10 biggest higher ed stories to follow this year

What will be some of the most important stories in higher education over the next year?

higher2012 was declared the “year of the MOOC” by the New York Times.  2013 was called by many the “year of the MOOC backlash.”

Half-way through 2014, and it’s still not clear how to boil this year down into one phrase. Maybe we can’t, but at the Education Writers Association National Seminar in Nashville Monday, veteran higher ed reporter Scott Jaschik highlighted the top 10 stories and issues you should be hearing about over the next year.

And MOOCs didn’t make the cut.

“MOOCs are not on the list,” Jaschik said. “MOOCs are not going to change the world.”

Read on for what Jaschik does think are the most important higher ed stories of the year.

1. College incompetence handling sexual assaults

The first four items on Jaschik’s list all concern sexual assaults, but he kicked off his talk discussing how colleges and universities handle, or mishandle, the reporting of the crimes.

“If a student calls an RA or a dean and says ‘someone shot me,’ would a college say ‘do we want to handle this internally or go to the police?’ he said.

Yet, that happens frequently when it comes to sexual assaults. That sort of incompetence is nothing new, Jaschik said, but it’s reaching a new level of national conversation thanks to the Obama administration’s recent focus on the issue.

2. Links between college sexual assaults and other issues

“Most sexual assaults don’t happen in isolation,” Jaschik said.

There are usually other issues at play too, such as party and fraternity cultures on campus.

3. Sexual assaults and student athletes

The most infamous intersection of sexual assaults and other issues comes in the form of how universities handle rape accusations against student athletes. After recent high-profile scandals at Vanderbilt University and Florida State University involving potentially improper handling of such investigations, expect to see more about this issue over the next few months.

4. Anonymous vigilantism in response to sexual assaults

Students and other victims are anonymously taking to blogs and social media to out alleged assault suspects when they feel institutions haven’t done enough to hold them responsible.

This raises a whole slew of ethical questions, but points to a larger issue of a high level of doubt in a college’s ability to respond appropriately to the crime.

5. Race relations on campus

“This has been a very bad year for race relations,” Jaschik said.

At San Jose State, white students tormented a black student for months without being punished. In Alabama, a student newspaper revealed that some sororities there had never been integrated.

Meanwhile, many universities seem clueless about the issue, he said, with 90 percent of institutions reporting that race relations were good or excellent on their campuses. “Why is it that there’s such a disconnect?”

6. Private colleges are on the brink

Last month, two private colleges went under in a single week. And at a university in Iowa, administrators had to cut 16 of the 32 majors the school offered and laid of 22 off its 52 professors.

“They’re not alone,” Jaschik said.

7. Unions for college athletes

From paying student athletes to ensuring their safety from head injuries, there has never been a better chance for student athlete unionization.

8. Political correctness

Jaschik says “shouting down” certain speakers and discussions of requiring trigger warnings about lectures, courses, and books are a part of a new movement in campus culture.

“It’s sort of the ultimate spoiler alert,” he said.

9. Free community college

Tennessee has figured out a way to send its students to community college for free. Other students could follow suit, and affordability and accessibility for low-income students will continue to be a the forefront of education conversations.

10. Competency-based learning

Jaschik may be wary of MOOCs, but he said he has confidence in this type of learning seen at institutions like Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University.

“What I see happening now is competency-based education going mainstream,” he said.

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eCampus News Staff

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