WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 23-30, 2012)

EDUCATION

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS & COLLEGES

For-profit colleges under attack for treatment of veterans; Government agencies scrutinize companies for saddling students with significant debt and inadequate degrees.” By Gregory Karp. Chicago Tribune. January 23, 2012. For-profit colleges are coming under attack again, this time for allegedly preying on military veterans. Sen. Dick Durbin, D.-Ill., is scheduled to hold a forum on the issue in Chicago Monday and plans to introduce legislation later in the day that would eliminate the financial incentive for-profit colleges have to recruit veterans aggressively into pricey programs. It would also require schools to get more of their revenue from sources other than the federal government’s educational aid programs. Criticism of for-profit schools has heated up in recent weeks. Last week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued Westwood College, claiming for-profit colleges mislead students enrolled in its criminal justice program, putting them deep in debt and saddling them with a nearly worthless degree for pursuing careers in Illinois law enforcement. Earlier this month, shareholders sued Career Education Corp., a large for-profit college operator based in Schaumburg, claiming company officials misled investors about job placement rates for graduates, which led to a scandal and contributed to a lower stock price. For-profit colleges are being scrutinized by Congress, the U.S. Department of the Justice Department for saddling students with crushing debt and questionable degrees that don’t lead to jobs in their fields of study. Much of their revenue comes from federal grants and loans. Military veterans are being aggressively recruited, critics claim, because of their lucrative forms of federal aid, such as GI Bill funds and Department of Defense tuition assistance benefits. That aid doesn’t count toward the 90-10 rule, which bars for-profit colleges and universities from deriving more than 90 percent of their revenue from the Department of Education’s federal student aid programs. The purpose of the rule is to ensure that for-profit schools, many of which are publicly held corporations, are not using taxpayer money as their sole source of revenue.
Related story:
Senate Legislation Targets Aggressive Recruiting Of Veterans By For-Profit Colleges.” Huffington Post. January 24, 2012.

Opposing view: Private-sector schools train U.S. workforce.” By Arthur Keiser. USA Today. January 26, 2012. About a year ago, Steve Jobs told President Obama that the United States technology sector was in desperate need of skilled engineers. His solution: keep up with the demand by utilizing vocational schools to train more Americans. Otherwise, he said, the United States will continue to outsource hundreds of thousands of jobs to China at a time when millions of Americans are still out of work. Vocational colleges, also known as private-sector colleges and universities, emphasize a career-focused education in a way that prepares their students to compete in a 21st century global economy. They ready their students to fill the talent void Steve Jobs was talking about, and they do it in a way that takes into account the needs of the thousands of students who attend these schools every year. A far cry from the one-size-fits-all approach of many public or non-profit higher education institutions, private sector schools offer flexible class scheduling, accelerated program completion plans and online courses — valuable tools in helping students, most being non-traditional, balance school, work, family and other responsibilities. Private-sector colleges and universities have also played a critical role in educating health care professionals, one of the few job sectors that saw strong employment statistics during the recession and beyond. These schools educated nearly 40,000 nurses at the last official count in 2009-10. And with the steady influx of retiring Baby Boomers in need of health care services, these schools are producing the next generation of health care professionals ready to tend to the growing population of new retirees. At a time when a post-secondary credential has become requisite for landing a job, private-sector colleges and universities are helping students gain the skills-based expertise that so many employers are seeking. More than ever, employers want to spend less time training new hires because resources are so scarce, making graduates of career-oriented schools so marketable. And while millions of students continue to attend standard liberal arts colleges, a new generation of non-traditional students such as working adults, parents, military veterans and others are taking Steve Jobs’ advice to heart by choosing to earn degrees at private-sector colleges and universities, and obtaining the skills and training they need to compete successfully.

For-profit colleges are no answer to high tuition.” Editorial. USA Today. January 25, 2012. Out on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney is recommending for-profit colleges as an answer to rising tuition. At least once he has lauded a particular institution, Florida-based Full Sail University, which is run by a major campaign donor. A closer look at the record of for-profit universities suggests that Romney needs to go back to school on the issue. The industry is plagued by institutions with low graduation rates and high loan default rates. As for costs, the average student at a for-profit college spends $30,900 per year for tuition and living expenses, according to the Education Department. That’s almost twice the $15,600 that students at public colleges spend, and considerably more than the $26,600 that students at private, non-profit colleges spend. How can the answer to expensive public and private education be another category that costs even more? The reason for-profit colleges won’t hold down higher education costs is similar to the reason that health care costs keep soaring, even though the medical industry is dominated by for-profit hospitals, for-profit drug companies, for-profit medical practices and for-profit insurance companies. In both education and health care, many customers are largely spending others people’s money, negating the usual effects of competition. A pharmaceutical company, for example, can sell a lot more of a drug, and charge much higher prices for it, if the cost to the customer is a small fraction of the total cost. Similarly, a doctor has a much easier time selling a patient on an expensive procedure if the patient only has a modest deductible or co-pay. Something comparable is at work in for-profit education, where more than 75% of colleges’ revenue comes in the form of federal grants and loans and the number of students is rising rapidly. In 2008, for instance, nearly 1.8 million students eligible for federal aid were enrolled at for-profit schools, a 225% increase in just 10 years.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Stanford Takes Online Schooling To The Next Academic Level.” By Steve Henn. All Things Considered/National Public Radio. January 23, 2012. Last year, Stanford University computer science professor Sebastian Thrun — also known as the fellow who helped build Google’s self-driving car — got together with a small group of Stanford colleagues and they impulsively decided to open their classes to the world. They would allow anyone, anywhere to attend online, take quizzes, ask questions and even get grades for free. They made the announcement with almost no fanfare by sending out a single email to a professional group. “Within hours, we had 5,000 students signed up,” Thrun says. “That was on a Saturday morning. On Sunday night, we had 10,000 students. And Monday morning, Stanford — who we didn’t really inform — learned about this and we had a number of meetings.” You can only imagine what those meetings must have been like, with professors telling the school they wanted to teach free, graded online classes for which students could receive a certificate of completion. And, oh by the way, tens of thousands have already signed up to participate. For decades, technology has promised to remake education — and it may finally be about to deliver.

Class to donate $100K.” By Antonia Woodford. Yale Daily News. January 25, 2012. Students who applied to the Yale College seminar “Philanthropy in Action” were in for a surprise when they saw the course’s syllabus: members of the class would have the opportunity to distribute $100,000 to charities of their choosing. The course is the recipient of a grant from the Once Upon a Time Foundation, which gave between $50,000 and $100,000 to similar courses at eight universities this academic year, said Sam Lett, the foundation’s president. By allowing students to donate such large sums of money, Lett said the foundation hopes to motivate them to engage thoughtfully in philanthropy. He added that he would like to expand the initiative to additional schools in the future. “What is unique about this is that it’s not just a theoretical course in philanthropy,” Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said. “The students are actually performing philanthropy.” Maxim Thorne ’89 LAW ’92, who is teaching the seminar at Yale, said the course will first ground students in the history, political theory and economics of philanthropy, and then ask them to apply the metrics they learn for evaluating which charities to support. The class will also bring in prominent philanthropists throughout the spring. Students will interview the guests on camera through the Yale Media Center, and the interviews will be posted to Youtube and iTunes, Thorne said. Thorne had proposed teaching a college seminar on philanthropy before the Once Upon a Time Foundation independently approached Yale about providing money for students to donate. Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs George Levesque, who oversees the college seminar program, said the foundation’s grant opened up a “really interesting pedagogical opportunity” that would not otherwise have been possible. He added that the program intentionally did not advertise the $100,000 grant for the course so that only students “genuinely interested” would apply. Student demand for the course was high regardless: Thorne said he received 185 applications and more than 80 students emailed him or attended the seminar’s first meeting.

No student freedom at NUS.” By Walker Vincoli. Yale Daily News. January 26, 2012. My first impression of the country was a threat. No, not the customs form that reads, “Warning: death for drug traffickers under Singapore law.” Within two hours of landing, a security guard threatened me with arrest. My crime? Standing outside the airport subway terminal at 3 a.m., reading the schedule. When responding to concerns about academic freedom at the soon to be launched Yale-NUS College in March 2011, Yale University President Richard Levin made a measured endorsement, citing the “due diligence” Yale conducted and the “widespread sense that faculty in Singapore” enjoy academic freedom. I could ask how academic freedom exists for professors when, in two semesters as a political science student at the National University of Singapore, I have been taught by only one tenured professor. I could ask how professors have the freedom to judge their students’ work when they must instead follow departmental curves. However, having completed my second semester in Singapore through a joint program between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and NUS, I will raise a different question. What freedom do students enjoy? It would be easy to challenge the residence halls’ blue laws, the continued prohibition on male homosexual acts under Singaporean penal code section 377A, the illegality of public protest and the casual jokes about fines and caning. It would be easy to ask whether the Yale Daily News will be forced to make the required $200,000 foreign publication security deposit and designate a local representative to be sued. It would be easy, but none of this was as troubling as my classroom experience. Yale’s apparent focus on the faculty and not the student overlooks the academic culture at NUS. Students change arguments, button their lips and absorb opinions from on high. Singapore is not a free country and NUS is not a free university.

At Yale, the Collapse of a Rhodes Scholar Candidacy.” By Richard Perez-Pena. New York Times. January 26, 2012. On Nov. 13, Patrick J. Witt, Yale University’s star quarterback, announced that he had withdrawn his Rhodes scholarship application and would instead play against Harvard six days later, at the very time of the required Rhodes interview. His apparent choice of team fealty over individual honor capped weeks of admiring national attention on this accomplished student and his quandary. But Witt was no longer a contender for the Rhodes, a rare honor reserved for those who excel in academics, activities and character. Several days earlier, according to people involved on both sides of the process, the Rhodes Trust had learned through unofficial channels that a fellow student had accused Witt of sexual assault. The Rhodes Trust informed Yale and Witt that his candidacy was suspended unless the university decided to re-endorse it. Witt’s accuser has not gone to the police, nor filed what Yale considers a formal complaint. The New York Times has not spoken with her and does not know her name. Witt, who is 22, is no longer enrolled at Yale. He completed his class work last semester, is working on his senior essay and has been training in California in preparation for a possible N.F.L. career, according to the Yale athletics Web site. Witt did not respond to messages left over several days on his cellphone, his Yale e-mail and his Facebook page. The revelations about Witt’s Rhodes candidacy being compromised are just the latest to muddy the inspiring picture of a scholar-athlete torn between brain and brawn. Days after Witt’s withdrawal, The Times reported that Yale’s coach, Tom Williams, had invented parts of his résumé, including a supposed Rhodes candidacy that he had dropped two decades earlier in favor of a chance at a professional football career — an experience that he said gave him a unique ability to advise Witt on his tough choice. Williams resigned in December.
Related story:
Witt ’12 accused of sexual assault, Times reports; Former quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 gained national media attention in November as he prepared to play in the Harvard-Yale Game.” Yale Daily News. January 26, 2012

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