Top Ten

January 30, 2014

Biggest US for-profit PSE institutions being investigated for misleading students

Several US state attorneys general have begun investigations into 4 of the largest for-profit PSE institutions in the country for misleading students about tuition costs, loans, graduation rates, licensing requirements, placement results, and other matters. Career Education Corp, Corinthian Colleges, Education Management Corp, and ITT Tech have all reported that they are being investigated. In recent months, both ITT and Corinthian have been involved in separate investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Also, the Justice Department last year shut down “one of the worst" for-profit institutions, ATI. Huffington Post

uWaterloo’s Velocity startups raise more than $100 million

Startups in the the University of Waterloo’s Velocity entrepreneurship incubator program have raised more than $100 million in funding in the 5 years since the initiative was launched. The investments received include funding from venture capitalists, angel investors, government programs, grants from the Velocity Fund, and crowdfunding website Kickstarter. Velocity’s Pebble, the makers of a “smart watch,” raised $10 million on Kickstarter in 2012. Velocity’s milestone announcement follows the launch of the provincial government’s new Northleaf Venture Catalyst Fund, which aims to drive private-sector investment in Canadian companies in the early to middle stages of growth. uWaterloo News Release

Alberta predicts major enrolment growth, continued budget restraint

Alberta’s Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock says the provincial government remains in a period of “fiscal restraint,” preparing for “major” growth in the PSE sector. Hancock acknowledged the province is in better shape than it was last year, when it cut operating grants to PSE institutions by $147 million (the government later restored $50 million in funding), but warned that “the spending floodgates won't open” with the release of the 2014 budget. "We're still in an element of restraint and so we need to look with our budgets at how we can do things better," says Hancock. The minister also said to expect a PSE enrolment boost caused by the flow through of an increased K-12 cohort, which has spurred the construction of several new schools. Hancock is currently in discussions with university and college leaders on a funding model for PSE. Calgary Herald

Rhode Island bill lets PSE students forgo tuition, pay when employed

Rhode Island representatives Gordon Fox and Joseph McNamara have introduced legislation for a "Pay It Forward, Pay It Back" tuition model that would allow students to study tuition-free if they promise to pay a percentage of their income upon graduation. Under the legislation, a 3-year pilot program would be implemented at one or more of the state's institutions by June 20, 2015. The program would be available only to Rhode Island residents, and students would be required to graduate on time in order to remain eligible. "This is a bold, innovative idea that would address two of our state's major challenges -- the rapid rise of college costs and the skills gap -- at once" says Fox. The Department of Education would target fields where Rhode Island employers most need workers. Providence Journal

COU launches virtual scavenger hunt to promote research

The Council of Ontario Universities has launched a virtual scavenger hunt contest that challenges students and the public to solve clues about Ontario research, as part of its wider Research Matters campaign. Students from participating universities will deliver clues daily via video, and the answers can be found online. Those who solve the clues will be eligible to win Research Matters gift bags and 5 cash prizes of $500 each. COU’s Research Matters campaign seeks to raise awareness about Ontario university research. COU News Release | Scavenger Hunt Webpage

More awareness, stats needed on mental health among PhD students

University Affairs blogger and York University PhD student Melonie Fullick suggests that there is a widespread growth in depression amongst graduate students that is surrounded by “a thickly-oppressive silence.” Fullick cites an intense workload, pressure to produce new and valuable work, competition for full-time positions after graduation, and personal issues as contributing factors for the growth in clinical depression in the field. She points out the lack of information on PhD attrition, and suggests that more statistics on why people drop out of graduate studies would shed light on some of these mental health issues. “I wonder how many students simply leave due to mental health and related issues brought on or exacerbated by the psychological minefield of the PhD process -- and how much of this is preventable,” writes Fullick. University Affairs

HEQCO report touts benefits of blended learning

A new study by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) provides further evidence that combining online and in-class teaching methods (known as blended learning) gives students more flexibility. The study, which examined students in 3 first-year social science courses at McMaster University, found that 80% of students used the blended learning modules on a repeat basis -- most often from their personal computers at their leisure. Instructors expressed that because students had learning materials in advance, in-class time could be better focused on interaction, assignments and assessments, and students were less anxious in busy lab environments. HEQCO News Release | Full Report

Competency-based experiments sought by US institutions

A group of 17 PSE institutions in the US has compiled a list of competency-based teaching and learning models it would like to experiment with, following a notice from the Department of Education that challenged institutions to do so. Institutions would like to change the attendance requirements that must be met to qualify for student aid, as the current rules – which usually mean spending time in a classroom – pose a challenge for competency-based learning. Next, the universities and colleges are also arguing for flexibility in “credit hours” requirements as a way of measuring academic student progress. Instead, progress should be measured solely on demonstrated learning. A third idea is to break away from the rigidity of the academic year, allowing for rolling start dates and more breaks. Finally, the institutions have suggested that financial aid be given to students who are taking a hybrid of credit-hour courses and competency-based courses (currently, financial aid can only be awarded to one type). Education Dive

Blackboard to add virtual bookstore to its LMS

Learning-management software company Blackboard is testing a virtual university bookstore, where students can access select materials for their courses, including new, used, or rental books, e-books, open-source content, etc. A student will find a list of material required for his or her course when visiting the online store. Blackboard Senior VP for education services Katie Blot says “buying course materials will be easy and convenient, and there will be no confusion over which edition or version of a particular work the faculty member wants students to use.” The system will also allow instructors to see which students ordered what materials. The announcement follows a report that reveals that 65% of students say they had decided against buying a required textbook because it was too expensive. Blot says the company is working with a fulfillment house to make sure the course materials are priced competitively. Chronicle of Higher Education

UNESCO global education report reveals lack of teacher education strategies

UNESCO has released a global education report that says national education plans should include more strategies for training good teachers, to combat a “global learning crisis.” The  report reveals that only 17 of the 40 national education plans reviewed include strategies for improving teacher education programs, and only 16 include a plan for further training of teacher educators. UNESCO statistics show that, between 2011 and 2015, 5.2 million teachers must be recruited to ensure there are sufficient teachers to achieve universal primary education. The report recommends, in addition to improving teacher education programs, that countries lacking teachers increase efforts to offer incentives to retain teachers from other jurisdictions. UNESCO Report Summary | Full Report