Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 16, 2018

GI Bill recipients are waiting longer than three weeks on average to receive housing benefits this fall.

There were 158,922 pending claims as of Monday at the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to an agency spokesman -- a 51 percent increase over the same time last year. The backlog has decreased in recent days, the spokesman said, but the VA expects a higher than normal backlog through the rest of the year.

The VA notified students of the exceedingly long wait times in an email last week, according to Military Times. IT challenges at the agency as well as a delayed implementation of the Forever GI Bill, which was passed last year, are among the contributing factors behind the backlog.

Paul Lawrence, the VA’s under secretary for benefits, will host a webcast on ongoing work at the agency Tuesday.

October 16, 2018

A new study by researchers at Duke University and the University of Massachusetts at Boston exploits an intergenerational database of Americans to explore the connection between parental income and wealth and college outcomes. Among the findings of the study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract here):

  • Young people whose parents get a boost in income and housing wealth are likelier than other students to enroll in college, in large part because the parents in turn increase their financial support for the children.
  • Increased parental housing wealth also correlates to a greater likelihood of graduating from college, mostly because the parents take out home equity loans. Increases in parental income appear to have no such effect on graduation.
  • Evidence from the study suggests that parents who help finance their children's college going increases the parents' mortgage debt, without lowering the student-debt levels of their offspring.
October 16, 2018

Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, announced legislation Monday that would lay out requirements for the Education Department to collect data and regularly publish results of experimental initiatives.

The Higher Education Act gives the department authority to temporarily waive requirements for Title IV federal student aid programs to run initiatives known as experimental sites. The idea is that the experimental sites will allow the department and lawmakers to assess new policy ideas. Current initiatives include the Second Chance Pell program, which allows incarcerated students to access Pell Grants in more than 60 correctional institutions across the country. But experts have said recently launched experimental sites are not being rigorously evaluated.

The bill, dubbed the Innovation Zone Act, is co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, as well as Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat. It would also require a review of ongoing experiments. And it would direct the department to give colleges and members of the public opportunities to suggest new experiments.

October 16, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Amherst College Week, Sheila Jaswal, associate professor of chemistry, explores ways to increase STEM enrollment for women and members of underrepresented minority groups. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 15, 2018

More than 2,100 people have signed a petition calling for the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to rename its Clarence Thomas Center for Historic Preservation after Anita Hill, the law professor who accused the Supreme Court justice of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearing in 1991, USA Today reported.

“It’s utterly disgraceful to me that I attended a school where a building was named after a sexual predator. And not just any sexual predator, one who wrongfully won against a woman’s word,” Sage Lucero, a graduate of SCAD who started the petition, wrote. In the petition, Lucero wrote that she was made aware of the building during the hearing at which Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh testified, calling Ford and Hill's experiences in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee "extremely similar."

Thomas grew up in the area, and SCAD renamed the building after him in 2010 after it was renovated. The building has previously housed an orphanage and a convent.

SCAD officials told WSAV that they are "aware of the petition and have reached out to the sponsor."

October 15, 2018

Carol Folt, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, apologized for the university’s role in slavery during her speech on the university’s 225th birthday.

“As chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I offer our university’s deepest apology for the profound injustices of slavery, our full acknowledgment of the strength of enslaved peoples in the face of their suffering, and our respect and indebtedness to them,” she said. “I reaffirm our university’s commitment to facing squarely and working to right the wrongs of history so they are never again inflicted.”

Folt issued her apology amid an ongoing controversy surrounding Silent Sam, a Confederate statue in the middle of campus that was pulled down by student activists earlier this fall. University officials had been mild-mannered about Silent Sam, caught between students calling for its removal and board members and political figures asking for Sam to remain standing. The university is currently searching for a new location for the statue. Faculty leaders are calling for it to never return to campus.

James Leloudis, a history professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and co-chair of the chancellor’s task force on UNC-Chapel Hill history, detailed several remedial steps the university will take to confront its role in slavery. These include signs posted on the quad to mark the “birthplace of American public higher education” and acknowledge the indigenous people who “were the first stewards of this land, and whose descendants work, study and teach here today.” There will also be a marker at the Unsung Founders Memorial, which will be repaired and renovated, that will express the university’s remorse for its role in slavery.

Leloudis referred to Silent Sam briefly as the “Confederate monument” and said that once there is a plan for its relocation, the university will conduct research to “inform an exhibit and other educational materials to teach the history of the monument and the era of white supremacy in which it was erected.”

October 15, 2018

Dozens of colleges in Florida and Georgia closed or canceled classes last week to wait out Hurricane Michael, the category-four hurricane that made landfall in the Florida panhandle Oct. 10.

Florida State University will reopen its main campus in Tallahassee on Monday after closing for five days. The city of Tallahassee suffered widespread power outages that included many student and faculty homes, but city officials hoped to have 90 percent restored by Sunday. Florida State's Panama City campus sustained water and roof damage, as well as multiple broken windows, and will remain closed until further notice while repair crews work to clean up the campus.

Florida A&M University, also located in Tallahassee, will resume classes on Monday. Tallahassee Community College will reopen five of its campuses on Monday, although two -- Florida Public Safety Institute and Gadsden Center -- will remain closed until further notice.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a list Wednesday of more than 20 Georgia colleges that closed or canceled classes last week in preparation for the hurricane, including:

  • Georgia Southern University
  • Georgia Southwestern State University
  • Ogeechee Technical College
  • Savannah State University
  • Fort Valley State University
  • Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
  • Albany State University
  • Albany Technical College
  • Coastal Pines Technical College
  • Augusta Technical College
  • College of Coastal Georgia
  • Georgia College
  • Mercer University
  • Middle Georgia State University
  • Oconee Fall Line Technical College
  • Saint Leo University
  • South Georgia State College
  • South Georgia Technical College
  • Southern Crescent Technical College
  • Southern Regional Technical College
  • Southeastern Technical College
  • Valdosta State University
  • Wiregrass Georgia Technical College
October 15, 2018

Free open educational resources have saved students at least $1 billion in textbook costs over the last five years, open education advocacy group SPARC reports.

“Now that we have hit $1bn in savings, it’s time to think bigger for our next challenge,” Nicole Allen, director of open education at SPARC, wrote in a blog post announcing the achievement last week.

October 15, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Amherst College Week, David Jones, associate professor of geology there, details how volcanic eruptions have shaped life’s history on Earth. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 13, 2018

The Education Department said Friday it won't seek another delay of the 2016 Obama borrower defense rule, which spells out loan forgiveness options for defrauded student borrowers and bars colleges from enforcing arbitration agreements.

A federal district court judge ruled in September that the department's delay of that rule -- issued before Education Secretary Betsy DeVos crafted another, more restrictive regulation -- was unlawful. It's now up to the court to determine what parts of the 2016 rule, such as the ban on arbitration agreements, will go into effect. 

"The Secretary respects the role of the court and will defer to its judgment in whether parts of the 2016 rule will go into effect," said Liz Hill, a department spokeswoman, in a statement. "Regardless of what the court decides, many provisions of the 2016 regulations are bad policy and the Department will continue the work of finalizing a new rule that protects both borrowers and taxpayers." 

The department said this month it would miss a Nov. 1 deadline for issuing a new borrower defense rule by next year. That means the earliest a DeVos authored regulation could go into effect is 2020. 

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