Businesses owned by two trustees of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board were awarded contracts for nearly $14 million from system universities in the last five years, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. Guido Pichini, one of the trustees, said that there was nothing wrong with the practice. "They went through the bidding process without me. I don’t oversee any of the contracts," he said. Celestino Pennoni, the other trustee, did not respond to requests for comment.
Higher Education Quick Takes
On the last business day before the interest rate was scheduled to double on new federally subsidized student loans, Congress approved a bill to keep the interest rate at 3.4 percent for another year. The extension, which cost about $6 billion, was included as part of a highway bill that passed both houses with large majorities.
However, some changes to the student loan program took effect Sunday. Subsidized loans for graduate students, cut last August in the deal to increase the federal debt ceiling, are no longer available. And the "grace period" on subsidized undergraduate loans -- under which the government paid the interest for six months after students left college -- has been eliminated as well.
Also, students receiving Pell Grants lose eligibility after 12 semesters, not 18 -- including those already in the program who have passed the limit.
International applications at top universities in Hong Kong are seeing sharp increases, The New York Times reported. Foreign applications are up 55 percent at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, 50 percent at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and 42 percent at the University of Hong Kong. (Most universities in Hong Kong keep separate statistics for those from Hong Kong, from the rest of China, and the rest of the world, so these are figures for that latter category.)
The 2012 platform of the Texas Republican Party contains a number of provisions raising eyebrows among Texas academics. For instance, the platform says, "We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning), which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority." With regard to college tuition, the platform wants to end the policy (endorsed by Governor Rick Perry in the Republican primaries) of granting in-state tuition rates to some students who lack the legal documentation to live in the United States. And the platform wants "merit-based" admissions for all public colleges, and seeks to eliminate the "10 percent" plan -- which admits students from the top 10 percent of high school classes and which has helped to diversify Texas colleges.
The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Thursday to uphold most parts of the Affordable Care Act, the health care law passed in 2010, means that several parts of the law applicable to colleges will remain in place. College health plans will still have to comply with more stringent regulations, including the eventual elimination of lifetime benefit caps, following rules put forward in March. And one of the law's most controversial features -- the requirement that employers include contraception as a fully covered preventive care measure with no cost-sharing -- will also stay in place. Several Roman Catholic and evangelical Christian colleges have sued over the requirement, saying it interferes with their right to practice their religion. Those cases could eventually end up before the Supreme Court in a later term.
The Illinois Labor Relations Board has certified the University of Illinois at Chicago United Faculty Union as the exclusive bargaining representative (through two units) of full-time tenured/tenure-track faculty members, and of full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members. The union originally wanted to represent both groups in the same unit, but the university objected. After several rounds of legal fighting, the union filed for -- and now has won recognition -- for two separate units. United Faculty is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors.
New Jersey legislators on Thursday approved a plan that would merge most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey into Rutgers University, and that would form a partnership (though short of a full merger) between Rutgers at Camden and Rowan University, The Star-Ledger reported. Governor Chris Christie has pushed for the changes (and a full merger between Rutgers-Camden and Rowan). but many have questioned the latter proposal in particular.
As the Waldo Canyon fire continues to ravage Colorado Springs, some area colleges are taking steps to protect students and personnel against potential harm and provide support for those who have already been affected. According to a news release posted late Wednesday night, the U.S. Air Force Academy has relocated about 550 cadets off its grounds -- about 200 summer academics cadets moved to the nearby University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and the other 350 cadets who were participating in training programs were released to their local sponsor families. In-processing for class of 2016 cadets, slated to begin Thursday, will continue as scheduled, but all other base operations are closed. According to releases from earlier in the day, no structures on campus are threatened by the fire. Residents from two housing areas were ordered to evacuate Tuesday as a precaution due to the unpredictability of the fire.
Residence halls at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs -- which accepted some Air Force Academy evacuees -- are at capacity and can no longer accept evacuees, according to an update posted Thursday morning on the university’s website. Classes, activities and offices continue to operate on normal schedules. The Air Force Academy and another area college, Pikes Peak Community College, have also found ways to contribute to the firefighting effort. The academy canceled its normal cadet flying training and opened its airfield for Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management helicopter operations.
Pikes Peak's student government organized a donation drive for evacuees and was collecting items -- they requested snack items, clothing in good condition, cereal, quick meal items and pet food -- all day Tuesday and Wednesday.
A federal official has recommended that the Federal Emergency Management Agency reverse its decision to provide tens of millions of dollars to help the University of Iowa replace three buildings that were damaged in 2008 flooding, The Gazette of Cedar Rapids reported. The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an audit this week recommending that Homeland Security officials not provide $83 million in funds to replace three buildings that have been part of the university's efforts to rebuild in the wake of devastating floods. The audit was prompted by a complaint that FEMA should have repaired rather than replaced the buildings. Iowa officials said they were hopeful that Homeland Security administrators would reject the inspector general's recommendation, the newspaper reported.