Behind the News

Behind the News

Stories making headlines in higher education
By:

Will 2006 be the tipping point for the end of early admissions? This fall, a trio of elite institutions-Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Virginia-opted to end their binding early decision or nonbinding early action programs.

The University of Delaware also stopped early admissions this year, while the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill put the kibosh on early decision in 2002.

Elite institutions aren't the only ones with spotlights on them. Many universities offer rolling admissions options to accept applications even before the start of the senior year. Members of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling voted in October to ban programs that offer admissions decisions before the middle of September, and to stop colleges from setting application deadlines before October 15.

"This was a very under-the-radar move that ultimately I believe our members hope will help provide the kind of clarity and transparency in the admissions process that will allow people to keep it simple," says David Hawkins, director of public policy for NACAC. Still, many officers plan to stick to their current application structures.

University of Pennsylvania's President Amy Gutmann detailed her institution's stance in a Washington Post piece titled "Early Admissions Aren't the Problem." The debate over early admissions, Gutmann wrote, "is a distraction from a far more important matter: the urgent need of all but a handful of colleges and universities to improve financial aid for students from low-income and middle-income families."

But what of proof that early applicants do not typically apply for financial aid or come from low-income backgrounds? In UVa's current freshman class, for instance, of the 172 students considered to be low-income only one enrolled through early decision. "What we've found in two years is that we've had very few students enroll through the early decision process and at the low-income level," says John Blackburn, dean of admission at UVa.

Andrew Fairbanks found similar statistics through his research for The Early Admissions Game (Harvard University Press, 2003). With co-authors Christopher Avery and Richard Zeckhauser, Fairbanks sifted through databases for 14 of the country's 20 most selective IHEs. The results? At every school, the decision to apply early had a significant effect on outcome. Despite that evidence Fairbanks believes most institutions will keep early admissions to maintain enrollment yields. "I am not overly optimistic that this is going to lead to a widespread change."

-Caryn Meyers Fliegler

Sound Bite

We talk to students about our new dorms and our new gym. Sometimes I feel like I'm doing a time-share sales pitch and all I need are balloons to complete the effect.

-Bruce J. Poch, VP and dean of admissions, Pomona College (Calif.), on college marketing.

Noel-Levitz has released a second E-Expectations report on what college-bound students are looking for when they visit college websites. Executive Consultant Stephanie Geyer says students have turned into "secret shoppers" who find out everything about a college from its website. As a result, students' first contact at many colleges is coming in the form of completed applications. All the more reason that college and university websites have to be up to snuff.

Students' top expectations for websites are: self-service tools for exploration; authentic or "real" content; and fast and easy ways to connect when they are ready.

The top four activities students want to perform on websites haven't changed from last year: complete a financial aid estimator (88%); use a tuition calculator (83%); find an admission application (81%); and request a campus visit (81%). The fifth most important activity this year is instant messaging an admissions counselor (72%), up from eighth last year. The ability to personalize a website jumped from 42 percent last year to 62 percent this year. Also of note, this year 59 percent of students would accept a call on their cell phone; only 41 percent would last year.

See the complete report at www.noel-levitz.com.

-Ann McClure

DATA POINT

$1.4 billion-The amount the United States spends annually on remedial education for high school graduates

-The Alliance for Excellent Education.

Education.

By C.K. Gunsalus

Harvard University Press, 2006; 244 pp.; $21.95; www.hup.harvard.edu

Stepping into leadership in higher ed is a special challenge. Those new to leading departments have often proven themselves brilliant in the lecture hall or the research lab, but may find their IQs drop 20 points the minute they have to organize anything beyond a seminar, notes this author.

"It is a major transition to move from a professorship where one largely controls one's own intellectual agenda to a position in which one can be nibbled to death by administrivia: the tyranny of the in-box, telephone, drop-in visitors, e-mail," writes C.K. Gunsalus, a former associate provost at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and now a special counsel and faculty member there.

With chapters such as "Embrace your fate" and "Bullies," the author reveals a down-to-earth style. Gunsalus says budgets and curriculum planning are a piece of cake when compared to people management. During her years in university administration she has had to investigate myriad problems, including sexual harassment and financial improprieties. The upside of confronting such "yucky problems" is her book, which reflects her hands-on experience with reworked procedures and managerial training.

-Jean Marie Angelo

Chicago's Columbia College may help introduce the next Tina Fey or John Belushi through an innovative program that will teach the art of comedy.

The Comedy Studies Program, which begins in January, will give 16 students the chance to study and work with members of the famous Second City improvisational troupe in Chicago, which helped launch numerous comedy careers, including those of Robert Klein, Joan Rivers, Bill Murray, Amy Sedaris, and Steve Carrell.

Sheldon Patinkin, chairman of Columbia's theater department and one of Second City's founders, says the program will be more intense than Second City's own training center.

"It's involved in far more aspects of comedy than any program in the Training Center," says Patinkin. "Courses have been created specifically for this program, including a history of comedy that I'll be teaching with Anne Libera."

Patinkin says the 16-credit course is serious work, and includes sections on Writing Comic Scenes; History and Analysis of Modern Comedy; and Physical and Vocal Training for Comedy, culminating in an end-of-semester showcase.

Getting into the program is no joke either, says Patinkin. "There are several prerequisites for consideration in the program, including improv training or experience, as well as an essay and some letter of recommendation."

Patinkin says the school will offer the program in both the fall and spring semesters every year.

-Tim Goral

DATA POINT

191,321-Number of college students who studied abroad during the 2004-2005 academic year.

             -Year of Study Abroad (www.yearofstudyabroad.org).

Add personal life coaches to the list of student services some colleges are offering.

"Retention and attrition have been an issue on campuses for decades," says Cindy Skaruppa, vice president of Enrollment Management at Our Lady of the Lake University (Texas). University administrators were looking for a comprehensive solution when they contracted with InsideTrack.

The coaches don't offer academic advice; they focus on life skills such as transitioning from high school, balancing family life, and learning time management. Skaruppa firmly dismisses the idea the service is touchy-feely. "We're talking about what students bring to the table and executing a strategy," she says. The programs are based on the services usually reserved for high-powered business executives, she notes.

-Ann McClure

The applications for The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's first annual Campus Sustainability Leadership Awards proved just how deep a commitment IHEs today are making to sustainability-in governance, academics, operations, and community outreach. The following schools, categorized by size, were announced as winners during

AASHE's annual conference in October 2006:

University of British Columbia,

Vancouver, B.C.

UBC's sustainability strategy, with 68 targets and actions for achieving nine major goals, leaves no base uncovered. The institution recently completed the largest efficiency upgrade to ever take place on a Canadian campus. Its sustainability office is funded entirely by savings from its energy reduction programs. More than 300 academic courses deal with sustainability.

Berea College (Ky.)

The Ecovillage, a sustainability-oriented residential and learning complex, is a model for high efficiency. More than $100 million is being invested in "green" renovations across this campus. A full-time sustainability coordinator and four other related positions, as well as several dozen student positions, get the sustainability job done here.

Warren Wilson College (N.C.)

WWC's mission to educate for environmental sustainability is accomplished through academics, work, and service. Recent sustainability distinctions include the purchase of wind energy for 100 percent of its electricity consumption, LEED Gold certification for the new Orr Cottage, and recognition as the 2006 "Outstanding Conservation Farm Family" for Western North Carolina; the college garden provides organic produce for campus dining services.

Lane Community College (Ore.)

The goal: Become carbon-neutral by 2050. The college is already purchasing 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. All new facilities will be built with LEED-certified standards. Faculty interested in integrating sustainability concepts into their work can obtain institutional funding. Lane is an active participant in the City of Eugene's Sustainable Business Initiative, and it's one of the only community colleges in the nation to employ a full-time sustainability coordinator.

The association's award applications are posted online at www.aashe.org/resources/profiles/profiles.php.

-Melissa Ezarik

DATA POINT

51.2%- the percentage of college classrooms that are now wireless.

-The Campus Computing Project, which notes an increase from 42.7% in 2005.

A little friendly competition never hurt anyone, especially when the environment benefits. In October, New York University announced it would purchase 118 million KWh of wind power, making it the largest green power purchaser among U.S. colleges and universities, unseating the University of Pennsylvania. It also hurtles NYU's athletic conference from number 14 to number one in the EPA's green power challenge standings.

"We're a Division III school; it looks like it took the purchase of green energy to get us into Division I competition," NYU spokesman John Beckman said, when he stopped laughing. He encouraged other universities to follow suit. Actually, the standings were not part of NYU's decision, which is an effort to consolidate environmental activities into one initiative. NYU receives one- quarter of its power from a cogeneration plant on campus, while the wind power will offset the energy received from the local utility. Penn took the news in stride.

"At this point we are very comfortable with our position in the wind energy market," spokesman Mike Coleman said. "I think it's great; there are no losers with regards to this issue, only winners. Our goal was always to do our part and encourage and/or support this evolving market." For more on the EPA higher ed standings, visit www.epa.gov/greenpower/.

-A.M.

The mission to revamp higher education was officially launched in late September when U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings gave a speech to the National Press Club. Her much anticipated remarks covered the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which has been meeting throughout the year. Spellings' speech, which outlined the commission's findings, was long on catch phrases and bold ideas, but short on how-to steps.

Her call for "accessibility, affordability, and accountability" in higher education involves everything from improving high school courses and college readiness, to revamping financial aid, to developing ways to measure learning outcomes.

She boiled down the commission's recommendations to five points:

1. Hold high schools accountable.

2. Streamline the financial aid process.

3. Create a database that will be a "higher education information center."

4. Provide matching funds to colleges, universities, and states that collect data and report on learning outcomes.

5. Convene members of the accrediting community in November to help create measures that emphasize learning.

Higher education associations were guarded in their responses. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators issued a statement on the commission's proposal to cut financial aid application waiting time in half, giving students and families qualification information earlier in the spring of senior year. This offers hope for a more efficient system, "however, the lack of details provided is cause for concern," read the statement.

David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, and the only member of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education who did not sign the final report, later expressed disappointment that more was not outlined on how to link accreditation and accountability.

The national database, too, is going to be a problem, he said. Already organizations are raising privacy concerns. While the database will be used to view overall student performance, and not focus on individuals, the organizers will have to allay fears that student identities and specific course grades cannot be traced.

Ward noted that ACE and five other higher education organizations were already at work on the issues raised. "We took a proactive approach," says Ward, referring to the "gathering storm" of higher education issues. Several days before Spellings spoke to the National Press Club, the six major organizations issued a letter titled, "Addressing the Challenges Facing American Undergraduate Education," outlining work already in place to keep college affordable and improve outcomes. One key promise: to work with Congress to increase the Pell Grant.

-J.M.A.

SOUND BITE

Colleges need to get out of the business of doing high school and concentrate on higher education.

-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, explaining that high schools
must do a better job preparing students for college.

Few top administrators are likely jealous of Lee

Bollinger these days. The president of Columbia University has seen two major free speech incidents explode at his school this fall.

In early October, students physically disrupted a speech by Jim Gilchrest, founder of the Minuteman Project, which is known for anti-immigration activities. The students stormed a stage and overturned a table at the event sponsored by the College Republicans, chanting "Minutemen, Nazis, KKK! Racists, fascists, go away!"

Bollinger hustled to issue a statement noting that the incident was being investigated. "This is not complicated," he said. "Students and faculty have rights to invite speakers to campus. Others have rights to hear them. Those who wish to protest have rights to do so. No one, however, shall have the right or the power to use the cover of protest to silence speakers."

A couple of weeks earlier, Columbia was mired in another free speech debacle when it retracted a speaking invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Bollinger explained that Columbia had not been able to establish a conversation with the Iranian Embassy that would ensure Ahmadinejad's speech "would reflect the academic values" that are the hallmark of a university event.

The Ahmadinejad invitation had been made by Lisa Anderson, dean of the School of International and Public Affairs. Anderson had the right to invite speakers, Bollinger noted, adding that the event would have been in keeping with the open exchange that universities should protect.

-C.M.F.

Any recruitment campaign that generates 200,000 website hits in its first week can legitimately be dubbed successful. Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, got that many hits with its "Yale Shmale" campaign, which features that slogan and a picture of President George W. Bush, a 1968 Yale alumni. Visitors to the site, www.yaleshmale.com, are advised "The smart choice is a university that's right for you." About 90,000 visitors have clicked through to the university's website, "which is pretty damn good," says Director of Communications Eleanor S. Abaya. "We've been inundated with e-mails, phone calls, and letters" from around the world, she says. People either love the ads or hate them; there is no middle ground. "We've achieved our awareness goals in spades." Abaya laughed at the idea Lakehead was trying to compare itself to Yale; still, they don't intend to expand the campaign to include other Ivy League schools.

-A.M.

In the seventh, and final, year of the University of California, San Diego's "Imagine What's Next" fundraising campaign, officials are looking inward for help in reaching their ambitious $1 billion goal.

Informal surveys had revealed a lack of awareness among faculty and staff about the campaign's effects on them, says Rebecca Newman, associate vice chancellor for development. While asking faculty and staff for contributions, as other institutions have done, was always the intention, until this summer they weren't targeted specifically, she adds.

With more than $900 million raised so far, "we wanted [employees to] understand and feel the tremendous community support that they have in making the institution more prominent," Newman explains. Through live kick-offs, a new website, and a brochure that informs and challenges staff to "help take us over the top," recognition and appreciation are the goals. "The pressure is not on giving-the emphasis is on learning what's happening, creating awareness, and building a sense of community," Newman says, adding that a dollar figure goal has purposely not been set.

Two new donor initiatives have been introduced:

The UCSD Faculty-Staff Undergraduate Scholarship Endowment, which supports children of employees and will receive up to $50,000 in matching funds (offered by former recreation department staffer Darcy Bingham and her husband)

The Staff Development Fund, which provides support for staff to participate in conferences and other career training opportunities

The campaign has included some more specific targets-including hospital employees, whose enterprise by nature is separate from academic areas, and emeriti staff members, who tend to have strong emotional ties to UCSD. "We have an extraordinary faculty and staff component here, and we wanted them to feel very much part of the success, by identification or actually contributing," Newman says.

-M.E. Ezarik

Here's evidence that higher ed leaders are embracing flexibility: One in five institutions eligible for the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Faculty Career Flexibility applied. After all, recruitment and retention of faculty, particularly women and underrepresented minorities, may depend on these programs.

The awards, which recognize research universities for supporting career flexibility for tenured and tenure-track faculty, were conducted by the American Council on Education, with support from the Families and Work Institute. Each winning institution received a $250,000 accelerator grant to continue its work.

Duke University (N.C.) will establish a Flexible Work Arrangements Policy, a Pre-Retirement Planning/Post-Retirement Work Program, and a Dual Career Recruitment/Retention Program.

Lehigh University (Pa.) will create the Integrated Faculty Career Transition Program to provide funds and support for boosting research productivity and conference attendance, as well as assisting faculty working less than full time.

University of California, Berkeley and Davis will initiate a systemwide educational campaign to promote equitable use of existing flexible career policies. Berkeley leaders will create a family-friendly tool kit for department heads, while Davis leaders will launch an advisor program for faculty who are family planning.

University of Florida will introduce a Presidential Council on Diversity and the Status of Women, a dual-career services program, and other initiatives to help establish policies, stimulate cross-campus discussions, standardize practices, and encourage flexible career choices.

University of Washington will launch "Eight by '08," a multipart program that will expand leadership development workshops, implement a pilot paid parental leave policy for faculty, create a tracking mechanism for policy use and faculty career options, create a support group for "new mom" faculty, and increase infant and toddler childcare slots available to faculty.

Also recognized, with $25,000, were Iowa State University (for its benefits-tracking system) and the University of Wisconsin, Madison (for support given to faculty who encounter critical junctures in their careers that affect their research and personal lives).

-M.E.

Earlier this fall a new book hit the higher education scene, and few Admissions offices have stopped buzzing about it since. The Price of Admission (Crown, 2006) alleges that America's richest and most powerful families receive unacceptable access to the country's elite colleges and universities. After lighting a fuse with the book, author Daniel Golden answers a few questions from University Business.

How were you able to get administrators to reveal such inside information?

Many current and former college and high school administrators provide information to me because they believe that college admissions should be fair and meritocratic and they're deeply troubled by preferences for children of alumni and donors and other privileged groups.

What has been the response?

Since actions speak louder than words, the greatest tribute my book has received came a week after its publication when Harvard eliminated early admissions. I'd like to think-and have reason to believe-that the timing of that announcement was a response to my book.

What would you most like administrators to take from the book?

I would like college administrators to realize that it's time for them to be more transparent about their admissions process. Colleges often try to stonewall journalists like me by pretending that they maintain a firewall between fundraising and admissions, or that legacy preference is only about tradition, not money.

For the complete Q&A, visit www.universitybusiness.com/exclusives.

-C.M.F.


Advertisement