Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 31, 2013

The largest athletic programs -- many of which think they are constrained by the smaller budgets of their peers -- will most likely have to suck it up. Or at least their reprieve probably won't come in the form of a separate division, Nathan Hatch, chair of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Board of Directors, said in a statement Wednesday. At their quarterly meeting in Indianapolis this week, the university presidents who make up the board's membership heard ideas from various groups regarding NCAA governance and structure. Afterward, the NCAA announced it will create a subcommittee to "develop some alternative plans the membership can discuss" at the association's annual convention in January.

A new governance plan could be put up to a vote as soon as August, Hatch has said.

While Division I will likely remain as is and university presidents should stay in control, an altered rule-making process that allows some flexibility for institutions to make decisions in areas like recruiting and financial aid could emerge as a compromise, the statement said. Currently, all Division I institutions must abide by the same limitations and rules, despite their drastically different budget levels.

The board identified other key elements to emerge from the feedback this week: the board should be less focused on day-to-day operations and more focused on overarching strategy for Division I; the division needs a more transparent, fast-moving, streamlined and simple governance process; and all groups, particularly athletics directors and athletes, should have "representation within the governance structure."

The much-discussed prospect of a new division or subdivision for the largest athletic programs garnered support (or at least consideration) from numerous organizations, conference commissioners and faculty groups. But others, including associations of athletics directors and faculty athletics representatives, as well as the Division I Leadership Council, oppose the idea.

October 31, 2013

Janet Napolitano, one month into her University of California System presidency, made her first substantive address in that role Wednesday night, in a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. She said that, in two weeks, she will be sharing some "big ideas" with the university's Board of Regents. But in a hint of her priorities, she announced several initiatives Wednesday. She proposed a $5 million increase in spending on postdoctoral fellows and a $5 million increase in spending on recruiting graduate students. "Graduate students and postdocs are the essential links between teaching for California and researching for the world. They are our future faculty members. They are our future innovators. They are our future Nobel laureates. They merit our additional support right now," she said, in the prepared version of her remarks.

Napolitano also announced that she was setting aside $5 million to help UC students who lack the legal documentation to reside in the United States. She reiterated her view (from her time as U.S. secretary of homeland security) that federal law should give such students a path toward citizenship. But she said that the university will do more to help them now. The new funds, she said, will be used "to support these students with resources like trained advisers, student service centers and financial aid. Consider this a down payment -- one more piece of evidence of our commitment to all Californians. UC will continue to be a vehicle for social mobility."

October 31, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Douglas Kenrick of Arizona State University explains why irrational behavior can appear rational when viewed from an evolutionary perspective. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

October 31, 2013

The Georgia Institute of Technology has in 20 days received almost 1,000 more applications for its low-cost online master's degree than it does in a year for its residential program, according to data released by the university.

The 2,359 applicants are also demographically different from the students who normally apply for the residential program, which is popular among international students. About 80 of applicants for the online program come from the United States, compared to about 20 percent for the residential program. The master's degree program in computer science is a partnership between Georgia Tech, AT&T and massive open online course provider Udacity. The degree costs only $7,000, and university officials have promised it will be as rigorous as the residential program, which can cost up to $40,000 a year.

Men make up about 86 percent of the applicants, and the program has drawn almost as many applicants from Georgia -- 336 -- as California, the highest represented state, with 343 applicants. AT&T employees total 514 of the applicants.

Because of space issues, about 450 of the applicants will start the program in January, but every qualified applicant will be accepted and may start next summer, a spokesman said. University officials have previously said the program could scale up to enroll as many as 10,000 students within three years.

October 30, 2013

A third federal agency is now investigating Sallie Mae for violations of consumer protection laws, the company disclosed to investors in a quarterly report this week.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in September sought information from Sallie Mae as part of the bureau’s investigation into “allegations relating to our existing payment allocation practices and procedures,” the company said. The CFPB’s inquiry, according to the report, is similar to a separate investigation of Sallie Mae by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which plans to issue an enforcement action against the company for violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and other laws. The Civil Relief Act provides service members special benefits while they are on active-duty, such as a cap on the interest-rate on their student loans.

The Department of Justice is also probing Sallie Mae about its compliance with consumer protection law. The company said that it is “cooperating fully” with all three agencies.

In a report last year, the CFPB said that military service members were missing out on important benefits because of problems with their federal student-loan servicers. In some cases, the errors could cost members of the military tens of thousands of dollars, the agency said. Earlier this month, a CFPB analysis of borrower complaints reveled that some private student-loan servicers were applying advanced payments on loans in a way that maximizes profits for the lender but often leads to the borrower paying more interest.

October 30, 2013

North Carolina State University has sold a forest it owns for $150 million, The News & Observer reported. Conservationists have opposed the sale of the 79,000-acre forest. The university said that only a limited portion of the forest will be developed, and that students and faculty members will continue to be able to do research there. Officials said that the funds from the sale would go to an endowment that would support the university's College of Natural Resources.

October 30, 2013

The Education Department is set to issue a package of final regulations on federal student loans that are aimed, in part, at helping distressed borrowers and preventing colleges from manipulating their default rates.

In a notice last week, the department said it would officially adopt the rules “within the next several days” (though they would not take effect until next July). In addition to making minor changes to reflect legislative changes, the 423 pages of rules also beef up some protections for federal student loan borrowers.

Under the new rules, a borrower who is at least 270 days delinquent in paying his or her loans would be able to be placed in forbearance based on an oral request as opposed to the current written request requirement. This verbal forbearance request, however, would have limitations in order to prevent colleges from easily coercing students over the phone into unnecessary forbearances that help the institution avoid a default on its books -- or at least defer the default until the end of three-year period that the federal government evaluates. Any forbearance based on an oral request would be limited to 120 days and could not be extended without a written request and supporting documentation for why a loan deferment is needed.

In addition, the new regulations set a limit on the size of the payment that loan servicers can demand of defaulted borrowers who are trying to avail themselves of the opportunity, under federal law, to rehabilitate their student loans by making “reasonable and affordable” payments. The new rules would automatically define that “reasonable and affordable” standard as 15 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income -- that is, what he or she would be paying under an income-based-repayment plan. The clarified standard reduces the amount of financial documentation needed from the borrower.

The Institute for College Access and Success, which pushed for many of the changes, praised the new regulations in a blog post Tuesday as “key protections” that will “make it easier for borrowers to get out of default and repay their loans.”

October 30, 2013

Brown University called off a lecture Tuesday by Raymond Kelly, the New York City police commissioner, when protesters in the lecture hall refused to stop shouting at him. Those protesting said that Brown shouldn't give a forum to someone associated with a "stop and frisk" policing that is viewed by many as discriminatory against black and Latino New Yorkers. The lecture wasn't called off until the protesters ignored repeated requests from university faculty members and students to let Kelly speak. He had agree to participate in a question period as well.

Christina H. Paxson, Brown's president, sent out a letter to students and faculty members, criticizing the protest for blocking the lecture. "This is a sad day for the Brown community. I appreciate that some members of our community objected to the views of our invited speaker. However, our university is – above all else – about the free exchange of ideas. Nothing is more antithetical to that value than preventing someone from speaking and other members of the community from hearing that speech and challenging it vigorously in a robust yet civil manner," she wrote. The Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper, also weighed in with an editorial against the way the protest unfolded. "It is evident at this point that there is an incredibly vocal minority of students who feel compelled to shut off all streams of debate with which they disagree," the editorial said. "There is perhaps a majority of students who find themselves frustrated with with the narrow scope of debate that occurs in person or now, more than ever, on forums like Facebook. There are students — students from diverse backgrounds — who are afraid to state their opinion, and that is a profound loss for this campus."

Most of the letters to the editor published today in the student newspaper criticized the protest, but one recent alumnus defended the protest, writing: "The system Kelly promotes actively disenfranchises people of color. It makes them afraid to be in certain neighborhoods, to wear certain clothes, to be too close to the authorities. It breeds distrust and anger and, most importantly, is antithetical to a free and just society. Racism is not a valid viewpoint. This much is written directly into Brown law.... In this case, two wrongs do make a right, much like two negatives make a positive. It is the definition of tolerance to be intolerant of intolerance. As an alum, I am proud to be part of the community that booed Kelly offstage. Nobody needs to entertain arguments that assert this in any way prevents open discourse."

Here is YouTube video of the event:

 

 

October 30, 2013

The National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Leadership Council, which advises the Division I Board of Directors, opposes a new division for the most competitive athletic programs, according to a statement issued Tuesday. That concept has been floated by numerous organizations, conference commissioners and even faculty groups in recent months, as the NCAA considers different ways to restructure its governance and organization. A new division would afford the biggest programs more leeway in recruiting and spending. (The Faculty Athletics Representatives Association also opposes the idea.)

However, the council, which is made up of athletics directors, conference commissioners and others from across the full spectrum of Division I programs, acknowledged that a true "level playing field" cannot exist when athletic departments vary so dramatically by institution, and proposed adjusting scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance as a compromise. The Division I board will hear feedback from several groups leading up to its quarterly meeting this week.

October 30, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Steve Hirsch of Tufts University traces the historical roots of the societies based on individualism and collectivism. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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