Behind the News

Behind the News

The stories making headlines in higher education
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It is federal budget time again, but this year the proposed numbers stand to shake up the status quo in higher education. President Bush's proposed 2008 $56 billion education budget includes a plan to cut, among other things, about $18.8 billion in federal subsidies to the banks and financial institutions that make college loans. These federal subsidies have been the target of criticism for several years, but they will now be addressed by a proposal that takes the savings and pours them into the Pell Grant program-boosting the latter by about $20 billion. If the president gets his way, the maximum annual Pell award would climb from the current $4,050 to $5,400 by 2012.

Before that happens, though, the budget will have to be approved by a Democratic-controlled Congress whose leaders are already at work on revamping education funding, but who are not entirely in step with Bush's plans. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, told the press that while cuts in subsidies to student loan lenders are long overdue, he will fight the president's other money-saving proposals. Namely, he opposes the president's plan to cut the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), the Perkins program, the Leveraging Educational Assistance partnership (LEAP), and the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarships. The American Council on Education estimates that these cuts would free up $942 million for other higher ed student aid programs, yet cautions that cuts will hurt students in the short term. Kennedy is also pushing for students to borrow direct government loans and avoid loans that go through banks and other commercial lenders.

Currently the SEOG program provides grants to 1.3 million students. ACE estimates that one million students will lose money in the short term, although the administration argues that they will eventually gain the money back with the Pell Grant increases. "Last year this program funded $772 million to students," notes Larry Zaglaniczny, director of congressional relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. NASFAA, as well, is opposing these program cuts.

The president's proposed budget also calls for an increase from $5,500 to $7,500 in the minimum that a student can borrow through the Direct Loan and the Federal Family Education Loan programs. This increase would apply to undergraduates who are in at least their third year of study.

Proposed federal legislation would cut interest rates in half for subsidized Stafford loans. The average borrower would save $4,420 in college loan payments. This move would help low-and middle-income families. -Jean Marie Angelo

Sound Bite

Larry Summers, we couldn't have done it without you. -Kim Gandy, president, National Organization for Women on the appointment of Drew Gilpin Faust as the next president of Harvard University.

Low-income youth and would-be first-generation college students often have high aspirations about post-secondary education. But they also typically lack the resources, know-how, and/or support to fulfill their ambitions.

A new public service advertising campaign aims to inspire these teens to seek help and information and empower them to take action. The national outreach effort was launched in January by the Lumina Foundation for Education, the American Council on Education, and The Advertising Council. Public service announcements are appearing on television, on the radio, and in print.

A television PSA shows students using paper airplanes to connect with adults who might help them navigate the college preparation process. Other ads, such as the one above used in print and outdoors on billboards, help open the eyes of adults about the need to provide guidance to youth who dream of college but may feel lost in the process.

The ads point students and adults to the campaign's website, www.knowhow2go.org, for more information, including a college planning timeline and resources specific to students from middle school through senior year of high school. -Melissa Ezarik

There are 1,200 community colleges in the United States and they enroll more than half of the undergraduates in the higher education system. These institutions deserve more attention and editors Thomas Bailey, founder of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Vanessa Smith Morest, the center's assistant director, give them their due.

The editors contend that social, economic, and political changes are making it harder for this burgeoning sector of higher education to fulfill what the editors see as a three-part mission: equity in college preparation; access to college; and success in reaching college goals.

The text outlines the difficulties faced by community college administrators during the past 15 years, especially those dealing with declining state funds. Some community college systems have had to raise tuition while paring down services and teaching staff. The editors draw on their experience with the Community College Research Center, supplying data and charts to illustrate trends. Contributors review the promise offered in online education, information technology, and better student guidance counseling.

The editors include case studies from six specific states: New York, Texas, Florida, California, Washington, and Illinois. -J.M.A.

Trans Fatty acids, those chemicals that form when oil is hydrogenated to improve its shelf life and raise its melting point, are the food industry's new boogeymen. "There is real data that trans fats are bad for you," says Richard George, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph's University (Pa.), who sees the school's recent ban of trans fats as a good way to teach students to be good consumers. "Often we wait for the public policy makers, but if we know it's not good, why wait?" he says.

In response to health concerns, Aramark, Sodexho and AVI Food Systems are eliminating the substance. An easy fix is converting fryer oil to a zero gram trans fats version. "The schools are very receptive," says Karen Parker, associate VP for Marketing at Aramark. The healthy oil costs more, and there is a question of available supply. Whether the students are learning the lesson will be easy to test-margarine is still available at Saint Joseph's. -Ann McClure

University Channel, http://uc.princeton.edu/main, the website that provides free access to public policy lectures from around the world, is officially up and running. The site has technically been available since July 2005, but executive director Donna Liu explains that was a soft launch to build content and make sure the concept worked. And work it has. By mid-February the site already had one million hits for 2007.

"We make it easier for universities to get their materials to the audience and for the audience to find the content," Liu says. The Rohatyn Center for International Affairs at Middlebury College (Vt.), the Woodrow Wilson School of public and International Affairs at Princeton University, The School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin are the charter members, who also make up the steering committee. General members submit either audio or video content for the site. New members are still being sought. -A.M.

Sound Bite

It's ironic, but in some quarters our effort to adopt a new policy to comply with Prop 2 has been interpreted as an effort to circumvent it. -Frank Wu, law school dean, Wayne State U (Mich.), on the effort to comply with the state's new anti-affirmative action law.

Here's an early look at what some national institutions are reporting regarding this year's undergraduate applications, according to Morrison & Tyson Communications.

Amherst College (Mass.) reports a record 6,645 admissions for the Class of 2011. Dean of Admission Tom Parker says admissions from African-Americans, Latinos, and mixed-race students also have reached new highs.

Ball State University (Ind.) applications are up more than 23 percent over last year. "We raised our admissions standards for the Honors College and have still seen an increase of 22 percent in admissions there," says Tom Taylor, vice president for enrollment, marketing, and communications.

Binghamton University (N.Y.) reports an increase of 23 percent to 21,726 from this time last year; that increase is across the board. Binghamton is seeing a 48 percent increase in out- of-state applicants, and a 22 percent increase in in-state applicants. Both the number of applications received and the number of students accepted at the institution have risen in the last several years.

Colorado College reports an all-time record for first-year applicants to the college. To date, the college has received more than 4,700 applications, which is a 38 percent increase in five years. The increase is attributed to a campus-wide effort to increase the college's visibility.

Hampshire College (Mass.) saw a sizable increase in early action applications this year, from 371 to 450 (21 percent). In the past five years, Hampshire has seen a 30 percent increase in applications. Applications from students of color have increased during that same period by 74 percent.

Hobart and William Smith Colleges (N.Y.) says applications for Early Decision are up about 20 percent from a year ago. The colleges also note an increase in the number of applications from minority students. Admissions Director John Young attributes part of the increase to the adoption of the "testing optional" policy.

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Ind.) Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jim Goecker reports an increase in applications over last year, "even as the interest in engineering continues to be static nationwide." -T.G.

Data Point


63% Percentage of employers who say too many college graduates lack the skills to succeed in the global economy.-The National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise.

When colleges and universities don't require students to have health insurance, it's nearly inevitable: Some unlucky ones will face massive medical debts, and institutions will be unable to offer affordable health insurance to any student.

Those ages 19 to 29 represent nearly 30 percent of all uninsured Americans, yet that group makes up just 15 percent of the U.S. population, according to 2003 data from The Commonwealth Fund. Lesley K. Sacher, director of the Thagard Student Health Center at Florida State University, says the "strapping good health mythology [about college students] couldn't be further from the truth." As she tells skeptical students, a simple bicycle accident could result in a $25,000 hospital bill.

Institutions offering voluntary health insurance are seeing rates skyrocket (as much as 30 to 50 percent in one year, Sacher says) and plan coverage weaken. Why? Only students who need it most tend to purchase it, creating an adverse selection pool on which rates are based.

FSU is joining other IHEs and entire states in requiring students to maintain insurance. Beginning with new and transfer students in the fall, all must provide proof of adequate coverage or purchase the school's policy. (Parents' health plans often only cover them until a certain age or may not provide local coverage.) The Florida Board of Governors is exploring use of a similar program at other state IHEs.

The move made sense for FSU, which in 2004 adopted the Healthy Campus 2010 initiative through the American College Health Association, of which Sacher is president-elect. One of the initiative's primary goals: improved health care access.

Now that coverage is mandatory, FSU's plan can cover preexisting conditions, prescription drug benefits, and visits to an off-campus urgent care center. Another benefit is that, unlike with voluntary policies, financial aid can cover the expense.

Will cash-strapped students select a school other than one with such a requirement? National data indicates they won't. The requirement supports the academic mission. Sacher explains, "Academic outcomes can be strengthened if students are healthy and in a state of well being." -M.E.

Sound Bite

The reluctance to take out loans, specifically federal ones, is definitely an issue for Latinos. -Deborah Santiago, VP for policy and research, Excelencia in Education, on the tendency for Latino students to pay cash for their college education, even if it adds stress and decreases study time.

The number of minority students enrolling in colleges and universities has skyrocketed in the last decade, but some people haven't gotten the memo about how to live in an integrated society.

In January, six football players from Guilford College, a Quaker institution in Greensboro, N.C., were charged with misdemeanor assault and five of them with ethnic intimidation based on complaints filed by three Palestinian students after a fight on campus. At Clemson University (S.C.), President Jim Barker launched an investigation and helped organize a campus meeting after a gang-themed student party drew criticism for being racially insensitive (one student attended the party wearing blackface).

Institutions from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to the University of Texas at Austin have also been the site of racially insensitive events. These gatherings-such as parties with "gangsta" themes or anti-Hispanic undertones-are appearing at a time when racial sensitivity should be at an all-time high.

The most recent "Minorities in Higher Education" status report from the American Council in Education found that total minority enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities rose by 50.7 percent between 1993 and 2003.?As of 2003, students of color made up 27.8 percent of the nearly 17 million students on America's college campuses, up from 21.8 percent in 1993.

Reem Rahman, a student at UIUC, has asked her university's administration to amend the student code to address hate crimes; to provide a monthly public report detailing hate crimes and other acts of violence on campus; to have a plan to recruit and retain tenure-track faculty, staff, and administrators from marginalized populations; and to recruit and retain students from marginalized populations.

"Students and campus administrators should take responsibility for racist behavior and implement policies that discourage it," says Iara Peng, director of Young People For, an organization that supports youth activism. "Universities should promote increased diversity education training on campuses and preserve affirmative action policies." -Caryn Meyers Fliegler

Aiming to help thousands of former New Orleans residents return home, a corps of students is gathering this month to work on houses that were destroyed by the hurricane and must be gutted for rebuilding. The Katrina Corps, which will bring as many as 25,000 students to the city to work in one-week shifts between now and April 6, will gut up to 5,000 homes. More than 10,000 families are currently waiting for their homes to be gutted.

"We're asking young Americans to do what they've always done, change the world, this time with hammers and wrecking bars," says Pam Murtaugh, Katrina Corps Management Team leader. Institutions interested in sending student volunteers to New Orleans through Katrina Corps can visit www.katrinacorps.com for information.

Meanwhile, several institutions based in the Big Easy continue to struggle with the decisions they made in the aftermath of Katrina. Tulane University, the University of New Orleans, the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, Southern University at New Orleans, and Loyola University of New Orleans shuttered departments and laid off faculty members post-Katrina-and now the American Association of University Professors is preparing to issue a harsh report criticizing them. A draft of the report is critical of them for acting in haste, failing to give proper notice to faculty who were fired, and even using the storm as an excuse for streamlining programs. -C.M.F.


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