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This 2-Year Academy Embraces Experimentation. Higher Ed Could Learn Something From It.

The Wayfinding Academy was founded by a former professor who had grown frustrated with higher education’s focus on prestige. Its innovative approach holds some lessons for traditional colleges.

Carey Foundation rebrands universities it supports

Inside Higher Ed - 4 hours 51 min ago

University of Pennsylvania administrators likely did not expect criticism or disapproval from students and alumni when they announced that the law school had received a $125 million gift to increase financial aid, expand pro bono programs and recruit top legal scholars.

After all, the donation from the W. P. Carey Foundation -- the largest ever to a law school -- would finance worthy goals that are widely supported.

But the gift also meant the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a name the institution has held since its founding in 1850, was renamed the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. The name change did not sit well with large numbers of students and alumni, who’d chosen the law school because it was one of the most selective and highly regarded in the country. They staked their career outcomes and professional reputations on the well-known Penn Law brand.

The response was swift. More than 3,000 students and alumni signed a petition demanding that the law school’s short-form name used on official correspondence, signs and merchandise be restored from Carey Law back to Penn Law.

The students may not have realized that the Carey Foundation is also a known brand in higher ed circles. It is a major benefactor of law and business schools named after various members of the Carey family. There’s the Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland ($30 million donation in 2011), the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University ($50 million donation in 2003, $25 million in 2019), the John Hopkins University Carey Business School ($50 million in 2006) and the Francis J. & Wm. Polk Carey J.D./M.B.A. Program at UPenn law and business schools ($10 million in 2015). (A Carey family member either attended or was somehow affiliated with each of the institutions the foundation supported.)

William P. Carey II, chairman of the foundation, said the latest gift to Penn was higher than past donations to the other institutions because of the law school's future ambitions.

"At an institution of Penn’s stature, we felt a large grant would be necessary to achieve all of the plans the Law School had laid out to truly transform the legal education it was providing," he said in written responses to questions about the donation.

Carey said the foundation has no formula for making such donations as it relates to naming rights.

"While we take a quantitative approach to measuring the potential and success of grants, it comes down to alignment of values and partnering with the best administrators," he wrote.

While naming rights are a matter of course in the world of philanthropy, widespread branding by one benefactor on so many different college campuses is unusual. But is it too much? And is that question even relevant when colleges and universities across the country are experiencing declining enrollment and revenue and donations by individuals are down?

“One of the issues in the field today is whether too few funders or too few families of wealth are dominating the landscape, because it takes significant capacity to do these kinds of things,” said Tim Seiler, the Rosso Fellow in Philanthropic Fundraising and former director of the Fund Raising School at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “So there is a perception of this kind of power overtaking the more common philanthropy that people might be more comfortable and familiar with.”

He said most universities would undoubtedly welcome a $125 million gift and would go along with the naming rights that come with it -- and with good reason.

Large gifts that help institutions supplement faculty salaries and provide student supports such as scholarships and increased financial aid are an important and necessary resource, he said.

Donald Tobin, dean of the University of Maryland law school, understands this all too well.

“We are proud to be the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law,” he said in a written statement provided by a spokeswoman. “The generous gift from the Carey foundation has enabled us to expand our efforts to help students with career placement and bar passage, and enrich the academic life at the law school.”

Tobin said his institution is proud to be known as the Francis Carey law school and welcomes the University of Pennsylvania law school to the “W. P. Carey philanthropic family.”

Seiler said UPenn had more to gain than to lose by joining the Carey fold.

“It seems to me that there’s a benefit to having the school continue to carry the UPenn name and have the Carey Foundation inserted with it,” he said. “I don’t think the brand has been lost. The school is now associated with a benefactor whose gift is going to do a lot of good. My default position is that when a foundation makes a gift of this sort, they have good intentions. Are they getting something out of it? Absolutely. They are now associated with a prestigious and reputable institution, and the institution is associated with a reputable foundation. I would argue it’s more positive than negative, the proverbial win-win.”

A Complicated Situation

The situation seems far more complicated to students and alumni who oppose the name change but recognize and appreciate the financial advantages of a $125 million gift.

“It’s a lot of money,” said Chrissy Pak, a third-year student at the law school who opposes the name change. “There’s a lot of good that it can do for students, low-income students, and the Philadelphia community at large.”

Her unease with the name change is palatable, however.

“My initial reaction was, what’s Carey Law?” said Pak, who is co-president of UPenn’s chapter of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a self-described progressive legal organization with more than 200 student and lawyer chapters in almost every state and on most law school campuses. “Carey Law is just not where I signed up to go.”

The UPenn law school name “means a lot,” she said. “It signifies that you’ve worked a very long time to get somewhere … Students felt that was being taken from them.”

Penn administrators apparently got the message.

Ted Ruger, dean of the law school, wrote an open letter to students and alumni on Monday, saying, “We have heard you” and announcing that “the Law School will continue to use Penn Law as our short-form name until the start of the 2022-23 academic year, after which we will use Penn Carey Law, thereby embracing both tradition and transformation.”

He said student response to the name change announcement reflected “how deeply you care about this institution and the abiding affinity you have for it.” But he also seemed to lament “that much of the conversation has centered on concerns over the short-form name, instead of a focus on how the Carey Foundation gift will be used.”

For his part, Carey, the chairman of the foundation, seemed satisfied with the outcome.

"We support the final decision regarding the name of the Law School and are excited to see the positive impact of the gift in the years to come," he wrote.

Asked if the foundation would donate to institutions without being guaranteed naming rights, he gave a qualified answer.

"Yes," he wrote. "However, the Foundation typically aligns with partners to have deep transformative impact."

Minimizing Controversy

Seiler, the fundraising expert at the Lilly School, said one way to minimize controversies over naming rights is for universities to seek donors that have similar values to the institutions that will take on their names.

"In fundraising, we’re pretty careful about whom we seek funding from, because they have a brand and we have a brand," he said.

Leslie Lenkowsky, professor emeritus in public affairs and philanthropy at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University at Bloomington, agreed.

“It’s an uneasy relationship of give-and-take,” he said. “The gift is only valuable if the institution they’re giving it to has a good reputation. And the university has to have enough integrity about its own mission to decide what’s in the best interest of the institution while also trying to satisfy the donor’s wishes.”

He said although big naming gifts have sometimes been controversial, they are no longer viewed as unusual.

“The fundraising community will say that in the real world, people want to make these big gifts, and we do want to attach their names to something to encourage this kind of giving,” he said.

“Anonymous gifts used to be more common, but I can’t tell for sure how much giving is still done anonymously. It’s probably a small percentage, and very few are in the high amount range.”

Sweet Briar College, a struggling private women's liberal arts college in Virginia, is a prime example. The college announced on Monday that it had received a $5 million gift from an anonymous donor. The money will be used to offer full and partial tuition scholarships to top student applicants, the announcement said. Two years ago an anonymous donor gave $20 million to support research at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, a specialty hospital affiliated with Harvard University, and another anonymous donor gave Vanderbilt University $10 million for several new residential colleges.

But anonymous giving for large amounts is not necessarily a thing of the past. An anonymous donor gave Massachusetts Institute of Technology $140 million in 2017. The university was allowed to use the money for any purpose administrators saw fit.

And anonymous donors have given gifts ranging from $25 million to $40 million in the recent past. Still, there are far more gifts -- large ones in particular -- that have names attached to them. Michael Bloomberg, who gave Johns Hopkins University $1.8 billion last year -- the largest gift in the history of American higher education -- has several buildings, programs and initiatives named for him at the Baltimore university. His total giving to Hopkins has reached $3.3 billion.

Linda Sugin, associate dean for academic affairs and a professor at Fordham University's School of Law, has argued that public giving that comes with naming rights is a social good.

She presented a research paper on the concept of "competitive philanthropy" last year at the annual conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations, in which she argues that "the tax law of charity should focus on the very rich and harness the culture of philanthropy among the elite."

Sugin, who teaches a course on nonprofit organizations and philanthropy, posits that encouraging and celebrating competitive philanthropy would inspire wealthy donors to try to exceed each other's generosity.

"Income inequality today is at a high not seen since the 1920s, and one way the very richest display their wealth is through charitable giving," she wrote in the introduction of the paper, "Competitive Philanthropy: Charitable Naming Rights, Inequality and Social Norms." "Gifts in excess of $100 million are no longer rare, and in return for their mega-gifts, the biggest donors get their names on buildings, an astonishingly valuable benefit that the tax law ignores. The law makes no distinction between a gift of $100 and a gift of $100 million."

For students still learning about the power and complexities of the law, such theoretical issues seem far removed from their present concerns.

Pak, the UPenn student leader, said the controversy over the law school renaming, which was done without any student input, revealed the limitations of students' ability to change things.

“It leaves us wondering what say we really have” in the fiscal affairs of the university, she said. “How much influence do students have in how things are funded in higher ed in general? Students aren’t providing the majority of the revenue, so that’s going to have some influence on how much they are heard.”

In the long term, she hopes the infusion of money enhances "the quality of education and the experience" that students are already getting at the law school.

"Whatever name change, we just hope the reputation and the long history of Penn Law is able to carry forward," she said.

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Alexander backs bill to count veterans' benefits toward for-profits' federal revenue limit

Inside Higher Ed - 4 hours 51 min ago

The powerful Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate’s education committee is backing a bipartisan bill aimed at for-profit colleges and their recruiting of students who are veterans of the U.S. military.

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee this week told Bloomberg Government that he supports a bill that would count GI Bill and active-duty service-member tuition benefits as federal aid under the so-called 90-10 rule, which requires that for-profit colleges get no more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources.

“I appreciate the work Senators Carper, Cassidy, Lankford and Tester have done to take a highly partisan issue and create a bipartisan solution,” Alexander said in a written statement. “This is a responsible and reasonable step to ensure that all of our military and veteran students are attending quality institutions worth their time and money.”

Alexander is leaving the Senate next year. The former education secretary and university president is pushing hard to pass several bills on higher education. This package of legislation, which includes proposals with bipartisan support, would serve as a narrow update to the Higher Education Act. That law, which oversees federal financial aid, has not been reauthorized in 11 years.

The 169-page bill Alexander released in September would simplify the FAFSA and financial aid award letters, while opening up Pell Grant eligibility to students in prisons as well as to shorter-term postsecondary programs than is currently allowed under federal law.

Democrats haven’t backed his plan, however. A sticking point is the renewal of $255 million in annual federal funding for minority-serving institutions, including $85 million for historically black colleges and universities.

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the education committee, instead has pushed for the passage of a bill to renew the minority-serving college funding stream for two years. She also has insisted on instead considering a comprehensive bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Alexander’s move this week to back Carper’s 90-10 bill, a long-term priority among congressional Democrats, appears to be part of the ongoing negotiations over the minority-serving college funds and his package of higher education bills.

“I look forward to working with Senator Murray to include this in legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act in the coming weeks,” Alexander said.

Compromise Possible?

Congressional Democrats have introduced at least eight bills during this Congress that would include veteran and military benefits in the 90-10 calculation. For example, the proposal House Democrats released last month to reauthorize the Higher Education Act would close what they called the 90-10 “loophole.”

The argument by Democrats and consumer advocates is that the exclusion of veteran and military student benefits from the 90 percent requirement “perversely incentivizes for-profit institutions to aggressively recruit students” who receive those benefits, in part so that colleges can pad their nonfederal revenue sources.

Consumer groups have long backed such a change. So do several membership organizations for veterans and service members, including the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, and Student Veterans of America, which in August called the change to 90-10 its top priority.

"Chairman Alexander's support for closing the 90/10 loophole is a game-changer for student veterans and military-connected students across the country and means Congress can and will remove the recruiting target from the backs of veterans and military-connected students," Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, an advocacy organization, said in a statement.

The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States has urged Congress to proceed cautiously with bills that would affect veterans and military students. Stephen Patterson, a spokesman for the group, said the Carper bill appears to be a move in the right direction.

“This bill represents somewhat of a compromise,” he said. “We’re pretty happy to see more of a bipartisan approach.”

Patterson praised the proposed legislation for dropping the Democrats’ bid to limit federal funding to 85 percent of for-profits’ revenue, as well its approach of gradually phasing in penalties for colleges that run afoul of the 90 percent cap.

Career Education Colleges and Universities criticized the bill, however. The trade group for the for-profit sector found in a recent analysis that 260 of its member colleges would shut down if veteran and service-member benefits counted toward the federal funding limit.

“It is incredibly disappointing to see a willingness on both sides of the aisle to restrict veterans' choice under the guise of protecting veterans,” said Michael Dakduk, the group’s executive vice president and co-chair of Veterans for Career Education. “In the event this bill advances, we agree with other veteran groups and veterans' service organizations that a waiver is needed to support student veterans at quality career, technical and trade schools negatively impacted by a change to 90-10.”

The American Public University System, which enrolls a large number of veterans and service members, on Tuesday called on Congress to study the issue further before moving forward with the bill.

“We and others have asked Senators to conduct a study first to determine what the possible adverse consequences could be on military students under the revised 90-10 calculation,” John Aldrich, vice president of military and corporate outreach for APUS, said in a statement. “We believe that it will lead to fewer institutions serving military students and fewer offering affordable pricing.”

Yesterday Alexander released a statement on the dispute over the minority-serving college funding.

He said a proposal by House Democrats to restore the funding was a “budget gimmick” that would struggle to pass the Senate and within months would create a new “funding cliff” for colleges that receive the funding.

“Two weeks ago, Senate Democrats blocked my bipartisan package of higher education proposals that included $255 million in permanent annual funding for historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions,” said Alexander. “This package has plenty of time to become law because the U.S. Department of Education has notified these institutions that they have sufficient federal funding until Oct. 1 of next year.”

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New book from Freeman Hrabowski says empowered institutions aren't afraid to 'look themselves in the mirror'

Inside Higher Ed - 4 hours 51 min ago

Freeman Hrabowski is the kind of university president whose conference talks make you feel you feel like you gulped some coffee, not like you need to. He’s a math nerd who is somehow relatable but also commanding. He’s got stories about everything, including marching in the Birmingham Children's Crusade at the urging of Martin Luther King Jr. And he looks preternaturally natural wearing a tiny microphone on a giant TED Talk stage.

He’s the kind of president who could probably write a thinly veiled book about how awesome he is and get away with it. That book would likely focus on how he brought the University of Maryland at Baltimore County’s graduation rate from 30 percent several decades ago to 70 percent today -- or to about 85 percent if you count students who transfer elsewhere to pursue degrees UMBC doesn’t offer. It would probably also tell how Hrabowski shaped a community from a big-city campus where 60 percent of students have a parent from another country.

Yet Hrabowski’s most recent book, The Empowered University (Johns Hopkins University Press), isn’t all about him. Instead, as he wrote, “It’s about us.” Based on notes from months of campus focus groups about what UMBC is doing right and where it can improve, the book -- written with Philip J. Rous, provost, and Peter H. Henderson, senior adviser to Hrabowski -- could have remained an internal project. But it went public, based on the idea that it may help other institutions become similarly empowered, in Hrabowski’s words, to look themselves in the mirror.

“What we talk about the empowered university, it’s not to say, ‘Look at how great you are,’” Hrabowski said in an interview. “It’s whether you can look in the mirror and be honest about your accomplishments and identify the ways in which you, we, can be much better.”

He added, “I don’t know any university in the country that doesn’t have a lot of work to do, and that’s what we’ve got to be saying. There are always groups of students with whom we have not been effective -- and faculty and staff, too.”

Indeed, Hrabowski says in the book that “success is never final.” The university has made huge strides in promoting a culture of inclusive excellence, especially in the natural sciences and engineering. It has been among the leading producers of biology and chemistry bachelor’s degrees, over all and for racial minority groups, for instance. It has a slew of scholars' programs and collaborates closely with local community colleges not just on the transfer experience but on building a consistent college experience. But now Hrabowski wants that lower-performing one-third of students to excel, too. He and others on campus want classes to be more interconnected and for there to be an even greater institutional focus on civic engagement.

And so, part of UMBC’s growth involves moving from quantity -- graduating more students -- to quality. Through faculty-led initiatives, UMBC has already redesigned introductory courses in the humanities and sciences based on best teaching practices, as identified by the National Center for Academic Transformation. It’s rethought dozens of additional courses to have an entrepreneurial bent. And it has embraced analytics to track where students are succeeding and where they are not. Sometimes, Hrabowski said, he encounters faculty members who believe that writing something on board means teaching it. But UMBC’s faculty largely drives its innovation.

Looking in the mirror, of course, entails facing whatever is there, staring back. And not every university president is willing to do that. Nor is every university president willing to take direction from a potentially unruly faculty through robust shared governance systems, formal and informal. But Hrabowski’s point is that no university can be empowered without doing both.

“An academic community searching for truth and insight must be willing to respectfully engage in conversations, albeit often difficult ones, listening as necessary to those who may think differently from ourselves,” he wrote. “I believe the more we engage in these conversations, the more trust, dignity and respect we engender and, as a result, the easier and more productive these conversations will become.” This is not the easy path, he says, and but it’s the right one, as it ultimately benefits students.

Students are part of this ethos, Hrabowski wrote. And they’ve tested it, such as when a group of protesters stormed Hrabowski's office over the filing of a federal lawsuit alleging the university mishandled a sexual harassment case. Inviting the students to his conference room, he told them, “Whenever you have more than 100 students in your conference room, clearly something isn’t right.”

What followed was Hrabowski’s recognition that the university was, at the very least, not communicating its campus safety efforts well enough to students. UMBC also arranged a series of listening sessions with different campus groups for the next week.

There are no easy answers. But the key to being able to have conversations that lead to healing or change or innovation, Hrabowski said, is humility. That’s also central to the kind of culture he wants to keep building on his campus, and which he wants to see in the country at large.

“Graduation rates are not enough. The other big questions that need to be asked of students are, ‘Have their attitudes changed and are they more broadly educated than they were when they got here?’ Hell, if you look at our society, even among highly educated people, we are so divided. So how much difference are we making in the lives of people, to make them question their assumptions?”

In asking such questions, Hrabowski is not doubting the value of higher education. Instead, he wrote, it’s more important than ever, as “we are experiencing and responding to global economic integration, a revolution in telecommunications that connects us as easily to Beijing as it does to Baltimore, rapid technological change, and advances in science and medicine.” There are the “grave challenges of climate change, population growth and migration, inequality, cybersecurity and terrorism.” And so “we must prepare our students for this work, and we must reshape our universities to address these real-world issues.”

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Colleges award tenure

Inside Higher Ed - 4 hours 51 min ago

College of Southern Maryland

  • Michelle Brosco Christian, communications
  • James Cleary, mathematics
  • Cicero Fain, history
  • Tiffany Gill, medical laboratory technology
  • Linda Goodman, nursing simulation
  • Eden Kan, nursing
  • Krista Keyes, English
  • Barbara Link, English
  • William Moroney, criminal justice
  • Deborah Rutledge, nursing
  • Tracey Stuller, biology

Truman State University

  • John Jones, education
  • Yung-hwal Park, business administration
  • Amy Teten, communication disorders
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Chronicle of Higher Education: Columbia U. Canceled an Event on Chinese Human-Rights Violations. Organizers See a University Bowing to Intimidation.

The university cited a failure to follow "standard procedures for holding events" as the reason to cancel. The decision follows clashes on several other campuses.

Chronicle of Higher Education: Racist and Anti-Semitic Incidents Are Roiling Syracuse U. Now the Governor Is Stepping In.

A white-supremacist manifesto, allegedly sent to students’ cellphones, shook the campus. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York criticized the Syracuse chancellor’s handling of the events.

Commonwealth unis should collaborate – ACU

The PIE News - Tue, 11/19/2019 - 04:28

The Association of Commonwealth Universities has urged universities across the Commonwealth to collaborate to find solutions to international crises such as climate change, plastic pollution and sustainable development.

As Brexit threatens to hamper research collaboration with the EU, researchers across the Commonwealth should work together to combat today’s pressing issues collectively, the association said.

“To cut out any particular geographic region in the world would make no sense whatsoever”

“[Universities] are international by their very nature,” Joanna Newman, ACU secretary-general, told The PIE News.

“Taking advantage of longstanding Commonwealth connections and doing more across the diversity of Commonwealth nations – particularly when there might be more of a focus on countries beyond the EU – makes sense.”

The UK has been craving certainty surrounding research collaboration when it leaves the EU, although the UK government indicated it would introduce a fast-track visa route to attract “elite researchers and specialists in the fields of science, engineering and technology”.

A historical relationship with universities across the Commonwealth – aided by a shared history, a shared language, shared institutional structures – provide opportunities for both research and mobility, Newman added.

With over 500 institutions in 50 countries, the ACU has created new connections through its networks, she shared.

“For example, we have networks on peace and reconciliation and climate resilience, linking up the interests of different universities together.”

An example of the global impact is the research into ocean sciences by connecting Victoria University in Canada, the UK’s Southampton University and the University of Western Australia.

Newman has previously described the Commonwealth as a “living laboratory” for change.

“Continuing the very strong and essential relationships with European partners is also essential to the nation’s research,” Newman said.

Earlier in 2019, the association inked an agreement with Cypriot institution, the University of Nicosia, while the ACU is also working to strengthen connections to Malta.

“To cut out any particular geographic region in the world would make no sense whatsoever,” Newman added.

“We know our 90 UK members are interested in working across the European Union, and beyond.”

 

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EduBoston closure highlights need for reform

The PIE News - Tue, 11/19/2019 - 03:07

The surprising shutdown of high school placement agency EduBoston, which closed suddenly on September 30, has highlighted the need for change in the way parents in China and elsewhere approach sending their children to K-12 schools abroad.

One of EduBoston’s Chinese partners, education giant New Oriental, told The PIE News that more than 80 of their students were affected by the closure of the company. Their emergency team had to fly out to the US to meet with local legal advisors to support their students.

“Parents are becoming… more cautious about which agents to work with”

“The emergency team quickly reached out to numerous US independent schools and appealed to them to waive or greatly reduce tuition fees for affected New Oriental students,” Joanna Song, director of the company’s international affairs department, explained.

“Many schools were severely hit financially as they never received payments from EduBoston but we were grateful that many decided to waive or greatly reduce the tuition fees for affected students.”

In the future, the company wants partners in the States to “release financial statements periodically and publicly to ensure all parties involved are well informed on their current financial standings”.

“We will work intensively with our partners in ensuring that future tuition fees are paid directly to the schools, and, per many of our families request, work out a solution with partners so that program fees for each student are paid separately from the payment package, and ideally paid to our partners in multiple instalments,” Song added.

Zhang Xi of Finding School, a Chinese-language comparison website for US schools, told The PIE that increased competition is squeezing companies in a market that is already getting smaller.

“I wasn’t surprised [about EduBoston], but it was sooner than expected. The current model has not been working,” he explained.

Zhang emphasised that financial constraints for many schools mean they rely on middlemen with contacts and networks in China to recruit their students.

“The day school business is not very transparent. Parents might think twice about sending their children to the States or send them to boarding schools with more history of admitting international students,” he said.

“Parents are becoming more selective and picky, and more cautious about which agents to work with.”

Stakeholders in the US have also been exploring new ways to try and improve the experience of students and trying to cut down on the variables within their experience.

“The homestay model is very uneven for students,” Craig Pines of Amerigo told The PIE.

“If you get a great host family, it could be great. But often that’s not the case.

“Companies like EduBoston bring the students over, but then it’s really up to the schools or the parents that they are staying with to provide the support and in some cases, they aren’t equipped to do that very well.”

K-12 international education is seen by parents as a way to help get their children into top universities abroad. In order to send their children abroad, Chinese parents without connections in the US often rely on local agents.

“We’ve seen a couple of the larger agents looking for some reassurance or looking for evidence of financial strength,” Pines noted.

But, Pines added, “I think that the draw of attending a top US university is still extremely strong.”

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Atom Learning expands to new markets

The PIE News - Tue, 11/19/2019 - 01:50

UK-based edtech platform Atom Learning has announced an expansion into Asia, Africa and the Middle East to help reduce teacher workload and improve educational outcomes for students at schools across the regions.

One of the company’s two online learning platforms – Atom Prime – will be used in schools in Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Nigeria and Abu Dhabi.

“We firmly believe in the power of technology to enhance educational outcomes”

Launched in May, Atom Prime seeks to reduce teacher workload, while supporting them in managing mixed-ability classes.

Additionally, it aims to ensure “non-subject experts can run productive lessons and improves dialogue between parents and teachers”.

“We have seen phenomenal growth since launching Atom Prime in May, doubling headcount in just two months and now expanding internationally,” co-founder of Atom Learning Jake O’Keeffe said.

“This demonstrates a clear appetite from schools and parents for innovative solutions to improving access to high-quality education.”

According to Atom, the company has grown 50% month-on-month and since its launch in May, Atom Prime has signed up over 200 Preparatory Schools in the UK.

Its other platform – Atom Nucleus – offers students revision and personalised learning at home. It is an optional “affordable alternative to a private tutor” for parents, the company noted.

As Atom Learning continues to grow, it will develop the platform to combine high-quality content, designed and produced by teachers, with sophisticated technology to keep students on their individual, optimal learning paths.

“We firmly believe in the power of technology to enhance educational outcomes and reduce the gap in attainment between the most and least privileged,” O’Keeffe added.

“That is why we continue to invest in the growth of the business, to constantly improve the platform and to reach greater numbers of students across the UK and overseas.”

 

 

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Private colleges convinced company to scuttle release of list of projected college closures

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 11/19/2019 - 01:00

The final straw was the letter a lawyer for a private nonprofit college sent just before 5 p.m. last Wednesday. It said any statement about the college facing an imminent risk of closure would be false.

“The publication of such a statement would be grossly irresponsible and would cause great harm to the college, and demand is hereby made that you refrain from such publication,” the lawyer wrote.

The letter followed a flurry of similar calls and emails from colleges and their representatives about a list a college advising company planned to release the next day. The list featured projections of how many years 946 private colleges have until they could run out of money and close.

This communiqué, however, was addressed in part to Edmit, the start-up advising company. The letter convinced Edmit’s two co-founders to scuttle the release of their financial modeling tool.

Inside Higher Ed had planned to write about the projections, but the company's decision changed that plan, too. The goal was to foster an open discussion about what has become an elephant in the room for higher education: Which financially stressed colleges are likely to shut down, and what can be done to protect students and taxpayers from abrupt closures?

More in This Package

“At this point, there’s zero consumer protection like this. And I don’t think that’s the optimal amount,” said Doug Webber, an associate professor of economics at Temple University. “If a school goes under, it’s really bad for the students.”

Webber and several other experts on higher education finance had examined the source data, methodology and projections from Edmit, which were created with assistance from graduate students and two economists at Brandeis University’s International Business School.

The projections used qualitative and quantitative data, from federal sources, to estimate how long before the net expenses for the 946 private colleges exceeded their net assets. After that, the model assumed the colleges would fail, because no enterprise can continue to operate without taking in enough to pay its bills. The model provided that information in a single number so it would be accessible. That number was the estimated time until closing for each college.

The model analyzed “what the school’s finances are like if they stay on their current path,” said Stephen Cecchetti, one of the two Brandeis economists who helped oversee the project. Put simply, it’s an estimate of financial resources divided by the college’s “burn rate,” he said.

Edmit based the model on four primary variables: investment return on endowment funds, tuition prices, tuition discounting and faculty and staff member salaries.

Most of the underlying federal data was from 2017, creating a lag time that could skew projections. The potential for errors with this sort of statistical modeling is substantial, experts said. And the model’s four variables might fail to fully or adequately capture a college’s projected financial sustainability.

Yet several experts said the Edmit model wasn’t missing crucial data sets.

“Speaking generally about this kind of data, it should be out there,” said Webber. “It could be really useful.”

‘The Wild West’

Nick Ducoff and Sabrina Manville rolled out Edmit in early 2018. The Boston-based company caters to prospective students by providing college advising services and tools so families can “treat college like an investment.”

Edmit offers admissions and pricing data for more than 2,000 colleges, features a college cost comparison tool and conducts personalized financial aid estimates for students.

A few months after the company went live, Mount Ida College shut down abruptly. The closure of the private college in Massachusetts set off a cascade of problems for its 1,500 students and added to worries about regulators’ lack of preparation for private college failures.

In the aftermath of Mount Ida's closure, some of Edmit’s customers began asking about the financial health of colleges as part of their enrollment decisions, said Ducoff, the company's CEO and co-founder.

“We didn’t really have good answers,” he said. “The consumer certainly doesn’t have a playbook around this.”

Ducoff and Manville, Edmit’s other co-founder, decided to try to create a modeling tool that would gauge private colleges' ability to survive financially. They focused solely on private institutions, in part because it would be unworkable to make projections on the fiscal health of public colleges without being able to factor in future shifts in state funding.

The sample included 946 nonprofit colleges that provided sufficient data to make projections based on the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and other federal reporting sources, such as tax filings. The period examined was from 2002 to 2017.

Edmit's founders wanted to start a conversation about the stability and viability of college business models, aiming primarily at trustees, faculty members and others who work in and around higher education, Manville said. The company has not used the projections with its customers.

“Colleges would be doing this kind of analysis primarily to support their own goals: to inform them about their competition, to put themselves in the context of what else is happening in their region or in the sector,” said Manville. “We wanted to create something that was more transparently available to families and also simple enough to understand for a broader audience so that it can actually inform people’s decision making and understanding of what’s happening.”

Students, families, policy makers and even higher education leaders increasingly are questioning the business model of some private colleges amid a steady drip-drip-drip of campus closings. At the same time, accreditors and state and federal agencies -- higher education’s regulatory triad -- are considering methods for how to better monitor the financial sustainability of colleges, in part to warn students and parents about institutions that appear to be on the brink.

Part of the problem is that these agencies, which are tasked with protecting students and taxpayers if a college shuts down, tend to lack clear standards for what’s considered acceptable for teaching-out a campus and otherwise ensuring that students can finish earning their credentials or have their loans forgiven, according to Ben Miller, vice president for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress.

“Right now, it’s the Wild West,” said Miller.

But government agencies and accreditors could do more, Miller said. If regulators are worried about a college's finances, they need to take action.

“They have a moral responsibility to warn students,” he said.

The stakes are high for students. An abrupt college closure can thrust them into chaotic situations. Even students at colleges that close in an orderly fashion can suffer negative effects. Their credits might not transfer fully, or they might have to travel farther from home to get to class. Some never re-enroll after their college closes.

Alumni can feel the pain, too, as their alma mater’s brand takes a hit after a closure. College faculty members and other employees also can have their lives upended. And donors might wonder why they gave money to a failing enterprise.

Edmit shared the projections with Inside Higher Ed this summer, after requiring that they be kept private until the company was ready to post them publicly.

The company's co-founders planned to publish the projections on Github, a platform for open-source projects, under its own logo and the Inside Higher Ed banner. The source code was available, and a lengthy explanation was planned, saying the list was an early measure, that its developers were seeking feedback and potential improvements, and that students and parents shouldn't base college decisions on it.

Inside Higher Ed's planned coverage included a news article that described the list, interviewed the presidents of some colleges that it described as being at imminent risk of failure and discussed the limitations of such a data set. A second news article reviewed 27 years of higher ed's uneasy history with public financial metrics before delving deeply into the limitations of any data or predictive model. An opinion piece, from Ducoff and Manville, was to explain why it was important to share the information in question.

About a week before the target publication date, a reporter reached out to several colleges on the list. They were picked to represent a range of institutions facing different degrees of projected money woes.

For example, Utica College was selected because of previous reporting on strategies the college had taken to strengthen its finances. Utica seemed like a possible case where the projections were upended by canny moves by college leaders.

Utica threatened to sue if Inside Higher Ed published an article on Edmit's projections.

Another institution, Herzing University, was selected because of the projected vulnerability of its branch campuses. Confusion about federal data on branch campuses also could skew the projections.

While the projections might not fully capture the financial health of some colleges, Edmit had evidence that the forecasts could be accurate. That's because several colleges included in the modeling tool have shut down during the last several years. Almost all of those colleges had precarious finances, according to the projections.

Here are the model's estimates for how long it would be before those college would have been at risk of closing: Southern Vermont College (four years), Green Mountain College (six years), Marylhurst University (six years), Concordia College of Alabama (six years), Marygrove College (seven years), Newbury College (seven years) and Grace University (seven years).

Likewise, the model was generally consistent with projections about the annual number of private college closures made by Moody's, the financial ratings firm.

Fragile College Turnarounds

A letter from a law firm representing Herzing called the projections false and misleading.

“It would be reckless for a respected higher education publisher such as Inside Higher Ed to make such predictions based on old, incomplete, and inaccurate data and an admittedly flawed model,” the lawyer wrote.

The university insisted that the model was incorrect in referring to federal data sets for the finances of its branch campuses. It said any projections instead should cover the full institution.

This issue isn’t new and has been called the “longtime nemesis” of higher education researchers. The use of federal Office of Postsecondary Education identification codes by some college systems has proven confusing when regulators have sought to oversee their finances and outcomes. The codes can split institutions into different entries for their branches, and the finances for individual campuses might look weaker than for the university as a whole. This issue cropped up with the former Corinthian Colleges, for example.

After several exchanges, Herzing was asked how to find federally collected financial data that accurately represented its full system. The university has yet to respond.

Several colleges and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities were shown a Github site featuring the data and projections, as well as a raw paper from Brandeis students on the methodology.

Shortly thereafter, the projections and methodology began circulating between private colleges and their lobbying associations.

“I get Edmit’s desire to be partnered with you with but I gotta say, I’m surprised IHE has hitched its wagon to this,” Pete Boyle, a spokesman for NAICU, said via email. “How much sense does it make that four short-term data points can define a college’s long term future, and that colleges do not change and adapt to challenges over time?”

The report on the methodology lacked specificity, explanation and breadth, Boyle and others said. The supporting data regarding school closures were questionable, the background research on the choice of explanatory variables and method was lacking, and supporting arguments for choosing the variables were absent. The assumption that the explanatory trends will continue was the most troubling aspect of all, they said.

“To look 10 years down the road in higher education is dangerous (what will happen with HEA, for example?),” Boyle said, referring to the long-delayed reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act. “And to look 50 or 100 years down the road is worse.”

However, Boyle said private colleges recognize the real concern about institutions in dire straits that stay open too long, then close abruptly and leave students out in the cold.

“It’s a tough conversation,” he said.

Economists tend to make lots of projections about the future. Done responsibly and presented with caveats, such projections can have value, the consensus holds.

One college president emailed with the subject line “IHE Article Puts Students and Colleges at a Greater Risk?” before going on to explain that his college was fixing its problems.

“Given the fragile nature of a successful higher education turnaround,” he wrote, “even small external threats can undermine or complicate such efforts, even putting present students at greater risk.”

It wasn't a surprise that many college leaders and their associations fought the publication of this data.

Many said no number can capture all of the factors that go into keeping the doors open at complex, multimillion-dollar operations like colleges. Others may have felt their colleges were on the brink of collapse and had to fight against unflattering media coverage with every available resource or risk that collapse accelerating.

Several private college representatives said they generally trusted Inside Higher Ed to start this conversation with the right care and tone, but they worried about less nuanced chatter that might follow. This could create a “run on the bank” effect of worsening a college’s fiscal situation by publishing details about its survivability.

Ducoff and Manville shared this concern. That’s why they tried to avoid false positives, such as by not requiring a cash cushion for colleges in the forecasts. That means the model was too conservative in some cases. For example, Mount Ida was projected to last indefinitely.

“The point of this is not to wag fingers at financially precarious colleges,” said Ducoff.

When contacted, not all colleges questioned the newsworthiness of the projections.

One college president said recent college closures had caught the attention of his peers. “Right now, everyone’s gotten the cold water and realizes they have to do something,” he said. “The question is what to do.”

The president said trustees need to provide reality checks for colleges that are facing financial challenges, in part by asking if the institution realistically can fulfill its mission.

In the end, Inside Higher Ed could not publish its news article about Edmit’s scuttled projections.

Information about the model and its forecasts have made the rounds between private nonprofit colleges. But anything like those forecasts remains out of the hands of students and families.

These are indeed tough conversations. Yet for now the industry would prefer to keep those discussions private.

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Publishing colleges' financial information has a long history and raises a larger set of issues

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 11/19/2019 - 01:00

Colleges, universities and the government entities that regulate them have long been skittish about publishing ratios, metrics and models that seek to make plain which higher education institutions are in financial danger.

Five years ago, for instance, the Department of Education resisted sharing the names of dozens of colleges and universities on its heightened cash monitoring list. In the competitive higher education environment, “any public release of the confidential financial standing of these institutions will likely cause the institutions substantial competitive injury,” a department official wrote at the time.

The department reversed course under pressure in 2015, eventually sharing the names of institutions on different levels of the heightened cash monitoring list, which can restrict how colleges access federal financial aid dollars. Releasing the names was “doing what’s right for good government and transparency’s sake,” then Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said at the time. The department had to use federal aid in a way that was accountable to students and taxpayers, he further explained.

More in This Package

Even then, Mitchell cautioned that colleges could be placed on cash monitoring for reasons of varying severity. A college might find itself on the list for submitting an audit late. Or the department might have flagged it for concerns about its financial viability.

The cash monitoring situation encapsulates arguments for and against publicly listing colleges under financial stress. From one perspective, doing so risks hurting weaker institutions. In the worst cases, it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the list itself becomes one more reason flagging institutions struggle to draw students.

From the other perspective, though, the higher ed market needs more transparency. Students should have access to all the good information they can get. Then they can vote with their feet and tuition dollars. They can enroll in risky institutions with their eyes wide-open to potential shortcomings or choose other, more stable options.

That discussion is pertinent today as Inside Higher Ed writes about an aborted attempt to publish a list of 946 colleges and universities forecasting the number of years each has until its projected net expenses exceed its projected net assets -- a point at which it would likely be at severe risk of closure. The list doesn’t carry all of the baggage as would a list maintained by the Department of Education or other regulator. Edmit, which compiled the list, is a college advising and recommendation company, not an entity with the power to impose sanctions on institutions or revoke their ability to receive federal financial aid funding.

“We wanted to create something that was more transparently available to families and also simple enough to understand for a broader audience so that it can actually inform people’s decision making and understanding of what’s happening,” said Sabrina Manville, co-founder at Edmit.

Edmit backed away from plans to publish its list after private nonprofit colleges and their lobbyists mounted an intense pressure campaign. So this is an ideal moment to remember the long, uneasy and uneven relationship between higher education and public information about college finances. It’s also a good time for a reminder that no single metric can capture the financial complexity of a college or university, nor can it take into account the many different steps institutions can take to turn around their fortunes.

Important Caveats

College finance experts are quick to caution that the publicly available data on which college financial metrics can be based can’t cover key elements of institutions’ viability.

Consumer-focused lists and grades, including Edmit’s, generally draw their information from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. IPEDS contains a considerable breadth of information, but the data can lag -- the most recent financial data available is for 2016-17. And like any set of financial data, it doesn't address difficult-to-measure intangibles that can go a long way in keeping open a struggling college.

Accountants can count the amount of cash a college has in the bank, the revenue it brings in and the size of its endowment. But it’s much harder to quantify how much money its alumni might be willing to give if they find out it’s in trouble.

Think, for example, of Sweet Briar College or Bennett College, two institutions that have so far survived near-death experiences with the help of massive fundraising efforts.

So too is it hard to say exactly how much and how quickly any individual college can slash spending. Different staffing structures and facilities costs at colleges can make it much easier or harder to save money by cutting employees or deferring maintenance.

It’s also hard to predict how much a college might be able to borrow in order to bridge certain financial gaps. A good relationship with a local bank might go a long way toward finding financing on surprisingly lenient terms.

And then there are a host of changes that could happen in the future that are impossible to predict. Increases in the minimum wage could hurt colleges’ financial viability if they translate to higher costs among workers. New state financial aid programs or increases in the federal Pell Grant could provide important additional funding for colleges on the brink. Recessions can wreak havoc on financial projections as more students enroll in college in order to avoid bad job markets -- but those students are often less able to pay their tuition than they would have been during an economic expansion.

All of those individual factors unfold as colleges and universities try new strategies to solidify their futures. Colleges that found themselves misaligned with demand in the past might reposition themselves for a stronger-than-expected future.

As a result, experts at the National Association of College and University Business Officers are “very cautious” about different indicators seeking to show future financial risks at colleges.

“I have not seen a particular metric or body of work with some predictive capabilities,” said Sue Menditto, senior director of accounting policy at NACUBO. “As much as we talk about the use of predictive analytics in higher ed, institution-specific, I’ve not seen anything like a model that is predictive and has been tested with any amount of efficacy.”

A retort is that the future is always filled with uncertainty. Students are being asked to take risks when they enroll in college, pay tuition and, often, mortgage their future by taking out student loans.

“A big part of what we do at Edmit is help people to understand the return on investment on their college vision,” said Nick Ducoff, co-founder and CEO at Edmit. “There are a variety of considerations. If a college is going to close, you’re going to have to transfer. Is your degree going to be worth less because of adverse brand consequences? That’s something you should probably consider.”

Controversy Over Regulators’ Metrics

The Department of Education has been evaluating colleges’ financial standing for decades in order to determine whether they are suitable to receive federal financial aid funds, known as Title IV funds.

In 1992, the Higher Education Act required Title IV participants for the first time to file an annual financial statement with the Education Department. It required the department to measure financial responsibility.

The exact evaluation has changed over time. In 1998, regulations created a methodology based on three ratios: primary reserve, equity and net income. They’re combined into a composite score to measure financial responsibility.

Today, the composite score runs from -1 to 3. Institutions scoring 1.5 or more are considered financially responsible. Those with scores of 1 to 1.5 are also considered responsible but in need of additional oversight, like cash monitoring. Those with a score of less than 1 are considered not financially responsible and can normally only participate in Title IV programs if they are subject to cash monitoring and post a letter of credit equal to at least 10 percent of the Title IV aid received in their most recent fiscal years.

In 2010, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a list of 319 degree-granting private institutions it labeled as failing the Education Department’s financial responsibility test over the three previous years. The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities responded by saying that colleges around the country “found themselves the subject of unexpected, and often unfairly negative, media coverage of their financial situations.”

The number of institutions falling below the cutoff of 1.5 was “unusually large” in part because of the economic downturn, NAICU said. It also criticized the federal formula for counting endowment losses as actual losses instead of unrealized losses -- accounting categories that matter when evaluating a college’s financial operations.

Scores continued to raise questions. An examination of composite scores in 2014 showed that no Ivy League institutions posted perfect scores and that several, including Harvard and Yale Universities, scored 2.2 -- lower than the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in California.

Since then, new rules finalized this September addressed several accounting and reporting issues.

Today, NAICU isn’t necessarily against publishing the scores.

“We have never been opposed to publishing them per se,” NAICU’s vice president for public affairs, Pete Boyle, said in an email. “We are not against accurate transparency. We were upset because the scores were misleading and wrong, thus not excellent predictors. Plus, the publics are exempt so it paints an incomplete picture.”

Discussion over publishing the federal scores -- and the list of institutions on heightened cash monitoring that those scores feed into -- is also often tied up with talk about whether requirements for financially strained colleges are fair.

In 2016, St. Catharine College in Kentucky closed after finding itself on the stricter form of the heightened cash monitoring list, called HCM2. The college filed a federal lawsuit that February claiming the department was unlawfully withholding student financial aid funds, but it didn’t have the cash to survive while “the DOE’s rules changed nearly monthly,” leaders said.

College leaders also said the sanction hurt the college’s market position.

“Without the enrollment and with the DOE’s chokehold on our cash flow, the debt is simply not manageable,” board chairman John Turner said in a statement from the college. It also said the department’s sanction “irreparably damaged the college’s ability to attract students.”

More recently, the idea of publishing financial evaluations became a hot topic at the state level. After Mount Ida College suddenly collapsed in 2018, officials in Massachusetts started looking into new state requirements designed to prevent colleges from closing without warning students.

As they studied the issue last year, the question of who should be told what and when remained pertinent. The parent company of a for-profit college, Lincoln College of New England, told its investors in a May 15 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that Lincoln had been told by its accreditor to show cause why it should not be placed on probation for not meeting several standards, including one on institutional resources. Lincoln’s accreditor voted at the end of June 2018 to place the college on probation, but the accreditor didn't publicly announce the action until Aug. 23.

Accreditation experts said last year that they needed to balance transparency against the need for allowing colleges to appeal accreditors' decisions.

At the beginning of this year, Massachusetts regulators moved to screen all private nonprofit colleges' finances and warn students one and a half years before their colleges were at risk of closing. A Massachusetts Board of Higher Education plan proposed screening colleges using an indicator called the Teachout Viability Metric, which was developed by the consulting firm EY-Parthenon pro bono.

The metric would have used publicly reported data to estimate how well a college could teach-out currently enrolled students if necessary. It was only to be used as a screening tool to determine which colleges needed additional scrutiny from regulators. It wasn’t recommended as a way to determine if a college should have to close or post notice about its financial status.

Small-college advocates worried that the Massachusetts proposal would have imposed additional reporting requirements on institutions already stretched thin. They also feared their confidential financial information would be made public. But Massachusetts regulators have generally agreed with the need to keep confidential information from becoming public.

Multiple metrics were expected to be used to assess the financial viability of institutions, according to a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. Legislation has been approved to address colleges at risk of closure in the state, with the governor there last week signing a bill that would clear the way for additional regulatory oversight.

When the state senate passed the bill last month, Massachusetts' commissioner of higher education, Carlos Santiago, pointed out that privacy of financial information was a key part of the legislation.

“I am particularly pleased to see the confidentiality clause that will safeguard the privacy of our financial discussions with independent institutions, and appreciate the clarity this legislation provides regarding financial screening,” Santiago said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the final piece of legislation as we move forward on this critical agenda.”

Different constituencies in the state have been trying to find the best way to move forward, according to Chris Gabrieli, who is the chair of the Department of Higher Education’s board.

“My sense is that there is a deliberately paced but very real process playing out by which people in various places and roles are grappling with the hard questions,” he said in an emailed statement. “What are the most appropriate and thoughtful ways to do screening, both with regards to the utility of the metric and the necessary confidentiality and discreteness of the process?”

Since any financial scoring metric is imperfect, it will likely fail to capture the true prospects of some institutions, experts say. It's not the strongest or the weakest colleges and universities that policy makers and those who study higher ed worry about misjudging. It's the bottom part of the middle -- those colleges and universities that may be at risk but aren't clearly in crisis.

Is a Consumer Focus Different?

Financial ratings and lists of stressed colleges tend to carry more weight when they come from regulators or accreditors, several experts said. Not only can they be tied to state or federal support for a college or university, but tools used by governments can have more power in the public imagination than other rankings.

Still, consumer-focused rankings from third parties draw attention. Some colleges have even asked when financial grades published for several years by Forbes will be revived.

From 2013 to 2017, Forbes published a list of financial grades for private nonprofit colleges and universities. The grades were on a curve -- Forbes didn’t hand out any F’s -- and drew from IPEDS data. The grades were based on nine different components, including some used by the federal government, like the primary reserve ratio.

A new set of grades hasn’t been published in two years because the vice president and assistant managing editor in charge of the project, Matt Schifrin, has been busy with other priorities. But he’d like to publish a new set of grades in the future.

The grades drew some emails from college finance offices, Schifrin said. When they were first published, some were upset with poor ratings.

Higher ed associations also gave interviews criticizing them for various reasons: because they relied on the limited IPEDS database, because they didn’t make use of audited financial statements and saying they might even do more harm than good.

But some colleges were soon touting the fact that they earned high grades. Now, Schifrin gets emails from chief financial officers asking when a new list will be published.

“I can’t say there were huge objections,” Schifrin said. “It was more like we were putting out something that these college financial officers know. We were putting it out publicly.”

Those who know what to look for probably already have a good idea of the colleges and universities that are in financial trouble. It’s often institutions that are starting to spend more than they collect, said Robert Zemsky, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education.

“It turns out this is not rocket science,” Zemsky said.

Colleges that are in trouble know it themselves, added Zemsky, who is an author of an upcoming book, The College Stress Test (Johns Hopkins University Press), on market stress affecting colleges and universities, due out in February 2020.

But it's hard to talk about financial stress in the current climate, and higher education hasn't developed a way to effectively discuss the roots of its problems, Zemsky said. Colleges and universities can shout all they want about how a college education is as important as it has ever been, but that's yet to allay the public’s reservations.

So a silence has evolved within higher education. Those who do talk about the sector's challenges are in the press, Zemsky said. Higher ed officials read the coverage, grumble about what it got wrong and go back to their jobs.

“The problem is we’re in a period of time when higher education feels itself increasingly the victim,” Zemsky said. “The victim of both public policy but also public discourse. As an enterprise, it doesn’t know how to handle that.”

Image Source: Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesImage Caption: Mount Ida College closed in 2018, prompting a debate about publishing colleges' financial information. That debate has a long history beyond Mount Ida.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: 

Mathematician comes out against mandatory diversity statements, while others say they continue to be useful -- with some caveats

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 11/19/2019 - 01:00

December’s Notices of the American Mathematical Society contains a surprising column on Page 4, given that mathematicians have not been on the front lines of debates about diversity and campus speech.

The column, by Abigail Thompson, chair of math at the University of California, Davis, and one of the society’s vice presidents, says that today’s diversity statements are like the political litmus tests of the McCarthy era.

“In 1950 the Regents of the University of California required all UC faculty to sign a statement asserting that ‘I am not a member of, nor do I support any party or organization that believes in, advocates, or teaches the overthrow of the United States Government, by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional means, that I am not a member of the Communist Party,’” Thompson says. Those who refused to sign were fired.

Now, “Faculty at universities across the country are facing an echo of the loyalty oath, a mandatory ‘Diversity Statement’ for job applicants.”

The “professed purpose” of these statements is to identify candidates “who have the skills and experience to advance institutional diversity and equity goals,” Thompson wrote. But “in reality it’s a political test, and it’s a political test with teeth.”

What are the teeth, Thompson asks? Nearly all University of California campuses require that job applicants submit a “contributions to diversity” statement as a part of their application, and campuses evaluate such statements using rubrics, “a detailed scoring system.” She doesn’t name names, but says that “several UC programs have used these diversity statements to screen out candidates early in the search process.”

Thompson wrote that her thoughts are hers alone, and that math has made progress over the past decades toward becoming a “more welcoming, inclusive discipline.” Indeed, she says, “We should continue to do all we can to reduce barriers to participation in this most beautiful of fields. I am encouraged by the many mathematicians who are working to achieve this laudable aim.”

"Reasonable means" to further that goal include encouraging students from all backgrounds to study and work in math, adopting family-friendly policies and supporting junior faculty members at the beginning of their careers, she continues. But mandating diversity statements for job candidates is a “mistake, reminiscent of events of 70 years ago.”

Melissa Lutz Blouin, a spokesperson for Davis, said that at least eight of the 10 University of California campuses, including Davis, require something called a “Statement on Contributions to Diversity” from all applicants for academic positions.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion statements foster productive discussions on how current and prospective faculty can shape and improve the learning and working environment in higher education,” she added.

Thompson was not immediately available to discuss her column Monday, and she said that she hadn’t heard much feedback of any kind thus far. In private comments to Inside Higher Ed, some of her colleagues in math praised her position.

Bruce Gilley, a professor of political science at Portland State University whose course on conservative political thought was denied permanent status last year -- in part because it didn’t meet what he described as the university’s narrow diversity requirement for courses -- said he agreed with Thompson, as well.

Her concerns are those of a “bold and courageous woman daring to call out the political litmus tests of ‘diversity statements’ or ‘diversity achievements’ for what they are: a clear and present danger to academic excellence, social freedom and indeed diversity goals themselves,” Gilley said via email. “The ability of such ludicrous hiring and promotion tools to advance so far in California reflects that state’s academic monoculture and its rapid erosion as a place of scholarly excellence.”

Calling the denial of permanent status to his course a “smoking gun” for the “diversity agenda,” Gilley said what's "most alarming is that faculty for the most part have shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘Well, these are the times we live in. We need to make sure the university is a place where only progressive or radical values are welcomed.’ Anyone concerned with higher education should find such sentiments a call to action.”

Last year, Jeffrey Flier, former dean of Harvard University's medical school, tweeted his opposition to mandatory diversity statements, calling them an "affront to academic freedom" that "diminishes the true value of diversity, equity of inclusion by trivializing it.”

The American Association of University Professors, which spoke out against McCarthyism as a threat to academic freedom, hasn’t taken any position on diversity statements. Its statement on ensuring academic freedom in politically controversial academic decisions does say that all academic personnel decisions, including new appointments and renewals, “should rest on considerations that demonstrably pertain to the effective performance of the academic's professional responsibility.”

The AAUP has weighed in on the question of diversity, generally, in recent admissions-related lawsuits, taking the position that "a diverse student body is essential to the educational objectives of colleges and universities." And so his organization has recognized diversity as connected to education, said Hans-Joerg Tiede, senior program officer and researcher at the AAUP. For that reason, he said, it might not consider Thompson's comparison between diversity statements and political loyalty oaths "entirely apt."

Truth in Advertising?

Not all institutions, of course, require diversity statements. But those that do often promote diversity and inclusion as values, meaning that these statements can be a form of truth in advertising. That is, colleges and universities that ask applicants for diversity statements will probably ask them to work toward diversity and inclusion as employees.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, for instance, mentions connectedness, inclusion and diversity throughout its mission and vision statements. It also requires faculty applicants to submit diversity statements. But Autumn Reed, assistant vice provost for faculty affairs, said, “My stance is that I don’t even like to call them diversity statements. The language we use is statements on commitment to inclusive excellence in higher education.” Such wording moves the discussion away from embodied characteristics of diversity to issues of pedagogical diversity and even diversity of perspective and thought, she added.

Quoting Thompson, Reed said that “political litmus test” is also a particularly “harsh way to put it.” There are simply “certain things that matter to certain institutions,” she said, and UMBC cares about applicants’ ability and desire to contribute to what it calls redefining excellence. Even outside academe, certain institutions have core values, she said. And, perhaps especially in academe, applicants aren’t just applying for a job, they’re applying to be “part of a community,” or even a “lifestyle.”

Beyond applicant statements, UMBC has a faculty committee that consults search committees on inclusive practices. The university also requires diversity hiring plans from search committees that involve thinking about the composition of search committees and members’ roles and responsibilities, job ad wording and active recruitment strategies that broaden and diversify candidate pools across a number of dimensions.

"You can’t argue that you’ve hired the best candidate if you haven’t heard from the best talent out there," Reed said.

Diversity in Math

Some fields are more diverse than others. Math historically isn’t one of them. But some departments and institutions are working to change that. Lafayette College’s math department, for instance, has long worked to promote an inclusive culture based on the understanding that math is a gateway to many other fields in the sciences, technology and engineering.

Chawne Kimber, chair of math at the college, said the department’s open-door policy and generally welcoming environment for students is one of the reasons she wanted to work there at the start of her career. The department has made specific pedagogical strides toward inclusiveness, as well. It has for many years offered a workshop-style calculus course taught in what’s called the Treisman model, developed by Uri Treisman at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1980s.

Lafayette’s class meets five times per week, with lectures three times a week and workshops twice. First-year students who intend to major in math-intensive fields are recruited based on placement tests. Kimber teaches the workshops, which involve collaborative problem solving. But she also talks to students about “how to be organized, how to take notes, what are office hours -- things that they don’t necessarily think about in high school, and maybe they haven’t been in a position to know what college was all about before they got here.”

Kimber’s department just recently started offering another on-ramp to calculus for students who plan to major in less math-intensive STEM fields. It’s based on more remedial and background content than the workshop-style class, but it also uses best practices in active learning and inclusive pedagogies. It, too, includes discussions designed to “open the hidden rule book about college that some first-generation students might not know.”

In general, said Kimber, “We don’t want to be the obstacle to what students want to study. We want to open the gate instead of making them climb over it.”

STEM across Lafayette values inclusion; it’s opening a new Hanson Center for Inclusive STEM Education, for instance. And yes, Lafayette requires diversity statements. The math department is currently looking for a statistician, and its directions for applicants say candidates "should address in their applications how their teaching, scholarship, and/or service will support Lafayette’s commitment to diversity and inclusion as articulated in the college’s diversity statement."

Kimber said that faculty candidates in math and statistics have, in her experience, “mixed ability" to answer such a prompt, if they remember to do so at all. And so the department doesn’t automatically rule out anyone who doesn’t include a statement. If candidates are “otherwise compelling,” Kimber said, “then we'd give them an opportunity to talk about it in a preliminary phone or Skype interview.”

Lafayette’s diversity statement policy took effect, and Kimber said she’s read about 1,000 applications since then. Her insights include some interesting critiques. More affluent institutions tend to train graduate students to write them, raising questions of privilege, for instance. Some statements read as “boilerplate or a checklist of hot terminology,” Kimber also said. And sometimes a lack of statement “can sometimes just be a symptom of the terrible job market for professors in mathematics,” in that applicants are using automated job sites to apply to as many places as possible.

In any case, Kimber said that “all departments weigh this diversity factor differently.” Hers allows “for a variety of venues for a candidate to demonstrate that the are active, aware or educable.”

Anecdotally, she said, some newer colleagues across campus have responded positively to being asked to write such a statement. And most of the math faculty was hired prior to the requirement. Yet in “an unwritten way, we have always carried this value into the search process for new colleagues," Kimber said. "This prompt only helps uncover the intangible signs earlier in the process.”

 

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Annual report puts spotlight on attacks on students, scholars and higher education institutions worldwide

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 11/19/2019 - 01:00

Violent attacks on student expression globally. Political tensions boiling over onto campuses in worrying ways in India. Increasing pressures on academic and personal freedoms in China, and new pressures in Brazil. Continuing prosecutions of faculty in Turkey. The use of lethal force to squash dissent among students and faculty protestors in Sudan.

These were a few of the key themes and topics highlighted in Scholars at Risk’s "Free to Think" report, the fifth in an annual series of reports on attacks on higher education institutions and the students, faculty and staff who make up these institutions worldwide.

The report from the Academic Freedom Monitoring Project at Scholars at Risk, a network of more than 500 higher education institutions that assists in securing academic placements abroad for threatened scholars, is based on the organization’s analysis of 324 reported attacks on higher education institutions or their students or personnel across 56 countries that took place between Sept. 1, 2018, and Aug. 31 of this year.

Categories of attacks identified by SAR include violent attacks, killings and disappearances; cases of wrongful imprisonment or persecutions; cases of loss of academic position or expulsion from study; and travel restrictions preventing the movement of scholars and students across borders.

Of the most serious category of attacks, those involving physical violence, Scholars at Risk reported 97 violent incidents in 40 countries, which resulted in deaths of at least 32 students, staff, campus security personnel and others, with many more injured.

These included coordinated attacks by nonstate actors and groups on institutions, in several cases involving explosives, in Afghanistan, Ecuador, Sudan, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Yemen, as well as seemingly targeted attacks on individual students and scholars. For example, Khalid Hameed, a professor of English at Pakistan’s Government Sadiq Egerton College, was killed in March, allegedly by a student in apparent retaliation for the professor’s role in organizing a coeducational event.

The report also includes a heavy focus on attacks on student activism and protest, which account for more than 100 of the incidents analyzed in the report and span a large number of countries. SAR reports that violent responses to student expression by state or private security forces led to at least nine student deaths and more injuries during the reporting period. In addition, more than 280 students were arrested, detained or prosecuted for their activism, frequently on grounds related to terrorism, insulting the government or unlawful assembly. Higher education institutions have also suspended, expelled or imposed other disciplinary sanctions on students for their expressive activities.

“Violent and coercive attacks on student expression are one of the most frequently occurring subsets of incidents reported by the monitoring project,” the “Free to Think” report states. “This year, hundreds of students were killed, injured, arrested, or subjected to other coercive force by state and non-state perpetrators in connection with their expressive activity. Such attacks threaten the future of strong, nonviolent student movements, which are important to understanding contemporary issues and to the development of future leaders.”

Other themes and topics highlighted in the “Free to Think” report include:

Violent clashes on Indian campuses involving both rival student groups and off-campus actors. “National political tensions in India have manifested in numerous incidents on campus,” the report states. “In a number of cases, incidents have turned violent, resulting in injuries to many students and university personnel, damage to university property, and campus closings. In addition, authorities have arrested scholars and students, both individually and en masse (with the numbers of detainees estimated in the hundreds); and several scholars and students have suffered professional or academic retaliation for critical expression. While these types of incidents are not necessarily new, the volume of attacks in India in recent years warrants a closer look at challenges facing scholars and students in the country.”

Ongoing attacks on scholars in Turkey, including the prosecutions of scholars known as Academics for Peace for their signatures on a January 2016 petition calling for a resumption of the Kurdish peace process. (In a positive development for these scholars, Turkey’s constitutional court ruled in a 9-to-8 verdict in July that prosecutions of 10 of the signatories on terror-related charges violated their rights.) Apart from the ongoing issues specific to the Academics for Peace, the report notes that thousands of academics in Turkey remain in a state of “civil death” -- fired from their academic positions, barred from future public employment and unable to leave the country -- after being accused of having alleged links to Fethullah Gülen, the Islamic cleric whom the Turkish government blames for a failed July 2016 coup attempt (Gülen has denied involvement).

Closures of Sudanese universities and crackdowns on protesting faculty and students. SAR reports that the Sudanese government ordered the closure of Sudanese universities in December 2018 in an attempt to quell protests of the government of former president Omar al-Bashir. Hundreds of protesters, including students and scholars, were detained or arrested. After al-Bashir's ouster, via a military takeover in April, paramilitary forces violently cracked down on protests demanding a civilian-led government. On June 9, paramilitary forces reportedly raided the University of Khartoum, resulting in deaths of four protesters and the burning of a university hospital.

A “spike” in attacks on academic freedom in China. “Over the past year, SAR has reported a spike in reported attacks on scholars and students in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) aimed at eliminating dissent and restricting the flow of ideas,” the report states. “Scholars have been arrested, prosecuted, and targeted with disciplinary measures, including dismissal, for their research, teaching, and online expression. A resurgence of student activism, not seen on the mainland since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, has been met with swift punishment by police, with a growing number of students detained and some disappeared. Meanwhile, authorities continue the mass detention of members of China’s ethnic minority communities, including many scholars and students, at so-called 're-education' camps scattered throughout the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

New threats to academic freedom in Brazil. The report also highlights what it characterizes as “significant pressures on Brazilian higher education” that increased in the lead-up to and following the October 2018 presidential election, which resulted in the election of a right-wing candidate, Jair Bolsonaro. "Free to Think" documents several incidents involving violent threats and attacks against students and faculty -- including various incidents targeting racial minority students, LGBTQ+ students and faculty who research gender studies and public policy related to policing and drug legalization -- in the lead-up to and aftermath of the election.

Daniel Munier, SAR's senior program officer for advocacy, said that SAR has received 40 requests to date from Brazilian academics for assistance, all but four of which have come in since the October 2018 presidential election.

"I don’t think we can do a good enough job emphasizing how pervasive this problem is, of attacks on higher educational communities," Munier said in an interview. "It’s truly a global problem. We’re not just seeing it in closed societies or places where you have authoritarian regimes, but we’re seeing it all over the world."

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Colleges start new programs

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 11/19/2019 - 01:00
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Chronicle of Higher Education: A College Prepares to Close Its Doors as Students and Alums Mourn — and Scheme

Marlboro College plans to move its academic programs to Emerson College, becoming the latest small New England institution to confront the realities of demographic declines, rising costs, and plumme

read more

BSBI announces new programs with CUChicago

The PIE News - Mon, 11/18/2019 - 08:24

Berlin School of Business and Innovation has announced a partnership with Concordia University Chicago that will see the introduction of two new postgraduate programs from the CUC College of Business to be delivered at the BSBI Berlin campus.

The MA in Innovation and Entrepreneurship and MBA will be awarded by CUC and the courses are set to have their first intakes in March 2020.

The program contents will range across a variety of current and relevant topics such as global marketing in the digital era, organisational behaviour, entrepreneurship and accounting for decision making.

“Germany offers a compelling landscape of opportunities for students”

Students will learn a wealth of skills that are highly sought after by employers around the world while gaining an internationally-recognised degree.

Situated in the heart of Berlin, BSBI presents a prime location for business studies with a multi-cultural environment.

Academic director at BSBI, Alexandra Gray, said CUC will undoubtedly bring expertise and innovation to the new programs.

“Studying at BSBI is ideal for those with career aspirations of becoming entrepreneurs or leaders in business.

“Germany offers a compelling landscape of opportunities for students willing to take on the challenge of studying abroad, gaining international experience and discovering a new culture,” she added.

The partnership with BSBI will see CUC bringing its programs to Europe for the first time.

Claudia Santin, dean of the College of Business at CUC, commented: “We are excited to have BSBI as a partner for our expansion in Germany.”

“[Students] will be able to study in Berlin and benefit from CUC’s business curricula, designed and taught by business leaders and professionals. We believe this partnership will help us as an institution to achieve our vision as a global university.”

Students who wish to take advantage of either one of the new programs will have access to all the services including career and student support, free German lessons and a free five-day executive education course.

The post BSBI announces new programs with CUChicago appeared first on The PIE News.

Students’ letter calls for extension of UK PSW

The PIE News - Mon, 11/18/2019 - 05:13

Student representatives of over 30 UK universities have penned an open letter to UK political parties urging them to extend recently announced post-study work rights current international students.

The UK government revealed the post-study work policy change back in September, with students graduating in the 2020/21 academic year set to benefit from the new rule.

“It is unfair for the current international students in the UK to miss out on this opportunity purely on the basis of implementation timings,” the letter addressed to all of the UK’s political parties states.

“Among the priorities that most students wanted to implement was the post-study work extension”

Ahead of the general election on December 12, the representatives from universities including London’s Goldsmiths, the University of Manchester, and the University of Bristol, have demanded an immigration system that “fights xenophobia and unfair deportations, doesn’t falsely accuse international students of malpractices and scandals and is accessible, friendly and welcoming”.

Along with extending PSW rights, the letter outlines four other challenges that make international students feel unwelcome in the UK.

NHS surcharges of £400 should be abolished, while international graduates should be exempt from minimum salary thresholds if they choose to stay in the UK to work following graduation, the group added.

UK political parties should also commit to student exchange programs, including “the Erasmus schemes, cross-border study in Ireland, supporting inward and outward student mobility and ensuring that the UK higher and further education institutions have access to research funding equivalent to the EU funding”.

Additionally, the group requests that the privatisation of visa services be abolished.

“Following the recent privatisation of the visa services following the partnership with Sopra Steria, a number of our international students have not only experienced poor services, time delays in obtaining visas but also excessive rise in visa charges,” the letter reads.

Parties must ensure students “do not pay excessively for their visas and are provided timely and quality service”.

“Among the priorities that most students wanted to implement was the post-study work extension,” former international students’ officer at Manchester Students’ Union, Riddi Viswanathan, told The PIE News.

“When [current students] applied, they didn’t have to pay NHS surcharges and were told [they] were included in our fees.

“Are we cash cows? “That is the rhetoric we share.”

Additionally, students find it difficult to extend their visas – it is both time-consuming and costly, Viswanathan said.

Released on International Students’ Day, the 32 letter signees highlighted the contributions of the UK’s international student community.

“In addition to contributing… £20 billion to the UK economy…. a single cohort of international students can contribute £3.2 billion through income taxes and National insurance to the UK over 10 years,” they wrote.

The post Students’ letter calls for extension of UK PSW appeared first on The PIE News.

Chronicle of Higher Education: 3 Foundations Join Forces to Support Black Colleges

$3 million in donations will help Morehouse and Spelman Colleges and Prairie View A&M University attract and support professors.  

'Open Doors' data show continued increase in numbers of Americans studying abroad

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 11/18/2019 - 01:00

A total of 341,751 students studied abroad for credit in 2017-18, representing a 2.7 percent increase from the previous academic year, according to the annual "Open Doors" report, published by the Institute of International Education with funding from the U.S. Department of State.

The number of students studying abroad has grown steadily over the last 25 years. IIE estimates that about 10.9 percent of all undergraduates (including community college students), and 16 percent of all students enrolled in baccalaureate programs, study abroad at some point during their degree program.

Dip in Enrolled International Students
The number of undergraduate, graduate
and nondegree students fell by
1.3 percent in 2018-19, while those
in optional practical training grew. Read
more here.

The profile of students studying abroad has also grown more racially diverse, even if it does not yet reflect the diversity of American higher education. In 2017-18, 30 percent of students studying abroad were nonwhite, compared to 18 percent a decade prior. Nationally, about 44 percent of all undergraduate students are nonwhite.

The gender breakdown of students studying abroad remains skewed toward female participation. About two-thirds (67 percent) of all students studying abroad in 2017-18 were women, a percentage that has increased slightly over the past decade, from 65.1 percent in 2007-08.

More than a quarter (25.6 percent) of all students studying abroad are studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, while slightly more than a fifth (20.8 percent) study business. Another 17.1 percent are studying social sciences, 7.1 percent foreign languages and international studies, 6.8 percent fine or applied arts, 5.5 percent communications or journalism, 3.6 percent humanities, 3.3 percent education, and 1.5 percent legal studies and law enforcement. Another 6.7 percent are studying other fields and 1.9 percent have not declared a field of study.

A little less than two-thirds -- 64.6 percent -- of students studying abroad study abroad for short-term programs, defined as either summer programs or programs of eight weeks or fewer. Another third (33.1 percent) study on midlength programs lasting a quarter or a semester, while just 2.3 percent study abroad for a full academic or calendar year. The proportions of students studying on short-term versus midlength or long-term programs stayed the same from 2016-17 to 2017-18.

More than half of all students studying abroad (54.9 percent) study in Europe. The number studying in Europe increased by 3.5 percent in 2017-18 compared to the year before.

The number of students studying in the second-most-popular destination, Latin America, decreased by 1.4 percent, but that decrease is entirely attributable to a 46.5 percent drop in the number of students studying in Cuba (although study abroad to Cuba is still permitted, President Trump began rolling back Obama-era regulations that ease travel to Cuba in early 2017).

Without the decline in students going to Cuba, the proportion studying in Latin America and the Caribbean would have increased by 3.1 percent.

There were decreases in the number of students studying abroad in Asia (-0.6 percent) and Antarctica (-78.3 percent), while there were increases in the numbers going to Oceania (+0.4 percent), sub-Saharan Africa (+7.3 percent), the Middle East and North Africa (+4.4 percent), and elsewhere in North America (+9 percent).

The top six individual country destinations -- the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Ireland -- are all in Western Europe, with Ireland having newly surpassed China for the No. 6 slot. The number of American students going to the leading destination, the United Kingdom, dropped by 1.1 percent, while the number going to Italy increased by 4.5 percent, to Spain by 3.8 percent and to France by 4.4 percent. The number going to Germany decreased by 2.7 percent, while the number going to Ireland increased by 4.1 percent.

The number of students going to China, now in the No. 7 slot, declined by 2.5 percent. Rounding out the list of top 25 destinations for Americans studying abroad are, in order, Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, South Africa, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Greece, Denmark, Ecuador, India, the Netherlands, Peru, South Korea, New Zealand, Argentina, Israel, Austria and Chile.

There were double-digit changes in the percentages of students going to Japan (+12.4 percent), Greece (+20 percent), India (-15.3 percent), the Netherlands (+15.4 percent), Argentina (+11.2 percent) and Israel (+11.9 percent).

The "Open Doors" data only reflect students who study abroad for academic credit. A total of 441 institutions reported that an additional 38,401 American students participated in noncredit internships, volunteering and research abroad.

Leading Institutions for Study Abroad Enrollment, by Institution Type and Duration

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