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Higher ed's nuanced strategy gives it options for navigating tax reform debate

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 01:00

As both houses of Congress charge forward with wide-ranging tax overhaul plans, higher education leaders have chosen to attack specific provisions they feel would hurt colleges and students instead of mounting a more ambitious assault against Republicans’ broader goals.

The strategy is in some ways ironic. Leaders who often talk about the complexity of the postsecondary education system and its pivotal role in fostering economic growth have chosen to focus on their narrow corner of the tax code instead of taking a more holistic view of the currently tangled web of federal rates, incentives and carve outs.

In other words, many in higher ed aren’t saying the current set of tax bills is bad because it seeks to pay for lower corporate tax rates by closing loopholes. They’re saying the current set of bills contains provisions that would be very bad -- for us.

It is a strategy packed with trade-offs. On one hand, it has sparked public discussion about several specific policy proposals that might otherwise have gone overlooked: the House plans to eliminate the student loan interest deduction and to tax graduate student tuition waivers as income, and the Senate measure to subject college logo licensing to the unrelated business income tax. On the other hand, the strategy has enabled some ideas to dominate the early debate that may not have endeared higher ed to the general public, such as when some college presidents lashed out at the idea of taxing wealthy universities' endowments. It could also allow lawmakers to say they were unable to help colleges with their specific concerns and had no choice but to approve the overall tax bill since everyone, including college leaders, indicated it was needed.

College presidents and their lobbyists are navigating a narrow path as they seek to beat back potentially punitive measures in a Republican-controlled Washington. They’re doing so at a time when many conservatives take a dim view of the state of higher education.

But they’re following a playbook that has worked for interest groups in the past. It also gives them the chance to influence any legislation that eventually does pass -- and it could play a part in derailing the current set of proposals entirely.

Higher ed’s strategy is best on display in recent statements by prominent associations. When American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell put out a statement on the House’s tax reform proposal, it argued the plan would discourage students from enrolling, make college more expensive and hurt institutions’ financial stability. But it also signaled willingness to work toward tax reform.

“We believe it is possible to offer tax relief to hardworking middle-class and lower-income Americans in a way that does not increase college costs and make a quality higher education less accessible,” Mitchell’s statement said. “We are eager to work with Congress to enact such legislation.”

A letter sent to members of the Senate Finance Committee by Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, listed in detail concerns about both the House and Senate bills. First, though, it acknowledged a need for tax changes.

“Reforming our nation’s tax code is long overdue and we recognize that policy makers have many priorities they must balance and difficult choices they must make throughout the legislative process,” the letter said. Many presidents of APLU universities, in Washington for the association's annual meeting this week, seemed to echo that statement. They prefaced their concerns about the tax bill by saying they support tax reform.

The APLU has for several years supported the idea of tax reform to stoke economic growth and national prosperity, McPherson said during a telephone interview Wednesday. Tax reform is a messy process, he added. The association’s job is to explain nuanced issues like those affecting graduate students, student debt, tax-free bonding and other educational benefits.

Others can pick up the wider debate about tax reform’s goals.

“Given all the forces that are involved in tax reform, with the whole society and virtually every sector engaged, of course there are people who are making these broader comments,” McPherson said. “Our role is to be able to explain the very specific sections that would be impacted.”

Filling that role has drawbacks. It has largely prevented higher ed’s supporters from coalescing around a single issue, which can bring intensity to the political process.

“From an advocacy point of view, it really is difficult when you’ve got so many things you care about,” said David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.

Plus, some of the fault lines running between different types of institutions have been revealed.

Plans to levy excise taxes on the earnings of some large endowments received some of the earliest and loudest pushback, as wealthy universities quickly argued their ability to fund student aid, research and other priorities would be hurt. Presidents of universities with smaller endowments -- many of whom are making fund-raising a priority of their own -- haven’t been supportive of the excise tax, even though many privately grumble about what they see as bad behavior by rich private colleges that could be doing more to enroll low-income students.

As a result, headlines blare about universities fighting to protect their multibillion-dollar endowments even as student debt and tuition rise.

The Boston Globe quoted Republican Representative Darrell Issa saying that some institutions “simply want to have a tax-free investment.”

“We can all talk about the poor kid who gets a scholarship, but sometimes this is about the professors and the people running the endowment and their salaries,” Issa said.

This isn’t to say higher ed hasn’t stitched together its individual objections to form some larger arguments. A Tuesday op-ed in the Hartford Courant by Sacred Heart University President John Petillo and Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System President Mark Ojakian argued the proposed endowment tax would impair institutions’ efforts to educate students regardless of their family income. But it also went on to say that the House bill singles out a small number of colleges and universities, taking the first step toward eroding other benefits for tax-exempt organizations like colleges and charities.

“Although we recognize Congress’s desire to reduce the tax burden on the citizens and businesses in this country to promote economic development, what good will that do if the training they need to succeed is less affordable and accessible?” Petillo and Ojakian asked.

There are reasons to think a more comprehensive attack on the bills could play to public sympathies. A recent survey shows the Republican tax plan is widely unpopular.

Just 25 percent of voters approve of the tax plan, while 52 percent disapprove, according to a new poll out Wednesday from Quinnipiac University. A significant majority of voters, 59 percent, said the Republican tax plan favors the rich at the expense of the middle class. Only 33 percent disagreed with that statement.

Sharp partisan divides lie underneath that polling, however. Republicans were much more supportive of the tax plan than Democrats or independents. Republicans were also much more likely to believe the plan will increase jobs and economic growth.

Higher ed leaders may need to be especially careful in this particular political moment. Republicans’ positive views of higher education have drastically eroded in the last two years, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. Colleges and universities are often the subject of negative coverage in conservative media alleging a liberal bias.

Many say higher education can avoid appearing partisan by sticking to its knitting.

“I would describe our activities as primarily reactive and sort of analytical,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “I think what higher ed has collectively done is go chapter and verse and explained the likely impact of these provisions in very nonalarmist ways.”

No matter what the polling says, the higher ed lobby wouldn’t change its strategy, said Steven Bloom, director of government relations for ACE. Associations must approach the issue by being nonpartisan and asking what is best for students and families, he said.

“It is a very toxic political environment, and we have to talk to members on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “And our schools are located in places that are both blue and red states.”

Attacking the concept of the tax reform bills would hurt efforts to be heard by members of Congress, Bloom added.

Given the current makeup of the Senate, where Republicans cling to a narrow two-seat margin, a strategy that would cause any politician to tune out could be a fatal mistake. Some may not consider the full ramifications of a proposal like taxing graduate student tuition waivers until interest groups raise the issue, said Kim Rueben, a senior fellow in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

“You just need a couple of people to hold the line and say they’re not going to vote for it unless you change this,” she said.

Public university presidents at an APLU roundtable echoed that sentiment Monday.

“I think it’s important for us to make sure all of these unintended consequences be made known,” said Robert Caret, chancellor of the University of Maryland system. “They need to know exactly what’s going to be happening here if it makes it through.”

By coming to the table, colleges and universities can still hope to have some influence on provisions in any bill that does proceed.

“Is there a massaging of this that gives us an ‘and’ that can work a little bit better for everybody?” said Lou Anna Simon, president of Michigan State University.

Colleges and universities are far from alone in that approach. Many industries and interest groups, from Realtors to renewable energy producers, have been mobilizing to protect provisions of the tax code that they like. They’ve been doing it for years, which is a major reason the tax code hasn’t been overhauled since the 1980s.

So higher ed can have it both ways. It can accept the premise that the web of special interests written into the tax code should be unwound. But it still plays a part in defending that web, even if unwittingly, simply by protecting its own corner.

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Fordham's English department adds grants for job search expenses for those finishing doctorates

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 01:00

Between registration for and travel to academic conferences, new clothes, a haircut and possibly child care, the financial costs of the academic job market really add up (not the mention the psychological ones). Those costs are hopefully an investment in a career, but the money spent finding a job represents a big share of the average graduate student’s budget.

Fordham University’s English department wants to help alleviate some of the financial pressures of finding a position, via a new fund for graduate students in their sixth and final year of funding. In addition to their regular fellowships, students will receive an additional payment of $4,500 meant specifically for the job hunt.

John Bugg, a professor of English and director of graduate studies for the department, said the fund is about making sure students don’t have to restrict their searches -- and therefore their professional opportunities -- due to money. The norm for many searches is not to cover expenses associated with travel to meetings and some cases even campus visits for job interviews.

Fordham is already relatively generous in terms of funding, having moved to six-year packages from five two years ago. (Stipends begin at $23,600, and advanced students may apply for distinguished fellowships of up to $31,000.) The change contributed to the department receiving its highest number of Ph.D. program applications in a decade. So “there is a growing awareness that we’re doing as much as we can to improve the experiences of our students and to help them thrive professionally,” Bugg said in an announcement about the job search fund.

‘Concrete’ Support

Bugg told Inside Higher Ed via email that the fund was inspired, in part, by a National Endowment of the Humanities-funded seminar on campus last year about the Ph.D. for the 21st century. A major takeaway was that “we need to do our best to help our students with their various professional ambitions,” he said.

That means paying attention to the challenges students face in terms of declining numbers of tenure-track jobs, but also the often “eclipsed” issue of cost. While job candidates are typically reimbursed for campus visits, Bugg said, they pay out of pocket for the initial interview and travel -- in English students’ case, to the annual Modern Language Association convention. Many grad students regularly complain about getting asked to interview at MLA at the last minute, adding to the expense.

“Until the discipline officially moves to Skype for the first round of interviews, this is an expense that we must try to offset for our students,” he said. “We also anticipate that this fund will help our students to set aside a full summer month to work full-time on their job search documents.”

Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will foot the bill. Rather than any meticulously calculated amount, Bugg described the $4,500 figure as “the most that we could guarantee for our students right now.”

The fund is a one-time deal; students may not apply for a second round the next year. But there are no restrictions on how students use the money, meaning for work inside or outside academe. In addition to the new fund, Fordham’s English faculty already helps students pursue a variety of jobs, Bugg said, noting that preparation for different markets “requires a lot of strategic work.”

“Students are faced with an incredibly time-consuming process -- the days of sending out a single ‘job letter’ are long gone,” he added. “Beyond this, the fund will help with expenses that tend to add up during the job search process,” such as electronic dossier fees.

Bugg said students have thus far responded to the news of the fund in two ways: pleasure in knowing there’s a “concrete” amount of money they can count on and budget how they wish, along with gratitude. “In my experience, graduate students are very appreciative of any efforts to take seriously the challenges they face,” he said.

Leonard Cassuto, another professor of English at Fordham, said he thought the new program benefits students most obviously because “the job search is expensive.” Perhaps more important, though, is that this kind of support “shows students that we care about them at a time in their lives that's undeniably stressful,” he said. Professors “want to be broadly supportive in an emotional and concrete way, not just a scholarly way.”

Something New

Russell Berman, Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford and professor of comparative literature and German studies, has been an outspoken advocate of reforming humanities doctoral programs -- including increased financial support for students. A past president of the MLA, Berman said he’d heard of departments providing funding for conference participation and similar professional events, but never what he described as “a direct subsidy for the search itself.”

Saying it’s crucial for any such subsidy to fund job searches inside and outside academe (which Fordham’s does), Berman said departments must also “prepare graduate students for that full job market and for the search.”

Paula Krebs, executive director of the MLA, said many doctoral programs offer travel funds for their students but that she wasn’t aware of any offering them at Fordham’s scale.

In any case, Krebs said she applauded Fordham’s effort and hoped doctoral programs in general will support students’ pursuit of a range of careers. “Graduate students on the job market can certainly use additional support, whether they're applying for tenure-track positions or any of the other kinds of professional employment that Ph.D.s in the humanities seek,” she added. (Krebs also noted, per Bugg’s point about officially moving to first-round interviews via Skype, that MLA guidelines for search committees ask them to offer candidates remote screening interviews.)

Karen Kelsky, a former tenure-track professor, advises students and graduates looking for faculty jobs through her blog and business, The Professor Is In. Like Krebs, Kelsky said noted the scale of funding Fordham is offering -- or what she described as its “generosity.”

“This is not a small amount, $500 here or $1,000 there,” she said. “This really acknowledges the considerable expenses of the search, in terms of dossier services, travel to conferences, new clothes or equipment,” and even possible professional development or assistance. Kelsky noted, too, the “labor costs of the countless hours spent preparing materials” and possible expenses related to nonacademic career preparation.

Noting that Fordham English has seen increased numbers of applications, Kelsky added, “If you're going to accept more students into your Ph.D. program in the current academic market, the only ethical way to do so is to commit seriously to their professional development and career prospects.”

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NSSE 2017 finds students enrolling in 'inclusive' courses

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 01:00

College students report that their classes emphasize them sharing their own ideas and perspectives, and that they’re not always learning about other cultures, according to findings by the National Survey of Student Engagement released Thursday.

About three out of five students surveyed indicated that their courses would highlight their thoughts on certain subjects -- about half said their classes focused on discussing equity and privilege and learning about other cultures.

This doesn’t mean that instructors should turn the curriculum over to their students, said Alexander McCormick, NSSE director, but rather professors -- to some degree of success -- are helping students link subject matter back to the students’ experiences.

“No doubt it can be somewhat uncomfortable for some academics to acknowledge that students are bringing perspectives that help bear on the educational experience, but it’s also important not to take that too far,” McCormick said.

While a total of about 650 four-year U.S. colleges and universities and 75 Canadian institutions participated in the survey, they did not have to administer every part of it to their students. More than 55,000 students across more than 130 institutions answered questions about cultural diversity.

This year, NSSE intentionally focused on capturing data about diversity and inclusion, in light of the national political climate, McCormick said. He said that movements like Black Lives Matter remain prominent, as do controversial legislative measures such as so-called bathroom bills introduced that limit where transgender men and women can use the restroom.

Previously, too, institutions had to opt to include a question about students’ sexual orientation -- this year NSSE decided to simply add it in, McCormick said.

Administrators can use the data as a “jumping-off point” to discuss these sorts of issues on their campuses, he said.

McCormick said the findings around students being able to express their perspectives is heartening, and that, naturally, certain disciplines would emphasize those principles over another. Engineering majors, for instance, wouldn’t be taking as many classes that center on diversity -- but “that doesn’t let institutions off the hook,” McCormick said.

More frequently, companies hiring those engineers are seeking employees who can interact with different groups of people and understand the needs of their clients, he said.

The counterpart faculty survey to NSSE, the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, found that professors teaching education, social services and arts and humanities classes emphasized “inclusive and culturally engaging activities” more than other fields.

In the NSSE, about 60 percent of students surveyed for the diversity portion indicated that their classes respected “expression of diverse ideals.” And a little more than 50 percent said the classes helped them recognize cultural norms and their own biases.

Not all academics agree with NSSE's methods or positions.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, said that NSSE from its inception has been an "agenda-driven" instrument. It has conflated academic "quality" with elements of the student experience that are separate from teaching substantive material, he said.

Over the years, "student engagement" has been blurred farther away from academics, and this year NSSE reached "a new nadir" by focusing on inclusiveness and diversity, Wood said.

"These are ideological positions that have nothing to do with the quality of education and everything to do with conformity to identitarian politics. A curriculum that emphasizes students 'sharing their own perspectives and experiences' is a curriculum that elevates feelings and intuitions over disciplined inquiry," Wood said via email.

Student Activism

Over the past several years, and particularly since the election of President Trump, students have more vigorously lobbied their administrators and presidents and launched campus rallies around social justice issues.

A small portion of students on the NSSE, about 6,000 from 26 institutions, were asked about social and political activism -- the survey considered a student an activist if they had participated in some sort of boycott, strike, sit-in or walkout. About one in eight students said they were involved in that kind of activity.

The survey found that more of the students NSSE deemed activists were of the traditional college age (late teens into early 20s) and lived on campus.

About 38 percent of activists were students of color, compared to 28 percent of nonactivists, and 23 percent labeled themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, versus 8 percent of nonactivists.

Activist students had a slew of positive characteristics associated with them, according to the survey results -- the students felt they had stronger relationships with faculty members and engaged in a number of positive learning strategies.

McCormick, the NSSE director, said that while college presidents in the past have been pressured by some alumni to “punish” activists who seemingly disrupt the campus environment, he said in actuality, the data suggest that these are the types of students institutions should try to recruit.

“They’re not just rabble-rousers, cutting class to make mischief,” he said. “In the aggregate, we find these students to be having positive educational experiences and engaging in their role as students.”

Wood, meanwhile, said that students should avoid colleges that prioritize "civic engagement."

More and more, Wood said, colleges are swapping out true intellectual teachings for progressive activism and labeling it civic engagement. Wood's association published a report on this phenomenon earlier this year, "Making Citizens."

First-Generation College Students Still Struggle

The NSSE confirmed that first-generation college students in many instances participated in certain opportunities, such as studying abroad, to a lesser degree than other students.

About 8 percent of senior first-generation students in the survey sample studied abroad, compared to 18 percent of non-first-generation seniors. About 42 of first-generation seniors secured an internship, compared to 55 percent of those seniors who were not first generation.

“I think this is important and meaningful to institutions in investigating to what extent is money an obstacle to participating in some of these activities,” McCormick said.

Other Findings

  • NSSE determined the most popular majors among senior students by gender. For men, it was business, at 21 percent. For women, it was a major in a health profession, 19 percent. Arts and humanities were popular among students who identified by a gender other than male or female -- for instance, nonbinary -- at 22 percent.
  • While many LGBTQ students (80 percent), both first-year students and seniors, were acquainted with another LGBTQ student, far fewer knew a queer faculty member -- 30 percent of first-year students said they knew a gay faculty member, and 50 percent of seniors did.
  • Students who had positive interactions with faculty indicated they were more likely to return to the same institution if they could have a "do over." Those who had a quality interaction with a professor -- about 60 percent -- also mostly indicated they would "definitely return" to that college (50 percent).
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Drama and accusations grow over University of California audit

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 01:00

The University of California Office of the President interfered with an audit of the institution by tampering with the results of surveys sent out to various campuses, an independent investigation is expected to say today.

The special investigation into the allegations, which surfaced last spring after the state auditor declared the parts of the audit unusable and tainted because of unauthorized tampering by the Office of the President, is expected to contradict testimony UC President Janet Napolitano gave to lawmakers and acknowledge her role in approving the plan that led to the tampering -- though it is not expected to find her at fault. Two of her aides -- her chief of staff and deputy chief of staff -- resigned earlier this month, more than a year after the original tampering effort first started.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the details of the report’s conclusion Wednesday, a day before its expected release, the latest in a months-long string of damning stories mostly circulating around public records showing staff from the Office of the President interfered with parts of the audit, which was started last year.

In October 2016, Elaine Howle, the state auditor, launched an inquiry into the University of California and its finances. As part of that inquiry, she asked the different campuses in the UC system to respond to confidential surveys about the Office of the President and its spending and initiatives.

In April, she released the audit, but the surveys were deemed tainted, with Howle saying that the Office of the President interfered with the answers. Emails obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle via a public records request found that three of the campuses -- Irvine, San Diego and Santa Cruz -- changed the results of their surveys to put the Office of the President in a better light, after being directed to do so by the Office of the President.

Napolitano’s chief of staff, Seth Grossman, and his deputy, Bernie Jones, led much of the effort to encourage changes in the campuses' response to questions about how they viewed initiatives coming from the Office of the President, emails reveal, and Napolitano was briefed on the matter, to some extent, also according to email messages. Karen Petrulakis, deputy general counsel, also offered revisions for the survey results shared with the Office of the President, according to the reported findings of the special investigation. She also suggested that the Office of the President should share with the auditor that changes were being made to the confidential responses. She resigned in July, a month after the University of California Board of Regents hired Carlos Moreno, a former state supreme court justice, to investigate the tampering effort. He is the author of the report coming out today.

Grossman has pushed back against how much he was involved in the effort. The Office of the President has said that Jones and Grossman resigned “to pursue other opportunities.” Another UC official is also said to have reviewed the plan to tamper with the survey results. Charles Robinson, general counsel, is apparently identified in the report as expressing the legal and political risks of the Office of the President interfering in the matter.

Despite the process playing out publicly in the California press for months, UC Santa Cruz declined to comment to Inside Higher Ed on the audit and related fallout until the report was released. Officials at UC Irvine declined to comment on the report and did not respond to follow-up inquiries on the public fallout that had been occurring since the spring. Officials at UC San Diego did not respond to a request for comment.

In testimony to lawmakers following the audit's release in the spring, Napolitano apologized for the way the Office of the President handled the surveys, but also tried to downplay the changes made and said that they were only made when campuses came to the Office of the President with questions.

“It’s important to take a step back and look at what changes were actually made. At seven of the 10 campuses, there were no changes made in the ratings,” Napolitano told them. “It clearly was not a process that was designed to make UCOP look good. It was designed to coordinate and collect the transmission of the surveys.”

Dianne Klein, spokeswoman for the Office of the President, said via email Wednesday that Napolitano approved the plan to coordinate the survey results to ensure they were accurate, within the scope of the audit, and that the chancellors were aware of what their campuses were submitting. She maintained that Napolitano did not know about interference from the Office of the President. Klein declined to comment on media reports of the special investigation's finding.

Emails obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle did not support Napolitano’s claim that campuses came to the Office of the President for help, but rather painted a picture of Grossman and Jones leading outreach. In one instance, UC Santa Cruz retracted its submissions from the auditor’s office after sending them in. When the survey was resubmitted, some responses about the Office of the President were changed from negative to positive. The Moreno report is said to contradict Napolitano’s testimony that campuses were confused by the survey questions and reached out to her staff, and instead conclude that Napolitano was aware of her staff reaching out and coordinating the responses. Still, the Moreno report is said to concur with the Office of the President's position that Napolitano was not aware of any interference.

The report apparently says Napolitano “forthrightly acknowledged her role in approving a plan” that resulted in the interference, but it does not place blame on her for the wrongdoing that occurred, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Although Howle, the auditor, declared the surveys tainted, the audit did find $175,000 at the Office of the President that government officials say was not properly accounted for.

Despite some lawmakers having called for her resignation in the past, State Assemblyman Jose Medina -- who has criticized Napolitano’s handling of the audit in recent months and chairs the Assembly's higher education committee -- said in an email that he supports her continued leadership.

“I appreciate the Office of the President’s admittance to wrongdoing, and I accept President Napolitano’s apology for the interference,” he said, adding that it was important to move forward from the situation. “I will continue to work to improve the relationship between UC and the Legislature. Transparency and accountability within the UCOP are paramount, and I have confidence in President Napolitano’s leadership.”

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Study finds student distrust of those who are not native speakers of English

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 01:00

Students do not trust teaching by foreign lecturers who speak English with unfamiliar accents, as compared with teaching by native speakers, an academic has warned -- meaning that students may need to be trained to overcome this prejudice.

Charlotte Schmidt, a senior lecturer in water management at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, found that Dutch students at the university did not take “seriously” lecturers from a partner university in Indonesia who taught using accented English.

The students, who were studying civil engineering, urban planning and water management, were much more likely to question the data sets used by Indonesians and tended to believe that the research field in the Netherlands was “much better developed.”

The problem was so serious that “after two years, most of them [Indonesian academics] drop out” of the exchange program, she said. “It’s a bit demotivating” for them, she added. “There’s only a small group of teachers who keep coming.”

There is plenty of academic literature that finds that nonnative speakers are seen as less credible by an audience, Schmidt argued. In one study cited in her paper exploring the problem, 40 percent of undergraduates avoided taking classes taught by foreign teaching assistants.

“Accented speech potentially has a negative impact on attitudinal and affective response of students. Accent is used as a signal that the speaker is part of an out-group and statements made by a speaker with a heavy accent are perceived as less truthful,” she writes in “Impact of Accented Speech on the Credibility of International Exchange Courses; Challenges for Exchanging Knowledge and Experience in the Erasmus+ Program,” presented at a recent conference in Indonesia.

This problem needs to be taken much more seriously by universities as they increasingly hire people from overseas and strike up exchange partnerships across the world, Schmidt argued.

In universities, and in society more generally, people need to be aware of this mental quirk that lowers trust in nonnative speakers, she said.

Accent may not be the only reason for a lack of trust, however: the former colonial relationship between the Netherlands and Indonesia could leave Dutch students with a sense of superiority, Schmidt acknowledged. “There’s several issues working together,” she said, which were difficult to separate.

But previous research has controlled for these separate factors and still found that accent alone reduces credibility, she argued. For example, when the Dutch students traveled to Denmark -- widely admired in the Netherlands for its education system -- to take courses taught in English, there was still “a problem” for Danish lecturers and credibility, Schmidt said.

These Dutch students had slightly more trust in lecturers with accents even though English is not their native language, she pointed out, with many believing that their command of English is “impeccable.”

With many Dutch universities switching to teaching in English, this lecturer credibility issue is only likely to become more of a problem, she said.

But there are solutions, Schmidt continued. Students at her university take cultural competence classes for general purposes, where they can practice interacting with an actor playing someone of a different culture, and this could be a way of tackling the problem, she suggested.

Another technique that could assist is a Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences program that invites students from Indonesia to study alongside Dutch students. After the two groups cooperate and make friends, “they come past the cultural barrier” and the Dutch students learn that their Indonesian counterparts “are quite good civil engineers” -- so engendering trust in Indonesian lecturers as well, Schmidt explained.

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Faculty Members at One More University Push Back at Online Programs

Professors at Eastern Michigan University are the latest to question whether the quality of online instruction matches what happens in the classroom.

Outbound mobility “vital tool” for Canada’s future

The PIE News - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 08:40

A “carefully crafted and adequately funded” strategy to more than double the number of Canadian students abroad has been proposed in a report released by the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies and the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

The Global Education for Canadians report, which compares the outbound mobility of students from major destinations as part of their undergraduate program, found Canada sat ahead of only the UK, with 11% of its domestic students going overseas.

“We have long been advocating for a national call to action to address Canada’s global engagement challenge, that of getting more of our students to engage in a learning abroad experience”

Without action, the report argued, the current level of students going abroad threatens to push Canada further behind other countries, with fewer citizens having international experiences and connections, leaving it unprepared for future challenges.

“If we fail to act, these nations rather than ours will produce the next generation of leaders across all sectors,” it noted, adding, “[study abroad] must be seen as a vital tool to equip young Canadians from all walks of life for success.

“Their future, and Canada’s future, depends on it.”

Among the challenges identified, the report highlighted changes to the nature of work, such as increased automation and a higher need for soft skills; a shift in the purchasing power of developing economies over established economies; and increasing levels of intolerance.

“We need [our students] to help Canada in many ways,” the report said.

“By building global networks and relationships that will strengthen Canada’s voice and influence in the world; by expanding Canada’s knowledge and reach in new, fast-growing markets; by succeeding as workers and entrepreneurs in a changing workplace and economy; and by becoming champions of diversity and inclusion at home and abroad.”

To counteract these challenges, the report recommended a national strategy with goals including more than doubling the current percentage of Canadian students abroad to a quarter of all post-secondary over 10 years, and an increase to the numbers of students studying in emerging countries.

To promote these goals, the report outlined a national initiative, Go Global Canada, to support 15,000 students to study abroad per year over five years, with an ambition to double to 30,000 within 10, as well as a reduction in institutional barriers and the establishment of a national system to collect and compare study abroad data.

“[Study abroad] must be seen as a vital tool to equip young Canadians from all walks of life for success”

Additionally, half of all Go Global Canada participants should attend study in emerging markets, the report recommended, with significant language and culture support, and tailored programs to boost participation by students within lower income and underrepresented groups.

Canadian Bureau for International Education chief executive Karen McBride said the report backed up the findings of a 2016 survey which survey as the catalyst for the #LearningAbroad campaign earlier this year.

“We have long been advocating for a national call to action to address Canada’s global engagement challenge, that of getting more of our students to engage in a learning abroad experience,” Canadian Bureau for International Education chief executive Karen McBride said in a statement.

“We welcome these new voices added to the call to make learning abroad a reality for a critical mass of young Canadians, particularly those who would not otherwise have the opportunity.”

Outward mobility has made headlines recently, with a US report finding 11 out of 15 “21st century workplace skills” were gained through an experience overseas, and UUKI launching a campaign to double domestic students’ participation abroad.

The post Outbound mobility “vital tool” for Canada’s future appeared first on The PIE News.

Army takeover disrupts university lectures, examinations

University World News Global Edition - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 07:23
The University of Zimbabwe deferred examinations scheduled for Wednesday, and at least two other universities advised students to stay at home last week, according to news reports and local source ...

Victoria celebrates fifth annual int’l education awards

The PIE News - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 05:27

A student who devoted his time helping the disadvantaged, a researcher aiming to develop coral stocks with higher climate change resistance, and an advocate encouraging more international students to study in regional centres, were amongst the winners of this year’s Victorian International Education Awards.

The awards, now in their fifth year, recognised the contributions to the wider community and research of international students across sectors throughout the state of Victoria.

Winners become Study Melbourne ambassadors and receiving a scholarship towards their studies.

“They should experience regional areas so they can become a part of the community”

“These awards acknowledge and focus on the invaluable contribution our international students make to our state, educational institutions and local communities,” minister for trade and investment Philip Dalidakis said.

“Congratulations to this year’s recipients on their accomplishments. They are a great example of the talent and diversity within our local and international student ranks.”

Vietnam’s Chi Le took out both the flagship Premier’s Award and Regional International Student of the Year for her work to promote Victoria’s regions to other international students.

“When people go abroad to study in Australia, they might want to go to a big city because they think they are a lot more opportunities for them to gain experience or find a job,” she said.

“But I would suggest they should experience regional areas so they can become a part of the community, experience the ‘Aussie’ culture and step out of their comfort zone.”

Samuel Shedrack Chukwuweonu from Nigeria received the vocational sector’s award for his work with the disadvantaged and involvement in charity organisations.

Dr Bartlomiej Kolodziejczck received the International Alumnus of the Year for his work promoting science and founding the not-for-profit, Scientists-in-Residence.

The 2017 ceremony was the first time providers weren’t recognised, with the Excellence in International Education awards moving to every second year.

International Student of the Year winners

  • English Language Training – Natalia Eugenia Palacio Vásquez, Impact English (Columbia)
  • Vocation Education and Training – Samuel Shedrack Chukwuweonu, Chisholm Institute of TAFE (Nigeria)
  • Higher Education – Su Htet Zaw, La Trobe University (Myanmar)
  • Research – Wing Yang Chan, University of Melbourne (China)
  • International Alumnus of the Year – Bartlomiej Kolodziejczyk, Monash University (Poland)
  • Internationalisation – Courtney Webster, Victoria University (Australia)
  • Premier’s Award & Regional – Chi Le, La Trobe University (Vietnam)

The post Victoria celebrates fifth annual int’l education awards appeared first on The PIE News.

John McDonough, CEO, UTP High Schools

The PIE News - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 05:03
In 2011, John McDonough took a chance on his gut feeling and opened up University Track Preparation, which offers specialised programs for international students in US high schools. Today UTP connects a select group of schools with top international candidates from more than 30 countries. McDonough spoke to The PIE News about how he built the business from the ground up, the challenges they face and their plans for the future.

The PIE: Why did you start UTP?

JMD: We started UTP in 2011 with the whole idea of trying to service the market because at the time, it was only placement companies that were doing [international student placement into high schools]. There were companies with a whole huge list of schools and not really focusing on service and more about transactions and getting commission.

It was kind of a hodge-podge of different people involved in trying to give the different services to students, so home-stay, recruitment, marketing – it was all crazy.

The PIE: Did you have an idea of how big the market was for high school?

JMD: I would say I had a gut feeling. At the time I wasn’t obsessing over numbers, and quite frankly it was only in the last year or so that they’ve really been starting to publish numbers; IIE is now doing numbers on high school kids, which is so refreshing.

I moved back to the States after doing my grad in London. I was involved in the whole ISC [international study centre on campus] scene when I worked in China, and I kept saying to my employer, why don’t we try to do this at a high school level.

I wanted to try something of my own and answer a need for the market I thought was there. I started with my alma mater, with my close friend: we both went to that high school so we’re both graduates.

The PIE: Where was your alma mater?

JMD: St Anthony’s High School in Long Island, New York. That was our first partner school, and it’s a big school with 2,500 students. It’s got about 300 international students.

The PIE: Do students generally stay for one year?

JMD: No, the majority of them stay for 2.5 years on average. Mostly Asian, but we have a lot of exchange students as well. So it’s not just an Asian business, we do a lot of business in Europe. Germany’s one of our top five, but we also have offices in Mexico, Vietnam, South Korea, China.

The PIE: Do you feel like the high school market is still a bit under the radar?

“They’re 14-years-old and coming from half a world away; they need help to understand what to do”

JMD: It’s coming on the radar I think. Also there’s been a lot of articles from the global mobility report and all these things that are saying that high schools are the place to recruit international students now, so don’t travel abroad but look for them here.

We’re well positioned for that; we have hundreds of high school students already in the US so I think that’s getting us on the radar from a university perspective, as they think ‘we can work with this one provider that has all of these schools’ on board.

The PIE: In the next issue of The PIE Review we’re writing about the onshore international student market, which is quite well established in Australia and increasingly so in the UK, but it’s a new thing in the US?

JMD: It’s a huge country, the US, and everyone’s got relatives somewhere, so I think we’ve done a good job with tapping into that.

We’re ahead of the game I would say, we’ve focused on [the US] because there’s less risk but there’s also a lot to figure out. It’s not as straightforward as going to an agency’s office in China or Germany and saying ‘here are our programs’.

The PIE: So tell us more about how you built the business.

JMD: The difference between UTP and other companies is we have our own team on-campus – it’s the ISC model of the high schools, that’s the best way to quickly describe it.

We started at St. Anthony’s and we had such success that. There’s another school in Long Island called St. John’s which has around 1700 students, and my nephews and nieces went there, so I thought I may as well go and talk to the principal there.

It was a harder sell but they came and saw what we did. They thought ‘we should do this too’ and we started with them.

Then we took on Fairmont, a school in California, and then we started getting out of our comfort zone with scenarios where we didn’t have contacts already so we started with New Hampshire, two in Long Island, now two in Florida, one in Arizona, and hopefully a few more in the future.

“88% of our kids get into top 100 universities, so it’s a good preparatory program”

The PIE: The age of your clients means the students need a lot more welfare. What does that look like in terms of the service you provide?

JMD: We not only do student advising and support, we kind of play a parental role to students and literally it’s much more of a heavy hand in the sense of ‘you need to turn up for this, you need to do that’. They’re 14-years-old and coming from half a world away; they need help to understand what to do.

We do a bit of university guidance in the sense of just making sure that they’ve applied, and we also do all the accommodation services for them. It’s all under the same roof, so we don’t farm it out to anyone, and we run our own accredited ESL programs so we went through the whole accreditation process with MSA which is Middle States Accreditation. Eighty-eight per cent of our kids get into top 100 universities, so it’s a good preparatory program.

The PIE: How does your typical UTP student differ from your typical ISC student? Is the motivation from the parents paying for the course always about academic progression or is it more to do with being more bi-cultural as well?

JMD: I think it also depends on which country we are talking about. So if we’re talking about China which is the biggest market, China is both of those answers.

First and foremost it’s the parents wanting them to go and study abroad because it’s seen as prestigious, there’s also a sort of lack of supply of good schools, or spaces for good schools in some countries, so that feeds it.

Thirdly, there’s also this idea of getting into a Western way of thinking, and that’s a major driver now.

“For us it’s all about sustainability, and there’s a lot of cashing out in the industry at the moment and doing things fast”

The PIE: Would your students be considered, ambitious, ‘go-getting’ students?

JMD: They are, and that’s also partly from recruitment, we filter that through our recruitment. Even from the beginning, we would sacrifice getting our student numbers versus getting kids who were going to help us with what we’re trying to do for them.

So that limits us actually sometimes with taking children from certain agents or even some parts of the world because they will only send their less academically-focused students abroad; we could have even more students but we decide not to on purpose.

For us it’s all about sustainability, and there’s a lot of cashing out in the industry at the moment and doing things fast. We can’t operate that way at a high school level, we don’t want to first of all but also secondly we have very young kids that we have to deal with and if you try to do rush it all comes down on you, so it’s a measured approach.

The PIE: What’s the biggest risk?

JMD: The biggest risk is always the student’s safety with them doing something they shouldn’t or being taken advantage of, so we do massive background checks on the families. The first filter is that they come from the school, so we have a really good family already, and the school can get them, but then we do background checks.

We also visit them very often so we go above and beyond what would technically be required of us.

The PIE: What is the cost of the program?

So we have a range and for the majority of our schools, the range is something like $37k to $47k, based on how much English they need.  We’re transparent about how we work. So the lower your English level coming in, the more English you’ll need to pay for, simple as that.

“There’s this idea of getting into a Western way of thinking – that’s a major driver now”

The PIE: Did the result of the US presidential election have any impact on your markets?

JMD: I thought our European and Latin American markets would tank –  we were preparing for it. We were making sure Asia was going to fill in the gap and get more students there. But it was the best year we’ve had in Europe and Latin America in our history.

Our numbers, particularly in Vietnam for visa refusals, went up this past year, that is the only thing we saw out of anything, so it’s just the visa interviewers being a little bit more strict; I don’t know if that’s a Trump thing or not.

We’ll see what happens, it’s not over yet, but thankfully so far we’ve been okay, and I can’t even believe I’m saying that a year later, but our numbers [have been] fine.

The PIE: How do you measure your success?

JMD: I think that once we started to have graduates we really started to feel like we’re doing our job. That was only four years ago. We’re starting to see students getting into UCLA, Boston University, and sometimes even with a scholarship.

 

The post John McDonough, CEO, UTP High Schools appeared first on The PIE News.

Huge university expansion but drop-out rate unchanged

University World News Global Edition - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 04:32
The proportion of students dropping out of Australia's universities is about the same as it was a decade ago - despite a dramatic expansion of access to a larger and more diverse group of students ...

Crisis to opportunity: Rehumanising internationalisation

University World News Global Edition - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 01:50
A warning bell went off this past week when the Institute of International Education Open Doors reported a 3% decrease in new international students at American universities and colleges during 20 ...

Professors say they won't advise students to work or study at U of Rochester

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 01:00

In an unusually direct public pressure campaign against sexual harassment, hundreds of faculty members from brain and cognitive sciences and other programs in the U.S. and abroad say they can’t advise students to study or seek employment at the University of Rochester. They cite allegations from current and past professors and students at Rochester that the administration cleared a chronic harasser on the faculty of wrongdoing while retaliating against those who reported him.

“In the present circumstances, we cannot in good conscience encourage our students to pursue educational or employment opportunities” at Rochester, reads a new open letter to the institution’s Board of Trustees. Rochester “has abrogated its ultimate responsibility to protect and advance the interests of its most important constituency -- its students -- by supporting the predator and intimidating the victims and advocates in this case. We strenuously object to the [university’s] treatment of our respected colleagues.”

The open letter links to a widely publicized complaint from eight former and current Rochester brain and cognitive sciences professors and graduate students filed with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission late this summer. The complaint, forwarded to Rochester’s board by two former department chairs in particular, describes the department as once at the top of the research rankings and now broken, possibly irrevocably. It traces the dramatic shift to the hiring of Florian Jaeger, now an associate professor, in 2007.

Description of a Predator

The complaint describes Jaeger as a “narcissistic and manipulative sexual predator” who “engaged in numerous sexual relationships with [Rochester] and visiting students, which he flaunted.” He had unprotected sex with students and confided in others that he worried he might have a sexually transmitted disease, used sexual language and intentionally demeaned female students (especially about their intelligence and weight), and sent an unwanted photo of his genitalia to one particular student, according to the complaint. Among other inappropriate behaviors, he also used drugs and hosted “hot tub parties,” it says.

“The lives and careers of [department] graduate students became Jaeger’s personal playground,” reads the EEOC complaint. “Professionally, Jaeger was in the position of power, an important gatekeeper, but they were additionally vulnerable to his coercion because he influenced every aspect of their lives in [the department]. He became the dominant force not only in determining their professional opportunities, but also their day-to-day social lives, gaining access to their personal information, which he used to emotionally manipulate and humiliate them.”

Beyond sexual misconduct, the complaint says, Jaeger encouraged constant “collaboration” with him, often so that he could claim credit for students' work. He allegedly demanded that any student working remotely in his area of expertise -- human language processing -- cite or list him as an author.

The climate eventually became so oppressive, the complaint says, that at least 11 female students and postdoctoral fellows avoided Jaeger, at the expense of their work and in many cases their well-being. Jaeger allegedly told some students that faculty members knew about his behavior and condoned it, so senior faculty members were for some time “in the dark,” according to the complaint. In early 2016, however, Jaeger allegedly expressed enthusiasm for faculty-student dating during faculty meetings, and several senior professors soon learned more about his history of “predation.” They consulted junior faculty members about the matter, and the group decided to report the alleged misconduct to the university and work to rebuild a positive departmental climate.

Two former chairs signed their names to the report and were initially hopeful about the university’s responsiveness. Yet an investigation by the university’s counsel turned out to be a “limp and rushed affair,” the EEOC complaint says, bypassing witnesses and focusing only a few specific examples of harassment instead of a pattern. Moreover, the university promoted Jaeger to full professor during the investigation -- despite faculty requests that the decision be delayed. Worst of all, the final investigatory report exonerated him of the claims.

Dissatisfied with the process, the faculty members who brought the complaint pushed the university for a more thorough response. But instead of initiating one, the EEOC complaint says, the university attempted to “discredit” them, including by reading their emails and presenting only select parts to the current department chair and by sharing a watered-down version of the Jaeger investigation with other colleagues. The divided department also allegedly refused to hire the wife of one of Jaeger’s critics, despite what the complaint describes as stellar credentials and the program’s long history of spousal hires.

Upon the filing of the EEOC complaint, the university defended its actions with regard to Jaeger, saying in a statement that "those not familiar with the investigation conducted would find the language in the complaint deeply disturbing." However, it said, "the core allegations in this complaint were thoroughly investigated and could not be substantiated. We are highly confident in the integrity of these investigations — we followed our processes for fair investigations and due process for all involved, interviewing dozens of witnesses whose names were given to us as alleged victims." President Joel Seligman also compared the 100-plus page complaint and related reports to a now discredited Rolling Stone article about campus rape.

The university backtracked somewhat over time, however, with Seligman saying that promoting Jaeger during the investigation was a mistake. Trustees launched their own investigation. And Jaeger announced he and the university agreed it was best for him to take a leave of absence, though he said he was not admitting any fault in doing so.

Still, faculty members and students on campus and off have continued to criticize the administration, asking why Jaeger wasn’t terminated and why professors who tried to protect students allegedly were punished by way of having their emails read and their reputations challenged.

Influencing Change

The brain-sciences faculty letter to Rochester’s trustees says that the university appears only to have acted appropriately when the EEOC complaint became public, to save face. It urges the board to “think broadly and deeply about the kinds of changes you are committed to making, given the behavior that the [university] administration has tolerated and its retaliatory responses to the attempts of faculty to protect their students.”

As members of the academy, the letter says, the signers “are committed to supporting our colleagues who are working to safeguard gender equality and civil rights at [Rochester], and we will continue to be active, strong and persistent advocates against sexual harassment in all of its forms on our own campuses. We hope that you are committed to action in service of these values as well.”

Seth Pollak, distinguished professor of psychology and professor of anthropology, pediatrics, psychiatry and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said Tuesday that he signed the letter to Rochester’s board to signal that the negative attention surrounding the Jaeger case -- particularly the university’s response to it -- “is not going to just fade away as people’s attention moves on to the next scandal.” He highlighted that what makes the letter different than other faculty expressions of distaste is the “potential fallout.” Not encouraging students to work or study at Rochester “will likely catch the attention of trustees in a way that verbal protests will not.” It can’t maintain its position as a “top-tier research university if colleagues around the world are dissuading their students from going there,” he added via email.

Pollak said that the letter may have some collateral damage, negatively affecting graduate-student recruiting for professors at Rochester who had nothing to do with the Jaeger case. Asked if the letter might hurt Rochester Ph.D.s trying to get hired elsewhere, Pollak said, “No, the concern is not about the wonderful people at [Rochester], and no concerns about the flow out.” The concern, in instead, is “about the [Rochester] administration and not wanting to send young people there.”

Ben Hayden, an associate professor who signed the EEOC complaint, left this year for the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities -- in part because the Rochester department is alleged to have retaliated against him by not hiring his spouse. He said he bemoaned the fallout of the case becoming public, since “We tried for over a year to deal with the case as quietly as possible, and only when we had exhausted all avenues available to us did we go public.”

Hayden said he didn’t read the letter as colleagues telling colleagues to have their students avoid Rochester but rather “letting the trustees know what is already happening in private -- advisers warn their students away from environments that they think will be harmful to their careers.” That might because of the climate for women, and it’s “just being a good adviser.”

Steven Piantadosi, an assistant professor involved in making the EEOC complaint, said he’s trying to find a new position elsewhere and that he’s not accepting new graduate students this year anyway, due to his ongoing objections to how the university handled the Jaeger case. He explained the faculty letter simply: “People in the field saw the attitude of Seligman’s administration clearly from his own words and actions and, like us, they recognized that it was completely unacceptable for an educational institution.”

Saying it’s “only an illusion of progress for the president to say Jaeger shouldn't have been promoted,” Piantadosi asked, “Where is his statement that our emails should not have been searched, that the chair should not have accused faculty of being liars, or that Jaeger should not have been contacting people in the field with support of the university attorneys to say that he was being bullied?” Where is the president’s statement that it was not acceptable for university investigators to turn down evidence, refuse to talk to witnesses or unnecessarily name witnesses in reports -- or that he believes the complainants, he added.

Jessica Cantlon, an associate professor in Jaeger’s department who also signed the EEOC complaint, said it’s Rochester that’s hurting students, not the new letter.

“Teachers don't want to send students to a place where the students' career paths might be bent or broken around an abusive faculty member, and the university shows more concern that people are silent about it than whether the students are successful,” she said. “The university's main response to our internal sexual harassment complaint was to silence us -- they issued memo after memo telling us to be quiet. When that didn't work, they pried into our private emails to try to find material that would make people stop listening to us.”

Citing Seligman’s Rolling Stone comment, Cantlon added, “That is an extremely dangerous disposition for a university because it puts students at risk of abuse and of not being believed if they report it.”

Making Rochester ‘Safe for All’

Sara Miller, a university spokeswoman, said that Rochester has “taken this matter very seriously since it was brought to our attention. In addition to conducting our own thorough investigation, we have taken several steps to review the university’s approach to sexual misconduct.”

The university is now awaiting the report “of an independent investigation into both the specific allegations and the university’s policies and procedures,” she said. “We have also established a faculty- and student-led Commission on Women and Gender in Academia to examine campus climate.”

Miller added, “We are committed to making this campus one that is welcoming and safe for all.”

Gregory DeAngelis, current department chair, declined comment, citing “pending litigation and such.” Jaeger, who is now on leave, did not immediately respond to an email from Inside Higher Ed.

Karen Kelsky, a former tenured faculty member who now advises Ph.D.s on the faculty job search through The Professor Is In, said that while the letter wasn’t “ideal” for current students at Rochester, she didn’t think they -- or former students -- would be blamed for “administrative malfeasance." It's obvious they have no control over discipline of a tenured professor, she said.

Of departmental blacklisting as protest over all, at least in terms of advising students, Kelsky said she was “sorry that broad public naming and shaming is required to force many universities to act.” But as long as that’s the case, she said, “wider national and international disciplinary collectives have an important role to play.”

Editorial Tags: Graduate educationGraduate studentsSexual assaultImage Caption: Florian JaegerIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 

Robert Spencer targets Stanford students in blog ahead of event

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 01:00

In a digital war of words, Robert Spencer, widely considered to be an anti-Islam extremist, mocked Stanford University students who criticized him before his talk at the elite institution Tuesday night. On his blog Spencer named students, posted photos and videos of them, and referred to them as “fascists.”

Student organizations and faculty members publicly expressed deep concerns with both Spencer’s invitation to the campus (extended by the Stanford College Republicans) and his continuous “harassment” of students online.

Stanford administrators remained silent on specific blog posts by Spencer, but released multiple more general statements. One statement from President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell did not reference Spencer, but promised an inclusive campus environment. They also at length defended the need for free speech in higher education.

On Tuesday night, hundreds protested Spencer's speech outside the venue. More than 100 students opposed to Spencer entered the auditorium and took seats. Then shortly after he started to speak, they stood and walked out. They did so silently and did not attempt to disrupt the speech. Students posted photos to social media (at right) suggesting that only a small number of people remained in the room after the walkout.

As a private institution, Stanford has no constitutional obligation to allow Spencer on campus -- it is governed by its own policies.

The most recent announcement last Thursday, by Susie Brubaker-Cole, the vice provost for student affairs, and Jane Shaw, Stanford’s dean of religious life, acknowledged “the emotional impact” of Spencer’s visit, but said that nothing could “undercut the fact that Muslim students are an integral part of our community.”

“Significantly, in relation to the talk next week, the president and provost underscore our university’s commitment to freedom of expression, which allows groups in our community to host speakers of their choice provided university policies are followed and imparts upon each of us a responsibility to ensure that speech can proceed without disruption.

However, the president and provost also emphasize that this commitment empowers each of us to exercise our own free speech, “to call out hate when we see it,” and to speak forcefully and peacefully against injustice. These are values we know Stanford community members -- of all faiths and none -- feel deeply about.

Robert Spencer -- who is unrelated to the white nationalist Richard Spencer, who has dominated headlines in recent months for his speeches at public colleges and universities -- has been deemed by civil rights organization the Southern Poverty Law Center one of the country’s most “prolific and vociferous anti-Muslim propagandists.”

He was barred from the United Kingdom, where he and Pamela Geller, co-founders of the Stop Islamization of America group, were due to speak at a rally by another fringe conservative organization, in 2013 because his presence would “not be conducive to the public good,” according to statements from the U.K. government.

Spencer has detailed his credentials deeply on his website -- he has authored 17 books and delivered seminars on Islam to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force. Fundamentally, he believes that Islam is a violent religion.

Spencer has disputed the SPLC’s characterization of him and questioned the center’s validity. In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Spencer wrote that SPLC has tried to destroy “legitimate organizations” and “stigmatize legitimate positions.” He wrote that his opposition to “jihad terror” has been lumped in with the likes of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

For at least a week, Spencer has responded on his blog Jihad Watch to multiple opinion writers in Stanford’s student press, at times dissecting the students’ and professors’ grievances with him line by line.

He has also criticized and identified students who have simply openly disagreed with his views or the event.

In one post Monday, Spencer wrote about and identified one student, and linked to a 2016 article in the student newspaper The Stanford Daily, in which the student was quoted.

After a Muslim student published an essay titled “I Will Never Belong in the Stanford Community,” detailing her discomfort with Spencer, in the political student magazine The Stanford Review, Spencer sardonically picked apart nearly every sentence of it.

“Her piece here wringing her hands and claiming victim status over my scheduled appearance at Stanford next week is a masterpiece of self-dramatization, featuring outlandish claims that would have moved me to laughter were it not, hang it all, for the pathos of this poor girl’s plight. I shed a few tears in solidarity with her, while giggling behind my hat,” Spencer wrote.

Spencer ridiculed in several posts made by another student -- whom he referred to as a “fascist.” In the video, posted to Snapchat, someone purported to be the student is shown tearing down posters advertising Spencer’s event. The video was first flagged and written about by national right-wing group Young America’s Foundation, which orchestrates with campus conservative groups to schedule appearances by controversial speakers like Spencer.

Young America’s Foundation coordinated with the Stanford Republicans to bring in Spencer.

The foundation has paid for the fees associated with these speakers -- in this case, some of Spencer’s expenses, Stanford spokesman E. J. Miranda said.

The College Republicans covered most of the costs with its designated funding from student government. (In one column, student groups claim that the student government funding was as much as $6,000.)

The university also chipped in some, though Miranda declined to identify how much.

Asked if the university felt Spencer was inappropriate in naming students on his blog or whether it was grounds to refuse to host him, Miranda wrote in an email, “The university will be reviewing various issues related to this event after it has concluded.”

At least eight professors and others on Monday wrote in The Stanford Daily that Spencer’s blog has opened students and faculty members to harm. They said that while they respect free speech, Spencer’s actions need to be addressed by the university -- they called on the institution to take “ethical action” as determined by its code of conduct. It is unclear if they were asking for Spencer’s invitation to be revoked.

A coalition of student groups, largely representing minority students on campus, has also written in the student paper demanding that the Republicans cancel the event -- or if not, then the campus boycott it. Spencer's appearance has been condemned by both the Undergraduate Senate and Graduate Student Council.

Immediately following the event, student affairs staffers will be available at a gathering in one of the university unions. A group known as Stanford Against Islamophobia, created after Spencer was invited, also held a counterrally Tuesday night at the Mitchell Earth Sciences building on campus.

In his statement to a reporter, Spencer said he appreciated that Stanford has allowed the event to proceed in the face of “enormous pressure,” but said its acceptance of a “smear campaign” against him does not bode well for the health of open discourse at the institution.

"All my work has been in defense of the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience and the equality of rights of all people before the law," he said. "I’ve never made broad-brush statements about Muslims in the aggregate, contrary to repeated claims. I’ve never called for violence, never justified violence, never approved of violence. I’m merely calling attention to the jihadis’ use of Islamic texts and teachings to justify violence and oppression."

The Stanford Republicans, in a column for The Stanford Review, said the group requested Spencer because he has provided thoughtful arguments backed by evidence. They said there is “arguably no greater threat” than “radical Islamic terrorism.”

The event was not open to the public -- only students and a small number of outsiders picked by the Republicans could attend. Spencer had said he would arrive with his own security.

On a question-and-answer webpage, Stanford said disrupting a campus event is not allowed and may lead to consequences.

Hot-button speakers, among them Richard Spencer, and former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, have toured campuses the entire year, with their appearances at times greeted by vehement demonstrations and violence. Prominently, controversial author Charles Murray was shouted down at Middlebury College, which led to 67 students being punished, though none were suspended.

Editorial Tags: Student journalismImage Caption: Students walk out during the talk at Stanford.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 

Accreditors' scrutiny of Florida law school renews concerns over oversight

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 01:00

When summer bar exam results were released in September, less than half of students at Jacksonville-based Florida Coastal School of Law had passed.

That was a big jump from the one-in-four bar passage rate for the school last winter. Both times, that passage rate ranked last among all law programs in the state -- a distinction it has held for four consecutive bar exams. In January, the law school earned another unfortunate distinction as one of two legal programs to fail federal gainful-employment ratings, which signals unmanageable debt-to-earnings ratios among graduates.

The poor bar exam showings point to how the for-profit law school found itself "seriously out of compliance" with the standards of its accreditor, the American Bar Association, last month. And the high debt load of law students combined with those academic shortcomings has led legal education observers to see a pattern among institutions operated by the law school's parent company, InfiLaw.

The ABA sent a letter to Florida Coastal leaders notifying them the law school had fallen short of the standards after a regular review. Those standards deal specifically with whether a law school's program is rigorous enough for students to pass the bar and succeed in the profession; whether it provides meaningful academic support; and whether it admits too many underqualified applicants unlikely to succeed in the program and pass the bar after graduating.

The admissions standards of law schools have received particular scrutiny in recent years from watchdogs of the sector who say those unprepared for law school are likely to rack up debt without passing the bar exam. And as applications for law school have fallen, it's been harder for many law programs to fill incoming classes with students who earn strong LSAT scores.

Observers say the apparent issues at Florida Coastal are reason for regulators, including the ABA and the Department of Education, to take a more comprehensive look at the law school's parent company, InfiLaw. The company saw one of its law programs, Arizona Summit, placed on probation by the ABA in March over similar issues, and another, Charlotte School of Law, shut down in August after being placed on probation and losing access to Title IV funds last year. And Florida Coastal was one of only two law programs to fail the Department of Education's gainful-employment test in January with a debt-to-discretionary-income ratio of more than 34 percent (the department has since delayed accountability provisions of the gainful-employment rule that would affect an institution's access to Title IV funds).

Although Florida Coastal hasn't been sanctioned like the other InfiLaw programs -- a notice about compliance issues puts a program on alert but precedes steps such as censure, probation or loss of accreditation -- in its October letter the ABA cited the same accreditation standards that Charlotte and Arizona Summit fell short of.

When the ABA placed Charlotte on probation in fall 2016, that prompted the Obama administration to cut off Title IV federal funds, an essential source of funding for legal education programs. The Department of Education argued the school had made "substantial misrepresentations" to students and saddled many with serious loan debt without preparing them for the legal profession. Although the Trump administration signaled that it would consider restoring access to federal aid, the law school's licensing body cited the financial uncertainty in denying an extension of its license to operate in North Carolina. The Obama administration's decision to cut off Title IV funds was highly unusual and indicative of a tougher approach toward for-profits. It also came as Josh Stein, the North Carolina attorney general, conducted an investigation into whether the institution violated state consumer protection laws.

InfiLaw and Florida Coastal didn't respond to requests for comment about whether students or regulators should see some connection between the issues raised in the ABA's letter and the problems that eventually led to Charlotte's demise.

But in an email to students Tuesday that the law school shared with Inside Higher Ed, Florida Coastal Dean Scott DeVito said that multiple misconceptions have arisen about the school in response to the letter. He said the law school was in no danger of closing, and he offered several assertions about the quality and status of the program:

  • Compliance issues are not unique to the law school -- at least 23 other programs have received letters about noncompliance issues since 2016.
  • Florida Coastal does a good job educating its students, he said, based on the success of its transfer students at other institutions.
  • The law school has actually bumped up its bottom-quartile LSAT score -- the metric typically used to evaluate whether a school is admitting too many unprepared students -- over the last two years.

"We trust that regulators will pay attention to these facts, and given the comparison to the schools mentioned above, we [do] not believe that there is a reasoned basis for closing the school," DeVito wrote.

But critics of for-profit legal education said the issues at Florida Coastal should be considered in the context of poor performance by other InfiLaw programs. Bar passage rates at Arizona Summit fell to 26 percent in July, after it had already been placed on probation.

"I'm shocked at the extent to which the various issues with the InfiLaw schools all appear to be treated separately," said Ben Miller, senior director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress.

Miller said the review process that led up to the denial of a license extension for Charlotte found serious cash-flow issues with InfiLaw, its parent company. And he said questions about the company's financial health are connected to concerns about the academic preparation of students.

"These schools are basically 100 percent dependent on tuition. If they're in financial trouble, they're going to need more tuition dollars," he said. "So they need to sacrifice either the quality of the student body and enroll people less equipped to succeed there, or cut expenditures."

Barry Currier, managing director of the ABA's section of legal education and admissions to the bar, said the organization had no basis in its standards to conduct a review of InfiLaw's operations and resources apart from how they impact a particular accredited school.

"Similarly, our law school standards do not provide a basis for us to conduct a review of operations or resources of the universities within which most law schools operate, other than as those operations or resources impact the law school's ability to comply with the standards," he said in an emailed statement. “Consistent with our rules and procedures, we cannot elaborate beyond the letter that we have posted about the ongoing review of Florida Coastal's program.”

An analysis of nearly 100,000 borrower-defense claims -- applications for student loan discharge based on fraud or deception by a college or university -- the Century Foundation released last week found that InfiLaw ranked in the top 10 of for-profit companies for such claims. As of Aug. 15, students of InfiLaw programs had filed 522 borrower-defense claims, with 501 of those claims coming from former students of Charlotte School of Law.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said 79 former Charlotte students have applied for closed-school discharge, a more straightforward process that allows students enrolled when a school closes its doors to seek discharge of their loans.

The department sought a $6 million letter of credit from Charlotte in talks over restoring Title IV funds, but the school shut down before an agreement could be reached. Hill said the department couldn't comment on whether it would take a closer look at the health of the remaining InfiLaw programs or take measures such as seeking letters of credit

Kyle McEntee, the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit that advocates for reforms in legal education, said Florida Coastal has taken some measures to come back into compliance. Whether they are enough for the ABA, which has shown an increased interest in financial resources of schools, is an open question, he said.

McEntee said he sees some hope for greater scrutiny of legal programs by their accreditor, the ABA, or by state regulators. But he said had little faith in the Trump administration to take effective action in the case of the remaining InfiLaw programs.

"They have thus far shown themselves to be more concerned with for-profit investors than with students," he said.

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Hong Kong university commissions audit after being accused of submitting inaccurate numbers for rankings

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 01:00

The City University of Hong Kong has been accused of underreporting its enrollment to the British ranking company QS, resulting in a lower student-to-faculty ratio and potentially a higher ranking. The number of City University students reported by QS is more than 30 percent less than the number reported by the Hong Kong government.

In response to the allegations, which were first reported in the Hong Kong press and reportedly made by officials at other Hong Kong universities, City University is commissioning an audit. However, the university’s director of institutional research, Kevin Downing -- who is listed on QS’s website as a consultant to QS and member of the ranking company’s advisory board -- said via email that variations in enrollment figures reported to governmental agencies and rankings companies are “a common phenomenon in rankings exercises” and a “natural consequence of the different definitions of student number required for data submission by institutions for the different purposes of these separate exercises.”

Hong Kong's University Grants Committee (UGC), a governmental body, reports that the City University of Hong Kong enrolled a total of 14,325 students in 2016-17 in UGC-funded programs -- the agency reports the same 14,325 figure for both head count and full-time-equivalent enrollment -- while QS reports the university enrolls 9,240 students. City University’s enrollment as reported by QS has decreased in recent years -- an archived version of the QS site from 2015 shows a reported enrollment of 10,245 -- while the UGC figures show increases in the enrollment of students in government-funded programs (the UGC figures only reflect students who are enrolled in programs funded by the UGC).

Faculty-student ratio accounts for 20 percent of a university’s QS rankings, and is one of six indicators -- along with academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per faculty member, and the ratios of international students and staff, respectively -- that go into calculating the ranking. The City University of Hong Kong has risen quickly in the QS rankings, climbing from No. 108 to its current position of No. 49 in three years. Its score on the faculty-student ratio dimension has improved from 75.4 to 83.6 in that time, out of a maximum score of 100, though much of the recent gain in the university's ranking would seem to be attributable to an approximately 40-point gain on the citations-per-faculty-member metric posted by City University after QS made a methodology change to account for different publishing expectations across fields in 2015.

The City University of Hong Kong, like many universities, boasts of its positions in the QS and other major world university rankings systems on its website. The university has also participated in a rating system QS offers universities for a fee, called QS Stars, and received the maximum five stars.

In an email, Downing said that QS’s definition for student enrollment data is different than that of the UGC “because of its different purposes.” He noted that the UGC reports the same figure for City University's head count and FTE “because the UGC define student number to include everything, including subdegree students.”

By contrast, he said, “QS does not include subdegree numbers in its definition. This can have a significant impact on the FTE [full-time equivalent] number submitted by institutions, depending on the size of their subdegree operations, and whether institutions are expanding or shrinking these programs. It is well known that City University of Hong Kong has been progressively and continuously reducing its subdegree programs alongside reducing its self-financed student enrollment under the requirements of its University Strategic Plans and Academic Development Plans, and also specifically to free up space on a chronically overcrowded campus.” UGC data shows that the number of subdegree students in government-funded programs at the City University has been relatively flat for the past four years at a little more than 900 students. The UGC reports that City University enrolled 903 subdegree students,12,424 undergraduate students and 998 graduate students in government-funded programs in 2016-17.

Downing added, “The different academic approach and operating modes (e.g., part-time/full-time) adopted by different institutions to cater to different student needs or study modes is yet another factor explaining the variation in the data on student numbers. All data submitted to QS by universities is thoroughly audited by the QS ranking body and the QS rankings are themselves audited by a specialist ranking agency.”

“City University is now commissioning its own independent audit using one of the big four companies,” said Downing. A psychologist and the editor in chief of the journal Educational Studies, Downing said that he has served on QS’s Academic Advisory Board in his personal capacity and is chair of the QS MAPLE International Academic Advisory Committee, which organizes an annual conference, roles that are noted on his City University biography. “It is part of the responsibility of any academic to engage with outside bodies and serve on committees in areas related to their particular academic or professional interests,” Downing said in regard to his QS affiliations.

Asked whether QS is taking any action in regard to the allegations that City University underreported its enrollment data, Ben Sowter, QS’s research director, replied via email, “QS invites institutions to submit data directly into our proprietary data collections systems. This goes through a thorough validation check where we compare numbers against our historical records, the university’s public records and any third-party or government sources, like the UGC. Where we see substantial divergence from any or all of these validating records we seek clarification. It is not unusual for definitions to vary, either in terms of what counts or does not count as a student, or as to how FTE is calculated.

“We have repeatedly explored divergences between official data and that supplied by universities and interrogated the universities in question, including City U. We have always been satisfied with their robust and sophisticated explanations of how our data definitions differ from those used elsewhere,” Sowter said.

“We have learnt that the president of City U has commissioned an independent audit from one of the Big Four accounting firms to further reassure their stakeholders about the validity of their data submission to QS,” Sowter continued.

“It is only natural that these divergences would prompt question[s] and QS always takes such enquiries very seriously. QS has a zero-tolerance policy on manipulation of our outcomes; if any institution is revealed to be deliberately supplying incorrect or inaccurate data with a view to improving their outcome, they would be removed from the ranking altogether for that year and identified in a public statement.”

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Universities mull creation of an IT accessibility group to review vendor products

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 01:00

Failure to provide accessible technologies for learners with disabilities can have serious consequences for universities. Many institutions have been sued in recent years for noncompliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, ratcheting up pressure around accessibility issues. As a result, some universities are thinking about how they might work together to test the technology they buy and make sure it is accessible to all.

At Educause's annual meeting earlier this month, IT accessibility experts said products bought from commercial vendors frequently fail to meet their accessibility needs. As a result, some who work on accessibility have floated the idea of creating a product-testing group that could work together to prevent poor purchasing decisions and to use its collective buying power to encourage vendors to prioritize accessibility.

Though universities can often test software before buying it, IT experts said it is not always possible to spot problems in trial versions of software. Testing also can be costly and time-consuming. As a result, IT staff members often must find accessibility fixes for products that already have been purchased -- a responsibility many feel should lie with the vendor, not with the institution.

Terrill Thompson, a technology accessibility specialist at the University of Washington who led part of the discussion at the Educause meeting, told Inside Higher Ed that conversations about more collaboration on product testing have been taking place for some time. But there is renewed energy to “find some kind of solution,” he said.

“The issue is that we have a lot of third-party software that we’re dependent on, and a lot of that is not accessible. We have to evaluate these products for accessibility to decide whether it’s something we can use,” said Thompson. And while more and more institutions are actively testing products, they are doing so without knowledge of what other colleges are doing, making a lot of their efforts redundant, said Thompson.

In addition to sharing product accessibility reviews, Thompson suggested the nascent product testing group could push for greater collaboration with vendors -- giving them more information about the accessibility issues institutions are facing and helping them to find potential customers. While many institutions are already working closely with vendors, Thompson said these conversations often happen on a one-on-one basis. “If we could all get on the same page, it would be helpful for the vendor and it would be helpful for us. We just want to pool our resources and try to tackle this problem together,” he said.

Margaret Wu, an educational assessment specialist at Purdue University, said accessibility would have been an afterthought for many institutions three or four years ago when purchasing software or developing it in-house. “Now it’s at the forefront,” she said. The main driver of this is a spike in lawsuits over compliance with the ADA, she said, but “taking that punitive piece out of it, it’s just the right thing to do.”

Recently Purdue has been thinking hard about how it can better address accessibility problems, said Wu, adding that the university has concluded that the best time to address potential accessibility problems with a commercial product is “before you buy it.” Recently, Purdue also has introduced accessibility language into its contracts, which compels vendors to fix accessibility issues in a timely manner and at no extra cost to the institution. “They didn’t balk at it,” she said.

Wu suggested that one function of the product testing group might be to share standard contract language, so that institutions can go into negotiations with vendors armed with a contract template and ideas of what to ask for. “This stuff is arising because universities are getting sued, so why don’t we place more onus on the vendor we’re buying tools from?” Wu said.

Under the Educause Umbrella?

One of the barriers to creating an accessibility review group has been a lack of central leadership, said Thompson. “It’s just been a group of interested parties who’ve got together and talked about the issue, but nobody has funding or claims any sort of ownership of it, so the energy dies after a while.”

Some experts said at the meeting this month that Educause could play a central role in the group's creation, a suggestion Thompson supports. “It seems like a logical place for it,” he said.

Jarret Cummings, director of policy and government relations at Educause, was receptive to this idea, suggesting at the meeting that organizers form a small working group to figure out the details and then approach Educause with a specific proposal.

Speaking later to Inside Higher Ed, Cummings said that institutional collaboration on product accessibility reviews “is an idea worth exploring,” but noted that progress would require input from general counsels at colleges early on, as “publishing public reviews of any given product or service may have legal implications that institutions and professionals will have to consider.” He added that “having a consistent, transparent approach to conducting and publishing product accessibility reviews and maintaining them over time” would be needed to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Brent Whiting, the director of information systems at Temple University, said vendor awareness of accessibility issues is “one of the biggest problems we have,” adding that “there are more products that are inaccessible than accessible.” While many start-up companies are willing to work with institutions to improve their products, Whiting said that big vendors whose main market is not education present a challenge for accessibility staff. “We don’t have enough clout with these companies to effect change,” he said.

Whiting said a product testing group, with its collective buying power, could be a good idea. But he warned of several obstacles. Whiting agreed with Cummings that defining clear standards for testing products would be essential. He also pointed to legal obstacles which could prevent the group from moving forward. For example, many universities sign nondisclosure agreements when they test vendor products, he said. Additionally, if one institution pronounces a product accessible, does that mean they could be held liable if another institution uses it and is then sued? “I know my legal counsel isn’t particularly going to want that,” said Whiting.

Shifting Responsibility

At the meeting some audience members said that rather than institutions working together to test and review products, the law should be changed to place greater responsibility on vendors.

Dawn Hunziker, an IT accessibility consultant at the University of Arizona, agreed that she would like to see more responsibility put on the vendors. But, Hunziker said, “I don’t think we have the time to wait for a change in the law to happen -- we need to find a solution now.” Hunziker would like to see the group moved forward, but she said figuring out the right the medium for sharing information and defining what exactly can be shared would be tricky.

Cummings said during the meeting that Educause and many other organizations, including industry groups, support federal legislation to establish a process for collaboratively drawing up clear accessibility guidelines for instructional technologies. If the U.S. Congress passes such a law, Cummings hopes that development of shared guidelines would reduce many accessibility problems. However, establishing guidelines would take a few years, said Cummings, and compliance with them would be voluntary.

Several accessibility experts said problems with vendors over product accessibility are more the result of ignorance than bad intent. “Many providers strive to understand the accessibility issues facing higher education,” said Cummings. But smaller companies “may not even realize” the problems they create for students and institutions by not addressing accessibility in their development process. And larger companies also “are just beginning to recognize how highlighting -- accurately and reliably -- the accessibility of their products may advance product adoption in the marketplace."

As more universities place accessibility at the forefront of their procurement process, Hunziker hopes vendors will start to shift their priorities. Procurement is likely to be a big focus of the Accessing Higher Ground conference taking place in Colorado this week, and collaboration on this issue “is the next big step in IT accessibility,” she said. “Technology touches everything that we do now, and we need to make sure that it’s accessible for everyone to use it.”

 

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Are Academics ‘Asleep at the Wheel’? Op-Ed on Tech’s Influence Draws Scholars’ Fire

An essay in The New York Times argued that professors should “scrutinize the big tech firms rather than stand by, waiting to be hired.” Some faculty members fired back.

UK: Special investigation exposes student loans ‘fraud’

The PIE News - Tue, 11/14/2017 - 09:49

A BBC Panorama investigation into student loan fraud at private colleges has highlighted malpractices that could be costing the UK millions of pounds each year. Rogue agents were secretly filmed supplying fake documents to undercover students and assisting them to fraudulently gain access to student loans when they had no intent to study.

Students on approved courses at private colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can be entitled to maintenance loans in the region of £11,000 and up to £6,000 in tuition fee loans, paid direct to colleges.

During the course of its 10-month investigation, Panorama filmed one London agent, Imran Saeed Sheikh, offering to get a bogus student admitted onto a two-year HND business course at Grafton College for a £200 fee.

This would enable the student to access student loan payments, of which the agent would claim an annual fee of £1,500 to cover fake attendance records and to provide all required coursework.

When the undercover student explained that they lacked the necessary qualifications to meet entry criteria for the course, for £600 Sheikh supplied them with a certificate equivalent to A-Levels.

Sheikh claimed the certificate was sourced from Grafton’s head of operations Asif Khawaja.

Panorama also filmed a freelance agent at GSM London, Charles Logan, who told an undercover student that enrolling on a three-year business management degree would not interfere with their full-time job.

About £400 million annually is received by 112 private colleges through the student loan system

Logan was secretly filmed explaining that a previous student had never been to class or completed an assignment, but had graduated with a law degree the previous year.

He said the student had used his loan money to open two restaurants.

Panorama said Logan received approximately £600 or 10% of the tuition fees paid to GSM London for every student he helped to enrol at the college.

Addressing the footage, GSM London president and CEO Amanda Blackmore said the actions of Logan’s company Future Leaders’ Academy Limited are totally unacceptable and are not reflective of GSM London standards.

“FLA has let us down and I am clear that our independent review will identify and address any gaps in our internal process.”

A spokesperson for the University of Plymouth, the accrediting body of a number of degrees taught at GSM London, told The PIE News that the university has launched a thorough investigation into all matters raised by the program.

“The university has longstanding and robust academic regulations and processes to prevent academic dishonesty and to ensure the academic quality of its degrees,” they said.

“This program has raised a number of concerning allegations relating to GSM London and we have requested that GSM London carries out a thorough investigation into all matters raised. In addition…we are launching a full and independent investigation of our own which will be externally led.”

“If Grafton College is found to have not met our expectations on standards and behaviour we can and will take further actions, including the option of terminating the partnership”

Following the broadcast, a spokesperson for Open University, which has recently begun offering degree courses in partnership with Grafton College, told The PIE News the university is suspending any future registrations from Grafton and is undertaking a thorough investigation into the matter.

“There is a small group of students currently studying for an OU validated course with Grafton College.  We have no evidence that they are implicated in any fraud, and will support them to complete their studies.

If Grafton College is found to have not met our expectations on standards and behaviour we can and will take further actions, including the option of terminating the partnership.”

This year student loan debt in the UK topped £100billion, while approximately £400 million annually is received by 112 private colleges through the student loan system.

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International students contribute $37bn to US – NAFSA

The PIE News - Tue, 11/14/2017 - 06:25

International students studying at US higher education institutions contributed $36.9 billion to the US economy and supported 450,000 + jobs during the 2016-2017 academic year, according to the latest NAFSA report.

This marks a 12.4% increase in job support and creation and a 12.5% increase in dollars contributed to the economy from the previous academic year.

The report also revealed 10 states broke the $1 billion mark in contributions from international students.

California, New York, Massachusetts, Texas and Pennsylvania saw the largest benefits from spending by these students on living expenses, tuition and fees.

The report also showed that three US jobs are created or supported for every seven international students enrolled in HEIs as a result of spending in higher education, accommodation, dining, retail, transportation, telecommunications and health insurance.

Three US jobs are created or supported for every seven international students enrolled

This study shows the economic benefits of international students continue to increase annually.

However while the number of internationally mobile students has doubled over the past 15 years, the number of new international students enrolled at a US institution for the first time in autumn 2016 declined by nearly 10,000 students to 291,000 – a 3% decrease from the previous year.

Additionally, the growth rate of students choosing to study in the US decreased by nearly half from last year.

The economic contributions of international students are in addition to the immeasurable academic and cultural value these students bring to our campuses and local communities.

NAFSA executive director and CEO Esther Brimmer said proactive policies need to be put in place to ensure the US remains competitive in the race for prospective international students.

“Once again, the data show international students are an asset not only to their respective universities but also to communities and regions across the nation,” said Brimmer.

Last month, Brimmer described the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the US from membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as “shortsighted” and a “waste of opportunities for international education”.

“Given all the benefits that international students bring, we now face increasing global competition for this talent.  It is in our best interest to strengthen policies that reflect our nation’s founding ideals of inclusivity and opportunity,” she added.

 “International students are an asset not only to their respective universities but also to communities and regions across the nation”

“We must continue to build bridges—not walls—and instill in every potential international student that all are welcome and valued here.”

IIE has also released its latest Open Doors data on international student exchange. However it valued their contribution to the industry at the higher figure of $39 billion.

Spokesperson for IIE Sharon Witherell told The PIE News that the discrepancy is due to both using varying methods of calculating the value of international students to the economy.

“It depends on what exactly is counted in the equation for what [international students] spend while they are in the US,” she said. 

“The US Department of Commerce use our total number of students to calculate the figure for the whole country, while NAFSA use our Open Doors breakdowns by institution, and calculate on a state and local basis the average tuition and cost of living in that state.” 

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