Notes & Coffee: November 27 - December 3

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.  

Senate passes tax bill with major implications for higher ed – The U.S. Senate early Saturday morning narrowly approved major tax legislation roundly opposed by higher education leaders and student groups. The bill, like the House of Representatives' tax plan passed last month, got no public hearings and senators themselves complained they had no opportunity to read the legislation even as last-minute amendments were offered affecting issues like private college endowments and education savings plans. The 51-to-49 Senate vote sets up negotiations with House leaders over substantial differences between the two bills. Most in higher education view the House version as substantially more harmful for students and colleges than the Senate bill, but many also have major concerns about the Senate legislation. 

GOP begins rewrite of federal aid laws – The education committee of the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is set to release an opening salvo in Congress’s long-overdue reauthorization the Higher Education Act, the law that oversees federal financial aid programs. Policy wonks circulated bullet points from the committee, which plans to release the full proposal later this week. And The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday published four articles about the pending legislation based on a summary the newspaper reviewed. While plenty of details have yet to emerge, the summaries describe an ambitious plan to substantially change how the federal government targets and distributes student aid money, with moves to both deregulate and tighten oversight of aspects of aid programs.

Net Neutrality rollback concerns colleges – Last week the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission published his plan to dismantle Obama-era regulations protecting "net neutrality" -- the idea that all web content should be treated equally by internet service providers. Under the FCC proposal, due to be voted on Dec. 14 by the majority-Republican commission, ISPs would have the freedom to slow down or even block websites or online services that do not serve their commercial interests. They could also charge their customers a fee to prioritize the delivery of their content through the creation of internet “fast lanes.” 

Is DeVos devaluing degrees? – The Trump administration's higher education policy to date has consisted largely of undoing what it inherited -- rolling back, for instance, ambitious Obama era regulations on for-profit colleges and campus policies on sexual assault. Observers looking for an affirmative, forward-looking agenda have been hard-pressed to find much so far. But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos this month provided as a clear a sense as observers have yet seen of her vision for her department's role in, and agenda for, postsecondary education, with a set of comments signaling a shift in emphasis from education to training.

A call to reform undergraduate education – What was once a challenge of quantity in American undergraduate education is increasingly a challenge of educational quality. In other words, getting as many students as possible to attend college means little if they’re not learning what they need to and -- crucially -- if they don’t graduate. That’s the recurring message of a new report, “The Future of Undergraduate Education, The Future of America,” from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

More Notes

Art galleries versus the Pentagon

College footballs’ avalanche of lawsuits

FAFSA goes mobile

Uncomfortable men

Data, AI and collaboration top higher ed tech trends