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Democratic Senators Urge VA, Department of Defense to Protect Ashford Students

In separate letters to the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs Monday Tuesday, Democratic senators called for additional steps to protect student veterans and service members enrolled at Ashford University, which is slated to lose GI Bill eligibility within 60 days.

Ashford last week said it would suspend enrollment of new student veterans who receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits -- the latest development in a dispute between the for-profit and the VA. The agency told Ashford that Arizona regulators had not provided sufficient evidence of jurisdictional approval over its online programs. 

The VA said it would suspend Ashford's GI Bill eligibility within 60 days if corrective action was not taken. Although Ashford disagreed with the decision in a corporate filing, it agreed to voluntarily suspend enrollment of new student veterans. 

The senators urged Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to warn GI Bill recipients and DOD Tuition Assistance recipients of Ashford's status and prohibit further enrollments. 

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Law School May Join U Illinois at Chicago

The University of Illinois at Chicago is in the midst of discussions that would have it absorbing the city's independent John Marshall Law School.

Leaders from the two institutions announced the discussions in memorandums Tuesday, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. They called the talks preliminary and exploratory. But they have been engaged for 16 months, with the two sides completing an assessment finding it would be financially feasible for John Marshall to become a part of UIC, the institutions said on a website answering frequently asked questions.

The timing of any change going forward will depend on reviews by accreditors and trustees. If the institutions move forward, John Marshall would become a new school within the university but continue to operate out of its facility in downtown Chicago. The arrangement would open the possibility of potential new joint programs, dual-degree programs, accelerated programs and enhanced student services, the law school and university say. It would also remove UIC from the small list of top-tier research universities without a law school and create the only public law school in Chicago.

UIC and John Marshall have discussed affiliating or merging in the past. Negotiations started in 1998 but broke off in 2001. The discussions are the latest development in an unsettled environment for legal education. Last week Valparaiso University announced its law school will stop admitting new students and seek a merger or relocation.

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$700M Bequest to Columbia, NewYork-Presbyterian

A large new gift to Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian will go to cancer research and clinical programs.

Florence Irving and her late husband, Herbert Irving, have added $600 million to previously announced pledges to Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian, the two institutions announced Thursday. The move brings their total bequest to $700 million.

Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian share a 20-acre medical center campus in upper Manhattan that last year was renamed for the Irvings. The couple has now donated a total of more than $900 million over 30 years to the institutions. Numerous professorships, faculty chairs, clinical facilities and research facilities have previously been named for the family.

The newly announced money will be used for recruiting scientists and clinicians and to develop new therapies. A comprehensive cancer center named after Herbert Irving that treats more than 4,000 new patients annually will also be expanded.

Herbert Irving was co-founder and former vice chairman of the food distributor Sysco Corp. He died last year at the age of 98.

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House passes tax plan with many provisions opposed by colleges

Plan targets large endowments of private colleges and eliminates many deductions benefiting student loan borrowers and graduate students.

Higher ed's nuanced strategy gives it options for navigating tax reform debate

The higher ed lobby has singled out specific provisions of Republicans’ proposed tax overhaul instead of taking on the idea that loopholes should be closed to pay for lower corporate taxes. Leaders say that’s the right strategy, even though polling shows the bill is widely unpopular.

Democrats Seek Full Relief for Defrauded Borrowers

Congressional Democrats called on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Tuesday to grant full student loan relief to borrowers who were defrauded or misled by their colleges.

In a letter signed by 26 Senate and House lawmakers, the Democrats said they were concerned over reports that the Department of Education is considering granting partial relief to defrauded student loan borrowers. Officials at the department have had discussions about whether and how to grant partial relief to some borrowers based on the amount of harm they suffered.

DeVos in June suspended an Obama administration student loan protection regulation, known as borrower defense, that provided a new federal framework for processing loan relief claims. While the department has pursued a negotiated rule-making process to arrive at a new rule, it's said it will process thousands of pending borrower-defense claims under a 1995 regulation that used violation of state law as a basis for approving a claim.

The Democrats said using earnings data from the Social Security Administration to calculate harm could not be done unilaterally by the department. They asked DeVos, among other questions, to confirm whether such conversations are taking place and whether the department has been instructed by the White House or Department of Treasury to limit the budgetary impact of loan relief claims.

About 95,000 borrower defense claims are currently pending resolution, acting Under Secretary James Manning told panelists negotiating a new borrower-defense regulation Tuesday. About 65 percent of those claims were filed by former students of for-profit Corinthian Colleges institutions.

Many borrowers have waited for resolution on those claims for two years or more. Manning said in his comments to negotiators that the department will forgive interest that accrues on loans when a borrower-defense application takes more than a year to resolve. He also said that as it has worked to process claims, the department has found that some loans "fully or partially" fell outside the applicable statute of limitations in their state, making them ineligible for discharge.

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Many Trustees See Faculty as Barrier to Change

College and university trustees widely agree that the public’s perception of higher education has been eroding and that higher education’s business model needs to change -- but many see significant barriers to putting changes in place.

More than half of trustees, 57 percent, agreed that the general public perception of higher education in the United States has declined in the last decade, according to a survey conducted for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges and released today. Forty-one percent of respondents agreed with the statements. Another 16 percent agreed strongly.

Nearly all respondents, 92 percent, said college and university business models need to change. More than half, 58 percent, called for moderate changes, and 34 percent said the business model should change drastically. Many trustees, 57 percent, said most colleges are able to change their business models. But only 38 percent said most colleges are willing to change.

Asked about the biggest barrier to changing higher education’s business model, 28 percent of respondents pointed to a lack of support from faculty members. The lack of faculty support was by far the most popular answer, followed by a lack of confidence among institutional leaders in making changes, cited by 19 percent of trustees, and a lack of consensus among leaders, cited by 16 percent.

The survey also asked trustees about their top three concerns for higher education’s future. More than two-thirds, 68 percent, pointed to the price of higher education for students and families. Other top concerns included student debt, named by 41 percent of trustees; the ability of higher education to respond to changing student and employer needs, named by 33 percent; and higher education institutions’ business model, named by 33 percent.

Just 22 percent of trustees said preparing graduates for the work force is the most important role higher education fills. A large majority agreed with the statement that liberal arts education should be included in all undergraduate programs -- 56 percent strongly agreed, and 29 percent agreed. Yet nearly all trustees, 92 percent, said the general public does not understand the notion of a liberal arts education very well.

AGB is in the middle of an effort to involve college and university trustees in public discussion about the value proposition of higher education. Where public policy is concerned, at least, there may be work to be done. Only 23 percent of surveyed trustees said they had personally contacted a member of Congress about a higher ed policy issue in the last year.

The new polling is the first in a set of three surveys AGB plans in order to gauge trustee perspectives. It includes responses from about 1,400 AGB members who participated in online surveys between March 20 and April 18.

“The story that they share in their responses is both candid and straightforward, but also, in some respects, it’s somewhat sobering,” said Rick Legon, AGB president, during a conference call to discuss the findings.

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N.Y. Private Colleges See In-State Enrollment Decline

Many of New York State’s private nonprofit colleges that rely heavily on in-state students are taking enrollment hits this fall, the first in which the state’s Excelsior Scholarship offering free tuition to many students at public universities is in place.

The statewide association representing private nonprofit college leaders in New York, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, surveyed its members about their enrollment in August and September. It received responses from 80, or three-quarters of its total membership.

Of those 80 institutions, 48 have student bodies made up of 65 percent or more New York State residents. And of those 48 institutions, 30 reported enrollment declines in the fall of 2017.

Among all 48 institutions whose student bodies were at least 65 percent New York State residents, in-state first-time freshmen enrollment fell by 6 percent from the fall of 2016 to the fall of 2017. Total undergraduate enrollment dropped by 2 percent. Half reported fewer incoming transfers this fall.

Among only those 30 institutions reporting enrollment declines this fall, New York resident first-time freshmen enrollment dropped by 8 percent. Total undergraduate enrollment fell by 5 percent. A majority of the institutions, 60 percent, reported fewer incoming transfers this fall.

In total, the 30 institutions enroll about 60,300 undergraduates.

Overall enrollment had been relatively stable among the state’s private institutions in recent years, according to CICU. The association did not note any specific types of institution that were more likely to have experienced enrollment declines. Institutions across the state and with student bodies of various sizes saw enrollment drop.

Many private nonprofit presidents have said they struggled to hold prospective students’ interest after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he wanted to create the Excelsior Scholarship in January.

“Our presidents would tell us they were having a pretty good year in terms of interest, and then things started drying up,” said Mary Beth Labate, CICU president.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office said that high tuition costs and rising student debt have caused enrollment declines at private colleges. The state created an enhanced tuition award for private colleges, she pointed out in an email, also urging private institutions to work with the state to make college more affordable.

Many private colleges decided not to opt into the Enhanced Tuition Award Program. Presidents balked at residency and work restrictions placed on students after graduation, as well as requirements that participating colleges and universities match state funding and freeze tuition for award recipients.

The governor’s office has said about 45,000 students are attending the State University of New York or the City University of New York after being deemed eligible for Excelsior Scholarships this fall. More than 23,000 have their tuition covered by existing programs like the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, Pell Grants and other sources of financial aid. About 22,000 more have their tuition covered by the scholarship, which is structured as a last-dollar program covering costs after other sources of funding.

New York is rolling out the free tuition program over three years. In the current academic year, students from households with incomes up to $100,000 are eligible. Next year the income limit will jump to $110,000, and it will increase again to $125,000 in 2019-20. The program requires students to be in college full-time and complete 30 credits per year. It also includes controversial residency and work requirements after graduation.

CICU argues that private, nonprofit colleges should be more involved in efforts to improve higher education in New York, framing the issue as one of student choice.

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Gainful-Employment Negotiators Named

The Department of Education on Monday released the names of 16 negotiators and their alternates who will look to reach agreement on a new gainful-employment regulation.

An Obama administration regulation, the gainful-employment rule was written to hold career education programs accountable for producing too many graduates not making progress paying off their student loans.

The department released the first gainful-employment data in January, showing a wide disparity in performance between public and for-profit institutions. But in June Betsy DeVos said she would launch a negotiated rule-making process to overhaul the regulation.

The list of negotiators includes representatives of a wide mix of constituent groups, including two-year and four-year institutions, business and industry groups, consumer advocates, accreditors, for-profit colleges, and others. The panel's first negotiating session will run from Dec. 4-7.

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2 Borrowers Sue Over Forgiveness of Student Loans

Frustrated with the slow resolution of loan forgiveness claims at the Department of Education, two borrowers have filed a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and loan servicing company Navient in federal court.

The lawsuit, filed Sunday by two former students of for-profit college Sanford-Brown Institute, cites federal and state law in seeking forgiveness of their federal and privately held loans.

 

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