Obama Proposes New Technical Training Fund

In addition to its tuition-free community college plan, the White House on Friday released a proposal for a new technical job-training fund. The new money would build on a similar $2-billion workforce grant program aimed at two-year colleges, which expired last year.

The president wants the federal government to pay for the creation of 100 new job centers around the country. The focus of the centers would be to "help high-potential, low-wage workers gain the skills to work into growing fields with significant numbers of middle-class jobs that local employers are trying to fill," the White House said in a fact sheet, "such as energy, IT and advanced manufacturing."

Initial grants under the plan would pay for pilot programs, which would bring together colleges and employers. Larger grants would pay to expand programs that prove successful based on graduation and job-placement rates, according to the administration.

The White House did not provide a budget estimate for the proposal, which is dubbed the American Technical Training Fund. As with the community college plan, the president presumably will announce more details later this month.

The Association for Career and Technical Education applauded the proposed fund, saying it recognizes the "great need" for additional support of technical training programs, which are necessary to "keep America's workforce globally competitive."

Roughly 12 million college students receive career and technical training, the association said, as well as 94 percent of high-school students.

"While this initiative will provide critical resources to build capacity, incentivize innovation and pilot new approaches in some areas," LeAnn Wilson, the association's executive direct, said in a written statement, "we must prioritize a robust federal investment into the entire CTE system through proven approaches, particularly the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act."

Alexander Introduces Student Aid Simplification Bill

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee was formally elected Wednesday morning to his post as chair of the Senate education committee in the new Congress.

And he quickly made clear what his top higher education priority would be for the coming year: student aid simplification.

Alexander, a Republican, introduced legislation Wednesday that would significantly reduce the length of the application for federal student aid and consolidate federal grant and loan programs.  His plan, which he first rolled out last year, also calls for restoring year-round Pell Grants.

He also backed a separate proposal unveiled Wednesday by Senator Angus King, an independent, and Senator Richard Burr, a Republican, that would streamline federal student loan repayment plans. It also adopts limits on the amount of loan forgiveness that high-debt borrowers can receive, a provision that the Obama administration has previously proposed.

Alexander said that the Senate education committee would act on the aid simplification bills this year as soon as it finishes work reauthorizing the main federal law governing elementary and secondary education. He said he hoped to bring the aid bill to the Senate floor by the end of this spring. 

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Western Governors' deepening partnership with StraighterLine creates a new path to completion

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Western Governors University steers rejected applicants to StraighterLine, an online course provider that acts as a low-risk way for students to prepare to earn a degree.

Higher education groups criticize Education Department estimate of how much teacher prep regulations will cost

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Higher education groups take issue with how the federal Education Department estimated the cost to colleges of its proposed regulation.

Guidance from Feds on Competency-Based Education

The U.S. Department of Education last week issued a letter with guidance on a form of competency-based education. The document addresses direct assessment programs, which are not based on the credit-hour standard. So far only a handful of colleges have received federal-aid eligibility for such programs.

U.S. Announces Rulemaking on Income-Based Repayment

The U.S. Department of Education is soliciting nominations for its rulemaking panel that will convene next year to carry out President Obama's directive to make an additional 5 million loan borrowers eligible for federal government’s most generous income-based repayment program.

The department will publish a notice in tomorrow's Federal Register that it is seeking negotiated-rulemaking committee members from a range of constituencies, such as student groups, consumer advocacy organizations, and various types of colleges and universities. 

The panel will next year begin hashing out the details for expanding Obama's income-based repayment program, known as Pay As You Earn, which caps borrowers' monthly payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income and forgives any remaining debt after 20 years.

The department has not yet put a price tag on how much the expansion will cost. It’s also unclear whether the rulemaking panel will consider some of the reforms to income-based repayment programs -- like capping the benefits for high-income, high-debt borrowers -- that the administration has previously proposed.

The Education Department will host three-day sessions of negotiations in February, March and April of next year.

The rulemaking committee, the department announced, will also consider changes to how active-duty servicemembers access federal loan benefits under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

The companies that process federal loans have sparred with the Education Department over, among other things, what type of documentation is needed to provide servicemembers with a discount on their loan's interest rate. The issue cropped up earlier this year as part of the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against Sallie Mae, which alleged that the company overcharged servicemembers.

The company, whose loan-servicing operations have since been separated into a company called Navient, paid $97 million to settle the case.

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Why Did U. of Redlands Suspend Its Student Paper?

The student government at the University of Redlands has cut funding for its student newspaper amid a controversy over a disputed quote in an article about a major gift, The Redlands Daily Facts reported. The article was about a $35 million gift for scholarships, and one quote (now contested) suggested that the funds were likely to go to "rich, white males." The original article can be found here. The leaders of the student paper, The Bulldog Weekly, have on Facebook accused the administration of censoring the publication by working with the student government to cut off funds and suspend publication. University officials say that the suspension of operations reflects many concerns about the paper, not just those over a single quote.


Groups Oppose Corinthian Sale to ECMC

A coalition of 46 student, consumer, veterans and civil rights groups on Wednesday wrote to the Obama Administration and U.S. Department of Education to oppose the proposed sale of 56 Corinthian Colleges' campuses to ECMC, a nonprofit student loan guarantee agency.

"The terms of the proposed sale to ECMC would not give students the choice of completing or a fresh start, while leaving the campuses in the hands of a troubled entity with no educational experience," the groups wrote. They called on the department to exercise more flexibility in allowing Corinthian students to seek loan discharges. The letter also suggests stricter terms for an ECMC deal, such as requiring that the campuses meet "gainful employment" regulations for seven years.

The sale, which department officials back, is expected to close in January.


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Art exhibit focuses on student debt

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Exhibit at Michigan State University aims to raise awareness and money to help solve the burden of student debt. 

Federal audit faults Education Department for lack of plan to prevent student loan defaults

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A federal audit of the U.S. Department of Education’s student loan programs concludes that the agency is without a “comprehensive plan or strategy to prevent student loan defaults.”


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