DC Shuttle …
U.S. Education Department Announces Corinthian College Debt Plan. The U.S. Department of Education released a forgiveness plan for students of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges. The plan would extend to all students who can prove their college defrauded them. According to Inside Higher Ed, the department expects to receive claims from borrowers that attended other for-profit colleges proven to have engaged in predatory practices. The New York Times reports that the cost of the plan might be offset by profits from the federal student loan program. In its press release, the Education Department outlined steps it has takenor plans to take to hold institutions accountable for overwhelming student debt. The department also released a guide to help students file deft relief claims. Several lawmakers made statements in response to the department’s plan, including Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA). On the House side, House Education and Workforce Committee Chair John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) released a joint statement.
Warren Releases College Affordability Plan. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) outlined a comprehensive framework to make college more affordable. According to a press release, the plan included “a set of policies championed by both Republicans and Democrats.” Inside Higher Ed reported that Warren blamed rising college costs on a variety of factors, including state budget cuts, institutional waste and failure by the federal government to properly regulate. Warren identified four broad plans to ensure college affordability: changing incentives for colleges, strengthening accountability, renewing state investments and reforming federal programs. According to Politico, an aide to HELP Committee Chair Alexander “believes Senator Warren makes an important contribution” to the committee’s work on Higher Education Act reauthorization.
Alexander Speaks on Higher Education Priorities. Speaking at a National Journal event, HELP Chair Alexander outlined several of his opinions regarding the future of higher education. Alexander expressed his doubt that the U.S. Department of Education will be able to develop a college ratings system but added that if one should be released, he would attempt to block it through legislation. The National Journal reports the chair also said he hopes to block the gainful-employment rule set to go into effect next month. The rule would penalize career colleges whose graduates have more debt than they can repay. Alexander reiterated his hope to have developed a bipartisan Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization by next fall.
Senators Pen Letter Opposing Changes to Foreign Student Work Program. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) wrote a letter to Secretary Jeh Johnson of the Department of Homeland Security, opposing proposed changes to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension. The program allows students to stay in the U.S. for 12 months following graduation, with a possible 17-month extension for students studying in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. According to Inside Higher Ed, the White House announced possible changes last fall but hasn’t released further information. Grassley said that Senate Judiciary staffers had been briefed on the proposed changes, which would lengthen the STEM extension period to 24 months and allow students to take advantage of the extension at two points in their careers.
FERPA Concerns Addressed by Ed Department. The U.S. Education Department responded to letters of concerns from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Suzanna Bonamici (D-OR) regarding a university’s access to therapy or medical records should a student file a lawsuit against the institution and have received health services through it. The responses indicate that colleges and universities can access those records under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), however, express concern about how broadly medical records are regulated. The author of the Education Department letters, Chief Privacy Officer Kathleen Styles, said the department may release further guidance on this point in the future, according to the Huffington Post. Separate responses were sent to Wyden and Bonamici. Their initial letters of concerns were in response to a case at the University of Oregon, in which the school allegedly accessed a student’s medical records after she filed a federal lawsuit against it for its handling of a sexual assault case. The lawmakers released a joint statement following the Education Department responses, saying the letters confirmed “a gap in privacy.”
Flat Funding for NSF Approved by Senate Panel. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies approved a fiscal year 2016 funding bill. Inside Higher Ed reports that the bill would keep funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) at its 2015 level of $7.3 billion. President Barack Obama had requested $7.7. billion for FY16 funding.
Support for State and Federal Student Data Privacy Bills. A news briefing released by the National Association of State Boards of Education announced that 47 state legislatures have introduced 180 student data privacy bills in total, 16 of which were signed into law by June 9. Federal student data privacy laws have been getting attention lately too. Last week a group of 10 consumer advocacy groups, including Common Sense Media and the Center for Democracy and Technology, sent a letter to committee leaders asking them to support a student data privacy bill proposed by Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO).
Sexual Assault Reports. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last Friday found that one in five young women who attended college during the past four years says she was sexually assaulted. It found that 5% of men were sexually assaulted. The poll found that 71% of women told someone about their sexual assault, but only 12% of women reported the assault to the police. The article accompanying the poll says “the circle of victims on the nation’s campuses is probably even larger.” Another report released detailed a program which substantially lowered the chances of female college students being sexually assaulted. The report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, studied the effects of a program designed to train first-year female college students to avoid rape. According to the New York Times, the risk of rape for the 451 women who took the program was 5%, compared to a rate of 10% among the 442 women in a control group who received only brochures and a brief informational session.
Higher Education Funding Shift. A report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that from 2000 to 2012, federal spending on higher education per full-time student increased 32%, while state spending decreased 37%. Inside Higher Ed reports that the biggest increase in federal spending was a rise in Pell Grant spending. In 2010, the same year federal funding surpassed state funding as the main source of public support for institutions across the country, Pell Grant funding hit an all-time high of about $36 billion.
Report on Debt-Free College. Young Invincibles released a report outlining policy changes and cost estimates for creating debt-free four-year degrees at public colleges around the country.
Cause of Rising High School Graduation Rates. National Public Radio (NPR) released several reports and stories investigating the rising level of high school graduation. One report breaks down each state’s high school graduation rate, investigating what it takes to get a diploma and how students fare on standardized tests. Another report details ways states, cities and districts are affecting the rates. It found that some districts are “mislabeling students or finding ways to move them off the books,” while others are lowering diploma requirements.
We publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of June 15, 2015. Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.