Ringing Recess Bills?

DC Shuttle …

Campus sexual assault bill unveiled in Senate. A bipartisan group of senators unveiled the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a proposal that would hold colleges and universities more accountable for taking steps to prevent and properly deal with sexual assault on campus. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) led the group, which includes New England Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), as well as other lawmakers from both parties. Among other things, the legislation would require all colleges to conduct anonymous surveys, or “climate surveys” on students’ views toward campus sexual assault—and to publish the results online. Because campus assaults are widely unreported, legislation sponsors say that the goal is to more accurately reflect the prevalence of and sentiment toward such assaults through the surveys. In addition, the bill would impose higher and stricter fines upon colleges that mishandle sexual assault cases. The penalty for colleges failing to report assaults would be raised from $35,000 to $150,000 per violation, and schools that fail to investigate sexual assault claims could be fined up to 1% of their operating budgets. The bill would put an end to athletic departments and similar subgroups having the ability to handle complaints of assaults, which lawmakers have expressed a great deal of concern with in the past. Instead, the bill would require more coordination with local law enforcement and require colleges to designate a confidential adviser who would work with victims and coordinate support services.

New committee report on for-profit colleges. The Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions released a report titled Is The New GI Bill Working? For-Profit Colleges Increasing Veteran Enrollment and Federal Funds. According to the report authored by committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) and the majority committee staff, the top for-profit colleges are receiving millions in federal funding through post-9/11 G.I. bills. Despite the fact that national overall enrollment in for-profit colleges is down, the amount for veterans is up. Harkin reports that some of these institutions may be taking advantage of certain loopholes in the system. According to the report, for-profit colleges received $1.7 billion in benefits during the 2012-13 academic year alone. In the past four years, they received $2.9 billion in these benefits, taking nearly double the amount of taxpayer dollars per student on average than public colleges, where veteran enrollment is down. Harkin’s proposed bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act would change the percentage of federal funding available to for-profit colleges from 90% to 85%.

Bill proposed to benefit adjunct professors. Sen. Richard A. Durbin (D-IL) proposed a bill that would make adjunct university professors eligible for loan-forgiveness under an existing federal program. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives the federal student loans of employees of nonprofit organizations after they have made 120 payments while working for the organization. The program already applies to full-time professors at public universities, and supporters of the bill contend that part-time adjuncts are just as deserving of the eligibility. “The vast majority of these educators hold advanced degrees and, as a result, bear the heavy burden of student-loan debt. It is only right that we expand their access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, a benefit already available to many of their full-time colleagues,” said Durbin in a written statement.

Legislation benefits student veterans. The Senate approved a measure that would provide in-state tuition to all veterans attending public universities on the G.I. Bill. The benefit would also apply to spouses and children of veterans within three years of the veteran’s discharge from active duty. While about 30 states already grant veterans in-state tuition, the legislation would require public universities nationally to do the same, which means they would be picking up more of the cost of the veteran’s tuition. The measure now awaits President Obama’s signature.

Five states granted No Child Left Behind waivers. The U.S. Department of Education granted No Child Left Behind waiver extensions to Georgia, Delaware, Minnesota, New York and South Carolina. To receive the extensions exempting them from the No Child Left Behind standards, states had to present plans showing that they had developed their own ways to measure student progress, reach benchmarks, and address both high- and low-performance schools. With the addition of these five states, a total of 13 have been approved for extensions.

Common App is back. The college application website Common Application was relaunched after a number of significant updates. After hundreds of applications were lost last year due to system glitches, Common App CEO Paul Mott promised “these changes ensure stability and reliability moving forward.” The website expects more than 800,000 students to submit 3.5 million applications to more than 500 colleges this year.

Report reveals high numbers of college non-completers. The National Student Clearinghouse released a report showing that more than 31 million students who enrolled in college in the past 20 years left before graduating. A third of those completed only one term. Over four million of them, however, completed at least two years worth of credits, earning the name “potential completers.” The report analyzes the many groups within the 31 million, and attempts to provide colleges that may want to draw these students back with a sense of the current landscape.

Money Magazine releases new college rankings. Money Magazine released a new list of best colleges, based on different factors than prevailing lists such as U.S. News and World Report—and focusing on money. The report addresses financial questions prospective students and parents have, such as the amount of money they will need to pay and borrow before graduating. The report also analyzes how much their diploma will be worth once the student graduates and is entering the workforce. To do so, Money evaluates colleges in three categories: quality, affordability and outcomes.

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 Aug. 4, 2014.

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.

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