Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that would keep the interest rate on subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent for another two years at a cost to the government of $8.6 billion -- a measure that underscored the distance between Congressional Democrats and the White House on interest rates. The interest rate for subsidized Stafford loans, need-based loans that don't accumulate interest while students are enrolled in college, will double to 6.8 percent on July 1 if Congress does not act. 

The interest rate increase was long planned -- it was written into a 2007 law that gradually lowered interest rates for four years before letting them rebound -- and was supposed to occur last year, but Congress passed a one-year extension of the 3.4 percent rate. The White House and Congressional Republicans have both proposed plans to base the interest rate on the government's cost to borrow, which would allow the rate to vary from year to year.

Congressional Democrats, though, want to keep the rate at 3.4 percent until the issue can be considered in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The legislation proposed Wednesday, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, among others, would pay for the extension through changes to tax law affecting retirement accounts, the oil industry and tax deductions for foreign companies. The House, meanwhile, will mark up its interest rate proposal at a hearing today.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:00am

These meetings, conferences, seminars and other events will be held in the coming weeks in and around higher education. They are among the many such that appear in our calendar, to which campus and other officials can submit their own events. Our site also includes a comprehensive catalog of job changes in higher education; please submit your news to both listings.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:52am

Alberta College of Art + Design announced Wednesday that it has reinstated Gord Ferguson, days after dismissing the art instructor for his role in a performance art project in which one of his students killed a chicken in the college's cafeteria. The statement, issued jointly by the college and its faculty association after the two reached an agreement on the matter, said that the college’s decision to terminate Ferguson "was never intended to be about academic or artistic freedom," but that administrators conceded "the perception this action may have created." It went on to say that Ferguson "acknowledges that he wishes he could have had a greater opportunity to advise and support his student before he undertook his performance" last month, and that the incident had raised awareness about both the importance of academic freedom and the meaning of academic responsibility.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 3:00am

St. Mary's College of Maryland, a public liberal arts college, is likely to face a budget shortfall of about $3.5 million after commitments from incoming freshmen came in short of what the college expected, The Washington Post reported. Aiming for a class of about 470, the university has received commitments from only about 360 students so far. Administrators said the college is trying to attract more applicants and enroll students off the waitlist, as well as figure out how to cope with the lost tuition revenue. Administrators said they are not yet sure why the college saw a decrease in commitments after receiving a 14 percent increase in applications, but are looking into it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 3:00am

Fifteen percent of college students have or have a friend who has ordered drugs off the Internet without a prescription, according to a new survey by the Digital Citizens Alliance. The survey of 366 current and recent students found that one in three students took prescription drugs “to get through finals,” and a third of them obtained the pills without a prescription.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, is using an unusual tactic to promote a bill she proposed on student loan interest rates: asking for "citizen co-sponsors" for the legislation. The bill, one of many proposals put forward in recent weeks to stop the interest rates for subsidized student loans from doubling as planned on July 1, would reduce student loan interest rates to 0.75 percent for a year -- the rate at which the Federal Reserve lends to major banks.

President Obama and House Republicans want a market-based rate for student loan interest; some Senate Democrats would prefer to extend the current subsidized loan interest rate of 3.4 percent while they work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

So Warren's measure isn't likely to pass. But as the first stand-alone legislation from the closely watched freshman senator, it has generated considerable interest online. "If Congress doesn't act by July 1, our students will pay nine times more than big banks," Warren said in an e-mailed appeal to supporters sent via a liberal political action committee, Democracy for America. "Our students are the engine of our economic future, and they deserve at least the same deal as Wall Street."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 3:00am

The Senate Judiciary Committee considering the comprehensive immigration reform bill approved an amendment proposed by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Grassley 69, which would crack down on fraudulent colleges and require accreditation for higher education institutions enrolling international students.

Other student visa-related amendments approved by the committee on Tuesday included Grassley 77, which calls for a temporary suspension of the issuance of student visas if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not promptly address problems of interoperability between the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and the database that is available to officials at border checkpoints. Meanwhile, Grassley 56, which would limit the authority of the Secretary of State to waive interviews for visa applicants, and Grassley 68, which would delay the implementation of certain provisions of the act related to international students until the full deployment of the long-delayed SEVIS II, both failed in 9-9 tie votes. (You can find all the amendments acted upon so far here.)

“We have learned time and again that there are holes in our student visa program,” Grassley said during the committee hearing. The program has come under particular scrutiny in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings: although the suspected bombers were not foreign students, two citizens of Kazakhstan accused of aiding in the destruction of evidence were.  

In a letter it sent to the committee on Monday, NAFSA:Association of International Educators urged senators not to approve amendments that could pose impediments to international students, arguing that this would undermine national security rather than enhance it. "Foreign students are an asset to our nation, not a threat," the association wrote. The committee will next take up the immigration bill on Thursday.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 3:00am

Individuals unhappy with Cooper Union's recent decision to end its 111-year practice of providing a full-tuition scholarship to all students issued a fake press release Tuesday as MetLife, which lent the university $175 million in 2006 to finance construction of a new academic building, promising to forgive the loan on the condition that the university remain free. 

 

THE FAKE PRESS RELEASE:

 

METLIFE FORGIVES $175 MILLION LOAN TO COOPER UNION, KEEPS TUITION “FREE AS AIR AND WATER.”

NEW YORK - May 14, 2013 - MetLife, Inc. (NYSE: MET) announced today that it will conditionally forgive a $175 million loan made in 2006 to the Cooper Union, a treasured New York institution currently consumed by a financial crisis. 

Cooper’s interest-only payments to date, which amount to approximately 72 million dollars, will be applied to the total, netting a total forgiveness of $103 million dollars. MetLife’s decision will allow the Cooper Union to preserve its 154 year meritocratic tradition of tuition free education. “Cooper occupies a special place in the soul of New York City, the city which MetLife calls home.” said MetLife CEO Steven Kandarian, “We had to do something.”

“The actions of the Free Cooper Union students who have occupied President Jamshed Bharucha’s office have inspired us to reject the inevitability of this situation. MetLife believes in the transformational power of capital to catalyze growth and increase opportunity. And we take that responsibility seriously; we see ourselves as stewards, in a sense, of our investments. So, though we don’t take lightly the moral hazard which today’s action represents, we didn’t feel we had any choice but to protect the legacy of empowerment Cooper Union embodies.”

“The institution is simply too big to fail,” Kandarian continued, “metaphorically speaking, of course.”

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was founded by industrialist Peter Cooper in 1859. It’s mission reflects it’s founder’s fundamental belief that an education “equal to the best” should be accessible to those who qualify, independent of their race, religion, sex, wealth or social status, and should be “open and free to all”.

In recent years the board of trustees has pursued an expansionist agenda of which the ill-advised 2006 loan is a part. The loan, taken in part to fund an exorbitant new, $111.6 million “landmark” building by Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architecture which a capital campaign had failed to adequately fund, requires annual interest-only payments of approximately $10.3 million, the majority of Cooper’s operating budget shortfall. In addition, a majority of Cooper’s managed endowment assets were recklessly invested in hedge funds which have diminished the endowment substantially since 2006. In light of these facts, in April 2013 Board of Trustees Chairman Mark Epstein announced that the Board had approved a plan to reduce the full tuition scholarship by half, ending a 154 year tradition and effectively abandoning the Cooper Union’s founding principles.

“In retrospect,” said Kandarian, “when we were offered Cooper’s ‘golden goose’ as collateral for a risky loan, we should have passed.”

MetLife’s actions are intended to stabilize the institution and allow it to continue offering a top quality education which is “as free as water and air,” however they should not be mistaken for a panacea. “These are drastic measures,” said Kandarian, “and as such they are conditional on Cooper’s continued status as a top quality tuition free college. The tuition free model is an essential part of the character of the institution and it’s stakeholders understand that without it the school will be unable to count on the high quality student body to which it is accustomed. The Free Cooper Union students and their faculty and alumni supporters are fighting for this unique, and uniquely American, institution.”

“My concern,” continued Kandarian, “ is that the current President [Jamshed Bharucha] and Board of Trustees do not appear to share in this vision. If Cooper is truly to emerge from this mess, they will need some new faces.”

MetLife continues to be the largest portfolio lender in the insurance industry with $43.1 billion in commercial mortgages outstanding at year end 2012.

“MetLife was a very active lender domestically and internationally in 2012, as we continued to focus on top quality properties in major markets,” said Robert Merck, global head of MetLife Real Estate Investors. “Our strategy for growth is based on prudent risk management and a long-term approach that enables us to execute quickly, process large transactions and provide our customers with world-class service.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 3:00am

Véronique Kiermer, executive editor of the Nature Publishing Group, says that there is more "sloppiness" than in the past in journal submissions, Times Higher Education reported. Kiermer made the remark in a speech at the World Conference on Research Integrity. Among the problems she said she is seeing more of are: missing control tests, poor use of images,  flaws in experimental design and reporting, and problems with the use of statistics.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 4:18am

State officials in Texas today unveil Compare College Texas, a website that gives students and policy makers easily comparable data on key higher education outcomes for all public institutions in the state.

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