You are here

Beyond the News

Behind the News

University Business, Jul 2011

Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, colleges and universities have come a long way in campus accessibility. But recent assessments show they’re lagging in one important arena?the web. In March, using HiSoftware’s Compliance Sheriff software, Systems Alliance, a technology services firm, ran accessibility scans on the websites of all institutions on the U.S. News & World Report top 25 list and found that none were fully compliant with government standards.

“The technologies used to render websites and make them interactive present ever new challenges to making them accessible,” says Mary Ziegler, manager for accessibility and usability services in the Information Services and Technology department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Commonly used technologies include Flash, Ajax, and JavaScript?all of which require special coding for the content to be legible to screen readers used by the blind. At institutions where multiple departments are building websites, she says, it’s difficult to have all the developers on the same page and familiar with the standards.

But institutions that aren’t taking measures to ensure access for the disabled are violating Section 508?the law governing web accessibility. It’s an issue the National Federation for the Blind views as a priority.

“The NFB considers web accessibility to be a very big issue because the internet has come to dominate all aspects of life, including education,” says Christopher S. Danielson, director of public relations. “Colleges and universities that have inaccessible websites are violating the law because the technology they use is required to be accessible to all of their students.” He points out that these requirements extend to other educational technologies, including e-readers, e-textbooks, and online learning systems.

Recently, the NFB took a shot at higher ed, asking for investigations into institutions that deploy Google Apps for Education for email and collaboration, because those sites do not meet accessibility standards.

Colleges and universities aren’t alone when it comes to issues with web accessibility. Ninety percent of the websites of federal government agencies do not comply with government accessibility standards, a study published in July in the journal Government Information Quarterly reports.

Jasmine Tobias, a web accessibility specialist with Systems Alliance, says one way to ensure accessibility is to provide alternate text where images and multimedia content are present on a site. But alternate is not necessarily the way to go. “People with disabilities still want to experience the same content, the same richness on that page as people without disabilities,” says Tobias. She recommends understanding and implementing accessibility from the start. “If you know that your site has to be accessible, it is so much easier to incorporate a lot of the techniques during design. If you’re trying to make a site accessible post design, it can be very costly and time consuming.” ?Kristen Domonell

Need to replace residence hall or classroom furniture, or have summer renovation projects going on? Consider using the Institution Recycling Network to help ensure the materials get put to good reuse. IRN is making a special request for items on behalf of tornado and flood victims in Missouri, Alabama, Massachusetts, and elsewhere this year. While the membership recycling cooperative, which targets colleges and universities, schools, hospitals, and nursing homes, can’t guarantee specific items will go to tornado or flood relief, many of its charitable partners are key players in relief and reconstruction in these areas.

Officials at Boston University, who were swapping out dorm refrigerator-microwave units and replacing several hundred mattresses, and the University of Central Missouri, which had a large number of beds and cots with bedding, OK’ed the shipping of these items to Joplin, Mo., after the May 22 tornado there. As IRN notes in a case study on this effort, which involved assistance from Staples staff and BU student volunteers, getting items directly to an on-site relief effort involves a lot more than filling a truck, labeling it with the destination, and getting it there.

IRN members, who pay a $500 annual fee, receive a discount on services, which are available to non-members as well. To send information about a potential project, go to or contact Laura Ireland at 603-229-1962. ?Melissa Ezarik

Step aside U.S. News & World Report. Move over Princeton Review. Your annual rankings may instill confidence or consternation among U.S. colleges and universities (depending on placement), but you’re not the only game in town. It’s a big world out there. When it comes to the global education picture, there’s another yardstick to measure quality.

The QS World University Rankings are the first in the world to rank universities at individual subject level. Headquartered in London, QS is Quacquarelli Symonds, a company that tracks and promotes study abroad programs. Unlike other rankings, which are often perceived as popularity contests, QS is not geared to students as much as it is to the global marketplace. Researcher Ben Sowter said the QS survey also asks global employers to identify the institutions that produce the best graduates, both overall and within a given discipline. “Taking on board the views of global employers means that these rankings move away from research and give a sense of the real-world market value of different degree programs,” Sowter says.

So how do U.S. schools compare on the global level? In the full survey of 26 disciplines, American universities did quite well, with 119 institutions showing up in at least one subject. This was followed by UK (64), Germany (39), Australia (31), France (31), Canada (21), Japan (18), China (14), and the Netherlands (14).

Harvard scored at the top in 17 subjects, including Politics, Accounting, and Economics. MIT was next with six first place spots, followed by Cambridge (two), Oxford and Stanford (one each).

The full 2011 QS World University Rankings report is available at ?Tim Goral

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recent assertion that the state’s colleges and universities should seek to provide a bachelor’s degree costing less than $10,000 certainly got Richard Vedder’s attention. As director of The Center for College Affordability and Productivity and author of Going Broke By Degree: Why College Costs Too Much (Aei Press, 2004), Vedder was conducting a data analysis of faculty productivity at The University of Texas at Austin. Perry’s speech sparked an idea, and the policy paper Vedder co-authored includes scenarios on how tuition could be more affordable if the emphasis on faculty teaching were increased moderately. In one scenario, 2009-2010 in-state tuition levels could have been reduced 63.6 percent, from $8,936 to $3,254 per year.

The paper is a preliminary analysis specifically of data from UT-Austin, chosen because of the vast detail on faculty available?including such factors as teaching loads, class size, tenure status, and research awards, more than Vedder says he’s seen published on any other school. But as the paper notes, even a limited analysis can “show the power of the data set in pointing the direction for future change” and what changing personnel usage could mean. While the analysis may not be possible for other states, the pressure to reduce tuition and costs is prevalent across the country. “It’s not an easy problem to solve,” Vedder says. But with growing “financial pain levels” and constant attention to the rewards of a college education not being as substantial as in the past, he says, “We are going to have to see a change.”

Vedder, who spent 45 years as a faculty member, notes that teaching loads have fallen substantially since the 1960s and 1970s, adding that it’s mainly “in the name of research. ... A lot of faculty are either doing obscure research or other things.” He acknowledges many are “hard working, good people,” yet their lives have “gone a little soft. We run the universities for our benefit, not our students.”

Among the study’s highlights:

? Twenty percent of UT Austin faculty are teaching 57 percent of student credit hours.

? The least productive 20 percent of faculty teach 2 percent of all student credit hours.

? Only 2 percent of the faculty conduct 57 percent of funded research.

? The most active researchers teach nearly the average of all faculty; increasing teaching loads of others would trivially impact outside research support.

Lest administrators think the study indicates productivity issues exist only on the faculty side, Vedder believes the findings would likely hold for “bloated” non-faculty ranks as well. “If you do a rational cost/benefit analysis, a lot of the activity would not pass the smell test.”

The UT faculty study is available at ?M.E.

Fairfield University President, the Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., announces the opening of a new school bookstore at a press conference.

In the quaint Connecticut town of Fairfield, the bankruptcy and closure of Borders Books & Music earlier this year left a 24,000-square-foot hole in the center of downtown. It was bad news for the town, where the store had been a popular meeting place and cultural venue, but good news for Fairfield University.

Mark Reed, vice president of administration and student affairs, says he and Jim Fitzpatrick, assistant vice president of administration and student affairs, had long been jealous of other universities that were able to have their bookstores in a downtown community. “Then a few months ago, out of something negative that happened to the town, a positive presented itself,” Reed recalls. “Jim came into my office and said, ‘This might be that opportunity we were looking for.’ ”

The university, in partnership with Follett Higher Education, jumped at the chance to lease the space and develop a new facility.

The newly renamed Fairfield University Bookstore will open in October and will offer books and gifts, as well as athletic wear and logo items from the university and regional high schools. The on-campus bookstore, also operated by Follett, will remain.

Fairfield’s president, the Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., says of the new store, “We are also planning to use it for some of our programming, such as lectures from scholars and author readings and other small cultural events. It is our anticipation that by opening a Fairfield University Bookstore downtown, we will bring the intellectual and cultural life of our university more fully into the heart of the community.” ?T.G.

A doubting student of Italian once challenged: “If English is supposed to be the lingua franca, how come there’s no word in English for lingua franca?” Though English is still the most widely spoken language in the nation and elsewhere, the number of Spanish-speaking citizens in the U.S. is expected to grow exponentially in the decade ahead. Today, a new cadre of institutions has emerged?universities with special missions and shared visions for educating the coming age of global citizens.

Established in 1880, the University of the Sacred Heart, or Universidad del Sagrado Coraz?n (“Sagrado”), is among the oldest, most prominent, and most beautifully situated institutions in Puerto Rico. Its programs focus on bridging today’s social and cultural differences by developing strong language competencies in Spanish and English. “Our main focus is to educate individuals holistically through interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary educational experiences,” says President Jos? Jaime Rivera. Sagrado also offers immersion experiences for English-speaking students through the International/Intercultural Educational Experience Project, ranging in length from one month to one year.

Consider the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), based in Mexico City. This public university boasts the largest enrollment in Mexico, and has a history steeped in social activism and academic freedom. Beyond Mexico, UNAM has several satellite campuses in San Antonio, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Quebec, which focus primarily on Spanish language arts, Mexican history, and music appreciation.

Or take the University of Alcal?. Situated just outside Madrid, Alcal? offers several programs in Spanish language and literature for native and foreign students. Alcal? offers a one-year accelerated master’s program in bilingual and multicultural education for English-speaking students, and includes free tuition, health insurance, and a stipend for living expenses. In return, students work and teach English-language skills in the local communities of Madrid.

Last but not least, our tour of Hispanic higher ed campuses takes us to the National Hispanic University in San Jose, California. NHU was established in 1981 with the goal of providing accessible, affordable, and quality education for underserved students, recognizing that Hispanic students needed an educational system that acknowledges their learning needs.

At the end of our higher ed expedition, we came to realize that what Sagrado, UNAM, Alcal?, and NHU have in common is a commitment to multilingual communication and multicultural education. Through the creation of new partnerships and programs, these rising university stars are at the leading edge of a new intercultural dynamic now making its way around the world.

For more on these and other Hispanic higher education institutions, see the online version of this column <a href="#"onclick="'/viewarticle.aspx?articleid=1873 ', 'sidebar', 'width=780,height=600,status=yes,resizable=yes,scrollbars=yes')" style="border: 0px solid rgb(0, 0, 0);">here</a>.<br><br>

Changing times continue to bring challenges to higher education, especially community colleges, which are typically trying to do even more with even less. The report, “Eight Important Questions for Eleven Community College Leaders: An Exploration of Community College Issues, Trends & Strategies,” by the SOURCE on Community College Issues, Trends & Strategies, provides an overview of comments from thought leaders ranging from the heads of the American Association of Community Colleges and the League for Innovation, to experienced presidents from around the country.

The questions cover a range of ever-present issues from college readiness through technology and funding, presenting responses in a way that should help continue the discussion on these important topics. “When you look behind the questions, it is really about the ‘completion agenda,’” says George Lorenzo, writer and editor-in-chief of the SOURCE. “It’s not so much that everyone needs a degree as [it is about] getting adults a college credential.”

The report is the most recent in a library of information Lorenzo is building as a research source for people interested in the community college sector. “The whole spirit is to share information,” he says, expressing gratitude to Western Governors University for sponsoring the report. He is hopeful the report will help community college leaders in their decision-making process. It’s available for free at ?Ann McClure

Elliot Hirshman

Elliot Hirshman will put over a decade of higher ed experience to use in the position of president of San Diego State University, which he began July 6. In his former position as provost and senior vice president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Hirshman was responsible for overseeing the academic program, enrollment management, admissions, financial aid, and a Division I athletics program. He was previously chief research officer at The George Washington University (D.C.). ? Jonathan Lash, who has immense sustainability and development experience from his time serving as president of the World Resources Institute (WRI), is the new president of Hampshire College (Mass.). Under his leadership from 1993 until accepting the position at Hampshire, the WRI, a think tank focusing on issues from low carbon development to sustainable transportation, quadrupled its budget and expanded to include offices in eight countries and partners in more than 50 countries. ? Peter Eden began serving as the fourth president of Landmark College (Vt.) July 1. ? James E. Bultman, who has led Hope College (Mich.) since 1999, will retire at the end of the 2011-12 school year. ? Stephen Mulkey, former director of the environmental science program at the University of Idaho, is now president of Unity College (Maine). ? Former Vice President for Finance, Chief Financial Officer, and Treasurer for The Johns Hopkins University (Md.), Michael Strine is now executive vice president and chief operating officer at the University of Virginia. ? Ivy Tech Community College (Ind.) selected Margaret Semmer as Vice Chancellor of Academics for its Northwest Region. She began her duties on July 5. ? Brian Mitchell, former president of Bucknell University (Pa.) and Washington & Jefferson College (Pa.), was awarded the 2011 Charles W. Foreman Award for Innovation in Private Higher Education from the Council of Independent Colleges in May. ? Since July 15, Alane Karen Shanks has been serving as president of Pine Manor College (Mass.). ? Eileen Moran is the new associate vice president for development at the University of North Texas. ? Brian D. Voss has been named vice president of information technology and chief information officer at the University of Maryland, to begin in August. ?K.D.

Voice is given to the struggles of young men of color educationally in the two new studies from the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color: A Review of Research, Pathways and Progress and Capturing the Student Voice.

Both publications document the educational experiences of 15- to 24-year-old men who are part of four minority groups: African American, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American. The report states that researchers sought to “get at the issues confronting these young men as they followed or dropped out of the education pipeline” and find solutions to prevent one in every two men from these minority groups becoming unemployed, incarcerated, or dead.

Christen Pollock, vice president at the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, says that if the United States is to be a global power and better as a nation and society, there must be a focus on the postsecondary success of young men of color.

The first, main report looks at the achievement, persistence, and support during high school, college access and choice during transition, as well as achievement, persistence, support, and institution type throughout college for the 92 young men of color interviewed. Within Capturing the Student Voice, examples of roadblocks and catalysts for these men in regards to pressures of life, paths to completion of education, and web of support are given.

The research suggests extended or new programs be modeled after existing ones such as University System of Georgia’s African American Male Initiative. The report calls for communities, businesses, and schools to increase mentoring and support opportunities. These programs would follow the ways of those such as the Chinese Mutual Aid Association’s Boys Breaking Barriers Program, which offers an afterschool program for boys to increase self-esteem and leadership skills.

Other recommendations include strengthening college and career readiness and providing educators with more extensive training in cultural and gender-responsive training. An example is the Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Towards Effective Role Models) Program run by Clemson University (S.C.), which tackles the issues of a shortage of male teachers in the United States.

The report also calls for more persistence and retention programs that provide services throughout college to increase the amount of these young men who are completing college.

Pollock says administrators should follow these examples or expand upon the programs in place at other institutions. “Reports like these lay the groundwork, but the work happens at the institutions and schools across America,” she points out. ?Charlotte Adinolfi

“Computers help us do stupid things faster,” a quip from the ’80s, still holds true today whenever the network or OS crashes. But it might not be said much on college campuses, according to a new report “IT Opportunities in the Education Market” from CompTIA.

Based on data conducted in February 2011 and released in May, the report shows that 60 percent of surveyed K-12 and higher ed respondents are satisfied with the technology in their classrooms. Administrative technology also received a thumbs up from 60 percent of higher education respondents. Not surprisingly, more than half (55 percent) of higher ed respondents said improving students’ experience was a main technology driver on campus, followed closely by data security at 43 percent. More than 500 U.S. K-12 and higher ed teachers, professors, administrators, and IT staff were surveyed.

“Overall, the generally positive attitude toward technology in schools, both as a tool for student learning and for educator productivity and effectiveness, was great news,” says Carolyn April, director of industry analysis for CompTIA. “I’d suspected some potential backlash against technology as a distraction for students, but found that educators have a pretty high regard for what these tools can do.”

It’s a point highlighted by the fact that 40 percent of colleges surveyed said they intend to invest more in online learning in the 2011-2012 school year. Fortunately, 62 percent said they are satisfied with their campus’s remote access solutions; a key component of ensuring an online program is usable.

While technology demands on each campus will be different, it can be useful to have outside confirmation that priorities are in the right place. “Budgets are tight across the board?K-12 and at the college level?which means IT purchases are scrutinized intensely and need to be rationalized,” says April. “The information in this report provides a pretty compelling case for IT spending in schools. For a beleaguered CIO trying to get budget approval, making the argument that these tools will increase efficiencies, serve the core mission of educating students, and allow staff to do their jobs more productively can be convincing.”

Download the executive summary of the report at ?A.M.

The days of haphazard transfer could soon be a thing of the past. With the help of an eight-month planning grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Community College Linkage (CCL) program could help students move from a community college to a four-year institution with intention and complete a degree in four years.

According to Kurt Thiede, executive director of CCL, the concept entails regional offices being set up around the country where advisors can work with students early in the college planning process. The regional offices will act as liaisons between community colleges and four-year institutions in the area, helping students with academic, financial, and social issues make the transfer process as smooth as possible.

“They are not clearing houses,” says Thiede. “The regional offices are not designed to simply facilitate transactions; they’re designed to help build relationships.”

Right now, CCL is in the planning stage. In the coming months, the concept will be shared with representatives from four-year institutions and community colleges for feedback. “Ultimately, the final project will be a reflection of a lot of conversation and collaboration,” says Thiede. He anticipates having enough commitment and interest by fall 2011 to begin building regional centers in early 2012.

The idea mirrors a similar program at Bucknell University (Pa.), the Bucknell Community College Scholars Program, which Thiede helped design when he served as vice president for enrollment management there. “I said to myself, ‘If we can do it here, why can’t we build something larger?’,” he recalls.

Since then, Thiede has been working with Brian Mitchell, former president of Bucknell, at forming a comprehensive plan to encourage all students to pursue a four-year degree.

“As we look at the changing demographics of this country and how the world is changing, strong institutions should focus on building a student body that’s more reflective of 21st century America,” says Thiede. “And at institutions that are under capacity, the idea of enrolling bright, motivated, accomplished, confident community college students seems to make a lot of sense.” ?K.D.

Register now for UBTech 2018

Register now for UBTech 2018, June 4-6 at the Mirage, Las Vegas. At UBTech 2018, you’ll network with a dynamic community of higher ed leaders who are shaping the future of campus technology and explore topics like cyber security, distance learning, campus learning space design, communications, personalized learning and more. Your UBTech registration also includes a free pass to the InfoComm exhibit hall.

Register now>>