CFPB Letter on Student Debt Relief Scams

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Monday wrote to three web search engines -- Google, Bing and Yahoo -- to ask the companies to work with federal and state authorities to prevent "student debt relief scammers" from targeting distressed borrowers.

"The CFPB has seen an increase in the number of companies and websites requiring large up-front fees to help borrowers enroll in a plan that can be done for free," according to the CFPB. "While we have warned consumers about these scams, we are concerned that unscrupulous companies may be using aggressive advertising through search products to lure distressed borrowers."

State and federal agencies have pursued several of the debt relief outfits for allegedly illegal and harmful actions, the letter said. And the CFPB said some of those companies may be violating the search engine hosts' policies against misrepresentation in advertisements.

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Essay defends the idea that colleges have climbing walls and other recreational facilities

One of the most popular critiques of higher education is that climbing walls and recreation centers are the sources of all financial problems and destructive student-coddling behaviors. Armed with outrage and anecdote, sometimes spiced with snark but little real information or context, ostensibly well-intentioned commentators have made an industry out of bashing these facilities.

I confess that, when it came to recreation centers, I was once a card-carrying member of the arched-eyebrow club. In my former position as budget director and later vice chancellor for finance for the Ohio Board of Regents, I had limited authority over campus issuance of new debt for construction. “Tut, tut, tut,” I used to think. “How could the trustees and administrators be so extravagant as to spend money on these luxurious student facilities? Why aren't running, cycling and walking on outdoor paths good enough? Why can't students do calisthenics in their dorm rooms?” (The tuts are added for dramatic effect. I never actually thought these words.)

Fortunately for the campuses and students in public institutions in Ohio, my opinion had little effect on these decisions. In terms of process, the institutions were, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion. The administrations would generally seek and receive approval from students, either through an actual referendum or through student government. Students would usually approve the projects and, most importantly, the new fees associated with them.

At the University of Cincinnati, students approved the immediate imposition of new fees for a recreation center they would never use -- due to the construction schedule -- arguing that previous generations of students had supported existing, older facilities, and that the current cohort of students were in debt for these past sacrifices and investments. The staff of the Board of Regents would review the financial viability of the project, making sure that operations and debt could be financed with the plan submitted by the campus.

I was on a road in Athens -- Ohio, not Damascus -- when I got knocked off of my proverbial ass, discovered the value of these centers and changed my opinion 180 degrees. I visited the Ping Center at Ohio University on a Saturday night. What I discovered amazed me. I found the 168,000-square-foot recreation center filled with hundreds of students, faculty and staff, exercising, competing in recreational and intramural sports, socializing, doing homework in the juice bar, and generally having productive shared experiences in a safe, comfortable and challenging environment.

At a time when binge drinking and obesity are two of the most serious health issues faced by college students, and faculty-student interactions are few and far between, I was impressed with the level and type of unstructured, positive activity I witnessed among students and faculty that night. I assume that recreation centers at other institutions serve similar purposes. In addition, at urban campuses, these centers serve as a magnet on weekends and off hours that bring people, life and income to areas that otherwise would be dark and dead. In a small way, they help keep the city alive.

For someone who is still proud of his education in the liberal arts, it took me a long time to come to appreciate the words of the Roman poet Juvenal: “Mens sana in corpore sano.

You can look it up on your smartphone, while you're on your stationary bike, at your campus recreation center.

Richard Petrick is the retired vice chancellor for finance of the Ohio Board of Regents.

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Essay on mistakes that derail good candidates from becoming college administrators

Lucy Leske considers the errors that she sees derail candidacies of good people for leadership jobs in higher ed.

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Clinton on Veterans and the 90/10 Rule

Hillary Clinton last week said as president she would seek to crack down on the for-profit college sector's aggressive recruitment of military veterans, the Associated Press reported. The former U.S. secretary of state and current candidate for the Democratic nomination for president said she would push to change the so-called 90/10 rule, which prevents for-profits from receiving more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources. Under current regulations, veterans' educational benefits like the Post-9/11 GI Bill do not count toward that 90 percent limit. Clinton said she would seek to eliminate this "loophole," as some of her Democratic colleagues in the U.S. Senate have sought to do several times before, unsuccessfully.

Essay on what Sweet Briar will need to do to thrive in the future

While today’s headlines read “Sweet Briar College will stay open at least another year,” the multitude of articles written since the announced closing on March 3 tell a different story. What cannot be sustained is the Sweet Briar most of the alumnae who have “saved” the college remember. What will operate in 2015-16 and what will likely survive beyond that year is a new Sweet Briar.

Sweet Briar has never been so special it could not survive, but it might have been so special it will have to change to survive. The world around it is changing. But Sweet Briar has never changed without a fight. It took over 10 years and a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court to get Sweet Briar to eliminate the impact of the word “white” in the will that established the college and to allow African-American students to enroll. (See "Thank You Mr. Newman: Reinterpreting the Will of Indiana Fletcher Williams,” in Sweet Briar Alumnae Magazine, March 2001.) Sweet Briar was the last of the women’s colleges in the South to integrate (in 1966), and the chair of the board at that time insisted that the will wasn’t changed; it was just “reinterpreted.” Even when Sweet Briar changes, it is hard for it to admit it has changed.

The Sweet Briar College of the past is no more. Gone is the college where the young women all wore lots of pink and green and pearls, a pinkie ring was the class ring, and a big event was a pass-the-hot-potato type of game where a ring was passed along a long ribbon until it came to a girl who cut the ribbon and put on the ring to announce she was engaged; where, as one alumna described it, “you met the daughters of Texas oil tycoons, and your dorm had a grand piano in the formal parlor.”

Even in the 1980s the college reflected the finishing school it had once been: “Seniors… wore black graduation robes on a daily basis as they strode to class.” Fresh yogurt from the campus dairy was served routinely, and there were formal dances “where the booze flowed among the tuxedo- and taffeta-clad guests.” And the students from nearby men’s colleges frequently hosted parties at the Sweet Briar boathouse on the lake.

This description does not suggest that the college was not rigorous academically. The women who went there and then achieved the kind of professional success that enables them to contribute over $12 million to the college in a matter of a few months did not spend all their time in college horseback riding and having tea and cookies from the campus bakery.

Today there are still two lakes, six nature sanctuaries, a 130-acre riding center and 21 of 30 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. But now the college has a new fitness center and seniors live in townhouses. In the fall of 2014, 37 percent of the students were first-generation, 32 percent were minorities and 43 percent received Pell Grants. As one professor said, “Sweet Briar is no longer the horsey school on the hill.”

When the new administrators look at the diversity on the campus in terms of academic abilities as well as race and ethnicity and see that 98 percent are receiving financial aid and may not have come to the college as well prepared for academic rigor as student of the past, they will adopt changes to adapt to the needs of that population. It may be only a short while before there are tutoring centers and remedial courses taught there.

Perhaps the college will even begin to offer some online courses -- although four years ago when a college publication asked the question “Should Sweet Briar Offer Online Education?” one major administrator replied, “Sweet Briar is a traditional residential liberal arts college. We don’t have any need to do business with online classes. The education would not be the same…. The isolation that online classes create also collides with the teaching philosophy of Sweet Briar, which is to provide education in small, discussion-based classes in an intimate and strong community.” Well, the reality is that education at Sweet Briar is not the same it once was, and it is likely to move even farther away from that utopian state.

There are a lot of new higher education models that cannot be replicated at Sweet Briar in the near future. The college really cannot do what Trinity Washington University, a women’s college that once served a privileged student body, did when enrollments started dropping: become a multifaceted urban university targeting new populations, such as low-income women in the District of Columbia who hadn’t had the opportunity to get a good high school education. It is likely to be a long time before the area where Sweet Briar is located is no longer rural. But while Starbucks isn’t likely to open its own store in the community immediately, it will probably be only a short time before there is a coffee shop serving Starbucks products somewhere on the campus.

The big issue going forward will be if, in the words of Steve Spitzer, the certified fraud examiner who examined the records of the college, “the college's finances [can be] handled in a prudent and responsible way….” News articles suggest that the board based its decision to close on projections made by consultants who had examined the trends impacting the college’s finances. The tipping point was the enrollment and retention figures. While applications were increasing, the number of admitted students who actually enrolled was “plummeting.” In 2009 the yield was 33.3 percent; in 2014 it was 20.9 percent. In 2013 the endowment was $94 million; in 2014 it was $85 million.

Sweet Briar provided Inside Higher Ed with figures current as of January 2015 that reflect the discouraging data the board had to consider:

Sweet Briar Data Points, By Year








Endowment value $82m $94m $85m $88m $94m $85m
Undergraduate enrollment 611 605 610 566 599 561
Applications 572 559 643 763 905 936
Yield 33.3% 37.8% 36.8% 29.1% 25.8% 20.9%
Discount rate (all students) 40.8% 45.6% 50.1% 51.8% 57.0% n/a
Discount rate (first year) 48.9% 55.8% 54.9% 55.6% 62.8% 61.9%

Perhaps the implications that the previous administrations did not handle the operations of the college in a “prudent and responsible way” are unfair. A lot remains to be seen in terms of how the college can be managed without continuing to dip into its endowment at rates almost no college could sustain. Will the college keep its 54 horses, costing $27,000 a month in food and $36,500 a month for care? Will it find the $28 million needed for deferred maintenance on its once grand buildings? Will the student-faculty ratio become higher than eight to one? As new administrators are hired, will they be able to reverse the trends creating the financial stress? One issue that might present difficulties for any development office is that of gathering donations to make the college an institution of the 21st century when most of those being solicited graduated during the 20th century and want the college to preserve the culture it once enjoyed.

Will Sweet Briar escape the fate of so many women’s colleges? Surely, the terms of the will that established the college will make it difficult for the college to become coed, if it wishes to do so. But in the mid-1960s there were 230 women’s colleges and today there are only about 40. And a study by Moody’s of 13 women’s colleges revealed that Sweet Briar had the lowest enrollment of them all -- as well as the lowest operating budget (though it also had the lowest outstanding debt and the second lowest net tuition). Perhaps the most telling figure was that it was in the middle of the pack in terms of expenses per student. Few colleges can survive for long collecting roughly $20,000 per student and spending roughly $40,000.

It is time for those on the campus to get to work and hope the alumnae keep their wallets open.

Alice Brown, president emerita of the Appalachian College Association, lived on the campus of a small private college for two years, directed a consortium of 37 similar colleges for over 25 years and has written about another dozen or so. 

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Elson Floyd, President of Washington State, 1956-2015

Elson S. Floyd, president of Washington State University since 2007, died Saturday from complications from colon cancer. Floyd won widespread praise for his work at Washington State University, where he oversaw enrollment growth, a near doubling of the minority student population, the addition of many new programs and a successful $1 billion fund-raising campaign. Floyd, dubbed "E FLO" by many students, was known for his close connection to students, and the university's Facebook page is full of statements from students and alumni about how accessible and friendly he was. Floyd was born to a working class family, to parents who never graduated from high school, and he regularly spoke of the importance of public higher education in providing a path to success for the disadvantaged. Before moving to Washington State, Floyd was president of Western Michigan University and the University of Missouri System.

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How to Better Serve Returning Adult Students

Up to 35 million Americans have enrolled in college at some point but failed to earn a degree or certificate. A new report from Higher Ed Insight, a research firm, tracks the challenges adult students face when they return to college. The 69-page document is an evaluation of the Lumina Foundation's adult college completion work. It seeks to describe what works with this population, in part by looking at local, state and national partnerships that bring together higher education and employers to better serve and engage returning adult students.

Several key changes in policy and practice would benefit these students, according to the report. They include:

  • Access to advisers who are capable of addressing adult students' complex needs;
  • Student services that are available during nontraditional business hours, or online;
  • Additional sources of financial aid, particularly at the state level;
  • More transparency about transfer credit policies, including before students enroll;
  • Flexible course scheduling, online courses and innovative degree-completion programs;
  • Access to opportunities to earn credit for prior learning.

Career Education Corp. Sells Brooks Institute

Career Education Corporation, a major for-profit chain, announced Thursday that it is selling Brooks Institute to gphomestay, a company that works on international student programs at high schools and colleges in the U.S.

The California-based Brooks Institute is a visual and media arts institution that offers undergraduate and master's degrees. It enrolls roughly 500 students and has campuses in Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Career Education said last month that it would sell or close everything but its Colorado Technical University and American InterContinental University holdings as part of a broad restructuring and an effort to "rightsize." Colorado Technical and American InterContinental enroll about 34,000 of the company's 45,000 students. 

New presidents or provosts: Bryn Mawr Fisher Longwood NYU Northland SLU USJ Wesley Wingate

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  • Dennis Bona, president of Kellogg Community College, in Michigan, has been appointed president of Northland Community and Technical College, part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
  • Nancy Brickhouse, deputy provost for academic affairs at the University of Delaware, has been named provost at Saint Louis University, in Missouri.

U of Arizona to launch online degree outlet for undergraduates

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U of Arizona plans to emphasize its land-grant status as it joins the state's other public universities in offering online degrees for undergraduates.


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