Notes & Coffee: June 19-25

Notes & Coffee is here to keep you informed of all the trending student affairs and higher ed news stories most critical to our field as they develop. In the age of information overload, we’re here to bring you vetted examinations of the stories that matter to our field. We invite you to brew a favorite morning beverage, kick back, relax, and catch yourself up for the week ahead with Notes & Coffee.

Helping postdocs with children – Postdoctoral fellows hopefully enjoy close mentor-mentee relationships with the principal investigators on their research grants. Few would probably expect those investigators to show up at the hospital after a baby arrived, asking when they planned to return to the lab, however. Yet that’s what happened to one survey participant in a new study on parent postdocs from the National Postdoctoral Association and the Pregnant Scholar project of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings. “So, what, about two to three weeks and you will be back?” the scientist reportedly asked the postdoc in her hospital bed. It’s the kind of “ridiculous,” professionally unacceptable treatment postdocs sometimes encounter due to a widespread lack of understanding or will to understand what their rights are, said Julie Fabsik-Swarts, executive director of the National Postdoctoral Association.

Staffing woes at the Education Department – The Trump administration’s pick to oversee higher ed policy at the Department of Education is out of the running. In an email last week, Claude Pressnell, president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, said he was withdrawing his name from consideration for the job of assistant secretary for postsecondary education. It’s the second time in recent weeks that a candidate for a high-profile role at the department has said “no thanks” to the department deep in the vetting process. And it underscores the slow progress since January in making key political hires to round out Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s team.

At colleges, demographic changes everywhere but the top – Although  diversifying the makeup of student bodies has been a major effort on college campuses in recent years, when it comes to the president’s office, there has been little change: The typical college president continues to be a white man in his early 60s, a new national survey has found. College presidents are also increasingly preoccupied by (and worried about) budgeting and fund-raising. At public institutions, well over half of those surveyed predicted that state government funding would decrease in the next five years, and more than three-quarters believe that tuition and fees will go up.

Refinancing isn’t the solution to student loan woes – If Bill Gates distributed his $89 billion fortune equally among the world’s 7.5 billion people, everyone would receive only $12. The whole exercise would be largely pointless. The same principle applies to proposals to allow student borrowers to refinance their loans at current interest rates, according to a recent New America report by Kim Dancy and Alexander Holt. Dancy and Holt analyze a proposal by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to allow people with federal or private student loan debt to refinance those loans at current interest rates, which are presently near historic lows. Refinancing essentially means using a new loan to immediately repay an old one. The borrower then pays only the new loan, which may have better terms than the old: in this case, a lower interest rate.

Are we doing enough to serve returning adult learners? – For decades higher education – especially at the university level – has been based predominantly on the needs, perceived and real, of students entering directly from high school intent on gaining a degree before having to think seriously of a career, support a family of their own, and/or work full time. While the needs of adult students have conventionally been “addressed” through evening and weekend classes, these offerings have largely been differentiated from traditional higher education.

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