Latest Senate Funding Bill Increases Pell Grants, Extends ACICS Accreditation

The Senate Committee on Appropriations has approved the Fiscal Year 2018 Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Bill, which as part of its overall package, will dedicate $68.3 billion in funding to the U.S. Department of Education. A previous proposal by President Trump, to cut spending from the Education Department, was denied when the Senate Subcommittee voted unanimously to increase overall education spending to the tune of $29 million.

More specifically, the bill promotes higher education affordability with a discretionary increase in Pell grants, from $5,920 to $6,020—the first in over 10 years. According to the Senate Committee, “This discretionary increase ensures the maximum award will continue to increase next school year to help students keep up with rising costs and reduce the need for student loans.”

The proposed bill also adds funding to the Year-Round Pell Program, which allows students to receive up to 150 percent of grants over a whole year, not just the fall and spring semesters. The new grant is designed to add $1,600 annually to allow students to pursue higher education year-round, in hopes of finishing up degree programs faster. The bill also outlines a plan to restore Pell aid for defrauded students and those attending colleges or universities that have closed.

Also, as reported by Inside Higher Ed, the 269 institutions accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools have been granted an additional 18-month extension to find new accreditors. ACICS is an accrediting agency that mostly recognizes for-profit schools. In December of 2016, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would no longer recognize ACICS, and gave schools 18 months to find valid accreditation. Under the new funding bill, schools recognized by ACICS now have 36 months, from December of 2016, to find new accreditation.

Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Roy Blunt said, “The bill also continues building on our efforts to combat the opioid epidemic and make college more affordable. I urge all of my Senate colleagues to support this measure when it reaches the floor.” The bill awaits a final vote from the entire U.S. Senate.

 

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Devos Selects For-Profit Administrator as Chief Enforcement Officer

Former for-profit college official, Julian Schmoke, has been hired by the Department of Education to become its new chief enforcement officer for higher education, Politico reports. Essentially, Schmoke’s job will be investigating and protecting students from fraudulent practices by higher education institutions. Schmoke was formerly employed by Devry University, the for-profit institution that was forced to pay over $100 million last year by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Education on charges that it committed the type of fraud that Schmoke’s department will now be investigating.

Ethics experts and Democrats have become increasingly frustrated with the Betsy Devos administration and its ties to the for-profit, higher education industry. Earlier this year, the DOE was sued by 18 states for not enforcing the Borrower Defense rule. The rule protects students from predatory loans seen as fraudulent and was rescinded by the department in July, citing a federal lawsuit—filed by a group of for-profit colleges.

In June, the DOE hired A. Wayne Johnson, the CEO of a private student lending company, to head the department’s $1.3 trillion federal student loan system. Devos said in a statement, “[Johnson] will bring a unique combination of CEO-level operating skills and an in-depth understanding of the needs and issues associated with student loan borrowers and their families.” Former head of federal student aid, James Runcie, resigned in May saying he could not “in good conscience continue to be accountable as Chief Operating Officer given the risk associated with the current environment at the [Education] Department.”

In a letter to Education Secretary Devos and A Wayne. Johnson, Senate Democrats urged Devos to appoint a chief enforcement officer that has “relevant experience in consumer protection or litigation, managing attorneys, and conducting investigations with the highest ethical standards.”  Schmoke previously oversaw Devry University’s science and engineering school, and currently serves as the director of operations at a tech school in Georgia. According to Politico, Johnson wrote in an email, “Julian possesses over 16 years of experience in higher education leadership with extensive knowledge in the development and implementation of strategies for achieving student success, higher education policy and evaluation of academic programs.” The Department of Education and Schmoke have not responded to requests for comment from Politico.

 

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Female Presidents at Doctoral Research Universities Decreasing

New research from Higher Education Publications, Inc., indicates that the number of women in presidential positions at the major research universities is decreasing. The analysis tracked presidents of the 115 colleges and universities in the United States that are Carnegie classified as doctoral research, highest activity institutions. Carnegie classified doctoral institutions include schools that award at least 20 research/doctoral degrees during a given year, such as Princeton, Stanford and Michigan.

The report, based on information from the HigherEd Direct Database, examined Carnegie classified doctoral universities from 1988 to the present. Currently, 16 of the 115, or just under 14% of institutions listed, have female presidents. The number of women in chief executive positions peaked from 2009 through 2012, when 23 of the 115 schools had women as presidents. The lowest year for female presidents was in 1994, with only 4 female and 111 male presidents.

Data from the study shows significant growth in the number of female presidents from 1988 to 2012, when it topped out at 20%. Since then, the percentage of females in presidential positions at doctoral universities has trended downward, to under 14%.

Female presidents chart

Conversely, according to a report by the American Council on Education, 30% of all colleges and universities in the U.S. have female presidents, with the most (36%) at associate institutions. The ACE Report also shows continuous growth in the percentage of female presidents in the last 30 years, from 9.5 % in 1986 to 30% in 2016.

HEP’s Research shows that the average tenure of male presidents is longer than that of female presidents. On average, male presidents serve for 5.96 years at doctoral research institutions, while females serve for an average of 4.87 years. The longest serving tenure for a female president in the study was a 15-year tenure by Dr. Shirly Kenny, of SUNY Stony Brook. The longest serving male is Dr. John Hitt, who has been at the University of Central Florida for the past 25 years.

Tenure Chart

While the percentage of women in presidential positions at colleges and universities has grown in the last thirty years, research from Higher Education Publications, Inc. indicates a major disparity between top research institutions and other higher education institutions. While the Ivy league has made progress in gender diversity—four out of the eight schools are run by females—overall, just under 14% of college presidents are female at top doctoral research institutions, while the rest of the country is at 30%.

 

 

ACE’s “American College President Study 2017”: http://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Pages/American-College-President-Study.aspx

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Debt Levels Growing for Student Borrowers

Currently, over 40 percent of student loan borrowers leaving college owe at least $20,000. That’s double, up from 20 percent in the last decade. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a study that analyzed borrowers who began repaying loans from 2002 to 2014, and looked at their repayment status through 2016. The data suggests that:

  • At least 40 percent of borrowers owe over $20,000.
  • Thirty percent of student loan borrowers are behind their loan balances after five years in repayment.
  • 50 percent of student loan borrowers are over 34 when they start repaying their loans
  • 60 percent of those who cannot reduce their balances are delinquent.

The report also indicates growth in awareness among private companies who offer incentives to employees with student debt. Employers are increasingly helping their employees who borrowed by offering repayment assistance and other programs designed to help employees in debt. The information released seems to back up the issue of growing student loan debt in the United States.

The director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray said, “The bureau’s research shows that people are taking on more student debt later in life and having a tougher time paying it back.” At the end of the first quarter of 2017, outstanding student loan balances were over $1.3 trillion, up $34 billion from the last quarter of 2016.

DHS International Students

DHS Proposal May Drastically Affect International Students

The Washington Post reports that the Department of Homeland Security has drafted a preliminary proposal that would require international students to reapply annually for permission to study in the United States. The proposal could hamper the admission of foreign students to colleges and universities by adding additional costs, paperwork and an annual refiling of status to those seeking education in America.

In a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 12 higher education associations and organizations noted “serious concern” with the proposed changes. “When faced with up to a 400 percent increase in fees, redundant forms, and restrictive validity periods, an applicant will likely opt to pursue their studies elsewhere,” the letter reads.

It also points to the fact that global competition is increasing for international students with “countries like Canada and Germany publicly advertising their welcoming policies in an attempt to become a destination of choice. It is imperative that our country’s visa issuance procedures and duration of stay policies are efficient and streamlined, not burdensome and prohibitive.”

Across the country, international students add to a university’s global experience, but they also pay more expensive out-of-state tuition, providing considerable financial incentives to U.S. colleges and universities by helping those institutions struggling with overall funding. The letter points out that “though international students make up only five percent of postsecondary students in the country, they contributed $32 billion to the U.S. economy and supported more than 400,000 jobs just in the last academic year alone.”

Department of Homeland Security officials say the proposal seeks to enhance national security by closely monitoring foreign students. According to The Washington Post, some at DHS believe that student visas are too open-ended in how they allow students to transfer from one program to another. Officials say the plan is still in its initial stages and could require regulatory changes that would take a minimum of 18 months. DHS spokesman David Lapan said, “DHS is exploring a variety of measures that would ensure that our immigration programs—including programs for international students studying in the United States—operate in a manner that promotes the national interest, enhances national security and public safety and ensures the integrity of our immigration system.”

Non-traditional Student

“Non-Traditional” Students the New Majority

The demographic profile of students at US colleges and universities has changed dramatically in the past decade. The majority of college students have shifted to an older, more diversified pool who are seeking degrees while juggling other responsibilities, such as work and family commitments. They are known as non-traditional students and are now the majority of students attending college.

Certain characteristics of “non-traditional” students:

  • 25 or older when they finished their bachelor’s degree
  • Received a GED or equivalent
  • Employed full time while in school
  • Enrolled as a part-time student while pursuing a degree
  • Financially independent of parents

According to a 2012 report by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, non-traditional students have been inadequately served by higher education institutions, despite their growing numbers. A study by US News showed that non-traditional students cited a lack of scheduling flexibility and personalized pace of instruction as variables that negatively affected their learning experience.

Ways higher education institutions are adapting to “non-traditional students”:

  • Increase in online learning programs
  • Accelerated Course Formats
  • Wider availability of services and scheduling
  • Multiple options for financial aid and billing

As jobs and careers continue to change, so too will the integration of programs that offer multiple options of learning to the evolving student in higher education.

 

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Department of Education

18 States Sue Department of Education

18 democratic attorneys general from states across the country have filed a lawsuit against the Education Department and Secretary Devos to enforce a ruling on protecting students from predatory loans. “The borrower defense” rule was installed by the Obama administration to allow students who felt they were defrauded to get their student loans potentially forgiven. Last month, the Education Department rescinded the “borrower defense rule” before it went into effect in July, citing a federal lawsuit filed by a group of for-profit colleges against the law.

The lawsuit filed Thursday argues that Devos broke federal rules by stopping the ruling without enough public input or justification.  The suit also argues that for-profit schools benefit from taxpayer funded loans while “the students themselves struggle under the burden of a student loan debt they cannot afford” after working towards degrees “that may be of questionable value to them.” According to Inside Higher Ed, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy said the Trump administration and Devos have sided with the for-profit sector over students since “day one.”

The education secretary criticized the rule, saying it “puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs” and called it “a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools.”  A spokeswoman for Devos said the lawsuit is “ideologically driven.” Devos plans to establish a new committee to reconsider the issue completely.

for-profit school

Devos Halts Two Regulations on For-Profit Schools

The Department of Education will roll back two regulations from the Obama administration aimed to protect students and hold for-profit colleges more accountable. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos said, “Our mission in the student loan servicing procurement process is to provide high quality customer service to federal loan borrowers in a cost-efficient and effective manner.” She continued, adding “Unfortunately, this process has been subjected to a myriad of moving deadlines, changing requirements and lack of consistent objectives.”

The Department is reworking the “gainful employment” rule that was passed in 2010.  The rule required programs at for-profit higher education institutions and nondegree programs at community colleges to meet minimum requirements in relation to the debt-to-income rates of their graduates. Programs that consistently failed to meet the minimum requirements would potentially lose federal financial aid, thus risking closure. The rule was designed to weed out programs that burden students with unmanageable student loan debt and few quality job prospects.

The second rule, “borrower defense to repayment,” was intended to go in place this July.  The regulation was put into place to make it easier for students who said they were defrauded by their schools to get their loans potentially forgiven. Though the Department of Education has completely rescinded this rule, it did release a statement saying that the 16,000 borrower defense claims currently under review will be processed. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Devos said, “We are working with servicers to get these loans discharged as expeditiously possible. Some borrowers should expect to obtain discharges within the next several weeks.”

Several Democratic lawmakers quickly decried the moves. According to Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, “Her (Devos) actions to eliminate important protections in higher education will harm students and waste millions in taxpayer dollars.” Additionally, advocacy groups vowed to fight the new change. Harvard University’s Project on Predatory Student Lending vowed to “use all legal means” to combat the delay of the borrower defense rule.

Critics of the gainful employment rule are mostly for-profits, who say it unfairly singles them out, but does not punish underperforming programs at nonprofit institutions. Devos stated that prior rulemaking “missed an opportunity to get it right. The result is a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs.” The department is planning to start drafting new regulations this October.

Penn State Initiates Radical Changes to Greek Life

The Board of Trustees at Penn State has announced all Greek life at the school will be reformed with initiatives that transfer all disciplinary responsibility to the University. The school has accepted that the self-governance model of Greek life has failed to regulate hazing, underage drinking, and sexual assault. Eric Barron, Penn State’s president, said “We are going to take much more control of the Greek system.”

The decision comes after the death of 19-year-old sophomore Timothy Piazza, who fell while intoxicated and sustained serious head injuries.  An investigation into the death of Piazza led school officials to discover “a persistent pattern of serious alcohol abuse, hazing and the use and sale of illicit drugs” at the fraternity. The fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, has been permanently banned as a chapter at the university. Barron said, “I am resolved to turn the pain and anguish radiating through our entire community into decisive action and reform, concentrating on the safety and well-being of students at Penn State.”

At Penn State, the new ruling is an effort to get Greek organizations to recognize the best of their missions—leadership and philanthropy—rather than the secretive, dangerous and unhealthy aspects. New regulations listed by Penn State include:

  • University control of the fraternity and sorority organizational misconduct and adjudication process.
  • Hazing that involves alcohol, physical abuse, or any behavior that puts a student’s mental or physical health at risk will result in swift permanent revocation of University recognition for the chapter involved.
  • Monitoring of social events by University staff members.
  • Beer and wine will only be permitted, no hard liquor or kegs.
  • Organizations may no longer hold all day events and each chapter is limited to 10 socials with alcohol per semester, instead of the current 45.

Fraternity culture has continued to frustrate colleges and universities across the country. The North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) has acknowledged that fraternities’ self-governance model is broken and has failed to prevent problems on campuses nationwide. According to Inside Higher Ed, in the past academic year, at least 80 fraternity chapters were suspended or investigated over allegations of racism, hazing, alcohol abuse and sexual assault. The Huffington Post found that over 30 fraternities were suspended just in the month of February.

As fraternities and sororities continue to face increased scrutiny, it seems many schools are looking to fix a broken system. According to Emily Pualwan, executive director of Hazing Prevention, “A lot of institutions are looking at what Penn State does and will look over the next few years at the effectiveness of these measures, if it can be measured.” If Penn State’s institutionally run fraternal system does work, it may set a new precedent for how Greek-life operates on campuses in the future.

Massive For-Profit to Nonprofit Conversion being Reviewed by Feds and Accreditors

In March, The Dream Center Foundation announced its plan to purchase the majority of campuses owned by the struggling Education Management Corporation. The Los Angeles based philanthropic organization currently funds programs across the country for under privileged people. The Education Management Corporation (EDMC) was once one of the largest for-profit college chains in the country, with more than 150,000 students. According to Randall Barton, managing director of the Dream Center Foundation, the acquiring of EDMC aligns with the foundations desire to use education as a means of transforming lives.

The move would be one of the largest for-profit changeovers into nonprofit schools on record. The campuses being bought include Argosy University, South University, and the Art Institutes.  In the coming months, it will be up to the Federal Education Department, under new Secretary Betsy DeVos, and EDMC’s institutional accreditors to determine the fate of the deal.  According to the Higher Education Directory, Argosy University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, while South University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  With multiple accreditors, EDMC’s conversion to a nonprofit entity will be that much more complicated.

This past week, 30 consumer, student, and veterans’ groups wrote an open letter to Secretary Devos, urging her to impose conditions on the sale of EDMC.  The letter states, “Congress has vested authority in you, as the Secretary of Education, to approve changes in ownership and control for institutions of higher education that wish to continue to participate in federal student loan and grant programs. Given the deeply troubling past performance of EDMC, the proposed transaction should not be rubber stamped behind closed doors.”  The letter also asks the approval be conditioned based on three questions:

  • Whether the operations of the schools going forward are likely to avoid the predatory practices that plagued the company previously.
  • Whether the claim of a nonprofit control structure is justified and will set and maintain a path for the schools that is in the best interest of students and taxpayers.
  • If taxpayers are adequately protected against financial insolvency that could trigger immense public costs.

Many are concerned that the Dream Center will continue to operate the institutions for sale in the same manner as before. The letter notes that if change of ownership is approved, it should be done on a provisional basis, and that the Department of Education has the opportunity to “prevent another repeat of the scandalous mistreatment of students and taxpayers.” The decision made by the Department of Education is expected this summer, and will set an important precedent for how the Trump administration approaches the issue of for-profit to nonprofit college conversions.

Schools Using College Data in New Approach to Course Placement

A new movement across college campuses is emerging to rethink – and revise – the single test, single cut score approach that places new college students into remedial or credit-level courses.  Several state systems and institutions are beginning to use additional indicators to gauge a student’s college readiness. Studies show that taking into account multiple measures could be a more accurate way for students to succeed in college-level courses, and reduce the chance they will be placed in remedial courses.

Recent studies from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) found that a student’s high school GPA is often a better indicator of future college level performance rather than only using their standardized test scores (such as the SAT or ACT) or general placement exam scores.  Prior to using multiple measures, North Carolina released a report prepared by the CCRC, that revealed nearly one third of its students were being severely misplaced, resulting in significant costs to both students and the system.  With these findings, the state of North Carolina established a system, based on a hierarchy, that first looked at students’ high school GPA when considering placement.

At least 15 states and college systems now incorporate multiple measures to determine a student’s initial course placement.  These measures include GPA, high school English and math grades, diagnostics exams, previous college courses, and student self-placement.  In Ohio, the placement policy allows campuses to look at writing assessments, high school GPA, and other indicators­ – such as previous college coursework.  Hawaii is experimenting with using grades in specific high school courses as an indicator on whether or not students are placed into credit-bearing courses.

North Carolina and California’s community colleges and most schools in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Texas have recently required the use of multiple measures for course placement.  Although many states still use single standardized testing to determine placement, research has shown the move toward multiple measures could lead to fewer students being directed toward remediation and far more completing their degree.

College Phishing

Don’t Take the Bait: Phishing Scams on College Campuses

New phishing scams are targeting colleges and students nationwide.  Reports from Amherst College, Louisiana State University, Dartmouth, and more say students have reported multiple types of online phishing schemes in recent weeks.

Phishing scams are usually performed online, through email.  One scam features emails that contain fake job opportunities and request student’s personal information.  The Department of Homeland Security reports that scammers use email pretending to be interested in hiring a person. The email then asks for critical information, such as one’s address or social security number.  Once the information is obtained, scammers are able to access bank accounts and personal information.

Several thousand students at Dartmouth received emails that appeared to come from President Phil Hanlon.  In reality, the messages were linked to malware designed to steal information.  At LSU, IT Services Communications Officer Sheri Thompson said spam bots were impersonating the university’s help desk.  She said, “Be skeptical, be skeptical about any links that you get, any request for information that you get. Even if it says it’s coming from an LSU person, be skeptical.”  Wellesley college recently alerted students of fake versions of its student login page.  The school’s IT department said, “This scam copied our login page, even using our Wellesley College Images! What set the scam website apart was that it was not located at Wellesley.edu and wasn’t a secure website.”

University Employees have also been targeted through scams. Institutions across the country are experiencing a phishing fraud with an email that indicates a change in their employee’s human resource status.  The email then directs the employee to a fake login page.  If employees provide login information, their login can be stolen and paychecks can be rerouted to the scammers.

As attackers continue to impersonate emails and web portals, it is important that faculty and students take extra precautions to protect themselves.  The Research and Education Networking Information Sharing and Analysis Center (REN-ISAC) warns that these attacks are particularly prevalent during both calendar and fiscal end of year financial wrap ups.  Users should be cautious when accessing email and never send account information to others.  In addition, students receiving unsolicited emails should remain skeptical, and be alert to poor spelling and demands for a rapid response.  To report phishing emails, forward them to spam@uce.gov – and to the organization, company, or college impersonated in the email.

 

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