This article includes news items that didn’t quite make the cut for part 4 of my annual review of the year in ed-tech

College Rankings

Via The New York Times: “How Much Graduates Earn Drives More College Rankings.”

Jeffrey Selingo says we’re poised to see “the end of college rankings as we know them.”

Google announced it was adding to search results about colleges and universities data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. It’s about “helping prospective students make decisions about their future.” You know what would be helpful Google? Not accepting advertising from the for-profit higher sec sector.

College Tuition and College Affordability

“No End in Sight to Strike by Harvard’s Cafeteria Workers Over Wages,” The New York Times reports. The workers are demanding a salary of $35,000 per year, which the richest university in the world – one with an endowment of $37.6 billion – appears unwilling to pay.

MIT’s dean for graduate education, Christine Ortiz, is taking a one year leave in order to start a new research university. “‘I’m looking at a new model, where the whole sort of vocabulary is different,’ she said. ‘The distinction between undergrad and grad goes away.’ Ortiz said the university would focus on project-based learning and would dispense with some of the familiar hallmarks of university education, like the lecture.”

Via Inside Higher Ed: “Students and their families are receiving scholarships and grants to cover more of the price of college, according to the latest installment of an annual survey conducted by Sallie Mae, the student lender.” (Where “more” is not “most.” That’s still loans. Thanks, Sallie Mae.)

Via the AP: “A policy that would nearly triple the number of University of California student-athletes guaranteed continued financial aid in the event of a career-ending sports injury received unanimous approval Wednesday from a committee of the university’s governing board.”

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “UNC Tuition for $500? State Lawmakers Consider the Possibility at 5 Campuses.” Here’s how Inside Higher Ed describes the proposal: “Fears for Future of UNC Black Colleges. Republican lawmakers back bill that would substantially cut tuition and revenue, and seek more student diversity, at five system campuses, four of which are minority-serving institutions.”

Via Inside Higher Ed: “Historically black universities have been dropped from a controversial North Carolina bill slashing tuition at certain institutions to $500, but worries about the legislation’s effects remain high at two universities still facing tuition cuts – and across the state system.”

“A Swedish college has been ordered to refund tuition fees to an American business student for giving her a poor economics education,” the AP reports. “The Vastmanland court ruled Tuesday the Malardalen University’s two-year program ‘Analytical Finance’ that Connie Askenback attended from 2011 to 2013 ‘had no practical value.’”

UC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks will resign. Meanwhile: “As UC Berkeley prepared to eliminate hundreds of jobs and take millions of dollars in loans to help balance its flagging budget, the campus also paid more than $200,000 to ‘improve the chancellor’s strategic profile nationally and internationally,’” writes The San Francisco Chronicle.

From Sara Goldrick-Rab: “The FAST Fund,” a grassroots effort to meet the emergency financial needs of college students. (I donated. There were definitely times during my college career where I was only able to pull through because of this sort of generosity from others.) More on this effort from Tressie McMillan Cottom, who’s joined the organization’s board.

Via Inside Higher Ed: “Two U.S. senators on Wednesday proposed legislation that would give selective colleges that enroll relatively few low-income students (the bottom 5 percent of all institutions) four years to boost their enrollment numbers from this group or face paying a fee to continue being eligible for federal financial aid.”

Via The New York Times: “‘Fees Must Fall’: Anatomy of the Student Protests in South Africa.”

Contrasting community college takes: a Pearson op-ed in Edsurge versus pretty much anything “Dean Dad” writes.

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “What a $2-Billion Loss Really Means for Harvard and Its Endowment.” I bet it means it can still afford to offer better pay for its striking dining hall workers. (See the HR section below.)

Via The Harvard Crimson: “Harvard Dining Services Picket in Historic Strike.”

Via The New York Times: “CUNY Application Fee to Be Waived for Low-Income Students.”

Via Politico: “Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University will each offer $500 in-state tuition starting in fall 2018.”

“Public Dollars Don’t Favor Rich Students,” says The Atlantic. “A new study debunks the myth that wealthy college students receive more state money than do the economically disadvantaged.”

Via Inside Higher Ed: “Historically black universities have been dropped from a controversial North Carolina bill slashing tuition at certain institutions to $500, but worries about the legislation’s effects remain high at two universities still facing tuition cuts – and across the state system.”

“Paying Tuition With Credit Cards Is Costly,” according to a study reported by Inside Higher Ed.

Via Inside Higher Ed: “Two U.S. senators on Wednesday proposed legislation that would give selective colleges that enroll relatively few low-income students (the bottom 5 percent of all institutions) four years to boost their enrollment numbers from this group or face paying a fee to continue being eligible for federal financial aid.”

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “What a $2-Billion Loss Really Means for Harvard and Its Endowment.” I bet it means it can still afford to offer better pay for its striking dining hall workers. (See the HR section below.)

Via The New York Times: “CUNY Application Fee to Be Waived for Low-Income Students.”

“JetBlue Will Pay Employees’ College Tuition Upfront,” The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. And in related news, the Hechinger Report observes “Move over 401(k)s – this new perk is helping millennials pay off college loans.”

College Demographics

A Population in Flux Forces Colleges to Adapt

Open Textbooks and Open Access Journals

Via the Independent: “Pirate website offering millions of academic papers for free refuses to close despite lawsuit.”

“Amazon Unveils Online Education Service for Teachers,” The New York Times writes about the online retailer’s forays into “OER.” And just one day later: “Amazon Inspire Removes Some Content Over Copyright Issues,” Natasha Singer reports. The content in question, featured in screenshots that Amazon sent journalists as part of the press package, were lifted from rival site TeachersPayTeachers. More on Amazon Inspire from the press release and from Edsurge.

Via The New York Times: “Supreme Court Declines to Hear Apple’s Appeal in E-Book Pricing Case.”

Via The Digital Reader: “Textbook Publishers Win Default Judgement Against Alleged Textbook Pirate.”

Via the Independent: “Pirate website offering millions of academic papers for free refuses to close despite lawsuit.”

Only 1 in 5 Students Obtain All Learning Materials Legally,” reads the Campus Technology headline, drawing on a study by University of Capetown professor, Laura Czerniewicz.

Via Edsurge: “panOpen Launches OER Platform to Reduce Textbook Costs.”

OpenEd partners with Pearson.

“The Great Unbundling of Textbook Publishers” by Michael Feldstein.

Student Loans and Financial Aid

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “In a report released on Wednesday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the federal government would forgive at least $108 billion of student debt in the coming years, an amount higher than expected.” More via NPR and Inside Higher Ed.

From the Consumerist: “$176M In Wages Garnished For Unpaid Federal Student Loans In Just Three Months.”

And in still more student loan news: “The U.S. Department of Education has rehired two of the debt collection companies that it said last year would be fired for misleading student loan borrowers, newly released federal records show,” Inside Higher Ed reports. “Department officials announced in February 2015 that they would ‘end’ the contracts of five debt collectors, accusing the companies of making ‘materially inaccurate representations’ to borrowers trying to get their loans out of default.” “End” is in scare-quotes because, yeah… heckuva job, Dept of Ed.

The New York Times looks at how new lending companies utilize data science to determine consumers’ loan eligibility, something that raises questions about fairness and transparency (and something that ed-tech also needs to consider as/if it adopts algorithmic decision-making).

Via Reuters: “Congress could undo Obama-era student loan relief.”

Techcrunch says that “LendEDU Is Making Student Loan Refinancing Easier.” (Keep an eye on the private student loan market startups. This one is backed by Y Combinator. VCs love private student loans.)

Via Inside Higher Ed: “The loan guarantor USA Funds plans to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court … seeking to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that barred the agency from collecting fees from a borrower who had defaulted on her student loan but started repaying it.”

Via Education Dive: “Rohit Chopra, a vocal critic as the student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has joined the U.S. Department of Education as a senior level official.”

The private student loan market continues to grow (and remain largely unreported by the ed-tech press). Via The Chicago Tribune: “Peanut Butter wants to help your boss pay off your student loans.” The Philadelphia Business Journal interviews the CEO of College Ave Student Loans, which recently raised $20 million in venture funding. Another student loan startup, Buddy, raised funding this week (more details below in the “funding” section of this article). And via Frank Pasquale: “Private Lenders’ Troubling Influence on Federal Loan Policy.”

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general has expressed new concerns about a 2015 departmental review of loan servicers, which concluded that the companies generally obeyed rules governing a low-interest-rate benefit for active-duty service members.”

Northwestern University will eliminate loans as part of its student aid packages.

The US Department of Education has released its Quarterly Student Aid Report, “a collection of key performance data on the federal student loan portfolio, revealing continued increases in income-driven repayment enrollment with notable decreases in defaults and delinquencies.”

Via Buzzfeed: “Why Even Wealthy Black Students Have More Student Loan Debt.”

Via HuffPo: “The U.S. Department of Education last week sent warning letters to two businesses, demanding that the companies stop using the Department’s official logos, or marks, without authorization. One of them, Arcadia, California-based MC Business Group LLC apparently has been running one of the many operations promising people help with managing their student loans, for a fee, even though, as the Department has been pointing out for some time, such services are available free of charge.”

Reassurance from the Department of Education’s blog (I guess): “No, You Won’t Be Arrested For Falling Behind On Your Student Loans.” And you know the department’s on the cutting edge of technology when one of its announcements this week involves a web portal – this one for student loans.

Research from student loan provider Navient “suggests student debt is indeed a barrier for a significant minority – college dropouts – but that it’s generally not holding back those who earned degrees.” Or so says The Wall Street Journal.

Fortune’s Dan Primack reports on the troubles at LendingClub: “LendingClub’s Ousted CEO Won’t Get Any Severance.”

Speaking of loans, Google will ban ads for payday loans. “This change is designed to protect our users from deceptive or harmful financial products,” the company says, “and will not affect companies offering loans such as Mortgages, Car Loans, Student Loans, Commercial loans, Revolving Lines of Credit (e.g. Credit Cards).” Hmm.

Via The Wall Street Journal: “Lenders Get Burned Betting on Ivy Leaguers.”

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Backer of Student Loans Pivots in Push to Reshape Higher Education.” (Seriously. Pay attention to the loan space, people.)

Via The New York Times: “Students Look to Loan Alternatives to Simplify Process and Ease Burden.”

“Trump plan would base student loans on employability,” the Hechinger Report says. “The RNC wants to make student loans competitive again. They never were,” writes Susan Dynarski. (More on private student loans in the “upgrades and downgrades” section below.)

“U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr. on Wednesday announced new guidelines that aim to provide more transparent information for borrowers and more accountability for the companies that manage repayment of federal student loans,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

Via The Atlantic: “Taking More Courses May Help Solve the College Debt Crisis.” This draws on research from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University on students in Tennessee.

Via Politico: “A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a legal challenge by student loan debt collectors who accused the Education Department of unfairly terminating them last year.”

“For online lenders, it’s suddenly touch-and-go,” says Techcrunch. (Remember what I’ve said: watch the student loan space.)

Debt Doesn’t Always Hurt Kids,” according to research summarized by The Pacific Standard.

“Dean Dad” Matt Reed responds to Senator Alexander’s proposal to limit student loans.

“Tens Of Thousands Of People Can Cancel Their Student Loans, But Don’t Know It,” says Buzzfeed.

Writing up some recent research from the Brookings Institution, The Atlantic explains “Why Lowering Interest Rates Won’t Fix the Student-Debt Problem.”

Via Mathbabe: “Academic Payday Lending Lobbyists.”

Via Inside Higher Ed: “The service the U.S. Education Department provides to student loan borrowers is ‘poor’ in several areas and needs significant improvement, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report Wednesday.”

Not education-related per se, but as I’m closely monitoring both the student loan and the blockchain hoopla as ed-tech trends – that is, all the investments investments and all the PR – I’ll drop this here. From the MIT Media Lab’s Joi Ito: “The Fintech Bubble.” Meanwhile, here’s The Wall Street Journal: “Companies Answer the Call on Student Debt.”

Could student loan repayment models from other countries work in the United States?

Via Slate: “Forgiving All Student Loan Debt Would Be an Awful, Regressive Idea.”

Via ProPublica: “New Jersey’s Student Loan Agency Has Started Getting Good Reviews – By Giving Free Stuff.” The agency, the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, is known for the onerous terms on its student loans. Now it’s giving away flash drives for positive online reviews. The Pacific Standard also has a story on HESAA and efforts to reform it.

“Have Student Loan Guaranty Agencies Lost Their Way?” asks The Century Foundation in a report that suggests they are “severely diverging from their missions.”

Keeping an eye on the loan market: Goldman Sach’s new online lending platform Marcus has launched. More on loan companies raising venture capital in “the business of ed-tech” section below.

Online lending company SoFi (one of the companies in Peter Thiel’s portfolio) runs invitation-only cocktail parties, according to this NYT profile on the company. Student loans and singles parties. Excellent work, education technology industry.

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “One-Third of Low-Income Student Borrowers Who Rehabbed Loans Could Default Again.”

From the department’s press release: “U.S. Department of Education Announces Requirements for New Federal Loan Servicing System.”

Via The Atlantic: “The Racial Disparity of the Student-Loan Crisis.”

“Is Student-Loan Debt Really Holding Would-Be Entrepreneurs Back?” asks The Chronicle of Higher Education. More on Clinton’s plans via Edweek’s Market Brief, Inside Higher Ed, and The New York Times.

Who got rich off the student debt crisis.” Spoiler alert: loan companies like Sallie Mae, companies that do loan collection for the Department of Education, the Department of Education, private equity funds, for-profit universities.

Via Politico: “The Education Department announced Thursday that Navient – the loan servicing giant that’s a frequent target of the political left – is one of three finalists to develop the first part of the Obama administration’s planned overhaul of how it collects federal student loans.” Nothing to see here…

So much of ed-tech sees students as cheats and frauds.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has released his higher education plan. Among its features: “Bush’s plan would eliminate the federal student loan program in its current form in favor of a new financing structure that is tied to students’ income. Under the plan, the federal government would provide each high school graduate with access to a $50,000 line of credit to pay for college or career training.”

Via Politico: “The Education Department estimates that in fiscal year 2016 it incorrectly calculated more than $2.2 billion in Pell grants – an error rate of 7.85 percent that is up considerably from last year’s 1.88 percent. Most of the improper payments for Pell grants – slightly more than $2 billion – were the result of overpayments, while nearly $200 million reflected underpayments, according to the department’s annual financial report released this week.”

According to a report from The Education Trust, “roughly 3.6 percent of colleges and universities – 138 in all – held 75 percent of all postsecondary endowment wealth. Yet despite their vast wealth, too few of these colleges invest enough in students from low-income families.” Almost half of these schools are in the bottom 5% for enrolling first-time, full-time Pell Grant recipients. These colleges could use some of those endowment funds, Ed Trust contends, to better support low-income students.

According to research from the National College Access Network, “the percentage of graduating high school seniors who completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in 2015 varied widely by city,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

Via Inside Higher Ed: “After reaching a peak of 14 percent in 2008, the number of undergraduates nationwide who used private student loans declined by roughly half by 2012, to 6 percent, according to a new data report from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.” More too from Inside Higher Ed on how Moody’s views student loans.


Ed Tech Patent Update: The Innovator’s Agreement

TorrentFreak reports that “IBM has submitted an application to expand its portfolio with a rather peculiar patent. To protect rightsholders the technology company has invented a printer that doesn’t copy or print any copyright infringing text or images.” A terrible idea – fair use, anyone? – but I bet TurnItIn-loving institutions could be interested.

The EFF has picked its stupid patent of the month, and congrats ed-tech, you’re it: “Another month, another terrible patent being asserted in the Eastern District of Texas. Solocron Education LLC, a company whose entire ‘education’ business is filing lawsuits, owns U.S. Patent No. 6,263,439, titled ‘Verification system for non-traditional learning operations.’ What kind of ‘verification system’ does Solocron claim to have invented? Passwords.”

EFF Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Dangerous Ruling Allowing Patent Owners to Undermine Ownership.” Boing Boing offers a bit more of an explanation about the case, in which Lexmark claims that refilling printer cartridges violates their patent (not that they have a patent on refillable printer cartridges but that they have a license on printer cartridges period.) More news about Lexmark in the “Funding” section below.

Via the EFF: “Stupid Patent of the Month: Elsevier Patents Online Peer Review.” More on the patent via The Chronicle of Higher Education. Shawn Graham responds to this patent on peer review by patenting Elsevier.

Also by Michael Feldstein: “Why Ed-Tech Software Patents Could Harm Innovation.” More on the topic on his website, e-Literate.

Minnesota Public Radio is suing the ed-tech startup Listen Current for trademark infringement. 89.3 The Current is the name of the radio station’s music service. Listen Current was founded by former public radio journalist Monica Brady-Myerov.

On the heels of a trademark complaint by the public media program Current, the edtech startup Listen Current has rebranded to Listenwise.

“Universities have turned over hundreds of patents to patent trolls,” says Yarden Katz.

Khan Academy is seeking a patent on A/B testing educational videos.

The EFF asks why so many universities are opposing the Department of Education’s proposed OER policy (that federally funded educational resources would be openly licensed). One possible answer: patent$

MOOCs and Online Education

Coursera highlights its mentors – its volunteer mentors – on its blog. Raise $146.1 million in venture funding; ask people to work for you for free.

Via Inverse: “Udemy’s Exodus, Amazon’s Gain. Mercurial rules are causing instructors to jump ship.”

Via Inside Higher Ed: “U of Florida Online finds stability after canceling deal with Pearson, but scales back its plan for ”exponential“ growth in online education for undergraduates.”

“Make Writing Classes Larger and Other Heresies of Connected Courses” by Justin Reich.

Coursera is launching “project-based learning courses.” (Or rather, it’s labeling classes like “Build Your First Android App” as such.)

Via Class Central: “Coursera Pilots Mentor-Guided Courses.”

edX touts its Global Freshmen Academy partnership with ASU.

A report from MIT: “Online Education: A Catalyst for Higher Education Reforms.”

Coursera Passes 1000-Course Milestone.”

Via Inside Higher Ed: “MOOC With a Community College Twist.”

MOOC review site CourseTalk boasts that it’s published the “first-ever study on MOOC use and non-use in developing countries” which leads me to believe it’s never done a Google Scholar search before. But hey.

After a couple of weeks without a lot of MOOC-ish-ness in the news, there was a flurry of stories this week touting their revolutionary potential.

“Has New Hampshire found the secret to online education that works?” asks The Hechinger Report. (What does “Betteridge’s Law of Headlines” tell us?) Here’s how Wired rewrote the headline: “Inside the Online School That Could Radically Change How Kids Learn Everywhere.” Because Wired.

From the Coursera blog: “Coursera pilots a new course format.” It’s the format otherwise known as “online education.” “Starting today, we will begin piloting a few courses in which all content is available only to learners who have purchased the course, either directly or by applying for and receiving financial aid.”

In other Coursera news: “Atlassian sponsors computer science learners on Coursera.”

Via the Coursera blog: “Coming soon to all courses: Flexible session-based schedules.”

‘Top universities to offer full degrees online in five years’” says the BBC, citing a prediction made by Coursera’s Daphne Koller.

Research from EuroDL: “Massive Open Online Courses and Economic Sustainability.”

“MOOCs no longer massive, still attract millions,” Class Central’s Dhawal Shah claims in a VentureBeat op-ed.

Udacity’s mobile apps now support “offline learning.”

“Are MOOCs Forever?” asks The Chronicle of Higher Education in an interview with Coursera’s Daphne Koller. (Spoiler alert: no.)

Via KNN: “‘’ launched as India’s largest free online open learning platform.”

From MIT President L. Rafael Reif: “Letter regarding the future of MIT OpenCourseWare.”

VCU’s Jon Becker – self-described as a “lawyer dude who lives in the world of online learning” – has written a blog post about the recent lawsuit by George Washington University over the quality (or lack thereof) of their online master’s degree problem.

Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Florida will this fall let its fully online students pay an optional fee to get at least parts of a traditional college experience. For about $46 a credit hour, students enrolled in the online degree programs offered through UF Online will be able to access recreation centers, ride the campus shuttle, buy discounted tickets to athletic events, use university health services and more.”

“Can Startup College Minerva Reinvent The Ivy League Model For The Digital Age?” asks Fast Company. (I’m guessing that Minerva is knocking on doors, trying to raise more venture capital. These sorts of puff pieces written by tech-friendly journalists often precede a funding announcement.)

Here is venture capital well spent: “Coursera Promotes Its ‘Affordable Online Courses’ With New TV Ad Spots,” says Class Central.

Via “Massachusetts state government announced a new partnership with an online education company on Thursday to help public employees and the state’s public universities take advantage of online classes.” The company in question: edX.

Via Westworld: “Adams State’s ‘Egregious, Unethical’ Online Program Should Be Scrapped, Report Says.”

Via The Awl: “The Masterclass Collection: Who taught it best?”

“Aftermath of the MOOC wars: Can commercial vendors support creative higher education?” by Chris Newfield.

Via Edsurge: “Online Classes Get a Missing Piece: Teamwork.” Can you believe no one has ever thought about adding “social” to online education until now?!

Via Inside Higher Ed: “Microsoft-Branded MOOCs for K–12 Leaders.”

Via Class Central: “XuetangX: A Look at China’s First and Biggest MOOC Platform.”

Trump’s education platform promises to “make post-secondary options more affordable and accessible through technology enriched delivery models.” “Make MOOCs great again.”

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “MIT Dean Takes Leave to Start New University Without Lectures or Classrooms.” (That’s Christine Ortiz.) Dean Dad Matt Reed weighs in.

Free College

Could CUNY community colleges be free?

Via The Globe and Mail: “Ontario to offer grants to cover college tuition for low-income students.”

Slate’s Rebecca Schuman looks at Teachur, a startup that promises a $1000 college degree. “Most of the $1,000,” writes Schuman, “will go to pay for ‘blockchain-verified assessments,’ which is ed-tech speak for ‘stuff that is set up to prevent fraud and cheating.’” Man, if only Trump University had offered assessments via the blockchain!

Via the press release: “University of the People (UoPeople) Launches Worlds First Tuition-free, Accredited Online MBA.”

“White House launches $100M competition to expand tuition-free community college,” The Washington Post reports. More via Inside Higher Ed.

Audrey Watters


Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016

A Hack Education Project

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