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White House merger plan reignites debate on education, training

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 00:00

A White House proposal to merge the Departments of Education and Labor has reignited a long-running debate about whether the worker training and education functions of the federal bureaucracy should be distinct or part of the same operation -- and whether there might be better ways to create a more coherent system for educating and training Americans. The proposal is part of a broader plan to overhaul much of the federal government released by the Trump administration Thursday.

The White House said the new agency, dubbed the Department of Education and the Workforce, would better align postsecondary education programs with the needs of the work force.

It’s likely to face steep odds of advancing in Congress, which must approve any such reorganization. Democratic lawmakers were quick to blast the announcement as unrealistic and a coded plan to cut government investments.

Former federal officials and experts on education and training, however, disagreed over whether folding the departments into a single agency could produce better results.

Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, said such a reorganization was long overdue. When the Education Department was created in 1980, he said, the relationship between educational attainment and the economy was "very weak." Now the opposite is true, and a college education is seen as key to a good-paying job.

“We’ve moved away from a world in which 70 percent of jobs didn’t require any postsecondary education or training,” he said. “The real world has made these connections, but we’ve not aligned these systems at all.”

Carnevale, a former Labor Department official in the Clinton administration, said combining the two departments would force a culture change at the new Education Department with a stronger emphasis on connecting education to jobs.

“If you want to change missions, you change institutional structures,” he said.

But Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills with the Education Policy Program at New America, said the Trump administration was trying to reinvent the wheel with its proposed reorganization.

“This is focusing on the wrong problem,” she said.

Much of the existing overlap between the two agencies involves grant programs dealing with short-term training designed to get individuals into the labor force quickly. McCarthy said the White House would do better to make sure officials at the existing Labor and Education Departments are coordinating various programs well, rather than moving desks between agencies.

The Obama administration in 2014 conducted a review by Vice President Joe Biden’s office of all federal job-training programs and acted on recommendations to streamline and improve the effectiveness of those programs.

“We are not duplicating services, but we could be coordinating them better. On that point there’s no doubt about it,” McCarthy said. “But that isn’t a matter of where the offices are located.”

McCarthy also said that, more fundamentally, the work-force training and higher education programs managed by the federal government are focused on different people at different times in their lives.

“Our work-force development programs are designed to get people in the labor market as quickly as possible,” she said. “That is not the purpose of our higher education system. The way this administration talks about it, these are all programs doing the same thing, and they’re not.”

David Longenacker, interim president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and a former high-ranking official in the Education Department under President Clinton, said it may make sense to move some functions between either the Education or Labor Department and consolidate similar missions. But he said there are many responsibilities at both agencies that wouldn’t make sense in a single agency, such as civil rights and Title IX enforcement or oversight of workplace safety.

“You can’t ignore the other things that either one of those agencies do that don’t really fit compatibly together,” he said. “There’s a need for both of these departments.”

Some college officials perceived the White House plan as an effort to undermine investments in traditional higher education.

“This is an attempt to reduce higher education to work-force development at the expense of a liberal arts education,” said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos backed the plan in a statement and said it fulfilled a campaign promise by President Trump to reduce the federal footprint in education and make the government more efficient and effective.

“Today’s bold reform proposal takes a big step toward fulfilling that promise. Artificial barriers between education and workforce programs have existed for far too long,” she said. “We must reform our 20th century federal agencies to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality.”

Lawmakers Weigh In

Reactions to the plan on Capitol Hill Thursday broke down fairly predictably along partisan lines.

“I think it’s always wise to look for greater efficiency in how our government operates and will study the proposal carefully,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate education committee.

Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee, said the administration had wasted energy on an unrealistic, unhelpful and futile reorganization plan for the sake of a new talking point.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care and workers -- and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said.

The top Republican and Democrat on the House education committee also took the expected views.

At the American Enterprise Institute, Rick Hess and Amy Cummings argued that there is plenty that can be cut from the two departments and real benefits in streamlining programs.

“But big savings require making major cuts to programs -- and the administration hasn’t had any success on that count,” they wrote. “Just a few months ago, in fact, it agreed to bust the longstanding budget caps and sign off on a dramatic expansion of federal spending. And, even among the shrinking ranks of fiscal hawks, there’s not much appetite for trimming big-dollar education programs like Title I and Pell Grants.”

If the administration combined the department without major cuts, the reorganization would consist of “rearranging the patio furniture,” they said.

But the proposal earned skepticism even among advocates for federal support of career training. Kermit Kaleba, director of federal policy at the National Skills Coalition, said stronger alignment of the mission of federal programs is a laudable goal.

“Mashing agencies together is the intellectual shortcut when you don’t have better ideas,” he said in a tweet. “It’s like proposing massive budget cuts to increase ‘efficiency.’”

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Big racial and sectoral gaps in student loan default rates mostly persist even after controlling for wealth and income

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 00:00

Federal data released last year revealed a student-loan default crisis among borrowers who are black or who attended for-profit colleges, with roughly half of both groups defaulting within 12 years after first enrolling in college.

Borrowers often default on modest loan balances, according to the data. And researchers subsequently showed that, as aggregate default rates continue to rise between 12 and 20 years after borrowers begin repaying their loans, up to 40 percent of students who took out loans in 2004 may default by 2023.

A newly released study digs deeper into the numbers and attempts to identify factors that could explain the crisis-level default rates among black borrowers and for-profit students.

After controlling for student and family background characteristics, including measures of income and parental wealth and support, the new research from the Brookings Institution still found big gaps between the default rates of black and white borrowers, and between those who attended for-profits versus other types of colleges.

The federal data show that 17 percent of all students who entered college in 2004, and 28 percent of those who took on student loans, defaulted by 2016, according to the study. Among black borrowers, 48.7 percent defaulted, compared to 21.4 percent of white, non-Hispanic borrowers. Roughly 35 percent of Hispanic borrowers defaulted.

Half of the gap between black and white borrowers disappears (from 28 to 14 percentage points) when controlling for borrower characteristics, such as parental educational levels and home ownership.

Even after controlling for measures such as loan amounts, grade point average, whether the student earned a credential, job status, income and income-to-debt ratios, the black-white gap remained a “large and statistically significant” 11 percentage points, according to the study, which was conducted by Judith Scott-Clayton, a senior fellow with Brookings and associate professor of economics and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

The family background controls reduced the default gap between Hispanic and white borrowers by 80 percent, the study found.

Students who attended for-profits were almost four times as likely to default as were their peers who attended community college (47 percent compared to 13 percent), according to the federal data. Among borrowers, that gap was 52 percent versus 26 percent.

As with the racial gap, the new study found that the high for-profit default rate was not fully explained by measures of employment and earnings, or other borrower characteristics.

“Entering a for-profit is associated with a 10-point higher rate of default even after accounting for everything else in the model,” the study said.

Scott-Clayton said in an interview that she was surprised by the study’s findings, particularly the persistent gap between borrowers who attended for-profits versus other institutions.

“I would’ve expected that what happens after college would explain more of the defaults,” she said.

The earnings and employment data used in the study were self-reported, incomplete and has other limitations, said Scott-Clayton.

“Better data on earnings, employment and other post-college circumstances might explain more of the gap,” the study said.

Scott-Clayton mentioned several other measures that could be used to learn more about default gaps, including the timing and trajectory of students’ college enrollment, data on other types of debt borrowers held and the health of borrowers or their single-parent status.

She and other researchers have stressed that many factors related to wealth no doubt play a role in the high default rates among black borrowers.

“We see racial gaps in a lot of areas of life,” said Scott-Clayton.

One way to further study the racial default gap, she said, might be to look at borrowers’ relative access to support systems. For example, differences in loan counseling or loan servicing could play a role.

“Even if the black-white gap in default could be fully explained by family income and wealth, this would not make it any less problematic for black borrowers who cannot change their family background,” the study said.

When a student loan enters default, the full balance becomes due, the study said, and borrowers lose access to deferment and forbearance options. Fees of up to one-quarter of the balance can be tacked on as well. And it can be harder to access credit or rent an apartment after a student loan default.

Yet the study found that most borrowers who defaulted were able to resolve at least one default (54 percent) within 12 years. In addition, 14 percent of borrowers who defaulted later returned to college.

To attempt to understand the racial and sectoral loan default gaps, the study suggested further research with higher-quality measures of income and other postcollege financial factors.

“The better we can understand what drives these stark gaps, the better policy makers can target their efforts to reduce defaults,” the study concluded.

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UCLA's mobile app aims to replace campus climate surveys

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 00:00

Gauging how students feel on campus is often the job of annual campus climate surveys, but a research and development unit at the University of California, Los Angeles, wants to change that.

The unit, called BruinX and based in UCLA's office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, recently developed and beta tested an app that will send a notification to students' smartphones every two weeks to ask them what they're thinking, how they're feeling and what they're experiencing on campus. The questions are simple and students are provided with multiple-choice responses as well as an option to write in short answers.

Jonathan Feingold, a research fellow at BruinX, hopes the app will provide a more complete picture of UCLA's campus climate.

"A standard way that you measure climate is through surveys that go out maybe once every three years, four years, 18 years, depending on the unit or the institution. There’s benefit to those surveys … but they’re also flat in all sorts of ways," Feingold said. "They’re a single snapshot -- it’s one look and it doesn't really give you a granular sense of what might be going on over the course of a year."

The app, called BruinXperience, was years in the making. Its design is partly based on research that shows that people are more accurate when asked what they're feeling in the moment.

"If you ask people about diet, and you ask people to tell you, ‘What did you eat in the past week? Just go day by day,’ they’re likely to get it quite wrong," Feingold said. "But if you ask someone, ‘What did you eat in the last half hour?’ they’ll remember what they ate in the last half hour … It's really good to ask people how they are feeling now, as opposed to remember how they might have been feeling even in the relatively near past.”

After two beta tests to work out the technical kinks, the app is set to launch campuswide this fall. All undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to participate after downloading the app from Apple's App Store or Google Play. Registration requires a valid UCLA student ID, and students will be asked to provide demographic information, such as gender, race, sexual orientation and campus living arrangement. In addition to responding to survey prompts every two weeks, students can log in and submit information whenever they'd like.

The beta tests did not yield enough data to run any analysis, but BruinX plans to eventually use the data gathered to measure how identity influences students' feelings of community over the course of a year, and how those feelings change in conjunction with local, national and global events.

Maintaining a high response rate tops BruinX's list of priorities. To do so, they will use part of a recent grant from the Lumina Foundation to create marketing campaigns and incentive structures that will keep students responding. "Obviously there won’t be 100 percent participation, but still, [we hope] that for a sufficient number of students this becomes a part of their normal mode of operations and they just use it consistently," Feingold said.

Assuming a successful rollout in the fall, BruinX plans to expand the app to include UCLA faculty and staff.

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Rider signs deal to sell Westminster by July 2019

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 00:00

The controversial sale of Westminster Choir College took another step forward Thursday, with Rider University trustees signing a purchase and sale agreement calling for the choir college in Princeton, N.J., to be transferred to a new owner by July 2019.

Under the agreement, Westminster -- which has been part of Rider since a merger in the early 1990s -- will be transferred to entities set up by a company based in China, Kaiwen Education. Kaiwen agreed in February to buy Westminster for $40 million and operate it as a nonprofit. That agreement ratcheted up concerns from already unhappy faculty members and alumni who worried the for-profit buyer does not have the experience or commitment needed to operate a top-tier music college.

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Several details released Thursday about the newly signed purchase agreement are related to faculty and alumni concerns. But parties opposed to the sale, including some who are suing to block it, remained staunchly opposed to the deal, which cannot close until the lawsuits are resolved. So the situation will continue to play out in the courts.

The new agreement includes a commitment from the buyer to operate Westminster at its current campus for at least 10 years. It also says the buyer will “substantially maintain” current academic offerings for at least five years.

Additionally, Kaiwen will offer “employment and comparable benefits” to Westminster’s full-time faculty, “priority adjuncts” and full- and part-time staff members. A total of 33 full-time faculty members, 26 priority and preferred adjuncts, and 50 administrators and support staff will be offered employment. The buyer also committed to continuing student aid.

Kaiwen agreed to spend $16 million over a five-year period after the deal closes for working capital and capital expenditures. The $40 million purchase price is subject to adjustments before the deal closes.

“This contract sets the foundation for a process that creates opportunities for Westminster to evolve into a renewed institution with a strong future,” Robert S. Schimek, who chairs Rider’s Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “This includes plans to broaden and expand Westminster far beyond what Rider is able to do, and attract more international students to the Choir College, Conservatory and Continuing Education.”

The new agreement left groups opposed to the sale unmoved. The Rider chapter of the American Association of University Professors blasted Thursday's agreement, questioning whether the buyer intends to run the choir college beyond the newly agreed-upon five-year mark and arguing that the sale price appears to be in flux and at risk of heading downward.

“All available evidence, including a detailed analysis by Rider Business College faculty, demonstrates that Kaiwen’s finances are precarious,” said Joel Phillips, professor of composition and music theory at the college and AAUP spokesperson, in a statement. “Taken together with its complete lack of experience in higher education it’s hard to imagine a less suitable partner to invest in and continue Westminster Choir College’s legacy.”

The AAUP plans to continue to oppose the deal.

Rider moved in 2017 to sell Westminster after faculty members, students and alumni resisted the idea of relocating the choir college from its longtime campus in Princeton to Rider’s main campus seven miles away in Lawrenceville, N.J. Rider leaders pursued changes because they felt the need to improve their budget situation and inject cash into the university.

The planned sale has already prompted multiple lawsuits. Princeton Theological Seminary sued in New Jersey Superior Court, arguing that the proposed sale would not comply with the original intent of the donor who gave land for Westminster’s Princeton campus and that the donor wanted the campus to go to the seminary if the choir college didn’t fulfill its obligations. Students, parents, donors and alumni are also suing the university in federal court.

Rider is trying to “steal the bounty” of a charitable gift it received 30 years ago, said Bruce Afran, a lawyer for the Westminster Foundation, one of the groups suing Rider in federal court. The courts and New Jersey’s attorney general are unlikely to allow the sale to go forward, Afran argued.

“It actually makes the lawsuit more compelling than ever,” Afran said of the new sale agreement. “There is a century-old school that now is living with a five-year life span under this proposal.”

Kaiwen has established a nonprofit corporation in New Jersey, Westminster Choir College Acquisition Corp., to operate the college after the sale. The acquisition corporation will change its name to Westminster Choir College after the deal is complete.

Two for-profit companies tracing their ownership to Kaiwen are also involved in the deal: Beijing Wenhuaxuexin Education Investment Limited Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of Kaiwen Education, and Princeton Westminster International LLC, a subsidiary of Beijing Wenhuaxuexin Education. They would operate two branches of Westminster, the Westminster Conservatory and Westminster Continuing Education.

For the next year, Rider plans to continue running Westminster, the conservatory and the continuing education operation. The university plans to coordinate student recruitment with Kaiwen.

“Kaiwen Education’s mission is to sustain and grow Westminster Choir College’s reputation as a world-class institution, while maintaining it as an artistically pre-eminent, academically rigorous and fiscally sound institution,” said Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Rider’s president, in a statement. “It is our hope that the entire Westminster community can come together to help bring this process to a successful conclusion so the legacy of Westminster can carry on far into the future.”

Rider chose Kaiwen to acquire Westminster after reaching out to 281 different parties. It received 13 formal proposals of interest and five proposals that included interest in keeping Westminster in Princeton.

No educational institutions from the United States expressed interest in running Westminster in Princeton, according to Rider. One U.S. educational institution was interested in moving Westminster to its campus but decided against moving forward after a due-diligence period.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 00:00


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More college students attending summer classes thanks to yearlong Pell Grants

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 00:00

For many college students, summer is a time to pursue internships, work full-time or otherwise take a break from classes. Not so this year for many students at Louisiana community colleges.

The state’s system of two-year institutions has seen a 10 percent increase in enrollment over this time last summer and a 17 percent increase in credit hours pursued, said Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. He attributes that jump to the first full summer of year-round Pell Grants since Congress restored the aid last year.

“That just doesn’t happen without some type of change in policy or resources that spurs it,” Sullivan said. “There’s no question in my mind that it is directly related back to the year-round Pell issue.”

With summer sessions just beginning on college campuses, many institutions are seeing an uptick in enrollment attributed in part to year-round Pell Grants. Because it's still early in the summer and many institutions have yet to determine their final numbers, there are no good estimates of how much attendance has increased across the country. But updates from a selection of colleges provide anecdotal evidence at least that the policy change is having a real impact at the campus level.

The total student head count at the Louisiana community college system is up to more than 18,000 for this summer, and those students are pursuing more than 104,200 credit hours.

Some individual campuses are seeing especially large increases. At Northshore Technical Community College, in the eastern part of Louisiana, credit hour enrollment is up 42 percent over all. And at Louisiana Delta Community College, in Monroe, students have enrolled in 45 percent more credit hours over last summer, Sullivan said.

Those colleges are seeing the early payoffs of a decision by Congress to restore year-round Pell Grants in a budget deal last year after eliminating the grant aid in 2011. Students attending summer classes previously could only use whatever grant aid they had not used in the fall and spring semesters. The change allowed Pell recipients access to the full grant amount for a typical semester.

Sullivan said the additional grant aid isn’t just making summer classes more accessible for students. It’s also helping them progress more quickly toward their degrees. The share of full-time students at the Louisiana two-year system has jumped from 52 percent last year to nearly 60 percent this summer.

“In my estimation, the biggest deterrent to completion is time,” Sullivan said. “What enrolling in the summer does is it narrows the amount of time to a credential.”

The bump in attendance for summer classes may also counteract, however slightly, a recent trend of declining enrollment at community colleges. (See related article, also published today, here.) A recent Inside Higher Ed survey of presidents of two-year institutions found that enrollment issues were a major concern among respondents; 57 percent said enrollment was down at their colleges over the past three years.

The summer Pell Grants first became available last year when classes were already under way on many campuses. Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said colleges last year had little guidance or time to process the new grant aid.

The rollout in the second year of summer Pell largely appears to have gone smoothly, he said. The long-term effects of the new policy will take time to sort out, though.

“It could mean more enrollment over the summer. It could mean less loan debt,” Draeger said. “There were two policy objectives here.”

The effect of year-round Pell was more muted in New York, where the City University of New York system projects a modest increase in summer enrollment. Frank Sobrino, a CUNY spokesman, said it’s still early to attribute that growth to any specific factors.

But early numbers from areas where state support is less generous, and where students rely more heavily on federal aid, show the policy change paying big dividends.

At Wallace State Community College, in Hanceville, Ala., the number of students receiving Pell Grants in the summer jumped 58 percent to 1,144 this year. The jump in total credit hours students are pursuing was even higher -- from about 5,900 in 2017 to more than 10,200 this summer.

College officials said that’s evidence that students aren’t just taking advantage of year-round Pell, they are also enrolling with greater intensity, meaning they are more likely to complete a degree or certificate faster.

At Valencia College, a two-year institution in Orlando, Fla., officials say they have offered Pell Grants to 9,074 students this summer compared to 6,414 in the previous year. Not all of those students will end up taking summer classes, but the policy change will give 2,500 more students the chance to continue course work this year, said Linda Beaty, a spokeswoman for Valencia.

The typical Valencia student is not enrolled full-time, so many would use the grant aid left over from the fall and spring semesters to pay for summer courses. If they didn’t have any Pell funds remaining, many would pay for summer tuition out of their own pockets.

“With this change, students can take classes year-round using Pell funds and move quickly toward graduation without worrying about running out of Pell funds,” Beaty said.

Restoring year-round Pell Grants was a critical step because it aligned financial aid policy with how students are actually attending college, said Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network.

Work or family responsibilities often keep students from taking more than 12 credit hours in a given semester, she said, making graduation in four years unrealistic without summer classes. Enrolling in summer classes allows students to stay on track to earning 30 credits a year and finishing their degree earlier.

"That’s particularly important to us because we know the importance of being continuously enrolled and the impact that has on on-time completion," she said.

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Journal article that was withdrawn last year amid intense debate is republished by the National Association of Scholars

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 00:00

Eight months after it was withdrawn from Third World Quarterly amid threats to its author and the journal's editor and questions about why it was published in the first place, an article arguing in favor of colonialism has been published again.

The National Association of Scholars said this month that Bruce Gilley’s “The Case for Colonialism” deserves a permanent place in the scholarly record, and so it appears in the summer issue of its journal, Academic Questions

“The efforts to censor [Gilley’s] article and the attacks on him personally were outrageous,” Peter Wood, NAS’s president, said in his announcement. “Gilley published a well-reasoned and humane perspective on the political and economic challenges that face many Third World nations. Anyone who actually reads the article will see his thoughtful tone and good will.”

The latter part of Wood’s statement is debatable. Thousands of scholars called for the retraction of the Gilley’s piece when it was published in September, with many calling it poor scholarship, or clickbait. Critics generally said that Gilley’s pitch for modified colonialism for economically struggling nations who agreed to it completely ignored the historical ills and racism of the system.

Others criticized Third World Quarterly for ever letting the piece see the light of day, especially after members of the journal's editorial board said that guest editors declined to consider it as an article and that at least one reviewer had rejected it even as an opinion-style essay. The journal’s then editor, Shahid Qadir, defended his decision, saying that the piece was published not as a typical journal article but rather in the journal’s “Viewpoints” section.

The journal continued to push back against criticism, even after Gilley apologized for what harm the piece had caused and called for its withdrawal. Eventually, however, Third World Quarterly said it was scrubbing the piece from its website due to physical threats against Qadir.

‘How the Hate Mob Tried to Silence Me’

That was in October. In December, Gilley, an associate professor of political science at Portland State University, published an essay in Standpoint magazine called “How the Hate Mob Tried to Silence Me.” In it, he explained that he’d been inspired to challenge academe's anticolonial consensus by none other than the late Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, while reading his book There Was a Country.

“I was bowled over,” Gilley wrote of reading Achebe. “As I read further, Achebe kept coming back to the British period [in Nigeria] with fonder memories and greater praise. His ‘articulation of the unsayable,’ as a Malawian scholar put it, was astounding coming from a man with totemic status in anti-colonial ideology.” (Of course, many literary critics view Achebe's novels as fundamentally anticolonial.)

In 2016, Gilley published “Chinua Achebe on the Positive Legacies of Colonialism” in African Affairs. He “braced for a storm,” but it never came, said.

Not so with “The Case for Colonialism,” which Gilley said he wrote to explore how the benefits of colonialism might be revived without its obvious pitfalls.

With hate mail and harsh criticism coming from within academe and out, he said, he lost his “confidence,” apologized on his website and asked the journal to withdraw the piece.

“This was an act of self-censorship,” he wrote in Standpoint. “It is what grovelling teachers did in the [Chinese] Cultural Revolution, hurriedly writing obsequious letters of contrition and hoping to survive.”

“Fortunately,” however, he continued, Taylor & Francis, the journal’s publisher, is party to Britain’s Committee on Publication Ethics that prevents retraction for political reasons. “I was grateful when they saved me from self-censoring,” Gilley added. “As a scholar of China, my teaching of the Cultural Revolution will never be the same. Taking my family out of Portland and over the Cascade Mountains for a holiday in central Oregon, I felt like Captain von Trapp leading his family out of fascist Austria into Switzerland.”

Flipping that analogy, Gilley also wrote, “Predictably, the critics decided that I was a racist and white supremacist. This has become something of a compliment, as it was a compliment for a moderate liberal to be labeled a ‘commie’ by a fanatic of the right during the Cold War.”

In today’s coded language, he added, “a white supremacist is someone who believes that what [V.S.] Naipaul called the ‘universal civilization currently led by the West’ is the cornerstone of global human flourishing. Count me in. Also count in hundreds of public intellectuals in the Third World who have long espoused a closer integration with the West as the best pathway to modernity.”

Gilley said the closed-minded response to his piece was embodied by Vijay Prashad, a professor of international studies at Trinity College, who, among others, resigned from Third World Quarterly’s editorial board over the incident. Gilley noted that weeks before his essay appeared, Prashad argued in Third World Quarterly that the term "imperialism" ought to be revived to describe the West's interactions with the Third World. (It should be noted that many scholars object to the term "Third World" and prefer other terms, such as the Global South).

“In a strange way, then, ‘The Case for Colonialism’ has unintentionally became a case for the recolonization of the West by its own liberal traditions,” Gilley said. “The pluralism, free inquiry and reasoned debate on which Western civilization is built face fanaticisms from both the left and right. The non-totalitarian center is shrinking. A very dark place indeed.”

Taking a Stand for Colonialism?

Gilley referred requests for comment about the republication of the piece to his earlier essay about the experience. Prashad,  did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The National Association of Scholars describes itself as an organization that upholds the "standards of a liberal arts education that fosters intellectual freedom, searches for the truth and promotes virtuous citizenship." But it isn't apolitical. It is suspicious of what it has called the "New Left's" influence on academe, including in service learning initiatives that, in its view, are replacing "traditional" civics. Does it risk further politicization in publishing Gilley's piece?

Wood, association president, said via email Wednesday that by referring to Gilley’s arguments as “humane,” he meant “compassionately concerned with human welfare. Gilley's article offers a humane perspective in that he focuses on ‘the grave human toll of a century of anti-colonial regimes and policies’ and ‘reaffirming the primacy of human lives.’”

Much of the piece deals with the "failure of many postcolonial regimes to secure peace, build political legitimacy, establish the rule of law as opposed to endemic corruption, or provide for the general welfare of the people," he added.

Wood said he suspected that much of the original uproar came from those “incensed” by any defense of Western colonialism, who “did not read the actual article or pause to consider Gilley's points" -- including that any new colonialism would have to be "'participatory and consensual' on the part of the governed.”

Asked his whether NAS was taking a stand in favor of colonialism, Wood said no. 

“We are taking a stand in favor of intellectual freedom and scholarly inquiry,” he said. “Colonialism is a legitimate subject for academic inquiry. Moreover, that field of inquiry should be open to a wide variety of scholarly views. Those expressed by [Gilley] are well within the compass of legitimate academic debate.”

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Community college enrollment rates expected to keep falling

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 00:00

Community colleges are used to declining enrollments when the economy is strong and unemployment is low. But some researchers are warning colleges that future declines are only expected to get worse amid cuts in state funding and more pressure on institutions to produce measurable outcomes.

"They absolutely need to be worried right now," said Christina Hubbard, director of strategic research at EAB, an educational research and technology services company. "We're in an OK spot until 2025 and then a cliff is going to happen. We're already struggling financially, and with the federal government pulling back so much funding from higher education, and when you add the changes happening in enrollment, we have a major problem coming very fast." (News elsewhere on Inside Higher Ed today about enrollment increases at some institutions due to the reinstatement of year-round Pell Grants is a modest counterweight to the larger trends described in this article.)

Two-year colleges have been coping with declining enrollments since around 2010, when the Great Recession ended and the national unemployment rate began falling from about 10 percent to around 5 percent today.

But when researchers project demographic information to 2025, the declines become sharper.

For instance, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education projects the number of high school graduates to remain flat from now until 2023, with a slight increase, followed by a dramatic decrease, after 2025 from about 3.5 million graduates per year to about three million.

EAB's analysis of these projections shows that the population of high school students has been declining in some regions since 2013. For instance, New England will see a 10 percent decrease in high school graduates from 2013 to 2023. The Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Pacific Coast regions are all showing declines. Numbers of graduates in southern states remain flat. States such as Texas, Utah and Idaho will see increases in high school graduates as those states see population growth from people moving into those areas.

There are essentially two trends community colleges should consider, said Larisa Hussak, a senior analyst with the Community College Executive Forum at EAB. The first is the trend of adult learners aged 25 and older enrolling in college, which is a largely countercyclical trend.

"When the economy is really good, they leave higher education and go back to the work force," she said of adult students, adding that EAB's projections show adult education will continue declining.

Hussak said the second trend concerns projections showing that the population of traditional-age college students -- 18- to 22-year-olds -- will be much smaller beginning in 2025 because birth rates were lower during the recession.

The impact on two-year colleges will be felt once those students are in their 20s, she said. More than half of community college students are 22 years old or older. As a result, many colleges won't initially see the decline in students born during the recession because they typically don't enroll in college until their midtwenties.

Many experts and educators who've weathered the ups and downs of community college enrollments in the past have been adjusting and learning not just how to manage current declines but how to prepare and protect their institutions from future declines.

"There is an advantage the community college sector has and it's that we probably are the most resilient of the higher education sectors," said Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County.

In 2009, during the recession, the Community College of Baltimore County saw enrollment peak at about 72,000 students. Today enrollment is closer to 62,000.

"We've been focused on managing enrollment to budget, so we have launched a whole series of economic stabilization initiatives," Kurtinitis said. "What works for us is if we stay in the 60,000 to 65,000 range."

In the last five years, the college has made a series of changes that have saved about $43 million. For instance, carports on the campus use solar energy, food service has been contracted out and last year the college partnered with Barnes & Noble to manage its bookstores. Kurtinitis said a new proposal to be announced this week will bring in a vendor to take over the college's childcare centers, which could save up to $300,000 a year.

"You approach the challenge of enrollment decline as something you can benefit from and use that for engaged, thoughtful discussions collegewide," she said. "We control our own future here. We aren't going to sit under a mushroom and pretend that five years from now when the economic cycle changes, we'll solve our enrollment problems."

It's More Than Population

It's not just the number of students that will have an impact on colleges -- community colleges are also facing additional pressure from state and federal legislators to improve graduation and completion rates and increase the number of students transferring to four-year institutions.

"We don't have the enrollment to support program generation," Hubbard said, adding that despite lower enrollment the colleges will be expected to deliver the same level or more in liberal arts and work-force training, but with less money.

Kurtinitis points to a change made by the Maryland Legislature two years ago that granted free community college tuition and fees to young people living in unique circumstances such as foster care, or who are the children of deceased public servants.

"I would love to have someone at the Legislature say, 'We'll reimburse you,'" she said. "But no, they don't say that. They care about the same people we care about. We wish we could get reimbursed … We'll do it at our expense and we'll absorb that as part of our mission."

But there are also legislative policy issues that have affected enrollment, Kurtinitis said. She points to a 2012 policy change in the Pell Grant program that lowered the required income threshold for the federal financial aid program and decreased the number of low-income students that automatically qualified.

Meanwhile, Hubbard said, the students who will be entering college in coming years are expected to be less academically prepared and at risk of dropping out or not earning degrees.

Students from underserved and minority communities are enrolling at higher rates. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the percentage of first-time community college students who identified as Hispanic increased from 13 percent in 2001 to 26 percent in 2016. The population of black first-time students during that same time period has remained flat, while the percentage of white first-time students has declined from 61 percent to about 44 percent.

One other significant growth area for community colleges is enrollment by students under 18 years old. The Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College estimates that the number of students aged 17 or younger enrolled in community college courses increased from 163,000 in 1995 to 745,000 in 2015.

"We see a lot of enrollment being filled by high school dual enrollment," said Kent Phillippe, associate vice president of research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges. "More and more it's the core part of enrollment, and there are potential issues involved with that."

Funding for high school students at community colleges varies by state, county and even local municipalities. And many colleges get no funding support for those students, Phillippe said.

Hubbard said that the problem wouldn't be as pronounced if community colleges were serving dual-enrollment students who were matriculating into their colleges, but most dual-enrollment students go on to four-year universities instead of community colleges.

CCRC estimates anywhere from 30 to 47 percent of former dual-enrollment students first enrolled at a community college after high school.

So, if getting new students will become increasingly challenging for colleges, Hubbard and Phillippe said, retaining and focusing on the students who have already chosen to go to college should be the focus.

"We're losing students who have already applied to our colleges," Hubbard said. "We're losing over 50 percent of our students in the matriculation process."

EAB found that out of 100 students who apply to a two-year college, 56 are lost during onboarding, 23 drop out and just five are still enrolled after six years. Only nine of the 100 complete an associate degree and seven complete a bachelor's degree. Onboarding begins from the moment a student completes an application to when they take placement tests, apply for financial aid, complete orientation and register for classes.

"It's a lot easier to engage folks who are already enrolled," Hussak said.

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New scrutiny on donor influence in Australian higher education

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 00:00

Most university donors expect to have some influence on how their gift is spent -- but when does this cross the line into interference with academic autonomy? And are there some topics that are so controversial that they are in effect off-limits for philanthropic support?

Higher education fund-raisers in Australia are asking these questions afresh after the Australian National University ended negotiations to offer liberal arts degrees subsidized by the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which was criticized by the National Tertiary Education Union for pursuing a “divisive cultural and political agenda.”

The center “seeks to pursue a narrow, radically conservative program to demonstrate and promulgate the alleged superiority of Western culture and civilization,” NTEU branch president Matthew King had warned ANU vice chancellor Brian Schmidt.

Revelations that the University of Sydney was in talks with Ramsay provoked a similar response from scores of its academics, who denounced the proposal as “European supremacism writ large.”

Nick Reimer, a senior lecturer in Sydney’s English department, accused the center of giving “disproportionate prominence” to the “straight white upper-class men at the top of the social order.”

Simon Haines, chief executive of the Ramsay Centre, told Times Higher Education that, in hindsight, he was “naïve” not to anticipate “active hostility” toward its plans to bankroll the new degrees. The Sydney-based center, which is funded from the estate of the late health magnate Paul Ramsay, wants to funnel well over 10 million Australian dollars (about $7.4 million) a year into humanities study. On offer is support for up to 36 academic posts, 90 five-year undergraduate scholarships and 25 graduate scholarships.

“I had hoped we could avoid this kind of ideological warfare, but obviously we can’t,” Haines said.

Since it withdrew its participation, ANU has in turn faced accusations that it was rejecting its Western roots by pandering to left-wing activism.

Haines said that the center was not a cheer squad for mainstream culture.

“Western civilization is full of people who’ve been strongly critical of it,” he said. “Socrates was put to death for corrupting the youth by making them think philosophically about things the state wanted them to take for granted.”

But the fact that this is not the first case of its kind in Australia raises questions for universities about what they should accept funding for. In 2015, plans for a policy center headed by Danish climate contrarian Bjørn Lomborg and funded by the federal government were scuttled when the University of Western Australia reneged on an agreement to host it.

Paul Johnson, who was then UWA’s vice chancellor, said that staff and student outcry had made the center “untenable,” even though he supported its rationale and was happy to associate his university with Lomborg.

The two proposals were championed by the former prime minister Tony Abbott, widely considered an arch-conservative. But Haines disputed descriptions of his center as a right-wing think tank.

An “indicative curriculum,” which was posted on Ramsay’s website, suggests that the degree’s students would scrutinize the works of luminaries from Homer, Sappho and Dante to Karl Marx, George Eliot and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, as well as great artworks and buildings from the Parthenon to Chartres Cathedral.

Schmidt said that ANU’s decision had nothing to do with the merits of such a study focus. He said the negotiations had been abandoned because Ramsay’s desire to influence curriculum and academic recruitment risked setting a precedent “that would completely undermine the integrity of the university.”

ANU declined to elaborate on how its autonomy would have been compromised. A university document explaining the proposal, which ANU has since removed from its website, acknowledges risks to academic independence but says that they would have been addressed through a “comprehensive legal agreement.”

Curriculum recommendations would have been made by a committee with equal numbers of academics from Ramsay and ANU, but “considered through the normal ANU academic processes.” And while Ramsay would have had nominees on the committee who oversaw hiring decisions, ANU would have nominated the majority and an ANU academic would have chaired it. Recruitment would have been conducted “in accordance with the normal hiring processes.”

Joanna Motion, a partner at London-based fund-raising consultants More Partnership, said that it was inevitable that donors would have a degree of influence. A philanthropist supporting underprivileged students, for example, would have an implicit effect on admissions.

She said that an institution wondering where to draw the line should be guided by its statement of values. “If it puts academic freedom front and center, that has to be reflected in the decisions it takes,” Motion said.

“Clearly some things are off-limits, but philanthropy is extraordinarily important to universities -- they should not find lots of excuses to avoid it.”

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New presidents or provosts: Beebe Heartland Ridgewater Superior Tennessee USI Utah State Utah Valley UTSA

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 00:00
  • Keith Cornille, executive vice president/chief student services officer at Madison Area Technical College, in Wisconsin, has been named president of Heartland Community College, in Illinois.
  • Kimberly Andrews Espy, senior vice president for research at the University of Arizona, has been selected as provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
  • Francis D. Galey, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming, has been chosen as executive vice president and provost at Utah State University.
  • Craig Johnson, executive director of the University Center-South Dakota Public Universities & Research Center, has been named president of Ridgewater College, in Minnesota.
  • David Manderscheid, executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and vice provost for arts and sciences at Ohio State University, has been appointed provost and senior vice chancellor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
  • Jennifer Methvin, president of Crowder College, in Missouri, has been named chancellor of Arkansas State University-Beebe.
  • Ronald S. Rochon, provost at the University of Southern Indiana, has been selected as president there.
  • Molly Smith, provost and vice president for academic affairs and professor of English at Saint Martin’s University, in Washington, has been chosen as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
  • Astrid S. Tuminez, regional director for corporate, external and legal affairs in Southeast Asia for Microsoft, has been appointed president of Utah Valley University.
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New Stanford Prison Experiment revelations question findings

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 00:00

Since its inception nearly 47 years ago, the Stanford Prison Experiment has become a kind of grim psychological touchstone, an object lesson in humans' hidden ability to act sadistically -- or submissively -- as social conditions permit.

Along with Yale University researcher Stanley Milgram’s 1960s experiments on human cruelty, the August 1971 experiment has captured Americans’ imaginations for nearly half a century. It is a long-standing staple of psychology and social science textbooks and has been invoked to explain horrors as wide-ranging as the Holocaust, the My Lai massacre and the Abu Ghraib prisoner-torture scandal.

But new interviews with participants and reconsideration of archival records are shedding new light on the experiment, questioning a few of its bedrock assumptions about human behavior.

Perhaps most significantly, one of the “prisoners” now says his actions have long been misunderstood.

For the experiment, Stanford University psychology professor Philip Zimbardo built a three-cell mock “Stanford County Jail” in the basement of the university’s psychology building. His researchers housed nine “prisoners” and hired nine “guards,” all of whom had answered a classified ad looking for participants for a two-week study on prison life.

But just 36 hours into the experiment, prisoner Douglas Korpi found himself in lockdown, sealed into a closet repurposed as a makeshift solitary confinement room. He soon experienced what has been described as a mental breakdown.

It was one of the most visceral moments from the experiment, and it was caught on audiotape, with Korpi screaming, “I'm so fucked-up inside. I feel really fucked-up inside. You don't know -- I gotta go, to a doctor. Anything! I mean, Jesus Christ, I’m burning up inside, don’t you know? I can't stay in there. I'm fucked-up! I don't know how to explain it. I'm all fucked-up inside! And I want out! And I want out now!

Korpi now says his episode was less a psychotic break than a manipulation so he could go home and study.

“Anybody who is a clinician would know that I was faking,” he told author Ben Blum in a rare interview last year, part of a lengthy feature in the online publication Medium. Now a forensic psychologist in Oakland, Korpi characterized his outburst as “more hysterical than psychotic.”

Actually, he screamed not because of abusive guards but because he was worried about not getting access to textbooks during his “prison” stay so he could cram for the Graduate Record Examination.

Korpi said he took the $15-per-day job as a prisoner because he thought he’d have time “to sit around by myself and study for my GREs.” The prison study, scheduled to last two weeks, lasted only six days after Zimbardo’s girlfriend, Christina Maslach (now his wife of many years), persuaded him to shut it down.

But when Korpi, who was scheduled to take the GRE just after the study concluded, asked for his books, guards refused. After unsuccessfully faking a stomachache, he faked the breakdown.

The admission is similar to one he gave the Los Angeles Times in 2004, when he said, "Zimbardo thought I was losing it."

Looking back on the experience, he told Blum he actually enjoyed himself most of the time, including during a brief prisoner “rebellion.”

“The rebellion was fun,” he said. “There were no repercussions. We knew [the guards] couldn’t hurt us, they couldn’t hit us. They were white college kids just like us, so it was a very safe situation.”

He was, however, shocked that he couldn’t leave of his own free will, remembering that the guards were “really escalating the game by saying that I can’t leave. They’re stepping to a new level. I was just like, ‘Oh my God.’”

In an interview, Zimbardo told Blum that the subjects “really believed they can’t get out,” but said they’d signed informed-consent forms that included an explicit “safe” phrase: “I quit the experiment.” Saying the phrase, he said, would earn an exit from the experiment.

Blum notes that the forms, dated August 1971 and available online at Zimbardo’s website, contain no mention of the phrase “I quit the experiment.” They do, however, consent to “a loss of privacy,” among other conditions. The forms note that subjects were expected to participate “for the full duration of the study,” and that they’d only be released for reasons of health “deemed adequate by the medical advisers to the research project or for other reasons deemed appropriate” by Zimbardo.

Blum’s revelations come weeks after the release of Story of a Lie, a new book by French academic and filmmaker Thibault Le Texier, who examined newly released documents from Zimbardo’s Stanford archives. He calls the experiment “one of the greatest scientific deceptions of the 20th century.”

In a tweet posted last week, University of California, Davis, psychology professor Simine Vazire wrote, “We must stop celebrating this work. It’s anti-scientific. Get it out of textbooks.”

In a statement issued Monday, Howard Kurtzman, acting executive director for science at American Psychological Association, said Blum’s Medium article “raises important questions about the Stanford Prison Experiment, many of which have been raised before.” He gave credit to Zimbardo for speaking to Blum and said the researcher “has responded to these questions over the years.”

Psychology textbook authors who address the study “would be well advised to place it in context, including the controversies around its methods and what it teaches us about the importance of institutional review boards, peer review and replicability,” Kurtzman said.

Dave Eshelman, a Stanford “guard” who earned the nickname John Wayne for his imaginative cruelty, told Blum he saw the experiment “as a kind of an improv exercise” that he wanted to perfect “by creating this despicable guard persona.” He has long maintained that he developed the cruel character after watching the movie Cool Hand Luke.

Eshelman said he tapped into his own experiences in a brutal fraternity hazing a few months earlier. Nearly half a century later, he recalled feeling “like I had accomplished something good because I had contributed in some way to the understanding of human nature.”

In a 2011 interview published in the Stanford alumni magazine, Eshelman said, “I set out with a definite plan in mind, to try to force the action, force something to happen, so that the researchers would have something to work with. After all, what could they possibly learn from guys sitting around like it was a country club?”

In a way, Eshelman said, he was running his own experiment within an experiment, each day trying to do something “more outrageous” than the day before. He often wondered “how much abuse will these people take before they say, ‘knock it off’? But the other guards didn't stop me. They seemed to join in. They were taking my lead. Not a single guard said, ‘I don't think we should do this.’”

Another guard, John Mark, told the alumni magazine that Zimbardo “went out of his way to create tension,” with strategies like forced sleep deprivation. He said Zimbardo “knew what he wanted and then tried to shape the experiment -- by how it was constructed, and how it played out -- to fit the conclusion that he had already worked out.”

Mark said Zimbardo wanted to show that middle-class young people “will turn on each other just because they're given a role and given power.” But he said that hypothesis was “a real stretch. I don't think the actual events match up with the bold headline. I never did, and I haven't changed my opinion.”

Zimbardo, who would later testify about human behavior in the wake of the bloody 1971 Attica Prison uprising in upstate New York, did not immediately respond to a request for an interview. Nor did Craig W. Haney, a psychology professor at UC Santa Cruz who was a graduate student of Zimbardo's in 1971 and a principal researcher on the prison experiment.

Haney has said he and his fellow researchers “weren't sure anything was going to happen” when the experiment began. “I remember at one point asking, ‘What if they just sit around playing guitar for two weeks? What the hell are we going to do then?’”

Speaking to the alumni magazine in 2011, he said the experiment’s most enduring finding may be how quickly “we get used to things that are shocking one day and a week later become matter-of-fact.”

He recalled that while preparing to move the prisoners, researchers realized that the subjects would figure out they were in the Stanford psychology building, not in an actual prison. So they put paper bags over their heads. “The first time I saw that, it was shocking,” Haney recalled. “By the next day we're putting bags on their heads and not thinking about it. That happens all the time in real correctional facilities.”

Haney said the experiment showed him the effects of dehumanization on incarcerated people.

“I try to talk to prisoners about what their lives are really like, and I don't think I would have come to that kind of empathy had I not seen what I saw at Stanford,” he said. “If someone had said that in six days you can take 10 healthy college kids, in good health and at the peak of resilience, and break them down by subjecting them to things that are commonplace and relatively mild by the standards of real prisons -- I'm not sure I would have believed it if I hadn't seen it happen.”

Blum’s new interviews are only the latest to take a magnifying glass to Zimbardo’s research. In 2001, British researchers who recreated the experiment suggested that guards acted tyrannically not because of the “toxic combination of groups and power,” but because of something more complex.

The turning point in Zimbardo’s experiment, they maintained, was when he stepped in as “prison superintendent” and told prisoners they couldn’t leave the study. Researchers Stephen Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam said this revelation disoriented the prisoners, who “ceased to support each other against the guards.” The tight group collapsed, allowing “tyrannical guards to prevail.”

In their modified re-enactment, dubbed the BBC Prison Study, prisoners actually challenged the guards’ authority, leading to a collapse of the prisoner-guard system. The participants then decided to continue the experiment as a “self-governing and self-disciplining ‘commune,’” but this too fell apart a day later, paving the way for the emergence of “a new tyranny” in the little lockup. In one key moment, a participant looked into the lens of a video camera and told researchers, “We’re having a military takeover of the regime that’s been put in place yesterday.” He demanded “full military uniforms” and vowed, “We’re going to run this prison the way it should have been run from day one.”

The researchers concluded that when people can’t create a social system that works, they’ll “more readily accept extreme solutions proposed by others” and allow an authoritarian ideology to take hold.

More recently, in 2007, Western Kentucky University psychologists Thomas Carnahan and Sam McFarland placed ads in several university newspapers, offering to pay volunteers for a “psychological study of prison life,” as Zimbardo’s ad had in 1971. They also invited another group to participate simply in a “psychological study,” without any mention of prison life.

Then they tested the respondents and found that those who replied to the “prison life” ad scored higher on measures of authoritarianism, narcissism, Machiavellianism, social dominance and “abuse-related dispositions of aggressiveness.” They also scored lower on measures of empathy and altruism, suggesting that the Stanford subjects may have showed up in August 1971 with traits of cruelty that not all of us necessarily possess.

“I’m a believer that the situation can lead people to do cruel things,” McFarland said in an interview. But he said a kind of selection bias may have played a part in the Stanford results. For one thing, Zimbardo openly sought subjects for a two-week, immersive experiment on prison life. “It just seems intuitively strong to me that some people would be more disposed to volunteer for such an experiment than would others,” he said.

McFarland, now retired, got the opportunity in 2006 to interview Sergeant Joseph Darby, the former U.S. Army reservist who blew the whistle on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and who has publicly criticized U.S. military leadership at the facility. Asked by McFarland if most servicemen and women would have tortured and humiliated prisoners if they’d been stationed at Abu Ghraib, Darby flatly said: No.

“I could have taken any seven other soldiers from that unit and put them in the same situation and they would have acted honorably and professionally and performed their duties,” he said, according to an audio recording of the interview.

Eshelman, the guard who modeled his behavior on Cool Hand Luke, said he later regretted the mental abuse he inflicted. But when revelations about Abu Ghraib came to light, he said, his first reaction was, “This is so familiar to me. I knew exactly what was going on. I could picture myself in the middle of that and watching it spin out of control. When you have little or no supervision as to what you're doing, and no one steps in and says, ‘Hey, you can't do this,’ things just keep escalating.”

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Cynthia Nixon taps free college debates with plans to change Cuomo's Excelsior Scholarship

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 00:00

A New York primary election that has laid bare tensions between different wings of the Democratic Party has also exposed debates within the free college movement and advocates focused on degree completion.

Cynthia Nixon, who is attempting to mount a left-wing primary challenge to two-term incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo, last week rolled out an education plan proposing significant changes affecting Cuomo’s signature higher ed accomplishment, the free public college tuition program known as the Excelsior Scholarship. Compared to Excelsior, Nixon’s plan would focus on a group of students from lower-income backgrounds who may not advance as quickly toward graduation.

The Excelsior Scholarship was designed with several restrictions “to exclude students in order to reduce program costs,” Nixon’s plan argues. Excelsior generally requires students to complete 30 credits per year and earn an associate degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four years. It requires recipients to live and work in New York after college for the same number of years they received scholarships or have their scholarships convert into loans. And it is structured as a last-dollar program, paying tuition costs after other sources of funding, like the federal Pell Grant or New York’s Tuition Assistance Program, have been taken into account.

Nixon calls for a requirement that students earn 24 credits per academic year, not 30. She would count remedial courses toward the credit requirement, something the Excelsior Scholarship does not do. Plus, she would do away with residency requirements and says she backs a first-dollar program that would free Pell Grants for other expenses like housing and books.

“Providing a first dollar program is very important if New York is going to be serious about expanding access to higher education and seeing larger numbers of low income students, students of color and immigrant students graduate from college,” Nixon’s plan says.

Her plan also calls for making college free for all students who would qualify for New York’s existing Tuition Assistance Program, which has a family income limit of $80,000. It’s a substantially lower income cutoff than Excelsior, which is being phased in over three years. Excelsior covered students from families with annual incomes of up to $100,000 in its first year. It will cover families making $110,000 starting this fall and $125,000 in the fall of 2019 and afterward.

Nixon's proposed changes would open up free tuition to 170,000 new students at the State University of New York and City University of New York systems, the Nixon campaign estimates. It would cost $600 million per year.

Nixon’s education plan would pair the free tuition changes with spending to support graduation and additional funding for SUNY and CUNY. The total price tag for the higher ed initiatives would be more than $1.6 billion. Nixon proposes funding her plan and other new education spending with a tax package that would increase taxes on corporations and New Yorkers earning more than $300,000.

Cuomo’s camp maintains that the state’s existing Tuition Assistance Program already accomplishes many of the goals laid out in Nixon’s plan. TAP is a first-dollar program requiring students to take 12 credits toward a degree program per semester. TAP and other programs mean New York supports its at-risk and poorest college students, Cuomo’s allies argue.

About 45,000 students have received free tuition after applying for the Excelsior Scholarship, they said. Roughly 23,000 received Excelsior funding, and 22,000 applied for Excelsior but were steered into TAP, where they received free tuition.

A spokeswoman in the governor’s office called Nixon “wrong on the facts on every issue she discusses.” The Nixon campaign responded that TAP provides full tuition funding for only a small percentage of recipients and that Nixon wants to expand program access to immigrants. In 2016-17, the average TAP recipient received $3,320 from the program, according to the state Higher Education Services Corporation.

Meanwhile, a group representing New York’s private colleges and universities is unhappy with Nixon’s higher ed plans.

“It is unfortunate that Cynthia Nixon did not do her homework before releasing her plan for education in New York,” said Mary Beth Labate, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, in a statement. “Her ‘Educate NY’ plan ignores the 300,000 New Yorkers who choose to pursue higher education at a private, not-for-profit college or university in our state. Two-thirds of those students come from families that earn less than $125,000 annually.”

Nixon’s plan would serve students in private colleges by expanding the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program, according to a Nixon campaign spokeswoman. The program makes competitive grants to independent institutions for students who are academically and economically disadvantaged.

The back-and-forth between the campaigns shouldn’t obscure the issues Nixon tapped into that are being debated by free-tuition advocates across the country: What restrictions are reasonable to build into programs offering free public college tuition, and which ones can be used to steer students to make desirable choices?

Free-tuition programs -- called Promise programs -- vary significantly in design across the country, said Martha J. Kanter, a former under secretary of education in the Obama administration who is now director of the College Promise Campaign, a group advocating for making the first two years of college free.

Some programs limit enrollment to full-time students who just came from high school and are making progress toward a college degree. Others are focused on meeting workplace needs in high-demand areas for adults who are returning to complete a degree.

“This is an early stage,” Kanter said. “There’s no cookie-cutter state policy, so every state is doing what’s best for their residents.”

New York is a highly visible example of a state where politicians are debating changes to free college programs recently put in place. It’s not the only one. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Tennessee rejected changes in April that Republican governor Bill Haslam wanted to make to the well-known Tennessee Promise program. Haslam wanted to require aid recipients to finish 30 credits per year or risk losing some of their scholarships. The Tennessee Promise currently has a requirement of 12 credit hours per semester.

Advocates such as Complete College America, which has backed ideas like 15 to Finish, say completing 15 credits a semester, or 30 credits per year, keeps students on track to graduate on time, increasing the likelihood they will complete degrees. Critics retort that strict credit requirements prevent working students or those with family responsibilities from benefiting from free-tuition programs.

“It’s raising an important issue,” Kanter said. “What do we do with people who have work and family responsibilities?”

Excelsior has attempted to thread the needle between the two positions by blending hard-line credit requirements with wiggle room for extenuating circumstances. Although it requires students to complete 30 credits per year, Excelsior’s regulations allow for repayment waivers and postponements for cases of hardship, and they allow students with disabilities to attend college part-time.

It’s far from the only solution. An April report from the College Promise Campaign and two other groups, Complete College America and Achieving the Dream, argued that institutions in promise programs serving part-time students should “provide a structured, part-time pathway that adds no more than one year to the students’ time to degree.” Among its recommendations, it said institutions should provide term-by-term degree or certificate maps with 20 to 24 credits per calendar year for students who are unable to attend full-time. Doing so would promote graduation within a year of a program’s published length, it said.

Nixon’s plan is also notable because it contains provisions likely to upset middle-income voters. An $80,000 income limit would mean some families who expected to qualify for free tuition under Cuomo’s program will in fact not be able to have their children attend college for free. Eliminating residency requirements may be popular with students who want to keep their postcollege options open, but it might not sit well with some voters who wonder why the state should pay to educate another state’s employees.

“These residency requirements are politically popular within states,” said Robert Kelchen, assistant professor in the department of education leadership, management and policy at Seton Hall University. Eliminating the requirements makes sense from a broad public policy perspective more than it makes sense from the perspective of a politician running for election, he added.

Nixon’s emphasis on a first-dollar program is unusual because first-dollar programs are expensive, Kelchen said.

“If a state wants to reduce student debt, it’s the way to go, but does this program really get more students into college?” Kelchen asked. “The price tag is fairly large, and I’d be curious what people think about whether that price tag is realistic.”

Time will tell whether Nixon’s education plans do anything to shake up a race that has not been competitive. Nixon trails Cuomo among Democrats by 35 points, 61 percent to 26 percent, according to a Siena College poll of likely voters that was released the same day as Nixon’s education plan.

The challenger’s strategy has been to run to the left of Cuomo, and her higher ed plans are largely consistent with that positioning. But it’s not clear the changes she proposes have widespread appeal even within the primary electorate.

“Suburban Democrats, they supported the governor’s Excelsior program,” said Steven Greenberg, a Siena College pollster. “A lot of suburban kids who are defined more as middle-class than poor have taken advantage of that benefit. So while it certainly plays to one audience, I’m not sure that it plays to all the audiences that are going to participate in the Democratic primary.”

Candidates’ proposals can linger even if they don’t win election, of course. Bernie Sanders’s backing gave the free college movement oxygen, even though the Vermont senator did not capture the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. In fact, Sanders was present when Cuomo unveiled his free college plans in 2017.

Still, those who watch New York politics aren’t expecting Nixon’s education plans to shake up the race.

“I’d be very surprised if that cut through the clutter,” Greenberg said of the plan.

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Some third-party pathway partnerships have ended

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 00:00

Because many of the third-party pathway programs are young -- and because some are for quite long terms (e.g., 30 years in the case of the INTO partnerships) -- many have not come up for renewal yet. A few have.

Navitas reported in 2015, for example, that it had renewed contracts for pathway programs at the University of Massachusetts campuses at Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell, all of which were first signed in 2010. The Dartmouth and Lowell campuses signed for an additional five years, with the possibility of another five-year extension, while the Boston campus signed on with Navitas for a full 10-year term.

On the other hand, a handful of pathway partnerships have ended.

In 2015, Navitas and Western Kentucky University parted ways, a move Navitas described in a press release as a “result of a review of operations … which has identified business units that are non-performing or have limited prospects for long-term success.” For their part, officials at WKU said at the time that the university had enhanced its own international recruitment capabilities, according to an article in the Bowling Green Daily News.

Third-Party Pathways: A Series


Elsewhere today:

Study Group ended its relationship with the Universities of Maine and Southern Maine in 2016. Neither Study Group nor Maine shared reasons for the closure, other than to say it was a mutual decision, but a July 2014 article in the Bangor Daily News reported that the partnership fell short of its first-year enrollment target, having enrolled 16 students at the University of Maine, and one student at the University of Southern Maine, in the program’s first year.

"It was genuinely one of those situations -- it was an entirely mutual decision to part company. Around these partnerships you are going to occasionally get situations where the decision makers of the university don’t remain aligned with a particular strategic initiative. You can have that because of personnel changes," said David Leigh, Study Group's CEO.

Widener University also ended its pathway relationship with Study Group, though Study Group continues to contract with Widener to recruit students for direct entry into the institution. Leigh said the university did not adapt to recently updated changes to student visa rules governing pathway programs and so Study Group was not able to continue to operate there.

A spokeswoman for Widener, Mary Allen, said via email that Widener revised its recruitment strategies in recent years. "Widener never saw the enrollment from Study Group that was initially projected, so the partnership was not financially sustainable," Allen said.

The University of Utah ended its previous pathway relationship with Kaplan but is now set to open a new pathway program with Shorelight.

“With our previous pathway provider, it was a program that was set up on our campus, which … didn't really connect with other institutional entities and very much operated independently, and there just wasn't the kind of oversight and involvement from the university that we would have liked, so we feel that in this new partnership we do have that,” said Sabine C. Klahr, the acting chief global officer at Utah.

Klahr also said that with the Kaplan partnership, “we felt we weren’t necessarily getting the quality of students that we expected to get … I should add, though, that even though that was the case with our previous partnership, we tracked the students who we did retain and who completed their degrees here. They ended up doing quite well. The average GPA was around 3.0. It wasn’t significantly different from our domestic student population. I think long-term those students did well in general.”

A spokesman for Kaplan declined a request for an interview.

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Corporate pathway providers shake up international student landscape and up ante on compensation for agents

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 00:00

The growth of third-party pathway providers -- and of the private capital behind many of them -- has helped to create a more competitive and commercialized recruiting landscape.

The third-party pathway phenomenon is far from the only factor contributing to the commodification of international student recruitment, but it's among them. As the number of programs has grown and competition between corporate pathway providers has increased, some professionals in the international education field have begun raising questions about the firms' recruitment practices, in particular the payment of commissions to recruiting agents that can reach as high as $9,000 per student enrollment after bonuses are factored in.

The growth of third-party pathway programs has been entwined with growth in the adoption of commission-based agency recruitment, in which agents are paid a per capita commission for each student recruited to an institution or program. Federal law prohibits U.S. universities from paying commissions for the recruitment of domestic American students, but there is no such statutory prohibition when it comes to international students.

Third-Party Pathways: A Series


Elsewhere Today:

After extensive debate, members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling voted in 2013 to remove a ban on commission-based international recruitment provided institutions using the practice ensure accountability, integrity and transparency. The number of institutions using international recruiting agents has grown since then. NACAC's surveys have found that 38.5 percent of institutions reported using agents in 2017, compared to 37 percent in 2015 and 30 percent in 2010.

The loosening of prohibitions and taboos on agents has freed up institutions to work with pathway providers, which generally rely on a combination of their own recruiting staff and relationships with agents who are paid on commission.

Ron Cushing, the director of international services at the University of Cincinnati, is no stranger to agent-based recruitment: his institution was an early adopter of the practice. But he said what he hears about some of the recruiting practices of the third-party pathway companies concerns him and makes it hard for institutions like his that don't have a corporate partner to compete. Cincinnati is starting a new pathway program this fall that it developed and will recruit for by itself.

“What we hear is they are paying a disproportionately high commission rate compared to what a typical school would pay,” Cushing said. “On average we pay about $2,200 a student for commission. We’re hearing in some cases $6,000, $7,000 commissions on pathway students.”

“When you’re trying to then recruit against somebody who’s paying double or triple that, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage for sure,” Cushing said. “It’s hard to compete with third-party providers that are backed by investment capital and not the actual revenue for the programs.”

“Some of it isn’t the actual commission per student, but there’s a lot of incentives being offered out there,” Cushing continued. “Some of the things we hear -- from trips to beach resorts to iPads to direct cash bonuses -- that’s concerning. Those kinds of things lend to the concern that NACAC and a lot of institutions had when this whole agent thing started. Which is -- are these agencies going to be pushing students to the right academic fit or are they going to be pushing them where they’re getting the right benefit? Obviously we have no way of knowing if that’s really happening. My hope is that it’s not, but from a perception standpoint that becomes a concern and a consideration when there is a pretty substantial gap in what people are paying.”

Commissions and Incentives

As Cushing suggested, when it comes to agent compensation, it is not just a matter of the base commission rate but other bonus incentives as well.

Fliers and emails seen by Inside Higher Ed detail some of the promotional bonuses available to agents, including limited-time bonuses of $1,000 or $2,000 for each new student enrollment at a particular partner university or group of partner universities.

A Chinese-language flyer from INTO invites agent partners to attend the company's Chinese Partners Conference in Thailand upon confirmed enrollment of one new pathway student; agents unable to participate can elect to receive an extra $2,000 in commission instead.

INTO confirmed that the Thailand flier, at left, “is part of an incentive and awards program offered to Chinese education counselors who meet recruitment targets on behalf of our partners. To be clear, the trip to Thailand is to participate in an annual partner development program which INTO hosts throughout the region to promote a better understanding and awareness of the multiple international study options open to talented students from across China.

“Thailand is a major regional business hub in East Asia -- directly accessible from most cities in China and the United States,” the statement continued. ”The program itself is a training event, ensuring counselors have the most up to date and appropriate information about major US study destinations which they in turn will use to provide up to date and accurate guidance to their clients and their families.”

Asked about their commission and bonus structures, the companies tend to be tight-lipped, viewing their incentive structures as proprietary. Inside Higher Ed asked representatives of pathway providers to share data on commissions. Most -- INTO, Navitas and Study Group -- declined to disclose their commission rates.

Tom Dretler, the CEO of Shorelight, said what the company pays agents is “what everybody pays in the industry.” A spokesman for the company said its commission practices are "in line" with the industry norm of 10 to 15 percent of first-year tuition. A list of Shorelight commissions and other agent communications seen by Inside Higher Ed shows that this is technically true, at least for credit-bearing programs: Shorelight's commission rate is set at 15 percent for pathway or direct entry recruitment, and 20 percent for intensive English programs.

However, the promotional bonus programs can push the agent compensation well north of the 15 percent threshold. Documents viewed by Inside Higher Ed show, for example, that after a $1,000 bonus, an agent could earn around $9,000 for sending a single student to a three-semester Shorelight pathway program at American University; by comparison, 15 percent of the $53,675 tuition would be closer to $8,000. Shorelight is also offering an extra $2,000 bonus for new fall undergraduate enrollments at Louisiana State University and the University of Kansas, two institutions that have reported lower-than-expected enrollments in their programs.

To be sure, pathway programs aren't the only entities paying bonuses to agents over and above commissions: a recent survey conducted by the American International Recruitment Council and the marketing and recruiting company Intead found that more than a quarter (26 percent) of the 163 institutions that responded to the survey said they pay a bonus to agents that exceed enrollment targets.

And it's worth noting that pathway companies aren't competing with universities only in terms of commissions or bonuses: they also compete in terms of the number of in-country recruitment staff they have and the service and outreach those staff members can provide to agents. Few individual institutions have significant numbers of in-country recruitment staff, if any.

Dretler said Shorelight has a 175-person recruiting staff. "We have a team, and that team is going direct and representing our universities. We work with agencies, too, and we’ll always work with agencies. We find that a lot of agencies do really important work. Increasingly, we find that agencies do not determine where the student goes to school because the student has more information walking in," Dretler said.

“We’re not going to talk about specific rates of commission,” said John Latham, the CEO of INTO. “But what I can say is that people have got to understand that for the student who's thinking about coming to the U.S., agents and counselors pay an absolutely invaluable role in helping them to work out how to make the best decisions.”

“The ultimate arbiter of all of this is the students,” added Tim O’Brien, INTO’s vice president for global partner development. O’Brien said a survey of 1,800 students at its U.S. pathway programs this spring found that 90 percent were satisfied, over all. Ninety-one percent were satisfied with their learning experience, and 95 percent with student support.

O'Brien added that for 2016-17, the last full year for which data were available, the average cumulative GPA for students who completed pathway programs is 3.11 at the undergraduate level and 3.52 at the graduate level.

“If the students are speaking, then they are speaking positively about their experiences with us and their partner universities. It sort of indicates that things must be OK -- better than OK from their perspective, and when you look at their progression rates and GPA that they achieve,” O’Brien said.

Yet even in the event that 90-plus percent of students in INTO programs are satisfied with their programs, the fine print suggests there are few good options for those students who might be steered wrong -- or who might, for whatever reason, show up on the first day of classes and find the program to be a poor fit. Here's an example of where the for-profit and nonprofit cultures can clash: whereas it’s typical for universities to have progressive refund schemes, in which students are eligible for a certain percentage refund of their tuition depending on how far into the semester they are, the terms and conditions for INTO programs in the U.S. typically state that fees must be paid four weeks in advance of the program start date and that no refunds of pathway program tuition or fees will be granted after that start date.

For example, the published terms of agreement for the Oregon State program state that "there will be no refund of program fees, tuition, or deposits for students who cancel, withdraw, transfer early to an OSU degree seeking program or are suspended or dismissed from any INTO Oregon State University program after the published start date."


Third-party pathway providers pose new competition to two other types of programs or institutions that can serve as entry points for international students into U.S. higher education, including intensive English programs and community colleges.

While the number of third-party pathway programs has grown, enrollments in intensive English programs have been falling. The most substantial drops have been in the number of students coming from Saudi Arabia -- a change attributable to changes in the Saudi government's scholarship program -- but the drops are not just limited to Saudi students: a recent survey of intensive English program enrollments conducted by the Institute of International Education found that the number of intensive English students dropped for nine of the top 10 sending countries from 2016 to 2017. Over all, the number of students in intensive English programs fell by 20 percent from 2016 to 2017, following on an 18.7 percent drop the year before that.

In a recent survey of international enrollment managers conducted by a subgroup of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, some respondents identified pathway programs as disruptive forces in the field. In presenting the survey results last month at the annual NAFSA conference, David DiMaria, the associate vice provost for international education at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said that pathway programs “are being seen almost as vacuums taking away from traditional intensive English program enrollments."

“The pathway programs are just one more challenge among many in our field,” said Patricia Juza, the past president of a consortium of university- and college-governed intensive English programs known as UCIEP and director of the International English Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. Others she cited include difficulties for students in obtaining visas, the political climate, the strength of the dollar, the collapse of oil prices, and mass shootings in the U.S.

Juza is skeptical of the third-party pathway model. "It's important to keep an open mind, but I think as an educator there are certain values that we hold: transparency, what’s in the best interest of the student," she said. "I think where my skepticism lies is campuses could sometimes do a more thorough job of not only vetting individual third-party providers but do a more thorough job of evaluating whether it’s valuable to have a third party on a campus."

Ross Jennings, the senior director of international education at Green River College, a Seattle-area community college that has been actively involved in recruiting international students for many years, said pathway programs also pose serious competition for community colleges looking to recruit international students.

Jennings said the third-party pathway programs are especially attractive options in China, where rankings are hugely important and where, Jennings said, the lower cost of community colleges can be seen as a minus because cheaper means lower quality in many parents’ minds. Pathways are attractive for that segment of students who need extra help before they can secure admission in a university of their choice -- the kinds of students a community college might otherwise attract -- but who also have the ability to pay higher tuition rates, and who presumably don't mind paying a premium for the kind of hand-holding and extra support services they get with the third-party pathway programs.

Jennings said Green River has a track record of helping students transfer after two years into top 50 or top 100-ranked universities. Generally speaking -- and with a couple notable exceptions -- universities with rankings in this elite range generally don’t have third-party pathway programs. They don’t need them: they attract plenty of international students on their own by virtue of their ranking and reputation.

But Jennings said it’s hard for a community college with its 2+2 proposition to compete against the proposition pathways offer: conditional admission via a pathway program into a solid university -- what he calls a “midmajor” -- with a national ranking in the 100 to 200 range, as in the case of an Auburn University (No. 103 in the U.S. News ranking of national universities) or an Oregon State (No. 145).

“To get a student into the midmajor [university] and having a letter from midmajor in hand, and the agents get paid three times or more in commission than we can pay; because we have a low tuition, we don’t have the funding base to pay more commission than that -- it’s very compelling,” Jennings said.

‘The Great Unknowns’

As competition for students is increasing, and the total pie of international students coming to the U.S. is not -- at least for the moment -- growing, is the space getting toward saturation? Will increasing difficulties in recruiting international students push yet more colleges toward corporate pathway partners, or will declining enrollments lead some institutions to decide they might do better going it alone and keeping what tuition revenue they earn to themselves?

"From the institutional side, there is clearly an effect of 'what’s the alternative?' That’s the question, really, to answer if the pressure is on enrollment and there are no resources to build capacity quickly," said Rahul Choudaha, the author of a two-part report on pathway programs commissioned by NAFSA. "If an institution doesn’t have enough cachet, but still wants to have a quick ramp-up of international students, then they will need something like this that will reach out to that segment of students who need help but also have the ability to pay."

​Choudaha said the downsides of the corporate model are what he descried as "the great unknowns," including questions about demand. “The majority of the models are tied to one or two source countries," he said, in reference to China and Saudi Arabia. "What’s the next source country that has the ability to pay and the need for these kinds of services?"

"The changes which are happening in the political climate are affecting everyone barring the top few, and now pathways are not immune to it," Choudaha added. "The financial models were based on a rapid ramp-up. Now factoring in these risks of the external changes or even the changes in the competitive environment -- the number of players coming in and at what pace -- all those risks need to be factored in. They are the great unknowns, which can completely throw off a very long-term partnership that is expected to play out over 10 years or so."

Ian Little, the owner of CDB Solutions, a company that consults with colleges on international recruitment and other areas, said that he would recommend institutions considering a partnership with a third-party pathway provider ask questions like whether they will have access to the company's contracts with other partner institutions and whether there are incentives to drive students to any one institution over another. And at least some institutions, he suggested, would be better off investing in recruiting infrastructure on the front end rather than partnering with pathway providers for immediate access to their recruitment resources in exchange for a cut of tuition revenue on the back end.

“Not for all schools, but those comprehensive, doctorate, high research-activity schools, I believe they have the resources to do this successfully without compromising their ability to see returns immediately,” Little said. “Especially now if you’ve signed a contract recently during this period of contraction, depending on what the clauses in those contracts look like, you might not be able to go back on that or examine that for another three to five years -- and a lot can happen.”

"The pool arguably is on a downward slope and there really isn’t reason to believe that the pool will get larger or the competition will minimize," Little continued. "China has been a sustaining driver of this area, but who knows how that’s going to go. As Canada enters this game, with regional competition in Asia, with more English language programs … a shrinking pool and more competition isn’t the best formula."

“The biggest market for pathways in the last few years has been China," said Alexandra Zilovic, executive vice president of global operations and business affairs for the intensive English provider ELS Educational Services, which announced its first two pathway programs this spring, at California Lutheran University and the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

"What I would say about China, the pie hasn’t shrunk, but it hasn’t grown, and there’s so much competition that the pie is being sliced into smaller slices," Zilovic said. "I think at one point regarding the China market there will be saturation, and I don’t think there will be sufficient demand for dozens and dozens of new pathways to be opening up. Yet nevertheless there are new markets that are being developed. Africa is emerging as a very, very interesting market; certain countries in Africa, specifically, that have shown great interest, and we expect fully that this will be a growing market. Latin America as well."

Leaders of some of the major pathway companies say they see ample room to grow. International enrollments can go up and down in various countries, and just because they're down in the U.S. for now doesn't necessarily mean they'll be down for long.

“I think you have to think about that question [of saturation] in the context of where pathway is as a space in the United States relative to where it is outside of the United States,” David Leigh, the CEO of Study Group, said. “It’s still nascent compared to the two most mature markets, the U.K. and Australia. The pathway sector started in Australia and then moved to the U.K., and frankly it’s still, in terms of its size and maturity in the U.S., way behind the U.K. and Australia with huge room to grow.

“Our belief is that the macrotrends that help us understand why the U.K. and Australia have reached the sizes that they are don’t apply any less to the U.S. If anything they should apply to the U.S. in that the U.S. continues to be the No. 1 destination for international students looking to study abroad, but there haven’t historically been the same level of offerings. Many students have gone via a community college route, which is not obviously a pathway but perhaps offers a small piece -- something akin to a pathway. What we believe is what you will see over the medium term is the U.S. pathway market being extremely attractive in the same way that the U.K. and Australia markets are attractive.”

"We're nowhere close to saturation," said Dretler of Shorelight. He pointed out that the proportion of international students in U.S. higher education sits at just 5 percent, whereas, by comparison, it's 15 percent in Canada, 21 percent in the United Kingdom and 24 percent in Australia (see figures from Project Atlas here). Dretler said he co-founded Shorelight in 2013 in response to a finding that U.S. colleges had capacity for international students combined with increasing international demand, but that there was a "suboptimization" preventing them from reaching that population that private capital could help solve.

“We think that the main reason for that is that U.S. universities, even being the welcoming, wonderful places that they are, have unintentionally shut out the market by really only being able to market to one kind of student, and that’s the student who doesn’t need support with language and culture,” Dretler said. “Our target student is a highly motivated, talented student who does need support with language and culture -- and then we meet them with a program.”

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U.S. Department of Education willing to experiment on accreditation

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 00:00

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Education is preparing to take a “deep dive” into accreditation, Diane Auer Jones, a special adviser to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, said Tuesday.

Speaking at a University Professional and Continuing Education Association conference, Jones said that current regulations are hampering colleges’ efforts to offer non-degree-level credentials.

“What we hear from both faculty and employers is that [accreditation] is always going to hold innovation back,” said Jones.

The department announced earlier this year that it is planning to amend federal rules related to accrediting agencies and accreditation procedures through negotiated rule making.

Notice of the public hearings for this process will come out in the Federal Register this summer, said Jones. “We take these public hearings very seriously, and we want you to come to these hearings with ideas,” she said.

Jones said she wants to understand what’s working in accreditation, as well as areas “where we have created a behemoth monstrosity of bureaucracy that is unnecessary.”

“Accreditation has to change to allow institutions to be more nimble,” said Jones. Not everyone needs a degree to get the job they want, and non-degree-level credentials can play an important role in training the work force. But to allow innovation in this space, “we have to make some policy changes in thinking about how we distribute aid, how we count outcomes, how we follow a student’s progress,” said Jones.

Ideas that push the boundaries of accreditation are welcomed, even if this entails some risk (which would be carefully monitored), said Jones. She suggested that some federal funding might be put toward such experiments, so that participants don't have to worry about paying "millions of dollars back" if an experiment doesn’t work out.

“I always want to be careful to direct our funding to the best ideas,” said Jones. “But not everything is going to work, that’s just how it goes.”

Referencing EQUIP -- an ongoing experiment begun during the Obama years to give nontraditional providers access to federal financial aid (which has somewhat stalled) -- Jones said she expects there will be insights that the department can glean from the program, but stressed “we have to come up with other ideas.”

Among other things, the EQUIP program represents a departure from the 50 percent rule, which says that no more than half of a degree program can be delivered by a nonaccredited provider. But EQUIP was just “dipping a toe in the water,” said Jones.

Department officials keep hearing two concerns about accreditation, Jones said. The first issue is that community colleges “want to do something innovative” with non-degree-level credentials but can “only do it on the noncredit side because of accreditation,” said Jones. The second is that accreditors are “really into credential inflation,” said Jones.

“We don’t normally hear of [credential inflation] being driven by employers,” said Jones. Taking a credential and turning it into a master’s degree, “just because a bunch of people teaching the program want it to be,” isn’t necessarily what employers and employees want, she said.

What employers want is a key concern for Jones. She spoke favorably about apprenticeships during the UPCEA session, adding that many employers have been reliant on degrees that are “maybe not appropriate or necessary” for “too long,” said Jones.

“We have millennials who are very interested in new ways of thinking, we have parents who are worried about costs and we have lots of jobs in the sector that have not been historically reliant on the four-year degree,” said Jones. “So here’s our moment.”

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Colleges start new academic programs

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 00:00
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More colleges hire corporate partners for international student pathway programs, with mixed results

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 00:00

Growing numbers of American universities are contracting with corporate entities to recruit for and help manage first-year “pathway” programs for international students who don’t meet the criteria for direct admission. The number of such pathway programs in the U.S. has grown from a mere handful to more than 50 within the past decade. The programs proliferate even as the total number of new international students coming to the U.S. declines and competition for every full-pay international student intensifies.

Colleges have turned to the third-party pathway model for one main reason: to grow the population of full-pay international students, and in turn the revenue they bring.

The irony is that as the numbers of providers and the programs they operate grow, so too do the differences in the outcomes of the universities on those all-important enrollment and revenue metrics.

Inside Higher Ed contacted a wide range of colleges and universities that partner with corporate pathway providers and found that their experiences with the model are mixed.

Third-Party Pathways: A Series

Elsewhere today:

Coming tomorrow:

  • The Pathway Impact on Commissions and Incentives
  • Parting Ways: Programs That Have Ended

Some institutions report large increases in their international student population while others report falling far short of the grand enrollment gains that were expected -- a circumstance that can put pressure on academic standards. Some of the disappointing enrollment outcomes are partially attributable to a more difficult recruiting environment for U.S. universities generally, but in other cases they cannot be so easily explained away. A handful of corporate pathway partnerships have ended.

Meanwhile, pathway providers are eager to diversify their sources of revenue and are in many cases expanding into recruitment for direct admission into regular university programs.

In this multipart series of articles, Inside Higher Ed also explores the disruptive impact of the third-party pathway program phenomenon on the broader international student recruitment landscape. As the number of programs has grown and competition between the corporate pathway providers has increased, some professionals in the international education field have raised questions about the companies' recruitment practices and the commissions and bonuses they pay to overseas recruiting agents.

Mixed Results

The pathway programs, which are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, typically consist of a mix of intensive English-language course work and credit-bearing first-year academic classes, supplemented by tutoring and other academic supports. They offer a full first-year academic program and an alternative “pathway” to entry for students whose standardized English test scores fall below the minimum thresholds required for direct admission to the university. In many cases students can also gain admission into pathway programs with lower grade point averages than they would need to obtain direct admission. The idea behind the lower bar to entry is that students have a year to prove themselves in a program that offers additional linguistic and academic support.

Although the programs vary in quite significant ways -- for much more on that, see this sidebar -- what unites the types of third-party or corporate pathway partnerships discussed in this series of articles is that they go beyond recruiting relationships to encompass the first-year undergraduate or graduate experience: the pathway company not only recruits for the first-year program but also helps to manage it. Students who successfully complete the pathway matriculate into the general student population for year two of their programs, generally with a year of academic credit already completed.

“All I keep saying is, ‘You guys contracted with us to recruit students, and so you need to be recruiting students.’ ”
--Matt Lee, Louisiana State University

Some U.S. universities -- including, but not only, some that were the earliest adopters of the corporate pathway model -- have grown their international enrollments dramatically with the help of their corporate partners.

Take the University of South Florida, which started a pathway program with INTO University Partnerships in 2010 and was the British company’s second university partner in the U.S. INTO's typical model is to enter into long-term contracts with universities to establish jointly managed joint-venture corporations to oversee pathway and intensive English programs for international students.

The INTO USF programs haven't been spared by the forces that are contributing to international enrollment declines at many other U.S. institutions, including reductions in the size of the Saudi government's scholarship program and reports of more frequent visa denials for intensive English or pathway students coming from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Glen Besterfield, dean of admissions and associate vice president for student success and student affairs at USF, said that new student enrollments in the INTO USF center fell by about 27 percent from fall 2016 to fall 2017, driven almost entirely by declines in numbers of students from Saudi Arabia and South Asia.

Still, USF officially reported enrolling almost 5,000 international students last fall, 3.7 times the number it had eight years before. Slightly more than half (51 percent) of USF’s international students came through direct recruitment channels and the other 49 percent have come one way or another through INTO, Besterfield said.

“We could not have had the same level of success in recruiting international students [on our own], just because of the breadth of their recruitment network.”
--Susan Poser, University of Illinois at Chicago

“Without INTO we would have doubled internationals on this campus,” said Besterfield, who previously served as director of the INTO USF Center. “We would have focused our resources more, maybe we would have tripled, but would we have quadrupled our international enrollment on our campus without INTO? There is no way. At the end of the day for us, it’s been a tremendous effect.”

Still, Besterfield said there's no question the landscape for pathway programs has gotten more competitive. “All of the providers and all the universities are working with the same educational counselors” overseas, he said. “At the end of the day, USF will always survive. Our proposition here is unbelievable, whether it be our ranking, location, our price point. We are surviving through this. I can’t tell you how others are getting by.”

Oregon State University, INTO’s first partner in the U.S., increased its international student population as a proportion of total enrollment from 4.9 percent in fall 2008, when the partnership started, to 11.5 percent in fall 2017. According to published enrollment figures, the university enrolled 898 students across the various INTO Oregon State intensive English and pathway programs in fall 2017, down from a peak of 1,496 in 2014. Most of the drop was in intensive English enrollments, where numbers are falling nationwide, in large part due to the drop in Saudi students.

In just the undergraduate and graduate pathway programs, Oregon State enrolled 595 students last fall, down from a peak of 650 in 2012.

INTO Oregon State University Program Enrollments

  Fall 2012 Fall 2013 Fall 2014 Fall 2015 Fall 2016 Fall 2017 Academic English 355 536 712 641 407 288 General English 76 71 81 86 35 0 Graduate Pathways 314 270 280 202 168 225 OSU Conditional Admission Program 64 141 51 16 8 6 Study Abroad -- -- 6 6 10 9 Undergraduate Pathways 336 276 366 309 395 370 Total 1,145 1,294 1,496 1,260 1,023 898

Edward Feser, Oregon State's provost, said the university wants to increase the proportion of its enrollment that's international to 15 percent. “Time will tell whether our numbers continue to hold and hopefully rise, and we’re always thinking about to what extent is the relationship mutually beneficial. I think INTO is always thinking about that as well,” Feser said. “But thus far there would be no reason for us to say the numbers have softened, therefore this partnership isn't working. I think those numbers would have softened had we not had the partnership.”

Colorado State University, INTO’s third partner in the U.S. after Oregon State and USF, has had comparatively less success recruiting students to its pathway programs. Jim Cooney, Colorado State’s vice provost for international affairs, said this spring that the pathway programs enrolled about 170 students, and that students in the pathway program or those who have matriculated out of it account for slightly more than 20 percent of the university's total international enrollment.

Cooney said enrollment in the program has been lower than what INTO projected five years ago. “I’m quick to acknowledge there’s a lot more competition,” said Cooney. “I think what I would say is their network of agents, which is what they’ve touted years ago as being so strong, that hasn’t been as strong as we thought it would be.”

“What we really give them credit for in this much more competitive market, it’s not their network that’s generating students, it's their commitment to technology. They do a better job than we can as a university in canvassing students, following up with students,” Cooney said.

Over all, Cooney remains positive about the partnership. “We’ve appreciated their willingness to have open conversations with us and rethink some aspects of the partnership, and it’s going in a good direction,” he said.

At the same time, Cooney said, “We’re not particularly happy with the fact that they keep adding partners.” (INTO added its 11th U.S. partner, Illinois State University, this spring.) “It’s not hard to figure out why they do that, because they get these fees from the universities. They’re constantly increasing the bottom line even if they’re not increasing the number of students.”

It appears that INTO CSU, a joint venture between the company and Colorado State's foundation, is losing money. Draft minutes of a December 2017 joint-venture board meeting, obtained by Inside Higher Ed, say that the joint venture ended fiscal year 2017 with a $1.2 million loss on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, and projected a continuing $830,000 loss in fiscal year 2018.

At the end of fiscal year 2017, according to that draft, the joint venture -- which pays the university for things like academic costs and facilities use, and which pays INTO for things like administrative and marketing costs -- owed about $2.8 million to each partner. The documents suggest that both parties are making financial concessions to help make the partnership work, including reduced rent on CSU’s part and reduced fees on INTO’s.

Colorado State declined an open-records request for two years of meeting minutes for the joint-venture board, which is made up of INTO and university or foundation officials, citing an exemption to the state open-records law relating to confidential information or trade secrets. A spokesman for the university, Mike Hooker, said the university’s foundation is owed $1.225 million under the terms of a promissory note it made to the INTO CSU joint venture as an initial investment. As for any amount beyond this, this, Hooker said, “the university provides services and facilities to INTO CSU, LLC, which results in trade debt and receivables in the normal course of business.”

INTO officials declined to comment on the documents. John Latham, INTO's CEO, said that a standalone loss shouldn't be seen as indicative of what INTO is doing for its partner universities. “There’s a much bigger and much more significant story about the tens of millions that are being generated once the students go on to complete the program," he said.

At INTO CSU, one can also see how the desire to compete with other pathway programs and build enrollment can put pressure on academic standards. Internal documents seen by Inside Higher Ed include a chart detailing "already launched and newly recommended proposition and marketing/recruitment initiatives" expected to support enrollment growth in INTO CSU programs. The "key initiatives" listed include various items related to lowering academic standards for admission into or progression out of the pathway programs; these are listed alongside various other proposals for things like the introduction of new programs or pricing structures and a marketing relaunch.

It's not clear how many of the listed items have been or will be implemented, but at least one of the listed items -- lowering the entry GPA for undergraduate pathway programs to 2.3 -- was put in place for this fall's entering class (an archived version of INTO CSU's website from July 2017 indicates a required GPA of 2.5 for admission into the various undergraduate pathway programs, whereas the current brochure stipulates a 2.3 GPA entry requirement for undergraduate pathway programs).

"INTO CSU sets admissions and progression standards based on our belief that we can offer students the opportunity for access to a CSU education because we have proven success in helping students succeed," Hooker, the CSU spokesman, said in a statement. "This is evidenced by our two-year average progression rate of more than 87 percent, and a persistence rate of 98 percent among graduate pathway students and 89 percent among students in the undergraduate pathway programs. While changes to standards are carefully considered primarily from a student success standpoint, they also more evenly align us with the standards of other programs, which helps INTO CSU attract students in a competitive environment."

"For students entering the undergraduate pathways programs this fall the GPA requirement moves from 2.5 to 2.3, and a new standard has been added for business, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and sciences, requiring no lower than a C average in all math courses. We are constantly evaluating possible changes to improve student success while also staying competitive with other programs. While we are considering other changes as well, those conversations are ongoing with student success our top priority as we also position INTO CSU to continue being a top option for international students seeking a pathway program."

‘Competing Against Our Own Selves’

Colorado State is not the only university where enrollment in third-party pathway programs has fallen short of expectations. A version of a contract between Louisiana State University and the Boston-based company Shorelight, posted on the Louisiana Legislature’s website, sets an enrollment goal of 850 students in a LSU pathway program by year five. This spring, three years after the program started in 2015, there were just 136 students enrolled, according to Matt Lee, LSU’s vice provost for academic programs and support services.

In fairness, recruitment was interrupted when LSU had to suspend new enrollments in the pathway program for a semester after the Department of Homeland Security issued what's known as a "request for evidence." New admissions were suspended in fall 2016 pending an update to LSU's I-17 -- a federal document that lists the programs for which universities are approved to enroll international students -- and LSU resumed admitting new students into the program in spring 2017.

But Lee is still concerned that Shorelight isn’t delivering more students, particularly in light of the fact that LSU has a strong brand.

“All I keep saying is, ‘You guys contracted with us to recruit students, and so you need to be recruiting students,’” said Lee, who assumed his current position at LSU after the contract was signed.

He went on to muse, “If you think closely about it, I’m not sure about the logic of the whole model. What they do is recruit students who don’t quite meet the admission criteria and then they kind of shine ’em up and move them on. I was wondering who thought it was a good idea that we focus recruitment efforts on a group of people who don’t meet the admission criteria to begin with. I’m all about accessibility, but here we have to balance accessibility with academic rigor and quality. We are not an open-enrollment institution.”

Shorelight has grown quickly, acquiring 16 American university partners since the company was founded in 2013 (though not all of those partnerships are for pathway programs). The University of Kansas was one of the company's first two partners in the U.S.

Speaking in February, Charles Bankart, the associate vice provost for international programs at Kansas, said that in some ways the four-year-old pathway program it has developed with Shorelight has been successful: students are doing well academically. But Kansas expected many more students. The number of new students coming into the pathway program fell to 83 last fall, down from 120 the year prior. Bankart said Kansas had about 2,200 international students on campus this past year over all, about 620 of whom have come through the Shorelight pathway program.

That 2,200 figure is about the same number of total international students Kansas reported having in 2014, when it launched the program. The university said in a news release at the time that it expected the Shorelight program "to expand over the coming years possibly doubling the number of international students on campus."

“In terms of academic outcomes, I think it is definitely meeting institutional goals. I feel good about the academic quality of the program, I feel good about the ways that we have had to adapt to this and to some of the process and policy improvements that we’ve had to engage in to make this work,” Bankart said.

“I would say, however, that we’d like growth. The whole idea behind this was to have quality programs with more students, so when you go from 120 to 83 in one cycle … Granted, we know that it’s a rough world out there, but we still do direct admissions as well and we haven’t had that kind of a hit on direct admissions.”

Bankart in February expressed concern that KU's enrollment was dropping at a time when Shorelight was growing in terms of its number of partners (he subsequently clarified that he has no way of knowing how Kansas is doing compared to other institutions that partner with Shorelight, and that he doesn't see enrollment figures from the other institutions). The peak intake for new students in the Shorelight program was 176 in fall 2015.

“One of the challenges I think -- and this would be different, I think, depending on which partnership programs you’re looking at -- but I have seen an exponential impact and an inverse impact on the number of partners that Shorelight has and our student numbers," Bankart said. "In other words, Shorelight has a recruitment network that’s engaged with agents in different regional recruitment offices: that’s more of a fixed population than one would think. As they grow and their partner options become more diverse -- geographically, academically, in terms of admission standards, in terms of whatever terms are negotiated in the contract -- we are, I think, competing against our own selves in terms of that portfolio of partners that Shorelight has."

That said, Bankart reported this month that new enrollment is looking to be about 120 to 150 students for the coming fall, and the most diverse intake to date, so things are looking up. "The fall projections and apps we are receiving would indicate KU is doing well for itself," Bankart said via email. "I hope others are doing similarly well!"

At the University of Illinois at Chicago, another Shorelight partner, Susan Poser, the provost, reported that the university had 357 students active in undergraduate pathway programs in the spring -- a number she's quite pleased with. UIC partnered with Shorelight in 2016 and admitted its first pathway students in January 2017.

“We could not have had the same level of success in recruiting international students [on our own] just because of the breadth of their recruitment network,” Poser said of the partnership with Shorelight. “It allows us to continue our main mission, or you might say our founding mission, which is recruitment in Chicago and Illinois and the U.S., sort of in that order -- to continue to put our resources there while also being able to diversify in this way.”

“We’ve had 5,000 students go through our programs,” said Tom Dretler, Shorelight’s CEO. “Of the 5,000 students, 90 percent have persisted successfully from the first to the second year, we have 96 percent term-to-term retention rates, and 92 percent of our students are satisfied with our services.”

“Our philosophy is we send students to the schools that they want to go to. We’re not recruiters, even though we do handle that part of things, but we would never point a student to a university because of something in a contract.”

“Some schools, like an Auburn or a UIC, have seen extraordinary, like transformational, international student growth, and for schools that haven’t seen it, there’s ways to address it. Our philosophy is a student-focused philosophy. The university is our partner; the student is our customer. Everything that we do is about serving them.”

Emmett Winn, an associate provost at Auburn University -- one of the two institutions Dretler specifically cited as having seen "transformational international student growth" -- declined to answer specific questions about its Shorelight program and instead issued generic statements, saying Auburn "strongly support[s]" its partner, Shorelight, and that the partnership contributes to its goals of building "a diverse student population." However, Shorelight reported that there were 703 undergraduate and 85 graduate students enrolled in Auburn’s pathway programs this spring.

Enrollment Declines

Third-party pathway programs are certainly not immune to the macrotrends that are contributing to declines in new international enrollments at many institutions nationally. Some of the factors that are contributing to these declines include issues surrounding the affordability of U.S. higher education and the continued strength of the dollar, concerns on the part of prospective students about potential changes to visa policies and whether they will be safe and welcome in the U.S., and increasing competition from other countries, including Canada, whose universities posted a 10.7 percent gain in international student enrollment from fall 2016 to fall 2017.

Navitas, a publicly traded Australian company that partners with eight U.S. colleges and universities to recruit for and deliver pathway programs, reported in April that while its university enrollments grew by 2 percent for North America, that was due to strong growth at its Canadian partner universities offsetting the "continued fall in enrollments in the U.S."

"Higher visa rejection rates and ongoing uncertainty caused by the current U.S. administration's approach to immigration continue to reduce international student volumes into many universities," the company reported.

Over all, the company reported 6 percent enrollment growth worldwide in its university partnership division. Gretchen Bataille, a senior academic adviser at Navitas, said that some of the company's U.S. partners are "disappointed to be sure, and frustrated. They see Navitas is recruiting a lot of international students, but they're not coming to the U.S."

Many of the existing pathway agreements were signed back when new international student enrollments were still growing nationally. When Florida Atlantic University signed an agreement with Navitas in January 2015, a news release quoted FAU's provost saying that Navitas’s “experience in international education will form a key part of our goal of growing out international student numbers to 10 per cent of the student population.” At that point, FAU reported having about 600 international students; 10 percent of its approximately 30,000 student population would be a fivefold increase.

FAU said that it enrolled just 80 students in its Navitas programs this spring: 57 at the undergraduate level, 20 graduate students and three ESL students. Russ Ivy, the senior associate provost, said recruitment declined after the political climate changed.

"Our first class came in spring of '15. That was our first class that they admitted for us. We had set numerical goals for every year of where we wanted to be, and actually, until the political climate started to change, we were actually ahead of that, but things have definitely dwindled a lot -- as I assume they have for others as well. We still have faith in Navitas, though, because we recently signed an agreement to do direct admits as well," Ivy said.

“It’s not so much that the applicants have gone down; in a lot of markets it seems like our visa rejection rate has gotten higher, so it’s harder to get students here,” Ivy continued. “When we first started a lot of our markets, the students that were coming here were from Central Asia. Pakistan was a big market for us at the beginning and their visa rejection rate has gotten higher. India -- the visa rejection rate’s a little higher than it used to be.

“Where we were getting the traditional Navitas student base from is where visa rates were becoming more problematic. We were relying, really, on a small number of markets, and it’s better to broaden that perspective, which Navitas has been working on. They’re expanding their presence into Latin America. We think that’s going to be big for us. We already get a lot of Latin American students without much effort, so we’re thinking once there is a concerted effort, that’s going to take off for us.”

At the University of New Hampshire, which joined up with Navitas in 2010, the number of students in the Navitas program has dropped from an all-time high of around 400 in 2015 to 188 this past year. It’s a big drop even in the context of declines in international students reported by many institutions. The original goal for the program -- which was not met -- was to enroll 500 students by 2015.

Unlike the FAU program, which heavily drew students from South Asia, UNH's program predominantly enrolls students from China. P. T. Vasudevan, the senior vice provost for academic affairs at New Hampshire, said that Chinese students account for about 80 percent of the Navitas enrollments.

“On the one hand, we want to see more numbers but not more numbers at the expense of quality,” said Vasudevan. “If you look at the other universities [Navitas partners with], UNH stands way above in terms of ranking compared to, let’s say, the University of Idaho or [the University of Massachusetts at] Dartmouth … One of the things we told Navitas is that we certainly want to have students of very high caliber.”

As enrollments in the Navitas program dropped, the university opted not to renew the contracts of some ESL lecturers -- six, by the union’s count -- and laid off the director of the ESL Institute, which services the Navitas program. The former director, Katherine Earley, said that some of the enrollment drops may be attributable to a shift toward recruiting students with higher levels of English proficiency.

“In my opinion what was going on in the beginning [with] Navitas, the caliber of students they brought in, many of them were not college ready,” Earley said. “I think by the time I left the university, the majority of students were at the upper level of [English] proficiency, whereas when I began the majority of students were at the lower levels of proficiency. If you want the best students, you’re not going to have as many students.”

A 2015 self-study report about the Navitas pathway programs at UNH found that 43 percent of the 291 students who had successfully completed it to date had to repeat at least one ESL level. Of those who were required to repeat, 44 percent were required to repeat two or more semesters of ESL course work.

The report noted that there were large numbers of withdrawals due to the duration of ESL studies, particularly among students who were in what was then branded as International University Transfer Program English, a pathway option for students with lower English test scores that took an estimated four to six semesters to complete (students started with a one- to three-semester IUTP English pathway and then upon completion moved into a three-semester IUTP Academic pathway before they matriculated into year two at UNH). 

Vasudevan, the senior vice provost, said New Hampshire’s English Language Institute is well equipped to bring students at any English level up to proficiency -- that’s what they do. But he said it is a matter of communicating to students how long they can expect to spend in the program depending on the level of English they start with.

“Clearly if students come with a lower level of preparation in English language, it’s going to take them that much longer, but what is important is to ensure that we inform parents and students that if you have this score, you’re going to be in this program for this length of time,” Vasudevan said. “That is what we’re trying to address here. At the same time, we also told Navitas that, yes, even though we’re able to do this and train any student at any level of English language, we would prefer to see students with an [International English Language Testing System] score of 5.5 or higher.”

All told, Vasudevan said, 1,065 students, including the 188 enrolled as of this spring, have come to UNH through the various Navitas programs at various levels of English proficiency since the partnership's inception in 2010. As of data that were current for this past spring semester, a total of 603 students had both completed the academic pathway program and continued on at UNH as sophomores. 

"We find their average grade point average is about a 3.2 to 3.3," Vasudevan said (Navitas put the exact average figure at 3.24). "These students have done very well. Students work incredibly hard; they receive a lot of awards. Many of them have gone on to grad school. Once they matriculate into UNH, it has not been much of a challenge. The biggest challenge for some of them is navigating and getting better at communication skills, both written and oral."

Recalibrating Expectations

As colleges have experimented with the pathway model, and as competition has increased, some institutions have recalibrated their expectations for enrollments.

Marshall University, an INTO partner, has about 200 students enrolled in INTO programs this spring, down from about 350 in 2015-16. The director of the INTO Marshall center, Stephanie Hurley Collier, attributed much of the drop to a shift in visa issuances for pathway students in India and Pakistan, from where INTO Marshall draws many of its students. With the drop in students from India and Pakistan, Collier said the program is shifting toward being Chinese-student dominant, with the fastest growth coming from Anglophone Africa, specifically Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.

Marshall's program began in 2013. “When the contract was first signed with INTO University Partnerships and Marshall University, we were really at the innovation end of these joint venture activities. I can’t remember the exact number, but we were one of few in the U.S. who were doing that at that point. Now there’s been an explosion of pathway programs so students have a really high level of choice at some high-ranking institutions. I do think that the market has changed considerably for us. I do attribute one issue with us not reaching our original target to be associated with the change in market. I would couple that with the desirability of the U.S. as an international student destination being a challenge right now,” Collier said.

At the same time, Collier said, the share of Marshall's student body that is international increased from 1.7 percent in 2012-13 to 5 percent in 2016-17. "What I would say is even with the decline in this last year, Marshall’s international percentages are still higher than they were independently, so I think the value added from the INTO network is quite profound," she said.

At Drew University, which started a pathway program with INTO in 2014, the original plan, as reported in the local press and in Drew's own communications, was to build up to enroll 500 students. The New Jersey university, which with a total undergraduate enrollment of about 1,500 is INTO’s smallest partner university by far, enrolled about 150 students in its academic English and pathway programs this spring.

Drew officials say the model for the center changed somewhat: INTO Drew was originally conceived as a starting point from which students would transfer to other New York-area universities -- it originally was branded as INTO New York at Drew University -- whereas it has shifted now to focusing more on retaining the students it recruits.

“I’m happy with where they are,” said Robert Massa, Drew's senior vice president for enrollment and institutional planning. “I don’t think we’ll ever get over 200, but if we can roughly have 10 percent of the overall enrollment at Drew be through INTO, I would be thrilled with that, and that’s where we are about now, so it’s good. Even though it’s producing less than my predecessors were told four or five years ago, I’m still very happy with the joint venture.”

At the same time, Massa said of the pathway model, “it's not a panacea … First of all, it’s expensive. We have a whole support system that’s set up for these students to ensure that they're succeeding.”

"And it’s labor-intensive. The recruiting is individual, so there are lot of resources that go into it. I would venture to say if you had a per-student cost of enrollment for traditional direct admit versus students coming in through these types of pathway programs, I don’t think there’s any question that the cost would be significantly higher on the pathway side. I don’t have any data to back up that.”

“The costs are high, but I think they’re justified. I think they’re justified because these students bring a tremendous wealth of experience and diversity; they’re very determined to succeed. Some of them are among our best students.”

A New Partnership

While some of the partnerships have fallen short of enrollment targets, that isn't stopping other institutions from seeing potential in the model.

One new entrant to third-party pathway partnerships, Western Washington University, is hoping its new partnership with Study Group will help turn things around when it comes to its long-standing struggles with international student recruitment.

Western Washington's provost, Brent Carbajal, said the relationship with Study Group is the outgrowth of what he described as “a fairly long story of our frustration.”

“I would say easily through the last 10 years, through two or three presidents, the campus has articulated a campus priority of internationalization,” Carbajal said. “A variety of approaches had been taken here that were very unsuccessful in attracting international students, to the extent that even now we sit at 1 percent international enrollment at the university, which, given our geographic location [in the Seattle area] and values, is really unacceptable.”

“Succinctly put, our commitment to international has been long-standing and expressed in many different ways, and we felt like this partnership was going to be a way that we could reach those international enrollment goals. Understandably, as a state institution, we didn’t have the financial capacity to be doing our own recruitment.”

The Western Washington contract with Study Group has been controversial.

“This was done without anybody’s knowledge: the Faculty Senate was apprised of this a week after the administration had signed a 10-year contract with Study Group,” said Allison Giffen, the senate president and a professor of English. “That soured things enormously. Those in the administration involved, they gave us the reasons for why they didn’t tell us, none of which were very persuasive. I can only speculate that democracy’s messy and they didn’t want to be slowed down by the kind of careful work that is now quite needed.”

While there is some disputing of some of the details -- Carbajal said he discussed the contract prior to its signing in a meeting with faculty leadership over the summer, while Giffen says that's not the case -- Western Washington’s senior administration does not dispute the overall point that it failed to adequately involve faculty in the discussions about the Study Group contract. 

Western Washington’s president, Sabah Randhawa, sent an open letter in which he said he made assumptions about the degree to which faculty had vetted the topic during previous conversations with another company -- which fell through -- and apologized for “not engaging our faculty colleagues more directly in conversations about the partnership with the Study Group.”

"The way this all kind of developed, faculty were involved with conversations with another company that we had to campus, but negotiations with that company very quickly deteriorated when the political situation in the country changed," Carbajal said. "Then in order to really move forward, in order to sign a contract with a provider, a lot of that conversation unfortunately ended up taking place over the summer and very quickly, given that this is kind of a partnership that needed to be implemented understanding that there are other schools that wanted to be in partnerships as well."

Faculty have had lots of questions. In a January Faculty Senate meeting, Western Washington professors posed questions to a Study Group representative about things like control over admissions decisions, the role of agents in recruiting students and the kind of training that Study Group provides to those agents, and whether changes could be made to the admission standards outlined in the contract, according to meeting minutes.

The contract, which was obtained by the Faculty Senate, stipulates that the university will pay Study Group a flat $5,000 fee, split over the first three quarters of a student's time at Western, for students it recruits for direct admission into Western programs. A $5,000 fee represents almost a quarter of Western's 2017-18 out-of-state undergraduate tuition rate of $20,760: for context, many consider a commission rate equal to 10-15 percent of first-year tuition to be fairly standard across the international student recruitment industry.

For students Study Group recruits into the new Western pathway programs, the company is entitled to a share of tuition revenue both for the pathway year and after students matriculate as regular degree-seeking students into Western according to the following schedule:

Percentage of Tuition Paid to Study Group

  Pathway Year Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Undergraduate Pathway 57% 25% 10% 0%   Quarter 1 Quarter 2 Quarter 3 Quarter 4 Graduate Pathway 45% 33% 15% 0%

Giffen, the Faculty Senate president, said there’s no question Western Washington needs to internationalize. But she said it’s not just about head counts of international students. And she’s uncomfortable with public universities entering into these kinds of tuition-sharing agreements with private corporations.

“I don’t really frankly understand why we need them, especially the on-campus part,” she said. “The administration says we don’t have the resources or skills that we need to do the recruiting they do around the world. I’m not persuaded of that myself personally, but rather than give them all the money, why don’t we take the money and build our own [intensive English program] up and do it ourselves?

“And the issue that’s emerged repeatedly in Faculty Senate is a concern, kind of an ethical concern, about what we’re doing for our Washington State students for whom English is not a first language,” Giffen continued. “Those students would benefit dramatically from things like the kinds of support systems that pathways are offering.”

“The students who get that stuff are the students who are paying enormous sums of money. What are we doing for our own state students, who we have a mission to serve?”

GlobalForeign StudentsEditorial Tags: International higher educationForeign Students in U.S.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: The Pathways MarketTrending order: 2

Overview of the third-party pathway program landscape

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 00:00

“Third-party pathways” are a shorthand descriptor for a diverse range of programs and contractual arrangements, and the models differ in significant ways from institution to institution and corporate provider to corporate provider.

Academically speaking, some pathway programs use “sheltered” instruction, in which pathway students are taught credit-bearing undergraduate or graduate classes separately from other students, while others integrate students into the general population for their classes. Some use a mix of both models. At some institutions faculty members teaching in the pathway programs are university employees; at others, they are hired by the corporate provider in coordination with the university.

Financially speaking, the terms of the agreements also vary in terms of the types of risks universities bear and the share of the revenues they stand to reap. They differ in terms of the scale and ambition of the enrollment targets. The duration of contracts varies from three years on the low end to 30 years on the high end.

Third-Party Pathways: a Series

Elsewhere today:

Coming tomorrow:

  • The Pathway Impact on Commissions and Incentives
  • Parting Ways: Programs That Have Ended

Finally, the types of institutions that offer pathway programs differ substantially, ranging from state flagships and public land-grant universities that are looking for sizable boosts in their international student numbers to tiny, tuition-dependent private colleges that in at least a couple cases rely on pathway providers for substantial percentages of their total undergraduate student enrollment.

Many of the larger pathway providers look to partner with institutions that tend to be ranked somewhere in the 100-200 range in the U.S. News national ranking of colleges and universities: from the pathway provider's perspective, the higher the university's ranking, the better, but from the university's perspective, the most highly ranked institutions can recruit on their own and don't necessarily need or want third-party pathway partners.

A number of corporate players operate in the space, some of which are backed by private equity or venture capital cash. Many of the big players are internationally based and operate across multiple countries, including Australia and Britain, where the market for pathway programs -- or, in their higher educational contexts, "foundation-year" programs -- is more mature.

The biggest corporate players in the U.S., in terms of the number of universities they contract with, are Shorelight, a Boston-based private company founded in 2013, and INTO University Partners, a British company whose model is to form long-term joint venture corporations with universities to operate intensive English and pathway programs.

With a few notable exceptions, both Shorelight and INTO tend to contract with large institutions, and their partnerships tend to be larger scale. Shorelight counts among its partner institutions several state flagship institutions as well as some regional publics and a relatively elite private university in Washington, D.C: its partners include American and Auburn Universities and the Universities of Central Florida, Dayton, Kansas, South Carolina and Utah. Beyond pathway programs, Shorelight also contracts with universities on other international initiatives, as in the case of a partnership with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in which it helps the university offer live instruction from a studio in Amherst to students in China.

INTO’s partners include many large land-grant institutions, some regional publics and a few private institutions. Among its partners are Colorado State, George Mason, Illinois State, Marshall, Oregon State and Washington State Universities; private institutions it partners with include Saint Louis and Suffolk Universities. While most other pathway providers enter into contracts that are five to 15 years in length, INTO's contracts are as long as 30 years in length.

Study Group, which reportedly is up for sale by its owner, Providence Equity Partners, is comparatively a smaller player in the U.S. but has been especially busy signing new partners over the last year or so, agreeing to recruit for and help develop pathway programs at an eclectic group of institutions: Baylor University, a large Christian institution that's ranked No. 75 in the U.S. News ranking of national universities; Lipscomb University, a private Christian institution in Nashville, Tenn.; Lynn and Oglethorpe Universities, liberal arts institutions in Florida and Georgia, respectively; Texas A&M University Corpus Christi; and Western Washington University. Study Group also recently signed an agreement to do direct recruitment for West Virginia University, it second flagship university partner after the University of Vermont.

"Our strategy very simply put is to have a seat for every student who is either looking to go through a pathway program on a U.S. campus or looking for the best U.S. higher education experience they can have," said David Leigh, Study Group's CEO. "The way we do that, bluntly, is we look for as much diversity in our portfolio as possible … I wouldn’t expect that a student who is looking at Baylor is also looking at Lynn."

Navitas, a large, publicly traded Australian company, has contracts with eight colleges or universities in the U.S., including Florida Atlantic University, three campuses of the University of Massachusetts system (Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell), the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Idaho. Its newest partner is Virginia Commonwealth University, a public institution in Richmond. Navitas will recruit students both for a new VCU pathway program and for direct entry into the university.

The giant education company Kaplan has an international colleges division that currently has pathway relationships with three U.S. universities, the longest-standing of which is Northeastern University. Northeastern is something of an anomaly among universities with pathway programs: it's ranked No. 40 in the U.S. News national ranking, higher than most institutions with such programs, and in fall 2017 enrolled more than 13,000 international students, making it the fourth-leading destination institution for international students in the U.S. At this point it seems to have less need for a pathway provider's help.

In response to an interview request, Northeastern issued a statement in which it suggested its partnership with Kaplan is limited in scope. “Northeastern University’s robust in-house infrastructure supports global experiential learning programs and an international student population representing 150 countries,” a spokeswoman said. “Our partnership with Kaplan is restricted to ancillary marketing activities focused on a couple of global regions.” (Kaplan declined an interview request.)

Smaller Entrants

Two British companies, Kings Education and Cambridge Education Group, are also players in the pathway space.

Kings primarily partners with small private colleges, including Concordia College New York and Pine Manor College, in Massachusetts, and Marymount California University. Kings Education has a different model from other pathway providers: while most are recruiting students to a first-year program with the expectation that those students will complete their degree at the institution where they start, Kings uses a 1+3 or 2+2 model that has the expectation of transfer to another institution built in (for more on Kings, see this sidebar).

Another pathway company, Cambridge Education Group, started in the U.S. with a university transfer program similar to the Kings model, in which students came to Boston for a year at Wheelock College before transferring to another institution. That program has ended in light of Wheelock’s merger with Boston University. Andrea Grassby, Cambridge’s marketing director, said the company is looking for a new university partner in Boston.

More recently Cambridge has established pathway programs with several public universities, including California State University Monterey Bay, and the University of North Texas, the latter a 38,000-student institution. The programs are modest in size: both Cal State Monterey Bay and UNT reported enrolling between 40 and 45 students in their programs over the past academic year. Grassby said the Wheelock program had close to 100 students.

“In most cases we rent space from the university to deliver that program, our students go into university and college housing so they will pay housing fees and dining fees, so there is some income to the university for those students,” Grassby said. “That model can be attractive to some universities because there’s less risk.”

Finally, over the past year, two companies that specialize in intensive English programs -- ELS Educational Services and EC -- have sought to establish footholds in the academic pathway market. ELS announced a new graduate pathway program with California Lutheran University and an undergraduate pathway at the University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota, and EC Higher Education is starting pathway programs with DePaul University and the University of Hartford.

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A pathway model that differs from the rest

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 00:00

One of the more unusual providers in the pathway space is Kings Education.

Kings Education primarily contracts with small private colleges, though it recently signed its first partnership agreement with a public institution, a two-year community college in the University of Wisconsin System, which Kings is promoting as a pathway into the University of Wisconsin at Madison by virtue of the community college's guaranteed transfer agreement. Kings' other partners in the U.S. are Concordia College New York, Pine Manor College and Marymount California and Rider Universities.

Kings Education has a different model than other pathway providers: Kings recruits students to its partner university on the premise that they will stay one to two years and transfer to another institution. Unlike in the case of other pathway programs, students in the Kings pathway programs do not take a mix of intensive English and academic course work in their first year but instead enroll in a regular course of study.

Third-Party Pathways: a Series

Elsewhere today:

Coming tomorrow:

  • The Pathway Impact on Commissions and Incentives
  • Parting Ways: Programs That Have Ended

“The reason that we call it pathway and the service we provide is we recognize that sometimes students don’t have the credentials to get into a top 100 university, but every market that we visit is incredibly ranking oriented,” said Jose Flores, a co-founder of the company and managing director of its North American operations. Kings' model, he said, is for those students to start at a small, less selective college where Kings has advising staff, then transfer to a higher-ranked institution.

At some of Kings' partners, the students the company recruits make up a substantial proportion of their enrollment.

At Pine Manor College, near Boston, Diane Mello-Goldner, the dean of the college and chief academic officer, said the 166 Kings pathway students made up about 39 percent of the 422 undergraduate students on campus last fall. The Kings-recruited students are predominantly men and have helped, Mello-Goldner said, with the college's transition from a women-only to a coeducational education.

"The Kings pathway students were the first male students we had in our classes," she said. Mello-Goldner said the largest percentage of Kings-recruited students at Pine Manor -- she estimated about 75 percent -- come from China.

At Concordia New York, a Christian liberal arts institution, Jim Burkee, the college's executive vice president, estimated that about 25 percent of next year's incoming freshman class -- about 70 to 80 out of a total of 280 to 300 students -- will be recruited by Kings. Burkee is a proponent of the Kings partnership, which he says extends Concordia’s reach.

“A lot of schools our size, their international recruiting strategy tends to be driven by something like this: our vice president is married to someone who's Korean, and he visited Korea and he’s got a couple of friends over there. Or somebody who was employed here six years ago knew someone in China, so that’s why we have an agent in China,” Burkee said. “A school of this size doesn’t have the resources in what continues to be an increasingly competitive recruiting market to be effective in recruiting from abroad.”

“What we’ve found is Kings is bringing in for us students who are a good cultural fit for the institution; they perform on average better academically than our average student,” Burkee said. “And they’re coming in at an overall lower discount rate than our traditional students. What we’re netting in terms of net tuition revenue is higher for a Kings-recruited student than for students in many other of our recruiting channels.”

On the other hand, a visiting accrediting team for another of Kings’ partners, Marymount California University, raised concerns about the financial arrangements between Kings and Marymount and recommended that the agreement either be restructured or discontinued. Marymount California’s tax filings show that the institution paid Kings $1.4 million for student recruitment in 2016 and almost $1.7 million in 2015, when it was the college’s highest-paid independent contractor.

“While international students have been a source of revenue, they are also increasingly a part of the budget problems, in part due to deep discounts negotiated by the contract with Kings College,” a visiting accrediting team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission found during a September 2015 visit (Kings Colleges is a former name for Kings Education).

Elsewhere the WASC team wrote, “MCU is a tuition-driven institution and relies heavily on a mix of local and international students. The institution possesses skills in recruiting and catering to international students. However it needs to develop better processes for engaging in collaborative efforts with international recruitment agencies to make sure they are aligned with its mission and financially viable. MCU must prepare to deal with world events and a possible drop in its international student pipeline due to political, economic, and social changes that may occur globally. The institution may want to better align or discontinue its current international collaboration with Kings College to ensure it supports MCU’s mission and maximizes return on investment.”

An assistant to the president at Marymount California, which recently underwent an abrupt and mysterious presidential transition, declined an interview request. Flores, of Kings, questioned whether the data the accrediting team relied upon was accurate. He said the Kings partnership at Marymount California has generated $24.2 million in tuition, housing and fee revenue since the contract started in 2013.

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Study finds recommendation letters inadvertently signal doubt about female applicants more than they do for men

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 00:00

Some scholars have questioned academe’s reliance on letters of recommendation, saying they’re onerous for the professors writing them or speak more about connections to “big-name” scholars than substance, or both.

A recent study explores another concern about letters of recommendation: whether they’re biased against the women they’re supposed to help. The short answer is yes.

The longer answer -- and the study’s obvious takeaway for recommendation-letter writers and readers -- is that letters about women include more doubt-raising phrases than those about men, and that even one such phrase can make a difference in a job search.

"Doubt raisers,” as the study calls them, come in different forms. But all suggest less than complete confidence in the letter seeker. First, there are “hedges,” as in, “She might be good.” Then there are “negatives,” such as, “She’s not great,” along with “faint praises,” such as, “She’ll do OK.” Last, irrelevant information also raises red flags for a reader.

Both male and female letter writers are guilty of this largely unconscious bias, the new paper says. However unintended, the consequences are real. Faculty members reading the letters included in the study noticed the presence of even one doubt raiser and evaluated subjects of the letters more negatively.

These results build on other research about gendered language in recommendation letters, including a 2016 study that found letter writers use language that portrays female academic job applicants as less dynamic and excellent than their male counterparts.

Shortchanging Women

“People should be aware that they may be shortchanging women by inadvertently using doubt raisers in their letters of recommendations for them,” said Michelle R. Hebl, Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Chair of Psychology at Rice University, a co-author on the new study. “In essence, writers may be more likely to describe women and men as, ‘She has the potential to be good,’ whereas, ‘He is good,’ or, ‘She may not be the best leader but she is competent,’ whereas, ‘He is competent.’”

For their two-part study, Hebl and her colleagues analyzed 624 letters of recommendation for 174 job applicants to eight junior faculty positions in psychology at an unnamed research-intensive university in the South. About half the applicants were male and half were female. Approximately 30 percent of recommenders were female and about 70 percent were male. The applicants’ mean age was 32 and the mean number of letters per job seeker was 3.6.

Research coders who were, by design, “blind” to the writers’ and applicants’ genders and other identifying information, scoured each letter for the four different kinds of doubt raisers and rated them accordingly. To make sure that men didn’t simply inspire more confidence in their letter writers, researchers also controlled for 10 academic performance variables found on applicants’ CVs, such as number of first-authored papers, number of honors, number of years spent as a postdoctoral fellow, positions applied for and their graduate institutions’ national rankings.

An advanced analysis found no difference by gender in these performance variables. But the study's authors were able to predict the content of the letters -- meaning the presence and frequency of doubt raisers -- by gender. Over all, letters for female applicants had an average of 0.69 doubt raisers and those for men had 0.55.

Across genders, 52 percent of the letters had at least one doubt raiser, 10 percent had two or more and 48 percent of the letters had no doubt raisers. But among female applicants, 54 percent of letters had at least one, 13 percent had two or more and 46 percent had none. Among men’s letters, 51 percent had at least one, 7 percent had two or more, and 49 percent had none.

The most common kind of doubt raiser across letters was faint praise (27 percent of the sample had at least one instance), followed by hedging (18 percent of the sample contained one or more), irrelevancy (14 percent) and negativity (12 percent).

For female applicants, 30 percent of letters had faint praise, 20 percent had hedging, 14 percent had negativity and 12 percent had irrelevancy. Among male applicants, 24 percent of letters had faint praise, 16 percent had irrelevancy, 15 percent had hedging and 10 percent had negativity. The authors say the relationship between applicant gender and doubt raisers is significant for all types of phrases except irrelevant information.

For both men and women, most doubt raisers were about research productivity, as opposed to teaching.

Hidden Signals

Next, the study’s authors sought to test whether doubt raisers caused readers of recommendation letters to evaluate applicants more negatively.

Hebl and her team recruited 305 professors from across the U.S. to participate in an online study. The majority were psychologists in terms of field and full professors with regard to rank. Participants were told they’d be reading a redacted recommendation letter. But they didn’t know that embedded in the four-paragraph letter was a doubt raiser such as, “I can say with certainty that 'AA' does not have the skills to be the best researcher you have ever seen, but she/he does have the potential to become successful in developing an independent research program at your institution.” Or, “I have confidence that 'AA' will become better than average at being successful in developing an independent research program at your institution.”

The faculty readers eventually evaluated the hypothetical applicants for research and teaching potential. As the study's authors expected, the letters with doubt raisers were evaluated more negatively with regard to research potential. The effects were the same for both male and female applicants.

“Doubt raisers are a minus for everyone, but letter writers assign that minus more often to women than to men,” the study says. “If search committees ignored letters of recommendation, that asymmetry would not matter. But letters of recommendation are commonly used as selection tools in academia.” And the data “have important implications for women in academia, particularly because women face biases early in the selection process.”

The inclusion of even a single doubt raiser -- particularly negativity or hedging -- "was enough to lead to statistically lower evaluations of the applicant," the study says. That's salient because, again, the first part of the study showed that 14 percent and 20 percent of the letters for female applicants had at least one negativity or hedging doubt raiser, respectively, compared to 10 percent and 15 percent of the letters for the male applicants.

"Although these gender differences, while reliable, are small," the study concludes, they show that "only one statement can make a difference for an applicant."

Hebl said she hoped the study makes letter writers “more aware” of their word choices. They may also do well to “proofread their letters so that they write letters that are just as strong for women as they are for men.”

Hebl's co-authors were Juan M. Madera, an associate professor of management at the University of Houston; Heather Dial, a postdoctoral fellow in communication sciences at the University of Texas at Austin; Randi Martin, Elma Schneider Professor in the department of psychology at Rice; and Virginia Valian, distinguished professor of psychology at Hunter College of the City University of New York. The work appears in the Journal of Business and Psychology.

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