The U.S. Department of Education (ED) proposed a new rule last week that would clarify that faith-based colleges and universities are eligible for federal grants. The rule also adds a list of criteria for determining whether a school qualifies for exemption from Title IX under religious grounds. While proponents claim that the rule will ensure fair treatment under the First Amendment, critics say the rule will enable discrimination in higher education.

The rule comes in response to President Trump's Executive Order 13831, which lifts regulations placed on religious institutions during the Obama administration. The same announcement also updated ED guidance rules about prayer in public schools, emphasizing the right of students and teachers to engage in religious behavior at public K-12 schools.

DeVos herself took to USA Today to express her hopes for the influence of this new policy, writing, "we are especially eager for the Supreme Court to put an end to ... Blaine Amendments to 37 state constitutions that deny students the freedom to pursue faith-based education." The Blaine Amendment was a failed constitutional amendment introduced in 1875 that would have prohibited direct government aid to educational institutions with religious affiliations.


Politics

DeVos and Education Dept. Could Face New Sanctions for Violating a Court Order

A federal judge may raise fines against the ED for pursuing student loan repayments from defrauded Corinthian College borrowers despite a federal injunction. Secretary DeVos was held in contempt of court and fined $100,000 in October in connection with the case, but the ED has since revealed an additional 29,000 borrowers who were pursued for repayments after the injunction, including 21 people who received collections notices as recently as December 2019.

House Democrats Overturn DeVos on Student Loan Forgiveness, but Change Unlikely to Pass Senate

The House of Representatives voted last Thursday to overturn a rule change from the ED that makes it more difficult to get student loan forgiveness if a college closes unexpectedly. Under the Obama-era borrower defense rule, such students were automatically eligible for loan forgiveness, but now they must apply. The bill is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, but if it does, the White House has suggested that President Trump will veto it.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren Writes Letter Criticizing ICE University in Detroit

Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren sent letters to both Secretary DeVos and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, criticizing an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sting operation that involved accrediting a fake university to attract foreign students. Warren writes, "It is deeply misleading, unfair, and irresponsible to falsify accreditation information that students can and should use to evaluate their educational options before uprooting their lives and making significant financial investments in their education."

Trump Has Created a Foreign Student Crisis

The Trump administration's immigration policies are having an adverse effect on foreign student enrollment. In 2015-16, 300,743 new foreign students enrolled in U.S. universities; in 2018-19, there were only 269,383 — a drop of 10.4%. Chinese students in particular have declined, likely due in part to President Trump's ongoing trade wars with China. His travel ban has also caused problems for students from Muslim-majority countries, and ongoing ICE sting operations have made foreign students wary. Foreign students contribute about $37 billion to the U.S. economy.

Advocates Say Texas Wants to Curb College Students' Political Power

Texas recently introduced a new law — House Bill 1888 — that bans temporary voting locations, which are usually on college or university campuses. Critics point out that this makes it much harder for university students to vote, saying it's a deliberate attempt to discourage young voters. Proponents say that temporary polling places are used to unfairly amplify specific voting demographics. Historically, young voters in Texas have only had turnout at about 8%, but recent elections have seen that number triple.

Data Is In

Where Weed Is Legal, College Students Use It More and Binge Drink Less

Oregon State University published a study last week showing that college students in states where weed is legal are 18% more likely to have used weed recently than their peers in states where it is illegal. However, they are also less likely to binge drink alcohol. The study also found that marijuana usage is higher in states where it has been legal for longer.

College Students' Sense of Belonging: A National Perspective

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania found that first-year students at U.S. colleges across the board only "somewhat agree" that they belong at their schools. However, students at two-year universities were more likely than their four-year-university peers to feel a sense of belonging, while first-generation students, undocumented students, and those belonging to racial or ethnic minorities are less likely to feel like they belong. A sense of belonging is correlated with better educational and mental health outcomes.

Many Nonprofit College Programs Would Fail Gainful Employment Test

An online tool developed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation found that only about 60% of programs at private nonprofit universities and 70% of those from public schools would pass the gainful employment test used by the Obama administration to screen for-profit universities. According to the tool, only 55.6% of for-profit programs for which data is available would pass the gainful employment test, which was repealed by Secretary DeVos in July.

Liberal Arts Pay Off in the Long Run

Earlier this month, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce released a study looking into the return on investment for liberal arts colleges. The study found that while the 10-year return on a liberal arts education was about 40% lower than the rate for all colleges, the 40-year return was more than 25% higher than the median at all colleges. The standard Carnegie Classification system defines a liberal arts college as a primarily undergraduate institution that awards at least half of its bachelor's degrees in liberal arts fields.

Finances

Instead of Tuition, Students Give Schools Cut of Future Salaries

Income sharing agreements (ISAs), which allow students to wait until they're gainfully employed to start paying back tuition through a percentage of their incomes, are gaining popularity as a potential solution to the student loan crisis. There are now more than 60 U.S. colleges and universities that offer ISAs, including Purdue University. The model is also popular among coding bootcamps, such as the Flatiron School.

University of California Proposing Five Straight Years of Annual Tuition Increases

In several proposals being considered this week, the University of California plans to raise tuition annually for the next five years to cover the cost of financial aid and campus needs. This would be the second tuition increase in nine years, and there are two different tuition proposals currently under consideration.

UC Berkeley Ordered to Repay Millions to Teaching Assistants

The University of California, Berkeley, has been ordered by a state arbitrator to repay millions in tuition and fees to UC student teaching assistants, who filed a grievance alleging they were hired to work eight hours per week but actually worked closer to 10. Union contracts mandate that UC Berkeley employees who work at least 10 hours per week are entitled to additional tuition, fee, and child care benefits. The final amount to be paid has not yet been determined, but could be as much as $5 million.

Moody's: Slow Student Loan Repayment Driving High Balances, Bringing Social, Credit Implications

In the past, rising tuition and college enrollment rates were the biggest contributors to the rising U.S. student loan debt. According to a study just released by Moody's Investors Services, that's changed: Now, the number one contributor is slow repayment rates as a result of the proliferation of income-driven and longterm repayment plans. The study found that about a third of students who began repayment in 2012 had not paid down any of their debts after five years. Learn more about student loan debt from Mikael Mulugeta's article on limited debt cancellation.

In Other News

A Teaching Tool for a Warming World

The Knowledge Action Network and the digital education platform UC-CSU NXTerra recently released a new educational tool that offers accurate, up-to-date information about climate change. In addition to climate data itself, the tool offers data about public perceptions of climate change, consumer trends related to climate change, and a database of climate-change-driven fiction. It also offers concrete suggestions for how to get involved with climate advocacy. For more, check out Kasia Kovacs' article, "Climate Change Activism on College Campuses."

Is Sci-Hub Safe?

Sci-Hub is a popular but illegal academic piracy website that publishes scientific articles otherwise only accessible through paywalls. The site has been sued by academic publishing companies like Elsevier for mass copyright infringement, but a new allegation against the site has emerged: its founder, Alexandra Elbakyan, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for espionage and working with Russian intelligence officials to steal confidential military research. Elbakyan denies any wrongdoing.

Going Online With a Learning Disability

Landmark College — the first U.S. university that caters specifically to students with learning disabilities like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia — is expanding into online courses. The school is built on the principle of universal design, providing multiple options for accessing course material so that students can use what works best for them. Only about 36% of Landmark students graduate from the university, though that's likely because the school serves primarily as a training ground for students with learning disabilities to prepare for traditional education.

Denying a Professor Tenure, Harvard Sparks a Debate Over Ethnic Studies

Students of color at Harvard University staged protests earlier this month after the university denied tenure for Lorgia García Peña, a professor who specializes in Latino and Caribbean studies. The students see Peña's tenure denial as evidence of a systematic lack of investment in students of color at Harvard. The protest is especially timely with Harvard embroiled in a lawsuit over its use of race during the admissions process; many of the students protesting also testified on behalf of the university during that legal challenge.

Varsity Blues Scandal Update

More than a dozen parents are still fighting charges in the college admissions case, including actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli. Recently, emails between the couple and the University of Southern California surfaced, revealing that the school actively solicited donations from the couple in exchange for special treatment of their daughter's application. Defendants in the case argue that their payments were legitimate donations. For parents who pled guilty, The Wall Street Journal explored familial fallout.