administrators

Oregon Files Counterclaim Against Student Suing Over Sexual Assault Case

The University of Oregon has filed a counterclaim seeking to dismiss a student's lawsuit that alleges the university mishandled her sexual assault case. The “publication of false allegations about Oregon’s handling of a report of an alleged sexual assault creates a very real risk that survivors will wrongly be discouraged from reporting sexual assaults and sexual harassment to Oregon," the filing stated.

The student is suing the university and its men's basketball coach, alleging that they knowingly recruited a basketball player who had previously been accused of sexual assault and suspended from Providence College. That player, Brandon Austin, was one of three members of the Oregon basketball team who were accused of sexually assaulting the female student last year. The three athletes were not charged, Oregon Live reports, though the university eventually suspended them for up to 10 years, or for as long as it takes for the female student to graduate.

The student's suit also alleges that the University of Oregon scrubbed the players' transcripts of any references to sexual misconduct, making it easier for them to transfer to play elsewhere. Austin was able transfer again, this time to Northwest Florida State College, where he is now a member of the basketball team. Steve DeMeo, Northwest Florida State's head basketball coach, has acknowledged Austin's previous suspensions, saying at the time of the transfer that "the college has decided to give this young man an opportunity to continue his education."

In the counterclaim, the university's lawyers said that the student's lawsuit was frivolous and unreasonable. "Plaintiff's attorneys filed a lawsuit with unfounded allegations in an attempt to damage a good man's reputation [basketball coach Dana Altman], curry favor and gain traction in the media, and coerce a public university to pay a hefty sum to plaintiff even though it has done nothing wrong," the filing stated.

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State-Level Completion Data

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center this week released state-level student completion data. The nonprofit center tracked 2.7 million students who first enrolled in college in the fall of 2008, following them for 6 years. The report builds on the center's previous research, which found more encouraging graduation rates than other studies had identified, in part because the Clearinghouse has huge data sets that can follow students across institutions and state lines.

Nationwide, the report found that one in three community college students earned a credential at an institution other than the one at which they first enrolled. And 13 percent of students who began at a four-year public completed at a different institution. In five states (Iowa, North Dakota, Virginia, Kansas and Texas), more than 20 percent of students who began at a community college completed at a four-year institution. The report includes state-by-state tables and other breakouts of the data.

South Carolina State Board Places President on Leave

The board of South Carolina State University on Monday placed President Thomas Elzey on administrative leave and named the interim provost, W. Franklin Evans, as acting president, The Post and Courier reported. The move came shortly after a legislative committee passed legislation to shut down the historically black college for two years. There are also several legislative proposals to fire all board members, with the expectation that a new board would get rid of the president. Elzey, in office less than two years, has acknowledged many of the financial and other challenges facing the university that have frustrated legislators. But he has said that the university was making progress on what would be a long-term recovery plan.

 

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Essay calls for a different approach to FAFSA reform

Seemingly from the day it was created in 1992, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, has been a popular target for reform. The Obama administration shortened the time it takes to finish the form by two-thirds and created an automated tool so families can import their tax data. And now there’s a competition to see who can drop more of the FAFSA’s 105 questions. The president’s latest budget targets 30 questions for removal, while a bipartisan group of senators led by Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican now in charge of the committee that covers higher education, wants to go even farther -- shortening the FAFSA to just two questions that could fit on a postcard.

Making the FAFSA less of a burdensome impediment to financial aid receipt and reform is a laudable goal. But the obsessive “who can go lower” approach to simplifying the FAFSA is misdiagnosing the disease. FAFSA’s problem is not its length -- it’s the frequency that it’s required.

Reducing the number of FAFSA questions gets at a very specific problem -- the annual burden associated with completing the form. Doing so would free families from the yearly process of digging up complex tax, asset and other income data.

But as Michael Stratford discussed recently in Inside Higher Ed, removing FAFSA questions comes with its own set of concerns. In particular, colleges and most states do not have unlimited entitlement funds for financial aid, so they want as much data as possible, in order to vary the price charged to students to a degree that would make the airlines jealous. Take away that data by bringing the form down to two questions and you may just drive the creation of additional forms like the dreaded and expensive CSS Profile.

Fortunately, there’s a middle path that accomplishes the goal of reducing burden while still giving colleges and states the data they need to make nuanced decisions: a one-time FAFSA.

Since students would still fill out a detailed form, colleges would have the data they need to parcel out resources. They just would not have new information to do so year after year.

For students, the FAFSA would become more like any other part of the college application process, which is full of one-time submissions like essays and transcripts. This includes the Department of Education’s master promissory note, which only needs to be filled out once to receive federal student loans. And it would reduce the chances that students would lose financial aid solely because they failed to reapply the following year -- a problem that professors Sara Goldrick-Rab and Robert Kelchen identified in a post on a similar proposal in 2013.

What families and students would get in return for this one-time burden is something that could never be earned in any annual application process, regardless of length: predictability. Few students entering college have any idea what their financial aid might be beyond the first year. And they will not know for sure until they actually apply for aid again. A shorter form can help families more accurately predict what they might receive -- but it’s still an estimate, not a given.

A one-time FAFSA would make it possible to promise a student on day one what their aid package would look like for the rest of their undergraduate career. Families could use that information to budget and plan for costs in a way they cannot today. It could also be a huge help for low-income students considering different college options, since they would know exactly what support they could count on from the federal government at the same time they submit applications.

Only requiring the FAFSA a single time is a required step for many proposals for reforming federal student aid. For example, House Republicans proposed last year to create a flex account for Pell Grants. Students would be told upon entering college the total amount of Pell aid they are entitled to throughout their whole education and then would be allowed to spend it down as they took classes. It’s an intriguing idea that could send a strong message to students about just how much money they can get for college. But it’s also an empty promise for students under the current system, since the account balance would have to be recalculated each year.

Many of the most common objections to a one-time FAFSA could be addressed with simple tweaks. For example, it should pull in multiple years of older data so families cannot manipulate their income for a single year to appear poorer and get better aid. Students who see significant downward financial changes, such as a parent losing a job, could either follow the existing process of appealing to the financial aid office or refile for federal aid. And while it would be better to worry less about the unlikely cases that students see massive income increases, a threshold test could be added to only require new FAFSAs if income went up by very large dollar amounts, such as $20,000.

More broadly, moving to a one-time FAFSA system sends a message of simplicity and flexibility that extends far beyond paperwork. It makes the financial aid system less about obsessing over one's ability to pay in a single year to a longer-term assessment of financial circumstances that are probably not changing a great deal on an annual basis anyway. It builds in a tolerance for some income growth without making families go back through the hoop-jumping process. And in a world where tuition increases are an annual uncertainty, it could be a welcome source of predictability for students.

If the goal of financial aid simplification is really to make the process easier and more predictable for students and families, then the emphasis should be predictability, not a postcard.

Ben Miller is the higher education research director at New America.

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Conferences weigh freshman-ineligibility rule for basketball players

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Some conference commissioners are pushing making freshmen ineligible to compete to try to stem the flow of players of leaving college for the NBA after one year.

Student success company Hobsons acquires Starfish Retention Solutions

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Hobsons, seeking to offer college and career planning tools that follow students through their entire educational careers, acquires Starfish Retention Solutions.

11 Wesleyan students hospitalized in apparent reaction to club drug Molly

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One sophomore is in critical condition.

Princeton Dean Named as Next Swarthmore President

Valerie Smith, dean of the college at Princeton University, was on Saturday named the next president of Swarthmore College. Smith is the author of more than 40 articles and 3 books on African-American literature, culture, film and photography and is the editor or coeditor of 7 volumes.

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Coach Suspended for Asking Prospect for Social Media Information

A University of Florida assistant football coach was suspended after visiting and speaking with a prospect earlier than National Collegiate Athletic Association rules allow, the N.C.A.A. announced Friday. At the time, the player was a junior in high school. The coach spoke with the prospect outside of his high school last January and received his social media contact information.

"The former coach was able to have personal contact to get the prospect's contact information at a time when coaches who were following the rules were unable to have the same level of contact," Eleanor Myers, the chief hearing officer in the case and a law professor at Temple University, said during a press call.

The university decided to suspend the assistant coach and to end the recruitment of the player. While the N.C.A.A. said it will not impose any additional penalties, the infraction report noted that the coach's actions were "illustrative of a significant problem of football coaches skirting N.C.A.A. legislation."

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Legislators Move to Oust Board of South Carolina State

Legislators are offering competing plans to oust the board of South Carolina State University, The State reported. South Carolina State is a financially troubled historically black college, and a House committee stunned supporters of the institution by proposing to shut it down for two years. Now, Senate leaders are backing a plan under which the university's board would be replaced until 2018 by a special five-member board appointed by the governor and the Legislature. House leaders, meanwhile, are backing a plan to give power over the university to the state's Budget and Control Board, which is made up of five elected officials led by the governor. South Carolina State's accreditor must approve any change in control, and has warned that the House plan would appear to violate accreditation rules against undue political control of colleges.

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