proposal in the coming days.”

Chapel Hill’s Faculty Council is monitoring the situation as well. The executive committee met with the university’s provost to discuss the proposed change on Monday, said council Chairman Bruce Cairns, a professor of surgery and the director of the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center.

“I think we need to find out more information,” he said before pointing to a law school at North Carolina Central University. “Remember, there are other schools in the system. NC Central University, for example, would be impacted by this as well. This is as much a UNC system issue as it is a UNC Chapel Hill issue.”

Students and Faculty Members Speak Out

The proposal has already generated opposition from faculty members and students. Quisha Mallette, a third-year UNC School of Law student, is working with a group of students to write letters to the Board of Governors and attend upcoming meetings to support the Center for Civil Rights.

Mallette remembers attending a day for admitted students when she was choosing a law school to attend. She heard from one of the lawyers at the Center for Civil Rights and says it was an important factor in her decision to attend UNC.

After she enrolled in class, one of her first pro bono projects was with the center. Then she interned there during her first summer in law school. The center has been an important source of professional experience, she said.

“I’ve had an opportunity to attend meetings they’ve done on campus,” she said. “I’ve gone with them to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Connecting with them has really shaped my understanding of what it means to practice law and really given me a full appreciation for what my position could be as a future lawyer.”

Mallette has a tough time picturing what working for the center would mean if it could not take part in litigation.

“It seems like it would be limited to adding some information to a report that might live somewhere,” she said.

Faculty members are also mobilizing against the policy change, said Stephen Leonard, a professor of political science at Chapel Hill and the past chairman of the UNC system’s Faculty Assembly. Many are upset because the change appears to have been motivated by political leanings, he said. The North Carolina General Assembly elects members to the Board of Governors, and there are concerns that the Republican-dominted legislative body is trying to pack the UNC system's board amid recent moves to shrink its size.

Given recent history, academic and governance concerns are at stake.

Knott, the board member who plans to introduce the change on academic centers, has in the past opposed legislative overreach in academic institutions, Leonard said. But board members are not always predictable.

“I think he thinks he’s protecting the academic integrity of the law school,” Leonard said. “Quite the contrary. What he’s doing is trying to regulate and control it.”

Teaching and LearningEditorial Tags: Law schoolsNorth CarolinaImage Source: University of North CarolinaIs this diversity newsletter?: Diversity Newsletter Order: 0

College Board pilots new way to measure adversity when considering applications, but some fear impact of leaving out race

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 02/28/2017 - 08:00

Many colleges say they want to admit more applicants who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. But how do colleges define disadvantage -- while making sure that only those who grew up with real hardships get the extra edge in admissions decisions?

The College Board has just finished the first two pilots of a system -- the Environmental Context Dashboard -- that is designed to help colleges be more precise when deciding who deserves that edge. One of the colleges that employed the system in a test review of applications after decisions had already been made reported that up to 20 percent of admissions decisions might have been made differently using the dashboard.

Here's how the system works: when students take the PSAT or the SAT, they enter information about the high school they attend and where they live. Then the College Board uses that information to create an index on adversity based on three calculations: the high school environment, the neighborhood environment and the family environment.

For high school, the formula is based on such factors as the rates at which students "undermatch" (fail to apply to colleges that they could get into), percentage of students receiving free lunches and the availability of a rigorous curriculum. For the neighborhood, calculations would be based on crime rates, housing values and the percentages of homes that are vacant. For family, the index is based on education level of parents, whether the student is being raised by a single parent and other factors. The family figures are based on the average for the neighborhood, so the information is not self-reported.

The idea behind the index is that colleges need help in determining which of their applicants have faced serious adversity and which may not, said Connie Betterton, vice president for higher education access and strategy at the College Board.

Admissions officers "want to evaluate students within the context of where applicants went to school and grew up," Betterton said. Currently they can do so in a "qualitative way," but many want more data to assure fairness and accuracy. Particularly for colleges with a national recruiting base, it may be hard to know much about the high school or neighborhood of an applicant in a way that allows for comparisons to other applicants, she said.

The new index does not consider race. Betterton said the College Board wanted a tool that could be used nationally, including in states where public colleges are barred from considering race and ethnicity in admissions.

The College Board completed two tests of the new system in which colleges used the index for a second review, after having already made admissions decisions. In the experiment at a moderately selective public institution, where admissions decisions are made by formula, admissions officers said the index wouldn't have changed anything (unless the college changed its approach to admissions), but that the information was helpful. At another institution, described by Betterton as a competitive private college that uses holistic admissions (where all applicants' various application materials are examined individually), officials said that using the index might have changed 20 percent of decisions. The College Board declined to identify either of the institutions.

The next step will be a larger pilot with about 10 institutions (again using the system after admissions decisions have been made) before testing when admissions decisions are being made.

No decisions have been made on the business model to be used, Betterton said. That will likely come after the next round of pilots. The College Board currently licenses the names of students with certain characteristics (including first generation and low socioeconomic status) to colleges, and this new data could eventually be offered as well, but no decisions have been made.

Philip Ballinger, associate vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions at the University of Washington and a trustee of the College Board, said he viewed the adversity index as a significant advance. He said his university -- in a state where consideration of race in admissions is banned -- has been trying to gather some of the same information the College Board will use. But he said he was concerned about issues of whether data were comparable, and whether self-reported data on students' families was accurate.

Ultimately, he said, his admissions team "wants a better sense of place" on where applicants come from and the adversities they have faced, and the index seems like it could provide that context.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said the program is "a huge step" for the College Board. Kahlenberg has long been an advocate of class-based, rather than race-based, affirmative action, and in the past has written that those behind standardized testing were not doing enough to identify smart, talented, low-income students.

"Universities say they want to provide a leg up to disadvantaged students who have overcome obstacles, yet today, because of firewalls between financial aid and admissions departments, admissions officers often have to guess about who is economically disadvantaged," Kahlenberg said. "Colleges that adamantly reject the idea of being race blind in admissions have to make critical decisions in a way that is largely class blind. The environmental dashboard will help them see better."

But Shirley J. Wilcher, executive director of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity, said she was concerned about anything that might discourage colleges from appropriate ways of considering race and ethnicity in the admissions process.

Institutions that engage in holistic review "cannot justifiably ignore the question of race," she said.

While the new College Board index would not preclude colleges from also considering issues of race, Wilcher said she feared such an approach might not happen. "Metrics are important. What gets measured gets action," she said via email. "But to not consider race and ethnicity is a rollback, not movement forward. It is precisely in higher ed where we have contributed significant and impactful scholarship about the intersection of [socioeconomic status] with both race/ethnicity and gender. To not also collect the race/ethnicity data means that in fact, they are not fully examining the 'environmental context.'"

AdmissionsDiversityEditorial Tags: AdmissionsAffirmative action/racial preferencesDiversity MattersIs this diversity newsletter?: Diversity Newsletter Order: 2Diversity Newsletter publication dates: Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Working paper finds little return on investment from online education

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 02/28/2017 - 08:00

A potential bombshell of a study on the lack of returns on investment to students and taxpayers from online education instead has other researchers questioning the author’s data and methodology.

The study, “The Returns to Online Postsecondary Education,” reads something like an indictment of online education. Written by Caroline M. Hoxby, the Scott and Donya Bommer Professor in Economics at Stanford University, the paper and its findings “provide little support for optimistic prognostications about online education.”

Combining federal college enrollment and tax data between 1999 and 2014, Hoxby found little evidence that studying online led to students landing jobs in booming industries. Online education did boost students’ wages, but that growth was neither high enough to recoup what society paid up front in taxes to fund their education, nor -- in some cases -- to cover their student loan payments. Additionally, colleges did not see any significant cost savings from offering education online, and students actually paid more for tuition than if they had studied in person.

More Coverage of Digital Learning
Inside Digital Learning, Inside Higher
Ed'
s new weekly newsletter and
publication, features original articles
and essays on online education,
data analytics and other aspects
of the digital transformation
of the classroom. Click here
to check it out.

The National Bureau of Economic Research released a working paper of the study on Monday. (The paper was taken down shortly afterward due to missing permissions, but a spokesperson for NBER said it would be reposted as soon as the issue was resolved. Read the abstract here.)

The impact of Hoxby’s findings was drowned out Monday morning by questions about the study’s methodology, however. Higher education researchers were quick to voice their concerns about the study, particularly for its deviation from online enrollment numbers reported by the federal government’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Hoxby writes that, in 2013, the proportion of students taking all or a substantial number of their courses online totaled only 7 percent of postsecondary enrollment in the U.S. Researchers at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), however, found in their own analysis of IPEDS data that 27 percent of all students took at least one online course in fall 2013, and 13 percent studied exclusively online.

Since about 20 million students were enrolled at colleges and universities in the U.S. in fall 2013, Hoxby’s study counts about 1.2 million fewer students than WCET found studied exclusively online, and potentially hundreds of thousands fewer who studied partially online, said Russell Poulin, director of policy and analysis for WCET.

“Even a quick check with one of the databases they did use … would show they are off on their counts and should have made them rethink their assumptions,” Poulin said in an email.

Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, called the methodology “seriously flawed.” The Babson Group previously produced annual reports on the size of the online education market but began to focus more on in-depth surveys after the federal government began collecting and reporting online enrollment data.

In an email, Seaman pointed to the paper’s breakdown of students who attended for-profit and nonprofit institutions as one example. Hoxby’s combination of enrollment and tax data added up to a finding that 76.8 percent of the students who studied exclusively online during the 2013-14 academic year were enrolled at for-profit colleges. IPEDS data on its own, however, found that share was only 31.9 percent.

Sean Gallagher, executive professor of educational policy at Northeastern University, summarized the discrepancy in a tweet.

Anticipating much discussion abt this important Hoxby paper 'this look right? Did quickly @RussPoulin @rkelchen Key is pg 7 "Online schools" pic.twitter.com/Llbd0mAsrp

— Dr. Sean Gallagher (@HiEdStrat) February 27, 2017

“To apply different data to the problem is laudable, but not if the application of her approximations yield results that do not match the simplest of reliability checks (i.e., the estimated numbers do not match those reported in IPEDS),” Seaman wrote. “The choice of time period to examine also targets the peak of the for-profit enrollment bubble -- which has now busted. So even if the methodology were not so flawed, this would still not reflect the current reality.”

Enrollment at for-profit colleges has continued to decline since 2014.

IPEDS, it should be mentioned, has its own issues. A 2014 study found that confusing guidelines and inflexible design led to several colleges greatly under- or overreporting the number of students studying online, concluding that IPEDS provided an inaccurate picture of the higher education landscape.

Phil Hill, a higher education consultant who worked on that study, called Hoxby’s paper a “hot mess.”

In a blog post, Hill said the paper's "fundamental flaw" is that it attempts to translate institution-level data into student-level data, which causes it to not count online students enrolled at institutions that also offer face-to-face programs -- Pennsylvania State University and its World Campus, for example. That's a significant reason why the Hoxby paper so significantly understates the number of online students, among numerous things that he says renders the paper "deeply flawed."

Hoxby did not respond to a request for comment.

Throughout the paper, Hoxby examines the personal return on investment for students who study exclusively and substantially (generally defined as taking half or more of their courses) online, and how their actions affect the return on investment for taxpayers.

To test whether online education boosts earnings, the paper focused on students who were enrolled for three calendar years -- enough time for someone to earn an associate or master’s degree, or finish a bachelor’s degree (if the student transferred with previously earned college credit). Students who studied exclusively online saw their earnings grow by $853 on average in the years following that three-year enrollment period, while students who studied partly online and partly in person saw a slightly larger increase: $1,670 a year.

A majority of the students in the study were enrolled for shorter periods of time. For those students, earnings growth was much lower -- a few hundred dollars a year.

Over all, the growth was not enough to cover what society paid as part of funding the educational programs, and in some cases not even the loans the students took out to enroll. The paper found that online students made disproportionate use of deductions and tax credits to fund their education, leaving taxpayers with having funded 36 to 44 percent of their education even if students repaid their student loans in full.

“This failure to cover social costs is important for taxpayers, especially for federal taxpayers, who are the main funders of online education apart from the students themselves,” the paper reads. “The failure implies that federal income tax revenues associated with future increased earnings could not come close to repaying current taxpayers.”

While students who studied online were slightly more likely to move into rapidly growing industries as a result, the paper did not find any evidence to suggest online education helps students land jobs that require abstract thinking or cutting-edge technology skills.

The paper also suggested whatever savings colleges generate by only offering online education are erased when other costs such as faculty and student support are added. Fully online colleges spent less on instruction per full-time-equivalent student -- $2,334 -- than colleges that also offered some face-to-face education ($3,821). But the gap nearly closed when including other core expenses ($5,991 versus $6,559). Nonselective colleges that offered hardly any online education were in the same ballpark: $5,721 per full-time-equivalent student.

Students, however, on average paid more in tuition to study online, the study found: $6,131 for students in fully online programs and $6,758 for those who took most but not all of their courses online. In comparison, students at nonexclusive colleges studying mostly in person paid an average of $4,919.

“Over all, the main contribution of this study may be to ground the discussion of online postsecondary education in evidence,” the paper reads. “Much of the discussion to this point may suffer from undue optimism or pessimism because such evidence has been lacking.”

But the initial reaction the paper has received about the evidence on which Hoxby bases her argument may temper that likelihood.

Teaching With TechnologyOnline LearningEditorial Tags: Distance educationResearchImage Source: Sean GallagherIs this diversity newsletter?: Diversity Newsletter Order: 0

Research confirms that professors lean left, but questions assumptions about what this means for conservatives

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 02/27/2017 - 08:00

When Betsy DeVos on Thursday accused liberal faculty members of trying to force their views on students, the new education secretary infuriated many professors -- and won praise from some conservatives. Most faculty members who weighed in on social media denied the indoctrination and unfairness charges. While not disputing her assertion that they are more likely than others to be liberal, they said it was unfair to say that this meant they were indoctrinating anyone. Many conservatives who applauded DeVos said their personal experiences (or those of their children, nieces, nephews, etc.) showed she was correct.

For all the back-and-forth of traded anecdotes, there is research on these subjects -- in peer-reviewed articles, books published by scholarly presses and so forth. And most of these studies reach a consensus.

Yes, professors lean left (although with some caveats). But much of the research says conservative students and faculty members are not only surviving but thriving in academe -- free of indoctrination if not the periodic frustrations. Further, the research casts doubt on the idea that the ideological tilt of faculty members is because of discrimination. Notably, some of this research has been produced by conservative scholars.

DeVos is not the only one to raise the issue recently. A state senator in Iowa has introduced a bill to require that no professor or instructor be hired by a public university if his or her most recent party affiliation would “cause the percentage of the faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by 10 percent” the percentage of the faculty belonging to the other dominant party. The bill, like the DeVos speech, has angered many professors.

Are Professors More Liberal Than the Public at Large?

The most complete study of the politics of professors is 10 years old. The study is unusual among such research efforts in that it included community college faculty members (who are left out of many such analyses) and looked at age and positions on social issues. The study's age may be a disadvantage, but it also followed a presidential election (George W. Bush's successful re-election bid vs. John Kerry) in which the incumbent was ridiculed by many campus activists. The study was called "The Social and Political Views of American Professors" and it was based on a survey of 1,417 full-time faculty members.

Among the key findings:

  • Faculty members were more likely to categorize themselves as moderate (46.1 percent) than liberal (44.1 percent). Conservatives trailed at 9.2 percent.
  • Faculty members, when examined by sector, differed widely. At community colleges, 19 percent of faculty members called themselves conservatives, and only 37.1 percent said they were liberals. Liberal arts college faculty members were most likely to identify as liberal (61 percent, compared to only 3.9 percent as conservatives).
  • When it came to voting, professors (even in the humanities) were not a monolith, with 15 percent in the humanities saying they had voted for President Bush in his re-election bid. Bush won just under a third of the vote in business and just over a third in computer science and engineering. And Bush won a narrow majority of votes from faculty members in the health sciences.
  • The professors approaching their emeritus years were significantly to the left of those coming into academe. Among those aged 50-64, 17.2 percent identified themselves as left activists, while only 1.3 percent of those aged 26-35 did so.
  • On social issues, professors had strong views in support of gay rights and abortion rights, and most believed Bush misled the nation about Iraq. But professors were split on affirmative action.

Some criticized the study for not viewing any imbalances in political attitudes as troubling, while others defended the study and said it challenged the notion that everyone in academe was liberal and voted for Democrats (or Ralph Nader). The study was conducted by Neil Gross, then at Harvard University and now at Colby College, and Solon Simmons, of George Mason University.

What Have Other Studies Found?

Research since the 2007 study largely confirms the idea that faculty members at four-year colleges and universities (the focus of these studies) lean left. But here, too, studies find differences when looking at different groups. A 2016 study published in Econ Journal Watch considered voter registration of faculty members in selected social science disciplines (and history) at 40 leading American universities. The study found a ration of 11.5 Democrats for every Republican in these departments, but with wide variation. In economics, the ratio was 4.5 to one, while in history the ratio was 33.5 to one.

Another 2016 analysis of faculty members at four-year colleges and universities found that political leanings of faculty members are lopsided, but far more lopsided in New England. The analysis, based on 2014 data, found that nationally, colleges and universities had a six to one ratio of liberal to conservative professors. In New England, the figure was 28 to one. The study was by Samuel J. Abrams, a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Abrams, a self-described conservative, said he views that New England ratio as problematic. At the same time, he said he believes faculty members encourage students to consider many views, and that his career -- tenure at Sarah Lawrence, not known for its many conservatives -- suggests that right-leaning academics are hired and succeed in academe.

Other studies focus on educational attainment. These studies tend to find liberalism more likely embraced among those with at least some graduate education -- a group that includes professors but also many others.

A 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found that among those with graduate education of some form, 31 percent hold consistently liberal positions based on an analysis of their opinions about the role and performance of government, social issues, the environment and other topics. Another 23 percent hold mostly liberal positions. Only 10 percent hold consistently conservative positions, and 17 percent hold mostly conservative positions. Since 1994, the share of those with graduate education holding consistently liberal positions has increased substantially, the study found.

Does the Academy Shut Out Conservatives?

So if academe is lopsidedly liberal, does this demonstrate that search committees must be discriminating against candidates they perceive as conservative?

There are some anecdotes that suggest cases of discrimination. In her book Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity and Faculty Gatekeeping (Harvard University Press), Julie R. Posselt, assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, was able to watch elite graduate program deliberations on admissions. In one case she describes in the book, an applicant to a top linguistics Ph.D. program was a student at a small religious college unknown to some committee members but whose values were questioned by others.

“Right-wing religious fundamentalists,” one committee member said of the college, while another said, to much laughter, that the college was “supported by the Koch brothers.” The committee then spent more time discussing details of the applicant's GRE scores and background -- high GRE scores, homeschooled -- than it did with some other candidates. The chair of the committee said, “I would like to beat that college out of her,” and, to laughter from committee members, asked, “You don't think she's a nutcase?”

At the end of this discussion, the committee moved the applicant ahead to the next round but rejected her there.

Posselt did not write that this was typical of the reviews she saw, but graduate admissions tend to be decentralized and hard to monitor.

One national experiment, by Gross of Colby College; Ethan Fosse, a graduate student at Harvard University; and Joseph Ma, an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia, employed a "secret shopper" approach to look for political bias -- and didn't find it.

Posing as undergraduates getting ready to apply to doctoral programs, they sent email messages to graduate program directors in top sociology, political science, economics, history and English departments. The inquiries were similar in describing their academic preparation, their undergraduate institutions and their interest in applying. Some of the emails made no mention of politics, but some mentioned having previously worked on either the Obama or McCain presidential campaigns.

The researchers then had independent (and politically mixed) observers rate the responses from the graduate directors on frequency, timing of replies, information provided, emotional warmth and enthusiasm. In a few cases, the researchers found "traces" of a political impact, but "no statistically or substantively significant evidence of bias."

These findings have generally been used to suggest that professors' political lopsidedness reflects self-selection (much like the way those in finance may be more conservative than the public at large).

Gross and Fosse, and Catherine Cheng, a graduate student at the time, contributed to a 2010 book, Diversity in American Higher Education: Toward a More Comprehensive Approach (Routledge), that built on the theory of self-selection. Their research suggested that academics tend to form their views on politics early in life and tend to have certain characteristics (aside from being academics) that are associated with political liberalism. They argued that 43 percent of the political gap can be explained because professors are more likely than others:

  • To have high levels of educational attainment.
  • To experience a disparity between their levels of educational attainment and income.
  • To be either Jewish, nonreligious or a member of a faith that is not theologically conservative Protestant.
  • To have a high tolerance for controversial ideas.

Yet more evidence for the self-selection theory comes from a 2007 study, "Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don't Get Doctorates," by the husband-and-wife social science team of Matthew Woessner of Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg and April Kelly-Woessner of Elizabethtown College.

Woessner and Kelly-Woessner based their findings on analysis they did from national surveys of freshmen and seniors conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. They found that in both choices of majors and in personal values, conservatives seem to be taking themselves off the track for academic careers well before graduate school. The authors did not find evidence of statistically significant differences in grades or measures of academic performance, so most of the report is based on the premise that interests and experiences are at play, not aptitude.

For starters, the paper finds that conservatives are much more likely to pick majors in professional fields -- areas that tend to put students on the fast track for an M.B.A. (or for a job) more than a Ph.D. Only 9 percent of students on the far left and 18 percent of liberals major in professional fields, compared to 33 percent of conservatives and 37 percent of those who identify as being on the far right.

Further, the study finds that not only (as has been reported many times previously) do students who identify as liberal outnumber those who identify as conservative, but that those who are liberal are much more likely to consider a Ph.D. The UCLA survey of seniors found that only 13 percent of all students were considering a Ph.D. But the numbers were significantly higher for those on the left (24 percent of the far left and 18 percent of liberals) than on the right (11 percent of the far right and 9 percent of conservatives).

Does Political Imbalance Make Life Difficult for Conservative Students?

DeVos and others suggest that the liberal dominance must make life difficult for students who have other political views of the world. Again, the evidence suggests a much more nuanced reality, and one in which many conservative students thrive.

A 2012 book widely cited for covering these topics is Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives (Princeton University Press), by Amy J. Binder, professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego, and Kate Wood, then a doctoral candidate in the UCSD sociology department. The book is based on extensive interviews with self-identified conservative students and other research conducted at two institutions (which the authors don't identify, but describe as liberal).

Some students at both institutions had complaints. Conservative female students, for example, said they felt judged by peers who were shocked at their desire for a family and not just a career. And some students said they felt marginalized.

But the students said that attending the colleges they did was a positive experience and helped shape their -- conservative -- political identities. The students said they wouldn't want to change institutions. "There was this sense that being in an environment they perceived to be overwhelmingly liberal did challenge them, but in ways that were positive and beneficial for them,” Wood said in a 2012 interview. “It made them clarify values and ideas about different issues or about what being a conservative means.”

Woessner of Penn State, who describes himself as a conservative, has also written about how other studies he and his wife have done show that students are aware that their professors have various views, but that students don't change to conform. Writing that "students aren't sponges," Woessner explains, "Whereas some disciplines, such as political science, often shun partisan advocacy, many fields, including sociology, ethnic studies and social work, openly advocate a distinct ideological worldview. If these and similar studies are correct, it suggests that student beliefs are surprisingly resilient. For every one student who is actively recruited to a leftist political cause, a vast majority complete their education with their values largely intact."

And what of students who do complain of political bias? A study published last year, in the journal Teaching in Higher Education, surveyed undergraduates at two unnamed institutions -- one in the United States and one in Australia (where allegations of professorial political bias are also much discussed). The study asked undergraduates a series of questions about their perceptions of bias, and also of other qualities. The study found that students with certain characteristics -- a sense of entitlement and an orientation to focus on grades -- are much more likely than other students to perceive their instructors as being biased.

The study was by Darren L. Linvill, assistant professor of communication studies at Clemson University, and Will Grant, a lecturer in the Center for the Public Awareness of Science at the Australian National University.

Can Professors on the Right Succeed?

A recent book based on interviews with conservative professors and a national survey both suggest that faculty members who are Republicans are succeeding and finding happiness in academic careers.

The book, Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University (Oxford University Press), was written by Jon A. Shields, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, and Joshua M. Dunn Sr., an associate professor of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Government and the Individual at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The authors interviewed 153 conservative professors in the humanities and social sciences on 84 campuses.

Some complained of discrimination based on politics, but not of careers being ended. One productive sociologist was voted down for tenure by his colleagues and dean, only to have the vote reversed by a provost -- due in part to some liberal colleagues who cried foul at the process. Conservative scholars also complained that some journals seemed to reject views that were inconsistent with liberal thinking.

But the book's bottom line is that conservative professors are succeeding and happy in academe -- and that there is not a wall of liberal academics blocking their way.

A study published by the Social Science Research Network and written by Abrams, the Sarah Lawrence/Hoover institution scholar, suggests that conservative scholars are happy in academe. The study included this question to a national sample of faculty members: “If you were to begin your career again, would you still want to be a college professor?”

The results showed that most professors answered in the affirmative. But while 56 percent of liberal professors did so, 66 percent of conservative professors did so. The result, Abrams wrote, suggests that conservative professors are aware they are in the political minority on campus, and are also content in their careers.

Editorial Tags: LifePoliticsImage Source: iStockIs this diversity newsletter?: Diversity Newsletter Order: 0

International relations scholars meet against backdrop of Trump's presidency and travel ban

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 02/27/2017 - 08:00

BALTIMORE -- “Some of our friends couldn’t make it.”

International relations scholars met for their annual convention last week against the backdrop of a Donald J. Trump presidency. Scholarly business to a large degree continued as usual, with panel sessions on the future of a liberal world order and change in world politics taking on special urgency. Hundreds of sessions covered topics like climate and energy policy, global governance institutions, the rise of populism, terrorism and counterterrorism, and the politics of nuclear weapons.

But while panels and receptions continued apace, not everyone who had originally planned to attend the International Studies Association's annual convention was able to partake. ISA’s leadership reports that a total of 176 participants withdrew from the conference citing a reason related to Trump and his Jan. 27 order barring travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Enforcement of that order, which also prohibited the entry of refugees, has been temporarily halted by the courts, but the Trump administration has pledged to introduce a new order meant to achieve the same purpose.

Sixteen of those who withdrew from the ISA conference cited visa issues. The majority of those scholars reporting visa issues did not come from one of the seven countries directly impacted by the entry ban -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- but rather from other countries (Brazil, for instance). Thirty-eight cited a reason for withdrawing related to their nationality. Ninety-eight said they were boycotting.

"There's some ambiguity in there, because there are folks who said, 'Jeez, I've got a Muslim name, so I'm not coming' and they're not really boycotting -- it's just they don't want to risk being hassled at the airport or something of the sort," said Mark A. Boyer, ISA's executive director. "So of that 176 we're not entirely sure what all the categories are."

"Some people just say, 'I don't feel comfortable coming,'" said Jennifer Fontanella, the association's director of operations and finance.

"We had a young woman from India say her parents said, 'Don't go to the U.S.,'" said Boyer. "So there are lots of different permutations and combinations of issues with regard to those 176. We generally have about 6,500 people at this meeting, plus or minus."

“If you are a Muslim, wherever you’re from, you might be able to get into the United States, after some tremendous hassle, but there’s no certainty about that, in that you’d be investing large amounts of money -- plane tickets, hotel reservations -- on the possibility that [Customs and Border Patrol] would let you in,” said Stephen M. Saideman, the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University, in Canada​. Saideman accepted an award at ISA on behalf of a scholar who did not attend the convention due to the ban.

“Many people are figuring out that’s not worth attempting or they don’t want to legitimate the United States by coming to it at a time when it is engaged in horrendous policies," Saideman continued. "I have friends who made that decision. It’s sometimes hard to disentangle whether they made that decision because they suspected that they would get hassled, they may be blocked, they may be interrogated for hours, or they made it because they did not want to come to the United States when the United States was being run in this particular way. It’s probably a combination of those things. And this is damaging to a variety of things. It’s damaging to intellectual discourse because the whole idea of what we do is to create knowledge based on competing and overlapping and complementing ideas that are generated, in part, by the diversity of our planet. This ban is going to limit the diversity of voices in American social sciences, in American hard sciences, American medical sciences: it’s across the board."

“I have told students I’ve had that it is up to them and if they have to choose to deny themselves important networking opportunities, important research opportunities, it probably makes sense given that going through this procedure of getting stuck in detainment for 24 hours, being denied food, being handcuffed, all that’s stuff, it’s probably not worth it, and that’s a problem, because these people have valuable voices that could teach Americans stuff about how to fight a war against Islamic terrorists in Iraq or Syria better," Saideman said. "They probably have ideas about how better to try to unfail states, so that way we have less problems in the world. They have a great deal of knowledge that is not going to get transmitted because we have an overly repressive American administration because they have to pander to white supremacist voters."

The Decision to Come -- or Not -- to the Conference

Some chose not to come to ISA in Baltimore as a matter of conscience. Catherine Goetze, a senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Tasmania, in Australia, wrote on her blog about her reasons for not coming. In a message she sent to fellow panelists apologizing for her withdrawal, Goetze, who is German, referred to her great-grandfather’s collaboration with the Nazi regime in his role as a director of libraries. "The family story told me that he had accepted this role because it always had been his ambition to develop a nationwide network of public libraries," Goetze wrote. "Historians tell me that he actively participated in the burning of books in Hannover and that he quite busily anticipated and implemented the various censorship waves in public libraries (Lenin in with Hitler-Stalin Pact, Lenin out with attack on Soviet Union, for instance). One story does not exclude the other. He was simply going on with his life, with his job, his career. Just like Eichmann, maybe even without the anti-Semitism.”

“Now, the USA is not Nazi Germany (yet),” Goetze wrote. “But I strongly feel that it is quickly on its way of becoming a fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-pluralist and fascist state and it has been standard to brutally and cruelly discriminate [against] people on the grounds of their skin color or religion for a long, long time now. I also feel that this anti-enlightenment is not caused by that man in the White House but he’s just a sort of caricature of white American middle-class society as it has existed since a long time. What is much more disquieting for me is not [Trump’s] nonsense spluttering but the huge mass of Eichmanns, the banal collaborators of daily life.”

Goetze wrote that going to ISA would now would normalize “an absolutely abnormal situation” and ignore “the cruelty and ugliness of [Trump’s] junta regime. I would be setting my unease, my abhorrence, my consciousness aside because I just want to get on with my job.”

Others made a different choice. Jennifer Philippa Eggert, a Ph.D. candidate in politics and international studies at the University of Warwick, in England, blogged about her choice to come to ISA as a visibly Muslim woman who wears a hijab. “I am worried about recent developments, but boycotting the ISA annual convention is not an option for me,” Eggert wrote. “In fact, I will make a point of attending ISA this year. If the new president and his supporters want to ban people like me -- Muslim people and/or people of color -- from the country, that is even more reason for me to attend. I am used to present[ing] at conferences where I am the only woman wearing hijab. Sometimes, I am the only person in the room who is a Muslim, even in countries with sizable Muslim communities. Me canceling my participation would make the ISA annual conference a bit less colorful, it would prevent me from making my voice heard, and that cannot be the aim. For me, in this case, attendance is resistance.”

#Muslims, #hijabis and #Iranians represent at #ISA2017! #Muslimban? What Muslim ban? #VisaBan #MadeItToBaltimore #AttendanceIsResistance pic.twitter.com/QUbQ907p0d

— Jennifer P Eggert (@j_p_eggert) February 22, 2017

In an interview in Baltimore, Eggert talked about flying as a Muslim woman. Eggert, who studies the Lebanese civil war, militias and female fighters, said while on her flight to the conference she made sure not to take out and read a book she had packed on innovation by terrorist groups.

“Why are we outraged now?” Eggert asked. “I’ve been traveling to the U.S. for five years now. I’m worried every single time, and I have a German passport, I should be fine. But I’m worried every single time I fly. I expect to be selected for a random security check. This is a running gag with my Muslim friends: random security check, again, of course.”

“On the one hand it was really nice to see the solidarity. I’ve never seen so many people stand up for Muslims’ rights,” she said. “On the other hand it’s a bit like, OK, where have you been all these years?”

Eggert's actual entry into the U.S. for ISA went smoothly. "It was absolutely fine. But I was worried. It doesn't matter. Even if nothing happens, you’re still worried. Also it was really emotional. I was standing there and we had to wait in the queue and I really had to pull myself together. So much has happened. Even if nothing has happened, everything that has happened, it's still present. Because you know. You know what's possible and you know what happens to people who look like you."

Another scholar from overseas had a difficult time entering the U.S. for the conference. Nassef Manabilang Adiong, the founder of the Philippine International Studies Organization, came from Manila to Baltimore via Tokyo and Detroit. He said he was about to board his flight for the Tokyo-Detroit leg when he was taken from the line and questioned by a U.S. official about his address in Manila, his family, his background and the foreign countries he had visited.

"I thought that after this situation had happened to me, I would not have any difficulty at the port of entry in Detroit," Adiong said. But upon arrival in the U.S., Adiong said, he was brought into a room for secondary screening and questioned for two hours by two immigration officials whose questions kept circling around issues of Islam and terrorism. They let him go about five minutes before his connecting flight to Baltimore was scheduled to leave. "It was just a random check, that's what they said," Adiong said.

Adiong, whose research is about Islam and international relations in the pre-modern era, described the experience as exasperating, exhausting and embarrassing. "I'm having second thoughts of coming back for future ISA conferences under the current USA administration," he said. "Probably after this administration I may attend."

#ResistanceISA

An open letter signed by nearly 100 international relations scholars published during the conference criticized various of Trump's policies, including the temporarily halted travel ban and what the letter describes as the president's "go-it-alone" policy and disregard for international law and diplomatic relationships."

There is nothing nice about searching for terrorists before they can enter our country. This was a big part of my campaign. Study the world!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2017

"Recently, President Trump tweeted that people should 'Study the world!' to understand his foreign policy," the open letter states. "As scholars of international relations, we have studied the world, and we are concerned that the actions of the president undermine rather than enhance America’s national security."

"We agree it is important for any president to protect U.S. citizens from extremist violence, ensure America is respected abroad and prioritize American interests. But our knowledge of global affairs, based on history, scientific fact and experience, tells us that many of the policies Trump has undertaken thus far do not advance these goals. Instead, they have made Americans less safe," the letter states.

​Support for Trump is not strong among international relations scholars. A poll conducted last fall by the Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) Project, which is based at The College of William & Mary, found that 82 percent of international relations scholars chose Hillary Clinton as the candidate whose foreign policy views most closely aligned with their own, while just under 4 percent chose Trump. The remaining 14 percent wrote in a third-party candidate, another national political figure or “none of the above.”

Even among those IR scholars who self-identified as conservative, only 7 percent preferred Trump.

"While IR scholars are, on average, more liberal than the public as a whole, we found conservative and moderate IR scholars are nearly as apprehensive about a Trump presidency as their more liberal colleagues, and they are significantly more negative about Trump than their conservative and moderate counterparts within the U.S. public," the researchers wrote in an article about the poll for The Washington Post's "The Monkey Cage" blog.

At the ISA convention, a small but dedicated resistance movement organized Trump-related sessions and protest actions intended to be reminders of the political context in which the conference was held. “We don’t want this to be business as usual,” said Harmonie Toros, a senior lecturer in international conflict analysis at the University of Kent who organized performative resistance actions in the lobby of the conference’s headquarters hotel, a Hilton, during breaks between sessions. In one action, for example, demonstrators walked up to other conference goers in the lobby, held their hands out to shake and said “resist.” What they were resisting, Toros said, is “a Western slide towards a politics of intolerance, a politics of anger and a politics of exclusion.”

​Toros is one of the editors of Critical Studies on Terrorism, a journal that seeks to publish articles that "challenge accepted orthodoxies" in terrorism studies. A reception to celebrate the journal's 10-year anniversary at ISA on Wednesday night doubled as a “resistance reception.” Playing a guitar, the journal’s editor in chief, Richard Jackson, led a sing-along to a Woody Guthrie song, “All You Fascists."

I’m gonna tell you fascists
You may be surprised
The people in this world
Are getting organized
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose

“We all feel that our freedoms are very fragile. They can easily be taken away from us,” said Ali Bilgic, a lecturer in politics and international relations at Loughborough University.

“There’s Trump land here, Brexit land there, Erdoğan land over there. It’s affecting us everywhere.”

“The majority of scholars here haven’t realized that the ivory towers that we live in are under threat,” Bilgic said. “These ivory towers, they’re on the sand.”

Walkout

At 4:42 p.m. on Friday, the exact time Trump signed the executive order authorizing the travel ban four weeks earlier, many convention goers participated in a walkout outside the Hilton. Some held signs: "Some of our friends couldn't be here." "Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. Act Like It." "No to Racism." "Solidarity With Refugees and Migrants." "We miss our colleagues."

"I think the protesting is helpful, but we have to be clear why," said Nicholas Kiersey, an associate professor of political science at Ohio University. "It's not for the outside world; it's for the bureaucracy of ISA." Kiersey said he would like the association to devote resources to "hire lawyers and train people in the art of resistance and defending academic freedom."

ISA as an organization faced criticism from members after it issued an initial statement on the travel ban. The association said it would refund registration fees to those who were denied visas or were unable to enter the U.S. for the conference but stopped short of actually condemning the ban (the original statement -- the first of three -- cited the organization's tax status as a nonprofit organization, "which prevents the association from taking partisan stands on policy issues"). The association’s academic freedom committee subsequently issued a second statement condemning the ban as an "infringement upon the academic freedom of scholars from those countries who wish to travel to the United States to conduct research, collaborate with colleagues and engage in conferences and conventions," including ISA's.

Some suggested ISA's response should be even stronger. One professor from an American university boycotted the conference, saying in a letter of withdrawal that the association's statement was lacking in terms of its expression of solidarity with affected members and inadequate compared to responses issued by other associations, specifically the American Political Science Association, which called for the ban to be rescinded, and the American Anthropological Association. (On the other hand, Boyer, the association's executive director, said one member reached out to the leadership to criticize the second statement from a pro-Trump perspective.)

@seenfromafar Yes, the @isanet position seems a bit apathetic & I think more scholars may boycott future confs if nothing is done #ISA2017

— Nathan Andrews (@Nathan_Andrews1) February 22, 2017

ISA landed on a very liberal, essentially "no questions asked" policy of refunding registration fees for those unable or unwilling to go to the conference, and said it would refund panel chairs for overages they incur on their wireless plans if they needed to bring panelists in virtually (this was after the association priced the cost of wirelessly connecting all the conference presentation rooms at $408,000).

In a third statement, the association shared with its members resources for travelers from the American Civil Liberties Union and information on how to find an immigration attorney. 

At ISA's governing council meeting Tuesday, members discussed future conference sites and approved a change to the association’s policies removing language specifying that the annual convention must be held in Canada or the U.S. Future ISA conventions could theoretically be held anywhere in the world the association can find 2,000 hotel rooms and 80 panel rooms, but there are no changes for already contracted conferences. ISA has contracts for conferences through 2023 and is bound for San Francisco in 2018.

“People understand that we face a big dilemma,” said Brett Ashley Leeds, the association's new president and a professor and chair of the political science department at Rice University. “We don’t want to meet in places where all of our members don't feel welcome. At the same time the discussion [at the governing council meeting] was among people who study international studies for a living, who study politics, and were thinking about what’s the right thing for an association to do in this circumstance."

"There is no perfect place for us to hold a conference," said Leeds, who noted that San Francisco is a sanctuary city. "If we were looking for a place with no challenges for our members, that would be hard to find."

"The theme of our conference this year is Understanding Change in World Politics," Leeds said as a parting thought. "And what we’re seeing is very rapid change in the politics of the United States, which is a major part of world politics right now. And so to me this is the time when we need international studies scholars together, when we need people talking about what all of our combined knowledge, our research and our wisdom says about where we we’re going and where we need to go. What I would like the stories about this meeting to be about is what we have to say about the future of the liberal world order, and things like that."

GlobalEditorial Tags: Academic freedomPolitical scienceInternational higher educationIs this diversity newsletter?: Diversity Newsletter Order: 0

Visiting scholar detained and nearly deported

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 02/27/2017 - 08:00

A French Holocaust historian traveling to speak at a symposium at Texas A&M University was detained by immigration officials in Houston and nearly deported, according to The Eagle, a newspaper covering the College Station, Tex., area. The Washington Post and The Guardian also reported on the case.

Henry Rousso, an Egyptian-born French citizen, is a senior researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research. Richard Golsan, the director of the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M, reported at the symposium that Rousso had been “mistakenly detained” upon arriving Wednesday evening.

“When he called me with this news two nights ago, he was waiting for customs officials to send him back to Paris as an illegal alien on the first flight out,” The Eagle reported Golsan as saying. Golsan reported that Rousso was subsequently released after the intervention of a Texas A&M law professor and director of the university's Immigrant Rights Clinic.

Fatma Marouf, the director of the clinic, told The Guardian that Rousso entered the U.S. on a tourist visa. Generally, those entering on tourist visas cannot work or receive compensation, but there are exceptions for foreign nationals giving academic lectures or speeches.

"My best guess is that it was his honorarium. I don’t think the officer who decided to detain him really understood the visa requirement and the technicalities on getting an honorarium, which are permitted under his visa," Marouf told The Guardian.

Rousso, who studies the history of memory of World War II, tweeted about the experience and published a blog post in the French-language version of The Huffington Post.

“It is now necessary to deal with the utmost arbitrariness and incompetence on the other side of the Atlantic,” Rousso wrote, according to a translation by The Washington Post. “What I know, in loving this country forever, is that the United States is no longer quite the United States.”

I confirm. I have been detained 10 hours at Houston Itl Airport about to be deported. The officer who arrested me was "inexperienced" https://t.co/SdIKWKQbnr

— Henry Rousso (@Henry_Rousso) February 26, 2017

Thank you so much for your reactions. My situation was nothing compared to some of the people I saw who couldn't be defended as I was.

— Henry Rousso (@Henry_Rousso) February 26, 2017 Editorial Tags: LifeImmigrationImage Caption: Henry RoussoIs this diversity newsletter?: Diversity Newsletter Order: 0

Liberty and Bob Jones Universities may run afoul of Obama Title IX protections for LGBT students

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 02/27/2017 - 08:00

The Trump administration last week generated plenty of headlines by withdrawing guidelines issued by the Obama administration regarding Title IX’s protections for transgender college students.

Remaining unnoticed, however, is an apparent conflict between two prominent religious universities’ takes on student sexuality and the 2014 guidelines on preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity. And that guidance was not affected by the White House action last week.

Bob Jones University and Liberty University, both conservative private institutions, have codified prohibitions on transgender identities and sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage of the Christian variety.

For example, the Liberty Way student honor code says, “Sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University.”

Bob Jones says in its student handbook that the Christian Bible “names as sinful and prohibits any form of sexual activity between persons of the same sex.” The university says it expects all employees and students to abide by cited biblical statements on sexuality and gender identity.

As a result, the two universities’ prohibitions on homosexual behavior could be used to penalize or even expel students. And while many religious colleges since 2014 have secured partial Title IX waivers from the U.S. Department of Education -- citing religious freedom as a reason to ignore aspects of the Obama administration LGBT guidance -- neither Bob Jones nor Liberty has pursued that option.

Students and alumni have accused both universities of being unwelcoming to gay and transgender students, although perhaps more so for students at the smaller Bob Jones, which has previously acknowledged that its policies “forbid homosexuality” and until 2000 had barred interracial dating. Liberty University and its president, Jerry Falwell Jr., last year and in the past have defended the university against charges of anti-gay bias, and at times have been praised by gay Liberty alums.

Even so, the Liberty and Bob Jones student handbooks appear to run afoul of guidelines on Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and sexual violence that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued in 2014, according to several former department officials, gay rights groups and experts on Title IX compliance.

A roughly 450-word portion of the 46-page Q&A says all students are protected from “sexual discrimination” under Title IX, including “straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.”

The guidelines also say, “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation. Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.”

Inside Higher Ed reached out Thursday to officials at Bob Jones and Liberty to respond to questions about their student handbooks and Title IX compliance. Bob Jones did not respond with comments before this article was published Monday. Liberty said in a written statement that the university is in full compliance with Title IX and there is no conflict between the 2014 guidelines and the university's student honor code.

In addition, Liberty cited protections from the U.S. Congress on religious freedom.

"Congress has granted Liberty University a religious exemption to Title IX," the university said. "While we know many religious institutions have sought the Department of Education’s concurrence that the exemption applies, Liberty has not concluded that it is necessary to do so."

Title IX and Federal Aid

Whether the Obama administration’s approach with its 2014 guidance document was fair or enforceable, instead of being an example of the executive branch exceeding its authority, depends on whom you ask -- much like considerations of the separate OCR guidance document, issued last May, which said Title IX applies to discrimination based on gender identity as well as gender.

Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, last week called the now rescinded transgender guidance a “very huge example of the Obama administration's overreach.”

Conservative policy makers and some within higher education say the U.S. Congress should be consulted in determining what constitutes a violation of Title IX. As a result, it’s unclear how much binding power the 2014 Obama guidelines would have if challenged.

The department has limited enforcement options for any Title IX violation by a college. Its only statutory recourse, according to experts, is the nuclear option of yanking an institution’s eligibility for federal financial aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.

As a result, the political "win" for an administration comes in issuing a guidance document, or rescinding one, said Alexander Holt, a policy analyst for New America's education policy program. Enforcement, however, is much trickier.

"For Obama, extending sexual identity as a right covered by Title IX was the news. But both Obama and the religious schools seem to have calculated that a legal fight was a bad idea," he said via email. "For Obama, because a worst-case scenario would mean the courts checking the power of the executive fiats. For the schools, my guess would be that in a world of declining enrollment for privates, strict exclusion is not financially viable. So better for everyone to keep their decrees while treating enforcement quite differently."

It’s highly unlikely, observers said, that the Trump administration would crack down on Liberty or Bob Jones for an Obama-era guidance document. In fact, if the White House even noticed a possible violation or was pressured to challenge an institution’s compliance with the guidelines, it could increase the odds that the Education Department would issue a new guidance upending the Obama administration’s definitions of Title IX protection for LGBT students.

Plenty of federal aid dollars flow to the two universities. Liberty is one of the largest online degree providers in the nation, according to federal data, enrolling more than 94,000 students online and 15,000 at its campus in Lynchburg, Va.

In 2015, Liberty received roughly $350 million in federal aid, with $91 million in Pell Grant revenue and $256 million in federal student loans. Bob Jones, which is located in Greenville, S.C., and enrolls 3,000 students, that year received $4.7 million from Pell Grants and $6.1 million in federal loans.

Those funding streams face little chance of being cut over Title IX, at least according to the GOP platform unveiled at last year’s Republican National Convention. (Liberty President Falwell, an early Trump supporter, had a prominent speaking slot at the convention and says he will lead a White House task force on higher education, with a purview that remains unclear.)

The Republican platform voiced support for the “original intent” of the 1972 Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. But the GOP said bureaucrats and the Obama administration were using Title IX to “impose a social and cultural revolution upon the American people by wrongly redefining sex discrimination to include sexual orientation or other categories,” adding that Obama was “determined to reshape our schools -- and our entire society -- to fit the mold of an ideology alien to America’s history and traditions.”

Religious Exemptions

Gay rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union praised the Obama administration’s inclusion of LGBT protections in the 2014 guidance document, saying it would help reduce discrimination on campus.

The Title IX Q&A was signed by Catherine Lhamon, then assistant secretary of education for civil rights, who touted the LGBT section in a written statement.

“Our federal civil rights laws demand that all students -- women and men; gay and straight; transgender or not; citizens and foreign students -- be allowed to learn and participate in all parts of college life without sexual assault and harassment limiting their opportunities,” Lhamon said.

Critics, however, said the White House was unfairly attacking religious colleges with its guidelines. Some also complained about what they saw as a pattern of the Obama administration micromanaging higher education under Title IX.

Despite the controversy and uncertainty about whether the guidelines would hold up if challenged, several religiously affiliated colleges decided not to take any chances. After the 2014 guidance was released, dozens of Christian institutions sought and received waivers from aspects of Title IX by claiming a religious exemption.

George Fox University was one of the first. The Christian college, which is located in Oregon, was granted a waiver to discriminate against a transgender student by denying him the housing he requested. Other colleges quickly followed with exemptions to aspects of Title IX that the new guidance covered.

The department has few options for rejecting a religious exemption to Title IX. Several experts said they were aware of no cases where a request from a college had been rejected.

Gay rights groups have fought the department on exemptions. Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, which advocates on behalf of gay, lesbian and transgender students, has called it "extremely problematic" for federal-aid-eligible colleges to get exemptions that allow them to punish transgender and gay students for simply being who they are.

Campus Pride, with help from congressional Democrats, successfully pushed the department to publicly post its correspondence with colleges over religious exemptions to Title IX. The list of requests from roughly 105 institutions and the department’s responses went live last year and is still on the department’s website, although some worry that the Trump administration will take down the page.

As the fight played out over the last couple years, some accused gay rights groups and the department under President Obama of unfairly attacking Christian colleges.

For example, Andrew T. Walker, director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote last year in the National Review that the Obama administration had colluded with activists to attack the religious liberty of colleges to “enforce long-held Christian moral expectations about sex, marriage and gender as a condition of admittance and attendance.”

Christian colleges began seeking waivers, “in light of the Obama Department of Education’s disturbing pattern of reinterpreting Title IX to include sexual orientation and gender identity under the category of ‘sex discrimination,’ which Title IX specifically prohibits,” Walker wrote. “Keep in mind that the Department of Education has reached its new interpretation without authorization from Congress.”

Liberty and Bob Jones both have received federal waivers. However, apparently unnoticed by gay rights groups and other Title IX watchers, those exemptions are narrow and do not cover most of the LGBT protections the Obama administration described. The federal system for exemptions requires colleges to seek a waiver that specifies particular parts of Title IX that they say would violate religious beliefs. Exemptions do not cover all of Title IX.

Liberty requested its waiver a few months before the department released its 2014 guidelines. The exemption relates to the university’s ability to discipline students who have abortions.

Last year Bob Jones requested an exemption, which the department granted. The university requires that its president and other administrators be ordained preachers. The waiver allows Bob Jones to accept only men as applicants for these jobs, based on the university’s interpretation of the Bible. Likewise, under the waiver Bob Jones may require that preachers who speak on campus be men.

Neither of these exemptions appear to extend to the two university’s prohibitions on nonheterosexual relations or to Bob Jones’s language on gender identity, according to experts who reviewed them.

Speaking generally, not specific to the Liberty or Bob Jones examples, the 2014 guidelines apply broadly to LGBT issues, said Jim Newberry, a lawyer who heads the higher education practice at Steptoe & Johnson.

The guidelines “make it really clear that the department viewed claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity as being subject to Title IX,” Newberry said. “Therefore, the department’s current position would be that claims of discrimination based on either sexual orientation or gender identity would subject to scrutiny under Title IX.”

A Different Education Department

Windmeyer said Bob Jones should face consequences for its stance on LGBT issues.

“Bob Jones University violates students' Title IX rights all the time, and they have not applied for an exemption to do so,” Windmeyer said via email, adding that the university faces a possible threat from “students who plan to challenge the university's educational accreditation with accreditation agencies, as a result of harmful, discriminatory practices.”

The university has a high-profile history of fighting the feds over discrimination.

Bob Jones lost its nonprofit tax exemption after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in 1976 found that it was practicing racial discrimination with a ban on interracial dating. After a long court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982 upheld the IRS's decision.

Bob Jones dropped the dating ban in 2000 and later apologized for practicing racial discrimination. It became eligible to receive federal financial aid in 2006 and just announced plans to regain its tax exemption in March.

Camille Kaminski Lewis is a Bob Jones alumna and former faculty member at the university. Asked if LGBT students face challenges at Bob Jones, she said, “Oh, Lord, yes.” She said several students had been expelled over the years related to their sexual orientation. (Lewis last worked at the university in 2007.)

The climate for LGBT students at Bob Jones is “overwhelming scrutiny and always looking over your shoulder,” she said, adding that there’s “no chance to relax and just learn.”

At Liberty, Falwell in recent years has pushed back on perceptions of anti-gay bias. And the university appears to have softened its student honor code, recently dropping a passage that prohibited “homosexual conduct or the encouragement or advocacy of any form of sexual behavior that would undermine the Christian identity or faith mission of the university.”

Falwell also has been critical of the dominance of liberalism on college campuses.

“How can you have political correctness and academic freedom at the same time?” he said during an interview at the Republican convention last July. “A lot of these schools have become Democratic Party indoctrination camps.”

That language echoes DeVos’s speech last week at a high-profile conservative event. With Falwell and DeVos occupying leadership roles in the Trump administration’s still-developing oversight of higher education, it’s almost certain that the transgender guidelines won’t be the last revision to Obama-era interpretations of Title IX.

Religious CollegesEditorial Tags: Diversity MattersEducation DepartmentFinancial aidReligionTitle IXImage Caption: Liberty UniversityIs this diversity newsletter?: Diversity Newsletter Order: 5Diversity Newsletter publication dates: Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How two Simmons College online programs became a multimillion-dollar venture

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 02/27/2017 - 08:00

Simmons College is a storied women’s college with a strong presence in the graduate degree market. Or is it the other way around?

The Boston-based private college has for more than a decade enrolled more graduate students than undergraduates -- one recent count put enrollments at 4,000 and 1,700, respectively. But since October 2012, when Simmons began offering some of its existing graduate degree programs online, the college’s balance sheet has seen a rapid transformation.

During the 2014 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014, Simmons’s online graduate programs generated about $5.4 million in total tuition revenue. Last fiscal year, the college collected nearly 10 times that amount -- $45 million.

The revenue generated by the college’s online programs is this year on track to reach the budgeted $55.9 million, surpassing that of the roughly 30 graduate programs Simmons offers on ground, which are expected to bring in about $53 million. With growth for next year projected in the mid- to high teens, revenue from online programs is about to catch up with the revenue generated by the college’s 60 or so undergraduate majors, this year budgeted at $64.2 million.

Since Simmons first began collecting tuition from online education, undergraduate tuition revenue has grown by about 10 percent, graduate in-person by about 2 percent and online by nearly 1,000 percent. As of fall 2016, the college enrolled 2,569 full- and part-time online students.

Perhaps just as strikingly, virtually all of the roughly $100 million in tuition revenue that Simmons has brought in from its online degree offerings has been generated by two master’s degree programs: one in nursing, the other in social work. Together, they enroll more than 2,500 students.

“To me, that’s the story,” said Helen G. Drinan, who became the college’s president in 2008. “If I think about 10 years at Simmons, looking for revenue growth beyond the very incremental growth that comes from tuition increases, discount rates, being as productive as you can -- all those things -- nothing would compare to taking two programs that already have a great reputation locally and getting them to a national market.”

It’s a recipe for success that sounds too simple to be a true -- take existing programs, offer them to a larger audience and watch revenue skyrocket -- and, unfortunately for other small colleges hoping to replicate it, Drinan said, it is.

“I wish I could say there’s a panacea in here for a small college, but there isn’t,” Drinan said. “The Simmons model doesn’t work for a small institution that doesn’t already have strengths in graduate education.”

Simmons’s nursing and social work programs already had a track record in the Boston area before the college began offering them online. The college also benefited from timing -- the market for online nursing and social work programs continues to get more crowded as more institutions launch their own offerings. And Simmons also chose to work with a for-profit partner -- in this case, the online program management firm 2U -- a decision that at some campuses has proven controversial.

Moreover, the decision to offer graduate programs online was not born out of desperation, but a strategy to capitalize on the college’s strengths, Drinan said.

“Survival cannot be the question that drives our thinking,” Drinan said.

Dana Grossman Leeman, associate professor of practice, became the director of the online social work program in April 2014. She described three “whirlwind” years of working to run a “machine that never stops” -- auditioning instructors, making rapid programmatic changes, surveying students for input and admitting more every 10 weeks.

The social work program has grown from 54 students in July 2014 to more than 1,200 students today, she said. The college now employs nearly 300 adjuncts -- a mix of faculty members at other institutions, Ph.D. holders and experienced practitioners -- in the program alone.

“I’m tired of folks saying this is the way of the future,” Leeman, associate dean for online education, said about online education. “It’s not. It’s now.”

The growth Simmons has seen is bringing changes to the college, many of them positive but some potentially problematic, Leeman said. For example, the online and on-ground programs are managed separately, she said, which works well today but in the future could lead to a greater sense of division.

Ultimately, Leeman said, the issue is a logistical one. The online and on-ground programs use different platforms, which will need to be addressed if the college wants to integrate the programs.

“There are lots of ways we could collaborate,” Leeman said. “If there were more ways to create interactions between online and on-campus faculty, we could enrich both programs.”

Bringing students in the programs together could also shed light on how people in different locations practice social work. Leeman said the online program has attracted a more diverse group of students, with larger shares of students with military backgrounds and in rural locations. People of color make up 45 percent of the students in the online social work program, compared to 25 percent on the campus.

Simmons’s undergraduate operation, meanwhile, has been virtually untouched by the college’s foray into online graduate education, Drinan said. And while faculty members are discussing what the online expansion is doing to the college’s brand, Drinan said, “I would say that it is changing the way we think about ourselves more than the way other people think about us.”

Simmons is giving a substantial portion of its tuition revenue to 2U. Drinan said the details of the college’s revenue sharing agreement with 2U are confidential, but she did describe it as “progressive” -- meaning that the college’s share increases as enrollment goes up.

It is not uncommon for online program management firms to collect half or more of the tuition revenue generated from programs they help launch -- especially in the first few years after launch, when the companies are looking to recoup start-up costs, which they often front (and did in Simmons's case).

Students in 2U-powered programs pay the same for tuition as those who study on campus. At Simmons, for example, tuition rates run at $1,315 a credit hour in the R.N.-to-M.S.N. nursing program and $1,010 a credit hour in the social work program.

2U has since its launch passed $1.5 billion in attrition-adjusted tuition, meaning the total amount of tuition generated by former, and projected for current, students in its programs, CEO Chip Paucek said in an interview. The company reported stronger than expected quarterly results Thursday.

Some colleges have relied on online program management firms to get their programs off the ground, then terminated the contracts once they feel comfortable handling the operations on their own. In 2015, for example, the University of Florida canceled an 11-year deal with Pearson, outsourcing a handful of functions (such as marketing) but assuming responsibility for admissions, advising and recruitment, among other services.

Drinan said the college's partnership with 2U is the reason it has been able to grow the programs quickly, adding that it would be “difficult to envision” the college offering the same level of service on its own.

“This is a huge deal for a small school that doesn’t have the money to invest in either the resources ourselves to compete with what 2U is investing or a partnership that doesn’t result in this kind of exposure,” Drinan said. A large university such as Florida may have the resources to handle the workload that comes with launching and maintaining online programs that enroll thousands of students, she said, but “a small school like us really does not.”

Teaching With TechnologyEditorial Tags: Business issuesOnline learningIs this diversity newsletter?: Diversity Newsletter Order: 0
Syndicate content