Illinois Governor Vetoes Bill With Funds for Higher Ed

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, on Friday vetoed a bill that would have provided $721 million for community colleges and for the state scholarship program for low-income students, The Chicago Tribune reported. Public colleges and the state student aid program, which also helps students at private colleges, have not received state funds since July because of the failure of legislators and the governor to agree on a budget plan. The bill Rauner vetoed was intended to help community colleges and low-income students while efforts to adopt a state budget continue. Many colleges whose students have state grants (which were theoretically awarded but haven't been paid) have been covering the missing funds, but that is becoming increasingly difficult for some of them.

La. freezes payments to state grant program; colleges to pick up slack

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Louisiana won't fund its merit-based scholarship program for the rest of this academic year, requiring universities to make up the difference.

Recommendations for the College Scorecard

The Obama administration should improve its College Scorecard by imposing higher standards for calculating loan repayment rates and breaking down earnings data by program, a new report by the Center for American Progress recommends.

The analysis of the U.S. Department of Education's Scorecard concludes that while much of the data is helpful, there are a number of policy and technical changes that could improve the consumer tool. The U.S. Congress also should reverse the federal ban on a student-unit database to more accurately track student outcomes in higher education, the report advises.

Are Armed Marshals Really Collecting on Student Loans?

Twitter featured many posts in the last two days about a report from Texas that seven armed U.S. marshals showed up at the Houston residence a man with outstanding student debt. Many worried that the millions of Americans with student debt now had to fear armed agents of the U.S. government. The New York Times reported that the story was true, and that there was some context. Marshals are being used to track down debtors with arrest warrants because they missed court hearings related to their debt. They are not being used for those who are repaying their loans, the overwhelming majority of whom have no arrest warrants. In the case of those who tracked down the Houston man, authorities told the Times that they had been trying to collect his debt since 2012. The reason seven marshals were involved is that authorities heard the man say he had a gun, and so increased the size of the group at his residence.

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U.S. plan would cancel federal loans of borrowers misled by their colleges

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Draft plan provides a first look at the Education Department’s new debt relief process for federal student loans.

Clinton Draws Attention to Feature of Her College Plan

Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton used Thursday night's debate to reiterate their support for plans that would make public higher education free (under the Sanders plan) or debt-free (under the Clinton plan). But Clinton drew attention to one feature of her plan that isn't in the Sanders plan. Both plans anticipate a federal-state partnership, but the Clinton plan has provisions for public colleges in states where the governors and legislatures refuse to provide their share of the match. The debate was held at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and Clinton said she doubted that Governor Scott Walker, a Republican who has pushed for deep cuts in state support for higher education, would participate.

"Senator Sanders’s plan really rests on making sure that governors like Scott Walker contribute $23 billion on the first day to make college free. I am a little skeptical about your governor actually caring enough about higher education to make any kind of commitment like that," Clinton said, to applause. In his response, Sanders reiterated (also to applause) his commitment to free tuition in public higher education, but he did not respond to Clinton's specific criticism, except to note that the United States earlier evolved to make universal K-12 education free.

A transcript of the debate is available from The New York Times.

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Budget Crisis Prompts La. to Halt Grant Payments to Colleges

Louisiana officials informed colleges in the state on Thursday that they would stop receiving the funds they need to cover their students' grants under the state's merit-based scholarship program, The Advocate reported. Governor John Bel Edwards said Thursday night that colleges and universities would be expected to make up the 20 percent of the funding (roughly $28 million) that the state is withholding, so that students themselves would be made whole as the state's contract with TOPS recipients requires.

The state is facing a $943 million budget shortfall, and major budget cuts are expected.

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Programs have success helping low-income students graduate

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Two new studies suggest many colleges may be too quick to write off low-income students and community college transfers. Money and extra support change the equation, at least for some.

Report Urges Changes in Loan Repayment, Tax Credits

The world is not lacking for reports on how to restructure the federal student financial aid programs. But here's a new one to chew over, from the Urban Institute and its researchers Sandy Baum and Martha Johnson: "Strengthening Federal Student Aid."

The report calls for combining the varied student loan repayment plans based on borrowers' incomes into one "universal, automatic and frugal income-driven repayment plan," and consolidating the numerous tax credits and deductions for college expenses into a single option, among other things.

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Gates Foundation Sharpens Its Data Push

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday released a report on how some states and colleges are using data to improve student graduation and retention rates. The foundation said the report is based on a decade's worth of lessons learned.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is working with the foundation to develop a forthcoming "metrics framework" that further refines the data areas identified in the new report. The foundation said it will work with policy makers and others to encourage the use of those metrics, including their use as a way to measure the effectiveness of the foundation's own investments. The IHEP report is slated for release in March.

The impetus for the data push is gaps in knowledge about "posttraditional" students, the foundation said, including low-income, first-generation and adult students.

"Higher education is reproducing privilege in this country," said Dan Greenstein, the director of education and postsecondary success in the foundation's U.S. program. "It's unsustainable."

Many data tools from the federal government and other sources have failed to keep up with changing demographics in higher education, according to the foundation.

"We can't answer some of the basic questions," said Jennifer Engle, a senior program officer for Gates who previously worked for IHEP. "We're going to have modernize our data systems."

The foundation said it has focused on metrics that many in higher education agree have value and where serious gaps remain. Those areas include data about students' progress toward a credential (including part-time students), time to completion, transfer rates, debt accumulated, employment after graduation, how much students learn in college and how they use that knowledge and those skills.

Gates last year announced its policy priority areas for college completion. The new report is part of that effort. The foundation has convened a working group it said will make specific policy recommendations later this year on how to improve institutional, state and federal data systems. Likely topics include a federal student unit record, public-private partnerships and improving the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).


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