Submitted by Paul Fain on December 3, 2014 - 3:00am
Student-loan borrowing at public institutions has increased the most in states where government support for higher education has declined, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress. In states with the largest per-student decline in funding, for example, median student borrowing increased by $1,781 between 2008 and 2012. The center called for federal investment, matched by money from states, to help curb increasing student debt levels.
The U.S. Department of Education plans to explore new approaches to how it services federal student loans, a top official said Monday. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell, addressing a Federal Student Aid conference in Atlanta, suggested that the government may move away from its current system -- or at least elements of it -- of contracting with four companies to manage payments for the bulk of its federal student loan portfolio.
"Given our extensive experience with the current multi-servicer, multi-system, contract model, we are particularly interested in hearing about alternative approaches," Mitchell said in prepared remarks posted on the department's website. The department last week formally solicited public input on its loan servicing system.
He said that the department is considering stopping loan servicing companies -- like Navient (a spin-off of Sallie Mae), Nelnet, Great Lakes and Pheaa -- from promoting their own brands when they manage payments for federal loan borrowers.
The Education Department, which has been under fire from consumer groups, unions, other federal agencies, and some Senate Democrats over loan servicing issues, had previously defended its approach to managing payments for the growing share of borrowers who have federal direct loans.
James Runcie, the chief operating officer of the Federal Student Aid office, told Congressional lawmakers in March that the department was satisfied with the current model of having loan servicing companies compete among themselves for a share of federal loans.
Mitchell also said Monday that the department plans to establish in the coming months a new system for receiving consumer complaints. He said that officials would draw upon existing complaint systems at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The association representing the nation’s leading research universities said Friday that it planned to develop and administer a sexual assault climate survey for its members, in part to fend off efforts in Congress to mandate such surveys. The Association of American Universities said that it had hired a research firm to design a survey that its 60 U.S. member institutions may choose to have conducted on their campuses next April. The group plans to then publicly report the “cumulative results” from those surveys.
AAU President Hunter Rawlings said in a statement that the surveys were aimed both at helping inform university decision-making on campus sexual assault issues and also at preempting efforts by the federal government to force colleges to conduct the surveys. “[W]e have been deeply concerned about the possibility of Congress or the administration mandating that campuses conduct a government-developed survey,” he said. “Such an initiative would likely be a one-size-fits-all survey that would provide potentially misleading data, given the extraordinary diversity of higher education in our country, and would not reliably assess the campus culture on this issue.”
A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, led by Senators Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand, have proposed requiring all colleges to conduct such surveys and post the results publicly for prospective students and families to see.
Victims advocacy groups have pushed for campus climate surveys, which they say more precisely gauge the prevalence of sexual violence, which often goes unreported.
Submitted by Paul Fain on November 14, 2014 - 3:00am
The Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the University of Phoenix this week announced an alliance through which students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) will be able to take online courses from the for-profit chain to supplement their on-campus studies. Phoenix and the scholarship fund will subsidize the online courses so participating students at HBCUs will not have to pay more than their usual, semester-based tuition and fees. "This opportunity will give HBCUs access to online learning not previously available,” said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., the fund's president and CEO, in a written statement.
The massive federal law governing student aid needs to be simplified, allow more room for innovation, and hold colleges more accountable for student outcomes, a top U.S. Department of Education official said Wednesday.
Speaking at a New America Foundation event about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said that the federal government should have more power to hold colleges and universities accountable for academic and educational problems.
“I would love there to be more authority in the federal government to crack down on what we see as educational abuses as opposed to financial abuses or the like,” he said, citing the recently uncovered academic fraud scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Mitchell added that any increased federal regulation of colleges should be focused on student outcomes.
“I would want to make a very bright line: if we’re going to expand, by statute, federal regulatory authority to have it be about outcomes and not processes and inputs,” he said, referencing some of the criteria that accreditors use in approving institutions.
Mitchell said he was optimistic that accountability in higher education was an issue on which there is room for consensus between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
Another Education Department priority in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, he said, would be simplifying what has become a “convoluted” federal student aid system.
Rewriting the law, which was last updated in 2008, should be a “pretty dramatic gardening project” to streamline existing federal student loan rules and get rid of requirements that inhibit innovation in higher education, he said.
“We have this really crazy matrix of different loan programs, different loan servicers,” he said. “If we could, in the Higher Ed Act, streamline that, that would be great.”
He said that the government should “simplify or eliminate the FAFSA form” and make better use of existing sources of information on families’ financial information in determining eligibility for federal student aid.
Mitchell also said that a new Higher Education Act should restore year-round Pell Grants and provide incentives for states to maintain spending on higher education and not pass large tuition increases on to families.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the Republican who is expected to chair the Senate educate committee in the next Congress, has said that deregulating higher education and simplifying the FAFSA form is a priority of his in higher education policy. He’s said he wants to “start from scratch” in rewriting the Higher Education Act, to weed out requirements that he says are burdensome and have been layered on over decades.
Representative John Kline, the Minnesota Republican who is expected to continue as chair of the House education committee, said in a video announcement Wednesday that improving the higher education system will be among his priorities in the new Congress, but did not offer any details about that plan.
Leaders of the University of California System, for the first time in four years, are proposing tuition increases, The Los Angeles Times reported. Officials say that increases of 5 percent a year are needed to provide more funds for a variety of goals, including increasing the number of California residents that the system's campuses admit. The proposal is expected to face skepticism from Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and students.