Sexual Assault on Campus, Anonymity, and Title IX


January 4, 2017; New York Times and National Public Radio

According to a 2007 study by the National Institute of Justice, one in five female college students (and one in 16 male college students) are sexually assaulted and more than 90 percent do not report the crime. One of the reasons students do not report is fear of retaliation, particularly when the accuser is one of their professors. If the student reports the crime to the college’s Title IX office instead of the criminal justice system, they can remain anonymous—but that can often lead to other problems.

Two University of Kentucky entomology graduate students were separately assaulted by one of their professors. They feared retribution and explored opportunities to report the crime while maintaining their anonymity. One of the students explained their decision:

I just spent a good portion of my life in grad school trying to further my career and if I’m labeled as someone who filed a sexual assault claim against a professor, that could very easily backfire against me. There’s a lot of people in academia who think that there are women who make up stuff like this.

They filed a report in the university’s Title IX office. Title IX is a federal law prohibiting gender discrimination on college and university campuses. Schools failing to follow Title IX risk losing federal funding. Once a report is filed, the office is required to investigate. During the investigation, the accused and accuser remain anonymous. Unfortunately, the investigation and subsequent hearings are fraught with challenges.

One obstacle is that each school’s office has jurisdiction only over its students and personnel. If the accused decides to leave the institution before the hearing is completed, the proceedings end immediately without any reference to the investigation on their record, allowing the accused (assuming he or she were guilty of the offense) to potentially assault additional students at the new school.

Another challenge is how the hearing is decided. Who presides over the hearing varies from school to school and usually doesn’t include officials from the criminal justice system. Title IX mandates the hearing utilize the “preponderance of the evidence” burden of proof. This standard is significantly less than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is required in a criminal trial. Nonprofit Quarterly has reported on the controversy surrounding 2011 U.S. Department of Education “guidance” on college sexual assault that has been opposed by some in academia, including one specific letter issued by 28 Harvard Law School professors criticizing the lack of due process in college sexual assault invstigations. Participating in a hearing is often extremely difficult for a survivor of assault because of the stresses that come with proving the activity occurred. By using the lower standard of proof, the hearing puts a limit on any additional pain, trauma, and expense.

In the case of the two University of Kentucky students, the Title IX office scheduled an official hearing after interviewing dozens of people and collecting evidence. But the hearing never occurred because the professor resigned before it could begin. Frustrated, the women reported the assaults to the university’s student newspaper. The media attention led to many additional stories and FOIA requests for the full Title IX report. The students feared their anonymity would be compromised and joined an action by the university to stop the report release. Judge Thomas Clark of the Fayette County Circuit Court plans to issue a ruling in the next two weeks.

Schools that fail to conduct proper hearings can be subject to government complaints and lawsuits. Currently, over 200 institutions are under federal investigation due to complaints connected to sexual violence investigations and proceedings. A better solution might be a society that better supports survivors of sexual assault.—Gayle Nelson

Update: On Tuesday, 1/24/2017 The Judge ruled in favor of the University to prohibit the release of the report to protect the anonymity of the students. The Newspaper states it will appeal the decision.

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Is the Future of Higher Education a “Multi-Directional Swirl?”


September 22, 2016; Inside Higher Ed

It’s no surprise that as the economy goes through a profound shift, driven partly by new uses of technology, higher education has come to an inflection point. But an article in Inside Higher Ed adds information that reemphasizes that the picture that’s emerging needs to be understood as a whole system and understood in a values framework. This, in other words, is a wicked problem.

The article points out that 35 percent of first-time college students were part of what a new report refers to as the “multidirectional transfer swirl,” transferring from one institution to another throughout their college careers. As the number of students who fail to graduate and become unable to pay back their college loans continues to grow, perhaps it is time to explore whether college is the best investment for all.

Last week, the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, a program of the American Academy of Arts and Science, released a report titled, “A Primer on the College Student Journey.” The study, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York at a cost of $2.2 million, began with the author’s list of “Top Ten Takeaways” on the undergraduate experience. These included the continued troubling effect of a person’s race and class on their chances of graduating from college and the escalation in the number of students who enroll in remedial courses during their college experience.

In the report, the Commission explored the increased number of students attending college. Overall, 68 percent of millennial students enrolled in college months after graduation from high school and almost ninety percent began their college experience within eight years from graduation. While more are attending, a much smaller number are graduating. Only 40 percent of students entering a four-year institution actually graduated within four years. The figure only improved to 60 percent if the amount of time in school increased to six years. Of the students graduating, less than half (48 percent) attain their bachelor’s degree. Of the remaining graduating students, 26 percent earned their associates degree and 25 percent earned certificates.

The growth in both time attending and tuition has no doubt increased the amount of debt students carry upon graduation. While two-thirds of full-time students pay less than the full cost of tuition, the percentage of students with federal loans increased from around 50 percent to 60 percent between 2000 and 2012. The median loan balance of college graduates increased by almost 25 percent in that same period.

While students are graduating with higher amounts of debt, they are not the students with the greatest chance of defaulting on their loan obligations. Instead, students who fail to graduate and take on smaller amounts of debt are more likely to default. One-fifth of adults over 25 have attended college but did not attain a degree. Twenty-four percent of these students will eventually default on their loans.

Although 18- to 21-year-old dependent students working toward their bachelor’s degree are the stereotype, in 2013, almost a third of enrolled college students, or 5.5 million, were over the age of 25. (By 2014, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, that number had risen to 41 percent, or 8.2 million.) Fifty-five percent of these students were enrolled part-time. Overall, 37 percent of all students study part-time.

As the amount of state funding of public colleges and universities continues to decrease, it is not surprising schools continue to look toward foreign students, who typically pay the full tuition price tag, to balance their budgets. The number of foreign students in U.S. colleges and universities has increased 67 percent since 2000. University of Michigan researchers found a ten percent decrease in state funding corresponded with a 12 percent increase in foreign student enrollment in public universities. China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea sent the most foreign students to American universities.

The Commission expects the number of students graduating high school and attending college to remain flat at 3.3 million per year over the next decade to remain flat at 3.3 million over the next decade. Next summer, it plans on releasing a supplementary report exploring the future state of higher education.—Gayle Nelson

A Degree, A Job…or a Refund?


August 24, 2016; Time, “Money”

As the school year begins and more than two million new students launch their college educations, a few question whether the time, effort, and expense will pay off. How should graduates and their families measure the value of their undergraduate education? What if, instead, there was a guarantee that they would complete their education in four years, or attain employment in their chosen field after graduation?

Many students and their families spend more money on annual college tuition than others make in a year. The average college tuition and fees for the 2015-6 school year was $32,405 at private colleges, $9,410 for state residents at public colleges, and $23,893 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. As tuition continues to rise, so doesaverage student debt, reaching $26,600 for students earning only their bachelor’s degree. Overall, students across the country hold $1.2 trillion in college loans, and 17 percent of them are behind in their payments. The NPQ nonprofit newswire reported recently on the student loan debt issue, noting that debt for recent graduates is often highest at institutions with relatively modest tuition costs.

At many schools, students struggle to enroll in the classes required for graduation, leading to only 19 percent graduating from public, four-year universities on time. Students who complete their degree in four years naturally borrow less than those graduating in five years or more. Additionally, students who obtain meaningful employment are less likely to fall behind than those who do not.

Whether and where to receive a college education is a complex, costly, and risky decision, similar to the decision to purchase an expensive product or service. Consumers are often protected by “lemon laws” if a product does not live up to expectations, but students who seek college degrees must pay back their loans whether they graduate or not. What if students had guaranteed access to these courses? What if employment in a student’s chosen field was guaranteed upon graduation?

A growing number of public, nonprofit, and for-profit colleges are offering students on-time graduation guarantees. For example, four years ago, the State University of New York at Buffalo developed “Finish in 4.” Incoming freshmen sign a pledge to complete a full load of classes each semester, meet with an advisor annually, and declare a major by their junior year. If they live up to their commitments but still fail to complete their studies within four years, tuition after the fourth year is free until they graduate.

Other colleges are offering employment guarantees for graduating students. Adrian College, a Methodist-related private college in Michigan, created AdrianPlus, a guarantee that students will earn an annual income of a minimum of $37,000 after graduation. If students do not attain such employment, the college will reimburse all or part of students’ loan payments.

Udacity, a for-profit online “nanodegree” program in computer coding, offers a slightly different approach. The school guarantees students employment within six months of graduation or a complete refund of their tuition. Davenport University, another private nonprofit institution in Michigan, offers a similar guarantee of full-time employment in a student’s chosen field. Students unable to attain employment receive three semesters of additional coursework to supplement their degrees at no additional tuition charge.

In the past, colleges and universities have fought the connection between degrees and employment, saying they were not trade schools. It is exciting to see that fallacy begin to dissipate.—Gayle Nelson


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Public Research Universities’ Shifting Funding Models


April 7, 2016; Siebel Scholars and American Academy of Arts & Sciences

During the Great Recession, state funding of nonprofit organizations, including colleges and universities, dropped precipitously. As the recession fades into memory, some states are slowly increasing their funding for higher education, but many cannot. Economic need is spurring the majority of public university leaders to advocate for additional government funding, be more efficient, and create new funding opportunities to close the gap.

Today, public research universities across the country educate 3.8 million students annually. As public institutions, they depend on government funding, particularly from states, to maintain the essential services students and communities depend on. But, state appropriations have dropped thirty-four percent in the last decade. Colleges and universities also continue to receive other public funding, including $3.5 trillion from the federal government in fiscal year 2013. Unlike the $65 billion from state appropriations, the majority of federal funding is project-based instead of general operating. A strong source of general operating funds is essential for a nimble, healthy nonprofit organization.

A college or university may be categorized as a nonprofit organization, similar to a homeless shelter or workforce training program, but tuition provides a strong revenue stream most other nonprofits can only dream of. Additionally, unlike state government agencies, public colleges and universities also have some flexibility administering the programs and services offered as well as in setting their employee salaries.

Beginning in January 2013, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences authored five reports documenting the dramatic shift in funding and advocating for state reinvestment. It released its final report last week, Public Research Universities Recommitting to Lincoln’s Vision: An Educational Compact for the 21st Century. (The title refers to President Lincoln’s creation of the public university system under the Morrill Act of 1862.) The report builds on the previous publications and presents recommendations to colleges, government leaders, and the communities that depend on these higher education institutions.

The ACAD frankly outlines two crucial recommendations to their institution members to maintain—and, in some cases, restore—public trust. The first, strengthening the institution’s governing board, has been identified by many, including the Nonprofit Quarterly, as necessary for many large nonprofits. The ACAD’s report quotes the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges:

While boards are not the source of the governance challenges facing higher education, changes to boards and their structure can lead to improved leadership across higher education—in setting goals, in using data to evaluate performance, and in making strategic investments in ways that create value.

Secondly, the report highlights the demand on public research universities to be more efficient with their resources rather than continuing to increase tuition and other fees. In the past, colleges and universities raised tuition and fees to make up for the decrease in government funding and increase in other program expenses. Now, as student debt rises to record levels, the public backlash from these increases has reached a critical juncture. Eighty-three percent of all first-year students receive some form of financial aid, and 71 percent receive federal, state, local, or institutional grant aid. Even with all of these scholarships and aid programs, in 2012-2013, 54 percent of undergraduate students graduated with student loan debt and 19 percent had student loan debt over $25,000. Continuing to raise tuition will lead to a lack of diversity and a further decrease in public trust.

Connected to the growing use of public aid, the ACAD recognized the need to make applying for financial aid easier for students and their families. Every year, sixteen million students apply for financial aid through the U.S. Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program, including Pell Grants, Work Study, and other essential federal aid opportunities. Currently, the application consists of 108 questions and 88 pages of instructions. Clearly, simplifying this process will open college up to more low income and first-generation college students. (44,45)

ACAD makes a strong plea to state governments to reinstate funding for their college and university systems that was reduced before and during the recent recession. Although higher education remains the third-largest state priority, funding has declined an average of 34 percent nationwide over the last fifteen years. In that same period, state funding of Medicaid has increased from 9.5 percent to 19.1 percent of state budgets, overtaking and sucking away higher education’s allocation.


Since the higher levels of state public funding revenue are a distant memory, colleges and universities are developing new funding opportunities and efficiencies through collaborations with other nearby schools and public-private partnerships. These efforts begin with making it easier for students to transfer between state institutions. Other developments include programs that stretch resources of multiple universities to create exciting new programs and opportunities for students to learn together, connect with professors and mentors at multiple schools, and expand research efforts. For example, three colleges (the College of Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the Wake Forest School of Medicine, and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine) established a joint graduate program in the Virginia Tech–Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, offering students access to all three campuses.

Public research universities are also creating new partnerships with corporations and other private organizations. These collaborations lead to expanded research activities, new courses and department chairs, internships, and scholarships. Additionally, colleges are also stepping up their own development activities. Of the seventy-seven institutions responding to the Lincoln Project’s survey, ninety percent recently completed or are in the midst of a capital campaign for one or more institutional purposes.

Finally, colleges are increasing the revenue they produce from related student expenses, including food, dormitories, and healthcare. Dorms are becoming more luxurious; food is more expensive; fees are growing, and health services fees in particular are on the rise. Overall, student fees and tuition make up more than half of a public university’s core educational support. And like tuition, schools are quickly realizing these extra fees decrease diversity, increase student debt, and lead to public backlash.

Public research colleges and universities are better equipped than many nonprofits to handle the shift in states’ funding priorities due to their access to alumni and other stakeholders with resources to support fund development efforts. This capacity, however, does not excuse states from providing enthusiastic support and increasing funding to assure the sustainability and growth of public universities for at least the next 150 years.—Gayle Nelson

Sesame Street Explores New Frontiers in Education



February 1, 2016; Fast Company

In the 1960s, creating educational programming for children on television was innovative. Today there are more channels than ever before, and more children first meet Big Bird and other Sesame Street friends on phones and tablets. At the same time, children’s educational needs continue to grow, from obesity to autism, and parent deployment to bullying. Leaders at Sesame Workshop, the parent of Sesame Street, are exploring creative methods of reaching out, educating, and helping children thrive.

Although its programming began on television, Sesame Workshop quickly realized the medium was just the beginning. Sesame Workshop developed websites, cable shows and networks, and 16 million “outreach kits” and events that reach hundreds of thousands of children and their parents through partnerships with over 3000 organizations. With a budget of $104 million, though, more work is needed to fulfill its mission of helping kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.

Sesame Workshop recently announced the creation of Sesame Ventures, a partnership with a venture capital firm called Collaborative Ventures, and the subsequent creation of a new fund, Collab + Sesame. The $10 million fund will invest in startups developed by corporations and other for-profit organizations in six broad areas: entertainment and media, food, health and wellness, family development, education tools, and social and emotional development.

We are in the midst of an extraordinary time in the history of how digital technology can change the education, health and welfare of kids around the world,” Jeffrey D. Dunn, Sesame Workshop’s CEO, said in a statement. “History suggests that much of that change will spring from new companies. By partnering with some of these startups, Sesame Workshop can help grow the next wave of kid-focused innovation and improve the lives of children everywhere.”

The Workshop’s funds for its half of this new venture stem from the sale of its stakes in Noggin and Sprout. Both projects were innovative activities of their times: Noggin, the first all-educational cable channel for children, was launched in 1999 in partnership with Nickelodeon, while Sprout, a cable network targeting preschoolers, was developed in 2005 in partnership with PBS, HIT Television Ventures, and NBC Universal.

Projects funded through Collab + Sesame will be offered technical assistance and the opportunity to make use of Sesame Street characters and branding, as well as $1 million each. Although few would give up these perks, Sesame Workshop CEO Dunn places no preconditions that might make one suspect that the group is simply trying to extend their brand on the use of the funds.

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America’s Overtested Students: Government Finally Pays a Little Attention


October 25, 2015; New York Times

In a rare display of bipartisan agreement, the president and congressional leaders finally have come to believe that elementary school students spend too much preparing for and filing out standardized tests. The public got there years ago, of course. According to a Phi Delta Kappa International/Gallup poll released this past summer of about 4,500 adults, 64 percent believe there is “too much emphasis on standardized testing” while only 19 percent said there is “about the right amount.” A report by the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) found that eighth-grade students spent an average of 2.3 percent of their total classroom time, or 25 hours, taking 112 different standardized tests. Moreover, this figure does not include the time spent administering and preparing to take these tests.

On Saturday, October 24th, President Obama released a ten-page proposalacknowledging the administration’s role in the current over-testing quagmire and calling for schools to limit the amount of time students spend taking standardized tests. The message appearing on Facebook called for capping the time students spend taking standardized tests to two percent of classroom time. It also called for new flexibility in the use of standardized tests to evaluate teacher performance, a requirement that has historically led to anger and frustration by teachers and their unions. Additionally, President Obama promised resources and technical support to school districts and states that explore other assessment tools and more traditional indicators to assess teacher and school performance.

Currently, the nation’s schools are fixated on using standardized tests in an attempt to measure what and how much students are learning. Among other findings from CGCS, the average student takes an average of 112.3 tests between pre-K and 12th grade, taking up more than 250 hours of school time. And since governments, district administrators, and parents place such high emphasis on the test results, students spend many, many additional hours preparing and learning how to take the tests.

School administrators across the country struggle to choose which and how many standardized tests they should administer. In the 2014-5 academic year, students in the 66 largest school districts in the country took 401 “unique” tests. Many of them are “not well aligned” with each other, do not align with college or career-ready standards, and rarely assess students’ understanding of specific content. Additionally, the majority of tests are unable to provide timely recommendations, since teachers can wait as long as four months for results—for example, reporting spring assessment results the following fall. Finally, CGCS found “no correlation” between the amount of mandated testing time and the reading and math scores fourth and eighth graders received on federally required National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

The origins of the nation’s testing frenzy date to 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA lead to a new focus by the federal government on the equality and quality of elementary schools across the country. Although the law was meant to be updated every few years, it did not receive a full overhaul until 2001, when President George W. Bush recreated it into No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Under NCLB, the federal government served as watchdog over the nation’s schools, adding resources and the requirement of testing and accountability. Schools whose students failed to successfully achieve, as measured by standardized test scores, would be “fixed” or closed.

No Child Left Behind was set to expire in 2007, but without new legislation, the federal requirements included in it remain in effect. Currently, Congressional leaders agree Bush’s “tough guy” approach to fix poor functioning schools was not successful, but what the next steps should be remains unclear. Separate models passed the Senate and House, and efforts are underway to develop a comprehensive version that can pass both chambers.

President Obama is not calling for the alteration or elimination of the federal requirement to test students in third through eighth grades annually (and again between the 10th and 12th grades). Additionally, Obama’s call to limit the amount of time students spend being tested will not help school administrators decipher which ones to continue using.

NPQ would love to hear from organizers working in the field of education regarding their approaches to the limiting of overtesting and their positions on that issue.

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When A Public School Closes



July 28, 2015; National Public Radio, “nprED”

In large cities across the country, public schools districts are consolidating schools. Sadly, once the schools close, many of the buildings remain vacant, breeding crime and hemorrhaging resources.

Over the last decade, many major cities from Chicago to Tulsa lost large numbers of families with school-aged children. As these families moved to the suburbs, the infrastructure that supported them also emptied, particularly the schools. Many city districts consolidated and closed schools. In the 2010 school year alone, two percent of all public schools in the U.S. were closed. As schools close, one question rarely considered is what happens to the abandoned buildings afterward.

Over the last 43 years, the number of students in the St. Louis, Missouri school districtfell almost 80 percent from 115,543 to 24,000. This drastic drop led to the closing of 43 out of the 111 schools in the city, most in the last ten years. Virginia Savage understands this trend too well. Her area is filled with vacant buildings, including the school she went to as a girl, Marshall Elementary. It was shuttered in 2004. Over a decade later, the building remains abandoned and little is done to protect it from the drug dealers and users who have replaced the students.

Virginia knows that a closed school does not automatically turn into an eyesore. She volunteers in a church that is located in a closed school. The school district sees the potential of these once-stately schools as well. They contracted with architects, real estate developers, and others to explore the opportunities.

Repurposing these abandoned school buildings often has a domino effect on the entire community, according to Jessica Eiland, president of Northside Community Housing, Inc. in St. Louis. The organization creates affordable housing in the city. Its first housing project was the renovation of an old school into twenty affordable apartment units for seniors.

What Virginia’s community is experiencing is going on across the country. In December of 2012, Philadelphia announced what was then the largest single-year closing of public schools in the nation. A total of 37 schools, or fifteen percent, were closed. Chicago followed less than a year later with the decision to close 50 schools.

In 2013, the Pew Trust completed a study documenting the consolidation, abandonment, and repurposing of public schools in twelve cities: In addition to Chicago and Philadelphia, the study comprised Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City (MO), Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tulsa, and Washington (DC). Throughout the twelve districts, 301 former schools remain vacant and 267 were sold, leased, or repurposed. The typical school for sale is located in a residential area and is over 60 years old and larger than 50,000 square feet. Those sold were purchased for a price between $200,000 and $1 million, often well below initial projections. In some cities, public school buildings for sale compete with shuttered parochial schools. Additionally, Pew noted that the sale of an abandoned school does not always lead to reuse.

The study found that more than 40 percent of the buildings sold, leased, or reused went to charter schools, but this option is controversial. One reason is that as charter schools expand into bigger buildings, they often attract additional public school students, leading to further reductions in the population of the public school district. To prevent this, many districts, including St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, limit, refuse, or are legally unable to sell closed school buildings to charter schools. In Chicago, there’s a shift in this trend as buildings remain vacant. In other school districts, like Tulsa, charter schools and other organizations with a mission of teaching and learning are given first priority.

Refraining from selling these buildings to charter schools does not seem to prevent student flight, either. For example, in St. Louis, public charter schools enrolled 42 percent of all public school students in 2014. In 2006, the district listed the Hodgen school building for $1 million. A charter school offered to buy the building, but the district refused. The charter built a brand new school across the street for $7.5 millionand spent an additional $774,279 to demolish Hodgen and use the land for a parking lot and playground.

The longer a building remains vacant, the harder it is to sell and repurpose. Additionally, school districts often choose to close schools because the buildings themselves are in poor condition. Tearing one down could cost a district half a million dollars at least.

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