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Murder-Suicide at Penn State's Beaver Campus

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:41:00 +0000

A food services employee at Pennsylvania State University's Beaver campus was shot and murdered there Wednesday by a man who then killed himself, the university announced. The Tribune-Review reported that the man was the ex-husband of the university employee and that he lured her to the campus parking lot where he killed her by saying that he had Christmas presents for their children.

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Higher Ed Inflation Hits Highest Level Since 2008

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:00:00 +0000

An important marker of the rate of inflation in the costs colleges and universities pay increased more quickly in 2017 than it had in nearly a decade.

The Higher Education Price Index inflation rate was 3.7 percent in 2017, according to the Commonfund Institute, which calculates the index annually. That’s the highest level since a 5 percent rate in 2008.

Seven of the index’s eight components increased. Notably, the cost of fringe benefits rose by 5.9 percent, the largest increase since the financial crisis. Commonfund attributed the jump to an aging work force using more medical care and driving up prices.

Utilities also increased sharply, but they tend to be volatile and are lightly weighted in the price index. Benefit costs make up about 13 percent of the index, and salary costs represent 70 percent.

Salary costs came in somewhat above the rate of consumer inflation. Faculty salary increases seem to be stable at about 2.5 percent annually. Administrative and clerical salaries are rising more quickly, at 3 percent.

Supplies and materials were the only component of the index to decline. The component decreased by half a percentage point from 2016.

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The Higher Education Price Index is intended to show the changes in costs that colleges and universities face. Its goal is different from the better-known Consumer Price Index, which tracks changes in prices consumers pay. Changes in the higher education index have significant ramifications for college and university budgets.

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Limits End on Fee Waivers for Test Reports

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:00:00 +0000

Both ACT and the College Board announced Wednesday that they are lifting limits that have been in place on the number of ACT and SAT score reports that can be sent to colleges by low-income students who qualify for fee waivers. Such students have been able to send eight reports. By lifting the limit, both ACT and the College Board said that they hoped low-income students might be encouraged to apply to more colleges than they have in the past. Applying to more colleges can be particularly important for low-income students so they can compare aid packages.

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Growing Number of Borrowers Are in Default

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:00:00 +0000

The U.S. Department of Education this week released new federal loan data showing that 4.6 million student loan borrowers were in default as of Sept. 30, an increase from the 2.2 million who were in default four years earlier. Roughly 298,000 borrowers entered into default during the quarter that ended in September, the department said, with 274,000 defaulting for the first time.

The federal student loan portfolio has grown to $1.37 trillion, according to the department, up from slightly more than $1 trillion four years ago.

On Thursday, the Center for American Progress released an analysis on student loan defaulters. The left-leaning think tank found that defaulters tend to borrow less than their peers. The median defaulter owed $9,625, according to the analysis, which is $8,500 less than the median loan balance for a nondefaulter.

Likewise, almost half (49 percent) of borrowers who default failed to earn a college credential, the center said, compared to the 10 percent who hold a bachelor's degree.

Defaulters also are more likely to be from low-income backgrounds. The analysis found that nearly 90 percent of defaulters received a Pell Grant, while 70 percent are from families where neither parent earned a college degree.

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Sweet Briar Debt Rating Upgraded

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:00:00 +0000

Sweet Briar College’s long-term debt rating has moved up a notch, with S&P Global Ratings issuing an upgrade Wednesday because of actions the college’s new leaders have taken to stabilize it.

S&P raised its rating on Sweet Briar debt from B to B-plus. The small private women’s college in rural Virginia has been closely watched since it announced in March 2015 that it would be closing amid financial and enrollment challenges. Alumnae fought the move, winning a deal to keep the college operating under new leadership. Sweet Briar remained open despite nearly shutting down, but enrollment cratered amid the uncertainty, and the college has been relying heavily on donations.

In raising the college’s debt rating, S&P said that the college’s financial operations have been “relatively stable” in recent years and that it has sufficient financial resources available. Expendable resources in the 2016 fiscal year were recorded at about $37.4 million, the equivalent of about 108 percent of operations and 156 percent of total outstanding debt.

S&P also considered the fact that Sweet Briar has a new management team and new strategic plan. Meredith Woo, a former University of Virginia dean, took over the presidency of the college this year, quickly putting in place plans for a tuition reset and revised curriculum in 2018.

The upgraded B-plus rating is still considered highly speculative. S&P pointed to vulnerabilities in enrollment and demand at the college, as well as high maximum annual debt service equal to 6.2 percent of 2016 operating expenses. It also said operating margins for 2017 will be “somewhat softer than recent levels.”

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$50 Million Gift for RIT

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:00:00 +0000

Rochester Institute of Technology on Wednesday announced a $50 million gift, the largest ever to the university. The money will be used for programs that promote creativity and entrepreneurship, and for programs focused on cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. The gift is from Austin McChord, founder and CEO of Datto, a Connecticut-based data protection company. McChord graduated from RIT in 2009.

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Moody's: Tax-Free Bond Elimination Would Hurt Private Colleges

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:00:00 +0000

Eliminating private activity bonds as proposed in a Republican tax overhaul would hurt private colleges and universities, placing them at a competitive disadvantage, according to a new report issued by Moody’s Investors Service. Qualified private activity bonds are exempt from federal taxes, allowing some institutions, including private colleges and universities, to borrow money at lower rates than they would otherwise be able to access. But a tax reform bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in November would eliminate private activity bonds, drawing worries from higher ed advocates. In its evaluation, Moody’s said small private colleges could struggle to invest in facilities without tax-exempt bonds. Small private colleges already face a competitive environment, Moody’s noted, meaning they have narrow operating margins and little ability to absorb higher borrowing costs. They would face a crunch even as keeping facilities up-to-date is considered important for enrolling students. Even larger private universities would see their credit negatively affected by the loss of access to tax-free bonds, according to Moody’s. Although large institutions enjoy advantages of scale and have lately been able to make use of low interest rates in the taxable bond market, where costs of compliance are lower, they would face budgetary pressure in the event of a rise in interest rates coupled with the elimination of tax-free bonding. Public universities would still have the ability to issue debt on a tax-exempt basis if private activity bonds are eliminated. So the elimination of the bonds could put private institutions at a competitive disadvantage, Moody’s noted. The ratings agency already anticipates closures and consolidation among small private colleges, and a change like the loss of private activity bonds could add to such a trend. The elimination of the bonds was not included in the tax reform bill that the Senate passed. Republican leaders have a deal on a reconciled tax bill, they said Wednesday, but not all details were immediately available. Lawmakers have indicated in recent days that they were considering not ending tax breaks for private activity bonds, and some initial press reports indicated the reconciled bill would preserve private activity bonds. Ad keywords: institutionalfinanceIs this diversity newsletter?: Hide by line?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: [...]



Dispute on Group That Blocked Gay Leader

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:00:00 +0000

The University of Iowa will no longer recognize a campus Christian group after it refused to give a gay student a leadership position.

In response, Business Leaders in Christ sued the university this week, alleging the institution violated state law and the group members’ constitutional rights. The federal lawsuit states that Iowa told the organization to change its statement of faith to comply with university policy.

Last year, a student complained to the university that he was denied the vice presidency of the group because he was gay. The group claims it was not discriminating against him and that he could keep his membership, but that to be a leader, the student needed to abide by certain religious beliefs that did not include same-sex relationships.

"This is 2017, not 1984," Jacob Estell, president of Business Leaders in Christ, said in a statement. "Our beliefs weren’t made by us, and they can’t be changed by us, either -- certainly not just to satisfy Orwellian government rules."

The university has said the organization infringed on both internal policy and state law.

"The University of Iowa recently found Business Leaders in Christ violated the UI’s Human Rights Policy and the Iowa Civil Rights Act," a university statement said. "Membership and participation in the organization must be open to all students without regard to race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, disability, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, service in the U.S. military, sexual orientation, gender identity, associational preferences or any other classification that deprives the person of consideration as an individual."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that colleges can limit and revoke official recognition to student groups that operate under biased rules.

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Monitoring Undergraduate STEM Education

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:00:00 +0000

Quality instruction goes a long way toward keeping students -- especially underrepresented minorities and women -- in the sciences, technology, math and engineering. But measuring educational quality isn’t easy. A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, “Indicators for Monitoring Undergraduate STEM Education,” says that assessing quality and impact in STEM at the national level will require the collection of new data on changing student demographics, instructors’ use of evidence-based teaching approaches, student transfer patterns and more.

Instead of more typical, highly variable measures of educational value -- such as graduate employment data -- the academies propose a conceptual framework for a national indicator system with three main goals and 21 specific indicators of progress. Goals include increasing students’ mastery of STEM concepts and skills by engaging them in evidence-based practices and programs. Indicators include the use of valid measures of teaching effectiveness and the diversity of STEM degree and certificate earners in comparison with the diversity of degree and certificate earners in all fields.

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Academic Minute: Older Adults, Exercise and Arthritis

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:00:00 +0000

Today on the Academic Minute, Dorothy Dunlop, professor of medicine at Northwestern University, examines whether being active is enough, or if there is a right way to stay in motion as you get older.

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