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Beyond the News

Rankings Exodus May Be Tipping Point

University Business, Aug 2007

SOME SEE THE ANNUAL U.S. NEWS & World Report rankings as a necessary evil. Students and parents are naturally attracted to those schools that make the top of the list, so schools do what they can to boost their rank. But as educators have argued for years, the rankings have little value in the real world. A few have already stopped participating in the annual survey. Reed College (Ore.) stopped playing the rankings game 12 years ago, and continues to receive top quality applicants.

Now, in what may signal a tipping point, The Annapolis Group, an association of 125 liberal arts college presidents, has asked its members not to participate in the magazine's college rankings.

In a letter to members the group said, "these rankings are misleading and do not serve well the interests of prospective students in finding a college or university that is well suited to their education beyond high school." Among their reasons, the group says the rankings "imply a false precision and authority that is not warranted by the data they use," and "encourage wasteful spending and gamesmanship in institutions' pursuing improved rankings."

"When U.S. News began its rankings, there was not the kind of information available to the public that there is now," says Daniel Weiss, president of Lafayette College (Pa.) and one of the original signatories of The Annapolis Group letter. "That has all changed."

Recognizing the continuing desire of students and families for comparative information when choosing a school, the group plans to develop an alternative, web-based common format that presents information about their colleges.

'I mourn the loss of a school that was willing to buck the trend of a unifying, commercially driven, consumer-driven model of higher education.
-Colin Diver, president of Reed College (Ore.), on Antioch College suspending operations.

The project will provide data that will be developed in conjunction with higher ed organizations, including the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges. The information will include some data on average class size, majors, and learning measures, promises Katherine Haley Will, president of Gettysburg College (Pa.), and an Annapolis member.

For its part, U.S. News said it would be open to including new data. However, Editor Brian Kelly said that more than half the administrators who receive the survey participate in it, which he interprets as a show of support.

Others suggest that participation smacks of intimidation. At some institutions, rankings reflect on a president's performance. "If U.S. News is seen as a key indicator of performance, these schools do what they can to increase their rankings," notes Weiss. -Tim Goral

TRADITIONALLY IHES START RECRUITING STUDENTS WHEN THEY are high school juniors and seniors. But some IHEs are reaching out to students in middle school and even earlier grades. They want students to think about attending college, any college, rather than selecting one in particular. There is a growing realization that if students don't start thinking about college before high school they won't take the proper classes for college admission during high school. A number of these programs are aimed at students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and some are run as summer camps.

Ann Arundel Community College (Md.) has teamed with the county public school system to offer a variety of programs to middle school students. "We try to reach them at different levels and different times of the year," explains Linda Schulte, director of public relations. For the summer camp, students come to campus or go on field trips where they learn about different careers. "We teach them about forensic science, but in a fun way," Schulte says. After camp is over, counselors at partner middle and high schools help guide students on the path to higher education.

While AACC's program is a day camp, The University of Georgia hosted a sleepover in July. UGA teamed with the Greensboro Georgia Dreamers, part of the national "I Have a Dream" foundation, to shepherd participants onto higher educational aspirations. Initially the partnership included college students tutoring the Dreamers and bringing the students on campus for events. A grant helped expand the program. The students stayed in dorms and learned about careers. The goal was to help them understand that what they are currently studying in school will make a difference later on, explains Mimi Sodhi, assistant provost for institutional diversity. "We'd love to see everyone come to UGA," Sodhi says. "But really we want them to look around at their options." Through the program, students also receive tuition for post-secondary education.

AACC's Schulte adds the ultimate goal is to make students realize the decisions they make at the middle school level, both in school and life, will have ramifications on future job options. Although many of the programs have been in place for years, interest has increased in the last four years.

"The message is finding an audience," Schulte says. -Ann McClure

AFTER PARENTS WRITE THE tuition check you would think they are done, but you would be wrong. University of California San Diego and UC Berkeley have both seen increases in parental giving over the last few years. At UCSD where parents have donated $17 million, Jade Berggren, development communications specialist, says some parents donate as a lesson in philanthropy for their children, others just understand the importance of supporting the university. Jennifer Kitt, director of volunteer campaigns at Berkeley, says parental giving has increased from $600,000 six years ago to $1.6 million last year. She says parents like to know the money will have an immediate impact on their child's experience. Also, parents are accustomed to fundraising efforts from other school organizations. Parental giving has a quick turnaround. "You have about four years to get your message out," Kitt says. -A.M.

By Alan P. Rudy, Dawn Coppin, et al Temple University Press; 236 pp., $54.50

CORPORATE FUNDING FOR UNIVERSITY Research will likely always stir debate. This book resulted from study of a single agreement between the University of California, Berkeley's Plant and Microbial Biology Department and a subsidiary of pharmaceutical and agribusiness conglomerate Novartis. Controversies over the agreement, in effect from 1998 to 2003, bring up broader concerns for higher ed. Similar agreements raise questions about whether corporations should have any role in public universities.

After briefly explaining the why's and how's of the search for alternative funding sources and new revenue generators, the book explores the uproar surrounding the UC Berkeley- Novartis agreement. Three parts of the deal itself came under fire, that: it was with an entire department rather than a single faculty member or small group of faculty; it granted Novartis first license negotiation rights for one-third of all departmental discoveries (including those funded by public entities such as the National Institutes of Health); and it could allow Novartis scientists to earn adjunct status at the university.

Although no misconduct was uncovered by the study, the deal's scrutiny calls for a multilevel and ongoing dialogue on the future of land grant and research universities, the authors note. -Melissa Ezarik

THE DAYS OF WILD, ANIMAL House-type fraternity parties are coming to an end. Though student alcohol abuse remains one of the biggest problems plaguing college and university campuses nationwide, many institutions have taken serious measures to curb excessive drinking. Most recently, Rider University (N.J.) has joined a list of schools that have changed their alcohol policies.

The tragic death in March of a freshman, Gary DeVercelly, who died after an excessive night of drinking at a campus fraternity house, forced the university to rethink and revise its stance on alcohol. PresidentMordechai Rozanski assembled a task force led by Donald Steven, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, whose mission was to evaluate the alcohol policy and form new ideas on how to decrease high risk drinking. The task force reached out to the Rider community, setting up an e-mail address to receive feedback and holding listening sessions with the Student Government and Greek communities.

As a result, Rider now has a social events policy that prohibits alcohol-related events in Greek houses or residence halls and establishes residence-based directors in all Greek houses. These decisions have placed Rider in a small group of institutions that have banned alcohol at frat parties (some even from campus) such as University of Kentucky and Utah State University.

$1 million-- The value of E. Gordon Gee's annual salary package to be president of Ohio  State University.
- OSH Board of Trustees.

Banning alcohol from social events does not mean the campus has gone completely dry. "Students who are 21 or older can still drink in their rooms as long as they do so in a responsible manner," says Steven.

"We do think it will change the culture and that social events where alcohol is served will have a different character. We hope that students will develop a more mature sense of personal responsibility with respect to alcohol consumption." This change is effective immediately and will continue to be implemented over the next 18 months. -Eileen Mullan

WITH THE PROBABILITY OF HIGHER ED INSTITUTIONS BEING HELD more and more responsible for ensuring that students understand the financial aid available to them, it helps to know colleges and universities that have already implemented successful student debt management programs. The education loan guarantor USA Funds has recognized the following institutions with 2007 Excellence in Debt Management Awards:

Best Program: International Academy of Design and Technology

IADT is a private four-year college with a dozen campuses, with its main campus in Tampa, Fla.

Student messages: Don't forget to begin loan repayment on time. Maintain good credit and developing realistic budgets. Find out the advantages and disadvantages to loan consolidation.

Student contact: Quarterly meetings with new students on financial literacy. Exit presentations for graduates and students who have withdrawn. Calls to remind graduates when loan repayment begins and to answer questions about repayment options. Borrowers contacted via when phone calls or e-mails produce no response.

Results: Default rates are down, and students better understand their financial obligations.

First Runner-Up: West Virginia University School of Medicine

WVU's medical school serves approximately 425 students within the public institution.

Student messages: Get a picture of previous graduates' debt. Budgeting, credit card management, credit scores, and cutting everyday expenses are important. Know how to get insurance coverage and find a financial advisor. Understand the basics of how money grows, stock market investing, and taxes.

Student contact: Annual letter informing each student of current debt loan and estimated future payments. Hour-long personal finance presentation during orientation; second-year student presentation in the works. Three-hour session for graduating students. Voiceover presentations on student web portal.

Results: Med students already have low loan default rates, but student reaction to the initiatives has been favorable.

Second Runner-Up: Indiana Business College

IBC is a private career school with 11 campuses and an online program.

Student messages: Borrow conservatively. Understand your loan terms.

Student contact: Multiple individual financial aid meetings with loan counseling. Delinquency letters for student borrowers, customized by campus and how late payments are. Delinquent borrowers phoned daily. Home or workplace visits arranged, if necessary, to facilitate payment.

Results: Default rates are down, and the initiatives have helped improve student credit scores, increase retention rates, and enhance the levels of trust between IBC and its students.

Information on USA Funds' debt management resources can be found online at -Melissa Ezarik

ONLINE UNIVERSITIES ARE IN the business of building websites, not actual buildings. But that didn't stop Grantham University (, a virtual IHE that serves about 10,000 students, from opening a 13,000-square-foot physical bookstore last May in Kansas City, Mo., where the university is headquartered. Housing more than 18,000 textbooks as well as Grantham accessories and apparel, "it's the equivalent of a college bookstore," says Joe McGrath, executive vice president of Grantham. But there is one big difference- this bookstore was not designed for students to use in-person.

"It was really designed as a book distribution center," McGrath says. Its location is key. "It's only about 10 minutes away from the university's Kansas City home base so if it's necessary to have a book delivered there, it's very convenient."

McGrath said this was a much-needed facility. "We had a bookstore in our original home base of Louisiana, but a tidal surge from the lake put it under eight feet of water," he says. As a result, the university lost close to half of a million dollars worth of books, McGrath says.

"We wanted to find a place to rebuild it that would be impervious to floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes," McGrath says. The bookstore's new location in Kansas City's SubTropolis, the world's largest underground complex that's home to more than 50 businesses and hosts a 10k race in the winter, seems to be a perfect fit. "Opening a bookstore 40 feet underground in an old limestone quarry has been quite an adventure," McGrath says. -Alana Klein

FOR TWO MONTHS, EASTERN MICHIGAN University officials assured there was no sign of foul play in student Laura Dickinson's death. Two investigative reports and the arrest of a male classmate, however, have shown otherwise.

In July, the Board of Regents voted to terminate the contract of President John Fallon, following the results of investigations conducted by an independent law firm and the U.S. Department of Education, both of which found that EMU violated the Clery Act. Jim Vick, vice president of Student Affairs, and Cindy Hall, director of the Department of Public Safety, were dismissed. A disciplinary memo will go into General Counsel Kenneth McKanders' file.

A custodian discovered Dickinson's body on Dec. 15, 2006 in her dorm room. She was naked from the waist down, on the floor, with a pillow over her face. Her keys were missing. A report conducted by a law firm and commissioned by the board found many concerns. A "no foul play" statement, created after Dickinson was found, neither first conveyed nor was later corrected to say that homicide was a possibility. Also, the initial incident draft report was shredded.

Following the arrest of Orange Taylor III on Feb. 23, the report accuses officials of going into "damage control mode," offering reasons for not warning the campus community. Taylor will stand trial in October. Don Loppnow, provost and vice president for academic affairs, will lead EMU on an interim basis. -Michele Herrmann

PRESIDENTS ARE COMBATING global warming by pledging to neutralize their campuses' greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, more than 300 U.S. colleges and universities are supporting the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.

This action involves:

- Completing an emissions inventory.

- Within two years, setting a target date and interim milestones for becoming climate neutral.

- Taking immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by choosing from a list of short-term actions.

- Integrating sustainability into the curriculum and making it part of the educational experience.

- Making the action plan, inventory and progress reports publicly available.

Signatories run the gamut, from geographical location to student population.

76%--High school counselors who find it hard to advise students about how much they can afford to borrow for higher ed. -Survey, National Association for College Admission  Counseling.

The University of Vermont is raising its existing green building standards to the LEED Silver level or its equivalent for new construction and major renovations. Arizona State University has created a School of Sustainability, centering on environmental, economic, and social challenges. Los Angeles Community College District is installing solar panels on each of its campuses. University of Minnesota, Morris, is constructing a biomass gasification facility. New York University made an agreement to purchase wind power.

A collaborative effort between Second Nature, ecoAmerica and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the Commitment emerged from an AASHE conference in October 2006 at Arizona State. Twelve presidents became the founding members of its Leadership Circle, and, last December, sent a letter to nearly 400 of their peers inviting them to join the initiative. The Commitment was launched publicly in June at a university presidents' leadership summit in Washington, D.C. Visit -Michele Herrmann

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