TOP STORIES Desperate Housewives star going to jail.... U of Alaska almost goes under.... Oberlin socked with a defamation suit verdict of $44 million.... College Board gives up its “Adversity Score”.... and more suits and debts and debts and suits.... and free college.
Academic Freedom: Climate Counts It’s not weather but atmospherics that sometimes separate acceptable speech and behavior from–not so much 1
Interest in Humanities Fades Except at elite schools, like Yale, where history is so popular they’ve hired new faculty 2
Giving Grades an F It used to be called “grade inflation”; some professors call them harmful 3
Oberlin Loses Defamation Suit A jury awarded a bakery $44 million when administrators urged students to boycott the business for what they called its racist policies 4
GOVERNANCE | University of Alaska Granted Last-Minute Reprieve Instead of cutting $136 million, the state’s governor cut only $70 million--over three years--from the Last Frontier’s public college system 5
Mega-Donations on the Rise While individual donations fall 6
Mergers Aren’t Always Bad News That’s the message from Wheelock College, which merged with Boston University 7
Hillsdale Sues Mizzou A bizarre case of donor regret: after the donor dies 8
College Board Ditches Its “Adversity Score” Unveiled with lots of fanfare last May by the folks who oversee the SAT test, by August they replaced Adversity with “Landscape,” a more benign attempt to give admissions officers clues about applicants’ socioeconomic homes 9
As Enrollment Slides, Small Colleges Hold On While more than 1,200 colleges have shut down in recent years, filmmaker Ken Burns is trying to help his alma mater stay alive. 10
More State Colleges are Choosing to Freeze Tuition Purdue started the trend in 2013, but not everyone is feeling so generous 11
Early Decision is Back at UVa It seems that affluent families like it, worrying higher ed's equity and diversity champions 12
UCLA Ignored Bribery-Scandal Red Flags So says a 43-page confidential report about last spring’s “Scandal Heard 'Round the World"
Giving Up Custody for Better Financial Aid It could be the latest admissions scandal: wealthy parents give up custody of their children so they qualify for more aid 14
Harvard Revokes a Parkland Survivor’s Admission Is it fair? Kyle Kashuv made some racist comments as a teenager and Harvard found out after it accepted him 15
Desperate Housewives Star Sentenced It's a gnat’s eyelash punishment, but the first parent felled by Operation Varsity Blues is going to jail 16
AU Forces Faculty to Use Gender-Neutral Pronouns Or face the wrath of the school’s bias-reporting system 17
Tenure Continues to Dog Faculty Is it true that professors get worse evaluations from students after receiving tenure? 18
More Poor and Minority Students Go to College So why has faculty diversity stalled? 19
PUBLIC TRUST |
Students Sue DeVos and Department For repealing an attempt by the Obama administration to prevent failing colleges from offering student loans 20
University of Texas Sued Again Same ol’ same ol’: Students for Fair Admissions, which is also suing Harvard, failed to overturn affirmative action policies at the school in 2017, so they decided to try again
Scandals Rock the Midwest Now it’s at Ohio State, where dozens of former OSU male student athletes are charging the school with “actively conceal[ing]" the sexual perversions of one of the school’s longtime sports doctors
First-Ever Class Action Lawsuit on Behalf of Future Students It’s happening at Michigan State, to protect the due process rights afforded sexual assault defendants 23
Free Speech: From Birth of a Nation to Gibson’s Bakery A college perennial, there seems no end to the varieties of uses and abuses of the First Amendment 24
EXTERNAL ORDERS |
The Gates Foundation Wants to Know: Is College Worth it? And they have created a 30-person commission to find out.
Education’s Blank Slate All Over Again The eternal question—can higher education become more efficient without sacrificing academic quality or student pocketbooks? the American Enterprise Institute and Third Way have gathered a bipartisan group of experts to find out 26
DeVos Issues Tough New Rules for Loan Forgiveness “Much higher hurdles to clear” 27
Support for Free College Grows That 56 percent of young adults like the idea is a no-brainer; what about the 44 percent who don't?
Debt Cancellation Goes Mainstream At least it’s mainstream in the Democratic party, where presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are clamoring for relief and billionaire Robert Smith paid off the student loans of an entire college class
As Debt Surges, the White House Wants In Not to be left out of the student debt crisis, the Trump Administration has hired McKinsey & Co. to take a look 30
Teachers Sue DeVos Over Debt Debacle The American Federation of Teachers is accusing FedEd of “gross mismanagement”
1 Academic Freedom: Climate Counts Open debate at universities has been tumultuous lately, with threats of protests or student dismissals if a viewpoint clashes with student and/or faculty majorities—or the administration. Last spring students took a stand against two Harvard professors: Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. who was serving on the legal defense team of the notorious movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who had ignited the #MeToo movement; and Sullivan’s wife, Stephanie Robinson, who was a residential dean at Harvard. Following several months of student activism, both of the professors’ residential-dean positions, at Winthrop House, were not renewed. They were allowed to retain their professorships, but the couple is speaking out in a video to promote open debate at the university. The Harvard Corporation, the university’s highest governing body, supported removing the two deans, saying that the climate in the house had become “untenable.” Other universities, like the University of Colorado Boulder, are issuing statements supporting academic freedom and free speech.
2 Interest Fades in the Humanities, Except at Elite Schools Undergrads have been abandoning the humanities for years now, and one reason may be political correctness gone wild on campus. How many 19-year-olds really want to sit through lectures by professors who blame white men for all social ills? History has been declining faster than any other major, but at elite schools, where students can “afford” to major in the humanities, history is thriving. In fact, at Yale it’s so popular that the history department plans to hire more than a half-dozen faculty members this year alone. According to Alan Mikhail, chair of the department, students have the “sense that a Yale degree in anything will get them the job they want, even at places like Goldman or medical school.” Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, has been making a name for himself by taking aim at “cosmopolitan elites.” The freshman senator has introduced two new bills targeting higher education monopolies. The first would open up Pell Grants to institutions that provide job training. The second would put colleges on the hook for defaulted student loans.
3 More Professors Giving Grades an F Graduation rates and GPAs are up, despite the fact that students are studying less and spending more time working at outside jobs. What’s going on? Perhaps high schools are churning out better-prepared graduates. Or maybe college courses have gotten easier. Or, could it be that professors are grading more forgivingly? The latter explanation—grade inflation—is the most plausible, says one Harvard sociologist. Indeed, more professors have concluded that grades are meaningless, even harmful. Grades, they say, serve as a barrier: between students and professors, and between students and learning. So some have begun experimenting with “ungrading.” Instead of focusing on grades, students are encouraged to reflect on their own individual learning and performance throughout the semester. Professors still, of course, have to turn in final grades. At the end of the course, the professor meets with the students, who choose their own grade!
4 Oberlin Loses Defamation Suit: Gibson Bakery Awarded $44 Million The day after Donald Trump was elected president, an Oberlin College student tried to pay for a bottle of wine at a local food store with a fake ID and, with two additional bottles stashed in his coat, fled. The clerk at Gibson’s Bakery gave chase, while two other students aided their friend. All three, all black, wound up admitting to misdemeanor crimes of trying to rob the bakery, but not before “more than 100 students demonstrated outside the bakery,” according to Inside Higher Ed, “carrying signs accusing the bakery owners of white supremacy or simply saying `Fuck Gibson's.’” The article added, “Protesters chanted, ‘Gibson's is racist’ and handed out pamphlets urging customers not to buy from the bakery and accused the bakery of a history of racism.” The university suspended business with the store, and some college administrators “encouraged students to protest the store and helped organize the demonstration.” Gibson’s sued, claiming it had been defamed by the college, and last June a jury awarded the bakery $44 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Some have said that the state of Ohio will lower the amount of the award, and commentators have had a field day: George Will, while commending Oberlin’s liberal past, said the school is a now a “byword for academic self-caricature,” and William A. Jacobson, a professor at Cornell Law School, said that because it happened the day after the election, Oberlin students appeared to be “exer[cising] their angst.”
5 The University of Alaska Granted Last-Minute Reprieve The University of Alaska avoided a doomsday scenario when the governor reversed course on his controversial plan to slash the system’s budget by $136 million in FY 2020, 41 percent of its state funding. In mid-August, Governor Michael J. Dunleavy and university officials reached an agreement to cut that number nearly in half—$70 million to be spread out over three years ($25 million for the first two years, and $20 million in the third), instead of nearly double that amount all at once. The budget crisis had become a national symbol of the defunding of public higher education and received enormous press coverage. All summer, the University of Alaska system, the governor (who’s a University of Alaska grad himself), and state legislature went back and forth. The system’s president, James R. Johnsen, warned that “our house is on fire.” In July the university system’s credit rating was sharply downgraded and the Board of Regents declared a “financial exigency,” which would have allowed it to begin shutting down programs and removing faculty. It also faced possible loss of accreditation, and there was intense debate about whether the university should consolidate the system’s three separately accredited universities into one. University leaders can now breathe a sigh of relief, at least for the time being. Thousands of miles away, Dannel P. Malloy, the University of Maine’s new chancellor, hopes to fix the ailing system by focusing on workforce development and easing the path from community colleges to four-year schools.
6 Mega-Donations Reach Record Highs While Individual Donations Fall Charitable donations to colleges and universities reached a record high of $40.3 billion last year, according to the annual Voluntary Support of Education survey from the Council for Aid to Education, up 7.2 percent from the previous year. Seven institutions of higher education received at least one gift over $100 million. However, a closer look reveals that the money is coming from fewer individuals—a trend that is expected to continue. The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, for instance, recently announced a $68 million donation, the largest private gift to its business school. The money, given by former student Frank M. Sands, will be used to fund a major construction project, professorships, and an initiative for “lifelong learning.” As advancement officers continue to chase after mega-gifts from wealthy donors, there are fears that schools are failing to build a strong connection with younger alumni, some of whom will be in the position to become major donors someday. And in light of increasing concerns about “undue donor influence,” George Mason University announced that all future gift agreements will now be treated as public records subject to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
7 Mergers Aren’t Always Bad News Earlier this year, George Mason University held its P3 EDU conference with university leaders and business executives to discuss the impact of public-private partnerships on higher education. College mergers are not necessarily a sign of something bad, according to Ranch C. Kimball, a panelist who was a trustee at Wheelock College before and during the merger discussions that brought the college into Boston University. They shouldn’t be seen as “just a last-ditch gambit by a college on the brink,” says Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at the Chronicle. In fact, they’re something a number of successful colleges should probably be considering. Colleges often "act ashamed about having that conversation," Kimball told Blumenstyk. "It’s like you’re conducting a clandestine affair.” Kimball told the P3Edu crowd, “Be bold about the outreach. If you’re not proud of what you’re trying to get done, don’t even start.”
8 Hillsdale College Sues Mizzou, Claiming Mismanagement of Endowment Funds The University of Missouri, no stranger to controversy, is now facing one of its most bizarre challenges. Hillsdale College, a tiny liberal arts college in southern Michigan with strong conservative ties, is going to court to take away a $5 million bequest that was given to MU by an alum 17 years ago. Hillsdale claims that MU is not spending the money the way the donor intended and that it should get the money instead. The donor, Sherlock Hibbs, died in 2002. His will stipulates that the money be used to create chairs and distinguished professorships for “dedicated and articulate disciples” of the Austrian School of Economics, a radically free-market ideology. Although Hibbs had no known ties with Hillsdale, he entrusted the college to oversee the use of his gift and ensure his intent was honored. Doug White, a philanthropic adviser and author, told The Chronicle: “The idea of taking an endowment out of one school and into another is a pretty radical one. But it’s not impossible. The onus is on Mizzou right now, in my view.” (In another twist: Former Missouri governor Jay Nixon, an MU graduate, is representing Hillsdale in its lawsuit.)
9 College Board Ditches Controversial SAT “Adversity Score” In a sudden about-face, the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT exam, announced that it was dropping its much publicized “adversity score.” The plan, unveiled in May, had been criticized from the outset. Amid growing concerns about income inequality and rich parents’ bribing schools to admit their children (see "The Scandal Heard 'Round the World"), the College Board introduced its “Environmental Context Dashboard”—aka the “adversity score”—after years of pilots. The score, ranging from 1 to 100, was intended to give admissions officers a better understanding of students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and the challenges (or advantages) they faced. The single number, separate from the SAT score, was calculated using 15 factors, including the crime rate and poverty level from the student’s high school and neighborhood (ethnicity and race were not taken into account). Coming from a high-crime, high-poverty school and neighborhood was a plus factor, as was being raised by a single parent. Anything above 50 designated hardship; anything below, privilege. Students were not told their score, but colleges would see the number. The plan immediately came under fire. A student with a mediocre SAT score but high adversity score would be considered “resourceful,” while someone else with a high SAT score but low adversity score would be “ordinary.” “Merit is all about resourcefulness,” David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, said when the story broke. Critics called the plan an overreach, fearing it could be open to manipulation and taint how the actual SAT score is perceived. And the term itself was problematic: “It’s not really a ‘score’ like an SAT score,” wrote Eric Hoover in The Chronicle. “That 1-to-100 number doesn’t affect an applicant’s SAT score.” Then, almost as suddenly as it announced its “adversity score,” in late August the College Board removed it, unveiling a new system called “Landscape” to be rolled out over the next year. Coleman said, “We listened to thoughtful criticism,” adding that Landscape will give “admissions officers more consistent background information so they can fairly consider every student, no matter where they live and learn.” Instead of a single score, the new system will provide separate scores on the applicant’s neighborhood and high school. And this time around, students will have access to their numbers.
10 As Enrollment Slides, Small Private Colleges Fight to Survive For the seventh year in a row, college enrollments are down. Nationwide, enrollment declined by 1.7 percent, or nearly 300,000 students, according to a new report. The shrinking pool of traditional prospects is dividing institutions into “winners and losers,” with many small, private schools closing down while elite schools turn students away. More than 1,200 institutions of higher learning have shut down in recent years. To attract students, many institutions are offering steep discounts. The average freshman tuition discount rate at private schools is on track to hit 52 percent in the 2018–19 academic year. Hampshire College, a small liberal-arts institution in Massachusetts known for its lack of formal majors and grades, is seeking to reinvent itself by raising the number of students per faculty member, improving marketing efforts and recruiting more students beyond the Northeast. It has also instituted a $103 million fundraising campaign led by the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, a Hampshire graduate. Said Burns: “I’m hoping that parents and students wake up to the fact that going to college isn’t like buying a car or a handbag. It’s about who you are and who you’ll become.” (See "Small Colleges...on the Brink")
11 More State Colleges Are Choosing to Freeze Tuition A growing number of public university systems are freezing tuition as more state legislatures quietly restore state funding levels. Earlier this year, the Virginia and Pennsylvania university systems agreed not to raise tuition for the coming year. Purdue University started the trend in 2013, when it instituted a freeze on all tuition and fees at its flagship campus. President Mitch Daniels cut the budget by $40 million while increasing revenue from out-of-state tuition and fees, private fundraising, and other sources. And tuition has stayed flat since then. The University of California Board of Regents has approved a $762 tuition hike for out-of-state students. Tuition for non-Californians will rise to $29,754—on top of the base UC tuition of $12,570—for a total of $42,324. The skyrocketing number of out-of-state students in recent years sparked a political backlash. The extra money is expected to add $26 million in new revenue, most of it which will be used to benefit in-state students.
12 Early Decision Is Back at UVa The University of Virginia is set to become the only big-name state flagship school in the country to use early admission, a binding agreement that allows high school students to receive their admission decision in the first semester of their senior year. UVa offered the option for several years, but abolished it more than a decade ago “in the interest of diversity.” Why bring it back now? Early admission is growing in popularity, especially among affluent families who don’t need to compare financial aid packages. According to an analysis by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, high-achieving, low-income students are only half as likely as their wealthy peers to apply early. (The College Board’s now abandoned “adversity score” was an attempt to capture students’ social and economic background (see College Board). But Greg Roberts, UVa’s dean of admissions, denied that restoring early decision would jeopardize any gains the school has made in terms of diversity. “We’re approaching this as an additional option for some students,” he said, “but this isn’t designed to give anyone an advantage in the process review.” Meanwhile, in another debate over diversity, the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) lawsuit, which alleges that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-American applicants, is still in the hands of a federal judge. A decision is expected sometime in the coming months. (See "Never-Ending Debate Over Affirmative Action.")
13 UCLA Ignored Bribery-Scandal Red Flags A confidential 43-page report reveals that the University of California at Los Angeles had misgivings about Rick Singer, the mastermind behind the college-admissions bribery scandal (see "Operation Varsity Blues" and "Scandal Spotlight Shifts"), going back to 2014. The director of UCLA’s compliance office wrote a report questioning Singer’s connection to a family that wanted to make a six-figure donation to the athletics program to secure their daughter’s admission to the school. Documents reviewed by The Los Angeles Times show the warning signs were right in front of UCLA’s eyes. In the wake of the scandal, some admissions offices are rolling out additional checks, particularly of athletes. The University of California plans new reforms to monitor donations, verify claims of special talents by recruited athletes, and make sure that these athletes actually do play on the team. However, according to a Wall Street Journal inquiry, most top-tier schools have no formal audit process in place. Indeed, students would be shocked to discover how little time is spent reading their applications. Other than official transcripts and test scores, “the rest of a student’s file is reviewed on an honor-code assumption,” a Dartmouth College spokesperson said. “It is not our policy to suspect every student of falsifying records.” But Richard Legon, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, writes, “It is hard to regain trust and restore a reputation once they are lost. This latest scandal, an embarrassment for all of higher education, should serve as a wake-up call for all institutions.”
14 Giving Up Custody for Better Financial Aid There’s a new scandal in college admissions, this one involving wealthy parents’ relinquishing custody of their children so that they may qualify for more financial aid. And it’s legal. According to separate reporting by ProPublic Illinois and The Wall Street Journal, some well-to-do parents in suburban Chicago transferred custody of their kids to a family friend or distant relative in their final years of high school. The children could then declare themselves financially independent and qualify for need-based financial aid. Thirty-eight guardianships were filed in 2018 in Lake County, Illinois. Most of the families live in homes valued at between $500,000 and $1 million, yet nearly all the court documents used some variation of this language: “The guardian can provide educational and financial support and opportunities to the minor that her parents could not otherwise provide.” The director of undergraduate enrollment at the University of Illinois says the ethics are concerning: “Attorneys are saying it’s legal, but at what point does it become wrong?” The U.S. Education Department’s Office of Inspector General is looking into the matter and has advised the Federal Student Aid office to add clarifying language to its handbook.
15 Harvard Revokes Parkland Survivor’s Admission A Parkland-school shooting survivor, Kyle Kashuv, says Harvard University revoked his acceptance over racist comments he made online and in text messages at age 16. (While many of his classmates marched for gun control after the February 2018 mass shooting in which 17 people were killed, Kashuv became a pro-gun conservative activist.) He says the deadline for accepting other offers had passed when he learned the news. In 2017, Harvard rescinded the admission offers of at least 10 prospective students who had traded explicit and racially offensive messages in a private Facebook group.
16 Desperate Housewives Star Gets 14 Days Behind Bars in College Admissions Scandal “By Turns Tearful and Stoic” was the New York Times headline describing Felicity Huffman’s September 13 (Friday) day in a Boston Courtroom, the first parent to be sentenced in the Operations Varsity Blues scandal (see "Operation Varsity Blues" and "The Scandal Heard 'Round the World"). By penalty standards, going to prison for two weeks isn’t much. And even serving a year of supervised release, paying a $30,000 fine, and performing 250 hours of community service is a gnat’s eyelash worth of punishment. In issuing her sentence U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani said she sought a “just punishment” and wanted to avoid sentencing disparities, pointing out that “getting into college is not based on pure meritocracy.” The process, she continued, "has cracks in it with or without what these defendants have done," and regardless of “the amount of time wealthy students get to take a test over poorer students." Huffman “paid among the smallest bribes, did not involve her daughter, and didn't repeat the crime," the justice continued. "But we also know that she knew what she was doing was wrong….Trying to be a good mother doesn't excuse this." Talwani concluded, handing down the sentence. Thirty-four parents have pled guilty in the scandal; 19 more are fighting the charges. Huffman’s sentence is seen as a benchmark for what the other parents could face. Huffman admitted to paying a $15,000 bribe to boost her older daughter’s SAT score, a relatively small sum. Other parents allegedly paid up $500,000 to get their children into elite colleges and universities.
17 AU Wants to Force Faculty to Use Gender-Neutral Pronouns American University is considering a policy that would require faculty members to address students by their “chosen name and pronouns” so that gender-nonconforming students feel welcome. Even using the term “preferred pronouns” is discouraged, since it can be considered insulting. While there’s no explicit punishment policy for those who use pronouns incorrectly, offenders could be investigated through the university’s bias-reporting system. Adam Kissel, a visiting professor and former member of President Trump’s Department of Education, expressed his concerns in a letter to University President Sylvia Burwell, arguing that the policy would “violate AU’s promises of academic freedom and free speech.”
18 Tenure Continues to Dog Faculty Whether it’s a professor at an HBCU suing the institution for race-based tenure denial or a study showing that professors get worse evaluations from students once they receive tenure, the hallowed practice of life-time appointments faces ongoing criticism, scrutiny, and uncertainty. Vermont Law School unceremoniously demoted 14 of 19 tenured professors to contingent positions, and diversity among tenured professors at research institutions is on the wane. What’s a professor to do? Samuel J. Abrams, professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College, says faculty members must reassert themselves as those who direct campus dialogue.
19 More Poor and Minority Students Are Attending College, but Faculty Diversity Has Stalled The number of undergraduates has increased dramatically over the past 20 years, primarily due to an influx of poor students and students of color, according to new Pew Research data. However, these students are mainly attending less selective institutions. From 1996 to 2016, the total share of undergraduate students from poor families rose from 12 percent to 20 percent, while the share of nonwhite students went from 29 percent to 47 percent. On the other hand, seemingly little progress has been made when it comes to faculty-diversity initiatives. A study published in the Hispanic Journal of Law and Policy shows that most professors are still overwhelmingly white, especially at research institutions that grant doctorates. And any success has mostly been in untenured positions. Overall, 78.9 of tenured faculty are white, 6.6 percent are Hispanic, and 5.2 percent are African-American. Women are starting to catch up with men, though. While men make up the majority of the tenured faculty, women now actually exceed them in the tenure-track ranks.
20 Students Sue DeVos and Department When Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech schools folded, the Obama administration held the agency that had overseen these schools—Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)—accountable for not foreseeing the problems, prohibiting ACICS from administering federal financial aid to students. This ruling affected for-profit Virginia College, which as far back as 2017 had been under scrutiny for “failing ‘gainful employment’ standards.” However, in 2018 the Obama ruling was overturned by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her Department of Education, lifting the restrictions from ACICS, and, in general, relaxing rules for accreditors, thus allowing Virginia College to give students federal loans. Unknown to the students, the school was in financial distress and abruptly shut its doors last December, leaving students in debt and with no classes to attend. In June two former students brought a class-action suit against DeVos and her department for what they claim was an illegal decision to reinstate ACICS.
21 University of Texas Sued Again The anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (known as SFFA) is once again suing the University of Texas at Austin over its use of race and ethnicity in admissions. The nonprofit filed “a nearly identical” lawsuit against UT in 2017, which was dismissed. In 2014, SFFA also sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It accused Harvard of discriminating against Asian-American applicants. That high-profile case was tried last year, and a ruling is expected this year. (See "Never-Ending Debate Over Affirmative Action" and "Harvard Admissions Under Microscope.")
22 Scandals Rock the Midwest Dozens of former Ohio State male student athletes have filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging that it “actively concealed” knowledge of actions by a university sports doctor named Richard Strauss, who they say was a sexual predator. Apparently, it was an “open secret” on campus that Strauss, who committed suicide in 2005, sexually abused at least 177 male students over two decades. He reportedly began abusing patients in 1979—within a year of being hired—but complaints about him were not revealed until 1996. Strauss was briefly suspended and then retired with an honorary title. So if everyone in athletics knew about the abuse, why did no one stop it? Former Michigan State University (MSU) dean William Strampel has been sentenced to one year in county jail after being found guilty of misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty. He is the first MSU official to be convicted in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Lou Anna K. Simon, the disgraced former MSU president who faces criminal charges of lying to the police in connection to the Nassar scandal, formally retired at the end of August. She’s leaving her post with a $2.4 million golden parachute plus other benefits, including medical and dental coverage, the title of “president emeritus,” continued access to football and basketball tickets, and a commissioned portrait to be displayed on campus—as long as she’s not convicted. (See "Larry Nassar Fallout.")
23 First-Ever Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against a University for Due Process Violations A groundbreaking lawsuit filed against Michigan State University by a former student could “theoretically challenge, even retroactively, the results of any campus sexual violence case that didn’t offer due process protections,” according to Inside Higher Ed, which says it is the “first-ever prospective class-action lawsuit” since it attempts to protect future students accused of sexual assault. The lawsuit was originally filed in December 2018 and amended this summer. The male student involved, “John Doe,” was accused of sexually assaulting a female student, his date to a fraternity party, in February 2018. He was suspended from the university for two years without being given the opportunity to directly question his accuser. It was around this time that the Larry Nassar scandal was unfolding at MSU, which Doe suggested affected the outcome of his case. Nassar, a former physician at MSU and a doctor for the USA Gymnastics team, was found to have sexually abused hundreds of patients, and university officials were widely criticized for ignoring students’ complaints. (See "Larry Nassar Fallout")
24 Free Speech: From Birth of a Nation to Gibson’s Bakery Free speech on campus is a college perennial—if not the bedrock principle of higher education—with students, faculty, and alumni always ready to chime in on administrative decisions that appear to limit controversial statements. In one recent case, the University of Central Arkansas President Houston Davis ordered the campus library to take down a sign expressing support for LGBTQ members of the community, causing students and alumni to openly criticize the decision. And Chapman University’s film school removed posters promoting the early-1900s movie Birth of a Nation, which serves up a favorable portrait of the Ku Klux Klan, after students and professors protested. (The school did show the movie.) Yet Amy Wax remains a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania despite what The Chronicle deemed her “grenade-throwing” comments that not all cultures are created equal and her belief, according to Mark Bauerlein writing in The Wall Street Journal, that “the U.S. should reduce immigration from non-Western countries because those migrants aren’t likely to assimilate as smoothly into American society as Western immigrants do.” On the other hand, according to an Ohio jury, Oberlin crossed the line in encouraging students to call an off-campus bakery racist (see "Oberlin Loses Defamation Suit.").
25 The Gates Foundation Attempts to Answer the Question: Is College Worth It? Roughly four in ten recent college graduates are underemployed, and many are wondering if a college degree is worth it. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is launching a new initiative to find out. The 30-person commission, made up of leaders from inside and outside education, will evaluate the value of education after high school, especially for low-income and minority students, by analyzing economic outcomes like postgrad earnings, economic mobility, and the ability to repay debt. Despite some grim headlines, a survey of likely voters in the 2020 general election finds that Americans still believe in the value of higher education. But they also think that institutions must do a better job of serving students—“not just enroll them and cash their checks, but get them to graduation and equip them with the skills they need to get a good-paying job and pay off their loans,” one of the report’s coauthors said. The average American also tends to take a more centered view of higher education than do politicians on the right or left.
26 Education’s Blank Slate All Over Again At what cost does higher education become more efficient? Usually, it turns out, it’s at the expense of the students. Calls for transparency and accountability in higher education are becoming increasingly fervent, though such demands have been heard for more than a century now. In July a bipartisan group of experts was convened to renew those old concerns, now including education outcomes, high levels of non-completion rates, and, specifically, where higher education fits into a free market. The issue of efficiency, meanwhile, was being addressed by the Academic Benchmarking Consortium, which analyzes costs related to education-focused activities.
27 DeVos Issues Tough New Rules for Student Loan Forgiveness Just before the start of the long Labor Day weekend, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued new and much stricter rules for student borrowers who say their schools defrauded them. Under the new regulations, which are an overhaul of the Obama-era borrower-defense rules, those seeking loan forgiveness will have “much higher hurdles to clear.” They will need to prove that their college made deceptive statements “with knowledge of its false, misleading or deceptive nature or with reckless disregard for the truth,” and that they were affected by these statements in deciding to enroll or stay at the school. They will also need to show they suffered financial harm. In addition, there is a new three-year time limit to file a claim, and each case will be considered individually, even when there is evidence of widespread misconduct. “We believe this final rule corrects the wrongs of the 2016 rule through common sense and carefully crafted reforms that hold colleges and universities accountable and treat students and taxpayers fairly,” DeVos said in a statement. The government estimates it will save $11 billion over 10 years, but critics say the new regulations will make it much tougher for students to get relief. The DeVos rules will take effect on July 1, 2020.
28 Support for Free College Grows, Despite Evidence Against It More than half of young adults (56 percent) say they support the idea making public universities free—even if it costs taxpayers billions of dollars. But what would really happen if the U.S. were to embrace a so-called “better model,” like Finland’s, where students at public universities pay no tuition thanks to generous government subsidies? According to a new American Enterprise Institute report, there would be trade-offs that no one is currently talking about. The study found that developed nations that dedicate more money to postsecondary education produce fewer graduates. “The whole public university system in Finland has an admissions rate on par with elite U.S. colleges,” said Jason Delisle, coauthor of the study. “Imagine if the entire education system of the U.S. had to meet UVA-level test scores.” Nonetheless, the idea is rapidly gaining hold, and more than 300 cities and states now have free-tuition programs in some form or another. In Washington State, for instance, a new surcharge on companies that employ highly skilled workers will cover some or all tuition costs for families earning under $90,000 annually. And students in West Virginia can now attend community college for free, as long as they pass a drug test that includes marijuana use.
29 Debt Cancellation Goes Mainstream Student loan forgiveness, an idea that was relegated to the political fringes not too long ago and is under attack by Secretary of Education DeVos (see "DeVos Issues Tough New Rules"), is now fully mainstream in the Democratic party. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to wipe out all debt—every last penny of both federal and privately held student loans. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would cap student loan forgiveness at $50,000 for borrowers making less than $100,000 annually. Those with six-figure incomes up to $250,000 would get limited relief. The Warren campaign says that 80 percent of black households and 83 percent of Latin households with student debt would get full debt relief, as would 73 percent of white households. Even philanthropists are embracing the idea. Billionaire investor Robert Smith announced that he was paying off the student debt of the entire Morehouse College Class of 2019. Other candidates are rolling out narrower, more targeted plans. As part of a broader proposal addressing racial inequality, Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), for instance, would cancel up to $20,000 in debt for Pell Grant recipients who successfully open businesses in underserved communities. Surprisingly, the Sanders plan might be the easiest to carry out. “Congress could pass a one-sentence law saying, ‘We forgive all the debt,’” said Matt Chingos, the director of the Urban Institute’s Center on Education Data and Policy. But “politically, it’s obviously a different story.”
30 As Debt Surges, the White House Studies Ways to Ease the Strain on Taxpayers The federal student loan program was supposed to make money. Instead, the government now admits it will cost taxpayers $31.5 billion over the next decade, according to a new congressional estimate. Borrowers currently owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loans, an average of $34,000 per person. Now the Trump administration has hired private consultants, including McKinsey & Co., to analyze the situation. The move was prompted by the surge in the number of borrowers defaulting on their loans and entering debt-forgiveness plans, developments that have “severely drained money coming into the government’s coffers.” Around five million borrowers have defaulted on their loans—over two million in just the past six years. And this number grows by 1,400 a day. The White House is considering several options to address the problem, including selling all or a portion of the debt to private investors. This could also put pressure on schools to rein in tuition increases.
31 Teachers Sue Betsy DeVos Over Loan Forgiveness Debacle The American Federation of Teachers is suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for “gross mismanagement” of a major loan forgiveness program for public servants. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, enacted in 2007, was designed to allow student loan borrowers who work in public service jobs to have their loans discharged after ten years of on-time payments. However, more than 99 percent of applications have been denied, and thousands of people expecting relief are stuck with high loan balances, some, in total, five or six figures. About 73,500 people have applied for debt relief. To date, only 864 applications have been approved, and a mere 518 people have actually had their debts forgiven. Borrowers say the requirements and exclusions are so complex and ever-changing that they thought they were on track with their payments when they actually were not. The suit alleges the program is “in such a shambles that it violates federal law and the Constitution.”