Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 29, 2018

A newly released report from a 13-member task force of academics and experts from think tanks calls to "reform higher education funding to upend the existing skew toward traditional academic education," and to instead allocate more federal financial aid to career education programs.

Opportunity America, a conservative nonprofit group, led the project, which the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution cosponsored. A resulting 136-page report proposed what it calls "bipartisan, budget-neutral recommendations to restore opportunity for working-class communities amid changing demographics."

The report includes several proposals related to higher education, including a call to discourage employers from requiring college degrees for jobs that do not require them. It also backs emerging forms of "flexible" postsecondary education and training, including online and hybrid programs, competency-based education, coding boot camps, training by companies, and apprenticeships. Data-driven quality control is needed for these and other federally subsidized education programs, the task force said, recommending experimentation with alternative forms of accreditation, including outcomes-based and industry-driven options. It also called for removing the ban on a federal student tracking system.

On federal aid, the report said only about 20 percent of the total amount spent on Pell Grants goes toward occupational education. It said several existing federal programs could be trimmed or eliminated -- such as loans for graduate students and tax credits for upper-middle-class students and families -- to redirect more aid toward career education, including for possible short-term Pell Grants, a move that has some bipartisan support in Congress.

"Our vision: low-income and working-class students should be able to use Pell Grants and indeed student loans for noncredit occupational instruction at community colleges, MOOCs, coding boot camps and in-house training offered by employers, among other options, as long as offerings meet with nationally agreed-upon standards of quality assurance," the report said. "We understand the wisdom in starting slowly and carefully, with one or more federal pilots. But we see no reason to hold back in the design of these experiments. This challenge will not be met with timid half measures."

November 29, 2018

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's former top student loan official said Wednesday he was launching an organization to advocate for student borrowers across the country.

Seth Frotman, the former student loans ombudsman at CFPB, publicly resigned from the agency in August and accused top officials in the Trump administration of abandoning responsibilities to consumers.

Frotman said the new organization, the Student Borrower Protection Center, will push for state and city leaders to add new consumer protections for borrowers. And he said the group will campaign for California lawmakers specifically to pass a borrower bill of rights.

November 29, 2018

Eastern Michigan University has hired a new coach and will reinstate its women’s tennis team after a judge ruled that cutting the team violated Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination, the Detroit Free Press reported. Two former athletes sued for the university for violating Title IX after it eliminated the softball, men’s swimming and diving, women’s tennis, and wrestling teams last spring due to budget cuts.

November 29, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Loren Toussaint, professor of psychology at Luther College, explains how forgiving yourself and others can lead to a more harmonious life. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 28, 2018

Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, warned that the growing $1.5 trillion federal student loan balance is a crisis that demands the attention of Congress, colleges, students and parents.

Her speech was to the annual training conference for the department's office of Federal Student Aid, which manages the student loan portfolio. DeVos said just 24 percent of borrowers currently are paying down both principal and interest on their federal loans. "The student loan program is not only burying students in debt, it is also burying taxpayers and it's stealing from future generations," she said, according to her prepared remarks.

DeVos blamed the Obama administration for contributing to the rapid growth of student borrowing, specifically referencing Obama's 2010 move to end federally backed private lending and his emphasis on four-year college degrees. "The parade of programs, repayment options and complex rules serves no one well," said DeVos. "The government monopoly has proven costly to taxpayers and it hasn't been a panacea for students either."

One prominent conservative expert on student aid, however, disagreed with her attempt to link the switch to direct lending to increased debt levels. Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former Republican staffer on Capitol Hill, in a tweet called DeVos's argument "completely illogical" and "utterly false." Delisle linked to a 2017 paper he said rebutted that myth.

In order to bring student borrowing down to more sustainable levels, DeVos called for more support for a "multitude of pathways" for students, for unleashing innovation and for better, more accessible information about higher education programs.

November 28, 2018

Oakland University, in Michigan, is distributing hockey pucks to faculty members and some students for use against active shooters on campus, The Detroit News reported. The idea is that a puck is legal to carry and could cause real damage and be a distraction.

November 28, 2018

Academic researchers within the University of California System voted to form a union affiliated with United Auto Workers, they announced this week. The 5,000-member union of researchers who are not faculty members or postdoctoral fellows filed representation petitions with California’s Public Employment Relations Board in September, with about two-thirds supporting unionization, according to the UAW. The state board must certify the union before collective bargaining can begin.

November 28, 2018

Two community college associations on Wednesday released recommendations for improving coordination between the two-year sector and K-12 schools to improve graduation rates and labor market outcomes.

The report from the Association of Community College Trustees, the American Association of Community Colleges and the Education Strategy Group recognizes successful partnerships as models for other colleges. It also recommends that community colleges focus on three priorities in their collaboration with K-12:

  • Accelerating academic transitions with college course-taking opportunities in high school or by bringing developmental education to high school;
  • Extending navigational supports by strengthening academic counseling and providing clear academic and career pathways for students;
  • Serving as career bridges that guide students from high school to a credential with currency in the labor market.
November 28, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Douglas McKechnie, associate professor of law at the United States Air Force Academy, examines the new way we interact with our political leaders. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 27, 2018

Former students have sued the defunct Mount Ida College, its former board members and some of its representatives, MassLive reported. The suit alleges that they misrepresented how dire the college's finances were before it abruptly closed six months ago. In the past, those sued have said that they were doing their best to keep the college afloat.


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