Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 30, 2013

A new scam is tricking academics into thinking their research has been accepted for publication in a scholarly journal, the American Historical Association warned on Tuesday. Scholars will initially receive an email with "grammatical errors and unprofessional language" with an offer to publish a conference paper, and after submitting one, the scammer will ask the author to pay a "service charge" of several hundred dollars to review, edit and print the piece. The scam is targeting scholars in a "variety of disciplines," the AHA noted.

October 30, 2013

Negative ratings pressures have intensified on higher education, according to a Moody’s Investors Service report for subscribers that reviewed the ratings agency's work through the end of the third quarter.

There have been 21 downgrades of public colleges and universities this year but no upgrades. That's due to "declining state funding, flat or declining enrollment and lack of expense containment," the agency said.

The outlook may be a bit better for private colleges and universities: there have been nine upgrades of privates but still 13 downgrades. "Certain private universities have been able to establish a strong market presence and grow net tuition revenue leading to healthy operating margins and improved financial resources," Moody's said. "Others have struggled with stagnant net tuition revenue and lack of expense control leading to thinner liquidity and weaker balance sheets."

October 30, 2013

A third federal agency is now investigating Sallie Mae for violations of consumer protection laws, the company disclosed to investors in a quarterly report this week.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in September sought information from Sallie Mae as part of the bureau’s investigation into “allegations relating to our existing payment allocation practices and procedures,” the company said. The CFPB’s inquiry, according to the report, is similar to a separate investigation of Sallie Mae by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which plans to issue an enforcement action against the company for violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and other laws. The Civil Relief Act provides service members special benefits while they are on active-duty, such as a cap on the interest-rate on their student loans.

The Department of Justice is also probing Sallie Mae about its compliance with consumer protection law. The company said that it is “cooperating fully” with all three agencies.

In a report last year, the CFPB said that military service members were missing out on important benefits because of problems with their federal student-loan servicers. In some cases, the errors could cost members of the military tens of thousands of dollars, the agency said. Earlier this month, a CFPB analysis of borrower complaints reveled that some private student-loan servicers were applying advanced payments on loans in a way that maximizes profits for the lender but often leads to the borrower paying more interest.

October 30, 2013

North Carolina State University has sold a forest it owns for $150 million, The News & Observer reported. Conservationists have opposed the sale of the 79,000-acre forest. The university said that only a limited portion of the forest will be developed, and that students and faculty members will continue to be able to do research there. Officials said that the funds from the sale would go to an endowment that would support the university's College of Natural Resources.

October 30, 2013

The Education Department is set to issue a package of final regulations on federal student loans that are aimed, in part, at helping distressed borrowers and preventing colleges from manipulating their default rates.

In a notice last week, the department said it would officially adopt the rules “within the next several days” (though they would not take effect until next July). In addition to making minor changes to reflect legislative changes, the 423 pages of rules also beef up some protections for federal student loan borrowers.

Under the new rules, a borrower who is at least 270 days delinquent in paying his or her loans would be able to be placed in forbearance based on an oral request as opposed to the current written request requirement. This verbal forbearance request, however, would have limitations in order to prevent colleges from easily coercing students over the phone into unnecessary forbearances that help the institution avoid a default on its books -- or at least defer the default until the end of three-year period that the federal government evaluates. Any forbearance based on an oral request would be limited to 120 days and could not be extended without a written request and supporting documentation for why a loan deferment is needed.

In addition, the new regulations set a limit on the size of the payment that loan servicers can demand of defaulted borrowers who are trying to avail themselves of the opportunity, under federal law, to rehabilitate their student loans by making “reasonable and affordable” payments. The new rules would automatically define that “reasonable and affordable” standard as 15 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income -- that is, what he or she would be paying under an income-based-repayment plan. The clarified standard reduces the amount of financial documentation needed from the borrower.

The Institute for College Access and Success, which pushed for many of the changes, praised the new regulations in a blog post Tuesday as “key protections” that will “make it easier for borrowers to get out of default and repay their loans.”

October 30, 2013

Brown University called off a lecture Tuesday by Raymond Kelly, the New York City police commissioner, when protesters in the lecture hall refused to stop shouting at him. Those protesting said that Brown shouldn't give a forum to someone associated with a "stop and frisk" policing that is viewed by many as discriminatory against black and Latino New Yorkers. The lecture wasn't called off until the protesters ignored repeated requests from university faculty members and students to let Kelly speak. He had agree to participate in a question period as well.

Christina H. Paxson, Brown's president, sent out a letter to students and faculty members, criticizing the protest for blocking the lecture. "This is a sad day for the Brown community. I appreciate that some members of our community objected to the views of our invited speaker. However, our university is – above all else – about the free exchange of ideas. Nothing is more antithetical to that value than preventing someone from speaking and other members of the community from hearing that speech and challenging it vigorously in a robust yet civil manner," she wrote. The Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper, also weighed in with an editorial against the way the protest unfolded. "It is evident at this point that there is an incredibly vocal minority of students who feel compelled to shut off all streams of debate with which they disagree," the editorial said. "There is perhaps a majority of students who find themselves frustrated with with the narrow scope of debate that occurs in person or now, more than ever, on forums like Facebook. There are students — students from diverse backgrounds — who are afraid to state their opinion, and that is a profound loss for this campus."

Most of the letters to the editor published today in the student newspaper criticized the protest, but one recent alumnus defended the protest, writing: "The system Kelly promotes actively disenfranchises people of color. It makes them afraid to be in certain neighborhoods, to wear certain clothes, to be too close to the authorities. It breeds distrust and anger and, most importantly, is antithetical to a free and just society. Racism is not a valid viewpoint. This much is written directly into Brown law.... In this case, two wrongs do make a right, much like two negatives make a positive. It is the definition of tolerance to be intolerant of intolerance. As an alum, I am proud to be part of the community that booed Kelly offstage. Nobody needs to entertain arguments that assert this in any way prevents open discourse."

Here is YouTube video of the event:



October 30, 2013

The National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Leadership Council, which advises the Division I Board of Directors, opposes a new division for the most competitive athletic programs, according to a statement issued Tuesday. That concept has been floated by numerous organizations, conference commissioners and even faculty groups in recent months, as the NCAA considers different ways to restructure its governance and organization. A new division would afford the biggest programs more leeway in recruiting and spending. (The Faculty Athletics Representatives Association also opposes the idea.)

However, the council, which is made up of athletics directors, conference commissioners and others from across the full spectrum of Division I programs, acknowledged that a true "level playing field" cannot exist when athletic departments vary so dramatically by institution, and proposed adjusting scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance as a compromise. The Division I board will hear feedback from several groups leading up to its quarterly meeting this week.

October 30, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Steve Hirsch of Tufts University traces the historical roots of the societies based on individualism and collectivism. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 30, 2013

The Vermont State Colleges System and the University of Vermont have refused to allow Sodexo to reclassify some of the company workers who operate food services at the colleges, The Burlington Free Press reported. Sodexo announced the reclassification plans, which the colleges had the right to reject, in response to the new federal healthcare law. Some employees who have been considered full-time will now be considered part-time, and lose eligibility for employer-provided health insurance. Student and faculty groups had circulated petitions urging the colleges to block Sodexo's plans. A statement from Sodexo said: "We will work with Vermont State Colleges and the University of Vermont on this ongoing process and will continue to support our employees to help them understand their options and prepare them to meet the requirements of the individual mandate” of the new health reform law."

October 29, 2013

A University of Wisconsin at Superior professor has voluntarily resigned, after reports surfaced this summer that he pleaded guilty and served prison time for attempted sexual abuse in another state more than 20 years ago, when he was a high school teacher. Matthew Faerber, a tenured professors of vocal music, was placed on paid leave in August after a newspaper in Utah, where he used to live, published a report detailing his past criminal record, involving two 13-year old students. The university announced that he voluntarily resigned, after a lengthy investigation into Faerber’s record, Northland’s News Center reported.

Faerber was hired by Superior in 1998, but the University of Wisconsin System did not introduce mandatory background checks for all employees until 2007.

Chancellor Renee Wachter said in a statement that Faerber -- whose status changed to unpaid leave earlier this month --  resigned "under terms of a separation agreement. We believe that this is a fair and reasonable resolution to a difficult situation, which serves the best interests of students and the entire UW-Superior community."

Faerber could not immediately be reached for comment.


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