Fighting Obama education plans, colleges boost lobbying

Academia might be a bastion of liberal thought, but in the past two years, the higher-education industry often has lined up opposite the White House and congressional Democrats—and has spent a lot on lobbyists in the process, reports the Washington Post. The most recent example is the resistance from for-profit colleges to the Obama administration’s proposal to raise standards for institutions receiving federal student aid. But traditional colleges and universities also have opposed Democratic initiatives. First there was President Obama’s plan to cap the charitable tax deduction for the wealthy, bringing their tax break closer to everyone else’s. The measure would have raised $318 billion over 10 years, but it died quickly on Capitol Hill. Charities were the most visible opponents, but universities also worried that it would reduce giving by wealthy donors: the American Council on Education (ACE), higher education’s main trade group, lobbied on the issue in 2009, records show. The next conflict was over the Democratic proposal to eliminate subsidies for student loan providers. The overhaul would provide billions of dollars in Pell grants for low-income students and billions more for colleges to improve graduation rates. But schools were ambivalent about cracking down on private lenders, with whom they had built close relationships over the years. And they were opposed to the strings that would come with the additional institutional funding: requirements that they provide more data on student outcomes and submit to more state oversight…

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More than $300 million cut from federal broadband grants

The new legislation that President Obama signed this week to stave jobs losses among teachers will cut $302 million in federal broadband grants to help pay for the measure, reports the Washington Post. The Education Jobs Fund will send $10 billion to budget-constrained states so they can avoid layoffs of educators. The broadband cuts come from the National Telecommunications & Technology Administration’s $4.7 billion budget for broadband stimulus grants. The Obama Administration allocated $7.2 billion to the NTIA and Department of Agriculture to grant money to projects that bring broadband connections to rural areas. So far, the NTIA has awarded $1.6 billion and will give out its remaining funds within six weeks. The stimulus funds, meant to spark economic growth immediately and longer term, are among government efforts to bring affordable broadband to all Americans. A Pew Center report released Aug. 11 showed half of Americans are skeptical of such programs as a government priority, with another 40 percent saying the effort is important…

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Viral eMail roils higher education once again

OSU officials squashed a widespread internet rumors that Robinson would be fired.
OSU officials are trying to squash an internet rumor that basketball coach Craig Robinson's job was saved by stimulus funding.

Have you heard the one about shady White House dealings that saved a college basketball coach’s job? The eMail rumor about Oregon State University coach Craig Robinson—President Obama’s brother-in-law—was read by millions on the web in March, serving as the latest example of how viral internet gossip can catch university officials off guard.

An eMail message charging that the Obama administration had pledged $17 million in stimulus funds to Oregon State as long as the university retained Robinson spread to web sites, blogs, and in-boxes under the subject lines “Stimulus Does Work” or “Stimulus Money…One Job Saved.” The message claimed that Robinson’s job was in danger, so the White House dispatched a Department of Education official to arrange a special stimulus award as part of an unreported quid pro quo.

The viral message stirred up so many questions that Oregon State officials had to debunk the rumor with an official statement released March 23.…Read More

$20 billion in ed funding slashed from student aid legislation

Funding for an online course program was cut out of the final student aid bill.
$500 million in proposed funding to create open online courses was cut out of the final student aid bill.

In last-minute maneuvering designed to get the measure to pass, lawmakers eliminated $20 billion in proposed education funding from the student aid overhaul enacted by Congress last week—dampening enthusiasm for legislation that K-12 and higher-education officials had lobbied for over the past year. Of that $20 billion, $12 billion was slated for community colleges to boost graduation rates, partly through the development of open online courses, and $8 billion was pegged for an early-childhood education program.

Community college officials cheered the American Graduation Initiative (AGI) when lawmakers introduced the program last fall, but last-minute compromises and worries over the cost of the student aid bill forced legislators to eliminate the $12 billion set aside for AGI, observers said. The program aimed to help community colleges produce 5 million more graduates over the next decade.

AGI had included $500 million for an online skills laboratory modeled after Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI). The free, open internet classes were to be created by the Departments of Defense, Education, and Labor, according to a White House announcement.…Read More

Groups make renewed push for student loan reform

Some Senate Democrats haven't committed support for SAFRA.
Some Senate Democrats haven't committed support for SAFRA.

Higher education and K-12 activist groups have stepped up their support in recent days for President Obama’s student lending reform legislation, which has stalled in the U.S. Senate while high-ranking Democrats consider passing the reform package with a simple majority vote.

Days after one of Obama’s signature proposals was said to be in trouble on Capitol Hill, reform advocates were energized March 12 by news that Democrats could pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) alongside health care legislation through a process known as reconciliation, which doesn’t require 60 votes to avoid a filibuster in the Senate.

The student lending overhaul—pushed in recent weeks by Education Secretary Arne Duncan—would allow the federal government to lend money directly to students, instead of having students go through commercial lenders. Duncan said SAFRA would save taxpayers $87 billion over 10 years by doing away with subsidies to private lending companies, who then tack on interest to student loan payments.…Read More

More Americans skeptical of higher education

Americans believe higher education can trim budgetary 'fat,' according to a survey.
Americans believe higher education can trim budgetary 'fat,' according to a survey.

An increasing percentage of Americans believe colleges and universities prioritize profit margin over educational quality, a claim educators refute as misguided and unfair, especially during the current economic downturn.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, along with Public Agenda, released a report Feb. 17 that highlights respondents’ discontent with the rising costs of college education. The survey, titled, “Squeeze Play 2010: Continued Public Anxiety on Cost, Harsher Judgments on How Colleges are Run,” shows that six out of 10 Americans now say “colleges today operate more like a business,” taking focus away from academics.

In 2008, 55 percent of respondents said universities were more concerned about the bottom line, an increase from 52 percent in 2007.…Read More

Students use iPods, iPhones to grade Obama’s address

Abilene Christian students answered 50 questions on their iPhones and iPods during Obama's address.
Abilene Christian students answered 50 questions on their iPhones and iPods during Obama's address.

It’s the stuff that makes political pollsters salivate: 30 Abilene Christian University students used iPhones and iPod Touches to respond to President Obama’s Jan. 27 State of the Union address in real time, and a campus technology official said the exercise offered insight into boosting student participation.

Abilene Christian was among the country’s first campuses to bring iPhones to students when the school gave the devices to incoming freshmen last school year. Freshmen and sophomores now have university-issued iPhones and iPod Touches, and professors from the political science and journalism programs assembled 30 students to gauge their reaction during Obama’s first State of the Union speech.

“It was a helpful exercise because … we were able to see if an interactive environment helped students engage in politics differently,” said Dennis Marquardt, Abilene Christian’s educational technology manager, who helped oversee the project.…Read More

Experts say NCLB rewrite will be hard this year

In his State of the Union address, President Obama held out the hope of overhauling the main law outlining the federal role in public schools, a sprawling 45-year-old statute that dates to the Johnson administration. But experts say it would be a heavy lift for the administration to get the job done this year, because the law has produced so much discord, there is so little time, and there are so many competing priorities, reports the New York Times. In 2001, when Congress completed the law’s most recent rewrite, the effort took a full year, and the bipartisan consensus that made that possible has long since shattered. Today there is wide agreement that No Child Left Behind needs an overhaul, but not on how to fix its flaws. NCLB has generated frequent, divisive debate, partly because it requires schools to administer far more standardized tests and because it labels schools that fail to make progress fast enough each year as “needing improvement.” That category draws penalties and has grown to include more than 30,000 schools. Several states sued the Bush administration over the law in the last decade, unsuccessfully. Connecticut challenged its financing provisions, saying it imposed costly demands without providing adequate financing. Arizona fought rules on the testing of immigrant students. “It’s hard to see how they can get” a rewrite done, said Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding. “If there’s some bipartisan agreement about what the administration proposes, and the Republicans say, ‘We want to work together,’ then maybe. But I think it’s going to be tough.”

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Obama calls for more school funding

Education was a key part of President Obama's State of the Union address.
Education was a key part of President Obama's State of the Union address.

Education is one of the few areas of the federal budget that would not see a spending freeze, if President Barack Obama gets his way this year.

In his State of the Union speech on Jan. 27, Obama said his administration will work with Congress to expand school improvements across the country, saying the success of children cannot depend on where they live.

As he prepares to ask Congress for billions of dollars in new spending for education, the president said the nation’s students need to be inspired to succeed in math and science, and that failing schools need to be turned around.…Read More

ED: Blended learning helps boost achievement

A new analysis of existing online-learning research by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) reveals that students who took all or part of their class on line performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.

Most of the studies examined by researchers dealt with college-level courses, and ED officials cautioned against generalizing the report’s findings to the K-12 level. Still, the report could help educators as they seek to create effective learning environments for all students.

The detailed meta-analysis is part of a broader study of practices in online learning being conducted by SRI International for ED’s Policy and Program Studies Service. The goal of the study is to “provide policy makers, administrators, and educators with research-based guidance about how to implement online learning for K-12 education and teacher preparation,” says the report.…Read More