Archives for category: Higher Education

Politico reports on the federal government’s very costly student loan program. Is it predatory lending? How does it increase access to make the cost so high? How can the Obama talk about expanding access and increasing college graduation rates while charging usurious rates? What you say matters less than what you do.

DO PARENT PLUS LOANS COME WITH A BIG MINUS? The fast-growing federal program known as Parent PLUS [ ] now has 3.2 million borrowers who have racked up $65 billion in debt helping their kids go to school. The loans have much in common with the regular student loans that have created a national debt crisis and a 2016 campaign issue, but PLUS has much higher interest rates and fees, and far fewer opportunities for loan forgiveness or reductions, writes Michael Grunwald for POLITICO’s The Agenda. The PLUS program, which includes similar loans to graduate students, is the most profitable of the 120 or so federal lending programs.

– According to the White House budget office, the expected recovery rate for defaulted Parent PLUS loans is a remarkable 106 percent, a testament to Uncle Sam’s unique power as a collection agency. Overall, the program is expected to return $1.23 on every dollar it lends this year, thanks to its relatively high interest rates and minimal opportunities for debt relief. When I spoke to White House education adviser Roberto Rodriguez about this conundrum, he emphasized that President Barack Obama has crusaded to make America the world’s leader in access to higher education. But he also said he’s concerned that too many struggling parents are getting in too deep. When I asked him if the Education Department was running a predatory lending program, he didn’t say no. “That’s the heart of the matter,” Rodriguez said. “You want to expand access and choice, but you also want to make sure families can afford these loans.”

– Parent PLUS was created in 1980 to provide small loans to help reasonably well-off families finance an undergraduate education. But it has evolved to providing almost any borrower with almost unlimited cash to attend any school with almost no regard to their ability to repay. “You feel so guilty that you haven’t done enough for your kid, and they make it so easy to get the loans,” said Elizabeth Hill, a 57-year-old property appraiser from the Boston suburbs with more than $30,000 in PLUS debt. “Then they’ve got you by the cojones. It’s like the Sopranos, except it’s the government.”

Legislation called “The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” has been introduced in both houses of Congress. Nice name, no? Don’t you think you should have “the right to know before you go” to a college or university?


What it really means is that the federal government will:


authorize the creation of a federal database of all college students, complete with their personally identifiable information, tracking them through college and into the workforce, including their earnings, Social Security numbers, and more. The ostensible purpose of the bill? To provide better consumer information to parents and students so they can make “smart higher education investments.”


Big Data, the answer to all problems. All you need do is surrender your privacy and become someone’s data point, perhaps the point of sales.


Barmak Nassirian, writing on the blog of Studentprivacymatters, warns about the dangers this legislation poses. He wrote originally in response to an article endorsing the legislation by researchers at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who viewed the invasion of personal privacy as less significant than the need for consumer information about one’s choice of a college or university:


First, let’s be clear that the data in question would be personally identifiable information of every student (regardless of whether they seek or obtain any benefits from the government), that these data would be collected without the individual’s consent or knowledge, that each individual’s educational data would be linked to income data collected for unrelated purposes, and that the highly personal information residing for the first time in the same data-system would be tracked and updated over time.


Second, the open-ended justification for the collection and maintenance of the data (“better consumer information”) strongly suggests that the data systems in question would have very long, if not permanent, record-retention policies. They, in other words, would effectively become life-long dossiers on individuals.


Third, the amorphous rationale for matching collegiate and employment data would predictably spread and justify the concatenation of other “related” data into individuals’ longitudinal records. The giant sucking sound we would hear could be the sound of personally identifiable data from individuals’ K12, juvenile justice, military service, incarceration, and health records being pulled into their national dossiers.


Fourth, the lack of explicit intentionality as to the compelling governmental interest that would justify such a surveillance system is an open invitation for mission creep. The availability of a dataset as rich as even the most basic version of the system in question would quickly turn it into the go-to data mart for other federal and state agencies, and result in currently unthinkable uses that would never have been authorized if proposed as allowable disclosures in the first place.


This is a bill that conservatives and liberals should be fighting against. Imagine if such a data-set existed; how long would it be before the data were hacked, for fun and profit, exposing personally identifiable information about students who had never given their consent? Didn’t the government recently become aware of a massive hack of its personnel records?



According to the New York Times:


For more than five years, American intelligence agencies followed several groups of Chinese hackers who were systematically draining information from defense contractors, energy firms and electronics makers, their targets shifting to fit Beijing’s latest economic priorities.


But last summer, officials lost the trail as some of the hackers changed focus again, burrowing deep into United States government computer systems that contain vast troves of personnel data, according to American officials briefed on a federal investigation into the attack and private security experts.


Undetected for nearly a year, the Chinese intruders executed a sophisticated attack that gave them “administrator privileges” into the computer networks at the Office of Personnel Management, mimicking the credentials of people who run the agency’s systems, two senior administration officials said. The hackers began siphoning out a rush of data after constructing what amounted to an electronic pipeline that led back to China, investigators told Congress last week in classified briefings.


How long will a treasure trove of personally identifiable student data remain confidential?


If this bill passes, farewell to privacy.



The University of Puget Sound has joined some 800 other colleges and universities by dropping the SAT

“Put away your study guides, college applicants — the University of Puget Sound doesn’t care how you do on the SAT or ACT.

“The Tacoma university has joined a small number of Washington colleges, and a growing list of colleges nationally, that don’t require undergraduate applicants to submit standardized test scores when submitting an application for admission.

“The reason? UPS has found that grade-point averages are much more predictive of how a student will do in college than a score on a test.”

Justin Wedes, one of the organizers of Occupy Wall Street, reminds us that direct action works:


When it rains, it pours!

This week began with the surprising news that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan is initiating a process to help defrauded college students seek forgiveness on their federal student loans. There is no doubt that this major announcement, which could lead to billions of dollars in savings for cheated student loan debtors, was instigated by the powerful actions of Corinthian College students who refused to pay back loans. Their school administration was caught bribing employers to temporarily hire (and then fire) graduates in order to beef up their success numbers.

The group behind this strike: an Occupy Wall Street offshoot called Debt Collective, who released a statement claiming the USDOE hadn’t gone far enough. And they’re right: millions more students are living with inflated degrees, souring job prospects and boatloads of student loan debt that threaten to derail the economy again. Still, this is a huge step in the right direction and should open the floodgates to student loan forgiveness.

Then Wednesday brought more good news for students: NY’s Cooper Union president Jamshed Bharucha resigned in shame after instituting the college’s first-ever tuition in 2013. His tenure was mired in controversy, including a famous student occupation of his office by Free Cooper Union, another OWS offshoot. His resignation was one of their three demands. The other two define a pathway back to free education, which should be the goal not just for Cooper Union but for every (public) higher education institution in this country. (Here’s a study showing that the U.S. could provide free education to all for only $15 billion more in spending per year, or 1/26th the cost of the fighter jet program)

What do these victories have in common? They affirm that direct action against the injustice of unaffordable, debt-driven higher education works. They show that millennials aren’t just sitting back and accepting the realities of an educational system that is becoming less and less accessible to them. They are standing up and fighting back, skillfully and with sustained action. And that’s seriously good news.

Keep fighting,


Dispatches from Detroit
by Justin Wedes
Avalon Village Detroit, MI 48226 USA

A few minutes ago, I posted a blog that appeared on the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education, stating that the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin was trying to save tenure from the onslaught of Governor Scott Walker and his allies in the Legislature.

I quickly heard from Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at UW, who warned me not to believe it:

“Thanks so much for posting the blog tonight. However, it is incorrect. The UW Regents aren’t trying to save tenure- that’s not what they voted to do. This is a Board full of Scott Walker’s appointees and what they did was vote to adopt a fake version of tenure that is called the same thing but still allows for massive layoffs. It is a carefully worded trick and the media fell for it.

“More here:

“Please help your readers remember that the Regents, the President of UW System, and yes even the Chancellor of Madison are approved by Walker. None are to be trusted, unfortunately. And all are frantically spinning the story to suggest faculty, staff and students are overreacting.



Note: I have been warned that this account is wrong; that the Board of Regents was appointed by Scott Walker; and that their action is meant to provide fake tenure that allows massive layoffs. See the post that follows this one. Where Scott Walker is involved, nothing good happens to education at any level.

With the legislature in Wisconsin about to pass a budget bill eliminating tenure, the Board of Regents of the University are trying to protect it.

Tenure is the best safeguard for academic freedom. The freedom to teach and to learn requires safety from political reprisals. Without tenure, professors could be fired for teaching controversial subjects or expressing an unpopular opinion or because they offended a powerful politician.

“The University of Wisconsin’s Board of Regents voted unanimously on Friday to add tenure protections to system policy as the state’s Republican-led government appeared ready to remove them from state law, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

“Proposed legislation, crafted by the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance as part of the state budget, would strip shared-governance guarantees and tenure protections from state law. It is expected to pass and be signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker.”

We are rapidly moving backwards, and politicians like Scott Walker are doing their best to cripple free thought.

This is an open letter by Scott Wittkopf and Kirstie K. Danielson regarding the defunding of high education and the threats to academic freedom by undercutting tenure protections.

Wittkopf and Danielson write:

UW Budget Proposal Jeopardizes Freedom for Everyone

The following is revised from a letter submitted to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, UW Board of Regents, Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly leadership, UW System President Ray Cross, and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

It is significant that the State and University of Wisconsin were both founded in 1848, because the people’s prosperity is directly linked to the prosperity of both public institutions. The UW System budget amendments proposed by the conservative-controlled Joint Finance Committee are ideologically driven and a misguided attempt to cripple essential relationships between the State, the University, and the People. This ideology will systemically destroy the University and each Wisconsin citizen’s future potential to prosper and enjoy the opportunities provided by educational freedom.

As alumni of the University and life-long Wisconsin residents, we are alarmed by betrayal of public trust at the highest levels of state and UW System leadership. Our current leaders are charged by Wisconsin citizens with the responsibility to empower people through knowledge, and protect basic educational freedoms. Yet they intentionally neglect that responsibility for political expedience. If the proposed UW budget is approved, no longer will Wisconsin citizens, students and faculty benefit from the freedom to inquire, teach, explore, and dream all that is possible.

Since the UW System impacts each person in the state, it is the responsibility of each citizen in the state to speak out in support of democratic public institutions that uphold essential educational freedoms providing opportunity for all. The proposed destructive amendments to the UW budget include weakening our public investment in higher education; eliminating critical tenure protections for faculty and students to research and teach emerging and cutting-edge topics; and silencing shared governance which ensures the democratic voice of those who teach and practice “The Wisconsin Idea.”

Embodying “The Wisconsin Idea,” the people of the state and the University have always worked together tirelessly to improve the quality of health, life, land and water, and gastronomical pleasures (e.g., Babcock Ice Cream) for everyone. It is all of us, through our investment and responsibility to future generations, who have provided citizens with life changing discoveries from vitamins A, B & D, to Warfarin, land conservation, stem cells, computer science, transplant surgery, and the list can go on and on. The current proposal weakening our investment in the future will inevitably hinder breakthroughs and discoveries that would otherwise benefit and bring hope to the people of Wisconsin. This is why the rest of the developed world is accelerating their investment in public education.

The guarantee of academic freedom at UW pre-dates “The Wisconsin Idea.” In 1894, the Board of Regents adopted a statement which has become part of Wisconsin culture. The critical section to tenure and shared governance protection reads, “…the great State University of Wisconsin shall ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.” Tenure and shared governance have historically guaranteed necessary protection and empowerment to fearlessly pursue truth. Without which we as a state may return to the days of academic persecution, especially under the current political climate. History is rife with examples of individuals who were punished for thinking freely and challenging the intellectual status quo, even as history has shown their discoveries to be true, be it Galileo, Einstein, Turing, or Cecilia Payne (astrophysicist). Is Wisconsin at the dawn of a new era of witch hunts in academia? Already, politicians and corporate powers are pursuing greed, power and profit over freedom of thought and speech. We must protect the Public from undemocratic private rule dictated by one political figure – the governor.

We call on our public leaders to uphold their moral responsibility to protect freedom of thought and speech, and empower the citizens of Wisconsin with opportunity to pursue knowledge. Expand investments, and protect tenure and shared governance for the UW System to fulfill our promise and commitment to future generations of Wisconsin. Our future prosperity as a people depends on it.

Kirstie K. Danielson, PhD & Scott Wittkopf

About the authors:

Kirstie K Danielson received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is currently an Assistant Professor in the Division of Transplant Surgery at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She still maintains her permanent residence in Madison, Wisconsin due to her love for the Badger State.

Scott Wittkopf attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is a political communications consultant and co-founder of Forward Institute, a public policy think tank in Wisconsin.

Scott Walker made his reputation busting unions and attacking K-12 teachers. It was only a matter of time until he turned his guns on higher education. Not only has he slashed the funding of the University of Wisconsin, but now he is going after tenure. He long ago signaled his belief that universities exist for workforce training, not to develop independent-minded citizens or creative thinkers.

If you are opposed to Scott Walker’s assault on intellectual freedom, sign this petition.

This email just arrived:


Please help get the word out–

Tenure is literally dying as we speak. Last Friday the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee passed an Omnibus Bill that creates Act 10 for Higher Education

This motion ( ) makes it possible for the University of Wisconsin administration to layoff off faculty or academic staff not only because of financial exigency but also “when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection, instead of when a financial emergency exists as under current law” (Omnibus Motion #521.39)

While the Chancellor of Madison and the President of UW System both claim that the Regents can still “uphold tenure” despite this, it simply is not true. If this is passed into law— and it looks like it will be by month’s end— no Regent policy can override it.

The Regents of UW System have declined—tonight— to do anything about this. Instead they issued a carefully worded statement that still allows tenured faculty and academic staff to be laid off for non financial reasons. For more on this point see:

For more in general see:

We need national attention to this important issue. The national press are not here. Not even Chancellor Blank is here. Tomorrow the Regents meet and they do not appear willing to challenge the Wisconsin Legislature at all.

Scott Walker is leading the charge to end faculty tenure— in Wisconsin, and in the United States. He must be stopped.


Sara Goldrick-Rab
Professor of Educational Policy Studies & Sociology
Founding Director, Wisconsin HOPE Lab
University of Wisconsin-Madison
239 Education Bldg
1000 Bascom Mall
Madison WI 53706
(608) 265-2141

The Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina eliminated 46 degree programs across the system, mainly in education. The Legislature earlier eliminated the highly successful NC Teaching Fellows while expanding Teach for America. Evidently, the Legislature and the university governors don’t want professionally trained teachers.

Here are the degree programs that were eliminated:


Appalachian State University: Family and Consumer Sciences, Secondary Education; Technology Education; Mathematics, Education

Elizabeth City State University: Special Education, General Curriculum; Middle Grades Education; English, Secondary Education; Political Science

East Carolina University: French K-12; German K-12; Hispanic Studies Education; German; French; Public History; Special Education, Intellectual Disabilities; Vocational Education

Fayetteville State University: Art Education; Music Education; Biotechnology

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University: Comprehensive Science Education; Physical Education North Carolina Central University: Theatre; Jazz

North Carolina State University: Africana Studies; Women’s and Gender Studies; Business and Marketing Education; Physiology

UNC-Charlotte: Child and Family Development; Special Education, Adapted Curriculum; English Education; Mathematics Education

UNC-Chapel Hill: Human Biology

UNC-Greensboro: Mathematics, Secondary Education (BA); Mathematics, Secondary Education (BS); Economics, Secondary Education; Biology, Secondary Education (BA); Biology, Secondary Education (BS); Composition; Latin Education; Biochemistry

UNC School of the Arts: Film Music Composition

UNC-Wilmington: Physical Education and Health; Music Performance

Western Carolina University: Health Information Administration Winston-Salem State University: Biotechnology; Elementary Education; Teaching English as a Second Language and Linguistics

The industry that has been the most effective in buying protection in D.C, for its predatory practices is the for-profit college industry. It has hired the top lobbyist in both parties. It makes generous campaign contributions. It collects billions from taxpayers to underwrite its behavior. All of this money is used to enrich the industry leaders. Need I add that these institutions are known for predatory practices and for supplying a lousy education.

This article, written by David Halperin and published in The Nation, lays bare the power of this industry and how well it has used its resources to avoid scrutiny of it. The article appeared nearly one year ago.

Now Halperin has published a new article, predicting the end of the predatory colleges. He cites the bankruptcy of mega-chain Corinthian Colleges as a hopeful sign. He thinks that Washington is ready to take them on. Count me cynical. I will believe it when it happens.


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