Massachusetts to Offer Ten Percent Rebates on Tuition to Students with 3.0 or Higher G.P.A.s!

Dear Commons Community,

Massachusetts announced yesterday the Commonwealth Commitment Program that will provide a ten percent rebate on tuition and fees at the end of each completed semester, as long as students maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher.  As reported by Reuters:

“Massachusetts unveiled what state officials called the first initiative in the country to offer tuition rebates to full-time students who begin their studies at a community college and complete a bachelor’s degree at a state university.

The program, called the Commonwealth Commitment, provides a 10 percent rebate on tuition and fees at the end of each completed semester, as long as students maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

It is open only to state residents and is estimated to provide an average savings of $5,090 on the cost of a four-year degree. Tuition and mandatory fees will be frozen at the rate at which participants enter the program, which will be phased in over a period of two academic years, beginning in September.

As part of the agreement, participants must complete a two-year, associate’s degree at one of the state’s 15 community colleges in 2-1/2 years or less and transfer to a state university to complete a bachelor’s degree in no more than two years.

Additionally, participants must choose to study at least one of 24 majors offered, not including engineering and nursing due to their higher costs.

“This program was designed to decrease the cost of a college degree and accelerate on-time completion for students across the Commonwealth, creating more opportunities and helping more people get into the workforce with the skills they need,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement.

Increased attention has been given to community colleges as more employers look to hire employees with a college education. President Barack Obama has pushed to make tuition free at community colleges across the country.

The high cost of college tuition has also emerged as an issue in the 2016 presidential race. In his bid for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders of neighboring Vermont has proposed making tuition free at public colleges and universities.

The colleges will pay for cost of the initiative, said Katy Abel, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Higher Education. However, the exact price is unknown because there is no estimate for how many students will participate, she said.

About 260,000 students, including non-state residents, attend the state’s 15 community colleges, nine state universities and five campuses of the University of Massachusetts, according to the state.”

Interesting incentive to do well and stay in college!


Congressman Peter King:  “I’ll Take Cyanide if Ted Cruz Ever Got the Republican Nomination”

Dear Commons Community,

The reports of the disarray of the Republican Party have been well-documented during this presidential nomination cycle.  Donald Trump has GOP elders scratching their heads as to what to do.  They are hoping that he will not have enough delegates by the time of the party’s convention in July so that another candidate will emerge with the nomination.  However, the second candidate right now is Senator Ted Cruz, who is not exactly beloved among his colleagues in Washington.  Peter King made that perfectly clear earlier this week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe“ and jokingly threatened to kill himself if Cruz wins the nomination.

 “I hate Ted Cruz, and I think I’ll take cyanide if he ever got the nomination,” said Rep. Peter King (R-New York).

While Cruz has rubbed many of his Republican colleagues the wrong way, King has long butted heads with the Texas senator, who voted against a bill to provide aid to victims of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy

“If Ted Cruz had prevailed, my constituents would be homeless,” King said the following year. 

When Cruz teamed up with conservative members of the House to shut down the government in a failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, King declared: “[Cruz] should keep quiet.”

On Tuesday, King said he voted by absentee ballot for John Kasich in the state’s primary, but said the move was more about sending a message since the Ohio governor didn’t have “a realistic chance” of winning. 

“I want Donald Trump to know that if he wants the support of Republicans, he’s got to get more substance,” King said. “He’s got to really learn what he’s talking about and can’t just be talking off the top of his head and making reckless charges.”

Substance indeed!



MIT Dean Christine Ortiz Leaving to Form New Interdisciplinary, Project-Based University!

Christine Ortiz

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this year, Christine Ortiz, a dean at MIT, announced that she would be leaving to start a new brick and mortar university in the Boston area that would focus on project-based learning and interdisciplinary work.  No classrooms, no lectures, and no academic departments. In cooperation with The Chronicle of Higher Education, she outlines her vision for a new university through a series of podcasts.  Her vision is interesting and provocative.  As someone who works in an interdisciplinary program, I support her approach fully. Whether she can find the start-up financing and support for such an endeavor remains to be seen. 

Worth a listen!



Harriet Tubman to Replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 Bill!

Harriet Tubman

Dear Commons Community,

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced yesterday that Harriet Tubman will replace former President Andrew Jackson on the face of the $20 bill.  She will be the first woman and the first African-American to appear on the face of United States currency. Lew also announced that changes will be made to the $10 and $5 bills. As reported by various media:

Lew said the back of the $20 will feature an image of the White House as well as an image of Jackson. Lew said the image may reflect a statue of Jackson that sits in Lafayette Square, located across from the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington.

Lew also announced that leaders of the movement to give women the right to vote will be featured on the back of the $10 bill. Alexander Hamilton will remain the face of that bill. A new design of the back of the $5 bill will reflect historic moments that took place at the Lincoln Memorial, like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Lew and U.S. Treasurer Rosa Rios said the Treasury Department has “every intention and commitment” to reveal the new designs of all three bills by 2020, marking the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Lew and Rios said the $10 will be the first to go into circulation, due to security needs.

Lew and Rios did not give an exact timeline for the circulation of the new $20 and $5, saying the process would begin as soon as technology and security issues would allow.

Lew said he made the decision to make Tubman the new face of the $20 after hearing from the American people through roundtables, town halls and in online discussions.

“We heard from a lot of people who had different ideas about what should go on which bill, what should go on the front, what should be on the back, and we’ve taken the view that, A) we couldn’t wait, and B) the next bill that comes out has to tell a powerful story,” Lew told reporters.

“The life of Harriet Tubman is really one of the great American stories,” Lew added later, noting that Tubman “was not well compensated for much of her life.”

Good decision!



Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Win Big in New York!

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton won big in the New York primary held yesterday.  With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Trump had 60 percent of the Republican vote and Clinton had 58 percent of the Democratic vote. As reported by the New York Times:

“Donald J. Trump wrested back control of the Republican presidential race on Tuesday with a commanding victory in the New York primary, while Hillary Clinton dealt a severe blow to Senator Bernie Sanders with an unexpectedly strong win that led her to declare that the Democratic nomination was “in sight.”

The Queens-born, Manhattan-made Mr. Trump was poised to take most of the 95 Republican delegates at stake, substantially adding to his current lead over Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and significantly improving his chances of winning the Republican nomination. Mr. Cruz came away with no delegates, a major setback, while Gov. John Kasich of Ohio had a shot at picking up some in Manhattan and the capital region.

Mrs. Clinton’s decisive victory ended a string of wins by Mr. Sanders and gave her more delegates than her advisers expected. Her base of support was Long Island, the five boroughs, and upstate cities, with female and black and Hispanic voters turning out for her in especially strong numbers.”

Onward to Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, and Maryland next week!


Federal Appeals Court:  Public Schools Must Allow Transgender Students to Use Bathrooms that Match Their Gender Identity!

Transgender Bathroom

Dear Commons Community,

In the first such decision of its kind, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday that public schools must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.  As reported by NBC News:

“The ruling is a victory for a Virginia high school student, Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male, has undergone hormone therapy, and has legally changed his name.

School officials were supportive and allowed him to use the boys’ restrooms, but the school board later barred the school from making that accommodation.

On Tuesday, by a 2-1 vote, a panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond reversed a lower court decision that had been in favor of the school board.

“Tuesday’s ruling says quite clearly that forcing transgender students to use the wrong restroom, one that doesn’t accord with their gender identity, is sex discrimination,” said the ACLU’s James Esseks.

The decision is binding on the five states of the Fourth Circuit — Maryland, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The court based its decision on a regulation issued by the Department of Education a year ago, interpreting the requirements of a federal law known as Title IX, which prohibits schools that receive federal funds from engaging in sex discrimination.

“A school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity,” the federal regulation said. The appeals court ruled Tuesday that the rule is a reasonable interpretation of Title IX.

The school board, in Gloucester, a rural part of Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay, said Grimm could use a unisex bathroom, but he said it only worsened his anguish of being transgender. Barred from using the boys’ restroom, he avoided using the restrooms at the school entirely and developed urinary tract infections, according to court documents.

The school board forced the high school to stop accommodating him after angry parents spoke out at two community meetings. One person called him a “freak,” and several repeatedly referred to him as a girl or young lady.

Policies requiring schools to permit transgender students to use the bathrooms that conform to their gender identity have been enacted in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington.

But some states are taking a contrary position. North Carolina’s legislature passed a law, signed by the governor last month, requiring transgender people to use the bathroom that correspondents to the sex they were born with. A similar measure was vetoed by South Dakota’s governor.”

The federal appeals court got this ruling right!


New York Primary Today:  Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton Join Verizon Workers on the Picket Line!

Dear Commons Community,

As the primary season heats up especially here in New York (Primary Day is today – April 19th), presidential candidates have been making appeals to voters by all manner of visits to meetings and gatherings.  Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton took time out of their schedules to walk the picket line with Verizon workers.  As reported in The Huffington Post which incidentally is owned by Verizon:

“Presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) boosted the cause of striking Verizon workers joining them on a picket line in New York City and blasting the telecom giant in a sidewalk speech.

Nearly 40,000 Verizon workers on the East Coast went on strike after 10 months of negotiations with the company failed to produce a new contract. The Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers unions represent the workers.

It’s the largest strike in the U.S. in four years, and it’s happening just as the presidential primaries come to New York.

Sanders’ raucous speech aired live on cable news, giving Verizon a taste of the attention it may receive in the coming days. Sanders, a close ally of CWA who received the union’s endorsement, called Verizon “another major American corporation trying to destroy the lives of working Americans.”

“Verizon is one of the largest, most profitable corporations in this country,” Sanders said. “They want to outsource decent-paying jobs. They want to give their CEO $20 million a year.”

Verizon, which owns the The Huffington Post, said in a statement that it had made “good faith efforts” at the bargaining table and offered wage increases, but “union leaders decided to call a strike rather than sit down and work on the issues that need to be resolved.”

The union says the company has refused to put layoff protections for newer employees into the contract and wants to be able to have technicians work far from home for up to two months at a time.

Sanders applauded the striking workers for having the “courage” to walk out.

“I know how hard it is, what a difficult decision it is to go out on strike. I know you’ve thought a whole lot about it, and I know your families will pay a price,” the Vermont independent said. “Today, you are standing up not just for justice for Verizon workers, you’re standing up for millions of Americans who don’t have a union.”

Hillary Clinton also joined strikers, showing up at a picket line at a Verizon store in Midtown Manhattan. During her visit, Clinton said of Verizon, “You need to engage in real negotiation, and this has been going on for months.” She said the workers “deserve to have a fair contract.” In a fuller statement on the dispute, the Democratic frontrunner accused the company of seeking to outsource jobs overseas.”

If you are in New York and registered as a Republican or Democrat, don’t forget to vote today!



JetBlue to Pay for Employees Taking Online Courses at Thomas Edison State University!

Dear Commons Community,

Employees of JetBlue can now study at Thomas Edison State University (New Jersey)  free with the airline picking up the tuition. JetBlue announced that the program can lead to an online associate or bachelor’s degree.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The program is the latest company-and-college partnership that takes cues from the Starbucks College Achievement Plan — a program, created in 2014, that allows employees of the coffee-shop chain to take online classes at Arizona State University.

But there’s a key difference between the JetBlue program and many other partnerships in the Starbucks-Arizona State model.

Most of the programs either reimburse tuition costs or offer discounts, requiring employees to foot at least some of the bill for their courses. But JetBlue employees won’t pay anything upfront: The company will cover the full cost of an associate degree.

To earn a bachelor’s degree, however, students would have to cover the $3,500 capstone course at Thomas Edison State, either out of pocket or through a scholarship.

In August the company started a pilot version of the program with 200 employees with at least two years’ seniority and with at least 16 credits from an accredited college or university already in hand.

Bonny W. Simi, president of the subsidiary JetBlue Technology Ventures, says that employees had long asked for tuition reimbursement, but that the company wanted to go a step further and foot the whole bill.

As interest grows in the unbundling of higher education — the use of just the learning material from the college experience — Ms. Simi says the JetBlue program was made possible by the flexibility and affordability of competency-based education.

“We’ve mapped out degrees so that it’s basically higher ed but stripped away are the cafeterias, the football team, the big campuses, the dorm, and everything,” says Ms. Simi, who oversees the program. “It’s just the class.”

All of the courses are taught online, and students are assigned a “success coach” who meets with them in person to walk them through earning a degree. One reason many adult students never go back to pick up a degree, Ms. Simi notes, is that the process can be confusing for adults who haven’t been in a classroom for years.

In fact, the coaches apply to Thomas Edison State on behalf of the students. Once a coach sees how a student’s credits will transfer, and has discussed the student’s choice of degree — there are options in business and the liberal-arts fields — the coach creates a map of classes the student will take.

After the courses are completed, the coaches will pass along the grades for credit from Thomas Edison State, where students pursuing bachelor’s degrees will also complete their capstone projects.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, has criticized the rise of partnerships between corporations and colleges. “I worry that this is being set up on terms favorable to the company, JetBlue, rather than terms ideal for the student,” he says. For Mr. Vaidhyanathan, the biggest concern about such programs is that students cannot use them to pursue degrees at colleges of their choosing. He wonders why students can’t have their tuition reimbursed for a traditional education at a local community college.

“Macro problems can only be solved by massive reinvestment in public education,” he says. “We already have a system that was generated to take care of significant portions of the American population that has difficulty accessing higher education. We just decided not to pay for it as we should.”

While Mr. Vaidhyanathan thinks deals like JetBlue’s are made chiefly to generate headlines, he hopes to see those experiments succeed. The coaching element, he says, may be the key to keeping students motivated to continue with coursework, a common problem among online programs. He says he wouldn’t be surprised to see more companies follow up with similar programs.

The first batch of JetBlue students is to graduate with associate degrees in September.

Ms. Simi agrees that the new program isn’t for everyone. It’s meant for older adults, with children, who are motivated to get a degree because it could lead to a better-paying job. “We do not teach you how to do college,” she says.”

This appears to be a win-win for everybody.





Nicolas Berggruen:  Billionaire Who Wants to Nurture Innovative Ideas Not Donate to Causes!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article today on the billionaire, Nicolas Berggruen, who has established the Berggruen Institute, a think tank and foundation designed to produce ideas.  Mr. Berggruen says he wants to nurture innovative thinking, not just donate to causes. His institute is “not just a money-giving operation; it’s an ideas and energy-producing operation.” As reported in the article:

“The Berggruen Institute is a striking example of how wealthy philanthropists are reshaping the landscape with smaller versions of the foundations established by Bill Gates and George Soros. Sean Parker, one of the entrepreneurs behind Napster and Facebook, has a research institute, The Parker Foundation, which this month pledged $250 million for cancer immunotherapy. He is also a co-founder of the Economic Innovation Group, which labels itself an “ideas laboratory.” Tom Steyer, who made his fortune as a hedge fund manager in California, has several environmental nonprofit groups, and last year created the Fair Shake Commission to redress economic inequality.

“There is a generation of new donors who have huge assets, and their own ideas, and think traditional think tanks are old-fashioned,” said James G. McGann, the director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania — a think tank that thinks about think tanks. In a money-fueled culture where tweets, not position papers, shape the national conversation, these kinds of philosopher-kingpins “are likely to be more influential than we are,” Mr. McGann said.

Mr. Berggruen stands out because he is a little-known but well-connected player at the nexus of wealth and rumination who is also a bit mysterious — a Gatsby who shows up at his own parties.

“I am a person who likes to engage in learning,” Mr. Berggruen said, in an accent reflecting his Parisian upbringing and dual German and American citizenship. The next step was “to see if I can produce some ideas,” he said.”

Mr. Berggruen also appears to be interested in philosophy, teaching, learning, and world views.  The Berggruen Institute will award an annual $1 million prize in philosophy beginning this year. It is presently funding five Berggruen graduate scholarships to China and other places, and it has selected 16 others for the 2016-17 academic year.”

The article is worth a read.