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A Blog from New America's Higher Education Initiative

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Syllabus: Week of March 3, 2013

Published:  March 8, 2013
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If you were awarded a Gates Millenium Scholarship, you won't be able to use it to pay your $2,200 summer fee at Barnard. Photo licensed CC by WalkingGeek.

Welcome to the Syllabus, a weekly guide that provides insight into what’s happening in higher education.


Poor Scholars Hit by Money Squeeze From Wealthy Colleges, Janet Lorin

It’s the classic game of bait and switch: Low-income student gets accepted to a selective, high-tuition/high-aid college, only to have institutional aid taken away once awarded an outside scholarship. This practice, known as displacement, reduces the grant aid awarded to students who win outside scholarships, giving aid to other students. Furthermore, many students find they can’t apply their scholarship funds to summer savings requirements. At Barnard, for example, students must save about $2,200 over the summer to help cover costs of their education that cannot be covered by scholarships. The National Scholarship Providers Association, a group whose 320 members include the Gates, Coca-Cola Scholars, and Michael & Susan Dell Foundations, argues that if a college rescinds funding because of outside scholarships, it “takes away a reward that the student earned through hard work and concentrated effort.”

Rise of Customized Learning, Paul Fain
Inside Higher Ed

Several higher education institutions are continuing to expand their competency-based efforts to give adults a flexible path to a degree. Western Governors University is launching two new state-based versions of its popular program in Missouri and Tennessee. Southern New Hampshire University recently started a new, self-paced program, College for America, which offers credit based on assessed learning. And Bellevue University in Nebraska now offers an online bachelor’s degree in business administration where students determine their own pace and work with advisers who monitor and grade their work as they progress through material. According to Bellevue’s President Mary Hawkins, “We’re trying to address the mastery of learning rather than just seat time.” 


College Diversity Issues Continue After Admissions
NPR: Tell Me More

In light of racially charged incidents at Oberlin College in Ohio, host Michel Martin interviewed the dean and chief diversity officer at Middlebury College and her former student about initiatives to make liberal arts colleges more inclusive for people of color. According to Martin:

Oberlin has a strong tradition of embracing diversity. It was one of the first colleges or universities in this country to admit African American students. Now the many small liberal arts colleges are making a point to try and diversify their student and faculty ranks, but even apart from publicized incidents like the one at Oberlin, asking minorities even to consider studying or teaching at rural—and let’s face it—not very diverse colleges can be challenging.


Fixing Financial Aid, Kevin Carey
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Since federal aid (i.e., Pell Grants, loans) follows students, the federal aid system is ripe for exploitation. The first exploiters are state governments who chip away at higher education budgets during times of economic recession—disinvesting from their own systems of public higher education. The second exploiters are large for-profit higher-education corporations, many of which treat federal student aid like a “piggy bank.” The third exploiters are traditional colleges who use the revenues to participate in the higher education arms race. According to New America’s Kevin Carey, “All three forms of exploitation of the current financial-aid system have the same root cause: a weak, opaque system of quality control.”

While Carey recommends making the existing aid system simpler and more effective for students, real change will have to come with how quality is defined. President Obama’s recent proposal for alternative accreditation for higher education models that are not colleges can help change the system. “A higher-education market in which colleges and noncolleges compete on a level financial playing field,” writes Carey, “Would behave very differently from the traditional higher-education ecosystem we know today.”

Higher Ed Watch readers, do you agree? What do you think the effect of alternative accreditation would be on traditional higher education? Feel free to comment below.


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