FAFSA Completion Rates Vary Widely by City

The percentage of graduating high school seniors who completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in 2015 varied widely by city, according to a new analysis from the National College Access Network. The group looked at numbers from 68 cities, finding that a high of 68 percent completed the FAFSA in Memphis, Tenn., compared to a low of 25 percent in North Las Vegas. The 68-city average was 48 percent, according to the group, which is close to the nationwide rate of 44 percent in 2014.

"Exemplar cities of all sizes show us that it is possible to have a high percentage of high school seniors complete the FAFSA," the report said.

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Use of Private Student Loans Declines

After reaching a peak of 14 percent in 2008, the number of undergraduates nationwide who used private student loans declined by roughly half by 2012, to 6 percent, according to a new data report from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. During the same time period, the percentage of undergraduates borrowing from the federal government through the Stafford Loan program increased to 40 percent from 35 percent.

"The decline in private education borrowing could potentially be attributed to a number of factors that include a tightening of lending standards; increases in the annual and aggregate unsubsidized Stafford Loan limits; a reduction in the number of private lenders in the education loan market; and the elimination of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, which made private lenders ineligible to make federal loans," the report said.

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New analysis shows high debt levels for some humanities Ph.D.s and no debt for others

Some doctorate earners emerge with high levels of debt, while a growing number have none. For a plurality, teaching assistantships are top source of revenue, but that's not the case for most other disciplines.

Letter warns Education Department there may be no borrowers eligible for public service loan forgiveness

Student aid group warns Education Department that there may be no borrowers eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Incarcerated Adults Lack Literacy and Numeracy Skills

More than half of incarcerated adults lack basic numeracy skills, according to new report from the federal government's National Center for Education Statistics, which also found that one-third lack basic literacy skills.

The study also found that less than half (49 percent) of prison inmates reported being employed full-time prior to their incarceration.

The U.S. Department of Education this year began an experimental program through which 12,000 inmates around the country will be able to receive federal Pell Grants while they pursue a college credential in prison. The department chose academic programs from 67 colleges and universities to participate in the experiment, which is dubbed Second Chance Pell.

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How Voters Viewed College Affordability

Advocates for Hillary Clinton's campaign (and, before that, Bernie Sanders's) said that the issue of free or debt-free college would be a winning political issue in the general election. New data from the Pew Research Center suggest that Trump voters were not that engaged on the subject. A poll by Pew asked voters to rank a number of issues on whether they were “a very big problem” in the country today. While 66 percent of Clinton voters said college affordability was such a problem, only 38 percent of Trump supporters agreed.

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North Dakota Eliminates State Authorization Office

The North Dakota University System has eliminated the office that authorizes colleges to issue degrees in the state, either on-site or via distance education. A spokeswoman for the system confirmed the move via email, saying there had been a reduction in force due to budgetary constraints. She said the duties would be reassigned.

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Outcomes of ballot measures affecting higher education


Voters in many states weren't exactly thrilled with the notion of raising taxes to fund higher education.

Education Dept. Backs Defunct For-Profit in Fight With Accreditor

U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr. last week affirmed an administrative judge's March ruling that relieved now-defunct Decker College of a $31.6 million repayment the Education Department demanded the for-profit institution make in 2005. The administrative judge had ruled that the department based its finding at that time on misinformation provided by Decker's accreditor, the Council on Occupational Education, which Decker officials have argued helped push the college into bankruptcy and ultimately destroy it. The Federal Student Aid office -- part of King's own department -- appealed the administrative judge's ruling to the secretary.

King's affirmation letter was unusually frank and expansive in explaining why he rejected his own agency's appeal. The department's decision is also likely to clear the way for a lawsuit -- which has been stayed pending resolution of this situation -- in which Decker is suing the accrediting council over its misrepresentations. (Note: This item has been updated from an earlier version to correct some errors.)

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House Democrats Seek to Protect Pell Spending

More than 120 House Democrats, led by Virginia Representative Bobby Scott, called in a letter Wednesday for the House and Senate appropriations committees to use resources in the Pell Grant program only for improving college access.

The $7.8 billion surplus for the Pell Grant program should go toward meeting the needs of low-income college students, the letter says.

"Specifically, we urge you to utilize the FY 2017 appropriations process as an opportunity to further the goal of the Pell Grant program by using a portion of the surplus to lessen the burden of college costs for needy students through restoration of year-round Pell and an increase in the maximum discretionary award," the letter says. "And we ask that you protect the remainder of the surplus for the sole use of the Pell Grant program."

Scott is the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which oversees higher ed policy issues. But decisions on Pell Grant funding are among a number of spending issues being considered by appropriators negotiating a Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill.

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