Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 3:00am

As enrollment at for-profit colleges boomed and the economy weakened, more students took out private loans, according to a report released Tuesday by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics. Between 2003-4 and 2007-8, the percentage of undergraduates with private student loans rose from 5 percent to 14 percent. The increase was steepest at for-profit colleges, where 13 percent of students took out private loans in 2003-4, and 42 percent did so in 2007-8. “In general, the higher the tuition, the higher the rate of private borrowing,” the report’s authors wrote, noting that private nonprofit colleges also saw a sharp increase (from 11 percent of students taking out private loans in 2003-4 to 25 percent in 2007-8).

Many of those students had not exhausted federal student loan programs, which often offer better rates than do private lenders: only 46 percent of private-loan borrowers had borrowed the maximum from Stafford loan programs before turning to private loans. The Education Department strongly recommends that students use federal student loans before turning to private borrowers, and regulations on private borrowing that took effect in 2010 include new disclosure requirements. The NCES data predate the new regulations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 3:00am

Czech officials have released a draft plan for a reform of the nation's universities, and one controversial measure would add tuition charges, The Prague Monitor reported. Many academics say that tuition would discourage some students from enrolling. Other ideas in the draft include linking funding of universities to their quality, and the mergers of smaller institutions.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 3:00am

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities today released a guidance document for how its member institutions should work with third-party vendors. The release follows newly-strengthened federal rules for misrepresentations about degree programs, such as through online or television advertising for prospective students. Colleges can now be held accountable for virtually any false or misleading claim made by a third-party vendor. For-profits often hire outside companies to help in "lead generation" for students, which means the colleges face new vulnerability if those vendors run afoul of the rules.

However, officials at the association said the new guidance document was in the works before the new regulations were devised. Brian Moran, APSCU's interim CEO and president, said for-profits recognize their responsibility in being proactive about the "Wild West of Internet ads" generated by unethical companies. The guidelines show how members should exercise control in their relationships with outside marketing firms, and how they should monitor the advertisements themselves.

Moran said for-profits are not directly responsible for the actions of third-party vendors, but that "we are tarnished by the criticism" of shady advertising. He said the new rules create "enormous exposure" for APSCU's members. "There's lots of danger for the unaware."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 3:00am

The president of Edison State College said Tuesday that he plans to fire the institution's top academic administrator for insubordination and a "complete lack of collegiality" -- citing among other incidents the official's decision to tell the college's accreditor about what became a highly publicized controversy over the potentially improper awarding of credits. In a letter released to local reporters, President Kenneth P. Walker, whose leadership of the Florida college has been enmeshed in controversy for much of the year, told Steve Atkins, the vice president for academic affairs, that he would ask trustees to dismiss Atkins and that Atkins could not come on campus without permission from the human resources office. Walker cited a range of actions that he said showed that Atkins could "no longer serve in the position." In an interview with a local television station as he left the campus Tuesday, Atkins said he had told Edison State officials Saturday that he planned to sue the institution for creating a hostile work environment and retaliating against him.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 3:00am

New England Law Boston announced that it recovered $173,000 that its former controller, Douglas Leman, stole between September 2008 and March 2011, The Boston Globe reported. Law school officials said that they believed the wrongdoing was isolated to one employee. Leman pleaded guilty to the theft last week in federal court.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Hamilton College's Paul Wyckoff examines why holding teachers and students responsible for poor school performance ignores the single greatest factor that determines individual educational outcomes. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 3:00am

The Contra Costa Community College District has angered many unions and labor advocates by announcing plans to reconsider a policy governing the companies hired to work on construction projects, The Contra Costa Times reported. The policy requires local labor to be hired whenever possible, and for prevailing wages to be paid. Critics say that it removes flexibility and denies work to non-union labor, but supporters say that it assures fair treatment for workers and supports the local economy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - 3:00am

As officials and educators from the U.S. and India prepare to gather in Washington this week to discuss collaboration in higher education, a senior officials of the U.S. Commerce Department is criticizing a proposal in India that would allow foreign colleges to set up branch campuses there. Many American colleges and universities (and those from other countries) have been intrigued by the possibility of opening up in India, where demand for higher education far exceeds capacity. But Suresh Kumar, assistant secretary for trade promotion, told The Wall Street Journal that the proposals are seriously flawed. He noted provisions that would require that funds gained through tuition remain in India, and that would require quality to be comparable to main campuses even though the Indian government would be able to require very low tuition rates. "If you suddenly think you can get a Harvard M.B.A. degree in India for $20,000 – it’s just not going to work," he said. "You can’t impose a Western system in India. But India also can’t expect to have the Harvards come here under the current construct."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - 3:00am

With many parts of the country experiencing a wave of anti-tax politics, many community colleges are being especially careful about proposals that would raise local taxes. The Grand Rapids Press reported that Grand Rapids Community College is studying the possibility of going for a tax increase by promising that none of the new revenue would support faculty salaries or pay. In past votes, anti-tax groups have criticized faculty pay (which administrators say is high when factoring in funds professors earn on top of base salary -- a view contested by faculty leaders). So the college may frame the tax increase in a way such that it could not contribute to faculty compensation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - 3:00am

The National Consumer Law Center is criticizing an Obama administration proposal that would allow those collecting debts owed to the government to try to reach debtors via cell phones. Advocates of the proposal say that many of those who owe money don't use land lines, so trying to reach them via cell phones is logical. But the consumer group said that this would create unfair disturbances for debtors, and noted that many of those who owe student loans are facing a terrible job market that limits their ability to repay their loans.

"Giving one of the most abusive industries in the U.S. free rein to inundate people with robo-calls to their cell phones is a terrible idea," said a statement from Margot Saunders, Of Counsel to the National Consumer Law Center. "Cell phone calls can distract people while driving, interrupt them at their jobs, and needlessly impose a cost on struggling families by using up scarce minutes. Debt collectors regularly call land lines to harass and threaten friends, family and even strangers with similar names to the debtor. No one will be safe from receiving abusive calls on their cell phones if this proposal goes through."

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