The stories making headlines in higher education

The stories making headlines in higher education

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In the wake of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina, who is responsible for paying tuition? Should institutions charge the enrolled students displaced by the storm? And should those schools remit tuition dollars to damaged schools?

These are just some of the complicated questions being raised in the wake of August's devastating storm. The answers, at least so far, vary from institution to institution.

The University of Central Florida is among the many schools asking for tuition from visiting students displaced by Katrina. For UCF, a public institution, budget restrictions guided the decision to extend the in-state tuition rate of $1,500 to visitors, says spokesman Tom Evelyn.

UCF is giving students leeway in terms of when and how they pay their bill. "We already work with some of our students, for instance some who are called up for the National Guard, to resolve their situations," says Evelyn. "In this case we are willing to go above and beyond to help these students make it work."

Like UCF, many state institutions chose to reduce tuition to in-state levels for visiting displaced students. The University of Houston system enrolled about 1,600 students after the hurricane using that option. The school also set up a Katrina Student Assistance Fund to help defray costs for students.

Whether on principle, or due to financial ability, dozens of campuses opted to waive tuition entirely. The joint campus in Indianapolis for Indiana University and Purdue University identified institutional funds of $4,000 per visiting student.

One issue has proven particularly sticky: What to do about tuition dollars that were paid pre-Katrina? Tulane University (La.), which closed its New Orleans campus for the fall semester, has received scores of e-mailed tuition questions from students and parents. Some people want their fall tuition dollars back.

Yet Tulane, like other schools in the devastated region, needs funds to pay faculty and staff and recover from the hurricane. On September 9, President Scott Cowen began leading a weekly online chat to deal with the situation.

Associations and government have played some role in clarifying tuition matters. The presidents of several higher ed associations put out a letter in the beginning of September encouraging schools to waive tuition for students who already paid tuition to their home institutions. If a student had not paid tuition, the letter asked schools to charge the home institution's rate of tuition and remit the amount to the damaged school.

To assist IHEs, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has posted policies and guidelines on its Katrina resource page (www.nasfaa.org/linklists/katrina.html). The federal government has stepped in to ease financial aid bureaucracy for students and schools alike, and some private lenders have helped, too.

Still, the tuition issue ultimately falls to schools, students, and family members. Whether things will go more smoothly this fall--or become more tangled--will soon be seen.

--Caryn Meyers Fliegler

A makeover for New Mexico State University's athletic mascot, Pete--who formerly carried a pistol but now grips a lasso--is causing a bit of a wrangle. A lot of publicity has surrounded the accessory switch, says Associate Athletics Director Sean Johnson. Complaints seem to stem from "the whole issue of the perceived political correctness stance that the university took. But that has nothing to do with the decision we made," he contends.

Even the National Rifle Association tried to smoke out the truth from Johnson on their Sirius Satellite Radio program. "They just wanted to get our side of the story," he says, adding that the segment was non-confrontational.

Perhaps the heat that schools with Native American mascots have gotten this year is contributing to the PC theory.

But the real issue was simple, Johnson says. Oklahoma State University's own Pistol Pete, well known nationally, bears an uncanny resemblance to NMSU's old Pete.

"We wanted something that reflected the Western heritage of southern New Mexico," Johnson explains--and a mascot with its own identity.

Pete's fresh look coincides with a university effort to rebrand itself. "We have new leadership, new [promotional] materials, and we're entering a new athletic conference," says Maureen Howard, director of university communications. Johnson adds, "We have a great university. What we're trying to do is get that message out all over the country."

--Melissa Ezarik

When designing this residence hall, the project team at Swarthmore College (Pa.) had community building in mind.

Function: Dormitory for 75 students (of the approximately 1,300 living on campus this semester).

Challenge: Certain factors in society--such as computers, video games, and an increased interest in privacy--were beginning to work against the school's long-time values of student collaboration and community, says Tom Krattenmaker, director of News and Information at the college. The typical dorm design encourages student isolation.

Design Solutions: Building features, such as stairs near the entrance and an elevator far off to the side, help promote interaction among students living in Alice Paul. No basement laundry room here, either; this task gets done in a spot prominently overlooking a bright, centrally located living room lounge. "It's quickly becoming the place where students want to room," Krattenmaker says.

Project Cost: Nearly $8.29 million, acquired from an anonymous donor.

Architect: William Rawn Associates, Architects, Boston.

Completed: August 2004

--M.E.

A program at Bellevue Community College outside Seattle, Wash., is part of the larger conversation about what happens to disabled students once they leave high school. The Venture Program, which is for-credit, is now the first degree program in the nation for developmentally delayed students, a subset of the disabled population. Venture accepts only intellectually delayed students and offers academic and life-skills classes leading to an associate's degree.

A broad conversation about postsecondary opportunities is brewing. "We are as a society on the edge of considering how people with disabilities after the high school age are more fully able to participate," says Troy Justesen, acting director of the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education.

Venture proponents, including Director Cynthia Johnson, say they are battling for a civil right: for disabled individuals to have access to a meaningful college education. "We are here to help them lead full, productive lives," Johnson says.

People in 32 states have expressed interest to Johnson in replicating the self-supported program. Amanda Bates, 25, is one student to already benefit from Venture. "I had started courses at other colleges, [but] I understand better here."

--C.M.F.

College administrators yearning to understand students may want to pay attention to Cathy Small's work.

Small, an anthropology professor at Northern Arizona University, spent a year as an undergraduate from 2003 to 2004, and wrote about her experiences in My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student (Cornell University Press, Sept. 2005).

Small penned the book under the pseudonym Rebekah Nathan in order to protect the students with whom she lived, socialized, and studied, she says. Her identity was revealed by the New York Sun newspaper this summer. My Freshman Year offers potent lessons:

Community is getting lost despite the fact that many students yearn for it.

Diversity recruiting efforts are succeeding but students still segregate. "Students are not mixing," Small says. "And that is the purpose."

Many aspects of the college system are at odds with other parts of the system. For example, pre-term retreats for first-generation college students hamper diversity efforts since that's when people make new friends.

Small notes that she is not a pundit but an anthropologist. Still, IHE leaders can learn valuable lessons from her without sleeping in the dorms.

--C.M.F.

Too bad the Oscars don't have a category for "Best Location Portraying Multiple Roles." If it did, SUNY Maritime College (N.Y.) might have a lock on the award. The new Warner Brothers film The Departed spent several days filming at Maritime in August. Because of its unique characteristics, Maritime was used to portray the Massachusetts Police Academy, and its Pentagon sally port was the backdrop for an academy graduation scene. (The sally port connects the five-sided Fort Schuyler building to another part of the campus.) A firing range was erected along the wall of the athletic building wall for another scene, while the campus' central boat bay doubled as a police headquarters conference room. The film stars Matt Damon as a gangster who has infiltrated the Boston police department, while co-star Leonardo DiCaprio plays a policeman who infiltrates the mob.

Last year, New York Gov. George Pataki signed into law the Empire State Film Production Credit Program to give tax incentives to feature films and television shows that do most of their filming in the state. The program makes Maritime especially attractive to budget-conscious producers.

Diane Zapach, director of public relations at Maritime, says location scouts for Robert DeNiro and Steven Spielberg have expressed interest in filming at Maritime. "This is great publicity," she says. "The revenue generated by campus location rentals is also of great benefit, especially in the summer."

--Tim Goral

With more than 420,000 living alumni, and regularly selling out their 80,082-seat stadium for home games, the University of Texas' football team, the Longhorns, have decided to capitalize on their fame and fan loyalty via a unique medium.

The Longhorns' Vmag, or video magazine, offers behind-the-scenes interviews with the coach, staff, and players, plus replays of games, and sneak peaks into the locker room and other places that mainstream media organizations can't bring their cameras. Kathleen Hessert, CEO of NEWgame Communications, creator of the Vmag, likened the Longhorns' internet-based, fan-targeted video magazine to "reality TV via the internet." The video magazine already goes out to subscribers in 49 states and 10 countries for a season's subscription price of $24.95.

"It is almost movie-like in its presentation," says Christine Plonsky, senior associate athletics director of Men's and Women's Athletics External Services for the University of Texas.

Any revenue generated goes to the athletic department, says Kim Gundersen, marketing director for the Texas Exes, the alumni association, but the Texas Exes provide the athletic department with e-mail addresses of alumni for marketing purposes. "Everything is being promoted via e-mail," she says. "It's a program [fans] are not going to get anywhere else." Currently, the program is marketed via a number of different avenues besides e-mails to alumni including commercials during Coach Mack Brown's TV and radio shows. But, Gundersen says she would like to see the technology eventually used to promote other university programs.

Because of the Vmag's popularity, the university decided that instead of creating only five "issues" throughout the season, an issue would be released every week.

To launch the product, NEWgame looked for an institution that had a very large following, Hessert explains. "To have Coach Brown take the risk to invite fans into the football program was a big chance. We knew that if the program had enough personality and a charismatic coach, then the content would be sizzling."

--Julie A. Varughese

Schools across the country are making an effort to stifle the over- consumption of alcohol by students by working with local governments and businesses to keep the cost of providing alcohol from going any lower. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, low-cost pitchers, kegs, and cases of beer, aggressive advertising in campus newspapers, and a high number of bars and liquor stores in surrounding campus areas promote heavy drinking among students. Researchers say that towns and cities that discourage drink discounts while toughening standards for checking IDs keep major problems like alcohol poisoning, fights, car accidents, and falls from balconies from happening.

--J.V.

Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus

Donald Alexander Downs; Cambridge University Press, 2005; 294 pp., $28.99

Being PC on campus has gone too far, argues author Donald Alexander Downs. Downs, a professor of political science, law and journalism at the University of Wisconsin, Madison outlines the downside of speech codes--rules that guide how students and faculty should talk to one another.

He notes that the intentions to monitor speech on campus were initially good. The codes grew out of the diversity movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Administrators didn't want new groups of students and faculty inadvertently offending each other with insensitive remarks.

Downs admits that he once supported speech codes. "As my teaching and writing evolved over time, I became more suspicious of administrative restrictions on speech," he writes.

In the current campus climate, codes have been used to censor perfectly legal speech. In a number of case studies he notes that speech codes have been used especially to quash more politically conservative or unpopular points of view. Downs' previous books include Nazis in Skokie: Freedom, Community and First Amendment.

--Jean Marie Angelo


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