U. of Phoenix Looks to Reduce Enrollments With New Admissions Requirements and Deep Budget Cuts!

Dear Commons Community,

The University of Phoenix, losing profitability because of falling enrollments and high dropout rates, announced yesterday that it would eliminate most of its associate-degree programs, close more of its physical campuses, and, for the first time, establish academic admissions requirements. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“These moves are likely to leave the university, which in 2010 had an enrollment of 460,000, with about 150,000 students by 2016. Phoenix is not all that far from that point now. For the period ending May 31, its enrollment was 206,900, compared with 241,900 a year earlier. The planned changes and enrollment figures were announced on Monday by the university’s parent company, the Apollo Education Group.

Apollo also disclosed that in June it bought a controlling interest in the Iron Yard, a so-called coding boot camp that offers nondegree training. Last year Kaplan Inc., a large for-profit education company that’s owned by Graham Holdings, bought a similar company, called Dev Bootcamp. Such boot camps are ineligible to receive federal student aid, but as they gain in popularity, many observers speculate that they soon might be in some way.”

I think it is good strategy on the part of Phoenix to establish bona fide admissions requirements. It will help to regain public trust.



U.S. Supreme Court to Revisit University of Texas Affirmative Action Case!

Dear Commons Community,

After last week’s major decisions on the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court indicated yesterday that it will revisit a case involving the use of race in admissions at the University of Texas. As reported in The Washington Post;

“The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider again whether race-conscious college admission plans are constitutional, renewing the country’s contentious debate about whether affirmative action is appropriate.

Two years ago, the court voted 7 to 1 to send the University of Texas at Austin’s plan back for further judicial review and told the lower court to apply the kind of rigorous evaluation that must accompany any government action that considers race.

“Strict scrutiny imposes on the university the ultimate burden of demonstrating, before turning to racial classifications, that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in 2013.

That ruling was largely seen as a punt on the part of a deeply divided court: The ruling stopped short of forbidding the consideration of race, significantly altering the court’s prescription of how such programs should operate, or even passing judgment on the UT program at issue.

Upon reconsideration, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit once again upheld the program. In a 2-to-1 vote, the panel said it was applying “exacting scrutiny,” but it concluded that UT’s limited consideration of race was “necessary” and narrowly tailored to meet the university’s compelling interest in achieving student-body diversity.

Lawyers opposed to affirmative action and representing Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was denied admission to UT and filed suit in 2008, said the lower court had ignored the Supreme Court’s instructions.

“The panel deferred to UT’s post hoc speculation that racial preferences served a ‘qualitative’ diversity interest that was never studied, evaluated, or articulated when UT added racial preferences to its admissions program,” the lawyers argued.”

This will be an interesting case to follow during the next U.S. Supreme court session. It will likely have major ramifications for affirmative action in this country.




Paul Krugman on the Unfurling Greek Tragedy!

Dear Commons Community,

While the Greek financial disaster has been in the news for several years now, the entire situation is about to get worse and turn into a tragedy with bank closings, paying in scrip, and overall fiscal instability. Paul Krugman examines the extent of the problem in his column this morning.

“…the situation in Greece has now reached what looks like a point of no return. Banks are temporarily closed and the government has imposed capital controls — limits on the movement of funds out of the country. It seems highly likely that the government will soon have to start paying pensions and wages in scrip, in effect creating a parallel currency. And next week the country will hold a referendum on whether to accept the demands of the “troika” — the institutions representing creditor interests — for yet more austerity.

Greece should vote “no,” and the Greek government should be ready, if necessary, to leave the euro.

To understand why I say this, you need to realize that most — not all, but most — of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 percent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.

So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.

And this collapse, in turn, had a lot to do with the euro, which trapped Greece in an economic straitjacket. Cases of successful austerity, in which countries rein in deficits without bringing on a depression, typically involve large currency devaluations that make their exports more competitive. This is what happened, for example, in Canada in the 1990s, and to an important extent it’s what happened in Iceland more recently. But Greece, without its own currency, didn’t have that option.

So have I just made the case for “Grexit” — Greek exit from the euro? Not necessarily. The problem with Grexit has always been the risk of financial chaos, of a banking system disrupted by panicked withdrawals and of business hobbled both by banking troubles and by uncertainty over the legal status of debts. That’s why successive Greek governments have acceded to austerity demands, and why even Syriza, the ruling leftist coalition, was willing to accept the austerity that has already been imposed. All it asked for was, in effect, a standstill on further austerity.”

A most serious situation that will likely cause rumbles throughout world financial markets.



James Fallows Analyzes President Obama’s Eulogy of Clementa Pinckney as “his single most accomplished rhetorical performance”.

Dear Commons Community,

James Fallows writes in this week’s edition of The Atlantic that President Obama’s eulogy  of Clementa Pinckney on Friday was “his single most accomplished rhetorical performance” of his career. Fallows indicates that while the culmination of singing Amazing Grace surely touched the hearts of all who saw it, the speech itself was remarkable. Fallows writes:

“I think Barack Obama’s eulogy yesterday at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was his most fully successful performance as an orator. It was also one that could have come only at this point in his public career—and not, for instance, when he was an intriguing figure first coming to national notice, as he was during his celebrated debut speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston 11 years ago; or when he was a candidate fighting for political survival, as he was when he gave his “Race in America” speech in Philadelphia early in 2008…

Here are the three rhetorical aspects of the speech that I think made it more artful as a beginning-to-end composition than any of his other presentations:

— The choice of grace as the unifying theme, which by the standards of political speeches qualifies as a stroke of genius.

— The shifting registers in which Obama spoke—by which I mean “black” versus “white” modes of speech—and the accompanying deliberate shifts in shadings of the word we.

— The start-to-end framing of his remarks as religious, and explicitly Christian, and often African-American Christian, which allowed him to present political points in an unexpected way.”

Fallows was a former speech writer for President Jimmy Carter and knows his topic well.  The media will show clips of this eulogy for decades to come whenever referencing President Obama.



Video: President Obama Sings Amazing Grace during Eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney!

Dear Commons Community,

President Barack Obama led the crowd today at Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s funeral in a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace”.

At the end of his impassioned eulogy for Pinckney, one of the nine people shot and killed at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last week, Obama broke into the hymn.

“If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything could change. Amazing grace,” he said before beginning to sing.

As the crowd joined him in song, Obama named the shooting victims.

“Clementa Pinckney found that grace. Cynthia Hurd found that grace. Susie Jackson found that grace. Ethel Lance found that grace. DePayne Middleton-Doctor that grace. Tywanza Sanders found that grace. Daniel L. Simmons Sr. found that grace. Sharonda Singleton found that grace. Myra Thompson found that grace,” he said. “Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed his grace on the United States of America.”


U.S. Supreme Court: Gay Marriage Legal throughout the Land!

Supreme Court Decision Gay Marriage

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 earlier today that it is legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to marry the people they love. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The decision is a historic victory for gay rights activists who have fought for years in the lower courts. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia already recognize marriage equality. The remaining 13 states ban these unions, even as public support has reached record levels nationwide.

The justices found that, under the 14th Amendment, states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex unions that have been legally performed in other states. Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. In a rare move, the four dissenting justices each wrote an opinion.

The lead plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges is Ohio resident Jim Obergefell, who wanted to be listed as the surviving spouse on his husband’s death certificate. In 2013, Obergefell married his partner of two decades, John Arthur, who suffered from ALS. Arthur passed away in October of that year, three months after the couple filed their lawsuit.

Obergefell was joined by several dozen other gay plaintiffs from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee who were fighting to be able to marry and to have their marriage recognized in every state in the country.

In the majority opinion, the justices outlined several reasons same-sex marriage should be allowed. They wrote that the right to marriage is an inherent aspect of individual autonomy, since “decisions about marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make.” They also said gay Americans have a right to “intimate association” beyond merely freedom from laws that ban homosexuality.”

A great decision and a huge victory for gay rights.



U.S. Dept. of Education Decides Against New College Ratings Plan!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Department of Education has retreated from its controversial plan to create a giant college-ratings system. Instead, by late summer the department is now promising to produce a customizable, consumer-oriented website that won’t include any evaluations of colleges. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):

“… the new website will contain what one official described as “more data than ever before.” In effect, it will be a ratings system without any ratings.

The as-yet-unnamed new system will allow students and others to compare colleges “on whatever measures are important to them,” said Jamienne S. Studley, deputy under secretary of education.

The proposed federal ratings have been contentious since the moment they were announced. In Congress, Republicans in particular have introduced measures to keep the department from spending money to develop them. And many college leaders and higher-education associations have questioned the department’s capacity to devise an accurate or fair system.”

I think this was a good move on the part of the U.S. DOE.  American higher education does not need a ratings system especially one that would be left to the whims of a federal agency.



U.S. Supreme Court: President Obama’s Affordable Care Act Here to Stay!

Dear Commons Community,

In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the subsidies provisions of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act otherwise known as Obamacare. This is a major victory for the President and insures his legacy. New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman gave his views on this decision this morning.

“Was I on the edge of my seat, waiting for the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare subsidies? No — I was pacing the room, too nervous to sit, worried that the court would use one sloppily worded sentence to deprive millions of health insurance, condemn tens of thousands to financial ruin, and send thousands to premature death.

It didn’t. And that means that the big distractions — the teething problems of the website, the objectively ludicrous but nonetheless menacing attempts at legal sabotage — are behind us, and we can focus on the reality of health reform. The Affordable Care Act is now in its second year of full operation; how’s it doing?

The answer is, better than even many supporters realize.

Start with the act’s most basic purpose, to cover the previously uninsured. Opponents of the law insisted that it would actually reduce coverage; in reality, around 15 million Americans have gained insurance.

But isn’t that a very partial success, with millions still uncovered? Well, many of those still uninsured are in that position because their state governments have refused to let the federal government enroll them in Medicaid.”

[The Supreme Court’s ruling actually might make many of these states rethink their position on this issue.]

Krugman’s conclusion:

“Now, you might wonder why a law that works so well and does so much good is the object of so much political venom — venom that is, by the way, on full display in Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion, with its rants against “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” But what conservatives have always feared about health reform is the possibility that it might succeed, and in so doing remind voters that sometimes government action can improve ordinary Americans’ lives.

That’s why the right went all out to destroy the Clinton health plan in 1993, and tried to do the same to the Affordable Care Act. But Obamacare has survived, it’s here, and it’s working. The great conservative nightmare has come true. And it’s a beautiful thing.”

A beautiful thing indeed!



New York’s Stonewall Inn To Get Official Landmark Status!

Stonewall Inn

Dear Commons Community,

New York City’s landmarks commission has voted to grant official status to the Stonewall Inn, the Greenwich Village bar where resistance to a police raid sparked the modern gay rights movement.

The unanimous vote Tuesday marks the first time a site has been designated as a landmark in the city because of its significance to LGBT history.

Patrons fought back against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969.

The uprising is commemorated in gay pride events every year in New York and around the world.

The commission’s chairwoman, Meenakshi Srinivasan, says the Stonewall events were a turning point in the LGBT rights movement and in the nation’s history.


Predatory Colleges Find Friends in the U.S. Congress to Undo a Recent Federal Judge’s Ruling on Gainful Employment!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an editorial today blasting members of the U.S. Congress who are pushing legislation that will undo the recent  federal judge ruling upholding the U.S. Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rule. The editorial reads:

“A Federal District Court judge in Washington on Tuesday upheld new Obama administration rules that will deny federal aid to career training programs that saddle students with crushing debt while giving them useless degrees in return.

The ruling strongly reaffirms the government’s authority to regulate these often-corrupt programs — and comes at a time when federal and state investigations are uncovering fraud and misconduct by for-profit schools all over the country. Regrettably, however, Republicans in both houses are moving bills that would block the Obama administration from enforcing the rules.

The court ruling involved the administration’s “gainful employment” rules denying federal aid to programs that have historically burdened students with loans well beyond their capacity to repay.

The rules were inspired by data showing that students in for-profit schools account for only about 12 percent of college enrollment, but nearly half of student loan defaults. Other data has shown that graduates of for-profit institutions are more likely than graduates of other institutions to carry debt of more than $40,000 when they leave school. Predatory schools are all the more problematic because they target veterans, minorities and the poor.

The rules cover about 5,500 career training programs, some of which award college degrees but most of which award certificates. To comply, a training program would have to show that, on average, the annual loan payments of its graduates amount to less than 8 percent of their total income, or less than 20 percent of their discretionary income, after the cost of basic necessities like food and housing.

A program that failed to satisfy these criteria for four straight years would lose federal funding. Funding would also be denied if, over two years of a three-year period, the average loan payments exceeded 12 percent of total earnings and more than 30 percent of discretionary earnings. Programs nearing these thresholds would have the further obligation of giving students and prospective students advance warning that they are at risk of losing their federal grants and loans — and might need to find some other way to pay for college.

The rules cover both for-profit and nonprofit programs. But the Department of Education estimates that 99 percent of the 1,400 programs that would probably fail under the new standard are run by for-profit schools.

An association representing the schools challenged the new rules, arguing that the standards were capricious and that the only permissible measure of “gainful employment” is whether or not the student got a paying job — any job. The judge was openly contemptuous of this argument.

Republican attempts to block the new rules are not sitting well with organizations that work on behalf of consumers, veterans and the poor. This spring, a coalition of these groups sent a letter reminding Congress that 37 state attorneys general are jointly investigating allegations of fraud in for-profit schools. Various investigations have already uncovered deceptive tactics; dismal graduation rates; false or inflated job placement rates; and dubious sales and admissions policies that target veterans and students of color.

At issue here is an industry that routinely exploits the country’s most vulnerable citizens and fleeces the federal student aid program at the same time. The administration’s effort to bring it under control deserves support, not legislative sabotage.”

A great example of the U.S. educational-industrial complex oiled and running smoothly to the detriment of college students and their families.