Westminster Choir College Backers Sue Rider

Supporters of Westminster Choir College have filed a class action lawsuit in federal court arguing Rider University cannot legally sell the choir college’s campus in Princeton, N.J.

The filing marks an escalation in a battle that has been playing out for months between Rider and a group called the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton Inc. Facing budget deficits, Rider has explored moving Westminster and selling the college and its campus, which is located several miles away from Rider’s main location in Lawrenceville, N.J. That sparked resistance from faculty members, students and alumni who believe Rider is improperly trying to find a way to make money off a financially healthy Westminster in order to make up for its own financial deficiencies.

The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton has proposed spinning the choir college off from the university. But negotiations did not materialize, according to the coalition’s president, Constance Fee. As a result, the group is turning to legal action.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, says Rider has considered selling the Westminster campus to real estate developers. But it argues Rider does not have the right to sell the campus under a 1991 agreement. Westminster merged into Rider under the agreement, which calls for Rider to continue Westminster’s mission and ensure its separate identity, the lawsuit says.

The class action suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of former Westminster board members, current students, their parents, past students and donors. It alleges breach of contract and asks for a judgment that would allow Westminster to operate as a separate nonprofit higher education institution. Alternately, it asks the court to direct Rider to find another entity to operate Westminster on its Princeton campus. It also asks that Rider be barred from selling the Westminster campus to any group that will not keep the choir college in its current location.

Rider disagrees with assertions of the lawsuit and does not believe it serves the best interests of the choir college, said a university spokeswoman, Kristine Brown, in a statement. The university believes it has a strong defense and will prevail.

“As we’ve told the Westminster community, we firmly believe that the choir college’s legacy can best be achieved with an institution that is better positioned to make the necessary investments,” she said. “Working closely with the Board of Trustees and an outside firm, we’ve made significant progress on our search to find a new institution willing to acquire Westminster Choir College and continue its rich tradition.”

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Hickey College Will Shut Down

Hickey College, a small for-profit career institution located in St. Louis, will shut down due to low enrollment, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The college, founded in 1933, offers degrees and certificates in accounting, culinary arts and graphic design, among other programs. It enrolls 391 students, according to federal data. Hickey is overseen by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a national accreditor that the Obama administration decided to terminate last year.

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Some Employees Questioned Louisville Spending

This month has not been kind to the University of Louisville.

A June 8 report detailed unbudgeted spending, unapproved activities and endowment losses at the university’s foundation. Just a week later, the NCAA announced penalties stemming from a prostitution scandal involving the university’s men’s basketball team’s past recruiting.

Some are taking note, however, of instances when officials raised red flags about the foundation’s behavior. The Courier-Journal of Louisville highlighted the case of one official who wondered whether she was being paid too much. It’s detailed in the report on the foundation.

In a memo dated Feb. 1, 2012, the university’s provost and executive vice president, Shirley Willihnganz, worried she was being overcompensated.

“I don’t remember anything being in the contract about additional $50,000 annual contributions from 2010, [2011] and [2012],” she wrote.

“Obviously if the foundation and president want to give me this, I’ll be grateful,” she wrote. “But I also don’t want to take advantage if this was a mistake … and if I just misread everything and all is well, will be very happy to be wrong.”

She later received a reply from Kathleen Smith, at the time the chief of staff for James Ramsey, who was president of both the university and its foundation before being ousted last year. Smith said that Willihnganz had a good point but that the ambiguity was deliberate and in the employee’s favor. Smith said $50,000 was included in an amendment to Willihnganz’s contract.

“Jim needs you, as does the university, as his provost,” Smith wrote.

The report listed total compensation for Willihnganz between 2010 and 2016 at almost $6.8 million. She spent 13 years as provost before in February 2015 announcing she was leaving. At the time, the university said her salary was $342,694. But the Courier-Journal reported she received $1.8 million in deferred compensation from the foundation in 2012.

Smith’s lawyer told the Courier-Journal the email exchange was a discussion about contract terms, not about whether Willihnganz was paid too much in “absolute terms.”

The lawyer, Ann Oldfather, went on to tell the newspaper that the audit made incorrect suggestions.

“They made everything that was a business judgment call sound like a scheme to rip off the foundation,” Oldfather said, according to the newspaper.

The Courier-Journal report on the foundation also described a September 2013 warning from Justin Ruhl, director of accounting operations, that “off the top” spending from the endowment could cause problems.

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Purdue/Kaplan University Sets Tuition Discounts

The as-yet unnamed online university resulting from the proposed acquisition of Kaplan University by Purdue University has set discounted tuition rates for in-state students and free tuition for Purdue employees.

The new institution's board in its first regular meeting approved a tuition discount of approximately 45 percent for Indiana residents who pursue an associate or bachelor's degree, Purdue said in a news release. The rate, including technology fees, will be the equivalent of $220 per credit hour. The total cost for a bachelor's degree would be $39,600, compared to the $80,088 (including room and board) for Indiana residents at Purdue's West Lafayette campus.

Purdue employees will be able to attend tuition-free, the university said. Their spouse, child or other immediate family members will receive a 50 percent tuition discount. To receive the employee rate, students must maintain a GPA of at least 3.0.

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Free Tuition for Low-Income Families at Michigan

The free public college movement crept into another state Thursday when the University of Michigan rolled out a new program offering four years of free tuition in Ann Arbor for full-time in-state undergraduates with family incomes up to $65,000 per year.

The program, called the Go Blue Guarantee, targets an earnings cutoff close to the state’s median income, which was $63,893 in 2015. It will launch on Jan. 1, 2018, meaning students will begin receiving awards in winter 2018 semester. Currently enrolled students can qualify.

University regents approved the plan Thursday as part of the budget for the Ann Arbor campus in the upcoming year. Officials say the move will not cut need-based aid for students from families making more than $65,000.

The program does include some asset limits for families earning up to $65,000, however. Students will need to be from families with assets under $50,000 to qualify. Assets including bank accounts, investments, real estate and businesses will be counted. Retirement accounts will not. Home equity will be counted but will be capped at 2.5 percent of income for the winter of 2018 and 1.5 percent afterward.

The award will automatically be made to in-state students who are admitted, enroll in both the fall and winter terms, apply for financial aid, and meet the income and asset requirements. The award is structured as a last-dollar program, meaning it will be paid after other forms of financial aid like federal Pell Grants, Michigan Competitive Scholarships and Michigan Education Trust funding.

Regents approved a $2.05 billion general fund budget for Ann Arbor. It expects a 1.9 percent increase in state appropriations, a 5.5 percent increase in indirect cost recovery on research funding and a 6.8 percent increase in tuition and fee revenue.

Financial aid will go up by 9.5 percent, or $15.3 million, under the general fund budget regents approved. The total need-based undergraduate financial aid budget will rise to $176.7 million.

In-state undergraduate tuition is set to go up by 2.9 percent to $14,826 for the most common lower-division rate. Out-of-state undergraduates’ comparable tuition will increase by 4.5 percent, to $47,476. Most graduate programs will see tuition rise by 4.1 percent.

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Area job losses can keep students from attending college, research finds

Adolescents who see widespread layoffs around them as they grow up are less likely to enroll in college -- even if no one in their family loses a job.

University of Great Falls Pivots to Health Care

The University of Great Falls in Montana is shifting to emphasize training for the health-care field and will be renamed the University of Providence at the beginning of July, following an investment by the multistate Providence St. Joseph Health system.

The Roman Catholic university will become the primary education provider for the Providence St. Joseph Health system, which has more than 110,000 employees and spans seven states. Officials envision a new School of Health Professions offering courses online and at satellite locations. Courses will include professional and certificate programs, with Providence St. Joseph Health employees receiving discounted tuition in many cases.

Currently, the university has an R.N. to B.S.N. nurse training program that is growing in popularity. It also plans to strengthen its School of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The deal comes as the University of Great Falls faces sectorwide challenges, notably changing demographics and falling admissions. Providence St. Joseph Health needs to address demand for more educated employees.

The university's new name is also a reference to its founding by the Sisters of Providence. It currently has fewer than 1,000 students.

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Deficits at Small Colleges and Large Universities

The financial fortunes of large and small private universities are veering in opposite directions, with small colleges under more and more pressure, according to new research released Monday by Moody’s Investors Service.

About a third of small private colleges rated by Moody’s generated operating deficits in the 2016 fiscal year, an increase from 20 percent in 2013. In contrast, just 13 percent of large comprehensive universities posted operating deficits in 2016, down from 20 percent three years before.

The richest universities also held the vast majority of the wealth. The 20 wealthiest universities hold about 70 percent of total wealth in the private college sector. Comprehensive private universities grew their wealth sharply over the last several years. Their spendable cash and investments rose 22.5 percent from the 2012 to 2016 fiscal years.

Universities have been pulling in more money from donors. But again, the wealthiest universities are faring best. Top fund-raising universities -- those with more than $100 million in annual gifts -- account for two-thirds of fund-raising among rated universities. There were 28 universities with more than $100 million in annual gifts. They increased gift revenue by 22 percent between 2012 and 2016. Universities with gift revenue of $10 million to $100 million grew their gift revenue by 19 percent during those years.

In contrast, universities raising less than $10 million per year increased gift revenue by just 4 percent.

The divergence between large and small universities comes at a time of constrained tuition growth. In the 2016 fiscal year, 31 percent of all private universities rated posted declining net tuition revenue. And 57 percent did not grow revenue fast enough to keep up with the inflation rate across higher education, which was 3 percent.

Small private colleges again faced the most pressure, with roughly half unable to grow net tuition revenue. Meanwhile, 83 percent of comprehensive universities were able to grow net tuition revenue.

Some risks do threaten large comprehensive universities more than small ones, however. Comprehensive universities receive more revenue from patient care, grants and contracts. So they are more exposed to potential federal changes to research funding and to health care reform.

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University of Louisville Foundation CFO Put on Leave

The chief financial officer of the University of Louisville Foundation has been placed on paid leave, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

The move to place Jason Tomlinson on leave came just after the University of Louisville’s fund-raising arm was slammed in an audit that detailed excessive spending practices, unbudgeted expenses and unrecorded losses to the endowment. J. David Grissom, the chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees, said in a statement that the audit “paints a disturbing picture.”

The terms, length and reasoning behind Tomlinson’s placement on leave have not been specified by the university.

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National Academies Call for Plan on Social Sciences

The National Science Foundation should clearly state the most important questions to be addressed by the social, behavioral and economic sciences, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a report published Friday. The academies called for the NSF to articulate those questions as part of a transparent strategic planning process -- one of four recommendations outlined in the report to assist researchers in those disciplines in meeting the challenges faced by the country.

The report also recommended that the agency continue to back the development of research tools, support scientific training and improve public communication of the results of scientific research. The study was sponsored by the NSF.

“Nearly every major challenge the United States faces -- from alleviating unemployment to protecting itself from terrorism -- requires understanding the causes and consequences of people’s behavior,” said Alan Leshner, the CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the chair of the committee that produced the report. “The diverse disciplines of the social, behavioral and economic sciences produce fundamental knowledge and tools that provide a greater understanding of why people and societies respond the way they do, what they find important and what they believe and value -- which is critical for the country’s well-being.”

Leshner said although the NSF commendably consults advisory groups and the broader scientific community, it is unclear how that input is reflected in research priorities for the SBE fields.

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