Inside Higher Ed

Avalanche of football-related concussion lawsuits against NCAA and conferences could lead to changes

Fri, 2017-12-01 08:00

Zack Langston, 26, shot himself in the chest so his brain could be studied.

The former Pittsburg State University football star ended his life nearly four years ago, convinced the repeated collisions he endured at practices and games had resulted in memory loss, paranoia and his suicidal tendencies. Langston's story is detailed in court filings, part of a lawsuit by his family against the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the athletic conference that Pittsburg belongs to, the Division II Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA).

Langston turned out to be right -- posthumously, he was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease often found in athletes who have experienced frequent blows to the head. One study of professional football players’ brains found nearly all of them suffered from CTE -- 110 out of the 111 former National Football League players’ brains studied exhibited the disease.

Many others besides Langston's family have similarly sued the NCAA, seeking damages for former players and alleging they still bear the effects of concussions.

Last year, the Associated Press reported that the NCAA faced 43 lawsuits filed by Edelson PC, the firm representing Langton’s case. Subsequently more than 100 plaintiffs have joined the lawsuits against the association and sometimes against conferences or individual institutions. The legal challenge is part of a broader effort to pursue a class-action suit against the NCAA and to force it to pay for medical expenses for treating brain injuries. Four sample cases have been selected.

The case still needs to be classified as a class-action suit and remains in its early stages.

The litigation coincides with a handful of recent number of moves at colleges and universities to halt football programs when there are concerns over health concerns. Occidental College, for example, canceled the remainder of its football season due to player injuries.

Academics and experts have pondered whether the pressure will eventually lead the NCAA to endorse major reforms.

In 2010 the NCAA forced all its member institutions to develop concussion management plans, with a stricter set of standards for colleges to use in evaluating and treating concussions. Prior to that the rules were inconsistent, said Scott Anderson, the president of the College Athletic Trainers Society and head athletics trainer at the University of Oklahoma.

Anderson said conversations about concussions and the need to address them shifted in the early 2000s, following NCAA-funded research from Kevin Guskiewicz, director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, and Michael McCrea, director of brain injury research at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Their study, published in 2003, served as a launch point for other research, the NCAA said, though the federal court filings note many other studies prior to Guskiewicz and McCrea’s.

Langston’s lawsuit calls the NCAA concussion-management practice “flawed” in that it requires athletes to self-diagnose a concussion and give consent to continue playing when they may be unable to competently make that decision.

Such litigation may prod the NCAA to tweak concussion rules, said Michael McCann, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and director of its Sports and Entertainment Law Institute.

McCann pointed to the six-year, $1 billion settlement by the NFL to former players who were proven to have lingering problems from concussions. The league introduced harsher rules following the settlement, with teams facing fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars if they don’t remove players from games after they are concussed.

The NCAA in 2014 paid $75 million to settle a concussion-related class-action suit -- $70 million of which will be used for a 50-year medical monitoring service for athletes and another $5 million for research and treatment of concussions. But this money is meant only to identify symptoms associated with concussions or brain injuries for athletes -- it's not for treatment.

The federal judge in that case declined to exempt the NCAA from future class-action suits, leading to the continued filings against the association and its conferences, though the colleges aren’t generally named as plaintiffs because of the complex liability issues associated with suing a public institution.

Representatives from the MIAA, named as a plaintiff in Langston's lawsuit, declined to comment, as did the college president who leads its advisory board, Bob Vartabedian, president of Missouri Western State University.

Risk for Conferences

Also at issue is the expense of these lawsuits.

While insurance policies can front the payouts on concussions, should universities prove to be a continual risk, carriers could decline to cover them, said Christian Dennie, a lawyer and partner at Barlow Garsek and Simon, who specializes in sports law cases.

Not every conference has the NCAA's deep pockets, either. Per its federal 990 tax form for 2015, the MIAA has about $687,000 in assets.

“The more lawsuits that are filed, we’re going to start seeing exclusions in insurance policies, and that would create problems,” Dennie said.

While suing the NCAA could result in better funding for protective gear during games -- many experts cite improved helmets and technology as possibilities -- McCann said lawsuits can’t eliminate the dangers of football.

“I think we have to be inherently realistic that the game of football is dangerous,” he said. “I think that’s the sobering part of the story. There isn’t a solution to the health issues that have come up.”

Many researchers liken the hits football players take to being subjected to repeated car accidents.

Driving a car into a wall at 25 miles per hour without a seatbelt would result in about 100 g’s -- one g is equal to the force exerted by gravity on a body at rest -- to a person's head as it hit the windshield, according to Guskiewicz’s research.

Almost all of the football-related hits to the head exceed 20 g’s, and per Guskiewicz, if a player took two hits of more than 80 g’s in a practice, they would have experienced the equivalent of two car crashes.

Much more expansive research on concussions remains ongoing in an unusual $30 million partnership between the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense -- the reason for the collaboration being that the military grapples with many of the same injuries, said Steve Brogilo, who helps lead the NCAA and the Defense Department’s CARE Consortium, which stands for Concussion Research, Assessment and Education.

Brogilo is also an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan and director of its Neurotrauma Research Laboratory.

Speaking last month at the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics meeting, Brogilo said 50 percent of concussions occur before a season begins. Thus far, the consortium has studied about 2,500 concussive injuries, he said.

“Banning the game is absurd,” Brogilo said. “Practices are the No. 1 place to focus. You can change practice rules easily -- changing game rules becomes much more complex.”

Banning Football?

Challenges to the institution of football, however, are a small but growing force.

Three professors at the University of San Diego recently introduced a resolution in their department for the college to ban football.

It was voted down, 50 to 26, with 30 abstentions. Had it passed, the measure would have moved to the full faculty of the university for consideration.

Ken Serbin, a professor of history who helped draft the resolution, said his interest in concussions stemmed from his work with Huntington’s disease, a genetic brain disorder that his mother died from and for which he carries the genes.

He has thrown galas to raise money to research and combat Huntington’s, and one of his donors was the Chargers, the NFL team now based in Los Angeles. When he learned about the effects of CTE on the players, to Serbin it seemed like a contradiction that a team would raise money to ending one brain disease while simultaneously overlooking another.

During the faculty vote on his resolution, he said many professors didn’t focus on the science that he and his two other colleagues presented, but rather defended football on its cultural merits. Many didn’t grasp that a concussion is not like other injuries, Serbin said. One professor compared it to a rotator-cuff tear. But while the body can recover from that after a certain period, he said, the brain isn’t like a broken bone, and damage can be permanent. Some of his colleagues' view of brain damage was “unsophisticated,” he said.

“The old idea of ‘having your bell rung,’ as we called concussions -- that’s gone,” he said. “We are at a new level of brain science.”

Serbin was particularly astounded by the number of abstentions. Though he said he couldn’t pinpoint why faculty members voted the way they did without interviewing them, he guessed many have concerns about football but didn’t want to take on such a popular sport.

One professor approached Serbin after the vote and said the presentation against football was convincing, but that the professor didn’t want to discontinue it because his brother played college football and the brother would be “disappointed to hear that the university was canceling it.”

“It’s a sacred cow, football is,” Serbin said. “It really is for many people America’s new religion. People used to make church attendance their primary Sunday activity, and now people’s primary Sunday activity for many, many Americans is watching a football game. It’s been very successful in establishing itself in our culture as this new item of worship.”

He said though this attempt failed, Serbin wants this to serve as a “spark” for those at other institutions.

Serbin’s story is somewhat unique in that although few professors have called for football to be banished entirely, decades ago a faculty-led campaign essentially killed the formerly beloved sport of collegiate boxing.

Faculty at the University of Wisconsin at Madison voted to ban the sport after a well-liked student, Charlie Mohr, died following a fight in 1960. He first went into a coma, then passed away days later. Though proponents of boxing adamantly defended it, the NCAA canceled its boxing tournament, and the sport's popularity faltered.

This year, Occidental College, a Division III institution, scrapped its football season entirely in October amid health concerns for players. Despite being in a lower division, the move was significant. Occidental plays in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

President Jonathan Veitch said in a statement at the time there were not enough healthy players to field a team.

"No one wanted or expected the season to end this way. Making this decision now provides needed clarity to players, their parents, coaches and other SCIAC members,” he said in his statement. “After canceling two of our first five games because of a depleted roster, including last weekend's homecoming game, the need to address the viability of the season became unavoidable."

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Texas State president blasts "racist" student column

Fri, 2017-12-01 08:00

A quick skim of any student newspaper across the country will likely yield some sort of column denouncing white privilege. What’s more unusual is a college president taking notice, criticizing such a piece and calling it racist -- but such is the case at Texas State University, where an op-ed has student groups warring.

In its Tuesday issue, The University Star published a column titled “Your DNA Is an Abomination,” about an “oppressive world” that white men and women have built to “subjugate” people of color. The author, student Rudy Martinez, referred to white people as “an aberration.”

“Whiteness will be over because we want it to be. And when it dies, there will be millions of cultural zombies aimlessly wandering across a vastly changed landscape,” Martinez wrote in his op-ed, which has since been pulled from the University Star website. Martinez reposted the column on his Facebook page.

“Ontologically speaking, white death will mean liberation for all. To you good-hearted liberals, apathetic nihilists and right-wing extremists: accept this death as the first step toward defining yourself as something other than the oppressor. Until then, remember this: I hate you because you shouldn't exist. You are both the dominant apparatus on the planet and the void in which all other cultures, upon meeting you, die.”

His words prompted widespread fury, with threats by the student government president to try to take away the newspaper’s funding. The president, Conor Clegg, demanded the resignation of the editors and Martinez, who is a periodic columnist for the Star. In turn, groups representing minority students have sided with the newspaper, asking instead for Clegg to step down. Despite the strong rhetoric, Martinez was not advocating for white people to be killed, as some accused him of, but the destruction of a certain type of white identity.

Typically, administrators remain laissez-faire on the operations of student press, even when the publications receive university funding. But Texas State President Denise M. Trauth released a statement deeming the column racist and said its themes were “abhorrent.”

She also delivered a mild rebuke to University Star staffers.

“As president of a university that celebrates its inclusive culture, I detest racism in any manifestation,” Trauth said in her statement. “While I appreciate that the Star is a forum for students to freely express their opinions, I expect student editors to exercise good judgment in determining the content that they print.”

The editors have apologized. Editor in Chief Denise Cervantes did not respond to a request from Inside Higher Ed for comment, but the paper posted a statement on Twitter.

“The original intent of the column was to comment on the idea of race and racial identities. We acknowledge that the column could have been clearer in its message and that it has caused hurt within our campus community,” it says.

Trauth in her statement said the editors will examine their editorial process -- though it’s unclear what that means.

Matt Flores, a Texas State spokesman, said in an interview that the administration is “looking further” into the situation and reviewing editorial practices of the newspaper, but said he could not specify further.

Flores said he could not comment on the thinking behind Trauth releasing a statement, or the online petition that calls for the institution to defund the University Star (it has been signed 500 times by Thursday afternoon.) He said he was unsure if or when the university would make any other announcements.

The mood at Texas State has been tense, particularly since Trauth published her statement, said Yunuen Alvarado, a sophomore and programs coordinator of the Student Community of Progressive Empowerment -- which advocates for immigrants and refugees. The university has already been plagued this year by the kind of racist fliers that tend to proliferate on college campuses now.

While the president has responded to these incidents, Alvarado said it was "surprising" that Trauth used such strong language in this case when it involved white people being criticized. She described Trauth's reactions before as "fake" or "sugar-coated."

"When this happened to students of color or other minorities, there was never this much outrage," she said.

Alvarado said she didn't find the column offensive, saying it had largely been misinterpreted -- it didn't call for white genocide, as some implied it had. Martinez is a man of color and was expressing his anger, she said.

In a statement, Clegg said The University Star is no longer aligned with the values of Texas State and that tuition dollars shouldn’t pay for such “behavior.”

Should Cervantes, the opinion editor, and Martinez not resign, Clegg said he would call for an emergency meeting of the committee charged with handling student fees and ask it to divest from the paper.

“I am confident that these cuts will be well received with my fellow students, their parents and future Bobcats,” Clegg said in his statement. “If the Star wishes to maintain its operations without student funding, they can do so like any other paper -- by earning subscribers and selling more advertisements. There is no reason for over 39,000 students to be forced to invest their student fees toward this brand of journalism.”

Clegg has drawn the ire of some student groups -- one, the Pan African Action Committee, published a statement on Twitter calling Clegg “unfit” for office, asserting he has disregarded minority populations on campus.

“To directly threaten a major student publication because of the content of an opinions piece that Clegg happens to disagree with is not only a threat to constitutional free speech as we know it, but also a gesture of censorship reminiscent of an authoritarian regime,” the statement reads.

The tweet containing the statement had been retweeted more than 400 times as of Thursday evening. Other organizations, like Alvarado's, reposted it, saying the Student Community of Progressive Empowerment “stands in unity” with the Pan African Action Committee. The statement asks for the more than $11,000 devoted to Clegg's position to be taken away if he does not resign.

It’s uncertain now how much oversight administrators exercise over the Star, though Flores said it is “primarily student run.” He could not identify how much money the paper receives, exactly, but said that every full-time student taking 15 credits pays $90 in student fees, about 1.6 percent of which (a little more than $1.40) is allotted for the student newspaper.

The institution reported undergraduate enrollment in fall 2016 as 34,276 students.

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Anthropologists consider challenges of teaching in a red state

Fri, 2017-12-01 08:00

WASHINGTON -- Does the study of anthropology inherently run counter to conservative values?

In the age of Trump, many in academe are re-evaluating how their professions and livelihoods are perceived by an electorate that rejected the establishment. Additionally, Republicans of all stripes -- establishment or otherwise -- seem to have soured on higher education, with 58 percent of them reporting that they think colleges have a negative impact on the country’s direction.

Anthropology -- especially its various specializations, which look at the intersection of evolution, race, sex, gender, colonialism, public land use, capitalism and climate change on different world cultures -- seems ripe for the picking if conservatives had to select a specific area of study to bash. And given how commonly it’s offered as a general-education option at various universities, how well it does or doesn’t mesh with conservative students -- and long-held conservative beliefs that predate Trump or the Republican Party, such as creationism -- is something that anthropologists are paying attention to.

“I’ve gotten on one of my [course] evaluations that I’m not a scientist,” said Kimberly Kasper, an assistant professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. Casper was speaking on a panel addressing teaching anthropology in conservative states and environments at the American Anthropological Association’s annual national meeting, held in D.C. this week.

“[Teaching about] gender roles has definitely been an issue, especially for military spouses,” said Virginia Hutton Estabrook, an assistant professor of anthropology at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., who was also on the panel. Cultural anthropology has been at the forefront of researching gender roles and how they vary across cultures, and Estabrook mentioned military spouses as typically strongly oriented around traditional American gender roles when she teaches theories that may run counter to their views.

The session was less an airing of grievances than a session to talk strategies to bring conservative colleagues and students on board with anthropology and the various avenues it explores. Scholars discussed the discipline's relevance in race, sex, gender and evolution, specifically, and challenges and triumphs they’ve had teaching, especially in states across the South and the Midwest. Many described positive, if not exactly fruitful, relationships with students who opted for creationism over evolution.

“Alabama is the only state in the U.S. that still has warning stickers on its [high school] biology textbooks [saying] that evolution is just a theory,” Briana Pobiner, an anthropologist with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, told the audience. “The cultural context in which [anthropologists] are teaching is not very friendly.”

Still, both the panel members gathered to address teaching anthropology in red states and other conference attendees acknowledged that breaking down the discourse on higher education into liberal versus conservative, or Republican versus Democrat, doesn’t always answer every problem facing anthropology’s role in academe.

A panel held Thursday morning addressed the “neoliberalization” of campuses not only in the U.S. but across the world. Bipartisan pushes for privatization measures on campuses, corporate influence on research and the pitching of higher education by policy makers as a practical means to better employment or boosting the national economy, critics said, puts programs like anthropology at risk and obscures the purpose of education in the first place.

“They’re trying to pick the winners,” Cris Shore, an anthropology professor at the University of Auckland, said of policies in New Zealand and elsewhere, prioritizing STEM education.

While some attributed recent trends to the increased political clout of populism, they also pointed to mainstream policy makers cutting back on education funding as a threat to anthropology and the humanities. Janine Wedel, an anthropologist at George Mason University, acknowledged populism’s dangers, but also contended that the same elites whom populists campaign against have also brought damage to academe.

Touching on themes that would be brought up in the afternoon session on teaching in red states, she said that anthropologists have to engage in fieldwork domestically. Part of the reason the election polls predicting the outcomes for Brexit and the 2016 presidential election were so off, she said, was because anthropologists and others were ignoring their own countries.

“As long as we sit in our anthropological caves … we’re doomed,” she said. “If you don’t know anybody who voted for Trump [or Brexit], you shouldn’t be part of the conversation.”

The entire conference wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as Marc Kissel, a lecturer in Appalachian State University’s anthropology department, tried to make clear. Building on other professors’ insistence that it was important to find a way to let religious students know that learning anthropology didn’t have to mean having one’s faith attacked, he said there was room for both religious conservatives and anthropologists -- plenty of whom, panelists pointed out, are religious themselves -- to learn from one another.

“My postdoc was sponsored by anthropology and theology, and I spent a lot of time working with theologians,” said Kissel, who did postdoctoral research at the University of Notre Dame. “The upshot is that I learned that theologians are not creationists, and they learned that anthropologists are not Richard Dawkins.”

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Opening more occupations to apprenticeships could mean more job opportunities

Fri, 2017-12-01 08:00

Apprenticeships are commonly identified with skilled trades such as welding and carpentry, but new research indicates that expanding apprenticeships into other occupations would lead to more job opportunities.

Researchers from Harvard Business School’s Managing the Future Work Project and Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market analytics company, found that the number of occupations that commonly use apprenticeships could be expanded -- from 27 to 74.

That increase alone would open up to 3.3 million job opportunities that could be filled by apprentices, according to the researchers’ report. The 27 occupations that currently use apprenticeship models account for approximately 410,000 apprentices.

“We are underutilizing apprenticeships as an education and training model, and it could be much more widely spread,” said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills with the education policy program at New America and a former official at the U.S. Education and Labor Departments. “[The researchers] even make a good case that it’s not even being used enough in the skilled trades and occupations related to skilled trades.”

Apprenticeships have bipartisan support in Congress and are popular with the Trump administration. President Trump signed an executive order earlier this year to expand the federal apprenticeship program to more industry groups and alternative education providers.

The researchers examined more than 23 million job postings to identify occupations with similar characteristics to existing apprenticeships.

They then identified two categories of occupations apprenticeships could expand to -- expander roles and booster roles. Expander roles are occupations that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, for example, tax preparers or customer service representatives, while booster roles are jobs where employers have often requested a bachelor’s degree, even though the skills required for the job don’t necessitate a college degree. Those occupations include claims adjusters, human resource specialists and graphic designers.

The shift to expanding apprenticeships to more occupations like the ones suggested by the researchers could have an impact on degree inflation.

“We think there is so much potential for apprenticeships to challenge the very real and rampant problem of degree inflation,” said Matt Sigelman, chief executive officer of Burning Glass and a co-author of the report. “Employers are using the [four-year] college degree as a proxy for job readiness, and I think that’s the promise of apprenticeships. There could be more effective and tailor-made avenues to delivering workers who are job ready.”

Sigelman said the researchers aren’t suggesting people shouldn’t go to college, but that many of the occupations they identified may require a sub-baccalaureate degree or certification that can be achieved while gaining experience in an apprenticeship.

Degree inflation has led to a shift in what is considered “middle-skilled” jobs. Those occupations that were once considered middle skill are now the jobs worked by graduates with bachelor’s degrees because employers ask for college degrees, Sigelman said, adding that that can actually lead to a different problem for employers.

“When they hire college graduates into middle-skills jobs, those college graduates are significantly less likely to be engaged and have shorter tenure on the job,” Sigelman said. “If you went to school to get a better job and wind up doing something you’re overqualified for, you’re not happy about it and you’re holding out for a better opportunity.”

And that’s the incentive for employers to push and support apprenticeships. Not only do they tap into pools of talented employees who are more engaged and will stay longer, but this is a group of people that may come from more diverse and low-income backgrounds, he said.

But there are still some barriers to expanding apprenticeships.

“A bachelor’s degree has currency in the market,” Sigelman said. “People know what it is. For apprenticeships to take hold and realize the full potential of our report, there’s going to need to be some strong mechanisms in place to ensure quality assurance and ensure an apprenticeship represents a certain body of defined training.”

McCarthy said for some occupations, such as graphic design, not only is it difficult to convince the higher education world that students need something other than a degree, but students and parents aren’t convinced, either.

“One thing is very clear -- if it is something that leads people away from a college degree, they are very suspicious and they want it to connect to a college degree,” she said.

So apprenticeships also present an opportunity for community colleges, four-year institutions and industry associations to work together, Sigelman said.

“It’s not just about the jobs,” McCarthy said. “When you look at it through the lens of occupation, occupation is the end of the line.”

McCarthy said the goal should be to connect apprenticeships to higher education systemically so the student employee is trained for the job and moving forward through an associate degree and then a bachelor’s degree. She points to the degree apprenticeship system in the United Kingdom as an example.

There are already a number of community colleges that have partnered with companies, particularly middle-sized businesses, to offer training and education to apprentices, said Kermit Kaleba, federal policy director for the National Skills Coalition, adding that those programs and apprenticeships don’t automatically equate to a shorter amount of time in college, since many programs run anywhere from three to five years.

“As we’re expanding into industries that have historically sought four-year degrees as the entry-level requirement for that first level of management, we’re probably going to see more four-year universities partnering with employers,” he said, adding that this already happens with executive master's of business administration programs.

The researchers also found the broadening of apprenticeships opened up more upward mobility. For example, those occupations identified as booster and expander tend to be entry level and can lead to advancement up the career ladder, more so than those in traditional apprenticeships or the rest of the job market -- 12 percent of job seekers in booster occupations and 10 percent of job seekers in expander fields, for example, reached a higher-paying role in five years, compared to 7 percent of job seekers across the market and 2 percent of those in traditional apprenticeship occupations.

But McCarthy also thinks that the 74 occupations the researchers identified could be broadened and that there are more opportunities for apprenticeships.

Sigelman agrees that while they attempted to be “grounded” in what occupations could be served by apprenticeships, he believes there’s an even broader universe of jobs that weren’t included that would benefit as well.

“There are so many more kinds of jobs the Germans, the Swiss and the British are using apprenticeships for, like cybersecurity, finance and banking positions,” McCarthy said.

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Academics in Zimbabwe have hope and concerns for post-Mugabe era

Fri, 2017-12-01 08:00

Zimbabwe’s universities must shed politically tainted leaders and rediscover academic freedom in order to fix the damage done to the country’s higher education system by Robert Mugabe, according to researchers who fled his brutal regime.

Winston Mano, who is originally from Zimbabwe and is now director of the Africa Media Center at the University of Westminster, in Britain, said that the inauguration of Emmerson Mnangagwa as president offered an opportunity to attend to some of the big problems in Zimbabwean higher education that had been “bubbling for a very long time” under Mugabe’s 37-year rule.

An important first step would be to repeal the Ph.D. in sociology that was awarded to Mugabe’s wife, Grace, by the University of Zimbabwe just two months after she first enrolled, without attending courses on the campus or writing a thesis.

Calls for the Ph.D. to be canceled were central to student protests on Zimbabwean campuses in the run-up to Mugabe’s resignation in the face of a military takeover and impeachment proceedings.

“It has to be done as a symbol to break away from the past,” Mano told Times Higher Education.

Mano said that universities’ leadership needed significant change after many years in which political appointees sympathetic to Mugabe had been installed in senior posts. There was “sufficient expertise” within the country to make new appointments on the basis of “proven academic merit,” Mano said, but he argued that universities also needed to re-engage with their academic diaspora. Many researchers fled Zimbabwe in the early 2000s during Mugabe’s land-reform program.

Although Mano feels “very optimistic” about Zimbabwe’s future, he said that things are still too uncertain for him to think about returning.

“We need a clear reform program from the government,” he said. “They need to be inclusive [and] tolerant.”

Prior to his resignation, Mugabe was chancellor of all 10 state higher education institutions, and the higher education minister, Jonathan Moyo, was a key ally of Grace Mugabe. However, it is by no means guaranteed that the family’s involvement in higher education will end, amid reports that Grace Mugabe wishes to focus her energies on plans for the $1 billion Robert Gabriel Mugabe University, which was announced in August and will cost the equivalent of a quarter of Zimbabwe’s total annual budget.

Shadreck Chirikure, who left Zimbabwe for Britain in 2001 and is now an associate professor in the University of Cape Town’s department of archaeology, said that the mood among academics was “a little despondent” because of the amount of work now required to rebuild the country’s universities.

“The most important thing that needs to be done is the politicians must realize that they must not interfere with higher education and let people do their own research,” Chirikure said. “If the incoming president is really very sincere, then [the new regime] should be able to guarantee academic freedom, because [then it] can constructively engage beyond the parochial interests of the previous regime.”

Wesley Mwatwara, an academic in the University of Zimbabwe’s history department, warned that Mnangagwa may not bring about the changes that many researchers are hoping for.

“Until he says something, we are not really sure,” he said. “People now believe that we are actually going to have more of the same, because our former president was [in power for] a very long time.”

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Pulse podcast features interview about AEFIS, assessment management platform

Fri, 2017-12-01 08:00

This month's episode of the Pulse podcast features an Interview with Mustafa Sualp, CEO and founder of AEFIS, an assessment management platform.

In the discussion with Pulse host Rodney B. Murray, Sualp describes AEFIS's tools -- syllabus management and course evaluations, among others -- and the problems they are designed to solve for institutions.

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

Find out more, and listen to past Pulse podcasts, here.

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New report says improving educational quality, completion and increasing affordability is everyone's business

Thu, 2017-11-30 08:00

What was once a challenge of quantity in American undergraduate education is increasingly a challenge of educational quality. In other words, getting as many students as possible to attend college means little if they’re not learning what they need to and -- crucially -- if they don’t graduate. That’s the recurring message of a new report, “The Future of Undergraduate Education, The Future of America,” from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

More than a challenge, the report says, delivering on educational quality and completion is a must -- not only for institutions but the country. The U.S. is more diverse and technology based than ever, and workers can expect to change careers multiple times, it says, perhaps eventually transitioning to jobs that don’t yet exist. College-educated Americans also enjoy a higher quality of life than their high school-educated peers across a variety of measures and are more able to pay off college debt.

Simply put, the report says, “The completion of a few college courses is not a sufficient education in the 21st century.”

How to achieve educational quality? The report proposes a collective, national approach. Specifically, the report urges a three-part “national strategy” ensuring that students have high-quality learning experiences, that institutions increase their overall completion rates and reduce inequities among student groups, and that college costs are controlled.

The academy is optimistic about the power of technology in helping achieve educational quality. But advances such as predictive analytics for student success have yet to enter the academic mainstream, the report says, and there is no time to waste waiting for them to do so. The academy estimates some of the report’s goals will take decades to realize, even with immediate action.

A Case for Public Investment in Higher Ed

Again, the report doesn’t suggest that institutions go it alone. In terms of funding, it pushes for greater public investment in higher education.

The commission behind the report asked Moody’s Analytics to help it understand the scope of investments required to change course, and the consulting firm determined that an “ambitious yet achievable” improvement in college completion rates would require substantial investments over a decade or more. But that would also translate to “significant improvement” in U.S. economic productivity over the long term, Moody’s found.

One model, based on a 20-year projection, for example, forecasts an annual growth in the gross domestic product that is nearly 10 percent higher than it would be without substantial public investment in postsecondary education -- an increase large enough to recover the initial investments and continue to grow the economy, according to the report.

“While the analysis focuses on the economic side of this development, there is every reason to believe that an investment in students would yield other, less easily quantified returns as well,” the commission wrote, “including gains such as greater intercultural understanding, increased civic participation leading to a stronger democracy and more rewarding lives for graduates.”

Just as the nation “must reinvest in its physical infrastructure -- roads, bridges, railways and so on -- as a stimulus for communication and commerce of all kinds,” the report reads, “the U.S. should commit to a comparable reinvestment in our existing educational infrastructure, including undergraduate education, in order to realize the productive potential of all Americans.”

Focus on Teaching

As for ensuring quality, the commission says that too little attention is currently paid to the undergraduate educational experience itself “and, in particular, to the challenge of ensuring that the 17 million diverse college students in many types of programs are learning and mastering knowledge, skills and dispositions that will help them succeed in the 21st-century U.S.”

All college graduates need their programs of study to impart a “forward-looking” combination of academic knowledge and practical skills in preparation for both economic success and civic engagement. Echoing arguments made by many educators of late, the commission asserts that the long-standing debate over the value of a liberal arts education versus a more “applied” program is a “false choice.” Institutions must adjust their curricula accordingly, the report says, and students “need to see the ability to work and learn with others, and to disagree and debate respectfully, as a skill essential for a high quality of life and a future of economic success and effective democratic citizenship.”

Still, the commission notes that advancing a broad learning agenda and more attention to instruction will remain difficult until it’s easier to measure what (and if) students are actually learning. “Redressing this lack of good data is a high priority,” the report says.

“Students learn in many different settings, including through peer interactions, co- and extracurricular activities, and self-motivated exploration,” the commission wrote. “Ultimately, though, making undergraduate learning stronger and more rigorous will depend upon how undergraduate education invests in the teaching skills of its faculty and the kind of institutional and systemic commitment that is made.”

University systems and individual campuses, academic departments and disciplinary associations all have roles to play in advancing teaching, according to the academy. Master’s and doctoral programs should integrate “meaningful and explicit” teacher training opportunities, for example. Disciplinary associations should lead research and professional development efforts exploring the relationship between teaching practices and student learning.

Institutions, meanwhile, must make a “systemic commitment” to the improvement of college teaching -- something the commission says will most likely require ongoing review of faculty teaching practices, analyzing the faculty incentive system, bettering mentoring and faculty supports, and including teaching quality as a key part of tenure and other personnel decisions. In a nod to shared governance, the report notes that much of that work “must take place in collaboration with academic departments.”

Faculty members need training on how to teach diverse groups of students and help them “grapple with difference,” the report says. It also addresses a major structural issue that is often ignored in discussions about educational quality: professors teaching off the tenure track. The commission says that quality necessarily means providing these professors “with stable professional working environments and careers … Good teaching need not require tenure-track faculty in every case, but it does require that faculty be supported and rewarded for doing their work well.”

The trend toward adjunct professors in undergraduate teaching will persist “as long as colleges are under pressure to keep costs down and universities continue to produce more Ph.D.s in some fields than are likely to find tenure-track employment,” the report says. As institutions continue to hire teaching-focused instructors, they should aim to make positions longer term and full-time.

Such positions “should respect professional norms of academic freedom and provide a voice in university governance and the opportunity to build successful professional lives with reasonable benefits and job security,” the commission wrote.

As for the curriculum, the report says that undergraduate learners need “meaningful opportunities to develop and integrate knowledge and skills in the classroom and through cocurricular experiences such as co-op programs and internships, research, international study, or service that can help them improve their economic prospects, effectively navigate their personal and public worlds, and continue to learn throughout their lifetimes.”

Even in short-duration certificate programs, technical and academic knowledge “should be augmented by curricular redesign that strengthens practical skills such as communication, problem solving and teamwork,” the report says. It also endorses further experimentation with strategies for teaching and supporting students in online, hybrid and technology-supported environments. Further, federal and state governments should invest in a research and development strategy for better understanding instructional design and delivery and for assessing learning.

Completion, Completion, Completion

The commission envisions a future that depends on most Americans getting a high-quality undergraduate education. To improve completion rates, the report calls on college and university leaders to make the issue a top priority -- even making resource allocation decisions through that “lens.” Data collection should enable institution-specific insights through nuanced analyses and enable effective student interventions, and students should have the opportunities to make “meaningful, personal connections” with faculty and staff.

Special attention should be paid to understanding and assisting students from groups with the lowest competition rates, the report says, noting that summer bridge programs, accelerated remediation and the provision of emergency funds are examples of proven strategies. The commission also advocates expanded experimentation with and research on guided-pathways designs.

“Design elements include clear guidelines for students to earn credentials and to further their education or career employment, mapped so course sequences and postcompletion choices are transparent,” the report says, along with faster and better on-ramps to college-level learning for underprepared students; strong, ongoing guidance and mentoring on academic and career decision making; and technology-assisted advising.

Student transfer also should be better understood and assisted at the national level, the commission says, since one-third of college students change institutions at least once, and about half of public university graduates began their studies in community colleges. Employer partnerships with colleges and universities also “play an important part in improving college completion rates and helping students understand the relevance of their education to future employment, develop important workplace skills and explore potential career pathways,” the commission notes. It also encourages federal and state government leadership to enact “comprehensive and coordinated strategies” to make college completion a top national and state priority, such as by using discretionary funds for grants that encourage evidence-based approaches to improving completion.

Pushing for more transparency about completion rates, the report also asks the federal government to build a student unit record data system -- removing identifying information -- on institutional, state and national trends on college outcomes. Colleges and universities, meanwhile, should provide all college-going students and their families “with easy access to accurate and relevant information to inform their college choices, including the actual costs of the academic program to student and family, the likelihood of completing the program, and the prospects for employment or further education after graduation.”

Less Debt, More Affordability

The commission underscores that increasing quality cannot mean making college more expensive. It says that increasing the rates at which students succeed is likely “the best antidote to unmanageable student debt.”

Beyond that, the commission says that the current financial aid system is “far more complex and confusing than it needs to be, and too much public money is being wasted.” The federal government should take further steps to simplify -- or even eliminate -- the process of applying via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, relying more on financial information already available from the Internal Revenue Service to determine eligibility, it says. And the Pell Grant system should provide grants that support students completing 30 credits at any time throughout the course of a calendar year.

Other recommendations include designing a single income-driven repayment plan in which students are automatically enrolled and loan payments are collected through the income tax system at a sensible rate. The committee also endorses experimenting with alternative financing, such as income-sharing agreements that allow college students to borrow from colleges or investors. Under such agreements, the lender then receives a percentage of the student’s after-graduation income.

Putting pressure on institutions with low graduation rates, the committee also suggests “institutional risk sharing,” by which institutions whose students are chronically unable to repay their loans reimburse the government a fraction of the unpaid balance. That’s providing such institutions continue to honor their access missions, however, according to the report.

The committee also advocates tracking student progress across institutions and linking continued aid to “satisfactory academic progress across multiple institutions.”

In what’s likely to be perceived as a particularly controversial suggestion, the committee suggests revising eligibility rules so as not to finance students attending “low-performing institutions that have extremely low graduation rates.”

The report further recommends developing incentives for states to sustain or increase funding for public higher education. States must continue to take the lead on funding higher education, the committee wrote, but as fiscal pressures on state-run colleges and universities are “likely to be unrelenting,” it is “essential that both government decision makers and leaders on campus focus on directing resources to the highest priorities.”

Such priorities include directing scarce resources to students they’ll most impact, the most disadvantaged. The committee also suggests that policy makers work with institutions toward aligning funding and program completion.

In an introduction to the report, Jonathan Fanton, president of the American Academy, quoted its conclusion: “Progress is not guaranteed, and good things will happen only with sustained effort, but if we can sustain focus on the work, combining patience with urgency, we can, through undergraduate education, make great advances as individuals and as a nation.”

Expectations for Change

The American Academy will release its report this morning. It was written by the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education over a two-year period, during which it consulted a wide range of experts and organizations. The commission itself included college and foundation presidents, academics, and financial and other experts. In the run-up to this final report, the commission published papers including “The Complex Universe of Alternative Postsecondary Credentials and Pathways,” “Undergraduate Financial Aid in the U.S.,” “Policies and Practices to Support Undergraduate Teaching Improvement,” and “The Economic Impact of Increasing College Completion.”

The commission has previewed its work for small groups ahead of the today’s release. Those who have seen the report in advance include Laura Auricchio, professor of art history and vice provost for curriculum and learning at the New School. Auricchio said Wednesday that “The Future of Undergraduate Education” highlights data that point to the need to “reframe some of the terms of the national conversation about higher education, and also to rethink the ways institutions and students alike respond to the very real obstacles that often impede student success.”

Regarding student debt, for example, she said, the report notes that public discourse tends to focus on the most extreme anecdotes -- students who graduate with massive loans to repay -- when the students most likely to default are those who take out relatively small loans but never earn a degree.

Michael McPherson, the report’s co-chair and past president of both Macalester College and the Spencer Foundation, told Inside Higher Ed that improving higher education is “essential to the nation’s future.” That said, he described the commission’s report as distinctive in that it defines undergraduate education broadly, to include community colleges and for-profit institutions, and puts students “front and center.”

In focusing on quality, he said, “we were of course interested in the problem of poor program completion, because the evidence is that students benefit greatly from completing a degree or certificate.” But the committee was also interested in what students learned, and in particular “whether their education went beyond imparting near-term job skills and also helped develop their capacities for critical thinking, problem solving and communication,” McPherson added.

Underscoring the committee’s rejection of the liberal-versus-practical education debate, McPherson said, “The fact is that an education that aims only to enable you to get a job will quickly become obsolete, so these broader skills of reasoning and communication should find a place in all of education.”

Underscoring, too, the report’s focus on instruction, McPherson said college teaching should be “restored to a position of greater respect and attention.” Non-tenure-track faculty members “are here to stay, and those teachers need to be valued, respected and given the opportunity for professional growth.” He added, “We think this message applies very widely -- from the research university to the community college and everywhere in between.” (Even liberal arts colleges don’t always meet that standard, McPherson noted.)

As for the report’s major recommendations on college affordability, McPherson said the committee doesn’t expect an “infusion of funds from governments or elsewhere that will reverse recent funding trends.” But it wants to least to see the declines in per-student funding halted, he said. And colleges can also do much to make graduation more likely and college more affordable of their students.

Teaching and LearningEditorial Tags: College administrationCollege costs/pricesFacultyTeachingImage Caption: American Academy of Arts and SciencesIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 

U.S. House committee leaks summary of broad plan for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act

Thu, 2017-11-30 08:00

The education committee of the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is set to release an opening salvo in Congress’s long-overdue reauthorization the Higher Education Act, the law that oversees federal financial aid programs.

Policy wonks circulated bullet points from the committee, which plans to release the full proposal later this week. And The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday published four articles about the pending legislation based on a summary the newspaper reviewed.

While plenty of details have yet to emerge, the summaries describe an ambitious plan to substantially change how the federal government targets and distributes student aid money, with moves to both deregulate and tighten oversight of aspects of aid programs.

Congress last authorized the Higher Education Act in 2008. The proposal from the House education committee, which is led by Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, appears to be more aggressive in its goals than the changes Congress made almost a decade ago.

Dubbed the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, according to the Journal, the legislative proposals generally track with previous statements from Foxx and are consistent with the emphasis of hearings the committee has conducted in recent years as it has geared up for the bill's renewal.

Foxx told the newspaper that the bill seeks to combat the so-called skills gap by prodding colleges to better prepare students to enter the work force. Her committee’s bill also will call for the expansion of alternatives to a traditional college education, including apprenticeships and competency-based programs. It would slash regulations for-profit colleges have long fought, even preventing the U.S. Department of Education from taking some future actions to rein in vocational programs.

Summaries of the House proposal also describe plans for “streamlining” student aid programs, by setting caps on loan amounts parents and graduate students can take on and scaling back income-based repayment programs and loan-forgiveness options for borrowers who work for government agencies and nonprofit organizations -- all of which have been pushed by prominent conservative higher education experts in recent years.

The bill also would dabble in controversial areas such as campus sexual assault and free speech policies. And while it loosens rules aimed at for-profits, the bill for the first time would attach graduation-rate strings to federal grants for minority-serving institutions.

These and other ideas included in the bill’s summaries are paraphrased below based on reporting by the Journal and from the circulated bullet points.

The U.S. Senate’s education committee, led by Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, also has been holding hearings as it prepares for reauthorization of the federal aid law. The Congressional Budget Office is planning to score the House bill this week.

Even so, experts said most of the meaningful action to renew the law won’t begin for a couple months, if not further off. Alexander this week said his committee plans to begin marking up its proposals early next year. However, the House bill will lay out that chamber’s priorities, many of which align with the stated goals of the Trump administration’s Education Department.

Overhauling Student Aid

Foxx’s committee wants to simplify various student aid options by creating “one grant program, one loan program and one work-study program,” according to a summary document.

The loan-program proposal would include “reasonable” but unspecified limits for borrowing by graduate students and parents of college students. Such caps would please conservatives who have long argued that colleges jack up tuition rates to reel in as much federal aid as possible. And such a change likely would benefit the private sector, as some borrowers would turn to private lenders to fill the gap.

However, proposed changes to Parent PLUS loans will be controversial. Many private college leaders joined historically black colleges in criticizing a 2011 move by the Obama administration to tighten standards for the program, which resulted in thousands of loan denials.

In another shift, Foxx and her colleagues want to disburse federal grant and loan aid on a weekly or monthly basis, similar to a paycheck. And they will seek to prevent Pell Grant fraud by yanking aid for Pell recipients who have received the grant money for at least three payment periods but have yet to complete any college credits. (In a budget proposal last spring, the Trump administration proposed eliminating federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which go to low-income college students.)

The Journal also reported that the bill would simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Such a move, which has broad bipartisan support, follows news this week that the administration will create a mobile phone application for the FAFSA. The bill would require that the form be available on such a mobile platform and make it easier for applicants to import income data from the Internal Revenue Service.

Repayment Plans

The bill would eliminate the department’s public service loan forgiveness program, which allows borrowers who work for nonprofits or government agencies to have their remaining loan balances dropped after they make 10 years of payments.

Likewise, the committee plans to “scale back” benefits of income-based repayment plans, the Journal reported.

A summary document said the bill would create one standard, 10-year loan repayment plan and a single income-based repayment program.

However, participants in both the current public-service and income-based programs would be grandfathered in and not lose those benefits after a reauthorized law is passed.

Regulation of For-Profits and Vocational Training

Under the bill, for-profit colleges would enjoy a broad rollback of laws and regulations aimed at the sector, with proposals that will infuriate consumer groups and veterans of the Obama administration.

Yet it’s unclear that the proposed deregulation, which expands on moves already made by the Trump administration, would help cure serious enrollment and revenue woes afflicting most for-profits. And some of the larger for-profit chains recently have moved to voluntarily go beyond some of the federal requirements they currently face.

The committee plans to drop the so-called 90-10 rule, which requires that for-profits get at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than federal aid (not including Post-9/11 GI Bill and military tuition benefit funds, which Democrats call a loophole in the current rule).

Even a right-leaning expert on Wednesday expressed reservations about allowing colleges to get all of their funding from the federal government.

The bill also would repeal federal gainful-employment regulations, which set a threshold for borrowers' ability to pay off loans for-profit programs and for vocational ones at community colleges and other public and private institutions. Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, already has delayed the department’s implementation of the Obama-era rules, with a plan to revisit it in a negotiated rule-making process.

The Journal reported that the committee would seek to ban the department from trying to create gainful-employment regulations in the future. Federal courts have ruled that the department had the legal power to create the rule.

Likewise, a summary document said the proposed legislation would limit Washington’s role in higher education by “repealing unfair requirements that limit low-income students’ access to career-focused institutions and treating all institutions the same.” It also said the bill would hold the secretary of education accountable by “explicitly prohibiting her from exceeding her authority, defining any terms inconsistent with the law or adding any requirements on institutions and states that are not explicitly authorized by law.”

Accountability and Performance Funding

Some of the proposals hinted at Wednesday would tighten the screws on colleges and programs, even in some cases by tying federal money to graduation rates or other metrics.

The bill would seek to improve consumer information from the federal government on the performance of colleges and academic programs, using data on enrollment, completion rates, cost and financial aid. But it would keep in place a ban on the feds collecting student-level data that could be used to track employment and wages across state lines. Some committee members from both parties have backed a bill that would drop the ban. But Foxx, who championed the ban’s passage in 2008, appears not to have budged.

However, the plan would create a form of institutional risk sharing, meaning that colleges would be on the hook for portions of federal loans that students do not repay. Likewise, it would move to a program-level repayment rate to help the department target aid to programs that generate a return on students’ investment. And the bill would require program-level disclosure of the average debt of student borrowers at graduation as well as the average salary of borrowers five and 10 years after graduation.

“Institutions need to recognize they have a role to play in this process, and they need to have skin in the game when it comes to preparing students for success academically and financially,” Foxx told the Journal.

One of the most noteworthy, and probably controversial, of the bill’s ideas is to add completion-oriented performance-funding elements to federal grants for colleges that enroll large numbers of minority students.

This would be the first time that the federal government tied funding to graduation rates, a move that has become increasingly popular in state capitols.

The Journal reported that the bill would require historically black and Hispanic-serving institutions that receive targeted federal grants under Title III and Title IV of the Higher Education Act to graduate or transfer at least one-quarter of their students to remain eligible for the grant programs.

The committee also wants to encourage these minority-serving institutions to use grant money for “completion-focused initiatives such as pay for success, dual enrollment and the development of career-centered programs.”

Work-Study and Work-Force Development

The bill would change the federal work-study program by ensuring that the money goes to institutions based on student need. The current system is weighted toward private colleges and, to some extent, to wealthier students. The committee also plans to double federal spending on work-study while eliminating a cap on students working at private-sector companies.

Summaries of the pending bill also described an emphasis on nontraditional academic programs that seek close ties with employers.

For example, it would allow unaccredited and new education providers to partner with traditional institutions for the entirety of a student’s academic program -- dropping a federal rule that less than half of aid-eligible academic instruction can be outsourced to noncollege providers.

The proposed legislation also would seek to expand competency-based education, with clearer pathways to federal aid, and would encourage “industry-led earn-and-learn programs that lead to high-wage, high-skill and high-demand careers.”

To that end, the Journal reported that the bill would steer $183 million toward apprenticeships that last two years or less. Most federally registered apprenticeships last at least two years and include instruction in traditional college settings.

In addition, the bill would repeal the "antiquated and rigid definition of distance education," a summary document said. Such a move would be designed to help encourage innovation. It would also eliminate a snag that Western Governors University, the largest of competency-based providers, is facing due to a critical audit from the department's inspector general. That, in turn, might encourage more colleges to develop their own competency-based programs.

Campus Sexual Assault and Free Speech

The first crack at reauthorizing the Higher Education Act includes a proposed mandate that colleges disclose policies that are designed to protect free speech on campus by limiting where and when speech may occur, the Journal reported. The goal of the proposal is to push back on restricted-speech zones, which the committee said conflict with the First Amendment.

On sexual assault, the Journal reported that the bill seeks to encourage more due process in how colleges treat both accusers and the accused. It apparently aligns with DeVos’s recently rollback of Obama-era guidelines on investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases.

The bill also would tweak the Clery Act, a federal law that governs how colleges report campus crimes. And it would allow colleges to suspend judiciary proceedings while criminal investigations are ongoing, the newspaper reported, while also letting colleges establish their own standards of evidence.

Editorial Tags: AccreditationAdult educationCompetency-based learningFinancial aidImage Caption: Representative Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of House education committeeIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 

Graduate students across country protest tax plan

Thu, 2017-11-30 08:00

PHILADELPHIA -- Olivia Harding holds academic accomplishments that her 10 siblings can look up to. Pursuing a doctorate in cell and molecular biology at an Ivy League institution, after all, is no casual feat.

But she remained “naïve” about finances, she said, until after she finished her undergraduate degree, when she started earning money through her stipend as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.

Her undergraduate degree was financed by a combination of her parents' money and scholarships, and if she wants her siblings to have the same opportunities she’s had, she’s realized she’ll have to pitch for their education -- which makes her concerns about Republican-led tax reform all that more acute.

“It effectively doubles [what I’m taxed for], but it doesn’t change what I see in my bank account,” Harding said.

Harding was one of about 50 Penn students who gathered Wednesday to protest the tax plan passed in the House of Representatives, holding a “grade-in” in an administrative building on campus. After gathering outside, graduate students sat in the lobby of a building to demonstrate what they do on a daily basis and make their case to the university -- and those who might be watching in Washington -- for how valuable their work is.

Similar “work-ins,” grade-ins and rallies were scheduled around the country Wednesday as students protested the tax plan. Penn’s protest was organized by activists with its graduate student unionization campaign, which, like other unionization efforts at private universities, has been grappling to gain recognition from the university.

Doctoral students often work for relatively small stipends, but the upside for some of them is that their tuition is waived by their university. The House tax plan would count tuition waivers as taxable income, meaning that although Harding only earns about $32,000 a year from the stipend she receives from her work as a graduate student, she would be taxed as if she earned about double that, since her program’s tuition would be added into her income.

The tuition-waiver provisions only exist in the House plan, and graduate students gathered in protest took a break from their work to call Pat Toomey, the state’s Republican senator, urging him to keep the tuition waiver out of any final legislation. He’s expressed optimism on tax reform, though the future of the tuition-waiver taxes remains uncertain.

“Neither the House and Senate plan are finalized,” Toomey’s office said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. “When looking at a tax reform package, it is important to remember that it extends beyond singular changes and deductions. So while both the House and the Senate plans adjust tax treatment for certain entities and eliminate certain deductions, they both also lower rates, double the standard deduction and increase the child tax credit, resulting in a net tax cut for millions of working-class and middle-income Pennsylvanians.”

The tuition-waiver taxes, however, remained a nonstarter for many of the graduate students at Penn.

“It makes graduate school prohibitively expensive for many graduate students, all but the most wealthy,” said Zach Smith, a doctoral candidate in political science and one of the organizers of the protest.

For Joseph Wuest, also a doctoral candidate in political science, the House tax plan is a “direct attack on higher ed and graduate student education.”

“While Penn will be hit really hard, and some people won’t be able to pay their bills here, the less affluent a university is and the less stipend a grad student is getting, it’s going to make it increasingly impossible for them to pursue their education,” Wuest said. “I budget for things pretty well, but I don’t know how I’m going to budget for thousands and thousands of extra dollars in taxes.”

A student at Harvard University told NPR that he already tries to save money by living in an attic, and a student at the University of Maryland told the public radio station that she has had to take out loans to cover things like rent and utilities.

“To put it simply, it will devastate many of us,” Kaylynne Glover, head of the University of Kentucky Graduate Congress, told the Lexington Herald Leader.

Penn President Amy Gutmann has spoken out against the tax plan, but students at Penn are hoping for more concrete promises of what the university will do if the tuition-waiver provision goes through.

“Graduate tuition waivers were one among many things that Penn said [it was] concerned about,” Smith said. “But they have not been willing to put anything in writing in terms of a plan to protect graduate students if these efforts succeed.”

Penn students suggested that the university could pledge to reduce the tuition charged and waived for graduate programs -- in an effort to decrease the amount students would be taxed for earning -- or to increase students’ stipends to help them overcome potentially increased tax burdens.

Penn spokesman Rob Ozio said that the university is still continuing to lobby against the bill.

“We share the students’ concerns and are actively working with legislators, our peers and higher education associations to address concerns across an array of proposals that would have a negative impact on higher education and Penn,” he said in an email. “We continue to encourage students to contact their members of Congress to express their concerns about these proposals.”

Whether tuition-waiver provisions from the House tax plan become law or not, Harding is hoping for some sort of assurance from Penn.

“It’s a very wealthy institution,” she said, adding that documents from the Paradise Papers leak reported by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed that the university invested funds into offshore accounts located in tax havens.

“How about putting my tuition in offshore accounts so I don’t have to pay taxes on it?” Harding said.

Editorial Tags: Federal policyGraduate educationImage Caption: Graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania hold a "grade-in" at an administrative building on campus.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 

How the Senate and House tax bills would hit higher education

Thu, 2017-11-30 08:00

As Republican leaders in the Senate lobbied to secure the votes needed for a drastic overhaul of the U.S. tax system, higher education leaders and student groups have continued to keep the spotlight on provisions in both houses of Congress that would significantly affect -- and, they believe, badly hurt -- institutions and college-goers alike.

Both tax reform plans would for the first time tax the income of college endowments by targeting the largest endowments at private institutions -- a "disastrous precedent for universities and indeed, for all charitable organizations," said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, in a statement this week. But the effects of the two bills on students and colleges are wide-ranging.

The House plan, passed earlier this month, strips out many tax benefits that made attending college and graduate programs as well as repaying student loans more affordable. Graduate students at campuses across the country organized walkouts Wednesday to protest a provision of the House plan that would tax graduate tuition benefits as income, a change that higher ed advocates say would render graduate education unattainable for many students. (House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady hinted this week he was open to changing that provision during negotiations over the bill.)

The Senate plan, which has already cleared committee, left out many provisions of the House plan directly affecting student benefits. But it included a proposal that would create new costs for nonprofit entities like universities with business income unrelated to their core education mission. And it would tax income on royalties for licensing a college's name and logo.

A provision that eliminates the ability to deduct any state and local taxes from a taxpayer's federal liability could have even bigger long-term consequences for public higher education by placing a huge strain on state budgets.

It appears increasingly likely that some version of the tax plan will pass the Senate -- possibly as soon as this week. That means many of the details of tax reform legislation, and the discrepancies between the two versions, will be worked out in conference committee.

A comparison of the House and Senate tax reform legislation follows.

Tax Reform for Higher Education

  House Plan Senate Plan Education Tax Benefits     American Opportunity Tax Credit Consolidates AOTC and Lifetime Learning Credit and adds a fifth year with half the benefits. Repeal of Lifetime Learning Credit would mean no tax credit for part-time students. No changes to AOTC Discharge of student debt Discharge of student debt from death or disability would be excluded from taxable income. No change Student Loan Interest Deduction Repeals tax deduction for interest paid on federal student loans. Under current law, borrowers can deduct up to $2,500. Not included Graduate student tuition Eliminates Section 117(d)5 of tax code, which allows institutions to waive or reduce tuition costs for graduate students without tax implications. No change College employee dependent benefits Would no longer exclude tuition benefits for college employees' spouses or children from taxable income. No change Employer-provided education assistance Would no longer exclude employer-provided education assistance from taxable income. Tax-exempt benefits are currently capped at $5,250 per year for undergraduate and graduate course work. No change Endowment Tax Applies a 1.4 percent excise tax to private college endowments valued at $250,000 per full-time student. Same as the House plan Charitable Contributions     Charitable deductions Increases standard deduction from $12,700 to $24,000 for joint filers and from $6,350 to $12,000 for individuals. Charitable groups say the change will reduce the incentive for charitable giving to entities like colleges. Increases standard deduction to $24,400 for joint filers and $12,200 for individuals. College athletic seating rights Eliminates rule providing for charitable deduction of 80 percent of amount paid to purchase tickets to athletic events. Same as House plan Unrelated Business Income Tax     Research income Tax-exempt organizations could exclude from unrelated business tax only income from research that is available to the public. Not included Name and logo royalties Not included Would tax royalties a college derives from licensing its name or logo. Business income taxed separately Not included Requires that unrelated business income be counted separately for tax purposes, meaning colleges could no longer use losses in one business area to offset tax liability for gains in another. Tax-Exempt Bonds     Termination of private activity bonds Effectively eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds that lower the cost of building for colleges. Not included Termination of advanced refunding bonds Interest on newly issued advance refunding bonds would become taxable. Same as the House plan State and Local Tax Deductions Deductions for state and local property taxes would be capped at $10,000. Higher ed advocates say limiting the deductions will mean less support for taxes that support community colleges and public universities. Eliminates deduction entirely. Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: EndowmentsTax policy/IRSFinancial aidIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 

UConn president, a scholar of political incivility, discusses chaotic talk and protest on her campus

Thu, 2017-11-30 08:00

A campus lecture at the University of Connecticut Tuesday on the topic of "It's OK to Be White" turned into an event that was by all accounts not OK at all.

A speaker, the conservative pundit Lucian Wintrich, was there to talk on a topic many students believed was designed to insult black people and those who believe that minority individuals face real bias in American society. Wintrich -- and the student Republican group that brought him to UConn -- were not pleased, either. He was shouted down and when one audience member grabbed his notes and he followed her into the audience, he was arrested for his actions during the altercation. He is accusing those who disagree with his views of denying him a platform to talk.

"We didn't do well" was the assessment of Susan Herbst, the president of UConn, in an interview Wednesday.

Many college presidents have been confronting questions of how to handle campus controversies involving incendiary speakers and the resulting protests. For Herbst, these issues aren't just part of her job as president. A political science and communications scholar, she has studied public discourse, focusing in recent years on incivility. Her last book, published shortly before she was named UConn's president in 2010, was Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics (Temple University Press), which focused on the 2008 presidential election and the beginning of the Obama administration,

In the book and in the interview Wednesday, she placed much of the blame for incivility in public discourse on Congress. While some lawmakers have always embraced extreme positions, Herbst said that a long tradition in which lawmakers tried for compromise eroded in the 1990s. Gerrymandering has allowed many House members to have safe seats where they don't need to think about broadening their bases. Republican leaders have also encouraged their House members to keep homes in their districts, so "there is less social interchange between Republicans and Democrats."

Other factors -- such as "the outrage media" and social media -- are also at play in the deteriorating state of civil debate, she said. But Congress is key, as that is the institution Americans see and "take a cue from," she said.

"Imagine a world where Congress -- even with some extreme voices -- was set on compromise and discussion," she said. "That would be a different America."

Her book includes a chapter based on research on college students. She found at that time that many students already had difficulty with discussions with those of differing views. But if the consequence at the time was avoiding people with conflicting views, these days -- as at UConn this week -- confrontation is more accepted.

"There is a stepping out," she said. "It is imitating the rhetoric and discourse that we see" in national politics.

So those who brought Wintrich to campus selected a topic that they knew would goad minority students. And those students and others didn't boycott the event, but came to it determined to shout it down.

Colleges and universities are places for debate, Herbst said, but that debate should be at a higher level than what UConn experienced this week.

Academic leaders need to do a better job of explaining that allowing a student group to bring in a speaker does not constitute an endorsement. "Our campuses are open, by law," she said, speaking of public institutions.

For UConn, Tuesday night's event was something of a test, she said, and the campus didn't pass. She said the university has not had the kinds of speaker controversies that have attracted so much attention elsewhere. "I thought we were ready to be tested," she said. "It's pretty clear we didn't do well."

"I'm guessing many presidents may feel like this the day after an event."

‘We Have to Work at It’

Going forward, Herbst said that "being passionate and civil is going to take practice. That's what I've been thinking about. We have to work at it."

So that means, she said, "we have to think back to the '60s, and it's going to be about fighting hate with love."

"We need dignity when faced with ugliness and hate," Herbst added. "We have to play the long game. We have our values, and they are not going to be easily implemented in this culture."

While campuses are known for speakers, panels and question-and-answer sessions, Herbst said she wants to promote more small discussions -- 20 or so people of different views -- in a room. "I've always believed that the big venues when there is a speaker and a panel -- in the campus cultures, that's not the kind of work we need to do."

In smaller settings, with faculty members playing a lead role, students can learn to talk to one another, to disagree and to let others talk.

Coming out of such discussions, she said, students need to understand why shouting down speakers is not appropriate, especially in an academic setting.

"I don't think anybody -- faculty, administrator or a lot of students -- wants to hear hate," she said. "It is really hard to hear things that are hateful or that you disagree with. That kind of strength of character to sit there and listen and then ask questions, we're going to have to work on that on a more micro level," she said.

"It's not easy for any of us, but the shouting down is wrong. You have to hear what the other person is saying."

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New presidents or provosts: Brock Franklin Incarnate Word Liberia Miami Mount St. Mary's Norwich Oberlin St. Petersburg Truman Washington

Thu, 2017-11-30 08:00
  • Sandra G. Affenito, associate provost and dean of graduate studies and research at the University of Saint Joseph, in Connecticut, has been selected as provost and dean of faculty at Norwich University, in Vermont.
  • Carmen Twillie Ambar, president of Cedar Crest College, in Pennsylvania, has been chosen as president of Oberlin College, in Ohio.
  • Jeffrey L. Duerk, dean of the School of Engineering at Case Western Reserve University, in Ohio, has been named provost at the University of Miami.
  • Thomas Evans, president of Carroll College, in Montana, has been appointed president of University of the Incarnate Word, in Texas.
  • Gervan Fearon, president of Brandon University, in Manitoba, has been chosen as president and vice chancellor of Brock University, in Ontario.
  • Janet Gooch, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Education and interim dean of the School of Science and Mathematics, at Truman State University, in Missouri, has been promoted to executive vice president for academic affairs and provost there.
  • Kurt M. Landgraf, CEO of the Educational Testing Service, in New Jersey, has been selected as president of Washington College, in Maryland.
  • Lori K. Schroeder, associate dean of the college at Knox College, in Illinois, has been named provost and dean of the college at Franklin College, in Indiana.
  • Timothy Trainor, interim president of Mount St. Mary’s University, in Maryland, has been appointed to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Ophelia Weeks, former professor of biology at Florida International University, has been selected as president of the University of Liberia.
  • Tonjua Williams, senior vice president for student services at St. Petersburg College, in Florida, has been promoted to president there.
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Talk at UConn draws protests and speaker is arrested

Wed, 2017-11-29 08:49

A controversial speech at the University of Connecticut Tuesday night ended up in chaos, with students in the audience shouting at the speaker, and the speaker arrested over an altercation with an audience member who appeared to take his notes.

The speaker was Lucian Wintrich, a conservative writer who was invited to campus by UConn's Republican group for a talk to be called "It's OK to Be White." That tag line has become controversial as it has shown up on posters on numerous colleges across the country, prompting many students and others to say that the slogan is racist. It's not that critics say that it's not OK to be white, but they view the tag line as a way some are attacking the Black Lives Matter movement and other efforts to point out racial injustice in society. (A summary of this critique may be found in this article in The Root.)

Some on campus questioned why the talk was taking place, but UConn officials said that even if they disagreed with the speaker's views, his right to speak was protected by the First Amendment.

During Wintrich's talk, students and others in the audience repeatedly shouted at him. His arrest came after an audience member appeared to grab his notes and he followed her into the audience. He was charged with breach of peace and was escorted from the building. One other arrest was made, with a man charged with allegedly breaking a window in the building where the event took place, as people were leaving. Videos of the event show many students waited for Wintrich to be led out of the building. Both of those arrested were released on bond.




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Disagreement over Gies College of Business name exposes fund-raising tensions

Wed, 2017-11-29 08:00

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign enthusiastically announced last month that its College of Business was being renamed for wealthy donors who were making one of the largest gifts ever recorded to a business school.

The gift, from financier Larry Gies and his wife, Beth, totals $150 million and is unrestricted, aside from being directed to the College of Business. It is tied for the fourth-largest gift ever given to a business school, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. It comes at a critical time, when Illinois is in the middle of a campaign seeking to raise an eye-watering $2.25 billion by the end of 2022.

With that campaign underway, the gift could easily set the tone for naming other colleges within the university. The practice of naming colleges and schools after donors has proliferated across higher education but has not taken hold at Illinois, which had not named colleges for individual donors before christening the Gies College of Business in an announcement Oct. 26.

But the celebrations soon hit a snag: some faculty members felt they hadn’t been properly consulted on the renaming of the college.

At issue are disagreements over seemingly obscure rules for naming or renaming colleges at Illinois. Faculty members have not voiced broad opposition to the gift itself, the identity of the donors or the addition of the Gies name to the business school. And for this case, they ironed over the disagreements earlier this month so that objections did not obstruct the renaming of the College of Business.

Still, many feel that the underlying issues have yet to be resolved. The potential exists for disagreements to arise in the future if Illinois moves to rename other colleges after more donors who may be more controversial than the business school's patrons.

Both administrators and faculty members at the university have signaled a willingness to clarify naming processes in the future. Nonetheless, the situation exposes tensions that run far beyond Illinois -- tensions about shared governance, the potential influence of donors and who should have say in the names prominently attached to institutions of higher learning.

“There really is a deep tension -- and it might be a necessary one -- in a public institution that is changing how it thinks of its funding model,” said Shawn Gilmore, a professor of English who chairs the Senate of the Urbana-Champaign campus’s Committee on University Statutes and Senate Procedures. “We probably have to get a little more comfortable thinking about how to use outside options.”

Those tensions can build up when colleges and universities ramp up fund-raising. Consequently, they are likely to appear more frequently as institutions across the country turn to outside donors to combat expected budget issues, even if they express themselves as disputes over rules.

“One of the things that I run into most when I do consulting work around the country is that there is a lack of clarity concerning what the rules really are,” said James Lanier, a senior fellow and consultant with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. “You get two or three attorneys and all are very certain about viewing this in different ways. Much of the time it is simply a lack of talking about these things before people’s emotions get involved.”

Some say a lack of communication is at the heart of what happened at Illinois. University statutes require that the Senate and unit faculty record votes before a college can be renamed, Gilmore said. Under the principles of shared governance, it is important that the statutes be followed, he added.

But the College of Business renaming was announced at the end of October, surprising many faculty members, and it appeared on trustees’ agenda before a Senate vote had taken place. The Senate was not provided with proper documentation on the proposed change before it was brought before the body in November, Gilmore said.

Even so, faculty voted overwhelmingly to endorse the name change at a meeting shortly before trustees gave their approval. But they added an amendment stating that the process followed in this case should not establish a precedent for future renaming of colleges, according to The News-Gazette.

Faculty members have acknowledged that this particular instance involved a donor who was not attaching strings to the money and whom few, if any, find objectionable. Gies is CEO of the Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Industries and has frequently spoken on campus. University officials say that he did not originally ask for the College of Business to be named after him -- he agreed to make the gift before he agreed to the naming.

However, faculty members worry about what happens when a controversial donor wants to give money on the condition that their name is attached to a college. Several pointed out that Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was a University of Illinois alumnus. If administrators had moved to name a college after Hefner, faculty members would have wanted a say in the matter.

“I’ve made it clear that this is something we should address soon, especially because of our current philanthropic drive,” Gilmore said.

The idea of a big-name donor sparking a naming controversy isn’t entirely hypothetical. The history of higher education is filled with instances where major gifts and college namings have been contentious.

A decade ago at the Urbana-Champaign campus, a faculty panel pushed administrators to renegotiate a deal to set up the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund, finding fault with plans for narrow ideological restrictions and tight donor control that would have infringed on traditional faculty autonomy. Elsewhere, faculty balked at the idea of renaming the University of Iowa's College of Public Health after the insurer Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield (it remains simply the College of Public Health today). More recently, in September of this year, a $200 million gift to the University of Southern California that would rename a college the Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences and orient it around integrative health drew criticism from some who said it was bending to the wishes of wealthy donors advocating for junk science.

Administrators aren’t disputing that faculty members should offer their opinions on college naming. But they maintain that they followed proper procedures for naming a college after a donor.

They say the college wasn’t being substantially renamed -- it was having a donor’s name added to it. As such, they did not have to follow university statutes requiring a faculty vote on a renaming but could instead follow the Campus Administrative Manual’s rules for naming a college. Those rules call for Senate advice instead of approval.

A substantial renaming happens when the college’s focus changes, said Jeffrey R. Brown, dean of the College of Business. Changing the College of Commerce and Business Administration to the College of Business in 2003 was a renaming; making the College of Business the Gies College of Business was not.

“Part of this comes down to renaming versus naming,” Brown said. “This was viewed as a naming. There was nothing about this that was changing the focus or in any way signaling anything about the direction or scope of the college.”

Many faculty members disagree with that interpretation. Nicholas C. Burbules is a professor in the department of education policy, organization and leadership at Illinois. He is a former Senate chair. The Senate at Illinois has a history of successfully balancing flexibility and tight timelines with meeting the letter and spirit of regulations, he said. Even if the rules over naming and renaming a college are ambiguous, the Senate should have been consulted.

“Bureaucratic procedures are our governing documents,” he said. “There is a reason they are there. But secondly, the Senate has shown repeatedly when there is something that is time sensitive, there are ways you can do something within the spirit of the rules.”

The business college’s dean, Brown, said he brought in faculty members from the college during the process. Ten days before the gift and naming announcement, he walked the college’s executive committee through the details. The committee, which functions as the faculty governance body within the College of Business, voted for the change, Brown said. Information on the renaming was also provided to Senate leadership.

Brown pointed out that donors want some assurance that their gifts are being negotiated in confidence and that they’re unlikely to hit major snags after they are announced. But he would be open to reforming or clarifying the university’s process going forward.

“The process is going to work if we balance the needs of the donors with the faculty,” he said. “There are a certain amount of political considerations, privacy considerations and so forth that have to be brought into play. I’m more than happy to be part of a conversation around clarifying these rules for the future. In some ways, I can do that because my college is already named. But I think it’s important for other deans to have clarity on what’s involved.”

Gilmore will be addressing the issue in future meetings of the University Statutes and Senate Procedures Committee that he leads.

“We just don’t have a long history of naming institutions for donors,” he said. “Maybe we will in the next 10 years. It’s one of those deep tensions that is much more on the surface now than it has been in the past.”

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Professors push back on Republican state lawmakers' allegations about English department and entire University of Nebraska

Wed, 2017-11-29 08:00

Disappointed with the University of Nebraska’s response thus far to increasing criticism from Republican state lawmakers, professors are asking the system’s Board of Regents to defend them against political attacks.

“We insist that all levels of the administration respect the governance structures currently in place, and categorically reject political interference in the good work being done at our state’s flagship institution," reads an open letter to the regents signed by more than 100 faculty members from the university’s three campuses.

"We are concerned that at the highest levels of the University of Nebraska system, decisions involving the future of the university are being made without transparency or proper governance and under improper exertions of influence by the legislative and executive branches of the state government," the letter continues. "We fear that financial hostage taking by members of the state government will result in changes by the administration in the intellectual offerings of the university and opportunities for our students."

Still collecting signatures, the state branch of the American Association of University Professors plans to send the letter to the regents later this week.

Public institutions across the country are facing all kinds of political pressure, but much of what’s happening in Nebraska can be traced to a single event at the Lincoln flagship. In late August, a lecturer and a professor in English were recorded protesting an on-campus recruiting table for Turning Point USA, the conservative group behind Professor Watchlist. In the video, the lecturer, Courtney Lawton, who is also a graduate student, called the undergraduate behind the table a “neo-fascist Becky” and flipped her off.

Lincoln removed Lawton from the classroom soon thereafter. Local news coverage included numerous interviews with conservative students and faculty members who said they had no residual concerns about the Lincoln campus political climate.

Still, three Republican state senators have said they expect the university to shape up and offer more “accountability” and “transparency” with respect to the environment for conservative students.

In public statements, the state senators have questioned whether university professors are hostile to conservative students and whether administrators can remain impartial when investigating on-campus political incidents. Especially concerning to faculty members, the state senators also have questioned the curriculum.

In an op-ed eventually published this month in the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nebraska State Senators Tom Brewer, Steve Erdman and Steve Halloran asked, “Does anyone teach English anymore at [Lincoln]?”

“The English department has proudly condemned President Trump’s executive order to suspend immigrant travel, and it has recently reiterated its support for the LGBTQA community,” they wrote. “Most disturbing, though, is the fact that the English department’s webpage is missing anything which even remotely resembles a traditional English education.”

“Strangely missing” from the department’s core values, they said, are “traditional English department words such as ‘classic literature studies,’ ‘writing,’ ‘poetry,’ ‘fiction,’ ‘grammar’ and ‘novel.’”

Joy Castro, a professor of English at Lincoln, responded with her own op-ed, saying that if the senators, upon visiting the department’s website, had “simply clicked on the readily available link Course Schedules and then Undergraduate Catalog, they’d have seen dozens of our English courses listed, such as: Writing and Inquiry; Introduction to Literature; Introduction to Poetry; Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton; The Novel 1700-1900; American Authors to 1900; Writing for Film and Literary History.”

Like “other world-class research institutions,” she said, “we teach these traditional courses all the time, in addition to more contemporary subjects and methodologies. The website doesn’t foreground them because everyone takes it entirely for granted that we teach such things.”

Members of the English department faculty also have been the subject of extensive open records requests this semester from conservative groups, with keywords including everything from “Trump” to “teaching.”

Julia Schleck, an associate professor of English at Lincoln and president of the state AAUP, said she’s been in Nebraska for 10 years and has never seen this level of contempt for higher education.

“This is definitely something new,” she said Tuesday. “But we felt it was high time for someone to push back on what we feel is an entirely unjust and entirely inaccurate depiction of the university.”

Administrators' responses to the politicians have so far been mixed. Ronnie Green, Lincoln's chancellor, wrote to three state senators about their op-ed, saying he found their “falsehoods and distortions defamatory and an egregious breach of the trust that Nebraskans put in each of us.” The university, he said, “will not be politicized and will not be used as a pawn."

But in separate statements released later this month -- and a day after state lawmakers reportedly pushed for Lawton’s dismissal -- both Green and System President Hank Bounds said that the lecturer will no longer teach on campus. They announced a series of other changes, starting with Gallup studies of campus climates.    Two university spokespeople also recently resigned after the release of emails related to the August incident. Both were publicly accused of trying to “spin” the altercation in the university's favor. Bounds in comments addressed to the state Legislature and Republican Governor Pete Ricketts said he'd hold his staff "accountable."

The new faculty letter warns that if “the governor or his surrogates in the Legislature interfere with the intellectual freedom of the faculty, one of the state’s most precious resources will be squandered in a political power grab, as the quality of work at our university and the value of a degree from the University of Nebraska will quickly decline.”

AAUP’s national office wrote separately to Lincoln’s administration Tuesday, saying that in addition to “evident procedural issues, we remain concerned that Lawton was suspended in response to her speech as a citizen, raising questions whether the action infringed upon her academic freedom. These questions remain unresolved in the absence of affordance to Lawton of any academic due process.”

Schleck said standard procedures for dismissing lecturers were not followed in Lawton's case.

Melissa Lee, a spokeswoman for the university system, had no immediate comment Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Lincoln campus also declined comment on the faculty's concerns.

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Education Department unveils new mobile FAFSA application

Wed, 2017-11-29 08:00

Nationally, just three out of five high school seniors complete an application for federal student aid. And completion rates are lowest among low-income students, meaning those students leave billions of dollars in aid on the table.

The Office of Federal Student Aid wants to boost those numbers by putting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in front of students on the device that rarely leaves their hands -- their cellphones.

Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, told student aid professionals in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday that her department will move the FAFSA to a mobile application as part of a larger effort to modernize the federal student aid system.

“The goal is a customer service experience that will rival Amazon or Apple’s Genius Bar,” DeVos said.

A. Wayne Johnson, FSA's chief operating officer, will unveil further details about the project today, including a projected April rollout that would mean the app goes live well before the 2019 aid application cycle begins next fall.

Both college-access advocates and veterans of the Obama administration praised the news, although they said a technological solution ultimately won't solve many of the obstacles that prevent wider completion of the form.

Johnson views the app not just as a tool for easier filing of aid applications, but rather as part of a modernized experienced for students and borrowers in all stages of the federal aid process -- from submitting an application to paying off a loan. He said in an interview ahead of the announcement that the mobile app could also handle many of the functions currently conducted by student loan servicers in interactions with borrowers via the web and over the phone.

FSA prioritized a mobile tool partly in acknowledgment of how often college students use mobile devices over computers. The move also was made in response to feedback the department heard directly from customers about how FSA could improve the student loan experience, Johnson said.

“Whether it was a millennial all the way up to people in their 60s, they wanted to be able to deal with this not having to sign in to a computer,” he said.

The announcement is the most detailed look yet at the Education Department’s work on issues involving federal student aid and the servicing of student loans since DeVos in April withdrew an Obama administration solicitation with comprehensive new requirements for student loan servicers that was designed to improve the experience of borrowers. (The department later released a plan to award servicing of loans to a single contractor, which it scrapped after receiving heavy criticism.) FSA’s plan for a mobile financial aid application delivers on a key plank of the Obama servicing plans -- a single interface for every borrower regardless of which servicer handles their loan.

Capitol Hill's Role

While the mobile technology push fits within a broader framework of FSA seeking to modernize how it awards and services student aid, it also reflects discussions among lawmakers and DeVos this week about simplifying the aid application process.

Senator Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee, held a hearing Tuesday on proposals to simplify the FAFSA. Alexander in the past has floated ideas including a FAFSA questionnaire the size of a postcard -- an eye-catching, if mostly conceptual, illustration of the brevity he’d like to see.

Alexander said the complexity of the FAFSA has been the single biggest impediment to more students taking advantage of Tennessee Promise, the free community college program in his home state.

“We’ve heard over and over again from parents, students and financial aid officials how difficult it is the first time,” Alexander said of the application. “This complexity frustrates the goal of the Pell Grant, which is to help low-income students attend college, because it discourages them from applying for aid.”

The department views the mobile app as a first step toward a smoother aid application process. But actually reducing the length of the application -- which includes roughly 130 questions and can be an impediment for students with limited access to family financial records -- will require action from Congress.

Johnson said FSA is still working on proposed revisions to FAFSA questions for a briefing document to be sent to Congress. In the meantime, the office is moving ahead with the mobile app it said will improve student interactions with the federal aid system as they apply for aid and manage student loans.

Developing the technology cost about $849,000, although additional costs will be associated with the tool’s rollout, the department said.

While officials at the Education Department under Obama periodically discussed a mobile FAFSA, it was never prioritized -- either because of funding or challenges involving technology.

“It’s not a simple project, but I think it’s a worthwhile one given how many people are accessing the internet primarily through their phones,” said Clare McCann, a former department official during the Obama administration who is now deputy director for federal higher education policy at New America.

The previous administration took significant steps to improve the federal aid application process. In 2010, it introduced the IRS data retrieval tool, which allowed applicants to automatically import family income data already on file with the federal government into the online FAFSA. That feature cut down on errors and reduced the time it took to complete the application, student aid advocates said. (Some questioned whether the department would face challenges integrating the data retrieval tool into a mobile app. The department said in an email that the IRS has been part of the planning process for the tool.)

And last fall, the department paired an earlier FAFSA release date (Oct. 1) with the use of prior-prior year income data in student aid applications -- a policy change that had aid applicants submit the most recent family income data on file with the federal government. A year later, those changes appear to have had a significant effect on completion rates. But numbers are still far short of what advocates want.

Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network, said a mobile application would be a definite step forward for many students served by the group's partner organizations across the country.

“Many low-income students only have access to the internet when they’re in their school building or are on their smartphones,” she said.

Warick said every positive change moves the needle a little bit, but getting the level of FAFSA completion advocates would like to see would require a much simpler form.

FSA said a significant increase in submitted student aid applications would pay big dividends for college attendance. Moving from current numbers to a 100 percent completion rate would open up an additional $4 billion in federal student aid each year for low-income students who struggle to pay for college otherwise, according to Johnson.

The department hopes the mobile app will boost current numbers. But Johnson also said the new tool will help students select a college by connecting the application with the College Scorecard. When a student picks a college or colleges to send their FAFSA to, the app will show key Scorecard metrics for each institution.

FSA said the app also will improve borrowers' experiences of managing their federal student aid. It will allow students, for example, to track their spending of student aid funds on tuition, fees or food -- and to compare that spending to what they actually budgeted. And Johnson said the app will mean student borrowers will be able to answer many questions on their own that currently require reaching a call center by phone, such as finding the repayment plan that's best for them.

“If we can let people do a majority of what they need to do with mobile, when they call the call center, they only need to talk about serious stuff or more interesting stuff,” he said.

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Colleges voice concern over planned net neutrality rollback

Wed, 2017-11-29 08:00

Last week the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission published his plan to dismantle Obama-era regulations protecting "net neutrality" -- the idea that all web content should be treated equally by internet service providers.

Under the FCC proposal, due to be voted on Dec. 14 by the majority-Republican commission, ISPs would have the freedom to slow down or even block websites or online services that do not serve their commercial interests. They could also charge their customers a fee to prioritize the delivery of their content through the creation of internet “fast lanes.”

Higher education groups have been united in their condemnation of the net neutrality rollback, which they say could make it more difficult for students and the public to access educational resources, and potentially impose huge costs on institutions.

Jarret Cummings, director of policy and government relations at Educause, said the FCC proposal was concerning for higher education on “multiple levels” and would likely have a significant negative impact on higher education “and the internet as a whole.”

A High Price for Higher Ed

The proposal, put forward by Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, would reverse strong rules protecting net neutrality that were established by the (then majority-Democratic) FCC in 2015. Pai, formerly a lawyer for Verizon, was nominated to lead the agency by President Trump in January. Having served as an FCC commissioner since 2012, Pai has made no secret of the fact he thinks the 2015 regulations were a mistake and an example of government overreach. His appointment was celebrated by telecom companies.

If Pai's plan is approved and ISPs are allowed to create a “tiered” system of access, which could prioritize sites willing to pay for faster speeds, higher education institutions may be forced to pay fees to ensure that their online content, particularly bandwidth-guzzling video, continues to be accessible to students and the public at workable speeds, said Cummings.

Third-party services like email, particularly those that are cloud-based and require a fast and secure internet connection, may also be forced to pay ISPs to use the “fast lane” with increased costs passed on to customers. Jon Fansmith, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, said the cost increase to higher education institutions would likely be “massive,” as “there is no part of modern higher education that doesn’t depend on the internet,” he said. He added that much of this cost would likely be passed on to students “for no appreciable benefit.”

While the impact of the changes may sound trivial -- some webpages taking longer than others to load, for instance -- Fansmith said the net effect would be substantial and detrimental. “Imagine you’re a student taking an online exam, or trying to submit work by a deadline,” he said. The ability to participate in collaborative research in real time could also be impeded, said Fansmith.

Another potential impact of the FCC proposal, though not one Fansmith says he thinks is likely, is a limitation of free speech. Internet providers could, if they wished, block access to content their users find objectionable, said Fansmith. This could have a chilling impact on research on controversial issues such as gun control or abortion, said Fansmith.

A Widening Digital Divide

Though some universities have private networks or are part of National Research and Education Networks that will not be affected by the FCC rule change, many institutions still rely on commercial internet providers to send and receive information, said Cummings. Regardless of which networks are used on campus, students accessing content off campus or on their mobile phones could still encounter issues.

Janna Anderson, professor of communications and director of the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University, said she was particularly concerned about the impact of dismantling net neutrality on distance education. She said the introduction of paid prioritization from ISPs could “crush the potential for amazing breakthroughs in education for all.”

Many online educators were experimenting with technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, which could “much more effectively carry the opportunity for a first-rate higher education to anyone, anywhere,” Anderson said. But as these technologies would require substantial bandwidth, they may no longer be accessible at usable speeds to students accessing content from home.

“Added costs and complexities that may accompany a rejection of net neutrality principles will make it difficult to develop and implement these education innovations and deliver them to the public far and wide,” said Anderson. Such a change, she warned, “will further widen the digital divide.”

Another divide could emerge between those with the resources to pay for prioritization and those without, said Jessica Sebeok, associate vice president and counsel for policy at the Association of American Universities. This consequence of the rule change would particularly affect community colleges and smaller state institutions, she said.

Kris Shaffer, an instructional technology specialist at the University of Mary Washington, said many students working from home already have slow internet, making it difficult for them to access course materials. If ISPs start charging customers more for content such as video, this issue may get worse, he said.

At Mary Washington, many students take part in an institutionwide initiative called Domain of One’s Own, in which they are encouraged to create their own websites and share the content with friends. Shaffer says the university works with small companies to provide this service to students -- companies that, he worries, wouldn’t have the cash to buy prioritization from ISPs, potentially making the websites less accessible to the public.

“The internet was invented for universities. If educational content is now going to take a back seat … it’s disheartening, to say the least,” said Shaffer.

Potential Legal Challenges

Going forward, both Cummings and Fansmith agree that it is likely the FCC will vote to roll back net neutrality regulations next month. Legal challenges from open-internet advocates are likely to follow, however. If the changes hold, it is unlikely that colleges will notice differences overnight, said Cummings, but the internet will slowly change. Tracking whether access to institutional content is being restricted or slowed will be tricky, but even if it is observed, Cummings said he thought it was unlikely that individual institutions would have the resources to take legal action to rectify it.

The FCC says that ISPs should be transparent about how they implement the rule change, and suggests that many won’t make large changes for fear of losing out to competitors. But in many areas, there is no real competition between internet providers, said Cummings. While ISPs such as Comcast have said they do not plan to introduce paid prioritization, the providers are said to be supportive of the FCC proposal.

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Scaramucci resigns from Tufts advisory board

Wed, 2017-11-29 08:00

Anthony Scaramucci resigned Tuesday from his position on an advisory board at a Tufts University graduate school.

The former White House communications director’s dismissal from the Trump administration became national news when he was fired 10 days after his hiring was announced. In that short time, The New Yorker published a profanity-laced rant Scaramucci made during a phone call with one of the magazine’s reporters.

“This morning, Anthony Scaramucci informed the Fletcher School that he is resigning his position on the school’s Board of Advisors, effective immediately. We thank Mr. Scaramucci for his past service to Tufts and wish him well,” read a statement from James Stavridis, the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and David Harris, provost and senior vice president of Tufts University.

Scaramucci had been on the Fletcher advisory board since 2016, but found himself an object of in national media attention in recent months. A Tufts spokeswoman, Kalimah Knight, said the decision to resign was made by Scaramucci himself. Last week, his lawyer, Samuel L. Lieberman, threatened to sue the student newspaper at Tufts, alleging that a student made defamatory statements against Scaramucci in two opinion pieces.

Scaramucci, a 1986 Tufts graduate, was slated to speak at the university Monday, but that event was postponed after Lieberman sent the newspaper a letter threatening legal action unless certain statements in the opinion pieces were retracted and an apology was issued.

Knight did not respond to requests for comment as to how the resignation might affect the rescheduling of the speaking event. Scaramucci and Lieberman did not respond to requests for comment on why the resignation was tendered, or what it would mean for the potential lawsuit.

Scaramucci’s membership on the board had riled students and alumni before the opinion pieces were published in the student newspaper, with a petition circulating for his removal being launched in October. It had gathered about 300 signatures as of Tuesday. The petition was started by Carter Banker, a graduate student at the Fletcher School, who told The Boston Globe that she started it after a Twitter account associated with Scaramucci -- @ScaramucciPost -- tweeted a multiple-choice poll asking, “How many Jews were killed in the Holocaust?” (Scaramucci later apologized, saying the poll was supposed to be educational. The tweet was widely panned as fodder for anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers to lowball the scale of the genocide.)

Camilo Caballero, the author of the opinion pieces published in November that Scaramucci’s lawyer objected to, questioned the appropriateness of Scaramucci holding a position at Tufts. The master's student called Scaramucci “a man whose career and ideals are diametrically opposed to [the university's] ideas and who sullies the vision of the university,” adding that Scaramucci “sold his soul in contradiction to his own purported beliefs for a seat in that White House.”

In an open letter to Fletcher School students and faculty published the day before his resignation, Scaramucci rebuffed Banker’s and Caballero’s characterizations of him:

I trust we agree that my affiliation with the Republican Party is not disqualifying for service on the Fletcher School’s Advisory Board. Thus, I assume your quarrel is with my support for President Trump -- the democratically elected president of the United States who won 2,626 out of 3,141 American counties, including 217 counties that President Obama won in 2012.

Like many Republicans, I agree with Donald Trump on numerous issues and disagree with him on others. Despite our occasional differences of opinion, I continue to believe he will be a better president than Secretary Hillary Clinton would have been. While my political views may be objectionable to you, contrary to your accusation of hypocrisy, I have maintained a consistent and inclusive political ideology.

Tufts doesn't identify the Fletcher advisory board members by political party affiliation, but the board's membership is made up in significant part by business leaders whose presence has not been a source of controversy at the university.

Students weren’t the only ones questioning Scaramucci’s role at Tufts, however. The same day that Scaramucci published his open letter, Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School, said that Scaramucci had crossed the line when he threatened to sue the newspaper.

“With these legal shenanigans, however, the Mooch has traveled about three counties past the line and just kept on going,” Drezner wrote in an essay for The Washington Post, in which he also criticized Caballero.

“A Fletcher administrator and Scaramucci confirmed to me that since being appointed, he has neither attended an advisory board meeting nor given a single dollar to the school (he has previously donated high six figures to Tufts),” Drezner wrote. “Scaramucci acknowledged to me that his behavior at the White House suggests that the Mooch is not the world’s greatest goodwill ambassador."

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DeVos says U.S. has emphasized four-year degrees at the expense of work-force training

Tue, 2017-11-28 08:00

The Trump administration's higher education policy to date has consisted largely of undoing what it inherited -- rolling back, for instance, ambitious Obama era regulations on for-profit colleges and campus policies on sexual assault. Observers looking for an affirmative, forward-looking agenda have been hard-pressed to find much so far.

But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos this month provided as a clear a sense as observers have yet seen of her vision for her department's role in, and agenda for, postsecondary education, with a set of comments signaling a shift in emphasis from education to training.

In two separate forums this month, she said students have for years received a message that "the only path for a successful life" is through a four-year degree. But the increasing diversity of the student population -- and the relatively small proportion of students enrolled full-time at four-year institutions -- points to the need for greater attention to alternatives involving skills training, she said.

"To a large extent, we have stigmatized them for the past couple of decades," DeVos said of skills-training programs. "We have a lot of students who would benefit from being exposed to those different options."

DeVos's comments are in many ways consistent with statements President Trump has made since the election, and they double down on early efforts in his administration to elevate apprenticeships as a way to prepare workers.

But to the extent that her statements signal a broader philosophical approach to higher education, the implications could be significant, especially if the administration aggressively embraces her rhetoric in its policy decisions.

Some community college officials said they welcome the emphasis on work-force training, since two-year institutions would by necessity play a large role in any ambitious expansion of apprenticeship or other job preparation programs. But other leaders in the sector expressed concern that the secretary's rhetoric ignores the extent to which most skills training is embedded into a broader general education context, at two-year and four-year colleges alike.

Other policy experts said they believed DeVos's comments caricatured the extent to which the Obama administration's college attainment push focused on four-year colleges, and that an aggressive push in this direction could serve to discourage students from attending college, which remains the most promising path to entering the middle class.

Ambitious Vision of Previous Administration

President Obama made higher education a clear priority in his first speech to Congress by outlining a lofty goal for degree attainment. By 2020, he said, the United States should have the highest proportion of college-educated adults of any country. The U.S. looks to be falling well short of that goal, but higher ed advocates called it the strongest statement yet by a president in support of postsecondary education.

Obama's campaign in support of that ambitious vision also acknowledged that many different pathways to a post-high school education should be appropriate, including community colleges and vocational training as well as four-year institutions. And his administration followed through by making major investments in community college, including a $2 billion infusion for community colleges via the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program in 2010. He also forcefully backed efforts at the state level to make two-year colleges completely tuition-free.

Complaints still arose, however, over what some saw as a bias toward traditional colleges in the president's message. DeVos's comments this month appeared to echo those critics of the previous administration. And her rhetoric places a much more explicit emphasis on the role of vocational and career training.

“Many students graduate high school and don’t know what they want to pursue,” she said this month at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council event. “We have to give students a much wider venue of opportunities starting in high school and middle school to help guide them into a productive future.”

The attention from the Trump administration to work-force training programs is welcome news for community colleges.

"Our members are cheered to see the recognition that those comments reflected," said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.

Baime noted that DeVos's comments were in line with previous promises from the Trump administration to create 4.5 million new apprenticeships in five years. President Trump also called for a $200 million grant program to fund training in high-growth sectors -- although an earlier White House budget proposal slashed existing work-force training.

Kermit Kaleba, federal policy director at the National Skills Coalition, said he agreed with the notion that federal policy has overemphasized a traditional college education.

"As a general rule, federal policy has tended to focus pretty exclusively on access to four-year diplomas, and there's been a lot less emphasis on shorter-term educational training pathways," he said. "We spend about $30 billion a year on Pell Grants. We spend less than a 10th of that on work-force training."

Kaleba called the $2 billion in additional funding for community colleges under Obama a significant investment. But the coalition would also like to see policies allowing use of Pell Grants for short-term programs -- an idea that's gained momentum on both sides of the aisle in Washington -- as well as more "stackable" credentials.

DeVos, in her comments, called for better coordination between colleges and local business and industry about work-force needs. Many community colleges will be quick to say, however, that much of that work is already happening at the local level.

Greg Hamann, president of Linn-Benton Community College, in Oregon, said his college works closely with businesses in the area to provide graduates with the kinds of skills they're seeking. That makes community colleges well positioned to do a great deal of the work DeVos is talking up, he said.

But Hamann said the secretary's comments this month may be interpreted as promoting apprenticeships and work-force training at the expense of a broader education based on a college campus. He said specific skills-training programs at his college are designed to give students a broad knowledge of critical thinking and problem solving for the workplace.

"You probably won't be spending the rest of your life where your only interaction is between you and a piece of pipe," he said. "You'll be interacting with people. You'll have to navigate a work environment that's constantly changing."

Others worry that the rhetoric from DeVos signals that she will be less interested than previous education leaders in promoting to all students the possibility of a four-year degree.

Andrew Nichols, director of higher education research and data analytics at the Education Trust, said it is "kind of a dangerous message" to suggest that a four-year degree has been overvalued. A bachelor's degree is still the most reliable pathway to the middle class, he said.

Recent research from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce confirmed that a bachelor's degree is the "gold standard" for obtaining a well-paying job. College graduates held an increasing share of those jobs over the last quarter century, the Georgetown study found.

Traditional four-year institutions, meanwhile, still have serious work ahead of them to address issues with access on their campuses for traditionally underserved student populations.

"My main question to Secretary DeVos would be what are they doing to make sure apprenticeships or career tech programs aren't options that disproportionately appeal to low-income black and Latino students just because they've been systematically disadvantaged in various aspects of society," Nichols said.

While DeVos's comments didn't specify what kind of investment of resources she hoped to see in career and technical education versus apprenticeships, and indeed tended to lump them together, there are significant differences between those training options.

Career and technical education, commonly known as vocational education, has struggled for decades to overcome a well-earned reputation for tracking low-income and minority students into dead-end programs, said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills at New America. That said, career and technical programs have made great strides, particularly over the last decade, in improving the quality of their offerings, she said.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce has found that certificates are the fastest-growing postsecondary credential. But women who hold certificates are generally clustered in health-care fields that pay less than professions where men with certificates tend to find work. Georgetown also found that a third of certificate holders also hold an associate, bachelor's or graduate degree, suggesting that many workers are getting those credentials to add skills in a tight job market.

The challenge for apprenticeships is not a stigma, McCarthy said -- a recent New America survey showed they are as popular with the public as four-year universities and community colleges -- but the reality that there are few programs available and they are concentrated in a small number of fields, like skilled trades and manufacturing. The number of current registered apprenticeships is around 500,000.

"It's a tiny, tiny system and it has very weak connections to postsecondary degrees, which also limits its growth," she said.

At least one veteran of the Obama White House saw in the secretary's comments a continuation of Obama's support for community colleges. James Kvaal, who last month was named president of the Institute for College Access and Success, said DeVos appeared to recognize the critical role of community colleges in fueling growth in the number of higher ed graduates. He said Obama's 2009 goals recognized that the bulk of new college graduates required to meet his goal would have to come from community colleges.

"That was the driving force behind his proposal to make community colleges free and his belief that these institutions are important to building the size and influence of the middle class," Kvaal said.

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American professor in Denmark says she's being targeted by immigration officials for delivering invited lectures

Tue, 2017-11-28 08:00

Brooke Harrington, an American professor of business and politics at Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School, travels the world studying tax havens and sharing her findings with academics, policy makers and the general public. Demands for her lectures only increased last fall after Harvard University Press published her book Capital Without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent, which became popular in Denmark and abroad.

Harrington sees public scholarship as an essential part of her work as an academic. But Danish immigration authorities are calling it something else: a crime.

“As unfair as this is, if this were a civil matter, I’d pay the fine and be done with it, this has eaten up so much of my life,” Harrington said in an interview Monday. “But this is a criminal charge. So as someone who would like to be employed and travel in the future, I can’t.”

Harrington’s research is controversial in that it deals with tax loopholes and offshore accounts of kind documented in the so-called Panama Papers. Yet that isn’t what Danish officials find problematic. Citing a series of lectures Harrington delivered -- ironically -- to members of the Danish Parliament, Danish tax authorities and a law class at the University of Copenhagen this year and last, they’ve charged her with working outside her university and therefore the parameters of her work permit.

Denmark has taken a relatively hard line against immigrants in recent years. The charges against Harrington are notable, however, in that she is an internationally recognized scholar, not a refugee or a low-skill worker -- those who are more typically criticized in the country. Her case is also part of a bigger reported crackdown on foreign academics sharing their research in Denmark.  Some 14 foreign researchers across Denmark's eight public universities have been accused of violating their work permits on similar grounds, according to Politiken, a major newspaper.

Harrington faces $2,000 in fines and a much bigger problem: paying up simply to move on would mean admitting to a crime, with major repercussions for the rest of her career. Job applications and even travel visas often have a box asking whether one has ever been convicted of a crime, she said. There’s little room for nuance in answering a yes-or-no question, Harrington added, so “yes” applications typically get tossed in what she called “the round bin.”

“For someone who does international research -- my work on tax havens took me to 18 different countries -- this would literally be the end of my career,” she said. Even staying in Denmark would be next to impossible after a criminal conviction, since she’d be barred from applying for permanent residency for 15 years as a result, she noted. At that point, she'd be 64 and likely discriminated against as someone approaching the age of retirement in a country protective of its generous pension system.

“If I’d known what I was getting into, I really would have had second thoughts about coming here,” Harrington said of her move to Denmark eight years ago. “Anyone in higher education considering moving here should be aware they’ll have to confront this.”

Laws barring nonpermanent Danish residents from holding side jobs, paid or unpaid, have been in effect for some time. But Harrington said public scholarship is hardly a side job for an academic. Moreover, a separate Danish law mandates that university faculty members publicly share their research. Ironically, on the day Harrington learned of her criminal charges, she was notified that she’d received an award for research dissemination from the Danish Society for Education and Business.

And no matter that Parliament invited Harrington to speak -- it’s facing scrutiny, too, for being unaware of laws preventing academics from speaking outside their universities without first obtaining explicit permission to do so from the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration. That permission process is lengthy, by the way; Harrington said applying for a recent one-day work permit to give lecture to a political group took 15 hours. 

Policy makers and other Danish academics have publicly defended Harrington, as has Per Holten-Andersen, president of the Copenhagen Business School. Yet the charges remain. Harrington said two uniformed police officers even came to her home and banged on her door to speak with her about them last month.

Her options few, Harrington said that she has to fight. Yet the legal process to do so will be long and draining, financially and otherwise -- unless something changes. She hopes her work won't suffer in the interim.

“The really awful thing about this is I’ve gotten all this feedback, professionally and personally, that in my research is useful," especially to those trying to prevent tax evasion to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per case, Harrington said. “Now with a criminal charge, all of my credibility is vaporizing.”

Holten-Andersen said in an emailed statement Tuesday that it is "deeply worrying that international researchers in Denmark risk fines or problems with residence permits for having relevant sideline occupations that their European Union colleagues can have without any trouble." Rules and regulations must be followed, he said, "but this represents the worst form of bureaucracy. We stand 100 percent behind our employees who are experiencing problems and offer advice and support." 

Copenhagen Business School will "work perseveringly for and support, also publicly, that the rules are changed as fast as possible," he said. Holten-Andersen noted that the institution, in collaboration with other universities, is in talks with public authorities to "find a solution." The Danish Rectors’ Conference also will ask Ministry of Higher Education and Science to intervene, he said.

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