Quick Takes: IRS May Expand Probe, Revival Hopes for Antioch, Students and Stimulus Package, Using Debt to Recover, NC Central to Pay $1.1M, UDC Plans Community College, Reform Ideas for Michigan Athletes, Absent at NCAA Meeting, Florida State's 'The'

January 14, 2009
  • The Internal Revenue Service, which is already investigating the executive compensation of many colleges and universities, may expand its probe to determine whether some institutions may be avoiding taxes on some business activities, or may not be properly handling issues related to research and intellectual property, The New York Times reported. Specifically, the IRS is interested in whether colleges are abusing their tax-exempt status.
  • In what could be a significant step toward the revival of Antioch College, the boards of an alumni group seeking to restore its operations and of Antioch University have announced a signed letter of intent on plans to get the institution running again. The university's board shut down the college, saying it was not financially viable, and the cessation of activities followed months of negotiations to keep it going -- including many apparent breakthroughs that were followed by much anger. While the letter of intent is not binding, it commits the two sides to a path of negotiation and suggests progress on resolving some topics -- such as the ownership of various properties and financial issues -- that were previously points of division. The letter of intent was announced by the Great Lakes Colleges Association, a consortium of liberal arts colleges (Antioch among them) that has been working with all sides to keep the college operating.
  • As Congress and the incoming Obama administration continue their work on a proposed economic stimulus package, what the package is likely to include for students and colleges remains a moving target. The Washington publication Politico reported Tuesday that lawmakers seemed to be zeroing in on a $500 increase in the maximum Pell Grant, to $5,231, at a cost to the government of $15 billion over two years, and Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, has been aggressively pushing for the package to include a $3,000, partly refundable tax credit that would replace two existing tax breaks: the existing Hope tax credit and a $4,000 above-the-line tax deduction for college expenses. The idea of billions of dollars in funds for infrastructure needs for postsecondary institutions is still on the table as well. Colleges would also presumably benefit from some of the block grant money that lawmakers are talking about sending to the states for elementary and secondary education and for Medicaid, which, while not directly targeted to higher education, could relieve budget pressures that are squeezing spending for discretionary items like college support.
  • More universities with large endowments are trying to make up for recent losses through debt. Bloomberg reported that Princeton University sold $1 billion in bonds this week, while the University of Notre Dame sold $150 million in bonds. Last month, Harvard gained $1.5 billion that way, and Cornell University may follow. Analysts said that the interest owed on bonds costs the institutions less than what they would owe if they borrowed from banks, and the bonds sell well because of these institutions' solid long-term prospects, regardless of this year's losses.
  • North Carolina Central University has agreed to repay $1.1 million to the U.S. Education Department for loans incorrectly provided to students at an unauthorized campus the university set up in a church outside Atlanta, The Raleigh News & Observer reported. The university ran the campus without the permission of its accreditor or the University of North Carolina board.
  • The University of the District of Columbia plans to start a community college, and to raise admissions standards and tuition rates for students in four-year programs, The Washington Post reported. Washington does not have a public community college -- and many educators have been pushing to create one.
  • A faculty committee at the University of Michigan has proposed a series of reforms to assure that athletes receive a rigorous education, The Ann Arbor News reported. The newspaper's stories last year about athletes being steered in certain academic directions upset many professors. The proposed changes outlined Tuesday would expand summer offerings prior to enrollment, stiffen oversight of some degree programs, and shift oversight of academic counselors for athletes from the athletic department to a dean's office.
  • Myles Brand, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's president, announced Tuesday that he will not attend the majority of the group’s annual convention this week in Washington. Brand, 66, is receiving treatment for an unspecified “medical condition” and says he is following his doctors’ requests in restricting his travel. According to a note sent to NCAA members, however, Brand will be in Washington for portions of Saturday’s governance meetings. NCAA officials told USA Today last week that, despite Brand’s illness, he plans on remaining president.
  • Florida State University has decided that it wants to be called "The Florida State University," with attention to the "The." The Daytona Beach News-Journal revealed the campaign to stress the "the," which is part of a branding campaign. The newspaper quoted one student as saying that the addition of "the" is "a subtle way to kind of show how prestigious we can be." Other universities -- Johns Hopkins and Ohio State among them -- also like their definite articles. At least one reader who commented on the News-Journal's article was not impressed, writing: "Florida is in the toilet and these nerds are spending their taxpayer salaries forming committees to decide that their precious university should sound more grand by putting a 'The' in front of it."
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