Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 11, 2014

Two prominent Republican Senators on Monday continued to push for an overhaul of U.S. accreditation of colleges, seeking to open up federal student aid to non-traditional forms of higher education as a way to lower costs and broaden access. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, in a speech at a National Journal event in Miami, called on Congress to establish a new independent accrediting board that would accredit free online courses -- a proposal also floated by President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union address. “Action on this issue can and should be swift,” Rubio said, adding that “members of both parties are beginning to realize that for every day we delay bold accreditation reform, our education system leaves more Americans behind to languish in a dwindling market of low-skill jobs.”

Rubio praised a proposal by Senator Mike Lee of Utahyou mean Utah, right? or is the senator wrong? -sj ** oops, I meant Utah /ms that would allow states and companies to accredit courses. At a separate event in Washington, Lee said that such a plan would help lower the cost of higher education.

In his remarks in Miami, Rubio also laid out several other higher education proposals. He suggested that income-based repayment should be the default payment plan for federal student loans. He said that the various federal income-based repayment programs are underutilized and too confusing for borrowers.

In addition, he proposed a mechanism called “Student Investment Plans” as an alternative option to loan-financing for college tuition. Under the plan, students would have the option of applying for an investment plan from an “approved and certified private investment group” whose investors would pay the students’ tuition in return for a percentage of their income for a set period of time after graduation. 

February 11, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Philip Marcus of the University of California at Berkeley explains the persistence of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 10, 2014

Xia Yeliang, whose firing by Peking University set off an international uproar, is starting today at the Cato Institute, a think tank, and he has cautions for American universities about their ties with Chinese universities, The New York Times reported. “They use the reputations of Western universities to cover their own scandals,” he told the Times. "Perhaps Western universities do not realize that Chinese universities do not have the basic value of academic freedom, and try to use Western universities to cover their bad side."

 

February 10, 2014

The board of the Southern University System has voted, 9 to 6, not to renew the contract of James Llorens as chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus, The Baton Rouge Advocate reported. Llorens will leave office at the end of June, following a three-year tenure. Ronald Mason, the president of the system, had urged the board to renew Llorens' contract for one year, on the condition that he agree to a plan to make “necessary financial and organizational changes.” But Llorens rejected that idea, saying it would strip him of the authority needed to do his job effectively.

 

February 10, 2014

A multimillion-dollar donation by a University of Virginia board member will help low-income students affected by the university's decision to scale back a popular financial aid program. U.Va. Trustee John Griffin gave the university a $4 million challenge grant last week, which he and the university hope will be at least matched by other donors. The money will help provide $500,000 in need-based aid to students over the next four years, as well as help fund an endowment set aside for financial aid.

Last year, the university altered its AccessUVa need-based aid program in an effort to curb costs. Starting this fall for incoming students, U.Va. is going to make some low-income students borrow up to $28,000 instead of guaranteeing them a debt-free graduation as it had in the past. Some said that with the new donation, the university was effectively reversing its decision, which has prompted significant opposition. It's unclear, however, to what extent the philanthropy will be used by the university to cover the bases AccessUVa has. 

A university spokesman, McGregor McCance, said the university does not known how many students will receive assistance from the endowment or the value of those scholarships. Nor is it clear how many students will be helped by the $500,000 per year of grants over the next four years. "For some students, this could partially or fully eliminate loans or work study components of financial aid packages," he said.

The university had said it would turn to donors to try to help low-income students even as it was cutting its no-loan guarantee. The cost curbing to AccessUVa will eventually save about $6 million a year.

A current university board member and the student newspaper have both criticized U.Va. for relying on philanthropy to help its poorest students. 

Still, fans of AccessUVa were pleased. "This announcement is effectively a reversal because before they were cutting grant aid to the poorest students, and now they’re investing a sizable infusion of funds directly back into those students," Mary Nguyen Barry, a graduate who received the no-loan version of AccessUVa, said in an email.

February 10, 2014

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst announced Friday that she is making several institutional changes to better address sexual violence on campus, two months after the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights announced it would investigate a Title IX complaint from students alleging the university isn’t doing enough.

The changes are recommendations from a task force Herbst appointed last summer to “deter and address” sexual violence. Herbst presented the group’s report on campus Friday, and announced she’d immediately enact several recommendations, including designating one office as a point of contact to help victims navigate campus policies and resources. Herbst said the university would also expand educational programming, and add support and resources that specifically target sexual violence (such as bystander intervention training), among other things.

In addition to filing the Title IX complaint, a group of students sued the institution and said Connecticut has shown “institutional indifference” toward sexual assault, a charge that Herbst denied.

February 10, 2014

McGraw-Hill Education on Friday announced it had acquired the adaptive learning company Area9, 13 months after the academic publisher purchased a 20 percent stake. The two companies have partnered to provide adaptive learning technology since 2007, for example through the publisher's LearnSmart series. In 2013, McGraw-Hill also acquired the ALEKS Corporation, another adaptive learning company.

February 10, 2014

Incorrect tax reporting by Harvard University -- suggesting that employees earned millions more than they really did -- has cost those employees considerable sums in overpaid taxes, The Boston Globe reported. Harvard acknowledged the errors on Friday and said that it would either reimburse employees or help them file amended tax returns to receive refunds. But the university acted only after two law professors circulated a letter saying that earlier communication from Harvard has been "misleading as to both the scope of the problem and the university’s responsibility to make some 11,000 employees whole for a monumental mistake by the central administration."

 

February 10, 2014

The Education Department on Friday announced the negotiators who will hammer out new rules for PLUS loans, campus debit cards, state authorization for distance programs and other topics on the administration’s sweeping second-term regulatory agenda.

The negotiated-rulemaking panel will convene for the first time on February 19 and meet several times over the next several months to address a range of regulations for institutions that receive federal student aid and the companies the handle the disbursement of that money.

Among the more contentious issues the panel will focus on are the eligibility requirements for obtaining a PLUS loan. Consumer advocates and some think tanks have called for tighter eligibility requirements while some historically black and for-profit colleges, whose students and their families rely heavily on the loans, have said the department’s efforts to tighten the underwriting criteria have already cut off college access for low-income and underserved students.

The panel will also attempt to draft rules for student debit cards and other financial products on campus through which students receive disbursements of their federal loans and grants. Advocacy groups, lawmakers and other federal agencies have questioned the lucrative arrangements that some debit card providers have with colleges to offer such products.

In addition, the negotiated-rulemaking committee will also seek to rewrite the department’s state authorization rule for distance education programs. The rule, which required colleges providing distance education to obtain permission to operate from every state in which they enroll students, was thrown out by a federal appeals court in 2012. The panel will also tackle the conversion of clock hours to credit hours when awarding credit, and rules governing when a student can receive federal aid for repeated coursework.

Following are the list of negotiators:

Carney McCullough, U.S. Department of Education

Pam Moran, U.S. Department of Education

Chris Lindstrom, higher education program director, U.S. Public Interest Research Group

*Maxwell John Love, vice president, United States Student Association

Whitney Barkley, staff attorney, Mississippi Center for Justice

Toby Merrill, director, Project on Predatory Student Lending, The Legal Services Center, Harvard Law School

Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney, Consumers Union

Carolyn Fast, special counsel, Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, New York Attorney General’s Office

*Jenny Wojewoda, assistant attorney general, Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office

David Sheridan, director of financial aid, School of International & Public Affairs, Columbia University

*Paula Luff, associate vice president of financial aid DePaul University

Gloria Kobus, director of student accounts & university receivables, Youngstown State University

*Joan Piscitello, treasurer, Iowa State University

David Swinton, president, Benedict College

*George French, president, Miles College

Brad Hardison, financial aid director, Santa Barbara City College

*Melissa Gregory, chief enrollment services and financial aid officer, Montgomery College

Chuck Knepfle, financial aid director, Clemson University

*J. Goodlett McDaniel, associate provost for distance education, George Mason University

Elizabeth Hicks, executive director, student financial services, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

*Joe Weglarz, executive director, student financial services, Marist College

Deborah Bushway, chief academic officer and vice president of academic innovation, Capella University

*Valerie Mendelsohn, vice president, compliance and risk management , American Career College

Casey McGuane, chief operations officer, Higher One

*Bill Norwood, chief architect and director, Heartland Payment Systems

Russ Poulin, deputy director, research and analysis, WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies

*Marshall Hill, executive director, National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements

Dan Toughey, president, TouchNet

*Michael Gradisher, vice president of regulatory and legal affairs, Pearson Embanet

Paul Kundert, president and CEO, University of Wisconsin Credit Union

*Tom Levandowski, senior company counsel, Wells Fargo Bank Law Department, Consumer Lending & Corporate Regulatory Division

Leah Matthews, executive director, Distance Education and Training Council

*Elizabeth Sibolski, president Middle States Commission on Higher Education

(Asterisk denotes alternate.)

February 10, 2014

In a first, a star of big-time college football has come out. Michael Sam, who won numerous awards as a defensive linesman for the University of Missouri at Columbia, on Sunday told The New York Times and ESPN that he is gay. He told his teammates last year in the preseason. Last month, a freshman kicker on the Willamette University football team came out as bisexual, at the time becoming the first football player to publicly identify, while playing, as non-straight. While Willamette is Division III, Missouri plays with the elites of college football and Sam has been expected to be drafted in the National Football League.

 

 

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