Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 6, 2023

Republican leaders of the House and Senate education committees want Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to extend the comment period on the proposed changes to income-driven repayment regulations.

The 30-day comment period will close Friday, Feb. 10, but the lawmakers want a 30-day extension. More than 8,500 comments have been submitted so far.

“By extending the public comment period by at least 30 days, the American public has time to review what could very well be the most costly regulation in our nation’s history,” North Carolina representative Virginia Foxx and Louisiana senator Bill Cassidy wrote in a Feb. 2 letter to Cardona.

Foxx chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Cassidy is the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Last month, the Education Department unveiled its plan to overhaul income-driven repayment, making the program simpler and more generous for borrowers. The proposed changes would cut payments in half for undergraduates, with a cap of 5 percent on a borrower’s discretionary income, and protect more of borrowers’ discretionary income from the payment calculations.

Foxx and Cassidy wrote that the proposed change “would fundamentally break our higher education financing system.”

The department estimated that the changes would cost $137.9 billion over the next 10 years, but other analysts put the price tag at $333 to $361 billion, depending on how many people opt in to the program.

“Putting aside the galling overreach in the proposal, more time to comment is necessary to address the proposed rule because the Department’s impact analysis does not add up,” the letter says.

February 6, 2023

Eastern Washington University blocked a professor from using the university’s Twitter account for nearly a year because of his tweets critical of university spending on athletics, The Spokesman-Review reported.

Larry Cebula, a history professor, was blocked.

David Meany, director of communications and media relations, said Cebula’s tweets were defamatory. For example, he pointed to this tweet: “For those following along at home, #EWU is still a dumpster fire, caused by the admin gutting every campus office to find even more money for the football team,” Cebula wrote. “Campus offices at half-staff, impossible to order equipment or hire student workers or get support for essential tasks.”

Meany said, “A tweet like that is disparaging to Eastern, especially since future students can easily search what’s happening at Eastern by using the #EWU hashtag.”

When Cebula last week asked why he was blocked, the social media team at the university was unable to locate a tweet disparaging football players, Meany added. As a result, he was unblocked. However, Meany said the university stands behind its decision.

February 6, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Kristen McHenry, assistant professor in the department of respiratory care at Boise State University, explores how the strains on health-care professionals are playing out in academe. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 3, 2023

State funding for public higher education in fiscal year 2023 increased by 6.6 percent over last year, to $112.3 billion, according to a new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, or SHEEO. It's the second time state support for higher education has topped $100 billion.

Nearly half of the state funding went to four-year institutions, while two-year colleges received 22 percent; another 13.2 percent was allocated to financial aid, and 11.4 percent went to research, hospital expansion and medical schools.

State support rose in 38 states, and 14 reported increases of 10 percent or more, including Arizona (19.8 percent), Mississippi (26.6 percent), New Mexico (23.5 percent) and Tennessee (22.1 percent). Funding decreased in five states and Washington, D.C., and Connecticut saw the most dramatic decrease in funding—down 9.2 percent from last fiscal year.

For the past two years, SHEEO has also tracked data on the federal stimulus money that states allocated to higher education. In fiscal 2023, states allocated $1.2 billion of federal funding to higher ed, bringing the total federal stimulus money allocated to higher ed between 2020 and 2023 to $8.8 billion.

Taking these most recent data into account, state support has increased 27.5 percent nationally in the past five years, without accounting for inflation, the report noted.

The data collected in the SHEEO report represent state funds approved from October to January and may change throughout the year.

February 3, 2023

Spring 2023 graduates of the University of Minnesota will be able to walk across the stage after previously being told they wouldn’t be able to, CBS News reported. The university’s usual graduation venue, 3M Arena at Mariucci, is currently under construction, and students can’t walk across the stage at the Huntington Bank Stadium, where a combined ceremony is being held outdoors instead.

But after a student petition asking administrators to let students walk received nearly 9,000 signatures, the institution announced in an email that it would allow graduates to register for a time slot to walk across the stage at one of several designated locations on campus. The email also stated that the university’s different colleges would hold their own celebrations.

However, not all students found the solution satisfactory.

“Still kind of takes away from the fact that we don’t get to walk across the stage that day, we get a time slot, it’s kind of like the pandemic all over again,” one senior told CBS.

February 3, 2023

The University of Houston has ended a policy requiring student actors to wear vests when rehearsing outdoors, The Texas Tribune reported.

The policy was put in place last year after a campus police officer drew a gun on a Black student while he was rehearsing a play. At the time, the university said the policy would prevent such incidents.

But students said, and the university agreed, that the policy was the wrong approach. Brandon Sanders, a senior who is studying acting, said, “A bright green–colored vest is not gonna change the color of my skin, and my skin is black.”

February 3, 2023

State financial aid per student in Massachusetts has been steadily decreasing over the last two decades, according to a new study by the Hildreth Institute, a research and policy advocacy center focused on higher education and social mobility.

The study, released Thursday, analyzed state Department of Higher Education data to examine how much state financial aid was available to Massachusetts students from 2001 to 2021. It found that the average amount of state aid received by students in Massachusetts now only covers 12 percent of the cost of going to a public college in the state. The majority of students had tens of thousands of dollars in unmet financial need each year. Meanwhile, students at Massachusetts community colleges received half the aid their peers at four-year institutions received, according to the report. Over two decades, the number of students who took out loans to afford community college increased 45 percent, while the number of students who took out loans to attend four-year public universities increased 105 percent.

The report also found that the state has created more than 40 different grants, scholarships and tuition programs, contributing to an increasingly convoluted state financial aid system for students to navigate.

“Many states have updated their funding systems to increase affordability and close achievement gaps, but Massachusetts has lagged,” Bahar Akman Imboden, managing director of the Hildreth Institute and author of the report, said in a press release. “Over the past two decades, students in Massachusetts have seen their access to aid dwindle, with state-funded financial aid being cut by 47 percent. Unfortunately, until there is a plan for significant and long-term investment in state-funded financial aid, the state’s commitment to quality public education will continue to end at grade 12.”

February 3, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Jeff Liebert, postdoctoral researcher at McGill University, examines the connection between farm size and sustainability practices. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 2, 2023

The University of California, Berkeley, fired Teri McKeever, its women’s swimming coach, on Tuesday, the Southern California News Group reported.

The university, which interviewed 147 people and reviewed 1,700 documents, found “by a preponderance of the evidence that Coach McKeever discriminated against certain student-athletes, in certain instances, on the basis of race, national origin and disability.” The coach also engaged in bullying, a report said.

McKeever is the most successful and famous female coach in swimming history.

Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton on Tuesday released an open letter to swimmers, saying in part, “I was disturbed by what I learned in the course of reading through the report’s 482 pages that substantiate far too many allegations of unacceptable behavior. I want to apologize, on behalf of Cal Athletics, to every student-athlete who was subject to this conduct in the past, and I want to thank everyone who had the courage to come forward and share their story with the investigators.”

McKeever told the investigators that she was a victim of a double standard applied to women in jobs formerly held only by men.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever’s statement said. “There were and should be consequences for violating team rules, not showing up for scheduled appointments, misusing resources, not giving an honest effort and behavior that was not congruent with their individual or our team goals.”

February 2, 2023

Hebrew College in Massachusetts announced that it will now admit students to its rabbinical programs even if they are in interfaith relationships, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.

Previously, such students could not be admitted.

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, Hebrew College’s president, announced the change in an email to students and graduates on Tuesday evening. She said the decision, which followed a year and a half of review, came amid a broad revision of the seminary’s “guiding principles for admission and ordination.”

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