WASHINGTON -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan told members of the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday that he was "hopeful" a deal could be reached to prevent the interest rate on new federally subsidized student loans from doubling in less than two weeks. The hearing was on the administration's budget request for the 2014 fiscal year, which included a plan to switch to a market-based interest rate. Some Democratic senators expressed skepticism about the plan, saying they don't want rates to increase above current levels, while Republicans said their plan -- introduced before the administration's budget request -- was very similar to the president's. "I think there are some differences, but I think they're resolvable," Duncan said. "I am very hopeful that this can get done."
Higher Education Quick Takes
Researchers at a Spanish university, la Universidad Carlos III of Madrid, have unveiled special intelligent glasses for use by professors when teaching. The glasses have multiple views for the professor, who can see notes for lecture delivery while wearing them. Further, the professor can look at students and then a symbol will appear -- selected by the student -- to indicate whether the student understands the content, and whether the student would like the professor to slow down. The professors who invented the glasses said that they would eliminate the need for a student to make a public statement about not understanding lecture content.
FutureLearn was created this year as a MOOC platform for British universities, to counter the main American MOOC providers, which have plenty of non-American universities involved, but which are based in the United States. On Monday, FutureLearn announced it was admitting two non-British universities and embracing the idea of international MOOCs. The two members from outside Britain are Monash University, in Australia, and Trinity College Dublin, in Ireland. Also joining is the University of Edinburgh, which is already part of Coursera.
In a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday, consumer advocacy groups, higher education associations and others asked the bureau to require that colleges give prior approval before students borrow private loans, saying that the bureau has the power to require full certification by institutions. Right now, students "self-certify," meaning they sign off on a form that includes information about federal student loans and other forms of financial aid. Requiring colleges to certify that they are aware of the loans, the groups argued, would help ensure that students have already maxed out their federal loan options (many private loan borrowers have not), because federal loans usually offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans.
New York University is breaking new ground in compensation for higher ed executives and star faculty members by providing loans for vacation homes, The New York Times reported. President John Sexton received $1 million in loans for a home on Fire Island, while others have received assistance to buy second homes in other prime vacation areas. The article notes that many colleges provide homes for presidents, and some institutions in places like New York City -- where housing is expensive -- provide housing assistance for many others. But the article says that help for second homes is "all but unheard-of in higher education."
John Beckman, a university spokesman, told the Times: "The purpose of our loan programs goes right to the heart of several decades of sustained and successful effort at NYU: to transform NYU from a regional university into a world-class research residential university." The loans help attract and retain talent, he said.
Among the critics of the practice quoted in the article was Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, a former president of George Washington University who has been a defender of high salaries and benefits for higher education leaders. "That’s getting to be a little too sexy even for me, and I have a good sense of humor about these things," he said. "I don’t think that’s prudent. I don’t mind paying someone a robust salary, but I think you have to be able to pass a red-face test."
A former professor on Monday was named the 500th person on the "most wanted" list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The Los Angeles Times reported. The dubious distinction went to Walter Lee Williams, who formerly taught anthropology, gender studies and history at the University of Southern California, and won a teaching award there in 2006. He is wanted for multiple sex crimes against children abroad.
The Educational Testing Service today announced two new assessment tools to measure student learning. Test takers of the iSkills assessment and Proficiency Profile standard form will be able to earn an "electronic certificate which can be shared with an unlimited number of recipients in academia and beyond," the nonprofit testing organization said in a written statement. The profile assesses critical thinking, reading, writing and mathematics, while iSkills measures a student's ability to navigate and use information through digital technology. The certificates will be offered through colleges' testing programs, ETS said, as well as through StraighterLine, an online course provider.
Transylvania University announced Monday that R. Owen Williams will step down as president after the 2013-14 academic year. The statement from the university indicated that the board supported Williams and quoted the board chair, William T. Young Jr., as saying: “It is with regret that we accept his resignation.” Faculty members have been calling for Williams to step down, saying that he has cut them out of decision-making and in particular objecting to what they see as his applying new tenure standards to candidates before those standards were supposed to be used.