End Note

Time to Rethink Public Higher Education

Strategic investing in education could help save revenue-starved institutions.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' commission on the Future of Higher Education should acknowledge that the historical business model for public higher education is irreparably broken.

Communicating the Reality and the Promise

An essential part of a president's job is to help a university imagine its future.

I have always viewed communication as essential to the position of a university president. In my short time as president of Loyola University New Orleans, I have been guided by a basic, underlying commitment to be as open and transparent as possible in my decision-making. Communication is crucial to fulfilling that promise.

Say No to More Federal Bureaucracy

A college affordability index would be a further intrusion on campus management decisions.

The U.S. House higher education subcommittee wants to create a federal college affordability index. The proposal has little to do with ranking colleges in a public image-building contest. It has everything to do with de facto price controls.

Congress would insert itself into the middle of each college's pricing decisions, stripping boards at private and public institutions of their independence and responsibilities to students. At thousands of colleges, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education would walk into a trustees' meeting and take permanent seats at the table.

Preventing Professional Plagiarism

Technology can help ensure students and faculty live by the same standards.

Pervasive student plagiarism used to be the dirty little secret in higher education, but plagiarism by professors is the dirtier secret now being told. They condemn student plagiarism but are now being found guilty of the same crime.

Campus politics and hierarchies, economics, and fear of litigation all conspire against confronting the problem. Some professors industriously steal others' phrases, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and research to trade for credibility, reputation, tenure, and textbook royalties.

Private/Public Partnerships Can Work

A new stadium shared by a college and school district--why not?

Reading, Pa., northwest of Philadelphia, is a city in transition. With 80,000 residents, the historically Pennsylvania-German city has become an urban melting pot with a Latino population of nearly 39 percent. North 13th Street cuts across very different socio-economic neighborhoods, going in a matter of blocks from a working class, predominantly Latino area of modest row-homes, to the solidly middle and upper-middle class single-family homes surrounding a college campus.

Universities and Communities Must Collaborate to Reduce Binge Drinking

Binge drinking won't stop on its own. Universities have a role to play in addressing the problem.

This past school year, the deaths of at least seven U.S. college students have been tied directly to the excessive consumption of alcohol.

Something's Wrong with the Grading

You thought your child was doing well in school. A report card comes home saying that he just received an F. At school you learn that of the 50 students in the class, 36 received Fs and 11 received Ds. Only 3 students received C- or better. Your first thought is that there's a problem with the grading.

You're right.

Barbarians at Higher Education's Gates

Phony degree scams offer a sheepskin equivalent of the emporer's new clothes.

Want a college diploma without ever enduring the inconvenience and cost of attending a college? Plenty of providers are out there, ready to oblige.

For example, there's BackAlleyPress.com. Its spiel? "Our novelty diplomas are designed to look 100% authentic! We produce over 1,000 replica novelty degrees, diplomas, and transcripts from universities all around the world. Our designers have gone through painstaking efforts to try to make each of our documents look as exact as possible. Each document is customized and printed individually to your specifications, including degree, major, and school." Last year a reporter wrote of obtaining a Harvard diploma and transcript from BackAlley's Thailand office. Printing, the reporter said, was done by the Shun Luen Company of Shenzhen, China. A check of the internet as this was written found BackAlley still alive and kicking.

Lest some potential customers are too dumb or ignorant to track down a website on their own, the fraud merchants are reaching out on e-mail. This writer received the following exclamation-laden e-mail message in early summer:

Other e-mails arrived at about the same time, each bearing substantially the same message but with differing phone numbers. My associate called two of these numbers. Dialing the first, despite the promise of "24 hours" availability, resulted in a recorded message that the number was no longer in service. The second number led her into a voicemail box, requesting her name and number and promising a return call. The call came about a week later.

The caller identified himself as representing "Haywood University" in London. He offered my associate a "beautiful diploma" for $2,000, with a $500 discount if she "signed up right now." The diploma would be delivered within 10 days of receipt of payment.

Diploma mills are rampant on
the internet and in nations with
weak or nonexistent regulation.

How could she qualify for this "beautiful diploma?" she inquired. The degree would be based upon her work experience. "You create the credentials." But what sort of degree would it be? What field of expertise should she claim? "Are you a reporter?" he asked at this point. The discussion was ended soon after that.

A search of the name "Haywood University" produced two "Sponsored Sites." Both "www.e-degrees.org" and "www.internetcolleges.org" were compilations of online higher-education organizations, organized by the states where their services are available. The first of these sites says, "If you are interested in attending an online college you have come to the right place. We have identified the best ones in each state." The list of "Featured Schools" didn't include a Haywood University. And, in fact, a Netscape search of "English Universities" also failed to turn up a Haywood University. A Google search came back with the query, "Did you mean 'hayward university'?"

In short, if a Haywood University exists outside of cyberspace and the telephone lines, we couldn't find it.

Backalley.com and Haywood U. are only the most brazen of the barbarians massing at the gates of higher education's ivory towers. Unaccredited schools at all levels of legitimacy--or illegitimacy--comprise the less menacing bulk of this barbarian horde. They are rampaging not only on the internet, but in nations such as India, where regulation of higher education is weak or nonexistent.

In a world teeming with billions of "Spare Parts and Broken Hearts," to borrow a Bruce Springsteen tune title, the desperately unqualified will turn to these diploma mills for their sheepskin equivalents of the emperor's new clothes. When they do, they are not the only victims of such scams.

Cristovam Buarque, Brazil's minister of education, recently said, "In the face of [global] upheavals, the university still represents the intellectual heritage [that makes it] the most appropriate and prepared place to guide the future of humanity." Stirring words, but true only if the global network of legitimate colleges and universities protects and defends its integrity and reputation against the barbarians at our gates.

Jim Castagnera, a Philadelphia journalist and lawyer, is the Associate Provost at Rider University and author of the weekly newspaper column "Attorney at Large."

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