Online colleges applaud regulation-killing House vote

The Republican-controlled House passed the repeal 303-114.

A controversial federal regulation that has proven onerous for many online colleges was struck down by a wide margin in the U.S. House of Representatives Feb. 29, although the repeal is not expected to pass the Senate.

In a largely ceremonial move, state authorization rules—which require colleges and universities with online programs to seek permission to offer their courses in all 50 states—were repealed after more than a year of complaints from Congressional Republicans and higher-education officials who said the regulations would restrict college access.

The rules, which took effect last July after months of criticism from online college administrators, were meant to ensure schools comply with state laws that require course-by-course registration with state accreditors. If a college didn’t comply, it would be denied federal funding—the lifeblood of most campuses.

The Republican-controlled House passed the repeal 303-114, with 69 Democrats voting yes. Educators said there isn’t even a slim chance the state authorization repeal will hold up in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“It’s a largely symbolic vote, but I don’t think the symbolism is going to be completely lost,” said John Ebersole, president of Excelsior College, a New York-based online school. “The message is that we’ve had several months of trying to comply with these rules, and it is a problem. … The problems with these rules are worse than the Department of Education ever realized.”

Alan Contreras, former administrator for Oregon’s Office of Degree Authorization, said that even if the state authorization repeal passed through the Senate, “the net effect on colleges would be zero” because it would not strip state regulations already in place.

“They’ll still have to hire people to work on [complying with] state regulations,” he said. “I’m very sorry colleges are inconvenienced to have to operate under the law, but they need to clean it up.”

The House repeal would, however, remove the federal government from the regulatory equation, meaning colleges and universities could receive vital federal Title IV funds even if they did not abide by established state rules.

Contreras said state authorization regulations are needed—especially with the proliferation of online education options—because students have enrolled in programs, taken courses, and earned a degree, only to be told that the school they graduated from had not complied with state laws and therefore wasn’t authorized in that state.

“That is the kind of mess colleges are making for their students,” he said. “Schools should provide students with this information, but of course, they don’t.”

The House vote was a blow against basic consumer protections pushed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama since 2009, said Justin Hamilton, an Education Department spokesman.


Microsoft sees future in Windows 8 amid iPad’s rise

Windows 8 could spawn a new breed of hybrid machines.

Microsoft is scrambling to preserve what’s left of its kingdom, and it’s pinning its hopes on a new version of Windows that could spawn a new breed of hybrid machines: part tablet computer, part laptop.

Since the company released its Windows operating system in 1985, most of the sequels have been variations on the same theme. Not that it mattered much. Regardless of the software’s quality, Microsoft managed to remain at the center of the personal computing universe.

The stakes are much different as Microsoft Corp. puts the finishing touches on Windows 8—perhaps the most important piece of software the Redmond, Wash., company has designed since co-founder Bill Gates won the contract to build the first operating system for IBM Corp.’s personal computer in the early 1980s.

A test, or “beta,” version of the revamped operating system will be unveiled Feb. 29 in Barcelona, nudging Windows 8 a step closer to its anticipated mass market release in September or October.

The company will offer the most extensive look at Windows 8’s progress since it released an early version of the system to developers five months ago.

Microsoft designed Windows 8 to help it perform a difficult balancing act. The company hopes to keep milking revenue from a PC market that appears to be past its prime, while trying to gain a stronger foothold in the more fertile field of mobile devices.

It’s a booming market that, so far, has been defined and dominated by Apple Inc.’s trend-setting iPhone and iPad and Google Inc.’s ubiquitous Android software.

“Microsoft’s future path is riding on Windows 8 and its success,” said Gartner Inc. analyst David Cearley. “This is a chance for Microsoft to re-establish itself in a market where it’s becoming increasingly irrelevant.”

If Windows 8 is a hit, it could also help lift the fortunes of struggling PC makers, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. Besides giving businesses and consumers a reason to consider new PC purchases, Windows 8 is expected to spawn a new breed of hybrid machines that will be part tablet computer, part laptop.

If Windows 8 is a flop, however, it will increase the pressure on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. His 12-year reign has been marred by the company’s troubles adapting to an Internet-driven upheaval.


Students on day 11 of hunger strike for hourly employees pay raise

Twenty students at the University of Virginia Charlottesville campus are on a hunger strike protesting the low wages paid to hourly employees in the university system, the Huffington Post reports. The hunger strike, now at day 11, is organized by the Living Wage Campaign, a student group that’s pushed for higher pay for low level employees at UVA for the past decade. The Campaign is demanding UVA pay its employees at least $13 an hour, plus benefits. They also want the wages indexed to inflation. The hunger strikers have been repeatedly calling this a “moral choice” by the University on how much it pays its employees.

“We are engaging in this hunger strike to call attention to the administration’s moral hypocrisy and to finally produce results in the form of a Living Wage,” Joseph Williams, a UVA football player and hunger striker wrote on filmmaker Michael Moore’s blog. “Although I am exhausted, hungry, dry-mouthed, and emotionally taxed, I believe it is my responsibility as a member of the University community, and even more as a member of the human race, to stand up and speak for those whose voices have been silenced and whose livelihoods are marginalized by the policies of the current University administration.”

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Many students could skip remedial classes, studies find

Even as policymakers struggle to reform remedial-education requirements blamed for derailing the aspirations of countless community-college students, two new studies suggest that many of those students would do fine without them, says Jon Marcus from the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit based at Teachers College, Columbia University, for the Washington Post. The studies, both by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, found that as many as a third of students sidetracked into remedial classes because of their scores on standardized tests would have earned a B or better if they had simply proceeded directly to college-level courses. Three out of five of all entering community-college students are required to take remedial classes in math and other subjects, spending time and tuition money reviewing material they should have learned in high school, yet earning no credit from these classes toward their degrees. More than 75 percent never graduate—in many cases, the researchers say, because they drop out from boredom and frustration. Providing remedial education also costs community colleges an estimated $2.5 billion a year…

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Survey: Wired world to be boon, bane for Generation Y

There is a good chance young people growing up in today’s always-wired world will eventually become bright, nimble decision makers-if they don’t wind up intellectual lightweights unable to concentrate long enough to chew over a good book, Reuters reports. So say 1,021 technology insiders, critics and students surveyed by the Pew Research Center who were fairly evenly split about how always-on technology will impact the teenagers and twenty-somethings of “Generation Y.” In the survey, released on Wednesday, 55 percent agreed with a statement that in 2020 the brains of young people would be “wired” differently from those over 35, with good results for finding answers quickly and without shortcomings in their mental processes. But 42 percent were pessimistic, agreeing with a second statement that in 2020 young technology users would be easily distracted, would lack deep thinking skills and would thirst only for instant gratification…

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Harvard group seeks degrees for gays expelled

Activists say the apology isn't enough and it's important for Harvard to confer honorary degrees

Students and faculty at Harvard University are calling on the school to award posthumous degrees to seven students expelled nearly a century ago for being gay or perceived as gay, and they’re timing a rally for their cause to coincide with a visit by Lady Gaga.

But Harvard says it doesn’t award posthumous degrees, except in rare cases where students complete academic requirements but die before degrees have been conferred.

The university apologized a decade ago, after a student reporter found a file marked “secret court” in the university archives and wrote about the expulsions.

“In 2002, the University expressed its deep regret for the way the situation was handled as well as for the anguish experienced by the students and their families almost a century ago,” Harvard spokesman John Longbrake said in a statement.

Activists say the apology isn’t enough and it’s important for Harvard to confer honorary degrees.

“It’s not reparations, it’s more of a gesture to the present LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community that this university has cemented its values on the right side of history and it’s willing to address — not just put in the past — the aberrations of the 1920s,” said Jonas Wang, a 21-year-old transgender student. “You can say that the people of the court were the victims of their own culture, but this is something we are addressing in the present.”

A group of students and faculty members plan a rally during a campus visit by Lady Gaga, who will be at Harvard on Wednesday to launch her Born This Way anti-bullying foundation. The singer has been a strong activist for the gay community.

The group wants Harvard to formally abolish the secret court, a tribunal of administrators that investigated charges of homosexual activity among students at the Ivy League school in 1920. The tribunal remained a secret for decades and only became public in 2002 after the report in the Harvard Crimson magazine.

More than 2,700 people have signed a petition on urging Harvard to confer the honorary degrees, and organizers plan to deliver the petition to Harvard President Drew Faust’s office after the rally.


Interactive campus maps could mean big bucks for colleges

Nearly eight in 10 students say campus tours are valuable.

Spiking gas prices and a growing reliance on college websites could make online campus maps a premiere recruiting tool, to the tune of $60,000 per month.

Technologists who have tracked the evolution of the interactive campus map say the online tour—complete with 360-degree views, descriptions, and videos—will take on a more vital role in college recruitment efforts as gas prices rise and the days of multiple campus visits become unfeasible for most middle-class families.

“You simply can’t afford to take your children to 20 schools to see what they’re all about anymore,” said Kyle James, founder of the popular higher-education site .eduGuru and a former webmaster at Wofford College in South Carolina, during a Feb. 28 edSocialMedia webinar. “It’s just too expensive to do that … but it’s vital in the recruitment process.”

James wanted to know how valuable interactive campus maps were for colleges and universities, so he did the math: If every student is worth an average of $30,000 annually to the college, and if 20 percent of students choose the school, every applicant is worth $6,000.

If 20 percent of applicants take a traditional in-person campus tour, each student visit is worth $1,200. If 5 percent of those visiting students are influenced by first viewing an interactive campus map, then each time the map is viewed, the map is worth $60.

With a modest 1,000 visitors to a campus map page every 30 days, the map can be worth $60,000 per month.

“This is why we think the interactive map is single-handedly the most important part of your website, because it has this kind of impact,” James said.

Even as the traveling costs of college tours have crept steadily upward in recent years, seeing a college remains among the most effective recruiting tools in higher education.

A survey of 1,000 students conducted by marketing group Noel-Levitz in 2010 showed that nearly eight in 10 prospective students said a campus visit was “valuable.” James said students are increasingly looking for online tours before they commit to driving or flying to campus to see the grounds in person.

And prospective college students might expect those interactive tours to be available on their smart phones.


College Trustees Skip Work But Still Get Paid

The City College of San Francisco is violating state law by paying trustees who regularly skip meetings. Records show there were only five meetings in which all Board of Trustees members were in attendance, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. On several occasions, the body barely made the quorum it needs to hold votes. The Board of Trustees are paid $500 per month whether they attend meetings or not, as they oversee a $400 million budget and set policies for nine campuses. Over the past year and a half, seven members of the elected board have been absent a total of 31 times.

“It’s gotten to the point where the chancellor has his assistants call us up before every meeting to make sure board members are coming to the one meeting we have per month,” Trustee Steve Ngo said

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In search of higher education’s Best Picture

Like the actors of Hollywood, our higher education system isn’t perfect. Students are graduating with major gaps in their knowledge, the worst job prospects since World War II and an average of more than $25,000 in debt, says Daniel Burnett, press secretary at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a higher-education nonprofit that advocates for core knowledge in college curricula, for the Washington Post. There are still bright spots–and we at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni are pleased to showcase some shining stars and undiscovered talent in our higher education system. No tuxedo required.

Best Director: Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, exemplifies the modern innovator…

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UNH opens health clinic for faculty, staff

The University of New Hampshire opened a new health clinic Monday aimed at saving money and providing faculty and staff with more convenient options for their medical needs, the Associated Press reports. The clinic, located within the university’s student health building in Durham, will serve more as an urgent care facility than a primary care office. It will be open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the academic year and will provide treatment for ailments such as ear and sinus infections, sprained ankles and other injuries. Services include a pharmacy, X-rays and laboratory testing. Officials expect the latter to provide the most immediate savings, given that it costs about $15 for a comprehensive lab workup done by an independent lab versus $90-$150 at local hospitals. Those savings are critical at a time when the university system is spending $66 million on health care benefits this year, with the Durham campus accounting for about $46 million of that total. And those costs have been rising 7-10 percent per year, said Amy Schwartz, the university system’s director of health care cost containment…

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