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N.J. Governor's Plan for Free Community College

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy on Wednesday laid out the details of a plan to make community college free in his state as part of his first budget since being elected last year.

The budget included $50 million in tuition support for low-income students -- a “down payment,” he said, on a campaign pledge to make community college completely tuition-free in New Jersey by 2021.

That proposal, along with new spending on pre-K and transit programs, would be paid for with $1.6 billion generated through increases in the state sales tax and the state income tax for high-income residents.

In a video posted to his Twitter account, Murphy, a Democrat, spoke about his support for tuition-free community college for all New Jersey residents.

Murphy last month appointed Zakiya Smith, a former Obama administration official, as his secretary for higher education. Smith was most recently strategy director at the Lumina Foundation.

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Wick Sloane asks college leaders to team up to boost college completion and end poverty (opinion)

Friends, colleagues, detractors, all 2,000 here at the 100th annual meeting of the American Council on Education, champion for the self-proclaimed greatest higher education system in the world. Good morning.

Assignment, due at dinner this evening:

  • Read this, the "Statement on Visit to the U.S.A.," by Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Look at the photos in this December 2017 report from The Guardian.
  • Referring to the data from this U.N. report, write an essay, 250 words, explaining why you, why I, why any of us in U.S. higher education deserve our next paycheck given this report. Discuss, with examples, how you, we, higher education, will provide immediate training to repair this mess.

Welcome, all, to Not the Atwell Lecture at this ACE gathering. For years I’ve offered to give the Atwell, higher education’s highest-profile talk focused on higher education leadership. A guy in a community college workstation cannot rival yesterday’s Atwell, by Nancy Zimpher, former chancellor of the State University of New York.

Still, not seeing the U.N. report on the agenda, I’ve hacked into the Jumbotron for moment. To scold us all? To inspire us all? Both. Sit tight.

Ted Mitchell, ACE’s new president -- hi. Please have this U.N. report and the Guardian article printed and distributed to all conference venues by noon today. Send me the bill. (Black and white, double sided, please.) People can send the essays to me. I’ll forward to ACE. Thanks.

Ted, you were one of the few federal officials even in the Obama era to recognize how poverty prevents millions of students from completing college. You know I am correct here. The good news? You can now blame me for bringing up this disgrace to us all.

I do have a positive proposal with a potential $100 million grant attached.

First, let’s return to our failures as educators. Alston, the U.N. rapporteur, traveled through California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico and West Virginia. He spoke with experts, civil society groups, state and federal officials, and people who are homeless “or living in deep poverty.” (Again. Click here to look at the photos from The Guardian. Just two quotes from the eleven-page, footnoted report:

“The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by the President and Speaker Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes. It is against this background that this report is presented.”

 

“The United States is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.”

Why us? Why ACE? U.S. higher ed would be out of business without federal aid provided by every one of we, the people. I mean Pell Grants, federal research grants with what percentage attached for overhead, stadium skyboxes built with tax-deducted dollars, and favored endowments (even with a modest new tax) to support operating expenses that soar even against stable enrollments.

For these billions of dollars, why is an educated citizenry too much to ask of us? Why do we accept the current college completion catastrophe? Any numbers I’ve seen are bad. The nation has about nine million students eligible for Pell Grants, the federal aid for students with the lowest family income, and no one I know expects more than half of these students to complete whatever they set out to do.

Remember the saying that a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting anything to change?

Enough. We must move beyond endless conferences like this one, funded by students who will not complete their certificates or degrees. We must move beyond modest questions and studies funded by still more modest grants. I honor all completion efforts.

But versus the U.N. report on poverty? Versus the need to solve this for 4.5 million students? Time to push “Restart.”

My proposal? Beginning in June 2020, low-income student completion will be 100 percent. No, we will not stall at the start debating how to measure completion. For this completion project, we’ll pick a definition out of a hat. Anything is progress.

Starting point? Join me on a proposal for the next round of the MacArthur Foundation 100 & Change initiative. “A competition for a $100 million grant to fund a single proposal that promises real and measurable progress is solving a critical problem of our time.” First meeting is 10 a.m. Eastern Time, this Friday, March 16, at one of the tables in the lobby here at Bunker Hill Community College.

I need help. Who better than the 2,000 of you at ACE this week?

I lost the first round of the 100 & Change competition, awarded in December to the Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee. They won $100 million to create early childhood education for Syrian refugees. An impressive, courageous and important project.

When MacArthur announced the program in 2016, I cleared my desk, opened Excel, sharpened my pencils. I downloaded the application and began my path to fix completion once and for all.

Ha. My best thinking, stretched and padded every way I could imagine? My highest budget was $20 million, and that was rounding up.

I propose we start with the unsolved issues around faculty workload and student time required versus time available. Yes, many wiser than me have considered such questions, but on smaller scales. My focus is scale. My challenge is identifying what’s needed -- people, services, curriculum -- to solve this for 4.5 million students. The scale is a huge, scary problem.

We start with data gathering by research Jedis. A common workload for faculty members teaching these low-income students is five sections per semester. This could be five different courses. We need real surveys of this. How common is five sections? I know faculty with six or seven. What are workload variances across colleges? Across subjects?

Why faculty workload? Does anyone think that nine minutes per week per nontraditional, low-income student is enough time to grade papers or meet with students? At five sections under local rules blessed by the union at my institution, nine minutes per student per week is the number for College Writing I, which I teach, with five sections capped at 22 students per section.

Calculus, biology, physics, engineering can have sections of 30 or more students. I am solving for the usually contracted 37.5 hours per week. Demolish my assumptions. I do not see any promising evaluations of this situation.

Does anyone here today expect such workloads to improve completion for 4.5 million students?

Student time available to study is a more difficult variable. We can start with the common belief that academic work will suffer for students working outside jobs more than 20 hours per week. Do we know how many students, by college, are working more than 20 hours per week? What’s the support plan for these students? No takers so far on my 2012 proposal to use federal work-study funds to pay students to study.

I do not propose that more minutes per student per week will improve completion. I am identifying here flashing yellow lights, screaming sirens, dead canaries in our coal mine. The scale, the scale, the scale is the issue. If hiring more faculty, more tutors is an answer, how many are needed to help 4.5 million students? That’s the scariest issue I can see.

Adding, say, 100 people to one campus might help on that campus. With more than 1,000 community colleges (I am averaging), that’s a total of 100,000 new hires. Are there 100,000 qualified, motivated people in the work force willing to take these jobs for the pitiful salaries offered? What new training would a plan like this require for existing faculty and staff? With these course loads, when would the training happen?

Back to sayings, old chestnuts. Doing what we in higher education have been doing and expecting completion to improve? This strategy declares, then, that the stewards of the self-proclaimed best higher education system in the world are insane.

Back to the U.N. report, identifying 40 million people in poverty in the U.S. Look again at the photos in The Guardian. On my first try, the $20 million, I had wondered why the MacArthur Foundation would fund a project in the wealthiest nation in the world. My proposal will argue that the U.S. is no longer, in reality, that wealthy nation.

Back to the U.N. report:

“The United States is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.”

Anyone else ashamed? Motivated? We educated the people who created the nightmare the U.N. report describes.

Join me Friday at 10 a.m. in the Bunker Hill Community College Lobby. Skype possible. Ted Mitchell, do you have the report distributed to all conference venues yet?

An idea? Write an even better MacArthur 100 & Change proposal. Leave me in the dust.

Wick Sloane is an end user of a most-highly-selective higher education. Follow him @WickSloane.

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Loan Discharge for Students of Failed Law School

The Department of Education last week announced it was extending the window for students who withdrew from a failed for-profit law school before its closure to request discharge of their federal student loan debt.

The decision means that about 300 students who attended Charlotte School of Law could be eligible to have their student loan debt cleared.

Federal regulations state that students who withdrew from a college or university not more than 120 days before its closure can apply to have their loans automatically cleared, a process known as closed-school discharge. But the secretary of education has the authority to declare exceptional circumstances to extend that window so students who withdrew earlier can be eligible for loan forgiveness.

The department in August designated April 12, 2017, as the earliest date students could have withdrawn from the law program and still receive automatic loan forgiveness. Now, Charlotte students who withdrew on or after Dec. 31, 2016, can be eligible for closed-school discharge. That date fell shortly after an announcement from the Obama administration that it would cut off the law school’s access to Title IV federal aid, a major blow to its viability as an institution.

North Carolina attorney general Josh Stein, since well before Charlotte’s closure last year, was asking Secretary Betsy DeVos to extend the closed-school discharge window and praised the decision in a statement Friday.

As of November, when the more narrow eligibility guidelines were in place, just 79 Charlotte students had applied for loan forgiveness. Kyle McEntee, the executive director and co-founder of Law School Transparency, said expanding eligibility for loan discharge was unexpected but the right decision by the department.

“This signals to other for-profit institutions that the ED will not necessarily let them wiggle out of accountability by stringing students along,” he said.

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Prominent scholar accuses Trump economist of plagiarism

Susan Dynarski, a prominent scholar, accuses Kevin Hassett, a top Trump administration economist, of plagiarizing her work in a 2007 column.

Higher ed groups want end to student aid restrictions for applicants with drug convictions

A student receiving federal grants and loans who commits an infraction as minor as possessing marijuana faces losing aid eligibility. Some see this rule as unwise and are pushing to change it.

Former Bush Administration Official Joins Education Department

A former assistant secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration will join the U.S. Department of Education again after a brief stint at the Department of Labor.

Diane Auer Jones will serve as senior adviser to the assistant secretary for postsecondary education, the post she previously held. She had joined the Department of Labor as a senior policy adviser last fall.

Politico first reported her return to the department. Jones was a senior fellow at the Urban Institute for more than two years. She served as assistant secretary from 2007 to 2008. Since leaving the Department of Education, much of her work has focused on career training, including apprenticeship programs.

Frank Brogan, whom the White House nominated for the assistant secretary for K-12 education job, is overseeing postsecondary issues as acting assistant secretary until he is confirmed by the Senate.

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Inspector General Urges Keeping College Accountability Measures

Although some federal higher ed accountability measures have been ineffective, they should be preserved and strengthened, not scrapped, the Department of Education's inspector general says in a report released Monday. 

The report's conclusions contradict the approach Republican lawmakers would take to accountability for colleges and universities in House legislation and a Senate GOP white paper. And it appears to give ammunition to critics who argue that a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act must maintain existing protections, especially those targeting for-profit colleges.

The PROSPER Act, which House Republicans advanced out of committee in December, would eliminate separate definitions of nonprofit and for-profit institutions. It would also kill the 90-10 rule, which limits the proportion of revenue a college can generate from federal student aid, and the gainful-employment rule, which holds career education programs accountable for producing too many graduates with debt they can't repay. 

The inspector general's report found that both measures could be improved but said the for-profit sector was deserving of special scrutiny. 

"As the OIG has testified before Congress on issues involving proprietary schools over the years, the sector continues to present itself as a high-risk area for the Department," the report says. "This sector, unlike public and nonprofit schools, must produce profit for owners and stockholders, which can create an incentive to evade compliance with obligations to students and taxpayers."

The report found that eliminating existing accountability rules without a proven substitute would create higher risks for students and taxpayers, including loan defaults and loan discharges that would hurt long-term viability of federal programs. But a single loan repayment metric offered by the PROSPER Act would require massive data collection and be subject to manipulation, the report found. 

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HBCU leaders meet, say strategy under Trump is paying off

Leaders of historically black colleges say their strategy of working closely with the White House and congressional Republicans is working.

Reports: Trump Administration to Declare Loan Servicers 'Off-Limits' to State Regulators

The Department of Education is planning to issue a statement that only federal agencies, and not state regulators, have oversight authority over student loan servicing entities, according to separate reports.

Loan servicers have sought such a declaration from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos since last year. But that demand received strong pushback from state attorneys general, including several Republican officials. Bloomberg and Politico first reported this week that the department plans to block state regulation of servicers, which handle borrowers' payment of student loan debt and provide advice on options like repayment plans.

A department spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about those reports.

Democratic officials at the state level have filed a number of lawsuits against loan servicers in recent years, alleging shoddy service and illegal practices. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has also gotten involved. The Department of Education said last year it would end two information-sharing agreements with CFPB for oversight of private entities like loan servicers involved in federal student aid programs.

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Essay criticizes the aid awards letters many colleges send to accepted applicants

Nicholas Soodik asks why so many colleges are vague or confusing in their letters to accepted applicants about financial aid eligibility.

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