IBM Will Invest $240 Million on Joint Lab With MIT

IBM and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced Thursday that the company would spend $240 million on a joint lab with MIT focused on artificial intelligence. "The collaboration aims to advance AI hardware, software, and algorithms related to deep learning and other areas; increase AI’s impact on industries, such as health care and cybersecurity; and explore the economic and ethical implications of AI on society," said the announcement.

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Professor Owes Mizzou $600K in Intellectual Property Case

Galen Suppes, a former professor of chemical engineering at the University of Missouri at Columbia, must pay the institution $600,000 in damages, a jury decided this week, according to the Missourian. In an intellectual property lawsuit involving technology that converts glycerin to acetal, propylene glycol and antifreeze, the university system’s Board of Curators accused Suppes of violating his contract and financially competing against Mizzou in denying it property rights to inventions developed within the scope of his employment. 

The board argued that it lost $3.7 million over the disputed technology, while Suppes argued there was no proof of that claim and that both he and the university owned his technology. The jury voted 10-2 that Suppes breached his contract and was competing against it, but it rejected a third claim that Suppes had interfered in business relationships between the university and other parties. 

Suppes was fired from the university in 2016, according to the university, after 12-member faculty panel recommended termination.Mizzou “will continue to protect its intellectual rights, as well as those of the faculty and taxpayers,” it said in a statement. “Protecting and commercializing the intellectual property created by university researchers is pivotal to the growth and strength of our research and economic development programs.”

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Professor Owes Mizzou $600K in Intellectual Property Case

Senate Bill Boosts Maximum Pell Grant

The Senate appropriations committee will consider Thursday a spending package that boosts the maximum value of the Pell Grant by 1.7 percent, using funds from the program’s reserves.

The spending package -- part of a bill funding the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and related agencies -- also holds steady current funding for the Federal Work-Study program and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.

Lawmakers also used the spending package to ensure Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doesn’t reconsider a plan to award handling of federal student loans to a single servicer -- a proposal that the department abandoned after getting pushback from state-based servicers as well as Democratic and Republican elected officials.

The $68.3 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Education is $29 million above fiscal year 2017 levels.

Bumping up the Pell Grant increases its maximum value by $100, to $6,020. That would mean Congress and the administration would avoid letting the grant go without an annual increase for the first time since fiscal year 2007. That automatic increase was set to expire after the 2017-18 aid cycle.

The Institute for College Access and Success, which advocates for expanded access to student aid, praised lawmakers for the increasing the grant’s value while noting that the spending bill took about $2.6 billion from Pell Grant reserves.

"While we are very disappointed and concerned to see an additional $2.6 billion cut to Pell Grants in this bill, we praise both Senator [Roy] Blunt [of Missouri] and Senator [Patty] Murray [of Washington] for committing to work to reduce it through an ultimate congressional [fiscal year 2018] spending agreement that increases overall discretionary funding levels."

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Sweet Briar Will Reset Tuition

Sweet Briar College will cut its sticker price by about a third next year, it said Wednesday in an announcement that also detailed a series of planned curricular changes.

The small private women’s college in rural Virginia will drop its sticker price for tuition, room, board and fees by 32 percent to $34,000 for the 2018-19 academic year. Both new and returning students will be covered by the change.

Next year’s price cut is a tuition reset strategy, a strategy which has been drawing interest at many private colleges and universities recently. Tuition resets have been pitched as a way to counter the rise of tuition discounting -- the near-ubiquitous practice of institutions regularly raising their sticker prices but also offsetting their price hikes by offering increasing amounts of financial aid. In theory, tuition resets can attract more students by grabbing attention or by convincing students that they can pay for colleges that previously seemed too expensive. But resets’ chances of success remain controversial.

Sweet Briar will be resetting tuition just three years after it nearly closed. Its former board announced plans in March of 2015 to shut down the college at the end of that academic year despite the fact it had a considerable endowment, pointing to a rising tuition discount rate, poor admissions trends and the challenge of recruiting students to women’s colleges. Alumnae fought the closure and won a court battle to keep the college open under new leadership.

Currently, Sweet Briar’s tuition discount rate fluctuates between 65 percent and 68 percent, according to its president, Meredith Woo. After the tuition reset, its discount rate is expected to drop below 40 percent.

“It opens us up in a transparent, honest and simple way to families that really want to understand what’s available for their children,” Woo said. “We also want to make it very clear that at that rate, we are actually competitive price-wise with flagship public universities.”

The University of Virginia estimates a yearly cost of attendance of over $31,000 for new in-state students in its College of Arts and Sciences, before financial aid. It estimates roughly $62,000 to $63,000 for out-of-state residents.

Sweet Briar will also be rolling out substantial curricular changes next year. The college is revising its core curriculum around women’s leadership and reorganizing its academic departments into three interdisciplinary centers. It is also changing from 15-week semesters to a 3-12-12-3-week schedule. The new schedule’s short terms will allow for research, internship and study abroad.

Woo had written about some of the curricular changes at the end of August in a letter that also said Sweet Briar enrolled a new class of 95 students this year. But the college’s announcement Wednesday included new details, including that every undergraduate student will be eligible to receive up to $2,000 to fund experiential learning.

The near-simultaneous announcement of the tuition reset and curricular revamp come amid a period of change for the rebooted Sweet Briar. Woo started as president in May, taking over for the retiring Phillip C. Stone, who was brought in to lead the college after alumnae stopped its closure.

“We studied it very carefully,” Woo said of timing the tuition reset announcement. “We discussed it with the Board of Directors very intensely and we decided that the right time to do it is when we are coming up with new academic ideas.”

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White House Delays HBCU Conference

The White House said Friday it would delay an annual conference for historically black colleges and universities that had been scheduled for mid-September.

Congressional Democrats and multiple organizations representing HBCUs have called in recent weeks for the event to be delayed until after the White House names the executive director of its HBCU Initiative. They also called for more action related to Trump's March executive order on historically black colleges, such as "developing a meaningful plan of action with concrete commitments to invest in and advance HBCUs," as the United Negro College Fund said in its letter to the administration.

While the conference is postponed, the White House said it would instead meet with a small number of HBCU leaders and students on strategic issues.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Foundation, praised the decision to postpone the event.

"TMCF will continue our substantive and positive working relationship with the entire Trump administration," he said.

Omarosa Manigault-Newman, director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison, had insisted in response to calls for a delay last month that the conference would go ahead as planned. She also promised that the White House would name an executive director for the HBCU Initiative as well as members of a board of advisers.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017
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White House Delays HBCU Conference

New approach to Education Dept. oversight focuses on risk assessment and outreach

Department of Education names new key employees in student aid office, signaling more collaborative approach to overseeing colleges. Critics see gentler hand for colleges and universities.

Nominations Invited for Rule-Making Panels

The Department of Education on Tuesday outlined qualifications for potential negotiators taking up the borrower-defense and gainful-employment regulations in separate rule-making panels later this year.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in June that she would block the borrower-defense rule from going into effect and establish separate panels to reconsider both sets of regulations. The borrower-defense rule outlined a process for student borrowers defrauded by their institutions to seek discharge of their student loans. The gainful-employment rule sought to hold career education programs accountable for graduating students with more debt than they could pay off.

The department is seeking nominations for negotiators from a range of constituencies as is typical in the rule-making process. Among them, are students, consumer advocacy groups, service member organizations and representatives of higher education institutions. It is also seeking representation from lawyers and compliance officers as well as business officers for universities, which reflects calls for more subject-area expertise on the panel. And the department created two slots for representatives from the for-profit sector on both panels -- one representing institutions with 450 students or fewer, and another representing larger institutions. And it added a slot for a representative of business and industry, such as a labor economist, to the gainful-employment panel.

The department also created a subcommittee for the borrower-defense panel that will focus on a review of the financial responsibility provisions of the rule. It plans to name negotiators from groups with expertise in financial accounting and the department's financial responsibility standards.

Both sets of rules were heavily criticized by for-profit colleges. But traditional higher ed institutions, including private nonprofits and historically black colleges, had warned that the financial triggers in the borrower-defense rule -- which were designed to protect the taxpayer when institutions failed -- would have negative consequences for their sectors.

The negotiations over both rules will take place over three four-day sessions. The borrower-defense committee will meet Nov. 13-15, Jan. 8-11 and Feb. 12-15. The financial responsibility subcommittee will meet Nov. 16-17, Jan. 4-5 and Jan. 29-30, although its meetings will not be public. The gainful-employment committee will meet Dec. 4-7, Feb. 5-8 and March 12-15.

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Charlotte Law Faced Criminal Probe While Seeking Federal Aid

For-profit Charlotte School of Law and its parent company, InfiLaw, were under criminal investigation as they sought to negotiate restoration of federal student aid for Charlotte students, according to recently unsealed court filings from a whistle-blower lawsuit filed against the school.

Politico and the Charlotte Observer first reported the criminal probe. The lawsuit, which was brought by a former Charlotte Law professor, and the court filings were unsealed this month after the Department of Justice said it would not intervene in the lawsuit for now.

The Department of Justice was looking into allegations in that lawsuit that Charlotte Law defrauded the federal government to receive Title IV federal aid funds by, among other actions, admitting unqualified students and conspiring to avoid compliance with its accreditor's standards.

The law school closed its doors earlier this month after it lost its license to operate in North Carolina. The closure followed several months of negotiations with the Department of Education to restore access to the federal student loan programs, which the Obama administration shut off in December. Charlotte Law's state license expired, however, before it could agree to conditions with the department for renewing Title IV funds.

A spokesman for the department did not comment directly on whether it was aware of the criminal probe while negotiations with Charlotte took place.

"ED works closely with our partners at the Department of Justice on cases of mutual interest," the spokesman said. "We do not comment on pending cases."

The American Bar Association's Section of Legal Education and Admissions, which serves as the accreditor for law school programs, said it was not informed of any criminal investigation. Two other for-profit law programs operated by InfiLaw -- Arizona Summit Law School and Florida Coastal Law School -- remain accredited by ABA. Arizona Summit, however, was placed on probation in March.

Two other related federal whistle-blower lawsuits have been filed against InfiLaw in Florida, where the company is based.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Charlotte Law confirmed that as of February 2017 there was an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina but said there had not been any follow-up requests for information since November 2016.

"We have cooperated fully in the investigation and provided information that we believe satisfactorily answered the questions raised," said Victoria Taylor, the Charlotte spokeswoman.

It's not clear if the criminal investigation is ongoing. But Taylor said Charlotte officials were pleased that the Department of Justice had filed notice that it would not intervene in the lawsuit brought by the former professor.

"The allegations in the lawsuit are without merit, and Charlotte School of Law will defend itself vigorously against these claims," she said.

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Sweet Briar Reports 95 New Students

Sweet Briar College enrolled just under 100 new students this fall in its second admissions cycle since alumnae blocked an attempt by the small private women’s college’s former board to close it.

This year’s new class totals 95 new students -- 81 first-year students and 14 transfers. On-campus enrollment stands at approximately 300 this fall.

Enrollments are significantly below those of last year, when Sweet Briar reported 134 degree-seeking first-time freshmen and 22 other first-year degree-seeking students on its Common Data Set. Sweet Briar reported a total of 350 full-time undergraduate students last year and 376 students counting part-time and graduate students.

Sweet Briar’s former board announced plans in March of 2015 to close the college at the end of that academic year, citing an unfavorable admissions climate and enrollment trends. College leaders moved to close while the institution still had substantial resources to pay for winding down operations. But alumnae fought the move in court, eventually winning a deal to keep the college open under a new president and remade board.

In 2014-15, the last year before Sweet Briar was nearly closed, it enrolled 641 full-time undergraduates. Its enrollment totaled 700 when graduate and part-time students were counted.

President Meredith Woo shared this year’s enrollment total Monday in a letter marking the start of the new academic year and summarizing recent Board of Directors meetings. Woo also detailed plans to grow and revamp the college’s academic offerings.

Sweet Briar plans to put a new core curriculum in place in the fall of 2018, a set of a dozen courses organized around the theme of leadership. Faculty members are also developing three centers of excellence around human and environmental sustainability, science and technology, and collaboration with the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Woo also wrote of some three-week courses and giving students the chance to attend year-round in order to earn a degree in three years. A student could then earn a master’s degree in her fourth-year.

The college has relied heavily on fund-raising for the last two years. Fund-raising for 2016-17 included $14 million in gifts and grants and $6.8 million in future pledges. Sweet Briar’s endowment was valued at $73.9 million as of the end of June. When the former board decided to close the college, its endowment stood at approximately $85 million.

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Report: Boosting Quality More Effective Than Tuition Cuts

A newly released paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that spending on improved educational quality is more effective for degree attainment than using the same funds to cut the cost of tuition. 

The paper, by Harvard education professor David Deming and University of California-Berkeley economist Christopher Walters, seeks to determine what is the most effective use of public subsidies to help more students graduate college. The authors found that price changes, while saving money for students and their families, had almost no effect on degree attainment. But spending on smaller class sizes and academic support like tutoring did more to get students across the finish line and graduate. 



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