Survey: Parents Up College Savings Goals

A survey by Fidelity of parents who are already saving for college for their children found that 60 percent have a goal of saving more in 2014 than they did in 2013. Including those parents, 88 percent said that they plan to save at least as much as they did in 2013. Of the majority of such parents who have a specific target for savings, the average is $405 per month.


Modest Uptick for Income-Based Repayment

The number of federal direct student loan borrowers who were enrolled in an income-based repayment program rose by 20 percent in the last three months of 2013, as the Education Department launched a large outreach campaign to get more people to use the benefit.

Slightly more than 1.3 million borrowers had loans in an income-based repayment plan at the end of last December, an increase of 210,000 from the end of September, according to recently released federal data.

The increased participation in the program occurred as the Obama administration in November and December sent emails directly to more than 3.5 million borrowers that it believed could benefit from enrolling in the plans, which cap loan payments at a percentage of a borrower’s discretionary income and forgive any outstanding balance after 20 or 25 years.

During the same period, the number of borrowers participating in the similar but less generous income-contingent program remained roughly the same at 580,000.

Despite efforts by the Obama administration to better publicize and ease the application process for the income-based repayment program, enrollment remains relatively low compared to the overall federal direct loan portfolio, which includes 11.7 million people who are currently actively repaying their federal direct loans. An additional 5.5 million are in deferment or forbearance, and another 2.4 million direct loan borrowers are in default.

The Education and Treasury Departments planned to announce on Friday another aspect of the administration's campaign to enroll more borrowers in the programs. TurboTax will display a banner on its website that links to the Education Department's "repayment estimator," which provides information on enrolling in the programs.

The government will also include, during the upcoming tax season, a message about federal student loan repayment options on the envelopes of tax refund checks mailed this year. About 25 million of those envelopes will be mailed to tax filers this year, the departments said. 

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Education Dept. Reschedules ‘Symposium’ on Ratings

The Education Department has again rescheduled its “technical symposium” on the Obama administration’s proposed college ratings system. The new date for the daylong, public meeting is February 6, according to an email sent Thursday to presenters.

Education Department officials, citing poor weather conditions in Washington, D.C., earlier this week postponed the event and set February 20 as the new date. But, according to emails to speakers, officials have since decided they want to hold the conference sooner.  

The symposium will feature presentations from more than a dozen people with expertise in higher education data who will make presentations on various aspects of the department’s proposal to develop a ratings system.   

Colleges Pitch Possible Experiments With Competency-Based Programs

A group of institutions that favor a competency-based approach to student learning have offered examples of the sorts of approaches they would try in a program the U.S. Education Department is contemplating to encourage such experimentation. The department in December issued an invitation to institutions to propose ways in which a waiver of certain federal financial aid rules, as part of an "experimental sites" program, might allow them to improve student outcomes, speed time to degree, and lower costs for students.

In their submission, the institutions -- which include a mix of traditional public and private institutions, online only institutions, and community college systems -- proposed "testing new or alternative federal definitions of attendance and satisfactory academic progress," "decoupling federal financial aid from time-based measures," and allowing federal aid to flow to a degree program that mixes competency- and credit-hour-based learning, among other approaches.

The institutions are: Alverno College, Antioch University, Brandman University, Broward Community College, Capella University, Cardinal Stritch University, Charter Oak State College, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, Excelsior College, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Lipscomb University, Northern Arizona University, Southern New Hampshire University, SUNY Empire State College, University of Maryland University College, the University of Wisconsin-Extension and Westminster College.

Ohio Northern wants students to consider the cost of changing majors

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Ohio Northern University requires students to consider the financial costs before changing field of study.

Consumer Advocacy Group Calls for Tighter Oversight of Sallie Mae, Other Loan Servicers

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The federal government needs to do a better job of overseeing the companies it hires to service student loans, especially the largest player, a new report says. 

UT System creates database to track graduates' earnings, debt

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University of Texas System creates web tool to track graduates' earnings and debt five years after leaving college, among other outcomes.

U.S. Urged to Give Incentives to States on College Funding

The federal government should create a matching grant program to reward states that maintain and increase their funding for public colleges, by linking the maximum Pell Grant awarded to students in states to per-student funding or higher education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities argues in a new report. The paper documents the decline in states' funding per full-time equivalent college student since 2000 and the role that trend has played in driving up tuition prices (and student debt). 

The report asserts that the federal government can influence state behavior, citing the maintenance of effort provisions that were inserted into the federal stimulus legislation (and other measures) that provided funds to states that kept their own spending on higher education above certain thresholds. Those efforts have not gone far enough, though, AASCU argues, by rewarding states that at least maintained their spending no matter whether their levels were high or low. "A new model is needed that acknowledges existing levels of per-student state support for public higher education and that strategically leverages federal dollars to incentivize additional state investment."

The association calls for a matching grant program of up to $15 billion a year, with grants to states based on how much money they provide per student compared to the Pell Grant maximum award. (A state's federal grant award would be cut if it reduced its spending on public university operating support.)

The proposed additional spending of billions a year may seem like an unlikely luxury in an era when members of Congress are bickering over millions, but AASCU suggests that funds for the program could be derived from "better gatekeeping of institutional eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs (particularly for for-profit colleges), and "risk sharing" for federal student loans.

George Miller, veteran lawmaker on higher education issues, to retire

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The California Democrat, who has for decades been a prominent figure in federal higher education policy, says that he will not seek re-election to Congress. 

Budget negotiators reach deal that would increase NIH spending, Pell Grant award

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Congressional negotiators reach agreement to boost spending on NIH and student aid, though deal does not restore all of the sequester cuts.


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