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CUNY joins InStride to offer online credentials through employer tuition benefit programs

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 01:00

To attract and retain employees in a tight labor market, companies are ramping up tuition benefit programs for their workers. And a growing number of colleges and universities are seeking to partner with these employers to offer online degree programs to millions of potential students.

Many are working with intermediaries like Guild Education to tap into this market, which is fueled by as much an estimated $28 billion in annual corporate spending.

The City University of New York is the latest entrant, announcing earlier this month that it will partner with InStride, a relatively new arrival to the employer education benefit space. The company serves as a broker between universities and companies, helping to manage tuition benefit programs while offering employees online credentials and courses from ASU Online and a small network of other universities. InStride is compensated by its corporate partners.

CUNY officials said the goal for the large system, which enrolls many low-income students, is to expand its online education footprint with career-boosting degree programs for employees of both regionally based and global companies. The system enrolls about 27,000 students in its online programs, which CUNY described as an “engine of equity and access.”

A 2019 survey found that 63 percent of employers offer some form of college tuition assistance benefit to their workers. Part of the draw is that companies get a federal tax benefit of up to $5,250 in annual tuition benefits for each participating employee.

The CUNY School of Professional Studies is taking the lead in the partnership with InStride.

“We aspire to be a lot bigger, and CUNY wants to be more involved online,” said John Mogulescu, founding dean of the School of Professional Studies and a senior university dean for academic affairs. Mogulescu helped create CUNY’s Guttman Community College and its acclaimed ASAP program, through which students are required to attend college full-time while receiving a wide range of supports.

He said employer-subsidized tuition benefit programs are particularly well suited to the estimated 800,000 people in New York City (and many more in the region) who previously attended college but failed to earn a degree.

“This is all about giving the opportunity to workers to come back to college,” said Mogulescu.

He cited the employee tuition assistance program Starbucks created with Arizona State University in 2014 as a model CUNY wanted to pursue. Roughly 12,000 Starbucks employees currently are enrolled in ASU’s online programs, and 3,500 have graduated so far. InStride said those graduates on average have been promoted much faster than their peers.

“This is something we had to do,” Mogulescu said, “and it’s consistent with CUNY’s mission.”

The university decided to go with an intermediary to develop its relationship with big employers, in part because CUNY leaders felt InStride could quickly establish high-quality partnership pathways while leaving the curriculum to CUNY.

“Colleges don’t have the money, the talent, to build these platforms,” said Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation and a former official at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Also appealing to CUNY, Mogulescu said, was InStride’s pledge to limit its university partners to what the company called a small “curated” group of “leading global academic institutions.” InStride's high-tech platform for helping to administer employer tuition benefit programs, which it said cost tens of millions of dollars to develop, also was a benefit.

“It’s not that we’re not interested in working with employers ourselves,” said Mogulescu. He added that InStride is “very single-minded” about what it offers, in contrast to online program management firms, which tend to manage much of online degree tracks for colleges.

“This is not an OPM. This is not taking over all aspects of what we do” online, he said. “They seemed very smart to us.”

A growing number of universities are trying to develop online degree pathways for employees, particularly for regional companies where the university’s name carries weight, said Josh Pierce, CEO of Acadeum, which offers online courses through a consortium of colleges.

One driver is worries about a coming demographic cliff, which projects declines of traditional-age college students.

“This is a system that’s running extremely tight,” Pierce said of the current postsecondary market. “It makes sense for CUNY and other bigger players with good brands that need to expand.”

A Rising Tide?

Arizona State University created InStride last year as a spin-off company. The public benefit corporation is mostly owned by the Rise Fund, a $4 billion investment fund focused on social impact.

The unusually structured InStride joined Guild in the employer benefits broker space.

Guild, which is privately held and recently valued at $1 billion, works with Walmart, the Walt Disney Company, Discover, Chipotle and other large corporate partners. Guild’s higher education partners are eight nonprofit institutions, including Southern New Hampshire University, Brandman University, the University of Arizona, Purdue Global University and UF Online, the University of Florida’s online program.

While InStride and Guild have gotten lots of hype, they’re not the first to serve as intermediaries between colleges and employer tuition benefits. EdAssist Solutions, Edcor and others have run much larger, similar programs for decades.

Edcor, for example, works with UPS and other large companies, offering degree programs through partnerships with a wide range of accredited colleges. Under the company’s model, like other intermediaries, employees get tuition discounts for enrolling in academic programs in the college partner network.

The overall demand for employer tuition benefits is expanding, said Sara Van Wagoner, Edcor’s vice president of corporate growth, citing across-the-board growth for the company.

“Health care has exploded,” she said. “That is at least a third of [the] client base now.”

Online programs in health care are a priority for CUNY in its new partnership with InStride. CUNY offers certificates, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing, for example, including online programs for nurses with associate degrees to earn a four-year credential.

InStride’s early focus is on health care, information technology, retail, financial services and travel and hospitality, said Vivek Sharma, the company’s CEO.

Sharma said InStride’s model relies on having a firm grasp of the specific needs of employers, with a priority on offering “life-changing credentials” to their workers.

“We start with the business objectives of our leading corporate partners,” he said. “That’s what makes our programs sticky.”

InStride currently works with 30 companies, including Aramark and Prime Communications, a large AT&T retailer.

A small portion of employees tend to take advantage of tuition benefit programs. About 40 percent of responding companies said just 2 percent or fewer of their employees use the benefits, according to the 2019 survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. Another 26 percent said 3 to 5 percent of their employees take advance of college tuition assistance programs.

That could change, said Van Wagoner, as a growing number of companies are promoting their programs more heavily and offering them to part-time employees.

InStride’s ambition is global. Its first university partner beyond ASU was the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Since then it has signed agreements with two institutions in Mexico and one in Ireland.

Domestically, InStride also has partnered with Harvard Business School Online. Sharma said new partner announcements are in the works.

For the company’s model to really take off, Pierce said InStride will have to continue to spread out in its role of travel agent for prospective students who work for big employers.

“The students still need to want to have that brand,” he said.

Oates, however, thinks the growing urgency from employers to attract and train entry-level talent will create a rising tide for InStride and the other intermediaries with higher education.

“They’re desperate for talent now,” she said. “They are starting to feel the pain in their productivity.”

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Louisville reverses decision on anti-LGBTQ pamphleteer

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 01:00

In a swift reversal of a free speech policy it staunchly defended just a week ago, the University of Louisville has ordered a student who distributed anti-gay literature at a LGBTQ Studies course to have no more contact with the professor of the course or the students enrolled.

University administrators initially responded to the incident, which left LGBTQ students and the professor feeling targeted, by citing state law and university policy that prohibits public institutions from limiting students' free speech rights. As result, university administrators said they could not prevent students from entering buildings or classrooms on campus to express themselves as long as they did not disrupt a class in session. The university was also following the guidance of its attorneys, who said the pamphlets the student distributed did not classify as hate speech, said John Karman, director of media relations.

The unnamed student, who was not enrolled in the class, distributed the material on Jan. 28 before the class had begun and then waited outside the class once it was in session, according to news reports. The incident was reported to administrators, who met with the student and said he was free to return and distribute more pamphlets to the class.

It's unclear what has changed since the representatives of the office of the dean of students met with the student and made the original determination. Karman declined to provide more detail. What is clear is that its reversal has left many people on and off the campus puzzled.

While members and supporters of the LGBTQ community on campus were pleased, Martin Cothran, spokesperson for the Kentucky Family Foundation, a statewide conservative organization that supports the student's action, criticized university administrators for “buckling to the pressure of a particular privileged ideological group on campus.” His organization does not support gay marriage rights.

Ricky Jones, chair of the Pan-African studies department, who wrote a searing opinion piece criticizing the university’s decision last week, said he was happy with the university's reversal.

“I can’t speak to what made them change their mind,” he said. “We argued from the beginning against the fundamental stance that this was a free speech issue … We never said that the student couldn’t pass out the materials; we made the argument that him returning to that class was unnerving and odd.”

University president Neeli Bendapudi and other administrators met with the students in the class and their professor on Feb. 6 and told them there was very little the university could do “without inciting legal pushback,” said Charlotte Haydon, a trans woman who is a student in the class. Bendapudi seemed “earnest in her feelings of regret that things weren’t handled as well as she would’ve liked,” Haydon said.

Administrators then met with Kaila Story, who teaches the LGBTQ Studies course, on Feb. 12 and offered to issue a no-contact order instructing the student pamphleteer to stay away from the class and the students, said Jones, who got involved in the incident because Story has a joint appointment in his department.

“When he targeted a class in that way and shared an intention to return, we saw that at the beginning as something different,” said Jones, referencing the “hundreds” of campus shootings that have taken place across the U.S. “We saw that as a risk.”

Jones believes the incident crossed the line of free expression and into the territory of threatening behavior, because the student had a clear intent to return to the class. The student shared this intent with student affairs officials, who, according to Jones, allegedly told the student he could return to the class and distribute more pamphlets as long as he gave the professor 48 hours' notice. Karman, the university spokesman, said he could not confirm this agreement was ever made.

Free speech on Kentucky’s college campuses is governed by a 2019 law that emphasizes the right of students and faculty members to express whatever viewpoint they choose without the restrictions of “free speech zones.” The university's Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities does say students and organizations “must not in any way interfere with the proper functioning of the university” and that the university “reserves the right to make reasonable restrictions as to time, place, and manner of the student demonstrations.”

(2/2) Thank you from the bottom & top of my heart. Your support, solidarity & advocacy has meant everything to me. Thank you fearless leader!! Love you!!

— Kaila Adia Story (@DoctressStory) February 13, 2020

The university will continue to keep a police officer stationed outside the class for the remainder of the semester, Karman said.

Ariana Valasquez, president of the Louisville chapter of the Young Democrats, a student organization, said in a statement that the university is responsible for upholding free speech but also for protecting students from harm.

“The protection and safety of the students, as well as the institution of a healthy learning environment, is important to a functioning university that promotes academic discourse in a safe space,” the statement said. “When the academic boundaries of trust and safety are threatened, the university can not provide a safe space for academic discourse.”

A student showing up to a class with a differing opinion does not constitute a safety risk, said Cothran, of the Kentucky Family Foundation,

“Our concern here is that the university might be considering alternative ideas as safety threats,” he said. “That itself is a threat to the free exchange of ideas.”

The no-contact order officially stands between the student who distributed pamphlets and the class itself, Karman said.

Louisville’s Code of Student Conduct lists “restriction of contact with specific students, faculty and staff” as a sanction for an array of conduct violations, such as disruption of normal university processes and harassment. The legality of the no-contact rule depends “significantly on who the student is prohibited from contacting and the basis on which the order is imposed,” said Adam Steinbaugh, director of the individual rights defense program for FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

“If it's to prevent disruption of a particular class, that may be enforceable,” Steinbaugh wrote in an email. “But if it’s not narrowly tailored to directly advance the university's interests in a nondisruptive learning environment, it may present First Amendment problems.”

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Indian government opens up market for online higher education

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 01:00

The government of India is for the first time allowing universities to offer fully online degrees -- a change that could reshape education delivery in the country while blowing open the door to a previously limited market for U.S.-based online education services companies.

For many years, Indian universities and colleges were not permitted to offer more than 20 percent of a degree online, in part because of concerns about quality and limited mechanisms for oversight and regulation. Now, as part of a push to widen access to higher education and raise the profile of Indian institutions globally, restrictions on online learning are starting to lift.

For U.S.-based online education platforms, the news is a welcome shift. Massive open online education providers Coursera and edX both say they hope to increase their existing presence in India and partner more deeply with institutions there.

The government’s approach to online learning is, however, still cautious. Only the top 100 institutions in India’s National Institutional Ranking Framework can apply to offer fully online degrees, and the subject areas are restricted. There will be no online medical or law degrees from the country's universities in the foreseeable future.

At the launch of India’s 2020-21 budget last month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman spoke about the need to make India’s young people more employable through better higher education opportunities.

“By 2030, India is set to have the largest working-age population in the world. Not only do they need literacy, they need both job and life skills,” Sitharaman said. The government is currently working on a new national education policy, which Sitharaman said would be published soon.

A draft version of the policy outlines the important role online learning could play in reforming India’s education system and expanding access to higher education. The policy encourages Indian institutions not only to develop their own online programs, but also to recognize and award credit for online programs offered by foreign institutions. The policy proposes that some foreign institutions may be invited to operate in India -- something the country has long resisted.

In her speech, Sitharaman acknowledged that foreign investment in India’s education sector is needed to “attract talented teachers, innovate and build better labs.”

Currently, around 25 percent of students graduating from high school in India go on to pursue higher education. The Indian government wants that figure to reach 50 percent by 2035 -- doubling the country’s college and university enrollment from its current base of around 35 million students.

India has thousands of colleges and universities, but few have the campus facilities or resources to accommodate a 50 percent increase in students over the next 15 years. With no financial support to build new facilities or open new universities, enrolling students online seems the logical solution to boost capacity. But few institutions have staff who are experienced in launching online programs, and that has education service providers eyeing the subcontinent's educational landscape eagerly.

"It's a high-focus market for us," said Raghav Gupta, managing director of India and the Asia-Pacific region for Coursera. "We're thinking about how we can serve the market better. We see online education in India as a large opportunity."

Discussions about allowing universities to offer online degrees began a few years ago, but progress has been relatively slow, Gupta said. Last month, seven universities were granted approval to offer fully online programs. Gupta described these institutions as “early movers” in the online education space.

Amity University, a not-for-profit private institution with campuses across India, is launching 24 online programs, including six bachelor’s degrees and four master’s degrees. The rest are postgraduate certificate programs. Amity was the only institution to announce the launch of more than three programs. Whether the small number of programs launched by the other institutions is a reflection of their limited capacity or perhaps some trepidation about entering the online market is unclear.

Allowing universities to offer fully online programs is a significant announcement, as it will lead to “true democratization of higher education in India,” said Amit Goyal, country head of India and Southeast Asia for edX, a nonprofit.

Fully online degrees can increase enrollment and completion, while at the same time reducing barriers to entry, Goyal said. Both Gupta and Goyal predict that online degrees will likely be offered at lower cost than face-to-face programs and will likely appeal to working adults who don’t have the time to pursue a traditional on-campus degree. An online Indian degree could also be attractive to students in South Asia, Africa or the Middle East, Gupta said.

Currently most degrees in India are offered by a single institution over two to four years. Goyal thinks the landscape could become a lot more modular, with students taking courses for credit from multiple institutions around the world. This model will encourage global partnerships, but a key challenge that will continue to face education providers will be producing job-ready graduates, he said.

Both Coursera and edX already reach millions of students in India. Coursera offers courses from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta and the Indian School of Business. But many more institutions are looking to move online, Gupta said. Coursera for Campus, a platform that enables institutions to create online programs, has recently been adopted by six Indian institutions, he said.

Goyal reports that several Indian universities are starting to integrate edX courses into their core curriculum. He said one large institution recently agreed to integrate edX MicroBachelors and MicroMasters programs into their on-campus IT and computer application degrees. Both platforms have also worked with employers in India to upskill current and future employees.

“Our business model and core offering will remain as is. However, we foresee a high number of blended learning or integrated degree partnerships with institutions in India,” said Goyal.

Though students and working adults in India have embraced short online courses and certificates, it remains to be seen how many will be willing to study toward a degree online amid concerns about quality and employer recognition. It's still relatively easy to buy a fake degree certificate in India, and there are dozens of unaccredited institutions still in operation.

India's University Grants Commission is responsible for validating the new online degrees and has stated it will not accept any compromises on quality.

"Industries are no longer interested in vanilla degrees, as they want professionals with relevant skills and knowledge. The online curriculum will have to be of high quality to make the students job-ready, otherwise the increase in enrollment will serve no purpose," said Bhushan Patwardhan, vice chairman of the University Grants Commission in a recent Times of India article.

Patwardhan acknowledges, however, that work will need to be done to change attitudes toward online learning.

"For these online programs to gain academic validity, the mind-set of the society must change," he said.

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Florida tells professors not to exclude students because of coughs

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 01:00

The University of Florida has said that faculty members may not exclude students from class because of fears they have coronavirus.

No one at the university has been reported to have the virus, but at least one professor was trying to exclude students from his course because of coughing. (Florida is currently experiencing the flu.)

The university's provost, Joseph Glover, sent this notice to deans and department chairs:

"We are aware that some instructors have asked students who are showing visible cold- or flu-like symptoms to leave class and return with a letter from the Student Health Care Center confirming that they do not have coronavirus. Please remind your instructors that no cases of coronavirus have been reported at UF or elsewhere in Alachua County and that this area has not been identified as an area of public health concern by the CDC. While instructors are encouraged to care for their students and their health, please inform your instructors that they are not to excuse a student from class to confirm they are free of the coronavirus."

The message included a link to an update provided by the university's health center director that no cases were reported at the university.

Churchill Roberts, a professor at Florida who is active in the faculty union, the United Faculty of Florida, said via email that he was "shocked" to learn that some faculty had ordered students to be checked for the virus before returning to class.

"First of all, there have been no reported cases of the virus in Gainesville or at the University of Florida. Secondly, it’s flu season, and a number of students show symptoms of various stages of the flu. A student in my class who had what was likely the flu missed a three-hour class session week before last but returned to class this past week -- still exhibiting some symptoms," he said. "Also, faculty aren’t trained to be medical police. If they suspect a student is ill and possibly contagious, they should report the matter to their department chair so that someone in administration can decide upon a course of action."

Roberts also said he was worried "that singling out particular students could be seen as a form of racial profiling. I can’t say for sure because I don’t know any of the students who were affected, but I can envision a scenario in which students of Asian descent who have a cough and/or cold might be asked to leave the classroom to be tested, whereas non-Asian students with a cough and/or cold might go unnoticed."

Rudy Fichtenbaum, a professor of economics at Wright State University and national president of the American Association of University Professors, asked via email about the situation, agreed with the university.

"As it happens my brother is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Cincinnati, and I consulted him regarding your question. His response was that asking students to leave class and not come back until they have been tested is wrong and hysteria and likely discriminatory. In his view, no steps should be taken unless the health department or a health official calls on faculty to take some action," he said.

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Warning signs of Concordia University Portland's closure, which now stretches across states, higher education and Lutheran Synod

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 01:00

In December 2012, Concordia University, in Portland, Ore., hosted a presentation for its bondholders in which it spelled out what it saw as a changing higher education landscape.

A market would persist for traditional 18-year-old high school graduates, the presentation said. But private colleges and universities' long-term sustainability depended on their ability to “strategically expand into areas that fulfill their mission, provide high margin return, and leverage their existing infrastructure.”

The presentation went on to spell out three initiatives already under way that would position Concordia to survive this changing future. One was a law school it had launched in Boise, Idaho, that fall. Another was a pilot program newly launched in homeland security that it hoped to scale up quickly. And the third was a massive expansion of online graduate education.

“While the marketplace is significant, the ability to effectively and economically market and recruit remains a challenge,” the presentation said. “Concordia University delivered its Masters Degree in Education in an online format for over 10 years with some success, but needed large critical mass.”

Two years prior, in 2010, the university had partnered with a third-party service provider with marketing and recruitment expertise. Enrollment went on to double each year, jumping from 350 students in 2010 to 700 in 2011 and about 1,400 in 2012. Looking forward, leaders expected to enroll 2,500 students in 2013.

By all accounts, Concordia was massively successful in the ensuing years. Total enrollment more than doubled from over 3,000 students in 2012 to more than 7,400 in 2014, according to federal data. Much of that growth was among graduate students, where enrollment spiked from about 1,700 students to more than 6,000. Enrollment of adults aged 25 to 64 went from about 1,100 in 2011 to 3,697 in 2014.

Fast-forward several years to this week, and Concordia shocked the Portland area and many of its own students by announcing that it will close at the end of the spring semester. A statement from the institution said the university’s board decided to close after “years of mounting financial challenges” and a changing landscape for education.

“After much prayer and consideration of all options to continue Concordia University-Portland’s 115-year legacy, the Board of Regents concluded that the university’s current and projected enrollment and finances make it impossible to continue its educational mission,” Thomas Ries, the university’s interim president, said in a statement Monday. “We have come to the decision this is in the best interest of our students, faculty, staff and partners.”

In the ensuing days, the university revealed to a state agency that its closure will result in more than 1,500 people being terminated from their jobs between Feb. 25 and Sept. 30.

Students were not pleased. Some joined a class-action lawsuit seeking tuition refunds because they believe they were misled about the university’s financial condition. On Thursday, students staged a walkout and then a sit-in of the president’s office, charging that the university failed in its responsibility to protect students, staff and faculty and demanding the release of financial records.

Observers in Portland and across the country were surprised by the Concordia Portland announcement -- both because it came suddenly and because the university’s leaders shared little additional information about the circumstances that contributed.

The university also had few details to provide to students about where they could finish their degrees. When it announced its closure, a website answering student questions said little about firm teach-out or transfer plans, stating that “Each situation is unique, and our advising team is available to ensure your transition is supported” and that “Students may also choose to transfer to another school of their choice.” Later in the week, news surfaced that the Portland university’s accelerated nursing program would be absorbed into a separate sister Concordia University in St. Paul.

A spokeswoman for Concordia University Portland did not make any administrators available for comment and declined to answer a list of 14 detailed questions about the university’s enrollment, finances and relationship with the Concordia University system and different Lutheran Church organizations to which it is related.

“Thanks for reaching out and following up,” the spokeswoman, Liz Loulan, said in an email. “We have shared all of the information available to date. We are now highly focused on helping our faculty, staff and students with their transition plans. Let’s reconnect in a few weeks when we have more information.”

Those involved in higher education in Portland and across the country continue to wonder about the unfolding situation at Concordia. Some clues can be found. And a Thursday report raised questions about whether the university's conservative parent organization tied financial help to changing a campus resource center for gay, lesbian, trans, queer and nonbinary students.

Publicly available documents paint an incomplete picture of the university’s recent history. But they nonetheless reveal an institution that experienced massive growth by emphasizing online education, that found itself under intense federal scrutiny because of an online partner’s recruiting practices and that struggled to meet the expectations of its bondholders. Almost everyone who will speak about the university -- including its regional accreditor -- claims surprise that the end came so suddenly.

In that way, Concordia University Portland isn’t just an important story to watch in the Pacific Northwest. It’s one to watch across higher education. If this can happen to a university that grew rapidly in Portland, a burgeoning urban market, what does it mean about the future of other private liberal arts colleges showing more outward signs of stress?

Experts Surprised

In retrospect, experts were able to identify some causes for concern about Concordia University Portland from audited financial statements, other information that the federal government makes public and information the university itself had previously released. The university had experienced turnover among its administrative ranks recently. It had run deficits in two of the four most recent years for which audited financial statements are available, 2015 through 2018. In 2017, it posted a considerable loss, about $11 million, against revenue of $94 million.

Still, the university did many of the things in vogue in higher education strategy circles. It diversified its revenue, branching out from relying on full-time undergraduates and adding graduate students and online muscle over the last decade. The university was still reporting total enrollment of nearly 6,000 students. Its foundation added net assets in 2018, growing from $11.2 million to $12.1 million.

And while it may have had an interim president, that interim president was Ries, who is well respected in higher education for implementing a tuition reset while he was at Concordia University in St. Paul. Tuition resets are controversial today, but the example of Concordia in St. Paul is often held up as a successful example of the strategy.

It didn’t seem to add up to Concordia University Portland being on the brink of closure.

“It strikes me as bizarre,” said Lucie Lapovsky, an economist and former Mercy College president. “It seems to have done the sorts of things that one would think are necessary.”

In some ways, the situation at Concordia University Portland appears similar to that of another small private university that decided to close last year. Green Mountain College in Vermont had done many of the things experts recommend: carve out a niche in the market, start offering online graduate degrees and refinance debt to relieve short-term stress on the budget.

Green Mountain was much smaller than Concordia, so the comparison is far from perfect. But the parallels may suggest that some colleges and universities struggle to execute sound strategies in the face of challenges.

“The big thing that strikes me is that in higher ed, we have chased the silver bullets,” said Rick Staisloff, founder and principal of the higher ed consulting firm rpkGroup. “It raises a reminder that even if they are the right things in the moment, the moment changes. You’ve got to keep with it, and you’ve got to build the muscle and the discipline to continue looking at whether you are being responsive to the world that you now operate in.”

It may also suggest that the popular strategies aren’t enough, at least in some cases. Many colleges and universities are built on a business model that assumes annual growth in enrollment, in revenue or in both. As the economy changes and student populations change, that model may no longer work.

“This idea of sustainability is a much bigger play,” Staisloff said. “Higher ed’s capacity to think about and build sustainable business models is, quite frankly, pretty limited.”

Red Flags

Even if Concordia University Portland is not a sign of a larger problem, its last decade was marked by several causes for concern.

Concordia University Portland advertised giving financial aid to nearly all of its students, a sign it might have been struggling to draw students willing to pay full tuition.

The institution struggled to meet agreements with its bondholders multiple times. The reason it was presenting to bondholders in 2012 was that it wanted to modify a bond covenant requiring it to keep a certain debt-to-equity ratio. Then in January 2017, the university filed notice that it had failed to comply with a coverage ratio covenant. It provided a certificate indicating “non-compliance with the provisions of the agreement … which constitutes an event of default under the agreement,” documents show. It’s not clear how the university navigated those events, but bond covenants can be renegotiated in such cases.

A short time later, in the fall of 2019, the institution needed to restructure its debt, The Oregonian reported Thursday. Concordia defaulted on bond covenants with a bank and the Lutheran Church Extension Fund. The fund bought Concordia's bonds from the bank. Its parent organization, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, agreed to provide a $4 million line of credit to the university, the newspaper reported, citing synod Board of Directors minutes.

The synod board passed a resolution at a November meeting indicating it would not provide more financial help “until the university has substantively addressed the issues regarding the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center and brought its articles and bylaws back into conformity with the requirements of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,” according to the newspaper. The synod has posted documents on its website stating that "God categorically prohibits homosexuality."

When The Oregonian reported on the resolution, spokespeople for the university and synod referred its requests for comment to each other.

Signs of tension between Concordia Portland and related institutions in the Lutheran Church have appeared in the past. The university has described itself in financial statements as “operated under the auspices of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,” and the synod elects some members of the institution’s Board of Regents.

In 2017, Concordia University Portland posted a statement saying that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod asked it to consider becoming an independent Lutheran university. The university’s board decided to “move forward with an exploratory process,” the statement said.

It’s not clear how that process ended. Thursday, a spokesman for the synod disputed the idea that the university had been asked to become independent.

“The assertion that ‘In 2017, the LCMS asked Concordia-Portland to leave the Synod and become an independent university’ is incorrect,” wrote the spokesman, David Strand, in an email. “The LCMS can’t speak to any supposed ‘exploratory process’ of the Board of Regents, but I can tell you that no decision, proposal or recommendation was made by the Concordia University System or by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod regarding any significant changes at Concordia University-Portland.”

An important piece of the financial picture leading up to recent events is the university’s relationship with the Silicon Valley company it hired to operate its online graduate degree program, HotChalk Inc. A two-year U.S. Department of Education investigation into that relationship concluded in 2015, The Oregonian reported. A federal prosecutor alleged their arrangement appeared to violate laws preventing colleges from paying recruitment incentives or outsourcing more than half of any particular educational program.

The parties settled for $1 million. Under the agreement, they admitted no wrongdoing.

“To me, it appears to be a story of hubris based on online education growth,” said Phil Hill, a partner at MindWires Consulting and publisher of the blog Phil on Ed Tech. “That’s both about the school and the OPM relationship itself.”

Relationships with online program management companies have in some cases led to fantastic growth online. That addresses earlier financial and enrollment issues as new students from across the country pay tuition. Then, however, institutions sometimes believe they’re on Easy Street or at least out of the woods.

“There is no preparation or thought of, ‘What if the situation doesn’t last?’” Hill said. “The whole online market is changing. It’s no longer an ‘If you build it, they will come’ type of market for graduate programs.”

Audited financial statements show a steep drop in revenue at Concordia University Portland. In 2015, the university booked $148.4 million in revenue. Four years later, that total had declined by almost 40 percent, to $90.1 million.

One more sign of stress can be glimpsed through information revealed by the university’s regional accreditor. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities was monitoring Concordia University’s finances. It was requiring the institution to submit resource reviews, although it hadn’t placed Concordia University Portland on probation or levied any other formal sanctions against it.

“The recommendation made by the financial resources review committee said, essentially, the committee accepts,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, president of the accreditor. “But continued monitoring. And I think, really, they have been essentially saying that Concordia is headed in the right direction, but we need to continue to keep track of them.”

Concordia University Portland provided its accreditor with no advance warning, according to Ramaswamy. NWCCU did not know until days ago that the university would be closing.

“We knew they were having some potentially major changes,” he said. But those were changes like restructuring and program cuts, not closing the doors.

Picking Up the Pieces

The ramifications of the closure will be felt throughout the Portland area and beyond.

Within the Concordia University system, leaders scrambled to tell students and the public that they were separate institutions from the closing university. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod did much of the same.

“Concordia, Portland, in substantive ways, is independent from the Synod, just as the Concordia University System is a separate corporation,” said the Synod’s spokesman, Strand, in an email. “The LCMS does not manage the school or its operations. We’re not intimately familiar with its finances. And the decision to close the school came from the Portland Board of Regents, not anyone here in St. Louis.”

The synod and one of its related entities are involved, though. In addition to all the details about lending becoming public, Concordia University Portland has said its northeast Portland campus will return to the synod and the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.

The Lutheran Church Extension Fund is a separate corporate entity from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, although it is governed by the synod’s members and Board of Directors. It is tasked with providing financial resources and services to advance the synod’s mission.

The fund lent money to several Concordia universities. The Portland institution had the largest balance outstanding when the fund issued its 2019 annual report and offering circular -- $38.6 million.

Joseph Russo is senior vice president at the fund. It does not publicly share details about its loans, he said in an email.

“Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) has had a longstanding lending relationship with Concordia University-Portland,” Russo said. “We are saddened by the university’s decision to close. Concordia University-Portland reached this decision after it had conducted due diligence and determined that declining enrollment and financial problems necessitated a closure at this time in order to have the resources to finish the semester for the students and allow time for faculty and staff to consider their options going forward. LCEF did not pressure or encourage the university to reach this decision nor did LCEF call the university’s loans.”

The fund defers to the university “regarding the reasons and resources that are available related to the closure,” Russo added. He could not share some other details because of client confidentiality, he said.

Meanwhile, in Boise, Idaho, Concordia University Portland’s law school is in merger talks with other institutions. The law school, one of only two in the state, boasts of a 100 percent bar-passage rate, according to the ABA Journal.

Back in Portland, higher ed leaders pledged to help. They also wondered why Concordia didn’t reach out to make plans for students before announcing its closure. Offering a path for students and clear alternatives for them to finish their degrees would have saved them shock and pain. But that didn’t happen.

“I regret that, because, frankly, it makes higher education in general not look good to not take care of students,” said Wim Wiewel, president of Lewis & Clark University and former president of Portland State University. “Now everybody is scrambling.”

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University of Virginia clarifies all students allowed in multicultural center

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 01:00

The University of Virginia took to Twitter Wednesday to clarify: the university’s newly relocated and expanded Multicultural Student Center is open to everyone at the university.

Only a few hours earlier, a video posted on Twitter by the conservative group Young America’s Foundation and others had gone viral. In the video, a young black woman stands up in what many identified as the university’s Multicultural Student Center.

“Frankly, there are just too many white people in here, and this is a space for people of color, so just be really cognizant of the space that you’re taking up, because it does make some of us POCs uncomfortable when we see too many white people in here,” she says to the room. “There’s the whole university for a lot of y’all to be at, and there’s very few spaces for us, so keep that in mind."

The university swiftly posted a statement on Twitter.

“Earlier this month the university announced the relocation and expansion of its Multicultural Student Center as part of an effort to offer a variety of spaces that embrace and support the diversity of this institution,” it read. “In order to foster the diversity of experience and ideas that make UVA a great and good place to study and work, these centers are open to all members of the university community.”

The center had just been reopened in a new and expanded space on Feb. 6, along with the university’s LGBTQ center. A dedicated Latinx Student Center and an Interfaith Student Center were opened on the same day.

In the next 24 hours, right-wing outlets ran with the story. In the wake of increased attention, some students voiced their concerns on Twitter for the student in the video and called on the university to support and protect her. Others emphasized that she did not ask anyone to leave, only to exercise awareness. A few noted that white students did not frequent the multicultural center where it was previously located, in a basement.

How to Create a Center

When the Multicultural Student Center was created at the University of Virginia, university officials and students stressed that it was open to all.

In 2014, students from different organizations formed the Multicultural Student Center Initiative to advocate for such a space. They researched peer institutions, assessed student needs and crafted proposals. Students from ethnic minorities comprise about one-third of the undergraduate population at UVA.

The original Multicultural Student Center opened in the basement in Newcomb Hall in fall 2016, with couches and group tables. It housed the offices of the Multicultural Student Services staff. Programming was held in the space, which had a student director.

Shaun Harper, professor and executive director of the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center, said that when resources are available, creating several more specific centers for cultural groups can be preferable to one larger center.

“I am a proponent of smaller, well-resourced centers that have been thoughtfully created to serve the specific needs, experiences and cultural identities of specific groups,” he said. When resources aren’t available, a larger multicultural center is likely the best option.

“But even with a multicultural center, institutions have to exercise high degrees of intentionality in the creating of those spaces to ensure that they don’t default to an ‘All Lives Matter’ kind of space,” Harper said.

On a website for the Multicultural Student Center Initiative, since taken down, student advocates laid out their mission. The space would allow students to “meet, collaborate, and innovate.”

“We could open up an avenue for intercultural thought and dialogue to spread around the university,” the initiative said on its page in August. “This center can become a space that is not only used by minority students but also by everyone at U.Va.”

Other students who were involved in the effort emphasized that the center was meant to be open to anyone.

“We want people to be able to study, hang out and host meetings here, or reserve the space in the evening hours for events,” Catalina Pinto, the inaugural student director, said in a news release from the university. “Even though it’s called the Multicultural Center, it is absolutely open to anyone. We want to make sure everyone is welcome in this space.”

Harper said that at the hundreds of colleges and universities he has been to and studied, he has never seen one with a specific “no whites allowed” policy.

“Oftentimes white students just presume that those spaces are not for them,” he said.

But universities might be passing over a chance to intentionally involve white students in specific ways, he said.

“Colleges and universities oftentimes miss the opportunity to say to white students that this center can be a rich site for cultural learning. That if you as a white student want to learn more about the cultural histories and cultural identities and cultural assets of indigenous people, Asian American people, African American people and Latino people, that these centers can be a fruitful site for you to access that learning.”

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STEM's ongoing sex-difference debate

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 01:00

A 2018 study finding a “gender-equality paradox” in science, technology, engineering and math was controversial for obvious reasons: if there is an inverse relationship between how egalitarian a society is and how many of its women pursue STEM degrees, as the paper suggested, then maybe efforts to push girls and women into these fields are pointless.

Two years later, the study is still in dispute. And a pair of commentaries published this week in Psychological Science doesn’t seem likely to settle this particular sex-difference question.

“Women in science have been pushing back the tide of claims about women’s lack of interest and ability in STEM for decades,” reads a write-up of one of those commentaries by two of its co-authors, published in Slate. The authors, Meredith Reiches, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and Sarah S. Richardson, professor of the history of science and studies of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard University, added, “The work continues today. As we see it, the so-called gender equality paradox is a new entry in an old playbook of arguing that biological sex differences, not social inequalities, drive the gender disparities we see in areas such as STEM.”

“A little digging,” they said, “shows that the paradox is the product not of innate sex differences in STEM interest, but the use of contrived measures and selective data to tell a particular story.”

By a “little digging,” Reiches and Richardson were referring to the work they did to challenge the 2018 “paradox” paper, which was written by David C. Geary, Curators’ Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia, and Gijsbert Stoet, professor of psychology at the University of Essex in Britain.

Geary and Stoet analyzed international data on adolescent achievement and found that girls performed similarly to or better than boys in science in two of every three countries, and that in nearly all countries studied, more girls “appeared capable of college-level STEM study than had enrolled.” The gap between boys’ science achievement and girls’ reading achievement relative to their average academic performance was “near universal,” the pair also found, and “these sex differences in academic strengths and attitudes toward science correlated with the STEM graduation gap.” 

"Paradoxically,” they said, “the sex differences in the magnitude of relative academic strengths and pursuit of STEM degrees rose with increases in national gender equality.” 

An advanced analysis suggested that “life-quality pressures in less gender-equal countries promote girls’ and women’s engagement with STEM subjects.”

In other words, a desire for equality -- not innate interest -- drives women toward STEM where women are considered less equal. Where women enjoy relative equality, they are less motivated to study STEM. So all things being equal, women are less interested in studying STEM.

As the study caught media and other public attention, and because it conflicted with much of their own research about historical biases and other barriers against women in STEM, Reiches, Richardson and their colleagues at Harvard’s GenderSci Lab looked into the numbers.

As Reiches and Richardson wrote in Slate, they tried the replicate the findings. "But their numbers didn’t add up. For example, in Poland, 43.63 percent of STEM graduates are women, which would place it fifth for representation of women in STEM out of the 45 countries included in Stoet and Geary’s analysis. Yet Stoet and Geary reported a value of 26.9 percent, ranking Poland 20th. Why?” Stoet and Geary “weren’t looking at ‘women’s share of STEM degrees,’ as they had claimed, at all.”

Reiches and Richardson highlight the case of Algeria as an example, saying that there, “53 percent of STEM graduates are women. Still, only 9 percent of women college graduates choose a degree in STEM, compared with 13 percent of men. Stoet and Geary had claimed that they were reporting the 53 percent number, but they were actually focusing on the statistic that men were receiving degrees in STEM at a higher rate.”

The publishing journal, Psychological Science, eventually got involved. Geary and Stoet said they’d been using a different measure of representation, but that their results were still valid.

In a 2019 corrigendum, specifically, Geary and Stoet wrote that women graduates throughout their study had been “ambiguously formulated.” They also introduce the concept of women’s and men’s “propensity” to graduate with a college degree in STEM. That “propensity,” they wrote, can be “interpreted as the percentage of women in STEM when equal numbers of men and women enroll at university.”

Reiches and Richardson responded that “propensity” is a flimsy way of updating the aptitude argument that was popular among gender hardliners 20 years ago (e.g., boys are innately better at quantitative work than girls). Moreover, they say, “correlations between women’s STEM degrees and nation-level gender equality don’t stand up when parts of the equation -- how we measure women’s STEM achievement and how we measure gender equality -- are changed.”

Referring to their own commentary in Psychological Science, Reiches and Richardson wrote that “when we tested the correlation between women’s STEM degrees and Stoet and Geary’s own 2019 proposed alternative gender-equality index, a separate index that includes basic measures of well-being such as health, education, and life satisfaction, there was no paradox to be found.”

They further cautioned against using national-level data such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index as a measure of gender equality. For instance, they said, Rwanda ranked sixth in the world on the 2015 index due to high representation of women in economic and political life. But that is more a reflection of post-genocide sex ratio imbalances than any campaign to increase women’s empowerment.

Call and Response

Geary said Thursday via email that his original data were not misleading, despite the correction. In any case, he said, “We focused on the expectancy-value theory, whereby people make educational and occupational choices based on their relative strengths (e.g., whether they are relatively better in reading than math, independent of absolute performance) and interests.”

Accordingly, he continued, “we focused on the percent of all women (and men) who go into STEM and its relation to their academic strengths and interests, as we explain in our clarification.”

Geary also said that he and Stoet “focused on inorganic STEM fields (e.g., computer science) because this is the focus of much debate.” Looking at STEM broadly, he said, including the life sciences, “the balance of men and women is more equal, because many science-oriented women are pursuing careers in the life sciences (e.g., medicine).”

The 2018 study notes that women are underrepresented in inorganic fields. But it says it considered UNESCO data from 2012 to 2015 on graduates in the natural sciences, mathematics, statistics, information and communication technologies, engineering, manufacturing and construction. And UNESCO considers the life sciences to be part of the natural sciences. 

In any case, the study cites Finland, for example, which “excels in gender equality,” and where “adolescent girls outperform boys in science literacy” and students perform well over all.

“With these high levels of educational performance and overall gender equality,” the paper says, “Finland is poised to close the STEM gender gap. Yet, paradoxically, Finland has one of the world’s largest gender gaps in college degrees in STEM fields, and Norway and Sweden, also leading in gender-equality rankings, are not far behind,” with fewer than 25 percent of STEM graduates being women.

Geary and Stoet don’t back down in their reply to the GenderSci lab’s commentary (again, both commentaries were published this week in Psychological Science).

“We hypothesize that men are more likely than women to enter STEM careers because of endogenous interests,” Geary and Stoet wrote. “Societal conditions can change the degree to which exogenous interests influence STEM careers (e.g., the possibilities of STEM careers to satisfy socio-economic needs). But when there is an equal playing field and studying STEM is just as useful (balancing income and career satisfaction) as a degree in other areas, people are better able to pursue their interests and not simply their future economic needs.”

This means then “that the relatively large sex differences in occupational interests become more clearly expressed in countries where occupational choices are less constrained by the financial incentives to study a STEM subject. We are optimistic that future studies will help to confirm or reject such a theoretical account.”

As Richardson, Reiches and their team touch on in their critiques, the term “endogenous interests” is loaded in itself. That is, it’s nearly impossible to determine what preferences are truly innate versus shaped by even subtle external forces.

A recent study, for example, found that even men and women who have the same sorts of priorities regarding field of study tend to choose different majors. Specifically, men’s choices in major were linked to higher-paying prospective jobs: men who prioritized wanting to help people via their majors, for instance, were more likely to choose biology, a premedicine field, whereas women who wanted to help people were more likely to choose nursing.

The study theorized that efforts to engage women in certain fields may not work until their cultures become more welcoming and thus change women’s expectations about what jobs are truly open to them.

The author of that study, Natasha Quadlin, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Ohio, said the debate is much more complicated than women being “less interested” in STEM than men.

“My research, and many other social scientists’ research, shows that women face many more barriers than men when it comes to STEM majors and careers,” she said, “from subtle messages that women are not capable of performing in STEM, to expectations that they will face barriers in the workplace.”

Put another way, said Quadlin, “it’s not really that women are uninterested in STEM -- they may just be uninterested in the challenges STEM may impose in their broader lives.”

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Public universities in several states are required to buy from prison industries

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 01:00

Office furniture at the University of Virginia is made in prisons. So is some of the furniture at George Mason University and the University of Mary Washington.

That’s because public universities in Virginia are required to buy from Virginia Correctional Enterprises, a state-owned company that employs inmates in state prisons. About 1,300 inmates participate in the work in Virginia, and other state agencies are also required to get their furniture from VCE.

Every U.S. state except Alaska features some sort of correctional enterprise, where inmates make goods like license plates and desk chairs. And in several states, public universities are required to buy from those entities.

For example, all campuses of the University of Wisconsin system are required to purchase products from Badger State Industries, Wisconsin’s prison-labor company. The University System of Maryland and the State University of New York system are required to use their state’s correctional enterprise as a “preferred source” along with state industries that employ the blind. Furniture is one of the most popular correctional enterprises products. At Mary Washington, VCE has partnered with the administration to create a furniture showroom.

(In all of the above cases, the university is permitted to purchase a product elsewhere if the state's correctional industry can’t meet product requirements. The process requires a release waiver.)

In some states, universities are not legally obligated to purchase from their correctional industries but do so anyway. In California, universities are exempt from purchasing requirements but still buy from CALPIA, the California correctional company, a sales rep said. That business is growing.

Supporters of correctional industries say holding a job in prison gives inmates stimulation, wages and skills for re-entry.

"We have been more than satisfied with the products and services offered by these organizations and support both the mission and the second chance they provide to so many in our state," a spokesperson for the University System of Maryland said via email.

Some activists call the process exploitative.

According to a study by the Prison Policy Initiative, Virginia pays inmates between $0.55 and $0.80 per hour for their work. Across the country, the average imprisoned employee of a correctional industry made between $0.33 and $1.41 per hour. Advocates note that prices for simple goods in prison, like hygiene products or calls to family, are often not fairly pegged to wages. For example, a call to family often can cost the equivalent of a day’s work. Corrections officials typically note that wages are so low because they’re garnished for fees like room and board and debts like child support.

In a handful of states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas, inmates may be paid nothing at all.

Inmate employees are also not offered protections that are standard outside prison, like the right to organize or negotiate for better working conditions.

A Seattle Times investigation found that the enterprise in that state charged excessive prices for prefabricated furniture that inmates only unboxed. The company was also found to be competing unfairly with local businesses that paid workers minimum wage.

The issue is complicated, said Marc Howard, director of the Prison and Justice Initiative at Georgetown University and a prison-reform advocate. Low wages can be exploitative and should be addressed, he said, but ending prison labor across the board is not a solution.

“What you wind up doing is taking people out of work that they actually want to do, that they find fulfilling, that gives them a structure, that prepares them for re-entry,” he said. “Having talked to many people in prison who work, they want to have work and they seek it out, and there are often long waiting lists.”

Boycott Campaigns and Tough Questions

Some prison abolitionists have said that labor and economic exploitation are not the most pressing problems for most inmates. Instead, they point to the lack of freedom and stimulation.

Even so, students in some cases have agitated for removing prison labor from a university supply chain.

At the University of Washington, dorm furniture is made by inmates in Washington prisons. A movement led by UW United Students Against Sweatshops has demanded the university cut its ties with corrections.

“It’s time for the University of Washington to acknowledge its role in the prison industrial complex and realign its practices to put communities over profit,” the student group wrote in a letter, also signed by professors, union leaders and supporting student groups. “We demand that the University of Washington subsequently amends the Supplier Code of Conduct, banning the purchase of furniture from any company that utilizes the labor of incarcerated workers.”

UW president Ana Mari Cauce has said that although the university is not legally obligated to purchase from CI -- Washington’s correctional industry -- it is required to abide by state bid processes.

“At the time that we put out the purchase for bid, we received three responses. Our initial first choice, which was not CI, went out of business shortly after we accepted their bid, leaving us with only two choices,” Cauce wrote in a letter to students in October. “One was CI, the other was a corporation in Southeast Asia that we believed did not comply with of our code and would not allow for review of the conditions of their factory. Consequently, we were left with only one bidder (CI) who could provide the furniture in time for students to move in.”

Cauce said she believes too many people are imprisoned and mass incarceration is a problem -- the U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any other nation. But she feels work in prison can be rehabilitative and does more good than harm.

“It is not clear to me that eliminating such programs entirely are the best option,” Cauce wrote in the letter. “An alternative approach might be to lobby for having incarcerated workers receive local, state or federal minimum wage.”

UW United Students Against Sweatshops started a petition last month to continue demanding change.

Howard said boycotting correctional industries products may not be immediately beneficial for inmates.

“If the outcome of a boycott is we just cut those jobs altogether and then we just warehouse people even more than we do, then that’s not a good outcome,” Howard said. A boycott specifically to pressure corrections officials to raise wages could be more beneficial, he said.

“What we’ve done in this country for decades of dehumanizing people has been an utter failure for everyone,” Howard said. “Understanding [inmates'] humanity and recognizing and supporting people is really the main part of the solution.”

The University of Virginia, George Mason University and the University of Wisconsin did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

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German research institution offers cash for null results

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 01:00

A German research institute is offering scientists a 1,000-euro ($1,091) bonus if they publish null results or a replication study as part of its bid to reshape academic incentives.

The unusual offer made to the Berlin Institute of Health’s 7,000 researchers is part of a program to boost research transparency and confidence in science amid international concerns that the pressure to produce positive experimental results that are more likely to be published by leading journals drives some scientists to manipulate data.

The institute, which combines the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin university hospital and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, is also offering the €1,000 bonus if researchers publish a preregistered preclinical study or a paper that reuses data previously published by others.

There are also financial incentives available for scholars who publish their experiments’ raw data. Some might be disappointed to learn, however, that the money goes toward a scientist’s research funds rather than into their personal bank account.

Ulrich Dirnagl, director of Charité’s department of experimental neurology, told Times Higher Education that the bonuses -- which have been awarded over the past two years -- had sparked useful debate about research integrity.

“You cannot do major research with €1,000, but it might help a student travel to a research conference,” said Dirnagl, who is the founding director of the Quest (Quality, Ethics, Open Science and Translation) Center for Transforming Biomedical Research.

“It is mainly a way to start a conversation about the topic.”

While scientists are invited to apply for the bonuses and “normally get them,” the institute has also recently been seeking out good practice to reward, Dirnagl said.

“We have been mining the publication records of our researchers, pulling out papers where open data has been provided and giving them the money,” he said.

Such incentives helped to “complement” Germany’s more traditional “performance-oriented system,” in which journal impact factors and the ability to attract third-party funding were prized by promotion and hiring panels, Dirnagl explained.

“Since we are not convinced this is the best way of doing things, we wanted to think how to complement this structure with rewards that are individually based,” he said.

Those who accrue several bonuses could find they gain “quite a nice supplement to their research funds,” Dirnagl added.

The Berlin institute has also applied the same principles to its promotion practices, with those applying for a professorial post having to outline how they have encouraged responsible science.

Applicants must describe their top five research papers without naming the publication in which they appeared, a move that seeks to combat overreliance on journal reputation and to encourage engagement with the substance of the work.

“We are trying to nudge the process to get them to consider different factors and ideas,” said Dirnagl. “We are perhaps rewarding things that should be normal process, but it needs to be done.

“We hope this program can provide a model for widespread adoption by other research institutions globally.”

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The longer the coronavirus crisis persists, the bigger the likely impact on Chinese student enrollments

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 01:00

The biggest story in international education over the last decade was, in a word, China.

As the number of students from China studying in the U.S. grew rapidly, fueled by a big increase in tuition-paying undergraduates, colleges and universities grew reliant on them to balance their budgets. And as Chinese universities grew in stature, American colleges created innumerable partnerships with their Chinese counterparts in research and other areas.

Now the global public health crisis precipitated by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, COVID-19, in China -- and the imposition of travel restrictions barring entry to the U.S. of most foreign nationals who have traveled to China within the last 14 days -- threatens student flows and other forms of collaboration. More than 1,100 people have died from the virus, which was first identified in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the center of the outbreak.

Some colleges are reporting they have students in China who are unable to return for the spring semester due to travel restrictions. Colleges have canceled study abroad programs and university-sponsored travel to China, including recruitment travel, in response to U.S. government travel warnings. February dates for college entrance exams such as the ACT, TOEFL, IELTS, GMAT and GRE in mainland China have been canceled. Regular visa services at the U.S. embassy in Beijing and consulates in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang Provinces have been suspended. China remains largely shut down, and schools and universities there have suspended classes.

“This is a blow to many universities, particularly those universities that put so much of their effort into Chinese student recruitment, that in a way became dependent in terms of that cash flow, looking particularly at undergraduates from China,” said William Brustein, vice president for global strategies and international affairs at West Virginia University. Chinese students make up the biggest group of international students in the U.S., accounting for slightly more than a third of all international students at American colleges.

“If this continues and students aren’t able to complete their application by being able to take a TOEFL test or SAT, boy, the bottom line is going to be affected,” Brustein said. “I think it’s going to send a message about dependency in terms of the Chinese flow. I think that is going to be with us for a while even if we’re able to catch our breath from this and things improve dramatically over the next few weeks and we’re able to rebuild that pipeline. I feel that schools are now going to need to take seriously becoming much more open to putting their resources into recruitment in other parts of the world.”

Just how severe the impact will be will depend on many unknown variables, among them: how long the outbreak will last, whether or to what degree it can be relatively contained, when local and international travel restrictions may be lifted, whether Chinese colleges and schools reopen in time to finish their terms more or less on schedule, and how damaging the virus ultimately ends up being to the Chinese -- and indeed the global -- economy. After the SARS outbreak in China in 2003 -- perhaps the closest but in many ways an imperfect parallel -- Chinese enrollments to the U.S. dipped by 4.6 percent in 2003-04 before beginning to recover the following year with a 1.2 percent increase. Chinese student enrollments in the U.S. have increased every year since then.

“We are cautious in not knowing yet what the ultimate outcome will be. What likely will predict how much this will affect international education is how long the health crisis goes on,” said Mirka Martel, the head of research, evaluation and learning at the Institute of International Education, which tracks international enrollments through its annual Open Doors survey. “We do already know that outreach and recruitment are being disrupted. We know that this will likely impact the Chinese economy. We know that enrollments in the short term are being disrupted.”

From an enrollment management perspective, the uncertainty throws yield calculations into serious question. Admission officials at selective institutions in the U.S. will be shaping their classes and finalizing admissions offers over the coming weeks in time to send acceptance letters to students on April 1. It's an open question whether they will be able to count on admitted Chinese students coming at similar rates as in past years.

“Right now, what we can say is that institutions are trying to assess various scenarios and there are going to be varying and diverse ways that institutions deal with it depending on their risk aversion and their flexibility with how they can accommodate going over enrollment,” said Lindsay Addington, director of global engagement at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. She added that there may be a heavier reliance on wait lists. NACAC issued a Jan. 31 statement encouraging colleges to be flexible in their admissions policies for affected prospective students.

As for current Chinese students, because of the timing of the academic calendar, the majority already would have been in the U.S. before the U.S. government travel restrictions were put in place Feb. 1. But colleges with later spring semester starts are already seeing significant impacts on enrollments. The University of Delaware, which started its spring classes this week after a winter session, reported that it has 226 students who were not able to return to campus for the spring semester. The university granted those students the option to take a leave of absence or complete courses online when possible.

Some intensive English language programs are reporting cancellations or deferrals of enrollments, as well as cancellations of short-term customized programs for Chinese students scheduled for February or March, according to Cheryl Delk-Le Good, the executive director of the membership association EnglishUSA. "It’s too early to tell about the summer and fall," she said.

Meanwhile, in Australia, where the fall semester starts in late February or early March, an estimated 107,000 Chinese students -- 56 percent of the total Chinese student population -- are still outside Australia and increasingly unlikely to be able to return in time to resume classes.

“This is the worst possible time for Australian education providers, because it comes at the very start of our academic year,” said Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia. “Even many of our continuing students, they went home for Chinese Lunar New Year. They have leases on apartments in Australia, they in some cases have pets in boarding kennels … and they’ve been caught by our government’s travel ban.”

Christopher Ziguras​, a professor of global studies at RMIT University, and Ly Tran, a fellow at Deakin University, both located in Australia, described the coronavirus outbreak as "the biggest disruption to international student flows in history."

"Australia has never experienced such a sudden drop in student numbers," they wrote in an article in The Conversation, a news outlet that features articles written by academics. "The reduced enrollments will have profound impacts on class sizes and the teaching workforce, particularly at master's level in universities with the highest proportions of students from China … If classes are too small, universities will have to cancel them."

Back in the U.S., Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international affairs at Lehigh University, a Pennsylvania institution that hosts more than 700 Chinese students and scholars on its campus, said the university has one student in Wuhan and three others who are elsewhere in China unable to return for the spring semester.

“Those are very real impacts here on the community,” she said. “Another thing that’s a near-term immediate impact -- we have a number of graduate programs that were still accepting applicants, and with all the testing centers closed, we’ve had to come up with some emergency or temporary arrangements for students who have not been able to complete their GREs, GMATs, TOEFLs or IELTS. Those are the kinds of things that are very immediate. And then I might add the last one is just being very mindful of the stress that this is putting on our Chinese student community here.”

Like many colleges, Lehigh has reached out to its Chinese students on campus to offer support and make them aware of available resources.

“Next we need to start turning our attention to what happens if this continues,” said Matherly, who is the current president of the Association of International Education Administrators. In addition to outreach to admitted students from China, Matherly said Lehigh officials are looking at possible contingency plans for summer abroad programs.

“We’ve suspended our summer programs in China, but we have a lot of programs that happen in other parts of Asia,” she said. “We have students in Singapore, the Philippines, Kazakhstan -- all places where, depending upon the spread of the virus, this could have some very real impact on the ability to continue with those summer programs.

“More than anything, this is really making clear what we all knew -- how central China is to our international education efforts: inbound, outbound, research collaborations. When we think about all the dimensions that are part of robust international education programs, they all intersect with China,” Matherly said.

Rajika Bhandari, an expert on international enrollment trends and the president and CEO of the IC3 Institute, an organization focused on promoting access to college and career counseling globally, said this is an unprecedented situation for international education.

“While I think there is a tendency to compare it with SARS, the overall sector, international education, is in a very different time and place from 2003, when the SARS epidemic was playing out. The prominence of China has changed over time,” she said.

“What’s new and what’s different has been this growth of a whole range of engagements with Chinese institutions, coupled with China’s own rise as a higher education destination, which has really only happened in the last five or six years,” Bhandari said. “What will this crisis mean for those sorts of engagement? A lot of students from South Asia go to China, and there have been stories of many of them being stranded and not being able to get out. I think it’s going to really rebalance how countries have been rising as destinations and global partners, because it is so much more than just that very narrow lens of ‘can Chinese students come to the U.S., and can American students go to China.’”

Fanta Aw, the vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence at American University and a former president of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, said she is cautiously optimistic that the impact of coronavirus on international education might be limited. But, she said, “time is of the essence, and as time goes by with the admission cycle, with the visa cycle, we have to watch this carefully.”

“I do think this cycle is going to be a challenging cycle from an admissions perspective, from a study abroad perspective. The 2020 cycle is going to be a challenging time,” she said.

“It once again affirms how in international education there are so many interdependencies,” Aw said. “This is what a global world looks like. Events in one area have repercussions in so many different areas as well, whether in this case it’s the coronavirus or whether it’s political situations. This is one of those realities of international education.”

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Volume of loans in income-driven repayment mushrooms, with bulk of subsidies to graduate students

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 01:00

The share of federal student loan debt with relatively generous repayment options -- in income-driven repayment plans -- is growing rapidly, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office.

And the CBO, a nonpartisan agency, found that borrowers with graduate and professional degrees are benefiting most from the increasingly expensive federal program.

About 45 percent of the volume of federal loans was being repaid through income-driven plans in 2017, the report said, up from 12 percent in 2010. The share of undergraduate borrowers who enrolled in income-driven plans grew to 24 percent from 11 percent during this period. And the portion grew to 39 percent from 6 percent of borrowers who took out direct loans for graduate study.

Borrowers in income-driven repayment default on their loans at much lower rates, the CBO found. The federal government also spends much more on these loans -- it loses almost 17 cents on every dollar that goes into income-driven repayment while making nearly 13 cents on each dollar repaid through standard fixed-payment plans.

Graduate borrowers also tend to have larger balances, because their loans are not subject to annual or lifetime limits. More than half of the volume of federal loans (56 percent) held by graduate borrowers was in income-driven plans in 2017.

As a result, the CBO projected that government subsidies for graduate student loan borrowers will be substantially larger.

Among federal loans disbursed from 2020 to 2029, the report estimated that undergraduate borrowers would have $40 billion of their student debt forgiven. But the federal government would forgive $167 billion of graduate borrowers’ student loans, meaning that they would receive roughly 80 percent of that federal subsidy.

The CBO projected that graduate student borrowers in IDR would have an average of 56 percent of their loan balances forgiven, compared to 21 percent of the amount disbursed to undergraduates.

“Up until now, concerns about graduate students earning windfall benefits in the income-based repayment program were dismissed as hypothetical,” Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in an opinion piece published today by Inside Higher Ed. “The CBO analysis puts those rebuttals to rest. Income-based repayment absolutely is providing the largest benefits to those who need them least.”

Jessica Thompson, associate vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success, said income-driven repayment is a “critical safety net” for borrowers. The CBO backs this up, she said, by finding that borrowers in IDR are half as likely as other borrowers to default on their loans.

Calls for Downsizing

Congress created the income-based repayment program in 2007, with backing from President George W. Bush's administration, to make student loan repayment more manageable and to provide financial relief for borrowers who were at risk of defaulting. The Obama administration later expanded the program.

Monthly payments are capped at 10 or 15 percent of borrowers’ discretionary incomes under the most popular IDR plans. And borrowers who have not paid off their loans within 20 or 25 years can have their outstanding balances forgiven. Those who qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program can have their loan balances eliminated in 10 years.

If current laws remain unchanged, the CBO estimated that $490 billion of the $1.05 trillion in federal student loans projected to be disbursed to students over the next decade would be repaid through income-driven plans. The total estimated federal subsidy for income-driven plans would be $83 billion. In contrast, the federal government would earn $72 billion on the $563 billion in loans it is projected to issue over the next decade that will be repaid through fixed-payment plans.

The government’s projected cost as a percentage of loan dollars, the so-called subsidy rate, would be 16.9 percent on average for income-driven plans and -12.8 percent on average for fixed-payment plans.

Borrowers in income-driven repayment tend to have larger loan balances. One reason, the CBO said, is the disproportionate share of graduate student borrowers who enroll in those plans. But these borrowers also may be more aware of their financial options, said the report.

The average loan balance of graduate borrowers in income-driven repayment was $92,000 in 2017, according to the CBO report. Undergraduate borrowers in those plans had an average loan balance of $25,100.

Government agencies have in the past raised alarms about the cost of IDR.

For example, the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2016 faulted the Education Department for seriously underestimating the price tag for these programs. And the GAO last year said the feds should do more to verify borrowers’ income, arguing that about 76,000 borrowers who were making no monthly payments may have been earning enough to pay down some of their loans.

The new numbers from the Congressional Budget Office already began fueling calls by congressional Republicans to rein in income-driven repayment.

Senator Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said the “explosive growth” of income-driven repayment plans was unsustainable for the federal government.

“Moreover, as this report finds, the significant majority of the benefits of these programs are going to forgive graduate student loans,” Enzi said in a written statement. “While higher education provides valuable opportunities, including increased earnings potential, it is crucial that lawmakers review these programs to ensure they are targeting limited federal resources appropriately and slowing the unsustainable growth in the cost of higher education.”

The CBO report considered options to change income-driven repayment by limiting the availability of those options or by adjusting how much borrowers would repay under those plans.

For example, delaying the forgiveness of student loans by five years would decrease the federal subsidy by more than $17 billion over the next decade.

The Trump administration has proposed scaling back IDR for graduate students, in part by extending their loan forgiveness period to 30 years, and redirecting those savings to undergraduates.

TICAS in a recent analysis pointed to bipartisan proposals to simplify and improve income-driven repayment, in part by insuring that borrowers always make payments based on their income and that married borrowers are treated consistently regardless of how they file taxes.

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History jobs report indicates that the market may be stabilizing

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 01:00

The number of advertised full-time faculty jobs in history declined slightly last year, after increasing slightly the year before. Yet the relative stability in job numbers in 2018-19 signals that the history job market is normalizing after years of steep declines prior to 2017-18.

At the same time, fewer Ph.D.s in history are being awarded.

The new data appeared in the American Historical Association’s annual jobs report, released Wednesday. The report is based on jobs posted to the AHA Career Center and the separate H-Net Job Guide. About 25 percent of historians work outside academe, so the report does not reflect the entire jobs outlook, but it is considered representative of overall disciplinary trends.

“We may have reached a point of stability in the academic job market,” reads the report, written by Dylan Ruediger, an AHA staffer. During the 2018-19 hiring cycle, the AHA Career Center hosted ads for 538 full-time positions, making for a 1.8 percent decline year over year.

Ads for jobs beyond the professoriate, in particular, dropped from 59 to 51, accounting for much of the overall decrease.

Tenure-track jobs declined from 320 to 318, as postdoctoral fellowships rose from 78 to 79, and non-tenure-track positions increased from 91 to 92.

On H-Net, the number of history job ads dropped by about 9 percent.

Together, Ruediger wrote, “the two leading job boards indicate a modest 2.9 percent decline in tenure-track positions and a 5 percent decline in contingent faculty positions compared to 2017-18.”

Like the humanities generally, “history has seen decreased enrollments and a decline in the number of majors since the recession of 2008-09,” the report also says. “This long-term trend might have finally bottomed out, thanks to the creativity and determination of faculty who are reinvigorating history courses, and departments willing to put student interests and outcomes at the center of their curricula.”

Meanwhile, “departments have responded to years of difficult academic hiring cycles by shrinking the size of their doctoral programs.”

Ruediger’s analysis says that history Ph.D.s who graduated in the past decade faced fewer opportunities and more competition “than any cohort of PhDs since the 1970s when departments significantly cut admissions to their doctoral programs.”

As some historians are calling for similar steps to be taken now, he said, some departments have “quietly been shrinking for some time, a trend that continued last year.”

In 2018, for example, 1,003 students earned history Ph.D.s, compared to 1,058 in 2017. It’s “no blip,” Ruediger explained, as the annual number of new history Ph.D.s has declined 15 percent over all since 2014, reflecting “programmatic decisions made five to seven years earlier.”

The “shrinking size of Ph.D. programs is a lagging indicator of a discipline with a diminished footprint inside American colleges and universities,” the report says. “It also reveals that departments are not complacently carrying on with business as usual but making hard decisions about how many students to admit and how best to prepare those they have.”

Ruediger notes that the “ongoing sluggishness of academic hiring exists within the context of demographic changes transforming higher education as a whole.” Overall enrollment in colleges and universities has declined for eight consecutive years, down two million students since 2011. History majors and enrollments have declined even faster than that, “as general education requirements have shifted and data showing positive career outcomes for history majors have been ignored.”

While academic hiring doesn’t directly follow these trends, Ruediger wrote, faculty members “consistently report feeling that their ability to make the case for replacing or adding tenure lines hinges on the number of students enrolling in history courses or, in some cases, the number of majors.”

The AHA’s report warns that overall college and university enrollment is projected to decline further in the years ahead.

Over all, in 2018-19, the two job boards advertised a total of 691 faculty positions open to historians, 499 of them tenure-track positions. Most of those were assistant professorships. From a survey of advertisers on the AHA’s Career Center, the association determined that each of the 53 newly hired assistant professors on which they compiled data had graduated recently, about two-thirds within two years of hire. Still, 13 percent of tenure-track openings for assistant professors went to applicants six or more years beyond their Ph.D.s.

Contingent positions -- instructors, lecturers, clinical professors and visiting appointments -- made up 28 percent of full-time faculty positions advertised last year, unchanged from 2017-18. Adjunct jobs are underrepresented in the report.

As they did last year, when the AHA began tracking jobs by institution type, research universities dominated academic hiring: 56 percent of all tenure-track positions in 2018-19 were at research universities, according to the report, as were 51 percent of full-time, non-tenure-track positions and two-thirds of all senior hires.

These numbers stand unchanged from last year and are at odds with the overall composition of history faculty, “most of whom are employed at teaching institutions,” the report says. “The concentration of tenure-track positions at research universities, should it continue, clearly pertains to Ph.D. candidates entering the academic job market.”

Over all, Ruediger wrote, “We are now entering our second decade of anemic academic hiring, during which thousands of early-career historians have experienced disappointment, anger, and despair at the limited number of entry points into stable faculty employment.” This should “prompt us to recognize the accomplishments of historians building careers and contributing to our community from outside the professoriate: we will need their help to demonstrate the value of historical thinking beyond the academy.”

Even so, he said, “majors and undergraduate enrollments remain the foundation of the discipline within higher education, and improving the faculty market means strengthening that foundation.”

In good news, there are signs that years of declines in enrollments and majors may be leveling off and even beginning to “rebound,” Ruediger said. “But challenges to the discipline remain considerable: arguing for the value of that discipline is work we must do together.”

The Modern Language Association released its annual jobs report in November. It reflected similar trends to the AHA’s. For the sixth year in a row, that MLA report says, the number of positions advertised in the MLA Job Information List (JIL) decreased. But the decline for 2017-18 was “significantly smaller than it was in 2016-17, when both editions, English and languages other than English, suffered a drop of 11.5 percent.” In 2017-18, meanwhile, “the number of English positions dropped from 837 to 828 (a 1.1 percent decline), and the number of positions in languages dropped from 808 to 770 (a 4.7 percent decline).”

Robert Townsend, director of the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is currently completing the 2017-18 departmental survey of faculties in the humanities fields. Details are forthcoming, but Townsend said Wednesday that data indicate there has been little change in the “number of faculty or the mix of tenure and non-tenure-track faculty in these departments” since the first such survey, in 2012.

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Higher education lobbying has declined, but will that change?

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 01:00

A decade ago, Bucknell University was among 700 other higher education institutions and groups that spent about $100 million to hire lobbyists in Washington -- many of them hitting up members of Congress for earmarks to pay for things like a new campus lab or building.

But in the years since 2011, when federal lawmakers stopped handing out earmarks to their favorite projects, much has changed in how higher education lobbies.

Many smaller and midsize institutions, like Bucknell, have decided to not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on D.C. lobbyists if they can no longer get a line inserted in the budget for new equipment or a building. The number of higher education institutions and groups hiring lobbyists to influence Congress has dropped by about a fourth between 2010 and 2019, from 683 to 396, according to an Inside Higher Ed analysis of federal lobbying disclosure data.

All told, the industry spent about $74.5 million to lobby Congress in 2019, roughly $22 million less than the $96.4 million it spent in 2010.

Disclosure records also show changes in which institutions are lobbying Congress.

“We noticed a trend where the smaller or midsized schools pulled back from lobbying,” said Leslee Gilbert, vice president of Van Scoyoc Associates, which represents a number of institutions, including the University of New MexicoUniversity of Utah and University of Toledo.

However, some larger research institutions, including the University of California system, have ramped up spending on federal lobbying, a shift Gilbert said has made it harder for smaller colleges to get federal funding.

“In 2010, Congress was still using earmarks in the appropriations process, and a lot of work was devoted to this particular part of advocacy,” said Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government relations and public affairs.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives reportedly are considering a return to earmarks, at least on a limited basis, although lobbyists like Hartle and Gilbert are skeptical House Democrats will do it. If that change happens, lobbyists and some institutions say more colleges will go back to hiring D.C. lobbyists.

"It's logical that if a pool of funds like this again becomes available, organizations will engage firms to assist them in accessing those funds," David Surgala, Bucknell’s vice president for finance and administration, said in an emailed statement.

Bucking the Trend

The drop in congressional lobbying by higher education reflects an overall drop in spending on educational lobbying, including K-12, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a D.C.-based group that tracks campaign contribution and lobbying spending.

Inside Higher Ed’s numbers are based on spreadsheets created by the center on education lobbying.

According to the center, $80.9 million was spent last year to lobby on education, down from $109.1 million in 2010. That runs counter to lobbying trends over all. About $3.5 billion was spent on federal lobbying last year, the center said, an amount that didn't change much from the previous year.

One caveat about the numbers, Hartle said, is that lobbying rules only require the disclosure of spending to influence Congress, not federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health, where higher education lobbying continues to draw federal dollars.

Another factor in the decline, Hartle said, is that not as much is happening in Congress as in 2010, which featured major legislation like the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Act regulations on financial institutions and a revamp to the federal guaranteed student loan program.

While lobbying Congress may have dropped off, efforts to influence the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies has continued, if not increased, at a time when agencies consider changes to policies around accreditation and how campuses deal with allegations of sexual assault and harassment.

“The paralysis on Capitol Hill has reduced the amount of legislation that gets enacted, and this reduces the amount of time we spend lobbying,” Hartle said in an email. “But we are probably spending more time interacting with the executive branch now than ever before.”

As for lobbying Congress, institutions like Bucknell, California State University, the State University of New York and the City University of New York have scaled back or stopped entirely.

Bucknell, for instance, spent $120,000 on federal lobbying in 2010. Over the years, “Bucknell has received a few earmarks for capital items -- e.g. scientific equipment and maybe some help with facilities projects,” said Mike Ferlazzo, a university spokesman. But it spent $90,000 in 2018 and nothing last year.

"Federal earmarks from legislators are no longer the same as they were in prior years. Our focus has changed from lobbying for earmarks to engaging a firm to help us with grants from places such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Humanities," the university said in a statement.

According to lobbying data, Cal State, which spent $1.3 million in 2010, spent about half as much ($724,000) last year. SUNY's spending dropped from $1.8 million to $220,000 during the same period. CUNY spent $30,000 in 2010 but nothing last year.

A SUNY spokeswoman attributed the decline to becoming more efficient and having university staff handle lobbying. Cal State in a statement said, “It does seem likely to us that Congress’s decision to ban earmarks in 2011 has contributed to a decline in lobbying expenditures by institutions of higher education, including the California State University.” But other factors like the recession, greater emphasis on seeking competitive grants and the inability of Congress to reauthorize the Higher Education Act since 2008 contributed as well, the statement said

Return to Earmarks?

For smaller colleges, it’s still possible to get federal dollars from agencies, even though members of Congress representing their area can no longer get a line in the federal budget for a pet project.

However, lobbyists who represent small and medium-size institutions say it has become more difficult for them to get funding. Without earmarks, the action has shifted to getting money from federal agencies, and major universities are also chasing those dollars. The battle for funding “is highly competitive, highly,” said one lobbyist who represents smaller institutions.

That’s unfair to students who attend smaller institutions, the lobbyist said. “Most kids go to college within 50 miles of where they live. All students in the U.S. should have access to really quality experiences and great scientific resources.”

The lobbyist complained, “The big ones have gotten bigger.”

The University of California, for instance, spent $1.3 million in 2019, nearly twice the $700,000 it spent in 2010.

Stett Holbrook, a UC spokesman, said lobbying expenditures have risen because of a number of factors, including "issues before Congress and the administration, and the amount of time associations spend on lobbying done on members’ behalf." He also said in an email that “UC has not relied on directed funding or so-called earmarks. As such, our lobbying efforts have not been tied to that process. We strongly support the peer-reviewed, competitive grants process through which our researchers have achieved great success.”

A lobbyist who represents research universities said many of those institutions ramped up their presence in Washington after the end of earmarks in order to build deeper relationships with agencies that fund research. Another lobbyist said institutions that conduct work on detecting viruses are talking to agencies as the government deals with the coronavirus outbreak.

As first reported by Politico in January, House Democrats are considering bringing back earmarks by allowing the funding of a controlled number of lawmakers' local projects from limited pots of federal cash. New restrictions would bar money from going to for-profit businesses but would allow nonprofit colleges and universities to again be able to receive earmarks.

While the practice has been derided, some said there would be advantages in bringing back earmarks.

Influential interests can still seek money even without earmarks, said Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “But while they used to do it overtly, now they’re calling up the heads of agencies behind the scenes,” he said. “The irony is that in the interests of greater transparency, we’ve driven discussions further underground.”

In addition, he argued that restoring earmarks could make it easier for lawmakers to make tough decisions on a national scale, such as getting the national deficit under control. “We want members of Congress to have the courage to make decisions that will not be received well back home,” he said. “To do that, they’re going to need some political capital.”

However, lobbyists are also skeptical Congress will take the risk of being seen as bringing back what’s been derided as wasteful pork during an election year.

The House under Republican and Democratic leadership in the last few years has considered bringing back earmarks, Grumet noted. “But in the 11th hour, they’ve gotten cold feet,” he said. “Earmarks are one of those things that have been caricatured.”

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Colleges start new programs

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 01:00
  • Berkeley College is starting a bachelor of science in business data science.
  • Daemen College is starting an M.B.A. program that students can finish in 12 or 18 months.
  • Rocky Mountain College is starting a doctor of medical sciences program for practicing physician assistants who already have their master of physician assistant degrees.
  • Suffolk University is starting a master of science in law.
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Colleges start and finish fundraising campaigns

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 01:00

Starting Off

  • Bowdoin College has started a campaign to raise $500 million by 2024. The college has already raised $300 million. Financial aid is a major focus.

Raising the Goal

  • Youngstown State University has upped the goal for its campaign, announced two years ago at $100 million, to $125 million. The university has already raised $100 million.

Finishing Up

  • Saint Mary's College has finished a campaign, raising $136 million. When the campaign started, the goal was $125 million.
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SUNY Binghamton receives largest donation in its history

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 01:00

Binghamton University hopes to spearhead a new era of high-profile collegiate baseball in the Northeastern U.S. with a new $60 million stadium complex fully funded by an anonymous donor family.

The university, which is part of the State University of New York system, is well-known in the Northeast for its academic rigor but does not have much of a national profile, said Barry Jones, an economics professor and chair of the Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee. The baseball stadium, which will have the capacity to host National Collegiate Athletic Association postseason championships, will likely raise the university's profile, said Pat Elliot, Binghamton’s athletic director.

“It's a world-class academic institution. We strive in every area of this university to be the best that we can be,” Elliot said. “For us to be able to get into the postseason, and win championships, and into the national tournament, that raises the profile of all of our teams, of all of our programs” and also gets “the Binghamton University name out there nationally.”

The donation announced Feb. 11 is the largest in Binghamton’s 74-year history and comes in the midst of the quiet phase of a seven-year fundraising campaign, university president Harvey Stenger said.

He noted that alumni are now beginning to make substantial donations to the university. In the last two years, the university has received more than 14 million-dollar gifts, compared to five such gifts between its founding in 1946 and 2018, Stenger said.

The $60 million donation marks the second-largest gift to a SUNY campus, said Kristina Johnson, chancellor of the SUNY system. She said the system did not raise money from private sources when it was first founded. But when she became chancellor in 2017, she made it one of her goals to encourage more philanthropy in order to fund the building of new facilities and compete with the donor support flagship universities across the country receive.

“Philanthropy is another revenue stream and allows us to do things that we wouldn’t really be contemplating without that support,” Johnson said. “It is the opportunity to show that there’s excellence across the State University of New York, that donors and alumni are getting excited about giving and seeing what SUNY can do with those incremental dollars.”

Some commenters on Binghamton’s Facebook announcement about the stadium questioned the planned use of the gift and noted that a donor put $2.2 million toward an upgrade to the university’s current baseball field in 2016, the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reported. Though reactions on social media were generally positive, some people mentioned more investment in mental health resources for students, tuition discounts and scholarships as alternatives or better uses for the $60 million.

Amir Pasic, dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said it's uncommon for a gift of $50 million or more to go toward athletics and that such large donations tend to be spent on facilities, major research or financial aid. He said in some instances university officials may be able to convince a donor who wants a gift used for a specific purpose to allow the institution to redirect the money to a different priority of the university.

Still, Pasic said, donations that go toward athletics can also serve an institution's larger and more long-term priorities well.

“Athletics also has an impact on the visibility of the university’s capacity to attract students,” he said. “It’s clearly something that makes a big difference to the branding of the place and its ability to attract students, alumni, members of the community to the games … Whenever you get an infusion of funds like this, it’s usually of dramatic consequence.”

Athletics also “raise serious money” and “have big followings,” said James Finkelstein, professor emeritus at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and an expert on university presidents. But donors making demands as to how their money is spent is becoming a widespread issue for leaders across higher education, said Judith Wilde, a professor at and COO of the Schar School. Wilde referenced a 2019 Inside Higher Ed survey of college presidents, where one-third said they rejected gifts because of requirements on how the funds could be used.

“Whenever a donor starts setting requirements for a gift, besides naming requirements, there might be a problem there,” Wilde said.

When universities maintain good relationships with donors, they will generally give to “a multitude of programs” over time, said Johnson, the SUNY system's chancellor. She said she does not know the identity of the $60 million donor family but is hopeful their philanthropy will inspire others to give to SUNY.

“This was definitely the family’s desire. Baseball was why they were coming to us with this gift,” Stenger said. “In development 101, that’s the message that you have to follow through on. It’s best to go on their direction, assuming that it’s beneficial to your university … rather than trying to steer a gift in a direction that may not be what their interests are.”

Binghamton’s baseball team is the most successful of the university's various Division I athletics programs. It has won 10 America East conference regular and postseason titles in the last 13 years, according to the university's online announcement of the donation. The Bearcats have advanced to the NCAA regional competition three times since 2013, and nine Binghamton baseball alumni have gone on to the major leagues in the last eight years.

The baseball team deserves a good field to play on, said Matthew McConn, chair of the teaching, learning and educational leadership department. McConn is a member of the university's Intercollegiate Athletics Board, a group of faculty members, students and staff that advises Stenger about twice a year and provides feedback on the academic performance of team athletes. The board was not involved in discussions about the donation or the plans for a new baseball stadium, but senior members of the university's faculty governing bodies were, Stenger said.

McConn, who is the new chair of his department, said increasing enrollment is a top priority and investment in athletics can bring some positive attention to Binghamton.

“A new baseball stadium, I think he’d be crazy to pass that up, because that’s the type of thing that brings new students,” McConn said of Stenger. “Any time that you can get more national recognition, it helps all around. We’re always looking for more nationally recognized scholars, and anytime you can get the BU name out there, that helps.”

The 84,000-square-foot stadium complex will be built on an aggressively fast timeline -- the first phase, with seating, press boxes, entertainment space and the baseball team’s clubhouse, is scheduled to be complete in spring 2021, said Ryan Yarosh, Binghamton's senior director of media and public relations. Construction for the second phase, the team’s new indoor practice facility, does not yet have dates, he said.

Johnson said the construction portion of the stadium itself will create 670 jobs over the next year or so in the area of Binghamton and Vestal, N.Y., where the team’s current facilities are located. Jones, the economics professor, said the area is “a baseball town” and predicted the stadium will benefit the local economy.

“Hopefully people from the surrounding community will come in and watch baseball games,” Jones said. “Athletics also has the potential to excite the alumni when they leave campus.”

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International applications and first-time international enrollments increase at U.S. grad schools

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 01:00

First-time enrollments of international students at U.S. graduate schools increased by 4 percent in fall 2019 compared to the previous fall, according to new survey results from the Council of Graduate Schools. Applications from prospective international graduate students also increased by 3 percent.

While trends varied across institution types and fields of study, the overall results are good news for U.S. graduate schools, which reported declining international applications and stagnating new international enrollments over the prior two admission cycles.

But the release of the data comes against a context of big changes in the climate for international recruiting, including a U.S. government ban on travel of foreign nationals from China in response to the global spread of the coronavirus.

Another factor is a recently expanded travel ban that restricts immigration-related travel to the U.S. from six additional countries, including Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, a continent that has been a big source of growth for U.S. graduate schools over the past three years. (The newly expanded travel ban -- which also includes nationals of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania, does not directly affect individuals on student visas and other forms of nonimmigrant visas, but advocates for international education say it sends an unwelcoming message.)

A "flash survey" conducted from mid-January to early February by CGS that garnered 174 responses found that 123 member institutions reported an increased number of incoming and returning international visitors, including graduate students, who experienced delays in U.S. visa processes over the past two years. Twenty-one institutions reported that they’d had students who were denied admission to the U.S. at ports of entry "due to former employment, social media posts, electronic device searches, or no reason given." The institutions described cases of students from China, Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia being turned back.

“It is gratifying to see an increase in applications, which is a real reflection, I think, of the appeal of U.S. graduate programs, and the continued appeal for first-time students. Once offers are made, students are accepting and coming,” said Suzanne Ortega, the president of CGS. “But we continue to remain worried about ensuring that the U.S. is seen as a welcoming place and that students once admitted can actually get their visas and come to the U.S.”

The CGS survey found that the number of applications and first-time graduate enrollments from China both increased by 3 percent in fall 2019 compared to the previous year. The number of applications from India did not change, while first-time graduate enrollments of Indian students increased by a modest 1 percent.

China and India are the two leading source countries for international graduate students coming to the U.S., together accounting for 63 percent of all first-time international graduate students, according to CGS's data. Asia accounts for 78 percent of all international first-time graduate students, followed by Europe (6 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (5 percent), the Middle East and North Africa (4 percent), sub-Saharan Africa (also 4 percent), and Canada (2 percent).

The number of new students from the Middle East and North Africa stayed the same despite a 7 percent drop in the number of first-time students from Iran. Iranians, in general, are barred from coming to the U.S. under President Trump’s original travel ban, which also affects citizens of Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. There is an exception to the ban for Iranians coming on student and exchange visitor visas, but there have been about two dozen documented cases of Iranians being turned back at ports of entry despite holding valid student visas this academic year.

Meanwhile, graduate schools reported a 22 percent increase in new students coming from sub-Saharan Africa, following increases of 19 and 27 percent in the prior two years.

And the number of first-time graduate students from Mexico rebounded, increasing by 10 percent, following two consecutive years of declines.

The academic fields reporting the biggest increase in first-time international students were mathematics and computer science (11 percent), social and behavioral sciences (11 percent), and biological and agricultural sciences (10 percent), according to the survey.

First-time international graduate enrollment in engineering programs increased by 1 percent despite a 2 percent decline in international applications. Business programs reported declines in both international applications and first-time international enrollments of 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

The most research-intensive doctoral universities (known as R-1 institutions) reported increases both in new international master’s (5 percent) and doctoral (3 percent) students, and master's-level universities reported a 7 percent increase in new international master’s students. But for less research-intensive doctoral universities -- R-2 and R-3 institutions -- first-time international graduate enrollment declined by 1 percent at the master’s level and by 6 percent at the doctoral level.

CGS sent the survey to 775 American graduate schools, of which 403, or 52 percent, responded.

The data below show changes in first-time international enrollments by country and field of study over the past five admission cycles.

Change in First-Time Graduate Enrollment by Region/Country of Origin

  Fall 2014-15 Fall 2015-16 Fall 2016-17 Fall 2017-18 Fall 2018-19 Worldwide Total +5% +5% -1% +1% +4% Asia +7% +8% -2% +1% +6% China +12% 0% +5% +1% +3% India +12% -7% -13% 0% +1% Japan -- -- +3% -17% +8% South Korea +5% +10% -12% -4% +1% Taiwan +2% +14% +10% +1% +5% Europe -4% +8% +1% -3% -3% Latin America & Caribbean -6% +5% -10% +4% 0% Brazil -30% -9% +18% -2% -7% Mexico +6% +12% -10% -5% +10% Middle East and North Africa +1% -11% -5% -12% 0% Iran -- -- -16% -10% -7% Saudi Arabia +5% -13% -2% -18% +1% North America (Canada only) +1% -3% -7% +3% +6% Oceania -9% +7% -6% -9% +7% Sub-Saharan Africa +9% +3% +27% +19% +22%

Change in First-Time Graduate Enrollment by Field of Study

  Fall 2014-15 Fall 2015-16 Fall 2016-17 Fall 2017-18 Fall 2018-19 All Fields +5% +5% -1% +1% +4% Arts & Humanities +5% +6% -12% -7% 0% Agricultural and Biological Sciences +1% +2% -1% -4% +10% Business +2% +7% -11% -7% -2% Education 0% +7% -16% -31% +9% Engineering +1% -3% -10% -17% +1% Health Sciences -5% -14% +3% -16% +8% Mathematics and Computer Sciences +11% +4% +2% +1% +11% Physical and Earth Sciences +6% -3% -1% -15% +6% Public Administration and Services +4% +7% +4% -49% +8% Social and Behavioral Sciences +1% +9% 0% -6% +11% Other Fields +7% +11% +4% -2% +9% GlobalEditorial Tags: Graduate educationInternational higher educationForeign Students in U.S.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: 

Community colleges increasingly are in the game for endowments

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 01:00

Large endowments often make headlines in higher education, but it's rare to see a community college in the mix.

That doesn't mean two-year colleges avoid fundraising, though.

"Within the last couple of decades, [community colleges] have by and large started to come into their own by recognizing the power of fundraising," said Marc Westenburg, director of the Center for Community College Advancement at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

According to the council's data, which was adjusted for inflation, between 1998 and 2018 the average community college endowment grew by 76 percent.

Westenburg said the colleges are realizing "the incredible case they have" for donors. At the same time, he said, the traditional model of funding for these colleges -- with a third of the money coming from state appropriations -- is becoming more of a challenge, as funding in most states has failed to keep pace with enrollment growth, meaning community colleges have to diversify their revenue sources.

At Northwest College in Wyoming, for example, the foundation has an endowment of $42 million, which is larger than the endowments of some small private four-year colleges.

The regional two-year college of 1,500 students got a jump start on its endowment funds in 2004, when the state provided matching gifts for fundraising, said Shelby Wetzel, executive director of the college's foundation. That program alone raised $16 million.

While the state no longer matches donations, Wetzel said the college has built a consistent fundraising program on their own because "donors have fallen in love with helping students."

"A large gift to a large institution is a drop in the bucket so many times," she said. "A large gift to our institution has huge value."

About 80 percent of the endowment is allocated to scholarships. It produces about $1.3 million annually in income to dole out to 1,500 students, Wetzel said.

Most of the money comes from nonalumni in the community, she said. Because the college is in a rural area, it provides a residential experience, which trickles out to the community through sporting events and cultural enrichment. The foundation uses those attributes to build the case for the college's value to the community.

The college is also the fifth-largest employer in the county, according to Wetzel. An economic modeling study found that it has an $88 million annual impact on the region.

Donors "can see their dollar goes further here," she said.

For the college, the endowment gives breathing room for dealing with budget cuts. For example, when state budget slashing hit during the recession, the foundation absorbed all of the scholarship funds normally taken out of the college's general fund. This freed up money for the college to use to counteract the cuts.

Northwest College makes a case against what Westenburg refers to as myths surrounding community college endowments.

One is that community college alumni don't have the same strong ties or pride for their past colleges as do graduates of four-year colleges.

"It's simply not true," Westenburg said. "For most community colleges, between 60 and 80 percent of their students remain in their service districts."

Because alumni are still active in these communities, they are more likely to give. A study by Lisa Skari, president of Mt. Hood Community College in Oregon, found that alumni who gave to the four-year college they transferred to were also four times more likely to give to their community college.

Linnie Carter, executive director of the Harrisburg Area Community College Foundation in Pennsylvania, said that statistic also helps encourage donors to give to community colleges.

"Donors’ charitable investments have a direct impact on their own communities, because the beneficiaries of their generosity are productive members of society," Carter said. "A donor who contributes to a scholarship fund is investing in a nurse who might save their life one day."

While Carter said it's more difficult for community colleges to fundraise simply because they have fewer resources than four-year institutions, and they are typically younger institutions and thus have smaller alumni pools, it can still be done. Her college's foundation has about $43 million in assets, she said.

One donor, Gloria Paxton, left 70 percent of her estate -- $1.3 million -- to the college last year. She wasn't an alumna, Carter said, but she still understood the importance of the college.

Carter also emphasizes the economic impacts of the college. A study found that the college generates $1 billion annually through its operations, construction projects, student spending and alumni. It also supports more than 14,000 jobs in the area.

"We ask donors to imagine life without HACC, and it’s impossible," Carter said. "There’s no mission in higher education that's more important than the community college mission, in my opinion."

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Trump budget would boost career education spending but cut funds for college aid, research programs

Tue, 02/11/2020 - 01:00

WASHINGTON -- President Trump on Monday called for a $5.6 billion, or 7.8 percent, cut in Department of Education funding and reductions for most core funders of academic research, but also proposed a nearly $900 million increase in career and technical education funding that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called “perhaps the largest increase in CTE ever.”

In proposing education cuts, as he has every year of his presidency, Trump reproposed several ideas that have been rejected by Congress, including eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant programs, and giving campus financial aid administrators greater latitude to limit loan borrowing by individual students.

The proposal, however, did offer some new ideas, including capping graduate student and Parent PLUS loans.

However, the proposal is just that, a proposal, U.S. Education Department officials acknowledged during a briefing on the budget.

Congress each year has passed a budget spending far more than Trump proposed, including last year when Congress spent $72.7 billion on education, compared to the administration’s $64 billion proposal, said Jim Blew, the department’s assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development.

Democrats who control the House didn't seem inclined to go along with Trump's proposals. Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat who chairs the House education committee, said in a statement the proposal "makes college more expensive for students by eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and cutting vital sources of financial aid for students from low-income families."

In blasting the proposal, James Kvaal, president of the Institute for College Access & Success, noted the near certainty the proposal will not be approved by House Democrats, who are proposing to increase the size of the maximum Pell Grant and make community college free.

"Students can console themselves that this budget is here today, gone tomorrow," he said. "In fact, Congress is now considering substantial increases in student aid. The deep cuts proposed in this budget should be quickly forgotten."

According to an analysis by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, the administration would cut more than $2 billion next year in federal student financial support, mostly by bringing back proposals to eliminate programs like subsidized Stafford Loans, freeze the maximum Pell Grant for the next decade and cut $630 million from the federal work-study program.

Among the new ideas were two intended to set “sensible annual and lifetime loan limits for graduate and parent borrowers,” a budget document said. It would limit Parent PLUS loans for undergraduate students to $26,500. Dependent undergraduate students would be eligible to borrow an additional amount, up to $57,500, depending on the parents' eligibility for additional borrowing.

In 1992, Congress removed caps on lending, allowing parents to borrow up to the full cost of attendance after passing a minimum credit check. A report last April by the Urban Institute and New America found the loan program frequently issues debt to parents with little chance of successful repayment, and functions as a “no-strings-attached” revenue source for many colleges.

Graduate students, under the proposed budget, would also not be allowed to borrow more than $50,000 annually, or $100,000 in aggregate. The proposal would also consolidate graduate student borrowing under one loan program with the same terms as Graduate PLUS loans.

In addition, the budget proposal would make incarcerated prisoners eligible for Pell Grants. But Monique Ositelu, senior policy analyst for higher education at New America, said only prisoners due to be released within five years would be eligible. She said in a Twitter post that the five-year limit would disproportionately exclude younger men of color.

The Outlook for Science Research

The Trump administration, in budget documents, touted increases in some types of federally funded research, including an additional $830 million, or 70 percent, in National Science Foundation funding for artificial intelligence-related grants and interdisciplinary research institutes. But associations representing public and private research universities and medical colleges criticized proposed cuts in other research areas.

“The administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request falls far short of the investment needed to secure the U.S.’s position as the world’s preeminent economic power,” Association of Public and Land-grant Universities president Peter McPherson said in a statement. “At a time when our global competitors are doubling down in investments in education and research, we can’t afford to fall behind,” he said.

The proposal would cut overall research funding to the NSF by 7 percent, 17 percent from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and 7 percent from the National Institutes of Health.

“While the president’s proposed FY21 budget prioritizes some areas of research -- such as artificial intelligence -- it also contains deep funding cuts and policy proposals that could harm America’s position as the world’s leader in research, science, and higher education,” echoed Association of American Universities president Mary Sue Coleman in a statement.

In proposing the increase in funding for technical and career education, the administration said in a budget document it would support a "commitment to preparing students to succeed in today’s competitive, rapidly changing economy, and answer the ever increasing needs of a booming economy." Touting it at the briefing, Scott Stump, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education, said CTE funds have only increased by an average of 1.6 percent annually over the past four decades.

Kermit Kaleba, managing director of policy at the National Skills Coalition, though, called the budget proposal “a mixed bag for our nation’s workforce.” The increase in CTE funding “will go a long way towards helping more students, including adult learners, get the skills and credentials they need to succeed in a 21st century economy,” Kaleba said in a statement. He also praised a proposal to expand Pell Grants to short-term programs.

But he criticized proposed cuts to food stamps and welfare funding, as well as the imposition of a work requirement to receive Medicaid.

Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate education committee, in a release, praised aspects of the budget proposal, including the increase in CTE funding.

But he called them "budget suggestions," and noted that “under the Constitution, it is Congress’s job to set spending priorities and pass appropriations bills.”

Advocates for the humanities and the arts were almost certainly finding relief in that constitutional power-sharing arrangement Monday. The administration's budget proposed giving the National Endowments of the Humanities and of the Arts just enough money ($33 million and $30 million, respectively) to begin winding the agencies down.

Congress has ignored those requests in recent years and actually gave the agencies increases last year.

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UC Santa Cruz grad assistants strike for living wage in tough rental market

Tue, 02/11/2020 - 01:00

Graduate student workers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, escalated their ongoing grade strike to a general strike Monday, saying they can’t afford to live where they’ve been recruited to work and study.

Hundreds of students gathered on campus throughout the day for rallies, talks and solidarity. Faculty members and undergraduates visited to offer support. Graduate students don’t know how long they’ll keep agitating, but they’re prepared for a fight.

“We organized for a local rent control measure that failed, and we’ve worked very hard to support the university, but now it’s time for the administration to work hard to support us,” said Yulia Gilichinskaya, a graduate assistant in film and digital media studies at Santa Cruz.

Graduate student instructors, readers and graders across the university system -- from inland Merced down to San Diego -- all get about $2,400, pre-tax, per month for nine months out of the year, based on their United Auto Workers-affiliated union contract. While the deal passed statewide last summer, Santa Cruz students voted down it down by 83 percent and have been looking for ways to address their specific cost-of-living concerns since. Now they are protesting for $1,400 more per month.

California is an expensive place to live in general, but Santa Cruz residents face one of the tightest, most expensive housing markets in the country. Many graduate students have a horror story about trying to find a place to rent and a worse one about trying to pay for what space they eventually find. 

To change that, Santa Cruz graduate assistants are now seeking a campus-based increase in pay -- what they call a cost-of-living adjustment. Their calculations suggest that the extra $1,400 would enable many of them to spend a relatively reasonable 30 percent of their pay on rent, instead of the 50 percent or more many spend now. 

“It’s my fourth year in Santa Cruz, and I’ve had to move four times -- this is the first time I feel safe in my housing situation,” said Gilichinskaya, 31. Prior experiences with older, live-in male landlords and other concerns forced her to seek out a more secure, quiet space. And now that she’s living alone, she can’t really afford it: she says 79 percent of her pay goes toward rent.

Jane Komori, a third-year Ph.D. student studying in the interdisciplinary history of consciousness program, said she shares a room with someone, in a house with three other roommates, for $600 per month. Utilities and other fixed expenses add up to another $150, she said, making her own squeeze of a situation barely affordable.

“And I have it really good compared to a lot of people on campus,” added Komori, 25.

Seeking to force Santa Cruz’s administration to discuss a COLA, graduate student instructors launched a grade strike in December, even though their UAW contracts have a no-strike clause. Some 12,000 undergraduate grades were withheld, and many of the assistants who withheld them received letters of reprimand this month. Those who went a step further and deleted their grades from the university network received student conduct summonses.

The statewide union has said it will assist graduate students who face disciplinary action. It also told the university that withholding grades is an employment-related issue, and that concerns should be addressed through the union, not as student conduct violations.

Yet as the statewide union offers its support, Santa Cruz’s administration says that its hands are tied due to the statewide contract.

“UC Santa Cruz is in no position and has no authority to separately change an already agreed-upon, system-wide labor contract with the UAW,” the university said in a statement. Graduate students “play an important role in the educational mission of UCSC and this escalation of their wildcat strike will only impact our undergraduate students further.”

Of the ongoing grade strike, in particular, the university said that it is “extremely disappointed some graduate students are planning to continue to withhold grades” and that such actions “can have a profound, and perhaps unexpected, impact on our undergraduate students, including loss of financial aid, ability to graduate, declare a major, or apply to other programs including graduate school.”

Gilichinskaya said she’s all too aware of the consequences of the strike, as her participation puts her own legal status as a student at risk. But students are fighting for survival.

While the university hasn’t responded to the COLA request, it announced two new graduate student programs in January. The first is guaranteed five-year funding at half-time appointments, at minimum, for all new and continuing teaching and research assistants in good standing. The second is a need-based annual housing supplement of $2,500 until more campus living space becomes available.

Graduate students say these responses are inadequate, however, as need-based supplements aren’t available to international students. It's also unclear to them as of now who will otherwise qualify for housing assistance. Santa Cruz says that only students with "sufficient need" will get help. It defines need as the gap between the cost of attendance and students' expected contribution, based on their federal financial aid applications.

Students also say that the university continues to frame the problem as one of mere supply, and that building more rentals won’t necessarily prevent students from getting priced out of the local market.

As for the university’s position that it cannot negotiate with students on one campus during an ongoing contract, students take a different view. Agreement letters can be added to current contracts, they say. Fellowships could be announced. There are ways to get creative.

“We don't have to reinvent the wheel,” Gilichinskaya said.

Komori suggested that going forward, the university could fund students based on the local rental market, mirroring the way some federal agencies compensate their employees.

Gilichinskaya said that if the university doesn’t do it that way, then everyone in the system needs to be paid a living wage based on the most expensive campuses -- not the most affordable.

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