Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, July 24, 2015 - 3:00am

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Thursday accused the operator of FAFSA.com of misleading and deceiving more than 100,000 consumers. The bureau proposed a $5.2 million settlement to resolve the charges.

The CFPB said that the company, Student Financial Aid Services Inc. misled consumers using deceptive sales tactics and illegally enrolled customers in automatic annual subscriptions without their permission.

Student Financial Aid Services charged students and families for assistance filling out the government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. The government’s free website for filling out the form is FAFSA.gov.

The CFPB said the company earlier this month agreed to hand over the FAFSA.com domain to the U.S. Department of Education.

 “Student Financial Aid Services Inc. made millions of dollars at the expense of consumers through its illegal recurring payment scheme,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “Our enforcement action will put money back in the pockets of consumers who were misled while seeking to access federal student aid.”

Friday, July 24, 2015 - 3:00am

Kaplan's CEO, Thomas C. Leppert, will step down after two years on the job, the for-profit higher education company said on Thursday. Leppert will be replaced by Andrew S. Rosen, the executive vice president of Graham Holdings Company, which owns Kaplan. Rosen, a veteran at the company, is also Kaplan's chairman.

Kaplan has diversified in recent years, and does a substantial amount of business with nonprofit higher education. Like several other large for-profit chains, the company has reduced its campus footprint amid the sector's declining enrollments. In February it sold 38 Kaplan College campuses to Education Corporation of America, a privately held for-profit.

Friday, July 24, 2015 - 3:00am

States receiving federal funding for their teacher preparation programs are required by federal law to identify which ones aren’t performing well, but the U.S. Department of Education hasn’t checked to make sure they do, according to a Government Accountability Office study released Thursday.

GAO investigators found that seven states, unnamed in the report, don’t have a process for identifying low-performing teacher preparation programs. Under federal law, states have discretion over the criteria for evaluating the programs, but they have to have a process for singling out the poor-performing ones.

The GAO said that in addition to making sure that states comply with the law, the Education Department should also do a better job of sharing information about the quality of teacher preparation programs within the agency and with states.

Education Department officials largely agreed with the findings and pointed out that the Obama administration has proposed new regulations aimed at boosting the quality of teacher preparation programs.

The draft rules, published last November after year of delays, would set new standards for how states evaluate their teacher preparation programs with a focus on student learning outcomes.

The proposal is controversial because it would require states to judge a teacher preparation program based in part on how a program’s graduates perform in the classroom -- which may include standardized test scores. The Obama administration wants to link colleges’ receipt of TEACH Grants to their performance under the new, more robust state evaluations.

Friday, July 24, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Douglas Bruster, a professor of American and English literature at the University of Texas at Austin, presents his research into Shakespeare’s brand. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015 - 3:00am

Four professors at Southern University in New Orleans who worked on the second floor of the same building died in a three-month period, and many others who work or worked on the floor are reporting respiratory problems, The Times-Picayune reported. Many suspect that mold from when the building was reopened after 2005's Hurricane Katrina has played a role in the deaths and illnesses. A spokeswoman for the university said: "The university administration responds to all facility issues as they arise, and addresses them expeditiously and to the best of its ability. At no time did Southern University at New Orleans occupy buildings without getting approval from the Louisiana Office of Facility Planning & Control."

The article notes that when the university held a memorial for the dead professors, the event was on the same floor where they all worked before they died.

Thursday, July 23, 2015 - 3:00am

The University of California is raising the minimum wage for all employees on its campuses, as well as indirect contract employees, to $15 an hour. The level will be reached by 2017, after going up in stages between now and then. Currently minimum wage in California is $9. “This is the right thing to do -- for our workers and their families, for our mission and values, and to enhance UC’s leadership role by becoming the first public university in the United States to voluntarily establish a minimum wage of $15," said a statement from Janet Napolitano, president of the university system. With efforts to raise the federal minimum wage stalled, a number of colleges have raised it voluntarily.

Thursday, July 23, 2015 - 3:00am

In February officials from Vanderbilt University said the annual cost of federal regulation for the university is $150 million, or 11 percent of its total budget. Those numbers figured prominently in an American Council on Education report that argued against overly burdensome federal regulations. Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican and chair of the Senate's education committee, also has cited Vanderbilt's $150 million figure in his push to eliminate red tape.

However, as The Chronicle of Higher Education reported yesterday, that $150 million includes costs that are not related to the federal regulations in question. The Chronicle, citing some numbers from The Hechinger Report, said $117 million of Vanderbilt's cited regulatory costs were associated with the university's substantial research operation. And, as The Chronicle reported, the federal government reimbursed Vanderbilt for $20-30 million of those research costs. The university also counted $6 million in accreditation activities that had little to do with federal regulation toward its eye-catching compliance figure.

Vanderbilt said it plans to release more information about its federal regulatory costs.

Thursday, July 23, 2015 - 3:00am

The Obama administration’s new college comparison website, which it’s now developing in lieu of college ratings, should include information about colleges facing investigations or lawsuits from state or federal authorities, a coalition of consumer and student advocates said Wednesday.

In a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the coalition, led by the Institute for College Access & Success, proposed that the department’s consumer-focused website “alert consumers if a school is the subject of public federal or state investigations, lawsuits or settlements.”

“Students deserve to know when a college’s practices are under heightened scrutiny from federal and state regulators, just as investors in publicly traded for-profit colleges are required to be notified of such events,” the letter said.

“Fewer students might have enrolled in Corinthian colleges if they had known of the many investigations and lawsuits against the school,” TICAS said in a separate statement.

The Obama administration announced last month that it was abandoning its contentious plan to publish ratings of colleges based on certain metrics and now intends to create a new federal website that allows parents and students to compare colleges.

Thursday, July 23, 2015 - 4:25am

Faculty leaders at Temple University are questioning whether the university's board chair, Patrick O’Connor, created a conflict of interest by serving as a lawyer for Bill Cosby in one of the suits against him, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Cosby is an alumnus of Temple who served on its board until last year's scandal over the many allegations that he drugged women and then raped them. O’Connor represented Cosby in a 2005 suit against him and was involved again in a dispute over access to records from that suit. Professors say that a conflict was created in terms of the Temple board's ability to determine whether ties to Cosby (including his role on the board) were appropriate when one board member was the lawyer for another (Cosby).

Initially, the university did not respond to the criticism, including a call from the faculty union president for O’Connor to step down. But the university then issued statements backing O’Connor and saying that the Temple board at O’Connor's request “vetted” his decision to represent Cosby, so that other board members were aware of his involvement in the case. Other statements from the university praised O’Connor's ethics.

Thursday, July 23, 2015 - 3:00am

The Defense Department plans to announce Monday that it is awarding a $110 million grant to the State University of New York Foundation, which is coordinating an effort by Rochester-area universities and businesses to be the home of a major new photonics research center, The Democrat and Chronicle reported. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, announced the news Wednesday. The Rochester team apparently beat out proposals from the University of Southern California and the University of Central Florida. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged that if the Rochester team won the grant, New York State would provide more than $200 million in additional support.

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