Report Finds Uneven Sanctioning by Accreditors

An analysis of key actions 10 institutional accrediting agencies took over five years found a "highly uneven and inconsistent system of sanctions." The report from the Center for American Progress, which has previously chided accreditors for their oversight of poor-performing colleges, found that national accreditors are more likely to sanction their member colleges, but that regional agencies keep institutions on sanction for longer periods of time. The group recommended "clearer, common rules of the road about sanction terminology, definitions and use."

What other countries can teach the U.S. about student loans

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Could student loan repayment models from other countries work in the United States?

Increase in Pell and NIH Funding Advances in Senate

The full Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved legislation that would reinstate year-round Pell Grants for low-income students and provide a $2 billion boost for the National Institutes of Health. The 2017 appropriations bill for the Departments of Education, Labor and Health and Human Services would increase the maximum Pell Grant to $5,935 and once again allow students to receive the grants in the summer, a benefit that was eliminated in 2011 amid a spike in the program's costs.

Despite the increases, advocates for students criticized the Senate measure for using $1.2 billion in surplus Pell Grant funds for other programs. They started a petition asking Congress to stop the "raid" on Pell funding.

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Louisiana Voters Will Decide Who Sets Tuition Rates

The Louisiana Legislature has placed an item on the fall election ballots that will allow voters to shift control over public university tuition rates from the Legislature to university governing boards, The Times-Picayune reported. If the measure passes, many expect tuition rates to rise more than they would under legislative control.

Controversial Accreditor Freezes Membership

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools today will announce a temporary halt in accepting new applications for colleges seeking to become accredited, as well as several other changes, including requirements seeking to ensure more accuracy in self-reported data from member colleges.

The council is a national accrediting agency that oversees many for-profit institutions. It's been under fire lately, due in part for accrediting Corinthian Colleges until the large chain collapsed amid a spate of lawsuits and regulatory challenges. A group of state attorneys general have called on the federal government to drop its recognition of ACICS, as have a coalition of consumer, higher education and labor organizations. The U.S. Department of Education is slated to consider the accreditor's recognition later this month.

ACICS appears to be taking the threat seriously. Albert Gray, the council's president and CEO, stepped down in April. And the accreditor shortly thereafter tightened the screws on ITT Technical Institutes.

“The ACICS Board of Directors is determined to restore trust and confidence in the accreditation process, strengthen ACICS’ oversight of member institutions and ensure that students are receiving a quality education that will put them on [a] path to employment,” Anthony Bieda, the council's executive in charge, said in a written statement. “As we assess the content, structure and effectiveness of all policies and resources, no stone will be left unturned. Every aspect of the agency must be re-evaluated, fortified and enhanced.”

The freeze on new member applications is effective immediately, Bieda said, and will be in place until the accreditor "is satisfied that its program of assessment and review protects student interests, enforces high standards of quality and contributes to the public good."

Other announced changes include:

  • Creation of an ethics board to act directly on potential conflicts of interest, including with ACICS board members;
  • A new data integrity standard that gives ACICS greater explicit authority to sanction programs and institutions that misrepresent their performance through student retention, placement and licensure data;
  • A review of institutions’ written plans for recruiting and admitting students;
  • Greater public disclosure and enforcement of probation standards; and
  • An increase in the frequency and intensity of interim on-site evaluations.

Northeastern Criticized for Fund-Raising Pitch

Northeastern University is getting grief on social media for a text it sent encouraging alumni to donate and to win a chance at having the university pay back $1,000 in their student loans.

A spokeswoman for Northeastern said via email: "Inspired by a well-intentioned donor, the university launched a one-time text message campaign to a limited group of alumni. It was a one-day effort and has now concluded."

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HBCUs cut from North Carolina $500 tuition bill

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North Carolina legislation would have cut tuition dramatically, and many at the institutions feared they would lose revenue. Two universities still are covered by bill.

A Different Approach to Private Student Loans

Private student loans could function more effectively -- and be a more useful tool for helping students pay for postsecondary education -- if lenders made them using criteria such as institutional quality and the likely return on a student's investment rather than credit scores and co-signers, the authors of a new report from the American Enterprise Institute argue.

The authors, Andrew P. Kelly and Kevin J. James, say that student loans made by non-government lenders -- which have shrunk to under 10 percent of all loans disbursed to students -- could play a more central role if they are were based more on market forces and if they were not backed by significant federal guarantees.

"Guarantees reinforce the most significant flaw in the current system: loans are given out with little regard for whether students will be able to pay them back," Kelly and James write. "In contrast, the promise of new ii forward-looking lenders is that by underwriting based on students’ potential -- rather than their background -- these organizations can expand opportunity while strengthening market discipline. Greater market discipline, in turn, can foster a system that is more affordable and higher quality."

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Report on Federal Aid and Affordability

A new report from the Center for American Progress looks at how federal health care and housing benefits address affordability and how those programs could help inform a rethinking of federal financial aid in higher education.

"The result of an expectation-light approach to college affordability is that the ability of federal postsecondary benefits to achieve their desired aims is completely dependent upon the choices made by schools, governors and legislatures across the country," the report said. It adds that "changing federal financial aid benefits to guarantee recipients can purchase a specific set of goods, not just receive a set amount of money, will better conform these programs to the rest of the U.S. social safety net."

Key points from the comparison, the center said, are:

  • Areas such as health care set distinct affordability policies for the most vulnerable individuals that result in minimal to no expectations for out-of-pocket spending.
  • The federal government limits which products within a market it will make affordable, refusing to subsidize the priciest options.
  • Related to this sense of limits, the federal government also creates affordability standards -- specifically, when it deals with debt in areas related to housing -- to protect consumers from unaffordable payments.
  • The federal government does not always pursue affordability on its own. For crucial items such as health insurance, it enlists the help of states and employers to achieve its aims.

Study Links Student Loan Debt and Postcollege Wealth

Those with student debt -- whether they graduated from or dropped out of college -- are less likely than their counterparts without debt to accumulate assets in the years after leaving college, according to a new study. The research linked debt with borrowers, compared to others, having lower net worth, fewer financial and nonfinancial assets, and homes with lower market values. The study, accepted for publication in Children and Youth Services Review, was written by Min Zhan, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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