Student debt once again popular on the campaign trail, as Democrats look to keep Senate

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As Democrats look to keep their grip on the U.S. Senate, they’re touting their support of legislation to let borrowers refinance their debt at lower interest rates. 

At Senate hearing aimed at states' role in college affordability, Indiana attorney general points finger at feds

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At Senate hearing, state and federal officials point fingers at one another when discussing who can fix issues of college cost and access.

U.S. House votes to change college tax breaks, boost student loan counseling

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Lawmakers' overhaul of higher education tax benefits gives colleges and universities things to cheer and protest. They also approve a bill to boost student loan counseling. 

Obama signs workforce training bill, announces new executive action to overhaul federal job training programs

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Obama administration continues efforts to streamline programs, many of which involve community colleges. But efforts to promote reporting of job results worry some educators.

Former College Financial Aid Chief Faces Fraud Charges

Christine Mordach, former head of financial aid at Merrimack College, is facing federal fraud charges, The Boston Business Journal reported. She allegedly promised students grants, but then tricked them into taking Perkins loans, and didn't provide the help she promised with loan repayment. Mordach's lawyer predicted "a speedy resolution of this issue," but did not elaborate. Authorities indicated that the college was a victim of the fraud.



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Senate Panel Boosts Pentagon Research, Curbs Funding to For-Profits

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week passed a bill to fund the Defense Department that would increase the Pentagon's basic research budget and also place new restrictions on the flow of federal dollars to for-profit colleges. The $549.3 billion funding measure, which lawmakers on the panel approved last Thursday, includes a 5 percent increase in funding for Department of Defense basic research. Such research would receive $2.27 billion in funding for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins October 1.

The Obama administration had sought a nearly 7 percent reduction in Pentagon-sponsored research.

The Association of American Universities on Monday praised the committee for rejecting that proposed cut.  "We commend the Committee for taking another step toward closing the innovation deficit and will work to sustain this funding level as the bill advances and is ultimately reconciled with the House bill," said Hunter Rawlings, the group's president.

Separately, the panel also approved a provision, pushed by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat, that would place a new restriction on some of the federal military benefits that are used at for-profit colleges.  Durbin's language would change the so-called "90/10 rule" that caps for-profit colleges' receipt of grants and loans administered by the Education Department at 90 percent of their annual revenue. The bill would include money from the Pentagon's Tuition Assistance program as part of that cap. Such benefits, as well as veterans' educational aid, are not included in that calculation, which for-profit critics say makes them vulnerable to aggressive and predatory recruiting. For-profit industry representatives have rejected such efforts, arguing that they would reduce access to their institutions for servicemembers and veterans.

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FAFSAs With Decimal Place Error Will Be Reprocessed

The U.S. Department of Education said Friday that it will automatically reprocess the federal financial aid applications of tens of thousands of students whose aid eligibility was likely reduced because of a decimal place error. The problem came to light this month after some students and families filling out the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, incorrectly entered both dollars and cents into a box that was supposed to accept only whole-dollar values.

As a result, the agency said, the government’s computer system interpreted a student reporting an income of $5,000.19 as having an income of $500,019, which would likely reduce that student’s eligibility for need-based grants and loans.

Department officials said in guidance to colleges on Friday that they planned re-process the applications of the “fewer than 200,000 applicants” nationwide who they believe were affected by the problem. The department also said that on July 1 it reprogrammed its online FAFSA form to automatically drop any fractional dollar amounts that are erroneously entered into the system in order to prevent the problem from recurring. 

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Colleges often win reduction in fines for federal campus safety violations

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As the Education Department has stepped up its enforcement of campus safety rules over the past four years, colleges have continued to be successful in getting their Clery Act fines reduced.


Audit Faults Federal Oversight of Student Debt Collectors

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Education has not properly overseen the companies it hires to collect defaulted federal student loan debt, according to an audit released Monday by the agency’s inspector general.

The report found that officials at the department did not “effectively” make sure that the 22 companies that the department hired were collecting debt in accordance with federal law  and the terms of their contract. The inspector general also said that the department did not do enough to make sure that borrowers' complaints against debt collectors were properly received and resolved.

Under the terms of the government’s contract with the debt collectors, recurring borrower complaints are supposed to lead to a reduction in their performance scores. The audit says that, in spite of the more than 3,000 complaints the department received between the 2010 and 2012 fiscal years, officials never docked the scores of any of the companies. The department said in response to the audit’s findings that it had taken steps to “close gaps in our oversight” of the companies, including new directions to the debt collectors and a promise to take borrower complaints into account when evaluating the debt collectors.

The department has previously faced other criticism for its oversight of federally contracted debt collectors. A May 2013 inspector general report found that the department had paid out bonuses to the companies without verifying that they had actually been earned.  A leading consumer advocacy group has also criticized department officials for keeping secret how it pays out bonuses to the debt collection companies. The National Consumer Law Center earlier this year filed a lawsuit to force the department to turn over records relating to those bonuses. 

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Report: Minority community college students denied access to federal loans

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An advocacy group's new report shows that nearly a million community college students -- including a disproportionate share of underrepresented minorities -- lack access to federal student loan programs. 


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