Behind The News

Behind The News

It's common to find students filing papers in campus offices, restocking library shelves, or checking IDs at the fitness center to make a buck. What's a little less common is students replacing sidewalks and entranceways to dorms, building fountains, and constructing additions.

But that's how SUNY, Delhi (N.Y.) is using the most literal translation of the term "work study" to benefit students' learning experience - and the university's budget. For decades, this small technology college has been equipping students with hands-on experience in exchange for construction work around campus.

"Without it our education is thin," says Floyd Vogt, a professor of construction technology who has been teaching a capstone construction seminar to about 30 students each spring for the last 10 years. During the course, students design a project, sell their idea to the college, expedite the materials, and do all the manual labor in one semester, graduating fully prepared to take on jobs as construction managers. Students in other study areas, like masonry, complete projects in their fields.

"They leave here with technical skills, mind skills, and hand skills," says Vogt.

Students have laid and repaired sidewalks, as well as built a bus shelter, baseball dugouts, and fountains. The construction is for-credit as part of students' lab assignments, so the college is able to save around 50 percent on its project costs, says Joe Batchelder, director of capital construction. "The material costs are usually not high but the labor is what gets you on a smaller project," he says. "It's a real win-win."

Student involvement in manual labor is not unheard of. For example, at the College of the Ozarks (Mo.), an institution in the category of work colleges that's known as "Hard Work U," students there work 280 hours per semester through a mandatory work program. A combination of private, institutional, and government aid provides cost-free tuition in exchange for students' hard work in the college cafeteria or helping out with landscaping or construction projects.

While manual labor affords students the opportunity to acquire life skills, it's not the only way to accomplish that. There appears to be an emerging trend of student workers taking on meaningful tasks.

Patricia Klauser, executive director of career development and placement at Sacred Heart University (Conn.), says the institution has really been emphasizing connections between the curriculum and the world of work.

"The university itself is a community, and it's a business, and it's a perfect placement site," she says. "So we're expanding the kinds of opportunities on campus and even upgrading the work-study positions so that we can help students further develop workplace readiness skills like critical thinking, leadership, and the ability to communicate."

One example of this is at The Factory, Sacred Heart's tech-support center, where students outnumber the full-time technicians and gain hands-on tech experience.

Similarly, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, students are trained to work in a call center, answering important financial aid questions from incoming students instead of just running errands for the department. -Kristen Domonell

 

Why is it that higher education commentators sleep more soundly when Congress is out of session, federal regulatory agencies are closed, and the Stock Exchange rings its closing bell?

The average Joe has little time to distinguish the usual suspects when it comes to postsecondary vocational education reform and we use the word reform advisedly. After all, higher education aficionados can hardly keep abreast of the latest regulatory tinkering, i.e., prohibiting incentive compensation, redefining gainful employment, and as a result, constricting the availability of federal financial aid to worthy students and the families and employers who support them.

Muckraking journalists have criticized proprietary colleges and universities using secret student shoppers to sensationalize the deceitful practices of a few bad apples. Unhappily, these dragnets do little to raise public awareness about the practical impact of the proposed changes. Even though the purported intent of the regulatory noose is to avoid student loan defaults, this witch hunt could hurt needy students and chill the enthusiasm of employers for creating jobs of the future.

To make matters worse, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics and the Coalition for Education Success report that the real impetus for these changes may not be to protect student consumers, but rather for private gain. Both organizations have reportedly collected documentary evidence of alleged collusion of well-known Wall Street short sellers with high-level U.S. Department of Education officials during the regulatory process. And most industry insiders suspect that the rule-making process was heavily stacked with perennial critics of the for-profit sector.

Contrary to popular misconception, the preponderance of for-profit postsecondary vocational institutions hold their own and, in many cases, exceed the student success rates of nonprofit and public colleges. For many postsecondary vocational students, for-profits offer an invaluable opportunity to get a job foothold in a fickle economy and prosper in the new, increasingly competitive global workforce.

Unfortunately, the Fed's regulatory prescription for reform could chill job creation shrinking the American knowledge worker talent pool. University Business readers know the last chapter of that book: U.S. firm goes offshore for cheap, yet intelligent labor.

Rather than adopt the knee jerk response of the federal education bureaucracy, Congress would do well to hold their powder and monitor institutional performance and identify actual trendlines, as well as incentivize best educational consumer practices.

James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.), and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.

 

The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in December has many college and university leaders rethinking their stance on allowing Reserve Officer Training Corps on campus. But it's not as easy as throwing open the main gate.

There are 327 campuses currently hosting programs, an increase over the 273 units in 2008. Published reports indicate that the U.S. Department of Defense is hesitant to sanction more programs because of budget considerations, despite an issue to do so just a few years ago. With the military supplying instructors and scholarships, the cost to the host campus can be minimal. Another factor is campus culture. At Northeastern University (Mass.), which has hosted ROTC since 1951, campus leaders increased allowable ROTC credit hours making things easier on students. Leaders at Purdue University (Ind.) find the Air Force ROTC program fits in well with science and technology majors on campus.

Introducing ROTC to campus will have the growing pains any new program does, but it can also add to campus pride. "Northeastern has a proud tradition of supporting our men and women in uniform through ROTC and aiding our national security efforts through scientific innovation," says Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University. "The dedication of our ROTC students and the research done by our outstanding faculty contribute to the safety of our country and the world."

Robert L. Caret

Robert L. Caret will bring more than 35 years of higher ed experience with him to the University of Massachusetts five-campus system when he succeeds President Jack M. Wilson on June 30. As president of Towson University (Md.) since 2003, Caret has created new partnerships with regional business, nonprofit, and civic organizations in the state. He is a founding member of the Maryland Business Council, an honorary chairman of the Maryland Council on Education, and a member of the board of directors of the CollegeBound Foundation. Previously, Caret was president of San Jose State University (Calif.) for eight years. --Helen T. McAlpine, president of J.F. Drake State Technical College (Ala.), has been appointed a member of the advisory board for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. She was appointed by President Barack Obama and sworn into the position in January. --In an exception to one of the Catholic university's bylaws requiring the president to be a priest, A. Gabriel Esteban has been appointed president of Seton Hall University (N.J.) after serving as interim president there since July. --Alecia A. DeCoudreaux, vice president and deputy general counsel at Eli Lilly and Company and chair of the Wellesley College (Mass.) board of trustees, will lead Mills College (Calif.) as of July. --Allan Gilmour, former vice chairman and chief financial officer for Ford, who was appointed interim president of Wayne State University (Mich.) in August, has been named the university's permanent president. --Nariman Fardavin, provost at the University of Maryland, College Park, has been named the seventh president of Stevens Institute of Technology (N.J.), to begin in July. --Joseph M. O'Keefe, dean of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College (Mass.), will lead Saint Joseph's University (Pa.) as of May. John Wilton has taken over as University of California, Berkeley's vice chancellor for administration and finance. --K.D.

It was certainly a sharp improvement over the prior year's -18.7 percent return. In the 2010 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments, data gathered from 850 participating U.S. colleges, universities, and affiliated foundations show that endowments returned an average of 11.9 percent, net of fees, for FY2010 (July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010).

William F. Jarvis, managing director of the Commonfund Institute, recalls a good first quarter and a stock market retrenchment in the second quarter, which left end-of-year results uncertain. Not only did the year look good overall, but NACUBO and Commonfund executives noted hope about FY2011 at a press conference. Yet, returns over three, five, and 10 years are unimpressive, remaining below the level needed to fund institutional missions long-term.

While the FY2009 study found smaller institutions outperforming larger ones, for FY2010 it was back to the more common scenario of larger institutions - which tend to have dedicated endowment staff and larger alumni networks from which to solicit gifts - outperforming smaller ones. But Jarvis notes there are top-performing smaller and mid-sized endowments, as well as larger ones that don't do well. "It's not your destiny to have mediocre results just because you're a small institution," he says.

 

Another outlook that concerns him is the "unfortunate way in which endowment success has turned into a horse race in the sector," he says. With endowments simply representing the sum of programs and given desires, "comparing who's ahead of whom is not terribly helpful."

Endowment rebuilding should be the focus of the next few years, Jarvis says. "That may come from investment returns, but it will have to be bolstered by gifts." The flow of gifts and donations did improve between FY2009 and FY2010. Sixty percent of participants had reported a decrease in gifts and 26 percent an increase; FY2010 showed 42 percent reporting decreases and 43 percent increases. Jarvis' advice for advancement staff: "Become as fluent as possible about the link between the gift and the mission." And institutions would do well to examine current management practices, he says. Today's donors want "to have confidence in how the money already in the endowment is being managed. If they don't have that confidence, they're not going to give an endowed gift." -Melissa Ezarik

 

"There's really no need to bring a car," prospective students are told by University of Colorado at Boulder students and officials. After all, the city is designated a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, and bike paths are kept useable even in winter months. On campus, a bike station offers registration, rentals, and maintenance services. A Mobile Mechanic provides breakdown assistance, and fans biking to a big game can even use a student-run valet service at the stadium.

For administrators, the growing bike population requires ongoing needs assessment and planning. This has meant adding bike racks and considering pedestrian safety. "The more bikes, skateboards, mopeds, the more [sidewalk] conflicts," points out Frank Bruno, vice chancellor for administration, who oversees facilities, planning, and parking/transportation for CU. In terms of where to place additional bike parking, it's about collecting feedback and keeping an eye out, for instance of, say, bikes chained to a handicapped accessible railing. "We'll speak with students and ask why they did that," he says. Administrators want to continue steering students and faculty toward alternative transportation modes, Bruno adds. "We know we can't afford to build additional parking structures. We're not the kind of community that has acres and acres of surface parking."

Here are some of the numbers behind CU's bike program:

  • 11,000: Total bike spaces available on campus
  • 400: New spaces added in "prime" campus areas this academic year
  • 1,664: New spaces added over the past three years
  • $75,000: Cost of current four-year bike parking project (funded by Parking and Transportation Services and the student-run Environmental Center)
  • 7,000 to 8,000: Bikes on campus on any given day
  • 75: Percent of CU students, faculty, and staff getting to campus each day by bus, bike, foot, or a combination of those methods
  • 60: "Buff Bikes" available for rent by students and employees
  • $30: Cost of a semester-long bike rental (plus $100 refundable deposit)
  • 491: Fans of "I Bike CU" on Facebook (as of mid-February) --M.E.

The irony of a business school looking for "principled leaders" among its applicants and finding dozens of cases of plagiarism underscores a growing problem. At Penn State's Smeal College of Business, Admission Director Carrie Marcinkevage says technology has devalued the idea of "intellectual property" in a generation that came of age with music file-sharing, Wikipedia, and web-linking. A passage in one student's admissions essay happened to sound familiar. She searched other essays and found it elsewhere. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

"We had 29 cases of plagiarism in our admissions essays out of a pending 360 applications," she reports. "We dropped everything else and immediately went back through all essays of those applicants who had been admitted, invited to interview, or were awaiting decisions. We did discover several who'd been invited to interview. Those candidates were notified and not admitted. And we unfortunately found one who'd been admitted. That decision was rescinded."

The department turned to Turnitin from iParadigms, a software solution already in use at Penn State. The screening software allows for a very consistent and completely objective first review, Marcinkevage says. "Any concerns are then reviewed solely based on the matching-content concerns. Only after that are they reviewed for overall admissions fit." She says the software does not replace the human element involved in the admissions process. Instead, it only alerts officials that there may be a problem.

Plagiarism is a growing problem throughout higher education, as evidenced by recent reports in The New York Times and elsewhere. Are admissions officials doing everything they can to spot it?

"I truly wish that more institutions were talking about this at the admissions level," Marcinkevage says. "I am trying to get that conversation started."

She offers this advice to admissions officers at other institutions:

  • Consider ways to look for concerns but also to keep the team positively focused.
  • Ensure that the process is consistent and equitable for all candidates.
  • Educate. Prevent. Talk. She doesn't want the conversation to be about "catching and punishing plagiarists [but about] preventing it in the first place." --Tim Goral

As people debate the cost of college education, the price of textbooks inevitably comes up. It's a pain point both the state and federal government have scrutinized. Students have long worked around the issue through buying or trading used books and searching out alternate sources online. At the end of January, the OpenCourseWare program at the University of California, Irvine held a forum to introduce faculty to other textbook options, primarily open textbooks, which have more liberal licensing restrictions.

 

"Instructors are more and more conscious of the cost of textbooks to students," says Gary W. Matkin, dean of continuing education, distance learning, and summer session. Price concerns, government intervention, and the greater availability of digital information are all combining to drive the open courseware movement, he says.

Faculty have two main approaches to the high cost of textbooks: "either they feel it is wrong and have empathy, or they are concerned about the impact on their ability to teach," says Eric Frank, president and co-founder of Flat World Knowledge, a publishing company providing a platform for open textbooks. Another appeal is that open textbooks allow faculty members to rearrange chapters, add or delete material, and otherwise provide students with lower-cost texts that are customized to the class in print or digital form.

"The ability to deliver at just the right point in the learning process just the right information is [revolutionary]," agrees Matkin, adding that no longer will syllabi instruct students to skip certain chapters in an expensive textbook. An appeal for college administrators is a way to keep costs down and make parents and students happy. "If you talk to high-level administrators about exit surveys, you'll find the cost of textbooks is a high one," says Frank.

Although the open textbook movement is currently being driven by passionate people, it will eventually grow into the mainstream similar to the way open source software did. UC Irvine is helping with that growth.

"We had a tremendous turnout. There were 146 people that attended the live webcast and then another 50 that attended the on-campus event. We were very happy with the results," says Kathy Tam, communications specialist to the dean of continuing education at the university. "From our point of view, it's important to bring the issue of open textbooks to our campus as part of our greater OpenCourseWare mission." The archive of the webinar is available at http://tinyurl.com/65uw23q. --A.M.

 

The adage that the grass is greener on the other side could resonate with this year's freshman class, who rated their emotional health in comparison to their peers' at the lowest level in 25 years, according to results published by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA from its 2010 Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) freshman survey.

The CIRP is administered to incoming freshmen during summer orientation or the first few weeks of class and is designed to gather information about students' experiences leading up to college and their college expectations, life goals, attitudes, and experiences, says Linda DeAngelo, assistant director of research for the survey. The report reveals that the percentage of students reporting their emotional health was in the "highest 10 percent" or "above average," when compared to their peers, dropped by 3.4 percent from 2009, from 55.3 percent to 51.9 percent - the lowest level since the question was first asked in 1985. Women are 13.2 percent less likely than men to report high levels of emotional health.

"This signals to us that students are perceiving that their emotional health is lower than what they think it should be, in terms of being lower in comparison to their peers," says DeAngelo.

The HERI recommends higher ed leaders help combat these findings by encouraging students to be active and socialize with their peers, and DeAngelo says it's important for college and university leaders to be aware of the implications mental health can have on being successful educationally.

"Students who are under emotional stress and overwhelmed don't always make the best decisions in terms of time management," she says. "Universities really need to think about how to outreach their wellness services so students who need those services can take advantage of them."

The study - which also covers student financial concerns and views on the economy and politics; numbers of students identifying themselves as having a disability; beliefs on gay and lesbian adoption rights; and expectations of satisfaction and participation in college activities - was based on responses from 201,818 students at 279 colleges and universities. A summary can be viewed at www.heri.ucla.edu; the full report is also available for purchase online ($15 for a PDF, $25 for a hard copy). --K.D.


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