Blog: The Educated Reporter

Top 10 Higher Education Stories You Should Be Covering

Scott Jaschik addresses reporters at EWA's 67th National Seminar at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

For higher education reporters, Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik’s annual top-10 list of story ideas is a highlight of EWA’s National Seminar. This year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Jaschik kicked off his roundup with  an issue that has affected many institutions around the country: sexual assault. The key to covering this story, he said, is not to imply that this is a new problem. Increased attention from the White House has challenged the ways that many colleges have addressed these incidents. Also, women have been willing to come forward publicly to tell their stories and question their colleges for not properly investigating the assault allegations.

With that in mind, Jaschik’s list of recommended stories began with:

  • An examination of the specific sexual assault policies of the colleges you cover: What is the policy when a person reports she has been assaulted? Who is in charge of deciding whether the person who has been accused is guilty or not? Do they have training? Are they able to use physical evidence?
  • The links between college sexual assaults and other issues: “There is clear evidence that most sexual assault does not happen in isolation,” Jaschik said. Many campuses try not to link sexual assault, hazing and alcohol use. Check for any connections.
  • Sexual assaults and athletes: Don’t leave this to the sports desk, Jaschik said. In sexual assault cases that have affected a college’s reputation, “I don’t think it is a coincidence that some of these incidents involve athletes,” he said. Reporters should check campus policies: When someone files a complaint against an athlete is the athletic department called? Are athletes treated differently than other students?
  • The new anonymous accusation and vigilantism: Jaschik offered examples of campus incidents where people have introduced their own brand of “justice” when their campuses don’t or won’t. At Columbia University, for instance, fliers were distributed labeling four students as rapists. In another example, information was posted on several websites accusing a Yale philosophy professor of rape and sexual assault.
  • The state of race relations on campus: Reporters should do fewer stories on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and more stories on what is really happening on campuses. There have been several incidents of racism a campuses around the country including four white students tormenting a black student at San Jose State University and racist tweets targeting a chancellor in Illinois when she didn’t close schools during inclement weather. Do administrators know what’s really happening on their campuses?
  • Private colleges on the brink: Last month, two private colleges failed in a single week. “We have situations where colleges are making such extreme cuts that it raises questions of what’s left,” Jaschik said. Because the colleges are small, these cuts many times go unnoticed for weeks. Check private colleges with enrollments under 1,200 students, with no sizable endowment and no clear niche. If some of these fail, are others likely to thrive?
  • Unions for college football players: Another story that should not be left to the sports desk, Jaschik said, is the possible unionization of college athletes. The union dispute could lead to changes, including colleges trying to improve conditions, such as offering unlimited food options, so that athletes might have less incentive to unionize. Who pays for these improvements? Is there greater focus on the health issues, like concussions, associated with football? What are colleges doing to protect the safety of football players? How are they talking to players about unionization?
  • The new political correctness: This topic has been demonstrated recently in debates over commencement speakers, particularly where student and faculty protests have led some speakers to withdraw, and some of the replaced speakers to criticize the protestors as intolerant. This type of political correctness has also led to some school groups requesting “trigger warnings” on potentially offensive course material.
  • Free community college/Access to community college for low-income students: Tennessee one of the first states to offer a free community college option, and subsequently it appears to be prioritizing access to higher education. This approach may be a more meaningful story than writing about what colleges are increasing in price, if the free approach draws more people into higher education. Reporters should also look at just how much community college costs in their regions.
  • Competency-based education: The traditional model of higher education is awarding credits based on time spent in class; CBE is based on demonstrating your knowledge of skills so you could earn credits in a much shorter time. CBE could save students money, and some institutions have figured out an effective business plan based on this type of education.

And Jaschik also shared a Bonus idea: International students. Many colleges are looking to international students to balance their budgets. There has long been the assumption that these students will always come because there was a premium on having an U.S. degree, but studies have shown that this premium may no longer exist. What are colleges doing to account for the decline?



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