Inside Higher Ed

Presidents skeptical that some colleges closing can help others survive

Wed, 2019-02-20 08:00

Leaders at Sterling College in Vermont arguably should have been elated at the news coming from two other New England colleges in recent weeks.

Green Mountain College, another small liberal arts college in Vermont sharing Sterling’s focus on the environment, said in January that it will close at the end of the spring semester. The next week, Hampshire College in Massachusetts announced a decision to stop admitting new students for the fall semester as it seeks a partnership. Sterling’s applicant pool overlaps with Hampshire’s.

In other words, two of Sterling’s rivals are dropping out of the recruiting game at a time when finding enough students to enroll at nonelite private liberal arts colleges in New England is expected to become increasingly hard. With a lack of growth projected in the number of graduating high school students across the country in coming years, and with colleges in the Northeast expected to be particularly affected by demographic shifts, a few competitors shutting their doors would seem to be just what the doctor ordered for a tiny college like Sterling.

Yet Sterling’s president wasn’t celebrating after word of Green Mountain’s closure broke.

The college has a great opportunity to be the only environmentally focused private college in Vermont, said its president, Matthew Derr. That opportunity does not change the fact that Sterling will need to expand its applicant pool in the face of the drastic demographic changes coming in the future, though. Nor does it change the fact that private colleges aren’t competing solely with other private colleges facing financial challenges.

“I think institutions that are thinking about the closure of competitors as their solution are being pretty shortsighted about the real demographic shift that's coming,” Derr said. “There are serious structural challenges and issues that small rural liberal arts colleges are going to face, and just contraction is not going to be enough.”

Still, one of the structural challenges is the fact that there are so many small colleges trying to snap up a shrinking pool of students who can afford to pay the full cost of tuition. It stands to reason that, in a fiercely competitive market, the loss of a few rivals will help those who remain -- that one college’s loss is another’s gain.

It may be true in some cases and to small degrees, say those who run colleges or who have closely watched segments of the higher education landscape. Some institutions have found success enrolling students who were attending a shuttered rival, either by scrambling to open transfer pathways or by picking up a closing college’s strongest programs.

But it’s usually not as simple as one college being able to survive because another college died. The students who attended or would have attended a closing college don’t migrate en masse to a competitor institution. They diffuse to a range of colleges, comparable and noncomparable, in both the private and public spaces. Some might not even enroll at all.

Additionally, the colleges closing and merging have often experienced enrollment declines, leaving their student bodies best measured in the hundreds. Such numbers may not be enough to bolster many other struggling institutions, unless closures and consolidations increase drastically in the coming years.

College leaders consider other factors when asked whether they might be helped by closures. Higher education is an ecosystem, they point out. Colleges draw strength from being able to form consortia, hire employees with experience working at similar institutions and study strategies their competitors have tried.

In other words, leaders think they’re better off with a certain level of competition. Although some consolidation might help certain colleges in some ways, the intricacies of the market make it virtually impossible to say for sure who would be helped where. And doubts persist that the slices of the market where many institutions are already struggling -- like small liberal arts colleges and historically black colleges -- stand to benefit at all.

The types of academic programs at a closing institution might not line up with remaining colleges’ academic programs, said Mark Reed, president of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, located in one of the most crowded higher education regions in the country. Academic standards and selectivity might also differ.

“Not to put any other institutions down, but there are probably some institutions that are closing, and certain students wouldn’t measure up to the academic requirements” at larger and financially stronger institutions, Reed said. “It’s a very delicate thing.”

Environmental College Ecosystem Takes a Hit

When Derr discussed Green Mountain’s pending closure, he was quick to say that it hurts the overall landscape for other environmental colleges like Sterling.

“You have this honorable rival in your world, in your geographic location and in your focus on a particular kind of mission,” Derr said. “In our case it is environmental stewardship, and it's just so important work be done. So there's sadness there.”

Vermont’s population only totals some 626,000 people, so many of the colleges operating in the state have turned increasingly to out-of-state enrollment. About a fifth of Sterling’s 138 students are Vermonters. Half are eligible for Pell Grants.

So Green Mountain, which has enrolled close to 500 undergraduates and another 250 graduate students in recent years, would seem to be a source of students now that it is closing. It could very well be, as Sterling is a teach-out partner where Green Mountain students can finish their studies. But there are real reasons students might go elsewhere.

Sterling is much farther north in Vermont than Green Mountain. It would take more than two and a half hours to drive between the two campuses, meaning in-state and out-of-state students might not be too familiar with Sterling.

Also, Sterling is unlike most institutions in that it is one of only a handful of federally recognized work colleges. And Prescott College in Arizona announced it was Green Mountain’s preferred teach-out partner.

“We are surprised that they are in partnership in Arizona,” said Susan Stitely, president of the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges, a group representing private colleges of which Green Mountain is not a current member. “We would love to keep these Vermont students in Vermont. We definitely have a lot of out-of-state students, which is a real advantage for Vermont, because we really need young people coming into the state.”

The state’s public flagship, the University of Vermont, has an environmental sciences program. Southern Vermont College, a private nonprofit four-year institution, also announced an environmental sciences major at the end of 2018 that observers say could be attractive to some former Green Mountain students. Both institutions are located closer to Green Mountain’s campus than Sterling is.

The president of another small environmentally focused college in New England is also skeptical that the closure will be a long-term shot in the arm for his institution. Melik Peter Khoury is the president of Unity College in Maine.

“Could there be a potential short-term bump because we are going to help their students on a teach-out, or because 20 students who were going to go to Green Mountain would come here?” he asked. “If I am looking at it from a short-term perspective, maybe. But I see this as a long-term loss. Right now, it is the very sector in jeopardy.”

Many small colleges traditionally sought to enroll middle- and upper-middle-class freshmen, Khoury said. Now data show those populations dwindling while growth takes place in prospective first-generation students and adult students who did not finish their degrees.

The current climate is a referendum on the sector, Khoury continued. Short-term fixes and failing to adapt to larger trends won’t work.

Tapping the same student pools won’t work, even if the number of institutions tapping that pool is shrinking.

“You cannot take those steps to try to drill in a well where the water has run dry,” Khoury said. “I think anybody who says this is good for them is shortsighted -- and next.”

Any short-term gain for individual colleges also comes against a loss for the ecosystem, he added.

“My personal opinion is that every college brings a very unique service to its region, to its local economy, to society,” Khoury said. “Just like in any ecosystem, the loss of a diversity of schools is a loss for us all.”

Small Numbers

As much as they know their market, leaders at environmental colleges in New England are still projecting likely futures in the wake of Green Mountain’s closure. The long-term market changes driven by a college that stops admitting students this year won’t be known for quite some time.

But looking back at two college closures in the past five years shows students are likely to spread out after they step off a shuttered campus for the last time. Competitors can post gains anyway if they pick up a program from a closing college or tap a population it was known to serve.

Saint Joseph’s College, in Rensselaer, Ind., suspended operations on its campus at the end of the spring 2017 semester in the face of a financial crunch. At the time, the college, known locally as Saint Joe, had about 900 students. It has since gone on to partner with Marian University to create a new two-year college, Saint Joseph’s College of Marian University-Indianapolis.

The case of Saint Joe shows how students go to similar institutions when their college closes -- and also how some go to very different institutions.

In the fall of 2017, Marian University in Indianapolis enrolled 78 former Saint Joe students. Marian is believed to have more transfers from the college than any other institution. In January 2018, another five former Saint Joe students transferred to Marian.

Marian leaders believe several factors helped them to enroll former Saint Joe students. Both are Roman Catholic institutions in Indiana. Marian quickly sent admissions staff to meet with students after Saint Joe announced its closure and returned to the Saint Joe campus in subsequent months.

A Marian digital marketing campaign targeted the Saint Joe campus. Marian leaders guaranteed Saint Joe students that they wouldn’t pay more to attend Marian than they paid at Saint Joe, despite Marian having a higher tuition. And Marian pledged to accept all transfer credits and give Saint Joe transfers who were on track to graduate in a year the opportunity to do so.

Plus, Marian hired former Saint Joe faculty and staff, including the shuttered college’s former associate vice president for academic affairs as the associate director and dean of the new two-year institution. Doing so helped relationships with transfer students and Saint Joe alumni, according to a Marian spokesman, Mark Apple.

“Marian University had a record freshman class in fall 2018, up 26 percent from the previous year,” Apple said. “We have been trending up for the past three years, so I wouldn’t attribute all of the growth to the closing of Saint Joseph’s College (opening the state’s second medical school in 2013 has done wonders for our academic reputation). But the fact that we have been linked to Saint Joe in the media several times over the past two years (the initial transfer story, the 43 students who graduated on time got some media attention, and then the announcement of our collaboration on the two-year college all got significant media attention in Indy and statewide) certainly puts us in the consideration set for students who may have previously considered Saint Joe.”

Data show Marian is drawing more interest from the northwestern part of Indiana, where Saint Joe was located. Applications from the region rose from 440 for the fall of 2017 to 479 for the fall of 2018. So far, they have continued to rise to 509 for the fall of 2019.

Public institutions serving northern Indiana noted smaller upticks. About a dozen Saint Joe students applied to Indiana University Northwest, according to a spokesman. Seven ultimately enrolled. At Purdue University, 36 Saint Joe students were admitted to transfer in and 14 enrolled, according to a spokesman.

Many of Indiana’s independent colleges tried to work with students as Saint Joe was closing, said Mary Ellen Hamer, executive vice president of the Independent Colleges of Indiana. Many schools, public and private, accepted Saint Joe students, who ultimately had to decide where to enroll.

“It depended on where the student was from and how far he or she wanted to travel,” said David W. Wantz, president and CEO of the Independent Colleges of Indiana.

Saint Joe was known to have three primary recruiting pockets: northwest Indiana, Chicago and Indianapolis.

Mary Maloney was an admissions counselor at Saint Joe when it closed. Enrolled students tended to transfer to colleges near where their families lived, she said.

“They kind of stayed closer to home,” she said. “The Illinois students, I think they kind of went closer to home as well.”

That would be consistent with findings from a student transfer and mobility report published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in 2018. The report tracked transfer patterns of all first-time students entering college in the fall of 2011 over six years, finding that 38 percent of 2.8 million students transferred between institutions.

The report didn’t look specifically at transfers after a college closed, meaning many of the transfers were students who went from a public or private four-year college to a two-year college over the summer, then returned to their original institutions for the fall. Even so, it shows students who transfer don’t always stay in their state.

Just over 81 percent of students attending public two-year institutions transferred in state, and 73.6 percent of students transferring from public institutions stayed in state. Only about half of those transferring from private nonprofit four-year institutions, 51.8 percent, stayed in state.

“The national transfer statistics provided here show that student mobility is diverse, complex and increasing,” the report found.

A similar story unfolded after Virginia Intermont College closed in 2014. The college, which enrolled under 300 students in the fall of its last year, was in the city of Bristol, Va., on the border with Tennessee.

After Virginia Intermont closed, the nearby Emory & Henry College took over its well-known equestrian program, retaining the program's faculty members, according to a spokeswoman.

In the fall after Virginia Intermont closed, Emory & Henry enrolled 30 students from the college in a teach-out program. Today, Emory & Henry has 72 students who are involved in the equine program, majoring in the program, minoring in it or riding with it.

“The group of students we saw enroll were in equine, art and photography,” wrote the spokeswoman, Jennifer Pearce, in an email. “I would say that we are still attracting high school students locally interested in equine and now more visual and performing arts since we built a $25 million beautiful art and performance space and hired some very talented faculty.”

In the years before its closure, Virginia Intermont consistently drew the most Virginia students from the surrounding jurisdictions of Bristol, Washington County and Russell County, according to data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Emory & Henry, which is located in Washington County, saw an increase in new students from Washington County in the years since Virginia Intermont’s closure. In 2013-14, the last year Intermont was open, Emory & Henry enrolled 12 first-time college students from Washington County. It enrolled 35 in 2018-19.

Total undergraduates from Washington County at Emory & Henry slipped from 90 in 2013-14 to 81 in 2015-16, the data show. Since then, the college has enrolled far more undergraduates from the county, rising to 127 this year. It’s added eight total undergraduates from Bristol between 2013-14 and this year, for a total of 30. Russell County undergraduates haven’t risen.

Data posted by the Virginia Department of Education indicates the college’s closing had little impact on college enrollment among high school graduates from the three jurisdictions that consistently sent the most students to Virginia Intermont.

Taken in combination, those numbers demonstrate how a small college closing can provide a boost to other nearby institutions. But they also show that the scale of the boost is often relatively small -- Emory & Henry enrolls almost 1,000 undergraduates and nearly 300 more graduate students. Increases of a few dozen students could be important but wouldn’t necessarily be a defining factor in saving a college of 1,300 if it were to face a crisis.

More Variables, More Uncertainty

Fallout from Saint Joe and Virginia Intermont are relatively easy examples to examine because the institutions were near only a handful of competitors -- and the analyses above largely exclude out-of-state competitors. Still, examining those cases requires many assumptions about how many students might have remained in a college if it had stayed open and where else they would have considered attending.

Such an analysis is likely to miss variables. The task grows even harder when considering closing institutions in college-dense parts of the country like Philadelphia or Boston -- or when considering institutions of a specific type that students may be more likely to compare even though they are hundreds or thousands of miles apart.

Nonetheless, college leaders think individual college closures don’t represent enough scale to change larger market dynamics.

“For us here in Philadelphia, one closure wouldn’t necessarily make a big difference,” said Reed, the president of St. Joseph’s University. “It could be a local marketplace, a statewide marketplace or even out of state. But it’s probably not going to be noticed by a lot of people, because the numbers we are talking about are very small.”

St. Joseph’s is a Roman Catholic institution, and if several small private colleges in the Philadelphia area that are also Roman Catholic were to close, it could have an impact, Reed added. Ripple effects could benefit other Roman Catholic colleges as students who know what type of college they want to attend stay within the segment of the higher ed market.

Closures could also lead to additional sorting of students. The top 5 percent of a college’s student body might transfer to more prestigious institutions than the rest of its student body, which might not meet admissions standards, Reed said.

That’s a good thing for the prestigious institutions -- but not necessarily for the others. Some think such a sorting effect is one reason some historically black colleges and universities have struggled even as other HBCUs closed over time.

“What happens is, now the best and the brightest start being contacted by your University of Virginias, your William & Marys,” said Jerry Crawford II, an associate who directs the Journalism Multicultural Scholars Program at the University of Kansas and who has done research on HBCUs and competition. “When you look at the competition, don’t look at similar schools. Look at bigger schools finding ways to incorporate programs.”

Larger universities have advantages of scale that go beyond deep pockets and name recognition. Their deeper course catalogs can make it easier for them to find ways to help students’ credits transfer, Crawford said.

Students who struggle to enroll at a larger institution can then be left behind.

“Students at the smaller schools are going to be left out,” Crawford said. “They’re going to be more susceptible to going to these schools that you see on TV while watching Judge Judy.”

Those would, of course, be for-profit colleges. The for-profit sector is going through a massive consolidation, with some questioning whether it will continue to exist at all.

One might have expected some for-profit colleges to be strengthened when their competitors started to fold, said Robert G. Atkins, chief executive officer of the consulting firm Gray Associates. That didn’t happen.

“When you lose a competitor, you lose stimulus in the market,” Atkins said.

Losing a competitor also means losing someone who might be undercutting you on pricing. But experts doubt that would have much of a long-term positive effect on net revenue for tuition-dependent institutions.

“We know that there are various ‘market rates’ when looking at publics vs. privates, from cities to rural areas, large to small institutions, and from region to region across the country,” wrote Brian Weinblatt, founder and principal of Higher Ed Consolidation Solutions, a consultancy focused on college mergers, in an email. “Institutions always need to consider their competitors' pricing, so certainly if a lower-priced competitor nearby closes, that may -- for a time -- assuage pressures by the surviving institution(s) to discount similarly. But I don't believe that relief will last for long, as pricing structures need to be constantly revisited, and ultimately, like in any industry, it is about what the customers, students, are willing to pay.”

Some economists would say that consolidating an industry can be a plus, said Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College in Boston. It can require institutions to reinvent themselves, seek new efficiencies and find new sources of revenue.

Emerson has increased enrollment and boosted its number of international students in recent years. It operates campuses in Los Angeles and the Netherlands. For institutions reliant on local markets, however, trends can easily overwhelm any positives brought by consolidation, according to Pelton.

In New England, for example, the population of high school students is projected to decline rapidly enough that institutions neighboring a closed college are not going to pick up additional students, he said. The customer base is simply declining.

“It’s declining for school A,” Pelton said. “It’s also declining for school B and school C. So I think whatever gains are to be seen from a competitive point of view, with respect to enrollment, will be minimal at individual colleges in New England.”

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Author discusses new book on how to promote 'generous thinking' in higher education

Wed, 2019-02-20 08:00

Kathleen Fitzpatrick has been a leader in promoting the digital humanities and digital transformations of disciplines and universities. In 2011, she was appointed to lead a new division of the Modern Language Association about scholarly communication in the digital age. In 2017, she moved to Michigan State University to become director of digital humanities and a professor of English.

Her new book, Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University (Johns Hopkins University Press), goes well beyond the digital humanities. She argues that it's time for the humanities and academe in general to try new ways to engage with a public that has shown hostility to higher education.

Via email, she responded to questions about her new book.

Q: You note the rampant anti-intellectualism in American life today. Do you believe that it's worse than it has been in the past?

A: I’m always a little leery of suggesting that things are worse now, but I will say that today’s strain of anti-intellectualism is capable of doing far more damage than ever before, if for no other reason than because of the technologies and networks through which it is being fomented. Much of the population in the United States has long been resentful of the intrusions of “experts” into their lived experience, but now all of us are connected through systems and platforms that are designed not just to make expertise unnecessary but in fact to replace it with personal opinion.

There’s still something potentially democratizing in the internet’s decentralization of authority, but as we increasingly see in relation to issues like vaccination and climate change, the demotion of scientific consensus to just another opinion equal to any other is having real, devastating consequences. And I fear that one of those consequences may be that we are nearing a tipping point with respect to the future of the university, which is increasingly the target of public resentment. The primary reason most people look to the university today is for credentialing, but as the cost of that credentialing increasingly falls on individual students and families, the resentment only grows. Students are still coming to us … but that public resentment will be taken out on us, unless we can find ways to change the tenor of our relationship.

Q: Some academics respond to the current trends in public life by retreating and trying to create what they view as a sane world on campus. Why do you advocate for active engagement instead?

A: For several reasons, not least among them that there are people off campus who desperately want to be part of that sane world as well, and with their involvement and energy, the world that we can create together may have a better chance of making real, substantive change in public life. But our mandate stretches beyond those who might already be inclined to work with us.

This is especially so for those of us at public institutions, which were established to serve all of the people of the state or region or community. We need to make a real effort to rebuild relationships of trust with those publics, to find ways to better support them and their concerns. If we demonstrate our willingness to stand in solidarity with them, we might together build the foundation on which they’ll be willing to stand in solidarity with us, too.

Q: Some groups outside academe mock or question important commitments in academe -- equity, inclusiveness, etc. Could your approach change this?

A: I certainly hope so! Don’t get me wrong -- I recognize that there are groups whom we may never reach, whose minds we may never change. But allowing the mockery or even outright attacks of those groups to deter us from building equitable, inclusive relationships both within the campus community and with the communities around us would be an enormous mistake. We need to model openness if we want to foster openness, and we need to build connections to others who share that mission. Those connections might help us demonstrate the real potential of the university as a social space.

Q: What do you consider the flaw in the current approach to teaching and research in the humanities? How would you shift humanities?

A: We seem in many ways to have accepted the popular notion that the purpose of a university education is some form of personal enrichment, even where we might insist that enrichment has valences beyond the economic. This mind-set is part and parcel of the privatization that Chris Newfield has described as the university’s political unconscious, the certainty that the benefits of higher education are and ought to be individual. By accepting this -- by underplaying the social good that higher education provides -- we end up undermining our own best work. This is a problem across the university, but perhaps especially in the humanities, where the relationships between our fields and the market-based economy within which we operate seem to be the most tenuous.

We defensively insist either that our fields foster critical and creative skills that are in fact highly in demand among employers today or that our fields’ real benefits play out in terms of personal forms of satisfaction. Both of which are true, of course, but neither of which gets what I believe to be the far more important forms of connection and community that the humanities can and should foster. If we are to turn our teaching and research toward those more properly social goods, we need to give some serious thought to our institutional reward structures, which are at every level today focused on individual achievement. What might the work we do in our classes look like if educating for community were our primary goal? What might our research look like if we really valued connection over and above personal accomplishment? Among other things, we might find that our work, and the work of our students, becomes more collaborative, more open and more publicly engaged.

Q: What is "generous thinking" and how can academics promote it?

A: Generous thinking is for me a grounding in these modes of connection and community. Generous thinking isn’t meant to be opposed to critical thinking, but it rather provides a foundation for the critical. It asks us to start our work from a position of receptivity, of listening, that creates the possibility of genuinely understanding the ideas of others. This is not to say that we agree with all of those ideas, or that we don’t have ideas of our own, but that we approach the development of our work not just with a critical audacity but also with a kind of critical humility, recognizing the possibility that our own ideas might just be wrong.

Generous thinking also asks us to think with others -- other authors, other texts, other ideas -- rather than against them, in order to see what we might build together. And it asks us, among other things, to build the institutional and social structures that can support and encourage such thinking. We desperately need to develop more generous thinking across our culture right now -- turning on any news channel for more than a minute might help indicate why -- and the best way for academics to promote that generosity is by modeling it. In so doing, we create the best possible chances not only for building the public support that might help our institutions of higher education survive, but also for creating institutions that we genuinely want to be part of, institutions that are structurally capable of living out the values that we espouse.

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Employers team up with higher education to bring open data and standardization to hiring

Wed, 2019-02-20 08:00

A wide range of employers have complained for years that higher education is failing to adequately prepare students to join the work force. However, a growing number of businesses are owning some of the blame for the disconnect between college and jobs.

Employers too often send the wrong signals about the skills their workers need, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and the Workforce. That lack of clarity causes problems for job seekers as well as employers and postsecondary education providers.

“Everybody writes job listings in their own language,” said Kemi Jona, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies. The result, he said, is a “big mess that nobody can understand.”

To help create a more coherent jobs marketplace, the center brought together a group of more than 150 colleges, foundations, HR groups, associations, technical standards organizations and major employers, including Salesforce, Google, IBM, LinkedIn and the U.S. Navy.

Walmart and the Lumina Foundation are helping to fund the group, which is dubbed the T3 Innovation Network. Created last year, the network’s goal is to use standardization about needed job skills, or competencies, and open data systems to “better align student, work-force and credentialing data with the needs of the economy.”

It’s an ambitious effort, and a complex one involving the use of emerging technology like AI and the semantic web, which, loosely defined, is an extension of the internet in which data is structured in ways that allow it to be accessed and read directly by computers.

“The goal of the greater network is to reach a point where we empower the American worker/learner by linking up the transcript of education they’ve received with the systems out there that employers are using to recruit talent,” Abby Hills, a spokeswoman for the center, said in a written statement. “Then, once on board, that same technology infrastructure can be leveraged to help employers promote that talent up through the ranks, creating a real career pathway.”

The Jobs Data Exchange is an early part of the work.

That project, beginning in six states and Washington, D.C., features employers in health care, energy and the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management. Participants are working to use open data resources to more clearly define competency and credential requirements for jobs.

Hills said the longer-term goal, once the exchange is up and running, is to create a jobs marketplace that speaks the same language, like a currency exchange, for more seamless career pathways.

Employers will be able to use the exchange to organize their hiring requirements and to share in-demand skills and credentials with preferred college and work-force partners, the center said. And, ideally, job seekers could better share their work history, competencies and credentials with employers, which could use blockchain and other tools from the T3 network to instantly verify that information.

Credential Engine is a recently begun effort that covers similar territory, and one that shares the daunting level of complexity and scale. The nonprofit group is seeking to create an open database of information on credentials in the U.S. -- meaning all of them. A study the group commissioned last year counted at least 334,114 credentials, including degree, certificate, high school diploma, boot camp and online microcredential programs. And that’s just the start.

Scott Cheney, Credential Engine’s executive director, said the T3 project is playing an important role by seeking to connect emerging data about competencies and credentials.

“T3 is the vision that all data are able to walk freely across the web so people use it,” he said.

The broad range of participants is an encouraging sign, said Cheney.

“The chamber is simply the convening body,” he said. “The collective will is there.”

A growing number of employers, colleges and other postsecondary education providers are feeling urgency about using technology to harmonize data standards, competencies and job seekers’ credentials, said Matthew Gee, a senior researcher at the University of Chicago and CEO of BrightHive, a technology company focused on work-force data.

“We know now, with clarity, what it is we need to do,” he said, adding that the T3 participants “want to be in the room where it happens.”

Gee said the project’s goals are achievable, due in part to the participation of employers. Yet the conversation is in its early stages.

“The work is just getting started,” said Gee.

Northeastern is monitoring the project and its progress, Jona said. One reason is the increasing pace of change in many jobs, he said, noting that IT job requirements tend to shift every 18 months. And colleges need better signals from employers to avoid producing graduates who are out of sync with the job market.

Solving the signaling and communications gap is badly needed, he said. “Having shared language about competencies will be critical.”

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Georgia Perimeter improves graduation and transfer rates after merging with Georgia State

Wed, 2019-02-20 08:00

Three years ago the University of Georgia Board of Regents tried to improve single-digit graduation rates at Georgia Perimeter College by merging the two-year college with its Atlanta-area neighbor, Georgia State University.

Georgia State had been praised widely for improving its completion rates and closing equity gaps, and state leaders hoped that success would translate to the community college.

The merger decision appears to have paid off. Georgia Perimeter, which had a 6.5 percent graduation rate in 2014, increased that three-year rate to nearly 15 percent last year. Its completion rates, which measure graduation and transfers to four-year institutions, increased from 41 percent to 58 percent during that same time period.

Gaps in academic achievement between students of color and low-income students and their white and wealthier peers also have closed at the college, which is now called Perimeter College at Georgia State University. As of last year, graduation rates for white, Hispanic and low-income students are roughly the same. The 12-percent graduation rate for black students still trails the 15 percent rate for white students. But both rates have increased since 2014, when they stood at 10 percent for white students and 4 percent for black students.

"We’ve seen rapid progress in retention and graduation rates," said Timothy Renick, Georgia State's senior vice president for student success. "It has been better than we thought it would be in a relatively short period of time."

The college has made other gains in student achievement. For example, more students are staying at Perimeter beyond one year. Year-to-year retention rates increased from 58 percent in 2014 to 70 percent last year, according to data from the institution.

Georgia State officials cite the introduction of predictive analytics for helping to increase academic achievement at the two-year institution. The university has become a national leader in using predictive analytics to review hundreds of risk factors for students and to alert advisers when students get poor grades or are on the verge of dropping out. Officials at the four-year institution replicated that system for the Perimeter campuses.

Consolidating Perimeter, which enrolls roughly 20,000 students, and Georgia State, with approximately 50,000 students, saved about $8 million in administrative expenses for the two-year college. The merged colleges no longer needed two presidents, two vice provosts or two English department chairs, for example, Renick said. Georgia State took $3 million of that savings and used it to boost student services and to hire additional financial aid counselors and advisers.

By hiring 30 advisers, Perimeter went from 1,000 students per adviser to 400 per adviser. And students are using the service more often.

“When we took over Perimeter College back in 2015-16, there were about 3,000 students sitting down and meeting with academic advisers over the course of a year,” Renick said. “This past year over 50,000 one-on-one meetings have occurred between Perimeter students and academic advisers.”

Before the merger, students typically would meet with an adviser when they felt there was a problem. Now, with predictive analytics, the college is more proactive and prompts students to talk with an adviser if, for example, they register for a class that doesn’t match their degree program or if they’re failing assignments in a math course.

Another intriguing aspect of the merger is the more seamless transfer process between the university and the two-year institution, said Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute.

“It’s something we all should be paying attention to, because the majority of community college students want to transfer and get a bachelor’s degree,” Wyner said. “The four-year transfer rate is hugely important. They’ve gone from below the national average to about the national average. Those are impressive data.”

About 80 percent of entering community college students say they want to earn at least bachelor’s degree, but only 33 percent transfer to a four-year institution within six years, according to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

For Perimeter graduates and transfer students, the merger also has had a positive effect on the public's perception of the two-year college.

“Seeing ‘Georgia State’ on a transcript will get more attention than just seeing ‘Georgia Perimeter,’” said Lee Brewer Jones, an English and humanities professor at Perimeter, who has taught at the community college since 1992. “Just by being affiliated with a [research] institution, even though we’re not an R-1 college, it has an impact on how people view our students.”

Similar Demographics

Georgia State and Perimeter enroll students with some similarities. More than 70 percent of students at both institutions are nonwhite, and 60 percent are low income. But students at the two institutions also tend to have different needs.

For example, about a third of students at Perimeter, an open-admissions college, need remedial math, reading or English. Georgia State converted all remedial classes at Perimeter to the corequisite model, which allows students to take college-level course work but also receive additional support such as tutoring.

Similarities in student demographics have helped Georgia State better understand how to help Perimeter students.

For example, the university expanded its microgrants to Perimeter students in 2016. The program helps cover unmet tuition and fees for students who would otherwise be dropped because of nonpayment. The university gives about 300 microgrants per semester to Perimeter students, averaging $900 each.

The university also introduced learning communities to Perimeter, requiring all incoming freshmen to participate last year. The communities allow groups of about 25 students in the same degree program to take a few courses together. The expectation is that the communities help students establish friendships, form study groups and build peer networks.

Academic outcomes have improved for students who participate in the communities. They earn more credits and are retained at a slightly higher rate. And first-year students in learning communities earned on average a 3.18 grade point average compared to 3.09 GPA for those students not in a community.

Jones said many of the concerns Perimeter faculty had about the merger when it was first announced never occurred, such as a mandate for professors to have terminal or doctoral degrees.

And he and his peers have become more focused on encouraging students to earn their two-year degrees, even if they plan to transfer.

“I tell students, ‘I hope you take time to get an associate degree before you transfer,’” Jones said. “I don't know if I always thought to say that before, but I make a point of saying, ‘Get your associate.’ That's an emphasis that comes from the highest levels of the university.”

Merging Community Colleges

Georgia isn’t the only state to merge community colleges in recent years. Significant enrollment declines and budget pressures have forced other institutions to consider consolidating. For example, the University of Wisconsin System started merging the state's 13 public two-year campuses with seven of its four-year universities last year. And the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system had considered merging the state’s 12 community colleges, but that plan was killed last year by the system’s accrediting agency.

Ricardo Azziz, the chief officer of academic health and hospital affairs at the State University of New York System, was president of Georgia Health Sciences University when it merged with Augusta State University to create Georgia Regents University. That institution is now known as Augusta University. Azziz said more colleges and states will consider these types of mergers in the future.

“There are a number of trends driving this, and one is a need for continuing education or lifelong education,” he said. “The second driver is pure demographics. The number of students in community colleges is decreasing. The number of high school graduates is decreasing, and the economy is improving.”

Even if the economy declines, he said it wouldn't dramatically increase enrollment at community colleges.

Some researchers have been warning community colleges that enrollment is expected to plummet by 2025. Enrollment in the two-year sector has already been on a decline since around 2010. And last fall, community college enrollment was down 3.2 percent from the previous year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Mergers between community colleges and four-year institutions tend to be more successful when they are in the same geographic region but don’t physically combine, experts say. They also are more successful when the community college retains its open-admissions policy, continues to offer noncredit programs and serves the community's work-force needs.

“Part of the reason why Perimeter and Georgia State have done better is that they’re still at separate locations,” Azziz said. “The community college structure is still physically different.”

But mergers between two different types of institutions can be tricky. The missions and cultures of two-year or technical colleges are different from those of four-year colleges or research universities, Azziz said.

Faculty and staff initially were concerned about merging the two Atlanta-area institutions. Jones said Perimeter faculty worried that the smaller college would be taken over by the university and become a low priority to the larger institution.

“We have retained the autonomy and academic freedom that we had before the merger,” Jones said.

Mergers can bring a lot of good to the institutions involved, Azziz said. But they are still complicated and difficult.

“We need to recognize that while a lot of good things can come out of them and some mergers have been quite successful, the reality is they are difficult things to do,” he said. “They have to be thought out, managed well and have strong government support.”

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Removal of USC business school dean prompts outrage and questions

Tue, 2019-02-19 08:00

The University of Southern California has started a search for a new dean of its Marshall School of Business. The move comes more than two months after the university’s interim president announced that the dean would be removed from the position, setting off an unusually bitter and public dispute between the institution’s top leaders who support the move and donors and trustees who oppose it.

“This search comes at an important time for our university and for the Marshall School,” Michael Quick, USC’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, wrote last week in a memo to business school faculty, students and staff.

Although he was referring to continuing the “tremendous momentum” of the business school’s “recent successes,” Quick may as well have been alluding to the recent tumult over the decision to remove the current dean, James Ellis.

Quick’s memo was the first formal indication that university leaders were moving forward with those plans since a Dec. 3 announcement by interim president Wanda Austin that Ellis would step down effective June 30, 2019 and continue to serve as a USC faculty member.

“This decision regarding Dean Ellis’s role at the university was made after careful deliberation,” Austin wrote in a short letter addressed to business school students and faculty members. “I personally met with Dean Ellis as did several others. In addition, we consulted with outside legal counsel to the Board of Trustees and external human resources experts. At the end of this process, I informed Dean Ellis that he would remain as dean through the end of this academic year, but that a new dean would be appointed for the coming school year.”

The letter provided no reasons for the removal of the popular dean, who has held the job since 2007, but it hinted that the decision was not made mutually with Ellis.

“I know this news is hard for many to process as he is such a prominent member of our university community,” Austin wrote. “Because this is a personnel matter we are limited in what we can share about this decision.”

Local news reports and Ellis supporters have said his ouster was related to his alleged mishandling of harassment and racial and gender discrimination complaints at the business school.

One supporter said Ellis was told his removal was due to his failure to act on complaints to the University’s Office of Equity and Diversity, or OED, since 2009. The complaints were against various Marshall faculty members.

The issue of accountability for investigating harassment complaints is particularly sensitive at USC because of revelations last year that a campus gynecologist sexually abused students and other misconduct in past years by a former medical school dean. The incidents raised questions not only about the conduct of those involved but about whether university leaders acted to prevent or respond to the improper behavior.

Quick and Austin did not respond to repeated requests for comment made through the university’s media relations office.

Ellis declined to comment.

Austin’s announcement caught many business school faculty members, students, alumni and even Ellis himself by surprise. The students staged a rally in support of him four days later. The decision angered the business school’s Board of Leaders, which has repeatedly and vocally demanded the university keep Ellis as dean. It also upset major donors who are current or former members of the university’s Board of Trustees. Once the Board of Trustees upheld Austin’s decision a week later, the simmering opposition that had been building boiled over into an outpouring of outrage and activism on the dean’s behalf.

These latest developments are occurring as the university is still recovering from the embarrassing scandals and negative publicity of the past two years that led to the forced resignation of then president C. L. Max Nikias and two medical school deans.

The current imbroglio is replete with recrimination, counteraccusations and less than diplomatic hyperbole not customary in the staid world of university trustees and institutional leaders. Some current and former members of the Board of Trustees have called for the resignation of Rick Caruso, the chairman of the board and subject of blunt and blistering opprobrium, for supporting the removal of Dean Ellis and allegedly attempting to silence other board members who disagreed. They accused Caruso of being "bullying," "offensive" and "grossly unfit," among many other complaints.

Critics of the dean's ouster, apparently themselves high-ranking business leaders, have been leaking a steady stream of documents and other information to Poets and Quants, a news website focused on business schools. One Poet and Quants article described a Dec. 12 meeting where the board was voting on the interim president's decision to remove Dean Ellis. Caruso demanded that a longtime trustee, Ming Hsieh, a major donor who has given $85 million to USC and who opposed the dean's removal, limit his comments to one minute, according to the article. Caruso then kicked Hsieh out of the meeting.

Hsieh "was also one of the very few trustees who had personally examined the binders that contained the complaints in the Office of Equity and Diversity and read a report on them by the law firm of Cooley LLC. Hsieh says he found no evidence in those documents to support Ellis’s dismissal as dean," the article states. He voted against the dean's dismissal.

Hsieh said that Austin told trustees she would resign if she were asked to change her position, according to the article.

The Board of Leaders for the School of Business, an advisory group of 116 prominent business leaders, has also demanded the resignation of Caruso and called on the Board of Trustees to place Austin, Quick and Carol Mauch Amir, the general counsel, on leave.

The Academic Senate, which represents USC faculty throughout the university, issued a unanimous condemnation of the lack of “shared governance and transparency” in how the decision to remove the dean was carried out. Additionally, 210 full- and part-time business school faculty members who responded to a survey regarding the dismissal said they believed Ellis had performed well in his role and would continue “to provide excellent leadership to the Marshall School” if he remained as dean. The respondents represent 71 percent of the total surveyed.

Meanwhile, nearly 4,000 people have signed an “I Stand with Dean Ellis” petition on change.org. The petition also includes links to every action the dean’s supporters have taken and to nearly 150 letters from business school alumni, parents of former and current students, members of various boards, and others -- all opposing his removal. Plenty of decisions at universities draw opposition from students and faculty members, but it's rare to see a movement that combines those groups with wealthy business leaders and donors.

Lloyd Greif, a member of the Board of Leaders and namesake of the school’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, is leading the opposition.

He wrote a joint letter to his fellow Board of Leaders members and the Board of Advisors of the Leventhal School of Accounting, which is part of the business school, asking them “to vocalize your strong opposition to this precipitous, irrational action,” by directly contacting Austin and Caruso, whose email addresses Greif included in the letter, as well as other trustees.

“This is not a time to sit on the sidelines,” he wrote on Nov. 30, just three days after he said Ellis was summoned to a short meeting with Austin and Amir, the general counsel, and told he was being removed as dean. “We need you on the playing field -- now.”

Greif described how Ellis was given “a terse, two-paragraph letter” at that meeting, which stated, “As you know, all deans serve at the pleasure of the president. I have decided to exercise my option under your contract of appointment to make a change in leadership of the Marshall School. Accordingly, I am notifying you that your appointment as dean will terminate at the end of the current fiscal year, on June 30, 2019.”

Greif believes the accusation that Ellis failed to act on complaints to the Office of Equity and Diversity is unfounded and “a tactic reminiscent of the depths of the hysteria of the McCarthy era.”

He said Ellis was only notified of approximately 10 percent of the nearly 70 complaints -- “presumably the handful that OED deemed worthy of further review” -- all of which he allegedly investigated and resolved, and most of which were found to be baseless.

Greif said Ellis created the business school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion on his own initiative in 2015, and that he was the first dean at the university to hire an associate dean of diversity and inclusion. The Marshall School was also one of the first schools at USC to implement mandatory unconscious-bias training for all recruiting committees and mandatory diversity and inclusion training for all faculty.

Greif also noted that five of the dean's seven cabinet members are women, as are four of the nine members of the Department Chairs Council and five of the seven members of the Marshall Faculty Council, including the chairperson. What's more, under Ellis the business school was the first full-time M.B.A. program of any major university to achieve gender parity (the Class of 2020 is 52 percent female). It also has the highest percentage of underrepresented minorities -- 22 percent -- of any major business school in the country, according to Greif. The director of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies is also a woman.

“He’s been a role model,” Greif said of Ellis. “A poster child for diversity and inclusion.”

Ellis has also raised over half a billion dollars for the business school and has personally given the school $4.6 million, according to Greif. Marshall faculty have also won universitywide student mentoring awards 25 times during Ellis's tenure. "That’s a USC-leading ratio of award winners to tenure-track faculty of 21 percent," he noted. The Marshall School also won the "highly coveted" Culture of Mentoring Award in 2010, and two vice deans at the school have won the Provost Mentoring Award, the highest mentoring award at the university, in the last three years.

Greif, a 1979 graduate of the business school and also a member of its Corporate Advisory Board, said Ellis was removed without the opportunity to review or respond to the charges against him, an action Greif likened to “a kangaroo court of the highest order.” He has harshly criticized the administration for allegedly attempting to silence critics, and said the coordinated responses of Austin and Caruso to critical emails and letters would make George Orwell proud. He has also rated the administration’s alleged attempts to thwart scrutiny of its actions from “DEFCON 1” through “DEFCON 4.”

Greif also twice wrote to the Board of Trustees, imploring them to reverse the decision.

“The administration and the Board of Trustees need to right this wrong, reinstate Jim Ellis as dean of the Marshall School and, most importantly, turn their attention to addressing all that ails the University of Southern California, starting with a culture that requires major surgery before the patient dies from these ever-deeper self-inflicted wounds,” he wrote in a detailed seven-page letter on Dec. 6. He followed up with another seven-page letter on Dec. 11, again asking the board not to “rubber-stamp this decision” and to fire Austin and force Caruso’s resignation.

“This is no longer about whether Jim Ellis stays or goes as dean of the Marshall School of Business,” he wrote on Dec. 6. “This is now far more serious than that: it is about whether the University of Southern California is going to have the courage to banish the demons of the last 18 months, aligning its actions with its words and transforming itself into a model of transparency, fairness and due process or continuing to be a pariah among major colleges and universities.”

Although Ellis has not made any public comments about the allegations, he did send out an email to faculty and staff on Nov. 30 to inform them of his dismissal as dean. By then rumors were already swirling at the business school, and after meeting with his Faculty Council and department chairs, who’d urged him to act, he decided to let everyone know.

“To the best of my knowledge, this decision was not based on anything I personally had done, but rather a cumulative record of OED cases from Marshall,” he wrote. “The vast majority of these cases were never brought to my attention. Nevertheless, this apparently has led university leadership to believe that we do not have a positive culture here. Therefore, they feel a change in leadership is in order. The Faculty Council is asking for a meeting with the president to understand how we came to this, and there are many external stakeholders who have sent in concerns for the school. There are concerns about process, transparency and reputational damage … I will communicate more as I learn it.”

According to Greif, Quick, the provost, sent an email to Ellis later that evening chastising him for sending the email.

“I was deeply disappointed to learn of the email you sent to Marshall’s faculty earlier today,” Quick wrote. “With that communication, you misused the Office of the Dean to advance your own personal agenda, and you placed your personal interests over the interests of Marshall and the university. Moreover, your email put faculty in a position where they may feel pressured to show support for you because of your current role, and out of fear of retaliation. That showed an alarming lack of judgment. I realize you disagree with President Austin’s decision. However, you cannot abuse your role to try to change her mind. If you do that again, you will be subject to further action.”

Ellis has not commented publicly since that reprimand. Greif has not stopped speaking on his behalf and vocally defending him.

“He’s feeling shocked, angry and mystified,” Greif said of Ellis. “And that’s because there are no grounds for this action.”

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Proposal for payroll withholding sets off debate on student loan system

Tue, 2019-02-19 08:00

Student advocates have for years complained about the complex set of options borrowers must navigate to repay their student loans. Student loan borrowers are faced with a dizzying nine repayment plans based on their income, in addition to a standard 10-year loan-repayment plan.

There's a growing consensus that Congress should reduce those options to one income-based option on top of the standard plan.

Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, would go one step further, calling for loan payments to be automatically deducted from borrowers' paychecks.

Alexander put forward the idea this month as part of a package he portrayed as an attainable plan for tackling the burden of student loan debt through legislation to renew the Higher Education Act. Although Alexander is motivated to pass a law thanks to his pending retirement, reaching a deal in a divided Congress is still widely seen as a serious challenge; many Democrats and advocates for students have clamored for ambitious, and expensive, federal solutions to college affordability. The framework advanced by Alexander instead focuses on making the student aid currently available work more effectively. He's prioritized making loan repayment more manageable, simplifying the process to apply for federal financial aid and judging colleges based on students' loan repayment.

While the proposal to reduce the myriad repayment options for borrowers already has broad support among higher ed interest groups, getting buy-in for making student loan payments work more like payroll taxes is more uncertain.

Jessica Thompson, director of policy and planning at the Institute for College Access and Success, said streamlining the repayment plans available to borrowers is "an overdue change." But she said paycheck withholding for loan payments is "in reality a lot more complicated than it sounds."

The Upside of Automatic Payments

In the rollout of his framework for the Higher Education Act this month, Alexander said he expected most borrowers would choose the income-based repayment option, in which they would never have to spend more than 10 percent of their discretionary income on student loans. And if they lose their job or don’t make enough money, they wouldn’t owe anything on their loans, he said.

“Under this new repayment system, students will have a manageable payment and most will completely pay off their loans, which is good for the student and is good for the taxpayer,” Alexander said. “This new option should end the nightmare that many students have of never being able to afford their student loan payments.”

Beth Akers, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said enrolling more borrowers into the plan with more protections would likely be a positive development. She said she wasn't sold on paycheck withholding being the only option for loan repayment but said there would be clear benefits. Automatic payments could eliminate “unnecessary defaults,” which occur when a borrower has the financial ability to pay their loans but fails to do so because of challenges navigating the repayment process, Akers said.

"The idea that payroll withholding could be a substitute for our broken loan-servicing system is appealing," she said.

It could also save borrowers the hassle of filing paperwork with a loan servicer if their income fluctuates during the year, said Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. And they wouldn’t have to worry about recertifying their income annually, another bureaucratic requirement that causes some borrowers to lose access to income-driven repayment.

“If I don’t recertify, my payment jumps,” Delisle said. “That’s a huge flaw in the current system.”

Researchers and policy groups have debated the concept of automatically withholding student loan payments as a solution to loan default and delinquency for several years.

University of Michigan researchers Sue Dynarski and Daniel Kreisman published a Brookings Institution paper in 2013 arguing for automatic student loan payments based on a borrower’s income. Dynarski called for that model again in a New York Times op-ed last year.

"Some people oppose this approach, arguing that payroll deduction elevates student loans over food and rent as payment priorities," Dynarski wrote in the Times. "But this misses the strongest protection of payroll withholding: it automatically cuts payments to zero when earnings drop low enough, putting loans at the bottom of the payment hierarchy."

A 2014 policy paper from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, Young Invincibles and New America said a well-designed automatic income-based repayment program would have tremendous potential for addressing defaults.

"Borrowers would no longer fall behind on payments because the loan program is confusing," the paper concluded. "For borrowers who procrastinate, postpone or forget to make payments, payroll withholding keeps them on track."

But the groups said the idea would come with serious implementation challenges and could create serious burdens for employers and borrowers.

Potential Complications

Justin Draeger, president and CEO of NASFAA, said Alexander offered a “credible proposal” to simplify the loan-repayment process but cautioned that it wouldn’t be a panacea. The proposal would basically make loan repayment work a lot more like paying your taxes. Payroll withholding is rarely precise, so many borrowers could end up paying more at the end of the year -- or find out they overpaid.

Some skeptics of the proposal have argued for maintaining additional options when borrowers can’t make payments. Persis Yu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, said payroll withholding could make it difficult for some struggling borrowers to prioritize other costs when they encounter financial emergencies like sudden hospital bills.

“There’s no way to get around the fact that you can’t make a formula that works for everybody,” she said.

A brief released by NCLC last week also raised concerns about employers’ access to borrower information. And it argued that payroll withholding could be unworkable for borrowers with multiple sources of income. Delisle said proponents should acknowledge the potential challenges and the fact that payroll withholding won’t make loan payment completely automatic.

"What you’re getting is tracking income in real time," he said. "And you’re doing away with annual certification errors that spike loan payments."

Likely Democratic Demands

House Democratic legislation released last year also endorsed streamlining repayment plans. The bill, dubbed the Aim Higher Act, would offer a standard and an income-driven repayment plan. But Democrats in the House and Senate are likely to demand that an update of the Higher Education Act include more aid to students so they don’t have to take out significant loan debt to begin with.

Alexander's proposal, though, is purposefully narrow in its scope to advance his framework for the student loan system.

"You have to pick your policy priorities," said Draeger of NASFAA. "It seems to me what we're targeting is people who are delinquent or who default because they couldn't manage their loans."

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College students are still taking a knee against racism

Tue, 2019-02-19 08:00

In 2016, a silent protest, a knee to the ground, spurred a movement -- and set off a backlash -- that has lasted years.

Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, first took a knee during the National Anthem at a preseason game, a quiet demonstration against systemic racism and police brutality in the United States. The decision earned him years of condemnation, including from President Trump, who repeatedly called on National Football League team owners to stop the movement. During a campaign rally in 2017, Trump said, "Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

But activists on campus noticed Kaepernick’s display, too.

Other NFL players followed his lead. It trickled down into the higher education sphere, where students -- both athletes and not -- and even professors, knelt, inspired by Kaepernick’s mission.

Two and a half years later, such protests have largely ceased. Few players still kneel in the professional league, and few students do. But often, those campus athletes have taken a small act and run with it, using the momentum and the attention from a controversial demonstration and channeling it into action.

Athletes interviewed by Inside Higher Ed said Kaepernick accomplished his goal: a conversation was started.

Around when the protests and the debate were at their peak last academic year, Alyssa Parker, a black woman, was a 19-year-old cheerleader at Buena Vista University, a college in rural Iowa affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, and a campus lacking in diversity -- only 3 percent of its student body was black in fall 2017, and 78 percent was white, according to federal data.

Parker had just helped organize a candlelight vigil for Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old black Texan who was shot by a police officer who was eventually found guilty of Edwards’s murder.

The episode struck Parker as a black woman because she had younger brothers. She wanted to do more. During Buena Vista’s homecoming football game, she and several of her friends she had contacted knelt during "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Little happened at the game, but in the days following, Parker said, she could not have anticipated the vitriol.

Calls poured into administrators from the public threatening to withhold donations. The media was frenzied, Parker said. She later met with the newly named president, Joshua D. Merchant, who seemed understanding of their cause -- he asked her, though, if there was any compromise, to which Parker answered, “None.”

“There is no compromise when it comes to black lives,” Parker said.

But Parker said she believed the outside pressures influenced Merchant, and the university banned kneeling during the anthem and said any athlete who did so would be disciplined and risk removal from the team. Merchant's compromise was that he would allow students to stand before the anthem and said in a statement (which has since been removed online) that he "promised to physically stand by [athletes'] side as a demonstration of support for their desire to impact social change."

Spokeswoman Kelsey Clausen said the university does not comment on details about students. She wrote in an email:

BVU respects our military members and our veterans. BVU also respects the rights of our students, employees, alumni, fans and friends to demonstrate their civil liberties in ways that are peaceful and lawful. As an institution of higher learning, BVU believes in open discourse. Through our conversations, BVU seeks to better understand our opinions and the opinions of those whose differ from our own. We ask that our community members respect one another through language and action.

Black athletes who want to protest are often dissuaded by their coaches and other officials, who want a certain level of control and want to avoid bad press, said Shaun Harper, a prominent race-relations consultant for colleges and executive director of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center.

These administrators may not always directly prohibit the players from publicly showing support, but Harper said he has heard many stories of them insinuating to athletes they would lose their scholarships if they did.

This was common, Harper said, in 2015, after University of Missouri football players boycotted over racial issues and asked for the resignation of the system president Tim Wolfe, who eventually did step down. Athletes on other campuses wanted to back the team, but coaches especially tried to squash their efforts, Harper said.

“They want their student athletes the way they want them,” Harper said. “To, like, work out and play games and win games, nothing else.”

Buena Vista was not the only institution to try to limit the protests. East Carolina University and Colorado Christian University both publicly told students they needed to remain standing during the anthem. At East Carolina, the directive was made to members of the band with regard to performances during football games. And a former Kennesaw State University cheerleader sued the institution in September, alleging her First Amendment rights had been violated after she and four of her teammates took a knee during games. After the protests, four of the five cheerleaders were cut from the team when they tried out next season. The cheerleader’s lawsuit accuses administrators and a former state lawmaker of plotting to stop their demonstrations.

Following Buena Vista’s announcement, Parker remembered trying to decide what to do -- she wanted to pursue law school, so she couldn’t have a record of misconduct. She loved cheerleading, but didn’t want to stop her protest.

She typed up her resignation letter to her coach.

“Standing for something I know isn’t right shouldn’t be forced on me … Changing how this campus thinks about social injustice, helping people understand and moving this conversation forward is the type of thing I want to accomplish before I leave BVU,” Parker wrote in the letter.

The next game, when the anthem was played, Parker was in the stands, kneeling.

Parker’s stress levels were still high after that. She was interviewing with news media nearly every day, and she had become persona non grata on campus. She was well-known at this point (she had started a Black Student Union there, too) and couldn’t go to parties without “them basically stopping,” and her friends were guilty by association. A racial slur was written on her and her roommate’s door the day before final exams.

Ultimately, she transferred, leaving Buena Vista for Iowa’s capital, Des Moines, and Grand View University, a slightly larger, still religiously affiliated institution with a bit higher black population (7 percent as of 2017).

Parker said some questioned whether the university “won.” After all, she left. But she said the move was to preserve her mental health, and she hasn’t ended her activism. Students on the Grand View campus know her as “the girl who kneeled.” Administrators know her, too. The Iowa state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union gave Parker its Robert Mannheimer Student Advocacy Award for “remarkable contributions to civil liberties.”

She started the Black Student Union at Grand View and has helped out with another group that takes young black girls to beauty supply stores and helps them pick products, do their hair and talk topics that will help them growing up: like sex education and the importance of college, Parker said.

“For me, it’s not over,” Parker said. “The problem is still here. The problem with protests and with people in our society is that they’re outraged for a second and then it dies down. You have to be consistent with your outrage; if you’re not consistent, you can’t expect change.”

One such athlete who has remained consistent is Marsha Howard, a senior and forward on the University of Wisconsin at Madison women’s basketball team. During the anthem, when the rest of her teammates line up and stand with their hands over their hearts, Howard stays seated on the sidelines. She does not look up. She bows her head in silent prayer, protesting gun violence and racism.

Howard, a Chicago native who declined an interview, has protested silently in some form since 2016, when she and several other black teammates locked arms during the National Anthem, ThinkProgress reported.

Last year, Howard sat out the anthem with another player, but to protect her family from the criticism that would inevitably be heaped on her, she did so in the tunnel to the stadium, so it wasn’t visible. This wasn’t feasible during one particular game last February, though, and Howard sat on the bench instead.

Her subdued showing nevertheless drew the ire of a U.S. senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, who directed in a tweet that the public should reach out to the university in “outrage.” ThinkProgress reported that the message attracted more indignation and detractors, but Howard was adamant she would continue her protest this year.

Iowa constituents asked me why a starter for Wisconsin women Bb wld not be patriotic enuf to stand for natl anthem song today /ASK THE WISCONSIN COACH/ Exprress outrage to university

— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) February 19, 2018

“Change doesn’t come overnight,” she told ThinkProgress. “So, as long as things are still the way they are, then yeah, I’ll continue to protest.”

Staffers at Wisconsin have overwhelmingly supported Howard. Jonathan Tsipis, head coach of the team, told the Chicago Tribune that the coaches backed protesting students and told them that they "would be asked why" they're demonstrating.

Students and administrators, though, have reported that the demonstrations have gone far in opening up the subject of racial inequities on campus.

One of the most recent displays was at the University of Notre Dame in November, when more than 100 students knelt during a football game and linked arms in prayer, singing “We Shall Overcome.” This was a reference to the institution’s history, when the university’s former president, Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, did the same with Martin Luther King Jr. at a civil rights rally in 1964.

At Canisius College, a Jesuit-founded institution in Buffalo, N.Y., a trio of volleyball players took a knee during the last academic year. Among them was Tamia Bowden, then a first-year student.

In one of her criminal justice courses, Bowden watched the documentary 13th, named for the 13th Amendment in the Constitution, which outlawed slavery. The filmmaker focuses on racial inequities and mass incarceration of people of color.

The movie, along with the fatal police shooting of Mike Brown, a black man in Ferguson, Mo., which was heavily protested by the Black Lives Matter movement, prompted Bowden to act.

She called her mother, an Army combat veteran who served in the Middle East, and told her she was thinking about kneeling. Much of the criticism around the protests of the anthem was that it was disrespectful display to veterans, but Bowden said her mother stood behind her.

Bowden also consulted with her coach, and during a game, she knelt.

Again, like with Buena Vista, the complaints rolled in, largely to the volleyball coach. The Buffalo News, the local newspaper, featured Bowden and two teammates and their protest in October 2017, which caused even more of a stir, Bowden said.

Bowden said she read the comments on the Buffalo News piece when it was first published.

There were calls for her scholarship to be revoked. There were death threats.

At one particular game versus Niagara University, when they knelt, a man was escorted out, screaming -- Bowden realized then the danger she and her teammates potentially faced. But they did not stop for the remainder of that season.

When the next season rolled around, the coach asked if she still wanted to continue -- but she didn’t, because Bowden said the message had been received.

Her peers had stopped to talk to her, sometimes for a brief chat about why she was kneeling, other times for more robust conversation. When the Buffalo News article ran, her journalism professor stopped class to call out Bowden, and the rest of the lecture was spent analyzing how the media portrayed the event and the protests writ large.

Bowden’s mother pushed her to do more between the summer of her freshman and sophomore years -- “if you do this, you actually have to be effective,” she told Bowden.

Bowden joined the local NAACP chapter and its Young Adults Committee and founded a campus group called the Marginalized Identity Support Team, or MIST, which holds events to promote different minority groups on campus, whether that be black men or women, or queer students, Bowden said.

And before every home game, in every sport, Canisius officials now read a statement, asking that spectators stand for silent reflection of “those whose lives are impacted by inequality and injustice in the world and how our actions can help us live the Jesuit ideal of being men and women for others,” according to associate athletics director and spokesman Matt Reitnour.

Reitnour said in an interview he has noticed more fliers going up around campus in support of minority students, which he links back to Bowden’s protest.

“I’ve been working here for 18 years,” Reitnour said. “And I’ve just noticed more … meetings, or groups or fliers. It’s rare to not see them anymore, covering various topics. There’s conversations that have been born out of this.”

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Publishers express concern about unintended consequences of Plan S

Tue, 2019-02-19 08:00

The goal of Plan S is simple -- make all publicly funded research immediately available to the public. It’s a goal many universities, research funders and academics say they support. The problem is agreeing on how to get there, and who should pay for it.

A flurry of documents published by publishers, research funders, scholarly societies and academics earlier this month in response to a call for feedback on Plan S highlight just how little agreement there is about how to implement the European open-access initiative, which could impact scholarly publishing practices worldwide.

In their feedback to Plan S, many organizations expressed a desire to accelerate open-access publishing, including publishers such as Springer Nature, SAGE and Wiley, but few appear to support the Plan S approach.

Under Plan S, thousands of researchers would be prevented from publishing in journals with paywalls -- including hybrid journals, which publish open-access articles alongside subscriber-only content. Several submissions argued that this restriction would be a violation of authors' academic freedom. Others questioned the feasibility of the timeline proposed by Plan S -- which could be implemented as soon as next year.

Plan S has been the subject of heated debate since it was first announced in late 2018. The initiative is led by a group of European national research funders and global charitable funders such as Wellcome and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Together these Plan S supporters are called cOAlition S.

The cOAlition S members have set out an ambitious schedule for Plan S. They intend that from Jan. 1, 2020, all research funded by members of the coalition must be published in fully open-access journals. Additionally, all content must be published under open licenses that would allow others to freely share, reuse or build upon research. While open access has grown in the United States, much scholarly publishing in the U.S. would not meet these standards.

Plan S has been described as radical, but some open-access advocates see the plans as a necessary push to change the status quo of scholarly publishing. Though open-access publishing is increasingly popular, the transition from paywalled content to open access has been slower than many advocates hoped for.

Publisher Concerns

Though current cOAlition S members collectively control billions of dollars in research funding, they only account for a small percentage of global research outputs. Earlier this year, Science reported that many more funders around the world would need to join cOAlition S for it to have a transformative impact. While it seems unlikely that U.S. national funders will join, the African Academy of Sciences and scientific leaders in China and India have expressed support. If the plan gains enough global traction, it could sound the death knell for subscription journals.

Accordingly, many publishers have expressed concern in their feedback to Plan S. The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers suggested that Plan S take a more “flexible approach” to increasing open-access publications, which would include keeping hybrid journals and green OA -- where articles are made available to the public for free after an embargo period.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) strongly opposed a Plan S proposal to introduce a cap on how much publishers can charge to make articles immediately accessible -- a fee known as an article processing charge (APC). Springer Nature, like several other publishers, expressed its commitment to open-access publishing but urged support for hybrid journals.

Steven Inchcoombe, chief publishing officer at Springer Nature, said that some of the principles of Plan S could have “unintended consequences that could be adverse rather than positive for the accelerated transition to open access.”

Springer Nature wants to accelerate open-access publishing “as quickly as possible,” said Inchcoombe. “Plan S has stated that that is also their goal, so we should be all pushing for the same outcome, but some of the things that they’ve come up with are just not going to be effective,” he said.

Hybrid journals should be embraced, “rather than eliminated,” as this is an area where open-access publications are growing rapidly, said Inchcoombe.

Funding for immediate open-access publication is also a concern, he said. “Publishers have to generate income; if they don’t charge for the content they provide, it’s very hard to see how publishers can do it all for free. Making researchers reliant on some sort of grant funding to fund OA is not a sustainable model at scale.”

Read-and-publish deals, in which institutions pay to both access subscription-only content and publish open-access articles, are a good solution to support open access in the long term, said Inchcoombe. The University of California System, for example, is pursuing such a deal with Elsevier.

Common Complaints

Lisa Hinchliffe, professor and coordinator of information literacy services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been tracking the responses to Plan S. She said that “almost universally” the responses to Plan S from publishers and others affirmed the desire to continue progress toward open-access publishing. “Ten or 15 years ago we wouldn’t have seen so many responses saying, 'OA is great' -- now many people believe OA is inevitable,” she said.

Writing for the Scholarly Kitchen, Hinchliffe highlighted some key themes in Plan S responses. No. 1 on her list was the shared support for the transition to open access. No. 2 was concern than Plan S wouldn’t work in the humanities and social sciences. Grant funding for APCs is much more common in STEM fields than in others, she noted. “Few social scientists and almost no humanists are confident of having sufficient financial support to pay APCs,” she wrote. This concern was echoed by the Association of University Presses in its response to Plan S, which highlighted that the landscape for humanities and social science journals “is not analogous to that of STEM journals.”

Moving forward, Hinchliffe would like to see more detail in the Plan S implementation guidelines. She said it is not clear what it means to be a cOAlition S member and what expectations there are on funders to adhere to the rules. She predicts that when it comes to implementing Plan S, funders may not take as hard a line as the guidance suggests.

"It’s not that I don’t think the funders will do anything. But I do think a degree of detail is going to fall away," said Hinchliffe.

Time to Act

Robert Kiley, director of open research at Wellcome, said cOAlition S had received around 1,000 comments in response to its request for feedback on Plan S. A task force will review these comments in the next few weeks and make recommendations to cOAlition S on whether they need to change their guidance.

The transition to open access simply hasn't happened fast enough, said Kiley. More than three-quarters of all research is still published behind a paywall, despite 15 years of open-access advocacy, he said.

Funders such as Wellcome previously supported hybrid journals because they believed these journals would transition to full open-access publishing, but that hasn't happened at scale. "The total number of journals that have flipped is tiny. The transition just hasn't happened," said Kiley.

It's easy to find fault in the Plan S principles, said Kiley, but the bigger picture is that research funders want the research they fund to be accessible and usable by all. "The idea that some research we fund is paywalled for six months or open but not reusable is an anathema to us," said Kiley.

"Of course it's challenging, what we're trying to do," said Kiley. "But there's a bigger ambition here."

A Global Impact

Plan S may be a European initiative, but if researchers outside Europe get funding from one of the agencies that is part of cOAlition S, or collaborate with those that do, their ability to choose “how and where to publish is significantly constrained,” said Rick Anderson, associate dean for collections and scholarly communications at the University of Utah.

Wellcome and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, two of the world's largest biomedical research funders, are both part of cOAlition S. Wellcome awarded 12 percent of its funding to researchers outside the E.U. in 2017-18, including over $64 million to academics in the U.S.

Limiting authors’ choice about where to publish would have mixed results, said Anderson. “On the one hand, more research publications would be freely available for all to read and reuse; that’s a good thing,” he said. “On the other hand, Plan S significantly undermines authors’ full freedom in publication, which is a pillar of academic freedom -- at least as it has traditionally been defined in the U.S. -- and I think a lot of authors would consider that a bad thing.”

Plan S would increase the prevalence of the pay-to-publish model of OA publishing, said Anderson. This model, where publishers charge authors extra to make articles immediately available to the public, has pros and cons, he said. “Among the cons are the fact that since authors usually pay the publishing fees out of grant funds, it has the effect of redirecting funding from research to dissemination. People will have different views of how the costs and benefits balance out.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation already requires immediate open-access publishing of research. U.S. government agencies have also started requiring free public access to research they fund, but they allow authors to publish wherever they wish -- as long as they make the results free to read within a year. Unlike the Gates Foundation, and contrary to Plan S, U.S. government agencies do not require authors to publish their work under open licenses that would allow others to access, reuse or redistribute their work with few or no restrictions.

At scale, Plan S could result in a two-tier publishing system -- creating one set of rules for European researchers and another for researchers from elsewhere, said Anderson. “European funders have the right to impose whatever conditions on their funding they wish,” he said. But he thinks ultimately Plan S may end up doing more harm than good.

“I think scholarly publishing is best served by a diverse ecosystem of publishing models, one that allows for multiple approaches to balancing the rights and needs of authors, readers, learned societies and publishers. Plan S is, very explicitly, an attempt to reduce that diversity,” said Anderson.

Plan S is built on the belief that only one open-access model should be allowed -- one that makes all scholarly publications immediately available, said Anderson. But deeper than the question of implementation is the question of who should get to decide what the future of scholarly communication will be, he said.

“Will it be shaped in a democratic and participatory way that includes the voices and perspectives of all members of that ecosystem, or will its shape be determined by only a few?”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Tue, 2019-02-19 08:00
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Essay about how white male students dominate discussions sets off debate at Dickinson and beyond

Mon, 2019-02-18 08:00

This article contains explicit and potentially offensive terms that are essential to reporting on this situation.

Leda Fisher didn't waste any time getting to the point in her recent essay in The Dickinsonian. The title was "Should White Boys Still Be Allowed to Talk?"

"When you ask a question at a lecture, is it secretly just your opinion ending with the phrase 'do you agree?'" asked Fisher, a senior at Dickinson College, at the start of her piece in the student paper. "If so, your name is something like Jake, or Chad, or Alex, and you were taught that your voice is the most important in every room. Somewhere along your academic journey, you decided your search for intellectual validation was more important than the actual exchange of information. Now how do you expect to actually learn anything?"

Fisher added, "From classes and lectures, to the news and politics, there is an endless line of white boys waiting to share their opinions on the state of feminism in America, whether the LGBTQ+ population finally has enough rights, the merits of capitalism, etc. The list of what white boys think they are qualified to talk about is endless … White boys spout the narrative of dominant ideologies and pretend they’re hot takes instead of the same misleading garbage shoved down our throats by American institutions from birth."

The willingness of white male students to dominate discussions extends to those in which they may not have personal knowledge, Fisher wrote. "I cannot describe to you how frustrating it is to be forced to listen to a white boy explain his take on the black experience in the Obama era. Hey, Brian, I’m an actual black woman alive right now with a brain. In what world would your understanding of my life carry more weight than my understanding?"

She closed her piece by saying, "So, should white boys still be allowed to share their 'opinions'? Should we be forced to listen? In honor of Black History Month, I’m gonna go with a hell no. Go find someone whose perspective has been buried or ignored and listen to them, raise up their voice. To all the Chrises, Ryans, Olivers and Seans out there, I encourage you to critically examine where your viewpoints come from, read a text that challenges you without looking for reasons to dismiss it and maybe try listening from now on."

The debate Fisher was seeking did take off -- and not just at Dickinson.

Breitbart and others denounced her. Fox News featured the column in a segment titled: "Have American universities become breeding grounds for anti-white hate?" Hundreds (most of them with no apparent connection to Dickinson) signed a petition calling for the college to expel her, and accusing her of having "spewed censorship, bigotry, racism and hatred." Others criticized the college for not doing so or for not preventing the newspaper from publishing the piece.

Hundreds of comments came in to The Dickinsonian. Some engaged in Fisher's arguments. Many said that she was trying to silence white men from speaking in class, and that view was racist. Some said her use of stereotypical white names was demeaning. Some parents of (white) Dickinson students wrote in to say that they feared for their children's ability to be treated equally. Others expressed their disagreement in ways such as this: "You people are freakin nuts … deranged … and VILE [sic]."

Fisher did not respond to an email request for a comment. She told The Carlisle Sentinel that she stood behind her piece. “I don’t regret how I wrote the article or the tone I took,” she said. “If anything, backlash to how angry or dismissive I seem just reveals how limited the range of acceptable emotion for a black woman is.”

Some minority students at Dickinson have been on edge after the posting of Ku Klux Klan leaflets in Carlisle, Pa., where the college is located. And the Fisher essay has added to a focus on racial issues at the college.

Fisher's mother, in a post among the hundreds of comments on her daughter's essay on the student newspaper's website, commented on the general environment for a black student who speaks out: "My daughter’s critics operate in the context of the national response to her op-ed in venues like Breitbart and internet forums such as 4chan. All of the responses prove the point of her piece.

"Sorry, not sorry that you cannot understand that my daughter is a little bit angry because she lives in a world where she is now being called a ‘fat kike mulatto pig’ ‘who will be hunted down and killed in the coming purge.’ Sorry, not sorry to the Dickinson mother who notes she fears for her white son in both the Dickinsonian and the Breitbart comment sections. My black child attends school on a campus in a town in which the KKK is handing out fliers. Where’s your outrage there? You think 4chan is a marginal group to which my daughter has no exposure? Individual female Dickinson students are known and discussed there. My daughter’s photograph is amplified there. The KKK is active there in cyberspace and there, up close and personal, in Carlisle."

The college has held several public forums for students on the issues raised by the piece (and of racial issues generally, in the wake of the Klan leaflets in town). Margee M. Ensign, the president, has defended the right of Fisher to have her views and of the student newspaper to publish them.

"I have heard from many of you about an opinion piece in The Dickinsonian. First, let me remind you that The Dickinsonian is a student-run newspaper that has editorial control over its content. It expresses the opinions of its writers -- it does not speak for the college," Ensign wrote. "Let me be clear. Dickinson believes in free speech. We also condemn stereotyping and prejudice. Dickinson values inclusivity. We expect our community members to engage in thoughtful dialogue and believe that no group or individual should be silenced. It is a fundamental policy of the college to respect pluralism and to promote civility and mutual understanding." Ensign did not express an opinion one way or the other on Fisher's views -- and has been criticized by Fisher's supporters and critics for not doing so (in ways they would approve of).

In response to inquiries, the college send out this statement widely: "Dickinson is a microcosm of the nation. Our campus community is composed of individuals who hold varied beliefs, opinions and life experiences. We engage in the hard work every day that is necessary to become a more inclusive community. This work is ongoing."

Some Dickinson students have followed Fisher's piece with essays of their own, defending her and saying that she was never truly trying to prevent white male students from talking in class, only to use satire and rhetoric to get them to think.

"Even if the article truly wished for all white men to be silent forever (which seems to be the goal only if you naïvely take its satirical tone literally), the author does not have the power to enforce this," wrote one student in an essay. "There is no actual threat on this campus to the domination of white, male voices. It is not that white men should never speak, or shouldn’t speak on issues of race and gender. It is that they are already speaking, and speaking so much that other voices -- often more relevant voices -- do not have the chance to be heard."

Common Frustrations

Julie J. Park, associate professor of education at the University of Maryland, College Park, and author of Race on Campus: Debunking Myths With Data (Harvard Education Press), said that she was not surprised that the essay has set off a debate. But she also said that the feelings Fisher expressed are far from unique.

"The piece probably reflects frustration about the racial climate at her campus," Park said. "This type of frustration is not uncommon among students of color at predominantly white institutions."

And indeed the issue of male or white domination of classroom conversations has been raised by others, as has the issue of favoritism toward white males in class. A 2018 study by Stanford University researchers found that instructors online, to the extent they are aware of the race and gender of students, are more likely to respond to the comments of white male students than of others.

In Inside Higher Ed's annual survey of provosts, one question is about the relative comfort levels of different groups of students in the classroom. In this year's survey, 93 percent of provosts said that white students "generally feel welcome in classrooms on my campus." The figure fell to 62 percent when asked about minority students. (Similarly, provosts felt more confident of liberal students' comfort in their classrooms than about conservative students.)

A 2014 research study in the journal Life Sciences Education explored women's class participation in introductory biology classes for students in the biology major. The prompt for the study was that biology, though previously a field in which a majority of students were male, now has a female majority of students. In the study of 23 courses, the analysis found that women made up 60 percent of the students, but 40 percent of those heard responding to questions posed by instructors in class.

Some faculty members, cognizant of patterns in which white male students dominate classroom discussions, advocate "progressive stacking," in which instructors call on students who want to talk in the reverse order that one might predictably do so, based on social biases.

A 2015 column in the student newspaper at North Carolina State University (which did not go viral as Fisher's piece did) was titled "Men, Stop Dominating Classroom Discussion."

Feeling ‘Invisible and Marginalized’

Raechele L. Pope, an expert on campus climate issues and efforts to promote inclusion in higher education, is associate professor of educational leadership and policy at the University at Buffalo of the State University of New York. She said via email that numerous studies have found that male students tend to dominate classroom discussions. Pope said that there have not been many studies on the role of race in classroom discussions but that "there is some preliminary evidence that white students participate at a higher rate than students of color."

She said that Fisher's essay was similar to "sentiments or something similar from students of color throughout my almost 40 years working on college campuses and consulting on campuses across the nation." Many are frustrated, she said, when "white male students speak about the experiences of students of color even though that is not their life experience." That doesn't mean, Pope said, that anyone should be left out of the discussion. "Let me be clear, everyone can and should participate in discussions on race and gender. However, for those conversations to be successful and lead to greater understanding, it is important for people to speak about their own experiences and not speak for other people or make assumptions about the experiences of others."

Reading the essay by Fisher, Pope said, "I sense the frustration that many students of color attending historically white institutions feel about their experiences on campus and in the classroom. They feel invisible and marginalized. They are either not seen or asked to speak for their entire racial group. When they do speak up and share their own experiences, they believe their comments are often denied and or negated by many white students and faculty and told how people of color really feel. This can be maddening and disempowering. The negative -- even vitriolic at times -- and viral reaction to an op-ed by an individual college student in a small college newspaper is astounding. The way her voice is being drowned out by the loud and angry voices of others, some even calling for her expulsion, may, in fact, prove her point that there is no room for her voice and her perspective."

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Study links faculty attitudes on intelligence to student success in STEM, with large impact on minority student success

Mon, 2019-02-18 08:00

A new study suggests that faculty members' attitudes about intelligence can have a major impact on the success of students in science, mathematics and technology courses. Students see more achievement when their instructors believe in a "growth mind-set" about intelligence than they do learning from those who believe intelligence is fixed. The impact was found across all student groups but was most pronounced among minority students.

The study -- by brain science scholars at Indiana University at Bloomington -- was published in the journal Science Advances and presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The researchers collected data on 150 faculty members in a range of STEM disciplines and 15,000 students over two years at a large public research university that is not identified. Faculty members were asked to respond to a general statement about intelligence along the lines of "To be honest, students have a certain amount of intelligence, and they really can’t do much to change it."

The study then looked at student performance in courses taught by those who agreed with that perspective and those who did not.

Students from all groups earned higher grades with faculty members who thought it was possible for people to experience intelligence growth. But the impact was particularly notable for black, Latino and Native American students (see bar chart at right).

The article argues that the faculty attitudes about intelligence carry over into the messages faculty members send to students, with those who believe in fixed intelligence suggesting to students that only the "innately gifted" are likely to succeed. Those who believe in intelligence growth are more likely, the article says, to share techniques with students on how they can become better learners.

Students with the latter group of faculty members are more likely to report that they are motivated to do their best work, and to recommend the course to others.

The researchers wanted to find out for the study whether some types of professors were more likely than others to hold fixed views of intelligence. But here the study didn't find patterns, even after looking for them within STEM disciplines and comparing professors by gender, race, generation or years of teaching experience.

Some studies have found that underrepresented minority students do better in courses taught by "same-race role models." But this study did not find that impact, even though it found a substantial impact on minority student performance based on attitudes about intelligence.

The paper acknowledges that there could be another factor at play. "It is possible that faculty who endorse fixed mind-set beliefs create more demanding courses -- requiring students to spend more time studying and preparing for their course," the paper says. "If this is true, then differences in students’ performance and psychological experiences might be explained by the demands of these courses (instead of professors’ mind-set beliefs)."

But the paper said that the researchers could not measure this. But they could identify the use -- by faculty members not holding to the view of fixed intelligence -- of a range of pedagogical techniques linked to improved learning by students in all groups.

Why would this divide based on views of intelligence have more of an impact on underrepresented minority students?

"Faculty beliefs about which students 'have' ability in STEM might constitute a greater barrier for [underrepresented minority] students because fixed mind-set beliefs may make group ability stereotypes salient, creating a context of stereotype threat," the paper says. "Recent research suggests that when stigmatized students expect to be stereotyped by fixed mind-set institutions, they experience less belonging, less trust and more anxiety and become less interested (27, 28), suggesting that fixed mind-set faculty might also engender these adverse outcomes among students."

Taken as a whole, the paper argues that its findings may suggest a different approach to those seeking to promote more success of all students, and especially of minority students, in STEM.

"Millions of dollars in federal funding have been earmarked for student-centered initiatives and interventions that combat inequality in higher education and expand the STEM pipeline. Rather than putting the burden on students and rigid structural factors, our work shines a spotlight on faculty and how their beliefs relate to the underperformance of stigmatized students in their STEM classes," the paper says. "Faculty-centered interventions may have the unprecedented potential to change STEM culture from a fixed mind-set culture of genius to a growth mind-set culture of development while narrowing STEM racial achievement gaps at scale."

The principal investigator on the project is Mary Murphy, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana. The other authors are Elizabeth Canning, a postdoctoral researcher in Murphy's lab; Dorainne Green, a postdoctoral researcher at IU; and Katherine Muenks, who was a postdoctoral researcher at IU at the time of the study.

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Alaska governor proposes 41 percent cut to higher ed

Mon, 2019-02-18 08:00

Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy, whose state faces a $1.6 billion deficit, is proposing to cut $310 million from the state’s education system -- including a jaw-dropping 41 percent cut to the University of Alaska System.

The planned reduction represents the largest of any state agency.

Dunleavy’s plan comes alongside a proposed $20 million funding increase for the state’s 13 public community colleges, known in Alaska as “community campuses.”

The new budget, announced Wednesday in Juneau, is part of Dunleavy’s plan to trim the deficit by $1.3 billion. The plan includes cutting nearly one-fifth of the budget of the state Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, which includes the university system.

University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen told the Anchorage Daily News that the proposed cut is the largest in the university system’s 100-year history and could force its campuses to fire about 1,300 faculty and staff members. Johnsen said several research efforts would also be in jeopardy.

In a statement, Johnsen said Dunleavy’s budget, if approved, would devastate the university system, forcing him to propose “deep cuts for every UA campus.” He said the system had already been operating under leaner budgets in four of the last five years.

“Cuts at this level cannot simply be managed or accommodated,” he said. “If this budget passes the Legislature, it will devastate university programs and services, and the negative effects will be felt in communities across the entire state.”

The lower spending, Johnsen said, “will hurt Alaska’s economic competitiveness now and long into the future.”

A budget summary posted on Dunleavy’s official site said the reduced spending would allow the system to “focus on core programs and educational services” while encouraging it to focus on instruction in community campuses operated by the state's three system branches.

The proposal would also hit public K-12 education, slashing about one-fifth of operating expenses at the Anchorage School District, for example. Starr Marsett, president of the Anchorage School Board, called it “the dismantling of public education as we know it.”

Dunleavy also wants to zero out $3.1 million in state funding for a multistate medical education program run out of the University of Washington School of Medicine that trains physicians to serve in Alaska and elsewhere in the West. Alaska is one of several states without a medical school.

Over all, he wants to withdraw a $154 million state subsidy from the university system while carving out $20 million more for community campuses, which he said operate more efficiently, costing the state just $8,210 per student, compared to $25,336 per student at the state’s four-year campuses.

Cathy Sandeen, chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, the largest institution in the system, didn’t sugarcoat the proposed cut.

“It is very large,” she said.

Sandeen noted that legislators will almost certainly push back on Dunleavy’s budget proposal. But in the end, she said, she and other university leaders are preparing for leaner times -- they plan to meet today to discuss staffing and program reductions.

“A cut of this magnitude will undoubtedly result in work-force reductions and major restructuring of programs,” she said. “There are some things that this will force us to look at that will make us better, but we will definitely be smaller and we’ll definitely be doing things differently when we come out the end of this.”

Sandeen, who came to Alaska from the University of Wisconsin System, said she’s no stranger to statewide cuts to higher education -- while in Wisconsin, she recalled, her campus labored under both a tuition freeze and a 27 percent state funding cut. “I come into this with experience,” she said.

Alaska’s community campuses merged with the four-year system in the 1980s, Sandeen said, and the arrangement has worked well. “We like having a full arc of educational pathways available to our students.” But carving the community campuses out as a separate system “could certainly work” as well, she said, if the new system can do a better job offering shorter-term credentials that support work-force training. “If one believes in focus and specialization being a good thing, this new structure would enable that, perhaps, a little better.”

Sandeen noted that she’s a product of California’s once well-funded public university system and later worked in Silicon Valley. “I see the economic power of quality universities,” she said, “both in generating new knowledge, new industries and providing the workforce that employers need.”

‘A Big Step Backwards’

Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, warned against balancing state budgets “on the backs of students.”

“People need to remember that cutting higher education funding is a policy choice,” he said. “This is not inevitable.”

Harnisch predicted that the steep cuts will make it difficult over the next few years ”to lure the best and the brightest” to work in Alaska’s public universities. “Education is a community, and people certainly talk to each other.”

He recalled that in 2011, in the height of the recession, New Hampshire moved to make similar cuts to its higher ed system, slashing funding by nearly 50 percent in one year. “It took them some time to recover from that,” he said.

Dunleavy, a Republican elected last November, previously served as a state senator since 2012. He has described the new budget as “an open and straightforward approach to budgeting that works to tackle Alaska’s overwhelming fiscal challenges.” In online postings, he has called the proposal “An Honest Budget” that preserves state reserves and doesn’t repeat past years’ deficit spending.

But Harnisch said cutting higher ed so deeply will hurt the state’s efforts to diversify its economy, which relies heavily on oil revenues.

“Texas learned its lesson in the 1980s,” he said. “They made a conscious effort to go from a one-dimensional economy” to a diverse one that bolstered state spending on education. “If Alaska is going to grow and diversify its economy, it needs to invest in its public colleges and universities -- and this cut is a big step backwards.”

The medical training program, known as WWAMI, draws its name from the five states served: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

It trains 80 Alaska students at a time at the University of Alaska Anchorage, via digital instruction from he University of Washington School of Medicine. Students are dually enrolled at the University of Alaska and University of Washington. They complete foundational course work both on campus and in communities. Graduates who practice medicine in Alaska qualify for loan forgiveness if they work in rural areas of the state for three years or elsewhere in Alaska for five years.

Dunleavy has said that only about 55 percent of WWAMI borrowers are licensed physicians practicing medicine in Alaska, and that the program “has not proven effective at meeting the demand for new physicians, despite a significant state investment over the years.” He said the percentage of program graduates practicing in Alaska “continues to decrease.”

In a detailed budget analysis the governor posted online, he said that from 2014 to 2018, the percent of graduates practicing in Alaska dropped from 84 percent to 61 percent.

But the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Suzanne Allen said those figures are misleading, since many students who train with WWAMI elsewhere in the five-state region end up practicing in Alaska. The percentage of total WWAMI students who end up practicing in Alaska, she said, is closer to 80 percent, not 61 percent.

“We certainly feel like we make a significant contribution to the physician work force in that state,” she said. “Our focus is really on creating a rural primary-care work force to meet the needs of patients in Alaska.”

The program actually originated in Alaska in 1971, with 10 medical students. Since then, it has produced about 350 Alaska graduates, she said. “We feel like the training opportunities we provide for medical students contribute in a positive way to them coming back and actually practicing in the state.”

Johnsen, the system president, said today's emergency meeting with the chancellors will help them propose reductions to the Board of Regents, which meets Feb. 28.

“We are heading into uncharted territory with lots of uncertainty ahead,” Johnsen said.

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Appeals court rules on issue of university keeping rapist away from accuser

Mon, 2019-02-18 08:00

Iowa State University did not violate the federal law protecting students against gender discrimination when it declined to move a rapist from a dormitory near his victim, an appeals court ruled Friday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit backed the decision of a federal district court to dismiss a lawsuit by a former student, Melissa Maher, who sued in 2016.

Maher reported her rape in March 2014 to the institution, which began investigating that May. The university barred the student she accused, Patrick Whetstone, from interacting with her.

When Maher came back to the university for the next academic year, she discovered that Whetstone was assigned to a residence hall close to hers. At this point, the university was still investigating Maher’s report and had not held a formal hearing to judge the allegations. Court documents state that Maher would see him an average of twice a week.

When Maher and her parents met with Iowa State officials to request that Whetstone be moved, they were told that he could not be until the investigation ended. Administrators offered to instead put Maher in a single-person room meant for emergencies, or she and her roommate could move to a converted den space with other women or a nearby hotel.

Maher declined these options, adamant that Whetstone be moved.

About a month after Maher and her parents met with administrators, Whetstone was found responsible for the rape and was eventually expelled.

Despite this, Maher suffered from anxiety from the assault and withdrew from the university shortly after. In 2015, police charged Whetstone with third-degree sexual abuse in the case, and in 2016, he pled guilty, being sentenced to two years of probation.

Maher, in her lawsuit from 2016, accused Iowa State of infringing on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 for not moving Whetstone or providing her with acceptable alternatives.

A U.S. District Court judge eventually dismissed the case, finding that Iowa State hadn’t violated the legal standard of “deliberate indifference.” Maher took her lawsuit to the appeals court, which agreed with the lower court.

“While Maher’s preference was that ISU move Whetstone, it was not deliberately indifferent for ISU to wait to take such action until the hearing process concluded because ISU was respecting Whetstone’s procedural due process rights,” Judge Raymond Gruender wrote for the court.

Iowa State did not respond to request for comment but in a statement told the Gazette newspaper in Iowa it was pleased that the district court initially dismissed the case. Officials said their thoughts were primarily with Maher and other sexual assault survivors.

“We are deeply saddened that Ms. Maher experienced this traumatic sexual assault and the devastating impact caused by the criminal conduct of a fellow student,” the statement reads.

S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, which consults with colleges and universities on Title IX and security issues, said the ruling matches decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I recommend that institutions have means in place to minimize the impact on students reporting sexual assault by not requiring them to relocate, noting that any due process that may be required for an interim action or protective measure is going to be less than what may be required for final action,” Carter wrote in an email.

Taylor S. Parker, the compliance coordinator and deputy Title IX coordinator at the Ringling College of Art and Design, said that Iowa State in this case had “failed” both students.

She said that while the court bought in to Iowa State’s argument, Parker disagreed that moving Whetstone would be considered some sort of disciplinary measure. She said that while the university failed in meeting the “deliberate indifference” standard, in practicality, Maher saw her attacker regularly and the university didn’t step in to remedy that.

Iowa State could have avoided the entire lawsuit by being more proactive and making sure that the two were not placed near each in the first place, Parker said.

When a no-contact order has been issued, institutions should work with all offices -- housing, the registrar, even students’ professors -- to make sure that students don’t interact, Parker said.

Privacy advocates might question giving all those employees access to student information, but Parker said it’s a necessary step.

“Universities need to uphold their end of the agreement,” Parker said, referring to no-contact orders. “If they are making it challenging and difficult for a student to comply with those, then they have to start looking into the contact orders and not jut pay lip service.”

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NYU social work school admits to institutional racism in wake of student email

Fri, 2019-02-15 08:29

New York University has been stunned by a student's email stating that it would be "easier" for him without a "black presence" in class.

The incident has played out on social media as Shahem Mclaurin, a black student at NYU's Silver School of Social Work, described his experience. He was in France and so was going to have to miss class. He had obtained permission from the faculty member in advance to use FaceTime to be in the class virtually, but when he emailed various students in the course, they didn't respond, so he was unable to see or participate in the class.

One student sent him an email that Mclaurin then shared on Twitter:

I’m in Paris and didn’t want to miss my classes. I emailed all of my classmates to FaceTime me in the course (professor approved) and they all ignored me. This is the response someone sent me. I want to drop out. pic.twitter.com/se1Ico5Ulp

— Shahem Mclaurin (@NotShahem) February 12, 2019

The email said in part that the student "found it easier to lead the discussion without black presence in the room, since I do feel somewhat uncomfortable with the (perceived) threat that it poses."

Mclaurin wrote that the email made him feel like dropping out. Many responded on social media that they would feel the same way, and that this pointed to broader problems at the social work school. Given that social work schools pride themselves on training professionals who will be inclusive, the incident attracted much concern at the Silver School.

On Thursday, Dean Neil B. Guterman and two associate deans released an open letter in response to the incident. The letter said that NYU officials had reached out both to Mclaurin and the student who had sent him the email. "Both students involved in the email exchange indicated their desire to resolve the issues in the class, and the associate dean of academic affairs is working with the chair of practice and the instructor of the course to promote productive and restorative dialogue."

The open letter, speaking more generally, said, "No student should experience racism or otherwise be made to feel unwelcome here at NYU Silver. It is antithetical to our School and the social work profession. We are deeply sorry when we hear that students have experienced exclusion and bias when we should instead be hearing of inclusive, educationally uplifting, and supportive experiences."

Further, the letter said, "We recognize that this incident took place in a broader context of ongoing institutional racism at Silver, especially in classrooms. Notwithstanding efforts to actively address these issues, we clearly have significant work yet ahead. Addressing matters of racism, bias, and social exclusion require firm commitment and collective efforts of us all, and this work must be ongoing. As social workers we must continually examine our own biases as well as the social systems that perpetuate racism and other forms of discrimination and marginalization. In the wake of this painful incident, it is our hope that we will find an opportunity for self-reflection, learning, and professional and institutional growth."

Beyond the incident with the email, black and other minority students have for some time been pushing for an improved climate at the social work school. A recent "call to action for social justice" at the school noted that major discussions on these issues took place in 2010, and said that far too little had changed since.

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Study documents economic gains from liberal arts education

Fri, 2019-02-15 08:00

You've read the stories about liberal arts college grads doomed to a life of poverty, paying back their student loans while living in their parents' basement. And if you've been reading Inside Higher Ed, you have read about studies questioning that narrative.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has now released a new analysis by two economists that examines the questions of the economic payoff of a liberal arts college education. The study makes no claims that liberal arts grads outearn those in, say, engineering. But the report says the claims that a liberal arts degree isn't worth its cost or will hurt a graduate's career prospects prove untrue. Specifically, the report says attending a liberal arts college for most students leads to meaningful economic mobility.

"Critics claim that a liberal arts education is worth less than the alternatives, and perhaps not even worth the investment at all. They argue that increasing costs and low future earnings limit the value of a liberal arts education, especially compared to alternative options such as pre-professional programs that appear to be better rewarded in the current labor market," says the report. "Existing evidence does not support these conclusions."

The report's authors -- Catharine B. Hill and Elizabeth Davidson Pisacreta -- are both at Ithaka S+R, which conducts extensive research on the economics of higher education. Hill is a former president of Vassar College.

Throughout the study, the authors draw attention to misconceptions about liberal arts education. They note that, to the extent some liberal arts graduates end up in relatively low-paying careers, this reflects their career interests and market forces, and would likely be the same even if they attended another kind of institution.

"If someone chooses to be a musician or elementary school teacher, their income is dictated by the labor market," said Hill in an interview. Further, she said that "students who choose to be artists or elementary school teachers may not be people who would want to be an engineer."

That distinction is important, the study says, because there is for many an income gap based on type of institution attended. What is false is the idea that the income gap is so large as to make a liberal arts college education not worthwhile.

The link of institution type and field of study is one of the myths about liberal arts colleges, the authors write. Many pundits and politicians bash liberal arts colleges, and say that the country needs more people with science, mathematics and technology degrees (which are widely seen as leading to more lucrative careers). Using various federal data sources, the study shows that those in private higher education outside liberal arts colleges are more likely to major in engineering (many liberal arts colleges, of course, don't have engineering programs). But for the rest of the STEM fields, liberal arts colleges (at various levels of competitiveness) award larger shares of STEM degrees than do comparable private, non-liberal arts colleges.

The data are why the report (and Hill in an interview) sometimes talk about students experiencing "liberal education," not liberal arts, even when the samples are of students at liberal arts colleges. Hill said that too many people equate liberal arts with humanities study alone, or imagine that "liberal" refers to politics. She said that one reason liberal arts graduates earn more than expected is the diversity of fields studied beyond the humanities. Many of the comparisons in the report are of private liberal arts colleges to other types of institutions. But Hill said she believed many of the findings would be similar if studying those enrolled in liberal arts programs at colleges and universities with a broad range of pre-professional programs.

With regard to actual income, the study relies heavily on the data of Opportunity Insights, which the study refers to by its former name, the Equality of Opportunity Project. Raj Chetty of Harvard University is the leader of the project, which the researchers used to compare the impact on economic mobility of liberal arts colleges graduates and those who attended other kinds of institutions. The important thing about that data is that they recognize that one of the best ways (regardless of what one studies in college, or where) to end up wealthy is to start out wealthy. Chetty looks at various institutions and tracks the movement of students from various quintiles of income in their family background to where they end up after graduation.

The data show that those who started out in lower quintiles and studied at elite private colleges show significant gains and entry into the top quintile of income, even if they are not as large as those gains achieved by those attending other kinds of institutions.

Other comparisons in the study look at the shifts for students, by entering economic quintiles, and those who end up in the top two quintiles, or the top 40 percent of American income. For some of these comparisons, the analysis also considered STEM-intensive institutions.

Not surprisingly, the STEM-oriented institutions do quite well in terms of lifting up the economic status of graduates, and for some groups they outperform other types of colleges.

But here again, there are substantial gains for those attending liberal arts colleges, such that more than 60 percent of them are ending up in the top two quintiles of income postgraduation, even if they started out in the bottom three quintiles.

Other parts of the analysis look at graduation rates (where private liberal arts colleges do better than do other private institutions, across levels of competitiveness). And the study looks at the availability of aid, which finds that actual costs are substantially lower than sticker price.

These figures are important, the authors say, in that questions of the "worth" of a college are based on cost and economic outcomes.

The authors acknowledge in the report the many limitations that remain -- and say that they would like to explore finer subgroups of students both at liberal arts and other types of colleges (including testing their assumptions about those who study the liberal arts at non-liberal arts colleges and universities).

But they point to the Chetty data they have applied to say that attending liberal arts colleges leads to economic mobility across income groups.

"All the evidence shows that the bashing of liberal arts colleges, and the liberal arts, just isn't well founded, just isn't based on evidence," Hill said.

Hill said that she hoped the study would counter some of the prevailing myths, such as the one that says going to a liberal arts college means one isn't studying STEM, when in facts such majors have seen gains at liberal arts colleges.

"If you think back 10 or 15 years, we worried that there weren't enough students in STEM fields, and we've actually succeeded" in changing that, she said.

But Hill said she realized that it would be a continued, uphill battled to argue against the view that studying the liberal arts is economically foolish. "The more evidence we can get out, the better," she said.

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Opposition hardens against one college seeking to merge and another planning to close

Fri, 2019-02-15 08:00

Protests were planned for today as Hampshire College prepares to put layoffs in place on the heels of its controversial decision to stop admitting additional students for the upcoming fall semester.

Alumni, staff, faculty, students and parents of students planned an on-campus protest to voice dissatisfaction with both the layoffs and what they see as a flawed decision by Hampshire’s leaders to seek a partnership with another institution, organizers said. They also planned to pressure the Massachusetts attorney general’s office to investigate Hampshire trustees’ decision not to admit a full entering class.

Their plans come as a diffuse opposition movement has been coalescing in the weeks since Hampshire -- a private liberal arts college in Amherst, Mass., known as a great experiment in self-directed education -- announced in mid-January it was seeking a partnership in the face of intense enrollment and financial challenges. About two weeks later, Hampshire’s leaders announced a decision not to admit a traditional class of new students in the fall. Instead, the college will only enroll new students who had already been admitted under early decision or who had been admitted and deferred enrolling for a year.

Alumni are also attempting to raise millions of dollars they think can keep Hampshire operating as an independent institution. And those linked to Hampshire aren’t the only ones trying to find money to fight off a decision they don’t like about a private liberal arts college’s future. A group is attempting to enlist donors to keep Green Mountain College in Vermont from acting on plans announced last month to close at the end of the current semester.

The groups seeking to keep Hampshire and Green Mountain open and independent would appear to face nearly insurmountable challenges. Both colleges have struggled mightily in recent years and have signaled that they won’t admit any more freshmen for next fall, cutting off or curtailing their most important source of revenue.

But group leaders point to recent precedent after alumnae of Sweet Briar College in Virginia successfully prevented the women’s college’s board from closing it in 2015. A group called Saving Sweet Briar fought the shutdown plans in court and eventually won a deal to keep the college open under new management, even after its previous leaders had taken steps to wind down operations.

Some of those fighting for both Hampshire and Green Mountain have been in touch with those who fought to keep Sweet Briar from closing and rebooted the college.

Many higher ed experts remain extremely skeptical that the efforts to keep Hampshire and Green Mountain open and independent can be successful in the long term. Hampshire’s backers, however, believe that the college did not properly engage them before moving down a path that they think will eliminate its unique character. Now that they are engaging, they think they can find the resources to save the college. Those trying to raise money for Green Mountain, meanwhile, say they are making every effort to preserve the mission of an institution that is important to its small hometown of Poultney, Vt.

Despite their differences, the two situations demonstrate just how hard it can be to close or merge a college -- at least until it can't make payroll.

The technical steps needed to wind down operations or find a merger partner are hard enough. Then the human element can make efforts nearly impossible as alumni tightly clutch the memories of their alma maters.

Haggling Over Hampshire’s Future

Hampshire has not said how many of its employees it will lay off. The college currently has about 250 staff members and 150 faculty members. It plans to tell some of those whose positions are being eliminated on Tuesday. Then it will tell more on or around April 1 that they are being laid off.

The college expects some faculty members to be laid off later this year but has not made any decisions on that issue, according to a spokesman, John Courtmanche. Some layoffs would have been necessary even if the college hadn’t decided to stop accepting new students for the upcoming fall semester, he said. Hampshire was facing significant budget deficits because of decreased enrollment.

Some point out that the college’s president, Miriam E. Nelson, has written about layoffs being necessary as the college downsizes and doesn’t admit new students. They see circular logic -- the college is not admitting a new class because of enrollment and financial difficulties, creating further financial difficulties and requiring downsizing.

“Why not admit an entering class?” said Warren S. Goldstein, who graduated from Hampshire in 1983 and is now executive director of the Center for Critical Research on Religion in Newton, Mass. “By not admitting a new class, you’re losing about a quarter of your revenue.”

Goldstein is one of several people organizing Hampshire alumni to fight college leaders’ actions. In an interview, he discussed several options, including fund-raising, protests and possibly litigation. Hampshire’s outreach to alumni has been poor in the past, he said.

Now, many alumni feel that they weren’t kept up to speed on the college’s struggles and that they would have helped had they been given the right information. Instead, they believe college leaders announced a crisis after they'd already decided on a merger plan that would likely see Hampshire losing its unique identity after being absorbed by a large institution.

Hampshire’s historic identity as a college with no majors, no grades and students designing their own courses of study has likely contributed to a perception that its students and alumni would be difficult to tap in philanthropy. Although they may pursue careers that make an impact on society, they’re generally not viewed as among the wealthiest.

But Goldstein said he attended Hampshire alongside members of some of the country’s wealthiest families: a Rockefeller, a Newhouse.

“A lot of us have not pursued money,” Goldstein said. “But their families -- it’s inherited wealth.”

Hampshire’s president, Nelson, was not available for interview Wednesday. But the college pointed out that it is a young institution that only opened in 1970. Its alumni haven’t grown old enough to leave it money in their wills after they die.

Some donors have helped Hampshire balance its budget in recent years, the college’s spokesman said. But Hampshire hasn’t grown its endowment to a level that would shield it from falling enrollment. At $52 million, and assuming a common 5 percent draw, the endowment would generate $2.6 million per year for college operations. That’s only a fraction of the college’s operating expenses, which have been about $56 million in recent years -- and it doesn’t take into account that much of the endowment is restricted for specific purposes.

Hampshire has turned to layoffs, budget cuts and donations to close deficits in the past. In the 2016 fiscal year, it had a $1 million deficit, according to its administration. It went on to face gaps of $1.5 million in 2017, $2.3 million in 2018 and $5.4 million in the current fiscal year.

The college’s enrollment fell from 1,390 in 2014 to 1,120 in 2019. It struggled to enroll more students even while increasing its tuition discount rate for first-year students from 36 percent in 2012 to about 60 percent in 2018.

That discount rate was about five percentage points higher than a target under a financial sustainability plan, yet Hampshire still missed a target for new student deposits. It had been shooting for 345 but only received 286 deposits. The lower-than-targeted deposits came even though Hampshire exceeded its target of 2,200 applications by more than 100.

The financial sustainability plan had called for 400 or more deposits in each of the net three years while lowering discount rates.

Net tuition and room and board revenue dropped at Hampshire in each of the last four years. In 2014, 7 percent of the college’s students paid full tuition. By 2018, the percentage paying full price had fallen to less than 1 percent.

More can be done to attract students and to make the college less reliant on tuition revenue, Goldstein said. He suggested finding a wealthy board member and emphasizing programs that particular board member supports. He also suggested electing board members to make them less insulated from the alumni community.

Goldstein went on to argue that a decision Hampshire made years ago not to accept standardized test scores hurt the college by causing it to drop from national rankings. Another former Hampshire student, Steve Aronstein, also mentioned the effect the standardized test decision had on rankings.

Hampshire reported strong results in 2015, after its first full year of not looking at test scores and not being in U.S. News & World Report rankings. At the time, leaders pointed to a larger enrolled class, higher yield, more minority students and more first-generation students, even as high school grade point averages held steady.

But critics wonder whether the positive effects turned negative as the publicity wore off and successive classes of students didn't see the college's name when they looked at rankings. The test score change was the right thing to do, said Aronstein, who entered the college in 1989. But the college needed to work harder on marketing itself in the aftermath, he said.

Aronstein started a fund-raising effort that drew more than $250,000 in pledges as Hampshire was deciding whether to enroll a new class this fall.

Now, Aronstein is aiming to raise $10 million in the next several months. He thinks it would be an adequate down payment on $30 million to keep the institution open for the future.

Tens of millions of dollars would help the school in the short term. But Hampshire’s endowment would need to be boosted into the hundreds of millions of dollars for the college to be competitive into the future, said the college’s spokesman, Courtmanche.

Hampshire’s administration has said that donors wanted to support special projects but not operations. Aronstein retorts that he has spoken with major donors who had never been contacted leading up to the current crisis.

“We have donors who said they were contacted by people at the college this fall to give their usual donation,” he said. “They never said to them, ‘This is something existential, that we need to do this in October or in January we have to close.’”

Many of those connected to Hampshire feel they have been left out of the loop, Aronstein added. After the college made its decision on not admitting new students, grassroots efforts started growing quickly.

“Going forward, I think you’re going to see a more coordinated and cohesive effort,” he said.

Raising Money for Green Mountain

In Vermont, a group called SaveGMC is attempting to raise money to keep a much smaller institution from closing. Green Mountain College has enrolled about 500 undergraduates and collected about $18 million in total revenue in recent years. Budget deficits have been about $2 million or $3 million in recent years.

So far, SaveGMC doesn’t have a firm goal for how much it should raise. Numbers ranging from $5 million to $22 million have been discussed, said Kheya Ganguly, who is on the group’s strategic leadership team. The group’s website showed a short-term goal of $600,000 in pledges.

The group counted 197 pledges and 93 annual pledges as of Thursday night. It listed an annual five-year pledge total of $144,730.

“The message we’re giving the school is, yes, we need money,” said Ganguly, whose two daughters graduated from Green Mountain in the last five years. “We started out very small, trying to make this work. And now we’re starting to get people really jumping on board to be supportive.”

A few hundred thousand dollars in pledges might seem unlikely to materialize into an amount of money that can sustain a multimillion-dollar operation like a college. But the parents, alumni, students and other interested parties that are part of SaveGMC think it is important to preserve the college, which is critical to the health of its hometown of Poultney, Ganguly said. They also believe in Green Mountain’s environmentally focused mission at a time when climate change is becoming more and more of an issue.

“We went into this saying the only failure we see is not trying,” Ganguly said. “If we try and we don’t succeed, at least we’ll know we’ve given it our best shot to save the institutional values.”

Past Precedent?

Yet to be seen is whether those fighting to change the futures of Green Mountain or Hampshire can tap in to a similar energy -- or similar donor bases -- to what propelled Saving Sweet Briar’s success several years ago. Those who helped prevent Sweet Briar from closing can help the groups learn how to assess their situations, consider institutions’ viability going forward and marshal resources for potential legal battles, said Teresa Pike Tomlinson, who chaired the Sweet Briar board after it was overhauled.

Tomlinson thinks administrators at colleges that consider closing have sometimes been reluctant to take dramatic action like tuition resets or major curricular changes. Both have been deployed at Sweet Briar after the college’s reboot.

“People need to take heed and understand that this is a tough time for private higher education institutions,” Tomlinson said. “They offer a valuable resource in that they allow a very nurturing and rigorous educational environment for a lot of young people, and there’s no doubt these institutions are turning out leaders in their various fields. Yet we’re letting them sort of die on the vine, because the administrative leadership is not being bold and forthright about the threat they’re under.”

College officials are keeping their troubles too close to the vest for too long, she said.

“It is a stigma,” she said. “If the college is under distress, then it may discourage people from coming there and obviously would be counterintuitive to your efforts to keep the college open and healthy and growing. What seems to be happening is people get so closed that they don’t really open themselves up to their potential resources and alumni being able to give more robustly than they ever have before.”

Not everyone sees it exactly the same way. Brian Weinblatt is the founder and principal of Higher Ed Consolidation Solutions, a consultancy focused on college mergers.

“What we're seeing now at both Hampshire and Green Mountain Colleges is far too little, far too late,” he said in an email. “This applies both to the administrative efforts and those of the alumni, parents and others who are calling for external support for the institutions. The thoughts, well wishes and gestures of support are all well intentioned, however, they cannot realistically make a difference at this point.”

The institutions in question would have needed to make major changes much earlier if they were to survive, Weinblatt continued. A thoughtful leader should view discussions about mergers and consolidations as a chance to avoid closing the door on a storied institution with a rich history and not dismiss them as a failure, he said.

“Make no mistake -- for some institutions there truly will be no viable path forward,” Weinblatt said. “And some -- perhaps many -- will close in the coming years. But astute leaders who truly look at all available options can chart a path forward to continued existence and success and not find themselves in a place where they are announcing cancellations of incoming classes of students, desperation fund-raising campaigns or complete closures.”

At this point in time, perhaps Hampshire’s president, Nelson, put it best in a Feb. 13 letter.

“It’s been a painful month for the Hampshire community, to put it mildly,” she wrote.

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Judge says that U of Texas at Austin can't revoke former student's Ph.D. on its own, outside court of law

Fri, 2019-02-15 08:00

The University of Texas at Austin lacks the authority, express or implied, to revoke a former graduate student's Ph.D., a state court determined this week.

The brief judgment by Judge Karin Crump pertains to Suvi Orr, who has been fighting to keep her Ph.D. for years, following allegations of scientific misconduct that led the university to revoke the doctorate.

Orr, now a senior principal scientist at Pfizer, received her doctorate in organic chemistry at Texas in 2008. She saw her dissertation retracted in 2012 over unreliable data. Orr argued then and now that she misread the data and didn’t falsify anything.

Texas nevertheless tried to revoke her degree twice. Orr sued each time, arguing that she wasn’t given the opportunity to defend herself against the misconduct claim and that her former professor is to blame for her situation.

In 2017, a Texas appeals court weighing her second lawsuit granted Orr an injunction, saying that the university could not revoke her Ph.D. through its own disciplinary process -- what Orr called a “kangaroo court” -- outside a court of law.

Gary Susswein, university spokesperson, said via email Thursday that “we’ve read the opinion, respectfully disagree with the holding, and are currently planning to appeal.”

Orr’s attorneys, David Sergi and Anita Kawaja, told Retraction Watch in a statement that the decision is a first step toward restoring Orr’s “reputation and her standing in the scientific community.” The ruling also recognizes that relevant Texas law has been unchanged for decades, in that it ensures conferred degrees can only be rescinded through the “rigid due process” of a lawsuit, they said.

If the university “wants to take a degree away from a former student,” it must file suit in court, “not rely on a [sic] ad hoc process with little or no real due process,” the attorneys added.

Sergi and Kawaja said Orr has “always defended her research, and is frustrated that [Texas] chose support an academic who was, in our opinion, trying to shift the blame for his missteps to our client.” They said that it’s “time to wake up to the fact that they have to hold faculty accountable for their own failures.”

Orr’s dissertation was about synthesis and analysis of organic molecules. She says that she and her professor, Stephen S. Martin, M. June and J. Virgil Waggoner Regents Chair in Chemistry, decided that she would try to synthesize a molecule called Lundurine B. With Martin’s endorsement, Orr says, she presented and defended her dissertation to a committee of five Texas professors.

A paper based on Orr’s work was submitted to a journal three years later, in 2011. A postdoctoral fellow then began to question the data, according to Orr’s most recent lawsuit, leading him to “believe that what was submitted to the journal article was somehow erroneous or otherwise inaccurate.”

Only then did Martin bring a complaint against Orr alleging misconduct, the lawsuit says, noting that the claims against her center on three results of many more. Orr could have “easily excluded” these three from her dissertation with no negative impact on her paper as a whole -- but Martin consented to their inclusion, she said.

“The decision to revoke a Ph.D. is a harsh, severe and rare penalty,” the lawsuit says. “When presented with an otherwise impeccable record such as [Orr’s], who has enjoyed a successful career and maintained her good name and reputation in the face of these outrageous accusations, the university is required to afford the highest of due process protections,” which can only be had in court.

Martin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ph.D. revocations are indeed rare -- but they do happen. Jodi Whitaker, a scholar of communication, saw her Ph.D. rescinded in 2017 by Ohio State University. She was promptly demoted from tenure-track professor to lecturer at the University of Arizona. Whitaker's case also involved allegations of falsified data and a retracted paper. Her research was on the real-world effects of violent video games.

Whitaker co-wrote the retracted paper at Ohio State with her supervisor there, who said he was not aware of any inappropriate data manipulation. But some prominent scholars came to her defense at the time, saying she'd been sacrificed to protect the more senior faculty member.

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A decade after recession, colleges take divergent hiring paths

Fri, 2019-02-15 08:00

A new research review finds that since the recession, hiring patterns for new full-time faculty members have fluctuated considerably at public four-year doctoral and master's institutions, while they have barely budged at public baccalaureate institutions.

The study, released Thursday by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), based in Knoxville, Tenn., recounts the economic realities of higher education in the decade since the recession: enrollment that spiked and then fell for most types of colleges, government support that has failed to keep pace with enrollment, and a resulting shift in which institutional funding increasingly comes from tuition dollars.

In the new report, CUPA-HR said that before 2008, new hires of full-time faculty at public master’s and doctoral institutions were “rapidly growing.” But after the recession hit, there was a notable decline in full-time hires -- a decline that continued until 2016, when institutions began to increase new hires. By contrast, hires of these instructors at public baccalaureate institutions remained relatively steady, if limited, over the entire period.

For instance, from 2003 to 2018, the percentage of part-time faculty members in public baccalaureate colleges remained fairly stable, beginning at 33.7 percent and ending at 33.6 percent. In the same period, the percentage of part-time instructors at public master's colleges grew from 31.6 percent to 36.7 percent. At public doctoral colleges, it grew from 23.7 percent to 28.9 percent.

Jackie Bichsel, the group's research director, said baccalaureate institutions "were not willing to compromise their teaching faculty based on the results of the recession.” While master's and doctoral institutions continue to hire more new assistant professors, the figures have fluctuated considerably. At both public and private baccalaureate institutions, Bichsel said, the hiring has been "slow and steady."

“It just goes to, I guess, the steadiness of those baccalaureate institutions,” she said.

Meanwhile, doctoral institutions continue to rely more than others on new, part-time faculty. “It is almost like they’re more willing to compromise that teaching part in order to fulfill their budget goals,” Bichsel said.

George Mehaffy of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, which represents many regional, master's-level, four-year institutions, said it's difficult to make inferences from the statistics. While baccalaureate institutions are certainly not sacrificing high-quality instruction to balance budgets, he said, “We aren’t, either."

He said the hiring statistics actually show that "our institutions were hit harder than other sectors in terms of funding -- particularly state funding." Mehaffy, vice president for academic leadership and change at AASCU, noted that flagship public universities "aren’t as vulnerable as regional comprehensives to funding declines."

For public university leaders facing uncertain budgets, hiring more full-time, tenure-track faculty is risky because each new position is “potentially a 30-year commitment.”

Even at universities with large numbers of such faculty, tight budgets mean that many of these instructors are taking on more of the work of university governance, teaching less in the process.

Nonetheless, he said, the idea that hiring more part-time or non-tenure-track faculty sacrifices quality isn't necessarily true. While he'd admit that faculty turnover can affect critical faculty relationships that are "so important in student development," more factors come into play when talking about instruction.

“You have to approach the question of quality for teaching with a great deal of caution,” he said.

CUPA-HR noted that the number of full-time faculty per 100 students in public institutions “has remained relatively unchanged,” but that private institutions improved their full-time faculty-per-student ratio from 2003 to 2018.

In its annual survey of faculty compensation, CUPA-HR last year found that faculty salaries in 2017-18 increased by 1.7 percent over the previous year. Nontenured research faculty saw the highest increase, with tenure-track faculty seeing the lowest increase.

At a median age of 37, the group found, non-tenure-track research faculty tend to be “significantly younger” than tenured and tenure-track instructors, whose median age is 51. Nearly one-third of tenured and tenure-track faculty are age 60 or over.

For tenure-track faculty, the highest-paying disciplines in 2017-18 were legal professions, business, engineering, computer science and health professions. Low-paid adjunct faculty members made up nearly two-thirds of all instructors in associate’s institutions, though they made up only one-third of faculty at doctoral institutions.

The recession, the group said, “had profound impacts” on both students and faculty. Understanding the impacts could help colleges and universities better deal with future disruptions, budget cuts and enrollment shifts, it said.

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Shift in mission of Melbourne University press raises many issues

Fri, 2019-02-15 08:00

Contentious changes at Australia’s oldest university press have raised questions about the degree to which in-house publishers should produce general interest literature.

The decision to refocus Melbourne University Publishing as a “high-quality scholarly press,” announced last month, triggered bitter protests and the resignations of the chief executive and five directors of the press.

MUP’s parent institution was accused of censoring academic freedom and killing off one of its most effective arms of community engagement, by neglecting a compromise deal that would have allowed MUP to continue publishing popular nonacademic works while using the profits to cross-subsidize academic monographs.

But some academics lauded the University of Melbourne’s decision, saying that they had found it all but impossible to get their books produced by the publisher.

MUP’s website lists 1,629 books that it has published since early 2004. Just 135 are academic books, typically paperbacks retailing for 50 Australian dollars ($36), with some of these also available as separate ebook titles.

Meanwhile, it is not clear that profits from the 1,000-plus trade books have been cross-subsidizing the relatively few academic books. MUP posted a profit of (totals that follow are in U.S. dollars) $204,000 in 2017 and a preliminary profit of $157,000 in 2018, after pocketing an $889,159 annual subsidy from the university.

According to a report on the future of scholarly publishing, published in January by the European Commission, only a few universities own “robust and long-lived publishing presses that are also competitive in the commercial sphere.”

Australian National University anthropologist James Fox, who co-founded ANU Press in 2002 and now chairs its advisory committee, said that there was “nothing precluding” university presses from publishing quality trade books, but it should not happen at the expense of their core business of producing academic works.

He said that the notion that trade presses could be used to cross-subsidize academic publishing was a "furphy" -- a myth -- as demonstrated by a publishing house called Pandanus Press, which he helped set up at the turn of the century.

“The idea was that we were going to produce commercial books that would pay for the academic books. It didn’t work out that way. The commercial books didn’t raise enough money. The academic books were doing far better in many cases,” Fox said.

Canberra-based publishing consultant Andrew Schuller, a long-serving editorial director of humanities and social sciences in Oxford University Press’s academic division, said the subsidies flowed the other way at some universities in Britain and the Netherlands.

Schuller said that OUP had paid “huge sums” to its parent university, disbursing tens of millions of pounds over the past decade. He said that the academic division remained a contributor to OUP profits, which totaled 94 million pounds ($121 million) last fiscal year.

“When I came to Australia, I tried to suggest to the university presses that it wasn’t terribly difficult to publish academic books. You’ve got to not print too many, price them realistically and plug into the international library market -- none of which were particularly difficult things to do,” he said.

But Schuller conceded that Australian university presses were disadvantaged by the limited overseas appeal of their products. “Australiana and the Australian public aren’t necessarily going to be high on librarians’ priority list for purchasing,” he said.

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Democratic contenders' higher ed positions go well beyond free college

Thu, 2019-02-14 08:00

At least nine Democrats have declared themselves candidates for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination or have made noises suggesting they’re making plans to run. And while the primary campaign will likely include a reprise of the 2016 debate over free college, several prominent candidates have unique track records in higher ed that they’ll bring to the campaign, potentially setting up a broader debate about priorities for postsecondary education.

The experience of figures like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren taking on postsecondary education issues could suggest the approach they would take as president. Each would present distinct opportunities to offer a contrast with Trump administration policies on for-profit colleges, student debt and campus sexual misconduct. And with multiple candidates attaching their names to ambitious college-affordability legislation, those track records would offer another chance to separate the candidates from primary competitors.

Other Democrats who have announced campaigns for the nomination, like New Jersey senator Cory Booker or former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, are better known for positions on K-12 education issues. They'll likely be pushed to weigh in on higher ed issues, though. Here are the candidates whose policy agendas thus far have included higher education in a prominent role.

Kamala Harris: Critic of For-Profit Colleges

Under the Obama administration, cracking down on abuses in the for-profit college sector became perhaps the biggest focus of higher education policy makers. And many of the enforcement actions taken by the administration were enabled by the work of the California attorney general’s office under the leadership of now senator Kamala Harris.

Harris, who served as California AG from 2011 to 2017, sued for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges in 2013 alleging a predatory model that deployed falsified job-placement rates and other misrepresentations to students. While that lawsuit was underway, she asked a federal court to prevent Corinthian from enrolling new students -- a decision the chain said would be a death knell for its campuses.

The Education Department eventually fined Corinthian, which shut down in 2015, $30 million for those misrepresentations -- thanks in part to the investigative work of the California attorney general’s office. As attorney general and as a member of Congress, Harris has pushed for debt cancellation for former Corinthian students. As a senator, she’s also sought to block expanded access to military bases for for-profit colleges.

Bob Shireman, director of higher education excellence and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said the Corinthian lawsuit “helped to alert law enforcement and regulators and policy makers to what these rapid increases in enrollment look like underneath those numbers. Underneath the increase in stock prices, there was a lot of abuse of consumers and misleading of potential students.”

Elizabeth Warren: Advocate for Defrauded Students

Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren has made student debt a signature issue since entering Congress in 2013. As a member of the Senate education committee, she’s been one of the toughest critics of for-profit colleges, student loan servicers and banks that offer financial products to college students. And after Betsy DeVos was confirmed as education secretary in February 2017, Warren established herself as the billionaire GOP activist’s biggest foil on the Hill.

She pushed, along with activists and state AGs, for the Education Department to set up a clear process for defrauded students to seek forgiveness on their student loans. And Warren took both the Obama administration and DeVos to task for slow progress issuing loan forgiveness to former Corinthian Colleges students.

Warren has also used her profile to launch attacks on companies she says have failed students. She blasted student loan servicer Navient last year over an Education Department audit that found the company steered tens of thousands of borrowers into higher-cost repayment plans. And last month she pressured college presidents to drop agreements with Wells Fargo in response to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report that showed the company charged higher-than-average fees to users of campus-sponsored debit cards.

As thousands of borrowers who expected loan cancellation saw their applications rejected for Public Service Loan Forgiveness last year, Warren secured $350 million in funding to pay for an eligibility fix for those borrowers. She’s also helped build bipartisan momentum in the Senate behind the College Transparency Act, legislation that would overturn the federal ban on student unit records and would provide more complete data on the outcomes of colleges and individual programs.

“She’s had a very comprehensive worldview when it comes to higher education,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “That’s not surprising because she comes out of higher ed. It’s natural that she would know the most about it and be aware of its many complicated features.”

Warren's version of a "free-college" proposal outlined in 2015 differed from the model adopted by Senator Bernie Sanders, the biggest proponent of free college in some key respects. It touted more funding from the federal government to states that provide a pathway to a college degree without debt. But it wouldn't make college tuition-free for all students. It also emphasizes accountability from colleges, which would face the loss of funds if large numbers of students didn't repay their loans.

Kirsten Gillibrand: A Focus on Campus Sexual Assault

While other candidates have focused on the costs of college and the role of companies involved in driving student debt, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, has spent much of her time in the Senate pushing colleges to do more to respond to sexual assault on their campuses.

After Gillibrand sparred repeatedly with fellow Democrat Claire McCaskill on a response to sexual assault in the military, the two senators worked together to press colleges and the Obama administration to change the standards for handling complaints of sexual assault. Gillibrand and McCaskill also crafted legislation that would increase the penalties for colleges found to have violated federal civil rights law by improperly handling alleged sexual misconduct.

The bill, dubbed the Campus Safety and Accountability Act, won bipartisan support in the Senate, counting among its supporters Florida Republican Marco Rubio and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley. Although the legislation died in committee without reaching the floor in either the House or Senate, it helped put a spotlight on failures in addressing sexual assault.

The senators said they hoped to attach the bill to a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Serious progress on an HEA bill has yet to take place, though, and the election of President Trump in 2016 meant a reset of federal policy on campus sexual assault. Under Betsy DeVos, the Education Department has restricted the scope of civil rights investigations and rescinded guidance from the Obama administration on how colleges should handle misconduct cases. DeVos instead said she would issue new federal regulations. A draft rule released in November received major criticism from survivor groups for curtailing protections for students and limiting the number of cases colleges would be obligated to pursue.

Gillibrand said DeVos's decision to rescind the Obama-era guidance in 2017 “betrays our students, plain and simple.” And in a series of tweets last month, she said the draft Title IX regulation released by the department would weaken protections for survivors.

When someone reports sexual assault or harassment, as a first step, we must listen and believe them so all allegations can be investigated fairly and properly. But @BetsyDeVosED’s draft rules on Title IX weaken protections for survivors and discourage reports of abuse in schools.

— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) January 10, 2019

Gillibrand also directed attention to the work of advocates on the issue as well as survivors. Her guest at the 2015 State of the Union address was Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University student who made headlines for a performance-art project in which she carried a 50-pound mattress to protest the university's decision not to remove her alleged attacker. A Columbia disciplinary panel cleared the student she accused of rape of wrongdoing, and the university later settled a lawsuit with the student in which he alleged harassment on the part of Sulkowicz.

Bernie Sanders: Free College

Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, has yet to officially announce a presidential campaign. But many still expect him to jump into the race. And his 2016 run for the Democratic nomination helped cement free college as a mainstream proposal to address access to postsecondary education and the growth of student debt.

Sanders went from backing two years of free tuition at any public college to campaigning on the elimination of all tuition and fees at public institutions.

Hillary Clinton, who eventually won the Democratic nomination, offered a free-college plan in 2016 that would make all two- and four-year institutions tuition-free to students with family incomes up to $125,000. The next year, Sanders introduced new free-college legislation in the Senate that adopted that framework. It got the support of 2020 contenders including Warren, Harris and Gillibrand.

And some Democrats have shown an appetite for going even further than Sanders to address college affordability. Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, last year introduced “debt-free” college legislation that would cover the costs of attendance including transportation and housing. Warren, Harris, Gillibrand and Booker signed on to that bill.

The 2018 midterms also saw a number of progressive gubernatorial and congressional candidates campaign on free college, showing the idea’s political appeal as a solution for the growing costs of a degree.

“The debate has clearly shifted since President Obama proposed free community college back in 2014,” said Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research at Demos.

But while some of the biggest names to enter the primary campaign have signed on to free or debt-free college proposals, other Democratic candidates have offered support for more moderate solutions. Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, endorsed two years of free college at any public institution. And Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, has endorsed free community college as well as student loan refinancing.

The free-community-college model was also backed by House Democrats last year in a proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. But Ben Miller, director of higher education at the Center for American Progress, said voters may expect candidates to go bigger.

"It's very clear that there's a strong interest in bold ideas for making college more affordable," he said. "There's a broad understanding that elements of the economy relating to the American dream aren't working and that we need solutions for that."

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