institutionalfinance

N.Y. Republicans Counter Free Public College Plan

New York Republicans have a counterproposal to Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s controversial plan to provide tuition-free public college to students whose families earn $125,000 or less -- increase an existing grant for students attending either public or private institutions.

A group of Republicans in the New York State Assembly want to expand New York’s Tuition Assistance Program’s award sizes and make it available to wealthier families. The program currently makes need-based awards of between $500 and $5,165 to families earning $80,000 a year or less. The Republicans want to raise the income limit to $125,000 -- the same as Cuomo’s free college proposal -- and increase the maximum award to $6,470.

Republicans estimate the plan would cut college costs for 336,000 students, according to CNN Money. Cuomo’s office has estimated his plan would cover 200,000 students. Republicans would also make other changes, making graduate students eligible for Tuition Assistance Program awards and creating tax credits for New Yorkers paying off their student loans.

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Report documents impact of income tax breaks for higher education

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States often don't calculate revenue lost through higher education income tax benefits for students, report finds.

A tongue-in-cheek look at institutions' efforts to differentiate themselves (essay)

To: The Provost, Old Oak College

Re: Current Status of the Committee to Make Us Special

First, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to chair this ad hoc committee. While I’m fairly certain my appointment was the result of my admittedly vociferous criticisms of just about every suggestion Old Oak’s senior administrators have made to improve our recruitment and retention of students, that doesn’t mean I didn’t take up the charge with the enthusiasm that such an opportunity truly deserves. The course release and travel stipend helped, too.

I’m sorry to say, though, that after nine months of weekly meetings and a great deal of research, the Committee to Make Us Special has come up mostly dry. This is not to say there were not ideas. In fact, at last count there were over 2,300 ideas shared by faculty, students, staff, alumni and anyone else who could find their way to our webpage.

We created four categories into which we sorted these ideas:

  1. We Like This but Could Never Afford It.
  2. We Like This, but It’s Been Done, Which Sort of Defeats the Purpose of Making Us Special.
  3. This Will Likely Undermine All That Our Founders Imagined for Us.
  4. Nice Idea but It Will Not Bring Us a Single Student.

Some ideas were category crossovers. For example, the lazy river in the shape of our initials was both a category 1 and category 2. It was also its own category: Ideas That Cannot Actually Be Implemented. We realized our particular moniker’s initials would create a very lazy river, one without the necessary water outflow. On the upside, it might have looked intriguing in a satellite photo -- something, perhaps, as Professor Whelan from the religion department pointed out, similar to a concrete crop circle, or, as Professor Martin from biology pointed out, a wastewater treatment plant (definitely not special).

One suggested category, Ideas Richard Russo Would Likely Satirize, ended up being too large a single category and so we deconstructed it into the above four (a process we acknowledge would undoubtedly be something Russo Would Likely Satirize -- one of our many meta moments).

We considered 22 possible new majors. We began with some of what we’ve come to realize are the usual suspects in such an undertaking. Nursing. Physical therapy. International business. Social justice. Video game design. Recognizing that we are behind the curve on them (a number of our peers and aspirants have already announced these particular programs), we began to think more creatively, combining the best features of some into interdisciplinary majors. Thus, global physical therapy, taught mostly online and focusing on injuries commonly sustained by those on mission trips to developing nations, was popular with the committee.

We did review a number of suggestions for new athletic programs that we might want to add -- water polo, fencing, water fencing (that’s still an emerging sport), trapeze. I must say I was astonished to discover how rapidly the circus arts in general are growing, and the irony of adding those to our campus was not, I assure you, lost on anyone. Twelve different sports with the terms “extreme” or “ninja” in the name were quickly set aside. In the end, the cost of facilities and equipment and the very hefty increase to our liability insurance premium made almost all of them unlikely. I say “almost all” because I’m happy to inform you that our bocce club will become a varsity sport next year. Professor Rubino and the rest of the Italian studies department are thrilled, as you might imagine. This idea may, however, belong in category 4.

Our Subcommittee on Enrollment Strategies (we thought about calling it “Extreme Enrollment Strategies,” but again, set that aside) examined some possibilities as well. One that you had suggested, bringing in our largest first-year class ever, was carefully vetted by our Sub-Subcommittee on Making at Least the Incoming Class Feel Special. Their determination was that this was a shortsighted approach. Our discount and acceptance rates would skyrocket, thus lowering our ranking in U.S. News & World Report, which would, in turn, make future recruitment efforts more difficult. Also, our housing staff would resign en masse. (I realize you think they’re all easily replaceable with cheaper, younger new professionals, but we saw what happened the last time we tried such a thing, and I don’t think the students without housing assignments for three weeks who lived in [yes -- admittedly very nice] tents will ever truly trust their alma mater again. Experience is worth something, is it not?)

In addition, four of our peer institutions announced last year the arrival of their largest first-year classes ever, and apparently at least three will do so again this year. Our demographics consultant made it clear this is not a bottomless well we’re peering down, so to speak. Although we could double our enrollment by attracting and admitting students who cannot pay anything, will need remedial assistance in every subject and don’t actually want to come to Old Oak, it seems this might not solve our long-term need for steady enrollment and revenue growth. In fact, after much number crunching, we believe it would ultimately sink us permanently. I realize that limiting enrollment growth will be a source of great disappointment to our president, who we know loves to announce such things at board meetings, but perhaps you could remind him that his retirement is within sight and his deferred compensation is within reach. That often seems to calm him.

Of course, I recall that one of your charges to our committee was to “investigate the role of the liberal arts for the future of Old Oak, indeed, for all of higher education.” Tall order, that. We did, however, do our best, creating yet another group: the Subcommittee to Read Everything That’s Been Written About the Liberal Arts in the Past Three Years.

Contrary to what you might have heard, those committee members did still find time to teach their classes and tend to their administrative duties, though not particularly well. Their work resulted in a book-length report (yes, they acknowledge the irony of adding to the pile of reports, books, films and tweets on this topic), which then led us to put the issue to a vote of the full committee. The results are instructive:

  • Votes in favor of recommitting to the liberal arts nature of Old Oak: 12
  • Votes in favor of abandoning the liberal arts completely: 12

Honestly, I have not witnessed such a deeply felt deadlock since the great hyena vs. dingo mascot controversy of ’97. As you know, the scars from that battle remain. Literally, in some unfortunate cases.

The alumni office representatives on our committee did take seriously your suggestion that we engage our alums in this process. We learned the following about our alums:

  • They would be willing to help us recruit, if they were not feeling so overwhelmed by their monthly loan payments.
  • They would be willing to provide internship sites for current students, if they were not feeling so overwhelmed by their monthly loan payments.
  • They would be willing to come to campus for career-related events, if they were not feeling so overwhelmed by their monthly loan payments.

It’s worth noting that the one alumni-generated idea the committee felt was worth moving forward for review was the suggestion that we devote a portion of our endowment to alumni debt relief. That would indeed Make Us Special. It would also, our budget director determined, Make Us Broke.

As we conclude the work of our committee, recognizing that we have not succeeded at our appointed task, we feel a deep sense of melancholy, which I suspect you share. I’ve looked for harbingers of better times ahead, but as I suspect many of my counterparts on other campuses are also realizing, there are few. They are there, though, if one squints a bit and ignores demographics, economics and Malcolm Gladwell.

Perhaps you’ve seen the recent excellent movie The Martian? An astronaut named Watney is on a Mars mission, gets injured in a storm, is presumed dead and is left behind by his crew mates. Of course, he’s not dead. (That version of the movie would probably not have gotten green-lighted, although given our cultural fascination with zombies, who really knows?) Watney, fortunately, is a botanist, and so manages to stay alive for months, eating potatoes that he has miraculously grown in Mars soil fertilized by the human waste left behind by the crew. He is also good with a wrench and duct tape. Upon learning that Watney is alive, his crew mates ignore orders from NASA and turn around to get him. (Trust me -- this is all explained in appropriate scientific detail in the movie.) They are successful, bringing Watney back to Earth, where he fulfills his lifelong dream of becoming a professor (a plot twist less believable than the rescue, if you ask me).

I share this brief synopsis in order to end this memo on as positive a note as I can muster (and since there are 47 separate supporting documents attached, I don’t want to take up more of your time). As I ponder the work of our diligent committee, I can’t help but think of Watney, alone and frightened, yet determined to survive against ridiculous odds. What kept him alive till he was rescued was a clear-eyed view of just how dire his circumstances truly were, an ingenious use of shit and, ultimately, the hope of rescue by an intrepid band of space-traveling crew mates. If there is such a band out there, perhaps they will come our way. We are running low on potatoes.

Lee Burdette Williams is a writer and educator living in Burlington, Vt.

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Southern California Extends Massive Campaign

The University of Southern California announced Wednesday that it is about to meet the target of its $6 billion fund-raising campaign, 18 months ahead of schedule. The university is extending its campaign far beyond that and now says it will continue it until the end of 2021. While USC has not set a new target, it has been raising more than $900 million a year in the campaign.

USC could give Harvard University some competition for the largest fund-raising campaign. In September, Harvard announced that it had raised more than $7 billion in its record-setting fund-raising campaign. But that campaign will continue until its scheduled end in June 2018.

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Thomas Aquinas to Open in Massachusetts

Thomas Aquinas College is expanding its footprint from California into Massachusetts, venturing into the Northeast at a time when many colleges and universities worry about a projected drop in the number of students in the region.

The Catholic college with a great books curriculum, which is located in Santa Paula, Calif., said Tuesday that it plans to start a new branch campus on the donated former grounds of a secondary school in Northfield, Mass. Plans call for Thomas Aquinas to take over its new campus on May 2 of this year before officially opening it in the fall of 2018. (Note: This paragraph has been corrected to reflect that the college's branch campus is starting on the former grounds of a secondary school that remains in operation in another location.)

Thomas Aquinas plans to ramp up on the new campus slowly, starting with 36 freshmen accepted in each of its first four years and then slowly growing the student body to between 350 and 400 students. Its two campuses will start out as parts of the same institution, with one governing document, faculty, Board of Governors, curriculum and accreditation. Leaders are keeping open the option of making the two campuses independent at some point in the future, however.

The college will accept its new campus as a gift from the National Christian Foundation, a philanthropy organization that received the grounds from Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. Hobby Lobby purchased the property in 2009, four years after the Northfield Mount Hermon School decided to move off the campus in a consolidation.

The deeply religious family that owns Hobby Lobby purchased the campus for $100,000 and invested millions of dollars into it while planning to transfer it to a Christian institution. Possible candidates mentioned over the years included a new college named for C. S. Lewis, Grand Canyon University, the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, Olivet University, Azusa Pacific University and Liberty University, according to reporting by MassLive.com and the Associated Press.

The Northfield campus that Thomas Aquinas is set to receive is about 90 miles northwest of Boston. It is listed at 217 acres with 500,000 square feet of dormitory and classroom space. It also has other buildings including a library, gymnasium, science hall and chapel.

Keeping the student body on Thomas Aquinas’s California campus at or below 400 has been a priority, said its president, Michael F. McLean, in a statement. Doing so keeps an intimate feel, he said. But the size limit led leaders to consider a second campus as the college turned away applicants.

“Given the tremendous challenges and costs involved, the question would have remained no more than academic -- but for this extraordinary opportunity that the National Christian Foundation has offered us,” McLean said in the statement. “Never did we imagine we could acquire a campus so fully developed and so beautiful.”

Plans call for Thomas Aquinas to share part of the campus with The Moody Center, which will operate a museum and archive related to evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who originally established the property in Northfield.

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Study suggests university incubators can hurt innovation, patent revenue

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New study indicates business incubators can have adverse impacts on research and innovation.

200 Colleges to Appeal Gainful Employment Ratings

More than 200 colleges have given the U.S. Department of Education notice that they will appeal gainful employment ratings that found their programs to be failing or close to failing. The colleges filed a required notice of intent to appeal within 14 days of the release of ratings for 536 individual programs, according to data posted by the Office of Federal Student Aid Monday.

Institutions appearing on the list include Vatterott College, Kaplan University and Full Sail University.

Ratings released by the department last month showed that nearly a tenth of vocational programs evaluated -- mostly at for-profit institutions -- failed to meet new criteria measuring whether graduates were able to repay their student loan debt. That puts those programs at risk of being cut off from access to Title IV federal aid.

The gainful employment rule was heavily criticized by Republicans in Congress, and GOP leaders have listed it among a number of Obama administration regulations they plan to eliminate or scale back.

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Maine Cuts Tuition for Graduate Students From Nearby States

The University of Maine is building on its highly visible tuition-matching program for undergraduates by starting a similar new program for graduate students.

The university's new regional graduate scholarship will be available to new fully admitted students from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont starting this fall. It will drop out-of-state tuition from $1,361 per credit hour to $650 per credit hour for 22 programs. That's the same price or lower than students would pay if they were attending a flagship campus in their own state, according to the university.

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Cornell Receives $150M Gift for Business School

Cornell University on Saturday announced a $150 million gift for its business school, which was created last year as a somewhat controversial combination of the School of Hotel Administration, the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. The gift is from H. Fisk Johnson and his business, SC Johnson, whose leaders have long ties to Cornell. The combined business school will be named the SC Johnson College of Business. Funds will be used for faculty recruitment, scholarships and other purposes.

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Western Michigan Slashes Quoted Out-of-State Tuition

Western Michigan University is sharply cutting its quoted nonresident undergraduate tuition rates, attempting to boost recruitment beyond the state’s borders and breaking with a well-documented trend of many public colleges and universities balancing budgets by charging out-of-state students significantly higher prices.

The university’s Board of Trustees voted this week to set tuition for future nonresident undergraduates at 1.25 times the rate for Michigan residents. The lower rate, which kicks in for new students this summer, is a steep reduction from current published rates that have nonresident undergraduates paying 2.3 times the rate Michigan students pay.

While 2017-18 tuition rates have not been announced, the reduction would mean a new nonresident freshman or sophomore would pay less than $15,000 in basic annual tuition and fees -- down from $26,851 -- if the tuition rates are similar to those for 2016-17.

But the cuts may not be as drastic in dollars as they appear on paper. Nonresidents were already receiving large financial aid packages, cutting their effective cost of attendance to near the newly enacted rates.

“The new basic rates that are set at 1.25 times resident rates will align incoming nonresident student costs with the net effective costs our current nonresidents are paying after financial aid packages are factored in,” said Jan Van Der Kley, Western Michigan’s vice president for business and finance, in a university news release. “We'll be able to recruit students with a more reasonable published nonresident cost that leaves a more favorable perception and keeps us in the mix when those students are making their college selection.”

The changes are intended to allow Western Michigan to better compete for out-of-state students, as the number of Michigan high school graduates is projected to fall precipitously over the next decade. Western Michigan’s fall 2016 enrollment dropped 1.3 percent to 23,252. Michigan residents made up 86 percent of the student body.

The changes only apply to new undergraduates. Currently enrolled students will continue to pay tuition and fees based on the current ratio. The changes do not affect graduate students.

Western Michigan noted that it follows a liberal residency policy, allowing many students to become Michigan residents and qualify for in-state rates. But that policy will change for newly enrolled students starting this summer. They will no longer have the option of changing their residency status at the university.

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