Rep. Kline Will Again Lead House Education Committee

U.S. Representative John Kline of Minnesota, the Republican who leads the House education committee, will keep that post in the next Congress.

As was expected, Kline's Republican colleagues voted Wednesday to officially name him as the committee's chair for the next two years.

Kline said in a statement that "strengthening higher education" was among the "national priorities that will remain at the forefront of the committee's agenda."

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Two Democrats criticize Obama administration for helping colleges avoid default rate penalties

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The top Democrats on the U.S. Senate and House education committees hit the Obama administration over decision to lower some colleges' default rates, allowing them to avoid sanctions.

Research Universities Will Conduct Sex Assault Survey

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.

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Thurgood Marshall Fund Partners With U. of Phoenix

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.

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Average student debt across the country again ticked up in 2013, new report says

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Average debt of college students with loans again ticked up last year; bachelor's degree recipients at public and private nonprofit institutions left with average debt of $28,400, up 2 percent. 

Feds Need More Power to Hold Colleges Accountable, Official Says

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. 

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U. of California Wants to Resume Tuition Increases

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.


Obama Vows to Work With Republicans on College Costs

President Obama, after his party's losses in Tuesday's Congressional elections, said Wednesday that he would seek to find agreement with Republicans on some higher education issues.

Obama said several times during a news conference at the White House that college affordability and student loans are issues on which he was ready to work with Republicans to find common ground during the last two years of his administration.

"We’ve got some common ideas to help more young people afford college and graduate without crippling debt, so that they have the freedom to fill the good jobs of tomorrow and buy their first homes and start a family," he said.

Voters in Tuesday's election, Obama said, sent a resounding message that they want policymakers to "get stuff done" in spite of partisan differences.

"Don't worry about party affiliation," was the message voters signaled to Washington, Obama said. "Do worry about our concerns."

"Do worry about the fact that I'm a young person who's qualified to go to college, but I'm really worried about taking $50,000 a year out in debt and I don't know how I'd pay that back," he continued.

Still, Obama suggested that his willingness to compromise came with some limits, saying broadly that "there's not going to be perfect overlap" between his and Republicans' ideas.

One area over which there will likely be little room for agreement is the role of for-profit colleges in higher education. The Obama administration last week released its final "gainful employment" rule, aimed at clamping down on abuses in the for-profit education industry.

James Kvaal, a top White House domestic policy adviser, on Wednesday brushed off concerns that the future of those regulations was threatened by a Republican-controlled Senate.

Asked about the possibility that a GOP lawmakers would repeal the rule, he said that there was a "very strong case" for the White House to make to Congress over why the rule is important.

"There are a lot of constituents who are affected directly by this rule, and I think there are a lot of constituents who understand the challenge of student loan debt broadly," he said during remarks at the Center for American Progress. "So I feel very good about the case that we can make to Congress that we're doing the right thing."


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Ohio Student Group's Halloween Protest on Debt

The Ohio Student Association used Halloween for a protest at Ohio State University designed to illustrate the way debt turns students into the walking dead, or zombies.

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Australian university says raising tuition will lead to scholarships for many more students

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Prominent university says government's proposal to deregulate tuition will allow it to give scholarships to a third of its students; critics say Sydney's plan will help it cream students from other universities.



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