New Arkansas promise grant looks to boost work force but with restrictions

Arkansas becomes latest state to create a free community college plan. But it limits programs of study and could require some recipients to pay back the money.

Rubio Reintroduces Accreditation Bill

Senators Marco Rubio and Michael Bennet this week reintroduced a bill that would create an alternative accreditation pathway. The proposed legislation would give previously unaccredited institutions access to federal financial aid under a five-year pilot program. Providers, including new ones, would be eligible for aid through contracts with the U.S. Department of Education, but only if they can demonstrate quality through positive student outcomes, the two senators said in a written statement.

Rubio has been both outspoken and in the weeds with his interest in accreditation. During his recent campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Rubio called the current higher education system a "cartel" he would bust with an alternative accreditation pathway for high-quality, low-cost competitors. The return of the legislation he had proposed with Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, suggests that the Florida Republican will continue to push on the accreditation issue.

"America needs a 21st-century higher education system that embraces all the new ways people can learn and acquire skills without having to go the traditional four-year college degree track," Rubio said in the statement. "To modernize our higher education system, we must end the status quo accreditation system, which stifles competition, fuels soaring tuition costs and limits opportunities for nontraditional students, such as working parents. The alternative accreditation system we've proposed is built on higher quality standards and outcomes than the current accreditation system, and would mark an important first step toward shaking up a higher education system that leaves too many people with tons of student loan debt and without degrees that lead to good-paying jobs."

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Seeking Help for Those Hurt by IRS Blunder

The Department of Education should give a break to financial aid applicants after an automated IRS data tool was shut down more than a week ago, say the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and several other college access groups.

In a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Federal Student Aid Chief Operating Officer Jim Runcie Tuesday, NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger wrote that the administrative burden from the shutdown of the data retrieval tool "could lead to delays and backlogs for students." To smooth the financial aid process, NASFAA and the other organizations called on the department to:

  • Update federal websites to reflect the current availability of the tool
  • Allow signed copies of tax returns in place of IRS tax transcripts to satisfy verification requirements for financial aid applicants
  • Revise selection criteria for verification checks
  • Expand the tolerance for conflicting information from use of prior-prior year income data

The National College Access Network, the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the Institute for College Access and Success also signed the letter.

The data retrieval tool was introduced to help cut down on verification checks on income information that can slow the awarding of financial aid packages and become an obstacle to low-income students receiving aid. The letter also raised the importance of the tool for borrowers seeking to enroll in income-driven repayment plans.

Draeger acknowledged the security concerns that apparently led to the shutdown of the data tool while calling for more transparency on the shutdown -- an issue that went on for days without any announcement from the Education Department or the IRS.

"This lack of communication is unacceptable, especially in the middle of the financial aid application season," he wrote.

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$137B in Federal Student Loans in Defaults in 2016

An analysis of new student loan data finds the number of federal loans in default at the end of 2016 increased 14 percent from 2015. Cumulative defaults -- defined in federal law as nine months past due -- stand at $137.4 billion, according to the analysis by the Consumer Federation of America.

The group examined new data posted by the Office of Federal Student Aid last week. The analysis also found that 1.1 million federal direct loan borrowers defaulted in 2016.

"Three thousand preventable student loan defaults each day in America is 3,000 too many," said Rohit Chopra, a senior fellow at the federation and the former student loans ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, of the direct loan defaults last year. "Our broken system works well for the student loan industry but is failing borrowers, taxpayers and our economy."

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Study shows widespread food and housing insecurity for students

A new study points to food and housing issues that prevent many community college students from progressing.

New Higher Education Policy Group Forms

Higher Learning Advocates, a bipartisan policy-focused organization, announced its formation today. The nonprofit group, which is based in Washington, said its focus will be on advocating for federal policies that are "equitable, outcomes-based and focused on educational quality" to increase postsecondary attainment.

The Lumina Foundation has contributed start-up funding for the group, which will do policy research as well as advocacy and communications.

“Higher Learning Advocates is filling an important and unaddressed gap in the policy landscape,” said Julie Peller, the group's executive director. “Our focus is solely on reforming our nation’s federal policies to improve outcomes for today’s learners. We are bipartisan, strategically minded and are eager to roll our sleeves up and tackle these important and timely issues.”

The group's attempt to reach both sides of the aisle in Washington is reflected in its initial governing board (listed below), which includes some big names in higher education.

  • Margaret Spellings, president, University of North Carolina System, and former education secretary in the George W. Bush administration
  • George Miller, senior education adviser, Cengage, and Democratic former member of the U.S. House of Representatives
  • John Engler, retired president, the Business Roundtable, and Republican former governor of Michigan
  • Chris Bustamante, president, Rio Salado College and Maricopa Corporate College
  • Dewayne Matthews, fellow, Lumina Foundation
  • Kim Hunter Reed, executive director, Colorado Department of Higher Education
  • Teresa Lubbers, commissioner, Indiana Commission for Higher Education
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Speakers discuss economic demands placed on higher education

Economists discuss threading the needle between public expectations, student debt and employment outcomes at ACE annual meeting.

Calif. Democrats Propose Debt-Free College Plan

California Democratic legislators proposed a college aid plan Monday to cover tuition and living expenses for the state's students in an effort to rein in student debt, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The proposal would supplement the state's existing aid programs by eliminating the need for student loans for California State University and University of California students. It would also increase grant aid to full-time community college students to give them a tuition-free first year.

Students would still be able to use existing state and federal financial aid, but families making more than $60,000 a year would be expected to contribute and students would be expected to hold part-time jobs throughout the year.

The California Student Aid Commission administers $2.1 billion a year in state financial aid, and the Assembly proposal would cost around $1.6 billion a year, although that number could decrease as California increases the state minimum wage and students earn more in jobs.

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Shutdown of IRS data tool affects income-driven repayment, creates further discrepancies

Student aid advocates and financial aid administrators say shutdown of IRS data retrieval tool has consequences beyond the FAFSA process.

As aid deadlines approach, automated IRS data retrieval unavailable to students

College access advocates scramble as Trump administration says IRS tool designed to simplify student aid process could be unavailable for several weeks.


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