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Former UNC Professor to Plead Not Guilty to Academic Felony Fraud

Football Coach and Chancellor Depart Amidst Scandal

December 4, 2013

Former UNC Professor to Plead Not Guilty to Academic Felony Fraud

by Suada Kolovic

The life of the average college student is riddled with deadlines and due dates so when the pressure is on come midterms and finals, there are no sweeter words for those short on time than “class is canceled.” But what if I told you that on the rarest of occasions, you could sign up for a lecture course where attendance wasn't required? Well, that was the reality for a group of student athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; we should mention, however, that the professor of said course has been indicted for doing just that and could face 10 months in prison for his actions if convicted.

Julius Nyang’oro, a former chairman of UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies, is accused of receiving $12,000 for a lecture course while holding no classes. Orange County District Attorney James Woodall said Nyang’oro’s 2011 summer course was supposed to have regular lectures but required students to write papers in lieu of coming to class. A defense attorney says the former professor will plead not guilty to the felony fraud charge and that the university recouped the $12,000 but the scandal has contributed to the departure of football coach Butch Davis (who had 19 of his players enrolled in the class) and the resignation of chancellor Holden Thorp. (For more on this story, click here.)


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by Agnes Jasinski

Suffolk University offers "Sacred Hoops, Sneaker Pimps, and Hoop Dreams: Race, Gender, and Consumerism in 20th Century American Basketball" through its Seminar for Freshmen program. The University of California-Berkeley uses "StarCraft Theory and Strategy" for its course on war tactics. Santa Clara University has gotten students talking about waste and decomposition through its environmental science department's "Joy of Garbage."

Attracting students to courses by having some fun with their titles is not a new phenomenon, but a recent article by The Boston Globe says that it has become more common in a climate where professors are looking to boost enrollment in their classes, perhaps to make themselves less vulnerable during budget cut season. Boston College recently renamed a straightforward course on German literature to "Knights, Castles, and Dragons." The effect? Tripled enrollment.

Professors quoted in the article describe how important marketing has become in getting more students to fill seats in their classrooms. Students have a wealth of options at their fingertips when applying for courses, and after they're done filling their rosters with classes required by their majors, there may be little room for the more fun-sounding titles. So, anything that will give a student pause when putting together their course load is probably a good strategy. The professors also said that a heavy reliance on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter has given the college-bound a shorter attention span, and that even those already in college are bored more easily with the traditional course offerings. Students want to be entertained, even those in fields like computer science, philosophy, or traditionally more "stuffy" majors.

A word of advice, though: Be sure to consider the finished product of your transcript when signing up for courses with kooky titles. That "Science of Superheroes" class at the University of California-Irvine may be fun, but a balance of electives with interesting names and traditional courses applicable to your major will make you a better sell if you plan to pursue an advanced degree or land a job interview where the employer wants to see your coursework. As with an eye-catching course title, image is everything.


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by Agnes Jasinski

You've already heard about rising enrollment rates at community colleges as many across the country look to make themselves more desirable job candidates in a tough economy by returning to school. But you may not know how some of the two-year schools have been accommodating the large numbers of students flooding their campuses: courses offered at midnight.

Typically offering classes between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., some community colleges have found modest success by offering midnight course offerings to those who were shut out during an overcrowded registration process or whose day jobs and lifestyles conflict with sessions within more traditional time frames. An article in Inside Higher Ed today takes a look at Clackamas Community College's "graveyard welding classes," courses that run from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. in both introductory and specialized welding. The classes made their debut last spring with two classes offered, but their popularity caused administrators to offer them four times a week this fall. The classes were the idea of an adjunct welding instructor who compared the classes to early welding jobs where he would stay at manufacturing shops until 2:30 in the morning, often later (or earlier, depending on how you look at it).

The College of Southern Nevada will offer six classes from midnight through 1:30 a.m. next semester. The Community College of Allegheny County will offer welding classes similar to those at Clackamas this spring. Bunker Hill Community College started offering two graveyard shift classes this fall that start just before midnight and go until 2:30 a.m. Administrators say that the classes, introductory courses in English and psychology, were successful enough that they will both be offered next semester, along with an introductory sociology course.

An opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed last fall from one of the instructors at Bunker Hill criticizes the need for courses at such an unorthodox hour. Courses there were already being offered through 10 p.m., which wasn't enough. Two thirds of the writer's class enrolled in the late course because all of the day, evening, and weekend classes were full, making it difficult for students to move forward in their programs and meet course requirements. The writer went so far as to call it a "national nightmare."

"Actually give these institutions enough money so that there are professors and classroom space before midnight? No one is really talking about that – and students are being denied sections in massive numbers, nationwide this year," the Bunker Hill instructor Wick Sloane wrote.

As even President Obama continues to urge more students back to college, and with more of an emphasis on community colleges to absorb those rising enrollment numbers, midnight courses may be here to stay.


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by Agnes Jasinski

More than one in four college students took at least one online class in the fall of 2008, according to an annual survey released yesterday called "Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States." Those numbers, which come from the Sloan Consortium and reflect data from thousands of colleges and universities across the country, illustrate a 17 percent increase in the number of students enrolling in online classes since the survey was released last year.

To put things in perspective, the number of students enrolling in higher education overall only grew by 1.2 percent. More than 4.6 million students are enrolled in online courses across the country, compared to 3.9 million the previous year. Less than 10 percent of students were taking classes online in 2002; today that figure is more than 25 percent. The survey did not take a close look at online degree universities, although it would be interesting to see whether distance learning has also seen an increase in applicants who see the benefits of completing their coursework at their own pace. (About 73 percent of fully online universities reported requests from students to offer even more online courses than they already do.)

The Chronicle of Higher Education today describes the survey's data even further, and suggests that despite the increase in online enrollment, many colleges are still not offering a sufficient number of online offerings despite the potential for that strategy to address some schools' budget problems. (According to the report, enrollment numbers in general increase in times of economic crisis.) Public institutions are more likely to offer more online courses, according to the article. At the University of Central Florida, for example, more than half of the student population is taking at least one class online each year.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • More than 80 percent of these students taking online courses are studying at the undergraduate level, with only 14 percent taking graduate level courses and the remainder in some other for-credit course.
  • 54 percent of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for existing face-to-face courses.
  • 66 percent of institutions report increased demand for new courses and programs, and 73 percent report increased demand for existing online courses and programs.
  • Less than one-third of administrators believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education. (This has changed little over the last six years.)
  • Nearly 300 institutions with no current online offerings are reporting increased student demand to begin such offerings.

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by Agnes Jasinski

Has the week been feeling a little long lately? Can Friday never come soon enough? If you're at the University of Montana, you could be in luck. In response to continued economic troubles and predicted shortfalls in state and federal revenue, the university's president announced this week that the school could benefit from a four-day work week that would reduce operating costs and address their budget woes.

The measure would make faculty and students' days longer, and professors would still make the same salaries. Faculty and staff had mixed feelings about the idea - Does this mean more cutbacks in the future? Are jobs on the line here? - but students have found few negatives to bring up. It'd mean every weekend was a three-day weekend, and for the green among them, a reduced carbon footprint since there would be fewer commuters on that day off and less energy expended to run the school. Others think it could allow them to pick up more hours at on-campus and off-campus jobs to help cover those college costs. Students who have expressed concerns worry that this may mean it takes them longer to graduate. Programs with rigorous curriculums, like law and pharmacy, may have trouble fitting in all of their required instruction into a shortened week.

According to the Western Montana newspaper "The Missoulian," the change would involve the following: The University would be open Tuesday-Friday, to account for the many activities that happen on Fridays. Classes would run at 90 minutes, which already happens campus-wide on Tuesdays and Thursdays. More classes would be offered early in the morning and late in the evenings, meaning more 8 a.m. classes for students. Faculty and staff would work 10-hour days. Administrators think the change would save the college about $450,000 each year, or about 15 percent of the university's overall budget to heat and light buildings. The earliest a shortened week would take effect is July 2010.

Some community colleges already operate in a similar fashion. The unusual thing here is that the University of Montana is a research institution, where arguably more time on campus is needed by those who are there for the school's research capabilities. Administrators say they have a few things to iron out before discussing the idea further, including whether the school's library and University Center would remain open on Mondays.

What do you think? What are your pros and cons of a short week? Should other schools consider it to save some money or recoup some funding for their budgets? Let us know what you think.


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by Agnes Jasinski

College professors worried about low enrollments in their courses are going the advertising route, posting videos on YouTube to show potential students what they should expect in their classes, and why students should put those classes on their schedules.

Jeremy Littau, an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University, put up a YouTube video about his multimedia reporting class last week, just before registration started for the fall semester. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the clip includes footage of current students interviewed about what they learned in the class and of projects produced by students in the class. Littau said in the article that the video may be even more helpful than emailing a current syllabus of the class to interested students. He has posted the link on Facebook and Twitter, and emailed the video to journalism majors at the colleges.

The videos may also be useful in disproving popular misconceptions about courses that professors want to change, or making traditionally dry subjects in the science and math fields more interesting. Joe Pomerening, an assistant professor of biology at Indiana University, has used YouTube to promote his Biology 211 course on molecular biology.

Some professors will be struggling even more than usual to fill seats in their classrooms as colleges begin retooling their general education curricula. George Washington University, for example, recently dropped foreign language requirements from the school’s curriculum, a move that has professors in those courses worried that their positions will be eliminated. According to a recent story in USA Today, foreign language courses at the school won’t count toward the fulfillment of any requirement, in effect discouraging students from enrolling in those classes, the professors say. The school dropped the foreign language requirement as part of a broader effort to make necessary courses more about learning outcomes like critical thinking, creative thinking and quantitative reasoning, and not about particular subjects. 

How flexible is your college when it comes to general education requirements? Would you consider a course based on the promotion behind it? We want to know!


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by Agnes Jasinski

It’s late in the semester, and you’ve got final projects and exams staring you in the face. Now seems like as good a time as any to skip class, either to get a jump on the above-mentioned workload, sleep in, or enjoy the warmer weather. Your professor won’t miss you in that big lecture hall, right?

Come fall, students at Northern Arizona University may be missed more than usual in those big college classes thanks to the installation of a new electronic system that will measure students’ attendance. According to a recent article in The Arizona Republic, the new system will effectively mark students present by scanning their ID cards as they walk in. That system, paid for by $75,000 in federal stimulus money, then produces an attendance report for the instructor of that course.

The system will affect the most popular — and populated — courses, typically taken in students’ freshman and sophomore years. This doesn’t mean the school will be introducing mandatory attendance policies; but instructors may be more likely now to consider attendance as a factor when awarding grades. (Most instructors in smaller classrooms already count attendance/participation as part of students’ final grades.) Students are unsurprisingly upset by the plan, calling it an invasion of privacy. According to The Arizona Republic, a new Facebook group in opposition to the measure has already collected more than 1,300 members. Some students suggest that if they really want to skip class, they’ll find ways around the new system, like handing their IDs to a study buddy so that their name is counted on that day’s roster.

In response to complaints that the process was a little too “Big Brother,” administrators say they’re doing this for the students’ own good and to lower the number of students who miss class. Those who frequently miss class will probably not do as well in school, thus increasing their likelihood that they’ll drop out of college altogether. Administrators point to a number of research studies that link academic achievement with attendance to help their cause. A study in 2001 from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, for example, found that students scored higher on quizzes if they were responsible for signing in to class each session.

What do you think? Would you try to avoid classes that scanned ID cards? Is it an invasion of privacy, or just a way to make students more accountable?


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by Agnes Jasinski

For some students entering their fifth, sixth, maybe even seventh years of college in the fall, administrators in the California State University system have a message for you: Graduate. Please.

You may remember reading about the trouble California colleges and universities in general have had over the last year. Budget problems have forced schools to significantly limit enrollments, placing students on wait lists for the first time in many of the schools’ histories. “Super seniors” are now viewed as part of the problem, taking up valuable space on the state’s campuses while would-be freshmen look elsewhere for available slots.

The California State University system has begun introducing initiatives targeting those students who take longer than four years to graduate. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the state system’s dilemma describes these initiatives as expanding advising services, limiting financial aid, and getting department heads more involved in making sure students graduate in a more timely fashion. Administrators say this doesn’t mean students will be prohibited from switching majors if they find themselves flailing in a potential degree they were pushed toward by their parents, for example.

In fact, students who take longer to graduate but aren’t amassing a large number of credits (perhaps because they are attending school part-time, for example) aren’t even the target of the initiatives. The school is after the “Van Wilder” types. The Chronicle describes one 50-year-old student who had more than 250 credit hours under his belt, which came out to about eight years of full-time college schooling. He had enough credits for degrees in both health sciences and theater, but wanted to start over to get a degree in marketing. According to The Chronicle, the school handed him his degrees and told him to look elsewhere for that new degree: "At 50 years old, you should know what you want, and you're stopping two other young people from coming to this university,” Cynthia Z. Rawitch, associate vice president for undergraduate studies at California State University, said in the article.

The California State University system hopes to raise its six-year graduation rate up to about 54 percent by 2016, according to The Chronicle. Studies over the years from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics have shown that less than 40 percent of students graduate within four years, so this may be something other states should look into doing to increase freshman class sizes as well. There may be a number of reasons for students’ graduation delays, however: transferring schools, balancing work and school, indecision about choosing a major or switching majors well into a college career, or a number of other potential factors. What do you think? Should students be held more accountable for how long it takes them to graduate?


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Unsure About Your Major?

Colleges Let You Create Your Own

May 21, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

Although many students have a good idea about what they’ll be majoring in as freshmen, even choosing their colleges based on the programs offered at a particular school, many others have a tougher time deciding on their future careers without some self-reflection first. For some, the flexibility a college may offer in terms of offering students the choice of creating their own major may be more of a selling point than a school’s reputation in a particular field of study.

As the number of years students spend in college continues to climb (“super seniors” have even become problematic at some colleges), individualized major programs are becoming a more desirable option for schools and students, even outside the private liberal arts set. In such a program, students are able to take their specific interests and skill sets and create majors centered around those attributes, with the help of faculty advisers, of course.

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looked at a student at Indiana University at Bloomington who graduated this month with a major in magic. Yes, magic. According to the article and accompanying interview with Jordan H. Goldklang, the college magician, he created the major with a blend of theater arts and psychology classes. When asked how being a magic major will benefit him long-term, Goldklang has a tough time describing the real benefits: "Aside from what I've learned here so far, just the ability to say that I did something completely unique has already afforded me so much." Goldklang plans to continue performing in magic shows post-graduation, and hopes to eventually open a bar with his brother.

The Individualized Major Program at Indiana University has been around for about 20 years. A recent article in the school’s student newspaper revealed that one popular self-designed major, fashion design, may soon become an official major at the college because of the interest it has received from students pursuing that field of study. Princeton University has the “independent concentration program”; a number of colleges allow students to create independent study experiences.

If you’re worried that your particular interests don’t fit any of the college majors offered at your school, talk to your counselors and advisers. It may be possible for you to design your own. Or, if you’re able, take courses in a number of different disciplines. (Chances are you can fulfill quite a few general education requirements doing so.) You may find you have a passion in a field after all if you do some exploring.


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by Agnes Jasinski

In another attempt to address budget shortfalls due to a significant decrease in state funding for higher education in the state, the University of California system has proposed increasing their online offerings to get more students enrolled, thus bringing more revenue into the school.

The proposed pilot project would not only offer students more online class choices, but offer students a path toward complete online degrees. If the plan moves forward, administrators would start with offering the schools’ core, general education classes online, before moving on to classes further on in students’ fields of study. Those core classes are typically high enrollment anyway, composed predominantly of freshmen. Freshman Composition 1-2, for example, has an average annual enrollment of 31,585, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The real accomplishment, administrators say, would be leading students through a complete sequence of online courses in any major offered at the college.

Although it may take a while for the project to get off the ground—administrators will be putting out requests for proposals in the fall, with the earliest start date for the program suggested for 2011—it already has its supporters. According to another article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, those supporters feel the plan will not only make the school system a significant amount of money, something it desperately needs, but it would improve the school system’s reputation as an innovative force. More online classes would also give professors interested in teaching them more time for research, as they will be working remotely, thereby further solidifying the school system's role as a research institution.

The proposal also has its critics. Some worry that online education won’t meet the academic standards the schools’ in-class programs currently set, and that the school system’s reputation will actually be hurt by the move if freshmen fail to excel in the virtual classroom. According to The Chronicle, although online classes are commonplace, elite public universities haven’t exactly latched onto the idea of online degrees. Even those schools that offer their complete course materials online (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, among many other examples), have been hesitant to express any interest in the online degree market.

The state system’s campuses currently enroll more than 25,000 students online each year as part of their graduate and extension programs, according to The Chronicle. This proposal would greatly expand the schools’ online courses to undergraduates, who have typically not been able to take for-credit classes online. (The University of California at Berkeley has been the exception, offering eight online summer classes to undergraduates.) What do you think? Would you skip the campus experience for a virtual one?


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