Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 18, 2014

The U.S. Department of Education is proposing new eligibility requirements for Parent PLUS loans. Under draft regulatory language sent this week to members of the department’s negotiated rule making panel, parents would generally be barred from taking out PLUS loans if they have any type of debt exceeding $2,085 that is 90 or more days delinquent or that has been sent to a collection agency or charged off. The proposal also changes the look-back period for that “adverse credit” history from five years to two years.

Under a separate policy change that goes into effect July 1, families that are denied a Parent PLUS loan because of an adverse credit history may appeal to the Education Department, which can then provide the loan if there are "extenuating circumstances."

The department’s standards for obtaining a PLUS have been a source of controversy since at least 2011, when officials quietly tightened the requirements. Leaders of historically black colleges and universities and for-profit colleges -- which enroll large numbers of students who rely on PLUS loans -- have said the changes were denying underserved students access to the loans they need to pay for college. Presidents of black colleges, in particular, have pushed the Obama administration to make it easier for families to access the loans. Some consumer advocates and think tanks, on the other hand, argue that the department should keep its credit standards -- or even tighten them further -- so that parents aren’t saddled with large amounts of debt that they cannot possibly repay.

Debit Cards and State Authorization

The department also circulated this week a revised version of its proposal to more tightly regulate campus debit cards. The latest draft keeps in place some of the restrictions on the marketing of campus debit cards as well as the ban on certain account and ATM fees.

In addition, department officials put out a second draft of their rewritten state authorization rule. The proposal would reinstate a requirement -- which a federal judge struck down for procedural reasons in 2012 -- that providers of online education obtain approval from each and every state in which they enroll students.

The new draft of that rule keeps in place a controversial provision that would essentially require states to subject all distance education providers to a formal regulatory review (as opposed to approving the program on the basis of its accreditation or another reason). Some state regulators have said that requirement would impose substantial new burdens on them; it would also likely require many states to change their laws.

The rule making panel will meet in Washington next Wednesday through Friday to discuss the proposals. The department also last week formally added a fourth negotiating session, which will take place May 19-20. 

April 18, 2014

Continuing her push to promote higher education, First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday toured Howard University with a group of Chicago public high school juniors and seniors.

The students were participating in the “Escape to Mecca” program, which is aimed at exposing high-achieving Chicago students to Howard University, which is referred to as the “Mecca” of African-American education.

Obama was joined by the rapper and television host Bow Wow for a tour of a women’s dormitory and a discussion session in a campus cafeteria.

“No longer is high school the bar,” she told the 37 Chicago students. “That is not enough in today’s globalizing economy. You have got to go to college, or get some kind of professional training beyond college.”

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on our end -- governments, private sector, the folks with money,” Obama said of the administration’s goal for the country to have the most college graduates in the world by 2020. But, she added: “You don’t have time to wait for everybody to fix the system for you.”

Bow Wow -- formerly known as Lil’ Bow Wow and whose real name is Shad Moss -- did not attend college and instead pursued his entertainment career, which began at age 13, according to his manager, Bart Waters. The First Lady on Wednesday praised Bow Wow’s commitment to promoting higher education, and has previously appeared on his BET talk show to discuss the issue. The Obama administration since this past winter has sought to highlight and address the issue of “undermatching” -- the term education researchers use to describe when high-achieving students do not apply to or enroll at the best institutions at which they would succeed.

April 18, 2014

Rudy Fichtenbaum, professor of economics at Wright State University, will remain  president of the American Association of University Professors for a second term, the organization announced Thursday, along with the other winners of its recent election. Fichtenbaum defeated Jane Buck, a past president of the AAUP, 2,114 to 1,964. The other top three officers also are incumbents. Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at the University of California at East Bay, will stay on as first vice president, while Susan Michalczyk, professor in the Honors Program at Boston College, remains second vice-president. Michele Ganon, professor of accounting at Western Connecticut State University, is treasurer.

All four candidates ran on a platform called “Organizing for Change,” advocating for collective bargaining for faculty where possible and building strong advocacy chapters elsewhere. A full list of vote tallies, opponents and other elections results is available here.

Via email, Fichtenbaum said that today the need for a “bigger and stronger AAUP is greater than at any time since the founding of the AAUP nearly 100 years ago. The corporate attack on public higher education has led to dramatic declines in state support for higher education and ballooning student debt, particularly for working class students and students of color. The values and principles of academic freedom, shared governance and economic security for all of the members of our profession are foundational, because they enable us to fight back against the corporate agenda and ensure that higher education serves the common good.”

Fichtenbaum added: “It is gratifying that our entire slate was reelected and I think it shows our members believe the changes we are making will help strengthen the AAUP.”

Officers serve two-year terms.

April 18, 2014

Faculty members at University of Maine campuses, coping with (and protesting) deep budget cuts throughout the system, were frustrated to learn this week of a $40,000 raise for a top financial official of the system, The Bangor Daily News reported. The salary of Rebecca Wyke, vice chancellor for administration and finance, went to $205,000 recently, up from $165,000 -- even as layoffs and other cuts have been instituted. System Chancellor James Page, said "Is it a lot of money? Yes." But he said Wyke was a finalist for a position elsewhere that would have paid her more. And he said that the system would have been hurt by her departure, adding that "you do need to have the right people in place to get the job done.”

 

April 17, 2014

Florida State University officials on Wednesday expressed “deep disappointment” in a front-page New York Times article suggesting that administrators erred in their response to sexual assault allegations against star quarterback Jameis Winston, saying in a statement that the Times omitted FSU statements and did not accurately reflect the university’s efforts to support victims. The Times wrote that an assistant athletic director knew that a former student had accused Winston of rape, but, “in apparent violation of federal law,” the AD either failed to pass the information on to higher-up administrators or did so and they failed to pursue the case. Title IX requires that once a college “knows, or reasonably should know” about sexual harassment, officials “must promptly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation.” The article also details how repeated missteps by local police sabotaged their own investigation and contributed to the inability of prosecutors to move forward with the case.

Officials said in a statement that the university “does not tolerate sexual assault” and must weigh several factors -- including federal guidance and the victim’s wishes -- in deciding how to handle sexual assault. The statement also notes many services that FSU provides, including counselor referrals and support and resources for family members.

The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights announced last week it will open an investigation stemming from the alleged victim’s federal complaint that FSU fails to protect students from sexual assault.

April 17, 2014

Excelencia in Education has released a new report with state-by-state data on Latino college completion rates. The report notes that raising those rates can be a key strategy for those who want to increase the percentage of Americans with college credentials.

April 17, 2014

Sen. Claire McCaskill sent an online survey to more than 350 colleges to gather information about how institutions respond to sexual assault and comply with Title IX, BuzzFeed reported, as she and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand consider legislation to better combat the issue on college campuses. (McCaskill and Gillibrand recently wrote legislation designed to combat sexual assault in the armed forces.)

The questions cover “security and law enforcement, student resources, adjudication procedures, and barriers to reporting sexual misconduct.” McCaskill also requested information from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice on how the federal government oversees colleges when it comes to Title IX compliance.

April 17, 2014

Seven of the 15 members of the College of Charleston’s presidential search committee warned trustees against politicizing the process that eventually selected South Carolina’s lieutenant governor.

In documents, first reported by The Post and Courier, nearly half the members of the search committee -- including the head of the college’s foundation -- said the trustees could end up doing long-term damage to the college. The trustees picked Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell, and now his promotion of Confederate history and the process by which he was picked could damage Charleston’s reputation and turn away prospective students and donors.

Faculty have said the search process was a sham, given that McConnell emerged at the top of the heap despite reports the search committee didn’t choose him as a finalist.

“After our work concluded, rumors have run rampant here in Charleston about the candidate slate presented to you and the likelihood the slate will be modified,” the seven search committee members wrote on Feb. 25, a month before McConnell was named president. “These rumors beg the question -- is the integrity of the process we worked under being assaulted? If a politicization of this process occurs, the consequences will be far reaching.”

The letter predicted the college would damage its ability to recruit quality faculty, staff, deans and future presidents and lose the confidence of nearly every campus constituent group. So far, the latter half of that prediction is playing out: students have held a major protest against McConnell and the student government and faculty have both taken a “no confidence” vote in the board.

The documents also include emails from Sharon Kingman, the chairwoman of the College of Charleston Foundation Board, that say lawmakers put pressure on the trustees to pick one candidate over another and discusses "the conspiracy theory" that McConnell could eventually seek a spot on the state’s Supreme Court. The justices are selected by the state legislature.

April 17, 2014

Should Sean Combs -- known to many as Puff Daddy or P. Diddy -- be Howard University's commencement speaker? Howard's announcement called him an "entrepreneur and entertainment mogul," and mentioned that he had been a student at Howard in the late 1980s. But the statement didn't state explicitly that he is a dropout. So some people are talking -- and websites are compiling Tweets -- on whether Combs is an appropriate choice as speaker. Critics ask about the message sent by having a dropout speak at commencement. For example, one comment on Twitter said "diddy is gonna make the commencement speech at Howard but what is he gonna say. 'Well I dropped outta here & got rich but good luck,'" and another said, "Can someone explain why Diddy, a person who never graduated from Howard, is speaking at graduation?"

But others defended him. One comment: "Strange to see so many people displeased w/ Diddy being HU's commencement speaker. Too caught up in his lack of degree to note his successes." And one person on Twitter offered an interesting comparison: "Diddy's net worth is greater than Howard's Endowment. Just to give some context."

 

April 17, 2014

Mid-Continent University, a private institution in Kentucky, will close June 30, KFVS 12 News reported. The university has been financially struggling, and facing rumors about a possible closure for months. All employees received layoff notices, and the university hopes that some faculty members will volunteer to allow a final cohort of students to graduate. The university enrolls about 300 students on campus, and another 600 online or through off-campus programs.

 

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