Higher Education News

U.S. House committee leaks summary of broad plan for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 11/30/2017 - 08:00

The education committee of the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is set to release an opening salvo in Congress’s long-overdue reauthorization the Higher Education Act, the law that oversees federal financial aid programs.

Policy wonks circulated bullet points from the committee, which plans to release the full proposal later this week. And The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday published four articles about the pending legislation based on a summary the newspaper reviewed.

While plenty of details have yet to emerge, the summaries describe an ambitious plan to substantially change how the federal government targets and distributes student aid money, with moves to both deregulate and tighten oversight of aspects of aid programs.

Congress last authorized the Higher Education Act in 2008. The proposal from the House education committee, which is led by Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, appears to be more aggressive in its goals than the changes Congress made almost a decade ago.

Dubbed the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, according to the Journal, the legislative proposals generally track with previous statements from Foxx and are consistent with the emphasis of hearings the committee has conducted in recent years as it has geared up for the bill's renewal.

Foxx told the newspaper that the bill seeks to combat the so-called skills gap by prodding colleges to better prepare students to enter the work force. Her committee’s bill also will call for the expansion of alternatives to a traditional college education, including apprenticeships and competency-based programs. It would slash regulations for-profit colleges have long fought, even preventing the U.S. Department of Education from taking some future actions to rein in vocational programs.

Summaries of the House proposal also describe plans for “streamlining” student aid programs, by setting caps on loan amounts parents and graduate students can take on and scaling back income-based repayment programs and loan-forgiveness options for borrowers who work for government agencies and nonprofit organizations -- all of which have been pushed by prominent conservative higher education experts in recent years.

The bill also would dabble in controversial areas such as campus sexual assault and free speech policies. And while it loosens rules aimed at for-profits, the bill for the first time would attach graduation-rate strings to federal grants for minority-serving institutions.

These and other ideas included in the bill’s summaries are paraphrased below based on reporting by the Journal and from the circulated bullet points.

The U.S. Senate’s education committee, led by Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, also has been holding hearings as it prepares for reauthorization of the federal aid law. The Congressional Budget Office is planning to score the House bill this week.

Even so, experts said most of the meaningful action to renew the law won’t begin for a couple months, if not further off. Alexander this week said his committee plans to begin marking up its proposals early next year. However, the House bill will lay out that chamber’s priorities, many of which align with the stated goals of the Trump administration’s Education Department.

Overhauling Student Aid

Foxx’s committee wants to simplify various student aid options by creating “one grant program, one loan program and one work-study program,” according to a summary document.

The loan-program proposal would include “reasonable” but unspecified limits for borrowing by graduate students and parents of college students. Such caps would please conservatives who have long argued that colleges jack up tuition rates to reel in as much federal aid as possible. And such a change likely would benefit the private sector, as some borrowers would turn to private lenders to fill the gap.

However, proposed changes to Parent PLUS loans will be controversial. Many private college leaders joined historically black colleges in criticizing a 2011 move by the Obama administration to tighten standards for the program, which resulted in thousands of loan denials.

In another shift, Foxx and her colleagues want to disburse federal grant and loan aid on a weekly or monthly basis, similar to a paycheck. And they will seek to prevent Pell Grant fraud by yanking aid for Pell recipients who have received the grant money for at least three payment periods but have yet to complete any college credits. (In a budget proposal last spring, the Trump administration proposed eliminating federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which go to low-income college students.)

The Journal also reported that the bill would simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Such a move, which has broad bipartisan support, follows news this week that the administration will create a mobile phone application for the FAFSA. The bill would require that the form be available on such a mobile platform and make it easier for applicants to import income data from the Internal Revenue Service.

Repayment Plans

The bill would eliminate the department’s public service loan forgiveness program, which allows borrowers who work for nonprofits or government agencies to have their remaining loan balances dropped after they make 10 years of payments.

Likewise, the committee plans to “scale back” benefits of income-based repayment plans, the Journal reported.

A summary document said the bill would create one standard, 10-year loan repayment plan and a single income-based repayment program.

However, participants in both the current public-service and income-based programs would be grandfathered in and not lose those benefits after a reauthorized law is passed.

Regulation of For-Profits and Vocational Training

Under the bill, for-profit colleges would enjoy a broad rollback of laws and regulations aimed at the sector, with proposals that will infuriate consumer groups and veterans of the Obama administration.

Yet it’s unclear that the proposed deregulation, which expands on moves already made by the Trump administration, would help cure serious enrollment and revenue woes afflicting most for-profits. And some of the larger for-profit chains recently have moved to voluntarily go beyond some of the federal requirements they currently face.

The committee plans to drop the so-called 90-10 rule, which requires that for-profits get at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than federal aid (not including Post-9/11 GI Bill and military tuition benefit funds, which Democrats call a loophole in the current rule).

Even a right-leaning expert on Wednesday expressed reservations about allowing colleges to get all of their funding from the federal government.

The bill also would repeal federal gainful-employment regulations, which set a threshold for borrowers' ability to pay off loans for-profit programs and for vocational ones at community colleges and other public and private institutions. Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, already has delayed the department’s implementation of the Obama-era rules, with a plan to revisit it in a negotiated rule-making process.

The Journal reported that the committee would seek to ban the department from trying to create gainful-employment regulations in the future. Federal courts have ruled that the department had the legal power to create the rule.

Likewise, a summary document said the proposed legislation would limit Washington’s role in higher education by “repealing unfair requirements that limit low-income students’ access to career-focused institutions and treating all institutions the same.” It also said the bill would hold the secretary of education accountable by “explicitly prohibiting her from exceeding her authority, defining any terms inconsistent with the law or adding any requirements on institutions and states that are not explicitly authorized by law.”

Accountability and Performance Funding

Some of the proposals hinted at Wednesday would tighten the screws on colleges and programs, even in some cases by tying federal money to graduation rates or other metrics.

The bill would seek to improve consumer information from the federal government on the performance of colleges and academic programs, using data on enrollment, completion rates, cost and financial aid. But it would keep in place a ban on the feds collecting student-level data that could be used to track employment and wages across state lines. Some committee members from both parties have backed a bill that would drop the ban. But Foxx, who championed the ban’s passage in 2008, appears not to have budged.

However, the plan would create a form of institutional risk sharing, meaning that colleges would be on the hook for portions of federal loans that students do not repay. Likewise, it would move to a program-level repayment rate to help the department target aid to programs that generate a return on students’ investment. And the bill would require program-level disclosure of the average debt of student borrowers at graduation as well as the average salary of borrowers five and 10 years after graduation.

“Institutions need to recognize they have a role to play in this process, and they need to have skin in the game when it comes to preparing students for success academically and financially,” Foxx told the Journal.

One of the most noteworthy, and probably controversial, of the bill’s ideas is to add completion-oriented performance-funding elements to federal grants for colleges that enroll large numbers of minority students.

This would be the first time that the federal government tied funding to graduation rates, a move that has become increasingly popular in state capitols.

The Journal reported that the bill would require historically black and Hispanic-serving institutions that receive targeted federal grants under Title III and Title IV of the Higher Education Act to graduate or transfer at least one-quarter of their students to remain eligible for the grant programs.

The committee also wants to encourage these minority-serving institutions to use grant money for “completion-focused initiatives such as pay for success, dual enrollment and the development of career-centered programs.”

Work-Study and Work-Force Development

The bill would change the federal work-study program by ensuring that the money goes to institutions based on student need. The current system is weighted toward private colleges and, to some extent, to wealthier students. The committee also plans to double federal spending on work-study while eliminating a cap on students working at private-sector companies.

Summaries of the pending bill also described an emphasis on nontraditional academic programs that seek close ties with employers.

For example, it would allow unaccredited and new education providers to partner with traditional institutions for the entirety of a student’s academic program -- dropping a federal rule that less than half of aid-eligible academic instruction can be outsourced to noncollege providers.

The proposed legislation also would seek to expand competency-based education, with clearer pathways to federal aid, and would encourage “industry-led earn-and-learn programs that lead to high-wage, high-skill and high-demand careers.”

To that end, the Journal reported that the bill would steer $183 million toward apprenticeships that last two years or less. Most federally registered apprenticeships last at least two years and include instruction in traditional college settings.

In addition, the bill would repeal the "antiquated and rigid definition of distance education," a summary document said. Such a move would be designed to help encourage innovation. It would also eliminate a snag that Western Governors University, the largest of competency-based providers, is facing due to a critical audit from the department's inspector general. That, in turn, might encourage more colleges to develop their own competency-based programs.

Campus Sexual Assault and Free Speech

The first crack at reauthorizing the Higher Education Act includes a proposed mandate that colleges disclose policies that are designed to protect free speech on campus by limiting where and when speech may occur, the Journal reported. The goal of the proposal is to push back on restricted-speech zones, which the committee said conflict with the First Amendment.

On sexual assault, the Journal reported that the bill seeks to encourage more due process in how colleges treat both accusers and the accused. It apparently aligns with DeVos’s recently rollback of Obama-era guidelines on investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases.

The bill also would tweak the Clery Act, a federal law that governs how colleges report campus crimes. And it would allow colleges to suspend judiciary proceedings while criminal investigations are ongoing, the newspaper reported, while also letting colleges establish their own standards of evidence.

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Graduate students across country protest tax plan

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 11/30/2017 - 08:00

PHILADELPHIA -- Olivia Harding holds academic accomplishments that her 10 siblings can look up to. Pursuing a doctorate in cell and molecular biology at an Ivy League institution, after all, is no casual feat.

But she remained “naïve” about finances, she said, until after she finished her undergraduate degree, when she started earning money through her stipend as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.

Her undergraduate degree was financed by a combination of her parents' money and scholarships, and if she wants her siblings to have the same opportunities she’s had, she’s realized she’ll have to pitch for their education -- which makes her concerns about Republican-led tax reform all that more acute.

“It effectively doubles [what I’m taxed for], but it doesn’t change what I see in my bank account,” Harding said.

Harding was one of about 50 Penn students who gathered Wednesday to protest the tax plan passed in the House of Representatives, holding a “grade-in” in an administrative building on campus. After gathering outside, graduate students sat in the lobby of a building to demonstrate what they do on a daily basis and make their case to the university -- and those who might be watching in Washington -- for how valuable their work is.

Similar “work-ins,” grade-ins and rallies were scheduled around the country Wednesday as students protested the tax plan. Penn’s protest was organized by activists with its graduate student unionization campaign, which, like other unionization efforts at private universities, has been grappling to gain recognition from the university.

Doctoral students often work for relatively small stipends, but the upside for some of them is that their tuition is waived by their university. The House tax plan would count tuition waivers as taxable income, meaning that although Harding only earns about $32,000 a year from the stipend she receives from her work as a graduate student, she would be taxed as if she earned about double that, since her program’s tuition would be added into her income.

The tuition-waiver provisions only exist in the House plan, and graduate students gathered in protest took a break from their work to call Pat Toomey, the state’s Republican senator, urging him to keep the tuition waiver out of any final legislation. He’s expressed optimism on tax reform, though the future of the tuition-waiver taxes remains uncertain.

“Neither the House and Senate plan are finalized,” Toomey’s office said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. “When looking at a tax reform package, it is important to remember that it extends beyond singular changes and deductions. So while both the House and the Senate plans adjust tax treatment for certain entities and eliminate certain deductions, they both also lower rates, double the standard deduction and increase the child tax credit, resulting in a net tax cut for millions of working-class and middle-income Pennsylvanians.”

The tuition-waiver taxes, however, remained a nonstarter for many of the graduate students at Penn.

“It makes graduate school prohibitively expensive for many graduate students, all but the most wealthy,” said Zach Smith, a doctoral candidate in political science and one of the organizers of the protest.

For Joseph Wuest, also a doctoral candidate in political science, the House tax plan is a “direct attack on higher ed and graduate student education.”

“While Penn will be hit really hard, and some people won’t be able to pay their bills here, the less affluent a university is and the less stipend a grad student is getting, it’s going to make it increasingly impossible for them to pursue their education,” Wuest said. “I budget for things pretty well, but I don’t know how I’m going to budget for thousands and thousands of extra dollars in taxes.”

A student at Harvard University told NPR that he already tries to save money by living in an attic, and a student at the University of Maryland told the public radio station that she has had to take out loans to cover things like rent and utilities.

“To put it simply, it will devastate many of us,” Kaylynne Glover, head of the University of Kentucky Graduate Congress, told the Lexington Herald Leader.

Penn President Amy Gutmann has spoken out against the tax plan, but students at Penn are hoping for more concrete promises of what the university will do if the tuition-waiver provision goes through.

“Graduate tuition waivers were one among many things that Penn said [it was] concerned about,” Smith said. “But they have not been willing to put anything in writing in terms of a plan to protect graduate students if these efforts succeed.”

Penn students suggested that the university could pledge to reduce the tuition charged and waived for graduate programs -- in an effort to decrease the amount students would be taxed for earning -- or to increase students’ stipends to help them overcome potentially increased tax burdens.

Penn spokesman Rob Ozio said that the university is still continuing to lobby against the bill.

“We share the students’ concerns and are actively working with legislators, our peers and higher education associations to address concerns across an array of proposals that would have a negative impact on higher education and Penn,” he said in an email. “We continue to encourage students to contact their members of Congress to express their concerns about these proposals.”

Whether tuition-waiver provisions from the House tax plan become law or not, Harding is hoping for some sort of assurance from Penn.

“It’s a very wealthy institution,” she said, adding that documents from the Paradise Papers leak reported by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed that the university invested funds into offshore accounts located in tax havens.

“How about putting my tuition in offshore accounts so I don’t have to pay taxes on it?” Harding said.

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How the Senate and House tax bills would hit higher education

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 11/30/2017 - 08:00

As Republican leaders in the Senate lobbied to secure the votes needed for a drastic overhaul of the U.S. tax system, higher education leaders and student groups have continued to keep the spotlight on provisions in both houses of Congress that would significantly affect -- and, they believe, badly hurt -- institutions and college-goers alike.

Both tax reform plans would for the first time tax the income of college endowments by targeting the largest endowments at private institutions -- a "disastrous precedent for universities and indeed, for all charitable organizations," said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, in a statement this week. But the effects of the two bills on students and colleges are wide-ranging.

The House plan, passed earlier this month, strips out many tax benefits that made attending college and graduate programs as well as repaying student loans more affordable. Graduate students at campuses across the country organized walkouts Wednesday to protest a provision of the House plan that would tax graduate tuition benefits as income, a change that higher ed advocates say would render graduate education unattainable for many students. (House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady hinted this week he was open to changing that provision during negotiations over the bill.)

The Senate plan, which has already cleared committee, left out many provisions of the House plan directly affecting student benefits. But it included a proposal that would create new costs for nonprofit entities like universities with business income unrelated to their core education mission. And it would tax income on royalties for licensing a college's name and logo.

A provision that eliminates the ability to deduct any state and local taxes from a taxpayer's federal liability could have even bigger long-term consequences for public higher education by placing a huge strain on state budgets.

It appears increasingly likely that some version of the tax plan will pass the Senate -- possibly as soon as this week. That means many of the details of tax reform legislation, and the discrepancies between the two versions, will be worked out in conference committee.

A comparison of the House and Senate tax reform legislation follows.

Tax Reform for Higher Education

  House Plan Senate Plan Education Tax Benefits     American Opportunity Tax Credit Consolidates AOTC and Lifetime Learning Credit and adds a fifth year with half the benefits. Repeal of Lifetime Learning Credit would mean no tax credit for part-time students. No changes to AOTC Discharge of student debt Discharge of student debt from death or disability would be excluded from taxable income. No change Student Loan Interest Deduction Repeals tax deduction for interest paid on federal student loans. Under current law, borrowers can deduct up to $2,500. Not included Graduate student tuition Eliminates Section 117(d)5 of tax code, which allows institutions to waive or reduce tuition costs for graduate students without tax implications. No change College employee dependent benefits Would no longer exclude tuition benefits for college employees' spouses or children from taxable income. No change Employer-provided education assistance Would no longer exclude employer-provided education assistance from taxable income. Tax-exempt benefits are currently capped at $5,250 per year for undergraduate and graduate course work. No change Endowment Tax Applies a 1.4 percent excise tax to private college endowments valued at $250,000 per full-time student. Same as the House plan Charitable Contributions     Charitable deductions Increases standard deduction from $12,700 to $24,000 for joint filers and from $6,350 to $12,000 for individuals. Charitable groups say the change will reduce the incentive for charitable giving to entities like colleges. Increases standard deduction to $24,400 for joint filers and $12,200 for individuals. College athletic seating rights Eliminates rule providing for charitable deduction of 80 percent of amount paid to purchase tickets to athletic events. Same as House plan Unrelated Business Income Tax     Research income Tax-exempt organizations could exclude from unrelated business tax only income from research that is available to the public. Not included Name and logo royalties Not included Would tax royalties a college derives from licensing its name or logo. Business income taxed separately Not included Requires that unrelated business income be counted separately for tax purposes, meaning colleges could no longer use losses in one business area to offset tax liability for gains in another. Tax-Exempt Bonds     Termination of private activity bonds Effectively eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds that lower the cost of building for colleges. Not included Termination of advanced refunding bonds Interest on newly issued advance refunding bonds would become taxable. Same as the House plan State and Local Tax Deductions Deductions for state and local property taxes would be capped at $10,000. Higher ed advocates say limiting the deductions will mean less support for taxes that support community colleges and public universities. Eliminates deduction entirely. Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: EndowmentsTax policy/IRSFinancial aidIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 

UConn president, a scholar of political incivility, discusses chaotic talk and protest on her campus

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 11/30/2017 - 08:00

A campus lecture at the University of Connecticut Tuesday on the topic of "It's OK to Be White" turned into an event that was by all accounts not OK at all.

A speaker, the conservative pundit Lucian Wintrich, was there to talk on a topic many students believed was designed to insult black people and those who believe that minority individuals face real bias in American society. Wintrich -- and the student Republican group that brought him to UConn -- were not pleased, either. He was shouted down, and when one audience member grabbed his notes and he followed her into the audience, he was arrested for his actions during the altercation. He is accusing those who disagree with his views of denying him a platform to talk.

"We didn't do well" was the assessment of Susan Herbst, the president of UConn, in an interview Wednesday.

Many college presidents have been confronting questions of how to handle campus controversies involving incendiary speakers and the resulting protests. For Herbst, these issues aren't just part of her job as president. A political science and communications scholar, she has studied public discourse, focusing in recent years on incivility. Her last book, published shortly before she was named UConn's president in 2010, was Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics (Temple University Press), which focused on the 2008 presidential election and the beginning of the Obama administration,

In the book and in the interview Wednesday, she placed much of the blame for incivility in public discourse on Congress. While some lawmakers have always embraced extreme positions, Herbst said that a long tradition in which lawmakers tried for compromise eroded in the 1990s. Gerrymandering has allowed many House members to have safe seats where they don't need to think about broadening their bases. Republican leaders have also encouraged their House members to keep homes in their districts, so "there is less social interchange between Republicans and Democrats."

Other factors -- such as "the outrage media" and social media -- are also at play in the deteriorating state of civil debate, she said. But Congress is key, as that is the institution Americans see and "take a cue from," she said.

"Imagine a world where Congress -- even with some extreme voices -- was set on compromise and discussion," she said. "That would be a different America."

Her book includes a chapter based on research on college students. She found at that time that many students already had difficulty with discussions with those of differing views. But if the consequence at the time was avoiding people with conflicting views, these days -- as at UConn this week -- confrontation is more accepted.

"There is a stepping out," she said. "It is imitating the rhetoric and discourse that we see" in national politics.

So those who brought Wintrich to campus selected a topic that they knew would goad minority students. And those students and others didn't boycott the event, but came to it determined to shout the speaker down.

Colleges and universities are places for debate, Herbst said, but that debate should be at a higher level than what UConn experienced this week.

Academic leaders need to do a better job of explaining that allowing a student group to bring in a speaker does not constitute an endorsement. "Our campuses are open, by law," she said, speaking of public institutions.

For UConn, Tuesday night's event was something of a test, she said, and the campus didn't pass. She said the university has not had the kinds of speaker controversies that have attracted so much attention elsewhere. "I thought we were ready to be tested," she said. "It's pretty clear we didn't do well."

"I'm guessing many presidents may feel like this the day after an event."

‘We Have to Work at It’

Going forward, Herbst said that "being passionate and civil is going to take practice. That's what I've been thinking about. We have to work at it."

So that means, she said, "we have to think back to the '60s, and it's going to be about fighting hate with love."

"We need dignity when faced with ugliness and hate," Herbst added. "We have to play the long game. We have our values, and they are not going to be easily implemented in this culture."

While campuses are known for speakers, panels and question-and-answer sessions, Herbst said she wants to promote more small discussions -- 20 or so people of different views -- in a room. "I've always believed that the big venues when there is a speaker and a panel -- in the campus cultures, that's not the kind of work we need to do."

In smaller settings, with faculty members playing a lead role, students can learn to talk to one another, to disagree and to let others talk.

Coming out of such discussions, she said, students need to understand why shouting down speakers is not appropriate, especially in an academic setting.

"I don't think anybody -- faculty, administrator or a lot of students -- wants to hear hate," she said. "It is really hard to hear things that are hateful or that you disagree with. That kind of strength of character to sit there and listen and then ask questions, we're going to have to work on that on a more micro level," she said.

"It's not easy for any of us, but the shouting down is wrong. You have to hear what the other person is saying."

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New presidents or provosts: Brock Franklin Incarnate Word Liberia Miami Mount St. Mary's Norwich Oberlin St. Petersburg Truman Washington

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 11/30/2017 - 08:00
  • Sandra G. Affenito, associate provost and dean of graduate studies and research at the University of Saint Joseph, in Connecticut, has been selected as provost and dean of faculty at Norwich University, in Vermont.
  • Carmen Twillie Ambar, president of Cedar Crest College, in Pennsylvania, has been chosen as president of Oberlin College, in Ohio.
  • Jeffrey L. Duerk, dean of the School of Engineering at Case Western Reserve University, in Ohio, has been named provost at the University of Miami.
  • Thomas Evans, president of Carroll College, in Montana, has been appointed president of University of the Incarnate Word, in Texas.
  • Gervan Fearon, president of Brandon University, in Manitoba, has been chosen as president and vice chancellor of Brock University, in Ontario.
  • Janet Gooch, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Education and interim dean of the School of Science and Mathematics, at Truman State University, in Missouri, has been promoted to executive vice president for academic affairs and provost there.
  • Kurt M. Landgraf, CEO of the Educational Testing Service, in New Jersey, has been selected as president of Washington College, in Maryland.
  • Lori K. Schroeder, associate dean of the college at Knox College, in Illinois, has been named provost and dean of the college at Franklin College, in Indiana.
  • Timothy Trainor, interim president of Mount St. Mary’s University, in Maryland, has been appointed to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Ophelia Weeks, former professor of biology at Florida International University, has been selected as president of the University of Liberia.
  • Tonjua Williams, senior vice president for student services at St. Petersburg College, in Florida, has been promoted to president there.
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Talk at UConn draws protests and speaker is arrested

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 08:49

A controversial speech at the University of Connecticut Tuesday night ended up in chaos, with students in the audience shouting at the speaker and the speaker arrested over an altercation with an audience member who appeared to take his notes.

The speaker was Lucian Wintrich, a conservative writer who was invited to campus by UConn's Republican group for a talk called "It's OK to Be White."

That tagline has become controversial, as it has shown up on posters on numerous college campuses across the country, prompting many students and others to say the slogan is racist. It's not that critics say it's not OK to be white, but they view the tagline as a way some are attacking the Black Lives Matter movement and other efforts to point out racial injustice in society. Further, critics say that the slogan has become a way to encourage white people to believe that they are victims of discrimination. (A summary of this critique may be found in this article in The Root.)

Some on campus questioned why the talk was taking place, but UConn officials said that even if they disagreed with the speaker's views, his right to speak was protected by the First Amendment.

During Wintrich's talk, students and others in the audience repeatedly shouted at him. His arrest came after an audience member appeared to grab his notes and he followed her into the audience. He was charged with breach of peace and was escorted from the building. One other arrest was made, with a man charged with allegedly breaking a window in the building where the event took place, as people were leaving. Videos of the event show many students waited for Wintrich to be led out of the building. Both of those arrested were released on bond.

In a series of tweets, Wintrich said that he should not have been arrested, and that he was simply trying to obtain property (his speech notes) that had been taken from him.

"It's really unfortunate that some of the kids at @UConn felt the need to be violent and disruptive during a speech that focused on how the leftist media is turning Americans against each other. Tonight proved my point," he wrote in one of the tweets.

Update as of 9:30 Wednesday morning: A spokeswoman for the university, asked Wednesday morning about whether the person who grabbed the papers may have violated any rules or laws, said that the police are investigating "all behaviors" at the event, not only those that have already led to arrests. But she said she didn't know whether the taking of the papers was subject of a particular investigation. She said police continue to review video of the incident.

Susan Herbst, president of UConn, issued a statement late Tuesday that said, in part, “This was a very disappointing evening. Thoughtful, civil discourse should be a hallmark of democratic societies and American universities, and this evening fell well short of that. We live in a tense and angry time of deep political division. Our hope as educators is that creative leadership and intellectual energy can be an antidote to that sickness, especially on university campuses. Between the offensive remarks by the speaker who also appeared to aggressively grab an audience member and the reckless vandalism that followed, that was certainly not the case on our campus tonight. We are better than this."

Here is a local television report with some footage of the event.

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Disagreement over Gies College of Business name exposes fund-raising tensions

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 08:00

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign enthusiastically announced last month that its College of Business was being renamed for wealthy donors who were making one of the largest gifts ever recorded to a business school.

The gift, from financier Larry Gies and his wife, Beth, totals $150 million and is unrestricted, aside from being directed to the College of Business. It is tied for the fourth-largest gift ever given to a business school, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. It comes at a critical time, when Illinois is in the middle of a campaign seeking to raise an eye-watering $2.25 billion by the end of 2022.

With that campaign underway, the gift could easily set the tone for naming other colleges within the university. The practice of naming colleges and schools after donors has proliferated across higher education but has not taken hold at Illinois, which had not named colleges for individual donors before christening the Gies College of Business in an announcement Oct. 26.

But the celebrations soon hit a snag: some faculty members felt they hadn’t been properly consulted on the renaming of the college.

At issue are disagreements over seemingly obscure rules for naming or renaming colleges at Illinois. Faculty members have not voiced broad opposition to the gift itself, the identity of the donors or the addition of the Gies name to the business school. And for this case, they ironed over the disagreements earlier this month so that objections did not obstruct the renaming of the College of Business.

Still, many feel that the underlying issues have yet to be resolved. The potential exists for disagreements to arise in the future if Illinois moves to rename other colleges after more donors who may be more controversial than the business school's patrons.

Both administrators and faculty members at the university have signaled a willingness to clarify naming processes in the future. Nonetheless, the situation exposes tensions that run far beyond Illinois -- tensions about shared governance, the potential influence of donors and who should have say in the names prominently attached to institutions of higher learning.

“There really is a deep tension -- and it might be a necessary one -- in a public institution that is changing how it thinks of its funding model,” said Shawn Gilmore, a professor of English who chairs the Senate of the Urbana-Champaign campus’s Committee on University Statutes and Senate Procedures. “We probably have to get a little more comfortable thinking about how to use outside options.”

Those tensions can build up when colleges and universities ramp up fund-raising. Consequently, they are likely to appear more frequently as institutions across the country turn to outside donors to combat expected budget issues, even if they express themselves as disputes over rules.

“One of the things that I run into most when I do consulting work around the country is that there is a lack of clarity concerning what the rules really are,” said James Lanier, a senior fellow and consultant with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. “You get two or three attorneys and all are very certain about viewing this in different ways. Much of the time it is simply a lack of talking about these things before people’s emotions get involved.”

Some say a lack of communication is at the heart of what happened at Illinois. University statutes require that the Senate and unit faculty record votes before a college can be renamed, Gilmore said. Under the principles of shared governance, it is important that the statutes be followed, he added.

But the College of Business renaming was announced at the end of October, surprising many faculty members, and it appeared on trustees’ agenda before a Senate vote had taken place. The Senate was not provided with proper documentation on the proposed change before it was brought before the body in November, Gilmore said.

Even so, faculty voted overwhelmingly to endorse the name change at a meeting shortly before trustees gave their approval. But they added an amendment stating that the process followed in this case should not establish a precedent for future renaming of colleges, according to The News-Gazette.

Faculty members have acknowledged that this particular instance involved a donor who was not attaching strings to the money and whom few, if any, find objectionable. Gies is CEO of the Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Industries and has frequently spoken on campus. University officials say that he did not originally ask for the College of Business to be named after him -- he agreed to make the gift before he agreed to the naming.

However, faculty members worry about what happens when a controversial donor wants to give money on the condition that their name is attached to a college. Several pointed out that Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was a University of Illinois alumnus. If administrators had moved to name a college after Hefner, faculty members would have wanted a say in the matter.

“I’ve made it clear that this is something we should address soon, especially because of our current philanthropic drive,” Gilmore said.

The idea of a big-name donor sparking a naming controversy isn’t entirely hypothetical. The history of higher education is filled with instances where major gifts and college namings have been contentious.

A decade ago at the Urbana-Champaign campus, a faculty panel pushed administrators to renegotiate a deal to set up the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund, finding fault with plans for narrow ideological restrictions and tight donor control that would have infringed on traditional faculty autonomy. Elsewhere, faculty balked at the idea of renaming the University of Iowa's College of Public Health after the insurer Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield (it remains simply the College of Public Health today). More recently, in September of this year, a $200 million gift to the University of Southern California that would rename a college the Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences and orient it around integrative health drew criticism from some who said it was bending to the wishes of wealthy donors advocating for junk science.

Administrators aren’t disputing that faculty members should offer their opinions on college naming. But they maintain that they followed proper procedures for naming a college after a donor.

They say the college wasn’t being substantially renamed -- it was having a donor’s name added to it. As such, they did not have to follow university statutes requiring a faculty vote on a renaming but could instead follow the Campus Administrative Manual’s rules for naming a college. Those rules call for Senate advice instead of approval.

A substantial renaming happens when the college’s focus changes, said Jeffrey R. Brown, dean of the College of Business. Changing the College of Commerce and Business Administration to the College of Business in 2003 was a renaming; making the College of Business the Gies College of Business was not.

“Part of this comes down to renaming versus naming,” Brown said. “This was viewed as a naming. There was nothing about this that was changing the focus or in any way signaling anything about the direction or scope of the college.”

Many faculty members disagree with that interpretation. Nicholas C. Burbules is a professor in the department of education policy, organization and leadership at Illinois. He is a former Senate chair. The Senate at Illinois has a history of successfully balancing flexibility and tight timelines with meeting the letter and spirit of regulations, he said. Even if the rules over naming and renaming a college are ambiguous, the Senate should have been consulted.

“Bureaucratic procedures are our governing documents,” he said. “There is a reason they are there. But secondly, the Senate has shown repeatedly when there is something that is time sensitive, there are ways you can do something within the spirit of the rules.”

The business college’s dean, Brown, said he brought in faculty members from the college during the process. Ten days before the gift and naming announcement, he walked the college’s executive committee through the details. The committee, which functions as the faculty governance body within the College of Business, voted for the change, Brown said. Information on the renaming was also provided to Senate leadership.

Brown pointed out that donors want some assurance that their gifts are being negotiated in confidence and that they’re unlikely to hit major snags after they are announced. But he would be open to reforming or clarifying the university’s process going forward.

“The process is going to work if we balance the needs of the donors with the faculty,” he said. “There are a certain amount of political considerations, privacy considerations and so forth that have to be brought into play. I’m more than happy to be part of a conversation around clarifying these rules for the future. In some ways, I can do that because my college is already named. But I think it’s important for other deans to have clarity on what’s involved.”

Gilmore will be addressing the issue in future meetings of the University Statutes and Senate Procedures Committee that he leads.

“We just don’t have a long history of naming institutions for donors,” he said. “Maybe we will in the next 10 years. It’s one of those deep tensions that is much more on the surface now than it has been in the past.”

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Professors push back on Republican state lawmakers' allegations about English department and entire University of Nebraska

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 08:00

Disappointed with the University of Nebraska’s response thus far to increasing criticism from Republican state lawmakers, professors are asking the system’s Board of Regents to defend them against political attacks.

“We insist that all levels of the administration respect the governance structures currently in place, and categorically reject political interference in the good work being done at our state’s flagship institution," reads an open letter to the regents signed by more than 100 faculty members from the university’s three campuses.

"We are concerned that at the highest levels of the University of Nebraska system, decisions involving the future of the university are being made without transparency or proper governance and under improper exertions of influence by the legislative and executive branches of the state government," the letter continues. "We fear that financial hostage taking by members of the state government will result in changes by the administration in the intellectual offerings of the university and opportunities for our students."

Still collecting signatures, the state branch of the American Association of University Professors plans to send the letter to the regents later this week.

Public institutions across the country are facing all kinds of political pressure, but much of what’s happening in Nebraska can be traced to a single event at the Lincoln flagship. In late August, a lecturer and a professor in English were recorded protesting an on-campus recruiting table for Turning Point USA, the conservative group behind Professor Watchlist. In the video, the lecturer, Courtney Lawton, who is also a graduate student, called the undergraduate behind the table a “neo-fascist Becky” and flipped her off.

Lincoln removed Lawton from the classroom soon thereafter. Local news coverage included numerous interviews with conservative students and faculty members who said they had no residual concerns about the Lincoln campus political climate.

Still, three Republican state senators have said they expect the university to shape up and offer more “accountability” and “transparency” with respect to the environment for conservative students.

In public statements, the state senators have questioned whether university professors are hostile to conservative students and whether administrators can remain impartial when investigating on-campus political incidents. Especially concerning to faculty members, the state senators also have questioned the curriculum.

In an op-ed eventually published this month in the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nebraska State Senators Tom Brewer, Steve Erdman and Steve Halloran asked, “Does anyone teach English anymore at [Lincoln]?”

“The English department has proudly condemned President Trump’s executive order to suspend immigrant travel, and it has recently reiterated its support for the LGBTQA community,” they wrote. “Most disturbing, though, is the fact that the English department’s webpage is missing anything which even remotely resembles a traditional English education.”

“Strangely missing” from the department’s core values, they said, are “traditional English department words such as ‘classic literature studies,’ ‘writing,’ ‘poetry,’ ‘fiction,’ ‘grammar’ and ‘novel.’”

Joy Castro, a professor of English at Lincoln, responded with her own op-ed, saying that if the senators, upon visiting the department’s website, had “simply clicked on the readily available link Course Schedules and then Undergraduate Catalog, they’d have seen dozens of our English courses listed, such as: Writing and Inquiry; Introduction to Literature; Introduction to Poetry; Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton; The Novel 1700-1900; American Authors to 1900; Writing for Film and Literary History.”

Like “other world-class research institutions,” she said, “we teach these traditional courses all the time, in addition to more contemporary subjects and methodologies. The website doesn’t foreground them because everyone takes it entirely for granted that we teach such things.”

Members of the English department faculty also have been the subject of extensive open records requests this semester from conservative groups, with keywords including everything from “Trump” to “teaching.”

Julia Schleck, an associate professor of English at Lincoln and president of the state AAUP, said she’s been in Nebraska for 10 years and has never seen this level of contempt for higher education.

“This is definitely something new,” she said Tuesday. “But we felt it was high time for someone to push back on what we feel is an entirely unjust and entirely inaccurate depiction of the university.”

Administrators' responses to the politicians have so far been mixed. Ronnie Green, Lincoln's chancellor, wrote to three state senators about their op-ed, saying he found their “falsehoods and distortions defamatory and an egregious breach of the trust that Nebraskans put in each of us.” The university, he said, “will not be politicized and will not be used as a pawn."

But in separate statements released later this month -- and a day after state lawmakers reportedly pushed for Lawton’s dismissal -- both Green and System President Hank Bounds said that the lecturer will no longer teach on campus. They announced a series of other changes, starting with Gallup studies of campus climates.    Two university spokespeople also recently resigned after the release of emails related to the August incident. Both were publicly accused of trying to “spin” the altercation in the university's favor. Bounds in comments addressed to the state Legislature and Republican Governor Pete Ricketts said he'd hold his staff "accountable."

The new faculty letter warns that if “the governor or his surrogates in the Legislature interfere with the intellectual freedom of the faculty, one of the state’s most precious resources will be squandered in a political power grab, as the quality of work at our university and the value of a degree from the University of Nebraska will quickly decline.”

AAUP’s national office wrote separately to Lincoln’s administration Tuesday, saying that in addition to “evident procedural issues, we remain concerned that Lawton was suspended in response to her speech as a citizen, raising questions whether the action infringed upon her academic freedom. These questions remain unresolved in the absence of affordance to Lawton of any academic due process.”

Schleck said standard procedures for dismissing lecturers were not followed in Lawton's case.

Melissa Lee, a spokeswoman for the university system, had no immediate comment Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Lincoln campus also declined comment on the faculty's concerns.

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Education Department unveils new mobile FAFSA application

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 08:00

Nationally, just three out of five high school seniors complete an application for federal student aid. And completion rates are lowest among low-income students, meaning those students leave billions of dollars in aid on the table.

The Office of Federal Student Aid wants to boost those numbers by putting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in front of students on the device that rarely leaves their hands -- their cellphones.

Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, told student aid professionals in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday that her department will move the FAFSA to a mobile application as part of a larger effort to modernize the federal student aid system.

“The goal is a customer service experience that will rival Amazon or Apple’s Genius Bar,” DeVos said.

A. Wayne Johnson, FSA's chief operating officer, will unveil further details about the project today, including a projected April rollout that would mean the app goes live well before the 2019 aid application cycle begins next fall.

Both college-access advocates and veterans of the Obama administration praised the news, although they said a technological solution ultimately won't solve many of the obstacles that prevent wider completion of the form.

Johnson views the app not just as a tool for easier filing of aid applications, but rather as part of a modernized experienced for students and borrowers in all stages of the federal aid process -- from submitting an application to paying off a loan. He said in an interview ahead of the announcement that the mobile app could also handle many of the functions currently conducted by student loan servicers in interactions with borrowers via the web and over the phone.

FSA prioritized a mobile tool partly in acknowledgment of how often college students use mobile devices over computers. The move also was made in response to feedback the department heard directly from customers about how FSA could improve the student loan experience, Johnson said.

“Whether it was a millennial all the way up to people in their 60s, they wanted to be able to deal with this not having to sign in to a computer,” he said.

The announcement is the most detailed look yet at the Education Department’s work on issues involving federal student aid and the servicing of student loans since DeVos in April withdrew an Obama administration solicitation with comprehensive new requirements for student loan servicers that was designed to improve the experience of borrowers. (The department later released a plan to award servicing of loans to a single contractor, which it scrapped after receiving heavy criticism.) FSA’s plan for a mobile financial aid application delivers on a key plank of the Obama servicing plans -- a single interface for every borrower regardless of which servicer handles their loan.

Capitol Hill's Role

While the mobile technology push fits within a broader framework of FSA seeking to modernize how it awards and services student aid, it also reflects discussions among lawmakers and DeVos this week about simplifying the aid application process.

Senator Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee, held a hearing Tuesday on proposals to simplify the FAFSA. Alexander in the past has floated ideas including a FAFSA questionnaire the size of a postcard -- an eye-catching, if mostly conceptual, illustration of the brevity he’d like to see.

Alexander said the complexity of the FAFSA has been the single biggest impediment to more students taking advantage of Tennessee Promise, the free community college program in his home state.

“We’ve heard over and over again from parents, students and financial aid officials how difficult it is the first time,” Alexander said of the application. “This complexity frustrates the goal of the Pell Grant, which is to help low-income students attend college, because it discourages them from applying for aid.”

The department views the mobile app as a first step toward a smoother aid application process. But actually reducing the length of the application -- which includes roughly 130 questions and can be an impediment for students with limited access to family financial records -- will require action from Congress.

Johnson said FSA is still working on proposed revisions to FAFSA questions for a briefing document to be sent to Congress. In the meantime, the office is moving ahead with the mobile app it said will improve student interactions with the federal aid system as they apply for aid and manage student loans.

Developing the technology cost about $849,000, although additional costs will be associated with the tool’s rollout, the department said.

While officials at the Education Department under Obama periodically discussed a mobile FAFSA, it was never prioritized -- either because of funding or challenges involving technology.

“It’s not a simple project, but I think it’s a worthwhile one given how many people are accessing the internet primarily through their phones,” said Clare McCann, a former department official during the Obama administration who is now deputy director for federal higher education policy at New America.

The previous administration took significant steps to improve the federal aid application process. In 2010, it introduced the IRS data retrieval tool, which allowed applicants to automatically import family income data already on file with the federal government into the online FAFSA. That feature cut down on errors and reduced the time it took to complete the application, student aid advocates said. (Some questioned whether the department would face challenges integrating the data retrieval tool into a mobile app. The department said in an email that the IRS has been part of the planning process for the tool.)

And last fall, the department paired an earlier FAFSA release date (Oct. 1) with the use of prior-prior year income data in student aid applications -- a policy change that had aid applicants submit the most recent family income data on file with the federal government. A year later, those changes appear to have had a significant effect on completion rates. But numbers are still far short of what advocates want.

Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network, said a mobile application would be a definite step forward for many students served by the group's partner organizations across the country.

“Many low-income students only have access to the internet when they’re in their school building or are on their smartphones,” she said.

Warick said every positive change moves the needle a little bit, but getting the level of FAFSA completion advocates would like to see would require a much simpler form.

FSA said a significant increase in submitted student aid applications would pay big dividends for college attendance. Moving from current numbers to a 100 percent completion rate would open up an additional $4 billion in federal student aid each year for low-income students who struggle to pay for college otherwise, according to Johnson.

The department hopes the mobile app will boost current numbers. But Johnson also said the new tool will help students select a college by connecting the application with the College Scorecard. When a student picks a college or colleges to send their FAFSA to, the app will show key Scorecard metrics for each institution.

FSA said the app also will improve borrowers' experiences of managing their federal student aid. It will allow students, for example, to track their spending of student aid funds on tuition, fees or food -- and to compare that spending to what they actually budgeted. And Johnson said the app will mean student borrowers will be able to answer many questions on their own that currently require reaching a call center by phone, such as finding the repayment plan that's best for them.

“If we can let people do a majority of what they need to do with mobile, when they call the call center, they only need to talk about serious stuff or more interesting stuff,” he said.

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Colleges voice concern over planned net neutrality rollback

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 08:00

Last week the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission published his plan to dismantle Obama-era regulations protecting "net neutrality" -- the idea that all web content should be treated equally by internet service providers.

Under the FCC proposal, due to be voted on Dec. 14 by the majority-Republican commission, ISPs would have the freedom to slow down or even block websites or online services that do not serve their commercial interests. They could also charge their customers a fee to prioritize the delivery of their content through the creation of internet “fast lanes.”

Higher education groups have been united in their condemnation of the net neutrality rollback, which they say could make it more difficult for students and the public to access educational resources, and potentially impose huge costs on institutions.

Jarret Cummings, director of policy and government relations at Educause, said the FCC proposal was concerning for higher education on “multiple levels” and would likely have a significant negative impact on higher education “and the internet as a whole.”

A High Price for Higher Ed

The proposal, put forward by Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, would reverse strong rules protecting net neutrality that were established by the (then majority-Democratic) FCC in 2015. Pai, formerly a lawyer for Verizon, was nominated to lead the agency by President Trump in January. Having served as an FCC commissioner since 2012, Pai has made no secret of the fact he thinks the 2015 regulations were a mistake and an example of government overreach. His appointment was celebrated by telecom companies.

If Pai's plan is approved and ISPs are allowed to create a “tiered” system of access, which could prioritize sites willing to pay for faster speeds, higher education institutions may be forced to pay fees to ensure that their online content, particularly bandwidth-guzzling video, continues to be accessible to students and the public at workable speeds, said Cummings.

Third-party services like email, particularly those that are cloud-based and require a fast and secure internet connection, may also be forced to pay ISPs to use the “fast lane” with increased costs passed on to customers. Jon Fansmith, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, said the cost increase to higher education institutions would likely be “massive,” as “there is no part of modern higher education that doesn’t depend on the internet,” he said. He added that much of this cost would likely be passed on to students “for no appreciable benefit.”

While the impact of the changes may sound trivial -- some webpages taking longer than others to load, for instance -- Fansmith said the net effect would be substantial and detrimental. “Imagine you’re a student taking an online exam, or trying to submit work by a deadline,” he said. The ability to participate in collaborative research in real time could also be impeded, said Fansmith.

Another potential impact of the FCC proposal, though not one Fansmith says he thinks is likely, is a limitation of free speech. Internet providers could, if they wished, block access to content their users find objectionable, said Fansmith. This could have a chilling impact on research on controversial issues such as gun control or abortion, said Fansmith.

A Widening Digital Divide

Though some universities have private networks or are part of National Research and Education Networks that will not be affected by the FCC rule change, many institutions still rely on commercial internet providers to send and receive information, said Cummings. Regardless of which networks are used on campus, students accessing content off campus or on their mobile phones could still encounter issues.

Janna Anderson, professor of communications and director of the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University, said she was particularly concerned about the impact of dismantling net neutrality on distance education. She said the introduction of paid prioritization from ISPs could “crush the potential for amazing breakthroughs in education for all.”

Many online educators were experimenting with technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, which could “much more effectively carry the opportunity for a first-rate higher education to anyone, anywhere,” Anderson said. But as these technologies would require substantial bandwidth, they may no longer be accessible at usable speeds to students accessing content from home.

“Added costs and complexities that may accompany a rejection of net neutrality principles will make it difficult to develop and implement these education innovations and deliver them to the public far and wide,” said Anderson. Such a change, she warned, “will further widen the digital divide.”

Another divide could emerge between those with the resources to pay for prioritization and those without, said Jessica Sebeok, associate vice president and counsel for policy at the Association of American Universities. This consequence of the rule change would particularly affect community colleges and smaller state institutions, she said.

Kris Shaffer, an instructional technology specialist at the University of Mary Washington, said many students working from home already have slow internet, making it difficult for them to access course materials. If ISPs start charging customers more for content such as video, this issue may get worse, he said.

At Mary Washington, many students take part in an institutionwide initiative called Domain of One’s Own, in which they are encouraged to create their own websites and share the content with friends. Shaffer says the university works with small companies to provide this service to students -- companies that, he worries, wouldn’t have the cash to buy prioritization from ISPs, potentially making the websites less accessible to the public.

“The internet was invented for universities. If educational content is now going to take a back seat … it’s disheartening, to say the least,” said Shaffer.

Potential Legal Challenges

Going forward, both Cummings and Fansmith agree that it is likely the FCC will vote to roll back net neutrality regulations next month. Legal challenges from open-internet advocates are likely to follow, however. If the changes hold, it is unlikely that colleges will notice differences overnight, said Cummings, but the internet will slowly change. Tracking whether access to institutional content is being restricted or slowed will be tricky, but even if it is observed, Cummings said he thought it was unlikely that individual institutions would have the resources to take legal action to rectify it.

The FCC says that ISPs should be transparent about how they implement the rule change, and suggests that many won’t make large changes for fear of losing out to competitors. But in many areas, there is no real competition between internet providers, said Cummings. While ISPs such as Comcast have said they do not plan to introduce paid prioritization, the providers are said to be supportive of the FCC proposal.

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Scaramucci resigns from Tufts advisory board

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 08:00

Anthony Scaramucci resigned Tuesday from his position on an advisory board at a Tufts University graduate school.

The former White House communications director’s dismissal from the Trump administration became national news when he was fired 10 days after his hiring was announced. In that short time, The New Yorker published a profanity-laced rant Scaramucci made during a phone call with one of the magazine’s reporters.

“This morning, Anthony Scaramucci informed the Fletcher School that he is resigning his position on the school’s Board of Advisors, effective immediately. We thank Mr. Scaramucci for his past service to Tufts and wish him well,” read a statement from James Stavridis, the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and David Harris, provost and senior vice president of Tufts University.

Scaramucci had been on the Fletcher advisory board since 2016, but found himself an object of in national media attention in recent months. A Tufts spokeswoman, Kalimah Knight, said the decision to resign was made by Scaramucci himself. Last week, his lawyer, Samuel L. Lieberman, threatened to sue the student newspaper at Tufts, alleging that a student made defamatory statements against Scaramucci in two opinion pieces.

Scaramucci, a 1986 Tufts graduate, was slated to speak at the university Monday, but that event was postponed after Lieberman sent the newspaper a letter threatening legal action unless certain statements in the opinion pieces were retracted and an apology was issued.

Knight did not respond to requests for comment as to how the resignation might affect the rescheduling of the speaking event. Scaramucci and Lieberman did not respond to requests for comment on why the resignation was tendered, or what it would mean for the potential lawsuit.

Scaramucci’s membership on the board had riled students and alumni before the opinion pieces were published in the student newspaper, with a petition circulating for his removal being launched in October. It had gathered about 300 signatures as of Tuesday. The petition was started by Carter Banker, a graduate student at the Fletcher School, who told The Boston Globe that she started it after a Twitter account associated with Scaramucci -- @ScaramucciPost -- tweeted a multiple-choice poll asking, “How many Jews were killed in the Holocaust?” (Scaramucci later apologized, saying the poll was supposed to be educational. The tweet was widely panned as fodder for anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers to lowball the scale of the genocide.)

Camilo Caballero, the author of the opinion pieces published in November that Scaramucci’s lawyer objected to, questioned the appropriateness of Scaramucci holding a position at Tufts. The master's student called Scaramucci “a man whose career and ideals are diametrically opposed to [the university's] ideas and who sullies the vision of the university,” adding that Scaramucci “sold his soul in contradiction to his own purported beliefs for a seat in that White House.”

In an open letter to Fletcher School students and faculty published the day before his resignation, Scaramucci rebuffed Banker’s and Caballero’s characterizations of him:

I trust we agree that my affiliation with the Republican Party is not disqualifying for service on the Fletcher School’s Advisory Board. Thus, I assume your quarrel is with my support for President Trump -- the democratically elected president of the United States who won 2,626 out of 3,141 American counties, including 217 counties that President Obama won in 2012.

Like many Republicans, I agree with Donald Trump on numerous issues and disagree with him on others. Despite our occasional differences of opinion, I continue to believe he will be a better president than Secretary Hillary Clinton would have been. While my political views may be objectionable to you, contrary to your accusation of hypocrisy, I have maintained a consistent and inclusive political ideology.

Tufts doesn't identify the Fletcher advisory board members by political party affiliation, but the board's membership is made up in significant part by business leaders whose presence has not been a source of controversy at the university.

Students weren’t the only ones questioning Scaramucci’s role at Tufts, however. The same day that Scaramucci published his open letter, Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School, said that Scaramucci had crossed the line when he threatened to sue the newspaper.

“With these legal shenanigans, however, the Mooch has traveled about three counties past the line and just kept on going,” Drezner wrote in an essay for The Washington Post, in which he also criticized Caballero.

“A Fletcher administrator and Scaramucci confirmed to me that since being appointed, he has neither attended an advisory board meeting nor given a single dollar to the school (he has previously donated high six figures to Tufts),” Drezner wrote. “Scaramucci acknowledged to me that his behavior at the White House suggests that the Mooch is not the world’s greatest goodwill ambassador."

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DeVos says U.S. has emphasized four-year degrees at the expense of work-force training

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 08:00

The Trump administration's higher education policy to date has consisted largely of undoing what it inherited -- rolling back, for instance, ambitious Obama era regulations on for-profit colleges and campus policies on sexual assault. Observers looking for an affirmative, forward-looking agenda have been hard-pressed to find much so far.

But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos this month provided as a clear a sense as observers have yet seen of her vision for her department's role in, and agenda for, postsecondary education, with a set of comments signaling a shift in emphasis from education to training.

In two separate forums this month, she said students have for years received a message that "the only path for a successful life" is through a four-year degree. But the increasing diversity of the student population -- and the relatively small proportion of students enrolled full-time at four-year institutions -- points to the need for greater attention to alternatives involving skills training, she said.

"To a large extent, we have stigmatized them for the past couple of decades," DeVos said of skills-training programs. "We have a lot of students who would benefit from being exposed to those different options."

DeVos's comments are in many ways consistent with statements President Trump has made since the election, and they double down on early efforts in his administration to elevate apprenticeships as a way to prepare workers.

But to the extent that her statements signal a broader philosophical approach to higher education, the implications could be significant, especially if the administration aggressively embraces her rhetoric in its policy decisions.

Some community college officials said they welcome the emphasis on work-force training, since two-year institutions would by necessity play a large role in any ambitious expansion of apprenticeship or other job preparation programs. But other leaders in the sector expressed concern that the secretary's rhetoric ignores the extent to which most skills training is embedded into a broader general education context, at two-year and four-year colleges alike.

Other policy experts said they believed DeVos's comments caricatured the extent to which the Obama administration's college attainment push focused on four-year colleges, and that an aggressive push in this direction could serve to discourage students from attending college, which remains the most promising path to entering the middle class.

Ambitious Vision of Previous Administration

President Obama made higher education a clear priority in his first speech to Congress by outlining a lofty goal for degree attainment. By 2020, he said, the United States should have the highest proportion of college-educated adults of any country. The U.S. looks to be falling well short of that goal, but higher ed advocates called it the strongest statement yet by a president in support of postsecondary education.

Obama's campaign in support of that ambitious vision also acknowledged that many different pathways to a post-high school education should be appropriate, including community colleges and vocational training as well as four-year institutions. And his administration followed through by making major investments in community college, including a $2 billion infusion for community colleges via the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program in 2010. He also forcefully backed efforts at the state level to make two-year colleges completely tuition-free.

Complaints still arose, however, over what some saw as a bias toward traditional colleges in the president's message. DeVos's comments this month appeared to echo those critics of the previous administration. And her rhetoric places a much more explicit emphasis on the role of vocational and career training.

“Many students graduate high school and don’t know what they want to pursue,” she said this month at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council event. “We have to give students a much wider venue of opportunities starting in high school and middle school to help guide them into a productive future.”

The attention from the Trump administration to work-force training programs is welcome news for community colleges.

"Our members are cheered to see the recognition that those comments reflected," said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.

Baime noted that DeVos's comments were in line with previous promises from the Trump administration to create 4.5 million new apprenticeships in five years. President Trump also called for a $200 million grant program to fund training in high-growth sectors -- although an earlier White House budget proposal slashed existing work-force training.

Kermit Kaleba, federal policy director at the National Skills Coalition, said he agreed with the notion that federal policy has overemphasized a traditional college education.

"As a general rule, federal policy has tended to focus pretty exclusively on access to four-year diplomas, and there's been a lot less emphasis on shorter-term educational training pathways," he said. "We spend about $30 billion a year on Pell Grants. We spend less than a 10th of that on work-force training."

Kaleba called the $2 billion in additional funding for community colleges under Obama a significant investment. But the coalition would also like to see policies allowing use of Pell Grants for short-term programs -- an idea that's gained momentum on both sides of the aisle in Washington -- as well as more "stackable" credentials.

DeVos, in her comments, called for better coordination between colleges and local business and industry about work-force needs. Many community colleges will be quick to say, however, that much of that work is already happening at the local level.

Greg Hamann, president of Linn-Benton Community College, in Oregon, said his college works closely with businesses in the area to provide graduates with the kinds of skills they're seeking. That makes community colleges well positioned to do a great deal of the work DeVos is talking up, he said.

But Hamann said the secretary's comments this month may be interpreted as promoting apprenticeships and work-force training at the expense of a broader education based on a college campus. He said specific skills-training programs at his college are designed to give students a broad knowledge of critical thinking and problem solving for the workplace.

"You probably won't be spending the rest of your life where your only interaction is between you and a piece of pipe," he said. "You'll be interacting with people. You'll have to navigate a work environment that's constantly changing."

Others worry that the rhetoric from DeVos signals that she will be less interested than previous education leaders in promoting to all students the possibility of a four-year degree.

Andrew Nichols, director of higher education research and data analytics at the Education Trust, said it is "kind of a dangerous message" to suggest that a four-year degree has been overvalued. A bachelor's degree is still the most reliable pathway to the middle class, he said.

Recent research from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce confirmed that a bachelor's degree is the "gold standard" for obtaining a well-paying job. College graduates held an increasing share of those jobs over the last quarter century, the Georgetown study found.

Traditional four-year institutions, meanwhile, still have serious work ahead of them to address issues with access on their campuses for traditionally underserved student populations.

"My main question to Secretary DeVos would be what are they doing to make sure apprenticeships or career tech programs aren't options that disproportionately appeal to low-income black and Latino students just because they've been systematically disadvantaged in various aspects of society," Nichols said.

While DeVos's comments didn't specify what kind of investment of resources she hoped to see in career and technical education versus apprenticeships, and indeed tended to lump them together, there are significant differences between those training options.

Career and technical education, commonly known as vocational education, has struggled for decades to overcome a well-earned reputation for tracking low-income and minority students into dead-end programs, said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills at New America. That said, career and technical programs have made great strides, particularly over the last decade, in improving the quality of their offerings, she said.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce has found that certificates are the fastest-growing postsecondary credential. But women who hold certificates are generally clustered in health-care fields that pay less than professions where men with certificates tend to find work. Georgetown also found that a third of certificate holders also hold an associate, bachelor's or graduate degree, suggesting that many workers are getting those credentials to add skills in a tight job market.

The challenge for apprenticeships is not a stigma, McCarthy said -- a recent New America survey showed they are as popular with the public as four-year universities and community colleges -- but the reality that there are few programs available and they are concentrated in a small number of fields, like skilled trades and manufacturing. The number of current registered apprenticeships is around 500,000.

"It's a tiny, tiny system and it has very weak connections to postsecondary degrees, which also limits its growth," she said.

At least one veteran of the Obama White House saw in the secretary's comments a continuation of Obama's support for community colleges. James Kvaal, who last month was named president of the Institute for College Access and Success, said DeVos appeared to recognize the critical role of community colleges in fueling growth in the number of higher ed graduates. He said Obama's 2009 goals recognized that the bulk of new college graduates required to meet his goal would have to come from community colleges.

"That was the driving force behind his proposal to make community colleges free and his belief that these institutions are important to building the size and influence of the middle class," Kvaal said.

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American professor in Denmark says she's being targeted by immigration officials for delivering invited lectures

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 08:00

Brooke Harrington, an American professor of business and politics at Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School, travels the world studying tax havens and sharing her findings with academics, policy makers and the general public. Demands for her lectures only increased last fall after Harvard University Press published her book Capital Without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent, which became popular in Denmark and abroad.

Harrington sees public scholarship as an essential part of her work as an academic. But Danish immigration authorities are calling it something else: a crime.

“As unfair as this is, if this were a civil matter, I’d pay the fine and be done with it, this has eaten up so much of my life,” Harrington said in an interview Monday. “But this is a criminal charge. So as someone who would like to be employed and travel in the future, I can’t.”

Harrington’s research is controversial in that it deals with tax loopholes and offshore accounts of kind documented in the so-called Panama Papers. Yet that isn’t what Danish officials find problematic. Citing a series of lectures Harrington delivered -- ironically -- to members of the Danish Parliament, Danish tax authorities and a law class at the University of Copenhagen this year and last, they’ve charged her with working outside her university and therefore the parameters of her work permit.

Denmark has taken a relatively hard line against immigrants in recent years. The charges against Harrington are notable, however, in that she is an internationally recognized scholar, not a refugee or a low-skill worker -- those who are more typically criticized in the country. Her case is also part of a bigger reported crackdown on foreign academics sharing their research in Denmark.  Some 14 foreign researchers across Denmark's eight public universities have been accused of violating their work permits on similar grounds, according to Politiken, a major newspaper.

Harrington faces $2,000 in fines and a much bigger problem: paying up simply to move on would mean admitting to a crime, with major repercussions for the rest of her career. Job applications and even travel visas often have a box asking whether one has ever been convicted of a crime, she said. There’s little room for nuance in answering a yes-or-no question, Harrington added, so “yes” applications typically get tossed in what she called “the round bin.”

“For someone who does international research -- my work on tax havens took me to 18 different countries -- this would literally be the end of my career,” she said. Even staying in Denmark would be next to impossible after a criminal conviction, since she’d be barred from applying for permanent residency for 15 years as a result, she noted. At that point, she'd be 64 and likely discriminated against as someone approaching the age of retirement in a country protective of its generous pension system.

“If I’d known what I was getting into, I really would have had second thoughts about coming here,” Harrington said of her move to Denmark eight years ago. “Anyone in higher education considering moving here should be aware they’ll have to confront this.”

Laws barring nonpermanent Danish residents from holding side jobs, paid or unpaid, have been in effect for some time. But Harrington said public scholarship is hardly a side job for an academic. Moreover, a separate Danish law mandates that university faculty members publicly share their research. Ironically, on the day Harrington learned of her criminal charges, she was notified that she’d received an award for research dissemination from the Danish Society for Education and Business.

And no matter that Parliament invited Harrington to speak -- it’s facing scrutiny, too, for being unaware of laws preventing academics from speaking outside their universities without first obtaining explicit permission to do so from the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration. That permission process is lengthy, by the way; Harrington said applying for a recent one-day work permit to give lecture to a political group took 15 hours. 

Policy makers and other Danish academics have publicly defended Harrington, as has Per Holten-Andersen, president of the Copenhagen Business School. Yet the charges remain. Harrington said two uniformed police officers even came to her home and banged on her door to speak with her about them last month.

Her options few, Harrington said that she has to fight. Yet the legal process to do so will be long and draining, financially and otherwise -- unless something changes. She hopes her work won't suffer in the interim.

“The really awful thing about this is I’ve gotten all this feedback, professionally and personally, that in my research is useful," especially to those trying to prevent tax evasion to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per case, Harrington said. “Now with a criminal charge, all of my credibility is vaporizing.”

Holten-Andersen said in an emailed statement Tuesday that it is "deeply worrying that international researchers in Denmark risk fines or problems with residence permits for having relevant sideline occupations that their European Union colleagues can have without any trouble." Rules and regulations must be followed, he said, "but this represents the worst form of bureaucracy. We stand 100 percent behind our employees who are experiencing problems and offer advice and support." 

Copenhagen Business School will "work perseveringly for and support, also publicly, that the rules are changed as fast as possible," he said. Holten-Andersen noted that the institution, in collaboration with other universities, is in talks with public authorities to "find a solution." The Danish Rectors’ Conference also will ask Ministry of Higher Education and Science to intervene, he said.

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Art exhibit at CUNY draws scrutiny from Pentagon

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 08:00

Is it art? Or government property? Or both?

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice is currently hosting an exhibit of art from eight current and former detainees at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Earlier this month, however, the Department of Defense halted the export of artwork made by prisoners there, declaring that works made by the prisoners are property of the United States government.

The exhibit, “Ode to the Sea: Art From Guantá​namo,” went on display at the City University of New York campus Oct. 2, when Department of Defense policy still allowed detainees to export art from the island prison where the U.S. government currently detains 41 people. A total of 779 people, all men, have been detained at Guantá​namo Bay since the prison’s controversial opening in 2002.

“On the opening pages of Moby-Dick, [Herman] Melville writes about the ‘water-gazers’ of New York, office-dwellers who spent their free time looking at the rivers and sea that surround the city,” Erin Thompson, the exhibit’s co-curator and an assistant professor in John Jay's Department of Art and Music, wrote in an essay for The Paris Review when the exhibit debuted. “The detainee artists told me that they thought of the sea as a symbol of both hope and fear. They represented it in order to dream about escape and to escape as best they could. By immersing themselves so fully in making art, they could imagine that they were in a ship at sea -- until the work was finished.”

The New York Post characterized the exhibit as “controversial,” noting that some of the first responders who died in the Sept. 11 attacks had attended John Jay. (On the other hand, Thompson noted, only one of the current detainees whose work is on display has actually been charged with a crime.)

After going through an examination by prison authorities, art created through prison programming was allowed to be released and sent abroad. That policy was changed earlier this month.

“Items produced by detainees remain the property of the U.S. government,” Ben Sakrisson, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday, adding that the policy was in firmly in place and not under review, which previous reports had suggested was a possibility. Even if a detainee is eventually released, Sakrisson acknowledged that the policy implicitly states that any art made by the detainee would still be government property.

He said that media reports that mentioned that some of the artwork was being sold provided the impetus to "institute an appropriate policy, which effectively eliminated transfer of detainee-produced artwork from the detention facility." (Thompson said that only the artwork made by released detainees -- not those currently at Guantá​namo Bay -- was for sale.)

“My tenure approval came through this month, and then five days later news broke that I had pissed off the Pentagon,” Thompson told Inside Higher Ed. “That was good timing, rather than the other way around.”

Art programs will remain underway at Guantá​namo, Sakrisson said, and the Department of Defense is not moving to strip John Jay or any other institution or person of art produced in Guantá​namo.

The clarity of the directive was news to Thompson Monday, and she lamented that no one from the Department of Defense had reached out to her directly and that the policy had seemed unclear.

“My main moral responsibility at this point is to the detainees who are still at Guantá​namo. Because to them, making art is an incredibly important psychological measure,” she said.

Rumors have swirled since the policy was announced, and some detainees have told their lawyers that guards informed them their art might be burned if they are released, or that “excess” art in their possession would be confiscated.

Sakrisson said that there has been no directive on incineration from the Department of Defense.

A petition on Change.org, titled “Stop the Destruction of Art at Guantá​namo,” currently has about 500 signatures, and calls for a restoration of the previous policy.

The exhibit includes artwork from both former and current detainees. The current detainees, most of whom have never had charges filed against them, much less fair trials, would be drastically affected by this policy. Taking away their ability to find and create beauty and communicate with the outside world through their paintings, drawings and sculpture is both incredibly petty and incredibly cruel.

Help us send a message to the Pentagon by signing this petition. Let them know that burning art is something done by fascist and terrorist regimes -- but not by the American people.

Thompson said that her combination of holding a doctorate in art history as well as a law degree has been useful in navigating the curating of the exhibit from the beginning and through the more recent developments.

“My role, which has recently become much more relevant, has been to sort of translate between the art world and the law world and the academic world,” she said. “Which has not been an easy job.”

Despite the setback from the Pentagon, however, she expressed confidence in the exhibit’s strength going forward.

“It depends on your risk averseness,” she said. “A number of other institutions and curators have reached out and are interested in displaying this or other art. There’s a little bit of a come-at-me attitude, because people realize the importance of displaying this.”

(Update: The Pentagon elaborated on the reasoning behind changing its policy on detainee artwork on Tuesday.)

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Hampton's move to Big South and its impact on HBCU athletics

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 08:00

Hampton University’s decision to leave the historically black Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference has prompted questions about the ripple effect on the league, its institutions and HBCU athletics as a whole.

Last week, Hampton announced it would join the more visible and wealthier Big South Conference in July 2018, a change intended to raise the athletic profile of one of the most academically successful historically black colleges and universities. News reports indicated that the university has been in talks with the Big South for years, and Hampton's president, William Harvey, has been characterized as long wanting to advance the profile of Hampton athletics and the institution over all.

Hampton officials said the move would cut down on travel time and expenses for Hampton's athletics department and its players, citing the fact that Big South institutions are located in Virginia -- as is Hampton -- as well as North Carolina and South Carolina. The Mid-Eastern league spans the East Coast, from Delaware to Florida, but Big South members are also located in New Jersey and Georgia, too. 

With the shift, MEAC loses one of its most well-funded members -- Hampton’s athletics budget, $13.8 million in the 2015-16 academic year, more closely resembles those of potential rivals in the Big South. And Hampton has some of the better facilities in the MEAC.

Hampton also has established rivalries with Howard University and Norfolk State University that generate big revenue for the conference, said Jarrett Carter Sr., founder of HBCU Digest, a well-recognized news source on HBCUs.

But Hampton shouldn’t be treated as though it is absconding from MEAC, Carter said. Many institutions want to boost their profiles by transitioning to more prestigious leagues, and Hampton shouldn’t be criticized for doing the same.

“You owe it to your program, you owe it to your alumni, to position in such a way to grow the athletic brand,” Carter said.

Carter acknowledged that the MEAC would likely take a hit over losing Hampton, which he said jokingly is referred to as the Duke University of the league for the quality of its program and its status as a private institution.

But this allows MEAC to highlight some of its stars at other institutions and allow other rivalries to blossom, he said. Instead of relying on a couple of universities to carry the league, this change enables MEAC to become much more competitive among the remaining teams, Carter said.

“It’s not a cultural betrayal,” he said. “This is a great school that’s trying to grow, and every school should get a chance to do that.”

Alumni have been mixed over the move, Harry Minium, a sports columnist for The Virginian-Pilot, wrote in a recent article.

Some have cheered their alma mater’s move to a league with “better football and basketball and a better TV presence,” though Minium characterized it as only “a marginal step.”

Other fans have been miffed that Hampton departed an HBCU league. Tennessee State University is the only other National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I HBCU not in a historically black league. It’s a member of the Ohio Valley Conference.

“Some of the vibe synonymous with HBCU sports will be lost, especially come basketball tournament time,” Minium wrote. “The Big South and MEAC tournaments offer vastly different experiences. Personally, I prefer the bands, the cheerleaders, the energy in the MEAC to most other midmajor tournaments. And do HU officials really think basketball games with High Point, Winthrop and USC Upstate, or football games with Campbell, Monmouth and Kennesaw State, will jazz the home crowd? I think not.”

It will take several seasons for Hampton to develop the rivalries that existed before and generate hype about them, Carter said.

Bijan Bayne is a recognized sports author and a founder of the proposed Historical Basketball League, a league that could pay athletes and that would do away with the NCAA’s notion of amateurism. He said the contemporary NCAA system does not benefit historically black institutions. Prior to integration, HBCUs banded together in these conferences because they could attract blue-chip players. Now, the HBCU leagues have lost some of their clout because black players are recruited and in demand, Bayne said. More than half of the football players in the Power 5 conferences are black.

Hampton has long been a part of the MEAC, after moving from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1995. MEAC will also lose Savannah State University, which will drop to NCAA Division II.

The vote to admit Hampton was unanimous, according to the Big South.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 08:00
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Texas higher ed commissioner says outnumbered men feel uncomfortable on some campuses

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/27/2017 - 08:00

Should outnumbered men feel uncomfortable on college campuses?

That’s a highly charged question hanging over Texas after remarks last week by the state’s commissioner of higher education. The commissioner, Raymund Paredes, commented before Thanksgiving on the fact that some campuses in Texas have student bodies that are 60 percent women and 40 percent men.

“We’ve been told by some presidents that we’re getting to the point where males feel uncomfortable on college campuses, on some college campuses,” Paredes said.

To many, the comments, made at a University of Houston Board of Regents meeting and first reported in the Houston Chronicle, came off as tone-deaf in light of the broader discussion currently taking place about gender, abuse and power dynamics in higher education and society. Within higher ed alone, recent headlines have centered on allegations that professors holding positions of power sexually harassed or preyed upon women. Some critics also point out that women are underrepresented in top jobs at universities and that they do not earn equal wages to men in the workplace. That's not to mention other aspects of campus atmosphere that hardly seem to indicate women holding all the power -- the fact that the higher education institution most revered by many in Texas is football, and that fraternities play a powerful role in the social life of many campuses.

Against that backdrop, it can be argued that women are the ones with cause to feel uncomfortable on college campuses -- not men.

Paredes says, however, that his comments have merit when taken in context. He had been speaking about the issue of enrolling and graduating male students from minority groups, an area where colleges and universities in the diverse -- and quickly further diversifying -- state of Texas have struggled. When Paredes spoke about men feeling uncomfortable, he had just said the state was behind in graduating African-American and Latino men. Texas has a lot of work ahead of it to bring up participation among economically disadvantaged groups, he said.

​Paredes declined during a telephone interview last week to share which college presidents have told him men are feeling uncomfortable on their campuses. But he reiterated that he was referring to groups of students that are financially at risk or less prepared for college than others.

“They are obviously going to feel uncomfortable if they don’t see many people like themselves on a university campus,” Paredes said. “I didn’t mean to suggest that we were at a crisis point, but I meant to suggest that a lot of people think we’re getting there.”

Asked more specifically about whether white men are also feeling uncomfortable, Paredes said that white male participation and completion rates are lower than rates for white women.

“We have a challenge in terms of the participation of males,” he said. “I think most of us want to have participation at levels that mirror their presence in the overall population, and I think most of us would be very concerned if any group -- African-American, Latino, white -- if their participation rates in any important societal function were much lower than their actual presence in the overall population.”

Yet experts question whether equal participation rates in higher education should be the goal in a world where men overwhelmingly hold top positions and earn more at work, on average, than women. Even accepting that goal, some questioned whether men’s comfort is the right focal point. Some pointed out that college campuses are places to challenge students -- places where, by definition, students should feel uncomfortable when confronted by issues like changing gender roles, economic prospects and patriarchy.

It’s important to note, though, that Paredes made the argument in Texas, where the state’s higher education strategic plan sets specific goals for degree completion by 2030. The top goal is to have at least 60 percent of young adults aged 25-34 holding a postsecondary credential of some sort by that year. But the plan also sets specific benchmarks for future certificate or degree completion among several groups of students: Hispanic students, African-American students, economically disadvantaged students -- and male students.

The plan describes the goal for men as a way to “monitor progress toward gender parity.”

Some retort that gender parity or gender equity can’t be measured solely by the number of students enrolled and the number of degrees granted.

“We should be cheering that more women are completing higher education, but they are still being dealt a fairly unlevel playing field,” said Anne Hedgepeth, interim vice president of public policy and government relations at the American Association of University Women. “Look not just at student populations but also at who is teaching classes, who is in higher ed administration, who are the provosts and on the boards that control higher education. Who is in political power, governors especially?”

The governor of Texas and the state’s top legislative leaders are all men. So are 121 of 150 members of the state House of Representatives and 23 of 31 members of the state Senate. Men make up a significant majority on a list of public university leaders kept by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

That’s not the situation only in Texas. By and large, power structures with the most influence on colleges and universities remain predominantly male, Hedgepeth said.

AAUW has also found that women working full-time across the country earn only 80 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. In Texas, they only earn 79 cents on the dollar.

Men in Texas carry comparatively less debt then women upon graduating. Student loan debt as a percentage of first-year wages for students graduating with four-year degrees totaled 67 percent for men and 77 percent for women, according to the Texas Higher Education Almanac. For those graduating with two-year degrees, it totaled 34 percent for men and 42 percent for women.

Other statistics show men lagging when it comes to degree completion. Men are less likely than women to graduate from high school, enroll in higher education or receive a higher education degree.

Men are roughly half of the Texas population. But men were only 43.6 percent of the state’s 1.65 million students enrolled in higher education in 2016. They represent about 42 percent of the state’s degree completions.

The gender breakdown on Texas campuses varies significantly. Some campuses, including main campuses for Texas A&M and Texas Tech, enroll more male undergraduates than women. Others skew far in the other direction.

Even with that complex set of data, some worry about the nuanced views that could be lost in the rush for gender parity.

“I’m just concerned that some of the complexity is getting flattened out of the picture,” said Susan Heinzelman, director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “It irks me so much, because I think of the university as a place where complexity is nourished and celebrated. If that’s getting flattened here, good luck with the rest of the culture.”

Heinzelman was one of several experts who agreed that the debate about men feeling comfortable on campus depends on which men are being discussed. Students from historically underrepresented populations who feel uncomfortable could be seeing many universities as white, elitist, unfriendly places. Men studying subjects like engineering, where they dominate in number, but feeling uncomfortable about the number of women on campus, would be a different question.

At some level, the issues involved should make students with advantages feel uncomfortable, Heinzelman said.

“I’m all in favor of making people uncomfortable,” she said. “Not threatened -- but calling attention to the world in which they live and have privilege.”

It’s also worth pointing out that male enrollment varies drastically between Texas universities and individual programs. Texas Tech University, with an undergraduate student body that is 55 percent men, has run a one-day conference intended to help young girls find careers in science, technology, engineering and math. UT Austin, with a 47 percent male undergraduate enrollment, has an initiative called Project MALES, which works with Latino and black men.

Project MALES has male and female college students serving as mentors for boys in Austin-area schools and middle schools, said its coordinator, Mike Gutierrez. About 60 undergraduates and 10 graduate students work with 120 middle school and high school students.

Many of the participants in the program feel cultural influences or pressure to earn money instead of attending college for several years, Gutierrez said. Gender gaps on campus can be noticeable for students enrolled in college when they are in class or walking around campus. But the program tries to provide a place for discussion about that issue and other issues, like sexual assault.

“We try to give a little bit of time and space for them to kind of describe any concerns they might have,” Gutierrez said. “A lot of times, we want to make sure these young men can talk about what it means to be a male student on campus.”

Other institutions in Texas have programs for some men as well. At Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Sam Houston Establishing Leadership In and Through Education attempts to boost academic, professional and personal development among Hispanic and African-American men. It works with about 160 students and wants to grow to at least 200, said Miguel Arellano Arriaga, program coordinator. The men who take part don’t necessarily feel outnumbered on campus, he said. But women would like access to a similar program.

“We do get a lot of women who ask why there isn’t a program like this for them,” he said.

Outside Texas, many found it hard to believe that men feel uncomfortable on campus. That was the initial reaction of Jerlando F. L. Jackson, director and chief research scientist at Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin Madison. But his thoughts changed as he considered the different populations of men and the ways young men might interpret the things they see unfolding on campus around them.

Men might feel uncomfortable if they see programs and initiatives for others but don’t think they have access to those programs, he said. They might feel uncomfortable if they think they need to overanalyze every move in their relationships with women.

“My thought over all changed in thinking through this,” Jackson said. “If we did unpack this current collegiate experience, there are probably many more topics, and matters that call males to question what their role is on a college campus.”

While many may believe the historical advantages or power dynamics men enjoy should be changed, the idea of special programs to help men navigate college is more controversial. After all, it can be argued that many of higher education’s existing power structures function as boys' clubs or support systems for men.

Jim Shelley is the manager of the Men’s Resource Center at Lakeland Community College in Ohio, one of only a few programs of its kind. He hears from students, administrators and faculty members across the country. Broadly speaking, he believes there is a lack of interest in helping men on college campuses.

“The typical attitude is men are the problem and need to be reprogrammed,” he said. “What we’re trying to do with the program is kind of rephrase that to state that men have problems, too.”

It’s a hard discussion for administrators to have without minimizing the challenges women face. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recognizes higher ed needs to address serious problems related to gender, Paredes said. He called for addressing those problems with data.

“We know we are not going to achieve our goals -- 60 percent of our youngest cohort of adults having some form of postsecondary credential by 2030 -- if we don’t have heavy levels of participation by all groups,” he said. “And that’s what the message is.”

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Guilty plea by former team doctor renews scrutiny of Michigan State

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/27/2017 - 08:00

Larry Nassar pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that he molested numerous girls as a doctor for the U.S. national gymnastics team. While he pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexual assault, he admitted responsibility in many more cases, some of them involving girls who went on to become Olympic stars.

His guilty plea has renewed calls for more information about what Michigan State University knew about the accusations against Nassar, who was director of sports medicine at the university at the same time he worked for the U.S. gymnastics team. Some of the women who were Nassar's victims charge that Michigan State either covered up accusations against him or looked the other way, allowing his abuse of girls to go on longer than it might have otherwise.

Michigan State fired Nassar in September 2016, after a series of articles started to appear in The Indianapolis Star about the sexual abuse of young gymnasts on the U.S. national team. One article, published days before the university fired Nassar, said two longtime gymnasts had accused him of sexual abuse in which he took advantage of his role as doctor to the team. (As the article, since updated, notes, the number now making such accusations about him tops 150).

Since then, some have come forward to say they reported inappropriate conduct by Nassar to Michigan State in 2014. NBC News quoted a former athlete saying she told Michigan State that a physical exam became a sexual assault in 2014, but that the university cleared him, relying in part on backing of other Michigan State employees, one of whom was described as close friend of Nassar. Another former student was quoted as saying that Michigan State discouraged students from talking to reporters looking into the situation.

"I came forward … and I was silenced," said one student.

MLive.com reported that other athletes came forward much earlier, in 1999 or 2000, reporting similar sexual abuse and feeling that the university ignored them. Lawyers for some women suing Michigan State said the university heard complaints as early as 1997. The university has denied receiving such allegations prior to 2014, and said it investigated thoroughly at that time.

The pattern alleged at Michigan State -- a powerful figure in the athletics department engaging in abuse for years without anyone doing anything about it -- has drawn comparisons to the Sandusky scandal at Pennsylvania State University. "Where is the outrage by the MSU Board of Trustees over the alleged actions by Dr. Larry Nassar? How is this different from the Penn State scandal? Why have heads not rolled at MSU?" asked a letter to the editor of The State News, Michigan State's student newspaper.

Michigan State has faced lawsuits and considerable legal costs as the scandal has grown. While the university has condemned Nassar and has been doing so since he was fired, Michigan State is being accused of not being forthright about its responsibilities in the case.

The allegations of a cover-up have extended beyond Nassar. Michigan State in February announced the suspension of Kathie Klages, who was in her 27th year as women's gymnastics coach, and who subsequently retired. The university did not indicate the reason for the suspension, but it followed allegations that a woman on her team reported concerns about treatments by Nassar and that the coach dismissed the concerns as a likely misunderstanding.

Lawyers for the women whom Nassar abused held a press conference after Wednesday's court hearing in which they called on Michigan State to release various internal investigations of Nassar so that people could see what the university knew, and when. At the press conference, they said if Michigan State doesn't release these investigations, Lou Anna K. Simon should be urged to resign as president.

"MSU and its administrators could have prevented the Nassar scandal if they had simply followed Title IX and the mandatory reporting laws. They ignored complaints of his misconduct going back to 1997. When they finally conducted a Title IX investigation of Nassar in 2014, they botched it and allowed him to continue allegedly molesting dozens of women and girls for two more years, including Team U.S.A. gymnasts," said a statement from Stephen Drew, one of the women's lawyers.

The university issued a statement after the press conference in which it said, "Michigan State University continues to be shocked and appalled by Larry Nassar’s now-admitted criminal conduct. Any suggestion that the university covered up this conduct is simply false." The statement added that Michigan State has turned over internal investigations to authorities that have brought criminal charges against Nassar and that the university has cooperated fully with those authorities. "MSU has consistently promised if it were to find any employee knew of and acquiesced in Nassar’s misconduct, the university would immediately report it to law enforcement."

The lawyers representing Nassar's victims have repeatedly called on Michigan State to release findings from investigations done by two prominent law firms, Skadden Arps and Miller Canfield. And lawyers have said Michigan State's refusal to do so compares unfavorably with the way Penn State released the results of outside investigations it commissioned on the Sandusky scandal.

But Michigan State says the investigations are different. The university's investigations have been designed to keep university leaders and appropriate legal authorities informed, a spokesman said. There has never been an intent to produce a report, and the investigations have not led to such a report, he said, so there is nothing to release.

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Study of internal grant proposal review processes demonstrates major return on investment

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/27/2017 - 08:00

The stakes for research grant applications are high in today’s competitive funding environment. Yet applications are often submitted to external funding agencies before they pass any kind of internal review process. A new study from Columbia University’s School of Nursing suggests that institutions benefit from helping researchers write better grants. Specifically, it found that pilot grant applications that underwent an internal review were twice as likely as nonreviewed applications to receive funding.

“Over a five-year time frame, our school’s intramural pilot grant program produced peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations and subsequent external grant funding that likely would not have otherwise been generated,” the study says. “Given the resources required to prepare grant applications, internal finding and reviews can enhance return on investment.”

The paper, now in press with Nursing Outlook, is based on outcome data on 14 intramural pilot grants and 88 external grant applications from 2012 to 2016. In all, researchers found that pilot grants produced 16 peer-reviewed articles, 33 presentations and 11 grants. Some 42 percent (20 out of 48) applications that saw any type of internal review received funding, compared to 20 percent of grants (eight out of 40) that were not reviewed internally prior to submission.

Columbia Nursing’s $127,000 investment in funding their review processes over five years led to $3 million in external funding. That doesn’t take into account the time and effort associated with such processes. However, the study says, “we believe it still represents a sound investment for the school and for launching the research careers of postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty.”

In 2012, to address what the study describes as a critical need for research infrastructure, Columbia Nursing launched an intramural pilot grant program open to postdoctoral fellows and faculty members, with a preference for funding junior professors and early-stage investigators. Three such grants are available each year, of up to $10,000 each; the idea is that they’ll fund preliminary data collection or scholarly preparation for bigger grant proposals. Pilot grant recipients are required to submit interim and final progress reports, make a formal presentation to faculty members and students on the results, and share their findings in a publishable manuscript, abstract or other conference presentation.

Other funding priorities include projects that enhance collaboration among nursing faculty members, particularly clinical and research scholars, and those that incorporate interdisciplinary and translational research, the paper notes.

At the same time, the school’s Office of Scholarship and Research Development began coordinating a two-part internal review process for grant applications: peer-to-peer meetings called Specific Objectives and Aims Review (SOAR), followed by a live mock review. The programs are optional but strongly encouraged for faculty members and mandatory for postdocs.

SOAR protocols are scheduled for two to three months prior to proposal submissions. “Because a SOAR is designed to be preparatory to writing the proposal, only the specific aims are distributed and discussed,” the study says. “The purpose of the SOAR is to assure, before development of the protocol, that the aims are clear, logical, important, well articulated, feasible and include a cogent and logical rationale.” Sessions are informal and dialogue based, taking approximately 30 minutes. Investigators are required to contact their peer reviewers via email following the meeting to share what changes they plan to make in their proposals.

As for mock reviews, the study says that even if an investigator “feels that the grant is as near ‘perfect’ as possible, fresh eyes can pick up ways to improve the flow, make the presentation more motivating or identify flaws not previously recognized.” Grant seekers submit their mock review requests several weeks in advance and identify a group of peer experts and nonexperts to participate. Ideally, investigators agree to let graduate students and other faculty members watch the mock review, which is moderated by a staff or faculty member.

Over the five years studied, 19 intramural pilot grant applications were submitted. Fourteen were funded, with five senior principal investigators, seven junior professors, one associate research scientist and one postdoctoral fellow (three were repeat recipients). Pilot grants averaged $9,100 per project. The grants provided data for 14 subsequent grant applications, 11 of which were funded externally (two are pending and one was not funded).

Of the 88 grant applications that underwent mock reviews, 72 were submitted to federal agencies and 16 were submitted to foundations. Seventy-five applications were submitted by faculty, 22 of which were funded. Six of the 13 applications submitted by postdocs or graduate students were funded. Twenty-seven underwent at least one type of internal review. Seven applications only had a SOAR review, two of which were funded. Twenty-three applications had only a mock review, of which 12 were funded. Eighteen applications had both a SOAR and a mock review, six of which were funded. Forty applications had both a SOAR and mock review, eight of which were funded.

For external grant applications that underwent any type of internal review, whether SOAR, mock review or both, compared with those that did not participate, 42 percent received funding as compared with 20 percent that did not participate.

‘Broadly Applicable’ Findings

Lead author Kristine M. Kulage, director of research and scholarly development in nursing at Columbia, said Tuesday that she thought the study’s findings were “broadly applicable” not just to other health-care fields but to those across the sciences. (Kulage co-wrote the study with Elaine L. Larson, associate dean for research at Columbia Nursing.)

“High-quality grant writing is essential for all scientific disciplines to secure research grants in this highly competitive funding environment,” Kulage said. “Grant applications must not only be scientifically significant, innovative and rigorous with a high potential to improve health outcomes, but must also be well written to ensure accuracy, clarity, organization and a logical flow of arguments.”

It’s “absolutely essential that sound infrastructure be in place to support scientific investigators in both their grant writing and research endeavors,” Kulage added. At Columbia Nursing, for example, even relatively small investments in critical infrastructure -- such as financial support for preliminary data collection for future grants -- make a difference.

Nathan L. Vanderford, an assistant professor of toxicology and cancer biology at the University of Kentucky and assistant director for research at the campus’s Markey Cancer Center, said it’s rare for researchers or professors to participate in internal vetting procedures when they lack a strong internal peer network or institutional support services.

“Some faculty within an institution work in a vacuum and they simply don’t connect with other faculty that could help them vet or pre-review grants and manuscripts,” he said. Possible reasons for not participating might be “pure stubbornness” or internal political issues, he added. Yet Vanderford said he’s seen researchers succeed when they tap in to an internal peer network or use institutional support services. The cancer center’s Research Communications Office, for example, offers help with grant writing. The cancer center also offers a “grant swap” mechanism, by which professors can have their grant applications reviewed by other professors with similar expertise, and an integrated pilot funding program. (The College of Medicine also has a National Institutes of Health primary grant consultation service.)

Vanderford said the pilot mechanisms have been successful: in the last five years, 19 funded projects have yielded 11 external grants totaling $6,583,106 -- a return of $13.86 per dollar invested -- and 12 peer-reviewed publications.

It’s “all about faculty engaging with their peers, being willing to obtain peer feedback and utilizing the services provided by an institution,” he said.

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Servicers and states seek answer from DeVos on whether feds pre-empt state regulations

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/27/2017 - 08:00

The Department of Education’s announcement in May that it would rescind extensive requirements for loan servicers previously issued by the Obama administration was a red flag to skeptics who already doubted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's commitment to protecting student borrowers.

Those requirements pressed servicers to be more active guides for borrowers seeking to pay off their student loan debt. And they said servicers would be judged based on outcomes for borrowers as well as the effectiveness of communications to borrowers, including special outreach to those at risk of default.

Despite assurances to the contrary from DeVos, many state lawmakers and regulators over the past year have responded by strengthening their own oversight regimes -- in one case, by largely adopting the Obama requirements.

The drive for tougher oversight in many states has formed the backdrop to a dispute between servicers and regulators, with DeVos in the middle.

Now both sides are waiting for the secretary to weigh in one way or another -- to recognize that federal policy pre-empts state regulations or, if attorneys general have their way, to stay out of their oversight of the sector.

Unlike state laws governing campus policies, though, the new regulations of servicers affect entities operating across state lines, drawing complaints from entities that say they shouldn’t have to comply with a patchwork of federal and state regulations.

In the first in a volley of letters to DeVos over the summer, the Education Finance Council, which represents nonprofit and state-based servicers, called on the secretary to make clear that federal law takes precedence in the event of a conflict with state law.

"We support any federal or state law that is protecting borrowers and is helping borrowers -- that we agree with 100 percent. Our specific concern is in the event of a conflict between federal and state law, servicers will have difficulty determining which to comply with,” Debra Chromy, the president of EFC, said in an interview. “Additionally, we are concerned with a patchwork of 50 different state laws that not only servicers would have to comply with, but also that would require borrowers to figure out what their rights are from state to state, rather than having those rights clarified and encoded on a federal level.”

Chromy said if states have concerns about regulatory standards for servicers, they should address those concerns at the federal level.

The National Council of Higher Education Resources in a July letter to DeVos offered even more detailed complaints about specific state laws and regulatory activity by state law enforcement officers.

But last month, a group of 32 Democratic and Republican state attorneys general told DeVos that the Higher Education Act, which authorizes Title IV federal aid programs, does not give the feds the power to pre-empt state consumer protections.

Colleen Campbell, associate director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said it’s natural that state elected officials are taking a hard look at loan servicers. Student loans are one of the top higher education issues when it comes to voter interest, she said.

The perception that the Department of Education has backed off oversight in the first months of the Trump administration likely fuels the push for tougher oversight by the states, Campbell said.

“If you’re running for office and you’re not seen as being tough on companies profiting off the student loan space, or you don’t really have a stance on student loans, it’s not a good look,” she said.

Several Democratic AGs have partnered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to bring lawsuits against servicers such as Navient. While the CFPB has been active in oversight of loan servicers, Campbell said many consumers are not aware of the resources it provides. And many issues at the state level, she said, won’t be broad, systemic problems that can trigger federal involvement.

“They’re kind of an easy boogeyman to go after,” she said. “At the same time, they’re probably not doing a great job. And we’re not compensating them in a way to incentivize them to do a better job. Servicing is a kind of new frontier to look to hold large entities accountable.”

Connecticut, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., have all added new requirements for servicers in the name of protecting student borrowers.

EFC said that the District of Columbia’s new emergency loan regulations created the most “heightened” sense of alarm because its fee schedule would mean servicers lose money by operating in the city.

Tanya Bryant, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, said the fee schedule was based on similar regulatory regimes in California and Connecticut.

She said the department has met with student loan servicers to discuss issues with that fee schedule and is reviewing concerns raised through the public comment process. DISB will address any concerns over fees in a forthcoming final rule making.

The loan servicing group also said Connecticut’s new servicing standards, issued in July, include requirements that would push servicers into loan counseling -- a much different activity than taking payments.

And NCHER complained to DeVos that Connecticut had largely adopted the servicing requirements of the “Mitchell memo” -- the Obama administration document issued by then Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell laying out new consumer requirements in the next federal servicing contract -- even though the department itself withdrew the document in May.

“This leads NCHER and its members to theorize that the ‘Mitchell memo’ is in effect, but just in certain states,” said NCHER President James Bergeron in the letter to DeVos.

A Connecticut law requiring that student loan servicers apply for licenses to operate in the state went into effect last year. In July, the state issued the new set of student loan servicing standards, drawing the ire of the servicers.

Matt Smith, director of government relations and consumer affairs at the Connecticut Department of Banking, said those standards were required by statute. And they were largely based on standards already in place for industries like mortgage servicers.

There is growing evidence that more action is needed from federal and state regulators to rectify poor performance by servicers, said Ben Barrett, a program associate with the education policy program at New America, who follows servicing issues.

“There definitely needs to be some coordination between states and between the states and the federal government to ensure there aren’t any hiccups,” he said. “But they’re trying to protect servicers against having to comply with myriad state regulations.”

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