Behind the News

Behind the News

Stories making headlines in higher education
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FCC ruling preserves educational broadcast spectrum

The Federal Communications Commission (www.fcc.gov) voted unanimously in June to reject a proposal that would have carved up the ITFS (Instructional Television Fixed Service) broadcast spectrum currently used by K-12 and higher education as well as distance learning programs.

ITFS is the only portion of the spectrum licensed exclusively for formal educational purposes. More than 330 colleges and universities hold licenses for 752 ITFS stations. ITFS is often used to transmit a broad range of services, such as in-service training for teachers and classroom instruction for students. The proposal would have leased part of the spectrum to commercial entities and reduced the size of each ITFS channel.

Although the FCC killed the proposal, it still asked that institutions give up a portion of the spectrum. Some universities lease unused spectrum to communications companies and would have been prevented from continuing to do so had the proposal been passed.

A number of national education organizations and broadcast corporations grouped to oppose the plan, including the American Association of Community Colleges (www.aacc.nche.edu), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (www.aascu.org), the American Council on Education (www.acenet.edu), and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (www.nasulgc.org) among others.

The group wrote to FCC Chairman Michael Powell in May, urging him to "reject proposals to allow any ITFS spectrum to be sold to commercial entities, or to reduce the total amount of spectrum allocated to ITFS."

Irvin Reid, president of Wayne State University (MI), said the ITFS technology is a key part of advancing educational opportunities. "It provides for distance learning, enables students to take classes at home or at night, and enhances students' access to a wide range of educational resources," he said. "We are shocked that the FCC would consider taking spectrum away from education."

George Boggs, president of the AACC said the FCC should "update outdated technical rules that will allow our members to use ITFS to provide a range of new broadband services, not further complicate and compromise efforts to teach and reach students by allowing for commercial ownership in the band."

'Senior' takes on new meaning at a growing number of campuses

Outreach to alumni has moved well beyond the annual appeal and the "alumni weekend" football game and tailgate party. Coming to campuses--or at least nearby--are golf clubhouses, assisted living centers and condo complexes. The trend to build with alumni in mind makes sense, given that the number of those who are 65 and older will grow from 35 million today to 70 million by 2030, says Gerard Badler, an organizer for the newly-formed Collegiate Retirement Communities Network. Badler, who is also the managing director of the related Campus Continuum (www.campuscontinuum.com), wants to drum up interest in the concept of alumni retirement facilities at this year's SCUP conference (www.scup.org) in Toronto, to be held July 17 through 21.

The Society's campus and university planners are fast realizing that aging Bulldog and Buckeye fans have to live somewhere. So why not in a community that builds alumni loyalty and makes money?

Alumni of the University of Georgia already have the new Georgia Club, a golf course and 900-house subdivision 12 miles from the Athens campus. The developer reportedly pays UGA a licensing fee to use the university's name and logo. The alumni association gets a percentage of the club's membership fees and annual revenue. That could amount to an estimated $1 million annually for the alumni association. The potential for such a lucrative revenue stream may explain why similar subdivisions are under construction at Texas A&M, Georgia Tech and Pennsylvania State University.

At its debut preview presentation at SCUP, the Campus Continuum will highlight Lasell College (MA), which already runs Lasell Village a "unique living and learning community" for alumni and friends, and the University of Michigan Ann Arbor's condo complex. (Full-day tours of each facility are planned for later in the year.) Badler hopes that campus planners will join the network and support additional research to find out how to make new efforts successful.

Faulty Towers: Tenure and the Structure of Higher Education

By Ryan C. Amacher and Roger E. Meiners;

The Independent Institute, 2004; 124 pp., $14.95.

Tenure is a double-edged sword at many universities: On the one hand, it can ensure high-quality teaching from proven faculty members (and an edge in applications from students wishing to study with well-known instructors). On the other hand, opponents see it as job protection for ineffective teachers.

Both views have merit, of course, but the authors go beyond the debate to offer solutions. Education, they argue, is not much different from any bureaucracy. Restructuring university incentives with that in mind would produce greater accountability, more effective administrators, and a tenure system that lives up to its original intent.

--Tim Goral

Student sues school for not getting caught

If Michael Gunn never finds work based on his English studies at the University of Kent, he might consider a career as a lawyer. That's because Gunn, a 21-year-old student at the British university, is suing the school for not telling him that plagiarism was wrong.

Gunn was set to graduate when instructors accused him of passing off other people's work--copied from the Internet--as his own. As a result, his grades were rescinded.

Gunn doesn't deny the charge, and even admits that he has done it since his first year. He's suing because the university took so long to catch him at it.

"I can see there is evidence I have gone against the rules," he told reporters. "But they have taken all my money for three years and pulled me up the day before I finished."

Textbook rental programs are producing big savings for students

Thanks to the estimated 25 schools nationwide that have recently adopted textbook rental programs, campus bookstores are starting to operate a lot like Blockbuster. Rend Lake College (NC) has already begun to save students hundreds of dollars with its textbook rental service. The college charges $42 per book, $20 of which is a deposit fee that is refunded to the student when the book is returned. Within a two-year period, a student who rents five books a semester pays $440 each semester, a savings of more than 50 percent, school officials say.

UCLA might soon also jump on the textbook rental trend. A new bill encouraging the state's public colleges to implement a rental program just passed the California State Assembly and will now move to the State senate. The California rental program, which is intended to reduce the total cost of higher education, would cap textbook rental fees at 50 percent of a book's purchase price. The rental program would also give students the option to purchase books after renting them. Other schools offering this service include Appalachian State University (NC) and Eastern Illinois University.

Study shows effectiveness of simulations

With a generation of students raised on video games, sometimes traditional teaching models aren't enough. That's why many schools are exploring computerized simulation programs as a way for students to practice the skills they learn in the classroom, making them better prepared for when they enter the job market.

The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania began using simulations in 2001 when it launched the Alfred West Learning Lab. Since then the Learning Lab has developed 14 homegrown applications (which it also makes available to other schools) that engage students in real-world exercises. With names like "Future View," "Power Play," "OPEQ," and "Rules of Engagement," the simulations challenge students to apply principles they've learned across multiple disciplines, including the areas of finance, marketing, negotiation and forecasting.

How have these computer-based tools been received? The Wharton School surveyed nearly 300 of its MBA students from the classes of 2004 and 2005 about the impact of computer or Web-based tools in the classroom. What they said might bolster the argument of any school following a similar path. For example:

86% of students said that computer-based tools enhanced learning in class

Computer-based tools were more effective than both case-based and lecture-based classes in enhancing attention and engagement, retaining material and promoting team collaboration

77% of students were either very satisfied (30%) or satisfied (47%) with computer-based tools in classes.

Diversity foes to appeal to voters

Opponents of affirmative action aren't giving up, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last year that schools such as the University of Michigan Law School could consider race in creating a diverse student population. A Michigan appeals court ruled in June that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (www.michigancivilrights.org) could seek petition signatures to introduce its anti-affirmative action proposal to the statewide ballot this fall. MCRI needs 317,757 petition signatures by this month to get on the ballot, but organizers were unsure the goal could be met in time. If not, they vowed to try again in 2006.

Labor agreement is a first for private institutions

After 18 months of negotiations, New York University agreed in May to a contract that provides pay increases, health care benefits, and pension contributions to its adjunct faculty. The school's 2,300 part-time faculty members represent the largest adjunct-only union at a private university.

On health care--a key point of contention between the union and the school--NYU has agreed to pay half the cost of individual health care plans for adjuncts who teach at least 84 hours a year (excluding summer). According to the American Association of University Professors (www.aaup.org), about 46 percent of all university teachers nationwide are considered part-time, and most don't carry health insurance.

The six-year contract also creates four pay levels for adjuncts, and provides for pay increases over each year of the contract. Adjuncts teaching lecture courses will begin earning $90 for each class hour, while studio course teachers will get a minimum of $65 an hour. Adjuncts providing individual instruction will earn $55 an hour, and non-credit course teachers will get $50 for each class hour.

Under the new contract, professors who have taught at least six consecutive semesters (not including summer sessions) are eligible for severance pay if scheduled classes are discontinued and the professor is not reassigned. Adjuncts also will learn their schedules by May of each year, rather than right before fall classes start.

Although the cost of the new contract was not revealed, NYU officials said it would not increase a 5.6 percent tuition hike that had been announced several weeks earlier.

School tries high-tech content delivery

The University of Virginia will launch an ambitious program to develop and deliver digital course material using tablet PCs. The pilot program, set to begin this fall, will include more than 400 students in the school's biochemistry, psychology, and statistics programs, said Edward Ayers, dean of Arts and Sciences.

University faculty will work with Thomson Learning (www.thomson.com) over the summer to develop the course content, while Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) has agreed to supply its Tablet PCs and the necessary software. Students will be able to collaborate with each other and communicate digitally with instructors in real time on campus and in wireless classrooms.

The university expects that combining intelligent digital tools and blended learning models will improve both student learning and faculty productivity. "Our goal is to institute pilots like this to explore and expand how more traditional approaches might be reinvented to better serve our students," said Ayers. "It also meets the demands and sensibilities of today's tech-savvy, information-focused student within the budgetary constraints of higher learning institutions.

The first EduComm conference draws 675 AV/IT education pros

The first EduComm conference, held June 9 through 11 in Atlanta in conjunction with the AV conference InfoComm 2004, drew 675 attendees from universities, colleges and K-12 school districts. The more than 70 EduComm sessions, presented by University Business and its sister publication District Administration, covered online education trends, AV security and networks, faculty training, presentation installations in historic buildings, and working with architects.

Observers offered some key trends to watch:

The building boom in the community college sector will drive related presentations installations. Like their four-year cousins, the community colleges are coping with an influx of higher ed students who are expecting sophisticated online education options. These include lectures enhanced with multi-media images and video clips that can be stored online and played back on demand. Miami Dade College (FL), Valencia Community College (FL), and Sinclair Community College (OH) are just several systems that have integrated presentations technology into classroom and online learning.

More durable projector classroom models will be offered at the $999 price point. BenQ, Toshiba, Epson, Sony and InFocus are some of the vendors that have portable models at this price point--and more options are on the way.

There will be more electronic whiteboard and video conferencing options from vendors now discovering education--especially distance education--as a promising vertical market.

Crafty bookkeeping reduces effect of budget cuts

With constant media attention on rising tuition rates at the nation's universities, it's refreshing to hear a story about a decrease--of sorts. Trustees of the Connecticut State University system voted unanimously to scale back a planned tuition increase from 13.7 percent to 8.1 percent for the 2004-05 academic year, saving in-state undergraduate students $148 a year.

The CSU trustees had approved an increase last December, saying it would be necessary to fend off the effects of a projected $7.8 million shortfall in anticipated state funding.

Crafty legislators found a way to restore $4.9 million to the state budget, softening the expected increase. With the rollback, instate undergraduate commuter students will pay $5,612, while undergrads living on campus will pay $12,784.

Suit alleges privacy breach

CollegeNET (www.collegenet.com), a firm that manages online applications for colleges and universities, filed a lawsuit last month against the XAP corporation (www.xap.com), charging that XAP sold student data to lenders.

The suit alleges that XAP assured schools of the confidentiality of data it collected on their behalf, but "regularly provided student information to student loan lenders, loan guarantors and others," without informing schools or students.

"A student's information collected online should be handled with the same degree of confidentiality as colleges themselves use for traditional paper applications," said Jim Wolfston, president of CollegeNET.


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