Poaching, Jocks, Creds and Other News from the NEJHE Beat

By John O. Harney

Poaching. Florida Gov. Rick Scott invited Yale University to bring its $25 billion endowment to his state after Connecticut legislators proposed taxing Yale to address the state’s budget shortfall. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (who incidentally was just named winner of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his decision to publicly welcome a Syrian refugee family to Connecticut) rejected the tax Yale proposal. As a Malloy spokesman explained: “We don’t believe that new taxes should be part of our solution as Connecticut adjusts to a new economic reality. Instead, we should make the spending reductions necessary for living within our means.” The impoverished neighbors outside rich university gates and underpaid staff inside the gates might disagree, but well-endowed universities argue that if they draw on the endowments to cover operating expenses, never mind pay taxes, they’d hardly be able to pay for the perpetual upkeep of their great old buildings, rare books and other capital. Jorge Klor de Alva, the president of Nexus Research and Policy Center and former president of the University of Phoenix, weighed in on the endowment tax issue, noting that “Many of the richest universities in the country, sitting on billions of dollars in tax-exempt endowments, receive through the tax laws government subsidies that greatly eclipse the appropriations received by public colleges.” He suggested that the tax-exempt status generates over $69,000 per student each year in taxpayer subsidies at Yale, compared with $23,300 per student at the University of Connecticut and $6,200 per student at Tunxis Community College. Meanwhile, a columnist named Ira Stoll, editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com, also coaxed Yale, with tongue partly in cheek, to follow GE to Boston, which recently moved its headquarters from Fairfield, Conn. to the Boston waterfront. Interestingly, a new proposal in Connecticut would turn the old GE headquarters in Fairfield into a high-tech hub.

Jocks. Speaking of Connecticut, just as the UConn women’s basketball team was preparing for its fourth straight title match, an article in Aeon argued that football should be offered as a college major, since college football players spend more than 40 hours a week on the field, in the weight room and so on. David V. Johnson, opinion editor at Al Jazeera America, argues in the piece that majors in art practice, dance and performance studies and theater combine educational requirements of practice and theory, but focus on practice, so provide good models for a sports major. The football major, for example, would consist of the practicum, the many hours of physical training, practice, film study and meetings. Courses would also be required in the history, science, criticism and business of the discipline, as well as in the related fields of physiology, nutrition, journalism and sports management. Indeed, all of these fields of study already exist. A graduate of the football major could claim some expertise in the field, and be someone with the potential for significant impact, as an athlete, coach, trainer, agent, commentator, consultant, or team member in a complex organization.” Meanwhile, our friends at New England’s biggest newspaper flashed a front-page feature recently about Boston College lamenting that “the sorry state of the school’s showcase sports has depleted morale, sapped attendance, diminished BC’s national athletic stature, and prompted calls for action.” The story slammed BC president, the Rev. William P. Leahy. “Leahy is seen by many alumni as less exuberant about building elite sports programs than advancing the school’s academic excellence.” Wait, isn’t that a good thing?

Stinkin’ Badges and Other Credentials. NEBHE is exploring how a range of new “credentials” from all manner of purveyors of “badges” as well as employers and the military promise implications for traditional higher education institutions and the region’s knowledge-based economy. Most recently, higher ed leaders are pondering how “micro-credentials” can offer “bite-sized,” low-cost learning opportunities to students, including working adults who don’t need an entire degree program to learn different skills and change jobs, but do need a flexible way to earn credentials recognized by employers. Recently, the University of Massachusetts Medical School unveiled a collaboration with six Massachusetts community colleges and the state Department of Higher Education to offer a uniform curriculum for state schools that will create “stackables.” To be sure, we’ve been broaching these “new models” for some time. The new curriculum could help address the language barriers that divide patients and healthcare professionals. And stackables mean credit-bearing courses that may start with certificates for basic assistance could lead to additional career options, such as nursing or becoming doctors.

Second Childhood. There’s not much news in college presidents writing books. But frequent NEJHE contributor and former president of Southern Vermont College Karen Gross has written a children’s book. From the plug: “Lady Lucy’s Quest is the story of a feisty young girl who wants to be a Knight in the Middle Ages. She confronts many hurdles but ultimately finds success because she is able to solve problems in unique and unexpected ways. Through her actions and words, she demonstrates the importance of pursuing one’s dreams and the power of the possible for children everywhere.” Karen Gross adds: “And yes, I have an adult book forthcoming from Columbia Teachers College Press.”

ROI. Bentley College is the latest to boast about how many of its graduates have jobs soon after graduation. To judge from my son’s high school class, many of the ones who chose Bentley are testing the ladders in Boston’s Financial District. “But measuring a graduate’s success goes far beyond job placement. Whether they are engaged and thriving in their work and personal life post-graduation is another key metric that is now being measured by Gallup,” notes Bentley in its news release. Among the Class of 2015, Bentley contends its graduates outperform the Gallup-Purdue national average across the board, in social well-being, community well-being and physical well-being.

John O. Harney is executive editor of The New England Journal of Higher Education. (Some readers have encouraged me to offer thoughts akin to my former Editor’s Memo columns; this and the recent Spring Training: Some Catches from the NEJHE Beat are gestures in that direction.)

Painting of “Still Life with Wong’s Pot and Dead Flowers” by Montserrat College professor Timothy Harney.



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