Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 3:00am

Six weeks have passed since the comment period closed on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ proposed rules for how student health plans provided by colleges and universities would be affected by the health care overhaul. But Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat from West Virginia and chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, waited until Friday to weigh in with a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that reiterated his call for protecting students with pre-existing conditions and guarding against dollar limits on care, and for avoiding unexpected dropped coverage because of clerical errors. But he also went to great lengths to call out insurance companies that say student health plans should not be subject to that law because their market is a volatile one with unique administrative costs.

Rockefeller’s letter, which references various articles and other research, focuses mostly on minimum medical loss ratios, or the percentage of every consumer’s dollar that goes toward actual health care rather than administrative costs. The standard ratio ranges from 80 to 85 percent, but as data the senator cites in his letter show, the ratios for the largest student health plans range from 44 to 94 percent – and the fact that many carriers exceed the 80-percent threshold undercuts their protests, he says.

It’s not surprising to see the pro-Affordable Care Act senator trying to make sure Sebelius isn’t swayed by the insurers’ comments, said Bryan A. Liang, executive director of the Institute of Health Law Studies at the California Western School of Law. This allows Rockefeller to not only make a clear statement after the comment dust settled, but also remind Sebelius that she too has called on insurers to embrace health care reform. The letter is also particularly timely as more states are applying for ACA waivers, Liang said. Steven M. Bloom, director of federal relations for the American Council on Education, said there’s nothing in the letter that ACE would disagree with; in its own comments ACE took a more ambivalent position on the medical loss ratios, recommending that HHS follow guidance from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 3:00am

A report released Monday by the Anti-Defamation League says that Youth for Western Civilization -- a group that has formed several campus chapters -- "straddles the line between mainstream and extreme views and has close ties to white supremacists." The report says that the group's claimed love of Western civilization really appears to be a devotion to "white culture," with hostility to many minority groups. A statement from Youth for Western Civilization criticized the ADL report, saying that it "implicitly acknowledges that no one involved in YWC has said anything 'racist' when they accuse us of 'avoid[ing] using overtly bigoted rhetoric' in favor of 'euphemistic language' to make our points." The reply goes on to say that the "smears" in the report are "frivolous."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 3:00am

The amount of science and engineering research space at research-performing colleges and universities grew by 4 percent between FY 2007 and FY 2009, from 188 million to 196 million net assignable square feet, according to the National Science Foundation's biennial Survey of Science and Engineering Research Facilities. The growth follows relatively flat space availability in previous surveys.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 3:00am

The Illinois General Assembly is poised to pass legislation that would bar students at for-profit colleges in the state from receiving funds from the state's main need-based grant program. The measure, Senate Bill 1773, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate last month, but in a form that would have allowed funds to flow to students at for-profit institutions. But with lawmakers facing the need for cuts in the Monetary Award Program, leaders in the state House amended the legislation to say that the Illinois Student Aid Commission "may not make grants to applicants enrolled at for-profit institutions." "Shouldn't our priority be public higher education, which is distressed right now?" Rep. Dan Brady, a Republican legislator, told The News-Gazette of Springfield. Officials of for-profit colleges in the state said that should it pass the House and survive a conference committee with Illinois's Senate, the legislation would strip $25 million in grants from about 8,000 students. "The students at our schools depend on these funds to obtain their college educations, and without them, they are left with a lifetime of minimum wage jobs and a loss of hope for a better future," Lawrence Schumacher, president of Northwestern College, wrote in a letter to legislators.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 3:00am

Montclair State University has sued Oracle over what the university calls a failed attempt to install an enterprise system -- a mess that Montclair says has cost it more than $20 million beyond original estimates, IDG News reported. The article describes the university's claims of missed deadlines, cost overruns and poor communication. Oracle did not respond to requests for comment.

Monday, May 23, 2011 - 3:00am

A Bloomberg article explores the way some agents in China may be exploiting students who are trying to enroll at colleges in the United States. The main example in the article is a student who was encouraged by an agent (paid $5,000) to enroll at the University of Connecticut, based on a description of the main UConn campus. The student didn't realize that he was actually enrolling at a small branch campus. The article also noted links between some agents and real estate developers who want to get foreign students to live in their apartments.

Monday, May 23, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Dana Washington of Lock Haven University explains how the urge to write is rooted in the desire to create something more enduring than ourselves. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, May 23, 2011 - 3:00am

The U.S. Education Department, citing a diminished budget, has called off the competition for new awards in the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Award program, which supports dissertation research abroad. In September, the department invited applications for the program, expressing the hope that it might have $5.8 million, but last week the department announced that no funds would be available for new grants.

Monday, May 23, 2011 - 3:00am

California Governor Jerry Brown last week proposed -- as part of a new round of state budget cuts -- that the California Postsecondary Education Commission be eliminated. The governor's budget proposal states that the elimination "would have little programmatic impact as the functions it performs are either advisory in nature or can be performed by other agencies." California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, noted concerns by some analysts that California's three massive higher education systems can't be expected to coordinate among themselves without some additional body charged with reviewing new campuses or major programs, and analyzing statewide trends.

Monday, May 23, 2011 - 3:00am

The U.S. State Department announced Friday that it was changing the visa rules for Iranian students that have limited them to "single entry" visas, which have forced any Iranian student who travels outside the United States to reapply for a new visa. The multiple-entry visas for which Iranian students can now apply will allow them to travel abroad and return to their studies in the United States. "This change will allow Iranian students and exchange visitors to travel more easily, furthering our goal of promoting the free flow of information and ideas. This important decision is being taken as the global community witnesses the Iranian government’s increasing censorship and isolation of its own people," said a statement from the State Department.

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