Northeastern Acquires Global Presence

The Wall Street Journal: “Northeastern University, a onetime blue-collar commuter school in Boston, is continuing a yearslong international expansion with the purchase of a small, private college in central London. The acquisition of The New College of the Humanities, a six-year-old private college with about 200 students, underscores the growing pressures and incentives for universities to globalize their business model in an era of rising competition, shifting demographics and increasing nationalism.”

“Universities around the world have been establishing branch campuses at an accelerating clip for several years. The Northeastern purchase is unusual in that instead of building a branch, the university is acquiring a school that is already established, accomplishing overnight what typically takes several years.”

“Just a handful of U.S. schools—mostly for-profits—have bought schools in other countries. Generally, schools that are seeking to expand globally choose to build a branch campus. In 2000, there were about 50 international branch campuses built by universities from around the world. There are now more than 250 … Northeastern has been aggressively opening campuses in the U.S. and Canada for several years. It now has campuses open or under construction in Seattle, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Charlotte, Vancouver and Toronto. The school has plans to expand to Asia.”


MIT Launches Billion-Dollar AI Intitiative

The Verge: “MIT has announced a $1 billion initiative to … establish a new college of computing to train the next generation of machine learning mavens.Importantly, the college isn’t just about training AI skills. Instead, it will focus on what MIT president L. Rafael Reif calls ‘the bilinguals of the future.’ By that, he means students in fields like biology, chemistry, physics, politics, history, and linguistics who also know how to apply machine learning to these disciplines.”

“MIT is also angling the college as an ethically minded enterprise; one of its stated aims is to research ‘ethical considerations relevant to computing and AI.’ It’s a frequent criticism of contemporary AI efforts that researchers sometimes ignore the history and lessons of the fields they are trying to ‘disrupt’.”


Elon: Professor Squire & Online Insights

Elon: “Explaining how she works with data to identify trends, relationships and networks, Professor of Computer Science Megan Squire turned to a heap of Legos — disconnected and colorful, and seemingly without order. Sharing what she said was her “favorite graphic,” she explained that data science is the process of taking that pile of Legos, sorting them by color, arranging them so they make sense, and then presenting them in single-color stacks that allow you to hear what the data is trying to tell you.”

“The stories Squire told through her research have offered insight into the nature of the communications and connections among online communities, with recent work to demonstrate the overlapping memberships of groups such as neo-Nazis, white nationalists, anti-immigration and other extremists … Squire explained that an early project centered on humor — how computer programmers joked with each other as they interacted online.”

“In examining that data, Squire kept seeing the use of the phrase ‘Aunt Tillie,’ which she discovered had become widely used a phrase used by software developers for ‘an old lady who doesn’t know how to use their computer.’ That led her to begin examining how some language in these online communications was used to mock women and also racial minorities. It was a first step into exploring toxicity in online interactions.”


Brandeis: A Culture of Exploration

Brandeis: “Whenever the entrepreneurial spirit arises in Brandeis students and faculty, it often leads to something big: companies that promise to both reap significant financial rewards and transform society … Research by professor emeritus of biology K.C. Hayes and biophysicist Daniel Perlman resulted in the ‘healthy fats’ used in Smart Balance spread. Adam Cheyer ’88 co-founded the company Siri, which developed the digital personal assistant now on hundreds of millions of iPhones around the world.”

“Today, there’s a new crop of startups out there, some still in their infancy, others marketing products and making profits. Though known for their commitment to social justice and altruism, Brandeisians exhibit no shortage of business daring or acumen. ‘Brandeis supports a culture of exploration,’ says Rebecca Menapace, associate provost for innovation.”

Among the Brandeis Startups: “Werk has developed a methodology for helping companies assess the need and desire for flexibility among employees. The consulting firm then suggests policies to implement. It has also developed a training program for human resources executives and others, and runs a job board that helps employees looking for flexible workplaces search for opportunities … Raised $4 million. Featured in The New York Times and Fast Company, and on CNBC.”


University of Delaware: Students Pitch Toy Ideas

University of Delaware: “Engineering students at the University of Delaware recently pitched their own inventions to representatives from a major toy company. A trio of professionals from Melissa and Doug, a toymaker with revenue of more than $350 million per year, visited UD to evaluate toy prototypes made by mechanical engineering students with help from early childhood education students. Companies like Melissa and Doug employ mechanical engineers because they have foundations in product design, mechanics, dynamics and other skills that are useful when making tiny consumer products.”

“The students made toys that were functional, fun and educational, like the Carpet Circuit, which was designed to teach the basics of circuitry … The team created a mat that can be laid on a classroom floor or hung from a chalkboard. The mat is covered with detachable pieces — held on with Velcro — that illustrate the basics of electronics. For example, you can connect a battery-shaped piece to a lightbulb-shaped piece using a rope that represents a wire.”

“Another toy, the Farmyard Friends Puzzle, a 12-piece 3D pig-shaped puzzle, was designed to increase literacy by helping children recognize letters while also developing fine motor skills. Each piece of the wooden puzzle features uppercase and lowercase letters. The team is also interested in making a prototype out of 3D printed polymer. The representatives from Melissa and Doug asked the Farmyard Friends Puzzle team a lot of questions — and asked for more information after the showcase.”


Grade Inflation: Summa Cum Saturated?

The Wall Street Journal: “Nearly half of students who graduated from Lehigh University, Princeton University and the University of Southern California this year did so with cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude honors, or their equivalents. At Harvard and Johns Hopkins, more got the designations than didn’t … Honors designations have become close to the norm at many top schools, according to a Wall Street Journal review of the criteria for earning honors and the percentage of the senior class that got the designation at schools in the top 50 of the WSJ/Times Higher Education ranking.”

“Most elite schools cap the share of the graduating class that can receive academic honors. But the caps vary widely, from 25% at Columbia University to up to 60% at Harvard.Harvard’s number hit 91% in 2001, as highlighted at the time in a Boston Globe article about generous honors policies. Soon after, the school revised its selection process. Northwestern University expanded its pool of eligible seniors to 25% from 16% in 2010, citing concern that students were losing out on graduate-school admissions because they were competing against peers at more magnanimous colleges. Now, the top 5% of the class graduates summa cum laude, the next 8% magna and the next 12% cum laude.”

“Anna Del Castillo said she was ‘filled with pride and joy,’ on learning that she would graduate from Tufts University magna cum laude. At the ceremony in May, the 22-year-old international relations major says, she was surprised by just how many other names were followed by Latin designations—not to mention three levels of thesis honors” … Rather than diminish her own achievement, Ms. Del Castillo said her immediate response during the ceremony was, ‘Wow, I go to school with brilliant people’.”


Bates: A Curriculum for ‘Purposeful Work’

Quartz: Clayton Spencer “has been head of Bates, a small college in Lewiston, Maine, founded by abolitionists, since 2012. Since she arrived, she’s made it a priority to embed the idea of ‘purposeful work’—broadly defined as work that both has personal meaning and societal relevance—into as many aspects of college life as possible. While she is romantic about the liberal arts mandate, she understands the importance of finding practical applications for what students learn in school.”

“During a five-week ‘short term’ in May, Bates offers practitioner-taught courses: One digital marketing course was taught by a digital marketing consultant, while a dancer educated students on the business concerns involved in pursuing a career in the arts. Students can also shadow workers in various fields for a day (many of them Bates alumni) and funding from the school is available for internships in fields that don’t pay, such as non-profits and the arts. Importantly, purposeful work seeks to give students who don’t have networks the skills and the experience to build them.”

Spencer comments: “The source of personal happiness and fulfillment has to be around meaning, and not the psychology of happiness. You find meaning by thinking and acting in the world in a way that aligns with your talents and interests and brings you joy, and makes a social contribution of some kind.”


Ivy League: What Are The Most Popular Majors?

Business Insider: “So what do undergraduates at the eight Ivy League schools like to study? Turns out, it’s surprisingly similar no matter which school they attend. At six of the eight schools, economics is the most popular major among students who graduated in 2016. The most popular major at the two outliers, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, were engineering and finance, respectively.”


Grade Inflation: Getting ‘A’s is Easier

USA Today: “There’s a pretty clear trend: At four-year schools, awarding of A’s has been going up five to six percentage points per decade, and grade point averages at four-year colleges are also rising at the rate of 0.1 points per decade … And grade inflation is more prevalent at private institutions than at public ones … the mean GPA for both private and public schools in the 1930s was 2.3, or a C+. That number for both types of institutions increased at the same rate until recently – today, the average GPA at private colleges is 3.3 (a B+), while at public universities it’s 3.0 (a B).”

“Although the meaning behind an A still varies at different schools … receiving high marks could mean anything from ‘you showed up for class and didn’t insult the professor’ to ‘you’re a good to excellent student.’ According to a 2013 study conducted by the University of North Texas’s Department of Economics, class size may be one factor in the grade inflation increase, and departments with smaller student-faculty ratios have a greater tendency to exaggerate grades. The type of degree program could also influence the extent to which professors overstate students’ grades: inflation was more prevalent among Ph.D. departments than it was among lower-level programs, according to the study.”

“Student evaluations could also incentivize instructors to issue higher grades than they deserve in an effort to ‘buy’ higher evaluation scores.”


St. John’s College: ‘Old School’ is New Again

Quartz: “Consider St. John’s College, America’s third-oldest institution of higher education, founded in 1696. With fewer than 700 students between two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, St. John’s is a bit under the radar. But it’s emerged as one of the most distinctive colleges in the country by maintaining a strict focus on the classics of the Western canon … a big part of that distinction is due to a strict adherence to its own curated curriculum and teaching methods, know simply as “the Program” implemented back in 1937.”

“Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors … Another unique feature of St. John’s is a resistance to placing texts in a political, social or historic context for discussion. Context is viewed as ideology, something that St. John’s believes distorts true education and the ability to form one’s own opinion. This is crucial to the school’s philosophy; by freeing texts from context, St. John’s claims it frees students’ minds to ponder the multiple possibilities and meanings that are actually in the text.”

“Clearly St. John’s is not for everyone. First, you need to be a voracious reader to cover the Program texts at a brisk pace. You also need the capacity for and love of writing because St. John’s requires a lot of it. It helps to feel comfortable speaking in public, since so much of St. John’s learning occurs out loud around a table with your classmates and tutors … In recent years, Forbes ranked the Santa Fe campus as the “Most Rigorous” in the US (with Annapolis ranked eighth, odd given the same Program), way ahead of the big Ivies like Harvard (17th), Princeton (20th), Yale (23rd), and Stanford (25th). The school’s tutors are often cited as among the best teachers in the country.”