The System Connection - April 4, 2018

President's Column


Greetings.

It hasn’t just been President Donald Trump and his high-visibility Cabinet-level appointees who’ve dived into making major policy changes at the federal level over these past 16 months. 

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (who some may argue has become pretty visible herself in what is traditionally viewed as a mid-level Cabinet agency) has wasted little time undertaking her own policy reviews and reversing numerous aspects of the higher education regulatory environment largely put into place during the eight years of the Barack Obama Administration. 

It’s probably not surprising that we usually pay the most attention to those big pieces of legislation that wind their way through Congress – think tax reform, or possible reauthorization of the Higher Education Act for example – while forgetting the significant impact that agency rules and regulations have on how colleges and universities go about their day-to-day operations. 

It’s anticipated that within the next few weeks, most federal agencies will post their rule-making agendas for this spring. As such, look for the Department of Education to have a full list of regulatory topics they intend to go after. In this kind of sea change of executive leadership at the federal level, it’s not just about eliminating long-standing statutes; rather, just rewriting a few key words in a rule or simply changing enforcement guidelines can have as profound an effect as the complete elimination of a law.

[In a salient illustration of the role of discretionary enforcement, it was reported yesterday morning by Politico that “[f]ederal civil rights investigators have tossed out hundreds of complaints under a new Trump Administration rule directing them to dismiss bulk complaints...” as part of the Administration’s new manual for handling civil rights probes. In response, the USED spokesperson told Politico the change was an attempt to cut back on “mass filers” who lodge the same type of complaint on behalf of multiple institutions.]  

One of the more notable areas where the department had already started its legal overhaul as early as last summer is on a pair of regulations originally intended to rein in the worst abuses of the for-profit HIED sector: the “gainful employment” and “borrower defense to repayment” rules to protect students against fraud, especially among the so-called “career colleges.” These two rules, which also applied to private and public nonprofit institutions, introduced extensive reporting and disclosure requirements; metrics for measuring institutional performance and financial stability, including the cost of a degree in relation to expected career earnings; and in the case of borrower defense, a process by which former students at the bad-actor colleges could seek loan discharge based on institutional misconduct.  

Following the move to pause these rules by Secretary DeVos, many student and consumer groups came together in support of the rules, and attorneys general from nearly 20 states brought lawsuits to retain them.   

Other areas of higher education policy are on the block as well for potential future action. We’ll see where these other avenues lead once the plan for each appears in the Federal Register.

  • Credit Hours – President Obama’s Education Department introduced a standard federal definition since the credit hour is the most common metric for degree requirements tied, of course, to a student’s federal aid eligibility. With no definition, disreputable institutions can simply award a high number of credits to receive more financial aid dollars than would normally be expected.
  • Regular-and-Substantive Interaction – Western Governors University was hit with a payback of over $700 million in federal funds based upon the Education Department’s inspector general finding that WGU violated this requirement in its competency-based online degree program. Distance education providers are obliged to ensure “regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor” for federal funding. The for-profits have been particularly critical of this rule, saying it suppresses innovative teaching and learning models. Others would argue that without this requirement, there is a greater potential for fraud and abuse by unscrupulous distance ed providers.
  • State Authorization – The Trump Administration has suggested it will delay a July 1 rule that would require online programs to follow applicable state-level requirements in each state where they enroll students, even if the college or university has no physical presence in that state. I will leave it to all of you to judge the merits of whether or not that rule should be put on ice. All schools are already required to obtain state operating approval in each state where there is a physical location, which was an earlier Obama-era rule meant to push some states to beef up their HIED oversight.
  • Accreditation – USED actually accredits the institutional accreditors (e.g., the Higher Learning Commission, the regional accreditor for the SIU campuses) through a national advisory group referred to by the acronym NACIQUI (nah-SEE-kee). The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity is a little-known but high-powered federal body that recommends to the feds those accrediting agencies which monitor the academic quality of postsecondary institutions and educational programs nationwide. The role of NACIQUI – which has been in existence for over 25 years – has sort of been caught up in the debate over reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, but the Trump Administration hasn’t really signaled where they want to go with accreditation generally. To wit: Trump’s Education Department has to decide if it’s going to revive the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Universities, which had accredited about 240 for-profit schools until Obama’s NACIQUI panel recommended the accreditor be dumped…until a federal court recently ruled in its favor. The colleges which had ACICU accreditation now face a June deadline to find a new accrediting body or they’ll lose their federal funding. Thus, we should get some clue soon as to where Secretary DeVos will go on this question.   

So…if you’re still reading at this juncture…thank you, as the idea of this week’s column was not to provide a primer on federal education policy appealing to only the wonkiest among you. Quite the opposite. Instead, the intent here has been to suggest that the regulatory ecosystem governing higher education – while necessary to provide detailed guidance, lead to efficient policy implementation, and ensure consistency in effect is also hugely impactful on the daily operations we all undertake to serve and support our students. As such, developments in this realm can sometimes be even more important to follow than the more-glacial movements of the big legislative proposals. As they say: The devil’s always in the details.

Randy Dunn

Your Group Can Join the Illinois Bicentennial Celebration

Illinois Bicentennial

The Illinois Bicentennial is a yearlong celebration intended to unite Illinois residents around events, partnerships, and projects to commemorate our state’s 200th birthday.

In addition to large signature events and projects statewide being led by the Illinois Bicentennial Commission, any local individuals and groups – especially those involving community, civic, humanitarian, and philanthropic groups you may be part of – are invited to apply for endorsement for related activities between now and Dec. 3, 2018, to become an official part of the Illinois Bicentennial. Once registered, an event or project receives a Bicentennial Seal of Endorsement for use on marketing materials, and that is in addition to promotional support through listings in the online Bicentennial calendar, publications, and social media postings. 

Any interested group should please complete and submit the online “Application for Endorsement” found under the “PARTICIPATE” heading at www.illinois200.com.

Also, the President’s Office is in search of some creative thinking for a signature SIU-sponsored event or project – bearing in mind our financial constraints – which we can tackle to contribute to the celebration this year. We’ve looked at what public universities in a few other places have done as their states’ bicentennials took place. But, if you have any great ideas or want to explore this notion a little further, please feel free to reach out to Brian Chapman, system executive director of regional outreach and partnerships, at bchapman@siu.edu.

Thanks in advance to all of you willing to play a part in making a meaningful statewide birthday that inspires Illinoisans to be more #IllinoisProud.

Trustees Meet Next Week in Carbondale

BOT Seal

The SIU Board of Trustees will convene for an executive work session commencing at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 11, in Ballroom A of the SIUC Student Center. 

Following a period for public comment at the beginning of the meeting, the remainder of the open portion of that day’s session will focus on a review of the Board’s bylaws, and a discussion surrounding a possible action item for the Thursday meetings. The discussion – regarding the first phase of a reallocation of state-appropriated funds between the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses of $5.125 million which would take effect for Fiscal Year 2019 – is slated to finish out the public component of the meeting.

It is anticipated the Board will then recess briefly for relocation to the Stone Center where the Trustees will meet in closed session for specific purposes allowed under the Illinois Open Meetings Act. 

On Thursday April 12, the regular standing committee meetings and plenary session of the full Board will take place starting at 9 a.m. in Ballroom B at the Student Center. Finally, as is typically the practice, a news conference will be held once the BOT adjourns.

All agendas for the assorted April meetings have been publicly posted and can be reviewed here.

Remaining Audits Released for SIU System

Illinois Capitol

In the last Connection, the release of SIU’s financial audit and Government Auditing Standards report covering Fiscal Year 2017 was announced.

At that time, we were still awaiting release by the Illinois Office of Auditor General (OAG) of two additional audit reports: one examining general compliance issues, and the other covering SIU’s federally funded programs (typically referred to as the “single” audit.)

These final two documents to close out the FY17 cycle are now available and have also been posted to the OAG’s website: http://www.auditor.illinois.gov/

And as previously mentioned, all of the audit reports for the last fiscal year will be the subject of a presentation to the Board of Trustees’ Audit Committee at the next regular meeting of the BOT in Carbondale on Thursday, April 12.

SUAA: You Don’t Have to Retire to Be Involved!

SUAA

SIUE employees recently received information about “SUAA Days” to be held April 23 through 25 at the Edwardsville campus. The State Universities Annuitants Association advances interests and concerns on behalf of all faculty and staff of public universities and community colleges – both retired and current employees – as well as their spouses and survivors, who are participants and beneficiaries of the State Universities Retirement System. As part of the range of planned activities later this month, SUAA Executive Director Linda Brookhart will be at SIUE to do “Coffee with Linda” from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on April 24. 

Beyond the April event, the SIUE State Universities Annuitants Association local chapter will hold its next regular meeting on Monday, June 18, at the Morris University Center in the Hickory/Hackberry rooms. A light lunch will be available that day beginning at 11:30 a.m.  Following an introduction by Chancellor Randy Pembrook, Illinois State Senator Andy Manar will be the featured speaker. In addition, Linda will update the audience on legislation affecting both active faculty and staff, and retirees. Each speaker will be available to answer questions.

One of the things that many SIU employees don’t know is that SUAA membership is open to you as a current employee. There are active SUAA chapters on all three of our SIU campuses. Membership meetings provide a chance for you to catch up with friends and associates, plus learn more about the realities of how changes in Springfield can impact you. Communications pieces like the SUAA Mini-Briefing, website, and social media pages also provide regular updates regarding legislative and court action that affects the higher education workplace, health care, and retirement provisions. 

SUAA was one of the organizational entities which represented SURS participants and beneficiaries through pension reform legislation and litigation in previous years and, more recently, they were partners in the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education over the two years of the state budget impasse. More information can be found at www.suaa.org.

Faces of SIU

Simone Bolack

Simone Bolack’s life practically revolves around SIU these days. That’s because she not only works full-time for the university, but she’s also a full-time student.

Simone is a program/student advisor for SIUC’s Extended Campus location at the University Center of Lake County. She’s also an SIUC student, within the first cohort of the special education bachelor’s degree off-campus program at Lake County.

By day, she provides valuable support services to students as she evaluates transcripts, helping them find the program that best fits their career goals and assisting them in various ways as they launch their academic careers at SIU. She also recruits for and promotes the SIU Extended Campus programs, making classroom visits and working informational tables at various events. By night, she takes off-campus and online classes and studying in hopes of completing her bachelor’s degree in May 2019.

Simone earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2014 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, commuting to college from her home in Westchester, in western suburban Chicago. She enjoyed a semester study-abroad experience in Florence, Italy, while in school. Calling it one of the best experiences of her life, she highly recommends studying abroad to anyone who has the opportunity. After earning her diploma, she moved to Wisconsin where she worked with children ages 5-18 in residential treatment centers as a counselor and teacher’s aide.

She soon realized that she wanted to be a licensed teacher. Coworkers clued her in on SIUC’s University Center of Lake County and she discovered she could earn her special education teaching degree through SIU Carbondale while living hundreds of miles north.

“The program at UCLC was perfect for me, because going away to school wasn’t an option for me and Chicago was a little too far to travel to for classes on a regular basis,” she said.

Simone was happy to secure a position at the center as well, and enjoys watching students progress through the program and achieve their goals. She’s worked there about 15 months, initially assisting students primarily in the Electronic Systems Technologies and Health Care Management fields for about nine months before switching to assisting elementary education students.

“SIU is special to me because not only is it my job, it’s my school, too,” she says with obvious pride. She notes that she can do it all without even leaving the building.

“I really like working for SIU Extended Campus, and I most love working with the Chicago staff,” said added. “Not being on campus can be difficult at times, but the support of coworkers and a great regional coordinator, Cathy Resman, makes all the difference.”

Simone’s lifelong passion has been to help people, and she loves working with students of all ages and backgrounds. While her childhood dream of becoming a physician has been replaced by her love of teaching, she said she someday hopes to have a different doctoral title – a PhD – attached to her name.

Family is all-important to Simone. Although her parents, sister and other close relatives all currently live in Florida, she visits whenever possible and Skypes regularly with her three-year-old niece, Allison.

“We always talk about how we both go to school – her to daycare and me to college,” Simone chuckles.

Her “local” family includes her boyfriend, Dustin. They currently reside in Mundelein in the northern Chicago suburbs. Her scarce free time not already committed to school, work and family, is typically spent reading, doing arts and crafts and watching Netflix. She also admits to having a unique fantasy job.

“My dream job would be to be a gift wrapper at a fancy department store. I absolutely love wrapping presents!” she said.

Instead, she’s channeling her energies toward completing her education so she can teach and make a real difference in the lives of special education children and toward helping UCLC students chart their courses toward the futures they desire.

Thank you for your commitment to our students and our university, Simone.

Other Voices in HIED

The Atlantic:
The Third Education Revolution

Five Thirty Eight:
Student Loans Are Too Expensive To Forgive

AL.com:
Officially installed, Auburn’s president calls for 500 new faculty

PBS NewsHour
Why access to college depends on where you live