Behind the News

Behind the News

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THE FAILURE OF SEVERAL MAJOR banking institutions, and a credit flow freeze that threatens the global economy, have forced higher ed leaders to rethink long-term plans, while trying to shore up current commitments against calls for budget cuts.

President Bush’s Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008?“the bailout”?was designed to free up frozen credit markets. But it had little if any immediate impact on financial markets, leading administrators to prepare for worst-case scenarios.

Then, as if on cue, the credit freeze hit higher education. In early October, Wachovia Bank limited nearly 1,000 colleges access to $9.3 billion held for them in a short-term investment fund. This raised concerns at some higher ed institutions about not being able to meet payrolls and operational expenses, while some smaller IHEs had to consider that the long-term effects might mean closing their doors for good. Wells Fargo Bank has since moved to acquire Wachovia, with the promise of loosening restrictions, but in the face of such economic uncertainty, leaders at many institutions are making tough decisions. A few examples:

--Boston University announced a hiring freeze and a hold on new construction projects, trying to avoid deepening debt.

--The University of Memphis (Tenn.), already operating lean from prior budget cuts, must find $4 million more to trim.

--Rhode Island’s three public colleges are considering tuition and fee increases to make up for a budget gap. If approved, tuition and fees will increase nearly 7 percent for the spring semester.

Perhaps a bigger problem is that as tax revenues fall across the nation, states are cutting budgets to public institutions, resulting in a dangerous cycle. In Massachusetts, where higher education institutions contribute about $27 billion to the state’s economy, cuts may mean decreased services and fewer enrollments, which will ultimately contribute to the growing budget deficit.

All this comes at a time that enrollments are hitting record numbers. As student enrollments increase, as they typically do in a bad economy, schools may not have the funds to accommodate that growth.

In Utah, for example, enrollment has so far reached an 8.5 percent overall increase. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the swell of numbers throws a carefully considered budget model out the window. With a per-student cost of $6,000 each year, according to Utah’s Commissioner of Higher Education, the increase means that the state will face some $10 million in additional costs?at the same time administrators are being told they must cut budgets by 4 percent more, or about $33 million.

The University of Tennessee system has also been ordered to trim $17 million from its budget, as part of a statewide $106 million emergency reduction due to tax revenue shortfalls.

Beyond its impact on budgets, the economic crisis has aimed a spotlight on private student lenders as a cause for concern. The $700 billion bailout package includes a provision that would enable the Treasury Department to buy private student loan assets should that become necessary.

And as long as the economy is weak, that possibility seems likelier. When graduates’ job prospects dry up, the chance of loans defaulting increases. According to a U.S. Department of Education report, about a quarter of freshmen and sophomores who take out loans will default during their lifetime. In October the average rates on some private student loans went from about 10 percent to as high as 14 percent. For both individuals and institutions, one thing seems certain: Nothing is certain. ?Tim Goral

THE DECISION TO BAN SMOKING EVERYWHERE at 14 institutions in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education ignited a mixed response from the system’s 110,000 students and 12,500 employees.

Resulting from Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act, a law effective September 11 that prohibits smoking in most workplaces and public spaces, PASSHE’s ban is based on the interpretation that the law extends beyond buildings at educational facilities to include all campus grounds. Kenn Marshall, media relations manager, points out the reasoning includes the fact that schools hold outdoor campus events and occasionally have classes meeting outside.

Student smokers and nonsmokers reportedly organized demonstrations against the ban on at least three campuses. Now there seems to be general compliance. Two state system unions filed unfair practice charges. PASSHE officials were scheduled to meet with union representatives, but Marshall says there is no intent to change it.

The American Lung Association’s “Big Tobacco on Campus: Ending the Addiction” report (www.lungusa.org) finds more than 130 higher ed institutions across the country have smoke-free campus policies. ?Michele Herrmann

ALFRED H. BLOOM IS ALREADY AT WORK WITH HIS FUTURE JOB?leading New York University, Abu Dhabi?while carrying out his current post. President at Swarthmore College (Pa.) since 1991, Bloom will start as vice chancellor of NYU’s new campus in the United Arab Emirates no later than August 2009. Presently he is a consultant to the project, while completing his last term at Swarthmore. When finished at Swarthmore, he will oversee academic and operational matters at the Middle Eastern site.

Why Bloom for an NYU campus in the UAE? Reflecting on Swarthmore’s growth under Bloom’s watch, NYU President John Sexton cites an improvement in academic programs, expanded financial aid, better diversity, and impressive building projects at the institution. In a statement, he referred to Bloom as “accomplished, wise, and discerning.”

With its first students arriving in fall 2010, NYU Abu Dhabi is expected with its New York counterpart to form the backbone for a “global network university” that lets faculty and students from either campus spend semesters at one or more of NYU’s study abroad sites on five continents. NYU Abu Dhabi will operate as a liberal arts college, providing graduate programs and acting as a world center for advanced research and scholarship.

Bloom knows to expect some challenges, but he sees the possibilities?advancing education’s part in promoting a shared pursuit of knowledge and global understanding, which eventually will lead to a world built on common ground. In a release, he said, “This is a crucial next step for higher education.” ?M.H.

THE HIGHER EDUCATION OPPORTUNITY ACT WILL give more young adults with intellectual disabilities the chance to attend college, with better access to work study jobs and federal grants. For their part, higher ed institutions are already offering programs for these special groups. More than 120 programs are offered at two- and four-year IHEs to help these students become productive citizens, according to www.thinkcollege.net.

George Mason University (Va.) made early strides in this area with the Mason LIFE Program, now in its seventh year. Students with intellectual and emotional disabilities who had siblings in college wanted a chance to go, says Heidi Graff, program director. Today the four-year program has 24 students, whose conditions vary from mild autism and Down syndrome to cerebral palsy. Over four years, the program’s curriculum prioritizes fundamentals in reading, writing, and arithmetic.

In January, Clemson University (S.C.) will launch ClemsonLIFE, a two-year program. Three students will participate in the pilot semester, with six more accepted each fall after that. Future students will live in four-bedroom apartments with an RA who will assess and develop their independent living skills. Job training is also key. Students with cognitive disabilities often are stressed in new situations, says program manager Sharon Sanders. Training to make them feel competent helps them relax and perform well on the job.

The University of South Carolina began its program this fall, while Coastal Carolina University, also in South Carolina, will start a program next year. ?M.H.

“HALF THE PHDS IN THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES ARE WOMEN, but they aren’t going into faculty jobs,” says Joan Herbers, professor of evolution, ecology, and organismal biology at Ohio State University. Ohio State was one of nine institutions to receive a National Science Foundation grant to help make science, technology, engineering, and mathematics more welcoming for female faculty. Efforts such as peer mentoring, entrepreneurship training, and workshops for deans and senior faculty will be put in place in four of Ohio State’s 18 colleges. An HR office liaison will bring research findings to other academic areas. “The goal is to come to grips with the way our shared governance system has created different department cultures,” says Herbers, the principal investigator for the grant. “We have to get departments to understand what their culture is, that they have a culture, and that some of their practices get in the way of faculty success.” ?Ann McClure

By Stanley Fish, Oxford University Press, www.oup.com/us, 2008; 208 pp.; $19.95

NOTED EDUCATOR AND AUTHOR STANLEY Fish begins his new book with a question: What exactly is the job of higher education, and what is it that those who teach in colleges and universities are trained and paid to do? His answer? Teach. That’s it.

The book is an indictment of teaching styles that substitute advocacy and opinion for substantive analysis. Political and religious discussions have a place in the modern university, Fish says, but that place isn’t the classroom, and it isn’t the professor’s job to advocate one point of view over another.

He posits the only job of a teacher is “to 1) introduce students to bodies of knowledge and traditions of inquiry they didn’t know much about before; and 2) equip these same students with the analytical skills that will enable them to move confidently within those traditions and to engage in independent research should they choose to do so.” This incisive and interesting book provokes endless opportunity for discussion?just not in the classroom. ?T.G.

AS TRANSFER STUDENTS PERFORM A COLLEGE SEARCH, THEY HAVE lots of questions. Sure, traditional college-bound students have questions as well, but while that group may just want to know, for instance, if the institution has their major, transfer students are wondering about the value of that major. That’s one finding of the latest E-Expectations report from Noel-Levitz, based on a survey of 500 students nationwide who indicated the intention to transfer from one college to another.

“Transfer students are often underserved in terms of web content,” says Stephanie Geyer, associate vice president of e-communications and web strategy for Noel-Levitz, adding that there’s a dearth of contemporary research on this group. According to the study, transfers want to know if the school fits their career goals, if they can afford to attend, and if their credits will transfer. And while they may not be looking for bells and whistles?with two-thirds saying they preferred serious, formal web copy rather than fun, informal copy?significant percentages of transfers do find interactive tools valuable.

When respondents were asked to rate tools found on college websites, the highest percentage (62 percent) found a tool to estimate total cost of attendance to be “very valuable.” Also highly valued was a calculator to help estimate potential scholarships (48 percent), a separate section for admitted students with tools and resources to help in completing enrollment (47 percent), and a calculator or tool to help estimate numbers of transferable credits. Less valuable tools to transfers included student and faculty blogs, and videos or podcasts featuring different aspects of student life.

Some tools may have scored higher if they had been geared specifically to transfers. Website investments tend to go toward reaching traditional college-bound students, Geyer points out, with advanced tools available to transfers but not retrofitted to them. Yet the study indicates some good news, she says: Institutions may be able to use their websites and related communications to win over transfers, three-quarters of whom have not yet decided where they’ll go next. ?Melissa Ezarik

WHEN UPPERCLASS STUDENTS move off campus, often it’s their first time out on their own. They may well not be aware of all the responsibilities they will inherit as renters and the ordinances they must follow as local residents. A number of off-campus student service departments at colleges and universities have produced “Renter 101” videos to help transition students to their new roles.

Released in September, Virginia Tech’s Moving Off Campus at Virginia Tech: Play by Play guides students from house or apartment hunting to building good relations with roommates and neighbors. Student actors portray real-life scenarios, with some humor mixed in.

Perhaps it can follow the success of The Rental World, a video released in April 2005 by Colorado State University whose name plays off a well-known MTV show. The video follows the story of five students chosen to live in a house as they encounter landlords, leases, police, and neighbors. Its $18,000 price tag included production, prize incentives, and implementation.

Used alongside other teaching materials, the video is effective in showing students to be not only good renters but also good neighbors, explains Melissa Emerson, community liaison assistant director for CSU and the city of Fort Collins. “We continue to see a reduction in noise complaints.” In 2007, there were 3,327 noise complaints, a significant drop from he approximately 5,000 in 2004. “We’re hearing even from landlords that our students are more informed than they used to be,” Emerson adds.

Michigan State University administrators created a similar video, while Take Heed from East Carolina University (N.C.) approaches the subject with an entertaining irate theme. ?M.H.


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