Higher Education News

Almost a week of no internet at Amherst College

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 21, 2019 - 7:00pm

Amherst College experienced a catastrophic technical mishap last week that left the campus without access to online services -- for five days.

As IT staff scrambled to fix the problem, faculty and students suddenly found themselves without access to Wi-Fi, email, Moodle, accounting systems, card-scanning systems or any content hosted on the Amherst.edu website.

That a scenario totally inconceivable on most modern campuses occurred at the wealthy private, liberal arts college in Amherst, Mass., was doubly surprising.

"How could this happen?" became a common refrain on campus. How could an elite college with a $2.2 billion endowment and that charges more than $50,000 in tuition a year fail to provide basic services, such as internet access?

With Wi-Fi services down, some students used their cellphone data to tweet their disbelief.

It’s been 4 days. WiFi is still down. Professor can’t teach us anything, and I don’t even have any ways to procrastinate my work. Hell is real and it’s Amherst College

— RadStad (@radstads) February 14, 2019

“It’s been 4 days. Wi-Fi is still down. Professor can’t teach us anything, and I don’t even have any ways to procrastinate,” tweeted one student.

“Thoughts and prayers for all members of the Amherst College community who do not have unlimited data and will be receiving texts from their parents about going over this month,” tweeted another.

On Facebook, students made light of the situation with a series of memes.

David Hamilton, chief information officer at Amherst, said “everything” the college does online was affected. Information technology staff worked round the clock to repair the network, he said. They were assisted by IT staff from neighboring institutions that are part of the Five College Consortium, as well as IT security experts from tech companies Cisco, Aruba and Juniper.

The college network first went down on Monday, Feb. 11. Initially, some staff believed the problems were caused by a hack, the college newspaper, The Amherst Student, reported. But Hamilton said his team quickly ruled out that possibility. Aging network infrastructure, hardware failures and wiring issues were the culprits, he said. The network was designed about 20 years ago and had its last hardware upgrade a decade ago. Plans were already in place to replace the network, which can be a costly undertaking, but “we got caught before we had that solution in place,” said Hamilton.

Now plans to upgrade the network are being expedited and work is scheduled to begin in two to three weeks, Hamilton said. The new network could be in place by June.

Hamilton is also prioritizing moving the college to more cloud-based IT solutions to prevent network problems from again impeding access to the college's server. Faced with the possibility last week that the college might be without email access for up to two weeks, Hamilton fast-tracked plans to shift the college to cloud-based email and completed the college's transition to Gmail while also working to repair the network.

Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, which tracks college spending on IT, said it is highly unusual for a network to go down due to "massive technological failure on the part of the infrastructure" rather than a thunderstorm or natural disaster. And five days without network access "is an exceptionally long time."

Many colleges, particularly public colleges, may be delaying infrastructure upgrades due to the high cost.

"I can't speak to the budget at Amherst, but many institutions have seen a decline in their IT budget," he said.

In the 2018 Campus Computing Survey, 56 percent of 242 institutions surveyed said that upgrading or replacing the campus network was important or very important. In the same survey, 67 percent of institutions said that their IT funding had not fully recovered from budget cuts experienced over the past four to six years.

Hamilton is now working on an incident report to understand how this “super-stressful” situation could have been prevented.

“I don’t know what lessons I’ve learned yet,” he said. "I'll be second-guessing every decision I made strategically that led us to that moment.”

Wi-Fi hot spots were brought onto campus for students, faculty and staff to use while the network was down, but this took a few days to organize, said Hamilton. There were no classes on Tuesday, Feb. 12, the second day of the outage, because it was a snow day, but on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, classes continued as normal.

Communicating with the campus during the network shutdown was a challenge but not an insurmountable one, said Sandra Genelius, chief communications officer at Amherst. A temporary website was created with essential phone numbers, such as campus police. Students were sent updates via the college’s emergency alert text messaging system, as well as updates on Facebook and Twitter.

“We tried to utilize every platform at our disposal,” said Genelius. The campus has a crisis communication plan, which worked well, she said. Staff regularly checked in with students to ensure they were OK. TV screens and digital signs showed updates, and IT staff visited academic departments to offer technical assistance.

Without access to the online learning management system, faculty got creative. In the physics department, faculty members pasted copies of their students’ required reading on their doors so that students could come by the office and take a picture on their cellphones, said Hamilton.

Amrita Basu, chair of sexuality, women’s and gender studies at Amherst, said her seminars were only “slightly disrupted” by the network problems.

“Students didn’t have access to an online forum where they post comments in response to the readings. However, the disruption was relatively minor since students did the printed readings I had assigned,” she said in an email. “The IT department did a great job of keeping us informed about what was going on and trying to find solutions to the problem.”

Hamilton said he expected to be treated like a “pariah” on campus, but faculty and staff were very supportive and understanding. He said he was careful to explain the reasoning behind the decisions he was making and discuss each step with senior staff.

“There were some musings among the faculty that there was a silver lining,” said Genelius. “There were some positive feelings about the notion of being unplugged -- a digital detox.”

Samantha Schriger, a junior majoring in sociology, was inspired by the outage to explore what students did without Wi-Fi for a few days as part of a class project.

“I was originally planning to do something else, but when we had no Wi-Fi, no access to email, no access to our homework on Moodle, library databases were inaccessible, I became curious about what students were experiencing,” she said.

Schriger set up eight focus groups of between four and seven people last week to ask them how they filled their time without Wi-Fi.

“I wanted to get a sense of how much tech and access to Wi-Fi and email determines how they spend their day,” she said.

With no internet and classes cancelled on Tuesday, several students decided to treat the day “like a mini-vacation,” said Schriger. “They did fun things, they went outside, they were reading for fun.”

On a normal snow day with Wi-Fi, students might spend the day inside watching videos on Netflix, she said. Some students, particularly seniors applying to jobs, decamped to coffee shops to use their Wi-Fi and get some work done.

“It was a little frustrating,” Schriger said. She noted that students received frequent text messages from the college, but these said little more than the Wi-Fi was still out. It took a few days to get Wi-Fi hot spots, and some students had to pay for more cellular data.

The experience made Schriger think about how much time she fills with social media, email and Netflix, but it “wasn’t a life changer,” she said.

Shawna Chen, a junior majoring in English at Amherst and editor in chief of The Amherst Student, said that there were problems with Wi-Fi connectivity on campus for a few weeks leading up to the outage. When the network went finally down and didn’t come back up, it was a full day before students were informed of what was happening, she said.

“There was not a lot of clarity initially about what the problem was and how long it would take to get working,” she said. “There were a lot of rumors that it was a hack or cyberattack or people were trying to get our information.”

"It wasn’t just the Wi-Fi. Our dorm [security] system defaulted to unlocked. Our laundry cards didn’t work. We couldn’t access Moodle. The entire website was down. Handshake, our career services platform, was down. Printing was down," said Chen. "I think it was pretty shocking for everyone."

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Stanford reworks speaker series in intellectual diversity after officials hosted mostly white men

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 21, 2019 - 7:00pm

A speaker series at Stanford University meant to promote diversity and a free exchange of ideas will be revamped after criticism that its mostly white, male contributors did not fulfill the program’s goals -- a lesson, experts say, in planning such initiatives in the name of diversity.

Stanford officials set up the series last year. Two speakers would argue consequential issues: so-called fake news, populism and sexuality and politics, among others.

Administrators were searching for a way to more constructively promote free expression on the campus, which had experienced many conflicts over speech (offensive political fliers on immigration plastered around a dormitory, for one). These were debates that might generally be more limited at a private institution. But as a California college, Stanford was subject to the state’s unique Leonard Law, which applies the First Amendment even to private, secular universities -- and the university has repeatedly proclaimed to treasure diverse perspectives and the right to share the most controversial of ideas.

The response to the first five sessions of the series -- which administrators called Cardinal Conversations and which continued only through the spring of 2018 -- was deemed “decidedly mixed” by Provost Persis Drell in September, a milder way of phrasing the heaping criticism for the program.

One of Cardinal Conversations’ leaders, the divisive British historian Niall Ferguson, resigned from his role after emails leaked that he had directed Republican students to conduct “opposition research” on a liberal student activist.

Students quite vehemently condemned some of the speaker selections, which were in part jointly coordinated by the institution’s right-leaning Hoover Institution and its Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Many of the participants were white men (six of the 12 speakers), talking on conservative topics, which some on the campus viewed as odd given the series’ declared mission of intellectual diversity. An invitation to social scientist Charles Murray was particularly derided, and some students called for it to be withdrawn. Murray is well-known for his theory in his book The Bell Curve (often panned as racist) that black and Hispanic people are genetically predisposed to have lower IQs than white men and women.

Last month, in response to the admonishments, Stanford administrators floated a new structure for choosing speakers (a process that was mostly a mystery). The proposal calls for a 10- to 15-member student committee, led by three faculty members appointed by the provost, to pick the speakers. This group will “will look for partnerships with other organizations and oversee efforts to publicize events and engage the broadest possible audiences,” Stanford said in a statement.

The series has also been moved from the purview of the two campus institutes (though Hoover Institution director Thomas Gilligan is one of the three advisers) to the Office of the Provost. Drell said she and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne will be uninvolved in selecting speakers.

The challenges with Cardinal Conversations show that simply holding these speaker series, which have become near ubiquitous on college campuses, does not guarantee inclusivity. Student affairs professionals said in interviews that administrators must be deliberate and intentional about which speakers they recruit and that they should involve students more.

“A planning committee that is able to gain suggestions and input from across the campus, and have committee members representing different stakeholder groups, is more likely to have a diverse speaker series,” said John Taylor, chief executive officer of the Association of College Unions International, the organization that represents college and university activities centers. “Deliberations in such a group may take longer and be more challenging, but the end result may be a stronger set of speakers to present to the larger campus community.”

This appears to be the route that Stanford is taking with its new planning committee, after having acknowledged its missteps in having a not-so-diverse leadership team. In her statement, Drell said that administrators struggled to find the right student and professor representation for the program. Progressive and minority groups on campus complained that “there was no public knowledge” of everyone who was a part of the original group or how it was created.

“The leadership of Cardinal Conversations as a whole leans toward the right of the political spectrum, thus the speakers the initiative invites neither represent both sides of the story nor raise the voices of communities that have been historically silenced,” the student groups wrote in a letter to the student newspaper, The Stanford Daily, in February, after Murray was asked to speak.

In inviting white conservatives to campus, people like Murray, presidents may be responding to critiques from the right that colleges and universities are “liberal utopias” intent on suppressing the conservative voice, said Eric Anthony Grollman, an assistant professor of sociology at University of Richmond who writes periodic columns for Inside Higher Ed. (Grollman uses the pronouns they/them/their.)

Grollman’s institution hosted Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, to deliberate immigration as a part of its final leg of its speaker series last year. Richmond’s president, Ronald A. Crutcher, wrote a vigorous defense of Rove’s visit in The Hechinger Report, arguing that “substantive conversations are never one-sided.”

“As campus leaders, we must be unapologetic champions for the free and open exchange of ideas and for the potential of debate and discussion to transform society,” Crutcher wrote.

But this arrangement is flawed, Grollman said. These (typically) men have historically already been given a broad and preferred platform in society, they said.

“We already know what people who are opposed to trans rights are going to argue,” Grollman said. “There’s nothing more they can say. But we haven’t heard from trans people themselves. What’s missing from this conversation is an aspect of power and resources. There’s more power and privilege afforded to dominant group members, who are disproportionately conservative and so forth. The odds are always stacked against the marginalized group.”

Giving more power to students to plan speakers helps ensure this diversity, said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. This is despite the fact that sometimes students will make “bold and outrageous choices” simply to stir controversy, Kruger said. He gave the example of the right-wing students who have tried before to invite ex-Breitbart personality Milo Yiannopoulos to campuses, not for the sake of robust discussion, but for intentional pot-stirring. A speaker series at Williams College, run by students, was called Uncomfortable Learning, and intentionally tried to rattle students’ views by bringing in provocateurs. But on multiple occasions, speakers were uninvited. The group rescinded an invite to Suzanne Venker, a self-described critic of feminism, in 2015 amid student protests. The college’s former president, Adam Falk, canceled a talk by John Derbyshire, who has been called racist and sexist and currently writes for VDare, a known white supremacy website. Falk, who left the private institution in 2017, said at the time that Derbyshire promoted hate speech.

Kruger added that speaker series are a minute part of the campus experience -- while they might be quite visibly advertised in a student union, there are countless other activities happening that represent the entire campus contingent.

The problem of one-note series is also not isolated to Stanford.

Lectures at Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership -- which was bankrolled by the state Legislature and has attracted criticism for housing research centers funded by the Charles Koch Foundation -- were nearly all given by men.

“This for me underscores the challenges that campuses are facing trying to strike the right balance between programming and speakers and things that support and underscore both conservative and liberal thinking,” Kruger said.

Editorial Tags: Free speechStudent lifeImage Caption: The Hoover Institution's Niall Ferguson moderates a talk between Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, left, and Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, right, at Stanford's Cardinal Conversations on "Technology and Politics." Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Scrutiny of Speaker SeriesTrending order: 2College: Stanford University
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Co-editor discusses new book of documents on FBI spying on scientists

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 21, 2019 - 7:00pm

During the McCarthy era, the Federal Bureau of Investigation spent a lot of time and money investigating prominent scientists, viewing them as potentially sympathetic to or spies for the Soviet Union -- despite a lack of evidence in most cases other than views that might not have been completely consistent with those of FBI leaders. Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman and Alfred Kinsey are just some of those monitored.

Scientists Under Surveillance: The FBI Files (MIT Press) consists of the actual files on these and other scientists, along with commentary. The documents were obtained by MuckRock, a nonprofit that helps people seek federal records. The book is edited by three MuckRock leaders: JPat Brown, executive editor; B. C. D. Lipton, senior reporter; and Michael Morisy, the co-founder. Morisy responded via email to questions about the book.

Q: What gave you the idea of seeking these records?

A: One of the things that drew me to the Freedom of Information Act was an opportunity to dig through history before it had received its coat of varnish. It quickly becomes clear that government records aren’t unbiased narrators or even better narrators [than others], since the documents are products of the time, place and people who wrote them, but they’re a very valuable way to explore history through the lens of the bureaucrats of the day. FBI files, in particular, are fascinating to read. You have conservative, buttoned-down G-men with a front-row seat to history being made, social norms changing and so on, and their priorities and focus are always at least slightly off from how history is taught today, whether it’s a paranoid focus on Hannah Arendt’s popularity among college students or how often cocktail party chatter would send multiple agents on a months-long wild goose chase. Getting to explore our history in this way is endlessly fascinating.

Q: How difficult was it to use FOIA to gain access to these records?

A: The key ingredients to successful FOIA work are generally time, persistence and attention to detail. MuckRock just celebrated our ninth birthday, and we have now helped our users file just about 60,000 requests, and one of the great things about FOIA is that anyone can do it. It doesn’t require being a lawyer or a journalist, so while compiling this volume has taken us years of research and follow-up, our hope is the project will showcase how valuable transparency is -- and inspire others to start requesting information they’re interested in.

Q: Do you have a favorite example or two in the documents that shows how foolish it was to presume that these prominent scientists were somehow acting against the United States?

A: Richard Feynman’s files always crack me up. You have a key figure not only for the Manhattan Project but also who helped made science more accessible for so many, really inspiring a generation. But it was the same curiosity and puckishness that made him effective in those roles that drove the FBI nuts: Why was this guy trying to crack safes all the time? What scandals are going on in his personal life? So they keep snooping around everything he does, usually in comically poor fashion until he ultimately just reaches out and tells them to cut it out.

But I also think it’s an interesting case because, while the FBI was trying to dig up information on him, the Soviet Union was trying to flip him -- they were just even worse at it. So it’s a bit [of] Cold War Keystone Kops all around, right on the periphery of our history books.

Q: Do any of the documents give doubt to whether the scientists sufficiently resisted the pressures of McCarthyism?

A: I think that’s one of the things that really excited us about this project, to highlight, even if half a century later in some cases, that surveillance has a high cost in terms of chilling effects. Trips canceled, collaborations stalled, people hounded out of positions in government and academia. There was definitely self-censorship and professional repercussions. It’s impossible to calculate what knowledge we were ultimately robbed off.

Q: Today we are in an era when scientists are not trusted by many federal leaders. Are there lessons from the era of these documents for those who believe scientists are entitled to privacy and presumption of innocence?

A: So many of these files are from J. Edgar Hoover’s long reign of the bureau, where checks and balances really broke down to the point where there wasn’t really anyone he had to answer to. Reading through these files is an excellent reminder of why we have those checks and balances in the first place, and how without transparency -- and a public that is trained to care about these issues -- things can go wildly out of control in all sorts of surprising and negative ways. I think that’s a lesson that matters a lot at this political moment, but also a lesson that every generation needs to work to learn again.

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The modern German university is satirized in film

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 21, 2019 - 7:00pm

Academics at Berlin University’s Institute for Cybernetics and Simulation Research are brainstorming how to impress evaluators at a crucial upcoming research assessment.

Phoebe, a young and not yet entirely cynical researcher, suggests presenting them with the results of her work on climate change.

The first question her colleagues ask is: How will her report be bound? They settle on tasteful, organic bast fiber, a decision that pays off: the evaluators are won over by the presentation of Phoebe’s research.

This scene unfolds in Weitermachen Sanssouci (roughly translated as “keep on going without worries”), a university satire that premiered last week at Berlin’s annual film festival, the Berlinale.

Campus and academic life has been captured on screen dozens of times before. But Weitermachen Sanssouci (its English title is Music and Apocalypse) is perhaps the first film to tackle the discontents that have dominated debate about universities over the past 10 to 20 years: invasive levels of research assessment, a utilitarian focus on student employability, shady deals with commercial partners and the casualization of academic work (at one point Phoebe is offered a 28 percent contract).

At the fictional Berlin University, the signs of priorities gone awry are everywhere. Absurdly shaped lights -- one like a cactus -- festoon the office of Phoebe’s manager. They are gifts from an electricity company that wants to strike a commercial partnership, she explains offhandedly. Only at its very beginning and end does the film actually depict any research being done, with Phoebe taking environmental readings from a river.

Another familiar character at the institute is Alfons Abstract-Wege, a star academic who “upholds excellence” with an intimidatingly long list of publications to his name, all in trendy academic areas (“May I trouble you? Discourses of politeness in the hotel trade” is one of his recent contributions).

With media fanfare, he launches a project to study behavioral “nudging," requiring employees at the university to wear wristbands to track their healthy and unhealthy habits (this allows him to monitor their every move from his computer).

Berlin University is obsessed with student employability and hopes to create “Europe’s Silicon Valley.” But the students are not happy -- one describes its much-vaunted App Lab as a “concept sweatshop” -- and eventually they occupy the library, demanding that the university focus on education, not business. In a crisis meeting, the institute’s management team settles on using fire regulations to break up the sit-in.

For Max Linz, Weitermachen Sanssouci’s director and co-screenwriter, it was this overbearing focus on employability that ultimately led him to create the film.

As a philosophy student, Linz was forced to play Monopoly-like board games on weekends in an attempt to improve his business skills and job prospects. Students of philosophy, film and theater were told, “You don’t have a chance [after graduation], because what you do is nothing that business is interested in,” he recalled to Times Higher Education. “We all thought: what nonsense. Why do we have to go through this? It was bizarre.”

Having studied at a university for a decade, Linz had more than enough anecdotes about academic life to draw on. “It’s just the world I live in,” he said. His co-screenwriter, Nicolas von Passavant, was a lecturer; Sarah Ralfs, who plays Phoebe, is currently a researcher; and another of the male leading actors recently finished a Ph.D.

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Colleges award tenure

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 21, 2019 - 7:00pm

Carleton College

  • Christopher T. Calderone, chemistry

Clarkson University

  • Brian Hauser, film
  • Cecilia Martinez, engineering and management
  • Mario Wriedt, chemistry

Middlebury College

  • Ioana Uricaru, film and media culture

Muhlenberg College

  • Brooke Vick, psychology

Williams College

  • Julie Blackwood, mathematics
  • Matt Carter, biology
  • Jessica Fisher, English
  • Jeffrey Israel, religion
  • Aparna Kapadia, history
  • Anjuli F. Raza Kolb, English and comparative literature
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Presidents skeptical that some colleges closing can help others survive

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 20, 2019 - 7:00pm

Leaders at Sterling College in Vermont arguably should have been elated at the news coming from two other New England colleges in recent weeks.

Green Mountain College, another small liberal arts college in Vermont sharing Sterling’s focus on the environment, said in January that it will close at the end of the spring semester. The next week, Hampshire College in Massachusetts announced a decision to stop admitting new students for the fall semester as it seeks a partnership. Sterling’s applicant pool overlaps with Hampshire’s.

In other words, two of Sterling’s rivals are dropping out of the recruiting game at a time when finding enough students to enroll at nonelite private liberal arts colleges in New England is expected to become increasingly hard. With a lack of growth projected in the number of graduating high school students across the country in coming years, and with colleges in the Northeast expected to be particularly affected by demographic shifts, a few competitors shutting their doors would seem to be just what the doctor ordered for a tiny college like Sterling.

Yet Sterling’s president wasn’t celebrating after word of Green Mountain’s closure broke.

The college has a great opportunity to be the only environmentally focused private college in Vermont, said its president, Matthew Derr. That opportunity does not change the fact that Sterling will need to expand its applicant pool in the face of the drastic demographic changes coming in the future, though. Nor does it change the fact that private colleges aren’t competing solely with other private colleges facing financial challenges.

“I think institutions that are thinking about the closure of competitors as their solution are being pretty shortsighted about the real demographic shift that's coming,” Derr said. “There are serious structural challenges and issues that small rural liberal arts colleges are going to face, and just contraction is not going to be enough.”

Still, one of the structural challenges is the fact that there are so many small colleges trying to snap up a shrinking pool of students who can afford to pay the full cost of tuition. It stands to reason that, in a fiercely competitive market, the loss of a few rivals will help those who remain -- that one college’s loss is another’s gain.

It may be true in some cases and to small degrees, say those who run colleges or who have closely watched segments of the higher education landscape. Some institutions have found success enrolling students who were attending a shuttered rival, either by scrambling to open transfer pathways or by picking up a closing college’s strongest programs.

But it’s usually not as simple as one college being able to survive because another college died. The students who attended or would have attended a closing college don’t migrate en masse to a competitor institution. They diffuse to a range of colleges, comparable and noncomparable, in both the private and public spaces. Some might not even enroll at all.

Additionally, the colleges closing and merging have often experienced enrollment declines, leaving their student bodies best measured in the hundreds. Such numbers may not be enough to bolster many other struggling institutions, unless closures and consolidations increase drastically in the coming years.

College leaders consider other factors when asked whether they might be helped by closures. Higher education is an ecosystem, they point out. Colleges draw strength from being able to form consortia, hire employees with experience working at similar institutions and study strategies their competitors have tried.

In other words, leaders think they’re better off with a certain level of competition. Although some consolidation might help certain colleges in some ways, the intricacies of the market make it virtually impossible to say for sure who would be helped where. And doubts persist that the slices of the market where many institutions are already struggling -- like small liberal arts colleges and historically black colleges -- stand to benefit at all.

The types of academic programs at a closing institution might not line up with remaining colleges’ academic programs, said Mark Reed, president of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, located in one of the most crowded higher education regions in the country. Academic standards and selectivity might also differ.

“Not to put any other institutions down, but there are probably some institutions that are closing, and certain students wouldn’t measure up to the academic requirements” at larger and financially stronger institutions, Reed said. “It’s a very delicate thing.”

Environmental College Ecosystem Takes a Hit

When Derr discussed Green Mountain’s pending closure, he was quick to say that it hurts the overall landscape for other environmental colleges like Sterling.

“You have this honorable rival in your world, in your geographic location and in your focus on a particular kind of mission,” Derr said. “In our case it is environmental stewardship, and it's just so important work be done. So there's sadness there.”

Vermont’s population only totals some 626,000 people, so many of the colleges operating in the state have turned increasingly to out-of-state enrollment. About a fifth of Sterling’s 138 students are Vermonters. Half are eligible for Pell Grants.

So Green Mountain, which has enrolled close to 500 undergraduates and another 250 graduate students in recent years, would seem to be a source of students now that it is closing. It could very well be, as Sterling is a teach-out partner where Green Mountain students can finish their studies. But there are real reasons students might go elsewhere.

Sterling is much farther north in Vermont than Green Mountain. It would take more than two and a half hours to drive between the two campuses, meaning in-state and out-of-state students might not be too familiar with Sterling.

Also, Sterling is unlike most institutions in that it is one of only a handful of federally recognized work colleges. And Prescott College in Arizona announced it was Green Mountain’s preferred teach-out partner.

“We are surprised that they are in partnership in Arizona,” said Susan Stitely, president of the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges, a group representing private colleges of which Green Mountain is not a current member. “We would love to keep these Vermont students in Vermont. We definitely have a lot of out-of-state students, which is a real advantage for Vermont, because we really need young people coming into the state.”

The state’s public flagship, the University of Vermont, has an environmental sciences program. Southern Vermont College, a private nonprofit four-year institution, also announced an environmental sciences major at the end of 2018 that observers say could be attractive to some former Green Mountain students. Both institutions are located closer to Green Mountain’s campus than Sterling is.

The president of another small environmentally focused college in New England is also skeptical that the closure will be a long-term shot in the arm for his institution. Melik Peter Khoury is the president of Unity College in Maine.

“Could there be a potential short-term bump because we are going to help their students on a teach-out, or because 20 students who were going to go to Green Mountain would come here?” he asked. “If I am looking at it from a short-term perspective, maybe. But I see this as a long-term loss. Right now, it is the very sector in jeopardy.”

Many small colleges traditionally sought to enroll middle- and upper-middle-class freshmen, Khoury said. Now data show those populations dwindling while growth takes place in prospective first-generation students and adult students who did not finish their degrees.

The current climate is a referendum on the sector, Khoury continued. Short-term fixes and failing to adapt to larger trends won’t work.

Tapping the same student pools won’t work, even if the number of institutions tapping that pool is shrinking.

“You cannot take those steps to try to drill in a well where the water has run dry,” Khoury said. “I think anybody who says this is good for them is shortsighted -- and next.”

Any short-term gain for individual colleges also comes against a loss for the ecosystem, he added.

“My personal opinion is that every college brings a very unique service to its region, to its local economy, to society,” Khoury said. “Just like in any ecosystem, the loss of a diversity of schools is a loss for us all.”

Small Numbers

As much as they know their market, leaders at environmental colleges in New England are still projecting likely futures in the wake of Green Mountain’s closure. The long-term market changes driven by a college that stops admitting students this year won’t be known for quite some time.

But looking back at two college closures in the past five years shows students are likely to spread out after they step off a shuttered campus for the last time. Competitors can post gains anyway if they pick up a program from a closing college or tap a population it was known to serve.

Saint Joseph’s College, in Rensselaer, Ind., suspended operations on its campus at the end of the spring 2017 semester in the face of a financial crunch. At the time, the college, known locally as Saint Joe, had about 900 students. It has since gone on to partner with Marian University to create a new two-year college, Saint Joseph’s College of Marian University-Indianapolis.

The case of Saint Joe shows how students go to similar institutions when their college closes -- and also how some go to very different institutions.

In the fall of 2017, Marian University in Indianapolis enrolled 78 former Saint Joe students. Marian is believed to have more transfers from the college than any other institution. In January 2018, another five former Saint Joe students transferred to Marian.

Marian leaders believe several factors helped them to enroll former Saint Joe students. Both are Roman Catholic institutions in Indiana. Marian quickly sent admissions staff to meet with students after Saint Joe announced its closure and returned to the Saint Joe campus in subsequent months.

A Marian digital marketing campaign targeted the Saint Joe campus. Marian leaders guaranteed Saint Joe students that they wouldn’t pay more to attend Marian than they paid at Saint Joe, despite Marian having a higher tuition. And Marian pledged to accept all transfer credits and give Saint Joe transfers who were on track to graduate in a year the opportunity to do so.

Plus, Marian hired former Saint Joe faculty and staff, including the shuttered college’s former associate vice president for academic affairs as the associate director and dean of the new two-year institution. Doing so helped relationships with transfer students and Saint Joe alumni, according to a Marian spokesman, Mark Apple.

“Marian University had a record freshman class in fall 2018, up 26 percent from the previous year,” Apple said. “We have been trending up for the past three years, so I wouldn’t attribute all of the growth to the closing of Saint Joseph’s College (opening the state’s second medical school in 2013 has done wonders for our academic reputation). But the fact that we have been linked to Saint Joe in the media several times over the past two years (the initial transfer story, the 43 students who graduated on time got some media attention, and then the announcement of our collaboration on the two-year college all got significant media attention in Indy and statewide) certainly puts us in the consideration set for students who may have previously considered Saint Joe.”

Data show Marian is drawing more interest from the northwestern part of Indiana, where Saint Joe was located. Applications from the region rose from 440 for the fall of 2017 to 479 for the fall of 2018. So far, they have continued to rise to 509 for the fall of 2019.

Public institutions serving northern Indiana noted smaller upticks. About a dozen Saint Joe students applied to Indiana University Northwest, according to a spokesman. Seven ultimately enrolled. At Purdue University, 36 Saint Joe students were admitted to transfer in and 14 enrolled, according to a spokesman.

Many of Indiana’s independent colleges tried to work with students as Saint Joe was closing, said Mary Ellen Hamer, executive vice president of the Independent Colleges of Indiana. Many schools, public and private, accepted Saint Joe students, who ultimately had to decide where to enroll.

“It depended on where the student was from and how far he or she wanted to travel,” said David W. Wantz, president and CEO of the Independent Colleges of Indiana.

Saint Joe was known to have three primary recruiting pockets: northwest Indiana, Chicago and Indianapolis.

Mary Maloney was an admissions counselor at Saint Joe when it closed. Enrolled students tended to transfer to colleges near where their families lived, she said.

“They kind of stayed closer to home,” she said. “The Illinois students, I think they kind of went closer to home as well.”

That would be consistent with findings from a student transfer and mobility report published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in 2018. The report tracked transfer patterns of all first-time students entering college in the fall of 2011 over six years, finding that 38 percent of 2.8 million students transferred between institutions.

The report didn’t look specifically at transfers after a college closed, meaning many of the transfers were students who went from a public or private four-year college to a two-year college over the summer, then returned to their original institutions for the fall. Even so, it shows students who transfer don’t always stay in their state.

Just over 81 percent of students attending public two-year institutions transferred in state, and 73.6 percent of students transferring from public institutions stayed in state. Only about half of those transferring from private nonprofit four-year institutions, 51.8 percent, stayed in state.

“The national transfer statistics provided here show that student mobility is diverse, complex and increasing,” the report found.

A similar story unfolded after Virginia Intermont College closed in 2014. The college, which enrolled under 300 students in the fall of its last year, was in the city of Bristol, Va., on the border with Tennessee.

After Virginia Intermont closed, the nearby Emory & Henry College took over its well-known equestrian program, retaining the program's faculty members, according to a spokeswoman.

In the fall after Virginia Intermont closed, Emory & Henry enrolled 30 students from the college in a teach-out program. Today, Emory & Henry has 72 students who are involved in the equine program, majoring in the program, minoring in it or riding with it.

“The group of students we saw enroll were in equine, art and photography,” wrote the spokeswoman, Jennifer Pearce, in an email. “I would say that we are still attracting high school students locally interested in equine and now more visual and performing arts since we built a $25 million beautiful art and performance space and hired some very talented faculty.”

In the years before its closure, Virginia Intermont consistently drew the most Virginia students from the surrounding jurisdictions of Bristol, Washington County and Russell County, according to data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Emory & Henry, which is located in Washington County, saw an increase in new students from Washington County in the years since Virginia Intermont’s closure. In 2013-14, the last year Intermont was open, Emory & Henry enrolled 12 first-time college students from Washington County. It enrolled 35 in 2018-19.

Total undergraduates from Washington County at Emory & Henry slipped from 90 in 2013-14 to 81 in 2015-16, the data show. Since then, the college has enrolled far more undergraduates from the county, rising to 127 this year. It’s added eight total undergraduates from Bristol between 2013-14 and this year, for a total of 30. Russell County undergraduates haven’t risen.

Data posted by the Virginia Department of Education indicates the college’s closing had little impact on college enrollment among high school graduates from the three jurisdictions that consistently sent the most students to Virginia Intermont.

Taken in combination, those numbers demonstrate how a small college closing can provide a boost to other nearby institutions. But they also show that the scale of the boost is often relatively small -- Emory & Henry enrolls almost 1,000 undergraduates and nearly 300 more graduate students. Increases of a few dozen students could be important but wouldn’t necessarily be a defining factor in saving a college of 1,300 if it were to face a crisis.

More Variables, More Uncertainty

Fallout from Saint Joe and Virginia Intermont are relatively easy examples to examine because the institutions were near only a handful of competitors -- and the analyses above largely exclude out-of-state competitors. Still, examining those cases requires many assumptions about how many students might have remained in a college if it had stayed open and where else they would have considered attending.

Such an analysis is likely to miss variables. The task grows even harder when considering closing institutions in college-dense parts of the country like Philadelphia or Boston -- or when considering institutions of a specific type that students may be more likely to compare even though they are hundreds or thousands of miles apart.

Nonetheless, college leaders think individual college closures don’t represent enough scale to change larger market dynamics.

“For us here in Philadelphia, one closure wouldn’t necessarily make a big difference,” said Reed, the president of St. Joseph’s University. “It could be a local marketplace, a statewide marketplace or even out of state. But it’s probably not going to be noticed by a lot of people, because the numbers we are talking about are very small.”

St. Joseph’s is a Roman Catholic institution, and if several small private colleges in the Philadelphia area that are also Roman Catholic were to close, it could have an impact, Reed added. Ripple effects could benefit other Roman Catholic colleges as students who know what type of college they want to attend stay within the segment of the higher ed market.

Closures could also lead to additional sorting of students. The top 5 percent of a college’s student body might transfer to more prestigious institutions than the rest of its student body, which might not meet admissions standards, Reed said.

That’s a good thing for the prestigious institutions -- but not necessarily for the others. Some think such a sorting effect is one reason some historically black colleges and universities have struggled even as other HBCUs closed over time.

“What happens is, now the best and the brightest start being contacted by your University of Virginias, your William & Marys,” said Jerry Crawford II, an associate who directs the Journalism Multicultural Scholars Program at the University of Kansas and who has done research on HBCUs and competition. “When you look at the competition, don’t look at similar schools. Look at bigger schools finding ways to incorporate programs.”

Larger universities have advantages of scale that go beyond deep pockets and name recognition. Their deeper course catalogs can make it easier for them to find ways to help students’ credits transfer, Crawford said.

Students who struggle to enroll at a larger institution can then be left behind.

“Students at the smaller schools are going to be left out,” Crawford said. “They’re going to be more susceptible to going to these schools that you see on TV while watching Judge Judy.”

Those would, of course, be for-profit colleges. The for-profit sector is going through a massive consolidation, with some questioning whether it will continue to exist at all.

One might have expected some for-profit colleges to be strengthened when their competitors started to fold, said Robert G. Atkins, chief executive officer of the consulting firm Gray Associates. That didn’t happen.

“When you lose a competitor, you lose stimulus in the market,” Atkins said.

Losing a competitor also means losing someone who might be undercutting you on pricing. But experts doubt that would have much of a long-term positive effect on net revenue for tuition-dependent institutions.

“We know that there are various ‘market rates’ when looking at publics vs. privates, from cities to rural areas, large to small institutions, and from region to region across the country,” wrote Brian Weinblatt, founder and principal of Higher Ed Consolidation Solutions, a consultancy focused on college mergers, in an email. “Institutions always need to consider their competitors' pricing, so certainly if a lower-priced competitor nearby closes, that may -- for a time -- assuage pressures by the surviving institution(s) to discount similarly. But I don't believe that relief will last for long, as pricing structures need to be constantly revisited, and ultimately, like in any industry, it is about what the customers, students, are willing to pay.”

Some economists would say that consolidating an industry can be a plus, said Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College in Boston. It can require institutions to reinvent themselves, seek new efficiencies and find new sources of revenue.

Emerson has increased enrollment and boosted its number of international students in recent years. It operates campuses in Los Angeles and the Netherlands. For institutions reliant on local markets, however, trends can easily overwhelm any positives brought by consolidation, according to Pelton.

In New England, for example, the population of high school students is projected to decline rapidly enough that institutions neighboring a closed college are not going to pick up additional students, he said. The customer base is simply declining.

“It’s declining for school A,” Pelton said. “It’s also declining for school B and school C. So I think whatever gains are to be seen from a competitive point of view, with respect to enrollment, will be minimal at individual colleges in New England.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Author discusses new book on how to promote 'generous thinking' in higher education

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 20, 2019 - 7:00pm

Kathleen Fitzpatrick has been a leader in promoting the digital humanities and digital transformations of disciplines and universities. In 2011, she was appointed to lead a new division of the Modern Language Association about scholarly communication in the digital age. In 2017, she moved to Michigan State University to become director of digital humanities and a professor of English.

Her new book, Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University (Johns Hopkins University Press), goes well beyond the digital humanities. She argues that it's time for the humanities and academe in general to try new ways to engage with a public that has shown hostility to higher education.

Via email, she responded to questions about her new book.

Q: You note the rampant anti-intellectualism in American life today. Do you believe that it's worse than it has been in the past?

A: I’m always a little leery of suggesting that things are worse now, but I will say that today’s strain of anti-intellectualism is capable of doing far more damage than ever before, if for no other reason than because of the technologies and networks through which it is being fomented. Much of the population in the United States has long been resentful of the intrusions of “experts” into their lived experience, but now all of us are connected through systems and platforms that are designed not just to make expertise unnecessary but in fact to replace it with personal opinion.

There’s still something potentially democratizing in the internet’s decentralization of authority, but as we increasingly see in relation to issues like vaccination and climate change, the demotion of scientific consensus to just another opinion equal to any other is having real, devastating consequences. And I fear that one of those consequences may be that we are nearing a tipping point with respect to the future of the university, which is increasingly the target of public resentment. The primary reason most people look to the university today is for credentialing, but as the cost of that credentialing increasingly falls on individual students and families, the resentment only grows. Students are still coming to us … but that public resentment will be taken out on us, unless we can find ways to change the tenor of our relationship.

Q: Some academics respond to the current trends in public life by retreating and trying to create what they view as a sane world on campus. Why do you advocate for active engagement instead?

A: For several reasons, not least among them that there are people off campus who desperately want to be part of that sane world as well, and with their involvement and energy, the world that we can create together may have a better chance of making real, substantive change in public life. But our mandate stretches beyond those who might already be inclined to work with us.

This is especially so for those of us at public institutions, which were established to serve all of the people of the state or region or community. We need to make a real effort to rebuild relationships of trust with those publics, to find ways to better support them and their concerns. If we demonstrate our willingness to stand in solidarity with them, we might together build the foundation on which they’ll be willing to stand in solidarity with us, too.

Q: Some groups outside academe mock or question important commitments in academe -- equity, inclusiveness, etc. Could your approach change this?

A: I certainly hope so! Don’t get me wrong -- I recognize that there are groups whom we may never reach, whose minds we may never change. But allowing the mockery or even outright attacks of those groups to deter us from building equitable, inclusive relationships both within the campus community and with the communities around us would be an enormous mistake. We need to model openness if we want to foster openness, and we need to build connections to others who share that mission. Those connections might help us demonstrate the real potential of the university as a social space.

Q: What do you consider the flaw in the current approach to teaching and research in the humanities? How would you shift humanities?

A: We seem in many ways to have accepted the popular notion that the purpose of a university education is some form of personal enrichment, even where we might insist that enrichment has valences beyond the economic. This mind-set is part and parcel of the privatization that Chris Newfield has described as the university’s political unconscious, the certainty that the benefits of higher education are and ought to be individual. By accepting this -- by underplaying the social good that higher education provides -- we end up undermining our own best work. This is a problem across the university, but perhaps especially in the humanities, where the relationships between our fields and the market-based economy within which we operate seem to be the most tenuous.

We defensively insist either that our fields foster critical and creative skills that are in fact highly in demand among employers today or that our fields’ real benefits play out in terms of personal forms of satisfaction. Both of which are true, of course, but neither of which gets what I believe to be the far more important forms of connection and community that the humanities can and should foster. If we are to turn our teaching and research toward those more properly social goods, we need to give some serious thought to our institutional reward structures, which are at every level today focused on individual achievement. What might the work we do in our classes look like if educating for community were our primary goal? What might our research look like if we really valued connection over and above personal accomplishment? Among other things, we might find that our work, and the work of our students, becomes more collaborative, more open and more publicly engaged.

Q: What is "generous thinking" and how can academics promote it?

A: Generous thinking is for me a grounding in these modes of connection and community. Generous thinking isn’t meant to be opposed to critical thinking, but it rather provides a foundation for the critical. It asks us to start our work from a position of receptivity, of listening, that creates the possibility of genuinely understanding the ideas of others. This is not to say that we agree with all of those ideas, or that we don’t have ideas of our own, but that we approach the development of our work not just with a critical audacity but also with a kind of critical humility, recognizing the possibility that our own ideas might just be wrong.

Generous thinking also asks us to think with others -- other authors, other texts, other ideas -- rather than against them, in order to see what we might build together. And it asks us, among other things, to build the institutional and social structures that can support and encourage such thinking. We desperately need to develop more generous thinking across our culture right now -- turning on any news channel for more than a minute might help indicate why -- and the best way for academics to promote that generosity is by modeling it. In so doing, we create the best possible chances not only for building the public support that might help our institutions of higher education survive, but also for creating institutions that we genuinely want to be part of, institutions that are structurally capable of living out the values that we espouse.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Employers team up with higher education to bring open data and standardization to hiring

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 20, 2019 - 7:00pm

A wide range of employers have complained for years that higher education is failing to adequately prepare students to join the work force. However, a growing number of businesses are owning some of the blame for the disconnect between college and jobs.

Employers too often send the wrong signals about the skills their workers need, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and the Workforce. That lack of clarity causes problems for job seekers as well as employers and postsecondary education providers.

“Everybody writes job listings in their own language,” said Kemi Jona, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies. The result, he said, is a “big mess that nobody can understand.”

To help create a more coherent jobs marketplace, the center brought together a group of more than 150 colleges, foundations, HR groups, associations, technical standards organizations and major employers, including Salesforce, Google, IBM, LinkedIn and the U.S. Navy.

Walmart and the Lumina Foundation are helping to fund the group, which is dubbed the T3 Innovation Network. Created last year, the network’s goal is to use standardization about needed job skills, or competencies, and open data systems to “better align student, work-force and credentialing data with the needs of the economy.”

It’s an ambitious effort, and a complex one involving the use of emerging technology like AI and the semantic web, which, loosely defined, is an extension of the internet in which data is structured in ways that allow it to be accessed and read directly by computers.

“The goal of the greater network is to reach a point where we empower the American worker/learner by linking up the transcript of education they’ve received with the systems out there that employers are using to recruit talent,” Abby Hills, a spokeswoman for the center, said in a written statement. “Then, once on board, that same technology infrastructure can be leveraged to help employers promote that talent up through the ranks, creating a real career pathway.”

The Jobs Data Exchange is an early part of the work.

That project, beginning in six states and Washington, D.C., features employers in health care, energy and the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management. Participants are working to use open data resources to more clearly define competency and credential requirements for jobs.

Hills said the longer-term goal, once the exchange is up and running, is to create a jobs marketplace that speaks the same language, like a currency exchange, for more seamless career pathways.

Employers will be able to use the exchange to organize their hiring requirements and to share in-demand skills and credentials with preferred college and work-force partners, the center said. And, ideally, job seekers could better share their work history, competencies and credentials with employers, which could use blockchain and other tools from the T3 network to instantly verify that information.

Credential Engine is a recently begun effort that covers similar territory, and one that shares the daunting level of complexity and scale. The nonprofit group is seeking to create an open database of information on credentials in the U.S. -- meaning all of them. A study the group commissioned last year counted at least 334,114 credentials, including degree, certificate, high school diploma, boot camp and online microcredential programs. And that’s just the start.

Scott Cheney, Credential Engine’s executive director, said the T3 project is playing an important role by seeking to connect emerging data about competencies and credentials.

“T3 is the vision that all data are able to walk freely across the web so people use it,” he said.

The broad range of participants is an encouraging sign, said Cheney.

“The chamber is simply the convening body,” he said. “The collective will is there.”

A growing number of employers, colleges and other postsecondary education providers are feeling urgency about using technology to harmonize data standards, competencies and job seekers’ credentials, said Matthew Gee, a senior researcher at the University of Chicago and CEO of BrightHive, a technology company focused on work-force data.

“We know now, with clarity, what it is we need to do,” he said, adding that the T3 participants “want to be in the room where it happens.”

Gee said the project’s goals are achievable, due in part to the participation of employers. Yet the conversation is in its early stages.

“The work is just getting started,” said Gee.

Northeastern is monitoring the project and its progress, Jona said. One reason is the increasing pace of change in many jobs, he said, noting that IT job requirements tend to shift every 18 months. And colleges need better signals from employers to avoid producing graduates who are out of sync with the job market.

Solving the signaling and communications gap is badly needed, he said. “Having shared language about competencies will be critical.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Georgia Perimeter improves graduation and transfer rates after merging with Georgia State

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 20, 2019 - 7:00pm

Three years ago the University of Georgia Board of Regents tried to improve single-digit graduation rates at Georgia Perimeter College by merging the two-year college with its Atlanta-area neighbor, Georgia State University.

Georgia State had been praised widely for improving its completion rates and closing equity gaps, and state leaders hoped that success would translate to the community college.

The merger decision appears to have paid off. Georgia Perimeter, which had a 6.5 percent graduation rate in 2014, increased that three-year rate to nearly 15 percent last year. Its completion rates, which measure graduation and transfers to four-year institutions, increased from 41 percent to 58 percent during that same time period.

Gaps in academic achievement between students of color and low-income students and their white and wealthier peers also have closed at the college, which is now called Perimeter College at Georgia State University. As of last year, graduation rates for white, Hispanic and low-income students are roughly the same. The 12-percent graduation rate for black students still trails the 15 percent rate for white students. But both rates have increased since 2014, when they stood at 10 percent for white students and 4 percent for black students.

"We’ve seen rapid progress in retention and graduation rates," said Timothy Renick, Georgia State's senior vice president for student success. "It has been better than we thought it would be in a relatively short period of time."

The college has made other gains in student achievement. For example, more students are staying at Perimeter beyond one year. Year-to-year retention rates increased from 58 percent in 2014 to 70 percent last year, according to data from the institution.

Georgia State officials cite the introduction of predictive analytics for helping to increase academic achievement at the two-year institution. The university has become a national leader in using predictive analytics to review hundreds of risk factors for students and to alert advisers when students get poor grades or are on the verge of dropping out. Officials at the four-year institution replicated that system for the Perimeter campuses.

Consolidating Perimeter, which enrolls roughly 20,000 students, and Georgia State, with approximately 50,000 students, saved about $8 million in administrative expenses for the two-year college. The merged colleges no longer needed two presidents, two vice provosts or two English department chairs, for example, Renick said. Georgia State took $3 million of that savings and used it to boost student services and to hire additional financial aid counselors and advisers.

By hiring 30 advisers, Perimeter went from 1,000 students per adviser to 400 per adviser. And students are using the service more often.

“When we took over Perimeter College back in 2015-16, there were about 3,000 students sitting down and meeting with academic advisers over the course of a year,” Renick said. “This past year over 50,000 one-on-one meetings have occurred between Perimeter students and academic advisers.”

Before the merger, students typically would meet with an adviser when they felt there was a problem. Now, with predictive analytics, the college is more proactive and prompts students to talk with an adviser if, for example, they register for a class that doesn’t match their degree program or if they’re failing assignments in a math course.

Another intriguing aspect of the merger is the more seamless transfer process between the university and the two-year institution, said Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute.

“It’s something we all should be paying attention to, because the majority of community college students want to transfer and get a bachelor’s degree,” Wyner said. “The four-year transfer rate is hugely important. They’ve gone from below the national average to about the national average. Those are impressive data.”

About 80 percent of entering community college students say they want to earn at least bachelor’s degree, but only 33 percent transfer to a four-year institution within six years, according to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

For Perimeter graduates and transfer students, the merger also has had a positive effect on the public's perception of the two-year college.

“Seeing ‘Georgia State’ on a transcript will get more attention than just seeing ‘Georgia Perimeter,’” said Lee Brewer Jones, an English and humanities professor at Perimeter, who has taught at the community college since 1992. “Just by being affiliated with a [research] institution, even though we’re not an R-1 college, it has an impact on how people view our students.”

Similar Demographics

Georgia State and Perimeter enroll students with some similarities. More than 70 percent of students at both institutions are nonwhite, and 60 percent are low income. But students at the two institutions also tend to have different needs.

For example, about a third of students at Perimeter, an open-admissions college, need remedial math, reading or English. Georgia State converted all remedial classes at Perimeter to the corequisite model, which allows students to take college-level course work but also receive additional support such as tutoring.

Similarities in student demographics have helped Georgia State better understand how to help Perimeter students.

For example, the university expanded its microgrants to Perimeter students in 2016. The program helps cover unmet tuition and fees for students who would otherwise be dropped because of nonpayment. The university gives about 300 microgrants per semester to Perimeter students, averaging $900 each.

The university also introduced learning communities to Perimeter, requiring all incoming freshmen to participate last year. The communities allow groups of about 25 students in the same degree program to take a few courses together. The expectation is that the communities help students establish friendships, form study groups and build peer networks.

Academic outcomes have improved for students who participate in the communities. They earn more credits and are retained at a slightly higher rate. And first-year students in learning communities earned on average a 3.18 grade point average compared to 3.09 GPA for those students not in a community.

Jones said many of the concerns Perimeter faculty had about the merger when it was first announced never occurred, such as a mandate for professors to have terminal or doctoral degrees.

And he and his peers have become more focused on encouraging students to earn their two-year degrees, even if they plan to transfer.

“I tell students, ‘I hope you take time to get an associate degree before you transfer,’” Jones said. “I don't know if I always thought to say that before, but I make a point of saying, ‘Get your associate.’ That's an emphasis that comes from the highest levels of the university.”

Merging Community Colleges

Georgia isn’t the only state to merge community colleges in recent years. Significant enrollment declines and budget pressures have forced other institutions to consider consolidating. For example, the University of Wisconsin System started merging the state's 13 public two-year campuses with seven of its four-year universities last year. And the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system had considered merging the state’s 12 community colleges, but that plan was killed last year by the system’s accrediting agency.

Ricardo Azziz, the chief officer of academic health and hospital affairs at the State University of New York System, was president of Georgia Health Sciences University when it merged with Augusta State University to create Georgia Regents University. That institution is now known as Augusta University. Azziz said more colleges and states will consider these types of mergers in the future.

“There are a number of trends driving this, and one is a need for continuing education or lifelong education,” he said. “The second driver is pure demographics. The number of students in community colleges is decreasing. The number of high school graduates is decreasing, and the economy is improving.”

Even if the economy declines, he said it wouldn't dramatically increase enrollment at community colleges.

Some researchers have been warning community colleges that enrollment is expected to plummet by 2025. Enrollment in the two-year sector has already been on a decline since around 2010. And last fall, community college enrollment was down 3.2 percent from the previous year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Mergers between community colleges and four-year institutions tend to be more successful when they are in the same geographic region but don’t physically combine, experts say. They also are more successful when the community college retains its open-admissions policy, continues to offer noncredit programs and serves the community's work-force needs.

“Part of the reason why Perimeter and Georgia State have done better is that they’re still at separate locations,” Azziz said. “The community college structure is still physically different.”

But mergers between two different types of institutions can be tricky. The missions and cultures of two-year or technical colleges are different from those of four-year colleges or research universities, Azziz said.

Faculty and staff initially were concerned about merging the two Atlanta-area institutions. Jones said Perimeter faculty worried that the smaller college would be taken over by the university and become a low priority to the larger institution.

“We have retained the autonomy and academic freedom that we had before the merger,” Jones said.

Mergers can bring a lot of good to the institutions involved, Azziz said. But they are still complicated and difficult.

“We need to recognize that while a lot of good things can come out of them and some mergers have been quite successful, the reality is they are difficult things to do,” he said. “They have to be thought out, managed well and have strong government support.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Removal of USC business school dean prompts outrage and questions

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 19, 2019 - 7:00pm

The University of Southern California has started a search for a new dean of its Marshall School of Business. The move comes more than two months after the university’s interim president announced that the dean would be removed from the position, setting off an unusually bitter and public dispute between the institution’s top leaders who support the move and donors and trustees who oppose it.

“This search comes at an important time for our university and for the Marshall School,” Michael Quick, USC’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, wrote last week in a memo to business school faculty, students and staff.

Although he was referring to continuing the “tremendous momentum” of the business school’s “recent successes,” Quick may as well have been alluding to the recent tumult over the decision to remove the current dean, James Ellis.

Quick’s memo was the first formal indication that university leaders were moving forward with those plans since a Dec. 3 announcement by interim president Wanda Austin that Ellis would step down effective June 30, 2019 and continue to serve as a USC faculty member.

“This decision regarding Dean Ellis’s role at the university was made after careful deliberation,” Austin wrote in a short letter addressed to business school students and faculty members. “I personally met with Dean Ellis as did several others. In addition, we consulted with outside legal counsel to the Board of Trustees and external human resources experts. At the end of this process, I informed Dean Ellis that he would remain as dean through the end of this academic year, but that a new dean would be appointed for the coming school year.”

The letter provided no reasons for the removal of the popular dean, who has held the job since 2007, but it hinted that the decision was not made mutually with Ellis.

“I know this news is hard for many to process as he is such a prominent member of our university community,” Austin wrote. “Because this is a personnel matter we are limited in what we can share about this decision.”

Local news reports and Ellis supporters have said his ouster was related to his alleged mishandling of harassment and racial and gender discrimination complaints at the business school.

One supporter said Ellis was told his removal was due to his failure to act on complaints to the University’s Office of Equity and Diversity, or OED, since 2009. The complaints were against various Marshall faculty members.

The issue of accountability for investigating harassment complaints is particularly sensitive at USC because of revelations last year that a campus gynecologist sexually abused students and other misconduct in past years by a former medical school dean. The incidents raised questions not only about the conduct of those involved but about whether university leaders acted to prevent or respond to the improper behavior.

Quick and Austin did not respond to repeated requests for comment made through the university’s media relations office.

Ellis declined to comment.

Austin’s announcement caught many business school faculty members, students, alumni and even Ellis himself by surprise. The students staged a rally in support of him four days later. The decision angered the business school’s Board of Leaders, which has repeatedly and vocally demanded the university keep Ellis as dean. It also upset major donors who are current or former members of the university’s Board of Trustees. Once the Board of Trustees upheld Austin’s decision a week later, the simmering opposition that had been building boiled over into an outpouring of outrage and activism on the dean’s behalf.

These latest developments are occurring as the university is still recovering from the embarrassing scandals and negative publicity of the past two years that led to the forced resignation of then president C. L. Max Nikias and two medical school deans.

The current imbroglio is replete with recrimination, counteraccusations and less than diplomatic hyperbole not customary in the staid world of university trustees and institutional leaders. Some current and former members of the Board of Trustees have called for the resignation of Rick Caruso, the chairman of the board and subject of blunt and blistering opprobrium, for supporting the removal of Dean Ellis and allegedly attempting to silence other board members who disagreed. They accused Caruso of being "bullying," "offensive" and "grossly unfit," among many other complaints.

Critics of the dean's ouster, apparently themselves high-ranking business leaders, have been leaking a steady stream of documents and other information to Poets and Quants, a news website focused on business schools. One Poet and Quants article described a Dec. 12 meeting where the board was voting on the interim president's decision to remove Dean Ellis. Caruso demanded that a longtime trustee, Ming Hsieh, a major donor who has given $85 million to USC and who opposed the dean's removal, limit his comments to one minute, according to the article. Caruso then kicked Hsieh out of the meeting.

Hsieh "was also one of the very few trustees who had personally examined the binders that contained the complaints in the Office of Equity and Diversity and read a report on them by the law firm of Cooley LLC. Hsieh says he found no evidence in those documents to support Ellis’s dismissal as dean," the article states. He voted against the dean's dismissal.

Hsieh said that Austin told trustees she would resign if she were asked to change her position, according to the article.

The Board of Leaders for the School of Business, an advisory group of 116 prominent business leaders, has also demanded the resignation of Caruso and called on the Board of Trustees to place Austin, Quick and Carol Mauch Amir, the general counsel, on leave.

The Academic Senate, which represents USC faculty throughout the university, issued a unanimous condemnation of the lack of “shared governance and transparency” in how the decision to remove the dean was carried out. Additionally, 210 full- and part-time business school faculty members who responded to a survey regarding the dismissal said they believed Ellis had performed well in his role and would continue “to provide excellent leadership to the Marshall School” if he remained as dean. The respondents represent 71 percent of the total surveyed.

Meanwhile, nearly 4,000 people have signed an “I Stand with Dean Ellis” petition on change.org. The petition also includes links to every action the dean’s supporters have taken and to nearly 150 letters from business school alumni, parents of former and current students, members of various boards, and others -- all opposing his removal. Plenty of decisions at universities draw opposition from students and faculty members, but it's rare to see a movement that combines those groups with wealthy business leaders and donors.

Lloyd Greif, a member of the Board of Leaders and namesake of the school’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, is leading the opposition.

He wrote a joint letter to his fellow Board of Leaders members and the Board of Advisors of the Leventhal School of Accounting, which is part of the business school, asking them “to vocalize your strong opposition to this precipitous, irrational action,” by directly contacting Austin and Caruso, whose email addresses Greif included in the letter, as well as other trustees.

“This is not a time to sit on the sidelines,” he wrote on Nov. 30, just three days after he said Ellis was summoned to a short meeting with Austin and Amir, the general counsel, and told he was being removed as dean. “We need you on the playing field -- now.”

Greif described how Ellis was given “a terse, two-paragraph letter” at that meeting, which stated, “As you know, all deans serve at the pleasure of the president. I have decided to exercise my option under your contract of appointment to make a change in leadership of the Marshall School. Accordingly, I am notifying you that your appointment as dean will terminate at the end of the current fiscal year, on June 30, 2019.”

Greif believes the accusation that Ellis failed to act on complaints to the Office of Equity and Diversity is unfounded and “a tactic reminiscent of the depths of the hysteria of the McCarthy era.”

He said Ellis was only notified of approximately 10 percent of the nearly 70 complaints -- “presumably the handful that OED deemed worthy of further review” -- all of which he allegedly investigated and resolved, and most of which were found to be baseless.

Greif said Ellis created the business school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion on his own initiative in 2015, and that he was the first dean at the university to hire an associate dean of diversity and inclusion. The Marshall School was also one of the first schools at USC to implement mandatory unconscious-bias training for all recruiting committees and mandatory diversity and inclusion training for all faculty.

Greif also noted that five of the dean's seven cabinet members are women, as are four of the nine members of the Department Chairs Council and five of the seven members of the Marshall Faculty Council, including the chairperson. What's more, under Ellis the business school was the first full-time M.B.A. program of any major university to achieve gender parity (the Class of 2020 is 52 percent female). It also has the highest percentage of underrepresented minorities -- 22 percent -- of any major business school in the country, according to Greif. The director of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies is also a woman.

“He’s been a role model,” Greif said of Ellis. “A poster child for diversity and inclusion.”

Ellis has also raised over half a billion dollars for the business school and has personally given the school $4.6 million, according to Greif. Marshall faculty have also won universitywide student mentoring awards 25 times during Ellis's tenure. "That’s a USC-leading ratio of award winners to tenure-track faculty of 21 percent," he noted. The Marshall School also won the "highly coveted" Culture of Mentoring Award in 2010, and two vice deans at the school have won the Provost Mentoring Award, the highest mentoring award at the university, in the last three years.

Greif, a 1979 graduate of the business school and also a member of its Corporate Advisory Board, said Ellis was removed without the opportunity to review or respond to the charges against him, an action Greif likened to “a kangaroo court of the highest order.” He has harshly criticized the administration for allegedly attempting to silence critics, and said the coordinated responses of Austin and Caruso to critical emails and letters would make George Orwell proud. He has also rated the administration’s alleged attempts to thwart scrutiny of its actions from “DEFCON 1” through “DEFCON 4.”

Greif also twice wrote to the Board of Trustees, imploring them to reverse the decision.

“The administration and the Board of Trustees need to right this wrong, reinstate Jim Ellis as dean of the Marshall School and, most importantly, turn their attention to addressing all that ails the University of Southern California, starting with a culture that requires major surgery before the patient dies from these ever-deeper self-inflicted wounds,” he wrote in a detailed seven-page letter on Dec. 6. He followed up with another seven-page letter on Dec. 11, again asking the board not to “rubber-stamp this decision” and to fire Austin and force Caruso’s resignation.

“This is no longer about whether Jim Ellis stays or goes as dean of the Marshall School of Business,” he wrote on Dec. 6. “This is now far more serious than that: it is about whether the University of Southern California is going to have the courage to banish the demons of the last 18 months, aligning its actions with its words and transforming itself into a model of transparency, fairness and due process or continuing to be a pariah among major colleges and universities.”

Although Ellis has not made any public comments about the allegations, he did send out an email to faculty and staff on Nov. 30 to inform them of his dismissal as dean. By then rumors were already swirling at the business school, and after meeting with his Faculty Council and department chairs, who’d urged him to act, he decided to let everyone know.

“To the best of my knowledge, this decision was not based on anything I personally had done, but rather a cumulative record of OED cases from Marshall,” he wrote. “The vast majority of these cases were never brought to my attention. Nevertheless, this apparently has led university leadership to believe that we do not have a positive culture here. Therefore, they feel a change in leadership is in order. The Faculty Council is asking for a meeting with the president to understand how we came to this, and there are many external stakeholders who have sent in concerns for the school. There are concerns about process, transparency and reputational damage … I will communicate more as I learn it.”

According to Greif, Quick, the provost, sent an email to Ellis later that evening chastising him for sending the email.

“I was deeply disappointed to learn of the email you sent to Marshall’s faculty earlier today,” Quick wrote. “With that communication, you misused the Office of the Dean to advance your own personal agenda, and you placed your personal interests over the interests of Marshall and the university. Moreover, your email put faculty in a position where they may feel pressured to show support for you because of your current role, and out of fear of retaliation. That showed an alarming lack of judgment. I realize you disagree with President Austin’s decision. However, you cannot abuse your role to try to change her mind. If you do that again, you will be subject to further action.”

Ellis has not commented publicly since that reprimand. Greif has not stopped speaking on his behalf and vocally defending him.

“He’s feeling shocked, angry and mystified,” Greif said of Ellis. “And that’s because there are no grounds for this action.”

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