Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, May 24, 2013 - 3:00am

Thomas R. Kepple Jr., the departing president of Juniata College, has been chosen to lead the American Academic Leadership Institute, which trains future college presidents and other senior administrators. As the new president of the nonprofit institute, which derives funds from its for-profit subsidiary, Academic Search, Inc., Kepple will oversee the Senior Leadership Academy, which is sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges and prepares mid-level administrators for positions as provosts and vice presidents in all divisions) and Executive Leadership Academy (which prepares provosts and vice presidents to become presidents). The latter program is cosponsored by both CIC and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Both organizations receive support from the AALI. Kepple replaces Ann Die Hasselmo as leader of AALI. (Note: This item has been updated from an earlier version to clarify the relationships between the organizations.)

Friday, May 24, 2013 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would create variable interest rates for student loans, but the measure is likely to stall since Senate Democrats strongly oppose it and President Obama has vowed a veto. Interest rates for federally subsidized Stafford loans will double to 6.8 percent on July 1 if Congress does not act, and both President Obama and Congressional Republicans had originally said they favored a long-term solution. But Congressional Democrats have opposed the House Republicans' plan, which would create interest rates based on 10-year Treasury bonds that would vary over the life of the loan, and want to sustain the 3.4 percent interest rate for another year or two so that Congress can consider the interest rate in the context of the broader renewal of the Higher Education Act.

The Obama administration had originally proposed a market-based solution of its own: as in the House Republican plan, rates would vary from year to year with interest rates in the broader economy. But, once a loan was issued, the interest rates would be fixed over the life of the loan. In a statement Thursday night, Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested that the administration might support Democratic proposals to push the increase back. "Now is not the time to double interest rates on student loans, and we remain committed to working with Congress on a bipartisan approach to a long-term, fiscally sustainable solution that will help students and families afford higher education now and in the future," Duncan said. "Given the impending July 1 deadline, an extension that protects students against higher rates while Congress develops an alternative solution is another reasonable option."

The bill, H.R. 1911, passed by a vote of 221 to 198, largely along party lines.

Friday, May 24, 2013 - 3:00am

Layoffs have eliminated the jobs of about 10 percent of the 1,400-person staff at the College Board, which runs the SAT, the Advanced Placement program and many other education initiatives. A statement from a spokesman characterized the layoffs as part of a process of shifting priorities, not of retrenchment. "As a not-for-profit organization committed to delivering opportunity to the millions of students we serve, we have a responsibility to bring sharper focus to our work. Moving forward, the College Board will focus our efforts on those programs that have the most significant impact on the lives of students in our care," said the statement.

Friday, May 24, 2013 - 3:00am

The University of Tokyo is taking a series of steps to try to increase the intellectual rigor and international perspective of students, The Asahi Shimbun reported. The university is Japan's most prestigious, but educators there have long worried that students focus too much on gaining entry, and not enough on learning once enrolled. One reform will be the use of massive open online courses (MOOCs), to introduce students to new styles of education. Other plans include more courses in English and special grants to allow newly admitted students to take a year off for study abroad or other educational experiences.


Friday, May 24, 2013 - 3:00am

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program released long-anticipated draft guidance about conditional admission and bridge, or pathway, programs on Thursday. Students admitted to the growing numbers of these programs typically have to complete an intensive English sequence or, in the case of bridge programs, a combination of ESL and academic coursework, prior to being fully admitted into a regular degree program. In such cases, many colleges have made it a practice to issue an I-20 -- a document that prospective students present in applying for visas – certifying a student's admission to a regular degree program even if that student starts out in ESL.  However, the new draft guidance suggests they will no longer be able to do this, as an I-20 can only be issued for a program for which a student meets all admission requirements.

"School officials may agree to admit a student into a program of study pending satisfactory completion of admission prerequisites via another program of study (such as, a bridge program or English language program of study)," the draft guidance states. "However, a student must meet all admission requirements for the first program of study and then transfer to the next subsequent program of study upon successful completion of the prerequisites. At all  times, the student must meet all admission requirements for a program of study prior to...issuance of the Form I-20."

The draft guidance also outlines acceptable standards for bridge programs, which some universities run in cooperation with other entities. The guidance would require all schools involved in delivering a bridge program to be SEVP-certified. And while a university may contract with another SEVP-certified institution -- such as an ESL school -- to provide English training or other nonacademic aspects of the program,  all academic coursework must be governed by the university issuing the I-20.

"We are going through it very carefully. It is quite an extensive document," said Patricia Juza, the director of global programs at Baruch College and vice president for advocacy for the American Association of Intensive English Programs. "We’re impressed by the level of detail and the amount of legal foundation for some of the explanations."

"There are a couple of things that might require some institutions to change business practices slightly, such as with bridge programs, I don’t believe from the research we’ve done that all colleges and universities that  have bridge programs issue distinct I-20s for those currently," she said. A few outstanding questions she has include how this new guidance would affect graduate students, specifically, and  the impact on students who are admitted into a degree program but are found to need additional ESL training after arriving on campus.“ We’re not clear whether that school has to issue a new I-20" in that case, she said.

Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 4:29am

Students, joined by civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred, on Wednesday filed complaints against Dartmouth and Swarthmore Colleges, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Southern California over their handling of complaints of sexual assaults, The Los Angeles Times reported. The complaints -- filed with the U.S. Department of Education -- charge that the institutions have failed to adequately investigate reports of sexual assault or to accurate report such incidents as required by federal law. The charges are similar to those made recently with the Education Department about Occidental College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. College officials, while acknowledging periodic missteps, have generally said that they make every effort to comply with the relevant laws.


Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 4:34am

The University of Minnesota at Duluth has fired Rod Raymond as wellness director over numerous charges that he denies, The Duluth News Tribune reported. During the last four years, two students filed sexual harassment complaints against Raymond and he was facing other, unspecified charges. A university statement said that he was dismissed for, among other things, “violation of the Regent’s Policy on Nepotism and Personal Relationships;" “inappropriate sexual conduct with a UMD student on university premises and during work hours,” and "untruthfulness during an Office of Equal Opportunity investigation." Raymond has denied all charges, and vowed to challenge his dismissal.


Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 3:00am

The University of Georgia will soon begin offering “soft benefits” – voluntary dental, vision and life insurance – to domestic partners of employees, it announced  this week. Approximately 35 percent of the 150 couples to apply for the benefits are same-sex, a university spokesman said. Although law and policy prohibit state money from funding domestic partner benefits in Georgia, the extension of voluntary, employee-paid soft benefits to domestic partners of employees of state institutions, including Georgia State University and Georgia Institute of Technology, dates back to 2002. "The majority of our peers do it, and it's a competitive matter; it's the ability to compete for talent," said Tom Jackson, vice president for public affairs at University of Georgia. The decision followed a recent vote by the University Council to extend full benefits to domestic partners. In a statement, President Michael Adams said that offering full benefits to domestic partners using private funds "will, unfortunately, require further study."

Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 3:00am

Capella University has received approval from its regional accreditor to proceed with a pilot program in competency-based education that does not rely on the credit hour standard, an approach called "direct assessment." The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools approved the for-profit institution's "FlexPath" bachelor of science in business and master of business administration. University officials said the direct assessment tracks could reduce the cost of a degree and the time needed to complete it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- The fight over student loan interest rates, which will double to 6.8 percent on federally subsidized Stafford loans on July 1 if Congress doesn't act, grew messier on Wednesday with a promise from the Obama administration to veto a House of Representatives plan for a long-term change to interest rates. The White House, Congressional Republicans and Congressional Democrats have now offered widely divergent plans to avert the rate hike. The Obama administration favors a long-term fix that would base interest rates for student loans on the government's cost of borrowing, while Congressional Democrats want to extend the current interest rate for a year or two in order to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Like the Obama administration's plan, the House Republican plan called for basing the interest rate on student loans on the 10-year yield on U.S. Treasury bonds. But the House Republican plan would allow rates to vary from year to year over the life of the loan. (Senate Republicans introduced a plan closer to the administration's: rates would vary from year to year for new loans, but they'd be fixed over the life of the loan, like a traditional mortgage.) The truly variable rate was unacceptable, the White House said in a policy statement Wednesday. The administration is also concerned that the plan doesn't provide lower interest rates for subsidized student loan borrowers, who are financially needy, and that it doesn't expand income-based repayment programs. If the bill passes in its current form, senior advisers would advise the president to veto it.

The House is expected to consider the bill today.


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