Inside Higher Ed published a feature today detailing an ongoing process that has 27 universities, US and abroad, competing for a gift of land in New York City plus $100 million in exchange for the creation of a new tech-centered campus. Several New York based universities are submitting proposals, due in October, but notable universities from elsewhere such as Stanford and Chicago are also competing for the opportunity, as well as universities based in other countries.
As pointed out in the article, New York already has 110 institutions serving over 600,000 students. However, engineering and tech programs in the region have lacked the success and reputation that the city would like. While institutions with an existing presence in NYC or in the region may make more sense as a partner in this project, Stanford appears to be aggressively pursuing the opportunity, touting its role in the creation of Silicon Valley in California. If successful, this would be Stanford’s first campus outside of Palo Alto.
The absence of public universities on the applicant list is stark. Purdue is the only one. However, this is perhaps unsurprising given the billions of dollars likely required to build a fully operational campus from scratch in a short period of time, and the state-centered history of public institutions in the US.
For the lucky institution with the right amount of resources, this will hopefully be a great opportunity with long lasting effects for the institution and the city of New York. For all of higher education, it will be fascinating to see if this kind of partnership between government and institutions can work to create a new, physical campus that can quickly produce innovation and education while building and maintaining a reputation for excellence.
We’ve blogged previously about the controversial reforms being aggressively pursued by Governor Perry and various of the appointees he has placed on Texas higher education governing boards and in university administrations. The reforms were initially developed by the conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), and are centered around placing the student in a stronger consumer role, basing professor pay and tenure more directly on student evaluations, creating a bright line between teaching and research funding, and changing the state funding model from one that subsidizes institutions to one that provides grants directly to students. Many may recognize these as reforms long advocated for in the K-12 sector for some time.
After a protracted battle between a variety of interested parties (academics, administrators, legislators, state leaders, alumni, lobbyists and more), the University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously approved what they called ‘A Framework for Advancing Excellence Throughout the University of Texas System‘ at their May meeting. An action plan released last week provided a glimpse at the compromises made to quell strong opposition.
More flexible than initially feared, the action plan allows institutions to tailor the reforms to their institutions. Major system-wide goals include:
- Increased degree production
- Increased use of online and blended instruction
- Development of performance incentives for professors
- Strengthening of post-tenure review for professors
- Creation of external review for schools and colleges within the institution
- Critical review of PhD programs and decreased time to PhD
- Increased research collaboration, especially with non-academic partners
- Increased research and philanthropic funding
- Increased administrative efficiency through standardized systems, sharing of services, and better space utilization
Although much less divisive than the specific reforms championed by TPPF, these goals are ambitious enough to put Texas in a category of its own nationwide. How individual institutions endeavor to implement the action plan in the near future, and the extent to which they engage faculty in the process, will likely determine the mood and direction in Texas public higher education for some time.
In the meantime, Florida Governor Rick Scott is indicating a desire to follow Rick Perry’s lead on this issue.
- UW Ranked 16 in the world: The annual Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), compiled by Chinese university Shanghai Jiao Tong, places the University of Washington at number 16 in the world. The rankings are heavily based on institutional and faculty achievements in STEM fields, including number of Nobel prizes and Fields medals won, and various citation measures. The US dominates this list, with 17 of the top 20 slots and 151 of the top 500.
- Ohio latest state to consider greater autonomy for public institutions: In a reversal of previous reforms that attempted to consolidate the university system in Ohio, Governor Strickland endorsed the idea of ‘enterprise universities’ in his state budget, released March 2011. Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents Jim Petro was tasked with creating a detailed plan for legislative consideration. He unveiled The Enterprise University Plan last week. The plan provides three levels of increasing autonomy from various state government requirements in exchange for a reduction in per student funding of 10-20 percent. The state would continue to cap tuition increases at 3.5 percent per year. While the support of Ohio State President Gordon Gee looks likely, it is not yet clear how other universities or faculty members and legislators will react to this plan as many large questions about both intended and unintended consequences have already surfaced. For related information see our previous post, Quest for Greater Autonomy for Public Higher Ed Continues, and our OPB brief on institutional autonomy.
- Federal government joins lawsuits against for-profits: After implementing significant higher education regulation reform through the Department of Education, the Obama Administration shows a commitment to act by joining existing and new lawsuits against several for-profit higher education institutions accused of violating federal law. For related posts, see Federal Scrutiny of For-Profits Spurs State Action.
As the for-profit higher education industry continues to fight federal regulation, states are starting to pay more attention to the fast growing sector. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that, as of May, twenty states have introduced at least 34 bills aimed at regulating or supporting for-profit higher education. NCSL reports that eight of these bills have already passed, six have failed or been vetoed, and twenty remain in play. They provide a summary of each piece of legislation, as well as a webpage that centralizes information on this topic from various sources.
Meanwhile, Senator Harkin continues to investigate the sector, and a 10 state joint investigation into the practices of for-profit institutions remains ongoing. It appears that one result of all this scrutiny is that the industry has been pressured to begin to take preemptive action toward restructuring and increased transparency.
For previous OPBlog posts on this topic see:
Last week, Oregon Legislators signed a state budget that, among other things, cut funding for public higher education by 17 percent. It is unknown whether this cut will necessitate tuition increases above those already approved earlier this month by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education, including an 8.8 percent increase at Oregon State University and a 7.3 percent increase at the University of Oregon for resident students.
In the meantime, the Oregon Legislature is expected to pass a bill intended to help Oregon public higher education achieve greater long-term stability by ending state agency status for the institutions, enabling new flexibilities in managing and spending resources. In addition to freeing institutions from state processes guiding building projects and repairs, contracting, and employment, the bill ensures that institutions keep all interest earned on tuition revenue, and adds three members to the State Board of Education. In exchange, the institutions must meet agreed upon performance targets regarding enrollment, graduation, and other measures.
Days after the Department of Education released its finalized Gainful Employment rule, Senator Tom Harkin held his fifth Senate hearing investigating the practices of the for-profit higher education industry. Senator Harkin focused the hearing on the high levels of student borrowing and outsized loan default rates for students at for-profit institutions. Previous hearings and reports have revealed that:
- Less than 10% of postsecondary students are enrolled in for-profits, yet they receive 23% of federal aid, and account for 44% of all loan defaults.
- 95% of all students at for-profits borrow money to attend, compared to less than a quarter of community college students, 64% of students at public four year institutions, and 72% at private four year institutions.
Additionally, Harkin grilled Department of Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter on whether the softened gainful employment rule released by the Department would do enough to help reign in exploitative practices of the for-profit higher education industry, noting that stock prices in the industry increased significantly upon publication of the revised rule whereas previous iterations had sent prices down. Kanter, who was attending in place of Secretary Arne Duncan, defended the regulation as a step forward.
Harkin concluded that while the Department of Education regulations were ‘better than nothing’, he continues to believe that Congressional action via legislation may be necessary.
No Republican members of the committee were present, and no further hearings on the topic are scheduled at this time.
For previous OPBlog posts on this topic see:
After much debate, public comment, intense lobbying, a lawsuit, and the threat of political action to block them, expansive new US Department of Education higher education regulations are set to go into effect on July 1st. While the Department has made revisions to and provided implementation guidance for most of the new rules, it had several times delayed finalizing the most controversial regulation, known as Gainful Employment, which was formally published on June 2nd.
The rule establishes thresholds for loan repayment rates and debt to income ratios for graduates of for-profit and non-degree career oriented programs, with the ability to cut off federal financial aid funding for entities that do not meet the standards, among other penalties. The final rule was significantly revised from earlier versions, including a delayed implementation year, altered criteria and formulas making it more difficult to find an institution in violation of the rule, and a host of other changes that are widely seen as having softened the rule in response to the pressure applied by the for-profit industry and its political supporters.
Although the gainful employment rule is limited in scope and does not currently apply to degree programs at traditional institutions, as we have previously stated, and both The Chronicle and Inside Higher Education are reporting, the regulation is a watershed moment with important implications for federal regulation of higher education into the future.
In an effort to lower instructional costs and increase the quality of class materials in community colleges, President Obama has started a program to promote the creation and use of open educational resources (OERs). OERs are defined as “high-quality” educational materials, such as books, lectures, exams, study guides, and syllabi, which are published under a Creative Commons license and can be freely accessed on the Web. The material can be presented as an entire course, or it can be broken up into individual lessons or tutorials.
The Department of Education has hired Hal Plotkin, a prominent journalist and community college trustee, to expand the prevalence and recognition of OERs worldwide with $2 billion of government funds.
MIT and Carnegie-Mellon each pioneered open courseware programs a decade ago, in order to make their educational materials more accessible to those outside the university. Since then, new services like Khan Academy, a tutorial website, and iTunes U, a collection of free lectures from prestigious institutions, have steadily gained recognition and importance.
Plotkin hopes that the additional funding for OERs will help community colleges offer courses and class materials at a lower cost and improve accessibility for non-traditional students. Federal support for OERs also focuses resources and attention on an e-learning system infrastructure. Plotkin intends to continue the growth and recognition of OERs in order to benefit thousands of interested learners.
The OER movement is gaining ground in Washington State, as well. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges more than $6 million dollars to launch the Washington State Student Completion Initiative. Part of this money will go towards creating an Open Course Library of over 80 high-demand introductory courses at Washington community and technical colleges intended to reduce educational materials costs and encourage free access to common course packs, online lectures, and library materials.
To read more about OERs and the specific program Plotkin manages, check out the Kevin Carey’s summary of the new policy and Plotkin’s own guidebook called “Free to Learn.”
Two major developments have unfolded in the days since we posted about recent controversies gripping public higher education in Texas:
- The UT system released a massive file of faculty ‘productivity’ data that was compiled at the request of a Task Force created by the Regents and subsequently subject to an open records request from a local newspaper. There are questions about the accuracy of the data, as well as concerns about how the information might be used out of context.
- Meanwhile, controversial Texas A&M chancellor and former chief of staff for Governor Rick Perry, Mike McKinney, has announced that he will retire on July 1 after five years in the job. E-mails obtained through open records requests show that McKinney was heavily criticized from multiple sides regarding the divisive reforms currently championed by a conservative think thank, the Governor and the Regents. The e-mails reveal that Chancellor McKinney not only faced criticism for doing the bidding of these external stakeholders at the expense of the institution, but was also assailed by the would-be reformers for implementing the changes they are advocating neither strongly nor swiftly enough.
It was speculated that Republican gains in Congress last November could stall the Senate’s aggressive investigation of the for-profit higher education industry and sweeping new Department of Education regulations that are set to go into effect July 1. While bipartisan action in the House did attempt to block some of the regulations, particularly the controversial gainful employment rule, they survived the final 2011 budget deal.
Meanwhile, as federal efforts to better regulate this run-away industry, which enrolls 10 percent of total students, eats up 24 percent of federal aid and accounts for 45 percent of student loan defaults while making billions of dollars of profit annually, continues, several states, including Florida and Illinois, have launched their own investigations. Today, it has been reported that Attorneys General from at least 10 states will embark on a joint investigation of the industry.
Adding to pressure facing the industry is widespread media coverage, including investigative efforts from the New York Times, ABC News, and Frontline, among others. Even Stephen Colbert has addressed the topic.
While the for profit higher education industry lobbying effort is massive (likely paid for with the federal student aid dollars that, on average, make up over 90 percent of the annual operating budgets for these institutions), mounting scrutiny has already had effect as some of the industry’s largest actors have begun ‘maturing’ some of their practices ahead of anticipated regulations.
For past OPBlog posts on this continuing story see:
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