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Historians and language professors discuss advising at recent conferences

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2019-01-10 08:00

CHICAGO -- Eight-four-two-one. That’s the “mental PowerPoint slide” Leonard Cassuto asked those at a cross-over panel on graduate advising to imagine last week, during the annual meetings of the American Historical Association and Modern Language Association here.

Both conferences happened to take place in the same city this year, and both featured a number of well-attended sessions on rethinking graduate education -- perhaps a sign of growing awareness of a thorny but urgent topic.

For every eight students who begin a humanities Ph.D. program, said Cassuto, a professor of English at Fordham University and author of The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It, about four will not finish. Based on national data, two will leave early on in the program and two later -- the latter departures being what he called “ethical failures” on the part of institutions. Of the four students who do finish, he continued, two will eventually get full-time teaching jobs. Less than one will get a full-time job teaching at a research university.

And yet graduate schools still largely train students based on the premise that they’ll be research university faculty members, he said.

‘A Question of Academic Responsibility’

What can be done about that “utterly irrational” reality, Cassuto asked? He and others on the panel said that advising is an overlooked but essential key to graduate education reform.

“These are teaching problems,” Cassuto said. “And advising is, after all, part of graduate teaching -- arguably the most important kind of teaching.”

Cassuto pitched an idea that he said was at once “humble,” given its simplicity, and “heretical,” given the faculty-centered culture of graduate school: that programs should “reverse engineer” the graduate experience based on students’ actual career outcomes, with graduate advising at the center of that effort.

“What should the dissertation look like going forward, and how should it change to fit these new realities?” for example, Cassuto asked.

“This is a question of academic responsibility,” he continued. Saying that faculty members hold close their academic freedom and sometimes reject administrative guidance on teaching to protect it, Cassuto added, “I haven’t had a freedom worth having that doesn’t come with responsibility. And part of that means looking at graduate school in terms of the student experience.”

Faculty Resistance and Multiple-Adviser Models

Other panelists noted faculty resistance as a major barrier to changing graduate advising.

Rita Chin, professor of history and associate dean of social sciences at the University of Michigan’s Rackham Graduate School, agreed that most faculty members do see advising as part of their teaching role, and therefore a “sacred space.” So it’s difficult to get faculty colleagues to talk about the process of mentoring in order to change it -- at least under pressure, she said. Professors are much more amenable to low-key discussions about “best practices” for advising, however, she said.

One increasingly popular way around the faculty resistance problem is to assign graduate students multiple advisers. That way, if one doesn’t support a graduate student’s true career goals, or if that relationship is otherwise strained, another, hopefully more helpful coach is waiting on the sidelines. Multiple-mentor models are especially timely in the Me Too era, as many critics of the traditional mentor-mentee model say it facilitates or even encourages abuses of power.

Chin said Michigan's incoming graduate students in history are assigned one adviser based on their stated subdisciplinary interests, and another adviser within the broader department. "This means they’re getting an alternative perspective on the kind of advice they’re getting from their primary mentor,” she said. “One of the reasons this has been important to us is that it allows us to rethink the apprenticeship model of individual faculty mentoring, where faculty kind of see their students as their legacy."

Since Michigan's history department also has shrunk graduate cohorts a bit of late, to about 15, all 75 faculty members know they’re not all going to get their own graduate students. They’re therefore more open to a “team-based approach” to advising, Chin said.

Rackham also holds regular meetings and workshops for faculty members to learn about better advising.

Duke University has taken another approach to multiple advisers, creating a grant-funded supplemental adviser position for all 450 humanities and humanistic social sciences graduate students. The idea is that if you don’t want to share your nonacademic career goals with your adviser because you think you’ll be written off, Maria LaMonaca Wisdom can help.

Graduate students often "need to be seen and heard,” said Wisdom, who was a tenured faculty member in English before taking on her new role at Duke about three years ago. For any supplemental adviser, she added, "I'd say a good first step is to help restore to students what doctoral programs all too often strip away -- a student's confidence in her ability to find her own path.”

That often means letting graduate students steer their interactions with her. Sometimes they just need another set of eyes on an academic paper, Wisdom said, in which case her faculty background comes in handy. Often, they need the “gift of time,” as Wisdom’s one-on-one advising sessions rarely last less than an hour. But many desire the ability to be themselves.

Wisdom said she wouldn’t recommend a relationship in which academic advisers “see into students’ souls,” and that the relationship is a business one. But some students have developed such elaborate “workarounds” for their relationships with their advisers that they lead a “double life.” In one instance, she said, a student she’d arranged to meet at a campus coffee shop hid behind a potted plant when her departmental adviser came in, to avoid being seen with someone associated with diverse career advising.

Cassuto said he’d had similar but less dramatic experiences with students. Once a late-stage graduate student told him that he should know she wanted to be a community college teacher. When he said that probably made sense, given that the student had attended a community college herself and loved the experience, the student said, “No. You should know I have always wanted to teach at a community college.” The student had said otherwise previously, including in her application materials, Cassuto recalled.

He also praised the idea of supplemental advising, saying that sometimes people positioned outside of departments can accomplish what in-program professors can’t, mainly for political reasons. While those who resist student-centered approaches are often “old bull” full professors, he said, directors of graduate studies are typically lower-ranking associate professors who may not make too many waves with them.

Wisdom added, “These are things we have to think about until the culture changes.”

Indeed, the question is one of culture, of mindset -- not necessarily radical change, and certainly not radical change in faculty expertise. And some panelists noted that faculty members often actually do want to support students’ nonacademic career goals, but don’t because they believe they don’t know how.

Wisdom said that good advising is, in part, about simply having a “realistic sense of the job market” and “humility.”

Cassuto agreed, saying that a former advisee once told him the best piece of advice he ever gave was to “go talk to someone else.”

Student Resistance

Students also can challenge graduate education reform efforts. Cassuto said he tells students that they must be the CEOs of their own experiences, meaning they should feel empowered to make choices and even employ informal “boards” of advisers.

Panel moderator Edward Balleisen, professor of history and public policy at Duke and vice provost for interdisciplinary studies, and a national advocate for career diversity, asked, “How do we empower graduate students?” Thinking aloud, he said, “I do often tell my students, ‘Don’t take my word as gospel. I’m certainly not always right, and mine is not the only perspective.’”

Beyond the “double life” problem, students often resist the nonacademic career question. Wisdom said that she’s learned that talking about this with new graduate students can scare them away from her. So when she hosts a dinner for first-year students, she focuses on other topics entirely. She takes the same approach with faculty members when she first meets them and "networks like crazy" instead of pushing any one agenda.

Balleisen also wondered about timelines by which advisers should engage students in talks about career diversity. On the one hand, he said, doing so when brainstorming dissertation topics seems too soon. On the other, it seems like an opportune time to shape that project around emerging career goals.

During a question-and-answer period at a later joint-conference panel on innovations in graduate education that Balleisen also moderated, Alicia DeMaio, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Harvard University, said students who demonstrate bravery in being honest with their advisers might just be pleasantly surprised.

"I got halfway through my degree and realized I didn't want to be in academia forever, and I was terrified to tell people. But I did, and folks were surprisingly supportive," she said. "Sometimes I worry faculty especially are under the misapprehension that there are just nonacademic jobs lying around for the taking, especially for someone with a Harvard Ph.D. -- which of course is not true."   Still, she said, "at least they're open to having these conversations." FacultyEditorial Tags: EnglishHistoryFacultyGraduate educationGraduate studentsImage Source: Duke UniversityImage Caption: Edward Balleisen and Maria LaMonaca WisdomIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Reforming Graduate EducationTrending order: 1College: Duke UniversityFordham UniversityHarvard UniversityUniversity of Michigan-Ann Arbor

GAO report reviews studies on student hunger

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2019-01-10 08:00

A long-awaited report examining the extent of hunger on college campuses recommends increasing students' awareness of federal food assistance benefits so that higher ed institutions can better combat the problem.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office report, which was released Wednesday, examined 31 studies on food insecurity among students. It also determined through further analysis that about two million at-risk students who were potentially eligible for food aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, did not report receiving the benefits in 2016.

The report was the result of a 2017 request by Senate Democrats that the GAO assess hunger among college students after several surveys found that students were experiencing food insecurity.

“As the costs of college continue to climb, it’s clear that students are struggling to afford more than just tuition -- many are unable to afford textbooks, housing, transportation, childcare and even food,” U.S. senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, said in a statement. “This report confirms that food insecurity is a widespread issue on our nation’s campuses and that there’s a lot of work to do to ensure students are getting enough to eat. As we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I look forward to building on the recommendations of this report to make college truly affordable by addressing the total costs of college.”

Despite broad agreement that the problem is extensive, finding consensus on a clear or accurate estimate of the number of hungry college students has not been easy. The report notes that estimates in various studies on food insecurity ranged from 9 percent to more than 50 percent.

The report highlights one national study from the Urban Institute last year that estimates:

  • 11 percent of households with a student in a four-year college experienced food insecurity
  • 14 percent of households with a student in a vocational or technical program experienced food insecurity
  • 17 percent of households with a student in a community college experienced food insecurity

Part of the reason for the growing rates of hunger is the increase in low-income students attending college, the report states. It is also a reflection of changing student demographics. The percentage of all undergraduates who had a household income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line increased from 28 percent in 1996 to 39 percent in 2016, according to national data. The number of students receiving federal aid through Pell Grants has also increased from about 23 percent in 1999 to about 40 percent in 2016.

“It is time to not only think about tuition and fees but basic needs,” said Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. “That’s why our students are failing out of college. Sometimes they’re choosing between food and books.”

Eddinger said people have long doubted that students were going hungry in significant numbers because of assumptions that students attending four-year colleges are financially supported by their parents. Those students are no longer in the majority, she said.

The struggles of Bunker Hill students and the college's efforts to help them have been documented in the columns of Inside Higher Ed's Wick Sloane, an administrator at the college who works on this issue.

Current college students don't fit the traditional demographic of teenagers who enrolled immediately after graduating high school and who are financially dependent on their parents. According to federal data, about half of all undergraduate students in 2016 were financially independent. About 22 percent of all undergrads that year had dependent children of their own, and 14 percent were single parents. The average college student today is 26 years old.

The GAO’s analysis focused on the 39 percent of students whose income was below 130 percent of the federal poverty line and found that most low-income students also experience additional risk factors for food insecurity. The three most common factors were being a first-generation college student, receiving SNAP benefits and being a single parent.

The GAO report also looked at low-income students with at least one risk factor for food insecurity who were eligible for SNAP and determined that 57 percent did not report participating in the federal program. Another one-quarter of 5.5 million low-income students with at least one additional risk factor for food insecurity did not meet any of the student exemptions allowed under SNAP and would likely be ineligible to participate in the program, according to the report.

Currently, there are 38 million people who receive the food assistance benefit, which will receive funding through February under the current government shutdown, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The GAO’s estimate of about two million students who are potentially eligible for SNAP seems too conservative, said Carrie Welton, a policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy.

“What they recommended is probably the bare minimum Food and Nutrition Service can do,” she said, adding that states should do a better job of clarifying the eligibility rules for SNAP. “We’ve been working with multiple states to help them clarify the rules and improve postsecondary benefits in their states.”

Welton said she supports rolling back exemptions that prevent many students from taking advantage of SNAP.

For example, full-time students can qualify for SNAP benefits if they meet one of several criteria, including participation in the Federal Work-Study program. But the GAO report notes that work-study funding is limited “especially at community colleges where there are more students at risk of food insecurity.”

Officials at nine of the 14 colleges selected for analysis in the GAO report said they viewed food insecurity as part of students’ increasing inability to meet their basic needs, which is a result of the rising costs of college and of living expenses such as housing and transportation.

But many college officials said that administrators, faculty and staff on their campuses are unaware that many students don't always have enough to eat and struggle to pay for food, according to the report. All 14 colleges said they educate their students about the resources available to them if they are facing food shortages, and eight of those institutions train or provide information to faculty about campus or community resources.

But there is still a stigma about food assistance on many of these campuses. Officials at 11 of the colleges said that stigma is a major barrier for some students. A few of the colleges have tried to eliminate the stigma by centralizing their food pantries to normalize their presence on campus; others have moved the pantries to less public areas of campus.

Students have also created their own barriers to receiving public benefits by buying in to the stereotypical and acceptable image of being a starving college student surviving on ramen noodles.

“We need to stop reinforcing this idea that starving is being a college student,” she said.

The GAO report revealed that federal programs have been limited in what they do to address food insecurity among college students.

The Food and Nutrition Service, an agency within the USDA which administers SNAP, doesn’t share pertinent information such as student eligibility requirements with college officials to help them better assist students, according to the report. Federal student aid, while available to help low-income students pay for college, does not cover the full costs of attending college.

According to federal data, 40 years ago the average Pell Grant covered about 50 percent of the average cost of in-state tuition, fees, room and board at community colleges and 39 percent at four-year colleges. But today the grant covers 37 percent of costs at community colleges and 19 percent at four-year institutions.

“The net price of college attendance has increased, and students and their families are asked to devote substantial shares of their income to college,” said Katharine Broton, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa and a faculty affiliate with the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University. “Certainly, students from low-income families are at increased risk, but this problem isn’t only limited to low-income families.”

Broton said a growing number of students from moderate-income families do not qualify for Pell Grants and don’t have the resources to pay the growing costs of college.

Although working adults who may be parents are increasingly a larger portion of the U.S. college student population, federal and state financial aid and social service policies have not been adjusted to fit their needs, Eddinger said.

“Look at K-12 and the hot lunch programs and how that has changed and brought equity to the learning environment,” she said. “If a child is hungry in elementary school and getting hot lunches and they’re the children of our students … what are the parents eating?”

Community CollegesEditorial Tags: Financial aidImage Caption: Valencia College food pantryIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Students and HungerTrending order: 2

Amid IRS technical glitches, feds give colleges alternatives to approve aid applicants

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2019-01-10 08:00

At the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the spring semester started Monday. But ongoing technical issues at the Internal Revenue Service meant some students at the campus still hadn’t been approved to receive the federal student aid they needed to attend classes.

That’s because they were selected for a process known as income verification. And those IRS technical issues meant the students -- like others at campuses across the country -- couldn’t get the necessary paperwork to prove they qualified for aid awards.

On Wednesday, though, the Education Department released long-awaited guidance giving financial aid administrators alternative ways to verify students’ family incomes.

Mary Sommers, the financial aid director at the Kearney campus, said there was a “little explosion of cheering” in her office after the guidance was released.

“It would help these students so much,” she said.

The department’s new guidance allows students to submit tax returns to demonstrate family income instead of tax transcripts from the IRS, an official document including line items like gross income, that can take weeks to obtain -- even when the process is working correctly. And non-tax filers can submit signed statements that they did not file taxes.

Most students at the Nebraska campus file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, in the fall, so just a handful had been affected by the verification issue, Sommers said. But those challenges can mean the difference between attending class or not.

"We have for sure one case, and maybe more, where students are just opting not to enroll," she said.

At colleges with more frequent start dates or at community colleges, where students more often enroll semester to semester, the effect of the verification roadblock this month is likely even bigger.

Students eligible for Pell Grants are flagged for income verification at higher rates. That means additional bureaucratic hurdles for those students most in need of financial aid and, sometimes, those least equipped to navigate the process. The challenges involved in verification have come under closer scrutiny recently as part of broader discussions about simplifying the application process for student aid. The National College Access Network estimates that more than half of Pell-eligible students were selected for income verification in the 2016-17 financial aid cycle, and 44 percent of those applicants never received a Pell Grant.

The technical issues at IRS happened as the agency furloughed employees because of the ongoing government shutdown. Officials told news outlets that those issues were the result of routine maintenance and not the shutdown. But student aid groups were still frustrated with the timing and lack of communication from the agency.

“Even on a good day, when everything is working right at IRS, obtaining tax transcripts is an arduous and difficult process,” said Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “That’s why we lobbied for this.”

Education Department officials announced at the Federal Student Aid conference last year that the agency would release new federal guidance giving aid administrators more options to verify family incomes. The release of that guidance became even more urgent this month as the problems with the regular IRS process became apparent to college officials.

J. Noah Brown, president and CEO of the Association of Community College Trustees, said the group appreciated the fix for students filing FAFSA applications this semester but added that a bigger solution was needed to cut down on income verification checks.

“Over the longer term, the Department of Education and lawmakers in Congress should streamline FAFSA verification requirements to ensure that community college students have access to financial aid and to ease administrative burdens on community college financial aid offices,” he said. “The current requirements are overly burdensome to both students and institutions, and they can create unnecessary barriers to students’ pursuits of postsecondary education.”

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Event focuses on global higher ed and recruitment challenges in changing times

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2019-01-10 08:00

WASHINGTON -- How can colleges seize control of their international strategies at a time when international student enrollments are falling at many American colleges and when federal immigration policies and public attitudes may be working against institutions’ internationalization goals?

“We used to talk very clearly about this internationalization imperative” as if global involvement was an irresistible or unavoidable force, Kevin Kinser, head of the education policy studies department at Pennsylvania State University, said at an Inside Higher Ed-organized event, Global Higher Ed in Changing Times, Tuesday. “There are a lot of people who disagree with that assumption, that presumption.”

“I’m an optimist going through a very pessimistic phase right now,” Kinser continued. “I’m not sure the idea of internationalization resonates with as broad a population as I thought.”

One theme that emerged Tuesday was the growing divide between haves and have-nots as international student enrollments have fallen at some institutions and increased at others.

Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president at the Institute of International Education, presented data from the latest annual Open Doors report that found a 6.6 percent decline in new international students at American colleges in fall 2017.

A separate survey of about 500 colleges IIE conducted in fall 2018 with nine other higher education associations found a continuing 2 percent decline in international students at U.S. institutions. However, enrollment trends varied across institutions, with about half of colleges reporting declines and the other half reporting increases or flat international enrollments. Associate and master’s-level institutions, less selective institutions, and colleges in the Midwest reported the steepest declines, while research universities reported increases in international students.

The top three factors survey respondents cited for the declines were the visa application process or visa delays or denials (cited by 83 percent of respondents), the social and political environment in the U.S. (60 percent cited this), and competition from institutions in other countries (59 percent). The top three factors cited for increases were more active recruitment efforts (58 percent), growing reputation and visibility abroad (48 percent), and more active outreach to admitted students (47 percent).

Rahul Choudaha, executive vice president of global engagement and research for the online recruitment platform Studyportals, highlighted in his talk what he has characterized as three waves of international student mobility, with the third and current wave “triggered by the political climate we are in.”

“This couldn’t have come at a worse time,” Choudaha said, referencing stagnating demand from China, the scaling back of a massive Saudi government scholarship program and the price sensitivity of students from India. “This is the first time, actually, we can’t let international student recruitment be on autopilot riding on the wave of demand growth from China, Saudi Arabia or any other country. This is our time to seize control. It won’t happen by itself anymore.”

As far as recruitment solutions go, Choudaha proposed an acronym, HOPE, with the “H” standing for higher value institutions can offer students -- as in the case of Eastern Michigan University, which reduced tuition for international students to the in-state rate, the “O” standing for outreach, the “P” for partnerships with third-party providers and other entities, and the “E” for investments institutions make in improving the experience of international students so they will return to their home countries as solid “brand ambassadors” for the institution.

Jill Welch, deputy executive director for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, said she would add another "P" to the discussion -- the political. Advocates for international education have been deeply concerned by some of the visa and immigration policies pursued by the Trump administration, including changes to how “unlawful presence” is calculated for international students, new restrictions on the duration of visas for Chinese nationals studying for advanced degrees in certain high-tech fields and the travel ban, which continues to restrict entry to the U.S. for nationals of multiple Muslim-majority countries.

The Trump administration has also signaled its intent to at some point overhaul programs that let international students stay in the U.S. to work after graduation, and at one point reportedly considered a proposal to ban students from China from coming to the U.S. altogether.

“What we need to understand is perception is reality,” Welch said. “When this administration even floats an idea that would make us less [welcoming] to international students, other countries are able to highlight immediately their certainty and their policies, and it creates a ripple effect around the world about how the U.S. is viewed.”

While the U.S. has seen falling new international enrollments, other competitor countries -- including Canada -- are reporting significant growth. Anne-Marie Vaughan, the president of Loyalist College, an institution in Ontario about two hours outside Toronto, said the percentage of international students at her institution grew from 3 to 30 percent in three years, as the number of international students jumped from about 85 to 1,000. The growth has come primarily in students from India, many of whom already have degrees and are coming to do postgraduate diplomas with an eye toward staying to work in Canada. Vaughan said Loyalist has more applications from international students now -- 4,000 -- than the college has students.

Nor is Loyalist an outlier. "I don’t think there’s a single college within our province that hasn’t seen a pretty robust growth in international students over the past five years," Linda Franklin, the president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, said in a follow-up phone interview.

Franklin said one driving factor "is Canada simply has a great reputation for postsecondary education. The other one is that Canada is still seen as immigrant-friendly and our immigration policies actually welcome foreign students, who, if they complete education in a public postsecondary institution, have a relatively straightforward path to work permits." Franklin said two immigration policy changes in particular -- streamlining of the visa approval processes for Indian students, and changes to the Express Entry immigration system to give an advantage to graduates of Canadian higher education institutions when they apply for permanent residency -- have been key to driving the increases.

Tuesday’s event on global higher education in changing times did not focus solely on international student enrollment trends. College leaders speaking at the event highlighted their institutions' internationalization activities more broadly. Joseph Aoun, the president of Northeastern University -- which has the third-largest international enrollment of any university in the U.S. -- discussed Northeastern’s development of campuses in Toronto and Vancouver and its planned acquisition of the New College of the Humanities in London. Northeastern students go to countries around the world to complete internships through the university’s signature co-op program.

“The notion of cultural agility, the notion of global ease and global proficiency are important,” Aoun said. “We did surveys of employers -- employers are very interested in this aspect. They want students who are global, who have global experiences, not an academic touristic experience.”

For all the focus on the global, presidents also emphasized the importance of outreach to their local communities. "The community needs to understand why you exist," said Ahmad M. Hasnah, the president of Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar. "You need to find that your program, your research is really able to impact them. I think they need to feel that impact."

And while much of the event focused on the importance of internationalization, a panel discussion Tuesday afternoon highlighted the complexities of working in parts of the world where human rights are not respected.

Cornell University's labor college recently withdrew from a partnership with Renmin University of China over academic freedom concerns, and many colleges were prompted to re-evaluate their ties to Saudi Arabia after the killing of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey in a crime that the Central Intelligence Agency has determined was ordered by the Saudi crown prince. (One of those universities prompted to review its Saudi ties, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, subsequently issued a report recommending that the institute keep its Saudi relationships.)

Liz Reisberg, an independent consultant in higher education and research fellow at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, has written for Inside Higher Ed's "WorldViews" blog, which she edits, about her choice to continue working on a project with the Saudi Ministry of Education after the killing of Khashoggi.

"The Saudi project has been difficult for me, and in the process of soul-searching, I really had to think about what internationalization is. As institutions we have to make a choice: Are we going to isolate ourselves, are we only going to collaborate and mix with countries that share our values -- and good luck finding those countries -- or are we going to try to understand different worldviews?" Reisberg asked during the panel session on human rights and international higher education.

Rowena Xiaoqing He, a scholar with the Institute for Advanced Study who has written about the experience of pro-democracy activists who were exiled from China after the Tiananmen Square massacre, said she wouldn't want to recommend that colleges cut off contact. But she said that administrators have a responsibility and that before they set up campuses in certain parts of the world they should "think twice and then ask, 'Can we make sure that we have the intellectual freedom?'"

They should ask, “Why are we doing this, what’s the point of us doing this?” He asked. And if they can't guarantee intellectual freedom, "we should think twice, because we are not helping our students and we are harming our universities in the long run."

GlobalEditorial Tags: International higher educationForeign Students in U.S.Study abroadU.S. Campuses AbroadImage Caption: A panel at Tuesday's conference, with (from left) Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik, Penn State's Kevin Kinser, Dickinson College's Margee Ensign and Ahmad M. Hasnah of Hamad Bin Khalifa University, in Qatar. Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: 

After student death, University of Maryland deep cleans dorm rooms

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2019-01-10 08:00

A viral outbreak at the University of Maryland, College Park, campus that resulted in the death of a student has prompted university officials to disinfect every residence hall while most students are away for winter break, a laborious effort far beyond a typical cleaning.

This deep clean, which began Monday, coincides with questions of whether mold either caused or exacerbated student illnesses, though the university said that there is no connection between the adenovirus and mold exposure.

Administrators have confirmed at least 40 cases of adenovirus with campus health professionals or outside physicians as of Tuesday.

Adenoviruses are prevalent year-round and usually are the cause of common colds. But tests conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show at least 10 College Park students contracted a strain, adenovirus 7, that causes much more severe sickness. University health centers typically don't test for adenovirus because it is so common, and College Park officials weren’t aware that the virulent strain was spreading until a student died in November.

Olivia Paregol, 18, died from pneumonia, an adenovirus-related illness. Paregol, a first-year student, lived in Elkton Hall, where mold was so severe that students were forced to evacuate to hotels this fall. The death of Paregol, who suffered from Crohn's disease and a compromised immune system, led to concerns about whether the mold was to blame.

University officials said students who live off campus have contracted adenovirus and that the CDC told them that “it is not aware of evidence to suggest an increased risk of adenovirus infection associated with exposure to molds,” university spokeswoman Katie Lawson said in an email. David McBride, the university’s health center director, told The Washington Post that the institution hadn’t been able to pin down a pattern of who has contracted the virus, but there wasn’t a “consistent connection” between students who lived in Elkton and those with adenovirus. Students there had contracted the virus, but cases were also scattered in residence halls across campus.

One student was hospitalized from an infection in December, according to a university statement. At least eight students had been admitted to the hospital at some point due to the virus.

CDC representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Adenovirus usually “flies under the radar,” said Michael Deichen, executive director of student health services at the University of Central Florida and chairman of the American College Health Association’s Emerging Public Health Threats and Emergency Response Coalition.

Most people who contract adenovirus are unaware they have it and simply get better, Deichen said. But he said the type of outbreak that occurred at College Park tends to be more common in nursing homes, where residents live in closer quarters and typically aren’t as healthy as undergraduates. He said he was unaware of another campus that experienced an outbreak like the one at College Park.

At least 11 children with weakened immune systems and other medical issues have died in connection with adenovirus outbreak at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in New Jersey as of November, and 23 other children at the center became sick.

Deichen urged campuses to follow “non-pharmaceutical methods” -- actions students and staffers can take in lieu of a vaccine -- to lower their chances of catching the virus. Among them: consistent hand-washing, covering coughs and cleaning their rooms. The College Park provost has advised faculty members at least twice to accommodate students who have been sick to make sure they’re not coming into the classroom and infecting others.

Contractors or university workers are entering almost every residential room on campus to disinfect anything that is frequently touched, such as doorknobs, desk and dresser tops, drawer fronts, countertops, light switches, faucets, and bed frames. This usually happens during the academic break in the public areas of residence halls, but the university escalated its efforts in an attempt to eradicate the virus.

The university first received word from a local hospital about a student being infected in November. Around that time, officials had started their usual campaign around cold and flu season for prevention methods. Once the outbreak was more visible, they began working with Maryland’s Department of Health and the Prince George’s County Health Department. Those agencies also contacted the CDC to confirm that mold wasn’t causing the virus, and were provided documents to that effect, which they shared with College Park officials. But those papers haven’t been made public.

College Park also plans to improve air-conditioning and ventilation in Elkton and another residence hall to fix the mold problem. An investigation of the two buildings found that the air-conditioning system wasn’t equipped to control humidity inside, a problem compounded by a season of extreme temperatures.

Outbreaks of other serious illnesses on campus are not unusual, particularly meningitis. Campuses in the eastern U.S. recently have experienced outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease, which causes fever, sore throat and a rash. Johns Hopkins University had at least 120 cases of the viral infection in October, and Lehigh University reported more than 100.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2019-01-10 08:00
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Colleges move to close Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes amid increasing scrutiny

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2019-01-09 08:00

At least 10 American universities have moved to close their Confucius Institutes in the past year as political pressures over the Chinese government-funded institutions for language and culture education have intensified.

The Confucius Institutes have long been controversial. The centers vary somewhat across different campuses, but they typically offer some combination of Mandarin language classes, cultural programming and outreach to K-12 schools and the community more broadly. They are staffed in part with visiting teachers from China and funded by the Chinese government, with matching resources provided by the host institution. The number of U.S. universities hosting the institutes increased rapidly after the first was established at the University of Maryland College Park in 2004, growing to more than 90 at the peak.

In earlier years the main criticism of CIs, as the institutions are known, came from professors and centered on concerns about academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Concerns about the importation of Chinese state censorship -- as in the case of the reported censorship of materials at a Confucius Institute-sponsored conference in Europe in 2014 -- dominated the conversation. Emblematic of this strain of criticism, the American Association of University Professors issued a report in 2014 urging colleges to close their CIs or renegotiate the agreement to ensure academic freedom and control. The AAUP report asserted, "Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China. Specifically, North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate."

Largely the concerns of the professors were ignored by institutions, which continued existing institutes or started new ones up. But over the last year and half, the locus of the debate over Confucius Institutes has shifted from academe to the political sphere as the CIs became tied up in a larger narrative in Washington about Chinese government-influenced activities and espionage-related threats on American campuses.

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Wray, told a Senate panel last February that the FBI was concerned about the institutes. The most prominent critics of the CIs in Washington -- U.S. senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas -- have come from the Republican Party, but Democrats have also raised concerns, as in the case of U.S. representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who has called on Tufts University and the University of Massachusetts Boston to close their CIs.

Some universities have closed the institutes in direct response to concerns voiced by lawmakers. This was true in the case of Texas A&M University, which promptly announced the closure of institutes on two of the system's campuses last April after two Texas congressmen called for them to be shuttered, characterizing the Confucius Institutes as a “threat to our nation’s security by serving as a platform for China’s intelligence collection and political agenda.”

Other universities that have moved to close their Confucius Institutes over the past year cite various reasons related to changing strategies, low enrollments in Chinese language classes or budgetary constraints. University leaders have also expressed concerns about the implications of the National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law last August, which prohibits the Defense Department from funding Chinese language programs at institutions that host Confucius Institutes except in cases in which the institutions have obtained a waiver. At least one institution -- the University of Rhode Island -- has opted to close its Confucius Institute so as not to jeopardize funding for its Defense Department-funded Chinese Language Flagship program.

Marshall Sahlins, the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and the author of Confucius Institutes: Academic Malware (University of Chicago Press, 2015), a book critical of CIs, said he thinks the main reason for the closures is “pressure from the American right, including the National Association of Scholars [which issued a critical report of CIs in 2017], as well as lawmakers, and from security agencies of the U.S., notably the FBI: a coalition of political forces responding distantly to the developing Cold War with China -- raising even older terrors such as Communism and the Yellow Peril -- and proximately to drumbeat rumors that CIs are centers of espionage. Those that give other, face-saving reasons are probably protecting their academic cum financial relations to China, such their intake of tuition-paying mainland students.”

“Apparently the tide is beginning to turn, though for the wrong reasons,” Sahlins said. “As I said in my Inside Higher Ed op-ed last year, we are now in a pick-your-poison, lose-lose situation: either keep the CIs or allow the U.S. government to interfere in the curriculum -- mimicking the Chinese [Communist] Party-State.”

Gao Qing, the executive director of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center, said misinformation about the CIs “has complicated both the public’s understanding of the issues and the universities’ responses” to the growing political pressures.” The CIs, he said, represent partnerships between American universities and Chinese universities “established for the mutual benefit of joint educational and cultural exchange.”

Gao said they are directed by a faculty or staff member appointed by the host institution with the help of an associate director from the Chinese partner university. "Individual CIs’ curriculum are built and evaluated by their American host universities with complete autonomy," he said. "CIs adhere to the same principles of governance and academic freedom applicable to all institutes and departments in the university. The Chinese instructors sent from Chinese partner universities are invited, vetted, and supervised by American host institutions as visiting scholars."

“In the past year, we have seen growing pressures and allegations on Confucius Institutes and their host universities based on those misunderstandings and misinformation but not valid evidence,” Gao said.

Pressure From Washington

In Florida, three of the four colleges and universities that host Confucius Institutes -- the Universities of North, West and South Florida -- have announced closures of their institutes since their home state senator, Rubio, sent a letter urging them to do so last February (the fourth, Miami Dade College, confirmed that its CI is still operating and that there has been no change to its status). West Florida -- which said it made its decision to close its CI prior to receiving Rubio's letter -- cited inadequate student interest in the institute's programs. North Florida said only that a review found the classes and events offered by the CI “weren’t aligned” with the mission and goals of the university.

South Florida shuttered its Confucius Institute at the end of the calendar year, having undertaken an internal audit after receiving Rubio’s letter. “One thing that was very clear right away was that our CI was being run appropriately, that we had appropriate methods in place to maintain the integrity of the work, and that we felt our Confucius Institute, which this year is 10 years old, was doing what was asked of it. In a way that was the problem,” said Roger Brindley, the vice president for USF World.

Brindley pointed to a couple of main reasons for closing the CI: first, he said it had become clear that the CI’s focus on Chinese language teaching was out of step with USF’s increasing research-focused orientation. Second, he said, enrollments of USF students in Mandarin courses had fallen, from 191 in fall 2013 to 65 this past fall: “We’ve got some work to do there,” he said. “We’d like to see a robust Mandarin language program at USF, but it does mean that the Confucius Institute teachers who were coming over to us from our partner institution, it was problematic how we used them effectively.”

But while Brindley said issues of mission and enrollments were paramount to the decision, he acknowledged that the scrutiny CIs are coming under was a factor. “There are two things we won’t deny,” he said. “The first is that we can’t speak for the other 100 CIs in the United States -- we did a vigorous audit of our CI -- but if there is behavior going on elsewhere in the United States that could fall foul of federal law, frankly we did not want to be associated with that.”

"The other piece of course that we don’t deny is the National Defense Authorization Act. As a research-intensive university, we're concerned [about that]. It’s not necessarily clear what the implications are of the provision that limits federal funding to colleges with Chinese ties."

USF doesn't have a Defense Department-funded Chinese Language Flagship program, but others who host both a Flagship program and a CI may be forced to choose between them if they can't obtain a waiver under the terms of the act. A University of Rhode Island spokeswoman said in a statement that after a review of the law, “we determined there are too many challenges to overcome in order to renew the agreement with the Confucius Institute” and that it would dissolve the CI before May 31.

“We have learned that continuing with the Confucius Institute could jeopardize federal funding for the university’s Chinese Language Flagship Program, which is a highly successful language academic program funded by the U.S. Department of Defense,” the Rhode Island statement said.

Several other institutions with both Chinese Language Flagship programs and Confucius Institutes -- Arizona State, San Francisco State and Western Kentucky Universities and the Universities of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and Oregon -- told Inside Higher Ed they have applied for waivers to allow them to keep both programs.

A Defense Department spokeswoman said that all institutions that host Defense-funded National Security Education programs in Chinese and a Confucius Institute have been given the opportunity to submit requests for waivers in order to be eligible for funding for the current fiscal year. She said the requests are currently under review.

Other Closures

Other institutions that have announced closures of Confucius Institutes within the last 12 months include the Universities of Iowa, Michigan at Ann Arbor and Minnesota at Twin Cities and North Carolina State University. In addition to these institutions, Tufts University has charged a committee with reviewing its CI, and a decision on whether to renew the CI agreement when it expires in June has not been made yet pending receipt of the committee’s recommendations.

The recently announced closures follow on closures of the CIs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in 2017; Pennsylvania State University, in 2014; and the University of Chicago, where more than 100 faculty members had signed a petition calling for the closure in 2014. North of the border, in Ontario, McMaster University closed its CI in 2013 after a visiting instructor from China claimed the university was “giving legitimization to discrimination” because her contract with Hanban -- the Chinese government entity that sponsors the institutes -- prohibited her participation in the religious organization Falun Gong.

Of the recent closures, Iowa announced last summer it would close the CI along with six other centers on campus as a budget-reducing move in response to state funding cuts. Downing A. Thomas, the associate provost and dean for international programs at Iowa, said the decision to close the CI upon the expiration of the contract this July was “entirely a budgetary one. It stems from the generational disinvestment in public higher education that we are experiencing in Iowa, and is no way a reflection on the value of the outreach programs in language and culture that our Confucius Institute has conducted over many years.”

The institute at Minnesota’s campus, which will close at the end of the academic year, focuses heavily on K-12 outreach, working with a network of slightly more than a dozen “Confucius classrooms” in K-12 schools across the state. Meredith McQuaid, the associate vice president and dean for global programs and strategy alliance, said that over the CI’s 10-year history it received about $3 million in funding from the Chinese government and that the university contributed about $2 million.

McQuaid said that after 10 years, now was a good time to re-evaluate the CI and see if resources could be invested elsewhere. Minnesota is one of a handful of schools that has both a CI and a Defense-funded Chinese Language Flagship program, and McQuaid said that while that the National Defense Authorization Act was “a factor” in the decision to close the CI, “it wasn’t the factor.”

“Our Confucius Institute was dedicated to the K-12 community, and over the course of 10 years we have introduced Chinese language and culture through CI programs that have now become part of the fabric of the schools,” she said. “They have had Chinese language teachers and now know themselves if it’s important enough to hire their own or if they want to share with another district.”

“In a time of limited resources at every university campus, can we use the resources we have invested in a K-12 strategy in a different way?” McQuaid asked, “recognizing that the schools have benefited greatly over the past 10 years.”

At Michigan, the CI has a very different focus, focusing on Chinese visual and performing arts rather than language teaching. James Paul Holloway, Michigan’s vice provost for global engagement and interdisciplinary academic affairs, said the decision not to renew the contract for the CI when it expires this year was driven by a desire to bring Chinese arts programming into the university’s regular academic units. The decision means the university will forfeit about $300,000 annually in Chinese government funding -- which it matched with its own $300,000 -- but Holloway said that while the funds were greatly appreciated, “in the context of the University of Michigan as a whole, that is not an amount of money that determines whether we can or can’t do something.”

“The Confucius Institute here was never meant to be forever -- it’s a series of five-year agreements -- and we really wanted to use the Confucius Institute and the support the Chinese government was providing to foster and grow the interest on our campus in the study of Chinese visual and performing arts,” Holloway said. “We’re at a point now where if we want our regular academic units to continue our engagement and that interest, they in some sense need to regularize it; they need to decide as part of their regular academic work that they’re going to pursue that.”

A spokeswoman for North Carolina State University, which will close its CI at the end of June, referred Inside Higher Ed to a written statement about the closure and to the provost’s comments in a Raleigh News & Observer article. “What we really wanted to do was develop a China/Asia strategy that was independent, that was not funded by the Chinese government, that was consistent with our strategy in other areas of the world, and refocus on our core mission of opening opportunities for our faculty and our students,” North Carolina State’s provost, Warwick Arden, told the News & Observer.

Some have praised universities for forgoing the Chinese government funding, which they say has come at an unacceptable cost. “Now, colleges and universities are waking up to the fact that they may have permitted the Chinese government to purchase a piece of their curriculum -- or at least they realize the political winds have shifted and it is no longer convenient to advertise such a cozy relationship with the Chinese government,” Rachelle Peterson, the author of the National Association of Scholars report critical of CIs, wrote in an article about the North Carolina State closure.

Others lament the loss of a major source of funding for Chinese language instruction and cultural programming at a time when such resources are hard to find.

“To me, it’s a big loss to faculty and students,” said DeYu Xie, a professor of plant and microbial biology at North Carolina State and a member of the CI advisory board there. The 2018 annual report from North Carolina State’s CI estimates that the institute has served more than 35,000 individuals, including more than 12,000 NC State students, with Chinese language courses, and that more than 920,000 people have attended Chinese cultural events over the institute’s 12-year history.

Ryan Allen, an assistant professor of educational studies at Chapman University, said that even absent the political pressures, he would expect to see some CIs closing. “They expanded so fast and so quickly that it’s almost like throw everything at a wall and see what sticks -- of course some of things are going to fall down,” he said.

Political pressures aside, Allen, who did his master’s thesis research on the CIs, said for years there have been questions about the long-term financial sustainability of the CI model, which depends on matching resources from the host institutions. He emphasized that political and financial pressures on the institutes can be interconnected.

“Go to an administrator, or go to a university president, or anyone dealing with their budget and say we have to dedicate any money at all, just a little bit, it doesn’t matter, to this Confucius Institute,” Allen said.

“‘What -- those things that I see on TV that Marco Rubio is criticizing?’” Allen imagined the administrator asking.

“‘Yeah, those things.’”

“So, what is the question,” Allen continued, of the hypothetical administrator’s reaction. “That’s the first thing to go. It’s not necessarily, ‘Oh, I’m listening to Marco Rubio’; it’s ‘this made the decision much easier.’ If there’s any kind of criticism, well, there are already issues with budgets, things are already tight, spaces on campus [are] tight, administrators’ time is tight, professors are already teaching as many classes as they can, there aren’t really that many students taking these classes. It’s an easy answer what gets cut first.”

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A year after tax law changes, new guidance still rolling out for colleges

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2019-01-09 08:00

When President Trump at the end of 2017 signed a Republican-backed tax-reform package into law that included significant changes for colleges and universities, higher ed leaders were left waiting for answers.

They wondered about rules for calculating a new tax on endowments. They sought guidance regarding a tax on parking and transportation benefits for employees. Questions circulated about a new tax on highly compensated nonprofit employees that had drawn criticism while the tax law was still being drafted.

And leaders also wondered about the tax law’s effects on human behavior. For instance, how would an increase in the standard deduction affect donor behavior? Would alumni newly covered by the larger standard deduction be less likely to give to colleges and universities because they wouldn’t be itemizing their taxes?

About a year later, some answers have become clearer, while others remain clear as mud -- and still others can be addressed by mucking around with pages of guidance from the Internal Revenue Service.

The Treasury Department and IRS have been rolling out interim guidance giving colleges an idea of how to handle technical issues like how to group separate lines of business subject to a new unrelated business income tax or how to handle parking and transportation benefits subject to taxation.

Broadly, experts say the guidance is in many cases helpful, even though it hasn't addressed every question raised. So it is possible today to take stock of key developments on tax reform issues that captured attention.

The guidance issued so far could also prompt some interesting behavior and unexpected effects. For instance, don’t be surprised if some colleges pull up signs designating parking spots for employees or redraw the lines in lots in order to dodge the parking tax.

In some cases, though, college leaders still have little choice but to wait for more information.

“It’s still early days,” said David Shapiro, a partner and tax chair at the law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr in Philadelphia. “We won’t really see how it shakes out until we’re through at least one fiscal year.”

Below are brief discussions about some of the major tax reform issues and how they have changed over the last year.

Excise Tax on High Compensation

As 2018 ticked toward its close, new interim guidance came out on a 21 percent excise tax that tax-exempt entities and their related organizations must pay on employee compensation of more than $1 million, spelling out what wages and benefits count toward the tax trigger. Experts are still digesting the guidance but flagged some notable developments.

Related organizations share the costs of an excise tax. So if a university and its foundation both pay a president who earns more than $1 million, they would each pay some tax.

An example given in the guidance document has one organization paying an employee $1.2 million, or 60 percent of his or her total compensation, and another paying $800,000, or 40 percent of total compensation. The total excise tax would be $210,000, or 21 percent of the compensation in excess of the $1 million tax trigger. The first organization would pay 60 percent of the tax bill and the second would pay 40 percent.

That’s important because highly paid university employees sometimes receive compensation from more than one related entity. Think, for instance, of football coaches.

“It’s not always the university president who’s going to be affected here,” said James Finkelstein, a professor emeritus of public policy at George Mason University who studies presidential compensation. “It may be the vice president of the medical center or the dean of the medical school. It could be the athletic director or football coach or basketball coach.”

The new guidance also spells out that licensed medical professionals’ compensation is not subject to the excise tax when it covers “direct performance” of medical services, nursing services or veterinary services. But compensation for other duties they perform, like administrative, research, teaching and management duties, generally is subject to the tax.

Some public colleges and universities have been recognized as 501(c)3 organizations, and some have not. Those not set up as 501(c)3s are not subject to the excise tax on compensation, and those that do have 501(c)3 status may relinquish it so the tax does not cover them.

“My guess is you’re going to have public institutions that have at some time in the past elected to get their 501(c)3 status get rid of it,” said Dan Romano, partner in charge of tax services, not-for-profit and higher education at the consulting firm Grant Thornton.

But 501(c)3 status comes with some benefits for institutions. For instance, giving money to a college from a donor-advised fund is easy to do if the institution has the status and is listed in the IRS master file. It’s harder and requires more due diligence for others.

Also of interest, it appears institutions will need to track their five highest-paid employees regardless of whether they owe one cent under the excise tax on compensation -- and they will need to continue tracking those employees, plus anyone who displaces them in the top five, into the future. “Those employees continue [to] be covered employees in all future years and may be paid excess remuneration or excess parachute payments in a future year,” according to the guidance.

The excise tax could leave some institutions with an unexpected tax bill for employees who receive “parachute payments” when they are terminated, experts say. Some also take issue with the fact that the tax allows for no grandfathering of employee contracts signed before it was passed into law. It is hard to plan for possible future tax payments when you don't know the rules under which those payments will be due, they point out.

Many think the excise tax will become just another cost of doing business, though. It will be folded into the already high cost of hiring top employees, along with search fees, salaries and benefits packages.

Parking and Transportation Benefits

Also in December, interim guidance addressed some key questions about parking and transportation benefits and costs that are being taxed as unrelated business income. Taxed parking benefits have received particular attention after reports emerged last year that churches and other tax-exempt organizations would have to pay a 21 percent tax on such fringe benefits to employees.

Notable among the new guidance were steps employers can use toward measuring employee parking expenses at lots colleges and universities own or lease. The first is determining the number of spots reserved for employees as a percentage of total parking spaces, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers. That percentage is considered for unrelated business income that is taxable.

The second step is to count the remaining spots. If more than half of spots can be used by the public, none of the parking facility's expenses are taxable income. The third step is to count spots reserved for customers and other nonemployees, which are also not taxable.

Finally, spots left over after the first three steps must be checked for “employee use during normal business hours on a normal day.”

Employers with reserved employee spots still have time to remove them before the tax kicks in. They have until March 31 of this year to remove the reservation and have the change be retroactive until Jan. 1 of 2018.

Experts hope Congress will pass legislation removing the parking tax entirely. In the meantime, they say institutions are likely to take action to avoid having to pay the tax at all. Some have joked that colleges will redraw lot lines to add more spaces.

“In the university world, unless it’s a small institution with a limited number of students, they should have ample spots to prove it’s primarily for student and other use,” Romano said. “It may be a matter of them doing away with reserved parking.”

NACUBO noted in December, however, that the guidance didn’t address transit benefits.

Endowment Tax

The so-called endowment tax, a 1.4 percent excise tax on net investment income at private colleges and universities with at least 500 tuition-paying students and assets of at least $500,000 per student, has generated intense pushback, particularly from the wealthy colleges most likely to have to pay it.

No one is quite sure yet how many institutions will have to pay. Estimates anticipate dozens in early years. But the tax kicks in on the first tax year that starts after Jan. 1, 2018.

“For most colleges and universities, that will be the year ending in June 2019,” said Mary Bachinger, NACUBO’s director of tax policy, in an email. Colleges and universities are in the middle of that year now.

Guidance and draft tax forms have given experts more insight into the nuts and bolts of how net assets will be measured and how the tax will be calculated. Broadly speaking, calculating assets seems to be in line with rules for private foundations, Romano said.

Colleges and universities could need to track the starting value of assets they are given. That could cause headaches and change behavior.

“If the donor doesn’t know what their basis was, that’s hard for the university,” said Alexander Reid, a partner at the law firm Morgan Lewis. “If it’s really a low-basis, high-value stock, the university is going to want to say, ‘Why don’t you give that to a donor-advised fund not subject to this tax?’ And then they’ll sell it and they don’t have to pay this tax.”

Opportunity Zones

Opportunity zones are one part of the tax law receiving plenty of attention in the business world, but not necessarily from higher education leaders.

That's because the zones are intended as an economic development tool focused on investors. They seek to attract private capital by offering significant tax benefits to those who put money into partnerships or corporations investing in the zones.

The zones have received plenty of criticism as giveaways to the wealthy or for being set up in areas that are already growing, instead of the distressed communities in need of a boost. But the fact remains that they have been set up in parts of all 50 states, and some zones could be of interest to universities.

“It’s not university specific, but there has been this trend where universities aren’t necessarily developing the areas around their campuses by themselves,” said Shapiro, at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr. “They’re looking to outside funding, and a lot of universities are in or adjacent to opportunity zones. In terms of building additional student housing, expansion of research facilities and things like that, we are seeing a lot of interest around developing opportunity zone financing.”

Colleges or universities looking to take advantage of an opportunity zone wouldn't be receiving the financial benefits directly. They'd have to set up another entity to develop the property and attract investors, who would then receive the financial benefits. But doing so could attract sources of capital for a college-supported project that would have otherwise been harder to finance.

“This is really about attracting investment from the taxpaying public,” Shapiro said. “The value to the university is in their ability to attract private capital to make the investment.”

The zones won't likely allow colleges and universities to take a bad project and make it good, he added. Instead, they'll make decent projects more attractive.

Human Behavior

Donor behavior remains hard to predict. December is considered the most important month for fund-raising in part because it is at the end of donors' tax years. With the month so recently closed, no one is quite sure how last year shaped up yet.

“The verdict’s not in,” said Peter Lake, chair and director at the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University. “This year is the real test year to see what might happen.”

Even after that's known, few expect to be able to say for certain how the new tax laws will warp donor behavior in the long run. Donors could tweak their plans in the future after they've evaluated the tax returns they will file by April.

“Until people start to do their tax returns and until you get a year under the new law, it’s probably a little early to draw direct dollars-and-cents effects,” said Marc Berger, national director for nonprofit tax services at BDO, a tax and financial advisory firm.

Confounding variables will also make it hard to draw a direct line between donor decisions and the tax law. Stocks' volatility to close 2018 and open the new year likely set on edge some donors who had been feeling flush during the bull market.

“The psychological impact of what is turning out to be extreme market volatility in the month of December, when people have their checkbooks out -- at the margin, it’s going to have an effect,” said Debashis Chowdhury, president of Canterbury Consulting, an investment advising firm for endowments, foundations, health care organizations and families. “If one is not feeling as wealthy as one did in, say, September, it’s likely to have a negative impact. So there’s a lot of small cuts.”

Fragile sentiment extends to college and university investment committees, he said. They are worried about both volatility and regulatory uncertainty.

The tendency is then for leaders to become paralyzed or hunker down. Canterbury's higher ed clients are small- to middle-market institutions. So the uncertainty is often an additional concern on top of mounting enrollment pressure.

If major donations stopped flowing, it could become a big problem for some institutions. Some are skeptical that the wealthiest donors will stop giving because of the new tax laws, though. They weren't taking the standard deduction before, and they still aren't taking it.

“At the higher end, the law is the same for everybody,” said Paul Roy, who is counsel to the private client and tax teams at the international law firm Withers. “The client that is $50 million or $100 million in net worth, they’re not really worried about this sort of adjusted gross income limit on deductions.”

On the margins, someone who is well-off but not wealthy is likely still interested in the tax benefits in question and may be affected by the increased standard deduction. Still, strategies are emerging that could give such donors tax benefits, like bunching their donations so they give larger sums of money less frequently than they had before.

“In the last year, there’s been a lot of creative thinking going on within the development department, the athletic department and the lawyers trying to deal with these new requirements,” said Julie Miceli, a partner with the law firm Husch Blackwell’s higher education group and former deputy general counsel for higher education and federal student aid at the U.S. Department of Education. “But it’s just been a year now of trying to get their brains wrapped around them.”

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In learning styles debate, it's instructors vs. psychologists

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2019-01-09 08:00

A couple of years ago, the science writer Ulrich Boser wondered: Do educators still believe in learning styles?

The idea that some students are auditory learners, while others flourish by having information presented visually, through motion or otherwise is nearly a century old. It grew in popularity in the 1950s, then again in the 1970s, but for much of the past decade scientists have warned that it has little merit.

Boser, founder of the Learning Agency, a Washington consulting and communications group, had long followed the field. He was researching a book about learning strategies and knew that scientists had debunked learning styles, most notably in a widely discussed 2009 paper -- in it, they said building instruction around the concept was an “unwise and a wasteful use of limited resources.”

So he set up a Google alert for the term. He found that, far from being dead, learning styles were perhaps as popular as ever. “It is incredible how much it pops up,” he said recently.

Educators continue to invoke the idea, he said. Last October, as she embarked on a four-state “Rethink School” tour, U.S. education secretary Betsy DeVos said she planned to visit schools that are “working to ensure all children can have access to the education that fits their learning style.” During her 2017 confirmation hearing, DeVos thanked Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, for displaying a chart in the hearing room that she could refer to during testimony, calling herself "a visual learner" -- despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Education has discouraged the idea. It even funded a teachers' guide that warns, "Education research debunks the myth that teaching students in their preferred styles (e.g. 'visual learners,' 'auditory learners') is an effective classroom practice."

But interviews suggest that the two sides these days may be closer than they seem: even learning-styles devotees, who view the "debunkers" with suspicion, are beginning to consider teaching strategies that learning-styles critics would support.

Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at Barnard College who wrote about the topic last month for Scientific American, calls learning styles an example of a "neuromythology" -- a popular idea that endures despite little evidence supporting it. This particular myth, he said, “is paved with good intentions, but that still doesn't mean it can't be harmful to students.”

Kaufman wrote that, paradoxically, catering to learning styles in the classroom “can actually foster a fixed mind-set, not a growth mind-set. This should create quite the cognitive dissonance for teachers who generally love both growth mind-set theory and learning styles.”

Even the mock-newspaper humor site The Onion has lampooned learning styles, publishing a satirical article in 2000 with the headline, "Parents Of Nasal Learners Demand Odor-Based Curriculum." Accompanying the piece was a photo of a forlorn girl, identified as a "nasal" learner, struggling to understand an "odorless" textbook.

Despite The Onion's coverage, the styles are generally defined by three -- in some cases four -- adjectives: visual, aural or auditory, “read-write” (a preference for writing and reviewing carefully produced notes) and kinesthetic (a preference for moving around). The quartet are sometimes referred to as VARK.

A recent posting on Kansas State University’s Division of Biology website reminded students: “You like this page because the emphasis is on words and lists. You believe the meanings are within the words, so the talk was OK, but a handout is better.” It also advised kinesthetic learners, “Use all your senses to take in the information in the studio classroom. Volunteer for demonstrations or to answer questions using the visual presenter at the podium. Be active in setting up the experiments at your table (e.g. pipetting the solutions into the tubes, finding the cells in the microscope). Pay close attention to the demonstrations (e.g., pH, respiration, relative size of organelles) and go up and examine these when you have time during class.”

The department advises students to complete a VARK questionnaire, developed in 1987 by a New Zealand researcher named Neil Fleming, who says on his website that he works not just with schools but with "elite sports coaches" and business clients.

In an email, Robbie Bear, a Kansas State biology instructor, said the department offers students who take introductory coursework "the ability to assess their learning using the VARK test. However, we do not put much emphasis on the students completing it."

Bear said the department is in the process of updating its website "to better reflect how the VARK relates to our teaching philosophy. Our basic philosophy is [that] if one way of presenting material does not work, try another. Once you have an understanding of the material in one format, try to understand it in a different format. In short, the best learners are multimodal thinkers."

Bear said the department uses VARK "because a good number of our students have seen this terminology before." That helps inform students as to "why we present information in many different formats and not just the traditional lecture. Getting students to 'buy in to' the studio format of learning is very important in making it all work effectively." Though he has no data on whether this helps student performance, in general, he said, students who take the introductory course -- which asks them to consider learning styles -- score "about a letter grade higher" in upper-level courses than those who transfer in.

But Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia, said the categories themselves “haven’t been shown to mean anything.” Nonetheless, recent surveys have found that about 90 percent of Virginia students believe in them.

While it’s true that some students may possess a better visual or auditory memory than others, Willingham said, that is in a sense a distraction for teachers, who want students not simply to ingest material but to make meaning out of it. Willingham has written widely on the topic, urging educators to focus on teaching different kinds of content in their best modality, rather than teaching different students in their perceived best modality. "All students learn more when content drives the choice of modality," he writes.

He and others said the persistence of learning styles likely stems from the fact that they're adjacent to a bedrock tenet of psychology: differences matter. People have different abilities, talents, goals, life experiences and motivations -- including better working memory or persistence -- and these play a key role in learning.

“The idea that people differ in their abilities is almost certainly right,” Willingham said. “I think that gets confused with learning styles.”

Kaufman, the Barnard psychologist, said one key issue is that while paying attention to these differences "comes from a place of caring for the students,” teachers may misinterpret how to help students with different abilities flourish. Add to that a general “discomfort with differences that are perceived as immutable,” he said, and you have the ideal environment for something fuzzy like learning styles to flourish.

Boser, the science writer, agreed: “There’s something in America in general, and in education in particular: we don’t like to talk about how people are different,” he said. Teachers like to believe in students’ unlimited potential, and anything that places constraints on it is problematic.

But he admitted, “Intelligence is a real thing.” Different people have different levels of it. Talking about that “makes educators uncomfortable.”

David Kraemer, a cognitive neuroscientist in Dartmouth College’s education department, said decades of research have made one thing clear: "What seems to be true, and is not in dispute, is that people differ in different domains," performing better in English class than in math class, for instance. “To me, that’s where some of these intuitions come from.” Teachers want to tailor instruction to students' strengths. But that could be counterproductive. “The point of school isn’t just to cater to what you do well already,” he said.

His research has shown that even people who believe that they better understand things one way -- spatially as opposed to detail oriented, for instance -- perform better in weak areas if they're given strategies to improve.

But his students continue to ask him about learning styles. “I definitely tell students who come to me [that] it is more myth than reality -- and there isn’t really evidence to support those ideas, in terms of study strategies or pedagogical approaches.”

Richard Felder, a professor emeritus of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University who has written in support of learning styles, said psychologists have spent decades working to debunk the theory. “On the other side are literally millions of people who have used learning styles to design instruction” and to help students become better learners, he said.

Advocates who understand learning styles insist that they represent “preferences,” not hard and fast lines that can't be crossed, he said. “The debunkers paint it as a black-and-white thing, that you’re either this or you’re that.” Meanwhile, good instructors “don’t heavily overload on one side or the other of any of these dimensions.”

"The idea is balance," Felder said.

Asking students to consider their own strengths and weaknesses is different from teaching solely to their strengths. Actually, he said, much of the research finding that catering to learning styles is ineffective begins from that mistaken premise: "The learning-styles debunkers are starting with their own definition of what learning styles mean and then debunking that -- but their definition of what learning styles mean is wrong.”

He admits that educators in the past "did go overboard" in specializing instruction based on student preference, but no longer. Actually, Felder said, if most of his colleagues were still teaching auditory learners, for instance, solely in ways that play to that strength, "I’d be on the side of the debunkers."

‘Astounding Capacity to Learn’

What good teachers understand, experts say, is that the different senses each have their own strengths and weaknesses. “We’re all visual learners,” Boser said. “Our vision is the best system to take in data.” Likewise, we’re all auditory learners -- when the material calls for it. Consider the advantages of hearing a story via audiobook: sequential information is ideal for this “style” of learning. But “auditory learners” who want to get better at soccer still lace up their cleats, run onto the field and practice their moves, Boser said. “You would never just listen to podcasts all day.”

Scientists have long struggled to help educators understand this larger context. In 2009, a group of cognitive psychologists commissioned by the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest assessed learning styles and found “only a few fragmentary and unconvincing pieces of evidence” that would validate them.

The group, led by University of California, San Diego, psychology professor Hal Pashler, noted that all humans, “short of being afflicted with certain types of organic damage,” are born with “an astounding capacity to learn, both in the amount that can be learned in one domain and in the variety and range of what can be learned.”

They concluded that the widespread use of learning-style measures in educational settings “is unwise and a wasteful use of limited resources.” While the researchers agreed that instruction deemed “optimal” for a given student makes sense, assuming that people are “enormously heterogeneous” in their instructional needs could draw attention away from solid teaching practices.

“Given the capacity of humans to learn, it seems especially important to keep all avenues, options, and aspirations open for our students, our children, and ourselves,” Pashler and his colleagues wrote. “Toward that end, we think the primary focus should be on identifying and introducing the experiences, activities, and challenges that enhance everybody’s learning.”

Willingham said the findings have made few inroads into the classroom. He likens learning styles to atomic theory -- a notion that most people take on faith, since they haven’t seen protons and electrons firsthand.

Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, noted a 2017 survey that the group conducted, which found that an "overwhelming share of the public" -- nearly 90 percent -- believe in "myths about teaching and learning" such as learning styles.

The topic has occasionally been the subject of serious if controversial research. Last summer, Canadian researchers found that surgical trainees' "learning styles" may affect their ability to acquire laparoscopic skill proficiency -- but the study had only 19 subjects. In 1995, researcher Rita Dunn of St. John's University published a meta-analysis supporting so-called "modality effects," but other researchers who examined her research found that only one of the studies Dunn cited had appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. The rest were unpublished doctoral dissertations -- 21 of them from St. John's, Dunn's home institution. Dunn passed away in 2009.

UVA’s Willingham said more needs to be done to “inoculate future teachers against this idea when they are in teacher preparation programs.” While education psychology textbooks don’t propagate the idea of learning styles, he said, “I would also argue that they’re not doing enough to say, ‘There’s nothing to support this idea.’ When there’s something that you know is widespread misinformation in teacher professional development, I think that’s part of a psychologist’s role, part of a scientist’s role.”

Howard Gardner, a longtime professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, who in the 1980s popularized the idea of “multiple intelligences,” has said the re-emergence of learning styles -- and a few educators’ insistence on lumping them in with his work -- has “driven me to distraction.”

In a 2013 op-ed in The Washington Post, Gardner called learning-style theory “incoherent” and said he had proposed a very different scenario, one that said different parts of our brains compute different kinds of information -- linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, musical, etc. He has estimated that most people have seven to 10 “distinct intelligences.” Learning styles, he said, are different. If teachers say a student’s learning style is “impulsive,” does that mean he’s impulsive about everything he learns?

Gardner also said there’s no clear evidence that teaching to a student’s learning style produces better outcomes than a “one-size-fits-all approach.” Insistence on learning styles, he said, “may be unhelpful, at best, and ill conceived at worst.” Strength or weakness in one kind of intelligence “does not predict strength (or weakness) in any other intelligences,” he wrote. “All of us exhibit jagged profiles of intelligences.”

Gardner suggested that educators individualize teaching as much as possible, teach important materials “in several ways” (through stories, works of art, diagrams and role-playing, for example), and drop the term “styles” from their vocabulary.

“It will confuse others,” he wrote, “and it won’t help either you or your students.”

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High demand from retirees to live on campus at Arizona State University

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2019-01-09 08:00

New housing under construction at Arizona State University isn't slated to be completed until 2020, but the university president has nonetheless dubbed it "the world's coolest dorm," and future residents have already secured their spots.

The residents won’t be typical college students, however -- they’ll be people in their 60s, 70s and up. The housing complex on the university’s Tempe campus will be a retirement community with a twist -- the residents will be able to take classes, make use of campus facilities such as the library with university-issued ID cards and immerse themselves in university life as much, or as little, as they like. They'll also be encouraged to mentor and build relationships with younger students.

“There’s no reason everyone can’t be a college student and engaged in what this community has to offer for the entirety of their lives,” ASU president Michael Crow said at a groundbreaking ceremony for the complex, called ASU Mirabella, in February 2018. “We’re excited that we’ll have on our campus several hundred new learners, new teachers and new experts,” he said.

Crow said he wants to reconceptualize "lifelong learning," a popular talking point among university leaders who promote the important role of higher education in helping adults prepare for new career opportunities. Retirees are often left out of the equation and have not been a significant part of those efforts, said Todd Hardy, managing director of innovation zones at ASU. While they don’t need degrees or certificates to show to future employers, many retirees do want to keep learning and feel engaged, he said.

“We want these residents to be part of our community and to be fully integrated into everything we do,” Hardy said “We’d like them to be guest lecturers, advise us on start-up companies, be docents at our art gallery and performance hall. We’d love them to engage in ways that appeal to them.”

Mirabella residents could even help shape academic programs and research at ASU, he said. Areas of collaboration might include art therapy, Alzheimer’s treatment, nursing and online education. ASU is even considering whether students could work with Mirabella residents as part of their coursework.

ASU is part of a growing trend of privately owned retirement communities being built on or near college campuses.

Ramona Meraz Lewis, a faculty coordinator at the College of Education and Human Development at Western Michigan University who has conducted research on older learners, said ASU Mirabella is an “innovative take on a somewhat established idea.”

While some of these retirement communities may lease or buy college-owned land, such as Kendal at Oberlin, which has close ties to Oberlin College in northern Ohio, and Vi at Palo Alto near Stanford University, very few are actually situated on a campus, she said. Some communities, such as Oak Hammock at the University of Florida or University Commons at the University of Michigan, have deep connections to the universities and were even founded by former faculty. But neither community is directly managed by the universities.

Lasell College, a private institution in Auburndale, Mass., shares a 13-acre site with a retirement community called Lasell Village. To be a resident at Lasell Village, residents must commit to taking at least 450 hours of learning and fitness classes each year, including attending lectures with regular students pursuing degrees.

“With the U.S. on the brink of an ‘elderly boom,’ finding ways to engage older learners in the life of campus is a smart idea,” said Lewis.

“Demographic changes have led many retirees and senior citizens to rethink the postretirement life phase. The new trends suggest older learners have a great interest in staying active, intergenerational opportunities and lifelong learning.

“The human resource in terms of energy, experience and time that older adults are often willing to contribute is a win-win for the individual, the campus and the students,” she said.

Still, Lewis said higher education leaders could do a lot more to promote “age as a function of diversity.”

“One of the most important factors in quality of life as we age is avoiding social isolation. If our campuses can be a part of this in ways that enrich the lives of our students, our alumni, our retirees and our larger communities -- then we should be open to those opportunities,” she said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, just 0.3 percent of students pursuing a degree are aged 65 and over. And education programs targeting those aged 55 and older rarely generate significant long-term revenues, according to Jim Fong, founding director of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association’s Center for Research and Strategy.

“The target market is conditioned to not want to pay for much in terms of educational programming,” he said.

However, demand for educational programs from older learners is increasing, said Rovy Branon, vice provost for the University of Washington's Continuum College in Seattle.

Many universities provide enrichment opportunities for older learners, such as free lectures, but Branon said he's seeing “a trend towards more serious academic pursuits."

"Older people aren’t necessarily interested in getting a degree or diploma, but they are interested in doing serious study as part of their retirement, and some are even retooling for a third or fourth-act career," he said.

As Americans' life spans increase and people stay healthier longer, universities need to adapt, said Branon, who described the challenges and opportunities of the “60-year curriculum” -- a concept coined by Gary Matkin, dean of the Division of Continuing Education at the University of California, Irvine, which describes a continuous learning program from high school to retirement -- in an op-ed column he wrote for Inside Higher Ed in November.

Seth Meisel, associate dean of academic affairs at Northwestern University, said although many university administrators are starting to talk more about the 60-year curriculum, they will need to carefully consider the specific needs of older learners -- an area of pedagogy known as gerogogy. Classes "need to be in a location that is accessible and flexible," he said. Older learners also often have a lot of experience and want that to be acknowledged. "They want a learning environment that builds upon their experience," he said.

The National Resource Center for Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes -- a network offering lifelong learning opportunities to senior citizens -- is based at Northwestern. The 122, soon to be 123, college and university-based institutes offer noncredit courses for affordable prices. These courses "are not generally cash cows," said Meisel. But the network is growing and is popular with older learners. "There is an influx of retired people looking for meaning and purpose and engagement in their lives," he said.

"They're not looking for the validation of a degree -- in many cases, they're interested in areas they feel were neglected in their education," said Meisel. "There are engineers who want to learn about the humanities and arts, or vice versa."

Back to College, Again

Tom and Pat Gagen, a married couple in their 60s and future residents of ASU Mirabella, said they became interested in living on a university campus after seeing an ad for ASU Mirabella in a newspaper.

“We wanted a style of living that would provide for continued learning, for social encounters, worry-free living arrangements, and access to several levels of health care should we need it,” the Gagens said in a joint email.

The Gagens retired in 2012 and currently live in Scottsdale, Ariz. They don’t have any formal connection to ASU but are women’s softball season ticket holders and enjoy attending other events on campus.

Tom, a former health-care executive who was CEO of the Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, and Pat, a former geriatric social worker who later worked in the insurance industry, both said they don't want to earn any more degrees, but they are interested in auditing classes and mentoring students.

“We are very excited about being in a learning environment with access to the university and its many resources. We want to take full use of the arts, the sports, the lectures and special events, and the whole campus environment,” they wrote. “We want to experience others our age and learn from their lives as well as from students.”

Activities that mix students and seniors “strengthen us as a community and help to minimize some of the wrong impressions that both the young and seniors may have,” they wrote. They would like to see other universities make more effort to engage with seniors.

“First, we still have a lot to offer. Second, we still have a lot to learn,” they said.

Living at ASU Mirabella doesn’t come cheap. Residents pay a “buy-in” fee starting at $378,500 for a one-bedroom unit and up to $810,200 for a two-bedroom penthouse. Residents also pay a monthly fee of between $4,195 and $5,570. When residents die, 85 percent of the buy-in fee is refunded to their heirs.

Despite the high cost, ASU Mirabella has already sold out. Residents like the idea of being part of a university community, even if they don’t have any connection to the institution, said Paul Riepma, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Pacific Retirement Services, an Oregon-based nonprofit that is leading the development of the complex.

The 20-story building will contain 304 apartments and cater to residents with varying health needs -- from independent living to round-the-clock care. In addition to fine and casual dining rooms, the complex will have a cocktail lounge, a fitness and aquatic center, an art studio, an art gallery, a beauty salon and spa, a library, an auditorium, several game rooms, a woodworking shop, and classroom space.

Riepma noted that “10,000 people turn 65 every day -- the graying of America is upon us.” Baby boomers have “higher expectations of what life can be like” in retirement than the generation before them, and “not everyone wants to live on a golf course surrounded by people just like them,” he said. Universities don’t have to cater only to people aged 18 to 22, and Riepma is hopeful that the model will expand to more universities. “People of all ages can benefit from an environment of lifelong learning,” he said.

Although ASU will receive some money from Pacific Retirement Services for the lease of its land, the incentive for the project is not financial and the university has not invested in the $270 million building, said Hardy, ASU's managing director of innovation zones. He did not say how much money the university would receive for the land. The East Valley Tribune reported that ASU would receive an up-front rent payment of $7 million from Pacific Retirement Services.

“We want to build an intergenerational experience and benefit from each other,” he said. “That’s the main reason we’re doing it.”

Space on campus is at a premium, and there were many other things that could have been done with the land -- but Hardy said ASU wanted to do something different.

“I don’t think it’s occurred to many people that they could do this,” he said. “In fact, when they first hear that we’re going to have this project right on campus, they’re more than curious about it. They ask, ‘Why would you do that?’”

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Ongoing shutdown means scrambled travel plans, collaboration for higher ed researchers

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2019-01-08 08:00

Mykle Hoban, a doctoral student at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, had planned to leave this week for a two-month stint at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

He would use that time to complete a formal description of a new species of the combtooth blenny, a fish found in tropical waters across the world that Hoban has studied as part of his doctoral research. But after a partial federal shutdown took effect last month, the status of the National Science Foundation-funded trip is up in the air.

Hoban’s travel and accommodations are paid for, but it’s not clear if the museum will actually be open when he arrives.

“I’m not really sure where it stands, largely because no one can answer their emails,” he said.

The ongoing federal shutdown is already creating headaches for scientists by hindering research planning and putting an abrupt halt to travel for some academics. But its worst effects will materialize in the coming weeks, should a stalemate between the White House, Republicans and congressional Democrats continue, researchers and university leaders said.

Lawmakers last year passed legislation funding the majority of federal agencies, including the Education Department and the National Institutes of Health. But they left town before resolving a dispute over a border wall demanded by President Trump and without funding several agencies that are big supporters of research at colleges across the country -- among them the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For academics whose work is supported by the federal government, the shutdown means they can’t communicate with most employees at those affected agencies. And some federal data will be unavailable to researchers or the public. The shutdown also creates uncertainty over the next round of research funding awards, as proposals aren't processed and peer-review committees aren't meeting. As it persists, unanswered questions over funding will have a ripple effect on the status of professors, postdocs and graduate students.

“It’s a bad situation and it’s going to get worse the longer this goes on,” said Mary Lidstrom, vice provost for research at the University of Washington.

The university is one of a handful of institutions that brings in more than a billion dollars each year in federal research grants. That means UW is particularly affected by the shutdown, Lidstrom said.

Since the shutdown began, the university has allowed researchers to continue spending in anticipation that already approved expenses would reimbursed by federal agencies; the government typically pays for research via reimbursement after institutions submit invoices. By mid- to late January, the university will likely have to re-evaluate what it's comfortable spending without new federal funding, Lidstrom said.

The timing of the shutdown is especially unfortunate because institutions are well into the graduate student admissions cycle. The spring semester is when researchers typically look at their funding outlook to make decisions about the hiring of new graduate students.

The new funding uncertainty means many of the hard science programs whose work is funded by agencies like NSF may be less likely to offer positions to graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

“Most laboratories run kind of like small businesses,” said Eric Saltzman, a distinguished professor of earth system science at the University of California, Irvine. “Once uncertainty gets high, then people get conservative.”

Saltzman, whose work is supported by NSF, studies how the atmosphere is shaped by climate change. He received research grant funding before the shutdown went into effect, but he said scientists are always anticipating where the money for their next research project will come from. And the shutdown delays peer reviews of new proposals as well as decisions on grant awards.

Because of the federal agencies involved, the shutdown will impact researchers working in the earth sciences in particular, hampering momentum in areas like climate change.

“Our country has a long history of supporting science via federal agencies,” said Tessa Hill, a marine scientist who studies the effects of climate change at University of California, Davis. “At times like this, you start to see how important those agencies are.”

Hill, who received backing from the National Science Foundation last year for efforts to study how ecosystems respond to rapid changes in the climate, has been unable to contact colleagues at NOAA about a separate research proposal because of the shutdown.

“We can’t get ahold of people we would include as partners in the research because they’re federal employees,” she said.

Plans for Scientific Conferences Scrambled

The shutdown is also putting a damper on academic and scientific conferences planned for the beginning of the year. In some cases, it will mean lower attendance as researchers at federal agencies cancel travel plans as travel expenses go unpaid. In others, academic conferences have been scuttled entirely.

The American Astronomical Society estimates that about 15 percent of registrants won’t be able to attend its annual conference in Seattle this week. That means many of the panels or presentations for the conference may be canceled because of those absences.

In a Facebook post last week, AAS executive officer Kevin Marvel said the organization was taking steps like allowing live-streaming of panels for registrants who are unable to attend and allowing co-authors to make presentations when lead authors are unable to attend.

NSF scientists were also missing from the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology conference this weekend in Tampa, Fla., and the shutdown was expected to hurt attendance for the American Meteorological Society’s meeting in Phoenix starting this weekend.

Meanwhile, the USDA’s Interagency Research Forum on Invasive Species, set to be held from Jan. 8-11 in Annapolis, Md., was called off entirely, according to a statement on the agency’s website.

The University of Maryland at College Park is uniquely affected by the shutdown. The university is the only large public research university within the Beltway. And it houses several centers formed through partnerships with federal agencies, among them the Joint Quantum Institute, which brings together researchers from Maryland’s physics department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Laboratory for Physical Sciences.

With the shutdown in effect, those federal scientists can’t show up to work or interact with university researchers and graduate students.

“This comes at a time when quantum science has been really relevant because of competition with China,” said Laurie E. Locascio, vice president for research at the university. “They’re moving fast and we want to continue to move fast.”

The funding dispute could be an especially long one. And there are no signs of a resolution happening soon -- on Friday, President Trump warned a shutdown could go on for “months, or even years.”

For academics who rely on federal funding, government shutdowns are becoming somewhat familiar. The shutdown that began in December is the third since the beginning of 2018. By Tuesday, it will enter its 18th day. The last multiweek shutdown, in 2013, lasted 16 days. The longest ever federal shutdown lasted 21 days, spanning from 1995 to 1996.

“I’ve been through this before,” Saltzman said. “You try to plan as best you can. Of course, nobody has a crystal ball.”

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Author of recent academic hoax faces disciplinary action by Portland State

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2019-01-08 08:00

A hoax revealing that academic journals had accepted fake papers on topics from canine “rape culture” in dog parks to “fat bodybuilding” to an adaption of Mein Kampf met with applause and scorn in the fall. Fans of the project tended to agree with the hoaxers that critical studies scholars will validate anything aligned with their politics. Critics said that the researchers acted in bad faith, wasting editors’ and reviewers’ time and very publicly besmirching academe in the process: the story was covered by nearly every major news outlet.

Now the controversy has flared up again, with news that one of the project’s authors faces disciplinary action at his home institution. Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University and the only one of three researchers on the project to hold a full-time academic position, was found by his institutional review board to have committed research misconduct. Specifically, he failed to secure its approval before proceeding with research on human subjects -- in this case, the journal editors and reviewers he was tricking with his absurd but seemingly well-researched papers. Some seven of 20 were published in gender studies and other journals. Seven were rejected. Others were pending before the spoof was uncovered. 

“An IRB protocol application should have been submitted to the Office of Research Integrity,” reads a determination letter from Portland state’s IRB dated last month. “University policy requires that all research involving human subjects conducted by faculty, other employees and students [on campus] must have prior review and approval by the IRB.”

Boghossian had previously been notified that the university had referred misconduct concerns about the canine "rape culture and queer performativity" paper published in Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, in particular, to the IRB.

But was the “Sokal Squared” project, as it was dubbed, after physicist Alan Sokal’s postmodern gobbledygook hoax of 1996, really research? It stalled after The Wall Street Journal wrote about it in October. Boghossian and his collaborators, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose, did write up their own conclusions, quicker than planned, in Aero Magazine.

The IRB determined that the project, as discussed in Aero, was research since it was “a systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” The determination letter continued, “The publicly available information about the project clearly indicates an iterative and systematic approach to performing the work, with an intention of generalizing the results.”

Additional claims of data falsification are pending, according to information from Boghossian’s supporters. Disciplinary action is possible, if not likely. 

Boghossian said in a statement that Portland State, "like many college campuses, is becoming an ideological community and I’ve demonstrated that I don’t fit the mold. I truly hope the administration puts its institutional weight behind the pursuit of truth but I’ve been given no indication that’s what they intend to do.”

He and his supporters also released a YouTube video about the ethics charge, in which he first appears in a bathrobe reading an invitation to a meeting with the university’s IRB.

“I think that they will do anything and everything in their power to get me out. And I think this is the first shot in that,” he says to the camera.

It’s not immediately clear who “they” are. But a number of Boghossian’s campus colleagues didn’t like his methods. Some said so in an anonymous letter to the student newspaper, the Vanguard.

“The ‘hoaxes’ are simply lies peddled to journals, masquerading as articles,” wrote the group of about a dozen professors. “They are designed not to critique, educate or inspire change in flawed systems, but rather to humiliate entire fields while the authors gin up publicity for themselves without having made any scholarly contributions whatsoever. Chronic and pathological, unscholarly behavior inside an institution of higher education brings negative publicity to the institution as well as the honest scholars who work there. Worse yet, it jeopardizes the students’ reputations, as their degrees in the process may become devalued.”

Later in Boghossian’s recent video, he’s featured discussing the matter with his collaborators, who agree that there was “no way” to get the informed consent typically required by review boards from the journal editors involved in the "audit.”

Mark McLellan, Portland State’s vice president for research and graduate studies, said in a statement that the IRB is responsible for ensuring that the university complies with federal codes on research integrity. But he said he could not otherwise comment on a private personnel matter.

Weighing Academic Freedom and Academic Integrity

Some high-profile academics have come to Boghossian’s defense. Among them are Sokal and Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He said in a letter to Portland State that finding Boghossian guilty of research misconduct was a misuse of the idea, an affront to academic freedom and fodder for critics of academe.

“It saps the credibility of the university just when it is under attack from demagogues and know-nothings,” Pinker wrote. “As a professor who frequently interacts with the press and public, I have often been asked, ‘Why should we trust anything coming out of a university, like the claim of global warming? Everyone knows that universities allow only a narrow range of politically correct dogma, and punish anyone with a contrary opinion.’ Your action, which surely will get lavish coverage in right-wing media, will make life harder for those of us who defend universities against this charge.”

Joel Christensen, an associate professor of classical studies at Brandeis University, criticized Boghossian and his team’s methods and approach to racial issues, in particular, in an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed last year. He said this week that he and his co-author on that piece, Matthew Sears, an associate professor of classics and ancient history at the University of New Brunswick, had been discussing the investigation against Boghossian because they’d both been contacted by an Australian media agent collecting and circulating letters on Boghossian's behalf (the same person contacted Inside Higher Ed).

Christensen said the idea didn’t sit well with him. He also noted that those who have submitted letters thus far include Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, whose work has proved “polemical” of late.

Over all, Christensen said he and Sears believe that Boghossian “wants to have it both ways.” That is, publicly presenting his project as a “rigorous study that exposed flaws in the peer-review system" while also “claiming that the hoax wasn't a genuine study, and therefore IRB approval doesn't apply.”

“We think that he did commit academic fraud, by design, and that some professional sanctions might be warranted,” Christensen continued. Boghossian and his colleagues “did misrepresent themselves, they did falsify their evidence and they did commit a serious infraction of research misconduct by deceiving these editors, wasting the time of the readers and then publicly slandering the journals and their fields. It is the right of any university to investigate fraud perpetrated by its employees.”

Still, Christensen said, “We doubt that this rises to the level of an offense warranting termination. And the bar for professional sanctions should be very high in the case of an academic with academic freedom.”

Ivan Oransky, Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University’s Arthur Carter Journalism Institute and co-founder of Retraction Watch, said, “Whatever Boghossian was trying to prove -- and whether his approach could have proven it is also the subject of debate -- the ends don't obviate the need for human-subjects protections and good research practices.”

He added via email, “There are similar arguments for those who say, ‘But another group replicated the results!’ after it's become clear that findings were the result of misconduct or extreme sloppiness. That logic doesn't hold, either.”

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Private college presidents seek to adapt to changing market

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2019-01-08 08:00

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- An annual gathering for presidents of mostly small private liberal arts colleges started with worries about whether the kids are all right. It was soon evident presidents continue to wonder the same about the institutions they lead.

Neither issue could be resolved in the conference's span of a few days. The pressures leading to rising rates of mental health issues among students, clashes over free speech at college and protests on campus didn't develop overnight. Nor did the demographic shifts, enrollment trends and public doubts about the value of higher education that have combined to threaten the future of many tuition-dependent colleges.

But if presidents couldn't find a quick fix for those problems -- which seem to fit under what one leader called a broader “culture of insecurity” on campuses and in the country -- there were at least signs they are thinking about the things they can control in increasingly sophisticated ways.

The gathering of presidents, the annual Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute, represents a chance for executives to escape the fishbowl of their often-intimate campuses and find moral support among those who affirm their work as valuable. CIC as an organization has long filled a role as a cheerleader for small colleges.

Last year's Presidents Institute was therefore remarkable for shifting toward more heavily addressing the numerous problems small colleges face. This year, the shift continued.

The first two presentations on the program set a tone, reigniting long-running conversations about whether the term “liberal arts” has any widely understood meaning and whether students feel a sense of belonging on campus, among other issues. Saturday morning, presidents and other attendees heard from Jonathan Haidt, professor of ethical leadership at New York University and one of the authors of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (Penguin Random House), which argues in part that society is not preparing students to have their ideas challenged.

The night before, Howard Gardner, the Harvard Graduate School of Education professor best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, presented some early insight from a large national study about higher education and the arts and sciences that has been under way since 2014. Gardner and his team interviewed more than 2,000 students, faculty members, trustees, parents, alumni and others affiliated with 10 institutions of different types. Although they are still analyzing data, their early takeaways included that the phrase “liberal arts and sciences” isn't widely understood. Many respondents couldn't define the liberal arts at all or defined it incorrectly.

Along similar lines, few students provided specific or workable ideas when asked what changes they would make to an institution's curriculum. On these points, Gardner offered some affirmation to presidents attending: he said students' lack of suggestions means leaders have curricular flexibility, and he sees hope for the liberal arts blended with some broad vocational education.

Among his other takeaways were that most colleges are similar to one another and confront the same issues; that institutions' missions must be understood by all constituencies from student to trustee; that students want investments in the people who teach and advise them instead of investments in buildings; and that institutions must think carefully about investing in only those programs with staying power as they seek to address misalignment.

“There are so many different programs on college campuses that often students and faculty don't even know what their own programs are,” said Wendy Fischman, project director at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in a follow-up session elaborating on the study. She suggested zooming in to “focus in on what is the one misalignment that we want to address, and how do we get there rather than trying to do too much?”

Researchers also asked students to describe other students at their colleges or universities. Of 800 different adjectives provided, the most common was "diverse."

That may not come as a surprise to college leaders, particularly those talking about strengthening their institutions in the face of demographic shifts by enrolling new adult students or students from traditionally underrepresented groups. Gardner made an important observation, however.

“Schools which very quickly change the demography were often unprepared to deal with the demographic changes,” he said.

Few if any would say enrolling students from different populations is a bad idea -- on the contrary, most in attendance spoke of numerous ethical and financial arguments for doing so. However, colleges that shift enrollment will want to remember that time and resources are required to make sure the new student groups are supported and welcomed on campus.

It is clear from conversations with presidents and their remarks in breakout sessions that they are considering the ramifications of changes they may have to oversee in order to keep their institutions viable. On the topic of mergers, presidents brought up complicated ideas like whether an acquiring institution can expect a bank to discount the debt an acquired college owes. Presidents presenting in a session on mergers also addressed issues like accreditation, regulators and emotion.

The regulatory world tries to favor institutions remaining open through mergers, said David R. Decker, president of Franklin University in Ohio, which acquired Urbana University in 2014.

“But when it comes to actual accommodation of showing flexibility in standards and so forth, that won't happen,” he said.

Emotions run high among the different groups connected to a college involved in a merger situation, Decker said. It's a fact another presenter at the session knew well. Gregory Dell'Omo is president of Rider University, which has faced intense opposition as it seeks to sell Westminster Choir College, an institution it acquired through merger in the 1990s.

Such cases could lead presidents and boards to think twice about mergers.

“I don't think you're going to see a lot of movement in this area until you see success stories,” Dell'Omo said.

Outside of official sessions, presidents and other leaders discussed ideas to cut costs or increase revenue -- like an 18-member consortium birthed at a meeting in 2015 or sources of low-cost financing.

Back in sessions, they grappled with the same issues.

“Everybody's trying to drive revenue and solve our problems on the revenue side,” said Lawrence Schall, president of Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. “But when I talk to presidents about this issue of what they spend, the answer I hear is, 'There's not much I can do about what we spend.' I think that's a bad place to be.”

A common theme was finding ways to save, then reinvest wisely.

“It is not just about balancing anymore, which is the predominant conversation that we've had for years and years and years,” said Elizabeth Paul, president of Capital University in Ohio. “How do we educate the community to understand how it's working now but then start shifting toward points of opportunity?”

Small-college advocates often say the sector has been remarkably resilient and adaptable over the years. A sampling of presidential remarks shows some of the ways they are trying to adapt. They talked about the soft skills required to formulate strategy and change institutional culture. They discussed specific pricing strategies like tuition resets, and they addressed ways to attract students by emphasizing internships and alumni connections.

When it came to students -- kids and adults -- some called for meeting them where they are. David W. Andrews, president of the California-based National University, which has a massive online operation, spoke in a session about leading strategic change. One anecdote he gave was from when he was teaching a course online and found himself texting with students while he was in a Board of Trustees meeting.

“When the board members asked what I was doing, I said, ‘I’m instructing, I’m in the middle of class,’” he said. “Real-time, on-demand expectations of students are changing dramatically the way the interaction occurs between faculty and students.”

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KIPP expands microgrant program to help alumni in college

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2019-01-08 08:00

Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools have built a national reputation for sending disadvantaged students to college, but that success didn't always translate into students actually graduating from college.

Money shortages and gaps in financial aid, even relatively small ones, often got in the way and forced students to either temporarily take time off from college or to drop out entirely. As a result, only 44 percent of the 81 percent of KIPP alumni who enrolled in college after high school had graduated from a four-year institution as of 2016, according to a KIPP survey of alumni.

KIPP officials announced last month that they would expand a microgrant program started in Washington to help KIPP alumni break through the financial barriers that keep them from staying in college and graduating.

“This program really came out of our advisers having heartbreaking conversations with alumni,” said Meghan Behnke, deputy director of the KIPP Through College and Careers advising program. “Despite students working incredibly hard to get there and persist in programs, too many students are forced to leave school because they couldn’t pay a bill.”

KIPP, a national network of free, open-enrollment public charter schools, currently educates 96,000 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade and has more than 12,000 alumni. KIPP DC began offering the microgrants to its alumni in 2014 after receiving funding from the Carol and Eugene Ludwig Family Foundation. This year KIPP Bay Area Public Schools, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools, KIPP NYC Public Schools and KIPP Philadelphia Public Schools will each receive up to $40,000 a year from the Ludwig Foundation to offer the microgrant. The KIPP DC program receives $50,000 a year and provides financial support to 10 to 15 alumni annually.

Forty KIPP DC alumni have received the microgrant since the program began four years ago, and 95 percent of recipients have either graduated or are still in college, said Behnke.

The average one-time grant was $3,236, and it is available to eligible college sophomores, juniors and seniors.

“They have to be in acute financial need,” Behnke said. “We recognize college affordability is a major issue, but if a sophomore has a $10,000 gap for every year of college, that’s not something we can solve, because that’s a greater affordability issue.”

Behnke said the microgrants work well because KIPP provides college advisers for its alumni. These advisers build relationships with students KIPP assigns them and can respond quickly when financial emergencies arrive.

“We stay with our young people because we made a promise that we would help them graduate from college, and that degree is the strongest stepping-stone to economic sufficiency,” KIPP spokesman Steve Mancini said.

The alumni survey released in 2017 found that KIPP alumni struggled financially in college and that the majority still had not graduated from a four-year college 10 years after completing eighth grade.

The survey also found that about 60 percent of KIPP alumni did not have enough to eat on a consistent basis, and 40 percent said they missed meals so they could pay for textbooks, school fees and other expenses. Nearly 25 percent of alumni said they sent money home to support at least one family member.

Aaron Ford, a 2013 graduate from KIPP DC, credits the microgrant with helping him graduate from Towson University. Ford worked two jobs, at Six Flags America theme park and a Wilson’s Leather store, both located in Maryland. He applied for scholarships and grants to bridge the more than $10,000 gap between the financial aid he received and what he needed to cover his housing on the Maryland campus but didn't get any.

“You start to doubt yourself and think you aren’t capable of attending,” Ford said. “I just didn’t have the financial resources, and that was frustrating for me.”

Ford told his KIPP adviser, with whom he remains in contact, about his financial struggles, and she helped him apply for the microgrant. Ford was awarded a total of $10,423 to cover his housing expenses for his junior and senior years. He graduated from Towson in 2017 and is now employed as a medical claims adjuster for an insurance company

“It was ultimately life-changing,” he said of the microgrant. “I come from a background of struggle, and it reassured me that I could pursue my dreams and make a better life for myself.”

It's unusual for a PK-12 program to offer microgrants to college students, but the grants have become more common across higher education to help fill the small financial gaps students have as they work toward graduation.

“Microgrants don’t solve everything,” said Shari Garmise, vice president of the Office of Urban Initiatives at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, but institutions and organizations that are using them strategically are seeing the students that receive them graduate.

“The grants either prevent stops out or accelerate graduation,” she said.

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Trump administration wants flexibility for accreditors and to encourage alternative providers

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 2019-01-07 08:00

In a package of highly detailed proposals set to be released today, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos delivers on a promise to limit the authority and scope of higher education accreditors, the organizations that serve as gatekeepers for federal student aid.

The Trump administration wants to clarify that the Education Department -- and not accreditors -- is responsible for enforcing federal student aid rules, and would give the agencies more latitude to approve and encourage innovative programs, particularly ones featuring online or competency-based education. The proposals, which Inside Higher Ed obtained (see box) and which are set to be released today, would lower the bar new accrediting agencies would have to clear for federal approval and give colleges more latitude to make changes without their accreditor's permission.

However, the department also wants to restrict the scope of regional accreditors and to blur the distinction between those organizations and national accrediting bodies, which historically have tended to attract fewer selective or established colleges. And it would add new requirements that accreditors seek input from employers on their standards.

Education Department's Proposals for Rule-Making Session

Accreditation and summary

Institutional eligibility and summary

Religious inclusion and summary

TEACH Grants summary

The proposals will be the focus of a multipart regulatory process known as negotiated rule making that begins later this month. As written, the proposals largely reinforce the widespread perception that DeVos's agency plans to use rule making to roll back regulations governing higher education, including many issued by the Obama administration. Negotiated rule making is designed to gather feedback from a range of stakeholders, but the department’s agenda is so broad that few expect negotiators to reach consensus on the proposals.

As part of its goal of deferring more academic oversight to accreditors, the department is seeking to modify federal definitions for the credit-hour standard, correspondence courses, distance education and for required faculty member interactions with students in online programs. Accreditors and colleges in some cases would set those definitions, under the department's supervision.

Consumer advocates were alarmed by what they read in the proposals as the documents circulated over the weekend. Some said the Trump administration's attempt to deregulate and defer to accreditors would eliminate key student and taxpayer protections. The resulting lack of adequate "guardrails" could give rise to fraudulent or low-quality education providers, they said.

Some accreditation and online education experts, including negotiators tapped by the department, said they were generally pleased with the tone of the proposals, which they said were mostly student focused and could spur discussion over reasonable ways to encourage emerging models -- particularly self-paced and subscription models in online education.

But experts also worried that too much deference would be given to accreditors, such as with proposals to drop federal definitions of distance learning or the credit hour, which in turn could lead to confusion and lack of standardization. And one raised concerns that the changes would water down standards for which programs and providers can receive federal student aid. In addition, some wondered if the department would be able to achieve many of its goals, particularly ones that could require congressional action.

The proposals included few surprises, said Julie Peller, executive director of Higher Learning Advocates. The Trump administration has been clear about its intentions to create more space for innovation and to drop rules for accreditors, she said. Even so, Peller said the proposals are concerning because they fail to adequately address the federal role in quality control.

"They haven't quite figured out how to balance [the innovation and deregulation push] with the conversation around quality and outcomes," said Peller, a former Democratic staffer on the House education committee.

In addition to attempting to overhaul the role of accreditors, the department's proposals seek to:

  • Drop the credit-hour definition, which the Obama administration issued in 2010 to curb credit inflation. In its place the department would let accreditors and colleges -- many of which have long complained about the rule -- determine how to evaluate a student’s academic progress.
  • Remove the current 50 percent cap on the outsourcing of academic programs to a nonaccredited provider through a partnership with a college, potentially allowing a college to outsource an entire academic program.
  • Reverse an Obama-era initiative aimed at toughening rules that require online programs to show that they are approved to operate in every state where they enroll students.
  • Modify rules for faculty interaction with students by allowing accreditors to define who qualifies as an instructor in college-level courses and removing the department's role in reviewing the standard.
  • Provide extended access to federal aid funds for closing institutions as they administer teach-out plans that allow students to complete their degrees.
  • Eliminate remaining restrictions on religious colleges’ participation in student aid programs like the federal work-study program. (Students at religious institutions can take part in those programs now although there are some limits on colleges.) And the department proposes allowing TEACH Grant recipients, who are required to work for several years in low-income schools after graduating college, to work for private schools that serve low-income students.

The documents feature the most detailed ideas put forward by department officials on innovation and accreditation since they announced plans last summer to revamp current rules. Diane Auer Jones, the department’s principal deputy under secretary, said in an interview last July with Inside Higher Ed that accreditation is “right at the crux of almost everything you do in higher ed.”

Reflecting Changes in Higher Education

The backdrop to the Education Department’s latest regulatory overhaul is the growth in recent years of online education and competency-based education. Even as many national for-profit chains have closed their doors as part of a dramatic decline of that sector, higher education institutions on the whole have pursued enrollment growth through new online offerings.

Accreditors, meanwhile, have faced building pressure from lawmakers in recent years to provide tougher accountability for the colleges under their purview. Those demands reflect perceived oversight failures by accreditors in the collapse of for-profit chains like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute as well as the increasing focus by policy makers and regulators on student outcomes. For many congressional Democrats, the role of accreditors is even more important under the Trump administration because they see the Education Department taking a lax approach to its oversight role.

But DeVos and top advisers like Jones believe too much has been put on the plate of accreditors. And they say the scrutiny of accreditors' decisions has made those organizations wary of approving promising new programs, such as competency-based ones.

In addition to narrowing the role of accreditors while deferring to them on key definitions, the department wants to elevate the role of national accrediting agencies and dial back the relative clout of regional accreditors. Some national accreditors are well respected. But the recently restored Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a national agency the Obama administration terminated due to its failed oversight of Corinthian and ITT, remains controversial and seems likely to continue to draw scrutiny from oversight-minded Democrats in Congress.

"The department further believes some regional agencies have abused the current distinction to push a false narrative that the department considers regional accreditation to be superior to national accreditation," according to the proposals. "Many institutions have denied well-qualified students attending nationally accredited institutions the opportunity to transfer credits, attend graduate programs and enjoy other benefits that should rightfully belong to all students attending institutions with recognized accreditation."

To prod regional accreditors to be more regional in their focus, the department is seeking to require that they oversee institutions in three to 10 states. That would be a major shake-up for some of the agencies, particularly the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits institutions in 19 states.

The department also is seeking a bigger role for employers in accreditation, encouraging the agencies to seek employers' input on their standards and on "alternative governance models" for career and vocational education programs. In addition, the proposals would eliminate accreditor timelines for bringing sanctioned colleges into compliance, a change an observer said could alter the impact of sanctions.

Colleges should retain the power to decide which transfer credits to honor, the department said. But it seeks guidance from negotiators on how to "disallow institutions from categorically denying credits from national accreditors if the courses completed by the student are in alignment with those offered by the accepting institution."

Some observers, however, were skeptical that the department would make much headway in its credit-transfer push or broader goal of giving a boost to national accreditors. Congress would need to make some of the more substantial changes, they said. The rule-making discussion might help increase awareness about the potential for national accreditors. But Peller said the conversation about that distinction is an old one that doesn't do too much for students.

In addition, even some accreditors worry that the department's punting of definitions back to the agencies could do more to create confusion than help spur innovation.

Defining College Credit

The department has been open about its plans to do away with the credit-hour rule, which has been on the books for nearly a decade but remains a target of complaints from colleges. Jones last summer said the rule “probably interferes with innovation almost more than anything.”

The standard issued in 2010 defines an hour of academic credit as one hour of classroom instruction and two hours of out-of-class work. The Obama administration's issuing of the rule followed an inspector general report that found accreditors had failed to hold colleges to any standard for instructional time. The result was that students were in some cases quickly exhausting their eligibility for federal aid without real payoffs.

The department’s proposal would let colleges and their accreditors use alternatives like direct assessment to determine students’ progress. Direct assessment is an aggressive form of competency-based education that does not rely on the credit-hour standard and allows students to progress at their own pace. The department still is seeking to require, however, that each academic semester or trimester include 30 hours of instruction.

Skeptics of deregulation have warned that lifting the cap -- currently 50 percent -- for the amount of a program that can be offered by alternative providers would basically provide a back door to federal student aid money for entities that have never gone through the accreditation process. Coding boot camps often are cited as possible beneficiaries of this change. And the proposal to extend access to federal aid for closed institutions likely will be seen as pouring good money after bad by the department's critics.

The upcoming rule-making process is so expansive that the department has added multiple subcommittees addressing distance learning, TEACH Grants and the role of faith-based institutions. Negotiated rule-making rarely includes more than one subcommittee requiring that kind of narrow expertise.

The department’s release of proposed regulatory language ahead of the first meeting is also a departure from the typical process. Usually, specific regulatory language is only introduced after preliminary discussions by negotiators.

-- Doug Lederman contributed to this article.

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Racist comments directed at a classics scholar at a disciplinary meeting floor classicists in the room, at the conference and online

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 2019-01-07 08:00

Classicists engage in frequent debate about whether the field is “too white,” whether Western civilization is a manufactured idea and what new lines of inquiry will ensure classics’ continued relevance -- or even its survival.

But at an annual gathering of classicists this weekend in San Diego, that debate crossed the line from professional to personal, from real inquiry to racism.

The incident involved an attack on Dan-el Padilla Peralta, an assistant professor of classics at Princeton University, by an independent scholar named Mary Frances Williams. It happened during a question-and-answer period at a panel on the future of classics Saturday at a Society for Classical Studies conference.

Panelists included Peralta, who spoke about an alleged incident of racial profiling at the conference site, in which two classicists of color were stopped and asked for identification. He also cited classics journal publication data showing that authors are largely white, and pushed for diversification of the field. Another speaker was Sarah Bond, an associate professor of classics at the University of Iowa whose research and public outreach often focuses on the idea that our notions of race in the classical world are much more informed by Eurocentric Renaissance views than historical reality.

During a discussion period, Williams spoke about the need to protect the idea of Western civilization, according to firsthand accounts, while Bond tried to argue that that concept is a construct. (She's written about that for lay audiences here and elsewhere.) Then Williams turned and addressed Peralta directly, declaring that she was “not a socialist” and that Peralta only got his job because he is “black,” those present said. (Peralta is Dominican by birth.)

Many in the room denounced Williams's comments as racist and she left the session. Word of the incident lit up Twitter, with many expressing disbelief and anger that an academic gathering could turn so uncivil.

Peralta declined an interview Sunday, saying he was taking some time out after the events of the weekend. But he has written about how classics helped shape his own journey from living in a homeless shelter to a professorship at Princeton.

Bond, who was reluctant to talk before Peralta shared his own account, said Sunday that she remained “as appalled as anyone. I love my field. But we can and must address this and commit to being better. No more apathy or no more avoiding the issues of racism in our past and present. Otherwise we won’t have a future.”

Helen Cullyer, executive director of the Society for Classical Studies, said via email that the association has notified the meeting attendee “who expressed her racist views” that she “may no longer participate in meetings and sessions at this San Diego conference because she has violated our annual meeting harassment policy.”

That policy defines harassment as including but not limited to “sexual harassment, such as unwelcome sexual advances, or other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature” and, relevant here, “activities/behaviors such as stalking, queer/trans bullying, or hostility or abuse based on age, disability, religion, race or ethnicity.”

By attending the meeting, the policy says, “all participants accept the obligation to uphold the rights of attendees and treat everyone with respect.” While the society does “not seek to limit the areas of inquiry of its members or to curtail robust scholarly debate,” the group aims “to promote critical and open inquiry that is free of personal harassment, prejudice and aggression.”

The society's governing board also released a statement Sunday condemning "the racist acts and speech" witnessed during the meeting. "There is no place for racism on the part of members, attendees, vendors and contractors at the meeting," the board said, reaffirming its 2016 statement against “the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.” (Some white nationalist groups have adopted symbols from the classical world to promote their cause.)

Reached via email, Williams said that it's important to unapologetically "stand up for classics as a discipline and promote it as the political, literary, historical, philosophical, rhetorical and artistic foundation of Western civilization and the basis of European history, tradition, culture and religion." She said she'd planned to make additional points on the classics curriculum during the session but was cut off. 

Williams said she did not believe that her comments were controversial, and that she’d hoped to “get things going” during the group discussion.

Georgia Nugent, former president of Kenyon College and a classicist who attended the controversial session, noted that this year’s meeting marked the classics association's 150th anniversary. She said the society is very engaged in diversifying, and that other conference sessions acknowledged the field’s history of exclusion.

Of Williams’s comments, Nugent said, “I believe the attitude is not very widespread, but I don't think it's nonexistent. But there are probably, perhaps, largely along generational lines, some who feel that some women got their positions that way, and that minorities did.”

At her own first faculty meeting in 1978, for example, Nugent said, her chair introduced her by saying, “And as you can see, she’s a woman.” And that’s “fair indication of what it was like for me," she added.

Of the more recent incident, however, Nugent said everyone she’s talked to has been “shocked and appalled” about this “very painful episode.” And part of that pain is the fact that classics is working so hard to move beyond its past.

“Classics has been so strongly identified as elitist. So our history is not one of being progressive, but of keeping the gates closed, keeping the field as the property of the elites. There was a perception that you could only get into this club if you were a member of the old boys’ network.”

Scott Jaschik contributed to this article.

 

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Panels, awards, interviews, networking and list of alleged bad actors dominate history conference

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 2019-01-07 08:00

CHICAGO -- Those who attended the American Historical Association’s annual meeting here last week saw something new in their registration materials: a policy that they were “expected to engage in consensual and respectful behavior and to preserve AHA’s standard of professionalism at all times,” at any officially sanctioned activity. Reporting, investigation and due-process procedures back up the statement. Possible sanctions for violations include an association membership ban, a kind of professional death.

To many, it’s a sign of how far anti-harassment and sexual misconduct campaigns have come in academe, especially in the last few years. Many women's advocates say that conferences across academe are high-risk times, given the social atmosphere and lack of institution boundaries. Professional organizations generally have been slow to take decisive action, however, in some cases citing a lack of authority.

But in what is perhaps a sign of what work remains, graduate students and others quietly circulated a list of alleged bad actors -- harassers, or worse -- among themselves at this year’s conference.

The document was started about two years ago to warn women about potential dangers at AHA. It’s grown significantly over time, to dozens of historians, by some estimates, and some literary scholars. (The Modern Language Association’s annual gathering also was held in Chicago this year, at the same time as AHA’s, and some historians are affiliated with language and literature departments.) Some of those on the list are big names; many are not. Some cases already are in the public domain. Others are not.

The list is closely guarded. A former graduate student who adds names to it but who was not at the conference declined to share the list for this story or otherwise comment, despite assurances that no names would be disclosed, accuser or offender. But it was advertised on social media ahead of the history conference and its existence was confirmed by several who had seen it.

One woman who added to the list shared why she did so.

“My reasons for contributing to the list were purely to protect other women from these men,” said the woman, who is now a junior faculty member, noting the same motivation drove her to file a misconduct claim with her institution. “There’s really nothing deeper than that.”

The list appears to be somewhat common knowledge. In one instance, a senior historian at AHA having a soft drink with a female colleague at a hotel pub was overhead telling her, “I won’t help you put on your coat, as I don’t want to end up on the list. In my opinion, it represents the worst of well-intentioned reform.”

But the junior faculty member who spoke with Inside Higher Ed, who did not want to be named for fear of possible retaliation, said that the list is not about those who make “an inappropriate comment or engage in some light conference flirting.” Rather, she said, everyone on the list is alleged to have sexually harassed, stalked or assaulted someone.

“These are not isolated events but relationships that are reinforced, often every day in our profession and at our universities.”

She and others also expressed concern about more publicity regarding the list, saying it could put those who contributed in emotional, professional, physical or legal danger. Others cited a confidentiality pact between accusers and the woman collecting names. Some cited the case of Moira Donegan, the creator of the 2017 “Shitty Media Men” list, who was sued by writer Stephen Elliott.

Elliott, who was accused of sexual assault on that Google document-style list, claims defamation and is seeking to expose the Jane Does who added to or circulated it. (That document started as a private one but became public.) The case is messy -- part of Elliott’s legal defense, for example, is that he rarely engages in penetrative sex because he practices BDSM -- and in many ways unprecedented, meaning it’s unclear where it will go, if anywhere. Many have rallied around Donegan.

As the writer Roxane Gay tweeted, “Donegan [created] an anonymous list that codified whisper networks that have long existed. There wasn’t a man on that list that women hadn’t already been warning each other about.” She added, “It is mighty bold for Elliott to lodge this suit as if the stories that have long been whispered about him won’t come out in discovery.”

Still, in academe, other lists have proved less controversial. Karen Kelsky, moderator of the Professor Is In, runs a Google document of crowdsourced incidents of alleged misconduct across academe. It doesn’t name names, but it’s possible to guess them from some accounts. Julie Libarkin, director of Michigan State University's Geocognition Research Lab, has accumulated hundreds of substantiated cases, including names, in a more official -- but incomplete -- list based on publicly available records.

These lists arguably inspired other lists. Indeed, it’s probably unlikely that history’s is the only discipline-specific one. And Gay was right when she asserted that whisper networks to protect women always have existed. Now women just feel an empowered urgency to codify them.

Such lists also may serve as deterrents to would-be offenders.

Historian Melissa Johnson recently defended her Ph.D. dissertation on gossip in 17th-century Massachusetts at the University of Michigan. Her research demonstrates that informal whisper networks existed even in early America and proved a “powerful tool for regulating behavior and allowed women without formal power to shape their communities," she said.

If lists aren’t somehow “visible to the men on them, it blunts that deterrent effect,” however, Johnson said. Also important is that whisper networks “weren't audible to everyone -- that is, not all women had access to the information, and lower-status women were much more vulnerable." Historically, that has been truest for nonwhite women.

The emergence of public lists, then, “helps democratize information in important ways," correcting "historical problems with the use of gossip to protect women and regulate behavior,” Johnson said. When lists are held by a specific gatekeeper, however, she added, “it can perpetuate the sense of outsiderness many women in academia already feel. And, frankly, it's not great feminist practice.”

James Grossman, executive director of the AHA, noted the work the association has done around issues of misconduct. Paula Krebs, executive director of the MLA, also noted her association's ongoing efforts on this front. Neither said they could comment on a list they hadn't seen, however.

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For-profit cosmetology schools used legal threats to prevent competition in Iowa, but case appears to be an outlier

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 2019-01-07 08:00

On at least one occasion, a for-profit cosmetology college used a state law to stop a community college from creating a new program that would compete with it. But higher education experts said such incidents are rare.

A recent article in The New York Times revealed that the Iowa Cosmetology School Association and La’ James International College, which owns six beauty schools in the state, in 2005 sued Iowa Central Community College to stop the public two-year institution from starting a cosmetology program. Many observers called the revelation indefensible for a sector that boasts of market-based offerings and has long complained about regulations that prevent it from being on an even playing field with public colleges. However, the Iowa case may be an outlier.

“This circumstance appears to be unique to Iowa,” David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges, said in an email. “But it is deeply disturbing that students are being deliberately prevented from accessing a more economical education.”

Tuition, fees and living expenses to attend La' James in Cedar Falls totaled more than $41,000 last year, according to federal data. Total expenses for a student attending Iowa Central were about $16,000 in 2017.

Last year, Iowa Lakes Community College announced plans to also offer a cosmetics degree. Valerie Newhouse, the college's president, told the Times that it also had received a threat of litigation from a for-profit beauty school. But officials at Iowa Lakes said no litigation has been filed against the college to stop the proposed program.

In the 2005 lawsuit, La’ James and the Iowa cosmetology association cited a part of the Iowa state code that prohibits public entities from competing with private ones. A similar challenge happened in 1990, when the private American Asbestos Training Center sued Eastern Iowa Community College. However, a district court found that asbestos training courses offered by the community college did not violate the state code.

Besides Iowa, a few other states prohibit duplicative college programs. For example, in New Jersey the state Presidents’ Council can deny any proposed program that is “unduly duplicative or expensive.” The council is composed of presidents from the state’s public universities, community colleges, for-profit and private nonprofit institutions.

William Austin, a member of the council, has served as Warren County Community College’s president for 15 years. Austin said he can’t recall the council ever rejecting a program completely.

“There are times when things are sent back, but the for-profits have never done that at all,” he said. “I don’t know how a for-profit that relies on the free market could make that argument, and in New Jersey, it’s a collegial group that works together.”

Austin said two program proposals are still waiting for approval. Those two would allow community colleges in the state to offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing.

Some states have resisted allowing community colleges to offer four-year nursing degrees -- often at a lower price than public universities -- because of competition. California, for example, has not included nursing in a pilot program of new bachelor’s degree programs at community colleges. And a bill recently introduced in the California Senate would establish a central higher education coordinating office that would require academic programs to not be duplicated among the state's public, private and for-profit institutions.

Austin said anybody not in favor of four-year nursing degrees offered by community colleges is on the wrong side of history.

Cosmetology Closures

Few community colleges offer cosmetology programs.

Two-year public colleges comprise just 18 percent of institutions that award cosmetology certificates, according to Noah Black, a spokesman for the Career Education Colleges and Universities, which represents many for-profit institutions.

“It’s a small percentage but a very important percentage,” said an owner of a national for-profit beauty school chain, who asked to remain anonymous. “Community colleges serve a wonderful purpose in our community. What happened in Iowa in the early 2000s is just an outlier. I haven’t heard anything similar nationally.”

Over the next 10 years, an estimated 1.3 million barbers, cosmetologists and aestheticians will be needed to meet the demand for beauty services nationally, the owner said, and beauty schools are not growing as rapidly as that demand.

Closures have been common in recent years. A combination of increased regulatory scrutiny through the gainful-employment rule, which uses a debt-to-earnings ratio to determine if graduates can pay back their loans, and low unemployment have forced some major cosmetology schools to shut down.

The gainful-employment rule, despite being put on hold by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, remains a looming concern for career education colleges. One of the largest beauty school operators -- Regency Beauty Institute -- shut down in 2016 and cited the federal regulation as a threat. Institutions that fail to meet the gainful-employment rule risk losing access to federal financial aid.

The rule also made programs with high numbers of required school hours more expensive, said Trace Urdan, managing director at Tyton Partners, a higher education consulting firm. The more hours students spend in school, the more debt they're likely to accrue, which reflects poorly in the gainful-employment metrics.

For example, Iowa requires 2,100 hours for a cosmetology certificate. The Times found that the requirement was far more than for some medical professions, such as emergency medical technician, and more than the cosmetology hours in other states. Some states are dialing back those requirements. Rhode Island recently passed a bill that lowered its required hours for cosmetology students from 1,500 to 1,200.

Urdan said he isn’t aware of any for-profits that are seeking to keep the required number of hours inflated because of the presumed effect of a return of the gainful-employment rule.

“It squeezed them literally out of business,” he said. “School closures have been in the highest-credit-requirement states.”

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Leaders of literary journals discuss strategies to face economic challenges

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 2019-01-07 08:00

CHICAGO -- Serious journals of literature and ideas pride themselves on in-depth pieces that advance scholarship. The latest issue of the journal Novel features “‘No Such Thing as a Voice Pure and Simple’: Henry James’s Elocutionary Insecurities and The American.” The next issue of Papers on Language and Literature will feature the essay “‘What Was It?’: The Avant-texte and the ‘Grinding Feeling of Wretchedness’ in Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Fly.’” These are pieces that will never end up in mass publications but that are part of the development of literary scholarship.

So how can such journals -- many of which count subscribers in the hundreds -- thrive in an era in which libraries and humanities programs are not overflowing with cash? And how can these publications, still print-centric and labor intensive, survive in an era in which so many embrace the speed and efficiency of digital publishing?

Leaders of four of these publications gathered here at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association to discuss some of the strategies they are using.

Nancy Armstrong, who recently stepped down as editor of Novel, said it was vital to keep the team fresh and to consider changes in approach. When she took over in 1993, she said, "many who were on our advisory board were past their productive years, and some were no longer alive."

Armstrong was then at Brown University, but she moved (along with the journal) to Duke University, where she is professor of English and the journal is now part of the Duke University Press. There was "no prestige, no perks" to serving on the editorial board, and the general approach was to have certain people be designated to make decisions on a given topic. Armstrong has encouraged a different approach, in which the entire team discusses pieces and issues. Forums, interviews and periodic events were added to the traditional work of publishing single articles. The journal features fewer pieces that are "close readings of a single work," and now is more likely to run pieces that relate to "this history and theory of the novel," she said.

Taking over "a journal that had been in decline," she said, "was an opportunity." Today, the journal has 1,444 subscribers (individuals and institutions).

Helena Gurfinkel, a professor of English at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and editor of Papers on Language and Literature, said that university support has been declining, forcing the publication to be self-supporting. That's not easy, she said. Much of the time, the journal can't afford to buy rights to use illustrations that would enhance articles.

Journals such as PLL, as it is known, are important, she said, because they counter "the currency of prestige" that dominates literary study.

The journal has "an anti-glass ceiling role," she said. "We are willing to publish quality work by junior academics and those at teaching-oriented institutions, people who wouldn't get published elsewhere."

Sandra M. Gustafson, a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, is advisory editor of Early American Literature, which comes out three times a year from the University of North Carolina Press. The last press run was 473. Gustafson was previously the journal's editor.

The journal has benefited, she said, from strong relationships with MLA and with the Society of Early Americanists. Institutional affiliations, she said, are important not for financial support but for connecting the journal to people who care deeply about its mission.

Some approaches that have been successful, she said, include theme issues, such as a recent one on "the Spanish Americas," for producing a series of related works.

The journal has not rushed to embrace digital publication, she said. The journal is, however, starting a series of podcasts, but with some reservations.

“I do worry a bit, and I’m going to put my curmudgeon hat on, that these endeavors might draw people away from their scholarship," she said.

Also on the panel was W. J. T. Mitchell, professor of English at the University of Chicago and editor of Critical Inquiry, an interdisciplinary journal, which publishes in a broader range of fields than do the other journals that were represented on the panel.

Mitchell said he was fortunate to work at the University of Chicago, which provides two staff positions for the journal, making Critical Inquiry something of a 1 percenter in the world of literary journals.

Critical Inquiry has moved into the digital age, adding book reviews (which come out online and in greater frequency than the four print issues a year), a blog and podcasts.

Mitchell said that he tries to balance these additional projects with a commitment to the original print publication as his focus.

He said his journal and others need to provide space for essays, the serious, nonfootnoted work that inspires many scholars.

Ultimately, he said that the kind of work being done by small literary journals, whatever their financial struggles, is vital. "We are part of the humanities, My own view of the humanities is completely old-fashioned. We are 'the caretakers of the dignity of the species,'" he said.

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Study: Grades of Greek-affiliated students suffer after joining fraternity, sorority

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 2019-01-07 08:00

Greek organizations often tout their members' high grade point averages and potential for career connections (and high salaries).

But a report by two researchers at Miami University is questioning whether those assertions are accurate. The study, “Greek Life, Academics and Earnings,” was presented Sunday at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting.

Affiliation with a fraternity or sorority can in fact lower students’ grades, particularly around the time recruits are being inducted into a Greek chapter, called rushing, according to the findings by William E. Even, a professor of economics, and Austin C. Smith, an assistant professor of economics.

In an interview, Smith stressed that he and his colleague were not wholeheartedly condemning Greek organizations, as some Greek-affiliated students do maintain high GPAs and find social and, later, career success from fraternities or sororities, he said. But Smith said he noticed that chapters would often market a higher-than-average GPA compared to the rest of campus and believed that it was a disingenuous claim. Most institutions require a minimum GPA to join (the anonymous large, Midwestern public university that they studied demanded a 2.5 GPA or above) and Smith said if the Greek groups were only pulling from students with good grades, then they would always have a higher average. He also noted that Greek organizations often were the center of controversies involving alcohol abuse, hazing and sexual misconduct.

For about 10 years, the professors tracked more than 34,100 students’ academics -- GPAs, whether they remained in college and what courses they enrolled in. Because the university they researched did not allow students to join a Greek organization until the second semester of their first year, they were able to compare how students performed in their first semester when they were not Greek affiliated versus when they were entering a chapter and in subsequent semesters.

The dip in academics was most prominent around rush, but generally, students in Greek life saw their GPA fall by an average of about 0.25 points compared to the initial semester in college, which to illustrate, could be almost the difference between a B and B-minus average. During the rush period, students also either withdrew from classes or more frequently decided to take easier courses than their first semester. The study did note, however, that on average Greek-affiliated students had a GPA between 0.1 and 0.2 points higher than non-Greek students, but the researchers attributed this to the minimum GPA requirement.

The researchers also found that while students who had been in Greek chapters reported higher salaries than the rest of the campus population, they did not have enough evidence to prove that Greek life was the result of this increase.

A spokeswoman with the North American Interfraternity Conference responded to a request for comment by directing a reporter to a letter that Judson Horras, the group's president, and Dani Weatherford, the executive director of the National Panhellenic Conference, submitted to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The leaders wrote that while they "applauded" the authors for "putting a spotlight" on academics in sorority and fraternity life, the study painted a limited picture. They cited other research that showed retention is improved by involvement in Greek organizations.

"Further research shows the stress of first-year students stems from loneliness, and sororities and fraternities provide connection, friendship and a strong support system," they wrote.

Institutions, as a more transparent measure, instead of advertising the average chapter GPAs, should consider sharing how students’ grades either slipped or were boosted after they joined a fraternity or sorority, Smith said.

He also said that Greek academic success and completion isn’t discussed much, but that often these chapters are influential campus constituents, and alumni and presidents and other leaders are disinclined to “rock the boat” among them.

Raising the minimum GPA necessary to rush might be helpful, Smith said. In the study, the grades of students who just made the 2.5 GPA cutoff suffered much more compared to those with higher GPAs.

While college presidents and chancellors often speak of carefully using student data to measure student completion and success, it is almost unheard-of for them to address poor academics among Greek chapters, though they do so for other student populations and have tried to clamp down on the other problems that can sometimes plague chapters.

Other commitments in college -- work, athletics or other extracurricular activities -- can also distract students, and so the decline in grades likely can’t be pinned solely to Greek life, said Alison Griffin, senior vice president at consulting firm Whiteboard Advisors, who previously was policy adviser to the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce and worked in student affairs for many years.

Greek organizations are constantly monitoring how their students are doing in the classroom, Griffin said, but she’s never heard of a president or other high-ranking administrator tracking Greek-affiliated students more closely because it would be essentially singling them out.

Griffin also noted that many students who participate in Greek life are of the traditional college age (18-22) and might not be developmentally mature enough yet to make decisions, which is why supporting them academically, and the campus writ large, is so important.

“You can’t just hone in on students who are Greek affiliated,” Griffin said.

Dave Jarrat, senior vice president for strategic engagement and growth with InsideTrack, an organization that universities hire to help coach students in careers and academics, said that presidents and provosts need to focus on achievement gaps, whether that be for a particular ethnic group, or among students in Greek life.

Jarrat urged students to be thoughtful about what organizations they join -- especially if they’re worried about grades.

“Conduct informational interviews with friends and families who might be part of similar organizations to see if it’s the right fit for you,” he said. “Sometimes students rush into it out of peer pressure and the need to belong to a certain organization.”

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