Archives for category: Higher Education

The University of California’s faculty leaders have recommended  retaining the controversial SAT and ACT as admissions requirements, despite concerns that the standardized tests are rigged against students of low income. Wealthy parents pay huge sums for tutoring their children. Standardized tests by their nature are rigged against disadvantaged students, which has encouraged more than 1,000 colleges and universities to drop them.

But paradoxically, UC leaders believe that these tests help disadvantaged students.

The new yearlong faculty review found that most UC admissions officers offset that bias by considering an applicant’s high school and neighborhood demographics in evaluating the standardized test scores. The review found that less-advantaged applicants were admitted at higher rates for any given test score, a finding that faculty review committee members said surprised them. That process results in increased admission of disadvantaged students, the review found.

The faculty review committee “did not find evidence that UC’s use of test scores played a major role in worsening the effects of disparities already present among applicants and did find evidence that UC’s admissions process helped to make up for the potential adverse effect of score differences between groups.”

This is good news for the SAT/ACT test prep industry, as well as the monolithic testing industry that benefits far more than students.

Forbes’ education writer Wesley Whistle writes about the lawsuit filed by AFT against Betsy DeVos for her failure to protect the students who were defrauded by colleges and universities, mostly for-profit.

DeVos rolled back an Obama-era regulation intended to prevent colleges from loading students with high debts and worthless degrees.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has one more lawsuit to deal with this week. Yesterday, one of the largest teachers unions in the country filed suit against DeVos and the Department of Education (Department). The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is suing DeVos for repealing the “gainful employment” regulation that is meant to protect student borrowers from programs that load them up with debt that doesn’t yield a job with an income sufficient to repay their student loans.

The complaint from AFT—filed by the National Student Legal Defense Network (NSLDN)—says the repeal of the rule was illegal and didn’t provide the proper justification required in federal rulemaking. The lawsuit asks the court to reinstate the rule to protect students from low-quality degrees and unmanageable debt.

“With this lawsuit we are going to strike down DeVos’ illegal repeal of the gainful employment rule and protect students from schools that leave borrowers with worthless degrees and debt they can never repay,” said Aaron Ament, president of NSLDN, in a press release.

In her continued effort to repeal or rewrite higher education regulations, Secretary DeVos first delayed, then delayed some more, and finally repealed the 2014 gainful employment regulation in July 2019. The Secretary claimed the rule unfairly targeted for-profit colleges—an industry rife with predatory practices, fraud, and abysmal outcomes for students—even though it was not a regulation solely for for-profit schools.

Under the Higher Education Act, career-oriented programs (think welding or nursing) and all programs at for-profit colleges must show that they lead to “gainful employment” for their graduates. This provision has appeared in some form since the Higher Education Act was first passed in 1965. After years without specificity of what this actually meant, the Obama Administration issued a regulation to finally put some teeth on one of the few accountability tools in higher education.

The rule basically created a debt-to-income measurement so that if these programs left their graduates with sky-high debt and too little income to repay it they would lose access to federal student aid—grants and loans. Issuing this regulation was meant to protect students from programs that would saddle them with debt they’d either never repay or struggle to do so. And it would protect taxpayers from having to foot the bill for loans that won’t be repaid because low-quality programs didn’t get their graduates in jobs with salaries sufficient to repay their debt.

All kinds of programs failed the gainful employment rule. For example, a dental laboratory technology certificate program left graduates with median earnings under $7,000, well under the federal poverty level. And it impacted all degree levels and types of schools. A graduate certificate at Harvard even failed the test. It was far from perfect as it didn’t address the schools that failed to graduate their students but left them with debt they cannot afford, but it was a one of the few protections students had.

When DeVos repealed the regulation she said that transparency was enough and released new data on the College Scorecard that showed debt and earnings for each program. While that is a great step in the right direction, it is far from enough. Research has shown that transparency cannot replace accountability and isn’t sufficient to protect students and taxpayers. Reinstating this rule would go a long way to ensure students aren’t left with worthless degrees and unaffordable debt.

 

 

 

 

The Los Angeles Times published this story of a for-profit film school that made bold promises to students, folded, then sued its former students for not paying their debts.

Only two months into pursuing his dream to be a sound engineer, David Gross knew he’d made a mistake.

The single father in 2013 signed up at a for-profit college in Burbank that convinced him it was his path to a Hollywood job. But after two classes, he realized it was “definitely not what I was promised,” he said.

Gross took a leave of absence. But before he decided whether to return, the U.S. Department of Education forced the school, Video Symphony EnterTraining, to close after an investigation found altered records and thousands of dollars in missing financial aid money.

Five years later, Video Symphony, now transformed into a debt holding company, took aim at Gross. It sued him for $14,000 — the amount covering almost eight months of the program that it says Gross attended, and including federal loan amounts the government refused to give the school after the allegations of misconduct.

More than 500 lawsuits have been filed against the school’s ex-students by Michael Flanagan, the educator-turned-debt collector who owned Video Symphony. He says students signed binding contracts and are obligated to pay.

“This is not money you were getting for free,” Flanagan said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Demonstrate that you don’t owe the money and we will certainly revise and drop or reduce the demand, but essentially every single person here owes the money.”

Students and legal experts say the cases are more complicated. They claim Video Symphony broke its end of the deal by not providing the education it advertised, letting them believe they were receiving federal aid when they weren’t and failing to keep accurate records.

The story of Video Symphony highlights a larger problem with regulation of for-profit colleges and the aftermath when they fail, say legal experts: No level of government, from local prosecutors to federal and state education officials, has enough interest or responsibility to examine these cases.

In California, oversight of for-profit colleges and student loan debt remains convoluted and unreliable, despite years of reforms. Its patchwork nature has left each student to fight their own battle in a limited debt collection court that lacks the jurisdiction to look at the complaints collectively.

The result, said multiple legal experts familiar with the cases, is that Flanagan has won many lawsuits — collecting more than $300,000 — when students attempt to represent themselves or fail to show up at court, a common occurrence for those without legal savvy who don’t understand that not being present means losing.

Robert Muth, managing attorney of the Veterans Legal Clinic at the San Diego School of Law, has successfully represented two veterans sued by Video Symphony. He said the lack of scrutiny by authorities is “surprising.”

Attorneys at Public Counsel, a Los Angeles nonprofit legal firm that has successfully defended several Video Symphony students, have argued in court that there may be issues of fraud if the cases are viewed as a whole. Like multiple attorneys who have defended Video Symphony clients and spoke with The Times, they believe the lawsuits should be examined by state or local prosecutors, who have the ability to file civil actions on behalf of residents.

The Times found that the offices of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra were contacted about Video Symphony, but so far have taken no action on behalf of the students.

Lacey’s office referred students to Public Counsel. Becerra’s office declined to comment on Video Symphony, issuing a statement that it was “deeply disturbed by the lack of accountability of for-profit colleges” in general and “focused on system-wide fixes.”

Large-scale for-profit failures such as Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech and L.A.-based Dream Center schools have received such scrutiny from public prosecutors for similar complaints — though the financial stakes were higher.

In 2013, then-Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris filed a civil action against now-defunct Corinthian Colleges on behalf of its 27,000 California students. Investigations found the school used deceptive marketing and unfair debt collection practices. Harris won a default judgment that required Corinthian to pay more than $800 million in restitution to students. Becerra has also weighed in on high-profile failures and the resulting debt, including an ongoing civil suit against Ashford College, an online for-profit owned by a San Diego company.

Prosecutors are meant to be the last line of defense for for-profit students in California, though. Another source of frustration for those familiar with Video Symphony is the track record of a key state regulator, the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, a troubled agency whose future will be debated by legislators in coming months. The agency is charged with investigation and oversight of the state’s 700 for-profit colleges, which cater largely to low-income people, veterans and students of color.

Valerie Strauss, veteran education writer at the Washington Post, interviewed me about my new book SLAYING GOLIATH. 

Her questions get to the heart of the book. I hope you will read the exchange.

James Hatch, Navy Seal, applied to Yale University and was accepted as a freshman at the age of 52.

He was wary about how he would fit in.

Were the students the “liberal snowflakes” he had heard about?

Would he be able to do the work expected of a Yale freshman?

Read his reflections on his experience. He was amazed, and you may be too. 

He began:

In May of 2019, I was accepted to the Eli Whitney student program at Yale University. At 52, I am the oldest freshman in the class of 2023. Before I was accepted, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen the infamous YouTube video of students screaming at a faculty member. I had seen the news stories regarding the admissions scandal and that Yale was included in that unfortunate business. I had also heard the students at Yale referred to as “snowflakes” in various social media dumpsters and occasionally I’d seen references to Ivy League students as snowflakes in a few news sources.

I should give a bit of background information. I was an unimpressive and difficult student in public schools. I joined the military at 17 and spent close to 26 years in the US Navy. I was assigned for 22 of those years to Naval Special Warfare Commands. I went through SEAL training twice, quit the first time and barely made it the second time. I did multiple deployments and was wounded in combat in 2009 on a mission to rescue an American hostage.

Every single day I went to work with much better humans than myself. I was brought to a higher level of existence because the standards were high and one needed to earn their slot, their membership in the unit. This wasn’t a one-time deal. Every time you showed up for work, you needed to prove your worth.

The vetting process is difficult and the percentage of those who try out for special operations units and make it through the screening is very low.

In an odd parallel, I feel, in spite of my short time here, the same about Yale.

After receiving my acceptance email and returning to consciousness, I decided to move to Connecticut and do my best in this new environment. Many people have asked me why I want to attend college at 52, and why at an Ivy League institution like Yale? I could have easily stayed in Virginia and attended a community college close to my home. Well, based on my upbringing in the military, I associated a difficult vetting process with quality and opportunity. I was correct in that guess. More importantly, I simply want to be a better human being. I feel like getting a world-class education at an amazing institution like Yale will help me reach that goal. Are there other places to get a great education? Of course, but I chose Yale.

The Texas-based IDEA charter chain, along with the Noble Network in Chicago and the Match charter school in Boston, is trying to boost its college graduation rates by encouraging its former students who dropped out of college to enlist in an online college program where requirements are minimal. 

By partnering with Southern New Hampshire University, which enrolls tens of thousands of students from across the country in its low-cost online college programs, the charter operators are coaching students through college. The university provides the coursework and confers degrees, while an arm or affiliate of the charter networks recruits and mentors students.

The Noble charter network in Chicago launched its partnership last year, following the IDEA network in Texas and Match Charter School in Boston. Together, the three programs now enroll nearly 1,000 students, and other charter operators say they’re watching closely.

It’s a notable extension of those networks’ mission, which for years has been to send their mostly low-income students of color to college. More recently, though, it’s become harder to ignore the reality that many of their alumni are leaving higher education without degrees

If successful, these programs will provide students another chance to earn a degree that could bolster their financial futures, while also boosting the charter networks’ college completion rates…

So far, though, students in the programs have earned only a few dozen bachelor’s degrees. And the expansion of these programs worries some observers, who question whether students are getting a high-quality college experience — and whether the degrees students do earn will pay off in the job market.

IDEA launched IDEA-U in 2017 with around 40 students, including Chapa. Now, the program has around 400 students from across Texas enrolled, about half of whom are IDEA graduates.

Around 95 students are enrolled in Noble’s program, known as Noble Forward, which launched last year. Nearly all are graduates of a Noble school in Chicago.

Match’s program, initially called Match Beyond, began in 2013 by enrolling mostly Match alumni, but was spun off as a nonprofit called Duet in 2018. It now serves around 500 students who graduated from high schools across the Boston area.

The programs differ slightly, but the academics work the same way. Students enroll in one of a handful of “competency-based” degree programs offered by Southern New Hampshire University and progress by completing projects designed to show they’ve mastered key skills.

There are no lectures, professors, or class discussions, but students are assigned readings and videos. Students work at their own pace — instead of on a set academic calendar — re-submitting projects as many times as they need, though the university says students average around two tries. Their projects are evaluated by a university “reviewer” with at least a master’s degree.

Underlying question: Is the goal of this program to provide a valuable education to students or to improve the data of the sponsors?

 

Last month, Betsy DeVos testified to Congress about her role in the student loan program. 

Her Department hounded students to pay back loans instead of canceling them because their for-profit college defrauded them. A federal judge ordered the Department to stop harassing the students, then fined the Department $100,000 for violating the court order.

Rep. Josh Harder of California grilled her for her failure to side with the students. He accused her of acting like a lobbyist for the for-profit colleges.

It’s a powerful segment. Worth watching to see her utter and callous indifference to the suffering of students who accumulated tens of thousands of dollars of debt for a worthless degree.

Rep. Harder said he understood why she didn’t care: a student’s debt of $40,000 represented a minuscule fraction of the cost of one of her 10 yachts.

 

The media received early copies of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s plan for K-12 education. Like Warren and Sanders, he proposes a large increase in funding for the neediest children and for early education. He wants to see a reduction in college tuition. He does not propose a wealth tax on the 1%. He is against for-profit charters but, unlike Warren and Sanders, would not eliminate or freeze the federal Charter Schools Program, which currently dispenses $440 million a year, mostly to big corporate chains like KIPP and IDEA.

Mayor Pete’s plan is a centrist program, which could have been drafted by the Center for American Progress, the think tank for the Obama administration.

Valerie Strauss describes the plan here.

She writes:

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is unveiling a broad new education plan on Saturday that pledges to spend $700 billion over a decade to create a high-quality child care and preschool system that he said would reach all children from birth to age 5 and create 1 million jobs.

The 37-year-old, openly gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., also promised to spend $425 billion to strengthen America’s K-12 public schools, targeting federal investments and policy to help historically marginalized students. He would boost funding for schools in high-poverty areas as well as for students with disabilities, and promote voluntary school integration. And he said he would ensure that all charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — undergo the same accountability measures as schools in publicly funded districts…The more than $1 trillion in his plan would be spent over 10 years and would come from “greater tax enforcement” on the wealthy and corporations, according to a Buttigieg campaign spokesperson, who asked not to be identified. He would not impose a new tax on the super-rich, the spokesperson said, who did not detail how much money the mayor believes he can realize from uncollected taxes…

Buttigieg’s new education plan details a push to help communities integrate their schools racially and economically, which research shows is beneficial to black and white students. The mayor pledged to invest $500 million into communities that want to undertake integration efforts. And he said he would reinstate Obama era guidance on the voluntary use of race in state- and district-level strategies to achieve integration, removing current restrictions on the use of federal funds to pay for busing that would be part of integration efforts.

He also pledged triple funding for Title I — the largest federally funded educational program, intended to help schools with high concentrations of students who live in poverty. But that added funding would be targeted to states and districts that “implement equitable education funding formulas to provide more state and local resources to low-income schools….”

Both Sanders and Warren have called for free college tuition for all, while the mayor’s recently released higher education and workforce development plan calls for lowering college tuition and fees on a sliding scale, with free college for those students whose families early up to $100,000. Former vice president Joe Biden, who has topped the polls more consistently than any of the other candidates, has also taken education positions less expansive than Warren and Sanders.

Buttigieg’s big initiative in this plan is around early childhood, for which he has pledged to spend $700 million to create a new system to provide child care and prekindergarten to all children, which he said is more than 20 million, and that would create 1 million new jobs in that sector.

For additional insight on Mayor Pete’s plan, read Matt Barnum and Kalyn Belsha’s account here in Chalkbeat. 

Politico Morning Education reports that the U.S. Department of Education mistakenly collected debt from many thousands of students who had been defrauded by a failed online for-profit college and were previously unreported. The last time the Department acknowledged having hounded students in error, it was fined $100,000. Why not fine the Secretary and the officials in charge personally so that they get the message that it is wrong to pursue collections from students whose debt should have been forgiven? (Today’s Politico was underwritten by the Waltons.)

 

A COURT FILING THIS WEEK REVEALED TENS OF THOUSANDS OF ADDITIONAL CORINTHIAN COLLEGES STUDENT BORROWERS WERE TARGETED FOR COLLECTION BY THE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT. The new disclosures have infuriated plaintiffs of an ongoing lawsuit against the government.

In October, after the Trump administration initially said it erroneously collected on the loans of some 16,000 Corinthian borrowers, a federal judge held DeVos in contempt of court and imposed a $100,000 fine for violating an order to stop collecting on student loans from the defunct for-profit college.

Now, according to the department, that means a total of 45,801 borrowers “were erroneously taken out of forbearance or stopped collections status.” That includes the roughly 29,000 newly identified borrowers, plus the original 16,034 borrowers. “FSA has now placed all 45,801 borrowers in the correct status,” the government’s court filing said.

What’s to blame for the mixup? The department said an “isolated communication” between Federal Student Aid and its contractors, plus “other logistical issues” caused the undercount. The government said FSA “now believes that it has an accurate account of existing borrower defense applicants.”

“Students and taxpayers should be infuriated by the Department of Education’s complete disregard for student borrowers,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending. “Secretary DeVos has already been found in contempt of court for her illegal collections on students. Now we find out the impact was far greater than previously reported, and she still hasn’t returned all the money owed to students. It is galling, it’s unlawful, and it can’t be tolerated.”

The Wall Street Journal published an expose of the College Board’s practice of selling student data, which is illegal in some states. The colleges buy the names and addresses of students, encourage them to apply, then reject them so they can claim they are “exclusive.” It looks good on the US News phony ratings when colleges have a low acceptance rate.

For 47 cents, the College Board will sell an individual’s information, feeding admissions frenzy

Jori Johnson took the practice SAT test as a high-school student outside Chicago. Brochures later arrived from Vanderbilt, Stanford, Northwestern and the University of Chicago.

The universities’ solicitations piqued her interest, and she eventually applied. A few months later, she was rejected by those and three other schools that had sought her application, she said. The high-school valedictorian’s test scores, while strong by most standards, were well below those of most students admitted to the several schools that had contacted her.

“A lot of the rejections came on the same day,” said Ms. Johnson, a 21-year-old senior film major at New York University, one of three schools that accepted her out of 10 applications. “I just stared at my computer and cried.”

The recruitment pitches didn’t help Ms. Johnson, but they did benefit the universities that sent them. Colleges rise in national rankings and reputation when they show data suggesting they are more selective. They can do that by rejecting more applicants, whether or not those candidates ever stood a chance. Some applicants, in effect, become unknowing pawns.

Feeding this dynamic is the College Board, the New York nonprofit that owns the SAT, a test designed to level the college-admissions playing field.

The board is using the SAT as the foundation for another business: selling test-takers’ names and personal information to universities.

That has helped schools inflate their applicant pools and rejection rates. Those rejection rates have amplified the perception of exclusivity that colleges are eager to reinforce, pushing students to invest more time and money in preparing for and retaking exams College Board sells. Colleges say the data helps them reach a diverse pool of students they might have otherwise missed.

The top 10% of universities don’t need to do this. They are buying some students’ names who don’t have a great chance of getting in,” said Terry Cowdrey, an enrollment consultant for universities and Vanderbilt University’s acting dean of undergraduate admission in 1996 and 1997. “Then the kids say, ‘well why did you recruit me if you weren’t going to let me in?’ They do it to increase the number of applications; you’ve got to keep getting your denominator up for your admit rate.