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Beyond the News

Stories making headlines in higher education

Modest Gains for Pell Grant; SUNY Plan Will Limit Tuition Hikes ; Between the Lines ; Fundraising and the Public University ; You Can't Argue with Success ; War On Terror 101 ; Se Habla Sign? ; Shortage of Country Doctors ;
University Business, Feb 2005

At the close of 2004, Congress passed an eleventh-hour change to the Pell Grant funding formula. Specifically, lawmakers gave the OK to update the state tax tables that help define the lower-income students who are eligible to receive Pell Grants.

The widely reported result is that an estimated 90,000 students will no longer be eligible to receive Pell Grants and another 1.3 million will receive $100 to $300 less. Such cuts were necessary to make up for a budget shortfall in the Pell Grant program, legislators said.

Still, President Bush, who supported the changes, has countered his critics by pointing out that the total budget allocation for Pell in the fiscal 2005-06 year is a record $12.4 billion. A total 5 million low-income students will receive Pell Grants this year.

And while fewer students will be getting grants, those still in the program have a chance to receive more money.

In a January speech from Florida Community College at Jacksonville, Bush promised to increase the maximum Pell award by $100 each year for the next five years. The current $4,150 maximum award will climb to $4,550 by 2010. In addition, Bush wants to expand loan forgiveness to students who teach math, science, and special education.

The increase is a move in the right direction, says Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, but it still isn't adequate. "Even President Bush knows that a $500 boost over five years is not enough--he promised in 2000 that he would raise Pell by more than twice that amount."

In his remarks, Bush also hinted at a coming shakeup of financial aid programs. Without giving details, Bush added that he intends to ask Congress to reform the student loan program to make it more efficient.

The State University of New York system is considering a tuition plan that guarantees students the same tuition price throughout their undergraduate enrollment. The SUNY Tuition Guarantee is meant to protect students and parents from tuition hikes and to give families predictability as they plan for education spending, explains SUNY Chancellor Robert King, who outlined his proposal in January.

King is also asking the legislature for a $600 tuition increase, which would bring the SUNY instate tuition to $4,950. Freshmen enrolled in 2005 will have that amount frozen for their four years of study, or during the duration of their undergraduate degree.

If his plan is approved by the New York State Legislature and Gov. George Pataki, the SUNY system will join only a handful of higher education institutions that have issued such a tuition guarantee.

George Washington University (D.C.), a private university, launched its own fixed tuition program in February 2004. The 2004 freshman class is the first enrolled under the plan. GWU's plan guarantees freshman the same tuition price for up to five years of undergraduate study, and also promises students the same amount of financial aid during their enrollment.

Is the new tuition program drawing students to GWU? It is hard to say, although Tracy Schario, director of Media Relations notes that the incoming freshman class was a record 2,600.

Mark Langseth and William M. Plater, Editors; Anker Publishing Company, 2004; 314 pp.; $39.95

If there has been one positive side effect of the tragedies of 9/11, it has been an increased emphasis on national service. This collection of essays argues that dedicated administrators can turn civic engagement and service learning into a fundamental element of higher education's identity. Divided into two parts, the first section examines ways to use civic engagement to enhance the curriculum, advance educational reform, and add depth to the education process. A second section includes best practices of using service learning from two- and four-year institutions.

--Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti

Fundraising is a job requirement for any university president, but tight state budgets and rising costs are kicking the efforts into high gear for presidents at public universities. John Lombardi, chancellor for the University of Massachusetts-Amherst began the year by claiming that his university is "a generation behind" in raising private funds. Only 2 percent of the UMass operating budget comes from private funds and its endowment is reportedly a mere $70 million.

This is dismal when considering the financial hits UMass has sustained. Three years ago, when the state was at a budget low point, it slashed $100 million in public higher ed spending.

Compare this to the University of Virginia, a public school, fundraising powerhouse with an endowment of more than $1 billion. At least 8 percent of the operating budget comes from private funds. The University of Texas and the University of Minnesota are two other schools in the $1 billion endowment category. Lombardi isn't aiming as high, but his "Campaign for Amherst"--still in the "quiet" phase--will be asking donors for $350 million over a seven-year period.

Utah State University is yet another public institution with new fundraising ambitions. Within a year it will launch a "comprehensive" campaign to raise $225 million. The money will be spent on campus-wide improvements.

UMass and Utah State should look to the University of Delaware for pointers. A five-year, $225 million "Campaign for Delaware" has yielded $185 million more than expected. Initiated in 1998, the campaign's $410 million has been spent on endowed chairs, student aid, new buildings and a center for performing arts. "We originally thought $225 million was a stretch," President David Roselle told the press. "We learned to go way over the amount specified." He attributes the campaign's success, in part, to academic improvements at UD. People have given, he posits, because they feel UD is a strong institution. While such subjective analysis is hard to measure, one fact is undisputed: the new campaign put UD in that public IHE, billion-dollar endowment club. The total is $1.2 billion and growing.

When something works, you stay with it. Nearly 15 years ago, Lebanon Valley College (Pa.) used a "half-off" sale to prospective students as a way to save the school. And despite those who predicted financial ruin because of its "controversial" Presidential Scholarship program, the four-year liberal arts college is now flourishing because of it--more than doubling enrollment, while substantially improving both student quality, and the campus facilities and programs.

The Presidential Scholarship Program offers financial grants based on high school class rank. Students in the top 10 percent of their high school class receive a one-half tuition scholarship, students in the top 20 percent receive a one-third tuition scholarship, and students in the top 30 percent receive a one-quarter tuition scholarship.

According to LVC President Stephen MacDonald, a recent internal study to determine whether the school could continue to afford to offer the program found that it made more fiscal sense than a traditional need-based aid program.

"What we did was look at the asking price over the last 13 or 14 years. We adjusted those numbers for inflation, and then looked at the extent that we were discounting our price through financial aid. We wanted to find out if we were 'giving away the store' because of this program," says MacDonald. "What we found is that we could not afford to stop offering this tuition program."

According to the study, Lebanon Valley had increased its revenue by 113 percent, while increasing its cost by just 9.6 percent since launching the scholarship program. Its current full-time undergraduate tuition is $23,600. The increased revenue has enabled the school to expand its facilities, which now include a fitness facility, baseball park, a science center and two residence halls. Those efforts have helped produce eight straight years of record enrollments.

"We went from a situation where we were looking to fill empty beds to one where we now have to create empty beds," says MacDonald.

Nearly 2,500 years ago Chinese General Sun Tzu codified military strategy in his Art of War essays. War, he wrote, "is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected."

Those words ring as true as ever today, but the enemy is different. There's no textbook that outlines the rules of engagement in a war not against a country, but an idea.

That's why University of Dayton (Ohio) students will rethink the rules for the war on terror in a new course that began in January. Mark Ensalaco, director of the International Studies and Human Rights program at the university, chose 15 upper-level political science and human rights majors to think seriously about how a "war on terror rulebook" should read.

"How do you fight the war on terror and stay within the rules of military engagement?" asks Ensalaco. "Are we back to being pirates, and can we pursue them anywhere on the Barbary Coast? There's no literature out there, so we're going to rewrite the rules for this new kind of war."

Students enrolled in the course will break into research teams and examine four areas that Ensalaco believes require clearer guidelines or greater discussion: individual rights vs. domestic surveillance and homeland security needs; permissible interrogation techniques in light of the Abu Ghraib prison controversy; selective assassinations of suspected terrorists; and the use of preventative war.

"We're looking at defeating a global terrorism network. What's the best way to do it?" Ensalaco asks. "Right now, the human rights and security people are not speaking the same language. There's not enough common ground between them."

Terrorism has become a hot focus of college courses around the country since 9/11. According to one report, as many as 1,000 new courses have been introduced on college campuses in the last three years.

"The war in Iraq wasn't a pre-emptive war. Saddam Hussein was not on the verge of attacking us. This was prevention. When do you engage in a war of prevention?" says Ensalaco.

The class will analyze the progress of the ongoing war on terror to foster critical thinking about the two most daunting issues facing the U.S.--terrorism and homeland security.

It has been compared to Chinese because of its multiple meaning units and has been said to resemble the word order of Spanish or French. But is American Sign Language a foreign language? While this is up for debate in the higher ed community, one thing is certain: Students are showing a greater interest in ASL programs than in years prior. Enrollment in ASL college classes was up more than 400 percent from 1998 to 2002, according to the Modern Language Association. As of 2002, 60,000 students were enrolled in ASL classes. Currently, about 150 IHEs have accepted ASL as a foreign language, estimates Sherman Wilcox, chairman of University of New Mexico's linguistics department.

Gardner-Webb University (N.C.) was one of the first to offer an ASL program. It began a four-year bachelor's program for ASL in 1995 after years of offering only an associate's degree in the subject. "Two years just wasn't enough to master a language," says Mary High, the university's assistant professor of ASL.

Opponents says sign language doesn't provide access to the culture of another society, but High disagrees. "While many think it might be similar to spoken English, it's not. It has its own grammar with a different conceptual base and symbol system," she says. "There is a distinct deaf culture in the U.S." High says that strides in the deaf community, such as Galludet University's (D.C.) election of its first deaf president in 1998, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 have helped bring awareness to ASL.

Although rural communities across the U.S. are in great need of physicians, there is a significant decrease in the graduation of rural doctors. Research has proven that city kids are not only more likely to get into medical school, but are more apt to train and practice in or near cities as well. Also, "careers involving patients in areas in need of physicians are far more challenging," says Dr. Robert Bowman, assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. "Such patients have complex special problems and represent a variety of education, culture, language, health, financial, relationship, and legal challenges."

To recruit more rural doctors, institutions can select students who have a greater probability of choosing rural areas, offer them tuition breaks and other financial incentives, Bowman says. The Jefferson Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University (Penn.), University of Minnesota's Rural Physician Associate Program, and Michigan State University's Upper Peninsula Program, are a few programs that have succeeded in placing students in rural communities.