Citing Shutdown, U.S. Cancels Gainful Employment Negotiating Session

The U.S. Education Department, citing the partial shutdown of the federal government, has canceled the second round of negotiations over regulations on vocational programs at community colleges and for-profit institutions.  

The department will reschedule the negotiated-rulemaking session when the government reopens, Lynn Mahaffie, the acting deputy assistant secretary for policy, planning and innovation, wrote in a letter on Friday to members of the rule making committee. The session was originally slated for October 21-23.

The panel is tasked with rewriting the "gainful employment" regulations that were thrown out by a federal judge earlier this year. The rules would cut off federal money flowing to career-training programs if they do not meet certain standards that measure their graduates’ earnings relative to the graduates’ student loan debt.

The Obama administration is proposing tighter standards that would apply to more vocational programs. At the first negotiating session last month, it appeared unlikely that negotiators would come to a consensus on the rules. Even if the committee doesn’t reach an agreement, the Education Department could still move forward with its own proposal. 

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Suspension of military education benefits forces some students to drop out

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The suspension of tuition assistance for active-duty service members during the shutdown is jeopardizing their academic progress and forcing some to withdraw from classes.

Education Groups Oppose 'Pay It Forward'

The "Pay It Forward" concept -- in which students would not pay tuition to attend public colleges, but would pay a share of their salaries after graduation -- has attracted considerable attention in recent months. But a coalition of education groups issued a statement Friday opposing the idea. The group's analysis says that such plans would increase the cost of higher education, do nothing about the "state disinvestment" in higher education and create the wrong incentives for public colleges. For example, the groups say that public colleges would have an incentive to build up programs likely to attract students who will earn the most money after graduation, which may not be the most important programs for a state or its higher education system. "We are heartened that state lawmakers are taking the student debt crisis seriously and are seeking solutions. However, these solutions need to actively attack, not obscure, the root cause of rising student costs and debt -- declining state investment in high quality public higher education. Pay It Forward moves us in the wrong direction," the statement concludes.

The groups that signed were: American Association of State Colleges and Universities, American Association of University Professors, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, Colorado Student Power Alliance, Education Trust, Jobs With Justice, National Education Association, Student Labor Action Project (and University of Oregon Student Labor Action Project) and the Institute for College Access and Success.

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Website for First-Generation College Students

The Center for Student Opportunity has begun a campaign called "I'm First" that is aimed at first-generation college students. The nonprofit group, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, created a website inspired by Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" videos. The site includes testimonial videos featuring first-generation graduates, as well as tips and guidance about how to navigate college.

Government Shutdown Stalls Military Education Benefits

The Department of Defense has suspended a program that provides members of the military with money to attend college because of the federal government shutdown. Branches of the armed forces will not authorize tuition assistance for new classes during a government shutdown, a Pentagon official wrote in a blog post this week.

In addition to rejecting new requests for the benefits, the Army said in a statement that it could not process some existing requests that were received before the shutdown began on October 1.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, meanwhile, said it is continuing to process veterans’ education benefits, but that could stop if the shutdown drags on longer than several weeks. The agency has already closed its education call center because of the shutdown. 

Consumer bureau issues initial findings on college debit card deals

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Arrangements between colleges and financial institutions that provide services to students may mirror problems with private student loans and predatory credit card marketing on campuses, U.S. consumer agency says. 

Student loan defaults hit highest level since 1995

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The latest snapshot of defaults on federal student loans shows that one in ten borrowers are defaulting within two years and nearly 15 percent are defaulting within three years. 

U.S. Panel Warns of Dangers in Using Financial Aid to Push College Completion

Proposals to alter federal financial aid programs to try to promote college completion could end up damaging postsecondary access, the U.S. Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance argues in a new report. The report, "Do No Harm," warns that several of the policies being discussed in think tank circles and among some members of Congress could diminish the representation in higher education of students from low-income families.

Essay suggests that scoring in diving suggests path for rating colleges

About one month ago, President Obama announced plans for sweeping changes in higher education. In short, he wants the system to be much more efficient, affordable, and timely. Numerous reports have indicated the cost of higher education has increased at rapid rates. Bloomberg indicated that since I started college in 1985, the cost has risen by 500 percent.

This is a complex problem. Our health care provider told us to expect a 19 percent increase this year. Technology upgrades mean additional costs. The reality is while we are a nonprofit, nothing is slowing the for-profits interested in greater profit margins. But I understand the president’s concerns.

Yet as I heard President Obama share ideas about measuring the effectiveness of institutions as a solution, I was concerned. I agree that assessment is essential. We need to make sure we are delivering on what we promise. But my concern is how will these metrics be developed, and will they really be able to consider all of the factors that impact student success and institutional performance?

As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his team begin their work, I would like to propose a competitive diving approach to college assessment. In diving, you receive a raw score from 1 to 10 based on dive execution. That score is averaged by the judges, then multiplied by the degree of difficulty for the overall score.

Most of the rankings that exist, particularly those of U.S. News & World Report, measure inputs dependent upon wealth so that quality is determined by whom you serve rather than what you do with them. Essentially, the fewer Pell Grant, part-time, nontraditional and students of color you serve, the better your outcomes.

Elite colleges, which educate those who received the best high school educations and who frequently have plenty of money, serve students who have the right inputs ,which almost guarantee high retention and graduation rates, low debt, and high employment.

But, in order to be fair, any new rating system must calculate the degree of difficulty when examining the metrics. For example, reviewing data for the last three years available, the smaller a share of the student body made of Pell Grant eligible students a college has, the better the graduation rate.

In fact, decades of research prove this point. The difference is significant as well. For 2011, as an example, the graduation rate for baccalaureate nonprofit colleges was 52 percent. For colleges with fewer than 20 percent Pell grant recipients (generally households earning less than $40,000 a year), the graduation rate was 79 percent. It dropped to 56 percent for colleges with 21-40 percent Pell students, and then to 42 percent for institutions with 41-60 percent Pell students. For those where more than 60 percent were Pell grant recipients, the graduation rate was 31 percent.

Colleges with less than 20 percent Pell students had few part-time, nontraditional and underrepresented students of color. Colleges with more than 60 percent Pell students had twice as many part-timers, five times as many nontraditionals, and almost six times as many underrepresented students of color.

And yet most rankings have lauded the first group for providing a great education. They essentially have done simple dives -- forward in a tuck position off a 1-meter springboard which has a degree of difficulty of 1.2 (based on USA diving). Meanwhile, many colleges attempt a back 4 1/2 somersaults in a tuck position off a 3-meter springboard, degree of difficulty 4.6. The problem is, we don’t get the degree of difficulty factored in. Only the raw score is calculated and we’re determined to be lesser institutions.

If President Obama’s plan to overhaul higher education is to have any credibility, there must be a degree of difficulty factor. In fact, there should be some other factors as well if there is to be any equity in this process. If colleges will be evaluated on the earnings of graduates, will the methodology take into account that women earn 77 percent of what men do, and this would disproportionately penalize women’s colleges and those with high proportions of women? Will the rankings factor in students who had to leave college because the government changed Parent PLUS loan eligibility?

The skepticism is widespread because we’ve watched numbers being used without proper context. For example, the highly touted White House College Scorecard was launched in February as a great step in accountability. For my institution, the graduation rate was listed as 24 percent. That looks atrocious. And yet, nothing on that webpage indicated that rate was based on freshmen who started in August of 2005, a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina made the campus unusable for almost one year. Eight years later we are finally opening all previously closed buildings.

We lost half that freshman class after one year, and large numbers of sophomores and juniors. The simple analysis presented on the scorecard paints a damaging picture. If consequences are then attached without all factors being weighed, this becomes an attack on a college.

The point is there has to be serious analysis with the broadest range of institutions at the table as this rating is developed. If all the factors are not considered, we end up with a simplistic one-size-fits-all that harms many institutions and their students. I know President Obama does not want that to be part of his legacy.

We are diving into a new territory to rate colleges. I just hope we’ll use diving's scoring as well.

Walter M. Kimbrough is president of Dillard University.

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$50 Million Gift for Scholarships at North Carolina State

North Carolina State University on Friday announced a $50 million gift from the Park Foundation. The funds will support a scholarship program through which students receive a four-year scholarship, a computer stipend, specialized faculty mentoring and various special learning opportunities.



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