Issues of race and security inflame two campuses

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At Colgate, students are furious over a security alert issued over a black student who was carrying a glue gun. At St. Olaf, students protest amid sense that threats against black students have not been taken seriously.

A new opportunity to implement year-round Pell Grants effectively (essay)

Students received some good news in the 2017 budget agreement unveiled Sunday night: the return of year-round Pell Grants. As early as this summer, this provision should help hundreds of thousands of low-income students finish college by giving additional grant aid to those who want to catch up on or accelerate their studies by attempting additional course work -- such as taking summer courses.

This change also gives the U.S. Department of Education a second shot at implementing year-round Pell Grants. Congress previously approved year-round Pell Grants in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, only to take them away three years later due to funding shortfalls in the program and unfair claims that the program was ineffective.

The second chance for year-round Pell Grants also means a new opportunity for the Department of Education to get implementation right this go-round. Although the prior version of year-round Pell Grants lacked the fundamental design errors that critics have previously claimed, it did have certain elements that made the program more complex to administer, especially for financial aid administrators. This is also another chance to collect data on usage and effectiveness, which would help combat other myths that helped make the last iteration an acceptable cut when the Pell program needed more money.

With the goal of easy implementation in mind, here are three important parts of establishing a year-round Pell program that should make it operate more smoothly this time.

Don’t Count Credits Earned

One complication of the original year-round program was a requirement that students had to use the additional aid to “accelerate” their path to program completion. In other words, students could only get additional aid if they were attempting credits that counted toward a second academic year.

That was potentially problematic because of the disconnect between what it means to be full-time for federal aid and the number of credits a student needs to advance an academic year. Federal aid requires attempting 24 credits or their equivalent to go full-time. But most colleges require 30 credits in a year to advance an academic year. The old definition thus excluded year-round Pell Grants from a key population -- students who wanted to fill the credit gap between federal and school requirements.

The statutory language in the new rules for year-round Pell, however, does not include acceleration. As such, the Department of Education should ensure that the new grant follows as simple a path as possible: additional aid for students if they are going half time and meeting satisfactory academic progress, as required by law.

Admittedly, this approach will increase the number of students eligible for the additional aid, raising costs and meaning more students will use part of their lifetime limits in the program faster. That is why institutional rules on satisfactory academic progress matter so much. Those requirements prevent students from continuing to get federal aid if they are not moving fast enough toward completing a program. Enforcing academic progress rules should stop year-round Pell payments to students who are not otherwise passing enough courses. Colleges can also deal with this issue by providing better guidance and pathways for students to finish before using all their Pell eligibility.

Let Colleges Pick the Award Year

The original year-round Pell Grant created headaches for financial aid administrators in part due to requirements about which year an additional award should be assigned to if it took place over the summer. Institutions treat the summer session differently. Some act like it is the start of a new aid award year (e.g. summer 2017 is the beginning of the 2017-18 award year), while others act like it is the end of the current year (e.g. summer 2017 is the end of the 2016-17 award year).

The original year-round Pell Grant required colleges to award the additional aid to the year that provides the most generous grant for students. In other words, if a student’s 2017-18 award under year-round Pell would be $1,000 and in 2018-19 it would be $999, then the grant had to be assigned to 2017-18.

While generosity to students sounds great, the requirement created implementation headaches: colleges could not adopt an institutionwide policy about how to assign awards. It also might have required institutions to get students to submit aid applications they had not yet completed.

The new legislative language allows each institution to pick the award year that it determines is most beneficial to students. In implementing this provision, the Department of Education should provide colleges with ample discretion to figure out which financial aid year would be more beneficial. Students, meanwhile, should be able to appeal the award through standard financial aid processes in the likely limited number of cases where a student’s economic circumstances change or they believe they would get more money.

Collect and Report Data

Insufficient data and reporting on the original year-round Pell Grant program made it impossible to refute or verify certain persistent myths about the additional awards. For example, when the Obama administration proposed eliminating the program in its fiscal year 2012 budget, it did so partly on the grounds that the provision “has not yet shown any evidence of accelerating students’ college completion time.” Though subsequent studies have challenged that point, the Education Department never published sufficient data to judge whether year-round Pell Grants worked.

Similarly, the extent to which different institutions made use of year-round Pell Grants was never clear. Bloomberg, for example, cited Department of Education statistics showing that nearly one-third of year-round Pell Grant dollars went to for-profit colleges. But the department never provided any clarifying data to show whether that represented a disproportionate share of students who take additional course work, or how these students fared compared to those in other sectors.

Now is the time to fix these problems. The Department of Education should commit to collecting and publishing data about year-round Pell volume separate from standard Pell Grant awards by institution. It should also work with the Institute for Education Sciences to assess the progress of year-round Pell students to see if the additional grant aid helps with time to completion or gets students back on track to finish.

Second chances are a rare occurrence in policy programs. The return of year-round Pell is a welcome win for today’s students. Now it’s up to the Department of Education to make swift and sensible implementation choices so that students can start receiving this aid as soon as possible. Summer is not all that far away.

Ben Miller is the senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress.

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Northwestern and Berkeley's journalism schools drop accreditor, echoing broader criticism about the value of accreditation

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Northwestern’s journalism school drops its accreditor, shortly after Berkeley did the same, echoing broader questions about the value of the process and whether it impedes innovation.

Brandeis Grad Students Vote to Unionize

Graduate students at Brandeis University voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, 88 to 34, they announced Tuesday. Graduate students at Tufts University also are expected to hold a union vote this month, following a decision last year by the National Labor Relations Board saying that graduate teaching and research assistants on private campuses have the right to form unions. Brandeis students will join SEIU’s Faculty Forward, which already represents about 4,000 non-tenure-track faculty members in the Boston area. The university said in a statement that it looks forward "to working with the SEIU to reach a collective bargaining agreement for Ph.D. students who teach, who are vitally important members of our community."

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Author discusses new book about how American higher education has always been 'a perfect mess'

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Author discusses his new book about American higher education, which suggests it may be better off today than people realize … because it has always faced so many problems and has always been a “hustler’s paradise.”

Northwestern J-School Drops Accreditation

Northwestern University's journalism school has dropped its specialized accreditation, The Chicago Tribune reported. The school -- generally considered among the country's top journalism programs -- was up for renewal by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications and opted not to go through the process. Northwestern, as a university, maintains institutional accreditation, so students are still eligible for federal student aid.

Bradley Hamm, dean of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, told the Tribune, "Our goal is always to be the best in the world, and this process doesn't get us there. We just don't find that the review provides us with anything beyond what we already know today. It's relatively superficial, extremely time-consuming and doesn't lead us to a goal of significant improvement. It's sort of a low bar."

The accreditor declined to comment on that statement.

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Title IX cases that resulted in suicide, a suicide attempt at two colleges prompt fresh debate

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Two lawsuits -- one involving accused student’s suicide and another about an attempt -- have added fire to the continued debate over how colleges handle complaints of sexual assault.

Utah President and Senior VP Will Step Down

A controversy over leadership of a cancer center at the University of Utah is leading to multiple transitions -- and has led the president to announce his plans to leave.

Vivian Lee resigned as senior vice president of university health sciences at the University of Utah just days after she abruptly fired Mary Beckerle, head of the Huntsman Cancer Institute on campus, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Faculty members and the influential Huntsman family of donors objected to Beckerle’s termination as leader of the institute, and she was promptly reinstated last month with a new chain of command, allowing her to report directly to David Pershing, university president, and bypass Lee.

Pershing announced this week that A. Lorris Betz, former CEO of university health care, will fill in for Lee while the university looks for a permanent replacement. Lee will stay on as a professor of radiology. "I have worked as hard as I could to carry forward the mission of our entire health sciences community and of the university," Lee wrote in a resignation announcement to colleagues. "Taking account of the events of the last two weeks, I believe the best interests of the university are now served by the decision I am taking today."

Then Pershing announced Monday that he would be leaving so that the search for his successor could be run at the same time as a search for the new senior vice president, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Pershing said he had planned to leave at the end of the 2017-18 academic year but moved up the timetable so that the searches could be conducted together.

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Trump Administration Backs Termination of ACICS

The Trump administration has backed its predecessor's decision to terminate the recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a national accreditor that oversees 245 colleges, most of them for-profits.

The Education Department finalized its decision to nix the accreditor shortly before Trump's inauguration, citing concerns about lax oversight of the collapsed Corinthian Colleges, ITT Technical Institute and other colleges. ACICS sued to block the department's move.

Last weekend the department filed a legal brief supporting the Obama administration's move. Among other arguments, the department said ACICS had failed to swiftly and properly adopt sufficient standards. "For example, despite having applied for renewal of recognition in January of 2016, the secretary noted that, as of December 2016, ACICS still lacked a standard with respect to student achievement in obtaining licensure," the filing said.

Some observers have wondered whether the Trump administration might change course on ACICS, given its stated interest in rolling back federal regulations. But the ACICS decision, which several state attorneys general have backed in court, would be a difficult one to reverse, experts said.

Most of the 245 institutions overseen by ACICS have begun attempting to find a new accreditor, with the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges saying in January that it expected to receive 210 applications from ACICS institutions by the end of that month.

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You need to identify internal influencers to accomplish things in academe (essay)

You need to know your internal influencers, and the problem is that they don’t necessarily follow formal reporting structures, titles or positions in higher education, writes Ellen de Graffenreid.

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