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Beyond the News

The stories making headlines in higher education.

University Business, Feb 2006

Miami Dade College (Fla.) perfectly illustrates the tensions between undocumented immigrants and tuition. The community college serves more than 160,000 students in a city replete with immigrants. Its motto is "opportunity changes everything."

Yet like schools in many states, MDC charges all undocumented immigrants out-of-state tuition due to state and federal law. That means $219.15 per credit compared with $64.05 at the in-state level. More than 300 students at MDC are undocumented immigrants, says Norma Martin Goonen, MDC's provost for education--and an untold number drop out or choose not to enroll because the tuition is too high for them.

The tipping point for the issue of in-state tuition and undocumented immigrants may just arrive this year. A number of states are considering new legislation both for and against the idea of giving undocumented immigrants in-state rates. A court case in California also is challenging that state's policy of granting in-state tuition rates to such students. "I'm starting to see it crop up," says Ann Morse, director of the Immigrant Policy Project at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It's going to be a big year."

According to data from the NCSL, since 2001 nine states--California, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington--have enacted legislation to allow unauthorized immigrants to receive in-state tuition if they meet certain requirements. Massachusetts defeated a bill in the first weeks of 2006. Florida's next at bat.

Legislators in Arizona and Georgia are moving to limit the scope of immigrant rights. Last year, Arizona passed legislation that would bar in-state rates for undocumented immigrants but it was vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano. In Georgia, Republican Sen. Chip Rogers recently filed a proposal with similar limits. "If a benefit requires Georgia residency, you must have proof that you're a legal resident," Rogers told the Associated Press. "That applies to somebody from Alabama or Guatemala."

The imbalance could be settled by federal legislation or an eventual Supreme Court case. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators gave new life to the DREAM Act late last year; the federal legislation would repeal part of the overarching 1996 federal immigration law to grant conditional legal status to residents who were under the age of 16 when they entered the country. To DREAM Act supporter Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the legislation makes perfect sense: "It would behoove our society to have highly educated people." --Caryn Meyers Fliegler

In December, Hillsborough Community College (Fla.) student James Dungy, 18, became another figure entangled in the tragic web of college suicide (it is the second leading cause of death among college students, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). Dungy's death drew national attention due to his father's job coaching the Indianapolis Colts football team.

Dungy, like so many students these days, maintained a page on the online community, and it was replete with images of violence and marijuana, signs of a troubled youth. Should colleges monitor postings on MySpace or Facebook to help students such as Dungy? That question has already arisen in relation to drinking and security, and seems appropriate here too.

Yet, students now have an increasing array of helpful online (and often anonymous) tools to work against depression and other issues. The Jed Foundation, launched by the parents of an Arizona State University student who took his own life, is ramping up its screening and support tool The AFSP is bringing its College Screening Project, which employs anonymous online screening and interaction, to more campuses. "I think students are hungry to know about this," says Jed Foundation co-founder Donna Satow. --C.M.F.

The campus police at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa., have more high-tech help in fighting crime on campus. The security team is piloting a new GPS handheld tracking device called DragonForce, which two Drexel professors helped invent in partnership with a company called Drakontas. Campus security officers carry the devices, which allow them to electronically push photos, video clips, and text to each other, while also providing electronic location maps of their whereabouts.

"We can dispatch [security staff] more efficiently," says Ben Gollotti, senior VP of Public Safety. He adds that the next phase of the GPS program is to link the DragonForce handhelds to the laptop computers used by other members of the force. To date, Drexel has invested $70,000 in 12 DragonForce devices. --Jean Marie Angelo

School spirit has heated up and hit the fan. Loyal alums and college sports fans alike now have another way to display their pride--right smack on the side of their HVAC unit.

This past fall, tailgate parties at several college football games served as the kick-off for condensing unit panels bearing institutional logos. The panels fit a series of air conditioners and heat pumps manufactured by Oklahoma-based York Heating and Cooling. As of January, at least 77 schools were represented through agreements with Collegiate Licensing Company and License Resource Group.

The concept is part of a larger trend toward more options for fans looking to let the world know where their loyalties lie. "College fans are so passionate about their schools, and some of them just want their passion displayed everywhere," says Crystal Sims, account manager for non-apparel at CLC. Her department has nearly 800 licenses with companies, which offer one or more products each. --Melissa Ezarik

The Ford Foundation is prompt-ing higher ed to take on difficult subjects: prejudice, religious conflict, injustice. The foundation gave a total of $2.7 million to colleges and universities earlier this year as part of its Difficult Dialogues initiative. Ford's effort is meant to stem the "curbing of academic freedom," and what it perceives as growing intolerance on America's college campuses.

In all, 27 IHEs were awarded $100,000 each as part of Ford's program to promote academic freedom in higher ed; 675 applied for the money. All will use the grants in different ways. The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor will start new courses and roundtables on religion. New York City's Queens College will develop curriculum about the conflict in the Middle East.

In a separate act of largess, Henry Ford's only granddaughter, Josephine, 81, left $50 million to Detroit's College for Creative Studies when she died in June. The college went public with the news only this year, at--where else?--the North American International Auto Show. The college will use the money to build its endowment and help underprivileged students. --J.M.A.

As the blogging craze continues, higher ed employees should take heed of Professor Meg Spohn's experience with DeVry University's Westminster, Colo., division. Her December 16, 2005, entry on claims that she was called into the academic dean's office on a Monday morning, with the HR person who hired her in attendance. "She said they had become aware of my blog, and that I had made disparaging comments about DeVry and about its students."

Spohn, who was DeVry-Westminster's department chair of Communications, was asked to leave immediately. In her subsequent entries about DeVry, Spohn claims that it was never made clear to her what postings were so offensive as to get her fired.

She admits that she has complained about paperwork, and made note of the for-profit DeVry's pride in hiring "practitioners" rather than teachers. But these comments, she says, amounted to nothing more than "water cooler kvetching." A DeVry administrator will only say that the university champions free speech and that Spohn's dismissal was unrelated to her blog. --J.M.A.

A cancer diagnosis is bad enough, but imagine a student's worries over having to manage a full-time course load during treatment. That's just what happened to aspiring teacher Michelle Morse while attending Plymouth State University (N.H.). And the issue has gotten legislators' attention.

Although Morse's doctors strongly urged less school time during her chemotherapy for colon cancer, losing full-time status would also mean losing her health benefits. Paying about $550 per month, plus copays, for COBRA was not an option.

Yet PSU officials "were absolutely wonderful" during the ordeal, says Morse's mother, AnnMarie. They agreed to accommodations such as no penalties for missed classes and access to faculty parking. One semester, when dropping a class left Michelle one credit shy of full time, they created an independent study.

The younger Morse eventually lost her cancer battle the November after graduation. But her mother has picked up the cause by persuading lawmakers (in part via the website to ensure seriously ill or injured students have continued medical coverage.

State Rep. William Infantine (R-Manchester), whose own father died from colon cancer, introduced a bill with wording emulating a New York law. It would require insurers to continue coverage of college students under parents' plans for up to 12 months during a medical leave. The bill, which passed the House last month, will reach the Senate and potentially be signed into law by the governor next month.

While 13 states have recently considered or passed legislation extending the age of dependent status, what happens when a student must take leave from school is not always specified. "I'm an insurance agent by trade, and I had never heard of anything like this," says Infantine. In general, "the broader laws don't attack medical leave."

But states are becoming more active in this area, notes Laura Tobler, a health policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures (which tracks the issue at "Part of that activity is because young adults are one of the fastest growing groups of uninsured."

With the publicity from Michelle's Law and AnnMarie Morse's determination to gain further support for the cause and propose federal legislation next, the student health coverage conversation will likely continue.

"Frankly, it's an easy fix," Tobler says, adding that Pennsylvania is working on a similar bill addressing coverage for students on military leave. "For the most part, insurers aren't too displeased with complying with the laws." --M.E.

THE UNCIVIL UNIVERSITY: Politics and Propaganda in American Education

Gary Tobin, Aryeh Weinberg, and Jenna Ferer

Institute for Jewish & Community Research,; 2005; 299 pp; $23.50

Consider this: The NCAA last year required several schools to stop using Native American mascots. George Will, the conservative columnist, called the demand to rid the University of Illinois of Chief Illiniwek "chief among silliness."

The Campus Truth Foundation, a nonprofit group, will soon rate campuses on tolerance, providing a new index for IHE comparison.

Clearly free speech and tolerance are hot issues these days. Unafraid of the fire, the authors of this book look at the confluence of freedom and responsibility through the lens of anti-Semitism in higher ed, the recent growth of which they closely document.

Their argument is clear if not controversial. Free speech must be balanced by administrative responsibility for civility, the authors say--and they back up their points with plenty of examples of free speech abuse. A cartoon from Texas A&M University depicts a Nazi guard clubbing a victim, adjacent to an Israeli guard drawn to resemble the Nazi.

The book has stimulated a rainbow of reactions in IHE circles, and for good reason. Agree with the authors or not, they provide many examples and make tough points worth thinking about--ideally without a knee-jerk reaction. --C.M.F.

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