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President to President

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President to President
Molly Corbett Broad's weekly email newsletter to higher education leaders.

President to President: Congress Returns, ACE Looks at Academic Potential of MOOCs

Vol. 13, No. 32

  • Congress Returns for Lame-Duck Session; Fiscal Cliff Dominates Agenda
  • ACE to Investigate the Academic Potential of MOOCs
  • ACE and National Student Clearinghouse Examine Graduation Rates
  • ACE Files Supreme Court Brief in Job Bias Suit
  • IN BRIEF: ACE Issues Report on Leadership in Times of Crisis; Register Now for ACE's 95th Annual Meeting

The 112th Congress returned this week for its lame-duck session, which is going to be dominated by one issue: forestalling the so-called "fiscal cliff," the combination of budget cuts (known as sequestration) and tax increases currently scheduled to take effect Jan. 2.

The past few days have seen President Obama and House and Senate leaders staking out their positions. The president so far is sticking to his promise to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for high earners, which would increase tax rates for individuals with incomes above $250,000. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), meanwhile, is insisting revenue be raised in other ways and that domestic spending cuts and entitlement reform be on the table.

At a press conference Wednesday, the president said he was willing to look at cuts to discretionary spending—which includes education—but also cited higher education and research as key areas for federal investment. Negotiations will likely intensify after congressional leaders meet with the president today, though the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday makes it unlikely any significant deal will be reached before December.

The fiscal cliff would be devastating for students and institutions. Although Pell Grant funding is exempt, sequestration would cut 8.2 percent from almost all other student aid and research funding. (Click here for more details.) The effects would be exacerbated by the range of tax cuts set to expire on Dec. 31, which includes the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the expanded student loan interest deduction, expanded Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, employer-provided educational assistance (Sec. 127) benefits and the R&D tax credit.

For those interested in a reminder of how we got here, The New York Times Economix blog has an excellent primer. Also see Education Secretary Arne Duncan's testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee for more on the effects of sequestration on education funding.

I was very pleased this week to announce that ACE will be spearheading a wide-ranging research and evaluation effort that will examine the academic potential of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

The agenda for this initiative includes the creation of a Presidential Innovation Lab that will bring together presidents and chancellors to discuss the disruptive potential of MOOCs—we are very eager to have your input as this particular project moves along. In addition, we will undertake a robust research effort and evaluate select Coursera courses for college credit through the ACE College Credit Recommendation Service.

This is an intriguing new area for higher education, and I strongly believe it holds much promise for engaging students who might not otherwise have full access to a college education and also for helping campuses broaden their reach. But as with any new approach, there are many questions about long-term potential, and ACE is eager to help answer them. My thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its support.

I wanted to alert you to two new reports on postsecondary graduation rates released by ACE and the National Student Clearinghouse, both of which found that substantially more students have completed or are still pursuing their education than is indicated by the federal method of reporting graduation rates.

ACE's Incomplete Completers: Analysis of a Comprehensive Graduation Rate compares traditional federal graduation rates taken from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which are limited to first-time, full-time students who enter in the fall of a given year, to persistence and attainment rates from the Clearinghouse, which include transfer and part-time students. The Clearinghouse released its own analysis yesterday.

While this new research should not be taken as all-inclusive, using a more comprehensive data set will help us determine where to focus our efforts to increase attainment in the long term.

ACE and a coalition of higher education groups have submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of Ball State University (IN) in a case that could decide who can be considered a "job supervisor" in a federal workplace discrimination lawsuit.

The case on appeal was filed by a Ball State employee, whose discrimination claim against the university was dismissed after a federal appeals court said her alleged harasser did not qualify as a supervisor. ACE's brief argues that the case was properly decided by both the federal district court and the appeals court, and that the federal agency-based test for the definition of supervisor for Title VII purposes is the most appropriate one in a higher education setting.

The Supreme Court will hear the case on Nov. 26.

IN BRIEF

I am pleased to draw your attention to a new essay, Leadership in Times of Crisis: "Cool Head, Warm Heart," which stems from an ACE Presidential Roundtable convened in June. The session featured 16 presidents, along with media experts and attorneys, discussing how to approach a crisis on campus. The roundtable and resulting publication were generously supported by the TIAA-CREF Institute.

Early bird registration is open for ACE's 95th Annual Meeting, Leading Change, to be held in Washington, DC, March 2-5, 2013. I look forward to seeing many of you in Washington as we discuss a range of timely and provocative issues. One such session for presidents and CAOs is themed "Moving Forward: Rebuilding Structures, Trust, and Reputation After a Campus Crisis." Stay tuned for frequent updates on the meeting website.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE