Category Archives: Studying in the US

Changes to Sex Assault Bill

Changes to Sex Assault Bill

February 27, 2015


WASHINGTON -- The bipartisan group of U.S. senators thathas been pushing legislation to curb campus sexual assaults is making some changes to their proposal as they look to advance the measure in the new Congress.

The sponsors of the legislation, who now include five Democrats and five Republicans, on Thursday unveiled a newversion of their bill aimed at holding colleges more accountable for addressing sexual violence.

Those lawmakers said at a press conference that the revised proposal was a response to feedback from victims of sexual assault, advocates for the rights of accused students, law enforcement and college and university administrators.

“We have listened,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who is leading the effort. “Today’s bill is much stronger for it. We have improved it. We have made changesbased on suggestions we have heard.”

McCaskill said the legislation would strengthen the rights of accused students, which critics have said are undermined by the bill.

“We are very focused on making sure there’s also due process,” she said.

A new provision in the bill would require colleges to notify both the victim and accused student within 24 hours of a college’s decision to move ahead with a disciplinary hearing for an allegation of sexual misconduct. The legislation also now describes students accused of sexual assault as “accused students” instead of “assailants.”

Joe Cohn, the legislative policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, called some of those changes "an incremental step in the right direction."

But, he said, the proposal "still doesn't come anywhere close to striking a balance" between the rights of the complainant and the rights of the accused.

Elsewhere in the legislation are tweaks that appear to address some of the concerns colleges and universities have expressed about the bill.

The new draft, for instance, clarifies which law enforcement agencies colleges must sign an agreement to combat sexual assault with, as well as the role of the adviser that colleges would have to assign to a student making a complaint of sexual assault.

The legislation would now require colleges to anonymously survey their students about the prevalence of sexual assault once every two years instead of annually. The results of those surveys at each institution would be published online.

But much of the legislation, including requiring more sexual assault training on campuses, remains unchanged from when it was first announced last summer.

Colleges would still face stiffer financial penalties for mishandling sexual violence cases under the Clery Act and the gender equity law known as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The bill would allow the Department of Education to impose a fine as high as 1 percent of a college’s operating budget.

However, the proposal now calls for the revenue collected from those enhanced penalties to be used for a new grant program to help colleges to combat sexual assault rather than flowing back to the Department of Education office responsible for enforcement.

Some colleges and universities had argued that allowing revenue from penalties to flow directly back to the Department of Education might create a “bounty mind-set.”

Since the legislation was first unveiled last summer, some universities, like the State University of New York System, have embraced the proposal and adopted procedures that, in some cases, mirror the legislation. Other groups, such as the American Council on Education, said they were concerned that the proposal was too “heavy-handed” toward institutions.

Governors, state legislatures and individual institutions have also proposed and enacted new policies to deal with sexual assault in recent months.

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democrat, said that colleges and universities have been “taking some steps in the right direction” to address sexual assaults.

“There have been some reforms,” he said. “But there is so much work still to be done.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, though, continued to take a harsher tone against how colleges are performing on the issue.

“The reason why schools are failing is that they do not take this crime seriously,” she said, adding that one-third of students found responsible for sexual violence by a college are not expelled from the institution.

The Senators cosponsoring the legislation said Thursday that they were optimistic they would be able to pass a version of the bill in the new Congress.

Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, the leading Republican cosponsor of the bill, said he discussed the bill with Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate education committee and was interested in bringing the bill before that panel.

“This may not be the perfect piece of legislation that he may agree to,” Heller said, adding that “at the end of the day it may look a little different than what we have.”

McCaskill said in an interview that she, too, had spoken with Alexander about advancing the bill, and, in particular, the added requirements on colleges.

“We are open to his suggestions on how we can make it less burdensome,” she said.

In a statement provided by his office, Alexander said that he wanted to “ensure that regulations on colleges are effective for students.” He has made reducing federal requirements on colleges a priority as he works on a rewrite of the Higher Education Act.

“I look forward to working with Senators McCaskill, Heller and others to examine the best steps the federal government and our colleges and universities can take to help create a safe environment for students,” he said.

Prioritizing Partnerships

Prioritizing Partnerships

February 19, 2015


WASHINGTON -- In international education circles, it’s not uncommon to hear of an institution that has 100 or more partnerships with foreign universities -- several hundred, even. But how should universities assess the value of these partnerships and determine which ones to prioritize -- and which ones, perhaps, to prune?

Those questions were at the forefront of a session on strategic alliances on Wednesday at the Association of International Education Administrators’ annual conference. Daniel Obst, the deputy vice president for international partnerships at the Institute of International Education, began the session by outlining the benefits of strategic alliances to universities -- including shared costs and risks, access to target markets, expanded teaching and research capacity, and new opportunities for students and researchers. He shared preliminary data from an ongoing survey showing that 80 percent of universities globally report having established a partnership with a higher education institution abroad and 68 percent distinguish a regular partnership from a strategic one.

When the University of Queensland, in Australia, first launched a data tool to measure the impacts of its various partnerships, “We knew that we had 705 active agreements; we were working with close to 400 partners in 52 countries," said Jessica Gallagher, deputy director of global engagement for the university. “But what we didn’t know was where we had more substantive relationships -- the high-volume, comprehensive partners. We wanted to know where we could grow, and we also wanted to know which relationships were transformational and which ones were more transactional.”

Queensland officials also wanted to know which partnerships were inactive. “When you’ve got almost 400 partners, maybe it’s time for you to say, ‘Well, do we actually need that many?’” Gallagher said. “It is just not possible with the resources that we have to service all those partnerships at the same level, and so we really needed to look at prioritizing.”

Gallagher explained that Queensland’s Partner Engagement Framework, which launched in 2012 and is now updated annually, measures the strength of each individual university-to-university partnership on 16 different teaching-, research- and engagement- oriented indicators, including indicators for student mobility, joint Ph.D. programs, joint publications, funded joint projects and alumni connections. Users can log in to the online tool with a Queensland ID to see a snapshot of the university’s engagement with any given partner on each of the 16 dimensions (see a sample screenshot here) -- and can click for more detail on an individual indicator.

"With some of our partners we’re very strong in teaching and learning, so we have a number of Ph.D. programs, and we have a student mobility program, but what we may not have is research activity, so it gives us an opportunity to look at, well, is there opportunity to expand?” Gallagher said. The university has more recently launched a complementarycountry engagement framework, which looks at the strength of Queensland’s international partnerships at the level of country rather than university.

Queensland's quantitative approach has its limits, and not only in terms of the labor and resources needed to develop and update the frameworks: as an audience member pointed out, some partnerships could look small on paper but be big in practice. Further, as Gallagher readily acknowledged, the impact of these measures isn't everything.

"Some of our strategic partners aren't necessarily the ones that are bringing in the largest student numbers or the big dollars in terms of [research] projects," she said, but rather, the partnership fits with the university's mission. She cited Queensland's relationships in Indonesia, for example, "where the partnerships are still relatively new, and we're still really looking to to see what will result from the collaboration, but it is about supporting our federal government's initiatives in Southeast Asia. It's about different kinds of research, and it's about being able to provide expertise and support capacity building."

Also during Wednesday's session, Ursula Hans, the director of the international office at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, in Germany, described the university's approach to developing "profile partnerships." Hans described the university's international strategy as providing a "top-down framework" and organizational support for "bottom-up" initiatives.

"We would never suggest a strategic alliance with a university where we didn't already have two substantial projects in place," Hans said. "In other words, they build on substantial, long-term relationships and expand on a range of faculty interests."

Hans cited a number of reasons why a university might enter into a strategic partnership, including to enhance that university's reputation, to focus faculty interest in collaborations with international partner universities and to access third-party funding sources.

"Our motivation is really an exploratory one," she said. "It is to see whether there is an added value to linking yourself up very closely with another university, to see how far we can take that partnership concept both in students and in research and also in governance, because we think there's a lot out there to be learned for us in consulting with other people in other contexts. Some things cannot be adapted; others can."

Sticking With Credit Hour

Sticking With Credit Hour

January 29, 2015

The credit hour is an inadequate unit for measuring student learning. Yet no better replacement for higher education’s gold standard has emerged, and getting rid of it right now would be risky.

That’s the central theme of a high-profile report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In response to growing concerns about reliance on the credit hour, the foundation two years ago formed a 27-member committee to “consider how a revised unit, based on competency rather than time, could improve teaching and learning in high schools, colleges and universities.”

The Carnegie Report on 'This Week'
The long-awaited study will be discussed Friday on "This Week,"Inside Higher Ed's free news podcast. Sign up here to be notified of new "This Week" podcasts.

The report, which the foundation released today, stops well short of calling for a competency-based standard. One key reason, it said, is the deeply ingrained role the time-based credit hour plays.

“The Carnegie Unit continues to play a vital administrative function in education,” the study said, “organizing the work of students and faculty in a vast array of schools or colleges.”

Loosely defined, a credit hour in higher education typically refers to an hour of faculty instruction and two hours of homework, on a weekly basis, over a 15-week semester.

This standard can be a barrier to more flexible forms of academic programs, many critics say, such as ones that award credits based on learning achievements rather than time in class. The report also cited criticism that the credit hour prevents transparency in higher education by masking the quality of student learning and discouraging educators from closely examining students’ strengths and weaknesses.

The study said those concerns are valid. The most notable example of a problematic use, it said, is how federal financial aid is doled out based on the credit hour as a proxy of student progress.

Yet these problems can be overcome, according to the report.

Colleges “already have considerable flexibility in the format and delivery of instruction,” it said. “Our research suggests that the Carnegie Unit is less of an obstacle to reform than it might seem.”

Just as importantly, it’s unclear which standard could replace the current one.

The report cites a few promising initiatives to measure and set standards for student learning. In particular, it applauds the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile and the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) campaign by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU). Both efforts seek to define what students should know and be able to do.

But alternatives to the credit hour remain experimental, according to the study, and began with institutions that serve fairly narrow groups of students. The report said more work is needed to see if those alternatives could work throughout K-12 and higher education.

“We don’t have the systems in place to identify quality in learning,” said Elena Silva, a senior associate at the foundation and one of the report’s three coauthors.

Wishing for More

Several experts praised the study for its broad look at the credit hour’s role and history. But some said they wished the foundation had pushed harder to find a way to move beyond the standard. After all, the foundation created the unit, and at times has been a driving force for change in higher education.

Amy Laitinen is one of those experts. Laitinen, the deputy director for higher education at New America, a liberal thinktank, wrote an influential 2012 report that said the credit hour is to blame for several of higher education’s root problems. She wrote that it contributes to colleges rejecting transfer credits, for example, which wastes students’ time and money.

Laitinen, who was on the study’s advisory committee, said the report does a good job of describing challenges around reliance on the credit hour. But she would have liked to see Carnegie use its clout to call for different learning standards.

“It’s an excellent diagnosis of the problem without any prescription for change,” she said.

Carol Geary Schneider, AACU’s president, was also on the committee. She said the time isn’t right to kill the credit hour, in part because competency measures are an inadequate replacement.

Even so, Schneider agreed with Laitinen that the report was too conservative in advancing the debate.

“It didn’t answer what could be added to the credit-hour ecology,” she said.

In response to those critiques, the foundation said it recognizes that “this is where the hardest work begins.” It stands by to help educators study how to innovate, revise policies and develop new standards.

“Ultimately, new measures of learning rest on our ability to test more effectively what students know,” said the foundation in a written statement. “The education field has just begun that work, and it needs to continue before we can craft a new common unit of student progress.”

Marc Singer, vice provost for Thomas Edison State College’s Center for the Assessment of Learning, was quoted in the foundation report. Like Schneider and Laitinen, he was let down by the study’s passive conclusion.

For one thing, Singer said, the credit hour increasingly fails to be tied to actual hours, which is what it is supposed to do. As evidence, he points to research finding that the amount of time students spend working on their classes has declined steadily over the past few decades.

Yet Singer also said he understands the need for caution in seeking a replacement to the ubiquitous credit-hour standard.

“It’s like taking away the framework of a building and expecting it to stay up,” he said.

Deep Cuts in Wisconsin

Deep Cuts in Wisconsin
January 28, 2015

Wisconsin universities now face the largest budget cuts in their history, even as colleges in other states crawl out of budget holes.

Governor Scott Walker, a possible Republican candidate for president, announced Tuesday a $300 million cut to the 26-campus University of Wisconsin System. The planned cuts will come as a pair of $150 million cuts in each of the next two years.

In exchange for taking away so much money, 13 percent of the higher ed budget, Walker said he wants to give state university officials more independence from state lawmakers.

Wisconsin administrators would likely use their new power to raise prices on students, if only after a two-year tuition freeze expires. Wisconsin universities with name recognition outside of the state will perhaps also seek out more higher-paying students from other states -- and raise prices on them, too.

“The people of Wisconsin deserve a government that is more effective, more efficient and more accountable,” Walker said in a statement announcing his higher education budget, “and this plan protects the taxpayers and allows for a stronger UW System in the future.”

Under Walker’s plan, universities would have say over more of their operations, not just tuition.

Under Walker’s plan, tenure and faculty governance would be stricken from state code, although faculty leaders expect the Board of Regents to adopt similar or identical policies, resulting in few real changes. Usually, those tenure and shared-governance policies -- which faculty consider crucial protections -- are written into university regulations. In Wisconsin, they are enshrined in state code.

Universities could avoid cumbersome state purchasing requirements and give campuses more say over construction projects. Universities could set salaries and award employees with merit pay, which currently isn’t possible under state law.

The new revenue or cost savings the universities get because they have more authority is unlikely to match the cuts they face.

“The budget story in the short run is very little affected by that, because over the next two years I cannot get any budget gains,” said Rebecca Blank, chancellor of University of Wisconsin-Madison, the state’s flagship.

Walker's move echoes a deal he privately struck four years ago with former Madison chancellor Carolyn (Biddy) Martin to give the campus independence from the system. The effort blindsided the system's regents, who had been making an effort to win flexibility for all the colleges and universities in the system. The proposal died, but left unresolved underlying issues in the system. Walker's new proposal, unlike that one, gives everyone more autonomy.

Under Walker’s new proposal, Madison is set to lose $60 million a year in each of the next two years. The university had also been using $23 million a year in reserve funds that are drying up and that the state will not repay, so the total hit will effectively be $166 million over the next two years. Madison has an operating budget ofabout a $3 billion a year. About a third of that comes from research funding and about 17 percent from the state.

In the meantime, Walker’s plan is likely to freeze tuition for in-state students for the next two years. In-state tuition in the state has been frozen for the past two years.

Blank said the cuts are the largest the system has ever faced.

Bernie Patterson, the chancellor of University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, said the cuts were historic for his campus, too.

“Horrendous,” he called the cuts. He said he will almost certainly be forced to lay off people.

Patterson and other top officials at Stevens Point spent four hours meeting on Tuesday. He expects 19 other meetings, including some for the public, over the next several weeks. “What is really at the core of what we do?” he said. “What we can we stop doing so that we can continue to do that core mission?”

If tenure and shared governance indeed passes from a policy in state code to something controlled by the Board of Regents, campus administrators and faculty said they believe both key practices will be preserved.

Faculty are not worried that tenure will be eliminated, said Grant Petty, the head of PROFS, a Madison-based group that lobbies on behalf of faculty. Still, it means something to have tenure in state code.

“I think psychologically it will be a blow to lose that, however, we’ve already seen that statutes can be changed without any warning,” said Petty, who is also a climate scientist and member of the Madison Faculty Senate’s executive committee.

Walker has clashed with unions and backed a plan that made it harder for public employees to bargain.

Petty, who just put two daughters through college, is among the faculty and staff who worry the new flexibility will result in higher prices for students.

“I think that what we would like to see is a commitment from the state that is large enough that it makes tuition very affordable for in-state students,” he said. “We already moved very far away from that idea.”

After Texas lawmakers allowed state colleges to set their own tuition prices, prices went up, and Hispanic students may have been kept away from the state’s research universities,according to one recent study.

Kevin Stange, a University of Michigan public policy professor who is doing a deeper look at deregulation in Texas, said even though prices went up more at Texas institutions, the state did make sure that colleges set aside new money for need-based aid.

“I think that’s going to be a critical piece in Wisconsin, whether or not we see that sort of string attached to this independence,” Stange said.

Ray Cross, president of the University of Wisconsin System, made it clear tuition increases were in the cards because new flexibility for his office means that universities can now “manage pricing in a way that reflects the market and actual costs.”

State Senator Stephen Nass, a Republican on the higher education committee, predicted giant tuition increases, the Associated Press reported.

"I don't trust the unelected Board of Regents to prioritize the plight of middle-class families," Nass told the wire service. Cross replied that it was not in anyone’s interest to “simply jack up” tuition.

Blank, the chancellor at Madison, said the university would eventually look to raise tuition on out-of-state students and to enroll more out-of-state students in the near future. The university can only raise prices so much, though.

Right now, the state caps the percentage of out-of-state students Madison enrolls at 27.5 percent -- the university is just under that cap. After the steep cuts, Blank said, the university would have to look at admitting more out-of-state students -- which it could do because the caps might be gone if Walker's plan gives universities more independence.

Other universities are going to be less able to cope by turning to out-of-state students. Across the state, about 12 percent of University of Wisconsin students are from other states -- not counting Minnesota, which has a agreement with Wisconsin that effectively makes Minnesota students count as in-state Wisconsin students -- and the 13 two-year colleges in the system enroll only about 3 percent of their students from out of state.

Stevens Point enrolls about 12 percent of its students from other states.

Patterson said that while the university would certainly like to increase out-of-state enrollment, it does not take an out-of-state student if it can admit one from Wisconsin who is qualified.

Lara Couturier, who has written about state control and is now the director of postsecondary state policy at Jobs for the Future, said Wisconsin’s plan is troubling.

“The idea that the universities get in exchange the ability to increase tuition as much as they want: we have seen such a huge increase in tuition, we know it is having an impact on college affordability,” she said, “so loosening the reins for colleges to keep increasing tuition is something we really need to consider.”

I haven’t taken the GRE yet – What do I do?

Many students are confused about whether they should wait for their GRE scores before starting their admissions process.
GRE scores form an important part of the application bundle, but it is not the only deciding factor for university admissions. Universities are interested in looking at the overall profile of the student and not just academic scores.
If you plan to take your GRE in later stages of the application time-line, say around February or March, you can make sure that all other documents are in place for the application to be complete. Following few steps would help you speed up the application process in paucity of time.

  1. If you haven’t already taken your TOEFL, start by doing that. TOEFL is an English exam that is required by most US universities. It is a test of your knowledge of the English language. For anyone whose medium of education has been English, this should be a fairly easy exam requiring minimal preparation.
  2. Prepare a shortlist on the basis of your academic and non academic profile and use mock test score as a proxy for your GRE scores. Be realistic about your expected scores. If you expect you can increase your score from 1000 in mock tests to 1300 in the final test – you are wrong.
  3. Identify and approach your referrers for recommendation letters. It is often the case that students are not in regular contact with their referrers. It is a good idea to start interacting with them, to remind them of your strengths and contributions.
  4. Look at university requirements and start drafting the required essays for completing the application form.
  5. Obtain college transcripts for previous educational qualifications and get them attested if required. USEFI is the best source for such attestation for US university applications.

There is a lot of work that goes into making a successful application and delaying the process only because of unavailability of GRE scores is novice.
Starting the process late does not mean that you will not get admission - only the top 25-30 universities have their deadlines in December or January. If you organize your thoughts and make an action plan for your application, the confidence will reflect in your application and help you secure admission in good universities.