Student aid change could mark shift in online education

Many in higher education say the traditional credit-hour model has been seen as restrictive.

Making federal student aid available to students enrolled in competency-based courses is more than an acknowledgement of legitimacy for nontraditional education, experts said, but rather a policy decision that could lead to a spike in competency-based classes, many of them online.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED), after months of anticipation from colleges that have long provided nontraditional education offerings, said March 16 that competency-based learning programs – not just those based on traditional credit hours, or “seat hours” – may be eligible for Title IV student aid, including Pell grants and federal student loans.

Before ED’s official announcement, government aid had not been available for those taking competency-based classes in which students can earn credit toward a degree based on prior learning.…Read More

Officials call for simpler college-aid form

Duncan was critical of current financial aid forms.

The Obama administration is asking the nation’s universities to adopt a standard and simple financial-aid form that would make it easier for students to understand exactly the costs of their loans at different schools across the country.

In a conference call with reporters July 23, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said they will urge American universities to adopt the new form in time for the 2013-14 school year.

Duncan said the administration lacks the authority to force schools to use the form.…Read More

Small rise in college completion for young adults

To meet Obama’s goal, an estimated 10 million more Americans ages 25 to 34 will need to earn college degrees.

The percentage of young adults earning a college degree has increased slightly but still remains far below the level needed to reach the president’s goal of having the U.S. rank first worldwide in college graduates.

Data being released by the Education Department July 12 says 39.3 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 had earned an associate, bachelor’s or graduate degree in 2010. That’s a half-percentage point increase over the previous year.

Rising tuition costs is one of several reasons why more young adults aren’t graduating from college.…Read More

For-profit lobbying group questions federal stats after unflattering report

For-profit officials pushed back against Duncan's latest comments on federal regulations.

The president of the country’s for-profit college association said school officials have “severe concerns” about an Education Department (ED) report that showed 5 percent of for-profits are in danger of losing access to federal student aid.

For-profit colleges, which have some of the country’s most expansive online learning programs, that have not met any of the federal government’s three “gainful employment” requirements would be cut off from federal aid, which accounts for as much as 90 percent of for-profit schools’ annual profit.

Losing aid would force many colleges or universities to shut down, higher-education officials said.…Read More

Obama looks to ‘educate our way to a better economy’

Obama has supported community colleges in previous budgets.

President Obama tabbed $8 billion in his new budget for online and in-person job training programs at community colleges in a move that Education Secretary Arne Duncan says will fill open workforce positions during a time of stubbornly high unemployment.

The budget that Obama is sending to Congress aims to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade by restraining government spending and raising taxes on the wealthy. To help a weak economy, Obama’s proposal requests increases in transportation, education, and other areas.

A key component of the community college plan would institute “pay for performance” in job training, meaning there would be financial incentives to ensure that trainees find permanent jobs — particularly for programs that place individuals facing the greatest hurdles getting work.…Read More

White House makes ‘Digital Promise’ to schools

Duncan said Digital Promise would increase research and development in ed-tech programs.

A nonprofit start-up funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will quickly evaluate which educational technologies are worth the investment – and which ones aren’t – while driving private-sector innovation that could modernize technology in public schools nationwide.

ED Secretary Arne Duncan on Sept. 16 unveiled the independent nonprofit initiative approved by Congress in 2008, called Digital Promise, which will be funded by government dollars, along with philanthropies like the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Higher education is expected to play a role in the formation of Digital Promise. The initiative will be guided by Duncan-appointed board members, including a Tulane University official, and research from the Chicago’s Urban Education Institute that will determine which technology programs work best in the classroom.…Read More

Integrity of ED’s for-profit college rulemaking under scrutiny

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in late July, questioning the lack of set rules regarding the department’s contact with Wall Street.

Did Wall Street traders influence the development of new rules governing for-profit colleges, or benefit from inside information about these rules before it became public? Those are questions at the center of an investigation by the Education Department’s (ED’s) inspector general and a separate inquiry by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

The investigations were prompted by the release of several eMail messages exchanged between department employees and Wall Street traders. Government watchdog groups obtained the messages under Freedom of Information Act requests.

The probes could cast a dark cloud over ED’s efforts to crack down on predatory student recruiting practices by for-profit colleges, calling into question the department’s true motives. Aside from whether education officials acted appropriately, the flap also raises larger questions about “the integrity of government decision-making in the face of relentless Wall Street scrutiny,” the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) says.…Read More

Opinion: New ‘gainful employment’ regulation is weak medicine for a strong ailment

Jose Cruz of The Education Trust says for-profit colleges still will face scrutiny from states attorneys.

The gainful employment regulation recently announced by the U.S. Department of Education is painfully weak, especially when compared with the colossal and well-documented abuses committed by for-profit career colleges.

Under the new regulation, a career education program will need to fail all three of the following very forgiving standards for three out of four years before it can be declared ineligible for federal subsidies.

Read more about for-profit regulations in higher education……Read More

Are new ED rules an ‘unconditional surrender’ to for-profit colleges?

Duncan has helped shape for-profit regulations since 2009.

Some of the country’s largest online education programs will have to comply with federal regulations far less stringent than once thought after the U.S. Education Department (ED) unveiled its new rules for for-profit institutions that have come under fire for unscrupulous business practices.

The long-awaited rules aimed at for-profit schools such as the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University—first discussed in 2009—were released June 1. The regulations are meant to ensure that students aren’t graduating from for-profit colleges unqualified for the professional world and burdened with excessive student loan debt.

One-fourth of for-profit students default on their loans after three years, for-profit students account for almost half of all federal loan defaults, and graduation rates at those schools hover around 50 percent, according to national education statistics.…Read More

Ed Department: Half of community college students need remedial classes

Duncan spoke at Montgomery College in Silver Spring, Md.

Community colleges should tailor remedial curriculum for students who are unprepared for introductory English and math courses, and in some cases, developmental classes “hinder” student progress, according to a report released by the Education Department (ED) during an April 27 virtual symposium.

ED Secretary Arne Duncan and Second Lady Jill Biden spoke to educators and students at a symposium broadcast on the internet from Montgomery College in Silver Spring, Md., a two-year school with more than 60,000 students on three campuses.

ED officials and educators who led sessions at the symposium outlined “bridge programs” for adult learners who want to return to college after many years in the workforce, and customizing those remedial classes that come with high costs to colleges, students, and taxpayers.…Read More