Monthly Archives: September 2017

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More Scrutiny of Colleges’ Finances? Education Department Says No

Even as GAO and others say department needs to do more to monitor institutions for financial risks, department doesn’t plan changes.


Andrew Kreighbaum


September 21, 2017




The Department of Education rejected two recent calls to improve its monitoring of the financial health of colleges and universities — despite findings that its metrics predicted only half of institutional closures in recent years.

A Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday found that the risk measure the department uses to assess colleges’ financial health is badly out of date. While the department agreed to improve communication about how it calculates that measure, it rejected a call to improve the metric. And the Office of Federal Student Aid separately turned down recommendations to strengthen the data it collects for oversight of institutions.

Both developments came weeks after Secretary Betsy DeVos and her Federal Student Aid chief, A. Wayne Johnson, announced with few accompanying details that FSA was taking a more “comprehensive” approach to oversight. Departmental oversight applies to all colleges that receive federal aid, but those seeking more scrutiny have been concerned about for-profit institutions and some financially troubled small private nonprofit colleges at risk of closure.

Clare McCann, the deputy director of higher ed policy at New America and a former Obama Department of Education official, submitted a raft of recommendations to the department on how it could improve data collection. She said the inaction on recommended changes in both cases points to longstanding issues at Federal Student Aid as much as lack of interest in oversight at the department.

“It’s a collision of inertia at FSA and a lack of leadership and accountability from the department,” she said. “It just guarantees nothing is going to change.”

Federal Student Aid conducts annual reviews of colleges and universities’ financial health; those that don’t meet standards must receive additional oversight and in some cases are required to provide financial guarantees to the department in case of closure. The GAO looked at the metric FSA uses to grade institutions’ financial health, known as the financial composite score, and found that it has had an inconsistent performance because its underlying formula hasn’t changed since 1997 — meaning it fails to reflect changes in standard accounting practices. The result, GAO says, is half the colleges that have closed since the 2010-11 school year received passing scores on their previous assessment.

Sens. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat requested GAO complete the review after the collapse of for-profit Corinthian Colleges.

The GAO’s report called for the department to update the metric — a recommendation that the department rejected in its response. Matthew Sessa, the deputy chief operating officer at FSA, wrote in a response to the recommendations that the report hadn’t demonstrated how changes to accounting standards had made the composite score less reliable. He added that the department would provide additional guidance to colleges on how it calculates the composite score.

Ben Miller, the senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said it was surprising to see a federal agency decline a recommendation from GAO. But he said the composite scores themselves have inherent lag time as a measure of an institution’s financial health. For-profit colleges have six months to turn in a financial audit to the department, and not-for-profits have nine months to do so.

“You’re already talking about a very lengthy delay by the time you get that audit,” he said. “The thing I worry about is a very abrupt hit to an institution’s finances that causes problems. If you’re a hand-to-mouth nonprofit and you miss your enrollment target this fall, the department’s not going to see it for almost two years.”

Miller said the composite scores are useful as long-term indicators but said they should be combined with a broader set of indicators tracking precipitous changes in an institution’s financial health.

The department has taken some steps to expand its scrutiny of colleges beyond the financial audits that its composite scores are based on. It’s begun to scrutinize colleges owned by the same private equity firms to consider whether they should be evaluated as a single entity to find financial risks that would be missed at an individual school level. And in 2014 it set up a special division devoted to monitoring large institutions with campuses in multiple locations. That division now monitors 47 companies operating for-profit institution. But the GAO found that most colleges that closed in the past five years were smaller institutions with an enrollment of fewer than 500 students.

And it said that some institutions have figured out how to game the composite score by taking on large amounts of short-term debt to boost their scores — Corinthian Colleges, for example, the for-profit chain that went under in 2015, repeatedly took out large short-term loans at the end of its fiscal year to boost its scores and then promptly repaid the loans. (A Department of Education Inspector General report from February found that FSA should do more to prevent colleges from manipulating composite scores.)

McCann said all of those tools fit within a broader framework of federal oversight of the sector. McCann made 12 recommendations as part of a public comment period preceding FSA’s plans to integrate several existing data sets into one large database tracking characteristics on the financial health of colleges and universities. Among those recommendations, she argued that the department should track any sanctions on higher ed institutions by law enforcement agencies, that it should require publicly traded institutions to submit SEC filings directly to the department, and that colleges should identify all programs offered entirely online. All 12 recommendations were rejected, most because the department found certain information was already tracked elsewhere or because it said they would be considered as part of a “future enhancement.”

The takeaway, McCann said, was that FSA is not seriously re-evaluating what information about colleges it collects, even as it takes long-overdue action to streamline existing data. But she said momentum is building outside the office to push for serious changes in oversight of colleges.

“There is mounting pressure on FSA from people outside the department to focus more on this kind of thoughtful, timely oversight work that goes beyond the sort of check-the-box compliance they often do,” she said.


Andrew Kreighbaum

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Mixed Reactions to New Head of HBCU Initiative

White House ends months of waiting by naming new leader of its HBCU initiative. Some observers cautiously welcome the pick, while others note his lack of experience working in academia or government.


Andrew Kreighbaum


September 19, 2017



Johnathan Holifield

President Trump’s pick to lead the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities fits the mold of many of the administration’s key appointments.

Like many administration officials, Johnathan Holifield, a speaker and consultant named executive director of the HBCU Initiative Monday, has a track record in the private sector but practically no experience in government or with the institutions he’d be working to advance. Organizations representing historically black colleges offered tentative praise of the pick. But commentators on issues affecting minority institutions were quick to note Holifield’s lack of experience working with HBCUs.

Holifield has spoken frequently on how to make innovative areas of the economy more inclusive. Speaking after his introduction at the White House Summit on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, he said HBCUs are “entrepreneurial institutions.”

“I’m excited to contribute the whole of my being to this effort,” he said.

Holifield’s appointment ended months of waiting following Trump’s signing of an executive order in February that moved the initiative from the Department of Education to the White House. Although Trump had promised historically black colleges would be “an absolute priority,” no previous administration had made it to August without naming a leader of the initiative. Stakeholder groups offered muted praise for the pick.

In a statement, Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, applauded the decision to name an executive director. He also noted Holifield’s 20 years of “multidisciplinary” experience in business and government.

“TMCF looks forward to continuing our productive working relationship with the White House,” Taylor said.

Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, said in a statement that the group looked forward to meeting with Holifield.

“As we have done since the start of the new administration, UNCF will seek every opportunity to present Mr. Holifield with our federal policy proposals and enlist his essential support of investments in HBCUs and, most importantly, our students,” he said.

Holifield co-founded ScaleUp Partners, a consulting firm that has worked with businesses as well as colleges and universities. He’s also held positions at economic development firms and served as CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland. Outside of a stint as an assistant prosecutor, his work experience has been in the private and nonprofit sectors.

He has a master of education and a law degree from the University of Cincinnati, and he played football for West Virginia University and later the Cincinnati Bengals in the National Football League.

Skepticism About Appointment

Reactions among some observers of HBCU institutions verged on befuddlement.

Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, said entrepreneurship and innovation are important objectives for institutions to pursue. But she also said it was important for anyone in the office to have a deep familiarity with historically black colleges and their needs.

Gasman said she was skeptical, however, that any executive director would accomplish much in this administration.

“I don’t see Trump caring about HBCUs, as he has demonstrated this lack of care,” she said. “I hope that Holifield does well, but I don’t see anyone working with the Trump administration having autonomy or being able to make substantial important changes.”

Julianne Malveaux, an author and former president of Bennett College in North Carolina, said Holifield has tremendous business acumen. But she noted that many other individuals with entrepreneurial experience have also been more engaged with historically black colleges.

“The 45th president has done little to earn the trust of the HBCU community; this appointment does not engender trust, but instead suggests a ‘wait, see and hope for the best’ attitude,” Malveaux said.

Trump entered office with historically low approval ratings among African-Americans. His administration reached out quickly to historically black colleges, though, and consulted often with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund in particular. TMCF itself coordinated with congressional Republicans to arrange a summit of more than 100 HBCU leaders in February that culminated with the signing of the executive order — and an oft-circulated Oval Office photo op with Trump.

But for months after that executive order, leaders of historically black institutions saw little follow-through from the administration on that early promise. And last month, negative attitudes toward the president were further enflamed by his reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. After a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of antiracist protesters, killing one woman and injuring several others, Trump made comments suggesting “both sides” were to blame.

Groups including UNCF and TMCF last month called for a delay of the annual White House HBCU Week Conference, scheduled for this week, citing the administration’s slow progress naming an executive director for the initiative or advancing any other priorities of black colleges. At the same time, some college presidents quietly indicated they wouldn’t attend after Trump’s comments on Charlottesville. The administration eventually agreed to a delay and turned the three-day conference into one day of meetings, including the announcement of Holifield’s appointment.

The announcement did get the stamp of approval from a former leader of the HBCU initiative. Leonard Haynes, who filled that role under President George W. Bush, said Holifield has the skill set, temperament and competitive spirit to do the job well.

“We need an energetic, fresh approach,” Haynes said. “His focus on economic competitiveness is basically what HBCUs need.”

And while Haynes might not have significant experience working with historically black colleges, Haynes said, those institutions have sometimes hired nontraditional leaders themselves.

Representative Alma Adams, a North Carolina Democrat and co-chair of the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, said the appointment was a “first step” in the administration’s attempts to repair relationships with HBCU leaders and congressional lawmakers.

There is little measure of an executive director’s success other than translating the president’s support into tangible funding, said former Morehouse College President John S. Wilson, a leader of the HBCU initiative under President Obama.

“The new executive director has but one mission — to fulfill his promise to essentially break all previous records in support of HBCUs,” he said. “I wish Mr. Holifield the best in his work for HBCUs.”


Andrew Kreighbaum

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Top Historically Black Colleges Where Alumni Donate the Most

At Tuskegee University in Alabama, 18.3 percent of alumni contributed in the two-year span. (Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG/Getty Images)

The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: CollegeThe Short List: Grad School and The Short List: Online Programs to find data that matter to you in your college or graduate school search.

Even after they graduate college, some students still feel connected to their alma maters.

But the proportion of alumni who ultimately donate varies widely across schools, including at historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs.

Among the 46 ranked historically black colleges that submitted these data to U.S. News in an annual survey, the average proportion of alumni who donated during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years was 11.2 percent.

[Learn how LGBTQ support has increased at historically black schools.]

But at the 10 HBCUs where alumni contributed the most during that two-year span, the average is significantly higher: 26.4 percent.

Topping the list was Claflin University in South Carolina, where 47.7 percent of alumni donated in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, followed by Spelman College in Georgia, an all-women’s school, at 39.3 percent. Claflin has topped the list in the past.

[Discover how to tell if an HBCU is a good fit.]

There are also HBCUs where few alumni donate. Two examples are Fayetteville State University in North Carolina and Texas Southern University; at both schools, just 2 percent of alumni donated during the two-year period.

Here are the 10 historically black colleges and universities where the highest percentage of alumni donated during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.

School (state) Average percentage of alumni who donated U.S. News historically black colleges and universities rank
Claflin University (SC) 47.7 9
Spelman College (GA) 39.3 1
Bennett College (NC) 35 17
Lane College (TN) 32.9 RNP*
Fisk University (TN) 22.8 8
Tougaloo College (MS) 18.7 11
Tuskegee University (AL) 18.3 4 (tie)
Johnson C. Smith University (NC) 17.4 15
Xavier University of Louisiana 16.7 6
Hampton University (VA) 15.2 3

*RNP denotes an institution that is ranked in the bottom one-fourth of its ranking category. U.S. News calculates a rank for the school but has decided not to publish it.

Don’t see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find alumni donation data, complete rankings and much more. Sign up for the U.S. News Extra Help: College Admissions free email newsletter to receive expert advice twice a month.

U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2016 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News’ data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News’ rankings of Best CollegesBest Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The alumni donation data above are correct as of July 11, 2017.

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Freshman Enrollment Surges at Several HBCUs

While North Carolina A&T State University has broken its own enrollment mark as the nation’s largest historically black college or university, several HBCUs are posting record enrollment for first-year students and total headcount.

Kentucky State University this week reported a first-year student increase of more than 160 percent from its confirmed student post of 194 students at the beginning of the summer. Officials attributed the spike of more than 300 additional enrollees to a dedicated enrollment management unit and the appeal of university’s access and affordability.

“Kentucky State University continues to provide access to a quality education and is an affordable choice,” KSU President M. Christopher Brown II said all while understanding that students still encounter financial challenges when it comes to investing in their futures.

The enrollment growth is a major step towards KSU’s goal to increase total attendance to 3,000 students by 2020.

At Virginia State University, officials reported a 50 percent spike in the number of first-year students, and with more than 1,100 total freshman is the largest overall freshman class in the last three years.

“Since the start of my presidency, I implemented several key areas that focus on providing a transformative experience for our students,” said VSU President Makola Abdullah. “During these past two years, that experience and excitement has been seen by numerous people from coast to coast and through our accolades of achievements and through the various media platforms in particular social media that Virginia State University is a place to thrive and succeed.”

Elizabeth City State University also broke a five-year negative enrollment trend this fall, with an incoming freshman class and transfer students lifting the university’s total enrollment above 1,400 students.

“While I must make it absolutely clear to everyone involved that one uptick in fall enrollment can’t be interpreted as a trend, we will take a moment to celebrate this accomplishment because it is the first time in seven years that ECSU has seen an overall increase in enrollment,” said ECSU Chancellor Thomas Conway.

Central State University, the 2017 HBCU of the Year has also made sizable increases in enrollment, reporting a 13 percent increase in international student enrollment which includes a 300 percent increase in the number of Bahamian students.

Alcorn State University officials today announced a 38 percent increase in admitted freshmen, with 740 students breaking the institutional mark set in fall 2016. The class of 2021 sets the university’s total student mark at 3,952 students, its highest mark since surpassing 4,000 students in 2012.

“Because of the number of tools and opportunities made available to our students, high school students everywhere are beginning to recognize the value and quality education available at Alcorn State University,” said Alcorn State President Alfred Rankins. “It’s good to see so many fresh faces on campus, and we hope that they matriculate at Alcorn within four years.”

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More Promises Broken as Trump Downsizes HBCU Conference and Cuts Reserve Funding

The White House announced Friday it’s switching up the format of an upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and representatives of historically black colleges. The move comes as his administration continues to face deep criticism over its polarizing views on race relations in the U.S.

While the White House statement did not detail what modifications were being made, it did hint that the administration was looking to downsize Trump’s meeting with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs). Trump found early success in reaching out to these schools, which were at times critical of his predecessor, but the Republican leader’s attacks on their funding, controversial comments following last month’s deadly white nationalist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia and his poor approval rating among black communities in general have strained this relationship.

“Responding to suggestions and feedback from many key stakeholders, the White House initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will modify its planned conference to best meet the current needs of HBCUs, their students and the broader HBCU community, ” the administration said.

“This more intimate HBCU week will feature a series of strategic meetings for students and leaders to share their perspectives on the opportunities and challenges facing the HBCU community. The events will also focus on how the Administration can best work and support HBCU schools and students,” it added.

President Trump with members of his team – Kellyanne Conway & Omarosa Manigault – and HBCU Leaders earlier this year, February 27, meeting in the Oval Office.

Just over a month after coming to office earlier this year, Trump signed an executive orderdesigned to boost federal funds for HCBUs. The move was seen as an opportunity for the Trump administration to win support of an influential black organization that often criticized his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for not sufficiently addressing the community’s needs, despite him being the first black U.S. president. Trump’s support, however, was short-lived.

The administration did not increase funds and actually cut Pel grant reserves and other crucial investment HBCUs had asked for, according to The Washington Post. In May, Trump signed a federal budget that controversially included language at the end suggesting he questioned the constitutionality of funding black colleges in the first place. more

Conference Trump