$ The Kansas Legislature passed House Bill 2544 that allows Kansas to participate in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) administered by the Midwest Higher Education Compact. In simple terms, online courses or programs that meet their minimal standards will automatically be recognized in Kansas. On one hand, it gives an easy and automatic stamp of approval for out-of-state programs while new genuine programs proposed by Kansas schools have to go through far more scrutiny. On the other hand, out-of-state programs have been approved at Kansas Board of Regents meetings by the shovelful anyway under the assumption that if they were approved elsewhere, Kansas had to accept them too. (If that really was the case, SARA would never have been needed.) This action opens the floodgate to online operations, with the exception of teacher-training programs that must still meet Kansas Department of Education Standards.
$ A gang-rape story published in Rolling Stone magazine sparked nationwide concern and occupied the agendas of state higher education councils across the nation and administrations at every university in Kansas. Although the magazine later found reason to question some details of its original story, it drew attention to assault on campuses and forced concern for changing the climate on campuses. An equally important issue was whether this was just the jurisdiction of law enforcement, or if university in-house procedures and penalties provided fairness and due process.
$ In the 2013-2014 school year, over 886,000 foreign students studied at United States colleges and universities, according to the annual “Open Doors” report from the Institute of International Education. One-third hold a Chinese passport and Chinese students accounted for 60 percent of the 8 percent growth in foreign students. Foreign students not only paid out-of-state tuition, thus subsidizing regular students, but also made up the majority of our engineering and physics graduates. Loss of these students would be the equivalent of losing the total community college, private college and public university enrolment of four states the size of Kansas!
$ In October, an academic fraud scandal was exposed at the University of North Carolina. For 18 years, student athletes were able to take fake classes that helped them remain in school and eligible to play sports. According to the former federal prosecutor who investigated the case, these “courses” ran from 1993 to 2011 and had no class attendance or faculty involved in their delivery or testing. Throughout this time, UNC remained fully accredited.
$ Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa is retiring from the U.S. Senate, having served since 1985. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Harkin fought tirelessly against scam online “universities” that preyed upon military returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, sometimes basing over 90 percent of their total operating budget on the new “GI Bill”—an action that violates federal regulations. Harkin often stood alone without support from Republicans with blind belief in free-market-is-always-good and fellow Democrats who blindly accept the claims of online education. Predatory online “schools” are glad to see him retire but there is no one in the wings likely to assume his watchdog duties.
$ The U.S. Department of Education released President Obama’s College Rating Plan for evaluating higher education institutions based on retention and graduation rates and subsequent rates of employment. The plan will: 1) tie financial aid to college performance, starting with publishing new college ratings before the 2015 school year, 2) coerce states to fund public colleges based on performance, and 3) hold students and colleges receiving student aid responsible for making progress toward a degree. The overall effect will be to inflate grades and deflate the value of public university degrees. Historically black colleges and other schools that take higher risk students, as well as universities that attempt to maintain academic standards, will either have to join in the lowering of standards or suffer a decline in federal support.