Higher Education Quick Takes
The number of federal direct student loan borrowers who were enrolled in an income-based repayment program rose by 20 percent in the last three months of 2013, as the Education Department launched a large outreach campaign to get more people to use the benefit.
Slightly more than 1.3 million borrowers had loans in an income-based repayment plan at the end of last December, an increase of 210,000 from the end of September, according to recently released federal data.
The increased participation in the program occurred as the Obama administration in November and December sent emails directly to more than 3.5 million borrowers that it believed could benefit from enrolling in the plans, which cap loan payments at a percentage of a borrower’s discretionary income and forgive any outstanding balance after 20 or 25 years.
During the same period, the number of borrowers participating in the similar but less generous income-contingent program remained roughly the same at 580,000.
Despite efforts by the Obama administration to better publicize and ease the application process for the income-based repayment program, enrollment remains relatively low compared to the overall federal direct loan portfolio, which includes 11.7 million people who are currently actively repaying their federal direct loans. An additional 5.5 million are in deferment or forbearance, and another 2.4 million direct loan borrowers are in default.
The Education and Treasury Departments planned to announce on Friday another aspect of the administration's campaign to enroll more borrowers in the programs. TurboTax will display a banner on its website that links to the Education Department's "repayment estimator," which provides information on enrolling in the programs.
The government will also include, during the upcoming tax season, a message about federal student loan repayment options on the envelopes of tax refund checks mailed this year. About 25 million of those envelopes will be mailed to tax filers this year, the departments said.
Facing enrollment declines, Iowa Wesleyan College plans to close about half of its academic programs and to shrink its faculty, The Gazette reported. The jobs of 22 of 52 professors and 23 of 78 staff members will be eliminated. The college will also eliminate 16 of 32 major programs, including studio art, sociology, history, philosophy of religion, communication and mass communication, and forensic science.
The Education Department has again rescheduled its “technical symposium” on the Obama administration’s proposed college ratings system. The new date for the daylong, public meeting is February 6, according to an email sent Thursday to presenters.
Education Department officials, citing poor weather conditions in Washington, D.C., earlier this week postponed the event and set February 20 as the new date. But, according to emails to speakers, officials have since decided they want to hold the conference sooner.
The symposium will feature presentations from more than a dozen people with expertise in higher education data who will make presentations on various aspects of the department’s proposal to develop a ratings system.
Brandeis University announced Thursday that it paid Jehuda Reinharz, its former president, $4.9 million this month. The funds were due to Reinharz for deferred compensation and sabbaticals that he did not take during his presidency, a Brandeis statement said. The university has been under intense criticism from many students and faculty members over high payments to Reinharz. The university also announced new policies on executive compensation, including a faculty role on panels that review executive compensation and a commitment to release information on executive compensation before it is required. The university statement noted that in revealing the large payments made in January, before such information would be public on tax forms, Brandeis was moving toward the kind of transparency it has pledged to provide.
A Chilean university affiliated with the for-profit education company Laureate International Universities has lost its final bid to appeal the revocation of its institutional accreditation. The university reported on its website that the National Education Council has rejected its final appeal, a decision that means that new students will be ineligible for government-backed loans.
In deciding not to renew the Universidad de Las Américas' accreditation in October, the National Accreditation Commission cited the 34,000-student university’s unsatisfactory graduation rates and its rapid enrollment growth: while the number of students rose by 36 percent over three years, the increase in instructors failed to keep pace. The commission also raised concerns about the finances of the university, finding that while spending on academic salaries was low, the amount spent on leases and educational and administrative services provided by companies related to Laureate was substantial. Under Chilean law universities must be nonprofit but they may be affiliated with for-profit entities like Laureate that they contract with for services.
UDLA plans to reapply for institutional accreditation but must wait two years before doing so.
“For more than 25 years, UDLA has played a significant role in expanding access to quality higher education for tens of thousands of students who would otherwise not have had the opportunity to pursue a university degree,” Laureate said in a statement. “As institutional accreditation is voluntary in Chile, this ruling will not stop UDLA from continuing to provide its students with strong academic and career-oriented programs."
Arizona State University on Thursday revoked its recognition of a fraternity that held a racially themed party on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. While some defenders of the members of Tau Kappa Epsilon had argued that they should not be punished for what they described as protected speech, Arizona State administrators cited several university policies that the fraternity had violated, including rules governing alcohol consumption and distribution, off-campus conduct that potentially threatened the safety of the campus, and engaging in discriminatory activity. The statement said that university officials were still investigating whether individual students should be punished under Arizona State's student code of conduct for the party, which featured the students dressed in stereotypical hip-hop clothes and drinking out of watermelon cups.
In a new requirement, applicants to the Rhodes Scholarship must attest that they received no outside help at all in writing their personal essays, certifying at the conclusion of the essay, “I attest that this essay is my own work and is wholly truthful. Neither it nor any earlier draft has been edited by anyone other than me, nor has anyone else reviewed it to provide me with suggestions to improve it. I understand that any such editing or review would disqualify my application.”
The new requirements also speak to the responsibilities of universities in endorsing candidates for the Rhodes, asking that university officials likewise certify that, to the best of their knowledge, the institution did not provide any editorial review of the applicant's essay.
In a letter explaining the new requirements, Rhodes officials wrote, “For many years, we have required U.S. applicants to attest, with their signature, that their required essays are their 'own work.' But it has become apparent that this attestation is not taken as we have intended. Many essays are now edited extensively and repeatedly by advisors, fellowship offices, university instructors, family and others. We are no longer confident that the essays reflect the writing ability and style of the applicants, nor, even more important, that they reflect accurately applicants' true personal goals, values and aspirations.”
The letter also states that “In an age of grade inflation and resume burnishing, the essay – and the unassisted and candid letters we directly solicit from referees – are very important ingredients in our effort to make a fair assessment against our criteria of selection.”
John Lippincott announced Thursday that he will retire as president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education a year from now. He has been president of the association since 2004, having previously served as vice president for communications and marketing at CASE and associate vice chancellor for advancement at the University System of Maryland.
Wisconsin’s two major education unions are planning to merge, in light of declining memberships following 2011 anti-union legislation, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Under the plan, the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, which includes faculty at public, postsecondary institutions, would join with the National Education Association-affiliated Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest K-12 teachers union. The new union would be called Wisconsin Together, tentatively starting in September. A vote on the merger is slated for April.
Following Act 10, which made union membership and dues-paying voluntary, the K-12 union has lost about one-third of its members, according to the report. The higher education union has about 6,500 members, down from a peak of 16,000. Kim Kohlhaas, AFT-Wisconsin president, said the new structure would allow the union through pooled resources to focus on professional development and advocacy for public education – not just faculty working conditions. “I think Act 10 was a huge eye-opener for us,” Kohlhaas told the Journal Sentinel. “I think historically even the union got caught up in [collective bargaining], and it used to be a lot of contract organization. This allows us an opportunity to focus on that completely differently.”
If approved, the joint AFT-NEA union become the sixth such union nationwide, after those in Minnesota, Florida, North Dakota, Montana and New York.