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This spring, the University of Pittsburgh will pilot a “pay-it-forward” financial aid program that offers students up to $5,000 upon graduation to pay down their student debt. In return, the university asks, but does not require, graduates of the program to contribute to a fund that will finance the same debt-relief scholarships for future students in the program.
Rohit Anand, a recent Pittsburgh graduate, hopes the Panthers Forward program will serve as one answer to the growing student debt crisis. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, two in three college seniors in the United States graduate with debt, and those students walk away with an average of $28,650 in loans. In Pennsylvania it's worse -- graduates with debt leave with an average of $36,854 in loans.
Anand and his team at Altian Education, a company he co-founded to develop and promote community pledge networks like this one, designed the program alongside Patrick Gallagher, University of Pittsburgh chancellor. Their goal was to create something that “gave students more flexibility to pay for future students without the burden of loans,” he said.
The University of Pittsburgh is currently Altian Education's first and only client. The university contracted the company develop the program, and Anand said that it "does not make any money from the Panthers Forward program itself." All contributions from Panthers Forward alumni will directly fund future debt-relief scholarships.
The first group will include 150 students, and any graduating senior with subsidized or unsubsidized federal loans can apply online. The money will be sent directly to the loan servicer at the time of graduation. For now, the university won’t apply the $5,000 to private loan debt.
“The loaner, for a federal loan, is the federal government,” said Anna Adams-Sarthou, program manager for Panthers Forward. “[This way] we’re not sending checks to different banks, we’re sending one check to … the federal entity that provides those loans.”
The university is looking for students who are “in good standing," not only academically but through clubs, student government, athletics or internships. The brief application asks students to list their activities and volunteer hours, provide a faculty reference and write 250 words about how the University of Pittsburgh made a difference in their life.
Money for the first round of students will come from the chancellor’s discretionary funds, but Anand and Adams-Sarthou hope the fund will become “evergreen.”
“In a perfect world, of course that would be great, but we’re being realistic and we don’t think it’ll be self-sustaining in one year,” Adams-Sarthou said.
Anand did not want to estimate how long it would take.
"We're not focused right now on making such estimations. We want to first see how the program is received by students and how it develops over the next couple years," he wrote in an email. "This initial phase of the program will be indicative of how the future of the program, including when it will be self-sustaining, is planned."
Anand and Adams-Sarthou emphasized that scholarship recipients are not required to pay back the money in any way, and the group does not have recommended repayment plans set up yet.
"We are intentionally not mandating any kind of specified payment or payment plan, although it is our hope that students who graduate from the program choose to set up a plan to make recurring payments at amounts of their choosing," Anand wrote.
Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, is optimistic about the program’s success given Pittsburgh’s long-standing commitment to financial aid.
“On a larger scale, this is kind of what’s supposed to happen when you pay state and national taxes,” he said. “This is how federal student aid came about … and now we have a program that is doing that at a hyperlocal level.”
The pay-it-forward psychology is critical to the program’s success. Ayelet Gneezy, an associate professor of behavior science and marketing at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, and an expert on "pay-it-forward" and "pay-what-you-want" models, said that the program's success will require a few key features: a well-crafted ask, fostering a sense of charitable giving and a reasonable time frame for paying back into the fund. Anand said that the university will keep in touch with graduates of the program, but details about how, when and how frequently are still being decided.
Choosing students who already have goodwill toward the university is smart, Gneezy said.
“If you try to think, ‘OK, when are people going to be positioned in a situation in which they want to do the right thing?’ Take for example, Starbucks versus the local coffee shop,” she said. “I would probably want to reciprocate or be kind to my local coffee shop rather than Starbucks.”
Language is also important. Graduates will be more likely to pay back into the fund if they know the money is going directly to other students.
"What we found was when you frame it as pay-it-forward, people pay more than if you frame it as pay-what-you-want," she said.
Draeger mentioned that the impact of Panthers Forward could be twofold: an evergreen fund for debt-relief scholarships and a strong network of young alumni who are inclined to give back to the college.
"Clearly it's also about creating a sustainable fund-raising base and engaged alumni," he said. "It’s that secondary piece that, if Pitt is successful, may serve as a model for other schools going forward."
In addition to the debt-relief scholarships, admitted students will be welcomed into a network of Panthers Forward alumni whom they can turn to for career advice and guidance. Adams-Sarthou emphasized that the networking aspect also had no set obligations.
“Sometimes it’ll be setting up a more formalized network; sometimes it’s going for a coffee and talking about ‘this is what I’ve been doing in college, but now I’m thinking about doing something else,’” she said. “We’re intentionally not trying to structure it because we don’t want it to feel like a series of mandates -- ‘if you’re part of the program, you must do x, y and z.’”
Image Caption: From the film 'Pay It Forward'Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus
Earlier this month, a conservative campus group at the University of Southern California hosted Ben Shapiro, an author notorious for his comments that offend, such as remarks that transgender people suffer from mental illness.
This event alone may have not be so unusual. While some conservative speakers have been shouted down, many of them -- including Shapiro -- speak regularly on campuses. But in the case of his USC appearance, some students have questioned whether the group that brought him did so in a way that squelched free expression.
The USC chapter of Young Americans for Freedom canceled at least 150 of the free tickets students had reserved, reportedly out of fear that some of them would disrupt the event. Some of these students were leaders of organizations that represent minority students -- the Black Student Assembly, for instance -- or activist groups such as Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment. A representative from the Latinx Student Assembly provided Inside Higher Ed with a screenshot showing that Young Americans for Freedom had canceled her ticket. Some tickets had been reserved under obviously fake names or with curse words.
Because the university chapter of Young Americans for Freedom did not respond to request for comment, it is unclear whether certain students were ultimately excluded from the event. Representatives from groups who had their tickets canceled also did not respond to request for comment.
The Shapiro event on Oct. 4 went off with no hitches. A couple hundred people protested outside the hall where Shapiro was giving his talk, but the protest was peaceful; inside the venue, no one tried to drown out Shapiro.
USC spokesman Eddie North-Hager confirmed that the Office of Campus Activities inquired into the ticketing incident and found no violation of the university’s policies.
However, North-Hager also said that the student government, which has some separate guidelines from the university, gave Young Americans for Freedom $4,100 out of its discretionary fund for student events -- the maximum amount allowed per academic year. Per the rules of that funding, the event must be free for all undergraduate students. The Undergraduate Student Government treasurer did not respond to a question about why the group was able to use that money for Shapiro’s talk or whether Young Americans for Freedom would be punished.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a civil liberties watchdog group in academe, said that a student organization hosting an event can decline to give reservations to those who publicly indicate they are not actually attending or who have announced they want to disrupt an event.
“But that doesn’t extend to turning away students simply because organizers think they’re opposed to the event happening or to the speaker’s views,” Adam Steinbaugh, director of FIRE’s individual rights defense program, said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. “The entire point is to allow individuals to engage with views they find objectionable. Excluding dissenters who haven’t expressed an intent to disrupt the event would not be a narrow way of preventing disruption.”
It does not appear that these student groups publicly announced they would interrupt Shapiro. Several student groups posted on social media a statement with the #SoundtheAlarm hashtag that suggested Shapiro’s presence would be a “catalyst” for “dangerously radical conservatives” and white supremacists on campus. But it also contained some misinformation, purporting that the university spent thousands of dollars for the event to pay for security and police K-9 units.September 21, 2018
According to a statement last month from John Thomas, chief of the USC Department of Public Safety, Young Americans for Freedom paid for security costs associated with the event. It said police dogs were never part of the security plan.
North-Hager did not respond to a question about how much security cost, but said the student government money that the group secured went toward that.
“Our role is to make sure that all parties on campus may safely exercise their First Amendment rights in accordance with university policy,” Thomas said in his statement.
Young Americans for Freedom is a recognized organization with the university, meaning it enjoys such perks as applying for institutional funding, discounts on renting facilities and using the name, logo and other trademarks associated with USC.
The university has been largely quiet about the Shapiro event, other than to correct false statements. But Ainsley Carry, vice president for student affairs, wrote in a letter to the student newspaper, The Daily Trojan, that he found Shapiro’s views “abhorrent, painful, offensive and hateful.” Carry wrote that his gut instincts questioned why a university could not simply outright deny a speaker like Shapiro a platform.
“It is true that our constitutional inability to deny or restrict hateful speech runs counter to our sincere efforts to advance equity and inclusion,” wrote Carry, who is black. “However, I want to remind our community that no single speaker in one evening can set back all that has been achieved over the past decade. Our cultural centers, cultural assemblies and student leaders have made tremendous strides in making this campus a safer space for so many marginalized student populations. Is it really possible this speaker can unravel all that has been accomplished to make our university better? Should we grant any speaker that much power? I hope the answer to these questions is ‘hell, no!’”Editorial Tags: Free speechPolitics (national)Image Source: Young Americans for Freedom at USCImage Caption: Ben Shapiro Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: University of Southern California
The problems at for-profit college operator Education Corporation of America have piled up in recent years.
Its enrollment has plummeted. It has stopped making on-time payments on its debt. And it’s fighting eviction from multiple locations as creditors pursue judgments against the company.
This week, ECA told a federal judge that it could not complete a teach-out -- a process by which students finish their degrees or transfer credits elsewhere -- at two dozen campuses slated for closure unless an unusual restructuring plan is approved. In a lawsuit naming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her department as defendants, the company hinted that the government could face numerous loan-forgiveness claims from students attending those campuses without the plan in place.
Higher ed institutions that enter the bankruptcy are barred from receiving Title IV federal student aid, including grants and loans. The company brought the lawsuit to assure that it can keep access to the federal aid while a receivership process goes through. Its financial situation is so dire, it argued, that it can’t cover salary or other costs without those funds.
“It seems like ECA is at death’s door,” said Matthew Bruckner, a professor who studies higher ed and bankruptcy at Howard University Law School. "They're basically saying 'without this receivership we have no money; we can't do a teach-out.'"
The company operates multiple for-profit chains with campuses across the country, including Virginia College and Brightwood College. In the lawsuit, filed in a federal district court in Alabama, ECA says it enrolls about 20,000 students -- although it’s unclear from the complaint if that number refers to just Virginia College or all ECA institutions.
It announced plans last month to phase out 26 campuses, about a third of its total footprint, by December 2019. The company said it took that step because of declining enrollment in the affected markets.
When a college makes plans to close a campus, it’s required to formulate what’s known as a teach-out process that will allow students still enrolled to either complete their degrees or transfer their credits to another institution. The lawsuit argues that without the restructuring plan in place -- and continued access to Title IV -- ECA won’t be able to fulfill those obligations.
“Without obtaining the relief requested herein, the unrestrained actions by ECA’s creditors will almost certainly result in a disorderly and chaotic process that will irreparably harm students’ interests and minimize recovery for all creditors,” according to the complaint.
If the restructuring plan is approved, ECA said in the lawsuit, a creditor, Monroe Lenders, has offered to purchase its remaining 46 campuses and its management platform.
ECA didn’t respond to a request to comment further on the lawsuit.
An Education Department spokeswoman said the agency could not comment on active litigation.
A sudden closure of those campuses would be unwelcome news for students. It would also create serious costs for the federal government from closed-school discharge claims -- a process where borrowers can seek loan forgiveness when their college suddenly closes while their degree is in progress.
But many ECA programs also have a questionable track record of academic outcomes that won’t be helped by the teach-out process, said Antoinette Flores, associate director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress.
“On the one hand, it’s terrible that the campuses would close,” she said. “On the other hand, it would mean continuing to allow Title IV money to flow to institutions with questionable academic quality. I don’t think there’s a win here for students.”
The Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training in May rejected an application from Virginia College to get approval from the accreditor, citing in part low graduation and job-placement rates. The chain had sought accreditation through ACCET in part because the status of its own accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, was in doubt.
The Obama administration sought to shut down ACICS as an accreditor because of oversight failures. But after the organization got a second chance thanks to a court ruling, a senior Education Department official recommended last month that its federal recognition be extended for 12 months.
ACICS did not respond to a request for comment on the ECA lawsuit. The for-profit chains operated by ECA make up about half of the remaining colleges accredited through the organization.Editorial Tags: AccreditationFinancial aidAd Keyword: For-profitIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
New presidents or provosts: Cambrian Cuyahoga Duke Kunshan Griffith Loyola Md. MUW Piedmont Shaw South Seattle USMMA
- John R. Ballard, vice president for veterans and military partnerships and director of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, in Washington, D.C., has been selected as academic dean and provost at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, in New York.
- Paulette Dillard, interim president and vice president for academic affairs at Shaw University, in North Carolina, has been appointed president there.
- Carolyn Evans, deputy vice chancellor (graduate and international) and deputy provost at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, has been chosen as vice chancellor and president at Griffith University, also in Australia.
- Paula Gouveia, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Humber College, in Ontario, has been appointed vice president academic at Cambrian College, also in Ontario.
- Tavarez Holston, vice president for academic affairs and vice president for adult education at Lanier Technical College, in Georgia, has been named president of Georgia Piedmont Technical College.
- Nora Miller, acting president and senior vice president for administration and chief financial officer at Mississippi University for Women, has been promoted to president there.
- Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap, vice president of student services at South Seattle College, has been appointed president there.
- Amanda Thomas, interim vice president for academic affairs at Loyola University Maryland, has been selected as provost and vice president for academic affairs there.
- Lisa Williams, vice president of learning and engagement at Cuyahoga Community College, in Ohio, has been selected as president of the college's Eastern Campus.
- Feng Youmei, executive vice president of Wuhan University, in China, has been appointed chancellor of Duke Kunshan University, also in China.