WENR, May/June 2004: Americas

Editorial Note: Web links have been removed from this page due to outdated third-party web content.


University Graduates Struggling to Find Jobs

The traditional notion that a university education guarantees a good job is fast being dismantled in Brazil, where unemployment among university graduates jumped 131 percent between 1995 and the beginning of 2003. The unemployment rate for workers who have only a primary school education has remained relatively stable, increasing 6.9 percent in the eight-year period.

With an economy stuck in the doldrums since the 1990s, the vast majority of new jobs created in Brazil are for low-skilled workers, according to a study based on official national statistics by the Sao Paulo municipal government’s Secretariat for Development, Labor and Solidarity. Today’s high unemployment rate among university graduates is being blamed not only on the slow economy, but also on the proliferation of university degrees being offered at new, private institutions. Some believe that a lower quality of teaching at some private institutions has lessened the status of degree holders in the job market.

Inter Press Service
March 22, 2004


Another New University Announced

The British Columbian government is establishing a new university in Kamloops. The new university will supplant the current University College of the Cariboo and will also assume responsibility for Open University and Open College, which provide distance-education programs. A satellite campus of the University of British Columbia in Kelowna (see March/April 2004 WENR) was also recently announced.

Calgary Herald
March 20, 2004


New Credit System to Encourage Independent Study

As part of the so-called Revolución Educativa, a new credit system is being introduced at universities in Colombia that will replace the traditional system based on rigid curriculums and broad subject offerings. The new system, it is hoped, will allow students to graduate faster and enjoy greater flexibility in choosing their classes.

The plan calls for universities to reduce the number of subjects students are required to study to encourage a greater degree of specialization. Changes in curriculum and methodology would emphasize student preparation rather than classroom instruction. The weight of each credit is to be student-workload based, where one credit will equal 48 hours of study (contact hours and independent study). At the undergraduate level, one credit will equal approximately 16 hours of lectures and 32 hours of independent study.

La Republica
Feb. 8, 2004


Continued Frustration at Lack of Government Spending on Higher Education

Student and teacher demonstrations at the country’s 10 public universities took to the streets in May to protest, for the 13th year in a row, a lack of government funding for higher education. The protesters clashed with police leaving one officer dead and more than 40 students and officers injured.

The demonstrators were demanding that government officials obey a Supreme Court decision in April ordering the government to spend 6 percent of its budget on higher education. The 2004 budget set aside 4.8 percent of government spending.

The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 4, 2004

The United States

Princeton Brings Grade Inflation Debate to Table

Princeton University professors voted this spring by a 2-1 margin to slash the number of A-plus, A and A-minus grades approximately 25 percent by limiting As to 35 percent of course grades in an effort to correct so-called grade inflation. Princeton has become the first elite university to take drastic action to reverse the trend of awarding an A for work that is really worth only a B.

Professors at several other Ivy League universities have intimated that Princeton’s action is likely to re-ignite a nationwide debate on how to combat grade inflation, or indeed if grade inflation is the phenomenon many suggest it is. Is it possible that the A students deserve their As? Top-tier students, according to the College Board, are 10 times more likely to be taking 10 or more Advanced Placement courses in high school than they were a decade ago. The New York Times likens the increased emphasis on admissions and standardized testing to the breeding of racehorses, suggesting that increased competition for places at Ivy League schools is creating a better class of students worthy of the grades they are receiving.

The counter argument suggests that the number of increasingly well-prepared students cannot account for the shift in grades. Some suggest that teachers are aware of how competitive the academic world has become — the value employers and graduate admissions place on grade-point averages — and so try to help students by giving them better grades. Some say it is a result of a culture in which the student-consumer is king. Either way, in the absence of a university-wide policy on grade deflation, individual professors say it is difficult to buck the nationwide trend toward awarding more As.

New York Times
April 18, 2004

Harvard Panel Urges Greater Internationalization

For the first time in 30 years, Harvard University has reviewed its undergraduate curriculum, concluding that students need more room for broad exploration, a greater familiarity with the world that can only by gained from study abroad and hands-on understanding of science. After 15 months of study, a committee of administrators, professors and students has recommended the university give students more time to choose their majors and limit the requirements for those majors, encourage students to spend time abroad and increase the number of required science courses.

The committee’s underlying conclusion, that students in a fast-changing world need a wider range of knowledge, is likely to have an impact on universities across the nation, many of which are also trying to modernize their curriculums. Harvard’s previous curricular reviews, in the 1940s and 1970s, were viewed as groundbreaking, and experts in higher education said they are eager to study the university’s newest recommendations. Faculty will discuss the recommendations over the next year, with some changes requiring a formal vote.

New York Times
April 27, 2004

Tuition Threatens Access

University tuitions will rise again at double the rate of inflation this year, nearing $40,000 at some elite schools. The increases, which come each spring, coincide with a report that says low- and middle-income students are increasingly being excluded from higher education.

The Century Fund report shows that three-quarters of students at the nation’s top 146 universities come from the wealthiest socioeconomic quartile. Approximately 3 percent come from the poorest quartile. The cost of university education has outpaced family income for 25 years. Much of the increase has been fueled by tuition increases at private universities. Now, with government subsidies being cut, public universities have also announced double-digit price hikes.

Other studies suggest the cost of tuition prevents half of university-eligible high school graduates from attending a four-year university and one out of five from receiving any higher education at all.

The Times Higher Education Supplement
April 9, 2004

Tax Payers Funding ‘Diploma Mills’ GAO Investigation Finds

An eight-month General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation has found that at least 64 government employees have been receiving federal tuition reimbursements for degrees from questionable institutions, leading members of Congress to call for a crackdown on internet-based diploma mills.

The GAO investigated only four unaccredited institutions — California Coast University, Hamilton University, Kennedy-Western University, and Pacific Western University – which has led government officials to conclude that many more employees in various agencies may have gained degrees from similar institutions. At a two-day hearing in May, Sen. Susan M. Collins said she was working to shut down suspect institutions and was looking to close the loophole that allows agencies to pay for individual courses from unaccredited institutions. The investigation also found 463 government employees who have cited degrees from unaccredited institutions among their qualifications — including 28 high-ranking officials, some with high-level security clearances.

To bolster the battle against diploma mills, the Department of Education announced recently that it will compile a list of all institutions that are accredited by recognized organizations or that are in the process of getting accreditation. Officials hope to have the list available online by the end of the year.

The Chronicle of Higher Education
May 21, 2004