Elmhurst College administration hears from clergy, adjunct faculty on union organizing issue

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ELMHURST – A delegation of United Church of Christ clergy delivered a letter Dec. 5 to Elmhurst College President Troy VanAken’s office.

The letter had been signed by 104 pastors from around the United States who support non-tenured faculty’s ability to organize a union, which event organizers say the administration has been fighting, despite its connection with the United Church of Christ.

In the letter, clergy members expressed their "deep disappointment that Elmhurst College is seeking to use its affiliation with the Church to claim exemption from the oversight of the National Labor Relations Board in the efforts of its adjunct faculty to organize" and asked the administration to "find in the Church a partner for sharing in the struggle for justice and peace."

"We work continually with all of our employees to maintain a strong working environment for them so that we can offer the best learning environment for our students," college spokeswoman Desiree Chen said in a statement Dec. 6.

Twelve people had gathered at 2 p.m. Dec. 5 at the campus’s Frick Center in support of non-tenured faculty, including Elmhurst College alumna Shelly Ruzicka, communications and development director for Arise Chicago, a workers’ rights group.

"It’s pretty disappointing for my alma mater to do things that are not in line with the teachings that I learned here," Ruzicka said in an interview before the event.

She added those teachings included "honoring all humanity," "dignity on the job" and "learning about the world around me."

Matilda Stubbs, an adjunct professor of sociology, and David McCurdy, an adjunct professor of religious studies and United Church of Christ clergyman, discussed their concerns about low pay for adjuncts and lack of office space.

"It’s hypocritical…for the school to claim or use as a shield religious exemption claiming affiliation with a denomination that supports, clearly and for a long time, organizing," said the Rev. John Thomas, board member of Arise Chicago and former president of the United Church of Christ.

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December 14, 2017 at 10:01AM

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Elmhurst College administration hears from clergy, adjunct faculty on union organizing issue

NIU College of Law to lower out-of-state tuition

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DeKALB – Northern Illinois University law students from out-of-state currently pay about double the rate charged to their in-state counterparts.

The jury is in, and that’s about to change.

The university’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a domestic tuition rate structure for the College of Law that will allow all U.S. residents enrolled in the school to pay the same tuition starting in fall 2018.

Mark Cordes, interim dean of the College of Law, said in a news release that he was excited to see the change.

“We have always prided ourselves on offering an excellent legal education at an affordable price," he said. "This change improves our value proposition for students outside of Illinois, and this will allow us to better compete for the strongest students across the country."

In October, the board approved a plan to set out-of-state tuition for nonresidents at the same rate as in-state students starting in the fall 2018 semester. College of Law students, however, were exempt from this proposal.

"Our graduates go on to succeed in all facets of law, from public interest to private practice to corporate law,” Cordes said in the release. “We believe law students across the country will recognize that combination of quality and value, and will be eager join us.”

Tuition and fees for the College of Law will be remaining at $915.81 per credit hour. Tuition is capped at a little less than $11,000 for students taking 12 or more credit hours.

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December 12, 2017 at 02:10PM

NIU College of Law to lower out-of-state tuition

Some ICC part-time instructors no longer eligible to teach

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EAST PEORIA — Almost 20 percent of Illinois Central College’s part-time instructors may not be eligible to teach this semester, possibly jeopardizing the number, variety and size of classes available to students enrolling for courses set to begin Jan. 16.

The prospects of a sudden drop in faculty numbers comes in the midst of ICC’s major new campaign to increase student enrollment in both traditional classes and high school dual-credit courses.

Dozens of faculty members were notified over Thanksgiving break they will no longer be scheduled to teach courses that transfer to four-year colleges. The teachers, some of whom have years of experience at ICC, had until Nov. 30 to show they have a master’s degree in the subject they teach or have graduate-level credits in the subject.

ICC President Sheila Quirk-Bailey said 91 of the college’s 490 adjunct faculty are affected by changes in the college’s accreditation requirements. Additionally, 10 of the college’s 167 full-time faculty will now teach a narrower range of classes.

Quirk-Bailey expects to cover faculty needs for the spring semester by recruiting new part-time instructors, consolidating some classes, offering more on-line options and increasing the course loads of remaining full- and part-time faculty.

Several instructors expressed disappointment about how ICC handled the notifications.

“I think ICC played fast and loose with the rules and it bit us,” said one teacher who asked for anonymity because he’d like to teach at the school again. “I understand it’s not their decision, but they could’ve asked for an extension or given us enough notice to meet the qualifications.”

The community college’s situation goes back to June 2015, when the Higher Learning Commission — the accrediting agency for about 1,000 institutions in a 19-state region — issued revised guidelines of longstanding expectations on faculty qualifications.

The regulations apply only to instructors who teach courses that transfer to four-year institutions. The deadline to comply with the new guidelines was September 2017. However, the fall 2017 semester began in August, before the September deadline went into effect.

ICC also checked into the possibility of getting a two-year extension for part-time instructors to re-qualify, but the option was no longer available.

The growth of dual-credit courses in high schools prompted the HLC to revise policies to alleviate widespread inconsistencies among qualifications of instructors teaching college-transfer courses. For instance, many high school dual-credit teachers have master’s degrees in education rather than the subject they teach.

Ironically, just months after colleges began dealing with the new HLC guidelines, ICC was one of only 44 colleges nationwide selected for a federal pilot program designed to increase student participation in dual-credit classes.

After the HLC clarified guidelines in March 2016, ICC reviewed qualifications of all faculty, including dual-credit teachers at area high schools.

“The college used the broadest interpretation of the standards possible to minimize the impact on our students and faculty,” Quirk-Bailey said in an e-mailed response, adding that ICC was not alone in using a broad interpretation. .

Apparently, the interpretations were too broad. After evaluating how colleges applied the new standards, the HLC clarified all instructors must have a master’s degree or 18 graduate-level credit hours corresponding to the subjects they teach.

The letter to instructors stated “tested experience” could not substitute for credentials.

Professional experience can count for some of the requirements, according to Steve Kauffman, a spokesman for HLC.

The accrediting agency gives schools flexibility in how they apply the guidelines to each faculty member, Kauffman said, because the schools know more about their course content, curriculum and students’ needs.

“However, the institution should be able to provide proof of fair and equal process in evaluating qualifications of faculty,” he said.

The possibility of five-year extensions to meet the deadlines was available for instructors of high school dual-credit courses only, Kauffman said.

Officials at two nearby colleges, Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg and Spoon River College in Canton, said their schools have not been affected by the new guidelines. Spoon River has been following HLC guidelines for faculty credentials since 2002, according to its president, Curt Oldfield.

Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said PPS will be affected slightly. The school district and ICC are collaborating to provide some on-line dual-credit classes.

Kyle Freeman, superintendent of the Washington Community High School district, is still trying to assess the impact for his school.

He has been notified some teachers may not be qualified to continue to teach dual-credit courses at the high school. But so far, only one class has been affected, he said.

ICC has arranged for an instructor from the community college to teach the course, a theater class, at the high school.

Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or padams@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @padamspam.

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December 8, 2017 at 09:11PM

Some ICC part-time instructors no longer eligible to teach

Lake Land in top 10 percent of community colleges

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MATTOON — The Aspen Institute for College Excellence Program recently named Lake Land College as one of the top 150 community colleges in the United States, according to a press release.

This prestigious recognition places Lake Land in the top tier of community colleges demonstrating high achievement and performance in student success and outcomes.

“Assisting students in reaching their goals is the anchor to all that we do at Lake Land College. We continuously evaluate programs and services and develop enhancements to create an excellent learning environment for our students. Receiving this honor from the Aspen Institute for the third time in less than a decade spotlights the outstanding collaboration and commitment our faculty, staff and trustees demonstrate on a daily basis,” Josh Bullock, Lake Land College president, said.

“With a singular focus on student success, the Aspen Prize recognizes institutions with outstanding achievements in four areas: learning; certificate and degree completion; employment and earnings; and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students by assessing performance and improvement in four areas: graduation rates, degrees awarded, student retention rates and equity in student outcomes,” the institute stated in a news release.

The 150 community colleges announced were selected from a national pool of more than 1,000 public two-year colleges using publicly available data on student outcomes.

“Especially in the current social and economic climate, it is exceptionally important that our nation’s community colleges develop the diverse talent needed to fuel democratic engagement, social mobility, and economic opportunity and growth,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program.

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the Siemens Technical Scholars Program, and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges’ understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses. For more information, visit http://ift.tt/2BN0nFt.







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December 8, 2017 at 01:20AM

Lake Land in top 10 percent of community colleges

Tuition tax would hurt grad students

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As expressed in several recent letters to the editor and an excellent article by News-Gazette reporter Julie Wurth, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act passed by the House on Nov. 16 poses a grave threat to higher education in this country generally, and to the Champaign-Urbana economy specifically.

I would like to echo these concerns with my own story:

I’m a graduate student in the physics department at the University of Illinois, making a little more than the university’s reported living wage of $22,314/year for employees in my department. This is enough for me to live in this town, not to worry about where my next meal is coming from, and it is even enough to make modest payments on my student loans from my undergraduate education.

If this bill goes into effect and my tuition waiver ($18,056/year) becomes taxable income, I will no longer be able to attend the UI and live in Champaign-Urbana. I may no longer be able to attend graduate school anywhere, at least in this country.

Of course, the irony is lost on no one that the “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” would in fact raise taxes on our community and cut jobs in Champaign-Urbana.

What seems to be lost on Rep. Rodney Davis however, is that the passing of this bill means the forcing out of this country’s most educated citizens, the forcing out of graduate workers in C-U, and the forcing out of his own constituents.

KAI SHINBROUGH

Urbana

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December 7, 2017 at 10:48AM

Tuition tax would hurt grad students

NIU board re-approves Baker’s $600K severance package

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DeKALB – Northern Illinois University’s Board of Trustees once again voted to approve former President Doug Baker’s $600,000 severance agreement during Thursday’s meeting after a DeKalb County judge declared it null and void last month.

The original contract, which was approved during the board’s June 15 meeting, was declared null and void by Judge Bradley Waller. He agreed with the lawsuit filed by NIU student and DeKalb County Board member Misty Haji-Sheikh, who said the board violated the Open Meetings Act by using vague and ambiguous terms on the meeting agenda that did not fully inform the public that Baker would resign, or his severance agreement would be voted upon.

In regard to the judge’s ruling, Board Chairman Wheeler Coleman said the board still thinks it complied with all elements of the act and is currently weighing its options in response to the ruling.

“We have spent a significant amount of money, time and energy defending the actions of the board, as well as other allegations,” Coleman said.

Baker resigned following the release of a report concluding he had mismanaged the university by offering lucrative consulting jobs to several employees and improperly classifying their positions to skirt state collective bidding requirements.

Haji-Shiekh’s lawyer, Charles Philbrick, spoke during the meeting on behalf of his client, who said she wanted the board to follow the law and listen to all of the people who reached out to her saying that Baker should have to give the money back.

Coleman said he expected more from Philbrick as a lawyer than to make such comments.

“No one up here as board members are not attempting to follow the law, and it’s disappointing to have a man that represents the court and law to make a comment like that,” Coleman said.

Coleman said the agreement states Baker willingly gave up his contractual right to be a tenured faculty member in the College of Business at a salary of more than $200,000 a year. The agreement also eliminated the risk of potential litigation brought by Baker that could have used up critical time and funds, Wheeler added.

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December 7, 2017 at 10:42AM

NIU board re-approves Baker’s $600K severance package

State prepaid tuition program comes to a halt again

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For the second time in seven years, Illinois’ prepaid college tuition program has stopped accepting new participants because it does not have the money to fulfill its projected obligations.

The program, called the College Illinois! Prepaid Tuition Program, allows parents to pay tuition toward a state university in advance as a hedge against rising tuition.

But parents have been shunning the program recently. Only 450 new participants signed up during the most recent fiscal year compared with 4,392 contracts from 2006 to 2007. In total, the program has about 38,000 contracts, a significant decline from about 52,000 in 2012.

The result has been a darkening financial picture.

From 2016 to 2017, the unfunded liabilities for the program grew from about $264 million to roughly $320 million, according to a report filed in June. That meant the program dropped from being nearly 80 percent funded to 74 percent.

During a General Assembly higher education appropriation committee hearing in August, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which oversees College Illinois, put new enrollments on hold for the 2017 to 2018 fiscal year, said Lynne Baker, spokeswoman for the commission, in an email.

It’s unclear when or if the program will open up to new enrollments. Officials from the commission are in talks with lawmakers about ways to close in on the unfunded liability, but Baker declined to detail the options the commission is considering.

The state is under no obligation to pay anything toward fulfilling commitments made by College Illinois.

If Illinois prepaid tuition program is permanently shut down, beneficiaries who are enrolled or will enroll in a college or university within five years of when the program shuts down will receive the benefits of the contract, according to one of the program’s fiscal reports. But all other beneficiaries will receive a refund from their contract and any accrued interest, according to the report.

The recent shutdown follows a similar move in 2011 when the program — saddled with a deficit of $560 million, stopped accepting new participants amid questions about investment strategy, conflicts of interest among its managers and a funding shortfall. A report from the state auditor general’s office in 2012 determined administrative costs increased at the same time sales of the program were decreasing. In addition, the program was taking financial risks such as a $12.8 million investment to ShoreBank which later collapsed.

The program was reopened to new participants in 2012 with new incentives to jump-start sales.

Those incentives, though, failed to attract enough new enrollees needed to keep the fund solvent. In recent years, the number of new contracts has fluctuated. During the 2015 to 2016 fiscal year, they dipped to 494 and this past fiscal year only saw 450 new contracts.

And the state’s two-year budget standoff, which starved Illinois’ public universities of state money and led to higher tuitions, only tightened the squeeze on the program.

Illinois is among a dozen states with a prepaid tuition program while the majority of states offer 529 savings plans, said Kathryn Flynn, spokesperson for Savingforcollege.com, a website that helps parents navigate saving and paying for college.

That is down from about 20 states that at one point offered prepaid tuition programs but are no longer accepting new participants.

As prepaid plans have decline, parents have gravitated to different kind of college savings vehicle. Known as the 529 qualified tuition program, they allow participants to use the funds at a wider variety of institutions, and to pay for college student expenses like room and board, Flynn said.

Illinois offers two of that type of college savings fund — the Bright Start College Savings Program and the Bright Directions College Savings Program.

“The 529 plans have been growing very much in recent years due to the flexibility that they offer,” Flynn said. “Even if you have the prepaid plan, it wouldn’t hurt to also have a savings plan.”

As of September, there were 12.1 million 529 savings plan accounts compared to 1.1 million prepaid plans, Flynn said citing information from Strategic Insight.

The website has rated Bright Start and Bright Directions programs higher than College Illinois because those programs have better financial track records, Flynn said.

College Illinois relies on funds from the sale of new contracts, and the state doesn’t have an obligation to fill in the gap between the program’s investment returns and tuition costs, according to Morningstar’s website. The website also cautions buyers to read the fine print of the contracts.

emalagon@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @ElviaMalagon

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December 6, 2017 at 06:10PM

State prepaid tuition program comes to a halt again