Top Ten

July 11, 2014

Camosun President to leave the college

The Victoria Times-Colonist reports that Camosun College President Kathryn Laurin will be leaving the institution. The announcement comes just days after the commencement of what would have been Laurin’s second 5-year term. The college community received a letter stating that Laurin “will be leaving the college to pursue other opportunities, effective September 1, 2014.” College board Pattison said that “a personnel matter” led to the decision, and noted that Laurin “has been instrumental in bringing the college to the community and her achievements are appreciated by the board.” In an email to the Times-Colonist, Laurin, who is currently in Spain on holiday, said that she was surprised that the college made the announcement while she was out of the country. A spokesperson at Camosun personally told the Academica Top Ten that Laurin was informed that she would be leaving the post prior to her departure overseas. Victoria Times-Colonist

McGill reportedly spends $20 million on sweeping pay equity program

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights the efforts undertaken by McGill University to close the gender pay gap at the institution. Quebec legislation requires gender pay equity, forcing McGill to conduct a sweeping review and 13-year effort to identify and address gender pay gaps. The program included years spent classifying all job positions at McGill, ensuring that those requiring the same levels of skill and education were compensated similarly, regardless of the associated gender. “Mathematical hiccups,” labour disputes, and legal action have caused the entire statistical exercise to be abandoned and started anew at least once; but in February, McGill issued cheques to 2,100 current and former employees deemed to have been underpaid. In some cases of long-term employment, the sum was as much as $80,000. It is estimated that McGill has spent at least $20 million on the efforts to date, although it is expected that future adjustments will cost much less. Wall Street Journal

NSCAD receives $3-million donation

NSCAD University will change the name of its Granville St, Halifax campus to the Fountain Campus in recognition of a $3-million donation from philanthropists Margaret and David Fountain. The donation is not targeted for any particular use, but university officials state they will likely use some of the money to enhance student spaces, install fire doors, and improve accessibility. Caleb Hung, President of the university’s student union, said that students want a say in how the money is spent, citing a lack of consultation in recent years regarding the use of excess space at the campus. “I think it’s very important for us to acknowledge the viability of NSCAD and show confidence in its future,” said Margaret Fountain, who has served on the NSCAD board of governors for 14 years. ChronicleHerald

CMEC says Canadian PISA score decline not significant

The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) says that Canadian students’ performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is not as bad as some in the media and the business community would have the public believe. In the latest rankings, Canada dropped from placing 10th in math scores to 13th among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. But CMEC members, meeting in Charlottetown this week, said that calls for significant changes to Canada’s education systems are overreactions. CMEC Chair and Alberta Minister Jeff Johnson said, “even the OECD people who have done the study have told me personally Canada’s results are not statistically significant.” He added that making sweeping changes based on the results of one test would be a mistake. “We’re trying to make the system better, but we’ve got to make very thoughtful decisions about this, and not just react to one international assessment,” he said. Charlottetown Guardian

Many ON apprenticeship students lack essential skills in math, reading

A new study by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) has found that many students enrolled in apprenticeship programs lack foundational skills in math, reading, and document use, possibly contributing to low completion rates. The study used the Essential Skills for Ontario's Tradespeople (ESOT) assessment tool to test the skills of level 1 apprenticeship students at Cambrian, Algonquin, and Conestoga colleges. Although the report’s authors note low participation rates and an inability to track students throughout their studies, they did find that in one phase of the study, “one-fifth did not meet the minimum skill levels in reading and document use, and an even larger group did not meet some of the minimum skill levels in math.” Focus groups with key stakeholders, including representatives from the colleges, employers, and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, revealed that participants recommended skills assessments in early stages of apprentice training to determine the school-readiness of students. The report recommends further research in order to track the skills of cohorts throughout in-school training during apprenticeships. HEQCO Summary | Full Report

ON receives lowest per-student college funding

As part of its Environmental Scan released this week, Colleges Ontario has produced a report on the funding and expenditures of the province’s colleges, finding that ON colleges continue to receive the lowest per-student funding – through operating grants and tuition – of all the provinces, at $8,272 per student. Saskatchewan has the highest per-student funding, almost double that of ON at almost $20,000. In ON, grant revenue accounted for 50.2% of college system revenue, with tuition accounting for 19.7% of all college system revenue. The report notes that since 2007-08, growth in operating grants has not kept pace with enrolment growth, and that in 2013-14 real operating grants per student were around 16% lower than they were at their peak in 2007-08. According to the report, in 2012-13 almost 125,000 college students held Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) funding; the default rate for student loans in the college system in 2012 was 13.4%, compared to 9.8% for all PSE students. Colleges Ontario Report

Carleton offers support for students with invisible disabilities

Carleton University has developed innovative services to improve accessibility for students with “invisible” disabilities such as chronic pain, arthritis, cognitive dysfunction, hearing or vision impairments, and mental health disorders. At Carleton, 8% of students are registered with the Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities (PMC), and 92% of disabilities among students are classified as non-visible. The PMC offers support including counselling, extended time for examinations, and assistive technologies. The school has also implemented the From Intention to Action (FIT:Action) program to help students better manage stress and improve academic performance and support students who may not have documentation for a disability. Students must make a 12-week commitment to the program, regularly meeting with a counsellor. “There are different gradients of service that support different groups of people,” said John Meissner, FIT:Action project leader. “There is a whole lot more to going to university than getting good grades.” Carleton News Release

Student persistence level in US declines

A new study from the US-based National Student Clearinghouse Research Center has found that the overall persistence rate for first-time college students—the percentage of students who return to college for their second year—has declined from 69.9% in 2009 to 68.7% in 2012. Meanwhile, the retention rate—the percentage of students who return to the same institution for their second year—has remained steady at 58.2%. The figures indicate that a growing number of students are leaving PSE altogether. Persistence rates were lowest among traditional-age students. The persistence numbers are disappointing given that the data coincide with a major push on the part of policy makers and college leaders to improve retention rates in the US. Some speculate that economic recovery has contributed to students’ decisions to leave. Inside Higher Ed | Full Report

Startup builds platform for virtual campus tours

Since 2009, technology startup YouVisit has been using 360-degree panoramic photography to give would-be students a look at faraway college campuses. Now the company, founded by 3 former international students, hopes to use the innovative Oculus Rift virtual reality technology to help students tour campuses from a distance, complete with a guide. “We’ve built a platform that enables anyone with an Oculus device to come to our tours and connect to it and view these tours in virtual reality spaces,” said co-founder Taher Baderkhan. So far, college leaders have been impressed by the technology, and some schools have begun develop their own Oculus projects. The technology could be used to help recruit international students as well as those living elsewhere in the country who may lack the means to visit a campus in-person. The Oculus technology is not currently widely available; some expect a commercial version to be released in 2015. EdTech

Students get extra credit for defying gendered body hair expectations

Students hoping for extra credit in Breanne Fahs’ women and gender studies class at Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences have to make an interesting commitment. Since 2010, Fahs has offered extra credit to female student participants who stop shaving their legs and armpits for 10 weeks during the semester, and to male students who shave all of their body hair from the neck down. Students must also keep a journal documenting their experience, reflecting on their own and others' reactions. “There’s no better way to learn about societal norms than to violate them and see how people react. There’s really no reason why the choice to shave, or not, should be a big deal. But it is, as the students tend to find out quickly,” Fahs said. Students have reported finding the experience illuminating, making them more away of gendered socialization in their culture. In 2012, Fahs received an award from the American Psychological Association for her innovative pedagogical technique. ASU News | Inside Higher Ed