Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 3:00am

The U.S. Education Department last week announced significant changes in the array of providers it uses to service federal student loans, and the flurry of changes are likely to reinforce concerns among some student loan borrowers about how they and their loans are treated by the servicers (especially when their loans are split among multiple servicers).

The announcement from the department on Friday expanded on an earlier announcement about the agency's plan to phase out the involvement of ACS (which is owned by Xerox) from its student loan servicing team, and the addition of Nelnet. The statement, aimed at financial aid officers, also notes that the technology platform used by four nonprofit loan servicers is being discontinued, and that loans held by those servicers will be transferred to two other nonprofit service providers.

A ProPublica report last year documented the difficulties that some borrowers had encountered from having their loans randomly assigned to servicers (and in some cases multiple ones), including inconsistent or changing information about how much they owe, payment plans, etc.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said in March that it would extend its oversight to student loan servicers.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 4:26am

The University of Oslo is considering an application from Anders Behring Breivik, who is in jail for killing 77 people and wounding many others in a bombing and shootings that stunned Norway in 2011, The Local reported. Breivik wants to study remotely, in political science. Some instructors have told local reporters they would refuse to teach him, but the prison is encouraging his application. Ole Petter Ottersen, the university's rector, said that it was "human" for there to be reactions to the possibility of teaching Breivik. But Ottersen said that the application would be evaluated on its merits. "We cannot refuse anyone the chance of studying at the University of Oslo," he said. "We have to follow the technical rules for admission."

 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 3:00am

A federal court has denied a request by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General for a trove of emails from The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), a consumer protection group. The department had sought to enforce a subpoena that asked for transcripts of email messages related to for-profits. At issue is whether Robert Shireman, who founded the group, might have violated a federal ethics law by discussing pending regulations while he was working as an official at the department. 

A federal magistrate judge, in a court filing last week, said the subpoena was an overreach because TICAS has no financial or programmatic ties to the federal government. Department officials also "conveyed ambiguous messages" about the subpoena, according to the filing. And the judge wrote that investigators can talk directly to Shireman.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 3:00am

Financial information for-profit colleges submit to the U.S. Department of Education is inconsistent and generally not helpful, according to an audit by the department's Office of Inspector General. For-profits provide financial statements to the department as a requirement of their participation in federal financial aid programs. But those statements lack transparency, the audit found, because the presentation about instruction and marketing costs is not consistent across institutions.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 3:00am

E. Gordon Gee, who stepped down as president of Ohio State University on July 1, will make $5.8 million over the next five years as part of a new contract with the university. According to the contract, Gee will serve as a tenured professor in Ohio State's law school and his responsibilities will include "completion of his research on 21st Century Education Policy and will include research, writing and national speaking as well as teaching or lecturing" in the law school, the school of public affairs and the college of education. Gee's annual base salary will be $410,000, and he will receive retirement contributions and a grant of $300,000 to fund his research. After the five years are up, Gee's salary will be equivalent to the highest-paid non-administrative faculty member in the law school.

The new contract waives any compensation Gee would have been entitled to under his previous contract with the university, which would have paid out approximately $6 million in supplemental and deferred compensation over the next four years.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 3:00am

After three top-tier universities backed away from it, three new universities have joined a partnership created by the company 2U to access a pool of for-credit online courses offered by other universities.

Baylor University, Southern Methodist University and Temple University will offer its students classes from the partnership, known as Semester Online. That will allow students at those three universities to take courses offered by Boston College, Brandeis University, Emory University, Northwestern University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, and Washington University. Unlike those institutions, Baylor, SMU and Temple will not offer courses into the pool but only draw from it. 

Earlier this year, the three top-tier universities - Duke University, the University of Rochester and Vanderbilt University - backed away from Semester Online, citing a variety of concerns.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 3:00am

An Education Department proposal to expand the scope and reach of its central database for student aid would violate federal law and distort the database's purposes, a group of higher education associations argued in a letter sent to department officials Monday.

The letter, sent by the American Council on Education on behalf of seven other groups, responds to a request for comment published in the Federal Register in late June, in which the Education Department's Federal Student Aid office proposed to make a set of changes to information collected by the National Student Loan Data System.

The associations' letter argues that some of the department's goals are appropriately tied to the database's original purpose, but it questions a plan to modify legal provisions related to gainful employment programs to collect information about students who do not receive federal financial aid, among other things. "[W]e do not understand how the inclusion of information about unaided students in NSLDS can be justified," they wrote.

The groups also challenged the department's plan to expand the student loan database to collect consumer protection and program evaluation data, and the department's authority to make such changes in a Federal Register notice rather than through legislation. The proposals, they write, "exceed the boundaries of the law in ways that the courts have prohibited and that distort the purposes of NSLDS."

The letter also cites numerous ways in which the department's proposal falls short of its obligations under the Federal Privacy Act.

Monday, July 29, 2013 - 3:00am

Dartmouth College, long known as a place where heavy drinking was central to social life, appears to be making significant progress in reducing dangerous levels of drinking, The Boston Globe reported. A series of reforms -- many of them involving undergraduates -- have been put in place. For example, undergraduates who have not been drinking play a key role in monitoring parties. A sign of progress is that this year only 31 undergraduates were hospitalized for having blood alcohol levels at the dangerous level of 0.25 percent. Two years, ago, 80 students were hospitalized for such blood alcohol levels.

 

Monday, July 29, 2013 - 4:24am

A new law in New York State requires colleges to give students information about fire safety in their dormitories or in off-campus housing run by universities, and the information must address specifics about students' housing, such as sprinkler systems, the Associated Press reported. The law goes beyond previous legislation, which required colleges to publish information about fire safety. The new law applies to public and private institutions.

 

Monday, July 29, 2013 - 3:00am

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is about to end his tenure as Iran's president, will be starting a university, Bloomberg reported. The university, which will focus on graduate education, will be located in Teheran.

 

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