Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 3:00am

The American Federation of Teachers released a report Wednesday examining ways the Education Department can handle failing for-profit institutions.

"Students routinely leave for-profit institutions worse off than when they enrolled," said Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. "They're ripped off financially and academically, which is a toxic combination. This report addresses how the department could develop stronger regulations for for-profit colleges, facilitating early intervention the moment it discovers financial trouble and limiting liabilities faced by students and taxpayers."

The report, "Regulating Too-Big-to-Fail Education," describes six ways the department can better regulate these institutions. The department should limit provisional certification and close a loophole that allows the agency to extend that status beyond three years. So if an institution hasn't become financially responsible after those three years, the department should eliminate the provisional certification and mandate an additional 50 percent letter of credit.

The report also advised that the department should create enforcement mandates that would automatically trigger a 10 percent letter of credit requirement. A group of federal agencies would also help the department to decide what type of event qualifies as a trigger.

A third recommendation in the report is for the department to restrict institutional spending for those colleges that fail to show financial responsibility and prohibit the institutions from creating new programs or opening new campuses.

AFT also recommended that institutions post letters of credit from their owners instead of being allowed to pay banks to post on their behalf. Finally, the report recommends calculating the letters of credit on actual risk. These letters of credit are calculated based on an institution's most recent year of revenue. AFT recommends that the department require letters of credit that accurately reflect the expense of closed school discharges and borrower defense claims over multiple years.

Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 4:14am

ACT on Wednesday announced the creation of the ACT Center for Equity in Learning, which will bring together many of the organization's research efforts and other initiatives designed to promote equity in education. The center will be based at ACT's Iowa City headquarters and led by Jim Larimore, who previously was ACT’s chief officer for the advancement of underserved learners.

Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 3:00am

The University of Louisville’s leadership situation became even more unsettled Wednesday with Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear legally challenging Governor Matt Bevin’s ability to replace the troubled institution’s Board of Trustees.

Beshear, a Democrat, announced he was filing an intervening complaint in Franklin Circuit Court challenging the Republican Bevin’s authority to carry out executive orders issued last week. Bevin on Friday dissolved Louisville’s board and moved to replace it with a new, smaller group of trustees. He also reconstituted the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees.

Kentucky’s Constitution and statutes do not give the governor the authority to carry out those actions, Beshear said in an afternoon press conference. The governor is not reorganizing boards to make them more efficient, Beshear said. Instead, Bevin has established a pattern of reorganizing boards just before those boards have to vote on major decisions, said Beshear, who went on to call the pattern an apparent attempt to control those decisions.

Louisville trustees face decisions on how to handle cuts to Kentucky higher education, proposals to raise tuition and the retirement or resignation of President James Ramsey, Beshear said. He criticized the broader implications of the governor dismissing trustees under those conditions.

“Teachers and students rightfully argue that if the governor can take the action he’s taken, he can remove that board any time he disagrees with a decision,” Beshear said. “That not only makes him the de facto president and de facto board of U of L, it makes him the de facto president and board of every public university.”

Bevin’s office issued a statement calling Beshear’s challenge “purely political.”

“Sadly, this courtroom circus act is what the people of Kentucky have come to expect from [Beshear],” said the statement from Communications Director Jessica Ditto. “Governor Bevin’s executive orders stand on solid legal ground.”

The fight over Louisville’s board comes as Ramsey prepares to step down from the institution’s presidency following a series of controversies and scandals. Ramsey offered to resign or retire under the legal formation of a new Board of Trustees, prompting some speculation he would seek a way to keep his job. But he said Tuesday he has no intention to serve beyond the upcoming academic year, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Beshear’s office was requesting an immediate hearing and a temporary restraining order preventing Bevin’s overhauls from taking effect. The attorney general’s legal challenge is technically an attempt to join a lawsuit filed by retirement system trustees -- to unite in court disputes over the two board overhauls. A group of Louisville faculty members have also urged trustees of the disbanded board to try to legally block Bevin’s reorganization.

Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 3:00am

The Big 12 Conference's Board of Directors on Wednesday requested "a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding the sexual assaults" at Baylor University.

Last month, Baylor's Board of Regents forced the university's president to resign and fired its head football coach over allegations that they had continuously mishandled -- and sought to suppress public discourse about -- sexual assaults committed by its football players and other students. Pepper Hamilton, a law firm the university hired to investigate how it has handled allegations of sexual assault, presented a lengthy oral report to the board in May, and the report placed blame on the university’s president, athletics director and football coaching staff, noting that the staff covered up assaults involving players.

"Because many of the incidents at Baylor reportedly involve student-athletes, the conference is appropriately concerned with discovery of the facts," the Big 12 Board of Directors said in a statement. "The Big 12 is primarily configured to facilitate fair competition among its members and compliance to the rules of both the conference and NCAA. To that end, full disclosure is vital to assess the impact on the Big 12."

The board is asking that Baylor provide "written materials as well as any information that has been conveyed orally to university leadership or to its Board of Regents including, but not limited to, the unedited written or verbal information from Pepper Hamilton, omitting only the names of any involved students." Kenneth Starr, the former president, and Art Briles, the former head football coach, have also called on the Board of Regents to release a full report detailing Pepper Hamilton's findings against them.

Baylor officials say no written report was ever created, and in an interview with Inside Higher Ed earlier this month, the university's executive vice president said that there are no plans to release any other documents related to the investigation.

Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 3:00am

The House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce passed five pieces of legislation Wednesday -- a set of minor measures that may be the closest thing to a higher education legislative initiative in Congress this year. The measures deal with simplification of the financial aid process, student financial literary and minority-serving institutions, among other issues. They are unlikely to become law this year.

Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Matthew Will, associate professor in the department of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, explains which part of your brain is responsible for giving in to cravings. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 - 3:00am

The University of Virginia's Miller Center and the National Commission on Financing 21st Century Higher Education this week released four new white papers that describe higher education's fiscal challenges and provide initial solutions.

“The commission is working toward consensus on new policies that have the potential to help the nation meet educational attainment goals,” Juliet Garcia, a member of the commission and a senior adviser to the chancellor of the University of Texas, said in a written statement. “We are exploring how to increase graduation rates with existing resources, and looking for additional public and private financing options to make college affordable and attainable for all students.”

The series eventually will include 10 papers. The first four focus on the outlook for states' spending, transformations affecting higher education, lessons from other countries and best practices in state higher education finance.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 - 3:00am

A group of University of Louisville faculty members want to block Governor Matt Bevin's dismissal of the institution's Board of Trustees, even as Kentucky's attorney general prepares to address the matter Wednesday.

On Tuesday morning, 47 Louisville faculty members asked trustees to seek an injunction that would block Bevin's decision Friday to disband the university's board and replace it with a new, smaller set of trustees. They referenced an "immediate diminishment of the academic legitimacy and reputation of the University of Louisville," according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. The faculty members said Bevin created a governance crisis and jeopardized Louisville's accreditation. They also said Kentucky law only allows trustees to be removed for cause and that there is no provision allowing the governor to dissolve the board.

Bevin, a first-term Republican governor who has drawn attention for aggressive actions throughout state government, maintained that he acted within his legal authority because he did not remove members of the Board of Trustees but instead disbanded the entire board through an executive order.

"I have absolute authority -- both constitutionally and legislatively, statutorily -- to disband any board in this state," Bevin said, according to the Courier-Journal. "It has been done time and time and time and time and time again by every governor that has ever preceded me."

The governor also said he expected controversial President James Ramsey to soon step down from the university. Bevin originally announced the pending departure of Ramsey, whose future had divided trustees after the president found himself at the center of a steady stream of scandals, on Friday. But speculation rose that the Ramsey could find a way to keep his job under a new board or because he had only offered to resign or retire after the Board of Trustees had been legally restructured.

Meanwhile, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said he would hold a news conference Wednesday to address Bevin's overhaul of Louisville's Board of Trustees and the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 - 3:00am

Texas A&M University at College Station studied whether it could fire Yong Chen, a professor of finance convicted of misdemeanor assault of his wife, but concluded it lacked the authority to do so, The Bryan-College Station Eagle reported. The newspaper obtained records about the inquiry, which found that Chen had not engaged in inappropriate conduct in his faculty role. The university did declare Chen ineligible for awards or honors, including an endowed chair he held before he was convicted. He was also placed on unpaid leave when he reported to a local jail for a 30-day sentence in May. That leave will end when classes start in the fall.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 - 3:00am

The U.S. Supreme Court -- as soon as Thursday and almost certainly next week -- will rule on whether or how colleges and universities may consider race and ethnicity in admissions decisions. While we doubt the justices are going to change votes based on public debate, some individuals are trying to score points on the issues.

Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday released a new analysis that seeks to rebut claims (made during the oral arguments in the case by the late Justice Antonin Scalia) that some minority students are better off attending less selective institutions than those they might be admitted to through affirmative action. The study finds that "average" students have a better chance of graduating from selective colleges than open-admissions institutions.

Meanwhile the Texas A&M University System is circulating copies of an article in The Texas Tribune that details growing diversity in the Texas A&M student body without the consideration of race, as is the practice at the University of Texas at Austin, whose admissions system is the one before the Supreme Court.


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