The North Carolina House of Representatives voted Monday to allow community colleges to opt out of offering low-interest federal loans to their students. The bill, which now goes to the Senate for likely approval, would scale back 2010 legislation requiring all community colleges in the state to participate in the federal loan program by July. Several community college presidents in the state have expressed concern that participation in the federal loan program would put their students at risk of losing federal financial aid if too many students at their institution do not repay their loans. Monday’s vote fell mostly along party lines, with Republicans supporting the opt-out bill and Democrats opposing it. Representative Ray Rapp, a Democrat who voted against the bill, told The News & Observer, “This is a frontal assault on the ability of students to pay for college.” Kennon Briggs, the system's executive vice president, told Inside Higher Ed that last year he had told the state legislature, "We prefer that this be a matter of local decision making and of choice because within our system you have varying degrees of wealth, private support and average income." Still, he clarified that the community college system would follow any directive of the state legislature. If the opt-out bill is signed into law, Briggs said that 24 community colleges in the state would participate in the federal loan program and 34 would not.
Higher Education Quick Takes
Oregon State University strongly defended itself Tuesday against a local politician's highly publicized charges that the university is trying to expel his children because of his political views. Art Robinson, who lost a bid to unseat U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio in November and plans to challenge him again in 2012, began an aggressive Internet campaign Monday (backed by articles in several conservative publications) alleging that Oregon State is acting against his three children, all of whom are in graduate school at the university.
Robinson, who calls the university a "liberal socialist Democrat stronghold," suggests that the university is engaging in "political payback" because of DeFazio's earmarks and other support for Oregon State, and in the process makes a series of charges about "wild drunken parties" and other alleged misbehavior by faculty members at the grad school. In its statement, Oregon State officials said they had investigated Robinson's charges (which they said he began making last fall) and found them "baseless.... It is regrettable that Mr. Robinson continues to spread these false claims, causing concern where none is due. Despite the significant and ongoing attention that the university has given these matters, he has engaged in a pattern of inflammatory and reckless communication riddled with inaccuracies."
Excelencia in Education is releasing later today a report designed to lay out a path to increase Latino degree attainment. The “Roadmap for Ensuring America's Future” recommends ways in which colleges and communities can help 5.5 million more Latino Americans earn degrees to close race and ethnic equity gaps and meet President Obama’s degree attainment goals for 2020.
The University of Southern California today will announce a $200 million gift to rename its College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Los Angeles Times reported. The donation, from David Dornsife, an alumnus, and his wife Dana, comes with no restrictions on how it can be spent, to the delight of President C. L. Max Nikias, who told the newspaper the gift was "transformative." USC plans to use the funds to support faculty hiring, research and fellowships, and its officials said the money would especially bolster the humanities and social sciences, the Times said.
The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday to rewrite the country's patent laws, mostly in ways that strengthen the hand of institutions (including research universities) and companies over individual inventors. Ninety-five senators voted for the measure, which was backed by many higher education groups. The legislation is designed to align the U.S. patent system more closely with those in other major countries, and it would alter the law so a patent for an innovation would be granted to the first inventor to file an application for it, rather than to the creator of the innovation.
Pennsylvania's four-year institutions of higher education would see a nearly 50 percent cut in state support while community colleges would escape relatively unscathed, according to a budget proposal released Tuesday by Governor Tom Corbett. State support for the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education and the four state-related institutions, Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University, all would be reduced by about 50 percent -- from nearly $1.1 billion to $554 million. The state's 14 community colleges would see funding decrease by 1 percent -- from $214 million to $212 million.
"I am here to say that education cannot be the only industry exempt from recession," Corbett, a Republican who is in his first year in office after serving as the state's attorney general. "I ask nothing more of our best educated people than to face up to a hard economic reality. The system in which you have flourished is in trouble." Corbett also noted that increasing levels of state subsidy over the past decades had not done anything to hold down tuition hikes during that period.
The union representing the faculty of the universities of the state system warned that the cuts, if they stand, will result in "massive" tuition increases and threaten to wreak long-term economic damage. Penn State's president, Graham Spanier, called the cut "devastating" and added that the drop in state support that it represents -- from 8 percent to 4 percent of the university's total budget -- "suggests a redefinition of Penn State’s role as Pennsylvania’s land-grant institution."
Lu Hardin, the former president of the University of Central Arkansas, on Monday pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud and money laundering charges, the Associated Press reported. Hardin admitted to forging a letter to the university's board saying that it could approve a $300,000 deferred compensation package for him, a benefit that later was criticized by many as inappropriate. The letter Hardin wrote was submitted in the name of a university vice president and general counsel, both of whom were not involved in the letter. Hardin quit Central Arkansas in 2008 as the controversy over the compensation package grew, and then became president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. He quit that position on Friday.
Seven months after taking the presidency of Capella University and four months into the job, Larry Isaak is leaving the for-profit higher education company. Capella, an online university that focuses on graduate education, issued a cryptic announcement late Friday saying that Isaak has "made the personal decision to step down and will pursue other opportunities." Isaak did not reply to e-mail messages seeking comment, and officials at the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, the regional policy group that Isaak headed before leaving for Capella, could not be reached for comment. The compact had not yet hired a replacement for Isaak, who was chancellor of the North Dakota University System before leading MHEC.