Studies offer varying perspectives on student loan crisis and value of college

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Reports suggest: College is still worth it. The student loan debt problem isn't that bad. And federal financial aid drives tuition higher and should refocus on the neediest.

Education Department Again Delays ‘State Authorization’ Rule

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Education is again delaying the deadline for when colleges must comply with a requirement that they obtain authorization from regulators in each state in which they are physically located.

The rule was set to take effect next month, but the department announced Monday that it is pushing the deadline back to July 1, 2015. This is the second time the department has provided such an extension for a rule that many colleges have said is confusing. Some have also said the rule is being enforced unfairly.  

The regulation is aimed at setting some minimum standards for how a state approves colleges operating within its borders. States, for example, must have a process for accepting student complaints about a college. The rule also sets out the conditions under which state regulators can use an institution’s accreditation or business licenses as a substitute for a more intensive approval process.

Those state authorization requirements that are now being delayed affect only those colleges that have physical locations, not distance education providers.

The department’s separate state authorization requirement for distance education programs was struck down by a federal appeals court in 2012. Department officials are currently rewriting those rules after a negotiated rule making panel failed to reach consensus on the issue earlier this year. 

Report Explores Net Price Increases at Mass. Private Colleges

The net price paid by students rose by an average of 10.5 percent from 2008 to 2013 at 33 independent colleges examined by The Boston Globe, faster than inflation, the newspaper reported. The Globe's study found that net price -- the amount paid by students after financial aid was awarded -- rose by at least 15 percent at 11 of the 33 institutions. College officials offered a range of explanations for the increases to the Globe.

Lawmakers FAFSA simplification legislation, as HEA reauthorization in Senate heats up

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Two key senators circulate legislative proposals as the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act heats up in Congress.

Study: Text messages about renewing aid boost 2-year college persistence

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Text messages encouraging first-year community college students to fill out federal student aid form boost persistence to sophomore year, study finds.

Distance Education Groups Criticize State Authorization Proposal

A trio of distance education advocates is pressing the U.S. Department of Education to scale back its proposal that would require online programs to be overseen by regulators in each and every state in which they enroll students.

In a letter sent Friday to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the groups warn that the Department of Education’s most recent draft of a “state authorization” rule would, if enacted, lead to “large-scale disruption, confusion and higher costs for students in the short-term” with no long-term benefit. The missive was signed by the heads of The Sloan Consortium, the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, and WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

The department, citing a concern that some states aren’t doing enough to oversee higher education programs offered to their residents, is again seeking to require that online programs obtain approval from every state in which they enroll students after a court in 2012 blocked such an effort on procedural grounds.

But this time around, department officials have indicated they want to take the rule a step further. Their most recent draft proposal would allow federal funds to flow only to distance education providers that are actively reviewed by state regulators. Such a requirement would essentially require that many states change their current practice of exempting some types of distance education programs from their review process.

A negotiated-rulemaking panel failed to reach consensus on the rule earlier this year. The Education Department is now free to move ahead with re-writing its own version of the rule.  

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Top Senate Republican Seeks To Block College Ratings

Senator Lamar Alexander said Thursday that he plans to attach an amendment to the labor, health, and education appropriations bill that would stop the Obama administration from moving ahead with its college ratings system.

Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate’s education committee, said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday that the amendment would prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from “using any federal funding to develop, refine, publish or implement a college ratings system.”

He derided the college ratings system as a “taxpayer-funded popularity contest” that would “pick winners and losers.” “It’s not the job of the federal government,” Alexander said. “I have a serious practical concern with the department’s ability even to begin this effort.”

The Obama administration has said the ratings system is needed to provide better consumer information and hold colleges more accountable for their use of taxpayer money.

The spending bill that funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education cleared a Senate subcommittee earlier this week. But Democrats have postponed a vote on the measure by the full appropriations committee after Republicans said they would force politically difficult votes relating to President Obama’s health care law.  

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, a Democrat, said Thursday that the bill is likely to be rolled into an omnibus appropriations package rather than be considered separately on the Senate floor. 

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Senate Republicans block student loan reform legislation

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Senate Republicans prevent passage of legislation to let student loan borrowers lower their interest rates.

Senate panel OKs NIH funding boost, increase to Pell Grant

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National Institutes of Health would see increase of more than 4 percent next year under a Senate budget measure drafted Tuesday. The maximum Pell award would also grow.

Obama Set to Expand Income-Based Repayment Program

President Obama will announce Monday that he plans to expand an income-based repayment program for federal student loan borrowers, The New York Times reported.

The administration plans to broaden eligibility for its Pay As You Earn program – which caps student loan payments at 10 percent of borrowers’ discretionary income and forgives any unpaid debt after 20 years – to include an estimated 5 million additional borrowers who have older loans, according to the Times.

Obama will also formally announce that the Education Department plans to renegotiate the contract it has with federal student loan servicers to include incentives for helping borrowers avoid default. The department previously said it plans to change how it oversees those servicing companies and had said it was “re-examining” how it pays them. Monday’s executive actions come as Senate Democrats are making a push on student debt relief in advance of the fall midterm elections.

Over the weekend, Obama endorsed a bill by Senate Democrats that would allow existing borrowers to lower the interest rate on their student loans. The legislation proposes to fund such a refinancing program by enacting the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which would end some tax breaks for millionaires. Obama said that Congress had a choice to either “protect young people from crushing debt, or protect tax breaks for millionaires.”

Republicans are largely opposed to the proposal. In a statement on Sunday, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate education committee, rejected the plan as a “political stunt” to give former students money to pay off their loans. “College graduates don't need a $1-a-day taxpayer subsidy to help pay off a $27,000 loan,” he said. “They need a good job.”

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