Higher Education Quick Takes
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made a $350 million donation to Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater. The new gift brings his lifetime giving to Hopkins to $1.18 billion -- making him the first person to top $1 billion in gifts to an American college or university. The new funds will be used for two primary purposes. The bulk of the money will be used to endow professorships for interdisciplinary work in vital areas. The initial appointments will be in water resource sustainability, individualized health care delivery, global health, the science of learning, and urban revitalization.
The university will use $100 million from the gift for need-based aid for undergraduates. Hopkins is among the more prominent private universities in the United States that have not declared a need-blind admissions policy (meaning that applicants are reviewed and admitted without regard to financial need). Ronald Daniels, the president, has stated that he has a goal of making Hopkins need-blind. An article in The New York Times about Bloomberg's relationship with Hopkins said that he has financed 20 percent of need-based financial aid for undergraduates in recent years.
Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who plays a key role in Congress on higher education issues, has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2014. Harkin is chair of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and of the appropriations subcommittee for education and health. In those roles, he has been a strong advocate for increased spending on student aid programs and biomedical research. He has been a frequent critic of for-profit higher education, and has backed tougher regulation of for-profit colleges. Harkin said that his proudest legislative accomplishment was having been chief sponsor of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which greatly expanded the rights of people with disabilities in education as well as other parts of society.
Most of The New Republic's interview with President Obama, published Sunday, is about political issues and his plans for the second term. But the magazine also asked the president, a sports fan, about whether he takes "less pleasure" in watching football, given the dangers faced by the players. Obama said he was concerned about the athletes, and urged the National Collegiate Athletic Association to consider these issues. "[I]f I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football," the president said. He added: "I tend to be more worried about college players than [National Football League] players in the sense that the NFL players have a union, they're grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies. You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That's something that I'd like to see the NCAA think about."
Lafayette College is considering what actions it can take with regard to underground fraternities -- organizations that lost their recognition due to various rules violations but that continue to function unofficially, The Express-Times reported. The college's interest in the issue has grown following the death of a freshman who died after drinking alcohol believed to have been provided by an underground fraternity.
The University of Pittsburgh Press is printing new copies of two collections of poetry by Richard Blanco, the inaugural poet selected by President Obama, and the press is preparing to release a new volume, which will include the inaugural poem, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Orders are coming in fast. The books currently available from Pitt are City of a Hundred Fires and Looking for the Gulf Motel.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the launch of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, which aims to expand opportunities for American students to learn Mandarin and study abroad in China. The foundation, housed at American University, in Washington, D.C., grows out of a U.S. State Department initiative to increase the number of Americans studying in China to 100,000 over four years. According to the latest numbers available, 14,596 Americans studied in China in 2010-11, representing a 4.9 percent increase from the previous year.
“What we’re trying to do as a foundation is to create a permanent, independent infrastructure around supporting study abroad and the study of Mandarin,” said Carola McGiffert, president of the 100,000 Strong Foundation and formerly a senior adviser to the assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs at the State Department.
The foundation is being established with $2 million in seed funding -- $1 million each from the Ford and Florence Fang Family Foundations. McGiffert said first steps will include launching a media campaign to promote study in China and raising funds for scholarships.
ITT Technical Institute is the latest for-profit higher education provider to go big with scholarships. The institute's holding company announced in an earnings call on Thursday that it hopes to expand a pilot program to all of its campuses by the end of the year. Company officials said early returns showed that discounting tuition has had a positive impact on student enrollment. The scholarship reduces net tuition to $28,000 from $44,000, according to a written statement from Trace Urdan, an analyst with Wells Fargo Securities.
A report from a panel of higher education experts, including college presidents and foundation leaders, has called for changes to simplify federal financial aid in a white paper released Thursday. The white paper, "The American Dream 2.0," published by HCM Strategists, a public policy consulting group, is part of a larger effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to recommend changes to financial aid to boost completion rates.
The group includes many familiar names -- among its members are Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, and Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor and new Purdue University president -- and many of its recommendations are familiar by now as well. In its final report, the group deplores college completion rates (about half of all first-time, full-time students do not graduate within six years), recommends that colleges pay more attention to the needs of nontraditional students, and says that the financial aid system should be easier to navigate and more transparent. The group calls for strengthening the bedrock Pell Grant Program for needy students, and streamlining multiple grants and tax credits. The report also says the federal government should encourage colleges to innovate and invest more heavily in research on financial aid's effectiveness.
The report also says that colleges should link aid "to the extent possible" to outcomes for students and graduates. Accompanying the report were polling data that suggested voters are supportive of higher education, but more aware of (and concerned about) student debt levels than they are about the college dropout rate.
Since several commission members are the leaders of organizations preparing reports of their own as part of the Gates initiative, HCM's effort could represent the closest the different groups will get to consensus on changes to financial aid. Several more organizations are expected to issue their white papers next week.
A white paper from the Committee for Economic Development, another entry in an effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to redesign federal financial aid to focus on completion, calls for a radical change to student aid: turning the Pell Grant and other need-based aid into block grants for states. The paper, "A New Partnership: The Road to Reshaping Federal & State Financial Aid," calls for requiring states to match 20 percent of federal funds with need-based aid of their own. States would also be required to hold down tuition at public institutions in order to be eligible for federal aid. Grants would be portable across state lines.
The report, one of many released this month from organizations that received Gates grants, proposes the biggest changes so far of any Gates recipient. It also calls for eliminating tax credits for higher education and automatically enrolling student loan recipients in income-based repayment, both ideas that other groups have also proposed.