Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 4, 2014

The Educational Credit Management Association, a student loan guarantor, announced Monday that it has acquired College Abacus, a website that allows prospective students to compare colleges by net price.

Federal law requires colleges and universities to post net price calculators on their websites. Net price calculators tell students how much they’ll have to pay after grants and scholarships. College Abacus draws from the calculators of nearly 4,000 institutions and lets students compare institutions by price. The site was launched as a for-profit in an attempt to recoup “tremendous startup costs,” said Abigail Seldin, the company’s co-founder. The acquisition by ECMC marks the site’s move to nonprofit status.

College Abacus would not have been able to keep its service free for the long-term and succeed as a business, Seldin said. She said gaining nonprofit status was the best way to keep the site free for students. The company's for-profit status also raised some awkward questions. A "frequently asked questions" tab on the company's old website (the for-profit collegeabacus.com, rather than the new nonprofit collegeabacus.org) included the question: "I noticed that you are incorporated as a C-Corp, not a 501c(3). Are you evil?"

With the ECMC's help, the company will develop a widget by the end of the year that will allow any website to host College Abacus's calculator for free, Seldin said.


August 1, 2014

The Massachusetts inspector general on Thursday released a report on spending by Evan Dobelle when he was president at Westfield State University. He was forced out of office in November amid reports of excessive spending, which he said was related to his efforts to raise money. But the new report questions those claims, The Republican reported. For example, in 2010, he spent 17 days at the Bohemian Grove camp (an all-male social club in California), claiming the time there as a fund-raising trip. But auditors could find no evidence that he met with any potential donors. During his six-year presidency, Dobelle spent six months in San Francisco, the report found, and much of that time overlapped with Bohemian Grove activities. The report also notes that Dobelle brought family and friends on a 2013 trip to Cuba with the university's baseball team. Since travel to Cuba is highly regulated by U.S. authorities and the trip was limited to those there in an official capacity, the report said, Dobelle told family members and friends to say that they were adjunct faculty members or assistant coaches. Dobelle and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

August 1, 2014

Adjunct faculty members and their advocates celebrated this week proposed legislation that would help adjunct faculty members quality for the Public Loan Forgiveness Program. The Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, would allow adjunct faculty members who have student debt apply for the loan forgiveness program for public and non-profit employees. Currently, many adjuncts who want full-time work but can't find it can't apply for the program because applicants must work 30 hours or more per week.

"As their budgets have tightened, colleges and universities have become increasingly reliant upon part-time adjunct faculty who face low pay, few if any benefits, and minimal job security,” Durbin said in a statement. “The vast majority of these educators hold advanced degrees, and as a result, bear the heavy burden of student loan debt. It is only right that we expand their access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, a benefit already available to many of their full-time colleagues.”

Adjunct Action, the Service Employees International Union's adjunct organizing campaign, in a news release said the bill, if passed, would have "tremendous impact" on the lives of adjuncts, as the average debt burden for those with advanced degrees is $61,000 by some estimates. Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization, called the bill "very good," and said it was perhaps the first piece of legislation focused exclusively on adjunct faculty.

"The bill will need some grassroots support if it will have any chance of passing, but contingent faculty and their allies are beginning to show that they have that capacity," Maisto said via email. "The best thing about the bill is that it is continuing to carry forward the momentum that has been building over the last few years thanks to the efforts of a lot of activists around the country."

August 1, 2014

Tim Torkildson was until recently a blogger for Nomen Global Language Center, a Utah-based school that teaches international students English. But he says he was fired because of a blog post about homophones, which was interpreted to be about gay people, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. The school's owner, Clarke Woodger, denied that he fired Torkildson for that reason, but also said that "people at this level of English ... may see the ‘homo’ side and think it has something to do with gay sex."

August 1, 2014

The White House summoned officials from higher education, K-12 and business in 10 cities to a meeting Thursday at the U.S. Department of Education. The group was brought together to discuss collaborative strategies on college completion, according to a brief written statement from the department. It was a follow-up to the college "summit" the White House held earlier this year. One area of focus was improving college preparedness and remedial success rates, sources said.

The represented cities and counties were Albany, New York; Baltimore County, Maryland; Camden, New Jersey; Denver, Colorado; Kansas City, Missouri; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Providence, Rhode Island; Rio Grande Valley and McAllen, Texas, Riverside County, California; and Spartanburg County, South Carolina.

August 1, 2014

Four men have been charged with using false identities to apply for student loans in programs in which they were not truly enrolled or eligible to enroll in, The Herald-News reported. They sought a total of $240,000 in loans based on false claims of being students either at Joliet Junior College, Harper College or Elgin Community College, authorities said.


August 1, 2014

The University of Michigan is spending $400,000 in a multi-week effort to move a 65-foot tall, 200-plus year old legacy burr oak tree, MLive reported. The tree is being moved because of a planned $135 million addition to Michigan's business school. The cost of the tree relocation was factored into planning for the expansion.


August 1, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, the Chapman University psychologist David Pincus explains what understanding fractal patterns can tell us about our psychology. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


July 31, 2014

Out-of-pocket contributions to cover the price of college rose in 2014 after three years of decreases, according to the seventh annual installment of a study the lender Sallie Mae released today. Parents in particular are picking up more of tuition costs, and now pay for 30 percent of the total amount from their own income and savings. Higher-income parents contributed a much larger share than their less wealthy peers, the study found. Students paid for 12 percent from their own income and savings. Both parents and students are borrowing less to pay for college. Borrowed funds covered 22 percent of costs, a decline from 27 percent in the two prior years.

July 31, 2014

Senators Ed Markey and Orrin Hatch on Wednesday introduced changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which would require institutions to have policies in place for protecting student data or risk losing federal funding. However, since the bipartisan bill only addresses data contained in the students' educational records, it would not cover clickstream data and other insights collected by ed-tech companies. Senators John Walsh and Mark Kirk co-sponsored the bill.


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