Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 19, 2018

Photo of orange banner saying "No Nazis at Knox," next to a rainbow flag.About 250 people held a protest at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville Saturday as a white supremacist spoke on campus, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported. No arrests were made. Leaders of the Traditionalist Worker Party, in their talks, promoted the idea of a whites-only society where women's purpose is to "raise children" and gay sex is punishable with the death penalty.

February 19, 2018

A protest at the University of Hawaii Maui College last week included the seizure of the main U.S. and Hawaii flags from a flagpole on the campus, Maui News reported. Those protesting objected to the U.S. flag flying on top of the state flag. Officials have pledged to try to get money for two flagpoles so that the flags can be flown at equal heights on separate poles.

February 19, 2018

The share of borrowers graduating with high student loan debt balances has shot up in recent years. And, increasingly, those borrowers are struggling to pay back those loans, according to a Brookings Institution paper released last week.

The paper's authors, Adam Looney and Constantine Yannelis, find that between 2000 and 2014, the share of those borrowers graduating with $50,000 in student loans more than tripled, from 5 percent to 17 percent. Those borrowers now hold the majority of outstanding student loan debt.

The profile of those borrowers has also changed. Before, large-balance borrowers typically attended graduate or professional schools and saw strong salary returns. But today, those borrowers are often parents or independent undergraduate students and see a much higher share of their income go to loan payments. Meanwhile, the share of borrowers taking out those kinds of high loan volumes only for graduate school has declined. And high-balance borrowers were more likely to have attended less-selective institutions and for-profit colleges.

Those borrowers have taken advantage of options like income-driven repayment but are seeing interest accumulate on their loans faster than they can pay them down.

Looney and Yannelis recommend policy makers consider targeted responses, including smaller loan limits and accountability measures for colleges based on outcomes for graduates and parent loans.

February 19, 2018

Zimbabwe's anticorruption agency has arrested Levi Nyagura, vice chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe, the BBC reported. Many have blamed Nyagura for the 2014 awarding of a Ph.D. to Grace Mugabe, wife of the country's then president. Academics and others have said that the doctorate cannot be legitimate since it was awarded just months after Mugabe enrolled, far too short a time to complete that degree.

February 19, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Paolo Forni, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University at Albany, explores why the rite of passage known as puberty is delayed for some. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 16, 2018

Leaders in the U.S. Senate brought four immigration bills to the floor for a vote Thursday, each needing 60 votes to advance. All four failed, leaving a solution for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in serious doubt.

The DACA program, an initiative of the Obama administration, provided temporary protection against deportation as well as work authorization to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants -- including many college-age recipients -- who were brought to the U.S. as children without documentation. DACA recipients, often referred to as Dreamers, have faced uncertainty over their status since President Trump announced in September that he would wind down the program.

Trump said Congress would have time to authorize a long-term fix for the program before a March 5 deadline. But even after a January government shutdown partially driven by demands from progressive Democrats for a DACA solution, lawmakers have failed to reach a deal. The failure to advance legislation Thursday puts DACA recipients in further jeopardy. But Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said in a written statement that now is not the time to walk away.

"Rather, now is the time for Congress to redouble its effort and strive to find a solution that will protect these individuals who were brought to this country as babies or young children. These young people, many of whom are part of our public university community, know of no other home than the United States and our government must deliver a solution for them," McPherson said. "The fact that it is difficult to reach an agreement in Congress pales in comparison to the difficulty that these young people and their families will face if a solution isn’t reached. Congress must reach an agreement that will allow for these young people to continue to flourish and contribute greatly to our nation’s economic growth."

Ted Mitchell, president and CEO of the American Council on Education, offered even stronger words. The Senate's failure is both "bitterly distressing and utterly unfathomable," he said in a written statement.

"Distressing because these are high-achieving and talented young people who seek only to contribute their knowledge, skills, and energy to America, the only country they have ever called home. Unfathomable because there is widespread support nationwide and across the aisle in Congress about the need to protect these outstanding individuals," he said. "We urge congressional leaders in both chambers: Come back to the table, do not allow extraneous issues to hold Dreamers hostage to a political face-off, and redouble your efforts to reach a bipartisan compromise. Not only is it in our nation’s best interest to keep our door open to these outstanding individuals, it is simply unacceptable and morally wrong to do otherwise."

February 16, 2018

Michele Dauber, the Frederick I. Richman Professor of Law Stanford University and a frequent critic of institutions’ responses to sexual assault cases -- including her own -- says someone sent her an envelope containing white powder and a threatening note, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Dauber is currently leading a state effort to recall Santa Clara County judge Aaron Persky, who sentenced former Stanford undergraduate Brock Turner to just six months in prison after a jury found him guilty in a high-profile campus rape case.

Stanford Law School shut down two rooms and sent out a campus alert in response to the note, which was addressed to Dauber’s office and said, “Since you are going to disrobe Persky I’m going to treat you like Emily Doe [the pseudonym used by the victim in the Turner case]. Let’s see what kind of sentencing I get for being a rich white male.”

Investigators later found that the substance the envelope contained was not dangerous. Dauber told the Chronicle she gets angry letters “all the time,” but none that contain suspicious substances. “What’s important is that the recall campaign is continuing,” Dauber said. “The recall campaign will not be intimidated by this kind of inappropriate behavior.”

February 16, 2018

Bipartisan legislation announced Thursday in the U.S. Senate would require college leaders -- and at least one member of the institution's governing board -- to personally review all sexual misconduct claims involving university employees reported within a calendar year.

Colleges and universities would be required to submit annual certification affirming that those reviews had taken place and that top college officials hadn't improperly influenced any ongoing investigations.

The bill is backed by Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both Michigan Democrats, as well as Senator John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who is the second-highest-ranking GOP senator. Senators said the legislation, dubbed the ALERT Act, was a response to the uncovering of abuses by Larry Nassar, the former Olympics gymnastics doctor and faculty member at Michigan State University, and Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University.

“Our colleges and universities must do more to protect the safety of our children, and we must hold them accountable when they fail,” Peters said in a written statement. “Too many young people have suffered appalling harm from abusers who should have been stopped by university officials. I’m introducing this legislation to ensure that ‘I didn’t know’ will never again be an excuse for permitting monstrous abuse to continue under the watch of the officials we trust to look after our children.”​

February 16, 2018

Negotiators failed to reach consensus Thursday on new language for borrower-defense regulations, clearing the way for the U.S. Department of Education to craft its own version of regulations designed to protect defrauded student borrowers.

The Obama administration crafted the borrower-defense rule to establish a national standard for student fraud claims after the collapse of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech led to a flood of loan-relief claims. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos blocked the rule from going into effect last year and said she would rewrite the regulations to better balance the concerns of students, taxpayers and institutions.

The department was required by law to go through the negotiated rule-making process, in which a panel representing various higher-ed interest groups attempts to seek consensus on the details of a new rule. Without negotiators reaching consensus, the department will aim to issue its own proposed rule by Nov. 1. Members of the public will have another opportunity to comment on the proposed regulation at that point.

February 16, 2018

Brown University on Thursday announced a $50 million gift to its medical school. The funds will support endowed chairs and efforts focused on using biomedical research to develop cures and treatments for diseases.



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