Monday, June 06, 2011

New for-profit colleges regs: Double backlash

The Obama administration's crackdown on for-profit colleges is drawing backlash from conservatives and liberals alike.

On Thursday, the Education Department released the final regulations aimed at what are known as career or vocational schools, which train medical technicians, chefs, welders, electricians and the like. The regulations will cut federal aid to programs that don't lead to "gainful employment."

"These new regulations will help ensure that students at these schools are getting what they pay for: solid preparation for a good job," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "We're giving career colleges every opportunity to reform themselves, but we're not letting them off the hook, because too many vulnerable students are being hurt."

Under the regulations introduced Thursday, a program would meet standards if at least 35 percent of former students are repaying their loans and the estimated annual loan payment of graduates doesn't exceed 30 percent of their discretionary income or 12 percent of their total earnings. The first year programs would be deemed ineligible is 2015.

Progressive groups say the new regulations aren’t strong enough, while others say they go too far. "Given the overwhelming evidence that the worst for-profit colleges are abusing students and taxpayers, the rule isn't strong enough, but it's still an important reform that could, over time, help millions of students," said David Halperin, director of Campus Progress, the youth arm of the Center for American Progress.

"We believe that, collectively, the rules issued by the administration, ongoing investigations by state attorney general, and increasing scrutiny by Congress and the media will ultimately compel for-profit schools to clean up their act or else shut their doors."

The National Black Chamber of Commerce called for Congress to derail the implementation of the gainful employment rule because it says it unfairly targets only for-profit schools, doesn't address the excessive cost of higher education and it may be illegal. "It is the result of a biased rule-making process that essentially targeted only one sector of post-secondary institutions," Harry Alford, president chief executive of the chamber, said in a statement. "Moreover, it is beyond the department's legal authority to regulate in such a broad, new policy-making fashion."

For-profit students represent 12 percent of all higher education students, 26 percent of all student loans and 46 percent of all student loan dollars in default, according to the Education Department. More than a quarter of for-profit schools receive 80 percent of their revenues from federal student aid.

"While for-profit schools have profited and prospered thanks to federal dollars, some of their students have not," Duncan said. "This is a disservice to students and taxpayers, and undermines the valuable work being done by the for-profit education industry as a whole."

A half dozen Democratic lawmakers blasted the rule — Reps. Alcee Hastings of Florida, Carolyn McCarthy of New York, Donald Payne of New Jersey, Edolphus Towns of New York, Tim Holden of Pennsylvania and Ted Deutch of Florida. "It is deeply troubling that an administration supposedly committed to increasing college completion in the United States would propose a regulation that restricts minority access to higher education and limits job opportunities for those who need them most," Hastings said.

The Heartland Institute also ripped the rules. "Attacking the industry most responsible for popularizing higher education among the disadvantaged seems to be at odds with the Obama administration's goal of getting more kids into college," said Marc Oestreich, a legislative education specialist at the institute.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in Senate, also didn't give the rule a ringing endorsement. "This rule may stop the worst violators among the predatory for-profit schools but it will not protect thousands of young students who are being burdened with debt by many worthless diploma mills," he said in a written statement. "If we are serious about protecting taxpayers and students, we should view this rule as the starting point."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers gave the rule a lukewarm reception. "While this rule is a step in the right direction – accomplished amid intensive lobbying against it – there is more work to be done," she said.


LA: Creationism law skirting US ban survives challenge

The Louisiana law allows teaching contrary to evolution on the grounds it promotes critical thinking. The successful defense last week of a three-year-old Louisiana law is casting a spotlight on how conservative groups are seeking to circumvent a federal ban on the teaching of creationism in public schools.

The Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows teaching contrary to science on the grounds it promotes critical thinking, is increasingly serving as an inspiration to religious conservatives in other states. Its defenders decry the “censorship” of nonscientific ideas and advocate allowing teachers to teach “both sides” on certain scientific theories.

So far in 2011, similarly worded legislation was introduced in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma and New Mexico, but all failed at the committee stage. However, a bill in Tennessee passed the state House in early April and is awaiting a Senate vote in the 2012 session.

In Louisiana, the challenge to the Science Education Act was defeated last Thursday in the Senate Education Committee by a 5-to-1 vote. State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D), who authored the bill to repeal the 2008 law, said she received letters of support from more than 40 Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

Senator Peterson told the Associated Press on Tuesday it was “fundamentally embarrassing” for her state to have the law remain on the books, adding that it would further damage Louisiana’s ability to attract top talent in the sciences.

The 2008 law gives elementary and secondary school teachers the right to bring materials into science classrooms as supplements to textbooks on matters “including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.”

The scientific community has long advocated that allowing anything but science in the teaching of evolution will be intellectually harmful. [Leftists hate ANY alternative views] In an e-mail sent to the Associated Press, Harold Kroto, a Nobel Prize winner for chemistry in 1996, said voting against the repeal creates a situation that “should be likened to requiring Louisiana school texts to include the claim that the Sun goes round the Earth.”

While evolutionary biology is based in the work of Charles Darwin, which shows how humans evolved through natural selection, creationism is rooted in a fundamental reading of Biblical texts that say mankind is the product of a divine maker.

With the law intact, Louisiana is the state that has gone the furthest in approving legislation that opens the door to allowing alternatives to science taught in its schools.


40 UK universities are now breeding grounds for terror as hardline groups peddle hate on campus

England's universities have become a breeding ground for extremism and terrorist recruitment, according to a disturbing government report.

Officials have identified 40 English universities where ‘there may be particular risk of radicalisation or recruitment on campus’.

A soon to be published Whitehall report – seen by the Daily Mail – will point to a string of examples of students going on to commit terrorist acts against this country or overseas.

Alarmingly the Prevent review says that ‘more than 30 per cent of people convicted for Al Qaeda-associated terrorist offences in the UK . . . are known to have attended university or a higher education institution.

‘Another 15 per cent studied or achieved a vocational or further education qualification. About 10 per cent of the sample were students at the time when they were charged or the incident for which they were convicted took place.’

The report, prepared by Home Office officials, warns of hardline Islamic groups specifically targeting universities which have large numbers of Muslim students in order to peddle a message of hate.

Students are even ‘engaging in terrorism or related activities while members of university societies’.

But it says the universities are not doing enough to respond to this threat to national security. Fewer than half of universities are engaged with the police.

Home Secretary Theresa May will demand universities do more to confront this threat. She also wants more action to deport preachers of hate.

The universities which have given places to fanatics include some of our most prestigious institutions.

The report will say that terrorists who have attended English universities include Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, the Stockholm suicide bomber who had a BSc in sports therapy from the University of Luton, now the University of Bedfordshire.

The alleged Detroit underpants bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, studied mechanical engineering at University College London between 2005 and 2008.

Two of the fanatics convicted of the transatlantic liquid bomb plot – ringleader Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar – attended City and Brunel Universities respectively.

The review says the Department for Business, which is in charge of universities, has identified about 40 English universities where there may be a particular risk.

Some now have a dedicated police officer to advise on tackling radicalisation.The document raises particular alarm about the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS). It says there are ‘several examples of students engaging in terrorism or related activities while members of university societies affiliated to FOSIS.

Such extremists must have no part in any organisation that wishes to be recognised as a representative body.’

The finger of blame for radicalising students is pointed at Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which David Cameron promised to ban in opposition, and off-shoots of a fanatical group once run by preacher of hate Omar Bakri.

One section warns: ‘We believe there is unambiguous evidence to indicate that some extremist organisations, notably Hizb-ut-Tahrir, target specific universities and colleges (notably those with a large number of Muslim students) with the objective of radicalising and recruiting students.’

Universities UK says that universities ‘are places where ideas and beliefs can be tested without fear of control’, and that they act as a safeguard against ideologies that threaten Britain’s open society.

The worries about the lax attitude of some universities is combined with concern about the student visa route. Ten of the 11 Pakistani nationals seized on suspicion of plotting an atrocity in the North-West in 2009 had student visas.

The alleged ringleader of this plot – Abid Naseer – was a computer studies student at Liverpool John Moores University.

Mrs May is determined to crack down on the abuse of the student visa route.

However, she has faced opposition within government from Michael Gove’s Education Department and Business Secretary Vince Cable.Meanwhile, Whitehall officials are said to be concerned that Mr Gove’s flagship ‘free schools’ policy – where parents can obtain state funding to open and run their own schools – could be targeted by extremists.

Security officials working in a dedicated unit are expected to vet the backgrounds of all would-be applicants for evidence of extremism or radicalisation.

The Prevent strategy is said to have caused behind-the-scenes rows within the Government.

Mr Gove is understood to have argued that the Government should not engage with groups which hold any extremist beliefs – even though these are the ones most likely to attract would-be terrorists.

Four months ago, in a major speech in Munich, the Prime Minister signalled an end to ‘passive tolerance’ of extremist Islamic organisations which foster hatred against the West and radicalise young Muslims.


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