Not all Republican presidential candidates question the wisdom of encouraging Americans to seek higher education. Newt Gingrich said Tuesday that President Obama's statements urging all Americans to get at least one year of postsecondary education are "perfectly reasonable," The Hill reported. Gingrich's comments -- on the "Today" show -- differed sharply from those of Rick Santorum, who has been calling President Obama "a snob" for urging all Americans to get some higher education. Gingrich said, "Everybody in America is going to have to get re-educated all the time because jobs are going to change, technology is going to change, and if we're going to compete in the world market, we both have to have the best equipment and the best training."
Higher Education Quick Takes
Northeastern University announced Tuesday that, based on student concerns, it will not consider Chick-Fil-A for a spot in the student union, The Boston Globe reported. The Student Senate recommended the action Monday, based on reports that Chick-Fil-A has donated heavily to groups that lobby against measures that promote equity for gay people. The company did not respond to requests for comment, but has in the past denied being opposed to any groups.
The House of Representatives voted 303-114 Tuesday to repeal the Education Department's credit hour and state authorization regulations, with 69 Democrats joining the all of the chamber's Republicans to back the bill. Higher education groups cheered the House's actions, but the next step for the measure is unclear.
While the bill might be able to attract enough Democratic support in the Senate to become law, the Obama administration has said it strongly opposes any attempt to repeal the regulations, and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has waged a high-profile fight against for-profit colleges. The state authorization and credit hour rules apply to nonprofit, public and for-profit institutions, but Democrats who voted against the measure characterized it as an effort to erode consumer protections.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday that the government would join a lawsuit in which former employees of American Commercial College, Inc., allege that the for-profit college chain falsely asserted its compliance with federal requirements that it derive at least 10 percent of its revenues from sources other than federal student aid. The class action was brought under the federal False Claims Act, which allows individuals to bring lawsuits on behalf of the federal government, claiming that the defendants have defrauded the treasury of funds and hoping to be joined by the U.S. Justice Department. The plaintiff shares in any financial penalties, which can include trebled damages.
American Commercial College, Inc., operates five campuses in Texas and one in Louisiana.
For-profit higher education providers have been a target of numerous False Claims Act lawsuits, and the federal government has joined several of them, including a high-profile case involving Education Management Corp. Some have speculated that the Obama administration -- which has toughened its oversight of the career college sector through regulation -- is increasingly turning to the courts to do so as well.
In announcing Tuesday's intervention, Tony West, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s civil division, said: “Colleges and universities that receive federal funds must be honest with the government and follow the law.... We will use the False Claims Act and other tools to protect students and taxpayers from for-profit institutions that fail to measure up to that standard.”
California's community colleges need a sharper, more focused set of goals and the state needs a stronger body to oversee the institutions, a bipartisan panel focused on improving state programs said in a report Tuesday. The Little Hoover Commission argued that the state's scores of two-year institutions suffer because they try to do too many things with too few resources, and that Californians would be better off if the colleges focused on student success in three main areas: basic skills education, career technical education, and preparation for transfer to four-year institutions. It also calls for making the colleges' chancellor's office an independent agency with more authority and responsibility, and for allocating funds to community colleges in ways that encourage and reward student success.
Smith College students and alumnae have come up with a creative response to an alumna's letter to The Sophian, the student newspaper, questioning efforts over the last decade to recruit more low-income and minority students. The letter (currently removed from the newspaper's website) suggested that the college has lowered its standards and abandoned a tradition in which wealthy students with "cashmere coats and pearls" were educated at the college and then went on to become wealthy donors. In response, Smith students have started posting their stories on a new blog called Pearls and Cashmere. Many of the women talk about how they do not fit the stereotypes of the past, and are proud of what Smith has become. Their stories stress that strong academics and diversity are by no means incompatible. And while the women pose in nontraditional ways for the photos that accompany their stories, many put on their pearls.
The letter that set off the fracas said that Smith attracts lesbians, low-income students and those who can't get into the Ivies. But the women who tell their stories on the blog -- white and minority, lesbian and straight -- talk about what they gained from enrolling at Smith, and at a more diverse Smith.
Birgitta Hendron from Washington state and Wiame El Bouhali from Morocco posted together: "Both of us applied to Smith early decision, both of us speak four languages (though not the same four), both of us are products of public school systems on two different continents. Without Smith, Wiame never would have had the chance to study the liberal arts (or build a tornado simulator). Without Smith, Birgitta never would have taken Russian -- the language that has become her passion. In addition to a world-class education and brilliant professors and peers, Smith has given us courage, perspective and confidence. It’s also given us each other -- not lesbians, not Ivy League rejects, but best friends."
Public and private colleges alike saw a steady rise in the proportion of revenues they derived from tuition from 1999 to 2009, the Government Accountability Office said in a report Monday. The report, which examined financial and other data provided by institutions, found that net tuition and fees rose to 22 from 16 percent of total revenue at public colleges and universities, and to 40 from 29 percent at private nonprofit institutions.
Republicans in the California Senate on Monday blocked a vote to confirm Herbert L. Carter for a second term of the California State University Board of Trustees, forcing him to step down, The Los Angeles Times reported. Carter, chair of the board, had been nominated for a new term by Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat. Republicans said that they objected to Carter's support for a $400,000 pay package for the new president of San Diego State University, a package that set off a large debate in the state about compensation for public university presidents. Many Democrats (including Governor Brown) have also raised questions about pay for university presidents, but said that Carter had done a good job as chair despite their disagreements with him on that issue.
WASHINGTON -- President Obama continues to make college affordability a key theme of his domestic policy agenda, but to tailor his message to his audience of the moment. On Monday, addressing the members of the National Governors Association, the president reiterated his views -- highlighted in last month's State of the Union address -- that higher education is increasingly important for individual Americans and for the country's economic future, and that rising prices threaten to put a postsecondary education out of reach for many. But while his speeches to campus leaders have focused on colleges' responsibility to contain their own costs and the prices they charge students (and federal carrots and sticks he might use to elicit that behavior), he used his appearance before the governors to reiterate his belief that states share significant culpability for driving up tuition prices.
"Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state than the decisions you make about where to invest," President Obama said in urging the governors to "invest more in education." Describing the college affordability problem as a "shared responsibility," he said the administration has sought to do its part by significantly upping federal spending on Pell Grants and other student financial aid. But "[w]e can't just keep on, at the federal level, subsidizing skyrocketing tuition. If tuition is going up faster than inflation -- faster, actually, than health care costs -- then no matter how much we subsidize it, sooner or later we are going to run out of money. So everybody else is going to have to do their part as well."
The president repeated that he had put colleges and universities "on notice" that "if they are not taking some concrete steps to prevent tuition from going up, then federal funding from taxpayers is going to go down." But the states have to do their part by "making higher education a higher priority in your budgets," the president said. "Over two-thirds of students attend public colleges and universities where, traditionally, tuition has been affordable because of state investments.... But more than 40 states have cut funding for higher education over the past year. And this is just the peak of what has been a long-term trend in reduced state support for higher education. And state budget cuts have been among the largest factor in tuition hikes at public colleges over the past decade. So my administration can do more, Congress can do more, colleges have to do more. But unless all of you also do more, this problem will not get solved."
Robert L. Moran, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said his members were heartened by the president's remarks. They signal, he said, that "just as he's keeping our feet to the fire" on controlling public colleges' costs and prices, "he's not backing off the message that he needs to keep the fire on the feet of the state legislators and governors, too, because if state support goes down, tuition goes up." The president has comparatively little sway over state policies or priorities, Moran said, so his rhetoric and use of the bully pulpit matters.
(Side note: While he did so subtly, the president appeared to directly rebut criticism that a potential opponent in November, Rick Santorum, aimed at Obama over the weekend. Santorum called the president a "snob" for, he said, suggesting that all Americans should go to college, saying that there are "good, decent men and women" proud that their skills were "not taught by some liberal college professor." Without identifying the former Republican senator, Obama told the governors that "[w]hen I speak about higher education, we’re not just talking about a four-year degree. We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.")