Nelnet announced on Friday that it had agreed to settle a federal False Claims Act lawsuit that accused the company (along with other student loan providers) of taking advantage of a loophole in federal law to derive hundreds of millions of dollars in excess federal subsidies. The company, without admitting liability, tentatively agreed to pay $55 million to settle claims by a former federal worker that Nelnet, Sallie Mae, and others had illegally profited from a provision in federal law that allowed them to continue to make loans for which they were guaranteed an interest rate return of 9.5 percent. It was not clear as of Sunday if other lenders in the case had reached similar settlements, but the Journal-Star of Lincoln, Neb., reported that the judge in the case had issued an order Friday canceling a trial that was set to begin tomorrow.
Higher Education Quick Takes
The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday ordered raises of 7 percent for the past academic year (awarded retroactively) and 4 percent for the new academic year for faculty members at Chadron State, Peru State and Wayne State Colleges, The Omaha World-Herald reported. The court ruled because of an impasse between the faculty union, affiliated with the National Education Association, which has been pushing for the raises, and the state college system, which said that they couldn't be afforded. The Supreme Court ruling upheld findings of the state's Commission on Industrial Relations, which had called for the raises to be awarded. State college officials said that paying for the raises could lead to serious budget cuts, potentially including layoffs.
Johns Hopkins University, which has been among the more prestigious and wealthy private universities not to operate with need-blind admissions (under which undergraduate applicants are admitted without regard to financial need) is moving in that direction. In a profile of Ronald Daniels, the new president of Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun noted that he asked the university's admissions and financial aid offices to operate on a need-blind fashion in admissions this year, and that the institution was able to do so. The university is hoping to announce a shift to operating under such a system as a matter of official policy.
With websites to rank faculty members or to gamble on grades, it was only a matter of time. A new website -- The Should I Skip Class Today? Calculator -- offers students a way to determine the relative risks of sleeping in. While the calculator claims to offer a vetted formula, many of the questions would seem to be those even a C student might consider. For instance, some of the information students provide to get their risk level include queries on whether there is a daily quiz or an attendance policy. The site comes complete with testimonials from students (with only their first names). Caitlyn from the University of Georgia is quoted as saying, "I love this thing! It is so cool! I'm totally going to use it daily!" In the FAQ, the site addresses the ethical issue that might occur to some faculty members. In response to the statement "Skipping class is wrong. This should be taken down," the website says "Censorship is wrong. You should be taken down."
Purdue University has rejected the idea of outsourcing the work currently done by 700 custodians, the Associated Press reported. The university had been considering the move to save money, and some on the campus protested the idea. University officials said that a review determined that the quality of work couldn't be matched by a private company and that the university also benefits in intangible ways from the connections between the workers and the institution.
Research presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association by the counseling services director at Hofstra University provides additional evidence that rates of depression are rising among college students, Web MD reported. The research compared student records of those who sought counseling at a private university and found that between 1997 and 2009, the share of those diagnosed with moderate to severe depression increased to 41 percent, from 34 percent. In addition, the percentage of students seeking counseling who are using medications for depression, anxiety and ADHD increased to 24 percent, from 11 percent.
Members of the nation's largest union of postdoctoral scientists overwhelmingly ratified its first-ever contract Wednesday with the University of California, which was tentatively agreed to last month. The contract between the Postdoctoral Researchers Organize/United Auto Workers union and the university will tie the researchers' annual compensation to the federal government's pay scale for postdocs at the National Institutes of Health and promise annual increases of between 1.5 percent and 3 percent, depending on the size of their stipends, between 2010 and 2015. The contract could also require postdocs to make some contributions to their health premiums in 2012 and beyond. The union, which represents an estimated 10 percent of the postdoctoral researchers in the United States, struggled to win recognition but ultimately did so in 2008.
The American Council on Education and other higher education groups urged federal health officials Thursday to clarify that comprehensive student health plans would qualify as "minimum essential coverage" under the recently enacted health care reform law. In a letter signed by 13 groups, ACE asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy-Ann DeParle, head of the White House health reform office, to clarify in regulation that student health plans would not be considered expensive individual plans in a way that could force their price to soar. The groups also asked that the plans be exempted from provisions in the law that could require them to change their design and reach.
The National Federation of the Blind Thursday gave Blackboard, the e-learning giant, its top accessibility certification. Blackboard is the first learning-management company to earn the certification, although federation spokesman Chris Danielsen says the group had not tested all of Blackboard's competitors. Given that learning-management systems are so critical to modern education, it started working with Blackboard; the company was able to make a number of accessibility improvements in its latest version, released in the spring. Since Blackboard is by far the biggest player in the learning-management market, the federation's stamp of approval represents a big step for the visually impaired in an age when such online tools have become crucial even to brick-and-mortar institutions, Danielsen says.
The University of North Carolina System will allow all students to opt out of abortion coverage in their health insurance plan, The News & Observer reported. The move follows criticism from anti-abortion groups that students were being forced to have abortion coverage and to pay for others' abortions. University officials said that because of the way the plan's budget is set up, the premiums don't actually pay for specific procedures, and that declining abortion coverage will not affect fees. But students will now be given the choice to reject coverage for their own plans.