SATs and Shutdowns: The Higher Ed Week in Review

SATs and Shutdowns: The Higher Ed Week in Review

Many of the current debates over higher education revolve around the same basic questions: What should a university be? What should it teach? How should it teach it? How should it deal with ever-changing demographic demands? Or with new technologies and ways of teaching? And what is a state university’s duty to the state?

We start this week’s roundup with a quote from eminent writer Jon Meacham, who penned the cover story for the October 7 issue of TIME.

The prevailing contemporary vision, even in the liberal arts, emphasizes action: active thought, active expression, active preparation for lifelong learning. Engaging with a text or question, marshaling data and arguments and expressing oneself takes precedence over the acquisition of general knowledge.

Just some food for thought for all you hungry Longhorns out there. With that as our lens, let’s jump into this week’s higher education stories.

The Texas Tribune‘s Reeve Hamilton followed up on the phone call between embattled regent Wallace Hall, Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s agent, and former UT System regent Tom Hicks, the brother of current regent Steve Hicks. This week, the UT System acknowledged that UT-Austin administrators should have been notified of the meeting, which occurred after Hall was contacted by a mystery source.

NCAA rules and the UT System’s own rules for regents both clearly indicate that decisions about athletics personnel rest with the president of an institution. …

“In retrospect, administration at UT-Austin should have been notified,” Dan Sharphorn, vice chancellor and general counsel for the system, and Francie Frederick, general counsel to the board of regents, said in a statement provided to the Tribune. “However, the conversation was very preliminary and short lived.”

KUT’s Jody Serrano reported this week that the Texas House transparency committee investigating Hall will not entertain the idea that the call with Saban’s agent should be part of the committee’s investigation. The select group was charged by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) to determine whether Hall overstepped his bounds as a member of the UT System governing board.

Also this week, the results of the latest SATs were announced, and the news isn’t good. The role of colleges looks even more complicated in light of the fact the fewer than half the high school students who take the SAT are prepared for college. From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Only 43 percent of the test takers this year met or exceeded the benchmark score of 1550 out of a possible 2400, the same proportion as last year.

Those who reach that number, according to the College Board, have a greater chance of attaining a B-minus average or higher during their first year of college and persisting to graduation. The mean score for 2013 was 1498.

While it seems that some high schoolers are having trouble “engaging with a text or question, marshaling data and arguments and expressing oneself,” as Meacham says, our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. seem to be having no problems whatsoever with expressing themselves. They’re so good at marshaling arguments, in fact, they’ve talked themselves into a stalemate over a spending bill that must be passed in some form before Monday. If not, non-essential federal government services will shutdown. How will that affect colleges and universities? The Alcalde investigated:

If it happens, it won’t be that bad immediately for higher education. “No one knows for certain,” says Bill Shute, the UT System’s vice chancellor for federal relations, “but the impact should be minimal.” He says the shutdown could still be avoided, and notes that while functions at the federal level may slow, higher education as we know it will not grind to a halt.

New applications for research funding and financial aid may stall during the shutdown, but existing funding schemes will continue to flow. Research funding, for example, is usually funded a year in advance. So, while the shutdown will mean certain federal employees will be placed on leave, and headaches will certainly ensue, the sum of the damages is likely to be low.

If you just cannot live without even more higher education news this weekend, follow our coverage of the Texas Tribune Festival, live from the UT campus, in Promote & Protect and on Twitter.

BONUS LINK: Longhorns—or Ocelots, or Broncs—in space?

Photo courtesy Yuri Levchenko via Flickr Creative Commons.


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