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Accreditor Defers Action on U of Phoenix Parent Company Merger

The Higher Learning Commission announced Thursday it would defer action on a proposed merger agreement from Apollo Education Group -- the parent company of the University of Phoenix.

HLC notified Apollo that it would defer action until the U.S. Department of Education provides a written response regarding the agreement, according to a corporate filing. The regional accreditor will reconsider the merger within 30 days. If the department hasn't responded, HLC can also take up the matter in November.

Apollo is in the process of going private. In May, shareholders agreed to sell the company for $1.14 billion. That sale is subject to review by HLC and the department.

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U.S. House Bill Would Nix Year-Round Pell Grants

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday released a draft funding bill that would block implementation of federal gainful employment rules and would not back the U.S. Senate's attempt to restore year-round Pell Grant eligibility. The bill also includes $33.3 billion for the National Institutes of Health, which is $1.25 billion above this fiscal year's funding level.

The Obama administration's attempt to regulate vocational programs at colleges based on their graduates' labor-market standards went into effect last year. They apply to for-profit institutions and nondegree programs at community colleges and other nonprofit institutions. The draft House bill would prevent any of the proposed $162 billion for labor, health and human services from being used to "implement, administer or enforce" the final regulations.

Likewise, the bill does not include funding for year-round Pell, which would allow students to use the grants during summer sessions. Congress and the White House backed the elimination of that eligibility in 2011. The House proposal also would cut $1.3 billion from the Pell program, which has a roughly $7.8 billion surplus.

Consumer and higher education groups criticized the House bill, saying it would harm lower-income students. Some, however, also praised the proposed funding increase for biomedical research at the NIH.

"In addition to raiding Pell Grant funds, the draft House bill attempts again to block implementation of the commonsense gainful employment regulation designed to protect both students and taxpayers from career education programs that overcharge and underdeliver," said the Institute for College Access and Success, in a written statement.

The bill will be considered by a House subcommittee today. 

On Wednesday 120 House Democrats sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee in which they opposed cuts to the Pell program.

"Rescissions, cancelations or funding level cuts will worsen the funding outlook for Pell Grants and make it harder to strengthen the program through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which Congress is expected to tackle in the coming months and years," they wrote. "Any current surplus balance reflects Congress’ intent and commitment to make college more affordable for millions of students through updating the Pell Grant program."

AFT Urges Stronger Regulation of For-Profits

The American Federation of Teachers released a report Wednesday examining ways the Education Department can handle failing for-profit institutions.

"Students routinely leave for-profit institutions worse off than when they enrolled," said Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. "They're ripped off financially and academically, which is a toxic combination. This report addresses how the department could develop stronger regulations for for-profit colleges, facilitating early intervention the moment it discovers financial trouble and limiting liabilities faced by students and taxpayers."

The report, "Regulating Too-Big-to-Fail Education," describes six ways the department can better regulate these institutions. The department should limit provisional certification and close a loophole that allows the agency to extend that status beyond three years. So if an institution hasn't become financially responsible after those three years, the department should eliminate the provisional certification and mandate an additional 50 percent letter of credit.

The report also advised that the department should create enforcement mandates that would automatically trigger a 10 percent letter of credit requirement. A group of federal agencies would also help the department to decide what type of event qualifies as a trigger.

A third recommendation in the report is for the department to restrict institutional spending for those colleges that fail to show financial responsibility and prohibit the institutions from creating new programs or opening new campuses.

AFT also recommended that institutions post letters of credit from their owners instead of being allowed to pay banks to post on their behalf. Finally, the report recommends calculating the letters of credit on actual risk. These letters of credit are calculated based on an institution's most recent year of revenue. AFT recommends that the department require letters of credit that accurately reflect the expense of closed school discharges and borrower defense claims over multiple years.

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Fact-Checking Trump Assertion on Clinton For-Profit Ties

As Donald Trump and his supporters have sought to change the subject from Trump University, they have seized on reporting from Inside Higher Ed and other news outlets about Bill Clinton's ties to Laureate Education, which paid him $16.5 million in the honorary role of chancellor of Laureate International Universities from 2010 to 2014.

But the Republican presidential candidate's backers have also suggested -- incorrectly, it seems -- that Hillary Clinton directed tens of millions of dollars in State Department funds to the for-profit higher education company. "As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton laundered money to Bill Clinton through Laureate Education, while Bill Clinton was an honorary chairman of the group. Clinton's State Department provided $55.2 million in grants to Laureate Education from 2010 to 2012," Trump's campaign said in a statement Tuesday. "This is yet another example of how Clinton treated the State Department as her own personal hedge fund, and sold out the American public to fund her lavish lifestyle. Laureate made money by racking up student debt on vulnerable students."

The statement is factually wrong on several accounts. The State Department has not made any grants to Laureate. The statement appears to be conflating grants that the State Department made to the International Youth Foundation, a nonprofit group focused on preparing young people worldwide for work, whose president and CEO, William S. Reese, tried to correct the record in a recent letter. Reese noted that Douglas S. Becker, Laureate's founder and CEO, is the chairman of the foundation's volunteer Board of Directors -- he did not "run it," as some news reports suggested. Reese also pointed out that the organization received more grants during the administration of President George H. W. Bush than it did while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

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Report Finds Uneven Sanctioning by Accreditors

An analysis of key actions 10 institutional accrediting agencies took over five years found a "highly uneven and inconsistent system of sanctions." The report from the Center for American Progress, which has previously chided accreditors for their oversight of poor-performing colleges, found that national accreditors are more likely to sanction their member colleges, but that regional agencies keep institutions on sanction for longer periods of time. The group recommended "clearer, common rules of the road about sanction terminology, definitions and use."

For-profit opponents continue to fight proposal to expand military base access

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For-profit institutions that cater to service members see chance to connect with students in Senate-passed provision expanding access on military bases.

Decreases in enrollment lead to Brown Mackie closing

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Education Management Corp. is shutting down most Brown Mackie College campuses because of dwindling demand for the for-profit and its programs.

U of Arizona President Stepping Down in 2 Years

University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart has opted not to pursue an extension of her current contract, a decision coming months after she drew flak for deciding to join the board of for-profit college company DeVry Education Group.

Hart, who took over as Arizona’s president in July 2012, still has two years left on her contract. She’s slated to step down from the presidency on June 30, 2018. Her decision came after she realized she’s been a university president for 14 years, she said in a statement. Hart was previously president at Temple University and the University of New Hampshire.

“I look forward to returning to full-time faculty work as a teacher, scholar and citizen of the university,” she said.

Hart’s decision, announced Friday, comes after she was sharply criticized in March for joining the Board of Directors for Illinois-based DeVry Education Group, which operates DeVry University. The criticism followed the Federal Trade Commission filing a lawsuit against DeVry, alleging it made deceptive claims about job placement rates and graduate wages.

Arizona alumni, employees and students’ parents complained about Hart joining DeVry, and she was questioned by Arizona’s Faculty Senate. But she defended her role, saying she would advocate for quality at DeVry and try to make education available to students who cannot attend Arizona.

The Arizona Board of Regents plans to start a national search for Hart’s replacement this fall. The board came out in support of her decision not to seek a new contract, with Chairman Jay Heiler releasing a statement.

“President Hart has conferred with me and others throughout the spring regarding her plans and her contract,” it said. “The decision not to seek an extension is hers, and true to her character she has made it in full consideration of both her personal aspirations and her institutional commitments.”

Ashford University on brink of losing GI Bill benefits

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For-profit Ashford University, facing loss of access to GI Bill benefits by month's end, needs approval from a state to stop thousands of student veterans from losing aid.

ITT Tech Told to Increase Letter of Credit

The U.S. Department of Education wants ITT Technical Institutes to increase its letter of credit from 10 percent to 20 percent after the institution's accreditor questioned its integrity, according to a department letter sent Monday to the for-profit institution.

Last month, the troubled Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools scrutinized ITT Tech over allegations from state and federal agencies about the institution's administration, organization and financial viability. ACICS cited the department's decision to place ITT on heightened cash monitoring and lawsuits from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Securities Exchange Commission to order the for-profit to prove why it shouldn't lose accreditation or be sanctioned.

Because of the increased risk of ACICS revoking accreditation, the Education Department determined the surety on file from ITT must increase from $79,707,879 to $123,646,182, according to the letter to ITT's chief executive officer, Kevin Modany. A letter of credit is collateral the government asks colleges to set aside when officials have concerns that an institution may be unable or unwilling to pay back money it owes to the government. The letter of credit would assure the government that if ITT Tech closes or terminates classes, funds will be available for refunds, teach-out facilities and institutional obligations to the department.

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