studentaid

Pell for Prisoners Announcement Coming

The U.S. Department of Education is moving closer to an official announcement of an experiment to allow some prisoners to receive Pell Grants. On Monday Arne Duncan, the education secretary, came close to dropping the details for an experimental sites project, which would grant a limited waiver to the federal rules that prevent prisoners in state and federal prisons from receiving Pell Grants. As Inside Higher Ed reported in May, prison education programs at a handful of colleges might be eligible to participate in the experiment.

Duncan said the feds are working on an experimental sites program that would open up Pell eligibility to "incarcerated adults seeking an independent, productive life after they get out of jail," according to a transcript of the major policy speech Duncan gave at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. When asked during a phone call with reporters for more details, Duncan said, "Stay tuned." He is scheduled to appear at a Maryland prison on Friday with Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney general. The event will include a visit to Goucher College's prison education program, and a "major announcement" is planned.

The U.S. Congress banned the use of Pell Grants by prisoners in 1994. Congressional Democrats have called for the ban to be dropped. If the experimental access is successful, it could bolster the case for a full restoration. But opposition appears likely among Republicans.

Trump Slams Government Profits on Student Loans

Donald Trump, a Republican candidate for president, on Thursday criticized the federal government for earning a profit on the federal student loan program.

“That’s probably one of the only things the government shouldn’t make money off -- I think it’s terrible that one of the only profit centers we have is student loans,” Trump said in an interview with The Hill. He said that college students are “swimming in these loans.”

“I’ll see so many young people and they work really hard for four years,” Trump told the newspaper. “They borrowed money. Their parents don’t have much. They work all together and they mortgage their future.”

Trump’s position aligns with that of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, who frequently criticizes the profits the government makes on federal student loans. The Government Accountability Office estimated that the federal student loans given out between 2007 and 2012 are on track to produce $66 billion in profit for the government.

Many Republicans have also called for changes to accounting rules that would result in the federal student loan program being booked as a cost to taxpayers.

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CFPB orders loan servicer to pay $18.5M over illegal charges, signals broader crackdown

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Discover Bank agrees to pay $18.5 million in consumer refunds and penalties to resolve charges of illegal loan servicing, as U.S. consumer protection bureau eyes a broader crackdown on an industry it says is rife with problems.

Academic Minute: The Price of College

In today's Academic Minute, Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, discusses research on ways to improve the efficiency of getting into colleges. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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Feds mull experiment on aid and accreditation for alternative providers

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Education Department moves closer to experimenting with federal aid and accreditation for alternative providers like boot camps and MOOCs, while White House books meeting on expanding space.

College Readiness Stagnates for Low-Income Students

The number of low-income students who meet key college-readiness benchmarks remained flat among 2014 high school graduates who took the ACT, according to a new report from ACT and the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships. That number has stagnated for the past five years, the report said.

About one-quarter of 2014 high school graduates who took the ACT reported an annual family income of less than $36,000. While 96 percent of this group said they planned to attend college, more than the overall group of test takers, roughly half of the low-income students did not meet any of ACT's four key readiness indicators. The report found that 31 percent of all students who took the ACT also do not meet those readiness benchmarks. For example, only 25 percent of low-income students (who took the recommended core course work) were deemed ready in math, compared to 43 percent of all students.

Spending More on College, But Worrying Less

Families are spending more on college, but parents are less concerned about that investment paying off, according to the results of a new survey from Sallie Mae, the student lender.

The study is based on phone interviews with 800 traditional-aged undergraduates and 800 parents of traditional-aged students. It is the eight installment of the survey. Results show that spending on college was up across the board this year, but that a 25 percent increase by high-income families was responsible for the bulk of the increase. Parents' out-of-pocket spending exceeded scholarships and grants for the first time since 2010.

However, fewer parents reported being "extremely worried" that their college-student children won't find a job after college -- 13 percent said this in 2015 compared to 27 percent the previous year. In addition, fewer parents were worried about student loan interest rates. Overall, six of 10 families did not borrow money to pay for college.

Oregon Governor Signs Free Community College Bill

Oregon's governor, Kate Brown, a Democrat, on Friday signed a bill to create a free community college grant, several news outlets reported. Oregon follows Tennessee as the second state to fund a statewide free community college program. The legislation includes $10 million for qualifying students, who will each receive at least a $1,000 grant. The state also will spend $7 million on related student success and completion programs.

The news earned a celebratory tweet from President Obama:

New U.S. rules on financial aid disbursement will hurt students (essay)

Earlier this summer, the Department of Education proposed new regulations addressing the management of Title IV funds and the distribution of financial aid refunds. As a system with 32 community college campuses that serves nearly 200,000 students, Ivy Tech processes on average 155,000 financial aid balance disbursements each year.

This is a huge undertaking and one that we take very seriously, as students use their disbursements to pay for books, supplies and other living expenses.

Many of our students -- 61,000 of whom receive Pell Grants -- rely on the speedy and safe delivery of their student aid to ensure they can pay their bills and continue their education. Without significant modification, the proposed regulation would create unnecessary challenges for us to provide students with their financial aid refunds in a timely, secure manner. While many provisions of the proposed regulation seek to limit fees and tighten security measures, several aspects unfortunately have the opposite effect.

A Move Back to Paper Check

Today, institutions can decide whether to offer paper checks as an option for disbursement among the other options for electronic disbursement. In the event that students do not choose any method for receiving their funds, they will be mailed a paper check. This method has allowed institutions to encourage and promote electronic delivery, which is a more secure and a timely method for students and institutions. Requiring institutions to provide the up-front option of a check goes against decades of encouraging electronic transfer of funds for many consumer purposes, including government benefits and employee earnings.

This will be operationally challenging for our system, and it also would provide a ready market for check cashing services and their exorbitant fees. Again, other provisions of this regulation seek to limit fee exposure to students. Unfortunately, the requirement to provide paper checks up front will expose many students to check cashing fees.

Increased Risk of Financial Aid Fraud

Under the new requirement, colleges would be limited in what information they could share with their third-party disbursement providers. No data, other than a student’s name, address and email, would be permitted -- information that is too vague and opens up exposure to financial aid fraud.

Without the ability to securely authenticate the identity of the student and share additional information, including the amount of a student's disbursement, third parties would have no way to process these transactions with the level of security and accuracy that they do today. We need to find middle ground on this issue, which could be accomplished by giving third-party providers access to refund amounts and unique, nonpersonal student identifiers.

Federalization of the Disbursement Process

Under the proposed regulations, the education secretary is reserving the authority of the department to operate the credit balance disbursement process -- essentially an invitation for unnecessary complication and delay.

Institutions and their students would be required to use the department’s system, whether or not it met the unique needs of a particular college and despite logistical burdens on both institutions and the department. Additionally, any system developed by the department is unlikely to deal with non-Title IV funds, requiring institutions to have redundant systems for the delivery of this aid, which could lead to more delays and errors.

The distribution of financial aid disbursements to our students is a process we take extremely seriously. Students must receive this aid quickly and securely to ensure they can benefit from the education they receive at Ivy Tech and other institutions across the country.

Like the department, we want to protect our students’ financial well-being and provide the least expensive, least burdensome and most financially secure systems. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, the proposed regulation in its current form would be a step in the wrong direction -- a step many students can’t afford to take.

Thomas J. Snyder is president of Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana’s statewide community college system.

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A new study identifies the best way to make low-income families aware of federal financial aid options

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New report calls for expanded effort to reach out to students and their families with financial aid information -- years before they will apply to college.

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