Federal report slams online for-profit colleges

Harkin requested the GAO report released Nov. 22.

Undercover investigators from the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) earned course credit while skipping classes and submitting substandard work in online for-profit college programs – findings the for-profit industry has labeled politicized and unreliable.

“For-Profit Schools: Experiences of Undercover Students Enrolled in Online Classes at Selected Colleges,” a GAO report released Nov. 22, is the second government examination of for-profit colleges’ practices, which have been called into question by many in higher education and lawmakers in Congress.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), head of the Senate’s education committee, ordered the yearlong investigation in which GAO agents pretended to be online students at 15 for-profit colleges.

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Eight of the for-profit colleges mentioned in the report “appeared to follow existing policies related to academic dishonesty, exit counseling, and course grading standards,” including failing to discuss loan repayment options and the consequences of loan default with outgoing students, as required by law.

Some for-profit instructors pointed out sub-par class work submitted by GAO investigators who posed as students, but the report detailed many instances of educators who didn’t “adhere to grading standards.” One instructor accepted photos of political figures and celebrities in lieu of an essay questions response, and gave the student a passing grade.

“While I am pleased to see that many individual instructors offered assistance to GAO undercover students turning in substandard work, the fact that many of the schools accepted incomplete and plagiarized work — sometimes for full credit — leads me to question whether for-profit college students are truly receiving the quality education they are promised to prepare them for a good job,” Harkin said.

Federal statistics have shown that students who attend for-profit schools – many with large web-based course selections – are more likely to default on their loans than students who attend public or nonprofit colleges and universities.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) last year instituted “gainful employment” rules meant to more strictly regulate the for-profit education sector, which hauls in a massive amount of federally subsidized student loans every year.

During the 2009-10 academic year, for example, for-profit colleges received more than $32 billion in grants and loans from federal student aid programs.

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Colleges defend humanities amid tight budgets

Scott says colleges should focus on sciences, not humanities.

Like many humanities advocates, Abbey Drane was disheartened but not surprised when Florida’s governor recently said its tax dollars should bolster science and high-tech studies, not “educate more people who can’t get jobs in anthropology.”

Drane, a 21-year-old anthropology major at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has spent years defending her choice to pursue that liberal arts field.

And now, as states tighten their allocations to public universities, many administrators say they’re feeling pressure to defend the worth of humanities, too, and shield the genre from budget cuts.

One university president has gone as far as donating $100,000 of her own money to offer humanities scholarships at her school.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s comments last month cut to the heart of the quandary: whether emphasizing science, math, and medical fields gives students the best career prospects and a high-tech payback to society, and whether humanities fields are viewed as more of an indulgence than a necessity amid tight budget times.

“You can definitely feel the emphasis on campus, even just based on where the newest buildings go, that there is a drive toward the sciences, engineering and (the) business school,” said Drane, a senior from Plymouth, Mass. “I’m constantly asked what job opportunities I’ll have in anthropology or what I’m going to do with my degree, and I tell people that it’s giving me a skill set and critical thinking you can apply to anything.”

Humanities studies peaked in U.S. colleges in the 1960s and started dwindling in the 1970s as more students pursued business and technology and related fields. Today, more than 20 percent of each year’s bachelor’s degrees are granted in business; in humanities, it’s about 8 percent.

Liberal arts colleges, too, have declined. A study published in 2009 by Inside Higher Ed said that of 212 liberal arts colleges identified in 1990, only 137 were still operating by 2009.

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Opinion: 5 reasons why for-profit schools will survive

I am biased against for-profit schools. I have long thought of them as diploma mills, without ever having visited one. I like public charter schools, but only if they are nonprofit. When Kaplan, then the most profitable division of The Washington Post Co., built a chain of for-profit colleges, I never wrote about them, says Jay Mathews for the Washington Post. Teachers I admired saw education as a public trust. They weren’t in it for the money. They wanted to help kids. I noticed that Edison Schools, a management network run by some smart and well-meaning people, failed to win the confidence of many parents and teachers because it, too, was trying to make a profit. Now those of us who think this way have been vindicated. The federal government has tightened regulation of for-profit colleges, including Kaplan’s, in response to criticism that many students were being misled about loans they were likely to need to obtain a degree. This has put the entire industry on the defensive…

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Could this be a way to speed up learning?

One of the most difficult tasks to teach Air Force pilots who guide unmanned attack drones is how to pick out targets in complex radar images. Pilot training is currently one of the biggest bottlenecks in deploying these new, deadly weapons. So Air Force researchers were delighted recently to learn that they could cut training time in half by delivering a mild electrical current (two milliamperes of direct current for 30 minutes) to pilot’s brains during training sessions on video simulators, Scientific American reports. The current is delivered through EEG (electroencephalographic) electrodes placed on the scalp. Biomedical engineer Andy McKinley and colleagues at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, reported their finding on this so-called transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) here at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting on November 13…

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Syracuse axes assistant basketball coach amid child molestation scandal

Bernie Fine was fired Sunday by Syracuse University after a third man accused the assistant basketball coach of molesting him nine years ago, the Associated Press reports.

“At the direction of Chancellor Cantor, Bernie Fine’s employment with Syracuse University has been terminated, effective immediately,” Kevin Quinn, the school’s senior vice president for public affairs, said in a statement. The 65-year-old Fine was in his 36th season at his alma mater. He had the longest active streak of consecutive seasons at one school among assistant coaches in Division I…

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Commentary: After Egypt perp walk, American college students return home

What could be more embarrassing than being arrested on the rooftops of the American University of Cairo with Molotov cocktails in hand? I could only think of two things worse. Being shot dead is one of them, says Anthony Ventre for Yahoo! News. The second most embarrassing thing is to have your picture transmitted worldwide in a group shot, telltale bottles presumably filled with flammable liquid, held in your hands.  However, I’m seriously glad Derrik Sweeney, Luke Gates, and Gregory Porter have all safely returned home. Porter, a Drexel student, walked through customs at Philadelphia International Airport with a broad smile and his lawyer. Besides helping to secure the student’s release, Porter attorney Ted Simon is attempting to rebuild the tarnished image of his client, evident in comments he made Saturday before Porter’s return…

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University brings old school football to the web

UM hopes to archive more football games once funding is secured.

University of Maryland (UM) football diehards will have something to watch even after their team’s final regular season game Nov. 26, thanks to archivists who are digitizing Terrapin pigskin footage from the recent – and not so recent – past.

Officials from the archives of the College Park, Md. campus said Nov. 11 that the school would release the first 772 reels of UM football film converted to the web, available for students, faculty, and fans to view 24 hours a day.

The archives game footage spans from 1946-1979, and includes film from the first-ever game played at famed Byrd Stadium, where, in 1960, the Terps played the rival Navy Midshipmen.

Read more about digitization in higher education…

Project puts long-unavailable records online

College connects with alums through extensive online archive

Study explores the future of book digitization

“It’s … a huge relief to know that the content of these fragile historical treasures has been preserved for all time,” said Anne Turkos, the university’s archivist. “I am so delighted that we are now able to share this significant portion of the University of Maryland’s athletic heritage on campus, across the state, and around the world.”

The football images will be posted alongside archived material from commencement speeches to images of student life on campus over the past 150 years – all part of the University AlbUM based in College Park.

UM becomes the latest large university to save its massive loads of archived material on the internet for public consumption.

Yale University officials in May said the school would provide free online access to digital images of millions of objects housed in its museums, archives, and libraries.

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AT&T hits FCC roadblock on path to acquire T-Mobile

The FCC held a hearing this week to investigate the proposed acquisition of T-Mobile by wireless rival AT&T, PCWorld reports. The end result is that the deal does not have the support of the FCC. A senior official at the FCC–who was not authorized to comment publicly—stated, “The record clearly shows that–in no uncertain terms–this merger would result in a massive loss of US jobs and investment.” That is a fairly damning statement, particularly in light of the current economic and employment situation in this country. Saying that a proposed corporate mega-merger will lead to “massive loss of US jobs” is a tough assessment to overcome. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski recommended that the $39 billion deal be submitted for review to an administrative law judge (ALJ). The move is certainly no glowing endorsement, and essentially rejects the deal and passes the buck to the ALJ to shoot it down officially…

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Eleven arrested in connection with alleged SAT cheating scam

The alleged test takers were charged with scheme to defraud, falsifying business records, and criminal impersonation.

Eleven current and former students of North Shore high schools on Long Island in New York were arrested Nov. 22 and face criminal charges for “choosing to scam the system” by cheating on college admission tests, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.

Two more suspects are expected to surrender Nov. 28, Rice spokesman John Byrne said.

The widening investigation found nine more students paid four test takers to impersonate them and take the SAT and ACT exams between 2008 and 2011. It brings the total number of students implicated in the cheating probe to 20, Rice said.

“It’s fair to say that this was so systematic that people knew who to go to when they needed a high score,” Rice said at a news conference in Mineola. “It was a business, and it was run like a business.”

The cheating scandal has rocked some parts of the affluent North Shore, where students attend some of the nation’s top-ranked high schools.

Rice identified the test takers as Joshua Chefec, 20, a graduate of Great Neck North; Adam Justin, 19, a graduate of North Shore Hebrew Academy High School; George Trane, 19, a graduate of Great Neck South High School; and Michael Pomerantz, 18, who attended Great Neck North.

Chefec, Justin, and Trane were led in handcuffs to their arraignment in First District Court in Hempstead, where they pleaded not guilty to charges of scheme to defraud, falsifying business records, and criminal impersonation. They were released without bail. Chefec attends Tulane University; Justin, Indiana University; and Trane, Stony Brook University.

Pomerantz is expected to surrender Nov. 28 because of a medical condition, the district attorney’s office said. The defendants face 4 years in prison, if convicted.

Eight other students, accused of paying others between $300 to $1,000 to take the tests, arrived at court Nov. 22, hiding their faces under hats, hoods, and scarves, and were arraigned on misdemeanor charges.

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Wisconsin colleges to issue IDs to comply with voter law

Wisconsin’s election board authorized a state university to issue identification cards that students can use to comply with the new law requiring voters to present photo ID at polling places, Reuters reports. University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point joined six other schools authorized by the Government Accountability Board to issue secondary ID cards that comply with the law in Wisconsin, one of several states to pass such legislation this year. In addition to Stevens Point, the system’s flagship university in Madison along with schools in Milwaukee, Whitewater, La Crosse, Eau Claire, and Green Bay will issue the secondary ID cards. The eighth school — the University of Wisconsin-Superior — has received approval to re-issue primary identification cards to all students that meet the voter ID requirements…

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