Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 22, 2017

The University of Iowa has agreed to pay $6.5 million to a former athletics administrator and a former coach, both women who said they were forced out of their jobs in ways that reflected sexism and anti-gay bias, The Gazette reported. The women are both lesbians and are partners. The agreement follows a jury award of $1.4 million to the administrator, Jane Meyer -- an award that could have grown in additional court hearings. Experts said the verdict points to widespread discrimination faced by women in athletics administration.

May 22, 2017

A Bowie State University student was stabbed to death Saturday morning at the University of Maryland at College Park, The Washington Post reported. Authorities are calling the attack "unprovoked" and said the Bowie State student was waiting for an Uber at the time. The suspect in the case is a Maryland student. The Post later reported on the arrest of that student. While the arrested student is white and the murdered student was black, authorities initially said that the attack did not appear to be racially motivated -- even though the student arrested is a member of a Facebook group called Alt-Reich: Nation. The Baltimore Sun reported Sunday that federal authorities have joined the investigation and are considering whether it was a hate crime.

May 22, 2017

The Department of Education announced Friday that it plans to select a single student loan servicer that borrowers will interact with on a single platform, a departure from the current system where four major servicing companies handle borrowers' payments of their federal student loans.

The announcement came just over a month after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded guidance from the Obama administration that would have included new protections for borrowers in the next round of servicing contracts.

The Obama guidance had also called for the creation of a single online platform that all borrowers would use to make payments, regardless of which servicer they were assigned. Under the amended solicitation issued by the department, the government would select a single servicer that would use subcontractors to collect student loan payments. In a conference call Friday, department officials said the new system would create efficiencies in oversight by holding the primary servicer accountable.

May 22, 2017

The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee kicked off commencement day on Sunday with a video showing Chancellor Mark Mone giving some students a ride to the celebration. But it wasn't a standard ride -- it was UW-Milwaukee's version of "Carpool Karaoke," the popular feature by the host of The Late Late Show With James Corden. Corden uses celebrities, not students, but the folks at UW-Milwaukee issued a challenge on YouTube: "Watch out, James Corden, we're coming for you!"

May 22, 2017

A growing number of universities are lowering the rates of return they expect to earn on their endowments, which could be paired with other important decisions on endowment spending policies, investment strategies and fund-raising demands, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

More and more universities are dropping their assumed nominal endowment returns to a range of 6 percent to 7 percent, Moody’s said in a report Friday. In the past, universities have typically assumed returns of 8 percent to 9 percent when crafting their spending plans.

That is changing as average endowment returns have fallen substantially below levels needed to keep up universities’ standard endowment spending rate, widely considered to be 5 percent. Over the last decade, endowments have posted an average annual return rate of 5 percent. After inflation is factored in, that would mean a 5 percent spending rate would create a shortfall of 2 percent to 2.5 percent, driving down endowment values over time, Moody’s said.

As a result of the crunch, universities could choose to reduce their annual spending levels. Some are gradually cutting spending to the 4.5 percent to 5 percent range, according to Moody’s. However, large reductions are unlikely in a current climate of political scrutiny that has included Congress making noise about taxing large endowments at colleges and universities that do not spend substantial amounts on student financial aid.

Colleges and universities could also choose to pursue strategies like moving to passive management to try to match market returns. Such a strategy would likely limit their possibility of outperforming the market, though.

Others might take on increasing risk. Some colleges and universities may turn to fund-raising and retained cash flow to shore up their long-term endowment returns.

As a result, the wealthiest universities would appear to have the most potential for future endowment health. Such universities tend to disproportionately benefit from fund-raising and cash flow because they have wealthy donors and strong brands commanding more money. They also tend to have the endowment size and flexibility required to invest in the alternative and riskier assets that could yield the highest returns.

May 22, 2017

A man in Louisiana is facing charges for in September using the Federal Student Aid Datashare system, jointly managed by the Education Department and the Internal Revenue Service, to obtain the tax records of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Federal documents indicate that the attempt was not successful. The system is down, to the frustrations of many trying to apply for federal student aid, for whom the tool is designed. One reason cited for the shutdown is concerns about vulnerability to those seeking information to which they are not entitled. Diverse Issues in Higher Education first reported on the Louisiana incident.

May 22, 2017

Nilanjana Dasgupta, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, made headlines in 2105 for her study suggesting that female undergraduates in engineering were much more likely to participate in problem-solving group activities when they made up more than half the group. Dasgupta and Tara Dennehy, a graduate student in social psychology UMass-Amherst, have new study out this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that could help engineering programs further support women.

For the paper, “Female Peer Mentors Early in College Increase Women's Positive Academic experiences and Retention in Engineering,” the authors had 150 female engineering students meet with peer female or male mentors, or no mentors at all, once a month for a year. Students’ experiences were surveyed three times in the first year and once again a year later. Survey responses and retention data showed that female mentors positively influenced mentees’ retention, as well as their feelings of confidence, motivation and belonging and desire to continue in engineering as a career. Male mentors had no such effect. 

May 22, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Mary Bendel-Simso, professor of English at McDaniel College, discusses the real origins of the detective fiction genre and what we can learn from it. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 22, 2017

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a letter Friday sought a commitment from the Department of Education that it would follow through on providing debt relief for students who attended the now-defunct for-profit American Career Institute.

In January, just before the transition to the Trump administration, the department announced that all 4,500 student borrowers with outstanding loans from attending the Massachusetts-based for-profit chain would have their debt discharged. It was the first time the department had granted automatic relief to all students who attended an institution without requiring individual applications.

But in her letter to Acting Undersecretary of Education Jim Manning, Healey said her office has been contacted by hundreds of former ACI students in recent weeks regarding the status of their federal loans.

"These communications revealed that no ACI borrowers appear to have received a discharge of their federal loans pursuant to the borrower defense to repayment rule," Healey wrote.

She noted that previous informal attempts by her office to receive an update on the status of those loans from the department had gone unanswered. Healey sought from Manning an explicit statement affirming that the department would inform those borrowers' servicers of the status of their loans as well as a date by which those borrowers could expect resolution of the issue.

May 22, 2017

A new law in South Carolina outlines a series of steps designed to strengthen Denmark Technical College, a historically black two-year institution, The Post and Courier reported. Enrollment has been falling, from 2,000 a few years ago to 600 now. Cash reserves have dropped in four years from $9 million to $285,000. The new law puts the college directly under the control of the state's technical college system. Further, the law authorizes tuition to be free for those in the area who graduate from high school with at least a 2.0 grade point average.


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