Last week, a federal judge fined Education Secretary Betsy DeVos $100,000 for contempt of court after the U.S. Department of Education (ED) "mistakenly" billed 16,000 students who were defrauded by Corinthian Colleges. The for-profit Corinthian Colleges system collapsed in 2014, and in 2017, a federal court ordered full loan reimbursement for Corinthian students after finding that Corinthian had misrepresented its job placement rates.

Last week, 23 U.S. senators submitted a letter to Kathleen Kraninger, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, calling for an investigation into the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which manages the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The letter alleges mismanagement of the program, leading to harm for public service workers and their families. Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar were among the letter's signatories.

A. Wayne Johnson, a student-loan official appointed to the Office of Federal Student Aid by Secretary DeVos, resigned two weeks ago, calling the student-loan system "fundamentally broken." He endorsed cancellation of up to $50,000 of federal student debt per student — about $925 billion total. Johnson also announced his intention to run for the Senate seat soon to be vacated by Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson.

The ED also made news last week with the finalization of new accreditation standards for colleges and universities. The new rules, which take effect in July, give accreditors more flexibility to approve new programs and allow schools more time to come into compliance after a standards violation. Accreditation agencies will also no longer have to inform students when their schools are out of compliance.


Finances

This Big Court Decision May Help Student Loan Borrowers

In a decision that could impact the future of student loan forgiveness, a federal court of appeals recently ruled that federal law does not preempt state law in the case of Nelson v. Great Lakes Higher Education. The federal Higher Education Act does not allow a "private right of action," which lets individuals sue federal contractors, but most state laws do. This decision only applies to the 7th Circuit's jurisdiction and only to cases that involve active misrepresentation on the part of student loan services, but it could set a precedent for similar legal cases.

Members of Congress Look to Simplify FAFSA for Low-Income Students

A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate seeks to reduce the number of questions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from 108 to less than 30. Last year, only 60% of U.S. high school seniors completed the FAFSA, leaving nearly $3 billion in federal Pell Grants unclaimed. The bill's sponsors hope that a less complicated form will mean higher application completion rates among low-income students. If you haven't completed the FAFSA yet, check out Jonathan W.'s FAFSA deadlines rundown to find out what your options are.

Black Parents Saddled With Risky College Student Debt Because of Parent PLUS Loan

USA Today recently took a look at the racial breakdown among Parent PLUS borrowers, finding that the high-interest loans are disproportionately common among black families and those who attend historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Black students only make up about 12% of the national college student body, but black families make up 19% of Parent PLUS borrowers.

Here's How the Fed Rate Cut Affects You

The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter point for the third time this year in an attempt to bolster the economy, which the Federal Open Market Committee has suggested is weakening. The rate cut has impacts for all loan types, including private student loans, which have seen refinance rates drop as low as 2.01%. For more about student loan debt, check out Reece Johnson's analysis of student loan forgiveness plans put forth by Democratic presidential candidates.

Vital Federal Program to Help Parents in College Is "A Drop in the Bucket"

Democrats in the House of Representatives have submitted a new proposal that would expand the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, which awards grants to colleges to help low-income student parents pay for childcare. The proposal would expand the program's budget to $200 million. A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that about one in five undergraduate students were raising children, and about half of them left college without a degree.

Standardized Testing

A Civil Rights Challenge to Testing Joins the College Admissions Battle

A coalition of civil rights lawyers — representing the Compton Unified School District, among others — announced plans to sue the University of California (UC) system for discrimination if it doesn't drop all standardized test requirements, including the SAT and ACT. Both the ACT and SAT have been criticized for racial and socioeconomic bias. The UC system was already considering replacing ACT/SAT requirements with the state's 11th grade test, though no official decision has been made.

SAT Scores Canceled in Egypt and Hong Kong

In a notice first posted to Reddit, The College Board announced that they would be putting on hold or canceling October SAT scores from tests administered in Egypt and Hong Kong due to theft of testing materials. This is the second time The College Board has canceled SAT scores in Egypt; last May, 50 Egyptian students filed suit against The College Board to compel it to release their scores, but their motion was denied by a federal judge.

More Than 100 ACT Tests Lost for High School Students

Seniors at Park Hill High School in Kansas City, Missouri, will have to retake the ACT after 111 student answers taken at the school in September were lost. ACT officials say that the tests were not in the testing package when it arrived at their offices, and they have conducted searches of both the school and FedEx facilities in search of the missing tests, to no avail. The delay has meant that some students couldn't apply for scholarships or early decision deadlines.

Another Drop in College Readiness

The latest batch of ACT results showed a decline in college readiness as compared to last year's scores, especially in English and math. The ACT is scored on a 36-point scale, and the average score this year was 20.7 — down from 20.8 last year and 21 the year before that. ACT results are divided along racial lines; white students score an average of 23.3, while black students average 17.9.

Campus Misconduct

Clark University Dismisses Graduate Student Who Complained About Gender Discrimination

Abby Nissenbaum, a psychology Ph.D. student at Clark University, was kicked out of her program last week for failing to find a new advisor. Nissenbaum alleges that she was blackballed from the department after blowing the whistle on gender discrimination and research misconduct from her former advisor, Andrew Stewart. Nissenbaum was studying sexual orientation and sexual violence interventions.

100 University of Utah Students Protest of Mishandling of Sexual Assault Cases

Mostly female students walked out of class at the University of Utah to protest the university's inaction in sexual assault cases. The protest came one day before the one-year anniversary of the murder of Lauren McClusker, who had complained to the university more than 20 times about harrassment from Melvin S. Rowland, who eventually shot her. An independent investigation found that the university did not take her concerns seriously.

Professor Says Goodwin College Fired Her for Refusing to Reveal the Identity of a Whistleblower

Former professor of mathematics Laura Jean Champagne filed suit against Goodwin College for wrongful termination after she refused to reveal the identity of a student who had disclosed to her that another professor was sexually harassing students. Title IX regulations name professors as "responsible employees," meaning they are obligated to disclose information about sexual harassment and abuse on their campuses.

UW College Republicans Deemed "Inappropriate," Unrecognized

The University of Washington College Republicans have had their registered student organization status revoked at the request of the national committee of College Republicans. According to a Facebook post from the committee's chair, the club was "illegitimate" because their charter was revoked in April 2018 due to "hurtful and inappropriate conduct." UW College Republicans have been widely criticized for bringing contentious speakers to the university's Seattle campus, attracting far-right groups.

Penn State Fraternity Suspended After Teen's Death

Pennsylvania State University has suspended its Chi Phi fraternity chapter after a 17-year-old died at an off-campus party attended by fraternity members. It is unclear if the death was the result of hazing, which is a felony in the United States. Universities across the United States have been cracking down on hazing in student organizations. You can learn more from Veronica Freeman's article on college hazing.

In Other News

NCAA Votes for Athlete Payment

Despite threats to ban California schools over similar legislation, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) board of governors voted unanimously to begin permitting student athletes to profit from endorsements. The decision comes after a dozen states and Congress introduced bills to the same effect, exposing the NCAA to potential legal battles over labor laws and its tax-exempt status. The idea of paying college athletes has garnered mixed responses, with different ideas about how to ensure fair compensation.

Cincinnati Christian to Close After 95 Years of Operation

Cincinnati Christian University (CCU), faced with loss of its accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), announced that it will close at the end of this semester and become an extension site for Central Christian College of the Bible (CCCB). The school has 547 students, more than half of whom are pursuing degrees in business, psychology, education, or English. CCCB has 226 students, who are mostly pursuing theology degrees. In a letter to students, CCU identified 11 other colleges where students can transfer to finish their degrees.

Harvard Graduate Students Union Votes to Authorize Strike Against University

The Harvard Graduate Students Union, which represents 5,000 teaching and research assistants, voted to authorize a strike last week, although no walkout date has yet been set. This vote comes despite a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board that denied employee status and the right to form a union for graduate students at private universities. The Harvard union says the university ignored its requests for higher pay and a better healthcare plan, while the university maintains that it is negotiating in good faith and a strike is unwarranted.

Some College, No Degree: A 2019 Snapshot for the Nation and 50 States

A new study from the National Student Clearinghouse found that 36 million Americans hold some postsecondary education or training but have no degree and are not currently enrolled. However, the study also found that 940,000 students identified in this category five years ago have since re-enrolled and completed degrees, usually at the same institution where they first enrolled. Most re-enrolled students complete their degrees within two years of re-enrolling.

U.S. News Announces 2020 Best Global Universities Rankings

U.S. News & World Report has released their list of best global universities for 2020. Eight of the top 10 universities are in the United States, including Harvard, M.I.T., Stanford, and the University of California, Berkeley. The other two schools in the top 10 are from the United Kingdom, and there are a total of 81 countries represented in the ranking overall.

Varsity Blues Admissions Scandal Update

Prosecutors in the high-profile admissions scandal case have added bribery counts for parents who have plead not guilty, including actress Lori Loughlin. Other plaintiffs in the case have argued that they were "desperate" to help their children — an argument that did not sway U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani, who responded, "Even good people who are doing things for people they love can't be breaking the law." Felicity Huffman, who plead guilty in the case, was released from prison early after serving 11 days of her 14-day sentence.