Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 17, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Richard Allington, assistant professor of history at Eastern New Mexico University, explores how ordinary people helped support the Crusades. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 16, 2020

PEAKS Trust, which owned and managed loans for now-defunct ITT Educational Services, has agreed to forgive $330 million in student debt to about 35,000 borrowers in settlements with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and 47 states and the District of Columbia.

The Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, Deutsche Bank Trust Company Delaware and Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, which served as trustees to PEAKS, were also named in the settlement agreement announced Tuesday.

According to the CFPB, ITT had developed two private loan programs, the Student CU Connect CUSO and PEAKS loan programs, despite knowing nearly all borrowers were likely to default. To temporarily improve its balance sheet, PEAKS assisted ITT in using aggressive tactics to sign up borrowers, in some cases without their knowledge, CFPB said.

“PEAKS allegedly knew or was reckless in not knowing that many student borrowers did not understand the terms and conditions of those loans, could not afford them, or in some cases did not even know they had them,” the agency said. “ITT students were left saddled with high cost loans, derogatory information on their credit reports, or both.”

The CFPB in June 2019 also reached a settlement with CUSO in which it agreed to provide $500 million in relief to borrowers and stop trying to collect the loans.

The agency in August 2019 also settled a lawsuit it brought against ITT, in which the company agreed to pay a $60 million judgment and not provide student loans in the future.

September 16, 2020

The University of California, Los Angeles, reinstated a lecturer in accounting it suspended this summer over his email to a student seeking a low-stakes final exam for the class, especially Black students, in light of the protests for racial justice. The lecturer, Gordon Klein, responded to the student via email, “Do you know the names of the classmates that are Black? How can I identify them since we've been having online classes only?” Are there any students who “may be of mixed parentage, such as half Black-half Asian?” Klein continued. “What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half?” At the time, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management said it was looking into Klein’s “offensive” comments, and that “respect and equality for all are core principles at UCLA Anderson.”

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Anderson said that Klein returned to work in late June and “continues with his regular duties. Due to confidentiality and privacy laws and concerns, we are unable to comment further on this matter at this time.” The university has “general procedures and principles that uphold freedom of expression and freedom of intellectual inquiry, while also being committed to creating a learning, working and living environment that is free from discrimination, harassment, or retaliation,” it also said.

Katlyn Patton, program officer at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocated for Klein during his mandatory leave, said in a statement, “We’re happy to confirm that Gordon Klein is teaching once again, and hope that in the future UCLA will consider its constitutional obligations before throwing educators out of the classroom.” UCLA investigated Klein’s “‘tone’ in an attempt to quell public backlash,” Patton said. “But regardless of how many people demand his firing, UCLA cannot justify using that anger to erode Gordon’s rights.”

September 16, 2020

A new report examines two decades of research on performance-based funding for public higher education institutions, determining that most studies have found the policy has null or modest impacts on institutional outcomes.

As of the 2020 fiscal year, 41 states have adopted performance-based funding policies. The percentage of appropriations tied to performance metrics varies considerably across states, the report shows. For example, Arkansas only tied 3 percent of state funding to performance outcomes, while Ohio links 100 percent of funds to performance measures.

After synthesizing more than 50 studies published between 1998 and 2020, researchers found that performance-based funding typically yields modest or null effects on institutional outcomes and that the policies come with a host of unintended consequences, some which states have attempted to address.

Among those consequences is an incentive for colleges to become more selective by admitting students who were most likely to complete their degrees, therefore boosting the institutions’ performance metrics. Prior studies included in the report show that selective public institutions receive more public funding and that less selective institutions, nondoctoral universities and rural institutions receive less.

Performance-based funding “threatens to further widen the resource gap between colleges and universities that enroll larger numbers of racial minority and low income students and institutions that primarily enroll students from more advantaged backgrounds,” the report said.

Also, some policies recognized degree completion regardless of the length of time it takes students to complete a degree. As a result, community colleges with shorter programs could receive more state funding, and the policy incentivizes colleges to offer shorter programs.

Some states have taken steps to address these issues, including by offering bonuses for graduating low-income, adult, first-generation, racial minority or otherwise underrepresented students.

September 16, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Katrina Hoop, associate professor of sociology at St. Joseph’s College, discusses teaching her students to view the world through a sociological prism during this crisis. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 15, 2020

Transworld Systems Inc., the principal debt collector for National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts, agreed to pay $600,000 in penalties and release student loan borrowers from garnishments, liens and other judgments resulting from improperly filed lawsuits as part of a settlement announced Monday with the New York State attorney general.

The company had created an aggressive strategy of filing lawsuits to collect defaulted debts, according to a press release issued by the attorney general’s office. Transworld, according to the release, filed lawsuits against borrowers past a three-year statute of limitations in the state, threatened other borrowers with lawsuits even though too much time had passed to take legal action, and made misleading and deceptive statements in the lawsuits it filed.

“For years, Transworld used fraud and deception to pursue defaulted borrowers and obtain default judgments on a massive scale,” New York attorney general Letitia James said in a statement. “Our investigation not only is putting hundreds of thousands of dollars back into the pockets of student borrowers, but brought about concrete changes by Transworld, which is now finally providing consumers struggling with defaulted student loan debt all the protections required by law.”

TSI was not immediately available for comment. The company and the trusts have faced problems before. In 2017, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts and TSI to pay $21.6 million in payments to borrowers and civil penalties.

The New York Times reported in July that judges in multiple states had tossed out debt collection lawsuits brought by National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts because ownership of the debts could not be verified. The CFPB's enforcement action found that the trusts had brought more than 2,000 such lawsuits without proper documentation in violation of consumer protection laws. And in many of those lawsuits, false or misleading affidavits were filed, the agency said.

September 15, 2020

The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens canceled an upcoming virtual conference called "Landscapes of Exploitation in the Atlantic World" following criticism that nearly all speakers were white and that the framing of the conference itself was problematic, conflating exploitation with slavery and colonization. "The Huntington takes this very seriously," the library announced on Twitter. "We are therefore cancelling the conference in order to acknowledge the racial exclusiveness built into the structure of the program." Other scholars shared additional concerns that a separate, upcoming conference on the early modern global Caribbean is predominantly white. The Huntington also tweeted, "We have been examining every part of our research program and making changes but clearly not rapidly enough. The Huntington apologizes and reaffirms its commitment to address systemic problems of white privilege and will further accelerate that process."

The “Landscapes” workshop was to bring together historians and archaeologists working in Britain and the U.S. “to offer new insights into the relationship between landscape and labor on the British Atlantic landed estate.” Participants were to “consider these industrializing, imperial places within the broader economic, political and cultural milieu in which they emerged, investigating especially the politics of power relations, conceptions of labor, property and liberty, and strategies of resistance.” In June, after the murder of George Floyd, Karen Lawrence, president of the Huntington, reminded patrons and employees that the library’s current diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan seeks to incorporate those "core values in every aspect of our institution -- building our collections, creating exhibitions, hiring practices, naming board members, forging partnerships, and more -- and commits us to becoming a more inclusive, diverse and better institution."

September 15, 2020

After the graduate students' union at the University of Michigan voted on Sunday to continue its strike until Sept. 18, the university administration announced Monday that it is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in Washtenaw County Circuit Court to order strikers back to work.

"The issues raised are very important and we are committed to addressing them -- but we can't do it at the expense of our students' education," President Mark Schlissel said in a video message to campus.

Graduate students have been refusing to teach classes, hold discussion sections and do some research since the strike began Sept. 8. The union has also asked faculty members and undergraduates to not hold or attend class in solidarity with the strike.

The union has said members will return to work when the administration has addressed concerns around testing for COVID-19, subsidies for caregivers, permittance of remote work for instructors, timeline and funding extensions, rent freezes, diversion of funds from campus police, and other demands.

Faculty and staff have also raised concerns about a lack of transparency from the university administration.

The university submitted a proposal to the union, but that resolution was rejected by membership on Wednesday.

According to the university press release, if the court grants the injunction and restraining order, graduate students continuing the work stoppage could be held in contempt of court and the union could face civil damages for the strike. It is illegal for public employees to strike in the state of Michigan, and the current labor contract prohibits such action.

The university also filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union with the Michigan Employee Relations Commission on Sept. 8.

September 15, 2020

One of the country’s largest private student housing companies reported leasing rates falling by about seven percentage points between this fall and last, with properties primarily housing first-year students seeing a sharper decline than those for upperclassmen.

Austin, Tex.-based American Campus Communities Inc. reported about 90 percent of the properties it owns as leased for the 2020-21 academic year. The company released the figures Monday in an interim update for investors.

“Throughout June and July we were encouraged by leasing trends and consumer sentiment reflecting students’ desire to be in the college environment with their peers, regardless of universities’ ultimate plans for curriculum delivery being online or in-person,” Bill Bayless, American Campus Communities CEO, said in a statement. “Since that time, as universities have toggled between methods of curriculum delivery in response to COVID-19, we are pleased to have seen that sentiment continue among sophomore and upper-division students and have continued to make leasing progress at our properties which primarily serve these experienced college students.”

First-year students were more reluctant to relocate while online instruction is prevalent, Bayless said. Many universities responded by relaxing housing requirements for first-year students, leading to a decline in leasing rates at properties primarily housing them.

“We applaud and concur with universities taking this action, as the relaxation of these housing policies has resulted in most of these first-year students still enrolling at their universities, which should mitigate material longer-term enrollment impacts beyond the current COVID-19 crisis,” Bayless said.

Most of the data released by the company covered properties the company owned both last year and this year, allowing for relatively clear comparisons.

Beds at properties mostly housing first-year students with leases beginning in August were 79.5 percent leased as of Friday, down from 95.7 percent as of Sept. 30, 2019. Properties housing sophomores and older with leases beginning in August were 92.8 percent leased as of Friday, down from 97.7 percent last year.

In addition, American Campus Communities owns properties with about 7,000 beds primarily for sophomores and upperclassmen with leases beginning in September. They saw some erosion of leasing rates, dropping to 82.4 percent as of Friday from 97 percent at the end of September last year.

American Campus Communities owns properties with far more beds geared toward sophomores and upperclassmen than toward freshmen. More than 83,000 beds are at properties mostly housing sophomores and upperclassmen, compared to about 12,000 for first-year students.

“Moving forward, we are focused on continued execution of our COVID-19 operational plan that has already allowed us to welcome back over 80,000 student residents at ACC owned communities and on completing the lease-up of our communities with leases commencing in September,” said Jennifer Beese, American Campus Communities chief operating officer, in a statement. “We also believe the start of this academic year represents a less final completion of the annual lease-up, as some students may continue to make the decision to return to campus and rejoin their peers regardless of university curriculum delivery methodology. This could provide the opportunity to execute additional leases and improve occupancy during the fall term as we hope to progress toward a return to normalcy throughout the 2020-2021 academic year.”

The company is monitoring 1,000 leases -- about 1 percent of beds -- for which students paid August rent but requested their beds be rented to new tenants. That’s about twice the typical amount. Another 1,100 leases -- 1.2 percent of beds -- are held by students who paid August rent but delayed arrival because they are not required to be on campus at the start of classes.

American Campus Communities has so far agreed to about $1.5 million in refunds for the fall semester for on-campus properties, far lower than $17 million in total over the spring and summer terms.

The company owned 166 student housing properties with nearly 112,000 beds as of June 30. Including properties it manages but does not own, it manages 201 properties covering about 138,000 beds.

September 15, 2020

A new study found racial inequities in what students receive scholarships that cover the most tuition costs for college in Georgia.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute analyzed the state's HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarship and Zell Miller Scholarship. The HOPE Scholarship covers up to 94 percent of tuition costs for students with a 3.0 GPA in high school who continue to earn a 3.0 GPA in college. The Zell Miller Scholarship covers 100 percent of tuition costs for students who achieve a 3.7 GPA in high school and either receive a high score on the SAT or ACT or achieve class valedictorian or salutatorian and then maintain a 3.3 GPA in college.

The institute found that 44 percent of undergraduate students received one of these scholarships. Recipients were most likely to be Asian American or white students, while Black and Native American students were least likely to receive the funds.

Black students made up only 6 percent of recipients for the Zell Miller Scholarship, despite making up 10 percent of the total undergraduate student population.

Students from families with higher incomes were also more likely to get these awards, the report found. Seven percent of Zell Miller Scholarship recipients have family incomes under $15,000, while 31 percent of recipients have family incomes of $120,000 or more.

University of Georgia students got twice the amount of HOPE Scholarship money as students in the entire Technical College System of Georgia, the report also found.

The report recommends that the state fund need-based scholarships that were authorized by the Georgia General Assembly in 2018 but have yet to receive funding. It also recommends expanding the HOPE Career Grant, which specifically provides tuition benefits to students pursuing certain fields at technical colleges, to all technical college fields.

Finally, the report says the state should maximize lottery funds by increasing the percentage of ticket sales turned over for education and make a plan to spend or convert excess reserve money into an endowment for education.

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