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Mergers haven't been part of Pennsylvania public higher ed's past. Might the future be different?

13 hours 40 min ago

Students at Cheyney University hear a lot of speculation these days.

“We might have to merge, or we might get shut down,” said Sharell Reddin, a junior at the historically black university about 20 miles west of Philadelphia. “We don’t like that idea at all.”

Merging would take away Cheyney’s integrity as the oldest historically black college or university in the country, said Reddin, 21, a business management major and president of the university’s Student Government Association. And she believes the rumors of consolidation are hurting Cheyney’s ability to recruit students for the future. That would be a critical blow to a deeply indebted public university whose enrollment has plunged over the last decade and that has been the center of legal battles, scandals and neglect.

Cheyney faces many issues, but its most immediate would seem to be with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. PASSHE loaned its smallest university $8 million in February to keep its doors open. The loan came on top of five other lines of credit provided over four years, bringing the total amount Cheyney owes the system to $30.5 million.

The state system’s Board of Governors this year also authorized a task force to design a new model for Cheyney. That model, to be built around the university’s Keystone Honors Academy, is supposed to put it on sound financial ground -- a tall task for a university with fewer than 1,000 students, an annual budget of about $30 million and massive debts even beyond what it has borrowed from PASSHE.

Cheyney’s crisis has been developing for years. The university’s supporters point to a history of underfunding from the state and unequal treatment that resulted in Pennsylvania being one of 10 states targeted by the federal government for operating openly discriminatory higher education systems. PASSHE signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in 1999 to provide more funding for the university, but Cheyney's backers say the deal still has not been executed. They argue Pennsylvania owes Cheyney millions as a result.

Meanwhile, Cheyney’s accreditation is in danger over its finances and an unsettled leadership situation -- it has not had a permanent president since 2014. A dozen buildings on campus are not being used, Cheyney has the lowest four-year graduation rate in the state system, and it outsources most of its nonacademic functions. Additionally, it might have to pay back as much as $30 million in financial aid because of past errors.

In many ways, the crisis that has been unfolding at Cheyney is unique within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Yet it is also reflective of -- and a contributor to -- a long series of events that have placed the system itself at a crossroads. The system of 14 state-owned universities was knitted together by law in 1983 and has in recent years become the center of increasing rumors as enrollment dropped, state funding slowed and Rust Belt demographic trends increased downward pressure on the system’s potential for a long-term recovery.

Enrollment across the system has dropped by more than 12 percent since a peak in 2010, plunging from 119,513 to 104,779. It has about 1,000 fewer permanent employees today than the 13,000 it had seven years ago. Officials project a $79 million funding shortfall next year. They’ve asked for additional state money to close some of the gap, but Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives is likely to resist increasing spending, especially at a time when the state is facing a budget deficit of $3 billion through next summer.

University

Fall 2009 Enrollment

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 Bloomsburg 9,512 10,091 10,159 9,950 10,127 9,998 9,777 9,658 California 9,017 9,400 9,483 8,608 8,243 7,978 7,854 7,553 Cheyney 1,488 1,586 1,200 1,284 1,212 1,022 711 746 Clarion 7,346 7,315 6,991 6,520 6,080 5,712 5,368 5,224 East Stroudsburg 7,576 7,387 7,353 6,943 6,778 6,820 6,828 6,830 Edinboro 8,287 8,642 8,262 7,462 7,098 6,837 6,550 6,181 Indiana 14,638 15,126 15,132 15,379 14,728 14,369 13,775 12,853 Kutztown 10,634 10,707 10,283 9,804 9,513 9,218 9,000 8,513 Lock Haven 5,329 5,451 5,366 5,328 5,260 4,917 4,607 4,220 Mansfield 3,569 3,411 3,275 3,131 2,970 2,752 2,376 2,198 Millersville 8,427 8,729 8,725 8,368 8,279 8,047 7,988 7,927 Shippensburg 8,253 8,326 8,183 7,724 7,548 7,355 7,058 6,989 Slippery Rock 8,648 8,852 8,712 8,559 8,347 8,495 8,628 8,881 West Chester 14,211 14,490 15,100 15,411 15,845 16,086 16,606 17,006 System total 116,935 119,513 118,224 114,471 112,028 109,606 107,126 104,779

The situation would seem to be ripe for a massive realignment, perhaps including closures or mergers between institutions. Other states have attempted mergers that have saved money or better aligned their higher education systems with students -- most notably Georgia, which has lapped all other states with a five-round consolidation tear that has combined 14 institutions into seven since 2011 and currently has leaders attempting to fold four more into two institutions.

Behind the scenes, discussions of some sort of realignment within PASSHE have been rumored for years. But the situation is complex, even for the endlessly convoluted world of higher education. Cheyney is a prime example. It has long been whispered about as a takeover candidate by nearby West Chester University, the largest in the state system. Such a move would seem to make sense if you only look at the finances. But it would be highly charged and controversial because of the historical and racial ramifications. Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has said he has no intention of allowing Cheyney to close.

Different barriers exist to eliminating other PASSHE universities that could be on the chopping block. PASSHE’s 14 universities and their handful of branch campuses are unevenly distributed across the state. While their graduation rates vary significantly, their proponents argue they provide critical services to otherwise underserved communities.

Additionally, the Pennsylvania system is heavily unionized, adding a chorus of voices to discussions about any changes. Plus, any major changes to PASSHE’s organizational makeup would need to be approved by the state Legislature. And local control is deeply embedded in Pennsylvania politics, meaning legislators and local interests will dig in to fight for the universities in their own backyards.

To complicate matters further, the system is not the only provider of public higher education in Pennsylvania. It operates separately from the state-related and better-known Pennsylvania State University, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University, which receive some state funding but have more autonomy. Many have criticized Penn State for operating a network of campuses seen as competing with PASSHE institutions, a charge its leaders deny. PASSHE also does not include any of the community colleges operating in the state.


PASSHE campuses are marked by blue flags. Penn State campuses are represented by purple dots, University of Pittsburgh campuses by blue dots, Temple University campuses by red dots and Lincoln University campuses by green dots.

It all adds up to mean easy candidates for closure or mergers are nonexistent within PASSHE -- those in the worst financial situations tend to be in historically or geographically unique spots, making such moves difficult or impossible.

Georgia’s consolidation undertaking seems almost simple by comparison. Employees in the University System of Georgia are not unionized, and while the system is different from the Technical College System of Georgia and does not cover the Georgia Military College junior college, it still has more of a monopoly over public higher ed than PASSHE. In the 1970s it created some of the universities that were consolidated -- a stark contrast to PASSHE universities’ independent histories, some of which stretch back to the early 1800s. Further, Georgia does not exhibit the same political divisions as Pennsylvania, and system leaders did not need legislative approval to complete their consolidations.

In short, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is laced with tripwires for anyone trying to pull off mergers, affiliations or closures. Competition from a confusing web of higher education providers, high stakes for economically struggling regions, a deep-seated tradition of local governance and union power all threaten to derail a push for change. Further, Pennsylvania has not historically had a strong coordinating board like other states that would be able to rationalize what different institutions do. Pennsylvania leaders might be able to break the mold that has dominated for more than three decades. But it will not be easy, and it may take a degree of cooperation across the many higher education players that would be unprecedented in the state.

Tension at the Top

PASSHE’s recent history of difficulty and unclear way forward made significant Chancellor Frank Brogan's mention of the possibility of mergers or closures during his State of the System address in January.

“States are wrestling with the same issues we are, leading to the reorganization of public university systems in a number of states across the country -- including the merger or even closure of institutions,” Brogan said in his prepared remarks. “Is that where we are headed? That’s a question I can’t answer today, nor can anyone else.”

System officials have since sought to shift the focus away from mergers and acquisitions, emphasizing the fact that Brogan was referencing strategies other states have used. The point, they have said, is that all options are on the table as the system goes under strategic review. It has no preconceived notions of what the review will find. But Brogan has also since said that the state system “can’t just tinker around the edges.”

Labor leaders were surprised by the chancellor’s words, according to Kenneth M. Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties. The union represents roughly 5,500 faculty members and coaches at the 14 PASSHE institutions.

Mash said talk about cutting from PASSHE is like victim blaming. Systemwide enrollment is only down about 6,000 students from a decade ago, he said, arguing that the declines since 2010 are because that year was the peak of a bubble and that a long-term decline has not been playing out. Pennsylvania’s state appropriations per full-time equivalent student have fallen from a decade ago, he said.

Year State System Funding per FTE 2007-08 $4,776 2008-09 $4,612 2009-10 $4,135 2010-11 $4,047 2011-12 $3,761 2012-13 $3,858 2013-14 $3,902 2014-15 $3,989 2015-16 $4,052 2016-17 $4,052

The union wants to focus on getting more public money for the system, Mash said.

“The chancellor’s comments were surprising to us in a way, because we thought we were doing a full-court press for more appropriations,” he said. “We have a real concern that we’re going to have a public higher education system that is dedicated to upper-middle- and upper-class folks. That, from what we understand, was not the purpose of having a public university system. It was meant to provide opportunities for upward mobility.”

Earlier this month, PASSHE hired the Colorado-based National Center for Higher Education Management Systems to conduct the strategic review across the system. NCHEMS, which has performed similar work in Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon and Tennessee, will complete the effort in Pennsylvania this summer. It’s expected to look at issues of available resources, affordability and access.

The review will examine a number of different angles, said Patrick Kelly, NCHEMS vice president. It will do in-depth campus visits at PASSHE universities but will also compare the institutions to independent universities that are nearby as well as Penn State, Pitt and Temple.

“This is going to require action among many players in Pennsylvania: the Board of Governors, the Legislature, the governor’s office and the institutions,” Kelly said. “We will look at the other institutions in light of the overall state system, but that’s more from a data perspective.”

But it won’t be the first look at higher education in Pennsylvania. In 2012, then Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, directed public and private university officials to study the 402 public, private and for-profit institutions in Pennsylvania. That study called for performance-based funding, containing costs and further studying consolidations, among other recommendations.

It’s a Crazy-Quilt System’

Interviews with current and former leaders in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and its universities make clear that the idea of consolidations has loomed heavy behind the scenes for years. Kenneth M. Jarin (below) is a former member of the PASSHE Board of Governors who served as chair for six years starting in 2005. He described conversations about consolidation as informal, arguing that the universities were doing well during his tenure, which coincided with high enrollments.

“Imagine, for a moment, if we would have said in 2011 or 2010 when we were doing really well and our numbers were up and funding was decent, if we would have said, ‘OK, we need to change the whole system and start consolidating schools and closing schools or changing the nature of schools,’” he said. “We would not have had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting anybody to take us seriously.”

Even so, Jarin isn’t blind to the challenges the state system faced or faces today. PASSHE has always kept its tuition significantly below levels charged by the state-related universities. But it still faces competition, he said.

For the 2016-17 academic year, PASSHE set its tuition at $7,238 for an in-state student. Penn State tuition, by contrast, was $17,900 for residents attending the institution’s main campus and between $13,296 and $14,828 at its Commonwealth Campuses, which are spread throughout much of the state (and are often criticized for competing with PASSHE institutions).

Year PASSHE In-State Tuition 2007-08 $5,177 2008-09 $5,358 2009-10 $5,554 2010-11 $5,804 2011-12 $6,240 2012-13 $6,428 2013-14 $6,622 2014-15 $6,820 2015-16 $7,060 2016-17 $7,238

Meanwhile, closing or changing PASSHE institutions is incredibly painful, because they serve as economic centers for many regions of the state, Jarin said. Some parts of the state that have a PASSHE campus have few other employers -- let alone sources of employment providing high-paying union jobs.

“It’s a crazy-quilt system,” Jarin said. “The reality is there should be a comprehensive look at the community college system, the state system and the Penn State system. And something different should come out of it.”

Achieving financial stability -- or at least stopping the growth of financial challenges -- has been an elephant in the room for years, according to Greg Weisenstein (left), the former president of West Chester University, who retired in 2016. West Chester is the largest and among the most powerful of the PASSHE institutions. It enrolls just over 17,000 students and was at the center of a controversial bill proposed in 2014 to allow PASSHE’s strongest institutions to secede from the system.

But discussions about financial problems tended to talk around the issue or resulted in revisions to the system’s state funding formula that effectively took funds away from solvent institutions and redirected them toward those in financial trouble, Weisenstein said in an email. That bought time but did not fix the underlying problems. Within the last few years, talks started to include topics like institutional restructuring, mergers and, to a lesser extent, closures.

Leaders have also referenced the difficulty of bringing everyone to the table in a decentralized system. PASSHE’s Board of Governors is made up of politically appointed members. Individual universities’ trustees tend to be alumni or local leaders. Then there are the politicians with interest, and the university presidents themselves.

“In the past, there also seemed to be a tendency to solve problems through a system or centralized approach that assumed the reasons for the current financial situation were similarly shared across all institutions and, therefore, the solutions should be systemwide,” Weisenstein said. “In fact, this is true in such cases as underfunding or financial obligations imposed by collective bargaining, but other reasons for financial success or woes may differ across institutors.”

Universities Try to Chart Their Own Path Forward

As PASSHE leaders have been talking, many university presidents have been trying to chart paths forward -- with varying success. At Cheyney, interim President Frank G. Pogue claimed that uncertainty about the future has not hurt student interest in enrolling. Undergraduate applications for the fall are up by 30 percent over the same time last year, and numbers of students accepted are up by 15 percent, he said in an emailed statement Friday.

“As I type this response, I am preparing to welcome several hundred high school students who are touring campus today,” he said. “There continues to be the recognition that this 180-year-old historic university, the oldest HBCU in America, provides a high-quality education.”

Elsewhere in the state, Karen Whitney (left) has been the president of Clarion University -- just off of Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania’s rural northwest -- since 2010. Clarion’s enrollment during that time has fallen from 7,315 to 5,224.

But Whitney said the university is shifting its focus from a one-size-fits-all university of the 1980s to a university concentrating on professional programs in demand today. The former normal school continues to have strong teaching programs, and it is expanding its undergraduate and graduate business offerings as well as programs in health and human services.

Today, 80 percent of Clarion’s students are in professional programs, and Whitney believes such a focus will help the university grow. It draws from a 200-mile radius that stretches into Erie, Pittsburgh and central Pennsylvania, as well as Akron and Cleveland in Ohio, she said.

“I don’t need a review,” she said of the PASSHE strategic review. “But I welcome the information.”

A three-hour drive to the northeast, Mansfield University has been attempting to differentiate itself as well, according to Jonathan Rothermel, an associate professor of political science and the University Senate president. Outside of Cheyney, Mansfield is the university most often mentioned as a candidate for closure or consolidation. Its enrollment is the second lowest in the PASSHE system at just 2,198. It sits on the side of a hill in Pennsylvania’s sparsely populated Tioga County.

On March 21 Mansfield notified its faculty members that layoffs may be in store at the end of the 2017-18 academic year. It delivered a letter to the faculty union saying that academic programs might be affected, but it did not specify which programs. In doing so, Mansfield became the first university in the PASSHE system to open the possibility of faculty layoffs this year, although system officials said more could follow.

Faculty members indicated they would try to move forward despite the uncertainty. Mansfield’s faculty was not particularly rattled by the PASSHE strategic review when it was announced, Rothermel said. He had previously been put on a retrenchment list tagging him for a possible layoff amid a budget crunch in 2013, along with about 25 others. He was eventually taken off that list but believes the experience served as a wake-up call that Mansfield had to change.

The university is trying to define itself as Pennsylvania’s premier public liberal arts institution, Rothermel said. It joined the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, becoming the only institution in Pennsylvania to do so. Faculty members have been working hard to recruit students directly.

The city of Mansfield lacks a community college, so discussions often mention that the university could add two-year programs or be turned into a community college. The hydrofracking-fueled Marcellus Shale boom brought a jolt of money into northern Pennsylvania as energy companies moved in to extract natural gas from the ground. As one former education official who declined to be named said, right now you can drive a truck in many parts of the state, but those jobs will not stay forever.

Rothermel, however, voiced skepticism about changing the university into a feeder campus. That would likely mean denying students the chance to take courses on campus in subjects like philosophy, some sciences, music or even history, he said. Whittling down course offerings means taking away options for local students and forcing them to travel if they want a full college experience.

As for merging, one of the PASSHE universities closest to Mansfield is Bloomsburg University, about 90 miles away. Mansfield already shares back-end services with Bloomsburg. But the institutions have separate identities and strong alumni bases, Rothermel said.

“People are very, very proud of where they came from,” he said, going on to reference Mansfield’s Mountie mascot and Bloomsburg’s Husky mascot. “Once a Mountie, always a Mountie. How does that square with becoming part Husky and part Mountie? It would be difficult.”

What Can Be Done?

It would be difficult, but not impossible. Matt Baker (below left) is a Republican in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives. Mansfield is in his district. He is also a member of the PASSHE Board of Governors.

If Mansfield has to create a two-year program to build its enrollment to viable levels, it’s worth considering, Baker said. He’d be open to other out-of-the-box options, too, like Penn State affiliating with Mansfield. The only thing Baker would rule out is closing the university. It’s the fifth-largest employer in Tioga County, employing more than 400 people, he said.

“The biggest significant issue is getting the enrollment figures back up so the university is self-sustaining,” Baker said. “They’re nearly out of reserves, as are, quite frankly, four or five other universities.”

Baker is clear about the pressures mounting on the PASSHE universities. Many of the PASSHE universities’ financial constraints are set by the system’s administration, which determines tuition and negotiates labor contracts. Without higher state appropriations, universities can only raise revenue through other means, like donations or housing fees. But the system has been very conservative in its treatment of tuition, keeping rates low. At the same time, costs are growing.

The state system reached a new contract with the striking Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties last year. The contract was negotiated centrally, but costs are passed on to individual universities. PASSHE or legislators do not have to make up for increased costs under union contracts. That worries Baker.

“You compound it all with this new contract for the unions, and you don’t know how you’re going to pay for it going forward over the next three years -- $75 million in additional costs,” Baker said.

“I guess, at this point, as is true in a lot of policy concerns in the Legislature, sometimes it takes a crisis or near-critical mass in order to start having these serious conversations,” he said. “We are at that point now.”

The president of Bloomsburg University, David Soltz, expects universities to start picking up more back-office operations for one another. In the next year, Bloomsburg will likely be doing all of Mansfield’s human resources operations, he said.

Soltz is retiring at the end of the academic year, but he expects to see some regionalization and differentiation among PASSHE universities over the next several years. Some universities might offer too many programs, and more shared programs could be possible through growth in online courses.

Full-campus mergers will be harder, Soltz said. He cited a late winter storm in the middle of March that dropped 22 inches of snow on his campus. It would be hard to put a merger in place that effectively tells students and faculty members they need to travel through the teeth of Pennsylvania’s mountains when winter storms are possible.

Soltz agreed with Baker’s sentiment that closing campuses is a line not to be crossed.

“I don’t think any university president would say they want his or her university to close,” Soltz said. “Neither would the regional trustees. There is clearly a line.”

The Difference in Georgia

Pennsylvania’s recent experience and history could hardly be more different from that in Georgia. Where Pennsylvania has danced around the idea of institutional consolidation, Georgia dove right in. Where Pennsylvania’s public higher education institutions are a disparate patchwork, the University System of Georgia includes two-year colleges with a few thousand students and the flagship University of Georgia, with more than 34,000 undergraduates.

The University System of Georgia has finalized the consolidation of 14 institutions into seven since former chancellor Hank Huckaby (below) started a merger push in 2011. Its Board of Regents recently approved another pair of consolidations, which will combine Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College with Bainbridge State College and combine Georgia Southern University with Armstrong State University.

Huckaby’s role shouldn’t be overlooked when analyzing Georgia’s success finalizing consolidations. He came to the chancellor position with a long political history that gave him a deep knowledge of the state, its Republican politics and the university system. He had directed the governor’s planning and budget office, been commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and led the Georgia Residential Finance Authority. He’d been a teacher and administrator in the university system. He’d been a GOP state representative.

Huckaby recommended consolidating eight Georgia institutions into four in October 2011. That November regents adopted a set of consolidation principles used to evaluate other potential consolidations -- they would be assessed on whether they increased opportunity, improved accessibility, avoided duplication, created opportunities for economies of scale, boosted regional economic development and streamlined administrative services. Since then, regents have approved and finalized several additional rounds of consolidations.

The university system had created several two-year colleges in the mid-20th century. The idea behind many of the consolidations was to try to create a modern university system rather than one crafted four decades ago, said Shelley C. Nickel, executive vice chancellor for strategy and fiscal affairs at the university system, who has led consolidation work since it started in 2011.

“We were finding that we have a number of colleges in the southern part of our state that were two-year colleges developed in the ’60s and ’70s,” she said. “We no longer have growth there. We don’t have the high school graduates that we had during those boom years.”

Three of the system’s four initial consolidations involved institutions established in or after 1964. The remaining consolidation took the 3,000-student Georgia Health Sciences University, established in 1828, and combined it with the 6,700-student Augusta State University, established in 1925.

Since then, Georgia has combined institutions of various size and type. But it’s possible to pick out some trends. The system has often consolidated institutions in the same region that could be seen as complementary but not alike, often merging two-year institutions into four-year institutions. Those institutions are also often connected by student transfer patterns -- when the two-year Georgia Perimeter College was combined with the doctoral-granting Georgia State University in a move finalized in 2016, it became part of an institution that was already the top transfer destination for its students.

The system also often merged institutions where a president was retiring or had recently departed, creating less of a possibility for tension among university leaders.

“We had all kinds of different scenarios with presidents,” Nickel said. “Some had announced their retirement. Others were interims already. And then we had two standing presidents where one was not going to be the president of a new university. When we did -- and I think the board did this correctly -- after we named the consolidations, the board announced who the new president was going to be, so there was no question about who was going to be the lead president for the implementation.”

Still, no formula exists for which institutions will fit together, according to Nickel. She listed different types of combinations -- the merger of Georgia Health Sciences University and Augusta State, which created what is now Augusta University, develops science, technology, engineering and math programming. Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and Bainbridge State College were recently approved for consolidation despite the fact that they are about 80 miles apart -- they’re similar because they are both agriculturally driven.

No physical campuses have closed in Georgia because of the consolidation spurt. Regardless, state legislators have often asked tough questions, Nickel said. Local residents have had difficult conversations with leaders after consolidations are announced.

Not closing campuses means leaders have not milked the consolidations for all the cost savings that could theoretically be available. Even so, the University System of Georgia estimates the consolidations have led to a collective $24.4 million in savings that can be redirected to education.

The lack of campus closures has led some skeptics to label Georgia’s actions administrative mergers instead of institutional consolidations. Nickel rejected that, saying she believes they are driven by academics. Academic offerings rose from eight bachelor’s degrees to more than 20 after Gainesville State College was combined with North Georgia College and State University to create the University of North Georgia, she said.

The Georgia system is free of many constraints complicating potential PASSHE mergers -- it is not unionized, nor has it needed lawmakers’ approval for any of the changes it has made.

As a result, Nickel can’t counsel other leaders on navigating unions or the legislative approval process. She said she’s talked to education leaders in other states who are interested in learning how Georgia executed its consolidations. But she declined to share the names of those states.

There is no blueprint that is guaranteed to work, she said.

“We’re making sausage,” Nickel said. “Every one of them is different and has their own culture.”

Even when leaders overcome the massive challenge of finding institutions they want to consolidate, a long list of challenges still remain. Jennifer H. Stephens, the deputy chief of staff at Georgia Gwinnett College, saw those challenges up close. She was a fellow with the American Council on Education and observed the consolidation between Georgia State and Georgia Perimeter that was finalized last year.

“Everything had to be done,” she said. “Let’s make sure we have our registration process that’s going to allow all these students to come in. And then you would have things that would pop up in terms of fees charged here and there, and are we going to keep them separate and think about creating a similar fee structure? All of those issues had to be worked through.”

What to Expect

Only time will tell whether PASSHE will go down the road of consolidation -- or change substantially at all.

Weisenstein, the former West Chester president, can see the potential for several future outcomes. PASSHE institutions might find ways to reinvent themselves as more relevant to more students. They could make significant changes to their missions, cut programs that are not in demand and convince holdout constituencies that change is necessary. Some other experts have suggested a similar possibility built around the idea that PASSHE is currently focused almost entirely on students who just graduated from high school and could build a new student base around adult education.

But the current PASSHE strategic review could also simply buy more time for leaders to kick the can down the road. That could mean mounting financial challenges erupting into a greater crisis. Or leaders could encounter harsh resistance.

“The other scenario is that recommendations resulting from the study will indeed suggest that institutional mergers are necessary or Pennsylvania has too many institutions and some need to be closed,” Weisenstein said. “These recommendations will most likely start the political battles that could rage on for a very long time while failing institutions begin to close their doors to students.”

In the past, if Penn State and PASSHE had any kind of relationship, it was often seen more as competitors than collaborators. But there may be some reason for optimism. Penn State President Eric Barron has a pre-existing relationship with PASSHE Chancellor Brogan. He was president at Florida State University for a short time when Brogan was chancellor of Florida’s university system.

Still, Brogan has been calling for discussions across Pennsylvania’s higher education sectors since he arrived in the state almost four years ago, according to PASSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall. None have taken place yet.

It's also worth noting that Pennsylvania and Georgia are not alone in looking at consolidations.

“Pennsylvania is part of a larger challenge with changing demographics in the Northeast and parts of the Rust Belt,” said Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “The problems are particularly acute in rural regions of the state.”

Other Northeastern states, such as Vermont, are pursuing merger strategies to save money. The State University of New York System several years ago backed off from consolidating presidents at several of its institutions after legislators balked. Some presidents held the position at two universities for a time, but SUNY ultimately reverted to one president for one campus.

The point of the SUNY effort was to keep campuses standing alone but give them the financial benefits of shared back-office services, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said. She said she learned just how important local politics can be from the experience. She still believes the institutions’ identities were going to be preserved, though.

It’s difficult to pull off any type of merger without a mandate from a governor or Legislature, Zimpher said. Today she still sees a problem with too much institutional infrastructure and said she would pursue a similar effort in the future if she’d first spoken with enough state and local leaders.

“Frankly, I would try it again, because it is fair to say I learned a lot, and I still think we can be more efficient,” said Zimpher, who plans to step down from SUNY this year. “I think it’s very possible that once we sort of get the programmatic road map for SUNY in a year’s time, we might be ready to try it again.”

Current politics in New York could make that a moot point, however. Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a tuition-free public college plan that could drastically alter the financial landscape for the SUNY system. Even if the plan, which the state’s private colleges have fiercely resisted, is not implemented, it demonstrates a different appetite for public higher education support in New York than in Pennsylvania.

Ultimately, the question in Pennsylvania seems to be when the speculation finally ends and the changes begin.

“Something has to change,” said Soltz, the president of Bloomsburg University. “Because if something doesn’t change, I think some of my sister universities, my colleagues' universities, are going to fail.”

Editorial Tags: Business issuesState policyPennsylvaniaImage Source: dixonuniversitycenter.orgImage Caption: The PASSHE office of the chancellor, based in the Dixon University Center, has tough choices to make.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Repeal of Obama's higher education regulations won't be swift process for GOP

13 hours 40 min ago

GOP lawmakers have been clear since November's election about plans to dismantle several Obama administration higher education regulations, including two major rules aimed at the for-profit college sector.

U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, said shortly after Donald Trump's election, "You’ll see us do everything we can to roll back" those regulations. As chairwoman of the House education committee, Foxx is well placed to oversee those efforts.

But the number of regulations targeted for repeal through the little-known Congressional Review Act has been modest so far. And GOP members now are saying a CRA resolution is off the table for borrower defense, the rule issued last year to clarify how defrauded borrowers can seek discharges of their student loans. What that likely means, observers said, is another round of negotiated rule making for the regulation as well as for the gainful-employment rule, which was designed to crack down on vocational programs that graduate students with poor prospects of paying down student loan debt.

A lengthy rule-negotiation process could mean the new administration would need to devote a considerable amount of energy and resources to unwinding the Obama regulations on higher education.

In the meantime, both defenders and critics of the rules expect more deadlines in implementing the regulations could be pushed back. An announcement this month from the U.S. Department of Education that it will delay deadlines for programs to appeal debt-to-income ratios under gainful employment drew an outcry from consumer advocate groups. Those advocates called the move a red flag that the department under Betsy DeVos, Trump's education secretary, is protecting the interests of predatory colleges over students. Democrats including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote to DeVos seeking an explanation for the delays.

Those delays, however, could say as much about the lack of political leadership in the department as a clear strategy to undermine accountability measures, observers said.

A host of political positions at the department requiring the Senate's approval have yet to be filled, including the general counsel, assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary positions. A GOP lobbyist with college clients said institutions throughout higher education are in the dark about decision making in the department.

"They're all scratching their heads wondering what the department's going to do on all kinds of issues," the lobbyist said. "I would say it's somewhat inaccurate to say that only for-profits care about either one of these issues. It's just not true."

There is limited appetite among Republicans in Congress to move swiftly on legislation that would appear to weaken protection for students and consumers. Instead, for leadership on matters of regulation, they've looked to the Education Department, which has appeared rudderless without serious political infrastructure in place, observers said.

Ben Miller, an education policy researcher at the Center for American Progress and a former official in Obama's Education Department, said that for years the Republican approach to the regulations has not advanced beyond doing away with them entirely.

"The risk that runs is, much like health care, the dog catches the car and needs to actually have an idea what to do," he said. "It's a challenge when the entire agenda has just been undo what the other guy did."

One complication of a Congressional Review Act resolution is that it would tie the hands of the Trump Education Department so that it couldn't craft new regulations without statutory authorization from Congress. Meanwhile, thousands of loan-discharge claims from students who attended Corinthian Colleges, ITT Technical Institute and other defunct for-profits demand action from the department.

“We all want strong accountability and for students to make informed decisions about their education,” Foxx said in a statement. “Unfortunately, misguided regulations like the Obama administration’s gainful-employment and borrower-defense rules won’t serve the best interests of students, institutions or taxpayers. We will continue to work with the current administration to determine the best way to address these and other harmful regulations -- whether it be through responsible rule making, reauthorization of the Higher Education Act or other legislative action.”

Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the for-profit sector's primary trade group, said he would rather see action from Congress on borrower defense than go through another negotiated rule-making process. But CECU doesn't believe eliminating the rule entirely through CRA is appropriate, either. The group is instead drafting its own legislative language to circulate to members for a possible overhaul of the rule.

"I'm not very confident in the negotiated rule-making process as we have seen recently. I think this is way too important to be done in that process," he said. "That needs to be done by the Congress as part of reauthorization [of the Higher Education Act]."

Meanwhile, Congress is being pressured by student and consumer advocate groups to preserve or even strengthen the gainful-employment and borrower-defense regulations.

Veterans' groups in February asked Congress to leave the regulations in place. A group of 20 state attorneys general sent a letter to lawmakers and DeVos the same month saying that rolling back regulations would signal "open season" on students for bad actors in the for-profit college sector. And last week, a coalition of more than 50 consumer groups sent a letter to Congress urging that the regulations be "strengthened, not scaled back."

Some consumer advocates also have cried foul over the roles at the department of Taylor Hansen, a former CECU government affairs director, and Rob Eitel, a Bridgepoint Education attorney. Warren weighed in on those hires in a letter to DeVos. Gunderson said Hansen's influence at the department, where he was working on K-12 education issues before resigning earlier this month, was being unfairly portrayed in news coverage.

While conservatives in Congress see serious flaws with the regulations, there is a sentiment among many that gainful employment and borrower defense should be re-examined rather than tossed out entirely. And the preferred route in Congress at the moment appears to be going through the department.

The Rule-Making Process

There are several routes Republicans in Congress and the administration could conceivably take to target the Obama administration regulations.

Lawmakers could defund implementation of a rule like gainful employment; the department could opt not to enforce the rules; or DeVos could provide notice that she plans to pursue a new round of negotiated rule making. Those first two options would leave the rules on the books and keep open the possibility of another administration aggressively enforcing them later. Negotiated rule making would allow the department to make sustainable changes to the regulations but would require the involvement of a number of higher ed stakeholders.

"It is a long, time-consuming process," said Pauline Abernathy, executive vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success.

But rule making could also empower the department itself to craft the language it wants. That's because if the negotiators picked to represent various interests cannot reach consensus on the language of a proposed rule, it would be up to department staff to craft the language.

The last time the department overhauled existing regulations through the negotiated rule-making process, it eliminated so-called safe harbors -- exceptions in the law that allowed college recruiters to receive incentive compensation. That process took a full year and wrapped up in October 2010.

"My observation has been the more controversial the proposed rule, the longer the process could take," said Rebecca Natow, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College.

To the extent that there is broad opposition to attempts to weaken the regulations through negotiated rule making, Natow said the process is designed to reflect that through the inclusion of consumer groups or other supporters of a strong rule.

Marc Jerome, president of Monroe College, a New York-based for-profit, said the overriding principle for gainful-employment regulations should be providing students with accurate information to compare programs.

Many critics of the rule issued by the Obama administration, including Jerome, have said it should provide information on debt-to-earnings ratios for all programs, not just vocational programs or those based at for-profits. He said competitors for many of Monroe's programs are based at nonprofit or public institutions not covered by the rule.

A new rule, he said, should be designed to encourage institutions to change their practices to get better results.

"If there was more of a focus on improving outcomes and less of a focus on punitive actions, then the rule-making process could be improved," Jerome said.

Implementation of Current Rules

Parts of the regulations in question have already gone into effect. The department released data in January showing that 10 percent of evaluated vocational programs failed to meet gainful-employment criteria and risked losing access to federal financial aid. The bulk of those failing programs announced by the department were at for-profit institutions. And although the full borrower-defense rule isn't set to go into effect until July, a new standard application for borrowers seeking relief has already been released by the department.

Natow said the department does have authority to exercise a certain amount of discretion in how it enforces regulations, with the delay of appeals deadlines for gainful employment being one example. DeVos may use that authority in particular when it comes to accountability measures in the regulations.

Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said the delayed deadlines, along with the rescinding of guidance barring collection fees from defaulted borrowers who start repaying loans quickly, were alarming.

"It's true the department is running on a sort of skeletal political framework," Nassirian said. "But somebody made the decision."

A negotiated rule-making process would lead to a weaker set of regulations, he said. But the administration would still have to establish a framework for handling thousands of pending discharge claims as well as those yet to be filed.

"That reality isn't going to cease to exist just because a different administration is in place," Nassirian said. "They still have to produce something that passes the laugh test."

For-Profit Higher EdThe Policy DebateEditorial Tags: Federal policyFor-profit collegesImage Source: Getty ImagesImage Caption: Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Betsy DeVos, U.S. secretary of educationIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Academic and research librarians begin work to avert cuts to federal library funding

13 hours 40 min ago

BALTIMORE -- Librarians are gearing up for a “marathon” effort to preserve federal funding for libraries, research, the arts and the humanities.

The Trump administration earlier this month outlined its first budget plan, which if enacted would bring cuts to many federal programs on which libraries rely and eliminate several independent agencies.

The budget proposes to eliminate funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which manages a host of grant programs. Crucially, the institute administers the Library Services and Technology Act, a program that libraries across the country depend on to fund their own services.

The budget proposal is still just a blueprint, and in some sense it serves as a political statement from a new administration. Funding priorities will undoubtedly shift ahead of the more detailed draft, expected in May, and then again as the proposal is turned into appropriations bills this fall.

Seeking to energize its thousands of members to act before then, the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, used last week’s biennial national conference to give the roughly 3,500 in attendance a crash course in advocacy. While librarians were browsing the latest in library technology, connecting with colleagues from around the world and learning how to do yoga at their desks, they also wrote to their representatives in Congress and rehearsed scripts for calling lawmakers to voice their support for library funding.

“We can't afford to view it as a political statement,” Irene M. H. Herold, president of the ACRL, said in an interview about the budget plan. “We need to treat it as the serious threat that it is.”

The budget cuts loomed over the conference. Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of the ALA, said the budget shows the administration is cutting library funding to upgrade the country’s nuclear arsenal -- a reference to the proposed increase in defense spending.

“The scary thing is that this could actually happen if no one does anything,” Fiels said. “Only a small band of brave individuals stand between this insanity and reality. Who are these brave heroes? They’re us.”

He, like other speakers, implored attendees to call their representatives. “This is the fight of our generation,” he said.

Author Roxane Gay devoted 15 minutes of her Thursday keynote to reflect on life in the “age of American disgrace,” a talk she has given in the months following last year’s presidential election.

“We’re at a really unexpected time where we have to defend factual information and the research that supports this information, and what’s shocking is that this kind of thing is under attack from the executive branch,” Gay said.

Carla D. Hayden, who was confirmed to a 10-year term as librarian of Congress in July, steered clear of politics in her closing keynote. She dodged a question about copyright law and did not address the proposed budget cuts except to say that the Library of Congress is “working on being America’s library, and that can’t be denied.”

Hayden, a former president of the ALA, also argued that librarians can do more to promote information literacy.

“In this time of wondering who can we trust, we are the most trusted source you can get,” Hayden said. “That very trustworthiness is our strength. That’s what we should revel in and be confident in.”

‘A Mile Into a Marathon’

Librarians flocked to two “town hall” sessions to learn how they could get involved. They came armed with questions: Should we call or email our representatives? Use social media? What about marches and rallies? What if my congressman doesn’t show up to town hall meetings?

Staffers from the ACRL, ALA and other associations told the librarians to gird themselves for a long fight.

“Advocacy is akin to a muscle,” said Corey D. Williams, a federal lobbyist with the National Education Association. “We are a mile into a marathon. If you only exercise a muscle once, you’re going to pull something. We need to get our advocacy muscles in shape.”

James G. Neal, president-elect of the ALA, outlined a four-step plan for how librarians should prioritize their activism. First and foremost, he said, librarians need to focus on preserving library funding.

“No one else is,” Neal, university librarian emeritus at Columbia University, said. “That’s our responsibility.”

From there, he said, librarians will partner with others to fight for funding for research and work-study programs, independent agencies such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and, finally, policies related to the free flow of information, including copyright law and net neutrality.

“We need to be vocal as a library community at this time,” Neal said. “Public libraries, school libraries and higher education libraries are in this together, and therefore if we lose IMLS, we lose LSTA, we lose the literacy funding, that’s a statement about the future of libraries. We need to own that problem collectively now. We will do the hard work in the trenches when we’re working on funding for research and funding for work study, but now is the time to really represent the library community and the things we care about collectively.”

That work began with postcards. Throughout the conference, attendees were encouraged to fill out postcards reading “Libraries are a smart investment” in big, bold letters on the front and send them to their representatives. The postcards included a prewritten message on the back:

“Dear [blank]. I’m an academic librarian from the state of [blank]. I’m concerned by President Trump’s budget proposal to eliminate all of the small but critical federal support for libraries and our users in every community in our state. Here’s why: [Blank]. Today, I am asking you to: [Blank].”

By the end of Thursday, the first full day of the conference, attendees had already filled out the 1,000 postcards that ACRL had provided, forcing a staffer to make a late-night FedEx run to print an additional 1,500.

But avoiding cuts to library funding will take more than postcards, speakers said.

“A bunch of librarians writing postcards to Washington is necessary, but it’s insufficient,” Neal said. “It’s the people who use our libraries -- our faculty, our students, our publics -- who need to also own support for libraries.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

13 hours 40 min ago
  • Baltimore City Community College: Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.
  • Boston Architectural College: Bob Vila, the home-improvement pioneer.
  • Bridgewater College, in Virginia: Philip M. Breedlove, a retired four-star U.S. Air Force general.
  • Goucher College: Leon Botstein, president of Bard College.
  • Huntington University: Shirley V. Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
  • Marietta College: Robert R. Dyson, chairman and CEO of the Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corporation.
  • Pratt Institute: Paola Antonelli, senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art.
  • Springfield College: Richard H. Carmona, former surgeon general of the United States; and Gale D. Candaras, former member of the Massachusetts Senate.
  • Syracuse University: Vernon E. Jordan Jr., the civil rights activist, public policy adviser and business executive.
  • Tufts University: Kenya Barris, creator of the TV show Black-ish.
  • University of California, Berkeley: Maz Jobrani, the stand-up comic and actor.
  • Winston-Salem State University: Bakari Sellers, an analyst for CNN and MSNBC.
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Split verdict for Graham Spanier

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:56

Graham Spanier, the former president of Pennsylvania State University, was on Friday afternoon convicted by a jury of one count of child endangerment. The jury found him not guilty of another child endangerment count and not guilty of conspiracy.

The counts stem from Spanier's response -- or lack of response -- to reports about Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach of the football team at Penn State who in 2011 was charged with dozens of counts of sexually abusing boys. Sandusky was convicted on 45 of the 48 charges against him in 2012.

Lawyers for Spanier did not call witnesses in the case and said the prosecution failed to show that Spanier committed any crime, The Centre Daily Times reported. Jurors deliberated for more than six hours Thursday and most of Friday before they reached a verdict.

PennLive reported that Judge John Boccabella agreed that Spanier could remain free on bail, pending sentencing. Spanier could be sentence to a prison term.

Tim Curley, the former athletics director at Penn State, and Gary Schultz, the former senior vice president, were to have been co-defendants with Spanier. Instead, they pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment charges and testified against Spanier, agreeing that they were obligated to have done more to prevent Sandusky's abuse. Spanier's defense was that he did not realize the full extent of Sandusky's actions against young boys. But prosecutors argued that he knew enough to make sure that Sandusky was reported to authorities, and that having done so might have saved some boys from being abused by Sandusky.

Spanier was president of Penn State from 1995 to 2011 and was widely praised -- prior to the Sandusky scandal -- for building up the university, raising money ($3 billion over his tenure), starting new programs and generating positive publicity. On campus, Spanier was popular with students, performing as a musician and a magician. He hosted a call-in radio show. He was a national leader in higher education for much of the time he was president, chairing the board of the Association of American Universities, for example, and holding numerous important positions in the governance of college athletics.

Spanier was also something of an informal national spokesman for higher education on many issues, and he was known to reporters (including those at Inside Higher Ed) as one who returned calls and email messages -- and could speak eloquently on a wide range of issues.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Penn State issued a statement that was critical of Spanier, Curley and Schultz.

"A jury today found former President Graham Spanier guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of a child," the statement said. "Recently, two former senior level administrators, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of endangering the welfare of a child, reportedly stating in part that, in the case of Curley: 'I pleaded guilty because I felt like I should have done more,' and Schultz: 'I felt I had been deficient in not reporting it myself.' The verdict, their words and pleas indicate a profound failure of leadership. Penn State has extraordinary expectations of our leaders, who must set and maintain the example for reporting, ethics and compliance that reflect best practices. In the view of the jury, with respect to Spanier, and by their own admission, as to Curley and Schultz, these former leaders fell short. And while we cannot undo the past, we have rededicated ourselves and our university to act always with the highest integrity, in affirming the shared values of our community."

A Scandal Breaks and Escalates

Spanier's response when the scandal became public in November 2011 angered many. His first statement spent more time defending the two senior officials who were charged with perjury (Curley and Schultz) than it did on the crimes of which Sandusky was indicted and later convicted: dozens of counts of sexual abuse of young boys.

"The allegations about a former coach are troubling, and it is appropriate that they be investigated thoroughly. Protecting children requires the utmost vigilance," Spanier said at the time. "With regard to the other presentments, I wish to say that Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have my unconditional support. I have known and worked daily with Tim and Gary for more than 16 years. I have complete confidence in how they have handled the allegations about a former university employee. Tim Curley and Gary Schultz operate at the highest levels of honesty, integrity and compassion. I am confident the record will show that these charges are groundless and that they conducted themselves professionally and appropriately."

Despite Spanier's support, the university announced the next day that they had resigned.

A few days later, the board dismissed Spanier and the head football coach, Joe Paterno.

Penn State commissioned a report -- known as the Freeh report for its chief author, former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh -- on the university's role in the Sandusky crimes. The report was issued in 2012 and was critical of many Penn State officials, including Spanier. The report -- which Spanier subsequently blasted as unfair -- noted that Spanier, Curley and Schultz had talked about reporting Sandusky to authorities years before he was charged but opted not to do so.

The report also criticized Penn State and its leaders for an athletics culture that discouraged scrutiny. “For the past several decades, the university’s athletic department was permitted to become a closed community. There was little personnel turnover or hiring from outside the university and strong internal loyalty,” the report said. “The athletic department was perceived by many in the Penn State community as ‘an island,’ where staff members lived by their own rules.”

Later in 2012, Spanier said that he could not have ignored Sandusky's abuse, had he known about it, because Spanier himself had been a victim of "persistent abuse as a child."

The Sandusky scandal and the responsibility of senior Penn State officials continues to be a divisive issue. Many football fans continue to revere Paterno, who died in 2012. But in 2016, many advocates for victims of childhood sex abuse were outraged when the university commemorated the 50th anniversary of Paterno becoming head coach.

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Arizona State U library reorganization plan moves ahead

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 00:00

Arizona State University will spend “well more than $100 million” over the next few years to renovate and rethink its libraries, the clearest indication yet of how the library fits into the institution’s plan for the public research university of the future.

The university later this year plans to close the Hayden Library on its Tempe campus for a two-year renovation. At the same time, the university will continue to work on expanding the library resources and services available to its roughly 26,000 degree-seeking online students and the hundreds of thousands more taking at least one class online from the university.

“The library has never been more important,” President Michael M. Crow said in an interview. “The library turns out to be absolutely central to our logic of building our educational enterprise -- central in the sense that it is the tool which connects our students wherever they are.”

Plans for renovations have been in the works for years, but now, Crow said, "We have the green light. We're moving ahead. And we don't move slowly."

Many other universities are reorganizing their libraries as they see an increase in the use of electronic resources and demand for cafes, multimedia classrooms, maker spaces, writing centers and other spaces devoted to teaching, learning and research. ASU, which under Crow's leadership has relentlessly pursued an innovation agenda, joins their ranks to argue for the benefits of libraries at a time when federal funding is on the cutting block.

The university in October 2014 hired James J. O’Donnell, a classical scholar who previously served as provost at Georgetown University, to lead the university library through the reorganization process. In an interview, he said one of his priorities since taking the job has been to figure out what to do with the 4.5 million physical items in the library’s collections.

“It’s time to realize that all of our users are primarily online users of our collections,” O’Donnell said. Reorganizing a university library around that concept “means changing your service model, your staffing structure and organization, and bringing in a bunch of new people,” he said.

Some of those new people might be embedded at EdPlus, ASU's innovation unit, or might work with instructional designers to embed library resources into course syllabi. O’Donnell said he hopes to hire around 25 people, bringing the library staff up to about 200 people.

The university last year received a $50,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support that work. O’Donnell said he plans for the renovated library to highlight a “carefully chosen print collection.” Its special collections feature prominently in those plans, as they will be moved from their current location “hidden away on the fourth floor” to the main floor, he said.

“We want it to be a place that says libraries are important because libraries have the good stuff,” O’Donnell said. “Libraries have and manage access to the best-quality learning and research resources, and we have the wizards to help you find what you need. We can take you to lots and lots of places that the open internet just can’t plain take you, and we can show you how to get there.”

O’Donnell also said the library is considering a future in which it will feature smaller “thematic exhibits” with accompanying events on a rotating basis. One semester might be devoted to Italy; the next, sustainability.

The library is taking some cues from the retail world on how to design the rotating exhibits to invite visitors to attend and explore, O’Donnell said. The retail angle extends to how the library is talking about its operations. The library will store the rest of its collections in off-site shelving on its Polytechnic campus, some 20 miles away from the Hayden Library. But librarians don’t refer to the off-site shelving as “storage,” he said. Instead, they are being encouraged by Crow to see it as a “fulfillment center,” similar to those used by online retailers.

An informational website that the university set up to raise awareness about the library renovation completes the comparison to Amazon. It explains that books “will remain accessible to the ASU community through expedited delivery options similar to the Amazon Prime service.”

“I’m hoping even that we can get to the point where we can have all the books on same-day delivery,” Crow said, adding that the university is open to testing technologies such as delivery by drone in the future to make it possible.

Off-site storage has become a popular solution for university libraries looking to free up some space by removing stacks. The Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, is engaged in its own library renovation project that involves moving virtually all of its physical books to a facility it shares with nearby Emory University (but keeping some as a “visual cue,” administrators said last year).

Irene M. H. Herold, president of the Association of College & Research Libraries, said in an interview that the trend of using off-site storage is one example of how the university library profession is changing.

“Our focus is where it has been all along,” said Herold, university librarian at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “We’re not just knowledge preservers and information-literacy, critical-thinking instructors. We’re also engaged in knowledge creation. It’s just that the knowledge that’s being created is able to be accessed and shaped and shared in such different ways than in the past.”

When it reopens in 2019, the Hayden Library will be a “comfortable, homely and welcoming” place that encourages and helps students succeed academically, O’Donnell said. The renovated building will ditch the traditional single entrance in favor of multiple points of access and egress and feature some food options to take advantage of its central location on campus.

O’Donnell expanded on his vision for the renovated building in an email. “I want a building that is a showplace (a sign of ASU's academic and achievement) and a showcase (a place to make people aware of library treasures and resources and of the achievements of student and faculty partners) and a showroom (a place for users to go to find out about and road test and learn how to use information resources for best contribution to academic work and ambition).”

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Berkeley again accused of protecting reputation of star professor instead of acting on reports of harassment

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 00:00

It’s more bad news for both a discipline and an institution that have been plagued by reports of sexual harassment and assault in recent years: a former research assistant is suing the University of California for failing to properly address her report of misconduct against a star philosopher on the Berkeley campus.

The lawsuit, filed this week in a county court, alleges that John R. Searle, Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Language, forced himself on and groped the assistant, then continued to harass her until she was summarily terminated. The assistant allegedly reported the initial incident and other behaviors to the director of the John Searle Center for Social Ontology, where she was working, but says that employees sought to protect Searle instead.

Searle and an employee named in the complaint and have not responded to the allegations, either to Inside Higher Ed or local reporters covering the story. The university said in a statement late Thursday that while it can't comment on individual ongoing cases, "we want to be certain that the campus community is aware of the care we take in handling such cases."

Inside Higher Ed does not typically name alleged victims of sexual misconduct, but the plaintiff, Joanna Ong, has been public about her case. Ong, a 2014 graduate of Berkeley, began working at the center after taking a class with Searle during her undergraduate studies and establishing a mentor-style relationship with Searle’s graduate student instructor at the time. More precisely, Ong wanted experience working in academe before entering graduate school, and her mentor, who had since been named director of Searle’s center, allegedly offered her a $1,000-per-month position as a research associate. Searle himself offered Ong an additional $3,000 per month to cover her living expenses, according to the complaint.

Ong says the job -- mostly clerical work but always in close quarters with Searle -- went well for a week. Searle in that time talked with her about her interest in philosophy and reassured her that her living costs and other needs during graduate school (which she plans to begin this fall) would be taken care of, urging that they have a relationship based on -- in his words -- "total trust," according to the complaint.

After a week, in July 2016, Searle allegedly assaulted Ong in his office, locking his door and groping her. He slid his hands down her back to her buttocks and told Ong that they would be “lovers,” that he had an “emotional commitment to making her a public intellectual,” and that he was “going to love her for a long time,” the lawsuit says.

Ong says she was shocked and immediately rejected his advances by saying that her interest in him was intellectual and that she would not be his lover. Searle allegedly apologized and told her to “forget it.”

The professor paid Ong $3,000 for her first month of work, as agreed, according to the complaint, and allegedly told her to keep working while he went on vacation. After he left, Ong says she reported the assault to the Searle Center director, Jennifer Hudin; Hudin allegedly told her that she’d protect her from Searle’s advances, and that he was known to have sexual relationships with students and others “in exchange for academic, financial or other benefits.” She didn’t tell Ong to report her concerns to university officials, however, according to the complaint.

Ong’s work environment became increasingly “hostile and awkward” when Searle returned from vacation, she says, as Searle allegedly acted like nothing had happened between them and cut her pay essentially in half by beginning to pay her an hourly rate of $15 with no notice or stated reason.

Searle also behaved inappropriately around Ong, she says, asking her to log on to a website called Sugar Baby, Sugar Daddy, watching internet pornography in front of her, and responding to a comment about American imperialism like this: “Oh boy, that sounds great, honey! Let’s go to bed and do that right now.” (Ong, who is a Asian-American, believes that was a reference to her race.)

In early September, Ong reported to Hudin what was happening, and complained about her pay cut. Hudin allegedly said she’d talk to Searle, but later said she couldn’t address the issues with “upper management” out of respect and loyalty for Searle, and a need to "protect" him.

Later that month, Hudin alleged told Ong her services were no longer needed at the center, even though she’d allegedly left a higher-paying job in San Francisco to work at Berkeley.

Ong’s accusing the university system’s Board of Regents and Searle of quid pro quo sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation and wrongful termination. She’s suing Searle individually for assault, seeking a trial by jury and unspecified damages.

BuzzFeed originally reported Ong’s story, writing that Searle abruptly stopped teaching undergraduates earlier this month with the university citing “personal reasons.” A university spokesperson declined to provide any additional information Thursday, including whether he is still in contact with graduate students.

Carla Hesse, Berkeley's interim lead on sexual misconduct issues, said in a statement that, in general, an investigation is launched once the campus Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination is made aware allegations. The process includes "taking immediate interim steps to ensure the complainant's concerns regarding safety, employment issues or other matters are addressed," she said. "Steps may also be taken to ensure that a complainant is not required, in the conduct of their campus duties, to come into contact with a faculty member alleged to have violated policy."

The California system and Berkeley, in particular, have received much negative attention in recent years over reports of sexual harassment by professors and insufficient institutional responses. Geoff Marcy, a well-known astronomer, for example, was forced to resign in 2015 after news broke that he’d been found to have harassed a number of female graduate students over many years -- but was still allowed to teach. More recently, the UC system released records showing it had disciplined more than 100 employees systemwide for sexual misconduct over a three-year period, including many professors.

California has recently taken major steps to address sexual harassment and assault by professors, including by explicitly making it a violation of the faculty code of conduct and shoring up timelines for taking disciplinary action after reports of misconduct. System President Janet Napolitano has said she wants California to become a national leader on issues surrounding Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination in education. But that goal becomes harder to reach with each new allegation.

Philosophy, too, has been rocked by complaints of harassment and disciplinary permissiveness toward harassment. Ong’s story, for example, is strikingly similar to another alleged case of harassment in philosophy, at Yale University. There, too, a recent alumna said she was promised a good job working as an assistant to Thomas Pogge, another well-known professor of philosophy. But the job ended when she rebuffed his sexual advances, she said. Pogge has denied the claims.

Neither Hudin nor Searle immediately responded to a request for comment Thursday. The Berkeley spokesperson, Janet Gilmore, said campus leaders “are dedicated to fostering a community where sexual harassment and sexual assault is never tolerated. We are continuously working to improve our efforts, and much progress has been made.”

Berkeley reportedly denied two earlier requests from BuzzFeed to make public information about sexual misconduct claims against Searle. The university reportedly said that it could not “confirm or deny” that any complaints against Searle had been made, and that it was not in the public interest to turn over documents “where there has been no finding of employee misconduct,” as it would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

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Head of McGill's Canadian studies institute resigns after column offensive to some Quebecers

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 00:00

The director of McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada has resigned from his post after a magazine column he wrote about "social malaise" in Quebec came under heavy criticism, including from the province’s premier.

In announcing his resignation on social media, Andrew Potter, a former newspaper editor with a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Toronto, cited “the ongoing negative reaction within the university community and the broader public to my column” as the reason. He has apologized for aspects of the column.

Because I can't figure out Facebook, here's my resignation statement: pic.twitter.com/kbevPAyYuz

— Andrew Potter (@jandrewpotter) March 23, 2017

“This has been the dream job of a lifetime, but I have come to the conclusion that the credibility of the institute will be best served by my resignation,” Potter wrote. He will continue in his position as an associate professor in the Faculty of Arts at McGill, one of Canada's leading universities.

News about Potter's resignation immediately raised speculation about whether Potter was pushed out and concerns about academic freedom at McGill -- concerns that the university's leader described as "unfounded." The university was, however, quick to disassociate itself from Potter's piece.

Potter did not respond to Inside Higher Ed's request for an interview. The Canadian news magazine Maclean’s, which published Potter's offending column, cited unnamed sources saying that "McGill endured such intense backlash over Potter’s Maclean’s piece that the university left him only two choices: resign or be fired."

“If it is true that the McGill administration bowed to external pressure and forced Professor Potter to step down, then this would be one of the most serious violations of academic freedom in recent years,” David Robinson, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said in a statement. “Universities have an absolute obligation to protect and defend the academic freedom of their faculty from outside influences.”

In a public message, McGill's principal and vice chancellor (the equivalent of president), Suzanne Fortier, said the board of the institute accepted Potter's resignation "regretfully." She wrote that Potter's "resignation provoked unfounded rumors and concerns regarding academic freedom," which she described as a "foundational principle" for the university.

"The mission of MISC is to promote a better understanding of Canada through the study of our heritage and to support the study of Canada across the country and internationally," Fortier wrote. "Professor Potter recognized that he had failed to uphold this mission and that the 'credibility of the institute would be best served by his resignation.'"

A McGill spokesman said that Fortier would not be granting interviews and declined to answer questions beyond published statements from Fortier and the institute.

Potter's controversial Maclean's column, which was published Monday, offers a dim view of Quebec's society as lacking in social cohesion. Potter takes as his starting point for the piece the stranding of hundreds of cars on a Montreal highway during a snowstorm last week and argues that the stranding "reveals the essential malaise eating away at the foundations of Quebec society."

In making the case that, compared to the rest of Canada, "Quebec is an almost pathologically alienated and low-trust society, deficient in many of the most basic forms of social capital that other Canadians take for granted," Potter cites statistics related to volunteerism rates, civic engagement and social isolation; discusses the scale of the province's underground, cash-only economy; and describes the lack of "proper" uniforms worn by protesting police officers and the "on strike" stickers plastered on Quebec's emergency response vehicles as having a corroding effect on public trust in institutions.

Potter has apologized for parts of the column, saying in his resignation statement that “I deeply regret many aspects” of it, including “its sloppy use of anecdotes, its tone and the way it comes across as deeply critical of the entire province.”

He previously issued an apology for what he described as “rhetorical flourishes that go beyond what is warranted by either the facts or my own beliefs," according to the Montreal Gazette, which quoted from the earlier apology statement. Maclean's also issued two factual corrections.

"I think the op-ed itself was poorly executed, but that’s beside the point, because academic freedom also means that researchers can be wrong," said Emmett Macfarlane, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo. "The proper forum for correcting errors is in scholarly or public debate, and that actually happened in this instance. But then suddenly he’s issuing a resignation. I think that’s a huge failure on the part of McGill administration."

Macfarlane wrote a piece that appeared in Maclean's characterizing a McGill University tweet distancing itself from Potter's views as "chilling." The tweet, below, was issued by the university's official account on Tuesday, prior to Potter's resignation.

The views expressed by @JAndrewPotter in the @MacleansMag article do not represent those of #McGill.

— McGill University (@mcgillu) March 21, 2017

“I think it's an outrage," Macfarlane said Thursday of Potter's resignation. "I think this is a real scandal for McGill University, which has completely failed to protect its core academic mission and the principle of academic freedom.”

“Mr. Potter has been undoubtedly pressured at the very least to resign following the articulation of an unpopular and controversial argument in the public sphere,” Macfarlane said. “Academic freedom is expressly there to protect against that. Our ability to learn, to create knowledge as researchers, depends on our ability to examine things from a minority perspective, from an unpopular or outside-the-mainstream position. To have effectively sanctioned a scholar at their university for writing an op-ed that outraged people, that created obvious political pressure on the university, is an overt failure and violation of that principle.”

Michael Byers, the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, also criticized McGill's response in an op-ed in The Globe and Mail. "First, they publicly stated that Mr. Potter’s views did not represent the university’s views. But great universities do not have views. Instead, they provide a venue -- safe from prejudice and persecution -- in which intellectuals, including students, can gather to develop, debate and express knowledge, insights and opinions," Byers wrote.

"Second, by stating that Mr. Potter’s views did not represent McGill’s views, the administrators were implicitly criticizing him, at a time when he was already under intense public pressure to retract his column and apologize. A great university would have rushed to support his right to speak," Byers continued.

"Third, McGill allowed the controversy to become a resigning matter, thus turning a bad mistake into a scar on its reputation. The scar will be larger if it turns out that senior administrators pressured Mr. Potter into resigning. If they themselves succumbed to pressure from politicians or donors, the damage could be crippling."

Terry Hébert, the president of the McGill Association of University Teachers and a professor in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics, said that while he does not know the details of what happened, he is saddened that Potter resigned -- and he would be angered if he found out university administrators encouraged or compelled him to.

“I don’t know what to make of his resignation,” Hébert said. “I’ve asked people in the university if he was fired or encouraged to resign; the one person that I spoke with said no.” That person is highly placed, Hébert said, “but they’re not right at the top and they probably don’t hear every discussion. I’ve asked the principal and the provost and I haven’t heard from them, either. I think they’re just hoping this whole thing will blow over.”

“I would have thought the apology would have been sufficient, but I don’t know him. I don’t know how much self-regret there was there and how much he thought that this compromised his ability to do his job as the head of the institute. Only he knows that,” Hébert said.

A petition on Change.org that originally called for Potter's firing -- which only received 24 signatures -- argued that his apology was insufficient given his role as director of an institute focused on the study of Canada. "We call on Principal Suzanne Fortier and the McGill Board of Governors to acknowledge that an institute with the mission of promoting understanding of Canada's pluralistic society and values cannot have a director who demonstrates prejudiced opinions and sloppy academic rigor in his approach to public dialogue and commentary," the petition states. "The public attention that this incident has received will ultimately tarnish the reputation of the institute unless further action is taken."

Potter's column had come under fire from, among others, the province's highest political figure. Quebec's premier, Philippe Couillard, described it to reporters as "an article of very poor quality," according to the CBC.

"It aims to paint a negative portrait of Quebec, based on prejudices," Couillard reportedly said.

Potter came to McGill for what was to be a three-year term directing the institute in August 2016. A university announcement about his hiring cited his "reputation as a public intellectual in Canada and his experience as an editor at a major metropolitan newspaper," The Ottawa Citizen.

The university press release about Potter's hiring describes the institute's programs as follows: "The institute runs an academic program at McGill, supports an active research environment and organizes a variety of large-scale, public events on matters of interest to Canadians. These include MISC's annual conferences, which attract a great deal of attention from policy makers, media and the general public. While the institute itself is nonpartisan, MISC is no stranger to debate and controversy."

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Indiana creates free tuition program for certificate earners

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 00:00

When people talk about free community college, they’re most likely thinking about tuition-free programs like those in Tennessee or the one proposed by President Obama, which focus on getting students to an associate degree with as little debt as possible.

But in Indiana, a new proposal -- the Workforce Ready Grant -- would instead offer free community college to those students who want a certificate in a high-demand field. While the certificates would vary by program, they typically take anywhere from 18 to 34 credit hours to complete or at most one year for a full-time student.

“We’re aware of what’s happening in Tennessee and other states, but we wanted to send a message to Hoosiers that if you come back and get a certificate in a high value area … then we will pay for it,” said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s commissioner for higher education.

Indiana projects that by 2025 the state will have about one million job openings due to retirements and new positions. But there are approximately 1.4 million working-age Hoosiers with a high school education or less. About 750,000 of the state’s residents have some college, but no associate degree or higher, and, of that population, about 170,000 have some kind of certificate.

The focus on college as a means not only for a degree but work force development is one the Trump administration and some academics seem to agree on.

The state has determined that a high-value certificate is one that has “high job placement, high completion rate, high wage and high demand.” Some of those potential certificates would be in the following fields: automation and robotics technology, medical office administration, supply chain management logistics, certified nursing assistant, welding, or commercial driver’s license.

Indiana only has two public institutions that provide two-year degrees and certificates -- Ivy Tech Community College and Vincennes University.

The Workforce Ready Grant would be a last-dollar program, where students would first use federal and state aid to cover the cost of college before using the grant aid, but the state plans to award the grant to all adults regardless of financial need. The Legislature and governor’s office are considering paying $2 million a year for the grant program. The state would only cover up to two years, and the cost of certificates is determined by the college's tuition per credit hour. For instance, Indiana residents at Ivy Tech paid $135.15 per credit hour last year.

Lubbers said there is a separate adult student grant paid for with existing money, and with the last-dollar component, the state is convinced it will be able to cover the costs.

And because the initiative could be appealing to working adults, there’s an opportunity for employers to provide tuition assistance.

“We used to hear employers say that if they trained and educated [employees] they would leave, but we don’t hear that anymore,” Lubbers said. “Now we hear that if we don’t train or scale them up, we can’t produce a product or services.”

Indiana has been trying to encourage more adults to go back to school. Last year the state launched the You Can Go Back initiative, which provides $1,000 in assistance to adult students. So far, more than 9,000 people have re-enrolled in college through that program.

The state has already seen an increase in the number of Indiana residents earning certificates. Since 2012, the state has increased certificates awarded by 32 percent, from 12,910 to 17,046. And 55 percent of the state’s certificate earners have gone on to complete an associate degree, while 25 percent have earned multiple certificates in the same year.

That growth in certificates is reflective of a nationwide trend to move toward quick credentials as they become more popular.

“Certificates are the fastest-growing award in postsecondary education, and that’s because the skill requirements at entry-level positions for what used to be high school jobs have increased, in part because they’ve shifted from manufacturing into service functions,” said Anthony Carnevale, a research professor and director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “What Indiana is doing makes a good deal of sense, and it’s powerful. It breaks away from the American fascination with the high-school-to-Harvard pathway as the only pathway available to students.”

Lubbers said it’s common to hear adult students, in particular, complain that the barrier to pursuing a degree is the general education requirements that often come attached to programs that lead to a career.

But there are some areas of concern that students should be aware of before they pursue a certificate.

For instance, certificates tend to hold more value for men than they do for women, because the more valuable certificates tend to be in male-dominated industries, Carnevale said.

And if students want to pursue degrees or stack the certificates so they’re adding additional skills to their repertoire, they will be able to do that with the certificates Indiana awards, Lubbers said.

“Even the credits from a stackable certificate will often not be transfer worthy after a few years,” said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills for New America. “That’s one reason why certificates that lead to occupational licenses or industry certifications can be more valuable than just stand-alone certificates, even if they are for credit.”

Meanwhile, Ivy Tech officials are looking forward to seeing more students in its system embracing certificates. The system expects that it may have to increase health-care programs in order to meet the demand, as well, said Mary Jane Michalak, vice president of government relations at Ivy Tech.

“A work force certification and work force training and certificates are just as important and can be just as lucrative as bachelor’s degrees, and in some cases, students who graduate with a certificate will come out of college immediately making more than those pursuing a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “We need individuals at all levels, and it’s important we connect adults to the jobs that are available.”

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The peace process and higher education in Colombia

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 00:00

On Nov. 24, 2016, the great and the good of Colombian higher education made their way through Bogotá’s noise, congestion and pollution, past the graffiti murals of exotic birds, serpents and mythological scenes, to a plush reception hosted by the U.S. Embassy.

The occasion was a Thanksgiving lunch. But the Colombians could surely have been forgiven if they preferred to give thanks not so much for the American harvest as for the dividend they hope to reap from the revised peace deal their government had signed that very day with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Marxist guerrilla organization infamous for its more than half century of involvement in kidnappings, extortion and the drug trade.

The deal -- whose original version had been rejected by Colombian voters in a referendum the previous month -- was ratified by the country’s Parliament within a week. And the higher education sector is poised to carry out the research and establish the access programs that will help clarify issues of social justice and reintegrate the ex-combatants: tasks likely to be crucial in building long-term peace.

But as well as fulfilling this national agenda, many leaders of higher education institutions are hoping the more stable postconflict environment will also enable them to become more effective players within global higher education. Indeed, the reason the U.S. ambassador was able to gather so many of them together for stuffed turkey and pumpkin pie was that they were already in Bogotá -- once reputed to be among the most dangerous big cities in the world -- to attend the eighth Latin America and the Caribbean Higher Education Conference, which was devoted to the theme of internationalization.

Still, the dining room would have had to be the size of a university refectory to accommodate the close to 300 leaders of the country’s complicated tertiary education system. The system includes 82 universities, as well as assorted “university institutions” (that award only undergraduate degrees), technological institutions and professional technical institutions. Claudia Aponte González, a consultant who works with Colombia’s ministry of national education, told the conference that the ministry is committed to promoting internationalization but had struggled to come up with a one-size-fits-all model. There were institutions located in border cities; institutions committed to “Bolivarian” pan-Andean ideals; institutions that offered only online courses; institutions focused on regional development; institutions in special territories such as small Caribbean islands; even institutions in places where the climate was so bad that the ministry had never managed to send someone to carry out an assessment. Each had different ideas about what internationalization should mean for them.

Major attempts at reform in the sector have proceeded in parallel with the long peace negotiations. President Juan Manuel Santos’s National Development Plan for 2014-18, Todos por un nuevo país (All for a New Country), established education, alongside peace and equity, as one of its three pillars. Santos -- the winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize -- has also announced an ambitious aspiration for Colombia to be the best-educated country in Latin America by 2025. Perhaps the most obvious practical consequence of this has been a laborious, ongoing process to streamline the country’s system of qualifications, improve the status of technical education and create new pathways into universities.

Common Issues for Latin America

For international higher education consultant Liz Reisberg (an Inside Higher Ed blogger), many of the challenges facing the equatorial nation apply across much of Latin America.

“All countries are responding to the challenges of massification, which started 20 to 30 years ago,” she said. “Higher education went from being an elite enterprise to trying to incorporate anywhere between 30 and 60 percent of the age cohort. [It is currently in the region of 50 percent in Colombia.] The traditional universities just couldn’t accommodate that …. Most of the ministries backed off on the restrictions on setting up universities and allowed very rapid growth with very little quality control.”

As the dust has settled, Reisberg said, most countries established systems of quality control. That includes Colombia, and the nation is also notable for “a pretty well-established private sector,” whose elite tier has a level of research productivity on a par with that of the public universities, she says.

Strength at the Top

Indeed, there seems to be general agreement about the strength of the top Colombian universities. Four institutions -- the University of the Andes, the University of Antioquia, the Universidad del Norte and the Pontifical Bolivarian University (UPB), Medellín -- feature among the top 50 in Times Higher Education’s rankings of Latin American universities for 2016. That is more than any other country except Chile (11 institutions) and the regional giants Brazil (23 institutions) and Mexico (eight). Citation data provided by Elsevier also suggest that Colombia is quickly increasing its research output, whose quality bears comparison with the strongest performers in the region, especially in physics and astronomy.

Colombia was identified last year by Times Higher Education as one of seven nations with the potential to become significant players in global higher education. This was on account of its respectable research quality, its increasing research output and its high and growing student enrollment rate.

A report called “Education in Colombia,” published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development last April, also praises many aspects of Colombian higher education. However, it is highly critical of the country’s “outdated, inequitable and inefficient” system for distributing public resources. Established in 1992, this system allocates 48 percent of the entire budget for public universities to just three of the 32 institutions, and leaves 20 out of 39 public technical colleges without “regular” subsidies. Given that total student numbers have more than quadrupled since 1992, the system’s “rigidity, lack of definition and scope” make it a major obstacle to progress, the report says.

Impact of the Civil Unrest

Colombia’s long decades of civil unrest are, of course, another important background factor to take into account when assessing its higher education. In a Ph.D. thesis titled “Conflict, Postconflict and the Functions of the University: Lessons From Colombia and Other Armed Conflicts,” awarded by Boston College in 2013, education consultant Ivan Pacheco describes how the conflict was “part of the day-to-day life” of many public universities. “Struggles for the political and economic control of campuses have been bloody and claimed several victims,” he said. In one case, about 50 academics and students were kidnapped by guerrillas; elsewhere they were “killed, tortured and disappeared.”

Precisely because of the “almost unquestioned prevalence of the left-wing ideology on campuses,” Pacheco explained, the extreme right also “decided to take over some public universities, particularly in the north of the country.” Meanwhile, universities’ very autonomy could make them “more attractive to outlaw groups …. Corrupt politicians have attempted (and sometimes been able) to gain administrative and political control of these institutions.”

Anyone who visits Bogotá’s “White City” will take Pacheco’s point about “left-wing ideology.” This is the main campus of the National University of Colombia, close to the center of the capital. Surrounded by a fence, it covers an area of 600 acres, complete with observatory, stadium, children’s playground, pop-up cafe, restaurant and white faculty buildings. At its heart, where little stalls sell food, is the Francisco de Paula Santander Plaza, more often known as the Che Plaza, on account of the huge painting of Che Guevara on a facade opposite the library.

The leftism of student activists was also apparent in their opposition to plans to reform the sector -- including the system for distributing funding -- embarked on a year after President Santos took office in 2010. According to the OECD report, the protesters objected to only “one highly controversial clause -- to allow for-profit tertiary education institutions,” but the volume of their opposition “caused the whole … reform proposal to fail.”

There seem to be no current plans to revive the reforms.

A rather different figure from Che Guevara greets visitors to the Bogotá campus of Uniminuto, perhaps the only university in the world named after a television program. This was established by a Roman Catholic priest, the Reverend Rafael García Herreros, famous throughout Colombia during his lifetime because of his daily one-minute “God slot.” When a vacant lot was donated to him, he created a whole district on the outskirts of the city, complete with houses, textile workshops and even a museum of contemporary art, which looks like a miniature version of the snail-shaped Guggenheim Museum in New York. It was also here that he established a university “inspired by the Gospel and the church’s social mission” to provide “quality education within reach of everyone.” It now has branches in 85 cities and teaches 120,000 students. Distance learning, online courses and evening classes help it to reach out to the underprivileged indigenous communities in remote cities and other groups largely ignored by the rest of the sector. Scholarships helped to support almost 90,000 students in 2015 alone.

‘Who Do We Leave Behind?’

This points to another key educational challenge Colombia faces: social exclusion. In the words of J. Salvador Peralta, associate professor of political science at the University of West Georgia, the central question in Latin American higher education is “Who do we leave behind?” Like several other countries, Colombia has “much more demand for higher education than [it] can possibly supply efficiently and at a high quality.” This has led to “very difficult questions about where to allocate resources to get the most return for [its] money.”

The government’s flagship policy for widening access, known as Ser Pilo Paga (Hard Work Pays Off), has given 10,000 scholarships a year since 2014 to pupils from poorer backgrounds who achieve excellent results in the national school-leaving exams. A new student loan program was also introduced in 2015.

Pablo Navas Sanz de Santamaría, rector of the University of the Andes, calls Ser Pilo Paga a “very, very significant” initiative that had “an immediate impact in making universities much more inclusive and diverse." His university has also secured philanthropic funding for other programs targeting similar underprivileged groups. As a result, says Navas, “42 percent of those selected last semester” to study at the university now come from such backgrounds.

Internationalization is not an entirely novel concept in Colombia. According to Elsevier, the proportion of the country’s papers that were internationally co-authored between 2011 and 2015 is high: 46 percent.

“Internationalization is absolutely crucial for us,” Marta Losada, president of the city’s Antonio Narino University, told Times Higher Education. “We put in a strategy 10 years ago to sign up faculty without Ph.D.s to go abroad [to do a doctorate], and [we] see lots of international collaboration as a result.” The university is now following this up with “a strategy to hire people with doctoral degrees from all over the world.” Losada is actively pursuing partnerships in the Spanish-speaking world but is also keen to “implement more programs in other languages, particularly English, over the next 10 years.”

Alberto Roa is vice president for academic affairs at the Universidad del Norte, a private university set up in 1966 in the Caribbean region. His institution is also committed to a comprehensive approach to internationalization, which “seeks not only to increase the inbound and outbound mobility of students and faculty, but also to work on internationalization at home, in order to have a global environment on the campus.” International conferences, events and courses in English are among the measures adopted to “strengthen global citizenship skills in our students.”

External partners confirm the effectiveness of such strategies. David Wilson, professor of human developmental genetics at the University of Southampton, attended the recruitment fair accompanying the higher education conference, looking for Colombian postgraduate students in areas well beyond his own specialist field.

Mike Proctor, vice president for international affairs at the University of Arizona, is similarly enthusiastic. His university is seriously engaged with about half a dozen Colombian universities and he claims that Colombia’s research universities “are fabulous universities and on a par with anybody.” Many of Arizona’s Colombian contacts are “world-class global scholars, presenting multilingually at conferences and publishing in Nature,” he adds.

Yet it is safe to say that this excellence represents the tip of the iceberg. Apart from the funding system, which does nothing to incentivize efficiency, the OECD report also laments the comparatively low academic abilities of typical Colombian high schoolers; the high dropout rates from universities; the low proportions of undergraduates going on to postgraduate study; and the “lack of employer engagement in the governance and delivery of [tertiary education].” Ministry figures indicate that, as of 2012, there were only seven people per million in Colombia holding doctoral degrees, compared with 31 in Chile, 42 in Mexico and 69 in Brazil. The Latin American average is 37.

Quality assurance also remains somewhat cumbersome. At the most basic level, all institutions and programs are required to meet minimal standards in order to be certified. Universities can also apply for voluntary high-quality accreditation, but, given that it has little public recognition, many have not felt it worth the effort to go through the laborious process. In mid-2015, a further instrument known as the Modelo de Indicadores del Desempeño de la Educación (Model Performance Indicators for Education) was introduced. According to critics, this imposition from on high lacks transparency and amounts to a ranking of Colombian universities based on criteria that implicitly penalize those, such as Uniminuto, that are doing important work but are not operating on standard models.

According to consultant Reisberg, Colombia is also “ahead of the game in collecting really good data.” This includes areas such as research, labor market returns for particular qualifications and “value added” (as measured by tests of those entering and completing university courses). However, as a spokesman for the ministry of education admitted, this energetic information gathering has proved somewhat fruitless, since “families do not use the data to decide on a university” and “universities do not use the data to measure how they are doing in comparison with others,” preferring to rely on international rankings.

Also new are international summer schools. Begun last summer, these last about a month and bring together about 300 Colombian academics and students with international experts, including Nobel prizewinners, to address one of the three key pillars -- equity, education and peace -- flagged up in the president’s National Development Plan.

Far to Go

Despite all this, a ministry representative who wished to remain anonymous is frank about how far the country still has to go: “As of now, few academics can write in English,” she explained. “That is one of the biggest challenges we are working on. We are really encouraging bilingualism, but since universities are autonomous, the ministry cannot force them to do things.”

Delegates at the Bogotá conference also pointed to major challenges, even while acknowledging that important (if sometimes cumbersome) structures had been put in place.

Luis Alejandro Arévalo Rodríguez is head of internationalization at Bogotá’s private EAN University. Although his institution manages to do “a fair amount of applied research, working closely with enterprises in areas such as clean energy, entrepreneurship and sustainability,” he points to sectorwide difficulties in giving research the priority it deserves. “When you hire professors at a Ph.D. level, they expect to [be able to conduct] research, so if your university is not committed to [this], it is difficult for them to be happy,” he says. But “very few” universities can afford to allow staff to concentrate exclusively on research, and most ask them to focus on teaching.

Sonia Marcela Durán Martínez, vice president for international affairs at Del Rosario University, agrees that “the country does not have enough funding for science, so it’s a huge challenge for private universities.” When Colciencias -- a government agency that supports science, technology and innovation -- was set up in 1968, it was “clear that it had to fund laboratories and research as well as mobility, but this remained at the level of good intentions, because it was never given [enough] funds.”

The coming of peace is naturally welcomed, but universities seem cautious in their optimism about what it is likely to mean for them. Universidad del Norte’s Roa expects “great economic investments for the postconflict transition” but sees no evidence that increased funds will be directed towards higher education. If they aren’t, it will mean “no resources available to finance very costly investments, such as facilities, technology, laboratories and libraries.”

Navas at the University of the Andes is eager for the Ser Pilo Paga initiative to continue after its initial four years. He would also like to see more “top-notch researchers” addressing issues such as “drug trafficking, biodiversity, the new justice structure” to be implemented. Unfortunately, he believes that a system directing 10 percent of oil and mining royalties toward science, technology and innovation was “incorrectly designed and hasn’t worked out well,” since responsibility for distributing such funds is in the hands of “the governors of the different states.” With elections approaching, he fears that both the extension of Ser Pilo Paga and any plans to reform research funding may run afoul of short-term political pressures.

It seems that only time will tell whether Nov. 24 becomes permanently established in Colombian university calendars as a day for thanksgiving.

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New presidents or provosts: D'Youville Earlham Free State Harford JMU Rhodes Southwestern UNI UNT-Dallas Walsh

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 00:00
  • Lorrie Clemo, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York College at Oswego, has been selected as president of D'Youville College, also in New York.
  • Heather Coltman, dean of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters at Florida Atlantic University, has been appointed provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at James Madison University, in Virginia.
  • Marjorie Hass, president of Austin College, in Texas, has been named president of Rhodes College, in Tennessee.
  • Marsha Kelliher, dean of the Sigmund Weis School of Business at Susquehanna University, in Pennsylvania, has been chosen to be president and CEO of Walsh University, in Michigan.
  • Kindred Murillo, superintendent/president of the Lake Tahoe Community College District, in California, has been named superintendent/president of the Southwestern Community College District, also in California.
  • Mark Nook, chancellor of Montana State University Billings, has been selected as president of the University of Northern Iowa.
  • Francis Petersen, deputy vice chancellor for innovation at the University of Cape Town, has been named vice chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State, also in South Africa.
  • Alan C. Price, former associate director of management for the Peace Corps and acting chief of staff for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, in Washington, has been chosen as president of Earlham College, in Indiana.
  • Betty H. Stewart, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Midwestern State University, in Texas, has been appointed provost and executive vice president at the University of North Texas at Dallas.
  • Steven L. Thomas, dean of the health and human services division at North Seattle College, in Washington, has been chosen as vice president for academic affairs at Harford Community College, in Maryland.
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Study shows how price sensitive students are in selecting colleges

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 00:00

Every year, prospective students receive offers to attend their college or university of choice. And every year, some of them turn down those offers.

Common wisdom holds that cost is a major factor in those students’ decisions. And new data from a private company provide insight into how much of a role costs play in turning students away from their top choice for college.

Almost one-fifth of students who were admitted to their top choice of college or university in 2016 but decided not to go there turned it down because of the cost of attendance, according to new data from Royall & Co., the enrollment-management and alumni fund-raising arm of EAB. Cost of attendance was cited on a survey by 18.6 percent of students who turned down their first choice. Nearly twice as many students pointed to cost of attendance as pointed to the next most commonly cited reason, the campus environment, which was cited by 9.4 percent of students.

Many other students who opted not to go to their college of first choice said they did so for other reasons that were still related to cost. Financial aid received from other colleges was cited by 9.1 percent of students. Non-need-based scholarships received were cited by 6.3 percent, and a college’s value was cited by 5.9 percent.

Add up the four cost-related reasons, and 39.9 percent of students who turned down their college of first choice did so for a reason related to cost.

Reason for Not Attending College of First Choice Percentage of Students Citing Cost of attendance 18.6% Campus environment 9.4% Location of the school 9.3% The financial aid I received 9.1% Academic reputation 8.1% Proximity to home 7.6% Offered the major I wanted 6.6% The merit-based scholarship I received 6.3% Best value 5.9% Reputation in my intended field of study 4.9% The size of the school/number of students 3.8% Athletic programs 3.3% Overall Reputation 3.0% Legacy/family member attended the school 1.8% Amount of contact after admission 1.1% Timing of my financial aid award 1.0% Amount of contact before application 0.4% The school is coeducational 0.0%

Those findings held relatively steady across groupings of students with different SAT scores and between minority and nonminority students. Students with SAT scores of 1,200 or more gave cost-related reasons for not attending their college of first choice about 42 percent of the time, compared to 39 percent for students with SAT scores below 1,200. Minority students did not attend their first-choice college because of cost-related reasons about 43 percent of the time, while nonminority students did so 39 percent of the time.

“I think that both enrollment leaders and the public in general have had a suspicion that cost factors were driving a lot of enrollment decisions,” said Peter Farrell, Royall & Co. managing director. “This verifies it in an empirical way.”

To reach its conclusions, Royall & Co. analyzed 54,810 students at 92 institutions it works with who were admitted to enter college in 2016. It found that more than 6,000 of those students -- 11 percent -- declined to attend their institution of first choice, further examining their reasons for doing so.

The data do not date back over several years, preventing comparisons over time. But the 2016 results support the idea that students are much more conscious of costs in the years since the Great Recession, Farrell said.

“If you look at a variety of data points, the recession is a turning point in how students made their selections,” Farrell said. “Something has happened more recently that’s accelerated things. It could be demographics. It could be what we’re seeing on the macroeconomic scale about low socioeconomic [status] families being pinched. I don’t know the actual causality of this change in sentiment, but the slope line of concern seems to be upticking.”

The trends also held closely when splitting the 67 private institutions in the sample from the 25 public institutions. Admitted students who opted not to attend a private college or university that was their first choice gave cost-related factors as their reason approximately 41 percent of the time. Those declining to attend a public college or university that was their first choice said their decision was due to cost-related factors 38 percent of the time.

That difference was due largely to a slightly lower percentage of students at public institutions citing cost of attendance, financial aid and merit-based scholarships received. Students who decided not to attend private institutions cited cost of attendance 19.8 percent of the time, financial aid 9.7 percent of the time and merit-based scholarships 5.6 percent of the time. Those deciding not to attend public institutions pointed to cost of attendance 17.1 percent of the time, financial aid 8.5 percent of the time and merit-based scholarships 6.5 percent of the time.

The data offer some insight into how financial aid and non-need-based aid -- often called merit aid -- can be attractive ways for colleges and universities to attract students. Significant numbers of students who are sensitive to college costs mean significant numbers of students who can potentially be won over by an institution offering additional financial aid. That can be seen as a way to snag students who otherwise would attend a more prestigious institution.

The takeaway is not that colleges and universities need to increase their discount rates. But the data do illustrate the risks involved in changing financial aid practices, Farrell said.

“I think the most important message this holds is that there’s a group of students who are really interested in your college that you have the potential to lose if you’re not doing a great job with both your marketing strategy and your aid strategy,” Farrell said. “Some students, they’ll get over the application hurdle. But if somebody else gets their award out faster or their aid is significantly larger than yours, you can lose that student.”

Experts cautioned against reading too much into the different cost factors in the data. The cost-of-attendance reason can become a catchall for students explaining their choice not to attend a college, said Donald Heller, provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of San Francisco.

“When students read financial aid offer letters, they’re not always understanding or careful of distinguishing different forms of financial aid,” Heller said. “Sometimes they conflate grants with loans. I would be a little cautious about interpreting too much into this question.”

Still, students are clearly interested in issues related to cost -- particularly the return on the investment of their tuition dollars, Heller said.

“More and more, we’re getting questions from students and parents about the value proposition,” he said, adding that students and parents often ask about job opportunities after graduation.

Royall & Co. didn’t only look at why students decided not to attend their first choice of college or university. It also analyzed why they decided not to attend any institution to which they were admitted but did not enroll. Price-related considerations weren’t as prevalent in that case but were still cited by 27 percent of students.

In addition, the company examined 6,631 students for which it had available financial information. Those students attended five colleges and universities -- one public, four private.

That analysis showed students who decided not to attend a college or university to which they were admitted were more likely to cite reasons related to cost as their expected financial contribution to college fell. Students from families with an expected contribution of $40,000 or more cited cost-related reasons slightly less than 25 percent of the time, compared to almost 41 percent for students from families with no expected contribution.

The analysis indicates students on the lower end of the income spectrum are more likely to be sensitive to costs. But it shows wealthy students can be sensitive as well. And anecdotal evidence shows even high-achieving students at some of the country’s top high schools consider cost.

Jon Reider is the director of college counseling at the prestigious San Francisco University High School. The school’s students as a whole are likely shielded from college cost concerns more than are students at other high schools. Many are wealthy, and the school’s low-income students are typically seen as talented, meaning they’re likely to receive attractive financial aid offers.

Even so, the high school has one or two students a year who choose a University of California institution over a private college because of cost, Reider said. He also remembered a student from a few years ago who had to change her plans after her father lost his job.

“Both parents had jobs, and Dad lost his job,” Reider said. “She got into Amherst, and they gave her a nice award, but NYU gave her a big merit award. She wanted to go to Amherst, and her parents were lovely people, but they said, ‘Your brother is coming. You’ve got to go to NYU.’”

That story taps into an underlying debate about merit aid, or non-need-based aid. While it can benefit individual high-achieving students and help colleges build strong classes, some criticize its impact at scale over time. Colleges and universities eventually draw resources from low-income students who need financial aid in order to pursue high-achieving and wealthy students, the argument goes.

“College counselors and high school counselors are conflicted,” Reider said. “I’m happy for that kid, that she got good money and her parents are under less stress. But I see kids at big public schools or lower-income inner-city Catholic schools who do a good, honorable job. Those families don’t have a lot to fall back on.”

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Princeton Theological Seminary revokes honor for controversial speaker, but will let his talk go on

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 00:00

Princeton Theological Seminary announced Wednesday that it is dropping plans to give an award to the Reverend Timothy Keller that was to have been presented when he visited the campus to give a lecture. The invitation to give the lecture, however, stands, and the seminary announced that Keller has agreed to give the talk even without the honor.

Word that Keller was to speak at and be honored by the seminary angered many students and alumni, who noted that it is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), which embraces the ordination of women and of gay people (both groups are educated on an equal basis with others at the seminary). Keller is a leader of the Presbyterian Church in America, which will not ordain people who are not straight men, and he has been an advocate for that position.

The seminary is not affiliated with Princeton University.

As students and alumni objected to the invitation, the seminary initially said that, under the principles of academic freedom, the invitation and award would not be withdrawn. But on Wednesday the seminary announced that the honor would be withdrawn.

The honor is closely linked to the lecture. As described on the seminary website: "The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is awarded each year to a scholar or community leader whose outstanding contribution to their chosen sphere reflects the ideas and values characteristic of the neo-Calvinist vision of religious engagement in matters of social, political and cultural significance in one or more of the ‘spheres’ of society. A condition of the prize is that the recipient deliver a lecture on a topic appropriate to the aims of the center."

To many in the world of Presbyterian theology, the honor matters a great deal, and past lectures have been widely discussed.

Traci Smith, a pastor who was educated at the seminary, wrote a widely circulated blog post questioning the idea that her alma mater would honor a theologian committed to the idea that she and many others should never have been ordained.

"I’ll let others argue finer points of Reverend Keller’s theology (hello, this is Princeton Theological Seminary here, arguing finer points is what we do). My personal soapbox is much less refined. It boils down to this: an institution designed to train men and women for ministry shouldn’t be awarding fancy prizes to someone who believes half the student body (or is it more than half?) has no business leading churches. It’s offensive and, as I have taught my four- and five-year-olds to express, it hurts my feelings," Smith wrote.

She added, "But he’s not even talking about 'women’s issues' or 'LGBT issues,' some will argue. The lecture is on church planting. Who can argue with church planting? Can’t we look past what divides us find common ground? Of course we can find common ground. Let me state clearly and without equivocation: I believe Reverend Keller loves Jesus. I believe he is a man of faith. I believe he works hard and has a respectable career. I would happily go to the church he pastors and listen to him preach. He’s absolutely invited to come to the church I pastor and listen to me preach. We can totally hold hands during the hymn sing. The reason that’s not enough in this case (and the reason he shouldn’t have been invited to give this lecture and receive this prize) is that this isn’t some minor thing. This is a giant lecture with a giant whoop-de-doo factor."

An assistant to Keller, who is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in Manhattan, said via email that he was not commenting on the situation.

Craig Barnes, the president of the seminary, sent out two letters about the controversy. The first, on March 10, said that the seminary "embraces full inclusion for ordained leadership of the church." But the letter noted that many student groups and academic centers bring speakers in, or award honors, as was the case with the center that manages the Kuyper Prize, and that it is not the role of the seminary to veto choices with which it disagrees.

"While my office issues the official invitations to campus, I don't practice censorship over the choices of these organizations, even when I or the seminary disagree with some of the convictions of these speakers," Barnes wrote. "It is also a core conviction of our seminary to be a serious academic institution that will sometimes bring controversial speakers to campus because we refuse to exclude voices within the church. Diversity of theological thought and practice has long been a hallmark of our school. And so we have had a wide variety of featured speakers on campus including others who come from traditions that do not ordain women or LGBTQ+ individuals, such as many wings of the Protestant church, and bishops of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions. So my hope is that we will receive Reverend Keller in a spirit of grace and academic freedom, realizing we can listen to someone with whom many, including me, strongly disagree about this critical issue of justice."

The second letter, issued Wednesday, offered a change of heart on the award, and noted conversations with many people, including Keller.

"In talking with those who are deeply concerned about Reverend Keller’s visit to campus, I find that most share this commitment to academic freedom," Barnes wrote. "Yet many regard awarding the Kuyper Prize as an affirmation of Reverend Keller’s belief that women and LGBTQ+ persons should not be ordained. This conflicts with the stance of the Presbyterian Church (USA). And it is an important issue among the divided Reformed communions …. In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination, we have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year."

Barnes added that "the invitation to Reverend Keller simply to lecture at their conference will stand, and he has graciously agreed to keep the commitment. We are a community that does not silence voices in the church. In this spirit we are a school that can welcome a church leader to address one of its centers about his subject, even if we strongly disagree with his theology on ordination to ministry."

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Court finds Christian college engaged in illegal discrimination in firing pregnant, single instructor

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 00:00

A federal judge has ruled that Northwest Christian University engaged in illegal discrimination based on marital status when it told an unmarried, pregnant instructor to either marry the father of the child she was carrying, stop living with him or lose her job. She refused the first two options and was fired.

The basic facts in the case are not in dispute. The ruling was about how much leeway a religious college has in enforcing its religious teachings. That's an issue that could soon receive more attention, given that President Trump has said that the Obama administration and the judges appointed by the former president did not show appropriate deference to religious institutions -- and Trump has vowed to appoint judges and officials who will do so.

The case dates to 2011, when Coty Richardson, an instructor of exercise science at Northwest Christian University, in Oregon, informed her supervisors that she was pregnant with her third child. According to evidence in the case cited in the decision by Judge Ann Aiken, her supervisors then discussed their understanding that she was not married.

When they determined she was not, they gave her the three options for how to proceed. She was fired when she turned down the first two options -- and so she was out of the job when her third child was born. She sued the university, citing discrimination based on marital status and pregnancy. Richardson and the university both asked for summary judgment; Richardson won on the issue of marital status, and the university won an order that it could not be found to owe punitive damages. Judge Aiken found that the pregnancy discrimination claims should go to trial.

Northwest Christian urged Judge Aiken to dismiss the entire case based on its First Amendment rights to religious freedom. Those rights, the university said, include the "ministerial exception," which is a legal tradition that bars federal courts from intervening in disputes over members of the clergy and some other employees of religious institutions. The Supreme Court upheld the concept of the exception in 2012 but did not define which employees would be covered. The court's ruling came in the case of a teacher at a private school who was not a member of the clergy but had some religious instruction duties and led students in prayer. She was covered, the Supreme Court ruled, but the decision suggested that not all employees of religious institutions are covered.

Judge Aiken rejected the idea that the ministerial exception applied in this case.

"First, plaintiff's title, assistant professor of exercise science, was secular," the judge wrote. "Second, plaintiff did not undergo any specialized religious training before assuming her position. Third, although there is ample evidence plaintiff held herself out as a Christian, there is no evidence she held herself out as a minister. With respect to the fourth factor, there is evidence plaintiff performed some important religious functions in her capacity as a professor.

"She was expected to integrate her Christianity into her teaching and demonstrate a maturing Christian faith. But any religious function was wholly secondary to her secular role: she was not tasked with performing any religious instruction and she was charged with no religious duties such as taking students to chapel or leading them in prayer. If plaintiff was a minister, it is hard to see how any teacher at a religious school would fall outside the exception."

With regard to marital discrimination, Judge Aiken ruled in Richardson's favor based on evidence that she was treated differently from others because she was unmarried.

On pregnancy discrimination, the judge found evidence on both sides. The university cited cases in which it had fired three other employees for living with a partner to whom the employee was not married. None of these cases involved pregnancy. So the university argued that it was simply enforcing its moral standards.

But the judge found evidence that a jury might consider Richardson's firing to be based on more than those standards. One of the letters sent by the university said that as Richardson's pregnancy progressed, students and others would be aware of it and aware that she had sex outside of marriage.

The judge found that this could be evidence that the university was "less concerned about its employees having sex outside of marriage and more concerned about people knowing its employees were having sex outside of marriage -- a concern that arguably amounts to animus against pregnant women."

Joseph Womack, president of the university, said via email that officials there were studying the decision and determining a response.

Daniel Kalish, Richardson's lawyer, said he is continuing to try to draw attention to the case -- and has organized a petition for people to express concern for his client. He said that the case will now go to trial over damages in the marital discrimination case and to resolve the pregnancy discrimination charges.

Kalish said the key part of the ruling was rejecting the use of the ministerial exception. The ruling shows that religious colleges "don't get a free pass" on discrimination, he said.

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New paper proposes framework for supporting pretenure faculty members' needs

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 00:00

Both hiring and signing on as a new assistant professor involve risk; if the commitment doesn’t work out, both the institution and the faculty member denied tenure have lost valuable time and resources. Naturally, then, there’s a large of body of literature on how to promote junior faculty members’ success, and a new study builds on three recurring themes: balance between research, teaching and service and between work and home; clear expectations about professional responsibilities; and collegiality.

The study’s authors proposed and tested a conceptual model of pretenure faculty success that incorporates additional research on motivation -- namely self-determination theory. The gist is that when pretenure faculty members’ social-environmental concerns are addressed, “their basic psychosocial needs will be satisfied, resulting in optimal motivation and greater reported success in teaching and research.”

Self-determination theory asserts that human motivation is a continuum, with inherent or intrinsic motivation being the ideal. And intrinsic motivation is hypothesized to occur when a setting fulfills one’s senses of autonomy, competence and “relatedness,” or feeling connected. So the new study’s authors guessed that balance, clear expectations and collegiality generally predict pretenure faculty success because they support feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness -- which, of course, promote intrinsic motivation and success.


Source: The Journal of Higher Education

The authors evaluated their model by analyzing 105 pretenure faculty members’ survey responses from two unnamed public research universities in the Midwest. Because success is difficult to define, they in their survey asked faculty participants about their perceptions of their teaching and research success, respectively, in relation to their personal standards, departmental standards and, finally, other faculty members. They also asked faculty members how successful they expected to be based on their own standard.

Participants rated their level of agreement with statements on balance, clear expectations and collegiality, such as, “I have been able to balance my work and home/personal life,” and “There is a colleague in my department whom I can ask for advice and guidance.”

To assess faculty members’ perceived levels of satisfaction in terms of autonomy, competence and relatedness -- which set the stage for intrinsic motivation -- additional survey items included, “In my [teaching/research], I feel a sense of choice and freedom” and “I feel confident that I can do things well on my [teaching/research].”

Additional items assessed faculty members’ source of motivation for various tasks. Possible answers corresponded with internal or external factors. “Because it is pleasant to carry out this task” was intrinsic, while “Because I am paid to do it” was not, for example.

Through path (or extended multiple regression) analysis, the authors observed relationships between social-environmental factors and basic psychological needs, as suspected. Unsurprisingly, the strongest pathway was the connection between collegiality and relatedness, especially in terms of teaching. Collegiality was positively correlated with perceptions of autonomy and competence in teaching.

Teaching "can be highly collaborative as faculty members within departments work together on curriculum development, which often involves exchanging materials, and assessment,” the study says. “Furthermore, because pretenure faculty typically have limited training in teaching upon starting their position, they regularly require support from colleagues to be successful.”

In contrast, perceived balance was most strongly related to autonomy and competence in terms of research. Why? “Establishing a good routine and finding time for research appears to be most important for research motivation,” the paper says.

As much as shifting performance targets can rile faculty members, clear expectations were not significantly related to the basic psychological needs or intrinsic motivation of pretenure professors with regard to teaching or research. They were, however, correlated with extrinsic motivation in both domains. That’s possibly “due to faculty expectations (e.g., for tenure consideration) typically being ‘externally’ set by university administrators, thus aligning more closely with introjected and external motivation."

An unexpectedly significant path, meanwhile, was the negative relationship between clear expectations and perceived success in research. The finding suggests that for some faculty members, “a clearer understanding of the criteria for research success may be demotivating, as perhaps identifying challenging goals for tenure contributes to feeling a lack of accomplishment in the present,” the study says. 

In support of self-determination theory’s application to pretenure success, the paper says that survey participants who perceived their basic psychological needs as being satisfied also tended to report higher levels of intrinsic motivation. Specifically, relatedness mattered in terms of teaching, and perceptions of autonomy and competence mattered to research.

One note: faculty members at the institutions studied had average workloads of 50 percent teaching and 35 percent research. These relationships are “likely to differ for faculty at institutions in which greater relative emphasis is placed on research activities,” the study warns.

Intrinsic motivation was also linked to higher expectations of future success. That is, pretenure faculty members who reported engaging in teaching and research because they found it enjoyable or interesting tended to say they felt more successful and also expected to be successful in the future, according to the study.

Also noteworthy is that extrinsic motivation was not significantly related to pretenure faculty success. That’s not surprising, the authors say, given that few enter academe to become rich or due to other outside pressures.

The authors call for further study but say that support for their model “will allow researchers, faculty development officers, university administrators and faculty members themselves to more fully understand the ideal pathway to success and perhaps lead to better understanding of how to assist those who are falling short.”

Even more practically, they say, their results suggest that university administrators -- including department chairs -- “could promote teaching effectiveness in pretenure faculty by fostering supportive relationships among departmental colleagues that, in turn, contribute to perceptions of relatedness, teaching-related enjoyment and reports of greater success.”

For example, pretenure faculty members could be assigned a teaching mentor willing to share existing course materials, review course syllabi, discuss textbook options or observe them in class, the study says.

“Alternatively, our findings suggest that efforts to promote pretenure faculty research should ideally encourage autonomy as well as a balance (teaching/research and work/life) through provisions such as teaching releases for research purposes, gym memberships for health promotion or designated periods when faculty need not respond to email (e.g., weekends). Such initiatives would be expected to contribute to sustained faculty interest in research and, in turn, greater research-related success.”

“Testing a Model of Pretenure Faculty Members’ Teaching and Research Success: Motivation as a Mediator of Balance, Expectations and Collegiality” was published this week by The Journal of Higher Education. Asked about the stickiness of collegiality in academe -- the American Association of University Professors opposes its use as a criterion in personnel decisions, for example -- co-author Robert H. Stupnisky, associate professor of education and human development at the University of North Dakota, said he could only point back to his finding that collegiality is an important predictor of faculty motivation and perceived success in the teaching domain.

Stupnisky's co-authors are Nathan C. Hall, associate professor of educational and counseling psychology at Canada's McGill University; Lia M. Daniels, associate professor of educational psychological at the University of Alberta in Canada; and Emmanuel Mensah, of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

Cathy Trower, an independent consultant on higher education who has studied faculty success extensively, said the new model seems to have broad applicability, and theoretical grounding enough to “pass the sniff test.”

“This research is some of the best I have seen on this subject,” she said. “It appears well conceived, well executed and thoughtful.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 00:00
  • DePauw University: Jim Alling, CEO of Toms.
  • Franklin & Marshall College: Wanda Austin, former CEO of Aerospace Corp.
  • Guilford College: Patricia Timmons-Goodson, the first African-American woman to serve on the North Carolina Supreme Court.
  • Le Moyne College: John Langdon, professor of history at the college.
  • Liberty University: President Trump.
  • Michigan Technological University: Paula L. Wittbrodt, vice president for international business operations at the Estée Lauder Companies.
  • Olin College of Engineering: Patrick G. Awuah Jr., founder and president of Ashesi University, in Ghana.
  • Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology: Robert L. Wilkins, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit.
  • University of Houston: Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor and former governor of California.
  • University of Mississippi: Jon Meacham, the journalist and historian.
  • University of New Orleans: Air Force Brigadier General Chad Franks.
  • University of North Carolina at Asheville: Ko Barrett, deputy assistant administrator for research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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U Chicago committee proposes ways of dealing with those who shout down invited speakers

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 00:00

As obstructionist protests of controversial speakers spread, some say the future of the trend depends on how colleges and universities respond -- namely what, if any, disciplinary action they take against participants. But just what action to take, and when, is tricky business. Practically, it can mean sorting through the chaos that often surrounds such events to find specific perpetrators; politically, it can mean wading into murky waters.

The University of Chicago has some ideas on how to proceed. Two years after the institution adopted a statement affirming free speech that has since been adapted by a number of other colleges and universities, a committee at Chicago has published a new report on discipline for disruptive conduct. The committee of faculty-led committee was charged by Chicago’s provost with reviewing and making recommendations about procedures for “student disciplinary matters involving disruptive conduct including interference with freedom of inquiry or debate” last summer -- long before Charles Murray was shouted down at Middlebury College or a controversial Canadian professor who opposes using gender-neutral pronouns was drowned out at McMaster University, for example. But its recommendations now seem prescient to some. Others find them lacking.

Perhaps most significantly, the committee recommends that disruptive conduct, which is currently addressed at Chicago within individual academic units, be covered by a centralized disciplinary process. While the committee’s hope is to provide “greater consistency across cases,” it does not propose prescribed actions for specific offenses. Rather, it seeks to create a voting committee of five members -- three professors, one student and one staff member drawn from a larger pool appointed by the provost -- to mete out discipline on a case-by-case basis. So while leaving punishments to a committee and designated administrative support office, it's clear that protests that prevent someone from talking violate university rules.

“It was clear to us in meetings on campus with students and faculty that there were a wide range of views on how speech should be approached at the university, and so we didn’t try to hardwire particular punishments,” Randal C. Picker, committee chair and James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at Chicago, said via email. “I expect that to play out in particular cases if we reach that point, but of course I hope that we don’t.”

The committee also proposes that the university “should revise its procedures for event management to reduce the chances that those engaged in disruptive conduct can prevent others from speaking or being heard.” Namely, it suggests naming and training “free-speech deans on call” to deal with disruptive conduct as it happens, and preauthorizing some process by which disruptive individuals can be removed from events, if necessary. Why? “The current rules, which often force deans on call to try to contact other administrators at the university in the middle of a free-speech disruption, are simply unworkable,” the committee says.

Similarly, the committee recommends that Chicago “provide greater clarity on the roles and responsibilities of hosts, speakers, audience members, event staff and the university police at events to improve understanding of the university’s commitment to free expression and clarify the consequences of disrupting the free-speech commons.” That could including creating more explicit audience guidelines, increasing staffing of deans at events and more training for other staff, according to the report.

Regarding transparency for students and other groups, the committee says that audience guidelines, along with the roles of various staff members charged with protecting free speech and the consequences of disrupting it should be readily available to students. “We recommend that the Student Manual include examples of protests that are likely to be regarded as nondisruptive as well as those that are likely to be disruptive. Nondisruptive protests include: marches that do not drown out speakers; silent vigils; protest signs at an event that do not block the vision of the audience; and boycotts of speakers or events," the report says.

Disruptive protests, meanwhile, include “blocking access to an event or to a university facility and shouting or otherwise interrupting an event or other university activity with noise in a way that prevents the event or activity from continuing in its normal course.”

When disrupters are not affiliated with the university, the committee says that they should be treated like they are part of campus life, whenever possible. When that’s not possible, unaffiliated individuals who engage in disruptive conduct “can be barred from all or part of the university permanently or for discrete periods under standards and processes,” according to the university’s existing no-trespass policy.

In terms of prevention, the committee says the university needs a more robust education program to ensure that students “understand the rights and responsibilities of participating in the free-speech commons.” It recommends new, targeted outreach measures for students and recognized student organizations, which build on existing student-centered programs and resources but are coordinated by the Office of Campus and Student Life and developed with the faculty.

Finally, the committee recommends that the university amend an existing statute on disruptive behavior to include nonmembers of the university community, as well as members, and to clarify that  interfering conduct may include behavior at one or more events. That’s because “serial conduct may in the aggregate rise to the level of disruptive conduct even if a single instance of such conduct does not,” the committee says. It also points out that disrupters may be individuals or groups.

Here is the statue, with proposed changes in strikeouts and additions in bold.

The University Council must weigh in the report before Chicago adopts it, and discussions could begin as early as this month.

The report has already received praise from some off campus. Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, wrote in the Federalist, for example, that it’s “a welcome step for all of American higher education,” since “it restores to the campus authorities charged with maintaining order the tools they need to do their jobs.” He praised the committee for recognizing that both individuals and groups may be responsible for blocking free expression or inquiry.

Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, and co-author of a recent statement denouncing those who interfere in campus speech, also approves. He said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that the report’s value will ultimately hinge on the consistency and "content neutrality" with which discipline is administered -- meaning, for example, that a person who shuts down a pro-Israel rally should be punished similarly harshly to one who shuts down an anti-Israel one. Otherwise, he said he wasn’t really “in the mood to criticize this kind of moral seriousness and leadership.”

One again, George said, referring to the 2015 statement on free speech, which Princeton promptly adopted, “Chicago has taken the lead in ascending core academic values. … They’re thinking about how to put teeth in the obligation of everyone on campus to respect the rights and freedoms of thought and expression of everyone else on campus.” He said he hoped other institutions would follow suit.

John K. Wilson, an independent scholar of free speech and co-editor of the American Association of University Professors’ “Academe” blog, shredded the report in a post, however. While he approves of a centralized disciplinary system, Wilson wrote that the report as a whole “fails to address serious problems with free speech and due process in Chicago’s rules, and mostly makes proposals to reduce free expression on campus by aiming to suppress protest.” 

Among other criticisms, Wilson wrote that the committee offers definition poor definitions of misconduct, including, to quote the report, “blocking access to an event or to a university facility and shouting or otherwise interrupting an event or other university activity with noise in a way that prevents the event or activity from continuing in its normal course.”

There’s a “fundamental difference between ‘interrupting’ an event and shutting it down,” Wilson says. “A protest can disrupt the ‘normal course’ of an event without preventing it from continuing altogether.” He also disapproves of the notion of cumulative offense, saying that if "a single incident does not justify punishment, then repetition of it at different events should not be punished." And if the statute is indeed changed to potentially allow for assigning penalties  “individually or as part of a group," he says, it suggests that "if a person is part of a group that breaks the rules, even if the individual doesn’t, that person can be punished."

Picker, the committee chair, said Wilson’s critique includes pre-existing policies, not just those his group suggests. Wilson said he does disagree with Chicago's approach to such issues, not just the committee's. But the new report is problematic on its own, he said, and the committee should have urged bigger changes to the statute -- like getting rid of it.

The committee says its work was primarily informed by two university values enshrined elsewhere, in previous reports on free speech (including that from 2015). First, Chicago's "fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the university community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed." Second, “[d]issent and protest should be affirmatively welcomed, not merely tolerated." 

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Ideas for improving higher education's primary role in work force development

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 00:00

In a rare point of agreement, the Trump administration and many academics would like to see less focus on colleges as work force development centers.

The administration has said too many students are being prodded toward bachelor’s degrees over apprenticeships and other noncollege options.

“We must embrace new and effective job-training approaches, including online courses, high school curriculums and private-sector investment that prepare people for trade, manufacturing, technology and other really well-paying jobs and careers,” President Trump said last week during a meeting on vocational training with U.S. and German business leaders.

“These kinds of options can be a positive alternative to a four-year degree,” he said. “So many people go to college, four years, they don’t like it, they’re not necessarily good at it, but they’re good at other things, like fixing engines and building things.”

Likewise, many in higher education, mostly at four-year institutions, resist pressure for colleges to be more attuned to their occupational role, arguing in defense of general education and decrying the transactional view of college as being primarily a means to a job.

College and faculty leaders also tend to dislike performance metrics that are based on graduates’ employment and earnings.

Yet higher education has been the federal government’s primary work force system for decades. And that is unlikely to change, experts said.

Just 6 percent of the roughly $114 billion the federal government spends annually on work force development and education goes toward noncollege job-training programs, according to data from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. (See graphic, below.)

Higher education gets a much larger share of that funding -- roughly 34 percent -- with K-12 receiving a similarly large portion.

“We’re spending more on job training than ever before. It’s just that the funding has moved to education,” said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills with the education policy program at New America and a former official at the U.S. Education and Labor Departments.

This was not always the case. Anthony Carnevale, the Georgetown center’s director, said job training and employment programs outside higher education and K-12 accounted for 40 percent of the federal work force budget in 1978.

One reason for the shift is that at least 60 percent of jobs now require at least some college education, according to the center, up from 28 percent in 1973. The trend will continue, Carnevale said.

In addition, federal spending on higher education is an easier political sell than paying for occupational or vocational programs that train workers outside college.

“It’s not the thing middle-class people want for their kids,” said Carnevale.

So higher education became the preferred system for job training, he said, a trend that began in the 1980s and accelerated during the Clinton administration, which shuttered federal job-training programs in exchange for higher education subsidies aimed at the middle class. (Employers spend $177 million a year in formal job training, the center has said, an amount that is increasing, but less quickly than overall spending on higher education.)

“Higher education became the chicken in every pot,” said Carnevale. “It moves votes.”

‘Time for a Reboot’

Yet nobody seems particularly happy about the federal government’s current approach to job training.

Bipartisan angst about the skills gap has become more urgent, as employers say they struggle to hire work-ready employees. Meanwhile, a wide range of experts said noncollege federal work force programs are inefficient, duplicative and lacking in incentives.

The current $18 billion annual federal work force budget is divvied up among roughly 50 programs.

“It’s spread across a wide range of programs for niche audiences,” said Jason Tyszko, executive director of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, who describes federal work force programs as being “stretched thin.”

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which was enacted in 2015 and replaced an outdated predecessor law, is the largest of the federal job-training programs. Its $3.4 billion annual budget is intended to extend across education, training and job-support services, with a goal of helping job seekers and employers as well as setting priorities for local, state and regional work force investment priorities -- a big ask.

The program’s task won’t get easier, at least if the Trump administration’s budget plan takes hold in the U.S. Congress.

The White House has called for a $2.5 billion, or 21 percent, cut to the Labor Department’s $9.6 billion in annual funding. While Trump’s budget document was relatively light on details, the National Skills Coalition projected that it would result in as much as a 50 percent cut to WIOA’s budget.

The White House plan also would decrease “federal support for job training and employment service formula grants, shifting more responsibility for funding these services to states, localities and employers.”

A broad coalition of work force and labor groups criticized the proposed cuts, calling them unnecessary and inconsistent with the Trump administration’s job-creation goals.

But Tyszko, citing two 2011 Government Accountability Office reports that described wasteful overlap and fragmentation of federal work force programs, said funding levels aren’t the main problem.

“Throwing more money at these programs and how they run could actually have diminishing returns,” he said.

Likewise, a broad range of experts agreed with Tyszko that the time is ripe for the federal government to reconsider its approach to occupational training.

“There really needs to be a fundamental reconciliation between higher education and work force development,” said Maria Flynn, president and CEO of Jobs for the Future and a former official with the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration.

Better coordination between the Labor and Education Departments is needed, she said, with particular attention to the interplay between WIOA and the Pell Grant program, which is the primary federal grant for low-income students. (The Trump budget would cut $3.9 billion from the Pell program’s reserves.)

There are some signs that the two systems are being steered together, Flynn said.

For example, she cited a bipartisan legislative proposal in the U.S. Senate that would allow students to use Pell Grants for short-term job-training credentials, such as college-issued certificates. Currently Pell can be applied only to programs that take more than 15 weeks or 600 clock hours to complete.

Other promising ideas Flynn mentioned include an Education Department experiment that is granting temporary access to federal financial aid for noncollege training entities, including skills boot camps and online course providers, under partnerships with accredited colleges on job training in high-demand fields.

Likewise, Flynn said the college and career pathways approach championed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Association of Community Colleges can help students follow a more structured route to completion and a job.

Structured pathways share some resemblance to the German model of nudging students toward an occupation earlier in their academic career, she said, without the controversial student “tracking” that’s a tough sell in this country.

“In the U.S. there’s some middle ground we can get to,” she said, “by really emphasizing the idea of pathways.”

Likewise, McCarthy and others said the federal government could do more to prevent students from having to spend more time and money than is necessary on vocational training.

Perverse incentives, she said, encourage colleges to make academic programs credit bearing and longer than might be ideal. For example, some medical assistant and early childhood programs were noncredit in the past. But to make those offerings financially viable, McCarthy said, many community colleges and for-profits began offering credit-bearing options in those fields.

One overarching fix to the lack of coordination on job training, according to McCarthy, would be for some Labor Department programs to be folded into Congress’s looming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is the law that oversees federal aid. She said that shared focus could benefit college-based occupational training, too.

“We have to bring what we know about good training quality to the higher education side,” said McCarthy. “It’s definitely time for a reboot.”

Market for Apprentices

Apprenticeships in particular appear to be in vogue as the GOP dominates both federal and state policy making.

The president and Ivanka Trump, his daughter, met last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a group of corporate executives from the U.S. and Germany to discuss vocational training. Ivanka Trump said the executives would form a task force that would produce a report on training programs that should be expanded.

President Trump reportedly has embraced a call by one of those executives to create five million apprenticeships within five years. That would be a steep increase from the current number of apprentices -- roughly 450,000 -- who are enrolled in Labor Department-registered programs, according to McCarthy.

The White House has pushed for private funding for apprenticeships and job training, with Ivanka Trump reportedly saying last week that “ingenuity, creativity often comes from the determination of the private sector.” And last year Congress added $90 million in funding for apprentice programs.

The Trump budget says it will help states expand apprenticeships, although it doesn't specify new money for them. But the $1 trillion in infrastructure spending the White House has said it is mulling probably would include funding for apprenticeships and other job training. (Carnevale's center projects that 55 percent of jobs created under such a program would not require any college, with 60 percent of new infrastructure jobs requiring no more than six months of on-the-job training.)

Some observers said the current structure of the Labor Department’s apprenticeship program can be balky. To participate, companies often must file voluminous applications and wait months for the feds to respond.

“It’s a bureaucratic process where those who are good at filling out papers get the funds,” said Ryan Craig, co-founder of University Ventures, an investment firm. “Government is ill positioned to pick winners.”

As a result, Craig is focused on job-training “intermediaries” between colleges and employers, where the money comes from job seekers or from employers themselves. Examples include Revature, an employer-funded training firm, and boot camps like Galvanize and General Assembly.

Yet there’s a role for government in promoting apprenticeships, Craig said.

He cites the United Kingdom’s apprenticeship levy, which goes into effect next month. The U.K. is requiring all employers with an annual payroll of more than 3 million pounds ($3.74 million) to pay a tax of 0.05 percent of their payroll amount on apprenticeships, with the government kicking in an extra 10 percent “top-up” to those apprenticeship funds.

Craig called the levy an exciting idea, which, if combined with the right incentives and outcomes requirements, would be worth a look in this country.

“We need to figure out how to spawn a market here,” he said.

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Barry and St. Thomas Universities explore strategic alliance amid pressures in South Florida

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 00:00

At first glance, Barry University and St. Thomas University might seem to be better positioned for the future than many other small private institutions.

The two Roman Catholic universities are both located to the north of the city of Miami in fast-growing Miami-Dade County. They both enroll large numbers of Hispanic students at a time when projections suggest growth among numbers of Hispanic high school graduates in Florida.

But the two institutions in South Florida aren’t immune from the pressures pushing small nonprofit colleges and universities to change.

Early this month, word circulated that Barry and St. Thomas are exploring a "strategic alliance." The process is still in its early stages, so the details of what such an alliance would look like aren’t clear. In theory, it could run the gamut from sharing back-office tasks to a full merger.

What is clear is that the two universities, which are located about eight miles apart, have been up against many similar challenges in recent years. They’ve faced enrollment strains and pressures on net prices in a competitive market for students. They’ve also dealt with financial stresses, sometimes prompting midyear adjustments to their annual budgets.

University officials reject the idea that budget challenges forced them to explore an affiliation. Instead, they point to broad trends sweeping across small private institutions and a call from the universities’ Roman Catholic supporters to explore a change.

Barry University is sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Mich. St. Thomas is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Miami. The two organizations asked the universities to start talking, and several weeks ago, the universities’ boards approved the move.

The next step is to hire a consultant to start discussions. But there is no firm timeline, according to university representatives.

“It’s really not about finances at all,” said Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale, St. Thomas University’s president (left). “It’s about creating whatever kind of synergies we can create in order to strengthen the institutions to a point where we can be seen as leading Catholic institutions -- whatever form that takes.”

No organizational changes are on or off the table at this point, said Sara B. Herald, Barry's vice president of institutional advancement and external affairs. She said she could think of many forms a strategic alliance could take that would not be a full merger.

“I’m a lawyer, and I’ll tell you there are a lot of different ways it could unfold,” she said. “A merger is one of maybe 60 to 70 options I could think of.”

The discussions take place at a time when private Catholic institutions are facing steep competition from public universities in Florida that sharply undercut their tuition rates. Many out-of-state institutions are also increasingly recruiting in Florida as they see drops in the pool of high school students they can recruit closer to home, according to Herald.

At the same time, Catholic institutions are less able to rely on highly educated priests and nuns to teach classes on low-cost stipends, because the number of priests and nuns is dropping, Herald said.

Further, Catholic institutions enroll a large number of students who don’t have the resources to pay full tuition. And the institutions don’t have large endowments -- Barry’s was reported at $36.6 million and St. Thomas’s at $24.2 million in the latest survey from the National Association of College and University Business Officers and the nonprofit asset-management firm Commonfund.

That leaves the institutions stuck between upward pressure on expenses and downward pressure on prices.

“This is about an environment in which you have sort of the perfect storm,” Herald said. “You can’t keep raising the price and expect people to be able to pay for it. That’s true nationwide. You have a declining population of traditional college-aged students.”

Barry University has attempted to break out of that situation recently, in part by shifting financial assistance more toward highly qualified students. It expected some decline in enrollment as its tuition discount rates fell but missed an enrollment target for transfer students and students in its graduate and professional programs last year.

The university’s total enrollment dropped from 9,030 in the fall of 2013 to 8,518 in 2014 and 7,971 in 2015, according to federal data. In 2015 it enrolled 3,776 undergraduates and 4,195 graduate students. Most of its undergraduates -- 84 percent -- attended full time.

Barry University reported that 27 percent of its students in 2015 were Hispanic, 25 percent were black non-Hispanic, and 7 percent were international. About 90 percent of full-time undergraduates received some form of financial aid.

Meanwhile, 61 percent of Barry University’s full-time undergraduate freshmen received federal Pell Grants in 2014-15. Federal Pell Grants are typically considered a proxy for students from low-income families.

The financial situation at Barry has come under local scrutiny lately, with The Miami Herald reporting on steps the university is taking to close an $8.6 million budget gap this year. The university reported more than $210 million in annual revenue on its most recently available federal tax forms.

Cuts being put in place include a hiring freeze, the elimination of about 25 staff positions and a temporary reduction in retirement-plan matching. The university is also consolidating an adult-education delivery site about 20 miles away in Davie, Fla., which is one of numerous locations it lists around Florida and in the Bahamas.

Barry University President Sister Linda Bevilacqua (left) recently sent an email discussing strategies being considered, which include re-examining tuition discounts. That letter called discussions about reducing expenditures “distressful,” saying “the decisions to do so are agonizing when they involve colleagues with whom we work,” according to The Miami Herald.

Fitch Ratings has previously noted Barry’s difficulties. In October the ratings agency affirmed a BBB rating on $67.3 million of revenue and refunding bonds, keeping the bonds on the lower end of investment grade. But Fitch revised the bonds’ outlook from stable to negative, noting declining enrollment and a revenue shortfall for the year ending in June 2016.

Historically, Barry University’s enrollment has fallen short of expectations, Fitch noted.

The university relies on tuition for more than 90 percent of its total revenue but has been unable to lower its tuition discount rate. Fitch said its tuition discount rate was expected to hit 29.8 percent for the 2016 fiscal year, up from 25.6 percent in 2015 and above its 2014 discount rate, which was 27 percent.

St. Thomas, in contrast, is a smaller institution, with 4,662 students as of the fall of 2016. Most of those students, 2,752, were undergraduates. Officials noted that many of the institutions’ students are dually enrolled at area Catholic high schools. The overall enrollment is down from 4,918 in 2015.

The university’s undergraduate students are 61 percent Hispanic/Latino and 9 percent black or African-American, according to federal data. Pell Grants went to 44 percent of full-time freshman undergraduates in 2014-15. The university says more than 90 percent of its students currently receive some type of financial assistance.

St. Thomas has collected around $60 million in revenue annually in recent years. It posted surpluses of more than $3 million in the years ending in June 2016 and 2015. It reported a deficit of $332,842 the previous year.

Currently, St. Thomas is in the midst of some belt-tightening, including voluntary separation plans offered to interested staff and faculty members, according to Hilda Fernandez, vice president of university advancement and marketing and communications. But she said its finances are strong.

“The university has never had to borrow money,” she said. “At the end of the day, the university has reserves, and it’s not borrowing money to operate. By far, it’s doing well. What it’s not doing is sitting still.”

St. Thomas discounts tuition, with aid packages for students averaging about $11,000 to $12,000 against its quoted undergraduate tuition of $28,800 per year for full-time undergraduates, Fernandez said. That’s about a 40 percent discount rate.

Talks with Barry University aren’t the only major changes on tap at St. Thomas. Monsignor Casale, who has been the university’s president for more than two decades, plans to retire in January 2018. It’s a natural time to discuss strategic direction, Fernandez said.

Monsignor Casale acknowledged that the South Florida market is competitive for students. But he argued that St. Thomas and Barry provide better access for students and a focus on service they cannot find elsewhere.

“We have a different student-to-faculty ratio,” he said, referring to the university's advertised 14 to one student-to-faculty ratio, which is lower than those at area public institutions. “There’s a much more personalized environment at both institutions than there are at other institutions.”

Faculty members want to be a part of the talks between St. Thomas and Barry, according to Craig E. Reese, a professor of accounting and taxation who is a member of the Faculty Forum at St. Thomas and chairs the department of accounting, business administration and finance in its school of business. But so far, any affiliation talks appear to have been at the executive and board levels, he said.

St. Thomas's efforts to balance the budget left some faculty positions unfilled. It currently has about seven fewer faculty members than it did last year, Reese said.

Reese thinks a merger could be a logical outcome of the engagement with Barry University. But he added that it is not likely to take place within the next year or two. The institutions involved -- including the church -- move slowly, he said. The work of consolidating duplicate programs would take time.

For instance, both Barry University and St. Thomas University have law schools. The Barry University School of Law is in Orlando, while the St. Thomas University School of Law is located on its campus.

There are reasons to believe that the two universities can find common ground. The two institutions’ presidents have discussed collaborations for years. They also have a history of partnering. Before they became coeducational -- Barry was founded as a women’s college and St. Thomas as a men’s college -- they shared classes and hosted events jointly.

“We tell the students clearly: we’re open for business,” Reese said. “We’re not closing down. What we’re going to have to do is rationalize what the two Catholic institutions do. We should not be in direct competition.”

Some think a full merger is unlikely, however. Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, believes the two institutions are looking for ways to share background and back-office operations.

“I think they’re both looking for efficiencies, shared services,” he said. “If you can do them less expensively, then certainly that’s the best thing to do.”

Barry and St. Thomas are important to South Florida but face challenges, Moore said.

“They’re located in some areas that need the access from these institutions,” he said. “They admit somebody knowing full well that they can’t pay, and that’s what they’re up against.”

The talks between Barry and St. Thomas come at a time when other Roman Catholic universities have reconsidered their position or been forced to make concessions to finances. Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn., recently said it was making deep cuts to focus on training Dominican sisters as teachers. St. Joseph’s College, in Rensselaer, Ind., said in February said it had to suspend nearly all operations after the spring semester because of a funding crunch.

Like any other tuition-dependent institution, most Catholic colleges or universities are going to face problems if they encounter dropping enrollments over multiple years, said Michael James, director of the Institute for Administrators in Catholic Higher Education at Boston College.

“These are front-and-center issues,” James said. “Over the last decade that I’ve directed the program, we’re seeing an increased number of participants that want to talk about and engage the questions we’re presenting around mission -- but with a lens of how does this bolster our competitiveness, and how do these become part of our strategic sustainability plans?”

Catholic universities can be uniquely qualified to forge collaborative models between institutions because they have shared characteristics and missions, James said. But institutions are also reflecting about their individual missions and responsibilities, he added. In many cases, they are thinking about what they can do to provide resources and access to the growing Hispanic population in the United States.

“How do they serve those student populations that are increasingly not being served well?” James said. “I think Catholic colleges are sort of asking that question very honestly.”

Editorial Tags: Business issuesMergersImage Source: Barry UniversityImage Caption: Barry University, whose officials are talking with counterparts at St. Thomas University about an allianceIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Republican member of Congress says Pell Grants discourage marriages

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 00:00

Toward the end of a nearly three-hour hearing on improving the federal student aid system Wednesday, Representative Glenn Grothman identified an issue with Pell Grants that doesn't get much attention. "Anecdotal evidence" in his district, the Wisconsin Republican said, indicated people are choosing not to marry so they can have incomes low enough to qualify for the need-based aid program.

Asked to respond by Grothman, the panel of witnesses testifying before the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development was for several seconds stunned into silence.

Grothman also argued that first-year students should be barred from receiving Pell Grants to make sure the federal government is not "wasting money" on those who don't graduate. And he suggested that low-income recipients are spending the grant aid on "goodies and electronics." Those students could pay for college by taking out loans, he said.

Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said taking Pell from first-year students gets the issue "upside down" when most scholarly and policy discussions have begun to focus on front-loading grants. As for Pell's impact on marriage, he said there is anecdotal evidence for "everything under the sun."

"I'm not in a position to deny he ran into two people who told him that, but I'm not sure what to do with that information," Nassirian said.

Grothman's comments did not receive a favorable response from hearing observers online.

@rkelchen Oh. How many aid offices has he worked in? How many students has he sat with while they cried?

— Shannon Gallagher (@sgallagherhe) March 21, 2017

.@RepGrothman goodies like a roof over my head, textbooks, and electronics like the ones required for school?

Yah I spent my Pell on that. https://t.co/79HCqKmDOe

— KE✌IN F☮RCH (@kevinforch) March 21, 2017 Editorial Tags: Financial aidImage Caption: Representative Glenn GrothmanIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

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