WENR, June 2009: Americas


The Utility of Rankings

While university ranking systems come in for frequent criticism, there can be little doubt that they impact the decision-making processes of university leaders and government officials. Now a new study [1] of four countries with influential rankings – Australia, Canada, Germany and Japan – conducted by the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Higher Education Policy [2], has placed a more positive light on the role of university league tables, suggesting they can prompt institutions to work in innovative and more productive ways.

The May report, “Impact of College Rankings on Institutional Decision Making: Four Country Case Studies,” states that rankings can “trigger a shift of institutional resources for such productive uses as faculty profile, research collection and analysis, and student learning outcomes. These changes can also be integrated into broader strategic planning initiatives to change national and international higher education policy contexts.”

The report is based on interviews with key institutional stakeholders in the four countries, and finds that while national and international rankings come in for serious criticism as relates to goals, uses and outcomes, it is important also to understand the ways rankings influence the work of institutions.
Some key findings on the positives of rankings: Improved data-based decision making; greater participation in discussions about measuring institutional success in broader national and international discussions; improved teaching and learning practices; the identification and modeling of successful programs; increased institutional collaboration, especially internationally; increased outreach to international students.

The report concludes by stating that rankings have become an established force in the national and international education arenas, and it is thus important to understand how they can best be leveraged in combination with other tools to encourage positive competition and accountability.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy [1]
May 2009


Medical School Files Lawsuit Against Arkansas Medical Board

The American University of Antigua College of Medicine [3] filed a lawsuit in late April, suing the state medical board in Arkansas [4], a move that is generally considered more of a broadside on the entire system for licensing doctors to practice medicine in the United States.

The United States has a major shortage of doctors, yet continues to be cautious in welcoming overseas-trained medical professionals, especially if that training occurs on a Caribbean island. The reasons for this caution stem from concerns about the quality of education imparted by Caribbean medical schools. In addition, there are often major regulatory hurdles, both for medical schools from outside the United States and Canada and for their graduates seeking to practice in the States.

The latter concern is the motivating factor behind the lawsuit filed in April by the Antiguan medical college, on behalf of two recent graduates and two current students, against the Arkansas State Medical Board and its members. The lawsuit contends that Arkansas has discriminated against the right of the Antigua institution’s students to seek licenses to practice medicine in the state by placing the foreign medical college on its list of “disapproved” schools without any independent review.

Antigua’s medical school has earned approval of a sort from the only state that has looked deeply and critically into its operation. New York’s medical board has approved Antigua to send its students to New York hospitals to complete the clinical portions of their Antiguan educations; students who go through that system are then qualified for licensure in New York.

InsideHigherEd [5]
May 1, 2009


Governor General: Canada Lags Other Arctic Higher Education Providers by 40 Years

Michaelle Jean, Canada’s Governor General, delivered a sharp criticism of Canada’s record in delivering education in the Arctic in May, saying the country is 40 years behind others when it comes to higher learning in the North. Jean has been leading the charge for a university in the Arctic, despite the government’s position that it is a non-priority.

Jean said she would continue pressing politicians for an institution that would better serve Inuit populations and attract non-aboriginal students and teachers to the North. On an eight-day trip to the region, she described Canada as a laggard compared with other countries with Arctic populations.

“Canada is at least 40 years behind,” Jean said. “Canada is the only northern state that doesn’t have a university in the North. Canada is four decades behind Norway, Finland, Sweden, and the United States. The United States has three universities in Alaska. There is a university in Greenland, in northern Sweden and in the Norwegian Arctic.”

It was her recent visit to Tromso, Norway, that inspired the Governor General to speak up. That town on the 69th parallel has become an economic hub and major supplier of skilled labor for its region. The website for the University of Tromso [6] notes that its creation faced stiff public resistance in the 1960s and warnings that its remote location wouldn’t attract students – fears that were all quickly proven false. With that said, approximately 150,000 people live in Tromso’s surrounding county – roughly 50 percent more than the entire population of Canada’s enormous northern territories.

Currently, only 25 percent of Nunavut children finish high school, and those who head south to university often require extra courses to catch up.

Macleans [7]
May 28, 2009

United States

A Bachelor’s Degree in 2 Years

While a number of colleges have begun offering students the means and structure to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years, Purdue University’s College of Technology [8] in Kokomo is starting a program that will award a bachelor’s degree in two years. The program is designed for people who lost jobs in the auto industry and will provide them with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and supervision, with a concentration in industrial technology. Students will take one or two courses at a time, with several hours of class time per course each weekday and without summers off.

Purdue [9]
April 15, 2009

No-Frills Degree from Private College at A Fraction the Cost

Southern New Hampshire University [10] (SNHU), a private college, is charging just $10,000 a year for its Advantage Program [11]. The student pays for tuition only without housing, meal plans and campus perks such as gym membership amounting to a third the costs of regular tuition, room and board. Classes are offered at bare-bones satellite campuses under a similar philosophy as low-cost airlines: get me to my academic destination without the unnecessary costs and amenities of a traditional student experience.

If a substantial number of colleges were to offer no-frills options like SNHU’s, “they’d make a huge step in tackling the root causes of the cost problem,” says Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Cost Project [12] in Washington, which analyzes higher-education spending, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

Meanwhile, a number of private colleges are promoting other affordable options, in addition to boosting financial aid. Nearby Daniel Webster College [13] hopes to attract recent high school graduates who are willing to commute by offering them tuition at nearly half price. Some institutions are creating partnerships with community colleges to smooth the transfer of credits. Others are making it easier to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years, saving students 25 percent. And a handful have announced that for students who meet certain criteria, tuition for 2009-10 will equal the cost of nearby public colleges.

The Christian Science Monitor [14]
April 27, 2009

Increasing Number of Community Colleges Offering Low-Cost Bachelor’s Degrees

Miami Dade College [15] is one of a growing number of community colleges offering bachelor’s degrees across the country. Florida has the greatest number (14) of community colleges authorized to offer bachelor’s degrees; 12 are already doing so. Nationwide, 17 states, including Nevada, Texas and Washington, have allowed community colleges to award associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. In some, the community colleges have become four-year institutions. Other states are considering community college baccalaureates.

Community colleges say they are fulfilling a need, however, some universities say community colleges are involved in “mission creep” that may distract them from their traditional mission. Quoting various university and community college officials, including Beth Hagan, executive director of the Community College Baccalaureate Association [16], the New York Times reports that this trend may lead to watered-down bachelor’s degrees.

At Miami Dade College, more than 1,000 students are enrolled in baccalaureate programs. Students average age is 33, three-quarters are women, and slightly over half are Hispanic.

The New York Times [17]
May 3, 2009

Applications from China Booming

The Washington Post reports that the University of Virginia [18] and some other U.S. colleges are receiving a surging number of applications from China. Ten years ago, 17 Chinese students applied to the Charlottesville-based university; three years ago, 117 did; this year, the number was more than 800 out of almost 22,000 candidates.

Until the fall of 2007, the number of Chinese undergraduates in the United States had held steady for years, at about 9,000, according to the Institute of International Education [19]. In 2007, the number jumped to more than 16,000. International education professionals interviewed by the Post cite China’s increasing wealth, fewer delays in obtaining visas, and technology for fueling the undergraduate boom from China.

While Japan and South Korea still send more undergraduates to U.S. schools, China is gaining as its middle class grows. Historically, students have been more likely to come to the United States for advanced degrees and research opportunities. Currently, the biggest application gains are in the rising number of undergraduates.

In the past three years, the number of Chinese applicants to Georgetown University [20]‘s freshman class rose from 95 to 208. At George Mason University [21], the total went from 54 to almost 100, and at George Washington University [22], it increased from 170 to 350. Brown University’s [23] applications went from 166 to nearly 500, and Stanford University [24]‘s, from 268 to more than 400. At the University of Washington [25], the number soared from about 250 three years ago to nearly 1,600 this year.

Washington Post [26]
May 1, 2009

Unaccredited Newport U. Leaves Wyoming

The state of Wyoming enacted legislation in 2006 requiring all private higher-education institutions to seek federally recognized accreditation within five years. After losing a court case, in which Newport International University sued, arguing that the law violated the state Constitution, the Laramie-based outfit has now decided to leave the state, according to the Associated Press.

Newport International [27] relinquished its state registration on April 24, the AP said, citing information from the Wyoming Department of Education [28].

According to the AP, Newport International, which offers instruction overseas, once listed campuses in 14 countries on its website. The university ran into difficulties in Kenya in 2005, when that nation nullified more than 200 degrees it had awarded there.

Wyoming’s Legislature approved the 2006 law in response to concerns that the state was becoming known as a haven for diploma mills and other institutions whose educational quality was unverified. At least one other unaccredited institution, Preston University, has left the state since then.

Associated Press [29]
May 12, 2009


Students Protest Funding Cuts, Chavez

Thousands of university students marched through Venezuela’s capital Caracas in May demanding increased state funding for public universities after President Hugo Chavez’s government reduced funding by 6 percent. The protestors included students, professors and university workers, and they chanted anti-Chavez slogans as they marched to the education ministry, where they raised their concerns with Higher Education Minister Luis Acuna.

Acuna said funding was reduced as part of a broader measure to cut overall government spending by 6.7 percent. Many demonstrators also criticized the president for demanding sanctions against the television station Globovision, the last terrestrial channel that remains fiercely critical of the government. They fear the government could sanction – or even temporarily shut down – Globovision to punish it for its stance against the government. University students have led numerous protests in recent years against Chavez’s efforts to centralize power and weaken his political foes.

Associated Press [30]
May 20, 2009