Archives for category: Higher Education

Michael L. Hays, Ph.D., sent this interesting suggestion to address the problem of student debt. I was reminded when I read it that this issue came to a head in 1972, when Congresswoman Edith Green from Oregon fought for the idea below, that is, sending federal money to colleges to use for need-based scholarships. On the other side from Green was Senator Claiborne Pell, who advocated direct federal loans to students, not to institutions of higher education. Pell won and created the Pell Grant program, which some have likened to a voucher for higher education. Now these issues are being reconsidered as Presidential candidates debate what to do about the soaring cost of higher education and the crushing burden of debt that so many students carry.

Hays writes:

Recent campaign proposals to address the problems of student debt called my attention to the context of those loans and the mechanisms for making and collecting them. What struck me was that these proposals do not address the problems but oblige the federal government to spend hundreds of billions of dollars without any suitable means to evaluate the merits of its expenditures or to control them.

At present, students borrow money from a variety of sources, mainly the federal government. Colleges receive this money, apply it toward their students’ expenses, and let their graduates repay their loans to the government. Colleges have no reason to limit the number of students whom they admit, to maintain their admission and academic standards, to ensure the quality of education provided, or to moderate their tuition or fees. Students assume all the risks of those loans, even as, in too many cases, colleges engage in essentially predatory practices, especially for-profit schools which would otherwise not exist. In short, colleges have no stake in the entire process except for latent incentives to exploit easy government loans to students.

We need to put college funding on a sensible basis. The government should not lend money indiscriminately to anyone who wants it for college: serious students, students unsure of their purposes, students for whom college is a substitute for unemployment, students who want a two- or four-year vacation, etc. Instead, it should lend to colleges on their demand for funds; in turn, the colleges would make loans to students whom they believe, on the basis of their already existing application processes, likely to benefit from college and to repay their loans; in turn, the colleges would use their repayments to repay the government. Schools would assume the costs of their mistakes—perhaps some small allowance (ten percent?) for the inevitable mistakes—; otherwise, states would be guarantors of the loans of public colleges and universities. Private, especially, for-profit schools, would also assume the costs of their mistakes and require private-equity guarantors of their loans. For-profit schools, usually living off the federal dole and providing a poor education, would be forced to up-grade themselves or would drive themselves, or be driven, out of business.

The benefits of this approach to college funding are many. Colleges would face the risks of real consequences of excessive borrowing and reckless lending. To minimize or avoid these risks, they would focus on and improve the standards and quality of the education which they provide (not least by putting a brake on lowering academic standards and inflating grades), select students better matched to and suited for those standards and not admit others to swell enrollments for purposes of institutional and budgetary growth, and restrain increases in tuition and fees. As a result, their graduates would be more likely to get jobs and repay loans not inflated by unrestrained costs.

By requiring colleges to decide on these “small business loans” for students, the government could attend to ensuring that colleges do not “red line” certain populations.

The disadvantages of this approach are few and easily offset. Initially, a small downward shift of some students with weak backgrounds, admittedly, disproportionately minorities, to lower-ranked colleges would be compensated by the greater chance of their academic success, their increased graduation rates, and their better chances of employment and loan repayment.

The important points are that the government, after a one-time start-up fund for loans and some modest annual appropriations to maintain funding to serve demand (and supplement some loan defaults), would not incur large and uncontrolled expenses; students would have more assurance of getting the education for which they pay; and colleges would have incentives to do a better and more economical job of educating their students.

Dr. Michael L. Hays
Las Cruces, New Mexico

The Miami Herald reports that the leading candidates in both parties have accepted money from for-profit institutions of higher education, many of which have preyed on veterans and the poor.

Bill Clinton was paid $16 million to “as “honorary chancellor” of Laureate Education, the world’s largest for-profit college company. The firm is being sued by several online graduate students for allegedly dishonest practices, and a 2012 U.S Senate report found that more than half of Laureate’s online Walden University revenue went to marketing and profit.”

“The GOP field of 2016 presidential hopefuls is filled with candidates who have close ties to for-profit colleges. Marco Rubio listed two for-profit executives (and the industry’s former top Florida lobbyist) as “contributors” to his 2006 book, 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future. Jeb Bush gave a keynote speech at the for-profit industry’s Washington trade association last year, for which he was paid $51,000.”

Jeb Bush’s ties to the for-profit education industry are far more extensive than a single keynote speech. Jeb’s “Digital Learning NOW!” proposal was funded by the tech industry and recommended unregulated digital learning as the answer to every education problem. His FEE (Foundation for Educational Excellence) is a prime advocate for the expansion of online learning in every aspect of education.

“Republican front-runner Donald Trump is being sued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over his now-shuttered “Trump University” business school. Schneiderman has said Trump University used false promotional materials and “was a scam from top to bottom.”

Read more here:

Wendy Lecker has advice for parents: if you want to know how your child is doing, ask the teacher. Don’t rely on standardized tests. The teachers sees his or her work daily, the teacher knows more than the test reveals

She writes:

“Even standardized college placement tests, tests ostensibly designed to measure “college readiness,” fail miserably at that task — with real and damaging consequences for students.

“College remediation is often used as a weapon by education reformers. Overstating college remediation rates was one of the tactics used by Arne Duncan to foment hysteria about the supposedly sorry state of America’s public schools and justify imposing the Common Core and its accompanying tests nationwide. As retired award-winning New York principal Carol Burris has written, while Duncan and his allies claimed that the college remediation rate is 40 percent, data from the National Center on Education Statistics show that the actual percentage is 20 percent.

“Exaggeration is not the only problem with college remediation. Many of the students placed in remedial classes in college do not even belong there.

Researchers have found that one-quarter to one-third of students in college remedial courses were wrongly assigned.

“Once again, non-standardized, human assessments of a student’s learning are more helpful than standardized tests.”

Lecker concludes:

“The key to ensuring and determining college readiness is clearly not high-stakes error-prone standardized tests. If politicians really want to understand how to prepare our children for college, maybe they should try a new — for them- approach and consult experts with a great track record of knowing what makes kids college-ready. Maybe they should ask some teachers.”

Fairtest reports that George Washington University has grown the long list of universities that no longer require students to take the SAT or ACT for admission. These universities recognize that students’ grade-point-average over four years is more predictive of college success than any standardized test.

Today’s announcement by George Washington University that it will no longer require most applicants to submit ACT or SAT test scores is the latest example of a surge of schools dropping admissions testing requirements. According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), 40 colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies since spring 2013.
Like George Washington, many of the institutions going test-optional in the past two years are among the most competitive in the U.S. The list includes Beloit, Brandeis, Bryn Mawr, Drake, Hood, Kalamazoo, Sienna and Wesleyan. A growing number of public universities, such as Eastern Connecticut, Monmouth State, Old Dominion, Plymouth State, Rowan, Temple, and Virginia Commonwealth, have also eliminated ACT or SAT score requirements for all or many applicants
FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer explained, “The test-optional surge recognizes that no test—not the SAT, old or new, nor the ACT – is needed for high-quality admissions. Many independent studies and practical experiences have shown that test-optional admission enhances both academic excellence and diversity.”
FairTest’s list of ACT/SAT-optional schools (at now includes more than 180 schools ranked in the top tiers of their respective categories. More than one-third of top-ranked national liberal arts colleges have test-optional policies.
– regular updates for FairTest’s chronology of test-optional adoptions and list of top-tier schools with test-optional or test-flexible policies are online at

Higher education institutions and their lobbyists better keep a sharp eye on what is happening on the Hill in D.C. There is trouble brewing. published the following this morning:
SENATE HELP INQUIRES ON INNOVATION IN HIGHER ED: With No Child Left Behind behind them, Senate HELP Committee leaders return to Higher Education Act reauthorization today. The hearing focus: “Exploring barriers and opportunities within innovation.” Witnesses include Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis, Higher Learning Commission President Barbara Gellman-Danley and Michael Horn, co-founder and executive director for education programs at the Clayton Christensen Institute. Also testifying is Southern New Hampshire University President Paul LeBlanc, who just wrapped a stint at the Education Department advising on innovation, competency-based education and accreditation. Watch live starting at 10 a.m. ET:

— Committee Chair Sen. Lamar Alexander will pose two big questions: How can Congress help colleges meet students’ changing needs and stop discouraging colleges and universities from innovating, and should the federal government consider a new definition for the college or university? “There are many new learning models that are entering the landscape, thanks to the Internet,” Alexander will say, according to prepared remarks. “We need to consider what role they play in our higher education system, and whether federal financial aid ought to be available to students who are learning outside our traditional institutions.”

— Ranking member Sen. Patty Murray wants to break down barriers that keep low-income and non-traditional students out of traditional colleges, she’ll say today. But she believes that to ensure institutions can’t mislead students, Congress should be wary of welcoming alternative providers and models without enacting strong accountability measures. “I know several of my Republican colleagues are interested in shaking up the current higher education system, the sooner the better. But I believe we should tread carefully,” Murray will say, according to prepared remarks. “Simply opening access to federal student aid, without accountability, for any company or institution that offers an alternative to traditional education would fail to protect consumers.”

As for the witnesses, the Lumina Foundation often teams up with Gates to redesign other people’s lives. Michael Horn is a big supporter of disruption theory (blow things up and see what happens next, as is Clayton Christensen, the Harvard business professor who made a virtue of chaos). And then there is that guy from Arne Duncan’s shop, whose university has one of the lowest graduation rates in New Hampshire.

What you can be sure of is that when government talks about “innovation” these days, what they really mean is opening up the sector for profit making, entrepreneurial ventures. You would think by now that the Congress would reflect on the meltdown at failed Corinthian Colleges, the for-profit (“innovative”) set of colleges that closed a few months ago, stranding tens of thousands of students. Our most “innovative” colleges and universities seem to be best at delivering instruction online, which opens up opportunities for selling product more than opportunities for higher education. No one stops higher education now from putting courses online, if they choose to. Why does Congress think that higher education is waiting to be told what to do by politicians? It may be asking too much to suggest that they stick to doing what they know, but….they should stick to doing what they know.

The biggest problem in higher education is that low-income and non-traditional students can’t afford to pay for it, and most traditional students leave burdened with debt. Why doesn’t the committee focus on that big obstacle and barrier to access? Affordability is what is needed, not new models designed by a Congressional committee.

The biggest scam in higher education was perpetrated by Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit corporation that once enrolled more than 120,000 students at 120 campuses. Corinthian collapsed recently, leaving tens of thousands of students saddled with debt and worthless degrees.


The recruiters focused on minorities, the poor, and veterans, making false promises about future employment and costs. The bottom line was always the same: profits. Not education.


The linked article is the inside story of the decline and fall of Corinthian, its predatory practices, its lies to students, and the inaction of the DOE.


“In lawsuits, official complaints to state and federal regulators, sworn declarations submitted in Corinthian’s bankruptcy proceeding, and conversations with The Huffington Post, dozens of former Corinthian students and several former Corinthian employees said that Corinthian drowned students in debt and sent them off with meaningless diplomas that did not help — and sometimes even harmed — their job prospects. It illegally padded job placement statistics and gave students college credit for “externships” at fast-food restaurants. It charged students up to 10 times what a comparable community college degree would cost. More than 1 in 4 Corinthian graduates defaulted on their student loans, according to Education Department data. And for years, the Education Department not only failed to recognize the depths of the abuse, but effectively funded Corinthian’s business model, sending the company billions of dollars in financial aid to help cover students’ bills.”


Why did the U.S. Department of Education allow this fraud to continue for so long? One might well ask why the U.S. Department of Education has been silent about the growth of predatory for-profit K-12 schools, both virtual and brick-and-mortar. For the first time in history, the U.S. ED just doesn’t see privatization and profit-making as a problem.


“In 2008, Tasha Courtright visited the Everest College campus in Ontario, California, with a friend. She was not looking to pursue higher education. “The recruiter said, ‘How about you? Do you want to go to school?’” Courtright recalled.


“I said I can’t afford it, I can’t do loans,” she remembered, noting that she was working a minimum-wage job at a gas station when Corinthian first recruited her. “They said, ‘Let us do the numbers.’ They said I qualified for Cal Grants and Pell Grants, and I wouldn’t have to pay anything.”


“The recruiter called Courtright repeatedly for two days, pressuring her to make a decision. “They said classes were starting and ‘If you don’t do it now, you never will.’ So I went down again and signed up.” Courtright spent four years at Everest, earning a bachelor’s degree in applied business management. She said recruiters promised she wouldn’t pay a dime; she ended up with $41,000 in student debt.


“High-pressure sales tactics like that were deliberately targeted at vulnerable demographic groups, including single mothers and the unemployed, according to Lueck, the former Corinthian manager. Recruits were often the first in their families to attend college. Almost anyone could qualify.


“Laurie McDonnell, a librarian at the Everest-Ontario Metro campus, resigned after learning that her school had enrolled a man who read at a third-grade level.


“The goal was simple: profits. Smaller chains like Lincoln Tech or DeVry used to dominate the for-profit college industry. But toward the end of the last decade, larger, publicly traded companies took over. By 2009, three-quarters of all U.S. students enrolled in for-profit colleges were at schools owned by a corporate conglomerate or private equity firm. Goldman Sachs owns around 40 percent of Education Management Corporation, another operator of for-profit colleges.


“Many for-profit college companies own multiple university brands. Corinthian, which traded on Nasdaq, ran Everest, Wyotech and Heald Colleges. The consolidation of the industry changed how for-profit schools operated, argues Elizabeth Baylor, senior investigator on a landmark 2012 Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee study of for-profits. “Student success was not the primary focus of the entity. It was returning investor value,” Baylor, who now works at the Center for American Progress, told HuffPost.


“One-quarter of the average for-profit college budget goes to marketing and recruitment, Baylor said. The goal is to capture and retain students, and squeeze as much money out of them as possible. The 2012 Senate report found that Corinthian’s students defaulted on their loans at a rate that was “by far the highest of any publicly traded company” that investigators scrutinized.”

Thanks to successful lobbying by representatives of higher education, the Obama administration has backed away from one of its loopiest ideas: rating every college and university in the nation.

No one loves Big Data more than the U.S. Department of Education. No federal agency understands less about the limitations of Big Data than the U.S. Department of 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.”


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