Pittsburgh's City Council on Wednesday voted to delay by one week a final decision on the idea of a 1 percent tax on tuition, a tax strenuously opposed by area colleges and their students, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The idea behind the tax -- which is being championed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl -- is to deal with a looming deficit. College leaders have said that they are willing to talk about new ways to assist the city, but not with the tax idea in play.
Higher Education Quick Takes
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a legislative alternative to President Obama's plan to end student lending through the Federal Family Education Loan Program would save about $75 billion, several billion less than the administration's plan, Congress Daily reported. The alternative is similar to one put forward last summer by lender groups, which would allow banks and other lenders to continue to make loans and sell them to the government. A spokesman for Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), who asked the budget office to "score" the proposed legislative language, said the senator has not necessarily decided to introduce the measure as an alternative to the bill that Senate Democrats are expected to unveil in the weeks to come. "We requested a preliminary score from CBO of possible legislative language," the spokesman said. "We sought the score to obtain as much information as possible as we make determinations on how to proceed."
The National Institutes of Health said on Wednesday that it had approved 13 new "lines" of embryonic stem cells to make available to biomedical researchers. The groups of cells are the first approved for use since President Obama signed an executive order in March that revoked President George W. Bush's 2001 order limiting federally sponsored research on embryonic stem cells to 60 lines that had already been created at that time -- 21 of which were scientifically useful. In announcing the newly available stem cell lines, the NIH's director, Francis S. Collins, said the new lines had been "derived from embryos that were donated under ethically sound informed consent processes," a nod to critics who say the research leans on cells from embryos from donors who never intended them for that use. The NIH said that 96 additional lines were under review.
This won't be news to anyone in Illinois, but college trustees and regents need to pay attention to conflicts of interest other than financial ones, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges says in new guidance on the subject. The statement from AGB's Board of Directors notes that "[w]hile financial conflicts tend to dominate board conflict of interest discussions, the subjects of political gain, unmerited preference in hiring, student admissions decisions" -- like those that have enveloped the University of Illinois system's Board of Trustees -- "and other conflicts can compromise the integrity that boards should hold in trust." While avoiding being too prescriptive, given institutions' differing situations and missions, the statement offers 12 principles that should guide boards' policies governing potential conflicts and how to avoid or manage them.
"States are current facing one of the worst, if not the worst, fiscal periods since the Great Depression." With that downbeat assessment, the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers introduced their semi-annual "Fiscal Survey of States," which projects continued declines in tax revenues driving the need for additional cutbacks in state spending in 2010, 2011 and possibly 2012. Thirty-three states cut their spending on higher education in the 2009 fiscal year and 30 did so for 2010, although federal stimulus funds backfilled the cuts in states such as Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma in 2010, the report said. Lawmakers or governors in several other states exempted higher education (Tennessee and Vermont) or student financial aid (Indiana and South Carolina) from budget cuts in 2010.
Yoga instructors went to federal court on Tuesday, seeking to block the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia from regulating the programs that train yoga teachers, The Washington Post reported. The council views its oversight as a routine part of its role overseeing all kinds of training programs, including bartending schools, not just those run by traditional colleges and universities. But yoga instructors say that their work can't be viewed in the same way. Suzanne Leitner-Wise, a plaintiff and president of U.S. Yoga Teacher Training, told the Post: "Yoga is the study of the self through direct experience.... You simply can't put regulations on that. It's just dumb."
Student advocacy groups published two studies Tuesday that draw attention to student loan debt at a time when the economy -- and their job prospects -- are imperiled. The Project on Student Debt released "Student Debt and the Class of 2008," which finds that the average senior who had college loans graduated last spring with $23,200 in debt, at a time when his or her odds of landing a job were at long-time lows. The group also published a state-by-state map with detailed borrowing and other information by college. Meanwhile, U.S. PIRG and several other groups issued a briefing paper that, citing concerns about private student loan debt, urges Congress to pass legislation to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which has been embroiled in controversy over proposed exemptions for for-profit colleges that make loans to their students.
A report being released today by the Brookings Institution documents the national decline in coverage of education issues. During the first nine months of 2009, only 1.4 percent of national news coverage focused on education issues, the study found. And much of the coverage that did occur was focused on issues beyond education -- such as crime or H1N1. The study found that coverage of community colleges is "especially" poor.
With much fanfare, Harvard University's law school last year announced that it would waive tuition for third-year students who pledge to work for five years in public service following graduation. While Harvard and many other law schools have loan-forgiveness programs, the new effort was believed to be the first program of its kind. With the university's endowment now smaller, the law school announced this week that it is phasing out that program; while it will meet the commitment for those enrolled today, it will not extend the effort to future classes. The law school noted, however, that it has increased financial aid for students.
Ronald Melzack, psychology professor emeritus at McGill University, in Montreal, has been named winner of the 2010 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology. Melzack was honored for his work on how people experience pain. Grawemeyer awards, worth $200,000 each, are awarded each year in in the fields of music, political science, psychology, education and religion.