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Beyond the News

Stories making headlines in higher education.

The Fight for Perkins; Ensuring Students Get Insured ; Between the Lines ; Got (Local) Milk? ; Different Kind of Protest at UC Berkeley ; Course Requirement: Joystick in Hand ; IT Spending Dips; Students "Blog" From Abroad ; Textbooks at a Bargain ; Out Go Those Spiral Notebooks ; Supercomputing on a Budget
University Business, Mar 2005

In introducing his fiscal year 2006 budget last month, President George W. Bush announced the elimination of a popular federal student loan-the Perkins Loan-and the proposal has received negative reviews from IHE administrators, education organizations and lending industry advocates.

The proposed budget will not only slash capital contributions to IHEs, but also withdraw any federal monies contributed to them starting from the very installment of the program in 1958.

But, this leaves IHEs with a tough decision to make: either continue distributing the institution's funds as loans, but face administrative costs that the federal government previously handled, or completely avoid disbursing the money as loans altogether. "It basically means the dissolution of the Perkins program," says Dominic Yoia, senior director of financial aid at Quinnipiac University (Conn.).

And the real losers will be students, Yoia says. Of Quinnipiac's 5,200 students, approximately 10 percent receive Perkins Loans, and the loan has always been considered a "very important part of the financial aid package."

Lenders face a dilemma as well since they would be loaning funds at much higher interest rates, but at a greater risk for defaults, according to the Consumer Bankers Association. The result, according to CBA, will be more loans for "higher quality borrowers," leaving needy students with less-than-stellar credit histories in the dust.

The Bush proposal comes at a time when Congress just last year approved a spending bill that did not adequately accommodate students' needs. With 37 percent more students receiving the Pell Grant than in the last decade, the program has a $3.6 billion shortfall. And this shortfall is the reason for eliminating the Perkins Loan, according to the federal government, and transferring the balance to the Pell Grant.

Students will also be unable to consolidate loans since Bush is proposing cutting the federal consolidation programs. These programs offer students repayment options with low interest rates that stay put after consolidation for up to 30 years after the grace period. But Harrison Wadsworth, executive director of the Coalition of Higher Education Assistance Organizations (, which launched a major grassroots campaign asking Congress to reject the proposal, said "Half the people who apply (for private loans) are turned down."

Students "would just not go to school," he said, or not go to the school of their choice. Wadsworth predicted students would pay tuition with credit cards, "and wind up in a much worse debt problem."

Many public IHEs are growing tired of making college hospitals foot large bills for their uninsured students. Furthermore, some hospitals are now refusing to assume these costs because of rising health care expenses. As a result, a growing number of institutions are requiring their students to arrive on campus with health insurance coverage, whether it be through their parents or via the school.

About 25 to 30 percent of college students at public IHEs are uninsured, says Jim Mitchell, director of Student Health Services at Montana State University, which has mandated health coverage for almost 20 years. "If you bring that large a number of uninsured people into any community you are going to be very expensive to the local health care system," Mitchell says. In communities where students make up a large chunk of the population, this can also lead to bad relations between the university and the community. "If students aren't able to pay, the hospital must recover those costs, which is a burden."

Still, many students are opposed to buying into a health plan. "They just don't see it as a priority--they don't think they're going to need it," Mitchell says. The cost of these health plans, which vary, is the big issue. This is why some schools, including Old Dominion University and Kent State University have refrained from mandating health insurance. "Many schools are hesitant to charge their students another $400 to $500 a year especially in these times when college costs are rising across the board. It's not an easy decision," he says.

At the same time, many IHEs who offer voluntary insurance plans simply can't afford to make these plans optional any longer. "Not enough students are buying into these plans and it's becoming very expensive for universities to sustain them," he says. He adds that the students that do buy the plans tend to be the ones that use them a lot, which further increases costs.

Many schools including University of Connecticut, Ohio State University,and the University of California system have already made the move to require health insurance.

By Jennifer Washburn; Basic Books, 2005; 326 pp.; $26

In this crisply-written and thoroughly-researched book, the author contends that higher education has over the last two decades devolved into a money-grubbing machine, just like any other industry, with its professors behaving as businessmen, and corruption ensuing, affecting the very research that is often upheld as fact, but instead, Washburn says, is influenced by commercial interests.

Washburn's investigative journalism is a slap in the face to many high-ranking institutions that, she claims, have willingly allowed market forces to manipulate research, and unfortunately, the integrity of IHEs.

-- Julie A. Varughese

Hampshire College (Mass.) students don't have to worry about how fresh their milk is--they can ask the cows in person. In a move to help support local farmers, all milk served in the dining hall at Hampshire College is now purchased from nearby Cook Farm. Last month, the dairy farm, which is less than three miles from campus, began supplying milk, including skim and chocolate milk, in regular deliveries. The farm's cows are fed hay and corn that is grown on Hampshire College pastures.

A campus group comprised of students, faculty, administrators and dining hall staff has been meeting regularly to talk about ways that Hampshire can support local farmers and make environmentally sound purchasing decisions. In addition to purchasing local milk, the Hampshire dining hall also buys 20 shares of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) food from the college's organic farm.

And, at any meal or occasion that calls for the use of disposable utensils, cups, plates and napkins, Hampshire now uses biodegradable products that can be composted on the college farm.

"Hampshire College's commitment to sustainability includes careful consideration of how decisions can be beneficial to both the campus community and to our surrounding community," says President Gregory Prince. "Working with our neighbors in the broader community strengthens Hampshire. Purchasing from local farms supports the local economy and preserve the surrounding agricultural way of life, and provides high quality, fresh food for our students."

Other campuses in the Five Colleges system (which includes Mount Holyoke, Amherst, and Smith colleges, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst) have taken an interest in the Hampshire project, and there has been some discussion of cooperative buying, says Hampshire Food Service Director Doug Martin.

"I think this is a great opportunity for the college and local farmers to work together," says Martin. "It makes sense that the dining commons use local products as much as possible."

The new system of using biodegradable paper products should also save money. Martin estimates that the dining commons spends around $30,000 a year on paper products, and that switching to biodegradable materials could reduce that figure by $5,000.

University of California Berkeley is a gem in the UC system. This campus, which is home to 31,000 students, is already big. And expansion plans call for it to get even bigger. But Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is fighting the UC system. He has even threatened a lawsuit, depending upon how UC planners respond to his concerns.

Known as the 2020 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), the document envisions a Berkeley that is 2.2 million square feet bigger, according to Julie Sinai, senior aide to Bates. This square footage is equivalent to that of the Empire State Building, she emphasizes. The city of Berkeley is going to have a hard time adjusting.

Of course, UC Berkeley isn't about to build one great skyscraper. What it wants to do is expand the core of the campus to other buildings and land throughout the city. Trouble is, say Bates and Sinai, UC Berkeley is a land-grant university that does not pay property taxes to the city. More UC buildings will mean less property tax revenue for Berkeley.

The LRDP is a standard document required by UC campuses every 15 years. Bates and Sinai complain, though, that the new plan does not allow for more community involvement. If UC Berkeley is allowed to expand there will be more stress on the city's fire and emergency medical services, says Sinai. She estimates that it costs $2.1 million annually to provide fire and EMS services to the UC campus, but the university pays only $50,000 for them. More growth will certainly drive up costs, she says. When contacted, UC Berkeley officials did not respond to any specific complaints, but encouraged visits to the website A statement there counters that UC Berkeley is not as big a strain on Berkeley's fire and EMS services as claimed. Further, UC Berkeley benefits the city with $70 million in annual sales of goods and services.

Expansion plans can draw heat from communities. Just ask University of Arizona President Peter Likins, who learned in mid-February that proposed plans to expand UA into a five-university system would be scrapped. Public outcry against the plan was intense. At one point higher ed leaders envisioned Arizona State University West breaking away from the state university system and expanding on its own. This--and other proposals--drew repeated vocal and written criticism from residents and faculty.

Students can now put their thumbs to good use.

The University of Southern California has, with the help of Electronic Arts (EA), created a new degree program in the School of Cinema-Television: interactive entertainment. Bing Gordon, chief creative officer and co-founder of EA, the world's biggest video game publisher, was named faculty chair, a post he would assume for a one- to two-year period.

The interactive entertainment track falls within the interactive media division of the School of Cinema-Television, and offers a three-year Master of Fine Arts degree program.

But USC is not alone in recognizing the impact of the gaming industry in recent years. Mt. Sierra College (Calif.) has also recently instituted a bachelor's degree program in Game Arts and Design. "It seems there are more colleges teaching something related to this field each year," said Dan Soine, director of public relations for The Art Institute of California, San Francisco, which offers two bachelor's degree programs in Game Art & Design and Visual & Game Programming.

There is good reason for the upward trend in the number of degree programs: Interactive media professionals can serve a variety of functions, according to Westwood College (Calif.). "The game and entertainment industry has seen a steady increase over the past six to seven years averaging 14 percent growth per year, and is expected to continue this strong growth for years to come," according to Westwood's website.

Game designers have been able to take their skills beyond entertainment to find jobs designing other interactive software, military and health care simulations, and for television and education.

Technology spending for higher ed is projected to decline 4 percent this year, according to Market Data Retrieval. In its report, "The college technology review," MDR says that overall spending will come to a total of $5.15 billion for the 2004-05 academic year. The slight dip in overall spending is the first drop reported by MDR in its eight years of tracking.

The details reveal a good news/bad news picture. Private IHEs are spending more on IT. They will spend 28 percent more--accounting for a total of $996,319. That's the good news. Public universities, however, are cutting spending by 13 percent. MDR pegs their total at $1.3 million. Slightly more than 51 percent of the spending will be applied to administrative technology needs, while the remainder will be applied to academic IT. In all, $1.4 billion will be spent on computers, servers, networks and other academic IT needs. Most IHEs have budgeted about twice as much for hardware than for software.

MDR's annual college technology survey is based on the responses from 5,400, accredited two-year and four-year colleges and universities.

79% of IHEs have wireless networks, up from 70% last year.

36% of IHEs use mobile laptop carts--long popular in K-12 education.

50% provide internet access in student residence halls.

64% offer distance learning, down from 67% in 2004.

Also, see chart below.

The "living, breathing version of the study abroad handbook," has debuted, says Drew Olanoff, technology specialist at Educational Directories Unlimited. Known as, it's a place where three designated college students record their daily abroad experiences via an interactive web log, or blog. Hundreds of students audition for this opportunity but only three are chosen to star as the bloggers. "We see the blog as a tool for study abroad advisors to educate students who are looking to study abroad," Olanoff says. Students considering studying abroad can communicate and pose questions to the bloggers. "It eases their concerns about studying abroad and answers questions that often aren't addressed in study abroad books or brochures."

Since its launch last November, the site has proven to be a success. The large amount of web traffic and feedback from users--about 3,000 to 4,000 study abroad advisors use the blog as an information tool--attest to its popularity. In forming the site, Educational Directories Unlimited partnered with MindSay, which provides the hosting and bandwidth for the blog. "The site's purpose is to introduce the blogging medium to students and administrators and encourage students to study abroad," Olanoff says.

Geoffrey Cox and three of his peers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, their alma mater, felt textbook prices were too high. So, during their senior year, they set out to make textbooks affordable. They created the website,, which went live last August. Boasting more than 1,300 members from over 150 colleges nationwide, urShelf allows students to buy and sell textbooks from each other at reduced prices. Cox recommends that users sell books for 40 percent of the original cost. "If you try to sell your books back to your college you get practically nothing back," says Cox. "This way students can set their own fixed price or list it auction-style."

While the site does have competitors, including eBay, and college-run bookstore sites, Cox says urShelf is unique. "What separates us is that our site is tailored directly to college students. We can associate a book with a campus and a course which other sites don't do." In addition, the types of trust issues that arise with other retail bidding sites tend not to exist with this site, Cox assures. This is because students can meet each other on campus to see the quality of the textbook in person. While Cox and his partners have future plans to expand the site globally, now the focus is on attracting more advertisers to generate revenue for the site.

Mayville State University (N.D.) is conducting an experiment that is unlikely to be published in an academic journal: they are among the first campuses in the country to provide their full-time students and faculty members with tablet PCs.

Though it will take a couple of years for Mayville State to assess the functional value of tablet PCs on campus, Chief Information Officer Keith Stenehjem thinks they will provide "additional flexibility" to their more than 900 full-time matriculated students and instructors.

"Our campus since 1997 has been a ubiquitous notebook campus," says Stenehjem.

All tablet PCs, provided by Gateway, have been issued by the school for a two-year period, and in that time, the PCs receive software updates and maintenance.

The search for the ideal notebook PC began in November 2004 when the campus decided to experiment with different models. But the Gateway M275 struck administrators as a great solution since it allowed students to take notes that would become digitized, said Stenehjem, thus eliminating ink and paper.

He also noted that faculty members would have more flexibility as well, as they would have a "digital whiteboard at their fingertips." Stenehjem said it was very important to Mayville State that faculty would have access to the same tool as students.

According to the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service Summary Report for 2003, 3.5 percent of all IHEs surveyed provided their students with computers.

Included in that figure are Winona State University (Minn.), Florida A&M Law School (Fla.), and Dakota State University (S.D.), all of whom have become pioneers in the adoption of not just computers, but tablet PCs, on their campuses.

Education and business majors on Mayville State's campus will learn valuable skills, says Stenehjem. Future teachers can use tablet PCs like applications used by working teachers. And business majors will learn how to make presentations.

"No matter what [students'] socioeconomic background is" says Stenehjem, Mayville State will create an "even playing field" with the adoption of tablet PCs.

With the dedication last month of the Turing Cluster at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), researchers have entered the realm of world class supercomputing--at bargain prices. Named for computer science pioneer Alan Turing, the cluster is powered by 640 dual processor 1U rack-mount Xserve G5 servers from Apple Computer. It is expected to deliver a peak performance of up to six teraflops, a ten-fold increase over the previous UIUC cluster it replaces. With that computational muscle, the Turing Cluster currently ranks in the top 30 most powerful supercomputers in the world.

The Turing Cluster will be used to simulate complex physical phenomena and engineering processes such as rocket simulations and atmospheric predictions. The cluster will also aid in the development of hardware designs and software systems for next generation high performance computer systems, and cluster-based computer technologies for graphics-intensive applications.

Besides power, the UIUC is unique for its cost, says Michael Heath, director of Computational Science and Engineering, which operates the Turing Cluster. "We probably would have been hard pressed to get a system half this size from another vendor," he says. "We put this cluster together with no direct contribution from the federal government."

The Turing Cluster will be available to local researchers, scientists and the university's 3,500 students.