Higher Education News

Professor who sought refuge from liberal academe at a Southern Baptist seminary finds out why tenure matters

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 11, 2019 - 7:00pm

It's rare for disaffected faculty members within the seminary world to speak out publicly against their institutions. But one now former professor’s tale of thinking that he’d finally found an intellectual home at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and then losing it, provides a rare window into that part of academe.

If the name Robert Oscar Lopez sounds familiar, it might be because he clashed with his prior institution, too. In 2015, Lopez, then an associate professor of English at California State University at Northridge, said that institution was targeting him because he disagreed with letting gay parents adopt children. He faced a related complaint that a conference he’d organized and invited students to attend pushed antigay views (he denied this).

Lopez held other views outside the conservative mainstream, such as that homosexuality was inexorably linked to pederasty. Some called it hate speech. He said he based his insights on personal experience, and that being raised by a bisexual mother and her female partner made him socially awkward and led him to the “gay underworld” for a time.

Eventually, Lopez left California and secular academe for Southwestern. The Texas institution doesn’t have tenure, but he thought he had found a permanent place among like-minded, socially conservative academics.

Things went well for Lopez for a while. But he couldn’t have predicted the events to come. In 2018, amid the Me Too movement, the seminary’s then president, Paige Patterson, was accused of covering up sexual abuse allegations within the Southern Baptist Convention. An earlier audio recording of Patterson counseling prayer to women with violent husbands also surfaced, as did reports that Patterson had gravely mishandled two rape cases involving woman at the seminary, in 2003 and in 2015.

Patterson first stepped down and was later removed as president emeritus. The seminary’s governing board announcement cited, among other missteps, an internal email in which Patterson wrote that he wanted to meet with the 2015 rape complainant alone to “break her down.”

The seminary did something of a house cleaning following Patterson’s departure, even removing a set of stained-glass windows honoring both him and the ultraconservative late Southern Baptist leader Jerry Falwell Sr. The panels found a new home at Liberty University, run by Jerry Falwell Jr., who commented at the time, “Well, now both of those windows have been removed by the new regime.” Southern Baptists must “have their own deep state,” he also quipped.

Sex Abuse Scandal Brings Change

The Southern Baptist community faced a larger sexual abuse crisis around the same time, with the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reporting that the church had seen 700 victims over 20 years. As Lopez watched how the church responded from his seat at Southwestern, he believed that victims of same-sex abuse were being left out of the discussions.

In April, he published a resolution for church consideration that included antigay language, including that some unnamed Southern Baptist groups had erred in mixing with Anglican groups who encouraged young Baptists “to explore homosexuality and even attend prurient homosexual events.” Later in the document, Lopez resolved that any nondisclosure or “gentleman’s” agreements between victims and the church should be invalidated, in the interest of transparency and healing. The idea, in part, was that NDAs were preventing male victims of abuse from sharing their stories. (Lopez had previously pitched a resolution supporting the "unfettered right of pastors, churches, biblical counselors, biblical counseling ministries and any other disciple of Christ to provide sound biblical counsel and assistance for any person seeking freedom from the sinful bondage to disordered homosexual desires.")

Southwestern Baptist replaced Patterson with Adam W. Greenway, a 41-year-old former dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Kentucky. Greenway didn’t stop the cleaning house at stained glass. According to some accounts, including Lopez’s, Greenway pegged for termination or reassignment 26 professors soon after moving to Fort Worth.

Greenway may have been installed as an agent of progress, but the terminations sparked concerns that he was eliminating many of the seminary’s professors of color. The conservative Capstone Report counted, for example, that half of the affected professors were women or minorities. Southwestern Baptist cited budget concerns and academic program changes as reasons for the cuts. But it also hired some new faculty members and administrators, including a group of white men and some of Greenway's former colleagues from Southern Baptist.

Lopez lost his job, too. In a blog post for American Greatness called “I Didn’t Have to Die on This Hill But I Did,” Lopez said the post-Patterson seminary gutted the classics and humanities curriculum he’d worked to build in favor of works in philosophy and theology.

“I found myself in the unenviable and painful position of now having to fight conservatives so they would see that 1) the classics included imaginative and creative texts, and 2) multicultural diversity mattered,” Lopez wrote. “I was now the dirty disobedient liberal. The fact that I organized missions to El Salvador, founded a multicultural drama club, and proposed a media arts and culture major with an African-American music professor hurt my standing rather than helped it.”

In September, Lopez says, the seminary’s provost asked him to resign. In November, he saw that he didn’t have any classes assigned to him for the spring. And then he received a formal letter of notice, relieving him of his duties as of Dec. 31.

The letter says only that Lopez’s position is being eliminated. And it’s possible that’s true. It’s also possible that Lopez ruffled too many feathers fighting for the humanities program in the face of change.

Home to Roost

But it’s more likely that his antigay comments caught up with him -- albeit in an unexpected place, at least to him.

Documents Lopez shared with the conservative Christian website Enemies Within the Church -- including emails and recordings of meetings with administrators, all after Patterson's ouster -- suggest that he was repeatedly asked to clear any public comments about homosexuality with the institution first. Those included social media posts and media requests, such as one seeking Lopez's comment on a study seeming to link homosexuality to youth self-harm.

“Notifying us after you’ve submitted the work will raise some concerns,” reads one September email from Michael Wilkinson, dean of the seminary’s Scarborough College. “Also, I’m not sure that [Provost Randy] Stinson understood you to mean that you would continue to speak on these issues. He understood you to mean taking down the social media stuff and then to focus on the drama club and your classes.”

Stinson tells Lopez in a recording of a separate September conversation that among the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “your reputation is not good there with those folks.” 

Lopez says that he was targeted for trying to shine light on the same-sex abuse cases that he says don’t fit into what he’s described as the Baptist Church’s Me Too-oriented framing of its sex abuse scandal. As evidence, he cites a transcript of a meeting with Stinson in which Stinson acknowledges that he’d previously expressed concern about his resolution. It’s unclear from the transcript, however, if Stinson had a problem with the resolution because of antigay language or the NDA issue, or even which resolution he was talking about.

In a brief interview, Lopez said, “I was fired because I wanted to bring light to the problems of sex abuse and sexual suffering that the convention was trying to keep secret.”

He also wrote on his blog that his "testimony encouraged people to see themselves as God defined them rather than accept the 'born this way' myth so popular among gay activists. The seminary did not want the attention brought by this issue. So I was fired for sharing the gospel."

In an unusual public statement, Stinson said that “Lopez’s claims about what I have personally said about these matters are demonstrably false.” Stinson affirmed his support for “biblical sexuality,” saying that “in light of the growing cultural confusion on sexuality and growing pressure to force Christians to conform to prevailing opinions, my resolve on these matters is stronger today than ever.”

While Lopez’s position is being eliminated “due to changing program needs of our college,” Stinson continued, “our decision was undergirded by his own actions, which included his failure to comply with basic administrative policies, his being the subject of regular complaints from students and faculty colleagues, and, in the end, his refusal even to attend meetings with his supervisors.” 

He added, "Let me be absolutely clear: no faculty member, including Dr. Lopez, has been told, or would be told, they cannot discuss homosexuality."

In any case, things continue to change at the seminary. This fall it publicly affirmed its support for two female faculty members working in women’s theology, following an email from Patterson’s former chief of staff questioning their qualifications. And elsewhere in the seminary world, Karen Swallow Prior, a longtime professor of English at Liberty University and a vocal critic of President Trump, recently announced that she is leaving that institution for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. In so doing, she cited concerns about academic freedom at Liberty and an interest in Southeastern's more "traditional" curriculum. Prior had previously endorsed a controversial 2018 gathering, Revoice, for gay Christians who agree with Baptist teachings about sexuality. Lopez had criticized her for doing so.

Things, of course, are changing for Lopez, too. To many, his story will read as a just-deserts morality tale. Others may sympathize with his position -- voiced in a recent podcast -- that administrative doublespeak is worse in the seminary world than it is in secular academe. Some may put a finer point on it all: that homophobia is a professional liability just about anywhere in academe.

As Lopez wrote in his American Greatness essay, “Just like that, I went from tenure in California to joblessness in Texas.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Georgia Southern student promotes white supremacist theory in class

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 11, 2019 - 7:00pm

When Georgia Southern University administrators sent out a campuswide email last week outlining the university's commitment to racial inclusion and equity, it may have been cause for approval and praise. After all, the Inclusive Excellence statement was being codified as "the central pillar" of the university's new strategic plan.

Instead, the timing was seen by students as suspect and a cynical move by the university to quell complaints and criticisms, which started the day before, about the administration's defense of a class presentation that promoted a popular white supremacist theory.

The presentation by a student named Charles Robertson came on the heels of a book-burning protest by some white students on campus who took umbrage with an author's reading and discussion of her novel about a Hispanic student's experience at an elite American college. The book was required reading for some first-year students. The burnings took place in October after the Latina author spoke on campus about white privilege. The students involved were also defended by university administrators as expressing their free speech rights.

Some students now believe the defense of the book burning opened the door for Robertson to promote a xenophobic, white supremacist ideology during a class presentation, said Daniela Rodriguez, 25, a Mexican immigrant who graduated from the university in May.

“He feels safe to speak up, and now I can only imagine how many more are out there with this racist mentality of hate,” said Rodriguez, who is the lead organizer for the Savannah Undocumented Youth Alliance, or SUYA, which advocates for the rights of undocumented immigrants in Georgia.

“Now they feel very comfortable, very brave to do something worse,” Rodriguez said. “The administration should do something before something else happens.”

Robertson did a PowerPoint presentation on replacement theory on Nov. 15 in his freshman English composition class. The theory is popular among white supremacist groups and posits that falling white birth rates around the world will result in the replacement, and eventual extinction, of white people by people of color. Robertson railed against the immigration policies of Western countries, which he said strategically populate European countries with nonwhite immigrants from the developing countries to compensate for declining white birth rates.

“While it is difficult to hear presentations with which we vehemently disagree, we must uphold the Constitution of the United States,” a statement from the university said. “It is even more reason why we at Georgia Southern University must continue our unwavering commitment to equity and inclusion.”

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, describes replacement theory as “sugarcoated” racism that plays on the fear that white people will ultimately be replaced entirely by nonwhites.

“They’ll take real trends that are occurring … various demographic changes, and try to paint it fictionally as some kind of existential threat,” Levin said.

He noted that the conspiracy has been promulgated in the manifestos of mass shooters who target immigrant groups and said it’s concerning that it's now being spread in a college class. The replacement theory idea was echoed by the man who targeted Latinos and killed 22 people in an El Paso, Tex., Walmart in August, and by a mass shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, who killed more than 50 Muslim worshippers in a mosque in March, Levin said.

Jasmine Anderson, a senior at Georgia Southern who is African American, said allowing Robertson to promote such ideas on campus “could encourage someone who agrees with whatever was said in that presentation to act violently. I’m sure there’s all types of groups who are probably looking up to the person who has the balls to say something in class as some form of motivation and empowerment … It is alarming that something of that caliber is being tolerated. It’s coming quite close to terroristic.”

Robertson recorded and posted his presentation on YouTube on Nov. 16. It had nearly 100,000 views as of Dec. 9 and was praised by thousands of commenters. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Robertson also tweeted a link to the video in a thread where he encouraged followers to “Join AIM,” or the American Identity Movement, which is an active alt-right white supremacist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

My argumentative presentation @GeorgiaSouthern for my comp class. Subject is Replacement #migration a @UN policy. The last minute didn't record for some reason.#college#GroyperWars@NickJFuentes let's take 'em to school.https://t.co/dKyjo5pk5o

— Charles (@TheRealIrreplac) November 20, 2019

Join AIM

— Charles (@TheRealIrreplac) November 21, 2019

AIM is the “reincarnation” of Identity Evropa, the alt-right group that participated in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Levin said. The group traditionally targets young men on college campuses with papering campaigns. AIM has lately been increasing its presence on campuses, Levin said.

“Along with a diversification of population, we’re seeing depression at elevated levels in recent years of people entering college and studying there,” he said. “They’re susceptible to being manipulated, not only to racist messages but to any conspiracy that has some appeal, how it’s packaged in a way that’s comfortable for young people.”

Robertson’s presentation was for an assignment on a topic of the student’s choice, said John Lester, Georgia Southern's vice president for strategic communications. While the original presentation took place in a classroom, “the promotion of it, use of it, explanation of it, spreading of it, and the association of it with certain ideologies and movements were all done on social media by the student,” Lester wrote in an email.

“What he did with his assignment outside the classroom is beyond the control or reach of the university,” the university's statement said. “While individuals are free to express their views, these views in no way align with the values and statements of diversity and inclusion at Georgia Southern University.”

Those values are outlined in the university's Inclusive Excellence statement, which is touted as a "center pillar" and "core value" of its new strategic plan. The statement is a commitment to ensure all diverse groups of students, staff and faculty members on campus are respected and valued, according to the university’s website. Georgia Southern’s administration worked for 10 months with the National Inclusive Excellence Leadership Academy to incorporate diversity and inclusion goals into the strategic plan and leadership positions.

“I know they have had a number of new challenges occur this fall,” said Damon Williams, who leads the academy. “Those things are damaging and painful for the community more broadly.”

Williams noted that Kyle Marrero, Georgia Southern's president since April, has made it a priority to improve the campus climate for students of color since his arrival.

"The reality is, you can move forward with your efforts, but that doesn’t mean the world has changed," Williams said.

Anderson pointed out that Marrero and Provost Carl Reiber sent an email to students and faculty members informing them of the final language of the Inclusive Excellence pledge on Dec. 3, one day after students began speaking out about Robertson’s presentation on social media. The email summarized the university’s “unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion” without mentioning Robertson's presentation.

“It’s too coincidental that they sent it [that day] and it doesn’t apply to the actions that occurred on campus, or how things are handled on campus,” she said. “It’s too general and not very action-based … Those are just words. That doesn’t mean you believe it, that doesn’t mean it holds true to the climate on this campus and it doesn’t mean you’re acting on it.”

For his part, Robertson spoke directly against the inclusive excellence pledge in his presentation.

“‘Diversity is our strength’ is a bare-faced lie,” he said. “I don’t care if you call me a racist.”

Lauren Krapf, national policy counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, said it's important for university and college professors to determine the effectiveness of such presentations in the classrooms and to spur thoughtful conversations and enhance learning.

"While there is absolutely a First Amendment right to speech on public university campuses, the classroom is not an appropriate place for white nationalist recruitment," she said. "It is incumbent on the university and professors to make determinations about how presentations, conversations and assignments on controversial topics are handled -- with an eye toward advancing the educational purpose of a particular assignment or course offering."

The most Georgia Southern can do within the law as a public university is to tell stakeholders this does not reflect the university’s views and remind them of First Amendment freedoms, said Robert Shibley, executive director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, an advocacy group for students’ due process and speech rights.

“It’s not fair to hold a college accountable for what a student says,” Shibley said. “For people who say Georgia Southern is at fault here, it’s erroneous and misguided … The way to fight bad speech is to have more speech.”

Levin said Georgia Southern should use the presentation as a teaching opportunity to elevate ideas that debunk Robertson’s white supremacist theories and encourage the campus to “come together morally and intellectually.”

After the book-burning incident, Marrero and other administrators held a forum for students to express concerns. Faculty members in the English and history departments also lectured about the history of book burning, according to FIRE.

Both Anderson and Rodriguez said some students of color don’t feel safe speaking out, and they doubt doing so will change the behavior of students with racist views or the way the university handles them.

After the book-burning incident, students issued a statement and held a walk-out, but Anderson said she did not participate because she did not trust the university to protect the protesters.

“That’s really a problem,” Rodriguez said. “Students of color don’t feel safe speaking up, but white supremacists feel safe.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

FTC and University of Phoenix settle over long-running investigation of advertisements

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 11, 2019 - 4:13am

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the University of Phoenix have agreed to a multimillion-dollar settlement relating to a long-running investigation by the FTC into whether the university engaged in deceptive advertising.

Under the settlement announced today by the commission, Phoenix and its private investment group owners will owe the FTC roughly $50 million in cash while forgiving another $140 million in fees owed to the university by former students who allegedly were harmed by the ads. The agreement does not include an admission of wrongdoing by Phoenix.

"This is the largest settlement the commission has obtained in a case against a for-profit school," Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "Students making important decisions about their education need the facts, not fantasy job opportunities that do not exist."

The university said in a written statement that it was pleased to have reached the settlement and to have resolved the investigation, adding that it had complied fully with the FTC.

"The campaign occurred under prior ownership and concluded before the FTC’s inquiry began," the statement said. "The university continues to believe it has acted appropriately and has admitted no wrongdoing. This settlement agreement will enable the university to maintain focus on its core mission of improving the lives of students through career-relevant higher education, and to avoid any further distraction from serving students that could have resulted from protracted litigation, as well as the time and expense of the litigation itself."

The investigation was first announced in July 2015 by Phoenix, which then was a publicly traded company worth more than $3 billion. Since then the university has changed owners and is now privately held by a consortium of investors including the Vistria Group and funds affiliated with Apollo Global Management. The university’s enrollment also has declined during the last four years and is now below 100,000 students, although sources said Phoenix appears to have stabilized in recent months.

In a corporate filing, the university’s then-holding company said the civil investigative demand focused on whether Phoenix engaged in “deceptive or unfair” forms of advertising and marketing.

The FTC called on the university to release a wide range of documents and information about its business practices. The demand covered “marketing, recruiting, enrollment, financial aid, tuition and fees, academic programs, academic advising, student retention, billing and debt collection, complaints, accreditation, training, military recruitment and other compliance matters, for the time period of January 1, 2011 to the present,” the former company said in 2015.

Claims in Commercials

However, the settlement appeared to focus on several television and radio advertisements that Phoenix ran from 2012 until early 2014.

“The companies’ ads featured employers such as Microsoft, Twitter, Adobe and Yahoo!, giving the false impression that UoP worked with those companies to create job opportunities for its students and tailor its curriculum for such jobs,” the FTC said Tuesday. “In reality, these companies did not partner with UoP to provide special job opportunities for UoP students or develop curriculum. Instead, UoP and Apollo selected these companies for their advertisements as part of a marketing strategy to drive prospective student interest, the FTC alleges.”

Although Phoenix no longer runs the ads in question, they are available through a university website explaining the settlement or on the FTC's site.

One television commercial describes how Phoenix is working with a “growing list of almost 2,000 corporate partners, companies like Microsoft, American Red Cross and Adobe, to create options for you,” the narrator said, as the video depicts a middle-aged black woman driving through a crowded parking lot. Logos for several other large employers appear during the ad.

“Not only that, we’re using what we learned from these partners to shape our curriculum. So that when you find the job you want, you’ll be a perfect fit. Let’s get to work,” the narrator concludes as the woman finds a parking spot.

A radio commercial from the same time period featured a similar message.

“In business, getting your foot in the door is half the battle. So University of Phoenix works with leading companies interested in our students and alumni,” the ad’s narrator said. “For our school of business students, we connect with companies like AT&T, Sodexo and Adobe, so you will have more than just a foot in the door. Learn more at Phoenix.edu. Let’s get to work.”

In some ways, the settlement announced today resembles one DeVry University agreed to with the FTC for $100 million in December 2016. (DeVry’s former parent company, now called Adtalem Global Education, a year later sold its flagship university to a small, private for-profit college company.)

That investigation centered on advertising claims made by DeVry about its former students’ employment statistics. Specifically, the FTC probed whether the university was being misleading in marketing to prospective students that, since 1975, 90 percent of its graduates were employed in their field of study within six months of graduation. The ads in question also claimed DeVry’s graduates had 15 percent higher incomes one year after graduation, on average, than did the graduates of other colleges or universities.

A former FTC official, speaking on background, said the DeVry ad claims were stronger than those made in the Phoenix ads, which featured "implied claims" with weaker takeaways.

In addition, the DeVry ads continued to run up to the point of the university’s settlement with the commission. The Phoenix ads last ran five or more years ago, when the company had different owners.

The FTC’s mandate for pursuing deceptive advertising only covers for-profit colleges. It does not apply to nonprofit institutions, including large online universities that increasingly have competed with and eaten into enrollments of for-profit colleges.

To cross the line with marketing to prospective students, the former commission official said advertising claims have to move people to make a decision, which is hard to prove. And the FTC has the burden of proof with such allegations.

The official said the almost five-year gestation of the commission’s investigation of Phoenix, "if not unprecedented," is "close to it."

The FTC, however, said the ads from the university “falsely touted their relationships and job opportunities” with specific companies.

“The defendants also misrepresented that companies, such as Adobe, American Red Cross, Avis, AT&T, MGM, Microsoft, Newell Rubbermaid, Sodexo and Twitter, worked with UoP to develop its courses,” according to the FTC’s complaint.

The commission also said the university’s deceptive advertising and marketing materials targeted military and Hispanic consumers.

The $50 million cash payment to the FTC will be used for “consumer redress,” the commission said. And the $141 million in debt cancellation will go to former students who first enrolled during the time period consumers were likely exposed to the ads in question.

The commission’s vote authorizing the complaint and the final order was 4 to 0, with one commissioner recusing herself.

Rohit Chopra is an FTC commissioner and former assistant director and student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He said on Twitter that many of Phoenix’s students “leave with a mountain of debt and few career prospects.”

Chopra suggested that the federal government’s pursuit of for-profit colleges would continue.

“Today's action against University of Phoenix and future actions against scam schools will set the stage for canceling more student debt and terminating bad-actor access to valuable government benefits,” Chopra said.

Joshua Sexton graduated from the university last month with a bachelor's degree in business. The university made him available for an interview about the settlement.

Sexton, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, saw some of the ads in question. But he said he mostly heard about the university from a fellow military veteran. Sexton was attracted to how the Phoenix degree program fit well with his schedule as a small business owner.

"The ad didn't make me think I'd be working at Microsoft if I attended the University of Phoenix," said Sexton.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Completion rates still rising, new data show, but at slower pace

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 10, 2019 - 7:00pm

The upward trajectory of college completion rates is slowing down, according to the latest national college completion report.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found in its latest annual data report on college completion that, while completion rates have been on the rise for each cohort year beginning with the group who entered college in 2009, the growth is slowing.

While that's troubling, higher education advocates say the general message is positive.

"To me, the important part of this is the direction that we’re moving," said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the American Council on Education. It's possible institutions made significant progress in the first few years by choosing "the lowest-hanging fruits," he said, and further progress will be more difficult to achieve.

The report follows the pathways of first-time college students and stays with them even if they transfer. This year's report analyzes the outcomes for students who enrolled in 2013, as well as the eight-year results for those who enrolled in 2011. It is the most comprehensive assessment of completion data available for the sector.

Six-year completion rates are up across all sectors, but those who started in private, for-profit, four-year colleges had the biggest jump in completion, increasing from 37.3 percent to 42.4 percent.

"While we want to celebrate the increase in completion, it is lower than it has been in previous years," said Courtney Brown, vice president of strategic impact at the Lumina Foundation. "I think we have to figure out a way to be better."

The report also found that more students from the 2011 cohort completed college during their seventh and eighth years. The eight-year completion rate for that group was five percentage points higher than the six-year completion rate, which Brown said may be indicative of students who are attending part-time. Given that, she said, institutions need to address how long it takes to earn a credential if you must attend part-time.

Compared to previous cohorts, students who enrolled in 2013 were more likely to be of traditional college-going age, 20 or younger, while the proportion of adult learners over the age of 25 declined by almost one percentage point.

While their numbers may be declining, adult learners saw their completion rates increase by more than two percentage points. The rate for traditional-age students also increased, but by just 1.2 percentage points.

"Nontraditional students seem to be making especially rapid gains," Hartle said. "I think what we see there are efforts being made by institutions that serve nontraditional students."

Enrollment at four-year institutions increased slightly, the report found, while enrollment at two-year colleges decreased. This is likely at least partially due to the countercyclical effects of the economy on community college enrollments, according to Hartle; when unemployment is high, more people tend to enroll in two-year colleges to finish degrees or gain more skills to increase their employability, and vice versa.

While racial and ethnic completion rate gaps still persist, the report found some improvement, though advocates said it's not enough.

"There are still significant racial and ethnic disparities in terms of who completes college," said Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education at the Education Trust. "While there have been some gains in college completion among African American men, it’s not enough.

Despite the gains in completion over all, about 40 percent of students -- around one million -- are still leaving college without a credential.

"The bigger concern with that 40 percent is they’re more likely to be adults, more likely to be at two-year institutions, more likely to be students of color," Brown said. "These are the students we have to think about how we can better support."

It's especially concerning given the National Student Clearinghouse report released in October, which found that 36 million adults have some college credits but no degree, she said. "If we continue to lose a million more a year, that's a problem."

Another recession could further complicate matters with completion. The increase in completion rates was highest between 2009 and 2011, which the report states reflects a "post-recession effect" on the size and composition of the student population. Another economic downturn likely would increase enrollment, Brown said, but negatively impact completion, as students leave college to work when the economy improves.

"If and when we get another recession, the higher education system needs to be much better prepared to help these new enrollees get a credential of value faster," she said. "We have to think about how we can better support those students now."

While there are things institutions can do to help students succeed, they usually have a "marginal" effect, according to Hartle. From his perspective, college completion is a combination of three things: academic preparedness, commitment and financial resources.

To improve student success, work has to be done earlier in education to improve academic preparation. The latest national test results show modest gains, he said, and students who are underprepared often have to take remedial courses, which makes them less likely to complete a degree. If students do persist, they often later run into problems with financial resources, he added.

"There’s good news here, but in no way can people be satisfied that we solved the problem," he said, later adding, "It's a multifaceted problem. Those are the most difficult to solve."

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Categories: Higher Education News

Who went to the fake University of Farmington and why?

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 10, 2019 - 7:00pm

Read the court documents in the cases of the individuals who pleaded guilty to recruiting students to the University of Farmington -- a fake university set up by a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of a sting operation to catch visa fraudsters -- and you’ll notice a pattern.

A number of the “recruiters” turned to Farmington after the colleges they attended lost accreditation, or, to put it more precisely, when the U.S. Department of Education revoked recognition for the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools in December 2016, leaving them and about 16,000 other international students enrolled at institutions without federally recognized accreditation (ACICS’s recognition has since been reinstated).

The students, all citizens of India, subsequently enrolled at Farmington. They began recruiting their friends and collecting commissions from the fake university, which had no classes and no professors and was staffed with federal agents.

One of the "recruiters," Santosh Reddy Sama -- whom the government describes in court documents as "the greatest driving force behind the enormity of the fraud" -- claims in court documents he received an email from Farmington “almost immediately” after his previous institution lost accreditation.

“Without the original email targeted to Mr. Sama after his school, Silicon [Valley] University lost accreditation, we may not be here in this case,” says the defendant’s sentencing memo. Sama, who was accused by the government of making more than $150,000 by recruiting students to Farmington, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud and to harbor aliens for profit, and was sentenced to prison for two years.

“The day after the schools were disaccredited, ICE, which is running this scam university, sent emails to all of these students, soliciting them,” said David S. Steingold, the lawyer for another individual convicted in the case, Bharath Kakireddy. Kakireddy was enrolled in Silicon Valley University and came to Farmington looking for what Steingold describes as a "stopgap" solution to maintain his immigration status after the ACICS revocation. (Kakireddy subsequently gained admission to New England College, and on Jan. 11 -- about three weeks before the indictments in the case were unsealed -- requested a transfer, according to court documents. The government claims that Kakireddy collected at least $32,000 in fees from fellow "students" he recruited to Farmington. He pleaded guilty and received an 18-month prison sentence.)

"It was almost as if it was planned," Steingold said. "It was almost as if they knew when the schools lost their accreditation there’d be thousands and thousands of people here on a student visa from outside the country who are going to be looking for status, who are going to be desperate to stay in the country, because if you have to go back to India, apply there and start the whole process again, suffice it to say it’s going to be a significant disruption of their studies. Since most of them had work-study, they were desperate not just to stay in school, but to stay in their job.”

Inside Higher Ed asked in writing whether ICE investigators targeted Farmington recruiting emails to students at ACICS-accredited institutions following the revocation of ACICS's recognition by the Department of Education. A spokesman for the agency, Carissa Cutrell, did not address the question directly.

"[Homeland Security Investigations] special agents use a variety of law enforcement tactics to uncover exploitation of the student visa system," she said in response to Inside Higher Ed's query. "Students should evaluate all aspects of a school’s offerings before making a decision to enroll."

Cutrell added that, with the exception of English language programs, institutions that lost accreditation through ACICS would still have been eligible to retain their federal certification through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll international students if they submitted additional required documentation in lieu of accreditation.

Several defendants in the case (including Kakireddy) say in court documents that they had just 15 days to transfer to another institution after the ACICS decision or otherwise risk violating their visa status. Cutrell said that after the ACICS decision, SEVP "did not take immediate action but rather notified students to work with their school's designated school officials to take appropriate action to maintain status." She added that typically when an institution loses its certification to enroll international students, the students would have 30 to 60 days to transfer to another institution. A broadcast message from ICE's Student and Exchange Visitor Program issued in December 2016 indicated that the agency was following the Education's Department's timeline, which gave ACICS-accredited institutions 18 months to find a new accreditor in order to remain eligible for federal aid programs.

In any case, it seems fair to say there may have been confusion about the implications of loss of accreditation on students' visa statuses. And accreditation would have been a critical and time-sensitive factor for students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields with aspirations to work in the U.S. after graduation through the optional practical training (OPT) program. Only students who attend an accredited institution are eligible to apply for the two-year STEM OPT extension, which extends the total OPT period from one year to three. In order to be eligible for the STEM OPT extension, international students must attend an institution that is accredited at the time of their application to the program.

The government’s decision to create a fake university to capture individuals who would seek to abuse the student visa system has been highly controversial. The Farmington operation began in 2015, under the Obama administration, and was prosecuted under the Trump administration.

Some have argued that in creating a fake university that had all the exterior trappings of legitimacy -- Farmington advertised all the appropriate accreditation and regulatory approvals -- the government deceived vulnerable students and preyed on their desperation to stay in the U.S. On Twitter, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren described the sting operation as "cruel and appalling. These students simply dreamed of getting the high-quality higher education America can offer. ICE deceived and entrapped them, just to deport them."

"The notion of solving this problem by creating a fake university, take in millions and lie to students is not acceptable," said Ben Miller, the vice president for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

"What was the point of this? If you’re worried about schools that aren't real schools, why don’t you go after the accreditors and make sure they're doing a real job policing academic quality?"

ICE defends the creation of a sham university -- the second such Potemkin institution it has created, after the University of Northern New Jersey -- as a legitimate tactic to protect the integrity of the student visa program. Federal authorities describe Farmington as a "pay-to-stay" operation: the "students" paid tuition in order to maintain their immigration status and obtain work authorization, but they were not legitimate students.

"The primary purpose of this operation was to better understand the ways in which recruiters and others abuse the nonimmigrant student visa system," Cutrell said. "HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] special agents made it abundantly clear in their interactions with potential University of Farmington enrollees that the school did not offer academic or vocational programs of any kind. The enrollees came from other U.S. schools and not directly from overseas, so they were familiar with the student visa process and requirements and were free to remain at their current institution or find another school that provided programs of study."

"Undercover schools provide a unique perspective in understanding the ways in which students and recruiters try to exploit the nonimmigrant student visa system," Cutrell continued. "They provide DHS firsthand evidence of fraud and enhance the agency’s understanding of the way in which exploitation networks develop to facilitate fraud. This, in turn, informs and improves DHS’s efforts to uncover fraud at schools and serves as a deterrent to potential violators and as a reminder to all nonimmigrant students to be vigilant in complying with pertinent laws while studying in the United States."​

‘Desperate People’?

Those caught up in the Farmington case fall into two main categories.

There were the eight “recruiters” who made a profit either in the form of tuition credits or cash for recruiting students to Farmington. The majority of them were enrolled in the university themselves and made cash or collected credits toward their tuition by recruiting more "students" like them.

Then were the hundreds of other "students" who enrolled in the fake university but were not accused of profiting by recruiting others.

The “recruiters” were criminally charged and faced jail time, to be followed by deportation. All have pleaded guilty. Of the seven sentenced so far, all have received a sentence of at least a year and a day in jail, a sentence that under current immigration law will bar them from re-entering the U.S. in the future.

The "students," meanwhile, faced deportation for immigration violations. The Detroit Free Press reported late last month that immigration authorities arrested about 250 people in connection with their enrollment at Farmington. Many were deported to India, while others are contesting their removals. One was granted lawful permanent resident status by an immigration judge.

Emily Neumann, an immigration lawyer based in Houston, has advised anywhere between 25 to 50 students, in most cases giving them informal advice on how to voluntarily depart the country. She said the story of nearly every student she advised is the same: the students attended master’s programs in the U.S., then started working through the OPT program. They applied for an H-1B skilled worker visa to extend their stay beyond the one- to three-year period provided by OPT. But their application either wasn't selected via the lottery or was denied for some reason.

"They're coming to the end of their OPT time; they feel they have no other choice -- if they re-enroll in a program they can continue their stay and maybe start again next year," she said. "Then they’re starting to get information about Farmington University -- that not only will they be able to re-enroll to continue their stay, they’ll be able to continue to work."

“When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so they probably had an idea that something was off,” Neumann said. “But when you’ve got -- the school on its website looks legitimate, you’ve got an I-20 form that is properly issued [an I-20 being the government form that institutions issue to prospective international students], it’s saying that it’s accredited and authorized to grant F-1 [student] visas. On paper everything looked right. I don’t think any of them that we worked with were specifically going to Farmington knowing that they wouldn’t have to take any classes, but I think that they’re going there for the work authorization and for the continued ability to stay, and it ultimately turned out there weren’t any classes being given. When you’ve got friends telling you that this is a good option, you’re kind of desperate at that point, and desperate people do things that a reasonable person might not do.”

Neumann added that her law partner, Rahul Reddy, "heard from a number of [Silicon Valley University] students that they were contacted almost immediately after ACICS lost its ability to accredit by recruiters, brokers and agents for Farmington."

No ‘Leg to Stand On’?

The majority of the eight "recruiters" who were criminally charged in the case enrolled in Farmington after attending either Silicon Valley University, which was shut down by California state regulators in 2018, or Northwestern Polytechnic University, according to court documents.

In a 2018 letter, U.S. senator Chuck Grassley described both Silicon Valley and Northwestern Polytechnic institutions as two “highly suspect schools” that bring international students to the U.S. Grassley cited “multiple credible reports suggesting that NPU operates a visa mill.” Both institutions were accredited by ACICS at the time the accreditor lost recognition.

Four of the eight individuals indicted in this case previously attended Northwestern Polytechnic, according to court documents, When asked to comment for this article, a lawyer for NPU, Harmeet K. Dhillon, sent a letter requesting that Inside Higher Ed not include the institution in an article about Farmington, arguing that its inclusion would "unfairly cast a negative light on our client’s institution, mislead readers, and immediately damage NPU."

"As an initial and critical matter, seeing as NPU has no affiliation with the University of Farmington, and for obvious reasons desires no such relationship, we see no legitimate basis to include discussion of NPU in such an article. Indeed, several other media outlets -- including The New York Times, USA Today, and Newsweek -- recently published articles regarding the University of Farmington without any mention of NPU, which is the appropriate choice, particularly in light of the intense negative reactions that the University of Farmington has garnered in both the media and the public eye. While a few outlets have mentioned NPU’s prior student, Prem Rampeesa [one of the eight individuals charged in the case], in discussing the University of Farmington, most have chosen to voluntarily remove or limit references to NPU after we contacted them to explain the falsity of certain claims regarding NPU."

Dhillon added, "Claims that NPU is a 'visa mill' are simply untrue, as evident from the actions of numerous credible agencies and accrediting bodies and, more specifically, on the findings of these agencies and bodies that authorize NPU to fully operate." In addition to its continued accreditation by ACICS and its certification by the state of California to operate, Dhillon noted that NPU recently received candidacy status from the Western Association for Schools and Colleges, the regional accreditor for colleges in California.

Tanul Thakur, a New Delhi-based journalist working on a nonfiction book on Indian H-1B workers, said institutions like NPU and (the recently shutdown) SVU are popular in India as a way for students to maintain their immigration status and work through the curricular practical training (CPT) program if they don't get picked in the H-1B lottery. Thakur said "the list of 15 to 20 questionable institutions is well-known among Indian students. So if one college shuts or gets raided, or comes under heavy scrutiny, then they simply move to the next dubious institution."

"The migratory patterns of students in Farmington -- moving to a 'fake university' from questionable institutions, known to enroll a disproportionate number of international students (and, in essence, purportedly functioning as 'visa mills') -- easily proves that a majority of students knew what they were getting into by signing up as students at Farmington," Thakur said.

In court documents, U.S. attorneys dismissed the idea that one of the defendants in the Farmington case was motivated by a desire “to help foreign national students obtain an education -- including for some students who sought to transfer from schools that were in danger of losing their accreditation."

The government added, in a footnote, "These schools cater to 'students' who want to exploit our foreign student education program. While they are the exception rather than the rule, unfortunately they do exist. Some of the 'pay to stay' schools located around the United States that have been exposed over the years are: Prodee University; Neo-America Language School; Walter Jay M.D. Institute; the American College of Forensic Studies; Likie Fashion and Technology College; Tri-Valley University; Herguan University; the University of Northern Virginia; and the American College of Commerce and Technology." Also in this same footnote, the government linked to a 2016 BuzzFeed article about Northwestern Polytechnic that bore the headline "Inside the College That Abolished the F and Raked in the Cash." (NPU's lawyer wrote that the BuzzFeed article was "riddled with inaccuracies.")

David North, who tracks student visa policy in his capacity as a senior fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates for lowering immigration, said of those enrolled in Farmington that they "do not have a leg to stand on."

"If you claimed legal status in the country because you are a student and the organization you went to had never taught you a class, how do you say, 'gee, I’m innocent?'" he asked. "Those folks knew [that] they were getting involved in a nonexistent organization, or it was a university without classes. I can’t be very sympathetic to them."

That said, North suggested law resources could be used to crack down on actual colleges that might be questionable. "One of the things that they might do at considerable less expense is grit their teeth and go after the marginal ones," North said.

"I don’t criticize this sting, but I wish the same kinds of energies were used against these marginal operations."

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Categories: Higher Education News

How many books should a professor be able to check out?

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 10, 2019 - 7:00pm

English professor Richard Burt is a big fan of books. Like, a really big fan of books. So much so he owns over 2,000 and has checked out 728 books from the University of Florida library, doubling the faculty checkout limit of 350.

As a tenured professor of English at Florida -- where he’s been since 2003 -- he is constantly creating new classes and is in the process of writing multiple books. Because of this, Burt makes frequent trips to the campus library, where he knows every librarian by name.

And this got Burt into a bit of trouble. First the library came collecting. Then he was made to sign a letter of reprimand for his interactions with the library staff.

During summer 2019, he received a notice that he needed to return some of his prized books by Oct. 1, as he was over the faculty limit of 350. He was informed he would not be able to check out more books until he returned to proper parameters for faculty. Burt said he had been told by another librarian that he could check out more books than that, as a special exception to the rule.

When Burt received this notice, he wrote to the chair of his department, Sid Dobrin, about the matter. Dobrin told Burt this was a library matter and to contact the library representatives directly. Dobrin did not respond to a request for comment.

Burt -- who is 65 -- said that due to the different training he received on how to conduct research and the fact that many of the texts he uses are so old they’ve never been digitized, he must rely on old-fashioned methods to conduct his academic work.

“He was initially given some leeway by the chair of Library West, at his request, since he was working on several books at the time,” said Patrick Reakes, senior associate dean of scholarly resources and services. “It was never indicated that there would be no limit at all -- the approval was to go over the 350 limit if necessary since he was right at the top edge and the staff at the desk kept having to ask permission and/or get a supervisor to override our system since it doesn’t allow staff to exceed the limit.” (Library West is the main library on the UF campus.)

Reakes said that the excessive amount of books that were checked out had led to hours of wasted staff time and confusion.

“Keeping track of that many books, along with the recalls by other patrons, became unwieldy,” said Reakes. “Both the patron and our circulation staff were wasting a lot of time searching for books that hadn’t ever been returned, etc.”

“In addition, it seemed important to enforce the policy uniformly across all faculty members,” Reakes continued. “The initial approval to go over the limit was intended as short-term assistance for the faculty member. I’d point out that we have over 15,000 faculty patron records in our system, many with very high levels of publication and research, and no other patrons had over 325 items checked out. I’ve been at UF almost 20 years, and I don’t recall the limit ever being a problem before.”

The UF library has roughly 6.2 million volumes.

The library caps faculty checkouts at 350 items, with the opportunity for a one-click renewal twice a year. This allows participants to renew all their books at once.

According to Reakes, the library compares its faculty limit to other large research libraries, and based on a review they did earlier this year, they found they’re around the “middle of the pack.”

Burt said that he feels the decision to limit faculty to 350 books is arbitrary and notes that faculty at Florida State University have a limit of 500.

Burt has been accused of bullying and berating library staff both in person and by phone and email. These alleged incidents have spanned the past few years, and these exchanges were related to the number of books the professor checked out.

When Burt was called in to meet with his chair, Dobrin, and associate dean Mary Watt on Oct. 7, he said he had “no idea” he would be getting a letter of reprimand. He wondered then as he wonders now: why does it matter that he was over the allotted limit of books he could check out? At this point he had already returned some of the books as requested.

The reprimand cited an instance in late November 2017 and requested that Burt change his email signature. The email signature that Dobrin and Watt found fault in described Burt as “legacy professor of English, loser studies, pharmakonology, and cosmic criticism.”

“The whole thing is very bizarre,” said Burt. “It was like being in a court of law … It was already done.” He felt like there was no due process, and that he never had the chance to explain himself.

The November incident took place at the library. Burt went to check out yet another book when he was told by library staff that this was no longer allowed. Burt demanded to speak to a higher-up librarian, who told Burt a similar thing and cited “policy” as the reasoning behind this. Burt said this made him feel “incredulous.”

According to incident reports from that day, Burt began to scream at the library staff and made them uncomfortable. Burt acknowledges that he did raise his voice. The incident reports say that university police were called, but they informed the staff members that the only thing that could be done would be to call human resources.

The letter of reprimand described the tongue-in-cheek signature as “unprofessional” and “inaccurate.” On Oct. 9 Watt sent Burt an alternative signature that he could use instead, one that had no quips and listed just his contact information. Burt lamented that other professors had quirky additions to their signatures.

Burt said that it was a case of too much administration and corporatization of the university, and “Bureaucrats falling in line as bureaucrats against a faculty member.” He said that prior to this he wasn’t on bad terms with the dean or the department chair, that there was nothing personal about this.

“I just assumed my chair would be on my side,” Burt said, adding that he had never been reprimanded before.

Burt describes what happened to him as “really bizarre” and “a story that is almost literary, because it doesn’t seem like it could happen.” Something Kafka would write. The professor marveled that it took so many people and so much time and energy to make sure a professor couldn’t check out any more books.

He said that everything could have worked out differently if he could have just met with people independently and spoken with them in person.

Since this all started, Burt hasn’t tried to take out another book. He’s worried he’d get a librarian in trouble.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 10, 2019 - 7:00pm
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Study attempts to debunk criticisms of student evaluations of teaching

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 9, 2019 - 7:00pm

Student evaluations of teaching, or SETs, can provide a better understanding of what is working and what isn’t in classrooms. But gaining a “meaningful” understanding necessitates separating the “myths and realities” surrounding these evaluations, says a new report on the topic. That, in turn, requires data -- lots of data.

So Campus Labs, a higher education assessment firm with 1,400 member campuses, opened its vault to create the new, myth-busting-style report. The study included more than 2.3 million evaluation responses from a dozen two- and four-year institutions that use Campus Labs’ course evaluation system, representing something of a national sample. All were collected in 2016 or later.

First a disclaimer or two: Campus Labs sells course evaluation tools (make of that what you will). And since Campus Labs pulled the data from its own system, it couldn’t investigate questions concerning data it didn’t have -- namely, and significantly, those related to course grades or gender and ethnicity biases. These, of course, are some of the biggest points of contention among SET critics, since some studies demonstrate that students rate white male instructors differently than they rate women and racial minorities.

Even so, the Campus Labs data shine light on a number of other, commonly held beliefs about SETs used by critics to discredit them as unreliable. Those beliefs, which, again, the report refers to as “myths,” include that course evaluation comments only reflect extreme opinions.

Other, related beliefs are that students who take course evaluations outside class time are more likely to be critical in their comments and ratings and that low response rates skew evaluation results.

As for the extreme comments argument, Campus Labs created histograms to compare average ratings of students who left write-in comments about their professors to those who didn’t. About 47 percent of the sample did leave comments, with students at two-year institutions being more likely to do so. Ratings are 1-5, with 5 being best.

The results show a “negative skew” for those who leave comments -- and those who don’t. This suggests that concerns about “bimodal extremism” are unfounded, the report says. And among students who leave comments, a significant share rate professors above the median value. Also important is that many students who rate professors at the maximum end of the scale don’t leave any comments as to why.

Over all, the study says, the data do spark questions about how to “better design instructor feedback systems to encourage more students to leave comments -- along with helping to ensure provided comments are best utilized to assist faculty in better ensuring student success in subsequent semesters.”

As for students who take time outside class to rate professors, Campus Labs imagined that class hours are those between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Contrary to common concerns that only students with an ax to grind would go out of their way to rate professors, Campus Labs’ estimate found that the highest average ratings happen around 6 a.m. and the lowest happen at noon. The distribution was a bit more even for two-year institutions.

On low response rates, Campus Labs created box plots examining the average course rating for courses taught by the same professors when response rates were low as compared to when response rates were high. Researchers found a slightly higher average rating for high-response courses, but not a substantively meaningful difference. In another analysis, the response rate only explained 1.35 percent of the variance in course ratings.

Examining another belief about students -- that they have consistent attitudes across courses -- Campus Labs’ histogram analysis suggests that the overwhelming majority offer unique evaluations. Another split analysis found that students at two-year institutions were more likely to provide similar ratings across multiple evaluations, however.

Do SETs accurately measure what faculty and administrators want? To tackle this, Campus Labs categorized about 4,000 SET questions into 23 groups focused on student growth, assessment, instructor behaviors, course design and facilities.

Based on these questions, the report found that two-year institutions were “more directly interested” in assessing instructor effectiveness while four-year institutions more routinely asked about courses, assessments and students. This may simply reflect a difference in mission, however, the report says.

“If different focal points emerge due to deliberate design choices by faculty and administrators at two- and four-year campuses, then the instruments very well could be measuring what faculty and administrators want,” reads the study. Yet if “discrepancies surface due to random chance, we may need to encourage greater intentionality in how evaluations are formulated. After all, it does not matter how many students respond if we are not asking meaningful questions that provide actionable data for faculty.”

Will Miller, executive director of institutional analytics, effective and strategic planning at Jacksonville University, formerly of Campus Labs, led the report. He said last week that it hopefully “opens the door” for campuses to have more robust conversations about when and how evaluations are conducted and about their role in measuring faculty effectiveness.

“Many important conversations about course evaluations are had without much data available, or without data being shared efficiently,” Miller said. And members often ask what qualifies a student to judge whether a course or faculty member has been effective, while administrators often highlight the role students serve as consumers rating a “service.”

In any case, Miller said that "most faculty members don’t object to the concept of course evaluations, but instead take issue with them being used as a singular measure of effectiveness." And so institutions should identify "holistic ways to evaluate the learning that takes place in the classroom, in ways that uniquely work for them." Course evaluations will continue to be a piece of that puzzle, as students are the one campus group who observe faculty members teaching consistently throughout the semester. But faculty members and administrators must "evaluate the data and work together to account for, and most importantly not penalize certain faculty for, student biases."

Institutions should also educate students on how to offer "meaningful feedback and to complete evaluations in a way that improve courses and instruction, including accounting for inherent biases," Miller said. "If an institution values critical thinking, why not tackle the issue head-on and treat evaluations as an opportunity to teach our students the skill of evaluation that many employers feel they lack upon graduation?" Satisfaction, perceptions of learning and development, and "actual performance" are all part of that, he added.

IDEA, which until recently offered its own student rating of instructional products (IDEA has since been acquired by Campus Labs), published its own myth-buster paper in 2016. It included similar findings but was based on a review of literature, not a quantitative analysis.

Ken Ryalls, president of IDEA -- which is still a nonprofit but now offers grants related to teaching and learning initiatives -- said he thought Campus Labs’ paper was of high quality.

Still, the paper is unlikely to settle the ongoing debate about what value SETs really hold. Again, the paper doesn’t address how ratings are related to course grades, or to student or teacher race or gender -- the precise factors that have caused some institutions rethink how they use student evaluations of teaching in the faculty review process, if at all. 

Philip Stark, professor of statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of a major 2016 paper demonstrating gender bias in student evaluations, called the Campus Labs report “advertising, not science.”

“It's particularly bad data analysis, including asking the wrong questions in the first place,” Stark said. Among his more specific criticisms was the lack of control group, conflating when students submitted their evaluations to when they were in class, and “no data on gender, ethnicity, grade expectations, grades or other measures of student performance.”

Based on existing research, “the strongest predictor of evaluations is grade expectations,” he said.

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SMU sued for amending governance documents to separate itself from church authority

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 9, 2019 - 7:00pm

A regional branch of the United Methodist Church filed suit against Southern Methodist University for amending its governance documents to separate itself from control by the church.

According to the lawsuit, filed last week in the court of Dallas County, Southern Methodist filed an amendment to its articles of incorporation in November deleting language stating that SMU was “to be forever owned, maintained and controlled by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church.”

The decision by SMU to amend its article of incorporation and bylaws follows a February vote by the Methodist church’s controlling body to strengthen its prohibitions on performing same-sex marriage and ordaining gay and lesbian clergy. SMU’s president, R. Gerald Turner, responded to the vote by reaffirming the university’s nondiscrimination policies and inclusive values and emphasizing the institution’s independence from church governance.

The Board of Trustees voted in November to "update its governance documents to make it clear that SMU is solely maintained and controlled by its board as the ultimate authority for the university," Turner wrote in a statement Friday.

In the lawsuit, which was first reported on by the Methodist publication UM News, the South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church, or SCJC, states that the lawsuit was necessitated by what it describes as “recent, unauthorized acts by representatives of SMU in Violation of SCJC’s rights and interests in relationship between SMU and SCJC that has existed for more than century.”

SCJC claims that it founded SMU in 1911 with an initial gift of 133 acres of land. “For more than a century, SMU and its governing documents have acknowledged that SCJC is the electing, controlling, and parental body of SMU,” the complaint states.

The Methodist conference argues that SMU's governance documents permanently grant the church body “many valuable rights,” including rights to appoint SMU trustees, to approve all trustees prior to their appointments, to terminate any trustees for cause, to veto any efforts to sell real estate and -- the issue at the heart of this case -- to block any amendments to SMU's articles of incorporation that are not first approved and authorized by the SCJC.

“Put simply, the trustees of SMU had and have no authority to amend the Articles of Incorporation without the prior approval and authorization of SCJC,” the lawsuit states. “Because the Trustees’ acts were neither approved nor authorized by SCJC, the resulting November 2019 Articles are void from their inception.”

In his Friday statement SMU President Turner said he is confident "that our board’s actions are in compliance with Texas law."

"With Methodist in our name, the Perkins School of Theology as a resource, and assurance of Methodist representation on the Board of Trustees, the Church will continue to have important influence in the governance of SMU," Turner said. "Nothing changes in SMU’s day-to-day operations because of these actions."

A SMU spokeswoman, Dianne Anderson, said that the university's amended bylaws now provide for seven out of the 42 trustees to be nominated in consultation with the College of Bishops, with that number including one bishop from the United Methodists or a successor denomination. 

Amy White Ezell, a spokeswoman for SCJC, said the conference's goal is a "highly principled judicial declaration that SCJC and SMU retain the relationship and all rights they have enjoyed for more than a century."

Several other Methodist colleges have moved to separate themselves from the United Methodist Church following the February vote opposing same-sex marriage and ordination of same-sex clergy. The boards of Baldwin Wallace University and the University of Mount Union, both in Ohio, respectively voted last spring to end universities’ formal affiliations with the church. The chair of Baldwin Wallace’s board, Charles Rotuno, said at the time of the April vote that while the board valued the relationship the university had with the church, its members “concluded that becoming an independent university will allow the BW community to continue to fully embrace and embody the values of diversity and inclusion today and always.”

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Pennsylvania county mulls whether to add a community college

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 9, 2019 - 7:00pm

Pennsylvania's Erie County has 10 institutions of higher education, but most are four-year colleges, private institutions or colleges that serve several counties at once.

While that might seem like enough for the estimated population of about 276,000, people in the county for years have discussed adding a community college.

After more than a decade of stops and starts, the community has come together to form Empower Erie, a group advocating for a two-year college that will be open-access, affordable and designed with the county's needs at heart.

"It has been an abiding issue," said Ron DiNicola, cofounder and director of Empower Erie.

But the debate isn't over whether another college is necessary in a state where mergers are a discussion, enrollment is declining and state funding remains among the lowest in the country.

The Pennsylvania State Board of Education was expected to vote on the college's approval in November, but instead chose to delay until after a public hearing. The hearing is scheduled for March 18.

Supporters of the proposed Erie County Community College say there is a need. About 40 percent of local residents have a high school degree, but only 16 percent have some college credits, and only 8.5 percent have an associate degree, according to U.S. Census Bureau data included in a report to the state. And while there are colleges in the area, most cost more than $10,000 in tuition and fees per year.

The state board said it could not grant an interview this week. The American Association of Community Colleges declined to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing-heavy county in the northwestern corner of the state is poised for revitalization, with more than $32 million in state funding for projects along the bay front and in the city of Erie, bolstered by the creation of several economic development groups.

To get ahead of this movement, DiNicola said the community has to ensure there are enough trained workers in the area.

"The continuing concern of business manufacturing leaders is that they weren’t really able to find the workers that they need with the skills levels that they need," he said. "I think the city fathers realize there's a piece missing here, and that piece is a quality community college."

A special committee of the education board was assigned to determine the feasibility of the proposed plan, and the majority said it would "serve an unmet need to support the learning styles of traditional community college students."

Debate Gets Political

Other local institutions that offer two-year degrees see this proposal as a potential duplication of efforts.

Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, established in 2017 after a series of studies pointed to a need for two-year degrees and workforce training in the northern part of the state, serves nine communities, including Erie County.

"Erie needs a community college, yes," said Joseph Nairn, the college's founding president. "We are that community college."

The new college, which has state approval and is in the process of gaining accreditation, saves on expenses by not having a fixed campus. Instead, it leases spaces where students are either in the room with the instructor, or in the room with each other watching the instructor virtually, but in real time.

Right now, the college features five instructional sites in Erie County that have not yet met capacity. But the new institution is not yet able to accept federal student aid dollars because it remains unaccredited.

Nairn believes his college is enough to serve Erie's needs for two-year degrees. And it's legislatively mandated to do so, so a new community college won't affect its offerings in the area, he said.

The regional college was also negotiating a partnership with the Erie County Council in August to create an Erie College Center, a workforce development center. But Nairn said the two were unable to reach a mutual agreement on the plan.

DiNicola asserts that Erie County, which is the most urban and populous county among those that the regional college serves, needs it own college to address its own needs. For example, the county has a relatively large minority and immigrant populations.

"Those are dimensions to Erie County that make it quantitatively and qualitatively different from the needs of other counties," he said. "It is our view that the regional college doesn’t achieve at scale what we need to achieve in Erie County."

While the regional college is more affordable than others located in the Erie area, at about $185 per credit, the proposed Erie County Community College would be even cheaper, at $105 per credit and $2,400 for a full year's tuition.

The community college would be funded through tuition, local funding from increased revenue and a local foundation, and state funding. The state dollars would come from the general fund that each year sends money to the other 14 Pennsylvania community colleges.

"The Pennsylvania Public School Code requires the governor to indicate how many community colleges can funded. We have been advised by the State Board of Education that Governor Wolf sent a letter to the State Board of Education in October of 2019 indicating that 15 community colleges can be funded in the upcoming fiscal year," Elizabeth Bolden, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, said in a statement.

The disagreement between the regional and community colleges became political shortly after the November board meeting, when Joseph Scarnati, president pro tempore of the state's Senate and a cofounder of the regional college, wrote a letter criticizing the state's review of Erie's application and called on the state board to deny it. Leaders of the county's faith community pushed back, calling his statements "an attack" and "vitriol."

"There is a danger of the process being politicized," DiNicola said. "​I’m confident that if the Board of Education puts on their education hat and focuses on, 'is this the right educational program for this community?' I think that we will win, hands down."

Other colleges in the area that offer associate degrees, like Edinboro University, a four-year institution, said it's yet unknown how the community college could affect them.

“Much of it will depend on the community college’s tuition structure, short- and long-term enrollment targets and program offerings,” Angela Burrows, Edinboro’s vice president for marketing and communications, said in a statement. "There’s also tremendous potential for a partnership between Edinboro and a community college, which would benefit the community, as well as the two institutions."

Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education, known as PASSHE, which includes Edinboro, said its universities often seek out partnerships with other colleges.

"If we, through those kinds of partnerships, can improve the environment for student success, and in the process support each other’s missions, then that’s a healthy thing for the entire higher education industry," Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for PASSHE, said in a statement. "We all have a role to play and students to serve, and our individual places in higher ed can be impactful and concentric for the sake of any student."

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Categories: Higher Education News

Can Salisbury prevent racist incidents with a chief diversity officer?

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 9, 2019 - 7:00pm

After multiple cases of racist and sexist vandalism on the Salisbury University campus, the university is creating a brand-new position: chief diversity officer.

President Charles Wight announced last week that the position was created following the incidents, and the new officer will act as a member of the newly formed president’s cabinet task force alongside student, faculty and staff leaders.

“The CDO, who will report directly to me, will provide executive leadership, oversight and vision in the administration of services, programs, policies and procedures related to advancing SU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Wight said in the university’s press release. “The CDO also will lead the implementation of a university-wide strategic plan for diversity and inclusion that will provide students, faculty and staff with educational opportunities informed by multiple points of view, life experiences, abilities, ethnicities, cultures and belief systems.”

Eli Modlin, chief of staff at the Maryland university, clarified that Wight had always intended to create this position, but the process was sped up following the discovery of the vandalism. In fact, Wight has emphasized his commitment to supporting diversity since the beginning of his tenure as president. Wight was appointed in July 2018.

“He himself [Wight] has a strong commitment to diversity,” Modlin explained, but this new officer will be the strategic and day-to-day leader “ensuring we are living our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”​

Earlier this semester, Salisbury officials responded to several incidents of racist vandalism found scrawled in an on-campus stairwell on Nov. 4. One message included a racial slur and a threat referencing a 2012 school shooting, reported DelmarvaNow.

In response, the university added more security cameras to the existing 900 cameras on campus. SU also created new social media to better interact with students; held regular meetings for discussion between students, faculty, staff and the president; deployed additional resources in conjunction with SU Police Department; increased the number of emergency preparation trainings on campus; scheduled regular community office hours with administration; and updated imagery on campus to better reflect SU’s population.

Additionally the university set the goal of 100 percent faculty and staff compliance on required diversity and sensitivity training, and it is working with faculty to evaluate the curriculum to be attentive to the diversity of the student population.

On Wednesday Salisbury students submitted a list of demands for the university to improve the campus climate. One of the demands was for a CDO-type position to be created. The students acknowledged this came after Wight had made his announcement. It is unclear whether the university will be meeting the students' other demands.

Salisbury welcomed its largest and most diverse class this semester. African American and other minority groups make up a quarter of Salisbury's students.

Equity roles have had a lot of traction in the past few years, said Modlin. This new Salisbury officer will assist the institution in providing strategic leadership related to its already existing strategic plan.

“We want this person to set the strategies and strategic goals,” said Modlin.

In conjunction with the CDO announcement, Wight and SU officials also formed a diversity and inclusion task force comprised of students, faculty and staff. The task force has been commissioned with providing Wight a list of findings and recommendations by early March.

“The task force will work across campus to help identify opportunities and help us formulate goals and solutions,” Wight said in a press release. “We expect to immediately implement some of the work from the task force, while the SU Diversity and Inclusion Consortium Committee will continue its work following the report.”

“While we have some broad goals and ideas of what this person might do -- what this office might do -- we are very much relying on input [from the community] to help us shape that role,” Modlin said.

Modlin said that this officer will “absolutely” hold a lot of influence, as the position is at a senior administrator level and will report directly to Wight.

“I have tremendous respect and appreciation for chief diversity officers -- for people who occupy those roles as well as for the roles themselves,” said Shaun Harper, a scholar on issues of race and equity in higher education, who is both a professor and the executive director at the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California.

“However, I do not think that the hiring of a chief diversity officer is the solution to the cultural and systemic forces that compel students and others to vandalize property and behave in racist ways on campuses. In other words, what I’m saying is the CDO is not the solution.”

The creation of chief diversity officer positions has been as widespread and frequent as the racist, sexist and intolerant incidents that inspire their creation. While some see this as an alternative path to the presidency, critics are cautious about how effective these roles really are.

“Chief diversity officers are oftentimes ceremonial appointees,” said Harper. “Meaning that it is in vogue for companies and campuses to create the position, but without very much influence and power and oftentimes very few resources. That certainly is not going to lead to any version of systemic change.”

Harper said that one of the biggest challenges he’s seen CDOs face is not being treated as the experts they are when issues arise, such as racist vandalism appearing on campus. Harper said colleges need to be proactive about the use of CDOs and actually engage them.

“What I have seen work best is a ‘both and’ approach,” said Harper, outlining a CDO role that is sufficiently supported existing alongside a larger, multidimensional all-campus approach to supporting diversity. Harper emphasized that one person alone cannot solve all of a campus’s issues.

To Harper, some institutional leaders believe that issues happening on other campuses wouldn’t happen on their own. This prevents them from knowing how to respond beforehand. Harper drew on Inside Higher Ed’s survey of college presidents to point out the disparity between the low percentage of presidents who think campus race relations across the country are good compared to the higher percentage of presidents who feel race relations on their campuses are good.

Earlier in November, a coalition of Syracuse University students and alumni pushed the university to make changes after a series of racist incidents shook the campus.

A 2018 study found that students of color tend to feel less of a sense of belonging on their campus when compared with white students.

Harper said that college and university leaders need to move away from responding to racist incidents with just a condemnation letter. They need to have follow-up. Without committed follow-up, students view credibility as lost.

Salisbury officials are already conducting their search, looking both within the university and outside it. Modlin said that the university wants the new officer to start as soon as possible, but they don’t want to rush the process.

“With a position of this importance and significance, we will be conducting a national search,” said Modlin. “I really do believe this person will serve as a leader.”

“Because we do a lot of work with presidents, I am sensitive to the reality that their jobs are so complex,” Harper said. “Presidents ought to hire strong chief diversity officers.” Harper said that presidents need to stop seeking out officers who won’t challenge them or the institution, instead hiring CDOs that are willing to do the hard work and be honest -- sometimes in ways that are difficult.

Modlin reports that they’ve already heard positive feedback from the campus and broader community on the creation of the new role.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Tufts will remove Sackler name from medical campus, drawing rebuke from Purdue Pharma's owners

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 6, 2019 - 7:00pm

Tufts University will erase the name of major donors, the Sackler family, from all programs and buildings at its Boston medical campus because of the name’s close association with the opioid epidemic, university officials announced Thursday.

The university does not plan to return any donations to the Sacklers or the drug maker they own, Purdue Pharma, Tufts leaders said. Instead they plan to spend the donated funds for their intended purposes, like health science research.

Members of the Sackler family were not consulted as Tufts weighed what to do about buildings and funds carrying their name, but they were told before the university publicly announced its decision. A lawyer for the family blasted the move as an improper decision presented in an “intellectually dishonest” way, pledging to seek to have it reversed.

Tensions between universities and donors who have given money to name buildings, endowed funds and programs arise from time to time in higher education. But the Tufts situation has been closely watched because of its association with the opioid crisis ravaging the country and because it is playing out publicly. It also exposes two potentially competing interests hotly debated in philanthropic circles: an institution’s fundraising needs versus its stated mission and values.

Thursday’s decision comes after Tufts has been under pressure for months over its long-standing association with the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma, maker of the well-known drug OxyContin, which has been accused of fueling the opioid crisis with marketing tactics and influence campaigns.

Purdue Pharma filed for a controversial bankruptcy restructuring earlier this year as it faced thousands of federal and state lawsuits. The company has said it has been vilified even though it is just one of several opioid manufacturers, and it has described the opioid epidemic as a complex public health crisis.

Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey filed allegations in court at the beginning of this year claiming that Purdue Pharma funded a program at Tufts to “influence Massachusetts doctors to use its drugs.”

The university responded by reviewing its ties to the drug maker and hiring a former U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Donald K. Stern, to conduct an outside review of Tufts programs receiving funding from the Sackler family, their foundations and Purdue Pharma. Tufts released that outside review Thursday.

Stern’s team found that Purdue Pharma intended to use its relationship with Tufts to further its own interest and that in some cases “there is some evidence that it was successful in exercising influence, whether directly or indirectly.” It also concluded that “there was an appearance of too close a relationship between Purdue, the Sacklers, and Tufts.”

But investigators concluded funds received from the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma were not primarily used in areas related to opioids and pain management. In cases where funds in question were used in such areas, investigators found no evidence academic programs were “materially affected or skewed.”

“There was no influence, direct or indirect, on the academic program,” said Anthony P. Monaco, Tufts president, in an interview. “There was the appearance of and opportunity to, but no one acted in such a way that it actually materially influenced the curriculum.”

Tufts leaders did not base their decision to strip the Sackler name from campus on the Stern report, but they did wait to have the report in hand before making an announcement. As the report was being researched and drafted, university leaders solicited input from students, faculty members, alumni and leaders in the medical school, said Peter Dolan, chair of the Tufts Board of Trustees.

“We didn’t want to act prematurely before we had all the information in hand, but once we had that information in hand, that was background and context for us to then address the question of the Sackler name,” Dolan said.

A lawyer for members of the Sackler family, Daniel S. Connolly, issued a statement criticizing the university and promising to try to restore the Sackler name.

“Tufts acknowledges their extraordinary decision about removal of the family name from campus is not based on the findings of their report, but rather is based on unproven allegations about the Sackler family and Purdue,” the statement said. “There is something particularly disturbing and intellectually dishonest when juxtaposing the results of the Stern investigation with the decision to remove the name of a donor who made gifts in good faith starting almost forty years ago. We will be seeking to have this improper decision reversed and are currently reviewing all options available to us.”

The statement also described Stern’s report as finding no wrongdoing and no threat to academic integrity and concluding that Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family conducted themselves properly. It described the investigation as emblematic of negative stories surrounding the Sackler family, saying a careful look at facts finds negative stories to be “false and sensational.”

In another statement, a representative for Arthur Sackler's widow argued that he died before OxyContin was introduced and said she was saddened to see her late husband associated with actions taken by his relatives, The Guardian reported.

Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, cheered Tufts.

“We applaud Tufts for this thoughtful and transparent review of its relationship with the Sackler family, for its recognition of the implications that relationship had on the mission and values of the university, and for listening to the voices of its students,” she said in a statement.

The president of the Faculty Senate at Tufts supported the university’s actions as well.

“The Tufts University Faculty Senate is proud of and strongly supports the decision made by the trustees, and we feel that it is an appropriate statement of the university's values,” said the Senate president, Melissa R. Mazan, who is a professor of large animal internal medicine. “The decision is in alignment with a resolution that the Senate passed unanimously last spring.”

Future Plans and Report Findings for Tufts

Tufts will strip the Sackler name from five different entities: the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences; the Arthur M. Sackler Center for Medical Education; the Sackler Laboratory for the Convergence of Biomedical, Physical and Engineering Sciences; the Sackler Families Fund for Collaborative Cancer Biology Research; and the Richard S. Sackler, M.D., Endowed Research Fund. Changes to signs and websites are beginning immediately, but the university acknowledged that it will take some time to remove the name completely from all programs.

The university will establish a $3 million endowment dedicated to supporting education, research and civic engagement programs intended to prevent or treat substance abuse and addiction. And it will create an exhibit inside its medical school describing the Sacklers’ involvement with Tufts.

That exhibit will aim to teach lessons that should be learned from the opioid epidemic.

“We’re not trying to erase Tufts history by taking the names off the buildings and programs today,” Monaco said. “We want to make sure our community learns as we have.”

The outside review Tufts commissioned details a relationship between the university and the Sackler family dating to 1980, when three brothers, Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, donated under a naming agreement for the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. The agreement, made years before OxyContin’s introduction to the market in 1996, came when the brothers owned a precursor company to Purdue Pharma.

The agreement didn’t specify how Tufts needed to spend the money, but some faculty members questioned the size of the donation and the “ethics of the Sacklers’ business practices which, though not specified in faculty meeting minutes, may have related to certain marketing practices employed by Purdue, even prior to OxyContin,” the report says.

Over the years, Sackler family members, their foundations and Purdue Pharma gave about $15 million to Tufts. Donations in the names of family members were for research but not related to opioids or pain research, the report says. Richard Sackler served on the school of medicine’s Board of Advisors for almost 20 years through 2017, but investigators found no evidence he discussed opioids or attempted to advance Purdue Pharma’s business interests as a board member. Tufts leaders traveled to Purdue Pharma's headquarters in May 2013 to give an honorary Ph.D. to Raymond Sackler. Tufts solicited donations from the family through early 2018.

Purdue Pharma made two sets of donations to the school of medicine -- to the Pain Research, Education and Policy program and to the Center for the Study of Drug Development. The report did not focus on the latter, finding no evidence of anything unusual or improper regarding its sponsored research. It found Purdue Pharma had the potential for direct influence over the Pain Research, Education and Policy program because of a 1999 funding contract that gave the company “far too much potential influence,” but it did not find evidence that the influence was ever exercised.

The report also described how a senior Purdue Pharma executive regularly lectured in two required program courses and eventually rose to adjunct associate clinical professor at the medical school, although he wasn’t compensated and disclosed his Purdue Pharma affiliation when lecturing. In 2017, three students felt he was sweeping the opioid crisis under the rug, but the report said it “does not appear that he exercised material influence with respect to the curriculum.”

Still, there appear to have been instances where the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma “exercised influence simply by virtue of the fact that they were donors,” the report said. It pointed to Raymond Sackler’s honorary degree and a committee in the school of medicine deciding in 2015-16 not to assign a book on the opioid crisis, Dreamland, that was critical of Purdue Pharma and mentioned the Sacklers. That selection was due in part “to the existence of the donor relationship with the Sacklers and Purdue and the desire to avoid controversy regarding that relationship,” the report said.

In addition the report cataloged situations that created the “appearance of an alignment between Purdue” and the Tufts Pain Research, Education and Policy program. They included the program’s co-founder appearing without pay in a 2002 Purdue Pharma print advertisement on fighting prescription abuse.

The report’s authors didn’t find any clear violation of university policies, but said the Pain Research, Education and Policy program funding agreement from 1999 “would not pass muster today under Tufts’ Gift Agreement policy” because of control allowed to Purdue Pharma. It also found no evidence of individual wrongdoing.

“Our overriding theme is that there is a greater need for specific guidelines, due diligence, careful review, and transparency,” the report’s authors wrote.

They recommended Tufts create stronger screening for donors, bolster conflict-of-interest policies, develop and make public guiding principles for gift acceptance, strengthen compliance practices and leadership, and take additional steps to keep “undue influence” out of academic and research programs.

Tufts leaders promised to follow those recommendations.

Questions for the Fundraising Field

The situation at Tufts invites a number of questions for the university’s philanthropic future as well as the field at large.

Tufts will have to examine the relationships it has with future donors as it follows the report’s recommendations. And when courting big gifts to name buildings or programs, it will have to contend with the fact that it pulled the name of long-standing donors from view in a very public process.

“We certainly looked at it from every possible angle as we made this decision,” said Dolan, the university’s board chair. “We considered the impact it might have on donors. Ultimately, we believe we’re doing the right thing and that our donor base will recognize this is the right thing for the university to do.”

But Tufts is not alone, fundraising experts said. Many universities and other nonprofit organizations are facing their past ties to controversial donors and reviewing the reputational risk of continuing to be associated with them.

“There is a growing scrutiny and worry about these things,” said Amir Pasic, dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “Sackler and [Jeffrey] Epstein have created a lot of salience for these kinds of reputational issues, and I think the constituencies are increasingly demanding and skeptical of prominent donors and their impact on communities. Students are much more worried and faculty are much more worried than in the past what it means for their institutions to have these powerful donors.”

Multiple constituencies on campus should be involved in developing policies to address the issues raised by controversial donors, said Deni Elliott, a University of South Florida media ethics professor and co-chair of the National Ethics Project. It’s a moment that can be used to teach students how to be active citizens and community members, and higher education leadership doesn’t capitalize on such moments enough, she said.

Not being open about the situation brings many types of risk.

"If students are taught ethics in the classroom and they don’t see ethics being practiced by leadership in higher education," Elliott said, "it makes the student cynical and not morally developed."

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Categories: Higher Education News

Medical amnesty policies encourage students to call 911

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 6, 2019 - 7:00pm

When fraternity members at the Kappa Sigma chapter house at Louisiana State University thought their brothers were experiencing drug overdoses last March, they called 911. The following day, a Louisiana State Police detective arrived at the house with a search warrant in hand.

The detective’s warrant referenced the reported drug use -- the two members suspected they overdosed on fentanyl and an unknown substance -- and police confiscated drug paraphernalia in the three-story house, the local newspaper, The Advocate, reported.

The call to 911 might have saved the lives of the two students, who recovered after being stabilized at the hospital, said Allison Smith, the program administrator for the Louisiana Center Addressing Substance Use in Collegiate Communities, or LaCASU, a statewide coalition of institutions that research and address student drug and alcohol use. But the call and the police response also raised important questions.

“What happens when a call for help is made, but then subsequently followed up by law enforcement action?” Smith wrote in an email. “Would that deter students from calling for help?”

Though the raid did not result in charges against the students, the incident led Smith to consider whether university policy and state law can prevent students from seeking emergency medical services when illegal drugs are involved.

Most colleges have medical amnesty policies in place to protect students from university discipline when they call emergency services, according to Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization that promotes student health and safety over law enforcement. But these policies -- including Louisiana State’s -- do not necessarily protect students from state, local or campus police action, such as the raid on the Kappa Sigma house.

Louisiana State added medical amnesty to its code of conduct in July 2018, after receiving recommendations from a Greek Life Task Force created after the 2017 hazing death of Max Gruver, a student pledging the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. The university had already been practicing the policy, but it was not formalized in writing, according to The Reveille, Louisiana State’s student newspaper.

“If someone is overdosing, you don’t want the first thing you think to be, ‘Am I going to get in trouble?’” said James Cafran, coordinator for the Collegiate Recovery Program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.

Sarah Dunlap, a health science major at Northeastern University in Boston, can relate to such sentiments. She lost her brother to a drug overdose when he was 25 years old. Although her brother did not die at a college, Dunlap is doing research on health-science curricula that teach overdose-reversal methods. The research is part of her capstone project, which she plans to use to lobby Northeastern to create such a curriculum.

Dunlap said when she thinks about her brother’s death, she wonders whom he was with and whether they were worried about being charged for drug possession. “Was that an excuse not to seek help?”

“I think it’s a huge deterrent,” Dunlap said. “Even with the paraphernalia, which is not a direct charge, a lot of people would have those concerns.”

State Good Samaritan laws are another confusing factor for students when determining whether to seek help. The laws do not typically align with institutional policies and are not widely discussed on college campuses, said Brandee Izquierdo, executive director of Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic, known as the SAFE Project. The national organization was founded by two parents whose college-age son died of an opioid overdose. It does outreach to college campuses about educational practices and policies that reduce drug-related deaths.

Good Samaritan laws generally protect bystanders and people suffering medical emergencies from certain drug-related charges, but they can vary from state to state. In Louisiana, a Good Samaritan law protects those who call for emergency medical help from controlled substance possession charges but not from drug paraphernalia possession charges, according to the Network for Public Health Law, or NPHL.

Overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. as of 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Good Samaritan laws across the country are typically outdated and have not been prioritized over legislation to punish drug dealers for providing drugs that led to an overdose death, Izquierdo said. Louisiana’s law was last amended in 2014, and New Mexico’s is the oldest, dating back to 2007, the NPHL reported. Several states have no law to provide drug overdose immunity.

Colleges and universities have also not made it a priority for students to be aware of these laws, which could decrease their willingness to call 911 in life-or-death situations, she said. The issue is especially relevant for college fraternities and sororities, which Izquierdo called a “catalyst for extensive drug use.”

“Oftentimes, people are afraid that they’re going to be a target” of law enforcement authorities and campus disciplinary proceedings, Izquierdo said​. Students may also be afraid of getting friends or others in legal trouble or subjecting them to possible campus code of conduct violations.

They worry “that they’re outing themselves or their brothers and sisters,” Izquierdo said. “Their best bet becomes not doing anything at all.”

The widely publicized 2017 hazing death of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old fraternity pledge at Pennsylvania State University, is a case in point. Beta Theta Pi fraternity members waited more than 12 hours to call 911 after seeing Piazza, who had been forced to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, fall down a flight of stairs, CNN and other news outlets reported.

Collin Wiant, 18, an Ohio University student, died from asphyxiation after allegedly being forced to do inhalants as a pledge in November 2018, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Wiant’s parents. Wiant’s fraternity brothers did call 911 when they discovered he was unresponsive, but it was too late -- emergency services arrived and found him dead, CNN reported.

Higher ed institutions have addressed excessive alcohol use and hazing more vigorously as a result of student deaths, but they have not been as focused on preventing drug overdoses, which are still highly stigmatized, Izquierdo said. Colleges hesitate to implement overdose-prevention education or addiction-recovery programs because they don’t want to be associated with drug use, which can damage a college's reputation and affect enrollment and retention, she said.

The University of California, Santa Barbara, which has a College Recovery Program, has taken a proactive approach to overdose prevention and is exploring more “progressive” strategies, such as providing fentanyl test strips, to reduce overdose deaths, said Angie Bryan, manager of the Gauchos for Recovery program.

“It’s not because we have more substance use here than anywhere else -- it’s because we understand the reality that students use substances,” Bryan said.

Bryan said there have been multiple overdose reversals this semester near the campus in Isla Vista, Calif., where many students live. The reversals suggest the person overdosing or a bystander either called 911 or administered naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug, before it was too late, she said.

UC Santa Barbara’s version of medical amnesty, the Responsible Action Protocol, aligns with California’s Good Samaritan law. It protects student bystanders and those who need medical assistance from drug or paraphernalia possession charges and penalties, and university disciplinary measures beyond educational sanctions such as mandatory alcohol and drug abuse education programs and counseling. (There are some exceptions for students who live in residence halls and have repeat offenses.) The university distributes information about protections in a Just Call 911 campaign, but Bryan said the protocol is new and still not widely understood by students.

The university also focuses prevention methods specifically on Greek organizations, whose leaders are required to attend annual training on administering naloxone, Bryan said. Organization representatives that attend the training are given a naloxone kit to keep at fraternity and sorority houses. The training is intended to mitigate hesitations about calling 911.

“They’ve expressed concern about being sanctioned as an organization if they make this call,” Bryan said. “They have this fear that they will be disciplined as an organization.”

After the overdose incident at Louisiana State, the university placed the Kappa Sigma chapter on disciplinary probation from July until May 2020, for reasons unrelated to drug violations, Ernie Ballard III, the university's media relations director, wrote in an email. Members of the fraternity also faced charges of hazing and theft last year, The Advocate reported.

Cafran, who leads Sacred Heart’s recovery program, believes Louisiana State and local police appropriately applied the medical amnesty policy in that case. It’s important to consider medical amnesty and law enforcement action on a case-by-case basis, he said, adding that the police search of the fraternity house may have saved more lives if fentanyl was distributed to others there.

“The focus should be on getting the person help, not getting the person in trouble,” Cafran said. “But if someone is dealing drugs -- deadly drugs, with fentanyl -- it’s within the police’s right to get a search warrant. Someone trying to profit off of someone else dying is a big deal. That in and of itself is putting students in danger.”

Police have to make a hard choice in these situations and determine which method will save more lives, said Dunlap, the Northeastern student.

"You’re playing a numbers game -- you’re saving 20 lives instead of just one," Dunlap said. "You have to consider the police working with the people, and not just working from the inside out, looking to intimidate people."

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Categories: Higher Education News

Michigan shares insights from academic-level (not chief) diversity officers

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 6, 2019 - 7:00pm

You’ve heard of chief diversity officers, but what about academic diversity officers? Four years into its innovative plan to put diversity officers into every academic and administrative unit, to carry out program-specific diversity plans, the University of Michigan has some thoughts.

More precisely, the campus’s National Center for Institutional Diversity just published a report on the experiences of these academic diversity officers, or ADOs. Beyond making various recommendations for academic deans and academic diversity officers, the report finds that ADOs require special skills.

ADOs in the study also had a wide variety of personal and professional experiences, with some common threads. Most had experience in faculty work, student affairs, general administration or community organizing.

Based on their backgrounds, ADOs tended to draw on different “logics,” according to the report. Community organizers-turned-ADOs generally valued accountability and even some tension to create diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) change, and used language that was “value laden and personal.” Faculty ADOs in the sample, meanwhile, worked on issues of representation, such as faculty and student recruitment and retention, and inclusive pedagogical training. They prioritized data collection and “uniquely understood from firsthand experience the difficulty of encouraging behavioral change due to academic reward structures.”

ADOs from general administration had “latent qualities about methodically addressing issues through structure, processes and rules.” The inherent risk in that way of thinking, however, is not thinking outside conventional systems, according to the report. Student affairs-minded ADOs made personal connections and focused on promoting inclusive communities.

Whatever their backgrounds, knowledge of DEI concepts, interventions and best practices were “necessary to create change,” the authors found.

As one ADO reported, “I feel like we will do DEI work a disservice if people that don’t have proper training come into doing this work, because then it leads to this assumption that anybody can do it, or we can just hire a grad student, and they can lead this charge. When really, I feel like it requires specific skills and competencies.”

DEI work is “complex, difficult, always changing and rigorous,” reads the report. “The hiring process and ongoing professional development necessary to sustain and increase DEI competency should be encouraged by supervisors of ADOs.”

Establishing “legitimacy” for their positions and in the eyes of colleagues concerned ADOs interviewed. The officers generally found two ways of building it: connecting with their units through a shared discipline, or by being a faculty member -- what the authors call "academic standing legitimacy."

As one staff member ADO observed about working with faculty members, “It’s different when you have students or staff where you can say, ‘Here’s what we expect from you,’ whereas with the faculty it’s a very different dynamic. How do you engage with a group that has a lot of leeway in terms of how they do their work? That’s where I think it’s helpful to have a faculty member be that champion.”

These officers also rely heavily on interpersonal skills. That’s regardless of their academic backgrounds. They respond to individuals’ needs and concerns, build alliances with strategic partners, and establish connections with those colleagues who may be “hesitant or resistant” to DEI aims, according to the paper.

As one diversity officer reported, “It’s really just general leadership, change management, listening. In many ways I feel that I would benefit from degrees from the business school. A Ph.D. in diplomacy … I’m using a different part of my brain that I never used before.”

Plans for Change

In 2015, Michigan began an institutionwide, five-year diversity strategic planning process. It came up with centralized goals for improving diversity, equity and inclusion, but also tasked all 51 academic and administrative units with developing DEI plans. As a result of this process, academic units created diversity officer positions to “lead, coordinate, support, execute and create structures of accountability" for these plans. 

Michigan’s central administration funded half of the officers’ salaries in colleges and schools. The academic units paid for the rest. Sometimes those units combined half-time positions, such as lecturer appointments, with the new role as a way of controlling costs. For reference, the report defines ADOs as full-time staff or faculty members who devote at least 50 percent of their work to coordinating DEI initiatives for their academic units.

The report’s authors tracked down 20 academic diversity officers from the academic schools and colleges at Michigan, and interviewed 16 of them. Of those, six had teaching responsibilities, eight held terminal degrees and six had degrees related to their academic units.

ADOs' roles are unique to their academic context, but the authors found some organizational similarities: the officers are supervised by either the academic dean or associate dean in each unit, or both. Three of the 16 units represented also have separate ADOs for faculty and staff initiatives.

There is no “right” way of doing things, the report says. “Each academic unit has a unique culture with unique needs, histories, resources and expectations that should be accounted for when creating organizational structures.”

While all academic diversity officers report directly to in-unit supervisors, an important element of Michigan’s embedded strategy, both they and their plans are overseen by Michigan’s chief diversity officer, Robert Sellers. He and his staff review annual unit-level reports and monitor progress. In an interview, Sellers said that, in general, “there’s a problem-focused view of DEI.” Michigan wanted something different.

“DEI provides added value to what you’re already attempting to do,” he said. “By having these plans, we’re not attempting to address a problem -- we think DEI are key strategies to academic excellence.”

He added, “We wanted to create an infrastructure that would allow us not to simply prevent or address problems that have already occurred, but to create space and opportunity to be better in everything we do. DEI is a core strategy to that … Our argument is that this is an institutional responsibility.”

This model works particularly well at Michigan, which is sprawling and highly decentralized, Sellers said. And having different plans for different academic units only makes sense, given their different needs. Engineering and nursing, for example, both have gender-diversity concerns, but obviously different approaches to balancing the scales.

Michigan's approach also comes with challenges, in that it takes a long view, Sellers said. Successes aren't immediate or easy to measure, particularly regarding climate goals. Still, Sellers said that the university has some preliminary, "promising" data to suggest that things are changing for the better.

Beyond Michigan 

Gene T. Parker III, assistant professor of higher education administration at the University of Kansas, recently published a qualitative study of how chief -- not academic-level -- diversity officers were appointed at two unnamed research-intensive universities. While the study was limited, it found that these positions were “structural” responses to what were really “cultural” issues and related crises.

Parker said this week that many institutions have created or are introducing unit-level diversity leaders. Kansas has a diversity leader for its School of Education, for example, he said. But Michigan's system is unique in that all academic units have one, following a directive from the central administration.

That Michigan developed this model was unsurprising to Parker, as he said it has a “long history of embracing an organizational structure that attends to diversity.” As for the report, Parker said it captured the current discourse about the formation of chief diversity offices -- such as whether diversity officers should have a faculty background.

“In many ways, the span of control, division of labor, job responsibilities and duties will help to determine this,” Parker said, “but search committees should have critical conversations about if the ideal candidate should be a faculty member.”

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also has diversity officers in individual academic units. Gretchen Bellamy, senior director of education operations and initiatives for the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said she and her colleagues are reviewing their DEI strategic planning process, which will be aligned with the university’s overall strategic plan. The office will work with various academic units across the university to review their current DEI plans or strategies as part of that effort.

Individual diversity officers with each unit will then serve as “culture catalysts,” Bellamy added, working in conjunction with her office toward creating a diverse and inclusive environment for all students, faculty and staff members.

Academic deans should consider diversity officer candidates' relevant skills and experiences before hiring them, the Michigan report recommends. These positions also must be developed in a way that “specifies boundary conditions, realistic expectations and appropriate matrices of success.” And academic leaders should provide appropriate administrative, program and other support to help diversity officers meet the “vast demands” of their roles.

As for academic diversity officers, the report encourages developing strategic relationships with necessarily players inside the unit and out, along with making relationships with one’s dean and executive leadership council. “Understand the unique nuances and norms of academic disciplines/fields related to DEI,” the paper also advises.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Colleges start new programs

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 6, 2019 - 7:00pm
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The Senate has a bipartisan proposal. What comes next?

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 5, 2019 - 7:00pm

Higher education advocates are largely supportive of a new bipartisan amendment on federal funding for historically black colleges and universities, but some point to challenges in the road ahead.

"We’re hearing some rumblings that there could be some opposition from the tax community on the House side," Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network, said.

The bipartisan proposal, announced Tuesday by the U.S. Senate education committee, would amend legislation passed in September and make permanent $255 million in annual funding for historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. The FUTURE Act, as the legislation is formally called, would also simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and eliminate paperwork for the 7.7 million federal student loan borrowers currently on income-driven repayment plans by automating income recertification.

The funds for HBCUs and minority-serving institutions would come from an estimated $2.8 billion in cost savings over 10 years from the simplification of the FAFSA, which could reduce improper payments and administrative costs in the student aid system.

The amendment is the latest attempt at compromise after Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the education committee, proposed a package of bills that was seen as a piecemeal approach to reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Alexander had hoped to push through a reauthorization before he retires from the Senate next year but has been blocked by Democrats who want a comprehensive bill that addresses accountability and affordability.

Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, issued a statement commending Alexander and committee co-chair Senator Patty Murray, a Washington State Democrat, “on their willingness to work together to help advance student success in higher education.”

“Community colleges serve the majority of minority students in the United States and anything that removes barriers to attendance helps our colleges to increase student success and completion. We look forward to working together across the aisle to advance legislation that supports these initiatives to decrease the achievement gaps,” he said in the statement.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, said the association strongly supports the proposal but he added that it's too early to speculate if it will get the support of the full Senate.

While Hartle hopes the Senate will push the amendment through quickly, "Having said that, any piece of legislation that is moving in the final days of the congressional session attracts amendments like a magnet attracts steel filings."

It's possible other lawmakers could amend the FUTURE Act in a way that would undermine its success.

"Nothing seems to go the way one would anticipate on Capitol Hill these days," Hartle said.

Some advocates also doubt that reauthorization will happen with this Congress.

"I think it’s unlikely at this time that the Democrats will be willing to do anything else in the piecemeal approach," Warick said. "I'm not anticipating other bills coming out before this Congress is over."

Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, agreed that it's unlikely more will get done with the Higher Education Act, given the number of legislative days left on the calendar and congressional lawmakers' preoccupation with impeachment and funding for 2021 education grants.

The presidential race, where many Democrats are touting student aid as a priority, also further complicates things, Hartle said.

However, some see this compromise as potential momentum for broader higher education legislation.

David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges, said that while the association is pleased with the proposed amendment, this "is not a substitute in any way for a comprehensive Higher Education Act bill."

"The reaching of a compromise may bode well for that kind of movement," he said. "We do still think it's possible."

Left out of the current bipartisan proposal are key pieces that could impact community colleges, such as extending Pell grant eligibility to short-term programs and incarcerated students and tying Pell Grants to inflation.

Tamara Hiler, director of education at the center-left think tank Third Way, said she is glad that Alexander is "no longer holding money for HBCUs and other MSIs hostage" and hopes the bipartisan effort will continue with a reauthorization.

"We know the House is still moving forward with their comprehensive rewrite of the law, and we hope that Senators Murray and Alexander will continue their efforts to do the same in the Senate," Hiler said in an email. "This bill takes the pressing HBCU and MSI funding question off the table, which will hopefully clear the way for the Senate to move forward with a more comprehensive approach that addresses other areas of bipartisan agreement like 90-10 and lifting the ban on student-level data."

In the interim, the simplification to the FAFSA would eliminate up to 22 questions on the 108-question form, which could increase the number of students who complete it.

However, the more significant adjustment would come as a change to the Internal Revenue Code.​

The proposed change would allow the Internal Revenue Service to share students' and parents' financial data directly with the U.S. Department of Education, according to Draeger.

"Then you’re taking applicant error out of the question," Draeger said. "The data that then is inserted into the FAFSA is already verifiable data."

Draeger believes the approval of the amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives will be "more complicated" because lawmakers won't be as familiar with the legislation, which was generated in the Senate.

Warick foresees potential problems because the changes to the FAFSA would affect how tax information is used. Right now, the IRS is not allowed to use tax information for nontax purposes, she said, with exceptions for national security and crime.

"This would be the first exception for positive change on that list," she said. "I think the tax community wants to be very certain before they make that change, and they also are very new to the complications that exist with the FAFSA."

Draeger is still optimistic that the amendment will ultimately pass.

"The fact that these two things are tied together -- minority-serving institutions' funding and the FAFSA act -- I think creates a lot of momentum for this to keep going in the House," he said.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Texas college thinks it has cracked the code for high-demand health-care fields

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 5, 2019 - 7:00pm

The leader of a growing Texas college thinks his institution may have cracked the code for lifting students out of poverty and into careers in high-demand health-care fields. And he’s got student outcomes data to back that assertion.

Students who enroll at the College of Health Care Professions tend to arrive in “significantly distressed situations,” said Eric Bing, the college’s CEO. “Our goal is to stabilize.”

Most students have annual salaries of $9,000 to $15,000 when they first enter the for-profit college, which enrolls roughly 4,000 students and offers in-person, online and blended programs at its eight campuses across Texas. Students tend to get jobs and earn more than double their previous salaries after graduating from CHCP.

For example, the typical student in a medical assistant program at the college’s Austin campus is earning $12,300 when they enroll. But graduates of the certificate program earn a median wage of $25,200 in their first year after completing, according to federal data.

Associate degree programs at CHCP can lead to higher wages, like the median pay of $34,000 for graduates of the allied health diagnostic, intervention and treatment professions degree program at the college’s northwest Houston campus, according to federal data.

CHCP's students are diverse, as is Texas. More than half (56 percent) are Latino, 22 percent are black and 88 percent are women.

More than a third (36 percent) of students previously attended college -- typically a community college for two to three years -- but failed to graduate.

Many health-care companies are desperate to hire medical assistants, with federal data projecting a 23 percent expansion of the occupation over the next decade. Yet medical assistant training programs often are plagued by low graduation rates.

The College of Health Care Professions’ overall retention rate in the first year is 82 percent. Campus graduation rates hover around 75 percent or higher -- the Austin campus has an 81 percent graduation rate.

Meeting Employer Demand

Bing said the college’s responsibility doesn’t end with student completion.

“It’s about employment, not graduation,” he said.

As a result, CHCP focuses heavily on partnerships with employers across Texas, working to tailor programs to the needs of health-care providers. That approach is paying off -- the college has an overall job placement rate of 82 percent in their field of study.

“Our students are working on career readiness in their very first class,” Bing said. The college offers externships wherever students live, he said, adding that “all of our graduates have placement assistance for life.”

The College of Health Care Professions was founded 30 years ago by physicians at the Texas Medical Center. That in-house training ethos remains key to what it does today.

For example, CHCP in October launched a new associate degree program in surgical technology at its Austin campus. Those jobs, which typically pay more than $50,000 a year, are in high demand at Ascension Texas and Baylor Scott and White, two regional health-care providers.

Ascension first heard about the college from nurses and doctors, said Geronimo Rodriguez, chief advocacy officer at Ascension Texas and a former lawyer at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Local community colleges and other postsecondary providers have not been able to meet the demand for surgical tech employees, said Rodriguez.

“Nobody’s going to replace the community college,” he said. But Ascension needed another postsecondary partner. And CHCP was trusted by medical staff.

“They came in and asked, ‘What’s your biggest need?’” Rodriguez said of the college. “They listen and they respond.”

Rodriguez praised CHCP for getting the surgical tech program off the ground quickly, for its willingness to take risks and for having good outcomes and low relative student debt levels.

For example, the median debt load for students who attended the medical assistant program in Austin is $9,500, according to federal data.

More programs are in the works at the campus, Rodriguez said.

“The leadership of the CHCP understands the value of partnerships and relationships,” he said. “It’s a win-win. They’re delivering what we need.”

Stackable and Practical

The college has changed its approach substantially during the last five years, Bing said. For example, it’s increasingly working on direct training by conducting internal “upskilling” of employees at health-care companies.

CHCP also has begun creating stackable credentials, where students who earn certificates can progress -- while working -- to associate degree programs that build on their college credits and allow them to not waste time and money by retaking courses.

The college has no plans to add new standalone four-year degrees, Bing said. It has begun offering bachelor’s degree completion programs, but plans to stick to employment-focused medical training.

“There’s no medieval literature” in the curricula, said Bing.

Fees are flat and all inclusive. The typical certificate program costs $16,950 and can be completed in a little more than nine months. All students get laptops from the college, which pays for professional certification exams and does not charge fees beyond its tuition rate. As a result, debt loads tend to be manageable.

"The last thing we wanted to do was saddle first-generation, low-income students with student loans," said Rodriguez.

CHCP's newer campuses exclusively offer blended-online programs. The nine-month module includes two days of campus-based instruction and lab work.

“An employer will work around two days per week,” Bing said.

Enrollment at the college has been increasing steadily in recent years.

“We’ve been able to grow it using this price model,” said Bing. “I believe it is scalable.”

CHCP has not faced any of the regulatory missteps or allegations about low-quality programs that have dogged the for-profit-college sector in recent years. While credits earned at the college may not transfer to other institutions, the programs are short enough that transfer isn't common at the nationally accredited college. None of its programs would have failed or been in the warning zone under the Obama-era gainful-employment rule that the Trump administration dropped.

“The bad schools went out of business,” said Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the primary for-profit college trade group. “Most of those that are still here, there’s a reason they’re still here, because they do things well.”

Gunderson said roughly 85 percent of students enrolled at CECU’s member institutions can be deemed at risk. CHCP knows how to serve those students well, he said. Other proprietary colleges Gunderson pointed to with solid results in allied health fields include Success Education Colleges and Pima Medical Institute.

One reason those institutions do well, he said, is because they know they’re in the employment business, not just the education one.

Bing agreed. He argued that more colleges, particularly those with health-care programs aimed at low-income students, should consider breaking out of the traditional structures of higher education.

“It’s built around people with crazy busy lives,” Bing said of CHCP. “If we can get them through those nine months, they’re never going to fall into poverty.”

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Working with student social media influencers

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 5, 2019 - 7:00pm

When teenagers are looking for information about what it’s really like to go to a college, they rarely consult college brochures or university websites. Instead, they just turn to social media.

“I remember going to the library to look up books with written summaries of what college life was like at different institutions,” said Brian Freeman, founder and CEO of Heartbeat, a company that connects brands with up-and-coming and established social media influencers. “I cannot imagine a 16-year old doing that now,” he said. “They’d go to the hashtag or location of a school on Instagram and look at the feed to get a feel for the atmosphere.”

On YouTube, college dorm room tours, vlogs of move-in day and chronicles of “a typical day in the life of a college student” garner hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of views. There is a huge audience for social media content related to college life, said Freeman. Of the 250,000 influencers working with Heartbeat, approximately 10,000 are current college students, he said. A dorm room tour created by Olivia Jade Giannulli, a social media influencer and former student at the University of Southern California, has racked up 1.6 million views. (Giannulli’s mother, actress Lori Loughlin, was among the celebrities indicted earlier this year for her role in the college admissions scandal.)

Liz Gross, founder and CEO of Campus Sonar, a company that develops social media strategies for higher ed institutions, said the number of colleges working with student influencers is growing. Students with large followings can help colleges reach new audiences -- particularly teenagers who may be persuaded to later enroll at the institution, she said.

“For a school to get out ahead of that, work with these young, entrepreneurially minded people, is really smart,” said Freeman.

Retail brands have been sponsoring content on Instagram and YouTube for years, but higher ed has been slow to enter this space, said Gross. Many colleges are compiling lists of students with large social media followings, but some are still unsure how to work with these students, she said. Uncertainty about how much institutions should pay students, if at all, has caused some trepidation. There are also questions about how best to disclose the relationship between institution and student, and how much institutions should control what students say.

Temple University in Philadelphia is looking to expand its collaboration with campus influencers, said Kristen Manka-White, associate director of digital marketing at the university. It’s hard to build a large audience on YouTube, so it makes a lot of sense to work with students who already have thousands of followers, she said.

At Temple, campus influencers are approached by the communications team to ask if they might be interested in creating content for the university’s YouTube channel. The university also organizes student “takeovers” on Instagram and Snapchat, where students take control of the channel for a day.

Paid student positions have been created for student video bloggers, who typically work for a semester at a time, said Manka-White. Students in these roles have created videos about studying abroad, given tours of their favorite spots on campus and answered questions such as “what’s in my book bag” and “how to survive finals week.” Most of the videos have thousands of views.

Student workers have to agree to certain university policies that require they refrain from posting inappropriate or potentially offensive content, said Manka-White. It’s not a concrete guarantee that the students will be good ambassadors for the university brand, but most students understand the need to be professional, she said.

The university is selective about which students to work with, she said. They might have a large following, but if a student’s brand and audience don't align with the university, then it may not make sense to work with them.

“We keep a good pulse on the influencers in our student body,” said Manka-White. If a student posts something positive, Temple tries to amplify and engage with that content. The university has created playlists on YouTube of content created by influencers, with the students’ approval.

“They appreciate that and like the recognition,” she said.

Sometimes campus influencers are invited to events at Temple, which they are encouraged to film. Students have been offered private tours of newly renovated facilities, for example.

“That was very effective,” said Manka-White. “The students were excited about it -- they put out the material on their own channels.”

Eric Stoller, vice president of digital strategy at higher education chat-bot provider GeckoEngage, and a former blogger for Inside Higher Ed, said students have “power on campus that they didn’t hold before” because they can now reach huge audiences at any time, any place.

Influencers can also be real celebrities on campus, on par with student athletes, he said.

Institutions are desperate to differentiate themselves from each other, and campus influencers can tell stories about campus life in a way that institutions can’t, said Stoller. Colorado State University, for example, recently created a YouTube channel called "A Ram's Life" created by paid student interns. The series of videos recently reported on by The Denver Post includes footage of a student getting her first tattoo. This might seem an unusual marketing tactic, but Freeman notes that college life is "more than just academics."

While working with students can help institutions create content that young people actually want to watch, there are still a lot of "gray areas" for institutions to navigate when working with influencers, said Stoller. The rules for best practices in digital marketing are “being rewritten on a daily basis,” he said.

Exclusive access to events or freebies such as tickets to a sports game may not be considered “sponsorship” of social media content created by student influencers, but Stoller believes it is best practice to declare them. “No one wants to be told a story that isn’t true.”

Abu Noaman, CEO of Elliance, a digital marketing agency, agreed that transparency is the best way forward.

“The value of the content isn’t diminished if you declare your relationship. But covering things up can come back to haunt you.”

Freeman, CEO of Heartbeat, said sponsored content is now so common on social media that it makes no difference to consumers. Declaring that a post was sponsored used to impact engagement by a few percentage points, but in 2017, the scales tipped. The effect is now negligible, said Freeman.

“Being upfront is always the best strategy -- you don’t want to be targeted by the Federal Trade Commission,” said Freeman. “And there isn’t as much of a stigma around sponsorships as people think there is. The idea that sponsorship removes from authenticity is outdated.”

Bob Brock, president of the Educational Marketing Group, said he encourages institutions to build student influencers into their marketing strategy

“It can be a really effective tactic but works best as part of an integrated approach,” he said. “There is a tendency for institutions to think this is a cheap and easy solution, but it does take some time and effort to monitor and work with influencers on a regular basis. That requires significant resources.”

Young people tend to trust recommendations from their peers, and influencers can drive interest and engagement in a way that colleges can’t. That said, there are “huge potential pitfalls,” said Brock.

“You need to give serious consideration to the ethical considerations and identifying the right influencers to work with. Not all teen influencers are good teen influencers,” he noted. “It’s easy for things to get out of hand on social media -- sometimes students talk about things that they know little about or misrepresent. We recommend that students monitor what is being said, but [don't] control what they say. The point is for the student to speak with their own voice.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Poland plans to give extra funds to top research universities

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 5, 2019 - 7:00pm

Ten Polish universities have won a sizable boost in funding as part of a controversial plan to create “elite” institutions with research reputations on par with the best in Europe.

Some critics fear that concentrating resources on a select few, most of which are in big cities, will widen divisions within Polish society, echoing similar concerns about the impact of elite universities in countries including the U.S., Britain, France and Germany.

Under the Excellence Initiative -- Research University plan, 10 institutions, including the University of Warsaw, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań and the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, will receive a 10 percent funding boost between 2020 and 2026.

“Poland remains, generally speaking, far behind the frontier of science,” said Jarosław Gowin, minister of science and higher education. The aim of the new funding was to “create conditions to reduce the distance between the Polish universities and the best European ones,” he said.

Lauritz Holm-Nielsen, former rector of Aarhus University and chair of the international panel that picked the winning universities from 20 candidates, argued that Poland needed to create universities that could attract scholars from overseas -- and lure Polish researchers back to the country -- and that as such mobility was essential for economic dynamism.

Currently, many Polish academics “don’t move even from one city to another,” he said. “The whole system is sedentary.”

To oppose elite universities “would be a big mistake,” said Holm-Nielsen, a former higher education specialist at the World Bank who has led European Union-backed calls for reform in Polish universities. “Differentiation” between universities was crucial, he said, adding, “There shouldn’t be 400 Harvards in Poland.”

Poland’s push to create “world-class” universities mirrors Germany’s excellence strategy, a policy that since 2005 has channeled money -- albeit relatively small amounts -- and prestige into a select few institutions.

The policy will widen inequalities between different parts of Poland, argued Jaroslaw Pluciennik, professor of the humanities at the University of Łódź. It risks creating a select few universities that educate the bulk of the country’s elite, as in France or the U.S., causing social divisions and political anger, he said. “Will students from low-income families be able to get quality education?” he asked.

“Of course most of the 10 universities are in large cities, and even most of the 20 [candidates] are in large cities,” admitted Holm-Nielsen, but he added, “We have to do what we can do on top of the system as it exists. We are not building a new system.”

He said that his panel “went out of our way” to ignore any “political” considerations in selecting the final 10, including “regional distribution” across the country. Instead, the final 10 were those with the most promising plans for the future -- including, for example, blueprints to attract more foreign staff and students, he explained.

The Ministry of Science and Higher Education emphasized that the extra funding was new, so it will not spell cuts for other universities. The 10 shortlisted universities that failed to make the top 10 will also receive a budget increase of 2 percent. And at the end of the first six-year funding period, two universities will be forced to make way for new candidates for “excellence” status.

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Colleges start fundraising campaigns

Inside Higher Ed - News - December 5, 2019 - 7:00pm

Starting Off

  • Community College of Allegheny County has started a $65 million campaign with no end date. Efforts to build jobs will be a priority. Thus far $44 million has been raised.
  • Oral Roberts University has started a three-year campaign to raise $75 million. Buildings and scholarships are the top goals.
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